By F. L. WALLACE
Illustrated by Ed Alexander
Outcasts of a society of physically perfect people, they couldn't stay and they couldn't go home again—yet there had to be some escape for them. Oddly enough, there was!
ameron frowned intently at the top of the desk. It was difficult to concentrate under the circumstances. "Your request was turned over to the Medicouncil," he said. "After studying it, they reported back to the Solar Committee."
Docchi edged forward, his face literally lighting up.
Dr. Cameron kept his eyes averted; the man was damnably disconcerting. "You know what the answer is. A flat no, for the present."
Docchi leaned back. "We should have expected that," he said wearily.
"It's not entirely hopeless. Decisions like this can always be changed."
"Sure," said Docchi. "We've got centuries." His face was flushed—blazing would be a better description.
Absently, Cameron lowered the lights in the room as much as he could. It was still uncomfortably bright. Docchi was a nuisance.
"But why?" asked Docchi. "You know that we're capable. Why did they refuse?"
Cameron had tried to avoid that question. Now it had to be answered with blunt brutality. "Did you think you would be chosen? Or Nona, or Jordan, or Anti?"
Docchi winced. "Maybe not. But we've told you that we're willing to abide by what the experts say. Surely from a thousand of us they can select one qualified crew."
"Perhaps so," said Cameron. He switched on the lights and resumed staring at the top of the desk. "Most of you are biocompensators. Ninety per cent, I believe. I concede that we ought to be able to get together a competent crew." He sighed. "But you're wasting your time discussing this with me. I'm not responsible for the decision. I can't do anything about it."
Docchi stood up. His face was colorless and bright.
Dr. Cameron looked at him directly for the first time. "I suggest you calm down. Be patient and wait; you may get your chance."
"You wait," said Docchi. "We don't intend to."
The door opened for him and closed behind him.
Cameron concentrated on the desk. Actually he was trying to look through it. He wrote down the card sequence he expected to find. He opened a drawer and gazed at the contents, then grimaced in disappointment. No matter how many times he tried, he never got better than strictly average results. Maybe there was something to telepathy, but he hadn't found it yet.
He dismissed it from his mind. It was a private game, a method of avoiding involvement while Docchi was present. But Docchi was gone now, and he had better come up with some answers. The right ones.
He switched on the telecom. "Get me Medicouncilor Thorton," he told the robot operator. "Direct, if you can; indirect if you have to. I'll wait."
With an approximate mean diameter of thirty miles, the asteroid was listed on the charts as Handicap Haven. The regular inhabitants were willing to admit the handicap part of the name, but they didn't call it haven. There were other terms, none of them suggesting sanctuary.
It was a hospital, of course, but even more like a convalescent home, the permanent kind. A healthy and vigorous humanity had built it for those few who were less fortunate. A splendid gesture, but, like many such gestures, the reality fell somewhat short of the original intentions.
The robot operator interrupted his thoughts. "Medicouncilor Thorton will speak to you."
The face of an older man filled the screen. "On my way to the satellites of Jupiter. I'll be in direct range for the next half hour." At such distance, transmission and reception were practically instantaneous. "You wanted to speak to me about the Solar Committee reply?"
"I do. I informed Docchi a few minutes ago."
"How did he react?"
"He didn't like it. As a matter of fact, he was mad all the way through."
"That speaks well for his mental resiliency."
"They all seem to have enough spirit, though, and nothing to use it on," said Dr. Cameron. "I confess I didn't look at him often, in spite of the fact that he was quite presentable. Handsome, even, in a startling way."
Thorton nodded. "Presentable. That means he had arms."
"He did. Is that important?"
"I think it is. He expected a favorable reply and wanted to look his best. As nearly normal as possible."
"I don't see how," said the medicouncilor uncertainly. "In any event, not immediately. It will take them some time to get over the shock of refusal. They can't do anything, really. Individually they're helpless. Collectively—there aren't parts for a dozen sound bodies on the asteroid."
"I've looked over the records," said Dr. Cameron. "Not one accidental has ever liked being on Handicap Haven, and that covers quite a few years. But there has never been so much open discontent as there is now."
"Someone is organizing them. Find out who and keep a close watch."
"I know who. Docchi, Nona, Anti, and Jordan. But it doesn't do any good merely to watch them. I want your permission to break up that combination. Humanely, of course."
"How do you propose to do it?"
"Docchi, for instance. With prosthetic arms he appears physically normal, except for that uncanny luminescence. That is repulsive to the average person. Medically there's nothing we can do about it, but psychologically we might be able to make it into an asset. You're aware that Gland Opera is the most popular program in the Solar System. Telepaths, teleports, pyrotics and so forth are the heroes. All fake, of course: makeup and trick camera shots. But Docchi can be made into a real live star. The death-ray man, say. When his face shines, men fall dead or paralyzed. He'd have a chance to return to normal society under conditions that would be mentally acceptable to him."
"Acceptable to him, perhaps, but not to society," reflected the medicouncilor. "An ingenious idea, one which does credit to your humanitarian outlook. Only it won't work. You have Docchi's medical record, but you probably don't know his complete history. He was an electrochemical engineer, specializing in cold lighting. He seemed on his way to a brilliant career when a particularly messy accident occurred. The details aren't important. He was badly mangled and tossed into a tank of cold lighting fluid by automatic machinery. It was some time before he was discovered.
"There was a spark of life left and we managed to save him. We had to amputate his arms and ribs practically to his spinal column. The problem of regeneration wasn't as easy as it usually is. We were able to build up a new rib case; that's as much as we could do. Under such conditions, prosthetic arms are merely ornaments. They can be fastened to him and they look all right, but he can't use them. He has no back or shoulder muscles to anchor them to.
"And add to that the adaptation his body made while he was in the tank. The basic cold lighting fluid, as you know, is semi-organic. It permeated every tissue in his body. By the time we got him, it was actually a necessary part of his metabolism. A corollary, I suppose, of the fundamental biocompensation theory."
The medicouncilor paused and shook his head. "I'm afraid your idea is out, Dr. Cameron. I don't doubt that he would be successful on the program you mention. But there is more to life on the outside than success. Can you picture the dead silence when he walks into a room of normal people?"
"I see," said Cameron, though he didn't, at least not eye to eye. The medicouncilor was convinced and there was nothing Cameron could do to alter that conviction. "The