He was determined to finish this project before his life ended. He was supposed to die today, but it would take some time for the authorities to get him and drag him to a nearby Electric Chair. The thirty-five year old neurologist, Dr. Sondrus Mandrake, would leave the human race with his historical mark. He was against the 35 year life limit, but there was really nothing he could do without throwing himself into an unwanted revolution.
His project centered around a small implant he'd first conceived several years ago in his advanced neurology work. In secret, he had labored on it until it was working. The device was an amplifier of mental capability which sat on the brain's frontal lobes. It wielded such a high power level that its back side had to be exposed to the air to prevent overloading. Because of this, it appeared as a lens covering dark gray circuitry on the forehead of whoever had it; except in operation, when the lens would emit brilliant yellow light to bleed off any excess energy.
He had tested the device on animals in the last year of his life, and the effects on their mental and physical capacities were stunning. Now, it was ready for its first human test subject: himself. At his signal, the numerous surgical robots he had designed would anesthetize him, ready the crystalline Brain Enhancer, and carefully microconnect it to his main neurons. If the implant could do half of what it did to the animals, then for a few hours he would be the most in-shape human on Earth.
He gave the command. He went under.
He awakened a while later, slightly groggy, at a knock on his front door. 'The authorities have come,' he thought as he pulled himself to a sitting position. His forehead ached a bit, but he expected that since it would take a little while to heal. He reached to his forehead and stroked its middle. There it was — he felt the round, circuitrated clear gem bulging out, surrounded by still-healing flesh. He stood up slowly and crossed over to a mirror so that he could see his brain child for himself.
There was that persistent knocking again. There was no use trying to get out of it; he would have to answer the door, which he knew meant his death. He had finally finished a project which had taken his entire life to complete; now, probably no one would even be informed of his discovery, let alone try to expand on it. Sadly, he turned away from the mirror.
He was stopped dead in his tracks before he had taken three steps. A powerful sensation was beginning to surge out of his head and through his body. Quickly, he looked back in the mirror and saw his implant glow with its eerie, yellow-white light, signifying that it was in use.
His mind was getting in touch with his body, searching its every edge, getting to know himself better. The new, enhanced mind of Sondrus Mandrake was calculating everything it needed to know about a body which it had never really known before. In the blink of a neuron, his mind and body were functioning together as a perfect unit with each of their capacities recognized to their fullest. He now knew exactly what his mind and body wanted; they wanted to live.
Why, just think of all the greats who achieved so much after thirty-five: there was Ludwig Van Beethoven, George Washington, Sigmund Freud, Adolf Hitler — no, forget him — and the greatest of them all, Albert Einstein! In the second part of life — the part that had been cut off by the "new government" — humans could achieve so much. That was why the human race was lagging so far behind from where it should have been, and Sondrus Mandrake knew that. He wasn't going to give in without a fight; somehow, he was going to get away from the government, even if it meant leaving Earth.
He had made up his mind, and now he was going to stick with it. His Brain enhancer had been turned off as he readied himself for what was to come and opened the front door. The two authority members stood solemnly in the doorway. "Dr. Sond—"
Before he could finish, Sondrus bolted through the pair — or at least part way through. The authority members had been trained for moments such as these, and mamanged to grab him by each arm.
He wasn't going to let this little hindrance stop him, though. He concentrated on the two men, then on his body, and within a second his crystal was glowing, ready to face its challenge. He tore his arms loose in an all-too-perfect motion as he lept a full meter off the ground and kicked one of them in the gut. Before the other could react, one of Sondrus' now-free arms slammed against his chest open-handed, knocking him back nearly a half meter.
It was as if Sondrus was watching all this happen from a standpoint outside his body, for it happened all so effortlessly. The Brain Enhancer was in greater control of his body than his own mind was.
He hadn't time to marvel over what he'd just done; he spun and bolted away at a physically augmented speed. The two men were flabbergasted, to say the least, for they had never experienced this kind of resistance. There was only one thing they could do: report it.
Dr. Mandrake strolled into the little sidewalk cafe, his transparent gray crystal concealed beneath an obsolescent hat. He'd read one of the news reports, and fortunately, neither of the two autority members had seen where he ran. The banner had simply read, "NEUROLOGIST ESCAPES AUTHORITIES." He still had the problem of leaving Earth, though; if he was going to do that, he'd need help.
He picked Dr. Drenla Hoenieg out from the rest of the patrons almost instantly. Dr. Hoenieg had worked with him from the start, and only when Sondrus began his brain enhancing project did she finally lose interest. In all their time of research, they had been friends — no more, no less. But she was a neurologist, not a para-neurologist, and couldn't alter brain structures; even though she always kept up on the latest technical developments. That not only made her the perfect friend to accompany him off-planet, but also the best person to consult about leaving Earth in the first place.
He approached Drenla casually, keeping a low profile so as to make sure that any authority members who might be watching wouldn't recognize him. When Drenla saw him, her face lit up. "Dr. Mandrake — Sondrus! It's been a long time. How's the brain enhancing experiment carrying itself?"
"Fine," he replied, "Just fine. Listen, today is my thirty- fifth birthday."
That took her aback. "Oh. Well . . . I'm sorry to hear that, but . . . we all have to go. 'It isn't dying,'" she quoted, "'It's clearing the way for new life.'"
Sondrus practically winced. "But you don't understand; I don't want to die! I want to leave Earth!"
"I want to leave Earth, . . . and I need you to help me do it!"
"But . . . but why?"
"I've always had big plans for my life; dreams so great that they couldn't possibly be fulfilled in thirty-five years. There are things I still want to do, projects I haven't completed, emotions I have yet to feel; some things that I started back when I was five years old I knew would take more than forty years to complete."
Drenla was unconvinced. "Such as?"
"The brain enhancer project you asked me about. It's just beginning to bloom, and since I did the last seven years' work alone I'm the only one with half the knowledge to continue it.
"But that's not the point. Don't you see? Thirty-five years isn't enough for me, or you — or anybody! Sure, we've left our prime back at age nineteen; but there's so much more we can do on the downhill side of life. Much more."
"Sondrus," she sighed, "I've heard this a half-dozen times before, and everyone I heard it from ended up dying at thirty- five anyway. No matter what your motivation, there's no way you can beat the system."
"But that's what I'm trying to disprove! Only a little over a century ago, there was no system to beat; the only thing that happened at thirty-five was that you stopped getting support from the state. Of course, loss of state support means loss of everything — clothes, house, food, etc. — so little 'suicide chambers' began springing up. Then, as more old bums continued hanging around, the thirty-five year life limit came into enforcement. Now I want to stop all that, by setting a precedent against the one social barrier that still stands between us and all we could be."
"And you want me to help."
"Yes! But . . . I also want you with me. As my partner. It'll be lonely off-planet without another human being."
The tension in her eyes and face betrayed her anxiety and confusion. "No," she said, "I can't do it. I've . . . I've still got a little time left to go."
He reached out and held her hand. "But you're the only one left I can turn to!"
"Sondrus, you're not thinking."
That was all he could stand. He released her hand, took off his hat, and pointed to the crystal in one quick but fluid motion. "Does this look like the mark of a non-thinker?!?"
Drenla's face flashed stark-white. She inhaled in gasps, then slowly said, "The neurologist in the news with the crystal on his forehead. Your brain enhancer project. Your thirty-fifth birthday. Why in hell didn't I put them together?!"
Sondrus lowered his voice to match and calm the mood. "Will you please help me leave the Earth?"
Drenla's breathing presently reverted to normal. 'So much is happening,' she thought. 'So much is happening so fast. But . . . but there's so little left for me here.'
"All right," she said at last. "You want to get off-planet because that's the only way you can escape the authorities, right?"
"Considering all the expeditions that have skirted the boundaries of interplanetary space, I think the only real way out is to leave the solar system."
"Leave the solar system?! But there's never been a spacecraft built that can carry people across interstellar distances!"
"Yes, there is," came her calm reply which sent Sondrus into a mild state of shock. "It's about ten years old, but only a few people know about it; some of the information just happened to leak out to me. It's called Project Thor, and involves the conventionally launched payload of a big, ion-transfer powered space craft capable of approaching light speed and cruising for years at a time."
Sondrus didn't speak for a moment, then found his words. "We have a starship."
"Exactly. We have a real starship, just like those centuries-old science fiction stories kept talking about. It's kept well guarded, though."
"Don't worry about the guards. Let's go; the sooner I'm free of the thirty-five year life limit, the better."
"Well, wait just a minute! Can't I say goodbye or pack?"
"You can forget saying goodbye; you remember your initial reaction when I told you what I was about to do, and it'd take more time anyway. As for packing your things, you don't need to: all the little necessities of life — hand-held microprocessors, electrochemical food and the like — all require vital electrical power a little starship like you described wouldn't posess; and besides, any voyage that long'd have to have stockpiled supplies. If we're going interstellar, we're going to have to start by finding an alien technology. Otherwise, we'll simply die after an unimportant life out in the void between the stars."
She stood up, removing her coat from the back of her chair. "Then let's go. By the way, how do you plan to pilot a starship you've never seen?"
Sondrus chuckled slightly and donned his head gear. "I'll think of something. Don't worry, I'll keep the secret under my hat."
The next morning, as the harsh rays of the new sun pierced their sleepless night by lighting up the derelict highway and surrounding desert, they felt no closer to their goal than when they had started. The hovercraft they had commendiered propelled them along at a measly seven meters per second, only slightly faster than an average human could comfortably sprint. Thanks to the tremendous surge in popularity of hovercraft, the roads were never maintained, and the old highway they were now on was not only uneven but hardly discernable from the surrounding desert.
"How much further to Project Thor?" asked Sondrus.
"I'd say another 700 kilometers."
"Seven hundred? That's another twenty-seven point eight hours of driving time in this heap!"
"It's only this slow because it's designed to commute within a city. If you had the foresight to grab an intercity hovercraft we could be going five times this fast."
Sondrus sneered. "I told you I couldn't find any intercity hovercraft. I was lucky to access this one; do you know how hard it is to find a private intercity craft in the middle of the night?"
"Gotcha. Well, I guess if you've waited thirty-five years another day won't hurt."
"Oh no? . . ."
An intercity hovercraft plastered with the markings of the authorities was rapidly closing in behind them. This was it; his escape was a secret no longer. Faster than he expected, the other hovercraft had moved out in froth of him, air-braked to a halt, and turned to form a road block. He could have swerved off the road around the craft, if he'd been in complete contral; but it happened so fast he panicked and simply slammed on his air brakes.
The air brakes on an intercity hovercraft could easily have stopped him in that distance, but the intracity vehicle he was using had a lack of braking power only matched by its lack of motive power. Impact was imminent. He had no time to waste. Thinking more quickly than he had any right to, he grabbed Drenla by the waist, leapt twelve feet in the air, and landed clear of the impact site.
He'd leapt with all the grace of a trained ballet dancer, yet the move he used was never covered in any book of ballet. He was executing perfect body motions as only his strangely new mind saw fit.
As he had predicted, the two craft collided exactly 0.14 seconds after he set Drenla down lightly on her feet. The impact was substantial, but in this age of collapsing superstructures and non-internal-combustion engines, the physical damage to the passengers would be minimal.
"H-how did you do that?" Drenla asked, startled.
"With a little help from my friend." He ceremoniously removed his hat, revealing the round yellow light on his forehead.
"Your thingamadoodle . . . it's — glowing!"
"I know," he commented without shifting his concentration.
The three authority members from the hovercraft just wouldn't quit. They had climbed out of the wreckage, and now advanced on the two fugitives. Deep down, Sondrus was scared; but that was in his old mind, the inferior one that would only get in the way now and had been moved to a safe corner. His new enhanced mind knew exactly what to do.
The old Sondrus sat back in the shell of his body while it watched a tremendous display of fighting skill as blow after lightning-fast blow intersected the far less skilled authority members. Weak points were found; strikes were snapped off at an efficiency rate 3 times Sondrus' normal, and in the space of a few seconds all three adversaries were downed.
Drenla approached him as he brushed the dirt from his hands and the glow faded from his crystal. "I won't bother to ask; I think I severely underestimated you. I didn't think your brain enhancer project would work that well."
"Yeah, I thought you might be skeptical, but now we have a problem. Now they know who and where we are and how tough I am, and since this road goes just one place they probably figured I'm going for Project Thor. The hovercraft's destroyed; we're going to have to jog for it."
"Run?! What about the authorities' craft?"
He looked down at the wreckage. "No good. Our hovercraft ran into theirs engine-to-engine. Let's move!"
Before she could protest, he grabbed her wrist and and ran ofdf down the uneven road. They had a long journey ahead of themselves.
The day and the night passed by almost without Sondrus noticing it. They never slackened their pace below a jog, except during the few occasions when authority members set upon them. Then, Drenla would stand back while the Sondrus she had known disappeared into the labyrinth of his consciousness and his glowing yellow enhanced brain took over. It usually took only one of his unbelievably smooth attacks to take care of any single authority member, and twice he had struck down two at once.
And the authorities had problems of its own. Its members had received some training in how to fight, which put them above the rest of the populace, but the neurologist's fighting style was unique and all too effective.
Trailod Gradrock, the top leader of the authorities, addressed a group of high-ranking authority members. "There's only one thing we can do now," he said commandingly. "Socially, it's very risky, but it's the only choice we have." He turned to an organizing manager standing near him. "Ramas, break out the guns."
A shocked hush swept the room. Ramas slowly tured to Trailod and managed to say the word, "Guns?"
"Yes, guns. The magnum type with the kick absorbers. The men in this room will be the only ones issued them."
Thorugh the hush, a single voice came; a female voice from the middle of the crowd. "Just the men?"
"The men and the women. Sorry. I've been reading too many of those pre-Unition novels."
Those last two remarks went almost completely unheard. Guns! They hadn't been used for over a hundred years. Now, they had to be used to kill a single man whom the entire combined force of the authorities couldn't subdue. Trailod only hoped it was the right way to stop him.
"How much farther to the launching site?"
"Sondrus, you ask that same question every ten minutes! We're still a long ways off, probably five hundred kilometers or so. I'm more worried as to how we're going to make it there; I'm tired!"
"Tired? I'd expect you'd be a little fatigued after expending some ten point seven pounds of stored energy, but not out-and-out tired. I mean, I'm in no better condition than you are and I've never felt better."
"That's because you're using that brain enhancer."
Sondrus stopped in midstride and raised his hand to his forehead so that he could see any glow. His palm echoed his mind gem's dim-yellow haze. "Damn!" he cursed. "I thought I turned it off after the last battle. This means I've already started to breach my physical limits."
He turned to Drenla. "I can't put you through this. Why don't you just wait here for the authorities and tell them you were stranded. It's me they want, not you. You still have a fraction of your life left to live."
"No, Sondrus, I don't want to die at thirty-five either, and no authorities can keep me from living out my whole, real lifespan."
"Then at least let me carry you the rest of the way. My body can take the additional load easily."
'I hope,' he thought as he hefted her into his arms. The main function of the brain enhancer at this point was to repress the fatigue and strain klaxoning in from his whole body, which by then, as far as he could judge, must have been a tortured wreck. He had no idea how close to total collapse he really was; and he really didn't want to find out, either.
But fortunately for his body — and unfortunately for Drenla — he wouldn't have to endure the extra burden of her weight much longer. Before he'd jogged half a kilometer, he heard another hovercraft fast approaching. He set Drenla down and readied himself for however the driver might attack him. He was prepared for the worst; he wasn't prepared for the craft to stop twenty meters away.
Yes, the hovercraft definitely belonged to the authorities; but the authorities should have closed in to subdue him. The driver stood up and assumed a stance that was certainly not for fighting. Why didn't the man engage? Was he that unsure of himself? He was holding out something, an object that Sondrus couldn't make out.
Then Sondrus heard the air pop and shudder, and a half- choked scream issued from beside him. He turned to see doctor Drenla Hoenig slump into a motionless sprawl on the ground with a big, red splotch on her chest; unconsciously, he uttered "Drenla!". He rushed to his knees beside her and listened for her heartbeat. There was none.
"Dead," he whispered. Then, infinitely louder, "DEAD!" There was no mistake: the man in the hovercraft had killed her with some distance-striking weapon. Sondrus rose to a rock-steady stance, rage in his face, and fixed his stare on the sole inhabitant of the hovercraft. He still had one trick up his brain.
As best as he could manage through his steaming rage, he focused his mind's energy into the crystal on his forehead. It glowed steadily brighter and hotter; and then he let the energy loose. A brilliant, searing shaft of yellow-white light thundered across the gap between the brain enhancer and the hovercraft driver's chest, and smashed into its target like a white-hot sledge hammer. The silence that followed was just as thunderous.
His rage nearly — but not completely — exhausted, Sondrus jogged over to the hovercraft to check its contents. As he expected, there was no extra equipment, only the control panel, engine/pump, and body with a charred hole where its chest used to be. And clutched in the body's hand was a device the likes of which he'd only read about.
It was a gun; he recognized that. A high speed projectile firing weapon. If his remembrance was correct, the use of guns stopped only a few years after the Great World Unition, over a century ago. A hundred years of outlaw, and now the authorities used guns again. That meant he was up against armed fighters and would have to arm himself as well; but in order to do so, he'd have to know everything there was to know about the weapon he was going to wield.
He held the gun a few centimeters from his face and stared. The glow on his crystal gradually increased from dull yellow to off-white as his mind started absorbing every every detail about the weapon at a faster and faster rate. Correct stance, positioning, and accuracy surged through his body just because he was holding and examining the item. In less than five seconds, he was a master gunsman.
One fact that struck him (as it did most everyone when first learning the weapon's details) was that the gun held only a finite supply of projectiles — in this case, the capacity was twelve. He glanced back down at the body, crystal ebbing back down but not extinguishing, and instantly found what he was searching for: a spare loader containing an extra twelve projectiles. He snatched this up and stored it in his left top shirt pocket.
Now, armed as his attackers, he had just as much a chance of mking it as before the guns were issued. In fact, he realized, his odds were probably better than before, since none of the authority members would have half his gun skill. He tossed both of the remaining parts of the authority member out of the vehicle, powered up the engine/pump, and sped off.
— Remainder of story yet to be written —