BY EVERETT B. COLE
Man has developed many a deadly weapon. Today, the weapon most effective in destroying a man's hopes and security is the file folder ... and that was the weapon Morely knew and loved. But there was something more potent to come.
Illustrated by Leydenfrost
District Leader Howard Morely leaned back in his seat, to glance down at the bay. Idly, he allowed his gaze to wander over the expanse of water between the two blunt points of land, then he looked back at the skeletonlike spire which jutted upward from the green hills he had just passed over. He could remember when that ruin had been a support for one of the world's great bridges.
Now, a crumbling symbol of the past, it stubbornly resisted the attacks of the weather, as it had once resisted the far more powerful blasts of explosives. Obstinately, it pointed its rusty length skyward, to remind the observer of bygone conflict—and more.
Together with the tangled cables, dimly seen in the shoal water, the line of wreckage in the channel, and the weed-covered strip of torn concrete which led through the hills, it testified to the arrival of the air age. Bridges, highways, and harbors alike had passed their day of usefulness.
Not far from the ruined bridge support, Morely could see the huge, well maintained intake of one of the chemical extraction plants. He shook his head at the contrast.
"That eyesore should be pulled down," he muttered. "Should have been pulled down long ago. Suggested it in a report, but I suppose it never got to the Old Man. He depends on his staff too much. If I had the region, I'd—"
He shook his head. He was not the regional director—yet. Some day, the old director would retire. Then, Central Coördination would be examining the records of various district leaders, looking for a successor. Then—
He shrugged and turned his attention to his piloting of the borrowed helicopter. It was a clumsy machine, and he had to get in to Regional Headquarters in time for the morning conference. There would be no sense it getting involved in employee traffic—not if he could avoid it.
The conference, his informant had told him, would be a little out of the ordinary. It seemed that the Old Man had become somewhat irritated by the excess privileges allowed in a few of the eastern districts. And he was going to jack everyone up about it. After that would come the usual period of reports, and possibly a few special instructions. Some of the leaders would have pet projects to put forward, he knew. They always did. Morely smiled to himself. He'd have something to come up with, too.
And this conference might put a crimp in Harwood's style. Morely had carefully worded his progress report to make contrast with the type of report that he knew would come from District One. George Harwood had been allowing quite a few extra privileges to his people, stating that it was good for morale. And, during the past couple of months, he'd seemed to be proving his point. Certainly, the production of the employees from the peninsula had been climbing. Harwood, Morely decided would be the most logical person—after himself—for the region when the Old Man retired. In fact, for a time, it had looked as though the director of District One was going to be a dangerous rival.
But this conference would change things. Morely smiled slowly as he thought of possible ways of shading the odds.
He looked ahead. Commuters were streaming in from the peninsula now, to make for the factory parking lots. His face tightened a little. Why, he wondered, had the Old Man decided to call the conference at this hour? He could have delayed a little, until commuter traffic was less heavy. He'd been a district leader once. And before that, under the old government, a field leader. He should know how annoying the employee classes could be. And to force his leaders to mingle with commuting employees in heavy traffic!
For that matter, everyone seemed to be conspiring to make things uncomfortable today. Those heavy-handed mechanics in the district motor pool, for example. They'd failed him today. His own sleek machine, with its distinctive markings was still being repaired. And he'd been forced to use this unmarked security patrol heli. The machine wasn't really too bad, of course. It had a superb motor, and it carried identification lights and siren, which could be used if necessary. But it resembled some lower-class citizen's family carryall. And, despite its modifications, it still handled like one. Morely grimaced and eased the wheel left a little. The helicopter swung in a slow arc.
Helis were rising from the factory lots, to interlace with incoming ships before joining with the great stream headed south. The night workers were heading for home. Morely hovered his machine for a moment, to watch the ships jockey for position, sometimes barely avoiding collisions in the stream of traffic. He watched one ship, which edged forward, stopped barely in time to avoid being hit, edged forward again, and finally managed to block traffic for a time while its inept driver fooled with the controls and finally got on course.
"Quarrelsome, brawling fools," he muttered. "Even among themselves, they can't get along."
He looked around, noting that the air over the Administrative Group was comparatively free of traffic. To be sure, he would have to cross the traffic lines, but he could take the upper lanes, avoiding all but official traffic. A guard might challenge, but he could use his identifying lights. He wouldn't be halted. He corrected his course a little, glanced at the altimeter, and put his ship into a climb.
At length, he eased his ship over the parklike area over Administrative Square and hovered over the parking entry. A light blinked on his dash, to tell him that all the official spaces were occupied. He grunted.
"Wonder they couldn't leave a clear space in Official. They know I'm coming in for conference."
He moved the control wheel, allowing his ship to slide over to a shopping center parking slot, and hovered over the entry, debating. He could park here and take the sub-surface to Administrative, or he could use the surface lot just outside of the headquarters group. Of course, the director frowned on use of the surface lot, except in emergency. The underground lots were designated for all normal parking. Morely thought over the problem, ignoring the helis which hovered, waiting for him to clear the center of the landing area. Finally, his hand started for the throttle. He would settle in the landing slot, let the guards shove his heli to a space, and avoid any conflict with the director's orders regarding the surface lot.
Suddenly, there was a sputtering roar. Someone had become impatient at the delay. A small sports heli swept by, impellers reversed, and dropped rapidly toward the entry to the underground parking space. Morely's ship rocked a little in the air blast.
For an instant, Morely felt a sharp pain which gnawed at the pit of his stomach. His head was abruptly light, and his hand, apparently of its own volition, closed over the throttle knob.
This joy boy was overdue for a lesson.
Morely measured the distance quickly, judging the instant when the other pilot would have to repitch his impellers and halt his downward rush. He allowed his own heavy ship to wallow earthward.
Scant feet from ground surface, the sportster pilot flicked his pitch control and pulled his throttle out for the brief burst of power which would allow him to drop gently to the landing platform.
Morely grinned savagely as he saw the impellers below him change pitch and start to move faster. He twisted his own impellers to full pitch and pulled out the throttle for a sudden, roaring surge of power, then swung the control column, jerking his ship up and away. As he steadied his heli and cut power, he looked down.