Player piano

1

ILIUM, NEW YORK, is divided into three parts.

In the northwest are the managers and engineers and civil servants and a few professional people; in the northeast are the machines; and in the south, across the Iroquois River, is the area known locally as Homestead, where almost all of the people live.

If the bridge across the Iroquois were dynamited, few daily routines would be disturbed. Not many people on either side have reasons other than curiosity for crossing.

During the war, in hundreds of Iliums over America, managers and engineers learned to get along without their men and women, who went to fight. It was the miracle that won the war—production with almost no manpower. In the patois of the north side of the river, it was the know-how that won the war. Democracy owed its life to know-how.

Ten years after the war—after the men and women had come home, after the riots had been put down, after thousands had been jailed under the antisabotage laws—Doctor Paul Proteus was petting a cat in his office. He was the most important, brilliant person in Ilium, the manager of the Ilium Works, though only thirty-five. He was tall, thin, nervous, and dark, with the gentle good looks of his long face distorted by dark-rimmed glasses.

He didn’t feel important or brilliant at the moment, nor had he for some time. His principle concern just then was that the black cat be contented in its new surroundings.

Those old enough to remember and too old to compete said affectionately that Doctor Proteus looked just as his father had as a young man—and it was generally understood, resentfully in some quarters, that Paul would someday rise almost as high in the organization as his father had. His father, Doctor George Proteus, was at the time of his death the nation’s first National Industrial, Commercial, Communications, Foodstuffs, and Resources Director, a position approached in importance only by the presidency of the United States.

As for the Proteus genes’ chances of being passed down to yet another generation, there were practically none. Paul’s wife, Anita, his secretary during the war, was barren. Ironically as anyone would please, he had married her after she had declared that she was certainly pregnant, following an abandoned office celebration of victory.

“Like that, kitty?” With solicitousness and vicarious pleasure, young Proteus ran a roll of blueprints along the cat’s arched back. “Mmmmm-aaaaah—good, eh?” He had spotted her that morning, near the golf course, and had picked her up as a mouser for the plant. Only the night before, a mouse had gnawed through the insulation on a control wire and put buildings 17, 19, and 21 temporarily out of commission.

Paul turned on his intercom set. “Katharine?”

“Yes, Doctor Proteus?”

“Katharine, when’s my speech going to be typed?”

“I’m doing it now, sir. Ten, fifteen minutes, I promise.”

Doctor Katharine Finch was his secretary, and the only woman in the Ilium Works. Actually, she was more a symbol of rank than a real help, although she was useful as a stand-in when Paul was ill or took a notion to leave work early. Only the brass—plant managers and bigger—had secretaries. During the war, the managers and engineers had found that the bulk of secretarial work could be done—as could most lower-echelon jobs—more quickly and efficiently and cheaply by machines. Anita was about to be dismissed when Paul had married her. Now, for instance, Katharine was being annoyingly unmachine-like, dawdling over Paul’s speech, and talking to her presumed lover, Doctor Bud Calhoun, at the same time.

Bud, who was manager of the petroleum terminal in Ilium, worked only when shipments came or went by