Paths To Otherwhere
Copyright © 1995
James P. Hogan
Hugh and Jantowitz received letters confirming that they would
be joining an as-yet undesignated project located in New Mexico.
Enclosed were plane tickets to Albuquerque/Santa Fe. For a mailing
address, they were given a Post Office box number in Los Alamos.
Their instructions were to report to the Assistant Chief Personnel
Officer in the Administration Building at the TA3 site of the
Los Alamos National Laboratory. Temporary accommodation had been
arranged for them in the town.
A young, tight-jawed Army captain called Hemel met them at the
airport. There were also three other arrivals for the National
Laboratory-two men and a woman, all traveling singly. They said
little as Hemel and a guard in fatigue dress, carrying an automatic
rifle, escorted them from the arrivals concourse.
The airport had a wartime feel about it, with the National Guard
patrolling the terminal building and armored cars on standby outside.
Northern New Mexico was not a safe area these days. Urban terrorists
driven out of the ghettos by police countermeasures and gang rivalries
competed with back-to-the-wild survivalists for territories and
spoils. Isolated residences were being abandoned, and some outlying
communities lived virtually under siege.
Outside, a green minibus was waiting, with DEFENSE RESEARCH ADMINISTRATION
painted on its sides. In addition to the driver, there was a second
guard, occupying a rear-facing seat at the back. Before the bus
moved out, Hemel called somewhere by radio and received confirmation
that the road was clear. They left the urban area on Highway 25
toward Santa Fe, following the wide, flat valley of the Rio Grande.
The crumbling red peaks of the Sandia Range stood jagged through
the heat haze to the right. Hugh's main impressions, fresh from
the crush and commotion of the Bay Area, were of the vastness,
the emptiness, and the dryness.
Jantowitz, sitting opposite, had maintained his usual taciturnity
through most of the trip. He always seemed to dress for winter
in Illinois, and had on a mangled black homburg and tan raincoat
that he wore with the belt tied behind to avoid the bother of
fastening it. A helicopter that had appeared several times passed
overhead again. The noise stirred Jantowitz out of whatever thoughts
had been preoccupying him. He turned from the window and gestured.
"Not much city life here. I told you you should see more
there when you could. Young peoples need the chance to make the
mistakes to learn from."
"Oh, I saw all the life I needed," Hugh answered. "Anyway,
it'll be healthier here. High-desert climate. Good air. People
probably get out a lot."
"Do you still do the jogging and that kind of thing?"
Jantowitz asked the question warily, as if he were inviting a
"Sure. It's supposed to make you live longer."
Jantowitz wrinkled his nose. "To me, it has always seemed
that the things people do to live longer would give them the least
reason for wanting to. Too much health is bad for you, I suspect.
Is like money. Too much, then you start the worry that now you
lose it, and the worry makes you sick."
"That's a new one, Theo. I'm not sure what a doctor would
say about it, though."
"Pah! Doctors. What do they know? Just body-mechanics."
Jantowitz looked back at the window and told the desert, "Four
doctors who tell me to live healthier, I have buried."
Hugh looked around the bus casually. The two men were talking
earnestly in lowered voices near the front. The woman was sitting
in a closer seat, reading a typewritten document on a briefcase
resting on her knee. Thirtyish, Hugh judged; could be quite attractive
if she dressed a little more femininely and didn't look so intense.
She sensed him watching her and looked across.
"Hi," he volunteered. She regarded him blankly, as if
he had said something in an obscure dialect of Swahili. The moment
dragged like a joke fallen flat at a royal table. "Er, I
guess we're both working at the same place. We just got in from
California. I'm Hugh."
Her eyes remained expressionless. "To save us both a lot
of time, if you're wondering if I screw, the answer's no,"
she informed him. "And in any case, I don't like being picked
up on busses." With that, she returned to her reading.
"Well, excuse me. . . ." Hugh looked back out at the
distant side of the valley. Scratch one off the list, he told
At Santa Fe they exited the highway and turned north amid dun-colored,
adobe-style houses spread out among sandy hills spattered with
juniper, piñon, and desert pine. On the climb up to Los
Alamos, the landscape became bleaker and rockier. Deep canyons
gouged their way between long fingers of flat-topped mesa. Ahead
to the west, the hills rose toward the greater summits of the
Jemez Mountains, purple and hazy in the distance.
Los Alamos, extending ribbonlike along the top of a mesa, appeared
suddenly as the bus came over a rise after a winding, uphill section
of road. It was young as towns go, most of it dating from within
the last half century. There were still some buildings going back
to the "secret city" of the Manhattan Project in the
early 1940s, but most had been replaced in the growth by a regular,
open community that had accompanied the founding and expansion
of the National Laboratory in the postwar years. Then, in more
recent times, the civilian programs had been gradually axed or
hived off to other departments, and the remainder consolidated
under the DRA to concentrate on defense-related work. Much of
the openness was lost; fences and guard posts appeared around
places that had been accessible; in many ways the area had reacquired
something of its former character.
The bus passed the airstrip on the approach into the town, and
then traversed the central area, where the World War Two research
had been concentrated. Then they followed the extension eastward
into more residential surroundings and turned off to the right.
Captain Hemel looked back from his seat by the driver. "This
is 43rd Street now. That's where you two will be staying until
you get something more permanent. It's a private boardinghouse,
run by a Mrs. Ryecroft. We know her well. She puts up a lot of
people from the Lab."
They stopped outside an older two-story house, probably going
back to the fifties, sheltering from the world and time behind
a barricade of laurel and a wicket fence choked with roses. It
had been repainted fairly recently, pale yellow with white sills
and trim, in a brave attempt to relieve the dusty torpor of the
street. The drapes in the windows looked clean but old. A fading
Old Glory, discolored by the sun, was painted on the mailbox.
"Try a little sugar with the acid and razor blades for breakfast
next time," Hugh said to the woman with the briefcase as
they climbed out.
While Hemel led the way up the porch steps and rang the doorbell,
the driver unloaded the bags. Somewhere inside the house, a dog
began yapping. It started off another dog with a deeper bark somewhere
across the street. Jantowitz's mouth tightened. Hugh shrugged
resignedly. All his life, it seemed, he'd been plagued by yappy
There was bustling behind the door, and a female baritone voice
yelled, "Shut up, Selby! It's okay." Then the door opened,
and Mrs. Ryecroft appeared. "Ahah! You have to be the professor
and the doctor. I get professors and doctors all the time. Sometimes
I think I could start my own university here." She didn't
lower the volume. Her accent was from New England, maybe near
She was heavy around the middle, with a large nose, wide mouth,
and features that had once been firm now rounding out above the
beginnings of a second chin. A white top retained large, sagging
breasts, while her lower half was squeezed into pink stretch-slacks
that, with her weight, the indecency laws should have had something
to say about. In addition, she wore a purple head scarf knotted
at the front.
Hemel introduced everybody and produced a document for her to
sign. It made Hugh feel like a package being delivered. Hemel
reminded Hugh and Jantowitz that they would be collected at 9:00
the next morning, and then returned to the bus. The driver deposited
the last of the bags in the front hallway and followed. Mrs. Ryecroft
closed the door. A terrier with hair that looked impenetrable
falling over its eyes had singled out Jantowitz for a confrontation
and was emitting curious, whirringlike noises, presumably supposed
to be snarls.
"Don't worry about her," Mrs. Ryecroft foghorned. "She'll
quieten down when she gets used to you. She's a Yorkshire, so
I call her Selby. Selby's a town in Yorkshire, England. I spent
a vacation near there with my husband when he was alive. They
eat blood pudding for breakfast. Would you believe that?"
Jantowitz blinked at her through his heavy-rimmed lenses. Outside,
the sound came of the bus starting and pulling away.
"Did you, er, bring the custom back here?" Hugh asked.
"You're kidding. I wouldn't give that stuff to Selby."
She handed each of them a ring with two keys. "One's for
the room. One's for the front door. I lock it at ten. Come on
up. I'll show you the rooms now."
The decor was traditional, striving to preserve its memories:
floral carpets; heavy drapes with tasseled ties; vases and brass;
pictures of a mountain lake and forest, house by a bridge, dark-skinned
girl with flowers. But the inferior staining of the hall table
and chairs failed to hide the scratches and patchy repairs. The
good furniture had gone. Her world was coming apart-like everything
She wheezed up the stairs ahead of them, the expanse of pink stretch-slacks
convulsing obscenely. "It's all guests up here. I have my
own suite downstairs, past the kitchen. Breakfast is at seven-thirty,
dinner at six. Call before five if you want something kept late-they
work all hours at the Lab. Visitors are okay, but no drunks, drugs,
or smoking in the rooms. The local watch officer will want to
know you. He stops by once a week. And remember you've got fourteen
days to register your address with the Sheriff's department."
Jantowitz took the first room, which was across the landing from
the top of the stairs. Hugh's was along a short passageway. It
was plain but clean, with a double-size bed, wall closet, two
upright chairs at a table by the window, and a small writing desk
in one corner.
"This'll be fine," Hugh said.
"Is there anything you don't eat, any special diets?"
Mrs. Ryecroft asked.
He shook his head. "Pretty much anything's okay with me.
I'm an omnivore."
"I've got Mexican on for tonight, tacos and enchiladas. That
She indicated the door across the passage with a wave of her hand.
"You've got an English guy called David Wallis in there.
Been here a few weeks. He's okay-about your age, I'd say. You'll
meet him later when he gets back. He's a university guy too-from
a place called Cambridge. Ever been there?"
"I know of it," Hugh said.
"The only other person right now is across on the other side
of the stairs. Ingram-some kind of engineer. But you don't see
much of him."
"Mrs. Ryecroft." Jantowitz's voice came from his room
at the head of the stairs.
"What?" Her response would have been fitting
had he been on the far side of the street.
Hugh looked out. Jantowitz appeared in his doorway, steering Selby
not ungently but firmly around the doorpost with a foot. "Mrs.
Ryecroft, I am sorry, but the room is now my space and paid for,
and the animals I cannot have. Will you talk to her or whatever
it is that you do, please?"
"Is he gonna be a problem?" Mrs. Ryecroft muttered at
"I think he has an allergy," Hugh whispered, naming
the first thing that came to mind. "He's okay."
"Oh, okay." She bustled away back along the passageway.
It was defensiveness, Hugh decided. Her noise and bluster tried
to present a defiant face, and overcompensated. Underneath it,
she was scared and insecure. Everybody was.
He moved to the window and lifted aside the net to peer out. The
room was at the rear of the house. The yard was paved for a short
distance, with weeds sprouting through cracks. Farther back was
a forgotten lawn with seats and a garden table. Wooden slat fences
separated it from adjoining yards to the sides and rear. In one
of them, children were playing on a creaky swing set. A small,
yapping dog pranced around them. Hugh sighed and let the net fall
Baen Book 10/20/95
Copyright © 1995 by James P. Hogan