“At ease,” the newcomer said briskly, displaying his ID card and duplicate forms. “Sorry to have kept you. Any trouble with the girl?”
The driver said with a shrug, “She’s out, sir. Like a busted light-tube oh-you-tee.”
“That’s how it should be. They gave you your route card?”
“Sure, they brought it when they delivered the girl. Oh, and this as well. Feels like her code card, I guess.” The soldier proffered a small flat package.
Peeling off the cover proved him half right. Not one code card, but two.
“Thanks. Not that she’ll have much use for it where she’s going.”
“I guess not.” With a sour grin.
“You already changed your batteries, did you? Fine—let’s get under way.” Dark roads thrummed into the past to the accompaniment of a rattling of numbers, not spoken. He had memorized both codes before starting his veephone-mediated sabotage, but there was a lot more to this escape than simply two personal codes. He wanted everything down pat before the ambulance first had to stop for electricity, and the range of this model was only about two hundred miles.
Best if the driver didn’t have to get hurt. Though having been fool enough to volunteer for army service, of course, and worse still, having been fool enough to accept orders unquestioningly from a machine…
But everybody did that. Everybody, all the time. Otherwise none of this would have been possible.
Similarly, none of it would have had to happen.
FOR PURPOSES OF DISORIENTATION At present and with luck from now on and forever regardless of what code I wear I am being Nicholas Kenton Haflinger. And whoever doesn’t like it will have to lump it.
PRESIDING AT AWAKE “What the — ? Who — ? Why, Sandy!”
“Quiet. Listen carefully. You’re in an army ambulance. We’re about two hundred miles east of Tarnover supposedly on the way to Washington. The driver believes I’m a Medical Corps major escorting you. There was no convincing story I could invent to justify clothing fit for you to cross a public street in. All you have is that issue cotton gown. What’s more they shaved your head. Do you remember anything about this, or did they keep you all the time in regressed mode?”
She swallowed hard. “I’ve had what seem like dreams since they—they kidnaped me. I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t.”
“We’ll sort that out later. We’re laying over to change batteries. I sent the driver for coffee. He’ll be back any moment. I’ll find some other excuse to make him hang around, because I’ve seen an automat where I can buy you a dress, shoes and a wig. At the next stop be ready to put them on and vanish.”
“What—what are we going to do? Even if it comes off?”
Cynically he curled his lip. “The same as I’ve been doing all my adult life. Run the net. Only this time in more than one sense. And believe you me, they aren’t going to like it.” Shutting the ambulance’s rear door again, he said loudly to the returning driver, “Damn monitors up front! Showed the sedative control had quit. But she’s lying like a log. Say, did you spot a men’s room? I guess before we get back on the road I ought to take a leak.”
Over the hum of the many steam and electric vehicles crowding the service area the driver answered, “Right next to the automat, sir. And—uh—if we’re not pulling out at once, I see they got Delphi boards and I’d kinda like to check out a nervous ticket.”
“Sure, go ahead. But keep it down to—let’s say five minutes, hm?”
TEMBLOR “What do you mean, he can’t be reached? Listen again and make sure you know who I’m asking for. Paul—T-for-Tommy—Freeman! Want I should spell it?
“His new code? What about his — ? Are you certain?
“But they don’t have any goddamn right to snatch him out from—Oh, shit. Sometimes I wonder who’s in charge around this country, us or the machines. Give me the new code, then.
“I don’t care what it says in back of its head listing. Just read it over to me. If you can, that is!