Part 5 (1/2)

Ahmed seated himself in the copilot's seat, fastened the safety harness and leaned forward with his head in his hands, not looking at the corpse. George looked out the winds.h.i.+elds at the bobbing debris of furniture and unidentifiable bits, and watched Coast Guard boats approaching and searching the water.

The copter radio beeped urgently. The pilot switched it on. ”Coast Guard command to Police Helicopter PB 1005768. Thank you for your a.s.sistance. We now have enough Coast Guard s.h.i.+ps and planes in the search pattern; please withdraw from the disaster area. Please withdraw from the disaster area.”

”Order acknowledged. Withdrawing,” the pilot said, and switched the radio off. lie changed the radio setting and spoke briefly to Rescue Squad headquarters, and turned the plane away from the area of destruction and toward the distant sh.o.r.e.

”What's your job in police?” he asked over his shoulder.

George did not answer.

”Rescue, Detection and Prevention,” Ahmed answered for him ”We were in Jersey Dome ten minutes ago.” Behind them the bombs boomed, breaking and closing the air shaft.

”You sure didn't prevent this one,” said the copter pilot.,

Ahmed did not answer.

This is a blackmail tape. One copy of this tape has been mailed to each of the major communes and subcities in the New York City district.

We are responsible for the destruction of Brooklyn Dome. It was a warning, and demonstrated our ability to destroy. We ham in our possession a futures expert whose specialty was locating and predicting accidental dangers to the city complex caused by possible simple mechanical and

human failures. He is drugged and cooperative. We asked him how Brooklyn Dome could self-destruct from a simple mechanical failure, and he explained how. We are now prepared to offer his services for sale. Our fee will be fifteen thousand dollars a question. If you are afraid that your

commune has enemies, your logical question would be: What and who can destroy my commune, and how can I prevent this attack? We will provide the answer service to your enemies, if they pay. They might be asking how to destroy your commune as you listen to this tape. Remember Brooklyn Dome. The name and address enclosed is your personal contact

with us. No one else has this name. Keep it secret from the police, and use it when you decide to pay. If you give your contact up to the police, you will cut yourself off from our advice, your enemies will contact us through other names and buy methods to destroy you. Remember Brooklyn Dome. Act soon. Our fee is fifteen thousand dollars a question. The price of survival is cheap.

”Every police department has a copy. Want me to play it again?” Judd Oslow asked. He sat cross-legged on top of his desk like a large fat Buddha and sipped coffee.

”Once was enough,” Ahmed said. ”Paranoia, and war among the communes. What do those nuts think they are doing with that tape?

”Making money,” Judd Oslow sipped his coffee, carefully staying calm. ”They mailed one to each commune in the city area, and only two have turned in the entire tape, or admitted receiving it. Only one has turned in his address. The others must be keeping their addresses, planning to ask attack, or defense, questions.”

”Armageddon,” said Ahmed.

Judd said, ”George, why don't you get off your rump and bring in Carl Hodges? These nuts can't sell his brains if we get him back.”

Ahmed said, ”You just gave George the: job last night. He almost had him this morning, but we were rea.s.signed when Brooklyn Dome blew, and had to get off Carl I lodges' trail to go to Jersey Dome.”

”So there's some of the day left. George has spoiled me with success. I'm used to instant results. Come on, George. Carl Hodges, right here in this office, packaged and delivered.”

George looked up at him, eyes round and puzzled. ”I'm supposed to help people. Every time I start trying to help Carl Hodges something bad happens. It doesn't come out right. Maybe he likes---_ being in trouble. Bodies all over the place! You don't want me

helping, with my luck!”

”Snap out of it, George. This is no time for pessimistic philosophy. Get together with Ahmed and hypnotize yourself and tell me where Carl Hodges is.”

”What's the use?” George ran his hands over his head in a weary gesture that was not typical of him. ”Brooklyn Dome people are dead already. Jersey Dome people are mostly dead already. Everybody that ever died is still dead. Billions of people since the beginning of time. How are you going to rescue them? Why not let a few more die? What difference does it make?”

”Let's not have an essay on Eternity, George. Nothing makes any difference to Eternity. We don't live in Eternity, we live in now. We want Carl Hodges now.”

”What's the use? My advice just makes trouble. I didn't save those people in Jersey Dome. I wasn't smart enough to understand that they'd want to break their own air locks. No, it wasn't the panic, it was the depression. The air changed its charge. Lab animals act irrational when you reverse the ground-to-air-static charge gradient. I should have-”