"What good will that do? You know how terrible you feel now about being left out--though I swear I never meant it to be like this. But just try to imagine. If you report me so that Leader Marley gets the secret of SDE, then thousands of people will be put in just the same situation you are in. You're only one person suffering. But then there'd be hundreds of thousands, millions! Surely you wouldn't want to have that on your conscience?"
"Do you think I'd care?"
"You would when you felt calmer. You're wrought up, ill. Let me send you home. Promise me you'll go home quietly, talk it over with Tanya, and not say anything to anyone else. I'll think of a way out for you. Just be patient."
He thought of calling Karl Haslam. Karl would know best how to deal with her, how to bring her back to reason. He reached toward the intercom, then dropped his hand in despair. Karl was in the hospital, with Faure and Hudson, shivering with the cold of Blue Martian fever. But he had to get her away.
He pressed the intercom dial. "Dr. Wong speaking. Miss Hachovnik is ill and is being sent home. Please send an aircab for her at once."
He helped Leah to her feet, and spoke pleadingly.
"Promise you'll be good, Leah?"
The fury in her eyes nearly knocked him down. Without a word, without a gesture, she walked out.
David felt as though he'd been put through a wringer as he followed Officer Magnun into the Leader's suite at State House. Several nights of sleeplessness, the worries of planning for a refuge, and the scene with Leah had left him limp and spiritless. The girl was a danger, he knew, but she was only one of many.
He nodded at Dr. Lanza, who was busy reading reports from BureauMed, and saluted Leader Marley, who was talking with a watchguard.
Marley looked up briefly. "Sit down, Wong."
David folded himself into a chair, grateful for a few moments in which to collect himself, while Marley gave the last of his orders.
"Put them in the Vermont granite quarries, and keep them at work for the next year."
"As you say, Leader. With the usual secrecy, of course?"
"No, you blockhead! These are a bunch of nobodies. Use all the publicity you can get. Keep a punishment a secret and how can it have any effect on other people? No, I want full radio and news coverage and telecast showings as they swing the first pick at the first rocks. People have got to realize that the Leader knows best, that treason doesn't pay. No matter how clever they think they are, they'll always get caught. Understand?"
"As you say, Leader."
"Then get going." As the guard left the room, Leader Marley turned to David. "What fools people are!"
He ran his beefy hands through a shock of black hair, blinked his eyes, and wrinkled the heavy black brows that met over his nose. Wonderingly, he shook his massive head as he drew his gleaming needler from his breast pocket and played with it, tossing it from hand to hand while he talked.
"I'm probably the most generous Leader the State has had since the Atomic Wars, Wong, and I never withhold a privilege from someone who has deserved it. But people mistake me when they think that I am weak and will overlook treason."
"Your generosity is a byword, Leader Marley," said Wong. "But some people are incapable of acting for their best interests even when you have defined it for them. Who are these latest traitors?"
"Oh, nobody really important, of course, except as they waste time which they owe to the State. Just attempts at illegal study. An Office Category who had found a basement room in a deserted building and was spending all his evening hours there practicing the violin. A Theater man who was illegally trying to learn carpentry. And a teacher of mathematics who had forged a key to the Linguistics library, and had been getting in every night to study a dead language--Cuneiform, Latin, something like that, utterly without practical value. This last one is an old man, too, and ought to have known better. People must be made to realize that if they want the privilege of useless study, they will have to earn it. And I am very broadminded in such cases."
"Nobody has better reason to know that than I, Leader Marley, and I am always grateful to you."
Marley coughed and straightened the jacket over his bearlike chest as he put back his needler.
"Now to business. Where's that memorandum, Lanza?"
Dr. Lanza handed him the paper, then sat down beside the Leader.
"First. When Dr. Lanza called on you last week, he found the door to your office locked. What explanation do you have?"
David smiled and spread his hands. "My explanation is the generosity of Leader Marley. You have so many affairs to occupy your attention that it is not surprising that you do not remember rewarding me with a Free Choice some years ago, for my work on Martian Blue. I chose, as I am sure you remember now, an occasional hour of Privacy."
The Leader blinked. "That's right. I had forgotten. Well, the Leader never goes back on his word. Though why in the name of Marley you fellows want a crazy thing like that is beyond me. What do you do, behind a locked door, that you don't want anyone to see?"
"Do you doubt my loyalty, Leader Marley?"
"I doubt everything. What do you want with Privacy?"
Lanza broke in amiably. "I'm afraid we just have to accept such wishes as one of the harmless abnormalities of the Research mind, Leader. Since I grew up in that Category, I understand it to some extent."
"You're right in calling it abnormal. I think perhaps I'd better remove that from the possible Choices in the future. It could easily be misused, and it never did make any sense to me.
"Well, second. It's been more than three years since you reported any progress with the problem of White Martian Fever, Wong. What is your explanation?"
"Research is not always swift, Leader."
"But I distinctly ordered you to find an immunizing agent within three years. Our colonies on Mars cannot wait forever. I've been patient with you, but you've had more than enough time."
"I am very sorry, Leader Marley. I have done my best and so have my colleagues. But the problem is complex. If I may explain, we had to find a suitable culture medium for growing the virus, and then we had to work at the problem of coupling it with suitable haptens--"
Impatiently, Marley waved his hand. "You know I don't understand your jargon. That's not my business, what troubles you've had. I want results. You got results on Blue Martian quickly enough."
"We were fortunate. But when we storm the citadel of knowledge, Leader Marley, no one can predict how long it will take for the citadel to fall."
"Nonsense! I'm warning you, Wong, you're failing in your duty to the State, and you can't escape the consequences with poetic doubletalk. I allow special privileges to you people in Research and I expect a proper appreciation in return. When I order you to produce a protection for White Martian, I want results!"
"But you can't get a thing like that just by asking for it. Such things are simply not under your control."
"Watch yourself, Wong! Your remarks are dangerously close to treason!"
"Is it treason to tell you a plain fact?"
Stony-faced, David stared defiantly at Marley, trying to control the trembling of his body. If he had had a needler at that instant, he realized incredulously, he would have shot the Leader and thought his own life a small price to pay for such a pleasure.
Lanza coughed. "I'm afraid Dr. Wong is not well, Leader. Worrying over the slowness of his work has distorted his reactions. But I am sure that you will understand, as you always do, and be indulgent."
"I'll overlook your remarks, Wong," said Marley, relaxing. "But you'd better change your attitude. You Research people cause me more trouble than any other three Categories put together. Sometimes I wonder if a spell in the granite quarries mightn't--"
A light flashed on his desk. He watched the blinking code for a second, then rose abruptly and left the room.
The two men sat in silence. David glanced at Lanza, and Lanza shifted in his chair.
"Thanks for the good word," said David wearily. "How do you like being a Ruler, by the way? When we were at Medschool together, I thought you were a man with ideas."
"When I was at Medschool I didn't know what was good for me," Lanza replied stiffly.
"And you think you do now?"
A slow flush crept over Lanza's face. "Look here, Wong! Each man has to make his own terms with himself. Don't act so smug! You shut yourself away inside the nice white walls of your laboratory and ignore all the conflicts of life. You shut your ears and your eyes, live in perfect harmony with your test tubes, and let the world go hang. Well, that isn't my way."
"Your way, apparently, is to worm yourself into the confidence of that steel-hearted imbecile who rules our lives and our thoughts, and spend twenty-four hours a day saying, 'Yes, Yes,' and waiting for him to die so you can step into his shoes!"
"We're alone," said Lanza. "I won't report you. But I have no intention of justifying myself. Have you any idea why you've been let alone for so long? You haven't produced anything tangible in several years. Haven't you ever wondered why no one put on the pressure? Haven't--"
He broke off as Marley lumbered back into the room and fell into a chair. The Leader's manner had altered. He stared at David with grim inquiry, the beady eyes traveling slowly over him, taking in his rumpled hair, his strained face, the rigid set of his shoulders.
At last Marley spoke, his voice soft with menace.
"You're looking well, Dr. Wong. Remarkably well. In fact, it occurs to me that you don't seem to have aged a bit since my last visit to your laboratory. Tell me, how do you keep your youth?"
David could feel the rush of blood through his body, feel the thud of his racing heart. He kept his voice low so that it would not tremble.
"Thank you, Leader Marley, for your kindness in noticing my appearance. I suppose I chose my parents well. They both lived to be over ninety, you know."
"This is no joking matter. I've just had a report. An epidemic of Blue Martian fever has broken out among the people of your Institute. Why have you not mentioned it?"
"If you will forgive me, Leader Marley, I've had no chance. I reported it in the usual manner to the health authorities, and have here in my briefcase a memorandum which I hoped to bring to your attention, among several other matters, when you had finished giving your instructions to me."
Marley continued implacably, "And how did this epidemic begin? It was my understanding that no insect existed here on Earth that could transmit the virus. Yet several people from your lab came down with the disease on the same day. What is your explanation?"
"It's very simple. To prepare the vaccine, as I am sure you will remember from your last visit to us, we have to keep in the lab a limited number of the Fafli, the Martian insects which act as hosts at one stage of the virus's life. Last week a Menial carelessly knocked over one of the cages and several Fafli escaped. The Menial was discharged, of course, and put in Punishment, but the damage had already been done."
"You have a very ready explanation."
"Would you rather I had none at all, Leader Marley?"
"Well, let that go." Marley drummed his plump fingers on the desk as he continued. "There was another report for me just now. A report so wild, so incredible, so staggering that I can scarcely bring myself to take it seriously. From an Office Category at the Institute."
David's heart beat wildly, but he forced a smile to his lips. "Oh, yes. You must mean Miss Hachovnik. I've been worried about that poor girl for some time."
"What do you mean, 'poor girl'?"
"It's very distressing to me, because she has been a good and loyal worker for many years. But she is becoming unstable. She has a tendency to burst into tears over nothing, is sometimes hysterical, seems to have secret grievances, and is extremely jealous of all women whom she considers more attractive. She was never too bright, to be sure, but until recently she has done her work well, so I've hated to take any action. Just this morning I had to send her home because she was ill."
"Do you mean to say," asked Marley, "that none of her story is true?"
"I don't know. What is her story?"
"She reports that you have been working on a private project of your own, instead of on White Martian. That you have discovered a way to make people immortal, by infecting them with Blue Martian. What is your explanation?"
David only stared, his mind so blurred with panic that he could not speak. His stunned silence was broken by a laugh. It was Dr. Lanza, leaning backward in his chair, holding himself over the stomach as he shook his head.
"These hysterical women!" His laughter trailed off to a commiserating chuckle. "You're too forbearing, Wong. You shouldn't keep a worker who's so far gone. Take a leaf from Leader Marley's book and remember: Kindness is often weakness; when it is necessary for the good of the State, be harsh!"
"I hardly know what to say," said David. "I had no idea she'd gone so far."
"Then there's no truth in it?" Marley persisted. "What she says is impossible?"
"Well," said David judiciously, "we people in Research have learned not to call anything impossible, but this dream of immortality is as old as the human race. We have a thousand legends about it, including the story of the Phoenix, that fabulous bird which, when consumed by fire, rose triumphant from its own ashes to begin life anew. A pretty story, of course. But I need only put it to a mind as logical as yours, Leader Marley. Throughout all the millenia of man's existence, the Sun has always risen each morning in the east, and thus we know that it always will. That is the order of nature. Likewise, from the earliest generations of man, no individual has ever lived longer than a hundred and some years, and thus we know that he never will. That is the order of Nature and we can't alter it to the best of my knowledge."
Leader Marley was thoughtful. He touched the intercom.
"Send in Officer Magnun."
David held his breath.
"Magnun, Office Category Hachovnik is to be taken from her home at once and put in indefinite Psycho-detention."
Marley stood up. "Very well, Dr. Wong. You may go. But I shall suspend your privilege of Privacy, at least until after you have devised a protection against White Martian. It is not wise to disregard the wishes of the Leader. Lanza, show him out."
At the street door, they paused. Lanza looked at David speculatively.
"You do keep your youth well, David."
"Some people do."
"I remember that legend of the Phoenix. What do you suppose the Phoenix did with his new life, once he'd risen from the ashes of his old self?"
"I'm no philosopher."
"Neither am I. But you and I both know that the principle of induction was exploded centuries ago. It's true that the Sun has always risen in the east. But is there anything to keep it, someday, from rising in the west?"
That night David sat late at his desk. Through the open door behind him, he could hear the watchguard slowly pacing the dimly lit corridor. He could feel time pressing at his back. He was reprieved, he knew, but for how long?
He got up, at one point, when the corridor behind him was quiet, and went to the bookcase. He pressed the brass handle, saw the shelves silently swing away from the wall, then set it back again. The mechanism, installed a century ago by a cautious politician, was still in good order.
Back at his desk, he thought of Leah and her lost youth, lost because of his own impersonal attitude. He felt sorry for her, but there was nothing he could do for her now. It was a relief to know that Tanya, at least, remained hidden and secure in her sister's apartment.
It was after midnight before he closed his notebook and locked it away in the top drawer. His plans were completed. There would not be time given him, he knew, to finish his work on White Martian. That would have to be dropped, and resumed at some more favorable time in the future--if there was a future for him. But he would begin at once to produce in quantity a supply of the SDE-Blue Martian, for he was sure that the untrained guards who watched his movements would never realize that he had shifted to another project.
With a brief good night to the guard, he left the building to walk home. His shoulders were straight, his stride confident, and he disdained looking behind him to see if anyone was following. He had made his terms with himself, and only death, which he would certainly try to prevent, could alter his plans.
Going into his apartment he wearily turned on the light. Then he froze, feeling as though he had been clubbed. Leah Hachovnik was huddled at one end of the sofa, her face dripping tears.
"I thought you'd never come," she whispered.
He slumped down beside her. "How did you get here, Leah? I thought you were--"
"I hid in your hallway until the watchguard was at the other end. When his back was turned, I just took off my shoes and slipped in. I've been waiting for hours." Her voice was almost inaudible, spent beyond emotion.