by Dan Swanson
Todd Drake got back to his dorm room very late, but he couldn’t sleep. In spite of Jim Barr’s assurances, he couldn’t be sure Tomas Thomas would live until he actually saw him. Since he couldn’t sleep, he tried to get some work done instead. What had caused the massive burst of gamma rays the damaged projector had emitted? Since it had happened, it must be possible. But the schematics weren’t helpful; there had to have been massive voltage surges in certain places, but the big capacitor was located too far away on the schematic, and there seemed to be no way to get the charge from one place to the other.
So he moved on to the details of the construction. They had built the device of independent modules and interconnected the modules with a single connection strip. That had to be it. Several locations, though widely separated on the schematic, used adjacent terminals on the connection strip. The bullet must have actually struck that strip and somehow bridged those various circuits in the exact order necessary.
As Todd considered this, he slowly realized that, in fact, this accident had solved the very problem that he and Tomas had been wrestling with earlier. If he could find some way to reliably duplicate the momentary circuit connections the bullet must have created, their device would be operational.
He studied the problem for close to an hour, but no solution presented itself. Vacuum tubes could not be turned on and off quickly enough, and it would be virtually impossible to get three relays to work in such perfect synchronization. Those new transistor devices were the closest thing to an answer, but they couldn’t control that much current without burning up. He was getting too tired to concentrate, but he had made some notes, and he could investigate this more fully at some later time.
Todd was still unable to sleep, but he was able to doze off a bit. His thoughts drifted back to how unlikely this accident had been, and he drowsily realized that there had been a number of other unlikely events leading up to the accident. The publicity the boxing match had received, turning it into the largest Univerity of Chicago sporting event in years; the student sports-writer using Tomas’ hated nickname; Tomas almost losing the boxing match; the gangsters managing to sneak into their lab without being caught, and Todd not having used his dose of the anti-crime drug, even after he had lugged it around for years.
If any one of these unlikely events had not happened, either Tomas wouldn’t have been dosed by the radiation or he wouldn’t have been saved by taking the wonder drug. In his half-asleep state, Todd considered ideas he would have instantly dismissed if he had been wide awake. Could there have been some mystical force guiding him and Tomas to their current states?
Todd’s training in physics, chemistry, and engineering generally meant that he didn’t consider the mystical side of life, but he had ample proof that beings with mystical powers occasionally interfered with human destinies. Look at Ibis the Invincible and Captain Marvel, for example — ordinary humans given great powers by the magic of Shazam, though thousands of years apart. Could there be some similar power guiding his and Tomas’ lives?
Had it just been an unlikely accident? Maybe Sue Barr’s intuition would have something to say on this topic, or maybe, if he ever saw Shazam again, he could ask him. His thoughts continued to drift, and he was finally on the verge of true sleep when the phone rang.
For a split second, as he was jolted back to full wakefulness, Todd was annoyed. Who the heck would be calling him at this hour? Then he realized that, given Tomas’ condition, there could be any number of people calling him. Was this the hospital with the worst news possible? He was suddenly trembling; it was a result of his emotional and physical exhaustion, combined with his worst fears. He forced his rebellious hand to pick up the phone. “Hello? This is Todd.”
“Todd, it’s me, Tomas! Greatest stuff in the world, what you gave me! I’m better — I feel great, and all the sores are healed. But this stuff is really messing with my mind!” His voice suddenly lowered, and Todd could hear him muttering to himself. Suddenly, he was talking to Todd again. “I can hardly think, Todd. You gotta come over and get me out of here! They’ll think I’m crazy and lock me up!”
“Geez, Tomas, it is awfully good to hear your voice. I’m glad the potion helped. But visiting hours don’t start for several hours.”
“So land on the fire escape! You can fly, Mr. Red Rocket! Todd, it’s urgent! I need your help right now!“
“On my way,” Todd said, hanging up the phone. Within seconds, he had on his new gravity helmet and was rocketing out the window. It only took him a few minutes to get to the hospital. Finding the right room from outside was another challenge, but Tomas was watching for him with his window open and the room light on.
Todd was delighted to see his friend looking so well, after being so close to death only hours before. He embraced his friend, then stood back and shook his hand as well.
“Todd, am I glad to see you! Something has happened to my memory, and it’s overwhelming me! Everything I ever seen, heard, read, or thought is filling my head, and I’m losing the present!” Tomas appeared to have just reached a limit of some kind, and he just sort of ran down, then stopped talking. He stood, swaying gently with his eyes closed, sometimes muttering, sometimes moaning, apparently lost in his memories.
Todd thought quickly. Jim’s logic and reasoning abilities had been enhanced by the anti-crime drug, as had Sue’s intuition. It seemed as if perhaps Tomas’ memory had been enhanced in a similar fashion. Imagine what it would be like if, suddenly, all the memories you had filed away, all the things you had forgotten, all the things you had thrust from your mind and never thought about any longer — all were suddenly recalled, as vividly as the day they had happened. Tomas must be lost in the past; Todd had to give him an anchor in the present.
Pushing Tomas down into a sitting position on the bed, Todd sat down next to him. Not wanting to alert the entire hospital as to what was going on, he leaned close to Tomas’ ear and spoke. “Tomas, I’m the real Todd, and I’m in the real present. Tomas, focus on my voice, and let me lead you out of the past. Tomas, listen to me — you are lost in your memories, and only by listening to me will you find reality again.” He continued to repeat the same themes over and over again.
Tomas suddenly snapped to attention and looked around him. “Todd, is this real? I can’t tell anymore! Keep talking to me — don’t stop!” Again, he stopped talking. This was hopeful, and Todd kept up his conversation. He kept repeating that he was real, this was the present, and the rest were only memories. He had an insight, and he started to add comments about what Tomas had to do to save himself.
“Tomas, you have to relearn how to put your memories away and ignore them unless you want them. You’ve always had a superb memory, so you must know, somewhere in your mind, how to do this. You just have to put these memories away again. I’m the real Todd, and this is the real present.”
Todd repeated these things over and over. Tomas kept snapping back into the present, and he and Todd would talk sensibly, and then he would fall back into his trance-like condition. The moments of reality came more often, and closer together, and about an hour after he had arrived, Todd thought that Tomas might at least now be out of danger.
He sill lapsed into dazes as they talked, but shaking his shoulders and speaking to him seemed to reach him quickly and draw him back from whatever lost land of memory his mind was roaming. He was relearning how to recognize the present and differentiate it from his memories, and he was growing less overwhelmed by the gigantic store of readily accessible information that was now available to him.
Finally, he turned to Todd. “I’m absolutely exhausted! I don’t think I’ve ever done anything harder. I thought I was lost in my own mind forever, and everywhere I turned, all I could find were more memories! Some of my memories aren’t so good, either! You know, I had a photographic memory when I was younger, and it caused me so much trouble that I deliberately forced myself to be able to forget things. It’s a good thing I had that practice, because that’s what I had to do all over again. Remember how to forget! And, all the time, I could hear you talking to me from the present, and every once in a while I found the strength to follow your voice and escape!”
“For a guy who looks so good, you sure look awful!” Todd quipped. Compared to last night, Tomas looked great. But there were heavy rings under his eyes, he was sweating, and he was still wrapped in bandages dotted with blood spots.
Tomas ruefully looked at his image in the mirror. “You got that right! Say, did you bring any of my clothes with you? I really want to get out of here!”
“Don’t you think you ought to see a doctor first?” Todd asked.
“I don’t know — what if they don’t want to let me go?” Tomas was reluctant.
“How can they keep you here, if you don’t want to be here?” Todd wondered.
“Boy, for a smart guy, you sure ask some dumb questions!” Tomas responded sharply. “I would have thought one of the first things you learned in super-hero school was how the real world works!”
“Tomas, you’re not a realist, you’re a cynic! Besides, all the super-heroes I know are idealists.” Todd was thinking about the Marvel Family, the Bullets, and Minute Man in particular. “I have always tried to exist somewhere between idealism and cynicism. Why wouldn’t they just let you go?”
“Yesterday they diagnosed me as being terminally ill of radiation poisoning,” replied Tomas. “If they pronounce me healthy right now, what will it do to the credibility of the hospital? How will it affect the credibility of the U.C. Medical School, and of U.C. itself? And that’s just for starters.
“Those doctors who correctly diagnosed me are going to want to investigate and find out why I got better, and see if there is any way they can duplicate the process with other radiation victims! They’ll want to run hundreds of tests on me — up to and probably including vivisection!
“And if I tell them I got a wonder drug from you, no doubt you’ll be arrested for practicing medicine illegally, and they’ll try to make you tell them more about the drug. And if you tell them you got it from Bulletman, people are going to be upset that he created a drug that is so effective, then kept it for himself. Side-effects be damned, there are millions of people who would give up everything they had for a single dose of the stuff. They aren’t going to just forget it when they find out!”
Todd nodded his head slowly. “I guess that’s what Bulletman was hinting at earlier, when we were talking about consequences. We spent all evening talking about how to tell your parents, but I never thought beyond that.”
Tomas was immediately interested. “My parents? Why are you going to have to tell them anything?”
“Well, the university notified them when you ended up in the infirmary, and they caught the next plane out of Bora Bora, or wherever it is that they were assigned. I’m supposed to meet them at O’Hare later today, about 3:30. They’ve been told there is only a fifty-fifty chance that you’ll be alive by the time they get here, and that your chances of living out the next few days are nonexistent. I’ve been spending most of the night thinking about how to break the good news to them.
“Anyway, I’m going to go get the on-call doctor and have him release you. Then we’ll get some sleep, and then we’ll figure out how to deal with your parents.” Todd was relieved that he would have Tomas with him — he had never met Tomas’ parents, and Tomas’ presence at the airport would be far better than trying to explain things to them himself.
“Hold on, boy! You ain’t heard a word I said. He won’t let me out; he’ll lock me up under the tightest security they have here!” Todd had a stubborn look on his face; Tomas could see he wasn’t going to listen to reason. “OK, let’s do it this way. Find us some of those white doctor’s outfits, and you and I will go find him. We’ll carry my paperwork with us, and get him to sign it, and then just walk out the door. OK?”
Todd smiled. He was sure it wouldn’t be necessary, but he wanted to humor his friend, who had just come through some incredibly rough times. Tomas lay back down in the bed to rest, while Todd sneaked through the corridors, looking for a changing room. He was back in a few minutes with two sets of white hospital doctor’s attire. The two put on the outfits, and Todd put his clothes into a laundry bag, which he brought with them. Tomas gathered up his bed sheets, bandages, and everything else he had touched and stuffed them into another bag and used a marking pen to write the word radioactive on the bag. The secondary radiation from his body had probably not been dangerous to anyone, but there was no use taking chances.
They walked to the nursing station, and Tomas addressed the nurse on duty. “Good evening, Nurse Williams. I’m Dr. Amato, one of the new staff doctors. It’s my first night shift. I’m looking for Dr. Van de Carr; do you know where he might be at the moment?”
Nurse Williams hadn’t been expecting a new doctor on the night shift — they usually mentioned things like that in the weekly staff meeting, but she hadn’t really paid much attention at the last one. The doctor did look familiar; she was sure she had seen him before, or at least a picture of him. “He’s on his rounds, Dr. Amato. Right now he’s probably over in 4B, that way.” She pointed helpfully.
“Thanks for your help, nurse. I already like working here!” He smiled, and he and his intern walked away, toward 4B.
They eventually found Dr. Van de Carr making rounds. Neither man knew him, but he was wearing an I.D. badge. Tomas walked up to him and said, “Dr. Van de Carr, I need your opinion on the Tomas Thomas case, if you don’t mind. I’m a radiation specialist, and I just arrived from New Mexico. Do you have a minute?” Van de Carr nodded, but Tomas had already walked into an empty room. Van de Carr followed him in.
When Dr. Van de Carr was in the room, Tomas turned and handed him the clipboard he was carrying. “I’m sorry I misled you, doctor. Actually, I am Tomas Thomas, and I’d like you to sign the release form so I can go home.”
Van de Carr looked shocked and then angry. “I don’t think this is at all funny! I just saw Thomas about four hours ago, and he’ll be lucky to live through the end of tomorrow. I don’t know who you are or what you are trying to do, but you had better be out of here before security gets here!” He moved toward the phone in the room, but Tomas stepped in front of him.
“Dr. Van de Carr, I’m not joking. Check my picture.” He handed the doctor the clipboard, which had his name and picture on it, a copy of his student photo I.D. Van de Carr compared the photo with Tomas’ face. His anger slowly changed to puzzlement. As he continued to start at Tomas’ face, he mentally updated his memory of Tomas, removing the sores and bandages, and he realized that he was really talking with the terminally ill man he had checked up on only hours ago.
“This is impossible! You can’t be well.”
“Why not, Doctor? Isn’t that what hospitals are for?”
“Well, yes, but there was nothing we could do for you except make you as comfortable as possible. You can’t possibly be healthy! It must be some kind of hoax or trick!”
“Dr. Van de Carr, I guarantee you this is neither a hoax nor a trick. A miracle has occurred, and I am totally healed, and I want to go home. I’d like you to sign the paperwork, but if you don’t, I’m just going to walk out anyway.”
“But you can’t! We need to study you and find out what happened!”
“Told you, Doc, it’s a one-of-a-kind miracle. Studying me won’t do you any good; all you’ll find out is that I’m healthy! Besides, I don’t feel like being studied. Now, sign my papers, and I’m gone.”
Van de Carr started to protest again, but then he changed his mind. He took the clipboard and signed a form approving the discharge. Tomas took his copy, laid the clipboard down on the bed, and headed toward the elevator.
As soon as he judged Tomas was too far away to hear him, the doctor picked up the phone and connected to the hospital operator. “Jill, please connect me with security! We have a sick patient wandering around the halls!” Todd stepped into the room and quickly pulled the phone cord from the wall. “I’m more than a little disappointed in you, Doc! You just lost me five dollars. I thought this was a hospital, not a prison!”
Todd hurried out of the room and caught up with Tomas. Tomas had already known what was going to happen, so he had called all three elevators, and he blocked them open. He and Todd hurried to a window and climbed out. Todd put on the gravity helmet, Tomas grabbed him around the waist, and they were gone. The next stop was their dorm.