Lolling on his craggy throne, with thin fingers of smoke brushing his face, Satan turned his attention to his underling, Fireball.

“You bring a report?” he said.

“Affirmative, Majesty,” said Fireball. “Things are not going too badly. Everybody on earth seems rather confused. At times they seem torn between trying to turn on and dropping out.”

“I could do without some of your earth-jargon,” growled Satan. “But continue.”

“It’s like one of their hippies says, ‘Prometheus is reaching for the stars with a hollow grin on his face.’ One of their philosophers has said, ‘Man is standing hip-deep in garbage, shooting rockets at the moon!’ ”

“Hmmm,” muttered the devil.

“One American newsman remarks that the solons in Washington wear grins to hide their gloom over climbing inflation. Newspapers report that men will run into more and more power shortages if they aren’t careful—and, take it from me, few of them are careful at this point! They also fear a water shortage, and what water they have is fairly well polluted. The air is pretty awful, too. And, of course, there’s the great food shortage.”

“Proceed.”

“The airlines are all fouled up. The cities are all messed up. Wars, big and little, keep coming on. Lots of riots. In fact, there are times when universal anarchy appears quite possible.”

“Very good.”

“Then there’s this gap thing. Generation gap, racial gap, social gap, economic gap.” Fireball chortled. “A kind of universal ‘gapititis.’ ”

“Your slang does not enhance your communication. But go on.”

“I’m ...

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