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by Rick Raphael
Preface by Eric Flint
This story made its way into the anthology by accident. We had never planned to include it at the beginning. In fact, none of us had even remembered the story, or the author—whose career in science fiction only lasted a few years and ended long ago. Instead, we'd wanted to include a story by Eric Frank Russell, a writer whom we'd all enjoyed for years and who had been especially significant for me as a youngster.
Alas, the decision on which stories get included in an anthology like this aren't simply made by the editors. The estates (or, in some cases, still-living authors) obviously have a say in the matter also. And, in the case of Eric Frank Russell, the agency representing the estate proved too difficult for us to deal with. (Never mind the details. Expletives would have to be deleted. Many many many expletives.)
I was the one who handled the negotiations with that estate, and after they finally fell through, I was in a foul mood. I'd really wanted a Russell story. So I decided to work off my frustration with some long-postponed manual labor: unpacking several big boxes of old science fiction magazines I'd purchased for my editing work and filing them away.
Halfway through the first box, which was full of old Analog magazines, a cover illustration caught my eye. Jumped out at me, to be more precise. In a split second, I not only recognized that cover but I remembered the story it illustrated and the name of the author—Rick Raphael's novella Code Three, which I hadn't read in something like forty years but now recalled very vividly.
This was . . . a very good sign. So I immediately sat down and read the story, wondering if I'd still like it as much as I could remember liking it as a teenager.
As it happened, if anything, I liked it even more. As an experienced writer now well into middle age—being charitable to myself—I could spot little subtleties and nuances which I'm sure I missed as a sixteen-year-old.
I then called Dave on the phone and I began describing the story to him. Before I'd gotten out more than three sentences, he remembered it also—even though, like me, he hadn't read it in many years.
Oh, a very good sign.
So, here it is. The third story of the anthology, to serve all of us as a reminder that science fiction was constructed by many people, not simply a small number of famous writers. Rick Raphael came and went, but he had his moment in the sun.
The late afternoon sun hid behind gray banks of snow clouds and a cold wind whipped loose leaves across the drill field in front of the Philadelphia Barracks of the North American Continental Thruway Patrol. There was the feel of snow in the air but the thermometer hovered just at the freezing mark and the clouds could turn either into icy rain or snow.
Patrol Sergeant Ben Martin stepped out of the door of the barracks and shivered as a blast of wind hit him. He pulled up the zipper on his loose blue uniform coveralls and paused to gauge the storm clouds building up to the west.
The broad planes of his sunburned face turned into the driving cold wind for a moment and then he looked back down at the weather report secured to the top of a stack of papers on his clipboard.
Behind him, the door of the barracks was shouldered open by his junior partner, Patrol Trooper Clay Ferguson. The young, tall Canadian officer's arms were loaded with paper sacks and his patrol work helmet dangled by its strap from the crook of his arm.
Clay turned and moved from the doorway into the wind. A sudden gust swept around the corner of the building and a small sack perched atop one of the larger bags in his arms blew to the ground and began tumbling towards the drill field.
"Ben," he yelled, "grab the bag."
The sergeant lunged as the sack bounded by and made the retrieve. He walked back to Ferguson and eyed the load of bags in the blond-haired officer's arms.
"Just what is all this?" he inquired.
"Groceries," the youngster grinned. "Or to be more exact, little gourmet items for our moments of gracious living."
Ferguson turned into the walk leading to the motor pool and Martin swung into step beside him. "Want me to carry some of that junk?"
"Junk," Clay cried indignantly. "You keep your grimy paws off these delicacies, peasant. You'll get yours in due time and perhaps it will help Kelly and me to make a more polished product of you instead of the clodlike cop you are today."
Martin chuckled. This patrol would mark the start of the second year that he, Clay Ferguson and Medical-Surgical Officer Kelly Lightfoot had been teamed together. After twenty-two patrols, cooped up in a semiarmored vehicle with a man for ten days at a time, you got to know him pretty well. And you either liked him or you hated his guts.
As senior officer, Martin had the right to reject or keep his partner after their first eleven-month duty tour. Martin had elected to retain the lanky Canadian. As soon as they had pulled into New York Barracks at the end of their last patrol, he had made his decisions. After eleven months and twenty-two patrols on the Continental Thruways, each team had a thirty-day furlough coming.
Martin and Ferguson had headed for the city the minute they put their signatures on the last of the stack of reports needed at the end of a tour. Then, for five days and nights, they tied one on. MSO Kelly Lightfoot had made a beeline for a Columbia Medical School seminar on tissue regeneration. On the sixth day, Clay staggered out of bed, swigged down a handful of antireaction pills, showered, shaved and dressed and then waved good-by. Twenty minutes later he was aboard a jet, heading for his parents' home in Edmonton, Alberta. Martin soloed around the city for another week, then rented a car and raced up to his sister's home in Burlington, Vermont, to play Uncle Bountiful to Carol's three kids and to lap up as much as possible of his sister's real cooking.
While the troopers and their med officer relaxed, a service crew moved their car down to the Philadelphia motor pool for a full overhaul and refitting for the next torturous eleven-month tour of duty.
The two patrol troopers had reported into the Philadelphia Barracks five days ago—Martin several pounds heavier courtesy of his sister's cooking; Ferguson several pounds lighter courtesy of three assorted, starry-eyed, uniform-struck Alberta maidens.
They turned into the gate of the motor pool and nodded to the sentry at the gate. To their left, the vast shop buildings echoed to the sound of body-banging equipment and roaring jet engines. The darkening sky made the brilliant lights of the shop seem even brighter and the hulls of a dozen patrol cars cast deep shadows around the work crews.
The troopers turned into the dispatcher's office and Clay carefully placed the bags on a table beside the counter. Martin peered into one of the bags. "Seriously, kid, what do you have in that grab bag?"
"Oh, just a few essentials," Clay replied. "Pate de foie gras, sharp cheese, a smidgen of cooking wine, a handful of spices. You know, stuff like that. Like I said—essentials."
"Essentials," Martin snorted, "you give your brains to one of those Alberta chicks of yours for a souvenir?"
"Look, Ben," Ferguson said earnestly, "I suffered for eleven months in that tin mausoleum on tracks because of what you fondly like to think is edible food. You've got as much culinary imagination as Beulah. I take that back. Even Beulah turns out some better smells when she's riding on high jet than you'll ever get out of her galley in the next one hundred years. This tour, I intend to eat like a human being once again. And I'll teach you how to boil water without burning it."
"Why you ungrateful young—" Martin yelped.
The patrol dispatcher, who had been listening with amused tolerance, leaned across the counter.
"If Oscar Waldorf is through with his culinary lecture, gentlemen," he said, "perhaps you two could be persuaded to take a little pleasure ride. It's a lovely night for a drive and it's just twenty-six hundred miles to the next service station. If you two aren't cooking anything at the moment, I know that NorCon would simply adore having the services of two such distinguished Continental Commandos."
Ferguson flushed and Martin scowled at the dispatcher. "Very funny, clown. I'll recommend you for trooper status one of these days."
"Not me," the dispatcher protested. "I'm a married man. You'll never get me out on the road in one of those blood-and-gut factories."
"So quit sounding off to us heroes," Martin said, "and give us the clearances."
The dispatcher opened a loose-leaf reference book on the counter and then punched the first of a series of buttons on a panel. Behind him, the wall lighted with a map of the eastern United States to the Mississippi River. Ferguson and Martin had pencils out and poised over their clipboards.
The dispatcher glanced at the order board across the room where patrol car numbers and team names were displayed on an illuminated board. "Car 56—Martin-Ferguson-Lightfoot," glowed with an amber light. In the column to the right was the number "26-W." The dispatcher punched another button. A broad belt of multi-colored lines representing the eastern segment of North America Thruway 26 flashed onto the map in a band extending from Philadelphia to St. Louis. The thruway went on to Los Angeles on its western segment, not shown on the map. Ten bands of color—each five separated by a narrow clear strip, detailed the thruway. Martin and Ferguson were concerned with the northern five bands; NAT 26-westbound. Other unlighted lines radiated out in tangential spokes to the north and south along the length of the multi-colored belt of NAT 26.
This was just one small segment of the Continental Thruway system that spanned North America from coast to coast and crisscrossed north and sound under the Three Nation Road Compact from the southern tip of Mexico into Canada and Alaska.
Each arterial cut a five-mile-wide path across the continent and from one end to the other, the only structures along the roadways were the turretlike NorCon Patrol check and relay stations—looming up at one-hundred-mile intervals like the fire control islands of earlier-day aircraft carries.
Car 56 with Trooper Sergeant Ben Martin, Trooper Clay Ferguson and Medical-Surgical Officer Kelly Lightfoot, would take their first ten-day patrol on NAT 26-west. Barring major disaster, they would eat, sleep and work the entire time from their car; out of sight of any but distant cities until they had reached Los Angeles at the end of the patrol. Then a five-day resupply and briefing period and back onto another thruway.
During the coming patrol they would cross ten state lines as if they didn't exist. And as far as thruway traffic control and authority was concerned, state and national boundaries actually didn't exist. With the growth of the old interstate highway system and the Alcan Highway it became increasingly evident that variation in motor vehicle laws from state to state and country to country were creating impossible situations for any uniform safety control.
* * *
With the establishment of the Continental Thruway System two decades later, came the birth of the supra-cop—The North American Thruway Patrol—known as NorCon. Within the five-mile bands of the thruways—all federally-owned land by each of the three nations—the blue-coveralled "Continental Commandos" of NorCon were the sole law enforcement agency and authority. Violators of thruway law were cited into NorCon district traffic courts located in the nearest city to each access port along every thruway.
There was no challenge to the authority of NorCon. Public demand for faster and more powerful vehicles had forced the automotive industry to put more and more power under the touch of the ever-growing millions of drivers crowding the continent's roads. Piston drive gave way to turbojet; turbojet was boosted by a modification of ram jet and air-cushion drive was added. In the last two years, the first of the nuclear reaction mass engines had hit the roads. Even as the hot Ferraris and Jags of the mid-'60s would have been suicide vehicles on the T-model roads of the '20s so would today's vehicles be on the interstates of the '60s. But building roads capable of handling three hundred to four hundred miles an hour speeds was beyond the financial and engineering capabilities of individual states and nations. Thus grew the continental thruways with their four speed lanes in each direction, each a half-mile wide separated east and west and north and south by a half-mile-wide landscaped divider. Under the Three Nation Compact, the thruways now wove a net across the entire North American continent.
* * *
On the big wall map, NAT 26-west showed as four colored lines; blue and yellow as the two high and ultra-high speed lanes; green and white for the intermediate and slow lanes. Between the blue and yellow and the white and green was a red band. This was the police emergency lane, never used by other than official vehicles and crossed by the traveling public shifting from one speed lane to another only at sweeping crossovers.
The dispatcher picked up an electric pointer and aimed the light beam at the map. Referring to his notes, he began to recite.
"Resurfacing crews working on 26-W blue at milestone Marker 185 to Marker 187, estimated clearance 0300 hours Tuesday—Let's see, that's tomorrow morning."
The two officers were writing the information down on their trip-analysis sheets.
"Ohio State is playing Cal under the lights at Columbus tonight so you can expect a traffic surge sometime shortly after 2300 hours but most of it will stay in the green and white. Watch out for the drunks though. They might filter out onto the blue or yellow.
"The crossover for NAT 163 has painting crews working. Might watch out for any crud on the roadway. And they've got the entrance blocked there so that all 163 exchange traffic is being re-routed to 164 west of Chillicothe."
The dispatcher thumbed through his reference sheets. "That seems to be about all. No, wait a minute. This is on your trick. The Army's got a priority missile convoy moving out of the Aberdeen Proving Grounds bound for the west coast tonight at 1800 hours. It will be moving at green lane speeds so you might watch out for it. They'll have thirty-four units in the convoy. And that is all. Oh, yes. Kelly's already aboard. I guess you know about the weather."
Martin nodded. "Yup. We should be hitting light snows by 2300 hours tonight in this area and it could be anything from snow to ice-rain after that." He grinned at his younger partner. "The vacation is over, sonny. Tonight we make a man out of you."
Ferguson grinned back. "Nuts to you, pop. I've got character witnesses back in Edmonton who'll give you glowing testimonials about my manhood."
"Testimonials aren't legal unless they're given by adults," Martin retorted. "Come on, lover boy. Duty calls."
Clay carefully embraced his armload of bundles and the two officers turned to leave. The dispatcher leaned across the counter.
"Oh, Ferguson, one thing I forgot. There's some light corrugations in red lane just east of St. Louis. You might be careful with your soufflés in that area. Wouldn't want them to fall, you know."
Clay paused and started to turn back. The grinning dispatcher ducked into the back office and slammed the door.
* * *
The wind had died down by the time the troopers entered the brilliantly lighted parking area. The temperature seemed warmer with the lessening winds but in actuality, the mercury was dropping. The snow clouds to the west were much nearer and the overcast was getting darker.
|Baen Books by Eric Flint Ring of Fire series||Baen Books by eric flint ring of Fire series|
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|ﾠ Geostatistics for next century : an International Forum in Honour of Michel David's Contribution to Geostatistics, Montreal, 1993 / edited by Roussos Dimitrakopoulos||ﾠ Geostatistics for next century : an International Forum in Honour of Michel David's Contribution to Geostatistics, Montreal, 1993 / edited by Roussos Dimitrakopoulos|