Time To TeleportGordon R. Dickson
Time To Teleport
Gordon R. Dickson
A courier air-sub with the coral red of the Underseas Power Group tipping its wing stubs came diving out of the blue south sky at a little after noon. It checked, and for the short space of several minutes hung hovering above the huge floating structure that was Cable Island, seat of government and political neutral ground for the Autonomous Groups, symbolically built and anchored in twelve hundred fathoms of chill sea water above the theoretical midpoint of the old Atlantic cable. Then the Island signaled clearance; and the ship dropped gently to the landing deck. From it stepped a boy of less than twenty. He wore a silver tunic trimmed in red; a sea-green kilt was clipped about his lean waist by a gun-belt and holster from which a handgun with a coral-red butt protruded. And an ebony-black official courier's cloak clung to the magnetic shoulder tabs of his tunic, while a courier's pouch with thumb-lock was clamped to his right forearm.
A lieutenant of the Neutral Guard took charge of him, impounded the gun and checked him through the scanners. These mechanical watchdogs discovered nothing dangerous either on or within the youngster. The officer turned him over to two guards with instructions to conduct him to the main council room, and there deliver him to Eli Johnstone, the spokesman for his group. The two guards saluted, about-faced and set off smartly, marching in step and rather hurrying the brightly dressed young courier between them. It was, perhaps, an unnecessary display of military manners; but the five hundred man Neutral Guard were, after all, the only professional soldiers left on Earth; and you could hardly blame them.
The main council room of Cable Island occupied the very center of the mammoth structure, being surrounded by committee rooms and these in turn surrounded by the offices of the individual groups. Above all this was the solar deck and the landing deck upon which Poby Richards, the courier, had come down with his air-sub. Below it were the living quarters, recreation centers and such, while the bottom layer of the Island was taken up by kitchens, storerooms and machinery.
The main council room itself was a steep-sided circular amphitheater, the sides of which were arranged in three levels and each level divided into sections to hold the representatives of each individual group. There were sections for one hundred and twenty-eight groups, but, in practice, only about thirty groups bothered to have representatives permanently stationed on the island and it was unusual to find more than twelve groups at business in the council room at any one time. The truth was that the larger groups usually each spoke for a number of smaller ones as well; as a result there were at this particular moment only ten spokesmen present in the amphitheater. One of these ten was from the highly important Communications Group, headed by young Alan Clyde; and another from the Underseas Domes whose spokesman was that same Eli Johnstone that Poby was seeking.
Eli had built Underseas—and himself along with it—into a political factor to be reckoned with.
The Underseas cities had a unanimity of feeling that the land groups lacked. Eli had united the small Underseas groups who needed a strong voice to speak for them on the Island; and for the last five years he had been able to stand forth and match point to point with Anthony Sellars, spokesman for the overwhelmingly large Transportation Group. Sellars was considered by most to be the most powerful political personage in the world. He was the lion that Eli worried, and wolflike fought, in the never-ending battle for position among the groups.
They sat now across the amphitheater from each other, each in their respective sections, Eli nursing the knee of his bad left leg absent-mindedly with both hands beneath the cover of the desk that, with his chair and himself, occupied the front of his section, walled off by waist-high partitions from the sections on either side. He was a slight, dark man in his late thirties, with a thin face early graven in bitter-humorous lines. The lines were deepened now by strain and fatigue; and he sat in a half-daze of numb tiredness, listening with only half an ear to the flexible baritone of Jacques Veillain, underspokesman for Transportation, as he rehearsed the popular list of indictments against the organization presently under discussion, the Philosophical Researchists. This organization called themselves Members of the Human Race, but which the easily swayed, easily frightened little people of the world had taken to calling the "Inhumans."
"—vivisectors and mutators," Veillain was saying to the assembled spokesmen and underspokesmen. "They would write us all off as outmoded ape men to usher in their new era of monstrosities—"
In front of and a little to one side of Veillain, Anthony Sellars sat immovable, his square, flat face without expression as he listened to the words of his underspokesman. Watching, one would have thought that there was no connection between the two, that Veillain's attack on the Members was as fresh to Sellars as it was to the others in the council room; yet, as everyone present knew, Veillain was merely preparing the ground for his superior, laying down the artillery barrage before Sellar's personal assault.
Eli was the last man present to be deceived by appearances; and he let his attention slip from Veillain entirely and his gaze wander along the first level until he came to the Communications Section and Alan Clyde. The young spokesman sat listening, his dark, handsome face propped on his right fist, his expression thoughtful. Eli watched him carefully. Alan was brilliant and elusive. Eli had been wooing Communications for some time now, with little evidence of success.
The rest of the council, thought Eli, as he withdrew his attention from Clyde and let his gaze wander around the rest of the room, was even more badly attended than usual. Besides himself, Sellars, and Clyde, he counted only seven full spokesmen and a scattering of underspokesmen and aides. True, the really important representatives like Bornhill of Atomics and Stek Howard of Metals, were where you would expect them to be in their sections. But the great majority of the seats were empty. Some of those present looked frankly bored.
And yet this was at a time when political rivalry among the groups was at its peak. Paradoxical, thought Eli, nursing his knee; but not so paradoxical at that, when you came to think of it. The groups had outlived their usefulness, the political setup had frozen and was now beginning to mortify. Which was one of the reasons he, at least, was getting out of it.
With the swiftness of a lifetime of practice, he buried the thought before it had time to linger in his mind. Sellars, he thought, Tony. Yes, I'm sure Tony sees it too, that the groups can't last. Eighty years ago they were a good idea. Organize the world along mutually interdependent lines and end all possibility of war. The barriers to be not geographical but occupational. How could Transportation declare war on Meteorology, or Meteorology on Communications? No one cuts the rope he hangs by. But that was eighty years ago when the old hates and prejudices still held. Now, thought Eli, the world is ready to act as a single unit and Tony wants to be on top of it. That's the reason for this witch hunt against the Members he's been pushing. Well, let him. People aren't that primitive any more…
"—and when our police broke into the laboratory, all the equipment within it was found to have been melted down with thermite and to be practically unidentifiable," Veillain was saying. "By careful reconstruction, however, it was possible to ascertain that some of it had been radiation devices.
Eli felt a sudden tap on his shoulder. He turned his head and looked back and up into the serious, healthy face of Kurt Anders, his underspokesman.
"Courier, Eli," said Kurt.
"All right," replied Eli. "Thanks, Kurt. Bring him in."
Kurt moved back and a scintill
ating combination of silver, red, green and black slipped into his place. Eli smiled.
"All right, Poby," he said. "What've you got?"
"A sealed cube relayed through Dome One, Eli," whispered the boy. "Here…" and he held out the arm to which the pouch was attached.
Eli fitted his thumb into the aperture of the thumb-lock and it, recognizing his print as the one it had been set for, snapped open. Not one, but two cubes came rolling out.
Poby Richards blinked foolishly at them.
Eli looked down at the cubes and then back up at Poby curiously. He juggled the little objects in the palm of his hand.
"But there was only one!" Poby protested, his face tragic. "I know—I mean, I watched the pouch sealed myself in Dome One and it's been locked on my arm ever since." And he held out arm and pouch for verification.
Eli looked back at the cubes. They looked identical, but of course they would not be. For a moment he rolled them back and forth in his palm and then his hand closed over them.
"Let it go, Poby," he said. "But go back and wait for me in my office. I'm going to want you later."
"Yes, Eli," and the young courier slipped away. Kurt moved back into the vacated space.
Eli turned to the desk in front of him. In the polished black surface that winked back at him there was a slot. He turned the cubes over in his fingers until he found on one of them a mark he was expecting. He slipped this one into the slot.
There was a moment's pause and then from the high headrest of the chair a voice seemed to murmur in Eli's ear.
"Eli: Everything is ready. Arthur Howell."
Eli nodded. He turned his attention back to the mysterious extra cube. For several seconds he sat, turning it over before his eyes and thinking. Then he put it, also in the slot.
Again the pause. Then, this time, a deeper, familiar voice.
Swiftly, but with decision, Eli stabbed at the disposal button on the desk. Before his eyes a little panel flashed back and the new voice in his ears cut off as he watched, through a shielded transparency, the two cubes tumble into a little recess where the flash of an electric arc consumed them. The small panel snapped back again. Eli drew a deep breath and released the button, before turning his attention back once more to the orating Veillain.
But Veillain had just about finished. He was winding up now on a graceful note and turning the floor over to Sellars. Eli sat up; and by an effort of will forced the tiredness from him so that the council room seemed to suddenly stand out sharp and bright, and the people within it to take on a new solidity, as if the illumination of the amphitheater had suddenly been upped a notch. Veillain was sitting down and Tony Sellars was rising.
He was a large man but his impressiveness did not lie in his size. He was, in fact, slab-bodied, with wide shoulders, but a wide waist also—wide, but flat, for there was no fat on him. And he held himself stiffly erect, so that he seemed to move all in one piece and bend, with difficulty, only at the waist, when he bent at all. His body was the big-boned, serviceable carcass of the manual laborer—what would have been called a peasant's body at one time in history. His tunic, kilt, and long, official cape of Transportation blue, seemed to square him off, rather than lend him grace and dignity. He was in his late forties, with hair untouched by gray and face unlined.
"All right," he said, laying his large, capable hands palm down on the desk before him. "My underspokesman has given you the background. Now I'll give you the rest of it."
He paused, sweeping them all with his eyes; and his gaze, like his rough-hewn body and his dominant voice, broadcast to them a sense of power and conviction that his way was right and his conclusions true.
"The groups," he said, "have always prided themselves on a high degree of tolerance. And for over half a century this tolerance has not been abused."
With Sellars' eyes straight upon him, Eli permitted himself the luxury of a small ironic smile. But if the spokesman for Transportation noticed, he gave no sign of it.
"There is, however, he went on, "a point at which tolerance must give way to the dictates of common sense. Such is the present time.
"In the last twenty years we have seen the emergence of a secret society masquerading as a philosophical association. The members of this society have taken to themselves the notion that the human race as it now is, is obsolete. They have taken it on themselves to decide we're all due to become extinct to make way for the next generation, which will be something entirely different."
Sellars paused and let his slow, impressive gaze sweep the room once more.
"Now that," he went on, "is a fine theory. And as long as it stays a theory I don't mind who holds it. But these crackpots who call themselves Members of the Human Race—as if only they were, and nobody else was—have gone ahead to try and give evolution a helping hand. Their notion of this is to try hard radiation on themselves and anyone else they can get their hands on, to dabble in every sort of dirty occult business they can dig up, and to practice gene experimentation on their own children.
"This, alone, to my mind, is reason enough for us to get together and clean up the situation they've caused. But there's more to it than just that. I've had Veillain list you off some accounts of what's been discovered lately about these so-called "foundations" and "research centers" they put up, and if you listened to him carefully, you heard only one thing—and that is simply this. These Members—these Inhumans as people rightly call them—are succeeding."
He stopped to let this sink in. The council room remained silent about him; and, after a second, he went on.
"I tell you they are succeeding. The fact that I cannot at this moment produce a specimen of their 'next step in evolution' should not blind you to the fact that we have abundant indirect evidence that such specimens do exist. Fiddle a bit more and you'll get some dangerous freaks. Want an example?"
"For two hundred years now the human race has been playing with the idea of possessing the so-called psi faculties—telepathy, telekinesis, etc. And for thirty years the Members have been telling us that our next evolutionary step would be not a physical, but a mental one, which would enable us to possess these faculties. But for the first twenty-five of these years they were publishing regular reports about their experimentation in this field, and had so often repeated their belief in the existence of such faculties that the general public had become almost tone deaf to that particular portion of their propaganda scale.
"Suddenly, during this last five years, the reports dwindle. The propaganda ceases, references to the psi faculties become general and vague. Why? And now that we, at least, within the Transportation Group, have begun to root them out of their dark corners, there are inexplicable instances of Members being warned of our raids ahead of time, of Members disappearing from the equivalent of locked rooms. How?"
Sellars paused once more.
"Both these things," he said, slowly, "as well as a growing body of popular legend that sounds as if it might have come from the darkest of the Dark Ages, confirm me in my belief that the Members have succeeded in developing some thing or things, or being or beings, that are actively dangerous to the whole race as we know it today. In my mind the only solution is for us, for once, to set aside the autonomy of our individual groups and form a single united, supreme authority to deal with this present emergency. I leave it to you."
And with that Sellars sat down, yielding the floor.
Glancing swiftly around the room, Eli was aware of the shrewdness of Sellars' appeal that had particular force with this particular audience. The fight among the groups had always been to narrow the fight—for the leaders of larger groups to crowd out the spokesmen of smaller groups. And this would be a step forward. For such a supreme authority, to be successful would have to be restricted to a few members, and where would those members be found except among the few top-ranking representatives here at this moment? Stek Howard's face was frankly interested, Kurachi of Plastics had a half-dreamy, half-ex
pectant smile on his face, and even old Bornhill's eyes were veiled and thoughtful under his gray brows.
"Idiots," growled Eli to himself. For a moment he struggled with his conscience against the knowledge that this was, strictly speaking, no longer any of his business. Then, abruptly, he gave in. "Ahoy, ahoy, check!" he muttered to himself and, getting to his feet, raised his voice. "Mr. Chairman!"
Stek Howard, Chairman of the Day, came out of his pleasant abstraction and banged the gavel on his desk before him.
"Underseas," he acknowledged.
"Thank you," said Eli. All eyes in the council room were on him now and he smiled pleasantly back at them, but especially at Sellars.
They all looked back at him; and not, he noticed, particularly with approval. The wealth and size of Transportation so overshadowed all of them individually, that usually their attitude was distrust of Sellars and a bias toward Eli. Today, however, Sellars had dangled a juicy plum before their eyes and they did not want Eli coming along and pointing out that it really belonged to somebody else.
"Spokesmen and Gentlemen," said Eli. "I am surprised—in fact I am astonished at your reaction to what you have just heard. I have sat here and listened in horror to what Transportation has just had to say. I was assured that you had listened with horror too. At the close of his words I could hardly restrain myself from jumping to my feet, and only held myself back because of the conviction that you, all of you would be jumping to your feet, to say, as I am saying"—Eli turned to look Sellars blandly in the face—"that Transportation has set forward the only possible method of dealing with this situation. And furthermore I can conceive of no man more worthy or capable to head such a supreme authority than Spokesman Sellars." He sat down.
The council sat back, shocked, as Eli took his seat. He leaned back and whispered to Kurt.
"Come on, Kurt," he said. "Back to the office."
Slowly and with dignity he got up, inclined his head to the chairman, and led the way back and out of his section. As he went up the ramp and passed out through the exit at the top of the amphitheater, a low muttering of representative to representative across the low walls between sections broke out behind him; and he smiled to himself. He had thrown his weight in the wrong direction at the wrong time for Sellars. Now the natural suspicions of the others would fight against their cupidity. A more powerful Sellars might be risked for the increase of power they themselves would gain. But a possible Sellars-Eli combination? Not if they knew it.