Orpheus With Clay Feet
At the offices of Concord Military Service Consultants, Jesse Slade looked through the window at the street below and saw everything denied him in the way of freedom, flowers and grass, the opportunity for a long and unencumbered walk into new places. He sighed.
“Sorry, sir,” the client opposite his desk mumbled apologetically. “I guess I’m boring you.”
“Not at all,” Slade said, reawakening to his onerous duties. “Let’s see…” He examined the papers which the client, a Mr. Walter Grossbein, had presented to him. “Now you feel, Mr. Grossbein, that your most favorable chance to elude military service lies in the area of a chronic ear-trouble deemed by civilian doctors in the past acute labyrinthitis. Hmmm.” Slade studied the pertinent documents.
His duties – and he did not enjoy them – lay in locating for clients of the firm a way out of military service.
The war against the Things had not been conducted properly, of late; many casualties from the Proxima region had been reported – and with the reports had come a rush of business for Concord Military Service Consultants.
“Mr. Grossbein,” Slade said thoughtfully, “I noticed when you entered my office that you tended to list to one side.”
“Did I?” Mr. Grossbein asked, surprised.
“Yes, and I thought to myself, That man has a severe impairment of his sense of balance. That’s related to the ear, you know, Mr. Grossbein. Hearing, from an evolutionary standpoint, is an outgrowth of the sense of balance. Some water creatures of a low order incorporate a grain of sand and make use of it as a drop-weight within their fluid body, and by that method tell if they’re going up or down.”
Mr. Grossbein said, “I believe I understand.”
“Say it, then,” Jesse Slade said.
“I – frequently list to one side or another as I walk.”
“And at night?”
Mr. Grossbein frowned, and then said happily, “I, uh, find it almost impossible to orient myself at night, in the dark, when I can’t see.”
“Fine,” Jesse Slade said, and begin writing on the client’s military service form B-30. “I think this will get you an exemption,” he said.
Happily, the client said, “I can’t thank you enough.”
Oh yes you can, Jesse Slade thought to himself. You can thank us to the tune of fifty dollars. After all, without us you might be a pale, lifeless corpse in some gully on a distant planet, not far from now.
And, thinking about distant planets, Jesse Slade felt once more the yearning. The need to escape from his small office and the process of dealing with gold-bricking clients whom he had to face, day after day.
There must be another life than this, Slade said to himself. Can this really be all there is to existence?
Far down the street outside his office window a neon sign glowed night and day. Muse Enterprises, the sign read, and Jesse Slade knew what it meant. I’m going in there, he said to himself. Today. When I’m on my ten-thirty coffee break; I won’t even wait for lunch time.
As he put on his coat, Mr. Hnatt, his supervisor, entered the office and said, “Say, Slade, what’s up? Why the fierce trapped look?”
“Um, I’m getting out, Mr. Hnatt,” Slade told him. “Escaping. I’ve told fifteen thousand men how to escape military service; now it’s my turn.”
Mr. Hnatt clapped him on the back. “Good idea, Slade; you’re overworked. Take a vacation. Take a time-travel adventure to some distant civilization – it’ll do you good.”