blinked back her tears and nodded. "There was another ten-minute breakdown this morning. A lot of paraNormals panicked and a vigilante pack came here to fire-blast the Doctor. They said I'd be next if things got any worse."
Connor pinched his forehead to hold back his own anguish, then pulled out a sheet of paper. "Dr. Newbridge was afraid of something like this. He gave me a list of names."
"I know, Mr. Newman, I know them by heart."
"Shouldn't we try to contact one of them?"
As they came out into the street, she stopped and thought a moment. "Crane would be the easiest to reach. He's an untitled psychiatrist and one of the alternate leaders for the underground."
"Oh, they tried to be prepared for every eventual—"
"It's impossible!" Rhoda broke in. She had been looking up and down the great avenue as they talked. "There isn't one person in the street, not one!"
An abandoned robot cab stood at the curb and he threw open the door. "Come on, get in! Something's happening. Miss Richards, set it for this Crane's address."
The cab started to shoot uptown, turning a corner into another deserted boulevard. As it skirted the great Park, he pointed at Central Tower. There seemed to be a slight crack in the smooth surface half way up but, as a moment's mist engulfed the tower, it looked flawless again. Then all the mist was gone and the crack was back, a little larger than before.
CONNOR leaned forward and set the cab for top speed as they rounded into the straight-away of another uptown street. Occasionally they caught glimpses of frightened faces, clumped in lobby entrances, and once two bodies came flying out of a window far ahead. "They're killing our people everywhere," moaned the nurse.
As they approached the crushed forms, Connor slowed down a little. "They're dressed too well—what's left of them. They're paraNormals!"
A minute later they were at the large apartment block where Crane lived. They entered the building through a lobby jammed with more silent people. All were Suspendeds.
At first Crane did not want to let the trio in but when he recognized Newbridge's nurse he unlocked the heavily-bolted door. He was a massively-built man with dark eyes set deeply beneath a jutting brow and the eyes did not blink as Miss Richards told him what had happened. "We'll miss him," he said, then turned abruptly on Connor. "Have you any skills?"
"Robotics," he answered.
The great head nodded as Connor told of his experience at work and on Max. "Good, we're going to need people like you for rebuilding." He pulled a radio sender and receiver from a cabinet and held an earphone close to his temple, continuing to nod. Then he put it down again. "I know what you're going to say—illegal, won't work and all that. Well, a few of us have been waiting for the chance to build our own communication web and now we can do it."
"I just want to know why you keep mentioning our rebuilding. They're more likely to destroy all of us in their present mood."
"Us?" He took them to the window and pointed toward the harbor where thousands of black specks were tumbling into the water. "They're destroying themselves! Some jumping from buildings but most pouring toward the sea, a kind of oceanic urge to escape completely from themselves, to bury themselves in something infinitely bigger than their separate hollow beings. Before they were more like contented robots. Now they're more like suicidal lemmings because they can't exist without this common brain to which they've given so little and from which they've taken so much."
Connor squared his shoulders. "We'll have our work cut out for us. Dr. Newbridge saw it all coming, you did too."
"Not quite," Crane sighed. "We assumed that at the time of complete breakdown the System would open up, throwing all the Subscribers out of it, leaving them disconnected from each other and waiting for our help. But it worked out in just the opposite manner!"
"You mean that the System is staying closed as it breaks down? Like a telephone exchange in which all the lines remained connected and every call went to all telephones."
"Exactly," Crane replied.
"I don't understand this technical talk," Rhoda protested, watching in hypnotized horror as the speck swarm swelled ever larger in the sea.
"I'll put it this way," Crane explained. "Their only hope was to have time to develop the desire for release from the System as it died. But they are dying inside it. You see, Mrs. Newman, every thought in every paraNormal's head, every notion, every image, no matter how stupidly trivial, is now pouring into every other paraNormal's head. They're over-communicating to the point where there's nothing left to communicate but death itself