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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover

Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 23

There were two rooms in the OD’s suite: a front office and a rear one.

The first contained the OD’s monitors — both the cross-monitor to the remote Command Shack and the slave monitors that would reproduce whatever the Alpha monitors were looking at. There was still another monitor that would allow the OD to look in on the Alpha guards themselves.

The second office contained a large freezer and a semiautomatic microwave food-processing system, and was sometimes used by officers and monitor guards as a break room when off shift. Chin dragged Westbrook to this later office, positioned him on a couch, and carefully injected a sleeping serum into his arm. Westbrook would be out of action for at least the next twelve hours and would have a considerable amount of explaining to do, as would his counterparts, when he awakened.

Chin returned to the front office.

On the Alpha-room monitor, Chin could see two men seated in a small booth, themselves facing several rows of video screens. These were the two guards whom Chin soon had to knock out; not only did they control the Sequence Prime destruct mechanism — which they were under orders to implement as soon as prison security was irrevocably threatened — but they also controlled knockout gas, concussion grenades, and remote-control machine guns at frequent points inside and outside the compound. But at the moment, they were out of Chin’s reach, sealed into their booth separated from the vestibule by the vault-like door. The only way into the prisoner compound was through a similar door, also in the guard booth.

On the other monitors, Chin could see views of the prisoner compound, Elliot and Lorimer’s cell, the vestibule, and various points outside. By their nature as repeaters, Chin knew that the guards were not watching the OD’s office. It was obvious that.juniors were not invited — except in an emergency — to oversee the actions of their senior. Even in areas of security, rank had its privileges.

The guards, however, were not Chin’s immediate concern.

Placing his attaché case on the OD’s desk, Chin removed his mini-computer, tools to strip shielded cable, a set of his own cables with alligator clips at one end and receptor plugs at the other, a pair of goggles, and a hand laser torch. Plugging the laser into a wall socket and putting on the goggles, Chin began work cutting into the wall below the monitors.

Five minutes later he had exposed what he had expected to find: shielded cables to the video circuits. Putting the laser aside, Chin placed his computer on a chair next to the wall, stripped cables inside the wall, and attached alligator clips to the cables, plugging the receptors into his computer.

He checked the Alpha monitor: one guard lit a cigarette while the other played solitaire. Nothing happened on any of their screens. Chin could see Elliot and Lorimer, still motionless in their cell.

Typing a short program into the computer, Chin started its disc into motion, as he did, there was a brief flicker on several of the screens. The guards did not notice. Chin sighed. This was the only visible signal that might have given him away.

The computer would now, automatically, decode the digital information taken from the video system, record two minutes from each camera, then replay that signal to the guards’ monitors infinitely with three areas excepted: from those cameras monitoring the prison compound, the inactive camera in the OD’s office, and cameras monitoring the roadside front gate. Chin was now free to operate throughout the vestibule and outside its door, but this was not the only video trick he had to perform.

Returning to his attaché case, Chin removed two microwave transmitters. The first was a short-range job with a small horn antenna; the other — a small dish on telescoping tripod — would pick up the first transmitter’s signal and relay it.

Chin plugged the first transmitter into his computer, aimed the horn to the main door, and flipped the device on; a small red light showed it operating. Stepping into the back office again briefly, Chin fetched keys from the unconscious OD, returning front. He picked up the dish transmitter and continued through to the vestibule where he crossed to Elliot and Lorimer’s cell.

The digital clock now read 6:13.

As he approached the two, Chin placed a finger to his lips and motioned them to the cell door. After he unlocked the cell, they briefly joined him in the vestibule. Chin whispered, “You have seventeen minutes.”

Lorimer nodded. Elliot whispered, “Good luck.” Chin pointed them to the OD’s suite, patted each of them on the shoulder, then departed with his transmitter to the front exit.

Inside the front office, on the Alpha monitor, Elliot and Lorimer glanced at the guards in their booth, still — respectively — smoking and playing solitaire as, on another monitor, a videotaped Elliot and Lorimer still sat motionless in their cell.

As he watched a cycle of various views within the prisoner compound, Elliot reflected that if one could tell an architect by his work, then Lawrence Powers emerged with a cynical sense of humor, for his Utopia — by a purely dictionary definition — met the major qualifications.

Within bedroom accommodations fully up to commercial standards — and those of the Cadre themselves — two hundred anarchists and three babies slept under pale blue lighting. Each room had a full private bath, internal telephone, holosonic cassette machine, and videodisc player. The furnishings were luxurious, to say the least.

With video monitors seeing into all corners, there was no reason to restrict the prisoners’ privacy from each other, nor their access to each other when they tired of privacy. Internal facilities included a library, game rooms, lounges, gymnasium, and medical center. (Several physicians were in residence as prisoners themselves.) The only external restriction was imposed by the timing of meals. The prisoners’ food was commercial frozen dinners, microwave heated by the OD’s food processor and passed in by the officer three times daily through an exchange chute from the front office; empties and refuse were passed out by the prisoners through the same chute. In addition, hot and cold beverages and cold snacks were available twenty-four hours a day in the dining area.

Responsibility for the prisoners’ well-being, beyond the facilities provided, was left totally up to them alone. There was no physical contact between prisoners and keepers, not for punishment or any other reason, but the existence of the guards gave the prisoners an outside enemy on whom they could vent their frustrations with impunity. Neither did the prisoners have any knowledge of Sequence Prime or very much reason to fear for their safety. They knew that if Lawrence Powers had wanted them dead, they would have been dead already.

Internal sanitation, comfort, rules, recreation, and dispute settlement were left to the devices of the prisoners. Within the confines of their world — literally in the middle of “no place” — they were free to live their lives as best they were able, propertyless, with the necessities of living provided free of charge.

Assuming one placed no price on personal liberty.

Elliot tried to locate Phillip on the monitor, but the cycle went by without catching a glimpse of him. But, he reflected, all this meant was that he liked to bury himself among pillow and blankets. Lorimer nudged Elliot silently, pointing to the Alpha monitor where the guard was playing solitaire.

He had just played out.

High above Utopia, Guardian Angel hovered.

Up front was the helicopter pilot, Captain Billis, Jack Guerdon beside him; in the rear were Sergeant Stokowski and the communications technician, Sergeant David Workman. All wore headsets.

It was at 0616 that Sergeant Workman reported he had Judas Goat’s signal on his monitor. “Roger,” Guerdon replied over headset. “Start recording and set up your laser link with Bigmouth.”

On the Mount Greylock summit, outside the abandoned television relay station, a temporary laser antenna had been erected. Inside, a few minutes after Guerdon’s order to Workman, Sergeant Compton reported to his lieutenant that they, too, were now receiving the signal. “Record and put it on monitor, Compton.” Evers replied. “Jones,” she continued, “let Guardian Angel know we have it.”

A few seconds later, the first image appeared on the Greylock monitor. It was the digitized signal from the video cameras in Utopia, showing, when each signal was decoded, various views of the main prisoner compound, the prisoners asleep in a pale, blue light…. “Guardian Angel, a perfect signal,” Sergeant Jones transmitted.

On the helicopter, Workman relayed this information to Guerdon. “Stokowski,” he ordered in response, “let them know downstairs that we’re punching it through.”

Below, in the cold, twilight air, Chin stood just outside the armored front door to the main building, the microwave transmitter — tripod legs extended, dish facing the sky — beside him. Chin blew briefly onto his hands and rubbed them together. Suddenly, three pinpoint flashes appeared above him. Blowing on his hands one last time, Chin returned inside.

It was 6:23.

The monitor guards, themselves monitored, even now sat facing inactive screens as Elliot and Lorimer, quite active in the OD’s rear office, prepared two hundred breakfasts: plastic trays filled with farina, scrambled eggs with bacon strips, a sweet roll, and a sealed container with non-melting straw that held coffee. It was a frozen breakfast sold — when in stock — at any supermarket.

Chin popped into the office, gave his two allies a thumbs-up, then grabbed the laser torch and his attaché case, returning to the vestibule.

Twenty-five at a time, Lorimer removed trays from the deep freeze with the OD’s gloves, inserted them into the processor, and set a two-minute heating cycle. At the other end of the cycle, Elliot removed trays bearable to the touch — but just — with naked hands, quickly stacking them onto a wheeled breakfast cart with multi-leveled shelves.

At 6:30, when Elliot and Lorimer rolled the breakfast cart into the front office, Chin was at work on the door from the vestibule to the monitor booth, using the torch to etch a pattern on one section of the door, and molding plastic explosive into it. Elliot and Lorimer began stacking breakfast trays into the transfer chute, delivering them to the dining area where they would be available — still warm, for the next forty-five minutes — to prisoners who chose to rise for breakfast.

Suddenly, the door to the monitor booth opened, knocking Chin sprawling forward. Elliot and Lorimer froze behind the door. “Hey, Sid,” a voice called out. “How about letting Mike and me get a couple of those breakfast — ” And one of the guards stuck his head out of the door, spotting Chin and his handiwork. “Oh, shit,” he said.

Though both men were startled, each started reaching for his gun. Chin did not quite make it. The FBI man drew his pistol first and fired twice at Chin, hitting him in the abdomen and right arm.

Chin went down. The guard slammed the armored door shut.

Elliot and Lorimer rushed over to Chin. The interoffice telephone began buzzing in the OD’s office. “Try to stall them,” Chin told Elliot hoarsely. “I need just five more minutes. Lorimer, I’ll need your hands.”

“What about your — ” Elliot started.

“Don’t argue,” Chin rasped. “Move. Move!

Elliot ran off to the office. Unknown to him, Chin quickly lapsed into unconsciousness.

Nervously, Elliot picked up the telephone, watching his antagonists on the Alpha monitor. The other monitors still showed the entire complex — including the vestibule — inactive. They had not seen Lorimer or him. The monitor still showed them motionless in their cell. Elliot decided to try a desperate gambit. “Yeah?” he said hoarsely.

“Sid?” the guard asked. “What the hell is going on out there? Are you all right? Who is that I shot?”

“Eh? I’m fine,” Elliot said. “It must be your imagination. The entire board’s quiet. Go back to sleep.”

“But I shot someone out there. He started drawing a gun.”

“You opened up the door? Asleep or not, that’s strictly against orders.”

This last, being of course the guards’ first standing order, was true, but Elliot’s heart sank, as he saw from expressions the two guards exchanged, that they knew something was wrong. “All right, who the hell is this?” the guard asked.

Elliot tried to bluff it through. “This is Westbrook. What is this? If you think you can try pushing this off on me — ”

But the gambit had failed. Queen takes pawn, Mate . . . only this time he was the pawn. Elliot looked to the repeater monitors and saw himself, standing with the telephone, in the OD’s office. The guards could see him now. “I asked who this is,” the guard asked once more.

Elliot took a deep breath and tried to think what to do. He knew that a wrong answer could mean the lives of the prisoners, Lorimer, Phillip, Chin . . . himself. He knew that at any moment knockout gas or a concussion grenade could be used on him by the guards.

He wished his father were here to advise him.

“You’ve got five seconds to answer me,” the guard said. “Five . . . four . . . three — ”

“All right, okay,” Elliot stopped him. “I’m from the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre.”

“How many of you are here? Where are the rest?”

They were still seeing taped replays on their monitors, still blind to what Lorimer was up to in the vestibule. Stall, Chin had said.

“There’s no one else,” Elliot replied. “Only us two.”

“You’re lying.”

The guard waited until it became apparent that Elliot would not answer, then said, “Boy, you just made the worst mistake of your life.” He turned to the other guard. “Implement Sequence Prime.” He started to hang up.

“Wait!” Elliot shouted, panic triggering an idea.

“Make it quick,” the guard said.

“A straight offer,” Elliot said. “You can both walk out of here rich men.” Elliot started spinning out words quickly, extemporizing. “I have twelve Mexican fifty-peso gold pieces for each of you. That’s about forty-six hundred eurofrancs apiece. With the blues not being accepted by EUCOMTO anymore, gold will be the only money around. It’ll be the only thing, practically, that people will accept.”

The guard maintained a cold silence as Elliot wondered whether his on-the-spot economics lesson had-hit home.

“What’s the matter?” Elliot asked. “You don’t believe me? I have the gold right here, in my belt.”

“Yeah,” the guard said. “I suppose I believe you. I know you brownies are loaded.”

“Then you’ll do business?”

“Nah,” said the guard. “The chief wouldn’t like that.”

“The chief?” Elliot said. “Your chief doesn’t care whether you live or die. There’s something about the setup here they never told you. If you kill the prisoners, you’re dead, too. Sequence Prime destroys this entire complex. Powers doesn’t want any witnesses.”

“Don’t you think we already know that?” the FBI man said softly.

“Then why kill yourself? Is Powers holding your families somewhere? Are you serving a life sentence?”

“You still don’t understand, do you?” the guard said. “The chief would be in this booth himself, if he had the choice. Loyalty works both ways, kid. It works both ways.”

The guard named Mike turned to the first guard and said, “We’re cut off. The Command Shack is out, and so is the alarm.”

The guard pondered this a moment, then smiled at Elliot. “Listen, boy, this place is going up in about two minutes, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But you can do me a favor and be a real hero at the same time.”

Perhaps this was the stall he had been looking for, Elliot considered. “What is it?”

“There are three babies inside the compound. Cute little tykes, remind me of my own at that age. I’ll feel a whole lot better if you take them out with you. And don’t try blackmailing me. If you don’t take them out with you, they’ll die too.”

Elliot thought then, and would always think, that this twisted attempt at humanitarianism was the final, logical result of all he had seen in the past few days. A man — trapped in an execution chamber by virtue of loyalty to a false idol — was willing to kill himself and two-hundred others for what he believed. His willingness to protect the future only underscored his ghastly mistake.

But he would have to open the door. “I’ll take them,” Elliot said.

“Okay, I’ll wake the parents.”

“No, don’t do that,” Elliot said. “You’ll panic them.”

He had reached a decision. His own loyalty was demanding a payment.

“You have a prisoner in there named Phillip Gross, right?”

After a moment, the guard replied. “I’ll get him.”

Elliot returned to the Monitor Room door and found Lorimer stroking Chin’s forehead. “He’s unconscious?”

“He’s dead,” Lorimer said.

Elliot knelt down, checking Chin’s neck for a pulse. There was none. Elliot felt cold and sick. He tried pulling himself together. “Did you get anywhere on the door?”

Lorimer shook her head. “It has to be in a certain pattern or it won’t work. He died before he could tell me.”

“Maybe we could try anyway?”

“It’ll explode this whole place if it’s tampered with,” Lorimer said emotionlessly.

Elliot tried slowing down his heart. There went his surprise advantage. He bent down and picked up Chin’s gun. “Okay, Lor, listen to me. That door is going to open in a minute. More than anything else, I’ve got to try getting a friend of mine out. But there are three babies in there, and you’ve got to get them out of here with you. Can you do that for me?”

“But — ”

“Can you do that for me?”

Lorimer stood up and nodded. “I do love you, Ell,” she said.

Elliot stroked her hair. “I love you, too.”

He did not say that he would not expect to live long enough to enjoy it.

Elliot stood, poised for his assault. He stood there well over a minute. Then he realized that he would not get his chance. The door would not have to open.

An alarm on the exchange chute to the compound signaled refuse on its way out. Elliot listened dumbly for a few moments, then understood what it meant.

The first infant was already in it, crying its eyes out. All that’s left is the future, he thought, handing the three-month-old boy to Lorimer. The second was a girl, perhaps only five weeks old. The third, another boy, looked to be six months old.

Elliot carrying two, Lorimer holding the third, they made a dash out to the now day-lit parking lot where Guardian Angel spotted Lorimer’s waving and began alighting to meet them.

Utopia began exploding. No, that wasn’t right, Elliot thought. It had never existed and never would.

They were far enough away not to be hit by the blast; the explosion was efficient, its rubble being contained in the immediate area.

As Stokowski and Workman took them aboard, Guerdon shouted into the radio for Friendly Sky to abort, repeat, abort its landing.

The last survivor in, Guardian Angel mournfully rose into the morning sky.

It was a few minutes later, as Sergeant Workman replayed Utopia’s final transmission on his monitor, that Elliot saw Phillip Gross spelling out “laissez faire” with his ring after he had passed the last infant out.


Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XXIV.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.

Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

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