- Author: F. L. Wallace
Read book online «The Man Who Was Six by F. L. Wallace (ebook reader with built in dictionary .TXT) 📕». Author - F. L. Wallace
By F. L. WALLACE
Illustrated by ASHMAN
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction September 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
There is nothing at all like having a sound
mind in a sound body, but Dan Merrol had too
much of one—and also too much of the other!
"Sorry, darling," said Erica. She yawned, added, "I've tried—but I just can't believe you're my husband."
He felt his own yawn slip off his face. "What do you mean? What am I doing here then?"
"Can't you remember?" Her laughter tinkled as she pushed him away and sat up. "They said you were Dan Merrol at the hospital, but they must have been wrong."
"Hospitals don't make that kind of mistake," he said with a certainty he didn't altogether feel.
"But I should know, shouldn't I?"
"Of course, but...." He did some verbal backstepping. "It was a bad accident. You've got to expect that I won't be quite the same at first." He sat up. "Look at me. Can't you tell who I am?" She returned his gaze, then swayed toward him. He decided that she was highly attractive—but surely he ought to have known that long ago.
With a visible effort she leaned away from him. "Your left eye does look familiar," she said cautiously. "The brown one, I mean."
"The brown one?"
"Your other eye's green," she told him.
"Of course—a replacement. I told you it was a serious accident. They had to use whatever was handy."
"I suppose so—but shouldn't they have tried to stick to the original color scheme?"
"It's a little thing," he said. "I'm lucky to be alive." He took her hand. "I believe I can convince you I'm me."
"I wish you could." Her voice was low and sad and he couldn't guess why.
"My name is Dan Merrol."
"They told you that at the hospital."
They hadn't—he'd read it on the chart. But he had been alone in the room and the name had to be his, and anyway he felt like Dan Merrol. "Your name is Erica."
"They told you that too."
She was wrong again, but it was probably wiser not to tell her how he knew. No one had said anything to him in the hospital. He hadn't given them a chance. He had awakened in a room and hadn't wanted to be alone. He'd got up and read the chart and searched dizzily through the closet. Clothes were hanging there and he'd put them on and muttered her name to himself. He'd sat down to gain strength and after a while he'd walked out and no one had stopped him.
It was night when he left the hospital and the next thing he remembered was her face as he looked through the door. Her name hadn't been on the chart nor her address and yet he had found her. That proved something, didn't it? "How could I forget you?" he demanded.
"You may have known someone else with that name. When were we married?"
Maybe he should have stayed in the hospital. It would have been easier to convince her there. But he'd been frantic to get home. "It was quite a smashup," he said. "You'll have to expect some lapses."
"I'm making allowances. But can't you tell me something about myself?"
He thought—and couldn't. He wasn't doing so well. "Another lapse," he said gloomily and then brightened. "But I can tell you lots about myself. For instance, I'm a specialist in lepidoptera."
"At the moment, who knows? Anyway, I'm a well-known actor and a musician and a first-rate mathematician. I can't remember any equations offhand except C equals pi R squared. It has to do with the velocity of light. And the rest of the stuff will come back in time." It was easier now that he'd started and he went on rapidly. "I'm thirty-three and after making a lot of money wrestling, married six girls, not necessarily in this order—Lucille, Louise, Carolyn, Katherine, Shirley and Miriam." That was quite a few marriages—maybe it was thoughtless of him to have mentioned them. No woman approves her predecessors.
"That's six. Where do I come in?"
"Erica. You're the seventh and best." It was just too many, now that he thought of it, and it didn't seem right.
She sighed and drew away. "That was a lucky guess on your age."
Did that mean he wasn't right on anything else? From the expression on her face, it did. "You've got to expect me to be confused in the beginning. Can't you really tell who I am?"
"I can't! You don't have the same personality at all." She glanced at her arm. There was a bruise on it.
"Did I do that?" he asked.
"You did, though I'm sure you didn't mean to. I don't think you realized how strong you were. Dan was always too gentle—he must have been afraid of me. And you weren't at all."
"Maybe I was impetuous," he said. "But it was such a long time."
"Almost three months. But most of that time you were floating in gelatin in the regrowth tank, unconscious until yesterday." She leaned forward and caressed his cheek. "Everything seems wrong, no matter how hard I try to believe otherwise. You don't have the same personality—you can't remember anything."
"And I have one brown eye and one green."
"It's not just that, darling. Go over to the mirror."
He had been seriously injured and he was still weak from the shock. He got up and walked unsteadily to the mirror. "Now what?"
"Stand beside it. Do you see the line?" Erica pointed to the glass.
He did—it was a mark level with his chin. "What does it mean?"
"That should be the top of Dan Merrol's head," she said softly.
He was a good six inches taller than he ought to be. But there must be some explanation for the added height. He glanced down at his legs. They were the same length from hip bone to the soles of his feet, but the proportions differed from one side to the other. His knees didn't match. Be-dum, be-dum, be-dumdum, but your knees don't match—the snatch of an ancient song floated through his head.
Quickly, he scanned himself. It was the same elsewhere. The upper right arm was massive, too big for the shoulder it merged with. And the forearm, while long, was slender. He blinked and looked again. While they were patching him up, did they really think he needed black, red and brown hair? He wondered how a beagle felt.
What were they, a bunch of humorists? Did they, for comic effect, piece together a body out of bits and scraps left over from a chopping block? It was himself he was looking at, otherwise he'd say the results were neither hideous nor horrible, but merely—well, what? Ludicrous and laughable—and there were complications in that too. Who wants to be an involuntary clown, a physical buffoon that Mother Nature hadn't duplicated since Man began?
He felt the stubble on his face with his left hand—he thought it was his left hand—at least it was on that side. The emerging whiskers didn't feel like anything he remembered. Wait a minute—was it his memory? He leaned against the wall and nearly fell down. The length of that arm was unexpectedly different.
He hobbled over to a chair and sat down, staring miserably at Erica as she began dressing. There was quite a contrast between the loveliness of her body and the circus comedy of his own.
"Difficult, isn't it?" she said, tugging her bra together and closing the last snap, which took considerable effort. She was a small girl generally, though not around the chest.
It was difficult and in addition to his physique there were the memories he couldn't account for. Come to think of it, he must have been awfully busy to have so many careers in such a short time—and all those wives too.
Erica came close and leaned comfortingly against him, but he wasn't comforted. "I waited till I was sure. I didn't want to upset you."
He wasn't as sure as she seemed to be now. Somehow, maybe he was still Dan Merrol—but he wasn't going to insist on it—not after looking at himself. Not after trying to sort out those damned memories.
She was too kind, pretending to be a little attracted to him, to the scrambled face, to the mismatched lumps and limbs and shapes that, stretching the term, currently formed his body. It was clear what he had to do.
The jacket he had worn last night didn't fit. Erica cut off the sleeve that hung far over his fingertips on one side and basted it to the sleeve that ended well above his wrist, on the other. The shoulders were narrow, but the material would stretch and after shrugging around in it, he managed to expand it so it was not too tight.
The trousers were also a problem—six inches short with no material to add on, but here again Erica proved equal to the task and, using the cuffs, contrived to lengthen them. Shoes were another difficulty. For one foot the size was not bad, but he could almost step out of the other shoe. When she wasn't looking, he wadded up a spare sock and stuffed it in the toe.
He looked critically at himself in the mirror. Dressed, his total effect was better than he had dared hope it would be. True, he did look different.
Erica gazed at him with melancholy affection. "I can't understand why they let you out wearing those clothes—or for that matter, why they let you out at all."
He must have given some explanation as he'd stumbled through the door. What was it?
"When I brought the clothes yesterday, they told me I couldn't see you for a day or so," she mused aloud. "It was the first time you'd been out of the regrowth tank—where no one could see you—and they didn't know the clothes wouldn't fit. You were covered with a sheet, sleeping, I think. They let me peek in and I could make out a corner of your face."
It was the clothes, plus the brief glimpse of his face, which had made her think she recognized him when he came in.
"They told me you'd have to have psychotherapy and I'd have to have orientation before I could see you. That's why I was so surprised when you rang the bell."
His head was churning with ideas, trying to sort them out. Part of last night was dim, part sharp and satisfying.
"What's Wysocki's theorem?" she asked.
"Wysocki's. I started to call the hospital and you wouldn't let me, because of the theorem. You said you'd explain it this morning." She glanced at the bruise on her arm.
It was then he'd grabbed her, to keep her from talking to the hospital. He'd been unnecessarily rough, but that could be ascribed to lack of coordination. She could have been terrified, might have resisted—but she hadn't. At that time, she must have half-believed he was Dan Merrol, still dangerously near the edges of post-regrowth shock.
She was looking at him, waiting for that explanation. He shook his mind frantically and the words came out. "Self-therapy," he said briskly. "The patient alone understands what he needs." She started to interrupt, but he shook his head and went on blithely. "That's the first corollary of the theorem. The second is that there are critical times in the recovery of the patient. At such times, with the least possible supervision, he should be encouraged to make his own decisions and carry them through by himself, even though running a slight risk of physical complications."
"That's new, isn't it?" she said. "I always thought they watched the patient carefully."
It ought to be new—he'd just invented it. "You know how rapidly medical practices change," he said quickly. "Anyway, when they examined me last night, I was much stronger than they expected—so, when I wanted to come home, they let me. It's their latest belief that initiative is more important than perfect health."
"Strange," she muttered. "But you are very strong." She looked at him and blushed. "Initiative, certainly you have. Dan could use some, wherever he is."
Dan again, whether it was himself or another person. For a brief time, as she listened to him, he'd had the silly idea that.... But it could never happen to him. He'd better leave now while she was distracted and bewildered and believed what he was saying. "I've got to go. I'm due back," he told her.
"Not before you eat," she said. "Any man who's spent