I unlocked the door, pushed it open, and stepped into the bedroom. The guard-bot, a slightly more complex form of the Clancy, hovered a few feet away, its pin-gun barrels uncapped and pointing out of the roundness of its underside. “You called me,” it said. “I have come. Is anything wrong?”
“Come with me,” I said, leading the way through the apartment. I searched all the rooms and closets until I was satisfied that He had gone. I had expected Him to stay, for I was certain it would be nothing for Him to handle the guard-bot. But the place was empty.
“Is there anything you want?” the guard-bot asked, the words coming out of its speaker grid with a faint whistling sound.
“Stay right here,” I said. “I’m packing to leave. If you see or hear anyone approaching, summon me at once.” And I left him in the living room while I stuffed clothes and toiletries into an overnight case. He walked me to the elevator and rode to the roof with me, waited while I got a helicar. When I lifted off into the night sky over New York City, he turned and floated back into the lift, sent it down with an electric signal.
The computer under the dash of the helicar asked me my roof destination. When I could not think of anything to say, the central traffic control computer housed in the old Empire State Building, cut in, demanded immediate notification of destination, and warned that I would be set down and my helicar privileges canceled if I tried to sabotage the traffic control pattern. I asked for a random flight out of the City, over the Atlantic. The central computer cut out, and my car’s own brain began devouring information sent it by central and plotting a random course to slip between the lines of regular traffic.
When you have a few hundred thousand vehicles in the air over one city—from passenger liners to military craft to helicars to drop capsules being spit out of intercontinental rocket bellies—you need a highly complex regulator like the central traffic control computer in eighty-one floors of the Empire State. The other floors of the building house the offices and work areas of the technicians and staff who care for that same computer. One accident in the air can be like a domino collapse. If two craft on a top level of traffic collide, they may take down a dozen or two other pieces of air traffic before they smash into the roofs below.
For a full twenty minutes, we wove in and out of the pattern, swinging to all points of the compass, rising and going back down to make way for commercial and private craft already assigned to that position. Other craft slid by us on all sides, sometimes as close as five or ten feet, the drivers inside perfectly visible in the glow of their cabin lights. Then we were into clearer air, over the Atlantic, beyond the most used airlanes, even out past the holding patterns for transoceanic flights. I could lean against the window and look down on the sea below, where medium-sized waves curled off toward the continent, capped with white foam, otherwise black as oil. Above, there was a heavy cloud layer from which a light snow filtered. The wipers clicked on and thumped back and forth across the windscreen.
I asked the dash computer if it would be possible to go above the clouds since they were so low, and it obliged, because it could work out the maneuver without disturbing the traffic pattern. Suddenly, the clouds were below me, and the almost-full moon lay cold and serene in the black sky overhead.
“What do you do when God is out to get you?” I asked aloud.
“Pardon?” the computer said.
“Ignore me,” I said.
“That is impossible, sir. My pickups function constantly and are beyond my control.”
“That must get boring,” I said, “listening to all your passengers’ problems.”
“On the contrary,” the helicar said, “that is my only contact with the outside world.”
I knew then that the central traffic computer had tapped this cab again to see if things were functioning properly. The simple brain and simple voice-tapes of the helicar would not have been up to this sort of banter.