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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 11


“Wait a second, wait a second,” Elliot said as soon as his mouth was unplugged. “Not you, too?”

“Eh?” said Mr. Harper.

There was a somewhat elderly man with him — heavy-set, wearing a rumpled gray suit — but he did not say anything.

“Isn’t there anyone I know who isn’t mixed up in this conspiracy?”

“The boy seems to be fine,” the elder man said. “I’ll see you later, Ben. Laissez-faire.”

“One moment, Doctor. I’m not certain he did not receive a concussion. He seems confused.” Mr. Harper turned back to Elliot. “Now, what’s this about a conspiracy?”

“The Cadre, I mean,” answered Elliot. “It just seems that everyone I know or meet is mixed up with it in some way.” He paused. “Now that I think about it, Al and the tzigane are probably members, too.”

“Slow down,” said Mr. Harper, releasing Elliot from the harness. “I don’t know who you’re talking about, but if they’re Cadre allies, I don’t want to know.”

The two men helped Elliot out of the trunk. He stood dizzily for a moment, then examined his surroundings. He was not sure what he had expected — perhaps a rat-invested warehouse or a dimly lit cellar — but this was certainly not it. Instead, he found himself in a larger-than-living-room-sized hall that looked like a cross between an airport VIP lounge and a hospital emergency room.

On the wall behind the trunk hung a white first-aid cabinet with a red cross painted on, near it a green oxygen tank with face mask, an examining table, a stand with an empty hook — used to hold blood — and emergency heart resuscitation equipment. Against the opposite wall were a liquor bar, tables and comfortable chairs, and facing the bar a video wall screen. Though the room was carpeted, a Plexiglas runway was overlaid between the trunk and the room’s only door. There were no windows.

The room’s only decoration was a modified Gadsden flag draped on the wall adjoining the bar and medical areas (opposite the door), a golden field with “LAISSEZ-FAIRE!” in an upper left corner, a coiled rattlesnake facing left with its tongue out, and in the lower right, “DONT TREAD ON ME!”

Elliot decided this hall was quite used to receiving visitors.

The doctor told Elliot to get onto the examining table and there examined him for concussion — testing his pupillary responses, checking his reflexes, asking Elliot if he had a stiff neck; Elliot answered that his neck was fine.

Then he told Elliot, “Open your coat, jacket, and shirt.” Elliot did, pushing his holstered gun over to the side, and the doctor listened to his heart, removing the stethoscope to tell him, “You’ll live to be much older than me.” He turned back to Harper. “And now, Ben, I’ll leave this youngster in your capable hands.”

With a “Good night, all,” he left.

“Seems in a hurry,” Elliot said as soon as the door closed.

“Dr. Taylor is probably anxious to return to his poker game,” Harper replied.

Elliot buttoned up his shirt. “Sorry to take him away from it.”

“You did him a favor. He was losing.”

After jumping off the table, Elliot asked, “Mr. Harper, what are you doing here?”

Harper guided Elliot over to the bar. “Forget that name. Around here I’m Ben Goldman. Call me Ben.”

“All right . . . Ben. But what –”

“And it would be a good idea,” Harper interrupted, “for you to use another name around here. Vreeland is far too sensitive at the moment.” Harper went behind the bar. “I’m drinking Jack Daniels on ice. What will you have?”

“You’re offering a student a drink?”

“Why not? Are you an alcoholic? Or a teetotaler?”

Elliot shook his head, sitting at the bar. “I just can’t imagine what Dr. Fischer would say. Jack Daniels will be fine — water, please.”

“You’re giving Dr. Fischer less credit than she deserves. She’s highly intelligent.” Harper handed Elliot his drink. “Skoal.

For the next forty-five minutes, “Ben Goldman” gave Elliot a basic rundown of what was expected of him if he were to receive aid from the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre. “This room is Aurora Terminal,” Harper explained, “and is the only part of Aurora that anyone but an ally pledged to keep our secrets is permitted to see. The Cadre’s goal — a laissez-faire society — precludes our use of what would be traditional revolutionary tactics; we are forced to rely mainly on stealth. And, as such, the main precondition for anyone to deal with us is a good deal of discretion. You must refrain from learning more about Cadre business than the part that directly concerns you, and never discuss Cadre business with anyone but another ally. The rest will follow easily enough if you keep just one rule: mind your own business.”

“I get you.”

“Fine. Now finish your drink and you’ll get the Grand Tour.”

Past the Terminal door was a long corridor, fluorescently lit, with a large sliding portal opposite the Terminal and a single door at the corridor’s far end; Mr. Harper led Elliot to the latter. The door was constructed of steel — without any visible doorknobs, hinges, or buzzer — however, Elliot noticed a small mirror above the door, correctly deducing that it concealed a video camera.

When the door slid open, Elliot found himself facing a burly-looking man pointing a weapon he recognized as a Taser, a nonlethal electrical-dart paralyzer. The guard wore black turtleneck sweater and black slacks, a photo-identification badge with his picture on it but no name or other markings, and a red “SECURITY” brassard on his arm. Nonregulation hair and beard.

“Identity,” said the guard, pointing the Taser directly at Harper.

“‘A is A,’” Mr. Harper replied, obviously bored with the procedure.

The guard lowered the weapon. “Go on through.”

They turned a 45-degree right bend in the corridor, ending up at an alcove with a security commandant behind a desk that housed another Taser. Both men were uniformed like the first guard — though the commandant’s arm brassard identified him as such — with photo badges clipped to their turtlenecks. The alcove also housed folding chairs, a row of lockers, and several machines Elliot recognized from preflight security checks; he spotted a metal detector and a fluoroscope.

“Still clean,” the commandant said. The guard with the Taser nodded.

Mr. Harper and Elliot passed through the metal detector, then were fluoroscoped. Harper was passed without comment, but Elliot was asked to surrender his pistol and ammunition case. The guard placed them in a locker, handing Elliot the key. The nature of Elliot’s belt was also discovered; the commandant asked what was inside. Elliot hesitated momentarily, then answered honestly, “Gold coins.”

“Will you give us permission to inspect?”

“Do you have to?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Commandant Welch can’t pass you otherwise,” Harper explained.

Elliot agreed reluctantly, opening the belt, then watching the inspection closely. Inasmuch as the belt turned out not to be concealing any weapons, cameras, recorders, transmitters, or radioactive materials, it was immediately returned intact.

“You’re cleared,” the commandant said. “Proceed to registration.”

Elliot picked up his jacket and overcoat, then followed Harper farther down the corridor. “Do you have to go through this every time you come in?” he asked.

Harper nodded. “Even if it’s only walking down to Aurora Terminal.”

“Poor Dr. Taylor.”

“Registration” turned out to be a small office not far from the security alcove, empty but for five cubicles that looked like voting booths except for a chair inside; curtains on each booth could be drawn across to assure privacy. Inside each cubicle was a computer station. There were no computers present, of course; Elliot knew enough not even to wonder where they might be.

Each station had a video display, a modified typing keyboard, an instant-photo camera aimed at the chair, a facsimile printout unit, an optical scanner, and a light pen; the cubicle also housed a dispenser for the photo badges.

While Elliot watched, Harper went into a cubicle an without sitting down or drawing the curtain immediately typed in a bypass program. After placing his palm on the optical scanner, he was automatically reissued his photo badge.

Harper told Elliot that he would meet him when he was finished, then left, clipping the badge to his jacket.

Elliot sat in the cubicle, the video display activating as he sat down.

LAISSEZ-FAIRE, NEW ALLY. WELCOME TO AURORA. WE HOPE YOUR STAY WITH US IS PLEASANT AND PROFITABLE.

THE ELECTRONIC DOCUMENT RESULTING FROM THIS INTERVIEW WILL CONSTITUTE YOUR BASIC CONTRACT WITH THE REVOLUTIONARY AGORIST CADRE AND WILL BE FULLY ENFORCEABLE AFTER ARBITRATION AS PER MUTUAL SUBMISSION AGREEMENTS.

PLEASE ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS FULLY AND HONESTLY, IN THE UNDERSTANDING AND BONDED ASSURANCE THAT ALL INFORMATION YOU GIVE WILL REMAIN FULLY CONFIDENTIAL AND IS PROTECTED AGAINST ACCESS FROM ANY NONAUTHORIZED SOURCE.

The computer display proceeded to give Elliot instructions on how to use the keyboard, scanner, and light pen to supply answers, to correct errors, and to ask questions relating to the contract or further instructions.

About an hour later, Elliot was certain that the computer now knew more about him than he did, and using the light pen on the optical scanner, he had signed a contract with it. The computer asked Elliot if he wanted a hard copy of his contract, to be issued to him at his own risk; Elliot decided that he did want one and in about a minute one slid out of the facsimile printer.

Elliot’s contract did not discuss what services Elliot was to receive from the Cadre; it was concerned with procedural matters, Cadre security requirements, and limits on liabilities relating to damages Elliot might do the Cadre and vice versa. In essence, Elliot had agreed to “rules of the establishment” and granted them the right to lock him up for certain specified periods (never over six months) to give them time to reroute should he endanger any Cadre secrets. In return, the Cadre were betting him that he had a fat chance of ever getting his hands on such information in the first place; if he had learned the information unintentionally, they agreed to pay him for the time.

After the contract signing, Elliot’s palm print was recorded, his picture taken, and both were duplicated onto the photo-identification badge he was issued, the palm print as significant data on a magnetic strip embedded inside the card. Then certain signals were recorded by which Elliot could identify himself to the Cadre and other allies from remote locations; he chose QUEEN TAKES PAWN, MATE and DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING FOR CLOGGED SINUSES?

Finally, he clipped the badge to his jacket and emerged from registration. Mr. Harper was chatting with the two security men in the security alcove when Elliot came out; since Elliot had last seen him, Harper had changed into more casual attire, and his hair was damp. “Ah, there you are.”

“Have I kept you waiting?”

“Not a bit. I was just up to the sauna awhile. Cleansed out the poisons of modern living.

“There’s a sauna here?”

“On the fourth floor,” said Harper. “Also a steam bath — though I find them uncomfortable — a sun room, swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, and gymnasium.”

“Well. A regular YMCA.”

Harper smiled as if Elliot’s remark had sparked a hilarious memory. “You look tired,” he said. “Come on, I’ll show you to your room.”

They walked past more offices, soon reaching an elevator; the control panel showed ten floors. Harper told Elliot to observe as he unclipped his photo badge, inserting it into a slot on the control panel; Harper then pressed three.

After the doors closed, Elliot asked him, “When will I be meeting Merce Rampart?”

Harper looked at Elliot quizzically. “You won’t.”

Elliot started to protest, then changed his mind.

“Any other hoops I have to jump through?” he asked.

“Just enjoy yourself and keep out of mischief. You’ll find this complex well designed to both ends.”

After the elevator doors opened, Harper reclaimed his badge, leading Elliot down a hall to a door marked “316.” He explained that his door had been preset for Elliot’s photo badge only. Harper demonstrated by inserting his own photo badge into the door’s slot; the doorknob was frozen. Elliot inserted his badge, and the knob turned easily. “Very clever,” Elliot said, pushing open the door.

The room looked like any commercial lodging: double bed, dresser, desk, Picturephone, video wall screen, and full bath. Its only unusual features, so far as Elliot could see, were its lack of windows and the addition of a stripped-down computer station otherwise identical to the ones in registration. Mr. Harper explained that the station could provide everything from a commodities report to Aurora’s commissary menu, and would be activated by the insertion of a badge. Elliot would be charged for any computer time, of course.

“You mentioned something about a Grand Tour?” Elliot asked.

Harper smiled. “Oh, that was just my little joke. In any proper utopia you’re always given the Grand Tour. You know: ‘Here is the food-production facility. It produces three times the food of the old, reactionary system, with just one third the effort!”

“I take it this isn’t a proper utopia?”

“I’m afraid not. You’ll have to muddle along on your own. But it’s close to midnight. Aren’t you tired?”

Elliot shook his head. “I’ve been pretty keyed up lately.”

“Well, I am,” said Harper. “Suppose we get together for breakfast. Say nine thirty?”

Elliot nodded.

“Good. If you need me, the commandant will know where to find Ben Goldman.” He paused a moment. “By the way, what alias have you chosen?”

“Joseph Rabinowitz,” Elliot answered puckishly.

Harper was amused. “In that case,” he said, leaving, “shalom.”

After Harper had gone, Elliot waited a few moments, then tried his door from the inside. It opened. Well, he thought, for the time being I’m a guest, not a prisoner. He decided to find out how far that went, punching Operator on his Picturephone and asking for an outside line.

The commandant informed him that he was not cleared for outside communication.

Well, mostly a guest.

Elliot decided to take the Grand Tour on his own, starting at the bottom and working his way up.

As Grand Tours went, this one began slowly . . .

The second floor had the elevator at one end, the commissary at the other, and a number of function rooms in between on each side.

The commissary was a combination cafeteria-bar with about a dozen middle-aged man and women eating, drinking, and socializing, with empty tables for another hundred or so. At one end of the commissary was a selection of food and a bursar (not a cashier; payment was by photo-badge credit), with pricing in terms he did not recognize. This caused Elliot to wonder how much of a bill his visit to Aurora was already running up; the place had the look of an expensive private club, and the high security no doubt shot up costs even further. He also speculated that the main reason Mr. Gross had not accompanied him was that Aurora was too expensive to visit except on major business.

The recreation rooms were slightly more lively, though Elliot’s first impression was that the inhabitants of Aurora looked more like a Chamber of Commerce convention — well, maybe Jaycees — than a revolutionary cabal.

In Recreation Room One were several table-tennis matches in progress, a number of bystanders watching and waiting to play off the winners. Also in use here were pool and billiard tables, a dart game, and several electronic playmates.

Elliot spotted Dr. Taylor and his poker game in Two, a room devoted to gambling — betting also on the roulette wheel, blackjack, one-arm bandits, and even contract bridge.

Recreation Room Four was simulation gaming, everything from simple games such as Diplomacy and Stratego, to full-scale interstellar war-gaming and Dungeons and Dragons, requiring much computer time. In one corner, a couple had the audacity to play checkers.

Several rows of slightly younger Aurorans were watching a videodisc on a communal wall screen; the film they were watching was Fahrenheit 451, a scene showing the old librarian and her books being consumed by flames . . .

Aurora’s library had a fair collection of books, videodiscs, and holosonic music cassettes. Book titles included Human Action by Ludwig von Mises, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, CounterEconomics by Samuel Edward Konkin III, The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith, Power and Market by Murray N. Rothbard, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne, Kings of The High Frontier by Victor Koman, and Wiemar, 1923 by Martin Vreeland. Videodiscs ran the gamut from Horsefeathers, Bananas, and The Great Dictator, to Animal Farm, The Prisoner, and The Rainbow Cadenza.

Musical recordings followed no detectable pattern.

A poetry reading was in session in Recreation Room Three, a lounge. A man in his late forties — brown-haired, mustached, with a golden “Sons of Liberty” medallion around his neck — was sitting on the carpet with half a dozen lovely young women in a circle around him. “It was twenty-five years ago,” the poet said, “when this was a fantasy. Nobody really believed it would happen. But I knew.”

He closed his eyes and recited from memory:

“Alongside night
Parallel day
By fearful flight
In garish gray
Will dawn alight
And not decay
Alongside night?”

The fourth floor seemed deserted. Elliot found no one in the gymnasium, sun room, or Jacuzzi whirlpool, and was about to leave when he stepped for a second into the swimming pool area and saw a woman swimming underwater.

She was slender and lithe, long black hair flowing behind her, and was nude.

Elliot decided that this called for some of the discretion Mr. Harper had mentioned, but he could not take his eyes from her, then it was too late. She broke water and spotted him.

Looking at her as she stood still — arms akimbo, bare breasts above water level — Elliot could see that she was much closer to his own age then he at first had thought, though her development could have indicated elsewise a woman in her twenties. She was the only person of his age he had seen in the complex. They stared at each other for several heartbeats, then she spoke.

“You’re staring at me,” she said. She spoke with a mildly Southern accent.

Elliot blushed. “Uh — sorry. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be up here.”

She did not make any attempt to move or otherwise to conceal herself. “Nobody’s stopping you from swimming,” she said. “It’s just that it’s rude to stare.”

“You caught me by surprise. But I’d better leave if I’m making you uncomfortable.” Elliot turned to go.

“No, don’t –”

Elliot turned back, his pulse skipping a beat.

“I was finished anyway. The pool’s all yours.”

She climbed out of the water, grabbed a towel from a deck chair, and without draping it over herself calmly walked through a door into what Elliot presumed was a locker room.

Elliot considered stripping down for a swim himself, war-gamed the idea of waiting for her to try apologizing again, then decided against both. Instead, taking the elevator back down to the second floor, he picked a book almost entirely at random out of the library’s science-fiction section and returned to his room. After washing out his clothes, hanging them in the bathroom to dry, he began reading in bed.

Somehow, he had trouble keeping his mind on the book.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XII.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

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