SOMETHING WAS WRONG
It began when a pedestrian got hit by a cab in New York City. No doubt it was the only motor mishap in the history of creation that reached out among the stars—for far out in space a signal was registered: Something has gone wrong....
And something had gone wrong, for the doctors discovered their accident patient had two hearts. It was the beginning of the discovery that the Earth had been invaded by 10 such creatures from Outer Space.
Every effort was made to learn their purpose. An orbital flight was launched to spot alien bodies—only to be destroyed in space. One of the alien men was captured—but no threat of pain or death could unlock the secret in his brain.
Something had gone wrong. And somehow, some way had to be found to make it right—before the threat of danger overwhelmed all mankind.
Ivar Jorgensen is the pen name of a former topflight magazine editor who is now devoting his full time to free-lance writing.
He was born in St. Louis and spent most of his early years in the Midwest. Before getting into the publishing field he held a number of jobs, including those of elevator operator and theater usher.
Mr. Jorgensen has written numerous science-fiction short stories as well as several contemporary and suspense novels. TEN FROM INFINITY is his first full-length science-fiction novel.
* * * * *
A Science-Fiction Novel
TEN FROM INFINITY
Cover Painting by Ralph Brillhart
A Monarch Books Science-Fiction Novel Published in January, 1963 Copyright (C) 1963 by Ivar Jorgensen
Monarch Books are published by MONARCH BOOKS, INC., Capital Building, Derby, Connecticut, and represent the works of outstanding novelists and writers of non-fiction especially chosen for their literary merit and reading entertainment.
Printed in the United States of America All Rights Reserved
* * * * *
It began when a pedestrian got hit by a cab at the corner of 59th Street and Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, U.S.A. No doubt it was the first motor mishap in the history of creation that reached out among the stars.
The pedestrian was walking south on Park Avenue, toward Grand Central Station. He was looking at the upper skeleton of the vast new Pan Am Building which blocked out the sky in that direction. But he should have been watching traffic because a yellow cab tagged him neatly and knocked him across the walk into a clump of pigeons that scattered upward in all directions.
The cab driver swore. Citizenry gathered. An alert free-lance news photographer who happened to be passing took the most important shot of his career. After a while, the ambulance came and the dazed pedestrian was pointed toward the nearest emergency ward, which happened to be in the Park Hill Hospital.
The pigeons settled back. The curious went their different ways.
And far out in space, among the yellow pinpoints we call stars, a signal was registered. The signal was of grave import to those who received it.
The signal said, Something has gone wrong.
* * * * *
From the springboard of this incident, there emerged several occurrences of note. The first in sequence took place in the Park Hill Hospital. The time of that particular ambulance's arrival was 11:15 P.M. At that hour the harvest of violence in Manhattan was being delivered to its logical granaries in the form of broken heads, slashed bodies, and dazed, shock-strained eyes. The examining rooms at Park Hill were full, and some cases of lesser import were waiting on stretchers and benches in the corridors.
That was where the pedestrian waited. Unlike others, he was very patient. He seemed to understand that this sort of thing took time; or perhaps he didn't. At any rate, he lay staring up at the ceiling, unmoving, seemingly uncaring, until an intern named Frank Corson stopped beside his stretcher and looked down at him in moody-eyed weariness. Then Corson managed a smile.
"Sorry about the service, mister. Full house tonight."
"That's quite all—right."
Corson touched the broken leg. "I can give you a shot if the pain's hitting too hard."
"It does not—pain."
"Stout fellow." Frank Corson probed with fingers that were growing more expert day by day. "Good clean break. Not swelling, either." He touched the patient's wrist, then put a stethoscope to his chest.
Actually, he was thinking of a different chest and different legs at the time—the ones belonging to a copper-haired girl named Rhoda Kane. Rhoda's legs were far more alluring. Her chest had added equipment that was a haven of rest under trying circumstances, and Corson yearned for midnight when he would quit this charnel house and climb into Rhoda's convertible and—perhaps later—do a little chest analysis without benefit of stethoscope.
Now he sighed, commandeered a passing orderly, and went to work.
Twenty minutes later he saw his patient deposited in a ten-bed ward. He transcribed his data onto the clipboard at the foot of the bed, and looked guiltily into the hall to see how things were going. He felt guilty because he was tempted to dog it. And he did. He headed for the locker room where he punched a cup of coffee out of the machine and thought some more about Rhoda's legs.
Fifteen minutes later, Corson climbed into the convertible and leaned over and kissed Rhoda Kane. "Hi, baby. You smell wonderful."
"You smell of disinfectant, darling." She wore a yellow print dress that exposed a lot of healthily tanned skin. "Did you have a rough day?"
He leaned back against the seat and pushed his legs as far under the dashboard as possible. He sighed and closed his eyes. But then he opened them again and his face went blank.
She waited a few more moments and then said, "Honey—I'm here. Little Rhoda. Remember me?"
The vague, thoughtful look vanished as he jerked his head around. "Oh, sure—sure, baby." He grinned. "A rough one. If I'd known doctoring was like this I'd have been a nice prosperous butcher."
"Do you want to drive?"
"No, you drive. I'll sit here and look at your beautiful profile."
They drove to Rhoda's apartment—Frank couldn't afford one—and he put Rhoda at one end of the sofa and stretched out with his head in her lap. He unbuttoned her blouse, put a hand over her breast, and teased the nipple.
"Mr. Corson, you're a wolf."
"Well, I don't know," she teased.
He pulled her head down and she murmured, "Oh, darling...."
But he let go of her in the middle of the kiss and, when she straightened, the blank, thoughtful look was back on his face.
"Frank—what is it?"
The look stayed. "I don't know."
"Something's bothering you."
"It seems to be. But I don't know what it is."
"Did it happen at the hospital?"
He frowned. "I guess it must have. It's been bugging me since—"
Rhoda showed concern. "Did it have to do with a patient?"
"Patients are all I work with. Let's see—" He stopped and his frown deepened. "It was that damned accident case. Broken leg. I set it and put him in ward five. I—"
His frown deepened as he sat up. "Uh-huh. It was that damned pulse. That's it. There was something wrong. That pulse was even and steady but, Goddamn it, something was wrong!" He got to his feet. "Baby—I've got to go back to Park Hill."
"Do you want to take the car or shall I drive you?"
"You drive," he said absently as he got up from the sofa and reached for his necktie.
* * * * *
Frank hurried in through the emergency entrance and went to the admissions desk. A kindly, gray-haired nurse was working with papers and she dug deep into the pile in response to Frank's query.
"We didn't find much on him. An identification card with the name William Matson. Nothing else except a wallet initialed W. M. containing thirty-six dollars in cash."
The gray-haired nurse shook her head. "No social security number, no driver's license, no home or business address."
"Damned odd, don't you think?"
"Not at Park Hill. We get them in here without a blessed thing but their clothing. In fact, two weeks ago the boys picked up a stark-naked blonde out of a car crash on East River Drive."
Frank grinned automatically, but the grin fell from his face like a mask the moment he turned from the desk. He went through the locker room and got his stethoscope on the way to Ward Five.
The patient known to the hospital as William Matson lay quietly on his back, staring at the ceiling. Frank checked the clipboard. There were no notations but his own. He went around the bed and stood looking down at the patient.
"I feel all—right."
There's some sort of a speech block here, Frank thought as he bent over and lowered the sheet. "I'm just doing a little checking," he said casually. "No cause for alarm."
"I am not—alarmed."
Corson frowned slightly as he concentrated on his work. He went over the patient's torso, up and down, back and forth. At times he straightened to rest his back and stared down into the calm, expressionless face on the pillow.
Twenty minutes passed, during which time Frank Corson checked and rechecked every inch of the man's torso. When he finished, he slowly folded his stethoscope and pulled the sheet back into place. He stared at the patient for a full minute without bringing the slightest change in the empty expression.
"Sleep well," he said, and walked slowly away.
Back in the street, five minutes later, he dropped into the seat beside Rhoda. She eyed him questioningly and when he did not respond, she asked, "Everything all right?"
"I don't know. I guess so."
"What do you mean—guess so? It is or it isn't."
"There was something about a patient's heartbeat. I passed it over on the first examination, but it stuck in my mind. That's why I had to go back."
"He's got two hearts."
"He's got two hearts, my beautiful love. One in his chest, where it ought to be, and one in the center of his lower abdomen."
"No, darling," Frank Corson said dreamily. "On this night of nights I found a man who is pretty rare indeed. A man with two healthy, functioning hearts."
"All right," Rhoda asked wonderingly. "What do we do about it?"
"We go home for the time being, baby—to your nice, private, wonderful apartment."
"We make love," he said absently.
* * * * *
Les King, the free-lance news photographer, surveyed his night's work and was not happy. It had been singularly unproductive. A couple of sneak necking shots he'd snapped during a stroll through Central Park had come through a little too pornographic to be of value. Les threw them into the wastebasket. A shot of a man leaning out of a thirtieth-floor window came to nothing because the man had pulled his head in and closed the window. He hadn't jumped. There was a picture of a girl dodging a taxi. He'd caught her with both feet off the ground and a look of surprise on her face, but with her body arced backward and both hands on her rump as though she'd just been thoroughly and expertly goosed. Too vulgar. He put the pic aside.
And the Park Avenue hit? Here it was, a shot of a guy lying where he'd dropped, with the pigeon's rocketing away. Not bad, but it lacked an angle. All that intern had found on him was a name. William Matson. No address. The hell with it.
Les sighed and dropped the pic into his file case. Then he stopped. His face went blank. He pulled the pic out and looked at it again. He felt as if some nagging thought were trying to come to the surface, but nothing clicked, so he dropped the pic back into the file and went to the cooler where he opened an early-morning can of beer before sacking out. A hell of a life, he thought, wandering through nighttime Manhattan watching for people to take their mental pants down so he could get shots of their naked inner backsides.
He finished the beer and went in to take a shower.
Funny about that hit case. The guy had the damnedest expression on his face. Kind of like he was thinking, Okay, so what do I do now?
Fifteen minutes later, Les was asleep.
* * * * *
There was always a certain tension involved in Frank Corson's visits to Rhoda Kane's apartment, with Rhoda usually slightly on edge, waiting for one of Frank's outbursts.
An outburst consisted of his suddenly springing to his feet with a scowl and announcing: "Goddamn it, I don't belong here!"
Rhoda always followed the same script at the beginning of these traumas by inevitably asking, "Why, darling? Why must you say that?"
"Oh, hell, Rhoda! I don't want to hurt you but—"
"Darling, you know I'll go to your room with you if you'd be more comfortable there."
He strode to the window angrily and, for Rhoda, there was that indescribably sweet and exciting reaction she always got from his nakedness. Like a Greek god standing there, she thought, and it thrilled her even though she knew she was being a little subjective about it.
She smiled with tender, understanding amusement as she realized Frank's pattern never varied. His outbursts never came until the first fierce need of her had been assuaged; this was to her liking because her need was as great.
Reacting according to current, "broad-minded" thinking and Manhattan sophistication, she regarded herself and Frank as having a "good physical relationship." Which individual need was the greatest, she had never been able to say. But there certainly was something extraordinary about it. In analyzing it, she'd arrived at the conclusion that they'd been able, on the basis of personal rapport, to function in a completely uninhibited manner; thus, some of their love-making, when lifted out of context and surveyed objectively, might have been called abnormal. Rhoda did not think so, however; or, if she did, she blocked the idea successfully by telling herself that whatever she and Frank did together was all right because they did it. She told herself it was good for them because they looked at it with a healthy attitude.
She could, of course, have gotten this opinion, or one in complete opposition to it, from two different psychologists, but she preferred to play it as she saw it.
She had wondered at times just how important the sex relation was in her attachment to Frank. It was of major importance, of that she was sure, but was it the key? If they drifted apart physically, would the other aspects of the relationship vanish? She thought not, but she certainly would not have been willing to put it to the test.
Frank Corson was through looking out the window now and he began pacing nervously. "Sure—so it's fine to be a doctor. It's the sure-fire answer for later in life. But what about now? What about this crawling up the ladder inch by inch?" He turned on her defiantly.
"Living on your money!"
"All right. Maybe not technically." He looked around the room resentfully. "Using your apartment for—"
"Frank! When I have guests, do they hesitate because my apartment is nicer than—?"
She knew she'd hurt him even before his head came around and his eyes narrowed. "So that's what it really is to you!"
She'd said the wrong thing, but even as she sprang up from the bed she felt that it made no difference because he would have found something else. "I didn't mean it that way. You know I didn't."
She ran to him and laid her hands on his chest; his eyes traveled down her naked body and his mind struggled. His expression said it was a little unfair of her to come so close and stand that way, nude and beautiful and eager, in front of him, especially when he had a point to make.
"I'm a pauper trying to keep up with the rich."
She knew how to break his mood now. She smiled and pressed against him lightly and said, "Uh-huh, but what a pauper. And darling, money wouldn't change that part of it a bit."
He drew her to him violently. The impact of their bodies hurt her ribs but she gloried in the pain. She let her knees weaken and sank to the thickly carpeted floor, bringing him down with her.
She knew Frank's outburst was over—at least for that day.
Later, on the bed, he opened his eyes sleepily. "What time is it?"
"A little after ten."
"That gives us almost two more hours." He looked out over the East River. "It's beautiful."
"If I went right into research—took a job somewhere—I could afford to give this to you."
She thought of saying, But, darling, I've got it already, and decided a change of subject would be more judicious and said, "You were kidding last night, weren't you?"
"About the man with two hearts."
Frank grinned a little sheepishly. He was extremely handsome and totally unconscious of it, and when he grinned that way it made him look like a little boy caught stealing jam, and Rhoda always wanted to hug him. But she forebore as he said, "It does seem a little silly, doesn't it?"
"You'd know more about that than I do. Is it silly?"
"Let's say the chances of such a thing happening are rather remote."
"You only used your stethoscope last night?"
"That was all. I went by what I heard."
"What will you do now? X-ray?"
"I'm not sure I'll do anything. The idea is so preposterous."
She regarded him thoughtfully. "It's not like you to lose interest in anything until you know the answer."
He snubbed out his cigarette. "Let's forget Park Hill and funny anatomies, baby. Let's sit on the terrace and bathe ourselves in luxury the way the TV ad says."
And that was the way things stayed for two hours. The time passed swiftly, and when Frank was finally dressed and ready for the street, he refused Rhoda's offer to drive him to the hospital because she was very late, too. He kissed her good-bye, went down the twelve floors in the elevator, and hurried out of the building.
There was no cab in sight and he began to walk. Half a block later he turned a corner and stopped dead. He was facing a man who was coming in the other direction. He stared. The man stared back. Frank automatically stepped aside, but the man did exactly the same thing, at the same time, and they did a little dance there on the sidewalk. Then the man veered around him and moved on up the street. Frank turned and stared after him, then walked slowly in his own direction.
It was the same man. It was the Park Avenue hit. It was the man he'd left in Ward Five with a broken leg. It wasn't a brother or a cousin or a chance resemblance. It was the man himself or an exact double. And what were the percentages against attending a patient one night and meeting his exact double on the street the next morning?
They were fantastic. Like hitting the Irish sweeps.
It was the man. It had to be.
Except that he wasn't broken-legged now. He was walking across the Upper East Side, wearing that same look that was as good as anyone else's, except that you got the impression of an emptiness behind his eyes.
Those in the know in Washington, D.C., upon seeing Brent Taber rush to a taxi or dodge a pedestrian on Pennsylvania Avenue, could well say, "There walks power." But there were few indeed who possessed enough knowledge of the Washington inner structure to be able to make this observation.
Brent looked more like a coal heaver than a public servant with a well-oiled escalator into the White House. He appeared more able to direct a gang of dock workers than to jockey a delicate issue through the bloody jungle of national politics. Many of the people who accepted this deception did so at their peril and were not around any more. To others not so foolish, Brent Taber symbolized a completely necessary facet of a working democracy—secret government. This necessity sprang from the realization that even an open society must maintain areas of privacy or it is doomed.
Such was the man, and such was his mission of the moment—an issue of the utmost secrecy. So hush-hush, in fact, was this mission that when Brent Taber arrived at his office that morning and found Senator Crane pacing his reception-room carpet, his heavy eyebrows gathered and he began mentally checking his "tight ship" for a leak.
Senator Crane was the exact opposite of Brent, in that he looked to be exactly what he was; a figure rigidly type-cast to the role of a blustering, tactless servant of the people. Which, in Crane's case, meant that he was a servant of Crane's career and any faction of his supporters that could further it. Still, the Senator could not be called dishonest. He was merely a flexible rationalizer. He sincerely believed that what was good for Crane was good for the "folks back home."
And just now, he felt that a knowledge of what the hell was going on in Brent Taber's orbit was probably not good for anybody and had better be aired.
As Brent entered, Crane came right to the point. "Goddamn it, Taber, just what in blazes is going on around here?"
Brent's thick lips hardly moved, a characteristic that Crane found infuriating because that was the way shady characters talked into Senatorial investigation microphones and it looked pretty bad. But Brent's words came quite clear: "Routine business, Senator—an honest effort to get a day's work done."
"You mean to tell me the meeting that's been set up here is routine?"
Brent shrugged. "Meetings are meetings, Senator."
Crane ticked it off on his fat fingers. "Pender of the Army, Bright of the Navy, Jones of the Air Force, Hagen of the FBI, Wilson from Treasury—they all trooped through here into your private conference room." He pointed pompously at his own chest. "But Crane of the Senate—"
"You forgot Birch of the State Department," Brent cut in. "Or hasn't he arrived yet?"
"—Crane of the Senate is barred! Now just what in the hell—?"
There are times for tact and times for bluntness, and this was a time, Brent decided, for the latter. "What goes on here, Senator," he said, "is none of your business. Otherwise, you would have been invited."
Crane's face darkened and Brent thought pleasantly of a brain hemorrhage blowing the top of his fat head off. But this was too much to hope for.
"Brent," Crane exploded, "I'll get you! So help me, I'll get you! Just who the hell do you think you are—demeaning the dignity of the United States Senate? Just who are you to say what the people should or should not know?"
"Decisions of that nature are made upstairs, Senator. I don't presume to possess the judgment needed in such matters."
"You're an arrogant bureaucrat! Your kind comes and goes because when you get too goddamned arrogant the people rise up in their wrath and knock you off."
Marcia Holly, Brent's secretary, was studiously transcribing some notes and Brent turned his scowl on her because, damn it, she was laughing like hell at the whole thing. And, by God, a secretary didn't have the right to laugh at a United States Senator, even with her eyes, no matter how much a congenital idiot he was.
"I'm sorry, Senator," Brent said. "If you have a complaint, please take it up with my superiors. Just now I—"
"Your superiors? And who the devil are they? Who can find them? Where do they have offices? Go around trying to find your superiors and nobody ever heard of you."
Brent half smiled as he felt a sneaking admiration for Crane. The son-of-a-bitch had a disarming quality of honesty. If he planned to knife you, he drove straight in, the knife held high.
"One of the disadvantages of being a negative personality, Senator," Brent murmured.
"Sure! You're about as negative as a charging grizzly," Crane snorted and headed for the door as though his air had been cut off.
After his bulk had vanished into the corridor, Brent turned a scowl on Marcia Holly. "And what are you snickering about."
She raised large blue, innocent eyes. "Me? I? Oh, golly. I just found a cute little Freudian slip in these notes and—"
"Shut up. Are they all here?"
"Birch of the State Department sent regrets. A duty call on the Tasmanian Embassy or something."
"Okay—and next week he'll be screaming to high heaven about being left out."
Marcia's laughing eyes agreed. "Ain't it the truth?" she marveled.
Brent strode past her and expertly mussed her sleek hairdo in a quick gesture. As he entered his private conference room, he turned and grinned at her silent fury.
Inside, they were all waiting for him, seated around a teakwood table. The wall-to-wall carpeting was wine-red. The chairs were deep and upholstered. And the men who sat in them were distinguished only by their surroundings and their uniforms. Their metal and their worth were hidden inside.
Brent moved to the end of the table and scanned them moodily. "Okay, gentlemen. I'll talk. Then if you have any questions—shoot them." He took a deep breath and began:
"We are faced with a situation that must be kept top secret for two reasons: First, it may be the first move in an attempt to subjugate or destroy our planet; two, it is so utterly ridiculous on its face that a public announcement would be greeted by hoots of laughter from pole to pole." Brent's ugly scowl deepened at what he seemed to feel was an injustice. "Even the Eskimos would get a yack out of it."
The group waited, withholding judgment, evidently waiting to see whether or not it was a laughing matter. They were conceding nothing. Brent studied them for a moment and then went on.
"Last week, in Denver, early in the morning," he said, "a man was found dead on a residential-section street. There was no apparent cause of death. A routine autopsy revealed some peculiar things about the man's insides. For one thing, he had two hearts—"
Jones of the Air Force, a dignified, gray-haired man, paused in firing his cigar and gave the impression he was lighting his way through the darkness. Bright of the Navy, a thin man with a huge Adam's apple, allowed it to bob three times in deference to the startling nature of Brent's statement. Pender of the Army raised one eyebrow and let it fall. To a keen observer, Hagen of the FBI would have revealed prior knowledge by reacting not at all.
His mind was on the kid. He was thinking, Christ! With all the damned miracle drugs and characters orbiting the earth in crazy capsules, they still haven't figured out a way to keep a six-year-old from getting a cold. He remembered the kid waving from the window yesterday morning—when he'd been ordered East to attend this clambake—standing there beside Miriam, waving good-bye and barking like a sea lion. What the hell was wrong with doctors? Why didn't they get with it on a stupidly simple thing like the common cold?
" ... two hearts and—" Brent reached to the left and pulled down a chart on a window shade-type rack that stood beside his chair, "—a rather interesting arrangement of the internal organs." He pointed with a thick finger. "You'll notice that the liver is exceptionally small, while the kidneys are large enough to service a horse. You'll note also that while the man had testicles, there is no prostrate gland."
The group waited in a kind of guarded abeyance that could be easily sensed. Their silence gave the impression that they were asking: Is somebody kidding us?
But there was certainly no lightness in Brent's manner. His arm dropped and he scowled at the far end of the table as he said, "Now, the blood. There was something strange about the blood—"
The door from Marcia Holly's reception room-office opened and she came in silently, followed by a white-coated waiter who set a tray on the table. The coffeepot on the tray was silver; the cups, fine china; the napkins, linen.
"—something very strange about the blood in that it conformed to all necessary specifications and yet it had a synthetic quality about it ..."
Goose pimples formed on Hagen's neck and walked gently down his spine. Nothing was missing in this setup—synthetic blood, two hearts, oversize kidneys. Hagen got a quick mental flash of a barker outside a circus sideshow: He walks like a man. He talks like a man. But for a thin dime, folks, you can see—
It was something to think and wonder about. And back in Chicago, he'd had lots of company. Everybody in the office that night had wondered, and you could see the vague uneasiness in their eyes as the creature sat, acting like a human being and, at the same time, like nothing from this world. You could see a vague revulsion in the people surrounding the creature. There was also uncertainty, and this from men who were required by their profession to be fairly certain about most things.
"The blood," Jones of the Air Force said. "Could it have been a—well, a new kind of plasma?"
"Hardly. You see, the variation was almost theoretical, if you can understand the term as I'm using it. Drawn from an ordinary human being, it would not have been questioned. It was just that in the light of other oddities in his man, it didn't seem right, somehow."
"Pretty vague," Bright of the Army said.
"This I'll grant you." Brent said. "Anybody for coffee?"
Nobody was for coffee so Marcia and the waiter retired and Brent said, "Vague, I'll grant you. But let's get on with it. Two days later, a man, in every way identical, was found lying in the street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was alive, but in a dying condition, and he succumbed on the way to the hospital. Cause of death, as in the first place, undeterminable. But the medics think it was some malfunctioning of the lungs.
"All in all, gentlemen, eight identical specimens have been picked up in various American cities. Five are dead, two more are now in a comatose condition, at last report, and may very well be dead at this time. One is still alive and relatively healthy...."
Alive and relatively healthy. The son-of-a-bitch! Hagen felt an odd senseless rage against the creature they'd picked up in a Chicago bar.
Ordinarily it would have been a simple bull-pen, night-court case—a loud-mouth drunk refusing to pay for a drink. But much of his talk, anent enemy invasion, internal destruction, and civilian chaos, had been a little too rough for the other barflies to swallow, and complaints had been made. Later, when Bureau men went around trying to get something tangible in the way of evidence, they found themselves dealing in frustration. The complainants had left without giving their names. The barkeep really hadn't heard anything. The actual charges had gone up in smoke. But by that time, Washington was very much interested. The man was questioned and it was the damnedest thing Hagen had ever gone through ...
"By identical," Jones of the Air Force said, "you of course mean—"
Brent's dark, knifelike eyes sliced out at Jones. "By identical, I mean just that."
Bright's throat bobbed as the astonishing implication came home to him. "Hell, man! You mean—"
"I mean these specimens do not merely bear a resemblance to each other. They were not just similar as to organisms and physical structure. They were all exactly alike; as alike as eight new cars of the same make and model lined up side by side ..."
Identical. Hagen didn't know anything about that. He hadn't seen the others. But he knew that there was something frightening about the one they'd picked up in Chicago. At first glance he could have been Mr. Anybody, from Anywhere, U.S.A. A youngish-looking forty, you would have figured, with a sprinkling of gray at the temples and a face women could have found interesting. He had the unpaunched figure of a man who had taken good care of himself; he was quietly dressed in a blue suit; he looked like a decent-enough guy who just happened to have gotten stiff on the double hooker he'd ordered and sounded off without meaning to.
In fact, he was still sounding off when they got him into the interrogation room. And when the barflies called his talk treasonable, they hadn't been fooling.
Brent said, "Identical, gentlemen, even to the finger-prints; to the very last ridge."
Pender's eyebrows tried to crawl up his forehead and disappear into his hairline. "That's utterly and completely ridiculous."
Brent smiled. "Then, at least, I've gotten one idea over to you—that a public release on this thing would be greeted with hoots of derision by the realistic American public."
"And perhaps deservedly so?"
"I think not," Brent said gravely.
Is it some incredibly ingenious hoax? Hagen asked himself the question and found no answer. He only remembered the words and the eyes and the tone of the creature that walked like a man ...
"He was our—father. They had him a long time before we—came. He was our father, and after we came they told us what we were to know and we knew—it."
There it was—that odd little break, cutting off the word at the end of each sentence. It gave the impression of a mind groping, yet not really groping; a mind sure of itself, yet wondering.
"What did you know?"
"We knew what we were—for. Our—reason. We knew what we were created to do—here."
"How many of you were there?"
"You said, 'created to do here.' Where do you come from?"
"Where is there?"
At this point the man or the creature, or whatever you wanted to call him, pointed upward.
At this point, Cantrell, another of the interrogation group, turned away in disgust. "A kook! A kook with a religious compulsion. A character, and we got called out of bed to—"
"—to get you ready to be destroyed," the creature cut in.
"By fire and brimstone on judgment day?" Cantrell asked sarcastically.
"No. By rendering you helpless by—"
Here the creature swallowed, blinked and looked surprised—and changed magically. He—if it really was a he—didn't jump up and kick a hole in the ceiling or anything like that. In fact, nothing tangible happened. There just seemed to be an invisible barrier that rose suddenly around him.
Then there was the thing that chilled every man in the room; a thing as tangible as the walls and the furniture; yet a thing no man could define in words.
This was when Cantrell, a high-strung individual at best, reacted violently to the change in the creature. In an instinctive blaze of anger and frustration, Cantrell reached out and slapped him brutally across the face.
Velie, the agent in charge, also acted instinctively as he lunged forward to restrain Cantrell. But then he froze, as did all the men in the room, to stare.
It was not what the prisoner did; it was what he did not do. There was absolutely no reaction to the blow—no reaction physically, emotionally, or mentally. It was as though the blow had not been struck; as though this were some kind of a moving, breathing zombie.
So tangible, so seemingly sourceless was this feeling of loathing, that Hagen would have been sure it had affected only himself if he had not seen its effect on the others.
Yet none of them referred to it. Nor was this strange, because there just weren't any words to describe the feeling one gets from contact with a pleasant-faced, quietly dressed example of the walking dead.
Backing away from this powerful emotional reaction, Hagen forced himself onto an intellectual level, and asked himself what had brought about the change in the creature. Why had it—Hagen now had to regard the strange, walking enigma as neuter—after functioning to some extent as a human, reverted suddenly to what seemed to be its natural state?
He conceded that if he knew the answer to that one, he could be of great service to the FBI and the nation—and, no doubt to the world ...
Pender of the Army now had a question. "What information have you gotten from the surviving man?"
"Not a great deal, as yet. However, in our experiments we've learned something rather frightening."
"And what's that?"
"He is totally impervious to drugs of any description whatever."
"So it would seem. But the sodium pentathol injection he was given could just as well have been so much water."
The group pondered this information, each after his own fashion. Then Birch of the State Department made a precise, scholarly observation. "Incredible!"
Brent smiled faintly. "One point of vital importance. We do know that there were, originally, ten of these creatures roaming the country. Eight are accounted for. The other two are still at large."
Jones of the Air Force asked, "Were all eight apprehended in large cities?"
"Shouldn't that mean something to us?"
"Well, it's a pattern, all right, but no one's been able to give it any meaning—so far."
No one had any further comment on that point. Brent waited a moment and then threw the bombshell. "We are quite sure that these creatures are of extraterrestrial origin."
For a time it seemed as though Brent's bombshell had been a dud. There was no comment from around the table—no sound of any kind. But each man was evaluating the information after his own fashion. The key thought, no doubt, other than a natural and instinctive moment of sheer unbelief, was that this marked a giant, forward lunge in world history. And also, no doubt, in this group of responsible men, there was a common question: It would appear that our world had at last come to grips with the universe around it. Was our world ready?
And there was general doubt.
Now the questions came. From whence? To what purpose? Hostile? Benign? Dangerous? Harmless?
"What other information was gained from the creature?"
"Very little. He knows our language. He is here for a definite and clear-cut purpose. Probably hostile. But what he was supposed to do or how he was supposed to accomplish it we do not know."
"Do you think you will eventually get these answers?"
"I think," and there was an ominous note in Brent's voice, "that we will. If not from the creature himself, then in some sudden and far more violent manner."
This statement also had impact. It seemed that the group had overlooked Brent's previous revelation that ten of the creatures had arrived and only eight had been accounted for.
"Perhaps," Jones said hopefully, "whatever their plan, it required the participation of all ten."
"In that case," Brent said quietly, "we have nothing to worry about. At least, at the moment."
"Are you of the opinion that these creatures have been dropped anywhere else on earth?"
"All I can say on that score is that all seems quiet around the world. Of course, if Russia has rounded up a quota of these two-hearted characters they wouldn't be likely to tell us. They certainly haven't shown up in the European countries with whom we consult. All I can say about the situation behind the Iron Curtain is that they have made no inquiries of us relative to the matter—and we certainly have made no inquiries of them. Also, our people in the sensitive Eastern areas report nothing indicative."
Pender bobbed his throat and said, "You told us you're sure the creatures are from outer space. That makes our interests with Russia mutual. Therefore, why shouldn't open inquiry be made?"
Brent frowned. "An entirely logical question. As a matter of fact, I recommended that course. Nothing has been down in that direction, however. At least, not to my knowledge."
"I assume the White House knows about this."
Brent nodded but did not elaborate, perhaps because to have done so would have tended to clarify his own connection with the top spot in the nation; a relationship accepted but not thoroughly understood by any man present.
"May I inquire as to Senator Crane?" Bright asked.
"I see no reason why you shouldn't."
"He was in your anteroom when I entered. Obviously he was mad. I assume that was because you excluded him from this meeting."
"Correct." Brent Taber's eyes turned a trifle steely. "In fact, I'd like to know exactly how he found out about the meeting."
No one offered any data on this point and Bright asked, "Is it wise to keep information of this vital nature from the United States Senate?"
"The information has not been kept from the United States Senate," Brent corrected. "Let's say it has been kept from certain United States Senators on the theory that the interests of the nation can best be served by a closed-door policy on this matter until it becomes clarified."
Whether they agreed or not, the men present accepted this as coming from the top, and they would automatically abide by it.
"I suppose," Pender said, "that every effort is being made to apprehend the missing pair."
"Every effort of which we are capable."
"What conclusions have you drawn from the fact that these ten creatures are identical?"
"That they are not human beings, in the strictest sense of the word," Brent replied gravely.
"Then what are they?"
"We believe they are androids."
"And what the hell is an android?" Jones snapped.
"A synthetic." Brent smiled just slightly. "In this case, men not born of women. All this is detailed in the confidential report that will be handed to you when you leave. The report, incidentally, is slanted in a way that obscures its vital nature, but on the basis of what has been said at this meeting, I'm sure you'll find all your answers."
Brent paused, waiting for questions. When none came, he said, "I guess that about covers it, gentlemen—at least, all that we have at the moment. You'll be kept informed. The meeting is adjourned."
He glanced around. "Oh, by the way, as you'll note in the confidential report, this project will be identified as 'Operation Blue Sky.'"
"Where did they get that one?" Jones snorted.
"I don't know. The term originated higher up. Possibly," Brent murmured, "because somewhere out in the blue sky lies the answer." His manner changed and he glanced briskly around. "Would anyone care for a cup of coffee?"
No one was interested in coffee and the group filed out.
* * * * *
Ten minutes later, the white-coated waiter came to pick up the things. He crossed to the coffeepot, lifted it, and took a tiny device out of the hidden space formed by the pot's legs and its bottom. This, he slipped into his pocket before picking up the tray and going out as he'd come.
Frank Corson got what was possibly the greatest shock of his life when he walked into Ward Five and saw William Matson lying in bed. It wasn't so much that he hadn't expected it. He had, because he was too firmly locked in reality to believe the man he saw on the Upper East Side could possibly have been the broken-legged Matson. Still, seeing Matson in bed had the effect of bringing unreality into a realm where he had to cope with it. Perhaps, during the trip back to the hospital, he'd been mystically apprised of what lay ahead and wanted subconsciously to avoid it. Perhaps his shock was a cringing away from facing a problem.
At the moment, of course, he didn't know what the problem was. There was a mystery here, but only that, and his first thought was to report it to higher authority—the business about the two hearts—and have it investigated. With this thought in mind, he walked down the corridor and reached for the knob of the door marked Superintendent.
But quite suddenly he stopped, reversed himself, and went back to Ward Five. He approached Matson's bed and looked down at him. Matson, empty of expression, stared back, and again Frank Corson sensed rather than saw the emptiness behind the eyes.
"How are you feeling?"
"I feel very—well."
"It wasn't a bad break. How would you like to leave the hospital?"
"I would like to leave the—hospital."
Frank felt an odd, inner frustration. What in the devil was wrong with the man? He sounded like a child just learning the language. Yet there was nothing else to indicate backwardness. He looked pretty much like a self-sufficient, self-contained adult.
"I can sign you out—get you a pair of crutches. By the way, I don't think the hospital got your home address."
"Yes. The place you live." There was a pause, and finally Frank realized the man wasn't going to answer. "Your home, man. Where you live."
"I'm looking for a—home."
"Oh, I see. New in town?"
"Yes, new in—town."
"I have a place," Frank said, and it seemed to him as though someone else were talking from within him—that he was only a listener. "You can crowd in with me until you get settled somewhere."
"I can crowd in with—you?"
"Fine, I'll see that you're signed out. Ever walk on crutches before?"
"I never walked on—crutches."
"Nothing much to it. You'll get the knack."
Frank left the bed and headed toward the office, asking himself as he went, Why in hell did I do that? Then he found the reason—or at least a reason that would suffice.
The discovery of a man with two hearts might be worth something. At least, it would put Frank Corson, unknown intern, into the spotlight for a while. This was pretty vague thinking but it made a kind of sense and Frank settled for it in lieu of trying to analyze the strange compulsion, the odd foreboding deep within him.
Here's a thing that might do me some good, he told himself. Why not take advantage of it?
Perhaps he was rigidly blocking out the cause of his unrest—that he was more or less dependent upon Rhoda Kane for the luxuries that were involved in seeing her, having a relationship with her. He could neither ask her to dine with him on his level, at some place like Nedick's, nor could he refuse to go with her to The Forum or the Four Seasons. He could not take her to his miserable furnished room on East 13th Street, nor refuse rendezvous in her Upper East Side apartment.
He was trapped and was thus desperately looking for a way out.
And somehow, grotesquely, there were indications that a man with two hearts might help to provide the answer.
* * * * *
The tape recorder stuck to the bottom of the Taber conference coffeepot had cost Senator Crane a hundred dollars. He had now listened to it four times and was pacing the floor of his office, scowling darkly at the walls. An android! What in hell was an android? What kind of a stupid, impossible thing was this?
In a flash of panic, Crane wondered if it was all a diabolical machination of Brent Taber's. Maybe Taber knew all about the recorder. Maybe the whole meeting was an elaborate plant to maneuver an earnest, alert senator into making a public fool of himself. Taber was certainly capable of such a thing.
And that was how it had begun to look. Still, that was ridiculous. The Army, the Navy, the Air Force—they were all involved. Only Congress—the true representatives of the people—had been ignored. And, by God, he'd do something about it!
Crane stopped pacing but continued to scowl at the wall. Now, what department of research could find him some data on androids?
* * * * *
Les King was awakened by a knock on his door. He rolled over, blinked and looked at his watch. A little after two in the afternoon, which was equivalent to midnight for Les. He pulled on his robe and went to the door and opened it.
Sure, no doubt about it. The man standing there was the one he'd snapped on Park Avenue the other A.M., lying among a bunch of pigeons, with a broken leg. But evidently that hadn't been the case because his legs were okay now. It couldn't even have been a sprain, judging by the way he was standing there. He was a fairly tall, good-looking guy in his middle forties maybe—brown hair, blue eyes with a kind of vacant look about them.
And there was something else, goddamn it; something that kept evading Les; something that had bothered him when he'd first developed the print. Let's see, what is this guy's name? The ambulance intern found it in his jacket pocket on a half-torn identification card. William Matson.
But, damn it, there was something else.
"Right. What can I do for you?"
"I had trouble in locating—you. I wish to make a—purchase."
Queer duck. Damned queer. "What can I sell you?"
"You are a—photographer. You took a picture of a man injured on Park—Avenue. I wish to buy that—picture."
Les knotted his robe and stepped back. "Sure. Come on in."
The man entered the room and stood silent while Les got out his file. "What do you want it for?" he asked.
"It is for my personal—use."
"Sure." Les handed the glossy to the man he identified in his own mind as Matson. "That the one?"
After a grave inspection, the other replied, "Yes. How much does it cost—me?"
Without comment, the man sorted a ten-dollar bill from a skimpy roll he took from his pocket and handed it to Les. With that, he turned and walked out, closing the door after him and leaving several questions in Les King's mind. Was this a vanity operation? Had the guy merely wanted a glossy of himself? He hadn't impressed Les as being that kind of man. Was there a reason for wanting the pic off the market? That didn't make sense either because he hadn't asked for the negative.
Quite suddenly, in answer to the really important, the nagging, question, Les snapped his fingers. The hem of his dressing gown flapped around his skinny legs as he dived to his old file rack and went back where the dust was thick. He brought out an envelope, dug into it, and found what he was looking for—an old newspaper clipping dated some ten years back. It consisted of a headline:
LOCAL POLITICIAN DISAPPEARS
The clipping was from the Kenton, New York, Chronicle, an upstate weekly, and the news story told how Judge Sam Baker had vanished on a fishing trip to a nearby lake. Accidental drowning had been the verdict but, as yet, the body had not been recovered.
Les King stared at the clipping. The body, as he remembered it, never was recovered, either, but the drowning verdict stood intact and the judge had been gradually forgotten.
Les King's interest in the affair had been financial. He'd gone to Kenton, talked Baker's widow out of a couple of family photographs, and had hiked back to New York, hoping for a sale to a big daily.
But the story hadn't caught on even though it well might have, because Baker's power extended into Albany and could thus have interested New York City. All in all, it had been a profitless speculation on Les King's part.
Now, however, it seemed to be coming to life again. Les stared at the photo under the headline. It was a good one—exceptionally clear.
And beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was the man who had just come to Les King's room to purchase a glossy of himself for ten dollars. No wonder the sight of that stranger had nagged at Les. He'd seen that face before.
"Now just what in the hell have we got here?" Les mused. Something definitely worth looking into, that was for sure.
He reached for his pants.
Dr. Rudolph Entman, one of the world's foremost neurologists, stripped off his rubber gloves and scowled at the strange body that lay on the table before him.
"Goddamn it," he fumed, "it's artificially constructed. It's been hand-made—manufactured. And there's one thing I'd give a few years of my life to know."
Brent Taber stared moodily into Entman's myopic little eyes and asked, "What's that, Doctor?"
"How in hell did they do it?"
"Who do you suppose they are?"
Entman looked ceilingward in a manner that indicated he might either be hunting for them somewhere out beyond, or sending a prayer heavenward in a plea for Divine counsel and guidance.
"Some form of entity with far greater intelligence than we possess."
"You can tell me more than that, can't you?" Brent asked sharply. And when Doctor Entman looked up in surprise, he added, "Sorry for the tone. My nerves have gotten a little edgy lately."
Entman smiled understandingly. "I don't wonder. As to this living machine—no ... it's not a machine because it did live. Let's see what we can figure out. What's it made of? The material used in its construction is—oh, hell—how can I put it? This way, maybe. Take a wool blanket and call it genuine flesh, blood and bone. Now, take a blanket made of one of the new synthetics—Dacron or any one of the other equally serviceable materials—call that the material this creature is made of. Figuring it that way—"
"You mean our visitor's body is constructed of things that feel and look like flesh, blood and bone—work as well, but aren't. Right?"
"Right. But, of course, that doesn't tell you anything you didn't know before."
"But what about their potentials, their capabilities? They're human—in the sense that they're exact duplicates of humans—and they live, but what about emotions? If we accept the somewhat unscientific theory that it's a soul which is responsible for feelings and emotions, these ... these ... creatures would be handicapped." Brent paused as if uncertain of his ground. "Wouldn't they?" he asked lamely. "I mean, they couldn't—theoretically, at least—react to situations ... or other people's emotions."
Doctor Entman nodded his head and murmured, "I would be inclined to agree. Except that we're obviously dealing with superior intelligence—I'm speaking about the "people" responsible for these androids—and we have no idea how far they might have progressed in duplicating that indefinable something we call a soul."
For a moment he lapsed into silence. Then looked up at Brent abruptly. "Have you read anything on Kendrick's experiments with synthetic emotion?"
"Can't say that I have."
"Kendrick, down at Penton Technological Institute, has done some remarkable things in drawing the stuff of human emotion from one person, holding it on a tape, and transferring it to another person."
"On the face of it, that sounds ridiculous."
"Doesn't it? Nevertheless, the vibrations set up, or created you might say, by a person in anger, consist of some sort of stuff—in the sense of an incredibly high frequency wave. Radio or television waves are the best comparisons.
"Kendrick, in one demonstration, took a young man who was very much in love with a certain young lady. A really love-sick lad. He placed him in the recording unit gave him the young lady's picture, and told him to let his mind dwell on her to the exclusion of all else."
Doctor Entman smiled briefly. "This, I imagine, wasn't difficult for the lad to do. Entman then put another young man, one who was unacquainted with the girl, into a receiving unit and exposed him, after giving him the girl's picture, to the vibrations created by the lovelorn chap. Later, they saw to it that the second lad was introduced to the girl. The results were rather startling, in that the young lady suddenly had two ardent suitors in place of one."
Brent Taber scratched his ear and looked dubious. "That sounds pretty sensational. But maybe the second lad just plain happened to fall in love with the girl by natural processes."
"True, but the experiments tended to eliminate that possibility. Other emotions were tested. How about a man walking up to a man he'd never seen before in his life and busting him in the nose?"
"Okay, okay. Then you think—"
"I think a lot of things. Here, I see the possibility of a race with superior science, having moved far ahead of us in the directions Kendrick is pointing toward in his research. For instance, with more advanced knowledge and know-how, they've probably been able to charge a synthetic body with a complete set of functioning emotional responses. Grant them that and we can also concede a tailor-made ego."
"I don't mind admitting I'm scared, Doctor," Brent Taber said.
"I think it's a time to be scared."
"But if a race of people were that advanced, if their intention is hostile, why do they pussyfoot around this way? Why don't they just come down and take us over?"
"I've wondered that, too. And yet, a race on some planet out there in the universe might not evolve according to what we consider a logical pattern."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that while they can create a synthetic man, their interests, and therefore their progress, may have stayed in peaceful channels. For instance, they may not have bothered with anything as elementary as the atom bomb."
"It's a thought."
"A wishful thought, I'll admit. But it does have some validity. Also, it has a fact of some possible value to back it up."
"That they haven't come down and taken us over."
"You almost cheer me, Doctor. Almost, but not quite."
"Actually," Entman said, "I've been wondering about something else."
"When and how they came here before."
"You mean, where did they get the model for the ten androids?"
"Yes. They had to have not only a model, but also some knowledge concerning our geographical and atmospheric conditions. The two hearts indicate that they knew the elements contained in our air—the pressures and so forth necessary to our existence—and were unable to construct a working model that would function under our conditions with a single heart. So they put in two."
"It looks as though they missed on some other things, too. Seven of the androids have expired."
Entman shrugged. "Still—a remarkable job, particularly since they would have no chance for a trial-and-error test under the conditions that would prevail. It's surprising that any of the androids were able to keep functioning."
"The eighth one is pretty sick. He may be gone by now. And about their earlier coming, I can give you one point. They came quietly, probably at night, grabbed their model, and moved out fast."
"How do you know that?"
"Because, obviously, they think all men on earth look alike. Or, at least, we can assume that. Else how did they expect to get away with ten identical androids?"
Entman's eyes widened. "I never thought of that," he muttered.
* * * * *
Senator Crane, a doggedly determined man, had listened to the replay of Brent Taber's top-secret conference again and again. In the comfortable rationalization of which he was capable, his whole zeal and hostility were fashioned around Brent's "arrogant disregard of democratic processes." Who did this bureaucrat think he was? Did he consider himself smarter than the People? Did he feel they couldn't be trusted with revelations affecting their survival? Well, by God, they'd been trusted with word of the bomb and its implications, and they'd reacted admirably. So they were entitled to frankness concerning this new threat to their security.
Of course, Senator Crane reserved the right to enlighten them in his own time and in his own way. After all, hadn't they elected him and thus given him leeway to use his own judgment in their best interests?
But who the hell had elected Brent Taber?
So Crane listened to the recording and picked out what he classified as the key lines.
A routine autopsy revealed some peculiar things ... The man had two hearts....
The blood? Could it have been a new kind of plasma?...
_All in all, gentlemen, eight identical specimens have been picked up in various American cities ...
Crane ran through the rest of it and threw himself moodily into a chair. The idiots! The stupid unelected, self-appointed guardians of democracy! Not once—not once, mind you—had a single one of these great brains referred to the obvious.
It was a Russian plot!
All those allusions to the extraterrestrial was so much bilge. The Russians were infiltrating the country with synthetic men. This meant—oh, God—it meant that in a short time Russia would be able to create an army of these monsters and overwhelm the world.
Senator Crane sprang to his feet and measured his indignation in long strides across the thick, expensive carpeting on his floor. The traitor! The sheer, compulsive opportunist! That was certainly all that Brent Taber could be called. Using this deadly situation as a means of furthering his own interests.
Senator Crane deliberately stilled his rage and objectively considered what he should do about it. With the obvious source of the androids logically deduced, there was only his own defensive procedures to be considered. And they had to be considered carefully. As he saw himself, he stood alone, against a group of bumbling idiots, with the future of the nation at stake. What to do?
The key question, of course, was: How soon will Russia be able to mount an army? Probably not very soon, he decided. That fact gave him time to ferret out more information; to become completely sure of himself.
One thing you had to realize about the American public—or about any mass of humanity, for that matter—a thing of importance had to be presented dramatically. This, in a sense, was the duty of the elected public servant—to recognize this somewhat childish failing of the average intelligence and make allowances for it. You can do this, of course, Senator Crane told himself, when you love the people.
And, fortunately for their survival, Senator Crane loved the American people.
So, for a few moments, he o'erleaped the hard work ahead and saw the goal—envisioned the headlines:
SENATOR CRANE UNCOVERS DEADLY PERIL TO THE NATION
Due entirely to the patriotic, selfless efforts of one United States Senator, the nation has been warned in time of....
SENATOR CRANE STUNS CONGRESS AND THE NATION WITH HIS REVELATIONS
Standing alone on the rostrum, a heroic figure pitted, as it were, against all the sinister forces that bore from within, one valiant United States Senator....
Crane had dropped back into his chair. His eyes had closed, the better to visualize a grateful nation expending their plaudits.
And because he was a man who used a great deal of energy in pursuing an objective, he tired at times. He became drowsy now....
... And went gently to sleep.
"Doctor Corson. Calling Doctor Corson. Please come to the second-floor reception room."
Frank Corson got the call as he was leaving the maternity ward. He took the elevator down and found a rather sloppily dressed, middle-aged man sitting on a lounge beside a weather-beaten camera that tended to mark his profession.
"I'm Les King, a free-lance news photographer. You're Doctor Corson?"
Frank Corson's reaction was slightly hostile. He wondered why. "I'm Doctor Corson."
"I'm on the trail of a patient that came here late last night. Name, William Matson. They tell me he was your patient."
Frank nodded briefly.
"They say he was released."
"A little over an hour ago."
"They say he had a broken leg."
"If that's what they said, it must be a matter of record."
"Well, they're wrong on both counts. He came to see me over three hours ago—and both his legs were as good as mine."
Frank Corson did not volunteer the information that he had personally taken William Matson to his furnished room in Greenwich Village and that Matson was there at this very moment, awaiting Frank's return.
"I think there must be some mistake on your part," Frank said.
"No mistake. But something very definitely got crossed up. Maybe we ought to have a little talk—the two of us."
Anger stirred in Frank Corson. Did this Les King character think a beaten-up camera gave him the right to walk in and make demands. "I'm busy now. And I can't see what we'd have to talk about."
"A hell of a lot, maybe. There are some things you may not know about this deal. You might have let a big thing slip through your fingers."
"Look here, I'm not interested in anything you've got to say. And I think you've got a hell of a nerve, coming in here and cross-examining me on something that's—"
King reacted with weary patience. "Take it easy. I'm just trying to get some information that can help both of us, maybe."
"How could it possibly help me?"
"To make it simple, there's a standing ten-thousand-dollar reward for knowledge of the whereabouts of a Judge Sam Baker who disappeared ten years ago from a little upstate New York town. Now, if you aren't interested—"
"Are you telling me that William Matson is Sam Baker?"
"Let's say a hell of a lot indicates it. Matson left here without giving a home address. If you know what it is, we can do business. If you don't—"
"I'm off duty in an hour," Frank Corson said. "Maybe we should talk it over."
"That's better. In the meantime, if you'll tell me where I can find Matson—"
Frank smiled. "Wait an hour. Then I'll show you. But we'll talk about it first."
* * * * *
The tenth android, one of the two so earnestly sought after by Brent Taber, had observed the accident at 59th Street and Park Avenue on the previous night. He'd stood on the curb, lost in the crowd that gathered, and had watched the proceedings carefully. A man who was not a man, a machine that was not a machine, he incorporated, in many respects, the best qualities of both. Now, as the leader of the group deposited from space for a specific purpose, he exhibited these qualities excellently.
He waited. He observed. He added the accident to the several other unforeseen incidents that endangered the project and its objective, and stored them in his memory-bank.
He watched the minor drama as it unfolded, and what was somewhat akin to a danger bell went off in his mind when he saw a bright flash, traced its source to a camera, and carefully studied the man who had taken the picture. Pictures, he knew, could be dangerous. He must get his hands on the picture, if possible.
He waited. He observed. He evaluated. The situation had gotten somewhat out of his control, but he did not blame himself for this. Certain emotions had been made a part of his being, but guilt, a useless one, had been omitted, as had been any ability to react to love, compassion, anger or hatred.
So, with no hope of reward or fear of punishment, he had recorded the facts that he had been unable to communicate telepathically with eight of the units under his command and that, therefore, they were no longer operational. He had no way of knowing what had happened to them. This, however, did not make his work one bit less vital. Even though eight units were unaccounted for, his intelligent handling of the ninth android, and of himself, was still vitally important. It was up to him to see that the project was brought to a successful conclusion.
He watched as the ambulance came, noted the name of the hospital, and recorded the proceedings. But he allowed the ambulance to drive away, keeping his attention pointed at the man who had taken the picture.
When the man moved off down the street, the tenth android followed. When the man entered Central Park, he was observed from a discreet distance. When he came out again, he was followed into Times Square, down into Greenwich Village, back uptown and, finally, to an apartment building in the West Seventies. There he was observed opening a mailbox, and the name thereon was duly recorded.
At this point, temporarily entrusting King to destiny, the tenth android took a taxicab to the Park Hill Hospital where he entered, went to the desk, and inquired about a friend of his, a William Matson.
He was directed to Emergency where a nurse, after checking a record sheet on her piled-up desk, told him that Doctor Corson was with the patient in Ward Five. Unaware that he had been extremely lucky, that very few real people—people with only one heart, and a soul to go with it—would have gotten such specific information out of a receiving-desk nurse, the tenth android began counting wards until he came to the one marked Five.
He looked in through the small window in the swinging door and saw his counterpart in bed, a white-coated man bending over him.
That made the ninth android unapproachable, so his counterpart-leader withdrew to the end of the corridor and waited until Doctor Corson came out. He followed Corson outside and, from the back seat of another taxi, never lost sight of the convertible until Rhoda Kane drove it into the garage under her apartment building. From the street, the tenth android saw Rhoda and Frank enter the elevator. As soon as the door closed, he was in the outer lobby, watching as the numbers progressed upward on the elevator dial. The hand stopped at 21. This was noted and recorded, after which the tenth android called a finish to the night's activities and retired to the small room he'd rented on a quiet street on the Lower East Side where, if you bothered no one, no one would bother you.
He was back the next morning, however, and that's when his unavoidable contact with Frank Corson on the sidewalk was made. He noted the surprise on Corson's face, but the logical situation did not develop because Corson did not make an issue of the meeting. He allowed the tenth android to go on his way.
A nonsynthetic man would have wondered at this and thanked his own good luck. Not so with the android. He knew nothing whatever about luck. He accepted this bit of good fortune in exactly the same manner he would have faced its opposite, and when Frank Corson boarded a bus, a taxicab pulled out of a side street and followed.
The cab waited, in front of the Park Hill Hospital. When Frank Corson and the ninth android emerged, two cabs, not one, wheeled down Manhattan and into Greenwich Village.
Thus it was that some ten minutes after Frank Corson went back to his duties at the Park Hill Hospital, there was a knock on the door of his room in Greenwich Village. The ninth android opened the door. The tenth android entered. The ninth android hobbled back to his chair and waited quietly.
The tenth android looked both ways in the corridor and then closed the door. He walked to the chair and stood looking down. He turned his eyes to the bulky, cast-encased leg. "It will not heal," he stated matter-of-factly.
The ninth android nodded. "I—know."
"That makes you useless."
Another nod. "Why couldn't they have made it possible for our flesh and bone to become whole again after an—accident?"
"That wasn't possible."
The tenth android went to a tiny curtained-off kitchenette and returned with a knife. He put his hand on the head of the ninth android and drew it backward so that the neck muscles were taut. He raised the knife.
Then he paused and looked down with a faint expression of interest in his otherwise empty eyes. "Are you afraid to die?"
"I don't—know. What is it to—die?"
"You become nonfunctioning."
"I think I would rather not become nonfunctioning."
The tenth android cut the ninth android's throat. Carefully and cleanly, he severed the big artery that carried the blood-fluid back down to the upper heart.
The blood-fluid spouted out and drained down over the chest of the ninth android. He shuddered. His eyes closed. When the tenth android released his grip, the head fell forward.
And from somewhere in the synthetically created mind of the tenth android there came a question: Was it undesirable to become nonfunctioning? The human was afraid to die. He sensed this but not the reason for it, if there was one. The human was afraid to die.
He wondered only momentarily, vaguely recorded it as a mistake to wonder about such things, and then crossed the room and put the red-stained knife into the sink.
After that, he let himself quietly out of the apartment and walked off down the street.
He had much to do. He had to leave town and finish the project alone.
Then, quite suddenly, he stopped, stepped into a nearby doorway and stood motionless. There was no change in his expression except that possibly his eyes became a shade emptier.
After a while he left the doorway and moved on. But it was with new purpose and with new plans.
The new orders, relayed across a light-year of space, were not intercepted by any terrestrial receiving device, however sensitive. But they were received and recorded perfectly in the mind of the tenth android.
* * * * *
Frank Corson and Les King sat in a coffee shop and regarded each other with a certain wariness. "It's like this, at least from where I sit," King said. "About ten years ago a small-town judge named Sam Baker—"
"You told me that," Corson cut in impatiently. "Baker was supposed to have been drowned, but they never found the body. Now, you think William Matson is Sam Baker?"
King pondered the question morosely. "I've got every right to think so. But Baker would have aged some in ten years. The man I saw—"
"The man you saw didn't have a broken leg. I must have seen the same one when I—"
King was instantly alert. When you were on the trail of ten grand you had to be alert, and suspicious of comparative strangers.
"You saw someone who looked like Baker and Matson? A guy without a broken leg?"
"I was leaving an apartment building on the Upper East Side this morning. I met him in the street."
"You didn't tell me that."
"I'm telling you now."
King scowled. "I don't get it. You were the doctor. You left a man with a broken leg in bed in a hospital. You saw a man who looked like—"
"I saw the same man, goddamn it!"
"All right—the same man. And you didn't do anything about it? You didn't say Good morning or It might rain or What the hell are you doing out of bed? You just let him walk away?"
"You're being unreasonable. When you come face to face with something that's impossible, you don't treat it as a fact. It throws you off balance."
King continued to scowl. "We're not getting anywhere. Let's face it. It was impossible. Let's get the hell up to your room and talk to William Matson."
Frank Corson came half out of his chair, then he dropped back again. "I don't like this," he said.
"What's to like? What's to dislike? For ten thousand dollars we can ignore both."
"I have a feeling we're getting into something beyond our depth."
"Okay, then let me handle it. I'll see that you get your cut."
"Not so fast," Corson said sharply. "I didn't say I was backing out. I just said this might be bigger than we bargain for."
"I don't think that's quite it," King replied coldly. "I think you don't trust me."
"Maybe that's it. I don't think you trust me, either."
"Ten thousand is a lot of money. But we're not going to get it by sitting in a coffee shop arguing over it."
"I guess you're right."
"Then let's go."
They left the coffee shop and, as they walked the four blocks that separated them from the room where he was ashamed to take Rhoda Kane, Frank Corson analyzed his own mood and attitude. He decided it wasn't that he mistrusted King, or that he actually thought the deal had any frightening elements in it. In plain truth, he was ashamed of himself. Somehow, in his own mind, he was degrading his profession. His love of Rhoda Kane, his need of money, his impatience with time and circumstance, had forced him into what seemed like a cheap intrigue. There was, somehow, a bad taste to the whole thing.
But it was too late to back out now. And what the hell! If there was ten thousand dollars lying around, why shouldn't he get a piece of it? What was wrong with that? He unlocked the door to his room.
He took a step forward and stopped, blocking the entrance.
"Oh, my God!"
Les King pushed through. His eyes widened, but that was his only reaction. Then his camera swung up into position. The bulb flashed. He lowered the camera.
"Somebody cut the bastard's throat!" he marveled.
Frank Corson moved forward. "Good lord! It looks as though he just sat there and let himself be murdered."
"No knife close enough. It's over there in the sink."
"Well, he didn't cut his own throat and then walk back here."
Frank Corson had been studying the wound. He pressed his fingers against the crimson shirt front and rubbed them together, testing the feel of the blood with his thumb.
"What's wrong?" King asked.
"I don't know. That's an odd color for coagulating blood. It doesn't feel right, either."
"Do you think he was sick?"
"There's just something crazy about this whole thing. The man had two hearts."
King was both amazed and angered. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"I didn't get a chance to tell you. This man was a freak. I found it out last night. He had two hearts. I'm sure of it."
"No chance to tell me? Why, goddamn it, we sat in that coffee shop for half an hour while I leveled with you. No chance! You held out on me." King laughed cynically. "I guess that's human nature. With a couple of bucks at stake even honest men go cagey."
Corson ignored the jibe. "Listen, for Christ sake! This is murder! Can't you understand that?"
"Of course, it's murder—in your room, with your knife. You'll have some explaining to do."
King's face hardened. He became subtly remote, impersonal. His eyes turned cold as he began inserting flash-bulbs into his camera and snapping the room and the body from various angles.
Frank Corson, out of his depth for sure now, stood helpless. Les King looked up from his work. "Well, don't just stand there, Doctor. You've got a murder to report. Get with it."
As Corson turned helplessly toward the door, King grinned faintly. "Me, I'm just a free-lance photographer trying to make an honest buck."
* * * * *
Brent Taber stared icily down at Frank Corson and Les King. They looked up at him sullenly, looming over them as he did, from the position of authority. A little like two schoolboys being punished by the principal, they lowered their eyes. Defiantly, each told himself that he was a free citizen and didn't have to take this from Taber, even if he did represent governmental authority.
Still, they sat and took it.
"Of course," Taber said, "you have the universal alibi. You didn't know how serious this thing was. So far as you were concerned, you'd located a man with a reward on his head." He shook his head deprecatingly. "If we hadn't sent out a top-secret bulletin to all the big-city police chiefs to be on the lookout for this guy you'd have had it spread in some tabloid."
"A person has a right to make a buck," King said stubbornly.
"Oh, sure. Again the universal defense. Make the buck first and then think about your patriotic duty."
"Patriotic duty, hell! There wasn't any as far as I was concerned. When I found out about that—What the hell did you call him? The android?—he was already dead."
"And you'll do very well with the pictures you took."
"They're my pictures."
"The hell they are. We're confiscating them and you'll keep your mouth shut about this."
"Then the people haven't got a right to know—"
"Damn the people!" Brent snarled, and wished instantly that he hadn't said it. He didn't mean it, of course. He'd just been pressed too hard. In a sense, he was taking his own frustrations out on these two because they were handy.
And yet, damn it all, he was right! Nobody gave a hoot for the welfare of the country!
"You," he said, turning on Frank Corson. "In the course of your duty as a doctor, you came upon something very strange."
"I wasn't sure!"
"You found a man with two hearts. What should you have done as a doctor? Reported it through recognized channels. If you'd done that, do you realize we might have got word? We might have been able to act? We might have saved that creature's life. That may well have been the difference between life and death for this country. For this planet."
"Are you sure you're not exaggerating things a little?" King asked the question and lit a cigarette as his self-confidence began to return. "Isn't the whole thing pretty far-fetched?"
Brent held his temper. "I suppose you have every right to assume we aren't really sure ourselves. But please listen to me now and give me the benefit of the doubt. We have reason to believe that these creatures—there have been others—are a menace to our survival. We're also pretty sure that there's another one roaming around. It's my opinion that the last one, the tenth one, may have had something to do with what happened in Dr. Corson's room. I don't know whether your lives are in danger or not, but please co-operate with us. Please report immediately anything of a suspicious nature that you see."
"Of course, we will," Frank Corson said. "I didn't see any signs of hostility in the other one, though."
"Be that as it may, we must get our hands on him."
"If he did kill the one with the broken leg," King said, "wouldn't he have left town?"
"If he thinks like a murderer, yes. But he probably doesn't. That's the trouble. We don't know how he thinks or what he's here for. We're playing it by ear."
"I think we understand," Frank Corson said.
"Thank you. And I'm sorry if I antagonized you. That wasn't my purpose. I'm just trying to do my job." He smiled and held out his hand. "This is all strictly confidential, of course."
"Thanks for coming."
They left, but Brent Taber's frustrations remained with him. Earlier that day, in Washington, he'd stood on the carpet himself, before higher authority, and played the part of the reprimanded schoolboy.
"It would appear," Authority said, "that you went out of your way to antagonize Senator Crane."
"I'm sorry if that's the opinion up above."
"It is not a matter of opinion, one way or another. It's a matter of expediency. The Administration has to get along with Congress. Senator Crane is in a powerful position. He is on three committees that can hamper legislation the Administration is vitally interested in."
"I understand. And I didn't pick the quarrel with Senator Crane. He picked it with me. In my judgment, he is not the kind of person to be trusted with information of this vital nature."
"You consider Senator Crane an unreliable demagogue?"
"I didn't say that."
Authority smiled wryly. "I'll concede that the Senator's type is rare in American politics—at least among those who get elected to high office. But the fact remains—he is a power."
"If you agree that the information should have been withheld—"
"I didn't agree on that at all," Authority said quickly. "And don't quote me as having said so. I'll deny it."
Brent Taber smiled also, but inwardly, where it wouldn't show. He should have expected that denial. After all, Authority had Higher Authority to account to. Authority could also be put on the carpet. There was always Someone higher up.
"I'm sorry," Brent Taber said. "I was put in charge of this project and I used my judgment—"
"We are not questioning your over-all judgment," Authority assured him.
Then what in the hell are you gabbling about? This question was also asked inwardly as Brent said, "I felt the gravity of the situation merited extreme care."
"It does. But life must go on. The government must still function."
That's right, play it from both ends, Brent Taber thought bitterly. Ride the fence. Stay in a position to jump either way.
"What do you wish me to do about Senator Crane?"
"I'd stay out of his way if I were you."
"Whatever damage you say I have done can be corrected with a ten-minute briefing."
"That's up to you," Authority answered nimbly. "As you say, you've been put in charge of the project."
"Then I'll leave things as they are."
"Very well. I just wanted to go on record."
"Thank you," Brent Taber said. "Thank you very much."
* * * * *
Frank Corson and Les King walked north together after their interview with Brent Taber.
"I guess we got off lucky," King said. "Those Washington appointees can be tough."
"He seems to have a pretty tough job."
"They all think they've got tough jobs."
"It's still a murder as far as the New York police are concerned. What do you think will happen?"
"They turned us over to Taber, didn't they?" King asked. "That shows how they're playing it. The New York cops have enough murders to worry about. They like to pass them on to somebody else."
"Then they won't question us any further?"
King shrugged. "Who knows? You've got nothing to worry about, though. Just sit tight. In fact, you're damned lucky."
"This killing is under wraps. Nobody's talking. That means you won't get in trouble at the hospital." King grinned. "Your ethics won't come under scrutiny."
Frank Corson flushed and said nothing. King, after a moment's silence, said, "I've been thinking about that tenth android."
"Do you think there's as much danger in this thing as Taber says?"
King shrugged. "Those guys always think that way. Remember what they said about the atom bomb? The world was doomed. We were going to blow each other up. But nobody's been heaving them around. The view-with-alarm boys always talk that way."
"I hope you're right."
"But about that android that's supposed to be walking around loose."
"What about him?"
"Those bastards confiscated all my stuff. The shots I made in your room—everything. But if I could get some shots of the other one—"
"You're actually going to work on your own? In spite of what Taber said?"
"It's a free country," King retorted hotly. "I've got a right to follow my profession. What I was going to say was that you're in a position to help yourself a little, too."
"Only you and I know what we're looking for. If you spot the android, see him hanging around anywhere, and let me know, I'll—"
"You can go to hell, King. I want no part of any more of your ideas. I've had it. If I see the creature I'll call Taber and nobody else. I'm going to do exactly what he told me to do. Mark me off your list."
Frank Corson strode away. Les King stood watching him. King shrugged. Just another bewildered citizen who thought God lived in Washington. Afraid to spit if some Washington bureaucrat wagged a finger.
Well, the hell with Corson. The hell with Taber. The hell with all of them. If Les King stood to make an honest buck, he was going to do his damnedest until somebody passed a law making it illegal.
Brent Taber was drawn to Doctor Entman. He found, in the ugly little scientist, a rapport that seemed to exist nowhere else. At the moment, Entman was having a fine, stimulating time dissecting the cadaver of the android. His ugly little eyes were bright. "It's a miracle, my friend! A positive miracle. The thing these people have been able to do!"
"People? You've used that word before."
Entman waved an impatient hand. "Oh, don't quibble! Why, the creation of an artificial digestive system alone is awesome—not to mention the creation of a synthetic brain."
"The brain is what interests me."
"I can hardly wait to get into that area. Certain aspects are obvious, though. These creatures must have mental powers far beyond ours—in certain areas, that is."
"Tell me more."
"That's merely a matter of logic. We know that homo sapiens—because of his free choice, so to speak—uses, on an average, not more than a tenth of his mental ability. All right. These people have created, to all intents and purposes, a man. They surely had sense enough to remove the free-choice element. The creature surely has judgment, even cunning, but it is no doubt pointed totally and completely toward the objective of its being."
"Whatever the hell that objective is!"
Entman was mildly surprised by Taber's exclamation. He held up a warning finger. "Nerves, boy, nerves. You must watch that. As to the objective—I'm sure it's something pointed at our destruction."
"What powers were you referring to?"
"Hypnotism, I should think. Any of the mental processes through which one human being strives to assert control over another. We are aware of several of these. They may have found others."
"You won't be able to define them by cutting up that brain?"
"I doubt it. We could know them only by watching one of the creatures in action." Entman sighed. "If we only had other facts."
Entman's smile was almost patronizing. "You're tired, aren't you, son? You're not thinking very well."
"Goddamn it! Quit treating me like a cretin!"
"Temper, temper! Look at it analytically, son, analytically. Suppose we knew who these people are. What distances have they covered in arriving here? What is their method of conveyance?"
"The distance? Light years, I would assume. The conveyance? A spaceship, or a projectile along basic lines but farther advanced."
"All right. We know they've sent ten creatures to our planet from infinity—that's as good a word to use as any. The next question is, why?"
"Damnit, that question is obvious."
"And from my point of view, the answer is obvious."
"Then I wish to hell you'd give it to me."
"Logic, man, logic! A race as far advanced as this one could certainly move in and occupy us without trouble. Wouldn't you think?"
"Certainly. That's what bothers me. Why all the pussy-footing around with synthetic men who keep dropping dead?"
"I think it's because they themselves are unable to exist in the climatic and atmospheric conditions existent on our planet."
Brent Taber's eyes opened as Entman went on. "They plan to occupy us, certainly—this we must assume—so they're trying to create an entity through which they can do it. The process is really no different, even though a little more dramatic, than our science creating a mechanical unit that functions to the best efficiency under specified conditions."
Taber's finger snapped up. He pointed at Entman's desk. "They'd like to know why their androids died. Maybe they weren't alike—at least, not exactly alike. Maybe there were differences you haven't found yet—maybe they turned out ten models and they want to know which one worked the best."
"You get the point," Entman beamed.
"They'd like the data you're assembling—those reports you've got in front of you."
"I imagine they'd find them quite interesting."
"Do you think we can assume the tenth android died also?"
"Perhaps. We have no proof that it killed the one found slain in Greenwich Village."
"I'm satisfied to assume that. But I'm wondering just what contact those 'people,' as you call them, had with their androids. Could a part of the brain have been a sending and receiving device?"
"It would be difficult to tell. I delved in far enough to find a mechanical device, if there had been one. It did not exist in those I dissected. There is another possibility though, except that we often make the mistake of assuming that what we humans on earth can't do, can't be done. Consider telepathy. Who's to say they were not made capable of communicating in that way—at whatever distance?" He paused for a moment, deep in thought, before going on. "Has it occurred to you that the tenth android might be a supervisor, the boss, the captain? If he is still alive, why haven't you found him? You have the men and facilities at your command."
Brent Taber sprang to his feet. "Doctor," he answered, scowling, "Did you ever hear of a project so secret that it couldn't even be given enough personnel to make it work?"
Entman smiled sympathetically. "Washington is a strange place in some ways, son. Usually it's the other way around. You get so much help they get in each other's way. I'm glad I'm not involved in those phases of it."
Brent paced the floor, occupied with his own thoughts. It was more than mere frustration. It went deeper. There was his resentment of the dressing-down he'd taken from Authority; the subtle coolness that had begun to permeate his relations with those upstairs.
He jerked his mind away from such thoughts. Nerves. That was it. He was tense. He was imagining things. They were certainly too well aware of the gravity of this situation to let petty politics interfere.
Or were they?
"Okay, Doc," Brent said crisply. "Thanks for letting me pick your brain."
"Good luck, son."
Entman went back to his work and Taber left. As he walked down the corridor, he analyzed the cheerful tone of Entman's voice and told himself that even Entman didn't really believe it. Entman had the evidence before his eyes but he still couldn't get the concept of alien creatures from space really taking us over. It was too unbelievable.
Am I the only one who really believes it? He asked himself this question as he hailed a cab in the street and watched a fat man in a bowler hat slip in and take it away from him.
"You're slipping, Taber," he muttered. "You're definitely slipping."
* * * * *
The bell rang. Rhoda Kane opened the door. The man standing there was not extraordinary in any way. He appeared just short of middle age. He wore a blue suit and a blue necktie. The word for him was quiet. He was a man who did not stand out.
"My name is John Dennis," he said. "I would like to speak to you."
The abrupt demand annoyed Rhoda. She frowned and was about to retort just as peremptorily, but an odd bemusement tempered her mood. The man was uncivil enough to be interesting. She said, "I'm busy now," but instead of closing the door, she stepped back into the room. The man came in and it was he who closed the door.
"I don't wish to alarm you, Miss Kane."
"I'm not in the least alarmed."
As she spoke, Rhoda wondered if this was true. But the wondering itself was on such an impersonal basis that it didn't seem to make much difference.
Also, she was noticing that John Dennis was not quite as he'd first appeared. He was much younger than middle-aged, really—somewhere in his thirties. He was quiet, yes, but handsome, too. There was a rugged individuality about him that was easily missed at first glance. A definite attractiveness.
"I want to ask you about a friend of yours. Frank Corson."
This seemed like a logical request. It definitely seemed that way but, at the same time, Rhoda was confused as to why it should appear to be. A man came and knocked on the door and entered and asked a question like that. It shouldn't have been all right, but it was. He probably had the right, she told herself, else he would not have asked.
"What do you wish to know?"
"Tell me about him."
"He is a doctor. Frank is an intern at Park Hill Hospital. After he finishes there he will go into practice. I guess that's about all there is to it."
"He had a patient named William Matson."
"William Matson? I don't know. He doesn't discuss his work with me."
"This was a patient with a broken leg who was taken to the hospital night before last."
"He did mention one man. I don't know his name, though. A man Frank said had two hearts."
"What else did he tell you about this man?"
"Nothing else. Frank had the case in Emergency. We came home—came here—and then Frank was bothered. He went back and examined the man and came out and said he had two hearts."
"That was all he said?"
John Dennis looked around. Then, when Rhoda stirred and passed a hand quickly through her hair, he brought his eyes back to bear on hers. Rhoda lowered her hand.
"Does Frank Corson live here?"
"No. This is my home. Frank lives in the Village."
"Greenwich Village. It's a part of New York. Are you a stranger?"
John Dennis did not answer. "Why doesn't he live here with you?"
"Why—why, we're not married. We are only engaged."
"That means you will get married later?"
"I hope to."
"Does he hope to?"
"Yes—I'm sure he does."
"Then he will live here with you?"
"I don't know. We may find another place."
"What's wrong with this one?"
"Why, nothing—nothing at all—"
Such strange questions, Rhoda thought. Why was he asking them? No doubt he had a reason. It somehow did not occur to her to wonder why she was answering. Her own thoughts on the matter did not seem important.