With These Hands by C. M. Kornbluth

“Fine, right, sure,” he said, while he was being unwillingly towed around the place.

“I know you don’t think much of S.P.G., but it’s quiet now, so this is a good chance to see how we work. I don’t say it’s Art with a capital A, but you’ve got to admit it’s an art, something people like at a price they can afford to pay. Here’s where we sit them. Then you run out the feelers to the reference points on the face. You know what they are?”

He heard himself say dryly: “I know what they are. The Egyptian sculptors used them when they carved statues of the pharaohs.”

“Yes? I never knew that. There’s nothing new under the Sun, is there? But this is the heart of the S.P.G.” The youngster proudly swung open the door of an electronic device in the wall of the portrait booth. Tubes winked sullenly at Halvorsen.

“The esthetikon?” he asked indifferently. He did not feel indifferent, but it would be absurd to show anger, no matter how much he felt it, against a mindless aggregation of circuits that could calculate layouts, criticize and correct pictures for a desired effect— and that had put the artist of design out of a job.

“Yes. The lenses take sixteen profiles, you know, and we set the

esthetikon for whatever we want—cute, rugged, sexy, spiritual, brainy, or a combination. It fairs curves from profile to profile to give us just what we want, distorts the profiles themselves within limits if it has to, and there’s your portrait stored in the memory tank waiting to be taped. You set your ratio for any enlargement or reduction you want and play it back. I wish we were reproducing today; it’s fascinating to watch. You just pour in your cold-set plastic, the nozzles ooze out a core and start crawling over to scan—a drop here, a worm there, and it begins to take shape.

“We mostly do portrait busts here, the Avenue trade, but Wilgus, the foreman, used to work in a monument shop in Brooklyn. He did that heroic-size war memorial on the East River Drive—hired Garda Bouchette, the TV girl, for the central figure. And what a figure! He told me he set the esthetikon plates for three-quarters sexy, one-quarter spiritual. Here’s something interesting—standing figurine of Orin Ryerson, the banker. He ordered twelve. Figurines are coming in. The girls like them because they can show their shapes. You’d be surprised at some of the poses they want to try—”

Somehow, Halvorsen got out with the ten dollars, walked to Sixth Avenue, and sat down hard in a cheap restaurant. He had coffee and dozed a little, waking with a guilty start at a racket across the street. There was a building going up. For a while he watched the great machines pour walls and floors, the workmen rolling here and there on their little chariots to weld on a wall panel, stripe on an electric circuit of conductive ink, or spray plastic finish over the “wired” wall, all without leaving the saddles of their little mechanical chariots.

Halvorsen felt more determined. He bought a paper from a vending machine by the restaurant door, drew another cup of coffee, and turned to the help-wanted ads.

The tricky trade-school ads urged him to learn construction work and make big money. Be a plumbing-machine setup man. Be a house-wiring machine tender. Be a servotruck driver. Be a lumber-stacker operator. Learn pouring-machine.maintenance.

Make big money!

A sort of panic overcame him. He ran to the phone booth and dialed a Passaic number. He heard the ring-ring-ring and strained to hear old Mr. Krehbeil’s stumping footsteps growing louder as he neared the phone, even though he knew he would hear nothing until the receiver was picked up.

Ring-ring-ring. “Hello?” grunted the old man’s voice, and his face appeared on the little screen. “Hello, Mr. Halvorsen. What can I do for you?”

Halvorsen was tongue-tied. He couldn’t possibly say: I just wanted to see if you were still there. I was afraid you weren’t there any more. He choked and improvised: “Hello, Mr. Krehbeil. It’s about the banister on the stairs in my place. I noticed it’s pretty shaky. Could you come over sometime and fix it for me?”

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