Copyright (C) by Philip Dick
ALL AT ONCE he was in motion. Around him smooth jets hummed. He was on
a small private rocket cruiser, moving leisurely across the afternoon sky,
"Ugh!" he said, sitting up in his seat and rubbing his head. Beside him
Earl Rethrick was staring keenly at him, his eyes bright.
"Where are we?" Jennings shook his head, trying to clear the dull ache.
"Or maybe I should ask that a different way." Already, he could see that it
was not late fall. It was spring. Below the cruiser the fields were green.
The last thing he remembered was stepping into an elevator with Rethrick.
And it was late fall. And in New York.
"Yes," Rethrick said. "It's almost two years later. You'll find a lot
of things have changed. The Government fell a few months ago. The new
Government is even stronger. The SP, Security Police, have almost unlimited
power. They're teaching the schoolchildren to inform, now. But we all saw
that coming. Let's see, what else? New York is larger. I understand they've
finished filling in San Francisco Bay."
"What I want to know is what the hell I've been doing the last two
years!" Jennings lit a cigarette nervously, pressing the strike end. "Will
you tell me that?"
"No. Of course I won't tell you that."
"Where are we going?"
"Back to the New York Office. Where you first met me. Remember? You
probably remember it better than I. After all, it was just a day or so ago
Jennings nodded. Two years! Two years out of his life, gone forever. It
didn't seem possible. He had still been considering, debating, when he
stepped into the elevator. Should he change his mind? Even if he were
getting that much money -- and it was a lot, even for him -- it didn't
really seem worth it. He would always wonder what work he had been doing.
Was it legal? Was it -- But that was past speculation, now. Even while he
was trying to make up his mind the curtain had fallen. He looked ruefully
out the window at the afternoon sky. Below, the earth was moist and alive.
Spring, spring two years later. And what did he have to show for the two
"Have I been paid?" he asked. He slipped his wallet out and glanced
into it. "Apparently not."
"No. You'll be paid at the Office. Kelly will pay you."
"The whole works at once?"
"Fifty thousand credits."
Jennings smiled. He felt a little better, now that the sum had been
spoken aloud. Maybe it wasn't so bad, after all. Almost like being paid to
sleep. But he was two years older; he had just that much less to live. It
was like selling part of himself, part of his life. And life was worth
plenty, these days. He shrugged. Anyhow, it was in the past.
"We're almost there," the older man said. The robot pilot dropped the
cruiser down, sinking toward the ground. The edge of New York City became
visible below them. "Well, Jennings, I may never see you again." He held out
his hand. "It's been a pleasure working with you. We did work together, you
know. Side by side. You're one of the best mechanics I've ever seen. We were
right in hiring you, even at that salary. You paid us back many times --
although you don't realize it."
"I'm glad you got your money's worth."
"You sound angry."
"No. I'm just trying to get used to the idea of being two years older."
Rethrick laughed. "You're still a very young man. And you'll feel
better when she gives you your pay."
They stepped out onto the tiny rooftop field of the New York office
building. Rethrick led him over to an elevator. As the doors slid shut
Jennings got a mental shock. This was the last thing he remembered, this
elevator. After that he had blacked out.
"Kelly will be glad to see you," Rethrick said, as they came out into a
lighted hall. "She asks about you, once in a while."
"She says you're good-looking." Rethrick pushed a code key against a
door. The door responded, swinging wide. They entered the luxurious office
of Rethrick Construction. Behind a long mahogany desk a young woman was
sitting, studying a report.
"Kelly," Rethrick said, "look whose time finally expired."
The girl looked up, smiling. "Hello, Mr. Jennings. How does it feel to
be back in the world?"
"Fine." Jennings walked over to her. "Rethrick says you're the
Rethrick clapped Jennings on the back. "So long, my friend. I'll go
back to the plant. If you ever need a lot of money in a hurry come around
and we'll work out another contract with you."
Jennings nodded. As Rethrick went back out he sat down beside the desk,
crossing his legs. Kelly slid a drawer open, moving her chair back. "All
right. Your time is up, so Rethrick Construction is ready to pay. Do you
have your copy of the contract?"
Jennings took an envelope from his pocket and tossed it on the desk.
"There it is."
Kelly removed a small cloth sack and some sheets of handwritten paper
from the desk drawer. For a time she read over the sheets, her small face
"What is it?"
"I think you're going to be surprised." Kelly handed him his contract
back. "Read that over again."
"Why?" Jennings unfastened the envelope.
"There's an alternate clause. 'If the party of the second part so
desires, at any time during his time of contract to the aforesaid Rethrick
Construction Company --' "
" 'If he so desires, instead of the monetary sum specified, he may
choose instead, according to his own wish, articles or products which, in
his own opinion, are of sufficient value to stand in lieu of the sum --' "
Jennings snatched up the cloth sack, pulling it open. He poured the
contents into his palm. Kelly watched.
"Where's Rethrick?" Jennings stood up. "If he has an idea that this --"
"Rethrick has nothing to do with it. It was your own request. Here,
look at this." Kelly passed him the sheets of paper. "In your own hand. Read
them. It was your idea, not ours. Honest." She smiled up at him. "This
happens every once in a while with people we take on contract. During their
time they decide to take something else instead of money. Why, I don't know.
But they come out with their minds clean, having agreed --"
Jennings scanned the pages. It was his own writing. There was no doubt
of it. His hands shook. "I can't believe it. Even if it is my own writing."
He folded up the paper, his jaw set. "Something was done to me while I was
back there. I never would have agreed to this."
"You must have had a reason. I admit it doesn't make sense. But you
don't know what factors might have persuaded you, before your mind was
cleaned. You aren't the first. There have been several others before you."
Jennings stared down at what he held in his palm. From the cloth sack
he had spilled a little assortment of items. A code key. A ticket stub. A
parcel receipt. A length of fine wire. Haifa poker chip, broken across. A
green strip of cloth. A bus token.
"This, instead of fifty thousand credits," he murmured. "Two years. .
He went out of the building, onto the busy afternoon street. He was
still dazed, dazed and confused. Had he been swindled? He felt in his pocket
for the little trinkets, the wire, the ticket stub, all the rest. That, for
two years of work! But he had seen his own handwriting, the statement of
waiver, the request for the substitution. Like Jack and the Beanstalk. Why?
What for? What had made him do it?
He turned, starting down the sidewalk. At the corner he stopped for a
surface cruiser that was turning.
"All right, Jennings. Get in."
His head jerked up. The door of the cruiser was open. A man was
kneeling, pointing a heat-rifle straight at his face. A man in blue-green.
The Security Police.
Jennings got in. The door closed, magnetic locks slipping into place
behind him. Like a vault. The cruiser glided off down the street. Jennings
sank back against the seat. Beside him the SP man lowered his gun. On the
other side a second officer ran his hands expertly over him, searching for
weapons. He brought out Jenning's wallet and the handful of trinkets. The
envelope and contract.
"What does he have?" the driver said.
"Wallet, money. Contract with Rethrick Construction. No weapons." He
gave Jennings back his things.
"What's this all about?" Jennings said.
"We want to ask you a few questions. That's all. You've been working
"Almost two years."
"At the Plant?"
Jennings nodded. "I suppose so."
The officer leaned toward him. "Where is that Plant, Mr. Jennings.
Where is it located?"
"I don't know."
The two officers looked at each other. The first one moistened his
lips, his face sharp and alert. "You don't know? The next question. The
last. In those two years, what kind of work did you do? What was your job?"
"Mechanic. I repaired electronic machinery."
"What kind of electronic machinery?"
"I don't know." Jennings looked up at him. He could not help smiling,
his lips twisting ironically. "I'm sorry, but I don't know. It's the truth."
There was silence.
"What do you mean, you don't know? You mean you worked on machinery for
two years without knowing what it was? Without even knowing where you were?"
Jennings roused himself. "What is all this? What did you pick me up
for? I haven't done anything. I've been --"
"We know. We're not arresting you. We only want to get information for
our records. About Rethrick Construction. You've been working for them, in
their Plant. In an important capacity. You're an electronic mechanic?"
"You repair high-quality computers and allied equipment?" The officer
consulted his notebook. "You're considered one of the best in the country,
according to this."
Jennings said nothing.
"Tell us the two things we want to know, and you'll be released at
once. Where is Rethrick's Plant? What kind of work are they doing? You
serviced their machines for them, didn't you? Isn't that right? For two
"I don't know. I suppose so. I don't have any idea what I did during
the two years. You can believe me or not." Jennings stared wearily down at
"What'll we do?" the driver said finally. "We have no instructions past
"Take him to the station. We can't do any more questioning here."
Beyond the cruiser, men and women hurried along the sidewalk. The streets
were choked with cruisers, workers going to their homes in the country.
"Jennings, why don't you answer us? What's the matter with you? There's
no reason why you can't tell us a couple of simple things like that. Don't
you want to cooperate with your Government? Why should you conceal
information from us?"
"I'd tell you if I knew."
The officer grunted. No one spoke. Presently the cruiser drew up before
a great stone building. The driver turned the motor off, removing the
control cap and putting it in his pocket. He touched the door with a code
key, releasing the magnetic lock.
"What shall we do, take him in? Actually, we don't --"
"Wait." The driver stepped out. The other two went with him, closing
and locking the doors behind them. They stood on the pavement before the
Security Station, talking.
Jennings sat silently, staring down at the floor. The SP wanted to know
about Rethrick Construction. Well, there was nothing he could tell them.
They had come to the wrong person, but how could he prove that? The whole
thing was impossible. Two years wiped clean from his mind. Who would believe
him? It seemed unbelievable to him, too.
His mind wandered, back to when he had first read the ad. It had hit
home, hit him direct. Mechanic wanted, and a general outline of the work,
vague, indirect, but enough to tell him that it was right up his line. And
the pay! Interviews at the Office. Tests, forms. And then the gradual
realization that Rethrick Construction was finding all about him while he
knew nothing about them. What kind of work did they do? Construction, but
what kind? What sort of machines did they have? Fifty thousand credits for
two years. . .
And he had come out with his mind washed clean. Two years, and he
remembered nothing. It took him a long time to agree to that part of the
contract. But he had agreed.
Jennings looked out the window. The three officers were still talking
on the sidewalk, trying to decide what to do with him. He was in a tough
spot. They wanted information he couldn't give, information he didn't know.
But how could he prove it? How could he prove that he had worked two years
and come out knowing no more than when he had gone in! The SP would work him
over. It would be a long time before they'd believe him, and by that time --
He glanced quickly around. Was there any escape? In a second they would
be back. He touched the door. Locked, the triple-ring magnetic locks. He had
worked on magnetic locks many times. He had even designed part of a trigger
core. There was no way to open the doors without the right code key. No way,
unless by some chance he could short out the lock. But with what?
He felt in his pockets. What could he use? If he could short the locks,
blow them out, there was a faint chance. Outside, men and women were
swarming by, on their way home from work. It was past five; the great office
buildings were shutting down, the streets were alive with traffic. If he
once got out they wouldn't dare fire. If he could get out.
The three officers separated. One went up the steps into the Station
building. In a second the others would reenter the cruiser. Jennings dug
into his pocket, bringing out the code key, the ticket stub, the wire. The
wire! Thin wire, thin as human hair. Was it insulated? He unwound it
He knelt down, running his fingers expertly across the surface of the
door. At the edge of the lock was a thin line, a groove between the lock and
the door. He brought the end of the wire up to it, delicately maneuvering
the wire into the almost invisible space. The wire disappeared an inch or
so. Sweat rolled down Jennings' forehead. He moved the wire a fraction of an
inch, twisting it. He held his breath. The relay should be --
Half blinded, he threw his weight against the door. The door fell open,
the lock fused and smoking. Jennings tumbled into the street and leaped to
his feet. Cruisers were all around him, honking and sweeping past. He ducked
behind a lumbering truck, entering the middle lane of traffic. On the
sidewalk he caught a momentary glimpse of the SP men starting after him.
A bus came along, swaying from side to side, loaded with shoppers and
workers. Jennings caught hold of the back rail, pulling himself up onto the
platform. Astonished faces loomed up, pale moons thrust suddenly at him. The
robot conductor was coming toward him, whirring angrily.
"Sir --" the conductor began. The bus was slowing down. "Sir, it is not
"It's all right," Jennings said. He was filled, all at once, with a
strange elation. A moment ago he had been trapped, with no way to escape.
Two years of his life had been lost for nothing. The Security Police had
arrested him, demanding information he couldn't give. A hopeless situation!
But now things were beginning to click in his mind.
He reached into his pocket and brought out the bus token. He put it
calmly into the conductor's coin slot.
"Okay?" he said. Under his feet the bus wavered, the driver hesitating.
Then the bus resumed pace, going on. The conductor turned away, its whirrs
subsiding. Everything was all right. Jennings smiled. He eased past the
standing people, looking for a seat, some place to sit down. Where he could
He had plenty to think about. His mind was racing.
The bus moved on, flowing with the restless stream of urban traffic.
Jennings only half saw the people sitting around him. There was no doubt of
it: he had not been swindled. It was on the level. The decision had actually
been his. Amazingly, after two years of work he had preferred a handful of
trinkets instead of fifty thousand credits. But more amazingly, the handful
of trinkets were turning out to be worth more than the money.
With a piece of wire and a bus token he had escaped from the Security
Police. That was worth plenty. Money would have been useless to him once he
disappeared inside the great stone Station. Even fifty thousand credits
wouldn't have helped him. And there were five trinkets left. He felt around
in his pocket. Five more things. He had used two. The others -- what were
they for? Something as important?
But the big puzzle: how had he -- his earlier self -- known that a
piece of wire and a bus token would save his life?" He had known, all right.
Known in advance. But how? And the other five. Probably they were just as
precious, or would be.
The he of those two years had known things that he did not know now,
things that had been washed away when the company cleaned his mind. Like an
adding machine which had been cleared. Everything was slate-clean. What he
had known was gone, now. Gone, except for seven trinkets, five of which were
still in his pocket.
But the real problem right now was not a problem of speculation. It was
very concrete. The Security Police were looking for him. They had his name
and description. There was no use thinking of going to his apartment -- if
he even still had an apartment. But where, then? Hotels? The SP combed them
daily. Friends? That would mean putting them in jeopardy, along with him. It
was only a question of time before the SP found him, walking along the
street, eating in a restaurant, in a show, sleeping in some rooming house.
The SP were everywhere.
Everywhere? Not quite. When an individual person was defenseless, a
business was not. The big economic forces had managed to remain free,
although virtually everything else had been absorbed by the Government. Laws
that had been eased away from the private person still protected property
and industry. The SP could pick up any given person, but they could not
enter and seize a company, a business. That had been clearly established in
the middle of the twentieth century.
Business, industry, corporations, were safe from the Security Police.
Due process was required. Rethrick Construction was a target of SP interest,
but they could do nothing until some statute was violated. If he could get
back to the Company, get inside its doors, he would be safe. Jennings smiled
grimly. The modern church, sanctuary. It was the Government against the
corporation, rather than the State against the Church. The new Notre Dame of
the world. Where the law could not follow.
Would Rethrick take him back? Yes, on the old basis. He had already
said so. Another two years sliced from him, and then back onto the streets.
Would that help him? He felt suddenly in his pocket. And there were the
remaining trinkets. Surely he had intended them to be used! No, he could not
go back to Rethrick and work another contract time. Something else was
indicated. Something more permanent. Jennings pondered. Rethrick
Construction. What did it construct? What had he known, found out, during
those two years? And why were the SP so interested?
He brought out the five objects and studied them. The green strip of
cloth. The code key. The ticket stub. The parcel receipt. The half poker
chip. Strange, that little things like that could be important.
And Rethrick Construction was involved.
There was no doubt. The answer, all the answers, lay at Rethrick. But
where was Rethrick? He had no idea where the plant was, no idea at all. He
knew where the Office was, the big, luxurious room with the young woman and
her desk. But that was not Rethrick Construction. Did anyone know, beside
Rethrick? Kelly didn't know. Did the SP know?
It was out of town. That was certain. He had gone there by rocket. It
was probably in the United States, maybe in the farmlands, the country,
between cities. What a hell of a situation! Any moment the SP might pick him
up. The next time he might not get away. His only chance, his own real
chance for safety, lay in reaching Rethrick. And his only chance to find out
the things he had to know. The plant -- a place where he had been, but which
he could not recall. He looked down at the five trinkets. Would any of them
A burst of despair swept through him. Maybe it was just coincidence,
the wire and the token. Maybe --
He examined the parcel receipt, turning it over and holding it up to
the light. Suddenly his stomach muscles knotted. His pulse changed. He had
been right. No, it was not a coincidence, the wire and the token. The parcel
receipt was dated two days hence. The parcel, whatever it might be, had not
even been deposited yet. Not for forty-eight more hours.
He looked at the other things. The ticket stub. What good was a ticket
stub? It was creased and bent, folded over, again and again. He couldn't go
anyplace with that. A stub didn't take you anywhere. It only told you where
you had been.
Where you had been!
He bent down, peering at it, smoothing the creases. The printing had
been torn through the middle. Only part of each word could be made out.
He smiled. That was it. Where he had been. He could fill in the missing
letters. It was enough. There was no doubt: he had foreseen this, too. Three
of the seven trinkets used. Four left. Stuartsville, Iowa. Was there such a
place? He looked out the window of the bus. The Intercity rocket station was
only a block or so away. He could be there in a second. A quick sprint from
the bus, hoping the Police wouldn't be there to stop him --
But somehow he knew they wouldn't. Not with the other four things in
his pocket. And once he was on the rocket he would be safe. Intercity was
big, big enough to keep free of the SP. Jennings put the remaining trinkets
back into his pocket and stood up, pulling the bellcord.
A moment later he stepped gingerly out onto the sidewalk.
The rocket let him off at the edge of town, at a tiny brown field. A
few disinterested porters moved about, stacking luggage, resting from the
heat of the sun.
Jennings crossed the field to the waiting room, studying the people
around him. Ordinary people, workmen, businessmen, housewives. Stuartsville
was a small middle Western town. Truck drivers. High school kids.
He went through the waiting room, out onto the street. So this was
where Rethrick's Plant was located -- perhaps. If he had used the stub
correctly. Anyhow, something was here, or he wouldn't have included the stub
with the other trinkets.
Stuartsville, Iowa. A faint plan was beginning to form in the back of
his mind, still vague and nebulous. He began to walk, his hands in his
pockets, looking around him. A newspaper office, lunch counters, hotels,
poolrooms, a barber shop, a television repair shop. A rocket sales store
with huge showrooms of gleaming rockets. Family size. And at the end of the
block the Portola Theater.
The town thinned out. Farms, fields. Miles of green country. In the sky
above a few transport rockets lumbered, carrying farm supplies and equipment
back and forth. A small, unimportant town. Just right for Rethrick
Construction. The Plant would be lost here, away from the city, away from
Jennings walked back. He entered a lunchroom, BOB'S PLACE. A young man
with glasses came over as he sat down at the counter, wiping his hands on
his white apron.
"Coffee," Jennings said.
"Coffee." The man brought the cup. There were only a few people in the
lunchroom. A couple of flies buzzed, against the window.
Outside in the street shoppers and farmers moved leisurely by.
"Say," Jennings said, stirring his coffee. "Where can a man get work
around here? Do you know?"
"What kind of work?" The young man came back, leaning against the
"Electrical wiring. I'm an electrician. Television, rockets, computers.
That sort of stuff."
"Why don't you try the big industrial areas? Detroit. Chicago. New
Jennings shook his head. "Can't stand the big cities. I never liked
The young man laughed. "A lot of people here would be glad to work in
Detroit. You're an electrician?"
"Are there any plants around here? Any repair shops or plants?"
"None that I know of." The young man went off to wait on some men that
had come in. Jennings sipped his coffee. Had he made a mistake? Maybe he
should go back and forget about Stuartsville, Iowa. Maybe he had made the
wrong inference from the ticket stub. But the ticket meant something, unless
he was completely wrong about everything. It was a little late to decide
The young man came back. "Is there any kind of work I can get here?"
Jennings said. "Just to tide me over."
"There's always farm work."
"How about the retail repair shops? Garages. TV."
"There's a TV repair shop down the street. Maybe you might get
something there. You could try. Farm work pays good. They can't get many
men, anymore. Most men in the military. You want to pitch hay?"
Jennings laughed. He paid for his coffee. "Not very much. Thanks."
"Once in a while some of the men go up the road and work. There's some
sort of Government station."
Jennings nodded. He pushed the screen door open, stepping outside onto
the hot sidewalk. He walked aimlessly for a time, deep in thought, turning
his nebulous plan over and over. It was a good plan; it would solve
everything, all his problems at once. But right now it hinged on one thing:
finding Rethrick Construction. And he had only one clue, if it really was a
clue. The ticket stub, folded and creased, in his pocket. And a faith that
he had known what he was doing.
A Government station. Jennings paused, looking around him. Across the
street was a taxi stand, a couple of cabbies sitting in their cabs, smoking
and reading the newspaper. It was worth a try, at least. There wasn't much
else to do. Rethrick would be something else, on the surface. If it posed as
a Government project no one would ask any questions. They were all too
accustomed to Government projects working without explanation, in secrecy.
He went over to the first cab. "Mister," he said, "can you tell me
The cabbie looked up. "What do you want?"
"They tell me there's work to be had, out at the Government station. Is
The cabbie studied him. He nodded.
"What kind of work is it?"
"I don't know."
"Where do they do the hiring?"
"I don't know." The cabbie lifted his paper.
"Thanks." Jennings turned away.
"They don't do any hiring. Maybe once in a long while. They don't take
many on. You better go someplace else if you're looking for work."
The other cabbie leaned out of his cab. "They use only a few day
laborers, buddy. That's all. And they're very choosy. They don't hardly let
anybody in. Some kind of war work."
Jennings pricked up his ears. "Secret?"
"They come into town and pick up a load of construction workers. Maybe
a truck full. That's all. They're real careful who they pick."
Jennings walked back toward the cabbie. "That right?"
"It's a big place. Steel wall. Charged. Guards. Work going on day and
night. But nobody gets in. Set up on top of a hill, out the old Henderson
Road. About two miles and a half." The cabbie poked at his shoulder. "You
can't get in unless you're identified. They identify their laborers, after
they pick them out. You know."
Jennings stared at him. The cabbie was tracing a line on his shoulder.
Suddenly Jennings understood. A flood of relief rushed over him.
"Sure," he said. "I understand what you mean. At least, I think so." He
reached into his pocket, bringing out the four trinkets. Carefully, he
unfolded the strip of green cloth, holding it up. "Like this?"
The cabbies stared at the cloth. "That's right," one of them said
slowly, staring at the cloth. "Where did you get it?"
Jennings laughed. "A friend." He put the cloth back in his pocket. "A
friend gave it to me."
He went off, toward the Intercity field. He had plenty to do, now that
the first step was over. Rethrick was here, all right. And apparently the
trinkets were going to see him through. One for every crisis. A pocketful of
miracles, from someone who knew the future!
But the next step couldn't be done alone. He needed help. Somebody else
was needed for this part. But who? He pondered, entering the Intercity
waiting room. There was only one person he could possibly go to. It was a
long chance, but he had to take it. He couldn't work alone, here on out. If
the Rethrick plant was here then Kelly would be too. . .
The street was dark. At the corner a lamppost cast a fitful beam. A few
cruisers moved by.
From the apartment building entrance a slim shape came, a young woman
in a coat, a purse in her hand. Jennings watched as she passed under the
streetlamp. Kelly McVane was going someplace, probably to a party. Smartly
dressed, high heels tap-tapping on the pavement, a little coat and hat.
He stepped out behind her. "Kelly."
She turned quickly, her mouth open. "Oh!"
Jennings took her arm. "Don't worry. It's just me. Where are you going,
all dressed up?"
"No place." She blinked. "My golly, you scared me. What is it? What's
"Nothing. Can you spare a few minutes? I want to talk to you."
Kelly nodded. "I guess so." She looked around. "Where'll we go?"
"Where's a place we can talk? I don't want anyone to overhear us."
"Can't we just walk along?"
"No. The Police."
"They're looking for me."
"For you? But why?"
"Let's not stand here," Jennings said grimly. "Where can we go?"
Kelly hesitated. "We can go up to my apartment. No one's there."
They went up to the elevator. Kelly unlocked the door, pressing the
code key against it. The door swung open and they went inside, the heater
and lights coming on automatically at her step. She closed the door and took
off her coat.
"I won't stay long." Jennings said.
"That's all right. I'll fix you a drink." She went into the kitchen.
Jennings sat down on the couch, looking around at the neat little apartment.
Presently the girl came back. She sat down beside him and Jennings took his
drink. Scotch and water, cold.
Kelly smiled. "Not at all." The two of them sat silently for a time.
"Well?" she said at last. "What's this all about? Why are the Police looking
"They want to find out about Rethrick Construction. I'm only a pawn in
this. They think I know something because I worked two years at Rethrick's
"But you don't!"
"I can't prove that."
Kelly reached out, touching Jennings' head, just above the ear. "Feel
there. That spot."
Jennings reached up. Above his ear, under the hair, was a tiny hard
spot. "What is it?"
"They burned through the skull there. Cut a tiny wedge from the brain.
All your memories of the two years. They located them and burned them out.
The SP couldn't possibly make you remember. It's gone. You don't have it."
"By the time they realize that there won't be much left of me."
Kelly said nothing.
"You can see the spot I'm in. It would be better for me if I did
remember. Then I could tell them and they'd --"
"And destroy Rethrick!"
Jennings shrugged. "Why not? Rethrick means nothing to me. I don't even
know what they're doing. And why are the Police so interested? From the very
start, all the secrecy, cleaning my mind --"
"There's reason. Good reason."
"Do you know why?"
"No." Kelly shook her head. "But I'm sure there's a reason. If the SP
are interested, there's reason." She set down her drink, turning toward him.
"I hate the Police. We all do, every one of us. They're after us all the
time. I don't know anything about Rethrick. If I did my life wouldn't be
safe. There's not much standing between Rethrick and them. A few laws, a
handful of laws. Nothing more."
"I have the feeling Rethrick is a great deal more than just another
construction company the SP wants to control."
"I suppose it is. I really don't know. I'm just a receptionist. I've
never been to the Plant. I don't even know where it is."
"But you wouldn't want anything to happen to it."
"Of course not! They're fighting the Police. Anyone that's fighting the
Police is on our side."
"Really? I've heard that kind of logic before. Anyone fighting
communism was automatically good, a few decades ago. Well, time will tell.
As far as I'm concerned I'm an individual caught between two ruthless
forces. Government and business. The Government has men and wealth. Rethrick
Construction has its technocracy. What they've done with it, I don't know. I
did, a few weeks ago. All I have now is a faint glimmer, a few references. A
Kelly glanced at him. "A theory?"
"And my pocketful of trinkets. Seven. Three or four now. I've used
some. They're the basis of my theory. If Rethrick is doing what I think it's
doing, I can understand the SP's interest. As a matter of fact, I'm
beginning to share their interest."
"What is Rethrick doing?"
"It's developed a time scoop."
"A time scoop. It's been theoretically possible for several years. But
it's illegal to experiment with time scoops and mirrors. It's a felony, and
if you're caught, all your equipment and data becomes the property of the
Government." Jennings smiled crookedly. "No wonder the Government's
interested. If they can catch Rethrick with the goods --"
"A time scoop. It's hard to believe."
"Don't you think I'm right?"
"I don't know. Perhaps. Your trinkets. You're not the first to come out
with a little cloth sack of odds and ends. You've used some? How?"
"First, the wire and the bus token. Getting away from the Police. It
seems funny, but if I hadn't had them, I'd be there yet. A piece of wire and
a ten-cent token. But I don't usually carry such things. That's the point."
"No. Not time travel. Berkowsky demonstrated that time travel is
impossible. This is a time scoop, a mirror to see and a scoop to pick up
things. These trinkets. At least one of them is from the future. Scooped up.
"How do you know?"
"It's dated. The others, perhaps not. Things like tokens and wire
belong to classes of things. Any one token is as good as another. There, he
must have used a mirror."
"When I was working with Rethrick. I must have used the mirror. I
looked into my own future. If I was repairing their equipment I could hardly
keep from it! I must have looked ahead, seen what was coming. The SP picking
me up. I must have seen that, and seen what a piece of thin wire and a bus
token would do -- if I had them with me at the exact moment."
Kelly considered. "Well? What do you want me for?"
"I'm not sure, now. Do you really look on Rethrick as a benevolent
institution, waging war against the Police? A sort of Roland at Roncesvalles
"What does it matter how I feel about the Company?"
"It matters a lot." Jennings finished his drink, pushing the glass
aside. "It matters a lot, because I want you to help me. I'm going to
blackmail Rethrick Construction."
Kelly stared at him.
"It's my one chance to stay alive, I've got to get a hold over
Rethrick, a big hold. Enough of a hold so they'll let me in, on my own
terms. There's no other place I can go. Sooner or later the Police are going
to pick me up. If I'm not inside the Plant, and soon --"
"Help you blackmail the Company? Destroy Rethrick?"
"No. Not destroy. I don't want to destroy it -- my life depends on the
Company. My life depends on Rethrick being strong enough to defy the SP. But
if I'm on the outside it doesn't much matter how strong Rethrick is. Do you
see? I want to get in. I want to get inside before it's too late. And I want
in on my own terms, not as a two-year worker who gets pushed out again
"For the Police to pick up."
Jennings nodded. "Exactly."
"How are you going to blackmail the Company?"
"I'm going to enter the Plant and carry out enough material to prove
Rethrick is operating a time scoop."
Kelly laughed. "Enter the Plant? Let's see you find the Plant. The SP
have been looking for it for years."
"I've already found it." Jennings leaned back, lighting a cigarette.
"I've located it with my trinkets. And I have four left, enough to get me
inside, I think. And to get me what I want. I'll be able to carry out enough
papers and photographs to hang Rethrick. But I don't want to hang Rethrick.
I only want to bargain. That's where you come in."
"You can be trusted not to go to the Police. I need someone I can turn
the material over to. I don't dare keep it myself. As soon as I have it I
must turn it over to someone else, someone who'll hide it where I won't be
able to find it."
"Because," Jennings said calmly, "any minute the SP may pick me up. I
have no love for Rethrick, but I don't want to scuttle it. That's why you've
got to help me. I'm going to turn the information over to you, to hold,
while I bargain with Rethrick. Otherwise I'll have to hold it myself. And if
I have it on me --"
He glanced at her. Kelly was staring at the floor, her face tense. Set.
"Well? What do you say? Will you help me, or shall I take the chance
the SP won't pick me up with the material? Data enough to destroy Rethrick.
Well? Which will it be? Do you want to see Rethrick destroyed? What's your
The two of them crouched, looking across the fields at the hill beyond.
The hill rose up, naked and brown, burned clean of vegetation. Nothing grew
on its sides. Halfway up a long steel fence twisted, topped with charged
barbed wire. On the other side a guard walked slowly, a tiny figure
patrolling with a rifle and helmet.
At the top of the hill lay an enormous concrete block, a towering
structure without windows or doors. Mounted guns caught the early morning
sunlight, glinting in a row along the roof of the building.
"So that's the Plant," Kelly said softly.
"That's it. It would take an army to get up there, up that hill and
over the fence. Unless they were allowed in." Jennings got to his feet,
helping Kelly up. They walked back along the path, through the trees, to
where Kelly had parked the cruiser.
"Do you really think your green cloth band will get you in?" Kelly
said, sliding behind the wheel.
"According to the people in the town, a truckload of laborers will be
brought in to the Plant sometime this morning. The truck is unloaded at the
entrance and the men examined. If everything's in order they're let inside
the grounds, past the fence. For construction work, manual labor. At the end
of the day they're let out again and driven back to town."
"Will that get you close enough?"
"I'll be on the other side of the fence, at least."
"How will you get to the time scoop? That must be inside the building,
Jennings brought out a small code key. "This will get me in. I hope. I
assume it will."
Kelly took the key, examining it. "So that's one of your trinkets. We
should have taken a better look inside your little cloth bag."
"The Company. I saw several little bags of trinkets pass out, through
my hands. Rethrick never said anything."
"Probably the Company assumed no one would ever want to get back inside
again." Jennings took the code key from her. "Now, do you know what you're
supposed to do?"
"I'm supposed to stay here with the cruiser until you get back. You're
to give me the material. Then I'm to carry it back to New York and wait for
you to contact me."
"That's right." Jennings studied the distant road, leading through the
trees to the Plant gate. "I better get down there. The truck may be along
"What if they decide to count the number of workers?"
"I'll have to take the chance. But I'm not worried. I'm sure he foresaw
Kelly smiled. "You and your friend, your helpful friend. I hope he left
you enough things to get you out again, after you have the photographs."
"Why not?" Kelly said easily. "I always liked you. You know that. You
knew when you came to me."
Jennings stepped out of the cruiser. He had on overalls and workshoes,
and a gray sweatshirt. "I'll see you later. If everything goes all right. I
think it will." He patted his pocket. "With my charms here, my good-luck
He went off through the trees, walking swiftly.
The trees led to the very edge of the road. He stayed with them, not
coming out into the open. The Plant guards were certainly scanning the
hillside. They had burned it clean, so that anyone trying to creep up to the
fence would be spotted at once. And he had seen infrared searchlights.
Jennings crouched low, resting against his heels, watching the road. A
few yards up the road was a roadblock, just ahead of the gate. He examined
his watch. Ten thirty. He might have a wait, a long wait. He tried to relax.
It was after eleven when the great truck came down the road, rumbling
Jennings came to life. He took out the strip of green cloth and
fastened it around his arm. The truck came closer. He could see its load
now. The back was full of workmen, men in jeans and workshirts, bounced and
jolted as the truck moved along. Sure enough, each had an arm band like his
own, a swathe of green around his upper arm. So far so good.
The truck came slowly to a halt, stopping at the roadblock. The men got
down slowly onto the road, sending up a cloud of dust into the hot midday
sun. They slapped the dust from their jeans, some of them lighting
cigarettes. Two guards came leisurely from behind the roadblock. Jennings
tensed. In a moment it would be time. The guards moved among the men,
examining them, their arm bands, their faces, looking at the identification
tabs of a few.
The roadblock slid back. The gate opened. The guards returned to their
Jennings slid forward, slithering through the brush, toward the road.
The men were stamping out their cigarettes, climbing back up into the truck.
The truck was gunning its motor, the driver releasing the brakes. Jennings
dropped onto the road, behind the truck. A rattle of leaves and dirt
showered after him. Where he had landed, the view of the guards was cut off
by the truck. Jennings held his breath. He ran toward the back of the truck.
The men stared at him curiously as he pulled himself up among them, his
chest rising and falling. Their faces were weathered, gray and lined. Men of
the soil. Jennings took his place between two burly farmers as the truck
started up. They did not seem to notice him. He had rubbed dirt into his
skin, and let his beard grow for a day. A quick glance he didn't look much
different from the others. But if anyone made a count --
The truck passed through the gate, into the grounds. The gate slid shut
behind. Now they were going up, up the steep side of the hill, the truck
rattling and swaying from side to side. The vast concrete structure loomed
nearer. Were they going to enter it? Jennings watched, fascinated. A thin
high door was sliding back, revealing a dark interior. A row of artificial
The truck stopped. The workmen began to get down again. Some mechanics
came around them.
"What's this crew for?" one of them asked.
"Digging. Inside." Another jerked a thumb. "They're digging again. Send
Jennings's heart thudded. He was going inside! He felt at his neck.
There, inside the gray sweater, a flatplate camera hung like a bib around
his neck. He could scarcely feel it, even knowing it was there. Maybe this
would be less difficult than he had thought.
The workmen pushed through the door on foot, Jennings with them. They
were in an immense workroom, long benches with half-completed machinery,
booms and cranes, and the constant roar of work. The door closed after them,
cutting them off from outside. He was in the Plant. But where was the time
scoop, and the mirror?
"This way," a foreman said. The workmen plodded over to the right. A
freight lift rose to meet them from the bowels of the building. "You're
going down below. How many of you have experience with drills?"
A few hands went up.
"You can show the others. We are moving earth with drills and eaters.
Any of you work eaters?"
No hands. Jennings glanced at the worktables. Had he worked here, not
so long ago? A sudden chill went through him. Suppose he were recognized?
Maybe he had worked with these very mechanics.
"Come on," the foreman said impatiently. "Hurry up."
Jennings got into the freight lift with the others. A moment later they
began to descend, down the black tube. Down, down, into the lower levels of
the Plant. Rethrick Construction was big, a lot bigger than it looked above
ground. A lot bigger than he had imagined. Floors, underground levels,
flashing past one after the other.
The elevator stopped. The doors opened. He was looking down a long
corridor. The floor was thick with stone dust. The air was moist. Around
him, the workmen began to crowd out. Suddenly Jennings stiffened, pulling
At the end of the corridor before a steel door, was Earl Rethrick.
Talking to a group of technicians.
"All out," the foreman said. "Let's go."
Jennings left the elevator, keeping behind the others. Rethrick! His
heart beat dully. If Rethrick saw him he was finished. He felt in his
pockets. He had a miniature Boris gun, but it wouldn't be much use if he was
discovered. Once Rethrick saw him it would be all over.
"Down this way." The foreman led them toward what seemed to be an
underground railway, to one side of the corridor. The men were getting into
metal cars along a track. Jennings watched Rethrick. He saw him gesture
angrily, his voice coming faintly down the hall. Suddenly Rethrick turned.
He held up his hand and the great steel door behind him opened.
Jennings's heart almost stopped beating.
There, beyond the steel door, was the time scoop. He recognized it at
once. The mirror. The long metal rods, ending in claws. Like Berkowsky's
theoretical model -- only this was real.
Rethrick went into the room, the technicians following behind him. Men
were working at the scoop, standing all around it. Part of the shield was
off. They were digging into the works. Jennings stared, hanging back.
"Say you --" the foreman said, coming toward him. The steel door shut.
The view was cut off. Rethrick, the scoop, the technicians, were gone.
"Sorry," Jennings murmured.
"You know you're not supposed to be curious around here." The foreman
was studying him intently. "I don't remember you. Let me see your tab."
"Your identification tab." The foreman turned away. "Bill, bring me the
board." He looked Jennings up and down. "I'm going to check you from the
board, mister. I've never seen you in the crew before. Stay here." A man was
coming from a side door with a check board in his hands.
It was now or never.
Jennings sprinted, down the corridor, toward the great steel door.
Behind there was a startled shout, the foreman and his helper. Jennings
whipped out the code key, praying fervently as he ran. He came up to the
door, holding out the key. With the other hand he brought out the Boris gun.
Beyond the door was the time scoop. A few photographs, some schematics
snatched up, and then, if he could get out --
The door did not move. Sweat leaped out on his face. He knocked the key
against the door. Why didn't it open? Surely -- He began to shake, panic
rising up in him. Down the corridor people were coming, racing after him.
But the door did not open. The key he held in his hand was the wrong
He was defeated. The door and the key did not match. Either he had been
wrong, or the key was to be used someplace else. But where? Jennings looked
frantically around. Where? Where could he go?
To one side a door was half open, a regular bolt-lock door. He crossed
the corridor, pushing it open. He was in a storeroom of some sort. He
slammed the door, throwing the bolt. He could hear them outside, confused,
calling for guards. Soon armed guards would be along. Jennings held the
Boris gun tightly, gazing around. Was he trapped? Was there a second way
He ran through the room, pushing among bales and boxes, towering stacks
of silent cartons, end on end. At the rear was an emergency hatch. He opened
it immediately. An impulse came to throw the code key away. What good had it
been? But surely he had known what he was doing. He had already seen all
this. Like God, it had already happened for him. Predetermined. He could not
err. Or could he?
A chill went through him. Maybe the future was variable. Maybe this had
been the right key, once. But not any more!
There were sounds behind him. They were melting the storeroom door.
Jennings scrambled through the emergency hatch, into a low concrete passage,
damp and ill lit. He ran quickly along it, turning corners. It was like a
sewer. Other passages ran into it, from all sides.
He stopped. Which way? Where could he hide? The mouth of a major vent
pipe gaped above his head. He caught hold and pulled himself up. Grimly, he
eased his body onto it. They'd ignore a pipe, go on past. He crawled
cautiously down the pipe. Warm air blew into his face. Why such a big vent?
It implied an unusual chamber at the other end. He came to a metal grill and
He was looking into the great room, the room he had glimpsed beyond the
steel door. Only now he was at the other end. There was the time scoop. And
far down, beyond the scoop, was Rethrick, conferring at an active vidscreen.
An alarm was sounding, whining shrilly, echoing everywhere. Technicians were
running in all directions. Guards in uniform poured in and out of doors.
The scoop. Jennings examined the grill. It was slotted in place. He
moved it laterally and it fell into his hands. No one was watching. He slid
cautiously out, into the room, the Boris gun ready. He was fairly hidden
behind the scoop, and the technicians and guards were all the way down at
the other end of the room, where he had first seen them.
And there it was, all around him, the schematics, the mirror, papers,
data, blueprints. He flicked his camera on. Against his chest the camera
vibrated, film moving through it. He snatched up a handful of schematics.
Perhaps he had used these very diagrams, a few weeks before!
He stuffed his pockets with papers. The film came to an end. But he was
finished. He squeezed back into the vent, pushing through the mouth and down
the tube. The sewerlike corridor was still empty, but there was an insistent
drumming sound, the noise of voices and footsteps. So many passages -- They
were looking for him in a maze of escape corridors.
Jennings ran swiftly. He ran on and on, without regard to direction,
trying to keep along the main corridor. On all sides passages flocked off,
one after another, countless passages. He was dropping down, lower and
lower. Running downhill.
Suddenly he stopped, gasping. The sound behind him had died away for a
moment. But there was a new sound, ahead. He went along slowly. The corridor
twisted, turning to the right. He advanced slowly, the Boris gun ready.
Two guards were standing a little way ahead, lounging and talking
together. Beyond them was a heavy code door. And behind him the sound of
voices were coming again, growing louder. They had found the same passage he
had taken. They were on the way.
Jennings stepped out, the Boris gun raised. "Put up your hands. Let go
of your guns."
The guards gawked at him. Kids, boys with cropped blond hair and shiny
uniforms. They moved back, pale and scared.
"The guns. Let them fall."
The two rifles clattered down. Jennings smiled. Boys. Probably this was
their first encounter with trouble. Their leather boots shone, brightly
"Open the door," Jennings said. "I want through."
They stared at him. Behind, the noise grew.
"Open it." He became impatient. "Come on." He waved the pistol. "Open
it, damn it! Do you want me to --"
"We -- we can't."
"We can't. It's a code door. We don't have the key. Honest, mister.
They don't let us have the key." They were frightened. Jennings felt fear
himself now. Behind him the drumming was louder. He was trapped, caught.
Or was he?
Suddenly he laughed. He walked quickly up to the door. "Faith," he
murmured, raising his hand. "That's something you should never lose."
"What -- what's that?"
"Faith in yourself. Self-confidence."
The door slid back as he held the code key against it. Blinding
sunlight streamed in, making him blink. He held the gun steady. He was
outside, at the gate. Three guards gaped in amazement at the gun. He was at
the gate -- and beyond lay the woods.
"Get out of the way." Jennings fired at the metal bars of the gate. The
metal burst into flame, melting, a cloud of fire rising.
"Stop him!" From behind, men came pouring, guards, out of the corridor.
Jennings leaped through the smoking gate. The metal tore at him,
searing him. He ran through the smoke, rolling and falling. He got to his
feet and scurried on, into the trees.
He was outside. He had not let him down. The key had worked, all right.
He had tried it first on the wrong door.
On and on he ran, sobbing for breath, pushing through the trees. Behind
him the Plant and the voices fell away. He had the papers. And he was free.
He found Kelly and gave her the film and everything he had managed to
stuff into his pockets. Then he changed back to his regular clothes. Kelly
drove him to the edge of Stuartsville and left him off. Jennings watched the
cruiser rise up into the air, heading toward New York. Then he went into
town and boarded the Intercity rocket.
On the flight he slept, surrounded by dozing businessmen. When he awoke
the rocket was settling down, landing at the huge New York spaceport.
Jennings got off, mixing with the flow of people. Now that he was back
there was the danger of being picked up by the SP again. Two security
officers in their green uniforms watched him impassively as he took a taxi
at the field station. The taxi swept him into downtown traffic. Jennings
wiped his brow. That was close. Now, to find Kelly.
He ate dinner at a small restaurant, sitting in the back away from the
windows. When he emerged the sun was beginning to set. He walked slowly
along the sidewalk, deep in thought.
So far so good. He had got the papers and film, and he had got away.
The trinkets had worked every step along the way. Without them he would have
been helpless. He felt in his pocket. Two left. The serrated half poker
chip, and the parcel receipt. He took the receipt out, examining it in the
fading evening light.
Suddenly he noticed something. The date on it was today's date. He had
caught up with the slip.
He put it away, going on. What did it mean? What was it for? He
shrugged. He would know, in time. And the half poker chip. What the hell was
it for? No way to tell. In any case, he was certain to get through. He had
got him by, up to now. Surely there wasn't much left.
He came to Kelly's apartment house and stopped, looking up. Her light
was on. She was back; her fast little cruiser had beaten the Intercity
rocket. He entered the elevator and rose to her floor.
"Hello," he said, when she opened the door.
"You're all right?"
"Sure. Can I come in?"
He went inside. Kelly closed the door behind him. "I'm glad to see you.
The city's swarming with SP men. Almost every block. And the patrols --"
"I know. I saw a couple at the spaceport." Jennings sat down on the
couch. "It's good to be back, though."
"I was afraid they might stop all the Intercity flights and check
through the passengers."
"They have no reason to assume I'd be coming into the city."
"I didn't think of that." Kelly sat down across from him. "Now, what
comes next? Now that you have got away with the material, what are you going
"Next I meet Rethrick and spring the news on him. The news that the
person who escaped from the Plant was myself. He knows that someone got
away, but he doesn't know who it was. Undoubtedly, he assumes it was an SP
"Couldn't he use the time mirror to find out?"
A shadow crossed Jennings' face. "That's so. I didn't think of that."
He rubbed his jaw, frowning. "In any case, I have the material. Or, you have
"All right. We'll go ahead with our plans. Tomorrow we'll see Rethrick.
We'll see him here, in New York. Can you get him down to the Office? Will he
come if you send for him?"
"Yes. We have a code. If I ask him to come, he'll come."
"Fine. I'll meet him there. When he realizes that we have the picture
and schematics he'll have to agree to my demands. He'll have to let me into
Rethrick Construction, on my own terms. It's either that, or face the
possibility of having the material turned over to the Security Police."
"And once you're in? Once Rethrick agrees to your demands?"
"I saw enough at the Plant to convince me that Rethrick is far bigger
than I had realized. How big, I don't know. No wonder he was so interested!"
"You're going to demand equal control of the Company?"
"You would never be satisfied to go back as a mechanic, would you? The
way you were before."
"No. To get booted out again?" Jennings smiled. "Anyhow, I know he
intended better things than that. He laid careful plans. The trinkets. He
must have planned everything long in advance. No, I'm not going back as a
mechanic. I saw a lot there, level after level of machines and men. They're
doing something. And I want to be in on it."
Kelly was silent.
"See?" Jennings said.
He left the apartment, hurrying along the dark street. He had stayed
there too long. If the SP found the two of them together it would be all up
with Rethrick Construction. He could take no chances, with the end almost in
He looked at his watch. It was past midnight. He would meet Rethrick
this morning, and present him with the proposition. His spirits rose as he
walked. He would be safe. More than safe. Rethrick Construction was aiming
at something far larger than mere industrial power. What he had seen had
convinced him that a revolution was brewing. Down in the many levels below
the ground, down under the fortress of concrete, guarded by guns and armed
men, Rethrick was planning a war. Machines were being turned out. The time
scoop and the mirror were hard at work, watching, dipping, extracting.
No wonder he had worked out such careful plans. He had seen all this
and understood, begun to ponder. The problem of the mind cleaning. His
memory would be gone when he was released. Destruction of all the plans.
Destruction? There was the alternate clause in the contract. Others had
seen it, used it. But not the way he intended!
He was after much more than anyone who had come before. He was the
first to understand, to plan. The seven trinkets were a bridge to something
beyond anything that --
At the end of the block an SP cruiser pulled up to the curb. Its doors
Jennings stopped, his heart constricting. The night patrol, roaming
through the city. It was after eleven, after curfew. He looked quickly
around. Everything was dark. The stores and houses were shut up tight,
locked for the night. Silent apartment houses, buildings. Even the bars were
He looked back the way he had come. Behind him, a second SP cruiser had
stopped. Two SP officers had stepped out onto the curb. They had seen him.
They were coming toward him. He stood frozen, looking up and down the
Across from him was the entrance of a swank hotel, its neon sign
glimmering. He began to walk toward it, his heels echoing against the
"Stop!" one of the SP men called. "Come back here. What are you doing
out? What's your --"
Jennings went up the stairs, into the hotel. He crossed the lobby. The
clerk was staring at him. No one else was around. The lobby was deserted.
His heart sank. He didn't have a chance. He began to run aimlessly, past the
desk, along a carpeted hall. Maybe it led out some back way. Behind him, the
SP men had already entered the lobby.
Jennings turned a corner. Two men stepped out, blocking his way.
"Where are you going?"
He stopped, wary. "Let me by." He reached into his coat for the Boris
gun. At once the men moved.
His arms were pinned to his sides. Professional hoods. Past them he
could see light. Light and sound. Some kind of activity. People.
"All right," one of the hoods said. They dragged him back along the
corridor, toward the lobby. Jennings struggled futilely. He had entered a
blind alley. Hoods, a joint. The city was dotted with them, hidden in the
darkness. The swank hotel a front. They would toss him out, into the hands
of the SP.
Some people came along the halls, a man and a woman. Older people. Well
dressed. They gazed curiously at Jennings, suspended between the two men.
Suddenly Jennings understood. A wave of relief hit him, blinding him.
"Wait," he said thickly. "My pocket."
"Wait. Look. My right pocket. Look for yourselves."
He relaxed, waiting. The hood on his right reached, dipping cautiously
into the pocket. Jennings smiled. It was over. He had seen even this. There
was no possibility of failure. This solved one problem: where to stay until
it was time to meet Rethrick. He could stay here.
The hood brought out the half poker chip, examining the serrated edges.
"Just a second." From his own coat he took a matching chip, fitting on a
gold chain. He touched the edges together.
"All right?" Jennings said.
"Sure." They let him go. He brushed off his coat automatically. "Sure,
mister. Sorry. Say, you should have --"
"Take me in the back," Jennings said, wiping his face. "Some people are
looking for me. I don't particularly want them to find me."
"Sure." They led him back, into the gambling rooms. The half chip had
turned what might have been a disaster into an asset. A gambling and girl
joint. One of the few institutions the Police left alone. He was safe. No
question of that. Only one thing remained. The struggle with Rethrick!
Rethrick's face was hard. He gazed at Jennings, swallowing rapidly.
"No," he said. "I didn't know it was you. We thought it was the SP."
There was silence. Kelly sat at the chair by her desk, her legs
crossed, a cigarette between her fingers. Jennings leaned against the door,
his arms folded.
"Why didn't you use the mirror?" he said.
Rethrick's face flickered. "The mirror? You did a good job, my friend.
We tried to use the mirror."
"Before you finished your term with us you changed a few leads inside
the mirror. When we tried to operate it nothing happened. I left the plant
half an hour ago. They were still working on it."
"I did that before I finished my two years?"
"Apparently you had worked out your plans in detail. You know that with
the mirror we would have no trouble tracking you down. You're a good
mechanic, Jennings. The best we ever had. We'd like to have you back,
sometime. Working for us again. There's not one of us that can operate the
mirror the way you could. And right now, we can't use it at all."
Jennings smiled. "I had no idea he did anything like that. I
underestimated him. His protection was even --"
"Who are you talking about?"
"Myself. During the two years. I use the objective. It's easier."
"Well, Jennings. So the two of you worked out an elaborate plan to
steal our schematics. Why? What's the purpose? You haven't turned them over
to the Police."
"Then I can assume it's blackmail."
"What for? What do you want?" Rethrick seemed to have aged. He slumped,
his eyes small and glassy, rubbing his chin nervously. "You went to a lot of
trouble to get us into this position. I'm curious why. While you were
working for us you laid the groundwork. Now you've completed it, in spite of
"Erasing your mind. Concealing the Plant."
"Tell him," Kelly said. "Tell him why you did it."
Jennings took a deep breath. "Rethrick, I did it to get back in. Back
to the Company. That's the only reason. No other."
Rethrick stared at him. "To get back into the Company? You can come
back in. I told you that." His voice was thin and sharp, edged with strain.
"What's the matter with you? You can come back in. For as long as you want
"As a mechanic."
"Yes. As a mechanic. We employ many --"
"I don't want to come back as a mechanic. I'm not interested in working
for you. Listen, Rethrick. The SP picked me up as soon as I left this
Office. If it hadn't been for him I'd be dead."
"They picked you up?"
"They wanted to know what Rethrick Construction does. They wanted me to
Rethrick nodded. "That's bad. We didn't know that."
"No, Rethrick. I'm not coming in as an employee you can toss out any
time it pleases you. I'm coming in with you, not for you."
"With me?" Rethrick stared at him. Slowly a film settled over his face,
an ugly hard film. "I don't understand what you mean."
"You and I are going to run Rethrick Construction together. That'll be
the way, from now on. And no one will be burning my memory out, for their
"That's what you want?"
"And if we don't cut you in?"
"Then the schematics and films go to the SP. It's as simple as that.
But I don't want to. I don't want to destroy the Company. I want to get into
the Company! I want to be safe. You don't know what it's like, being out
there, with no place to go. An individual has no place to turn to, anymore.
No one to help him. He's caught between two ruthless forces, a pawn between
political and economic powers. And I'm tired of being a pawn."
For a long time Rethrick said nothing. He stared down at the floor, his
face dull and blank. At last he looked up. "I know it's that way. That's
something I've known for a long time. Longer than you have. I'm a lot older
than you. I've seen it come, grow that way, year after year. That's why
Rethrick Construction exists. Someday, it'll be all different. Someday, when
we have the scoop and the mirror finished. When the weapons are finished."
Jennings said nothing.
"I know very well how it is! I'm an old man. I've been working a long
time. When they told me someone had got out of the Plant with schematics, I
thought the end had come. We already knew you had damaged the mirror. We
knew there was a connection, but we had parts figured wrong.
"We thought, of course, that Security had planted you with us, to find
out what we were doing. Then, when you realized you couldn't carry out your
information, you damaged the mirror. With the mirror damaged, SP could go
ahead and --"
He stopped, rubbing his cheek.
"Go on," Jennings said.
"So you did this alone. . . Blackmail. To get into the Company. You
don't know what the Company is for, Jennings! How dare you try to come in!
We've been working and building for a long time. You'd wreck us, to save
your hide. You'd destroy us, just to save yourself."
"I'm not wrecking you. I can be a lot of help."
"I run the Company alone. It's my Company. I made it, put it together.
Jennings laughed. "And what happens when you die? Or is the revolution
going to come in your own lifetime?"
Rethrick's head jerked up.
"You'll die, and there won't be anyone to go on. You know I'm a good
mechanic. You said so yourself. You're a fool, Rethrick. You want to manage
it all yourself. Do everything, decide everything. But you'll die, someday.
And then what will happen?"
There was silence.
"You better let me in -- for the Company's good, as well as my own. I
can do a lot for you. When you're gone the Company will survive in my hands.
And maybe the revolution will work."
"You should be glad you're alive at all! If we hadn't allowed you to
take your trinkets out with you --"
"What else could you do? How could you let men service your mirror, see
their own futures, and not let them lift a finger to help themselves. It's
easy to see why you were forced to insert the alternate-payment clause. You
had no choice."
"You don't even know what we are doing. Why we exist."
"I have a good idea. After all, I worked for you two years."
Time passed. Rethrick moistened his lips again and again, rubbing his
cheek. Perspiration stood out on his forehead. At last he looked up.
"No," he said. "It's no deal. No one will ever run the Company but me.
If I die, it dies with me. It's my property."
Jennings became instantly alert. "Then the papers go to the Police."
Rethrick said nothing, but a peculiar expression moved across his face,
an expression that gave Jennings a sudden chill.
"Kelly," Jennings said. "Do you have the papers with you?"
Kelly stirred, standing up. She put out her cigarette, her face pale.
"Where are they? Where did you put them?"
"Sorry," Kelly said softly. "I'm not going to tell you."
He stared at her. "What?"
"I'm sorry," Kelly said again. Her voice was small and faint. "They're
safe. The SP won't ever get them. But neither will you. When it's
convenient, I'll turn them back to my father."
"Kelly is my daughter," Rethrick said. "That was one thing you didn't
count on, Jennings. He didn't count on it, either. No one knew that but the
two of us. I wanted to keep all positions of trust in the family. I see now
that it was a good idea. But it had to be kept secret. If the SP had guessed
they would have picked her up at once. Her life wouldn't have been safe."
Jennings let his breath out slowly. "I see."
"It seemed like a good idea to go along with you," Kelly said.
"Otherwise you'd have done it alone, anyhow. And you would have had the
papers on you. As you said, if the SP caught you with the papers it would be
the end of us. So I went along with you. As soon as you gave me the papers I
put them in a good safe place." She smiled a little. "No one will find them
but me. I'm sorry."
"Jennings, you can come in with us," Rethrick said. "You can work for
us forever, if you want. You can have anything you want. Anything except --"
"Except that no one runs the Company but you."
"That's right. Jennings, the Company is old. Older than I am. I didn't
bring it into existence. It was -- you might say, willed to me. I took the
burden on. The job of managing it, making it grow, moving it toward the day.
The day of revolution, as you put it.
"My grandfather founded the Company, back in the twentieth century. The
Company has always been in the family. And it will always be. Someday, when
Kelly marries, there'll be an heir to carry it on after me. So that's taken
care of. The Company was founded up in Maine, in a small New England town.
My grandfather was a little old New Englander, frugal, honest, passionately
independent. He had a little repair business of some sort, a little tool and
fix-it place. And plenty of knack.
"When he saw government and big business closing in on everyone, he
went underground. Rethrick Construction disappeared from the map. It took
government quite a while to organize Maine, longer than most places. When
the rest of the world had been divided up between international cartels and
world-states, there was New England, still alive. Still free. And my
grandfather and Rethrick Construction.
"He brought in a few men, mechanics, doctors, lawyers, little
once-a-week newspapermen from the Middle West. The Company grew. Weapons
appeared, weapons and knowledge. The time scoop and mirror! The Plant was
built, secretly, at great cost, over a long period of time. The Plant is
big. Big and deep. It goes down many more levels than you saw. He saw them,
your alter ego. There's a lot of power there. Power, and men who've
disappeared, purged all over the world, in fact. We got them first, the best
"Someday, Jennings, we're going to break out. You see, conditions like
this can't go on. People can't live this way, tossed back and forth by
political and economic powers. Masses of people shoved this way and that
according to the needs of this government or that cartel. There's going to
be resistance, someday. A strong, desperate resistance. Not by big people,
powerful people, but by little people. Bus drivers. Grocers. Vidscreen
operators. Waiters. And that's where the Company comes in.
"We're going to provide them with the help they'll need, the tools,
weapons, the knowledge. We're going to 'sell' them our services. They'll be
able to hire us. And they'll need someone they can hire. They'll have a lot
lined up against them. A lot of wealth and power."
There was silence.
"Do you see?" Kelly said. "That's why you mustn't interfere. It's Dad's
Company. It's always been that way. That's the way Maine people are. It's
part of the family. The Company belongs to the family. It's ours."
"Come in with us," Rethrick said. "As a mechanic. I'm sorry, but that's
our limited outlook showing through. Maybe it's narrow, but we've always
done things this way."
Jennings said nothing. He walked slowly across the office, his hands in
his pockets. After a time he raised the blind and stared out at the street,
Down below, like a tiny black bug, a Security cruiser moved along,
drifting silently with the traffic that flowed up and down the street. It
joined a second cruiser, already parked. Four SP men were standing by it in
their green uniforms, and even as he watched some more could be seen coming
from across the street. He let the blind down.
"It's a hard decision to make," he said.
"If you go out there they'll get you," Rethrick said. "They're out
there all the time. You haven't got a chance."
"Please --" Kelly said, looking up at him.
Suddenly Jennings smiled. "So you won't tell me where the papers are.
Where you put them."
Kelly shook her head.
"Wait." Jennings reached into his pocket. He brought out a small piece
of paper. He unfolded it slowly, scanning it. "By any chance did you deposit
it with the Dunne National Bank, about three o'clock yesterday afternoon?
For safekeeping in their storage vaults?"
Kelly gasped. She grabbed her handbag, unsnapping it. Jennings put the
slip of paper, the parcel receipt, back in his pocket. "So he saw even
that," he murmured. "The last of the trinkets. I wondered what it was for."
Kelly groped frantically in her purse, her face wild. She brought out a
slip of paper, waving it.
"You're wrong! Here it is! It's still here." She relaxed a little. "I
don't know what you have, but this is --"
In the air above them something moved. A dark space formed, a circle.
The space stirred. Kelly and Rethrick stared up, frozen.
From the dark circle a claw appeared, a metal claw, joined to a
shimmering rod. The claw dropped, swinging in a wide arc. The claw swept the
paper from Kelly's fingers. It hesitated for a second. Then it drew itself
up again, disappearing with the paper, into the circle of black. Then,
silently, the claw and the rod and the circle blinked out. There was
nothing. Nothing at all.
"Where -- where did it go?" Kelly whispered. "The paper. What was
Jennings patted his pocket. "It's safe. It's safe, right here. I
wondered when he would show up. I was beginning to worry."
Rethrick and his daughter stood, shocked into silence.
"Don't look so unhappy," Jennings said. He folded his arms. "The
paper's safe -- and the Company's safe. When the time comes it'll be there,
strong and very glad to help out the revolution. We'll see to that, all of
us, you, me and your daughter."
He glanced at Kelly, his eyes twinkling. "All three of us. And maybe by
that time there'll be even more members to the family!"
Филипп Дик. Платежное поручение(engl)
Популярность: 25, Last-modified: Thu, 22 Jan 2004 11:15:21 GMT