Cronos, p.30Robert Silverberg
“Let’s have Brand in for interrogation,” Brogg said when he heard what Leeward had done. “Get him here. No—wait. I’ll get him. You cover the office.”
Brogg went out for a reconnaissance. He scouted the drinker, saw Brand, calculated the imponderables. After some hesitation he cut Brand out from the herd, identified himself as a government man, and remanded the prisoner for interrogation. Brand looked frightened. “I didn’t do nothing,” he insisted. “I didn’t donothing!”
“There’ll be no harm to you,” Brogg promised. “We simply-want to question you.”
He took Brand into custody. When he reached the Secretariat building with the prolet, Brogg learned that Quellen had issued a new instruction.
“He wants an Ear put on his brother-in-law,” Leeward said.
Brogg grinned. “Nepotism even in criminal investigations? Doesn’t the man have any shame?”
“I couldn’t answer that,” said Leeward stolidly. “But he says that the brother-in-law is thinking of making a hop. He wants it checked. He wants an Ear on the fellow and roundthe-clock monitoring, right away. Norman Pomrath’s the name. I’ve already got the data on him.”
“Good. We’ll take care of Pomrath at once.”
“Pomrath’s supposed to be in contact with Lanoy. Quellen said.”
“Looks like everybody’s in contact with Lanoy. Even Quellen’s been approached, did you know that?” Brogg laughed. “I haven’t had a chance to tell him that Mortensen was dealing with Lanoy too, but I doubt that it’ll surprise him. And this prolet here, this Brand you found—there’s another lead to Lanoy. We’re bound to trace one of them back to the source in another day or so.”
“Do you want me to put the Ear on Pomrath?” Leeward asked.
“I’ll do it,” said Brogg. “I’ve got a gift for that kind of thing. You have to admit it.”
Brogg certainly did. He could move gracefully for a man of his bulk. As sinuously as any dedicatedfrotteur, Brogg could approach a victim in a quickboat and gently introduce an Ear to the unlikeliest of places. It was a gift that had stood him in good stead when he set out to spy on Quellen; he had handled the Mortensen situation equally skillfully. Now Pomrath. Brogg went down to the laboratory and rummagedabout for the most advanced model Ear that was available.
“Here’s a beauty,” the lab technician told him with pride. “We’ve just finished it. We’ve succeeded in melding Ear technology to a substrate of pseudoliving glass, and the result is unique. Take a look.”
Brogg held out a fleshy palm. The technician dumped onto it a tiny metallic transponding plaque a few molecules in thickness, wholly invisible but snugly contained in a glossy little bead of some green plastic.
“What does it do?” Brogg asked.
“It functions normally as an Ear. But the spicule of the glass has a life-tropism of unusual character. Once the Ear is in place on the recipient’s body, the glass goes into action and bores its way through the skin, generally looking for entry by way of the pores. It’s a kind of artificial parasite, you see. It gets inside and stays there, where it can’t possibly be removed by an itchy subject. And it broadcasts indefinitely. Surgical removal is necessary to shut off the information flow.”
Brogg was impressed. There were plenty of models of Ear designed for internal use, of course, but they all had to be introduced through one of the bodily orifices of the victim, which presupposed certain difficulties for the agent. The usual method was to smuggle it into the victim’s food. Since most people were reticent about eating in the presence of strangers, that required considerable planning. And in any event the Ear would be digested or excreted in short order. There were other bodily orifices, naturally, and Brogg had on occasion planted Ears in women who were off their guard in a throbbing moment of ecstatic passion, but the technique was a tricky one. This was infinitely better: to slap the Ear on externally, and let the device itself take careof the job of getting within the victim’s body. Yes. Brogg liked the concept.
He spent an hour learning how to use the new model Ear. Then he went after Norm Pomrath.
The televector scanner located Pomrath quickly for him: at the Central Employment Register, doubtless punching the job machine in the customary prolet mood of total despair. Brogg changed into a shabby prolet tunic, suitable for Class Twelve slope vicinity, and headed for the domed building of the job machine.
He had no difficulty finding Pomrath In the crowd. Brogg knew approximately what the man was supposed to look like—stocky, dark, tense—and almost at once he found himself staring right at him. Brogg insinuated himself into the line not far from Pomrath and observed the CrimeSec’s unhappy brother-in-law for a while. Pomrath spoke to no one. He peered at the red and green and blue banks of the job machine as though they were his personal enemies. His lips were tight with distress and his eyes were harshly shadowed. This man is in anguish, Brogg thought. No wonder he’s planning to become a hopper. Well, we’ll soon know a great deal about him, won’t we?
Brogg sidled up behind Pomrath.
“Excuse me,” he said, and stumbled. Pomrath reached out a hand to steady him. Brogg clasped his fingers around Pomrath’s wrist and pressed the Ear firmly into the hairy skin just above the ulna. Straightening, he thanked Pomrath for his assistance, and all the while the pseudoliving glass in which the Ear was embedded was activating its tropism and drilling a path into Pomrath’s living flesh.
By evening, the Ear would have migrated up Pomrath’s arm to some nice warm fatty deposit where it could settle down and transmit its signals.
“Clumsy of me,” Brogg muttered. He moved away. Pomrath did not show any sign of being aware that something had been affixed to him.
Returning to the office, Brogg examined the flow from the monitor device. Pomrath had left the job-machine building now, it appeared. The tracer line on the oscilloscope showed the minute neural explosions that told of footsteps. Pomrath walked for ten minutes. Then he halted. Complex muscular actions: he was entering a building with a manually operated door. Now came a voice pickup.
POMRATH:Here I am again, Jerry.
STRANGE VOICE:We got a couch all ready for you.
POMRATH:With a nice goddam hallucination, okay? Here I am fighting off the Crab People, you see, and there’s this naked blonde panting to be rescued, while Kloofman is waiting to give me the Galactic Medal of Honor.
VOICE:I can’t pick the effect for you, Norm. You know that. You pay your pieces and you get what comes. It’s all what’s stirring around inside your head that settles the picture for you.
POMRATH:There’s plenty stirring around insidemyhead, pal. Where’s the mask? I’m going to dream a beauty. Norm Pomrath, the destroyer of worlds. Disrupting time and space. The devourer of continua.
VOICE:You sure got a crazy imagination, Norm.
Brogg turned away. Pomrath was in a sniffer palace, evidently. Nothing meaningful was going to turn up on the monitor now—nothing but Pomrath asleep on the couch enjoying or perhaps not enjoying his hallucination.
In another room, Leeward was still interrogating the hapless prolet Brand. Brand looked disturbed. Brogg listened for a while, found little of significance going on, and checked out for the day. Quellen had already gone home, he observed. To Africa, maybe, for the evening.
Brogg reached his own apartment in a short while. As required, he had a roommate—a legal assistant in one of the judiciary divisions—but they had managed to work things out so that their paths rarely crossed. You had to make the best accommodation you could to the existing living conditions.
Tired, Brogg got quickly under the molecular bath and cleansed himself of the day’s grime. He programmed dinner. Then he selected a book. He was pursuing a fascinating theme in his favorite subject, Roman history: Tiberius’ handling of the rebellion of Sejanus. The interplay of character was irresistible: Sejanus, the sly favorite of the sinister old Caesar, overreaching himself at last and being cast down from the heights of power by Tiberius, the Capri-
Easily, Brogg drifted into contemplation of those distant and violent events.
If I had been Sejanus, he thought, how would I have handled the situation? More tactfully, no doubt. I would never have provoked the old boy that way. Brogg smiled. If he had been Sejanus, he knew, he would ultimately have come to hold the throne in his own name. On the other hand—
On the other hand, he was not Sejanus. He was Stanley Brogg of the Secretariat of Crime. More’s the pity, Brogg thought. But we must make do with what we have.
Night was closing in like a clamped fist. Quellen changed his clothes after a leisurely shower that used up nearly his entire week’s quota of washing water. He dressed in clothes that were a bit on the gaudy side, in sullen rebellion against the sort of evening that Judith was going to inflict on him. The people who came to these communions of social regurgitation tended to be drab, consciously so. He despised their puritanical austerity. And so he donned a tunic shot through with iridescent threads, gleaming red and violet and azure as he shifted the angles of refraction.He did not eat dinner. That would be an unpardonable faux pas, in view of this evening’s planned ceremony. Still, he needed to keep his glucose level up after the tensions of the day. A few tablets took care of that. Refreshed, Quellen sealed his apartment and went out. He was meeting Judith at the communion. Afterward, perhaps, he might go home with her. She lived alone since she had joined him in Class Seven. It would be an act of good citizenship, Quellen knew,to marry her and combine their living quarters. Quellen was not prepared to be so patriotic just yet.
The cult session was being held, Judith had informed him, at the Class Four home of a certain Brose Cashdan, an administrator of the intercontinental stat nexus. It was interesting to Quellen that a transportation tycoon like Cashdan would get involved in such a cult. Of course, the cult of social regurgitation wasn’t on the proscribed list. It might be esthetically distasteful, but it wasn’t subversive like some of the others. Still, Quellen’s experience with high administrators had taught him that they tended to be guardians of the status quo. Maybe Cashdan was different. In any case, Quellen was curious about the house. He had not seen many Class Four homes.
Brose Cashdan’s villa lay just within the inner zone of the Appalachia stat radius. That meant that Quellen could not reach it by the instantaneous transmission of the stat, but had to take a quickboat. A pity, that; it was a waste of half an hour. He programmed his course northward. The screen within the quickboat gave him a simulated view of what was below; the Hudson River, silvery and serpentine in the moonlight, and then the furry hills of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, a thousand acres of unspoiled wilderness in the middle of the sprawl of the city, and finally the floodlit glitter of the landing ramp. Local transport took Quellen speedily to Cashdan’s place. He was a little late, he knew, but it did not bother him.
It was quite a villa. Quellen was not prepared for such opulence. Of course, Cashdan was required to live in just one location, unlike the Class Two people who could have several homes in scattered parts of the world. Still, it was a magnificent establishment, constructed mainly of glass with axial poles of some spongy, tough-looking synthetic. There were at least six rooms, a small garden (!), and a rooftoplanding stage. Even from the air the place had a warm, inviting glow. Quellen stepped into the vestibule, peering ahead in hopes of catching sight of Judith.
A portly, sixtyish man with a starched white tunic came out to greet him. Diagonally across the tunic was emblazoned the golden sash of power.
“I’m Brose Cashdan,” the man said. His voice was deep, the voice of authority. Quellen could see this man making brisk decisions all day long and scarcely bothering to get a recommend from a High Government official.
“Joseph Quellen. I was invited by—”
“Judith da Silva. Of course. Judith’s inside. Welcome, Mr. Quellen. We’re honored that you’ve chosen to join us. Come in. Come in.”
Cashdan managed to sound ingratiating and commanding at the same time. He propelled Quellen into an inner room twenty feet long and at least thirty feet in width, carpeted wall-to-wall with some gray foamy substance that possibly had a degree of pseudolife. There was certainly nothing austere or drab about this shining palatial residence.
Eight or nine people sat clustered on the floor in the very middle of the room. Judith was among them. To Quellen’s surprise, Judith had not chosen to dress in the piously self-effacing manner that most communicants of this cult preferred. Obviously this upper-class gathering had different norms. She was wearing a highly immodest sprayon dress, blue with green undertones. A strip of fabric passed between her breasts, which otherwise were bare, and wound about her hips and loins. Her nakedness was covered, more or less, but since the covering was nothing but pigment she might just as well have come nude. Quellen understood that such extreme fashions were permissible only in sophisticated circles where the mode was Class Sixor better. It was a trifle pushy, then, for Judith, a Class Seven to expose herself this way. Quellen sensed that he and Judith might well be the only Sevens in the room. He smiled at Judith. She had small breasts, the desirable kind to have these days, and she had called attention to them by pigmenting her nipples.
Beside her sat a thick-bodied, practically neckless man with a clipped blue-stained beard, moist lips, and a placid expression. He was flanked by another woman, somewhat older than Judith, who wore a sprayon rig not much more modest than hers. On Judith it looked good; but not on this other one, who had unfashionably bulging breasts and plump haunches. She simpered at Quellen, who rudely stared at her tastelessly exposed body.
The rest had a prosperous, earnestly intellectual look— mainly men, some of them a trifle on the epicene side, all of them well dressed and clearly high on the slope. Judith, rising to her feet, made the introductions. Quellen let most of the names glide past without sticking in his consciousness. The neckless man with the blue beard, he noted, was Dr. Richard Galuber, Judith’s frood. The fleshy damsel was Mrs. Galuber. Interesting. Quellen hadn’t known that the frood was married. He had long suspected that Judith was his mistress through some shameful reverse transference. Maybe so; but would Galuber bring his wife to meet his mistress at such a session? Quellen wasn’t sure. Froods were often devious in their motivations, and for all Quellen knew Galuber was out to score some obscure therapeutic point on his wife by hauling her along.
Outside the group, Judith said, “I’m so glad you came, Joe. I was afraid you’d back out.”
“I promised I’d come, didn’t I?”
“Yes, I know. But you’ve got a tendency to withdraw from potentially hostile social experiences.”
Quellen was annoyed. “There you go, frooding me again! Stop it, Judith. I came, didn’t I?”
“Of course you did.” Her smile was suddenly warm, authentically so. “I’m happy that you did. I didn’t mean to impugn you. Come meet Dr. Galuber.”
She laughed. “As I said, you’ve got a tendency to withdraw from potentially—”
“All right. All right. Take me to Dr. Galuber.”
They crossed the room. Quellen was unsettled by Judith’s nakedness. A polymerized band of pigment wasn’t clothing, really. He could make out the separate cheeks of her buttocks beneath the dark blue covering. It made her look more bare than actual nudity. The effect was provocative and disturbing. Her slender, angular body attracted him almost unbearably, especially in the social context of this urbane setting. On the other hand, Mrs. Galuber was just as exposed, practically, and Quellen’s basic impulse was to throw a blanket over her shoulders to shield her shame.
The frood peered in a froodlike fashion at Quellen. “It’s a delight to meet you, Mr. Quellen. I’ve heard a great deal about you.”
“I’m sure you have,” said Quellen nervously. He was disappointed that Galuber, despite his promisingly Teutonic name, did not fake the ritualistic Central European accent that most froods affected. “I
“We accept spiritual experiences of all sorts,” Galuber said. “Is there some reason why we should reject them?”
The frood nodded to his wife. “Jennifer and I have belonged to a social regurgitation group for more than a year, now. It’s led us to some remarkable insights, hasn’t it, beloved?”
Mrs. Galuber simpered again. She eyed Quellen in such a frankly sexual way that he rippled with shock. “It’s been extremely enlightening,” she agreed. Her voice was a warm, rich contralto. “Any kind of interpersonal communion is beneficial, don’t you think? Which is to say, we achieve cathexis in the manner best suited to our needs.” Jennifer Galuber’s abundant flesh shook with genial laughter. Quellen found himself staring at the ugly upthrust mounds of her bare breasts, and he looked away, feeling guilty and sickened. The Galubers, he thought, must have a very odd marriage. But I will not let that fat witch sneak me off for a spot of instant interpersonal communion. Galuber may be bedding Judith, but it gains me nothing to bed his wife in turn, for the roles aren’t equal.
Judith said, “I’ve been after Dr. Galuber to come to one of our communion group’s meetings for months. But he’s always resisted. He felt that until he and I had reached the right stage in my therapy, he couldn’t let himself get involved on such an intimate level.”
“There’s more to it than that, of course,” said the frood benevolently. “There always is. In this case, it was a matter of imposing my wife’s handicap on the group, which would require special preparations. Jennifer’s a galactose-deficient mutant, you see. She’s got to stay on a galactose-free diet.”
“I see,” said Quellen blankly.
Cronos by Robert Silverberg / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes