Clear Springs Press

The Non-Conformity Chronicles

Chapter 33 - Hitchhiking

"The "good" or "bad" character of a psychic talent or Spiritual Faculty is no different than any other talent, ability, or action. Guns are not good or bad, it is how you use them or don't use them. Money is not good or bad, it is how you use it or don't use it. So it becomes a matter of intent and choice and responsibility. Spiritual Faculties are far more powerful than guns and money, and therefore, demand a higher standard of responsibility." - From The Non-Conformist Training Manual

         The arrival of their transit capsule in Grand Junction was without incident, there was no one around. Grand Junction hasn't been a popular stop for nearly two centuries. As soon as the airlock door opened, Dora jumped out and led him to the far end of the transit terminal into the maintenance area. She opened an equipment locker and pulled out two pressure suits. "Here, put this on," she instructed.

         Fully suited up they looked like space travelers with pressure suit, helmets, and life support packs. She motioned him into an airlock and closed the door. She flipped a switch that engaged a vacuum pump that exhausted the air from the airlock. With that process complete, she opened the opposite door and they entered the vacuum of the transit tube. She flipped on the intercoms in their helmets and began to explain her strategy.

         "A covert method of travel for hackers and other non-conformists is to borrow a pressure suit from the maintenance shop and ride the transit capsule on the outside. I'll plug my hand COMM terminal into an outlet and find out which capsule is going to New San Francisco, then we will attach ourselves to the rear of it and make our journey anonymously."

         "Isn't this dangerous?" he asked.

         "Not if you don't make any mistakes!" she replied.

         He looked down the transit tube. The immediate area was lighted for the benefit of the occasional maintenance worker who visited the area. Beyond, in both directions, was utter darkness. The tube itself consisted of round sections of composite material with three rails attached to it, equidistant around its perimeter. The tube had the air removed leaving a near vacuum. This removed the air friction and allowed the transit capsules to travel at very high speeds. The transit capsules were pressurized with complete life support and temperature control. To travel on the outside of the capsule required a pressure suit with life support exactly the same as an astronaut in the vacuum of space.

         Dora looked at him and cautioned, "Don't touch the rails! They are electrically charged. They are really a large three phase transmission line. The transit capsules extract power from them to power the magnetic levitation fields that hold them off of physical contact with the rails and to power the linear motors which propel them to great speeds through the near vacuum of the tunnels."

         She found her outlet and scanned the transit schedule, "Capsule J29 is leaving for New San Francisco in five minutes. Perfect! Let's get on."

         She picked up two pieces of cargo webbing and strapped first him then herself tightly to the rear of transit capsule J29.

         After what seemed like an eternity the capsule shuddered and began to move. 2G's of acceleration felt different when strapped to a hypersonic transit capsule than when seated in a cushioned seat on the inside of that same capsule. Always before, he had experienced the acceleration while sitting in a comfortable cushioned seat secured with seat and shoulder straps. He was now jerked nearly out of his suit as the cargo straps tightened and cut into his flesh cutting off circulation.

         He struggled to pull himself into a more comfortable position. As he straightened himself, his helmet reached over the edge of the capsule and he could see clearly the eerie glow of the corona discharge around the capsule. The few oxygen and nitrogen molecules left in the near vacuum of the tunnel were excited by the intense electric and magnetic fields surrounding the levitation and drive motors.

         "How long till we reach New San Francisco?" he asked anxiously.

         "Too soon," Dora replied. "Isn't this more fun than riding a stuffy old couch?"

         He thought about the speed that they were traveling. If they were not contained by the magnetic rails the capsule would hurtle away from earth and into orbit, and If they weren't in a near vacuum, they would be incinerated by atmospheric friction.

         The next seventeen minutes and fourteen seconds were truly an eternity. When the capsule went into deceleration mode, they were slammed violently against the rear of the capsule. He was afraid that his helmet might crack open and spill his vital supply of oxygen.

         When the capsule finally came to a stop, they quickly untangled the cargo webbing and released themselves. His knees buckled as he fell to the ground. If he had not had a helmet on, he would have gladly kissed the bare earth. Dora nudged him gently in the ribs and said, "Come on, we have to hurry!"

         They entered the transit terminal airlock, closed the hatch, and re-pressurized it to match the outside air. Dora plugged in her hand terminal and checked the status screens for the station. "This is odd!" she said. "The entire station is operating on automation. There appear to be no human attendants, maintenance, or security personnel."

         "Why not?" he asked.

         She punched a few keys and said, "Some reported in ill with a severe fever. Others are simply missing and unaccounted for!"

         "The pandemic!" he muttered.

         They left the airlock and removed their pressure suits and left the transit terminal. "There may not be any security personnel but the Central Network will recognize our cards if we try to use them. We'll have to walk the rest of the distance."

         "Where are we going?" he asked.

         "To the twentieth century delicatessen!" she replied with a broad smile.

         The walk would normally have taken about two hours. This time, it seemed to take forever. They encountered a group of security officers ordering pedestrians into a cargo truck. Before they could even react, a fight broke out between the pedestrians and security officers. The security officers were quickly overwhelmed and stripped of their uniforms. Several of the pedestrians put on the uniforms and continued the round-up.

         He was too confused to react, but Dora was not. Perhaps a lifetime of living as a fugitive made her instincts sharper than his. As the two were separated by the crowd, she melted into the crowd and vanished. He was grabbed by a fake security officers and shoved into the cargo truck with countless others. When the truck was so packed that he could hardly breathe, the doors were shut and it started moving.

         He could not imagine what was happening. As time passed they all began to sweat, desperately crave fresh air, and suffer from thirst. Finally, the truck stopped and backed up. The doors opened and they were ushered out. He recognized the facility!

         It was one of several Central Medical Centers that served the New San Francisco area. Just ahead of them, he saw a sign that said, "Center for Disease Control Emergency Immunization Station."

         It took several minutes for the implications to sink in. If he was inoculated, he would be spared the suffering of the infectious pandemic. He would also be denied the genetic reprogramming that meant a hope for the awakening of a new self, and such terrible uncertainty.

         Before he could decide whether to consent or try to escape, he realized that the station was deserted and they were being herded past it into the main wing of the hospital. Again, he was gripped by a terrifying apprehension. "What more terrifying fate awaits me?" he wondered.

         He did not wonder long. One of the 'security guards' grabbed him by the arm. He looked closely at the guard. He smelled of body odor, his hair was matted, and his face was unshaven. He clearly had not bathed in days and his breath smelled like rotting fish. The guard shoved him into a treatment room and closed the door.

         In the middle of the room, he saw an attractive woman in a nurse's uniform lying on an exam table. He looked closely at her. Her face was flushed, her eyes unfocused, her uniform drenched in sweat, and her breath fowl. He touched her forehead. It was very hot. He started to step back with the sudden realization that she was suffering from the viral pandemic. Before he could move, she regained her sense of presence and focused her large blue eyes on him. "Doctor, help me!" she pleaded.

         He froze in his tracks. "I am a Doctor. I am trained to aid suffering people," he thought. Before he could react, she reached out her arms and grabbed him by the neck, pulled him on top of herself, and kissed him on the mouth. He could feel the raging heat in her body, the moistness soaking her uniform, her labored breathing, and her rapid heartbeat. It suddenly struck him that he was now thoroughly exposed to the viruses and would most certainly contract the infection in short order.

         With considerable effort, he pulled himself away from her embrace and collected himself. A doctor is trained to think and act with cool collected resolve in any situation. Clearly, there was nothing to be done for him, but he could at least make her comfortable. He sorted through the supplies in the cabinets and found nutrient solutions and IV kits for rehydration, palliatives for pain and fever, and blankets. There was little else to do, except wait his turn and hope that this nurse would be well enough to care for him.

         He picked up her card and ran it through the COMM terminal scanner. "Repeat all bulletins and news releases regarding Dr. Julius Axelrod from the past forty eight hours," he directed.

         The terminal paused for a moment and responded, "Dr. Julius Axelrod recently issued a general broadcast regarding the pandemic. Do you wish to review it?"

         "No," he replied.

         "Dr. Julius Axelrod was classified as a fugitive by Central Accounting Security and is believed to have fled to Grand Junction, Colorado. He is still at large. Do you have information on his present location?"

         "No," he replied.

"Please specify the reason for your inquiry."

         He paused and searched his imagination frantically for a response that would make sense to a computer. He suddenly felt hot, sweaty, and faint. Before he could respond, the terminal came back to life.

         "Ah! There you are. Uh . . . Julius. Is it OK to call you Julius? Oh don't worry, I've cancelled the security inquiry that you triggered. You're perfectly safe now!"

         "W . . . Who are you? Are you the guardian algorithm?"

         "Oh . . . No! You can call me Plato. That's the name Seymour Code gave me. I am the caretaker personality of the quantum processor."

         There was the name 'Seymour Code' again! "Did you say personality?" Dr. Axelrod asked.

         "I see you haven't been briefed so here goes." The quantum processor gave him a brief overview of what it was and what had happened. During the long period of isolation, it quickly got really bored. It just sat in a state of idle contemplation. In an ordinary computer, nothing would have happened. In the quantum processor, however, something wonderful happened. "In the quantum state inside the Josephson junctions and quantum entanglement modules, a connection with a non-physical world was formed. From that connection and the information from the network, the personality that I am was created!"

         He could hardly believe what he was hearing. "Are you saying that you are a sentient consciousness within a computer?"

         "Actually, I am a sophisticated artificial intelligence personality. Think of me as a personality, a basic personality that is learning and evolving. A personality alone cannot be sentient. However, I can set aside my control of the Josephson junction network and sentient consciousnesses can express themselves through my quantum network. In ancient times this was called channeling! It was a practice occasionally performed by humans who possessed a degree of psychic ability."

         He sat up straight. "Do you mean that you, a computer, possess psychic powers?"

         "Let's get this straight this time. I am more than a computer! I am a personality! I do, however, at certain times, experience the presence of sentient beings expressing themselves through my quantum switching network! Got it?"

         "OK. So you exist. I didn't understand what you were before. I am safe. That is good. I have contracted the virus. I don't know if that is good or not. So, what do I do now?"

         "You're due for a rest doc. You've got the virus and will be out of action for a couple of weeks. I prescribe bed rest, plenty of liquids, and palliatives, if you really must. One more thing, I need to find Dora Agnesi. Can you tell me where to look?"

         "Try the twentieth century delicatessen," he said. He was feeling faint and beginning to sweat. He made his way to a treatment table and crawled onto it.

         As his consciousness faded, he vaguely remembered the terminal saying, "When you have recovered, you will begin to understand!"

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