Part 3 (1/2)

”Then it doesn't matter. He's not up to any bad business.”

The two walked across the small green park, through the thick air, toward the glittering gla.s.s shaft that went up from the ground into the distant green dome that was the roof of the city. Inside the huge gla.s.s tube a brightly lit elevator rose slowly, carrying a crowd of people looking out over the city as a canary would look out above a giant room.

”Next we check the air-pump controls,” Ahmed said. ”They're near the elevator.” People went by, looking formal and overdressed, pale and quiet, stiff and neat. Not his kind of people. Civil servants, government administration people, accountants.

George followed, trying to breathe. The air seemed to be not air, but some inferior subst.i.tute. Glittering small buildings rose on either side of the park in rows, like teeth, and he felt inside a tiger mouth. The air smelled like lilies in a funeral parlor. The people he pa.s.sed gave out vibes of a trapped hopeless defeat that made his depression worse. They pa.s.sed a crowd of quiet miserable people waiting to get on the elevator, carrying fis.h.i.+ng poles and swimming equipment.

High above them the elevator descended slowly.

”That's bad,” George said. ”You feel it, don't you, Ahmed?”

”Feel what?” Ahmed stopped beside a small rounded building attached to the side of the shaft. The building throbbed with a deep steady thump, thump, thump, like a giant heart.

”I want to get out of here,” George said. ”Don't you feel it?”

”I ignore that kind of feeling,” Ahmed said expressionlessly, and pulled on the handle of the door to the pump room. It was unlocked. It opened. The thumping was louder. ”Should be locked,”

Ahmed muttered. They looked inside.-

Inside, down a flight of steps, two workmen were checking over some large warm thumping machinery. The two detectives went down the steps.

”Ident.i.ty check, let's see your ID,” George said, and looked at: the two badges they handed him, in the same way he had seen. Ahmed and other detectives checking them over. He took thumbprints and matched them to the photo thumbprints, he compared the faces on the photos to the faces before him. One big one with a craggy chiseled stone face and grim vertical lines on the cheeks; one short weathered one, slightly leaner. slightly more humor in the face. Both identified as engineers of Consolidated Power and' Light, inspectors of electrical motor appliance and life support services.

”What are the pumps doing?” Ahmed asked, looking around.

”Pumping air in, pumping water out,” replied one of the men. ”There's the pump that pushes excess water up to the top, where' it comes out as a little ornamental fountain in an artificial island..:, The pressure equalizes by itself, so it doesn't need elaborate equipment, just power.”

”Why pump water out?” Ahmed asked. ”The air pressure is supposed to be so high that it pushes the water, out.”

The man laughed. ”You make it sound so simple. The air pressure is approximately the same here as up at the top surface of the , dome, but the water pressure rises every foot of the way down. Down here at the bottom it is higher than the air pressure. Water squeezes in along the edges of the cement slab, up through the . ground cover and the dirt. We have drains to catch the seepage:, and lead it back to this pump. We expect seepage.”

”Why not pump in more air? Higher air pressure would keep all . the water out.”

”Higher air pressure would burst the top of the dome like a balloon. There isn't enough weight of water to counter push.”

George got an uncertain picture of air pus.h.i.+ng to get out the top and water pus.h.i.+ng to get in the bottom. ”It's working all right?” He handed the ID badges back to them.

”Right,” said the explanatory man, pinning on his badge. ”It would take a bomb to get those pumps out of balance. Don't know why they sent us to check the pumps. I'd rather be out fis.h.i.+ng.”

”They're looking for a bomb, dummy,” said the other one sourly.

”Oh.” The bigger one made a face. ”You mean, like Brooklyn Dome blew up?” He looked around slowly. ”If anything starts to happen, we're right near the elevator. We can get to the top.”

”Not a chance,” said the sour one. ”The elevator is too slow. And it has a waiting line, people ahead of you. Resign yourself. If this place blows, we blow.”

”Why is the elevator so slow?” George asked. Fix it! He hoped silently. They listened to the burn of the elevator engine lowering the elevator. It was slow.

”It can go faster; the timer's right here.” The sour engineer walked over and inspected the box. ”Someone has set it to the slowest speed. I wonder why.”

”For sightseeing,” George said, ”but I saw the crowd waiting. They have fis.h.i.+ng poles. They want to get to the top, they don't want to wait in the middle of the air, just viewing.”

”Okay.” The talkative one walked over and firmly set the pointer over to ”fast.” The elevator reached the ground on the other side of the wall, rumbled to a stop and the doors whirred open.

They listened, hearing voices and the shuffle of feet as people crowded inside, then the doors rumbled shut and the elevator started for the top. The whirr was high and rapid. In less than a third of the time the trip up to the surface had taken before, the whirr stopped.

The two engineers nodded at each other. ”I hope they are happy with it.”

”They are getting there faster.”

George said, ”That makes sense,” and Ahmed nodded agreement. They went out and watched the elevator return. As rapidly as falling, the great silver birdcage came down the gla.s.s shaft and slowed, and stopped, and opened. It was empty. No one who was up there was coming back in to the city.

More people got on.

”What is up there?” George asked, holding himself back from a panic desire to get in the elevator with the others and get out of the enclosed city. ”I have a feeling we should go up there,” he said, hoping Ahmed would misunderstand and think George was being called by a hunch.

”What do you feel?” Ahmed looked at him keenly. The doors shut and the elevator rose rapidly, leaving them behind on the ground.