The buzzing of his bedside vidscreen woke J as on Dill from his deep, tranquilizer-induced sleep. Reaching, he reflexively snapped the line open, noticing as he did so that the call was on the private circuit. What is it now? he wondered, aware of a pervasive headache that he had been struggling with throughout hours of sleep. The time was late, he realized. At least four-thirty.
On the vidscreen an unfamiliar face appeared. He saw, briefly, a displayed identification-standard. The medical wing.
"Managing Director Dill," he muttered. "What do you want? Better check next time with the monitor; it's late at night here, even if it's noon where you are."
The medical person said, "Sir, I was advised by members of your staff to notify you at once." He glanced at a card. "A Mrs. Agnes Parker, a schoolteacher."
"Yes," Dill said, nodding.
"She was found by another teacher. Her spinal column had been damaged at several points and she died at 1:30 A.M. First examination indicated that the injuries were done deliberately. There's indication that some variety of heat plasma was induced. The spinal fluid evidently was boiled away by --"
"All right," Dill said. "Thanks for notifying me; you did absolutely right." Stabbing at a button he broke the connection and then asked the monitor for a direct line with Unity Police.
A placid, fleshy face appeared.
Dill said, "Have all the men guarding the Fields girl removed and a new crew, picked absolutely at random, put in at once. Have the present crew detained until they can be fully cleared." He considered. "Do you have the information regarding Agnes Parker?"
"It came in an hour or two ago," the police official said.
"Damn it," Dill said. Too much time had passed. They could work a lot of harm in that time. They?
"Any word on Father Fields? " he asked. "I take it for granted you haven't managed to round him up yet."
"Sorry, sir," the police official said.
"Let me know what you find on the Parker woman," Dill said." Go over her file, naturally. I'll leave it to you; it's your business. It's the Fields girl I'm concerned about. Don't let anything happen to her. Maybe you should check right now and see if she's all right; notify me at once, either way." He rang off then and sat back.
Were they trying to find out who took the Fields girl? he asked himself. And where? That was no secret; she was loaded into my car in broad daylight, in front of a playground of children.
They're getting closer, he said to himself. They got Vulcan 2 and they got that foolish, sycophantic schoolteacher whose idea of taking care of her children was to gladly sign them over to the first high official who came along. They can infiltrate our innermost buildings. They evidently know exactly what we're doing. If they can get into the schools, where we train the youth to believe. ..
For an hour or two he sat in the kitchen of his home, warming himself and smoking cigarettes. At last he saw the black night sky begin to turn gray.
Returning to the vidscreen he called Larson. The man, disheveled by sleep, peered at him grumpily until he recognized his superior; then at once he became businesslike and polite.
"Yes, sir," he said.
"I'm going to need you for a special run of questions to Vulcan 3," Jason Dill said. "We're going to have to prepare them with utmost care. And there will be difficult work regarding the data-feeding." He intended to go on, but Larson interrupted him.
"You'll be pleased to know that we have a line on the person who sent the unsigned letter accusing Director Barris," Larson said. "We followed up the lead about the 'talented murdered man.' We worked on the assumption that Arthur Pitt was meant, and we discovered that Pitt's wife lives in North Africa -- in fact, she's in Cairo on shopping trips several times a week. There's such a high degree of probability that she wrote the letter that we're preparing an order to the police in that region to have her picked up. That's Blucher's region, and we'd better put it through his men so there won't be any hard feelings. I just want to get a clearance from you, so I won't have to assume the responsibility. You understand, sir. She may not have done it."
"Pick her up," Dill said, only half listening to the younger man's torrent of words.
"Right, sir," Larson said briskly. "And we'll let you know what we can get from her. It'll be interesting to see what her motive is for accusing Barris -- assuming of course that it was she. My theory is that she may well be working for some other Director who --"
Dill broke the connection. And went wearily back to bed.
Toward the end of the week, Director William Barris received his DQ form back. Scrawled across the bottom was the notation: "Improperly filled out. Please correct and refile."
Furiously, Barris threw the form down on his desk and leaped to his feet. He snapped on the vidsender. "Give me Unity Control at Geneva."
The Geneva monitor formed. "Yes, sir?"
Barris held up the DQ form. "Who returned this? Whose writing is this? The feed-team leader?"
"No, sir." The monitor made a brief check. "It was Managing Director Dill who handled your form, sir."
Dill! Barris felt himself stiffen with indignation. "I want to talk to Dill at once."
"Mr. Dill is in conference. He can't be disturbed."
Barris killed the screen with a savage swipe. For a moment he stood thinking. There was no doubt of it; Jason Dill was stalling. I can't go on like this any further, Barris thought. I'll never get any answers out of Geneva this way. What is Dill up to, for God's sake?
Why is Dill refusing to cooperate with his own Directors?
Over a year, and no statement from Vulcan 3 on the Healers. Or had there been, and Dill hadn't released it?
With a surge of disbelief, he thought, Can Dill be keeping back information from the computer? Not letting it know what's going on?
Can it be that Vulcan 3 does not know about the Healers at all?
That simply did not seem credible. What ceaseless mass effort that would take on Dill's part; billions of data were fed to Vulcan 3 in one week alone; surely it would be next to impossible to keep all mention of the Movement from the great machine. And if any datum got in at all, the computer would react; it would note the datum, compare it with all other data, record the incongruity.
And, Barris thought, if Dill is concealing the existence of the Movement from Vulcan 3, what would be his motive? What would he gain by deliberately depriving himself -- and Unity in general -- of the computer's appraisal of the situation?
But that has been the situation for fifteen months, Barris realized. Nothing has been handed down to us from Vulcan 3, and either the machine has said nothing, or, if it has, Dill hasn't released it. So for all intents and purposes, the computer has not spoken.
What a basic flaw in the Unity structure, he thought bitterly. Only one man is in a position to deal with the computer, so that one man can cut us off completely; he can sever the world from Vulcan 3. Like some high priest who stands between man and god, Barris mused. It's obviously wrong. But what can we do? What can I do? I may be supreme authority in this region, but Dill is still my superior; he can remove me any time he wants. True it would be a complex and difficult procedure to remove a Director against his will, but it has been done several times. And if I go and accuse him of --
He's doing something, Barris realized, but there's no way I can make out what it is. Not only do I have no facts, but I can't even see my way clearly enough to phrase an accusation. After all, I did fill out the DQ form improperly; that's a fact. And if Dill wants to say that Vulcan 3 simply has said nothing about the Healers, no one can contradict him because no one else has access to the machine. We have to take his word.
Barris thought, But I've had enough of taking his word. Fifteen months is long enough; the time has come to take action. Even if it means my forced resignation.
Which it probably will mean, and right away.
A job, Barris decided, isn't that important. You have to be able to trust the organization you're a part of; you have to believe in your superiors. If you think they're up to something, you have to get up from your chair and do something, even if it's nothing more than to confront them face-to-face and demand an explanation.
Reaching out his hand, he relit the vidscreen. "Give me the field. And hurry it up."
After a moment the field-tower monitor appeared. "Yes, sir?"
"This is Barris. Have a first-class ship ready at once. I'm taking off right away."
"Where to, sir?"
"To Geneva," Barris set his jaw grimly. "I have an appointment with Managing Director Dill." He added under his breath, "Whether Dill likes it or not."
As the ship carried him at high velocity toward Geneva, Barris considered his plans carefully.
What they'll say, he decided, is that I'm using this as a pretext to embarrass Jason Dill. That I'm not sincere; that in fact I'm using the silence of Vulcan 3 as a device to make a bid for Jason Dill's job. My coming to Geneva will just go to prove how ruthlessly ambitious I am. And I won't be able to disprove the charge; I have no way by which I can prove that my motives are pure.
This time the chronic doubt did not assail him; he knew that he was acting for the good of the organization. I know my own mind this time, he realized. In this case I can trust myself.
I'll just have to stand firm, he told himself. If I keep denying that I'm trying to undercut Dill for personal advantage --
But he knew better. All the denials in the world won't help me, he thought, once they loose the gods. They can get a couple of those police psychologists up from Atlanta, and once those boys have gone over me I'll agree with my accusers; I'll be convinced that I'm cynically exploiting Dill's problems and undermining the organization. They'll even have me convinced that I'm a traitor and ought to be sentenced to forced labor on Luna.
At the thought of the Atlanta psychologists, he felt cold perspiration stand out on his throat and forehead.
Only once had he been up against them, and that was the third year of his employment with Unity. Some unbalanced clerk in his department-at that time he had managed a small rural branch of Unity-had been caught stealing Unity property and reselling it on the black market. Unity of course had a monopoly on advanced technological equipment, and certain items were excessively valuable. It was a constant temptation, and this particular clerk had been in charge of inventories; the temptation had been coupled with opportunity, and the two together had been too much. The secret police had caught up with the man almost at once, had arrested him and gained the usual confession. To get himself in good, or what he imagined to be in good, the man had implicated several others in the branch office, including William Barris. And so a warrant had been served on him, and he had been hauled down in the middle of the night for an "interview."
There was no particular onus connected with being served with a police warrant; virtually every citizen became involved with the police at one time or another in his life. The incident had not hurt Barris' career; he had very quickly been released, and he had gone on at his job, and no one had brought the matter up when time came for his advancement to a high position. But for half an hour at police headquarters he had been worked over by two psychologists, and the memory was still with him to wake him up late at night-a bad dream but unfortunately one that might recur in reality at any time.
If he were to step out of line even now, in his position as North American Director with supreme authority over the area north of the Mason-Dixon Line ...
And, as he was carried closer and closer to Unity Control at Geneva, he was decidedly sticking his neck out. I should mind my own business, he told himself. That is a rule we all learn, if we expect to get up the ladder or even keep out of jail.
But this is my business!
Not much later a recorded voice said pleasantly, "We are about to land, Mr. Barris."
Geneva lay below. The ship was descending, pulled down by the automatic relays that had guided it from his field, across the Atlantic and over Western Europe.
Barris thought, Probably they already know I'm on my way. Some flunky, some minor informant, has relayed the information. Undoubtedly some petty clerk in my own building is a spy for Unity Control.
And now, as he rose from his chair and moved toward the exit, someone else was no doubt waiting at the Geneva terminal, watching to mark his arrival. I'll be followed the entire time, he decided.
At the exit he hesitated. I can turn around and go back, he said to himself. I can pretend I never started this trip, and probably no one will ever bring it up; they will know I started to come here, got as far as the field, but they won't know why. They'll never be able to establish that I intended to confront my superior, Jason Dill.
He hesitated, and then he touched the stud that opened the door. It swung aside, and bright midday sunlight spilled into the small ship. Barris filled his lungs with fresh air, paused, and then descended the ramp to the field.
As he walked across the open space toward the terminal building, a shape standing by the fence detached itself. There's one, he realized. Watching for me. The shape moved slowly toward him. It was a figure in a long blue coat. A woman, her hair up in a bandanna, her hands in her coat pockets. He did not recognize her. Sharp pale features. Such intense eyes, he thought. Staring at him. She did not speak or show any expression until the two of them were separated by only a few feet. And then her colorless lips moved.
"Don't you remember me, Mr. Barris?" she said in a hollow voice. She fell in beside him and walked along with him, toward the terminal building. "I'd like to talk to you. I think it'll be worth your while."
He said, "Rachel Pitt."
Glancing at him, Rachel said, "I have something to sell. A piece of news that could determine your future." Her voice was hard and thin, as brittle as glass. "But I have to have something back; I need something in exchange."
"I don't want to do any business with you," he said. "I didn't come here to see you."
"I know," she said. "I tried to get hold of you at your office; they stalled me every time. I knew right away that you had given orders to that effect."
Barris said nothing. This is really bad, he thought. That this demented woman should manage to locate me, here, at this time.
"You're not interested," Rachel said, "and I know why not; all you can think of is how successfully you're going to deal with Jason Dill. But you see, you won't be able to deal with him at all."
"Why not?" he said, trying to keep any emotions he might be feeling out of his voice.
Rachel said, "I've been under arrest for a couple of days, now. They had me picked up and brought here."
"I wondered what you were doing here," he said.
"A loyal Unity wife," she said. "Devoted to the organization. Whose husband was killed only a few --" She broke off. "But you don't care about that, either." At the fence she halted, facing him. "You can either go directly to the Unity Control Building, or you can take half an hour and spend it with me. I advise the latter. If you decide to go on and see Dill now, without hearing me out ..." She shrugged. "I can't stop you. Go ahead." Her black eyes glowed unwinkingly as she waited.
This woman is really out of her mind, Barris thought. The rigid, fanatical expression ... But even so, could he afford to ignore her ?
"Do you think I'm trying to seduce you?" she said.
Startled, he said, "I --"
"I mean, seduce you away from your high purpose." For the first time she smiled and seemed to relax. "Mr. Barris," she said with a shudder. "I'll tell you the truth. I've been under intensive examination for two days, now. You can suppose who by. But it doesn't matter. Why should I care? After what's happened to me ..." Her voice trailed off, then resumed. "Do you think I escaped? That they're after me?" A mocking, bantering irony danced in her eyes. "Hell no. They let me go. They gave me compulsive psychotherapy for two days, and then they told me I could go home; they shoved me out the door."
A group of people passed by on their way to a ship; Barris and Rachel were both silent for a time.
"Why did they haul you in?" he asked finally.
Rachel said, "Oh, I was supposed to have written some kind of a poison-pen letter, accusing someone high up in Unity. I managed to convince them I was innocent-or rather, their analysis of the contents of my mind convinced them; all I did was sit. They took my mind out, took it apart, studied it, put the pieces back together and stuffed them back in my head." Reaching up, she slid aside the bandanna for a moment; he saw, with grim aversion, the neat white scar slightly before her hairline. "It's all back," she said. "At least, I hope it is."
With compassion, he said, "That's really terrible. A real abuse of human beings. It should be stopped."
"If you get to be Managing Director, maybe you can stop it," she said. "Who knows? You might someday be-after all, you're bright and hardworking and ambitious. All you have to do is defeat all those other bright, hardworking, ambitious Directors. Like Taubmann."
"Is he the one you're supposed to have accused?" Barris said.
"No," she said, in a faint voice. "It's you, William Barris. Isn't that interesting? Anyhow, now I've given you my news-free. There's a letter in Jason Dill's file accusing you of being in the pay of the Healers; they showed it to me. Someone is trying to get you, and Dill is interested. Isn't that worth your knowing, before you go in there and lock horns with him?"
Barris said, "How do you know I'm here to do that?"
Her dark eyes flickered. "Why else would you be here? " But her voice had a faltering tone now.
Reaching out, he took hold of her arm. With firmness, he guided her along the walk to the street side of the field. "I will take the time to talk to you," he said. He racked his mind, trying to think of a place to take her. Already they had come to the public taxi stand; a robot cab had spotted them and was rolling in their direction.
The door of the cab opened. The mechanical voice said, "May I be of service, please?"
Barris slid into the cab and drew the woman in beside him. Still holding firmly onto her, he said to the cab, "Say listen, can you find us a hotel, not too conspicuous-you know." He could hear the receptor mechanism of the cab whirring as it responded. "For us to get a load off our feet," he said, "My girl and me. You know."
Presently the cab said, "Yes, sir." It began to move along the busy Geneva streets. "Out-of-the-way hotel where you will find the privacy you desire." It added, "The Hotel Bond, sir." Rachel Pitt said nothing; she stared sightlessly ahead.