Of Death What DreamsPrologue"Left hand," the thin man said tonelessly. "Wrist up."William Bailey peeled back his cuff; the thin man put something cold against it, nodded toward the nearest door."Through there, first slab on the right," he said, and turned away."Just a minute," Bailey started. "I wanted—""Let's get going, buddy," the thin man said. "That stuff is fast."Bailey felt something stab up under his heart. "You mean—you've already . . . that's all there is to it?""That's what you came for, right? Slab one, friend. Let's go.""But—I haven't been here two minutes—""Whatta you expect—organ music? Look, pal," the thin man shot a glance at the wall clock. "I'm on my break, know what I mean?""I thought I'd at least have time for . . . for . . ." "Have a heart, chum. You make it under your own power, I don't have to haul you, see?" The thin man was pushing open the door, urging Bailey through into an odor of chemicals and unlive flesh. In a narrow, curtained alcove, he indicated a padded cot."On your back, arms and legs straight out."Bailey assumed the position, tensed as the thin man began fitting straps over his ankles."Relax. It's just if we get a little behind and I don't get back to a client for maybe a couple hours and they stiffen up . . . well, them issue boxes is just the one size, you know what I mean?"A wave of softness, warmness, swept over Bailey as he lay back."Hey, you didn't eat nothing the last twelve hours?" The thin man's face was a hazy pink blur."I awrrr mmmm," Bailey heard himself say."OK, sleep tight, paisan. . . ." The thin man's voice boomed and faded. Bailey's last thought as the endless blackness closed in was of the words cut in the granite over the portal to the Euthanasia Center:" . . . send me your tired, your poor, your hopeless, yearning to be free. To them I raise the lamp beside the brazen door. . . ." Bailey's first thought when he opened his eyes was one of surprise that a girl had taken the thin man's place. She looked young, with a finely chiseled, too-pale face."Are you all right?" she asked. Her voice was soft and breathy, but with an undernote of strength.He started to nod; then the wrongness of it penetrated. This wasn't the Euthanasia Center. Behind the girl, he saw the dun walls and plastic fixtures of a Class Yellow Nine flat. He made an effort to sit up and became aware of a deathly sickness all through his body."My chest hurts," he managed to gasp. "What happened? Why am I alive?"The girl leaned closer. "You were really—inside?"Bailey thought about it. "I remember going into the cubicle. The attendant gave me a hypo and strapped me down. Then I passed out . . ." His eyes searched the girl's face. "Am I dreaming this?"She shook her head without impatience. "I found you in the serviceway behind the center. I brought you here.""But—" Bailey croaked, "I'm supposed to be dead!""How did you get outside?" the girl asked.For an instant, a ghostly memory brushed Bailey's mind: cold, and darkness, and a bodiless voice that spoke from emptiness . . . "I don't know. I was there . . . and now I'm here.""Are you sorry?"Bailey started to answer quickly, then paused. "No," he said, wonderingly. "I'm not.""Then sleep," the girl said. 1 "Why?" the girl asked. She sat across from Bailey at the fold-out table, watching as he ate carefully a bowl of lux-ration soup, with real lichen chunks."Why did I go?" He made a vague gesture with a thin, pale hand. "Everything I wanted to do, everything I tried; it all seemed so hopeless. I was trapped, a Ten-Level Yellow-Tag. There was no future for me, no chance to improve. It was a way out.""You feel differently now?"Bailey nodded slowly. "I used to grieve for the old days, when the world wasn't so crowded and so organized. I always told myself what I would have done if I'd lived then. Now I see that's just an easy out. It's always been up to a man to make his own way. I was afraid to try.""And now you're not?""No," Bailey said, sounding surprised. "Why should I be? All that out there"—he made a gesture which encompassed all of society—"is just something built by men. I'm a man, too. I can do what I have to do." He broke off, glancing at the girl. "What about you?" he asked. "Why did you help me?""I . . . know how it is. I almost jumped from the Hudson Intermix once.""What changed your mind?"She lifted her shoulders, frowned. "I don't know. I can't remember. Maybe I lost my nerve."Bailey shook his head. "No," he said. "You didn't lose your nerve. Helping me took plenty of that. I don't know what the law says about leaving the center via the back door, but I left all my papers there. You're harboring a tagless man." He put down his spoon and pushed the chair back. "Thanks for everything," he said. "I'll be going now.""Are you sure you feel well enough?""I'm all right. And there are things I have to do.""Where will you go? What will you do?""First I'll need money.""Without your cards, how can you apply for assignment?""You're thinking about legal methods," Bailey said. "I'm afraid that's a luxury I can't afford. I'll go where the cards don't count.""You mean—Preke territory?""I don't have much choice." Bailey leaned across to touch her hand. "Don't worry about me," he said. "Forget me. At worst, I won't be any worse off than when I was strapped to a slab in the slaughterhouse.""I still don't know how you got away.""Neither do I." Bailey rose. "But never mind the past. It's what comes next that counts." 2 Bailey took the walkaway to the nearest downshaft, rode the crowded car to Threevee Mall. No one paid any visible attention to him as he walked briskly along past the glare-lit store fronts through the streaming crowd that bumped and jostled him in a perfectly normal fashion. He passed the barred entry to a service ramp, continued another thirty feet past the green-uniformed Peaceman lounging near it; then he flattened himself against the rippling façade of a popshop. A stout man with an angry expression bellied past, trampling his foot. Bailey stepped out behind him, delivered a sharp kick to the calf of the fat man's left leg, instantly faded back against the wall as the victim whirled with a yell. One windmilling arm caught another pedestrian across the chest. The latter dealt the fat man a return blow to the paunch. In an instant, a churning maelstrom of shouting, kicking, punching humanity had developed. Bailey watched until the Greenback arrived, cutting a swatch through the crowd with his prod; then he moved quickly along to the gate, jumped to catch its top edge, pulled himself up. There were a few shouts, one ineffective grab at his leg by a zealous citizen who staggered back with a bruised chin for his efforts. Then Bailey was over, dropping on a wide landing. Without hesitation, he started down the dark stairs toward outlaw territory.3 The odor of Four Quarters was the most difficult aspect of that twilit half-world for Bailey to accommodate to. The shops were shabby antiques, badly lit by primitive fluorescents and garish neon, relics of an age that had by-passed and buried the original city under the looming towers of progress. The Prekes—the lawless ones, without life permits, work papers, or census numbers—seemed not much different than their catalogued and routinized brethren on the levels above, except for the variety of their costumes and a certain look of animal alertness. Bailey moved along the wide street, breathing through his mouth. He strolled for an hour, unmolested, before a tiny, spider-like man with sharp brown eyes materialized from a shadowy doorway ahead."New on the turf, hey?" he murmured, falling in beside Bailey. "Papers to move? Top price for a clean ID, Frosh.""Where can I take a lay on the Vistats?" Bailey asked his new acquaintance."Oh, a string man, hah? You're lucky, zek. I'll fence it for you. Just name your lines and give me your card—"Bailey smiled at the little man. "Do you really get any takers on that one?"The pinched brown face flickered through several trial expressions, settled on rueful camaraderie. "You never know. Worth a try. But I see you're edged. No hard feelings, zek. What size lay you have in mind? An M? Five M's?"Bailey slipped the Three-issue watch from his finger, handed it over. "Take me to the place," he said. "If you con me, I'll find you sooner or later."The little man hung back, eyeing the offering. "How do I know you're on the flat?""If I'm not, you'll find me later."A hand like a monkey's darted out and scooped the ring from Bailey's palm. "That's the rax, zek. This way."Bailey followed his guide along a devious route, skirting the massive piers that supported the city above, into streets even meaner and dirtier than the first, wan in the light that filtered down through the grimy plastic skylights spanning the avenues. In a narrow, canyon-like alley, supplementally lit by a lone polyarc at the corner, the guide pointed with his chin and disappeared.Bailey stood in a unswept doorway and watched the traffic. A man in a shabby woven-fiber
oat passed, giving him a single, furtive glance. A hollow-cheeked woman looked him up and down, snorted, moved on. Across the street, a man loitered by a dark window, glancing both ways, then pushed through the unmarked door beside it. A fat woman in shapeless garments emerged, shuffled away. Bailey waited another five minutes until the man had gone, then crossed the street.The door was locked. He tapped. Silence. He tapped harder. A voice growled: "Beat it. I'm sleeping."Bailey kept tapping. The door opened abruptly; a swarthy, pockmarked face poked out. The expression on the unshaven features was not friendly. The man looked past Bailey, under him, around him, cursed, started to close the door. Bailey jammed it with his foot."I want a job," he said quickly. "You need runners, don't you?"The swarthy man's foot paused an inch from grinding into Bailey's ankle. His blunt features settled into wariness."You're on a bum pitch, Clyde. What I need a runner for?""This is a drop shop. You can use me. How about letting me in off the street before somebody gets eyes?"Reluctantly, the door eased back; Bailey slipped through into an odor of nesting mice. By the light coming through from a back hall he saw a clutter of ancient furniture, a battered computer console. Then a meaty hand had caught his tunic-front, slammed him back against the wall. A six-inch knife blade glinted in the fist held under his nose."I could cut your heart out," a garlic-laden voice growled in his face."Sure you could," Bailey said impatiently. "But why take a wipe for nothing?""Who told you about me?""Look, I just arrived an hour ago. The first drifter I met led me here. Everybody must know this place.""Bugs send you here?" The hand shook him, rattling his head against the wall."For what? The Greenies know all about you. You must have paid bite money, otherwise you wouldn't be operating."The knife touched Bailey's throat. "You take some chances, Clyde.""Put the knife away. You need me—and I need money.""I need you why?""Your biggest problem is transmitting bets and pay-off information. You can't use Pubcom or two-way. I've got a good memory and I like to walk. For a hundred a week in hard tokens I'll cover all of Mat'n for you."The silence lengthened. The knife moved away; the grip on Bailey's blouse slackened slightly."Bugs got something on you?""Not that I know of.""Why you need money?""To buy new papers—and other things.""You got no cards?""Not even an ID.""How do I know you're not dogging for the Bugs?""Get some sense. What would I get out of that?"The man made a guttural noise and stepped back. "Tell it, Clyde. All of it."Bailey told. When he finished, the swarthy man rubbed his chin with a sound like a wood rasp cutting pine."How'd you do it? Bust out, I mean?""I don't know. The girl found me in an alley mumbling about a pain in my chest. My wrists were a little raw, as if I'd forced the straps. After all, it isn't as if they expected anybody to try to leave."The dark man grunted. "You're scrambled," he said. "But there could be something in it at that. OK, you're on, Jack. Fifty a week—and you sleep in the back.""Seventy-five—and I eat here, too.""Push your luck, don't you? All right. But don't expect no lux rations.""Just so I eat," Bailey said. "I'll need my strength for what I've got to do." 4 The dog-eared, seam-cracked maps of the city which Bailey's employer supplied dated from a time when the streets had been open to the sky, when unfiltered sunlight had fallen on still-new pavements and facades. Two centuries had passed since those wholesome, innocent days, but the charts still reflected faithfully each twist and angle of the maze of streets and alleys. Each night, he quartered the city, north to south, river wall to river wall. In the motley costume which Aroon had given him, he passed unremarked in the crowds.Off-duty, he undertook the cleaning of Aroon's rubbish-filled rooms. After feeding the accumulated debris of decades into a municipal disposer half a block from the house, he set about sweeping, scrubbing, polishing the plastron floor and walls until their original colors emerged from under the crusts of age. After that, he procured pen and paper, spent hours absorbed in calculations. Aroon watched, grunted, and left him to his own devices."You're a funny guy, Bailey," he said after a month of near-silent observation. "I got to admit at first I didn't know about you. But you had plenty chances to angle, and passed 'em. You're smart, and a hard worker. You never spend a chit. You work, you eat, you sleep, and you scribble numbers. I got no complaint—but what you after, Bailey? You're a hounded guy if I ever see one."Bailey studied the older man's face. "You and I are going to make some money, Gus," he said.Aroon looked startled. His thick eyebrows crawled up his furrowed forehead."How much do you make a week, booking the 'stats?" Bailey put the question boldly.Aroon frowned. "Hell, you know: Three, four hundred after expenses—if I'm lucky.""How much do the big boys make? The books?""Plenty!" Gus barked. "But—wait a minute, kid. You ain't getting ideas—""They don't rely on luck," Bailey said. "They know. Figure it out for yourself. The play is based on the midnight census read-outs. But the figures for production, consumption, the growth indices and vital statistics—they all vary in accordance with known curves.""Not to me, they ain't known. Listen, Bailey, don't start talking chisel to me—"Bailey shook his head. "Nothing like that. But we do all the work. Why pass all the profits along to them?" He pointed with his head in the general direction of the booker's present temporary HQ in a defunct hotel half a mile south."You slipped your clutch? That's murder—""We won't cut corners on anybody. But tonight we're going to roll our own book."Aroon's mouth hung open."I've worked out the major cycles, and enough minor ones to show a profit. It wasn't too hard. I minored in statan, back in my kid days.""Wise up, kid," Aroon growled. "What do I use for capital?""We'll start out small. We won't need much: just a little cash money to cover margins. I've got three hundred to contribute. I'd estimate another seventeen hundred ought to do it."Aroon's tongue touched his lips. "This is nuts. I'm a drop man, not a book—""So now you're a book. You've already got the work list, your steady customers. We'll just direct a few lays into our private bank, on these lines." Bailey passed a sheet of paper across; it was filled with columns of figures."I can't take no chance like this," Gus breathed. "What if I can't cover? What if—""What have you got to lose, Gus? This?" Bailey glanced around the room. "You could have a Class Three flat, wear issue 'alls, eat at the commess—if you went up there." He glanced ceilingward. "You picked Preke country instead. Why? So you could lock into another system—a worse one?""I got enough," Gus said hoarsely. "I get along.""Just once," Bailey said. "Take a chance. Take it, or face the fact that you spend the rest of your life in a one-way dead end."Gus swallowed hard. "You really think . . . ?""I think it's a chance. A good chance."For long seconds, Aroon stared into Bailey's face. Then he hit the table with his fist. He swore. He got to his feet, a big, burly man with sweat on his face."I'm in, Bailey," he croaked. "Them guys ain't no better than me and you. And if a man can't ride a hunch once in his life, what's he got anyway, right?""Right," Bailey said. "Now better get some cash ready. It's going to be a busy night." 5 For the first three hours, it was touch and go. They paid off heavily on the twenty-one hours read-out, showed a modest recoup on the twenty-two, cut deeply into their tiny reserve at twenty-three."We ain't hacking it, kid," Aroon muttered, wiping at his bald forehead with a yard-square handkerchief. "At this rate we go under on the next read.""Here's a revised line," Bailey said. "One of the intermediate composites is cresting. That's what threw me off.""If we pull out now, we can pay off and call it square.""Play along one more hour, Gus.""We'll be in too deep! We can't cover!""Ride it anyway. Maybe we can.""I'm nuts," Gus said. "But OK, one more pass."On the midnight reading, the pot showed a profit of three hundred and thirty-one Q's. Aroon proposed getting out then, but half-heartedly. At one hundred, the stake more than doubled. At two, in spite of a sharp wobble in the GNP curve, they held their own. At three, a spurt sent them over the two thousand mark. By dawn, the firm of Aroon and Bailey had a net worth of forty-one hundred and sixty-one credit units, all in hard tokens."I got to hand it to you, Bailey," Aroon said in wonderment, spreading the bright-colored plastic chips on the table with a large, hairy hand. "A month's take—in one night!"This is a drop in the bucket, Gus," Bailey said. "I just wanted to be sure my formulas worked. Now we really start operating."Gus looked wary. "What's that mean, more trouble?""I've been keeping my eyes open since I've been here in Four Quarters. It's a pretty strange place, when you stop to think about it: a whole sub-culture, living outside the law, a refuge for criminals and misfits. Why do the Greenies tolerate it? Why don't they stage a raid, clean out the Prekes once and for all, put an end to the lawbreakers and the rackets? They could do it any day they wanted to."Gus looked uncomfortable. "Too much trouble, I guess. We keep to our own. We live off the up graders' scraps—""Uh-uh," Bailey said. "They live off ours—some of them, even at the top.""Crusters and Dooses—live off Prekes?" Gus wagged his head. "Your drive is slipping, Bailey.""Who do you think backs the big books? There's money involved—several million every night. Where do you think it goes?""Into the bookers' pockets, I guess. What about it? I don't like this kind of talk. It makes me nervous.""The big books want you to be nervous," Bailey said. "They don't want anyone asking questions, rocking the boat. But let's ask some anyway. Where does the money go? It goes upstairs, Gus. That's why they let us alone, let us spend our lives cutting each other's throats—so they can bleed off the cream. It's good business.""You're skywriting, Bailey.""Sure, I admit it's guesswork. But I'm betting I'm right. And if I am, we can cut ourselves as big a slice as we've got the stomach for.""Look, we're doing OK, we play small enough maybe they don't pay no attention—""They'll pay attention. Don't think we're the first to ever get ideas. Staying small is the one thing we can't do. It will be a sure tip-off that we're just a pair of mice in the woodwork. We have to work big, Gus. It's the only bluff we've got.""Big—on four M." Gus stared scornfully at the chips he had been fondling."That's just seed," Bailey said. "Tonight we move into the big time.""How?""We borrow."Gus stared. "You nuts, Bailey? Who—""That's what I want you to tell me, Gus. Here." He slid a sheet of paper across the table. "Write down the names of every man in the Quarters that might be good for a few hundred. I'll take it from there." 6 The dark-eyed man sat with his face in shadow, his long-fingered hands resting on the table before which Bailey stood, waiting."Why," he asked in a soft, sardonic drawl, "would I put chips in a sucker play like that?""Maybe I made a mistake," Bailey said loudly. "I thought you might want a crack at some important money. If you'd rather play it small and safe, I'll be on my way.""You talk big, for a nothing from noplace.""It's not where I'm from—it's where I'm going," Bailey said offhandedly."You think you're at the bottom now," the man snarled. "You can drop another six feet—into dirt.""What would that prove?" Bailey inquired. "That you're too big a man to listen to an idea that could make you rich—if you've got the spine for a little risk?""I take chances when the odds are right—""Then take one now. Buy in an M's worth—or half an M. You get it back tomorrow—with interest. If you don't—I guess you'll know what to do about it."The man leaned back; the light glinted from his deep-set eyes. He rubbed the side of his thin beaked nose. "Yeah. I guess I'd think of something at that. Let me get this straight: Aroon is selling slices of a book that will pay twenty-five percent for twenty-four hours' action . . .""That's tonight. Investors only. Tomorrow's too late.""How do I know you don't hit the lifts with the bundle?""You think I could make it—with all the eyes that will be watching me?""Who else is in?""You're the first. I've got a lot of ground to cover before sunset, Mr. Farb. Are you in or out?"The hawk-nosed man touched his fingertips together, scratched his chin with a thumb."I'll go four M," he said. "Better have five ready by sunset tomorrow."Bailey accepted the stack of gold chips. "You've made a smart move, Mr. Farb. Tell your man to tail me from close enough to move in if some sharpie tries to play rough."Six hours and forty-one calls later, Bailey returned to the Aroon pad with twenty-six M in chips. His reluctant partner goggled, hastened to sweep the loot into a steel box."It's safe," Bailey said, sinking wearily into a chair. "We bought plenty of protection along with the cash. Every investor on the list has a man or two out there keeping an eye on his stake.""Bailey," Aroon's voice had a faint quaver. "What if we bomb out? They won't leave enough of us to tie a tag on.""Then we'd better not bomb out. Just give me time for a cup of feen, and we'll start booking them."Aroon sweated heavily during the first hour of the night's play. Of the ten thousand or so that was the normal wager on the twenty-three hundred hour readouts, Bailey diverted two to the private book, scattering the bets so as to disturb the normal pattern as little as possible."The longer we can keep the big boys off our necks at this stage, the better," he pointed out. "We'll feed them enough to keep 'em happy until we've built up some steam.""They're bound to tip after a while," Gus protested."We'll be ready. Jack the ante to thirty percent next hour."By midnight the traffic had risen to over twenty M in wagers on the numbers on the big board; customers, encouraged by the abnormally high rate of pay-off, were reinvesting their takes. Aroon wagged his heavy head as he paid out line after line."We ain't doing so good," he muttered, watching the digits flicker on the monitor screen. "I never paid off like this in six years of drop work.""I'm keeping the balance as sweet as I can and still show a profit," Bailey reassured him. "We have to build our following fast.""We're barely clearing enough to pay off our backers!""That's right. But I'm banking that they'll stay on for another whirl. We're going to need all the siders we can get when the squeeze comes."In the following hours, the pot grew to fifty M, to seventy. Now Aroon was booking a full half of the offers on the new ledger."It can't go on long," he groaned. "We're cutting too big a slice! Bailey, we ought to take it slow, not make a wave—""Just the opposite. We're running a bluff, Gus. That means show all the muscle you can beg, borrow, or fake up out of foam rubber."By dawn, the new book had turned a grand total of almost half a million in bets, for a pay-off of sixty-seven percent and a net profit of forty thousand Q's."We're clear," Aroon announced in wondering tones after the count. "We can square our stakers and clean seven and a half—" He broke off as a sharp sound came from the locked street door—a sound of breaking metal. The door jumped inward and three men came through without triggering the defense circuits. Gus came to his feet, started to bluster, but the small man leading the trio showed him the gleam of a slug pistol."Easy, Gus," Bailey said in a relaxed tone. "Let 'em snoop." Bailey and Aroon stood silent as the three cruised the room, aiming detector instruments at the walls, the floor, the ceiling."Clean," the two underlings reported. "There ain't no tap here, Buncey.""That's good for you small-timers," the man called Buncey said in a soft tone. "If you were bleeding the wire, you'd wake up a long way from here—only you wouldn't wake up. The way it is, we just lift the take and close you down. You're lucky, see? Vince, Greaseball here will tell you where he keeps the loot.""No he won't," Bailey said in a level tone. Buncey turned to look him up and down. He dandled the gun on his palm."Use it or put it away," Bailey said. "We don't bluff.""Kid, listen—" Gus started."You tired of breathing?" the small man inquired softly, curling his fingers around the weapon."Don't play dumb," Bailey said. "You've been covered like a bashful bride ever since you came in here.""Yeah?" the small man said tightly. "Maybe. But I could still blow you down, junior.""Does your boss want to spend three chips for a couple of front men?""Our boss doesn't like small-time competish," the gunman growled.Bailey showed him a crooked grin. "Dream on, Buncey. We booked in half a million tonight. Does that look like small time?""You're cutting your own throat, cheapie—""There won't be any throats cut," Bailey said. "Wake up, there's been a change. Our outfit is in—and we're not settling for small change. Our backers are taking a full share."Buncey snorted. "You're showing your cuff, dummy. The play's backed from the top—all the way up. And it's a closed operation, all tied up, a tight operation. You got no backers. Your bluff is bust—""There's more," Bailey said. "Sure, your Cruster bosses have always cut the pie their way. But as of tonight, there's one more slice. And this one stays below decks, where it belongs.""What are you pulling?" Buncey looked uneasy. "There's not a bundle under the floor that could roll a full book.""Not until now," Bailey said. "The syndicate changes that.""Syndicate?""That's right. Every operator in Mat'n is with us.""You're lying," Buncey snapped. "No two Preke grifters could work together for longer than it takes to mug a zek on a string lay!" He brought the gun up with a sure motion. "I'm calling your bet, little man—"He stiffened at a sound from the hall leading to the back room. A tall, lean man appeared, glancing casually about. He nodded at Aroon, ignoring the gunmen."I liked the night's play," Farb said easily. "I'm plowing my cut back in. So are the rest of us." He dropped a stack of fully charged cash cards on the table. Only then did he turn a look on the man called Buncey. "You can go now," he said. "Better put the iron away. We don't want any killing."Buncey slowly pocketed his gun. "You Prekes are serious," he said. "You think you can buck topside . . .""We know we can—as long as we don't get too greedy," Bailey said. "Try to strong-arm us, and the whole racket blows sky-high. Concede us our ten percent of the action and nobody gets hurt.""I'll pass the word. If you're bagging air, better look for a hole—a deep one. These things can be checked.""Check all you want," Farb said. "We like the idea of a little home industry. We're behind it all the way."After the three had left, Gus slumped into a rump-sprung chair with a guttural sigh."Bailey, you walked the thin edge just now. How'd you know they wouldn't call you?""They're gamblers," Bailey said. "The percentages were against it." He looked at Farb. "You mean what you said?"Farb nodded, the glint of honest greed in his eyes. "I don't know where you came from, Bailey, or why: but you worked a play that I wouldn't have given a filed chit for twelve hours ago. Keep it up; you'll have all the weight you want behind you."