Barris said, "I'd be interested to know when this woman went over to you." He indicated Rachel Pitt, who stood by a window of the hotel room, gazing meditatively out at the buildings and rooftops of Geneva.
"You can see Unity Control from here," Rachel said, turning her head.
"Of course you can," Father Fields said in his hoarse, grumbling voice. He sat in the corner, in a striped bathrobe and fleece-lined slippers, a screw driver in one hand, a light fixture in the other; he had gone into the bathroom to take a shower, but the light wasn't working. Two other men, Healers evidently, sat at a card table poring over some pamphlets stacked up between them in wired bundles. Barris assumed that these were propaganda material of the Movement, about to be distributed.
"Is that just coincidence?" Rachel asked.
Fields grunted, ignoring her as he worked on the light fixture. Then, raising his head, he said brusquely to Barris, "Now listen. I won't lie to you, because it's lies that your organization is founded on. Anyone who knows me knows I never have need of lying. Why should I? The truth is my greatest weapon."
"What is the truth?" Barris said.
"The truth is that pretty soon we're going to run up that street you see outside to that big building the lady is looking at, and then Unity won't exist." He smiled, showing his malformed teeth. But it was, oddly, a friendly smile. As if, Barris thought, the man hoped that he would chime in-possibly smile back in agreement.
With massive irony, Barris said, "Good luck."
"Luck," Fields echoed. "We don't need it. All we need is speed. It'll be like poking at some old rotten fruit with a stick." His voice twanged with a regional accent of his origin; Barris caught the drawl of Taubmann's territory, the Southern States that formed the rim of South America.
"Spare me your folksy metaphors," Barris said.
Fields laughed. "You stand in error, Mister Director."
"It was a simile," Rachel agreed, expressionlessly.
Barris felt himself redden; they were making fun of him, these people, and he was falling into it. He said to the man in the striped bathrobe, "I'm amazed at your power to draw followers. You engineer the murder of this woman's husband, and after meeting you she joins your Movement. That is impressive."
For a time Fields said nothing. Finally he threw down the light fixture. "Must be a hundred years old," he said. "Nothing like that in the United States since I was born. And they call this area 'modern."' He scowled and plucked at his lower lip. "I appreciate your moral indignation. Somebody did smash in that poor man's head; there's no doubt about that."
"You were there too," Barris said.
"Oh, yes," Fields said. He studied Barris intently; the hard dark eyes seemed to grow and become even more wrathful. "I do get carried away," he said. "When I see that lovely little suit you people wear, that gray suit and white shirt, those shiny black shoes." His scrutiny traveled up and down Barris. "And especially, I get carried away by that thing you all have in your pockets. Those pencil beams."
Rachel said to Barris, "Father Fields was once burned by a tax collector."
"Yes," Fields said. "You know your Unity tax collectors are exempt from the law. No citizen can take legal action against them. Isn't that lovely?" Lifting his arm, he pulled back his right sleeve; Barris saw that the flesh had been corroded away to a permanent mass of scar tissue, from the man's wrist to his elbow. "Let's see some moral indignation about that," he said to Barris.
"I have it," Barris said. "I never approved of the general tax- collecting procedures. You won't find them in my area."
"That's so," Fields said. His voice lost some of its ferocity; he seemed to cool slightly. "That's a fact about you. Compared to the other Directors; you're not too bad. We have a couple of people in and around your offices. We know quite a bit about you. You're here in Geneva because you want to find out why Vulcan 3 hasn't handed down any dogma about us Healers. It needles your conscience that old Jason Dill can toss your DQ forms back in your face and there's nothing you can do. It is mighty odd that your machine hasn't said anything about us."
To that, Barris said nothing.
"It gives us sort of an advantage," Fields said. "You boys don't have any operating policy; you have to mark time until the machine talks. Because it wouldn't occur to you to put together your own human-made policy."
Barris said, "In my area I have a policy. I have as many Healers as possible thrown into jail -- on sight."
"Why?" Rachel Pitt asked.
"Ask your dead husband," Barris said, with animosity toward her. "I can't understand you," he said to her. "Your husband went out on his job and these people --"
Fields interrupted, "Director, you have never been worked over by the Atlanta psychologists." His voice was quiet. "This woman has. So was I, to some extent. To a very minor extent. Not like she was. With her, they were in a hurry."
For a while no one spoke.
There's not much I can say, Barris realized. He walked over to the card table and picked up one of the pamphlets; aimlessly, he read the large black type.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SAY IN RUNNING YOUR LIVES?
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU VOTED?
"There has been no public election," Fields said, "for twenty years. Do they teach that to the little kids in your schools?"
"There should be," Barris said.
Fields said, "Mr. Barris --" His voice was tense and husky. "How'd you like to be the first Director to come over to us?" For an instant Barris detected a pleading quality; then it was gone. The man's voice and face became stern. "It'll make you look good as hell in the future history books," he said, and laughed harshly. Then, once more picking up the light fixture he resumed work on it. He ignored Barris; he did not even seem to be waiting for a reply.
Coming over to Barris, Rachel said in her sharp, constricted fashion, "Director, he's not joking. He really wants you to join the Movement."
"I imagine he does," Barris said.
Fields said, "You have a sense of what's wrong. You know how wrong it is. All that ambition and suspicion. What's it for? Maybe I'm doing you people an injustice, but honest to God, Mr. Barris, I think your top men are insane. I know Jason Dill is. Most of the Directors are, and their staffs. And the schools are turning out lunatics. Did you know they took my daughter and stuck her into one of their schools? As far as I know she's there now. We never got into the schools too well. You people are really strong, there. It means a lot to you."
"You went to a Unity school," Rachel said to Barris. "You know how they teach children not to question, not to disagree. They're taught to obey. Arthur was the product of one of them. Pleasant, good-looking, well-dressed, on his way up --" She broke off.
And dead, Barris thought.
"If you don't join us," Fields said to him, "you can walk out the door and up the street to your appointment with Jason Dill."
"I have no appointment," Barris said.
"That's right," Fields admitted.
Rachel screamed, pointing to the window.
Coming across the sill, through the window and into the room, was something made of gleaming metal. It lifted and flew through the air. As it swooped it made a shrill sound. It changed direction and dropped at Fields.
The two men at the card table leaped up and stared open- mouthed. One of them began groping for the gun at his waist. The metal thing dived at Fields. Covering his face with his arms, Fields flung himself to the floor and rolled. His striped bathrobe flapped, and one slipper shot from his foot and slid across the rug. As he rolled and grabbed out a heat beam and fired upward, sweeping the air above him. A burning flash seared Barris; he leaped back and shut his eyes.
Still screaming, Rachel Pitt appeared in front of him, her face torn with hysteria. The air crackled with energy; a cloud of dense blue- gray matter obscured most of the room. The couch, the chairs, the rug and walls were burning. Smoke poured up, and Barris saw tongues of flame winking orange in the murk. Now he heard Rachel choke; her screams ceased. He himself was partly blinded. He made his way toward the door, his ears ringing.
"It's okay," Father Fields said, his voice coming dimly through the crackling of energy. "Get those little fires out. I got the god- damn thing." He loomed up in front of Barris, grinning crookedly. One side of his face was badly burned and part of his short-cropped hair had been seared away. His scalp, red and blistered, seemed to glow. "If you can help get the fires out," he said to Barris in an almost courtly tone, "maybe I can find enough of the goddamn thing to get into it and see what it was."
One of the men had found a hand-operated fire extinguisher outside in the hall; now, pumping furiously, he was managing to get the fires out. His companion appeared with another extinguisher and pitched in. Barris left them to handle the fire and went back through the room to find Rachel Pitt.
She was crouched in the far corner, sunk down in a heap, staring straight ahead, her hands clasped together. When he lifted her up, he felt her body trembling. She said nothing as he stood holding her in his arms; she did not seem aware of him.
Appearing beside him, Fields said in a gleeful voice, "Hot dog, Barris -- I found most of it." He triumphantly displayed a charred but still intact metal cylinder with an elaborate system of antennas and receptors and propulsion jets. Then, seeing Rachel Pitt, he lost his smile. "I wonder if she'll come out of it this time," he said. "She was this way when she first came to us. After the Atlanta boys let her go. It's catatonia."
"And you got her out of it? " Barris said.
Fields said, "She came out of it because she wanted to. She wanted to do something. Be active. Help us. Maybe this blast was too much for her. She's stood a lot." He shrugged, but his face was an expression of great compassion.
"Maybe I'll see you again," Barris said to him.
"You're leaving?" Fields said. "Where are you going?"
"To see Jason Dill."
"What about her?" Fields said, indicating the woman in Barris' arms. "Are you taking her with you? "
"If you'll let me," Barris said.
"Do what you want," Fields said, eyeing him thoughtfully. "I don't quite understand you, Director." He seemed, in this moment, to have shed his regional accent. "Are you for us or against us? Or do you know? Maybe you don't know; maybe it'll take time."
Barris said, "I'll never go along with a group that murders."
"There are slow murders and fast murders," Fields said. "And body murders and mind murders. Some you do with evil schools."
Going past him, Barris went on out of the smoke-saturated room, into the hall outside. He descended the stairs to the lobby.
Outside on the sidewalk he hailed a robot cab.
At the Geneva field he put Mrs. Pitt aboard a ship that would carry her to his own region, North America. He contacted his staff by vidsender and gave them instructions to have the ship met when it landed in New York and to provide her with medical care until he himself got back. And he had one final order for them.
"Don't let her out of my jurisdiction. Don't honor any request to have her transferred, especially to South America."
The staff member said acutely, "You don't want to let this per son get anywhere near Atlanta."
"That's right," Barris said, aware that without his having to spell it out his staff understood the situation. There was probably no one in the Unity structure who would not be able to follow his meaning. Atlanta was the prime object of dread for all of them, great and small alike.
Does Jason Dill have that hanging over him too ? Barris wondered as he left the vidbooth. Possibly he is exempt-certainly from a rational viewpoint he has nothing to fear. But the irrational fear could be there anyhow.
He made his way through the crowded, noisy terminal building, headed in the direction of one of the lunch counters. At the counter he ordered a sandwich and coffee and sat with that for a time, pulling himself together and pondering.
Was there really a letter to Dill accusing me of treason? he asked himself. Had Rachel been telling the truth? Probably not. It probably had been a device to draw him aside, to keep him from going on to Unity Control.
I'll have to take the chance, he decided. No doubt I could put out careful feelers, track the information down over a period of time; I might even know within a week. But I can't wait that long. I want to face Dill now. That's what I came here for.
He thought, And I have been with them, the enemy. If such a letter exists, there is now what would no doubt be called "proof. "The structure would need nothing more; I would be tried for treason and convicted. And that would be the end of me, as a high official of the system and as a living, breathing human being. True, something might still be walking around, but it wouldn't really be alive.
And yet, he realized, I can't even go back now, to my own region. Whether I like it or not I have met Father Fields face-to- face; I've associated with him, and any enemies I might have, inside or outside the Unity structure, will have exactly what they want-for the rest of my life. It's too late to give up, to drop the idea of confronting Jason Dill. With irony, he thought, Father Fields has forced me to go through with it, the thing he was trying to prevent.
He paid for his lunch and left the; lunch counter. Going outside onto the sidewalk, he called another robot cab and instructed it to take him to Unity Control.
Barris pushed past the battery of secretaries and clerks, into Jason Dill's private syndrome of interconnected offices. At the sight of his Director's stripe, the dark red slash on his gray coat sleeve, officials of the Unity Control stepped obediently out of his path, leaving a way open from room to room. The last door opened -- and abruptly he was facing Dill.
Jason Dill looked up slowly, putting down a handful of reports. "What do you think you're doing?" He did not appear at first to recognize Barris; his gaze strayed to the Director's stripe and then back to his face. "This is out of the question," Dill said, "your barging in here like this."
"I came here to talk to you," Barris said. He shut the office door after him; it closed with a bang, startling the older man. Jason Dill half stood up, then subsided.
"Director Barris," he murmured. His eyes narrowed. "File a regular appointment slip; you know procedure well enough by now to --"
Barris cut him off. "Why did you turn back my DQ form? Are you withholding information from Vulcan 3?"
The color left Jason Dill's face. "Your form wasn't properly filled out. According to Section Six, Article Ten of the Unity --"
"You're rerouting material away from Vulcan 3; that's why it hasn't stated a policy on the Healers." He came closer to the seated man, bending over him as Dill stared down at his papers on the desk, not meeting his gaze. "Why? It doesn't make sense. You know what this constitutes. Treason! Keeping back data, deliberately falsifying the troughs. I could bring charges against you, even have you arrested." Resting his hands on the surface of the desk, Barris said loudly, "Is the purpose of this to isolate and weaken the eleven Directors so that --"
He broke off. He was looking down into the barrel of a pencil beam. Jason Dill had been holding it since he had burst into the man's office. Dill's middle-aged features twitched bleakly; his eyes gleamed as he gripped the small tube. "Now be quiet, Director," Dill said icily. "I admire your tactics. This going on the offensive. Accusations without opportunity for me even to get in one word. Standard operating procedure." He breathed slowly, in a series of great gasps. "Damn you," he snapped, "sit down."
Barris sat down watchfully. I made my pitch, he realized. The man is right. And shrewd. He's seen a lot in his time, more than I have. Maybe I'm not the first to barge in here, yelling with indignation, trying to pin him down, force admissions.
Thinking that, Barris felt his confidence ebb away. But he continued to face the older man; he did not draw back.
Jason Dill's face was gray now. Drops of perspiration stood out on his wrinkled forehead; bringing out his handkerchief he patted at them. With the other hand, however, he still held the pencil beam. "We're both a little calmer," he said. "Which in my opinion is better. You were overly dramatic. Why?" A faint, distorted smile appeared on his lips. "Have you been practicing how you would make your entrance?"
The man's hand traveled to his breast pocket. He rubbed a bulge there; Barris saw that he had something in his inner pocket, something to which his hand had gone involuntarily. Seeing what he had done, Dill at once jerked his hand away.
Medicine? Barris wondered.
"This treason gambit," Dill said. "I could try that, too. An attempted coup on your part." He pointed at a control on the edge of his desk. "All this -- your grand entrance -- has of course been recorded. The evidence is there." He pressed a stud and, on the desk vidscreen, the Geneva Unity monitor appeared. "Give me the police," Dill said. Sitting with the pencil beam still pointed at Barris, he waited for the line to be put through. "I have too many other problems to take time off to cope with a Director who decides to run amuck."
Barris said, "I'll fight this all the way in the Unity courts. My conscience is clear; I'm acting in the interests of Unity, against a Managing Director who's systematically breaking down the sys- tem, step by step. You can investigate my entire life and you won't find a thing. I know I'll beat you in the courts, even if it takes years."
"We have a letter," Dill said. On the screen the familiar heavy-jowled features of a police official appeared. "Stand by," Dill instructed him. The police official's eyes moved as he took in the scene of the Managing Director holding his gun on Director Barris.
"That letter," Barris said as steadily as possible, "has no factual basis for the charges it makes."
"Oh?" Dill said. "You're familiar with its charges?"
"Rachel Pitt gave me all the information," Barris said. So she had been telling the truth. Well, that letter -- spurious as its charges were -- coupled with this episode, would probably be enough to convict him. The two would dovetail; they would create together the sort of evidence acceptable to the Unity mentality.
The police official eyed Barris.
At his desk, Jason Dill held the pencil beam steadily.
Barris said, "Today I sat in the same room with Father Fields."
Reaching his hand out to the vidsender, Jason Dill reflected and then said, "I'll ring you off and recontact you later." With his thumb he broke the connection; the image of the police official, still staring at Barris, faded out.
Jason Dill rose from his desk and pulled loose the power cable supplying the recording scanner which had been on since Barris entered the room. Then he reseated himself.
"The charges in the letter are true! " he said with incredulity. "My God, it never occurred to me. .." Then, rubbing his fore- head he said, "Yes, it did. Briefly. So they managed to penetrate to the Director level." His eyes showed horror and weariness.
"They put a gun on me and detained me," Barris said. "When I got here to Geneva."
Doubt, mixed with distraught cunning, crossed the older man's face. Obviously, he did not want to believe that the Healers had gotten so far up into Unity, Barris realized. He would grasp at any straw, any explanation which would account for the facts ... even the true one, Barris thought bitingly. Jason Dill had a psychological need that took precedence over the habitual organizational suspicions.
"You can trust me," Barris said.
"Why?" The pencil beam still pointed at him, but the conflicting emotions swept back and forth through the man.
"You have to believe someone," Barris said. "Sometime, some where. What is that you reach up and rub, there at your chest?"
Grimacing, Dill glanced down at his hand; again it was at his chest. He jerked it away. "Don't play on my fears," he said.
"Your fear of isolation?" Barris said. "Of having everyone against you? Is that some physical injury that you keep rubbing?"
Dill said, "No. You're guessing far too much; you're out of your depth." But he seemed more composed now. "Well, Director," he said. "I'll tell you something. I probably don't have long to live. My health has deteriorated since I've had this job. Maybe in a sense you're right ... it's a physical injury I'm rubbing. If you ever get where I am, you'll have some deep-seated injuries and illnesses too. Because there'll be people around you putting them there."
"Maybe you should take a couple of flying wedge squads of police and seize the Bond Hotel," Barris said. "He was there an hour ago. Down in the old section of the city. Not more than two miles from here."
"He'd be gone," Dill said. "He turns up again and again on the outskirts this way. We'll never get him; there're a million ratholes he can slither down."
Barris said, "You almost did get him."
"In the hotel room. When that robot tracking device entered and made for him. It almost succeeded in burning him up, but he was quite fast; he managed to roll away and get it first."
Dill said, "What robot tracking device? Describe it." As Barris described it, Dill stared at him starkly. He swallowed noisily but did not interrupt until Barris had finished.
"What's wrong?" Barris said. "From what I saw of it, it seems to be the most effective counterpenetration weapon you have. Surely you'll be able to break up the Movement with such a mechanism. I think your anxiety and preoccupation is excessive."
In an almost inaudible voice, Dill said, "Agnes Parker."
"Who is that?" Barris said.
Seemingly not aware of him, Dill murmured, "Vulcan 2. And now a try at Father Fields. But he got away." Putting down his pencil beam he reached into his coat; rummaging, he brought out two reels of tape. He tossed the tape down on the desk.
"So that's what you've been carrying," Barris said with curiosity. He picked up the reels and examined them.
Dill said, "Director, there is a third force."
"What?" Barris said, with a chill.
"A third force is operating on us," Jason Dill said, and smiled grotesquely. "It may get all of us. It appears to be very strong."
He put his pencil beam away, then. The two of them faced each other without it.