Read The Missing Man (v4.1) Online
Authors: Katherine MacLean
YOU ARE NOT ALONE announced the sign, flashing
neon red in the dark sky. People in the free mixed streets looked up and saw it
as they walked back from work. It glowed red behind them in the sky as they
entered the gates of their own Kingdoms; their own incorporated small countries
and their own laws inside their gates They changed into their own strange
costumes, perhaps light armor, and tourneyed, tilting lances against each
other, winning ladies. Or in another Kingdom, with a higher wall around its
enclosed blocks of city, the strange lotteries and rites of the Aztec sadist
cult, or the simple poverty and friendliness of the Brotherhood Love Communes.
They were not alone.
Nonconformists who could not choose, a suitable
conformity lived in the mixed public areas, went to mixing parties, wondering
and seeking. Seeking whom? To join with to do what? Returning from the parties
late and alone, they passed the smaller signs flashing red in the store
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Find your own Kind, Find your own Hobby.
Find your own Mate, Find your own Kingdom.
Use “Harmony” Personality Diagnosis
and Matching Service.
Carl Hodges was alone. lie stood in a deserted
and ruined section of the city and saw the red glow of the sign reflecting
against the foggy air of the sky of New York, blinking on and off like the
light of a flickering red flame. He knew what the glow said. You are not alone.
He shut his eyes, and tears trickled from under
his closed eyelids. Damn the day he had learned to do time track. He could
remember and return to Susanne, he could even see the moment of the surfboard
and his girl traveling down the front slope of a slanted wave front, even see
the nose of the board catch again under the ripple, the wave heaving the board
tip, up and over, and whipping down edge first like an ax. He knew how to
return for pleasure to past events, but now he could not stop returning. It
happened again before his eyes, over and over. Think about something else!
“Crying again, Pops?” said a young
insolent voice. A hand pushed two tablets against his mouth. “Here, happy
pills. Nothing to cry about. It’s a good world.”
Obediently Carl Hodges took the pills into his
mouth and swallowed.
Soon memory and grief would stop hurting and go
away. Think about something else. Work? No, he should be at work, on the job
instead of vacationing, living with runaway children. Think about fun things.
It was possible that he was a prisoner, but he
did not mind. Around him collecting in the dark, stood the crowd of runaway
children and teen-agers in strange mixed costumes from many communes across the
United States. They had told him that they had run away from the Kingdoms and
odd customs of their parents, hating the Brotherhood, and conformity, and
sameness of the adults they had been forced to live with by the law that let
incorporated villages educate their own children within the walls.
The teeners had told him that all rules were
evil, that all customs were neurotic repetition, that fear was a restriction,
that practicality was a restriction, and mercy was a restriction.
He told himself they were children, in a passing
phase of rebellion.
The pill effect began to swirl in a rosy fog of
pleasure into his mind. He remembered fun. “Did I tell you,” he
muttered to the runaway teener gang that held him as a prisoner-guest,
“about the last game of Futures I played with Ronny? It was ten-thirty,
late work, so when we finished we disconnected the big computer from its remote
controls and started to play City Chess. We had three minor maintenance errors
as our only three moves. He wiped out my half of the city, by starting an
earthquake from a refrigerator failure in a lunchroom. It wiped out all the
power plant crew with food poisoning, and the Croton power plant blew up along
a fault line. That was cheating because he couldn’t prove the fault line. I
wiped out his technocrats in Brooklyn Dome just by reversing the polarity on the
air-conditioning machine. It’s a good thing our games aren’t real. Everyone is
wiped out totally by the end of a good game.”
A blond kid who seemed to be the leader stepped
forward and took Carl Hodges’ arm, leading him back toward his cellar room.
“You started to tell me about it, but tell me again. I’m very interested.
I’d like to study Maintenance Prediction as a career. What does reversing the
leads on the air-conditioning machine do to destroy a place?”
“It changes the smell of the air,”
said Carl Hodges, the missing man who knew too much. “You wouldn’t think
that would make a lot of difference, would you?”
Since June 3, every detective the police could
spare had been out looking for a missing computerman who had been last seen
babbling about ways to destroy New York City.
Judd Oslow, Chief of Rescue Squad, sounded
excited on the phone. “Your anti-chance score is out of sight, George. I
want you to guess for us where Carl Hodges is and give us another hit like the
first three. I’m not supposed to send my men after Carl Hodges, it’s not my
department, but that’s my neck on the block, not yours. Brace yourself to
memorize a description.”
“Sure.” George made ready to visualize
“Carl Hodges, twenty-nine years old, a
hundred and forty pounds, five feet nine inches tall, brown hair, hazel
George visualized someone shorter and thinner
than himself. He remembered some short underweight men who were always ready to
fight to prove they were bigger.
“His job is assistant coordinator of
computer automation city services,” read Judd Oslow.
“What’s that?” George wanted to get
the feel of Carl Hodges’ job.
“Glorified maintenance man for the city,
the brains for all the maintenance and repair teams. He uses the computer to
predict wear and accidents and lightning strikes and floods that break down
phone lines, power and water lines and he sends repair teams to strengthen the
things before they are stressed so they don’t break. He prevents trouble.”
“Oh.” George thought: Carl Hodges will
be proud of his job. He won’t want to be bigger. “How does he act with his
friends? How does he feel?”
“Wait for the rest.” Judd read,
“Hobbies are chess, minimax and surfing. No commune. Few friends. One girl
who met with a fatal accident when they were on a love trip last month. He’s
not happy. He was last seen at a Stranger’s introduction party, Thirty-sixth
Street and Eighth. He might have been spaced out on drugs, or he might have
been psychotic, because he was reported as mumbling continuously on a dangerous
subject he was usually careful to keep quiet about.”
“Oh.” George restrained his natural
anger at being confronted with a secret, and remembered an excuse for the
authorities. Panic, or any other group stimulation that could send many people
unexpectedly in the same direction, could cause destructive crowding and
clogging in the walkways and transportation. People could get jammed in,
pushed, trampled, suffocated. In a city of tremendous population and close and
immediate access to everything, safety from crowding was based on a good
scatter of differences, with some people wanting to be in one place and others
in another, keeping them thinly spread. Sometimes the authorities kept secrets,
or managed the news to prevent interesting things from pulling dangerous jammed
crowds into one place
The Chief of Rescue Squad got the TV connection
to the public phone turned on, and let George look at a photograph of the
missing man. A wiry undersized scholar with a compressed mouth and
expressionless eyes. George tried to tune in by pretending it was his own face
in the mirror. Staring into its eyes, he felt lonely.
He started by going to the Stranger’s
introduction party. He followed his impulses, pretending to be Carl Hodges. He
wandered the city closely on the trail of Carl Hodges, but he did not feel it
with any confidence, because he thought that the trail of feelings that urged
him from one place to another were his own lonely feelings and sad thoughts.
After he was given a few bad events to be sad about, he was sure it was his own
George woke at dawn and watched pink sunlight
touch the bushes along the top of a building so they brightened up like candle
flames on the top of a birthday cake. He lay with his eyes open and watched
while the light brightened and the pink faded. Crickets sang and creaked in the
deep grass and bending tall grass tickled against his face.
He lay still, feeling the kind of aches you get
from being kicked. There were a lot of aches. The teener gang that had attacked
him had even put chain bruises on his legs. They had not been trying to kill
him, only to warn him against trespassing again.
But George still felt strange and without
friends. Usually he could join any group. Usually he could be anybody’s friend.
Was he forgetting how to be buddy with strangers? The teeners had left him on
the sidewalk tied in a ridiculous knot with fingers and toes hooked together by
Chinese finger trap tubes. He had worked his fingers free, and walked down to
his girl friend’s Brotherhood Love Commune to sleep. He felt strange and
inferior, and hoped no one would look at him, when he entered the commune. The
brothers in the front rooms said he was giving out bad vibes, and upsetting an
important group meditation, and they gave him a cup of tea and put him out with
his sleeping bag.
Four A.M., wondering what he was doing wrong, he
went to sleep in a shape-hiding shadow in the grass belt opposite the Rescue
Squad midtown headquarters. Now awakened again by dawn, he felt his bruises and
felt sad and unsuccessful. He had wandered through many places in the city the
night before, but he had not found Carl Hodges. The computerman was still an
unlucky prisoner somewhere.
By the time the sun was high, George was going
across George Washington Bridge the hard way, on the understruts, clinging with
bare hands and feet, clambering up and down slopes of girders and cables,
sometimes sitting and watching the sun sparkle on the water more than a hundred
feet below while huge ships went slowly by, seeming like toys.
The wind blew against his skin, warm sometimes
rind sometimes cold and foggy. He watched a cloud shadow drift up from the
south along the river. It darkened the spires of tall buildings, became a
traveling island of dark blue in the light blue of the river, approached and
widened, and then there was cool shadow across the bridge for long moments
while George looked up and watched a dark cotton cloud pass between him and the
The cloud left and the light blazed. George
looked away, dots of darkness in front of his eyes, and watched the cloud
shadow climb a giant cliff to the west and disappear over the top. He started
picking his way along a downslope of girder, moving carefully because the
dazzle of sun dots was still inside his eyes, dancing between his vision and
the girders. Overhead the steady rumble of traffic passing along the roadway
was a faraway and soothing sound.
A gull in the distance flapped upward through
the air toward him. It found an updraft and drifted with it, wings spread and
motionless, then paused in front of him, floating, a white beautiful set of
wings, a sardonic cynical head with downcurved mouth and expressionless
George was tempted to reach out and grab. He
shifted to the grip of one hand on the cross strut and hooked one knee over a
The gull tilted the tips of his wings and
floated upward and back, a little farther out of reach in the sky, but still
George decided that he was not stupid enough to
let a gull trick him into falling off the bridge.
The gull slanted and slid sideways down a long
invisible slope of air and squalled, “Creee. Ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha…” in a raucous gull laugh. George hoped he would come back and make
friends, but he had never heard of anyone making friends with a gull. He
climbed on toward the New Jersey shore, going up and down slopes of girders,
found a steel ladder fastened to the side and climbed it straight up to a paint
locker and a telephone. He dialed Rescue Squad, and asked for Judd Oslow.