The sun was high in the sky, and the shadows of the great towers moved across the forested landscape like synchronized sundials. Sam had circled the entire tower, looking for an elevator or a stairway, but with no luck. Several hallways made long gentle rampways from one floor to another. He looked, but he could find no obvious way to get to the ground floor in a hurry.
“Sam!” D’sonna’s voice echoed from down the corridor. He paused and waited. Her robes swayed as she pushed herself into a short jog, and then stalled out again. Her face was flushed.
“I haven’t...” she took another breath “... tried to run in ... too many years.”
She put her hand on his arm. “Sam, you defied Flick! No one has ever done that.”
He tried to look away, but her blue eyes pulled him in. “That’s his problem.” His hand began to shake again. He closed his eyes and looked away.
“I’ve gotta get out of this place. If he can pop up in the middle of a dinner table, he’s likely to be anywhere. I’ve gotta get out of this tower.”
She laughed, and tugged even harder on his arm. “Poor Sam. Don’t you know? There isn’t anywhere in the world where Flick can’t see. There isn’t anywhere he can’t reach you.”
Sam frowned. “How about outside? Down in the trees?”
D’sonna’s face went pale. “Outside?”
“Yes. How do I get to the ground floor?”
She shook her head. “There is no way outside. People can’t go there! You would hurt the plants!”
“Hurt the plants?” His face twisted into the semblance of a smile. “No one goes outdoors?”
“Of course not!”
“They did in my time, and it didn’t hurt anything. People are supposed to be out in the fresh air.”
She looked away, adjusting the fabric that covered her arm. “Well, people were ignorant in your day. People haven’t been outside in a thousand years, ten thousand! It just isn’t done!”
Sam shook his head. “Don’t make it sound like I’m going to pick your prize roses, sister. I just want to go outside. Surely there is at least a service door. How can repairs be handled otherwise?”
She raised her nose, “Flick handles everything.”
“Flick does, eh?” Sam sighed, and put his hand to his head. “The food helped, but I’ve been awake too long. No smokes. No coffee. I’ve gotta catch some sleep.”
She nodded, “Good. I can help. Come with me.” She twined her arm with his and led him part way down a corridor. Where the lines on the wall shifted angles, she spoke to the wall, “My place.”
The wall opened inward, revealing a small round room with a bench along the far side. They sat, and the wall closed around them. Light from no distinct location kept their surroundings at the same brightness. Sam put out his hand as the room began to move. The walls didn’t change.
“Is this an elevator?”
“Hmm. Something like it I guess.”
But the motion changed again, and the walls opened into a living area. It was wide and decorated with rich tapestries like a millionaire’s apartment.
“Home,” she said, taking his hand, leading him into the center of the room. “It’s small, but I have a guest room.” D’sonna put her hand to her throat, and the robe she wore drained away like water. “I hope you can be comfortable here.”
Imitation morning sunlight caught Sam’s eye and brought him slowly awake. He peered across the bed and out the artificial window at the rounded globe that looked just like his own familiar sun.
But the brightness wasn’t painful, and the sunlight had no warmth. He lifted himself on an elbow and stared at the sunrise.
“It looks real enough, but she was right.”
D’sonna had claimed the night sky from the artificial window last night was only a copy of the real thing. Her apartment was far from the outside wall of the Ninth City tower. This duplicate was faithful to the view, but the light had no substance.
“That’s why I you found me sunbathing,” she had said. “Nothing matches real sunlight.”
“Samuel?” It was different voice entirely. But he recognized it.
“Yes, Flick. What do you want?”
A full sized, ghostly image of a man appeared beside his bed. “Now that you are awake, perhaps we could get started.” In the sunlight, even this imitation of it, Flick’s form was very pale. He appeared in a robe very like the one Griditch wore.
“I’m not ready yet. Go away. I need to get dressed, and I need something to eat.”
The image vanished.
Sam found his suit near where he had left it. Somehow, the clothes were now clean and pressed. He put them on.
“I wonder where D’sonna is?” he mumbled.
Flick’s voice said, “She is in her bedroom. She will be sleeping another two and a half hours.”
He walked out into the main living area. A plate of something dark and cinnamon-scented rose out of a small round table next to a thick-cushioned chair. A tall thin goblet held a bluish drink.
“Think of it as coffee.”
Sam hesitated, then sat and sipped the warm beverage. “More like a soda. But it’s bitter enough.”
Flick appeared again as he finished breakfast. “Are you ready to begin?”
He leaned back in his chair. “What makes you think I’ll work for you?”
Flick moved like a man. He gestured with his hands as he talked.
“You requested payment for your services. Since all that you can take back to your time is memory, I will have to give you information valuable in your time.”
Sam nodded and pointed for emphasis. “Now that’s using your head. You can tell me what the stock market’s gonna do. I wanna know the World Series winners, too. Those’re facts I can take to the bank.”
Flick shook his head. “Unfortunately, I don’t know that information. So much was lost of your history. The only things that survived of your age were a few novels and the oral history of subsequent ages. Records of the financial and sporting events you desire are simply gone.”
Sam folded his arms. “Then you’re out of luck.”
“Surely you understand that time is an issue here. While we negotiate, the asteroid is approaching. Your own life is in danger because of it.”
Sam snarled. “My neck’s in the noose because of you! You can’t pull the wool over my eyes, buster. You can send me home any time. I’m negotiating with a gun to my head and don’t pretend it’s anything else.
“Now come up with an offer to tempt me, or leave me alone!”
Flick showed no anger. “I don’t understand why you hold your own life so lightly.”
Sam grinned, “Because I don’t believe I can do a thing to stop it. If you don’t send me home early, then I’m a dead man whether I work or not. You’re a petty tyrant. You’ve got people thinking you’re a god.
“But you can’t order me around. I’m my own man.
“So we’re back where we started. What will you pay me to work on your little project?”
Flick gestured at the room. “I am paying you with living quarters and food, right now.”
“That makes no difference. You’re my kidnapper. You have to feed me. A corpse does you no good.”
Flick nodded toward a door. “And female companionship.”
Sam leaned forward, his teeth showing. “I don’t need you, or anyone else, to procure for me. If you told D’sonna to...”
Flick held up his hand. “It’s nothing so overt. I didn’t order her to do anything. I merely influenced how she looked at you.”
Sam stood up and faced the image, fists clenched. “You’d better explain that, and quickly!”
“It’s much like translation. You do understand that people’s minds are open to me? When they need information, I can give it to them directly. When they need a new skill, like cooking, or dancing, or translating a dead language, I can load the patterns into their mind.
“When you showed interest in D’sonna, I loaded the reciprocal patterns into her mind. She wasn’t ordered to do anything distasteful. As far as she is concerned, it was a perfectly natural response.”
“Well, take it out of her! Leave her mind alone!”
Sam turned to the apartment door. “I’ve gotta get out of here.”
Flick walked beside him, opening the door to the ‘elevator’ and escorting him to the hallway.
Sam seethed. “What if I tell her what you did to her?”
Flick was unconcerned. “She wouldn’t understand. It would be upsetting to her, so I would protect her from that knowledge. I control the translations, you understand. The words you spoke wouldn’t be the ones she heard.”
“It’s a pretty slick racket you’ve got here. They think you’re a god, and if they don’t do what you want them to do, you just twist their mind until they do.
“So why haven’t you twisted my mind?”
Flick was silent as they walked a few more paces closer to the grand vista.
“You are different, Samuel. These are my people. I was created to serve them, and they were modified to interact with me. We are parts of a greater whole.
“People from your era didn’t have this ability to connect. I can’t read your mind, and I can’t give you information directly.
“You are right. If I could have ‘twisted’ your mind, I would have already done so. I need your help to save my people.
“Your mind works differently, and that is the very thing that may save us. I know that you can’t build a rocket from your necktie and deflect the asteroid. But something was different about Twentieth Century humanity, and you are a man of that time.
“Perhaps it just some insight, some way of looking at problems that you can provide.
“I have great physical powers. I can manufacture a rocket in a very short time, if I just knew how it could be done.
“Please turn your mind to this. I will fulfill my part of the bargain. It will something easy to memorize that you can take back with you—something that will replay you for your work here. And I will provide all the creature comforts you need while you are here.”
Sam stopped and faced the ghostly image. “You won’t alter people’s minds around me. If I find one hint that you’ve monkeyed with anyone I meet, I’ll take you down! Do you understand me?”
Flick’s face showed puzzlement, but he nodded, once.