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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 12


The Picturephone was ringing.

Elliot reached over to answer it, knocking over Illuminatus!, the book he had been reading the night before. About the fourth or fifth ring, he managed to find the answer button; Mr. Harper appeared on the screen. “Good morning, Joseph,” he said.

“Huh? Oh, right. G’morning.” Elliot picked his watch up from the night table. It was just after eight. “I thought our breakfast appointment wasn’t until nine thirty?”

“Change of plans,” Harper said seriously. “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make our breakfast date. Something important’s come up.”

“Bad news?”

“I don’t know yet. But I’m afraid I’ll have to abandon you here awhile. I apologize but it can’t be helped.”

Elliot stifled a yawn. “Anything in particular I ought to know?”

“Check with the security desk sometime this afternoon. The commandant will tell you if I’ve left any messages for you.”

“Okay. And thanks a lot.”

Elliot successfully remained awake by swinging his legs off the bed as soon as the screen cleared. He sat motionless for a full minute, then found enough energy to walk into the bathroom. Somewhat more awake after splashing water on his face, Elliot got back into his still slightly damp clothes. It was then he realized that he had forgotten to ask Harper whether he could afford to buy breakfast.

Though crowded, the commissary did not present any particular problems. Elliot selected grapefruit juice, pancakes, eggs, bacon, and coffee, handing his photo badge to the bursar, who said, “That comes to seventeen cents four mils,” and charged the breakfast without further comment.

After carrying his tray to a small table on the far side, Elliot took his juice and resumed reading the library book.

Two eggs, a pancake, and a chapter later, a pleasant voice interrupted him: “Can I join you?”

Elliot looked up to find his mermaid of the pool, now clothed in a summery dress he found even more enticing than nudity. The same glance noted peripherally that his table was not the only one still partly unoccupied. “Go right ahead,” he said, then, summoning every last watt of willpower, he turned back to the book.

His intentions were shattered about a minute later when he risked peering over the book and caught both her eyes again. “Any good?” she asked.

“I haven’t gotten very far yet. I seem to be having trouble concentrating lately.”

“Eye trouble?”

“Not from this side.

Elliot tucked the jacket in as a place mark and closed the book.

“Honestly,” he said. “I didn’t intend spying on you last night.”

“Forget it,” she replied. “An acute case of culture shock. We’re both victims of it, you know.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Elliot. “What are you talking about?”

“Each of us thought the other was representative of the culture here, when actually both of us arrived yesterday for the first time.”

Elliot went on guard. “How do you know that?”

“Because both of us reacted defensively to a situation that anyone who’d been her even one extra day would’ve accepted as normal.”

Elliot bit into a strip of bacon, then, chewing, said, “If you got here yesterday, how do you know what’s normal?”

“Because after I left you at the pool I walked back to the sauna and found an orgy in progress . . . What’s the matter?”

Elliot reached for his coffee, a few sips managing to stop the chokes caused by remembering what Mr. Harper had told him about the sauna last night. “A piece of bacon went down the wrong pipe,” he lied.

“So anyway,” she continued, “if that sort of thing goes on, no one who’s been here any time at all is going to get upset over a little midnight skinny-dipping. Are you just going to leave that other bacon strip?”

The price of the lie, he thought. “Help yourself.” She took it. “By the way, I’m Joseph Rabinowitz.”

She looked Elliot over carefully. “Highly unlikely.”

“All right, I’m not Joseph Rabinowitz. Who aren’t you?”

She lit a cigarette, nervously. “I’m not Lorimer.”

“How do you do,” said Elliot. “Is that not your Christian name, or not your surname?”

“Neither. Or both.”

Elliot wiped his mouth. “Lor, have you done any exploring around this place?”

“Nothing above the fourth floor, the health spa — Joe.”

“Same here. How about us seeing what we can stick our noses into before somebody tells us to stop?”

As soon as Elliot had finished breakfast, he dropped his book back at the library, and the two strolled to the elevator, encountering buttons for half a dozen upper floors they had not seen. “Your badge or mine?” Elliot asked.

“Try yours first. If it doesn’t work, try mine.”

Elliot inserted his photo badge into the control panel, pushing five. The elevator doors closed, then, without its having moved, they immediately opened again. He repeated the procedure with the sixth through tenth floors, getting the same result. He was about to try the entire sequence again with Lorimer’s badge, when the elevator doors closed of their own accord, the elevator descending.

“I think somebody is about to tell us to stop,” he said. Lorimer nodded.

A few moments later the doors opened to reveal a muscular security guard, Cadre uniformed, pointing a Taser at them. Elliot smiled weakly. “Uh — hello, there,” he said. Lorimer smiled, too.

The guard did not smile. “Just what are you two up to?” he asked sternly, motioning them out of the elevator.

“Just exploring,” said Elliot.

Lorimer started fluttering her lashes, doing an adequate impression of Scarlett O’Hara. “Honestly,” she said. Her accent had moved south.

The guard was not seduced; he must have been made of stone. “I think I just caught a couple of statist spies.”

“Do we look like spies?” Lorimer asked. Her accent moved still farther south — any farther and she would have been speaking Spanish.

The guard gave her a look suggesting that she, in any event, would pass the physical.

“What makes you think we’re spies?” Elliot asked.

“Why were you trying to get up to the maximum security floors? If you wanted to explore, why didn’t you look through the trading floor?”

“Maximum security floors?” said Elliot. “Trading floor?”

The guard looked them over, and saw they were genuinely confused. He motioned with the Taser. “Come on.”

He led Elliot and Lorimer to the security alcove, and told the commandant — a different one from the previous night, “Two for Aurora Proper.”

The commandant then asked them, “Anything you want from the lockers?”

“I have a pistol,” said Elliot. “Do you think I need it?”

“I couldn’t say,” he replied. “Cadre are not allowed on the trading floor.”

“Why not?” Lorimer asked.

“Privacy,” the commandant explained. “The allied businesses in Aurora have delegated to the Cadre the right to monitor incoming and outgoing goods and communications, to ensure that the location is kept secret. To make sure that the Cadre can’t try to use this authority against them, they forbid us to enter into their domain and maintain their own security force to keep us out. Their guards are armed; except during emergencies we are not allowed to be.”

“Well,” said Elliot, “if I’m allowed to, I guess I will take my revolver.”

“Right. Surrender your badges, please.”

Taking their badges and feeding them into a collection slot, the commandant then got Elliot his revolver. After Elliot had put on his holster, the guard led the couple down the same corridor through which they had entered the Cadre complex initially, retracing the 45-degree bend around which was the steel door defended by still another guard. The door was opened for them, and they were instructed to walk to the Terminal corridor’s end and wait at the large portal opposite the Terminal. They did — Elliot meanwhile noting the Terminal door locked — and a few minutes later the portal slid open.

They were facing a freight elevator.

After they had got on, the door automatically slid shut, the elevator creeping down. When the door opened again, they were looking down the main promenade of what looked to be a small village.

Elliot and Lorimer faced a carpeted mall — daylight simulated by sunlight fluorescent panels in a low acoustic ceiling — twenty-feet wide and stretching ahead over twice the length of a football field. On each side of the promenade was an array of storefronts and offices the likes of which Elliot had never seen, and shopping in the mall were over a hundred persons obviously of widely varying nationality, creed, and custom.

“This is clearly impossible,” said Elliot. Lorimer did not disagree.

They began down the promenade, on the left passing the Black Supermarket (it looked like a supermarket); next to it, offices of the First Anarchist Bank and Trust Company — AnarchoBank for short; farther down, NoState Insurance; and beyond that, a post office: The American Letter Mail Company, Lysander Spooner, founder.

On the opposite side of the promenade were The Contraband Exchange (jewelry, novelties, duty-free merchandise), Identities by Charles (makeup and disguises), and a restaurant, The TANSTAAFL Café. There were several dozen more shops and offices that looked even more intriguing.

“Well, what do you think?”

Lorimer paused a moment before answering. “I think it might be easier to hide the Lincoln Memorial.”

“We might be under it.”

They walked farther, passing The Gun Nut and an office for Guerdon Construction, coming to a door marked “The G. Gerald Rhoames Border Guard and Ketchup Company.” Elliot and Lorimer took one look at it — then at each other — and decided to go in.

A bell of the door tinkled as they entered; the shop was old-fashioned, almost Dickensian in style, with a small, well- dressed man seated behind a glass counter. He stood as they came in. “Yes?”

“Mr. Rhoames?”

He bowed slightly.

“We were wondering what you sell here,” Lorimer asked.

“My sign does not convince you?” He spoke with a British accent contaminated by overexposure to Americans.

“Should it?”

“Surely not. Gentlemen should deal neither in frontier guards nor ketchup. I am a cannabist.”

“You eat human flesh?”

“Good heavens, no, dear lady. I am a cannabist, not a cannibal. A cannabist deals in Cannabis sativa, the most select parts from the female hemp plant. I am a seller of the finest hybrids from Colombia, Acapulco, Bangladesh.”

“Wholesale or retail?” Elliot asked.

“Both,” said Mr. Rhoames, “though naturally my store here is quite limited. Over three kilograms entails outside delivery.”

“What would an ounce of Acapulco go for?”

“Thirty-nine cents.”

“What?”

“Very well, then. Thirty-three.”

Elliot pulled out his wallet, extending a blue. “Do you have change of a hundred?”

Mr. Rhoames looked at it with disdain. “Surely you do not think I was pricing in fiat? The price is thirty-three cents aurum.”

“Well, how much is that in dollars?”

Mr. Rhoames shrugged. “I’m not a clerk.” He pronounced the word clark. “I suggest you utilize a bank here and exchange them.”

“Thanks,” said Elliot. “Come on, Lor.” They started to the door.

“I say — on the subject of dollars . . .”

They turned back to him.

He reached behind the counter, his hand returning with a small box. Inside were five manufactured cigarettes with gold dollar signs engraved on the paper. “A house blend, grown hydroponically in my own tanks.”

“I’m sure they’re excellent, but I can’t do anything until I get my currency exchanged.”

“No, no, no,” said Mr. Rhoames. “On the house.”

“Why, thank you,” said Lorimer. “That’s very kind.”

“Nothing at all. Come back anytime.”

When they were fully out the door, Lorimer turned to Elliot and just said, “Well.”

“I’ll reserve my opinion until I see how these others are,” Elliot replied.

A two-minute walk returned them to the AnarchoBank, inside three tellers’ windows with a half-dozen customers in line, and a sign on the wall: “Offices in AURORA, AUTONOMY, AUCTION, AURIGA, AUDACITY, AUBERGE, AUSTRIAN SCHOOL, AUNTIE, and AUM.”

Elliot and Lorimer bypassed the line, instead walking over to a good-looking black woman behind a desk marked “New Accounts.” “Excuse me, but who do I see to exchange New Dollars?”

“Do you have an account with us?” she asked pleasantly; Elliot shook his head. “Then I’ll take care of it. Won’t you sit down?” After Elliot and Lorimer had been seated, she asked, “How much would you like exchanged?” Elliot took out his remaining currency, counting out twenty-seven hundred in blues. “You’d like gold or eurofrancs?”

“Uh — gold, I guess.”

She made use of a desktop computer console, then said, “We’ll have to buy your New Dollars at what we estimate is Monday’s rate.” She explained, “That’s the earliest we can sell it. And at 28.165 New Dollars per milligram gold, we can offer you ninety-six mils.”

“How much will that buy around here?”

“Not very much. A carton of cigarettes at Black Supermarket or a light lunch at TANSTAAFL Café. As a reference point, a dime vendy trades at par with four mils, a quarter vendy at ten mils — that is, one cent.”

Elliot thought a moment, then said, “My money will buy me two dozen phone calls?”

“If there were pay phones in Aurora — which there aren’t — yes.”

“In that case,” said Elliot, “I’m interested in another transaction.”

Concealing his motions from both the woman and Lorimer, he unzipped his belt slightly and pulled out a 50-peso piece. He placed it on the desk.

“For eurofrancs,” said Elliot.

Ten minutes later, Elliot had exchanged his blues for a handful of vendies and had been given 405 eurofrancs for his gold piece — ten eurofrancs per gram gold and an 8 percent premium for the coin. The New Accounts officer also showed them AnarchoBank gold coins of various weights, including a one-gram wafer so thin it was sealed into plastic.

“Listen,” said Elliot, after he had been given a thorough sales pitch for minimum-balance checking accounts, interest-bearing time deposits, and a small pamphlet called “The Wonderful World of 100% Gold Reserve Banking.” “I don’t mean this to sound nasty — honestly — but how can I be sure this isn’t a fly-by-night outfit?”

“That’s a fair question,” she replied, though I’m afraid the best way we can prove ourselves to you requires that you simply do business with us long enough to be assured of our honesty. Short of that, you can receive a copy of the auditor’s report from the Independent Arbitration Group, or check with any of our overseas correspondent banks. AnarchoBank is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Union Commerce Bank in Zurich, and does business through it with aboveground banks throughout the world.”

Elliot and Lorimer got up. “Well, thank you,” said Elliot.

The New Accounts officer extended another pamphlet to him. “Your application for a Bank AnarchoCard,” she said.

For the next hour, Elliot and Lorimer window-shopped, looking at duty-free Swiss watches in the Contraband Exchange, picking up a prospectus for Project Harriman, a countereconomic lunar mining venture, and scrutinizing the wide range of illegal chemicals on sale in Jameson Pharmaceuticals, displayed as in the patent-medicine counters of a discount drugstore. A sign on the wall announced: “NO PRESCRIPTIONS REQUIRED ON ANY PURCHASE — Consult Your Physician for Indications.” And past rows of morphine, paregoric, methadone, and heroin was another smaller sign on the wall, but reproduced on each package: “WARNING: Narcotics Use is Habit-Forming.”

Another counter displayed LSD 25 . . . THC . . . Mescaline . . . cocaine . . . Sweet & Low . . .

In Nalevo Personnel Lorimer was told by a placement manager that they could guarantee her employment at twenty grams gold a week in one of the finer bordellos.

The Black Supermarket impressed them not for what it had — aside from tax-free liquor and cigarettes its merchandise was the kind any supermarket would sell — but for what it did not have: no shortages, no rationing, no listings of “lawful” ceiling prices. Elliot felt a momentary twinge when he saw a shelf stocked with Spam; he had pushed his family to the back of his mind and felt guilty for enjoying himself.

It became evident that the trading floor was primarily a convenience for wholesale countereconomic traders, who shook hands on huge deals here, and made their deliveries outside. It was only slightly unusual to see a person walking around with face masked, though Elliot suspected that most of the people shopping on this floor were “expendable” agents of the actual buyers, whose faces would never risk being seen.

After a five-minute wait for a table, Elliot and Lorimer were seated in the TANSTAAFL Café, a sign on the wall translating the word as There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, and rightly crediting the acronym to E. “Doc” Pournelle. The special luncheon for Saturday offered split-pea soup, sandwich, french fries, and beverage, all for seven cents. After brief discussion, Elliot ordered it for both of them.

While waiting for the food, they paid a visit to the restaurant’s old Wurlitzer jukebox, finding it stocked only with classical music. Elliot inserted a quarter vendy and pushed I-23; the machine responded by playing the Heifetz recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

Elliot and Lorimer spent another ninety minutes drifting around the floor — talking with document forgers, electronics technicians, and arbitration agents — and visiting, at Elliot’s urging, The Gun Nut. On display was a weapon fancier’s dream, everything from pistols, bazookas, and M-21 automatic machine pistols, to grenade launchers, subsonic generators, and lasers. Its real attraction for Elliot was a fifty-foot-deep shooting range behind a soundproof glass panel. After donning ear protectors, Elliot fast-drew into a Weaver stance at a paper target in the shape of an armed assailant. Afterward, he brought his target up to the front counter.

“The proprietor said, “That’ll be ten cents. How’d you do?”

Elliot showed the man his target. He had shot a number of bull’s-eyes, fewer holes farther out, none out of killing range.

The proprietor nodded respectfully.

“Lor,” said Elliot as they exited to the promenade, “after this place I’d believe you if you told me someone was here hawking nukes.”

Someone was.

The display mock-up had a sign underneath labeling it: “100 KILOTON ATOMIC FISSION DEVICE.”

The salesman in Lowell-Pierre Engineering was telling them, “. . . but of course much smaller than the megaton capabilities of the hydrogen fusion devices.”

“You provide the plutonium?” Elliot asked him.

“No, of course not,” said the salesman. “You’d have to find your own source. But even if you did, you’d have to accept one of our supervisors to ensure that the device would be used only for excavation or drilling, before we would sell you one. We don’t hand over nuclear weapons to fools who want to blow up the world.”

“But you’ve sold these things?” asked Lorimer. “Really?”

“Of course,” said the salesman. “Do you think we’re in business for our health.”"

The freight elevator arrived for them without being summoned; Lorimer conjectured that they were being monitored from a remote security location. After returning to the Terminal floor, they again approached the steel door protecting the Cadre complex; it also opened, the same guard who had let them out pointing a Taser at them. “Password,” he said.

“‘A is A,’” Elliot replied.

“That’s yesterday’s password.”

“But I wasn’t given a new one.”

“Give me the password, or you don’t get in.”

Elliot looked helplessly to Lorimer, who paused for a moment, then replied, “‘Swordfish’?”

“Go on through,” the guard said.

Elliot glanced at her suspiciously. “The commandant gave it to you while I was getting my gun, right?”

“Horsefeathers,” she declared.

After each had registered, Elliot checked with the security desk as Harper had told him. There was no message, and Elliot began wondering why he had been brought to Aurora, whether the Cadre were doing anything to help him, and where the hell Mr. Harper was anyway. As they walked to the elevator, Elliot told Lorimer that he was still free. “What about you?”

“I don’t have anything until an appointment on Monday.”

“Any suggestions?”

“Well, how about a swim?”

“I don’t have a suit,” said Elliot.

“Neither do I,” said Lorimer unblushingly.

Elliot did blush.

“Or,” she continued, “we can try out some of that grass.”

“Uh — I’d better keep my head clear for a while.”

“Oh. Okay. Why don’t we go back to your room and fuck?”

They entered the elevator, Elliot unclipping his badge and inserting it into the control panel. He studied Lorimer’s expression, then punched for the third floor. “Am I really that dense?” he asked.

They were resting naked in each other’s arms when the alarm was sounded.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XIII.

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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