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´╗┐Title: Second Sight
Author: Wells, Basil, 1912-2003
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 "Second Sight" ***

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



    _Basil Wells, who lives in Pennsylvania, writes that he has been
    doing research concerning the keelboat age prior to and following
    the War of 1812 on the "locally famous section of
    portage-keelboat-rafting stream from Waterford down to Pittsburgh,"
    turning from this to this grimmer future._


 second
  sight

 _by BASIL WELLS_


 Then his hand caught an arm and he
 exerted his full strength. The entire
 arm tore away from its shoulder....


His fingers moved over the modest packet of bills the invisible
rockhound had handed to him. He smiled through the eternal night that
was his own personal hell. Duggan's Hades.

"Thanks, Pete," he said gratefully. "Here, have a box of Conmos."

His sensitized fingers found the cigars, handed over a box, and he heard
the nervous scuff of the other's shoes.

"This eight thousand means I can see again--for a while at least. Take
'em! It's little enough."

"Look, Duggan. I get eight hundred for selling you the ticket on the
breakthrough time. Keep the cigars. You need the dough."

Feet pounded, thumping into swift inaudibility along the 10th Level's
yielding walkway. His fingers caressed the crisp notes that his lucky
guess on the 80th Level's tunnel juncture had won for him, plus the ten
dollars, that this meager business could ill afford, it had cost to join
the rockhounds' pool....

But now he was free. His own man. He was released from the calculated
economies of his wife. Janith knew to within a few dollars what his
newsstand on the 10th Level should make. He had never been able to save
the necessary thousand dollar deposit, and ten dollars an hour, that a
rented super mech cost. And she would never listen to his pleas that he
must see again--if only for an hour....

"Waste ten or twenty dollars for nothing," she would storm. "We have all
your hospital bills to pay. I need new clothes. Your stock in the stands
is too small."

What she left unspoken was the fact that she must secretly have hated
his engineering career in the deep levels under Appalachia, and that she
was dedicated to preventing his possible return....

After three years of blindness, under his wife's firm dominance, Duggan
felt only hate for her. With this sudden fortune he could be
independent. He could divorce her. He could rent a super mech--even
return to work in the ever-deepening levels of Appalachia City!

First of all he must see again.

He closed up the news-and-cigar stand. With his cane's sensitive radar
button pulsating beneath his fingers he hurried along the walkway toward
the nearest super mech showroom. It was less than three blocks....

       *       *       *       *       *

"Be sure that all the contacts are against the skull and neck," the
salesman was saying, his voice muffled by the mentrol hood covering
Duggan's head and shoulders.

"Of course." Duggan's impatience made his voice shrill. "I've used
mentrols before when inspecting cave-ins and such."

"Very well, sir." The man's voice was relieved. Probably he hated his
job as much as Duggan hated his cigars and news.

Duggan tripped the switches and heard the building hum of power. An odd
sort of vibration that his mind told him was purely emotional, seemed to
be permeating his whole body.

Abruptly the transition was complete. He was no longer lying on the
padded bench beneath the mentrol hood. He was standing erect, conscious
of the retaining clamps that held him upright.

He gulped a deep draught of air into the artificial lungs that did not
need oxygen and his mechanical pulse quickened.

His eyes slitted open, drinking in by degrees the mirrored mentrol booth
and the pallid, fat, little man sitting beside his hooded body. He
stepped out of the clamps, his sharpened senses aware of softness, and
hardness, and scent, and color that human weakness so often blurs.

This super mech that was linked directly with his brain by twin mentrols
was tall, chunky and gray of eye and hair. In a general way it was a
duplicate of his own body, but there was no facial resemblance.

"How do you like it, sir?" The fat smile was empty, almost apologetic.
"We have younger, more handsome models...."

"Well enough." Duggan started donning the clothing that he had removed.
"I'll want the mech for five, possibly ten, hours."

"I'll make out the slip for ten hours, sir. We'll refund any balance due
you. But after ten hours ..."

"I know. You must report the mech missing. But with my body here you
can't lose."

The salesman smiled enigmatically. "We _have_," he said.

Duggan shrugged. He was impatient to be outside, feasting his starved
vision on the stores and parks of the various upper levels. He might
even take a lift to the Outside. It had been fifteen years ago, while
their youngest son was a baby, that they had taken a weekend motor trip
to the great scar that had been Manhattan. He remembered the vastness
and the rawness of the uncontrolled atmosphere. It had been beautiful
but also a bit terrifying. It was a ten years delayed honeymoon....

And now Merle was in the rocket corps and Janith and he were like
strangers.

Duggan zippered shut his gray-checked jacket and left the booth. He
walked slowly, savoring every picture of the crowded passenger strips
beyond the walkway, and of the fairy spans of moving walkways crossing
the travel strips. The soft glow of the level's ceiling, fifty feet
above, illuminated the double rows of apartment and store fronts.

It was good to see again.

Every twelfth section of the level was a park. The greenery was fresher
and brighter than he remembered; the tree boles and the branches were
marvels of grace and strength. He strolled along the paths, impatient to
be moving on, but aching with the emerald beauty around him....

He took the lifts to the upper levels. He rode the swiftest walkways and
travel strips, his eyes drinking in the long-hidden sights. From an
observation dome he looked out over the wooded mountain slopes of
Outside, and saw the telltale ridging of rock and earth that marked the
scores of hidden vehicular tubes linking Appalachia with its sister
cities of Ondack and Smoky.

His five hours stretched into seven, and then, eight. Slowly a
determination to keep these eyes, at whatever cost, was building within
him. Always before he had agreed when Janith decided. He had been so
dependent on her those first terrible weeks. But now, with this money
from the breakthrough pool, he could rent a super mech--live as a man
should live!

       *       *       *       *       *

Duggan left the employment booth on the 20th Level, a badge on his
jacket and a half-grin on his full super mech's lips.

On the records he was now Al Duggan, a second cousin from Montana. He
knew that nothing in the world could bring Al further east than Ozarka.
Just to be safe, however, he decided to drop Al a line to explain.

As far as his wife was concerned Merle Duggan was gone. Dead and buried.
She could get a divorce if she wanted and marry that podgy, pink-skulled
boss of hers at the advertising agency....

"Five hundred a month," Duggan told himself. "Two-fifty for the rental,
fifty for insurance--maybe fifty or so for spare parts--that leaves
about a hundred and fifty for me."

He was starting at the bottom as a rock hog, a mucker, a clean-up man in
the newly opened 80th Level. And his wages were the minimum union scale.

He took the lift down to the 79th Level, flashed his new badge at the
guards, and took the gritty freight lift to the lowest level of the
sprawling metropolis....

"You Gaines Short?" he asked the lanky man bent over the littered desk
in the rough plastic bubble that served as an office.

Sharp black eyes studied him--noted the bright new olive badge, and the
creased, obviously new, coveralls.

"You're the new rock hog?"

"Yes, sir. Al Duggan."

"Any experience?"

"Montana--mining. Had some engineering. Worked in Ozarka on tunnels."

The lank man nodded, expressionless.

"You'll hog for a while. Later we'll see.... Any relation to the Duggan
we lost a couple of years back?"

"We're cousins."

"Tough he couldn't see his way clear to try again." Short's lips
thinned. "He may snap out of it yet.... We could use a few more like
him."

"I--I'll talk with him," promised Duggan.

He fought back the words that wanted to pour out. Whether it was a
strange sense of loyalty to his wife, or a stubborn sort of pride, he
could not bring himself to speak ill of her.

"A super mech is not so bad, Duggan." Short flexed a skinny arm. "I've
worn this one since a rock slide crushed my back."

"Yes, sir," Duggan agreed.

Short scribbled on a form, handed it to Duggan.

"Take this down to Ted Rusche, he's the short, dark fellow bossing the
rock hogs. He'll see you're issued your tools."

Duggan nodded and turned away.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the super mech hostel, on the 79th Level, Duggan shared a compartment
of six sleeping and mentrol plates. All of the others were rockhounds,
and three of them worked in his own clean-up gang. His immediate pusher,
Ted Rusche, was a legless, dark and hairy man, much like his working
super mech. Waide and Myham, the first tall and once-handsome, and the
latter, bony and scarred, were both paralytics.

Duggan's share of the attendants' salary amounted to another fifty
dollars monthly. He was not growing too wealthy!

"And how do you like it after three weeks, Al?" Rusche demanded from
where he balanced on the cushioned sleeping plate.

Duggan stretched cramped limbs and turned his sightless face toward
Rusche's voice.

"Seems good to be working again, Ted," he said.

"This's your last day with us, Al. Orders from Short. He's transferring
you. Office work I guess, or maybe he's making you a foreman."

Rusche's voice was curious.

"He musta found out something about you, Al. S'funny but you look awful
familiar to me too. And you know more about tunnels than you let on. How
about leveling with a guy?"

"Not now." Duggan was thinking of the other listening men. "After we've
cleaned-up and eaten. See you in the park outside the hostel."

"Right."

Duggan's thoughts were muddled. Fingerprints probably; at every super
mech hostel all guests were printed and taped, and possibly through his
similar name. Short must have been suspicious from the first. And if he
had come to the hostel to see Duggan's mentrol-hooded face, while Duggan
worked, his identification must have been sure.

Short knew that he was Merle Duggan, and before too long Janith, and all
his friends--if he had any left now--would know he had been in hiding
here.

He hurried to eat and get ready for another period under the mentrol's
hooded probes.

Less than half an hour later he strode out of the hostel, his super mech
gleaming and clean and his jacket and shorts newly pressed. He met
Rusche in the park and they headed for the lift to the upper level.

En route to the 10th Level he explained.

"I thought you looked like somebody I should know." Rusche scrubbed at
his pseudo beard's coarseness. "Accident left you sort of psychoed, huh?
So you was scared of the levels? Had to try coming back with a false
name?"

Duggan gulped. It made a believable sort of yarn. He hadn't taken time
to concoct a story.... Why not?

"Something like that. I guess I was badly shook, Ted."

"So now you go back to being engineer at a thousand or so, and I'm still
a rock hog." Rusche shrugged. "Less headaches anyhow."

They stepped off the lift at the 10th Level and took the high speed
strip toward the business section. Duggan had it in his mind to see
Janith and tell her she had failed--that he was his own man again. She
would be at the office. He would tell her off, and leave. And then he'd
show Rusche some of the high spots of the low-number levels of
Appalachia.

The darkness came about them swiftly. To Duggan it was like a return to
the nightmare of sightlessness. Under their feet the racing strip
faltered and stalled. They were thrown off their feet and sprawled on
the fiber-ribbed squares of the checkerboarded way's surface.

"What is it?" demanded Rusche.

He fought back the panic. This was not true blindness.

"Criminals. They set off a few dozen 'midnight' bombs and try to rob
banks or stores. We get these attacks quite often."

"Last long?"

"Emergency ventilation will clear it out in a couple of minutes. And the
Squads will have them in half an hour. They never get very far."

They sat close together, to wait. From the walkways and stalled strips
shrieks and frightened cries sounded. The sounds seemed to increase from
behind them.

"This's my first time above the Twentieth Level," Rusche confided.
"Thirty-five years and I never saw the Outside. I don't think I like it
up this high."

"It will be over in a little while, Ted. Probably just a group of
teen-agers looking for thrills." He laughed drily. "They'll end up with
blanked memories and new faces like those who tried before them."

"Listen," muttered Rusche.

In the lightlessness, and above the wailing of the terrified people
about them, they could hear the scuff of running feet. They were coming
closer at a swift pace. In a moment the runners would collide with them!

       *       *       *       *       *

Duggan's years of blindness had given him the ability to judge and gauge
distance from sound. At the proper instant he pounced, his hands
clamping around a body, and a second body crashed into the leader. They
went down in a tangle.

He heard Rusche shouting and fists battering and the tinkle of metal or
crystal on metal. He was fighting desperately, his super mech's strength
overtaxed. The unseen man's hands tore at his neck and shoulder, ripping
away the synthetic flesh and baring the complex framework beneath.

Then his hand caught an arm and he exerted the full strength of his mech
power, until now carefully subdued. The entire arm tore away from its
shoulder. And yet the wounded man continued to attack.

It was only then that he realized this must be a super mech. The
criminals must have stolen one or two super mechs and were using them in
this robbery.

He was ruthless, then. He wrenched away the other arm. He battered at
the unseen torso. The feet of the desperate mech smashed at his knees
and thighs, staggering him. Then he bore the armless torso of the mech
backward and fell upon it.

The mech went limp, its mentrols blanked by the distant criminal who
controlled it.

Duggan came to his feet, listening for the sound of battle between
Rusche and his captive. It came from his right, faintly. About ten feet
distant, he judged it. And now the emergency vents were clearing the
darkness from the travel strips. Twilight faded and vision replaced it.

Rusche was sitting astride a prone body, and even as Duggan reached his
side the struggling criminal's arms and legs went limp. Rusche grunted
and started to stand.

"A super mech!" he said. He rubbed thoughtfully at his disarranged nose
and cheeks, smoothing them again into their normal contours. "What about
yours?"

"The same."

"Here's their loot, anyhow," Rusche said, holding up a small gray
plastine bag.

"Drop it, Ted. We better fade out of here before the Squads arrive, too.
They might think we're--"

"Not on your life, Al. We should get a reward. Pics on the newswires and
tapes."

Duggan shrugged and smoothed at his own neck and face. Four
red-uniformed men, their heads hidden by ovoid gas helmets, came hissing
toward them along the travel strip. They rode single-wheeled cycles and
their rapid-fire expoders were trained on them.

"Careful now, Ted. Let me do the talking. They like to use paralysis
needles and question later."

"But--"

"I've lived up here."

The unicycles braked to a halt.

"Step over here, slow," ordered one of the Squadmen.

Duggan obeyed, careful to keep his arms rigid. Of course paralysis
needles would cause this mech body no damage, but why make trouble? They
_had_ more destructive weapons.

"Ran into us," he said mildly. "We figured something wrong--honest men
would be standing where they were. We stopped them."

The four members of the Squad were inspecting the damage.

"I guess you did," one of them said, admiringly. "You must be super
mechs too?"

"That's right. I'm Duggan, Al--Merle Duggan, and this is my friend, Ted
Rusche. We work on the 80th Level--rockhounds."

"Duggan?" The man's voice was suddenly strained. "Maybe you're not so
clear as you pretend. A woman got in the way by accident, supposedly, of
their getaway from the bank. Her name was Duggan too."

Duggan started forward, remembered the ugly expoder muzzles and backed
away.

"Was her name Janith?" he demanded.

"Radio report didn't say. Contact them, Joe," he told one of the other
faceless men.

"Couldn't be you hired these two to kill her and pretend the robbery?"
he inquired.

"Of course not."

One of the Squad mumbled something. Duggan's interrogator dropped his
weapon's muzzle.

"Woman twisted her ankle trying to get out of the way, and fell.
Received a cut on her temple and is being taken to the hospital.
Accidental all right."

"But her name."

"Janith."

Duggan felt a strange mingling of anger and of tenderness. The anger was
directed toward the criminals.

"Could I go to her now? Rusche can fill you in on details."

"It's not--oh, all right. Regulations aren't too strict on these levels.
She your sister?"

"Wife." He turned to Rusche.

"See you at the lift in about an hour," he said and headed for the
advertising agency where Janith was employed.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We haven't been informed as to her whereabouts yet, Mr. Duggan," the
receptionist at Duffey's offices said coldly.

Duggan glared down into the carefully pretty face, the solar-lamp tan
and the knife-smoothed wrinkles.

"Now see here, Blanche," he said, and spluttered impotently.

"See here yourself, Merle Duggan," the woman spat back sharply. "After
all! You come running back just because she's hurt. Why didn't you come
back like this a year ago?"

"I was with her a year ago."

"That wasn't you. You didn't have guts enough to rent a super mech and
go back to your old job." The woman laughed. "Janith tried to insult and
needle you into being a man again. And you just crawled."

"That's a lie," Duggan cried. "I begged her to let me go back. She
wouldn't listen."

"That's what you say now. You don't want to remember. I know. I was here
all the time. Many a time Janith has come to the office, crying, and
told me how hopeless it seemed."

"You're--you're inventing all this, Blanche," he accused.

"I wish I were. Remember, Merle. Think. Be honest with yourself."
Blanche put her nervous, blue-veined hand on his arm. A detached part of
his brain noted how bony and brittle her hand was.

"She's loved you all these years, Merle." The tiny hand dug into his
jacket sleeve. "To make you well again she risked losing your love--and
she lost."

Blanche must be all of fifty, perhaps fifty-five, the analytical portion
of his mind noted. Old-maidish in many ways, despite her five
ex-husbands; yet so sentimental--

"It's all part of her scheme. Pretend to be the patient, long-suffering
wife and then secretly forbid me to go back to the deep levels again!
You don't know!"

The woman's tired eyes sparkled green. Her little fist cracked against
his chest. She turned half away from him.

"But I do know. I sat up with you many nights, while Janith got a few
hours of rest. You were like a baby, slobbering and whimpering in your
sleep. The days were worse. You were drunk and shouting and weeping. To
you blindness was the end."

Merle gulped. He could remember nothing of the sort. Only the accident
and awakening in the hospital to darkness.... But there was a strange
blankness, a hiatus in his memories, that ended with his hated job in
the cigar stand. He could not recall his first day there or--

Could Blanche be telling the truth?

"You--spiteful old hag!" he shouted at her, and rushed out of the
offices.

His feet pounded at the yielding softness of the walkway. The hospital
was less than two blocks distant--no need to take a travel strip--and he
needed the automatic motion of walking to steady his thoughts.

The forgotten months. Four months, or was it five months, ago, he was in
the cigar-and-news stand. That was the day when an old acquaintance from
the lower levels sold him the chance on the 80th Level's breakthrough.

That night he had begged Janith to let him rent a super mech. And she
had scoffed at his wastefulness. Yet, now that he remembered it again,
there had been a wistful note of hope in her voice.

Could she have been trying to fan his faint desire for sight into
something more powerful and consuming--so he would become again the
engineering Duggan he had been?

He had surrendered then, as he did many times afterward. Sullenly, yes,
but he had surrendered. Perhaps she knew he was not ready for sight.
When he refused to obey her, when he insisted on hiring a super
mech--then, perhaps, she would know the cure was complete.

But that was only theory. He remembered her clearly expressed hatred for
the mucking, lower-level life of a rockhound. Always his hatred for her
grew as she spoke of his work....

She had never expressed herself in that way before the accident. She had
gone with him on many exploratory trips into the caverns that the lower
levels of Appalachia cut across. And she had enjoyed the experience--he
was sure of that.

Remember! Think back. Back before the cigars and papers. Back to the
days and months after the accident. It hurt to think. His temples, here
on the mentrol-hooded sleeping plate, were pounding irregularly....

Huddling in a bed, knees drawn up and head tucked in, trying to gain
somehow the safety that an infant once knew. Janith's voice, soft and
understanding, and the acid of panic that set his lips to mumbling
meaningless jargon....

Why had Janith not sent him to the medical centers for mental clearing
and re-education as was done with all cases of psychoed abnormals? The
answer was with him. She loved him as he was, Merle Duggan--not as a new
personality in her husband's body.

Artificial amnesia automatically dissolves all marriage partnerships.
She had not wanted that. Instead she had three years of hell....

Striking out at emptiness, his fists contacting soft flesh, and the
pained cry, swiftly suppressed, of Janith. His voice, cursing and
high-pitched, as he fought the straps that now were restraining his
sightless body. The bite of a needle and gradual dissolution of
feeling....

Memory was coming reluctantly back to Duggan. This was not the
self-imagined visionings of an abused helpless man. These memories were
true. He had fought against all mental therapy and turned from those who
loved him.

Now the hospital entrance was before him. He paused for a moment and
then went inside. The automatic hush of the door shutting out the muted
street sounds was all too familiar.

"Mrs. Janith Duggan," he told the crisply white woman at the desk.

"Room 212, second floor."

"Thank you."

       *       *       *       *       *

He used the steps in preference to the lift. He needed more time to
think--would he ever find enough time?

Undoubtedly, now, Janith's love for him was dead. His desertion of her
must have finished the dissolution of their marriage. It had been
cowardly--he should have faced her and declared what he was going to do
and what she could do.

These past weeks, working with the rock hogs, had been invaluable. They
had restored something of his self-esteem.

The second floor. Pastel bare walls and soft voices. The odors. 208 and
opposite, 209. A wheelchair, propelled by a timidly smiling white-haired
woman. He nodded automatically.

210. What could he say to her? That he was sorry she was hurt and that
he was such a fool? And then back to the super mech hostel and the five
other cripples who shared the room?

212. The door ajar. A private room. He was glad of that. The headache
was more violent now--there was a bitter taste in his mouth as his super
mech entered the room.

She was alone, looking tiny and helpless on the high bed. To him, after
three years, she was more beautiful than he remembered, even though the
pure whiteness of her once-graying hair startled him.

"Janith," he said uncertainly.

She turned her head, curiosity in her expression, and then understanding
came. There was no mistaking the warmth and welcome that came into her
eyes. She held out her arms.

"Duggy," she commanded, "come here."

And he knew then, without ever being told, that his revolt and flight
had all been part of the therapy, and Janith had known all the time
where he had been....



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Fantastic Universe_ September 1957.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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