“Well,” I said, avoiding His eyes, “let’s get back to the debarking hold. It’ll soon be time to make our drop, and we don’t want to miss that.”
We left the bathroom and walked the length of the main passenger compartment where two hundred travelers read magazines or sipped one of their three allotted drinks, or puffed their allotted joint of pot, or even napped. Oh, yes, or watched Mason Chambers on their individual Comscreens; The famous muck-raker leaned toward his audience, his thin cap of gray-black hair threatening to part and bare his carefully concealed baldness, and said: “Just who does Secretary Libermann think we are—cretins? We cannot be convinced that the World Authority Police cannot capture the android and the infamous Dr. Kennelmen. With all of the facilities available to the police, such a thing isn’t feasible. No, dear viewers, it is something else—something more sinister. Conjecture this, if you will: The World Authority has discovered something about the android that makes it the most important find of the century, something so valuable that no price can be placed on it. Something the Council would like to keep to itself and its own, to the privileged of this world. By staging this false escape, proclaiming the android dangerous and killing it on sight, they will impress on the public the fact that the research on androids has been abandoned. They will be free to continue it secretly to reap the benefits themselves!” He smiled triumphantly and looked at his notes. He was tough on everyone, even the sacrosanct Council. There would be a lot of lights burning in the Capitol tonight as the best minds in the government tried to find some way to silence Mason Chambers. Too bad the old boy was on the wrong track. He was right about the marvelous discovery, the value of the century, but that was as far as he carried it correctly.
The length of our walk down the main compartment, I waited tensely for someone to leap and shout, “That’s them!” But no one did. We stepped through the open hatch into the debarking chamber and breathed a little easier. The officer on duty was a slim, dark-haired man in his early thirties. He had a long nose, separating slow, heavy-lidded eyes that gave him a slightly saurian and very stupid look. He sat reading a low-quality papsheet and puffing on a cigarette, letting the smoke leak out of a tiny hole at the edge of his mouth. It was almost impossible that he could be ignorant of our presence, but he studied the sheet intensely and pretended we were not there. At last, I said, “We’ll be disembarking at Cantwell, Alaska.”
He looked up reluctantly and folded the papsheet. “That’s a helluva place.” He shivered and grimaced. “Had a duty station with the airline there for two months once. Cold. Snow. Wind like you wouldn’t believe. Threatened to quit, so they transferred me.”
“We have relatives there,” I said, trying to sound as natural as I could. I am not the greatest thespian to walk the boards since Burton, believe me. My feet freeze, and my head turns to mud when I have to speak to a group of interns. Perhaps that’s why I am so tough and hard-boiled around them: because they scare me. Despite my shyness, I had been surprised these last few days how easily I could fool people when my life was staked on pulling the wool over their eyes. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but naked fear was the bitch that gave birth to my coolness.
“Ticket?” He looked us over thoroughly while I fumbled for the two yellow pieces of paper, the cigarette bobbling in his mouth, the ash dangerously long. I was afraid that somewhere in his simple brain-box two synapses would flop open, and he would connect pictures he had seen in the papsheet with the two rumpled men standing before him. Over the week He and I had been playing cat and mouse with the World Authority, running and running like mechanical wind-up toys, trying to gain time for Him to develop Himself to the point where He wouldn’t have to run, our pictures and descriptions had graced the front pages of every papsheet in the world at least six out of the seven days. Here we were spotted in Lisbon, here in Acapulco, here in New York City. Luckily, the debarking officer on this ship seemed the type to skip the news sections and dwell on the gossip pages and the comics. For the first time in my life, I thanked the powers that be for anti-intellectualism.