For a long time Rethrick said nothing. He stared down at the floor, his face dull and blank. At last he looked up. “I know it’s that way. That’s something I’ve known for a long time. Longer than you have. I’m a lot older than you. I’ve seen it come, grow that way, year after year. That’s why Rethrick Construction exists. Someday, it’ll be all different. Someday, when we have the scoop and the mirror finished. When the weapons are finished.”
Jennings said nothing.
“I know very well how it is! I’m an old man. I’ve been working a long time. When they told me someone had got out of the Plant with schematics, I thought the end had come. We already knew you had damaged the mirror. We knew there was a connection, but we had parts figured wrong.
“We thought, of course, that Security had planted you with us, to find out what we were doing. Then, when you realized you couldn’t carry out your information, you damaged the mirror. With the mirror damaged, SP could go ahead and –”
He stopped, rubbing his cheek.
“Go on,” Jennings said.
“So you did this alone. . . Blackmail. To get into the Company. You don’t know what the Company is for, Jennings! How dare you try to come in! We’ve been working and building for a long time. You’d wreck us, to save your hide. You’d destroy us, just to save yourself.”
“I’m not wrecking you. I can be a lot of help.”
“I run the Company alone. It’s my Company. I made it, put it together. It’s mine.”
Jennings laughed. “And what happens when you die? Or is the revolution going to come in your own lifetime?”
Rethrick’s head jerked up.
“You’ll die, and there won’t be anyone to go on. You know I’m a good mechanic. You said so yourself. You’re a fool, Rethrick. You want to manage it all yourself. Do everything, decide everything. But you’ll die, someday. And then what will happen?”
There was silence.
“You better let me in — for the Company’s good, as well as my own. I can do a lot for you. When you’re gone the Company will survive in my hands. And maybe the revolution will work.”
“You should be glad you’re alive at all! If we hadn’t allowed you to take your trinkets out with you –”
“What else could you do? How could you let men service your mirror, see their own futures, and not let them lift a finger to help themselves. It’s easy to see why you were forced to insert the alternate-payment clause. You had no choice.”
“You don’t even know what we are doing. Why we exist.”
“I have a good idea. After all, I worked for you two years.”
Time passed. Rethrick moistened his lips again and again, rubbing his cheek. Perspiration stood out on his forehead. At last he looked up.
“No,” he said. “It’s no deal. No one will ever run the Company but me. If I die, it dies with me. It’s my property.”
Jennings became instantly alert. “Then the papers go to the Police.”
Rethrick said nothing, but a peculiar expression moved across his face, an expression that gave Jennings a sudden chill.
“Kelly,” Jennings said. “Do you have the papers with you?”
Kelly stirred, standing up. She put out her cigarette, her face pale. “No.”
“Where are they? Where did you put them?”
“Sorry,” Kelly said softly. “I’m not going to tell you.”
He stared at her. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” Kelly said again. Her voice was small and faint. “They’re safe. The SP won’t ever get them. But neither will you. When it’s convenient, I’ll turn them back to my father.”
“Kelly is my daughter,” Rethrick said. “That was one thing you didn’t count on, Jennings. He didn’t count on it, either. No one knew that but the two of us. I wanted to keep all positions of trust in the family. I see now that it was a good idea. But it had to be kept secret. If the SP had guessed they would have picked her up at once. Her life wouldn’t have been safe.”
Jennings let his breath out slowly. “I see.”
“It seemed like a good idea to go along with you,” Kelly said. “Otherwise you’d have done it alone, anyhow. And you would have had the papers on you. As you said, if the SP caught you with the papers it would be the end of us. So I went along with you. As soon as you gave me the papers I put them in a good safe place.” She smiled a little. “No one will find them but me. I’m sorry.”
“Jennings, you can come in with us,” Rethrick said. “You can work for us forever, if you want. You can have anything you want. Anything except –”
“Except that no one runs the Company but you.”
“That’s right. Jennings, the Company is old. Older than I am. I didn’t bring it into existence. It was — you might say, willed to me. I took the burden on. The job of managing it, making it grow, moving it toward the day. The day of revolution, as you put it.
“My grandfather founded the Company, back in the twentieth century. The Company has always been in the family. And it will always be. Someday, when Kelly marries, there’ll be an heir to carry it on after me. So that’s taken care of. The Company was founded up in Maine, in a small New England town. My grandfather was a little old New Englander, frugal, honest, passionately independent. He had a little repair business of some sort, a little tool and fix-it place. And plenty of knack.
“When he saw government and big business closing in on everyone, he went underground. Rethrick Construction disappeared from the map. It took government quite a while to organize Maine, longer than most places. When the rest of the world had been divided up between international cartels and world-states, there was New England, still alive. Still free. And my grandfather and Rethrick Construction.
“He brought in a few men, mechanics, doctors, lawyers, little once-a-week newspapermen from the Middle West. The Company grew. Weapons appeared, weapons and knowledge. The time scoop and mirror! The Plant was built, secretly, at great cost, over a long period of time. The Plant is big. Big and deep. It goes down many more levels than you saw. He saw them, your alter ego. There’s a lot of power there. Power, and men who’ve disappeared, purged all over the world, in fact. We got them first, the best of them.
“Someday, Jennings, we’re going to break out. You see, conditions like this can’t go on. People can’t live this way, tossed back and forth by political and economic powers. Masses of people shoved this way and that according to the needs of this government or that cartel. There’s going to be resistance, someday. A strong, desperate resistance. Not by big people, powerful people, but by little people. Bus drivers. Grocers. Vidscreen operators. Waiters. And that’s where the Company comes in.
“We’re going to provide them with the help they’ll need, the tools, weapons, the knowledge. We’re going to ‘sell’ them our services. They’ll be able to hire us. And they’ll need someone they can hire. They’ll have a lot lined up against them. A lot of wealth and power.”
There was silence.
“Do you see?” Kelly said. “That’s why you mustn’t interfere. It’s Dad’s Company. It’s always been that way. That’s the way Maine people are. It’s part of the family. The Company belongs to the family. It’s ours.”
“Come in with us,” Rethrick said. “As a mechanic. I’m sorry, but that’s our limited outlook showing through. Maybe it’s narrow, but we’ve always done things this way.”
Jennings said nothing. He walked slowly across the office, his hands in his pockets. After a time he raised the blind and stared out at the street, far below.
Down below, like a tiny black bug, a Security cruiser moved along, drifting silently with the traffic that flowed up and down the street. It joined a second cruiser, already parked. Four SP men were standing by it in their green uniforms, and even as he watched some more could be seen coming from across the street. He let the blind down.
“It’s a hard decision to make,” he said.
“If you go out there they’ll get you,” Rethrick said. “They’re out there all the time. You haven’t got a chance.”
“Please –” Kelly said, looking up at him.
Suddenly Jennings smiled. “So you won’t tell me where the papers are. Where you put them.”
Kelly shook her head.
“Wait.” Jennings reached into his pocket. He brought out a small piece of paper. He unfolded it slowly, scanning it. “By any chance did you deposit it with the Dunne National Bank, about three o’clock yesterday afternoon? For safekeeping in their storage vaults?”
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