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By NED LANG
_Of all the irksome, frustrating, maddening discoveries--was there no way of keeping it discovered?_
Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS
With so much at stake, Charles Dennison should not have been careless.An inventor cannot afford carelessness, particularly when his inventionis extremely valuable and obviously patentable. There are too manygrasping hands ready to seize what belongs to someone else, too many menwho feast upon the creativity of the innocent.
A touch of paranoia would have served Dennison well; but he was lackingin that vital characteristic of inventors. And he didn't even realizethe full extent of his carelessness until a bullet, fired from asilenced weapon, chipped a granite wall not three inches from his head.
Then he knew. But by then it was too late.
Charles Dennison had been left a more than adequate income by hisfather. He had gone to Harvard, served a hitch in the Navy, thencontinued his education at M.I.T. Since the age of thirty-two, he hadbeen engaged in private research, working in his own small laboratory inRiverdale, New York. Plant biology was his field. He published severalnoteworthy papers, and sold a new insecticide to a developmentcorporation. The royalties helped him to expand his facilities.
Dennison enjoyed working alone. It suited his temperament, which wasaustere but not unfriendly. Two or three times a year, he would come toNew York, see some plays and movies, and do a little serious drinking.He would then return gratefully to his seclusion. He was a bachelor andseemed destined to remain that way.
Not long after his fortieth birthday, Dennison stumbled across anintriguing clue which led him into a different branch of biology. Hepursued his clue, developed it, extended it slowly into a hypothesis.After three more years, a lucky accident put the final proofs into hishands.
He had invented a most effective longevity drug. It was not proofagainst violence; aside from that, however, it could fairly be called animmortality serum.
* * * * *
Now was the time for caution. But years of seclusion had made Dennisonunwary of people and their motives. He was more or less heedless of theworld around him; it never occurred to him that the world was notequally heedless of him.
He thought only about his serum. It was valuable and patentable. But wasit the sort of thing that should be revealed? Was the world ready for animmortality drug?
He had never enjoyed speculation of this sort. But since the atom bomb,many scientists had been forced to look at the ethics of theirprofession. Dennison looked at his and decided that immortality wasinevitable.
Mankind had, throughout its existence, poked and probed into therecesses of nature, trying to figure out how things worked. If one mandidn't discover fire, or the use of the lever, or gunpowder, or the atombomb, or immortality, another would. Man willed to know all nature'ssecrets, and there was no way of keeping them hidden.
Armed with this bleak but comforting philosophy, Dennison packed hisformulas and proofs into a briefcase, slipped a two-ounce bottle of theproduct into a jacket pocket, and left his Riverdale laboratory. It wasalready evening. He planned to spend the night in a good midtown hotel,see a movie, and proceed to the Patent Office in Washington thefollowing day.
On the subway, Dennison was absorbed in a newspaper. He was barelyconscious of the men sitting on either side of him. He became aware ofthem only when the man on his right poked him firmly in the ribs.
Dennison glanced over and saw the snub nose of a small automatic,concealed from the rest of the car by a newspaper, resting against hisside.
"What is this?" Dennison asked.
"Hand it over," the man said.
Dennison was stunned. How could anyone have known about his discovery?And how could they dare try to rob him in a public subway car?
Then he realized that they were probably just after his money.
"I don't have much on me," Dennison said hoarsely, reaching for hiswallet.
The man on his left leaned over and slapped the briefcase. "Not money,"he said. "The immortality stuff."
* * * * *
In some unaccountable fashion, they knew. What if he refused to give uphis briefcase? Would they dare fire the automatic in the subway? It wasa very small caliber weapon. Its noise might not even be heard above thesubway's roar. And probably they felt justified in taking the risk for aprize as great as the one Dennison carried.
He looked at them quickly. They were mild-looking men, quietly, almostsomberly dressed. Something about their clothing jogged Dennison'smemory unpleasantly, but he didn't have time to place the recollection.The automatic was digging painfully into his ribs.
The subway was coming to a station. Dennison glanced at the man on hisleft and caught the glint of light on a tiny hypodermic.
Many inventors, involved only in their own thoughts, are slow ofreaction. But Dennison had been a gunnery officer in the Navy and hadseen his share of action. He was damned if he was going to give up hisinvention so easily.
He jumped from his seat and the hypo passed through the sleeve of hiscoat, just missing his arm. He swung the briefcase at the man with theautomatic, catching him across the forehead with the metal edge. As thedoors opened, he ran past a popeyed subway guard, up the stairs and intothe street.
The two men followed, one of them streaming blood from his forehead.Dennison ran, looking wildly around for a policeman.
The men behind him were screaming, "Stop, thief! Police! Police! Stopthat man!"
Apparently they were also prepared to face the police and to claim thebriefcase and bottle as their own. Ridiculous! Yet the complete andindignant confidence in their shrill voices unnerved Dennison. He hateda scene.
Still, a policeman would be best. The briefcase was filled with proof ofwho he was. Even his name was initialed on the outside of the briefcase.One glance would tell anyone ...
He caught a flash of metal from his briefcase, and, still running,looked at it. He was shocked to see a metal plate fixed to the cowhide,over the place where his initials had been. The man on his left musthave done that when he slapped the briefcase.
Dennison dug at the plate with his fingertips, but it would not comeoff.
It read, _Property of Edward James Flaherty, Smithfield Institute_.
Perhaps a policeman wouldn't be so much help, after all.
But the problem was academic, for Dennison saw no policeman along thecrowded Bronx street. People stood aside as he ran past, staringopen-mouthed, offering neither assistance nor interference. But the menbehind him were still screaming, "Stop the thief! Stop the thief!"
The entire long block was alerted. The people, like some sluggish beastgoaded reluctantly into action, began to make tentative movements towardDennison, impelled by the outraged cries of his pursuers.
* * * * *
Unless he balanced the scales of public opinion, some do-gooder wasgoing to interfere soon. Dennison conquered his shyness and pride, andcalled out, "Help me! They're trying to rob me! Stop them!"
But his voice lacked the moral indignation, the absolute conviction ofhis two shrill-voiced pursuers. A burly young man stepped forward toblock Dennison's way, but at the last moment a woman pulled him back.
"Don't get into trouble, Charley."
"Why don't someone call a cop?"
"Yeah, where are the cops?"
"Over at a big fire on 178th Street, I hear."
"We oughta stop that guy."
"I'm willing if you're willing."
Dennison's way was suddenly blocked by four grinning youths, teen-agersin black motorcycle jackets and boots, excited by the chance for alittle action, delighted at the opportunity to hit someone in the nameof law and order.
Dennison saw them, swerved suddenly and sprinted across the street. Abus loomed in front of him.
He hurled himself out of its way, fell, got up again and ran on.
His pursuers were delayed by the dense flow of traffic. Theirhigh-pitched cries faded as Dennison turned into a side street, ran downits length, then down another.
He was in a section of massive apartment buildings. His lungs felt likea blast furnace and his left side seemed to be sewed together withred-hot wire. There was no help for it, he had to rest.
It was then that the first bullet, fired from a silenced weapon, chippeda granite wall not three inches from his head. That was when Dennisonrealized the full extent of his carelessness.
He pulled the bottle out of his pocket. He had hoped to carry out moreexperiments on the serum before trying it on human beings. Now there wasno choice.
Dennison yanked out the stopper and
Forever by Robert Sheckley / Science Fiction have rating 2.8 out of 5 / Based on33 votes