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Consciousness reintegrated slowly out of fragments, like the threads of a frayed rope coming together. Sarda felt dizzy and disoriented in the darknessthe nauseous sensation of spinning in a void with no reference point. It passed quickly. Thoughts meshed raggedly and began running again. Physically, he seemed to be intact and functioning. He registered the thumping of his heartbeats, chest panting, skin wet and clammy. His body was ridding itself of excess heat, not working to build up heat from cold. So the crucial experiment had worked perfectly. . . .
Except that he was the wrong one!
His mind recoiled in protest as images returned of the resigned look on Elaine's face when he last saw her, and Balmer reassuring them that everything would be fine.
They were going to rob him, sell out his workand that would be fine?
Rage and panic overcame him. He tried to struggle, but it was useless against the restraints protecting the equipment inside the reconstitution chamber. Light came on, revealing the planes of densely packed condenser arrays and indexing heads positioned all around and above him like slabs of venetian blind woven with multicolored wires and tubing. The panels in front retracted back from their operating positions to clear the access door, the inside of which carried its own growth of wires and mechanisms, along with a number of technical labels and warning signs. Included among them was a curiously vivid graphic design in the form of a purple disk inside a silver outer ring, containing a spiral pattern of red, yellow, and aquamarine. It seemed to grow in Sarda's vision, drawing his attention like field lines to a charge. In seconds his agitation subsided. He forgot all of his outrages. Latches released in a series of clacks, and the door opened.
Stewart Perrel, chief physician on the TX Project, leaned into the chamber, his face anxious. A light shone into Sarda's eyes, while a hand lifted his chin, and fingers felt for a pulse at his neck. "It's okay, Stew. You don't need to bother," Sarda said. "I feel fine."
"He's okay!" Perrel threw over his shoulder to others behind. "It worked fine! Leo's okay!"
Whoops of relief and delight greeted the words. Perrel unfastened the restraints and then draped a surgical gown over Sarda's head, helping him work it down to cover his body in the cramped space of the chamber. The mixed company of project crew and technicians waiting outside crowded forward to press him with backslaps and handshakes as Sarda emerged into the clutter of the R-Lab. After the sweltering confines of the machine, he felt as if he were coming out of a sauna into clean, snowy air.
The expressions of the two men watching from farther back with the small group of specially invited visitors were more restrained, but their eyes had a jubilant look. Their loose, dark jackets, worn tieless with polo-neck shirts, were the closest to business dress likely to be found on Mars, even in Lowell City, generally considered to be the main metropolis. The broad, balding form of Herbert Morch, Quantonix's managing director and technical head of the TX Project, moved forward to grip Sarda by both shoulders as he approached, his fleshy face breaking into a smile. "Leo, today we've made history!" he exulted. "No, you've made history! You took the risk. It succeeded. . . ." He shook his head, momentarily unable to find further words.
Beside him, his brother Max, lean and gaunt-faced, cofounder and financial vice president, reached out to add his own bony handshake to those Sarda had already collected. "You'd better get used to the idea of being a celebrity before much longer, Leo," he said. "Quantonix is going to change the world."
"The world?" Herbert turned his head quizzically, looking at him with mild reproach. "Think big, Max, think big. That's what this has been all about, hasn't it? We're going to reshape the Solar System!"
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