All day I worked at my bench, ignoring the insistent knocking of Dorky’s customers. My typing had improved greatly in the several weeks I’d been at it; my fingers fairly flew over the ponderous keys of the old Underwood. The only thing that slowed me was an uncertain knowledge of the days before the Turbulation. This troubled me for some time, until I recalled that the Master had been known not chiefly for his correspondence, but for his fiction!
Refreshed by this insight, I embarked on my first major undertaking—an original manuscript of the epic, Ik! Only scattered fragments of the tale had been discovered. I had no fear that the forgery would be denounced on a comparative basis.
By nightfall, I was ready with a slender sheaf of pages purporting to have issued from the Master’s own Underwood. Weary and expectant, I approached my father’s house only to find it the scene of great excitement. White-bearded gentlemen in dark coats thronged the doorway, arguing with tremendous energy, stamping at the dust of the street as they made their points. I thought that fully half the staff of the College must be present in our house, and I noticed also several foreboding old men and women in the distinctive striped frocks of Museum custodians and the Prior Historical Society. Hoping to pass unnoticed among them, I slipped the forgeries under my jacket and hurried toward the door. But my father, standing in the second-story window, noticed my approach and called out loudly, “There you are, Maven! Have you brought more treasures from the Master?”
Instantly the professors and historians converged on me. I was nearly crushed by the excited crowd until a strong hand rescued me and a powerful voice said, “Stand away from the lad, can’t you see he’s frightened? And no wonder. Come along, boy. This way. Your father awaits, and he’s not the only one.”
I looked up into the face of my benefactor, and thus had my first glance at Professor Tadmonicker. He was a tall, thin man with stern eyes and a sharp nose, his grey hair parted neatly down the middle and his white beard tugged into two tapering prongs. I thanked him for rescuing me, but he was busy clearing the way. The stairs and hallway of our house were almost impassable.
There was slightly more room in my father’s study. Apparently only the most select visitors were allowed in the presence of the Master’s writing. My father grabbed me by the elbow, asking urgently if I had brought any more pages for him. I produced the sheaf which I’d hidden under my jacket and he pounced upon it with a shout, holding it up for all to see.
“Here! Here!” he cried. “My god! Look at this, Tadmonicker! Lickman, Swope, excellent Troubor! These are manuscript pages from Ik!”
The scholars pressed forward without regard for each other. My father distributed the pages and each man sank back to study his prize with extreme care.
“There’s no question about it,” one of them pronounced after a moment. “This is authentic. The prose itself is evidence; who else could have written such lines?”
“This is a great day for literature,” said another. “The future is all the brighter for these discoveries.”
Only Professor Tadmonicker seemed doubtful. “But the ink is still wet,” he said with a glance in my direction.
I stammered under his scrutiny, prepared in that moment to admit the whole scheme. But my father, unasked, came to my assistance.
“It’s the humidity of the evening air,” he said.
“No, Father,” I began. He silenced me with a pinch in the ribs.
“Now, Maven,” he said.
“Let the boy speak,” said Professor Tadmonicker.
I was acutely aware of my father’s trembling grip and the Professor’s steady gaze. But what was the Professor to me, compared with a father’s love?
“I only meant to say, the gentleman who owns these pages says they have been stored in a damp trunk. There was recent flooding in his home. Some of the pages were destroyed. Those he salvaged have begun to seep, some of them.”
“There you are,” my father said.
In fact, this momentous duplicity had passed almost unnoticed by the other guests, who were busy reading aloud lines of “classic prose” from the pages which I had typed that very day. I was filled with embarrassment to hear my own words read aloud; at first they sounded awkward and improbable to me.
“Beautiful! My god, the sound of the words—it’s undeniable, this is Thing at his best.”
The other scholars echoed this opinion and began to elaborate on the unmatched quality of the language. I began to doubt my own doubts. I thought that perhaps I had been too critical of my creation. Surely if these gentlemen found such merit in my work, I could hardly argue its nonexistence. It was not inconceivable, after all, that I might have had the soul of a poet within me, awaiting the opportunity to announce itself. For a moment I regretted that no one would ever know it was I who had typed these lines; but my regret soon passed.
Doctor Swope announced, “These will have to be carefully treated by the preservationists, then copied and distributed to all the world’s centers of learning. There is much of worth here apart from the prose—there are clues to the origins of our society.”
“All in good time,” my father said quickly. “But do not forget, gentlemen, that as my son’s guardian, I am the legal owner of these pages and any that may be forthcoming. You may not copy them without my permission, nor without paying a fee for the privilege.”
The scholars were scandalized. “A fee! What kind of a fee?”
My father considered this carefully. “A sizeable one. The value of these pages is immeasurable “
“But they are a cultural treasure!” said Professor Lickman. You owe it to the world to share them freely.”
“And so I shall. But the world must pay for the privilege. I may put them on display, which will require a suitable facility and the hiring of trained guards. All this will incur great expense, therefore I must charge the public for admission. My life has been greatly upset by this discovery, you must admit. Surely I deserve some remuneration for my troubles. I cannot have people flocking into my house at all hours simply because they consider it their cultural privilege to view these pages.”
The scholars announced their outrage but my father was not to be dissuaded. Presently they fell to haggling with him over prices. Professor Tadmonicker alone refrained from the argument. I noticed that he kept looking in my direction and his expression was not one to inspire confidence. I managed a weak smile, then asked, “Isn’t it wonderful? The prose, I mean?”
The Professor cleared his throat and made a grave face. “I have never been a great adorer of Strapon Thing. My interest is purely scientific. I’m sure that if I had access to those pages, I could quickly prove them to be other than what your mysterious gentleman friend claims. However, I am not about to pay for the privilege.”
His scorn made me blush, but he did not linger to observe my beflusterment. He went to the door and let himself out; I heard him shouting at the other curious visitors to clear the stairs.
“Come, Maven,” my father said. “Tell our friends again the origin of these pages….”
In the days and weeks that followed, my father called upon me frequently to give my story. I felt that he had again accepted me, that he treasured me as was my right. Sometimes I wished that I could admit my secret to him, for then he would have recognized that all the praise heaped on the newly discovered prose of Strapon Thing was in actuality praise of my own talents.
But I could not do it to him; I could not break the spell which I had cast over his life. As the days passed and the Thing manuscripts grew, my father rented a gallery space, to which he charged a modest admission fee. He made arrangements with the University press to publish the works in special editions with introductions by my father. Of course, he demanded exorbitant rates for his endeavors. I was hardly surprised to learn that he got what he demanded, and more besides. Visitors came from around the world to view the manuscripts, and many of them offered fees well beyond the means of the University for the privilege of copying the manuscripts. Being a man of his word, my father refused to bargain with these latecomers, though he did on occasion speak of selling the entire collection (once it was complete) for a fantastic sum that would enable us to live like princes for the rest of our lives.
The more enthusiastic my father became, the wearier I grew. Dorky Coxset had returned from Mazmere, forcing me once again into the drudgery of typewriter repair. I could hardly stomach the work any longer. My fingers itched to be at the keys, putting my thoughts onto paper, writing of the old world before the Turbulation. Instead I was forced to stain my fingers with typing ink and prick myself on tenacious springs. Only at night, when old Coxset left me alone to practice my typing, did I find time to pursue my true interests. I typed the dark hours through, often waking just before dawn, slumped over the Underwood, with scarcely enough time to run the fresh set of pages home to my father and wash my face before returning to the shop for another day of tedious labor. As the weeks went by, I lost several pounds which I could scarce afford to lose; my eyes sank deep into the hollows of my blackening sockets; I began to talk to myself, which disturbed my employer greatly, for his hearing was none too good and he often thought he was experiencing auditory hallucinations. Then there was the fact that I often fell asleep over my workbench.
One afternoon, Dorky Coxset woke me from such a slumber by slamming his hand down on the bench in front of me. I jerked upright to find him glaring at me.
“Do you need this job at all, boy? Your father’s got money enough, I hear. Why don’t you run along home to your precious library? I need an apprentice who’s honest at his trade—one who will work as he promises.”
I was so stunned that for a moment I did not know my whereabouts. Then it came to me—Dorky was threatening to fire me! I could not sacrifice my job, for the typewriter shop was now the means of my father’s livelihood. Without the bales of old paper and bottles of ink, without the sturdy Underwood, I would be finished.
I made my apologies to Dorky, and they were more heartfelt and desperate than he must have expected. He eventually relented, after extracting my promise that I would do better from that moment forward. And when he returned to his work, I realized that I must find some new method of pursuing my forgeries. I could not continue at my present pace without exposing myself through exhaustion, or losing my mind completely.
My predicament was all the more critical because by that time I was well into the creation of my masterpiece—Strapon Thing’s Good ‘n’ Evil.