Jack Vance – The Ten Books

Posted in Uncategorized on April 13, 2010 by zigstedimension

They were as alone as it is possible for living man to be in the black gulf between the stars.
Far astern shone the suns of the home worlds-ahead the outer stars and galaxies in a fainter ghostly glimmer.
The cabin was quiet. Betty Welstead sat watching her husband at the assay table, her emotions tuned to his. When the centrifuge scale indicated heavy metal and Welstead leaned forward she leaned forward too in unconscious sympathy. When he burnt scrapings
in the spectroscope and read Lead from the brightest pattern and chewed at his lips Betty released her pent-up breath, fell back in her seat.
Ralph Welstead stood up, a man of medium height- rugged, tough-looking-with hair and skin and eyes the same tawny color. He brushed the whole clutter of rock and ore into the
waste chute and Betty followed him with her eyes.
Welstead said sourly, „We’d be millionaires if that asteroid had been inside the Solar system. Out here, unless it’s pure platinum or uranium, it’s not worth mining.“
Betty broached a subject which for two months had been on the top of her mind. „Perhaps we should start to swing back in.“
Welstead frowned, stepped up into the observation dome. Betty watched after him anxiously. She understood very well that the instinct of the explorer as much as the quest for minerals had brought them out so far.
Welstead stepped back down into the cabin. „There’s a star ahead“ – he put a finger into the three-dimensional chart – „this one right here, Eridanus two thousand nine hundred and thirty-two. Let’s make a quick check-and then we’ll head back in.“
Betty nodded, suddenly happy. „Suits me.“ She jumped up, and together they went to the screen. He aimed the catch-all vortex, dialed the hurrying blur to stability and the star pulsed out like a white-hot coin. A single planet made up the entourage.
„Looks about Earth-size,“ said Welstead, interest in his voice, and Betty’s heart sank a trifle. He tuned the circuit finer, turned up the magnification and the planet leapt at them.
„Look at that atmosphere! Thick!“ He swiveled across the jointed arm holding the thermocouple and together they bent over the dial.
„Nineteen degrees Centigrade. About Earth-norm. Let’s look at that atmosphere. You know, dear, we might have something tremendous here! Earth-size, Earth temperature…
„His voice fell off in a mutter as he peered through the spectroscope, flipping screen after screen past the pattern from the planet. He stood up, cast Betty a swift exultant glance, then squinted in sudden reflection. „Better make sure before we get too excited.“
Betty felt no excitement. She watched without words as Welstead thumbed through the catalogue.
„Whee!“ yelled Welstead, suddenly a small boy. „No listing! It’s ours!“ And Betty’s heart melted at the news. Delay, months of delay, while Welstead explored the planet, charted its oceans and continents, classified its life. At the same time, a spark of her husband’s
enthusiasm caught fire in her brain and interest began to edge aside her gloom.
„We’ll name it ‚Welstead,'“ he said. „Or, no – ‚Elizabeth‘ for you. A planet of your own! Some day there’ll be cities and millions of people. And every time they write a letter or throw a shovelful of dirt or a ship lands – they’ll use your name.“
„No, dear,“ she said. „Don’t be ridiculous. We’ll call it ‚Welstead‘-for us both.“
They felt an involuntary pang of disappointment later on when they found the planet already inhabited, and by men.
Yet their reception astonished them as much as the has discovery of the planet and its people. Curiosity, even hostilily might have been expected…
They had been in no hurry to land, preferring to fall in an orbit just above the atmosphere, the better to study the planet and its inhabitants.
It looked to be a cheerful world. There were a thousand kinds of forest, jungle, savannah.
Sunny rivers coursed green fields. A thousand lakes and three oceans glowed blue. To the far north and far south snowfields glittered, dazzled. Such cities as they found – the world seemed sparsely settled-merged indistinguishably with the countryside.
They were wide low cities, very different from the clanging hives of Earth, and lay under the greenery like carvings in alabaster or miraculous snowflakes. Betty, in whose nature ran a strong streak of the romantic, was entranced.
„They look like cities of Paradise – cities in a dream!“
Welstead said reflectively, „They’re evidently not backward. See that cluster of long gray buildings off to the side? Those are factories.“
Betty voiced a doubt which had been gradually forming into words. „Do you think they might resent our landing? If they’ve gone to the trouble of creating a secret – well, call it Utopia – they might not want to be discovered.“
Welstead turned his head, gazed at her eye to eye. „Do you want to land?“ he asked soberly.
„Why, yes – if you do. If you don’t think it’s dangerous.“
„I don’t know whether it’s dangerous or not. A people as enlightened as those cities would seem to indicate would hardly maltreat strangers.“
Betty searched the face of the planet. „I think it would be safe.“
Welstead laughed. „I’m game. We’ve got to die sometime. Why not out here?“
He jumped up to the controls, nosed the ship down.
„We’ll land right in their laps, right in the middle of that big city down there.“
Betty looked at him questioningly.
„No sense sneaking down out in the wilds,“ said Welstead. „If we’re landing we’ll land with a flourish.“
„And if they shoot us for our insolence?“
„Call it Fate.“
They bellied down into a park in the very center of the city. From the observation dome Welstead glimpsed hurrying knots of people.
„Go to the port, Betty. Open it just a crack and show yourself. I’ll stay at the controls. One false move, one dead cat heaved at us, and we’ll be back in space so fast they won’t remember we arrived.“
Thousands of men and women of all ages had surrounded the ship, all shouting, all agitated by strong emotion.
„They’re throwing flowers“ Betty gasped. She opened the port and stood in the doorway and the people below shouted, chanted, wept. Feeling rather ridiculous, Betty waved, smiled.
She turned to look back up at Welstead. „I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve all this but we’re heroes. Maybe they think we’re somebody else.“
Welstead craned his neck through the observation dome, „They look healthy-normal.“
„They’re beautiful,“ said Betty. „All of them.“
The throng opened, a small group of elderly men and women approached. The leader, a white-haired man, tall, lean, with much the same face as Michelangelo’s Jehovah, stood forth.
„Welcome!“ he called resonantly. „Welcome from the people of Haven!“
Betty stared, and Welstead clambered down from the controls: The words were strangely pronounced, the grammar was archaic-but it was the language of Earth.
The white-haired man spoke on, without calculation, as if delivering a speech of great familiarity. „We have waited two hundred and seventy-one years for your coming, for the
deliverance you will bring us.“
Deliverance? Welstead considered the word. „Don’t see much to deliver ‚em from,“ he muttered aside to Betty. „The sun’s shining, they look well-fed – a lot more enthusiastic than I do. Deliver ‚em from what?“
Betty was climbing down to the ground and Welstead followed.
„Thanks for the welcome,“ said Welstead, trying not to sound like a visiting politician.
„We’re glad to be here. It’s a wonderful experience, coming unexpectedly on a world like this.“
The white-haired man bowed gravely. „Naturally you must be curious – as curious as we are about the civilized universe. But for the present, just one question for the ears of our world. How goes it with Earth?“
Welstead rubbed his chin, acutely conscious of the thousands of eyes, the utter silence.
„Earth,“ he said, „goes about as usual. There’s the same seasons, the same rain, sunshine, frost and wind.“ And the people of Haven breathed in his words as devoutly as if they were the purest poetry. „Earth is still the center of the Cluster and there’s more people living on
Earth than ever before. More noise, more nuisance …“
„Wars? New governments? How far does science reach?“
Welstead considered. „Wars? None to speak of – not since the Hieratic League broke up.
The government still governs, uses lots of statistical machinery. There’s still graft, robbery, inefficiency, if that’s what you mean.
„Science – that’s a big subject. We know a lot but we don’t know a lot more, the way it’s always been. Everything considered, it’s the same Earth it’s always been – some good, a lot of bad.“
He paused, and the pent breath of the listeners went in a great sigh. The white-haired man nodded again, serious, sober-though evidently infected with the excitement that fixed his fellows.
„No more for the present! You’ll be tired and there’s much time for talk. May I offer you the hospitality of my house?“
Welstead looked uncertainly at Betty. Instinct urged him not to leave his ship.
„Or if you’d prefer to remain aboard . . .“ suggested the man of Haven.
„No,“ said Welstead. „We’ll be delighted.“ If harm were intended – as emphatically did not seem likely – their presence aboard the ship would not prevent it. He craned his neck, looked here and there for the officialdom that would be bumptiously present on Earth.
„Is there anyone we should report to? Any law we’ll be breaking by parking our ship here?“
The white-haired man laughed. „What a question! I am Alexander Clay, Mayor of this city Mytilene and Guide of Haven. By my authority and by common will you are free of anything the planet can offer you. Your ship will not be molested.“
He led them to a wide low car and Betty was uncomfortably conscious of her blue shorts, rumpled and untidy by comparison with the many-colored tunics of the women in the crowd.
Welstead was interested in the car as providing a gauge of Haven’s technics. Built of shiny gray metal it hung a foot above the ground, without the intervention of wheels. He gave Clay a startled look. „Anti-gravity? Your fortune’s made.“
Clay shook his head indulgently. „Magnetic fields, antipathetic to the metal in the road. Is it not a commonplace on Earth?“
„No,“ said Welstead. „The theory, of course, is well-known but there is too much opposition, too many roads to dig up. We still use wheels.“
Clay said reflectively, „The force of tradition. The continuity which generates the culture of races. The stream we have been so long lost from…“
Welstead shot him a sidelong glance. Clay was entirely serious.
The car had been sliding down the road at rather high speed through vistas of wonderful quiet and beauty. Every direction showed a new and separate enchantment – a glade surrounded by great trees, a small home of natural wood, a cluster of public buildings around a plaza, a terrace checkered with trees and lined with many-colored shops.
Occasionally there were touches of drama, such as the pylon at the end of a wide avenue. It rose two hundred feet into the air, a structure of concrete, bronze and black metal, and it bore the heroic figure of a man grasping vainly for a star.
Welstead craned his neck like a tourist. „Magnificent!“
Clay assented without enthusiasm. „I suppose it’s not discreditable. Of course, to you, fresh from the worlds of civilization…“ He left the sentence unfinished. „Excuse me, while I call my home.“ He bent his head to a telephone.
Betty said in Welstead’s ear, „This is a city every planner on Earth would sell his soul to build.“
Welstead grunted. „Remember Halleck?“ he muttered. „He was a city planner. He wanted to tear down a square mile of slums in Lanchester, eighteen stories high on the average, nothing but airless three-room apartments.
„First the real estate lobby tore into him, called him a Chaoticist. A rumor circulated among his friends that he was morally degenerate. The poor devils that lived there tried to lynch him because they’d be evicted. The Old Faithfuls read him out of the party because they pulled the votes of the district. The slums are still there and Halleck’s selling farm implements on Arcturus Five.“
Betty looked off through the trees. „Maybe Haven will turn out to be an object lesson for the rest of the cluster.“
Welstead shrugged. „Maybe, maybe not. Peace and seclusion are not something you can show to a million people- because it isn’t peace and seclusion anymore.“
Betty sat up straighter in her seat. „The only way to convince the unbelievers is by showing them, setting them an example. Do you think that if the Lanchester slum-dwellers saw this city they’d go back to their three room apartments without wanting to do something about
it?“
„If they saw this city,“ said Welstead, „they’d never leave Haven. By hook or crook, stowaway or workaway, they’d emigrate.“
„Include me in the first wave!“ said Betty indignantly.
The car turned into a leafy tunnel, crossed a carpet of bright green turf, stopped by a house built of dark massive wood. Four high gables in a row overlooked a terrace, where a stream followed its natural bed. The house looked spacious, comfortable – rather like the best
country villas of Earth and the garden planets without the sense of contrived effect, the strain, the staging.
„My home,“ said Clay. He slid back a door of waxed blond wood, ushered them into an entry carpeted with golden rattan, walled with a fabric the color of the forest outside. A bench of glowing dark wood crossed a wall under a framed painting. From no apparent source light flooded the room, like water in a tank.
„One moment,“ said Clay with a trace of embarrassment „My home is poor and makeshift enough without exposing it to your eyes at its worst.“ He was clearly sincere; this was no conventional deprecation.
He started away, paused and said to his half-comprehending guests, „I must apologize for our backwardness but we have no facilities for housing notable guests, no great inns or embassies or state-houses such as must add to the dignity of life on Earth. I can only offer
you the hospitality of my home.“
Welstead and Betty both protested. „We don’t deserve as much. After all we’re only a pair of fly-by-night prospectors.“
Clay smiled and they could see that he had been put more at his ease. „You’re the link between Haven and civilization – the most important visitors we’ve ever had. Excuse me.“
He departed.
Betty went to the picture on the wall, a simple landscape – the slope of a hill, a few trees, a distant range of mountains. Welstead, with small artistic sensibility, looked around for the source of the light – without success. He joined Betty beside the picture. She said half-
breathlessly, „This is a – I’m afraid to say it – a masterpiece.“
Welstead squinted, trying to understand the basis of his wife’s awe and wonderment.
Indeed the picture focused his eyes, drew them in and around the frame, infused him with a pleasant exhilaration, a warmth and serenity.
Clay, returning, noticed their interest. „What do you think of it?“ he asked.
„I think it’s – exceedingly well done,“ said Betty, at a loss for words which would convey her admiration without sounding fulsome.
Clay shook his head ruefully, turned away. „You need not praise an inconsequentiality out of courtesy, Mrs. Welstead. We know our deficiencies. Your eyes have seen the Giottos, the Rembrandts, the Cezannes. This must seem a poor thing.“
Betty began to remonstrate but halted. Words evidently would not convince Clay – or perhaps a convention of his society prompted him to belittle the works of his people and it might be discourteous to argue too vehemently.
„Your quarters are being prepared,“ Clay told them. „I’ve also ordered fresh clothing for you both as I see yours are stained with travel.“
Betty blushed, smoothed the legs of her blue shorts. Welstead sheepishly brushed at his faded blouse. He reached in his pocket, pulled out a bit of gravel. „From an asteroid I prospected a few weeks ago.“ He twisted it around in his fingers. „Nothing but granite, with garnet inclusions.“
Clay took the bit of rock, inspected it with a peculiar reverence. „May I keep this?“
„Why, of course.“
Clay laid the bit of stone on a silver plate. „You will not understand what this small stone symbolizes to us of Haven. Interstellar travel – our goal, our dream for two hundred and seventy-one years.“
The recurrence of the period two hundred and seventy-one years! Welstead calculated.
That put them back into the Era of the Great Excursives, when the over-under space-drive had first come into use, when men drove pell-mell through the galaxy, like bees through a field of flowers and human culture flared through space like a super-nova.
Clay led them through a large room, simple in effect, rich in detail. Welstead’s vision was not analytical enough to catch every particular at first. He sensed overall tones of tan, brown, mellow blue, watery green, in the wood, fabric, glass, pottery – the colors combined
to marvelous effect with the waxy umber gleam of natural wood. At the end of the room a case held ten large books bound in black leather and these, by some indefinable emphasis, seemed to bear the significance of an icon.
They passed through a passage open along one side into a garden filled with flowers, low trees, tame birds. Clay showed them into a long apartment streaming with sunlight.
„Your bath is through the door,“ said Clay. „Fresh clothes are laid out on the bed. When you are rested I shall be in the main hall. Please be at leisure – the house is yours.“
They were alone. Betty sighed happily, sank down on the bed. „Isn’t it wonderful, dear?“
„It’s queer,“ said Welstead, standing in the middle of the room.
„What’s queer?“
„Mainly why these people, apparently gifted and efficient, act so humble, so self-deprecating.“
„They look confident.“
„They are confident. Yet as soon as the word Earth is mentioned it’s like saying Alakland to an exiled Lak. There’s nothing like it.“
Betty shrugged, began to remove her clothes. „There’s probably some very simple explanation. Right now I’m tired of speculating. I’m for that bath. Water, water, water! Tons of it!“
They found Clay in the long hall with his pleasant-faced wife, his four youngest children, whom he gravely introduced.
Welstead and Betty seated themselves on a divan and Clay poured them small china cups of pale yellow-green wine, then settled back in his own seat.
„First I’ll explain our world of Haven to you – or have you surmised our plight?“
Welstead said, „I guess a colony was planted here and forgotten-lost.“
Clay smiled sadly. „Our beginnings were rather more dramatic. Two hundred and seventy-one years ago the passenger-packed Etruria, enroute to Rigel, went out of control.
According to the story handed down to us the bus-bars fused inside the drive-box. If the case were opened the fields would collapse. If it were not the ship would fly until there was no more energy.“
Welstead said, „That was a common accident in the old days. Usually the engineer cut away the thrust-blocks on one side of the hull. Then the ship flew in circles until help arrived.“
Clay made a wry sad grimace. „No one on the Etruria thought of that. The ship left the known universe and finally passed close to a planet that seemed capable of sustaining life.
The sixty-three aboard took to the life-boats and so landed on Haven.
„Thirty-four men, twenty-five women, four children – ranging in age from Dorothy Pell, eight, to Vladimir Hocha, seventy-four, with representatives of every human race. We’re the descendants of the sixty-three, three hundred million of us.“
„Fast work,“ said Betty, with admiration.
„Large families,“ returned Clay. „I have nine children, sixteen grandchildren. From the start our guiding principle has been to keep the culture of Earth intact for our descendants, to teach them what we knew of human tradition.
„So that when rescue came – as it must finally – then our children or our children’s children could return to Earth, not as savages but as citizens. And our invaluable source has been the Ten Books, the only books brought down from the Etruria. We could not have been favored with books more inspiring…“
Clay’s gaze went to the black bound books at the end of the room, and his voice lowered a trifle.
„The Encyclopedia of Human Achievement. The original edition was in ten little plastrol volumes, none of them larger than your hand – but in them was such a treasury of human glory that never could we forget our ancestry, or rest in our efforts to achieve somewhere near the level of the great masters. All the works of the human race we set as our standards – music, art, literature – all were described in the Encyclopedia.“
„Described, you say,“ mused Welstead.
„There were no illustrations?“ asked Betty.
„No,“ said Clay, „there was small compass for pictures in the original edition. However“ – he went to the case, selected a volume at random – „the words left little to the imagination. For example, on the music of Bach – ‚When Bach arrived on the scene the toccata was tentative,
indecisive – a recreation, a tour de force, where the musician might display his virtuosity. In Bach the toccata becomes a medium of the noblest plasticity. The theme he suggests by casual fingering of the keyboard, unrelated runs. Then comes a glorious burst into harmony – the original runs glow like prisms, assume stature, gradually topple together into a miraculous pyramid of sound.‘
„And on Beethoven – ‚A God among men. His music is the voice of the world, the pageant of all imagined splendor. The sounds he invokes are natural forces of the same order as sunsets, storms at sea, the view from mountain crags.“
„And on Leon Bismarck Beiderbecke – ‚His trumpet pours out such a torrent of ecstasy, such triumph, such overriding joys that the heart of man freezes in anguish at not being wholly part of it.'“ Clay closed the book, replaced it. „Such is our heritage. We have tried to keep alive, however poorly, the stream of our original culture.“
„I would say that you have succeeded,“ Welstead remarked dryly.
Betty sighed, a long slow suspiration.
Clay shook his head. „You can’t judge until you’ve seen more of Haven. We’re comfortable enough though our manner of living must seem unimpressive in comparison with the great cities, the magnificent palaces of Earth.“
„No, not at all,“ said Betty but Clay made a polite gesture.
„Don’t feel obliged to flatter us. As I’ve said, we’re aware of our deficiencies. Our music for instance – it is pleasant, sometimes exciting, sometimes profound, but never does it reach the heights of poignancy that the Encyclopedia describes.
„Our art is technically good but we despair of emulating Seurat, who ‚out-lumens light,‘ or Braque, ‚the patterns of the mind in patterns of color on the patterns of life, or Cezanne – ‚the planes which under the guise of natural objects march, merge, meet in accord with remorseless logic, which wheel around and impel the mind to admit the absolute justice of the composition.'“
Betty glanced at her husband, apprehensive lest he speak what she knew must be on his mind. To her relief he kept silent, squinting thoughtfully at Clay. For her part Betty resolved to maintain a noncommittal attitude.
„No,“ Clay said heavily, „we do the best we can, and in some fields we’ve naturally achieved more than in others. To begin with we had the benefit of all human experience in our memories. The paths were charted out for us – we knew the mistakes to avoid. We’ve never
had wars or compulsion. We’ve never permitted unreined authority. Still we’ve tried to reward those who are willing to accept responsibility.
„Our criminals – very few now – are treated for mental disorder on the first and second offense, sterilized on the third, executed on the fourth-our basic law being cooperation and contribution to the society, though there is infinite latitude in how this contribution shall be made. We do not make society a juggernaut. A man may live as integrally or as singularly as he wishes so long as he complies with the basic law.“
Clay paused, looking from Welstead to Betty. „Now do you understand our way of living?“
„More or less,“ said Welstead. „In the outline at least. You seem to have made a great deal of progress technically.“
Clay considered. „From one aspect, yes. From another no. We had the lifeboat tools, we had the technical skills and most important we knew what we were trying to do. Our main goal naturally has been the conquest of space. We’ve gone up in rockets but they can take
us nowhere save around the sun and back. Our scientists are close on the secret of the space-drive but certain practical difficulties are holding them up.“
Welstead laughed. „Space-drive can never be discovered by rational effort. That’s a philosophical question which has been threshed back and forth for hundreds of years.
Reason – the abstract idea – is a function of ordinary time and space. The space-drive has no qualities in common with these ideas and for this reason human thought can never consciously solve the problem of the overdrive. Experiment, trial and error can do it.Thinking about it is useless.“
„Hm,“ said Clay. „That’s a new concept. But now your presence makes it beside the point, for you will be the link back to our homeland.“
Betty could see words trembling on her husband’s tongue. She clenched her hands, willed-willed-willed. Perhaps the effort had some effect because Welstead merely said, „We’ll do anything we can to help.“
All of Mytilene they visited and nearby Tiryns, Dicte and Ilium. They saw industrial centers, atomic power generators, farms, schools. They attended a session of the Council of Guides, both making brief speeches, and they spoke to the people of Haven by television.
Every news organ on the planet carried their words.
They heard music from a green hillside, the orchestra playing from under tremendous smoke black trees. They saw the art of Haven in public galleries, in homes and in common use. They read some of the literature, studied the range of the planet’s science, which was roughly equivalent to that of Earth. And they marveled continually how so few people in so little time could accomplish so much.
They visited the laboratories, where three hundred scientists and engineers strove to force magnetic, gravitic and vortigial fields into the fusion that made star-to-star flight possible. And the scientists watched in breathless tension as Welstead inspected the apparatus.
He saw at a single glance the source of their difficulty. He had read of the same experiments on Earth three hundred years ago and of the fantastic accident that had led Roman-Forteski and Gladheim to enclose the generatrix in a dodecahedron of quartz. Only by such a freak – or by his information – would these scientists of Haven solve the mystery of space-drive.
And Welstead walked thoughtfully from the laboratory, with the disappointed glances of the technicians following him out. And Betty had glanced after him in wonder, and the rest of the day there had been a strain between them.
That night as they lay in the darkness, rigid, wakeful, each could feel the pressure of the other’s thoughts. Betty finally broke the silence, in a voice so blunt that there was no mistaking her feeling.
„Ralph!“
„What?“
„Why did you act as you did in the laboratory?“
„Careful,“ muttered Welstead. „Maybe the room is wired for sound.“
Betty laughed scornfully. „This isn’t Earth. These people are trusting, honest…“
It was Welstead’s turn to laugh-a short cheerless laugh. „And that’s the reason I’m ignorant when it comes to space-drive.“
Betty stiffened. „What do you mean?“
„I mean that these people are too damn good to ruin.“
Betty relaxed, sighed, spoke slowly, as if she knew she was in for a long pull. „How – ‚ruin‘?“
Welstead snorted. „It’s perfectly plain. You’ve been to their homes, you’ve read their poetry, listened to their music….“
„Of course. These people live every second of their lives with – well, call it exaltation. A devotion to creation like nothing I’ve ever seen before.“
Welstead said somberly, „They’re living in the grandest illusion ever imagined and they’re riding for an awful fall. They’re like a man on a glorious wine drunk.“
Betty stared through the dark. „Are you crazy?“
„They’re living in exaltation now,“ said Welstead, „but what a bump when the bubble breaks!“
„But why should it break?“ cried Betty. „Why can’t -“
„Betty,“ said Welstead with a cold sardonic voice, „have you ever seen a public park on Earth after a holiday?“
Betty said hotly, „Yes – it’s dreadful. Because the people of Earth have no feeling of community.“
„Right,“ said Welstead. „And these people have. They’re knit very tightly by a compulsion that made them achieve in two hundred-odd years what took seven thousand on Earth.
They’re all facing in the same direction, geared to the same drive. Once that drive is gone how do you expect they’ll hold on to their standards?“
Betty was silent.
„Human beings,“ said Welstead dreamily, „are at their best when the going’s toughest.
They’re either at their best or else they’re nothing. The going’s been tough here – these people have come through. Give them a cheap living, tourist money – then what?
„But that’s not all. In fact it’s only half the story. These people here,“ he stated with emphasis, „are living in a dream. They’re the victims of the Ten Books. They take every word literally and they’ve worked their hearts out trying to come somewhere near what they expect the standards to be.
„Their own stuff doesn’t do half the things to them that the Ten Books says good art ought to do. Whoever wrote those Ten Books must have been a copywriter for an advertising agency.“ Welstead laughed. „Shakespeare wrote good plays – sure, I concede it. But I’ve
never seen ‚fires flickering along the words, gusty winds rushing through the pages.“
„Sibelius I suppose was a great composer – I’m no expert on these things – but whoever listened and became ‚part of Finland’s ice, moss-smelling earth, hoarse-breathing forest,‘ the way the Ten Books said everyone did?“
Betty said, „He was merely trying to express vividly the essence of the artists and musicians.“
„Nothing wrong in that,“ said Welstead. „On Earth we’re conditioned to call everything in print a lie. At least we allow for several hundred percent overstatement. These people out here aren’t immunized. They’ve taken every word at its face value. The Ten Books is their
Bible. They’re trying to equal accomplishments which never existed.“
Betty raised herself up on an elbow, said in a voice of hushed triumph, „And they’ve succeeded! Ralph, they’ve succeeded! They’ve met the challenge, they’ve equaled or beaten anything Earth has ever produced! Ralph, I’m proud to belong to the same race.“
„Same species,“ Welstead corrected dryly. „These people are a mixed race. They’re all races.“
„What’s the difference?“ Betty snapped. „You’re just quibbling. You know what I mean well enough.“
„We’re on a sidetrack,“ said Welstead wearily. „The question is not the people of Haven and their accomplishments. Of course they’re wonderful-now. But how do you think contact with Earth will affect them?
„Do you think they’ll continue producing when the challenge is gone? When they find the Earth is a rookery-nagging, quarreling-full of mediocre hacks and cheap mischief? Where the artists draw nothing but nude women and the musicians make their living reeling out sound, sound, sound – any kind of sound – for television sound-track. Where are all their dreams then?
„Talk about disappointment, staleness! Mark my words, half the population would be suicides and the other half would turn to prostitution and cheating the tourists. It’s a tough proposition. I say, leave them with their dreams. Let them think we’re the worst sort of
villains. I say, get off the planet, get back where we belong.“
Betty said in a troubled voice, „Sooner or later somebody else will find them.“
„Maybe – maybe not. We’ll report the region barren – which it is except for Haven.“
Betty said in a small voice, „Ralph, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t violate their trust.“
„Not even to keep them trusting?“
Betty said wildly, „Don’t you think there’d be an equal deflation if we sneaked away and left them? We’re the climax to their entire two hundred and seventy-one years. Think of the listlessness after we left!“
„They’re working on their space-drive,“ said Welstead. „Chances are a million to one against their stumbling on it. They don’t know that. They’ve got a flicker of a field and they think all they have to do is adjust the power feed, get better insulation. They don’t have the
Mardi Gras lamp that Gladheim snatched up when the lead tank melted.“
„Ralph,“ said Betty, „your words are all very logical. Your arguments stay together – but they’re not satisfying emotionally. I don’t have the feeling of tightness.“
„Pish,“ said Welstead. „Let’s not go spiritual.“
„And,“ said Betty softly, „let’s not try to play God either.“
There was a long silence.
„Ralph?“ said Betty.
„What?“
„Isn’t there some way …“
„Some way to do what?“
„Why should it be our responsibility?“
„I don’t know whose else it is. We’re the instruments -“
„But it’s their lives.“
„Betty,“ said Welstead wearily, „here’s one time we can’t pass the buck. We’re the people who in the last resort say yes or no. We’re the only people that see on both sides of the fence. It’s an awful decision to make – but 1 say no.“
There was no more talking and after an unmeasured period they fell asleep.
Three nights later Welstead stopped Betty as she began to undress for bed. She gave him a dark wide-eyed stare.
„Throw whatever you’re taking into a bag. We’re leaving.“
Betty’s body was rigid and tense, slowly relaxing as she took a step toward him. „Ralph …“
„What?“ And she could find no softness, no indecision in his topaz eyes.
„Ralph – it’s dangerous for us to go. If they caught us, they’d execute us – for utter depravity.“
And she said in a murmur, looking away, „I suppose they’d be justified too.“
„It’s a chance we’ll have to take. Just what we said the day we decided to land. We’ve got to die sometime. Get your gear and let’s take off.“
„We should leave a note, Ralph. Something …“
He pointed to an envelope. „There it is. Thanking them for their hospitality. I told them we were criminals and couldn’t risk returning to Earth. It’s thin but it’s the best I could do,“
A hint of fire returned to Betty’s voice. „Don’t worry, they’ll believe it.“
Sullenly she tucked a few trinkets into a pouch. „It’s a long way to the ship you know,“ she warned him.
„We’ll take Clay’s car. I’ve watched him and I know how to drive it“
She jerked in a small bitter spasm of laughter. „We’re even car thieves.“
„Got to be,“ said Welstead stonily. He went to the door, listened. The utter silence of honest sleep held the rest of the house. He returned to where Betty stood waiting, watching him coldly with an air of dissociation.
„This way,“ said Welstead. „Out through the terrace.“
They passed out into the moonless night of Haven and the only sound was the glassy tinkle of the little stream that ran in its natural bed through the terrace.
Welstead took Betty’s hand. „Easy now, don’t walk into that bamboo.“ He clutched and they froze to a halt. Through a window had come a sound-a gasp-and then the relieved mutter a person makes on waking from a bad dream.
Slowly, like glass melting under heat, the two came to life, stole across the terrace, out upon the turf beside the house. They circled the vegetable garden and the loom of the car bulked before them.
„Get in,“ whispered Welstead. „I’ll push till we’re down around the bend.“
Betty climbed into the seat and her foot scraped against the metal. Welstead stiffened, listened, pierced the darkness like an eagle. Quiet from the house, the quiet of relaxation, of trust… He pushed at the car and it floated easily across the ground, resisting his hand only through inertia.
It jerked to a sudden halt. And Welstead froze in his tracks again. A burglar alarm of some sort. No, there were no thieves on Haven – except two recently-landed people from Earth. A trap?
„The anchor,“ whispered Betty.
Of course-Welstead almost groaned with relief. Every car had an anchor to prevent the wind from blowing it away. He found it, hooked it into place on the car’s frame and now
the car floated without hindrance down the leafy tunnel that was Clay’s driveway. Around a bend he ran to the door, jumped in, pressed his foot on the power pedal, and the car slid away with the easy grace of a canoe. Out on the main road he switched on the lights and
they rushed off through the night.
„And we still use wheels on Earth,“ said Welstead. „If we only had a tenth of the guts these people have -“
Cars passed them from the other direction. The lights glowed briefly into their faces and they cringed low behind the windscreen.
They came to the park where their ship lay. „If anyone stops us,“ Welstead said in Betty’s ear, „we’ve just driven down to get some personal effects. After all we’re not prisoners.“
But he circled the ship warily before stopping beside it and then he waited a few seconds, straining his eyes through the darkness. But there was no sound, no light, no sign of any guard or human presence.
Welstead jumped from the car. „Fast now. Run over, climb inside. I’ll be right behind you.“
They dashed through the dark, up the rungs welded to the hull, and the cold steel felt like a caress to Welstead’s hot hands. Into the cabin; he thudded the port shut, slammed home the dogs.
Welstead vaulted to the controls, powered the reactors. Dangerous business-but once clear of the atmosphere they could take time to let them warm properly. The ship rose; the darkness and lights of Mytilene fell below. Welstead sighed, suddenly tired, but warm and relaxed.
Up, up – and the planet became a ball, and Eridanus two thousand nine hundred and thirty-two peered around the edge and suddenly, without any noticeable sense of boundary passed, they were out in space.
Welstead sighed. „Lord, what a relief! I never knew how good empty space could look.“
„It looks beautiful to me also,“ said Alexander Clay. „I’ve never seen it before.“
Welstead whirled, jumped to his feet.
Clay came forward from the reaction chamber, watching with a peculiar expression Welstead took to be deadly fury. Betty stood by the bulkhead, looking from one to the other, her face blank as a mirror.
Welstead came slowly down from the controls. „Well – you’ve caught us in the act. I suppose you think we’re treating you pretty rough. Maybe we are. But my conscience is clear. And we’re not going back. Looks like you asked for a ride, and you’re going to get one. If necessary – “ He paused meaningfully.
Then, „How’d you get aboard?“ and after an instant of narrow-eyed speculation, „And why? Why tonight?“
Clay shook his head slowly. „Ralph – you don’t give us any credit for ordinary intelligence, let alone ordinary courage.“
„What do you mean?“
„I mean that I understand your motives – and I admire you for them. Although I think you’ve been bull-headed putting them into action without discussing it with the people most directly concerned.“
Welstead lowered his head, stared with hard eyes. „It’s basically my responsibility. I don’t like it but I’m not afraid of it.“
„It does you credit,“ said Clay mildly. „On Haven we’re used to sharing responsibility. Not diluting it, you understand, but putting a dozen – a hundred – a thousand minds on a problem that might be too much for one. You don’t appreciate us, Ralph. You think we’re soft, spiritless.“
„No,“ said Welstead. „Not exactly – “
„Our civilization is built on adaptability, on growth, on flexibility,“ continued Clay. „We – “
„You don’t understand just what you’d have to adapt to,“ said Welstead harshly. „It’s nothing nice. It’s graft, scheming sharp-shooters, tourists by the million, who’ll leave your planet the way a platoon of invading soldiers leaves the first pretty girl they find.“
„There’ll be problems,“ said Clay. His voice took on power. „But that’s what we want, Ralph – problems. We’re hungry for them, for the problems of ordinary human existence. We want to get back into the stream of life. And if it means grunting and sweating we want it. We’re flesh and blood, just like you are.
„We don’t want Nirvana – we want to test our strength. We want to fight along with the rest of decent humanity. Don’t you fight what you think is unjust?“
Welstead slowly shook his head. „Not any more. It’s too big for me. I tried when I was young, then I gave up. Maybe that’s why Betty and I roam around the outer edges.“
„No,“ said Betty. „That’s not it at all, Ralph, and you know it. You explore because you like exploring. You like the rough and tumble of human contact just as much as anyone else.“
„Rough and rumble,“ said Clay, savoring the words. „That’s what we need on Haven. They had it in the old days. They gave themselves to it, beating the new world into submission. It’s ours now. Another hundred years of nowhere to go and we’d be drugged, lethargic,
decadent.“
Welstead was silent.
„The thing to remember, Ralph,“ said Clay, „is that we’re part of humanity. If there’s good going, fine. But if there are problems we want to help lick them. You said you’d given up because it was too big for you. Do you think it would be too big for a whole planet? Three
hundred million hard honest brains?“
Welstead stared, his imagination kindled. „I don’t see how – “
Clay smiled. „I don’t either. It’s a problem for three hundred million minds. Thinking about it that way it doesn’t seem so big. If it takes three hundred brains three days to figure out a dodecahedron of quartz – “ Welstead jerked, looked accusingly at his wife.
„Betty!“ She shook her head. „I told Clay about our conversation, our argument. We discussed it all around. I told him everything – and I told him I’d give a signal whenever we started to leave. But I never mentioned spacedrive. If they discovered it they did it by themselves.“
Welstead turned slowly back to Clay. „Discovered it? But – that’s impossible.“
Clay said, „Nothing’s impossible. You yourself gave me the hint when you told me human reason was useless because the space-drive worked out of a different environment. So we concentrated not on the drive itself but on the environment. The first results came at us in
terms of twelve directions – hence the dodecahedron. Just a hunch, an experiment and it worked.“
Welstead sighed. „I’m licked. I give in. Clay, the headache is yours. You’ve made it yours. What do you want to do? Go back to Haven?“
Clay smiled, almost with affection. „We’re this far. I’d like to see Earth. For a month, incognito. Then we’ll come back to Haven and make a report to the world. And then there’s three hundred million of us, waiting for the bell in round one.“

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Charles L. Harness – The New Reality

Posted in Uncategorized on Februar 2, 2010 by zigstedimension

* * *
Chapter I
Raid for the Censor
* * *
Prentiss crawled into the car, drew the extension connector form his concealed throat mike from its clip in his right sleeve, and plugged it into the ignition key socket.
In a moment he said curtly: „Get me the Censor.“ The seconds passed as he heard the click of forming circuits. Then: „E speaking.“ „Prentiss, honey.“
„Call me ‚E,‘ Prentiss. What news?“
„I‘ve met five classes under Professor Luce. He has a private lab. Doesn‘t confide in his graduate students. Evidently conducting secret experiments in comparative psychology. Rats and such. Nothing overtly censurable.“
„I see. What are your plans?“
„I‘ll have his lab searched tonight. If nothing turns up, I‘ll recommend a drop.“ „I‘d prefer that you search the lab yourself.“ A. Prentiss Rogers concealed his surprise and annoyance. „Very well.“ His ear button clicked a dismissal.
With puzzled irritation he snapped the plug from the dash socket, started the car, and eased it down the drive into the boulevard bordering the university.
Didn‘t she realize that he was a busy Field Director with a couple of hundred men under him fully capable of making a routine night search? Undoubtedly she knew just that, but nevertheless was requiring that he do it himself. Why?
And why had she assigned Professor Luce to him personally, squandering so many of his precious hours, when half a dozen of his bright young physical philosophers could have handled it? Nevertheless E, from behind the august anonymity of her solitary initial, had been adamant. He‘d never been able to argue with such cool beauty, anyway.
A mile away he turned into a garage on a deserted side street and drew up alongside a Cadillac.
Crush sprang out of the big car and silently held the rear door open for him. Prentiss got in. „We have a job tonight.“
His aide hesitated a fraction of a second before slamming the door behind him. Prentiss knew that the squat, asthmatic little man was surprised and delighted.
As for Crush, he‘d never got it through his head that the control of human knowledge was a grim and hateful business, not a kind of cruel lark.
„Very good, sir,“ wheezed Crush, climbing in behind the wheel. „Shall I reserve a sleeping room at the Bureau for the evening?“
„Can‘t afford to sleep,“ grumbled Prentiss. „Desk so high now I can‘t see over it. Take a nap yourself, if you want to.“
„Yes, sir. If I feel the need of it, sir.“
The ontologist shot a bitter glance at the back of the man‘s head. No, Crush wouldn‘t sleep, but not because worry would keep him awake. A holdover from the days when all a Censor man had was a sleepless curiosity and a pocket Geiger, Crush was serenely untroubled by the dangerous and unfathomable implications of philosophical nucleonics. For Crush, „ontology“ was just another definition in the dictionary: „The science of reality.“
The little aide could never grasp the idea that unless a sane world-wide pattern of nucleonic investigation were followed, some one in Australia– or next door– might one day throw a switch and alter the shape of that reality. That‘s what made Crush so valuable; he just didn‘t know enough to be afraid.
* * *
Prentiss had clipped the hairs from his nostrils and so far had breathed complete silence. But now, as that cavernous face was turned toward where he lay stomach-to-earth in the sheltering darkness, his lungs convulsed in an audible gasp.
The mild, polite, somewhat abstracted academic features of Professor Luce were transformed. The face beyond the lab window was now flushed with blood, the thin lips were drawn back in soundless demoniac amusement, the sunken black eyes were dancing with red pinpoints of flame.
By brute will the ontologist forced his attention back to the rat.
Four times in the past few minutes he had watched the animal run down an inclined chute until it reached a fork, choose one fork, receive what must be a nerve-shattering electric shock, and then be replaced in the chute-beginning for the next run. No matter which alternative fork was chosen, the animal always had been shocked into convulsions.
On this fifth run the rat, despite needling blasts of compressed air from the chute walls, was slowing down. Just before it reached the fork it stopped completely.
The air jets struck at it again, and little cones of up-ended gray fur danced on its rump and flanks.
It gradually ceased to tremble; its respiration dropped to normal. It seemed to Prentiss that its eyes were shut.
The air jets lashed out again. It gave no notice, but just lay there, quiescent, in a near coma.
As he peered into the window, Prentiss saw the tall man walk languidly over to the little animal and run a long hooklike forefinger over its back. No reaction. The professor then said something, evidently in a soft slurred voice, for Prentiss had difficulty in reading his lips.
„– and both alternatives are wrong for you, but you must do something, you hesitate, don‘t you, little one? You slow down and you are lost. You are no longer a rat. Do you know what the universe would be like if a photon should slow down? You don‘t? Have you ever taken a bite out of a balloon, little friend? Just the tiniest possible bite?“
Prentiss cursed. The professor had turned and was walking toward the cages with the animal, and although he was apparently still talking, his lips were no longer visible.
After re-latching the cage door the professor walked toward the lab entrance, glanced carefully around the room, and then, as he was reaching for the light switch, looked toward Prentiss‘ window.
For a moment the investigator was convinced that by some nameless power the professor was lookinginto the darkness, straight into his eyes.
He exhaled slowly. It was preposterous.
The room was plunged in darkness.
The investigator blinked and closed his eyes. He wouldn‘t really have to worry until he heard the lab door opening on the opposite side of the little building.
The door didn‘t open. Prentiss squinted into the darkness of the room.
Where the professor‘s head had been were now two mysterious tiny red flames, like candles.
Something must be reflecting from the professor‘s corneas. But the room was dark; there was no light to be reflected. The flame-eyes continued their illusion of studying him.
The hair was crawling on the man‘s neck when the twin lights finally vanished and he heard the sound of the lab door opening.
As the slow heavy tread died away down the flagstones to the street, Prentiss gulped in a huge lungful of the chill night air and rubbed his sweating face against his sleeve.
What had got into him? He was acting like the greenest cub. He was glad that Crush had to man the televisor relay in the Cadillac and couldn‘t see him.
He got to his hands and knees and crept silently toward the darkened window. It was a simple sliding sash, and a few seconds sufficed to drill through the glass and insert a hook around the sash lock. The rats began a nervous squeaking as he lowered himself into the darkness of the basement room.
His ear-receptor sounded. „The prof is coming back!“ wheezed Crush‘s tinny voice.
Prentiss said something under his breath, but did not pause in drawing his infra-red scanner from his pocket.
He touched his fingers to his throat-mike. „Signal when he reaches the bend in the walk,“ he hissed.
„And be sure you get this on the visor tape.“
The apparatus got his first attention.
The investigator had memorized its position perfectly. Approaching as closely in the darkness as he dared, he „panned“ the scanner over some very interesting apparatus that he had noticed on the table.
Then he turned to the books on the desk, regretting that he wouldn‘t have time to record more than a few pages.
„He‘s at the bend,“ warned Crush.
„Okay,“ mumbled Prentiss, running sensitive fingers over the book bindings. He selected one, opened it at random, and ran the scanner over the invisible pages. „Is this coming through?“ he demanded.
„Chief, he‘s at the door!“
Prentiss had to push back the volume without scanning any more of it. He had just relocked the sash when the lab door swung open.
* * *
Chapter II
Clues from History
* * *
A couple of hours later the ontologist bid a cynical good-morning to his receptionist and secretaries and stepped into his private office. He dropped with tired thoughtfulness into his swivel chair and pulled out the infrared negatives that Crush had prepared in the Cadillac darkroom. The page from the old German diary was particularly intriguing. He laboriously translated it once more: As I got deeper into the manuscript, my mouth grew dry, and my heart began to pound. This, I knew, was a contribution the like of which my family has not seen since Copernicus, Roger Bacon, or perhaps even Aristotle. It seemed incredible that this silent little man, who had never been outside of Königsberg, should hold the key to the universe– the Critique of Pure Reason, he calls it. And I doubt that even herealizes the ultimate portent of his teaching, for he says we cannot know the real shape or nature of anything, that is, the Thing-in-Itself, the Ding-an-sich, or noumenon. He holds that this is the ultimate unknowable, reserved to the gods. He doesn‘t suspect that, century by century, mankind is nearing this final realization of the final things. Even this brilliant man would probably say that the Earth was round in 600 BC, even as it is today. But I know it was flat, then– as truly as it is truly round today. What has changed? Not the Thing-in-Itself we call the Earth. No, it is the mind of man that has changed. But in his
preposterous blindness, he mistakes what is really his own mental quickening for a broadened application of science and more precise methods of investigation– Prentiss smiled.
Luce was undoubtedly a collector of philosophic incunabula. Odd hobby, but that‘s all it could be– a hobby. Obviously the Earth had never been flat, and in fact hadn‘t changed shape substantially in the last couple of billion years. Certainly any notions as to the flatness of the Earth held by primitives of a few thousand years ago or even by contemporaries of Kant were due to their ignorance rather than to accurate observation, and a man of Luce‘s erudition could only be amused by them.
Again Prentiss found himself smiling with the tolerance of a man standing on the shoulders of twenty centuries of science. The primitives, of course, did the best they could. They just didn‘t know. They worked with childish premises and infantile instruments.
His brows creased. To assume they had used childish premises was begging the question. On the other hand, was it really worth a second thought? All he could hope to discover would be a few instances of how inferior apparatus coupled perhaps with unsophisticated deductions had oversimplified the world of the ancients. Still, anything that interested the strange Dr. Luce automatically interested him, Prentiss, until the case was closed.
He dictated into the scriptor:
„Memorandum to Geodetic Section. Rush a paragraph history of ideas concerning shape of Earth. Prentiss.“
Duty done, he promptly forgot it and turned to the heavy accumulation of reports on his desk.
A quarter of an hour later the scriptor rang and began typing an incoming message.
To the Director. Re your request for brief history of Earth‘s shape. Chaldeans and Babylonians (per clay tablets from library of Assurbanipal), Egyptians (per Ahmes papyrus, ca. 2700 BC), Cretans (per inscriptions in royal library at Knossos, ca. 1300 BC), Chinese (per Chou Kung ms., ca. 1100 BC), Phoenicians (per fragments at Tyre, ca. 900 BC), Hebrews (per unknown Biblical historian, ca. 850 BC), and early Greeks (per map of widely-traveled geographer Hecataeus, 51; BC) assumed Earth to be flat disc. But from the 5th century BC forward Earth‘s sphericity universally recognized….
There were a few more lines, winding up with the work done on corrections for flattening at the poles, but Prentiss had already lost interest. The report threw no light on Luce‘s hobby and was devoid of ontological implications.
He tossed the script into the waste basket and returned to the reports before him.
A few minutes later he twisted uneasily in his chair, eyed the scriptor in annoyance, then forced himself back to his work.
No use.
Deriding himself for an idiot, he growled at the machine: „Memorandum to Geodetic. Re your memo history Earth‘s shape. How do you account for change to belief in sphericity after Hecataeus? Rush. Prentiss.“ The seconds ticked by.
He drummed on his desk impatiently, then got up and began pacing the floor.
When the scriptor rang, he bounded back and leaned over his desk, watching the words being typed out.
Late Greeks based spherical shape on observation that mast of approaching ship appeared first, then prow. Not known why similar observation not made by earlier seafaring peoples.
Prentiss rubbed his cheek in perplexity. What was he fishing for? He thrust the half-born conjecture that the Earth really had once been flat into his mental recesses. Well, then how about the heavens? Surely there was no record of their having changed during man‘s brief lifetime.
He‘d try one more shot and quit.
„Memo to Astronomy Division. Rush paragraph on early vs. modern sun size and distance.“
A few minutes later he was reading the reply: Skipping Plato, whose data are believed baseless (he measured sun‘s distance at only twice that of moon), we come to earliest recognized „authority.“ Ptolemy (Almagest, ca. 140 AD, measured sun radius as 5.5 that of Earth (as against 109 actual); measured sun distance at 1210 (23,000 actual). Fairly accurate measurements date only from 17th and 18th centuries….
He‘d read all that somewhere. The difference was easily explained by their primitive instruments. It was insane to keep this up.
But it was too late.
„Memo to Astronomy. Were erroneous Ptolemaic measurements due to lack of precision instruments?“
Soon he had his reply:
To Director: Source of Ptolemy‘s errors in solar measurement not clearly understood. Used astrolabe precise to 10 seconds and clepsydra water clock incorporating Hero‘s improvements. With same instruments, and using modern value of pi, Ptolemy measured moon radius (0.29 earth radius vs. 0.273 actual) and distance (59 Earth radii vs. 60 1/3 actual). Hence instruments reasonably precise. And note that Copernicus, using quasi-modern instruments and technique, „confirmed“ Ptolemaic figure of sun‘s distance at 1200 Earth radii. No explanation known for glaring error.
Unless, suggested something within Prentiss‘ mind, the sun were closer and much different before the 17th century, when Newton was telling the world where and how big the sun ought to be. But that solution was too absurd for further consideration. He would sooner assume his complete insanity.
Puzzled, the ontologist gnawed his lower lip and stared at the message in the scriptor.
In his abstraction he found himself peering at the symbol „pi“ in the scriptor message. There, at least, was something that had always been the same, and would endure for all time. He reached over to knock out his pipe in the big circular ash tray by the scriptor and paused in the middle of the second tap. From his desk he fished a tape measure and stretched it across the tray, Ten inches. And then around the circumference. Thirty-one and a half inches. Good enough, considering. It was a result any curious schoolboy could get.
He turned to the scriptor again.
Memo to Math Section. Rush paragraph history on value of pi. Prentiss.“ He didn‘t have to wait long.
To Director. Re history „pi.“ Babylonians used value of 3.00. Aristotle made fairly accurate physical and theoretical evaluations. Archimedes first to arrive at modern value, using theory of limits….
There was more, but it was lost on Prentiss. It was inconceivable, of course, that pi had grown during the two millennia that separated the Babylonians from Archimedes. And yet, it was exasperating. Why hadn‘t they done any better than 3.00? Any child with a piece of string could have demonstrated their error. Countless generations of wise, careful Chaldean astronomers, measuring time and star positions with such incredible accuracy, all coming to grief with a piece of string and pi. It didn‘t make sense. And certainly pi hadn‘t grown, any more than the Babylonian 360-day year had grown into the modern 365-day year. It had always been the same, he told himself. The primitives hadn‘t measured accurately, that was all. That had to be the explanation.
He hoped.
He sat down at his desk again, stared a moment at his memo pad, and wrote: Check history of gravity– acceleration. Believe Aristotle unable detect acceleration. Galileo used
same instruments, including same crude water clock, and found it. Why?… Any reported transits of Vulcan since 1914, when Einstein explained eccentricity of Mercury orbit by relativity instead of by hypothetical sunward planet? …How could Oliver Lodge detect an ether-drift and Michelson not?
Conceivable that Lorentz contraction not a physical fact before Michelson experiment?
How manychemical elements were predicted before discovered?
He tapped absently on the pad a few times, then rang for a research assistant. He‘d barely have time to explain what he wanted before he had to meet his class under Luce.
And he still wasn‘t sure where the rats fitted in.
* * *
Chapter III
Imperiled World
* * *
Curtly Professor Luce brought his address to a close.
„Well, gentlemen,“ he said, „I guess we‘ll have to continue this at our next lecture. We seem to have run over a little; class dismissed. Oh, Mr. Prentiss!“ The investigator looked up in genuine surprise. „Yes, sir?“ The thin gun in his shoulder holster suddenly felt satisfyingly fat.
He realized that the crucial moment was near, that he would know before he left the campus whether this strange man was a harmless physicist, devoted to his life-work and his queer hobby, or whether he was an incarnate danger to mankind. The professor was acting out of turn, and it was an unexpected break.
„Mr. Prentiss,“ continued Luce from the lecture platform, „may I see you in my office a moment before you leave?‘
Prentiss said, „Certainly.“ As the group broke up he followed the gaunt scientist through the door that led to Luce‘s little office behind the lecture room.
At the doorway he hesitated almost imperceptibly; Luce saw it and bowed sardonically. „After you, sir!“
Then the tall man indicated a chair near his desk. „Sit down, Mr. Prentiss.“ For a long moment the seated men studied each other.
Finally the professor spoke. „About fifteen years ago a brilliant young man named Rogers wrote a doctoral dissertation at the University of Vienna on what he called… ‚Involuntary Conformation of Incoming Sensoria to Apperception Mass.‘ „
Prentiss began fishing for his pipe. „Indeed?“ „One copy of the dissertation was sent to the Scholarship Society that was financing his studies. All others were seized by the International Bureau of the Censor, and accordingly a demand was made on the Scholarship Society for its copy. But it couldn‘t be found.“ Prentiss was concentrating on lighting his pipe. He wondered if the faint trembling of the match flame was visible.
The professor turned to his desk, opened the top drawer, and pulled out a slim brochure bound in black leather.
The investigator coughed out a cloud of smoke.
The professor did not seem to notice, but opened the front cover and began reading: „‘– a dissertation in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Vienna. A. P. Rogers, Vienna, 1957.‘“ The man closed the book and studied it thoughtfully. „Adam Prentiss Rogers– the owner of a brain whose like is seen not once in a century. He exposed the gods–then vanished.“
Prentiss suppressed a shiver as he met those sunken, implacable eye-caverns.
The cat-and-mouse was over. In a way, he was relieved.
„Why did you vanish then, Mr. Prentiss-Rogers?“ demanded Luce. „And why do you now reappear?“
The investigator blew a cloud of smoke toward the low ceiling. „To prevent people like you fromintroducing sensoria that can‘t be conformed to our present apperception mass. To keep reality as is.
That answers both questions, I think.“
The other man smiled. It was not a good thing to see. „Have you succeeded?“ „I don‘t know. So far, I suppose.“
The gaunt man shrugged his shoulders. „You ignore tomorrow, then. I think you have failed, but I can‘t be sure, of course, until I actually perform the experiment that will create novel sensoria.“ He leaned forward. „I‘ll come to the point, Mr. Prentiss-Rogers. Next to yourself– and possibly excepting the Censor– I know more about the mathematical approach to reality than anyone else in the world. I may even know things about it that you don‘t. On other phases of it I‘m weak– because I developed your results on the basis of mere logic rather than insight. And logic, we know, is applicable only within indeterminate limits. But in developing a practical device– an actual machine– for the wholesale
alteration of incoming sensoria, I‘m enormously ahead of you. You saw my apparatus last night, Mr. Prentiss-Rogers? Oh, come, don‘t be coy.“
Prentiss drew deeply on his pipe. „I saw it.“ „Did you understand it?“
„No. It wasn‘t all there. At least, the apparatus on the table was incomplete. There‘s more to it than a Nicol prism and a goniometer.“
„Ah, you are clever! Yes, I was wise in not permitting you to remain very long– no longer than necessary to whet your curiosity. Look, then! I offer you a partnership. Check my data and apparatus; in return you may be present when I run the experiment. We will attain enlightenment together. We will know all things. We will be gods!“
„And what about two billion other human beings?“ said Prentiss, pressing softly at his shoulder holster.
The professor smiled faintly. „Their lunacy– assuming they continue to exist at all– may become slightly more pronounced, of course. But why worry about them?“ The wolf-lip curled further. „Don‘t expect me to believe this aura of altruism, Mr. Prentiss-Rogers. I think you‘re afraid to face what lies behind our so-called ‚reality.‘“
„At least I‘m a coward in a good cause.“ He stood up. „Have you any more to say?“ He knew that he was just going through the motions. Luce must have realized he had laid himself open to arrest half a dozen times in as many minutes. The bare possession of the missing copy of the dissertation, the frank admission of plans to experiment with reality, and his attempted bribery of a high Censor official. And yet, the man‘s very bearing denied the possibility of being cut off in mid-career.
Luce‘s cheeks fluffed out in a brief sigh. „I‘m sorry you can‘t be intelligent about this, Mr.
Prentiss-Rogers. Yet, the time will come, you know, when you must make up your mind to go – through, shall we say? In fact, we may have to depend to a considerable degree on one another‘s companionship– out there. Even gods have to pass the time of day occasionally, and I have a suspicion that you and I are going to be quite chummy. So let us not part in enmity.“ Prentiss‘ hand slid beneath his coat lapel and drew out the snub-nosed automatic. He had a grim foreboding that it was futile, and that the professor was laughing silently at him, but he had no choice.
„You are under arrest,“ he said unemotionally. „Come with me.“ The other shrugged his shoulders, then something like a laugh, soundless in its mockery, surged up in his throat. „Certainly, Mr. Prentiss-Rogers.“
He arose.
The room was plunged into instant blackness.
Prentiss fired three times, lighting up the gaunt chuckling form at each flash.
„Save your fire, Mr. Prentiss-Rogers. Lead doesn‘t get far in an intense diamagnetic screen. Study the magnetic damper on a lab balance the next time you‘re in the Censor Building!“ Somewhere a door slammed.
* * *
Several hours later Prentiss was eyeing his aide with ill-concealed distaste. Crush knew that he hadbeen summoned by E to confer on the implications of Luce‘s escape, and that Crush was secretly sympathizing with him. Prentiss couldn‘t endure sympathy. He‘d prefer that the asthmatic little man tell him how stupid he‘d been.
„What do you want?“ he growled.
„Sir,“ gasped Crush apologetically, „I have a report on that gadget you scanned in Luce‘s lab.“
Prentiss was instantly mollified, but suppressed any show of interest. „What about it?“ „In essence, sir,“ wheezed Crush, „it‘s just a Nicol prism mounted on a goniometer. According to a routine check it was ground by an obscure optician who was nine years on the job, and he spent nearly all of that time on just one face of the prism. What do you make of that, sir?“ „Nothing, yet. What took him so long?“
„Grinding an absolutely flat edge, sir, so he says.“ „Odd. That would mean a boundary composed exclusively of molecules of the same crystal layer,
something that hasn‘t been attempted since the Palomar reflector.“ „Yes, sir. And then there‘s the goniometer mount with just one number on the dial– forty-five°.“ „Obviously,“ said Prentiss, „the Nicol is to be used only at a forty-five° angle to the incoming light.
Hence it‘s probably extremely important– why, I don‘t know– that the angle be precisely forty-five°.
That would require a perfectly flat surface, too, of course. I suppose you‘re going to tell me that the goniometric gearing is set up very accurately.“ Suddenly Prentiss realized that Crush was looking at him in mingled suspicion and admiration.
„Well?“ demanded the ontologist irritably. „Just what is the adjusting mechanism? Surely not geometrical? Too crude. Optical, perhaps?“
Crush gasped into his handkerchief. „Yes, sir. The prism is rotated very slowly into a tiny beam of light. Part of the beam is reflected and part refracted. At exactly forty-five° it seems, by Jordan‘s law, that exactly half is reflected and half refracted. The two beams are picked up in a photocell relay that stops the rotating mechanism as soon as the luminosities of the beams are exactly equal.“ Prentiss tugged nervously at his ear. It was puzzling. Just what was Luce going to do with such an exquisitely-ground Nicol? At this moment he would have given ten years of his life for an inkling to the supplementary apparatus that went along with the Nicol. It would be something optical, certainly, tied in
somehow with neurotic rats. What was it Luce had said the other night in the lab? Something about slowing down a photon. And then what was supposed to happen to the universe? Something like taking a tiny bite out of a balloon, Luce had said.
And how did it all interlock with certain impossibly, though syllogistically necessary conclusions that flowed from his recent research into the history of human knowledge? He wasn‘t sure. But he was sure that Luce was on the verge of using this mysterious apparatus to change the perceptible universe, on a scale so vast that humanity was going to get lost in the shuffle. He‘d have to convince E of that.
If he couldn‘t, he‘d seek out Luce himself and kill him with his bare hands, and decide on reasons for it afterward.
He was guiding himself for the time being by pure insight, but he‘d better be organized when he confronted E.
Crush was speaking. „Shall we go, sir? Your secretary says the jet is waiting.“
* * *
The painting showed a man in a red hat and black robes seated behind a high judge‘s bench. Five other men in red hats were seated behind a lower bench to his right, and four others to his left. At the base of the bench knelt a figure in solitary abjection.
„We condemn you, Galileo Galilei, to the formal prison of this Holy Office for a period determinable at Our pleasure; and by way of salutary penance, We order you, during the next three years, to recite once a week the seven Penitential Psalms.“
Prentiss turned from the inscription to the less readable face of E. That oval olive-hued face wassmooth, unlined, even around the eyes, and the black hair was parted off-center and drawn over the woman‘s head into a bun at the nape of her neck. She wore no make-up, and apparently needed none.
She was clad in a black, loose-fitting business suit, which accentuated her perfectly molded body.
„Do you know,“ said Prentiss coolly, „I think you like being Censor. It‘s in your blood.“ „You‘re perfectly right. I do like being Censor. According to Speer, I effectively sublimate a guilt complex as strange as it is baseless.“
„Very interesting. Sort of expiation of an ancestral guilt complex, eh?“ „What do you mean?‘
„Woman started man on his acquisition of knowledge and self-destruction, and ever since has tried futilely to halt the avalanche. In you the feeling of responsibility and guilt runs exceptionally strong, and I‘ll wager that some nights you wake up in a cold sweat, thinking you‘ve just plucked a certain forbidden fruit.“
E stared icily up at the investigator‘s twitching mouth. „The only pertinent question“ she said crisply, „is whether Luce is engaged in ontologic experiments, and if so, are they of a dangerous nature.“
Prentiss sighed. „He‘s in it up to his neck. But just what, and how dangerous, I can only guess.“
„Then guess.“
„Luce thinks he‘s developed apparatus for the practical, predictable, alteration of sensoria. He hopes to do something with his device that will blow physical laws straight to smithereens. The resulting reality would probably be unrecognizable even to a professional ontologist, let alone the mass of humanity.“
„You seem convinced he can do this.“
„The probabilities are high.“
„Good enough. We can deal only in probabilities. The safest thing, of course, would be to locate Luce and kill him on sight. On the other hand, the faintest breath of scandal would result in Congressional hamstringing of the Bureau, so we must proceed cautiously.“ „If Luce is really able to do what he claims,“ said Prentiss grimly, „and we let him do it, there won‘t be any Bureau at all– nor any Congress, either.“
„I know. Rest assured that if I decide that Luce is dangerous and should die, I shall let neither the lives nor careers of anyone in the Bureau stand in the way, including myself.“ Prentiss nodded, wondering if she really meant it.
The woman continued, „We are faced for the first time with a probable violation of our directive forbidding ontologic experiments. We are inclined to prevent this threatened violation by taking a man‘s life. I think we should settle once and for all whether such harsh measures are indicated, and it is for this that I have invited you to attend a staff conference. We intend to reopen the entire question of ontologic experiments and their implications.“
Prentiss groaned inwardly. In matters so important the staff decided by vote. He had a brief vision of attempting to convince E‘s hard-headed scientists that mankind was changing „reality“ from century to century– that not too long ago the earth had been „flat.“ Yes, by now he was beginning to believe it himself!
„Come this way, please?“ said E.
* * *
Chapter IV
A Changing World
* * *
Sitting at E‘s right was an elderly man, Speer, the famous psychologist. On her left was Goring, staff advisor on nucleonics; next to him was Burchard, brilliant chemist and Director of the Western Field, then Prentiss, and then Dobbs, the renowned metallurgist and Director of the Central Field. Prentiss didn‘t like Dobbs, who had voted against his promotion to the directorship of Eastern.
E announced: „We may as well start this inquiry with an examination of fundamentals. Mr. Prentiss, just what is reality?“
The ontologist winced. He had needed two hundred pages to outline the theory of reality in his doctoral thesis, and even so, had always suspected his examiners had passed it only because it was incomprehensible– hence a work of genius.
„Well,“ he began wryly, „I must confess that I don‘t know what real reality is. What most of us call reality is simply an integrated synthesis of incoming sensoria. As such it is nothing more than a working hypothesis in the mind of each of us, forever in a process of revision. In the past the process has been slow and safe. But we have now to consider the consequences of an instantaneous and total revision– a revision so far-reaching that it may thrust humanity face-to-face with the true reality, the world of Things-in-Themselves– Kant‘s noumena. This, I think, would be as disastrous as dumping a group of children in the middle of a forest. They‘d have to relearn the simplest things– what to eat, how to protect themselves from elemental forces, and even a new language to deal with their new problems. There‘d be few survivors.
„That is what we want to avoid, and we can do it if we prevent any sudden sweeping alteration of sensoria in our present reality.“
He looked dubiously at the faces about him. It was a poor start. Speer‘s wrinkled features were drawn up in a serene smile, and the psychologist seemed to be contemplating the air over Prentiss‘ head. Goring was regarding him with grave, expressionless eyes. E nodded slightly as Prentiss‘ gaze traveled past her to a puzzled Burchard, thence to Dobbs, who was frankly contemptuous.
Speer and Goring were going to be most susceptible. Speer because of his lack of a firm scientific background, Goring because nucleonics was in such a state of flux that nucleic experts were expressing the gravest doubts as to the validity of the laws worshipped by Burchard and Dobbs. Burchards was only a faint possibility. And Dobbs?
Dobbs said: „I don‘t know what the dickens you‘re talking about.“ The implication was plain that he wanted to add: „And I don‘t think you do, either.“ And Prentiss wasn‘t so sure that he did know. Ontology was an elusive thing at best.
„I object to the term ‚real reality,‘“ continued Dobbs. „A thing is real or it isn‘t. No fancy philosophical system can change that. And if it‘s real, it gives off predictable, reproducible sensory stimuli not subject to alteration except in the minds of lunatics.“
Prentiss breathed more easily. His course was clear. He‘d concentrate on Dobbs, with a little side-play on Burchard. Speer and Goring would never suspect his arguments were really directed at them. He pulled a gold coin from his vest pocket and slid it across the table to Dobbs, being careful not to let it clatter. „You‘re a metallurgist. Please tell us what this is.“ Dobbs picked up the coin and examined it suspiciously. „It‘s quite obviously a five-dollar gold piece, minted at Fort Worth in Nineteen Sixty-Two. I can even give you the analysis, if you want it.‘
„I doubt that you could,“ said Prentiss coolly. „For you see, you are holding a counterfeit coin minted only last week in my own laboratories especially for this conference. As a matter of fact, if you‘ll forgive my saying so, I had you in mind when I ordered the coin struck. It contains no gold whatever– drop it on the table.“
The coin fell from the fingers of the astounded metallurgist and clattered on the oaken table top.
„Hear the false ring?“ demanded Prentiss.
Pink-faced, Dobbs cleared his throat and peered at the coin more closely. „How was I to know that?
It‘s no disgrace, is it? Many clever counterfeits can be detected only in the laboratory. I knew the color was a little on the red side, but that could have been due to the lighting of the room. And of course, I hadn‘t given it an auditory test before I spoke. The ring is definitely dull. It‘s obviously a copper-lead alloy, with possibly a little amount of silver to help the ring. All right, I jumped to conclusions. So what?
What does that prove?“
„It proves that you have arrived at two separate, distinct, and mutually exclusive realities, starting with the same sensory premises. It proves how easily reality is revised. And that isn‘t all, as I shall soon– „ „All right,“ said Dobbs testily. „But on second thought I admitted it was a phony, didn‘t I?“
„Which demonstrates a further weakness in our routine acquisition and evaluation of pre-digested information. When an unimpeachable authority tells us something as a fact, we immediately, and without conscious thought, modify incoming stimuli to conform with that fact. The coin suddenly acquires the red taint of copper, and rings false to the ear.“
„I would have caught the queer ring anyhow,“ said Dobbs stubbornly, „with no help from ‚an unimpeachable authority.‘ The ring would have sounded the same, no matter what you said.‘
From the corner of his eye Prentiss noticed that Speer was grinning broadly. Had the old psychologist divined his trick? He‘d take a chance.
„Dr. Speer,“ he said, „I think you have something interesting to tell our doubting friend.“ Speer cackled dryly. „You‘ve been a perfect guinea pig, Dobbsie. The coin was genuine.“ The metallurgist‘s jaw dropped as he looked blankly from one face to another. Then his jowls slowly grew red. He flung the coin to the table. „Maybe I am a guinea pig. I‘m a realist, too. I think this is a piece of metal. You might fool me as to its color or assay, but in essence and substance, it‘s a piece of metal.“
He glared at Prentiss and Speer in turn. „Does anyone deny that?“ „Certainly not, said Prentiss. „Our mental pigeonholes are identical in that respect; they accept the same sensory definition of ‚piece of metal,‘ or ‚coin.‘ Whatever this object is, it emits stimuli that our minds are capable of registering and abstracting as a ‚coin.‘ But note: we make a coin out of it. However, if I could shuffle my cortical pigeonholes, I might find it to be a chair, or a steamer trunk, possibly with Dr. Dobbs inside, or, if the shuffling were extreme, there might be no semantic pattern into which the incoming stimuli could be routed. There wouldn‘t be anything there at all!“ „Sure,“ sneered Dobbs. „You could walk right through it.“ „Why not?“ asked Prentiss gravely. „I think we may do it all the time. Matter is about the emptiest stuff imaginable. If you compressed that coin to eliminate the space between its component atoms and electrons, you couldn‘t see it in a microscope.“ Dobbs started at the enigmatic gold-piece as though it might suddenly thrust out a pseudopod and swallow him up. Then he said flatly: „No, I don‘t believe it. It exists as a coin, and only as a coin– whether I know it or not.“
„Well,“ ventured Prentiss, „how about you, Dr. Goring? Is the coin real to you?“ The nucleist smiled and shrugged his shoulders. „If I don‘t think too much about it, it‘s real enough. And yet…“
Dobb‘s face clouded. „And yet what? Here it is. Can you doubt the evidence of your own eyes?“
„That‘s just the difficulty.“ Goring leaned forward. „My eyes tell me, here‘s a coin. Theory tells me, here‘s a mass of hypothetical disturbances in a hypothetical sub-ether in a hypothetical ether. The indeterminacy principle tells me that I can never know both the mass and position of these hypothetical disturbances. And as a physicist I know that the bare fact of observing something is sufficient to change that something from its pre-observed state. Nevertheless, I compromise by letting my senses and practical experience stick a tag on this particular bit of the unknowable. X, after its impact on my mind (whatever that is!) equals coin. A single equation with two variables has no solution. The best I can say is, it‘s a coin, but probably not really– „
„Ha!“ declared Burchard. „I can demonstrate the fallacy of that position very quickly. If our minds make this a coin, then our minds make this little object an ash-tray, that a window, the thing that holds us up, a chair. You might say we make the air we breathe, and perhaps even the stars and planets, Why, following Prentiss‘ idea to its logical end, the universe itself is the work of man– a conclusion I‘m sure he doesn‘t intend.“
„Oh, but I do,“ said Prentiss.

Prentiss took a deep breath. The issue could be dodged no longer. He had to take a stand. „And to make sure you understand me, whether you agree with me or not, I‘ll state categorically that I believe the apparent universe to be the work of man.“
Even E looked startled, but said nothing.
The ontologist continued rapidly, „All of you doubt my sanity. A week ago I would have, too. Butsince then I‘ve done a great deal of research in the history of science. And I repeat, the universe is the work of man. I believe that man began his existence in some incredibly simple world– the original and true noumenon of our present universe. And that over the centuries man expanded his little world into its present vastness and incomprehensible intricacy solely by dint of imagination.
„Consequently, I believe that what most of you call the ‚real‘ world has been changing ever since our ancestors began to think.“
Dobbs smiled superciliously. „Oh, come now, Prentiss. That‘s just a rhetorical description of scientific progress over the past centuries. In the same sense I might say that modern transportation and communications have shrunk the earth. But you‘ll certainly admit that the physical state of things has been substantially constant ever since the galaxies formed and the earth began to cool, and that the simple cosmologies of early man were simply the result of lack of means for obtaining accurate information?“
„I won‘t admit it,“ rejoined Prentiss bluntly. „I maintain that their information was substantially accurate.
I maintain that at one time in our history the earth was flat– as flat as it is now round– and no one living before the time of Hecataeus, though he might have been equipped with the finest modern instruments, could have proved otherwise. His mind was conditioned to a two-dimensional world. Any of us present, if we were transplanted to the world of Hecataeus, could, of course, establish terrestrial sphericity in short order. Our minds have been conditioned to a three-dimensional world. The day may come a few millennia hence when a four-dimensional world will be commonplace even to schoolchildren; they will have been intuitively conditioned in relativistic concepts.“ He added slyly: „And the less intelligent of them may attempt to blame our naive three-dimensional planet on our grossly inaccurate instruments, because it will be as plain as day to them that their planet has four dimensions!“
* * *
Chapter V
Sentence Is Passed
* * *
Dobbs snorted at this amazing idea.
The other scientists stared at Prentiss with an awe which was mixed with incredulity.
Goring said cautiously: „I follow up to a certain point. I can see that a primitive society might start out with a limited number of facts, and then those first theories would require that new, additional facts exist, and in their search for those secondary facts, extraneous data would turn up inconsistent with the first theories. Secondary theories would then be required, from which hitherto unguessed facts should follow, the confirmation of which would discover more inconsistencies. So the pattern of fact to theory to fact to theory, and so on, finally brings us into our present state of knowledge. Does that follow from your argument?“
Prentiss nodded.
„But won‘t you admit that the facts were there all the time, and merely awaited discovery?“
„The simple, unelaborated noumenon was there all the time, yes. But the new fact– man‘s new interpretation of the noumenon, was generally pure invention– a mental creation, if you like. This will be clearer if you consider how rarely a new fact arises before a theory exists for its explanation. In the ordinary scientific investigation, theory comes first, followed in short order by the ‚discovery‘ of various facts deducible from it.“
Goring still looked skeptical. „But that wouldn‘t mean the fact wasn‘t there all the time.“ „Wouldn‘t it? Look at the evidence. Has it never struck you as odd in how many instances very obvious facts were ‚overlooked‘ until a theory was propounded that required their existence? Take your nuclear building blocks. Protons and electrons were detected physically only after Rutherford had showed they had to exist. And then when Rutherford found that protons and electrons were not enoughto build all the atoms of the periodic table, he postulated the neutron, which of course was duly ‚discovered‘ in the Wilson cloud chamber.“
Goring pursed his lips. „But the Wilson cloud chamber would have shown all that prior to the theory, if anyone had only thought to use it. The mere fact that Wilson didn‘t invent his cloud chamber until nineteen twelve and Geiger didn‘t invent his counter until nineteen thirteen, would not keep sub-atomic particles from existing before that time.“
„You don‘t get the point,“ said Prentiss. „The primitive, ungeneralized noumenon that we today observe as subatomic particles existed prior to nineteen twelve, true, but not sub-atomic particles.“
„Well, I don‘t know….“ Goring scratched his chin. „How about fundamental forces? Surely electricity existed before Galvani? Even the Greeks knew how to build up electrostatic charges on amber.“
„Greek electricity was nothing more than electrostatic charges. Nothing more could be created until Galvani introduced the concept of the electric current.“ „Do you mean the electric current didn‘t exist at all before Galvani?“ demanded Burchard. „Not even when lightning struck a conductor?“
„Not even then. We don‘t know much about pre-Galvanic lightning. While it probably packed a wallop, its destructive potential couldn‘t have been due to its delivery of an electric current. The Chinese flew kites for centuries before Franklin theorized that lightning was the same as galvanic electricity, but there‘s no recorded shock from a kite string until our learned statesman drew forth one in seventeen sixty-five. Now, only an idiot flies a kite in a storm. It‘s all according to pattern: theory first, then we alter ‚reality‘ to fit.“
Burchard persisted. „Then I suppose you‘d say the ninety-two elements are figments of our
imagination.“
„Correct,“ agreed Prentiss. „I believe that in the beginning there were only four noumenal elements.
Man simply elaborated these according to the needs of his growing science. Man made them what they are today– and on occasion, unmade them. You remember the havoc Mendelyeev created with his periodic law. He declared that the elements had to follow valence sequences of increasing weight, and when they didn‘t, he insisted his law was right and that the atomic weights were wrong. He must have had Stas and Berzelius whirling in their graves, because they had worked out the ‚erroneous‘ atomic weights
with marvelous precision. The odd thing was, when the weights were rechecked, they fitted the Mendelyeev table. But that wasn‘t all. The old rascal pointed out vacant spots in his table and maintained that there were more elements yet to be discovered. He even predicted what properties they‘d have. He was too modest. I state that Nilson, Winkler, and de Boisbaudran merely discovered scandium, germanium, and gallium; Mendelyeev created them, out of the original tetraelemental stuff.“
E leaned forward. „That‘s a bit strong. Tell me, if man has changed the elements and the cosmos to suit his convenience, what was the cosmos like before man came on the scene?“ „There wasn‘t any,“ answered Prentiss. „Remember, by definition, ‚cosmos‘ or ‚reality‘ is simply man‘s version of the ultimate noumenal universe. The ‚cosmos‘ arrives and departs with the mind of man.
Consequently, the earth– as such– didn‘t even exist before the advent of man.“ „But the evidence of the rocks…“ protested E. „Pressures applied over millions, even billions of years, were needed to form them, unless you postulate an omnipotent God who called them into existence as of yesterday.“
„I postulate only the omnipotent human mind,“ said Prentiss. „In the seventeenth century, Hooke, Ray, Woodward, to name a few, studied chalk, gravel, marble, and even coal, without finding anything inconsistent with results to be expected from the Noachian Flood. But now that we‘ve made up our minds that the earth is older, the rocks seem older, too.“ „But how about evolution?“ demanded Burchard. „Surely that wasn‘t a matter of a few centuries?“ „Really?“ replied Prentiss. „Again, why assume that the facts are any more recent than the theory?“ The evidence is all the other way. Aristotle was a magnificent experimental biologist, and he was convinced that life could be created spontaneously. Before the time of Darwin there was no need for the various species to evolve, because they sprang into being from inanimate matter. As late as the eighteenth century, Needham, using a microscope, reported that he saw microbe life arise spontaneously out ofsterile culture media. These abiogeneticists were, of course, discredited and their work found to be irreproducible, but only after it became evident that the then abiogenetic facts were going to run inconsistent with later ‚facts‘ flowing from advancing biologic theory.“ „Then,“ said Goring, „assuming purely for the sake of argument that man has altered the original
noumena into our present reality, just what danger do you think Luce represents to that reality? How could he do anything about it, even if he wanted to? Just what is he up to?“ „Broadly stated,“ said Prentiss, „Luce intends to destroy the Einsteinian universe.“ Burchard frowned and shook his head. „Not so fast. In the first place, how can anyone presume to destroy this planet, much less the whole universe? And why do you say the ‚Einsteinian‘ universe? The universe by any other name is still the universe, isn‘t it?“ „What Dr. Prentiss means,“ explained E, „is that Luce wants to revise completely and finally our
present comprehension of the universe, which presently happens to be the Einsteinian version, in the expectation that the final version would be the true one– and comprehensible only to Luce and perhaps a few other ontologic experts.“
„I don‘t see it,“ said Dobbs irritably. „Apparently this Luce contemplates nothing more than publication of a new scientific theory. How can that be bad? A mere theory can‘t hurt anybody– especially if only two or three people understand it.“
„You– and two billion others,“ said Prentiss softly, „think that ‚reality‘ cannot be affected by any theory that seems to change it– that it is optional with you to accept or reject the theory. In the past that was true. If the Ptolemaics wanted a geocentric universe, they ignored Copernicus. If the four-dimensional continuum of Einstein and Minkowsky seemed incomprehensible to the Newtonian school they dismissed it, and the planets continued to revolve substantially as Newton predicted. But this was different.
„For the first time we are faced with the probability that the promulgation of a theory is going to force an ungraspable reality upon our minds. It will not be optional.“ „Well,“ said Burchard, „if by ‚promulgation of a theory‘ you mean something like the application of the
quantum theory and relativity to the production of atomic energy, which of course has changed the shape of civilization in the past generation, whether the individual liked it or not, then I can understand you. But if you mean that Luce is going to make one little experiment that may confirm some new theory or other, and ipso facto and instantaneously reality is going to turn topsy-turvy, why I say it‘s nonsense.“
„Would anyone,“ said Prentiss quietly, „care to guess what would happen if Luce were able to destroy a photon?“
Goring laughed shortly. „The question doesn‘t make sense. The mass-energy entity whose
three-dimensional profile we call a photon is indestructible.“ „But if you could destroy it?“ insisted Prentiss. „What would the universe be like afterward?“ „What difference would it make?“ demanded Dobbs. „One photon more or less?“ „Plenty,“ said Goring. „According to the Einstein theory, every particle of matter-energy has a gravitational potential, lambda, and it can be calculated that the total lambdas are precisely sufficient to keep our four-dimension continuum from closing back on itself. Take one lambda away– my heavens The universe would split wide open!“
„Exactly,“ said Prentiss. „Instead of a continuum, or ‚reality‘ would become a disconnected melange of three-dimensional objects. Time, if it existed, wouldn‘t bear any relation to spatial things. Only an ontologic expert might be able to synthesize any sense out of such a ‚reality.‘“ „Well,“ said Dobbs, „I wouldn‘t worry too much. I don‘t think anybody‘s ever going to destroy a photon.“ He snickered. „You have to catch one first!“ „Luce can catch one,“ said Prentiss calmly. „And he can destroy it. At this moment some unimaginable post-Einsteinian universe lies in the palm of his hand. Final, true reality, perhaps. But we aren‘t ready for it. Kant, perhaps, or homo superior, but not the general run of h. sapiens. We wouldn‘t be able to escape our conditioning. We‘d be stopped cold.“ He stopped. Without looking at Goring, he knew he had convinced the man. Prentiss sagged with visible relief. It was time for a vote. He must strike before Speer and Goring could change their minds.
„Madame“– he shot a questioning glance at the woman– „at any moment my men are going to reportthat they‘ve located Luce. I must be ready to issue the order for his execution, if in fact the staff believes such disposition proper. I call for a vote of officers!“ „Granted,“ said E instantly. „Will those in favor of destroying Luce on sight raise their right hands?“ Prentiss and Goring made the required signal.
Speer was silent.
Prentiss felt his heart sinking. Had he made a gross error of judgment? „I vote against
this murder,“ declared Dobbs. „That‘s what it is, pure murder.“ „I agree with Dobbs,“ said Burchard shortly.
All eyes were on the psychologist. „I presume you‘ll join us, Dr. Speer?“ demanded Dobbs sternly.
„Count me out, gentlemen. I‘d never interfere with anything so inevitable as the destiny of man. All of you are overlooking a fundamental facet of human nature– man‘s insatiable hunger for change, novelty– for anything different from what he already has. Prentiss himself states that whenever man grows discontented with his present reality, he starts elaborating it, and the devil take the hindmost. Luce but symbolizes the evil genius of our race– and I mean both our species and the race toward intertwined godhood and destruction. Once born, however, symbols are immortal. It‘s far too late now to start killing
Luce. It was too late when the first man tasted the first apple.
„Furthermore, I think Prentiss greatly overestimates the scope of Luce‘s pending victory over the rest of mankind. Suppose Luce is actually successful in clearing space and time and suspending the world in the temporal stasis of its present irreality. Suppose he and a few ontologic experts pass on into the ultimate, true reality. How long do you think they can resist the temptation to alter it? If Prentiss is right, eventually they or their descendants will be living in a cosmos as intricate and unpleasant as the one they left, while we, for all practical purposes, will be pleasantly dead.
„No gentlemen, I won‘t vote either way.“
„Then it is my privilege to break the tie,“ said E coolly. „I vote for death. Save your remonstrances, Dr. Dobbs. It‘s after midnight. This meeting is adjourned.“ She stood up in abrupt dismissal, and the men were soon filing from the room.
* * *
E left the table and walked toward the windows on the far side of the room. Prentiss hesitated a moment, but made no effort to leave.
E called over her shoulder, „You, too, Prentiss.“ The door closed behind Speer, the last of the group, save Prentiss. Prentiss walked up behind E.
She gave no sign of awareness.
Six feet away, the man stopped and studied her.
Sitting, walking, standing, she was lovely. Mentally he compared her to Velasquez‘ Venus. There was the same slender exquisite proportion of thigh, hip, and bust. And he knew she was completely aware of her own beauty, and further, must be aware of his present appreciative scrutiny.
Then her shoulders sagged suddenly, and her voice seemed very tired when she spoke. „So you‘re still here, Prentiss. Do you believe in intuition?“
„Not often.“
„Speer was right. He‘s always right. Luce will succeed.“ She dropped her arms to her sides and turned.
„Then may I reiterate, my dear, marry me and let‘s forget the control of knowledge for a few months.“
„Completely out of the question, Prentiss. Our natures are incompatible. You‘re incorrigibly curious, and I‘m incorrigibly, even neurotically, conservative. Besides, how can you even think about such things when we‘ve got to stop Luce?“
His reply was interrupted by the shrilling of the intercom: „Calling Mr. Prentiss. Crush calling Mr. Prentiss. Luce located. Crush calling.“
* * *
Chapter VI
Impending Chaos
With his pencil Crush pointed to a shaded area of the map. „This is Luce‘s Snake-Eyes estate, the famous game preserve and zoo. Somewhere in the center– about here, I think– is a stone cottage. A moving van unloaded some lab equipment there this morning.“ „Mr. Prentiss,“ said E, „how long do you think it will take him to install what he needs for that one experiment?“
The ontologist answered from across the map table, „I can‘t be sure. I still have no idea of what he‘s going to try, except that I‘m reasonably certain it must be done in absolute darkness. Checking his instruments will require but a few minutes at most.“ The woman began pacing the floor nervously. „I knew it. We can‘t stop him. We have no time.“ „Oh, I don‘t know,“ said Prentiss. „How about that stone cottage, Crush? Is it pretty old?“ „Dates from the eighteenth century, sir.“
„There‘s your answer,“ said Prentiss. „It‘s probably full of holes where the mortar‘s fallen out. For total darkness, he‘ll have to wait until moonset.
„That‘s three thirty-four a.m., sir,“ said Crush.
„We‘ve time for an arrest,“ said E.
Crush looked dubious. „It‘s more complicated than that, Madame. Snake-Eyes is fortified to withstand a small army. Luce could hold off any force the Bureau could muster for at least twenty-four hours.“
„One atom egg, well done,“ suggested Prentiss.
„That‘s the best answer, of course,“ agreed E. „But you know as well as I what the reaction of Congress would be to such extreme measures. There would be an investigation. The Bureau would be abolished, and all persons responsible for such an expedient would face life imprisonment, perhaps death.“ She was silent for a moment, then sighed and said: „So be it. If there is no alternative, I shall order the bomb dropped.“
„There may be another way,“ said Prentiss.
„Indeed?“
„Granted an army couldn‘t get through. One man might. and if he made it, you could call off your bomb.“
E exhaled a slow cloud of smoke and studied the glowing tip of her cigarette. Finally she turned and looked into the eyes of the ontologist for the first time since the beginning of the conference. „You can‘t go.“
„Who, then?“
Her eyes dropped. „You‘re right, of course. But the bomb still falls if you don‘t get through. It‘s got to be that way. Do you understand that?“
Prentiss laughed. „I understand.“
He addressed his aide. „Crush, I‘ll leave the details up to you, bomb and all. We‘ll rendezvous at these coordinates“– he pointed to the map– „at three sharp. It‘s after one now. You‘d better get started.“
„Yes, sir,“ wheezed Crush, and scurried out of the room.
As the door closed, Prentiss turned to E. „Beginning tomorrow afternoon– or rather, this
afternoon, after I finish with Luce, I want six months off.“
„Granted,“ murmured E.
„I want you to come with me. I want to find out just what this thing is between us. Just the two of us. It may take a little time.“
E smiled crookedly. „If we‘re both still alive at three thirty-five, and such a thing as a month exists, and you still want me to spend six of them with you, I‘ll do it. And in return you can do something for me.“
„What?“
„You, even above Luce, stand the best chance of adjusting to final reality if Luce is successful indestroying a photon. I‘m a border-line case. I‘m going to need all the help you can give me, if and when the time comes. Will you remember that?“
„I‘ll remember,“ Prentiss said.
* * *
At 3 a.m. he joined Crush.
„There are at least seven infra-red scanners in the grounds, sir,“ said Crush, „not to mention an intricate network of photo relays. And then the wire fence around the lab, with the big cats inside. He must have turned the whole zoo loose.“ The little man reluctantly helped Prentiss into his infra-red absorbing coveralls. „You weren‘t meant for tiger fodder, sir. Better call it off.“ Prentiss zipped up his visor and grimaced out into the moonlit dimness of the apple orchard. „You‘ll take care of the photocell network?“
„Certainly, sir. He‘s using UV-sensitive cells. We‘ll blanket the area with a UV-spot at three-ten.“
Prentiss strained his ears, but couldn‘t hear the ‚copter that would carry the UV-searchlight– and the bomb.
„It‘ll be here, sir,“ Crush assured him. „It won‘t make any noise, anyhow. What you ought to be worrying about are those wild beasts.“
The investigator sniffed at the night air. „Darn little breeze.“ „Yeah,“ gasped Crush. „And variable at that, sir. You can‘t count on going in up-wind. You want us to create a diversion at one end of the grounds to attract the animals?“ „We don‘t dare. If necessary, I‘ll open the aerosol capsule of formaldehyde.“ He held out his hand.
„Good-by, Crush.“
His asthmatic assistant shook the extended hand with vigorous sincerity. „Good luck, sir. And don‘t forget the bomb. We‘ll have to drop it at three thirty-four sharp.“ But Prentiss had vanished into the leafy darkness.
A little later he was studying the luminous figures on his watch. The UV-blanket was presumably on.
All he had to be careful about in the next forty seconds was a direct collision with a photocell post.
But Crush‘s survey party had mapped well. He reached the barbed fencing uneventfully, with seconds to spare. He listened a moment, and then in practiced silence eased his lithe body high up and over.
The breeze, which a moment before had been in his face, now died away, and the night air hung about him in dark lifeless curtains.
From the stone building a scant two hundred yards ahead, a chink of light peeped out.Prentiss drew his silenced pistol and began moving forward with swift caution, taking care to place his heel to ground before the toe, and feeling out the character of the ground with the thin soles of his sneakers before each step. A snapping twig might hurl a slavering wild beast at his throat.
He stopped motionless in midstride.
From a thicket several yards to his right came an ominous snuffing, followed by a low snarl.
His mouth went suddenly dry as he strained his ears and turned his head slowly toward the sound.
And then there came the reverberations of something heavy, hurtling toward him.
He whipped his weapon around and waited in a tense crouch, not daring to send a wild, singing bullet across the sward.
The great cat was almost upon him before he fired, and then the faint cough of the stumbling, stricken animal seemed louder than his muffled shot.
Breathing hard, Prentiss stepped away from the dying beast, evidently a panther, and listened for a long time before resuming his march on the cottage. Luce‘s extraordinary measures to exclude intruders but confirmed his suspicions: Tonight was the last night that the professor could be stopped. He blinked the stinging sweat from his eyes and glanced at his watch. It was 3:15.
Apparently the other animals had not heard him. He stood up to resume his advance, and to his utter relief found that the wind had shifted almost directly into his face and was blowing steadily.
In another three minutes he was standing at the massive door of the building, running practiced fingersover the great iron hinges and lock. Undoubtedly the thing was going to squeak; there was no time to apply oil and wait for it to soak in. The lock could be easily picked.
And the squeaking of a rusty hinge was probably immaterial. A cunning operator like Luce would undoubtedly have wired an alarm into it. He just couldn‘t believe Crush‘s report to the contrary.
But he couldn‘t stand there.
There was only one way to get inside, quickly, and alive.
Chuckling at his own madness, Prentiss began to pound on the door.
He could visualize the blinking out of the slit of light above his head, and knew that, somewhere within the building, two flame-lit eyes were studying him in an infra-red scanner.
Prentiss tried simultaneously to listen to the muffled squeaking of the rats beyond the great door and to the swift, padding approach of something big behind him.
„Luce,“ he cried. „It‘s Prentiss! Let me in!“
A latch slid somewhere; the door eased inward. The investigator threw his gun rearward at a pair of bounding eyes, laced his fingers over his head, and stumbled into more darkness.
Despite the protection of his hands, the terrific blow of the blackjack on his temple almost knocked him out.
He closed his eyes, crumpled carefully to the floor, and noted with satisfaction that his wrists were being tied behind his back. As he had anticipated, it was a clumsy job, even without his imperceptible „assistance.“ Long fingers ran over his body in a search for more weapons.
Then he felt the sting of a hypodermic needle in his biceps.
The lights came on.
He struggled feebly, emitted a plausible groan, and tried to sit up.
From far above, the strange face of Dr. Luce looked down at him, illuminated, it seemed to Prentiss, by some unhallowed inner fire.
„What time is it?“ asked Prentiss.
„Approximately three-twenty.“
„Hm. Your kittens gave me quite a reception, my dear professor.“ „As befits an uncooperative meddler.“
„Well, what are you going to do with me?“
„Kill you.“
Luce pulled a pistol from his coat pocket. Prentiss wet his lips. During his ten years with the Bureau, he had never had to deal with anyone quite like Luce. The gaunt man personified megalomania on a scale beyond anything the investigator had previously encountered– or imagined possible.
And, he realized with a shiver, Luce was very probably justified in his prospects (not delusions!) of grandeur.
With growing alarm he watched Luce snap off the safety lock of the pistol.
There were two possible chances of surviving more than a few seconds.
Luce‘s index finger began to tense around the trigger.
One of the chances was to appeal to Luce‘s megalomania, treating him as a human being. Tell him, „I know you won‘t kill me until you‘ve had a chance to gloat over me– to tell me, the inventor of ontologic synthesis, how you found a practical application of it.“ No good. Too obvious to one of Luce‘s intelligence.
The approach must be to a demi-god, in humility. Oddly enough his curiosity was tinged with respect. Luce did have something.
Prentiss licked his lips again and said hurriedly: „I must die, then. But could you show me– is it asking too much to show me, just how you propose to ‚go through‘?“ The gun lowered a fraction of an inch. Luce eyed the doomed man suspiciously.
„Would you, please?“ continued Prentiss. His voice was dry, cracking. „Ever since I discovered that new realities could be synthesized, I‘ve wondered whether homo sapiens was capable of finding a practical device for uncovering the true reality. And all who‘ve worked on it have insisted that only a brain but little below the angels was capable of such an achievement.“ He coughed apologetically. „It isdifficult to believe that a mere mortal has really accomplished what you claim– and yet, there‘s something about you…“ His voice trailed off, and he laughed deprecatingly.
Luce bit; he thrust the gun back into his coat pocket. „So you know when you‘re licked,“ he sneered.
„Well, I‘ll let you live a moment longer.“
He stepped back and pulled aside a black screen. „Has the inimitable ontologist the wit to understand this?“
Within a few seconds of his introduction to the instrument everything was painfully clear. Prentiss now abandoned any remote hope that either Luce‘s method or apparatus would prove faulty. Both the vacuum-glassed machinery and the idea behind it were perfect.
Basically, the supplementary unit, which he now saw for the first time, consisted of a sodium-vapor light bulb, blacked out except for one tiny transparent spot. Ahead of the little window was a series of what must be hundreds of black discs mounted on a common axis. Each disc bore a slender radial slot.
And though he could not trace all the gearing, Prentiss knew that the discs were geared to permit one and only one fleeting photon of yellow light to emerge at the end of the disc series, where it would pass through a Kerr electro-optic field and be polarized.
That photon would then travel one centimeter to that fabulous Nicol prism, one surface of which had been machined flat to a molecule‘s thickness. That surface was turned by means of an equally marvelous goniometer to meet the oncoming photon at an angle of exactly 45°. And then would come chaos.
The cool voice of E sounded in his ear receptor. „Prentiss, it‘s three-thirty. If you understand the apparatus, and find it dangerous, will you so signify? If possible, describe it for the tapes.“ „I understand your apparatus perfectly,“ said Prentiss.
Luce grunted, half irritated, half curious.
Prentiss continued hurriedly, „Shall I tell you how you decided upon this specific apparatus?“
„If you think you can.“
„You have undoubtedly seen the sun reflect from the surface of the sea.“ Luce nodded.
„But the fish beneath the surface see the sun, too,“ continued Prentiss. „Some of the photons are reflected and reach you, and some are refracted and reach the fish. But, for a given wavelength, the photons are identical. Why should one be absorbed and another reflected?“ „You‘re on the right track,“ admitted Luce, „but couldn‘t you account for their behavior by Jordan‘s law?“
„Statistically, yes. Individually, no. In nineteen thirty-four Jordan showed that a beam of polarized light splits up when it hits a Nicol prism. He proved that when the prism forms an angle, alpha, with the plane of polarization of the prism, a fraction of the light equal to cos2 alpha passes through the prism, and the remainder, sin2 alpha, is refracted. But note that Jordan‘s law applied only to streams of photons, and you‘re dealing with a single photon, to which you‘re presenting an angle of exactly 45°. And how does a single photon make up its mind– or the photonic equivalent of a mind– when the probability of reflecting is exactly equal to the probability of refracting? Of course, if our photon is but one little mote along with billions of others, the whole comprising a light beam, we can visualize orders left for him by a sort of statistical traffic keeper stationed somewhere in the beam. A member of a beam, it may be presumed, has a pretty good idea of how many of his brothers have already reflected, and how many refracted, and hence knows which he must do.“
„But suppose our single photon isn‘t in a beam at all?“ said Luce.
„Your apparatus,“ said Prentiss, „is going to provide just such a photon. And I think it will be a highly confused little photon, just as your experimental rat was, that night not so long ago. I think it was Schrödinger who said that these physical particles were startlingly human in many of their aspects. Yes, your photon will be given a choice of equal probability. Shall he reflect? Shall he refract? The chances are 50 percent for either choice. He will have no reason for selecting one in preference to the other. There
will have been no swarm of preceding photons to set up a traffic guide for him. He‘ll be puzzled; and trying to meet a situation for which he has no proper response, he‘ll slow down. And when he does, he‘ll cease to be a photon, which must travel at the speed of light or cease to exist. Like your rat, like manyhuman beings, he solves the unsolvable by disintegrating.“
Luce said: „And when it disintegrates, there disappears one of the lambdas that hold together the Einstein space-time continuum. And when that goes, what‘s left can be only final reality untainted by theory or imagination. Do you see any flaw in my plan?“
* * *
Chapter VII
New World
* * *
Tugging with subtle quickness on the cords that bound him, Prentiss knew there was no flaw in the man‘s reasoning, and that every human being on earth was now living on borrowed time.
He could think of no way to stop him; there remained only the bare threat of the bomb.
He said tersely: „If you don‘t submit to peaceable arrest within a few seconds, an atom bomb is going to be dropped on this area.“
Sweat was getting into his eyes again, and he winked rapidly.
Luce‘s dark features convulsed, hung limp, then coalesced into a harsh grin. „She‘ll be too late,“ he said with grim good humor. „Her ancestors tried for centuries to thwart mine. But we were successful– always. Tonight I succeed again and for all time.“ Prentiss had one hand free.
In seconds he would be at the man‘s throat. He worked with quiet fury at the loops around his bound wrist.
Again E‘s voice in his ear receptor. „I had to do it!“ The tones were strangely sad, self-accusing, remorseful.
Had to do what?
And his dazed mind was trying to digest the fact that E had just destroyed him.
She was continuing. „The bomb was dropped ten seconds ago.“ She was almost pleading, and her words were running together. „You were helpless; you couldn‘t kill him. I had a sudden premonition of what the world would be like– afterward– even for those who go through. Forgive me.“ Almost mechanically he resumed his fumbling with the cord.
Luce looked up. „What‘s that?“
„What?“ asked Prentiss dully. „I don‘t hear anything.“ „Of course you do! Listen!“
The wrist came free.
Several things happened.
That faraway shriek in the skies grew into a howling crescendo of destruction.
As one man Prentiss and Luce leaped toward the activator switches. Luce got there first– an infinitesimal fraction of time before the walls were completely disintegrated.
There was a brief, soundless interval of utter blackness.
And then it seemed to Prentiss that a titanic stone wall crashed into his brain, and held him, mute, immobile.
But he was not dead.
For the name of this armored, stunning wall was not the bomb, but Time itself.
He knew in a brief flash of insight, that for sentient, thinking beings, Time had suddenly become a barricade rather than an endless road. The exploding bomb– the caving cottage walls– were hanging, somewhere, frozen fast in an immutable, eternal stasis.
Luce had separated this fleeting unseen dimension from the creatures and things that had flowed alongit. There is no existence without change along a temporal continuum. and now the continuum had been shattered.
Was this, then, the fate of all tangible things– of all humanity? Were none of them– not even the two or three who understood advanced ontology– to get through? There was nothing but a black, eerie silence all around.
His senses were useless.
He even doubted he had any senses.
So far as he could tell he was nothing but an intelligence, floating in space. But he couldn‘t even be sure of that. Intelligence– space– they weren‘t necessarily the same now as before.
All that he knew for sure was that he doubted. He doubted everything except the fact of doubting.
Shades of Descartes!
To doubt is to think!
Ergo sum!
I exist.
Instantly he was wary. He existed, but not necessarily as Adam Prentiss Rogers. For the noumenon of Adam Prentiss Rogers might be– whom?
But he was safe. He was going to get through.
Relax, be resilient, he urged his whirling brain. You‘re on the verge of something marvelous.
It seemed that he could almost hear himself talk, and he was glad. A voiceless final reality would have been unbearable.
He issued a tentative whisper:
„E!“
From somewhere far away a woman whimpered.
He cried eagerly into the blackness, „Is that you?“ Something unintelligible and strangely frightening answered him.
„Don‘t try to hold on to yourself,“ he cried. „Just let yourself go! Remember, you won‘t be E any more, but the noumenon, the essence of E. Unless you change enough to permit your noumenon to take over your old identity, you‘ll have to stay behind.
There was a groan. „But I‘m me!“
„But you aren‘t– not really,“ he pleaded quickly. „You‘re just an aspect of a larger, symbolical you– the noumenon of E. It‘s yours for the asking. You have only to hold out your hand to grasp the shape of final reality. And you must, or cease to exist!“
A wail: „But what will happen to my body?“
The ontologist almost laughed. „I wouldn‘t know; but if it changes, I‘ll be sorrier than you!“
There was a silence.
„E!“ he called.
No answer.
„E! Did you get through? E!“
The empty echoes skirled between the confines of his narrow blackness.
Had the woman lost even her struggling interstitial existence? Whenever, whatever, or wherever she now was, he could no longer detect.
Somehow, if it had ever come to this, he had counted on her being with him– just the two of them.
In stunned uneasy wonder he considered what his existence was going to be like from now on.
And what about Luce?
Had the demonic professor possessed sufficient mental elasticity to slip through? And if so, just what was the professorial noumenon– the real Luce– like? He‘d soon know.
The ontologist relaxed again, and began floating through a dreamy patch of light and darkness. A pale glow began gradually to form about his eyes, and shadowy things began to form, dissolve, and reform.
He felt a great rush of gratitude. At least the shape of final reality was to be visible.
And then, at about the spot where Luce had stood, he saw the Eyes– two tiny red flames, transfixinghim with unfathomable fury.
The same eyes that had burned into his that night of his first search! Luce had got through– but wait!
An unholy aura was playing about the sinuous shadow that contained the jeweled flames. Those eyes were brilliant, horrid facets of hate in the head of a huge coiling serpent thing! Snake-Eyes! In mounting awe and fear the ontologist understood that Luce had not got through– as Luce. That the noumenon, the essence, of Luce– was nothing human. That Luce, the bearer of light, aspirant to godhood, was not just Luce!
By the faint light he began shrinking away from the coiled horror, and in the act saw that he, at least, still had a human body. He knew this, because he was completely nude.
He was still human, and the snake-creature wasn‘t– and therefore never had been.
Then he noticed that the stone cottage was gone, and that a pink glow was coming from the east.
He crashed into a tree before he had gone a dozen steps.
Yesterday, there had been no trees within three hundred yards of the cottage.
But that made sense, for there was no cottage any more, and no yesterday. Crush ought to be waiting somewhere out here– except Crush hadn‘t got through, and hence didn‘t really exist.
He went around the tree. It obscured his view of the snake-creature for a moment, and when he tried to find it again, it was gone.
He was glad for the momentary relief, and began looking about him in the half-light. He took a deep breath.
The animals, if they still existed, had vanished with the coming of dawn. The grassy, flower-dotted swards scintillated like emeralds in the early morning haze. From somewhere came the babble of running water.
Meta-universe, by whatever name you called it, was beautiful, like a gorgeous garden. What a pity he must live and die here alone, with nothing but a lot of animals for company. He‘d willingly give an arm, or at least a rib, if–
„Adam Prentiss! Adam!“
He whirled and stared toward the orchard in elated disbelief.
„E! Eve!“
She‘d got through!
The whole world, and just the two of them!
His heart was pounding ecstatically as he began to run lithely upwind.
And they‘d keep it this way, simple and sweet, forever, and their children after that. To hell with science and progress! (Well, within practical limits, of course.) As he ran, there rippled about his quivering nostrils the seductive scent of apple blossoms.

Larry Niven – Flash Crowd

Posted in Uncategorized on August 12, 2009 by zigstedimension

-1-

FROM EDGE to edge and for all of its length, from Central Los Angeles through Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles and Santa Monica to the sea, Wilshire Boulevard was a walkway.
Once there had been white lines on concrete, and raised curbs to stop the people from interfering with the cars. Now the lines were gone, and much of the concrete was covered with soil and grass. There were even a few trees. Concrete strips had been left for bicycles, and wider places for helicopters carrying cargo too big for the displacement booths.
Wilshire was wide for a walkway. People seemed to hug the edges, even those on bikes and motor skates. A boulevard built for cars was too big for mere people.
Outlines of the street still showed through. Ridges in the grass marked where curbs had been, with breaks where there had been driveways. Some stretches in Westwood had a concrete center divider. The freeway ramps were unchanged and unused. Someday the city would do something about them.

Jerryberry Jansen lived in what had been a seaside motel halfway between Bakersfield and San Francisco. On long-ago summer nights the Shady Rest had been packed with transients at ten dollars a head. Now it made a dandy apartment house, with swimming pool and everything, including a displacement booth outside the manager’s office.
There was a girl in the booth when Jerryberry left his apartment. He glimpsed long, wavy brown hair and the shape of her back in the instant before she disappeared. Janice Wolfe. Too bad she hadn’t waited. . . but she hadn’t even seen him.
Nobody was ever around the booths long enough to say hello to. You could meet someone by hovering outside the booths, but what would they think?
Meeting people was for the clubs.
A displacement booth was a glass cylinder with a rounded top. The machinery that made the magic was invisible, buried beneath the booth. Coin slots and a telephone dial were set into the glass at sternum level.
Jerryberry inserted his C .B . A. credit card below the coin slots. He dialed by punching numbered buttons. Withdrawing the credit card closed a circuit. An eye blink later he was in an office in the Central Broadcasting Association building in downtown Los Angeles.
The office was big and empty. Only once in an aeon was all that empty space ever used, though several score of newstapers saw it for a few seconds each day. One wall was lined with displacement booths. A curved desk down at the end was occupied by Jerryberry’s boss.
George Bailey was fat from too much sitting and darkly tanned by the Nevada sun. He commuted to work every morning via the long-distance booths at Los Angeles International. Today he waved at Jerryberry without speaking. Routine, then. Jerryberry chose one of several cameras and slung the padded strap over his shoulder. He studied several lists of numbers posted over the table before picking one.
He turned and moved to avoid three more newstapers stepping out of booths. They nodded; he nodded; they passed. As he reached for a booth door, a woman flicked in in front of him. Rush hour. He smiled at her and stepped over to the next booth, consulted the list, dialed, and was gone.
He had not spoken to anyone that morning.

The east end of Wilshire Boulevard was a most ordinary T-intersection between high, blocky buildings. Jerryberry looked around even as he was dialing. Nothing newsworthy? No. He was two blocks away and dialing.
He punched the numbered buttons with a ballpoint pen when he remembered. Nonetheless, his index finger was calloused.
The streets of the inner city were empty, this early. In a minute or so Jerryberry was in sight of the freeway. He stepped out of the booth to watch trucks and bulldozers covering this part of the Pasadena-Harbor Freeway with topsoil. Old machines find new use-but others were covering the event. He moved on.
The booths were all identical. He might have been in a full-vision theater, watching scenes flick around him. He was used to the way things jerked about. He flicked west on Wilshire, waiting for something to happen.
It was a cheap, effective way to gather news. At a chocolate dollar per jump per man, C. B. A. could afford to support a score of wandering newstapers in addition to the regular staff. They earned low salaries, plus a bonus for each news item, plus a higher bonus per item used. The turnover was high. It had been higher before C.B.A. learned not to jumble the numbers at random. An orderly progression down a single street was easier on the mind and nerves.
Jerryberry Jansen knew every foot of Wilshire. At twenty-eight he was old enough to remember cars and trucks and traffic lights. When the city changed, it was the streets that had changed most.
He watched Wilshire change as he dialed.
At the old hat-shaped Brown Derby they were converting the parking lot into a miniature golf course. About time they did something with all that wasted space. He queried Bailey, but Bailey wasn’t interested.
The Miracle Mile was a landscaped section. Suddenly there were people: throngs of shoppers, so thick that many preferred to walk a block instead of waiting for a booth. They seemed stratified, with the older people hugging the curbs and the teens taking the middle of the street. Jerryberry had noticed it before. As a child he’d been trained to cross only in the crosswalks, with the light. Sometimes his training came back, and he found himself looking both ways before he could step out from the curb.
He moved on, west, following the list of numbers that was his beat.

The mall had been a walkway when displacement booths were no more than a theorem in quantum mechanics. Dips in the walk showed where streets had crossed, but the Santa Monica Mall had always been a sanctuary for pedestrians and window-shoppers. Here were several blocks of shops and restaurants and theaters, low buildings that did not block the sky.
Displacement booths were thick here. People swarmed constantly around and in and out of them. Some travelers carried fold-up bicycles. Many wore change purses. From noon onward there was always the tension of too many people trying to use the same space for the same purpose.
The argument started outside Penney’s Department Store. At the time one could see only that the police officer was being firm and the woman- middle-aged, big, and brawny-was screaming at the top of her lungs. A crowd grew, not because anyone gave a damn but because the two were blocking the walkway. People had to stream around them.
Some of them stopped to see what was happening. Many later remembered hearing the policeman repeating, „Madam, I place you under arrest on suspicion of shoplifting. Anything you say-“ in a voice that simply did not carry. If the officer had used his shockstick then, nothing more would have happened. Maybe. Then again, he might have been mobbed. Already the crowd blocked the entire mall, and too many of them were shouting-genial or sarcastic suggestions, random insults, and a thousand variations of „Get out of my way!“ and „I can’t, you idiot!“- for any to be heard at all.
At 12:55 Jerryberry Jansen flicked in and looked quickly about him while his hands were reinserting his credit card. His eyes registered the ancient shops at the end of the mall and lingered a moment on the entrance to Romanoff’s. Anyone newsworthy? Sometimes they came, the big names, for the cuisine or the publicity. No?-passed on, jumped to the crowd in front of Penney’s two blocks down.
There were booths nearer, but he didn’t know the numbers offhand. Jerryberry picked up his card and stepped out of the booth. He signaled the studio but didn’t bother to report. Circumstantial details he could give later. But he turned on his camera, and the event was now…real.
He jogged the two blocks. Whatever was happening might end without him.
A young, bemused face turned at Jerryberry’s hail. „Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me how this started?“
„Nope. Sony. I just got here,“ said the young man, and he strolled off. He would be edited from the tape. But other heads were turning, noticing the arrival of- A lean young man with an open, curious, friendly face, topped by red-blond hair curly as cotton. A tiny mike at his lips, a small plug in one ear, a coin purse at his belt. In his hands, a heavy gyrostabilized teevee camera equipped with a directional mike.
A newstaper. One pair of eyes turned for an instant too long. The woman swung her purse. The policeman’s arm came up too late to block the purse, which bounced solidly off his head. Something heavy in that purse.
The policeman dropped.
Things happened very fast.
Jerryberry talked rapidly to himself while he panned the camera. Occasional questions in his earpiece did not interrupt the flow of his report, though they guided it. The gyrostabilized camera felt like a living thing in his hands. It followed the woman with the heavy purse as she pushed her way through the crowd, shot Jerryberry a venomous look, and ran for a displacement booth. It watched someone break a jeweler’s window, snatch up a handful of random jewelry, and run. The directional mike picked up the scream of an alarm.
The police officer was still down.
Jerryberry went to help him. It occurred to him that of those present, the policeman was most likely to know what had been going on. The voice in his earpiece told him that others were on their way, even as his eye found them leaving the booths: faces he knew on men carrying cameras like his own. He knelt beside the policeman.
„Officer, can you tell me what happened?“
The uniformed man looked up with hurt, bewildered eyes. He said something that the directional mike picked up, but Jerryberry’s ears lost it in the crowd noise. He heard it later on the news. „Where’s my hat?“
Jerryberry repeated, „What happened here?“ while a dozen C.B.A. men around him were interviewing the crowd, and police were pouring out of the displacement booths. The flow of blue uniforms looked like far more than they were. They had to use their shock-sticks to get through the crowd.
Some of the spectators-shoppers-strollers had decided to leave. A wise decision, but impractical. The nearest booths could not be used at all. They held passengers cased in glass, each trying to get his door open against the press of the mob. Every few seconds one would give up and flick out, and another trapped passenger would be pushing at the door.
For blocks around, there was no way to get into a displacement booth. As fast as anyone left a booth, someone else would flick in. Most were nondescript citizens who came to gape. A few carried big cardboard rectangles carelessly printed in fluorescent colors, often with the paint still wet. A different few, nondescript otherwise, had rocks in their pockets.
For Jerryberry, kneeling above the felled policeman and trying to get audible sense out of him, it all seemed to explode. He looked up, and it was a riot.
„It’s a riot,“ he said, awed. The directional mike picked it up.
The crowd surged, and he was moving. He looked back, trying to see if the policeman had gained his feet. If he hadn’t, he could be hurt…but the crowd surged away. In this mob there was no conservation of matter; there were sources and sinks in it, and today all the sinks were sources. The flow had to go somewhere.
A young woman pushed herself close to Jerryberry. Her eyes were wide; her hair was wild. A kind of rage, a kind of joy, made her face a battlefield. „Legalize direct-current stimulus!“ she screamed at him. She lunged and caught the snout of Jerryberry’s camera and mike and pulled it around to face her. „Legalize wireheading!“
Jerryberry wrenched the camera free. He turned it toward the big display window in Penney’s. The glass was gone. Men crawled in the display window, looting. Jerryberry held the camera high, taking pictures of them over the bobbing heads. He had the scene for a moment-and then three signs shot up in front of the camera. One said „“TANSTAAFL.“ and one bore a mushroom cloud and the words ‚POWER CORRUPTS!“ and Jerryberry never read the third because the crowd surged again and he had to scramble to keep his feet. There were men and women and children being trampled here. He could be one of them.
How had it happened? He’d seen it all, but he didn’t understand.
He tried to keep the camera over his head. He got a big brawny hairy type carrying a stack of teevees under his arm, half a dozen twenty-inch sets almost an inch thick. The thief saw the camera facing him and the solenm face beneath, and he roared and lunged toward Jerryberry.
Jerryberry abruptly realized that there were people here who would not want to be photographed. The big man had dropped his teevees and was plowing toward him with murder on his face. Jerryberry had to drop his camera to get away. When he looked back, the big man was smashing the camera against a lamp post.
Idiot. The scene was on tape now, in the C.B.A. buildings in Los Angeles and in Denver.
The riot splashed outward. Jerryberry perforce went with it. He concentrated on keeping his feet.

-2-

The explosive growth of the mall riot has taken enforcement agencies by surprise. Police have managed to hold the perimeter and are letting people through the lines, but necessarily in small numbers.
The screen showed people being filtered through a police blockade, one at a time. They looked tired, stunned. One had two pockets full of stolen wristwatches. He did not protest when they confiscated the watches and led him away. A blank-eyed girl maintained a death grip on a rough wooden stick glued to a cardboard rectangle. The cardboard was crumpled and torn, the Day-Glo colors smeared.
Meanwhile all displacement booths in the area have been shut down from outside. The enclosed area includes fourteen city blocks. Viewers are warned away from the following areas.. . . These scenes were taken by C .B .A. helicopter.
Most of the street lights were out. Those left cast monstrous shadows through the mall. Orange flames flickered in the windows of a furniture store. Diminutive figures, angered by spotlights in the helicopter, pointed and shouted silently into the camera viewpoint. The deep, earnest voice went on: We are getting no transmissions from inside the affected area. A dozen C.B.A. newsmen and an undisclosed number of police in the area have not been heard from….
Many of the rioters are armed. A C.B .A. helicopter was shot down early today but was able to crash-land beyond the perimeter. Close shot of a helicopter smashed against a brick wall. Two men being carried out on stretchers, in obvious haste. The source of weapons is not known. Police conjecture that they may have been looted from Kerr’s Sport Shop, which has a branch in the mall.
How did it all start?
The square brown face looking out of the tridee screen was known throughout the English-speaking world. When news was good, that wide mouth would smile enormously, the filter cigarette in the middle of it smoldering delicately between white front teeth. It was not smiling now. That expression was more earnest; it was shaken.
Jerryberry Jansen looked back with no expression at all.
He had thrown away his camera and seen it destroyed. He had dropped his coin purse and ear mike into a trash can. Not being a newsman was a good idea during the mall riot. Now, an hour after the police had let him through, he was still wandering aimlessly. He had no goal. Almost, he had thrown away his identity.
He stood in front of an appliance-store window, watching teevee. The deep, precise voice of Wash Evans was audible through the glass-barely.
How did it all start?
Evans vanished, and Jerryberry watched scenes taken by his own camera. A milling crowd, mostly trying to get past a disturbance. . . a blue uniformed man, a brawny woman with a heavy purse… . The officer was trying to arrest a suspected shoplifter, who has not been identified, when this man appeared on the scene.
Picture of Jerryberry Jansen, camera held high, caught in the view of another C.B.A. camera.
Barry Jerome Jansen, a roving newstaper. It was he who reported the disturbance (The woman swung her purse. The policeman went down, his arms half-raised as if to hide his head.) and reported it as a riot, to this man. Bailey, at his desk in the C.B.A. building. Jerryberry twitched. Sooner or later he would have to report to Bailey. And explain where his camera had gone.
He’d picked up some good footage, and it was being used. A string of bonuses waiting for him. . . unless Bailey docked him for the cost of the camera.
George Lincoln Bailey sent in a crew to cover the disturbance. He also put the report on teevee, practically live, editing it as it came. At this point anyone with a teevee, anywhere in the United States, could see the violence being filmed by a dozen veteran C.B.A. newstapers.
The square dark face returned. And then it all blew up. The population of the mall expanded catastrophically, and they all started breaking things. Why? Wash Evans flashed a white grin with a cigarette in it. Well, it seems that there are people who like riots.
Jerryberry cocked his head. He had never heard it put quite like that.
Now, that seems silly. Who would want to be caught in a riot? Wash Evans had long, expressive fingers with pink nails. He began ticking off items on his fingers. First, more police, to stop what’s being reported as a riot. Second, more newstapers. Third, anyone who wants publicity. On the screen behind Wash Evans signs shot out of a sea of moving heads. A girl’s face swelled enormously, so close she seemed all mouth, and shrieked, „Legalize wireheading!“
Anyone with a cause. Anyone who wants the ear of the public. There are newsmen here, man! And cameras! And publicity!
Behind Evans the scene jumped. That was Angela Monk coming out of a displacement booth! Angela Monk, the semi-porno movie actress, very beautiful in a dress of loose-mesh net made from white braided yarn, very self-possessed in the split second before she saw what she’d flicked into. She tried to dodge back inside and to hell with the free coverage. A yell went up; hands pulled the door open before she could dial again; other hands pulled her out.
Then there are people who have never seen a riot in person. A lot of them came. What they think about it now is something else again.
Now, all of these might not be a big fat percentage of the public. How many people would be dumb enough to come watch a riot? But that little percentage, they all came at once, from all over the United States and some other places, too. And the more there were, the bigger the crowd got, the louder it got-the better it looked to the looters. Evans folded down his remaining finger. And the looters came from everywhere, too. These days you can get from anywhere to anywhere in three flicks.
Scenes shifted in Evans’s background. Store windows being smashed, a subdued wail of sirens. A C.B.A. helicopter thrashing bout in midair. An ape of a man carrying stolen tridees under one ann. Evans looked soberly out at his audience. So there you have it. An unidentified shoplifting suspect, a roving newsman who reported a minor disturbance as a riot- „Good God!“ Jerryberry Jansen was jolted completely awake.
„They’re blaming me!“
„They’re blaming me, too,‘ said George Bailey. He ran his hands through his hair, glossy shoulder-length white hair that grew in a fringe around a dome of suntanned scalp. „You’re second in the chain. I’m tired. If only they could find the woman who hit the cop!“
„They haven’t?“
„Not a sign of her. Jansen, you look like hell.“
„I should have changed suits. This one’s been through a riot.“ Jerryberry’s laugh sounded forced, and was. „I’m glad you waited. It must be way past your quitting time.“
„Oh, no. We’ve been in conference all night. We only broke up about twenty minutes ago. Damn Wash Evans anyway! Have you heard-“
„I heard some of it.“
„A couple of the directors want to fire him. Not unlike the ancient technique of using gasoline to put out a fire. There were some even wilder suggestions… . Have you seen a doctor?“
„I’m not hurt. Just bruised. . . and tired, and hungry, come to think of it. I lost my camera.“
„You’re lucky you got out alive.“
„I know.“
George Bailey seemed to brace himself. „I hate to be the one to tell you. We’re going to have to let you go, Jansen.“
„What? You mean fire me?“
„Yah. Public pressure. I won’t make it pretty for you. Wash Evans’s instant documentary has sort of torn things open. It seems you caused the mall riot. It would be nice if we could say we fired you for it.“
„But-but I didn’t!“
„Yes, you did. Think about it.“ Bailey wasn’t looking at him. „So did I. C.B.A. may have to fire me too.“
„Now-“ Jerryberry stopped and started over-„now wait a minute. If you’re saying what I think you’re saying. . . . but what about freedom of the press?“
„We talked about that, too.“
„I didn’t exaggerate what was happening. I reported a-a disturbance. When it turned into a riot, I called it a riot. Did I lie about anything? Anything?“
„Oh, in a way,“ Bailey said in a tired voice. „You’ve got your choice about where to point that camera. You pointed it where there was fighting, didn’t you? And I picked out the most exciting scenes. When we both finished, it looked like a small riot. Fighting everywhere! Then everyone who wanted to be in the middle of a small riot came flicking in, just like Evans said, and in thirty seconds we had a large riot.
„You know what somebody suggested? A time limit on news. A law against reporting anything until twenty-four hours after it happens. Can you imagine anything sillier? For ten thousand years the human race has been working to send news farther and faster, and now. . . . Oh, hell, Jansen, I don’t know about freedom of the press. But the riot’s still going on, and everyone’s blaming you. You’re fired.“
„Thanks.“ Jerryberry surged out of his chair on what felt like the last of his strength. Bailey moved just as fast, but by the time he got around the desk, Jerryberry was inside a booth, dialing.
He stepped out into a warm black night. He felt sick and miserable and very tired. It was two in the morning. His paper suit was torn and crumpled and clammy.
George Bailey stepped out of the booth behind him.
„Thought so. Now, Jansen, let’s talk sense.“
„How did you know I’d be here?“
„I had to guess you’d come straight home. Jansen, you won’t suffer for this. You may make money on it. C .B . A. wants an exclusive interview on the riot, your viewpoint. Thirty-five hundred bucks.“
„Screw that.“
„In addition, there’s two weeks‘ severance pay and a stack of bonuses. We used a lot of your tape. And when this blows over, I’m sure we’ll want you back.“
„Blows over, huh?“
„Oh, it will. News gets stale awfully fast these days. I know. Jansen, why don’t you want thirty-five hundred bucks?“
„You’d play me up as the man who started the mall riot. Make me more valuable.. . . Wait a minute. Who have you got in mind for the interview?“
„Who else?“
„Wash Evans!“
„He’s fair. You’d get your say.“ Bailey considered him. „Let me know if you change your mind. You’d have a chance to defend yourself, and you’d get paid besides.“
„No chance.“
„All right.“ Bailey went.

-3-

For Eric Jansen and his family, displacement booths came as a disaster.
At first he didn’t see it that way. He was twenty-eight (and Barry Jerome Jansen was three) when JumpShift, Inc., demonstrated the augmented tunnel diode effect on a lead brick. He watched it on television. He found the prospects exciting.
Eric Jansen had never worked for a salary. He wrote. Poetry and articles and a few short stories, highly polished, admired by a small circle of readers, sold at infrequent intervals to low-paying markets that he regarded as prestigious. His money came from inherited stocks. If he had invested in JumpShift then-but millions could tell that sad story. It was too risky then.
He was thirty-one when commercial displacement booths began to be sold for cargo transport. He was not caught napping. Many did not believe that the magic could work until suddenly the phenomenon was changing their world. But Eric Jansen looked into the phenomenon very carefully.
He found that there was an inherent limitation on the augmented tunnel diode effect. Teleportation over a difference in altitude made for drastic temperature changes: a drop of seven degrees Fahrenheit for every mile upward, and vice versa, due to conservation of energy. Conservation of momentum, plus the rotation of the Earth, put a distance limit on lateral travel. A passenger flicking east would find himself kicked upward by the difference between his velocity and the Earth’s. Flicking west, he would be slapped down. North and south, he would be kicked sideways.
Cargo and passenger displacement booths were springing up in every city in America, but Eric Jansen knew that they would always be restricted to short distances. Even a ten-mile jump would be bumpy. A passenger flicking halfway around the equator would have to land running-at half a mile per second.
JumpShift stock was sky-high. Eric Jansen decided it must be overpriced.
He considered carefully, then made his move.
He sold all of his General Telephone stock. If anyone wanted to talk to someone, he would just go, wouldn’t he? A displacement booth took no longer than a phone call.
He tried to sell his General Motors, wisely, but everyone else wisely made the same decision, and the price fell like a dead bird. At least he got something back on the stock he owned in motorcycle and motorscooter companies. Later he regretted that. It developed that people rode motorcycles and scooters for fun. Now, with the streets virtually empty, they were buying more than ever.
Still, he had fluid cash-and the opportunity to make a killing.
Airline stock had dropped with other forms of transportation. Before the general public could realize its mistake, Eric Jansen invested every dime in airlines and aircraft companies. The first displacement booths in any city were links to the airport. That lousy half-hour drive from the center of town, the heavy taxi fare in, were gone forever. And the booths couldn’t compete with the airlines themselves!
Of course you still had to check in early-and the planes took off only at specified times. .
What it amounted to was that plane travel was made easier, but shortdistance travel via displacement booth was infinitely easier (infinitely-try dividing any ten-minute drive by zero). And planes still crashed. Cassettes had copped the entertainment market, so that television was mostly news these days; you didn’t have to go anywhere to find out what was happening. Just turn on the TV.
A plane flight wasn’t worth the hassle.
As for the telephone stock, people still made long-distance calls. They tended to phone first before they went visiting. They would give out a phone-booth number, whereas they would not give out a displacement booth number.
The airlines survived, somehow, but they paid rock-bottom dividends. Barry Jerome Jansen grew up poor in the midst of a boom period. His father hated the displacement booths but used them, because there was nothing else.
Jerryberry accepted that irrational hatred as part of his father’s personality. He did not share it. He hardly noticed the displacement booths. They were part of the background. The displacement booths were the most important part of a newstaper’s life, and still he hardly noticed their existence.
Until the day they turned on him.

-4-

In the morning there were messages stored in his phone. He heard them out over breakfast.
Half a dozen news services and tapezines wanted exclusives on the riot. One call was from Bailey at C.B.A. The price had gone up to four thousand. The others did not mention price, but one was from Playboy.
That gave him furiously to think. Playboy paid high, and they liked unpopular causes.
Three people wanted to murder him. On two of them the teevee was blanked. The third was a graying dowdy woman, all fat and hate and disappointed hopes, who showed him a kitchen knife and started to tell him what she wanted to do with it. Jerryberry cut her off, shuddering. He wondered if any of them could possibly get hold of his displacement-booth number.
There was a check in the mail. Severance pay and bonuses from C .B .A. So that was that.
He was setting the dishes in the dishwasher when the phone rang. He hesitated, then decided to answer.
It was Janice Wolfe-a pretty oval face, brown eyes, a crown of long, wavy, soft brown hair-and not an anonymous killer. She lost her smile as she saw him. „You look grim. Could you use some cheering up?“
„Yes!“ Jerryberry said fervently. „Come on over. Apartment six, booth number-“
„I live here, remember?“
He laughed. He’d forgotten. You got used to people living anywhere and everywhere. George Bailey lived in Nevada; he commuted to work every morning in three flicks, using the long-distance displacement booths at Las Vegas and Los Angeles International Airports.
Those long-distance booths had saved the airlines-after his father had dribbled away most of his stocks to feed his family. They had been operating only two years. And come to think of it- Doorbell.
Over coffee he told Janice about the riot. She listened sympathetically, asking occasional questions to draw him out. At first Jerryberry tried to talk entertainingly, until he realized, first, that she wasn’t indulging in a spectator sport, and second, that she knew all about the riot already.
She knew he’d been fired, too. „That’s why I called. They put it on the morning news,“ she told him.
„It figures.“
„What are you going to do now?“
„Get drunk. Alone if have to. Would you like to spend a lost weekend with me?“
She hesitated. „You’ll be bitter.“
„Yah, I probably will. Not fit to live with. .. . Hey, Janice. Do you know anything about how the long-distance displacement booths work?“
„No. Should I?“
„The mall riot couldn’t have happened without the long-distance booths. That damn Wash Evans might at least have mentioned the fact. . . except that I only just thought of it myself. Funny. There hasn’t ever been a riot that happened that quick.“
„I’ll come with you,“ Janice decided.
„What? Good.“
„You don’t start drinking this early in the morning, do you?“
„I guess not. Are you free today?“
„Every day, during summer. I teach school.“
„Oh. So what’ll we do? San Diego Zoo?“ he suggested at random.
„Sounds like fun.“
They made no move to get up. It felt peaceful in Jerryberry’s tiny kitchen nook. There was still coffee.
„You could get a bad opinion of me this way. I feel like tearing things up.“
„Go ahead.“
„Mean it?“
„Me, too,“ she said serenely. „You need to tear things up. Fine, go ahead. After that you can try to put your life back together.“
„Just what kind of school do you teach?“
Janice laughed. „Fifth grade.“
There was quiet.
„You know what the punch line is? Wash Evans wants to interview me! After that speech he made!“
„That sounds like a good idea,“ she said surprisingly. „Gives you a chance to give your side of the story. You didn’t really cause the mall riot, did you?“
„No!. . . No. Janice, he’s just too damn good. He’d make mincemeat of me. By the time he got through I’d be The Man Who Caused the Mall Riot in every English-speaking country in the world, and some others, too, because he gets translations-“
„He’s just a commentator.“
Jerryberry started to laugh.
„He makes it look so easy,“ he said. „A hundred million eyes out there, watching him, and he knows it. Have you ever seen him self-conscious? Have you ever heard him at a loss for words? My dad used to say it about writing, but it’s true for Wash Evans. The hardest trick in the world is to make it look easy, so easy that any clod thinks he can do it just as well.
„Hell, I know what caused the mall riot. The news program, yes. He’s right, there. But the long-distance displacement booth did it, too. Control those, and we could stop that kind of riot from ever happening again.
But what could I tell Wash Evans about it? What do I know about displacement booths?“
„Well, what do you know?“
Jerryberry Jansen looked into his coffee cup for a long time. Presently he said, „I know how to find out things. I know how to find out who knows most about what and then go ask. Legwork. They hammered at it in the journalism classes. I know legwork.“
He looked up and met her eyes. Then he lunged across the table to reach the phone.

„Hello? Oh, hi, Jansen. Changed your mind?“
„Yes, but-“
„Good, good! I’ll put you through to-“
„Yes, but!“
„Oh. Okay, go ahead.“
„I want some time to do some research.“
„Now, damn it, Jensen, you know that time is just what we don’t have! Old news is no news. What kind of research?“
„Displacement booths.“
„Why that? Never mind; it’s your business. How much time?“
„How much can you afford?“
„Damn little.“
„Bailey, C.B.A. upped my price to four thousand this morning. How come?“
„You didn’t see it? It’s on every screen in the country. The rioters broke through the police line. They’ve got a good section of Venice now, and there are about twice as many of them, because the police didn’t shut down the displacement booths in the area until about twenty minutes too late. Twenty minutes!“ Bailey seemed actually to be grinding his teeth. „We held off reporting the breakthrough until they could do it. We did. A.B .S. reported it live on all stations. That’s where all the new rioters came from.“
„Then. . . it looks like the mall riot is going to last a little longer.“
„That it does. And you want more time. Things are working out, aren’t they?“ Then, „Sorry. Those A.B.S. bastards. How much time do you want?“
„As much as I can get. A week.“
„You’ve got to be kidding. You maybe can get twenty-four hours, only I can’t make the decision. Why don’t you talk to Evans himself?“
„Fine. Put him on.“
The teevee went on hold. Pale-blue flow patterns floated upward in what had become a twenty-inch Kaleidoscope. Waiting, Jerryberry said, „If this riot gets any bigger, I could be more famous than Hitler.“
Janice set his coffee beside him. She said, „Or Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.“
The screen came on. „Jansen, can you get over here right now? Wash Evans wants to talk to you in person.“
„Okay.“ Jerryberry clicked off. He felt a thrumming inside him. . . as if he felt the motion of the world, and the world were spinning faster and faster. Surely things were happening fast….
Janice said, „No lost weekend.“
„Not yet, love. Have you any idea what you’ve let me in for? I may not sleep for days. I’ll have to find out what teleportation is, what it does. Where do I start?“
„Wash Evans. You’d better get moving.“
„Right.“ He bolted his coffee in three swift gulps. „Thanks. Thanks for coming over, thanks for jarring me off the dime. We’ll see how it works out.“ He went, pulling on a coat.

Wash Evans was five feet four inches tall. People sometimes forgot that size was invisible in a teevee close-up. In the middle of a televised interview, when the camera was flashing back and forth between two angry faces, then the deep, sure voice and the dark, mobile, expressive face of Wash Evans could be devastatingly convincing.
Wash Evans looked up at Jerryberry Jansen and said, „I’ve been wondering if I owe you an apology.“
„Take your time,“ said Jerryberry. He finished buttoning his coat.
„I don’t. Fact is, I psyched out the mall riot as best I knew how, and I think I did it right. I didn’t tell the great unwashed public you caused it all. I just told it like it happened.“
„You left some things out.“
„All right, now we’ve got something to talk about. Sit down.“ They sat. Their faces were level now. Jerryberry said, „This present conversation is not for publication and is not to be considered an interview. I have an interview to sell. I don’t want to undercut myself.“
„I accept your terms on behalf of the network. We’ll give you a tape of this conversation.“
„I’m making my own.“ Jerryberry tapped his inside pocket, which clicked.
Wash Evans grinned. „Of course you are, my child. Now, what did I miss?“
„Displacement booths.“
„Well, sure. If the booths had been cut off earlier-“
„If the booths didn’t exist.“
„You’re kidding. No, you’re not. Jansen, that’s a wishing horse. Displacement booths are here to stay.“
„I know. But think about this. Newstapers have been around longer than displacement booths. Roving newstapers, like me – we’ve been using the booths since they were invented.“
„So?“
„Why didn’t the mall riot happen earlier?“
„I see what you mean. Hmm. The airport booths?“
„Jansen, are you actually going to face the great unwashed teevee public and tell them to give up long-distance displacement booths?“
„No. I… don’t know just what I have in mind. That’s why I want some time. I want to know more.“
„Uh-huh,“ said Evans, and waited.
Jerryberry said, „Turn it around. Are you going to try to talk the public into giving up news programs?“
„No. Maybe to put some restrictions on newstaping practices. We’re too fast these days. A machine won’t work without friction. Neither does a civilization. . . . But we’d ruin the networks, wouldn’t we?“
„You’d cut your own throat.“
„Oh, I’d be out.“ Evans mashed out a cigarette. „Take away the news broadcasts, and they wouldn’t have anything left to sell but educational teevee. Nothing to sell but toys and breakfast cereal. Jansen, I don’t know.“
„Good,“ said Jerryberry.
„You question my dispassionate judgment?“ Evans chuckled in his throat. „I’m on both sides. Suppose we do an interview live, at ten tonight. That’ll give you twelve hours-“
„Twelve hours!“
„That’s enough, isn’t it? You want to research teleportation. I want to get this in while people are still interested in the riot. Not just for the ratings, but because we both have something to say.“ Jerryberry tried to interrupt, but Evans overrode him. „We’ll advance you a thousand, and three more if we do the interview. Nothing if we don’t. That’ll get you back on time.“
Jerryberry accepted it. „One thing. Can you make Bailey forget to cancel my C.B.A. card for a while? I may have to do a lot of traveling.“
„I’ll tell him. I don’t know if he’ll do it.“

-5-

He flicked in at Los Angeles International, off-center in a long curved row of displacement booths: upright glass cylinders with rounded tops, no different from the booths on any street corner. On the opposite wall, a good distance away, large red letters said „TWA.“ He stood a moment, thinking. Then he dialed again.
He was home, at the Shady Rest. He dialed again.
He was near the end of the row – a different row, with no curve to it. And the opposite wall bore the emblem of United.
The terminal was empty except for one man in a blue uniform who was waxing the floor.
Jerryberry stepped out. For upwards of a minute he watched the line of booths. People flicked in at random. Generally they did not even look up. They would dial a long string of digits-sometimes making a mistake, snarling something, and starting over-and be gone. There were so many that the booths themselves seemed to be flickering.
He took several seconds of it on the Minox.
Beneath the United emblem was a long, long row of empty counters with scales between them, for luggage. The terminal was spotless-and empty, unused. Haunted by a constant flow of ghosts.
A voice behind him said, „You want something?“
„Is there a manager’s office?“
The uniformed man pointed down an enormous length of corridor. „The maintenance section’s down that way, where the boarding area used to be. I’ll call ahead, let them know you’re coming.“
The corridor was long, unnecessarily long, and it echoed. The walk was eating up valuable time. . . and then an open cart came from the other end and silently pulled up alongside him. A straight-backed old man in a one-button business lounger said, „Hello. Want a ride?“
„Thanks.“ Jerryberry climbed aboard. He handed over his C.B.A. credit card. „I’m doing some research for a-a documentary of sorts. What can you tell me about the long-distance booths?“
„Anything you like. I’m Nils Kjerulf. I helped install these booths, and I’ve been working on them ever since.“
„How do they work?“
„Where do I start? Do you know how a normal booth works?“
„Sure. The load isn’t supposed to exist at all between the two endpoints. Like the electron in a tunnel diode.“ An answer right out of the science section of any tapezine. Beyond that he could fake it.
This Nils Kjerulf was lean and ancient, with deep smile wrinkles around his eyes and mouth. His hair was thick and white. He said, „They had to give up that theory. When you’re sending a load to Mars, say, you have to assume that something exists in the ten minutes or so it takes the load to make the trip. Conservation of energy.“
„All right. What is it?“
„For ten minutes it’s a kind of superneutrino. That’s what they tell me. I’m not a physicist. I was in business administration in college. A few years ago they gave me a year of retraining so I could handle long-distance displacement machinery. If you’re really interested in theory, you ought to ask someone at Cape Canaveral. Here we are.“
Two escalators, one going up, one motionless. They rode up. Jerryberry asked, „Why didn’t they build closer? Think of all the walking we’d save.“
„You never heard a 707 taking off?“

„Sound is only part of it. If a plane ever crashed here, nobody would want it hitting all the main buildings at once.“
The escalator led to two semicircular chambers. One was empty but for a maze of chairs and couches and low partitions, all done in old chrome and fading orange. In the other the couches had been ripped out and replaced with instrument consoles. Jerryberry counted half a dozen men supervising the displays.
A dim snoring sound began somewhere, like an electric razor going in the next-door apartment. Jerryberry turned his head, seeking. It was outside. Outside, behind a wall of windows, a tiny single-engine plane taxied down a runway.
„Yes, we still function as an airport,“ said Nils Kjerulf. „Skydiving, sport flying, gliding. I fly some myself. The jumbo-jet pilots used to hate us; we use up just as much landing time as a 747. Now we’ve got the runways to ourselves.“
„I gather you were a manager somewhere.“
„Right here. I ran this terminal before anyone had heard of teleportation. I watched it ruin us. Thirty years, Mr. Jansen.“
„With no offense intended whatever, why did they train a professional administrator in quantum displacement physics? Why not the other way around?“
„There weren’t any experts where the long-distance booths were concerned, Mr. Jansen. They’re new.“
„What have you learned in two years? Do you still get many breakdowns?“
„We still do. Every two weeks or so, something goes out of synch. Then we go out of service for however long it takes to find it and fix it-usually about an hour.“
„And what happens to the passenger?“
Kjerulf looked surprised. „Nothing. He stays where he started-or rather, that giant neutrino we were talking about is reflected back to the transmitter if the receiver can’t pick it up. The worst thing that can happen is that the link to the velocity damper could be lost, in which case-but we’ve developed safeguards against that.
„No, the passengers just stop coming in, and we go out of service, and the other companies take the overflow. There isn’t any real competition between the companies anymore. What’s the point? T.W.A. and United and Eastern and the rest used to advertise that they had better meals in flight, more comfortable seats, prettier hostesses.. . like that. How long do you spend in a displacement booth? So when we converted over, we set the dialing system up so you just dial Los Angeles International or whatever, and the companies get customers at random. Everyone saves a fortune in advertising.“
„An antitrust suit-“
„Would have us dead to rights. Nobody’s done it, because there’s no point. It works, the way we run it. Each company has its own velocity shift damper. We couldn’t all get knocked out at once. In an emergency I think any of the companies could handle all of the long-distance traffic.“
„Mr. Kjerulf, what is a velocity shift damper?“
Kjerulf looked startled. Jerryberry said, „I took journalism.“
„Ah.“
„It’s not just curiosity. My dad lost a fortune on airline stock-“
„So did I,“ said Kjerulf, half-smiling with old pain.
„Oh?“
„Sometimes I feel I’ve sold out. The booths couldn’t possibly compete with the airlines, could they? They wouldn’t send far enough. Yet they ruined us.“
„My dad figured the same way.“
„And now the booths do send that far, and I’m working for them, or they’re working for me. There wasn’t all that much reason to build the long-distance systems at airports. Lots of room here, of course, and an organization already set up. . . but they really did it to save the airline companies.“
„A little late.“
„Perhaps. Some day they’ll turn us into a public utility.“ Kjerulf looked about the room, then called to a man seated near the flat wall of the semicircle. „Dan!“
„Yo!“ the man boomed without looking up.
„Can you spare me twenty minutes for a public-relations job?“
The man stood up, then climbed up on his chair. He looked slowly about the room. Jerryberry guessed that he could see every instrument board from where he was standing. He called, „Sure. No sweat.“

They took the cart back to the terminal. They entered a booth. Jerryberry inserted his C. B. A. credit card, then waited while Kjerulf dialed.
They were in a concrete building. Beyond large square windows a sunlit sea of blue water heaved and splashed, almost at floor level. Men looked around curiously, recognized Nils Kjerulf, and turned back to their work.
„Lake Michigan. And out there-“ Kjerulf pointed. Jerryberry saw a tremendous white mass, a flattened dome, very regular. A great softly rounded island. „-is the United Air Lines velocity damper. All of the dampers look about like that, but they float in different lakes or oceans. Aeroflot uses the Caspian Sea. The T.W.A. damper is in the Gulf of Mexico.“
„Just what is it?“
„Essentially it’s a hell of a lot of soft iron surrounded by a hell of a lot more foam plastic, enough to float it, plus a displacement-booth receiver feeding into the iron. Look, see it surge?“
The island rose several feet, slowly, then fell back as slowly. Ripples moved outward and became waves as they reached the station.
„That must have been a big load. Now, here’s how it works. You know that the rotation of the Earth puts a limit on how far you can send a load. If you were to shift from here to Rio de Janeiro, say, you’d flick in moving up and sideways-mainly up, because Rio and L.A. are almost the same distance from the equator.
„But with the long-distance booths, the receiver picks up the kinetic energy and shunts it to the United Air Lines velocity damper. That big mass of iron surges up or down or sideways until the water stops it-or someone flicks in from Rio and the damping body stops cold.“
Jerryberry thought about it. „What about conservation of rotation? It sounds like you’re slowing down the Earth.“
„We are. There’s nothing sacred about conservation of rotation, except that the energy has to go somewhere. There are pumps to send water through the damper bodies if they get too hot.“
Jerryberry pulled out the Minox. „Mind if I take some pictures?“
„No, go ahead.“
The Minox was a movie camera, but it would not have the resolution of a press camera. No matter. If he had the time he could comeback. . . not that he thought he would. He took shots of the men at work in the station, of Nils Kjerulf with his back to the windows. He shot almost a minute of the great white island itself. He was hoping it would surge; and presently it did, sinking sideways, surging up again. Waves beat at the station. A jet of white steam sprayed from the top of the great white mass.
„Good,“ he said briskly to himself. He folded the spidery tripod legs and dropped the camera in his pocket. He turned to Kjerulf, who had been watching the proceedings with some amusement. „Mr. Kjerulf, can you tell me anything about traffic control? Is there any?“
„How do you mean? Customs?“
„Not exactly.. . but tell me about customs.“
„The customs terminal in Los Angeles is at T.W.A. You haven’t been out of the country recently? No? Well, any big-city airport has a customs terminal. In a small country there’s likely to be just one. If you dial a number outside the country, any country, you wind up in somebody’s customs terminal. The booths there don’t have dials, you see. You have to cross the customs line to dial out.“
„Clever. Are there any restrictions on traffic within the United States?“
„No, you just drop your chocolate dollars in and dial. Unless it’s a police matter. If the police know that someone’s trying to leave the city they may set up a watch in the terminals. We can put a delay on the terminals to give a detective time to look at a passenger’s face and see if he’s who they want.“
„But nothing to stop passengers from coming in.“
„No, except that it’s possible to Kjerulf trailed off oddly, then finished, „…turn off any booth by remote control, from the nearest JumpShift maintenance system. What are you thinking of, the mall riot?“
There was no more to say. He left Nils Kjerulf in the United terminal in Los Angeles. He dialed for customs.

For several minutes Jerryberry watched them flicking in. There were two types:
The tourists came in couples, sometimes with a child or two. They flicked in looking interested and harried and a little frightened. Their clothing was outlandish and extraordinary. Before they left the booths, they would look about them mistrustfully. Sometimes they formed larger groups.
The businessmen traveled alone. They wore conservative or old-fashioned clothing and carried one suitcase: large or small, but one. They were older than the tourists. They moved with authority, walking straight out of the booths the moment they appeared.
At the barner: four men in identical dark suits with shield-shaped shoulder patches. Jerryberry was on the wrong side of the barrier to command their attention. He was thinking of dialing himself to Mexico and back when one of them noticed him and pegged him as a newstaper.
His name was Gregory Scheffer. Small and round and middle-aged, he perched on the wooden barner and clasped one knee in both hands. „Sure, I can talk a while. This isn’t one of the busy days. The only time these booths really get a workout is Christmas and New Year and Bastille Day and like that. Look around you,“ he said, waving a pudgy hand expansively.
„About four times as many incoming as there was six months ago. I used to want to search every bag that came through, just to be doing something. If we keep getting more and more of them this way, we’ll need twice as many customs people next year.“
„Why do you suppose-“
„Did you know that the long-distance booths have been operating for two solid years? It’s only in the last six months or so that we’ve started to get so many passengers. They had to get used to traveling again. Look around you; look at all this space. It used to be full before JumpShift came along. People have got out of the habit of traveling, that’s all there is to it. For twenty solid years. They have to get back into it.“
„Guess so.“ Jerryberry tried to remember why he was here. „Mr. Scheffer-“
„Greg.“
„Jerryberry. Customs‘ main job is to stop smuggling, isn’t it?“
„Well. . . it used to be. Now we only slow it down, and not very damn much. Nobody in his right mind would smuggle anything through customs. There are safer ways.“
„Oh?“
„Diamonds, for instance. Diamonds are practically indestructible. You could rig a cargo booth in Kansas to receive from. . . oh, there’s a point in the South Pacific to match anyplace in the United States: same longitude, opposite latitude. You don’t need a velocity damper if you put the boat in the right place. Diamonds? You could ship in Swiss watches that way. Though that’s pretty finicky. You’d want to pad them.“
„Good grief. You could smuggle anything you pleased, anywhere.“
„Just about. You don’t need the ocean trick. Say you rig a booth a mile south of the Canadian border, and another booth a mile north. That’s not much of a jump. You can flick further than that just in L.A. I think we’re obsolete,“ said Scheffer. „I think smuggling laws are obsolete. You won’t publish this?“
„I won’t use your name.“
„I guess that’s okay.“
„Can you get me over to the incoming booths? I want to take some pictures.“
„What for?“
„I’m not sure yet.“
„Let’s see some ID.“ Gregory Scheffer didn’t trust evasive answers. The incoming booths were in his jurisdiction. He studied the C.B.A. card for a few seconds and suddenly said, „Jansen! Mall riot!“
„Right!“
„What was it like?“
Jerryberry invested half a minute telling him. „So now I’m trying to find out how it got started. If there were some way to stop all of those people from pouring in like that-“
„You won’t find it here. Look, a dozen passengers and we’re almost busy. A thousand people suddenly pour through those booths, and what would we do? Hide under something, that’s what we’d do.“
„I still want to see the incoming booths.“
Scheffer thought it over, shrugged, and let him through. He stood at Jerryberry’s shoulder while Jerryberry used his eye and his camera.
The booth was just like a street-corner booth, except for the blank metal face where a dial would be. „I don’t know what’s underneath,“ Scheffer told him. „For all of me, it’s just like any other booth. How much work would it be to leave off the dial?“
Which made sense. But it was no help at all.

-6-

They tape the Tonight Show at two in the afternoon.
Twenty minutes into it, the first guest is lolling at his ease, just rapping, talking off the top of his head, ignoring the probable hundred million eyes behind the cameras. This is a valuable knack, and rare. Tonight’s first guest is a series hero in a science-fiction tapezine.
He is saying, „Have you ever seen a red tide? It’s thick down at Hermosa Beach. I was there this weekend. In the daytime it’s just dirty water, muddy-looking, and it smells. But at night…“
This enthusiasm that can reach through a teevee screen to touch fifty million minds, this enthusiasm is in no way artificial. He means it. He only expresses it better than most men. He leans forward in his chair; his eyes blaze; there is harsh tension in his voice. „The breakers glow like churning blue fire! Those plankton are fluorescent. And they’re all through the wet sand. Walk across it, it flashes blue light under your feet! Kick it, scuff your feet through it, it lights up. Throw a handful of sand, it flashes where it hits! This light isn’t just on the surface. Stamp your foot, you can see the structure of the sand by the way it flares. You’ve got to see it to believe it,“ he says.
They will run the tape starting at eight thirty tonight.

-7-

Standard booths: how standardized?
Who makes them besides JumpShaft? Monopoly? How extensive? Skip spaceflight?
Space exploration depended utterly on teleportation. But the subject was likely to be very technical and not very useful. He could gain time by skipping it entirely. Jerryberry considered, then turned the question mark into an exclamation point.
His twelve hours had become nine.
Of the half-dozen key clubs to which he belonged, the Cave des Roys was the quietest. A place of stone and wood, a good place to sit and think. The wall behind the bar was several hundred wine bottles in a cement matrix. Jerryberry looked into the strange lights in the glass, sipped occasionally at a silver fizz, and jotted down whatever occurred to him.
Sociology. What has teleportation done to society?
Cars.
Oil companies. Oil stocks. See back issues Wall Street Journal.
Watts riot? Chicago riot? He crossed that last one out. The Chicago riot had been political, hadn’t it? Then he couldn’t remember any other riots. They were too far in the past. He wrote:
Riot control. Police procedure.
Crime? The crime rate should have soared after displacement booths provided the instant getaway. Had it?
Sooner or later he was going to have to drop in at police headquarters. He’d hate that, but he might learn something. Likewise the library, for several hours of dull research. Then?
He certainly wasn’t going to persuade everybody to give up displacement booths:
He wrote: OBJECTIVE: Demonstrate that displacement booths imply instant riot. It’s a social problem. Solve it on that basis. For the sake of honesty he added, Get ‚em off my back. CROWDS. In minutes the mall had become a milling mass of men. But he’d seen crowds form almost as fast. It might happen regularly in certain places. After a moment’s thought he wrote. Tahiti. Jerusalem. Mecca. Easter Island. Stonehenge. Olduvai Gorge.
He stood up. Start with the phone calls.

„Doctor Robin Whyte,“ Jerryberry said to the phone screen. „Please.“
The receptionist at Seven Sixes was no sex symbol. She was old enough to be Jerryberry’s aunt, and handsome rather than beautiful. She heard him out with a noncommittal dignity that, he sensed, could turn glacial in an instant.
„Barry Jerome Jansen,“ he said carefully.
He waited on hold, watching dark-red patterns flow upward in the phone screen.
Key clubs were neither new nor rare. Some were small and local; others were chains, existing in a dozen or a hundred locations. Everyone belonged to a club; most people belonged to several.
But Seven Sixes was something else. Its telephone number was known universally. Its membership, large in absolute terms, was small for an organization so worldwide. It included presidents, kings, winners of various brands of Nobel prize. Its location was-unknown. Somewhere in Earth’s temperate zones. Jerryberry had never heard of its displacement booth number being leaked to anyone.
It took a special kind of gall for one of Jerryberry’s social standing to dial 666-6666. He had learned that gall in journalism class. Go to the source- no matter how highly placed; be polite, be prepared to wait, but keep trying, and never, never worry about wasting the great man’s time.
Funny: They still called it journalism, though newspapers had died. And the Constitution that had protected newspapers still protected „the press.“ For a while. But laws could change.

The screen cleared.
Robin Whyte the physicist had been a mature man of formidable reputation back when JumpShift first demonstrated teleportation. Today, twenty-five years later, he was the last living member of the team that had formed JumpShift. His scalp was pink and bare. His face was round and soft, almost without wrinkles, but slack, as if the muscles were tired. He looked like somebody’s favorite grandfather.
He looked Jerryberry Jansen up and down very thoroughly. He said, „I wanted to see what you looked like.“ He reached for the cutoff switch.
„I didn’t do it,“ Jerryberry said quickly.
Whyte stopped with his finger on the cutoff. „No?“
„I am not responsible for the mall riot. I hope to prove it.“
The old man thought it over. „And you propose to involve me? How?“
Jerryberry took a chance. „I think I can demonstrate that displacement booths and the mall riot are intimately connected. My problem is that I don’t know enough about displacement-booth technology.“
„And you want my help?“
„You invented the displacement booths practically single-handed,“ Jerryberry said straight-faced. „Instant riots, instant getaways, instant smuggling. Are you going to just walk away from the problem?“
Robin Whyte laughed in a high-pitched voice, his head thrown way back, his teeth white and perfect and clearly false. Jerryberry waited, wondering if it would work.
„All right,“ Whyte said. „Come on over. Wait a minute, what am I thinking? You can’t come to Seven Sixes. I’ll meet you somewhere. L’Orangerie, New York City. At the bar.“
The screen cleared before Jerryberry could answer. That was quick, he thought. And, Move, idiot. Get there before he changes his mind.

In New York it was just approaching cocktail hour. L’Orangerie was polished wood and dim lighting and chafing dishes of Swedish meatballs on toothpicks. Jerryberry captured a few to go with his drink. He had not had lunch yet.
Robin Whyte wore a long-sleeved gray one-piece with a collar that draped into a short cape, and the cape was all the shifting rainbow colors of an oil film. The height of fashion, except that it should have been skin-tight. It was loose all over, bagging where Whyte bagged, and it looked very comfortable. Whyte sipped at a glass of milk.
„One by one I give up my sins,“ he said. „Drinking was the last, and I haven’t really turned loose of it yet. But almost. That’s why your reverse salesmanship hooked me in. I’ll talk to anyone. What do I call you?“
„Barry Jerome Jansen.“
„Let me put it this way. I’m Robbie. What do I call you?“
„Oh. Jerryberry.“
Whyte laughed. „I can’t call anyone Jerryberry. Make it Barry.“
„God bless you, sir.“
„What do you want to know?“
„How big is JumpShift?“
„Ooohhh, pretty big. What’s your standard of measurement?“
Jerryberry, who had wondered if he was being laughed at, stopped wondering. „How many kinds of booth do you make?“
„Hard to say. Three, for general use. Maybe a dozen more for the space industry. Those are still experimental. We lose money on the space industry. We’d make it back if we could start producing drop-ships in quantity. We’ve got a ship on the drawing boards that would transmit itself to any drop-ship receiver.“
Jerryberry prompted him. „And three for general use, you said.“
„Yes. We’ve made over three hundred million passenger booths in the past twenty years. Then there’s a general-use cargo booth. The third model is a tremendous portable booth for shipping really big, fragile cargoes. Like a prefab house or a rocket booster or a live sperm whale. You can set the thing in place almost anywhere, using three strap-on helicopter setups. I didn’t believe it when I saw it.“ Whyte sipped at his milk. „You’ve got to remember that I’m not in the business anymore. I’m still chairman of the board, but a bunch of younger people give most of the orders, and I hardly ever get into the factories.“
„Does JumpShift have a monopoly on displacement booths?“
He saw the Newstaper! reaction, a tightening at Whyte’s eyes and lips. „Wrong word,“ Jerryberry said quickly. „Sotty. What I meant was, who makes displacement booths? I’m sure you make most of the passenger booths in the United States.“
„All of them. It’s not a question of monopoly. Anyone could make his own booths. Any community could. But it would be hideously expensive. The cost doesn’t drop until you’re making millions of them. So suppose. . . Chile, for instance. Chile has less than a million passenger booths, all JumpShift model. Suppose they had gone ahead and made their own. They’d have only their own network, unless they built a direct copy of some other model. All the booths in a network have to have the same volume.“
„Naturally.“
„In practice there are about ten networks worldwide. The U.S.S.R. network is the biggest by far. I think the smallest is Brazil-“
„What happens to the air in a receiver?“
Whyte burst out laughing. „I knew that was coming! It never fails.“ He sobered. „We tried a lot of things. It turns out the only practical solution is to send the air in the receiver back to the transmitter, which means that every transmitter has to be a receiver, too.“
„Then you could get a free ride if you knew who was about to flick in from where, when.“
„Of course you could, but would you want to bet on it?“
„I might, if I had something to smuggle past customs.“
„How do you mean?“
„I’m just playing with ideas. The incoming booths at customs are incoming because there’s no way to dial out-“
„I remember. Type Is with the dials removed.“
„Okay. Say you wanted to smuggle something into the country. You flick to customs in Argentina. Then a friend flicks from California to Argentina, into your booth. You wind up in his booth, in California, and not behind the customs barrier.“
„Brilliant,“ said Whyte. „Unfortunately there’s a fail-safe to stop anyone from flicking into an occupied booth.“
„Sorry,“ Whyte said, grinning. „What do you care? There are easier ways to smuggle. Too many. I’m not really sorry. I’m a laissez-faire man myself.“
„I wondered if you could do something with dials to stop another mall riot.“
Whyte thought about it. „Not by taking the dials off. If you wanted to stop a riot, you’d have to stop people from coming in. Counters on the booths, maybe.“
„What was it like, Barry?“
„Crowded. Like a dam broke. The law did shut the booths down from outside, but not fast enough. Maybe that’s the answer. Cut out the booths at the first sign of trouble.“
„We’d get a lot of people mad at us.“
„You would, wouldn’t you?“
„Like the power brownouts in the seventies and eighties. Or like obscene telephone calls. You couldn’t do anything about them, except get more and more uptight. . . readier to smash things. . . . That’s why riots happen, Barry. People who are a little bit angry all the time.“
„Oh?“
„All the riots I remember.“ Whyte smiled. „There haven’t been any for a long time. Give JumpShift some credit for that. We stopped some of the things that kept everyone a little bit angry all the time. Smog. Traffic jams. Slow mail. Slum landlords; you don’t have to live near your job or your welfare office or whatever. Job hunting. Crowding. Have you ever been in a traffic jam?“
„Maybe when I was a little boy.“
„Friend of mine was a college professor for a while. His problem was he lived in the wrong place. Five days a week he would spend an hour driving to work-you don’t believe me?-and an hour and a quarter driving home, because traffic was heavier then. Eventually he gave it up to be a writer.“
„Gawd, I should hope so!“
„It wasn’t even that rare,“ Whyte said seriously. „It was rough if you owned a car, and rougher if you didn’t. JumpShift didn’t cause riots; we cured them.“
And he seemed to wait for Jerryberry‘ s agreement.
Silence stretched long enough to become embarrassing… yet the only thing Jerryberry might have said to break it was „But what about the mall riot?“ He held his peace.
„Drain that thing,“ Whyte said abruptly. „I’ll show you.“
„Show me?“
„Finish that drink. We’re going places.“ Whyte drank half a glass of milk in three gulps, his Adam’s apple bobbing. He lowered the glass. „Well?“
„Ready.“

On Madison Avenue the sunset shadows ran almost horizontally along the glass faces of buildings. Robin Whyte stepped out of L’Orangerie and turned right. Four feet away, a displacement booth.
In the booth he blocked the hand Jerryberry would have used to insert his C.B.A. card. „My treat. This was my idea. . . . Anyway, some of these numbers are secret.“ He inserted his own card and dialed three numbers.
Twice they saw rows of long-distance booths. Then it was bright sunlight and sea breeze. Far out beyond a sandy beach and white waves, a great cylinder with a rounded top rose high out of the water. Orange letters on the curved metal flank read: „JUMPSHIP FRESHWATER TRANSPORT.“
„I could take you out in a boat,“ said Whyte. „But it would be a waste of time. You wouldn’t see much. Nothing but vacuum inside. You know how it works?“
„Sure.“
„Teleportation was like laser technology. One big breakthrough and then a thousand ways to follow up on it. We spent twelve solid years building continuous teleport pumps for various municipalities to ship fresh water in various directions. When all the time the real problem was getting the fresh water, not moving it.
„Do you know how we developed this gimmick? My secretary dreamed it up one night at an office party. She was about half smashed, but she wrote it down, and the next morning we all took turns trying to read her handwriting. . . .Well, never mind. It’s a simple idea. You build a tank more put the teleport pump in the top. You teleport the air out. When the air goes, the seawater boils. From then on you’re teleporting cold water-vapor. It condenses wherever you ship it, and you get fresh water. Want to take pictures?“
„I do.“
„Then let’s look at the results,“ Whyte said, and dialed.

Now it was even brighter. The booth was backed up against a long wooden building. Far away was a white glare of salt flats, backed by blue ghosts of mountains. Jerryberry blinked and squinted. Whyte opened the door.
Jerryberry said, „Whoooff!“
„Death Valley. Hot, isn’t it?“
„Words fail me at a time like this, but I suggest you look up the dictionary definition of blast furnace.“ Jerryberry felt perspiration start as a rippling itch all over him. „I’m going to pretend I’m in a sauna. Why doesn’t anyone ever put displacement booths inside?“
„They did for a while. There were too many burglaries. Let’s go around back.“
They walked around the dry wooden building… and into an oasis. Jerryberry was jarred. On one side of the building, the austere beauty of a barren desert. On the other was a manicured forest: rows and rows of trees.
„We can grow damn near anything out here. We started with date palms, went to orange and grapefuit trees, pineapples, a lot of rice paddies, mangoes-anything that grows in tropic climates will grow here, as long as you give it enough water.“
Jerryberry had already noticed the water tower. It looked just like the transmitter. He said, „And the right soil.“
„Well, yes. Soil isn’t that good in Death Valley. We have to haul in too much fertilizer.“ Rivulets of perspiration ran down Whyte’s cheeks. His soft face looked almost stern. „But the principle holds. With teleportation, men can live practically anywhere. We gave people room. A man can work in Manhattan or Central Los Angeles or Central Anywhere and live in- in-“
„Nevada.“
„Or Hawaii! Or the Grand Canyon! Crowding caused riots. We’ve eliminated crowding-for a while, anyway. At the rate we’re going we’ll still wind up shoulder to shoulder, but not until you and I are both dead.“
Jerryberry considered keeping his mouth shut but decided he didn’t have the willpower. „What about pollution?“
„What?“
„Death Valley used to have an ecology as unique as its climate. What’s your unlimited water doing to that?“
„Ruining it, I guess.“
„Hawaii, you said. Grand Canyon. There are laws against putting up apartment buildings in national monuments, thank God. Hawaii probably has the population density of New York by now. Your displacement booths can put men anywhere, right? Even places they don’t belong.“
„Well, maybe they can,“ Whyte said slowly. „Pollution. Hmm. What do you know about Death Valley?“.
„It’s hot.“ Jerryberry was wet through.
„Death Valley used to be an inland sea. A salt sea. Then the climate changed, and all the water went away. What did that do to the ecology?“
Jerryberry scratched his head. „A sea?“
„Yes, a sea! And drying it up ruined one ecology and started another, just like we’re doing. But never mind that. I want to show you some things. Pollution, huh?“ Whyte’s grip on Jerryberry’s arm was stronger than it had any right to be.
Whyte was angry. In the booth he froze, with his brow furrowed and his forefinger extended. Trying to remember a number. Then he dialed in trembling haste.
He dialed two sequences. Jerryberry saw the interior of an airline terminal, then-dark.
„Oh, damn. I forgot it would be night here.“
„Where are we?“
„Sahara Desert. Rudolph Hill Reclamation Project. No, don’t go out there; there’s nothing to see at night. Do you know anything about the project?“
„You’re trying to grow a forest in the middle of the Sahara: trees, leaf-eating molds, animals, the whole ecology.“ Jerryberry tried to see out through the glass. Nothing. „How’s it working?“
„Well enough. If we can keep it going another thirty years, this part of the Sahara should stay a forest. Do you think we’re wiping out another ecology?“
„Well, it’s probably worth it here.“
„The Sahara used to be a lush, green land. It was men who turned it into a desert, over thousands of years, mainly through overgrazing. We’re trying to put it back.“
„Okay,“ said Jerryberry. He heard Whyte dialing. Through the glass he could now see stars and a horizon etched with treetop shadows.
He squinted against airport-terminal lights. He asked, „How did we get through customs?“
„Oh, the Hill project is officially United States territory.“ Whyte swung the local directory out from the wall and leafed through it before dialing a second time. „Some day you’ll make any journey by dialing two numbers,“ he was saying. „Why should you have to dial your local airport first? Just dial a long-distance booth near your destination. Of course the change-over will cost us considerable. Here we are.“
Bright sunlight, sandy beach, blue sea stretching to infinity. The booth was backed up against a seaside hotel. Jerryberry followed Whyte, whose careful, determined stride took him straight toward the water.
They stopped at the edge. Tiny waves brushed just to the tips of their shoes.
„Carpintena. They advertise this beach as the safest beach in the world. It’s also the dullest, of course. No waves. Remember anything about Carpinteria, Barry?“
„I don’t think so.“
„Oil-slick disaster. A tanker broke up out there, opposite Santa Barbara, which is up the coast a little. All of these beaches were black with oil. I was one of the volunteers working here to save the birds, to get the oil off their feathers. They died anyway. Almost fifty years ago, Barry.“
Part of a history lesson floated to the top of his mind. „I thought that happened in England.“
„There were several oil-slick disasters. Almost I might say, there were many. These days we ship oil by displacement booths, and we don’t use anything like as much oil.“
„No cars.“
„No oil wells, practically.“
They shifted.

From an underwater dome they gazed out at an artificial reef made from old car bodies. The shapes seemed to blend, their outlines obscured by mud and time and swarming fish. Bent and twisted metal bodies had long since rusted away, but their outlines remained, held by shellfish living and dead. Ghosts of cars, the dashboards and upholstery showing through. An occasional fiber-glass wreck showed as if it had been placed yesterday.
The reef went on and on, disappearing into gray distance.
All those cars.

„People used to joke about the East River catching fire and burning to the ground. It was that dirty,“ said Whyte. „Now look at it.“
Things floated by: wide patches of scum, with plastic and metal objects embedded in them. Jerryberry said, „It’s pretty grubby.“
„Maybe, but it’s not an open sewer. Teleportation made it easier to get rid of garbage.“
„I guess my trouble is I never saw anything as dirty as you claim it was. Oil slicks. Lake Michigan. The Mississippi.“ Maybe you’re exaggerating. „Just what has teleportation done for garbage collection?“
„There are records. Pictures.“
„But even with your wonderful bottomless garbage cans, it must be easier just to dump it in the river.“
„Ahh, I guess so.“
„And you still have to put the gupp somewhere after you collect it.“
Whyte was looking at him oddly. „Very shrewd, Barry. Let me show you the next step.“

* * *

Whyte kept his hand covered as he dialed. „Secret,“ he said. „JumpShift experimental laboratory. We don’t need a lot of room, because experiments with teleportation aren’t particularly dangerous. …“
but there was room, lots of it. The building was a huge inflated Quonset hut. Through the transparent panels Jerryberry could see other buildings, set wide apart on bare dirt. The sun was 45 degrees up. If he had known which way was north, he could have guessed longitude and latitude.
A very tall, very black woman in a lab smock greeted Whyte with glad cries. Whyte introduced her as „Gemini Jones, Phd.“
„Gem, where do you handle disposal of radioactive waste?“
„Building Four.“ The physicist’s hair exploded around her head like a black dandelion, adding unnecessary inches to her height. She looked down at Jerryberry with genial curiosity. „Newstaper?“

„Don’t ever try to fool anyone. The eyes give you away.“
They took the booth to Building Four. Presently they were looking down through several densities of leaded glass into a cylindrical metal chamber.
„We get a package every twenty minutes or so,“ said Gem Jones. „There’s a transmitter linked to this receiver in every major power plant in the United States. We keep the receiver on all the time. If a package gets reflected back, we have to find out what’s wrong, and that can get hairy, because it’s usually wrong at the drop-ship.“
Jerryberry said, „Drop-ship?“
Gemini Jones showed surprise at his ignorance. Whyte said, „Backup a bit, Barry. What’s the most dangerous garbage ever?“
„Give me a hint.“
„Radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants. Most dangerous per pound, anyway. They send those wastes here, and we send them to a drop-ship. You’ve got to know what a drop-ship is.“
„Of course I-“
„A drop-ship is a moving teleport receiver with one end open. Generally it’s attached to a space probe. The payload flicks in with a velocity different from that of the drop-ship. Of course it’s supposed to come tearing out the open end, which means somebody has to keep it turned right. And of course the drop-ship only operates in vacuum.“
„Package,“ Gem Jones said softly. Something had appeared in the metal chamber below. It was gone before Jerryberry could quite see what it was.
„Just where is your drop-ship?“
„Circling Venus,“ said Whyte. „Originally it was part of the second Venus expedition. You can send anything through a drop-ship: fuel, oxygen, food, water, even small vehicles. There are drop-ships circling every planet in the solar system, except Neptune.
„When the Venus expedition came home, they left the drop-ship in orbit. We thought at first that we might send another expedition through it, but-face it, Venus just isn’t worth it. We’re using the planet as a garbage dump, which is about all it’s good for.
„Now, there’s no theoretical reason we can’t send unlimited garbage through the Venus drop-ship, as long as we keep the drop-ship oriented right. Many transmitters, one receiver. The payload doesn’t stay in the receiver more than a fraction of a second. If it did get overloaded, why, some of the garbage would be reflected back to the transmitter, and we’d send it again. No problem.“
„What about cost?“
„Stupendous. Horrible. Too high for any kind of garbage less dangerous than this radioactive stuff. But maybe we can bring it down someday.“ Whyte stopped; he looked puzzled. „Mind if I sit down?“
There were fold-up chairs around a card table with empty pop bulbs on it. Whyte sat down rather disturbingly hard, even with Gem Jones trying to support his weight. She asked, „Can I get Doctor Janesko?“
„No, Gem, just tired. Is there a pop machine?“
Jerryberry found the pop machine. He paid a chocolate dollar for a clear plastic bulb of cola. He turned and almost bumped into Gemini Jones.
She spoke low, but there was harsh intensity in her voice. „You’re running him ragged. Will you lay off of him?“
„He’s been running me!“ Jerryberry whispered.
„I believe it. Well, don’t let him run you so fast. Remember, he’s an old man.“
Whyte pulled the cola bulb open and drank. „Better.“ He sighed. . . and was back in high gear. „Now, you see? We’re cleaning up the world. We aren’t polluters.“
„Right.“
„Thank you.“
„I never should have raised the subject. What have you got for the mall riot?“
Whyte looked confused.
„The mall riot is still going on, and they’re still blaming me.“
„And you still blame JumpShift.“
„It’s a matter of access,“ Jerryberry said patiently. „Even if only ten men in a million, say, would loot a store, given the opportunity, that’s still about four thousand people in the United States. And all four thousand can get to the Santa Monica Mall in the time it takes to dial twenty-one digits.“
When Whyte spoke again, he sounded bitter. „What are we supposed to do, stop inventing things?“
„No, of course not.“ Jerryberry pulled open another bulb of cola.
„What, then?“
„I don’t know. Just. . . keep working things out.“ He drank. „There’s always another problem behind the one you just solved. Does that mean you should stop solving problems?“
„Well, let’s solve this one.“
They sat sipping cola. It was good to sit down. The old man’s running me ragged, thought Jerryberry.
„Crowds,“ he said.
„Right.“
„You can make one receiver for many transmitters. In fact. . . every booth in a city receives from any other booth. Can you make a booth that transmits only?“
Whyte looked up. „Sure. Give it an unlisted number. Potentially it would still be a receiver, of course.“
„Because you have to flick the air back to the transmitter.“
„How’s this sound? You can put an E on the booth number. The only dials with E’s in them are at police stations and fire stations. E for Emergency.“
„All right. Now, you put a lot of these escape booths wherever a crowd might gather-“
„That could be anywhere. You said so yourself.“
Yah.
„We’d have to double the number of booths in the country.. . or cut the number of incoming booths in half. You’d have to walk twice as far to get where you’re going from any given booth. Would it be worth it?“
„I don’t think this is the last riot,“ said Jerryberry. „It’s growing. Like tourism. Your short-hop booths cut tourism way down. The long-distance booths are bringing it back, but slowly. Would you believe a permanent floating riot? A mob that travels from crowd to crowd, carrying coin purses, looting where they can.“
„I hate that idea.“
Jerryberry put his hand on the old man’s shoulder. „Don’t worry about it. You’re a hero. You made a miracle. What people do with it isn’t your fault. Maybe you even saved the world. The pollution was getting very rough before JumpShift came along.“
„By God, it was.“
„I’ve got to be going. There are things I want to see before I run out of time.“

-8-

Tahiti. Jerusalem. Mecca. Easter Island. Stonehenge. The famous places of the world. Places a man might dial almost on impulse. Names that came unbidden to the mind.
Mecca. Vast numbers of Muslims (a number he could look up later) bowed toward Mecca five times a day. The Koran called for every Muslim to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. The city’s only industry was the making of religious articles. And you could get there just by dialing….
Jerusalem. Sacred to three major religions. Jews still toasted each other at Passover: „Next year in Jerusalem.“ Still a forming ground of history after thousands of years. And you could get there just by dialing….
Stonehenge. An ancient mystery. What race erected those stones, and when and why? These would never be known with certainty. From the avenue at the northeast entrance a path forked and ran up a hill between burial mounds. . . and there was a long-distance displacement booth on the hill.
It would be eleven at night in Stonehenge. One in the morning in Mecca and Jerusalem. No action there. Jerryberry crossed them out.
Eiffel Tower, the pyramids, the Sphinx, the Vatican. . . dammit, the most memorable places on Earth were all in the same general area. What could he see at midnight?
Well- Tahiti. Say „tropical paradise,“ and every stranger in earshot will murmur, „Tahiti.“ Once Hawaii had had the same reputation, but Hawaii was too close to civilization. Hawaii had been civilized. Tahiti, isolated in the southern hemisphere, might have escaped that fate.
Everything lurched as he finished dialing. Jerryberry stumbled against the booth wall. Briefly he was terrified. But he’d be dead if the velocity transfer had failed. It must be a little out of synch.
He knew too much, that was all.
There were six booths of different makes this side of customs. The single official had a hopeless look. He waved through a constant stream of passengers without seeming to see them.
Jerryberry moved with the stream.
They were mostly men. Many had cameras; few had luggage. English, American, French, German, some Spanish and U.S.S.R. Most were dressed lightly-and poorly, in cheap clothes ready to come apart. They swarmed toward the outgoing booths, the rectangular Common Market booths with one glass side. Jerryberry saw unease and dismay on many faces. Perhaps it was the new, clean, modem building that bothered them. This was an island paradise? Air conditioning. Fluorescent lighting.
Jerryberry stood in line for the phone. Then he found that it wouldn’t take his coin or his credit card. On his way to the change counter he thought to examine the displacement booths. They took only French money. He bought a heavy double handful of coins, then got back in line for the phone.
They have to get used to traveling again. Right on.
The computerized directory spoke English. He used it to get a string of booth numbers in downtown Papeete.

* * *

He was a roving newstaper again. Dial, watch the scene flick over, look around while inserting a coin and dialing. The coin slot was in the wrong place, and the coins felt wrong-too big, too thin-and the dial was a disk with holes in it. A little practice had him in the routine.
There was beach front lined with partly built hotels in crazily original shapes. Of all the crowds he saw in Papeete, the thickest were on the beaches and in the water. Later he could not remember the color of the sand; he hadn’t seen enough of it.
Downtown he found huge blocks of buildings faced in glass, some completed, some half built. He found old slums and old mansions. But wherever the streets ran, past mansions or slums or new skyscrapers, he found tents and leantos and board shacks hastily nailed together. They filled the streets, leaving small clear areas around displacement booths and public rest rooms and far more basic portable toilets. An open-air market ran for several blocks and was closed at both ends by crowds of tents. The only way in or out was by booth.
They’re ahead of us, thought Jerryberry. When you’ve got booths, who needs streets? He was not amused. He was appalled.
There were beggars. At first he was moving too fast; he didn’t realize what they were doing. But wherever he flicked in, one or two habitants immediately came toward his booth. He stopped under a vertical glass cliff of a building, where the tents of the squatters ran just to the uppermost of a flight of stone steps, and waited.
Beggars. Some were natives, men and women and children, uniform in their dark-bronze color and in their dress and their speech and the way they moved. They were a thin minority. Most were men and white and foreign. They came with their hands out, mournful or smiling; they spoke rapidly in what they guessed to be his language, and were right about half the time.
He tried several other numbers. They were everywhere.
Tahiti was a white man’s daydream.
Suddenly he’d had enough. On his list of jotted numbers was one that would take him out of the city. Jerryberry dialed it.

Air puffed out of the booth when he opened the door. Jerryberry opened his jaws wide to pop his ears.
The view! He was near the peak of a granite mountain. Other mountains marched away before him, and the valleys between were green and lush. Greens and yellows and white clouds, the blue-gray of distant peaks, and beyond everything else, the sea.
It was a bus terminal. An ancient Greyhound was just pulling out. The driver stopped alongside him and shouted something amiable in French. Jerryberry smiled and shook his head violently. The driver shrugged and pulled away.
This could not have been the original terminal. Before displacement booths it could have been reached only after hours of driving. In moving the terminal up here, the touring company had saved the best for first and last.
The bus had looked full. Business was good.
Jerryberry stood for a long time, drinking in the view. This was the beauty that had made Tahiti famous. It was good to know that Tahiti’s population explosion had left something intact.
In good time he remembered that he was running on a time limit. He walked around to the ticket window.
The young man in the booth laid a paperback book face down. He smiled agreeably. „Yes?“
„Do you speak English?“
„Certainly.“ He wore a kind of uniform, but his features and color were those of a Tahitian. His English was good, the accent not quite French. „Would you like to buy a tour ticket?“
„No, thanks. I’d like to talk, if you have a minute.“
„What would you like to talk about?“
„Tahiti. I’m a newstaper.“
The man’s smile drooped a bit. „And you wish to give us free publicity.“
„Something like that.“
The smile was gone. „You may return to your country and tell them that Tahiti is full.“
„I noticed that. I have just come from Papeete.“
„I have the honor to own a house in Papeete, a good property. We, my family and myself, we have been forced to move out! There was no-no paysage-“ he was too angry to talk as fast as he wanted-„no passage from the house to anyplace. We were surrounded by the tents of the-“ He used a word Jerryberry did not recognize. „We could not buy an instant motion booth for the house. I had not the money. We could not have moved the booth to the house because the-„that word again-„blocked the streets. The police can do nothing. Nothing.“
„Why not?“
„There are too many. We are not monsters; we cannot simply shoot them. It would be the only way to stop them. They come without money or clothing or a place to stay. And they are not the worst. You will tell them this when you return?“
„I’m recording,“ said Jerryberry.
„Tell them that the worst are those with much money, those who build hotels. They would turn our island into an enormous hotel! See!“ He pointed where Jerryberry could not have seen himself, down the slope of the mountain. „The Playboy Club builds a new hotel below us.“
Jerryberry looked down to temporary buildings and a great steel box with helicopter rotors on it. He filmed it on the Minox, then filmed a panoramic sweep of the mountains beyond, and finished with the scowling man in the ticket booth.
„Squatters,“ the ticket-taker said suddenly. „The word I wanted. The squatters are in my house now, l am sure of it, in my house since we moved out. Tell them we want no more squatters.“
„I’ll tell them,“ said Jerryberry.
Before he left, he took one more long look about him. Green valleys, gray-blue mountains, distant line of sea…but his eyes kept dropping to the endless stream of supplies that poured from the Playboy Club’s Type of cargo booth.

Easter Island. Tremendous, long-faced, solemn stone statues with topknots of red volcanic tuff. Cartoons of the statues were even more common than pictures („Shut up until those archaeologists leave,“ one statue whispers to another), and even pictures can only hint at their massive solemnity. But you could get there just by dialing.
Except that the directory wouldn’t give him a booth number for Easter Island.
Surely there must be booth travel to Easter Island. Mustn’t there? But how eager would the Peruvian government be to see a million tourists on Easter Island?
The other side of the coin. Displacement booths made any place infinitely accessible, but only if you moved a booth in. Jerryberry was grinning with delight as he dialed Los Angeles International. There was a defense.

-9-

At the police station on Purdue Avenue he couldn’t get anyone to talk to him.
The patience of a newstaper was unique in a world of instant transportation. He kept at it. Eventually a deskman stopped long enough to tell him, „Look, we don’t have time. Everybody’s out cleaning up the mall riot.“
„Cleaning up? Is it over?“
„Just about. We had to move in old riot vehicles from Chicago. I guess we’ll have to start building them again. But it’s over.“
„Good!“
„Too right. I don’t mean to say we got them all. Some looters managed to jury-rig a cargo booth in the basement of Penney’s. They moved their loot out that way and then got out that way themselves. We’re going to hate it the next time they show up. They’ve got guns now.“
„A permanent floating riot?“
„Something like that. Look, I don’t have time to talk.“ And he was back on the phone.
The next man Jerryberry stopped recognized him at once. „You’re the man who started it all! Will you get out of my way?“
Jerryberry left.

* * *

Sunset on a summer evening. It was cocktail hour again. . . three and a half hours later.
Jerryberry felt unaccountably dizzy outside the police station. He rested against the wall. Too much change. Over and over again he had changed place and time and climate. From evening in New York to a humid seacoast to the dry furnace of Death Valley to night in the Sahara. It was hard to remember where he was. He had lost direction.
When he felt better, he shifted to the Cave des Roys.
For each human being there is an optimum ratio between change and stasis. Too little change, he grows bored. Too little stability, he panics and loses his ability to adapt. One who marries six times in ten years will not change jobs. One who moves often to serve his company will maintain a stable marriage. A woman chained to one home and family may redecorate frantically or take a lover or go to many costume parties.
Displacement booths make novelty easy. Stability comes hard. For many the clubs were an element of stability. Many key clubs were chains; a man could leave his home in Wyoming and find his club again in Denver. Members tended to resemble one another. A man changing roles would change clubs.
Clubs were places to meet people, as buses and airports and even neighborhoods no longer were. Some clubs were good for pickups („This card gets me laid“), others for heavy conversation. At the Beach Club you could always find a paddle-tennis game.
The Cave was for quiet and stability. A quick drink and the cool darkness of the Cave’s bar were just what Jerryberry needed. He looked into the lights in the wall of bottles and tried to remember a name. When it came, he jotted it down, then finished his drink at leisure.

Harry McCord had been police chief in Los Angeles for twelve years and had been on the force for far longer. He had retired only last year. The computer-directory took some time to find him. He was living in Oregon.
He was living in a small house in the middle of a pine forest. From McCord’s porch Jerryberry could see the dirt road that joined him to civilization. It seemed to be fading away in weeds. But the displacement booth was new.
They drank beer on the porch. „Crime is a pretty general subject,“ said Harry McCord.
„Crime and displacement booths,“ said Jerryberry. „I want to know how your job was affected by the instant getaway.“
Jerryberry waited.
„Pretty drastically, I guess. The booths came in. . . when? Nineteen ninety? But they came slowly. We had a chance to get used to them. Let’s see; there were people who put displacement booths in their living rooms, and when they got robbed, they blamed us“. McCord talked haltingly at first, then gaining speed. He had always been something of a public figure. He talked well.
Burglary: The honors were even there. If the house or apartment had an alarm, the police could be on the scene almost instantly. If the burglar moved fast enough to get away, he certainly wouldn’t have time to rob his target.
There were sophisticated alarms now that would lock the displacement booth door from the inside. Often that held the burglar up just long enough for the police to shift in. At opposite extremes of professionalism, there were men who could get through an alarm system without setting it off-in which case there wasn’t a hope in hell of catching them after they’d left-and men who had been caught robbing apartment houses because they’d forgotten to take corns for the booth in the lobby.
„Then there was Lon Willis. His MO was to prop the booth door open before he went to work on the house. If he set the alarm off, he’d run next door and use that booth. Worked pretty well-it slowed us up just enough that we never did catch him. But one night he set off an alarm, and when he ran next door, the next-door neighbor blew a small but adequate hole in him.“
Murder: The alibi was an extinct species. A man attending a party in Hawaii could shoot a man in Paris in the time it would take him to use the bathroom. „Like George Clayton Larkin did. Except that he used his credit card, and we got him,“ said McCord, „and we got Lucille Downey because she ran out of coins and had to ask at the magazine stand for change. With blood all over her sleeves!“
Pickpockets:“Do you have a lock pocket?“
„Sure,“ said Jerryberry. It was an inside pocket lined with tough plastic. The zipper lock took two hands to open. „They’re tough to get into, but not impossible.“
„What’s in it? Credit cards?“
„Right.“
„And you can cancel them in three minutes. Picking pockets isn’t profitable any more. If it was, they would have mobbed the mall riot.“
Smuggling:Nobody even tried to stop it.
Drugs: „There’s no way to keep them from getting in. Anyone who wants drugs can get them. We make arrests where we can, and so what? Me, I’m betting on Darwin.“
„How do you mean?“
„The next generation won’t use drugs because they’ll be descended from people who had better sense. I’d legalize wireheading if it were up to me. With a wire in your pleasure center, you’re getting what all the drugs are supposed to give you, and no dope peddler can hold out on you.“
Riots: The mall riot was the first successful riot in twenty years. „The police can get to a riot before it’s a riot,“ said McCord. „We call them flash crowds, and we watch for them. We’ve been doing it ever since… well, ever since it became possible.“ He hesitated and evidently decided to
go on. „See, the coin booths usually went into the shopping centers first and then the residential areas. It wasn’t till JumpShift put them in the slum areas that we stopped having riots.“
„Makes sense.“
McCord laughed. „Even that’s a half-truth. When the booths went into the slums, we pretty near stopped having slums. Everyone moved out. They’d commute.“
„Why do you think the police didn’t stop the mall riot?“
„That’s a funny one, isn’t it? I was there this afternoon. Did you get a chance to look at the cargo booth in Penney’s basement?“

„It’s a professional job. Whoever rigged it knew exactly what he was doing. No slips. He probably had a model to practice on. We traced it to a cargo receiver in downtown L.A., but we don’t know where it was sending to, because someone stayed behind and wrecked it and then shifted out. Real professional. Some gang has decided to make a profession of riots.“
„You think this is their first job?“
„I’d guess. They must have seen the mall-type riots coming. Which is pretty shrewd, because a flash crowd couldn’t have formed that fast before long-distance displacement booths. It’s a new crime. Makes me almost sorry I retired.“
„How would you redesign the booths to make life easier for the police?“
But McCord wouldn’t touch the subject. He didn’t know anything about displacement-booth design.

Seven o’clock. The interview with Evans was at ten.
Jerryberry shifted back to the Cave. He was beginning to get nervous. The Cave, and a good dinner, should help ease his stage fright.
He turned down a couple of invitations to join small groups. With the interview hanging over his head, he’d be poor company. He sat alone and continued to jot during dinner.
Escape booths. Send anywhere, receive only from police and fire departments.
Police can shut down all booths in an area. Except escape booths? No, that would let the looters escape, too. But there might be no way to stop that. At least it would get the innocent bystanders out of a riot area.
Hah! Escape booths send only to police station!!!
He crossed that out and wrote, All booths send only to police station!!! He crossed that out, too, to write an expanded version:
1.Riot signal from police station.
2.All booths in area stop receiving.
3.All booths in area send only to police station.
He went back to eating. Moments later he stopped with his fork half raised, put it down, and wrote:
4.A million rioters stomp police station to rubble, from inside.
And it had seemed like such a good idea.

* * *

He was dawdling over coffee when the rest of it dropped into place. He went to a phone.
The secretary at Seven Sixes promised to have Dr. Whyte call as soon as he checked in. Jerryberry put a time-limit on it, which seemed to please her.
McCord wasn’t home.
Jerryberry went back to his coffee. He was feeling twitchy now. He had to know if this was possible. Otherwise he would be talking through his hat-in front of a big audience.
Twenty minutes later, as he was about to get up and call again, the headwaiter came to tell him that Dr. Robin Whyte was on the phone.

„It’s a design problem,“ said Jerryberry. „Let me tell you how I’d like it to work, and then you can tell me if it’s possible, okay?“
„Go ahead.“
„First step is the police get word of a flash crowd, a mall riot-type crowd. They throw emergency switches at headquarters. Each switch affects the displacement booths in a small area.“
„That’s the way it works now.“
„Now those switches turn off the booths. I’d like them to do something more complex. Set them so they can only receive from police and fire departments and can only transmit to a police station.“
„We can do that.“ Whyte half-closed his eyes to think. „Good. Then the police could release the innocent bystanders, send the injured to a hospital, hold the obvious looters, get everybody’s names. . . right. Brilliant. You’d put the receiver at the top of a greased slide and a big cell at the bottom.“
„Maybe. At least the receiver would be behind bars.“
„You could issue override cards to the police and other authorities to let them shift in through a blockade.“
„Good.“
Whyte stopped suddenly and frowned. „There’s a hole in it. A really big crowd would either wreck the station or smother, depending on how strong the cell was. Did you think of that?“
„I’d like to use more than one police station.“
„How many? There’s a distance limit. Barry, what are you thinking?“
„As it stands now, a long-distance passenger has to dial three numbers to get anywhere. You said you could cut that to two. Can you cut it to one?“
„I don’t know.“
„It’s poetic justice,“ said Jerryberry. „Our whole problem is that rioters can converge on one point from all over the United States. If we could use police stations all over the United States, we wouldn’t have a problem. As soon as a cell was full here, we’d switch to police stations in San Diego or Oregon!“
Whyte was laughing. „If you could see your face! Barry, you’re a dreamer.“
„You can’t do it.“
„No, of course we can’t do it. Wait a minute.“ Whyte pursed his lips.
„There’s a way. We could do it if there was a long-distance receiver at the police station. Hook the network to a velocity damper! I told you, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to dial to a long-distance receiver from any booth.“
„It would work, then!“
„You’d have to talk the public into paying for it. Design wouldn’t be much of a problem.. We could cover the country with an emergency network in a couple of years.“
„Can I quote you?“
„Of course. We sell displacement booths. That’s our business.“

-10-

Talk shows are one of the few remaining pure entertainment features on teevee. With cassettes the viewer buys a package; with a talk show he never knows just what he’s getting. It is a different product. It is cheap to produce. It can compete.
The Tonight Show shows at 8:30 P.M., prime time.
Around nine they start flicking in, pouring out of the coin booths that line the street above the last row of houses. They mill about, searching out the narrow walks that lead down to the strand. They pour over the low stone wall that guards the sand from the houses. They pause, awed.
Breakers roll in from the black sea, flashing electric-blue.
Within minutes Hennosa Beach is aswarm with people: men, women, children, in couples and family groups. They hold hands and look out to sea. They stamp the packed wet sand, dancing like savages, and whoop with delight to see blue light flash beneath their feet. High up on the dry sand are piles of discarded clothing. Swimmers are thick in the water, splashing blue fire at each other.
Many were drunk or high on this or that when the Tonight Show led them here. Those who came were happy to start with. They came to do a happy thing. Some carry six-packs or pouches of pot.
The line of them stretches around the curve of the shore to the north, beyond Hermosa Pier to the south, bunching around the pier. More are shifting in all the time, trickling down to join the others.

Jerryberry Jansen flicked in almost an hour early for the interview.
The station was an ant’s nest, a swarm of furious disorganization. Jerryberry was looking for Wash Evans when Wash Evans came running past him from behind, glanced back, and came to a jarring halt.
„‚Lo,“ said Jerryberry. „Is there anything we need to go over before we go on?“
Evans seemed at a loss. „Yah,“ he said, and caught his breath a little. „You’re not news anymore, Jansen. We may not even be doing the interview.“
Jerryberry said a dirty word. „I heard they’d cleared up the riot-“
„More than that. They caught the lady shoplifter.“
„Good!“
„If you say so. One out of a thousand people that recognized your pictures of her turned out to be right. Woman name of Inna Hennessey, lives in Jersey City but commutes all over the country. She says she’s never hit the same store twice. She’s a kick, Jansen. A newstaper’s dream. No offense intended, but I wish they’d let her out of jail tonight. I’d interview her.“
„So I didn’t cause the mall riot anymore, now you’ve got Irma Hennessey. Well, good. I didn’t like being a celebrity. Anything else?“
He was thinking, All that jumping around, all the things I learned today, all wasted. Unless I can get a tapezine lecture out of it.
Evans said, „Yah, there’s a new mall riot going on at Hermosa Beach.“
„What the hell?“
„Craziest damn thing.“ Wash Evans lit a cigarette and talked around it. „You know Gordon Lundt, the ‚zine star? He was on the Tonight Show, and he happened to mention the red tide down at Hermosa Beach. He said it was pretty. The next thing anyone knows, every man, woman, and child in the country has decided he wants to see the red tide at Hermosa Beach.“
„How bad is it?“
„Well, nobody’s been hurt, last I heard. And they aren’t breaking things. It’s not that kind of crowd, and there’s nothing to steal but sand, anyway. It’s a happy riot, Jansen. There’s just a bitch of a lot of people.“
„Another flash crowd. It figures,“ said Jerryberry. „You can get a flash crowd anywhere there are displacement booths.“
„Can you?“
„They’ve been around a long time. It’s just that they happen faster with the long-distance booths. Some places are permanent floating flash crowds. Like Tahiti… . what’s wrong?“
Wash Evans had a funny look. „It just hit me that we don’t really have anything to replace you with. You’ve been doing your homework, have you?“
„All day.“ Jerryberry dug out the Minox. „I’ve been everywhere I could think of. Some of this goes with taped interviews.“ He produced the tape recorder. „Of course there isn’t much time to sort it out-“
„No. Gimme.“ Evans took the camera and the recorder. „We can follow up on these later. Maybe they’ll make a special. Right now the news is at Hermosa Beach. And you sound like you know how it happened and what to do about it. Do you still want to do that interview?“
„I-sure.“
„Go get a C.B.A. camera from George Bailey. Let’s see, it’s-nine fifteen, dammit. Spend half an hour, see as much as you can, then get back here. Find out what you can about the-flash crowd at Hermosa Beach. That’s what we’ll be talking about.“

George Bailey looked up as Jerryberry arrived. He pointed emphatically at the single camera remaining on the table, finger-combed the hair back out of his eyes, and went back to monitoring half a dozen teevee screens.
The camera came satisfyingly to life in Jerryberry’s hands. He picked up a list of Hermosa Beach numbers and turned to the displacement booths. Too much coffee sloshed in his belly. He stopped suddenly, thinking:
One big riot-control center would do it. You wouldn’t need a police network.-just one long-distance receiver to serve the whole country, and a building the size of Yankee Stadium, big enough to handle any riot. A federal police force on permanent guard. Rioting was an interstate crime now anyway. You could build such a center faster and cheaper than any network.
Not now. Back to work. He stepped into a booth, dialed, and was gone.

Willkommen in der schwarzen Zone

Posted in Uncategorized on April 25, 2009 by zigstedimension