9

Dr. Michael Daniels was waiting at his desk when Blake was ushered into his office.

‘How are you feeling this morning? Daniels asked.

Blake grinned bleakly. ‘Not too badly, after the going over you gave me yesterday. Were there any tests that you left out?

‘We sort of threw the book at you, Daniels admitted. ‘There’s still a test or two, if…

‘No, thank you.

Daniels gestured at a chair. ‘Make yourself comfortable. We have some things to talk about.

Blake took the indicated chair. Daniels pulled a fat folder in front of him and opened it.

‘I would assume, said Blake, ‘that you have been doing some checking on what might have happened out in space — what happened to me, I mean. Any luck at all?

Daniels shook his head. ‘None. We’ve gone over the passenger and crew lists of all missing ships. That is, Space Administration has. They’re as interested in this as I am, perhaps even more so.

‘Passenger lists wouldn’t tell you much, said Blake. ‘I’d be just a name and we don’t know…

‘True, said Daniels, ‘but there are also fingerprints and voice prints. And you aren’t there.

‘Somehow I got out into space…

‘Yes, we know you did. Also someone froze you. Someone took the trouble to freeze you. If we could find out why someone did that, we’d know a lot more than we do. But, of course, when a ship is lost, the records are lost.

‘I’ve been doing some thinking myself, said Blake. ‘We have been presuming all the time that I was frozen so that my life would be spared. Which means it was done before whatever happened to the ship had come about. How could anyone know what was going to happen? Oh, I suppose there would be situations where they would. Have you ever thought that I was frozen and thrown off the ship because they didn’t want me aboard, because I’d done something or they were afraid of me or something of the sort?

‘No, said Daniels, ‘I had never thought of that. I had thought, however, that you may not have been the only one frozen and encapsulated, that it might have been done to others and that they still are out there. You just happened to be the one that was found. Given time, it could be a way in which a long shot could be taken to save some lives — I would suspect important lives.

‘Let’s get back to this business of them giving me the old heave-ho off the ship. If I had been such a louse that they felt they had to pitchfork me into space, why the elaborate attempt to save my life?

Daniels shook his head. ‘I couldn’t even guess. All we’re doing is dealing in assumptions. You may have to resign yourself to the possibility that you will never know. I had hoped that you would be able to dig back to a recognition of your past, but you haven’t so far. There’s a fairly good chance you may never be able to. After a while we can resort to some psychiatric treatment that could help. Although I’ll tell you quite frankly that it may not.

‘Are you telling me to give up?

‘No. Just trying to tell you the truth. We’ll keep on trying so long as you’re willing to go along with us. But I thought we owed it to you to tell you there is a chance we’ll never get an answer.

‘That’s fair enough, said Blake.

‘How did the fishing go the other day? asked Daniels.

‘Alright, said Blake. ‘I caught six trout and had a good day in the open. Which, I suspect, was what you wanted.

‘Any hallucinations?”

‘Yes. said Blake. ‘There was a hallucination. I didn’t tell you about it. Just held it back. Decided this morning I’d tell you. What’s one hallucination more or less? When I was out fishing I met a Brownie.

‘Oh, said Daniels.

‘Didn’t you hear what I said? I met a Brownie. I talked with him. He ate up most of my lunch. You know what I mean. One of those little folks that appear in children’s stories. With big pointed ears and a high, peaked cap. Only this one didn’t have a cap. And he had a rodent face.

‘You were fortunate. It’s not many people who ever see a Brownie. Fewer yet who talk with them.

‘You mean there are such things!

‘Why, yes, of course there are. A migrant people from the Coonskin stars. Not very many of them. The root stock was brought to earth… oh, I’d guess a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago. One of the exploration ships. The idea was that the Brownies would visit us for a short while — a sort of cultural exchange, I gather — then would go back home. But they liked it here and formally applied for permission to stay. After that they scattered, disappeared gradually. They took to the woods. There they found places to live — burrows, caves, hollow trees.

He shook his head in some perplexity.

‘A strange people. They rejected most of the material advantages that we offered them. Wanted nothing to do with our civilization, were unimpressed with our culture, but they liked the planet. Liked it as a place to live, but in their own way, of course. We don’t know too much about them. Highly civilized, it would appear, but in a different way than we. Intelligent, but with different values from the ones we hold. Some of them, I understand, have attached themselves to certain families or individuals who set out food for them, or supply them cloth for clothing, or other needs they may have from time to time. It is a curious relationship. The Brownies aren’t pets of these people. Maybe you could call them good luck talisman. Much the relationship that the literary Brownies were assigned.

‘Well, I’ll be damned, said Blake.

‘You thought your Brownie was another hallucination?

‘Yes, I did. I expected him to go away all the time, to simply vanish from my sight. But he didn’t. He sat there eating and wiping the crumbs off his whiskers and telling me where to place the flies. Over there, he’d say, there’s a big one over there just between that swirl of water and the bank. And there would be. He seemed to know where the fish were.

‘He was paying you back for the lunch. He was giving you good luck.

‘You think he actually did know where the fish were? I know, it seemed to me it did, but…

‘I wouldn’t be surprised. said Daniels. ‘As I told you, we don’t know too much about the Brownies. They probably have abilities we lack. Knowing where to find the fish might be one of them. He glanced sharply at Blake. ‘You’d never heard about the Brownies? The real ones, I mean.

‘No, I never had.

‘I think that gives us a good time peg, said Daniels, ‘If you had been here, on Earth, at that time, you would have heard about it.

‘Maybe I did, but don’t remember.

‘I don’t think so. The incident, to judge from the writings at the time, made a great public impression. It’s something that you would have recalled if you’d ever heard of it. It would have made a deep impression on your mind.

‘We have other time pegs, said Blake. ‘This get-up that we wear is new to me. Robes and shorts and sandals. I can recall that I wore some sort of trousers and a jerkin. And the ships. The gravity grids are new to me. I can remember that we used nuclear power…

‘We still do.

‘Nuclear power alone in my day. Now it is an auxiliary force to build up greater velocity, but the real power comes from the control and manipulation of gravitational forces.

‘There are a number of other things that are new to you, too, said Daniels. ‘The houses…

‘They almost drove me crazy to start with, Blake said. ‘But I’m relieved about that Brownie. It subtracts one potential incident from my situation.

‘These hallucinations. You don’t think they are, of course. You told me yesterday.

‘I can’t see how they can be, said Blake. ‘I remember everything that happens up to a certain point, then there is a blank and finally I’m myself again. I can’t remember a thing that happened during that blank period, although there is abundant evidence that something did transpire. And there is a definite period of time to account for it.

‘The second one, said Daniels, ‘happened while you slept.

‘True. But the Room observed certain phenomena, which transpired over a definite period of time.

‘What kind of house do you have?

‘A Norman-Gilson B258.

‘One of the newer and better models. Daniels told him. ‘Beautifully instrumented and computerized. Practically foolproof. Not much that could go wrong with one of them.

‘I don’t think anything did go wrong, said Blake. ‘I think the Room told the truth. I think something was happening in that room. When I woke up I was on the floor…

‘But with no idea of what had happened, not until the Room told you. No idea as to why these things happen?

‘None at all. I had hoped you might have some idea.

‘Not, actually, said Daniels. ‘No real idea, that is. There are two things about you — how do I say this? – well, that are confusing. Your physical condition, for one thing. You look like a man of thirty, perhaps the middle thirties. There are some lines in your face. You have the appearance of maturity. And yet your body is the body of a youth. There is no breakdown, no sign that breakdown is beginning. You’re a perfect physical specimen. And if you’re that, why the facial appearance of thirty?

‘And the other thing? You said there were two.

‘The other? Well, your electro-encephalogram shows up a strange pattern. The main brain pattern is there and recognizable. But there is something else as well. Almost — and I hesitate to say this — but almost as if another, or other brain patterns were transposed on your own. Rather feeble brain patterns, subsidiary patterns probably would be the way to say it, showing up, but not too strongly.

‘What are you trying to say, doctor? That there is something wrong mentally? Which would explain the hallucinations, of course. Which might mean there really are hallucinations.

Daniels shook his head. ‘No, not that. But strange. Nothing to indicate any malfunction. Nothing that would indicate any brain deterioration. Your mind, apparently, is as healthy and as normal as your body. But almost as if you had more than one brain. Although we know, of course, that you have only one. The X-rays show that very clearly.

‘You’re sure that I am human?

‘Your body says you are. Why do you ask?

‘I don’t know, said Blake. ‘You found me out in space. I came from space…

‘I see, said Daniels. ‘But forget about it. There is no shred of evidence that you’re anything but human. The overwhelming evidence is that you are.

‘And now what? I go back home and wait for more of these…

‘Not right away, said Daniels. ‘We’d like you to stay with us for a while. A few more days. If you are willing.

‘More tests?

‘Well, perhaps. I’d like to talk with some of my colleagues, let some of them look at you. They may have something to offer. Mostly, I guess I’d like you to stay for some further observation.

‘In case there is another hallucination?

‘Something like that, said Daniels.

‘This brain business bothers me, said Blake. ‘More than one, you say…

‘No. Just a suggestion of the encephalogram. I wouldn’t worry about it.

‘OK, said Blake. ‘I won’t.

But what was it that Brownie had asked? How many of you are there? I could have sworn, when I first looked at you, that there was more than one of you.

‘Doctor, about this Brownie…

‘What about the Brownie?

‘Nothing, I guess, said Blake. ‘Nothing that’s important.

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