LIES, INC. -- CHAPTER FIVE
"Yes, Gaspar," the girl said, with a toss of her blonde, high-piled hair.
"Escort Mr. Applebaum to table twenty-two," the maitre d' told her, and ignored, with stoic, glacial indifference, the outrage among those customers lined up wearily ahead of Rachmael.
"I don't want to --" Rachmael began, but the maitre d' cut him off.
"All arranged. She is waiting at twenty-two." And, in the maitre d's voice, everything was conveyed: full knowledge of an intricate erotic relationship which -- alas -- did not, at least as yet, exist.
Rachmael followed Genet, with her light-emanating useful Swiss-made nipple-assist, through the darkness, the noise of people eating in jammed proximity, bolting their meals with the weight of guilt hunching them, getting done and aside so that those waiting could be served before the Fox's Lair, at two a.m., closed its kitchens ... we are really pressed tight to one another, he thought, and then, all at once, Genet halted, turned; the nipple cap now radiated a soft, delightful and warm pale red aura which revealed, seated at table twenty-two, Freya Holm.
Seating himself opposite her, Rachmael said, "You don't light up."
"I could. And play the Blue Danube simultaneously." She smiled; in the darkness -- the waitress had gone on, now -- the dark-haired girl's eyes glowed. Before her rested a split of Buena Vista chablis, vintage 2002, one of the great, rare treats of the restaurant, and exceeding expensive; Rachmael wondered who would pick up the tab for this twelve-year-old California wine; lord knew he would have liked to, but -- he reflexively touched his wallet. Freya noticed. "Don't worry. Matson Glazer-Holliday owns this restaurant. There will be a tab for a mere six poscreds. For one peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich." She laughed, her dark eyes dancing in the reflected light from barely illuminated overhead Japanese lanterns. "Does this place intimidate you?" she asked him, then.
"No. I'm just generally tense." For six days now the Omphalos had been lost -- and even to him. Perhaps even to Matson. It could well be -- necessary for security purposes -- that only Al Dosker, at the multi-stage console of the ship's controls, knew where she had gone. For Rachmael, however, it had been psychologically devastating to watch the Omphalos blast out into the limitless darkness: Ferry had been right -- the Omphalos had been the sine qua non of Applebaum Enterprise; without her nothing remained.
But at least this way she might return; or more accurately, he eventually might be taken, by Lies, Incorporated, by high-velocity flapple to her, allowed to see, board her, again, to begin his eighteen-year trip. And, the other way --
"Don't dwell on Ferry's offer," Freya said softly. She nodded to the waitress, who placed a solidstem but chilled wine glass before Rachmael; he automatically, obediently, poured himself a trace of the 2002 Buena Vista white, tasted it; kept himself from taking more; he merely nodded in compliment to the wine, tried to make it appear that he was accustomed to such an outrageously, almost divinely penetrating bouquet and flavor. It made absurd everything he had drunk his life long.
"I'm not thinking of it," he said to Freya. Not, he thought, in view of what you have -- or are supposed to have -- in your purse.
Her large black leather mailpouch-style purse rested on the table beside her, within reach of his fingers.
"The components," Freya said softly, "are in the purse in a simulated gold round container, marked Eternity of Sexual Potency Fragrance #54, a routine continental scent; anyone going through my purse would expect to find it. There are twelve components, all super-min, of course. Beneath the inner lid. On India paper, on the reverse of the label, is a wiring diagram. I will rise to my feet in a moment and go to the powder room; after a few seconds -- you must sit quietly, Rachmael, because it is about a seventy-thirty possibility that THL agents are monitoring us, either directly as patrons or by instrument -- you must sit; then, when I don't return immediately, you fidget, you try to attract Genet's attention, to order some dinner for yourself or at least -- and this is vital -- obtain the menu."
He nodded, listening intently.
"She will notice you and give you a menu; it is quite stiff and large, since it contains the wine list. You will place it on the table so that it covers my purse."
Rachmael said, "And I accidentally knock your purse to the floor, and the contents spill out, and in gathering them up I --"
"Are you insane?" Quietly she said, "You cover the purse. There is a strip of titanium within the right-hand overleaf of the menu. The container of scent has a titanium-tropic ambulation-circuit; it will within two seconds register the presence of the strip and will rotate itself out of my purse, which I've left open; it will travel across the underside of the menu. The strip is at the bottom, where your right hand with complete naturalness will be resting as you hold what has been deliberately made up an awkward, stiff menu. When it touches the titanium strip the container will emit a weak charge, about ten volts; you will feel this galvanization and you will then, with your four fingers, take hold of the container, detach it from the titanium strip to which it has tropically adhered, drop it from the underside of the menu onto your lap. And then, with your other hand, you will shift the container from your lap into your pocket." She rose. "I'll be back within six minutes. Goodbye. And good luck."
He watched her go.
And then, as he sat there, he realized that he had to rise, too; had to act -- the job of transferring the deep-sleep components obtained for him from the blackmarket was difficult and delicate, because Theodoric Ferry, ever since Lies, Incorporated had taken out his satellite and its crew, its simulacrum of Ferry himself, had kept total surveillance over everything Rachmael had done; the ultimate in technological and personnel resources of Trails of Hoffman Limited had been brought into play, motivated now by Theodoric's personal animus.
What had been a remote and impersonal conflict had become once more, he reflected, that which it had always been for his father: a deeply human, immediate matter. A struggle which, at last, had brought his father's death and the disintegration of the organization.
Thinking this, Rachmael began dutifully to fidget, then rose, began hunting for the girl with the light-emanating, gay music resounding, Swiss nipple.
"A menu, sir?" Genet stood before him, holding out the great, wonderfully printed and engraved, in fact embossed, menu; he thanked her, accepted it humbly, returned to his table with the pleasant tunes of Johann Strauss in his ears.
The menu, the size of an old-fashioned antique disc record album, easily covered Freya's purse. He sat holding it open, reading the wine list, and especially the prices. Good god! It cost a fortune even for a split of good wine, here. And for a fifth of a three-year-old generic white --
All the retail establishments such as the Fox's Lair were exploiting Terra's overpopulation; people who had waited three hours to get in here to eat and drink would pay these prices -- by then they had, psychologically, no choice.
A weak electric shock made his right hand quiver; the circular container of miniaturized deep-sleep components had already made physical contact with him and, with his fingers, he pried it, clam- like, loose from its grip, its tropism; he dropped it into his lap, felt its weight.
As directed, he then reached for it with his left hand, to transfer it to his cloak pocket ...
"Sorry -- oops." A busboy, a robot, carrying a loaded, chest-high tray of dishes, had bumped him, making him totter on his chair. People everywhere, those rising, those seating themselves, the robot busboys clearing, the waitresses with their lights and tunes everywhere ... confused, Rachmael reseated himself, reached for the container on his lap.
It was gone.
Fallen to the floor? In disbelief he peered down, saw his shoes, the table legs, a discarded match folder. No round gold-like container.
They had gotten it. It was they who had sent the "busboy." And now it, too, with its load of dishes, had vanished in the general confusion.
Defeated, he sat vacantly staring. And then, at last, from the split of wine, he poured himself a second drink, lifted the glass as if in toast: a toast to the success, admitted and accepted, of the invisible extensions of THL around him that had, in the crucial instant, intervened, deprived him of what he needed essentially in order to leave the Sol system with the big Omphalos.
It did not matter now whether he made contact with Dosker aboard her; lacking the components it was insanity to leave.
Freya returned, seated herself across from him, smiled "All okay?"
Leadenly, he said, "They stopped us. Dead." For now, anyhow, he thought. But it's not finished yet.
He drank, his heart laboring, the delicate, expensive, delicious, and utterly superfluous wine -- the wine of at least temporary utter defeat.
On the TV screen, Omar Jones, President of Newcolonizedland, highest official in residence at the great modular settlement at Whale's Mouth, said jovially, "Well, you folks back home, all bunched together there in those little boxes you live in -- we greet you, wish you luck." The familiar, round, pleasant face beamed its smile of warmth. "And we're just wonderin', folks, when you all are going to team up with us and join us here at Newcolonizedland. Eh?" He cupped his ear. As if, Rachmael thought, it were a two-way transmission. But this was illusion. This was a video tape sent across in signal-form by way of von Einem's Telpor nexus at Schweinfort, New Whole Germany. By, through, the good offices of the UN's network of Earth satellites, relayed to TV sets throughout Terra.
Aloud, Rachmael said, "Sorry, President Omar Jones, of Newcolonizedland, Whale's Mouth." I'll visit you, he thought, but my own way. Not by a von Einem Telpor operating for five poscreds at one of Trails of Hoffman's retail outlets ... so it'll be a little while; in fact, he thought, I'd guess you, President Jones, will be dead by the time I arrive.
Although after the defeat at the Fox's Lair --
They, the opposition, had in effect severed him from his source of support, from Lies, Incorporated. He had sat across from their rep, pretty, dark-haired Freya Holm, drunk vintage wine with her, chatted, laughed. But when it came time to transfer vital components from Lies, Incorporated across a five-inch space to him ...
The vidphone in the minuscule bedroom-cubby of his conapt said Pwannnnnnk! Indicating that someone desired to contact him.
Shutting off the jolly face of President Omar Jones of Newcolonizedland, Whale's Mouth, he went to the vidphone, lifted the receiver.
On its gray, undersized screen there formed the features of Matson Glazer-Holliday. "Mr. ben Applebaum," Matson said.
"What can we do?" Rachmael said, feeling the weight of their loss. "In fact those people are probably monitoring this --"
"Oh yes; we register a tap on this vidline." Matson nodded, but he did not seem nonplussed. "We know they're not only monitoring this call but recording it, both aud and vid. However, my message to you is brief, and they're welcome to it. Contact the master circuit of your local public Xerox-spool library."
"And then?" Rachmael asked.
"Do research," Matson Glazer-Holliday said carefully. "Into the original discovery of Whale's Mouth. The first unmanned data-receptors, recorders and transmitters which were traveled from the Sol system, years ago, to the Fomalhaut system; in fact, back in the twentieth century."
Rachmael said, "But why --"
"And we'll be in touch," Matson said briskly. "Goodbye. And glad to have --" He eyed Rachmael. "Don't let that little incident at the restaurant get to you. It's routine. I assure you." He mock- saluted, and then the image on the tiny colorless -- the Vidphone Corporation of Wes-Dem provided minimal service, and, as a public utility licensed by the UN, got away with it -- the image died.
Rachmael, bewildered, hung up the aud receiver.
The records of the original unmanned monitors which had been dispatched to the Fomalhaut system years ago were public records; what could exist there that would be of value? Nevertheless he dialed the local branch of the New New York Xerox-spool public library.
"Send to my apt," he said, "the abstract, the comprehensive material available, on the initial scouting of the Fomalhaut system." By those now old-fashioned constructs which George Hoffman had utilized -- by which the habitable planet Whale's Mouth had been discovered.
Presently a robot runner appeared at his door with a variety of spools. Rachmael seated himself at his scanner, inserted the first spool, noting that it was marked A General Survey of the Fomalhaut Unmanned Inter-system Vehicle Reports, Shorter Version, by someone named G. S. Purdy.
For two hours he ran the spool. It showed that sun coming nearer and nearer, then the planets, one by one and disappointing, bitterly so, until now number nine bloomed into view; and all at once --
No more barren rocks, unblunted mountains. No airless, germless, hygienic void with methane as gas or crystallized at greater astronomical units from the sun. Suddenly he saw a swaying and undulating, blue-green frieze, and this had caused Dr. von Einem to trot out his Telpor equipment, to set up the direct link between this world and Terra. This plum-ripe landscape had gotten Trails of Hoffman interested commercially -- and had written mene, mene for Applebaum Enterprise.
The last vid monitor-reading was fifteen years old. Since then direct contact via teleportation gear had made such ancient hardware obsolete. And hence the original unmanned monitors, in orbit around Fomalhaut --
Had what? Been abandoned, according to author Purdy. Their batteries turned off by remote instruct; they still, presumably, circled the sun within the orbit of Whale's Mouth.
They were still there.
And their batteries, having been off all these years, had conserved, not expended energy. And they were of the advanced liquid-helium III type.
Was this what Matson had wanted to know?
Returning to the reference spool he ran it, ran it, again and again, until he had the datum at last. The most sophisticated vid monitor belonged to Vidphone Corporation of Wes-Dem. They would know if it, called Prince Albert B-y, was still in orbit around Fomalhaut.
He started toward his vidphone, then stopped. After all, it was tapped. So instead he left his conapt, left the huge building entirely, joined a ped-runnel until he spied a public phonebooth.
There, he called the Vidphone Corporation, its central offices in Detroit, open on a twenty-four- hour-a-day basis.
"Give me your archives," he instructed the robot switchboard.
Presently a human, wizened but efficient-looking, gnome-like official in a gray jacket, like a bookkeeper, appeared. "Yeah?"
"I'm inquiring," Rachmael said, ''as to the Prince Albert B-y mon-sat put in orb around Fomalhaut seventeen years ago. I'd like you to check as to whether it's still in orb and if it is, how it can be activated so --"
The signal went dead. At the other end the Vidphone Corporation official had hung up. He waited. The Vidphone switchboard did not come onto the wire, nor did the regular, local robot.
I'll be darned, Rachmael thought. Shaken, he left the phonebooth. He continued on aboard the runnel until at last he reached a second public phonebooth.
Entering he this time dialed Matson Glazer-Holliday's satellite. Presently he had the owner of Lies, Incorporated again facing him from the screen.
Carefully, Rachmael said, "Sorry to bother you. But I've been running info spools on the original unmanned monitors of the Fomalhaut system."
"I asked," Rachmael said, "the Vidphone Corporarion of Wes Dem if its Prince Albert B-y --"
"And they said?"
Rachmael said, "They immediately cut the con."
"It," Matson said, "is still up. Still in orb."
"And sending out signals?"
"Not for fifteen years. At hyper-see it takes its signals one week to cross the twenty-four light-year gap to the Sol system. Rather shorter than it would require for the Omphalos to reach the Fomalhaut system.
"Is there any way to once more activate the satellite?"
"Vidphone Corp could contact it direct, through a Telpor," Matson said. "If they wanted to."
After a pause Matson said, "Did they cut you off just now?"
Pondering, Rachmael said, "Can someone else give the impulse to the satellite?"
"No. Only the Vidphone Corp knows the sequence which would cause it to respond."
"Is this what you wanted me to find out?" Rachmael asked.
Smiling, Matson Glazer-Holliday said, "Goodbye, Mr. ben Applebaum. And good luck, as you continue your research." He then hung up, and once more Rachmael faced a dead screen.
At his villa, Matson turned away from the vidset to Freya Holm, who perched on the couch, legs tucked under her, wearing a high-fashion transparent spidersilk blue blouse and meter-reader's pants. "He found it," Matson said. "Right away. That about the PA B-y sat." Pacing, Matson scowled. "All right." He had decided. "Our rep, under the cover-name Bergen Phillips, will be sent to Whale's Mouth six hours from now. By way of the THL outlet at Paris. As soon as he's at Whale's Mouth he'll transmit to us, through the Telpor, an encoded document describing the true conditions." But probably THL's people would have nabbed "Bergen Phillips " by then, and, through techniques well-known in the trade, have learned all that the Lies, Incorporated veteran knew; they would then send a faked encoded message, assuring Matson that all was well-and he would never know, on receipt of such a message, whether it truly emanated from "Bergen Phillips" or from THL. However --
Freya saw it, too. "Have this rep, once he's across, give the activating sequence to the PA B-y sat. So it'll start transmitting data to the Sol system direct, once again."
"If," Matson said. "If it still will function after fifteen years. And if the Vidphone Corp does not countermand the instruct the moment data starts to flow in." However, he could tap the Vidphone. Corp's lines and pick up even that initial meager data. What he might obtain before the flow ceased coming in might be a graphic pan-shot of Whale's Mouth -- and then so what if the sat was shut off once more.
As naturally it would be, since THL controlled the Vidphone Corp.
"Just one good vid shot," Matson said. "And we'll know."
"Know what?" She reached to set down her drink glass on the nearby antique genuine glass-topped coffee table.
Matson said, "I'll tell you that, dear, when I see the shot." He went to the comboard, sent out the already implemented request for the field rep who was to cross over to Whale's Mouth to be brought to his satellite. These instructs had to be given orally and not over lines; to line it was to howl it broadcast.
In fact perhaps he had already communicated too much to Rachmael. But -- in such a business one took risks. And he could assume that Rachmael's callback had emanated from a public booth; the man, although an amateur, was at least cautious. And these days such caution was not paranoid; it was practical.
On the TV screen in 3-D color with olfactory track the round, jovial features of President Omar Jones of Newcolonizedland said, "You folks there on good old overcrowded Terra "-- and, behind him, faded in a scene of miles of open veldt-like park -- "you amaze us. We hear you're going to send a ship here, by hyper-see, and it'll arrive ... let's see." He pretended to be contemplating.
Before the set (not quite paid for) Jack McElhattten, a hard-working, easy-going, good-natured guy, said to his wife, "Chrissakes, look at that open land." It reminded him of his sweet, fragile childhood, of years ago and now gone, the Oregon Trail part of Wyoming west of Cheyenne. And the desire, the yearning, grew in him. "We have to emigrate," he said to Ruth then. "We owe it to our kids. They can grow up as --"
"Shh," Ruth said.
On the screen President Omar Jones of Newcolonizedland said, "In just about eighteen years, folks, that ship will arrive this way and park down. So here's what we've done; we've set aside November 24, 2032, as Flying Dutchman Day. The day that ship reaches us." He chuckled. "I'll be, um, ninety-four and, sorry to say, probably not here to participate in Flying Dutchman Day. But maybe posterity, including some of you young folks --"
"You hear that?" McElhatten said to his wife, incredulous. "Some nut is going to go the old way. Eighteen years in 'tween space! When all you have to do --"
"BE QUIET," Ruth said, furiously, trying to listen.
"-- be here to greet this Mr. Applebaum," President Omar Jones intoned in clowning solemnity. "Banners, vox-pop streamers ... we should have a population of between, well, say, one billion then, but still plenty of land. We can take up to two billion, you know, and still leave plenty of room. So come on and join us; cross over and be here to celebrate Flying Dutchman Day, folks." He waved, and, it seemed to Jack McElhatten, this man at Whale's Mouth was waving directly to him. And, within him, the yearning grew.
The frontier, he thought. Their neighbors in the tiny cramped conapt with which they shared a bathroom ... or had, up until last month, at which point the Pattersons had emigrated to Whale's Mouth. The vid-sig letters from Jerome Patterson; god, they had raved about conditions across on the other side. If anything, the info spots-ads, to be exact -- had understated the beauty of the real-sit over there. The beauty -- and the opportunity.
"We need men," President Omar Jones was declaring. "Good strong men who can do any kind of work. Are you that man? Able, willing, and get-up-and-go, over eighteen years of age? Willing to start a new life, using your mind and your hands, the skills God gave you? Think about it. What are you doing with those hands, those skills, right now?"
Doing quality-control on an autofac line, McElhatten thought to himself bitterly; a job which a pigeon could do better; fact was, a pigeon did do so, to check his work.
"Can you imagine," he said to his wife, "holding down a job where a pigeon has a better eye than you for mis-tolerances?" And that was exactly his situation; he ejected parts which were nor properly aligned, and, when he missed, the pigeon noted the miss, the defective part allowed to pass; it picked out the misaligned part, pecked a reject-button which kicked the part from the moving belt. And, as they quit and emigrated, the quality control men at Krino Associates were, one by one, replaced by pigeons.
He stayed on now, really, only because the union to which he belonged was strong enough to insist that his seniority made it mandatory for Krino to keep him on. But once he quit, once he left --
"Then," he said to Ruth, "the pigeon moves in. Okay, let it; we're going across to Whale's Mouth, and from then on I won't be competing with birds." Competing, he thought, and losing. Offering my employers the poorer showing." And Krino will be glad," he said, with misery.
"I just wish," Ruth said, "that you had a particular job lined up over there at Newcolonizedland. I mean, they talk about 'all the jobs,' but you can't take 'all the jobs.' What one job are you --" She hesitated. "Skilled for?" After all, he had worked for Krino Associates for ten years.
"I'm going to farm."
She stared at him.
"They'll give us twenty acres. We'll buy sheep here, those black faced ones. Suffolk. Take six across, five ewes and a ram, put up fences, build ourselves a house out of prefab sections --" He knew he could do it. Others had, as they had described -- not in impersonal ads -- but in letters vid- signaled back and then transcribed by Vidphone Corporation and posted on the bulletin board of the conapt building.
"But if we don't like it," Ruth murmured apprehensively, "we won't be able to come back; I mean, that seems so strange. Those teleportation machines ... working one way only."
"The extra-galactic nebulae," he said patiently. "The recession of matter outward; the universe is exploding, growing; the Telpor relates your molecules as energy configurations in this outflow --"
"I don't understand," Ruth said. "But I do know this," she said, and, from her purse, brought a leaflet.
Studying the leaflet, McElhatten scowled. "Cranks. This is hate literature, Ruth. Don't accept it." He began to crumple it up.
"They don't call themselves by a hating name. 'Friends of a United People.' They're a small group of worried, dedicated people, opposed to --"
"I know what they're opposed to," McElhatten said. Several of them worked at Krino Associates. "They say we Terrans should stay within the Sol system. Stick together. Listen." He crumpled up the leaflet. "The history of man has been one vast migration. This to Whale's Mouth; it's the greatest yet-twenty-four light-years! We ought to be proud." But naturally there'd be a few idiots and cranks opposing history.
Yes, it was history and he wanted to be part of it. First it had been New England, then Australia, Alaska, and then the try-and failure -- on Luna, then on Mars and Venus, and now -- success. At last. And if he waited too long he would be too old and there would be too many expatriates so free land would no longer be available; the government at Newcolonizedland might withdraw its land offer any time, because after all, every day people streamed over. The Telpor offices were swamped.
"You want me to go?" he asked Ruth. "Go first -- and send a message back, once I have the land and am ready to begin building? And then you and the kids can come?"
Nervously, she said, "I hate to be parted from you."
"Make up your mind."
"I guess," she said, "we should go together. If we go at all. But these -- letters. They're just impulses onto energy lines."
"Like telephone or vidphone or telegraph or TV messages. Has been for one hundred years."
"If only real letters came back."
"You have," he said derisively, "a superstitious fear."
"Maybe so," Ruth admitted. But it was a real fear nonetheless. A deep and abiding fear of a one- way trip from which they could never return, except, she thought, eighteen years from now, when that ship reaches the Fomalhaut system.
She picked up the evening 'pape, examined the article, jeering in tone, about this ship, the Omphalos. Capable of transporting five hundred, but this time carrying one sole man: the ship's owner. And, the article said, he was fleeing to escape his creditors; that was his motive.
But, she thought, he can come back from Whale's Mouth.
She envied -- without understanding why -- that man. Rachmael ben Applebaum, the 'pape said. If we could cross over now with you, she thought, if we asked --
Her husband said quietly, "If you won't go, Ruth, I'm going alone. I'm not going to sit there day after day at that quality-control station, feeling that pigeon breathing down the back of my neck."
She sighed. And wandered into the common kitchen which they shared with their right-hand neighbors, the Shorts, to see if there was anything left of their monthly ration of what the bill of lading called cof-bz. Synthetic coffee beans.
There was not. So, instead, she morosely fixed herself a cup of synthetic tea. Meanwhile, the Shorts -- who were noisy -- came and went, in and out of the kitchen. And, in her living room, her husband sat before the TV set, an enraptured child, listening to, following with devout and absorbed full attention the nightly report from Whale's Mouth. Watching the new, the next, world.
I guess, she thought, he's right.
But something deep and instinctive within her still objected. And she wondered queerly why. And she thought, then, once more of Rachmael ben Applebaum, who, the 'pape said, was attempting the eighteen-year trip without deep-sleep equipment; he had tried and failed to obtain it, the 'pape said gleefully; the guy was so marginal an operator, such a fly-by-nighter, that he had no credit, pos or otherwise. The poor man, she thought. Conscious and alone for eighteen whole years; couldn't the company that makes those deep-sleep units donate the equipment he needs?
The TV set in the living room declared, "Remember, folks, it's Old Mother Hubbard there on Terra, and the Old Woman who lived in a shoe; you've got so many children, folks, and just what do you plan to do?"
Emigrate, Ruth decided, without enthusiasm. Apparently.
And -- soon.