“Is it sock?” tilt Big Man inquired nervously, flicking a tablet into his mouth.
“It is sock,” the Official Coordinator of TV’ Production replied. “It is wham and boff. I give you my word.”
“I give it back to you. Words mean nothing. It’s pictures that count. Flap?” “Sure: flap, flap.” the Official Coordinator said, and slipped a small needle into a large vein. “But I tell you. B. P.. there is nothing to worry about. We have got thirty cameras regular and sixty in reserve. For every actor, two stand-ins. In fact, we have even got stand-ins for the stand-ins. Nothing can go wrong. Nothing-O.”
The Big Man collapsed into a chair and moved a handkerchief rhythmically across his neck. “I don’t know,” he said.
”I am worried.”
“What you should do. B. P..” the Official Coordinator said, “is, you should relax.”
The Big Man belched a picture off the wall. “Relax!” he shouted. “The most expensive TV production in history and he tells me to relax!”
“B. P., flap this. Everything is scatty-boo, A through Z. We absotively and posilutely cannot miss.”
“I just don’t know,” the Big Man said, shaking his head.
The Official Coordinator removed a red pellet from an onyx case and tossed it into his mouth. “Boss, listen to me for a double-mo. Listen. Close the eyes. Now: You are no longer the Chief and Commander of Production of the World’s Largest TV Studio — ”
The Big Man trembled slightly.
“You are, instead, Mr. Average World Family. 1976 A. D. Flap?”
“Kay. You are sitting in front of your two-thirds-paid-for 150-inch non-curved wall TV Viewer. You are in your undershirt. The missus has poured you a beer and you are munching Cheese Drackles. Reety-O. Suddenly you see that it is two minutes to eight. You jab the auto-ray and switch channels right away, if you are sucker enough to be on another channel, which, thanks to those lousy feebs at OBC, maybe you are. But not for long! Because for six months you have been hearing about it. The biggest, the greatest, the most spectacular, the most expensive production ever to hit the screen. Said I biggest? Said I greatest? Said I most spectacular? Father-O, this is a veritybohble monster of a show! So what do we call it? Naicheroonv: The Monster Show! ‘EVERYBODY WILL BE WATCHING IT. WILL YOU?’ These words. Mr. Average World Family, are stamped into your brain. You’ve seen them everywhere: billboards, leaflets, skywriting, magazine ads, the regular 15-minute daily cominersh; and you’ve heard them everywhere, too: in busses and planes and cars, from your children — ”
“Meant to tell you.” the Big Man interrupted, “getting at the children was a good move.”
“What about the parrots?”
“The parrots was also a good move.”
“I blush, B. P. But hearken O: There you are. Are you there?”
“Proceed on. I am ears.”
“Kay. It is one minute to eight. You are shaking with excitement, just like all the rest of the Folks everywhere else. In the bars, in the theatres, in the homes. Some with two-foot curvo screens, some with modest 40-inchers, some even — like the cops anti all — with nothing but their wrist-peeps. But they’re with ya: you know that. Get the image, B. P. All over the world, everything stopped, everybody staring at their sets, waiting, waiting . . .”
“What about the competition?”
The Official Coordinator stuck his hands in his pockets and did a sort of dance. “B. P., Unde-O — there isn’t any!” He grinned widely. “And that is my surprise.”
The Big Man opened his eyes. He clutched the arms of the chair. “How’s that, how’s that?”
“You tell me no stories. I’ll tell you no untruths,” the Official Coordinator smirked. “Baby, they have scratched themselves. Us they do not choose to buck. They are offering to the folks in place of their usual maloop a kitty of our own show — which I got a hefty slap for which. Mother-O . . .”
“Now, now.” said the Big Man, smiling slyly, “you did not muscle the OBC boys a little. I hope?”
“Truth-O, Uncle. Nay. They plain quit. The eight spot is ours!” The Official Coordinator slapped his hands together. “And who’s to blame them? What The Monster Show has not got you can mount on the sharp end of an isotope. Flap this: We begin with a two-hour commerrial round-up, advertising the products of our 57 sponsors: General Turbines, Sleep-Neat Capsules. Chewey-Flakes, the Komfy-Kool TV Furniture line and ek-cetera. But are these ordinary commershes? Noo. We have them tricked out so they look prezactly like the show. Excavate?”
“Kay. Then; into the show. And what a show! I ask you. Mr. Average World Family, at night when you’re all blasted out and ready for the old air-matt do you like to get spooned a lot of maloop you have got to think about, or do you like to get round?”
The Big Man made a solemn circle with his finger.
“And what is the roundest? Something long and complex and all drawn out? Nay. Variety: that’s what is the roundest. So we give you a variety show. Starting things off with a kronch, we have a half-hour trained dog art. Then right into fifteen minutes of old Western movie footage, with the middle reel of a British mystery for the capper. Then a full hour of wrestling, male and female. Ears?”
“A mere startcroo. B. P. We punch ’em with twenty minutes of hillbilly-style Used Car coinmersh, and then we really start fighting. A right cross with Rev. Vincent Bell on How to Live Up to the Hilt: a left jab with the first installment of a new detergent-opera. Jill Jackson. Jet-Wife: an uppercut to the jaw with Who’s Zoo — keep moving; don’t give ’em a chance to think, see — followed by a flurry of lightning blows to the face and body: Chef Gaston Escargot’s School of Cookery’. Mike Tomelrist, Private Op! A Ten-Year Roundup of Sloth Turbo and Jaloppy Racing! A musical remake of the old motion picture Waterloo Bridge, now called London Derriere!” The Official Coordinator was warming to his topic: his eyes were wide and his lower lip moist. “Do we swing?”
The Big Man nodded. “Speaking as Mr. Average World Family.” he said, “I am getting slightly interested. Wing on.”
“Well, we got ’em dizzy now. flap? Kay. We ease off with a handcream commersh: you know, the voodoo dance routine? Thirty minutes. Then, quos! Right in the old schwanzola!”
“What do we do. what do we do?” the Big Man asked.
“We let ’em have it. POW!” The Official Coordinator needled a vein ecstatically, and exploded: “The old haymaker. The slamboreeno. Twenty of the world’s greatest comedians onstage, going through their most famous routines, all at the same time!”
There was a pregnant pause.
Then the Big Man shot from his chair, extruded a hirsute hand and laid it gently on the Official Coordinator’s shoulder. “One thing,” he said, with genuine concern.
“Yes?” the Official Coordinator quavered.
“Do we have enough?”
“B. P., I think we do. I really and truly think we do.” The Coordinator quickly rolled three pellets into his mouth and grimaced.
“Then,” said the Big Man, “I feel that we ought to be mighty proud. And, Flap me, mighty humble, too. Because we are giving the world public the thing they want and need most: Entertainment.” He winked gravely. “Also, we are making for ourselves a few drachmae. Excavate?”
The Official Coordinator brushed a tear of satisfaction from his check. “Boss.” he said, in cathedral tones, “I promise you this. This I promise you. Everybody on Earth is going to be watching The Monster Show tonight. It is going to be an experience no one will forget. In fact, I will far-enough-go to say that it will be the most important moment in history!”
The Big Man squeezed the Coordinator’s fleshly digits and smiled. “Screech.” he said. “You’ve done poo-goo. Now powder: the mind must rest.” The Coordinator nodded, tugged at his forelock, and exited through the bullet-proof sliding door.
When it was firmly shut, the Big Man went over and locked it; then he removed from his pocket a flat disc with three knobs. He twiddled the knobs. There was a humming.
“As planned.” the Big Man said, and put the triple-knobbed disc back into his pocket.
His face was curiously devoid of expression. There was perhaps a trace of amusement about the mouth-ends as he went to the chromium bar and poured himself a shot of amber; perhaps not. He tilted the glass, swallowed, hiccoughed, set the glass down and punched the interoffice audiobox. “Miss Dove-coat,” he said, “please flap me good. I will see no one between now and the show. Out?”
“And over,” the voice of Miss Dove-coat crackled.
The Big Man sat in the chair, silent and unmoving, expressionless as a barracuda for four and a half hours.
At ten minutes to eight he pressed seventeen levers on his desk and listened to seventeen yessirs.
“Report?” he barked.
“Scatoreeny, sir,” came the answer like a celestial choir somewhat off-key. “Sure?”
“Absotive and posilute.”
“With an ‘o’. With a ‘k’.”
“You snap the whip, we’ll take the voyage.”
“Ears out, now. Coverage?” “One-hundred-percent.”
“100% one-hundred-percent 100%!” “Kay. Gentlemen: Proceed on.”
The Big Man turned off all the levers and touched a concealed desk button. The three walls of the room seemed to shimmer and reshape themselves into a perfect curve; then they became clear. The image of a man fifty feet tall appeared. He was smiling and pouring a hundred gallons of beer into a gigantic glass.
“ … so gel those taste buds unlimbered, folksies, and treat yourselves to the world’s favorite brew: Rocky Mountain! Yes! That’s absotively right! I said Rocky Mountain! And…”
In moments the giant man faded, and there was a portentous pause.
Then, the sound of a thousand trumpets, and an aerial shot of 70 handpicked chorus girls, so arranged as to spell out:
The Big Man waited a moment, until the Emcee had come on-stage, then he snapped the concealed button and the walls became walls again.
He removed the triple-knobbed disc.
“Now.” he said, and slumped into a chair.
Hours passed, but he did not move.
Finally, there was a sharp knock at the bullet-proof sliding door.
The Big Man went to the door and opened it, cautiously. Eight lavender creatures with slimy skin and no noses at all were at the threshold.
“Well?” the Big Man said. “How did it go?”
One of the creatures, slightly more lavender than the rest, stepped forward. “Extremely well,” it said. “In fact, perfectly. The Earth people are all dead. Thanks, Volshak, to you.”
“Nonsense,” the Big Man said, turning into a lavender creature with slimy skin and no nose at all. “I have had quite enough idolatry. I prefer to think of myself merely as an agent who tried to do his job.”
“Volshak. Volshak,” the creature hissed, “such modesty is touching, and a credit to our race; but there is no getting around it. You are a hero. Why, if there had been the slightest resistance, we would have failed. We had few weapons, a bare handful of warriors — frankly, we were very nearly ready to descend into The Great Abyss. But even the gulfs are full of vanquished invaders: we did not have, so to speak, a pit to pass in. But now we may revel in the sunlight and enjoy the blessings of propagation on a new world without having lost a single thrimp.” The creature put a boneless tentacle forward. “How did you manage it? Volshak. how did you manage to put all the Earth people to sleep at the same time?”
But Volshak was blushing. He turned his unprohoscidean face to the wall and muttered, in a small, proud voice: It was easy.”