By BRYCE WALTON
There wasn’t one person on all of Earth to
even suspect. No worry about security, saboteurs
or spies in this interspatial war with Mars.
Earth was firmly united this time … that is,
of course, if you just happened to overlook
Mary—the sweetest, most incongruous little
girl ever to hang around a launching site.
[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Summer 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Ten miles out of New Washington the duralium observation tower was a slim needle stuck in the ground. Three officers of the UN High Command waited at the top of it, within view of the rocket. They waited for zero hour. They were Major-General Engstrand, Lt. Colonel Morgenson, and Major Schauffer.
At 0500, Professor Michelson entered. He still wore a chemical-stained smock, a faded shirt and a pair of baggy trousers. He sat down in a dissolving way indicating a vast accumulated weariness. He felt old, very old, now that the last big project was finished.
“The G-Agent’s all loaded,” he finally said. “Three tons.” He looked out the window. “You may give the firing orders, sir,” he said to Major-General Engstrand.
Relief sighed voicelessly in the tower room.
Schauffer also looked out the window. Morgenson contemplated his fingernails. Engstrand stood very straight, filled with the magnitude of this moment’s promise of final victory. Then he grabbed up the phone. “All right, Burkson. Everything’s set. The rocket will go as scheduled.”
He sat down and wiped slowly at his puffy but somehow powerful face.
The slim and calm Schauffer turned, got a bottle out of the liquor cabinet, poured four drinks. “We’ve worked long and hard,” he said. “A toast to a well earned victory, gentlemen.”
Michelson was thinking, not of a well earned victory, but of retirement and rest. Forty years he had worked. For victory over the Eurasians. After that, for victory over the Martians. He wanted to sleep late, fish and rest in the sun.
“Three tons of G-Agent,” Engstrand said softly.
The rocket would hit Mars. Countless other rockets would fly out of it, each directed, each exploding and casting out its deadly sprays and gases of the G-agent.
“Within an hour,” Morgenson said, “after the rocket hits, there won’t be a bug, a germ, a piece of lichen left alive. Unless somebody sends it there, there won’t be anything alive on Mars again for a long time.”
“I’d still like to know what kind of life it is,” Schauffer said.
Michelson looked at the floor. “Now we’ll never know.”
“But we’ll stay alive to speculate about it, and some day maybe they’ll figure how to get a man across space. And then we’ll know what died up there.”
There was a chance, Michelson knew, but a very slim one, that something might go wrong. The rocket might crash on the Earth somewhere. But no one else probably even dared to think about it. None of them were as old nor as tired as Michelson. A lot of people would die. Just in case the Martians might have something in the way of gases as deadly as the G-agent, the population had been supplied with hypos of antidote, gas masks, and suiting. But still, so many people would die. However such a thing was very highly improbable.
They drank again.
Engstrand put his hand on Michelson’s bowed shoulders. “Again you’ve done a magnificent job, old friend.” His voice was low. “Three weeks ahead of schedule. That time advantage may have saved us all. God knows what the Martians are getting ready to send now!”
“One thing we can be thankful for,” Schauffer said. “No spies. No worry about security, no saboteurs. Of course the Martians are lucky too—or were—in that respect.” He looked thoughtfully into his glass. “The Martians did us a favor really. They created world unity. A psychologist couldn’t have predicted it. But think of that—since the war with Mars, no human being has ever tried to sabotage anything directed at defeating the Martians!”
“It’s natural enough. This time it’s humans against—well—God knows what! But nothing human.” Engstrand poured himself another drink. “No human being has had anything to identify with in the enemy’s camp. You’re right, Major. In a way, the Martians did us a favor. And now we’ll do them one—one last favor. They’re too damn evil to live, and they’ll sure be glad, somewhere in their guts, to be finished off!”
Schauffer turned to Michelson, and grinned. “Where’s Mary?”
“She wasn’t feeling well,” Michelson said. “I left her out at Lake House.” He stood up. Quietly, he said. “Good-bye, gentleman. I’m going home, to Lake House. I’m tired.”
“Aren’t you going to watch the rocket blast?”
Michelson shook his head. “I think not.”
They all shook hands with Michelson. “Write us, will you, Mike,” Engstrand said. “Let us hear from you often.”
“Of course,” Michelson said. At the door he turned, an old man, stooped by years of devotion to more and more deadly chemicals. “If you need me, I’ll still be at Lake House.”
He went out of the observation room and stood for a moment looking at the elevator that waited with an open mouth. He had always been with G-2. Back when they had started over again in the ruins of World War III he had been in charge of various space-going projects aimed at a quick defeat of the Eurasians, and this always included the latest complex developments in bacteriological warfare, and the use of liquid and atmospheric gases. He had sent the first New Era test rocket into space, the first one to the moon, the first ones to Mars.
Instruments far in advance of the original telemetering and servomotor devices, had measured temperature, radiation, chemical makeup of atmosphere, minerals, various field effects, measured and catalogued all life, even to its cultural development, then sent back their measurements and evaluations on ultra-high-frequency to ground observers on Earth.
He had sent out the first rockets with monkeys, rats, guinea pigs and birds to test the effects of alien conditions on living organisms. No human being had ever survived. They stopped trying.
But the Martians had been carrying on a program much the same. They had been frightened. They had sent deadly rockets. The war had begun, a fantastic push-button operation between worlds millions of miles apart. This Earth rocket loaded with three tons of G-agent was what the UN hoped would be the last retaliatory gesture in a number of years of interspatial bickering. For it was also evident now that no Martian could get across space to Earth.
Michelson sighed, stepped into the elevator and started home. Home to rest, fish, lie in the sun. Home to Mary who kept him occupied and entertained in his loneliness.
But Mary had not been ill. She had not stayed at Lake House either. She had been aboard Michelson’s helio, hiding in the luggage compartment. She had the key to Michelson’s office and she was there.
But her head ached now. She hadn’t slept for two days, thinking about what had to be done. Her head ached worse now as the wave directives came again and again, bringing new bursts of coercive pain with any deep emotional hint of possible resistance.
Now, in fact, there was doubt in Mary’s mind that there was any desire to resist the directives, or if there ever had been. Now even those lingering wonderings about the possibility of doubt brought pain.
Better just to act. And it was time.
The clock gave her exactly one hour, she knew, to destroy the central building sector, the heart of the giant UN Research Foundation, and also wreck the rocket due to blast for Mars. She had heard Daddy Mike say what time the rocket would blast if he got the G-Agent loaded on schedule, and she knew he had done that.
There was little if any caution exercised at the Foundation. It had been well established by years of precedent that humans just didn’t sabotage an effort directed at aliens. Especially Martians who, time and time again, had almost brought destruction to earth in innumerable unexpected ways. Added to that was the fact that no Martian could get across the void to take care of it directly, any more than an Earthman could to Mars for a similar purpose.
Mary had the advantage of this freedom. But the immediacy with which she could be identified by all the personnel about the Foundation might be a handicap as well as a possible advantage. She would have to exercise extreme caution herself.
The directives had stopped. She was on her own as long as she didn’t resist the preceding orders. From this point on it was strictly Mary’s responsibility.
She checked the electrodoor. No one was approaching Daddy Mike’s office. She wasn’t sure whether or not he would return to his office before going to Lake House. She wondered what he would do, how sad he would be, to find her gone.
From behind the rearmost, long unused files in the filing cabinet, she took the capsule of G-Agent. There was enough of the nerve gas in the ten ounce container to destroy everyone in the building, within half an hour after it was thrown into the ventilator shaft.
She went to the wall, pressed the button, and the opening was revealed by a sliding panel. Without hesitation, she tossed in the capsule of G-Agent. Dimly, she remembered how she had collected it, painfully over a period of months, drop by drop and stored it in the special non-corrosive alloy of the container. She had access to all of Daddy’s laboratory equipment.
The container would explode in half an hour. Thirty minutes to get outside the buildings and over to the pits and the lethal rocket.
She felt nothing but a kind of depersonalized tension of responsibility as she removed her hat and took the small deadly neutron beam gun from the tiny sling she had fixed inside. She put the hat back on and tied the ribbon under her chin. The hat had caused much amused reaction from those friends of Daddy Mike who had become accustomed to her being constantly with the old man.
She ran into the bright shine of the tubular metal hall. She hoped with a flash of unexpected feeling that Daddy Mike would leave the building before the G-Agent was activated.
He loved her. Her heart throbbed painfully as she remembered how much Daddy loved her. How he had held her on his lap and stroked her hair and philosophized endlessly to her, not caring that she was not supposed to understand such complexity. But sharing this as he did all things with her in his aging loneliness.
She crouched there in the hall and thought of that, how she would love Daddy as Daddy loved her. Except that she was incapable of love. Dimly she remembered that once, long, very long ago, there had been a kind of spontaneous expression of physical desire, and sensuous pleasure, from the contact with others. But since then there had been the experiments, endless, too painful to recall. The bursting of blood and the repair, the brain slicing and the laying open of cells, and the sewing up. Years, a lifetime, a foreverness of pain, and the apparent making good as new again. But the scars were too deep too show, and too deep to mend.
Such pain for so long, the cold objective testing, had killed any capacity for love. Mary was convinced of that.
She held the gun to her left side and ran in nakedness and silence down the glowing tube.
An overweight guard in his brown UN uniform eased around the curve in the tube and stood with his back to her. It was a good place for him to walk what was to him a useless beat. There was nothing to guard against but boredom. This was the building’s left wing and fairly isolated, and he could merely stand here and wait for the far end of his shift.
She slid along the wall. Her feet moved with a vague whispering silence, the silence of unconscious stealth. But then the guard turned to place his heel more comfortably on the inward-sloping bottom of the tube. And he saw her.
He grinned. “Mary!” he said. Everyone knew her. And everyone loved Mary. “What are you doing out here?”
He could never guess the truth, she thought. Even if someone told you, you would never believe it.
The good humor spontaneously beginning to bubble from the fat guard was changed into a kind of gasping cough of unbelieving fear. Desperate words filtered out through his teeth. A white line moved around his lips. His hands reached out and hung suspended.
“Mary—Oh God, Mary—the gun, that’s—that’s a real gun, Mary—”
The charge was light. It contacted the Guard’s face just above the chin. It dissolved instantly all of his face and most of his brain. It left only a smeared shell of bone behind, like a bowl tipped up.
She ran on down the slightly curving tube. They were never never so kind to me. For he is free from the directives that pull and push and pry and pick at the brain. He is free from pain.
When this was done, she would be free. As free as the guard.
Once near the rocket, the long task would be ended. She would then theoretically be free from the complex thought which her body was incapable of handling without pain. Free from the pain of an imbalanced body and nervous system. And free of the coercion bands, the directive waves that could sometimes rip the cells apart.
She pressed the down button of the elevator. At that moment the high scream of the alarm sirens shrieked in her ears. She cowered a moment. It came from all around. It bathed her in painful sound. It became a pervading throb that seemed to come from the metal everywhere.
They had discovered the guard already. That was one of those unpredictable elements. Purely chance that anyone would have passed there just after the guard was killed. That could be the only reason for the alarm!
She had to get outside the buildings. She had to get over there near enough to the rocket to blast the firing tubes! She wasn’t even off the tenth floor.
There was nothing to fear except failure. Death itself would be a welcome if not a preferred kind of freedom for her. But if she failed and lived, there would be torture. And the misty worlds of pain, not only in the labs but from the coercion directives. As far as she knew, perhaps the directive rocket buried somewhere high in the pines near the lake would contain even more duties for her, if this failed. Except that now she would be known and they would hunt her down and—but so far they did not know who had killed the guard.
No, if they caught her they wouldn’t kill her. That was sure enough. There would be the labs again. They would probe, cut her open, try to find out why. She had long been a living instrument for finding out why.
As the elevator dropped, the walls pulsed with the screams of the alarms.
She had one advantage she realized that she had been doubtful of earlier. She was Mary, and everyone knew and loved her. Though it was definite now that a saboteur was loose inside the Foundation, there was nothing so far to connect Mary with such a fact.
She concealed the gun in the sling inside her cap, and tied the ribbon firmly under her chin. When the elevator reached the first floor, the panel slid back. She was tensed to run out, but a group of Foundation guards were running for the opening. Their faces were twisted into various expressions of tense terror. They were all inside a gigantic gas capsule, they knew that, one of terrible potential lethality. Evidently it was suspected that the G-Agent might be used.
Mary ran out, turned, leaped for the narrowing gap between the guards and the arched opening that led into the court. Most of the guards scarcely noticed her at all, and if they did they evidently figured it was hardly anything to cause diversion from the awful emergency.
But one of them, a man named Jonothan who had often caressed her and expressed his love for her, smiled. It was a kind of conditioned reaction that broke the frozen fear of his mouth and cheeks. He leaned toward her, his hand outstretched.
“Mary—this is no place for you, baby. You’d better come back up with us.”
The invisible mouth of the intercom spoke. “The saboteur may be heading for the rocket which must blast on schedule. Already deadly gases may have been released inside the Foundation. Sections five and six will establish instant cordon around the rocket pits. Anyone not obeying security instructions will be shot instantly. Anyone entering or leaving the Foundation buildings or grounds without proper identification will be shot. All guards will immediately put on masks, and protective suiting, and will prepare antidote injections. Sections seven and eight will search the main wing. Sections nine and ten—”
“Come on, John!” someone yelled from the elevator. Kits were falling open. Masks were unfolding. Suit capsules were exploding under compressed air, and the special suits were breaking out in fluffs of green.
“Hey, for God’s sake, Johnny, come on!” The voices were ragged with fear.
A warning would also, Mary knew, be going out to all civilians made susceptible immediately by inversion, movements of predictable winds. But Mary knew that many would die, many many would die, when the rocket crashed. If she could succeed.
Only for that inevitable percentage who would die in great pain did she have any recognizable sympathy. She had a duty, else she herself would experience greater and greater pain.
“You’d better come along with us, Mary baby,” Jonothan said. He reached for her, while the others yelled at him. The intercom itself was toned with terror that was in the walls and in every man’s eyes and his voice and the stance of his body.
Mary giggled. She started a kind of disarming dance. But this time it did not excite the laughter and general response it usually did.
Her stomach turned sickeningly as she felt the release, the ribbon fluttering and the cap falling. The thud and the bright shining spin of the gun over the mosaicked floor. The sling had broken.
She danced toward it.
Jonothan yelled, but the voices of the others snapped off into a pulsing silence. Then an incredulous murmur trickled over the floor.
“Mary—what are you doing with that? Mary—stop—wait, Mary—”
Desperately, Jonothan dived to the floor. He clawed. He kicked with his frantic feet for traction on the floor. He screamed at her as he pawed to reach the gun. But she leaped over him and turned with the gun ready.
Jonothan was slowly standing up. His face was white. His lips moved. His throat trembled. But no words came out.
Behind him, a voice shivered. “Give us the gun, Mary.”
Pleading, cajoling, shaking, other voices joined.
“Mary—give us the gun now!”
“Please, Mary, you can kill people—”
“You just give Uncle Patrick the gun now, honey, and—”
She was backing away toward the arched opening. Beyond that were the gardens, the fountains the pretty landscape of the courts. Beyond that were the helio landings, and then the pits. It wasn’t so far.
Jonothan was trying to smile at her as he reached again for the gun. Behind him, the others stood immobile and without any more words. The intercom had words, but no one was listening now.
She fired a much heavier charge than that against the guard on the tenth floor. Between Jonothan’s outstretched arms which had held her with love, his torso and head disappeared. His arms fell and the legs toppled like parts of a mannequin. Beyond the vacancy that had been Jonothan, several others tried to draw their guns. All were abruptly reduced to jellied and smoking anonymity. Mary ran for the courts.
She heard herself giggling without recognizable meaning as she ran under the rainbowed fountains, leaped the flower hedges, and skimmed over the carefully designed green of lawn patches.
She still had that initial advantage. No one still could logically connect her with what was happening. So far there were no living witnesses. At least it was unlikely that there were.
She was a little behind her schedule and every second was now important. Where before there had been allowed some margin for error, now there was none.
She wanted to get a helio. She wanted to get as far up wind and as far into the air as possible when the G-Agent began drifting over the land. She wanted to live for the reasons she had thought about before, many times. She couldn’t say that her life was important to her now any more than it ever had been. It had never been her life, not in her memory. Always she had been the instrument of others. She could blast the rocket back to earth from inside a helio, and keep on from there to some degree of personal safety.
That was the plan.
As she ran she wondered with a kind of dull throbbing hope if after this task was fulfilled, she would be free of the Martian directives. She didn’t know. She could only hope.
Long after the high degree of intelligence she now possessed came to her, (that too having been something imposed to increase her effectiveness as an instrument) she had prayed to be free of pain and imprisonment. Even where there was not the capacity to formulate any awareness of her merely being used, or of being a prisoner of others, she had felt the primitive cellular discontent that had now become open and passionate desire for freedom.
Maybe after this was done, she would be free for the first time that she could really remember. What she could do with it, where she could go, where she could hide with it, whether she could even live to enjoy it, if in fact she could enjoy something she had never had, was really not of much consequence to her as she ran and thought about it. Even one brief flare of freedom would be its own exultant reward.
Figures made a scrambling chaos of unreality out of the area which usually displayed such a paradoxical atmosphere of quiet peacefulness. Sirens shrieked. Helios hummed and hovered nervously, then darted off in angled desperation through the slanting rays of dusk. Evidently there were a fortunate few whose emergency obligations were taking them elsewhere. And a few others, undoubtedly, who were escaping in guilt-ridden cowardice from an intolerable suspense.
She jumped, slid the cowl back, crawled into the plastoid bubble before the two-seated passenger helio. The controls were simple. She had watched Daddy Mike many times as he commuted to and from Lake House. Jokingly he had let her sit on his lap and play with the controls, not being able even to suspect what she was really learning, and what the end result would be.
As the helio whirred to lifting life, Mary did not bother with altitude. That would come later. She sent the helio skimming low over the courts and the landing plots, over the monuments and fountains, toward the pits.
Warnings would be going out across the decentralized populations of the nation. Terror would be creeping over the land as the G-Agent would creep over it soon, very soon now.
One thing she was still sure of—no one knew, or could even suspect, the identity of the saboteur they were searching for.
She heard the gasp, then a sort of whimpering moan, and that changed even as she turned with tense sharpness, to hoarse and spasmodic laughter.
She seemed geared to any emergency, so that nothing, such as this, could be a surprise. A surprise would mean temporary indecision. She could not afford that. She turned, keeping the controls level, and raised the gun.
A man was on his knees, his hands gripping one another. His eyes and teeth protruded, and saliva ran out of the corner of his mouth. Evidently he was a civilian employee, a clerk with his anonymous brown suit and his shaven head. Someone who had felt no strong identification with the plant except that it was a job, it was security. So now that it had turned into a giant gas capsule, he had only wanted to get away from it. His eyes kept bulging as they stared at Mary. They didn’t believe in Mary. He was trying to laugh away what wasn’t logical. But he couldn’t laugh it away.
“I was told to lay off the neuro-tabs,” he whispered. “The medic told me I’d start flipping—flip, flip—he said—if I took too many neuro-tabs. He was right. I’ve flipped. I’m gone.” Then the laughter that was not laughter really broke out all over him like a rash, and it filled the interior of the helio. “I’ve run away from my job when the alarm sounded!” He started screaming. “I can’t go back anyway. No job—hell—I’m finished no matter what!”
He bent forward and groped for the button that would open the rear helio door. Mary lowered the gun, hoping this man’s own madness would make it easier for her. Adjusting the blast so that it would kill him without releasing too much deadly kinetic energy within so small a space would be a delicate thing. It was highly dangerous.
He turned while the wind sucked at him and flapped his brown suit around his bony legs. He blinked slowly at Mary and tears ran down his cheeks. “Even if you’re not real, you’re the last I’ll see, the last thing. So good-bye!”
The air pulled him abruptly out into its deceptive nowhere. For an instant, she felt drawn to his lonely pathway of escape. She wanted to say after him, “Good-bye,” but she couldn’t.
As the helio swung to the left, the rocket lifted with strange slowness, heavy and steady, on its column of fire. Reality compressed to only the helio and a narrowly restricted line between the gun and the lifting rocket.
A few other helios moved in the area, but none nearly this close to the rocket. Observers would know. Once the thing was done, she wondered if she could possibly escape. They would know that the destructive blast came from this helio.
A section of the cowling slid back. The helio slowed, hung suspended. Mary aimed slightly upward. She felt the automatic sight adjuster clicking delicately, the slight tug as the mags tilted the barrel directly into the meticulous balance of the firing jets.
As she fired, she sent the helio straight up at maximum speed and the cowling slid closed.
This was the end of her assignment. The gun’s full charge had been exhausted. It was no longer of any use. She dropped it. She knew the hit had been direct. A glance showed the rocket already curving in a terrible kind of deceptive gentleness away to the right over New Washington. Soon its parabola would become a screaming plunge. Nothing could divert it. To try to destroy it in the air would mean nothing, for in any case, its deadly tons of G-Agent would be spread on the winds over the land.
The Foundation and everything in it would by now be thoroughly contaminated by the G-Agent she had released inside. It would take a long time to decontaminate, to rebuild. And a lot of people were going to die, would be dying now. The antidote would save many from death. It would preserve others short of death in a state she could not envy, for to her it would be far worse than dying.
But Mary could hardly concern herself with the wrecking of the Foundation, or the people who would die. Her concern was intense—to escape, to hide. And to know for certain whether or not, now that her task was done, the agonizing coercive directions from the Martian rocket would continue.
So far there was no hint of this. She only wanted to get away. There were no invisible fingers probing in there, none of the drawing to tautness that had so many times ended in torture. Maybe, somehow, the directive rocket with its intricate mechanism was delicately equipped to know when her job was successfully done.
She would soon know.
The helio whined with strain. A shiver racked the metal. A scream burst from Mary’s lips. She concentrated on her hands, forced the controls, drove the helio at maximum speed, trying to head across the park reserve toward the river and the great National Forest area.
But already they were in close pursuit. Figures were running in all directions far below.
The stars were breaking out and it was night now except for the glare of the exploding rocket far to the left. Now below the forest area shifted into view and the winding shine of the river.
Night was the best time for the spreading of the G-Agent. Inversion was right. The stuff swept along close to the ground which cooled more slowly than the air. That, too, had been planned. The timing was right. Everything had been worked out right.
But now—what was to happen to her?
She felt none of the probing demands from the direction rocket. She felt not even a hint of them. Perhaps they had gone away forever and she was free. Free! FREE!
They wanted her alive, or her helio with her as part of it, would have been disintegrated long before this. She could understand why. The worst that she could do she had done. There was no need in killing her to prevent more sabotage. They wanted her alive. They wanted to know who she was, what she was, what organization or organizations she represented, if any. They had no idea who she was. Or at least it seemed unlikely yet that they had found out. Perhaps they even thought she was a Martian. Whatever they thought, they didn’t know. She realized how desperately they had to know.
The helio dropped straight down toward the deceptive softness of the forest sea. The wind sighed around the helio as the green darkness loomed up, seeming to rush up from all sides, its softness changing suddenly into the harshness of jagged limbs and bulging trunks. She clung to the dead controls as though there were some kind of promise in them, some solidity. But everything dropped from under her, a sickening dislocation, as she clung as though she had no support, as though the earth itself were falling away.
The tearing impact was like a thousand echos of her terrors.
And the forest and the wet shine of harsh wood that tore metal and ripped like flashes of hot light, the blanket of crushing leaves, and the cooling shadows rushed smothering in around her.
Lights fingered through the leaves. She could hear footsteps, stealthy and invisible, flowing among the lights. The lights moved around, streaming in from all directions, like the shifting bars of a tightening cage.
She wasn’t dead! When she moved slightly in the twisted shine of metal, a beam of light glanced from it in a blinding glare. She felt the pain from her torn leg. Her right side seemed crushed. She felt the hotness of blood burning her ribs.
She heard voices murmuring through wet leaves, caught the slight movement of protective green suiting and the shining leer of gas masks. They were far upwind now from where the rocket had crashed to spew out its lethal loads. She didn’t know as she squirmed desperately through the jagged hole in the metal, whether or not one of the many subsidiary rockets had exploded up wind from this location.
It was something to look forward to.
She tried to suppress the whimpering moan as the torn leg scraped over the metal. Then she dropped to the damp leaves and crouched there and wondered which way to go. The light beams moved in, criss-crossed now like a tightening wire mesh. She crawled, digging her fingers into the leaves. The leaves whispered a call to her from above.
The light swung. Its beam flooded full and blindingly in her face. A gun came into view over the edge of the beam and feet smashed toward her through the brush.
Her only weapon was the oldest one of all. She sprang up. The beam flashed upward in a wavering circle as her hands closed on the man’s throat. Her weight carried him scrambling back. His heels caught. He fell. His hands stabbed around with the gun as his breath choked off and his muscles worked with panicky power. With her left hand she dug into his windpipe. She released the other hand and tore the mask away, ripping the tough fiber like rotten cloth.
She flung the flashbeam away, dragged the guard into the brush. Light beams slashed around as she crouched among the leaves. The man no longer struggled. When she took her hand away from his throat, he still did not struggle.
A beam flashed full over her, held. Someone yelled wildly: “The guy who fell out of the helio! He was right. Oh God—he wasn’t crazy!”
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot, you idiot!”
“I tell you he was right! It’s Mary! The man was right—”
“Don’t shoot! That’s an order!”
She leaped up, caught the limb. She went on up among the thick sweet concealment of a thousand leaves. She swung into the next tree, then the next, faster and faster she moved. The leaves skimmed past her face.
Her breath came in ecstatic gasps as the light beams faded behind, and the damp dark freedom of the trees spread away in all directions.
She knew which way to go. And she was going there a long time before she even realized the fact. She wondered vaguely for a moment then how it was that she knew where to go, for it was a long way, over the river, and through the hills and the forest.
Guards in helios whirred everywhere in the night clouds. Cars whined through the narrow roads around her. A net formed through the forest. A net of men, guns, lights, cars, helios, and many kinds of detectors.
For what seemed much longer than it was, her strength held.
It enabled her to pierce the net again and again when they were sure she was trapped. She went over it, under it, through it, part of the thick night in the trees and the brush. The river was the worst, for she hated water.
But she could no longer climb through the comparative safe corridors of the trees. She could no longer run. Air sucked between her teeth. One leg dragged behind her as she crawled slowly through the dark, along the lake, up the winding path. She could only crawl. Finally crawling became a hitching dragging effort that slowed with each attempt.
Blood and dirt had formed a sticky mud over her leg and ribs and chest. Damp leaves stuck to her, and the bitter rocks of the path leading up to the cabin had cut her flesh. There were lights in the windows of Lake House. The windows and the door were open to the warm night. Beyond the cabin she could see Daddy Mike’s helio on the landing.
How quiet and peaceful it is, she thought, here by the lake in the forest in the night. The moon moved from behind the clouds and spread a warm golden mist over the ground. Frogs sang from the lake below. And from all around came the insistent humming and stirrings and singings of life, but all muted and peaceful and subdued to make the night peaceful and quiet.
She dug her fingers into the rock of the path. Her body dragged on a little at a time. She whimpered again, but not very loud. Her body flattened in a weariness that was only a little above defeat. Her face pressed to the cool stone.
“Daddy,” the inexpressible thought was a whisper in her mind. “Help me, Daddy. You love me—”
She remembered the warmth inside, the old man with his warm laughter, taking her on his lap, caressing her, swinging her up on his shoulders and walking with her along the lake in the evening. She thought of the old man who loved her.
The thought gave her enough strength to reach the open door. She lay there sighing in her chest, her face pressed against the wood.
She raised her eyes to the interior of the cabin.
She tried to move nearer, tried to lift her hand up into the shaft of light. She wanted to call out, say something. Only a low inaudible moan strained through her clenched teeth.
She rolled half over. Inside then, she saw Daddy Mike. He was sitting near the big radio panel, his head bowed and resting on his hands. On the other side, through the open door, she could see the gleam of glass and metal from the big laboratory. A spasm went through her. She could hear the sounds of caged life in there.
Lights blinked on the radio panel. Michelson slowly raised his head and twisted a dial. “Yes,” he said. She could hardly hear him. He seemed very tired, more tired than she had ever seen him. And much older too. Old and thin and tired.
“I’ve got Guards on the way up there, Mike! Has that damn thing showed up yet?”
“I don’t know why I never figured it would try to get back there. But that’s where it’s heading, we’re sure of it now. Listen, Mike—if it does get up there before my men do, remember, don’t kill it! Do anything you can think of, but keep it there and don’t kill it! Apparently it’s wounded anyway!”
“Yes, yes,” Michelson said. He brushed at his eyes.
Mary lay there, half inside the open cabin door, imprisoned by her inability to speak. She stared into the laboratory, then at Michelson.
“We’re set back at least five years, Mike! It’s a hellish thing! But who could have anticipated a thing like that?”
“I guess nobody could.”
“We’re getting things under control, but it’s hell down here! We don’t know yet how many people have died.”
“How could it be,” Michelson said. “I’ve tried to figure out—”
Engstrand’s voice was loud. It seemed to Mary that he was right there in the cabin with Michelson. “It’s obvious what happened, Mike! Those first experimental rockets we sent up there. The damn Martians got hold of one of those chimps and worked on it. Sent it back and we didn’t suspect the difference. They made it intelligent enough to plan and execute this whole thing! They must have put one of their own brains into it or something. Only a damn Martian would think of a thing like that!”
Michelson’s head raised quickly. From the side, Mary could see his eyes suddenly widen. Then he wiped his hand across his lips.
The hand trembled. “Of course,” he whispered then. “But who could ever have suspected it?”
“That’s the only explanation,” Engstrand said. “We’ve got to have that chimp alive! We can learn plenty from it. We’ll cut in there and put that brain under observation….”
“I’ll do what I can, if Mary shows up here,” Michelson said. “But those Guards should get here!”
“They will, Mike! They will! They’re on their way.”
Mary dug her fingers into the floor. She moved slightly, and one hand fell with a slight thud. Michelson looked down. He kept on staring. His lips moved without saying anything a few times, then he stammered. “Engstrand—she’s here!”
“She’s here—here on the floor. She just—just crawled in through the door!”
“Don’t kill her! Get a hypo or something—”
Michelson slowly stood up. “There’s no danger,” he finally said, still looking down at her. “She’s wounded all right. She looks almost dead now.”
“Don’t let her die!” Engstrand’s voice filled the room. “You’ve got to keep her alive!”
“All right, I’ll do what I can,” Michelson said. “You’d better come up now. Bring the medics. We may have to work on her fast.”
“I will. I’m on my way!”
She wanted to say no. She wanted to scream out no and tell him it was all wrong. If the Martians had given her the ability to speak, she could have explained everything long before this, and they could have helped her, and none of this would have happened. She could explain how she was forced to kill and destroy.
Michelson backed away from her, haltingly, then ran into the lab. He came back out and knelt down. He had a long hypodermic needle. The needle came down. It looked bigger and bigger.
She had thought maybe he would understand. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. Nobody could.
A few words could have made all the difference. But she could not speak.
What she wanted to explain most of all was that it was no kind of Martian intelligence that had been given to her. The Martians had no familiar kind of intelligence. They had worked on her, developed her own brain to its capacity. If they only knew that here it would be so different. I’m more like you, she wanted to explain, more like you than you could possibly guess. She could say nothing.
She could only whimper as the needle went in. Dimly, she saw the table wheeled out, the shiny familiar gleam of the instruments, the septic chrome containers and the rising cleansing waves of steam.
She felt herself being lifted to the table. The wheels turned inexorably under her. The ceiling swam in a blur above her. The gray aging tired face bent over her. She could roll her eyes back and see the dark mouth of the laboratory door opening wider and wider as she was wheeled toward it, through it—
You said you loved me, she thought, as he bent over her and she could hear the clinking of glass. But you never did because if you did you would understand, even though I cannot speak.
She closed her eyes. Around her were the familiar smells, the antiseptic, the chemicals, the odor of animals waiting to die or be experimented on in their cages. She could hear the chattering of the monkeys, the coughing of dogs, the squealing of rats. She could remember how the placid guinea pigs would be seeking one anothers’ warmth in the corner of a cage.
It was all beginning again, and there would never never, she knew, be an ending to it.
She clutched at his hand, squeezed it between her hands and pressed it against her cheek.
“Daddy,” the thought whispered unheard, “Daddy Mike—”#ENGLISH