She was not the most expert of data-mice; however, her position as head-of-dept for transient execs gave her access to the files of G2S employees. Trembling, she punched the code that started with 4GH.
The screen stayed blank.
She tried every route she could think of to gain access to the data, including some that were within the ace of being illegal… though they bent, rather than broke, the regulations laid down by the Bureau of Data Processing, and a blind eye was generally turned.
The result was invariably the same blank screen.
At first she only nibbled her nails; later, she started to gnaw them; finally, she had to cram her fingers into her mouth to stop herself whimpering in mingled terror and exhaustion.
If all her best attempts had failed, there was just one conclusion to be drawn.
Sandy Locke, so far as the data-net was concerned, had been deleted from the human race.
For the first time since she broke her heart at seventeen, Ina Grierson cried herself to sleep.
A SHOULDER TO BE WEPT ON BY THE WORLD So they went to Precipice, where there wasn’t one. The town had been founded on the levelest ground for miles, a patch of soft but stable silt due to some long-ago river which still had a few creeks meandering across it. Though hills could be seen on three sides, their slopes were gentle and any earthquake that shifted them in their eon-long slumber would be violent enough to cast loose California entire.
They rode toward it in the electric railcar with the irregular schedule, which they boarded at Transience. Small wonder the car didn’t stick to a fixed timetable. As they were informed by the driver—a burly smiling man wearing shorts, sunglasses and sandals—a local ordinance obliged it to give precedence at all crossings to anyone on foot, cycle or horseback, as well as to farm animals and agricultural vehicles. Moreover, when making its final loop around Precipice proper it had to let passengers on or off at any point. Taking full advantage of this facility, local people boarded and descended every few hundred meters. All of them gazed with unashamed curiosity at the strangers.
Who became uncomfortable. Both of them had overlooked one problem involved in traveling around the paid-avoidance zones, being so used to the devices that in theory could eliminate the need for baggage from the plug-in life-style. At all modern hotels could be found ultrasonic clothing cleansers capable of ridding even the bulkiest garment of its accumulated dust and grime in five minutes, and when the cloth began to give way under repeated applications of this violent treatment, there were other machines that would credit you for the fiber, tease it apart, store it for eventual re-use, and issue another garment the same size but a different style and/or color, debbing the customer for the additional fiber and the work involved. Nothing like that was to be found at Lap-of-the-Gods.
Kate had snatched up toilet gear for them before departure, including an old-fashioned reciprocating-head razor left behind by one of her boyfriends, but neither had thought to bring spare clothing. Consequently they were by now looking, and even more feeling, dirty… and those strange eyes constantly scanning them made them fidget.
But things could have been a great deal worse. In many places people would have felt it their duty to put hostile questions to wanderers whose clothes looked as though they had been slept in and who carried almost no other possessions.
Luggage might have dwindled; the list of what people felt to be indispensable had long ago reached the stage where both sexes customarily carried bulky purses when bound for any but their most regular destinations.
Yet until they were almost at the end of their journey no one in the railcar, except the informative driver, addressed anything but a greeting to them.
By then they had been able to look over the neighborhood, which they found impressive. The rich alluvial soil was being efficiently farmed; watered by irrigation channels topped up by wind-driven pumps, orchards and cornfields and half-hectare plots of both leaf and root vegetables shimmered in the sun. That much one could have seen anywhere. Far more remarkable were the buildings. They were virtually invisible. Like partridges hiding among rough grass, some of them eluded the eye altogether until a change of angle revealed a line too straight to be other than artificial, or a flash of sunlight on the black glass of a solar energy collector. The contrast with a typical modern farm, a factory-like place where standard barns and silos prefabricated out of concrete and aluminum were dumped all anyhow, was astonishing.
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