Fisher lurched to his feet. "They'll get you, Carl. They can try you and shoot you right on the spot, and Barness will do it. I had to tell you, you've walked right into it, but you might still get away if--"
It was cruel. The drunken man's head jerked up at the blow, and he gave a little grunt, then slid back down on the chair. Carl stepped over his legs, worked swiftly at the door beyond. If they caught him now, Terry Fisher was right. But in five more minutes-- The lock squeaked, and the door fell open. Inside he tore through the file cases, wrenched at the locked drawers in frantic haste, ripping the weak aluminum sheeting like thick tinfoil. Then he found the folder marked KENNETH ARMSTRONG on the tab.
Somewhere above him an alarm went off, screaming a mournful note through the building. He threw on the light switch, flooding the room with whiteness, and started through the papers, one by one, in the folder. No time to read. Flash retinal photos were hard to superimpose and keep straight, but that was one reason why Carl Golden was on Mars instead of sitting in an office back on Earth-- He flipped the last page, and threw the folder onto the floor. As he went through the door, he flipped out the light, raced with clattering footsteps down the corridor.
Lights caught him from both sides, slicing the blackness like hot knives. "All right, Golden. Stop right there."
Dark figures came out of the lights, ripped his clothing off without a word. Somebody wrenched open his mouth, shined a light in, rammed coarse cold fingers down into his throat. Then: "All right, you bastard, up stairs. Barness wants to see you."
They packed him naked into the street, hurried him into a three-wheeled ground car. Five minutes later he was wading through frosty dust into another building, and Barness was glaring at him across the room.
Odd things flashed through Carl's mind. You seldom saw a Repeater get really angry--but Barness was angry. The man's young-old face (the strange, utterly ageless amalgamation of sixty years of wisdom, superimposed by the youth of a twenty-year-old) had unaccustomed lines of wrath about the eyes and mouth. Barness didn't waste words. "What did you want down there?"
"Armstrong." Carl cut the word out almost gleefully. "And I got it, and there's nothing you or Rinehart or anybody else in between can do about it. I don't know what I saw yet, but I've got it in my eyes and in my cortex, and you can't touch it."
"You stupid fool, we can peel your cortex," Barness snarled.
"Well, you won't. You won't dare."
Barness glanced across at the officer who had brought him in. "Tommy--"
"Dan Fowler won't like it," said Carl.
Barness stopped short, blinking. He took a slow breath. Then he sank down into his chair. "Fowler" he said, as though dawn were just breaking.
"That's right. He sent me up here. I've found what he wants. Shoot me now, and when they probe you Dan will know I found it, and you won't be around for another rejuvenation."
Barness looked suddenly old. "What did he want?"
"The truth about Armstrong. Not the 'accident' story you fed to the teevies.... "Tragic End for World Hero, Died With His Boots On". Dan wanted the truth. Who killed him. Why this colony is grinding down from compound low to stop, and turning men like Terry Fisher into alcoholic bums. Why this colony is turning into a glorified, super-refined Birdie's Rest for old men. But mostly who killed Armstrong, how he was murdered, who gave the orders. And if you don't mind, I'm beginning to get cold."
"And you got all that," said Barness.
"You haven't read it, though."
"Not yet. Plenty of time for that on the way back."
Barness nodded wearily, and motioned the guard to give Carl his clothes. "I think you'd better read it tonight. Maybe it'll surprise you."
Golden's eyes widened. Something in the man's voice, some curious note of defeat and hopelessness, told him that Barness was not lying. "Oh?"
"Armstrong didn't have an accident, that's true. But nobody murdered him, either. Nobody gave any orders, to anybody, from anybody. Armstrong put a bullet through his head--quite of his own volition."
"All right, Senator," the young red-headed doctor said. "You say you want it straight--that's how you're going to get it." Moments before, Dr. Moss had been laughing. Now he wasn't laughing. "Six months, at the outside. Nine, if you went to bed tomorrow, retired from the Senate, and lived on tea and crackers. But where I'm sitting I wouldn't bet a plugged nickel that you'll be alive a month from now. If you think I'm joking, you just try to squeeze a bet out of me."
Senator Dan Fowler took the black cigar from his mouth, stared at the chewed-up end for a moment, and put it back in again. He had had something exceedingly witty all ready to say at this point in the examination; now it didn't seem to be too funny. If Moss had been a mealy-mouthed quack like the last Doc he had seen, okay. But Moss wasn't. Moss was obviously not impressed by the old man sitting across the desk from him, a fact which made Dan Fowler just a trifle uneasy. And Moss knew his turnips.
Dan Fowler looked at the doctor and said, "Garbage."
The red-headed doctor shrugged. "Look, Senator--sometimes a banana is a banana. I know heart disease, and I know how it acts. I know that it kills people if they wait too long. And when you're dead, no rejuvenation lab is going to bring you back to life again."
"Oh, hell! Who's dying?" Fowler's grey eyebrows knit in the old familiar scowl, and he bit down hard on the cigar. "Heart disease! So I get a little pain now and then--sure it won't last forever, and when it gets bad I'll come in and take the full treatment. But I can't do it now!" He spread his hands in a violent gesture. "I only came in here because my daughter dragged me. My heart's doing fine--I've been working an eighteen hour day for forty years now, and I can do it for another year or two--"
"But you have pain," said Dr. Moss.
"So? A little twinge, now and then."
"Whenever you lose your temper. Whenever anything upsets you."
"All right--a twinge."
"Which makes you sit down for ten or fifteen minutes. Which doesn't go away with one nitro-tablet any more, so you have to take two, and sometimes three--right?"
Dan Fowler blinked. "All right, sometimes it gets a little bad--"
"And it used to be only once or twice a month, but now it's almost every day. And once or twice you've blacked clean out for a while, and made your staff work like demons to cover for you and keep it off the teevies, right?"
"Say, who's been talking to you?"
"Jean has been talking to me."
"Can't even trust your own daughter to keep her trap shut." The Senator tossed the cigar butt down in disgust. "It happened once, yes. That god damned Rinehart is enough to make anybody black out." He thrust out his jaw and glowered at Dr. Moss as though it were all his fault. Then he grinned. "Oh, I know you're right, Doc. It's just that this is the wrong time. I can't take two months out now--there's too much to be done between now and the middle of next month."
"Oh, yes. The Hearings. Why not turn it over to your staff? They know what's going on."
"Nonsense. They know, but not like I know. After the Hearings, fine--I'll come along like a lamb. But now--"
Dr. Moss reddened, slammed his fist down on the desk. "Dammit, man, are you blind and deaf? Or just plain stupid? Didn't you hear me a moment ago? You may not live through the Hearings. You could go, just like that, any minute. But this is 2134 A.D., not the middle ages. It would be so utterly, hopelessly pointless to let that happen--"
Fowler champed his cigar and scowled. "After it was done I'd have to Free-Agent for a year, wouldn't I?" It was an accusation.
"You should. But that's a formality. If you want to go back to what you were doing the day you came from the Center--"
"Yes, if! But supposing I didn't? Supposing I was all changed?"
The young doctor looked at the old man shrewdly. Dan Fowler was 56 years old--and he looked forty. It seemed incredible even to Moss that the man could have done what he had done, and look almost as young and fighting-mad now as he had when he started. Clever old goat, too--but Dan Fowler's last remark opened the hidden door wide. Moss smiled to himself. "You're afraid of it, aren't you, Senator?"
"Of rejuvenation? Nonsense."
"But you are. You aren't the only one--it's a pretty frightening thing. Cash in the old model, take out a new one, just like a jet racer or a worn out talk-writer. Only it isn't machinery, it's your body, and your life." Dr. Moss grinned. "It scares a man. Rejuvenation isn't the right word, of course. Aside from the neurones, they take away every cell in your body, one way or another, and give you new ones. A hundred and fifty years ago Cancelmo and Klein did it on a dog, and called it sub-total prosthesis. A crude job--I've seen their papers and films. Vat-grown hearts and kidneys, revitalized vascular material, building up new organ systems like a patchwork quilt, coaxing new tissues to grow to replace old ones--but they got a living dog out of it, and that dog lived to the ripe old age of 37 years before he died."
Moss pushed back from his desk, watching Dan Fowler's face. "Then in 1992 Nimrock tried it on a man, and almost got himself hanged because the man died. That was a hundred and forty-two years ago. And then while he was still on trial, his workers completed the second job, and the man lived, and oh, how the jig changed for Nimrock!"
The doctor shrugged. As he talked, Dan Fowler sat silent, chewing his cigar furiously. But listening--he was listening, all right. "Well, it was crude, then," Moss said. "It's not so crude any more." He pointed to a large bronze plaque hanging on the office wall. "You've seen that before. Read it."
Dan Fowler's eyes went up to the plaque. A list of names. At the top words said, "These ten gave life to Mankind."
Below it were the names: Martin Aronson, Ph. D. Education Thomas Bevalaqua Literature and Art Chauncy Devlin Music Frederick A. Kehler, M. S. Engineering William B. Morse, L. L. D. Law Rev. Hugh H. F. Norton Philosophy and Theology Jacob Prowsnitz, Ph. D. History Arthur L. Rodgers, M. D. Medicine Carlotta Sokol, Ph. D. Sociopsychology Harvey Tatum Business "I know," said Dan Fowler. "June 1st, 2005. They were volunteers."
"Ten out of several dozen volunteers," Moss amended. "Those ten were chosen by lot. Already people were dreaming of what sub-total prosthesis could do. It could preserve the great minds, it could compound the accumulated wisdom of one lifetime with another lifetime--and maybe more. Those ten people--representing ten great fields of study--risked their lives. Not to live forever--just to see if rejuvenation could really preserve their minds in newly built bodies. All of them were old, older than you are, Senator, some were sicker than you, and all of them were afraid. But seven of the ten are still alive today, a hundred and thirty years later. Rodgers died in a jet crash. Tatum died of neuro-toxic virus, because we couldn't do anything to rebuild neurones in those days. Bevalaqua suicided. The rest are still alive, after two more rejuvenations."
"Fine," said Dan Fowler. "I still can't do it now."
"That was just ten people," Moss cut in. "It took five years to get ready for them. But now we can do five hundred a year--only five hundred select individuals, to live on instead of dying. And you've got the gall to sit there and tell me you don't have the time for it!"
The old man rose slowly, lighting another cigar. "It could be five thousand a year. That's why I don't have the time. Fifteen thousand, fifty thousand. We could do it--but we're not doing it. Walter Rinehart's been rejuvenated--twice already! I'm on the list because I shouted so loud they didn't dare leave me off. But you're not on it. Why not? You could be. Everybody could be."
Dr. Moss spread his hands. "The Criterion Committee does the choosing."
"Rinehart's criteria! Only five hundred a year. Use it for a weapon. Build power with it. Get a strangle-hold on it, and never, never let it go." The Senator leaned across the desk, his eyes bright with anger. "I haven't got time to stop what I'm doing now--because I can stop Rinehart, if I only live that long, I can break him, split his Criterion Committee wide open now while there's still a chance, and open rejuvenation up to everybody instead of five hundred lucky ones a year. I can stop him because I've dug at him and dug at him for twenty-nine years, and shouted and screamed and fought and made people listen. And if I fumble now, it'll all be down the drain, finished, washed up.
"If that happens, nobody will ever stop him."
There was silence in the room for a moment. Then Moss spread his hands. "The hearings are that critical, eh?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Why has it got to be your personal fight? Other people could do it."
"They'd fumble it. They'd foul it up. Senator Libby fouled it up once already, a long time ago. Rinehart's lived for a hundred and nineteen years, and he's learning new tricks every year. I've only lived fifty-six of them, but I know his tricks. I can beat him."
"But why you?"
"Somebody's got to do it. My card is on top."
A 'phone buzzer chirped. "Yes, he's here." Dr. Moss handed Dan the receiver. A moment later the Senator was grinning like a cat struggling into his overcoat and scarf. "Sorry, Doc--I know what you tell me is true, and I'm no fool. If I have to stop, I'll stop."
"Not tomorrow. One of my lads is back from the Mars Colony. Tomorrow we pow-wow--but hard. After the hearings, Doc. And meanwhile, keep your eye on the teevies. I'll be seeing you."
The door clicked shut with a note of finality, and Dr. David Moss stared at it gloomily. "I hope so," he said. But nobody in particular heard him.
A Volta two-wheeler was waiting for him outside. Jean drove off down the drive with characteristic contempt for the laws of gravity when Dan had piled in, and Carl Golden was there, looking thinner, more gaunt and hawk-like than ever before, his brown eyes sharp under his shock of black hair, his long, thin aquiline nose ("If you weren't a Jew you'd be a discredit to the Gentiles," Dan Fowler had twitted him once, years before, and Carl had looked down his long, thin, aquiline nose, and sniffed, and let the matter drop, because until then he had never been sure whether his being a Jew had mattered to Dan Fowler or not, and now he knew, and was quite satisfied with the knowledge) and the ever-present cigarette between thin, sensitive fingers. Dan clapped him on the shoulder, and shot a black look at his daughter, relegating her to an indescribable Fowler limbo, which was where she belonged, and would reside until Dan got excited and forgot how she'd betrayed him to Dr. Moss, which would take about ten or fifteen minutes all told. Jean Fowler knew her father far too well to worry about it, and squinted out the window at the afternoon traffic as the car skidded the corner into the Boulevard Throughway, across the river toward home. "God damn it, boy, you could have wired me at least. One of Jean's crew spotted the passage list, so I knew you'd left, and got the hearing moved up to next month--"
Carl scowled. "I thought it was all set for February 15th."
Dan chuckled. "It was. But I was only waiting for you, and got the ball rolling as soon as I knew you were on your way. Dwight McKenzie is still writing the Committee's business calendar, of course, and he didn't like it a bit, but he couldn't find any solid reason why it shouldn't be set ahead. And I think our good friend Senator Rinehart is probably wriggling on the stick about now, just on the shock value of the switch. Always figure in the shock value of everything you do, my boy--it pays off more than you'd ever dream--"
Carl Golden shook his head. "I don't like it, Dan."
"What, the switch in dates?"
"The switch. I wish you hadn't done that."
"But why? Look, son, I know that with Ken Armstrong dead our whole approach has to be changed--it's going to be trickier, but it might even work out better. The Senate knows what's been going on between Rinehart and me, and so does the President. They know elections are due next June. They know I want a seat on his Criterion Committee before elections, and they know that to get on it I'll do my damnedest to unseat him. They know I've shaken him up, that he's scared of me. Okay, fine. With Armstrong there to tell how he was chosen for Retread back in '87, we'd have had Rinehart running for his life...."
"But you don't," Carl cut in flatly, "and that's that."
"What, are you crazy, son? I needed Armstrong, bad. Rinehart knew it, and had him taken care of. It was fishy--it stunk from here to Mars, but Rinehart covered it up fast and clean. But with the stuff you got up in the Colony, we can charge Rinehart with murder, and the whole Senate knows his motive already. He didn't dare to let Armstrong testify."
Carl was shaking his head sadly.
"Well, what's wrong?"
"You aren't going to like this, Dan. Rinehart's clean. Armstrong comitted suicide."
Fowler's mouth fell open, and he sat back hard. "Oh, no."
"Ken Armstrong? Suicided?" He shook his head helplessly, groping for words. "I--I--oh, Jesus. I don't believe it. If Ken Armstrong suicided, I'm the Scarlet Whore of Babylon."
"Well, we'll try to keep that off the teevies."
"There's no chance that you're wrong," said the old man.
Carl shook his head. "There's plenty that's funny about that Mars Colony, but Armstrong's death was suicide. Period. Even Barness didn't understand it."
Sharp eyes went to Carl's face. "What's funny about the Colony?"
Carl shrugged, and lit a cigarette. "Hard to say. This was my first look, I had nothing to compare it with. But there's something wrong. I always thought the Mars Colony was a frontier, a real challenge--you know, Man against the Wilderness, and all that. Saloons jammed on Saturday nights with rough boys out to get some and babes that had it to give. A place that could take Earthbound softies and toughen them up in a week, working to tame down the desert--"
His voice trailed off. "They've got a saloon, all right--but everybody just comes in quietly and gets slobbery drunk. Met a guy named Fisher, thought the same thing I did when he came up five years ago. A real go-getter, leader type, lots of ideas and the guts to put them across. Now he's got a hob-nail liver and he came back here on the ship with me, hating Mars and everything up there, most of all himself. Something's wrong up there, Dan. Maybe that's why Armstrong bowed out."
The Senator took a deep breath. "Not a man like Ken Armstrong. Why, I used to worship him when I was a kid. I was ten when he came back to Earth for his second Retread." The old man shook his head. "I wanted to go back to Mars with him--I actually packed up to run away, until dear brother Paul caught me and squealed to Dad. Imagine."
"I'm sorry, Dan."
The car whizzed off the Throughway, and began weaving through the residential areas of Arlington. Jean swung under an arched gate, stopped in front of a large greystone house of the sort they hadn't built for a hundred years. Dan Fowler stared out at the grey November afternoon. "Well, then we're really on thin ice at the Hearings. We can still do it. It'll take some steam-rollering, but we can manage it." He turned to the girl. "Get Schirmer on the wire as soon as we get inside. I'll go over Carl's report for whatever I can find. Tell Schirmer if he wants to keep his job as Coordinator of the Medical Center next year, he'd better have all the statistics available on all rejuvenated persons past and present, in my office tomorrow morning."
Jean gave her father a queer look. "Schirmer's waiting for you inside right now."