"They got Tanya," she said dully. "They took her away."
"What happened? Quick!"
"After I reported to BureauMed--I'm sorry I did that, Dr. Wong, but I just couldn't help myself. I didn't tell them about Tanya and the others, just about you. Then I walked around for hours, hating you, hating Tanya, hating everybody. Finally I got so tired that I went home. Just as I got into the hall, I heard a loud knock and I saw Officer Magnun at my door. When Tanya opened it, he simply said, 'Office Category Hachovnik?' When she nodded her head, he said, 'You're under detention.' She screamed and she fought, but he took her away. Since then, I've been hiding. I'm afraid."
David tried to think. He remembered that he had said only "Miss Hachovnik" in his talk with the Leader. Had Marley never known that there was more than one? But Lanza surely knew. Or had he merely assumed that Magnun would ask for Leah? Would they realize, at Psycho-detention, that they had the wrong woman? Probably not, for she would be hysterical with terror, and her very youth and beauty taken in connection with the "jealousy and envy of younger women" which was noted in her commitment order, would seem to confirm her madness. He was still safe, for a while--if he could keep Leah away from the Institute.
"I'm afraid," she whimpered. "Don't let them put me away."
"Then you'll have to do exactly as I tell you. Can you follow orders exactly?"
"I'll have to hide you here. We can fix up my library as a room for you. It's the only room I can keep locked, and which my Menial never enters in my absence. Whatever happens, Leah--no matter what happens--keep yourself hidden. More than your life depends on that."
When the three convalescents returned from the hospital, pale and shaky, David summoned them to his office. At the door, Watchguard Jones looked them over.
"Say, that Blue Martian fever sure does take it out of you. You fellows look like you've been plenty sick!"
"They have been," said David. "Let them by so they can sit down and rest."
Jones moved aside, but he lounged in the doorway, listening.
David ignored him. "Glad to see you back, gentlemen. I'll make this brief. You have been the victims of a laboratory accident just as much as if you'd been contaminated with radiation. Our Leader Marley, who understands the problems of all Categories, has very generously consented to grant you a two weeks' convalescence, in addition to a Free Choice. Take a few minutes to think over your decision."
He strolled over to the window and looked out at the green of the trees just bursting into leaf. Then, as if on impulse, he turned back.
"While you're thinking it over, will you look at these protocols? We discussed them before you got sick, you remember--a plan to prevent an epidemic of Blue Martian. Do you approve of the final form? I'd like to carry on, and after all," he added with an ironic smile, "it's getting later than we might think."
He handed each man a sheet of paper whose contents were identical. They studied them. Karl Haslam was the first to speak.
"You think, then, that other cases of Blue Martian may develop?"
"It is certainly probable. Those Fafli insects were never caught."
Karl looked back at his paper. It contained a list of names, some of which were well known to all the country, some of them obscure. Thoughtfully, he nodded as he ran down the list.
Hudson glanced up, frowning, his finger pointed at one name.
"I don't know," he said slowly, "that this particular experiment would prove useful. Surely the Lanza method has not proved to be as effective as we once hoped."
"You may be right. But there's the bare possibility that the modified Lanza method might be of enormous benefit to us."
"It is uncertain. Too much of a risk. That's my opinion."
"Then I'll reconsider. The rest has your approval? Very well. And now what choice have you made for your holiday?"
"I think we are all agreed," said Karl soberly. "We'll have an Aimless Tramp."
"An excellent idea," approved David. "Oh, Jones, will you get an aircab to take the doctors to BureauMed, and then arrange for their Roboplanes to be serviced and ready in an hour?"
"I don't know as I ought to leave my post," said Jones.
"You'd rather stay with us and perhaps be exposed to the Fever?"
When his footsteps had died away, David leaned forward.
"We've done our best. Another month or so and we should be completely ready for our retirement act."
"If we have a month," said Faure.
David grinned. "Well, if our time runs out, at least we'll go down fighting. You know all your lines, your props are ready, the plot is worked out, and we can slip into our makeup in an instant--provided the audience shows up."
"You're getting to be quite a joker, David," said Karl. "What if the audience comes around to the stage door?"
"Then we'll try to receive him properly. Our Leader is a man of iron, but I doubt that he's immortal."
They heard the approaching guard.
"I'm sure you'll benefit from your holiday," David went on. "That last checkup showed an antibody titer entirely too high for safety."
"In other words, it's time for us to get going?" asked Karl, smiling.
"That's right. Only the next time the antibody curve rises, it will be for keeps."
Four days later it was reported that Judge Brinton, the well-known champion of Category rights, was ill with Blue Martian fever. Three little-known nuclear physicists living in the same apartment in Oak Ridge developed symptoms on the same day. Sporadic cases of Blue Martian flared up all over the continent. Occasionally a whole family was affected--husband, wife, and all the children. There was a mild epidemic at MIT, a more serious one at the School of Social Structure, and at Harvard Medical School nearly a third of the senior class, and they the most brilliant, were hospitalized at the same time.
Rumors blanketed the country like a fog, and people everywhere became uneasy. There were no deaths from the illness, but the very idea that an infectious disease could flare up unpredictably all over the nation, out of control, was frightening. It was said that the disease had been beamed to Earth by alien enemies from space; that all its victims became sterile; or that their minds were permanently damaged.
It was also said, though people laughed even as they repeated the rumor, that if you once had Blue Martian Fever you'd become immortal. This particular theory had been clearly traced to the ravings of a red-haired madwoman who was confined to Psycho-detention, but still it was too ridiculous not to repeat. For a week, comedians rang a hundred changes on the basic joke: Wife: Drop dead!
Husband: I can't. I've had Blue Martian.
The unrest became so great that Leader Marley himself appeared on the telecaster to reassure the nation.
He was an impressive figure on the lighted screen, resting solid and at ease in a leather chair, raising his massive black head, lifting his big hand to gesture as his rich voice rolled out.
"You have nothing to fear," he said. "Under your beneficent Leaders, infectious disease has been wiped out many years ago. BureauMed informs me that these scattered cases of Blue Martian fever have been caused by the escape of a few Fafli insects, which have, since then, been isolated and destroyed. The illness has no serious after-effects. And as for the rumors that it confers immortality--"
He allowed his face to break into a pitying smile as he slowly shook his head, looking regretful and yet somehow amused.
"Those who continue to spread gossip about the fever will only reveal themselves as either psychotics or traitors. Whichever they are, they will be isolated for the good of our society."
The effect of his words was somewhat diminished by the brief glimpse people had of Dr. Lanza, who reached a hand to help the Leader rise. For Dr. Lanza wore an anxious frown, and his face was thin with worry.
In spite of numerous arrests, the rumors continued. For two weeks sporadic outbreaks of the fever occurred, and then, abruptly, they ceased.
It was more than a week after the last case had been reported that David sat in his basement laboratory beside the opened mouse cage, watching with wry affection as the furry creatures crawled over his hand. These were historic mice, he reflected, whose reactions to SDE had opened up a new world, a world which he must somehow help to make better than the present one.
His three colleagues had returned a few days ago from their holiday. They had calmly come back to work, and apparently nobody had thought to put two and two together, and thus connect the epidemic with the vacationers. It had been unfortunate that Tanya should have been put under arrest; it was difficult trying to find amusement for Leah so that she would keep out of sight, but still, on the whole, their luck had been good.
But it was time for David to go back to work in his office. Gently he detached the mice from his hand, dropped them into their cage, and closed the wire trap. He took his leather pencil case and the keys to his desk from the pocket of his lab coat and laid them on the desk, below the nail on which his wristwatch hung. Carelessly he dropped his lab coat onto the desk and reached for his jacket, then paused, listening.
The chatter in the technicians' room suddenly died. In the unnatural quiet sounded a steady march of feet.
David turned to meet the probing black eyes of Leader Marley. Just behind him were Dr. Lanza and Officer Magnun.
There was no time to conceal his mice, David realized. Shrugging into his jacket, he strode forward without hesitation, a smile on his face, and stretched out his hand.
"Leader Marley! This is indeed an honor. If you had only notified us of your visit, we should have been prepared."
"Young as ever, I see, Wong."
"Thank you, Leader." There was no banter in Marley's eyes, he noted, but he continued amiably. "It has been some years since you have honored us by a visit in person. I'm afraid a laboratory is not a very exciting place, but I'd be honored to show you anything that may be of interest to you."
A faint contempt curled Marley's mouth as he glanced around the room. "Nothing to see that I haven't seen before, is there? A lot of test tubes, a bunch of flasks, a mess of apparatus you'd think had been dreamed up by an idiot, and a bad smell. You still keep animals, I notice."
He sauntered over to the bench, picked up the cage and looked at the scurrying rodents.
David scarcely breathed.
Marley only nodded. "Well, mice are mice." He put down the cage and turned away. "These look just like the ones I saw when I was here eight or ten years ago. Same white patch on the forelimbs. I never knew mice could live that long."
"But--" began Lanza, bending over to study the mice.
"What an amazing memory you have, Leader," said David. "Just as you guessed, these mice are the direct descendants of the ones you saw on your former visit, a special mutant strain. The chief difference is that these are marked with white patches on the right forelimbs, while, as I am sure you recall, the original specimens were marked on the left forelimbs. Odd how these marks run in families, isn't it?"
Lanza put down the cage and strolled toward the door as Marley took a last bored look around.
"Nothing new here that I ought to see, Lanza?"
"No. Nothing new."
"Well, I've no time to waste. I've come here for two reasons, Dr. Wong. We both want a booster shot for Blue Martian. Ten years is a long time, and there's been this epidemic."
"Which is now under control."
"That may be, but I still want a booster. You Research people don't always know as much as you think you do. When that's done, I want a detailed report of your progress on White Martian."
"I shall be happy to give it," said David. "If you will go directly to my office, I'll pick up the vaccine and syringes, and be with you in a few minutes."
Marley and Officer Magnun marched to the door, and David followed, standing aside to let Lanza precede him. Lanza hesitated there, staring at the floor. Then he smiled and looked directly at David.
"Beautiful spring weather we are having. I'm wondering about the marvelous order of nature. Did you happen to notice, this morning, whether the Sun did actually rise in the east?"
David stared at the retreating back. There was no longer any doubt in his mind. Lanza knew. What was he going to do?
"Hurry up, Doctor," said Officer Magnun from the doorway.
"Right away." He opened the refrigerator and inspected the two groups of red-capped vials sitting on the shelf. He had no time to think, no time to weigh pros and cons; he could only act. Choosing two vials, he added them to the sterile kit from the autoclave, and took a last look around.
He noticed his watch still hanging on the wall, and the lab coat which covered his leather pencil case. He started to take them, then slowly dropped his hand and touched the intercom.
"Get me Dr. Karl Haslam."
"You're keeping the Leader waiting," said Magnun, but David paid no attention.
"Dr. Haslam? Dr. Wong speaking. I may be a little late getting up to see those precipitates of yours. But you keep them simmering, just in case. It's very probable that the antibody curve will rise.... Yes, I'll let you know if I can."
Magnun followed him to the office, then strolled away for a chat with Watchguard Jones.
David put his things on his desk and made his preparations in businesslike fashion while Marley and Lanza glanced curiously around the office. He watched apprehensively as Marley inspected the bookcase, then turned away.
"I never could understand why Research needs so many books," he remarked.
"Please roll up your sleeve, Leader Marley. I'm ready for you now."
Deftly he assembled the syringe, filled it to the two centimeter mark, and scrubbed the arm presented to him.
"Ready?" He inserted the needle and slowly expelled the fluid. Then, taking a fresh syringe, he repeated the operation, filling from the second vial.
"Why do those bottles have different numbers?" asked Marley. "Aren't we getting the same thing?"
"Certainly. Just lab routine, so we can keep track of how many units have been used from our stock. There, that does it, Lanza. Both of you will be perfectly safe for a good many years to come."
He was washing his hands at the sink when he heard a struggle at the door. Turning, he saw Leah, thin, gaunt and terrified, held fast in the grip of Officer Magnun, who forced her inside and slammed the door behind them.
"What's the meaning of this intrusion?" demanded Marley.
"There's some funny business going on, Leader," said Magnun. "I caught this woman trying to sneak in here. She says she's Miss Hachovnik and she works here. Only she ain't. I arrested Miss Hachovnik myself, and I remember well enough what she looked like. She was a cute chick, not a bit like this dame."
Marley was staring at the sobbing girl, eyes blinking as he thought, looked back, remembered. Slowly his eyes shifted to David, and David felt like a man impaled.
"You may leave, Magnun," said the Leader.
"You don't want me to arrest this woman?"
"Let go of her! I said you may leave!"
"As you say, Leader."