"Is it important?" asked the counselor softly. "This happens to many people, you know, and some of them do find out who they were, with or without our help. But this is not simple amnesia. No one who's been retroed can resume his former identity. Of course, if we had tapes of the factors which made each person what he is...." He shrugged. "But those tapes don't exist. Who knows, really, what caused him to develop as he has? Most of it isn't at the conscious level. At best, if you should learn who you were, you'd have to pick up the thread of your former activities and acquaintances slowly and painfully.
"Maybe it would be better if you start from where you are. You know as much as you once did, and the information is up to date, correct and undistorted. You're younger, in a sense--in better physical condition, not so tense or nervous. Build up from that."
"But I don't have a name."
"Choose one temporarily. You can have it made permanent if it suits you."
The man was silent, thinking. He looked up, not in despair, but not accepting all that the counselor said either. "What name? All I know is yours, and those of historical figures."
"That's deliberate. We don't put names on tapes, because the effects can be misleading. Everyone has thousands of associations, and can mistake the name of a prominent scientist for his own. Names unconsciously arrived at are usually no help at all."
"What do I do?" the man said. "If I don't know names, how can I choose one?"
"We have a list made up for this purpose. Go through it slowly and consciously. When you come to something you like, take it. If you chance on one that stirs memories, or rather where memories ought to be but aren't, let me know. It may be a lead I can have traced."
The man gazed at the counselor. His thought processes were fast, but erratic. He could race along a chain of reasoning and then stumble over a simple fact. The counselor ought to know what he was talking about--this was no isolated occurrence. The police had a lot of experience to justify the treatment they were giving him. Still, he felt they were mistaken in ways he couldn't formulate.
"I'll have to accept it, I suppose," he said. "There's nothing I can do to learn who I was."
The counselor shook his head. "Nothing that we can do. The clues are in the structure of your mind, and you have better access to it than we do. Read, think, look. Maybe you'll run across your name. We can take it from there." He paused. "That is, if you're determined to go ahead."
That was a strange thing for a police counselor to say.
"Of course I want to know who I am," he said in surprise. "Why shouldn't I?"
"I'd rather not mention this, but you ought to know." Borgenese shifted uncomfortably. "One third of the lost identity cases that we solve are self-inflicted. In other words, suicides."
His head rumbled with names long after he had decided on one and put the list away. Attractive names and odd ones--but which were significant he couldn't say. There was more to living than the knowledge that could be put on tapes and played back. There was more than choosing a name. There was experience, and he lacked it. The world of personal reactions for him had started two weeks previously; it was not enough to help him know what he wanted to do.
He sat down. The room was small but comfortable. As long as he stayed in retro-therapy, he couldn't expect much freedom.
He tried to weigh the factors. He could take a job and adapt himself to some mode of living.
What kind of a job?
He had the ordinary skills of the society--but no outstanding technical ability had been discovered in him. He had the ability of an entrepreneur--but without capital, that outlet was denied him.
His mind and body were empty and waiting. In the next few months, no matter what he did, some of the urge to replace the missing sensations would be satisfied.
The more he thought about that, the more powerfully he felt that he had to know who he was. Otherwise, proceeding to form impressions and opinions might result in a sort of betrayal of himself.
Assume the worst, that he was a suicide. Maybe he had knowingly and willingly stepped out of his former life. A suicide would cover himself--would make certain that he could never trace himself back to his dangerous motive for the step. If he lived on Earth, he would go to Mars or Venus to strip himself of his unsatisfactory life. There were dozens of precautions anyone would take.
But if it weren't suicide, then who had retroed him and why? That was a question he couldn't answer now, and didn't need to. When he found out who he was, the motivation might be clear; if it wasn't, at least he would have a basis on which to investigate that.
If someone else had done it to him, deliberately or accidentally, that person would have taken precautions too. The difference was this: as a would-be suicide, he could travel freely to wherever he wished to start over again; while another person would have difficulty enticing him to a faroff place, or, assuming that the actual retrogression had taken place elsewhere, wouldn't find it easy to transport an inert and memory-less body any distance.
So, if he weren't a suicide, there was a good chance that there were clues in this city. He might as well start with that idea--it was all he had to go on.
He was free to stay in retro-therapy indefinitely, but with the restricted freedom he didn't want to. The first step was to get out. He made the decision and felt better. He switched on the screen.
Borgenese looked up. "Hello. Have you decided?"
"I think so."
"Good. Let's have it. It's bound to touch on your former life in some way, though perhaps so remotely we can't trace it. At least, it's something."
"Luis Obispo." He spelled it out.
The police counselor looked dubious as he wrote the name down. "It's not common, nor uncommon either. The spelling of the first name is a little different, but there must be countless Obispos scattered over the System."
It was curious. Now he almost did think of himself as Luis Obispo. He wanted to be that person. "Another thing," he said. "Did I have any money when I was found?"
"You're thinking of leaving? A lot of them do." Val Borgenese flipped open the folder again. "You did have money, an average amount. It won't set you up in business, if that's what you're thinking."
"I wasn't. How do I get it?"
"I didn't think you were." The counselor made another notation. "I'll have the desk release it--you can get it any time. By the way, you get the full amount, no deductions for anything."
The news was welcome, considering what he had ahead of him.
Borgenese was still speaking. "Whatever you do, keep in touch with us. It'll take time to run down this name, and maybe we'll draw a blank. But something significant may show up. If you're serious, and I think you are, it's to your advantage to check back every day or so."
"I'm serious," said Luis. "I'll keep in touch."
There wasn't much to pack. The clothing he wore had been supplied by the police. Ordinary enough; it would pass on the street without comment. It would do until he could afford to get better.
He went down to the desk and picked up his money. It was more than he'd expected--the average man didn't carry this much in his pocket. He wondered about it briefly as he signed the receipt and walked out of retro-therapy. The counselor had said it was an average amount, but it wasn't.
He stood in the street in the dusk trying to orient himself.
Perhaps the money wasn't so puzzling. An average amount for those brought into therapy for treatment, perhaps. Borgenese had said a high proportion were suicides. Such a person would want to start over again minus fears and frustrations, but not completely penniless. If he had money he'd want to take it with him, though not so much that it could be traced, since that would defeat the original purpose.
The pattern was logical--suicides were those with a fair sum of money. This was the fact which inclined Borgenese to the view he obviously held.
Luis Obispo stood there uncertainly. Did he want to find out? His lips thinned--he did. In spite of Borgenese, there were other ways to account for the money he had. One of them was this: he was an important man, accustomed to handling large sums of money.
He started out. He was in a small city of a few hundred thousand on the extreme southern coast of California. In the last few days he'd studied maps of it; he knew where he was going.
When he got there, the Shelters were dark. He didn't know what he had expected, but it wasn't this. Reflection showed him that he hadn't thought about it clearly. The mere existence of Shelters indicated an economic level in which few people would either want or need to make use of that which was provided freely.
He skirted the area. He'd been found in one of the Shelters--which one he didn't know. Perhaps he should have checked the record before he came here.
No, this was better. Clues, he was convinced, were almost non-existent. He had to rely on his body and mind; but not in the ordinary way. He was particularly sensitive to impressions he had received before; the way he had learned things in therapy proved that; but if he tried to force them, he could be led astray. The wisest thing was to react naturally, almost without volition. He should be able to recognize the Shelter he'd been found in without trouble. From that, he could work back.
That was the theory--but it wasn't happening. He circled the area, and there was nothing to which he responded more than vaguely.
He would have to go closer.
He crossed the street. The plan of the Shelters was simple; an area two blocks long and one block wide, heavily planted with shrubs and small trees. In the center was an S-shaped continuous structure divided into a number of small dwelling units.
Luis walked along one wing of the building, turned at the corner and turned again. It was quite dark. He supposed that was why he wasn't reacting to anything. But his senses were sharper than he realized. There was a rustle behind him, and instinctively he flung himself forward, flat on the ground.
A pink spot appeared, low on the wall next to him. It had been aimed at his legs. The paint crackled faintly and the pink spot faded. He rolled away fast.
A dark body loomed past him and dropped where he'd been. There was an exclamation of surprise when the unknown found there was no one there. Luis grunted with satisfaction--this might be only a stickup, but he was getting action faster than he'd expected. He reached out and took hold of a leg and drew the assailant to him. A hard object clipped the side of his head, and he grasped that too.
The shape of the gun was familiar. He tore it loose. This wasn't any stickup! Once was enough to be retrogressed, and he'd had his share. Next time it was going to be the other guy. Physically, he was more than a match for his attacker. He twisted his body and pinned the struggling form to the ground.
That was what it was--a form. A woman, very much so; even in the darkness he was conscious of her body.
Now she was trying to get loose, and he leaned his weight more heavily on her. Her clothing was torn--he could feel her flesh against his face. He raised the gun butt, and then changed his mind and instead fumbled for a light. It wasn't easy to find it and still keep her pinned.
"Be quiet or I'll clip you," he growled.
She lay still.
He found the light and shone it on her face. It was good to look at, that face, but it wasn't at all familiar. He had trouble keeping his eyes from straying. Her dress was torn, and what she wore underneath was torn too.
"Seen enough?" she asked coldly.
"Put that way, I haven't." He couldn't force his voice to be matter-of-fact--it wouldn't behave.
She stared angrily at the light in her eyes. "I knew you'd be back," she said. "I thought I could get you before you got me, but you're too fast." Her mouth trembled. "This time make it permanent. I don't want to be tormented again like this."
He let her go and sat up. He was trembling, too, but not for the same reason. He turned the light away from her eyes.
"Ever consider that you could be mistaken?" he asked. "You're not the only one it happens to."
She lay there blinking at him, eyes adjusting to the changed light. She fumbled at the torn dress, which wouldn't stay where she put it. "You too?" she said with a vast lack of surprise. "When?"
"They found me here two weeks ago. This is the first time I've come back."
"Patterns," she said. "There are always patterns in what we do." Her attitude toward him had changed drastically, he could see it in her face. "I've been out three weeks longer." She sat up and leaned closer. She didn't seem to be thinking about the same things that had been on her mind only seconds before.
He stood up and helped her to her feet. She was near and showed no inclination to move away. This was something Borgenese hadn't mentioned, and there was nothing in his re-education to prepare him for this sensation, but he liked it. He couldn't see her very well, now that the light was turned off, but she was almost touching him.
"We're in the same situation, I guess." She sighed. "I'm lonely and a little afraid. Come into my place and we'll talk."
He followed her. She turned into a dwelling that from the outside seemed identical to the others. Inside, it wasn't quite the same. He couldn't say in what way it was different, but he didn't think it was the one he'd been found in.
That torn dress bothered him--not that he wanted her to pin it up. The tapes hadn't been very explicit about the beauties of the female body, but he thought he knew what they'd left out.
She was conscious of his gaze and smiled. It was not an invitation, it was a request, and he didn't mind obeying. She slid into his arms and kissed him. He was glad about the limitations of re-education. There were some things a man ought to learn for himself.
She looked up at him. "Maybe you should tell me your name," she said. "Not that it means much in our case."
"Luis Obispo," he said, holding her.
"I had more trouble, I couldn't choose until two days ago." She kissed him again, hard and deliberately. It gave her enough time to jerk the gun out of his pocket.
She slammed it against his ribs. "Stand back," she said, and meant it.
Luis stared bewilderedly at her. She was desirable, more than he had imagined and for a variety of reasons. Her emotions had been real, he was sure of that, not feigned for the purpose of taking the gun away. But she had changed again in a fraction of a second. Her face was twisted with an effort at self-control.
"What's the matter?" he asked. He tried to make his voice gentle, but it wouldn't come out that way. The retrogression process had sharpened all his reactions--this one too.
"The name I finally arrived at was--Luise Obispo," she said.
He started. The same as his, except feminine! This was more than he'd dared hope for. A clue--and this girl, who he suddenly realized, without any cynicism about "love at first sight," because the tapes hadn't included it, meant something to him.
"Maybe you're my wife," he said tentatively.
"Don't count on it," she said wearily. "It would have been better if we were strangers--then it wouldn't matter what we did. Now there are too many factors, and I can't choose."
"It has to be," he argued. "Look--the same name, and so close together in time and place, and we were attracted instantly--"
"Go away," she said, and the gun didn't waver. It was not a threat that he could ignore. He left.
She was wrong in making him leave, completely wrong. He couldn't say how he knew, but he was certain. But he couldn't prove it, and she wasn't likely to accept his unsubstantiated word.
He leaned weakly against the door. It was like that. Retrogression had left him with an adult body and sharper receptiveness. And after that followed an urge to live fully. He had a lot of knowledge, but it didn't extend to this sphere of human behavior.
Inside he could hear her moving around faintly, an emotional anticlimax. It wasn't just frustrated sex desire, though that played a part. They had known each other previously--the instant attraction they'd had for each other was proof, leaving aside the names. Lord, he'd trade his unknown identity to have her. He should have taken another name--any other name would have been all right.
It wasn't because she was the first woman he'd seen, or the woman he had first re-seen. There had been nurses, some of them beautiful, and he'd paid no attention to them. But Luise Obispo was part of his former life--and he didn't know what part. The reactions were there, but until he could find out why, he was denied access to the satisfactions.
From a very narrow angle, and only from that angle, he could see that there was still a light inside. It was dim, and if a person didn't know, he might pass by and not notice it.
His former observation about the Shelters was incorrect. Every dwelling might be occupied and he couldn't tell unless he examined them individually.
He stirred. The woman was a clue to his problem, but the clue itself was a far more urgent problem. Though his identity was important, he could build another life without it and the new life might not be worse than the one from which he had been forcibly removed.
Perhaps he was over-reacting, but he didn't think so: his new life had to include this woman.
He wasn't equipped to handle the emotion. He stumbled away from the door and found an unoccupied dwelling and went in without turning on the lights and lay down on the bed.