The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories (40 page)

BOOK: The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories
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“But we’re going on,” Edwin Fermeti, Tozzo’s superior, said above the clamor. “We’ve already got the volunteers.”
“Also from Nachbaren Slager?” Tozzo asked. Naturally the prisoners there would volunteer; their lifespan at the camp was no more than five or six years. And if this flight to Proxima were successful, the men aboard would obtain their freedom. They would not have to return to any of the five inhabited planets within the Sol System.
“Why does it matter where they originate?” Fermeti said smoothly.
Tozzo said, “Our effort should be directed toward improving the U.S. Department of Penology, instead of trying to reach other stars.” He had a sudden urge to resign his position with the Emigration Bureau and go into politics as a reform candidate.
Later, as he sat at the breakfast table, his wife patted him sympathetically on the arm. “Aaron, you haven’t been able to solve it yet, have you?”
“No,” he admitted shortly. “And now I don’t even care.” He did not tell her about the other ship loads of convicts which had fruitlessly been expended; it was forbidden to discuss that with anyone not employed by a department of the Government.
“Could they be re-entering on their own?”
“No. Because mass was lost here, in the Sol System. To re-enter they have to obtain equal mass back, to replace it. That’s the whole point.” Exasperated, he sipped his tea and ignored her. Women, he thought. Attractive but not bright. “They need mass back,” he repeated. “Which would be fine if they were making a round trip, I suppose. But this is an attempt to colonize; it’s not a guided tour that returns to its point of origin.”
“How long does it take them to reach Proxima?” Leonore asked. “All reduced like that, to an inch high.”
“About four years.”
Her eyes grew large. “That’s marvelous.”
Grumbling at her, Tozzo pushed his chair back from the table and rose. I wish they’d take her, he said to himself, since she imagines it’s so marvelous. But Leonore would be too smart to volunteer.
Leonore said softly, “Then I was right. The Bureau
has
sent people. You as much as admitted it just now.”
Flushing, Tozzo said, “Don’t tell anybody; none of your female friends especially. Or it’s my job.” He glared at her.
On that hostile note, he set off for the Bureau.

 

As Tozzo unlocked his office door, Edwin Fermeti hailed him. “You think Donald Nils is somewhere on a planet circling Proxima at this very moment?” Nils was a notorious murderer who had volunteered for one of the Bureau’s flights. “I wonder—maybe he’s carrying around a lump of sugar five times his size.”
“Not really very funny,” Tozzo said.
Fermeti shrugged. “Just hoping to relieve the pessimism. I think we’re all getting discouraged.” He followed Tozzo into his office. “Maybe we should volunteer ourselves for the next flight.” It sounded almost as if he meant it, and Tozzo glanced quickly at him. “Joke,” Fermeti said.
“One more flight,” Tozzo said, “and if it fails, I resign.”
“I’ll tell you something,” Fermeti said. “We have a new tack.” Now Tozzo’s co-worker Craig Gilly had come sauntering up. To the two men, Fermeti said, “We’re going to try using pre-cogs in obtaining our formula for re-entry.” His eyes flickered as he saw their reaction.
Astonished, Gilly said, “But all the pre-cogs are dead. Destroyed by Presidential order twenty years ago.”
Tozzo, impressed, said, “He’s going to dip back into the past to obtain a pre-cog. Isn’t that right, Fermeti?”
“We will, yes,” his superior said, nodding. “Back to the golden age of pre-cognition. The twentieth century.”
For a moment Tozzo was puzzled. And then he remembered. During the first half of the twentieth century so many pre-cogs—people with the ability to read the future—had come into existence that an organized guild had been formed with branches in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Pennsylvania. This group of pre-cogs, all knowing one another, had put out a number of periodicals which had flourished for several decades. Boldly and openly, the members of the pre-cog guild had proclaimed in their writings their knowledge of the future. And yet—as a whole, their society had paid little attention to them.
Tozzo said slowly, “Let me get this straight. You mean you’re going to make use of the Department of Archaeology’s time-dredges to scoop up a famous pre-cog of the past?”
Nodding, Fermeti said, “And bring him here to help us, yes.”
“But how can he help us? He would have no knowledge of our future, only of his own.”
Fermeti said, “The Library of Congress has already given us access to its virtually complete collection of pre-cog journals of the twentieth century.” He smiled crookedly at Tozzo and Gilly, obviously enjoying the situation. “It’s my hope—and my expectation—that among this great body of writings we will find an article
specifically dealing with our re-entry problem.
The chances, statistically speaking, are quite good … they wrote about innumerable topics of future civilization, as you know.”
After a pause, Gilly said, “Very clever. I think your idea may solve our problem. Speed-of-light travel to other star systems may yet become a possibility.”
Sourly, Tozzo said, “Hopefully, before we run out of convicts.” But he, too, liked his superior’s idea. And, in addition, he looked forward to seeing face to face one of the famous twentieth century pre-cogs. Theirs had been one brief, glorious period—sadly, long since ended.
Or not so brief, if one dated it as starting with Jonathan Swift, rather than with H. G. Wells. Swift had written of the two moons of Mars and their unusual orbital characteristics years before telescopes had proved their existence. And so today there was a tendency in the textbooks to include him.
II
It took the computers at the Library of Congress only a short while to scan the brittle, yellowed volumes, article by article, and to select the sole contribution dealing with deprivation of mass and restoration as the modus operandi of interstellar space travel. Einstein’s formula that as an object increased its velocity its mass increased proportionally had been so fully accepted, so completely unquestioned, that no one in the twentieth century had paid any attention to the particular article, which had been put in print in August of 1955 in a pre-cog journal called
If.
In Fermeti’s office, Tozzo sat beside his superior as the two of them pored over the photographic reproduction of the journal. The article was titled
Night Flight,
and it ran only a few thousand words. Both men read it avidly, neither speaking until they had finished.
“Well?” Fermeti said, when they had come to the end.
Tozzo said, “No doubt of it. That’s our Project, all right. A lot is garbled; for instance he calls the Emigration Bureau ‘Outward, Incorporated,’ and believes it to be a private commercial firm.” He referred to the text. “It’s really uncanny, though. You’re obviously this character, Edmond Fletcher; the names are similar but still a little off, as is everything else. And I’m Alison Torelli.” He shook his head admiringly. “Those pre-cogs … having a mental image of the future that was always askew and yet in the main—”
“In the main correct,” Fermeti finished. “Yes, I agree. This
Night Flight
article definitely deals with us and the Bureau’s Project… herein called
Waterspider,
because it has to be done in one great leap. Good lord, that would have been a perfect name, had we thought of it. Maybe we can still call it that.”
Tozzo said slowly, “But the pre-cog who wrote
Night Flight
… in no place does he actually give the formula for mass-restoration or even for mass-deprivation. He just simply says that ‘we have it.’ ” Taking the reproduction of the journal, he read aloud from the article:

 

Difficulty in restoring mass to the ship and its passengers at the termination of the flight had proved a stumbling block for Torelli and his team of researchers and yet they had at last proved successful. After the fateful implosion of the Sea Scout, the initial ship to—

 

“And that’s all,” Tozzo said. “So what good does it do us? Yes, this pre-cog experienced our present situation a hundred years ago—
but he left out the technical details.”
There was silence.
At last Fermeti said thoughtfully, “That doesn’t mean he didn’t
know
the technical data. We know today that the others in his guild were very often trained scientists.” He examined the biographical report. “Yes, while not actually using his pre-cog ability he worked as a chicken-fat analyst for the University of California.”
“Do you still intend to use the time-dredge to bring him up to the present?”
Fermeti nodded. “I only wish the dredge worked both ways. If it could be used with the future, not the past, we could avoid having to jeopardize the safety of this pre-cog—” He glanced down at the article. “This Poul Anderson.”
Chilled, Tozzo said, “What hazard is there?”
“We may not be able to return him to his own time. Or—” Fermeti paused. “We might lose part of him along the way, wind up with only half of him. The dredge has bisected many objects before.”
“And this man isn’t a convict at Nachbaren Slager,” Tozzo said. “So you don’t have that rationale to fall back on.”
Fermeti said suddenly, “We’ll do it properly. We’ll reduce the jeopardy by sending a team of men back to that time, back to 1954. They can apprehend this Poul Anderson and see that
all of him
gets into the time-dredge, not merely the top half or the left side.”
So it had been decided. The Department of Archaeology’s time-dredge would go back to the world of 1954 and pick up the pre-cog Poul Anderson; there was nothing further to discuss.

 

Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Archaeology showed that in September of 1954 Poul Anderson had been living in Berkeley, California, on Grove Street. In that month he had attended a top-level meeting of pre-cogs from all over the United States at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco. It was probable that there, in that meeting, basic policy for the next year had been worked out, with Anderson, and other experts, participating.
“It’s really very simple,” Fermeti explained to Tozzo and Gilly. “A pair of men will go back. They will be provided with forged identification showing them to be part of the nation-wide pre-cog organization… squares of cellophane-enclosed paper which are pinned to the coat lapel. Naturally, they will be wearing twentieth century garments. They will locate Poul Anderson, single him out and draw him off to one side.”
“And tell him what?” Tozzo said skeptically.
“That they represent an unlicensed amateur pre-cog organization in Battlecreek, Michigan, and that they have constructed an amusing vehicle built to resemble a time-travel dredge of the future. They will ask Mr. Anderson, who was actually quite famous in his time, to pose by their humbug dredge, and then they will ask for a shot of him within. Our research shows that, according to his contemporaries, Anderson was mild and easy-going, and also that at these yearly top-strategy assemblies he often became convivial enough to enter into the mood of optimism generated by his fellow pre-cogs.”
Tozzo said, “You mean he sniffed what they called ‘airplane dope’? He was a ‘glue-sniffer’?”
With a faint smile, Fermeti said, “Hardly. That was a mania among adolescents and did not become widespread in fact until a decade later. No, I am speaking about imbibing alcohol.”
“I see,” Tozzo said, nodding.
Fermeti continued, “In the area of difficulties, we must cope with the fact that at this top-secret session, Anderson brought along his wife Karen, dressed as a Maid of Venus in gleaming breast-cups, short skirt and helmet, and that he also brought their new-born daughter Astrid. Anderson himself did not wear any disguise for purposes of concealing his identity. He had no anxieties, being a quite stable person, as were most twentieth century pre-cogs.
“However, during the discussion periods between formal sessions, the pre-cogs, minus their wives, circulating about, playing poker and arguing, some of them it is said stoning one another—”
“Stoning?”
“Or, as it was put, becoming stoned. In any case, they gathered in small groups in the antechambers of the hotel, and it is at such an occasion that we expect to nab him. In the general hubbub his disappearance would not be noted. We would expect to return him to that exact time, or at least no more than a few hours later or earlier… preferably not earlier because
two
Poul Andersons at the meeting might prove awkward.”
Tozzo, impressed, said, “Sounds foolproof.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Fermeti said tartly, “because you will be one of the team sent.”
Pleased, Tozzo said, “Then I had better get started learning the details of life in the mid twentieth century.” He picked up another issue of
If.
This one, May of 1971, had interested him as soon as he had seen it. Of course, this issue would not be known yet to the people of 1954 … but eventually they would see it. And once having seen it they would never forget it…
Ray Bradbury’s first textbook to be serialized, he realized as he examined the journal.
The Fisher of Men,
it was called, and in it the great Los Angeles pre-cog had anticipated the ghastly Gutmanist political revolution which was to sweep the inner planets. Bradbury had warned against Gutman, but the warning had gone—of course—unheeded. Now Gutman was dead and the fanatical supporters had dwindled to the status of random terrorists. But had the world listened to Bradbury—
“Why the frown?” Fermeti asked him. “Don’t you want to go?”
“Yes,” Tozzo said thoughtfully. “But it’s a terrible responsibility. These are no ordinary men.”
“That is certainly the truth,” Fermeti said, nodding.
III
Twenty-four hours later, Aaron Tozzo stood surveying himself in his mid twentieth century clothing and wondering if Anderson would be deceived, if he actually could be duped into entering the dredge.
BOOK: The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories
5.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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