He cleared his throat. "...the Summer Seminar. Title: The Propogation of White Martian virus. Paragraph. It will be remembered that the early attempts to establish Earth colonies on Mars were frustrated by the extreme susceptibility of our people to two viruses native to the foreign planet, viruses which we designate as Blue Martian and White Martian, according to the two distinct types of fever which they cause. Blue Martian Fever in the early days caused a mortality among our colonists of nearly eighty-five per cent, and made the establishment of permanent colonies a virtual impossibility.
"Under the inspired leadership of Leader Marley and with the advice of his deputy Dr. Lanza, this laboratory in Research worked out a method of growing the virus and producing an immunizing agent which is effective in nearly all human beings. Only the cooperation of several Categories made possible such a feat. It will not be forgotten that even the humblest helpers in the Institute had their share in the project, that some of them acted as human volunteers in the experiments, well knowing the risks they ran, and were afterward rewarded by a Free Choice.
"One person in Office Category, for instance, was given the privilege of learning to play the flute, although nobody in his family had ever belonged to Music, and another person in Menial Category was permitted a month's study of elementary algebra, a nearly unheard of indulgence for a person in his position. But as Leader Marley so graciously remarked in conferring the awards: To the individual who risks much, the State gives much."
"Like me and Tanya?" the girl asked, stopping her typing.
"Yes, like you and Tanya. You were allowed to act a part in an amateur Theater group, I remember, and since Tanya was made too ill to be able to use a Free Choice, she was sent out west to the Playground, just as though she had belonged to Ruler Category. Now where was I?"
"'The State gives much.'"
"Oh, yes. Paragraph. Since the discovery of the immunizing mechanism to Blue Martian, permanent colonies have been established on Mars. But there remains the more elusive problem of White Martian Fever, which, though its mortality is only thirty per cent, is still so crippling to those victims who survive that the Martian colonies cannot begin to expand, and the resources of the planet cannot be fully developed, until an immunizing agent is found.
"For the past eight years this laboratory has been working at the problem, among others, and we are now in a position to report a small degree of progress. Since it proved to be impossible to grow the virus in the usual media, it occurred to us--"
The intercom buzzed, and Dr. Wong turned away to open the dial.
"David? What's happened to you? I've been waiting here in the lab a quarter of an hour."
"Sorry, Karl. I thought I had more time. Be right down."
He reached for his white lab coat and shoved his long arms into the starched sleeves. "That's all we have time for now, Leah. Can you get an early lunch and be back here this afternoon at two?"
But she was not listening. She was leaning over to look at the desk, staring avidly at the open pages of Dr. Wong's notebook. Without comment he picked up the book, closed it, put it in the top drawer and locked the drawer. She watched him with curious eyes.
"What funny marks those were, Dr. Wong! Do you keep your notes in a private system of shorthand?"
"No. I write them in Coptic. For the sake of privacy."
"A dead language, spoken by the ancient Egyptians thirty or forty centuries ago."
"But you're Research, not Linguistics! It's against the law for you to know other languages. Are you a traitor?"
"My dear Leah," he said, "I'm far too sensible a man to go in for bootleg study, to learn anything without permission. I have no wish to end up with a pick-ax in my hands. But you shouldn't tax your little mind with thinking. It's not your job. You're not equipped for it, and it's dangerous."
David passed the watchguard stationed in the basement corridor, walked through the open door of the laboratory, past the bench where a row of pretty technicians sat making serial dilutions of bacterial and virus suspensions, through the glow of the sterilizing room, and on into the small inner lab where flasks of culture media and developing hens' eggs sat in a transparent incubator, and petri dishes flecked with spots of color awaited his inspection.
Dr. Karl Haslam was standing at the work bench, with a pair of silver forceps which held a small egg under the psi light. Gently he lowered the egg into its warm observation chamber, covered the container, and sat down.
"Well, here I am. What's gone wrong? Explain yourself, my boy."
"Just a minute." Grinning maliciously, David took down a bottle from the shelf of chemicals, poured a colorless liquid into a beaker, and walked casually toward the doorway as he agitated the mixture of hydrogen sulphide and mercaptans. He held his breath, then coughed, when the fumes of putrescence filled the room and drifted out the door. He looked into the technician's room.
"Sorry for the aroma, girls, but this is a vital experiment."
"Can't you at least shut the door?" one called pleadingly.
"Explain to the watchguard out there, will you?" Closing the door, he turned on the ventilator and sat down beside Dr. Haslam.
"Why all the melodrama?" Karl asked, baffled. "First you call me by emergency code, then you hole in like a conspirator. I'm beginning to think you're a great loss to Theater. What's happened? Why is it later than I think?"
"Do you take everything as a joke, Karl?"
"Certainly, until I'm forced to do otherwise. What's worrying you?"
"I'm afraid of being arrested for treason. Don't laugh! This morning I received a message, delivered in person by our old schoolmate Lanza, to report to Leader Marley on Wednesday, and Marley hasn't paid any attention to me since he last inspected our lab, years ago. For another thing, Leah Hachovnik is making a nuisance of herself with her curiosity about my affairs. If she weren't so clumsy about her prying, I'd almost believe she was under orders to spy on me."
Karl moved impatiently. "I hope you're not turning psychotic. You have a clean record of continuous production and you've never mixed in politics. You've never expressed what you may really think of our Leader even to me, although we've been friends since we were in Medschool, and I hope you never will. And you're making progress with White Martian. Why, my boy, you're all set! What's treasonable about that?"
Someone knocked at the door. Hastily David uncovered the fragrant beaker and waved it about as he called, "Come in!"
The watchguard looked in for an instant, wrinkled his nose, and quickly shut the door. Laughing, David covered the beaker, and began walking about with long nervous strides, snapping his fingers as he tried to explain.
"I'm in trouble, Karl. I've run into something I don't know how to deal with, and I need help, I need advice, I need cooperation. I've lived alone with this thing for ten long years, hoping month after month that something would turn up so I could evade the issue. But nothing has. And now there's going to be a showdown."
Karl touched his arm sympathetically. "My dear boy--"
"That's it!" shouted David.
"That's what I'm trying to tell you. Why do you always call me your 'dear boy?' You know I'm a year older than you are."
"It's just habit, I suppose. You look so young--your hair is black, while mine is nearly white. You're full of vigor, while I begin to creak with middle age. I didn't realize that I irritated you with my little phrase. I should think you'd be pleased that you have somehow managed to sip at the fountain of youth."
David sank down on a stool. "I'm not pleased. I'm terrified."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that's exactly what's happened. I have sipped at the fountain of youth. I've discovered how to keep people from growing old. I myself have not aged a bit in the last ten years."
There was a long silence. Karl sat unmoving, his face like stone.
"I don't believe you," he said at last.
"It's no longer a question of belief. In a few days everybody will know, the proof will stare you in the face. And what will happen then?"
"Evidence?" Karl asked. "I can't accept a statement as a fact."
"Would you like to see my mice? Come with me."
David Wong hurried into the small animal room and paused before a stack of wire cages in which furry creatures darted and squeaked.
"You remember when we were working on Blue Martian, those peculiar mutants we found in our mice, and how I used six of them in trying to make antibodies to the virus?"
"I remember," said Karl. "They were spotted with tufts of white hair on the right forelegs."
David took down a cage, thrust in his hand, and brought out two of the tiny black mice which crawled over his trembling hand. Their right forelegs bore tufts of long white hair.
"These," he said, "are the same mice."
"Their descendants, you mean. Mice don't live that long."
"These mice do. And they'll go on living. For years I've lived in fear that someone would notice and suspect the truth. Just as for years, every time someone has laughed and told me I never seemed to age a day, I've been terrified that he might guess the truth. I'm not aging."
Karl looked dazed. "Well, my boy, you've got a bear by the tail. How did you find the elixir or whatever it is?"
"You remember the early work with radioactive tracers, a couple of hundred years ago, that proved that all our body cells are in a continuous state of flux? There's a dynamic equilibrium between the disintegration and the resynthesis of the essential factors such as proteins, fats and amino groups, but the cell directs all the incoming material into the right chemical structures, under the influence of some organizing power which resides in the cell.
"Foreign influences like viruses may disrupt this order and cause cancer. The cells are continually in a state of change, but always replace their characteristic molecules, and it is only as they grow older that they gradually become 'worn out.' Then the body grows old, becomes less resistant to infection, and eventually succumbs to one disease or another. And you know, of course, that viruses also have this self-duplicating ability.
"I reasoned that at birth a man had a definite, finite amount of this essential self-duplicating entity--SDE--in his body cells, a kind of directing factor which reproduces itself, but more slowly than do the body cells. In that case, with the normal multiplication of the cells, the amount of SDE per cell would slowly but surely grow smaller with the years. Eventually the time would come when the percentage would be below the critical level--the cells would be less resistant, would function with less efficiency, and the man would 'grow old.'"
Karl nodded soberly. "Reasonable hypothesis."
"But one day, by pure chance, I isolated a component which I recognized as being the factor essential to the normal functioning of body cells. It hit me like a toothache. I found that I could synthesize the SDE in the lab, and the only problem then was to get it into a man's cells. If I could do that, keep the SDE level up to that of youth, a man would stop aging! Since viruses penetrate our cells when they infect us, it was no trick at all to effect a chemical coupling of the SDE to the virus. I used Martian Blue, since it was handy, and its effects are usually brief.
"Presto! Old age is held at bay for another twenty or thirty years--I really don't know how long. These mice were my first experiment, and as you see, they're still alive. Next, I tried it on myself."
David put the mice back in their cage, locked it, and returned to the lab.
"Tomorrow, the whole thing is bound to come out because Tanya Hachovnik is coming back. You know her sister Leah--gray, dried-up, soured on life. Well, I've had ways of checking, and when Tanya Hachovnik walks into the Institute, everyone will see her as the same luscious redhead of twenty-five we knew ten years ago. I realize that what I did was a criminal act. I didn't think the thing through or I wouldn't have been such a fool. But when I made those final experiments, I used the Hachovnik twins for a controlled pair."
"You must have been crazy!"
"Perhaps I was. I'd tried it on myself, of course, with no bad effects except a few days' fever, but I realized that without a control I never could be sure the SDE was actually working. It might be just that my particular genetic constitution caused me to age more slowly than the average. So I chose the twins. To Leah I gave the attenuated Martian Blue, but to Tanya I gave the simple Blue coupled with SDE. The experiment worked. Identical twins--one grows old like other people; the other remains young. I know now, Karl, how to prolong youth indefinitely. But what in the name of Leader Marley shall I do with my knowledge?"
Karl Haslam absently twisted his white hair and spoke slowly, as though he found trouble in choosing his words.
"You realize, of course, that it is your duty to acquaint Leader Marley with all the details of your discovery?"
"Is it? Can you imagine what this will do to our society? What about the generations of children coming into a world where no places have been vacated for them by death? What about the struggles for power? Who will decide, and on what basis, whether to confer or to withhold this gift? There'll be riots, civil wars. I know that I'm only a scientist; all I ever wanted from life was to be left alone, in a peaceful laboratory, and let other people worry about the world and its troubles. But now--don't you see that by the mere fact that I made this discovery, I've lost the right to sit by quietly and let other people make the decisions?"
"But, David, you and I aren't able to handle such a problem! We're only Research!"
"I know. We're inadequate, yet we have the responsibility. The men who created atomic power probably felt inadequate, too, but could they have made as bad a mess of handling it as others did? Suppose I did turn this over to Marley--he'd use it to become the most absolute tyrant in the history of the race."
Karl ran his fingers through his hair and smiled crookedly. "Well, you could always start a revolution, I suppose, and start by assassinating the Leader."
"With what kind of weapon? Men like you and me are not allowed to own so much as an old-fashioned pistol. Except for the Military, Marley's the only man allowed to wear a Needler. And, besides, I'm a Research, not a Military. I hate violence and I'm naturally conditioned against killing."
"Then you shouldn't have got into this mess. It would have been far better never to have discovered this SDE. I presume your notes are safely locked up, by the way?"
David grinned. "Don't worry about my notes; they're written in Coptic. You remember when I was still in Medschool and made my first important discovery, how to prevent the development of hereditary baldness by the injection of certain parahormones? Leader Marley rewarded me with a Free Choice, and I chose to learn a dead language. Not half a dozen men in the world could read my notes."
"If your notes are safe, why don't you just destroy your mice and get rid of your proof that way?"
"And the Hachovnik twins?"
"You could at least keep Tanya out of sight."
"Don't be a fool. That would only be a temporary measure and has nothing to do with the real problem. Lanza and Marley may suspect the truth right now, for all I know; they keep such close watch on my work. Anyway, the secret is bound to come out sooner or later."
Dr. Haslam clasped his hands and stared at them for a long while. His lined face looked grayer than ever.
He looked up at last with a faint smile. "Well, my boy, I never asked you to discover this stuff, but since you have--I hereby burn my bridges! You're right, we can't give it to Marley. But you can't handle it alone. What we need is time, and we haven't got it. We shall both be liquidated before this is over, there's no doubt of that, but we must do what we can. When is Tanya arriving?"
"Tomorrow night, on the Playground Jet."
"And you see Leader Marley when?"
"Five days yet. Then this is what we'll do. Too bad Lanza is in the other camp, but there's you and me, and I think Hudson and Faure from Serology will come in with us. We'll need others--sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists--the most promising material from all Categories if we're to create a new society based on the prospect of immortality. But I'll see the first two and bring them to your apartment tomorrow night for Tanya's welcome-home party. I leave it to you to muzzle Leah."
"That won't do," said David. "I don't have a current Free Choice."
"But I have. Two, as a matter of fact, a reward for curing the insomnia of Leader Marley's wife. I choose to give a party, I choose tomorrow night, and I choose your apartment."
A knock rattled the door, and the watchguard thrust in his head. "How much longer is this here experiment going to take? Do you guys want to be reported?"
"Just finishing, Officer," called Karl. "You can leave the door open now."
"What a stink!" said the guard. "Thank God I'm in Military!"
It hardly seemed like a party, David thought. His guests were ill at ease, and their conversation labored, then stopped altogether when the Menial came into the library with a tray of glasses and niblets.
"Put them on the liquor cabinet, James," said David. "And that will be all. Enjoy yourself tonight."
The Menial put down the tray and then stooped to fumble with the lock.
"Let that alone! I've told you a thousand times not to monkey with my liquor cabinet!"
"Don't you want me to get out the ice cubes, Doctor?"
"I'll do it. You can go now."
"But are you sure you won't want me later in the evening, Doctor? Who's to serve the supper? Who's going to clear up afterward?"
"We'll manage. Don't worry about us."