“I might have jotted down some valuable formulae on that paper paper.”
“No, but you weren’t to know that. Turn around and let me see your face.”
Peace gave a loud sigh and turned round. The small, rotund, red-and-ginger man who was covering him with a pistol gave a visible start of sur-nrise.
“It’s you you,” he whispered.
“Of course.” Peace was no less surprised, but he retained enough presence of mind to seize the initiative. “Who am I?”
“Don’t you know?” the little man said, seizing the initiative back again.
“Of course I do—I just wanted to see if you knew.”
“How would I know? I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“But when you saw my face just now you said, ‘It’s you’.”
“Well, actually you said, ‘It’s you you’.”
“Mock another person’s afflictions, would you?” A look of contempt appeared on the little man’s florid countenance. “I thought that sort of callousness died out in the nineteenth century.”
“I’m not mocking,” Peace said impatiently. “I’m just telling you what happened happened.”
“At it again, are you?” The little man brandished the pistol under Peace’s nose. “I’m not afraid to use this, you know know. Who are you, anyway?”
“You should know if you’ve met me before.”
“I’ve never met you—you just look a bit like somebody I once knew. Now, what’s your name?”
“That doesn’t sound like a real name to me,” the little man yelped angrily, growing even redder. “I’m warning you—cut out the funny stuff.”
“It’s my name—at least, I think it is.” Peace tried to keep a tremor of self-pity out of his voice.
“You see, I’ve lost my memory.”
“A likely story!”
“More likely you’re a spy, trying to steal my ideas. You know who I am, don’t you? Professor Armand Legge, the inventor.”
“How can I know who you are if I don’t even know who I am?”Peace said with some asperity.
“I tell you, I’ve no memory of my past life.”
Legge stared at him for a moment, and gradually the look of hostility on his face was replaced by one of intemperate delight. “I know what to do,” he said, beaming. “Why didn’t I think of it before? I’ll put you into my truth machine. This is an ideal chance to try it out.”
“Truth machine? Try it out?” Peace stared back at Legge with a slow-dawning fear that he had strayed into the clutches of a mad scientist. Legge looked like a jovial monk, with his tomato cheeks and fringe of saffron hair, but appearances could be deceptive, and for all Peace knew his captor was a maniacal experimenter who took out people’s brains and popped them into jars of formaldehyde as casually as a farmer’s wife pickling onions. His curious speech defect, which made him sound like a robot whose voice mechanism was slipping a cog, could very well be an indication that he was totally inhuman.
“You can’t put me into any machine,” Peace answered firmly. “There’s a law against that sort of thing.”
“But who’s going to find out?”
“The Oscars will…” Peace lapsed into silence, realizing the futility of threatening Legge with the attentions of creatures who would not come into existence for almost a century.
“Don’t worry—it will be quite painless. Just take off your clothes and sit down over there.”
Legge used his revolver to point into a corner of the room at a machine which Peace had not previously noticed, but which bore a disquieting resemblance to an electric chair.
Prodded by the gun muzzle, he stripped off the remnants of his clothes, sat down on the wooden seat and allowed his forearms and ankles to be encircled by heavy straps. Legge then produced a chromium helmet which was connected by wires to a small console, and placed it on Peace’s head. Whistling cheerfully, he opened a drawer in a workbench and took out a lacy pink brassiere, the lefthand cup of which had been filled with miniature electronic components. He fastened the brassiere around Peace’s chest and spent some time carefully positioning the equipment it contained. Peace’s apprehension increased as Legge set up around the chair a portable framework to which were attached six small gas cylinders whose nozzles were pointed straight at him, and which could be operated by a single lever.
“Let me go,” Peace pleaded, abandoning his pride. “I’ll never trouble you again if you let me go.”
“My dear boy, this is no trouble. In fact, I’m quite enjoying myself.”
“I’m not,” Peace said.
“Hardly the point, is it? Anybody who sneaks into a research laboratory deserves all that’s coming to him.”
“But I thought this was a raincoat factory. It says so outside.”
“Everybody knows I bought this place when Acme folded up a couple of years ago, so I’m not much impressed by that excuse.” A fanatical gleam had appeared in Legge’s eyes as he made some final adjustments to his equipment. “Enough of this shilly-shallying! It’s time to prove that the Legge truth machine is another invention worthy to take its place alongside the Legge mem…” The little man broke off and clapped a hand over his mouth as though he had almost committed a serious indiscretion.
“What were you going to say?” Peace said, his interest aroused.
“Nothing. Nothing at all all.” Legge hurriedly threw some switches on his console and gripped the lever which controlled the six gas cylinders. “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…”
“What are you going to do to me?” Peace said nervously.
“The first step is to override your psychogalvanic reflexes,” Legge replied. “Five, four, three, two, one one.” He pulled the level down hard and there was a loud hissing noise as the cylinders discharged their contents in Peace’s direction.
“Not the gas! I can’t stand gas!” Peace struggled with his bonds as clouds of grey vapor enveloped him, then he paused, incredulously sniff-ing the powerful aroma of cheap scent.
“Hey, this smells like Rambling Rose Country Fresh Deodorant.”
“That’s what it is,” Legge said. “I’m sorry about the smell—but there was a special offer on the stuff at the supermarket round the corner. Treble stamps, too.”
“But…” Peace gave a shaky laugh. “Why a deodorant?”
“That part’s incidental—I’m only interested in the anti-perspirant effect.”
“I don’t get you.”
“To override your psychogalvanic reflexes, dummy. You know the principal of the conventional lie detector, don’t you? It works because when the subject tells a lie he experiences an emotional stress which makes him sweat—thereby increasing the electrical conductivity of his skin. The same stress speeds up his heart and changes his brain rhythms. A polygraph is able to detect all those things and indicate when the subject is lying, but that’s only one half of the job. I mean, detecting a lie isn’t as good as being told the truth, is it?”
“I’m not sure,” Peace said.
“Of course it isn’t! So what I’ve done is to put the lie detector system into reverse. Right now it’s impossible for you to sweat, because your pores are full of anti-perspirant; your heart can’t speed up because there’s a super-pacemaker strapped over it; and that helmet you’re wearing is forcing all the EEG patterns of your brain to remain normal.
“So, when I ask you a question, you—denied all the ancient psychological accompaniments to a lie—will only be able to respond with the truth. Ingenious and subtle, isn’t it?”
Peace was unimpressed. “What happens if I refuse to say anything at all?”
Legge picked up his gun. “In that case—I shoot you.”
“That’s very ingenious and subtle,” Peace said drily. “I hope you realize this is a complete waste of time—I’ve no reason to hide the truth.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“How can I when I’m in your truth machine?”
“I forgot forgot.” Legge looked flustered at being caught out. “You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you, Norman?”
“No, I don’t think I’m…” Peace gave the other man a penetrating stare. “Why did you call me Norman?”
“Um … I thought you said your name was Norman.”
“I’m supposed to be a complete stranger to you. You’re supposed to believe I’m a thief or a spy— and yet you want to be on first name terms with me. That doesn’t make much sense, Professor. Come on—admit you’ve met me before. Admit you know who I am. Admit that you…” Peace stopped himself in full spate, partly because he had leaned forward, determined to achieve a logical victory, and a jet of deodorant had gone straight up his nose, causing him to sneeze and somewhat diminishing the effect of his oratory; partly because he had just remembered he was now in an era in which, strictly speaking, he had not even been born. It was difficult to see how Legge could have known him previously, and yet…
“What’s the matter, egghead?” Legge jibed. “Tripped over your own terminology, have you you?”
“Why did you call me egghead?” Peace said, still tantalized by the faint hope that he might be close to the solution of all his problems. It occurred to him that he should aim to get free and, assuming the contraption worked, strap the professor into his own truth machine. He decided, as a matter of policy, to start ingratiating himself with his captor.
“I don’t like eggheads,” Legge went on. “Just because somebody goes on to university for a few years and picks up a few degrees he thinks he knows more than a plain man who left school when he was fifteen.”
“Ridiculous notion,” Peace said.
“Let me tell you, I’m as good a scientist and inventor as anybody. You know, it wasn’t a high IQ and fancy education that made Einstein a great scientist. It was his simple and childlike approach to problems—and my approach is probably even simpler and more childlike than his was.”
“I’ve no doubt it is.”
“Thank you.” Legge looked mollified, then the stern expression returned to his face as he remembered the serious nature of the business in hand. “On with the interrogation—what’s all this about you having lost your memory?”
“It’s true, Professor. I don’t know who I am. As far as I’m concerned, life began about a month ago.”
“Mmmmmph.” Legge glanced at his console and nodded. “I thought that sort of thing only happened in movies. Any idea what made you lose your memory?”
“Yes. I joined the Space Legion to forget something, and they wiped out my whole past life.”
“The Legion!” Legge became animated. “I see! I see! They’ve only been doing engram erasure for a year or so. Probably bungled your case.”
Peace shook his head. “I joined in 2386—and by that time they’d had nearly a century of experience with the equipment.”
“But that’s … um … ninety-four years in the future!” Legge cast an inadvertent glance towards the landing where the toilet was situated. “Did you…?”
“Yes. I was being chased, and I ran into this building—I don’t know why—and hid in the toilet. Next thing I knew I was here in 2292, and you were pointing a gun at me.”
“It has happened again,” Legge said in a doleful voice. “Old Smirkoff has a lot to answer for.”
Peace frowned his puzzlement. “Who’s Smirkoff?”
“Dimitri Smirkoff—the meanest man on Aspatria.” Legge began switching off his machine, apparently satisfied with Peace’s credentials. “He built an illegal time machine and hid it in the toilet. The cage is concealed in the walls walls.”
Peace’s bafflement increased. “But why would anybody do a nutty thing like that?”
“Smirkoff owned the raincoat factory, you see. It churned him up that he had to pay the girls for the time they spent in the toilet, so one Christmas when he had the place to himself he came in here with a time machine kit, built it round the toilet and replastered the walls so nobody would notice. I’m told he even tried to cut the girls’ production bonus to pay for the redecorating. Talk about mean!”
“But what was the idea?”
“Well, the machine was an extroverter—the sort that only Government agencies are allowed to operate. Smirkoffs idea was to set it up so that no matter how long anybody spent in the toilet— reading, smoking, talking—when they came out only one second of external time would have elapsed elapsed.”
“Good grief!” Peace was astounded by the misguided ingenuity. “Still… it must have improved his output figures.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, my friend. The moron — not having any scientific understanding—set the machine up all wrong. It became unstable, erratic, and girls started disappearing. The place got the reputation of being haunted, nobody would work here any more, and Smirkoff went out of business. That’s how I was able to buy the building for my research work.”
“Can’t you deactivate the machine? Turn it off?”
“Are you kidding?” Legge began unfastening the straps around Peace’s ankles. “To get at the master control I’d have to go inside, and there’s no way I’m going to risk being a castaway in another century. I’m not mad, you know know.”
“Shouldn’t you at least nail the door shut?”
“That wouldn’t prevent people materializing in there from another time and maybe starving to death.” Legge’s rubicund features wrinkled in distaste. “How’d you like to work beside a closet full of dead bodies?”
“Not much,” Peace admitted, looking all around him with growing interest now that the immediate threat to his well-being had receded. The laboratory, although badly disorganized, contained a great deal of expensive equipment, and it occurred to him that any inventor or private researcher who could afford to buy an entire factory building for his work had to be a very successful man. It was difficult to reconcile that conclusion with the general demeanor of Legge himself, who seemed as mad as a hatter, but perhaps the man could be crazy and brilliant at the same time. Peace flexed his fingers gratefully and stood up as the straps fell away from his forearms.
“This is quite a place,” he said. “What sort of work do you do?”
Legge stepped back from the chair and picked up his gun. “Do you think I’d be mad enough to tell you?”
“But I thought we’d established that I’m not a spy.”
“Is that any reason for me to tell you the things a spy would want to find out?”
“I guess not.” Not wanting the little man to become any more nervous and twitchy while he had a gun in his hand, Peace decided to steer the conversation on to neutral ground. He unfastened the pink brassiere from around his chest, held it up and whistled in mock admiration.
“With a bit more work,” he said, “you’ll be able to get the whole machine into this thing.”
“You filthy over-sexed swine!” Legge cried, his face changing from red to a dangerous puce.
“How dare you insult my daughter!”
“Professor, I didn’t know…”