Jennings snatched up the cloth sack, pulling it open. He poured the contents into his palm. Kelly watched.
“Where’s Rethrick?” Jennings stood up. “If he has an idea that this –”
“Rethrick has nothing to do with it. It was your own request. Here, look at this.” Kelly passed him the sheets of paper. “In your own hand. Read them. It was your idea, not ours. Honest.” She smiled up at him. “This happens every once in a while with people we take on contract. During their time they decide to take something else instead of money. Why, I don’t know. But they come out with their minds clean, having agreed –”
Jennings scanned the pages. It was his own writing. There was no doubt of it. His hands shook. “I can’t believe it. Even if it is my own writing.” He folded up the paper, his jaw set. “Something was done to me while I was back there. I never would have agreed to this.”
“You must have had a reason. I admit it doesn’t make sense. But you don’t know what factors might have persuaded you, before your mind was cleaned. You aren’t the first. There have been several others before you.”
Jennings stared down at what he held in his palm. From the cloth sack he had spilled a little assortment of items. A code key. A ticket stub. A parcel receipt. A length of fine wire. Haifa poker chip, broken across. A green strip of cloth. A bus token.
“This, instead of fifty thousand credits,” he murmured. “Two years. . .”
He went out of the building, onto the busy afternoon street. He was still dazed, dazed and confused. Had he been swindled? He felt in his pocket for the little trinkets, the wire, the ticket stub, all the rest. That, for two years of work! But he had seen his own handwriting, the statement of waiver, the request for the substitution. Like Jack and the Beanstalk. Why? What for? What had made him do it?
He turned, starting down the sidewalk. At the corner he stopped for a surface cruiser that was turning.
“All right, Jennings. Get in.”
His head jerked up. The door of the cruiser was open. A man was kneeling, pointing a heat-rifle straight at his face. A man in blue-green. The Security Police.
Jennings got in. The door closed, magnetic locks slipping into place behind him. Like a vault. The cruiser glided off down the street. Jennings sank back against the seat. Beside him the SP man lowered his gun. On the other side a second officer ran his hands expertly over him, searching for weapons. He brought out Jenning’s wallet and the handful of trinkets. The envelope and contract.
“What does he have?” the driver said.
“Wallet, money. Contract with Rethrick Construction. No weapons.” He gave Jennings back his things.
“What’s this all about?” Jennings said.
“We want to ask you a few questions. That’s all. You’ve been working for Rethrick?”
“Almost two years.”
“At the Plant?”
Jennings nodded. “I suppose so.”
The officer leaned toward him. “Where is that Plant, Mr. Jennings. Where is it located?”
“I don’t know.”
The two officers looked at each other. The first one moistened his lips, his face sharp and alert. “You don’t know? The next question. The last. In those two years, what kind of work did you do? What was your job?”
“Mechanic. I repaired electronic machinery.”
“What kind of electronic machinery?”
“I don’t know.” Jennings looked up at him. He could not help smiling, his lips twisting ironically. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know. It’s the truth.”
There was silence.
“What do you mean, you don’t know? You mean you worked on machinery for two years without knowing what it was? Without even knowing where you were?”
Jennings roused himself. “What is all this? What did you pick me up for? I haven’t done anything. I’ve been –”
“We know. We’re not arresting you. We only want to get information for our records. About Rethrick Construction. You’ve been working for them, in their Plant. In an important capacity. You’re an electronic mechanic?”
“You repair high-quality computers and allied equipment?” The officer consulted his notebook. “You’re considered one of the best in the country, according to this.”
Jennings said nothing.
“Tell us the two things we want to know, and you’ll be released at once. Where is Rethrick’s Plant? What kind of work are they doing? You serviced their machines for them, didn’t you? Isn’t that right? For two years.”
“I don’t know. I suppose so. I don’t have any idea what I did during the two years. You can believe me or not.” Jennings stared wearily down at the floor.
“What’ll we do?” the driver said finally. “We have no instructions past this.”
“Take him to the station. We can’t do any more questioning here.” Beyond the cruiser, men and women hurried along the sidewalk. The streets were choked with cruisers, workers going to their homes in the country.
“Jennings, why don’t you answer us? What’s the matter with you? There’s no reason why you can’t tell us a couple of simple things like that. Don’t you want to cooperate with your Government? Why should you conceal information from us?”
“I’d tell you if I knew.”
The officer grunted. No one spoke. Presently the cruiser drew up before a great stone building. The driver turned the motor off, removing the control cap and putting it in his pocket. He touched the door with a code key, releasing the magnetic lock.
“What shall we do, take him in? Actually, we don’t –”
“Wait.” The driver stepped out. The other two went with him, closing and locking the doors behind them. They stood on the pavement before the Security Station, talking.
Jennings sat silently, staring down at the floor. The SP wanted to know about Rethrick Construction. Well, there was nothing he could tell them. They had come to the wrong person, but how could he prove that? The whole thing was impossible. Two years wiped clean from his mind. Who would believe him? It seemed unbelievable to him, too.
His mind wandered, back to when he had first read the ad. It had hit home, hit him direct. Mechanic wanted, and a general outline of the work, vague, indirect, but enough to tell him that it was right up his line. And the pay! Interviews at the Office. Tests, forms. And then the gradual realization that Rethrick Construction was finding all about him while he knew nothing about them. What kind of work did they do? Construction, but what kind? What sort of machines did they have? Fifty thousand credits for two years. . .
And he had come out with his mind washed clean. Two years, and he remembered nothing. It took him a long time to agree to that part of the contract. But he had agreed.
Jennings looked out the window. The three officers were still talking on the sidewalk, trying to decide what to do with him. He was in a tough spot. They wanted information he couldn’t give, information he didn’t know. But how could he prove it? How could he prove that he had worked two years and come out knowing no more than when he had gone in! The SP would work him over. It would be a long time before they’d believe him, and by that time —
He glanced quickly around. Was there any escape? In a second they would be back. He touched the door. Locked, the triple-ring magnetic locks. He had worked on magnetic locks many times. He had even designed part of a trigger core. There was no way to open the doors without the right code key. No way, unless by some chance he could short out the lock. But with what?
He felt in his pockets. What could he use? If he could short the locks, blow them out, there was a faint chance. Outside, men and women were swarming by, on their way home from work. It was past five; the great office buildings were shutting down, the streets were alive with traffic. If he once got out they wouldn’t dare fire. If he could get out.
The three officers separated. One went up the steps into the Station building. In a second the others would reenter the cruiser. Jennings dug into his pocket, bringing out the code key, the ticket stub, the wire. The wire! Thin wire, thin as human hair. Was it insulated? He unwound it quickly. No.
He knelt down, running his fingers expertly across the surface of the door. At the edge of the lock was a thin line, a groove between the lock and the door. He brought the end of the wire up to it, delicately maneuvering the wire into the almost invisible space. The wire disappeared an inch or so. Sweat rolled down Jennings’ forehead. He moved the wire a fraction of an inch, twisting it. He held his breath. The relay should be —
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