The Honorable Hanip Sidney was eavesdropping. Sunk deep in his chair, eyes closed and with headphones to his ears, Mr. Sidney was a picture of the enrapt music lover; and had anyone suggested that he could have been listening to anything other than some far-off concert, he would have been highly indignant. Nevertheless - - the Honorable Hanip Sidney was eavesdropping.
A close observer might have noticed that the earplugs of the phone were set just a little too high on Mr. Sidney’s ears, might have noticed, too, that the phone cord dangled loosely in his lap and was not connected to the compact little vest pocket radio at all; but the, Mr. Sidney was quite well aware that there were no close observers. In fact, this compartment of the air-bus carried no one except Mr. Sidney and the objects of his attention, two gentlemen in the seat in front of him, who were carrying on an active conversation in a subdued tone.
Of the two the little redheaded man was the more voluble. The lanky individual by the window contented himself with an occasional “Yes” or “No” and with frequent significant glances back at Sidney. But the glances were wasted on his companion, who had a story to tell and was quite obviously determined to tell it.
“You know perfectly well, Lether,” he was saying, “that we members of the Eugenic Board have to exercise a certain amount of discretion. The Eugenic Act has proven the most unpopular law that the Industries ever tried to enforce. People are trying to evade it everywhere. Marrying under false records, bribing the doctors- - and these boot-lovers- -. Hundreds of men have been sent to the farms, and the Chap houses are overflowing all over the country. I won’t hesitate to say that if the law was enforced rigidly among the better class of people, the leaders, you understand, we’d have a rebellion on our hands in the country in five years! That’s why I say we must exercise discretion. Grind eugenics into the mob, if you must, cram it down their throats entirely, but when it comes to the Honorables and Misters… gently, Lether, gently.”
Lether, apparently, disagreed. He scowled and muttered something that the attentive ears of Mr. Sidney failed to catch, something about the law being the same for all. The redheaded one gave a snorting laugh.
“Come up, Lether,” he scoffed, “that may have been all right in the good old days of the Republic, but remember the Industries run the country today. Besides,” and his face took on a more serious look, “we’ve got to temper justice with mercy. Why, just last month, a young Mister came to me, and confided that he was in love. He was of good family, and rated 746 GAN, but had fallen in love with a young girl in Drugs. She was a fine physical specimen, rated NER, but only 249 mentally. She loved him, too, was plainly wild about him, but of course it was an impossible match. Still, they were so much in love that my heart just went to ‘em.”
“I can imagine it,” interposed the taciturn Lether, drily.
“Well, it did,” the other went on, “So at last I began to check over their past ratings and I finally found a loophole. Not saying how, but I managed to rate him 648 HUT and her 626 KAY. They were married at once and left for a honeymoon in California. And before they left, the man presented me with this,” and holding up his hand, the redheaded one displayed a ring that held a diamond almost as big as a pea.
“Love still laughs at locksmiths, eh, Lether?” he chuck slyly.
Lether’s scowl, which seemed to be habitual with him, turned for a moment to a look of greedy envy and then deepened as he spoke; “You’re as crooked as a sign-light, Ambrose,” he said, “Don’t you know that as soon as your young gentleman tires of his bride, he’ll have their ratings checked over and get the marriage annulled?”
“I believe that is the method they use,” said Ambrose, giving a hypocritical sigh, “but what difference does that do? I’ll still have my ring, Lether.”
“Lether’s only reply was a furious snort of disgust that had in it more of envy than indignation, and he turned and looked out of the window at the landscape flying by below them.
The Honorable Mr. Sidney, convinced that he had heard all that was necessary for his purpose, removed the earplugs and slipping them into the same pocket that contained his radio, turned his attention also to the scene that was flying beneath.
For fully ten minutes they had been flying over the towering skyscrapers of Staten Island and now they were over the bay and approaching Manhattan Gardens. Mr. Sidney, contents with the events of the last few moments, permitted himself to grow philosophical. He looked down at the woods and fields far below him, at the mansions of the Magnates, and at the skyline, hazy in the distance. What wonderful changes had taken place in this part of the city since he was a boy. The old city changed eternally, it seemed, and eternally grew. He could remember how, on his first visit to Manhattan, all the Island had been a vast mass of great buildings, old buildings and new, all jumbled together rising, tower on tower, as if in a battle for sunlight and air. For many years, Lower Manhattan had been the mightiest of the works of man and indeed, it had seemed that the only change possible could be when some vast tower was torn down to make room for one still vaster.
But then came Murray’s rebellion and the great “fire”, and now, of all the great buildings south of Fortieth Street, only the ruins of the old Metropolitan Tower remained. Murray, the “Last of the Republicans” had done a thorough job in his attempt to wipe the city of the Magnates off the map, and today all of the south part of the Island was a vast garden in which rose the wonderful homes of the more prosperous of the Magnates. And at what was once Fortieth Street rose the Façade, a mighty fifty story building that stretched its uniform architecture from the East River to the Hudson.
The airbus sped past the towering ruin of the Metropolitan, and Mr. Sidney roused himself from his reverie. Ambrose and Lether also stirred themselves and as the plane, which had lessened its speed considerably, suddenly darted toward one of the huge openings in the upper part of the Façade, they arose to depart. The bus drove into the entrance, struck the runners with a jolt that nearly threw Mr. Sidney off his feet and came at last to a stop.
As the door swung open and the three left the car, a babble of sound broke upon their ears. Bells siren and loudspeakers mingled their mechanical uproar with the shouts of hundreds of people, who, forced to raise their voices in order to be heard, only served to add to the din. Not far away, several men were shouting something in unison, and a dapper, gray-haired man with the word “Pilot” on his cape passed close to Mr. Sidney, crying out to some unseen person, “Thirty-two! And when I’ve brought in that commuter from Paterson, I have to transfer to the Brooklyn stage!” Sidney recognized him as being one of the bus pilots who, seated high in their towers, brought the radio controlled busses to their destination. His further remarks were drowned in a sudden clamor from a loud speaker nearby that suddenly proclaimed to the world that “Harlem Transfer, Lower Side.” Would be found at elevator eighteen, and then lapsed into an idiotic jingle that extolled the virtues of “Hinnon’s Modern Artey Shoppey!”
But all the noise and hubbub made little impression on Hanip Sidney. It was only subconsciously that he noticed the pilot or the cries of the loud speakers, for he was occupied in keeping the tow eugenists in sight without bringing undue attention to himself. They were making their way through the crowd in the direction of the elevators, and as their destination became more definite, Sidney saw that he would have to hurry, as the car that they were about to board already held over a hundred people and would soon be full. But by a most unceremonious haste, he managed to enter the car simultaneously with Ambrose and Lether, and indeed, he was not a moment too soon, for with a clang the doors swung shut behind him and as the speed of the helicopters lessened, the elevator dropped to the ground floor.
“Twenty-one,” called the nasal tones of Lether’s voice after a moment, and Mr. Sidney saw that he was bidding Ambrose adieu. The honorable gentleman breathed a sigh of relief. This was what he had been waiting for- - a chance to speak with Ambrose alone. The twenty-first floor was reached, Lether departed, and the elevator continued its drop.
They reached the ground floor, passed it, and dropped six more floors before Ambrose saw fit to depart. He and Sidney were almost the last to leave the elevator and as Ambrose hastened off down a corridor, Sidney fell in beside him, with an inconsequential remark about the weather. Ambrose replied noncommittally, evidently none too anxious to start a conversation with a stranger, but Sidney persisted.
“Aren’t you Mister Ambrose, the eugenist?” he asked.
This brought a grin to the face of the redheaded one.
“Just plain Ambrose,” he answered, “No Mister to it. The Board doesn’t award its titles to ordinary eugenists yet. I’m just plain Pier Ambrose, 882 KAL.”
“And I am the Honorable Hanip Sidney, 704 CAR,” said Sidney, extending his hand.
The other shook hands in sudden puzzled amaze.
“Not Sidney, the Food Controller?” he asked, and when Sidney answered in the affirmative, he went on shrewdly: “Well, sir, just what do you want with me? The man who has charge of all the food supplies entering Manhattan doesn’t stop an ordinary eugenist on the street and talk with him for nothing.”
But Sidney’s instinctive caution prevented him from at once coming to the point. He stroked his long jaw thoughtfully, a habit of his when desirous of expressing himself carefully, and at last he spoke.
“I, ah- happened to overhear a casual conversation that you had with a friend on the bus, this morning,” he began, hesitatingly, and then, as Ambrose looked at him in startled anxiety, he went on: “The conversation, you may recall, dwelt on the - ah - discretionary powers of the Eugenic Board in dealing with the more unusual cases which come under its notice. Ah - in fact, one case in particular was mentioned. Now it just happens that I know of a case very similar, and I thought that if – ah – that if you could handle it in a similar manner, it might be possible for me to persuade the board of Magnates to affix the title of Mister to your name, in spite of the fact that you are, pardon me, only a eugenist, as you say.”
Ambrose, whose emotions during this speech had run from fear of arrest to an easy confidence, now spoke up, carefully using just the right amount of caution to appeal to the discreet Mr. Sidney.
“I can’t do everything, of course, sir,” he said, “but I won’t say it couldn’t be done. But I’d want to be fully protected. You know, it’s quite possible that some of the higher-ups might misunderstand if they found out. And I wouldn’t attempt to take the case unless I understood absolutely all the details,” he added, significantly.
Sidney hesitated. It was not his nature to place confidence in any man, more than was necessary, but he realized that here was a case that must prove the exception to the rule, so after a moment, he spoke.
“The young lady in question is named Doris Moder, and she is one of the under-secretaries in Transportation. I suppose you must be already aware that I, myself, am the man involved. I have only seen Moder about a dozen times, and then only at the office where she works. But she is a very beautiful young lady and I must admit that she has made a very decided impression on me. Of course,” he continued, gazing down at his slight, rather unprepossessing figure, “it is quite beyond my expectations that I could get her to care for me. Our physical natures are too entirely opposed. In fact, although I have spoken to her several times, I doubt if she even remembers me. It would be quite impossible for me to win her without help, and that, - ah – is why I have come to you.”
“But, see here, Mr. Sidney, do you expect me to rate this girl for you and win you her favor too? If this Moder isn’t in love with you, changing her rating isn’t going to actually change her nature, you know.”
“Well - ah - I had thought perhaps- -“ Sidney hesitated. He didn’t know exactly what he had thought. “Isn’t it possible that there might be some special way of rating her- -?”
Ambrose replied vaguely, and the two continued their way, discussing various angles of the plot. As they talked, they walked down a seemingly endless corridor, and at last paused before a door bearing Ambrose’s name.
“Now Mr. Sidney,” said the eugenist, “Here’s my apartment. Will you come in for a while?”
“No,” answered Sidney, glancing at his watch, “I really haven’t the time. But I would like to have you give your attention to my case at once, if possible. Remember- - Hanip Sidney, 704 CAR, and Doris Moder, whose rating is, I believe, 592 MON.”
Ambrose drew out a notebook and scratched the ratings down.
“If you will be so good as to call me, say, a week from today,” he suggested.
“A week from today,” echoed the Honorable Hanip Sidney, and in a moment was strutting off down the corridor, highly pleased with himself.
It was morning, a week later. The Honorable Hanip Sidney was in his library. Reclining at his ease, his slender figure clad only in a tunic of flowered silk, he drowsed as he listened to the droning voice of a phonograph, reading classics of modern poetry. It was early morning yet, entirely too early for work, so Mr. Sidney whiled away his time with poetry and picture play until at last the clock struck ten. Then he arose and stepping to his dressing closet, began to attire himself for the office.
His negligee tunic was exchanged for one of plain dark blue, with a high collar; wool sox and shoes of a wonderfully soft leather covered his feet, and finishing off with a necktie and a gaily colored vest, Mr. Sidney was ready for his office.
He returned to the library and strode to the far side of the room. Here a desk stood, a desk that had only a small space in the center for writing; all the rest being covered with the knobs, dials and switches. Above the desk, on the wall, was a large white panel, divided into nine sections; and as Mr. Sidney manipulated the dials and switches, the faces of young men and women flashed out in the sections until the entire panel was filled. At the same time, the room was filled with the clatter of bookkeeping machines, telepans, tickers and all the other complicated paraphernalia of a twenty-second century business establishment. The Honorable Hanip Sidney was in his office.
Mr. Sidney turned another dial or two and then seated himself at his desk.
“Hano Yamadira,” he called into the transmitter of his telepan, and the figure of a young Japanese-American in the first section of the panel raised his head.
“Here, sir,” came his voice, clearly, “Nothing to report this morning, sir.”
“Emet Keen,” Sidney called, and the second figure looked up.
“Returns in from exchanges on Australian mutton,” he answered, “Report forwarded by teleautograph. It should be at your desk, now, sir.”
“George Johnson,” Sidney went on, and the third figure answered. The roll-call continued until all nine had answered and made their reports, and then Mr. Sidney busied himself with checking over the written reports that lay upon his desk. It was after eleven when he finished and leaned over to touch a button on the side of his desk. The young man in the second panel looked up.
“Get me a clear wave through to Pier Ambrose, the eugenist,” said Sidney, and with a nod, Emet Keen began to manipulate the dials on his own desk. A moment later his face faded almost from view, and then was replaced by the grinning, freckled face of the ruddy Ambrose.
“Ah, it’s the Honorable Mr. Sidney,” he exclaimed as he recognized the food controller, “I’m glad you called, sir. I’ve just about got that Doris Moder case all worked out.”
Emet Keen, seated before his telepan in his home across the Hudson, had been on the point of tuning out the muffled voices of the two men, but as the name of Doris Moder was mentioned, he leaned suddenly forward and turned up a rheostat. Although the faces of the two men rem invisible, their voices now came in sharp and clear. Keen remained an attentive listener to their conversation.
“You see, it’s like this,” Ambrose was saying, “It wouldn’t do any good to simply put you in the same class with Moder. That would still allow her to choose among about a hundred thousand men. So, you see, it will be necessary to put you in a special class of some kind.”
“Well, what have you done?” came the voice of Sidney.
“I’ve fixed it all up. Have you ever heard of the GOR ratings?”
“No, I don’t believe I have.”
“Well, the class GOR is reserved for a special rating. On certain rare occasions, two people are found who are so well matched and of such superior attainments that it is considered necessary for the Good of the Race that they have children. These people are given GOR ratings and married to each other for a greater or lesser period: and there have been penalties provided, even, for people who refuse to mate when given the rating.”
“And you plan to put Moder and I into this class?” asked Sidney.
“Exactly. Not by a special assignment, though. Seeing that this is the latter part of May, I thought it would be all right if you would wait until the regular June assignments. You know, in the rush and flurry of making the annual reassignments, a good many things can be overlooked.”
“That will be very satisfactory, Ambrose, I suppose you have picked our numbers and corrected checkings already haven’t you?”
“Sure. You’re to be 796 GOR and Moder will be 792 GOR. Just be patient for a week or two, Mr. Sidney, and everything will be pansies.”
“Very well, then. I trust you, Ambrose. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Sidney,” answered the eugenist, and the telepan was silent.
For a moment, Keen sat dumfounded, in indignant amazement.
“The damned pike!” he muttered then, “The damned, sneaking little pike!”
Hurriedly he twisted the dials, and in a moment the face of a girl appeared upon the screen of his telepan.
“Atlantic Ground Transport, Section; Moder speaking,” her voice began, mechanically, and the, recognizing Keen; “Oh, excuse me, Emet. What do you want?”
“It’s something important, Doris. Have we a clear wave?”
“I think so, Emet. Wait a minute,” the girl gave her attention to her desk for a moment and then said, “Go on, now we’re clear.”
“Doris,” began Keen, “Do you know my boss, the Honorable Hanip Sidney?”
“Why yes, I believe I do. I’ve seen him in the central office, several times. He has tried to flirt with me, once or twice.”
“Well, listen, Doris. I’ve just overheard something that looks pretty bad,” and Keen related to her the details of the conversation that he had just heard.
“Emet!” she cried as she grasped the significance of his story, and then she went on in anxiety; “Oh, Emet, what can we do? And I was so certain that you and I would rate close enough this year to be married. Oh, dearest, this will spoil all our plans! We simply must do something to prevent them from doing this.”
“They shan’t get away with it,” swore Keen, “We’re a step ahead of them in knowing what they’re up to, and we’ve got over two weeks to circumvent them. Don’t worry, Doris. We’ll find some way to prevent them from going through with this thing.”
Doris brightened as she saw the determined look on Keen’s face.
“I hope so,” she smiled, as she prepared to tune out, “We must beat them somehow,” and her face faded from Keen’s screen.
Doris Moder had great confidence in Keen, and, too, she had the civilized person’s blind trust in the authorities that made her certain that all that was necessary to win justice was to submit proof of her case. But as the weeks sped by, it became increasingly evident that the powerful two against whom they had pitted themselves were not to be beaten easily. In fact, after ten days of vain worry, it began to appear that perhaps they were not to be beaten at all!
Keen’s attempts to interest the proper authorities in the case were met with a curious lack of interest. He was sent from one bureau to another, hundreds of questions were asked him, one complicated paper after another he was asked to fill out and swear to, but the net result amounted to nothing. He realized, a full week before the assignments were made, that he was merely wasting his time.
Doris, too, failed in her attempt to get her rating certified, being told plainly that she was a special case and would have to wait until after the June assignments for her certification.
So it was with sinking hearts that they awaited the day of the new assignments, and when it arrived, found that the worst had happened, even as they had expected. Keen had been assigned to 641 RIC and Doris to 792 GOR! Keen tried to get Doris on the telepan at once but it was well afternoon when at least he succeeded in dialing her. As her face swam into view on the screen, Keen imagined that he noticed her wiping her eyes furtively, but by the time the image sharpened, she was smiling, as usual.
“I’m so glad to see you, Emet,” she began, the moment she saw his face, “I’ve put in a terrible morning. That miserable little Sidney had been here all morning. Came to congratulate me, he said, and to get better acquainted with one whom, he hoped, would soon be his bride! Emet, I’ve never hated anyone, the way I hate him! If you could have seen the sweet, sanctimonious look on his face- -“ but here Doris’s indignation choked her and she was unable to go on.
“What did you say to him.” asked Keen.
“What didn’t I say! I told him I knew all about his disgraceful plot- - and that worried him for a moment, too, I’ll tell you,- - and I told him just what I thought of him, physically and mentally, and I would up by saying that I’d go to a Chap house before I’d marry him for a single night!”
In spite of himself, Keen laughed. He knew from experience how unwise it was to incur the displeasure of the spirited Doris. After a moment, Doris laughed, too, and then went on: “I guess I did become pretty excited, and he kept trying to calm me, but at last he got serious and told me that the laws were made to be obeyed; and that if I didn’t feel like marrying him, I could board at a Chap house until I did. Then he lifted his cap off of his head in that old fashioned way of, and said goodbye.”
“Was he very angry when he left?”
“Oh, no. He calmed down considerably as he said goodbye, and when he left, he seemed to be in quite good spirits.”
“Uhhuh! I thought so! I know that boss of mine, Doris. He’s thought of some mischief, I’ll bet an eagle. I’m coming right over to your apartment, dear. I’ve got an idea that may fix things up for us. It’s about the only thing left to do- -” and Keen snapped off the telepan, and hastened out of his room.
On the roof of his hotel, he chartered a small helicopter and rose in a magnificent sweep over Manhattan, and then, setting his gliders, he dropped to the hotel in East Brooklyn in which Doris had her apartment. But though his trip took less than half an hour, he entered Doris’s apartment to find her gone. Unable to account for her absence, he went at once to the phonograph, and there, sure enough, found a record with his name scratched on it. Starting the machine, he listened to Doris’s voice: “I’m sorry I’ll not be able to meet you, Emet,” she said, “There is a eugenist here named Pier Ambrose, and he has two policemen with him. They have some sort of a charge against me, and Ambrose says if I don’t marry Sidney at once, I’ll have to go to a Chap house. I’ve told him I’d die before I’d so much as speak to Sidney again, so they are taking me to Madison Chap House, Emet.”
Keen swore viciously at this disquieting news. The huge government apartments for women known as Chaperon houses were little more than prisons. Here all women who violated the eugenic laws in any way were sent; and the houses, like the farms on which the male violators were isolated, were always filled to overflowing. The “guests”, as they were officially called, were allowed practically no freedom, their only contact with the world being by telepan; and although this enabled the women, most of whom were office workers, to continue their work, it curtailed their social intercourse almost completely, for they were not even allowed to speak with outsiders without the permission and supervision of a matron.
Keen saw that the arrest of Doris, therefore, put a decided crimp in the half-formed plans that he had made, and, indeed, made them now seem impossible of consummation. He had hoped that before the Eugenic Board took drastic action, he might persuade Doris to flee with him to Brazil, but the suddenness of her arrest ended for a time any such plans as this.
He remained in the apartment for a while, uncertain of what course to take next, and at last left and returned to his home in Jersey.
For several days following the arrest of Doris, Keen spent his spare time in elaborating the vague plans that he had made and in haunting the esplanade in front of the Madison Chaperon House. He hoped eventually to see Doris, and on the third day he was at last rewarded by catching a glimpse of her in a window on the seventh floor. For a while he was unable to attract her attention, but at last she glanced down, and seeing him, waved mournfully. Keen at once began a series of gestures designed to convey to her the facts that he was going away, that he would be back, late that night, and that she should watch for him. At length he managed to make himself understood and, waving goodbye, he departed.
He spent a busy afternoon and returned that night with several good-sized bundles, and was delighted to find that, as he had hoped, the street was entirely deserted. A hundred years before, such a thing would have been quite impossible, but today, when two-thirds of the work and nine-tenths of the amusements were accomplished at home, it was not uncommon to find the streets in the business section quite empty as this early hour of the morning.
Keen placed his bundles on the ground and proceeded to open them. The first proved to be a toy rocket plane of the type that had recently been quite popular with school boys; the second was a small wireless controller to run it by. The third and largest package, which Keen opened last, revealed a long ladder of metal mesh. His packages opened, Keen scribbled a note and, placing it in the rocket, set about starting the little plane on its way. Above him, he could see the light in Doris’s window, and with this as a guide, he caused the rocket to rise slowly in a spiral. Higher and higher it rose, jerking forward abruptly now and then, or stopping altogether, as Keen’s inexperienced hands moved the radio controls; but at last, with a final twist of the dials, he shot it forward, straight into the open window.
A moment later, Doris looked out of the window and shook her head violently. Keen nodded “yes” quite as emphatically, and Doris disappeared, to appear almost at once with the rocket, to which she had affixed an answer to his note. Keen again picked up the controller and lifted the rocket out of her hands, succeeding, after a short time, in bringing it down in safety. Doris had written: “Emet, dear: You simply mustn’t risk yourself by coming up here. I don’t care how good your plan is. You know we wouldn’t have a chance of escape. Please don’t come up.”
But Keen felt that too much was at stake to allow Doris’s momentary despair conquer him; and so he continued his preparations for her escape. One end of the ladder was fastened to the rocket and again Keen started it on its journey aloft. It was harder work guiding it, this time, for it was burdened with the weight of the ladder: and, too, Keen had to keep twisting the ladder to keep it from becoming tangled as the rocket spiraled up; but at last he saw it reach the window, and he darted it in with a sigh of relief. There was a moment of hesitation and then Doris waved to him that all was well, and he hastily mounted the ladder. He reached the safety of the window, pulled the ladder up after him, and, turning, clasped Doris in his arms.
For several moments the Eugenic laws, the Chap house and everything else were forgotten in the rapture of their reunion, but at last Keen released the girl and turned to look out of the window.
“All’s well below,” he whispered, “Let’s get out of here at once, while there’s still a chance.”
Doris smiled uncertainly.
“The danger isn’t down there, Emet,” her hushed voice said, fearfully, “It’s over here,” and, glancing to where she pointed, Keen saw the glistening face of a telepan.
“The matron checks up on us at all hours of the day,” whispered the girl, “She’s liable to be listening at any time. You must be ready to hide if the plate flows- - “ the words had not left her lips before the screen began to lighten. Keen made ignominious dive for the bed, and was under it before the telepan reached a clear focus. At once he heard the sharp voice of the matron.
“Are you talking to yourself, Moder?” it asked, and at Doris’s mumbled protest went on: “Don’t deny it. If I hear any more of that, I’ll have you under mental examination before morning! Remember, now!”
For a moment the room was brilliantly lighted, as the matron threw a search ray around the room; but her inspection was only perfunctory and in a moment the room was again dark. Keen emerged sheepishly from his hiding place, and in silence gestured toward the window. Doris nodded resignedly; time could not be wasted now in discussing the possibility of escape. The ladder was again lowered from the window and, stepping out on the ladder, she closed her eyes to shut out the sight of the street far below, and began to climb hastily down. Keen followed her as soon as possible, and in a few moments, they were hurrying away south on Madison Avenue.
“Emet,” said the girl, after a while, “What are your plans? How do you ever expect to avoid arrest for this?”
“We’re going to Brazil,” answered Keen, “We’re going to leave this infernal country and start over in a land where there is still some freedom. We’ll take a flyer in the morning and- -”
“But how can we take a flyer without passports or identification records? You know, the law won’t allow us to leave the country without the proper formalities.
Keen smiled. “Laws,” he said, “were made to be broken especially these Eugenic laws. It cost me two hundred eagles beside the regular fare, but we fly on the Magalhaens in the morning.”
Doris sighed with relief. For the first time, the wild adventure on which she entrusted herself to Keen’s ladder began to show signs of being successful. She snuggled closer to her lover and as they strode along the deserted street, he put an arm about her possessively.
“Just a short distance now, dear,” he said, encouragingly, “There’s a launch at the Forty-fifth Street dock to take us to the flyer, and- -”
His voice was drowned in the raucous roar of a siren from the police speaker on the corner of a building they were passing. Keen’s face paled and a sob burst involuntarily from Doris’s lips. Before they had time to so much as hope that the call might be other than the one they feared, a harsh voice broke from the speaker and they knew that, all over the island, other speakers shooting the same words.
“Notice to all officers,” it called, and repeated, “Notice to all officers. Escaped from Madison Avenue Chaperon House; one Doris Moder, 792 GOR. Escaped by window, evidently with assistance from without. Accomplice, if any, believed to be Emet Keen, 641 RIC. Arrest Moder on charge of escape from Government Supervision. Hold Keen for questioning, or on charge of abduction if found with Moder. Notice to all officers- -”
It was rambling on, but Keen and the girl at his side paid no more attention. They knew that it was virtually impossible to reach the boat that awaited them now, but they determined to make a final dash for liberty, for it was but little over a quarter of a mile to the dock. Wildly they fled down the deserted street and once more hope was beginning to stir them when Emet suddenly stopped and clapped his hand to his breast.
“Oh Emet! What is it?” cried Doris in alarm.
“Electric loop,” cried Keen, seizing her hand and dashing in the opposite direction, but he had not proceeded twenty feet before he was again stopped; and this time he made no attempt to run away. Instead he smiled ruefully and: They’ve got us, Doris,” he said, “We’re surrounded by a ‘radio lasso’. Nothing to do but wait until the peekers pinch us. I’m sorry I got you into this, dear.”
Doris made no answer except to kiss him. He clasped her in his arms and locked in each other’s embrace, they defiantly awaited the coming of the law.
The trial of Doris Moder attracted little comment in the news of the day. Hanip Sidney used his influence to keep things quiet, well knowing that the searchlight of publicity would light up his own interest in this girl who had defied the forces of the law in America’s second largest city. And for the same reason that her trial was a quiet one, that of Keen was, too.
There was little that the law could do to Doris. She was being held until she married the Honorable Mr. Sidney. Sidney professed his willingness to marry her, while she still persisted in defying him. The court found that there was nothing that could be done save to return her to the Chap house until she agreed to marry him. So Doris found herself back on Madison Avenue, little the worse for her daring attempt at escape.
With Keen, however, things were different. A more serious crime than his could scarcely be imagined in this day and age of paternalistic laws. He was actually taken to the Bellevue and given a thorough and rigid mental examination. At last the doctors regretfully pronounced him sane and his trial was set for a week in the future. He hired a lawyer who, realizing that he had but a single plea in extenuation, attempted to reopen the insanity question. But Keen lacked the funds necessary to bribe an alienist to declare him insane, and the lawyer foresaw that his plea must fail for lack of witnesses. After this he lost interest in the case, realizing its hopelessness, and the day of the trial came with little hope for Emet.
The long drawn out formalities of the trial began. Legal procedure, that living fossil, had changed but little since the days of the American pioneers, and except for the dress of the people, the courtroom might have been a scene in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. In spite of the fact that science had discovered a dozen lie detecting machines and truth compelling drugs, witnesses were still allowed to give oath and then perjure themselves like gentlemen. So it was that Hanip Sidney took the stand and neatly and mot completely wove a case around Keen that made the sycophantic jury positive that he must be given the most decisive punishment possible. They found him guilty of abduction and recommended drastic action.
“641 RIC, known as Emet Keen, stand up,” spoke the honorable court, sonorously, and then, as Keen rose: “Emet Keen, you have been tried by a jury of your peers and found guilty of abducting a ward of the Government of the United States of America. That crime in itself is serious enough, and for that crime, and that alone, I must sentence you. But that ward was not an ordinary woman, but one whom our scientists, in their wisdom, have declared to be an exceptional member of our species, one who might better the race through her offspring. You, therefore, did harm not only to that woman, to the excellent gentleman who is her fiancé and to our great government, but you attempted to do untold harm to the whole human race! For that last crime, I cannot, unfortunately, punish you. But for the crime of abduction, I can and do.
“641 RIC, I sentence you to be discharged from the service of the Food Industry, which employs you, without recommendation and without hope of service in any other industry in the country. And be it so recorded.”
For a moment there was silence in the court. Then, as a murmur arose among those who had attended the trial, Keen arose and stumbled blindly to the door. No one attempted to stop him: he was free, at liberty to come and go as he wished, freer, indeed, than he had ever been in the life before, for, born in this industrial, paternalistic era, he had never known, indeed had never heard of unemployment save that of those men who were, like himself, sentenced to it for some serious “crime”. A man was under the supervision of his Industry almost from birth, his mother and father receiving an increase in salary at his birth, which made him almost a bond-servant of the Industry. And after his education, he was at once assigned to a position from which he was freed only by death or promotion. Or discharge, which was almost tantamount to a death-sentence… nearly 80 percent of the suicides in the past ten years were men who, for some reason or another, had received a discharge.
He left the courtroom, rambled aimlessly through a maze of halls and corridors and was emerging on the public way before he was aware that for some time a man had been walking along beside him. He raised his eyes and glanced at a stranger who, for some reason, seemed to be taking a decided interest in him. As the stranger observed that Keen at last had noticed him, he extended his hand and spoke.
“Hullo!” he said, grinning, “I’m Texan Vorst. Triple naught XYZ.”
Still in a daze, Keen looked at him vaguely. 000 XYZ? Suddenly he remembered. That was imaginary eugenic number that was humorously applied to the Pariahs, that strange group of discharged men that were rumored to be eking out a miserable living in the sewers and abandoned subways of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Keen looked at his acquaintance with a little greater interest. If he was to make any attempt to live in the city from now on, it was such men as this who would probably be his intimates.
It was a lean, hard face into which Keen looked, a face with high cheekbones and sandy hair that grew long in the back in defiance of the customs of the day. The blue eyes looked out from beneath prominent brows and the lips were set in a hard line that belied the popular notion that the Pariahs were but a group of starving, sniveling beggars. Vorst’s tall spare figure was clad in clean well-tailored tunic and vest, and in all, there was little to indicate that he might not have been some respectable member of the middle class. Keen found time to wonder at his obvious respectability, for he remained silent for some time after introducing himself, evidently well aware that Keen was appraising him, but at last he spoke again.
“I heard them sentence you to discharge, Keen, and before you get despondent and try to end it, like so many do, I want to show you something of the life of my class. Your rating was pretty high, intellectually, and we Pariahs can’t afford to lose a man like you. Will you come home with me, to supper and to meet a few of my friends? I want to see what you think of our organization.”
“Organization?” questioned Keen, “An organization of the Pariahs, Vorst? I’ve never heard of that before.”
“Few have,” answered the Pariah, “It’s no secret, but we don’t advertise it. We’ve been a little society within Society from over twenty years now, but there are few who know about it. But my invitation, what about it?”
Though Keen’s surprise was growing momentarily, he was careful not to show it, and though such an invitation from a Pariah would have only elicited indignation, a few weeks before, he now grasped at it as a drowning man at a straw. Here would be, at the very least, a chance to forget his troubles at a time when that was almost essential. He smiled and extended his hand.
“I’ll be mighty glad to go with you, Vorst.” he said, “This discharge business hits a fellow pretty hard at first, doesn’t it?”
“Like diving into cold water,” Vorst answered with a short laugh, “But like the water, it’s fine after you’re once in.”
For a while they walked on in silence; Keen followed his companion down one street and up another, they entered an elevator and descended to an underground level, until finally, in one of the most dilapidated sections of the city, Vorst halted before the door of an ancient apartment and, unlocking the door, bade Keen enter.
Keen’s spirits again began to droop at the thought of having to live in such a home as this for the rest of his life, but Vorst, noting his sudden change of appearance, slapped him on the back cheerfully.
“Don’t lose heart at the looks of the entrance, Keen,” he said, “This is just camouflage for our Industrial friends.” As he spoke he led the way to the rear of the apartment, and lifting a trapdoor in the floor, led the way down the steps into what Keen recognized as being actually one of the ancient abandoned subways that honeycombed the city.
“Welcome to New Liberty, the city within a city,” smiled Vorst, and Keen looked around in amaze. The scene might almost have been one in one of the lower levels of the city, so clean and brilliantly lighted was it. A paved street ran thru the center of the tube, a street about ten or twelve feet wide, while the balance of the tube, on either side, was divided off and turned into homes and apartments, with even, occasionally, a store with tastefully decorated windows. Toward one of the apartments, not far from the place where they entered, Vorst led his new friend, and opening the door, called out: “Hey, sis! Here’s our new visitor. Call up Maynard and Lish, will you? And what have you got to eat?”
Keen locked around him in amazement as he entered the apartment, for the room bore every sign of culture and comfort. He was forced to admit that even in his most prosperous moments, he had not been used to such an excellent home as this. While he stared about him in surprise, a girl entered the room and, as she hesitated in the doorway, Vorst exclaimed, “Meet Emet Keen, sis, the bold abductor whom I expect to persuade to join our colony. Keen, this is my sister Helen.”
The introductions acknowledged, Helen Vorst excused herself and went to call the two men of whom Vorst had spoken, and while they awaited their arrival, the tall Pariah prepared a lunch, and as they ate, he laid his proposition before Keen.
“You see,” he explained, “for over two hundred years, the sewers, the air vents and the deserted subways of New York have been inhabited by the lowest class of the city. At first, it was only the derelicts of society who lived here, worthless relics of the old individualistic era. But as time went on, and as the world grew better, the class of people who inhabited these forgotten corners of the city became better. Although still desperately poor, they were no longer ignorant or disease ridden, and so it was inevitable that they would attempt to better themselves. It is only within the last twenty years, however, that they have been organized to any extent.
“We have quite a number living down here now, nearly twenty thousand, I believe, all told. And we are as honest and as respectable as any of the people that you’ll find up above… A lot more so, if you’ll take our word for it.
“Of course, we don’t work for the Industries. We work for ourselves, and that’s the secret of our prosperity. In the twenty years that we have been organized, we have come all the way from abject poverty to the comfort and luxury that you see here.
“We have a sort of understanding with the Industries. We get our raw materials by purchase from them, turn out finished goods by hand and sell them at a nice profit. It’s an old fashioned method but does it work! There’s quite a demand among the Honorables and their ladies for our hand made goods. A sort of fad, see? And there’d be a terrible howl if they couldn’t get their hand-knitted tunics, and hand-made furniture, for example. So the Industrial bosses. Although they know of our existence down here, leave us alone, and we wax fat. We charge for our goods on a monetary basis, the people pay us with checks on the various industries, and a regular rate of exchange is allowed us. We have an office down here, and everything is carried on in quite a business-like manner.
“And that’s where you come in, Keen. We need a good man in the office, and you’re the good man. What d’ye say?”
Keen extended his hand and Worst clasped it.
“Okeh, Keen,” he smiled, “You’re one of us.”
They finished their meal and returned to the other room, where they found that Vorst’s two friends had arrived, bringing a third man with them. Again Keen was pleasantly surprised at the evident culture of these men whom he had always believed to be mere beggars, if not worse. Two of the men, those whom Vorst introduced as El Maynard and George Lish, were tall sturdy blonds, the other, Ossip Pragny, was a dark bearded little hunchback who bowed gravely as he took Keen’s hand.
The five men made themselves comfortable, and after each had lighted his favorite form of tobacco, Vorst began the conversation with a reference to Keen‘s trial.
“He‘s just another victim of these infernal Eugenic laws,” barked Lish, after Vorst had outlined the story of the trail. “If those laws last for another twenty years, most of New York will have been discharged for violation of them and will be living down here with us.”
Which might be a fine thing for us,- - and a better thing for the City,” laughed Vorst, ”but don’t worry, there aren‘t very many men who would have the courage to defy the Industries to the extent of trying to kidnap one of their wards right out of a Chap house.”
“I don’t suppose that I‘d have had the courage myself,” admitted Keen, “if it hadn’t been that I knew that this girl’s rating was as crooked as a sign-light. Somehow or other, the injustice of it made me forget all about the illegal aspects of it. You see, I heard Hanip Sidney, the Food Controller and one of the eugenists planning to rate her, a full month before the June assignments were made.”
Maynard scowled viciously as he heard this.
“Another case similar to mine,” he murmured, “This damned tyranny is making the government of the Magnates the most terrible scourge in history. Sooner or later this country must revert again to democracy, if not peaceably, then through bloody revolution. When was there, during the days of the Republic, a law to compare with this accursed Eugenic Act?”
“Did you ever hear of the so-called Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution of the old Republic?“ asked Vorst, “You know what I mean, that old law that forb de the sale or manufacture of alcoholic beverages?” and as the others smiled he went on: “No, El, I’m afraid a democracy isn’t the answer. Tyranny is just as possible under a democracy as under an oligarchy like ours. Besides, civilization has reached a point where a democracy is as outworn as a monarchy would be.”
Ossip Pragny assented eagerly.
“Right you are, Texan,” he cried, “The time has come when there is but one remedy for our social ills and that is a new and equitable distribution of wealth and the establishment of a communal type of economics.”
Vorst threw up his hands in mock despair.
“lt’s beginning again, Keen,” he mourned, “The eternal argument between our world-savers, El Maynard the Democrat and Ossip Pragny, the communist. When will you fellows learn that as soon as power or wealth is divided equally among all, it immediately begins to concentrate itself again into the hands of the few. Every one of the great systems of governing that has been developed is dependent on one thing: The enforcing of laws controlling the economics of the nation. But be your nation an autocracy, a democracy or a communal socialism, it is necessary to employ men to enforce those laws. Can’t you see that no matter what the type of government is, those men will twist the laws to their advantage and thus defeat the very system they were called upon to defend?“
Maynard and Pragny objected mechanically. They had no answer ready, they merely objected so that the argument might be continued.
Vorst went on, gradually warming to his subject: “Just look at the course of history. Three great types of government have been attempted: the autocracy of force, the democracy and the autocracy of wealth. The second was merely a phase between the first and the third. And today after living through nearly ten thousand years of civilization, we sit here crying under the tyranny of our lords.”
“Well, Vorst,” said Maynard, “You admit that democracy was merely a phase, as you say. lf democracy had been given a fair trial don’t you think it might work.”
“But democracy can’t be given a fair trial,” Vorst answered, “lf there is one thing that history teaches us, it is that republics are the breeding ground of autocracy. A democracy defeats its own ends before it has had time to prove its efficiency. Can you think of a republic that did not eventually have its dictator? And that goes for the Soviets, too, Ossip. The Russian Soviet Republics, the Chinese soviets of half a century later, and even the South African Soviets, all succumbed at last to Dictatorships.
“And so with the history of our own country. It was one of the first of the modern republics, and throughout its history, we read of ’boss’ after ‘boss’. To be sure, these bosses never were able to seize control of the entire country, but for a good many years there was net a single large city in the nation that did not have its petty ’feudal lord’. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, this country was much more like the feudal ages than it was like a true democracy. And how easily the republic passed into the Industrial Oligarchy when the time came. With the exception of Murray’s belated rebellion, the transition was entirely bloodless.”
Vorst paused and Maynard took advantage of the pause to ask: “Then what do you expect to bring about a more perfect form of government?”
Worst threw up his hands in a gesture of ignorance.
“Time, I suppose. Evolution and education. Further scientific discoveries in the field of economics and sociology, both of which sciences are in their infancy. Beyond that, I’ll admit, l don’t know. But be sure that all the patent cures invented by our forefathers, such as you fellows have been talking about, are no more the real thing than the tyranny of the Magnates. When the real ideal state is established, it will function as well under a King as under a president and congress. Of that l am sure.” Pragny shook his head in violent agreement.
“I can’t see it your way, Texan,” he began, “Laws could be made that would protect the individual and yet be for the greatest good of the greatest number. Could the people be educated to surrender their individual desires to the good of the state- -“
“Impossible, Ossip,” cried Maynard, “the only salvation is a return to the individualistic freedom of our forefathers, with its private enterprise and- -“
“Private enterprise,“ snorted Vorst, “The very thing that has resulted in the conditions that we are crying against today!” He arose end beckoned to Keen. “Let’s get out of here, old man,” he said, laughing, “This argument will continue until we return, I promise you. And I want to show you our office and give you an idea of what you will have to do in your new job.“
Keen followed the Pariah, and soon found himself wending his way through a series of forgotten subways and ventilator tubes until at last they came to a huge room that had been remodeled to act as the office of the organized Pariahs. A good dozen desks were arranged along one side of the room while on the other a complicated collection of filing cabinets were ranged along the wall. The absence of telepans and copying machines gave the office a quaint old-fashioned appearance, but Keen could see that the equipment was nevertheless quite efficient, and was moved again to wonder at the elaborate organization that the Pariahs had achieved,
Vorst called one of the men of the office to him and introduced Keen as the man who would take charge of the food exchange. The other nodded and in quite a business-like manner led Keen away and at once began to instruct him in his duties. Vorst remained for a while and then departed, promising Keen that he would call for him in the evening.
It was several hours before Keen was able to grasp the system used by the Pariahs in their books, but at last it dawned on him that the method used was the same as that of the Industries, minus an enormous amount of red tape. After this he learned rapidly, and when Vorst celled for him that evening, he could truthfully say that he was already fairly proficient in his new work. Vorst congratulated him and insisted that he come and stay with him until he managed to find a place to live.
“It’ll probably be a week or two before you can get settled,” he said, “And in the meantime there are a thousand and one things that you’ll have to learn about our life here. In some ways, of course, we‘re far behind the rest of the world; but in others, we think, at least, that we are just as far ahead.”
So Keen returned home with Texan Vorst, but he was not destined to find a home among the Pariahs, for the very next day occurred an event that was to ultimately bring to a close the entire adventure in which he had been evolved.
The duties to which Keen had been assigned consisted of taking orders for food from the various groups into which the Pariahs were ordered, along with the “money“ for the same, that is, the checks that they had received from above. These checks, together with a large order, made up from the small ones, were sent to the Food Center in Upper Manhattan and in due course the food was delivered, together with a receipted bill for the same, one copy of which was kept and filed by Keen and several others that he signed and returned to the Center. It was a very primitive method, but was almost the only system that could be used, due to the queer relations existing between the Pariahs and the Industries.
So it was that on the second day that Keen worked in the office of the Pariahs, a delivery of foodstuffs was made on an order that had been submitted six weeks before. Though it had never seemed strange to him when he worked for the Industry, the idea of all the red tape that made it necessary to order goods six weeks in advance now brought a sarcastic smile to his face, a smile that turned to a scowl as he noticed the signature on the bottom of the bill. “Hanip Sidney, H. Mr.,- -796 GOR,” he read, and snorted his disgust.
“The damned little pike,” he muttered, and then looked at the bill with a sudden intensified interest? was it possible- -? Yes, the date stared out at him from the top of the bill, quite unmistakable– Hay 50, 2118. He gazed at it in unbelieving joy for a moment and then, with a shout, dashed madly from the office, waving the bill wildly about his head. The other men gazed after him in amazement for a moment and then returned to their work with queer smiles on their faces. They had formed a new opinion of their new colleague.
But hastening down the corridor of the ancient subway, careless of the opinion of his fellow workers, Keen hurried to Vorst’s home and burst in, crying for Texan. The big fellow rushed into the room in amaze, wondering at Keen‘s sudden and excited appearance, but the latter soon explained.
“See this bill of goods?” he cried, “See the date? May 30th! And signed- - Hanip Sidney, 796GOR! But Sidney didn’t get that rating until the second of June, when the June assignments were made!”
“But I don’t see how that will help you,” said Vorst slowly.
“Why, don’t you see? If Sidney knew that he rated 796 GOR before he received his assignment, it proves that there was something crooked there. He knew, weeks ahead of time, that his number would be 796 GOR. It was on his mind quite a bit, I suppose. And in a moment of absent-mindedness, he must have signed it to this bill, without thinking! It proves he’s crooked, Texan.”
“But that still won’t help you, Emet. You’ll still be under sentence for abduction, you know.”
“Phooey Who cares? Sidney and Doris will have to be reassigned and Doris will be given her freedom. And then Doris can come down here and live with me. if course, we can’t have any children, but even that may straighten its lf out, in time.
“But how are you going to get in touch with the proper authorities? You don’t suppose that the courts will pay any attention to a Pariah who has a complaint against the honorable Food Controller, do you?”
But Keen’s happiness at his fortunate discovery was not to be shattered by Vorst’s practical pessimism.
“Oh, let tomorrow’s problems take care of themselves,” he said happily, “I’ve had enough good luck for one day, anyhow,“ and carefully tucking his precious bill in an inner pocket, he started back to the office.
When he returned to his new hone in the evening, he found that Vorst had called in Maynard, Lish and Pragny for a conference. The five ate supper and then called a council of war to decide what had best be done with the “papers”, as Vorst called them.
The three friends had already been told of the evidence against Sidney, and Maynard and Pragny shared the opinion of Vorst, but Lish approached the matter from a different angle. His was a rather odd nature, reminding one of that ancient character, “Sherlock Holmes”, and he dispassionately began to weigh the few chances that Keen had.
“As you say, Texan, this evidence will have no bearing on Keen’s discharge. There is only one person who can restore him to his old place in the lndustry, and that is Edmund Lucas, the Food Magnate, himself. is a matter of fact, Lucas is the only min who can do anything for him, for you know as well as l do that if this matter were taken to the lower courts, Sidney’s lawyers would soon have the case so complicated that Keen could never afford to carry it through to a finish. l think, if you look into the matter carefully, you’ll have to admit that an interview with the food magnate is Keen’s only chance of getting anywhere. Lucas is said to be as straight as a Hamilton beam, and the least he would do would be to have Keen‘s girl and Sidney reassigned. and it might mean a pardon for Keen, too.”
“But how do you ever expect Keen to get an interview with Lucas? A cat may look at a king, I know, but he gets little chance to chat with him, over the teacups.“
But Lish was unable to offer any suggestion as to how this could be accomplished and for a while the group appeared to be up against a stone wall. At last Maynard slapped his thigh and; “I’ve got it!” he cried, and then, as the others clamored for details, he laughed and pointed to Pragny.
“The old aristocrat here,” he answered them, “let him get a letter of introduction from Kendal!”
Vorst let out a whoop of jog and he and Lish both seized Maynard by the hands, shouting their congratulations.
“You see,” explained Worst, after Keen had stood in impatient amaze for some moments, “Our dear friend Ossip, in spite of his apparent communistic leanings, is really quite an aristocrat,” and then, ignoring Pragny’s protesting objections, he waved him aside and went on: “He’s one of the best chess players in New York City; in fact, before the trouble that brought him down here, he was champion of New York for two years. Now it happens that Ira Kendall, the Paper Magnate, is an inveterate chess player, and knew Pragny in his better days. And in spite of Pragny’s present situation, he still has our communistic friend up to his house once every week. Oh, they’re the best of friends, I assure you. And El’s idea is to have Ossip secure you a letter of introduction to Lucas from Kendall. Hill it work?- - Why, Keen, you‘re as good as back at your old job, right now.”
It was with a mingled feeling of determination and trepidation that Keen stood in the office of the great Food Magnate, some ten days later. Ossip Pragny had had exceptional luck at his next meeting with the Paper Magnate, finding him in an extremely cheerful mood, and it had taken but little pleading to secure a letter of introduction for Keen to Lucas. The letter had been duly submitted with a request for an interview and new Keen awaited the moment when he would be admitted to the presence of the man who, more than anyone else in history, might be called the dictator of the United States. For the Board of Magnates, who now ruled the country, and of which Lucas was chairman, not only ruled over, but actually owned, almost the entire pro city of the once free republic. ·
Keen wondered what sort of a man the agnate would turn out to be. Of course, his physical characteristics were as familiar to Keen as were his own, for he had seen him in photograph and telepan a thousand times, but he had little idea of what the nan’s nature was. Would he turn out to be what many people believed him to be: the crafty tyrannical boss of a tyrannical group of oligarchs? Or would he appear as he was pictured in the pep-meetings, as the almost omniscient, kindly foster-father of American business? Keen’s speculations were interrupted as a secretary beckoned and he entered through the huge carved doors into the Sanctum of the Magnate.
It was a luxurious room in which he found himself, a room the walls of which were covered with telepan screens and reference charts and whose only furnishings were a marvelously thick rug and a massive old desk, behind which, almost lost, sat the slight figure of the Magnate. He was an elderly man, much smaller than his pictures made him seem, Keen noted, and his countenance would have been almost cherubic, had it not been for a huge walrus—like moustache that was obviously worn to add fierceness to an otherwise mild appearance. The young man walked forward and bowed before him, and after a moment of appraisal the Magnate spoke:
“So you’re a Pariah, eh? Don’t look like my idea of one, I must say.”
“I’ve only been discharged for about two weeks, Sir,“ Keen explained, “And I hope to be reinstated, if you will listen to my case. It won’t take me long to state it, Sir.”
“Rather determined, aren‘t you, young fellow? Bringing your case all the way up to me, I mean to say? Aren’t there courts to I settle all that sort of thing?”
“Well, Sir,” answered Keen, boldly, “I wanted it really settled. The courts are for the support of the lawyers, not for the dispensing of justice.”
It was a bold speech, and he waited uncertainly to see how the “agnate would take it. Lucas raised his eyebrows quizzically for a moment, and then broke into a smile.
“Well,” said the little man, “suppose you let me hear this case and see what my opinion is. ‘I’ll admit I flatter myself to the extent of believing that I’m something of a student of human nature. Let’s see if you can convince me that you’re in the right in this matter.”
So Keen launched forth into his story, telling the details just as they had occurred and dramatically reserving the story of his finding of the damning receipt until the last. Lucas interrupted him often, quizzing him like a witness under cross-examination, and showing a particular interest in the business of the overheard conversation between Sidney and Ambrose. At the end of his story, Keen drew his bill triumphantly from his pocket and cast it down before the food lord. Lucas snatched it up, looked at it carefully, and then broke into a laugh.
“So that’s the kind of subordinates I have, eh? Poor work, Mr. Sidney, dreadfully poor work. Your mind certainly wasn’t on your business when you committed this blunder.” He turned to Keen as he spoke and went on frankly: “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t consider your case for a moment, for it’s a belief of mine that when a man has worked himself up to a position as high as Honorable, he should be allowed a certain amount of liberty with the laws, as a reward for his services. But when a man makes the mistake of growing absentminded during business hours, and makes such a blunder as this, the time has come when somebody else must take his place.”
He rang a bell as he spoke and said to the secretary, who appeared almost at once: “Get Hanip Sidney on the phone.” The secretary nodded and disappeared, and in a moment, a telepan on the wall glowed, showing a picture of the familiar home of Manhattan’s Food Controller. The room, however was empty, and the voice of the autophone was heard exclaiming: “Mr. Sidney has left to make a report to the Magnate. He will return at two o’clock.”
“On his way here, eh?” muttered Lucas, “Well, let him come. We’ll see what he has to say for himself. I can stand for anything but inefficiency, but, by Hanner, I won’t stand for that! And while we’re waiting, I suppose you’d like to screen your sweetheart and tell her the good news that she‘ll soon be out of that chap house, wouldn’t you?
Keen assented eagerly, and in a moment, the Magnate had had a connection made with the Madison Chap House and Keen saw the harsh features of the matron in charge. But when Lucas asked to be connected with Doris Moder, the matron looked at him in amazed surprise.
“Moder isn’t here anymore, Sir,” she said hesitatingly, “She left not more than twenty minutes ago with the Honorable Hanip Sidney. Hr. Sidney had a transfer for her, to Paterson Chap House, Sir.”
With a burst of profane invective that would have done credit to a rocketeer, the Food Magnate switched off the Chap house and rang for his secretary. The news of Sidney’s new action seemed to have galvanized him into astonishingly rapid action.
“Was Hanip Sidney here any time this morning, Kagen?“ he barked, and the secretary nodded hesitatingly in the affirmative.
“He came about half an hour ago, sir. He asked me with whom you were speaking, and I explained and told him the name of this man. After that, he left quite hurriedly.“
“And flew to Madison Chap house, with the crazy idea of abducting Moder, in his own fashion! Lost his head completely, the poor fool.”
Again the string of expletives broke from the lips of the little man, and he turned to his desk to dial another number on his telepan. In a moment he had the Traffic Bureau of the Transportation Industry and was shouting staccato questions at the clerk in charge. Keen watched the dynamic figure in amazement, his respect for Lucas’s efficiency growing momentarily greater. Io wonder this man had risen to be the greatest figure in America. .
In a moment, it seemed, Lucas had obtained the necessary information.
“Sidney left, not ten minutes ago, gig the Hudson traffic lane. Hudson reports him as saying he was taking an insane relative of his to a hospital in Montreal. Montreal, phooey He has a summer home in Columbia, and I’ll bet a thousand eagles that we’ll find him there. Kagen!” he bellowed through the open door, and the secretary once more appeared.
“Kagen” Lucas want on, hardly stopping for breath, “Charter a fast plane and take Emet Keen up to Hanip Sidney’s lodge in Columbia. You know, the old hunting lodge that I sold him, year before last. You know where it is. Keen, go on up there and get your girl and tell her you’re both pardoned. I’ll see that you’re given your proper ratings when you get back. And about Sidney, Keen. I give you carte blanche,” and as Keen and Kagen, inspired by his breathless haste, dashed through the doer, he called out after them: “Get that, Keen, carte blanche!”
Followed closely by Keen, Kagen took the steps to the roof two at a time, leaped into the helicopter which stood there, and pulling Keen in after him, hurled it into the air. A few minutes later, he dropped it to the roof of the Facade and, springing out, began shouting at once for a plane. A speedy little machine of the moth type was provided at once and while it was being filled with fuel, Kagen excused himself and in a moment returned with a pair of radio guns, the same weapons that had thrown a charge of electricity around Keen when he was captured and which he had called a ”radio lasso”.
“Sidney has evidently become panic-stricken,” he explained, “There’s no telling how dangerous he’ll be, if we find him. We might just as well be prepared for anything.”
He handed one of the guns to Keen as he spoke, and stowing the other in his pocket, he climbed into the plane. Keen followed and at once the plane swung into the air and headed north.
As Keen watched the city flying by beneath him, he found time to wonder at the amazing actions of Sidney, during the last four or five hours. The Food Controller was quite evidently beside himself with fear. The news that Keen had obtained an interview with Lucas had apparently come after many days of worry that had begun when Doris defied him and went to a Chap house rather than become his bride. To the Food Controller, the fact that Keen had an interview with Lucas had been proof that he had some evidence against him. And so Sidney had fled and in fleeing, had committed one more blunder in attempting to take Doris with him.
Could Keen have seen the Honorable Hanip Sidney as he taxied his plane to a stop on the little landing field in front of his lodge in the woods, he would have realized that his speculations were indeed true. all the confidence, all the smug self-esteem was gone from the little man; he was panic-stricken to a degree that would have seemed impossible to anyone who was not a keen judge of human nature. Doris Moder, sitting mute in the cockpit in front of him, knew quite well that she was dealing with a manmade dangerous by fear, and she governed herself accordingly. Not once, by word or gesture, did she reveal that she was watching her chance to , circumvent him; no, to all appearances she was as frightened of him as he was of the justice that he thought he was leaving behind. Even when he gestured for her to get out of the plane and, at the point of an automatic pistol, forced her to go into the house, she did not rebel, but meekly obeyed him, watching every minute for the chance that she hoped would come.
Sidney locked her in a room and returned to the plane, and it was while he has steering it into a hangar that he noticed the other plane hovering far above. He leaped from his own machine and streaked for the house and when Kagen and Keen dashed up to the door, a few minutes later, it was to find it bolted and no signs of life about the place. But Sidney’s plane, standing in front of the hangar, convinced them that the man was within and they drew apart from the house for a conference to decide on how they should force an entrance.
Sidney watched them from within, noted their hesitation and smiled a crafty smile. He was again beginning to have confidence in himself; the comparative safety of the house and the fact that no one could approach it without exposing themselves to the danger of being shot gave him an exaggerated sense of his own security. All his life, Sidney had lived in the safe security of the city, and as a matter of fact, had never before so much as attempted to fire at a moving target, but he held the belief usual among men ignorant of firearms, that it is only necessary to point in the general direction of an object and fire, in order to score a hit.
Then, too, he held the whip hand, he thought, in that he held a hostage. The two without might have conceivably attempted to starve him out or to burn the building, had not Doris been safely locked in that rear room. The Honorable Hanip Sidney was beginning to have quite a favorable opinion of himself as a thorough-going villain. He patted his revolver and glanced out at the two men who still huddled close to their plane, down by the hangar. Mr. Sidney drew himself up to his full height and laughed a melodramatic laugh.
“Richard is himself again!“ he said, with a chuckle, quoting from his favorite play, and in an excess of bravado, fired a shot in the general direction of Kagen and Keen. The two instantly disappeared behind the plane and Sidney laughed again. He raised the gun and waved it above his head- - and his hand was suddenly seized in two firm small ones that in a moment had wrenched the automatic from him and had him covered. He whirled about and uttered a cry of dismay as he realized that it was Doris Moder that had stolen up behind him.
“But- - but I thought I locked you in that room- -“ he whined, his bravado melting like a snow-ball before a fire, “I locked you in that room, you know!”
Doris laughed. “You locked one of the doors, yes. he you know so little about your own house that you don’t know there is a connecting door that opens into the other bed room? I was out of that room almost as soon as you put me into it!”
“I didn’t know,“ wailed Sidney, “I didn’t know. I’ve only been here once before. I only bought this place a year or two ago.”
Doris waited to hear no more; she curtly ordered him out of the house and in a moment the two men without were amazed to see Sidney emerge from the door, his hands in the air, followed immediately by the determined girl.
She marched him down to the hangar, turned the gun over to Keen, and then leaned wearily against the plane. Keen smiled grimly, handed the gun to Kagen and whispered as he did so: “Get her into the plane, Kagen. I’ll be ready to leave in about ten minutes. wait for me here,” then, turning to Sidney, he barked suddenly and fiercely, “You! You come around to the back of the house with me!” and as Sidney hesitated, he grasped him roughly by the back of the collar and hustled him out of sight around the corner of the building.
With a broad smile on his lips, Kagen assisted Doris into the plane, sat her in the most comfortable seat, and then, noticing the questioning leak in her eyes, recounted briefly the adventures that Teen and he had met with that day.
As he finished his story, keen appeared from behind the lodge and climbed into the plane. “Well, let’s get back to New York, Kagen,” he said, and in a moment, the plane was rising and leaving the hunting lodge and Hanip Sidney far below.
“Did you hurt him much?” asked Doris, hesitatingly, after a few moments of silence.
“Oh, no! Not much,” answered Keen, smiling, and then, as he blew on the bruised and tender knuckles of his right hand: “Well, no so very much.”