“You got the lion?”
“Think I’d be talking to you if I hadn’t?” Tucking the communicator away again, he added over her furious futile grunts and snorts, “Save your breath, slittie. I don’t know what you’ve done, but it’s serious. I have a warrant for your arrest and detention without bail signed by the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Data Processing, who’s kind of high on the Washington totem pole. Anyhow, I’m not the shivver to argue with. Just an errand boy, me.”
DIFFERENTIATED Things had changed. Not merely on the surface, although his situation was radically altered. Instead of being switched on and off by drugs and cortical stimulation, he had been allowed to sleep naturally last night: moreover, in a real room, hotel-stark but comfortable and well equipped, with actual windows through which he had been able to confirm that he really was at Tarnover. During his interrogation he had been kept in a sort of compartment, a man-sized pigeonhole, where machines maintained his muscle tone for want of walking.
Aside from that, though, something subtler, more significant had occurred.
The door of his room opened with a click of locks. A man appeared—commonplace, clad in white, armed. He had expected that if he was taken anywhere away from the room it would be under escort. Rising, he obeyed an order to go into the corridor and turn left.
It was a long walk, and there were many turns. Also there was a descending flight of steps, thirteen of them. Eventually there was a lost corner. Rounding it, he found himself in a passage of which one side was composed of one-way armor glass.
Gazing through it into a dimly lighted room beyond was Freeman.
He accorded the newcomer a nod, then tapped the glass with one soft fingertip.
Beyond, a very thin girl lay naked and unconscious on a padded table while a nurse shaved her head down to the scalp.
There was a long silence. Then, at last: “Mm-hm. I expected that. But, knowing you as well as I do, I’m prepared to believe it wasn’t your idea.” After which there was another silence, broken this time by Freeman. When he spoke, his voice was full of weariness.
“Take him back to his quarters. Let him think it over for a while.”
YES, MR. KELLY! WAS IT ABOUT ANYTHING?
“It should never be forgotten that during all the time we were studying bats, bats had a unique opportunity to study us.”
I AM What he had said to Freeman was quite true. Ever since, with the conclusion of the intensive phase of his interrogation, he had been able to reason clearly again, he had been expecting to be told that Kate also had been dragged here for “examination.” Not that that made any difference, any more than reciting “nine-eighty-one-see-em-second-squared” makes one better able to survive a fall off a cliff.
He sat in the room assigned to him, which doubtless was monitored the clock around, as though on a stage before a vast audience alert to criticize any departure from the role he was meant to be playing.
The one factor operating in his favor was this: that after years of playing roles, he was finally playing himself instead.
All the data they have, he told himself, relate to others than myself: Reverend Lazarus, Sandy Locke—yes, even Nickie Haflinger. Whoever I am now, and I’m none too sure of my identity at this stage, I definitely am not Nickie Haflinger!
He started to list the ways in which he wasn’t the person he was named after, and found the latest was the most important.
I can love.
A chill tremored down his spine as he considered that. There had been little love given or received in Nickie’s early life. His father? Resentful of the burden his son imposed, intolerant of the demands of parenthood. His mother?
Tried, for a while at least, but lacked an honest basis of affection to support her; hence her collapse into alcoholic psychosis. His temporary surrogate parents? To them one rent-a-boy was like another, so many dollars per week high by so many problems wide.
His friends during his teens, while he was here at Tarnover?