The Place Where Chicago Was

by Jim Harmon

Copyright© 2017 by Jim Harmon

Science Fiction Story: Well, they finally got rid of war. For the first time there was peace on Earth--since the only possible victims were the killers themselves!

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

It was late December of 1983. Abe Danniels knew that the streets and sidewalks of Jersey City moved under their own power and that half the families in America owned their own helicopters. He was pleased with these signs of progress. But he was sweating. He thought he was getting athlete’s foot instead of athletic legs from walking from the New Jersey coast to just outside of Marshall, Illinois.

The heat was unbearable.

The road shimmered before him in rows of sticky black ribbon, on which nothing moved. Nothing but him.

He passed a signal post that said “Caution--Slow” in a gentle but commanding voice. He staggered on toward a reddish metallic square set on a thin column of bluish concrete. It was what they called a sign, he decided.

Danniels drooped against the sign and fanned his face with his sweat-ringed straw cowboy hat. The thing seemed to have something to say about the mid-century novelist, James Jones, in short, terse words.

The rim of the hat crumpled in his fist. He stood still and listened.

There was a car coming.

It would almost have to stop, he reasoned. A man couldn’t stand much of this Illinois winter heat. The driver might leave him to die on the road if he didn’t stop. Therefore he would stop.

He jerked out the small pouch from the sash of his jeans. Inside the special plastic the powder was dry. He rubbed some between his hands briskly, to build up the static electricity, and massaged it into his hair.

The metal of the Jones plaque was fairly shiny. Under the beating noon sun it cast a pale reflection back at Danniels. His hair looked a reasonably uniform white now.

He started to draw the string on the pouch, then dipped his hand in and scooped his palm up to his mouth. He chewed on the stuff while he was securing the nearly flat bag in his sash. He swallowed the dough; the powder had been flour.

Danniels took the hat from beneath his arm, set it to his head and at last faced the direction of the engine whine.

The roof, hood and wheels moved over the curve of the horizon and Danniels saw that the car was a brandless classic which probably still had some of the original, indestructible Model A left in it.

He pondered a moment on whether to thumb or not to thumb.

He thumbed.

The rod squealed to a stop exactly even with him. A door unfolded and a voice like a stop signal said flatly, “Get in.”

Danniels got in. The driver was a teen-ager in a loose scarlet tunic and a spangled W.P.A. cap. The youth wouldn’t have been bad-looking except for a sullen expression and a rather girlish turn of cheek, completely devoid of beard line. Danniels wrote him off as a prospective member of the Wolf Pack in a year or two.

But not just yet, he fervently hoped.

“Going far? I’m not,” said the driver.

Danniels adjusted the knees of his trousers. “I’m going to--near where Chicago used to be.”


Danniels had forgotten the youth of his companion. “I mean I’m going to where you can’t go any further.”

The driver nodded smugly, relieved that the threat to the vastness of his knowledge had been dismissed. “I get you, Pop. I guess I can take you close to where you’re headed.”

They rode on in silence, both relieved that they didn’t have to try to span the void between age and position with words.

“You aren’t anywhere near starvation, are you?” the driver said suddenly, uneasy.

“No,” Danniels said. “Anyway I’ve got money.”

“Woodrow Wilson! I’ll pull in at the next joint.”

The next joint was carved out of the flat cross-section of hill that looked unmistakably like a strip ridge of a Colorado copper mine, but wasn’t ... even barring the fact that this was Illinois. The rectangle of visible dinner was color-fused aluminum from between No. Two and Korea.

Danniels was glad to get into the shockingly cold air-conditioning. It was constant, if unhealthy. The chugging unit in the car failed a heartbeat every now and then for a sickening wave of heat.

The two of them pulled up wire chairs to a linoleum-top table in a mirrored corner. A faint purple hectographed menu was stuck between appropriately colored plastic squeeze bottles labeled MUSTARD and BLOOD.

Danniels knew what the menu would say but he unfolded it and checked.


Plankton .90

Juicy, rich-red tantalizing hamburger .17


Mashed potatoes .40

Delectable oysters, all you can eat .09

Peas .35

Rich, fragrant cheese, large slice .02


Coke .50

Milk, the forbidden wine of nature .01

Coffee (without) .50

Coffee (with) .02

A fat girl in white came to the table.

Danniels tossed the menu on the table. “I’ll take the meat dinner,” he said.

The teen-ager stared hard at the table top. “So will I.”

“Good citizens,” the waitress said, but the revulsion crept into her voice over the professional hardness.

Danniels looked carefully at his companion. “You aren’t used to ordering meat.”

“Pop,” the youth began. Danniels waited to be told that being short of cash was none of his business. “Pop, on my leg. Kill it, kill it!”

Danniels leaned over the table startled and curious. A cockroach was feeling its way along a thin meridian of vari-colored jeans. Danniels pinched it up without injuring it and deposited it on the floor. It scurried away.

“Your kind make me sick,” the driver said in lieu of thanks. “You act like a Fanatic but you’re a Meat-Eater. How do you blesh that?”

Danniels shrugged. He did not have to explain anything to this kid. He couldn’t be stranded.

The kid was under the same encephalographic inversion as the rest of the world. No human being could directly or indirectly commit murder, as long as the broadcasting stations every nation on earth maintained in self-defense continued to function.

These mechanical brain waves coated every mind with enforced pacifism. They could have just as easily broadcast currents that would have made minds swell with love or happiness. But world leaders had universally agreed that these conditions were too narcotic for the common people to endure.

Pacifism was vital to the survival of the planet.

War could not go on killing; but governments still had to go on winning wars. War became a game. The International War Games were held every two years. With pseudo-H bombs and mock-germ warfare, countries still effectively eliminated cities and individuals. A “destroyed” city was off-limits for twenty years. Nothing could go in or out for that period. Most cities had provided huge food deposits for emergencies.

Before the Famine.

Some minds were more finely attuned to the encephalographic inversion than others. People so in tune with the wavelength of pacifism could not only not kill another human being, they could not even kill an animal. Vegetarianism was thrust upon a world not equipped for it. Some--like Danniels--who could not kill, still found themselves able to eat what others had killed. Others who could not kill or eat any once-living thing--even plants--rapidly starved to death. They were quickly forgotten.

Almost as forgotten as the Jonahs.

The War Dead.

Any soldier or civilian “killed” outside of a major disaster area (where he would be subject to the twenty years) became a man without a country--or a world. They were tagged with green hair by molecular exchange and sent on their way to starve, band together, reach a disaster area (where they would be accepted for the duration of the disaster), or starve.

Anyone who in any way communicated with a Jonah or even recognized the existence of one automatically became a Jonah himself.

It was harsh. And if it wasn’t better than war it was quieter.

And more permanent.

The counterman with a greasy apron and hairy forearms served the plates. The meat had been lightly glazed to bring out the aroma and flavor but the blood was still a pink sheen on the ground meat. There were generous side dishes of cheese and milk. Even animal by-products were passed up by the majority of vegetarians. Eggs had been the first to be dropped--after all, every egg was a potential life. Milk and associated products came to be spurned through sheer revulsion by association. Besides, milk was intended only to feed the animal’s own offspring, wasn’t it?

Danniels squirted blood generously from its squeeze bottle. Even vegetarians used a lot of it. It gave their plankton the gory look the human animal craved. Of course it was not really blood, only a kind of tomato paste. When Danniels had been a boy people called it catsup.

He tried to dig into his steak with vengeance but it tasted of ashes. Meat was his favorite food; he was in no way a vegetarian. But the thought of the Famine haunted him. Vegetable food was high in price and ration points. Most people were living on 2500 calories a day. It wasn’t quite starvation and it wasn’t quite a full stomach. It was hard on anybody who did more than an average amount of work. It was especially hard on children.

The Meat-Eaters helped relieve the situation. Some, with only the minimum of influence from the Broadcasters, ate nothing but meat. They were naturally aggressive morons who were doing no one favors, potential members of a Wolf Pack.

Danniels knew how to end the Famine.

The mob that was the men he had commanded had hunted him in the hills below Buffalo, and he had been hungry, with no time to eat, or rest, or sleep. Only enough time to think. He couldn’t stop thinking. Panting over a smothered spark of campfire, smoldering moss and leaves, he thought. Drinking sparkling but polluted water from a twisting mountain stream and trying unsuccessfully to trap silver shavings of fish with his naked hands, he thought.

His civilian job was that of a genopseudoxenobeastimacroiologist, a specialized field with peacetime applications that had come out of the War Games--specialized to an almost comic-opera intensity. He knew virtually everything about almost nothing at all. Yet, delirious with hunger, from this he fashioned in his mind a way to provide food for everybody. Even Jonahs.

After they caught him--weeks before the Tag spot would have faded off--he wasn’t sure whether his idea had been a sick dream or not. But he intended to find out. He wouldn’t let any other mob stop him from that.

Danniels had decided he was against mobs, whether their violence and stupidity was social or anti-social. People are better as individuals.

The driver of the hot-rod was also picking at his food uncertainly. Probably a social vegetarian, Danniels supposed. An irresponsible faddist.

The counterman stopped staring and cleared his throat apologetically. “This ain’t the Ritz but it don’t look good for customers to sit with hats on.”

Danniels knew that applied to only non-vegetarians, but he put his Stetson, reluctantly, on an aluminum tree.

The teen-ager looked up. And did not go back to the food. Danniels knew that he had been found out.

The counterman went back to wiping down the bar.

The youth was still looking at Danniels.

“You better eat if you don’t want me to be discovered,” Danniels said gently.

Young eyes moved back and forth, searching, not finding.

“It won’t do you any good to run,” Danniels continued. “The waitress and the counterman will swear they had nothing to do with me. But you were driving me, eating with me.”

“You can’t let even a Jonah die,” the youngster said in a hoarse whisper that barely carried across the table.

Danniels shook his head sadly. “It won’t work. You might have slowed down enough to let me grab onto the rear bumper or tossed me out some food. But you took me into your car, sat down at a table with me.”

“And this is the thanks I get!”

Danniels felt his face flush. “Look, son, this isn’t a game where you can afford to play by good sportsmanship. That’s somebody else’s rules, designed to make sure you get at least no better a break than anyone else. You have to play by your rules--designed to give you the best possible break. Let’s get out of here.”

He wolfed the last bite and jammed his hat back on his head, pulling it down about his ears. The sweat band had rubbed the flour off his hair in a narrow band. A band of green. The mark of the Jonah.

In the last war games, Danniels had come into the sights of a Canadian’s diffusion rifle. For six months he had worn a cancerous badge of luminosity over his heart. Until his comrades had trapped him and through a system similar to the one their rifles employed turned his hair to green and cast him out.

Danniels scooped up both checks and with deep pain paid both of them to save time. He wanted to get his companion out of there before he broke.

The heat struck at their faces like jets of boiling water. The authorities said nuclear explosion had had nothing to do with changing climatic conditions so radically, but something had.

The two of them were walking towards the parked car when the Wolf Pack got to them.


The horrible part was that Danniels knew they wouldn’t kill him. No one could kill.

But the members of the Wolf Packs wanted to. They were the professional soldiers, policemen, prizefighters and gangsters of a society that had rejected them. They were able to resist some of the pacifism of the Broadcasters. In fact, they were able to resist quite a lot.

The first one was a round-shouldered little man with silver spectacles. He kicked Danniels in the pit of the stomach with steel-shod toes. A clean-cut athletic boy grabbed the running teen-ager and ripped the red tunic halfway off. From the pavement Danniels at last isolated the doubt that had been nagging him. His companion wore a tight tee-shirt under the coat. She was a girl.

Danniels saw a heavy shoe aimed at his face but it went far afield. Running feet went past him completely.

He was left alone, unharmed, with only the breath knocked out of him momentarily.

They were closing in on the girl who had picked him up.

This Pack was all men, although there were female and co-ed groups just as vicious. Beating up a girl, Danniels knew, would give an added sexual kick to their usual masochosadism.

They were a Pack. A mob. They were like the soldiers who had hunted him down and had him permanently tagged a Jonah. His men had been looked upon favorably by his society, while the Wolf Pack was so ill-favored it was completely ignored in absolute contempt. But they were the same in the essentials: a mob.

And once again Danniels, who was incapable of harming the smallest living creature, wanted to kill men. But he couldn’t.

All his life he had experienced this mad fury of desire and it shamed him. He wanted to destroy men of stupidity, greed and brutality on sight. Any other kind of conflict with them was weak compromise.

At times, he wondered if this atavistic if pro-survival trait had not shamed him so much that he over-compensated for it by violently refusing to take any kind of life. Like all men of his time, he asked himself: how much of my mind is the Broadcasters’ and how much me?

If he couldn’t destroy, he could defend.

With the idea still only half-formed, he lurched to his feet and stumbled into the side of the hot-rod. He fumbled open the heated metal door and slid under the wheel.

He thumbed the drive on savagely and roared down on the mob.

Rubber screamed, whined and smelled as he applied the brakes just soon enough for the men to jump out of the way--away from the girl.

He folded back the door he hadn’t latched, leaned down, grabbed the teen-ager by the leg and dragged her bruised form bumping up into the car.

The little man with silver glasses tried to reach into the car.

Danniels swung the door back into his face.

The glasses didn’t break; but everything else did.

With one foot under the girl and the other on her, Danniels tagged the illegal acceleration wire most cars had rigged under the dashboard and raced away into the brassy sunshine.

She was slouched against his shoulder when the stars blazed out in the moonless night.

Tires hummed beneath them and their headlights ate up the white-striped typewriter ribbon before them.

The girl opened her eyes, hesitated as they focused on the weave pattern of denim in his shirt, and said, “Where are they?”

“Back there some place,” Danniels told her. “They followed in their cars, a couple on motorcycles. But they must have been scared of traffic cops on the main highway. They dropped out.”

She sat up and ran her fingers through her cropped mouse-colored hair. Her quick glance at him was questioning; but she answered her own question and reluctantly absorbed the truth of it. She knew he knew.

The girl huddled in the tatters of her bright tunic.

“Just what do you expect to get out of helping me?” she asked.

Danniels kept his eyes on the road. “A free trip to Chicago.”

“You’ll get us both arrested!” she shrilled. “Nobody can get past those roadblocks.”

He nodded to himself, not caring if she saw the gesture in the uncertain light from the auto gauges.

“All right,” she admitted. “I know what Chicago is. That’s no crime.”

“You ought to,” Danniels said. “You’re from there.”

She was tired. It was a moment before she could continue fighting. “That’s foolish--”

He hadn’t been sure. If she hadn’t hesitated he might have given up the notion.

“That getup was what was foolish,” Danniels snorted. “Anybody would know you were trying to hide something as soon as they found out the masquerade.”

“You wouldn’t have found it out,” she said, “if one of that Pack hadn’t torn my jacket off.”

“I really don’t know. It might be animal magnetism, if there is such a thing. But I can’t be around a woman for long without knowing it. I repeat: why?”

“I--I didn’t know what they would do to a girl outside.”

“For Peace sake, why did you have to come out at all?”

The girl was silent for a mile.

“Most Chicagoans think the rest of the world has reverted to barbarism,” she told him.

“A common complaint of city dwellers,” he observed.

“Don’t joke!” she demanded. “Our food is running out. We have enough to last five more years if the present birth-death cycle maintains itself.”

Danniels whistled mournfully.

“And you have--let’s see--about seven more years to go.”

She nodded.

“I came out to see what chance there was of ending this senseless blockade.”

“None at all,” he snapped. “No one is going to risk breaking the rules of the War Games just to save a few million lives.”

“But they will have to! The Broadcasters will make them.”

“You would be surprised at how much doublethink people can practice about not killing,” he assured her from bitter, personal experience. “They don’t know for certain that you will be starving in there, so they will be free to keep you inside.”

The girl straightened her shoulders, emphasizing the femininity of her slender form.

“We’ll tell them,” she said. “I’ll tell them.”

Danniels almost smiled, but not quite. His hands tightened on the steering wheel and he kept his eyes to the moving circle of light against the night.

“You open your mouth about Chicago to the authorities or anyone else and they will slap you under sedation and keep you there until you die of old age. They used to drop escapees back into the cities by parachute. But too many of them were inadvertently killed; they are more subtle these days. By the way,” he said very casually, “how did you escape?”

She told him where to go in a primitive, timeless fashion.

“No,” Danniels said. “I’m going to Chicago.”

“Not with me,” the girl assured him quietly. “We have enough to feed without bringing in another Jonah. Besides you might be an F.B.I. man or something trying to find our escape route.”

“I’d be a Mountie then. The F.B.I. has deteriorated pretty badly. Spent itself on political security. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police lends us men and women during peacetime. Up until the War Games anyway--even though Britain would like to see us constantly disrupted. But,” he said heavily, “I am not a government agent of any kind. Just the Jonah I appear to be.”

She shivered. “I can’t take the responsibility. I can’t either expose our escape route--or bring in another mouth, to bring starvation a moment closer.”

“Look, what can I call you?” he demanded in exasperation.

“Julie. Julie Amprey.”

“Abe Danniels. Look, Julie--”

“You were named after Lincoln?” she asked quietly.

“A long time after. Look, Julie, I want to get into Chicago because of the old Milne Laboratories.” He caught his breath for a long second. “They are still standing?”

Julie nodded and looked ahead, through the insect-spotted windscreen. “Partial operation, when I left.”

Danniels gave a low whistle. “Lord, after all these years!”

“We manage.”

“Fine! Julie, I’m sure that if I can get back in a laboratory I can find a way of ending this condemned Famine--inside Chicago and outside.”

“That sounds a little like delusions of grandeur to me,” the girl said uncertainly.

“It was my field for ten years. Before the last War Games. I had time to think while my platoon was hunting me down, after I had been tagged out. I thought faster than I ever thought before.”

Julie studied his face for a long moment.

“What was your idea?”

“The encephalographic inversion patterns of the Broadcasters,” he said quickly, “can be applied to animals as well as human beings, on the right frequencies. Even microscopic animals. Bacteria. If you control the actions of bacteria, you control their reproduction. They could be made to multiply and assume different forms--the form of food, for example.”

Danniels took a deep breath and plunged into his idea as they drove on through the deepening night. He talked and explained to her, and, in doing so, he clarified points that he hadn’t been sure of himself.

He stopped at last because his throat was momentarily too dry to continue.

“It’s too big a responsibility for me,” Julie said.

Defeat stung him so badly he was afraid he had slumped physically. But it won’t be permanent defeat, he told himself. I’ve come this far and I’ll find some other way into Chicago.

“I haven’t the right to turn down something this big,” Julie said. “I’ll have to let you put it to the mayor and the city council.”

He relaxed a trifle, condemning himself for the weak luxury. He couldn’t afford it yet. He ran his fingers through his flour-dusted green hair and the electricity of the movement dragged off much of the whiteness. His skin, like that of most people, had been given a slight negative charge by molecularization to repell dirt and germs. The powder was anxious to remove itself and dye or bleach refused to take at all.

“We’re nearing the rim of the first blockade zone,” Danniels told the girl. “Where to?”

“Circle around to first unrestricted beach of the lake shore.”

“And then.”


Illegal traffic in and out of Disaster Areas was not completely unheard of. There was a small but steady flow both ways that the authorities could not or would not completely check. The patrols seemingly were as alert as humanly possible. Capture meant permanent oblivion for Disaster Residents under sedation, while Outsiders got prescribed periods of Morphinvert-induced antipode depression of the brain, a rather sophisticated but effective form of torture. A few minutes under the drug frequently had an introspective duration of years. Therefore, under the typical sentence of three months, a felon lived several lifetimes in constant but varying stages of acute agony and post-hysteric terror.

While few personalities survived, many useful human machines were later salvaged by skillful lobotomies.

Lake Michigan beaches were pretty good, Danniels observed. Better than at Hawaii. This one had been cleaned up for a sub-division that had naturally never been completed. It had been christened Falstaff Cove, although it was almost a mathematically straight half mile of off-white sand.

He had shifted to four-wheel drive at the girl’s direction and bored through the sand to the southernmost corner of the beach, where it blurred into weeds, rocks, dirt and incredible litter. He braked. The car settled noticeably.

“There’s a two-man submarine out there in the water under the overhang,” Julie said without prompting. “We got it from the Armed Forces Day display at Soldier’s Field.”

“What I’d like to know is how you get the car in and out of it?” Danniels said.

Anger, disgust and fatigue crossed the girl’s face. It was after all, a very young face, he thought. “We have Outside contacts of sorts,” she said. “Nobody trusts them very much.”

He nodded. There was a lot of money in the Federal Reserve Vaults inside the city.

The two of them got out of the car.

Julie stripped off her jeans, revealing the bottom half of a swimsuit and nicely turned, but pale, legs. “We’ll have to wade out to the sub.”

“What about the car?” Danniels asked. “Is your friend going to pick it up?”

“No! They don’t know about this place.”

He reached in the window and turned the ignition. “Want me to run it off into the water? You don’t want to tag this spot for the authorities.”

“No, I--I guess not. I don’t know what to do! I’m not used to this kind of thing. I don’t know why I ever come. We paid an awful lot for the car...”

He found the girl’s wailing unpleasant. “It’s your car, but take my advice. Let me get rid of it for you.”

“But,” she protested, “if you run it into the water they can see from the air in daylight. I know. They used to spot our sub. Why not run it off into those weeds and little trees? They’ll hide it and maybe we could get it later.”

It wasn’t a bad idea but he didn’t feel like admitting it. He gunned the rod into the tangle of undergrowth.

Danniels came back to the girl with his arms and face laced with scratches from the limbs.

He tried to roll his trousers up at the cuff but they wouldn’t stay. So he would spend a soggy ten minutes while they dried.

He told the girl to go ahead and he went after her, marking the spongy wet sand and slapping into the white-scummed, very blue water.

The tiny submarine was just where Julie had said it would be. He waited impatiently as she worked the miniature airlock.

They squeezed down into the metallic hollowness of the interior and Julie screwed the hatch shut, a Mason lid inappropriately on a can of sardines.

There were a lot of white-on-black dials that completely baffled Danniels. He had never been particularly mechanically minded. His field was closer to pure science than practical engineering. Because of this, rather than in spite of it, he had great respect for engineering.

It bothered him being in such close quarters with a woman after the months of isolation as a Jonah, but he had enough of the conventions of society fused into him and enough other problems to attempt easing his discomfort.

“It isn’t much further,” Julie at last assured him.

He was becoming bored to the point of hysteria. For the past several months he hadn’t had much diversion but he had not been confined to what was essentially an oil drum wired for light and sound.

One of the lights changed size and pattern.

He found himself tensing. “That?” He pointed.

“Sonadar,” Julie hissed. “Patrol boat above us. Don’t make any noise.”

Danniels pictured the heavily equipped police boat droning past above them and managed to keep quite silent.

Something banged on the hull.

It came from the outside and it rang against the port side, then the starboard. The rhythm was the same, unbroken. Danniels knew somehow the noise from both sides were made by the same agency. Something with a twelve-foot reach.

Something that knew the Morse code.

Da-da-da. Dit-dit-dit. Da-da-da.

S. O. S.


“It’s not the police,” Julie said. “We’ve heard it before.” She added, “They used to dump non-dangerous amounts of radioactives into the lake,” as she decided the police boat had gone past and started up the engines again.

Danniels never forgot that call for help. Not as long as he lived.


The electron microscope revealed no significant change in the pattern of the bacteria.

Danniels decided to feed the white mice. He got out of his plastic chair and took a small cloth bag of corn from the warped, sticking drawer of the lab table.

Rationing out a handful of the withered kernels, he went down the rows of cages. A few, with steel instead of aluminum wiring, were flecked with rust. The mice inside were all healthy. Danniels was not using them in experiments; he was incapable of taking their lives. But some experimenter after him might use them. In any case, he was also incapable of letting them starve to death.

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