Allen Murphey, President of Napoleon Industries, one of the country's largest manufacturers of useful household appliances, sits at his desk. It is the largest desk in the largest office of the largest building owned by the company. Allen Murphey is pleased to be at this desk, in this position of enormous power. The fact that he never had to work very hard to get this position, it having been passed on to him by his father, does not bother him. The fact that he does the least work and makes the most money of anyone in the corporation does not bother him. The fact that his father was killed by a faulty electric can opener manufactured by their company does not bother him. What does bother him is a round stain on the varnished walnut surface of his desk. The stain was made by a coffee cup, which was not placed upon a coaster, as it should have been. Allen Murphey thinks, "Perhaps I should get a new desk."
Allen Murphey rubs at the stain with his thumb for a span of about thirty seconds, and then looks at his very expensive wristwatch. He must go to a meeting in twenty eight minutes and nineteen seconds. He sets the alarm to remind him when it is time to leave. He calls up The Time, to see if his very expensive wristwatch is correct. It is.
Allen Murphey looks at a picture on one of the walls of his very large office. It is a photograph of his father with Scott Carpenter, the astronaut. They were good friends.
Allen Murphey always wondered what it would be like to be an astronaut. He leans back in his chair and thinks about it.
Alex Murphin, the astronaut, is orbiting the Earth in his space capsule. This is his twenty-ninth orbit. During his thirty-first orbit, he will have five buttons to press, three switches to flip, and possibly, one or two knobs to adjust. But this is his twenty-ninth orbit, and he has nothing to do.
Alex Murphin gazes through the tiny window of his self-contained plastic-and-steel environment, and sees the glowing blue sphere of his home planet, so far away. It looks strangely unreal, as if it is just a painting, left over from some old science fiction movie. Maybe there's someone behind it, holding it up, moving it occasionally to enhance the effect.
Alex Murphin places a tape into the small stereo cassette player that he secretly brought on to his spacecraft. The capsule is filled with the music of Critical Mass, this week's hottest new rock group. He listens to the stress-inducing tones of their new hit, "Life in the Men's Room", and lets the sound envelop him.
Albert Murdall never liked his name. That is why, when he became the lead singer of Critical Mass, he changed it to Abstract Murders. At this moment, he is sitting with Deadly Poison, Eddie Hacksaw, and Oatmeal Henderson, the other members of Critical Mass, in studio number four of Radioactive Records.
They had been there all day, working on their new song, "You're So Ugly You Set My Shoes On Fire". Deadly Poison and Oatmeal Henderson are having yet another argument about the lyrics, and it looks like the others have a long wait ahead of them.
Abstract Murders sits down on one of the tall rotating stools, and quietly fingers the strings of his new guitar. He thinks about the new song he is writing. Actually, at this point, all he has written is the title, "Atomic Bombs aren't just for Breakfast Anymore."
The song is going to be about the men who wait in the underground bunkers, waiting to push the buttons that will end the world. This is the job that Abstract Murders would most like to have, the job he could never possibly get. In the opinion of Abstract Murders, that job would give him more power over people that any other job he can imagine.
Alfred Murdock is sitting at his Minuteman launch console. The console is located inside a shell of concrete, buried under the midwestern American soil. Across the way from him is another console, and sitting there is another man. His name is Henry Nelson. The two consoles are placed just far enough apart to make it impossible for one man to do alone what two men are expected to do together, when the time comes.
Alfred Murdock and Henry Nelson have just finished going through another practice launch. They pushed all the buttons and made all the preparations needed to make their missile zoom to Russia. The last thing they did was to simultaneously rotate their keys to the position marked "TEST". Had this been a real war, they would have turned the keys to the position marked "LAUNCH".
They practice the launch several times a day. This is to make the launch sequence habitual, so that when the time comes to kill ten million people, they can do it without thinking about it.
Having finished their practice launch, there is little for them to do until it is time to practice the launch again. Alfred Murdock leans back in his chair and kicks his feet up onto the Minuteman launch console. He wishes he had a different job. He doesn't mind the fact that at any moment he could be called upon to kill helpless Russians; he just finds the job boring, and wishes for a little excitement.
Arthur Melbourn is a hired Assassin. People pay him to kill other people. This is not a job he particularly enjoys, but he thinks it is better than being a plumber, even though it doesn't pay as well.
Arthur Melbourn is carrying a number of very deadly weapons, concealed beneath his clothing. As he walks down the busy city street towards his destination, he decides to use the U.S. government standard issue .45 caliber automatic pistol. Today his mission is to kill a big business executive, for reasons that were not disclosed. Arthur Melbourn is simply an executioner, and he does not ask his employers such questions.
He enters the lobby of the office building, and stops to read the directory. The directory tells what person is in what office and on what floor. It can be updated as needed, because the little white letters can be rearranged on the black velveteen letter rack. Arthur Melbourn pauses momentarily to reflect on his good fortune at not having a job whose duties include updating the directory.
Arthur Melbourn goes to the office indicated by the directory. He opens the door to the very large office, and points the U.S. government standard issue .45 caliber automatic pistol at the small man behind the very large desk. He fires.
Allen Murphey looks up at the man with the gun, and his last thought is that he himself looks just like the man who is shooting him. Gasping for breath, clutching at the bloody hole in his clean white shirt, he falls to the floor, and soon dies.
Simultaneously, Arthur Melbourn ceases to exist.