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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSupermind - Chapter 4
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Supermind - Chapter 4 Post by :PlayersGolf Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :2598

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Supermind - Chapter 4

He walked over to the wall control and shut off the air-conditioning in a hurry. He threw open a window and breathed great gulps of the hot, humid air from the streets. In a small corner at the back of his mind, he wondered why he was grateful for the air he had suffered under only a few minutes before. But that, he reflected, was life. And a very silly kind of life, too, he told himself without rancor.

In a few minutes he left the window, somewhat restored, and headed for the shower. When it was running nicely and he was under it, he started to sing. But his voice didn't sound as much like the voice of Lauritz Melchior as it usually did, not even when he made a brave, if foolhardy stab at the Melchior accent. Slowly, he began to realize that he was bothered.

He climbed out of the shower and started drying himself. Up to now, he thought, he had depended on Dr. Thomas O'Connor for edifying, trustworthy and reasonably complete information about psionics and _psi phenomena in general. He had looked on O'Connor as a sort of living version of an extremely good edition of the Britannica, always available for reference.

And now O'Connor had failed him. That, Malone thought, was hardly fair. O'Connor had no business failing him, particularly when there was no place else to go.

The scientist had been right, of course, Malone knew. There was no other scientist who knew as much about psionics as O'Connor, and if O'Connor said there were no books, then that was that: there were no books.

He reached for a drawer in his dresser, opened it and pulled out some underclothes, humming tunelessly under his breath as he dressed. If there was no one to ask, he thought, and if there were no books...

He stopped with a sock in his hand, and stared at it in wonder. O'Connor hadn't said there were no books. As a matter of fact, Malone realized, he'd said exactly the opposite.

There were books. But they were "crackpot" books. O'Connor had never read them. He had, he said, probably never even heard of many of them.

"Crackpot" was a fighting word to O'Connor. But to Malone it had all the sweetness of flattery. After all, he'd found telepaths in insane asylums, and teleports among the juvenile delinquents of New York. "Crackpot" was a word that was rapidly ceasing to have any meaning at all in Malone's mind.

He realized that he was still staring at the sock, which was black with a pink clock. Hurriedly, he put it on, and finished dressing. He reached for the phone and made a few fast calls, and then teleported himself to his locked office in FBI Headquarters, on East 69th Street in New York. He let himself out, and strolled down the corridor. The agent-in-charge looked up from his desk as Malone passed, blinked, and said, "Hello, Malone. What's up now?"

"I'm going prowling," Malone said. "But there won't be any work for you, as far as I can see."

"Oh?"

"Just relax," Malone said. "Breathe easy."

"I'll try to," the agent-in-charge said, a little sadly. "But every time you show up, I think about that wave of red Cadillacs you started. I'll never feel really secure again."

"Relax," Malone said. "Next time it won't be Cadillacs. But it might be spirits, blowing on ear-trumpets. Or whatever it is they do."

"Spirits, Malone?" the agent-in-charge said.

"No, thanks," Malone said sternly. "I never drink on duty." He gave the agent a cheery wave of his hand and went on out to the street.

The Psychical Research Society had offices in the Ravell Building, a large structure composed mostly of plate glass and anodized aluminum that looked just a little like a bright blue transparent crackerbox that had been stood on end for purposes unknown. Having walked all the way down to this box on 56th Street, Malone had recovered his former sensitivity range to temperature and felt pathetically grateful for the coolish sea breeze that made New York somewhat less of an unbearable Summer Festival than was normal.

The lobby of the building was glittering and polished, as if human beings could not possibly exist in it. Malone took an elevator to the sixth floor, stepped out into a small, equally polished hall, and hurriedly looked off to his right. A small door stood there, with a legend engraved in elegantly small letters. It said:


The Psychical Research Society
Push


Malone obeyed instructions. The door swung noiselessly open, and then closed behind him.

He was in a large square-looking room which had a couch and chair set at one corner, and a desk at the far end. Behind the desk was a brass plate, on which was engraved:


The Psychical Research Society
Main Offices


To Malone's left was a hall that angled off into invisibility, and to the left of the desk was another one, going straight back past doors and two radiators until it ran into a right-angled turn and also disappeared.

Malone took in the details of his surroundings almost automatically, filing them in his memory just in case he ever needed to use them.

One detail, however, required more than automatic attention. Sitting behind the desk, her head just below the brass plaque, was a redhead. She was, Malone thought, positively beautiful. Of course, he could not see the lower two-thirds of her body, but if they were half as interesting as the upper third and the face and head, he was willing to spend days, weeks or even months on their investigation. Some jobs, he told himself, feeling a strong sense of duty, were definitely worth taking time over.

She was turned slightly away from Malone, and had obviously not heard him come in. Malone wondered how best to announce himself, and regretfully gave up the idea of tiptoeing up to the girl, placing his hands over her eyes, kissing the back of her neck and crying: "Surprise!" It was elegant, he felt, but it just wasn't _right_.

He compromised at last on the old established method of throat-clearing to attract her attention. He was sure he could take it from there, to an eminently satisfying conclusion.

He tiptoed on the deep-pile rug right up to her desk. He took a deep breath.

And the expected happened.

He sneezed.

The sneeze was loud and long, and it echoed through the room and throughout the corridors. It sounded to Malone like the blast of a small bomb, or possibly a grenade. Startled himself by the volume of sound he had managed to generate, he jumped back.

The girl had jumped, too, but her leap had been straight upward, about an inch and a half. She came down on her chair and reached up a hand. The hand wiped the back of her neck with a slow, lingering motion of complete loathing. Then, equally slowly, she turned.

"That," she said in a low, sweet voice, "was a hell of a dirty trick."

"It was an accident," Malone said. "The Will of God."

"God has an exceedingly nasty mind," the girl said. "Something, by the way, which I have often suspected." She regarded Malone darkly. "Do you always do that to strangers? Is it some new sort of perversion?"

"I have never done such a thing before," Malone said sternly.

"Oh," the girl said. "An experimenter. Avid for new sensations. Probably a jaded scion of a rich New York family." She paused. "Tell me," she said, "is it fun?"

Malone opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He shut it, thought for a second and then tried again. He got as far as: "I--" before Nemesis overtook him. The second sneeze was even louder and more powerful than the first had been.

"It must be fun," the girl said acidly, producing a handkerchief from somewhere and going to work on her face. "You just can't seem to wait to do it again. Would it do any good to tell you that the fascination with this form of greeting is not universal? Or don't you care?"

"Damn it," Malone said, goaded, "I've got a cold."

"And you feel you should share it with the world," the girl said. "I quite understand. Tell me, is there anything I can do for you? Or has your mission been accomplished?"

"My mission?" Malone said.

"Having sneezed twice at me," the girl said, "do you feel satisfied? Will you vanish softly and silently away? Or do you want to sneeze at somebody else?"

"I want the president of the Society," Malone said. "According to my information, his name is Sir Lewis Carter."

"And if you sneeze at him," the girl said, "yours is going to be mud. He isn't much on novelty."

"I--"

"Besides which," she said, "he's extremely busy. And I don't think he'll see you at all. Why don't you go and sneeze at somebody else? There must be lots of people who would consider themselves honored to be noticed, especially in such a startling way. Why don't you try and find one somewhere? Somewhere very far away."

Malone was beyond speech. He fumbled for his wallet, flipped it open and showed the girl his identification.

"My, my," she said. "And hasn't the FBI anything better to do? I mean, can't you go and sneeze at counterfeiters in their lairs, or wherever they might be?"

"I want to see Sir Lewis Carter," Malone said doggedly.

The girl shrugged and picked up the phone on the desk. It was a blank-vision device, of course; many office intercoms were. She dialed, waited and then said, "Sir Lewis, please." Another second went by. Then she spoke again. "Sir Lewis," she said, "this is Lou, at the front desk. There's a man here named Malone, who wants to see you."

She waited a second. "I don't know what he wants," she told the phone. "But he's from the FBI." A second's pause. "That's right, the FBI," she said. "All right, Sir Lewis. Right away." She hung up the phone and turned to watch Malone warily.

"Sir Lewis," she said, "will see you. I couldn't say why. But take the side corridor to the rear of the suite. His office has his name on it, and I won't tell you you can't miss it because I have every faith that you will. Good luck."

Malone blinked. "Look," he said. "I know I startled you, but I didn't mean to. I--" He started to sneeze, but this time he got his own handkerchief out in time and muffled the explosion slightly.

"Good work," the girl said approvingly. "Tell me, Mr. Malone, have you been toilet-trained, too?"

There was nothing at all to say to that remark, Malone reflected as he wended his way down the side corridor. It seemed endless, and kept branching off unexpectedly. Once he blundered into a large open room filled with people at desks. A woman who seemed to have a great many teeth and rather bulbous eyes looked up at him. "Can I help you?" she said in a fervent whine.

"I sincerely hope not," Malone said, backing away and managing to find the corridor once more. After what seemed like a long time, and two more sneezes, he found a small door which was labeled in capital letters:


THE PSYCHICAL RESEARCH SOCIETY
SIR LEWIS CARTER
PRESIDENT


Malone sighed. "Well," he muttered, "they certainly aren't hiding anything." He pushed at the door, and it swung open.

Sir Lewis was a tall, solidly-built man with a kindly expression. He wore grey flannel trousers and a brown tweed jacket, which made an interesting color contrast with his iron-grey hair. His teeth were clenched so firmly on the bit of a calabash pipe with a meerschaum bowl that Malone wondered if he could ever get loose. Malone shut the door behind him, and Sir Lewis rose and extended a hand.

Malone went to the desk and reached across to take the hand. It was firm and dry. "I'm Kenneth Malone," Malone said.

"Ah, yes," Sir Lewis said. "Pleased to meet you. Always happy, of course, to do whatever I can for your FBI. Not only a duty, so to speak, but a pleasure. Sit down. Please do sit down."

Malone found a chair at the side of the desk, and sank into it. It was soft and comfortable. It provided such a contrast to O'Connor's furnishings that Malone began to wish it was Sir Lewis who was employed at Yucca Flats. Then he could tell Sir Lewis everything about the case.

Now, of course, he could only hedge and try to make do without stating very many facts. "Sir Lewis," he said, "I trust you'll keep this conversation confidential."

"Naturally," Sir Lewis said. He removed the pipe, stared at it, and replaced it.

"I can't give you the full details," Malone went on, "but the FBI is presently engaged in an investigation which requires the specialized knowledge your organization seems to have."

"FBI?" Sir Lewis said. "Specialized investigation?" He seemed pleased, but a trifle puzzled. "Dear boy, anything we have is at your disposal, of course. But I quite fail to see how you can consider us--"

"It's rather an unusual problem," Malone said, feeling that that was the understatement of the year. "But I understand that your records go back nearly a century."

"Quite true," Sir Lewis murmured.

"During that time," Malone said, "the Society investigated a great many supposedly supernatural or supernormal incidents."

"Many of them," Sir Lewis said, "were discovered to be fraudulent, I'm afraid. The great majority, in fact."

"That's what I'd assume," Malone said. He fished in his pockets, found a cigarette and lit it. Sir Lewis went on chewing at his unlit pipe. "What we're interested in," Malone said, "is some description of the various methods by which these frauds were perpetrated."

"Ah," Sir Lewis said. "The tricks of the trade, so to speak?"

"Exactly," Malone said.

"Well, then," Sir Lewis said. "The luminous gauze, for instance, that passes for ectoplasm; the various methods of table-lifting; control of the Ouija board--things like that?"

"Not quite that elementary," Malone said. He puffed on the cigarette, wishing it was a cigar. "We're pretty much up to that kind of thing. But had it ever occurred to you that many of the methods used by phony mind-reading acts, for instance, might be used as communication methods by spies?"

"Why, I believe some have been," Sir Lewis said. "Though I don't know much about that, of course; there was a case during the First World War--"

"Exactly," Malone said. He took a deep breath. "It's things like that we're interested in," he said, and spent the next twenty minutes slowly approaching his subject. Sir Lewis, apparently fascinated, was perfectly willing to unbend in any direction, and jotted down notes on some of Malone's more interesting cases, murmuring: "Most unusual, most unusual," as he wrote.

The various types of phenomena that the Society had investigated came into the discussion, and Malone heard quite a lot about the Beyond, the Great Summerland, Spirit Mediums and the hypothetical existence of fairies, goblins and elves.

"But, Sir Lewis--" he said.

"I make no claims personally," Sir Lewis said. "But I understand that there is a large and somewhat vocal group which does make rather solid-sounding claims in that direction. They say that they have seen fairies, talked with goblins, danced with the elves."

"They must be very unusual people," Malone said, understating heavily.

"Oh," Sir Lewis said, without a trace of irony, "they certainly are."

Talk like this passed away nearly a half-hour, until Malone finally felt that it was the right time to introduce some of his real questions. "Tell me, Sir Lewis," he said. "Have you had many instances of a single man, or a small group of men, controlling the actions of a much larger group? And doing it in such a way that the larger group doesn't even know it is being manipulated?"

"Of course I have," Sir Lewis said. "And so have you. They call it advertising."

Malone flicked his cigarette into an ashtray. "I didn't mean exactly that," he said. "Suppose they're doing it in such a way that the larger group doesn't even suspect that manipulation is going on?"

Sir Lewis removed his pipe and frowned at it. "I may be able to give you a little information," he said slowly, "but not much."

"Ah?" Malone said, trying to sound only mildly interested.

"Outside of mob psychology," Sir Lewis said, "and all that sort of thing, I really haven't seen any record of a case of such a thing happening. And I can't quite imagine anyone faking it."

"But you have got some information?" Malone said.

"Certainly," Sir Lewis said. "There is always spirit control."

"Spirit control?" Malone blinked.

"Demoniac intervention," Sir Lewis said. "'My name is Legion,' you know."

Sir Lewis Legion, Malone thought confusedly, was a rather unusual name. He took a breath and caught hold of his revolving mind. "How would you go about that?" he said, a little hopelessly.

"I haven't the foggiest," Sir Lewis admitted cheerfully. "But I will have it looked up for you." He made a note. "Anything else?"

Malone tried to think. "Yes," he said at last. "Can you give me a condensed report on what is known--and I mean _known_--on telepathy and teleportation?"

"What you want," Sir Lewis said, "are those cases proven genuine, not the ones in which we have established fraud, or those still in doubt."

"Exactly," Malone said. If he got no other use out of the data, it would provide a measuring-stick for the Society. The general public didn't know that the Government was actually using psionic powers, and the Society's theories, checked against actual fact, would provide a rough index of reliability to use on the Society's other data.

But spirits, somehow, didn't seem very likely. Malone sighed and stood up.

"I'll have copies made of all the relevant material," Sir Lewis said, "from our library and research files. Where do you want the material sent? I do want to warn you of its bulk; there may be quite a lot of it."

"FBI Headquarters, on 69th Street," Malone said. "And send a statement of expenses along with it. As long as the bill's within reason, don't worry about itemizing; I'll see that it goes through Accounting myself."

Sir Lewis nodded. "Fine," he said. "And, if you should have any difficulties with the material, please let me know. I'll always be glad to help."

"Thanks for your co-operation," Malone said. He went to the door, and walked on out.

He blundered back into the same big room again, on his way through the corridors. The bulbous-eyed woman, who seemed to have inherited a full set of thirty-two teeth from each of her parents, gave him a friendly if somewhat crowded smile, but Malone pressed on without a word. After awhile, he found the reception room again.

The girl behind the desk looked up. "How did he react?" she said.

Malone blinked. "React?" he said.

"When you sneezed at him," she said. "Because I've been thinking it over, and I've got a new theory. You're doing a survey on how people act when encountering sneezes. Like Kinsey."

This girl--Lou something, Malone thought, and with difficulty refrained from adding "Gehrig"--had an unusual effect, he decided. He wondered if there were anyone in the world she couldn't reduce to paralyzed silence.

"Of course," she went on, "Kinsey was dealing with sex, and you aren't. At least, you aren't during business hours." She smiled politely at Malone.

"No," he said helplessly, "I'm not."

"It is sneezing, then," she said. "Will I be in the book when it's published?"

"Book?" Malone said, feeling more and more like a rather low-grade moron.

"The book on sneezing, when you get it published," she said. "I can see it now: _The Case of Miss X, a Receptionist_."

"There isn't going to be any book," Malone said.

She shook her head. "That's a shame," she said. "I've always wanted to be a Miss X. It sounds exciting."

"X," Malone said at random, "marks the spot."

"Why, that's the sweetest thing that's been said to me all day," the girl said. "I thought you could hardly talk, and here you come out with lovely things like that. But I'll bet you say it to all the girls."

"I have never said it to anybody before," Malone said flatly. "And I never will again."

The girl sighed. "I'll treasure it," she said. "My one great moment. Goodbye, Mr.--Malone, isn't it?"

"Ken," Malone said. "Just call me Ken."

"And I'm Lou," the girl said. "Goodbye."

An elevator arrived and Malone ducked into it. Louie? he thought. Louise? Luke? Of course, there was Sir Lewis Carter, who might be called Lou. Was he related to the girl?

No, Malone thought wildly. Relations went by last names. There was no reason for Lou to be related to Sir Lewis. They didn't even look alike. For instance, he had no desire whatever to make a date with Sir Lewis Carter, or to take him to a glittering nightclub, or to make him any whispered propositions. And the very idea of Sir Lewis Carter sitting on the Malone lap was enough to give him indigestion and spots before the eyes.

Sternly, he told himself to get back to business. The elevator stopped at the lobby and he got out and started down the street, feeling that consideration of the lady known as Lou was much more pleasant. After all, what did he have to work with, as far as his job was concerned?

So far, two experts had told him that his theory was full of lovely little holes. Worse than that, they had told him that mass control of human beings was impossible, as far as they knew.

And maybe it was impossible, he told himself sadly. Maybe he should just junk his whole theory and think up a new one. Maybe there was no psionics involved in the thing at all, and Boyd and O'Connor were right.

Of course, he had a deep-seated conviction that psionics was somewhere at the root of everything, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. A lot of people had deep-seated convictions that they were beetles, or that the world was flat And then again, murderers often suffered as a result of deep-seated convictions of one sort or another.

On the other hand, maybe he had invented a whole new psionic theory or, at least, observed some new psionic facts. Maybe they would call the results Malonizing, instead of O'Connorizing. He tried to picture a man opening a door and saying: "Come out quick, Mr. Frembits is Malonizing again."

It didn't sound very plausible. But, after all, he did have a deep-seated conviction. He tried to think of a shallow-seated conviction, and failed. Didn't convictions ever stand up, anyhow, or lie down?

He shook his head, discovered that he was on 69th Street, and headed for the FBI Headquarters. His convictions, he had found, were sometimes an expression of his precognitive powers; he determined to ride with them, at least for awhile.

By the time he came to the office of the agent-in-charge, he had figured out the beginnings of a new line of attack.

"How about the ghosts?" the agent-in-charge asked as he passed.

"They'll be along," Malone said. "In a big bundle, addressed to me personally. And don't open the bundle."

"Why not?" the agent-in-charge asked.

"Because I don't want the things to get loose and run around saying boo to everybody," Malone said brightly, and went on.

He opened the door of his private office, went inside and sat down at the desk there. He took his time about framing a thought, a single, clear, deliberate thought:

_Your Majesty, I'd like to speak to you.

He hardly had time to finish it. A flash of color appeared in the room, just a few feet from his desk. The flash resolved itself into a tiny, grandmotherly-looking woman with a coronal of white hair and a kindly, twinkling expression. She was dressed in the full court costume of the First Elizabethan period, and this was hardly surprising to Malone. The little old lady believed, quite firmly, that she was Queen Elizabeth I, miraculously preserved over all these centuries. Malone, himself, had practically forgotten that the woman's real name was Rose Thompson, and that she had only been alive for sixty-five years or so. For most of that time, she had been insane.

For all of that time, however, she had been a genuine telepath. She had been discovered during the course of Malone's first psionic case, and by now she had even learned to teleport by "reading" the process in Malone's mind.

"Good afternoon, Sir Kenneth," she said in a regal, kindly voice. She was mad, he knew, but her delusion was nicely kept within bounds. All of her bright world hinged on the single fact that she was unshakably certain of her royalty. As long as the FBI catered to that notion-- which included a Royal dwelling for her in Yucca Flats, and the privilege of occasionally knighting FBI agents who had pleased her unpredictable fancy--she was perfectly rational on all other points. She co-operated with Dr. O'Connor and with the FBI in the investigation of her psionic powers, and she had given her Royal word not to teleport except at Malone's personal request.

"I'd like to talk to you," Malone said, "Your Majesty."

There was an odd note in the Queen's voice, and an odd, haunted expression on her face. "I've been hoping you'd ask me to come," she said.

"I had a hunch you were following me telepathically," Malone said. "Can you give me any help?"

"I--I really don't know," she said. "It's something new, and something disturbing. I've never come across anything like it before."

"Like what?" Malone asked.

"It's the--" She made a gesture that conveyed nothing at all to Malone. "The--the static," she said at last.

Malone blinked. "Static?" he said.

"Yes," she said. "You're not telepathic, so I can't tell you what it's really like. But--well, Sir Kenneth, have you ever seen disturbance on a TV screen, when there's some powerful electric output nearby? The bright, senseless snowstorms, the meaningless hash?"

"Sure," Malone said.

"It's like that," she said. "It's a sudden, meaningless, disturbing blare of telepathic energy."

The telephone rang once. Malone ignored it.

"What's causing these disturbances?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I don't know, Sir Kenneth. I don't know," she said. "I can't pick up a person's mind over a distance unless I know him, and I can't see what's causing this at all. It's--frankly, Sir Kenneth, it's rather terrifying."

The phone rang again.

"How long have you been experiencing this disturbance?" Malone asked. He looked at the phone.

"The telephone isn't important," Her Majesty said. "It's only Sir Thomas, calling to tell you he's arrested three spies, and that doesn't matter at all."

"It doesn't?"

"Not at all," Her Majesty said. "What does matter is that I've only been picking up these flashes since you were assigned to this new case, Sir Kenneth. And..." She paused.

"Well?" Malone said.

"And they only appear," Her Majesty said, "when I'm tuned to _your mind!"

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