"Hell, the mists are clearing," Luke snarled. "You ain't so damn smart as you think."
What he said was true. Though there was less light on account of the new angle with the sun farther below the horizon, the red mist was definitely lighter in color, noticeably less dense. Visibility was good to several hundred yards. Luke turned his head, but could see nothing of their pursuers.
"They can't," Fuller insisted weakly.
Luke, pushed on with renewed vigor, ignoring him, cursing.
And then there came faintly to his ears the twang of a dart gun; the shrill scream of its deadly vibrating missile; a violent blow that flung him headlong.
Like a cat, he bounced to his feet, crouching with Chan Dai's dart gun at his shoulder. A strangely grotesque heap was at his feet--Tom Fuller. Off there in the thinning mist he saw a shadowy figure and he fired at it twice. Whether his darts found their mark he was never to know, for a wall of white swept down suddenly to obscure his vision. Snow! Great massed flakes falling endlessly--the moisture of the mist crystallized and closing in on him to hide him even more safely, than had the mists themselves.
He was on his knees then at Fuller's side. A brilliant flash and a screaming roar over amongst the rocks apprised him of the fact that the guard's dart had gone wide. And yet Fuller was down, moaning with pain. Luke tried to turn him over and found that his body had taken on tremendous weight. He was flattened, crushed to the rocky surface of Vulcan by the full force of its gravity!
"What the devil!" he grunted as he heaved and strained. "What'd they do to you, old man?"
With great effort he succeeded in turning the scientist face up. Then he saw what had happened, and knew in a flash that Fuller had saved him from the singing dart whose energy was making a sizzling puddle of the stones where it had landed. The missile, in passing, had carried away the belt and part of the fabric of Tom's garment--carried away the capsule and the radium that energized it. Made the thing worse than useless. And Fuller had done this for him; he had flung himself upon Luke to shove him out of the line of fire ... risking his own life gladly ... lucky the deadly dart had missed his body, but....
"You go on, Fenton," the scientist was whispering through lips that were blue and stiff. "Leave me here. I'm licked. But you can carry on the work; go to my friends and tell them--everything. Tell them what you saw back there--tell them----"
"Shut up!" Luke's words were softly growled. There was a new and utterly unaccountable huskiness in his voice as he straddled the prone body and locked his strong fingers underneath. "You ain't gonna be left behind," he grunted. "We're goin' on, brother, together."
His back straightened and Fuller was swung clear of the ground. His huge biceps tensed and the scrawny scientist was in the air, up and above the bowed head, then let down gently to rest across the broad shoulders of Luke Fenton. Fuller hung there, bent double by the immense weight of him, crushed to painful contact with the taut muscles that carried the strain.
On Earth, Fuller might have tipped the scales at a scant one hundred and thirty pounds; now his sagging body was a load in excess of seven hundredweight. With that load upon him, and glorying in the effort it cost, Luke staggered on toward the triple red glow, which, even in the blinding whiteness of the snowfall, marked the location of the columns of fire.
That all feeling had left his limbs in the deep-biting cold meant nothing; that his lungs were near bursting under the terrific strain meant even less. Luke Fenton had found a man. One he would fight for, not against. And, miraculously, he had found himself.
After that there was a blur of interminable torture. Reeling and stumbling, his leg and back muscles shot through with stabbing pain as the frost worked slowly upward, Luke plodded doggedly ahead. An occasional shout came from far behind where the guards still searched the rocky plateau.
Across his great shoulders, Luke's burden was a dead weight, of corpselike rigidity and stillness. Yet Luke clung to it tenaciously, disposing the drooping leaden limbs as comfortably as possible by the judicious spreading of his own brawny arms.
Fuller, he was sure, had not long to live in any event. X.C. had already progressed to such a point that it was hardly possible he could recover. And yet, these smart guys Luke always had detested--the doctors and surgeons and such--they might be able to do something for the poor devil. Anyway, he determined, he'd get the scientist to his friends dead or alive, and he'd see to it that they treated him right. If they didn't....
The red glow was suddenly very bright and a silvery metallic shape loomed up before him in the whiteness. An ethership! Luke tried to call out but his bellowing voice was gone; only faint gurgling sounds came from his throat. He pushed forward with a savage summoning of his last ounce of energy and Fuller's weight was that of a mastodon upon him. The curved hull of the vessel was overhead when he slipped and fell to one knee in the thick carpet of snow.
Luke saw them then, a dozen strangers running from the open air-lock of the ship. In uniform, some of them--government officials of Earth and Mars. Damn them, it was a trap!
Knowing vaguely that they had surrounded him, he let Fuller slip from his shoulders and lowered him gently to the snow. Lurching to his feet, he stood swaying above the scientist's body, ready to defend the helpless man against any who came to take him. Defiant curses died in his paralyzed throat as darkness swooped down to blot out all consciousness. His steel-sinewed body, beaten at last, slumped protectingly over the lanky form of his new-found friend.
When Luke next saw the light he stared long and hard at immaculate white walls and ceiling that shut him in. A gentle purring was in his ears and he knew he was in an ethership that was under way. He lay weak and helpless beneath snowy covers, on an iron hospital bed.
There were voices in the room, hushed, awed voices, and Luke moved his head painfully to stare across the room. Fuller, he saw, was stretched on another cot, pale and still. And a white-clad nurse was there, bending over him, talking softly to a doctor. The words that passed between them brought enlightenment to Luke--and more. They brought a new elation, and understanding, and hope.
When the doctor and nurse had left, Luke lay for a long time with his thoughts. There was a man--Tom Fuller. Unafraid, as an agent of a special governmental committee investigating prison conditions he had volunteered to get the evidence on Vulcan's Workshop. And he had done it, even though it was almost certain that his own life was to be the price. He had dared the misery and hardship, dared X.C. and the horrible death it brought, that this hellhole of Vulcan might be exposed, that it might be wiped out of existence by government agreement. Vulcan's Workshop, where the gold dust of a certain political clique, brought torture and disease and extinction to hapless prisoners who might otherwise be remade into useful members of society by the use of scientific methods--all this was to be no more.
Fuller had succeeded where many others had failed. And Fuller was not to die. Only one of his lungs had been affected by X.C. and this not too extensively to respond to treatment. Many months of careful attendance would be required, and many more months of convalescence. But Fuller, they were sure, would live, Luke gloated.
From what he had heard, Luke gathered that there was to be no trouble about his own pardon. Oddly enough, this gave him no satisfaction. Something had happened to him--inside. For the first time he realised his debt to society and would have preferred that just sentence be carried out upon him. But not in that place, not in Vulcan's Workshop! Luke shuddered.
And lying there, he swore a mighty oath that the remainder of his life was to be devoted to entirely different pursuits. It was not too late to face about, not too late to learn. If Fuller would help him, he would learn. He had acquired a healthy respect for the book-learning he formerly ridiculed, and he wanted some of it for himself--as much as he could get. His old creed was forgotten, and his bitterness vanished.
"Luke!" At the scientist's husky whisper he turned his head. Fuller was gazing at him with wide, solemn eyes.
"Thanks, Luke," the thin lips murmured.
"Thanks yourself. Where'd we be right now if it wasn't for your radium?"
There was silence as they regarded one another.
"I need you, Luke," Fuller whispered then, "in my laboratory back home. I'll be laid up for a long time, you know, and there's much to be done. Your brawn and my brain--we'll both profit. What do you say to that, Fenton, will you do it?"
Luke grinned. "Will I? Just watch me!"
Then, with a queer lump choking him, Luke looked away. He could think of no words to suit the occasion; he couldn't think at all somehow.
Blissfully, he fell asleep.
FORGET ME NEARLY.
By F. L. Wallace
What sort of world was it, he puzzled, that wouldn't help victims find out whether they had been murdered or had committed suicide?
The police counselor leaned forward and tapped the small nameplate on his desk, which said: Val Borgenese. "That's my name," he said. "Who are you?"
The man across the desk shook his head. "I don't know," he said indistinctly.
"Sometimes a simple approach works," said the counselor, shoving aside the nameplate. "But not often. We haven't found anything that's effective in more than a small percentage of cases." He blinked thoughtfully. "Names are difficult. A name is like clothing, put on or taken off, recognizable but not part of the person--the first thing forgotten and the last remembered."
The man with no name said nothing.
"Try pet names," suggested Borgenese. "You don't have to be sure--just say the first thing you think of. It may be something your parents called you when you were a child."
The man stared vacantly, closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them and mumbled something.
"What?" asked Borgenese.
"Putsy," said the man more distinctly. "The only thing I can think of is Putsy."
The counselor smiled. "That's a pet name, of course, but it doesn't help much. We can't trace it, and I don't think you'd want it as a permanent name." He saw the expression on the man's face and added hastily: "We haven't given up, if that's what you're thinking. But it's not easy to determine your identity. The most important source of information is your mind, and that was at the two year level when we found you. The fact that you recalled the word Putsy is an indication."
"Fingerprints," said the man vaguely. "Can't you trace me through fingerprints?"
"That's another clue," said the counselor. "Not fingerprints, but the fact that you thought of them." He jotted something down. "I'll have to check those re-education tapes. They may be defective by now, we've run them so many times. Again, it may be merely that your mind refused to accept the proper information."
The man started to protest, but Borgenese cut him off. "Fingerprints were a fair means of identification in the Twentieth Century, but this is the Twenty-second Century."
The counselor then sat back. "You're confused now. You have a lot of information you don't know how to use yet. It was given to you fast, and your mind hasn't fully absorbed it and put it in order. Sometimes it helps if you talk out your problems."
"I don't know if I have a problem." The man brushed his hand slowly across his eyes. "Where do I start?"
"Let me do it for you," suggested Borgenese. "You ask questions when you feel like it. It may help you."
He paused, "You were found two weeks ago in the Shelters. You know what those are?"
The man nodded, and Borgenese went on: "Shelter and food for anyone who wants or needs it. Nothing fancy, of course, but no one has to ask or apply; he just walks in and there's a place to sleep and periodically food is provided. It's a favorite place to put people who've been retroed."
The man looked up. "Retroed?"
"Slang," said Borgenese. "The retrogression gun ionizes animal tissue, nerve cells particularly. Aim it at a man's legs and the nerves in that area are drained of energy and his muscles won't hold him up. He falls down.
"Aim it at his head and give him the smallest charge the gun is adjustable to, and his most recent knowledge is subtracted from his memory. Give him the full charge, and he is swept back to a childish or infantile age level. The exact age he reaches is dependent on his physical and mental condition at the time he's retroed.
"Theoretically it's possible to kill with the retrogression gun. The person can be taken back to a stage where there's not enough nervous organization to sustain the life process.
"However, life is tenacious. As the lower levels are reached, it takes increasing energy to subtract from anything that's left. Most people who want to get rid of someone are satisfied to leave the victim somewhere between the mental ages of one and four. For practical purposes, the man they knew is dead--or retroed, as they say."
"Then that's what they did to me," said the man. "They retroed me and left me in the Shelter. How long was I there?"
Borgenese shrugged. "Who knows? That's what makes it difficult. A day, or two months. A child of two or three can feed himself, and no record is kept since the place is free. Also, it's cleaned automatically."
"I know that now that you mention it," said the man. "It's just that it's hard to remember."
"You see how it is," said the counselor. "We can't check our files against a date when someone disappeared, because we don't know that date except within very broad limits." He tapped his pen on the desk. "Do you object to a question?"
"How many people in the Solar System?"
The man thought with quiet desperation. "Fourteen to sixteen billion."
The counselor was pleased. "That's right. You're beginning to use some of the information we've put back into your mind. Earth, Mars and Venus are the main population centers. But there are also Mercury and the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, as well as the asteroids. We can check to see where you might have come from, but there are so many places and people that you can imagine the results."
"There must be some way," the man said painfully. "Pictures, fingerprints, something."
"Something," Borgenese nodded. "But probably not for quite a while. There's another factor, you see. It's a shock, but you've got to face it. And the funny thing is that you'll never be better able to than now."
He rocked back. "Take the average person, full of unsuspected anxiety, even the happiest and most successful. Expose him to the retrogression gun. Tensions and frustrations are drained away.
"The structure of an adult is still there, but it's empty, waiting to be filled. Meanwhile the life of the organism goes on, but it's not the same. Lines on the face disappear, the expression alters drastically, new cell growth occurs here and there throughout the body. Do you see what that means?"
The man frowned. "I suppose no one can recognize me."
"That's right. And it's not only your face that changes. You may grow taller, but never shorter. If your hair was gray, it may darken, but not the reverse."
"Then I'm younger too?"
"In a sense, though it's actually not a rejuvenation process at all. The extra tension that everyone carries with him has been removed, and the body merely takes up the slack.
"Generally, the apparent age is made less. A person of middle age or under seems to be three to fifteen years younger than before. You appear to be about twenty-seven, but you may actually be nearer forty. You see, we don't even know what age group to check.
"And it's the same with fingerprints. They've been altered by the retrogression process. Not a great deal, but enough to make identification impossible."
The nameless man stared around the room--at Val Borgenese, perhaps fifty, calm and pleasant, more of a counselor than a policeman--out of the window at the skyline, and its cleanly defined levels of air traffic.
Where was his place in this?
"I guess it's no use," he said bleakly. "You'll never find out who I am."
The counselor smiled. "I think we will. Directly, there's not much we can do, but there are indirect methods. In the last two weeks we've exposed you to all the organized knowledge that can be put on tapes--physics, chemistry, biology, math, astrogation, the works.
"It's easy to remember what you once knew. It isn't learning; it's actually relearning. One fact put in your mind triggers another into existence. There's a limit, of course, but usually a person comes out of re-education with slightly more formal knowledge than he had in his prior existence." The counselor opened a folder on his desk. "We gave you a number of tests. You didn't know the purpose, but I can tell you the results."
He leafed slowly through the sheets. "You may have been an entrepreneur of some sort. You have an excellent sense of power ethics. Additionally, we've found that you're physically alert, and your reactions are well coordinated. This indicates you may have been an athlete or sportsman."
Val Borgenese laid down the tests. "In talking with you, I've learned more. The remark you made about fingerprints suggests you may have been a historian, specializing in the Twentieth Century. No one else is likely to know that there was a time in which fingerprints were a valid means of identification."
"I'm quite a guy, I suppose. Businessman, sportsman, historian." The man smiled bitterly. "All that ... but I still don't know who I am. And you can't help me."