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Read the previous chapter Chapter XII

1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 13


“G-raid alert! G-raid alert! This is not a drill.”

The room television had been centrally activated, an authoritative gray-haired man in Cadre uniform appearing on the wall screen. Elliot slid Lorimer’s hand off his behind, then his leg out from between hers, abruptly sitting up.

“Commence evacuation sequence,” said the gray-haired man. “Cadre are to implement Procedure Five immediately. All allies will please identify themselves to the nearest computer station for further instructions.”

Elliot and Lorimer were out of bed quickly, pulling on their clothes.

“Remain calm,” the man continued. “There is no danger if you follow our procedures. Repeat: G-raid alert. This is not a . . . ”

The message repeated itself in the background as Elliot and Lorimer dressed. Elliot struggled with a shoe. “Any idea what a G-raid is?” he asked Lorimer.

She shook her head. “Gas attack? Ground assault?”

“Maybe the government. G-men. Yeah, that’s probably it.”

“Too corny.” Lorimer tossed her hair forward. “Zip me.”

After fastening the dress, Elliot slipped an arm around Lorimer’s waist, spinning her around. “Listen, whoever-the-hell-you-are, what say we shack up somewhere for the next few catastrophes?”

Lorimer tickled the back of Elliot’s neck. “When do we leave, stranger?”

“Get your stuff, meet me back here in three minutes. I’ll see what the computer says.”

Lorimer gave him a grace kiss on the mouth. “Be right back.” Elliot propelled her out the door with a pat on the rump.

As the door shut, Elliot unclipped his photo badge from his jacket, inserting the card into his computer station. The video display lit up at once:

OPERATOR:
ELLIOT VREELAND ALIAS JOSEPH RABINOWITZ
CONTRACT 23-NY-890

PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION MADE VREELAND FAMILY WHEREABOUTS: TWO WOMEN TENTATIVELY IDENTIFIED AS CATHRYN AND DENISE VREELAND CONFINED INCOMMUNICADO, 23 FEBRUARY, FBI MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON CODE NAME “UTOPIA,” CHESHIRE, MASSACHUSETTS. REMOVAL NOW NOT POSSIBLE.

ALL INVESTIGATIONS TO DATE DR. MARTIN VREELAND REPORT NEGATIVE. SEARCH TO PROCEED. WILL NOTIFY YOU RESULTS WHEN AVAILABLE.

They’ve killed him, thought Elliot.

ACCOUNT TO DATE:

TRANSPORTATION …………………….. AU 2.500 GRAMS
REGISTRATION ………………………. AU 1.000
ROOM (ONE NIGHTS)…………………… AU 2.000
COMMISSARY ………………………… AU 0.174

INQUIRY …………………………… AU 20.000

TOTAL CHARGES ……………………… AU 25.674 GRAMS

PAYMENT ON ACCOUNT DEFERRED.

PLEASE REPORT AT ONCE TO SECURITY DESK, TERMINAL FLOOR, FOR EVACUATION TO NEW YORK.

All but the last sentence winked off. Elliot pulled out his photo badge, and the display went blank.

For a long moment, Elliot sat in front of the lifeless console, arching forward over it to brace himself. That his father was not confined with his mother and sister meant almost surely that he had been murdered. Images of words he had just seen lingered: CONFINED INCOMMUNICADO . . . UTOPIA . . . REMOVAL NOT NOW POSSIBLE . . .

The unspeakable emptiness felt when Denise had told him their father was dead returned, thricefold, multiplied also by the suffocating frustration of feeling impotent to do anything about it.

There was a knock at the door; Elliot got up and let Lorimer in. One arm held a Genghis Khan coat and a small travel bag; her other held a cigarette. “All set . . . Hey, what’s wrong?”

Elliot made an effort to control his voice, after a moment replying evenly, “My problem. I’ll have to handle it.”

Lorimer nodded solemnly. “I checked with the station in my room. I’m supposed to go to the security desk.”

“Same here.” Elliot violently yanked his overcoat from its hanger. “C’mon, we’d better get the hell moving.”

As they rode the elevator down, stopping at the second floor for more passengers, Elliot was surprised at the tranquility pervading the complex. Were the agorists all on barbiturates? No one pushed frantically to get onto the elevator; those for whom there was no room seemed willing to wait in line for its next trip. Nobody ran panic-stricken down the halls. There were no sirens. It just did not seem as if a major emergency was taking place.

Upon disembarking on the Terminal floor, Elliot and Lorimer found themselves at the tail end of a long line to the security alcove; there were perhaps seventy persons stretched ahead of them, carrying a wide variety of luggage and apparel. Still, the atmosphere was cheery and matter-of-fact — not at all what he had expected. Elliot gained some small understanding by eavesdropping on two men in front of him — one of the few public dialogues he had overheard, in fact, among the necessarily taciturn countereconomic traders. “It’s a goddam nuisance,” grumbled the younger to the two. “At these prices you would think they could avoid this sort of problem.”

“Two hours’ warning of a raid is not what I would call unreasonable,” his friend said.

“It might as well have been two minutes, for all the good it does me. I have a half-quintal commodities account downstairs. Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Stop acting like an ass, Red.”

That ended the discussion.

In forty-five minutes they were at the security desk, the line now stretching behind. Commandant Welch was again on duty, saying to Lorimer, “Badge, please.” She handed it over, the commandant inserting it into the console built onto his desk. “You’re in Group Eight. Claim any property checked here, then wait for your number to be called.” A guard led Lorimer over to the lockers, where she retrieved a small leather pouch, while the commandant took Elliot’s badge. “Group Five,” the commandant told him, “leaving Terminal in eleven minutes.”

“But we’re together,” Elliot protested.

“Sorry,” the commandant replied. “The computer makes the assignments, not me.”

Lorimer walked over to the commandant. “I’m going with him.”

“Nothing I can do about it. The next thing Elliot knew, a voice from behind said sharply, “Don’t try it, girl. I’m using an M-21, not a Taser.” Elliot heard the metallic click of a machine pistol being switched from semi- to automatic.

Elliot saw Lorimer’s hand, halfway into her pouch, freeze, and he glanced slowly over his shoulder. The man leveling the weapon at her back was the guard they had experienced the run-in with that morning in the elevator. Commandant Welch stood, taking Lorimer’s pouch and removing a .32 automatic pistol-with- silencer. “Your group leader will return this to you before he lets you off.”

Elliot said, “I thought we were guests here, not prisoners.”

“Your choice,” the commandant replied. “We’re authorized to protect this property, and we do it.”

“Whose authority?” Elliot inquired.

“Why, yours,” Welch answered. “You signed a contract agreeing to abide by our requirements, remember?”

“I never agreed to be pushed around like this.”

“I’m afraid that’s a matter of discretion. Mine at the moment. You’re free to file any suits you want with the arbiters — after you leave.”

The commandant nodded to the guard with the M-21, who lowered it from his shoulder, motioning Lorimer aside. “Statist swine!” she snapped.

It may have been at this moment that Elliot decided he was in love with this crazy female.

There was a rumbling murmur along the line behind her. Commandant Welch turned purple. “Wait!” he ordered Lorimer’s guard. He turned to Lorimer again, speaking loudly enough for half the line to hear also: “Young lady, if you were my daughter I’d put you over my knee right now and strap the daylights out of you. Unfortunately, you’re not, and I’m more concerned with making sure this evacuation proceeds with no further delay.” He turned to the guard. “Put them both in Five. I’ll reprogram when I get the chance.”

“I have property in the locker,” Elliot said.

“Get it and get out.”

Elliot retrieved his pistol, holster, and ammunition, again putting on his holster, then the guard with the M-21 personally escorted the couple down the corridor to the Terminal.

Inside, about thirty people were standing around, waiting. Luggage and apparel lay throughout the room, with the video wal lscreen adding meaningless noise to the already high decibel level. Bar was being tended; many had drinks in their hands.

The guard brought Elliot and Lorimer over to a young Chinese man standing near the bar. “She’s an extra,” the guard told him. “Transfer from Eight. Troublemakers, both of them.” The guard handed the Chinese man Lorimer’s automatic. “Hold on to this until the last possible minute.”

The Oriental nodded, and the guard left.

“My name’s Chin,” the man said in accentless English. “I’m your group conductor. What was the trouble, back there?”

“The commandant tried to split us up,” said Elliot. “The computer –”

“Enough,” Chin said with a sigh. He extended the pistol; Lorimer took it back. “I sometimes wonder how some of the Cadre ever became anarchists. They would make splendid bureaucrats.”

“Pardon me,” said Lorimer, “but am I going to be stuffed back into a trunk?”

“No, you’ll be traveling First Class this time,” Chin replied. “Have a drink and relax. We’ll be leaving in just a few minutes.” The group leader turned to the bartender — king size, black, mid-fiftyish — saying, “Jack would you set up my two friends here?” The bartender nodded. Chin excused himself, disappearing out to the corridor.

Elliot and Lorimer both decided on soft drinks and upon receiving them moved over to one side of the bar. “You know,” Elliot told Lorimer, almost shouting, “I can’t figure this out. These people act like they were at a cocktail party.”

She looked around and then nodded. “Spooky.”

“Not really,” a basso profondo voice answered, “once you understand the economics involved.”

The voice belonged to the bartender, who was meanwhile pouring vodka and orange juice into a plastic cup. Elliot looked at the man closely, noting that his left eye was glass. “Uh — economics is sort of a hobby of mine,” Elliot told him. “How’s that again?”

The bartender poured the remaining juice into the cup, holding up the used carton. “You wouldn’t get upset if you lost an empty container, would you? Same with this place. Within an hour there won’t be anything here worth capturing.” He crushed the carton, discarding it. “Squeezed dry.”

“But it’s not equivalent, is it?” asked Elliot. “This place must be worth a fortune.”

The bartender shook his head. “Built for under a quintal and was paid for within a year of completion. Rental space on the trading floor went for twelve grams per centare year — you savvy ‘centare’?”

“One square meter. But what’s a quintal?”

“Defined metrically as one hundred kilograms. As I was saying, Aurora Proper had eighty-five hundred rentable centares. Fully subscribed before a gram was spent. Operated thirty-three months after earning back her investment. Cleared about two-and-a-half times her original capital expenditure.” The bartender took a sip of his screwdriver and added, “The Cadre hotel operation was even more profitable.”

Lorimer asked, “What about all the stuff on sale downstairs?”

He shrugged. “Anything crucial is being evacuated. The rest — risk of loss calculated into operating overhead.”

“You seem to know a lot about all this,” said Elliot.

“I should. I built Aurora, and several of her sister undergrounds.” He wiped his right hand on a towel, extending the former. “Jack Guerdon, Guerdon Construction.”

Elliot took the hand, wide-eyed. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”

Lorimer also shook hands, then asked, “Mr. Guerdon, how could so huge a complex — with hundreds of people coming and going — be kept secret for four years? Longer, if you count construction time.”

Guerdon grinned. “Well, I’m not about to reveal any trade secrets, but I can answer abstractly; countereconomic theory is freely available. To keep any secret, you divide it into data segments — perhaps ‘modules’ would be closer — and spread these modules among a few trusted persons — the fewer the better. An underground agora is a machine — a social structure — based on that principle. Access to the machine is freely available to many; knowledge of its location is its most closely guarded secret, in this operation known to almost no one except those directly involved in transporting goods and people — a few Cadre.”

“But what about your construction workers?” Elliot asked.

“They were recruited from construction sites all over the world, were transported here secretly, worked only inside, and never knew where they were. If you think security is tight now, you should have been here during construction; a mosquito couldn’t have gotten in or out.”

“But spies must get inside, no?”

“Probably dozens — maybe hundreds,” said Guerdon, “but what difference does it make? The Cadre make sure that anyone coming in isn’t being traced from the outside — and you can be certain that they are technologically quite sophisticated in their methods — then once inside, you play by the Cadre’s rules, which are set up to make sure nobody finds out anything they shouldn’t or interferes with operations. But it’s not a major problem; even the security guards don’t know all the gimmicks built into this place — much less visitors — and this puts any potential spy at a tremendous disadvantage. If he causes any trouble, where can he go? The Cadre are controlling access, and nobody leaves until they say it’s okay.”

“Pretty totalitarian,” Lorimer said.

“That’s precisely why nobody gets in here until they’ve signed a contract agreeing to security procedures; nobody is forced to come here, but if they do, it’s according to the Cadre’s rules. However, the Cadre are not free agents, either; they are even more restricted by contract than are the visitors: a visitor here can do anything except disrupt operations or violate security; the Cadre are not permitted to do anything except maintain those freedoms. It’s not just in theory, either; social structures created on paper are translated into balances of power in practice. The original agreements by which the agoras were set up dictated the forms used to enforce them.”

“But still,” said Elliot, “all this sounds tremendously expensive.”

“Expense is a relative term. The initial capitalization and overhead were high-priced — and so are they with any office building, for that matter — but it was cost-effective to the Cadre’s clients compared to the costs of doing business in the State-controlled economy.”

“Won’t the loss of Aurora hamper their business seriously?”

“For a little while. But things will be looking up in a few days.”

Chin reentered the Terminal at that moment, saying loudly, “Attention, please.”

There was no response.

Chin walked over to the wall screen, switching it off, then vaulted on top of the bar. “Quiet!”

The assorted conversations died out.

“Group Five departure time,” said Chin. “Show your boarding passes to the stewardess, please.”

One of the walls began to move.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XIV.

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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