The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Fall of Archy House

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Title: The Fall of Archy House

Author: Tom W. Harris

Illustrator: W. E. Terry

Release date: April 30, 2021 [eBook #65199]

Language: English

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



By Tom W. Harris

Television is a swell way of projecting
ideas to an audience. But Archy created chaos
when he used it to project real live monsters!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
December 1957
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

For over two weeks, the projections were a national emergency, and the nation got pretty sore at Archy House.

Archy was on camera when it happened. He always closed the Home Hour in person, partly because nobody else did it quite as well, partly because it flattered the audience to see him.

His delivery was almost shaken, the night the thing happened, by the appearance of Otto Kahler, chief engineer, just out of camera-range, his hair in his eyes and a wildness about his mouth.

Arch closed his patter smoothly, set a smile through fadeout, and turned to Kahler.

"What's up, Otto? You look like a ghost that saw a ghost." He let annoyance enter his voice. He was surrounded by the best men money could buy, and sometimes they ran around like children.

"The scrambler blew," said Otto. "Somebody spilled a pail of water on it."

In an office a phone began ringing. "Mr. House," somebody shouted, "it's the White House calling."

Archy gave Otto a shove. "Dammit, man, switch on the auxiliary. Do I have to tell you?" Otto just stood there as Archy turned and yelled into the confusion off the set, "Tell Washington I'll be right with 'em."

His eye swept the studio. "Where's June Manning?"

Even in this tight moment, his breath gave the familiar balloon-lurch as Full-Projection Studio's top writer glided from the directors' studio in her blue sheathe gown. Her wheat-blonde hair was dressed in the latest style, a yard-long, loose-braided hank slung richly over her shoulder; and her face was part cherubic, part perverse.

Another phone began ringing.

"June, I want a 30-second yak to give the viewers. You have 90 seconds to get it on idiot cards; I'm going on with it right after the station break. The scramblers failed. Gimme something soothing to say. Got it?"

She nodded and marched off. Otto cleared his throat. Archy spun. "What are you waiting for? Get switched to auxiliary! We've got projections prancing around living rooms in every suburb in the country."

Another phone was ringing. "General Cox for Mr. House," somebody yelled. "Calling from Hawaii."

Archy wished these jackasses would all drop dead. He shook Otto.

"I tried the auxiliary," said Otto. "It's out."

"Holy volts," said Archy.

For the first time in his life he felt desperate. A cool head and a habit of never being wrong had got him where he was—founder and top banana of Full-Projection, sole owner of three TV networks using the revolutionary 3-D devices perfected by Otto Kahler and patented by Archy. In the present emergency, he tried to keep his head still cool and continue to never be wrong.

A stagehand was running a phone out onto the set. Waiting, Archy snapped instructions at Otto—put half the staff to trying to get the scramblers operating, set the other half to slapping together an emergency machine. Otto dashed off and the phone was slapped into Archy's hand.

"Yes, Ben," he said assuringly to the President of the United States. "What can I do for you?"

"You can get those projections out of my living room," snapped the president. "They're still doing their acts from the circus show—jugglers, acrobats, an animated cartoon. What happened?"

"Don't worry, Pops. An experimental commercial goofed. Stay tuned; we'll have the scramblers on in ten minutes."

"You'd better," crackled President Conklin. "I have guests—this could be an international incident. And don't call me Pops."

"Sit tight. And now excuse me, Ben, I'm going on the air. Just keep the projections near the set, within scrambler range."

He was on. They used the conventional flatscreen cameras, and June's script was as smooth as if she'd worked all day on it ... as smooth as her satiny shoulders and not-quite-uncovered bust. It explained that due to uncontrollable circumstances scrambler-power was temporarily off.

"Our advice is, stay calm," Archy read smoothly. "The projections are not real people. They are harmless. They are merely images of people, just as in old-fashioned flat TV, except that they are projected into your home in full dimensions. Even with no scrambler to dissipate the electro-magnetic configuration of which they are composed, they will not last long.

"They are held together, energized, by the energy beamed from our studios through your set. Without that power they will vanish, probably within a few minutes."

Reassured by what he had just read, Archy took more phone calls.

The general in Hawaii told him the barracks were full of Pixie Owens projections, Bikini-clad, and military discipline was shattered.

The mayor of New York reported that Central Park was teeming with Wild West Theater projections, and armadillos in the streets had jammed all traffic.

President Conklin made a furious repeat call. The Russian consulate had sent a stiff note protesting the "degenerate practical joke" perpetrated on a Soviet diplomat attending Conklin's soiree.

The skipper of a battleship said his men proposed tossing all projections overboard, and he wanted to know if this would constitute murder.

Archy said it wouldn't, instructed his staff to take no more calls, and went to find Otto. June went with him.

June was a person with a knack for making you think of something else no matter what crisis you were embroiled in. In the elevator, Archy slipped an arm around her. "I've got an idea," he whispered.

"I'll scream," she warned, "and this shaft is like a megaphone."

"That's not the idea—anyway, an elevator is too cramped. My idea is; let's get married when this is over."

"Hmmm." She twisted back provocatively. "I've got another idea—give me a raise and I might think about it."

"That's what you said the last three times, and now you're drawing a thousand a week."

"And worth every buck of it."

"True, true. If I didn't pay you what you're worth, professionally, some other outfit would steal you."

"You think I'd pull out just for a raise?"

"You'd be nuts if you didn't. Look, June—if you married me, a thousand a week would be nothing—peanuts."

She laughed, throaty but tinkling, a brook flowing through chimes. "And you wonder why I won't marry you. My friend, I won't marry you until you figure out why I won't."

The elevator stopped before he could ask for explanations. They found Otto among his machines, seated at a table. There were sheets of paper on it. There was also a small, furry body.

"Okay, Otto—when do we get a scrambler on? I've got the great American public snowed, but I can't hold 'em forever."

"We just found the trouble," said Otto, brushing the hair off his forehead. "It's crazy." He picked up the furred object. "A mouse got into the auxiliary and shorted it."

"Number one," said Archy. "Tomorrow I fire the maintenance staff. Mice—in my studio! Number two—how soon can you have a scrambler going?"

"Fifteen minutes," said Otto proudly.

"Make it ten. Buzz me in the studio. We'll cut right into the program."

Back in the elevator, Archy crowed. "That's it, Baby—Archy House in action, everything taken care of."

"No credit for Otto?"

"You kidding. Otto's smart enough to work for me, but I'm smart enough to hire him. So who's smartest?" He juggled the mouse in his hand, reflectively. "Without me, Otto'd be nowhere. Somebody else'd have his idea. The smart guys are the promoters, chick. Why not marry one?"

She snorted wordlessly. He tossed the mouse in his palm and suddenly swore.

"I hurt your feelings, promoter?"

"Look at this mouse!"

She eyed him quizzically.

"This mouse never crawled into any scrambler," said Archy. "It was stuck in there, dead, and I've been sabotaged. It has a broken neck."

The elevator stopped, the door slid back, and Archy's mind left the mouse. It was as though a mirror had popped up before him. He was staring at a nattily-dressed, cocky replica of himself.

"Don't worry, about anything, Mac," said the projection. "I'll have things tight in a jiffy."

"My God," said June. "The monitor sets were on. Projections must be all over the studio."

"Hi, chick," said the projection. "Come on up to the office; there's some things to talk about."

Archy swung. The blow slipped harmlessly through the projection's jaw.

"You're passe," said the projection. "Outmoded. Here, play with Andy. Come on, June."

Archy cannoned a kick at the cartoon armadillo. His foot passed through, trailing a filmy tatter which snapped back into Andy's body.

"Eat Teeny-Crunchy Peanut Butter, kids," sang Andy Armadillo.

Eight minutes later Otto rang the buzzer. June had the projections doing a show in an office; when the scrambler kicked on they vanished. But an hour after that the White House called Archy.

"You only nailed about ten percent of those characters of yours," shouted President Conklin. "The rest had wandered out of range—I mean the ones all over the country. What are you going to do about it?"

"Don't worry, pops. All under control ... my best people are working on it."

"Under control? With seven Pixie Owenses strip-teasing on the White House lawn? You get down here, House, and bring your staff."

Conklin's receiver slammed before Archy could answer. He slowly rubbed his ear. "This is getting bad."

A week later things were still bad. Archy, June and Otto were still in Washington, and the President had called another conference. Of all the projections, the one of himself distressed Archy the most. They were insufferably arrogant. One had tried to pilot the plane that took him to the capital. Dozens had congregated at Full-Projection Studios, issuing orders to the staff. Twice, one had talked his way into a Presidential conference. "The only way you can tell they aren't real," said a guard, "is to poke them. I should poke somebody coming to see the President?"

"Can't people tell they aren't me by the way they act?" Archy asked June. "Cheeky, bossy—OBVIOUSLY they aren't me."

"Obviously, huh?" said June. "Let's go, or we'll miss the conference."

President Conklin opened the discussion with general remarks.

"In the first place, the Attorney-General informs me that Mr. House is legally responsible for the behavior of these projections—they are his agents, insofar as they are beings; his possessions, insofar as they are things. If Mr. House cannot rid the country of them, he is liable to extremely grave consequences."

"Hold on," blurted Archy, with a dark glance at Otto. "My master-scrambler was sabotaged. I can't be held responsible for that."

"Do you know who did it? Can you definitely prove it was sabotage?"

Archy reddened. "I can tell you I'll find out."

"Until you do, it's your responsibility. Now today we have two reports. Mr. Otto Kahler—a very capable man, and I understand he is the real inventor of the full-projection process—has discovered how the projections manage to survive although cut off from studio power. Also, he has some comments on their nature. Before we hear from him, there is a report from the Secretary of the Interior."

The Secretary was a bald, tired, paunchy man who reminded people of a banker. Perhaps because he had been a banker. He opened his mouth to begin.

"Tell your mother,
"Tell your brother,
"Ain't no better
"Peanut butter!"

The raspy song came from beneath the table. Archy dived under and out frisked an Andy Armadillo projection, natty in green breeches and prospector's hat.

The cartoon sat jauntily in the middle of the table. "Say, kids," he addressed the group, "Teeny-Crunch Peaner Butter really has it. This peaner butter is like going to heaven. It's smooth yet—"

"Get out of here!" screamed Archy.

The Armadillo eyed him. "Look, Mac, I'm doing an act. I'm tired of being turned off." He began the commercial again.

The conference moved to another room. "Better chink the door," said Otto.

The Secretary of the Interior began anew. Archy listened closely; there would be a chance to trip this guy up.

"It's estimated that 500,000,000 projections are at large," said the secretary. "Here are some things that have happened:

"Throngs of the cowboy projections are heading west. They get on horses and chase cattle. The horses buck them off, they climb right back on. Half the horses in the country are so crazed they'll be useless forever. Villain projections are hiding all over the nation. The cowboy hero projections are fighting the villains in a million bar-rooms. Fortunately they can't use real guns, but customers aren't convinced."

"Who cares about a bunch of drunks?" said Archy. Everybody scowled.

"The Pixie Owens projections I needn't dwell on. They've caused thousands of auto wrecks just by appearing along highways.

"The clowns and jugglers have put the circuses out of business by invading at show time. The jugglers get into ping-pong tournaments, juggle the balls. Nobody can keep them out.

"The armadillo cartoons have bankrupt Teeny-Crunch Peanut Butter—nobody will buy it.

"The projections are claiming U.S. citizenship and the right to vote. The Archy projections are organizing them. They've horned into every village, town, city, state, and national governmental conclave.

"Projections hunt audiences. They have disrupted every stage show in the country. They put on shows in people's living rooms, in parks, in the middle of the street. A few got jobs with stock companies, in movies, and so on, but they can only play one part—the one they were doing for Full-Projection."

"I'm entitled to a percentage of their earnings," said Archy.

"They've all been fired," said Otto. "If the secretary is through—the report is beginning to border on the nature of the projections—perhaps I can make my report now."

President Conklin glanced at the Secretary, who nodded.

"I guess you know their mental properties," said Otto.

"Sort of monomaniacs. They're counterfeit humans, of course, but limited counterfeits. The configuration projected for any given actor is solely of the elements in that person which are involved in the part being played. Part of the neural patterns synapses, so on—only a part, but complete circuits—are projected.

"This part is enough to allow a certain freedom of development, acquisition of new ideas, individuality. Basically a projection is a replica of the person being projected. Pixie, for instance, has never strip-teased on one of the shows...."

"I should hope not!" snuffed the Secretary.

"... but the projection Pixie does what the real Pixie has implicit in her nature. Our friend the armadillo, being only a cartoon, is different. About all he can do is repeat commercials.

"Physically, the projections eat no food. They are not quite solid—one couldn't pick up a coin or a hammer, but could handle a ping-pong ball or a fluff of cotton.

"They are somewhat plastic and slip through restricted openings. I saw one walk through a screen door, and I'm told they can get through keyholes. They can be temporarily broken up by physical means, but come right back together."

"I know how to lick 'em!" shouted Archy. "Chop 'em up fine and disperse the pieces."

"The sheriff of Pickle, W.Va., tried that," said Otto. "Ran a bunch of clown projections through a fine chopper. They reconstituted into one gigantic clown currently scaring hell out of half the state."

"Maybe we could make portable scramblers," said Archy. "Everybody could carry one."

"That's been considered," said the President. "Hunting down projections one by one would take years. Please continue, Mr. Kahler."

"I've found out how they keep going without studio power," said Otto. "They hang around electrical installations—high-tension lines, generators, radio and TV transmitters, even auto batteries. Wherever there are electro-magnetic fields. They go a day or two on their own, then get recharged. There are gangs of them hanging around these places."

"That's it!" pronounced Archy. "That's where we can scramble them."

"We'll probably try it," said Otto, "but it won't get many. They'll just go to the millions of miles of power lines."

"Then turn off all the power," said Archy. "Starve 'em."

Several people spoke at once, and Archy's chest went up. The president silenced them.

"Do you realize what that would mean, turning off the country's power? Deliberate disaster."

Archy reddened. "Well."

"Could Mr. House please refrain from interruptions?" snuffed the Secretary.

June's hand, under the table, patted Archy's knee. She didn't say anything—just patted his knee.

"I have one last question," said the President. "Mr. Kahler, I understand these projections are extremely complex electronic propagations. How can they be maintained by random power fields like batteries and high-tension wires?"

"There's a difference between propagating them and maintaining them," said Otto. "Once you've projected them, maintenance is fairly simple."

"I see," said Conklin. "I believe that concludes our conference. Mr. House, I don't want to see your face for five days. And I want you to come and tell me the projections are gone. All of them. If this happens, the damage might be—well, attended to. If it doesn't—you will be broken, Mr. House, very thoroughly."

"Okay, Pops," said Archy. "I mean—Mr. President."

Back at the hotel, June and Otto accompanied Archy to his suite. He wanted to talk to them, though he had a root-deep feeling nothing could do any good.

Somebody was in the suite, standing with a finger stuck in a light socket. "Hello, bud," grinned the Archy-projection passing from translucency to opaqueness as the current vitalized it. "Thought I'd recharge at our place here."

Archy glared. "Ignore the S.O.B.," he told the others. "Without an audience he won't stay."

It took an hour, during which the Archy-projection bragged of his plans for forming a TV company, stage troupes, running for congress, and producing more projections of himself, but finally he left. Archy's face was sunk in his hands.

"Maybe you're the only people I can admit this to," he said, "but I'm whipped."

"You actually mean that, Archy?" June's voice was not quite mocking.

"Yes. I thought there was nothing I couldn't get on top of—I was like that damned walking marionette that just pranced out of here—a blowhard. I'm beat, folks."

"Maybe you'll come up with something," offered Otto. "Maybe...." June shushed him.

"You two had better get out from under," said Archy. "June, find some nice guy to marry—hell, marry Otto, I know he likes you. I'm pulling my money out of the bank—split it between you. It won't help me where I'm going."

June sat on his lap.

"Honey, suppose there was a way for you to get rid of all those projections? Then you could take the credit and come back strong as ever."

"How could I take the credit?"

"Suppose your own staff made the plan? After all, you're smart enough to hire them."

"Maybe this sounds crazy, coming from me, but the credit would go to whoever deserved it. What good is it to be a big shot if you know you've been licked, even once?"

June seemed to turn something over in her mind, looking at it; there was silence before she spoke.

"I've got an idea," she said.

"What?" he asked hopelessly.

"Let's get married when this is all over. I'd like it better even than a thousand a week."

"You're nuts," he said. "Marry a phony—a blowhard? That's why you never did marry me, isn't it? Isn't it?"

"Yes," said June. "And I said, if you remember, that I'd marry you if you ever figured that out. Which you have."

"I've got to go see the desk clerk," said Otto. "Told him I'd help with his—ah—radio set. But here's an idea—why not get married Friday at Big Butte?"

It was all too fast for Archy. "Big Butte? What's that?" But Otto was gone, and June began to tell him.

It was an evening ceremony, the Big Butte, Wyoming, wedding and well attended by everyone but projections. There were no more free-moving projections. Every one in the nation had gathered at Big Butte, in the middle of Wyoming, for a popularity contest and organizational meeting organized by Archy and the Archy projections, backed by Full-projection money. And when they were gathered—the whole fantastic crew of them—Otto had actuated the gigantic scrambler concealed on the butte and the insubstantial pageant faded, leaving not a wrack behind.

The honeymoon was marred by one small thing.

"You know," said Archy "one thing I've gotta do is find out who sabotaged me in the first place."

"I guess I can let you know," said June. "I wanted to teach you a lesson. I had no idea it'd get out of hand—what are you going to do?"

Archy had made a sudden move. "I was going to spank you," he said, firming his grip on her. "But now I have ahold of you. I'd rather—well—we are married."