He spent the first three days of his life in the year 2133 getting the feel of things. Brett-James and Reston-Farrell had been appointed to work with him. Joe didn't meet any of the others who belonged to the group which had taken the measures to bring him from the past. He didn't want to meet them. The fewer persons involved, the better.
He stayed in the apartment of Reston-Farrell. Joe had been right, Reston-Farrell was a medical doctor. Brett-James evidently had something to do with the process that had enabled them to bring Joe from the past. Joe didn't know how they'd done it, and he didn't care. Joe was a realist. He was here. The thing was to adapt.
There didn't seem to be any hurry. Once the deal was made, they left it up to him to make the decisions.
They drove him around the town, when he wished to check the traffic arteries. They flew him about the whole vicinity. From the air, Southern California looked much the same as it had in his own time. Oceans, mountains, and to a lesser extent, deserts, are fairly permanent even against man's corroding efforts.
It was while he was flying with Brett-James on the second day that Joe said, "How about Mexico? Could I make the get to Mexico?"
The physicist looked at him questioningly. "Get?" he said.
Joe Prantera said impatiently, "The getaway. After I give it to this Howard Temple-Tracy guy, I gotta go on the run, don't I?"
"I see." Brett-James cleared his throat. "Mexico is no longer a separate nation, Mr. Prantera. All North America has been united into one unit. Today, there are only eight nations in the world."
"Where's the nearest?"
"That's a helluva long way to go on a get."
"We hadn't thought of the matter being handled in that manner."
Joe eyed him in scorn. "Oh, you didn't, huh? What happens after I give it to this guy? I just sit around and wait for the cops to put the arm on me?"
Brett-James grimaced in amusement. "Mr. Prantera, this will probably be difficult for you to comprehend, but there are no police in this era."
Joe gaped at him. "No police! What happens if you gotta throw some guy in stir?"
"If I understand your idiom correctly, you mean prison. There are no prisons in this era, Mr. Prantera."
Joe stared. "No cops, no jails. What stops anybody? What stops anybody from just going into some bank, like, and collecting up all the bread?"
Brett-James cleared his throat. "Mr. Prantera, there are no banks."
"No banks! You gotta have banks!"
"And no money to put in them. We found it a rather antiquated method of distribution well over a century ago."
Joe had given up. Now he merely stared.
Brett-James said reasonably, "We found we were devoting as much time to financial matters in all their endless ramifications--including bank robberies--as we were to productive efforts. So we turned to more efficient methods of distribution."
On the fourth day, Joe said, "O.K., let's get down to facts. Summa the things you guys say don't stick together so good. Now, first place, where's this guy Temple-Tracy you want knocked off?"
Reston-Farrell and Brett-James were both present. The three of them sat in the living room of the latter's apartment, sipping a sparkling wine which seemed to be the prevailing beverage of the day. For Joe's taste it was insipid stuff. Happily, rye was available to those who wanted it.
Reston-Farrell said, "You mean, where does he reside? Why, here in this city."
"Well, that's handy, eh?" Joe scratched himself thoughtfully. "You got somebody can finger him for me?"
"Look, before I can give it to this guy I gotta know some place where he'll be at some time. Get it? Like Al Rossi. My finger, he works in Rossi's house, see? He lets me know every Wednesday night, eight o'clock, Al leaves the house all by hisself. O.K., so I can make plans, like, to give it to him." Joe Prantera wound it up reasonably. "You gotta have a finger."
Brett-James said, "Why not just go to Temple-Tracy's apartment and, ah, dispose of him?"
"Jest walk in, eh? You think I'm stupid? How do I know how many witnesses hangin' around? How do I know if the guy's carryin' heat?"
"A gun, a gun. Ya think I'm stupid? I come to give it to him and he gives it to me instead."
Dr. Reston-Farrell said, "Howard Temple-Tracy lives alone. He customarily receives visitors every afternoon, largely potential followers. He is attempting to recruit members to an organization he is forming. It would be quite simple for you to enter his establishment and dispose of him. I assure you, he does not possess weapons."
Joe was indignant. "Just like that, eh?" he said sarcastically. "Then what happens? How do I get out of the building? Where's my get car parked? Where do I hide out? Where do I dump the heat?"
"Dump the heat?"
"Get rid of the gun. You want I should get caught with the gun on me? I'd wind up in the gas chamber so quick--"
"See here, Mr. Prantera," Brett-James said softly. "We no longer have capital punishment, you must realize."
"O.K. I still don't wanta get caught. What is the rap these days, huh?" Joe scowled. "You said they didn't have no jails any more."
"This is difficult for you to understand, I imagine," Reston-Farrell told him, "but, you see, we no longer punish people in this era."
That took a long, unbelieving moment to sink in. "You mean, like, no matter what they do? That's crazy. Everybody'd be running around giving it to everybody else."
"The motivation for crime has been removed, Mr. Prantera," Reston-Farrell attempted to explain. "A person who commits a violence against another is obviously in need of medical care. And, consequently, receives it."
"You mean, like, if I steal a car or something, they just take me to a doctor?" Joe Prantera was unbelieving.
"Why would anybody wish to steal a car?" Reston-Farrell said easily.
"But if I give it to somebody?"
"You will be turned over to a medical institution. Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy is the last man you will ever kill, Mr. Prantera."
A chillness was in the belly of Joe Prantera. He said very slowly, very dangerously, "You guys figure on me getting caught, don't you?"
"Yes," Brett-James said evenly.
"Well then, figure something else. You think I'm stupid?"
"Mr. Prantera," Dr. Reston-Farrell said, "there has been as much progress in the field of psychiatry in the past two centuries as there has in any other. Your treatment would be brief and painless, believe me."
Joe said coldly, "And what happens to you guys? How do you know I won't rat on you?"
Brett-James said gently, "The moment after you have accomplished your mission, we plan to turn ourselves over to the nearest institution to have determined whether or not we also need therapy."
"Now I'm beginning to wonder about you guys," Joe said. "Look, all over again, what'd'ya wanta give it to this guy for?"
The doctor said, "We explained the other day, Mr. Prantera. Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy is a dangerous, atavistic, evil genius. We are afraid for our institutions if his plans are allowed to mature."
"Well if you got things so good, everybody's got it made, like, who'd listen to him?"
The doctor nodded at the validity of the question. "Mr. Prantera, Homo sapiens is a unique animal. Physically he matures at approximately the age of thirteen. However, mental maturity and adjustment is often not fully realized until thirty or even more. Indeed, it is sometimes never achieved. Before such maturity is reached, our youth are susceptible to romantic appeal. Nationalism, chauvinism, racism, the supposed glory of the military, all seem romantic to the immature. They rebel at the orderliness of present society. They seek entertainment in excitement. Citizen Temple-Tracy is aware of this and finds his recruits among the young."
"O.K., so this guy is dangerous. You want him knocked off before he screws everything up. But the way things are, there's no way of making a get. So you'll have to get some other patsy. Not me."
"I am afraid you have no alternative," Brett-James said gently. "Without us, what will you do? Mr. Prantera, you do not even speak the language."
"What'd'ya mean? I don't understand summa the big words you eggheads use, but I get by O.K."
Brett-James said, "Amer-English is no longer the language spoken by the man in the street, Mr. Prantera. Only students of such subjects any longer speak such tongues as Amer-English, French, Russian or the many others that once confused the race with their limitations as a means of communication."
"You mean there's no place in the whole world where they talk American?" Joe demanded, aghast.
Dr. Reston-Farrell controlled the car. Joe Prantera sat in the seat next to him and Warren Brett-James sat in the back. Joe had, tucked in his belt, a .45 caliber automatic, once displayed in a museum. It had been more easily procured than the ammunition to fit it, but that problem too had been solved.
The others were nervous, obviously repelled by the very conception of what they had planned.
Inwardly, Joe was amused. Now that they had got in the clutch, the others were on the verge of chickening out. He knew it wouldn't have taken much for them to cancel the project. It wasn't any answer though. If they allowed him to call it off today, they'd talk themselves into it again before the week was through.
Besides, already Joe was beginning to feel the comfortable, pleasurable, warm feeling that came to him on occasions like this.
He said, "You're sure this guy talks American, eh?"
Warren Brett-James said, "Quite sure. He is a student of history."
"And he won't think it's funny I talk American to him, eh?"
"He'll undoubtedly be intrigued."
They pulled up before a large apartment building that overlooked the area once known as Wilmington.
Joe was coolly efficient now. He pulled out the automatic, held it down below his knees and threw a shell into the barrel. He eased the hammer down, thumbed on the safety, stuck the weapon back in his belt and beneath the jacketlike garment he wore.
He said, "O.K. See you guys later." He left them and entered the building.
An elevator--he still wasn't used to their speed in this era--whooshed him to the penthouse duplex occupied by Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy.
There were two persons in the reception room but they left on Joe's arrival, without bothering to look at him more than glancingly.
He spotted the screen immediately and went over and stood before it.
The screen lit and revealed a heavy-set, dour of countenance man seated at a desk. He looked into Joe Prantera's face, scowled and said something.
Joe said, "Joseph Salviati-Prantera to interview Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy."
The other's shaggy eyebrows rose. "Indeed," he said. "In Amer-English?"
"Enter," the other said.
A door had slid open on the other side of the room. Joe walked through it and into what was obviously an office. Citizen Temple-Tracy sat at a desk. There was only one other chair in the room. Joe Prantera ignored it and remained standing.
Citizen Temple-Tracy said, "What can I do for you?"
Joe looked at him for a long, long moment. Then he reached down to his belt and brought forth the .45 automatic. He moistened his lips.
Joe said softly, "You know what this here is?"
Temple-Tracy stared at the weapon. "It's a handgun, circa, I would say, about 1925 Old Calendar. What in the world are you doing with it?"
Joe said, very slowly, "Chief, in the line you're in these days you needa heavy around with wunna these. Otherwise, Chief, you're gunna wind up in some gutter with a lotta holes in you. What I'm doin', I'm askin' for a job. You need a good man knows how to handle wunna these, Chief."
Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy eyed him appraisingly. "Perhaps," he said, "you are right at that. In the near future, I may well need an assistant knowledgeable in the field of violence. Tell me more about yourself. You surprise me considerably."
"Sure, Chief. It's kinda a long story, though. First off, I better tell you you got some bad enemies, Chief. Two guys special, named Brett-James and Doc Reston-Farrell. I think one of the first jobs I'm gunna hafta do for you, Chief, is to give it to those two."
I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF.
By MACK REYNOLDS
The Place de France is the town's hub. It marks the end of Boulevard Pasteur, the main drag of the westernized part of the city, and the beginning of Rue de la Liberte, which leads down to the Grand Socco and the medina. In a three-minute walk from the Place de France you can go from an ultra-modern, California-like resort to the Baghdad of Harun al-Rashid.
It's quite a town, Tangier.
King-size sidewalk cafes occupy three of the strategic corners on the Place de France. The Cafe de Paris serves the best draft beer in town, gets all the better custom, and has three shoeshine boys attached to the establishment. You can sit of a sunny morning and read the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune while getting your shoes done up like mirrors for thirty Moroccan francs which comes to about five cents at current exchange.
You can sit there, after the paper's read, sip your expresso and watch the people go by.