The Green Millennium

Chapter Five

PHIL stopped pounding on the wall and the black silence closed around him drowningly, stranglingly, like a preview of the mental hospital cell and electrosleep to which, he was suddenly sure, Dr. Romadka intended to consign him on a psychiatrist's writ. In the thick darkness he heard his heart pounding. His rapid breathing was for a moment that of an animal. He wondered helplessly why the analyst, after taking his satyrette hallucination so lightly, should have instantly typed him as a dangerous lunatic at his mention of a green cat. Psychologists, he supposed, knew things about the mind's secret language that were never told to ordinary people: seemingly innocent symbols that stamped men as cowards, rapists, murderers, traitors, crypto-communists, nonconformists. A fragment of conversation he'd heard somewhere came back to him: "Of course as soon as he sawthat in the inkblot, they hustled him off." There was a sharp click. He started and looked up. A tiny line of light appeared in the ceiling, widened, and then became an oblong spilling radiance on the central table below, but leaving the rest of the room dark. He realized that the mirror he'd noticed had been slid out of the way. He couldn't see much of the room above except some microfilm files and part of a TV reading machine of the sort that could use micro-libraries all over America. No human figures were visible from where he stood and he felt no desire to step forward into the revealing light. He wondered, with a certain incredulous pride, whether he was so dangerous a type that they intended to fish for him with nets. Just then a foot was dangled over the oblong's edge. It was a charming foot, slim and clad in the most shimmeringly expensive sort of digital stocking, which gave each toe its separate translucent compartment. Running back from between the toes were four black velvet thongs, which helped attach the airy black shoe and gave it an exciting though spidery appearance. The foot was joined to a narrow ankle and gently swelling calf which hardly needed the stocking's glamorizing. That was all of the figure he could see at the moment, but the moment didn't last long. The foot was followed by a second and shortly by all the rest of the girl. She hung briefly, facing away from him. He got a quick impression of a short black evening frock; a black shoulder cape; long, dark hair cascading free and white arms in black gloves that began above the elbows and ended at the knuckles. His foot, shifting on the foam carpeting, made a tiny noise. Instantly she whirled on him like a black panther, complete even to the shrill snarl. As she did, Phil was rocked by two surprises: the first, revealed when her short cape spun out, that her evening frock was off the bosom, a style he had thought and read about a great deal, but that was not followed at his social level; the second, and far more attention getting, that the fingers of her right hand were tipped with clawed, silver thimbles, while in her left she held ten gleaming inches of that most disturbing anachronism, a knife. Poised like a fencer, she waggled it rapidly under his chin. "Did my father set you to spy on me?" she demanded. The "set" and "spy" were sheer hiss. "No," he replied chokingly, not wanting his Adam's apple to protrude. "Then why are you here," she demanded, advancing the knife a bit, "lurking in the dark?" "Your father locked me in," he protested, leaning backward. "Ishtar! Is he doing that to his patients, too?" she commented. Her accents were a bit incredulous, but she did drop the knife to an easy, on guard position, which also caused her cape to fall around her modestly. "Locked me in and turned off the lights," Phil reaffirmed. She slitted her long-lashed eyes thoughtfully. "I can almost believe the first part of that," she said. "He often sends his patients in here for observation." "Observation?" She jerked a silver-fanged thumb at the ceiling. "That mirror's transparent from above. He likes to watch what his patients do when they think they're alone, either singly or by couples. Olympian voyeur! Well, I marked him tonight." And she flashed the claws, which were faintly stained with reddish brown. Phil felt a little sick but took the opportunity to ask, "If that mirror's transparent from above, why didn't you see me when he locked me in here?" "He always shuts the mirror off when he's not using it," she said, "and I was interested in opening it, not seeing through it. I only discovered the trick of the fastenings a half-minute ago. Father probably doesn't even know it can be opened. Although well equipped with the nastier psychological skills, he's no mechanic." "Well, you seem to be skillful at things all around," said Phil. "Fencing and that." She thoughtfully licked the center of her upper lip with the tip of her tongue. "You're kind of likable in a feeble way," she said. "Why did he lock you in here anyhow? Too interested in sex? I thought he encouraged that in his patients and only tried to forbid it to his darling daughter." As Phil searched for a suitable way to phrase a denial or confirmation, her dark eyes grew speculative. "Say," she said, "how about you and me?" She paused, then decisively whipped down the knife, so that it stuck quivering in the floor. She advanced toward Phil. "Yes, you and me." "Your father'll be back any minute," Phil protested agitatedly. "True, and I'll so enjoy seeing his face." She lifted her arms. "See how beautiful I am. Look at them. Like two rose buds." She was very beautiful indeed. Nevertheless, Phil froze. She bared her teeth and struck at his cheek with her clawed hand, but at the last moment turned the blow to a contemptuous pat. "Don't worry," she said. "I know my glamor is a sort that terrifies weaklings. Besides, the raven does not mate with the rabbit. And I only wanted to do it to spite Father. Why did he lock you in? You seem completely puerile." "I just mentioned something about a green cat," Phil said with a certain huffiness. She rolled her eyes. "Tammuz! And just after encouraging the Akeleys in their Bast worship. The man's so erratic I sometimes think he must be a crypto-communist with his cover personalities jumbled." "Of course he did say something about my waiting here while he got rid of a violent ex-patient who carries around a -" "That gold squirt gun story," she interrupted, "is his pet dodge for getting rid of patients." "He doesn't seem to want to get rid of me." "No," she agreed cheerfully, jerking her knife out of the floor, "he seems to want to keep you." "I think he wants to send me to a mental hospital," Phil ventured, rather hoping to be disagreed with, but she merely nodded. "I don't envy you," she added, inserting the knife in a sheath in her skirt. "Father favors old-fashioned treatments like convulsive therapy and simulated snake pits. Well, if the assistant torturers are on their way, I'd better be on mine." She took three quick steps, then looked back at him coldly, thinning her lips. "Care to come along?" she asked. "Not that I like you even faintly-I detest men; I'm seething with what my grandmother would have called masculine protest-but I always enjoy frustrating Father." Phil had an acute sense of a lady-or-the-doctor dilemma, but he lost no time saying, "Yes." She nodded once and headed for the back of the room. "Will you try for the elevator?" he ventured to ask. "Of course not!" she snapped at him. "But he said the only other way -" Phil began. "Sshh!" she hissed and punched a door button. The wall kept blank. "So it's on code," she said. "I might have known." And she punched the button in a rapid rhythm. The wall kept on blank. "Oh, oh, the special code, the one I'm not supposed to know." She looked around at Phil. "You must be important," she sniffed. She punched the button in another rhythm. This time, rather to Phil's surprise, the wall parted obediently. He followed her into a gleaming kitchen, complete with glassed in shelves of gamma-sterilized steaks and vegetables, freezer, radionic oven, shadowed mushroom bed and small microbe tank for home-cultured appetizers. Phil's eyes bugged at the latter two luxuries, but it did occur to him to say, "What about that mirror you left open? Mightn't your father come in upstairs and see I'm gone?" "Not tonight after what I gave him. Now stop making old maidish remarks." She was standing in front of a vertical cylinder that half protruded from the wall, and was busy once more with her button punching. A tiny green light flashed up a tall column of studs like a skyrocket. "Get the hassock from the library. Quick!" When Phil hurried back lugging the foot-high cylinder of foam rubber, a doorway about as big as a midget was open in the cylinder. "Put it inside on the platform," she directed, "on top of all the straps and stuff. They're just for packages. That's right. Now get inside and squat on it. Reach down your hands on either side of the hassock and take hold of the clamps. Keep a firm grip, because it drops a bit faster than free-fall and you wouldn't want to be left behind squatting on nothing. And squat up straight or you'll get your head rubbed off!" "Wait a minute," said Phil, withdrawing a foot he had gingerly inserted in the doorway, "Do you -" "I have to go last, because I know how to work the button when I'm inside. Hurry up." "But this is the service chute, isn't it?" he asked. "Did you expect Nubian slaves to carry you down a spiral ramp? Later on you can persuade Father to buy me a copter if you want to." "You mean," he quavered, "that you think I'm going to fall down that chute on a little platform without sides?" She jerked the knife from her skirt. "I think you're going to do that or else you're going to let me lock you back in the library ." Stepping back from the knife, Phil sat down suddenly on the platform, cracking the top of his head on the doorway, and then slowly drew in his legs and assumed the position of the Anxious Buddha. "You didn't have to rush me," he said with some dignity. "I'm sending you to the first basement," she told him in clipped tones. "I'll give you five seconds to get out. I think the door'll be open there. If not, you'll have to come up again, and hope it's me that gets you and not some other floor. Now don't worry," she told him as she slid the door shut, "I've done this a dozen times myself-or at least thought of doing it." In the darkness Phil's spine stiffened to condensed steel and his hands clutching the clamps became those of a gorilla. He had time to think that if only Lucky were with him, tucked inside his jacket... The platform was jerked down from under him, dragging him along. His stomach rapidly scrambled over his heart and nestled just below his Adam's apple. A giant snake hissed and he was acutely conscious of being inches from death by friction on every side. Then, just as he figured he'd got a really firm grip on the clamps, he distinctly felt the platform through the hassock, his heels cut into his rump, his vertebrae cut into his intervertebral disks, and various things inside him jarred loose. He was staring groggily into a dimly lit and empty room. Time was passing, it occurred to him. He dove out onto the floor, while behind him the platform took off with a heartywhish. By the time he had dragged himself to a sitting position and taken a few breaths there was a gust of air from the chute and azing as the platform came to a stop. Miss Romadka sprang out nimbly and curtsied to an imaginary audience. "You never did that before?" he asked her glumly. "Of course I have, but I knew if I said I hadn't you'd take it more seriously." She tweaked him by the nearest ear. "Come on, you're not out of Father's clutches yet." Almost to his disappointment, he found he could scramble to his feet and follow her. He almost felt calm. "How did you push the button from the inside, anyhow?" "Just taped it down, jumped in and shut the door. The platform won't move if any of the upper-floor doors are open." "What's your name, by the way?" "Mitzie," she told him. "Mitzie Romadka." "Mine's Phil," he said. "Phil Gish." She led him into a shadowy garage, lined with ornate cars in stalls barred like prison cells. Several of the cars had recharging cables plugged in. He saw a ramp ahead that led upward. Mitzie coded the barrier in front of a small black coupe without a hint of decor. "Innocent looking little job, isn't it?" she remarked. "Used to belong to an undertaker." She hopped in. When, with a sad shrug, Phil followed her, he was hardly surprised to find she had donned a full-length black evening-mask. 'It's not my car," she explained. "I'm just hiding it for Carstairs and the gang. It's hot." And with that reassuring remark she guided it out toward the ramp, its small electric motor whining faintly. A door rose at her voice. Then they were outside in the ghostly yellow evening of the sodium mirror. When they had climbed almost to ground level, a big car slammed to a stop in the street ahead, three-quarters blocking the exit. Two men jumped out of the car and someone, of whom Phil could for the moment see only waddling legs and chubby tummy, hurried to meet them. "Look, if this is another tame-chicken chase -" he heard the first of the two men from the car begin in heavy skeptical tones. "Don't be absurd," the hurrier asserted crisply in a voice Phil recognized as Dr. Romadka's. "I tell you, he mentioned the green cat." At that moment the analyst looked around and saw Phil gawking at him. "There he goes now!" The analyst's outraged squeal turned to the rasp of plastics as Mitzie bullied the small black car between the rampwall and the newcomer. With the twang of hooked bumpers parting, they swung out into the street, the little electric accelerating modestly. Phil looked over his shoulder. "They've got back in," he told Mitzie. "They're turning around." "Like I said, you're important," she murmured through her mask, still incredulously. "Well, here goes," and she abruptly nosed the car toward the narrow mouth of a ramp leading downward. "Hey, that's marked 'Exit Only,'" Phil yiped at her. "That's why I'm using it," she informed him curtly. He closed his eyes as the car tilted sharply down, but the gods of probability seemed inclined to grant boons tonight. When the car leveled out, Phil opened his eyes to the brighter, nearer, fog-light sodium yellow of the under level. They were moving ahead smartly. Once more Phil looked back. "They've come down after us," he said with wonder perhaps a trifle mixed with pride. "Really important," Mitzie muttered, shaking her head. "Well, this little mouse was never meant to outrace that rhino. Prepare for acceleration, and hope the cars at the next ten intersections are stacked right." Phil felt himself crunched into the foam rubber he had his chin on. There was a red glow just behind them. The pursuing car shrank rapidly in size. Twisting himself around with difficulty, he noted that the sodium lights had become a molten yellow ribbon. Their car flew past the hood of a truck entering from a side street, though their speed made it appear to be standing still. Some blocks ahead they shot between two cars which also seemed frozen. The red glow died. They sailed up another "Exit Only" ramp into the spectral yellow night. Proceeding at a speed that soon became reasonable, they turned four successive corners. "That should do it," Mitzie said with professional nonchalance. Phil nodded his slumped head. "Carstairs put in the rocket assist yesterday," she explained. "He wasn't altogether sure he had it lined up right. Neat little trick, isn't it? A great comfort when you've just knocked over a fat sales robot, say, and have three cop cars converging and maybe a cop copter up above. Beats a smoke screen all hollow. You'll see." "I have," Phil assured her with a rather absentminded shiver. "That was nothing," she said scornfully. "I mean when you've really pulled a job and they're closing in. That's the big thrill. You'll see, I tell you. You know, Phil, I sort of like you. You're so darn scared and innocent, yet you play along. I'm sure I can persuade Carstairs to let you join the gang." Phil shivered again, but with even less of his mind on it. Neither Mitzie Romadka's criminal pastimes nor her sudden friendliness could hold his attention. Staring out frowningly at the jaundiced street, he was thinking of Lucky and of the way he had felt when Lucky was with him. He jerked awake. "What is this green cat, anyhow?" Mitzie was asking with an indifference that her mask intensified. "A carved emerald or the password in a secret society?" Phil shrugged. "Well, let's forget it then," Mitzie was saying, "and have some fun." She speeded up again to the electric's unassisted limit and ran through a stop light which yipped protestingly. Her eyes gleamed wickedly in their circles of black lace. Her breathing grew quicker, her voice lighter. "Carstairs has a bunch of sales robots lined up. Got their after theater routes cased to a hair. We can ram 'em and gut 'em, one, two, ten! Jump for the curb, sisters!" This last exuberant remark was directed at two cloaked women on glittering platforms, and it was accompanied by a vicious swerve of the car toward them. They made it, just, and tumbled on their knees, shrieking. Mitzie cooed happily. Like someone waking from a dream, Phil said sharply "No! I don't want any part of it!" He went on, "You can drop me at 3010 Opperly Avenue, top level." She looked at him curiously for a change, even with surprise. "All right," she said after a bit, "I'll do it, if only because I got such a kick out of the look on your face when I shut the door of the chute." She spun the car illegally in a tight U-turn. She said harshly, not looking at Phil, "I never hot rod at old people, you know. They don't have enough hormones to make it fun. Those two girls were real funnies." Phil made no comment. They sped for a while in silence. Then he became vaguely aware that Mitzie was stealing glances at him. "If you should manage to cook up a little nerve and change your mind," she said angrily, "you might possibly find us at the Tan Jet much later tonight." He still made no comment. She went on softly, "Night's the only time, you know, at least in this century. Night in the city. I love the pale yellow streets and the bright yellow tunnels. They've taken the jungles away from us, the high seas and the highways, even space and the air. They've abolished half of the night. They've tried to steal danger. But we've found it again in the city; we who've got nerve and hate the sheep! "Well, here's your 3010 Opperly," she said, jerking the car to a stop. Phil opened the door and started out. Only then did Mitzie seem to see the bright marquee and realize that the address was that of Fun Incorporated's wrestling center. She thrust herself across the seat as he reached the curb and turned to shut the door. "So this is what you were looking for!" she yelled at him, her suddenly passionate voice making her mask puff away from and then huff to her mouth. "You turn me down, you sniff at my friends and my ways, you're above violence and sex, and all the while you're planning to satisfy yourself vicariously, watching male-female!" For an instant before she slammed the door in his face, lightning seemed to shoot out of the lace-shirred eyeholes of the black mask. "At least I make my own thrills, you rotten little virgin!"

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