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The SubInfo computers owned by Lies Incorporated had been caught in an unnatural act by a service mechanic. SubInfo computer Five had transmitted information which was not a lie.
It would have to be taken apart to see why. And to whom the correct information had gone.
Probably there would be no way to discern to whom the correct information had gone. But a carrier check maintained an automatic record of all subinformation transmitted by the bank of computers located here and there on Terra. The information had to do with a rat. According to the carrier check the rat lived with a colony of other rats in a garbage dump in Oakland, California.
What importance could information dealing with a rat have? Lewis Stine, the chief mechanic for Lies Incorporated, pondered this as he broke the flow of current to SubInfo computer Five and prepared to begin taking it apart. Of course he could ask the computer . . . but the computer, being programmed to lie, would of course lie-even to Lies Incorporated itself. That was an irony which Stine did not appreciate. This problem always surfaced when it came time to dismantle one of the computers.
Any other bank of computers, Stine thought, could be asked.
Just for a moment he restored power to SubInfo computer Five and punched buttons on the console of a terminal. Whom did you transmit to? he asked.
BEN APPLEBAUM, RACHMAEL
"Fine," Stine said. At least he knew that. Somebody on Terra with the name Rachmael ben Applebaum probably now knew more about rats than he cared to know, albeit on a subliminal basis.
You're probably thinking a lot about rats thesedays, Mr. ben Applebaum, Stine said to himself. And you are wondering why.
Again he cut the power to the computer. And began to go to work.
Standing before his bathroom mirror shaving, Rachmael ben Applebaum thought about the delicious taste of cheeseburger fragments-not a whole cheeseburger (you rarely found those) but the wonderful dried bits lying here and there among the coffee grounds, grapefruit rinds and egg shells.
I'll fly over to Bob's Big Boy, he decided, and order a cheeseburger for breakfast.
And then he thought, It's those damn dreams.
Actually it was one dream over and over again. And he always had it around three a.m.; several times he had awakened, gotten out of bed, bewildered and disturbed by the intensity of the dream, and noted the clock. The place he dreamed of; it was awful. And yet, for some reason, while he was actually there-actually dreaming-the place seemed great. And this was the part that bothered him the most: that he liked it so. It seemed familiar; it seemed to be a place he regarded as home.
However, so did a number of other people
People. They hadn't looked exactly like people, although they had talked like people.
"That's mine," Fred said, holding on to an armload of dog kibble.
"The hell you say," Rachmael said angrily. "I saw it first. Give it here or I'll pop you."
He and Fred fought over the armload of dog kibble, and Rachmael finally won. But he won in an odd way: by biting Fred on the shoulder. He hadn't hit him; he had bitten him.
Strange, Rachmael thought as he continued to shave.
I'm going to have to see a psychiatrist, he said to himself. Maybe it's memories of a former life. Millions of years ago before I . . . before I had evolved into a human being. Far lower on the evolutionary scale. Biting people, or rather biting animals. Yes, he thought; Fred was an animal of some kind. But we talked English.
In his dream he kept a secret hoard of valuables which the others in the settlement knew nothing about. He thought of them now, those precious artifacts which he cherished, which he had gone to such lengths-and effort-to acquire. Mostly food, of course; nothing was more important than food. And yet-you could sometimes find string. He had a lot of string: fine brown string; he had wound it up into a heap and, during the day, he slept in the midst of it. The pile of string comforted him; it lulled him and made his dreams peaceful. All but one; there at the settlement, asleep during the day in his pile of string, he had one dreadful dream which kept coming back.
It had to do with a huge fish opening its mouth wide . . . and vast ugly teeth strove to crunch him, crunch him with avid relish.
Jeez, Rachmael said. Maybe I'm not here shaving; maybe I'm just dreaming this. Maybe I'm asleep in my pile of string, and having a good dream, not the bad one; having the dream where I'm a
He thought, A man.
So then, by inference, he thought, I'm not a man when I'm at the settlement. That would explain why I bit, and why Fred bit. That son-of-a-bitch, he said to himself. He knows where a lot of dog kibble is and he won't tell any of the rest of us. I'll find it; I'll find his trove.
But then, he realized, while I'm out doing that, maybe Fred (or someone else) will find my trove and take away my string. My wonderful string which was so hard to drag back to my hiding place; it kept snagging and catching on things . . . I'll defend that string with my life, Rachmael said to himself. Any son-of-a-bitch who tries to steal it will wind up without his face.
He looked at his wristwatch. Got to hurry, he said to himself. It's late; I overslept again. And I can't get the dream out of my head. It was too vivid for a dream. It wasn't a dream; maybe it was involuntary telepathy of some kind. Or contact with an alternate universe. That's probably what it was: another Earth on which I was born as an animal rather than a human being.
Or a microwave transmission, using my brain as a transducer without an electronic interface. They have those, especially the police agencies.
He was very much afraid of the world-wide police agencies. Especially Lies, Incorporated, the worst police agency of them all. Even the Soviet police were afraid of them.
They're beaming psychotronic signals at me subliminally while I'm asleep, he thought. And then he realized how paranoid that was. Christ; no sane person would think that. And even if Lies, Incorporated did transmit microwave-boosted telepathic information to him in his sleep, would it have to do with rats?
I'm a goddamn rat, he realized. When I go to sleep I abreact back millions of years to when I was once a rat, and I think rat thoughts and have rat ideas; I cherish what a rat cherishes. That explains my fighting with Fred for the dog kibble. It's simple: memories from the paleocortex, rather than the neocortex.
There's an anatomical explanation. Has to do with accretional layers of the brain; the brain has old layers which come to wakefulness during normal sleep.
That's the trouble with living in a police state, he said to himself; you think-you imagine-the police are behind everything. You get paranoid and think they're beaming information to you in your sleep, to subliminally control you. Actually the police wouldn't do that. The police are our friends.
Or was that idea beamed to me subliminally? he wondered suddenly. "The police are our friends." The hell they are!
He continued shaving, feeling glum about the whole thing. Maybe the dream will stop coming, he said to himself. Or
Pausing, he thought, Maybe the dream is trying to tell me something.
For a long time he stood without moving, the razor held away from his face. Tell me what? That I'm living in a garbage dump where there's dried scraps of food, rotting food, other rats?
And, as best he could, continued shaving.
"Syn-cof?" the receptionist asked sympathetically. "Or Martian fnikjuice tea, while you wait?"
Rachmael ben Applebaum, getting out a genuine Tampa, Florida Garcia y Vega cigarillo, said, "I'll just sit, thanks." He lit the cigar, waited. For Miss Freya Holm. He wondered what she looked like. If she was as pretty as the receptionist
A soft voice said, almost timidly, "Mr. ben Applebaum? I'm Miss Holm. If you'll come into my office-" She held the door open, and she was perfection; his Garcia y Vega cigarillo dwindled, neglected in the ashtray as he rose to his feet. She, no more than twenty, chitin-black long hair that hung freely down her shoulders, teeth white as the glossy bond of the expensive UN info mags . . . he stared at her, at the small girl in the gold-spray bodice and shorts and sandals, with the single camellia over her left ear, stared and thought, And this is my police protection.
"Sure." Numbly, he passed her, entered her small, contemporarily furnished office; in one glance he saw artifacts from the extinct cultures of six planets. "But Miss Holm," he said, then, candidly. "Maybe your employers didn't explain; there's pressure here. I've got one of the most powerful economic syndromes in the Sol system after me. Trails of Hoffman-"
"THL," Miss Holm said, seating herself at her desk and touching the on of her aud-recorder, "is the owner of Dr. Sepp von Einem's teleportation construct and hence monopolistically has made obsolete the hyper-see liners and freighters of Applebaum Enterprise." On her desk before her she had a folio, which she consulted. "You see, Mr. Rachmael ben Applebaum-" She glanced up. "I wish to keep you in data-reference distinct from your father, the late Maury Applebaum. So may I call you Rachmael?"
"Y-yes," he said, nettled by her coolness, her small, firm poise-and the folio which lay before her; long before he had consulted Listening Instructional Educational Services-or, as the pop mind called it in UN-egged-on derision, Lies Incorporated-the police agency had gathered, with its many monitors, the totality of information pertaining to him and to the collapse from abrupt technological obsolescence of the once formidable Applebaum Enterprise. And
"Your late father," Freya Holm said, "died evidently at his own instigation. Officially the UN police list it as Selbstmort . . . suicide. We however-" She paused, consulting the folio. "Hmmm."
Rachmael said, "I'm not satisfied, but I'm resigned." After all, he could not bring back his heavy, red-faced, near-sighted and highly over-taxed father. Selbstmort, in the official German of the UN, or not. "Miss Holm," he began, but she cut him off, gently.
"Rachmael, the Telpor electronic entity of Dr. Sepp von Einem, researched and paid for, developed in the several interplan labs of Trails of Hoffman, could do nothing else than bring chaos to the drayage industry. Theodoric Ferry, who is chairman of the board of THL, must have known this when he financed Dr. von Einem at his Schweinfort labs where the Telpor . . ."
Her voice faded.
Rachmael ben Applebaum sat with a circle of friends around a superior person, very wise and ancient. They called him Abba, which meant Daddy. When Abba spoke the entire settlement listened, and as best they could the individuals committed to memory what Abba told them. Because what that ancient person told them had an absolute quality to it; Abba had not originated in the settlement, but knew things which no one else knew, and he guided them all.
". . . breakthrough occurred," Abba said in his low, gentle voice. "And yet THL owned-outside of your father's-the largest single holding of the now-defunct Applebaum Enterprise. Therefore, my little ones, know this: Trails of Hoffman Limited deliberately ruined a corporation which it had major investments in . . . and this, I admit, has seemed strange to us."
The wise, elderly Abba faded out. Freya Holm glanced up alertly, tossed back her mass of black hair.
"And now they hound you for restitution; correct?"
Rachmael blinked; he managed to nod mutely.
Quietly, Miss Holm asked, "How long did it take a passenger liner of your father's corporation to reach Whale's Mouth with a load of, say, five hundred colonists, plus their personal effects?"
After a tormented pause he said, "We-never even tried. Years. Even at hyper-see."
The girl, across from him, still waited, wanting to hear him say it.
"With our flagship transport," he said, "eighteen years."
"And with Dr. von Einem's teleportation instrument-"
"Fifteen minutes," he said harshly. And Whale's Mouth, the number IX planet of the Fomalhaut system, was to date the sole planet discovered either by manned or unmanned observers which was truly habitable-truly a second Terra. Eighteen years . . . and even deep-sleep would not help, for such a prolonged period; aging, although slowed down, although consciousness was dimmed, still occurred. Alpha and Prox; that had been all right; that had been short enough. But Fomalhaut, at twenty-four light years
"We just couldn't compete," he said. "We simply could not carry colonists that far."
"Would you have tried, without von Einem's Telpor breakthrough?"
Rachmael said, "My father-"
"Was thinking about it." She nodded. "But then he died and it was too late and now you've had to sell virtually all your ships to meet note-payment due-dates. Now, from us, Rachmael. You wanted . . . ?"
"I still own," he said, "our fastest, newest, biggest ship, the Omphalos. She's never been sold, no matter how great the pressure THL has put on me, within and outside the UN courts." He hesitated, then said it. "I want to go to Whale's Mouth. By ship. Not by Dr. von Einem's Telpor. And by my own ship, by what we meant to be our-" He broke off. "I want to take her all the way to Fomalhaut, on an eighteen-year voyage-alone. And when I arrive at Whale's Mouth I'll prove-"
"Yes?" Freya said. "Prove what, Rachmael?"
As he sat there, formulating his answer, he saw again the tender, intelligent shape of Abba; but Abba did not look human. A fur of darkness and complexity covered Abba and as the wise one spoke his voice seemed shrill and eerie. Remnants of the dream, Rachmael realized; coming back at me in my waking state.
Abba said, "There lies a wonderful place. In it lies very fine food. In it lies . . . in it lies . . . lies."
The last word lingered in Rachmael's mind. Lies.
Across from him the girl waited for him to answer.
"Lies," he said. "Something about lies."
"Oh, the name they give us." Freya laughed.
A pun, he thought. The two words sound the same, spelled the same, but mean different things.
"That we could have done it," Rachmael said. "Had von Einem not come along with that teleportation thing, that-" He gestured and felt, within him, impotent fury. And still the word lingered in his mind, traced there by Abba, who was wise but who was not human.
Freya said, "Telpor is one of the most vital discoveries in human history, Rachmael. Teleportation, from one star-system to another. Twenty-four light-years in fifteen minutes. When you reach Whale's Mouth by the Omphalos, I for instance will be-" She calculated. "Forty-three years old."