This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely




НазваниеThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely
страница9/29
Дата21.09.2012
Размер1.12 Mb.
ТипДокументы
1   ...   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   ...   29
Chapter Twelve

"You have a great deal to lose," General Smale was saying, "and nothing to gain by your stubbornness. You're a young man, vigorous and, I'm sure, intelligent. You have a fortune of some million and a quarter dollars, which I assure you you'll be permitted to keep. As against that prospect, so long as you refuse to co-operate, we must regard you as no better than a traitorous criminal—and deal with you accordingly."

"What have you been feeding me?" I said. "My mouth tastes like somebody's old gym shoes and my arm's purple to the elbow. Don't you know it's illegal to administer drugs without a license?"

"The nation's security is at stake," snapped Smale.

"The funny thing is, it must not have worked, or you wouldn't be begging me to tell all. I thought that scopolamine or whatever you're using was the real goods."

"We've gotten nothing but gibberish," Smale said, "most of it in an incomprehensible language. Who the devil are you, Legion? Where do you come from?"

"You know everything," I said. "You told me yourself. I'm a guy named Legion, from Mount Sterling, Illinois, population one thousand eight hundred and ninety-two."

"I'm a humane man, Legion. But if necessary I'll beat it out of you."

"You?" I smiled, curling a lip. "You mean you'll call in a herd of plug-uglies: real crooks, to do the dirty work. My only crime is knowing something you politicians want, and you're willing to lie, cheat, steal, torture, and kill to get it. You know that and so do I; let's not kid each other. I know your measure as a man, Mr. General."

Smale had gone white. "I'm in a position to inflict agonies on you, you insolent rotter," he grated. "I've refrained from doing so. You might add that to your analysis of my character. I'm a soldier; I know my duty. I'm prepared to give my life; if need be, my honor. I'm even prepared to forego your good opinion—so long as I obtain for my government the information you're withholding."

"Turn me loose; then ask me in a nice way. As far as I know, I haven't got anything of military significance to tell you, but if I were treated as a free citizen I might be inclined to let you be the judge of that."

"Tell us now; then you'll go free."

"Sure," I said. "I invented a combination rocket ship and time machine. I traveled around the solar system and made a few short trips back into history. In my spare time I invented other gadgets. I'm planning to take out patents, so naturally I don't intend to spill any secrets. Can I go now?"

Smale got to his feet. "Until we can safely move you, you'll remain in this room. You're on the sixty-third floor of the Yordano Building. The windows are of unbreakable glass, in case you contemplate a particularly untidy suicide. Your person has been stripped of all potentially dangerous items, though I suppose you could still swallow your tongue and suffocate. The door is of heavy construction, and securely locked."

"I forgot to tell you," I said. "I mailed a letter to a friend, telling him all about you. The sheriff will be here with a posse any minute now, to spring me—"

"You mailed no letter," Smale said. "Unfortunately, we don't feel it would be advisable to allow any furniture to remain here which you might be foolish enough to dismantle for use as a weapon. It's rather a drab room to spend your future in, but until you decide to cooperate this will be your world."

I didn't say anything. I sat on the floor and watched him leave. I caught a glimpse of two uniformed men outside the door. No doubt they'd take turns looking through the peephole. I'd have solitude without privacy. I wondered if Margareta had managed to mail the cylinder.

I stretched out on the floor, which was padded with a nice thick rug, presumably so that I wouldn't beat my brains out against it just to spite them. I was way behind on my sleep: being interrogated while unconscious wasn't a very restful procedure. I wasn't too worried. In spite of what Smale said, they couldn't keep me here forever. Maybe Margareta had gotten clear and told the story to some newsmen; this kind of thing couldn't stay hidden forever. Or could it?

I thought about what Smale had said about my talking gibberish under the narcotics. That was an odd one . . . 

Quite suddenly I got it. By means of the drugs they must have tapped a level where the Vallonian background briefing was stored: they'd been firing questions at a set of memories that didn't speak English. I grinned, then laughed out loud. Luck was still in the saddle with me.

* * *

The glass was in double panels, set in aluminum frames and sealed with a plastic strip. The space between the two panels of glass was evacuated of air, creating an insulating barrier against the heat of the sun. I ran a finger over the aluminum. It was dural: good tough stuff. If I had something to pry with, I might possibly lever the metal away from the glass far enough to take a crack at the edge, the weak point of armor-glass . . . if I had something to hit it with.

Smale had done a good job of stripping the room—and me. I had my shirt and pants and shoes, but no tie or belt. I still had my wallet—empty, a pack of cigarettes with two wilted weeds in it, and a box of matches. Smale had missed a bet: I might set fire to my hair and burn to the ground. I might also stuff a sock down my throat and strangle, or hang myself with a shoe lace—but I wasn't going to.

I looked at the window some more. The door was too tough to tackle, and the heavies outside were probably hoping for an excuse to work me over. They wouldn't expect me to go after the glass; after all, I was still sixty-three stories up. What would I do if I did make it to the window sill? But we could worry about that later, after I had smelled the fresh air.

My forefinger found an irregularity in the smooth metal: a short groove. I looked closer, saw a screw head set flush with the aluminum surface. Maybe if the frame was bolted together—

No such luck; the screw I had found was the only one. What was it for? Maybe if I removed it I'd find out. But I'd wait until dark to try it. Smale hadn't left a light fixture in the room. After sundown I'd be able to work unobserved.

A couple of hours went by and no one came to disturb my solitude, not even to feed me. Maybe they planned to starve me out; or maybe they weren't used to being jailers and had forgotten the animals had to be fed.

I had a short scrap of metal I'd worked loose from my wallet. It was mild steel, flimsy stuff, only about an inch long, but I was hoping the screw might not be set too tight. Aluminum threads strip pretty easily, so it probably wasn't cinched up too hard.

There was no point in theorizing. It was dark now; I'd give it a try. I went to the window, fitted the edge of metal into the slotted screw-head, and twisted. It turned, just like that. I backed it off ten turns, twenty; it was a thick bolt with fine threads. It came free and air whooshed into the hole. The screw apparently sealed the panel after the air was evacuated.

I thought it over. If I could fill the space between the panels with water and let it freeze . . . quite a trick in the tropics. I might as well plan to fill it with gin and set it on fire.

I was going in circles. Every idea I had started with 'if.' I needed something I could manage with the material at hand: cloth, a box of matches, a few bits of paper.

I got out a cigarette, lit up, and while the match was burning examined the hole from which I'd removed the plug. It was about three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter and an inch deep, and there was a hole near the bottom communicating with the air space between the glass panels. It was an old-fashioned method of manufacture but it seemed to have worked all right: the air was pumped out and the hole sealed with the screw. It had at any rate the advantage of being easy to service if the panel leaked. Now, with some way of pumping air in, I could blow out the panels . . . 

There was no pump on the premises but I did have some chemicals: the match heads. They were old style too, like a lot of things in Peru: the strike-once-and-throw-away kind.

I sat on the floor and started to work, chipping the heads off the matchsticks, collecting the dry, purplish material on a scrap of paper. Thirty-eight matches gave me a respectable sample. I packed it together, rolled it in the paper, and crimped the ends. Then I tucked the makeshift firecracker into the hole the screw had come from.

Using the metal scrap I scraped at the threads of the screw, burring them. Then I started it in the hole, half a dozen turns, until it came up against the match heads.

The shoes Margareta had bought me were the latest thing in Lima styles, with thin soles, pointed toes, and built-up leather heels: Bad on the feet, but just the thing to pound with. I thought about trying to work loose a piece of rug to shield my face, but decided against it. I'd have to stand aside and take my chances.

I took the shoe by the toe and hefted it: the flexible sole gave it a good action, like a well-made sap. There were still a couple of 'ifs' in the equation, but a healthy crack on the screw ought to drive it against the packed match-heads hard enough to detonate them, and the expanding gasses from the explosion ought to exert enough pressure against the glass panels to break them. I'd know in a second.

I flattened myself against the wall, brought the shoe up, and laid it on the screw-head with everything I had . . . 

There was a deafening boom, a blast of hot air, and a chemical stink, then a gust of cool night wind—and I was on the sill, my back to the street six hundred feet below, my fingers groping for a hold on the ledge above the window. I found a grip, pulled up, reached higher, got my feet on the muntin strip, paused to rest for three seconds, reached again . . . 

I pulled my feet above the window level and heard shouts in the room below:

"—fool killed himself!"

"Get a light in here!"

I clung, breathing deep, and murmured thanks to the architect who had stressed a strong horizontal element in his façade and arranged the strip windows in bays set twelve inches from the face of the structure. Now, if the boys below would keep their eyes on the street long enough for me to get on the roof—

I looked up, to get an idea how far I'd have to go—and gripped the ledge convulsively as the whole building leaned out, tilting me back . . . 

Cold sweat ran into my eyes. I squeezed the stone until my knuckles creaked and held on. I laid my cheek against the rough plaster, listening to my heart thump. Adrenalin and high hopes had gotten me this far . . . and now it had all drained out and left me, a frail ground-loving animal, flattened against the cruel face of a tower, like a fly on a ceiling, with nothing between me and the unyielding concrete below but the feeble grip of fingers and toes. I started to yell for help, and the words stuck in my dry throat. I breathed in shallow gasps, feeling my muscles tightening, until I hung, rigid as a board, afraid even to roll my eyeballs for fear of dislodging myself. I closed my eyes, felt my hands going numb, and tried again to yell: only a thin croak emerged.

A minute earlier I had had only one worry: that they'd look up and see me. Now my worst fear was that they wouldn't.

This was the end. I'd been close before, but not like this. My fingers could take the strain for maybe another minute, maybe even two; then I'd let go, and the wind would whip at me for a few timeless seconds, before I hit . . . 

I had had a lot of big ideas but in the cosmic scheme I was a gnat on a windshield. I thought I'd learned something, was a jump ahead of most guys, and could play the meaningless game with a certain flair. But my fancy philosophies were words written in smoke when they came up against the raw power of blind instinct. My conscious mind had an I.Q. of 148, but the idiot subconscious that had frozen me here hadn't learned anything since the first ape that had owned it rode out a storm in a tree-top and lived to be my ancestor . . . I heard a sound and it was me, whimpering. I was a poor weakling, out of his element, bleating for mercy.

Down inside of me something didn't like the picture. A small defiance flickered, found a foothold, burned brighter. I would die . . . but that would solve a lot of problems. And if I had to die, at least I could die trying.

My mind moved in to take over from my body. It was the body that was wasting my last strength on a precarious illusion of safety, numbing my senses, paralyzing me. It was a tyranny I wouldn't accept. I needed a cool head and a steady hand and an unimpaired sense of balance; and if the imbecile body wouldn't cooperate the mind would take it by the scruff of the neck and force it. I'd been feeding this hulk for thirty-odd years; now it would do what I told it. First: loosen the grip—

Yes! If it killed me: bend those fingers! Sure, I might fall—all the way—and splatter when I hit, but did this lousy slab of meat expect to live forever? I had news for it: time was short, any way you figured.

I was standing a little looser now, my hands resting flat, my legs taking the load. I had a good wide ledge to stand on: nearly a foot, and in a minute I was going to reach up and get a new hold and lift one foot at a time . . . and if I slipped, at least I'd have done it my way.

I let go, and the building leaned out, and to hell with it . . . 

I felt for the next ledge, gripped it, pulled up, found a toe-hold.

Sure, I was dead. It was a long way to the top, and there was a fancy cornice I'd never get over, but when the moment came and I started the long ride down I'd thumb my nose at the old hag, Instinct, who hadn't been as tough as she thought she was . . . 

* * *

I was under the cornice now, hanging on for a breather, and listening to the hooting and hollering from the window far below. A couple of heads had popped out and taken a look, but it was dark up where I was and all the attention was centered down where the crowd had gathered and lights were playing, looking for a mess. Pretty soon now they'd begin to get the drift—so I'd better be going.

I looked up at the overhang . . . and felt the old urge to clutch and hang on. So I leaned outward a little further, just to show me who was boss. It was a long reach, and I'd have to risk it all on one lunge because, if I missed, there wasn't any net, and my fingers knew it. I heard my nails rasp on the plaster. I grated my teeth together and unhooked one hand: it was like a claw carved from wood. I took a half-breath, bent my knees slightly; they were as responsive as a couple of bumper-jacks bolted on to the hip. Tough; but it was now or never . . . 

I let go with both hands and stretched, leaning back . . . 

My wooden hands bumped the edge, scrabbled, hooked on, as my legs swung free, and I was hanging like an old-time sailor strung up by the thumbs. A wind off the roof whipped at my face and now I was a tissue-paper doll, fluttering in the breeze.

I had to pull now, pull hard, heave myself up and over the edge, but I was tired, too tired. My crepe paper arms with the wooden hands seemed to belong to someone else, someone who'd been dead a long time . . . 

But the someone was me: death was an old story, one that I wrote myself. This was something that had happened before, long ago, and the palindrome of life was finished where it started, and a dark curtain was falling . . . 

Then from the darkness a voice was speaking in a strange language: a confusion of strange thought symbols, but through them an ever more insistent call:

 . . . dilate the secondary vascular complex, shunt full conductivity to the upsilon neuro-channel. Now, stripping oxygen ions from fatty cell masses, pour in electro-chemical energy to the sinews . . .  

With a smooth surge of power I pulled myself up, fell forward, rolled onto my back, and lay on the flat roof, the beautiful flat roof, still warm from the day's sun.

I was here, looking at the stars, safe; and later on when I had more time I'd stop to think about it. But now I had to move, before they had time to organize themselves, cordon off the building, and start a floor-by-floor search.

Staggering from the exertion of the long climb I got to my feet, went to the shed housing the entry to the service stair. The door was locked. I didn't waste any time kicking at it; I got a leg up and stood on the doorknob. Two jumps and it snapped off. I pushed the stub of the shaft through and tickled the back edge of the locking tongue, eased it out. The door opened.

A short flight of steps led down to a storeroom. There were dusty boards, dried-up paint cans, odd tools. I picked up a five-foot length of two-by-four and a hammer with one claw missing, and stepped out into the hall. The street was a long way down and I didn't feel like wasting time with stairs. I found the elevator, pushed the button, stood in front of it whistling. A fat man in a drab suit came along, looked at me distastefully, thought about telling me that the workmen used the freight elevator, then changed his mind and said nothing.

The elevator arrived. I stepped in jauntily. The fat man followed me, pushed the button for the foyer. I smiled and nodded, went on whistling.

We stopped and the doors opened. I waited for the fat man to leave, then glanced out, tightening my grip on the hammer, and followed. I could see the lights in the street out front and in the distance there was the wail of a siren, but nobody in the lobby looked my way. I headed across toward the side exit, dumped the board at the door, tucked the hammer in the waist band of my pants, and stepped out onto the pavement. There were a lot of people hurrying past but this was Lima: they didn't waste a glance on a barefooted carpenter.

I moved off, not hurrying. There was a lot of rough country between me and Itzenca, the little town near which the life boat was hidden in a cañon, but I aimed to cover it in a week. Some time between now and tomorrow I'd have to figure out a way to equip myself with a few necessities, but I wasn't worried. A man who had successfully taken up human-fly work in middle life wouldn't have any trouble stealing a pair of boots.

Foster had shoved off for home three years ago, local time, although to him, aboard the ship, only a few weeks might have passed. My lifeboat was a midge compared to the mother ship he rode, but it had plenty of speed. Once aboard the lugger . . . and maybe I could put a little space between me and the big boys I was up against now.

I had used the best camouflage I knew of on the boat. The near-savage native bearers who had done my unloading and carried my Vallonian treasures across the desert to the nearest railhead were not the gossipy type. If General Smale's boys had heard about the boat, they hadn't mentioned it. And if they had: well, I'd solve that one when I got to it. There were still quite a few 'ifs' in the equation, but my arithmetic was getting better all the time.

1   ...   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   ...   29

Похожие:

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

Разместите кнопку на своём сайте:
Библиотека


База данных защищена авторским правом ©lib.znate.ru 2014
обратиться к администрации
Библиотека
Главная страница