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´╗┐Title: Tangle Hold
Author: Wallace, F. L. (Floyd L.), 1915-2004
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tangle Hold" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



TANGLE HOLD

By F. L. WALLACE

Illustrated by EMSH


[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction
June 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Sidenote: Jadiver objected to being the greatest influence for good on
Venus ... because what was good for Venus was bad for Jadiver!]


Somebody was wrapping him in a sheet of ice and spice. Somebody was
pulling it tight so that his toes ached and his fingers tingled. He
still had fingers, and eyes too. He opened his eyes and they turned in
opposite directions and couldn't focus on what they saw. He made an
effort, but couldn't keep it up and had to let his eyes flutter shut
again.

"Rest. You're all right." That's where he got the idea of ice and
spice--from that voice.

"Mmmm," said Jadiver. He tried to raise his hand, but it wouldn't move.
It was good advice--to rest; he couldn't do otherwise. "What happened?"
he whispered.

"You had an accident. Remember?"

He didn't. It was his mind playing tricks, of course. It couldn't have
been pleasant if his memory didn't have access to it.

"Mmmm," he evaded.

"Go to sleep. We'll talk later."

He thought he felt something shoved deep in his flesh, but he may have
been wrong. In any event, the light that filtered through his closed
eyelids faded away and the external world, of which there wasn't much in
the first place, vanished completely.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later, he awakened. How much later, he didn't know, but it may have been
days. The oppressive languor had left him and he felt capable of
movement. To prove it to himself, he turned his head. He was alone, and
he thought he recognized where he was. He didn't like it.

There was an odor in the room, but this time it was the kind that
lingers in all hospitals. He tried to sit up, but that was more than he
could manage. He lay there a long time, looking through the heavily
reinforced window; then someone came in.

"You'll live," said the voice behind him--the same voice.

"Think so?" He hadn't intended to turn around, but the spice was back
and he wanted to see. It was only the fragrance she wore--there was none
in her voice or demeanor. That was still ice.

When she sat down, he could see that her hair was a shade of copper and
the uniform she wore a dark green. She was not a robot and therefore not
a nurse or a guard. It was logical to assume she was a doctor, police
variety--definitely the police.

Thadeus Jadiver sighed. "What am I in for?"

"You're not in for anything. Maybe you should be, but that's not my
business," she said in a flat voice. That was the only thing about her
that was flat; the rest curved nicely even under the uniform. "This is
an emergency as well as a police hospital. We were close, so we took you
in."

That was reassuring. Jadiver tried to smile as he lifted a curiously
bandaged arm. "Thanks for this."

"I'll take only half the credit. That was a combo job."

He was going to have difficulty if she insisted on using technical
slang. "What's a combo job?"

"Just what it sounds like. A combination robot-human surgeon. All
hospitals use them. The robot is more precise and delicate, but it lacks
the final margin of judgment that's supplied by the human. Two of us
work together in critical cases."

He still couldn't remember what had happened, but it would come back in
time. "I was critical?"

Her mouth was firm and her cheekbones a trifle too broad. Just the same,
the total effect was pleasing, would have been more so with a little
warmth stirred in. "To give you an idea, you'll notice that every square
inch of your skin is now synthetic." She leaned over and took his hand,
which was encased in a light spongy cocoon. Expertly, she peeled back
the end and exposed the tips of his fingers.

Jadiver looked, then turned away. "Cellophane," he said. "A man can be
born, live, die, and be shoveled away; begot and beget, completely
untouched by human hands."

She looked blank at the mention of cellophane. Probably didn't know what
it was, thought Jadiver. So few people did any more.

"Don't worry about it," she said. "Your skin's transparent now, but in a
few days it will be normal."

"That's nice," said Jadiver. "I suppose it would be educational, but I'd
just as soon not be an anatomy model of the first layer of the human
body."

She stood up and managed to work up a creditable imitation of interest.
"We had to peel off the burned part, and when you were completely raw,
we fitted the synthetic skin to your body. Over that we sprayed the
bandage. New body cells form with this synthetic substance as the
matrix. You'll gradually return to normal or better. Your new skin may
be more resistant to corrosive chemicals and microbe invasions."

"Glad to hear it," said Jadiver. "Superman."

For the first time, she smiled. "Don't count on it. This stuff is too
new for us to know how it reacts in all cases." She turned around at the
door. "In a few days I'll take off the bandages and you can go home.
Meanwhile, you know what to do if you need anything."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jadiver lay there after she left, thinking. He hadn't asked what the
accident was and she had assumed he remembered. He ought to, but he
didn't. He frowned and tried to recall the last thing he had been doing.

They had removed his skin and replaced it with a synthetic substance.
Why? Take it from there and work back.

He stirred uneasily. The last he remembered, he'd been in his apartment.
That didn't help much; he was often there. He shook his head. He was in
the apartment, preparing to leave. That meant he must have used the
autobath. That was it. The picture came into focus:

He touched the door of the autobath and it swung open. He went inside.
"Shave, massage, bath," he ordered.

The mechanism reached out of the wall to enfold him. He leaned back. It
gripped him, not comfortably, as usual--but tightly. He squirmed, but
when the grip didn't adjust, he relaxed.

The autobath rumbled familiarly and a jet of water spouted up from the
floor. It was icy cold and Jadiver shivered.

"You didn't listen," he said firmly. "I asked for the bath last."

The autobath paid no attention. The top and side jets turned on. The
force was greater than he had ever experienced. It was difficult to
breathe. The water got hotter rapidly, and then, seconds later, steam
blew out of the nozzles.

Jadiver shouted and tried to struggle free. The autobath did not let go.
Instead, it ground at his muscles with hard inflexible hands. Here and
there his skin began parting from his flesh. The autobath kept on
kneading him. It was when it reached for his face--Jadiver remembered
very clearly--he lost consciousness.

He lay on the bed in the hospital, sweat soaking into the bandages. He
could understand why he'd had a memory block--being boiled alive was
frightful enough for his mind to repress.

It was not only the accident that was disturbing, but the manner in
which it occurred. He knew robot machinery and the principles used in
the construction of it. The autobath was one of the best--foolproof, if
there was such a mechanism.

Someone had tampered with it--object: _to try to kill him_.

That was one possibility and he could face it with equanimity.

There was also another, but he didn't like to think about that.

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked out over Venicity. From his apartment, the topography
resembled that of a lunar crater. In the middle was a giant concrete
plain, the rocketport. From the edges of the rocketport, the size of the
buildings increased gradually; at a third of the distance from the
center, they were at maximum height; thereafter, they decreased
gradually until one and two story structures nibbled at the surrounding
forest.

Five million people and in ten years there would undoubtedly be seven, a
sizable metropolis even for Earth. That didn't mean that the population
of Venus could compare with the home planet. Venus was settled
differently. Newcomers started with the cities; only later did they
venture out into the vast wild lands. Venus was civilized, after a
fashion, but it wasn't a copy of Earth.

The screen glimmered at his back. "Thadeus Jadiver, consulting
engineer?"

He turned. "That's right. Can I help you?"

The man on the screen closed one eye slowly and opened it again the same
way. "This is Vicon Burlingame. I've been doing some experimenting and
am now at the point where I can use some technical assistance."

"I'm not sure. I've been in the hospital until this morning. I think I
need a checkup."

"I called while you were gone," said Burlingame. "I know about the
hospital; however, I don't think my work will be strenuous. Perhaps
you'd come over and we'll discuss it."

"I'll take the chance I can help you."

"Good." Vicon Burlingame gave him the address before fading out of the
screen.

Jadiver dressed slowly. Weak, but better than he expected. Physically,
his recovery was far advanced. It wasn't he who was taking a chance, of
course; it was Burlingame. Jadiver had warned him and if Burlingame was
willing to risk it, that was up to him.

Before he left, Jadiver checked his office. A few calls in the last
week, but nothing important. It was a routine check and he gave the
robot routine instructions.

A tiny thing, that office, located on the ground floor of a building
fronting a principal thoroughfare. A space large enough for a client to
sit down, if one should come, which wasn't often. Behind the desk was
the upper half of a robot. Tiny though the office was, it was not
inexpensive, and the business that passed through it was barely enough
to pay the rent.

There were other advantages in maintaining it, though. As long as he had
a business address, he was spared certain legal embarrassments.

       *       *       *       *       *

Five minutes later, he was greeted by Vicon Burlingame. "Come in."
Jadiver did so.

Burlingame silently studied Jadiver closely. "Maybe you're tired," he
said at last. "A little sun would relax you."

"It might," agreed Jadiver. "This cloudy Venus."

"It's not so bad when you're home," said Burlingame. "But public places
are bad for ultraviolet." He indicated the next room. "The lamp is in
there."

Jadiver went in and began to remove his clothing. Before he finished,
a little man came in, nodding silently at Jadiver. Without comment,
Jadiver stood in front of the machine. While the little man methodically
examined him, his clothing disappeared.

The little man looked up at the end of the intensive investigation.
"You'll do," he said.

"Clear?" asked Jadiver.

"Clear as the atmosphere of the Moon. We were afraid they'd planted you
while you were in the hospital, but we decided to take the chance."

For the first time since the accident, Jadiver felt relaxed. "Thanks,
Cobber. I was hoping to contact someone to check it for me."

Cobber shrugged. "Who can you trust? If you go to a doctor good enough
to find a gadget that small, what is he? A high-powered professional and
he's got his problems. He sees something inside and smiles and says
you're fine and charges you a fat fee. Even if he tells you that you've
been planted, there's nothing you can do. No one's going to cut it
out--not while the police can hear everything through it."

"Thanks for taking the chance."

Burlingame came in smiling confidently. "Now we can talk," he said.
Behind him were three other men Jadiver had never seen.

"Where are my clothes?" Jadiver wanted to know.

"They'll be ready," promised Burlingame. "The police have got all kinds
of cute tricks, only we don't fall for them. We're systematic."

They were that, decided Jadiver, and something more. They had to be to
survive so long. Burlingame was good.

A gamin's face peered through the doorway and one hand thrust his
clothing into the room and waved it. "Here. They didn't try to conceal
anything." She sounded disappointed.

Jadiver dressed as Burlingame relayed the clothing to him. The gamin
wrinkled her nose and disappeared. By the time Jadiver was completely
dressed, she came back with refreshments.

They sat down at the table. "I want faces," said Burlingame, across from
him--"five faces."

Jadiver looked around. There were six. "None of my business, except in a
professional way, but who do I leave out?"

"Cobber. We have other plans for him."

It wasn't a good idea to pry. He had to know the human material on which
he was expected to work, but it was safer not to know what they were
planning.

He tapped his glass. "What kind of faces? Soft faces, hard faces, space
faces? And do you want anything else?"

"Society faces," said Burlingame. "Emily wants to wear a low-cut gown.
The rest of us just need faces."

"Real low," the gamin insisted, wriggling.

"Society," mused Jadiver. "I always did think it was better to rob the
rich ... like Robin Hood."

"Sure," Burlingame said.

Jadiver tilted the glass. "Especially since the poor don't have much
money."

"That has something to do with it," Burlingame cheerfully agreed.

Cobber broke in. He was a little gnarled man, older than the others. "A
point, Jadiver. The poor don't have much money, but there's so many more
of them. You can actually be more successful robbing them. But you have
to keep at it every day in the year, and then you don't call it robbery;
you say you're governing them."

"Don't have that kind of stamina," said Burlingame.

"A good point, Cobber." Jadiver leaned on the table. "I don't want
specific information, but how can you make robbery pay off these days?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Burlingame looked at him astutely. "Considering it yourself?"

Jadiver shook his head. "Intellectual curiosity. I'm doing all right in
my own line."

"It's a theory," said Burlingame. "You can't touch banks or financial
institutions. Too many electronic safeguards, robots, and what have you.
In order to get past that kind of equipment, you have to be a top-notch
scientist--and one that can do better at a top-notch job.

"Now, who's got money? The rich, and they _want_ to show it off wherever
they go. Naturally they take precautions, too, but people are always
involved and that's the weakness. You can build a machine that does one
thing perfectly, but people make mistakes--they get rattled. Teamwork
can take advantage of it. A feint here, and a block there, and before
anyone knows what's happening, we're through their defenses. With, of
course, their money."

Jadiver looked at him, at his handsome, ruddy, respectable face. "You
played football?"

Burlingame grinned. "Twenty-five years ago."

"It's changed. You wouldn't recognize it now."

"Perhaps not. But the principle is still the same, and it's the
principle that pays off."

Jadiver stood up. "I'd better get started. Where do I work?"

"Here," said Burlingame. "We have the tools ready for you."

"Mind if I look at the setup?"

"Go ahead."

The gamin bounced up and took charge of Jadiver, leading him to a small
workshop screened off in a corner of one of the larger rooms. The layout
was authentic enough to justify the equipment--a few robot forms in the
rough state, handbooks on design, several robot heads in various stages
of completion, and an assortment of the specialized tools of the trade.
It was standard for the tinkerer, for the would-be designer of robot
bodies. Burlingame always covered himself in every detail.

Jadiver inspected it thoroughly, the gamin standing impatiently at his
side.

"I'm first when you're ready," she said.

He eyed her amusedly. "What's the hurry?"

"There's more to do on me and you'll do your best work when you're not
tired."

"I'll start soon. Let me see the plastic."

She opened a cabinet and there it was. Jadiver squatted and read the
instructions on the containers. He shook his head in despair. Every
amateur always did this.

He stood up. "You've got the worst kind," he said.

She shrugged. "They told me it was the best."

"That depends. There are two kinds, and this one does look more real
than the other. In fact, for a time this actually becomes a part of your
body, a pseudo-flesh. But it's quite dangerous."

"The other kind is just a cosmetic, isn't it?"

"That's right, but--"

"Then I'm not worried," she said, tossing her head. "The way I see it,
it's dangerous not to use the best disguise we can get."

She might be right. At least he'd warned her, and as long as she had the
facts straight, the decision was hers to make.

Jadiver peeled off his jacket and slid into a protective smock. "Ask
Burlingame to come in. This is going to be delicate, you know."

The gamin grinned. "I've never been overly concerned about Vicon, and he
knows I can take care of myself." She stepped behind a screen and
presently came out again, nude. "Where do you want me to stand?"

"On the pedestal, under the light." He looked at her closely. He had
thought she was a little girl, a tired little girl who hadn't slept much
recently. It was the pert face that had fooled him, with the upturned
nose, because she wasn't young. Forty he would say, maybe more, nearly
as old as Burlingame.

Her body was slight, but not much was wrong with it. Here and there were
a few wrinkles, though in general her figure appeared youthful. It would
require all his skill to make her as spectacular in a low-cut gown as
she wanted to be. And her legs, though well shaped, were slightly
bowed, a sure sign of Venusian rickets. Early settlers hadn't realized
that the soil was deficient in some essential trace elements.

He would have to straighten her legs if she expected to mingle with
society. It was beyond his power to change the bones, but he could add
pseudo-flesh to give the same effect.

He slipped on the mask, attached the various containers, thrust his hand
into the glovelike control valve, and began to work.

She winced involuntarily as the spray tingled against her body and
adhered with constrictive force. He blocked out the areas he had to
alter and then began to fill in and build up.

"I don't see it," said Emily. "I know you must be good. That's why
Burlingame wanted you. But it seems to me this is out of your line."

He brought the spray up in a straight line along the edge of her shin.
"How good I am is a matter of opinion. Mine and the places I've worked."

"What places, for instance?"

"Mostly Earth."

"I've never been there," she said wistfully.

"You haven't missed much." He knew that, while he believed that with
part of his mind, essentially he was wrong. As the spray was drying on
her legs, he started filling out her breasts. "However, this isn't as
much out of my line as you think. Engineers specialize, you know. Mine's
industrial design. We don't usually monkey with the internal mechanism
of a machine, though we're able to. Mostly, we design housings for the
machines, robots as a rule."

He proceeded to her face and changed the upturned nose to a straight
one. "The ideal external appearance of a machine ought to establish the
function of that machine, and do so with the most efficient distribution
of space and material."

He stood back and eyed the total effect. She was coming along. "The
human body is a good design--for a human. It doesn't belong on a robot.
That, for most purposes, should be a squat container with three wheels
or treads, with eye-stalks and tentacles on top. I designed one like
that, but it was never built. Robots always look like beautiful girls or
handsome men, and the mechanism is twice as clumsy as it should be, in
order to fit in with that conception."

He squinted at the spray. "In other words, I design robot bodies and
faces. Why should it be strange I can do the same with humans?"

The spray was neither a liquid nor a dustlike jet. She shivered under
it. "Why don't you like robots? I don't see anything wrong with them.
They're so beautiful."

He laughed. "I'll give you an idea. I got tired of the meaningless
perfection of the bodies I was turning out. Why shouldn't the bodies be
beautiful, considering how they're made? Anyway, I put a pimple on one
model. Not on her face. Her shoulder."

She extended her hands and he took off the fine wrinkles with a sweeping
motion of the spray. "What happened?"

"I had to start looking for another job. But somebody higher up began to
think about what I'd done. Now, on Earth, all robots that model clothing
have some perceptible skin defects. More lifelike, they say."

"Is that why you came to Venus?"

"I'd been considering it for some time. It seemed to me that there ought
to be a place for a good designer, even if I did have to work on
robots." He smiled wryly. "A lot of other engineers had the same idea."

"Too much competition?"

"Sort of." He grimaced. "My first job here was designing female bodies
for so-called social clubs."

"Oh, those," she said scornfully.

"It's legitimate on Venus. Anyway, I tried out that idea again.
Customers didn't like it. Said they could get women with blemishes any
time. When they got a robot, they wanted perfection."

"Don't blame them," Emily said practically. She looked at him with
sudden suspicion. "Don't give _me_ pimples."

"Not a one," he assured her. "You're flawless."

And she was--with only one item missing. He flexed his fingers in the
control glove and sprayed on nipples. She was finished.

He shucked off the mask and laid aside the spray gun. "Look at
yourself."

She went to the mirror and turned in front of it. She smoothed her hands
across her face and smiled with pleasure. "It feels like flesh."

"It is, almost. Tomorrow you'll bleed there if you cut yourself."

She nodded. "Is that all?"

"Except for instructions, yes."

She looked at him with curious shyness and hurriedly slipped into her
clothing. She hadn't minded nudity before, when she wasn't as lovely as
she wanted to be. What she didn't know was that Jadiver liked her better
as she had been.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dressed, she came back to him. "What are those instructions?"

He tore off two envelopes attached to the container. He checked the
spray gun to determine how much had been used.

"Pseudo-flesh is highly poisonous," he said, handing her the envelopes.
"The tablets in the white package neutralize the toxic effects. Take one
every eight hours. And don't forget to take it, unless you want to end
up in convulsions on the floor."

"I'll remember. When do I begin?"

"In three hours. And now for some advice I know you don't want. You can
keep yourself as you are for two months. But you'll be healthier if you
get rid of the pseudo-flesh as soon as you can."

She looked longingly at the face in the mirror. "How do I do that?"

"When you're ready, take the tablets in the green package, one every
hour until the pseudo-flesh is absorbed. After it's gone, take three
more at the same interval. The total time should be about thirteen
hours." She was not paying attention. He eased between her and the
mirror. "Get a complete checkup before you try this again. It takes
years off your life."

"I know that. How many?"

"I can't say exactly. It's a body, pseudo-flesh weight ratio, plus some
other factors that no one knows anything about. I'd estimate that you'll
lose about three years for every two weeks you keep it."

"It's worth it," she said, gazing again into the mirror. She turned away
in indecision. "I've always known Burlingame was mine, even if I wasn't
pretty. Now I'm not so sure, after this."

It wasn't exactly Burlingame she was concerned with, thought Jadiver.
For a while she was going to be beautiful beyond her expectations. The
irony was that almost any robot outshone her temporary beauty. She was
jealous of machines that had no awareness of how they looked.

Jadiver straightened up. He hadn't fully recovered from his accident and
he was tired. And the artificial skin, no matter what they said, hadn't
been completely integrated to his body. It itched.

"Send the rest of them in, one at a time," he said as she went out.

It wasn't going to take long, for which he was grateful. Now that he
knew a spying device hadn't been surgeried into him, there were certain
aspects of the accident that demanded investigation.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jadiver limped into the apartment. The chair unfolded and came to meet
him as he entered. He relaxed in the depths of it and called out for
food. Soon he had eaten, and shortly after that he dozed.

When he awakened, refreshed, he began the thinking he'd put off until
now. The fee from Burlingame was welcome. It was dangerous business, so
Jadiver had charged accordingly. Now his economic problem was solved for
about a month.

In the hospital he had been sure of a motive for the accident. It had
seemed simple enough: the police had planted a spying device in him.
However, since he had been examined thoroughly at Burlingame's and
nothing had been found, that theory broke down.

There was still another possibility--someone had tried to kill him and
had failed. If so, that put the police in the clear and he would have to
look elsewhere. He might as well start there.

He walked over to the autobath and began inspecting it. It wasn't the
one he'd been injured in. That had been removed and replaced by the
management. It would have helped if he had been able to go over the
original one.

The new autobath was much like the old, a small unit that fitted
decoratively into the scheme of the room, not much taller than an
upright man, or longer than a man lying down. The mechanism itself, and
there was plenty, was effectively sealed. Short of an atomic torch,
there wasn't any way to get into it.

Jadiver pryed and poked, but learned nothing. In response to the human
voice, it automatically provided all the services necessary to human
cleanliness, but there was no direct way to check on the involved
mechanism.

       *       *       *       *       *

He finally called the firm that made it. The usual beautiful robot
answered: "Living Rooms, Incorporated. Can I help you?"

"Information," he said. "Autobath unit."

"Sales? New or replacement?"

"Service. I want to see about repairs."

"We have no repair department. Nothing ever wears out."

"Perhaps not, but it becomes defective and has to be replaced."

"Defective parts are a result of wear. Since nothing wears out, no
repair is necessary. Occasionally an autobath is damaged, but then it
doesn't work at all, even if the damage is slight. It has to be
replaced."

That was what he thought, but it was better to be sure. "This is
hypothetical," he said. "Suppose there was an accident in an autobath.
Is there an alarm system which would indicate that something was wrong?"

The robot was smooth and positive. "Your question is basically
misleading, according to our statistics. In eight hundred and forty one
million plus installations, on all the inhabited planets of the Solar
System, there has never been one accident.

"The autobath is run by a small atomic motor and is not connected in any
way to an outside power source. There are plumbing connections, but
these are not suitable for the transmission of a signal. To answer your
question specifically: There is no alarm system of any kind, local or
general, nor is there any provision for someone else to attach one."

"Thanks," said Jadiver, and cut the screen.

He was nearly certain now. One check remained.

       *       *       *       *       *

He flipped on a switch and walked out of the room to the hall and stood
there listening. He could hear nothing. He came closer to the door and
there was still no sound. He pressed his ear against the juncture of the
door and jamb. Not the slightest noise.

He winced when he opened the door. The music he had switched on was
deafening. He hurried inside and turned it off. He had known his
apartment was sound-proofed. Just how good that soundproofing was, he
hadn't tested until now.

The so-called accident had happened in the autobath. The unit couldn't
signal that anything was wrong. No one passing in the hall could hear
his yells.

The evidence indicated that no accident could happen in the
autobath--yet it had.

Logically, he should have died in that accident that couldn't
happen--yet he hadn't.

What did they want? And was it the police? In the hospital he had been
sure--certain, too, of what they were attempting. Now the facts wouldn't
fit.

Tiredness came back, reinforced by doubt. His skin itched--probably from
nervous tension. He finally fell into an uneasy sleep with the help of a
sedative.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning, the itch was still there. He looked curiously at his
skin; it appeared normal. It was definitely not transparent, hadn't been
even in the hospital when the bandages were removed. He'd had a glimpse
of it in the original transparent stage only once, when the doctor had
exposed the tips of his fingers.

Briefly he wondered about it. Did it really itch that bad, or was it an
unconscious excuse to see the doctor? She was a sullen, indifferent
creature, but without doubt worth seeing again. He didn't know her name,
but he could find out easily enough.

As if in answer to the silent question, his whole body twitched
violently. He raked his fingers across his forearm and the nails broke
off. She was at least partly right in her predictions; his skin was
considerably tougher than it had been, though nothing appeared
different.

He didn't like communicating with the police, but he had little choice.
He flipped on the screen and made a few inquiries.

The name he wanted was Doctor Doumya Filone. She was off duty at
present. However, if it was an emergency--? His skin crawled and he
decided it was just that and identified himself. There were a number of
persons with whom he had contacts who wouldn't approve his doing this,
but they didn't have to live in his skin.

He dialed her quickly. He couldn't place the number, but figured it was
probably across town, in one of the newer districts. He didn't fully
remember what she was like until she appeared on the screen. With that
face to put on a robot, he might make a fortune. That is, if he could
capture the expression as well as the features.

"How's the patient?" she asked. Behind her briskness he thought he could
detect a flicker of concern.

"You can take back that skin you gave me," he said. "It itches."

She frowned. "I told you it was very new. We aren't able to anticipate
all the reactions." She paused. "However, it shouldn't itch. By now it
ought to be well integrated with your body and new cell growth should be
occurring with the synthetic substance as the matrix."

"Thanks," he said dryly. "That doesn't explain how I feel."

Unperturbed, she looked down at a desk he could imagine, but could not
see. She got up and walked out of the field of vision. She was gone for
quite some time.

A disturbing thought formed in his mind. Was she calling elsewhere for
instructions? There was no reason why she should, yet the thought
persisted.

She came back. "Get a detergent. What kind doesn't matter. Put it in the
autobath and take a hot bath, plenty of lather. Soak in it for at least
fifteen minutes."

       *       *       *       *       *

Her prescription was primitive in the extreme. Did she really expect it
to be effective, or did she have something else in mind?

"Do you think I'm going to trust myself to that machine?" he said. "I've
got myself a little enamel basin. Had to steal it out of a museum."

Nothing was outwardly changed, but she seemed slightly sympathetic. "I
can understand how you feel, but you'll have to get over it or go
pioneering in the wild lands. As long as you're in a city, you can't
rent, buy or build accommodations that have no autobath. Besides, I've
been assured that the odds are against that happening again."

That was an understatement, if his information was correct. Actually, he
had wanted her reaction, but it didn't tell him a thing.

"Feel better already," he said.

She nodded. "Suggestion at work. Take your bath now and call me tomorrow
if it doesn't work. Sooner, if you need to." She cut their connection
before he could answer.

In addition to physical relief, he had hoped that she would let slip
some information. She hadn't done so. Of course, she might not know
anything more than the purely medical aspects of the police plan. If it
was the police.

He left the screen and checked the autobath for supplies. Satisfactory
for the present. He removed his clothing, stepped inside, and followed
her instructions. A tub rose out of the floor, filled with water, and
the mechanism immersed him in it. Thick soapy suds billowed up and warm
water laved his skin. The rubbery hands of the autobath were soft and
massaged him gently and expertly.

He tried to relax. So far, he had suffered no irreparable harm. He tried
to avoid the memory of his accident, but that was impossible. The one
comfort was that his death was not the objective. He corrected
himself--not the _immediate_ objective.

Anyway, he'd been rescued and placed under good medical care. How the
rescue had been effected was unknown, unless it had been included in the
plan from the beginning. If so, he could assume that the autobath had
been tampered with and fixed with a signal that would indicate when he
was unconscious.

"Fifteen minutes and ten seconds," said the autobath. "Do you wish to
remain longer?"

"That'll do," he said. "The rinse, please."

He lay back and curled up his legs, stretching his arms while clear
water flowed soothingly over him. In spite of his skepticism, this
primitive prescription of Doumya Filone seemed to work. The itch had
stopped completely; although his skin was now mottled. No scars; the
hospital and Doumya Filone had done a good job.

He scrutinized his skin carefully. The marks were not actually on his
skin; they were beneath it. So faint as to be almost invisible, it was
nevertheless a disturbing manifestation. The marks gradually became more
distinct. It looked like a shadowy web thrown over and pressed deep into
his body.

       *       *       *       *       *

The autobath lifted him and he stood in front of the mirror. There was
no mistake--a network spread over his body, arms, legs, face too;
perhaps on his head as well, though he couldn't see that. His skin was
not transparent--it was translucent for a certain depth.

Disfigurement didn't concern him. Even if the condition persisted, it
wasn't noticeable enough to constitute a handicap. It was not the
superficial nervous system showing through, nor the capillary blood
vessels. The web effect was strikingly regular, almost mathematical in
appearance.

As he looked, the translucence faded and his skin switched to normal,
the marks disappearing. That was the word, switched. He ought to be
thankful for that, he supposed. Somehow he wasn't.

He was out of the autobath and half dressed before the realization came
to him. He knew what the network was, the patterned marks beneath his
skin.

A circuit.

A printed circuit, or, since it was imposed on flesh, possibly tattooed.

[Illustration]

A circuit. What did anyone use a circuit for? To compute, to gather
data, to broadcast, to control. How much of that applied to him, to the
body it was concealed in? The first he could eliminate. Not to compute.
As for the rest, he was not certain. It seemed possible that everything
could be included in the function of the network beneath his skin. He
hadn't been controlled up to now, but that didn't mean control wasn't
there, quiescent, waiting for the proper time. However, it didn't seem
likely. Human mentality was strong, and a reasonably intact mind was
difficult to take over.

What else? To gather data and broadcast it. Of that he could be almost
positive. The data came from his nervous system. He suspected where it
was broadcast to--back to the police.

How the circuit on his body gathered data was unknown. The markings
appeared to parallel his central nervous system. It seemed reasonable
that it operated by induction.

That meant it involved chiefly tactile sensations, unless, of course,
there were other factors he didn't know about. He felt his forehead
carefully, his temples, and his skull around his ears. Nothing, but that
didn't mean that infinitesimal holes hadn't been drilled through his
skull and taps run to the optic and auditory nerves.

It could be done and he wouldn't know about it, couldn't feel it. The
broadcasting circuits could then be spread over his head, or, for that
matter, over any part of his body.

If his suppositions were correct, then he was a living, walking
broadcasting station. Everything he felt, saw or heard was relayed to
some central mechanism which could interpret the signals.

The police.

Cobber had been looking for a spy mechanism, a mechanical device in
Jadiver's body. He hadn't found it, but it was there, almost impossible
to locate. A surgeon might find it by performing an autopsy, but even
then he would have to know what to look for.

How Jadiver had been able to find it was a pure puzzle. Obviously, the
police hadn't been as thorough as they had meant to be. Their mechanism
had somehow gone awry at precisely the time Jadiver was most conscious
of his skin. Without the itch, he would never have noticed it.

At least one thing was clear now--the purpose. He'd been boiled into
unconsciousness, his skin removed, the circuit put in place, and then
had the synthetic substance carefully fitted over his body.

His tension increased, for he knew now that he had betrayed Burlingame
without meaning to--but it was betrayal nonetheless. It wasn't only a
question of professional ethics; it was how long he would remain alive.
Burlingame's survivors, if there were any, would have an excellent idea
of who was responsible.

This thing went with him wherever he went. Did it also sleep when he
did? That wasn't important, really.

He had to try to warn Burlingame.

Even these thoughts might be a mistake. The police might know what he
was thinking. This was one way to determine whether there was such a
thing as mechanically induced telepathy, but he couldn't work up much
enthusiasm for the experiment.

His own problem was essentially the same as if a mechanical spying
device had been planted in him--with one difference. A mechanical part
was a foreign object and could be cut out by any competent surgeon
willing to risk police retaliation. But only those who had installed
this complicated circuit would know how to take it out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Burlingame didn't answer. It was probably useless trying to trace
him--he very likely had arranged to drop out of sight. He was good at
that. The police hadn't caught up with him in twenty years.

There was Cobber. He'd be elsewhere, setting up a rendezvous to which
Burlingame and the rest could return and hide while their faces and
figures were absorbed into their normal bodies. Cobber would be even
tougher to locate.

The only place Burlingame could be found with any degree of certainty,
Jadiver reasoned, would be at the scene of the robbery. Jadiver went to
the screen and spent an intensive half hour in front of it. At the end
of that time, he had narrowed it down to two society events, one of
which would occur in a few hours. He made a decision to cover it and
warn them, if he could. After that, it was up to Burlingame.

Jadiver rubbed his chin; the stubble had to come off. He went to the
autobath, but it wouldn't open. A figure in bas-relief appeared on the
door. The surface had been smooth an instant before.

"Sorry," said the voice of the lifelike, semi-nude girl, "the autobath
is out of certain supplies. It won't function properly until these are
replaced."

"Let's have the list," growled Jadiver. He was jumpy.

The bas-relief figure extended a hand with a slip in it. "If I may
suggest, these can be placed on perpetual order to avoid future
inconvenience."

What the future held was unknown. It wasn't likely to include a
comfortable existence in a well-furnished apartment. "I'll think about
it," he grunted.

"If there's any other way I can help you--"

"There isn't," said Jadiver.

The door shivered and the figure snapped back into the memory plastic
from which it was made. The surface was smooth again.

       *       *       *       *       *

He went to the screen and punched a code. The counter display flashed on
and then was replaced by a handsome neuter face. That face studied him,
ascertained his maximum susceptibility, and promptly faded.

The next face was that of a robot harem girl. Sex sells, that was always
the axiom. "Is there anything I can do for you?" she asked huskily.

"Yes," said Jadiver. "You can get off the screen and let me see some
merchandise."

"We're not allowed to do that."

Jadiver grumbled in defeat. "I want something for my whisk--"

"Just the thing," she said enthusiastically, reaching out of his field
of vision. The hand came back with a package. "Tear off a capsule, crush
it, and apply to your face. It removes whiskers permanently for two
days, and leaves your face as soft and smooth as Martian down."

Jadiver shuddered. "I'd rather be a man than a bird. Do you have
anything that leaves a face feeling like skin?"

The robot harem girl stabbed out frantically, but nothing came to hand.
She turned around and went off to search. Jadiver sighed with relief and
started to scan the shelves. The robot returned before he could make a
selection.

"We have nothing like that," she said, crestfallen. "Asteroid alabaster
or hydroponic grapes and several other things, but no whiskoff that will
leave your face feeling like skin."

"Then order something that will," said Jadiver. "Meanwhile I'll settle
for a face of hydroponic grapes. Two weeks supply will be enough."

The robot complied eagerly. "Anything else? Shampoo?"

Jadiver looked at the list and nodded.

"No need to open the bottle," she rushed on. "Just place in the autobath
dispenser and let the machine do the rest. The bottle will dissolve,
adding to the secret ingredients. Foams in micro-seconds as proven by
actual test, and when you're through, only an expert can tell your hair
from mink."

"Mink?" he repeated. "Don't think I'd like it. What about raccoon? I've
always admired the legendary Daniel Boone, alone in the terrestrial
wilderness with a single-shot rifle. Sure, make it raccoon."

"I know we have none of that." The clerk was positive.

"Then order it," he snapped. "You don't have to furnish the rifle,
though."

She seemed confused. "There is a ten per cent extra charge for
non-standard merchandise."

"All right. Just don't stand there arguing."

When the clerk left the screen to place the order, Jadiver hastily
selected what he wanted. He validated the purchases and snapped off the
screen. The merchandise arrived in a few minutes.

He loaded it into the autobath. This time the door opened and the
bas-relief figure didn't appear on it. Within a half hour he was ready
to leave.

       *       *       *       *       *

The door was not a door. It was a mirror, three-dimensional. The
difference to the eye was slight, but since he knew what to expect, it
was not difficult to detect. It was a legitimate piece of staging, but
it cost plenty to maintain the illusion. A society event, he supposed,
called for such precautions. There must be more inside.

He ignored the mirror and pressed a blank section of the wall directly
opposite. The wall faded and a robot in an impressive black-and-white
livery stared at him with the proper insolence.

"Your invitation, sir."

"What?" he said tipsily.

"Your invitation, sir." The voice was louder and the insolence
increased. If he asked again, the robot would very likely shove him out
and close the door. Delicately adjusted and unhumanly strong, it was a
bit too invariable in the behavior department to be consistently
efficient.

His knowledge of robots was more than fair. In a few seconds he sized up
the model facing him. A thin slip fluttered from his hand to the floor.
The robot bent over to pick it up. At that instant Jadiver thrust a
long, thin, double-tined fork deep into the back of the robot's neck,
probing for the right place. He found it. Time became static for the
robot; it remained bent over and could not move.

Jadiver rifled the pockets, removed all the invitations, glanced at
them, found one that would do, and thrust the rest back. Shadows of
figures passed across the field behind the robot. Could they see what
Jadiver was doing? Probably not; privacy was too highly regarded.
Nevertheless, some people were coming down the corridor and _they_ could
see when and if they got close. Stepping back, he took away the
double-tined fork and the robot straightened up.

"You dropped something, sir," said the robot, handing him the slip from
the floor.

"It was nothing," said Jadiver, taking it. That was the best description
of what he had dropped. He extended the invitation he had just filched.

The robot grasped the invitation and seemed unable to focus. It tried to
examine the markings invisible to human eyes. It passed a trembling hand
across a troubled forehead.

"Didn't you come in half an hour ago?" it asked in bewilderment.

Someone had--the person to whom the invitation had been issued. The
robot, of course, had remembered.

"Nonsense," said Jadiver sharply. "Do you feel right? Are you sure of
your equilibrium?"

If it was sure, he had miscalculated badly. Robots were so much more or
less than humans. It should be possible to design a perfect robot, one
that would realize all the potentialities of a mechanical personality.
It had never been done; anthropomorphic conceptions had always
interfered.

"Must be mistaken," mumbled the robot, and swayed. It would collapse in
twenty minutes. The robot pressed a button and the field behind him
flickered off. Jadiver passed through it and the field fell back in
place.

       *       *       *       *       *

Inside, he looked around. The usual swank, or maybe more so. Impressive,
if he cared to be impressed by it. At the moment he didn't. He had to
find Burlingame or Emily. He had created the faces of the other three as
well, but he had made them into handsome nonentities. Among so many
others who resembled them, he doubted that he could recognize them.

For an instant he thought he saw Emily and made his way through the
crowd. When he got there, he saw his mistake. This girl's flesh hadn't
been put on with a spray gun.

Burlingame was after jewels, of course, to be carefully selected from
two or three of the wealthier guests. He must also have currency in
mind, something negotiable for immediate use. He'd need cash to drop out
of sight for a while.

Time was growing short for a word with Burlingame, just one word,
whispered or spelled out silently: "Police." That was all Burlingame
would need.

Jadiver was weaponless, and aside from warning Burlingame, he couldn't
help. Until now he'd steered clear of violence and illegality. He'd
known the use to which his disguises had been put, but that was the
business of those who paid him.

Now it was different. The police had a line to him, direct. How much
they knew was impossible to estimate. He could visualize a technician
sitting in front of a screen, seeing everything that Jadiver saw. That,
however, was a guess, for he didn't actually know how the circuit
beneath his skin functioned. Until he learned, he would have to continue
guessing, and blunder accordingly.

He made his way to the balcony that encircled half the huge high room.
He didn't know the entire layout or the habits of those who lived here,
but it was reasonably certain that they kept a large amount of cash on
hand and that it would be safeguarded in a room not accessible to all
the guests. It might even be up here.

The few people on the balcony were at the far end. He looked down on the
milling guests. Still no sign of Burlingame or any of his crew. Jadiver
had done his work too well. They were indistinguishable from the others.

At that moment, the lights brightened glaringly. The guests looked less
glamorous. Women bulged excessively, top-heavy, and the tanned faces of
the men turned an unpleasant gray.

Magically, uniforms appeared at every exit.

"Attention," a harsh voice rang out. "Please line up. There are
criminals among you and we can identify them."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jadiver didn't listen to the rest. His eyes were on the uniformed men.
Mercifully, they carried tangle guns. That much he was thankful for.
Burlingame and his crew would be taken alive. They might not like what
would happen later, but at least they would live.

The tangle gun was the most effective and least lethal weapon ever
conceived. It would bring down a butterfly at two hundred yards and hold
it there, without crumpling a wing or disturbing the dustlike scales. It
would do the same with a Venusian saurian or a Martian windbeast, either
of which outbulked an elephant and outsavaged a tiger.

It didn't have to hit the target. With proximity fuses--and it was
usually furnished that way--it was sufficient for the bullet to pass
near. Jadiver drew a deep breath. No one was going to get killed because
of him. Nevertheless, his skin crawled.

He gazed down at the guests lining up. They, too, knew what tangle guns
were.

Suddenly a man darted out of line and headed toward one of the exits. He
collided with an officer and the policeman went down. A tangle gun
snapped. The running man fell headlong. Three more times the tangle gun
fired at the man writhing on the floor--at his hands, at his face, and
again at his legs.

[Illustration]

The tangle gun propelled a plastic bullet, and that plastic was a
paradox. It was the stickiest substance known and would adhere to a
sphere of polished platinum, tearing away the solid metal if it were
forcibly removed without first being neutralized. It also extruded
itself into fine, wire-like strands on a moving object. The more
anything moved, the tighter it wrapped around. The victim was better off
to relax. He couldn't escape; no one ever had.

Jadiver watched the man threshing on the floor. One shot would have been
enough. Someone on the Venicity force liked to see men squirm.

As nearly as Jadiver could determine, the man on the floor was not
Burlingame. The leader hadn't been taken, but he didn't have long to
enjoy his freedom. The theory he had about teamwork was tarnished now--a
feint here and a block there--and they were all headed into the arms of
the Venicity police. It couldn't work against superior force, and an
ambush set unwittingly by Jadiver.

Then Jadiver saw them. They moved as a unit--Burlingame, Emily and two
others. They smashed through the guests with a formation that had the
flying wedge as a remote ancestor. Burlingame was leading it, tangle gun
in hand. The guests were thrown back and a policeman went down.

[Illustration]

It was hard to fire into the mob through which Burlingame and his crew
were bulling. In that respect, the tangle gun was not selective. It
seized on any motion.

They couldn't make it, but Jadiver hoped for them. They were at the edge
of the crowd. Between them and freedom was a thin cordon of police.
Beyond the police was a planted area where jungle vines and shrubs,
considerably taller than a man, grew dense. Just past that area were two
exits leading to the street.

From the balcony, Jadiver could see it clearly. If they could reach the
exits, they had a chance for flight.

They broke through the cordon. They shouldn't have, for superior trained
men were opposing them. But it was another kind of training that
Burlingame was using and with it he split the police. The group plunged
into the jungle shrubs and emerged on the other side. The police on the
floor couldn't see them, the planted area screened off the view. They
were almost safe.

The exits opened before they could reach them--more police. Burlingame
went down, a cloud around his face, weaving wire shapes that tightened
on his throat. The other two stumbled as police fired at their feet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Emily alone was not hit. She was close and moving too fast. She escaped
the tangle guns, but ran directly into the arms of a burly officer. He
laughed and grabbed her as if she were a robot. She bit him.

He swore at her and swiftly looked around. The guests couldn't see. He
hit her solidly in the middle. She gasped for breath. He took out his
tangle gun and fired into her mouth.

Jadiver sicklily knew he had been wrong about the tangle gun; it could
kill if the person who used it had sufficient experience and brutality.

Emily would never have to lose that beautiful face and figure. She could
keep it until she died, which wouldn't be long. Nobody could stop the
peristaltic motion of the digestive system, voluntarily or otherwise, or
of the lungs in trying to breathe.

Burlingame wouldn't know. Policemen were cooperative, and it would be
listed as an accident.

Jadiver closed his eyes. Emily was dying and no one could help her. Or
himself, either, when they came to pick him up. They had to know exactly
where he was. He waited, expecting a tap on the shoulder or the snap of
the tangle gun.

The lights dimmed and the same harsh voice spoke. "The danger is over,
thanks to the efficient work of the Venicity police force. You are now
safe."

Nothing like advertising yourself, thought Jadiver.

No one came near him. Apparently the police didn't want him yet--they
expected him to do more for them.

He went down the stairs and mingled with the excited guests. It had been
a good show, unexpected entertainment, especially since it hadn't
involved any real danger for them. He circulated through the chattering
men and women until he came near the planted area. At an opportune
moment, he slipped in.

It was a miniature jungle; he was safe from ordinary detection as long
as he stayed there. He went quietly through the vines and shrubs toward
the other side. The broad back of a policemen loomed up in front of him.

Jadiver was an industrial engineer, a specialist in the design of robot
bodies and faces, robots that had to look like humans. He knew anatomy,
not in the way a doctor did, but it was nonetheless the knowledge of an
expert. He reached out and the policeman toppled.

He dragged the unconscious man deeper into the little jungle and
listened. No one had noticed. Physically a large man, the policeman
might be the one who had shot Emily--and then again he might not be. He
did have a tangle gun, which was the important thing. Jadiver took it
and rifled the man's pockets for ammunition.

He knelt for a final check on the body. The chest rose and fell with
slow regularity. For insurance, Jadiver again pressed the nerve. This
man wouldn't trouble anyone for a few hours.

Jadiver looked out. When he was sure he wasn't observed, he walked out
and joined the guests. He moved politely from one group to another and
in several minutes stood beside the door. He left the way he came.

It was that simple. He had to assume that until events proved he was
mistaken.

       *       *       *       *       *

Outside, he walked briskly. It was not late and the city overflowed with
men and women walking, flying, skimming. Roughly dressed men down from
the north polar farms, explorers from the temperate jungles, government
girls--the jumbled swarm that comes to a planet in the intermediate
stages of exploitation. It was a background through which he could pass
unnoticed.

The circuit, though--always the circuit. He couldn't escape that by
walking away from it. But at least he'd proved that telepathy wasn't
possible by means of it, or he wouldn't still be free.

Other than that, he didn't know how it operated. If it was purely
electronic in nature, then it had a range. He might be able to get
beyond that range, if he knew how far it extended.

A lot depended on the power source. He hadn't been able to check
closely, hadn't really known what he was looking at when he'd seen it in
the autobath. He remembered that the circuit seemed to be laid over his
own nervous system. Considering the power available, the range was apt
to be quite limited.

That was pure supposition and might be wrong. There was nothing to
preclude an external power source, say a closed field blanketing the
city or even the entire planet. If so, it represented a technical
achievement beyond anything he was familiar with. That didn't disprove
it, of course. The circuit itself indicated a startling advance and he
knew _it_ existed.

There was still another possibility. The circuit might not be entirely
electronic. It might operate with the same forces that existed inside a
single nerve cell. If so, all bets were off; there was no way he could
determine the range. It might be anything at all, micro-inches or
light-years.

With unlimited equipment and all the time in the worlds, he could answer
some of those questions floating around in his mind. He had neither, but
there were solutions he could make use of. Limited solutions, but it was
better than waiting to be caught.

Jadiver headed toward one such solution.

The robot clerk looked up, smiling and patient, as he entered. It could
afford to be patient. There was no place it wanted to be other than
where it was at the moment. "Can I help you?"

"Passage to Earth," said Jadiver.

The clerk consulted the schedule. That was pretense. The schedule and
not much else had been built into its brain. "There's an orbit flight in
two weeks."

In two weeks, Jadiver could be taken, tried, and converted ten times
over. "Isn't there anything sooner?"

"There's an all-powered flight leaving tomorrow, but that's for Earth
citizens only."

"Suits me. Book me for it."

"Be glad to," said the robot. "Passport, please."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was going to cost more than just the fare, Jadiver knew. He would
arrive on Earth with very little money and could expect to start all
over. He was no longer fresh out of training, willing to start at the
bottom. He was a mature man, experienced beyond the ordinary, and most
organizations he could work for would be suspicious of that.

But it was worth it, aside from the escape. No future for him there,
jammed in on a crowded world, but it was his planet, always would be,
and he wouldn't mind going back.

"Sorry," said the clerk, flipping over the passport and studying it. "I
can't book you. The flight's only for Earth citizens."

"I was born there," Jadiver impatiently said. "Can't you see?"

"You were?" asked the robot eagerly. "I was built there." It handed him
back the passport. "However, it doesn't matter where you were born.
You've been here three years without going back. Automatically, you
became a citizen of Venus two and a half years ago."

Jadiver hadn't known that. He doubted that many did. It was logical
enough. Earth was overflowing and the hidden citizenship clause was a
good way of getting rid of the more restless part of the population and
making sure they didn't come back.

"There's still the orbit flight," said the clerk, smiling and serene.
"For that you need a visitor's visa, which takes time. Shall I make the
arrangements?"

Aside from the time element, which was vital, he couldn't tip the police
off that he intended to leave.

"Thanks," he said, taking the passport. "I'll call back when I make up
my mind."

Down the street was another interplanetary flight office and he wandered
into it. It might have been the same office he had just left, robot and
all.

"Information on Mars," he said, his manner casual.

The clerk didn't bother to consult the schedule. There was a difference,
after all. "There'll be an orbit flight in four months," it said
pleasantly. "Rate, four-fifths of the standard fare to Earth."

Nothing was working out as expected. "What about the moons of Jupiter?"
This was the last chance.

"Due to the position of the planets, for the next few months there are
no direct flights anywhere beyond Mars. You have to go there and
transfer."

That escape was closed. "I can't make plans so far in advance."

The robot beamed at him. "I can see that you're a gentleman who likes to
travel." It grew confidential and leaned over the counter. "I have a
bargain here, truly the most sensational we've ever offered."

Jadiver drew away from that eagerness. "What is this bargain?"

"Did you notice the fare to Mars? Four-fifths of that to Earth, and yet
it's farther away. Did you stop to think why?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He had noticed and he thought he knew why. It was another side of the
citizenship program. Get them away from Earth, the farther the better,
and don't let them come back. If necessary, shuttle them between
colonies, but don't let them come back.

"I hadn't," he said. "Why?"

The voice throbbed throatily and robot eyes grew round. "To induce
people to travel. Travel is wonderful. I love to travel."

Pathetic thing. Someone had erred in building it, had implanted too much
enthusiasm for the job. It loved to travel and would never get farther
than a few feet from the counter. Jadiver dismissed that thought.

"What's this wonderful offer?" he asked.

"Just think of it," whispered the robot. "We have another destination,
much farther than Jupiter, but only one-tenth the fare to Earth. If you
don't have the full fare in cash, just give us verbal assurance that
you'll pay when you get the money. No papers to sign. We have confidence
in your personal integrity."

"Sounds intriguing," Jadiver said, backing away. It sounded more like a
death sentence. Alpha Centauri or some such place--hard grubbing labor
under a blazing or meager sun, it didn't matter which. Exile forever on
planets that lagged and would always lag behind Earth. It took years to
get there, even at speeds only a little below that of light, time in
which the individual was out of touch.

"I hope you won't forget," said the robot. "It's hard to get people to
understand. But I can see that you do."

He understood too well. He ducked out of the flight office. He'd stay
and take it here if he had to, escape some way if he could. Nothing was
worth that kind of sacrifice.

He went slowly back to the apartment. It was not so strange that the
police hadn't arrested him. They knew that he'd stay on the planet, that
he had to. They'd had it figured out long before he did.

He fell into the bed without removing his clothing. The bed made no
effort to induce him to sleep. It wasn't necessary.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning, Jadiver awakened to the smell of food. The room he slept
in was dark, but in the adjacent room he could hear the Kitch-Hen
clucking away contentedly as it prepared breakfast.

He rolled over and sat up. He was not alone.

"Cobber?" he called.

"Yeah," said Cobber. He was very close, but Jadiver couldn't see him.

"The police got them," Jadiver said, reaching for the tangle gun. It was
gone. He'd expected that.

"I heard. I was waiting for them and they didn't come." He was silent
for a moment. "It had to be you, didn't it?"

"It was," Jadiver said. "When I found out, I tried to tell them. But it
was too late."

"Glad you tried," said Cobber. At that instant, so was Jadiver.
"I checked you myself. I couldn't find anything," Cobber added
thoughtfully. "They must have something new."

"It is new," Jadiver wearily confirmed. "I can't get rid of it."

"Mind telling me? I figure I ought to know."

Hunched up in the darkness, Jadiver told him what he could. At present,
he was defenseless. Cobber was a little man, but he was no stranger to
violence and he had the weapons. Perhaps that was what the police
counted on--that Cobber would save them an arrest.

"Bad," said Cobber after an interval. It sounded like a reprieve.

Jadiver waited.

"I liked Burlingame," continued Cobber. "Emily, too."

Burlingame was a decent fellow. Emily he had seen only once, twice if he
counted last night. She deserved better than she got.

"I don't know who it was," Jadiver said. "Some big policeman."

"I know a lot of people--I'll find out," Cobber promised. "I liked
Emily."

It wouldn't do any good, though Jadiver approved. For a while there'd be
one less sadist on the force, and after that they'd hire another.

"You'd better leave while you can," said Jadiver.

Cobber laughed. "I'll get away. I know Venus and I don't have a spy
inside." He got up, turned on the lights and tossed the tangle gun on
the bed. "Here. You need this worse than I do."

Jadiver blinked gratefully and took it. Cobber believed him. If the
police wanted to eliminate him, they'd have to come for him, after all.

He stood up. "Breakfast?"

"No breakfast," said Cobber. "I'm going to take your advice and get out
of here." He went to the door, opened it a fraction and listened.
Satisfied, he closed it and turned back to Jadiver. "Tell that cop I
know a few tricks with a tangle gun he never heard of. I'll show him
what they are."

"I won't see him, I hope."

"You don't have to. They're taking everything down. They'll tell him.
That is, I hope they do."

He slipped out the door and was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Kitch-Hen tired of waiting for Jadiver to come out. It cackled
disgustedly and sent a table into his room. Mechanically he sat down and
began to eat.

Not only how far but also what kind of data did the circuit transmit?
That was one unanswered problem. If he couldn't outrun it, he might
outthink it.

First, the data was transmitted to the police with some degree of
accuracy. They had been able to anticipate the robbery. Not completely,
but they did know it was Burlingame and how many men he was using. They
also knew the approximate date. From that, it was a matter of logic to
determine what specific society event he was aiming at. Jadiver had been
able to do the same.

Thoughts, visual and auditory impressions, tactile and other sensory
data--that was the sum of what the circuit could transmit,
theoretically.

He could almost positively rule out thoughts. It had never been proved
that thoughts could be transferred from one person to another,
mechanically or otherwise. But that was not his reason for rejecting it.
If they could read his thoughts, it was useless for him to plan
anything. And he was going to plan ahead, whether it was useless or not.

Tactile sensations, temperature, roughness, and the like were
unimportant except to a scientist. He doubted that police were that
scientifically interested in him. He could forget about the sense of
touch.

Sight and hearing. Neither of these could be eliminated at present. They
could see what he saw, hear what he heard. As long as they could, escape
was out of the question. It wouldn't take much to betray him--a street
sign glimpsed through his eyes, for instance, and they knew where he
was.

As long as they could see what he saw.

But there was such a thing as a shield. Any known kind of radiation
could be shielded against.

He was working with intangibles. He didn't know the nature of the
phenomenon he had to fight. He had to extrapolate in part, guess the
rest. One thing was certain, though: If he was successful in setting up
a shield against the circuit, the police would arrive soon after.
Arrive here.

His value to them was obvious. Through him they could make an undetected
contact with the shadowy world of illegality. If that contact was cut
off or if he seemed about to escape, his usefulness came to an end and
they would want one more arrest while they could get it.

Once he started to work on the shield, he would have to work fast.

Jadiver went to the screen. There could be no hesitation; the decision
was ready-made.

The bank robot appeared on the screen and Jadiver spoke to him briefly,
requesting that his account be cleared. He scribbled his signature and
had it recorded.

       *       *       *       *       *

While waiting, he began to pack, sorting what he wanted to take. It
wasn't much, some special clothing. His equipment, except for a few
small tools, he had to leave. No matter. With luck, he could replace it;
without luck, he wouldn't need it.

In a few minutes he was ready, but the money hadn't arrived. He sat down
and nervously scrawled on a scrap of paper. Presently the delivery chute
clattered and the money was in it, crisp new bills neatly wrapped, the
total of his savings over the years. He stuffed the money in his pocket.

The scrap of paper was still in his hand. He started to throw it away,
but his fingers were reluctant to let it go. He stared curiously at the
crumpled wad and on impulse smoothed it out.

There were words on it, though he hadn't remembered writing any. The
handwriting was shaky and stilted, as if he were afflicted with some
nervous disease; nevertheless, it was unmistakably his own.

There was a message on it, from himself to himself. No, not from
himself. But it was intended that he read it. The note said:

    RUN, JADIVER. I'LL HELP.
    YOUR FRIEND

He sat down. A picture rose involuntarily in his mind: The face was that
of Doumya Filone.

He couldn't prove it, but it seemed certain that she was the one. She
knew about the circuit, of course, had known long before he did. He
remembered the incident when his skin had itched.

He had called her about it and she hadn't seemed surprised. She had left
the screen for some time--for what purpose? To adjust the mechanism, or
have someone else adjust it. The last, probably; the mechanism was
almost certainly at the police end, and at the time he called she had
been at home. In any event, the mechanism had originally been set too
strong and she had ordered the setting to be reduced. That suggested one
thing: the power to activate the circuit came from the mechanism--a
radarlike device.

Then what? His skin had momentarily become translucent, allowing him to
see the circuit. How she achieved that, he didn't know, but the reason
was obvious. It had been her way of warning him and it had worked.

The message in his hand told him one thing. He had known about the
danger, but he hadn't guessed that he didn't have to face it alone.
Something else was evident: her control was limited--perhaps she could
step in at a critical moment, but the greater part was up to him.

He moved quickly. He opened the delivery chute and put in the small bag
that held his clothing, then punched a code that dispatched it to the
transportation terminal. In return, he received a small plastic strip
with the same code on it. The bag could be traced, but not without
trouble, and he should be able to pick it up before then. At this stage
he didn't want to be encumbered.

He took a last look around and stepped into the hall. He leaped back
again.

A heavy caliber slug crashed into the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

That had been meant to kill. He was lucky it hadn't.

Who was it? Not the police. By law they were restricted to tangle guns,
though they sometimes forgot. In this case, their memory should be
good--they'd have difficulty explaining away the holes in his body. Not
that they'd have to, really; if they wanted, they could toss him into an
alley and claim they had found his body later.

Still, there was no particular reason why they should want to kill him
outright when they could do it by degrees scientifically and with full
legal protection. They didn't call it killing. There was another term:
converting.

The converting process was not new; the principles had existed for
centuries. The newness lay in the proper combination of old discoveries.
Electric shock was one ingredient, a prolonged drastic application of it
during the recreation of a situation that the victim had a weakness for.
In the case of an adulterer, say, the scene was hypnotically arranged
with the cooperation of a special robot that wouldn't be
short-circuited. At the proper moment, electric shock was applied,
repeatedly. Rigorous and somewhat rough on the criminal's wife, but the
adulterer would be saddled all his life with an unconditional reflex.

That was only one ingredient. There were others, among them a
pseudo-religious brotherhood, membership in which was compulsory.
C. C.--Confirmed Converters. _They_ kept tab on one another with
apocalyptic fervor. Transgressions were rare. Death came sooner.

Jadiver stood there thinking. It wasn't the police, because they had
converting with which to threaten him. It wasn't Cobber, either. He
could have killed Jadiver earlier and hadn't.

Cobber might have talked, though. There were enough people who now
regretted that Jadiver had once given them new faces. As far as they
were concerned Jadiver was in the hands of the police.

The identity of the man outside didn't matter. He was not from the
police, but he did want Jadiver dead.

Jadiver stood back and pushed the door open. Another slug crashed into
it, tiny, but with incredible velocity.

He knelt, thrust his hand outside the door near the bottom and fired a
random fusillade down the corridor. Then he took his finger off the
trigger and listened. There wasn't a sound. The man had decided to be
sensible.

Jadiver stepped out. The man was crouched in an inconspicuous corner and
he was going to stay in that position for a long time. He couldn't help
breathing, though, and his chest was a tangle of wires. There were some
on his face, too, where his eyelids flickered and his mouth twitched.

The gun was in his hand and it was aimed nearly right. There was nothing
to prevent his squeezing the trigger--except the tangle extruded loosely
over his hand. And he could move faster than it could. Once, at any
rate.

"I wouldn't," said Jadiver. "You're going to have a hard time explaining
that illegal firearm. And it'll look worse if I'm here with my head
wrapped around a hole that just fits the slug."

The man reaffirmed his original decision to be sensible about it by
remaining motionless. Jadiver didn't recognize him. Probably a hired
assassin.

The man paled with the effort not to move. He teetered and the tangle
stuff coiled fractionally tighter.

"Take care of yourself," Jadiver said, and left him there.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jadiver headed toward the transportation terminal. The police could
trace him that far. Let them; he intended that they should. It would
confuse them more when he walked right off their instruments.

Once inside the underground structure, he lost himself in the traffic.
That was just in case he had been followed physically as well as by
radiation. People coming from Earth, fewer going back. They arrived in
swarms from the surface, overhead from the concrete plain where rockets
roared out on takeoff or hissed in for landing. Transportation shunted
the mob in one direction for interplanetary travel, in another for local
air routes.

Jadiver reclaimed his bag, boarded the moving belts and hopped on and
off several times, again just in case. The last time off, he had coins
ready. He slipped around a corner and walked down a long quiet corridor.
There were doors on either side, a double deck with a narrow balcony on
the second story. At intervals, stairs led to the balcony.

He walked a third of the way down the corridor, inserted coins in the
slot, and a door opened. He went inside the sleep locker and the door
closed behind, locking automatically.

It was miserable accommodation if he intended to sleep, but he didn't.
It was also a trap if the police were trailing him. He didn't think they
were--they were too certain of him. Nevertheless, the sleep locker had
one advantage: it was all metal. Considering the low power that probably
went into the circuit, it should be a satisfactory temporary shield.

He changed into clothes that looked ordinary--out of style, in fact,
though that was not noteworthy in a solarwide economy--but the material,
following a local terrestrial fad of a few years back, contained a high
proportion of metallic fiber. That solved only part of the problem, of
course. His hands and his head were uncovered.

The pseudo-flesh that he had used on Emily was not for him. In a way, it
was the best disguise, but he was playing this one to live, as much as
he could, all the way. A standard semi-durable cosmetic would do; that
is, it would when he finished altering it to suit his purpose.

The chief addition was a flaky metallic powder, lead. However the signal
worked, radar or not, that should be effective in dampening the signal.
He squeezed the mixture into a tube and attached the tube to a small gun
which he plugged into a wall socket. Standing in front of the tiny
mirror, with everything else cramped in the sleep locker, he went over
his face and hands. He had trouble getting it on his scalp and under his
hair, but it went on.

He looked himself over. He now appeared older, respectable, but not
successful, which fitted neatly into the greatest category on Venus--or
anywhere, for that matter. He stuffed the clothing he'd worn back into
the bag and walked out. He'd been in the sleep locker half an hour.

He was operating blind, but it was all he could do. He had to assume
that the metallic fiber in his clothing and the lead flakes in the
cosmetic would scramble the circuit signal. If they didn't, then he was
completely without protection.

He'd soon know how correctly he had analyzed the problem.

       *       *       *       *       *

He walked out of the transportation terminal and hailed an air cab which
took him over the city and left him at the edge of a less reputable
section.

It was not an old slum--Venicity hadn't endured long enough to have
inherited slums; it built them quickly out of shoddy material and then
tore them down again as the need for living space expanded outward.

He checked in at a hotel neither more nor less disreputable than the
rest. The structure made up in number of rooms what it lacked in size
and appearance.

This was the test period and he had to wait it out. If he passed, he was
on an equal footing with any other person wanted by the police. He'd
take his chances on that, his wits against their organization; he could
disappear if he didn't carry a beacon around with him. This was the best
place to spend the interim period, crowded together with people coming
and going to and from the wild lands of Venus.

But if he didn't pass the test--

He refused to think about it.

He walked aimlessly in the grayness of the Venusian day. Different
people from those in the bright new sections of Venicity, quieter,
grimmer, more bewildered. Tough, but not the hardness of the criminal
element. These people had no interest in either making or breaking the
law.

After nightfall, he loitered on the streets for a few hours, watching
faces. When policemen began appearing in greater numbers, he checked
into his room.

It was a grimy, unpleasant place. Considering the comfort it offered,
the rate was exorbitant. Safety, however, if it did afford, and that was
beyond price. He lay down, but couldn't sleep. The room, apparently, was
designed on the acoustical principle of an echo chamber or a drum.

The adjacent room on one side was occupied by a man and woman. The
woman, though, was not a woman. There was a certain pitch to the
laughter that could come only from a robot. The management obviously
offered attractions other than sleep.

The room on the other side was quieter. Somebody coughed twice, somebody
sniffled once. Two of them, decided Jadiver, a man and a woman, both
human. They weren't talking loud or much. He couldn't hear the words,
but the sounds weren't gay.

In the hall, other voices intruded. Jadiver lay still. He could
recognize the way of walking, the tone of voice. Cops. His test period
wasn't lasting as long as he'd hoped.

"What good is it?" grumbled one, down the hall, but Jadiver could hear
distinctly. "We had him dead center and now we've lost him. If I had my
way, we'd have taken him sooner."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jadiver's reasoning was not so good if the police were this close. He
got up and crept noiselessly toward the door, fully dressed, as he had
to be at all times if he expected to scramble the circuit signal.

The companion of the first policeman was more cheerful. "He's not lost.
We've just mislaid him. We know the direction he's in. Follow the line
and there he is at the end of it."

"Sounds good, but have we got him?"

"We will."

That was the fallacy. He'd scrambled the signal, but he hadn't
eliminated it. He still showed up on the police instrument as a
direction. He could imagine a technician sitting in front of a crazily
wavering screen. The instrument could no longer pick up what he saw
through his eyes, but it hadn't lost him altogether.

Jadiver clutched the tangle gun.

"Better check where we are," said the first officer.

"Going to," answered the second. Jadiver couldn't see, but he could
visualize the pocket instrument. "This is Lieutenant Parder. How close
are we?"

The voice came back, almost inaudible. What he could hear, though, was
disturbing. It sounded like someone he knew, but not Doumya Filone.
"You're off a hundred yards to your left," said the voice. "Also, he's a
mile farther out. Either that or a hundred and fifty miles."

"He's really moving," said the lieutenant. "A hundred and fifty miles is
in the middle of the swamp."

"I know that," said the tantalizing familiar voice. "I can't choose
between outside and inside the city. If he's inside, I want him to move.
That motion, extended a hundred and fifty miles, by simple mathematics
will indicate a distance he couldn't possibly travel in the jungle." The
voice paused. "We'll send a party to check the swamp. You go to the
point a mile farther on. We want him tonight. If we don't get him, we'll
probably have to wait until tomorrow night."

"I'll find him," said the lieutenant. "Report when I get there."

Jadiver could hear footsteps receding down the hall.

He breathed in relief. The makeshift shield hadn't been a total failure.
They knew the direction, but not the distance from some central
location. The scramble had affected the strength of the signal and they
couldn't be sure.

The impromptu visit told him this as well: there was only one instrument
on him. With two, they could work a triangulation, regardless of the
signal strength.

He could hazard a guess as to why they had to get him at night. During
the day, there were radiological disturbances originating in the
atmosphere that made reception of the signals difficult. That meant that
the day was safest for him.

       *       *       *       *       *

He went back to the bed and lay down, to puzzle over the familiar voice,
to sleep if he could. Sleep didn't come easily. The man and the female
robot had left, but the quiet couple on the other side had been awakened
by the noise in the hall.

The woman sniffled. "I don't care, Henry. We're going back to Earth."

It was not an old voice, though he couldn't be sure, not seeing her.
Thirty-five, say. Jadiver resented the intrusion at a time like this. He
was trying to sleep, or think, he wasn't sure which.

"Now, hon, we can't," Henry whispered back. "We've bought the land and
nobody's going to buy it back."

"We bought it when they told us there would be roses," said the woman,
loud and bitter. "Great big roses, so big that most of the plant grew
below ground, only the flower showing. So big, no stem could support
them."

"Well, hon--"

"Don't hon me. There _are_ roses, ten feet across, all over our land,
just like they said." Her voice rose higher. "Mud roses, that's what
they are. Stinking mud roses that collapse into a slimy hole in the
ground."

She sniffled again. "Did you notice the pictures they showed us? People
standing by the roses with their heads turned away. And you know why the
pictures were like that? Because they didn't dare show us the
expressions on those people's faces, that's why."

"It's not so bad," said the man soothingly. "Maybe we can do something
about it."

"What can we do? The roses poison cattle and dogs run away from the
smell. And we're humans. We're stronger, we're supposed to take it."

"I've been thinking," said Henry quietly. "I could take a long pipe and
run it at an angle to the roots. I could force concrete through the pipe
and seal it off below ground. When it collapsed, the rose wouldn't grow
back."

The woman asked doubtfully, "Could you?"

"I think so. Of course I'd have to experiment to get the right kind of
concrete."

"But what would we do with the hole it left?" There was a faint tremor
of hope.

"We could haul away the slime," he said. "It would stop smelling after a
while. We might even be able to use it for fertilizer."

"But there's still the hole."

"It would fill with water after the next rain. We could raise ducks in
it."

"White ducks?"

"If you like."

The woman was silent. "If you think we can do it, then we'll try," she
said. "We'll go back to our farm and forget about Earth."

Henry was silent, too. "They're kind of pretty, even if they do smell
bad," he said after a long interval. "Maybe I could pump a different
kind of cement, real thin, directly into the stem. It might travel up
into the flower instead of down."

"And make them into stone roses," enthused the woman. "Mud roses into
stone. I'd like that--a few of them--to remind us of what our farm was
like when we came to it." She wasn't sniffling.

They had their own problems, decided Jadiver, and their own solution,
which, in their ignorance, might actually work. He'd been like that when
he first came to Venus, expecting great things. With him it had been
different. He was an engineer, not a farmer, and he didn't want to be a
farmer. There was nothing on Venus for him.

He couldn't stay much longer on Venus in any capacity. Earth was out of
the question. Mars? If he could escape capture in the months that
followed and then manage to get passage on a ship. It wasn't hopeless,
but his chances weren't high.

The puzzling thing was why the police wanted him so badly. He was an
accessory to a crime--several of them, in fact. But even if they
regarded him as a criminal, they couldn't consider him an important one.

And yet they were staging a manhunt. He hated to think of the number of
policemen looking for him. There must be a reason for it.

He had a few days left, possibly less. In that time, he would have to
get off the planet or shed the circuit. Without drastic extensive
surgery, there was not much hope he could peel off the circuit.

Unless--

He had received a message from someone self-identified as a friend. And
that friend knew about the circuit and claimed to be willing to help.

He kept seeing gray eyes and a strong, sad, indifferent face, even in
his sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

He awakened later than he intended. Since daylight was safest for him,
that was a serious error. He wasted no time in regret, but went
immediately to the mirror. Under the makeup, his face was dirty and
sweating. He didn't dare to remove the disguise for an instant, since to
do so would be to expose himself to the instrument. He sprayed on a new
face, altering the facial characteristics as best he could. His
clothing, too, had to stay on. He roughed it up a bit, adding a year's
wear to it.

For what it was worth, he didn't look quite the same as yesterday.
Seedier and older. It was a process he couldn't keep extending
indefinitely. He would not have to, of course. One way or the other, it
would be decided soon.

He shredded the bag and his extra clothing, tossing them into the
disposal chute. No use giving the police something to paw over, to
deduce from it what they could. The tiny spray gun he kept, and the tube
of makeup. He might need them once more.

It was close to noon when he left the room. There were lots of people on
the streets and only a few policemen. Again he had an advantage.

He found a pay screen and began the search. Doctor Doumya Filone wasn't
listed with the police and that seemed strange. A moment's reflection
showed that it wasn't. If she were officially connected, she might not
show the sympathy she had.

Neither was she listed on the staff of the emergency hospital in which
he'd been a patient. He had a number through which he could reach her,
but he resisted an impulse to use it. It was certain the police wouldn't
confine their efforts to the instrument check. They knew he had that
number and they'd have someone on it, tracing everyone who called her.

Noon passed and his stomach called attention to it. He hadn't eaten
since yesterday. He took a short break, ate hurriedly, and resumed the
search.

Doumya Filone was difficult to find. It was getting late and he had
ascertained she wasn't on the staff of any hospital not listed for
private practice.

He finally located her almost by accident. She had an office with
Medical Research Incorporated. That was the only thing registered under
her name.

Evening came early to Venus, as it always did under the massive cloud
formations. He got off the air cab a few blocks from his destination and
walked the rest of the way.

Inside the building, he paused in the lobby and found her office.
Luckily it was in a back wing. He wandered through the corridors, got
lost once, and found the route again. The building was almost empty by
this time.

Her name was on the door. Dr. Doumya Filone. Research Neurological
Systems, whatever that meant. There was a light in the office, a dim
one. He eased the door open. It wasn't locked, which meant, he hadn't
tripped an alarm.

       *       *       *       *       *

No one was inside. He looked around. There was another door in back. He
walked over to it. It didn't lead to a laboratory, as he expected.
Instead, there were living quarters. A peculiar way to conduct research.

The autobath was humming quietly. He sat down facing it and waited. She
came out in a few minutes, hair disarranged, damp around her forehead.
She didn't see him at first.

"Well," she said coolly, staring at him. There was no question that she
recognized him through the disguise. She slipped quickly into a robe
that, whatever it did for her modesty, subtracted nothing from the view.
He wished he was less tired and could appreciate it.

She found a cigarette and lighted it. "You're pretty good, you know."

"Yeah." But not good enough, he thought.

"Why are you here?" she asked. She was nervous.

"You know," he said. She had promised him help once before. Now let her
deliver. But she had to volunteer.

"I know." She looked down at her hands, long skilled hands. "I put in
the circuit. But I didn't choose you."

He began to understand part of it. The 'Medical Research' business was
just a cover. The real work was done at the police emergency hospital.
That was why she had no laboratory. And the raw material--

"Who did choose me?"

"The police. I have to take what they give me."

There were certain implications in that statement he didn't like. "Have
there been others?"

"Two before you."

"What happened to them?"

"They died."

He didn't like where this was taking him. His hand slid toward the
tangle gun in his pocket. "Maybe I should die, too."

She nodded. "That would be one solution." She added harshly: "They
shouldn't have taken you. Legally speaking, you're not a criminal. But
I couldn't investigate you personally before I put the circuit in."

Why not? Was she an automaton that reacted in response to a button? In a
way she was, but the button was psychological.

"That doesn't help me," he said tiredly. "The police wanted to catch
Burlingame through me. That's right, isn't it?"

She indicated that it was.

"I did, without knowing what I was doing," he went on. "Now I want out.
Even if I cooperated with the cops, which I'm not going to do, I'm of no
further value to them. Every criminal on Venus knows about me by now."

"That's part of it," she said. "But there's more. You've tied up the
machine and neither I nor the police can use it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Explanations were coming faster. It was no wonder the police wanted him
badly. They had a perfect device to use against criminals, which was all
they were concerned with, and they couldn't use it as long as the
circuit was in him. It made sense, but that kind of logic was
deadly--for him.

"I'll face it," he said. "I'll take whatever charge they hang on me. It
shouldn't be more than a few years. You can use the time to take this
damn thing out of me. Only I want a guarantee first."

She got up and stood with the light behind her. It was deliberately
intended to distract him. Under other circumstances, it would have.

"If it were a small circuit, over just a fraction of your body, I could
cut it out," she said. "But the way it is, I can't. It would kill you."

At least she was honest about it. And he still didn't know what she
meant when she had written, with his hands in the apartment, that she
would help him. He would have to find out.

"I can smash the machine," he said. "That's the other solution."

She leaned against the wall. "You can't. And neither can I, though it's
technically my machine. It's in the police department with an armed
guard around it at all times. Besides, the machine can defend itself."

He looked at her without understanding. It didn't sound right. He was
sweating under the makeup and part of it was coming loose.

"Then what did you mean when you said you'd help?" he asked. "You
promised, but what can you do?"

"I never promised to help." It was her turn not to understand. Her hand
slipped down and so did the robe.

She was lying to him, had been lying all along. She never intended to
help, though she said she would. The purpose? To lead him into a trap.
She'd been successful enough. He looked up in anger, in time to see an
object hurtling from her hand.

It struck him on the side of the head, hard. Some of the makeup chipped
and fell off, but that was less important than yanking out the tangle
gun. He fired twice, once at her feet and once at her shoulders. He had
aimed at her head, but the shot went low.

[Illustration]

Her face was still pretty, though no longer indifferent or so strong.
"What do you want?" she screamed. "Why don't you leave me alone? I can't
help you. Nobody can."

She was standing there rigid, not daring to move. The robe rippled in a
breeze from the vent and the tangle stuff gripped it and the fabric
tore. She'd stand there a few more hours and then topple over. They'd
find her in the morning and remove the tangle with the special tongs.

As for himself, it was too late. He might have got off Venus at one time
if he had concentrated on it. He hadn't tried harder because of Doumya
Filone. He had _wanted_ to believe her because--well, because.

"I told you I'd help, Jadiver. I will." The voice was distinct.

It wasn't Doumya Filone who'd said it. A tangle strand had worked up her
throat and gripped her face. She couldn't speak if she tried. Her gray
eyes weren't gray; they were the color of tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked around. It wasn't Doumya Filone--and there wasn't any other
person in the room.

"I've kept the police away," said the familiar voice. "I can protect you
for a while longer. There's still time to save yourself. But you have to
guess right. You can't make any more mistakes."

Strictly speaking, it wasn't a voice. Doumya Filone didn't hear it; that
was obvious. It was the circuit then. Someone was making use of the
machine to actuate the auditory nerve directly. That was what he seemed
to hear.

Jadiver was tired and his body grimy, muscles twitching under the
tension. But if his unknown friend--real, after all--could out-wit a
room full of police and tinker with the mechanism which was supposed
to spot him, he couldn't do less.

He grinned. "I'll make it this time. I know what to do."

"The police haven't given up," said the voice. "I'm going to be busy
with them. Don't expect further communication from me."

He didn't know who the person was, in spite of the haunting familiarity
of the voice. And he wasn't going to find out soon. Probably never. It
was enough, however, to know that he had a friend.

He left Doumya Filone standing there, which was a mistake, he realized
as he reached the front office. He should have fired once more at her
hands. The screen was crackling; her hands had been free and she'd
managed to turn the screen on before the tangle strands interfered with
her movement.

He'd made a grave error, but not necessarily fatal. It would be some
time before anyone got there. By then he hoped to be safe.

He slipped through the corridors, went out the rear of the building and
looked around for an air cab. The place was deserted at this hour and no
cabs were in the nearby sky.

He had to walk and he didn't have that much time. He headed toward the
nearest main thoroughfare. It was in the opposite direction to his
destination, but he should be able to find an air cab there. He was
walking too fast, for a light flashed down on him. He wasn't presentable
and his haste was suspicious.

"Stop," said the amplified voice. It was probably just a routine check,
but he couldn't risk even that.

He dodged into a space between two buildings and began to run. In the
center of town, this would be a blind alley, but in this section it
wasn't. There was a chance he could lose them. The buildings were just
high enough so that they couldn't use the air car and they'd have to
follow on foot.

The patrol car alighted almost instantly and one of the policemen
started after him. The man following him knew his business and was in
good physical condition, better than Jadiver was after days of tension
and little sleep.

Jadiver turned and snapped a half dozen shots at his pursuer. He was
lucky, a couple were close enough. The policeman crashed to the ground
and began to swear. His voice was choked off in seconds.

The other one got out of the patrol car and let it stand. It was the
principle of the thing: nobody did that to a policeman. Jadiver had a
substantial lead and it was dark, but he didn't know the route. Jadiver
was enormously tired and this was the policeman's regular beat. The gap
between them closed rapidly.

Out of breath and time and space to move around in, Jadiver took the
wrong turn because the man was so close--and found himself boxed in.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crouching, Jadiver fired at the oncoming man, a dark shape he sensed
rather than saw. The tangle gun clicked futilely, out of ammunition. He
fumbled hastily for a clip; before he could reload, the policeman
squeezed the trigger and held it down.

The bullets didn't hit him, they were set to detonate a fraction of an
inch away. He gave up and awaited the constricting violence of the
tangle strands.

The bullets detonated and the strands flashed out, glowing slightly in
the darkness. They never touched him; instead, they bent into strange
shapes and flipped away. The stickiest substance known, and one of the
strongest, from which there was no escape, yet it would not adhere to
him--was, in fact, forcefully repelled!

It was that skin, of course, the synthetic substance they had put on him
over the circuit. They should have tested it under these conditions.
They might not have been so anxious to boil men alive.

He felt that he was almost invincible. It was an exhilarating feeling.
He stopped trying to reload the tangle gun and stood up. He sprinted at
the policeman, who stood his ground, firing frantically at a target he
could not miss and yet did not hit. The tangle strands shattered all
around the target.

Jadiver swung the gun with his remaining strength; the butt connected
with the policeman's forehead.

Jadiver scooped up the discarded tangle gun and fired twice at close
range, in case the man should decide to revive too soon, which was
doubtful. He went back and entered the idling patrol car. He hadn't lost
much time, after all.

He sat the car down on top of a building near the edge of the
rocketport, straightened his clothing and wiped the grime off his face.
Some of the disguise went, too, but that no longer mattered much.

He stepped out of the elevator and walked casually along the street
until he came to the interplanetary flight office. The same robot was
there--would be there every hour, day and night, until the rocketport
was expanded and the building torn down and rebuilt, or the robot
itself wore out and had to be replaced.

The clerk looked up eagerly. "You're back. I knew I could count on you."

"I'm interested in that flight you were telling me about," said Jadiver.

"We've changed rates," the robot clerk replied, beaming. "It was a
bargain before, but just listen to the revised offer. We pay you, on a
per diem basis--subjective, of course. When you arrive, you actually
have a bank account waiting for you."

Per diem, subjective--the time that _seemed_ to elapse when the rocket
was traveling near the speed of light. It wasn't as good as the robot
made it sound.

"Never mind that," said Jadiver. "I'll take it if it's going far."

"Going far!" echoed the clerk.

A policeman sauntered by outside, just looking, but that was enough.

"I said I'd take it," Jadiver repeated in a loud voice.

The clerk deflated. "I wish I could go with you," it explained
wistfully. It reached under the counter and pulled out a perforated
tape. "This will get you on the ship, and it also constitutes the
contract. Just present it at the other end and collect your money. You
can send for your baggage after you're on board."

Jadiver opened his mouth and then closed it. His baggage was intangible,
mostly experience, not much of it pleasant.

"I'll do that," he said.

The clerk came out from behind the counter and watched Jadiver leave.
Lights from the rocketport glittered in its robot eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jadiver paced about the ship. It was not enough to be on it, for the
police could still trace him. And if they did, they could get him off.
It was not only himself, there was his unknown friend. They had ways to
learn about that.

He passed a vision port on his way through the ship. It was night, but
it didn't seem so on the vast, brightly lighted concrete plain. A
strange vehicle streaked across the surface of the rocketport in
defiance of all regulations and common sense.

It was coming his way. It dodged in and out of rockets landing and
taking off, escaping blazing destruction with last minute, intricate
maneuvers. The driver had complete control of the vehicle and was
fantastically skillful.

It was a strange machine. Jadiver had never seen anything quite like it.
As far as he knew, it resembled nothing the police used.

It didn't halt outside the ship. The loading ramp was down and the
machine came up without hesitation. The entrance was too narrow and the
vehicle would never get through--that seemed evident. An instant later,
he was not so sure. The ship quivered and groaned and vibrations ran
throughout the structure.

He leaned over the railing and looked down. The machine was inside,
dented and scraped.

"Captain," bellowed a voice from the vehicle. It was an authoritative
voice and it puzzled Jadiver.

The captain came running, either in response to the command or to find
out how much damage had been done in the crash and why.

"Take off, Captain," said the voice. "Take off at once."

The captain sputtered. "I give orders here. I'll take off when I get
ready."

"You're ready when the ship reaches a certain mass. As soon as I came on
board, you attained it. Check your mass gauges, Captain."

The captain hurried to the gauges and glanced at them. He stared back at
the machine.

"Captain," purred the machine, "you have a little daughter. By the time
you get back, she will be grown and will have children of her own. The
sooner you leave, the sooner you will see her again. I will regard it as
a personal favor if you see that we take off immediately."

The captain looked at the machine. Tentacles and eye stalks rose up out
of the tip as he watched. It was a big machine, well put together, and
it appeared quite capable of handling a roomful of armed men. As a
matter of fact, it just had.

The captain shrugged and gave the order to lift ship.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was none too soon. Out of the visionport, Jadiver could see uniformed
men edging up from the underground shelters. They backed out of sight
when the rockets began to flame.

Faster the ship rose and higher. They were in the dense clouds and then
through them, out in the clear black of space, away from Venus.

Jadiver looked down at the machine. It wasn't a vehicle. It was a robot,
and it was familiar.

"It ought to be familiar," said the robot softly. That voice was for him
alone, directly on the auditory nerve. "You designed most of it back on
Earth, remember?"

He remembered. It was not a pretty imitation of a human--it was his
perfect robot. And it was also, his unknown friend, the one who had
watched over him.

He walked slowly down the stairs and stood beside it.

The robot switched to the regular speaking voice. "They built your
design, after all. They needed a big and powerful mobile robot, one that
could house, in addition to the regular functions, an extensive and
delicate mechanism."

That was the voice that had haunted him so long and in so many
situations. It was not Jadiver's own voice, but it resembled his. A
third person might not recognize the difference.

"That other mechanism," said Jadiver. "Is that the one that monitors the
circuit in my body?"

"That _parallels_ the circuit in your body." Tentacles were busy
straightening out the dents. "When I was built, they gave me a good
mind, better than your own in certain respects. What I lacked was
sensory perception. Eyes and ears, to be sure, good ones in a way, but
without the delicate shadings a human has, particularly tactile
interpretations. I didn't need better, they thought, because my function
was to observe and report on the parallel circuit I mentioned.

"In the beginning, that circuit was a formless matrix and only faintly
resembled your nervous system. As nerve data was exchanged back and
forth, it began to resemble you more and more, especially your mind.
Now, for practical purposes, it is you and I can look into it at will."

Jadiver stirred uneasily.

"Don't you understand?" asked the robot. "My mind isn't yours, and vice
versa. But we do have one thing in common, a synthetic nervous system
which, if you were killed, would begin to disintegrate slowly and
painfully. And now that it's developed as much as it is, I would
probably die, too, since that synthetic nervous system is an otherwise
unused part of my brain."

"There were two other victims before me," said Jadiver.

"There were, but they were derelicts--dead, really, before the
experiment got started. They lasted a few hours. I tried to help them,
but it was too late. It was not pleasant for me."

       *       *       *       *       *

Not only was it a friend; it had a vital interest in keeping him alive.
He could trust it, had to. After what had happened, doubt wasn't called
for.

Jadiver rubbed his weary eyes. "That shield I used," he said. "Did it
work?"

The robot laughed--Jadiver's laughter. It had copied him in many ways.
"It worked to your disadvantage. The circuit signals got through to me,
but I couldn't send any back until Doumya Filone chipped off part of
your disguise. Then I spoke to you. Before that, I had to misdirect the
police. I built up a complete and false history for you and kept them
looking where you weren't."

If he had thought, he would have known it had to be that way. The police
were efficient; they could have taken him long ago without the aid of
the circuit. But it had seemed so easy and they had trusted the
robot--had to where the circuit was concerned. No man could sit in front
of a screen and interpret the squiggles that meant his hand was touching
an apple.

Jadiver sat down. The strain was over and he was safe, bound for some
far-off place.

"The police used you, though not as much as you used them," he said.
"Still, they didn't develop the theory."

"They didn't. There was a man on Earth, a top-notch scientist. He worked
out the theory and set up the mechanism. He had a surgical assistant, a
person who would never be more than that on Earth because she wasn't
good on theory, though she was a whiz at surgery. She realized it and
got his permission to build another machine and take it to Venus.
Originally it was intended to accumulate data on the workings of the
human nervous system.

"On Venus, things were different. Laws concerning the rights of
individuals are not so strict. She got the idea of examining the whole
nervous system at once, not realizing what it meant because it had never
been done that way. She discussed it with officials from the police
department who saw instantly what she didn't--that once an extensive
circuit was in a human, there was no way to get it out, except by death.
They had no objections and were quite willing to furnish her with
specimens, for their own purposes and only incidentally hers. Once the
first man died, they had her and wouldn't let her back out, though she
wanted to."

"Specimen," repeated Jadiver. "Yeah, I was a specimen to her." His head
was heavy. "Why didn't you tell me this in the beginning?"

"Would you have listened when I first contacted you?" asked the robot.
"Later, perhaps. But once you put on the shield, I couldn't get in touch
with you until you were with Doumya Filone."

       *       *       *       *       *

Would Jadiver have listened? Not until it became a matter of raw
survival. Even now he hated to leave Earth and what it meant for the
unknown dangers and tedium of a planet circling an alien sun. It was
more than that, of course. Just as he'd had a design for a perfect
robot, he had in mind a perfect woman. He could recognize either when he
saw it.

"Doumya Filone was the assistant?"

"She was." The robot was his now, Jadiver knew. Others had built it, but
it belonged to him by virtue of a nervous system. It had as good a mind
as his, but it wouldn't dispute his claim. "Like yourself," continued
the robot, "in the Solar System she would never have been more than
second rate, and she wanted to be first. Hardly anyone recognizes it,
but the Solar System is not what it once was. It's like a nice
neighborhood that decays so slowly that the people in it don't notice
what it's become. There are some who can rise even in a slum, but
they're the rare exceptions.

"Others need greater opportunity than slums offer. They have to leave if
they expect to develop freely. But the hold of a whole culture is strong
and it's hard to persuade them that they have to go." The robot paused.
"Take a last look at a blighted area."

Outside planets glimmered in the distance.

Jadiver was tired and his eyes were closing. Now he could sleep safely,
but not in peace.

"Don't regret it," advised the robot. "Where you're going, you'll have
real designs to work on. No more pretty robot faces."

"Where is it--Alpha Centauri?" Jadiver asked disinterestedly.

"That ship left yesterday. They got their quota and left within the
hour, before any of the passengers could change their minds. We're going
farther, to Sirius."

       *       *       *       *       *

Sirius. A mighty sun, with planets to match. It was a place to be big.
Big and lonely.

"I can't force you to do anything," said the robot. It sounded pleased.
"But I have no inhibitions about others."

The robot flipped up its cowl. There was a storage space and a woman in
it.

Except for her hands, she was bound tightly by tangle strands.

"I don't think she likes you at the moment," said the robot. "She'll
tell you that as soon as she's able to speak. She may relent later, when
she realizes what it's really like on Sirius. You've got the whole
voyage to convince her."

The eye-stalks of the robot followed Jadiver interestedly. "Are you
looking for the tongs? Remember that the tangle stuff is repelled by
your skin."

Jadiver willingly used his hands and the tangle strands fell off.

As the robot had predicted, Doumya Filone was not silent--at first.





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