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Page:Weird Tales volume 30 number 01.djvu/23

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21
JAIL-BREAK

"I don't think—I know."

"I'll take a chance. And you can find out from my reaction whether you could try it yourself."

"I have tried it—enough to get a hint of the aftermath. Just a little as an experiment. I tell you, prison is better."

"Let me judge that for myself."

"By God—it would serve you right——"

It had worked, slowly but certainly. Harley had come around, not, Littell knew well enough, because he was willing to help him, but because the brilliant doctor saw a way of revenge.

Harley had told him. And the thing he told had made Littell question his sanity, at first.

"You know what a chameleon is, scum?"

"Sure. A little lizard that changes color to match whatever it's resting on."

"Aren't you the cunning rat! Yes. A lizard of the genus Chamcæleo. I worked with 'em in the Government lab. I isolated the hormone which causes their pigmentation to change color. I went further. Just before you forced me into the sweet-smelling scheme which deservedly sent us here, I reproduced this hormone synthetically, with common chemicals."

"Well?" Littell had said, frowning perplexedly.

"Well, rat. A chameleon could crawl out of here pretty easily, couldn't it? If it took on the color of these stone walls, a guard wouldn't see it crawling up one of them, would he?"

The thing was so fantastic that it had taken a little while for Littell to grasp it. But long before the next yard period, he was burning and shivering to talk to Harley again.

"You mean you've got some stuff that will make you invisible if you take it? So you can walk out of here?"

"Not invisible, scum. The color of whatever background you have, that's all. And it's not too perfect."

"What is it? A sort of drug you swallow that gives you chameleon qualities?"

Harley had nodded, eyes savage, bitterly undecided.

"But my God, Harley, that's tremendous! Why don't you use it?"

No answer.

"Those mysterious consequences of yours?"

A slow nod.

"The hormones are odd things, Littell. We have isolated many of them, and some we can reproduce. But they're of the stuff of life, and still essentially unknown. This particular one does something to you besides making your skin pigmentation change to match your background. Some terrible freedom of the mind, perhaps. Some sixth sense which opens up—and which should for ever remain a blind spot."

"I don't understand."

"Neither do I, rat. But there you are."

"What does it do besides changing pigmentation?

"You see things." The icy gray eyes were staring at Littell's face—but obviously not observing it.


That was all Littell could get out of him. You saw things. It was a way out of prison. But its aftermath was supposed to be horrible.

Littell went to the prison library and read all he could find on chameleons, particularly Chamæleo vulgaris. The faculty that lizard possesses of changing color, he was informed, was due to the presence of contractile, pigment-bearing cells placed at varying depths in the skin.

Hell, the human body didn't have contractile cells. Or—did it? Pigment-bearing, yes. He knew that. But were they contractile, whatever that meant? Was