- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
As the jet approached the Dallas -- Fort Worth Regional Airport, Paul Swenson saw the nearest of the circular loops which made up the huge, monotonously efficient structure. There were thirteen circles, although Paul could not see them all from his seat, each of them more than a mile in circumference, each containing six sub-terminals, stretched in a row across the Texas plain. The circular loops were connected by a spine running through their centers; a row of roads connecting the airport with Dallas and Fort Worth.
The airport had been designed for ease, with decentralized terminals and underground trains linking the loops. It had one purpose -- to move passengers in and out as quickly as possible. Paul remembered the brown concrete and unending repetition of the structure, the same no matter where one turned, and he wondered who would care to linger. The architect had made no aesthetic concessions. Yet from the air it was still an awesome sight, giant hieroglyphics carved out of the brown dusty land.
"I still think I'm right, Paul," Morris Chang muttered. Paul glanced at his young companion. Chang slouched in his seat, running a hand through red hair that contrasted sharply with his dark almond-shaped eyes. "I just gave my paper too soon. I may not have all the evidence I need but I feel as though I'm close to the truth." He stared ahead glumly.
Paul had been listening to these comments, with slight variations, ever since their sub-orbital flight from Brussels. When they had transferred to the local jet at the Kennedy Space Center, Chang had lapsed into silence, then began ordering double scotches from the stewardess afew minutes after takeoff. Paul had finally persuaded his friend to have some coffee. Chang's sober depression was a contrast to the alcoholic gaiety he had displayed throughout most of their flight, a gaiety cut short by a husky steward about an hour ago.
The jet began to circle over one of the loops below.
"I think Irina Rostova was the one who actually finished me," Chang said. "I just couldn't handle her questions. After that I was too demoralized to answer anyone else's."
"Look, Morris, this was your first time, giving a paper before a group like this. Rostova's been going to these conferences for years. She knows how to find the holes in anyone's work. A valuable function, I suppose, but I have yet to see her present anything of her own that isn't trivial. She never risks the kind of treatment she hands out to other astrophysicists."
"I don't know," Chang said sadly. Paul sighed. He had encouraged the young man to present his paper. Chang was working out a theory of stellar evolution that would account for and include pulsars, quasi-stellar objects, "black holes," and other such phenomena.
"Look," Paul said, trying to cheer his friend up, "you're working out something pretty important and difficult. You'll patch up the holes, I have no doubt about that. I told you how excited Marcus was. He'll be writing to you about some of the problems, he thinks he can help. You know perfectly well you were ready to present the outline of your theory. You're just upset because you're not used to giving papers yet."
"You're probably right," Chang looked a little happier.
Paul remembered a similar conference twenty years ago. He had been twenty-nine, Chang's age, ready to present his first important paper to an international gathering of scientists. His paper had also been greeted with some skepticism. He had started to succumb to his nervousness and fear, regaining his confidence only when Eviane began to defend him strenuously, buzzing furiously at the others in the room.
The thought of Eviane draped a shroud of sadness over Paul. She had been dead for almost six years and he still could not accept that fact. Even now he would find himself turning in his seat, expecting to find her next to him. He would begin to speak to her and then remember that she was gone.
He had met Eviane when they were both twenty-eight. He was working at Mount Palomar and had just arrived at the observatory, anxious to use every minute of his alloted time. There was no one in the observatory except a tiny blonde who looked about sixteen years old. He wondered what had happened to his assistant.
The blonde girl was pacing in front of a desk, chewing on her nails. She stopped and looked at Paul speculatively. Her eyes should be blue, he thought. Instead they were as black as the nighttime skies.
"I wish they allowed smoking in here," she said loudly. "I'm having a fit. Are you Swenson?"
"Yes, I'm waiting for my assistant. I was told someone would be here to help with my observations."
"I know. I'm the assistant."
Paul tried not to look surprised.
"All right, Swenson," she went on, "I know you didn't expect a ball of blonde fluff here but that's what you've got. I have a degree in mathematics, I have a doctorate in astrophysics, I've published a couple of papers. Maybe you read them. I'm Eviane Fosserier." She glared at him defensively. "I knew a guy once who said he couldn't take people under five feet, two inches seriously, they were just too damned small. I hope you're not like him."
He was feeling a bit ashamed of his six-foot height. "I didn't say anything," he said.
"You were thinking it, Swenson. Let's get to work. We're wasting time."
He had married her three months later. They had always worked together, combining their abilities. They had criticized and advised each other even when working on separate projects. There had been no room for children in their life, and Paul never regretted it until Eviane died. Now he had nothing of her except her papers and his memories.
She was a small bird, fluttering nervously through the rooms of their house, obsessive in her desire to organize her nest, always coming to rest in his arms. Don't ever fly from me, Eviane. But she had at last, stricken by a peculiar disease that would not allow her to absorb the nutrients her small body needed. She had grown thinner and weaker, unable to sustain herself. She had weighed only forty-eight pounds at her death.
Time, Paul thought, is supposed to make these things easier to bear, soothe the pain. Time had not worked for him, just as it had never eroded his feelings for Eviane during her lifetime.
The jet approached its runway and began to land, a giant metal eagle shrieking for its prey.
"So what are your plans for the immediate future?" Chang asked.
"I thought that I'd just take the train to Dallas and get a hotel room. I think I can use some rest before I head home."
"Rest!" Chang chuckled. "You must be suffering from time lag. Don't you know what tonight is?"
"No, at least I don't think..." Paul paused. "Wait a minute, it's New Year's Eve, isn't it?"
"New Year's Eve, 1999," Chang said. "I just want to head home and lock my doors. I sure wouldn't want to be in Dallas."
"I don't know how I could have forgotten." Paul looked at the other man. "Do you really think it'll be that bad? I mean, I know New Year's Eve isn't exactly quiet, but I figured I could lock myself in and ignore it."
"Well, Paul, I don't know how it is in your Midwest, but Dallas has been close to hysteria recently. It was like that when I left after Christmas. After all, this isn't just New Year's. This is a new millenium."
"Properly speaking, the new millenium doesn't start until next year."
"Try telling that to the Apocalyptics, or the ones who expect to see Christ reappear." Morris Chang sighed. "I'd better put you up at my place. We can ride the local train through Dallas and you can catch your train tomorrow."
"I don't want to put you to any trouble."
"It's no trouble. Joanne would love to meet you."
"All right. I suppose you know what you're talking about." Chang lived outside Dallas in a security-conscious suburb. Armed guards patrolled the community and no one could enter without a resident or guest pass. Paul had never felt at ease in such places, knowing that their very existence was an admission of social failure. Many potential disrupters were shut out, but the citizens were also shut in. He had seen them glancing fearfully at every strange face that passed through their streets. Such carefully guarded suburbs were luxurious garrison states.
The jet had landed. Paul unfastened his seat belt and straightened his suit. Chang's talk about the Apocalyptics had reminded him of his discussion with Hidehiko Takamura before leaving for Brussels. Hidey Takamura had been insistent. He would have to make a decision soon.
For now he put Hidey out of his mind and prepared to leave the jet.
Ideally, there should have been no waiting at the Dallas -- Fort Worth Regional Airport. One had only to walk about a hundred feet from the plane to the terminal, pick up one's luggage, and walk another hundred feet to an underground magneto-train station.
In fact, Paul and Morris had to wait an hour before even getting their luggage. The detachable baggage compartment of the jet was malfunctioning and at last a repair crew had managed to wheel it over to the terminal. Plane travel was becoming less comfortable and efficient. The airlines were now competing with magnetically suspended high-speed trains. Once the technical problems involved in their development had been solved, and the government had begun to subsidize the railroads heavily, the airlines had started to lose passengers. Air transport companies were now concentrating on sub-orbital flight, uncomfortable but fast, and space vehicles. For travel over land, the trains were as rapid as jets, and more pleasant.
When Paul and Morris finally boarded their train, it was crowded and Paul was beginning to feel hunger pangs. They found seats and placed their suitcases in an overhead rack.
"What time is it, Morris?"
"Almost eight. I was hoping we'd be enjoying supper by now, but..." Chang shrugged.
Paul settled back in his seat and relaxed. The train hurtled soundlessly through its tunnel, levitated magnetically over the tracks.
He found himself thinking again about Hidey Takamura's proposed project. Hidey, a geneticist, had long been chafing under the restrictions of the moratorium on genetic engineering. Hidey's field was not the only one affected; the twenty-year moratorium on certain types of scientific research, put into effect by committees of scientists working with the United Nations, applied to other fields as well. But the biological scientists had been the focus of most of the hysteria and fear people felt, so they were under more stringent regulations. By 1980, there was a moratorium on almost all genetic research.
Paul remembered the arguments made by those who had desired the moratorium. An analogy had been drawn between the biological sciences and nuclear physics and a question posed: why wait until the biological equivalent of an atomic bomb was developed before doing something? Why not prevent its occurrence? Biology presented a threat to human society and evolution far greater than that of atomic weapons. It might enslave people or alter them beyond recognition. If used foolishly, biological engineering might set humanity on an evolutionary path leading it to extinction.
More moderate voices had argued for the continued use of techniques already discovered before the moratorium. The committees had agreed that there was no sense in outlawing such developments. One of those allowed was an ectogenetic chamber, an "artificial womb" which could nourish a fetus until birth. It was used only in cases of grave need, for women who could not survive a normal pregnancy or who bore premature children. Artificial insemination was still practiced, but limited now to very few people so as to prevent overpopulation. Synthetic viruses, injected into fetuses carrying hemophilia, diabetes, sickle-cell anemia or certain other genetic ailments, could alter the genetic messages carried by such embryos. They would no longer develop the disease or pass it on to future generations. These techniques, and some others, were acceptable. They treated already existing conditions. That was all right. It was the prospect of intervention at the start, the possibility of deciding what kind of people to produce, that was frightening. None of these discoveries had been pushed any further in the past twenty years. No new discoveries had been made. Experimentation with humans and in some countries fetuses had been banned.
Many biologists had argued against the restrictions in vain. Others, who had already decided not to pursue certain experiments on their own, remained silent. Governments, Paul knew, had been meticulous in supporting the restrictions. As long as one country did not experiment, others would not feel pressured to do the same. No government wanted to risk losing the hard-won gains of the past several years, not when the world had achieved an uneasy peace and a more even distribution of wealth. No government wanted society vastly altered. Everyone, it seemed, wanted more time at least to consider the issues.
The moratorium, however, had done more than simply halt experimentation. It had deprived the world of thousands of talented biologists. Funds for research dried up. Talented scientists who wanted to push beyond the present boundaries of human knowledge went into other fields where restrictions were either less severe or nonexistent. Almost the only biologists left were medical technicians and physicians, who used the allowed techniques, teachers, who often lost their most promising students to other disciplines, and laboratory workers.
And Paul could only guess at how many millions of unfortunate or diseased individuals existed whose suffering might have been prevented had research been allowed.
But with the beginning of the new year and the new millenium, the moratorium would expire, at least temporarily. Hidey had been preparing for this for quite a while. If Paul would cooperate, Hidey would make his move.
Hidey Takamura was familiar with embryology as well as genetics and specialized in cloning. He had cloned several types of animals, allowed under the moratorium, helping in the restoration of a few endangered species.
But Hidey wanted to clone a human being. The moratorium was running out. He had to move fast, in case the ban was reimposed. He needed a donor of genetic material.
Paul considered Hidey's motives. There was no doubt that his old friend meant what he had said, that he must find out if he could accomplish the task and what the results would be. It was a matter of advancing scientific knowledge. Yet Paul knew Hidey also wanted to be first, to become a scientific immortal.
"Why me?" Paul had asked when the project had first been suggested to him. "There are plenty of people who would be more valuable, who have more to offer than I do."
"That's one reason right there," Hidey said. "Because you ask that question. I don't want an egomaniac, and I'm afraid that's what many gifted people are. You're a brilliant and compassionate man. You're aware of your faults as well as your gifts. I've known you for more than thirty years and I've seen how you act in different situations. You are also, unlike others, capable in many fields. Your popular texts on biology and chemistry are better than anything I've seen, even ones written by specialists. You have a natural talent for music which you don't have time to explore fully. I've even seen those poems you hide from almost everyone else. People like you are limited only by the fact that they have one lifetime. Imagine what five or six Paul Swensons could do."
"I think you're wrong there," Paul replied. "If you have a group of Paul Swensons, I don't see why they wouldn't do what I've done. The fact that they're exactly alike might also affect them badly. They might have my temperament, and you know how moody and depressed I can get."
"You're thoughtful," Hidey said. "Any thoughtful person is liable to feel depressed, even suicidal at times. And I grant you that if we were cloning a narrow talent, we might wind up with people who would needlessly duplicate each other's efforts. But with a person of diverse talents, such as yourself, we might wind up with people who could put each talent to its maximum use."
"Still, there's a reason why I chose the field I did. I felt that's where my best abilities lay. A clone would feel the same."
"Well, let's see. We won't know unless we try. Genetic inheritance is like clay. You're limited by it, but there's also a lot you can do with it. Your environment influences you. You make choices. I've seen artists make things I didn't think could be made with clay and I've seen people do things that seemed far beyond the abilities nature gave them. Your clone would at least start out with some damned good clay. You're proven material."
Paul still felt dubious about the project. Maybe he was not as immune to the hysteria around him as he believed. Why me, he thought again.
"I don't want unnecessary flak," Hidey continued. "I know I'm going to get some grief. I can minimize it using you. You're the man who laid the theoretical groundwork for a star drive and there are more than a few whose only knowledge of science came from your books. You're a symbol of hope to many, you're admired. If I'm going to clone anybody, it might as well be you. Maybe those clones will continue your work and get us to other stars."
"Cheer up. Things aren't that bad," Morris Chang said, startling Paul.
He grinned at the younger man. "Well, I'm glad to see you're feeling better, Morris. For a while there, I thought astrophysics would lose you to a whiskey bottle."
"Now that I'm away from that conference, all I want to do is get back to work."
"You'd better. My star-drive hypothesis would fit very nicely under your theory's umbrella, and I'd rather have it there than out in the rain with all the other anomalies."
Suddenly the train hummed to a halt.
"What's this?" Paul asked, looking at Chang. "I thought this train didn't stop until we got to Dallas."
"Please remain seated," a trembling voice said over the train's speaker system. "There will be a temporary delay. Please remain seated."
"This isn't my day," Paul said. "First the jet and now this." He sighed. There was no sense in being impatient. He could do nothing about the delay. He began to look around at his fellow passengers.
Someone nudged him from behind. He turned in his seat and found himself staring at a bony, intense-looking young man.
"It's started already," the young man said. His moist brown eyes flickered, then settled into a steady gaze. "We may sit down here forever, buried from the sight of God."
"What do you mean?" Chang asked as he turned around also.
"Everything is running down," the man whispered. "By midnight it will have stopped. The dead will be resurrected. What a sight! I don't want to sit down here, I'll miss it all. By the time we're called to judgment, we'll have missed the whole thing."
The train hummed softly for an instant and crept forward slowly. "Well," Paul said, trying to smile, "it hasn't quite stopped yet."
"It will," the young man said. "You had better prepare your soul for judgment." He stared at Paul intently.
Paul was not certain whether the young man was an Apocalyptic or one of those who expected Christ to reappear, but it was hardly a crucial distinction. He was uneasy in any case.
"This train's moving pretty damned slowly," Chang muttered. "At this rate, we'll be lucky if we get to my house before ten or so. I'd better call Joanne at the Dallas station."
"I think we'd be better off staying on the train," Paul replied. "The one behind us is probably moving just as slowly."
"You'd both be better off if you started praying," said the young man behind them.
The train was approaching one of the stations on the outskirts of Dallas. Normally it would have passed this station, but it began to slow down once again.
Paul looked out the window at the platform outside. A group of soldiers holding stun guns was standing near the train. A small crowd milled around behind them.
"Clear the tracks," someone shouted through a loudspeaker. "Clear the tracks, or you'll be placed under arrest. Clear the tracks."
"They're holding up the train," a young girl across the aisle from Paul shouted. "Let's go see." The girl and two boys hurried into the next car, running toward the front of the train.
"Clear the tracks," the loudspeaker shouted again.
"Jesus Christ is coming," a female voice cried out over another loudspeaker. "Pray for your souls, brothers and sisters, the Lord is coming!" Paul looked around the train and saw the young man behind him and a woman in the back of the car on their knees. When he looked back out the window, he saw the soldiers dragging a few people along the platform.
Apparently the track had been cleared, because the train began to move once more. The platform disappeared and Paul again saw the dark tunnels around the train. "It looks," he said to Chang, "as though things are getting an early start."
Chang did not reply. The train was moving rapidly now, although not at the one-hundred-and-fifty-mile-an-hour speed that had brought it to the city.
It seemed only a few minutes later as the train pulled into the main Dallas station. There were a large number of soldiers on the platform outside. Several people got up from their seats.
"Attention, all passengers," a voice said over the speaker system. "Attention. If you're leaving Dallas, you must transfer to the elevated train in station D, two floors above. Other passengers must use the locals at stations M and N. Do not go to the station E monorail, the station E monorail is out of service. Underground trains won't leave Dallas for another two hours. Our apologies for the delay. Thank you."
"Come on, Paul," Chang said as he stood up. Both men followed other passengers outside. They pushed through the crowd over to the side of one soldier, a husky young man with a handlebar moustache. "Excuse me," Chang shouted at the soldier, "but can you tell me what's going on?"
"Goddamn Apocs. They're in the tunnels, holdin' up trains." Chang turned and Paul followed his friend through the crowd. They hurried up a flight of stairs to a large lobby. In the middle of the room, Paul saw a small group of people on their knees.
"I don't want to die," a voice near Paul cried. He twisted around and found a stocky dark-haired woman clutching at his arm. "I don't want to die." Her brown eyes were wide with hysteria.
"You're not going to die," he said to her. He felt helpless, wondering what he could do.
"Come on," Chang shouted. He grabbed Paul and pulled him away from the woman.
Paul followed him through the lobby to another flight of stairs. They climbed them as rapidly as the mob of passengers would allow. As they reached the top, Paul could see people pushing their way into the elevated train. He and Chang managed to board it just as the doors were closing.
They were standing in the first car of the train. It was packed with people, standing and sitting. Paul knew that he would not find a seat in any other car. He put down his suitcase and leaned against one of the seats. He and Morris were close to the front of the car and Paul watched as the engineer climbed into his cab. Although the train was run automatically, an engineer was always on board in case of an emergency, a practice Paul usually regarded as needless featherbedding. But he was glad to have the man on board tonight.
He looked around and noticed that some soldiers had boarded the train. One of the soldiers, a tall slender woman in a white helmet, remained in the front car while the others dispersed. She spoke to the conductor, then started to push her way to the engineer's cab. As she shoved past Paul, her leg jostled his suitcase. Her blue eyes glared at him.
"Get this thing out of the aisle. There's room up by the cab." Paul picked up the suitcase and followed her, with Morris right behind him. The train began to move forward. Paul rested against the cab and glanced out the front window at the tracks. Then he turned to Morris.
"What'll we do when they start collecting tickets?"
"Don't worry," Chang replied. "I have a commuter pass book, but I don't think they'd throw us off in any case." Paul looked around for the conductor and saw him standing near one of the doors. He did not seem interested in ticket collecting at the moment.
"Attention, all passengers." The soldier was speaking into a microphone attached to the cab. "Please don't be alarmed by the soldiers on this train. We're here to insure your safety, so please cooperate with us. Thank you."
"The whole damn world's gone crazy," said a fat man in the seat next to Paul. The man was sitting with an astonishingly beautiful redheaded woman dressed in a long green gown.
"We should of taken the earlier train, Joe," the woman muttered. "Now we'll miss most of the party." She looked up at Paul. "They say the world's going to end."
"I doubt it," he replied.
Copyright © 1976 by Pamela Sargent
Posted February 3, 2013
No text was provided for this review.