The roads must roll, p.3
The Roads Must Roll, p.3Robert A. Heinlein
of self-reproach. He was heartsick at suffering he had seen, and which he knew too well was duplicated up and down the line. Although he was not aware of any personal omission, nevertheless, the fault was somehow his, for authority creates responsibility.
He had carried too long the superhuman burden of kingship - which no sane mind can carry light-heartedly - and was at this moment perilously close to the frame of mind which sends captains down with their ships. Only the need for immediate, constructive action sustained him.
But no trace of this conflict reached his features.
At the wall of buildings glowed a green line of arrows, pointing to the left. Over them, at the terminus of the narrow path, shone a sign: "ACCESS DOWN." They pursued this, Blekinsop puffing in Gaines' wake, to a door let in the wall, which gave in to a narrow stairway lighted by a single glowtube. Gaines plunged down this, still followed, and they emerged on the crowded, noisy, stationary walkway adjoining the northbound road.
Immediately adjacent to the stairway, on the right, was a public tele-booth. Through the glassite door they could see a portly, well-dressed man speaking earnestly to his female equivalent, mirrored in the visor screen. Three other citizens were waiting outside the booth.
Gaines pushed past them, flung open the door, grasped the bewildered and indignant man by the shoulders, and hustled him outside, kicking the door closed after him. He cleared the visor screen with one sweep of his hand, before the matron pictured therein could protest, and pressed the emergency-priority button.
He dialed his private code number, and was shortly looking into the troubled face of his Engineer of the Watch, Davidson.
"It's you, Chief! Thank God! Where are you?" Davidson's' relief was pathetic.
The Senior Watch Officer repressed his emotion and complied in direct, clipped phrases, "At seven-oh-nine p.m. the consolidated tension reading, strip twenty, Sacramento Sector, climbed suddenly. Before action could be taken, tension on strip twenty passed emergency level; the interlocks acted, and power to subject strip cut out. Cause of failure, unknown. Direct communication to Sacramento control office has failed. They do not answer the auxiliary, nor the commercial line. Effort to re-establish communication continues. Messenger dispatched from Stockton Subsector Ten.
"No casualties reported. Warning broadcast by public announcement circuit to keep clear of strip nineteen.
Evacuation has commenced."
"There are casualties," Gaines cut in. "Police and hospital emergency routine. Move!"
"Yes, sir!" Davidson snapped back, and hooked a thumb over his shoulder-but his Cadet Officer of the Watch had already jumped to comply. "Shall I cut out the rest of the road, Chief?"
"No. No more casualties are likely after the first disorder. Keep up the broadcast warnings. Keep, those other strips rolling, or we will have a traffic jam the devil himself couldn't untangle." - Gaines had in mind the impossibility of bringing the strips up to speed under load. The rotors were not powerful enough to do this. If the entire road was stopped, he would have to evacuate every strip, correct the trouble on strip twenty, bring all strips up to speed, and then move the accumulated peak load traffic. In the meantime, over five million stranded passengers would, constitute a tremendous police problem. It was simpler to evacuate passengers on strip twenty over the roof, and allow them to return home via the remaining strips. "Notify the Mayor and the Governor that I have assumed emergency authority. Same to the Chief of Police and place him under your orders. Tell the Commandant to arm all cadets available and await orders. Move!"
"Yes, sir. Shall I recall technicians off watch?"
"No. This isn't an engineering failure. Take a look at your readings; that entire sector went out simultaneously. Somebody cut out those rotors by hand. Place offwatch technicians on standby status-but don't arm them, and don't send them down inside. Tell the Commandant to rush all available senior-class cadets to Stockton Subsector Office number ten to report in. I want them equipped with tumblebugs, pistols, and sleepy bombs."
"Yes, sir." A clerk leaned over Davidson's shoulder and said something in his ear. "The Governor wants to talk to you, Chief."
"Can't do it-nor can you. Who's your relief? Have you sent for him?"
"Hubbard-he's just come in."
"Have him talk to the Governor, the Mayor, the press - anybody that calls - even the White House. You stick to your watch. I'm cutting off. I'll be back in communication as quickly as I can locate a reconnaissance car." He was out of the booth almost before the screen cleared.
Blekinsop did not venture to speak, but followed him out to the northbound twenty-mile strip. There Gaines stopped, short of the wind break, turned, and kept his eyes on the wall beyond the stationary walkway. He picked out some landmark, or sign - not apparent to his companion - and did an Eliza-crossing-the-ice back to the walkway, so rapidly that Blekinsop was carried some hundred feet beyond him, and almost failed to follow when Gaines ducked into a doorway and ran down a flight of stairs.
They came out on a narrow lower walkway, 'down inside'. The pervading din claimed them, beat upon their bodies as well as their ears. Dimly, Blekinsop perceived their surroundings, as he struggled to face that wall of sound. Facing him, illuminated by the yellow monochrome of a sodium arc, was one of the rotors that drove the five-mile strip, its great, drum-shaped armature revolving slowly around the stationary field coils in its core. The upper surface of the drum pressed against the under side of the moving way and imparted to it its stately progress.
To the left and right, a hundred yards each way, and
beyond at similar intervals, farther than he could see, were other rotors. Bridging the gaps between the rotors were the slender rollers, crowded together like cigars in a
box, in order that the strip might have a continuous rolling support. The rollers were supported by steel girder arches through the gaps of which he saw row after row of rotors in staggered succession, the rotors in each succeeding row turning over more rapidly than the last.
Separated from the narrow walkway by a line of supporting steel pillars, and lying parallel to it on the side away from the rotors, ran a shallow paved causeway, joined to the walk at this point by a ramp. Gaines peered up and down this tunnel in evident annoyance. Blekinsop started to ask him what troubled him, but found his voice snuffed out by the sound: He could not cut through the roar of thousands of rotors and the whine of hundreds of thousands of rollers.
Gaines saw his lips move and guessed at the question.'
He cupped his hands around Blekinsop's right ear, and shouted, "No car - I expected to find a car here."
The Australian, wishing to be helpful, grasped Gaines' arm and pointed back into the jungle of machinery.
Gaines' eye followed the direction indicated and picked out something that he had missed in his preoccupation - a half dozen men working around a rotor several strips away. They had jacked down a rotor until it was no longer in contact with the road surface and were preparing to replace it in toto. The replacement rotor was standing by on a low, heavy truck.
The Chief Engineer gave a quick smile of acknowledgment and thanks and aimed his flashlight at the group, the beam focused down to a slender, intense needle of light.
One of the technicians looked up, and Gaines snapped the light on and off in a repeated, irregular pattern. A figure detached itself from the group, and ran toward them.
It was a slender young man, dressed in dungarees and topped off with earpads and an incongruous, pillbox cap, bright with gold braid and Insignia. He recognized the Chief Engineer and saluted, his face falling into humorless, boyish intentness.
Gaines stuffed his torch into a pocket and commenced to gesticulate rapidly with both hands-clear, clean gestures, as involved and as meaningful as deaf-mute language. Blekinsop dug into his own dilettante knowledge of anthropology and decided that it was most like American Indian sign language, with some of the finger movements o
The cadet answered him in kind, stepped to the edge of the causeway, and flashed his torch to the south. He picked out a car, still some distance away, but approaching at headlong speed. It braked, and came to a stop alongside them.
It was a small affair, ovoid in shape, and poised on two centerline wheels. The forward, upper surface swung up and disclosed the driver, another cadet. Gaines addressed him briefly in sign language, then hustled Blekinsop ahead of him into the cramped passenger compartment.
As the glassite hood was being swung back into place, a blast of wind smote them, and the Australian looked up in time to glimpse the last of three much larger vehicles hurtle past them. They were headed north, at a speed of not less than two hundred miles per hour. Blekinsop thought that he had made out the little hats of cadets through the windows of the last of the three, but he could not be sure.
He had no time to wonder - so violent was the driver's getaway. Gaines ignored the accelerating surge; he was already calling Davidson on the built-in communicator. Comparative silence had settled down once the car was closed. The face of a female operator at the relay station showed on the screen.
"Get me Davidson-Senior Watch Office!"
"Oh! It's Mr. Gaines! The Mayor wants to talk to you, Mr. Gaines."
"Refer him-and get me Davidson. Move!"
"And see here-leave this circuit hooked in to Davidson's board until I tell you personally to cut it."
"Right." Her face gave way to the Watch Officer's.
"That you, Chief? We're moving-progress O.K.-no change."
"Very well You'll be able to raise me on this circuit, or at Subsector Ten office. Clearing now." Davidson's face gave way to the relay operator.
"Your wife is calling, Mr. Gaines. Will you take it?"
Gaines muttered something not quite gallant, and answered, "Yes."
Mrs. Gaines flashed into facsimile. He burst into speech before she could open her mouth. "Darling I'm all right don't worry I'll be home when I get there I've go to go now." It was all out in one breath, and he slapped the control that cleared the screen.
They slammed to a breath-taking stop alongside the stair leading to the watch office of Subsector Ten, and piled out. Three big lorries were drawn up on the ramp, and three platoons of cadets were ranged in restless ranks alongside them.
A cadet trotted up to Gaines, and saluted. "Lindsay, sir-Cadet Engineer of the Watch. The Engineer of the Watch requests that you come at once to the control room."
The Engineer of the Watch looked up as they came in. "Chief-Van Kleeck is calling you."
"Put him on."
When Van Kleeck appeared in the big visor, Gaines greeted him with, "Hello, Van. Where are you?"
"Sacramento Office. Now, listen-"
"Sacramento? That's good! Report."
Van Kleeck looked disgruntled. "Report, hell! I'm not your deputy any more, Gaines. Now, you-"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Listen, and don't interrupt me, and you'll find out. You're through, Gaines. I've been picked as Director of the Provisional Central Committee for the New Order."
"Van, have you gone off your rocker? What do you mean-the New Order?"
"You'll find out. This is it-the functionalist revolution. We're in; you're out. We stopped strip twenty just to give you a little taste of what we can do."
Concerning Function: A Treatise on the Natural Order
in Society, the bible of the functionalist movement, was first published in 1930. It claimed to be a scientifically accurate theory of social relations. The author, Paul Decker, disclaimed the "outworn and futile" ideas of democracy and human equality, and substituted a system in which human beings were evaluated "functionally" - that is to say, by the role each filled in the economic sequence. The underlying thesis was that it was right and proper for a man to exercise over his fellows whatever power was inherent in his function, and that any other form of social organization was silly, visionary, and contrary to the "natural order."
The complete interdependence of modern economic life seems to have escaped him entirely.
His ideas were dressed up with a glib mechanistic psendopsychology based on the observed orders of precedence among barnyard fowls, and on the famous Pavlov conditioned-reflex experiments on dogs. He failed to note that human beings are neither dogs, nor chickens. Old Doctor Pavlov ignored him entirely, as he had ignored so many others who had, blindly and unscientifically dogmatized about the meaning of his important, but strictly limited, experiments.
Functionalism did not take hold at once-during the thirties almost everyone, from truckdriver to hatcheck girl, had a scheme for setting the world right in six easy lessons; and a surprising percentage managed to get their schemes published. But it gradually spread. Functionalism was particularly popular among little people everywhere who could persuade themselves that their particular jobs were the indispensable ones, and that, therefore, under the "natural order" they would be top dog. With so many different functions actually indispensable such self-persuasion was easy.
Gaines stared at Van Kleeck for a moment before replying. "Van," he said slowly, "you don't really think you can get away with this, do you?"
The little man puffed out his chest. "Why not? We have gotten away with it. You can't start strip twenty until I am ready to let you, and I can stop the whole road, if necessary."
Gaines was becoming uncomfortably aware that he was dealing with unreasonable conceit, and held himself patiently in check. "Sure you can, Van-but how about the rest of the country? Do you think the United States Army will sit quietly by and let you run California as your private kingdom?"
Van Kleeck looked sly. "I've planned for that. I've just finished broadcasting a manifesto to all the road technicians in the country, telling them what we have done, and telling them to arise, and claim their rights. With every road in the country stopped, and people getting hungry, I reckon the President will think twice before sending the army to tangle with us. Oh, he could send a force to capture, or kill me - I'm not afraid to die! - but he doesn't dare start shooting down road technicians as a class, because the country can't get along without us - consequently, he'll have to get along with us - on our terms!"
There was much bitter truth in what he said. If an uprising of the road technicians became general, the government could no more attempt to settle it by force than a man could afford to cure a headache by blowing out his brains. But was the uprising general?
"Why do you think that the technicians in the rest of the country will follow your lead?"
"Why not? It's the natural order of things. This is an age of machinery; the real power everywhere is in the technicians, but they have been kidded into not using their power with a lot of obsolete catch-phrases. And of all the classes of technicians, the most important, the absolutely essential, are the road technicians. From now on they run the show - it's the natural order of things!" He turned away for a moment, and fussed with some papers on the desk before him, then be added, "That's all for now, Gaines - I've got to call the White House, and let the President know how things stand. You carry on, and behave yourself, and you won't get hurt."
Gaines sat quite still for some minutes after the screen cleared. So that's how it was. He wondered what effect, if any, Van Kleeck's invitation to strike had had on road technicians elsewhere. None, he thought - but then he had not dreamed that it could happen among his own technicians. Perhaps he had made a mistake in refusing. to take time to talk to anyone outside the road. No - if he had stopped to talk to the Governor, or the newspapermen, he would still be talking. Still - He dialed Davidson.
"Any trouble in any other sectors, Dave?"
"Or on any other road?"
"Did you hear my talk with Van Kleeck?"
"I was cut in-yes."
"Good. Have Hubbard call the President and the Governor, and tell them that I am strongly opposed to the use of military force as long as the outbreak is limited to this road. Tell them that I will not be responsible if they move in before I ask for help."
Davidson looked dubious. "Do you think that is wise, Chief?"
"I do! If we try to blast Van and his red-hots out of their position, we may set off a real, country-wide uprising. Furthermore, he could wreck the road so that God himself couldn't put it back together. What's your rolling tonnage now?"
"Fifty-three percent under evening peak."
"How about strip twenty?"
"Good. Get the road clear of all traffic as fast as possible. Better have the Chief of Police place a guard on all entrances to the road to keep out new traffic. Van may stop all strips at any time - or I may need to, myself. Here is my plan: I'm going 'down inside' with these armed cadets. We will work north, overcoming any resistance we meet. You arrange for watch technicians and maintenance crews to follow immediately behind us. Each rotor, as they come to it, is to be cut out, then hooked in to the Stockton control board. It will be a haywire rig, with no safety interlocks, so use enough watch technicians to be able to catch trouble before it happens.
"If this scheme works, we can move control of the Sacramento Sector right out from under Van's feet, and he can stay in this Sacramento control office until he gets hungry enough to be reasonable."
He cut off and turned to the Subsector Engineer of the Watch. "Edmunds, give me a helmet - and a pistol."
"Yes, sir." He opened a drawer, and handed his chief a slender, deadly looking weapon. Gaines belted it on, and accepted a helmet, into which he crammed his head, leaving the anti-noise ear flaps up. Blekinsop cleared his throat.
The Roads Must Roll by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes