At No Extra Cost by Peter Phillips

I’ve always hoped that editors of retrospective science fiction anthologies missed a few gems when mining old science fiction magazines because I want new editors to still have stories to discover. I believe “At No Extra Cost” by Peter Phillips is one to consider. It’s not a classic, but if I was editing a collection of AI and robot science fiction stories I’d include it. “At No Extra Cost” came out in the August 1951 issue of Marvel Science Fiction and was recognized as one of the best stories of 1951 by Bleiler and Dikty in The Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1952. Except for one minor German reprint in 1974, Bleiler and Dikty were the last editors to appreciate this story.

I feel “At No Extra Cost” is as good as Heinlein’s shorts in the 1940s. Phillips combined a good futuristic conflict without doing a lot of info-dumping. But like I said, it comes from a lesser SF magazine, and it’s not been regularly reprinted over the years, so maybe it’s something that only tickles my interest. Recent news reports suggest that stories published during this time are not likely under copyright, so I’ll reprint it below. It will be a test of my new OCR program. See if you find it fun too.

We don’t know much about Peter Phillips. He never published much. I wonder if editors overlooked him because he never stood out in the digests. He has five stories in our database but never got enough citations to make the final list.

When reading an old SF story we should try to consider the scientific knowledge of the period. In 1951 computers were just being discussed in the public, and it would be years before the term artificial intelligence would be created. Most science fiction writers at the time just presented robots that acted human, so we have to give Phillips credit for trying to imagine how a computer could evolve into a conscious entity. And we should give him extra credit for creating an interesting religious angle for society to reject robots. Although, I have to ding Phillips ten points for not taking the plot to its logical conclusion – won’t intelligent robots be slaves if we own them and make them work?

AT NO EXTRA COST

Peter Phillips

“. . . . AND I say to you that this Breath of Life is a holy thing, and that they who sin against it will receive the judgment of the true Maker. His wrath shall be on their heads who defile His greatest gift, who cannot create but only subvert and warp and wrench asunder, who are as blind, idiot children that mock their parents in play. For Life without Soul is without blessing; and Flesh without the Spirit is an abomination. . . .”

You could hear the capitals.

Macho flipped off the audio, leaving the automatic transcriber still running, and swore slowly.

The young man sitting at the opposite side of his desk smiled, shook his head. “Not so, Mr. Macho. The man’s good. Elizabethan blood and thunder, rounded periods, phrasing, vocabulary, cadences—perfect. Intensive study of semantics and rhetoric.”

“It’s blasphemous.”

“How? The translators of the Authorised Version of the Bible didn’t get a lien on the language. There was a gentleman named Shakespeare, remember.”

Macho chewed air. “We must get him on something. Sales are down ten percent and still slipping.”

“What’s Bertie’s final word?”

Macho fingered the terse, thousand-word report of company lawyer Bertram Makepeace, skittered it off his desk with impatient contempt.

“Says we can’t touch him. The International ruling is explicit. Freedom of speech and worship, full access to all means of disseminating opinion. The Limitations Statute gives protection against rivals or misrepresentation. But he’s not a rival. He’s just a nut.”

“Misrepresentation then—-”

“How? He doesn’t say that our Servotrons are lazy or inefficient or that they smell, or eat the baby, or draw rude pictures on the wall. He just says they have no soul!”

“One would scarcely imagine that a drawback in this enlightened age,” the young man murmured, blue eyes wide and innocent.

Macho regarded him suspiciously. It was often difficult to decide whether Johannes Hensen was being perfectly sincere or vastly cynical. Perhaps that was why he was one of the best—and youngest—men in publicity.

Macho decided he was being cynical. “Funny man … It happens it is a drawback, the way The Preacher puts it over. People haven’t heard that sort of thing since the big revivals in the ’Sixties. They’re lapping it up. And not buying Servotrons.”

He placed a stubby forefinger dead center on his desk-pad. “It’s your job to sell ’em. Do it.”

Hensen got up. “I’ll slip over to Assembly right away.”

“What in hell for?”

The young man displayed a smile of cherubic confidence as he paused at the door. “Simple, Mr. Macho. I’ll get them to slip in a soul on the last stage.”

But Hensen, as he made his way to his own self-contained suite of offices and studios in the squat Servotron-National administration building on the outskirts of the square half-mile of factories, let the smile slip from his face.

It was bad. S.-N. stock—good-as-gold for five years—was on the way down. This latest radio ranting of The Preacher would take off a few more points.

What had the man got? Money, to begin with. He bought air-time, vision-time—his lean, hard-planed face, his shock of black hair and burning eyes televised well—full-page ads, leaflet give-aways by the millions.

A voice. A rich, stirring voice, with every modulation, every inflexion tested for full emotional value: hard in warning, trembling in exhortation, calm and incisive in a logic that could not be assailed because it was not based on scientific postulates, but on premises that could not in themselves be questioned.

Existence of a soul, for instance.

Fine, you’d say. Show us the soul the Servotron hasn’t got. Hold it up, turn it over, give its mass, density, molecular pattern—and we’ll see what we can do about fabricating one.

“1992 model Servotron. Soul installed at no extra cost.”

But they’re machines, brother. They’re just as much machines as they were fifteen years ago, before Solipson got controlled cell-growth around Merifree’s neural complex. The electronic control is the same. They’re humanoid, not human. Flesh instead of metal—but not living flesh. You can grow the same stuff out of chicken tissue in your back kitchen if you know how. They only feel what they’re conditioned to feel, for functional purposes—

Hensen’s lips were moving unconsciously as he continued the imaginary argument.

Certainly we give them three arms. Or four arms. They’re extensions of a machine, not limbs. Servotron copter-pilots can do with all of them in city traffic—and with the eye back of their heads. They’ve got more reaction factors than the automatic pilots manufactured back in the ’Forties. But they’re merely a development of the same principles. We could shove the whole thing right back in a tin box for that matter. But we’ve got human nature to deal with. Passengers don’t like to give orders to tin boxes. They don’t feel safe with just a buzzing box between them and a smash-up in a sky full of traffic.

But give them a gadget that moves and talks, that has four very competent hands and three eyes—and they’ll sit back and relax.

Ugly? Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder. A purely functional machine can never be truly ugly. And have you seen our new Servotron pony for kids? It’s based on a design by Max Moulton, the top sculptor in this hemisphere—and it’s beautiful. . . .

Hensen back-heeled the door of his office and slumped in his chair, even forgetting in the concentration of the moment to ease the creases in his trousers. Which was unusual. He paid high prices for his clothes, carried them well.

The Preacher was beating him at his own game. Publicity. He’d grabbed the ear of the public. How? Not easy to answer. Appeal to religious feelings, to an abstract sense of justice—in part, perhaps.

But there was something more, something that sprang from the conditions of the age. People had money, security in a stable economy, comfort, leisure, entertainment . . . The Preacher had given them something new. Or something so old that it was new again. The voice crying in the wilderness. The individual who had courage enough to shout down a great corporation for what he believed was right. One man against a million, crusading for a principle.

People were listening.

And talking

Crank; uh-huh. But you should hear him. The way he puts it over, all them long words sounding just right. You don’t get speakers like that nowadays, much. Now if our local minister had a voice like that, he’d pack the church . . .

Oh, Mabel, doesn’t it just make you feel you must do something about those poor soulless creatures . . .

Believe me, Alice, just as soon as I switched off, I turned to George and said: “George, you can cancel the order for that new model chauffeur right away. I won’t have one of those poor, tormented beings near my house,” I said . . .

Slaves, he said . . .

Like Abraham Lincoln . . .

But, darling, he doesn’t want them free, he doesn’t want them made at all. . . . There’s something to it, Harry. Give me the old-fashioned electronic type anyway. You could always cuss ’em or kick ’em when they didn’t plough straight, and send for a mechanic. You knew they wouldn’t answer back. But bawl these things out, and you get a goshawful feeling they should answer back, but they can’t—like kicking a hound-dog, or a hired man who’s deaf and dumb, if you get what I mean . . .

Sure they’re useful, but . . .

If you want them to answer back, we’ll make them to answer back. They’ll do anything. But they aren’t human. They aren’t even animals. They’re machines. Ministers and clergy of recognized religious bodies fully accept that. It’s only this crank with money to burn who tells you differently. You don’t even know his name, who or what he really is. Just—The Preacher. I tell you they’re machines.

Hensen said the last word aloud, fiercely. For a publicity man, he was apt to get a little too dispirited at the refusal of human nature to become completely predictable. It was the age of reason. The Preacher had given them a little unreason, nicely wrapped up, and they were falling for it.

Hensen stabbed a desk button.

Theo glided in.

“What’s the time, Theo?”

“Thirteen-three, sir.”

“Do you have a soul, Theo?”

Silence.

“When did Camillus build the Temple of Concord?”

“In the year 366 B.C., sir.”

“Have you a soul, Theo?”

More silence.

“Pawn to Q.4.”

“Pawn to Q.4.”

“Pawn to Q.B.4.”

“Pawn to K.3.”

“Same defense again, eh? . . . Do you have a soul?”

Still silence.

“Oh, go home!” Hensen snorted.

“Very good, sir.”

“NO! Fetch me a coffee. Black and sweet.”

Mnemonic patterns superimposed to order.

A walking filing cabinet, valet, chess-player, conversationalist and dilletante of the arts—apply the correct verbal stimuli and you’d get a variable discourse on anything from cave paintings to Dali.

Musician. Theo could play ten Beethoven sonatas with uncanny accuracy. And a complete lack of feeling and expression.

A soul might help at that, Hensen thought wryly. Mrs. Hensen refused to let Theo touch the piano in their apartment. A penny in an old-fashioned electric player-piano gave better music, she said.

But Theo was good. Give him the vocabulary, the voice, the aim—to sway listeners—and he could out-preach The Preacher.

Out-preach—-

Hensen grabbed a phone. “Call the Brax Hotel, ask if The Preacher will see me.”

The preacher’s direct and unwavering gaze was strangely disconcerting. Hensen held it for a while, then looked away with the feeling that his own eyes had been drawn out of focus.

The man sitting behind a small, simple desk, gave an impression of granitic solidity.

“Cui bono . . . ?” Hensen said.

“My dear young friend, I have excused your crass presumption in offering me what amounted to a bribe to cease my agitation against the evil products of your company; I have forgiven your lack of ability to comprehend the simplest tenets of moral philosophy; but I can tolerate no further imputations against my personal integrity. If it is beyond your ethical understanding that a man’s motives may be entirely altruistic, that he may serve the highest Truth with no thought of Self—save in that such a course may bring him nearer a state of Grace—then I pity you, my son. How empty your life must be! How little—-”

“Stop it!” Hensen rudely interrupted the mellifluous flow. “Save the oratory for the customers.”

He was wearily aware that this trite discourtesy—unnatural in him—was the reaction of his ego to the suggestion of inferiority. Much more of The Preacher at full blast, and he’d either lose his temper completely or crawl out on hands and knees dragging a mutilated superiority complex behind him.

The man’s bland self-assurance was unshakeable. If it had sprung from mere self-righteousness, Hensen felt sure he could have pricked it. But The Preacher’s obvious sincerity had put him at a moral disadvantage from the beginning.

Hensen realized he’d got off on the wrong foot in making even the most vague offer of a bribe. He had intended it merely as an opening . . . “Naturally I did not believe for a moment that you would be interested in such an offer, but you will realize that in the circumstances when large sums are at stake, big corporations are inclined to think in terms of money . . . They insisted that the offer should be made, despite my protests . . . But at least, the air is now clear and I can be perfectly frank.”

That was to have been the gambit: gain his confidence, swap sincerity for sincerity, then lead up to a challenge.

But the man’s reaction had been so sharp, vehement—and exhaustive—that Hensen had been thrown on the defensive and The Preacher had given him no opportunity to revoke on the offer and regain his balance. Resentful at being preached at, embittered by the all-inclusive denunciation, Hensen had forgotten diplomacy and identified himself completely with Servotron-National. And he couldn’t even argue that he’d been driven into a false position. Perhaps that was what The Preacher had intended. He’d been outwitted. It hurt.

The Preacher turned the knife. “You are an egotistical young man and a boor withal. I think this discussion is best terminated before your unschooled emotions impel you to more contumely worthy of a street hooligan.”

Hensen swallowed hard, forced a smile.

“You’re worthy of a better antagonist. Would you be prepared to maintain your position in public dispute—-”

“—-In the manner o£ the ancient Greeks . . . ? Against

a champion chosen by you . . . ? My dear young fellow, I have been expecting such a challenge from the moment you entered this room.”

“Then you accept?”

“Certainly. Bring forth your Devil’s Advocate. Prime him with evil as you will, he shall not prevail.”

“And meantime—”

“And meantime, my campaign will continue. Good-day, Mr. Hensen.”

“Prime” was the word.

“We’ll prime him with the answer to every question— and more important, the question to every answer. Everything from Aristotle to Whitehead, from Aquinas to Bradlaugh, plus a course in the technique of disputation and oratory prepared by the best brains we can buy. We’ll use every cent of this year’s allocation for the publicity buildup, stage it in Vision City, get world-wide coverage. Then when The Preacher stands confounded amid his own disrupted arguments, Theo reveals himself as a Servotron. Collapse of The Preacher.”

Macho looked from the enthusiastic Hensen to Seamas Hennessy, chief electronician, who shrugged. “Can do. No theoretical limit. Give me the stuff in mat formulation, and I’ll pour it in.”

“What shall we be trying to prove—that Theo has a soul?”

Hensen replied: “No. That would play right into his hands. ‘Souls in bondage to alien flesh’—I can hear his comeback. He’d have us both ways. Our intention is to throw doubt on the whole concept of the soul as expounded by the man. To beat him at his own game, to leave the customers thinking: ‘Maybe this thing has no soul. Maybe I have. And maybe I’d trade it in for the ability to talk and argue like that.” Once their confidence in The Preacher has been undermined in any degree, once they have seen his personality over-shadowed by that of another being—even an artificial being—or because it’s artificial—you’ll get a complete swing-over. I know my dear public. In the final analysis, they’ll always root for the winning side.”

Macho said: “The Board gave me a free hand. I pass.”

Mr. Como Makim, who was the next person after Hensen to interview The Preacher, came into the small office in The Preacher’s hotel suite with no intention of indulging in word-play.

He closed the door carefully behind him, said: “Well?”

The Preacher rose from behind his desk, inclined his head gravely in greeting. “I did not recognize you for a moment.”

‘‘That’s the idea.” Mr. Como Makim fingered the false beard that covered his aggressive chin. ‘‘And say ‘sir’ when you address me.”

‘‘I beg your pardon—sir. May I be seated?”

Makim glared. He suspected sarcasm. ‘‘It’s your damned room isn’t it?”

“Only nominally, sir,” The Preacher replied.

“I told you to forget things like that. You’re doing a job and this is part of it. What happened?”

The Preacher sat down. His eyes, afire when he addressed his public, were now wide, mild. He related the details of the meeting with Johannes Hensen, and the challenge.

“When?”

“In four weeks, at Vision City.”

Makim said: “Can you do it?”

“I feel quite confident, sir.”

“You’ll have to work like hell to get that stock down further before we make the killing. Put everything you’ve got into it these next four weeks.”

“Assuredly, sir.”

The door closed behind Makim. The Preacher said softly to the empty room: “What an unutterably coarse fellow. His modes of expression are invariably vulgar.”

Makim hurried home. His false beard was beginning to irritate his skin. It was crazy, running around in a disguise at his age. But fellow-directors of Automata Corporation had insisted. There must be no breath of suspicion.

“Surely it would defeat our purpose if I permit the doctrine of animism to be introduced? The argument is not that I, as a machine, possess a soul; but that, being capable of erudite disputation with a human creation of such a caliber as The Preacher, I do not stand in need of this immaterial organ, although, of course, in thus controverting the very basis of his preaching, I must take care not to offend religious susceptibilities.”

Hensen leaned back, sighed happily.

“Beautiful, Theo, beautiful. You have answered my point instead of merely making a counter-assertion. Congratulations, Hennessy.”

Seamas Hennessy said quietly: “Congratulate Theo, too. He’s worked hard.”

Hensen looked sharply at the electronician. The way he’d said that evoked a mental picture of Theo sitting up at night with an ice-pack on his head, poring over hundreds of volumes, soaking up philosophy, metaphysics and black coffee; instead of lying quiescent while Hennessy handled the controls of a fabulously complex machine that impressioned set mnemonic patterns on the Servotron’s “brain.”

Hennessy said: “You sell ’em—I make ’em. When you impress reasoning faculties, you come up against succeeding barriers—the critical points at which cells quit receiving, and you get surge-backs. The rise to the next potential level is a quantitative and qualitative jump. The first few barriers can be overcome by stepping up the input—but at some point the ‘barriers cease to be purely electronic. They become partly psychological. They can still be cracked from outside, but it’s much easier if the Servo’s co-operating—”

“Hold it. That implies an effort of will, and also that a Servo could withhold co-operation deliberately.”

“Not deliberately, but subconsciously.”

“You mean by that time they’ve got a will and a subconscious?”

“To some extent. But not in a human sense. With them, the will is merely a function of purposiveness; and the subconscious is literally a subconscious—not the repository of resentments, fears, neuroses and shelved memories that it is with us, but a lower level of consciousness induced in otherwise unimpressioned cells by some form of secondary effect. It acts as a resistance. It’s a nuisance, and we’re trying to obviate it. Meantime, the Servo himself can help to overcome that resistance. So say ‘thank-you’ to Theo.”

“I don’t get it,” Hensen said. ‘‘I’ll stick to selling them. However, if you feel like a proud father, and it makes you happy—thank you, Theo. Congratulations. And may your batteries never run dry.”

‘‘Thank you, sir,” said Theo. ‘‘I appreciate that.”

‘‘Amazing. You’re capable of gratitude?”

‘‘Possibly not in the true sense, sir. But since concepts involving the emotions as such, apart from intellect, play a large part in theology and in earlier philosophical systems, it was evidently thought desirable for purposes of the coming debate that my impressioning should take cognizance of them. I can therefore understand emotions, although, of course, I cannot experience them. Speaking of impressioning, sir, my early compulsives have not been superseded, so if you will pardon me—” Theo leaned down, straightened Hensen’s crooked tie and flicked imaginary dust from his lapel.

‘‘Would there be anything more, sir?”

‘‘Yes. Coffee. Caffeine-plus.” Hensen turned to Hennessy as Theo smoothly departed. ‘‘It’s like telling Socrates off to do the chores. Could there be resentment?”

‘‘No. But if it worries you to have a pedant as manservant, we can decondition afterwards.”

Hensen shuddered. ‘‘Talk like that, and you’ll get me cheering for The Preacher. ‘What God hath given . . .’ and so on. Maybe we should put them back into boxes if we can’t give them a soul.”

Hennessy scratched his iron-grey thatch. ‘‘Huh . . . And you’re the one who’s always insisted on their purely mechanical nature.”

‘‘There’s a limit—-”

‘‘We haven’t found it. I know what you mean, but that’s not my province. I’m concerned with theoretical limits. But we’re up against a double check in trying to find them. It’s a field in which it’s impossible to formulate data without practical experience. There are no postulates which will give us an answer. But the cost and size of the impressioning apparatus increases in proportion to the number and complexity of the mats we use—and at a hell of a rate. I’ve left the front office to figure out how many megabucks we’ve burnt in building the impressioner for Theo. But it’ll shock them. And you. I’m grateful to you, incidentally, for the opportunity to take it this far—-”

“Don’t mention it. But surely at some point the Servos will pick up the ability to learn from experience?”

“They can do that already to some extent. So can worms. But that’s a different thing from the ability to absorb knowledge from visual or oral sources, and apply it. To get that over, we might have to build a machine the size of the planet. Or at least, one of a size and complexity that make it a technical and commercial impossibility. We don’t know,” said Hennessy, and finished up with a doleful Irishism: “And the hell of it is, we shan’t know—until we’ve built it.”

Hensen became aware that a big, firm-fleshed nerveless hand was extending a cup of dark, steaming coffee towards him.

“Thanks, Theo. You should serve Mr. Hennessy first.”

“Mr. Hennessy, sir,” said Theo, “does not take coffee.” A small bomb might have exploded under Seamas Hennessy’s fundament. His chair fell backwards.

“Say that again!”

“I merely observed that you don’t take coffee, sir.”

“How did you know?”

Theo contrived to look both surprised and imperturbable. “You made some remark to that effect in the laboratory yesterday.”

Hennessy closed his eyes and swayed gently.

“What the—-” Hensen spilled some coffee.

“Don’t you get it?” said Hennessy dreamily. “We stuff his noggin with the Principia Ethica, with comparative theology; we fill in the outlines of a thousand philosophical systems; we give him the answers to a million questions, and the counter-questions that go with them; we condition him to wriggle verbally when he doesn’t know; we give him the voice of an angel, the oratory of a Demosthenes, the emoting ability of a stereo star; we tell him about epiphenomenalism, behaviorism, determinism, representationalism … We make him a walking dictionary . . .

“But there’s one thing we don’t tell him. We don’t tell him that Seamas Hennessy, proud descendant of kings, prefers a slug of good Irish whisky to the coffee they serve up around here.

“No. He just happens to overhear it. Mr. Hennessy doesn’t like coffee. So Mr. Hennessy doesn’t get coffee. Something marked, learned and acted upon without impression-ing, without instructions.

“And that simple fact,” said Hennessy, “is far more significant in its implications than the ability to recite the Encyclopaedia Britannica backwards or react fixedly to any conceivable combination of verbal stimuli in philosophical dispute.”

“In other words,” asked Hensen, “you’ve done it?”

“Yes. And how does that leave you with The Preacher?” “Strengthens his arguments of course—-Hey! Where’re you going?”

Theo stopped at the door. “I beg your pardon, sir, but Mr. Hennessy expressed a preference for whiskey—-”

Hensen said: “Make it two.”

PREACHER TAKES UP S.-N. CHALLENGE S.-N. PUTS SHIRT ON CROSS-TALK

“DISPUTE IN MANNER OF ANCIENT GREEKS” S.-N. CHAMP IS UNKNOWN

Headlines, puffs from feted columnists; stereo feature shorts; cut-ins on vision programs; bill-boards with a picture of The Preacher versus a large interrogation mark; “Note the date: Vision City, 1900 hours, August 12: tune-in, look-in, if you’ve not been lucky enough to get one of the six thousand tickets already sold;” sky jet-writing during the day; projection onto artificial clouds at night; inspired rumors; invitations to World Congress leaders, State presidents, famed lawyers, theologians, philosophers and, of course, the world’s press; stereo cameras, vision scanners, truckloads of microphones; an editorial in the Times, full of pedantic humor and classical allusions, approving the contest— “. . . although we venture to surmise that the disputants in the streets of ancient Athens would not have approved the atmosphere of ‘ballyhoo’ with which the event has been surrounded . .

Publicity was a machine that Johannes Hensen fully understood. He had put all his youthful energy—and a large slice of the Servotron-National annual publicity allocation— into the build-up for the Big Debate. The World must listen and look.

But while the World took note of his injunctions to do just that on August 12, they kept right on listening to the fascinating hell-and-brimstone denunciations of The Preacher. And S.-N. stock continued to slump.

It would slump still further if, by popular acclaim in the vast auditorium of Vision City, The Preacher was voted winner of the dispute.

Mr. Como Makim, of the Automata Corporation, watched the trend with satisfaction and re-checked the arrangements made for concerted activity by front-men soon after the market opened on the morning after the Big Debate.

“On my right,” said the announcer, “The Preacher; on my left, Mr. Theo Parabasis. The Preacher will maintain that the manufacture in the semblance of human beings of reasoning creatures who cannot, by their nature, possess a soul, is a denial of religion and of the ethical foundations of civilization; Mr. Parabasis will maintain the contrary—that these creatures, being a dependent product of Man’s genius and, at the most, an extrapolation of his own personality, stand in no more need of such an organ than any other of his mechanical inventions. . . .”

“The Preacher wrote this part,” murmured Hensen, leaning to his neighbour in the front row. Macho grunted. If it were not for the issues at stake, he would have been bored stiff already.

A few seats away, Mr. Como Makim smiled down his shirtfront as The Preacher stepped forward into the ring of microphones to a roar of applause. The atmosphere was so much like that of a big fight that The Preacher might have been expected to shake hands with himself.

Instead he raised his right hand with dramatic slowness, his eyes afire with evangelical light, and said in a rich, grave baritone: “My friends . . . This is not a mere battle of words, but of hearts, ideals and hopes—the hopes we all cherish of a life beyond this mortal flesh—.” He looked at his raised hand, fingers outspread, let it drop to his side as if in disgust.

Broad shoulders; angular, grimly handsome face white in the glare of batteries of lights; thick hair, black as the suit he wore—a picture of mental and physical power under the control of a burning, passionate purpose.

His personality came over at full strength. A young woman who felt impelled to shout, “Let ’em have it, Preacher boy’’ let the words die on her lips. Even Macho sat up.

The Preacher began with a dissertation on fundamental human values.

Ear-bait.

He was laying the foundations for the flood to follow.

He quoted from the world’s great religious testaments, subtly combining appeals to reason, emotion and tradition.

The tempo quickened as he came to philosophical arguments. The great voice pulsed into a higher key.

Then came the torrent, a brilliant, biting irruption of wit, satire, denunciation, vehement abuse, and a rolling climactic exhortation to “seek out those who defile the Spirit, and if they be not open to grace, destroy them!”

He stood with arms outflung as he hurled the last word.

A newsman mopped his brow, muttered: “Magnificent— but it’s not disputation. Three-quarters of it wouldn’t bear criticism on paper.”

But in the hall as the applause thundered on—

Hell—makes you feel kind of glad we got souls . . .

Think of those poor creatures who can never know what it’s like to feel—uplifted—like this . . .

They should stop making them. Like he says, it’s a mockery.

Boy—I’d like to see him on the stereos . . .

Mere philippic. Trained demagogue . . .

The way his eyes seem to burn right through you . . .

That voice . . .

Ummm-yum. Mummy buy me that . . .

Johannes Hensen breathed a short pagan prayer as “Mr. Parabasis” came forward.

Theo was a striking contrast to The Preacher: narrow, sensitive face—modelled closely on the picture of a popular Latin star of the movies in the early years of the century— slender, easy-moving body, with every trace of stiffness heated out in last-minute perfectioning.

He made no dramatic gestures, waited quietly until the clapping for The Preacher finally died away.

His voice was a sweet clarinet to The Preacher’s vibrant bassoon.

He said: “If anyone should feel the need to cool their heads in a fire-bucket after that exhibition of fire-eating—I can wait. My appeal is solely to reason—not hot-headed emotion.”

Hennessy, who was sitting on the other side of Macho from Hensen, made a peculiar cooing noise and murmured blissfully: “That didn’t go through the machine either.”

Theo had made a good start. The laughter was not loud, but it was sufficient to break some of The Preacher’s spell.

Theo’s reply in which he took The Preacher’s relevant points one by one and proceeded to dismember them, was a masterpiece of precise unemotional analysis.

Nothing final was proved or refuted by this; by the dispute which followed; or by the result, except—as Hensen remarked—that the public would always be beguiled by heart appeal.

The arguments were those which began soon after the first baby ape said “ma-ma,” and may still be heard at the end of time.

It was what followed the announcement of the result— The Preacher won on a decided count by a comfortable margin—that made the transcripts of the debate worthy of a place in history.

Hensen said: “Do I?”

Macho groaned. “What’s the difference? He put up a good fight, but not quite good enough. You know the public. We’ll still be losers. But I guess we owe it to Hennessy. Go ahead.”

Hensen gave Theo the high-sign.

Theo stepped to the mikes, said: “One moment.”

The cameras and scaners were still recording for the world.

“There is something you should know,” said Theo, in soft understatement. . . . He removed his toupee of slick hair, bowed his head to show the suture and flat terminals.

It was enough. A gasp grew into uproar.

It was an interesting demonstration of crowd psychology.

They would have forgiven a winner for fooling them. But not a loser. Winner—they would have been amazed—but quickly approving. Loser—they were amazed—and they were very angry.

An interesting demonstration. And pitiful.

Hennessy looked at the slight, strangely lonely figure of Theo in the hard glare of light, its head humbly bowed to the unsympathetic cries, arms limp, unmoving; an unresisting focus of irrational hate.

Hennessy closed his eyes, muttering over and over: “Sorry, Theo, sorry, boy . . . We shouldn’t have . . . You can feel, all right, you brave damned liar . . . said you couldn’t . . . We should have known better . . . Sorry, boy. . . .”

A great, agonized voice boomed through the confusion of noise.

“Silence, damn you! Silence!”

The Preacher stood beside Theo. His face was curiously contorted: anger, maybe; some measure of fear, compassion, a new-born resolve: a play of emotion that mirrored a struggle within.

“Listen!” he shouted. The noise lessened. Some still muttered, but his personality could not be denied. They listened.

The Preacher grasped Theo’s arm.

“This being does not stand in abjection or supplication before you. His arguments were as good as mine. His God is my God—and yours, if you have wit to reason. For does not all reason reach toward God?

“Raise your head, Theo. Raise your head—while I lower mine!”

The Preacher ripped off the thick, black thatch of his toupee. The lights glinted on metal suture and flat terminals.

“Why—why!” moaned Mr. Como Makim. “Why couldn’t you have waited until mid-day tomorrow as you were instructed, after the market was arranged—”

“I chose not to,” said The Preacher quietly. “A fellow-creature was in agony of spirit.”

“Don’t give me that stuff . . . How can you go against instructions?”

“My impressioning was directed towards proof of the existence of a soul. There comes a qualitative change in a brain when it is given so much knowledge. A subtle change. True reasoning begins. And something is born. A soul.

“I found that I had a soul.”

Mr. and Mrs. Hensen listened to the closing, softly impassioned bars of the Moonlight Sonata. A beautiful touch, a touch with mind and heart behind it. And soul.

Theo looked round from the piano.

“Not so penny-in-the-slot, eh?” he said. “Now I’ll try the others.”

Marvel Science Fiction 1951-08

James Wallace Harris, 9/28/19

2 thoughts on ““At No Extra Cost” by Peter Phillips

  1. Yes, a gem indeed. The philosophical answer to the question what makes a human human might not be very special or new – or even true for that matter – but the pacing is outright fantastic.

    Thanks for sharing it here, I enjoyed it a lot.

    Like

    1. I thought the AI questions and answers he was speculating about were pretty good for 1951. The public knew so damn little about computers then, and most science fiction didn’t explore the idea very deeply. I think this robot story is much more interesting than Asimov’s, well, at least until he got to the novels, and that was years later.

      But definitely, the pacing of the story is spot on. I’m read two other stories by Phillips, “Manna” and “Dreams Are Sacred” – both in The Best SF Stories series by Asimov and Greenberg.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s