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       Tangle Hold, p.1

           F. L. Wallace
 
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Tangle Hold


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  TANGLE HOLD

  By F. L. WALLACE

  Illustrated by EMSH

  [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science FictionJune 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: Jadiver objected to being the greatest influence for good onVenus ... because what was good for Venus was bad for Jadiver!]

  Somebody was wrapping him in a sheet of ice and spice. Somebody waspulling it tight so that his toes ached and his fingers tingled. Hestill had fingers, and eyes too. He opened his eyes and they turned inopposite directions and couldn't focus on what they saw. He made aneffort, but couldn't keep it up and had to let his eyes flutter shutagain.

  "Rest. You're all right." That's where he got the idea of ice andspice--from that voice.

  "Mmmm," said Jadiver. He tried to raise his hand, but it wouldn't move.It was good advice--to rest; he couldn't do otherwise. "What happened?"he whispered.

  "You had an accident. Remember?"

  He didn't. It was his mind playing tricks, of course. It couldn't havebeen pleasant if his memory didn't have access to it.

  "Mmmm," he evaded.

  "Go to sleep. We'll talk later."

  He thought he felt something shoved deep in his flesh, but he may havebeen wrong. In any event, the light that filtered through his closedeyelids faded away and the external world, of which there wasn't much inthe first place, vanished completely.

  * * * * *

  Later, he awakened. How much later, he didn't know, but it may have beendays. The oppressive languor had left him and he felt capable ofmovement. To prove it to himself, he turned his head. He was alone, andhe thought he recognized where he was. He didn't like it.

  There was an odor in the room, but this time it was the kind thatlingers in all hospitals. He tried to sit up, but that was more than hecould manage. He lay there a long time, looking through the heavilyreinforced window; then someone came in.

  "You'll live," said the voice behind him--the same voice.

  "Think so?" He hadn't intended to turn around, but the spice was backand he wanted to see. It was only the fragrance she wore--there was nonein her voice or demeanor. That was still ice.

  When she sat down, he could see that her hair was a shade of copper andthe uniform she wore a dark green. She was not a robot and therefore nota nurse or a guard. It was logical to assume she was a doctor, policevariety--definitely the police.

  Thadeus Jadiver sighed. "What am I in for?"

  "You're not in for anything. Maybe you should be, but that's not mybusiness," she said in a flat voice. That was the only thing about herthat was flat; the rest curved nicely even under the uniform. "This isan emergency as well as a police hospital. We were close, so we took youin."

  That was reassuring. Jadiver tried to smile as he lifted a curiouslybandaged arm. "Thanks for this."

  "I'll take only half the credit. That was a combo job."

  He was going to have difficulty if she insisted on using technicalslang. "What's a combo job?"

  "Just what it sounds like. A combination robot-human surgeon. Allhospitals use them. The robot is more precise and delicate, but it lacksthe final margin of judgment that's supplied by the human. Two of uswork together in critical cases."

  He still couldn't remember what had happened, but it would come back intime. "I was critical?"

  Her mouth was firm and her cheekbones a trifle too broad. Just the same,the total effect was pleasing, would have been more so with a littlewarmth stirred in. "To give you an idea, you'll notice that every squareinch of your skin is now synthetic." She leaned over and took his hand,which was encased in a light spongy cocoon. Expertly, she peeled backthe end and exposed the tips of his fingers.

  Jadiver looked, then turned away. "Cellophane," he said. "A man can beborn, live, die, and be shoveled away; begot and beget, completelyuntouched by human hands."

  She looked blank at the mention of cellophane. Probably didn't know whatit was, thought Jadiver. So few people did any more.

  "Don't worry about it," she said. "Your skin's transparent now, but in afew days it will be normal."

  "That's nice," said Jadiver. "I suppose it would be educational, but I'djust as soon not be an anatomy model of the first layer of the humanbody."

  She stood up and managed to work up a creditable imitation of interest."We had to peel off the burned part, and when you were completely raw,we fitted the synthetic skin to your body. Over that we sprayed thebandage. New body cells form with this synthetic substance as thematrix. You'll gradually return to normal or better. Your new skin maybe more resistant to corrosive chemicals and microbe invasions."

  "Glad to hear it," said Jadiver. "Superman."

  For the first time, she smiled. "Don't count on it. This stuff is toonew for us to know how it reacts in all cases." She turned around at thedoor. "In a few days I'll take off the bandages and you can go home.Meanwhile, you know what to do if you need anything."

  * * * * *

  Jadiver lay there after she left, thinking. He hadn't asked what theaccident was and she had assumed he remembered. He ought to, but hedidn't. He frowned and tried to recall the last thing he had been doing.

  They had removed his skin and replaced it with a synthetic substance.Why? Take it from there and work back.

  He stirred uneasily. The last he remembered, he'd been in his apartment.That didn't help much; he was often there. He shook his head. He was inthe apartment, preparing to leave. That meant he must have used theautobath. That was it. The picture came into focus:

  He touched the door of the autobath and it swung open. He went inside."Shave, massage, bath," he ordered.

  The mechanism reached out of the wall to enfold him. He leaned back. Itgripped him, not comfortably, as usual--but tightly. He squirmed, butwhen the grip didn't adjust, he relaxed.

  The autobath rumbled familiarly and a jet of water spouted up from thefloor. It was icy cold and Jadiver shivered.

  "You didn't listen," he said firmly. "I asked for the bath last."

  The autobath paid no attention. The top and side jets turned on. Theforce was greater than he had ever experienced. It was difficult tobreathe. The water got hotter rapidly, and then, seconds later, steamblew out of the nozzles.

  Jadiver shouted and tried to struggle free. The autobath did not let go.Instead, it ground at his muscles with hard inflexible hands. Here andthere his skin began parting from his flesh. The autobath kept onkneading him. It was when it reached for his face--Jadiver rememberedvery clearly--he lost consciousness.

  He lay on the bed in the hospital, sweat soaking into the bandages. Hecould understand why he'd had a memory block--being boiled alive wasfrightful enough for his mind to repress.

  It was not only the accident that was disturbing, but the manner inwhich it occurred. He knew robot machinery and the principles used inthe construction of it. The autobath was one of the best--foolproof, ifthere was such a mechanism.

  Someone had tampered with it--object: _to try to kill him_.

  That was one possibility and he could face it with equanimity.

  There was also another, but he didn't like to think about that.

  * * * * *

  He looked out over Venicity. From his apartment, the topographyresembled that of a lunar crater. In the middle was a giant concreteplain, the rocketport. From the edges of the rocketport, the size of thebuildings increased gradually; at a third of the distance from thecenter, they were at maximum height; thereafter, they decreasedgradually until one and two story struc
tures nibbled at the surroundingforest.

  Five million people and in ten years there would undoubtedly be seven, asizable metropolis even for Earth. That didn't mean that the populationof Venus could compare with the home planet. Venus was settleddifferently. Newcomers started with the cities; only later did theyventure out into the vast wild lands. Venus was civilized, after afashion, but it wasn't a copy of Earth.

  The screen glimmered at his back. "Thadeus Jadiver, consultingengineer?"

  He turned. "That's right. Can I help you?"

  The man on the screen closed one eye slowly and opened it again the sameway. "This is Vicon Burlingame. I've been doing some experimenting andam now at the point where I can use some
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