A For Anything by Damon Knight

By Damon Knight

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The lump, he knew, was something called an “arrested prototype,” or a “prote” for short. More to the point, it was his breakfast in unrecognizable miniature—cooked perhaps twenty years ago and duped on the Gismo, but incompletely. The process had been stopped in the middle, so that what came out was not a plate of eggs and bacon, rapidly cooling, but a gnarled lump of quasi-matter that could be stored in a pigeonhole, and would keep forever. When Fossum put it back on the primary side of the Gismo, and removed the inhibitor, an exact copy, not of the prote but of the original breakfast, would appear at the other terminal.

Something in the noisy crowd, or maybe in the morning’s frustrations, seemed to have thrown him off. Cash was lining up a good series of tens and nines, while Dick, though he squeezed off each shot with care, was shooting unevenly. “Seven,” called the monitor slob. “Nine . . seven . . seven . ” There was an embarrassed pause. ” A miss, at fifty yards, with his own carbine! Mortification overwhelmed him; he wanted to sink through the shooter’s stand, or wrap his gun-barrel around the TV monitor and stalk away.

The two slobs leaned silently on their axes and waited; in the dimness, their eyes gleamed bluish-white. Dick clambered over the fallen trunk and went on. Farther down, the air was as still as if it had been poured in years ago, and left to settle. Passing, Dick reached out to the bank and idly brushed his hand over a fleshly-spined mat of club mosses, three species of them growing together within arm’s reach. He had learned their names, painlessly, on many a walk down this trail with Padgett the tutor.

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