In the morning light, he sat up and put his hand on her. She smiled in her sleep and squirmed closer. There were compensations for being nobody, he supposed, and this was one of them. He got up quietly and dressed without waking her. There were a number of things he wanted to discuss, but somehow there hadn't been time last night. He would have to talk to her later today.
He slipped out of the house and went across the court into his own. The screen he had ripped apart had been repaired and put back in place. A voice chimed out as he entered: "A call came while you were gone."
"Let's have it."
The voice descended the scale and became that of the store manager. "The gun you brought in was sold six months ago to Dorn Starret, resident of Ceres and proprietor of a small gallium mine there. That's all the information on record. I trust it will be satisfactory."
Luis sat down. It was. He could trace the man or have him traced, though the last might not be necessary.
The name meant something to him--just what he couldn't say. Dorn Starret, owner of a gallium mine on Ceres. The mine might or might not be of consequence; gallium was used in a number of industrial processes, but beyond that was not particularly valuable.
He closed his eyes to concentrate. The name slid into vacant nerve cells that were responsive; slowly a picture formed, nebulous and incomplete at first. There was a mouth and then there were eyes, each feature bringing others into focus, unfolding as a germ cell divides and grows, calling into existence an entire creature. The picture was nearly complete.
Still with eyes closed, he looked at the man he remembered. Dorn Starret, five-eleven, one hundred and ninety, flesh that had once been muscular and firm. Age, thirty-seven; black hair that was beginning to recede from his forehead. The face was harder to define--strong, though slightly hard, it was perhaps good looking. It was the eyes which were at fault, Luis decided--glinting often--and there were lines on the face that ought not to be there.
There was another thing that set the man apart. Not clothing; that was conventional, though better than average. Luis stared into his memory until he was able to see it. Unquestionably the man was left-handed. The picture was too clear to permit a mistake on that detail.
He knew the man, had seen him often. How and in what context? He waited, but nothing else came.
Luis opened his eyes. He would recognize the man if he ever saw him. This was the man who owned the gun, presumably had shot him with it, and then had hidden it here in this room.
He thought about it vainly. By itself, the name couldn't take him back through all past associations with the man, so he passed from the man to Ceres. Here he was better equipped; re-education tapes had replaced his former knowledge of the subject.
The asteroid belt was not rigidly policed; if there was a place in the System in which legal niceties were not strictly observed, it was there. What could he deduce from that? Nothing perhaps; there were many people living in the belt who were engaged in legitimate work: miners, prospectors, scientific investigators. But with rising excitement, he realized that Dorn Starret was not one of these.
He was a criminal. The gallium mine was merely an attempt to cover himself with respectability. How did Luis know that? He wasn't sure; his thought processes were hidden and erratic; but he knew.
Dorn Starret was a criminal--but the information wasn't completely satisfactory. What had caused the man to retrogress Luis and Luise Obispo? That still had to be determined.
But it did suggest this: as a habitual criminal, the man was more than ordinarily dangerous.
Luis sat there a while longer, but he had recalled everything that would come out of the original stimulus. If he wanted more, he would have to dig up other facts or make further contacts. But at least it wasn't hopeless--even without the police, he had learned this much.
He went over the room thoroughly once more. If there was anything hidden, he couldn't find it.
He crossed the court to Luise's dwelling. She was gone, but there was a note on the table. He picked it up and read it: Dear man with no name: I suppose you were here last night, though I'm so mixed up I can't be sure; there's so little of memory or reality to base anything on. I wanted to talk to you before I left but I guess, like me, you're out investigating.
There's always a danger that neither of us will like what we find. What if I'm married to another person and the same with you? Suppose ... but there are countless suppositions--these are the risks we take. It's intolerable not to know who I am, especially since the knowledge is so close. But of course you know that.
Anyway I'll be out most of the day. I discovered a psychologist who specializes in restoring memory; you can see the possibilities in that. I went there yesterday and have an appointment again today. It's nice of him, considering that I have no money, but he says I'm more or less an experimental subject. I can't tell you when I'll be back but it won't be late.
He crumpled the note in his hand. Memory expert. Her psychologist was that--in reverse. Yesterday he had taken a day out of her life, and that was why Luise hadn't recognized him and might not a second time.
He leaned against the table. After a moment, he straightened out the note. A second reading didn't help. There it was, if he could make sense from it.
Luise and himself, probably in that order. There was no proof, but it seemed likely that she had been retrogressed first, since she had been discovered first.
There was also Dorn Starret, the criminal from Ceres who had hidden the gun in the Shelter that he, Luis, had been found in. And there was now a fourth person: the psychologist who specialized in depriving retrogression victims of what few memories they had left.
Luis grimaced. Here was information which, if the police would act on it properly ... but it was no use, they wouldn't. Any solution which came out of this would have to arise out of his own efforts.
He folded the note carefully. It would be handy to have if Luise came back and didn't know who he was.
Meanwhile, the psychologist. Luise hadn't said who he was, but it shouldn't be difficult to locate him. He went to the screen and dialed the directory. There were many psychologists in it, but no name that was familiar.
He pondered. The person who had retroed Luise and himself--what would he do? First he would take them as far from familiar scenes as he could. That tied in with the facts. Dorn Starret came from Ceres.
Then what? He would want to make certain that his victims did not trace their former lives. And he would be inconspicuous in so doing.
Again Luis turned to the screen, but this time he dialed the news service. He found what he was looking for in the advertisements of an issue a month old. It was very neat: DO YOU REMEMBER EVERYTHING--or is your mind hazy? Perhaps my system can help you recall those little details you find it so annoying to forget. MEMORY LAB.
That was all. No name. But there was an address. Hurriedly Luis scanned every succeeding issue. The advertisement was still there.
He was coming closer, very close. The ad was clever; it would attract the attention of Luise and himself and others like them, and almost no one else. There was no mention of fees, no claim that it was operated by a psychologist, nothing that the police would investigate.
Night after night Luise had sat alone; sooner or later, watching the screen, she had to see the ad. It was intriguing and she had answered it. Normally, so would he have: but now he was forewarned.
Part of the cleverness was this: that she went of her own volition. She would have suspected an outright offer of help--but this seemed harmless. She went to him as she would to anyone in business. A very clever setup.
But who was behind MEMORY LAB? Luis thought he knew. A trained psychologist with a legitimate purpose would attach his name to the advertisement.
Luis patted the retro gun in his pocket. Dorn Starret, criminal, and inventor of a fictitious memory system, was going to have a visitor. It wasn't necessary to go to Ceres to see him.
It was the only conclusion that made sense. Dorn Starret had retroed him--the gun proved that--and Luise as well. Until a few minutes ago, he had thought that she had been first and he later, but that was wrong. They had been retrogressed together and Dorn Starret had done it; now he had come back to make certain that they didn't trace him.
Neat--but it wasn't going to work. Luis grinned wryly to himself. He had a weapon in his pocket that was assurance it wouldn't work.
He got off the belt near the building he had seen Luise leaving yesterday. He went into the lobby and located MEMORY LAB, a suite on the top floor. It wasn't necessary, but he checked rental dates. The lab had been there exactly three weeks. This tied in with Luise's release from retro-therapy. Every connection he had anticipated was there.
He rode up to the top floor. There wasn't a chance that Starret would recognize him; physically he must have changed too much since the criminal had last seen him. And while Luise hadn't concealed that she was a retro and so had given herself away, he wasn't going to make that mistake.
The sign on the door stood out as he came near and disappeared as he went by. MEMORY LAB, that was all--no other name, even here. Naturally. A false name would be occasion for police action. The right one would evoke Luise's and his own memories.
He turned back and went into the waiting room. No robot receptionist. He expected that; the man didn't intend to be around very long.
"Who's there?" The voice came from a speaker in the wall; the screen beside it remained blank, though obviously the man was in the next room. For a commercial establishment, the LAB was not considerate of potential clients.
Luis smiled sourly and loosened the weapon in his pocket. "I saw your advertisement," he said. No name; let him guess.
"I'm very busy. Can you come back tomorrow?"
Luis frowned. This was not according to plan. First, he didn't recognize the voice, though the speaker could account for that if it were intentionally distorted. Second, Luise was inside and he had to protect her. He could break in, but he preferred that the man come out.
He thought swiftly. "I'm Chals Putsyn, gallium importer," he called. "Tomorrow I'll be away on business. Can you give me an appointment for another time?"
There was a long silence. "Wait. I'll be out."
He'd thought the mention of gallium would do it. True, the mine Starret owned was probably worthless, but he couldn't restrain his curiosity.
The door swung open and a man stepped out, closing the door before Luis could see inside.
He had erred--the man was not Dorn Starret.
The other eyed him keenly. "Mr. Chals Putsyn? Please sit down."
Luis did so slowly, giving himself time to complete a mental inventory. The man had to be Dorn Starret--and yet he wasn't. No disguise could be that effective. At least three inches shorter; the shape of his head was different; his body was slighter. Moreover, he was right-handed, not left, as Starret was.
Luis had a story ready--names, dates, and circumstances. It sounded authentic even to himself.
The man listened impatiently. "I may not be able to help you," he said, interrupting. "Oddly enough, light cases are hardest. It's the serious memory blocks that I specialize in." There was something strange about his eyes--his voice too. "However, if you can come back in two days, late in the afternoon, I'll see what I can do."
Luis took the appointment card and found himself firmly ushered to the door. It was disturbing; Luise was in the next room, but the man gave him no opportunity to see her.
He stood uncertainly in the hall. The whole interview had taken only a few minutes, and during that time all his previous ideas had been upset. If the man was not Dorn Starret, who was he and what was his connection? The criminal from Ceres was not so foolish as to attempt to solve his problems by assigning them to another person. This was a one-man job from beginning to end, or ought to be.
Luis took the elevator to the ground floor and walked out aimlessly on the street. There was something queer about the man on the top floor. It took time to discover what it was.
The man was not Starret--but he was disguised. His irises were stained another color and the voice was not his own--or rather it was, but filtered through an artificial larynx inserted painfully in his throat. And his face had been recently swabbed with a chemical irritant which caused the tissues beneath his skin to swell, making his face appear plumper.
Luis took a deep breath. Unconsciously he had noticed details too slight for the average person to discern. This suggested something about his own past--that he was trained to recognize disguises.
But more important was this: that the man was disguised at all. The reason was obvious--to avoid evoking memories.
The man's name--what was it? It hadn't even been registered in the building--he'd asked on his way out. And Luise couldn't tell him. She was no longer a reliable source of information. He had to find out, and there was only one way that suggested itself.
Luise was still in there, but not in physical danger. The police were lax about other things, but not about murder, and the man knew that. She might lose her memories of the past few weeks; regrettable if it happened, but not a catastrophe.
But who was the man and what was his connection?
He spent the rest of the day buying equipment--not much, but his money dwindled rapidly. He considered going back to the Shelter and then decided against it. By this time Luise would be back, and he would be tempted not to leave her.
After dark, when the lights in the offices went out, he rented an aircar and set it down on the top of the building.
He walked across the roof, estimating the distances with practiced ease, as if he'd undergone extensive training and the apprenticeship period had been forgotten and only the skill remained. He knelt and fused two small rods to a portion of the roof, and then readjusted the torch and cut a small circular hole. He listened, and when there was no alarm, lifted out the section. There was nothing but darkness below.
He fastened a rope to the aircar. He dropped the rope through the hole and slid down. Unless he had miscalculated, he was where he wanted to be, having bypassed all alarm circuits. There were others inside, he was reasonably certain of that, but with ordinary precautions he could avoid them.
He flashed on a tiny light. He had guessed right; this was MEMORY LAB--the room he'd wanted to see this afternoon but hadn't been able to. In front of him was the door to the waiting room, and beyond that the hall. He swung the light in an arc, flashing it over a desk and a piece of equipment the nature of which he didn't know. Behind him was still another door.
The desk was locked, but he took out a small magnetic device and jiggled it expertly over the concealed mechanism and then it was unlocked. He went hurriedly through papers and documents, but there was nothing with a name on it. He rifled the desk thoroughly and then went to the machine.
He didn't expect to learn anything, but he might as well examine it. There was a place for a patient to sit, and a metal hood to fit over the patient's head. He snapped the hood open and peered into it. It seemed to have two functions. One circuit was far larger and more complicated, and he couldn't determine what it did. But he recognized the other circuit; essentially it was a retrogressor, but whereas the gun was crude and couldn't be regulated, this was capable of fine adjustment--enough, say, to slice a day out of the patient's life, and no more.
That fitted with what had happened to Luise. She had been experimented on in some way, and then the memory of that experiment had been erased. But the man had grown careless and had taken away one day too many.
He snapped the mechanism closed. This was the method, but he still didn't know who the man was nor why he found it necessary to do all this.
There was a door behind him and the answer might lie beyond it. He listened carefully, then swung the door open and went through.
The blow that hit him wasn't physical; nothing mechanical could take his nerves and jerk them all at once. A freezer. As he fell to the floor, he was grateful it was that and not a retro gun.
Lights flooded the place, and the man of the afternoon interview was grinning at him.
"I thought you'd be back," he said, pleased. "In fact, I knew you would."
Somewhere he had blundered; but he didn't know how. Experimentally he wriggled his fingers. They moved a fraction of an inch, but no more. He was helpless and couldn't say anything. He wasn't quite sure at the moment that he wanted to.
"You were right, I didn't recognize you physically," continued the man. "Nevertheless, you gave yourself away. The name you used this afternoon, Chals Putsyn, is my name. Do you remember now?"
Of course. He'd chosen Chals Putsyn at random, because he'd had to say something, and everything would have been all right--except it actually hadn't been a random choice. The associations had triggered the wrong words into existence.
His mind flashed back to the time he'd discussed names with Borgenese. What had he said?
Putsy. But it wasn't Putsy--it was Putsyn.
"You're very much improved," said the real Chals Putsyn, staring curiously at him. "Let me recommend the retro treatment to you. In fact I'd take it myself, but there are a few inconveniences."
Yeah, there were inconveniences--like starting over again and not knowing who you were.
But Putsyn was right: he was physically improved. A freezer knocked a man down and kept him there for half an hour. But Luis had only been down a few minutes, and already he could move his feet, though he didn't. It was a phenomenally fast recovery, and perhaps Putsyn wasn't aware of it.
"The question is, what to do with you?" Putsyn seemed to be thinking aloud. "The police are intolerant of killing. Maybe if I disposed of every atom...." He shook his head and sighed. "But that's been tried, and it didn't make any difference. So you'll have to remain alive--though I don't think you'll approve of my treatment."
Luis didn't approve--it would be the same kind of treatment that Luise had been exposed to, but more drastic in his case, because he was aware of what was going on.
Putsyn came close to drag him away. It was time to use the energy he'd been saving up, and he did.
Startled, Putsyn fired the freezer, but he was aiming at a twisting target and the invisible energy only grazed Luis's leg. The leg went limp and had no feeling, but his two hands were still good and that was all he needed.
He tore the freezer away and put his other hand on Putsyn's throat. He could feel the artificial larynx inside. He squeezed.
He lay there until Putsyn went limp.