Dan slumped back against the seat with a sigh. Now that he was in the clear, he would have to decide on his next move—fast. There was no telling what other resources Blote might have. He would have to hide the carrier, then—
A low growling was coming from somewhere, rising in pitch and volume. Dan sat up, alarmed. This was no time for a malfunction.
The sound rose higher, into a penetrating wail. There was no sign of mechanical trouble. The carrier glided on, swooping now over a nebulous landscape of trees and houses. Dan covered his ears against the deafening shriek, like all the police sirens in town blaring at once. If the carrier stopped it would be a long fall from here. Dan worked the controls, dropping toward the distant earth.
The noise seemed to lessen, descending the scale. Dan slowed, brought the carrier in to the corner of a wide park. He dropped the last few inches and cut the switch.
As the glow died, the siren faded into silence.
Dan stepped from the carrier and looked around. Whatever the noise was, it hadn't attracted any attention from the scattered pedestrians in the park. Perhaps it was some sort of burglar alarm. But if so, why hadn't it gone into action earlier? Dan took a deep breath. Sound or no sound, he would have to get back into the carrier and transfer it to a secluded spot where he could study it at leisure. He stepped back in, reached for the controls—
There was a sudden chill in the air. The bright surface of the dials before him frosted over. There was a loud pop! like a flashbulb exploding. Dan stared from the seat at an iridescent rectangle which hung suspended near the carrier. Its surface rippled, faded to blankness. In a swirl of frosty air, a tall figure dressed in a tight-fitting white uniform stepped through.
Dan gaped at the small rounded head, the dark-skinned long-nosed face, the long, muscular arms, the hands, their backs tufted with curly red-brown hair, the strange long-heeled feet in soft boots. A neat pillbox cap with a short visor was strapped low over the deep-set yellowish eyes, which turned in his direction. The wide mouth opened in a smile which showed square yellowish teeth.
"Alors, monsieur," the new-comer said, bending his knees and back in a quick bow. "Vous ete une indigine, n'est ce pas?"
"No compree," Dan choked out "Uh ... juh no parlay Fransay...."
"My error. This is the Anglic colonial sector, isn't it? Stupid of me. Permit me to introduce myself. I'm Dzhackoon, Field Agent of Class five, Inter-dimensional Monitor Service."
"That siren," Dan said. "Was that you?"
Dzhackoon nodded. "For a moment, it appeared you were disinclined to stop. I'm glad you decided to be reasonable."
"What outfit did you say you were with?" Dan asked.
"The Inter-dimensional Monitor Service."
"Dimensional. The word is imprecise, of course, but it's the best our language coder can do, using the Anglic vocabulary."
"What do you want with me?"
* * *
Dzhackoon smiling reprovingly. "You know the penalty for operation of an unauthorized reversed-phase vehicle in Interdicted territory. I'm afraid you'll have to come along with me to Headquarters."
"Wait a minute! You mean you're arresting me?"
"That's a harsh term, but I suppose it amounts to that."
"Look here, uh—Dzhackoon. I just wandered in off the street. I don't know anything about Interdicts and reversed-whozis vehicles. Just let me out of here."
Dzhackoon shook his head. "I'm afraid you'll have to tell it to the Inspector." He smiled amiably, gestured toward the shimmering rectangle through which he had arrived. From the edge, it was completely invisible. It looked, Dan thought, like a hole snipped in reality. He glanced at Dzhackoon. If he stepped in fast and threw a left to the head and followed up with a right to the short ribs—
"I'm armed, of course," the Agent said apologetically.
"Okay," Dan sighed. "But I'm going under protest."
"Don't be nervous," Dzhackoon said cheerfully. "Just step through quickly."
Dan edged up to the glimmering surface. He gritted his teeth, closed his eyes and took a step. There was a momentary sensation of searing heat....
His eyes flew open. He was in a long, narrow room with walls finished in bright green tile. Hot yellow light flooded down from the high ceiling. Along the wall, a series of cubicles were arranged. Tall, white-uniformed creatures moved briskly about. Nearby stood a group of short, immensely burly individuals in yellow. Lounging against the wall at the far end of the room, Dan glimpsed a round-shouldered figure in red, with great bushes of hair fringing a bright blue face. An arm even longer than Dzhackoon's wielded a toothpick on a row of great white fangs.
"This way," Dzhackoon said. Dan followed him to a cubicle, curious eyes following him. A creature indistinguishable from the Field Agent except for a twist of red braid on each wrist looked up from a desk.
"I've picked up that reversed-phase violator, Ghunt," Dzhackoon said. "Anglic Sector, Locus C 922A4."
Ghunt rose. "Let me see; Anglic Sector.... Oh, yes." He extended a hand. Dan took it gingerly; it was a strange hand—hot, dry and coarse-skinned, like a dog's paw. He pumped it twice and let it go.
"Wonderfully expressive," Ghunt said. "Empty hand, no weapon. The implied savagery...." He eyed Dan curiously.
"Remarkable. I've studied your branch, of course, but I've never had the pleasure of actually seeing one of you chaps before. That skin; amazing. Ah ... may I look at your hands?"
Dan extended a hand. The other took it in bony fingers, studied it, turned it over, examined the nails. Stepping closer, he peered at Dan's eyes and hair.
"Would you mind opening your mouth, please?" Dan complied. Ghunt clucked, eyeing the teeth. He walked around Dan, murmuring his wonderment.
"Uh ... pardon my asking," Dan said, "but are you what—uh—people are going to look like in the future?"
"Eh?" The round yellowish eyes blinked; the wide mouth curved in a grin. "I doubt that very much, old chap." He chuckled. "Can't undo half a million years of divergent evolution, you know."
* * *
"You mean you're from the past?" Dan croaked.
"The past? I'm afraid I don't follow you."
"You don't mean—we're all going to die out and monkeys are going to take over?" Dan blurted.
"Monkeys? Let me see. I've heard of them. Some sort of small primate, like a miniature Anthropos. You have them at home, do you? Fascinating!" He shook his head regretfully. "I certainly wish regulations allowed me to pay your sector a visit."
"But you are time travelers," Dan insisted.
"Time travelers?" Ghunt laughed aloud.
"An exploded theory," Dzhackoon said. "Superstition."
"Then how did you get to the park from here?"
"A simple focused portal. Merely a matter of elementary stressed-field mechanics."
"That doesn't tell me much," Dan said. "Where am I? Who are you?"
"Explanations are in order, of course," Ghunt said. "Have a chair. Now, if I remember correctly, in your locus, there are only a few species of Anthropos extant—"
"Just the one," Dzhackoon put in. "These fellows look fragile, but oh, brother!"
"Oh, yes; I recall. This was the locus where the hairless variant systematically hunted down other varieties." He clucked at Dan reprovingly. "Don't you find it lonely?"
"Of course, there are a couple of rather curious retarded forms there," Dzhackoon said. "Actual living fossils; sub-intellectual Anthropos. There's one called the gorilla, and the chimpanzee, the orangutan, the gibbon—and, of course, a whole spectrum of the miniature forms."
"I suppose that when the ferocious mutation established its supremacy, the others retreated to the less competitive ecological niches and expanded at that level," Ghunt mused. "Pity. I assume the gorilla and the others are degenerate forms?"
"Excuse me," Dan said. "But about that explanation...."
"Oh, sorry. Well, to begin with Dzhackoon and I are—ah—Australopithecines, I believe your term is. We're one of the many varieties of Anthropos native to normal loci. The workers in yellow, whom you may have noticed, are akin to your extinct Neanderthals. Then there are the Pekin derivatives—the blue-faced chaps—and the Rhodesians——"
"What are these loci you keep talking about? And how can cave men still be alive?"
Ghunt's eyes wandered past Dan. He jumped to his feet. "Ah, good day, Inspector!" Dan turned. A grizzled Australopithecine with a tangle of red braid at collar and wrists stared at him glumly.
"Harrumph!" the Inspector said. "Albinism and alopecia. Not catching, I hope?"
"A genetic deficiency, excellency," Dzhackoon said. "This is a Homo Sapiens, a naturally bald form from a rather curious locus."
"Sapiens? Sapiens? Now, that seems to ring a bell." The olster blinked at Dan. "You're not—" He waggled fingers in instinctive digital-mnemonic stimulus. Abruptly he stiffened. "Why, this is one of those fratricidal deviants!" He backed off. "He should be under restraint, Ghunt! Constable! Get a strong-arm squad in here! This creature is dangerous!"
* * *
"Inspector. I'm sure—" Ghunt started.
"That's an order!" the Inspector barked. He switched to an incomprehensible language, bellowed more commands. Several of the thickset Neanderthal types appeared, moving in to seize Dan's arms. He looked around at chinless, wide-mouthed brown faces with incongruous blue eyes and lank blond hair.
"What's this all about?" he demanded. "I want a lawyer!"
"Never mind that!" the Inspector shouted. "I know how to deal with miscreants of your stripe!" He stared distastefully at Dan. "Hairless! Putty-colored! Revolting! Planning more mayhem, are you? Preparing to branch out into the civilized loci to wipe out all competitive life, is that it?"
"I brought him here, Inspector," Dzhackoon put in. "It was a routine traffic violation."
"I'll decide what's routine here! Now, Sapiens! What fiendish scheme have you up your sleeve, eh?"
"Daniel Slane, civilian, social security number 456-7329-988," Dan said.
"Name, rank and serial number," Dan explained. "I'm not answering any other questions."
"This means penal relocation, Sapiens! Unlawful departure from native locus, willful obstruction of justice—"
"You forgot being born without permission, and unauthorized breathing."
"Insolence!" the Inspector snarled. "I'm warning you, Sapiens, it's in my power to make things miserable for you. Now, how did you induce Agent Dzhackoon to bring you here?"
"Well, a good fairy came and gave me three wishes—"
"Take him away," the Inspector screeched. "Sector 97; an unoccupied locus."
"Unoccupied? That seems pretty extreme, doesn't it?" one of the guards commented, wrinkling his heavily ridged brow.
"Unoccupied! If it bothers you, perhaps I can arrange for you to join him there!"
The Neanderthaloid guard yawned widely, showing white teeth. He nodded to Dan, motioned him ahead. "Don't mind Spoghodo," he said loudly. "He's getting old."
"Sorry about all this," a voice hissed near Dan's ear. Dzhackoon—or Ghunt, he couldn't say which—leaned near. "I'm afraid you'll have to go along to the penal area, but I'll try to straighten things out later."
Back in the concourse, Dan's guard escorted him past cubicles where busy IDMS agents reported to harassed seniors, through an archway into a room lined with narrow gray panels. It looked like a gym locker room.
"Ninety-seven," the guard said. He went to a wall chart, studied the fine print with the aid of a blunt, hairy finger, then set a dial on the wall. "Here we go," he said. He pushed a button beside one of the lockers. Its surface clouded and became iridescent.
"Just step through fast. Happy landings."
"Thanks," Dan ducked his head and pushed through the opening in a puff of frost.
* * *
He was standing on a steep hillside, looking down across a sweep of meadow to a plain far below. There were clumps of trees, and a river. In the distance a herd of animals grazed among low shrubbery. No road wound along the valley floor; no boats dotted the river; no village nestled at its bend. The far hills were innocent of trails, fences, houses, the rectangles of plowed acres. There were no contrails in the wide blue sky. No vagrant aroma of exhaust fumes, no mutter of internal combustion, no tin cans, no pop bottles—
In short, no people.
Dan turned. The Portal still shimmered faintly in the bright air. He thrust his head through, found himself staring into the locker room. The yellow-clad Neanderthaloid glanced at him.
"Say," Dan said, ignoring the sensation of a hot wire around his neck, "can't we talk this thing over?"
"Better get your head out of there before it shuts down," the guard said cheerfully. "Otherwise—ssskkkttt!"
"What about some reading matter? And look, I get these head colds. Does the temperature drop here at night? Any dangerous animals? What do I eat?"
"Here," the guard reached into a hopper, took out a handful of pamphlets. "These are supposed to be for guys that are relocated without prejudice. You know, poor slobs that just happened to see too much; but I'll let you have one. Let's see ... Anglic, Anglic...." He selected one, handed it to Dan.
"Better get clear."
Dan withdrew his head. He sat down on the grass and looked over the booklet. It was handsomely printed in gay colors. WELCOME TO RELOCATION CENTER NO. 23 said the cover. Below the heading was a photo of a group of sullen-looking creatures of varying heights and degrees of hairiness wearing paper hats. The caption read: New-comers Are Welcomed Into a Gay Round of Social Activity. Hi, New-comer!
Dan opened the book. A photo showed a scene identical to the one before him, except that in place of the meadow, there was a park-like expanse of lawn, dotted with rambling buildings with long porches lined with rockers. There were picnic tables under spreading trees, and beyond, on the river, a yacht basin crowded with canoes and row-boats.
"Life In a Community Center is Grand Fun!" Dan read. "Activities! Brownies, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Sea Scouts, Tree Scouts, Cave Scouts, PTA, Shriners, Bear Cult, Rotary, Daughters of the Eastern Star, Mothers of the Big Banana, Dianetics—you name it! A Group for Everyone, and Everyone in a Group!
Classes in conversational Urdu, Sprotch, Yiddish, Gaelic, Fundu, etc; knot-tying, rug-hooking, leather-work, Greek Dancing, finger-painting and many, many others!
Indian Dance Pageants!
Round Table Discussions!
Dan thumbed on through the pages of emphatic print, stopped at a double-page spread labeled, A Few Do's and Don'ts.
* All of us want to make a GO of relocation. So—let's remember the Uranium Rule: Don't Do It! The Other Guy May Be Bigger!
* Remember the Other Fellow's Taboos!
What to you might be merely a wholesome picnic or mating bee may offend others. What some are used to doing in groups, others consider a solitary activity. Most taboos have to do with eating, sex, elimination or gods; so remember look before you sit down, lie down, squat down or kneel down!
* Ladies With Beards Please Note:
Friend husband may be on the crew clearing clogged drains—so watch that shedding in the lavatories, eh, girls? And you fellas, too! Sure, good grooming pays—but groom each other out in the open, okay?
* * *
* NOTE: There has been some agitation for separate but equal facilities. Now, honestly, folks; is that in the spirit of Center No. 23? Males and females will continue to use the same johns as always. No sexual chauvinism will be tolerated.
* * *
* A Word To The Kiddies!
No brachiating will be permitted in the Social Center area. After all, a lot of the Dads sleep up there. There are plenty of other trees!
* * *
* Daintiness Pays!
In these more-active-than-ever days, Personal Effluvium can get away from us almost before we notice. And that hearty scent may not be as satisfying to others as it is to ourselves! So remember, fellas: watch that P. E.! (Lye soap, eau de Cologne, flea powder and other beauty aids available at supply shed!)
Dan tossed the book aside. There were worse things than solitude. It looked like a pretty nice world—and it was all his.
The entire North American continent, all of South America, Europe, Asia, Africa—the works. He could cut down trees, build a hut, furnish it. There'd be hunting—he could make a bow and arrows—and the skins would do to make clothes. He could start a little farming, fish the streams, sun bathe—all the things he'd never had time to do back home. It wouldn't be so bad. And eventually Dzhackoon would arrange for his release. It might be just the kind of vacation—
"Ah Dan, my boy!" a bass voice boomed. Dan jumped and spun around.
Blote's immense face blinked at him from the Portal. There was a large green bruise over one eye. He wagged a finger reproachfully.
"That was a dirty trick, Dan. My former employees were somewhat disgruntled, I'm sorry to say. But we'd best be off now. There's no time to waste."
"How did you get here?" Dan demanded.
"I employed a pocket signaler to recall my carrier—and none too soon." He touched his bruised eye gingerly. "A glance at the instruments showed me that you had visited the park. I followed and observed a TDMS Portal. Being of an adventurous turn and, of course, concerned for your welfare, I stepped through—"
"Why didn't they arrest you? I was picked up for operating the carrier."
"They had some such notion. A whiff of stun gas served to discourage them. Now let's hurry along before the management revives."
"Wait a minute, Blote. I'm not sure I want to be rescued by you—in spite of your concern for my welfare."
"Rubbish, Dan! Come along." Blote looked around. "Frightful place! No population! No commerce! No deals!"
"It has its compensations. I think I'll stay. You run along."
"Abandon a colleague? Never!"
"If you're still expecting me to deliver a time machine, you're out of luck. I don't have one."
"No? Ah, well, in a way I'm relieved. Such a device would upset accepted physical theory. Now, Dan, you mustn't imagine I harbor ulterior motives—but I believe our association will yet prove fruitful."
Dan rubbed a finger across his lower lip thoughtfully. "Look, Blote. You need my help. Maybe you can help me at the same time. If I come along, I want it understood that we work together. I have an idea—"
"But of course, Dan! Now shake a leg!"
Dan sighed and stepped through the portal. The yellow-clad guard lay on the floor, snoring. Blote led the way back into the great hall. TDMS officials were scattered across the floor, slumped over desks, or lying limp in chairs. Blote stopped before one of a row of shimmering portals.
"After you, Dan."
"Are you sure this is the right one?"
Dan stepped through in the now familiar chill and found himself back in the park. A small dog sniffing at the carrier caught sight of Blote, lowered his leg and fled.
"I want to pay Mr. Snithian a visit," Dan said, climbing into a seat.
"My idea exactly," Blote agreed, lowering his bulk into place.
"Don't get the idea I'm going to help you steal anything."
"Dan! A most unkind remark. I merely wish to look into certain matters."
"Just so you don't start looking into the safe."
Blote tsked, moved a lever. The carrier climbed over a row of blue trees and headed west.