District Leader Howard Morely leaned back in his seat, to glance down at the bay. Idly, he allowed his gaze to wander over the expanse of water between the two blunt points of land, then he looked back at the skeletonlike spire which jutted upward from the green hills he had just passed over. He could remember when that ruin had been a support for one of the world’s great bridges.
Now, a crumbling symbol of the past, it stubbornly resisted the attacks of the weather, as it had once resisted the far more powerful blasts of explosives. Obstinately, it pointed its rusty length skyward, to remind the observer of bygone conflict--and more.
Together with the tangled cables, dimly seen in the shoal water, the line of wreckage in the channel, and the weed-covered strip of torn concrete which led through the hills, it testified to the arrival of the air age. Bridges, highways, and harbors alike had passed their day of usefulness.
Not far from the ruined bridge support, Morely could see the huge, well maintained intake of one of the chemical extraction plants. He shook his head at the contrast.
“That eyesore should be pulled down,” he muttered. “Should have been pulled down long ago. Suggested it in a report, but I suppose it never got to the Old Man. He depends on his staff too much. If I had the region, I’d--”
He shook his head. He was not the regional director--yet. Some day, the old director would retire. Then, Central Coördination would be examining the records of various district leaders, looking for a successor. Then--
He shrugged and turned his attention to his piloting of the borrowed helicopter. It was a clumsy machine, and he had to get in to Regional Headquarters in time for the morning conference. There would be no sense it getting involved in employee traffic--not if he could avoid it.
The conference, his informant had told him, would be a little out of the ordinary. It seemed that the Old Man had become somewhat irritated by the excess privileges allowed in a few of the eastern districts. And he was going to jack everyone up about it. After that would come the usual period of reports, and possibly a few special instructions. Some of the leaders would have pet projects to put forward, he knew. They always did. Morely smiled to himself. He’d have something to come up with, too.
And this conference might put a crimp in Harwood’s style. Morely had carefully worded his progress report to make contrast with the type of report that he knew would come from District One. George Harwood had been allowing quite a few extra privileges to his people, stating that it was good for morale. And, during the past couple of months, he’d seemed to be proving his point. Certainly, the production of the employees from the peninsula had been climbing. Harwood, Morely decided would be the most logical person--after himself--for the region when the Old Man retired. In fact, for a time, it had looked as though the director of District One was going to be a dangerous rival.
But this conference would change things. Morely smiled slowly as he thought of possible ways of shading the odds.
He looked ahead. Commuters were streaming in from the peninsula now, to make for the factory parking lots. His face tightened a little. Why, he wondered, had the Old Man decided to call the conference at this hour? He could have delayed a little, until commuter traffic was less heavy. He’d been a district leader once. And before that, under the old government, a field leader. He should know how annoying the employee classes could be. And to force his leaders to mingle with commuting employees in heavy traffic!
For that matter, everyone seemed to be conspiring to make things uncomfortable today. Those heavy-handed mechanics in the district motor pool, for example. They’d failed him today. His own sleek machine, with its distinctive markings was still being repaired. And he’d been forced to use this unmarked security patrol heli. The machine wasn’t really too bad, of course. It had a superb motor, and it carried identification lights and siren, which could be used if necessary. But it resembled some lower-class citizen’s family carryall. And, despite its modifications, it still handled like one. Morely grimaced and eased the wheel left a little. The helicopter swung in a slow arc.
Helis were rising from the factory lots, to interlace with incoming ships before joining with the great stream headed south. The night workers were heading for home. Morely hovered his machine for a moment, to watch the ships jockey for position, sometimes barely avoiding collisions in the stream of traffic. He watched one ship, which edged forward, stopped barely in time to avoid being hit, edged forward again, and finally managed to block traffic for a time while its inept driver fooled with the controls and finally got on course.
“Quarrelsome, brawling fools,” he muttered. “Even among themselves, they can’t get along.”
He looked around, noting that the air over the Administrative Group was comparatively free of traffic. To be sure, he would have to cross the traffic lines, but he could take the upper lanes, avoiding all but official traffic. A guard might challenge, but he could use his identifying lights. He wouldn’t be halted. He corrected his course a little, glanced at the altimeter, and put his ship into a climb.
At length, he eased his ship over the parklike area over Administrative Square and hovered over the parking entry. A light blinked on his dash, to tell him that all the official spaces were occupied. He grunted.
“Wonder they couldn’t leave a clear space in Official. They know I’m coming in for conference.”
He moved the control wheel, allowing his ship to slide over to a shopping center parking slot, and hovered over the entry, debating. He could park here and take the sub-surface to Administrative, or he could use the surface lot just outside of the headquarters group. Of course, the director frowned on use of the surface lot, except in emergency. The underground lots were designated for all normal parking. Morely thought over the problem, ignoring the helis which hovered, waiting for him to clear the center of the landing area. Finally, his hand started for the throttle. He would settle in the landing slot, let the guards shove his heli to a space, and avoid any conflict with the director’s orders regarding the surface lot.
Suddenly, there was a sputtering roar. Someone had become impatient at the delay. A small sports heli swept by, impellers reversed, and dropped rapidly toward the entry to the underground parking space. Morely’s ship rocked a little in the air blast.
For an instant, Morely felt a sharp pain which gnawed at the pit of his stomach. His head was abruptly light, and his hand, apparently of its own volition, closed over the throttle knob.
This joy boy was overdue for a lesson.
Morely measured the distance quickly, judging the instant when the other pilot would have to repitch his impellers and halt his downward rush. He allowed his own heavy ship to wallow earthward.
Scant feet from ground surface, the sportster pilot flicked his pitch control and pulled his throttle out for the brief burst of power which would allow him to drop gently to the landing platform.
Morely grinned savagely as he saw the impellers below him change pitch and start to move faster. He twisted his own impellers to full pitch and pulled out the throttle for a sudden, roaring surge of power, then swung the control column, jerking his ship up and away. As he steadied his heli and cut power, he looked down.
The powerful downblast had completely upset the sportster pilot’s calculations. The small ship, struck by the gale from above, had listed to the right and gone out of control, grazing one of the heavy splinter shutters at the side of the landing slot. The ship lay on its side, amidst the wreckage of its impellers.
Morely flicked on his warning siren and lights, then feathered his own impellers, dropping his ship in free fall. He dropped to the grassy area by the landing slot, ignoring the other ships which scattered like frightened chickens, to give him room. At the last instant, he twisted the impellers to full pitch again, pulled out the throttle for a moment, then slammed the lever to the closed position. His ship touched down on springy turf, its landing gear settling gently to accept the weight. A klaxon was sounding, and warning lights flashed from the landing slot, to warn ships away from an attempted landing.
It would be a long time before the shiny, new sportster would be in condition to sweep into another parking area. And, after paying his fine and taking care of his extra duties, it would be an even longer time before the employee-pilot would have much business in the luxury shopping center, anyway.
Morely smiled bitterly as he closed the door of his ship. It didn’t pay to cross Howard Morely--ever.
He walked slowly toward the landing slot, motioning imperiously to an approaching guard.
“Have someone place that ship for me,” he ordered, jerking a thumb back toward his heli. “Then come over to that wreck. I shall want words with the pilot.” He held out his small identification folder.
The guard’s glance went to the folder. For an instant, he studied the card exposed before him, then he straightened and saluted, his face expressionless.
“Yes, sir.” He signaled another guard, then pointed toward Morely’s ship, and to the landing slot. “I can go with you now.”
The two went down in the elevator and walked over to the wrecked sportster. A slender man was crawling from a door. When the man was clear of his ship, Morely beckoned.
“Over here, Fellow,” he commanded.
The sportster pilot approached, the indignation on his face changing to bewilderment, then dismay as he noted Morely’s insignia and the attitude of the two men who faced him.
Morely turned to the guard.
“Get me his name, identification number, and the name of his leader.”
The guard turned to the man, who grimaced a little with pain as he slowly put a hand in his pocket. Wordlessly, he extracted a bulky folder, from which he took a small booklet. He held out the booklet to the guard.
Morely held out a hand. “Never mind,” he said. “Simply put him in custody. I’ll turn this over to his leader myself.”
He had noted the cover design on the booklet. It was from District One--Harwood’s district. He flipped the cover open, ascertaining that there was no transfer notice. He’d give this to Harwood all right--at the right time. He looked at his watch.
“I shall want my heli in about three hours,” he announced. “See to it that it’s ready. And have a man check the fuel and see if the ship’s damaged in any way.” He turned away.
The district leaders sat before the large conference table. Among them, close to the director’s place, was Morely, his face fixed in an expression of alert interest. His informant had been right. The man must have gotten a look at the Old Man’s notes. The regional director was criticizing the laxity in inspection and control of employee activities. He objected to the excessive luxury activity allowed to some members of the employee classes, as well as to the overabundance of leisure allowed in several cases, some of which he described in detail.
He especially pointed up the fact that a recent heli meet had been almost dominated by employee class entries. And he pointed out the fact that there was considerable rehabilitation work to be done in bombed areas. It could be done by employees, during their time away from their subsistence jobs. That was all community time, he reminded.
It was all very well, he said, to allow the second- and even third-class citizens a certain amount of leisure recreation. That kept morale up. But they were certainly not to be allowed any position of dominance, either individually, or as a class. That, he said, was something else again. It was precisely the sort of thing that had led to the collapse and downfall of many previous civilizations.
“Keep ‘em busy,” he ordered. “So busy they don’t have time to think up mischief to get into. Remember, gentlemen, second- and third-class citizens have no rights--only privileges. And privileges may be withdrawn at any time.”
He rapped sharply on the table and sat down, looking at the leader of District One.
One by one, the district leaders made their verbal reports of activity. Occasionally, questions of production or work quotas were brought up and decided. Morely waited.
At last, he made his own report, emphasizing the fact that his district had exceeded its quotas--subsistence, luxury, and rehabilitation--for the fourth consecutive quarter. He cited a couple of community construction projects he had ordered and which were well on the way to completion, and brought out the fact that his people, at least, were being inspected constantly and thoroughly.
Also, he suggested, if any time remained to be used, or if leisure activity threatened to become excessive, it might be well to turn some attention outside of the old urban areas. There was considerable bomb damage in the suburban and former farming areas, and the scrap from some of the ruined structures could be stockpiled for disposal to factories and community reclamation plants.
Further, a beautification program for the entire region might keep some of the employee class busy for some time. And some of the ex-farmers among the lower classes might find it pleasant to work once again with the soil, instead of their normal work in the synthetic food labs or machine shops. With the director’s permission, he could start the program by removing the useless tower and wreckage at the bay channel, and by salvaging the metal from it. Of course, he admitted, it was a trifle beyond his own authority, since most of the channel was in District One. The regional director cast him a sharp glance, then considered the suggestion. At last, he nodded.
“It might be well,” he decided. “Go ahead, Morely. Take care of that detail.” He looked over at his executive. “Have Planning draw up something on salvage and beautification in the former rural areas,” he ordered. He looked about the room.
“And the rest of you might try looking over your own districts. You don’t have to wait for a directive, and every one of you can find some improvement that could be made. If it’s a district line matter, submit some plan for mutual agreement to my office.” He rose and went to the door.
Morely waited, watching George Harwood. The leader of District One gathered his papers, looked down the table for an instant, then went out. Morely followed him at a discreet distance.
As Harwood neared the door to the regional director’s office, Morely caught up with him.
“Oh, Harwood,” he said loudly. “Caught one of your people in a flagrant case of reckless flying this morning. Why don’t you bear down a little on those fellows of yours? This one seemed to think he was winning a heli meet.”
He held out the folder he had confiscated. “Here’s his identification. I had the guards hold him for you. Second-class citizen. Must’ve had a lot of spare time, to get the luxury credits and purchase authorization for that ship of his.”
Harwood looked at him, a faint expression of annoyance crossing his face. Then, he glanced at the open door nearby, and comprehension grew on his face. He took the folder, nodded wordlessly, and walked rapidly past Morely, who turned to watch him.
As Harwood swung through the door to an elevator, Morely smiled appreciatively. That had been a smart trick, he thought. Have to remember that one. No argument to disturb the Old Man. Not even positive proof that Morely hadn’t been talking to empty space. But there was an answer to that, too, if one was alert. He walked through the doorway into the director’s office.
The regional director looked up.
“Oh, Morely. You wanted to see me?”
“Yes, sir.” Morely stood at rigid attention. “I just thought of all those useless highways around the countryside. Of course, a few of them have been camouflaged and converted to temporary and emergency heli parking lots, but there’s still a lot of waste concrete about that could be removed. It would improve the camouflage of the groups. It could be divided into community projects for spare time work, sir.”
“Very good idea. If this stalemate we’re in should develop into another war, it would be well to have as few landmarks as possible. And some of these people do have too much time on their hands. They sit around, thinking of their so-called rights. Next thing we know, some of the second-class citizens’ll be screaming for the privilege of a vote. Set it up in your district, Morely. We’ll see how it works out, and the rest of the district leaders can follow your example.”
He looked sharply at Morely. “Heard a little disturbance in the hall just before you came in.”
“Oh, that.” Morely contrived a look of confusion. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean anyone to hear that. It was just that I had a minor bit of business with Leader Harwood. One of his people nearly knocked me out of the air this morning, over a parking area, and I confiscated his identification. I tried to give it to Harwood after the conference, but he must have been in a hurry. I caught up with him and gave him the folder.”
“So I heard.” The director smiled wryly. “Anything more?”
“No, sir.” Morely saluted and left.
“That,” he told himself, “should drop Harwood a few points.”
He went to the parking area to reclaim his helicopter. Better get back to his district and start setting up those community projects. Too, he would have to run a check inspection or so this evening. See to it his sector men weren’t getting lax. He’d check on Bond tonight.
He flew back to District Twelve, dropped his helicopter into the landing area, and made his way to his office.
Inside, he went to a file, from which he took his spot-inspection folder. Carrying it to his desk, he checked it. Yes, Bond’s sector was due for a spot inspection. Might be well to make a detailed check of one of the employees in that sector, too. Morely touched a button on his desk.
Almost immediately, a clerk stood in the doorway.
“Get me the master quarters file for Sector Fourteen,” Morely ordered.
The clerk went out, to return with two long file drawers. Quickly, he set them side by side on a small table, which he pushed over to his superior’s desk.
Idly, Morely fingered through the cards, noting the indexing and condition of the file. He nodded in approval, then gave the clerk a nod of dismissal. At least, his people were keeping their files in order.
He reached into a pocket, to withdraw a notebook. Turning its pages, he found a few of the entries he had made on population changes, then cross-checked them against the files. All were posted and properly cross-indexed. Again, he nodded in satisfaction.
Evidently, that last dressing down he had given the files section had done some good. For a moment, he considered calling in the chief clerk and complimenting him. Then, he changed his mind.
“No use giving him a swelled head,” he told himself.
He drew a file drawer to him, running his finger down its length. At last, he pulled a card at random. It was colored light blue.
He put it back. Didn’t want to check a group leader. He’d be a first-class citizen, and entitled to privacy. He pulled another card from a different section of the file. This one was salmon pink--an assistant group leader. He examined it. The man was a junior equipment designer in one of the communications plants. For a moment, Morely tapped the card against his desk. Actually, he had wanted a basic employee, but it might be well to check one of the leadmen. He could have the man accompany him while he made a further check on one of the apartments in his sub-group. Again, he looked at the card.
Paul Graham, he noted, was forty-two years of age. He had three children--was an electronics designer, junior grade. His professional profile showed considerable ability and training, but the security profile showed a couple of threes. Nothing really serious, but he would be naturally expected to be a second-class citizen--or below. It was not an unusual card.
Morely looked at the quarters code. Graham lived in Apartment 7A, Group 723, which was in Block 1022, Sector Fourteen. It would be well to check his quarters first, then check, say, 7E. Morely went through the numerical file, found the card under 7E, and flipped the pages of his notebook to a blank sheet, upon which he copied the data he needed from the two cards.
He put the notebook in his pocket and returned the cards to their places in the file, then riffled the entire file once more, to be sure there would be no clue as to which cards he had consulted. Finally, he touched the button on his desk again.
Once more, the clerk stood in the doorway.
“This file seems to be satisfactory,” he was told. “You may bring in the correspondence now.”
The correspondence was no heavier than usual. Morely flipped through the routine matter, occasionally selecting a report or letter and abstracting data. Tomorrow, he could check performance by referring to these. At last, he turned to the separate pile of directives, production and man-hour reports, and other papers which demanded more attention than the routine paper.
He worked through the stack of paper, occasionally calling upon his clerk for file data, sometimes making a communicator call. At last, he pushed away the last remaining report and leaned back. He spun his chair about, activated the large entertainment screen, and spent some time watching a playlet. At the end of the play, he glanced at his watch, then turned back to his desk. He leaned forward to touch a button on his communicator.
As the viewsphere lit, he flicked on the two-way video, then spoke.
“Get me Sector Leader Bond.” He snapped the communicator off almost before the operator could acknowledge, then spun about, switching his entertainment screen to ground surface scan. A scene built up, showing a view from his estate in the hills.
There were some buildings on the surface--mostly homes of upper grade citizens, who preferred the open air, and could afford to have a surface estate in addition to their quarters in the groups. These homes, for the most part, were located in wooded areas, where their owners could find suitable fishing and hunting.
Most of the traces of damage done by the bombings of the Nineties were gone from about the estate areas by now, and the few which remained were being eliminated. Morely increased the magnification, to watch a few animals at a waterhole. He could do a little hunting in a few weeks. Take a nice leave. He drew a deep breath.
Those years after the end of the last war had been hectic, what with new organizational directives, the few sporadic revolts, the integration of homecoming fighters, and the final, tight set-up. But it had all been worth it. Everything was running smoothly now.
The second- and third-class citizens had learned to accept their status, and some few of them had even found they liked it. At least, now they had far more security. There was subsistence in plenty for all producers, thanks to the war-born advances in technology, and to the highly organized social framework. To be sure, a few still felt uneasy in the underground quarters, but the necessity for protection from bombing in another war had been made clear, and they’d just have to get used to conditions. And, there were a very few who, unable to get or hold employment, existed somehow in the spartan discomfort of the subsistence quarters.
For most, however, there was minor luxury, and a plenitude of necessities. And there was considerable freedom of action and choice as well as full living comfort for the full citizens, who had proved themselves to be completely trustworthy, and who were deemed fit to hold key positions.
The communicator beeped softly, and he glanced at the sphere. It showed the face of Harold Bond, leader of the fourteenth sector. The district leader snapped on his scanner.
“Report to me here in my office at eighteen hours, Bond.”
“And you might be sure your people are all in quarters this evening.”
Bond nodded. “They will be, sir.”
“That’s all.” Morely flicked the disconnect switch.
He got up, strode around the office, then consulted his watch. There would be time for a cup of coffee before Bond arrived. Time for a cup of coffee, and time for the employees in Sector Fourteen to scurry about, getting their quarters in shape for an inspection. They would have no way of knowing which quarters were to be checked, and all would be put in order.
He smiled. It was a good way, he thought, to insure that there would be no sloppiness in the homes of his people. And it certainly saved a lot of inspection time and a lot of direct contact.
He went out of the office, and walked slowly down to the snack bar, where he took his time over coffee, looking critically at the neat counter and about the room as he drank.
The counter girls busied themselves cleaning up imaginary spots on the plastic counter and on their equipment, casting occasional, apprehensive glances at him. Finally, he set his cup down, looked at the clock over the counter, and walked out.
Bond was waiting in the office. Morely examined the younger man, carefully appraising his appearance. The sector leader, he saw, was properly attired. The neat uniform looked as if freshly taken from the tailor shop. The man stepped forward alertly, to halt at the correct distance before his superior.
“Good evening, sir. My heli is on the roof.”
“Very good.” Morely nodded shortly and took his notebook from his pocket. “We’ll go to Building Seven Twenty-three.”
He turned and walked toward the self-service elevator. Bond hurried a little to open the door for him.
Bond eased the helicopter neatly through the entry slot and on down into one of the empty visitor spaces in the landing area at Block 1022. The two men walked across the areaway to an entrance.
As they went up the short flight of stairs into the hall, Morely took careful notice of the building. The mosaic tile of the stairs and floor gleamed from a recent scrubbing. The plastic and metal handrails were spotless. He looked briefly at his subordinate, then motioned toward the door at their right.
“This one,” he ordered.
Bond touched the call button and they waited.
From inside the apartment, there was a slight rustle of motion, then the door opened and a man stood before them. For an instant, he looked startled, then he straightened.
“Paul Graham, sir,” he announced. “Apartment 7A is ready for inspection.” He stepped back.
Morely looked him over critically, saw nothing that warranted criticism, and went inside, followed by Bond.
Cursorily, the district leader let his gaze wander about the apartment. The kitchen at his left, he saw, was in perfect order, everything being in place and obviously clean. He went to the range and motioned with his head.
“Pull the drip pan,” he ordered.
Graham came forward and pulled a flat sheet from the range, then opened an access door at the front of the stove.
Morely peered inside, then thrust a hand in. For a moment, he groped around, then he pulled his hand out and looked at it. It was clean. He sniffed at his fingers, then turned away.
“You may replace the pan, Fellow.” He went into the living room, noting that the woman and three children were neat and in the proper attitudes of attention. One of the children was looking at him, wide-eyed. He saw that the child was clean and apparently healthy.
In addition to the usual chairs, table, and divan, there were some bookcases which formed a small alcove around a combination desk and drawing table. Morely circled the bookcases, to stand before the desk.
“What’s this?” he demanded. He turned to a bookcase, to examine the titles.
Most of the books were engineering texts and reference works. There were some standard works of philosophy and a few on psychology. None of the titles seemed to be actually objectionable.
“I--” Graham started to speak, but Morely silenced him with an upraised hand.
“Later,” he said coldly. “Bond, has this been reported to you, and have you investigated?”
Bond nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said. “Graham is a design engineer, sir, and has been granted permission to do some research in his quarters.
“He’s commercially employed, sir, and it was a routine matter. His employer says he has been keeping his production quotas, no alteration to the apartment has been made, and no community property has been defaced. I’m told that several of Graham’s designs have been of value in his plant. I didn’t think--”
“I see you didn’t. What is this man working on now?”
“A new type of communicator, sir. I don’t know all the details.”
“Get them, Bond. Get them all, and give me a full report on his project and its progress tomorrow. Since this work is being done during time when the man is not working for his employer, he’s using community time and the community becomes vitally interested in his results.” Morely paused, looking at the bookcase again.