The original, 24-page short story version of

"The Liberty Man"

Copyright © 1982 by Roger M. Wilcox. All rights reserved.
(writing on this story began 21-May-1982)

The original draft was written on an electric typewriter. It was influenced, in small part, by the Logan's Run movie. All spellings, punctuation, capitalizations, fictional physiology, ridiculous acceleration rates, etc. are as in the original.

You have been warned.

He was determined to finish this project before his life ended. His life was supposed to have ended today, but it would take the authorities some time to get to him and take him to a nearby gas chamber. The thirty-five year old neurologist, Dr. Sondrus Mandrake, would leave the human race with something that would make him famous in history. He was against the thirty-five year life limit, but there was really nothing he could do without throwing himself into an unwanted revolution.

He had tested his new device on animals before, and now it was ready for its first human subject; himself. The numerous robots around him would perform surgery on his forehead, so that when he awakened, he would have a round obsidean crystal implanted in his forehead. He'd seen what the internal circuitry had done to the mental and physical capabilities of animals, such as rabbits and dogs, and had been impressed. If it could do the same to him, then for a few hours, he would be one of the most in-shape humans on Earth. He set the robots to do their respective tasks, and was soon put under by the numerous mechanical arms and devices around him....

He was awakened a while later, slightly groggy, by a knock on his front door. The authorities have come, he thought, as he pulled his body into a sitting position. His forehead felt a little bit sore, as he had expected since it would take a while for him to heal. He reached up to his forehead and delicately rubbed a finger across the middle. There it was - he felt the round, circuitrated obsidean gem bulging out of his forehead, surrounded by the still-healing flesh. He brought himself up to a standing position and walked over to a mirror so he could actually see the little marvel for himself.

There was that persistent knocking again. There was no use in getting out of it - he would have to answer the door, which he knew meant his death. As he turned to answer it, however, he was stopped dead in his tracks by a sensation that began to flow from his mind into his body. Quickly, he looked back in the mirror. Just as he had expected, the crystal had begun to glow with an eerie, yellow-white light, signifying that it was in use. He'd seen this before with the animals, and was astounded that it had worked so well.

His mind was getting "in touch" with his body, searching out every little nook and cranny of his being, getting to "know" himself better. It was calculating everything that it needed to know about a device which, almost literally, it had never seen before. In the blink of an eye, he was master of his body, and he knew what his body wanted; his body wanted to live.

Why, just think of all the greats who achieved so much even after they reached thirty-five; there was Ludwig van Beethoven, George Washington, Nocholi Lenin, 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 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. He readied himself for what was to come, and opened the front door. Before the two authority men had a chance to speak, he bolted through the pair. The bolt wasn't quite successful, though, as they had been trained to take the worst. In a split-second, both men had Sondrus, one by each arm.

He wasn't going to let this incident stop him, however. He concentrated on the two, then on his body, and before a second had passed, his crystal was glowing, ready to face the challenge. He tore his arms loose in an all-too-perfect motion for someone off the street. At the same time, he lept three feet off the ground and let fly at one of them with a gut kick. Before the other could react, one of his now free arms met his chest in an open-handed slap, knocking him back about a foot. It was as if he was watching all this take place, for it happened all so effortlessly. He never expected the crystal to give him this much mastery over his own body.

He hadn't time to marvel over what he'd just done; he simply turned away and ran as fast as he could, which with the crystal was a pretty high speed. The two men were flabberghasted, to say the least, for this event had never before happened to them. There was only one thing they could do - they had to report it.

Sondrus strolled into the little sidwalk cafe non-chalantly, his obsidean crystal hidden by a rather out-of-date hat. He had read the headlines in one of the newspapers, and fortunately, neither of the two authority members knew his name; they only remembered him by a "big, black crystal in the middle of his forehead." That was all very well, but he still had the problem of leaving Earth. If he was going to do it, he'd have to get someone's help.

He picked Dr. Drenla Hoenieg out from the rest of the crowd almost instantly. Dr. Hoenieg had been working with him from the very start, and only when he began work on his brain enhancing project did she finally lose interest. She was a neurologist, not a para-neurologist, and always kept up on the latest technical happenings. That made her not only the perfect one to accompany him off-planet, but also the perfect one to consult about how to leave Earth. In all their time of study, they had been friends - no more, no less. At least the old intersexual attitudes had been weeded out of society.

He approached Drenla casually, keeping a low profile so as to make absolutely certain that no one saw his crystal. The instant Drenla saw him, her face brightened up. "Dr. Mandrake! It's been a long time! So, how goes the ol' brain enhancing experiment?"

"Fine, just fine," he replied. "Listen, today is my thirty-fifth birthday."

"Oh. Well, we all have to go," she said as she calmed down. "Don't think of it as dying, think of it as ridding the world of another old man who's passed his prime."

"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?"

"All my life, I've wanted to do something really big, but I knew that I couldn't possibly do it within thirty-five years. I wanted to revolutionize our knowledge of the human brain and its potential, but in order to do that I would have to devote at least fourty years of my life to it. Don't you see; thirty-five years isn't enough for me - or anybody! Sure, we're past our prime, and from then on it's downhill; but there's so much more we can do with our lives. Much more."

"I know all that. I've heard it all a dozen times before, by people who all ended up dying at thirty-five. No matter what your drive and motivation, there's no way that you can beat the system!"

"But that's what I'm trying to disprove! If you remember your history, 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, in that day and age, like now, loss of state support meant loss of everything - housing, food, clothes, etc. - so little "suicide chambers" began to spring up. Then, suddenly, because more old bums started hanging around, the thirty-five year life limit began to get enforced. Now I want to stop all that, by breaking down the one social barrier that still stands between us and conquering the universe.

"And you want me to help."

"Exactly! But ... I also want you to come with me. As my partner. It will be lonely being off-planet without another human being to talk to."

Her eyes and face displayed her anxiety and confusion. "No," she said, "I can't do it. I've still got time left to go."

"But you're the only one I can really turn to!"

"Sondrus, you're not thinking. You're being a sexist."

Sondrus had taken just about all he could stand. He moved his left hand up to his hat, whipped it off, and pointed to the crystal with his right index finger while blurting out, "Does this look like the mark of a non-thinking sexist?!?"

Drenla's face grew stark white. She allowed herself to take a stuttered breath while saying slowly, "You're the neurologist! I had no idea that it could have possibly been you!"

Sondrus lowered his voice to match the mood. "But it is me, and I need your help. Will you please help me get off-planet?"

Drenla finally regained her composure. "Well, all right. You want to get off-planet, so that you can escape the authorities, right?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Well, considering all the expeditions going out to the furthest reaches of interplanetary space, I think the only way out would be to leave the solar system."

"Leave the solar system?!? But there's not a space ship in existence that is capable of travelling interstellar distances!"

"Yes, there is," came the unexpected reply. "It's a relatively new project, called project Thor. It involves a conventionally launched rocket carrying a rather large payload, consisting of an ion-transfer powered spaceship capable of coming very close to light speed."

Sondrus was speechless for a moment, but after a little bit he found his words. "We have a starship."

"Yes, that's right. We have a real starship, just like those science fiction stories of the last centuries have been talking about. The project is kept well-guarded, and only a few people know about it. Some of the information just happened to leak out to me, fortunately for you."

"Well, then, let's go. The sooner I'm off this world, the better."

"Well, wait just a minute! Can't I even say goodbye, or pack my things?"

"As for saying goodbye, forget it; the more people who know we're leaving, the more people will try to stop us. As for packing your things, forget that too; all the little necessities of life - hand-held macroprocessors, electrochemical food and the like - all require vital electrical power a small starship wouldn't posess. If we're going interstellar, we're gonna have to start with finding an alien technology; otherwise, we'll simply die an unimportant life out in the void between the stars."

"Well, okay, let's go then. By the way, how do you plan to pilot the starship when you've never seen one before?"

Sondrus chuckled slightly and donned his head gear. "I'll think of something. After all, I've got my secret all under my hat."

The next morning, as the harsh rays of the new sun pierced their sleepless night, they felt no closer to their goal than when they started out. The hovercraft they had "borrowed" was propelling them at a measly six meters per second, only slightly faster than an average human could comfortably run. Thanks to the advent of hovercraft mass production, the roads ceased to be maintained, and were not only uneven but hardly even defined any more.

"How much further to the project site?" asked Sondrus.

"I'd say another 700 kilometers."

"Seven hundred?!? That's over a day's journey in this slow heap!"

"It's only slow because it's designed for commuting within a city. The intercity hovercraft cruise at about five times this speed."

Sondrus practically choked. "Well, why didn't you remind me of that when I was commendiering this heap?"

"Because for one, you were so intent on leaving that you didn't want me to butt in, and for another intercity hovercraft are relatively hard to find."

"Great. Well, I've waited thirty-five years, so I guess waiting another day won't hurt."

"I wouldn't be too sure ... look!"

Sure enough, rapidly closing in behind them was an intercity hovercraft covered on all sides with the markings of the authorities. This was it; his escape was in secrecy no longer. More suddenly than he'd expected, the intercity hovercraft was out in front of him, and had formed a road block. He was caught unawares by the maneuver, too stunned to do anything more than slam on the air-brakes. Unfortunately, the air-brakes allowed for nothing more than a slow deceleration, so even moving at six meters per second, the impact was imminent.

Sondrus had no time to waste. Thinking more quickly than he had any right to, he grabbed a hold of Drenla by the waist and executed a high-flying leap that sent him away from the impact site. He landed with the excellence of a trained ballet dancer, only the exacty move he used to land would never be mentioned in any book of ballet, anywhere. He was executing perfect body motions as only his mind saw fit.

As he had expected, the two masses collided just as he set Drenla down lightly on her feet. The impact was substantial, but there would be no explosion or what-not to follow in this day of post-internal-combustion-engine standards.

"H-how did you do that?!?" asked a startled Drenla.

"With a little help from my friend." For emphasis, he removed his had, revealing the round mind crystal.

"Your thingamadoodle ... it's - glowing!"

"Thank you. Now tell me something I don't know, like how I'm going to get through all of this in one piece!"

By now the three authority members had climbed out of the still standing but useless hovercraft, and were advancing on the two escapers. Sondrus' old mind, the mind he was accustomed to, was very scared, but his newly enhanced mind knew exactly what he had to do. Once again, Sondrus sat back in the shell of his body while he watched a tremendous display of fighting tactics as blow after lightning-fast blow came down upon the unprepared authority members. In the space of a few seconds, he had witnessed his own body subdue them all.

Drenla approached him as he was brushing the dirt from his hands and the glow was fading from his crystal. "I won't bother to ask; I think I already know the answer. Besides, I'm only a simple neurologist, that's all."

"Yeah, I know that, but now we've got a problem on our hands. Now they know who we are and what we're planning to do, to some extent anyway, so we have to get out of here as soon as possible. Our hovercraft was wrecked, so it looks like we're going to have to jog for it."

"Run?!? But couldn't we just use the authorities' hovercraft?"

"Can't. It was wrecked in the impact."

"Wrecked? We were only going six meters per second!"

"Yeah, I know, but the thing had a superstructure as thin as a kite's. Let's move!"

Before she could protest, he grabbed her right wrist in his left hand and ran off down the uneven road. They had a long journey ahead of themselves.

The day and the night had passed by seemingly without him knowing it. They never slackened their pace below a jog, except when they were attacked by authority members. Then, Drenla would stand back, while Sondrus turned on the brain power and let loose with an unbelievably smooth attack. They had been attacked like that at least five or six times while on their journey, but by then they had lost count. They could only hope that the authorities had no knowledge of their true destination.

But the authorities had problems of their own. Each member of the authorities had received some training in how to fight, but even though that was more than the rest of the populus got, their training was still minimal when compared to the sleek, perfect fighting tactics of the neurologist.

"There's only one thing we can do now," said a high-ranking official of the authorities. "Socially, it's dangerously risky, but it's the only choice we have." He turned to one of the organizing managers. "Ramas, break out the guns."

A shocked husd beset everyone in the room. Ramas simply turned to the official, and managed to say the word, "Guns?"

"Yes, guns. The Magnum-barrel type with the kick absorbers. The men present in this room will be tho only ones issued them."

Through the hust, a single voice came. It was a female voice coming from the middle of the crowd. "Men?"

"Men and women. Sorry about that, but I've been reading too many pre-unition novels."

The last two remarks were almost unheard except by the two who spoke them and listened to them. Guns hadn't been used for over a hundred years! Now, they would have to be used against a single man who couldn't be subdued by the entire combined force of the authorities everywhere.

"How much further is it to the launching site?"

"Sondrus, you ask that same question every ten minutes! We're still a long ways off, probably five hundred kilometres or so. What I'm concerned with is how we're going to make it there. I'm tired!"

"Tired? I'd expect you to be a little fatigued, but not out-and-out tired. I mean, I'm in no better condition than you are, and I feel just great!"

"That's because you're using that brain enhancer."

"Huh?" Sondrus thought he'd turned it "off" long ago. Now that she mentioned it, it was kind of stupid to assume that his own mind could keep him going this easily for two days straight without sleep. He put his hand up to his forehead so that it would allow any light coming from the obsidean to reflect off its surface into his eyes. "Oh, drat! I'm on crystal power now!"

He turned to Drenla. "I can't put your through this. Why don't you just leave without me. You'll never make it to the launching site!"

"No, Sondrus. I don't want to die at thirty-five either, and no authorities can keep me from living out my full, natural life."

"Well, 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 picked her up in his arms. The main function of the crystal at that point was to put down the fatigue and strain of his whole body, which by then must've been a tortured wreck. He had no idea exactly how close he really was to total collapse, and he didn't really want to give himself any indication, either. For all he knew, at that moment he could be going by sheer force of will alone.

But fortunately for his body, and unfortunately for Drenla, he would not have to endure the double-strain much longer. Before he had jogged half a kilometer, he was aware of the approach of another hovercraft. He set Drenla down gently on her feet, and readied his body for whatever attack might come from the driver of the high-speed machine. He was prepared for the worst, but he was not prepared for the hovercraft to come to a complete stop some twenty meters in front of him. He was puzzled, and remained so even as the driver took on the strange standing position of a non-fighter. The man was holding something, something which Sondrus couldn't make out.

Then came an unearthly bang that shattered the silence, followed by a half-choked scream coming from beside him. He looked to where the scream had originated, and saw the body of Drenla sprawled out on the ground with a big, red splotch on her chest. Sondrus quickly knelt down beside her and listened for her heartbeat. There was none.

"Dead," he said in an inaudible whisper. Then, infinitely louder, "DEAD!" There was no mistake - the man in the hovercraft had used some sort of distance-striking weapon to kill her. Sondrus immediately stood up, rage in his face as he stared intently at the sole inhabitant of the hovercraft. He still had one trick up his brain.

As best as he could manage through the steamy rage, he tried to focus all the energy of his mind into the crystal. He could feel it glowing brighter and hotter by the second, and then he let the energy loose. A brilliant, searing shaft of yellow-white light sprang from the round obsidean, smashing against its intended target like a sledge hammer would against a brick wall, only with much greater heat. The blast shoot the surrounding air like thunder, for indeed it was - no mass of air struck by that much energy could remain calm. Finally, when the shaft of light subsided, there was silence once more.

Still in a rage, Sondrus sped over to the hovercraft to check its contents. As he expected, he found the control panel, the engine/pump, and the 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 had only read about.

He recognized it instantly; it was a gun, a high speed projectile firing weapon. If his remembrance was correct, guns stopped being used only a few years after the worldly Unition, over a hundred years ago. But whenever they stopped being used, they were in use now, and that meant he was up against armed fighters; he would have to arm himself as well, but in order to do so, he would have to know everything about the weapon he was going to wield.

He picked the gun up in one hand and stared at it intently. The glow on his crystal began to increase as his mind began to absorb every detail about the gun at a faster and faster rate. He felt correct positioning and accuracy surge through his body just from the fact that he was holding it and examining it. In less than five seconds, he was a master of wielding a gun.

One fact that struck him, as it did most everybody, was that the gun had a finite amount of projectiles stored within it - in this case, a maximum capacity of twelve. He looked back down at the body, and almost instantly found what he was searching for: a spare cartridge containing twelve more projectiles. He quickly picked it up and put it in one of his pockets for safe keeping. Now, armed like his attackers, he would have as much a chance for making it as before. In fact, he had a better chance than before, since probably none of the authority members had nearly as much gun skill as he did.

He tossed the remains of the authority member's body off of the hovercraft in two pieces and took a driver's position at the controls. He'd been driving hovercrafts all his life, just like everyone else, so he didn't really have to worry about getting to know the controls. Besides, these things were equipped with automatic steering!

He turned on the engine/pump and sped off, only slightly held back by his emotions about Drenla's death. Fortunately, they were just friends; if they had been lovers, it would have been too much for him to bear.

Now, at last, he was as well-armed as his opponents. All this time, the authorities had come around in their hovercrafts, but had left their hovercrafts far enough behind so that he didn't have a chance to get his hands on them. Now, because a single authority member showed his arrogance because he had a gun, he was able to reach his destination in less than a fifth of the expected time. If only Drenla had lived long enough, for now she would've easily had a chance.

He'd gone no more than a kilometer when he was attacked again by a hovercraft full of authority members. The attack was a simple roadblock which he easily out-maneuvered, and since none of the people on board were any good with their guns, every shot missed him as he sped away. Soon after, a similar situation arose, which he dealt with in a similar fashion. Even if their shots did hit his hovercraft, they would only penetrate the thin, canvas cover, then go out the other side, doing practically no damage along the way.

After a half hour or so of high-speed dravel, he knew that he was finally nearing his goal; a large, yellow road sign read, in capital letters, "RESTRICTED AREA - AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY." This could only be the launching site that Drenla had told him about. And, as he had expected, the resistance here was at least twice as heavy as out on the road. The authorities had finally determined his position and destination, and were rapidly closing in. Now, in these last few minutes, or hours, whichever it was, Sondrus' tired, tortured, and unfed body would be put to the test. Ever since Drenla had pointed it out to him, his crystal had not stopped glowing, as far as he had noticed. In short, his brain had been wracking his body and putting down the pain for probably an entire day, and now it would have to work harder.

The first guards were easy to subdue; they were unarmed, and not very well trained, so he simply sped by them on his hovercraft. The next batch of guards were more on the alert. With a simple device, they managed to jam a roadblock in his path just seconds before he was going to reach that particular point. He dived up and over the barrier and turned back to see, with mild horror, his only form of transportation get smashed to bits. The guards would probably remove the engine and replace it in another frame, but right now that was neither his concern nor the guards'.

He tore away from there as quickly as possible, not wasting any unnecessary energy in the process of running away. This battle was going to be the fiercest he, or the authorities, would ever see. As he was running, he could just make out the outlines of a few distant authority members, probably armed with the same kind of gun he had. He soon found this out to be the truth, as the three figures rushed toward him, each firing a shot. He had already used up two projectiles in previous battles, and one had been fired at Drenla, so the gun had only nine shots left.

He extended his arm, as he had done twice before, and took deadly, sharpshooter aim along his and and the barrel at the three terrible shots who'd by now realized that they'd missed. Swiftly, Sondrus squeezed the trigger thrice, each time noting how it absorbed the recoil as the barrel lept backward. He didn't even have to look to know that the three authority members had been plugged, but he did so just the same. There in front of him were the mortally-wounded corpses he had just been growing accustomed to seeing.

Now, the chase was on! He'd made it mare than half way down the restricted stretch of ten-kilometer road, and was now running for his very life, in more ways than one. The only things keeping him going were the crystal, his will to live, and the fact that he was fighting for a once-lost cause. In the next five kilometers, he succeeded in using the entire remaining load of six projectiles, in reloading, and in firing three addition rounds from the spare cartridge.

At last, he had made it to the real launching site. Before him gloriously stood the giant launching tube supporting the even larger rocket-starship combination, the likes of which easily dwarfed the mazelike complex which he would now have to go through to reach the launching pad. But there was no time to be awed now, for the authorities had the entire place sealed off with dozens of people, most of whom were armed, and one of whom was the very leader of the authorities himself, the famous Trailod Gradrock.

Sondrus suddenly found himself making a mad dash for the front entrance of the complex, which he was almost certain would be locked. Thus, when he reached it, he didn't hesitate to kick it down; or at least try to kick it down. The one kick should have brought down a door twice as thick! The fact that he had to make a second try with his shoulders told himself just how much weaker he was really getting. The door came down easily under his shoulder-heave, but that was only because his crystal was pushing his strength, as usual. In the distance, he heard a lone gunshot being fired in vain at the open doorsill.

Trailod, angry at how his men let Sondrus escape, reluctantly picked up a com-phone from his belt and began talking directly into the loudspeakers of the indoor complex. "There is a man loose in your building. He is dangerous and is probably armed. Use extreme care in capturing him - kill him if you have to. That is all."

He quickly replaced the com-phone back in his belt, and in its place took out a bullhorn. "Okay, people, everybody on the far side of the complex get to the launching pad as fast as possible. The rest of you spread out to fill the gap. I'm going in there with them."

Trailod jogged off to keep his promise.

Sondrus went through the complex like he would go through water; the people guarding the place were not even as well trained as the authorities! Needless to say, it was easier since they had no guns, but he did have to shoot his way through a few doors.

Finally, he came to what he knew must be the last door. Suddenly, he was grabbed from behind by a rather weak arm desperately trying to hold a grip around his neck. 'Please, not again!' he thought as he pulled his body forward to use his assailants own weight against him. The white-clad man hit the ground in front of Sondrus with a thud. He quickly proceeded to shove him out of the way of the last door and flung his body weight at the door's steel surface. He bounced off with a clang.

The door must be five centimeters thick! He raised the gun reluctantly once more to lock level, took careful aim, and was suddenly thrown off-guard by the sound of a gunshot and the clang of a projectile on the steel door. He spun around and saw clearly the authority-clad person brandishing the awkwardly-held gun. Without even thinking, he raised the gun he was holding in his outstretched hand, and fired. The shot plugged the authority member exactly where it had to, for if he had been off by even a few centimeters, the person receiving the blow would have time to get in another shot at him. His arm had already been wounded once, and it was just now that his old brain was beginning to notice that fact.

'So the authorities have pushed this far into the complex!' he thought. 'I'm gonna have to push if I want to make it out alive!'

In a split-second, he had aimed at the lock on the door, fired, and watched the shot rebound off its hardened surface, leaving behind only the slightest of carbon-fouled dents to mark its passage. As far as he could tell, there was only one way he was going to get through this door....

The would-be strangler by now had gotten up and taken off. Evidently, the only people who were going to get near him now were going to be armed authority members; this would make his upcoming concentration even more difficult, what with having to look out for them as well. Nevertheless, he proceeded to focus all his mind's power into the crystal so that it could be channeled in a beam of energy as he had done once before. As far as he could tell, there was nobody in the corridor to interrupt him as he stepped back and finally let loose with the yellow-white incinerating shaft of mind-energy. The five-centimeters of steel caved in and melted away without the slightest hesitation.

Actually, there was someone in the corridor with him when he was listening to make sure. An authority member, a thirty year old female, was attempting to sneak up behind him and finish him off with a gunshot. However, just as she raised her pistol, Sondrus let loose with the attack on the door, leaving the authority member speechess and horrified as she ran away.

But that last stunt too more out of Sondrus than he knew. His sleek, effortless motion was gone, and he had to clump awkwardly through the remains of the door. The shot of power should have left him unconscious, but his mind gem still persisted. He pulled himself back out into the harsh light of the midday sun, which shone unrelenting on the monolithic tower just a few short dekameters before him. As he lowered his gaze to the ground, the awe was broken by the sight of the thirty-or-so authority members, all scantly arrayed throughout the area. One of them instantly shouted, "There he is!" and Sondrus was on his feet again.

He hardly remembered the series of events that came next. He didn't keep track of how many shots were fired at him, nor how many shots he fired, with deadly accuracy, in return. He did remember one thing, though - he remembered the head of the authorities, Trailod Gradrock, rushing at him from far behind, accompanied by three lower-ranking authority members. Aside from that detail, his brain enhancer was in complete control of everything about him all the way up to the base of the rocket itself.

Then, his own mind was "returned" to him as he climbed up the ladder resting at the base. He was so close! The ladder was quickly surrounded by a wire cage as he was climbing to protect him from whatever it was that needed to be caged out. Still, despite the harrowing experience he'd gone through, he climbed the ladder with remarkable speed. The fact that he was so close to his goal, of course, did something to help influence this.

Within a reasonably short amount of time, he had ascended the ladder to well past the halfway point, up above where the silo of launching gave way to the very top of the rocket booster which quickly gave way to the large starship mounted on the top as the "payload". Suddenly, his over-alert ears alerted him of a clanging not unlike his own footsteps on the ladder. It was amazing how his ears could pick that sound out from the myriad of gunshots around him! He looked down, and as plain as anything, there clung an authority member aiming upward with his gun. His stance and aim were completely wrong, but in a cramped ladderway like this it would be difficult not to hit. Once more, without thinking, he aimed stiff-armed straight downward, and pulled the trigger of the projectile launcher. The device clicked once, and made no other sound. Dang it, he was out of shots! Thinking as quickly as his old mind would allow, he curled the gun in his palm in a boomerang-throwing fashion and flung it downward at a rate that probably bettered its terminal velocity. The gun struck the authority member unexpectedly, sending him screaming downard toward the landing pad below.

Relentlessly, Sondrus resumed his climb. The ascent the rest of the way to the top, fortunately, brought no further resistance down upon him, probably because none had as of then reached the ladder, thanks to what he did to the person climbing after him a few seconds ago. When he reached the top, he found the entry door just standing there, right out in front of him, with only a restirctor band of some ferrous metal standing between him and his entry. He grabbed the band in both hands, and began to pull with what remained of his strength.

The band gave way like cheap metal - it wasn't even steel! It was only iron, put there to discourage, not completely bar, entry. The band finally snapped off in his hands, and he quickly discarded it so that his hands would be able to work the controls that would open the hatch. The hatch was opened by a simple level, which he turned and pulled in order, and which allowed the door to swing open, revealing the scantly decorated, highly sophisticated interior of the starship.

Maybe he was wrong the first time, but there was somebody climbing up the ladder after him. He would have to act fast. As quickly as he could manage, he pulled himself inside the ship, and pulled the door shut behind himself, sealing him off forever with a turn of the inside locking wheel.

His only thought as he looked at the control panel was, 'You've got to be kidding!' The console in front of him had enough controls to make him complete commander of the entire planet, let alone control a single, two-person starship. Oh well, now that he'd endured enough physical strain to choke an elephant, it was time to put his brain to the task once more. Doing this would be just like doing what he did to the gun, only on a much larger scale. He focused what remained of his bleary eyes on the controls before him, and began absorbing piece after piece of information via the brain enhancer. The inflow of data soon became almost overwhelming, and by all rights he should have gone crazy. But, once again, he pulled through, and when he did, he knew as much as the most highly trained astronaut in the business.

He immediately sat down in one of the control chairs and began working the controls as only his enhanced brain would know how. Miraculously, the once-dead hulk of metal and chemicals suddenly sprang into life, performing the vital takeoff functions that it would only ever perform this once. As button after button was pressed, system after system came on, or went out. There was no need for him to check if all systems were "go"; he would have no time to care if it were any different. If one of the major systems went wrong after he got going, he'd die in space. If it checked out wrong down here, he would die at the hands of the authorities. He preferred the former.

At last the final sequences were in play, and the engines beneath the craft, in the booster, were firing. It would take at least five seconds for the engines to build up enough pressure in the silo so that he could "pop off like a champagne cork," whatever a champagne cork was. He could feel the surge of unimaginable chemical energy rumbling below him as he poised his hand over the panel-sized button that would release the craft from the silo and let it leap off into the air.

Finally, he decided the time was right. He put pressure on the panel, and felt the pent-up rumbling suddenly give way to upward acceleration as he gave out a whoop of pure joy. He had made it! He had honestly made it!

Outside the craft, an autority member suddenly had the crowbar wrenched from his hand that he'd prevously been using to pry open the hatch. Unfortunately, he was so caught up in his defeat that he failed to notice the rapidly approaching tail end of the rocket, complete with its high-temperature thrust. He didn't live long enough to regret the oversight.

Trailod gazed upward at the rocket in amazed defeat. Suddenly, he saw a faint, whitish glimmer come from its midsection as the booster ran out of fuel and used its last remaining energy to fire the electromagnetic launcher which sent the starship out away from Earth at a good fraction of the speed of light. In anger, he threw his gun down to the ground in a sweeping motion, and then began to speak, unaided by any device, to all those around him:

"Well, that does it. From now on, there will be no 'extraterrestrial expeditions;' no starships; no manned satellites; no space travel of any kind! From now on, the human race will be Earth-locked. That will be the law."

Sondrus' body ached all over, he realized, as he sat up to engage the ion-transfer engines that would power him to the stars. He had pulled the seat out into a horizontal position to act as a bed, but somehow it wasn't quite the same in zero-gravity. Oh sure, zero-gravity had its distinct advantages, but without gravity, it wasn't really lying "down."

The three gravities of acceleration that came next were more than enough, but they soon settled out into an acceleration rate that was at least tolerable. While he was still pinned to his "bed," he looked back out a rear viewing port and watched the solar system fall away from himself in a fleeting moment of dialated time.

There was one more thing he had to check. Searching the area slowly, he came upon a hand-sized mirror, which he promptly held up to see his forehead. The crystal showed its old, black, obsidean surface once more, for the first time in almost a day. He had once begun to believe that the crystal would send him into obsession, or posession, but now he was certain that it served only himself. Maybe he would remove it, someday, when he found a race with ample technology to do so. But for now, it would help him and burden him just like his starship might.

If he only knew that his actions, actions that had been meant as an example of life and liberty to all, had sent his own race into a downhill oblivion. As his brain finally let him sleep for the first time in too long, he had no idea of what was happeninig on Earth because of his fight to be free. He had turned the human race into an innocuous race of planet-locked people, who would be a dead and harmless species to all who viewed them.

Author's notes from 2013:
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