Back | Next

The Great Intellect Boom

Morton Hommel, PH.D., director of the Banner Value Drug and Vitamin Laboratories, Inc., proudly put the bottle of yellow capsules on the desk of old Sam Banner, president of the company.

Banner glanced at them dubiously.

"What are they good for, Mort?"

Hommel said, with quiet pride, "They increase intelligence."

Banner looked up.

"What's that again?"

"The drug stimulates intellectual activity. It channels energy from gross physical pursuits into imaginative creativity."

Banner looked at him alertly.

"Have you been taking it?"

"No. But we've carried out exhaustive—"

"It works?"

"It's extremely effective."

Banner sat back, and studied the capsules.

"Well, a thing like this would sell to students. Lawyers would want it. Doctors, engineers—Just about everybody could use more brains these days. Quite a market." Then he shook his head. "But it might be that what we've got here is a catastrophe in a bottle. How did we get into this, anyway? I don't remember any work on brain pills."

Hommel winced. "We prefer to think of it as a drug mediating the enhancement of intellectual activity."

"That's what I say. Brain pills. How did we get into this in the first place?"

"Well, you remember that problem of parapl—"

"Put it into words an ordinary human can follow, Mort."

Hommel's face took on the expression of a truck driver faced with a detour off a six-lane highway onto a mountain road. With a visible effort, he said, "I mean, that problem of broken nerve tracts that wouldn't grow together."

"I remember that. So what?"

"We thought we had a promising lead. It had seemed satisfactory with experimental animals. What we wanted, of course, was something to stimulate the broken ends of the nerve, to cause them to grow and rejoin. We thought at first this would have to be administered locally; but we found, purely by accident, that it could be given by mouth. When we had every reason to believe that the drug would prove successful, we tried it on a human volunteer. This volunteer . . . ah . . . had evidently lacked proper motivational opportunities for educational develop—"

Banner stared. "He what, Mort?"

"He'd lacked the proper motivational opportunities for educa—"

"Was the fellow stupid?"

"Well, I'd hesitate to say he—"

"Mort," said Banner, "a junkyard is a junkyard—whether you decide to call it a junkyard or a 'storage module for preprocessed metals.' Was the fellow stupid, or wasn't he?"

Hommel blew out his breath.

"He wasn't the brightest person I ever met."

"All right. What happened?"

"He'd been badly injured. Yet it certainly seemed, from our previous work, that the drug ought to produce a cure. But it didn't."

"The broken ends of the nerves didn't grow together?"


Banner nodded sympathetically.

"What then?"

"Well, we were very much disappointed. But we were also surprised, because the patient suddenly seemed to gain insight into his accident. Prior to this time, he'd simply blamed the other driver."

"How did he get hurt?"

"He was driving in heavy traffic, got on the wrong turnoff, and tried to get back by making a quick U-turn in a cloverleaf intersection."

Banner looked blank.

Hommel said, "Not only that, but he was convinced that the other drivers owed him a lifetime pension. After he'd been treated with our drug, he saw there was another side to the question."

Banner glanced thoughtfully at the capsules. "Maybe we have something here, after all. What happened next?"

"Well, at first we didn't realize what had happened. But we continued treatment, still hoping for a cure. The patient enrolled in a correspondence course and completed his high-school education. Meanwhile, we'd started treatment on another patient, who read comic books at the beginning of the treatment, and was studying medieval history at the end. It began to dawn on us that there might be some connection. After that, we carried out thorough investigations, and found that there is invariably a marked increase in the patient's intellectual activity. It's no longer possible to think of this as a coincidence. The increase in intellectual activity is caused by our drug."

"Any side effects?"

"In some few patients there's a rash. Occasionally, there's a complaint of a temporary numbness—a sense of being removed from reality. The rash subsides in a day or two after discontinuance of treatment. The numbness fades away in a few hours. Neither reaction seems serious, and neither is especially common."

"How about this increased intelligence? Does it fade away when the patient stops taking the pills?"

"There's a drop, but there's also a residual increase that remains. One of the men on the hospital staff compared intelligence with the amount of traffic a road network will bear. The 'mental traffic' will depend on the mental 'road system'—the number and condition of the brain's nerve cells and connections. The drug speeds up mental 'road building.' When the drug is discontinued, this 'road building' drops back to a much lower level. Those 'roads' only partly finished quickly become unusable. But those already finished remain in use, allowing an increase in 'traffic'—intelligence—over what there was to begin with, although lower than at the peak."

"How much of an increase can there be? What's the limit?"

"We don't know. But it can be substantial, from what we've seen. And happily this all fits right in with current recognition of the importance of education. Quite a few of our patients have gone back to school or college, where they're all doing well. The drug fits in perfectly with the needs of the day."

Banner shook his head.

"It sounds good, Mort. And maybe it is. But we want to take a few precautions, just in case. Keep working to see if there are any side effects we don't know about, especially any that build up slowly. And start work on an antidote."

Hommel looked dumbfounded.

"But—an antidote to this would be a stupidity drug."

"It might be and it might not. Who knows how it would work? But we'd better find one." Banner smiled suddenly. "By the way, Mort, have you thought what to name this? How about 'Super Mentalline'?"

"Surely we ought to take a more conservative approach."

"With this," said Banner, "that may prove harder than it looks. But we'll see what we can do."


The drug, when it appeared, was modestly advertised. And Hommel thought the label on the bottle too restrained:

A Mental Stimulant
Take one to two capsules daily as required, for mild stimulation of intellectual activity. Especially recommended for students, teachers, and others engaged in pursuits requiring increased mental activity.
Caution: Some individuals may be allergic to these capsules. Appearance of a rash, or a temporary feeling of numbness, should cause reduction of dosage or discontinuance of use.

Sales got off to a sluggish start, and remained dull until a sensational Sunday supplement article appeared, titled: "Breakthrough in Brains—New Drug Dramatically Boosts I.Q.!"

That got the ball rolling. Soon, brief "special reports" on radio added to the attention. Television news announcers began introducing humorous items on "I.Q. Capsules," for light relief from a steady diet of disasters.

Sales started to pick up.

Students with half a semester's work to do the night before the exam instantly recognized the possibilities. The results were so delightful that the news spread fast.

Sales of Cerebrocreatine began doubling from week to week.

Banner found himself reading with close attention a letter that gave an idea what was going on:

Dear Sir:

I am writing to thank you for your help in passing German I. The night before the midyear exam, I could scarcely tell the difference between "f" and "s" in that weird type they use in our reader. But I ate up about half a bottle of your I.Q. pills, holed up with the text and the reader, and by the time Old Sol crawled up over the treetops next morning, I was a new man, Ja wohl!

I'm pretty well covered with red spots right now, and for a while there I kind of felt like I was packed in ice, but I got past the midyear's exam, and it was worth it.
This German, by the way, is interesting, once you get into it.

Yours in Gemutlichkeit,


Banner read this letter over and over again, then called Hommel in to find out how work was coming on the antidote.

Hommel was cheerful.

"We've had some brilliant suggestions, and some really stimulating discussions on the subject, and that sort of beginning can lay the groundwork for some genuine high order achievement later on. I'm sure we'll have real progress to report before long, considering the caliber of the thought that's been shown recently."

Banner frowned.

"That's nice, Mort. But what's been done so far?"

"Well, as you realize, this is an extremely difficult problem to deal with. There are a great many ramifications, of really extraordinary subtlety. To put it in layman's language, it pays to clear away the undergrowth before plunging into the thicket."

Banner looked at Hommel attentively, then held out the letter.

"Take a look at this, Mort."

Hommel read the letter quickly, with a faint air of negligent disinterest.

"I'm sorry we didn't have this when I was going to school."

Banner said dryly, "Personally, I'm glad it waited until now." He studied Hommel's expression alertly. "You haven't tried this stuff yourself, Mort?"

"I've made rather extensive use of it. The results have been most gratifying. It's highly stimulating mentally."

"I see. But no actual work has been done on the antidote?"

Hommel frowned. "No, I admit, but—"

"Quite a few weeks have gone by."

"I realize that, and we've found some really interesting approaches, that I think should enable us to solve the problem much more rapidly than if we had simply gone at it blindly, more or less by trial and error."

"Maybe. Well, keep at it. And Mort—"


"If I were you, I'd go a little easy on those pills."

"We've found no harmful side effects, other than those that are strictly temporary."

Banner nodded. "I could be wrong, Mort. But bear in mind that the dosage we suggest on the bottle is 'one to two capsules daily,' and here we have a letter that says, 'I ate up about half a bottle of your I.Q. pills.' We could get something unexpected out of this. If so, we want people here who aren't worried about getting a dose of the same thing themselves. How about your star chemist, Peabody? Is he using the stuff, too?"

"I'm sorry to say Peabody has acquired an irrational distrust of drugs."

"He won't use it himself?"

"No. And I have to admit, he shows up rather poorly by contrast with those who do."

"He does, eh? Well, Mort, do as you think best. But I'd advise you to think this over."

After Hommel had left, Banner called in Peabody.

"I'm told," said Banner, "that you don't think much of our new brain-booster pills."

Peabody looked harassed.

"It isn't that, sir, but I . . . ah . . . I think I'm probably allergic to them."

"Have you tried them?"

"No, sir."

"Don't you feel that, out of loyalty to the company, you ought to eat up at least a bottle a week?"

"I wouldn't want to eat even one capsule a week."

"Why not?"

Peabody shook his head.

"You never know what the side effects may be."

Banner leaned forward.

"What do you think of the work that's been done in finding an antidote?"

"What work? No work has been done."

"Even by you?"

"I've groped around some. I've gotten some ideas. But I can't say I've actually accomplished much yet."

"What do you think of the suggestions that have been made?"

"Oh, some of the suggestions have been brilliant. They might take a hundred years, all the laboratory facilities and chemists in the country, and a trillion dollars, but some of the suggestions have really sounded good."

"A little impractical, eh?"

Peabody nodded. "Brilliant, though."

"Just between the two of us, Peabody, how many pills do you think the average person who uses this stuff takes?"

"Two with every meal, and two when he goes to bed. That night, he dreams of waking up with an I.Q. of 1,500, and when he gets up he chews up two or three extra for good luck."

"Does it make him smarter?"

Peabody scratched his head, and looked exasperated.

"Yes, it does, but—I don't know."

"At least, the pill is useful for learning, isn't it?"

"I suppose so. Everyone says it is. It must be. But is learning supposed to be an end in itself? Once they get started on this stuff, they don't stop."

Banner nodded slowly. "We have to have an antidote."

"There may not be an antidote. The effect may be irreversible."

"But we have to look, because that's the only way to find out—and there's another thing that might help, if it's taken care of in time."

"What's that?"

"Where does Hommel keep his personal stock of brain pills?"

Peabody's eyes widened.

"In a drawer of his desk—You mean the Cerebrocreatine?"

"Yes. Now, of course, Peabody, I don't want to suggest that you—or anyone, for that matter—might make up a batch of these pills at considerably reduced strength, and put them in place of the pills Hommel has right now. Naturally, I wouldn't suggest such a thing. Nevertheless, if somebody did do that, it might just possibly do some good. Of course, if anyone did do it, he would want to think it over carefully first. Peabody, I admire people who get things done. By the way, it seems to me that it's about time you got an increase in salary, isn't it? Yes, I think so. Well, it's been nice weather lately, hasn't it? If we come up with one more drug like this, I think I may just go into the business of manufacturing fishing rods. Of course, there may be something wrong with that, too. If people would chew their food more before they swallow it, they wouldn't need so many pills in the first place. And a little exercise wouldn't hurt, either. What the devil are they doing with these things, anyway, Peabody? Are they trying to see who can get to be smartest by eating the most pills?"

Peabody, listening wide-eyed, swallowed hard, opened his mouth, shut it, recovered his breath, and said, "Yes, sir. They seem to use longer words every day."

Banner nodded. "I've always thought there must be a hole in this somewhere. Well, you think over what we've been talking about, and decide what you want to do. The more people we have actually working on this antidote, the better."

Peabody squinted in concentration, then nodded determinedly.

As time passed sales climbed to a stunning figure.

Hommel told Banner that he'd evidently reached "some kind of a saturation point" with the drug, which no longer seemed to have any effect on him.

Peabody received a raise.

Hommel reported that a number of his more outstanding men seemed to have "reached the saturation point."

Peabody received a bonus.

Hommel stated exasperatedly that there was "no word of anyone else having reached the saturation point"—only he and some of his best men. And wondered why should that be.

Banner wondered aloud if possibly there could be anything about working in a plant where the drug was manufactured that could have anything to do with it.

Hommel seized on the idea as a possible explanation, and determined to look into it once work on the antidote could be got moving. Save for Peabody, this was still on dead center, no one being able to figure out how to put his grandiose research plans into effect.

"The trouble," said Hommel, "is that there are so many very interesting and exciting alternative approaches to the problem—we scarcely know where to start."

"In that case," said Banner, "start anywhere. But for heaven's sake, start."

"Many of the more promising methods might prove prohibitively expensive."

"Then forget about them. That simplifies the problem."

Hommel looked puzzled. "True," he said, as if he could not quite grasp the concept, but recognized somehow that it was valid.

After Hommel had gone out, Banner stared at the closed door, then shook his head.

"Well, if that's brilliance, let's hope it wears off pretty soon."

More time went by.

Work on the antidote got sluggishly under way, by fits and starts, and with baffling setbacks, as if the work were dogged by gremlins.

Banner, meanwhile, tried to rouse, amongst those in high places, some awareness of possible future difficulties. Those in high places were not aroused, except by enthusiasm for Cerebrocreatine.

Meanwhile, in colleges and universities throughout the world, bell-shaped curves were being knocked into weird corrugated forms. Ranks of straight-A students moved triumphantly toward graduation. Newspaper and magazine articles predicting the arrival of the millennium multiplied like rabbits.

Banner, meanwhile, had trouble with his car. Having had it inexpertly repaired while he was away on a trip, now that he was back he called up to get it taken care of, and invited Hommel to come along with him.

"All that needs to be done," said Banner, as they walked onto the company parking lot, "is to adjust the carburetor. That shouldn't take too long. We can have lunch a little early, and if they don't have the work done, we'll come back in their courtesy car. I'd adjust it myself, except that they've made so many improvements in the thing that it scares me every time I look under the hood."

Banner got in, and reached over to open the door for Hommel, who by now was seeming more like his usual self. As Hommel slid in and slammed the door, Banner turned the key in the ignition. The engine choked and gagged into life, to run with a galloping rhythm as clouds of black smoke poured out the tail pipe. Like a malfunctioning oil burner on the move, they pulled out onto the highway.

The drive to town turned into a thrilling trip. The car lacked acceleration, and had a tendency to cough and quit. A police officer soon motioned them to the side, parked in front, red light blinking, walked back to their car.

"You're creating a serious hazard in the area of air pollution."

Banner adopted the humble attitude suitable to the occasion. "I'm very sorry, Officer. I made an appointment to get it fixed, and I'm on my way there right now."

"You realize that it's as essential to maintain a vehicle as to purchase it in the first place?"

"Yes, Officer," said Banner humbly.

Just then, a car streaked past at about seventy.

The officer straightened up, hesitated, then said, "As I look at all this traffic, it's impossible not to imagine what it would be like to strip away wheels, trim, and car bodies, leaving only the engines and tail pipes of all these vehicles, pouring out clouds of gaseous contamination. Such a situation would never be tolerated. Yet, the fact that the contamination is incidental, that one contaminating vehicle moves on, to be replaced by a new one, that the source of contamination is covered by trim, and incidental to the purpose of individualized transportation—all this caused the damage inflicted to be overlooked for decades. One wonders what other sources of trouble are similarly concealed by externals."

Banner opened his mouth, and shut it again.

The officer said, "Not long ago, it was necessary for us to learn some new police procedures, and to assist in acquiring the proper degree of mental readiness, I made considerable use of what are known as 'I.Q. capsules.' Quite a number of surprising thoughts occurred to me, based on things I'd heard or read, and hadn't connected together. Were you aware, for instance, that the civilization of ancient Rome may have collapsed because of contamination of the drinking water with lead, which was extensively used for water pipes? And have you considered that an ingredient used extensively to prevent 'knocking' in modern motor fuels contains lead? Could our air supply be contaminated as was the Romans' water supply?"

The officer shook his head and glanced around. "Rectify that condition as soon as possible. If I should see it again and it hasn't been alleviated, I'll be compelled to give you a summons."

"Yes, Officer," said Banner. "I'm going right down there."

The policeman nodded, got back in his car, and Banner waited for a break in the traffic.

"Those pills of ours, Mort, seem to get around."

"They certainly do. I wonder if there's anything to what he said?"

"I'll be frank to say, I don't know. But I did notice a speeder go past, and he missed it."

They drove into town, and found the car dealer's drive blocked with parked cars. Banner pulled off the road in an adjacent lot where the dealer sold his used cars. Frowning, they got out and walked back.

"It looks to me," said Banner, "as if he has enough work piled up to last for the next three months."

They were walking along a row of used cars, and passed one where a puzzled customer looked into a car's engine compartment, listening to the salesman:

". . . And another thing you might not know, and I wouldn't either, but I've been studying up on it lately, and that's this power brake. Now, you tend to think a power brake applies power to the brake, but that's not how it works. What happens here is that the power brakes create a vacuum on one side of the piston, while atmospheric pressure—"

The customer looked desperate.

"Look, all I want—"

Banner shoved open the door of the showroom, nodded to a group of salesmen leaning against the trunk of a new car, and walked past toward a short hall leading to the garage. From behind came the voices of the salesmen:

". . . And when he did that, she had him dead to rights."

"Sure. It was the same in Schlumberger vs. Mallroyd."

"Oh, I don't know. The decision there was adverse."

"Was it? What do you say, Phil?"

"Well, I'd hesitate to go into that. I'm not far enough in the course to say about that. I thought so. But I realize there's a lot involved in that. It depends on whether a higher court—"

Banner shoved open another door, walked down a short hall past the open door of an office where a stack of mail lay unopened on a chair, pushed open another door, and he and Hommel walked past a counter where parts were sold, into the garage itself.

Here they were momentarily struck speechless by a roomful of cars with the hoods up, the mechanics seated at a bench where all the tools had been shoved off onto the floor. The men, comfortably seated at the bench, had books open, writing furiously.

Banner eased through the jam of cars, and peered over their shoulders. They were all working on different pages of separate copies of the same book, a text on calculus. As they filled up the sheets of paper with finished problems, they put them on top of a large stack of such papers, and tore off fresh sheets. Several unopened packs of paper, containing five hundred sheets to the pack, sat on the back of the bench.

From the service manager's cubicle across the room came the ring of a phone, then an obliging voice:

"Sure, bring it right in. We'll get at it first chance we get."

Banner stared across the room, to see the service manager put down the phone, and turn to contemplate a skeleton on a stand. His voice came faintly across the room:

"Clavicle, scapula, sternum, rib: frontal, parietal, occipital, squamous temporal, mastoid temporal, nasal, zygomatic, maxilla, mandible . . ."

Banner eased through the jammed cars, motioned the stupefied Hommel to follow, shoved open the door to the short hall, walked through, shoved open the door to the salesroom, and was greeted by the words, "Was it ethyl ether, or was it a preparation consisting of ethyl ether? In the one case, what they'd run into . . ."

Banner stiff-armed the outer door, to find the same salesman and customer standing by the car. The customer, red-faced, was saying heatedly, ". . . All I'm in here for is a car I can use to get to work!"

The salesman nodded.

"But of course you can select a car more intelligently after you learn how they operate. And it's a fascinating study. You'll be surprised, as I was, once you get into it. For instance, were you aware that the present infinitely-variable transmission is a descendant, in a sense, of a development of the 1920s . . ."

Banner walked past to his car, got in, opened Hommel's door, then nursed the engine to life.

"Let's hope, Mort, that this place isn't typical."

"It couldn't be."

"You're right. If it was, the country would have collapsed by now."

They finally found a garage that could do the job, but the mechanic was overloaded with work, and it took a long time.

Somehow, the day's experience didn't seem to augur well for the future.

As time passed, the men working on the antidote began to see the importance of it, and developed a fervor that only Peabody had had before. But it took a long time for this fervor to produce any results.

"I hate to say it," said Hommel, "but it seems to me that this Cerebrocreatine of ours helps study, but somehow prevents work."

Banner handed over a newspaper. "Take a look at this, Mort."

Hommel glanced at the paper, to find an article marked in pencil:


Saugash, April 22. Work began today on a new neighborhood college, to supplement the Saugash Community College completed here last fall. This brings to four the total of higher educational facilities in the Saugash area, counting Saugash University and Saugash Teachers College.

Dr. Rutherford Dollard Ganst, VI, President of Saugash University, presided at the ground-breaking ceremonies, which were attended by the mayor and many other notables, and a crowd of interested persons estimated at over four thousand.

President Ganst, in a short and memorable address, stated: "Nothing is more important in this day of rapid scientific advance and complex societal change than an informed citizenry. Education alone can create an informed citizenry. Thus the need for education becomes no less vital and urgent than the need for air or water, for food or any other necessity of life. Education has become the basic prerequisite for life today. Nothing is more important. Today, educational qualifications are vital to everyone, from the manual laborer at the bottom, to the head of the great educational system at the top. Employers will not accept the unqualified, because they are seriously lacking in qualifications. Without qualifications there can be no success. Mere ability is no longer enough. Indeed, with sufficient qualifications, one may dispense with ability. It is the qualifications that are vital, and only educational institutions may grant qualifications. Thus Education is no longer the necessity of youth alone. Education is now the essential and inescapable concomitant of progress and indeed of existence for every man and every woman of each and every age and condition of life, without exception, from the cradle to the grave. The gigantic dominating growth of our education system, swelling like a tide to overwhelming proportions never before conceived by the mind of man in all recorded history, cannot be resisted! Nothing can stop it. Nothing can stay it. Education will be served! Science requires it. Technology demands it. The towering giants in the field of the hierarchy of education itself mandate it! Education will conquer all!"

* * *

Hommel looked up dizzily.

Banner said, "When you first told me about this pill, Mort, you said, 'It stimulated intellectual activity. It channels energy from gross physical pursuits into imaginative creativity.' The trouble seems to be that it channels a little too much energy."

"But what can we do?"

Banner shook his head.

"Keep working on that antidote."

As the days passed, the situation didn't stand still. On a drive to town one afternoon, Banner and Hommel were nearly run off the road by a truck whose driver was studying at sixty miles an hour. A few minutes later, on the flat farmland below the highway, Hommel saw a farmer driving a tractor, reading a book strapped to the steering wheel in front of him. The tractor ran into an electric pole, the book and the farmer were knocked off. The farmer picked up the book and went on reading.

Banner parked on the shoulder of the road behind a car with a flat tire, and looked where Hommel pointed.

He shook his head, then glanced up, and murmured, "Now, what's this?"

The car in front had the left rear tire flat, and three men were standing around the open trunk of the car. They seemed to be arguing in a languid way.

"Oh, no," one of them was saying, "I'm sure the essential thing is to first jack up the car."

"You mean, elevate the car on a jack."

"Well, my terminology may have been a little imprecise, but—"

The third man broke in. "It's incorrect, in any case. The essential prerequisite is removal of the bolts while application of vehicular weight precludes rotation of the wheel."

"Rotation of the wheel? Yes, yes, we're overlooking something. Due to the fact that the wheels are fastened on opposite sides of the car, they rotate in opposite senses, and to prevent inertial loosening of the fastening nuts or cap screws—cap screws in this case, I presume—the 'handedness' of the screw threads is reversed on opposite sides of the vehicles. Now, to loosen a cap screw successfully, it must be rotated in the proper direction. Yet, the thread is screwed in out of sight in the brake drum. It is not subject to visual observation."

"That is important. How can we determine the handedness of the threads?"

A perspiring woman stuck her head out the car window.

"Oh, hurry. Please hurry."

One of the men sluggishly got out the jack and stood holding it.

"Does anyone have a text, or repair manual, that might clarify this point?"

The woman put her head out the window again.

"Please hurry! The pains are coming closer together!"

One of the men looked around severely.

"Now, don't interrupt. We have a difficult problem here."

The man with the jack leaned it against the bumper, then all three men knelt to scratch diagrams in the dirt on the shoulder of the road.

Banner and Hommel hadn't changed a tire in years, but they could stand it no longer, and got out.

Banner grabbed the jack, and fitted it under the rear bumper. Hommel pulled out a combination tire iron and lug wrench, popped off the wheel cover, and loosened the wheel. Banner jacked the car up. Hommel took the wheel off. Banner got out the spare, and Hommel put it on while Banner put the flat into the trunk, then let down the jack. Hommel banged the wheel cover into place. Banner put the jack in the trunk. Hommel tossed the tire iron inside, and they turned away.

The other three men stood staring. One of them shook a yellow capsule out of a bottle, tossed it into his mouth and swallowed.

"Would you be prepared to do that again? I'm not sure that we've learned all the essential manipulations."

The woman put her head out the window. There was a note of desperate urgency in her voice.

"The pains are getting closer together!"

As the car disappeared down the highway, Banner and Hommel stood staring after it.

"How near, Mort, are we to that antidote?"

Hommel had a haunted look.

"No one could say. Peabody seems to be closest. But he could run into trouble any time. Besides, his solution seems to be the least desirable."

"Don't worry about that," said Banner with feeling. "Just as long as we get it while there's time to use it."

Several more weeks crawled by, so slowly that they seemed like months or years. Meanwhile, the gradual overall disintegration turned into specific failures in production and distribution. Little notice of this appeared in newspapers, general magazines, or on radio or television, which were preoccupied with more intellectual matters, particularly "adjusted voting." Under "adjusted voting" each person would cast a number of votes in accordance with his "intellectual level." The more degrees, the more votes. Television networks were carrying the "Debate of the Century" on this plan, the object of the most acrimonious dispute being how many votes should be allowed for publication in professional journals. No one dared to disagree with the principle of the plan, lest he label himself as "undereducated." To be "undereducated" was a serious business. The social stigma attached to it was about equivalent to having served two terms in prison for robbing gas stations and grocery stores.

In the midst of all this, with consumption of Cerebrocreatine mounting from week to week, with gigantic new campuses looming over the landscape, with the airwaves thick with learned discussions as the means of existence crumbled, Hommel and Peabody walked into Banner's office.

"Well, we've got it. It's practically a stupidity drug, but it works."


Banner got the new drug on the market in record time. Advertised as "SuperAktion, for active people—instant-acting stimulant to healthful practical activity," it was wholesaled at a very modest profit in "superinhalator bottles," supposed to be used by spraying into the nose and throat.

"For the love of Heaven," said Hommel, "why don't we sell it in capsules?"

"It isn't going to sell like wildfire, Mort. Not in the present state of affairs. What one-hundred-percent intellectual is interested in healthful practical activity? And what is Cerebrocreatine turning the average person into?"

"I know. We should sell it in some different form. If only—"

Banner shook his head. "Since it will have only a very limited sale, we've got to make the most of it." He picked up a sample inhalator. It was shaped like a small gun, made of violet plastic, with the label on the side of the grip. Banner aimed it across the room, and squeezed the trigger. There was a squish sound, and a fine jet of liquid shot out, to leave an oval of tiny droplets on the wall.

Hommel frowned, and looked at the "superinhalator" again.

"When in doubt," said Banner, "rely on human nature. Real human nature, with its high points and its low points. Bear in mind, there are likely to be a few unregenerate bullheaded individualists around, regardless of anything formal education can do, even backed up by a thing like Cerebrocreatine."

"I still don't—"

From the window came a rude roar of exhaust, and a screech of brakes.

Banner looked out, to see a truck marked "Central Plumbing" slam to a stop in the drive below. Three men in coveralls jumped out, went around to the rear, yanked out a blow torch, a suction plunger, a coil of wire, and a tool case, and headed for the front door.

Hommel looked out.

"About time. That drain has been plugged for three months." He shook his head dispiritedly. "But I still don't see any way that we can hope—"

From a window down below boomed a rough profane voice:

"Where's the drain? We haven't got the whole ___ __ _ ___ day! Great _____ ! Look at all these stupid ________ !"

There was a faint but distinct squish squish squish sound.

Hommel stared at Banner, then at the "superinhalator" on his desk.

Banner said, "Practical men use practical means, Mort."

There was a thunder of feet on the staircase down the hall.

Banner and Hommel went into the hallway, to find a research chemist named Smyth looking around dazedly as he tossed yellow capsules into his mouth and contemplated some complex theoretical problem.

Up the stairs burst a couple of brisk men in gray lab coats, followed by three more in coveralls.

Smyth looked at this crew as at a colony of tame ants that has gotten out of its jar.

One of the men in overalls shifted his blowtorch to the other hand, and aimed a small violet gun at Smyth.


Smyth staggered back against the wall. He sucked in a deep breath, and suddenly his expression changed from dreamy contemplation to astonishment. He banged his fist into his open hand.

"Why am I just standing here thinking about it? Why not do it?"

He strode off down the corridor in one direction as the plumbers vanished around the corner in the other direction.

From around the corner came a sucking pumping sound, followed by a gurgling noise, more sucking and pumping sounds, a good deal of profanity, then a shout of triumph.

"She's unplugged! O.K., boys, let's go!"

Banner nodded.

"That's more like it!"

Hommel looked down the hall where Smyth had disappeared.

"Wait a minute. What's he working on—"

There was a thundering noise on the stairs, then the roar of exhaust.

Smyth came hurrying back up the hall, carrying what looked like a silver-coated round-bottomed flask in one hand, and in the other a small bottle of yellowish oily liquid. From the mouth of the silvered flask came a wisp of whitish vapor.

Hommel stared. "Great, holy, leaping—"

"You see, Mort," said Banner, a little expansively, "we've provided the few remaining practical men with the means to convert intellectuals into practical men. They, in turn, will be irritated by the intellectuals around them. There's the answer to our problem."

Hommel was watching Smyth.

Smyth vanished into his laboratory.

Banner went on, "The trouble with Cerebrocreatine was that it undermined necessities of life at the same time that it gave us fringe benefits we could get along without. That's not progress. Progress is the product of a new advantage compounding advantages we already have."

He paused as Smyth came out holding in one gloved hand a shiny rod bearing at its end a clamp. The clamp gripped a small unstoppered bottle of yellowish oily liquid.

Smyth insinuated the rod around the door frame, peered into the room, drew the door almost shut, turned his face away, and tilted the rod.


The building jumped. Fire shot out around the edges of the door. Black smoke rolled out behind the flames.

Smyth threw off the smoking glove, sniffed the air, then sucked his fingers.

"Well, that didn't work."

He turned away, drew in a deep breath, then went back into his laboratory. There was immediately the whir of a powerful draft sucking up fumes.

"Hm-m-m," said Banner looking thoughtfully at the partly opened door.

Smyth reappeared, unrolling what looked like a small coil of bell wire. He tacked a loop to the door frame, then, still unrolling wire, went back into the laboratory. Wisps of smoke were still trailing out around the top of the door, but this didn't seem to slow him down. He came out, cut the loop, stripped the insulation off the two ends, pounded in another tack, and hammered it flat to hold the two wires. Then he bent the ends of the wires, so they wouldn't touch—yet.

Hommel cleared his throat.

"Ah . . . Dr. Smyth . . . I wonder if perhaps . . . a little more theoretical consideration of the thermodynamics of the reaction—?"

"Theoretical considerations be damned," said Smyth. "The only way we're going to find out is to try it and see what products we get."

He raised his left arm over his head, shielding one ear with his shoulder, and the other with his fingers, then he touched the bare ends of the two wires together.


The building jumped.

Cracks shot up the wall.

There was a heavy shattering crash from overhead.

As the roar died away, the smash and tinkle of breaking glass could be heard throughout the building.

Smyth shoved the door slightly open, and a grayish cloud poured out. He wafted some of the fumes in his direction, and sniffed cautiously.

His face lit in a triumphant smile.

"That saves some time!"

He pulled the door shut, and headed toward the stockroom.

Hommel turned to Banner, "How is this an improvement? We were better off with theorists!"

"We've overshot the mark again. This stuff is too strong."

"There's a threshold effect. If you don't use enough, you get no result you can detect."

A small crowd was gathering in the hall to see what was going on. Banner separated Peabody from the pack.

"Peabody, my boy," said Banner, "we've got this last problem pretty well licked, thanks to your antidote. But there's still one little loose end that we've got to take care of."

Peabody looked apprehensive.

"What's that, sir?"

Banner shook his head.

"Now we need an antidote for the antidote."


Back | Next