“I have the feeling Rethrick is a great deal more than just another construction company the SP wants to control.”
“I suppose it is. I really don’t know. I’m just a receptionist. I’ve never been to the Plant. I don’t even know where it is.”
“But you wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.”
“Of course not! They’re fighting the Police. Anyone that’s fighting the Police is on our side.”
“Really? I’ve heard that kind of logic before. Anyone fighting communism was automatically good, a few decades ago. Well, time will tell. As far as I’m concerned I’m an individual caught between two ruthless forces. Government and business. The Government has men and wealth. Rethrick Construction has its technocracy. What they’ve done with it, I don’t know. I did, a few weeks ago. All I have now is a faint glimmer, a few references. A theory.”
Kelly glanced at him. “A theory?”
“And my pocketful of trinkets. Seven. Three or four now. I’ve used some. They’re the basis of my theory. If Rethrick is doing what I think it’s doing, I can understand the SP’s interest. As a matter of fact, I’m beginning to share their interest.”
“What is Rethrick doing?”
“It’s developed a time scoop.”
“A time scoop. It’s been theoretically possible for several years. But it’s illegal to experiment with time scoops and mirrors. It’s a felony, and if you’re caught, all your equipment and data becomes the property of the Government.” Jennings smiled crookedly. “No wonder the Government’s interested. If they can catch Rethrick with the goods –”
“A time scoop. It’s hard to believe.”
“Don’t you think I’m right?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps. Your trinkets. You’re not the first to come out with a little cloth sack of odds and ends. You’ve used some? How?”
“First, the wire and the bus token. Getting away from the Police. It seems funny, but if I hadn’t had them, I’d be there yet. A piece of wire and a ten-cent token. But I don’t usually carry such things. That’s the point.”
“No. Not time travel. Berkowsky demonstrated that time travel is impossible. This is a time scoop, a mirror to see and a scoop to pick up things. These trinkets. At least one of them is from the future. Scooped up. Brought back.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s dated. The others, perhaps not. Things like tokens and wire belong to classes of things. Any one token is as good as another. There, he must have used a mirror.”
“When I was working with Rethrick. I must have used the mirror. I looked into my own future. If I was repairing their equipment I could hardly keep from it! I must have looked ahead, seen what was coming. The SP picking me up. I must have seen that, and seen what a piece of thin wire and a bus token would do — if I had them with me at the exact moment.”
Kelly considered. “Well? What do you want me for?”
“I’m not sure, now. Do you really look on Rethrick as a benevolent institution, waging war against the Police? A sort of Roland at Roncesvalles –”
“What does it matter how I feel about the Company?”
“It matters a lot.” Jennings finished his drink, pushing the glass aside. “It matters a lot, because I want you to help me. I’m going to blackmail Rethrick Construction.”
Kelly stared at him.
“It’s my one chance to stay alive, I’ve got to get a hold over Rethrick, a big hold. Enough of a hold so they’ll let me in, on my own terms. There’s no other place I can go. Sooner or later the Police are going to pick me up. If I’m not inside the Plant, and soon –”
“Help you blackmail the Company? Destroy Rethrick?”
“No. Not destroy. I don’t want to destroy it — my life depends on the Company. My life depends on Rethrick being strong enough to defy the SP. But if I’m on the outside it doesn’t much matter how strong Rethrick is. Do you see? I want to get in. I want to get inside before it’s too late. And I want in on my own terms, not as a two-year worker who gets pushed out again afterward.”
“For the Police to pick up.”
Jennings nodded. “Exactly.”
“How are you going to blackmail the Company?”
“I’m going to enter the Plant and carry out enough material to prove Rethrick is operating a time scoop.”
Kelly laughed. “Enter the Plant? Let’s see you find the Plant. The SP have been looking for it for years.”
“I’ve already found it.” Jennings leaned back, lighting a cigarette. “I’ve located it with my trinkets. And I have four left, enough to get me inside, I think. And to get me what I want. I’ll be able to carry out enough papers and photographs to hang Rethrick. But I don’t want to hang Rethrick. I only want to bargain. That’s where you come in.”
“You can be trusted not to go to the Police. I need someone I can turn the material over to. I don’t dare keep it myself. As soon as I have it I must turn it over to someone else, someone who’ll hide it where I won’t be able to find it.”
“Because,” Jennings said calmly, “any minute the SP may pick me up. I have no love for Rethrick, but I don’t want to scuttle it. That’s why you’ve got to help me. I’m going to turn the information over to you, to hold, while I bargain with Rethrick. Otherwise I’ll have to hold it myself. And if I have it on me –”
He glanced at her. Kelly was staring at the floor, her face tense. Set.
“Well? What do you say? Will you help me, or shall I take the chance the SP won’t pick me up with the material? Data enough to destroy Rethrick. Well? Which will it be? Do you want to see Rethrick destroyed? What’s your answer?”
The two of them crouched, looking across the fields at the hill beyond. The hill rose up, naked and brown, burned clean of vegetation. Nothing grew on its sides. Halfway up a long steel fence twisted, topped with charged barbed wire. On the other side a guard walked slowly, a tiny figure patrolling with a rifle and helmet.
At the top of the hill lay an enormous concrete block, a towering structure without windows or doors. Mounted guns caught the early morning sunlight, glinting in a row along the roof of the building.
“So that’s the Plant,” Kelly said softly.
“That’s it. It would take an army to get up there, up that hill and over the fence. Unless they were allowed in.” Jennings got to his feet, helping Kelly up. They walked back along the path, through the trees, to where Kelly had parked the cruiser.
“Do you really think your green cloth band will get you in?” Kelly said, sliding behind the wheel.
“According to the people in the town, a truckload of laborers will be brought in to the Plant sometime this morning. The truck is unloaded at the entrance and the men examined. If everything’s in order they’re let inside the grounds, past the fence. For construction work, manual labor. At the end of the day they’re let out again and driven back to town.”
“Will that get you close enough?”
“I’ll be on the other side of the fence, at least.”
“How will you get to the time scoop? That must be inside the building, some place.”
Jennings brought out a small code key. “This will get me in. I hope. I assume it will.”
Kelly took the key, examining it. “So that’s one of your trinkets. We should have taken a better look inside your little cloth bag.”
“The Company. I saw several little bags of trinkets pass out, through my hands. Rethrick never said anything.”
“Probably the Company assumed no one would ever want to get back inside again.” Jennings took the code key from her. “Now, do you know what you’re supposed to do?”
“I’m supposed to stay here with the cruiser until you get back. You’re to give me the material. Then I’m to carry it back to New York and wait for you to contact me.”
“That’s right.” Jennings studied the distant road, leading through the trees to the Plant gate. “I better get down there. The truck may be along any time.”
“What if they decide to count the number of workers?”
“I’ll have to take the chance. But I’m not worried. I’m sure he foresaw everything.”
Kelly smiled. “You and your friend, your helpful friend. I hope he left you enough things to get you out again, after you have the photographs.”
“Why not?” Kelly said easily. “I always liked you. You know that. You knew when you came to me.”
Jennings stepped out of the cruiser. He had on overalls and workshoes, and a gray sweatshirt. “I’ll see you later. If everything goes all right. I think it will.” He patted his pocket. “With my charms here, my good-luck charms.”
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