The Man Who Was Six
By F. L. WALLACE
Illustrated by ASHMAN
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction September 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
There is nothing at all like having a sound
mind in a sound body, but Dan Merrol had too
much of one—and also too much of the other!
"Sorry, darling," said Erica. She yawned, added, "I've tried—but I just can't believe you're my husband."
He felt his own yawn slip off his face. "What do you mean? What am I doing here then?"
"Can't you remember?" Her laughter tinkled as she pushed him away and sat up. "They said you were Dan Merrol at the hospital, but they must have been wrong."
"Hospitals don't make that kind of mistake," he said with a certainty he didn't altogether feel.
"But I should know, shouldn't I?"
"Of course, but...." He did some verbal backstepping. "It was a bad accident. You've got to expect that I won't be quite the same at first." He sat up. "Look at me. Can't you tell who I am?" She returned his gaze, then swayed toward him. He decided that she was highly attractive—but surely he ought to have known that long ago.
With a visible effort she leaned away from him. "Your left eye does look familiar," she said cautiously. "The brown one, I mean."
"The brown one?"
"Your other eye's green," she told him.
"Of course—a replacement. I told you it was a serious accident. They had to use whatever was handy."
"I suppose so—but shouldn't they have tried to stick to the original color scheme?"
"It's a little thing," he said. "I'm lucky to be alive." He took her hand. "I believe I can convince you I'm me."
"I wish you could." Her voice was low and sad and he couldn't guess why.
"My name is Dan Merrol."
"They told you that at the hospital."
They hadn't—he'd read it on the chart. But he had been alone in the room and the name had to be his, and anyway he felt like Dan Merrol. "Your name is Erica."
"They told you that too."
She was wrong again, but it was probably wiser not to tell her how he knew. No one had said anything to him in the hospital. He hadn't given them a chance. He had awakened in a room and hadn't wanted to be alone. He'd got up and read the chart and searched dizzily through the closet. Clothes were hanging there and he'd put them on and muttered her name to himself. He'd sat down to gain strength and after a while he'd walked out and no one had stopped him.
It was night when he left the hospital and the next thing he remembered was her face as he looked through the door. Her name hadn't been on the chart nor her address and yet he had found her. That proved something, didn't it? "How could I forget you?" he demanded.
"You may have known someone else with that name. When were we married?"
Maybe he should have stayed in the hospital. It would have been easier to convince her there. But he'd been frantic to get home. "It was quite a smashup," he said. "You'll have to expect some lapses."
"I'm making allowances. But can't you tell me something about myself?"
He thought—and couldn't. He wasn't doing so well. "Another lapse," he said gloomily and then brightened. "But I can tell you lots about myself. For instance, I'm a specialist in lepidoptera."
"At the moment, who knows? Anyway, I'm a well-known actor and a musician and a first-rate mathematician. I can't remember any equations offhand except C equals pi R squared. It has to do with the velocity of light. And the rest of the stuff will come back in time." It was easier now that he'd started and he went on rapidly. "I'm thirty-three and after making a lot of money wrestling, married six girls, not necessarily in this order—Lucille, Louise, Carolyn, Katherine, Shirley and Miriam." That was quite a few marriages—maybe it was thoughtless of him to have mentioned them. No woman approves her predecessors.
"That's six. Where do I come in?"
"Erica. You're the seventh and best." It was just too many, now that he thought of it, and it didn't seem right.
She sighed and drew away. "That was a lucky guess on your age."
Did that mean he wasn't right on anything else? From the expression on her face, it did. "You've got to expect me to be confused in the beginning. Can't you really tell who I am?"
"I can't! You don't have the same personality at all." She glanced at her arm. There was a bruise on it.
"Did I do that?" he asked.
"You did, though I'm sure you didn't mean to. I don't think you realized how strong you were. Dan was always too gentle—he must have been afraid of me. And you weren't at all."
"Maybe I was impetuous," he said. "But it was such a long time."
"Almost three months. But most of that time you were floating in gelatin in the regrowth tank, unconscious until yesterday." She leaned forward and caressed his cheek. "Everything seems wrong, no matter how hard I try to believe otherwise. You don't have the same personality—you can't remember anything."
"And I have one brown eye and one green."
"It's not just that, darling. Go over to the mirror."
He had been seriously injured and he was still weak from the shock. He got up and walked unsteadily to the mirror. "Now what?"
"Stand beside it. Do you see the line?" Erica pointed to the glass.
He did—it was a mark level with his chin. "What does it mean?"
"That should be the top of Dan Merrol's head," she said softly.
He was a good six inches taller than he ought to be. But there must be some explanation for the added height. He glanced down at his legs. They were the same length from hip bone to the soles of his feet, but the proportions differed from one side to the other. His knees didn't match. Be-dum, be-dum, be-dumdum, but your knees don't match—the snatch of an ancient song floated through his head.
Quickly, he scanned himself. It was the same elsewhere. The upper right arm was massive, too big for the shoulder it merged with. And the forearm, while long, was slender. He blinked and looked again. While they were patching him up, did they really think he needed black, red and brown hair? He wondered how a beagle felt.
What were they, a bunch of humorists? Did they, for comic effect, piece together a body out of bits and scraps left over from a chopping block? It was himself he was looking at, otherwise he'd say the results were neither hideous nor horrible, but merely—well, what? Ludicrous and laughable—and there were complications in that too. Who wants to be an involuntary clown, a physical buffoon that Mother Nature hadn't duplicated since Man began?
He felt the stubble on his face with his left hand—he thought it was his left hand—at least it was on that side. The emerging whiskers didn't feel like anything he remembered. Wait a minute—was it his memory? He leaned against the wall and nearly fell down. The length of that arm was unexpectedly different.
He hobbled over to a chair and sat down, staring miserably at Erica as she began dressing. There was quite a contrast between the loveliness of her body and the circus comedy of his own.
"Difficult, isn't it?" she said, tugging her bra together and closing the last snap, which took considerable effort. She was a small girl generally, though not around the chest.
It was difficult and in addition to his physique there were the memories he couldn't account for. Come to think of it, he must have been awfully busy to have so many careers in such a short time—and all those wives too.
Erica came close and leaned comfortingly against him, but he wasn't comforted. "I waited till I was sure. I didn't want to upset you."
He wasn't as sure as she seemed to be now. Somehow, maybe he was still Dan Merrol—but he wasn't going to insist on it—not after looking at himself. Not after trying to sort out those damned memories.
She was too kind, pretending to be a little attracted to him, to the scrambled face, to the mismatched lumps and limbs and shapes that, stretching the term, currently formed his body. It was clear what he had to do.
The jacket he had worn last night didn't fit. Erica cut off the sleeve that hung far over his fingertips on one side and basted it to the sleeve that ended well above his wrist, on the other. The shoulders were narrow, but the material would stretch and after shrugging around in it, he managed to expand it so it was not too tight.
The trousers were also a problem—six inches short with no material to add on, but here again Erica proved equal to the task and, using the cuffs, contrived to lengthen them. Shoes were another difficulty. For one foot the size was not bad, but he could almost step out of the other shoe. When she wasn't looking, he wadded up a spare sock and stuffed it in the toe.
He looked critically at himself in the mirror. Dressed, his total effect was better than he had dared hope it would be. True, he did look different.
Erica gazed at him with melancholy affection. "I can't understand why they let you out wearing those clothes—or for that matter, why they let you out at all."
He must have given some explanation as he'd stumbled through the door. What was it?
"When I brought the clothes yesterday, they told me I couldn't see you for a day or so," she mused aloud. "It was the first time you'd been out of the regrowth tank—where no one could see you—and they didn't know the clothes wouldn't fit. You were covered with a sheet, sleeping, I think. They let me peek in and I could make out a corner of your face."
It was the clothes, plus the brief glimpse of his face, which had made her think she recognized him when he came in.
"They told me you'd have to have psychotherapy and I'd have to have orientation before I could see you. That's why I was so surprised when you rang the bell."
His head was churning with ideas, trying to sort them out. Part of last night was dim, part sharp and satisfying.
"What's Wysocki's theorem?" she asked.
"Wysocki's. I started to call the hospital and you wouldn't let me, because of the theorem. You said you'd explain it this morning." She glanced at the bruise on her arm.
It was then he'd grabbed her, to keep her from talking to the hospital. He'd been unnecessarily rough, but that could be ascribed to lack of coordination. She could have been terrified, might have resisted—but she hadn't. At that time, she must have half-believed he was Dan Merrol, still dangerously near the edges of post-regrowth shock.
She was looking at him, waiting for that explanation. He shook his mind frantically and the words came out. "Self-therapy," he said briskly. "The patient alone understands what he needs." She started to interrupt, but he shook his head and went on blithely. "That's the first corollary of the theorem. The second is that there are critical times in the recovery of the patient. At such times, with the least possible supervision, he should be encouraged to make his own decisions and carry them through by himself, even though running a slight risk of physical complications."
"That's new, isn't it?" she said. "I always thought they watched the patient carefully."
It ought to be new—he'd just invented it. "You know how rapidly medical practices change," he said quickly. "Anyway, when they examined me last night, I was much stronger than they expected—so, when I wanted to come home, they let me. It's their latest belief that initiative is more important than perfect health."
"Strange," she muttered. "But you are very strong." She looked at him and blushed. "Initiative, certainly you have. Dan could use some, wherever he is."
Dan again, whether it was himself or another person. For a brief time, as she listened to him, he'd had the silly idea that.... But it could never happen to him. He'd better leave now while she was distracted and bewildered and believed what he was saying. "I've got to go. I'm due back," he told her.
"Not before you eat," she said. "Any man who's spent the night with me is hungry in the morning."
It was a domestic miracle that amidst all the pressing and fitting, she'd somehow prepared breakfast and he hadn't noticed. It was a simple chore with the automatics, but to him it seemed a proof of her wifely skill.
He wanted to protest, but didn't. Maybe it was the hand she was holding—it seemed to be equipped with a better set of nerves than its predecessor. It tingled at her touch. Sadly, he sat down and looked at his food. Eat? Did he want to eat? Oddly enough, he did.
"How much do you remember of the accident?" She shoved aside her own food and sat watching him.
Not a thing, now that she asked. In fact, there wasn't much he did remember. There had been the chart at his bed-side, with one word scrawled on it—accident—and that was where he'd got the idea. There had been other marks too, but he hadn't been able to decipher them. He nodded and said nothing and she took it as he thought she would.
"It wasn't anybody's fault. The warning devices which were supposed to work didn't," she began. "A Moon ship collided with a Mars liner in the upper atmosphere. The ships broke up in several parts and since they are compartmented and the delay rockets switched on immediately, the separate parts fell rather gently, considering how high they were. Casualties weren't as great as you might think.
"Parts of the two ships fell together, the rest were scattered. There was some interchange of passengers in the wreckage, but since you were found in the control compartment of the Mars liner, they assumed you were the pilot. They never let me see you until yesterday and then it was just a glimpse. I took their word when they said you were Dan Merrol."
At least he knew who or what Dan Merrol was—the pilot of the Mars liner. They had assumed he was the pilot because of where he was found, but he might have been tossed there—impact did strange things.
Dan Merrol was a spaceship pilot and he hadn't included it among his skills. It was strange that she had believed him at all. But now that it was out in the open, he did remember some facts about spaceships. He felt he could manage a takeoff at this instant.
But why hadn't he told her? Shock? Perhaps—but where had those other identities come from—lepidopterist, musician, actor, mathematician and wrestler? And where had he got memories of wives, slender and passionate, petite and wild, casual and complaisant, nagging and insecure?
Erica he didn't remember at all, save from last night, and what was that due to?
"What are you going to do?" he asked, deliberately toying with the last bite of breakfast. It gave him time to think.
"They said they'd identified everyone, living or dead, and I supposed they had. After seeing you, I can believe they made any number of similar mistakes. Dan Merrol may be alive under another name. It will be hard to do, but I must try to find him. Some of the accident victims went to other hospitals, you know, the ones located nearest where they fell."
Even if he was sure, he didn't know whether he could tell her—and he wasn't sure any longer, although he had been. On the physical side of marriage, how could he ask her to share a body she'd have to laugh at? Later, he might tell her, if there was to be a 'later.' He pushed back his chair and looked at her uncertainly.
"Let me call a 'copter," she said. "I hate to see you go."
"Wysocki's theorem," he told her. "The patient has decided to walk." He weaved toward the door and twisted the knob. He turned in time to catch her in his arms.
"I know this is wrong," she said, pressing against him.
It might be wrong, but it was very pleasant, though he did guess her motives. She was a warmhearted girl and couldn't help pitying him. "Don't be so damned considerate," he mumbled.
"You'll have to put me down," she said, averting her eyes. "Otherwise.... You're an intolerable funny man."
He knew it—he could see himself in the mirror. He was something to laugh at when anyone got tired of pretending sympathy. He put her down and stumbled out. He thought he could hear the bed creak as she threw herself on it.
Once he got started, walking wasn't hard. His left side swung at a different rate from his right, but that was due to the variation in the length of his thighs and lower legs, and the two rhythms could be reconciled. He swept along, gaining control of his muscles. He became aware that he was whizzing past everyone.
He slowed down—he didn't want to attract attention. It was difficult but he learned to walk at a pedestrian pace. However poorly they'd matched his legs, they'd given him good ones.
Last night, on an impulse, he'd left the hospital and now he had to go back. Had to? Of course. There were too many uncertainties still to be settled. He glanced around. It was still very early in the morning and normal traffic was just beginning. Maybe they hadn't missed him yet, though it was unlikely.
He seemed to know the route well enough and covered the distance in a brief time. He turned in at the building and, scanning the directory, went at once to the proper floor and stopped at the desk.
The receptionist was busy with the drawer of the desk. "Can I help you?" she asked, continuing to peer down.
"The director—Doctor Crander. I don't have an appointment."
"Then the director can't see you." The girl looked up and her firmly polite expression became a grimace of barely suppressed laughter.
Then laughter was swept away. What replaced it he couldn't say, but it didn't seem related to humor. She placed her hand near his but it went astray and got tangled with his fingers. "I just thought of a joke," she murmured. "Please don't think that I consider you at all funny."
The hell she didn't—and it was the second time within the hour a woman had used that word on him. He wished they'd stop. He took back his hand, the slender one, an exquisite thing that might once have belonged to a musician. Was there an instrument played with one hand? The other one was far larger and clumsier, more suited to mayhem than music. "When can I see the director?"
She blinked at him. "A patient?" She didn't need to look twice to see that he had been one. "The director does occasionally see ex-patients."
He watched her appreciatively as she went inside. The way she walked, you'd think she had a special audience. Presently the door opened and she came back, batting her eyes vigorously.
"You can go in now," she said huskily. Strange, her voice had dropped an octave in less than a minute. "The old boy tried to pretend he was in the middle of a grave emergency."
On his way in, he miscalculated, or she did, and he brushed against her. The touch was pleasant, but not thrilling. That reaction seemed reserved for Erica.
"Glad to see you," said Doctor Crander, behind the desk. He was nervous and harassed for so early in the morning. "The receptionist didn't give me your name. For some reason she seems upset."
She did at that, he thought—probably bewildered by his appearance. The hospital didn't seem to have a calming influence on either her or the doctor. "That's why I came here. I'm not sure who I am. I thought I was Dan Merrol."
Doctor Crander tried to fight his way through the desk. Being a little wider and solider, though not by much, the desk won. He contented himself by wiping his forehead. "Our missing patient," he said, sighing with vast relief. "For a while I had visions of...." He then decided that visions were nothing a medical man should place much faith in.
"Then I am Dan Merrol?"
The doctor came cautiously around the desk this time. "Of course. I didn't expect that you'd come walking in my office—that's why I didn't recognize you immediately." He exhaled peevishly. "Where did you go? We've been searching for you everywhere."
It seemed wiser to Dan not to tell him everything. "It was stuffy inside. I went out for a stroll before the nurse came in."
Crander frowned, his nervousness rapidly disappearing. "Then it was about an hour ago. We didn't think you could walk at all so soon, or we would have kept someone on duty through the night."
They had underestimated him, but he didn't mind. Of course, he didn't know how a patient from the regrowth tanks was supposed to act. The doctor took his pulse. "Seems fine," he said, surprised. "Sit down—please sit down."
Without waiting for him to comply, Crander pushed him into a chair and began hauling out a variety of instruments with which he poked about his bewildered patient.
Finally Crander seemed satisfied. "Excellent," he said. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were almost fully recovered. A week ago, we considered removing you from the regrowth tank. Our decision to leave you there an extra week has paid off very, very nicely."
Merrol wasn't as pleased as the doctor appeared to be. "Granted you can identify me as the person who came out of regrowth—but does that mean I'm Dan Merrol? Could there be a mistake?"
Crander eyed him clinically. "We don't ordinarily do this—but it is evident that with you peace of mind is more important than procedure. And you look well enough to stand the physical strain."
He pressed the buzzer and an angular woman in her early forties answered. "Miss Jerrems, the Dan Merrol file."
Miss Jerrems flashed a glance of open adoration at the doctor and before she could reel it in, her gaze swept past Dan, hesitated and returned to him. Her mouth opened and closed like that of a nervous goldfish and she darted from the room.
They see me and flee as fast as they can caper, thought Merrol. It was not wholly true—Crander didn't seem much affected. But he was a doctor and used to it. Furthermore, he probably had room for only one emotion at the moment—relief at the return of his patient.
Miss Jerrems came back, wheeling a large cart. Dan was surprised at the mass of records. Crander noticed his expression and smiled. "You're our prize case, Merrol. I've never heard of anyone else surviving such extensive surgery. Naturally, we have a step-by-step account of everything we did."
He turned to the woman. "You may leave, Miss Jerrems." She went, but the adoration she had showed so openly for her employer seemed to have curdled in the last few moments.
Crander dug into the files and rooted out photographs. "Here are pictures of the wreckage in which you were found—notice that you were strapped in your seat—as you were received into the hospital—at various stages in surgery and finally, some taken from the files of the company for which you worked."
Merrol winced. The photographic sequence was incontrovertible. He had been a handsome fellow.
"Here is other evidence you may not have heard of. It's a recent development, within the last ten years, in fact. It still isn't accepted by most courts—they're always lagging—but to medical men it's the last word."
Merrol studied the patterns of waves and lines and splotches. "What is it?"
"Mass-cell radiographs. One was loaned by your employer. The other was taken just after your last operation. Both were corrected according to standard methods. One cell won't do it, ten yield an uncertain identity—but as few as a hundred cells from any part of the original body, excepting the blood, constitute proof more positive than fingerprints before the surgical exchange of limbs. Don't ask me why—no one knows. But it is true that cells differ from one body to the next, and this test detects the difference."
The mass-cell radiographs did seem identical and Dr. Crander seemed certain. Taken altogether, the evidence was overwhelming. There had been no mistake—he was Dan Merrol, though it was not difficult to understand why Erica couldn't believe he was her husband.
"You did a fine job," he said. Recalling the picture of the wreckage, he knew they had. "But couldn't you have done just a little better?"
Crander's eyebrows bounced up. "We're amazed at how well we have done. You can search case histories and find nothing comparable." His eyebrows dropped back into place. "Of course, if you have a specific complaint...."
"Nothing specific. But look at this hand...."
The doctor seized it. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Perhaps—taken by itself." Dan rolled up his sleeve. "See how it joins the forearm."
Crander waggled it gravely. "It coordinates perfectly. I've observed you have complete control over it. The doctor's eye, my boy. The doctor's diagnostic eye."
The other just didn't understand. "But the size—it doesn't match my arm!"
"Doesn't match?" cried the doctor. "Do you have any idea of the biological ways in which it does match? True, it may not be esthetically harmonized, but here we delve into the mysteries of the human organism, and we can hardly be striving for Botticelli bodies and Michelangelo men. First, your hand moves freely at the joint, a triumph of surgical skill." He moved the hand experimentally, to show Merrol how it was done. He dropped the hand and hurried to a screen against the wall.
Crander drew his finger across the surface and the mark remained. "You know about Rh positive and negative blood. Mixed, they can be lethal. This was discovered long ago, by someone I've forgotten. But there are other factors just as potent and far more complex."
He scribbled meaningless symbols on the screen with his finger. "Take the bone factors—three. They must be matched in even such a slight contact as a joint ... this was done. Then there are the tissue factors—four. Tendon factors—two. Nerve-splice factors—three again. After that, we move into a complex field, hormone-utilization factors—seven at the latest count and more coming up with further research.
"That's the beginning, but at the sensory organs we leave the simple stuff behind. Take the eye, for instance." Merrol leaned away because Dr. Crander seemed about to pluck one of Dan's eyes from its socket. "Surgical and growth factors involved in splicing a massive nerve bundle pass any layman's comprehension. There are no non-technical terms to describe it."
It was just as well—Merrol didn't want a lecture. He extended his arms. One was of normal length, the other longer. "Do you think you can do something with this? I don't mind variation in thickness—some of that will smooth out as I exercise—but I'd like them the same length."
"There were many others injured at the same time, you know—and you were one of the last to be extricated from the ship. Normally, when we have to replace a whole arm, we do so at the shoulder for obvious reasons. But the previously treated victims had depleted our supplies. Some needed only a hand and we gave them just that, others a hand and a forearm, and so on. When we got to you, we had to use leftovers or permit you to die—there wasn't time to send to other hospitals. In fact there wasn't any time at all—we actually thought you were dead, but soon found we were wrong."
Crander stared at a crack in the ceiling. "Further recovery will take other operations and your nervous system isn't up to it." He shook his head. "Five years from now, we can help you, not before."
Merrol turned away miserably. There were other things, but he had learned the essentials. He was Dan Merrol and there was nothing they could do for him until it was too late. How long could he expect Erica to wait?
The doctor hadn't finished the medical session. "Replacement of body parts is easy, after all. The big trouble came when we went into the brain."
"Brain?" Dan was startled.
"How hard do you think your skull is?" Crander came closer. "Bend your head."
Merrol obeyed and could feel the doctor's forefinger slice across his scalp in a mock operation. "This sector was crushed." Roughly half his brain, it appeared. "That's why so many memories were gone—not just from shock. In addition, other sectors were damaged and had to be replaced."
Crander traced out five areas he could feel, but not see. "Samuel Kaufman, musician—Breed Mannly, cowboy actor—George Elkins, lepidopterist—Duke DeCaesares, wrestler—and Ben Eisenberg, mathematician, went into the places I tapped."
Dan raised his head. Some things were clearer. The memories were authentic, but they weren't his—nor did the other wives belong to him. It was no wonder Erica had cringed at their names.
"These donors were dead, but you can be thankful we had parts of their brains available." Crander delved into the file and came up with a sheet.
"Here are some body part contributors." He read rapidly. "Dimwiddie, Barton, Colton, Morton, Flam and Carnera were responsible for arms and hands. Greenberg, Rochefault, Gonzalez, Tall-Cloud, Gowraddy and Tsin supplied feet and legs."
He was not a man, Merrol thought. Not now. If anything, he was a convention and one body was not a large enough hotel to hold it in comfort.
"These were the major human donors, but there were others I didn't bother to read, for the kidneys and so on. And I think our four-footed friends deserve some mention." He looked up. "The skin on your face is from a pig embryo."
That explained why it was hard to shave. "Oink?" he said. "I mean did it have to be a pig?"
"You'd be surprised how hard it is to transplant human skin," commented Crander. "Besides, we wanted to give you a masculine look. The finest face there is, genuine pigskin."
Merrol felt like a wallet.
The doctor droned on through the list, but Merrol scarcely listened. Only once did he interrupt, to ask incredulously, "Did you say a horse?"
"Is there anything wrong with a horse?"
Merrol thought back. Come to consider it, there was nothing wrong—in fact, compliments were more in order.
"The skill that went into matching the unrelated parts that are now you is a landmark in medical history, quite comparable to Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood," said Dr. Crander. "I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't participated in it myself. There have been limb and brain replacements before, but never on such a scale. One of these days, we'll get out a report that will astound the medical world."
Without doubt, it would. Merrol tried to feel grateful, but gratitude refused to come. They had saved him—but was it worth it?
Puzzled, Crander frowned at the buzzer. He'd been pressing it intermittently for the past few minutes. "Doesn't seem to be working," he muttered, heading toward the door through which Merrol had entered. "Wait here—I'll be back. I have to cancel an appointment."
As soon as the door closed, a voice behind Merrol hissed. "I fixed the buzzer. He went for the guards."
He whirled. Miss Jerrems stood in the doorway that led into the filing room on the opposite side of the office. "Guards?" he repeated.
"Of course—guards for the violent patients."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"You escaped once, didn't you?"
He hadn't escaped, he had merely walked out when he felt he could. Did that qualify him as violent? It might. "What of it? I'm no longer a patient. The doctor said I had recovered."
"That's what he said to you. But even if he means it, there's always psychotherapy, post-re-growth orientation."
Orientation—he hadn't thought of that. They'd want to keep him under observation for several days and he had no desire to stay hospitalized. Erica would come to the hospital in a few hours. Perhaps she was there now, waiting to see someone. Come to think of it, he had got past the receptionist with remarkable ease. At any rate, if she was insistent about it, she must eventually get to see the evidence he had just studied.
And then there would be orientation—for both of them.
Without doubt, he would be taught to accept himself as he was, and Erica would be trained to look at him without laughter, and together they would know that beneath his piebald exterior lurked a lovely personality. Then, well adjusted, they would go home and live happily ever after. Or would they?
"Don't stand there, if you want to get away," Miss Jerrems whispered urgently. "Next time they won't take any chances."
They wouldn't. He would be confined to a room he couldn't break out of with guards disguised as nurses. Blindly he moved toward the door.
"Not there," she exclaimed. "Do you want to walk right into them? This way. They won't look for you in here." She clasped his hand in her bony fingers and led him through the maze of files to an elevator. "This takes you to the ground floor," she said. "Once outside, you can get away."
He probably could—it was a large building and it would take a prolonged search to determine that he was not inside it.
She smiled peculiarly, clearing her throat. "Thirty-seven Brighton Drive."
Mechanically he repeated the number. "What is it?"
"That's where you can find out."
"Find out what?"
"What they did to you here. I can't tell you now," she whispered nervously. "Oh, do hurry!"
If he had to move fast, this seemed a good time. The elevator dropped him to the street level and, looking cautiously around, he walked out. In a few minutes, he was blocks away. It was mid-morning, and he swung along, hands thrust into his jacket. There was a wad of paper inside and he fished it out and examined it—money, neatly folded with a note around it.
The note was from Erica, saying that the money was meant for him. The sum was not great, but she must have given him everything she had in the house. Mistily, he counted it out.
Dan hadn't been stopped and didn't expect to be. He wasn't a criminal, but until the hospital released him, he was technically a mental case. But Crander would hardly be anxious to report to the police that a patient was missing—not until he had tried everything else.
Merrol took the elevator. It was a bright new apartment building, which conferred some social status and not much else on those living in it.
Miss Jerrems opened the door. "Come in," she said, looking around furtively as he slipped past her.
He sat down gingerly, watching her scurry about. He tried to protest, but nothing he said had any effect on her aggressive hospitality. She thrust a cup of watery coffee in his hand and placed a tray of breakfast rolls beside him.
She sat facing him. Their knees almost touched—it was a narrow room. "I came home at once," she said, not very successful in her attempt to control her excitement. "I told them I was upset and, after my long years of service, they didn't question me. I tore my dress and told them you had done it. I said that you ran up toward the top of the building."
He appreciated her motives, but thought she shouldn't have tried so hard to convince them. Now they had reason to think he was violent.
"Until today, I've been devoted to Doctor Crander," she said sternly.
He recalled the first look on her face in the doctor's office—and the one after she had seen him. In seconds, her whole attitude had changed. Why?
"I heard what he told you." She hissed the word—"Lies."
Dan stared at her skeptically. "They didn't do what he said?"
"Oh, the facts were straight enough," she said bitterly. "It was the reasons he concealed. They thought you didn't have a chance, so they did all sorts of strange things they never tried on anyone else. You were an experiment, that's all—but you surprised them."
The hospital was looking for the wrong mental case. They had one working for them and didn't know it. He didn't doubt that she was right—about his being an experiment—but her observations were wrong. It was due entirely to their unorthodox procedures that he was alive.
She looked him over carefully and he knew that the halves of his face didn't match by a ridiculous margin, that one shoulder was heavier than the other, that his hair was in three colors. Even in repose and fully clothed, so that some of the discrepancies of his physique were hidden, he was hardly presentable.
"When I saw you standing there today, I realized what they had done to you and my loyalty to the institution and the doctor vanished," she said earnestly. "And the psychotherapy isn't to help you, it's to make sure you won't protest over what they've done. That's why I had to get you away. They've ruined you and now you must ruin them."
He had half-suspected it would come to this—but he hadn't been sure. "I don't want to ruin them," he said slowly. "I'd rather be alive, even as an experiment. And if you're thinking of a malpractice suit, you saw the files. I couldn't win against that."
"I ought to know about the files—I worked on them." Her eyes sparkled and her voice lowered. "What if the evidence is missing?"
He sat back. With her co-operation, the vital parts of the file could vanish and, with that gone, he could collect a staggering amount from the institution. He had only to appear and no jury or panels of experts would decide against him. Is that what she had planned so swiftly in the director's office—that she would share the money with him? Somehow, he couldn't believe money meant that much to her. "I can't permit it," he said. "In spite of everything, I feel obligated."
She flung herself across the narrow space. "I expected you to be noble," she sobbed. "One look at you, and I knew I had met the loneliest person in the world."
Like called to like, at least for her, and that explained why she had grimaced when she had first seen him. It was her counterpart of the receptionist's reaction. It explained, too, why she was willing to turn against the doctor she had previously adored. As for the money, she didn't want it for herself, but as bait for him—and he'd have to take her with it.
She had guessed wrong on all counts. He would have thrust her away, but it would have been too cruel. He tried to comfort her, and she dried her eyes on his shoulder. "Darling," she sniffled. "I've never yielded to any man, but if it will help you...."
She pressed close and he couldn't get away without breaking through the thin walls of the cramped apartment. He had never known a female form could be shaped around so many bones. "These things take time," he said, though they didn't. "Let's not rush into anything we'll regret." He seemed to arouse the motherly instinct in some women, if only in the future tense.
Presently, she sat up, blowing her nose and looking ardently at him through tear-rimmed eyes. "You can stay here. You've no place else to go, and they'll be looking for you."
"Well," he said—but it was true. He shouldn't be wandering on the streets.
He slept that night on a sink that converted to a bed. It would have been more comfortable unconverted.
He crept out in the morning before she was awake. He paused outside to scribble a note, principally to throw her off his track. You never could tell with so unstable a person. Implicated in his escape, she might nevertheless report to the hospital. He shoved the note under the door and left quickly and quietly.
His first move was to buy a hat, which entailed further trouble. The doctors had overcompensated in replacing the missing brain tissue and, in piecing a skull together, had constructed an outsized head on which nothing seemed to fit. By careful shopping, he found something that did fit and, when he'd clapped it on, he happily noted it concealed the tricolor hair ... one item less to attract attention.
He ate and afterward walked to the rocketport. It was a long distance and formerly he might have complained, but now he didn't mind it. The miles seemed to have shrunk to furlongs.
He found the big Interplanet sign and examined the place minutely from the outside. Once he had worked there, technically he still did. Some memories came back, but not many. He needed at least an hour inside to enable him to forget the hospital and its psychotherapy.
Once cleared, he would be free for a while to concentrate on what to do about Erica.
The hospital evidently had yet to call in the police. He was still safe on the streets, but the medicos must have notified Interplanet and all other places at which he might show up. However, the company was too big for everyone to know about him this soon. More likely there would be only a few who could have information on him as yet. The trick was to bypass those individuals who might try to detain him and still get where he wanted.
Normally, he'd go to the front office after an accident. This time, he went to the side gate and when the guard looked at him questioningly, mumbled, "Reporting for duty." Which got him through.
Inside, there were more memories awaiting him. Depending on them, he walked rapidly through hall after hall and finally found the desk he sought. The man behind it looked up. "Are you sure you're in the right place?" he asked.
Merrol would soon know. "Reporting for duty," he stated.
This reply elicited a puzzled expression. "The devil you are. We haven't hired anyone new."
"I'm not new. I've been injured, and this is my first time back. Dan Merrol's my name."
"Okay, where's your slip?"
"Slip?" he asked, stalling. This was something he ought to know about, but didn't.
"Sure, the release from the front office after an injury."
"They said they'd send it down," he replied, holding his breath.
The clerk pawed through the stack. "They don't send nothing down," he growled. "I'll call and find out." His hand reached out and then he relaxed. "No use bothering them, it'll get here tomorrow." He looked up and laughed. "Red tape," he said by way of explanation. "Why should I doubt you? If you said they released you, then they did."
Merrol was glad to see one man who wasn't impressed by office routines. Still, his behavior was a little puzzling.
The man screened on. The communication unit was behind the desk, tilted so he couldn't see it. The volume was low, but Dan could hear the conversation from this end. "Got a case for you. Name is Dan Merrol. I don't know, he's before my time."
The reply was faint and Dan didn't catch it. But the clerk added, "He seems okay. What? Sure he's got a release. Would I send him in?"
He cut the connection and looked up. "Go over to Psych. They'll test you. If you pass, we'll put you back on schedule." He started to turn away and saw Merrol standing there. "What's the matter?"
"I don't know where Psych is."
"I see. We must have moved things since you were here." The man got up and pointed. "Down there and turn left at the second corner. You can't miss."
The examiner was scanning a card as he entered. "Lots of experience," he commented. "We'll pass over the written stuff. That's for kids, to make sure they've studied their lessons. After you've been out this long, you can almost feel a course faster than anyone can figure it."
It was a relief. Merrol didn't know how much theory he remembered, but was sure he could still lift a ship as well as the next man.
The examiner made a notation on the card and tossed it into a machine that snapped it up and clicked furiously over it. "Let's take the biggest thing first, if you're up to it."
"I feel fine." It was not true, but it was the customary answer. Anything else, and he'd be shunted off into a series of meaningless tests, each designed to verify the results of previous tests. An ingenious scheme rigged up by the psych crew in their spare time to see how complicated they could make any given system. Answered straightforwardly, they rushed a man through with a minimum of officiousness.
"Okay, let's take the trip."
He accompanied Dan into a room unlike the others. For one thing, it might have been the control room of a ship. Forward, there was the usual clear view. The stars were there too, in an adaptation of the planetarium. Outside, arranged to give any effect from top acceleration to free fall, were a number of gravity coils. Except for the pilot—and Merrol would play that role—there was a full complement of officers who were invisible.
The tester flicked on a machine. "I'll give you Mars, because that's your usual run. This is a short drive, because you're in a favorable position. Got it?"
Merrol nodded and climbed into the seat, facing the instruments.
"I've turned on the best crew simulators, better than you'd ever actually get. Don't worry about them, just take the data and flit the way you think you should." The tester clamped a mike inches away and adjusted the visio-recorders firmly on his head, where electron beams could sneak in and tap his optic centers. "The first trip after you've been away is rough, but you'll make it."
Merrol strapped himself in and hoped the other man was right.
The examiner went to the door, turned and grinned. "Watch out for the interplanetary goose," he called and snapped the switch.
Merrol was now in a ship. In the back of his mind there was some doubt of his ability, but it didn't reach as far as his fingers. Rockets vibrated beneath him. Outside, he could see the glazed earth-slick. He touched the power and climbed above the clouds. The sky turned black and there were stars.
He checked position. The tester had given him a setup. The Moon was out of the way and the run to Mars was the shortest on record. If he couldn't handle this, he wasn't a pilot.
The seat jabbed him suddenly. That's what he'd been warned about—he'd been expecting it and still wasn't prepared. The tempathy drugs flooded into him and the needle was withdrawn.
Takeoff and landing were always rehearsed on the pilot's own time. The ends of a voyage were critical and it was essential to have an undistorted reaction. Besides, neither took long.
The time between one planet and the next was long and nothing much happened, so it could be shortened without deleterious effect on the results. Tempathy drugs shortened it, though not completely. Part of a man's consciousness went along at normal speed and the rest, that which counted in jockeying rockets, was enormously telescoped.
It telescoped on Merrol. He couldn't see. Rather, part of him could but, for the other fraction, images passed in front of his eyes too fast for his mind to evaluate. Weeks flipped past in minutes. It was a dream world turned inside out—the roles of consciousness and unconsciousness were reversed.
There was something wrong with the sounds he half-heard. He could get emotions, though he couldn't separate them into sense. There were additional voices that shouldn't be there—the mechanical crew spoke to him giving silent data—but there were other actual voices, fearful or consolatory. He tried to speak, but his vocal cords were preempted.
He was doing it all, speaking, moving the controls, directing the ship between planets. It ought to be easier than takeoff, but it wasn't. He shouldn't be afraid of anything he might find out there—which was nothing—but that didn't alter conditions. He was profoundly disturbed, and he hoped the tester noticed it.
The examiner did spot trouble. He opened the door and reversed the switch. Lights went on, and another needle speared him, counteracting the effects of the tempathy drugs. Slowly the ship disappeared, space along with it, and the room whirled back into view and settled down. Something handed him back his eyes and ears.
"Easy," said the man. "Sit there. You don't have to move. We'll find out what's wrong. It may not be serious at all."
Unhooking the visio-recorder, the tester also swung the mike away. "You were doing fine," he said. "Never saw anything smoother. About here, though, you seemed to be having difficulty. We'll slow it down and see what it was."
He snapped the reels in place and darkened the room. On the screen was the vision-port and, through it, a view of Mars. A fleck of light glittered, grew, became a cloud, a swarm. A swarm?
"God!" said the tester, bewildered. "A billion butterflies! How could you imagine butterflies, twenty million miles from a planet?"
Merrol squirmed—he didn't know either. What was wrong with him to make him dream up butterflies?
The examiner switched the film off and the lights on. "So you missed them—why, I don't know." He fiddled with another machine. "We'll slow down the sound, synchronize the two of them later, but maybe by itself the sound will give us a clue as to what happened."
"What's that?" It came from the sound track, but it was Merrol's voice.
"Those are lepidoptera." Another voice, also his, though of different pitch and timbre—his, because he was the only one there to speak. "I've always dreamed of discovering a new species and at last I have, since these can fly through space. What strange adaptations they have made. Aren't they beautiful?"
He answered. "They won't be when I plow through them. The rockets will fry them."
"Turn aside!" shouted the lepidopterist. "You can't destroy them."
"I'm going to act as if this were not happening," said a cultured voice. "Bang-bang!"
"This is upsetting," said a different person. "Since I have no instrument, I'll listen with my memory to a Bach concerto. Unfortunately, it ends in the middle of the third movement, as though it has been sliced through with a knife that separated one note cleanly from the next. Still, it's better to have this than nothing."
"Your computers are awfully slow," said the fifth. "I'll figure out a new course for us."
"Gimme the controls," said the wrestler. "I'll turn the ship, if I hafta do it with my bare hands."
The examiner snapped off the sound and busied himself with things that may have been necessary. "You don't have to sit there," he said after a while. "Wait outside." He glanced down, "Be careful when you move, the control column will fall off. Didn't know it could be broken."
As he got out of the seat, the examiner slapped his back. "Tell you what, fellow—don't wait—go now to the Compensation Board and see about retirement."
Merrol sat in the room where he had been sitting for a day and a half since the psych test. He had walked out immediately, found a room and was still in it. It wasn't comfortable, sitting. Whichever position was right for the bend of one knee was wrong for the other.
He had depended on the test to get him out of a jam, but the stratagem had failed. If he had passed, he'd have been another experienced pilot for the Interplanet string and that meant something. Experienced men were valuable and I. P. would have gone to bat for him.
Not everyone could pass the test and, while it didn't prove that the man who did was one hundred per cent sane, it was a big argument in that direction. It was evidence that would have to be respected publicly, whatever private doubts a psychotherapist might have.
Unwittingly, he had provided additional ammunition against himself. When the results of the test sifted through the layers of red tape to the front office, Interplanet would contact the hospital, which would then really want to orient him to a frazzle.
Orientation sounded nice but it was not for Merrol. If they could orient everyone he would come in contact with as well—but how much insulation could a man build up against involuntary laughter? It was fine to be a comedian on the screen and then step out of character and relax—but what if you couldn't stop? Nobody could adjust to the constant expectation of hysterical mirth. But wasn't that a reason to undergo psychotherapy, so they could blunt the edges of his own reactions? It ought to be, but somehow it wasn't. He didn't dare submit.
There was a difference, apparently determined by sex, in the way people behaved toward him. No man had thus far done more than smile respectfully while he was near. What they did later, he could guess. Face to face, they seemed to be reserved and incredulous until they learned to accept him as a member of their species and sex and then—how did they act? It would take more than casual thinking to puzzle that out.
Women saw the big joke instantly and giggled, and he couldn't blame them. Seconds later, they smirked contritely and tried to touch him, as if contact could atone for their behavior. They noticed appearance at all times, whereas men didn't as a rule of their own sex.
He paused to re-examine his thoughts. Something seemed to be missing in his analysis. What it was, he couldn't tell. It would have to come out later, as he mingled more with people—if he ever did.
And that wasn't all. He had been a pilot, but never would be one again. His skill had been destroyed by the intrusion of five other personalities, who each brought his own odd bit of useless knowledge to the whole Merrol. He should have expected it, but he hadn't, nor had the doctors.
It was obvious—the brain slices that had replaced his own damaged tissues had to be in healthy condition or they'd never have functioned properly—and what did those medical fools think was the function of any brain? He was in command of the group brain because his was the dominant fraction, but when he sat down and thought about it, what good did it do? He was sitting down and it didn't do any good, so he got up.
He took two paces across the room and looked out the window, into windows that looked into his. Compensation was coming to him. Ultimately, he'd divide it with Erica and go away. She must know by now that the man she had spent the night with was actually her own husband. Intellectually she must have decided to accept him.
He wasn't noble, though. Much as he wanted her, he knew he couldn't live with anyone who had to stifle her laughter when he stepped out of the bath or into bed.
He walked the carpet aimlessly until, through the window, he caught a word from the telecast in the next apartment. He thought it sounded familiar. He yanked the louvers closed and grunted, but it didn't help—the word bothered him. He reached out the long arm to turn on his own screen.
A face came into view and a man's voice whispered. Merrol turned up the volume, but it didn't get any louder. It was the low-pressure soothing type. Whatever he was selling, it was a welcome change.
The announcer smiled reassuringly. "Actually, I'm talking to one person. The rest of you may listen or not for the next five minutes, after which I'll have something to say to you." It was a clever approach to insure that the audience didn't switch programs.
"Dan Merrol, this is a personal message to you." Merrol sat up.
"We'd call you if we could, but this is a large city and you've simply vanished. We have operatives trying to trace you, but with no success up to now." The announcer leaned forward confidentially.
"Now, Dan, before you become alarmed, let me say you've done nothing wrong. In fact, at Interplanet, we think you've done everything right—but I'll come to that later."
Interplanet? Then it wasn't the hospital or the police. What could I. P. want of him?
"No doubt the test you took was somewhat of a shock. Don't blame the psych examiner for the conclusions he formed—he can't be expected to know more than the leading psychologists. You're probably curious as to what this test has to do with you and Interplanet. We hope so—we want you to keep on listening.
"The test proved you're no longer a competent pilot—but it also indicated something much bigger. Dan, you are the answer to a problem that has been bothering us for generations. Before the accident, you knew nothing of music or any life science, your math was adequate but not deep, you often felt awkward in the presence of others when you had no need to and you lacked confidence in your physical ability.
"Suddenly, you gained something of each and, when we contacted your doctors, we were able to surmise how it happened. Now you ask—what good does this do you and what is the problem to which this is the answer?
"Simply this—specialization. You know what constitutes a rocket crew—pilot, radio man, engineer and several lesser technicians, each of whom knows only his own job. Although you'll never sit at the controls again—through you, we can help others."
The announcer lowered his voice now. "You can unlock specialization for us. In the future, each man will concentrate on what particular aptitudes he has, then share it, via surgery, with others whose knowledge complements his own. To do this, we need to study you further and, of course, we'll pay you well for the opportunity. In addition, you'll still get your compensation. Please come and talk it over with us.
"Frankly, we're a little worried about what you may be thinking. If you have any thoughts of self-destruction because of what must seem a strange condition, put them aside. You're much saner than the average man."
Merrol listened, smiling at the remark. No matter what they thought, he couldn't seriously contemplate suicide. There were too many others to dissuade him.
Nevertheless, it was hard to understand and accept the sudden change of his status. He had formerly been a mere employee, but now....
The announcer hadn't finished. "In the beginning, Dan, I said you had done everything right, whether you knew it or not. After we learned what we did from your test, we checked through our files and found that we had a few other accident cases on record in which part of the brain had been replaced. In each case there was a faint trace of another personality, which we could detect when we knew what to look for. We rechecked each person we could locate. Unfortunately, the latent personalities and their share of knowledge had been submerged beyond recovery by the rigorous psychotherapy the accident victim had undergone after surgery."
The imaginary Wysocki's theorem of self-therapy. He never knew of anyone by that name, nor had he got it from one of the other five. But, however nonsensically he had invented it to express the needs he felt at the time, it was, in fact, not nonsense. When it came to that, who knew anything about six minds packaged together—and what could have been done to him in ignorance?
The announcer was finished talking to Dan Merrol alone. "Remember, all of you," he said briskly. "This man is neither a criminal nor insane. He is extremely withdrawn, as a result of unpleasant experiences. If you can induce him to come to Interplanet, or lead our representatives to him, you will receive a substantial reward. Here is his picture."
Merrol turned off the screen and scowled. He didn't like that last. He intended to take their offer, but he wanted to be free to walk the streets. He could settle that easily enough by just calling Interplanet. They'd send someone down to whisk him away. That would solve all his problems—or would it?
Certainly, it eliminated orientation or any form of psychotherapy. After what had happened to the others, the psychologists would be content merely to observe what went on in his mind. They wouldn't want to give him much privacy, but he'd have to insist on it. They'd listen.
This could be just a job, a very good job while it lasted—say three or four years—until they had learned all they need to know. Perhaps there would be other men blended more scientifically than he had been. But he could accumulate enough money to last the rest of his life, or perhaps turn his many new talents to something else. There were many things he would like to do, and he was ahead of everyone else now, even though in three or four years he would no longer be unique.
Except, of course, in his body.
And there it was again. Was there nothing he could do to get away from it?
He had no memory of Erica except for the one night, but it was enough to convince him. What would their future be like in what was sure to follow? After that broadcast, he would be a person of some note, but would that stop laughter? Would she wait until he left the room before she giggled?
He'd come to terms with Interplanet, but first he had to come to terms with himself ... and he hadn't.
How good was his imaginary Wysocki's theorem? Could it take one last extension? He counted what was left of the money Erica had given him. It wasn't much, but with it he could leave the city. And he had to.
It was dusk when he slipped out of the room and later still when the plane lifted away from the station. It was an ancient jet, long since relegated to cheap overnight service where speed was not a factor and price was.
He knew he was taking a chance and half expected to be stopped, but apparently not many people had listened to the broadcast. Casual glances slid off him and didn't linger. Partly, he suspected, because he had pulled his hat over his face and thrust his hands in the jacket. He'd gotten away in time, but by the morning there would be people on the streets looking for him.
He stared at the approximation of a port. When this ship had been built, there was some feeling against the practice and so the row of picture tubes had been camouflaged as ports in the wall. There was a station selector switch, but none for on or off. He glowered at the picture at his elbow and turned to the least annoying thing he could find. Across the aisle, there were three other programs he could see distinctly. The one directly opposite was a repeat of the broadcast he had heard a few hours previously. He scowled and looked away. If it hadn't been a night plane, in which people sought sleep, he would certainly have been spotted. Apathy was his best protection. He hunched down in his seat and dozed off.
When he awakened, the familiar Interplanet program was at his elbow. He reached to change stations, then on impulse let his hand continue past the knob until he felt the ash tray. He unfastened the heavy article and poked it through the screen.
The glass broke, but only a few in the immediate vicinity heard it in the din. To those who stared at him, he presented a view of his back or the profile of his hat. They glanced at him indifferently, then looked away. Outside the orifice, where the tube had been in the outer of two walls, was an actual port. He gazed through it contentedly.
A finger tapped him. "Yes?" he said in a loud voice.
The man behind him leaned over. "I've been riding in this plane once a week for five years. I mean, would you mind if I looked out? I've never seen where I'm going."
"Glad to have you."
The man sat beside him and peered wistfully out. Below were lights, the patterns of cities, roads and towns and in the distance the glare of furnaces. There was also a current of cold air seeping from the space between the double walls. The man looked, shivered, turned up his collar and finally went back to his seat.
It was cold, but Merrol remained where he was. There was some satisfaction in asserting himself, but the satisfaction wore off and the cold didn't.
His attention was caught by the program which was flickering across the aisle. Doctor Crander—Merrol frowned. Did the hospital want him too? He listened intently. No, they didn't want him.
Crander sounded tired. "This is an emergency appeal and we'll need a wide response. We have in our care a person with a serious illness we can't diagnose. With so much interplanetary travel we can't determine what causes the disease. It may be an organism from a moon of Saturn or almost anything else.
"Our staff is working at top speed. We feel, if we can keep her alive for one week, she'll be out of danger. That is by no means a certainty, but a reasonably accurate forecast.
"We have a new theory, largely untested, but we hope it will work. Each person differs from the next and though, when we match limbs and organs, we try to take this into account, we never quite succeed in effecting a perfect biological match. As a result, the character of the blood changes, slightly but significantly. It's as if we had lumped together the various natural immunities of the component bodies and created an entirely new super-immunity."
Crander paused. "We need persons who have had five or more major replacements. By major, I mean hands, arms, legs or parts of them—nothing so trivial as ears, or a few feet of skin, or three or four fingers.
"It must be at least five, though more are correspondingly better. Nothing less—and please don't apply with only a minor replacement. Two donors have volunteered so far and we have fractioned and administered the blood of one with dramatic, if temporary, results. In a few hours, we'll have to use the second. After that, I don't know what we'll do."
Merrol stirred. He was deeply suspicious.
"Here's the woman," said Crander. "She needs your help."
The man across the aisle leaned forward and his head was in front of the picture. Merrol tried to see, but couldn't.
"It's up to you," said Crander as he faded from the screen.
Merrol tapped the man across the aisle. "Please repeat it."
The man glanced around and saw who it was. "Aw, you're the guy who doesn't like that stuff." He jerked his head at the broken screen.
The memory cell of the picture tube didn't have a long attention span. It could recall forty-five seconds of the past program and no longer. The broadcast might be repeated, or it might not. Did he want to wait?
He reached out his arm—the long one—and fastened onto the man's jacket, giving him a short rough shove.
"Repeat it, I said!"
The man looked down. He wasn't small himself, but it was a large fist. "Sure thing," he said, jabbing the repeat button. The scene was replayed.
"Thanks," said Merrol, letting go.
The man looked at his crumpled clothing. "Not at all," he muttered, sliding away against the wall. "Don't mention it."
The woman was Erica. It was too much of a coincidence that, among so many millions in the city, she should be the one. The hospital and Interplanet were working together and now they had brought in Erica. How gullible did they think he was and how much had they offered her for this? It might not be money, though—they might have convinced her it was to Dan's own best interest that they get in touch with him immediately.
They were baiting him crudely and if they weren't, there were others who could respond as well as he. There must be hundreds in the vicinity, scores at any rate, who could qualify. There were enough without him, depending on how often the blood fraction was needed. Crander hadn't said. It was a trick and Erica wasn't ill—or if she was, she would be safe without him. He had to make up his mind before he saw her, and he couldn't. He clenched his hands, both big and little. He had stretched Wysocki's theorem too far and it had failed.
"I had a wife once." The voice startled him, but he sat still, hoping to hear it again. Maybe they would tell him what to do. "Not so slender as Erica. Rather bouncy, in fact, but I liked her. Pity she ran away with a coleopterist. Never could understand what she saw in him." The voice grew sad. "Beetles!"
"My advice is that wives are easily come by," said a theatrical voice, modulated for effect. "But before he shuffles off this mortal coil to the last roundup, every man should have at least one wife like Erica."
"I can't speak of wives or women," said the musician. "There's so little memory left, mostly music. But you've been subconsciously humming a tune for days—and I must tell you that Beethoven didn't write anything called Erica. The correct title is Eroica."
"One fall don't mean nothing, it's always the best two out of three. The way I see it, you gotta get up. Get close to them, hold them tight, or they'll throw you outta the ring."
"This is something that can't be figured. There are some odds no one can live by. You'll have to solve this one yourself."
He sat there, not moving. They were with him always, but sometimes they weren't much help.
The plane would land on the other side of the continent. He had little money, but he could get in touch with Interplanet and they would advance him the fare back. Unfortunately, such a move would take time. There would be schedules to juggle, to say nothing of the ride back. A mere matter of hours on a fast ship—yet what if that was too long?
He got to his feet and went forward. "You can't go in there," said the stewardess.
He looked past her into the pilot's compartment. It was securely locked from this side though not on the other. He glanced down at the girl. It was a tradition that stewardesses were gorgeous creatures, though the tradition was simply not true any longer. In an age of space exploration, air travel had dispensed with glamor. But for unfathomable reasons, this stewardess was a throwback to the old days. If she didn't quite achieve real beauty, she came close enough so that no healthy male could conceivably object to her nearness.
Merrol could take the keys away from her, but she'd scream and a dozen men would come leaping to her rescue. He didn't care for the odds.
He had met three women and had he misjudged the effect of the new himself on them? First Erica—her behavior had been strange, considering that, even from the first, she must have doubted he was her husband. Then the receptionist—she had gone out of her way to get him into Crander's office when the latter was upset by the disappearance of a patient. And finally, the pathetic Miss Jerrems, who had thawed and would have descended to crooked schemes, had he encouraged her. Was this some form of pity or something quite different—or did it matter at all as long as they were not indifferent? There was a way to find out.
He raised his arm, the shorter one, and laid his hand affectionately on the stewardess' shoulder. "Isn't there a private room in back?"
She tilted her head and her lips glistened. "Yes, there is."
"Small enough for two?"
"I believe so." Her lashes trembled and lowered and she seemed surprised that they did. "That is if you—if we snuggled close."
"I'm sure we will. Why don't you find out about that room?"
"It seems like a good idea." She blushed and turned to leave.
"I'll need keys, won't I?" he said.
She leaned against him and the keys dropped into his hand. "I'll be waiting," she whispered. He watched her walk down the aisle and enjoyed the enticing sway of her hips. Under other circumstances, he might have considered joining her.
He had the keys! It had worked! He didn't know why, nor did he have time to think about it. He inserted the key and stepped inside.
"Hi, Jane," sang out the pilot, not turning, assuming he knew who it was.
Merrol located the autopilot switch and, reaching past the man, turned it on. With the same motion he whirled the pilot around. "Listen, friend, don't you want to go back?"
"No. Why should I?" The pilot was startled, but not intimidated.
"Engine trouble or something. You figure it out. I don't care what it is, as long as we get back." He half-hoped the man would object—physical action would be a relief. In an emergency, he could handle the ship himself—it was simpler than a spaceship.
The pilot squinted beyond and behind him. "Engines don't sound so good," he muttered. He was unexpectedly docile. "Safety first is the motto of this airline." It was a good rule, but it was questionable whose safety he was referring to.
The pilot was still having unaccountable difficulty with his eyes—there was a marked tendency to cross. "Sure, we'll go back," he said. "Glad you brought it to my attention. But call off your gang, will you, mister?"
Merrol turned around. He was alone. There was no one behind him, though the pilot seemed convinced there was.
He had a partial answer to the pilot's strange reaction. He was a multiple personality and, normally latent, in times of stress the multi-personality became dominant and impressed itself psychologically on the observer. And if the mind received the impression of several men, the eye tried hard to produce evidence that would confirm it.
Not everyone was as successful at self-hypnosis as the pilot, but the temptation toward it was always there. Now that he thought of it, men never had laughed at him. Instead they had been respectful. He apparently had an unsettling effect on those of his own sex he came in contact with—just how powerful it was, he didn't know yet. The complete answer would have to await investigation by trained psychologists.
Women were different. They invariably laughed first—Erica too, in spite of the general sympathy she must have felt for him. In what did the difference lie? That too he would have to determine—later.
The pilot looked at him dizzily, beseechingly. Merrol decided he must be pouring it on, though he felt no different. "Remember, I can get up here in an awful hurry," said Merrol, "so no tricks." The pilot nodded and clung helplessly to the controls. He wouldn't cause any trouble. Merrol raised his arm in a gesture. "Come on, fellows."
As an afterthought, he locked the stewardess in the private compartment and, as he did so, he could feel the plane swing in a wide arc that would take them to the station they had started from. The apathetic dozing passengers didn't even notice.
And then all six of him walked back to his seat and Merrol sat down.
He slid out of the plane while it was still rolling. He didn't want to argue with the passengers, when they found they were on the wrong coast and he was to blame. Nor did he particularly want to explain to the authorities. Later he would have to, but by then he would have powerful interests behind him to smooth over the incident.
It was late and there were no cabs in sight, in air or on surface. He crossed the landing strip into the station and out of it and swept along the dark streets with a loose-jointed stride that made the distance seem less than it was. Presently, he broke into a trot and his speed was encouraging.
A hoppicopter—one of the little surface cars that could rise and fly for a short time to avoid traffic jams—bounced down and rolled alongside. A window slid open and a head popped out. "In a hurry, mister?"
He bobbed his head. "Hospital."
"Jump in and we'll take you. We're not doing anything special—just riding around." The hoppicopter stopped. This was luck—he'd get there faster.
The man in the front seat opened the door and stepped out, flashing a light on him. "Just a check. We don't mind taking you, but we want to be sure we don't pick up some rough character."
The man didn't look so gentle himself—and the light was trained on Dan too long. If they were afraid, he'd have to refuse their offer and go on.
"Hey, Carl," the man with the flash called out puzzledly. "Haven't we seen this guy somewhere before?"
He should have expected something like this and not stopped—but maybe it would have been worse if he hadn't. So far, he had been lucky that no one had spotted him—and now was not the time to be discussing terms with Interplanet. He began to edge away.
Carl climbed out of the hoppicopter and circled in the same direction Merrol was inching toward. "I guess I have at that," said Carl slowly. He was a big man. "Can't say where, though."
Merrol breathed more easily. He couldn't make a break for it, but perhaps he wouldn't have to. They might not have seen the broadcast. "I've got to hurry," he said. "I'll go on."
"Don't get sore," said Carl soothingly. "We'll take you. Climb in."
The man with the light was frowning indecisively. "The guy on the broadcast?" he asked sharply.
"Nah," said Carl disgustedly. "That guy—you look at his picture and you have to bust out laughing. Now this fellow here—while he's a long way from handsome—is clearly the executive type, a man you can trust." Carl scrutinized him thoughtfully. Before Merrol could stop him, he reached out and plucked off the hat. "There's only one guy with three-colored hair, though, and you've got it," he said unbelievingly.
Merrol started to back away, but the body of the hoppicopter stopped him.
"Mister, you've sure got some disguise," said the other man in an awed voice. "I could look right at you all day and not tell who it was."
It was no disguise, it was the multi-personality again. No one looked quite the same in real life as in a picture, because the personality was missing. And with him the difference was far more marked. The camera could register his features accurately, but men couldn't, not when he was actually there to inspire trust and respect—and he did arouse those emotions. Added together, these were some of the reasons why he hadn't hitherto been recognized.
"Sorry to have bothered you," he said, pushing between them as they converged on him. "I'm in a hurry."
"Sure, sure," said Carl, apologetically, moving aside.
"But he's money!" the man with the flashlight cried in an anguished voice.
"So he is!" said Carl. The vision of money seemed to carry a lot of weight with him. He seemed reluctant to act, but he reached out and swung Merrol around. "We'll take you to Interplanet and then you can go to the hospital. Don't worry, we aren't going to do nothing. It don't pay us to hurt you."
Their original intentions were probably sincere, but now that they thought they'd found money on the street, they weren't willing to let it go. But Merrol was not going to accompany them to Interplanet. He jerked away.
"We'll split the reward," said Carl. "Too bad we got to carry him in."
Merrol tried to elude him, but Carl caught his arm in a bone-cracking hold. That is, it ought to have splintered bone. That it didn't was not due to lack of skill, but to the proportions of the arm to which it was applied. The advantage of leverage went to Merrol and he used it. He broke loose and swung the long arm with the large fist and Carl went down.
The man with the light dropped it, climbed on Merrol's back and was pounding away at a nerve. Had he found the nerve, Merrol might have crumpled to the street. He didn't find it, because it wasn't there. The nerve had been surgically rerouted.
Merrol peeled him off and tossed him on top of Carl. He tossed him harder than he meant to and neither man moved.
He climbed into the hoppicopter and rolled it through the dark streets. They had caused him to lose time and for this they would forfeit the use of their 'copter. They could pick it up in the morning, if they felt like claiming it. He got out and hurried into the hospital.
He met others in the corridors—it was a busy place in spite of the lateness—but the first person he recognized was Erica. "Dan!" she said. She didn't use anything scientific, but the hold on him was harder to break than judo. Perhaps because he didn't want to.
Later, he became aware of someone tapping his shoulder. He turned around. "These things can be consummated in the privacy of one's own home," murmured Doctor Crander. "But when a life is at stake, passion should be put aside."
The purely physical elation began to fade. He put Erica down, but uncertainly holding onto her. It was an ambivalent gesture. "Is this what you call an emergency?" he asked sarcastically. He had broken a number of minor laws and nearly his own neck in getting here. He had a right to be angry, though he was not sure how he felt.
The doctor gave him a scandalized look. "Do you think we're unethical? There is such a woman as we described, one of our staff. We do have other donors, but we think you can do more for her. In a fit of despondency, this woman wandered into the extraterrestrial room without the customary protection, hoping to catch something—and she did." Crander frowned. "The only way we altered facts was to use your wife's photo. It was her idea. Furthermore, it is true that a pretty girl gets a better response—and, of course, Erica wanted you back."
When he learned who the patient was, he was satisfied with his decision. After the blood fraction had been administered to Miss Jerrems, even his untrained eyes could see the improvement.
He watched Erica suspiciously as she pattered about in a state of dishabille that did nothing to enhance her beauty but, perversely, made her more exciting. That she had been uncertain as to his identity the last time meant little and he could forgive it. Man and wife were not thereby distinct species, separate to themselves, unattracted or repelled by all others of the opposite sex. For himself, he had only to remember the stewardess.
But it was important to know what her true feelings toward him were. Laughter at the wrong time could be disastrous to a man's ego!
"This time, you know there's no mistake," he said, hoping that irony was some protection. "But are you sure you want me as a husband?"
She stopped fiddling with her hair. She tilted her head and looked at him, at a body that defied the laws of anatomy and the face that belonged on a clown—except that a clown could take his face off. "Are you trying to get rid of me?" She was asking questions, not answering them.
Erica was examining him carefully and he could tell that she, unlike a male, saw each feature distinctly, saw the nose that had belonged to someone else and looked it, the jaw, originally very fine, but with contours that had since melted out of shape.
"I'm not trying to get rid of you," he said. "Maybe you want somebody nicer." He'd have to know before he could stop feeling tormented.
"Nicer?" she echoed. "Do you want me to answer that?"
She came and leaned against him. "A woman ought to have some secrets," she murmured. "But if you have to know, the first time I saw you I laughed, because you are funny. And after that, well, I saw traces of the nicest features of nearly every man I ever had a crush on. That was just the physical side."
She rested her head on his shoulder. "I didn't believe you actually were Dan. I didn't pay attention to a thing you said."
"But if you didn't believe...."
"Just what you're thinking," she answered. "I couldn't help it. You're the most exciting challenge a woman can have. Even if she doesn't know why, as I didn't then, it's still there—half a dozen men, and all of them in one monogamous package."
Now that she put it that way, he could see why she hadn't been able to resist. He could see that there were few women who could. He glanced at a framed photograph of the handsome pre-accident Dan Merrol that stood on the bureau. He thought, Poor sucker!