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´╗┐Title: Bleedback
Author: Marks, Winston K.
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 "Bleedback" ***

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                               BLEEDBACK

                           BY WINSTON MARKS

               _It was just a harmless, though amazing,
              kid's toy that sold for less than a dollar.
                Yet it plunged the entire nation into a
                  nightmare of mystery and chaos...._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Worlds of If Science Fiction, August 1955.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


The thing is over now, but I can't see a Teddy bear or a set of blocks
in a department store window without shuddering. I'm thankful I'm a
bachelor and have no children around to remind me of the utterly insane
nightmare that a child's toy plunged our country into--the millions of
people who died in agony--the total disruption and near dissolution of
our nation.

And yet, as the United States tottered on the verge of complete
chaos, it was, ironically, another child's toy that saved us. A
simple, ordinary, every-day toy for tots stopped the "fever", halted
the carnage that was tearing our flesh and eyes and viscera into
shreds. With most the scientists in the world working for an emergency
solution, they could come up with no better answer than a toy that'd
been around for generations before the "Mystery i-Gun" was even
conceived.

Being a plain-clothesman, I have seen greed and impatience ruin many
individual lives. If I could have guessed at the chain of events that
would stem from my first contact with the younger Baxter brother, I
would have put a bullet through his head in cold blood and cheerfully
faced the gas chamber.

Instead I took off my hat and followed him through the substantial old
house to a moderately large room in the rear where, I'd been told, we
would find a body.

Leo Baxter was a little guy about five-foot six, like me but with a
better build. His size was important for a couple of reasons, one
being that it was startling to say the least, when he pointed to the
giant on the floor and said, "My brother."

He caught my look and shrugged impatiently. "I know, I know, but this
is no time for Mutt and Jeff gags. Calvin has been murdered. Now get
with it, Lieutenant!" If Calvin _was_ his brother, Leo's agitation was
understandable, but his voice had a flat note of practicality in it
that I didn't like.

As I looked down at the sprawled length of the big man on the tiled
floor, the Mutt and Jeff angle didn't fit at all. David and Goliath
was a better bet. This Goliath seemed also to have met his fate from a
hole in the forehead. I say, "seemed," because it developed that Calvin
Baxter was not yet quite dead.

"There's no pulse or breath," his brother said when I mentioned this
error in his assumption.

"You're no doctor. Now call that ambulance like I told you. Jump!" I
said.

He jumped. I made a quick examination, meanwhile, and when Leo came
back from the phone I pointed. "See, the blood. It's still coming out."

"Corpses bleed, don't they?"

"Not in spurts," I said. "The hole's tiny, but whatever's in there
touched an artery. See that?"

He looked and seemed convinced. "The ambulance will be here. Anything
else I should do?"

"Yes. Nothing. Don't touch a thing in this room ... or did you already?"

"Just Calvin. I heard him fall, and when I came in he was on his face."

"Why did you ask for homicide when you called the police? Or let's put
it this way: What makes you think it wasn't an accident?"

"Two reasons. First, because I couldn't see any cause of the accident.
When I turned him over the floor was smooth and clean under his
forehead except for the smear of blood. Reason number two: Because
Calvin just doesn't have accidents. All his life he's moved in slow
motion. I've never known him to stumble, or cut himself, or drop
anything or even bump into anyone."

I was checking around the room myself, and I had to admit that both
reasons might be valid. A man the size of Calvin wasn't likely to be
the skittish type. And by the time the ambulance arrived I was ready to
admit that if the injury were an accident, Calvin Baxter had contrived
to conceal its source.

It took several of us to load the unconscious man onto the stretcher. I
told his cocky little brother to stay on ice, while I rode downtown in
the ambulance.

Dr. Thorsen called me into the emergency ward. "How did this happen?"
he wanted to know. Thorsen is a lean, learned old chap who normally
gives more answers than he asks.

I said, "Don't know, Doc. I found him in a sort of home workshop. No
power tools, nothing dangerous in sight. The bench at one end had a
couple of little gadgets on it--looked sort of electrical. Some wire,
soldering iron, books, a few rough circuit drawings."

"The gadgets. What did they look like?"

I thought back and realized that what I had to describe would sound a
little peculiar. "Sort of like flashlights with a pistol grip ... and
no lens where the light should come out. Just blunt, flat ends."

Thorsen shrugged. "Then I don't know. I expected you to report some
kind of a blast or explosion."

"No sign of one."

"All right, then what else but a flying particle could drill a hole in
a man's forehead the diameter of a piece of 16-gauge wire?"

"What do the x-rays show?"

"We'll know in a minute. What about the murder-attempt angle?"

I said that I had nothing to go on yet. That was the whole truth and
the final truth!

When Doc's x-rays revealed _nothing but a blood clot_ deep in the brain
at the end of the tiny tunnel piercing the skull, I was left without
even a "modus operandi", let alone a substantial suspect.

       *       *       *       *       *

For two days I investigated brother Leo, and when I wasn't
investigating him I was questioning him. The small town in Minnesota
where he claimed he and his brother were born had been the county seat,
and the whole shivaree had burned up in a prairie fire years ago,
courthouse, birth records and all. With no other living relatives,
I had to depend on people who had known both men. From those whom I
questioned, I ascertained that they had been passing for brothers, at
least, for some time.

On the third day Leo's patience began to crack. "You keep asking me
the same, stupid questions over and over. I tell you, I'm a mechanical
engineer. My brother was a mathematician. We're both single. I make
enough money in the construction game to support both of us. What's so
suspicious about humoring my brother's research?"

"Among other things," I said, "is your ignorance of what he was doing."

"For the fiftieth time I tell you I _didn't_ know!" His exasperation
was mounting to the pitch I had been awaiting.

"You used the past tense. You do know now?"

He wheeled and crossed the living room, poured himself a drink of
straight bourbon and downed it. "Yes, I have a notion now, but it's
none of your damned business. His ideas may be patentable."

I said slowly and quietly, "Now I'll tell you what I've been waiting
for. I've been waiting for you to offer me information about the two
little gadgets that you removed from your brother's work-bench--against
my explicit orders not to touch anything. Until you produce those items
and explain your actions I'll be around here asking stupid questions.
From now on, understand?"

"Damn cops!" He threw the shot glass to the floor and glared at me for
a long minute. "All right, come with me."

We went into a little library. He took two volumes from a high shelf
and from the recess snatched the two gadgets with the pistol grips.

From a table drawer, which he unlocked with a key from his pocket, he
took some drawings that looked like the ones that had disappeared from
his brother's little workshop.

"Calvin developed a new effect by applying one of his esoteric
mathematical symbols to a simple electronic circuit," Leo began, in
his surly tone. He pointed at the margin of the circuit drawing. There
were jottings of algebraic formulae in which the quantity "i" appeared
prominently. He pointed this out to me and continued, "Being a cop you
wouldn't understand, but this symbol stands for an imaginary number,
the square root of a minus one."

This rang a bell from away back in my own college math. I said, "Yeah,
I think I remember. It's some sort of operational factor in polar
coordinates. No real meaning in itself, but--"

"Well! An educated cop! That's right, except that Calvin managed to
give this symbol an actual, functional application. I was telling
the truth when I said I didn't know what he was doing. I still don't
understand it, and I've been losing sleep over these formulae."

"Then why not take it to the university and let the professors--"

"Because," he interrupted, "whether I understand it or not, Calvin's
gadget, happens to work. Watch this."

He picked an ordinary paper clip from the debris of pencils, stamps and
rubber bands from the top desk drawers, touched it to the "muzzle" end
of the gadget where it stuck as if magnetized. "Now keep your eyes on
the paper clip," he ordered.

His forefinger pressed a button in the pistol grip, and without click,
snap, buzz or murmur, _the paper clip disappeared_.

Leo stared at me, as thoughts of "hyper-space", fourth-dimension and
space-warps flitted through my mind. It wasn't a Buck Roger's atomic
disintegrator, because there was no heat, flash or sound. The clip was
suddenly elsewhere.

"And I suppose the other gadget brings it back," I said.

"That's what I thought, but I can't make it work. I suppose my brother
could, if he were here."

He tossed the thing to me, pointed at the little box of paper clips in
the drawer and said, "Have fun."

I did, for about five minutes. Eight paper clips later I was convinced
that whatever else it might be, the gadget was no potential murder
weapon. The clips disappeared, totally. You could pass your hand
through the point of departure without a tingle of sensation.

Leo briefed me further. The thing worked only on metallic conductors.
It was harmless to human flesh and other organic matter. Then he
removed the cover that ran the length of the rather crude, hand-carved,
wooden barrel. From front to back, were: One pen-light cell, a
lumpy-looking coil of wire hand-wound on a spindle-shaped iron core,
and a short, cylindrical bar-magnet.

"In mass production," he said, "About 40 cents worth of material and
maybe 50 cents worth of labor! Do you see why I wanted to keep it a
secret until I could patent it?"

"No!" I said flatly. "Unless you consider a paper-clip disposal unit an
item of commercial importance."

"But it's a whole new scientific principle--the rotation of matter
completely out of our space-time continuum!"

"That much I grasp, but what good is it except as a demonstration of a
piece of pure scientific research?"

"Good Lord, man, have you no imagination?"

"Okay, okay! Get rich," I said and slammed the front door behind me as
I stomped out. I had been so certain that the missing gadgets would
give me a motive for the attack on Leo's brother, or at least the
method of inflicting the fantastic wound, that I was about ready to
turn in my badge in frustration. All I could pin on Leo was a desire to
cash in on his brother's gimmick--which, presumably, he could have done
whether Calvin lived or died.

Suppose, I mused on my way back to the station, that Calvin had refused
to let Leo commercialize on his discovery? Perhaps Calvin was preparing
a paper for publication in scientific circles. Maybe cool-headed little
Leo tried to knock off his brother to keep the secret in the family
until it could be turned to a selfish dollar.

All right, suppose a jury would accept such an impalpable theory as a
motive, then what? No murder weapon. No witnesses. Not even a genuine
murder yet, because Calvin was still alive.

Yes, old Doc Thorsen had kept the mathematician alive somehow. The
elder Baxter lay on his back across two, white iron beds pushed
together in the City Hospital, and Thorsen came in to report to me.

"The clot seems to be absorbing better than I expected, but it's
doubtful that we could operate to remove the paralyzing pressure. The
puncture is deep into the brain tissue, and he's too nearly gone to
survive such an ordeal."

"Any chance that he might recover consciousness?"

"Pretty remote," Thorsen told me. "We'll keep a special nurse with him
as you ordered, just in case he does."

I left Calvin Baxter pale and motionless as some great statue supine
amid the tangle of plasma, glucose and saline hoses, under his
transparent oxygen tent. The wound that had laid him low was no more
than a dot of dried blood on his massive forehead.

Until his death, his file would remain under unsolved crimes. In my
own mind I was no longer sure of anything, except that if there was a
nickel in Calvin Baxter's discovery, his mercenary brother would wring
it out.

And he did. Even before Calvin died.

Some seven weeks later Leo marketed the "MYSTERY i-GUN" as a combined,
toy, trick and puzzle, and it set the whole damned world on its ear!

I located Leo Baxter in his new suite of offices on the 34th floor
of the State Building. He peeled back his lips in a sneery grin. "I
thought you'd be showing up."

He waved away his male secretary who was still clinging to my arm
trying to tow me back to the reception room. I said, "I kept your
secret, then you pull an irresponsible thing like this! A kid's toy!
Good Lord, man, that device might be dangerous!"

"I appreciate your professional ethics, Lieutenant. I've applied for a
patent, so you can tell all your friends now. And stop worrying. The
"Mystery i-Gun" is quite harmless. I experimented a week before going
into production."

"A week?" I could scarcely believe my ears. "What happens when some kid
jams his gun against a light-pole or an automobile ... or the night
lock on the First National Bank?"

"Nothing. It punches no holes. A large metallic object simply
dissipates the field. The largest object it will handle is about a
half-inch steel screw--"

"Baxter, your brother's accident is connected to that device--and you
turn it loose as a novelty!"

"Nonsense. It's safe as a knot-hole. It simply makes things disappear.
Little things, like tacks, ball bearing, old rusty nuts and bolts--"

"And dimes and mamma's earrings and the front door key," I snapped
back. "Until you know how to bring those things back you had no right
to market that rig."

He laid his small hands before him on the desk. "Lieutenant, I'm sick
of working for other people. This is my chance to get a bank-roll to
back my own contracting firm. Yes, I financed Calvin's research because
he's brilliant, and I knew he'd come up with something some day. Now
he's done it, and I'm merely protecting his interests and my investment
in him. See here." He shoved some documents at me. There was the patent
application, a declaration of partnership for purposes of marketing
the Mystery i-Gun, and the articles of incorporation of the Baxter
Construction Company.

"Okay," I said. "So you've cut your brother in on all this. Who's his
beneficiary when he dies?"

"Still looking for a motive for murder, aren't you, Lieutenant?"

I didn't admit it to him, but he was right. Calvin's "accident" seemed
too convenient to the purposes of his practical little brother,
Leo. What's more, the lab and medical men on the force were just
as mystified today as they were when we brought Calvin in with the
needle-thin hole in his skull. Old Doc Thorsen had admitted to me that
he could name no implement--not even a surgical instrument--that could
have inflicted such a narrow gauge hole. It had to be caused by a
fragment, _but there was no fragment in the brain_!

"Leo," I said, "I know you consider this case closed, but I want you to
do me a favor. I want to go over your brother's lab once more."

"But you've--" He stopped, shrugged and nodded his head. "Okay. I'm
interested in finding out what hurt Cal, as much as you are. I'll tell
you, I'm busy the rest of this week, but I'll meet you at the old house
next Monday evening at eight. You see, I closed up the place and moved
downtown."

I agreed, with the feeling that he was deliberately making me wait just
to annoy me. Leo Baxter was an important man now, a man graciously
willing to cooperate with the police--at his own convenience. I stood
up. "Your brother has been calling your name. I suppose they told you
that?"

"They phoned. Doctor said it was just mutterings."

"You haven't even been to see him?"

"What's the use? He wouldn't recognize me."

Well, it wasn't any of my business, really, but it's funny how you get
to hate a man for his attitude. I don't know what I expected to find
by going over that lab-workshop again, but whatever it was, I hoped it
would incriminate Leo. On the face of it he was guilty of nothing more
than a premature marketing of a new device, but the way he was cashing
in on Calvin's genius certainly did the dying man no honor.

_Cash in was right!_ The toys sold like bubble-gum. The papers, radio,
and TV picked up the sensational gimmick and gave it a billion bucks
worth of free advertising. And the profitable part of it was that the
i-Gun was so simple to mass-produce that Leo's fifteen contracting
manufacturers were almost able to keep up with the astronomical demand.

Before that week was up, the Wall Street Journal estimated there
were already more i-Guns in the hands of the juvenile public than all
the yo-yos ever produced. They retailed at eighty-five cents, made of
plastic with a hole in the back where you could change the pen-light
battery. They sold, all right. They sold in drugstores and toy stores
and dime stores and department stores. Toddler's, tykes and teen-agers
went for them. And adults. Maybe 30 million of them were in the hands
of the public before I saw Leo Baxter next.

Which was almost two weeks instead of the one week he had promised.

I finally got an appointment. "Sorry," he said. "I've been tied up with
government people all week. The A. E. C. tried to get me in trouble."

I said, "Skip it. You promised for tonight. Now let's go."

"I can't possibly make it tonight." He pointed at his desk. It was
littered with correspondence, orders and contracts. "Give me one more
week, Lieutenant."

It was an order, not a request.

There was nothing to do but wait the third week. It was not, however,
uneventful. It was the week the accidents began to happen.

At 4:14 of a Tuesday afternoon, a man was admitted to a local hospital
with a perforated belly. Straight through, hide, guts and liver. A
newsman got hold of it and wrote a scare story about an attack with a
pellet gun that must shoot needles.

Before the edition was sold out the hospitals were loaded with
emergency cases. People with holes in them. Tiny little holes,
mostly, but holes that went right through them. Then dogs. Then
automobiles, trucks and busses. Holes in their radiators. Holes in
windshields that always went straight back, through seats and sometimes
passengers--right out through the rear end.

       *       *       *       *       *

The city panicked. Then the county, state and nation. In two days, yes,
the whole nation!

At first everyone thought we were being attacked by some secret weapon.
By some miracle of statesmanship, the President of the United States
prevented a "massive retaliation" attack by the army upon our most
likely enemy--long enough for Intelligence to affirm that no enemy on
Earth was that mad at us.

Then all thoughts turned to extra-terrestrial space. A bombardment from
the sky? It was ridiculous to even consider, because none of the holes
that appeared in people and things came from above. The holes were
almost entirely in the horizontal plane.

Strangely enough during those first two days, nobody thought of the
Mystery i-Gun. No one but me.

Leo Baxter had disappeared into thin air, as completely as if he'd
turned to metal and crawled into the muzzle of one of his own "toys".

I had every known place he frequented staked out with a pair of
plain-clothesmen, but it was the morning of the second day of
accidents before I got a radio call from the squad car stationed near
the old Baxter home.

Leo had come home at last. He was a sad looking midget when I got
there. Obviously no sleep, unshaven, deep hollows under his eyes.

"I figured you'd be waiting for me, Lieutenant, but you know what?" he
demanded. "I don't give a damn! I kept waiting for them to figure out
the answer to these accidents and string me up. How come you didn't
tell anybody?"

I said, "Shut up and let's go inside."

Sure, I figured the i-Gun was the cause, but the last thing I wanted
was for Leo to get strung up before I laid my hands on that other
device--the one that wouldn't work. I wanted that rig and all the plans
and formulae, and Leo undoubtedly had them hidden deeper than Fort Knox.

He unlocked the door, and I told the others to wait outside. We went
into the hall and closed the door behind us. "So your little toy was
harmless?" I said, grabbing him by his wrinkled lapels. "So it just
shoots stuff off into another dimension?"

He stared at me, his eyes half glazed. "I don't--know. That's what the
notes said." He sank into a chair. "I guess it doesn't, though. It must
ball up the metal object and shoot it out--infinite velocity--reduced
in size--infinite mass--infinite inertia--keeps circling the globe
like--like a satellite. Goes right through anything it hits. Goes on
and on. Forever. Little bullets. Right through steel. Right through
flesh and bones--"

"Simmer down," I said. "You've been reading the papers. I've been
checking the facts."

"What do you mean?"

"That you were right the first time. It does shoot metal objects
into another dimension. But _they don't stay there_. They ooze back.
Slowly. Real slow, so the first edge or corner that sticks back into
our dimension is only a few millionths of an inch thick. Then a few
ten-thousandths, then a few thousandths--and that's about the time they
start making holes in people and objects _that run into them_."

"Run into them?"

"Certainly. There are no holes in buildings or other stationary
objects. The holes are all horizontal. Now look, Baxter, our only
chance is to work on that other device and your brother's notes, and
maybe we can develop an extractor of some kind."

"No. No, you don't understand," he said shaking his head like a
sleep-walker. "It balls up the metal. Shoots it out. Infinite mass.
Infinite veloc--"

"Knock off that nonsense, and tell me where those plans are."

"Trying to steal my brother's other invention, are you? It's not
patented yet. You know that, don't you? Couldn't patent it because I
can't make it work yet. You're smart, but you won't get it from me--"

I had a fair hold on him, but the pure insanity that flared in his
eyes shocked me for just the instant it took him to wrench out of
my hands. He stumbled to the door of the study and burst through it
heading for the window. I didn't hurry after him too fast, because I
knew the boys outside would take him.

Leo Baxter was only three paces into the stale air of the unused
library when he screamed, clasping his hands to his chest and dropped.
A peculiar grating, plucking sound came faintly before he thudded to
the carpet.

I stopped hard in my tracks and wiped the sweat from my face while Leo
Baxter twitched almost at my feet, his heart shredded and bubbling its
last in his perforated chest.

_The paper clips. The ones I had propelled into nothingness weeks ago._

Hat in hand I advanced slowly, waving it before me chest high. Then
it caught suddenly, grated for a split second and passed on in its
arc. Now there were several tiny holes in it. I backed away a foot and
brought my hat down slowly on the same lethal spot of air. Chest-high
it caught and hung suspended.

Leaving it there as a marker I took off my suitcoat, held it before me
and inched forward toward the desk. Something plucked at the dangling
garment, and a chill froze my spine. Had I been walking forward
normally, the tiny speck of metal that barely caught the glint of light
from the window, would have pierced my skin at just about the site of
my appendix. I circled the spot continuing to feel forward with my
coat. That was the paper clip Baxter had fired to demonstrate to me
that first day.

At the phone I called headquarters and told the chief what to do.

"You're so right," he told me, his voice slurring strangely. "Only
you're a little late. The order went out to confiscate the i-Guns. They
think the damned toys might have something to do with the accidents.
And I bought one of the first ones for my little Jerry!" His voice
sounded hollow.

So they were figuring it out! The next question was, how to extract the
deadly particles from the other dimension, or how to keep them from
bleeding back slowly into ours.

I moved cautiously through the old house fanning every inch of air
ahead of me with a phone book. When I got to Calvin Baxter's workshop
I was especially careful, but I needn't have been. The only metal
particles stuck into the thin air seemed to be over his work-bench
where he had been experimenting with his device. All but one.

It was right where I expected to find it--better than six feet in the
air, just forehead high for a man tall as Calvin Baxter. He had fired
his proto-type of the i-Gun just once into the middle of the room.

How long ago? Eight--ten weeks ago?

It seemed impossible that all this horror had occurred in such a short
time.

But there it was, stuck in space, protruding about a hundredth of an
inch from nowhere into clear visibility. So little was showing that I
couldn't be sure, but it looked like the tip of an ordinary little nail
or wood-screw.

This was my "murder-weapon", the cause of Calvin Baxter's accident.
He'd run into it, jerked his head back, and the speck had come out the
same hole it went in.

In twenty minutes by the clock I had the lab crew out from
headquarters, and had explained the whole business to them. First they
measured the length of the protrusion, and my guess was about right. It
measured .0095 inches on the micrometer caliper.

If it were a screw an inch long, at that rate of "bleedback" it would
take another 98 weeks to come the rest of the way out. Almost two years!

Paul Riley, the lab chief, was sharp. He caught it about the same time
I did and turned to look at me. "We've got to figure a way of getting
those things out of the way."

I nodded. "But quick."

Collins, our print man, said, "Why not just shoot them back into
wherever it is they go, with another i-Gun?"

"And have them come bleeding back after a few weeks?" Paul frowned him
silent.

He picked up a hammer from the bench and tapped the tiny, glinting
speck. The point flattened out a bit, but the thud of the hammer
indicated how solidly it was stuck. Then he walked around behind the
point and struck it a hard blow from the cross-section side. The
hammer shivered in his hand and he dropped it, rubbing his numbed
fingers with his other hand.

"Lieutenant," he said slowly, "we are up against something."

We found we could file away the metal easily enough. Sure it filed away
until the file cut into empty space. But cold comfort that was. In a
few hours, we knew, molecule by molecule, the screw buried in the other
dimension would come oozing back, a minute but lethal speck ready to
ambush the first very tall man who walked toward it.

Tall man!

That's why Leo Baxter and I had failed to find it in the first place.
I had criss-crossed that room half a thousand times in my previous
examinations. If I had been taller, or the speck of metal lower--

"We've got to bring Calvin Baxter back to consciousness somehow," I
said. "We've got to find out how that extractor of his works."

"Right!" Jerry said, dropping his hands in resignation. We'd run out of
ideas at the same time, and the senior Baxter appeared to be our only
hope.

       *       *       *       *       *

We fanned our way out of there, into the squad car, and proceeded at a
gingerly five miles per hour back to headquarters. On my insistence,
Calvin Baxter had been set up in a private room at the jail with Doc
Thorsen in attendance. The city hospitals were so jammed with accident
victims and frantic relatives that it was no place to work with a man
who was our only salvation.

When I explained everything to Dr. Thorsen and told him how important
it was that we bring Calvin back to consciousness he shook his head.
"It might be done, but it would probably kill him--"

"But you said he'd never recover anyway," I argued.

Thorsen seemed to be considering that. "Yes," he said at last. "That's
more apparent now than ever. He's beginning to suffer the usual
complications of immobility. Probably won't last more than a few weeks
anyway. But can't you get the dope you want from his brother?" he
stalled while he weighed his ethics against the necessity of the moment.

"His brother," I told him, "is dead. Paper clips. Right through the
heart."

"I see. Well, we could operate, but as I said, Calvin wouldn't survive
for long. Maybe only hours or minutes. And maybe not even long enough
to regain consciousness after we remove the clot."

I said, "I've left a crew at the Baxter house to tear it apart, board
by board, until we find this so-called _extractor_ that Leo hid. But
even after we find it, we need Calvin to tell us how to make it work.
There must be a part missing."

We had wandered into Calvin's room and were talking over his great,
supine body, covered to the chin with a white sheet. The speck of scalp
on his forehead had dried up and dropped off leaving only a faint white
spot.

As I mentioned the missing part, his lips began moving and a grunt
issued from his throat. "Listen," I said. "He hears me! He's trying to
talk!"

"No, Lieutenant." Thorsen said, putting a hand to his eyes. "He's been
grunting like that for days. The only word that ever comes out is his
brother's name, Leo."

The name struck anger and frustration in me. "Leo," I half-shouted.
"That stinking little--never even visited his brother!"

"Relax, Gene. That won't do any good. The man's dead," he reminded me.

"Relax? When all over the country people are tearing their bodies to
pieces? Innocent people. Little kids--"

"I know, I know. I just spent nine hours in the emergency ward.
Peritonitis. Cardiac injury. Lungs. Torn eye-balls. And it's probably
just the beginning."

"Then what are you waiting for?" I demanded. "Our only chance is to
bring Calvin Baxter to consciousness long enough to explain how his
extractor works."

Doc ran trembling hands through his fuzz of white hair. For the first
time I noticed that the pupils of his eyes were moving back and forth
in little quick, darting motions like a wild animal looking for
escape. "I--don't know, Gene. I suppose you are right. Only--we need
permission--we must--you see, he might die, and--"

I took a good look at him and suddenly realized that despite his calm
voice, the old man was going to pieces. I grabbed him by the arm
and hauled him out of there, across the hall to the chief's office.
Durstine had his head down on his arms, slouched over the desk fast
asleep between two clanging telephones.

"Wake up, chief!" I said, shaking him by the shoulder. "We have to get
Baxter to City Hospital and--"

Durstine raised his head and stared at me. His usually sharp, gray eyes
were dull, and his face looked dirty with a stubble of black whiskers.
With a deliberate motion of both hands he knocked the receivers off
both phones and fell back in his swivel chair. "Now what?" he asked
thickly.

"You're drunk!" I exclaimed. _Durstine, who would fire a 20-year man
without a qualm if he caught a single trace of beer on his breath on
duty._

"What else is new?" He could barely focus his eyes on me.

I swallowed a couple of times and began explaining what must be done.
Get the mayor and Civil Defense on the phone. Commandeer all radio
stations to explain the true nature of the metallic particles to the
public. Tell them to stay put, and when they did move, to walk slowly,
fanning the air ahead of them with something solid--an umbrella, a
coat, newspaper, garbage can lid--anything to warn them of the tiny,
suspended daggers.

"Yeah. Great idea. Some people doing it already." He said it without
enthusiasm. "Only trouble is, the phones are swamped. Communications
are breaking down already, and when people learn about the fever, they
will blow sky-high."

"The fever?"

"The fever." He bobbed his head loosely. "My Jerry died of it this
afternoon. Came down with it day before yesterday. By the time we got
him to the hospital this morning he was running a hundred and five.
Docs were too busy with bleeders. Wouldn't listen to me until it was
too late. Jerry's dead. My little Jerry." His voice was flat, his eyes
staring straight ahead.

Jerry was his only son, and one of the first kids in town to own an
i-Gun. Durstine had said he bought it for himself. The chief went on,
"What's more, the fever's epidemic. Before we left the hospital they
were dragging victims in by the hundreds. Not just kids, either. On top
of this other thing, we got the worst epidemic in history. No one knows
what it is."

I looked at Thorsen. "You said you'd been at the hospital. What is it?"

"I--saw a few cases." He said it almost under his breath.

I grabbed him by his coat lapels. "Snap out of it, Doc. If you know
what it is, for God's sake tell us!"

"They don't know what it is," he said looking down at the floor.

"But you do. I can tell by your face."

"All right, maybe I do." His face was drawn and defiant with an almost
fanatical determination. "There aren't enough sulphas and antibiotics
in the world to control it. We can't do anything about it, so why drive
people crazy with fear?"

Durstine was coming out of his fog. He opened the big bottom drawer of
his desk and handed an open fifth of whiskey to Thorsen. He said, "Doc,
you're in no condition to make a decision like that."

Thorsen tipped up the bottle and let several swallows pour down his
leathery neck. The stuff brought tears to his eyes. He blinked them
away and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "All right, public
guardian, I'll tell you. It's pretty obvious, and other medical men
will think of it pretty quick, I suppose--when they find out the cause
of the punctures they are treating. This fever is just more of the
same. Peritonitis. Only it's caused by particles so small that you
can't even feel when they penetrate the skin. They're large enough to
poke holes in your intestines, though. Large enough to make microscopic
passages for bacteria. So, you see, for every bleeding patient, there
will be hundreds, thousands, coming down with peritonitis--infection of
the body cavity from within. Without drugs the inflammation spreads in
hours, and the temperature goes up and up. It's fatal."

I could almost feel the pain in my belly and the fire in my veins as he
spoke. Doc Thorsen took another drink and handed me the bottle. "You
look a little pale, Gene. Have a jolt and see if _your_ guts leak."

Durstine and I both had a drink, and the chief said, "I see what you
meant. I wish you'd kept your mouth shut."

I said, "Dammit, we've got to do something."

"Like what?" Durstine asked bitterly. "Like quarantining the schools
and the playgrounds?"

Thorsen nodded grimly. "And the parks? And all back yards and front
yards?"

Durstine picked it up again. "And empty lots and all sidewalks and
streets and public buildings and the whole damned outdoors plus the
indoors?"

The enormity of the problem began to sink into my tired brain. In the
space of weeks, more than 30 million i-Guns were sold in the United
States alone. Multiply that figure by the number of times each was
fired. Ten? Fifty? A hundred times? Only God knew how many billion
nails, tacks, screws and rivets were launched into limbo, and were now
just beginning to return--invisible at first--to skewer the American
people.

Wherever kids had played--and that was virtually everywhere--death was
hidden. And the semi-visible particles would keep emerging for weeks,
in the order that they were shot into the other dimension. Worse yet,
at the slow rate of emergence, it would be months or years before the
metallic flotsam returned completely and dropped to earth!

A man could protect himself only by remaining motionless. But society
was geared to motion, fast, space-covering motion. The nation would
starve to death, if everyone didn't go insane first and tear themselves
to pieces running around.

"We've got to get the secret of that extractor out of Calvin Baxter,"
I said. "If we can discover the principle, we can build large models,
like a vacuum cleaner--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Getting Baxter into City Hospital and finding a competent surgeon in
good enough condition to perform the delicate operation, took almost
twenty-four hours. The hospital resembled an abattoir, the corridor
floors slick from the drippings of fresh blood, as people seeking help
wandered frantically from floor to floor.

Somehow we managed to impress upon the staff the fact that Baxter had
priority, and we were allowed on the operating floor, which was guarded
at all entries.

Sick with exhaustion, I waited with Durstine. Thorsen was impressed
into duty immediately, and that was the last we saw of him. It was a
good many hours before they called us into the operating room. I won't
try to describe the sight in detail. Surgeons and nurses hovered over
tables, weaving like drunken butchers in blood-soaked aprons. In one
corner, on a cot, Baxter lay with his head and shoulders propped up
high. His feet hung over the end at least fourteen inches. A single
sheet covered him.

The top of his skull was bandaged, and he looked even paler than
before. A doctor and one nurse stood on either side of him. As we came
in the doctor said, "I've been told of the problem. We've done all we
can, but this man is dying. I think we can bring him to consciousness
for a few minutes. It's a terribly cruel thing to do, and I'm not sure
he will be coherent. Are you sure you want me to try?"

"It's his invention that brought on all of this," I said. "If there's
any solution to it, he has it in his head."

"Very well."

He did things with a hypodermic needle while the nurse rigged an oxygen
tent. The smell of ether and blood made me sicker. My throat was dry,
and I remember wishing I hadn't drunk Durstine's whiskey. As we stood
waiting the humid air felt almost unbearably hot, and I had difficulty
focussing my eyes.

Durstine looked terrible, hollow-eyed, unshaven, but he seemed in
better shape than I. It was he who caught the first flicker of Baxter's
eyes and dropped to his knees. The color came back to the scientist's
face in a rush of pink, and his chest heaved with deep breathing.

"Can you hear me?" Durstine began.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later Baxter was dead as predicted. And so was all hope of
removing the lethal debris with his other invention. The "extractor"
didn't work, he had told us. Yes, he'd been trying to reverse the field
to retrieve the metallic objects from the other dimension, _but the
experiment was a failure_!

Durstine took my arm. "Come on, Gene. We've done all we can. I know one
safe place--a place where no kids ever played."

"Yeah, I know," I said with a tongue two sizes too big. "The nearest
bar. The damned kids! They've murdered us! Leo Baxter and the damned
kids!"

Things were turning gray, but I remember the chief catching me by the
shoulder and jerking me around. Too late I remembered about his little
Jerry and the agony my words must have carved in his heart. I wished
he'd slug me, but he didn't. He looked at me for a long minute and
said something I don't remember, because the fog closed in--a hot, dry
fog that swept into my brain and blacked out the light. I don't even
remember falling.

The last thought I had was, _the fever! I've got it. And Thorsen said
there were no more antibiotics or drugs left in the city._

       *       *       *       *       *

Some weeks later it was a surprise but no pleasure, to discover I was
still alive. Through the smoke of my unfocussed eyes I could tell that
my "private" room was occupied by at least a dozen other patients. Some
were on cots and some, like me, simply lay on the floor with a blanket
over them.

I had one 30-second visit from the doctor before Durstine came to take
me away. The doc said simply, "You're a lucky man, Lieutenant. We
didn't save many 'fever' patients after the drugs ran out."

The chief brought a couple of boys in blue with a stretcher to haul me
out. I was amazed to discover that automobiles were still moving about
the streets--not many, but a few. I was too sick and exhausted to talk
during the ride.

Durstine rode in back with me, a hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry,
Gene," he said. "You're going to be all right. And we've got this thing
pretty well licked."

He looked into my eyes and read the question I was too weak to speak
aloud.

"No," he said, "we didn't figure out Baxter's extractor. But we do have
a successful detector, and all we have to do now is use it--then hang a
tin can or an old ketchup bottle on each speck of metal for a marker.
Yeah, the country's going to be cluttered up like a hanging garbage
dump for a long time, but if you can see 'em you can dodge 'em."

A detector? Why, they'd have to equip every person in the country
with one! And surely nothing less than an electronic, radar-type
gadget could detect the microscopic particles as they first began to
emerge--the kind that had riddled my intestines and given me the fever
without even leaving a mark on my skin.

"I know what you are thinking," Durstine said. His face was gray and
drawn, but he wore a faint smile. "It was simple when somebody thought
of it. What would be cheap enough to distribute universally, yet
effective enough to give you positive warning? You see, these tiny
particles are so fine at first that you can fan the air with a plank
and never know when one passes through."

He raised me up from the stretcher and let me look out the window of
the police ambulance. Through squinted eyes I made out a strange
sight. A thin scattering of pedestrians was moving slowly on the
sidewalks, winding their ways among a random collection of floating tin
cans and inverted bottles.

When we stopped for a red light I watched a young woman in a business
suit step between a whiskey bottle head-high, and a bean can about
knee-high, and then proceed gingerly waving a colored sphere ahead
of her. This sphere, about eighteen inches in diameter, suddenly
disappeared. She stopped abruptly and began shouting. Before the
traffic light turned green, a man came up with an empty motor oil can
and placed it on the sidewalk, under the point she indicated in the air
before her.

Durstine explained, "When that speck gets large enough to support it,
that can will be hung on it. Meanwhile, other people are forewarned
that the air over the can is out-of-bounds, so they won't waste
detectors on it."

As he spoke, the young woman was fishing another "detector" from her
purse. It was a limp bit of something which she placed to her lips and
inflated until it was a foot-and-a-half in diameter, then she tied off
the neck and proceeded down the walk waving it before her in great
vertical sweeps.

It was as simple as that.

Our undoing had been an 85-cent kid's toy. And our salvation was a
penny-balloon!





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