The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 118

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"I guess I broke it." Alan looked down at the supine robot. "But it wasn't my fault. It wouldn't let me pa.s.s."

"We'd better move on," Rat said. But it was too late. A burly man in a black cloak threw open the door of the gambling parlor and confronted Alan.

"What sort of stuff is this, fellow? What have you done to our servo?"

"That thing wouldn't let me pa.s.s. It caught hold of me and tried to drag me inside your place."

"So what? That's what he's for. Robohucksters are perfectly legal." Disbelief stood out on the man's face. "You mean you don't want to go in?"



"That has nothing to do with it. Even if I did want to go in, I wouldn't--not after the way your robot tried to push me."

"Watch out, kid. Don't make trouble. That's unrotational talk. You can get in trouble. Come on inside and have a game or two, and I'll forget the whole thing. I won't even bill you for repairs on my servo."

"Bill me? I ought to sue you for obstructing the streets! And I just got through telling your robot that I didn't plan to waste any time gambling at your place."

The other's lips curled into a half-sneer, half-grin. "Why not?"

"My business," Alan said stubbornly. "Leave me alone." He stalked angrily away, inwardly raging at this Earther city where things like this could happen.

"Don't ever let me catch you around here again!" the parlor man shouted after him. Alan lost himself once again in the crowd, but not before he caught the final words: "You filthy s.p.a.cer!"

Filthy s.p.a.cer. Alan winced. Again the blind, unreasoning hatred of the unhappy starmen. The Earthers were jealous of something they certainly wouldn't want if they could experience the suffering involved.

Suddenly, he realized he was very tired.

He had been walking over an hour, and he was not used to it. The Valhalla was a big s.h.i.+p, but you could go from end to end in less than an hour, and very rarely did you stay on your feet under full grav for long as an hour. Working grav was .93 Earth-normal, and that odd .07% made quite a difference. Alan glanced down at his boots, mentally picturing his sagging arches.

He had to find someone who could give him a clue toward Steve. For all he knew, one of the men he had brushed against that day was Steve--a Steve grown older and unrecognizable in what had been, to Alan, a few short weeks.

Around the corner he saw a park--just a tiny patch of greenery, two or three stunted trees and a bench, but it was a genuine park. It looked almost forlorn surrounded by the giant skysc.r.a.pers.

There was a man on the bench--the first relaxed-looking man Alan had seen in the city so far. He was about thirty or thirty-five, dressed in a baggy green business suit with tarnished bra.s.s studs. His face was pleasantly ugly--nose a little too long, cheeks hollow, chin a bit too apparent. And he was smiling. He looked friendly.

"Excuse me, sir," Alan said, sitting down next to him. "I'm a stranger here. I wonder if you----"

Suddenly a familiar voice shouted, "There he is!"

Alan turned and saw the little fruit vender pointing accusingly at him. Behind him were three men in the silver-gray police uniforms. "That's the man who wouldn't buy from me. He's an unrotationist! d.a.m.n s.p.a.cer!"

One of the policemen stepped forward--a broad man with a wide slab of a face, red, like raw meat. "This man has placed some serious charges against you. Let's see your work card."

"I'm a starman. I don't have a work card."

"Even worse. We'd better take you down for questioning. You starmen come in here and try to----"

"Just a minute, officer." The warm mellow voice belonged to the smiling man on the bench. "This boy doesn't mean any trouble. I can vouch for him myself."

"And who are you? Let's see your card!"

Still smiling, the man reached into a pocket and drew forth his wallet. He handed a card over to the policeman--and Alan noticed that a blue five-credit note went along with the card.

The policeman made a great show of studying the card and succeeded in pocketing the bill with the same effortless sleight-of-hand that the other had used in handing it over.

"Max Hawkes, eh? That you? Free status?"

The man named Hawkes nodded.

"And this s.p.a.cer's a pal of yours?"

"We're very good friends."

"Umm. Okay. I'll leave him in your custody. But see to it that he doesn't get into any more jams."

The policeman turned away, signalling to his companions. The fruit vender stared vindictively at Alan for a moment, but saw he would have no revenge. He, too, left.

Alan was alone with his unknown benefactor.

Chapter Six.

"I guess I owe you thanks," Alan said. "If they had hauled me off I'd be in real trouble."

Hawkes nodded. "They're very quick to lock people up when they don't have work cards. But police salaries are notoriously low. A five-credit bill slipped to the right man at the right time can work wonders."

"Five credits, was it? Here----"

Alan started to fumble in his pocket, but Hawkes checked him with a wave of his hand. "Never mind. I'll write it off to profit and loss. What's your name, s.p.a.cer, and what brings you to York City?"

"I'm Alan Donnell, of the stars.h.i.+p Valhalla. I'm an Unspecialized Crewman. I came over from the Enclave to look for my brother."

Hawkes' lean face a.s.sumed an expression of deep interest. "He's a starman too?"

"He--was."

"Was?"

"He jumped s.h.i.+p last time we were here. That was nine years ago Earthtime. I'd like to find him, though. Even though he's so much older now."

"How old is he now?"

"Twenty-six. I'm seventeen. We used to be twins, you see. But the Contraction--you understand about the Contraction, don't you?"

Hawkes nodded thoughtfully, eyes half-closed. "Mmm--yes, I follow you. While you made your last s.p.a.ce jump he grew old on Earth. And you want to find him and put him back on your s.h.i.+p, is that it?"

"That's right. Or at least talk to him and find out if he's all right where he is. But I don't know where to start looking. This city is so big--and there are so many other cities all over Earth----"

Hawkes shook his head. "You've come to the right one. The Central Directory Matrix is here. You'll be able to find out where he's registered by the code number on his work card. Unless," Hawkes said speculatively, "he doesn't have a work card. Then you're in trouble."

"Isn't everyone supposed to have a work card?"

"I don't," Hawkes said.

"But----"

"You need a work card to hold a job. But to get a job, you have to pa.s.s guild exams. And in order to take the exams you have to find a sponsor who's already in the guild. But you have to post bond for your sponsor, too--five thousand credits. And unless you have the work card and have been working, you don't have the five thousand, so you can't post bond and get a work card. See? Round and round."

Alan's head swam. "Is that what they meant when they said I was unrotational?"

"No, that's something else. I'll get to that in a second. But you see the work setup? The guilds are virtually hereditary, even the fruit venders' guild. It's next to impossible for a newcomer to crack into a guild--and it's pretty tough for a man in one guild to move up a notch. You see, Earth's a terribly overcrowded planet--and the only way to avoid cutthroat job compet.i.tion is to make sure it's tough to get a job. It's rough on a starman trying to bull his way into the system."

"You mean Steve may not have gotten a work card? In that case how will I be able to find him?"

"It's harder," Hawkes said. "But there's also a registry of Free Status men--men without cards. He isn't required to register there, but if he did you'd be able to track him down eventually. If he didn't, I'm afraid you're out of luck. You just can't find a man on Earth if he doesn't want to be found."

"Free Status? Isn't that what the policeman said----"

"I was in?" Hawkes nodded. "Sure, I'm Free Status. Out of choice, though, not necessity. But that doesn't matter much right now. Let's go over to the Central Directory Matrix Building and see if we can find any trail for your brother."

They rose. Alan saw that Hawkes was tall, like himself; he walked with easygoing grace. Questioningly Alan twitched his shoulder-blade in a signal that meant, What do you think of this guy, Rat?

Stick with him, Rat signalled back. He sounds okay.

The streets seemed a great deal less terrifying now that Alan had a companion, someone who knew his way around. He didn't have the feeling that all eyes were on him, any more; he was just one of the crowd. It was good to have Hawkes at his side, even if he didn't fully trust the older man.

"The Directory Building's way across town," Hawkes said. "We can't walk it. Undertube or Overshoot?"

"What?"

"I said, do you want to take the Undertube or the Overshoot? Or doesn't it matter to you what kind of transportation we take?"

Alan shrugged. "One's as good as any other."

Hawkes fished a coin out of his pocket and tossed it up. "Heads for Overshoot," he said, and caught the coin on the back of his left hand. He peered at it. "Heads it is. We take the Overshoot. This way."

They ducked into the lobby of the nearest building and took the elevator to the top floor. Hawkes stopped a man in a blue uniform and said, "Where's the nearest Shoot pickup?"

"Take the North Corridor bridge across to the next building. The pickup's there."

"Right."

Hawkes led the way down the corridor, up a staircase, and through a door. With sudden alarm Alan found himself on one of the bridges linking the skysc.r.a.pers. The bridge was no more than a ribbon of plastic with handholds at each side; it swayed gently in the breeze.

"You better not look down," Hawkes said. "It's fifty stories to the bottom."

Alan kept his eyes stiffly forward. There was a good-sized crowd gathered on the top of the adjoining building, and he saw a metal platform of some kind.

A vender came up to them. Alan thought he might be selling tickets, but instead he held forth a tray of soft drinks. Hawkes bought one; Alan started to say he didn't want one when he felt a sharp kick in his ankle, and he hurriedly changed his mind and produced a coin.

When the vender was gone, Hawkes said, "Remind me to explain rotation to you when we get aboard the Shoot. And here it comes now."

Alan turned and saw a silvery torpedo come whistling through the air and settle in the landing-rack of the platform; it looked like a jet-powered vessel of some kind. A line formed, and Hawkes stuffed a ticket into Alan's hand.

"I have a month's supply of them," he explained. "It's cheaper that way."

They found a pair of seats together and strapped themselves in. With a roar and a hiss the Overshoot blasted away from the landing platform, and almost immediately came to rest on another building some distance away.

"We've just travelled about half a mile," Hawkes said. "This s.h.i.+p really moves."

A jet-propelled omnibus that travelled over the roofs of the buildings, Alan thought. Clever. He said, "Isn't there any public surface transportation in the city?"

"Nope. It was all banned about fifty years ago, on account of the congestion. Taxis and everything. You can still use a private car in some parts of the city, of course, but the only people who own them are those who like to impress their neighbors. Most of us take the Undertube or the Overshoot to get around."

The Shoot blasted off from its third stop and picked up pa.s.sengers at its fourth. Alan glanced up front and saw the pilot peering over an elaborate radar setup.

"Westbound Shoots travel a hundred feet over the roof-tops, eastbound ones two hundred. There hasn't been a major accident in years. But about this rotation--that's part of our new economic plan."

"Which is?"

"Keep the money moving! Saving's discouraged. Spending's the thing now. The guilds are really pus.h.i.+ng it. Instead of buying one piece of fruit from a vender, buy two. Spend, spend, spend! It's a little tough on the people in Free Status--we don't offer anything for sale, so we don't benefit much--but we don't amount to one per cent of the population, so who cares about us?"

"You mean it's sort of subversive not to spend money, is that it?" Alan asked.

Hawkes nodded. "You get in trouble if you're too openly penny-pinching. Keep the credits flowing; that's the way to be popular around here."

That had been his original mistake, Alan thought. He saw he had a lot to learn about this strange, unfriendly world if he were going to stay here long. He wondered if anyone had missed him back at the Enclave, yet. Maybe it won't take too long to find Steve, he thought. I should have left a note for Dad explaining I'd be back. But---- "Here we are," Hawkes said, nudging him. The door in the Overshoot's side opened and they got out quickly. They were on another rooftop.

Ten minutes later they stood outside an immense building whose walls were sleek slabs of green pellucite, s.h.i.+ning with a radiant inner warmth of their own. The building must have been a hundred stories high, or more. It terminated in a burnished spire.

"This is it," Hawkes said. "The Central Directory Building. We'll try the Standard Matrix first."

A little dizzy, Alan followed without discussing the matter. Hawkes led him through a vast lobby big enough to hide the Valhalla in, past throngs of Earthers, into a huge hall lined on all sides by computer banks.

"Let's take this booth here," Hawkes suggested. They stepped into it; the door clicked shut automatically behind them. There was a row of blank forms in a metal rack against the inside of the door.

Hawkes pulled one out. Alan looked at it. It said, CENTRAL DIRECTORY MATRIX INFORMATION REQUISITION 1067432. STANDARD SERIES.

Hawkes took a pen from the rack. "We have to fill this out. What's your brother's full name?"

"Steve Donnell." He spelled it.

"Year of birth?"

Alan paused. "3576," he said finally.

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 118

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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 118 summary

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