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Get out of our skies!, p.1
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       Get Out of Our Skies!, p.1

           E. K. Jarvis
 
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Get Out of Our Skies!


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  _The long-suffering public went along with billboards and singing commercials; they tolerated half a dozen sales pitches in a half-hour radio or TV show; they suffered stoically through the "hard-sell" and the "soft-sell." But when the hucksters turned the wild blue yonder into a vast television screen, they howled----_

  GET OUT OF OUR SKIES!

  By E. K. JARVIS

  On the first cloudy day in November, Tom Blacker, the shining light ofOstreich and Company, Public Relations Counsellors, placed a call to ashirtsleeved man on the rooftop of the Cannon Building in New York City.

  His message brought an immediate response from the waiting engineer, whoflicked switches and twirled dials with expert motions, and brought intoplay the gigantic 50,000-watt projector installed on the peak.

  In his own office, Tom paced the floor in front of the three-windowexposure, watching the heavens for the results.

  They weren't long in coming.

  The eyes came first. Eyes the size of Navy dirigibles, with pupils ofdeep cerulean blue, floating against the backdrop of the gray cumulus.The long lashes curled out almost a hundred feet from the lids. Then therest of Monica Mitchell's famous face appeared: the flowing yellowlocks, the sensuously curved lips, parted moistly from even white teeth.From chin to hairline, the projected image above the city was close to athousand feet in diameter.

  Then, as if the floating countenance wasn't alarming enough, the rubylips began to move. Monica's sweet-sultry voice, like the firstdrippings from a jar of honey, overcame the city sounds, and begancrooning the syrupy strains of _Love Me Alone_. Which happened, by nocoincidence, to be the title and theme song of Monica's newest epic.

  Monica's image--plastered across the heavens--stoppedtraffic in all directions.]

  It was a triumph. Tom knew it the moment he looked down at the crowdedthoroughfare eighteen stories beneath the window. Traffic had come to amore than normal standstill. Drivers were leaving their autos, and handswere being upraised towards the gargantuan face on the clouds above.

  And of course, Tom's phone rang.

  * * * * *

  Ostreich's big scowling face was barely squeezed within the confines ofthe visiphone screen. He said nothing intelligible for two minutes.

  "Relax, Chief," Tom said brightly. "I've been saving this as asurprise."

  Ostreich's reply was censorable.

  "Now look, D. O. You gave me _carte blanche_ with this Mitchell babe,remember? I figured we really needed a shot in the arm for this newpicture of hers. The receipts on her last turkey couldn't pay hermasseurs."

  Ostreich, who had built his firm by establishing golden public imagesfor various industrialists and their enterprises, had anticipatedtrouble the moment he let the barrier down to admit such unworthyclients as Monica Mitchell. But he had never anticipated that his acepublicist would display such carnival tactics in their promotion. Hegrowled like a taunted leopard.

  "This is a cheap trick, Tom! Do you hear me? Turn that thing off atonce!"

  "Who, me?" Tom said innocently. "Gosh, D. O. I'm no engineer. I leftinstructions with the operator to keep the projector going for threehours, until sunset. Don't think I can do anything about it now."

  "You'll damn well _have_ to do something about it! You're ruining us!"

  "Look at it this way, Chief. What can we lose? If anybody takes offense,we can blame it on that Hollywood gang."

  "Turn that damn thing off! If that blankety face isn't out of the sky inten minutes, you can start emptying your desk!"

  Tom was a redhead. He reached over and snapped the visiphone switchbefore his boss could have the satisfaction. He stomped to the window,still raging at Ostreich's lack of appreciation.

  But he chuckled when he saw the activity in the street. The crowds werethickening at the intersections, and a special battalion of city policewere trying to keep things moving. Behind him, the visiphone was beepingfrantically again.

  He waited a full minute before answering, all set to snap at Ostreichonce more.

  But it wasn't Ostreich. It was a square-faced man with beetling browsand a chin like the biting end of a steam shovel. It took Tom a while torecognize the face of Stinson, commissioner of police.

  "Mr. Blacker?"

  "Yes, sir?" Tom gulped.

  "Mr. Ostreich referred me to you. You responsible for that--" thecommissioner's voice was choked. "--that menace?"

  "Menace, sir?"

  "You know what I'm talking about. We've got half a dozen CAA complaintsalready. That thing's a menace to public safety, a hazard to airtravel--"

  "Look, Mr. Stinson. It's only a harmless publicity stunt."

  "Harmless? You got funny ideas, Mr. Blacker. Don't get the wrong ideaabout our city ordinances. We got statutes that cover this kind ofthing. If you don't want to be a victim of one of them, turn that damnedmonstrosity off!"

  The commissioner's angry visage left a reverse shadow burned on thevisiphone screen. It remained glowing there long after the contact wasbroken.

  Tom Blacker walked the carpeted floor of his office, chewing on hislower lip, and cursing the feeble imaginations of Ostreich and the restof them. When his temper had cooled, he got sober thoughts ofindictments, and law suits, and unemployment. With a sigh, he contactedthe engineer on the roof of the Cannon Building. Then he went to thewindow, and watched Monica's thousand-foot face fade gradually out ofsight.

  * * * * *

  At four o'clock that afternoon, a long white envelope crossed Tom'sblotter. There was a check to the amount of a month's salary enclosed,and a briefly-worded message from the office of the president.

  When he left the office, Ostreich's rolling phrases buzzed in his headlike swarming gnats. "... a mockery of a great profession ... loweringof dignity ... incompatible with the highest ideals of ..."

  At ten o'clock that night, Tom was telling his troubles to a red-coatedman behind a chromium bar on Forty-ninth Street. The man listened withall the gravity of a physician, and lined up the appropriate medicine infront of his patient.

  By midnight, Tom was singing Christmas carols, in advance of the season,with a tableful of Texans.

  At one o'clock, he swung a right cross at a mounted policeman, missed,and fell beneath the horse's legs.

  At one-fifteen, he fell asleep against the shoulder of a B-girl as theyrode through the streets of the city in a sleek police vehicle.

  That was all Tom Blacker remembered, until he woke up in Livia Cord'scozy two-room apartment. He moved his head and winced with the pain.

  * * * * *

  "Hi," the girl said.

  She was smiling down at him, and for a moment, her floating facereminded Tom of the episode which had just cost him twenty grand a year.He groaned, and rolled the other way on the contour couch.

  "Hair of the dog?" she said. There was a gleaming cannister in her hand.

  "No, thanks." He sat up, rubbing the stiff red hair on the back of hishead. One eye seemed permanently screwed shut, but the other managed totake in his surroundings. It explored the girl first, andappreciatively.

  She was wearing something black and satiny, cut in the newestDallas-approved style, with long, tantalizing diagonal slashes acrossthe breast and hips. Her hair was strikingly two-toned, black andblonde. Her teeth were a blinding white, and had been filed to caninesharpness.

  "My name's Livia," the girl said pleasantly. "Livia Cord. I hope youdon't mind what I did."

  "And what was that?" Tom's other eye popped
open, almost audibly.

  "Bailing you out of jail. Seems you got into a fracas with a mountedcop. I think you tried to punch his horse."

  "Nuts. I was trying to hit him."

  "Well, you didn't." She chuckled, and poured herself a drink. "You'vehad quite a day, Mr. Blacker."

  "You said it." There was a taste in his mouth like cigar ashes. He triedto stand up, but the weight on his head kept him where he was. "Youwouldn't have an oxygen pill around?"

  "Sure." She left with a toss of her skirt and a revelation of silkycalves. When she returned with the tablet and water, he took itgratefully. After a few minutes, he felt better enough to ask:

  "Why?"

  "What's that?"

  "Why'd you bail me out? I don't know you. Or do I?"

  She laughed. "No. Not yet you don't. But I know you, Mr. Blacker. Byreputation, at any rate. You see--" She sat next to him on the couch,and Tom was feeling well enough to tingle at her nearness. "We're in thesame line of work, you and I."

  "Unemployment?"

  "No," she smiled. "Public relations. Only I'm on the client's side ofthe fence. I work for an organization called Homelovers, Incorporated.Ever hear of them?"

  Tom shook his head.

  "Maybe you should. It's a rather important company, and growing. Andthey're always on the lookout for superior talent."

  * * * * *

  He squinted at her. "What is this? A job offer?"

  "Maybe." She wriggled a little, and the slits in her dress widened justa fraction. "We've got the nucleus of a good PR department now. But witha really experienced man at the controls--it could grow enormously.Think you might be interested?"

  "Maybe I would," Tom said. But he wasn't thinking about PR right then.

  "Mr. Andrusco's had you in mind for a long time," Livia Cord continued."I've mentioned your name to him several times as a possible candidate.If you hadn't been fired from Ostreich, we might have tried to tempt youaway." Her fingers touched a stray lock of red hair. "Now--we don't haveto be surreptitious about it. Do we?"

  "No," Tom said guardedly. "I guess not."

  "If you're free tomorrow, I could arrange a meeting with Mr. Andrusco.Would you like that?"

  "Well ..."

  "His office opens at nine. We could get there early."

  Tom looked at his watch. Livia said: "I know it's late. But we could getan early start in the morning, right after breakfast. Couldn't we?"

  "I dunno," Tom frowned. "By the time I get home ..."

  "Home?" The girl leaned back. "Who said anything about home?"

  Her bedroom was monochromed. Even the sheets were pink. At five o'clock,the false dawn glimmered through the window, and the light falling onhis eyes awakened him. He looked over at the sleeping girl, feelingdrugged and detached. She moaned slightly, and turned her face towardshim. He blinked at the sight of it, and cried aloud.

  "What is it?" She sat up in bed and nicked on the table lamp. "What'sthe matter?"

  He looked at her carefully. She was beautiful. There wasn't even asmudge of lipstick on her face.

  "Nothing," he said dreamily, and turned away. By the time he was asleepagain, his mind had already erased the strange image from his cloudedbrain--that Livia Cord had absolutely no mouth at all.

  * * * * *

  It was hard to keep track of the glass-and-steel structures that hadbeen springing up daily along the Fifth-Madison Thruway. When Tom andLivia stepped out of the cab in front of 320, he wasn't surprised thatthe building--an odd, cylindrical affair with a pointed spire--wasstrange to him. But he was taken aback to realize that all sixty floorswere the property of Homelovers, Incorporated.

  "Quite a place," he told the girl.

  She smiled at him tightly. Livia was crackling with business electricitythis morning, her spiked heels clicking along the marble floors of thelobby like typewriter keys. She wore a tailored gray suit that clung toher body with all the perfection and sexlessness of a window mannikin.In the elevator, shooting towards the executive offices on the 57thfloor, Tom looked over at her and scratched his poorly-shaven cheeks inwonderment.

  They plowed right through the frosty receptionist barrier, and enteredan office only half the size of Penn Station. The man behind theU-shaped desk couldn't have been better suited to the surroundings byCentral Casting. He was cleft-jawed, tanned, exquisitely tailored. Ifhis polished brown toupee had been better fitted, he would have beenpositively handsome.

  The handshake was firm.

  "Good to see you," he grinned. "Heard a lot about you, Mr. Blacker. Allof it good."

  "Well," Livia said airily. "I've done my part. Now you two come toterms. Buzz me if you need me, J. A."

  John Andrusco unwrapped a cigar when she left, and said: "Well, now.Suppose we get right down to cases, Mr. Blacker. Our organization isbadly in need of a public relations set-up that can pull out all thestops. We have money and we have influence. Now all we need is guidance.If you can supply that, there's a vacant chair at the end of the hallthat can accommodate your backside." He grinned manfully.

  "Well," Tom said delicately. "My big problem is this, Mr. Andrusco. Idon't know what the hell business you're in."

  The executive laughed heartily. "Then let me fill you in."

  He stepped over to a cork-lined wall, pressed a concealed button, andpanels parted. An organizational chart, with designations that weremeaningless to Tom, appeared behind it.

  "Speaking basically," Andrusco said, "Homelovers, Incorporatedrepresents the interests of the world's leading real estate concerns.Land, you know, is still the number one commodity of Earth, the onepriceless possession that rarely deteriorates in value. In fact, withthe increase in the Earth's population, the one commodity that neverseems to be in excess supply."

  "I see," Tom said, not wholly in truth.

  "The stability of real estate is our prime concern. By unification ofour efforts, we have maintained these values over a good many years. Butas you know, a good business organization never rests on its laurels.Sometimes, even basic human needs undergo unusual--alterations."

  "I'm not following too well," Tom said frankly. "Just where does publicrelations come into this? I can't see much connection."

  * * * * *

  Andrusco frowned, but without wrinkling his serene brow too much. Hewent to the multipaned window and locked his hands behind his back.

  "Let me put it this way, Mr. Blacker. With the Earth's populationapproaching the three billion mark, you can imagine that real estate isat a greater premium than ever--yes, even the remotest land areas havegained in market value. But let me ask you this. If there were only ahundred apples in the world, and you owned all of them, what would youdo if you learned that someone else had discovered a fruitful orchard,which contains ten million apples?"

  "I'd go out of the apple business."

  "Precisely." Andrusco rocked on his heels. "In a sense, that's very muchthe problem that Homelovers, Incorporated may have to face in the nextgeneration."

  "Somebody swiping your apples?"

  "In a way." The man chuckled. "Yes, in a way." He raised his arm slowly,and pointed to the sky. "The apples," he said, "are up there."

  "Huh?" Tom said.

  * * * * *

  "Space, Mr. Blacker. Space is opening its doors to us. Already, the UNSpace Commission has launched some two dozen manned vehicles into theouter reaches. Already, the satellite-building colony on the moon iswell under way. The progress of our space program has been acceleratingmonth by month. The expert predictions have been more and moreoptimistic of late. In another ten, twenty years, the solar system willbe beckoning the children of Earth ..."

  Tom said nothing for a while. Then he cleared his throat.

  "Well ... I'm no expert on these things. But maybe the population couldstand a little more real estate, Mr. Andrusco. In twenty years ..."

  "Nonsense!" The voic
e was snappish. "The best authorities say it isn'tso. There's plenty of room on Earth. But if ever a mass exodusbegins--"

  "That doesn't seem possible," Tom said. "Does it? I mean, only a handfulof guys have ever gone out there. A drop in the bucket. I mean, Mars andall that may be fun to visit, but who'd want to live there?"

  Andrusco turned to him slowly.

  "The apples in the new orchard may be sour, Mr. Blacker. But if yourlivelihood depended on your own little stack of fruit--would you bewilling to sit by and take the chance?"

  Tom shrugged. "And is that the public relations job? To keep people outof space?"

  "Put in its crudest form, yes."

  "A pretty tough job. You know that guff about Man's Pioneering Spirit."

  "Yes. But we're worried about the public spirit, Mr. Blacker. If we candampen their ardor for space flight--only delay it, mind you, foranother few years--we can tighten our own lines of economic defense. DoI make myself clear?"

  "Not completely."

  "Will you take the job?"

  "What does it pay?"

  "Fifty thousand."

  "Where do I sit?"

  *
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