The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Super Opener

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Title: The Super Opener

Author: Michael Zuroy

Illustrator: Paul Orban

Release date: October 16, 2019 [eBook #60507]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at




Here's why you should ask for
a "Feetch M-D" next time
you get a can opener!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, August 1958.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

"Feetch!" grated Ogden Piltdon, president of the Piltdon Opener Company, slamming the drafting board with his hairy fist, "I want results!"

Heads lifted over boards. Kalvin Feetch shrunk visibly.

"As chief engineer you're not carrying the ball," Piltdon went on savagely. "The Piltdon Can-Opener is trailing the competition. Advertising and Sales are breaking their necks. It's Engineering that's missing the boat!"

"But Mr. Piltdon," remonstrated Feetch unsteadily under his employer's glare, "don't you remember? I tried to...."

"For two years there hasn't been one lousy improvement in the Piltdon Can-Opener!" roared Mr. Piltdon. "Look at our competitors. The International rips apart cans in three and three-tenths seconds. Universal does it in four."

"But Mr. Piltdon—"

"The Minerva Mighty Midget does it in four point two two and plays Home Sweet Home in chimes. Our own Piltdon opener barely manages to open a can in eight point nine without chimes. Is this what I'm paying you for?"

Feetch adjusted his spectacles with shaking hands. "But Mr. Piltdon, our opener still has stability, solidity. It is built to last. It has dignity...."

"Dignity," pronounced Piltdon, "is for museums. Four months, Feetch! In four months I want a new can-opener that will be faster, lighter, stronger, flashier and more musical than any other on the market. I want it completely developed, engineered and tooled-up, ready for production. Otherwise, Feetch—"

Feetch's body twitched. "But Mr. Piltdon, four months is hardly time enough for development, even with an adequate staff. I've been trying to tell you for years that we're bound to fall behind because we don't have enough personnel to conduct research. Our men can barely keep up with production and maintenance. If you would let me put on a few draftsmen and...."

"Excuses," sneered Mr. Piltdon. "Your staff is more than adequate. I will not allow you to throw out my money. Four months, Feetch, no more!" Piltdon trudged out of the room, leaving behind him an oppressive silence.

How could you set a time limit on research and development? A designer had to dream at his board, investigate, search, build, test, compare, discard. He had always wanted to devote all his time to research, but Piltdon Opener had not given him that opportunity. Twenty-five years! thought Feetch. Twenty-five years of close supervision, dead-lines, production headaches, inadequate facilities and assistance. What had happened, to the proud dream he once had, the dream of exploring uncharted engineering regions, of unlimited time to investigate and develop?

Ah, well, thought Feetch straightening his thin shoulders, he had managed somehow to design a few good things during his twenty-five years with Piltdon. That was some satisfaction.

What now? He had to hang on to his job. Technical work was scarce. Since the early 1980's the schools had been turning out more technicians than industry could absorb. He was too old to compete in the employment market. He couldn't afford to lose any money. Jenny wasn't well.

How to meet this four month dead-line? He would get right on it himself, of course; Hanson—good man—could work with him. He shook his head despairingly. Something would be sure to blow up. Well, he had to start—

"Chief," said Hanson a few weeks later as they entered the lab, "I'm beginning to wonder if the answer is in the hand mechanical type at all."

"Got to be," answered Feetch tiredly. "We must work along classical can-opener lines. Departures, such as the thermal or motor-driven types, would be too expensive for mass production."

Three new models and a group of cans were waiting for them on the bench. They began testing, Hanson operating the openers and Feetch clocking. "Four point four," announced Feetch after the last test. "Good, but not good enough. Too bulky. Appearance unsatisfactory. Chimes tinny. We've made progress, but we've a long way to go."

The problem was tricky. It might seem that use of the proper gear ratios would give the required velocity, but there were too many other factors that negated this direct approach. The mechanism had to be compact and streamlined. Gear sizes had to be kept down. Can-top resistance, internal resistance, cutting tooth performance, handle size and moment, the minimum strength of a woman's hand were some of the variables that had to be balanced within rigid limits. Sector type cutters, traversing several arcs at the same time, had seemed to offer the answer for a while, but the adjusting mechanism necessary to compensate for variable can sizes had been too complex to be practical. There was the ever-present limit to production cost.

Hanson's eyes were upon him. "Chief," he said, "it's a rotten shame. Twenty-five years of your life you put in with Piltdon, and he'd fire you just like that if you don't do the impossible. The Piltdon Company is built upon your designs and you get handed this deal!"

"Well, well," said Feetch. "I drew my pay every week so I suppose I have no complaints. Although," a wistful note crept into his voice "I would have liked a little recognition. Piltdon is a household word, but who has heard of Feetch? Well,"—Feetch blew his nose—"how do we stand, Hanson?"

Hanson's bull-dog features drew into a scowl. "Piltdon ought to be rayed," he growled. "O.K., Chief. Eleven experimental models designed to date. Two more on the boards. Nine completed and tested, two in work. Best performance, four point four, but model otherwise unsatisfactory."

"Hello," said Feetch as an aproned machinist entered carrying a glistening mechanism. "Here's another model. Let's try it." The machinist departed and Hanson locked the opener on a can. "I hope——" he turned the handle, and stopped abruptly, staring down open-mouthed.

A cylinder of close-packed beans rested on the bench under the opener.

The can itself had disappeared.

"Chief," said Hanson. "Chief."

"Yes," said Feetch. "I see it too. Try another can."

"Vegetable soup or spinach?" inquired Hanson dreamily.

"Spinach, I think," said Feetch. "Where did the can go, do you suppose?"

The spinach can disappeared. Likewise several corn cans, sweet potato cans and corned-beef hash cans, leaving their contents intact. It was rather disconcerting.

"Dear, dear," said Feetch, regarding the piles of food on the bench. "There must be some explanation. I designed this opener with sixteen degree, twenty-two minute pressure angle modified involute gear teeth, seven degree, nineteen minute front clearance cutter angle and thirty-six degree, twelve minute back rake angle. I expected that such departures from the norm might achieve unconventional performance, but this—Dear, dear. Where do the cans go, I wonder?"

"What's the difference? Don't you see what you've got here? It's the answer! It's more than the answer! We can put this right into work and beat the dead-line."

Feetch shook his head. "No, Hanson. We're producing something we don't understand. What forces have we uncovered here? Where do the cans go? What makes them disappear? Are we dealing with a kinetic or a kinematic effect? What motions can we plot in the area of disappearance and what are their analytical mathematical formulae? What masses may be critical here? What transformations of energy are involved? No, Hanson, we must learn a lot more."

"But Chief, your job."

"I'll risk that. Not a word to Piltdon."

Several days later, however, Piltdon himself charged into the drawing room and slapped Feetch heartily on the back, causing him to break a pencil point. "Feetch!" roared Piltdon. "Is this talk that's going around the plant true? Why didn't you tell me? Let's see it."

After Piltdon had seen it his eyes took on a feverish glint. "This," he exulted, "will make can-opener history. Instantaneous opening! Automatic disposal! Wait until Advertising and Sales get hold of this! We'll throttle our competitors! The Piltdon Super-Opener we'll call it."

"Mr. Piltdon—" said Feetch shakily.

Piltdon stared at his chief engineer sharply. "What's the matter, Feetch? The thing can be duplicated, can't it?"

"Yes, sir. I've just finished checking that. But I'm in the midst of further investigation of the effect. There's more here than just a new type can-opener, sir. A whole new field of physics. New principles. This is big, Mr. Piltdon. I recommend that we delay production until further research can be completed. Hire a few top scientists and engineers. Find out where the cans go. Put out a scientific paper on the effect."

"Feetch," bit out Piltdon, his face growing hard. "Stow this hooey. I don't give a damn where the cans go. May I remind you that under our standard patent agreement, all rights to your invention belong to the company? As well as anything you may produce in the field within a year after leaving our employ? We have a good thing here, and I don't want you holding it back. We're going into production immediately."

Close, thought Feetch, wearily. It had been a man-killing job, and it had been close, but he'd made it. Beat the time limit by a half-day. The first tentative shipments of Piltdon Super-Openers had gone to distributors along the Eastern seaboard. The first advertisements blazed in selected media. The first reorders came back, and then: "It's a sell-out!" crowed Piltdon, waving a sheaf of telegrams. "Step up production! Let 'er rip!"

The Super-Openers rolled over the country. In a remarkably short time they appeared in millions of kitchens from coast-to-coast. Sales climbed to hundreds of thousands per day. Piltdon Opener went into peak production in three shifts, but was still unable to keep up with the demand. Construction was begun on a new plant, and additional plants were planned. Long lines waited in front of houseware stores. Department stores, lucky enough to have Super-Openers on hand, limited sales to one to a customer. Piltdon cancelled his advertising program. Newspapers, magazines, radio, television and word-of-mouth spread the fame of the opener so that advertising was unnecessary.

Meanwhile, of course, government scientists, research foundations, universities and independent investigators began to look into this new phenomonen. Receiving no satisfactory explanation from Piltdon, they set up their own research.

Far into the night burned the lights of countless laboratories. Noted physicists probed, measured, weighed, traced, X-rayed, dissolved, spun, peered at, photographed, magnetized, exploded, shattered and analyzed Super-Openers without achieving the glimmer of a satisfactory explanation. Competitors found the patent impossible to circumvent, for any departure from its exact specifications nullified the effect.

Piltdon, genial these days with success and acclaim, roared at Feetch: "I'm putting you in for a raise. Yes sir! To reward you for assisting me with my invention I'm raising your pay two hundred dollars a year. That's almost four dollars a week, man."

"Thank you, Mr. Piltdon." And still, thought Feetch wryly, he received no recognition. His name did not even appear on the patent. Well, well, that was the way it went. He must find his satisfaction in his work. And it had been interesting lately, the work he had been doing nights at home investigating what had been named the Piltdon Effect. It had been difficult, working alone and buying his own equipment. The oscillator and ultra microwave tracking unit had been particularly expensive. He was a fool, he supposed, to try independent research when so many huge scientific organizations were working on it. But he could no more keep away from it than he could stop eating.

He still didn't know where the cans went, but somehow he felt that he was close to the answer.

When he finally found the answer, it was too late. The Borenchuck incident was only hours away.

As soon as he could get hold of Piltdon, Feetch said trembling, "Sir, I think I know where those cans are going. I recommend—"

"Are you still worrying about that?" Piltdon roared jovially. "Leave that to the long-hairs. We're making money, that's all that counts, eh Feetch?"

That night, at six-ten p.m., the Borenchuck family of Selby, South Dakota, sat down to their evening meal. Just as they started in on the soup, a rain of empty tin cans clattered down, splashed into the soup, raised a welt on the forehead of Borenchuck senior, settled down to a gentle, steady klunk! klunk! klunk! and inexorably began to pile up on the dining-room floor. They seemed to materialize from a plane just below the ceiling. The police called the fire department and the fire department stared helplessly and recommended the sanitation department.

The incident made headlines in the local papers.

The next day other local papers in widely scattered locations reported similar incidents.

The following day, cans began falling on Chicago. St. Louis was next, and then over the entire nation the cans began to rain down. They fell outdoors and indoors, usually materializing at heights that were not dangerous. The deluge followed no pattern. Sometimes it would slacken, sometimes it would stop, sometimes begin heavily again. It fell in homes, on the streets, in theatres, trains, ships, universities and dog-food factories. No place was immune.

People took to wearing hats indoors and out, and the sale of helmets boomed.

All activity was seriously curtailed.

A state of national emergency was declared.

Government investigators went to work and soon confirmed what was generally suspected: these were the same cans that had been opened by the Piltdon Super-Opener.

Statisticians and mathematicians calculated the mean rate of can precipitation and estimated that if all the cans opened by Piltdon openers were to come back, the deluge should be over in fifteen point twenty-nine days.

Super-Opener sales of course immediately plummeted to zero and stayed there. Anti-Piltdon editorials appeared in the papers. Commentators accused Piltdon of deliberately hoaxing the public for his own gain. A Congressional investigation was demanded. Piltdon received threats of bodily injury. Lawsuits were filed against him. He barricaded himself in the plant, surrounded by bodyguards.

Livid with fury and apprehension, he screamed at Feetch, "This is your doing, you vandal! I'm a ruined man!" A falling can caught him neatly on the tip of his nose.

"But sir," trembled Feetch, dodging three spaghetti cans, "I tried to warn you."

"You're through, Feetch!" raved Piltdon. "Fired! Get out! But before you go, I want you to know that I've directed the blame where it belongs. I've just released to the press the truth about who created the Super-Opener. Now, get out!"

"Yes, sir," said Feetch paling. "Then you don't want to hear about my discovery of a way to prevent the cans from coming back?"

Klunk! A barrage of cans hit the floor, and both men took refuge under Piltdon's huge desk. "No!" yelled Piltdon at Feetch's face which was inches away. "No, I——What did you say?"

"A small design improvement sir, and the cans would disappear forever."


"Forever, Feetch?"

"Yes sir." Klunk! Klunk!

"You're positive, Feetch?" Piltdon's eyes glared into Feetch's.

"Sir, I never make careless claims."

"That's true," said Piltdon. His eyes grew dreamy. "It can be done," he mused. "The New Type Super-Opener. Free exchanges for the old. Cash guarantee that empty cans will never bother you. Take a licking at first, but then monopolize the market. All right, Feetch, I'll give you another chance. You'll turn over all the details to me. The patent on the improvement will naturally be mine. I'll get the credit for rectifying your blunder. Fine, fine. We'll work it out. Hop on production, at once, Feetch."

Feetch felt himself sag inwardly. "Mr. Piltdon," he said. "I'm asking only one favor. Let me work full time on research and development, especially on the Piltdon effect. Hire a couple of extra men to help with production. I assure you the company will benefit in the end."

"Damn it, no!" roared Piltdon. "How many times must I tell you? You got your job back, didn't you?"

The prospect of long years of heavy production schedules, restricted engineering and tight supervision suddenly made Kalvin Feetch feel very tired. Research, he thought. Development. What he had always wanted. Over the years he had waited, thinking that there would be opportunities later. But now he was growing older, and he felt that there might not be a later. Somehow he would manage to get along. Perhaps someone would give him a job working in the new field he had pioneered. With a sense of relief he realized that he had made his decision.

"Mr. Piltdon," Feetch said. "I—" klunk!—"resign."

Piltdon started, extreme astonishment crossing his face.

"No use," said Feetch. "Nothing you can say—" klunk! klunk! klunk!—"will make any difference now."

"But see here, the New Type Super-Opener...!"

"Will remain my secret. Good day."

"Feetch!" howled Piltdon. "I order you to remain!"

Feetch almost submitted from force of habit. He hesitated for a moment, then turned abruptly.

"Good-day," said Feetch firmly, sprinting through the falling cans to the door.

Money, Feetch decided after a while, was a good thing to have. His supply was running pretty low. He was not having any luck finding another job. Although the cans had stopped falling on the fifteenth day, as predicted by the statisticians, industry would not soon forget the inconvenience and losses caused by the deluge. It was not anxious to hire the man it regarded as responsible for the whole thing. "Feetch," the personnel man would read. "Kalvin Feetch." Then, looking up, "Not the Kalvin Feetch who—"

"Yes," Feetch would admit miserably.

"I am sorry, but—"

He did no better with research organizations. Typical was a letter from the Van Terrel Foundation: "—cannot accept your application inasmuch as we feel your premature application of your discovery to profit-making denotes a lack of scientific responsibility and ethics not desirable in a member of our organization—former employer states the decision was yours entirely. Unfavorable reference—"

Piltdon, Feetch thought, feeling a strange sensation deep within his chest that he had not the experience to recognize as the beginning of a slow anger, Piltdon was hitting low and getting away with it.

Of course, if he were to agree to reveal his latest discoveries to a research organization, he would undoubtedly get an appointment. But how could he? Everything patentable in his work would automatically revert to Piltdon under the one year clause in the company patent agreement. No, Feetch told himself, he was revealing nothing that Piltdon might grab. The anger began to mount.

But he was beginning to need money desperately. Jenny wasn't getting any better and medical bills were running high.

The phone rang. Feetch seized it and said to the image: "Absolutely not."

"I'll go up another ten dollars," grated the little Piltdon image. "Do you realize, man, this is the fourteenth raise I've offered you? A total increase of one hundred and twenty-six dollars? Be sensible, Feetch. I know you can't find work anywhere else."

"Thanks to you. Mr. Piltdon, I wouldn't work for you if—"

A barrage of rocks crashed against the heavy steel screening of the window. "What's going on!" yelled Piltdon. "Oh, I see. People throwing rocks at your house again? Oh, I know all about that, Feetch. I know that you're probably the most unpopular man alive to-day. I know about the rocks, the tomatoes, the rotten eggs, the sneaking out at night, the disguises you've had to use. Why don't you come back to us and change all that, Feetch? We'll put out the New Type Super-Opener and the world will soon forget about the old one."

"No," said Feetch. "People will forget anyway—I hope."

"If you won't think of yourself, at least think of your fellow workmen," begged Piltdon, his voice going blurry. "Do you realize that Piltdon Opener will soon be forced to close down, throwing all your former associates out of work? Think of Hanson, Sanchez, Forbes. They have families too. Think of the men in the shop, the girls in the office, the salesmen on the road. All, all unemployed because of you. Think of that, Feetch."

Feetch blinked. This had not occurred to him.

Piltdon eyed him sharply, then smiled with a hint of triumph. "Think it over, Feetch."

Feetch sat, thinking it over. Was it right to let all these people lose their jobs? Frowning, he dialed Hanson's number.

"Chief," said Hanson, "Forget it. The boys are behind you one hundred per cent. We'll make out."

"But that's the trouble. I thought you'd feel like this, and I can't let you."

"You're beginning to weaken. Don't. Think, chief, think. The brain that figured the Super-Opener can solve this."

Feetch hung up. A glow of anger that had been building up in his chest grew warmer. He began pacing the floor. How he hated to do it. Think, Hanson had said. But he had. He's considered every angle, and there was no solution.

Feetch walked into the kitchen and carefully poured himself a drink of water. He drank the water slowly and placed the glass on the washstand with a tiny click. It was the tiny click that did it. Something about it touched off the growing rage. If Piltdon were there he would have punched him in the nose. The twenty-five years. The tricks. The threats.

Think? He'd figured the solution long ago, only he hadn't allowed himself to see it. Not lack of brains, lack of guts. Well, he thought grimly, dialing Piltdon's number, he was going through with it now. "Piltdon!" he barked. "Three p.m. tomorrow. My place. Be here. That's all." He hung up.

In the same grim mood the following morning, he placed a few more calls.

In the same mood that afternoon he stood in the middle of his living-room and looked at his visitors: Piltdon, Williams, the Government man; Billings from the Van Terrel Foundation; Steiner of Westchester University; the members of the press.

"Gentlemen," he said. "I'll make it brief." He waved the papers in his hand. "Here is everything I know about what I call the Feetch Effect, including plans and specifications for the New Type Super-Opener. All of you have special reasons for being keenly interested in this information. I am now going to give a copy to each of you, providing one condition is met by Mr. Piltdon." He stared at Piltdon. "In short, I want fifty-one per cent of the stock of Piltdon Opener."

Piltdon leaped from his chair. "Outrageous!" He roared. "Ridiculous!"

"Fifty-one percent," said Feetch firmly. "Don't bother with any counterproposals or the interview is at an end."

"Gentlemen!" squawked Piltdon, "I appeal to you—"

"Stop bluffing," said Feetch coldly. "There's no other way out for you. Otherwise you're ruined. Here, sign this agreement."

Piltdon threw the paper to the floor and screamed: "Gentlemen, will you be a party to this?"

"Well," murmured the Government man, "I never did think Feetch got a fair shake."

"This information is important to science," said the Van Terrel man.

After Piltdon had signed, the papers were distributed.

Published in the newspapers the following day, Feetch's statement read, in part: "The motion in space and time of the singular curvilinear proportions of the original Super-Opener combined with the capacitor effect built up as it increased its frictional electro-static charge in inverse proportion to the cube root of the tolerance between the involute teeth caused an instantaneous disruption of what I call the Alpha multi-dimensional screen. The can, being metallic, dropped through, leaving its non-metallic contents behind. The disruption was instantly repaired by the stable nature of the screen.

"Beyond the screen is what I call Alpha space, a space apparently quite as extensive as our own universe. Unfortunately, as my investigations indicated, Alpha space seems to be thickly inhabited. These inhabitants, the nature of whom I have not yet ascertained, obviously resented the intrusion of the cans, developed a method of disrupting the screen from their side, and hurled the cans back at us.

"However, I have established the existence of other spaces up to Mu space, and suspect that others exist beyond that. Beta space, which is also adjacent to our own space, is devoid of any form of life. The New Type Super-Opener is designed to pass cans through the Beta screen. Beta space will safely absorb an infinite number of cans.

"I sincerely and humbly venture the opinion that we are on the threshold of tremendous and mighty discoveries. It is my belief that possibly an infinite number of universes exist in a type of laminated block separated by screens.

"Therefore, might it not be that an infinite number of laminated blocks exist—?"

"Mr Feetch—" said Piltdon.

Feetch looked up from his desk in the newly constructed Feetch Multi-Dimensional Development Division of the Piltdon Opener Company. "Piltdon, don't bother me about production. Production is your problem."

"But Mr. Feetch—"

"Get out," said Feetch.

Piltdon blanched and left.

"As I was saying, Hanson—" continued Feetch.