THE AEROSPACE BONUS BOYS by Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding Our nation's political and economic structures have undergone considerable change since the days when the simple credo "the business of America is business" provided an adequate picture of whatever we were muddling through. Currently, a more accurate appraisal of the situation in industry might be expressed by another equally thought- provoking homily: "The business of America is the business of recruiting enough fresh, young scientific talent to latch onto the business to stay in business." Beyond doubt, a whole new pattern of events underlies much of the frenzied activity that now takes place behind the bland facade of belching smokestacks. In many industries, survival depends upon a steady inflow of government contracts, which, for reasons that are far from obvious, seems to depend, in turn, upon a steady inflow of new college graduates steeped in the gobbledygook of space-age technology. As often occurs when demand outruns supply, matters quickly get out of hand, and the law of the jungle tends to prevail. The annual epidemic of "brain recruiting" by big business on college campuses is living proof of this newest form of laissez-faire run wild. However, the increasingly familiar sight of the scurrying recruiter on campus creates a false picture of purposelessness. Behind closed doors at every home office, strategic thinkers have laid careful plans that touch off the apparent frenzy. Day and night, dedicated men with the single-minded goal of building a winner are charting their course at just such gargantuan corporations as Complicated Aerospace Stuff, Inc. Fade-in: (Interior—executive conference room—Complicated Aerospace Stuff, Inc. The large walnut-paneled room is dominated by a long walnut-paneled conference table, around which are a dozen or so high-backed chairs upholstered in lush imitation domestic Naugahyde. There is a motion-picture screen at one end of the room and a projector at the other. On a side wall hangs an ornately framed, color photograph of a transistorized component, resplendent in a jumble of red, blue, green, and yellow wiring, all tastefully arranged to create the impression that the item is functional. A bronze plate at the bottom of the frame identifies the component as "our very first one ever." At the open, the room is unoccupied except for Warren L. ("Buzz") Bodenhume, director of personnel manipulation for Complicated Aerospace Stuff, and Melville Sternbaum, by-lined columnist for "Diode Data, the Integral Devices Weekly." Bodenhume is clad in a sincere dark business suit and wears a nickel-plated whistle on a string around his neck. Sternbaum, clutching a notebook and pencil, wears an inexpensive necktie loosened at the collar, a soiled felt hat, with the brim turned up in front, and phosphorescent suede shoes. Both men are positioned informally, with Bodenhume crouched on his hunkers atop one of the conference chairs, while Sternbaum sprawls in repose across three others.) STERNBAUM: Well, it just figures that you'll be beating the bushes for new talent this spring, Buzz. After all, you finished a distant third in '67 behind Scientific Interplanetary Hardware and Unlimited Germanium Creations because you never displayed that front-line push to charge in there and pick off those government subcontracts when you needed them. BODENHUME: Yes. But I've got a hunch this is going to be a season when you can throw the past-performance charts right out the window, Mel. Our rookie engineers can blitz the Pentagon with a lot more good, meaningless technical jargon in tight situations now. And, of course, Von Klegschmidt was on the sauce last year and only saw limited action. But the reports I get from the clinic indicate that he'll be back in top form for the opening of this season's government contracting. STERNBAUM: Well, we've all seen how much territory a Nobel Prize hopeful like Von Klegschmidt can cover in Washington when he's sober. But some of the Pentagon procurement boys think it was bad strategy for you to let three veteran flow- charters go during the off-season in exchange for an untried utility physicist. BODENHUME: Well, the way we look at it, a senile flow- charter can hurt team morale and cause you to wind up making the wrong product and all like that. The aerospace game's like anything else. If you start out to build a youthful organization, your best bet is to do it with young people. STERNBAUM (scribbling hastily in his notebook): That's a concept in personnel I'm sure the whole industry will want to analyze, Buzz. And you see this rookie physicist playing a key role in your development program for the future, do you? BODENHUME: That's right. He still hasn't got all the sophisticated moves you need for grabbing off those juicy defense contracts. But for a kid whose I.Q. will go maybe 210 or 215, he's real good at talking around in circles without saying anything that means much. STERNBAUM: And, of course, when it comes to outlining proposals for government work, that's a big plus factor. BODENHUME: Oh, absolutely. You can get in there with that low bid nine times out of ten if you never come right out and commit yourself to produce what the job calls for. (The door opens, and the balance of Complicated Aerospace Stuff's top echelon tactical staff enters. The group is led by the firm's president, Newcomb N. Dibbleman, a silver- thatched veteran of the Electronic Thingumajig Industry whose stately bearing attests that he still feels pride in having gotten his start wiring faulty dirigible instrument panels in an abandoned interurban depot. He takes his place at the head of the table, carefully guarding the file folders jammed with papers that he carries. Following a respectful distance behind Dibbleman are his somewhat trustworthy, but otherwise useless assistants, Lucas Blethert, Orville Quillenthal, Jr., and Knute L. Fratch. All three wear inoffensive gray suits and vacant facial expressions) STERNBAUM (ignoring the others and continuing his interview with Bodenhume): But to make a smokescreen technique effective you still need that forward wall of Ph.D.'s. BODENHUME: Yes. The Washington brass always puts a lot of stock in counting those advanced degrees on your roster, especially when it gets down to a toss-up decision on doling out the loot. But nobody pays any attention to a guy's field of graduate study. That's how come we've already signed four new Ph.D.'s in Portuguese literature ,We can only use them as file clerks, but they look good on paper. STERNBAUM: Uh-huh. And I suppose you hope to beef up the team even more by recruiting some of this year's graduates who are still free agents. BODENHUME (angrily): We don't go in for recruiting around here, fellah. We just offer career opportunities with rapid advancement incentives and liberal fringe benefits. STERNBAUM: Well, I certainly didn't mean to imply— DIBBLEMAN (bellows): Get that clown out of here, Bodenhume! You know we don't let outsiders eavesdrop when we're going over scouting reports from the recruiters. BODENHUME: Right, N.N. (Bodenhume beckons Quillenthal and Fratch as Sternbaum cringes in dread anticipation clutching his pencil and notebook to his bosom. Quillenthal pries the notebook out of his clenched hand. Then the three assist him to exit in a graceful leap through the door, and all then take their assigned seats, with the exception of Dibbleman, who remains standing for reasons that he would rather not discuss. ) DIBBLEMAN: I don't suppose I need to recap the problems we're having with the J-27-dash-5 program. You all know we're completely tooled up for production, but we still don't have a first-rate man in research who can tell us why a solid-state gizmo like that with a crank on the side is a vital component in a space capsule. BLETHERT (haltingly): The answer must be there someplace, N.N. Integral Dynamics turns out funny-looking things a lot like the J-27-dash-5, and NASA's been grabbing them up at $38,000 a throw like they were going out of style. (Dibbleman glares menacingly at Blethert as Quillenthal stares hard at a coffee stain on the carpet in an effort to appear alert without seeming to pay too much attention.) DIBBLEMAN: I don't need to be reminded that Integral Dynamics is displaying the kind of fancy footwork that could push us out of the running, Blethert. And I hope you don't have to be reminded that they're doing it with the brains they recruited right under your nose at Carnegie Tech last year. FRATCH: But you know the unethical tactics they threw at us there, N.N. Integral Dynamics never told those kids that the Edward Teller in their research department is just some old coot with the same name who hoses down the lab. DIBBLEMAN (icily): That happens to be the type of inventive strategy that picks off the plums, Fratch. Only you didn't think of it first. QUILLENTHAL: Excellent point, N.N. You can take your run-of- the-mill punk fresh out of engineering school, offer him twenty-five grand a year, and he'll jump at it. But it's the idea of rubbing elbows with an all-time great that hooks the whiz kids. Now, I've just found this osteopath in Cincinnati named Doctor Oppenheimer, and I thought— DIBBLEMAN: Forget it. Might still be a little stigma attached there. BODENHUME: Right! And any hint of controversy can kill you. The type of boy we're after is a clean-cut, loyal American who's just looking for a challenging career and money under the table. FRATCH: True, but not such a loyal American that our essential-industry draft-deferment pitch won't have a strong appeal BODENHUME: Don't start splitting hairs over terminology, Fratch. When I say loyal, we all know I'm not talking about some kind of flag-waving fanatic. (Dibbleman glares at Fratch as Fratch glares at Bodenhume as Bodenhume looks to Quillenthal for support as Quillenthal grabs a phone and begins dialing the recorded weather forecast number to indicate his firmly neutral position regarding all matters on which Dibbleman has not yet made his feelings abundantly clear.) DIBBLEMAN: I wish all of you would stop wasting my time with chatter when we've got a pile of scouting reports to check out here. (Quillenthal hangs up the phone with a sigh of relief ) QUILLENTHAL: I think we should all stop wasting N.N.'s time with chatter when we've got so many scouting reports to check out. (The others all stare at Quillenthal, who reacts by nervously picking up the phone and dialing for another weather forecast. Dibbleman takes a sheaf of papers from the table and begins flipping through them in a haphazard but businesslike fashion .) DIBBLEMAN: Now, I think we all know why we hit the skids in Washington during the last fiscal year. Soft landings on the moon were the big thing, and Scientific Interplanetary Hardware was three-deep in retro-rocket component specialists! The only man we had to throw into the contracting fight was that nut from the branch plant who thought a rocket would soft land up there if you kept it attached to the earth with a long piece of string. FRATCH: I've had my eye on a kid who shows a lot of promise in little retro-rocketry doodads, N.N. He'll be picking up his doctorate at Utah State this summer and— DIBBLEMAN: Utah State ! Fratch, you don't win the big ones in this league with untried kids from Utah State. FRATCH: Well, his diction could pass for Ivy League. And I know he could figure out how to attach some of that old junk we've got in the warehouse onto retro-rockets and— DIBBLEMAN: Forget it. If he was just going into the general Ph.D. pool, it might be OK. But for this job, a man's got to be able to name-drop an alma mater that'll open some important doors. Anything in this year's crop at M.I.T. or Cal Tech, Bodenhume? BODENHUME: Well, most of Cal Tech's current strength is in civil engineering. I never saw so damned many experts on sewer-pipe seepage in my life. At M.I.T., we're still dickering with a young squirt who's number two in his class. But he's already got a $30,000 offer from Micro Intricate, and he wants us to match that and throw in a '68 Toronado and a carpeted office with color TV. DIBBLEMAN: Hmmm. Well, I suppose we could open a spot on the roster by bouncing that guy who has the big corner suite on the third floor. I've never figured out what he does around here anyway. QUILLENTHAL: I don't think we ought to mess with him, N.N. He's got an old picture of himself on his desk presenting Lady Bird with her first FCC television license in Austin. DIBBLEMAN: Oh, is he the one? Well, then I remember how he got that corner suite and why we have to keep him. Any chance of making a trade for a retro-rocketry man, Fratch? . FRATCH: Well, I've put out some feelers to Scientific Interplanetary Hardware, but they only want to talk a deal for Haversham. And, of course, we can't give him up. He holds the patents on almost everything we make. BODENHUME: I've been looking over a young professor at Michigan who's got a lot of style, N.N. I think it would be worth your time to see the action films we have on him. DIBBLEMAN: Oh, all right. But those ivory-tower creeps never seem to get with it. They just sit around cooking up advanced theories to better mankind. And that kind of nonsense can disrupt a team's whole operation. (Bodenhume crosses to position himself at the movie projector as Quillenthal rushes to draw the drapes.) BODENHUME: I feel every bit as strongly about troublemakers as you do, N.N. But I'm sure this man would shape up fast. He's got a great little wife nagging him to jump to industry where the big money is. And his undergrad minor in political science is bound to give us a lift in the Washington game. He can move to his right or move to his left, all depending on how things go in November. Just catch this. (Bodenhume flicks on the projector. Squiggly lines and upside-down numbers flash on the screen for a few seconds, prompting Quillenthal, Fratch, and Blethert to cough impatiently in a mass gesture of empathy with Dibbleman, who is notorious for his lack of patience in regard to squiggly lines and upside-down numbers on movie screens. The coughing subsides when a grainy image of a young man scrawling a mathematical formula on a classroom blackboard comes into semi-focus.) DIBBLEMAN (thoughtfully): Maybe. Maybe not. QUILLENTHAL: I don't like to make snap judgments, but that's the same intuitive reaction I get. BODENHUME (defensively): Well, of course, he was just engaging in a light workout when we shot this footage. But notice how he's sprinkling all those Greek letters and square-root signs through that equation. Scribbles fast, too. Almost makes you think he's got a quick mind, if you don't notice he comes out with the wrong answer. (The figure on the screen turns from the blackboard and faces the camera with an arrogant smile, tossing the chalk casually in one hand as he utilizes the index finger of the other to punch emphatically at various undecipherable symbols on the board.) DIBBLEMAN (contemptuously): Nobody cares about that. But, for Chrisake, look at his bush-league summation style. He's right down to the nitty-gritty, and he's not even using a chrome-plated pointer to make his hard-sell pitch. BODENHUME: Well, you understand we're seeing him in a low- budget operation here, and— BLETHERT: But double-talking his way through scientific mishmash with no attention grabber but his finger? ! He'd put a Pentagon contracting session to sleep, Buzz. DIBBLEMAN: Or worse yet, show his inexperience in handling a pointer by fumbling it and blowing the ball game. No dice. (Accepting defeat, Bodenhume switches off the projector just as the figure on the screen is preparing to demonstrate his agility in erasing blackboard equations before their accuracy can be challenged. Fratch reopens the drapes as Quillenthal clears his throat in a nervous manner which he hopes will be interpreted as a gesture of righteous indignation by Dibbleman and of understanding sympathy by Bodenhume. After a moment, Blethert rises and spreads his palms flat on the table with a studied air of confidence that is betrayed only by an unconfident quaver in his voice as he speaks.) BLETHERT: Boys, I hadn't planned to take the wraps off the greatest little deep thinker since Von Braun at this session because I know N.N. doesn't like to get in on the contract haggling with a kid who's playing holdout. But since he's virtually hooked, there's no reason why I should keep the good news to myself. DIBBLEMAN (coldly): Blethert, I think you used the same identical buildup last year to sell me that bonus baby from Princeton. And if I'm not mistaken, he's now working out his option at $40,000 a year keeping track of our toggle-switch inventory in the Des Moines warehouse. (Blethert appears outwardly unmoved except for his knuckles, which whiten.) BLETHERT: Well, maybe he wasn't quite ready. But this boy's got greatness written all over him. Built an IBM 360 out of empty beer cans for his junior high science project, and he's been going like that ever since. They're giving him his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago next month, and from the dope sheet I've got, I'd say they're doing it because nobody can understand the thesis he turned in. BODENHUME: Sounds good, N.N. It could mean he's got that inborn talent for being ambiguous. You can't teach a thing like that to a scientist. If the spark isn't there, he'll keep slipping back into saying something specific just when it can do you the most harm. BLETHERT (with renewed spirit): Right. But this kid's shifty; a natural broken-field talker. Now, I've had him flown out here for the weekend to look over our operation with his dad, and I figure if we all go to work on 'em— DIBBLEMAN (explodes): You let him bring his father with him! Blethert, you know what that can get us into. The old man's probably a frustrated semi-pro scientist himself with all kinds of wild dreams of glory for the kid. BLETHERT- Now take it easy, N.N. The old guy's a stiff. Knows from nothing. Just let me call them in, and I promise you our troubles in retro-rocketry are over. DIBBLEMAN: All right, but I don't like the setup. (Blethert moves hurriedly to the door and exits to the adjoining V.I.P. lounge and topless Whoopie Room.) QUILLENTHAL: Personally, with the old man hanging around to kibitz, I don't like the setup. (Blethert re-enters accompanied by Bruno Coskichekowicz, a sullen youth clad in a University of Chicago letter sweater, emblematic of his four seasons of stardom in classified nuclear events under the football stadium. Bruno's father Vladimir follows a pace behind. He wears a traditional coal miner's cap even though it is obvious that his lamp has been out for a number of years. Blethert introduces the pair to his colleagues, and half-hearted greetings are ad-libbed by all.) DIBBLEMAN (feigning human warmth): Well, Bruno, Mr. Blethert tells me you may be trying out for a berth here at Complicated Aerospace. What do you think of our sprawling, multimillion-dollar little place? VLADIMIR (truculent and with too much of an accent to be possible): He seen plenty better. How you fix, Bruno got to park car in middle of hot sun like anybody else. Even got to come up in same elevator with dumb people don't make much money. All very bad for fine boy with like what Bruno got inside his head. (Dibbleman glares at Blethert, who looks beseechingly at Bodenhume who shoots a sidelong glance to catch Quillenthal's reaction only to discover that Quillenthal is reacting by getting sick on the rug.) BODENHUME: Well, of course, we're chiefly concerned with blazing new trails to the future here. The twenty-first century lies just over the horizon, Bruno, and Complicated Aerospace has its feet planted firmly at the frontier of tomorrow— BRUNO (cutting in): Sure, sure. And at least four other outfits are right there with you, giving me the same pep talk word for word. So let's change the subject. I figure thirty big-ones a year will do for openers so I don't get killed taxwise. Now, Complicated Aero closed on the big board Friday at 62 and 5/8ths, so let's say options to pick up 1000 shares a year at 15. That makes a neat package without giving me those high-bracket blues. DIBBLEMAN (enraged): It does more than that, Sonny. It also enables you to avoid being hired here. Even our top executives don't have stock arrangements like that. VLADIMIR (mutters): Drajna mirich zvdoga. DIBBLEMAN (to Bruno): What was that all about? BRUNO: Nothing you don't already know. He just said that top executives are a dime a dozen, but you ain't got a single retro-rocket genius in this whole glassed-in birdcage. And once I walk out of here, you won't be seeing another one in a long, long time, bubeleh. (Dibbleman, apparently undecided whether to strangle Bruno with his bare hands or merely have him bush-whacked near the front gate, thoughtlessly pulls a pilot model of the J-27- dash-5 component from his coat pocket and fingers it angrily for a rnoment. Then, in frustration, he slams it on the table and begins stomping back and forth across the room as Bodenhume, Fratch, Quillenthal, and Blethert look on with accumulating terror. Meantime, Vladimir brings forth a Hubbard squash from his overalls and calmly peels it with his pocketknife as Bruno picks up the J-27-dash-5 component and examines it with mild interest.) BRUNO (to no one in particular): Not bad. Needs a set screw next to the diode for a lead-in wire. But otherwise, it could do the trick. (Dibbleman stops pacing and gallops to Bruno's side as Bodenhume, Fratch, Quillenthal, and Blethert rise out of their chairs and instinctively crawl across the conference table toward the center of activity in a move reminiscent of that of Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Orlando during the momentous final session at Versailles.) DIBBLEMAN: Do what trick? What trick is that? What can it do? BRUNO: Well, nothing really—unless the last retro doesn't fire, and radio contact with J.P.L. is broken, too. That's a million-to-one shot, but if Uncle wants to throw away 40,000 bucks apiece on trinkets like this to backstop the main system, it ain't my worry. DIBBLEMAN (staring vacantly at the J-27-dash-5): How much does it cost us to make these things? BODENHUME: It depends. Like when we stamped out the pilot models on the Sunday graveyard shift and had to pay everybody double-double overtime, they ran us to almost six dollars and a quarter apiece. (Dibbleman nods to Bodenhume with what appears to be a stunned inability to comprehend the magnitude of it all. Then, head high though ashen, he crosses to the wall safe and begins removing bundles of currency and stock certificates which, with the assistance of Bodenhume, Quillenthal, Blethert, and Fratch, he stacks in neat piles on the table in front of Bruno. Meanwhile, Vladimir, with one efficient sweet of his forearm, brushes the Hubbard squash peelings onto the carpet, and then carefully cleans his knife blade by rubbing it across a sooty trouser leg. The air of proud stoicism that has served him well through long years of misunderstanding born of abject confusion remains unbroken as he contemplates the sheer uselessness of a peeled raw squash.) Fade-out.