ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

He never finished waiting. The city leveled its own income tax, now that it did not have to worry about state levies at a percentage just above what they would need to start renovating the metropolis, and just below what the citizens would accept without revolution. There followed a ten-year building program wherein the city was restructured to accommodate its people. Space previously given over to streets was done away with. Instead, a series of underground tubes, much faster and more extensive than the subways, was installed. The existing buildings were connected with new sections of new buildings, until most of the city was one structure. Then, shoved through these structures, other transportation facilities were constructed, especially the computer-channeled Bubble Drops that webbed the city with hundreds of thousands of tubeways in which single-passenger plastic bubbles were bulleted along by compressed air cartridges slung under them. The interior of each of the tubeways was perhaps two feet wider than necessary to accept the bubbles. Projecting from the walls were thousands of soft wire cilia per square foot. When a capsule shot by these, the pressure they exerted on the cilia helped the computer to keep track of the exact position of all capsules in the network. With the new subways, the Bubble Drops, the ever-present high-speed elevators, the conveyor-belts pedways that connected the city on twelve different levels, and the buildings grown together into one structure tens of miles square and as much as a mile and a half high, New York City became an anthill of sorts, a colony closed off from the sun, a maze of corridors and rooms and pedways and tubes. But it survived. And survived so well that the Renovation was used as a pattern for other troubled cities in other parts of the world. The food problem for the ballooning population had been solved long ago through the culture vats for synthe-meats and the hydroponics farms that produced huge quantities of fat vegetables. Now, at last, the problem of living space and big-city transportation had been licked. As long as the population could be maintained at its present point, the world would survive.

After the WA boys arrested me in Cantwell, outside Harry’s cabin, I was taken to the great city, landed by helicopter on the roof of one of the highest sectors of the city. They hustled me onto the roof, keeping their guns in their hands as if I were some mad killer, some psychotic who had poisoned the water supply or planted a bomb in a community meeting cellar. We walked across the tarmac to a small extension of one of the building’s elevator shafts, signaled for the cab, and got in when it arrived. We dropped so fast that my stomach tried to crawl up my throat. We went down and down, until I knew that we had gone below the ground floor and under the surface, perhaps as deep as fifteen or twenty floors under ground level.

We got out of the elevator and stepped into a tunnel-like corridor lighted by inset blue fluorescents, spotlessly clean, decorated in blue and white tile. Every so often, the continuity of the floor-tile pattern would be broken by large letters—WA—formed out of green tile and bent to form a globe. We walked perhaps a block until we came to a widening of the passage. Here, a man sat at a broad desk, surrounded by panels of electronic instruments and a huge board with fifty television screens off to his right. Each of the screens was no more than three inches by three inches, and each had a different picture on it, though the details of the various scenes were almost too small to decipher. We stopped before this desk and waited.

The man at the desk was pudgy and had a second chin that puffed out farther than his first. His arms were like large, ready-to-burst sausages as they swept over the controls on the desk. Oddly, his head was luxuriant with black-gray hair that was obviously the result of Volper Stimulants to correct baldness. If he did not mind being heavy, why did he mind being bald? He did not look up at us immediately, but flipped another switch and turned to his right in his swivel chair. One of the three-inch screens on the big board moved out from the wall on an extensor arm, glided four feet, right up to his face, and stopped. The man examined the scene carefully. I could see what it was now: a cell. Each of those screens represented a cell in a maximum security prison, and the men in those cells were almost constantly being observed. When the clerk was satisfied with the behavior of the prisoner he was watching, he directed the extensor arm back, and the screen settled into its niche in the board. At last, he turned to us and said, “Yes?”

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Categories: Koontz, Dean