Fowler Schocken inclined his head. "We all know," he said, "what put us where we are. We remember the Starrzelius Verily account, and how we put Indiastries on the map. The first spherical trust. Merging a whole subcontinent into a single manufacturing complex. Schocken Associates pioneered on both of them. Nobody can say we were floating with the tide. But that's behind us."
"Men! I want to know something. You can tell me truthfully --- are we getting soft?" He took time to look at each of our faces searchingly, ignoring the forest of hands in the air. God help me, mine was right up there too. Then he waved to the man at his right. "You first, Ben, " he said.
Ben Winston stood up and baritoned: "Speaking for Industrial Anthropology, no! Listen to today's progress report --- you'll get it in the noon bulletin, but let me brief you now: according to the midnight indices, all primary schools east of the Mississipi are now using our packaging recommendation for the school lunch program. Soyaburgers and regenerated steak" --- there wasn't a man around the table who didn't shudder at the thought of soyaburgers and regenerated steak --- "are packaged in containers the same shade of green as the Universal products. But the candy, ice cream, and Kiddiebutt cigarette ration are wrapped in colorful Starrzelius red. When those kids grow up..." he lifted his eyes exultantly from his notes.
He sat down in a wave of applause. Schocken clapped too, and looked brightly at the rest of us. I leaned forward with Expression One --- eagerness, intelligence, competence --- all over my face. But I needn't have bothered. Fowler pointed to the lean man next to Winston. Harvey Bruner.
"I don't have to tell you men that Point-of-Sale has its special problems," Harvey said, puffing his thin cheeks. "I swear, the whole damned government must be infiltrated with Consies! You know what they've done. They outlawed compulsive subsonics in our aural advertising --- but we've bounced back with a list of semantic cue words that tie in with every basic trauma and neurosis in American life today. They listened to the safety cranks and stopped us from projecting our messages on aircar windows --- but we bounced back. Lab tells me," he nodded to our Director of Research across the table "that soon we'll be testing a system that projects directly on the retina of the eye.
"And not only that, but we're going forward. As an example, I want to mention the Coffiest pro-... " He broke off. "Excuse me Mr. Schocken," he whispered "Has Security checked this room?"
Fowler Schocken nodded. "Absolutely clean. Harvey relaxed again. "Well, about this Coffiest," he said. "We're sampling it in fifteen key cities. It's the usual offer --- a thirteen week supply of Coffiest, one thousand dollars in cash, and a weekend vacation on the Ligurian Riviera to everybody who comes in. But --- and here's what makes the campaign truly great, in my estimation --- each sample of Coffiest contains three milligrams of a simple alkaloid. Nothing harmful. But definitely habit-forming. After ten weeks the customer is hooked for life. It would cost him at least five thousand dollars for a cure, so its simpler for him to go right on drinking Coffiest --- three cups with every meal and a pot beside his bed at night, just as it says on the jar."
Fowler Schocken beamed, and I braced myself into Expression One again. Next to Harvey sat Tildy Mathis, Chief of Personnel and handpicked by Schocken himself. But he didn't ask women to speak at Board sessions, and next to Tildy sat me.
I was composing my opening remarks in my head as Fowler Schocken let me down with a smile. He said: "I won't ask every section to report. We haven't time. But you've given me your answer, gentlemen. It's the answer I like. You've met every challenge up to now. And so now --- I want to give you a new challenge."
He pressed a button on his monitor panel and swiveled his chair around. The lights went down in the room; the projected Picasso that hung behind Schocken's chair faded and revealed the mottled surface of the screen. On it another picture began to form. I had seen the subject of that picture once before that day, in my news screen over my shaving mirror.
It was the Venus rocket, a thousand-foot monster, the bloated child of the slim V-2s and stubby Moon rockets of the past. ...A voice from the screen said triumphantly and inaccurately: "This is the ship that spans the stars!" I recognized the voice as belonging to one of the organ-toned commentators in Aural Effects, and expertized the scripts without effort as emanating from one of Tildy's girl copywriters. The talented slovenliness that would confuse Venus with a star had to come from somebody in Tildy's staff.
"This is the ship that a modern Columbus will drive through the void," said the voice. "Six and a half million tons of trapped lightning and steel --- an ark for eighteen hundred men and women, and everything to make a new world for their home. Who will man it? What fortunate pioneers will tear an empire from the rich, fresh soil of another world? Let me introduce you to them --- a man and his wife, two of the intrepid..."
The voice kept on going. On the screen the picture dissolved to a spacious suburban roomette in early morning. On the screen the husband folding the bed into the wall and taking down the partition to the children's nook; the wife dialing breakfast and erecting the table. Over the breakfast juices and the children's pabulum (with a steaming mug of Coffiest for each, of course) they spoke persuasively to each other about how wise and brave they had been to apply for passage in the Venus rocket. And the closing question of their youngest babbler ("Mommy, when I grow up kin I take my littul boys and girls to a place as nice as Venus?") cued the switch to a highly imaginative series of shots of Venus as it would be when the child grew up --- verdant valleys, crystal lakes, brilliant mountain vistas.
The commentary did not exactly deny, and neither did it dwell on, the decades of hydroponics and life in hermetically sealed cabins that the pioneers would have to endure while working on Venus' unbreathable atmosphere and waterless chemistry.
Instinctively, I had set the timer button on my watch when the picture started. When it was over I read the dial: nine minutes! Three times as long as any commercial could legally run. One full minute more than we were accustomed to get.
It was only after the lights were on again, the cigarettes lit, and Fowler Schocken well into his pep talk for the day that I began to see how that was possible.
He began in the dithering, circumlocutory way that has become a part of the flavor of our business. He called out attention to the history of advertising --- from the simple handmaiden task of selling already-manufactured goods to its present role of creating industries and redesigning a world's folkways to meet the needs of commerce. He touched once more on what we ourselves, Fowler Schocken Associates, had done with our own expansive career. And then he said:
"There's an old saying, men. 'The world is our oyster.' We've made it come true. But we've eaten our oyster." He crushed out his cigarette carefully. "We've eaten it," he repeated. "We've actually and literally conquered the world. Like Alexander, we weep for new worlds to conquer. And there..." he waved at the screen behind him, "...there you have just seen the first of those worlds."
Fowler Schocken touched another button and showed us a chart. He explained it carefully, item by item; he showed us tables and graphs and diagrams of the entire new Department of Fowler Schocken Associates which would be set up to handle development and exploitation of the planet Venus. He covered the tedious lobbying and friendmaking in Congress, which had given us the exclusive right to levy tribute and collect from the planet --- and I began to see how he could safely use a nine-minute commercial. He explained how the Government --- it's odd how we still think of that clearinghouse for pressures as though it were an entity with a will of its own --- how the Government wanted Venus to be an American planet and how they had selected the peculiarly American talent of advertising to make it possible. As he spoke we all caught some of his fire. I envied the man who would head the Venus Section; any one of us would have been proud to take the job.