There had been nothing comparable in western civilization since the Lisbon Earthquake shook the foundations of Christianity across half of Europe in 1755.
Now some semblance of regular government was in effect and had been for a quarter-century. But the scars left by the quake were cicatrized into the names of the new cities: Insecurity, Precipice, Protempore, Waystation, Transience… and Lap-of-the-Gods.
Inevitably, because these were new cities in a nation that had lacked a frontier these hundred years, they had attracted the restless, the dissident, sometimes the criminal elements from elsewhere. Up-to-date maps showed them dotted like accidental inkblots from Monterey to San Diego and inland over a belt almost two hundred miles wide. They constituted a nation within a nation. Tourists could still come here. But most often they decided not to. It felt more like home in Istanbul.
“Sandy!” Sitting down in a chair facing him, Kate tapped his knee. “You’re out of it so don’t slip back. Talk! And this time make sense. What makes you so terrified of Tarnover?”
“If they catch me they’ll do what they meant to do in the first place. What I fled from.”
“That being — ?”
“They’ll make me over in a version of myself I don’t approve.”
“That happens to everybody all the time. The lucky ones win, the others suffer. There’s something deeper. Something worse.”
He gave a weary nod. “Yes, there is. My conviction that if they get the chance to try they’ll do it, and I won’t have a hope in hell of fighting back.” There was a dull silence. At last Kate nodded, her face grave.
“I got there. You’d know what was being done to you. And later you’d be fascinated by the tape of your reactions.”
With a humorless laugh he said, “I think you lie about your age. Nobody could be that cynical so young. Of course you’re right.”
Another pause, this time full of gray depression. She broke it by saying, “I wish you’d been in a fit state to talk before we left KC. You must have been just going through the motions. But never mind. I think we came to a right place. If you’ve been avoiding towns like Lap-of-the-Gods for—what is it? — six years, then they won’t immediately start combing California for you.”
It was amazing how calmly he took that, he thought. To hear his most precious secret mentioned in passing… Above all, it was nearly beyond belief that someone finally was on his side.
Hence the calmness? Very probably.
“Are we in a hotel?” he inquired.
“Sort of. They call it an open lodge. You get a room and then fend for yourself. There’s a kitchen through there”—a vague gesture toward the door of the bedroom—”and there’s no limit on how long you can stay. Nor any questions asked when you check in, luckily.”
“You used your code?”
“Did you expect me to use yours? I have lots of credit. I’m not exactly an economist, but I’m blessed with simple tastes.”
“In that case the croakers will come calling any moment.”
“Shit on that. You’re thinking in contemporary terms. Check into a hotel, ten seconds later the fact’s on file at Canaveral, right? Not here, Sandy. They still process credit by hand. It could be a week before I’m debbed for this room.”
Hope he had almost ceased to believe in burgeoned in his eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Hell, no. Today could be the day the desk clerk makes up his bills. All I’m saying is it isn’t automatic. You know about this town, don’t you?”
“I know about so many paid-avoidance areas…” He rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. “Is this one that’s settled down to about a 1960 level?”
“I guess that would be fairly close. I haven’t been here before, though I have been to Protempore, and I’m told the two are comparable. That’s why I hit on it. I didn’t want to take you anywhere I might be recognized.”
She leaned toward him. “Now let’s concentrate, shall we? The dobers aren’t howling at the door, and it’s long past time for me to learn the rest of your history. You seem to have spent a long while at Tarnover. Think you’re fettered by a posthypnotic?”