A Talent For The Invisible (v1.1)

BOOK: A Talent For The Invisible (v1.1)
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A Talent
For The
Invisible

Ron Goulart

COPYRIGHT © 1973, BY RON GOULART

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

CHAPTER 1

Robots were chasing him.

It was a clean warm morning, about 6:30 AM, in the late spring of the year 2020 and Jake Conger was jogging along one of the high, wide, plastic ramps which connected the towers of Manhattan. Conger was a lean tan man of thirty one, wearing a one-piece running suit. The robots, a pair of them, were roughly humanoid, cocoa-colored, and about fifty yards behind him.

One of the brown robots had a pixphone screen mounted in his chest.

“Assignment,” he called to Conger, narrowing the distance between them to fifty feet.

Conger continued jogging along the lemon-yellow noryl plastic ramp.

He was over a thousand feet above the ground level of the city. The dozens of other pastel-tinted pedestrian ramps above and below him made bright cat’s cradles in the warming May morning.

“Assignment,” repeated the pixphone robot as he and his partner caught up.

“So tell me,” said Conger, still running.

The cocoa-brown robot gestured at a tufted airfloat bench they were passing. “Wouldn’t you like to stop by the side of the ramp while we confab.”

“No,” Conger told him. “I still have five miles to do.”

“How many miles do you run every day?”

“Ten.”

The brown robot nodded. “That sounds very good. Running is supposed to be splendid for your inner workings. Heart, lungs and similar mec …”

“What about the assignment?”

“Well, yes, all right.” The robot matched his stride to Conger’s. His partner dropped a few yards behind, being full of data he couldn’t run as fast. “The Wild Talent Division of the United States Remedial Functions Agency sent us to fetch you, Agent Conger. They have a highly secret and vastly important job for you.”

“This is supposed to be my layoff month.”

“The boss specifically requested you.”

“Why me?”

“You’re the only invisible agent RFA has free and unassigned at the moment.”

“I was planning to take a hopper tour of Connecticut today. There’s a new seaweed restaurant in Mystic I want to try.” He ran silently for a few seconds. “Okay. I’ll take the job. What’s the problem?”

“People are coming back to life.”

Conger slowed his jogging pace some. “Huh?”

“Be better if I let the boss explain.” He poked two cocoa fingers into the finger holes in his side and the plate-size phone screen in his chest came alive.

A little rumpled frazzled man of fifty showed on the picture screen. He was wrapped in a tacky synth-fur bathrobe, slumped in the breakfast nook of his Wild Talents Division office. He blinked at Conger with his faded little eyes. “Yark,” he said. “Why are you bouncing up and down, Jake?”

“I’m running,” answered Conger. “Why are you spinning around and around?”

Blinking again Geer, the WTD boss, replied, “I had my breakfast nook designed to rotate so I’d always be facing a sunny window, remember?” He made a yawning face, biting at air. “The dingus is a little out of whack and keeps mistaking any bright object for the sun. Right now it’s fascinated with the silver pendulum on my wall clock across the office.”

Nodding, Conger asked, “Who’s coming back to life?”

Geer ripped plyofilm off a self-heating waffleburger. “People who are supposed to be dead.”

“Speaking of that,” said Conger. “Didn’t you read the Surgeon General’s report on waffleburgers?”

“What’s that yoohoo computer know about what it takes to wake me up in the morning,” said the rumpled Geer as he bit into his breakfast sandwich. “Especially when I sleep in the office. I suppose I should give up soyjava, too?”

“It won’t kill you,” said Conger. “What dead people?”

Geer sipped his cup of soyjava with an exaggerated slurp. The rotation of his circular nook floor caused some of the grey-brown liquid to splash up against his sunken cheeks. “This is a spooky one, Jake.” He took another slurp of the imitation coffee. “Even for the Wild Talents Division, where everything tends to be spooky, this is extra odd. These dead people seem to be coming back to life.” He set aside his waffleburger to pick up a tri-op photo. “You know who this yoohoo is?”

“It’s hard to recognize him with syrup on his face.”

Geer squinted at the portrait, moistened his thumb and wiped at it. “I wish this was my layoff month. I’m tired of these business breakfasts. I’ve already had a go-round with Agent Katzman this morning. He’s the one with the ability to walk through walls. Now he’s developed a quirk.”

“A quirk?” The lemon-yellow ramp made a sharp turn around the side of a blue pseudoconcrete tower and Conger slowed a little.

“Lately he only gets halfway through the walls and then gets stuck,” said Geer. “He says it’s because he has domestic troubles.”

Conger leaned his head closer to the screen on the running robot’s chest. “That’s Colonel Macaco Cavala, isn’t it?”

“Who?”

“In the photo.”

Geer scowled at the tri-op picture he was holding up. “Yes. Colonel Macaco Cavala, the late Portuguese strongman.”

“He’s the guy who was going to overthrow the current dictator of Portugal,” said Conger.

“Yeah, that’s why they killed him last month,” said Geer, letting the photo drop. It landed in his soyjava saucer.

“I remember seeing it on the news. He was shot down on the streets of New Lisbon by an unidentified sniper.”

“Right,” replied the boss. “You’ll be talking to him.”

“The unidentified sniper?”

“We’ll give you his name and address,” said Geer. “The data robot has it. The yoohoo lives in New Lisbon someplace.”

Conger glanced sideways at the pixphone screen. “Wait now, boss. Did our Remedial Functions Agency have something to do with knocking off the colonel?”

“No.” Geer shook his frazzled head. “I checked with the yoohoos in the head office in Washington. RFA is clean, for a change, in this one. But it is not impossible that National Security Office knows something about it. They never confide in us, those NSO bastards.” The boss lifted the photo out of his saucer. “Jake, somebody has seen Colonel Macaco Cavala alive and walking around.”

“CBS-NBC, Inc. saw him flat on his back in his coffin.”

“It’s perplexing,” admitted the boss. “I want you to teleport to New Lisbon at 11 this morning, Jake. This Colonel Cavala thing fits in with some other rumors we’ve been hearing. Talk to this yoohoo that’s supposed to have sniped the damn colonel, then contact the guy who swears he saw him alive not three days ago.” Geer took another bite out of his waffleburger. “You realize how important this may be, Jake. Politically and, perhaps, to all mankind.”

The phone robot reminded the boss. “Tell him why we need an invisible agent, boss.”

“Oh, yeah.” Geer took one further bite, chewed, swallowed. “If this yoohoo in New Lisbon saw the late colonel where he thinks he saw him you may have to turn invisible to get yourself in there.” The boss waved a sheet of orange-colored fax paper. “We only have nineteen invisible agents now, Jake, since Agent Busino lost the ability to make the lower part of his body from the knees down invisible. It takes two long years to process an invisible agent, as you well know. If only Vincent X. Worth hadn’t had that fatal hopper accident and …”

“I know,” said Conger. Worth had been the quirky young scientist and researcher who’d developed many of the methods for manufacturing Wild Talent Division agents. He was only a couple years older than Conger and the two of them had been pretty good casual friends. Worth’s private aircruiser had exploded six months ago while he was enroute to a WTD conference in the Philippines. “Okay, where has the colonel been seen?”

“You’ll find out all about that when you get over to New Lisbon.”

Conger said, “What happened to the notion this was my layoff month?”

“Jake, we’ve got an emergency situation here,” explained the boss.

“Think of how important this may be to the future of United States foreign policy and the prospect of a better life for all humanity. Think of all the good men and true who’ve given their all for the Wild Talent Division. Think of that ghostly echelon of good guys, which includes Marcus Jerico, Donald E. Tannenbaum and the aforementioned Vincent X. Worth, cut down in the very prime of life while they were unselfishly defending the wonderful people and institutions of this, their own their native land. Think, if you will, of the lonely bald eagle soaring …”

“Okay, okay,” cut in Conger. “I’ll take the damn job.”

A single line of moisture zigzagged down the front of the pixphone oval.

The robot sniffled, rubbed at his vinyl eyeballs. “Excuse me, Agent Conger. I’m programmed to be sentimental over patriotic speeches.”

“That’s okay.” Conger took a plyochief from a slash pocket in his running suit to wipe off the phone screen. “Anything else, boss?”

Geer thought, his sunken face wrinkling. “No, that yoohoo data robot I sent will fill you in on the background, give you what names and addresses we have. The only other thing I can think of is a word of warning.”

“About what?”

“If the National Security Office sticks any of their agents on this same problem, give them a wide berth and avoid them like the plague, Jake.”

“I always do.”

Geer was eating his breakfast sandwich again. “Aren’t you winded yet?”

“Nope.”

“Yark.”

The aircab said, “Watch your step, sir.”

Conger grabbed his all-purpose valise off the seat, then glanced out the cab window. “You’re six feet above the passenger ramp.”

“Which is why I cautioned you to watch out, sir.”

“Better get a little closer.”

“Geeze,” muttered the cab’s control box. The hovering craft ratcheted, snarled and bumped down to within six inches of the ramp leading into the E65 St. teleport station. “A guy in good shape like you could jump a few feet.”

Near the entrance of the station a chunky partially bald man, who had most of his hair on the backside of his head, was hitting a book vending machine. “You only printed me out chapters XXXVIII through LXVII of
Moby Dick
,” he was complaining. “It says right on your front Two-Buck Klassics, Complete & Unexpurgated.” When the half-haired man noticed Conger he blushed, stopped whacking at the book machine.

Giving him a nod, Conger passed on into the medium-sized station. He crossed to the reservation desk and said to the girl there, “Reservation for Jake Conger.”

The girl behind the curving aluminum desk was blonde with upturned synthetic breasts. She smiled while she flicked the retrieval switches in front of her. “Yes, here we are. The 11 o’clock teleport for Lisbon. You’ve seventeen minutes before you have to hop onto the platform,” she said, smiling still. “Would you like to sleep with me?”

Conger took his teleport chit, pasted it on the lapel of his two-piece travel suit. “No, thanks,” he said, returning the smile.

“You probably aren’t in the mood,” the attractive blonde said. “Travel makes you nervous maybe.”

“Seventeen minutes isn’t nearly enough time,” replied Conger. “Besides which …”

“That’s exactly what I told Mr. Shellebarger,” said the blonde. “This is his idea. He’s, you know, the director of the Manhattan Office of Legalized Prostitution and he thinks OLP could take in even more revenue if he puts hookers into all the teleport stations on the island. OLP does so well at Grand Central Station that he figured …”

“Trains are more romantic,” said Conger. “There’s a kind of leisurely 20th Century feeling about trains and train depots.”

“Precisely what I told Mr. Shellebarger. I was a $200 girl on the Jersey Mono for six months. We did really well.”

Across the room six people left their tin benches to climb up onto one of the three teleport platforms. Conger looked from them to the tag on his lapel.

“Oh, you needn’t worry,” the blonde assured him. “I may be a hooker, but I know the teleport business. I gave you the right tag. Would you at least like me to kiss you goodbye. Only $1.”

“I’m not too sentimental about travel, but thanks.” Conger grinned and left the desk.

“10:50 teleport to Rio de Janeiro,” announced the speakers up under the ceiling. “Platform 2, last call.”

Another minute passed. A man bounded up the four steps to the middle platform. The other six people shuffled their feet, coughed, rubbed their elbows, scratched their noses.

A beeping came out of the mechanisms under the platform. There was a sizzling sound. The seven passengers were no longer there.

Conger took his suitcase, filled chiefly with vitamins and food supplements, and sat near the left-hand platform.

When the 11:00 teleport to New Lisbon was announced only Conger and the semi-bald man stepped onto Platform 1.

The man was stuffing fax book pages into his pullover overcoat. “Not only won’t I know how it ends, I won’t even know how it begins.”

The platform beeped. Thirty seconds later Conger was in New Lisbon.

CHAPTER 2

The begging machine rolled along the dim dirty alley after Conger. Mud and offal and bits of bone splashed up on both of them. “One donation takes care of it all, senhor,” the square chest-high mechanism said through its rusty voice grid. “Give me only a mere fifty escudos and I’ll hand over a lapel pin which is guaranteed to keep all the real live wretched beggars of Old Lisbon away from you.”

BOOK: A Talent For The Invisible (v1.1)
7.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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