Clyde and I were in Victoria, British Columbia. Not subscribing to the folkway that prescribes seasick intoxication as an expression of joy, we did the town with discrimination. At midnight we found ourselves strolling along the waterfront in that fine, Vancouver-Island mist, with just enough drink taken to be moving through a dream. At one point, we leaned on a rail to watch the mainland lights twinkling dimly like the hope of a new world--blackout being lifted.
Suddenly, Clyde said, "What's fraying you recently, Will? When we were taking our ICEG reconditioning, it came through strong as garlic, though you wouldn't notice it normally."
Why be coy about an opening like that? "Clyde, what do you know about Edwin Scott?" That let him spin any yarn he chose--if he chose.
He did the cigarette-lighting routine, and said quietly, "Well, I was Edwin Scott, Will." Then, as I waited, "Yes, really me, the real me talking to you. This," he held out a powerful, coppery hand, "once belonged to a man called Marco da Sanhao ... You've heard of transplanting limbs?"
I had. But this man was no transplant job. And if a spinal cord is cut, transplanting legs from Ippalovsky, the primo ballerino, is worthless. I said, "What about it?"
"I was the first--successful--brain transplant in man."
For a moment, it queered me, but only a moment. Hell, you read in fairy tales and fantasy magazines about one man's mind in another man's body, and it's marvelous, not horrible. But-- By curiosity, I know a bit about such things. A big surgery journal, back in the '40s, had published a visionary article on grafting a whole limb, with colored plates as if for a real procedure[A]. Then they'd developed techniques for acclimating a graft to the host's serum, so it would not react as a foreign body. First, they'd transplanted hunks of ear and such; then, in the '60s, fingers, feet, and whole arms in fact.
But a brain is another story. A cut nerve can grow together; every fiber has an insulating sheath which survives the cut and guides growing stumps back to their stations. In the brain and spinal cord, no sheaths; growing fibers have about the chance of restoring contact that you'd have of traversing the Amazon jungle on foot without a map. I said so.
"I know," he said, "I learned all I could, and as near as I can put it, it's like this: When you cut your finger, it can heal in two ways. Usually it bleeds, scabs, and skin grows under the scab, taking a week or so. But if you align the edges exactly, at once, they may join almost immediately healing by First Intent. Likewise in the brain, if they line up cut nerve fibers before the cut-off bit degenerates, it'll join up with the stump. So, take a serum-conditioned brain and fit it to the stem of another brain so that the big fiber bundles are properly fitted together, fast enough, and you can get better than ninety per cent recovery."
"Sure," I said, parading my own knowledge, "but what about injury to the masses of nerve cells? And you'd have to shear off the nerves growing out of the brain."
"There's always a way, Willie. There's a place in the brain stem called the isthmus, no cell masses, just bundles of fibers running up and down. Almost all the nerves come off below that point; and the few that don't can be spliced together, except the smell nerves and optic nerve. Ever notice I can't smell, Willie? And they transplanted my eyes with the brain--biggest trick of the whole job."
It figured. But, "I'd still hate to go through with it."
"What could I lose? Some paraplegics seem to live a fuller life than ever. Me, I was going mad. And I'd seen the dogs this research team at my hospital was working on--old dogs' brains in whelps' bodies, spry as natural.
"Then came the chance. Da Sanhao was a Brazilian wrestler stranded here by the war. Not his war, he said; but he did have the decency to volunteer as medical orderly. But he got conscripted by a bomb that took a corner off the hospital and one off his head. They got him into chemical stasis quicker than it'd ever been done before, but he was dead as a human being--no brain worth salvaging above the isthmus. So, the big guns at the hospital saw a chance to try their game on human material, superb body and lower nervous system in ideal condition, waiting for a brain. Only, whose?
"Naturally, some big-shot's near the end of his rope and willing to gamble. But I decided it would be a forgotten little-shot, name of Edwin Scott. I already knew the surgeons from being a guinea pig on ICEG. Of course, when I sounded them out, they gave me a kindly brush-off: The matter was out of the their hands. However, I knew whose hands it was in. And I waited for my chance--a big job that needed somebody expendable. Then I'd make a deal, writing my own ticket because they'd figure I'd never collect. Did you hear about Operation Seed-corn?"
That was the underground railway that ran thousands of farmers out of occupied territory. Manpower was what finally broke Invader, improbable as it seems. Epidemics, desertions, over-extended lines, thinned that overwhelming combat strength; and every farmer spirited out of their hands equalled ten casualties. I nodded.
"Well, I planned that with myself as director. And sold it to Filipson."
I contemplated him: just a big man in a trench coat and droop-brimmed hat silhouetted against the lamp-lit mist. I said, "You directed Seed-corn out of a wheel chair in enemy territory, and came back to get transplanted into another body? Man, you didn't tell Ferd a word of a lie when you said you were used to walking up to death." (But there was more: Besides that dour Scot's fortitude, where did he come by that high-hearted valor?) He shrugged. "You do what you can with what you've got. Those weren't the big adventures I was thinking about when I said that. I had a team behind me in those--"
I could only josh. "I'd sure like to hear the capperoo then."
He toed out his cigarette. "You're the only person who's equipped for it. Maybe you'd get it, Willie."
"How do you mean?"
"I kept an ICEG record. Not that I knew it was going to happen, just wanted proof if they gave me a deal and I pulled it off. Filipson wouldn't renege, but generals were expendable. No one knew I had that transmitter in my temporal bone, and I rigged it to get a tape on my home receiver. Like to hear it?"
I said what anyone would, and steered him back to quarters before he'd think better of it. This would be something!
On the way, he filled in background. Scott had been living out of hospital in a small apartment, enjoying as much liberty as he could manage. He had equipment so he could stump around, and an antique car specially equipped. He wasn't complimentary about them. Orthopedic products had to be: unreliable, hard to service, unsightly, intricate, and uncomfortable. If they also squeaked and cut your clothes, fine!
Having to plan every move with an eye on weather and a dozen other factors, he developed in uncanny foresight. Yet he had to improvise at a moment's notice. With life a continuous high-wire act, he trained every surviving fiber to precision, dexterity, and tenacity. Finally, he avoided help. Not pride, self-preservation; the compulsively helpful have rarely the wit to ask before rushing in to knock you on your face, so he learned to bide his time till the horizon was clear of beaming simpletons. Also, he found an interest in how far he could go.
These qualities, and the time he had for thinking, begot Seed-corn. When he had it convincing, he applied to see General Filipson, head of Regional Intelligence, a man with both insight and authority to make the deal--but also as tough as his post demanded. Scott got an appointment two weeks ahead.
That put it early in April, which decreased the weather hazard--a major consideration in even a trip to the Supermarket. What was Scott's grim consternation, then, when he woke on D-day to find his windows plastered with snow under a driving wind--not mentioned in last night's forecast of course.
He could concoct a plausible excuse for postponement--which Filipson was just the man to see through; or call help to get him to HQ--and have Filipson bark, "Man, you can't even make it across town on your own power because of a little snow." No, come hell or blizzard, he'd have to go solo. Besides, when he faced the inevitable unexpected behind Invader lines, he couldn't afford a precedent of having flinched now.
He dressed and breakfasted with all the petty foresights that can mean the shaving of clearance in a tight squeeze, and got off with all the margin of time he could muster. In the apartment court, he had a parking space by the basement exit and, for a wonder, no free-wheeling nincompoop had done him out of it last night. Even so, getting to the car door illustrated the ordeal ahead; the snow was the damp, heavy stuff that packs and glares. The streets were nasty, but he had the advantage of having learned restraint and foresight.
HQ had been the post office, a ponderous red-stone building filling a whole block. He had scouted it thoroughly in advance, outside and in, and scheduled his route to the general's office, allowing for minor hazards. Now, he had half an hour extra for the unscheduled major hazard.
But on arriving, he could hardly believe his luck. No car was yet parked in front of the building, and the walk was scraped clean and salted to kill the still falling flakes. No problems. He parked and began to unload himself quickly, to forestall the elderly MP who hurried towards him. But, as Scott prepared to thank him off, the man said, "Sorry, Mac, no one can park there this morning."
Scott felt the chill of nemesis. Knowing it was useless, he protested his identity and mission.
But, "Sorry, major. But you'll have to park around back. They're bringing in the big computer. General himself can't park here. Them's orders."
He could ask the sergeant to park the car. But the man couldn't leave his post, would make a to-do calling someone--and that was Filipson's suite overlooking the scene. No dice. Go see what might be possible.
But side and back parking were jammed with refugees from the computer, and so was the other side. And he came around to the front again. Five minutes wasted. He thought searchingly.
He could drive to a taxi lot, park there, and be driven back by taxi, disembark on the clean walk, and there you were. Of course, he could hear Filipson's "Thought you drove your own car, ha?" and his own damaging excuses. But even Out Yonder, you'd cut corners in emergency. It was all such a comfortable Out, he relaxed. And, relaxing, saw his alternative.
He was driving around the block again, and noted the back entrance. This was not ground level, because of the slope of ground; it faced a broad landing, reached by a double flight of steps. These began on each side at right-angles to the building and then turned up to the landing along the face of the wall. Normally, they were negotiable; but now, even had he found parking near them, he hadn't the chance of the celluloid cat in hell of even crossing the ten feet of uncleaned sidewalk. You might as well climb an eighty-degree, fifty-foot wall of rotten ice. But there was always a way, and he saw it.
The unpassable walk itself was an avenue of approach. He swung his car onto it at the corner, and drove along it to the steps to park in the angle between steps and wall--and discovered a new shut-out. He'd expected the steps to be a mean job in the raw wind that favored this face of the building; but a wartime janitor had swept them sketchily only down the middle, far from the balustrades he must use. By the balustrades, early feet had packed a semi-ice far more treacherous than the untouched snow; and, the two bottom steps curved out beyond the balustrade. So ... a sufficiently reckless alpinist might assay a cliff in a sleet storm and gale, but he couldn't even try if it began with an overhang.
Still time for the taxi. And so, again Scott saw the way that was always there: Set the car so he could use its hood to heft up those first steps.
Suddenly, his thinking metamorphosed: He faced, not a miserable, unwarranted forlorn hope, but the universe as it was. Titanic pressure suit against the hurricanes of Jupiter, and against a gutter freshet, life was always outclassed--and always fought back. Proportions didn't matter, only mood.
He switched on his ICEG to record what might happen. I auditioned it, but I can't disentangle it from what he told me. For example, in his words: Multiply distances by five, heights by ten, and slickness by twenty. And in the playback: Thirty chin-high ledges loaded with soft lard, and only finger holds and toe holds. And you did it on stilts that began, not at your heels, at your hips. Add the hazard of Helpful Hosea: "Here, lemme giveya hand, Mac!", grabbing the key arm, and crashing down the precipice on top of you.
Switching on the ICEG took his mind back to the snug apartment where its receiver stood, the armchair, books, desk of diverting work. It looked awful good, but ... life fought back, and always it found a way.
He shucked his windbreaker because it would be more encumbrance than help in the showdown. He checked, shoelaces, and strapped on the cleats he had made for what they were worth. He vetoed the bag of sand and salt he kept for minor difficulties--far too slow. He got out of the car.
This could be the last job he'd have to do incognito--Seed-corn, he'd get credit for. Therefore, he cherished it: triumph for its own sake. Alternatively, he'd end at the bottom in a burlesque clutter of chrom-alum splints and sticks, with maybe a broken bone to clinch the decision. For some men, death is literally more tolerable than defeat in humiliation.
Eighteen shallow steps to the turn, twelve to the top. Once, he'd have cleared it in three heartbeats. Now, he had to make it to a twenty-minute deadline, without rope or alpenstock, a Moon-man adapted to a fraction of Earth gravity.
With the help of the car hood, the first two pitches were easy. For the next four or five, wind had swept the top of the balustrade, providing damp, gritty handhold. Before the going got tougher, he developed a technic, a rhythm and system of thrusts proportioned to heights and widths, a way of scraping holds where ice was not malignantly welded to stone, an appreciation of snow texture and depth, an economy of effort.
He was enjoying a premature elation when, on the twelfth step, a cleat strap gave. Luckily, he was able to take his lurch with a firm grip on the balustrade; but he felt depth yawning behind him. Dourly, he took thirty seconds to retrieve the cleat; stitching had been sawed through by a metal edge--just as he'd told the cocksure workman it would be. Oh, to have a world where imbecility wasn't entrenched! Well--he was fighting here and now for the resources to found one. He resumed the escalade, his rhythm knocked cockeyed.
Things even out. Years back, an Invader bomber had scored a near miss on the building, and minor damage to stonework was unrepaired. Crevices gave fingerhold, chipped-out hollows gave barely perceptible purchase to the heel of his hand. Salutes to the random effects of unlikely causes!
He reached the turn, considered swiftly. His fresh strength was blunted; his muscles, especially in his thumbs, were stiffening with chill. Now: He could continue up the left side, by the building, which was tougher and hazardous with frozen drippings, or by the outside, right-hand rail, which was easier but meant crossing the open, half-swept wide step and recrossing the landing up top. Damn! Why hadn't he foreseen that? Oh, you can't think of everything. Get going, left side.
The wall of the building was rough-hewn and ornamented with surplus carvings. Cheers for the 1890s architect!
Qualified cheers. The first three lifts were easy, with handholds in a frieze of lotus. For the next, he had to heft with his side-jaw against a boss of stone. A window ledge made the next three facile. The final five stared, an open gap without recourse. He made two by grace of the janitor's having swabbed his broom a little closer to the wall. His muscles began to wobble and waver: in his proportions, he'd made two-hundred feet of almost vertical ascent.
But, climbing a real ice-fall, you'd unleash the last convulsive effort because you had to. Here, when you came down to it, you could always sit and bump yourself down to the car which was, in that context, a mere safe forty feet away. So he went on because he had to.
He got the rubber tip off one stick. The bare metal tube would bore into the snow pack. It might hold, if he bore down just right, and swung his weight just so, and got just the right sliding purchase on the wall, and the snow didn't give underfoot or undercane. And if it didn't work--it didn't work.
Beyond the landing, westwards, the sky had broken into April blue, far away over Iowa and Kansas, over Operation Seed-corn, over the refuge for rebels that lay at the end of all his roads....
He got set ... and lifted. A thousand miles nearer the refuge! Got set ... and lifted, balanced over plunging gulfs. His reach found a round pilaster at the top, a perfect grip for a hand. He drew himself up, and this time his cleated foot cut through snow to stone, and slipped, but his hold was too good. And there he was.
No salutes, no cheers, only one more victory for life.
Even in victory, unlife gave you no respite. The doorstep was three feet wide, hollowed by eighty years of traffic, and filled with frozen drippings from its pseudo-Norman arch. He had to tilt across it and catch the brass knob--like snatching a ring in a high dive.
No danger now, except sitting down in a growing puddle till someone came along to hoist him under the armpits, and then arriving at the general's late, with his seat black-wet.... You unhorse your foeman, curvet up to the royal box to receive the victor's chaplet, swing from your saddle, and fall flat on your face.
But, he cogitated on the bench inside, getting his other cleat off and the tip back on his stick, things do even out. No hearty helper had intervened, no snot-nosed, gaping child had twitched his attention, nobody's secretary--pretty of course--had scurried to helpfully knock him down with the door. They were all out front superintending arrival of the computer.
The general said only, if tartly, "Oh yes, major, come in. You're late, a'n't you?"
"It's still icy," said Ed Scott. "Had to drive carefully, you know."
In fact, he had lost minutes that way, enough to have saved his exact deadline. And that excuse, being in proportion to Filipson's standard dimension, was fair game.
I wondered what dimension Clyde would go on to, now that the challenge of war was past. To his rebels refuge at last maybe? Does it matter? Whatever it is, life will be outclassed, and Scott-Esterbrook's brand of life will fight back.
By F. L. WALLACE The price of life was a life for a life--which was all the reward the victim looked for!
His hands were shaking as he exhibited the gifts. If he were on Earth, he would be certain it was the flu; in the Centaurus system, kranken. But this was Van Daamas, so Lee Bolden couldn't say what he had. Man hadn't been here long enough to investigate the diseases with any degree of thoroughness. There were always different hazards to overcome as new planets were settled.
But whatever infection he had, Bolden was not greatly concerned as he counted out the gifts. He had felt the onset of illness perhaps an hour before. When he got back to the settlement he'd be taken care of. That was half a day's flight from here. The base was equipped with the best medical facilities that had been devised.
He stacked up the gifts to make an impressive show: five pairs of radar goggles, seven high-velocity carbines, seven boxes of ammunition. This was the natives' own rule and was never to be disregarded--it had to be an odd number of gifts.
The Van Daamas native gazed impassively at the heap. He carried a rather strange bow and a quiver was strapped to his thigh. With one exception, the arrows were brightly colored, mostly red and yellow. Bolden supposed this was for easy recovery in case the shot missed. But there was always one arrow that was stained dark blue. Bolden had observed this before--no native was ever without that one somber-looking arrow.
The man of Van Daamas stood there and the thin robe that was no protection against the elements rippled slightly in the chill current of air that flowed down the mountainside. "I will go talk with the others," he said in English.
"Go talk," said Bolden, trying not to shiver. He replied in native speech, but a few words exhausted his knowledge and he had to revert to his own language. "Take the gifts with you. They are yours, no matter what you decide."
The native nodded and reached for a pair of goggles. He tried them on, looking out over fog and mist-shrouded slopes. These people of Van Daamas needed radar less than any race Bolden knew of. Living by preference in mountains, they had developed a keenness of vision that enabled them to see through the perpetual fog and mist far better than any Earthman. Paradoxically it was the goggles they appreciated most. Extending their sight seemed more precious to them than powerful carbines.
The native shoved the goggles up on his forehead, smiling with pleasure. Noticing that Bolden was shivering, he took his hands and examined them. "Hands sick?" he queried.
"A little," said Bolden. "I'll be all right in the morning."
The native gathered up the gifts. "Go talk," he repeated as he went away.
Lee Bolden sat in the copter and waited. He didn't know how much influence this native had with his people. He had come to negotiate, but this might have been because he understood English somewhat better than the others.
A council of the natives would make the decision about working for the Earthmen's settlement. If they approved of the gifts, they probably would. There was nothing to do now but wait--and shiver. His hands were getting numb and his feet weren't much better.
Presently the native came out of the fog carrying a rectangular wicker basket. Bolden was depressed when he saw it. One gift in return for goggles, carbines, ammunition. The rate of exchange was not favorable. Neither would the reply be.
The man set the basket down and waited for Bolden to speak. "The people have talked?" asked Bolden.
"We have talked to come," said the native, holding out his fingers. "In five or seven days, we come."
It was a surprise, a pleasant one. Did one wicker basket equal so many fine products of superlative technology? Apparently it did. The natives had different values. To them, one pair of goggles was worth more than three carbines, a package of needles easily the equivalent of a box of ammunition.
"It's good you will come. I will leave at once to tell them at the settlement," said Bolden. There was something moving in the basket, but the weave was close and he couldn't see through it.
"Stay," the man advised. "A storm blows through the mountains."
"I will fly around the storm," said Bolden.
If he hadn't been sick he might have accepted the offer. But he had to get back to the settlement for treatment. On a strange planet you never could tell what might develop from a seemingly minor ailment. Besides he'd already been gone two days searching for this tribe in the interminable fog that hung over the mountains. Those waiting at the base would want him back as soon as he could get there.
"Fly far around," said the man. "It is a big storm." He took up the basket and held it level with the cabin, opening the top. An animal squirmed out and disappeared inside.
Bolden looked askance at the eyes that glowed in the dim interior. He hadn't seen clearly what the creature was and he didn't like the idea of having it loose in the cabin, particularly if he had to fly through a storm. The man should have left it in the basket. But the basket plus the animal would have been two gifts--and the natives never considered anything in even numbers.
"It will not hurt," said the man. "A gentle pet."