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The Golden Years

The three tough youthful figures rose intently from the shrubbery, to watch the elderly man stroll through the sunlit park toward the lake. Briefly they studied his neatly pressed expensive blue suit, his stylish black cane, and his air of peaceful assurance. Then the tallest of the three jerked his head, and they were out from behind the brush.

They crossed the grass swiftly, almost silently.

Eric Morgan felt the warmth of the sun through his suit, breathed the comparative freshness of the air, enjoyed the park's varied shades of green and brown, and light and shadow. Ahead, still out of sight, was the lake. Today, the lake should be calm, reflecting the trees along the shore, though on a more breezy day the waves would sparkle, and—

His thoughts were interrupted by a sharp buzz—a sound that seemed right in his head.

There was an instant before Morgan's nearly automatic reaction could operate. In that instant, his attention was drawn to the chain of associations roused by the buzz, and, for a moment, he seemed to be back there at the beginning, two years ago, looking at the small white card, like a business card, that Ben Stevenson had handed him:


Benjamin L. Stevenson
The Prudent Assurance Co.

Morgan blinked at the card, then looked at Stevenson.

"What's this, Ben? I thought you'd retired, too."

Stevenson grinned.

"I have retired."

There was something carefree about Stevenson that puzzled Morgan.

"Retired from W-S," said Morgan, referring to Stevenson's old company, "and working for this Prudent Assurance outfit?"

Stevenson continued to smile.

"Not working for them. Working with them."

Morgan, faintly irritated, glanced back at the card, and on impulse turned it over. The reverse side bore an address and phone number in Stevenson's handwriting. Morgan started to hand it back, but Stevenson stopped him.

"I wrote that down for you. Listen, Eric, how does retirement hit you."

"You want a frank answer?"

"That's why I asked."

"I figure everybody dies sometime. I also figure everybody retires sometime. Retirement is like death and taxes. And old age. You're stuck with it. That's how I feel about retirement."

Stevenson nodded. "My own feelings exactly."

"But, what good—"

"That's why I gave you the card. I have to pass that card to someone. It's a condition of association with Prudent."

"Wait a minute. 'Association' means employment? Or what?"

"Go to that address and they'll tell you."

"Generous of them." Morgan's eyes narrowed. "What's their line of business?"

"Assurance company."

"They're insurers?"

"Not in the usual sense. If you have an automobile accident insurance policy, then you're insured against auto accidents, right?"

Morgan frowned. "Go on."

"But," said Stevenson, "you can wrap the car around a light pole any time. All your insurance means is—you or your heirs will receive a certain amount of reimbursement—a cash payment, or protection against being forced to pay damages—in case of an auto accident. Prudent is different."


"Its policy aims to protect you against the actual situation specified."

There was a silence as Morgan stared at Stevenson.

Stevenson smiled, and raised his hand.

"If you're interested, they'll tell you about it. I have to go now. See you."

Morgan blankly raised his hand in good-bye, then, during his solitary lunch, he glanced again at the card, looked up at the phone booth in the back of the restaurant, then glanced at his watch. Like a blow at the back of the head, it came to him again that he had nothing to do this afternoon. A succession of empty days stretched out before him like vacant subway platforms in a deserted city. He got up, paid his check, and went outside, calculating the shortest route to the Prudent office.

Twenty-five minutes later, he stood before a tall narrow marble-faced building, and read its discreet bronze plaque:



He crossed the marble pavement, pushed open one of the short row of polished glass doors, and went in. A line in the building directory caught his attention:


Prudent Assurance, Information 401


Morgan stepped into the nearest elevator, and punched the button for the fourth floor. 401 proved to be a large room divided into cubicles. A pretty girl flashed a smiled at him, and directed him to a Mr. Benvenuto.

Morgan, unable to fit the arrangement into his experience, shook hands with Benvenuto, and held out Stevenson's card.

"A business acquaintance of mine recommended Prudent. He said you don't reimburse—say—accident victims who have one of your policies. You provide against the accident's happening in the first place."

Benvenuto studied the card briefly, and smiled.

"Did Mr. Stevenson draw a distinction between the approach of an insurer and our approach, so far as policies are concerned?"

"He drew the distinction I've just mentioned."

Benvenuto returned the card, and sat back.

"The usual insurance company policy is based on probabilities. Our policies are based on probabilities. But there is a difference. We attempt to alter the probabilities in our policy-holders' favor. What do you consider to be the usual basis of an insurance company's operations?"

Morgan, frowning, settled back.

"The idea is that there are bound to be a certain number of accidents. Other things being equal, the cost of these accidents will naturally fall on those who have the accidents. These costs will often be so heavy as to ruin people financially. But—by spreading the costs over a great number of individuals, each individual has to bear only a small share of the total expense, whether he had an accident or not. And he can bear that share of the expense. The underlying principle insurance companies are based on is—'Many hands make light labor.'"

Benvenuto nodded. "The drawback is that many hands make light labor only if the burden stays below a certain limit."

Morgan thought a moment, nodded, and spoke dryly.

"Yes, the idea doesn't work too well if the many hands are carrying a stock tank—open at the top and they have to pass under a waterfall while they're carrying it."

"No. And that, in principle, is almost exactly what has happened. Someone hit lightly by a car used to be embarrassed. How clumsy to get in the way! A jury asked to award a verdict against an honest man who had accidentally bumped someone else was likely to award just enough to cover the actual real visible damage. But the existence of the insurance company has changed all that. Now the jury may well decide to wring a big award from the insurance company. And a person only lightly damaged, knowing the jury may so decide, sees the chance to get a big award, and acts accordingly. The same general principle holds to one degree or another in hospital insurance, fire insurance, malpractice insurance, and what-have-you. The many hands pick up the open-topped water tank, and, lo! the burden is light! Then they pass under the waterfall of public attitudes and stagger out on the other side scarcely able to bear the burden. Hospital insurance now costs, just for the premiums, what a considerable stay in the hospital used to cost. A year's car insurance can cost more now than the car itself once cost."

Morgan nodded. "But what can you do about it?"

"There are other ways to make light labor."

"Such as?"

"Stronger individuals, a lighter burden, a better handle on the load, some way to permit those who want to bear part of the burden to not be forced to let go. Different applications of the same underlying principle, which is to lower the ratio of load to strength applied."

Morgan looked at Benvenuto intently. "The principle is clear enough. But how do you apply it!"

Benvenuto smiled. "Our approach is the by-product of an unexpected discovery. I'm sure you're familiar with some variation of the parlor game played by one person studying cards and 'sending' a mental image of what he sees, while another person 'receives'—or tries to receive—what is sent?"


"And are you also aware that TV sets can be built at home, as part of various correspondence-school courses of instruction?"

"Yes—I've gotten a few ads for them in the mail—'Make Big Money In TV Repair.' What's the connection?"

Benvenuto leaned forward.

"Suppose, Mr. Morgan, that you were constructing one of those TV sets—incidentally one with a digital clock display in the corner of the screen—and in the same room someone else was 'sending' the mental image of a card, and suddenly as you worked on the TV you saw the card."

Morgan blinked.

"If you could repeat it—"


"Then you have what? Some form of telepathic signal amplifier?"

Benvenuto nodded. "Close enough."

Morgan frowned. "But—this seems a long way from an insurance policy."

"You have, perhaps, the suspicion of having wandered into a nest of crackpots."

"Not yet. Your come-on isn't slanted to take advantage of gullibility. But I still don't see the connection."

"You grant the possibility?"

"Why not? After men have walked around on the Moon, why should I claim this is impossible? Grant it, and say you have a form of telepathic signal amplifier. Still—aside from settling the argument whether there is such a thing as telepathy, where are you? Is this amplifier small, compact, easily used?"

"In its enormously improved and precisely accurate form, it is large, bulky, quite heavy, complex, and requires a moderate amount of electrical power to use it effectively."

"In short, it's a white elephant?"

Benvenuto smiled. "It certainly won't enable us to compete with the Bell System or Western Union."


"It is, however, our principal tool in backing up assurance policies."

Morgan, frowning, sat back and considered Benvenuto. "You're giving me a good deal of information. How do you know you can trust me with it?"

"In the first place, who would believe you? In the second place, how can you be sure I've told you the actual undisguised truth? In the third place, I know how sick you are of retirement. I also know that you were retired because of an arbitrary company rule having nothing to do with any actual inability. You are perfectly able to work, yet you have nothing to do. A succession of meaningless days stretches out before you like empty subway platforms. You—"

"Now you're repeating my own mental images!"

"You aren't likely to use what I'm telling you against us, because we represent a way out of retirement and back to the top."

Morgan was unaware that, briefly, his eyes blazed. He sat back, and spoke carefully.

"What is Prudent's retirement policy?"

"We retire employees and deactivate associations only because of what we believe to be a lack of capability. The recovery of capability means rehiring or renewed association."

"All right, I'm interested. What's your offer?"

Benvenuto's eyes glinted. He leaned forward.

"Prepare yourself, Mr. Morgan. I am a fanatic on this subject. Western civilization is sinking—and it is sinking largely because of a lack of insight and self-discipline. We have the physical means necessary to pull ourselves out of this ruck. We lack only the insight and the will. With such means, plus the drive to achieve, where is the limit? Very well. I am an enterpriser. And I possess a telepathic signal amplifier. Is it wrong for me to receive a financial reward for reversing the decline of the West? Not if I do a good job. Here, Mr. Morgan, is a sample of one type of Prudent's assurance policies."

Morgan took the crisp slip of paper, glanced over the policyholder's name and the policy number, and read:

"The aforenamed policyholder is hereby guaranteed against failure in his effort to secure the degree of M.S. in physics."

Morgan turned over the crisp pale-green paper with its interwoven design of eagles and starbursts. The back was blank.

Benvenuto leaned forward.

"Here is another."

Morgan read:

"The aforenamed policyholder is hereby guaranteed against loss of nerve if detected by the government involved, while engaged in espionage for the purpose of locating and if possible freeing prisoners of war still held contrary to treaty obligations."

Morgan stared at the name on this second policy.

"Is this real?"



Benvenuto nodded. "There is no credential so convincing in some places as treason in another place. It follows that to be accepted there, one should appear a traitor here . . . Here is another of our policies."

Morgan didn't take it. "You're showing me too much. I don't have any need to know this."

"There is no possible harm in your seeing this. This is a somewhat different type of policy."

Morgan read:

"The aforenamed policyholder is hereby assured that he will effectively defend himself if attacked by a street gang while carrying out his duties in or about the above-named address."

"How," said Morgan, "could you possibly assure that?"

"By the same means," said Benvenuto, "that we can prevent a failure of nerve under torture, or any weakening of determination in the pursuit of any reasonable goal. We gather to ourselves every unoccupied but capable man and woman we can lay our hands on, and we use our receiving and transmitting equipment to stay in close touch with our policyholders. Our associates' skills and nerve are constantly on call, and they reach the policyholder by a route that no merely human opponent has yet shown any means to block."

Morgan stared. For an instant the possibilities dazzled him. Then abruptly he came back to earth.

"Wait, now—a fight against a street gang—"

"We have," said Benvenuto, "some combat veterans of unusual skill among our retirees. Are you aware that some organizations forcibly retire their men at fifty? Yet there are those in their fifties who can demolish the average thug of whatever age, and never breathe hard in the process."

"Some of this must be going over my head. How does their skill help your policyholder?"

"Why, Mr. Morgan," said Benvenuto, "everyone has at least a slight telepathic ability—and when that telepathic ability is sufficiently amplified by the apparatus that takes up most of this building, what do you suppose might happen then?"


The buzz was still in Eric Morgan's head as he turned, to see the three grinning tightly, coming for him. He had a brief sharp memory of the gym in the Prudent building, of the white-jacketed doctors and instructors, and of the exercise period imposed daily on every Prudent staff member, employee, or associate, and then that memory vanished as his hand automatically swung the cane up, and his other hand casually gripped the cane, near its lower end.

The voice, offhand and familiar, seemed to speak inside his head:

"Jim here, Eric. Hyperventilate."

Eric Morgan breathed deeply.

The voice spoke again, louder and closer, deeply content:

"Just relax. It's all mine now!"

Morgan suddenly felt a transformation—like a sudden change in body tone. For a glaring instant, he was a tiger, a killing machine, trained for one purpose.

The cane snapped upward, the edge striking under the nearest chin, erasing the grin, then it came down again, partially deflected by the upflung arm of the second assailant, and Morgan could feel the tight grin on his own face as the tip of the cane scraped down across the partly exposed flesh, and then he turned to ram the end of the cane into the third attacker's midsection.

Inside his head, the same voice murmured, "Okay, Ito, it's your turn."

"Ah, so," came the pleasant reply.

Eric Morgan, suddenly gasping for breath, could see in one swift glance the look of stunned shock on his attackers' faces. The first one to have reached him was in the process of being thrown back by a brutal blow under the chin. His fellow thug was bent nearly double by the vicious jab in the midsection. It was number three who now represented danger. His face blank with shock, he nevertheless had a tight grip on Eric's sleeve, just at the elbow.

Eric Morgan was conscious of a faint hiss, of the letting go of the cane, and then his arm swung up and back and down, and, as he felt his assailant's grip tighten, he brought his forearm up, pressing up against the caught elbow, and his assailant sucked in his breath and went over backwards.

Breathing deeply, Morgan studied the three dazed figures on the ground. The third, the least injured, was the first to try to rise. Suddenly there was the glint of a knife.

Inside Morgan's head, there was an indrawn hiss.

Morgan turned partly sideways.

His assailant yelled and lunged.

Morgan's right heel smashed against his opponent's knee. The knife whirled through the air. Morgan picked up the cane.

The voice spoke politely in Morgan's head:


"Thank you, Ito . . . H'm . . . Interesting . . ."

Morgan's assailant screamed as the cane flashed out, striking to the groin, the chin, the abdomen, the neck, the side of the head—to display in quick succession the vulnerable points of a man.

On the ground, the second attacker rolled over to partly rise, looked with dazed eyes at Morgan, then sunk back down again. The first assailant hadn't moved since he'd hit the ground.

Morgan, breathing deeply, walked toward the lake.


In the Times-News building, a man in a striped pink shirt, sporting a handlebar moustache, shook his head glumly and spoke into the phone.

"It isn't news . . . I know . . . 'Elderly Woman Breaks Mugger's Arm'—that would have been great stuff a few years ago. But it's going on all over, now . . . No, no, . . . Would you buy the paper because of that headline? . . . See? . . . How would I know what's behind it? But it isn't news . . . Okay, thanks, anyway . . ."


At the police station, a bored patrolman jerked his thumb toward the door.

"Sarge, there's another three cases out here for the bandage man. They claim an old guy with a cane went for them in the park."

"What's the matter? Couldn't they run fast enough to get away?"

"The story is they were just running up the walk past him, and suddenly without warning he went berserk. You know how these misunderstandings will happen."

"H'm. You know the latest crime statistics show a drop? We got help from somewhere."


Popov mopped his forehead and sank into the soft leather chair.

"One more day like this, and I defect to Albania!"

Andrei Sakharov stolidly emptied the last of the bottle into the shot glass, and loosened his collar. He glanced at Popov and raised his eyebrows.

"What now?"

Popov banged his fist on the table.

"This bargaining is supposed to wear them down! I am dealing with one man only—and yet I have the impression I am contending with relays of them!"


Premier Alexis de Toqueville blinked in surprise, took a second look at the rough-hewn, reputedly uncultured Ambassador Griscom, and ran the ambassador's beautifully spoken phrases over in his mind.

"But," said the premier, in his own tongue, "you—euh—you speak French?"

Ambassador Griscom beamed, and innocently spread his hands.

"Et pourquoi pas?"

The premier glanced at his aide, Jacques Belfort. Belfort was already mentally groping through his dossier on Griscom, Arthur P., retired, former president the Griscom Bolt and Spring Co., born Springville, Iowa, educated the Springville Public School System, summoned from retirement by President Curtis, who had himself come out of retirement to upset three front runners of formidable reputation—all of them destroyed in those famous face-to-face debates.

Where, Belfort demanded of himself, had Griscom picked up that flawless freedom from accent?


Burton Rainey could feel the discouragement build up as he thought of anatomy, physiology, dissection, internship—the whole combined into one long grind stretching out into the distant future. How he wanted the goal! But—the process of reaching the goal—that was another thing! Would he be able to persist? Would he fold up under the pressure? Could he—?

Almost guiltily, he slid the little pale-green paper from his pocket, and partially unfolded it:

"The aforenamed policyholder is hereby guaranteed . . ."

Ahh, that was reassuring! And it had worked so far. But was it real? Was it really real? Was it really real? In the long run, could it—?

The familiar growl sounded in his ear. But possibly he imagined it. Perhaps it was only a sublimated materialization of his desire. Possibly, by a process of autohypnosis, he himself could succeed—

"Enough of that," growled the mental voice. "Let's hear those nerves again."

"M'm," thought Rainey, "olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducent, facial, acoustic, glossopharyngeal, vagus, ah . . . accessory, hypoglossal."

"Again. You hesitated."

"Olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducent, facial, acoustic, glossopharyngeal, vagus, accessory, hypoglossal."

"That's better. Keep at it."


In the big building, its numerous rooms filled with capable people unobtrusively—undetectably—helping other able people elsewhere, Eric Morgan settled into the booth in the lunchroom, and gave his order. The waitress wrote rapidly and hurried off.

On the other side of the table, Benvenuto smiled and settled back.

"What do you think of the assurance business?"

"Well—for a strictly impartial judgment, the dollar is rising against the Swiss franc. That's good."

"But you have reservations?"

"When I hear," said Morgan, "that the dollar is rising against hospital insurance premiums, dentists' bills, and a bag of groceries, then I'll think we have a grip on the thing."

"M'm. Everything takes time. But, we have the right principle. You see, it is all embodied in those few short words you mentioned: 'Many hands make light labor.' But the youth is no longer expected to labor—he is too young. And the adult is forcibly retired. He is too old. And as the age of leaving school is raised, the retirement age is further lowered, so that between the increased burden and the decreased hands, the weight to be borne gets heavier, not lighter.

"And this," continued Benvenuto, "results from not following perfectly simply general principles. Unknown to itself, our civilization has been throwing away a large part of its own assets—the energy of its most unwearied people, and the insight of its most experienced people. We can—as an assurance company—strengthen the individual hands involved by reinforcing the individual's determination, lighten the weight of the burden by giving pause to our opponents and encouragement to our friends, and indirectly increase the number of hands that are permitted to bear the burden."

Eric Morgan smiled. "By enabling people to unretire?"

"If it is a waste to throw away an aluminum can with perfectly good metal in it, what sort of a waste is it to throw away the tempered will and insight of a lifetime's experience? No, if employers can be so foolish as that, we are not. We—"

The two men sat back as the waitress brought the order. As she left, Morgan smiled.

"They save metal, but we—"

Benvenuto nodded, and beamed.

"We save ability."



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