Chapter 3: CRAZY IDEAS
The sun was beginning to show itself on the quiet suburban horizon of East Point, Michigan when Mina rolled within parking range of her house. She was in familiar territory now, six traffic lights, three turns and four stop signs away from a hot tub massage and a change of clothes. She depressed the voice control button. The windshield message center blinked on. Auto-drive one, she said, Auto-park.
The translucent map of East Point appeared on the glass with a black line racing from a point on a long stretch of Jefferson Ave. through several side streets. When the line stopped, an address flashed in a box at the bottom of the display.
Correct, said Mina.
The windshield display blinked off as Mina let go of the steering wheel, laid her head against the headrest and reclined the back of her seat. Let the computer do the driving, was her motto. She employed it whenever she could. It was far safer than driving herself and a welcome relief from having to park.
With the rapid advances in manufacturing cheaper obstacle sensors and response systems for moving vehicles, Mina could envision a time when everything on the road would have them. But that time had not yet come... And that man in the alley; Shag Man. He couldn't have known that the horn-blasting car hurtling toward him would slow itself down and stop when its forward sensors warned that it was closing too fast on the fence. The natural thing to do would have been to get out of harms way.
Mina hadn't intended for that thought to intrude on her musings about the course of modern automotive technology. God help us all, she thought, in her sisters voice. She hadn't intended for that to happen either. Vivian would have thought those words or said them aloud as an earnest prayer to the Almighty.
The only almighty Mina believed in was the almighty dollar.
She looked wearily at the rounded red sliver of the new days sun beneath ragged, diaphanous streaks and swirls of pink and purple clouds. It wasn't the most spectacular sunrise she had ever seen but it was strange and beautiful enough for her to drink in with her eyes and to savor with her soul.
With the dawn came a growing sense of having dreamed what she had so recently experienced in the big city to the west. But oh, how vivid a dream, how awful and how haunting.
It wasn't only the anguished cries of the victim that tore at her insides, the savage ignorance of the assailants or the shot that left so gruesome a mortal wound in the boys skull. It was the total experience; the horror of witnessing the whole thing as it happened, of knowing what was coming and being unable to head it off. It was the unexpected smell of blood when she got out of the car. It was everything about Officer Kevorkian. It was the captain in charge saying, Don't worry about the shooter, and his use of the word, citizen, which didn't apply to people who lived in the New Economic Zone.
In that one traumatic scene she had glimpsed the truth behind the rhetoric that allowed disposal zones across the country to exist. DZ wasn't merely a callus name for a place where criminals were permitted to dispose of each other. It was the killing field for a subtle new form of genocide where conditions were arranged by law to suppress constructive elements of a community and to allow the destructive elements free reign.
Like laboratory rats in a carefully controlled environment, people were behaving in predictable ways, the dynamics of which they could hardly be expected to understand let alone influence. It was a system designed and orchestrated to subdue the will of the weak, to heighten the aggression of the strong and then to allow nature to take its thus perverted course. With no one of consequence outside of the slowly expanding zones to oppose it, it was working.
Mina had seen her thoughts in the patrolmans eyes as he had seen his in hers and something fundamental in her view of herself and the world had changed. A part of her became what her sister had always been and she was profoundly ashamed of what she had been before, a typical, law abiding citizen.
When she and Officer Tyler agreed on the need to talk, they both understood the need to do their real talking in a more secure venue. In the absence of certain knowledge, it was only prudent to assume that someone in the police department might be eavesdropping on a hidden channel.
The police might see them with a Flashback Recording and Encoding Device; FRED, for short. It was also called a Temporal Observation Manipulator by most people who thought that TOM was more descriptive of what it did than FRED. With a peeping TOM capable of seeing and hearing anything that happened anywhere on the planet at any time in the past, no one could ever be completely safe. Though Rick and Mina could always be heard, the expense of electronically stripping away enclosed structures to see inside made it unlikely that the government would do it without a compelling, cost-effective reason.
So, while they had improvised a plausible story to get her off the hook for turning in a false alarm, and him off the hook for not arresting her, they had exchanged personal phone numbers.
Mina recalled the wonder of how they so easily communicated without words as he brought up his name and phone number on his wristband computer...
Looks like your car found a hell of a place to quit on you, he said, with the tip of a common, all-purpose light pen pressed to the screen on his right wrist. A pulse of light signaled that the information had been transferred almost instantaneously to the pen. He handed it to Mina.
She pressed the tip to the blank readout screen on her left wrist. As his name and phone number were entered with a pulse of light from the screen, she said, My car didn't exactly quit on me. She punched up her own name and number, drew it into the pen with a firm touch and handed it back to him, My Pathfinder did. I pulled over to study the map.
Rick nodded his encouragement to her story while entering her name and number in his wristband computer. Is that when the man tried to attack you?
No, said Mina, trying to ad-lib a version of what happened that would mesh with her initial call. At first, it was a gang of men beating up somebody down the street. I called the police but they didn't come.
Ricks eyes mirrored his concern that she might not have grasped the precariousness of the situation after all until she added, That didn't turn out to be as bad as I thought it was. I mean... Well, I've never been that close to anything like that before. And... Well, after awhile they drifted away. Then I thought I heard a thump on the side of my car and when I got out to see what it was, there they were. They told me they wouldn't hurt me if I didn't move.
You moved anyway, said Rick.
Yes, said Mina, I jumped back in my car and called the police again.
Why didn't you drive away?
Mina glowered at him. Extemporaneous storytelling wasn't her long suit. His question put her on the spot. I don't know, she said, I guess I panicked.
Thats all right, ma'am, said Rick, It was a stressful situation. You were lost to begin with and didn't know which way to go.
Mina leaped on the explanation. Yes! I've never seen so many one way signs and dead end streets in my life. And a lot of streets run at funny angles to each other.
Yeah, said Rick, I know. I grew up in Detroit. Used to be, a cop had to live in the city if he wanted to keep his job. But that was a long time ago. His voice trailed off then picked up again, Its obvious you're not from around here. Where do you live?
East Point... My name is Mina Foski, by the way, I suppose I should tell you that. You were going to get it from my car tag anyway.
Rick winked at her cleverly deceptive remark and played his part of an embarrassed officer trying to change the subject. Ah... What kind of work do you do?"
I'm a time track programmer for Condor Broadcasting.
Oh? said Rick with the kind of wonder in his face once reserved for celestial beings. A programmer for CBI. Wow! How the fu--I mean, how can a peeping TOM let you telewindow something that happened a thousand years ago?
Mina smiled involuntarily. That look on his face was worth every hour she toiled to win her title and she was grateful for the distraction. Flashback recording isn't my specialty, she said. I only edit the raw material. But I learned a little about it in a time track engineering course I had to take in college, so I can tell you that what it does is a function of seeing at a distance... The closer you are to an object in space the closer you are in time... Think of the stars... like that one....
From where Rick sat, she could have been pointing at a number of stars. He followed her pointing finger and pretended to know which one she meant.
Its so far away that it could have burned out ages ago. We are literally looking at its past. We can't see its recent past because light travels only so fast but we can generate a much faster path of observation through space that will give us a vantage point anywhere we need one to see the slice of time we want to see."
I know about that, said Rick. They piggyback the light wave on the whatever-you-call-it that goes faster, like they used to piggyback sound waves on light to speed up the transmission of sound.
You must watch George Calloway on the Explorer Channel, said Mina.
Yeah, he said, obviously pleased with himself and eager to learn more. They could see whatever and whenever they want to see if they were way out there, Rick pointed to the heavens, but what good is that here, on Earth? How can we see ourselves in a T-window? With mirrors?
Thats about it, said Mina.
“No. Light bends around black holes. And the signal you're talking about is electro-magnetic energy carried on light particles. The light signals we use just follow paths in space-time where light has a faster speed limit than the one we used to think was constant."
"Paths is space? You mean wormholes?"
"No. You don't need anything as exotic as that to see into the past. You don't even need a black hole, really, just an object in space with enough mass to bend the light signals we want and an array of similar objects that act like cosmic mirrors to relay them back to Earth. Thirty years ago the Canadians learned how to do it. It takes a small army of technicians to bring everything together the way you see it in your telewindow, except, of course, for the three dimensional effect. Any T-window will give you that with any picture you can reproduce on a high definition television monitor. Thats all a T-window is, you know, a thin-walled, computer-enhanced, high definition TV set with a 3-D wafer conversion grid.
I never thought I'd understand anything that complicated, said Rick, Hell, the way you explained that, you could have your own show like George Calloway or Hector Clay...
With the mention of Hector Clay, the host of God, the show her sister co-produced, Minas inflated sense of herself that Ricks open admiration had given her collapsed. Her disposal zone experience which sent her life careening around a hairpin turn could not carry the momentum of her old attitudes with it. Her feelings showed on her face.
The young officer stopped short. Maybe I should stick to doing my job instead of asking you about yours. Ah... Where were you going?
I had to see my sister on urgent family business, said Mina, She leaves for work around 5:15 and I wanted to catch her before she left. I've never been to her house before but I knew that it was close to the U of D and I thought I could use my Pathfinder. Anyhow, I got lost and... well, here I am.... And that poor boy....
Yeah, said Rick, Its too bad about him. But I have to clear up a couple of other things about you and the men who attacked you for my report. I won't keep you long. Honest.
Forgive my curiosity, said Rick, convinced that the part of her tale about her sister was true if nothing else was, but why didn't you call her?
Call who? Oh, Vivian. Believe me, I tried. She won't answer because she knows its me and she knows what I want to talk to her about. And she knows she doesn't have a leg to stand on. And she won't get a message recorder because she doesn't like something about where the memory chip comes from. Shes like that. I don't know whats wrong with her. She has a lot of crazy ideas...
Minas thoughts were jerked back to the present with three simultaneous actions of her auto-drive: a toot of the horn in the left rear quarter of her car, a rapid acceleration and a sharp swerve to the right. Her hands went instinctively to the steering wheel and her foot to the break with no effect as her eyes searched and found the cause of her cars alarming behavior.
In the left-hand corner of her rear view imager wrapping around the top of her windshield, she saw a pale blue Toyota El Paso drifting into her lane. The driver, a middle-aged man in a silver-studded shirt, appeared startled, as if awakened from a nap by crashing cymbals. In the right-hand corner of the imager she saw a cream colored Ford Ho Chi a little farther back breaking hard and executing the same swerving maneuver as Minas Lexus.
The minor emergency came and went before Mina was aware that it had come. For some reason, her late, ineffectual response boosted her spirits. Part of it, she knew, was because her inappropriate response underscored her wherewithal to buy a car that could drive itself when it knew where to go, and her good judgment in allowing it to do so. Had she chosen to think the thing through she could have pulled together all of the parts eventually. But she was smart enough to know when not to think a thing through.
Her red Lexus signaled and moved smoothly into the right lane between a blue Honda van and an ivory colored Ho with a cheap Daylight canopy. Red, white and blue, thought Mina, with a vague sense of irony too dulled by time to fully appreciate.
Americans! she thought with a start. That darned American party! Why didn't I see this before? The creepy shivers crawling over her skin told her the answer: Sometimes it was better not to know too much.
Thanks to the American party, the streets of America, where most of the voters and taxpayers lived, were clean and prosperous and free of violent crime. Everybody was happy. Everybody, that is, who still had a decent income and a decent place to stay and didn't worry too much about anyone who didn't. The trouble with Vivian was she worried about them a lot. She worried about the country in which all of its citizens used to call themselves Americans with no suggestion of allegiance to a particular political movement. She worried about the plagues of poverty gone wild that were killing more Americans each year than all of the enemy armed forces did in all of the wars fought in the 20th century. People like the kid called Jimmy.
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