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´╗┐Title: The Dark Door
Author: Nourse, Alan Edward, 1928-1992
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dark Door" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _The Counterfeit Man More Science
    Fiction Stories by Alan E. Nourse_ published in 1963. Extensive
    research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on
    this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical
    errors have been corrected without note.



 The
 Dark
 Door



1


It was almost dark when he awoke, and lay on the bed, motionless and
trembling, his heart sinking in the knowledge that he should never have
slept. For almost half a minute, eyes wide with fear, he lay in the
silence of the gloomy room, straining to hear some sound, some
indication of their presence.

But the only sound was the barely audible hum of his wrist watch and the
dismal splatter of raindrops on the cobbled street outside. There was no
sound to feed his fear, yet he knew then, without a flicker of doubt,
that they were going to kill him.

He shook his head, trying to clear the sleep from his brain as he turned
the idea over and over in his mind. He wondered why he hadn't realized
it before, long before, back when they had first started this horrible,
nerve-wracking cat-and-mouse game. The idea just hadn't occurred to him.
But he knew the game-playing was over. They wanted to kill him now. And
he knew that ultimately they _would_ kill him. There was no way for him
to escape.

He sat up on the edge of the bed, painfully, perspiration standing out
on his bare back, and he waited, listening. How could he have slept,
exposing himself so helplessly? Every ounce of his energy, all the skill
and wit and shrewdness at his command were necessary in this cruel hunt;
yet he had taken the incredibly terrible chance of sleeping, of losing
consciousness, leaving himself wide open and helpless against the attack
which he knew was inevitable.

How much had he lost? How close had they come while he slept?

Fearfully, he walked to the window, peered out, and felt his muscles
relax a little. The gray, foggy streets were still light. He still had a
little time before the terrible night began.

He stumbled across the small, old-fashioned room, sensing that action of
some sort was desperately needed. The bathroom was tiny; he stared in
the battered, stained reflector unit, shocked at the red-eyed
stubble-faced apparition that stared back at him.

This is Harry Scott, he thought, thirty-two years old, and in the prime
of life, but not the same Harry Scott who started out on a ridiculous
quest so many months ago. This Harry Scott was being hunted like an
animal, driven by fear, helpless, and sure to die, unless he could find
an escape, somehow. But there were too many of them for him to escape,
and they were too clever, and they _knew_ he knew too much.

He stepped into the shower-shave unit, trying to relax, to collect his
racing thoughts. Above all, he tried to stay the fear that burned
through his mind, driving him to panic and desperation. The memory of
the last hellish night was too stark to allow relaxation--the growing
fear, the silent, desperate hunt through the night; the realization that
their numbers were increasing; his frantic search for a hiding place in
the New City; and finally his panic-stricken, pell-mell flight down into
the alleys and cobbled streets and crumbling frame buildings of the Old
City.... Even more horrible, the friends who had turned on him, who
turned out to be _like_ them.

Back in the bedroom, he lay down again, his body still tense. There were
sounds in the building, footsteps moving around on the floor overhead, a
door banging somewhere. With every sound, every breath of noise, his
muscles tightened still further, freezing him in fear. His own breath
was shallow and rapid in his ears as he lay, listening, waiting.

If only something would happen! He wanted to scream, to bang his head
against the wall, to run about the room smashing his fist into doors,
breaking every piece of furniture. It was the _waiting_, the eternal
waiting, and running, waiting some more, feeling the net drawing tighter
and tighter as he waited, feeling the measured, unhurried tread behind
him, always following, coming closer and closer, as though he were a
mouse on a string, twisting and jerking helplessly.

If only they would move, do something he could counter.

But he wasn't even sure any more that he could detect them. And they
were so careful never to move into the open.

He jumped up feverishly, moved to the window, and peered between the
slats of the dusty, old-fashioned blind at the street below.

An empty street at first, wet, gloomy. He saw no one. Then he caught the
flicker of light in an entry several doors down and across the street,
as a dark figure sparked a cigarette to life. Harry felt the chill run
down his back again. Still there, then, still waiting, a hidden figure,
always present, always waiting....

Harry's eyes scanned the rest of the street rapidly. Two three-wheelers
rumbled by, their rubber hissing on the wet pavement. One of them
carried the blue-and-white of the Old City police, but the car didn't
slow up or hesitate as it passed the dark figure in the doorway. They
would never help me anyway, Harry thought bitterly. He had tried that
before, and met with ridicule and threats. There would be no help from
the police in the Old City.

Another figure came around a corner. There was something vaguely
familiar about the tall body and broad shoulders as the man walked
across the wet street, something Harry faintly recognized from somewhere
during the spinning madness of the past few weeks.

The man's eyes turned up toward the window for the briefest instant,
then returned steadfastly to the street. Oh, they were sly! You could
never spot them looking at you, never for _sure_, but they were always
there, always nearby. And there was no one he could trust any longer, no
one to whom he could turn.

Not even George Webber.

Swiftly his mind reconsidered that possibility as he watched the figure
move down the street. True, Dr. Webber had started him out on this
search in the first place. But even Webber would never believe what he
had found. Webber was a scientist, a researcher.

What could he do--go to Webber and tell him that there were men alive in
the world who were _not_ men, who were somehow men and something more?

Could he walk into Dr. Webber's office in the Hoffman Medical Center,
walk through the gleaming bright corridors, past the shining metallic
doors, and tell Dr. Webber that he had found people alive in the world
who could actually see in four dimensions, live in four dimensions,
_think_ in four dimensions?

Could he explain to Dr. Webber that he knew this simply because in some
way he had sensed them, and traced them, and discovered them; that he
had not one iota of proof, except that he was being followed by them,
hunted by them, even now, in a room in the Old City, waiting for them to
strike him down?

He shook his head, almost sobbing. That was what was so horrible. He
couldn't tell Webber, because Webber would be certain that he had gone
mad, just like the rest. He couldn't tell anyone, he couldn't do
anything. He could just wait, and run, and wait--

It was almost dark now and the creaking of the old board house
intensified the fear that tore at Harry Scott's mind. Tonight was the
night; he was sure of it. Maybe he had been foolish in coming here to
the slum area, where the buildings were relatively unguarded, where
anybody could come and go as he pleased. But the New City had hardly
been safer, even in the swankiest private chamber in the highest
building. They had had agents there, too, hunting him, driving home the
bitter lesson of fear they had to teach him. Now he was afraid enough;
now they were ready to kill him.

Down below he heard a door bang, and he froze, his back against the
wall. There were footsteps, quiet voices, barely audible. His whole body
shook and his eyes slid around to the window. The figure in the doorway
still waited--but the other figure was not visible. He heard the steps
on the stair, ascending slowly, steadily, a tread that paced itself with
the powerful throbbing of his own pulse.

Then the telephone screamed out--

Harry gasped. The footsteps were on the floor below, moving steadily
upward. The telephone rang again and again; the shrill jangling filled
the room insistently. He waited until he couldn't wait any longer. His
hand fumbled in a pocket and leveled a tiny, dull-gray metal object at
the door. With the other hand, he took the receiver from the hook.

"Harry! Is that you?"

His throat was like sandpaper and the words came out in a rasp. "What is
it?"

"Harry, this is George--George Webber."

His eyes were glued to the door. "All right. What do you want?"

"You've got to come talk to us, Harry. We've been waiting for weeks now.
You promised us. We've _got_ to talk to you."

Harry still watched the door, but his breath came easier. The footsteps
moved with ridiculous slowness up the stairs, down the hall toward the
room.

"What do you want me to do? They've come to kill me."

There was a long pause. "Harry, are you sure?"

"Dead sure."

"Can you make a break for it?"

Harry blinked. "I could try. But it won't do any good."

"Well, at least try, Harry. Get here to the Hoffman Center. We'll help
you all we can."

"I'll try." Harry's words were hardly audible as he set the receiver
down with a trembling hand.

The room was silent. The footsteps had stopped. A wave of panic passed
up Harry's spine; he crossed the room, threw open the door, stared up
and down the hall, unbelieving.

The hall was empty. He started down toward the stairs at a dead run, and
then, too late, saw the faint golden glow of a Parkinson Field across
the dingy corridor. He gasped in fear, and screamed out once as he
struck it.

And then, for seconds stretching into hours, he heard his scream echoing
and re-echoing down long, bitter miles of hollow corridor.



2


George Webber leaned back in the soft chair, turning a quizzical glance
toward the younger man across the room. He lit a long black cigar.

"Well?" His heavy voice boomed out in the small room. "Now that we've
got him here, what do you think?"

The younger man glanced uncomfortably through the glass wall panel into
the small dark room beyond. In the dimness, he could barely make out the
still form on the bed, grotesque with the electrode-vernier apparatus
already in place at its temples. Dr. Manelli looked away sharply, and
leafed through the thick sheaf of chart papers in his hand.

"I don't know," he said dully. "I just don't know what to think."

The other man's laugh seemed to rise from the depths of his huge chest.
His heavy face creased into a thousand wrinkles. Dr. Webber was a large
man, his broad shoulders carrying a suggestion of immense power that
matched the intensity of his dark, wide-set eyes. He watched Dr.
Manelli's discomfort grow, saw the younger doctor's ears grow red, and
the almost cruel lines in his face were masked as he laughed still
louder.

"Trouble with you, Frank, you just don't have the courage of your
convictions."

"Well, I don't see anything so funny about it!" Manelli's eyes were
angry. "The man has a suspicious syndrome--so you've followed him, and
spied on him for weeks on end, which isn't exactly highest ethical
practice in collecting a history. I still can't see how you're
justified."

Dr. Webber snorted, tossing his cigar down on the desk with disgust.
"The man is insane. That's my justification. He's out of touch with
reality. He's wandered into a wild, impossible, fantastic dream world.
And we've got to get him out of it, because what he knows, what he's
trying to hide from us, is so incredibly dangerous that we don't dare
let him go."

The big man stared at Manelli, his dark eyes flashing. "Can't you see
that? Or would you rather sit back and let Harry Scott go the way that
Paulus and Wineberg and the others went?"

"But to use the Parkinson Field on him--" Dr. Manelli shook his head
hopelessly. "He'd offered to come over, George. We didn't need to use
it."

"Sure, he offered to come--fine, fine. But supposing he changed his mind
on the way? For all we know, he had us figured into his paranoia, too,
and never would have come near the Hoffman Center."

Dr. Webber shook his head. "We're not playing a game any more, Frank.
Get that straight. I thought it was a game a couple of years ago, when
we first started. But it ceased to be a game when men like Paulus and
Wineberg walked in sane, healthy men, and came out blubbering idiots.
That's no game any more. We're onto something big. And, if Harry Scott
can lead us to the core of it, then I can't care too much what happens
to Harry Scott."

Dr. Manelli stood up sharply, walked to the window, and looked down over
the bright, clean buildings of the Hoffman Medical Center. Out across
the terraced park that surrounded the glassed towers and shining metal
of the Center rose the New City, tier upon tier of smooth, functional
architecture, a city of dreams built up painfully out of the rubble of
the older, ruined city.

"You could kill him," the young man said finally. "The psycho-integrator
isn't any standard interrogative technique; it's dangerous and
treacherous. You never know for sure just what you're doing when you dig
down into a man's brain tissue with those little electrode probes."

"But we can learn the truth about Harry Scott," Dr. Webber broke in.
"Six months ago, Harry Scott was working with us, a quiet, affable,
pleasant young fellow, extremely intelligent, intensely co-operative. He
was just the man we needed to work with us, an engineer who could take
our data and case histories, study them, and subject them to a
completely nonmedical analysis. Oh, we had to have it done--the
problem's been with us for a hundred years now, growing ever since the
1950s and 60s--insanity in the population, growing, spreading without
rhyme or reason, insinuating itself into every nook and cranny of our
civilized life."

The big man blinked at Manelli. "Harry Scott was the new approach. We
were too close to the problem. We needed a nonmedical outsider to take a
look, to tell us what we were missing. So Harry Scott walked into the
problem, and then abruptly lost contact with us. We finally track him
down and find him gone, out of touch with reality, on the same wretched
road that all the others went. With Harry, it's paranoia. He's being
persecuted; he has the whole world against him, but most important--the
factor we don't dare overlook--_he's no longer working on the problem_."

Manelli shifted uneasily. "I suppose that's right."

"Of course it's right!" Dr. Webber's eyes flashed. "Harry found
something in those statistics. Something about the data, or the case
histories; or something Harry Scott himself dug up opened a door for him
to go through, a door that none of us ever dreamed existed. We don't
know what he found on the other side of that door. Oh, we know what he
_thinks_ he found, all this garbage about people that look normal but
walk through walls when nobody's looking, who think around corners
instead of in straight-line logic. But what he _really_ found there, we
don't have any way of telling. We just know that whatever he _really_
found is something new, something unsuspected; something so dangerous it
can drive an intelligent man into the wildest delusions of paranoid
persecution."

A new light appeared in Dr. Manelli's eyes as he faced the other doctor.
"Wait a minute," he said softly. "The integrator is an _experimental_
instrument, too."

Dr. Webber smiled slyly. "Now you're beginning to think," he said.

"But you'll see only what Scott himself believes. And _he_ thinks his
story is true."

"Then we'll have to break his story."

"_Break_ it?"

"Certainly. For some reason, this delusion of persecution is far safer
for Harry Scott than facing what he really found out. What we've got to
do is to make this delusion _less_ safe than the truth."

The room was silent for a long moment. Manelli looked up, his fingers
trembling. "Let's hear it."

"It's very simple. Up to now, Harry Scott has had _delusions_ of
persecution. But now we're _really_ going to persecute Harry Scott, as
he's never been persecuted before."



3


At first he thought he was at the bottom of a deep well and he lay quite
still, his eyes clamped shut, wondering where he was and how he could
possibly have gotten there. He could feel the dampness and chill of the
stone floor under him, and nearby he heard the damp, insistent drip of
water splashing against stone. He felt his muscles tighten as the
dripping sound forced itself against his senses. Then he opened his
eyes.

His first impulse was to scream out wildly in unreasoning, suffocating
fear. He fought it down, struggling to sit up in the blackness, his
whole mind turned in bitter, hopeless hatred at the ones who had hunted
him for so long, and now had trapped him.

Why?

Why did they torture him? Why not kill him outright, have done with it?
He shuddered, and struggled to his feet, staring about him in horror.

It was not a well, but a small room, circular, with little rivulets of
stale water running down the granite walls. The ceiling closed low over
his head, and the only source of light came from the single doorway
opening into a long, low stone passageway.

Wave after wave of panic rose in Harry's throat. Each time he fought
down the urge to scream, to lie down on the ground and cover his face
with his hands and scream in helpless fear. How could they have known
the horror that lay in his own mind, the horror of darkness, of damp
slimy walls and scurrying rodents, of the clinging, stale humidity of
dungeon passageways? He himself had seldom recalled it, except in his
most hideous dreams, yet he had known such fear as a boy, so many years
ago, and now it was all around him. They had known somehow and _used it
against him_.

Why?

He sank down on the floor, his head in his hands, trying to think
straight, to find some clue in the turmoil bubbling through his mind
that would tell him what had happened.

He had started down the hallway from his room, to find Dr. Webber and
tell him about the other people--

He stopped short, looked up wide-eyed. _Had_ he been going to Dr.
Webber? Had he actually decided to go? Perhaps--yes, perhaps he had,
though Webber would only laugh at such a ridiculous story. But the
not-men who had hunted him would not laugh; to them, it would not be
funny. They knew that it was true. And they knew he knew it was true.

_But why not kill him?_ Why this torture? Why this horrible persecution
that dug into the depths of his own nightmares to haunt him?

His breath came fast and a chilly sweat broke out on his forehead.
_Where_ was he? Was this some long forgotten vault in the depths of the
Old City? Or was this another place, another world, perhaps, that the
not-men, with their impossible powers, had created to torture him?

His eyes sought the end of the hall, saw the turn at the end, saw the
light which seemed to come from the end; and then in an instant he was
running down the damp passageway, his pulse pounding at his temples,
until he could hardly gasp enough breath as he ran. Finally he reached
the turn in the corridor where the light was brighter, and he swung
around to stare at the source of the light, a huge, burning, smoky torch
which hung from the wall.

Even as he looked at it, the torch went out, shutting him into inky
blackness. The only sound at first was the desperation of his own
breath; then he heard little scurrying sounds around his feet, and
screamed involuntarily as something sleek and four-footed jumped at his
chest with snapping jaws.

Shuddering, he fought the thing off, his fingers closing on wiry fur as
he caught and squeezed. The thing went limp, and suddenly melted in his
hands. He heard it splash as it struck the damp ground at his feet.

_What were they doing to his mind?_

He screamed out in horror, and followed the echoes of his own scream as
he ran down the stone corridor, blindly, slipping on the wet stone
floor, falling on his knees into inches of brackish water, scraping back
to his feet with an uncontrollable convulsion of fear and loathing, only
to run more--

The corridor suddenly broke into two and he stopped short. He didn't
know how far, or how long, he had run, but it suddenly occurred to him
that he was still alive, still safe. Only his mind was under attack,
only his mind was afraid, teetering on the edge of control. And this
maze of dungeon tunnels--where could such a thing exist, so perfectly
outfitted to horrify him, so neatly fitting into his own pattern of
childhood fears and terrors; from where could such a _very individual_
attack on his sanity have sprung? From nowhere except....

_Except from his own mind!_

For an instant, he saw a flicker of light, thought he grasped the edge
of a concept previously obscure to him. He stared around him, at the
mist swirling down the damp, dark corridor, and thought of the rat that
had melted in his hand. Suddenly, his mind was afire, searching through
his experience with the strange not-men he had learned to detect, trying
to remember everything he had learned and deduced about them before they
began their brutal persecution.

They were men, and they looked like men, but they were different. They
had other properties of mind, other capabilities that men did not have.

They were not-men. They could exist, and co-exist, two people in one
frame, one person known, realized by all who saw, the other one
concealed except from those who learned how to look. They could use
their minds; they could rationalize correctly; they could use their
curious four-dimensional knowledge to bring them to answers no
three-dimensional man could reach.

_But they couldn't project into men's minds!_

Carefully, Harry peered down the misty tunnels. They were clever, these
creatures, and powerful. Since they had discovered that he knew them,
they had done their work of fear and terror on his mind skillfully. But
they were limited, too; they couldn't make things happen that were not
true--fantasies, illusions....

Yes, this dungeon was an illusion. It _had_ to be.

He cursed and started down the right-hand corridor, his heart sinking.
There was no such place and he knew it. He was walking in a dream, a
fantasy that had no substance, that could do no more than frighten him,
drive him insane; yet he must already have lost his mind to be accepting
such an illusion.

Why had he delayed? Why hadn't he gone to the Hoffman Center, laid the
whole story before Dr. Webber and Dr. Manelli at the very first, told
them what he had found? True, they might have thought him insane, but
they wouldn't have put him to torture. They might even have believed him
enough to investigate what he told them, and then the cat would have
been out of the bag. The tale would have been incredible, but at least
his mind would have been safe.

He turned down another corridor and walked suddenly into waist-deep
water, so cold it numbed his legs. He stopped again to force back the
tendrils of unreasoning horror that brushed his mind. Nothing could
really harm him. He would merely wait until his mind finally reached a
balance again. There might be no end; it might be a ghastly trap, but he
would wait.

Strangely, the mist was becoming greenish in color as it swirled toward
him in the damp vaulted passageway. His eyes began watering a little and
the lining of his nose started to burn. He stopped short, newly alarmed,
and stared at the walls, rubbing the tears away to clear his vision. The
greenish-yellow haze grew thicker, catching his eyes and burning like a
thousand furies, ripping into his throat until he was choking and
coughing, as though great knives sliced through his lungs.

He tried to scream, and started running, blindly. Each gasping breath
was an agony as the blistering gas dug deeper and deeper into his lungs.
Reason departed from him; he was screaming incoherently as he stumbled
up a stony ramp, crashed into a wall, spun around and smashed blindly
into another. Then something caught at his shirt.

He felt the heavy planks and pounded iron scrollwork of a huge door, and
threw himself upon it, wrenching at the old latch until the door swung
open with a screech of rusty hinges. He fell forward on his face, and
the door swung shut behind him.

He lay face down, panting and sobbing in the stillness.

Coarse hands grasped his collar, jerking him rudely to his feet, and he
opened his eyes. Across the dim, vaulted room he could see the shadowy
form of a man, a big man, with a broad chest and powerful shoulders, a
man whose rich voice Harry almost recognized, but whose face was deep in
shadow. As Harry wiped the tears from his tortured eyes, he heard the
man's voice rumble out at him:

"Perhaps you've had enough now to change your mind about telling us the
truth."

Harry stared, not quite comprehending. "The--the truth?"

The man's voice was harsh, cutting across the room impatiently. "The
truth, I said. The problem, you fool, what you saw, what you learned;
you know perfectly well what I'm referring to. But we'll swallow no more
of this silly four-dimensional superman tale, so don't bother to start
it."

"I--I don't understand you. It's--it's true--" Again he tried to peer
across the room. "Why are you hunting me like this? What are you trying
to do to me?"

"We want the truth. We want to know what you saw."

"But--but _you're_ what I saw. You know what I found out. I mean--" He
stopped, his face going white. His hand went to his mouth, and he
stared still harder. "Who are you?" he whispered.

"The truth!" the man roared. "You'd better be quick, or you'll be back
in the corridor."

"_Webber!_"

"Your last chance, Harry."

Without warning, Harry was across the room, flying across the desk,
crashing into the big man's chest. With a scream of fury he fought,
driving his fists into the powerful chest, wrenching at the thick,
flailing arms of the startled man.

"_It's you!_" he screamed. "It's you that's been torturing me. It's you
that's been hunting me down all this time, not the other people, you and
your crowd of ghouls have been at my throat!"

He threw the big man off balance, dropped heavily on him as he fell back
to the ground, glared down into the other's angry brown eyes.

And then, as though he had never been there at all, the big man
vanished, and Harry sat back on the floor, his whole body shaking with
frustrated sobs as his mind twisted in anguish.

He had been wrong, completely wrong, ever since he had discovered the
not-men. Because he had thought _they_ had been the ones who hunted and
tortured him for so long. And now he knew how far he had been wrong. For
the face of the shadowy man, the man behind the nightmare he was living,
was the face of Dr. George Webber.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You're a fool," said Dr. Manelli sharply, as he turned away from the
sleeping figure on the bed to face the older man. "Of all the ridiculous
things, to let him connect you with this!" The young doctor turned
abruptly and sank down in a chair, glowering at Dr. Webber. "You haven't
gotten to first base yet, but you've just given Scott enough evidence
to free himself from integrator control altogether, if he gives it any
thought. But I suppose you realize that."

"Nonsense," Dr. Webber retorted. "He had enough information to do that
when we first started. I'm no more worried now than I was then. I'm sure
he doesn't know enough about the psycho-integrator to be able
voluntarily to control the patient-operator relationship to any degree.
Oh, no, he's safe enough. But you've missed the whole point of that
little interview." Dr. Webber grinned at Manelli.

"I'm afraid I have. It looked to me like useless bravado."

"The persecution, man, the _persecution_! He's shifted his sights!
Before that interview, the _not-men_ were torturing him, remember?
Because they were afraid he would report his findings to me, of course.
But now it's _I_ that's against him." The grin widened. "You see where
that leads?"

"You're talking almost as though you believed this story about a
different sort of people among us."

Dr. Webber shrugged. "Perhaps I do."

"Oh, come now, George."

Dr. Webber's eyebrows went up and the grin disappeared from his face.

"Harry Scott believes it, Frank. We mustn't forget that, or miss its
significance. Before Harry started this investigation of his, he
wouldn't have paid any attention to such nonsense. But he believes it
now."

"But Harry Scott is insane. You said it yourself."

"Ah, yes," said Dr. Webber. "Insane. Just like the others who started to
get somewhere along those lines of investigation. Try to analyze the
growing incidence of insanity in the population and you yourself go
insane. You've got to be crazy to be a psychiatrist. It's an old joke,
but it isn't very funny any more. And it's too much for coincidence.

"And then consider the nature of the insanity--a full-blown
paranoia--oh, it's amazing. A cunning organization of men who are
_not_-men, a regular fairy story, all straight from Harry Scott's agile
young mind. But now it's _we_ who are persecuting him, _and he still
believes his fairy tale_."

"So?"

Dr. Webber's eyes flashed angrily. "It's too neat, Frank. It's clever,
and it's powerful, whatever we've run up against. But I think we've got
an ace in the hole. We have Harry Scott."

"And you really think he'll lead us somewhere?"

Dr. Webber laughed. "That door I spoke of that Harry peeked through, I
think he'll go back to it again. I think he's started to open that door
already. And this time I'm going to follow him through."



4


It seemed incredible, yet Harry Scott knew he had not been mistaken. It
had been Dr. Webber's face he had seen, a face no one could forget, an
unmistakable face. And that meant that it had been Dr. Webber who had
been persecuting him.

But why? He had been going to report to Webber when he had run into that
golden field in the rooming-house hallway. And suddenly things had
changed.

Harry felt a chill reaching to his fingers and toes. Yes, something had
changed, all right. The attack on him had suddenly become butcherous,
cruel, sneaking into his mind somehow to use his most dreaded nightmares
against him. There was no telling what new horrors might be waiting for
him. But he knew that he would lose his mind unless he could find an
escape.

He was on his feet, his heart pounding. He had to get out of here,
wherever he was. He had to get back to town, back to the city, back to
where people were. If he could find a place to hide, a place where he
could rest, he could try to think his way out of this ridiculous maze,
or at least try to understand it.

He wrenched at the door to the passageway, started through, and smashed
face-up against a solid brick wall.

He cried out and jumped back from the wall. Blood trickled from his
nose. The door was _walled up_, the mortar dry and hard.

Frantically, he glanced around the room. There were no other doors, only
the row of tiny windows around the ceiling of the room, pale, ghostly
squares of light.

He pulled the chair over to the windows, peered out through the
cobwebbed openings to the corridor beyond.

It was not the same hallway as before, but an old, dirty building
corridor, incredibly aged, with bricks sagging away from the walls. At
the end he could see stairs, and even the faintest hint of sunlight
coming from above.

Wildly, he tore at the masonry of the window, chipping away at the soggy
mortar with his fingers until he could squeeze through the opening. He
fell to the floor of the corridor outside.

It was much colder and the silence was no longer so intense. He seemed
to feel, rather than hear, the surging power, the rumble of many
machines, the little, almost palpable vibrations from far above him.

He started in a dead run down the musty corridor to the stairs and began
to climb them, almost stumbling over himself in his eagerness.

After several flights, the brick walls gave way to cleaner plastic, and
suddenly a brightly lighted corridor stretched before him.

Panting from the climb, Harry ran down the corridor to the end, wrenched
open a door, and looked out anxiously.

He was almost stunned by the bright light. At first he couldn't orient
himself as he stared down at the metal ramp, the moving strips of
glowing metal carrying the throngs of people, sliding along the
thoroughfare before him, unaware of him watching, unaware of any change
from the usual. The towering buildings before him rose to unbelievable
heights, bathed in ever-changing rainbow colors, and he felt his pulse
thumping in his temples as he gaped.

He was in the New City, of that there was no doubt. This was the part of
the great metropolis which had been built again since the devastating
war that had nearly wiped the city from the Earth a decade before. These
were the moving streets, the beautiful residential apartments, following
the modern neo-functional patterns and participational design which had
completely altered the pattern of city living. The Old City still
remained, of course--the slums, the tenements, the skid-rows of the
metropolis--but this was the teeming heart of the city, a new home for
men to live in.

And this was the stronghold where the not-men could be found, too. The
thought cut through Harry's mind, sending a tremor up his spine. He had
found them here; he had uncovered his first clues here, and discovered
them; and even now his mind was filled with the horrible, paralyzing
fear he had felt that first night when he had made the discovery. Yet he
knew now that he dared not go back where he had come from.

At least he could understand why the not-men might have feared and
persecuted him, but he could not understand the horrible assault that
Dr. Webber had unleashed. And somehow he found Dr. Webber's attack
infinitely more frightening.

He seemed to be safe here, though, at least for the moment.

Quickly he moved down onto the nearest moving sidewalk heading toward
the living section of the New City. He knew where he could go there,
where he could lock himself in, a place where he could think, possibly
find a way to fight off Dr. Webber's attack of nightmares.

He settled back on a bench on the moving sidewalk, watching the city
slide past him for several minutes before he noticed the curious
shadow-form which seemed to whisk out of his field of vision every time
he looked.

They were following him again! He looked around wildly as the sidewalk
moved swiftly through the cool evening air. Far above, he could see the
shimmering, iridescent screen that still stood to protect the New City
from the devastating virus attacks which might again strike down from
the skies without warning. Far ahead he could see the magnificent
"bridge" formed by the sidewalk crossing over to the apartment area,
where the thousands who worked in the New City were returning to their
homes.

Someone was still following him.

Presently he heard the sound, so close to his ear he jumped, yet so
small he could hardly identify it as a human voice. "What was it you
found, Harry? What did you discover? Better tell, better tell."

He saw the rift in the moving sidewalk coming, far ahead, a great,
gaping rent in the metal fabric of the swiftly moving escalator, as if a
huge blade were slicing it down the middle. Harry's hand went to his
mouth, choking back a scream as the hole moved with incredible rapidity
down the center of the strip, swallowing up whole rows of the seats,
moving straight toward his own.

He glanced in fright over the side just as the sidewalk moved out onto
the "bridge," and he gasped as he saw the towering canyons of buildings
fall far below, saw the seats tumble end over end, heard the sounds of
screaming blend into the roar of air by his ears.

Then the rift screamed by him with a demoniac whine and he sank back
onto his bench, gasping as the two cloven halves of the strip clanged
back together again.

He stared at the people around him on the strip and they stared back at
him, mildly, unperturbed, and returned to their evening papers as the
strip passed through the first local station on the other side of the
"bridge."

Harry Scott sprang to his feet, moving swiftly across the slower strips
for the exit channels. He noted the station stop vaguely, but his only
thought now was speed, desperate speed, fear-driven speed to put into
action the plan that had suddenly burst in his mind.

He knew that he had reached his limit. He had come to a point beyond
which he couldn't fight alone.

Somehow, Webber had burrowed into his brain, laid his mind open to
attacks of nightmare and madness that he could never hope to fight.
Facing this alone, he would lose his mind. His only hope was to go for
help to the ones he feared only slightly less, the ones who had minds
capable of fighting back for him.

He crossed under the moveable sidewalks and boarded the one going back
into the heart of the city. Somewhere there, he hoped, he would find the
help he needed. Somewhere back in that city were men he had discovered
who were men and something more.

       *       *       *       *       *

Frank Manelli carefully took the blood pressure of the sleeping figure
on the bed; then turned to the other man. "He'll be dead soon," he
snapped. "Another few minutes now is all it'll take. Just a few more."

"Absurd. There's nothing in these stimuli that can kill him." George
Webber sat tense, his eyes fixed on the pale fluctuating screen near the
head of the bed.

"His own mind can kill him! He's on the run now; you've broken him loose
from his nice safe paranoia. His mind is retreating, running back to
some other delusions. It's escaping to the safety his fantasy people can
afford him, these not-men he thinks about."

"Yes, yes," agreed Dr. Webber, his eyes eager. "Oh, he's on the run
now."

"But what will he do when he finds there aren't any 'not-men' to save
him? What will he do then?"

Webber looked up, frowning and grim. "Then we'll know what he found
behind the dark door that he opened, that's what."

"No, you're wrong! He'll die. He'll find nothing and the shock will
kill him. My God, Webber, you can't tamper with a man's mind like this
and hope to save his life! You're obsessed; you've always been obsessed
by this impossible search for something in our society, some
undiscovered factor to account for the mental illness, the divergent
minds, but you can't kill a man to trace it down!"

"It's too neat," said Webber. "He comes back to tell us the truth, and
we call him insane. We say he's paranoid, throw him in restraint, place
him in an asylum; and we never _know_ what he found. The truth is too
incredible; when we hear it, it must be insanity we're hearing."

The big doctor laughed, jabbing his thumb at the screen. "This isn't
insanity we're seeing. Oh, no, this is the answer we're following. I
won't stop now. I've waited too long for this show."

"Well, I say stop it while he's still alive."

Dr. Webber's eyes were deadly. "Get out, Frank," he said softly. "I'm
not stopping now."

His eyes returned to the screen, to the bobbing figure that the
psycho-integrator traced on the fluorescent background. Twenty years of
search had led him here, and now he knew the end was at hand.



5


It was a wild, nightmarish journey. At every step, Harry's senses
betrayed him: his wrist watch turned into a brilliant blue-green snake
that snapped at his wrist; the air was full of snarling creatures that
threatened him at every step. But he fought them off, knowing that they
would harm him far less than panic would. He had no idea where to hunt,
nor whom to try to reach, but he knew they were there in the New City,
and somehow he knew they would help him, if only he could find them.

He got off the moving strip as soon as the lights of the center of the
city were clear below, and stepped into the self-operated lift that
sped down to ground level. From the elevator, he moved on to one of the
long, honeycombed concourses, filled with passing shoppers who stared at
the colorful, enticing three-dimensional displays.

At one of the intersections ahead, he spotted a visiphone station, and
dropped onto the little seat before the screen. There had been a number,
if only he could recall it. But as he started to dial, the silvery
screen shattered into a thousand sparkling glass chips, showering the
floor with crystal and sparks.

Harry cursed, grabbed the hand instrument, and jangled frantically for
the operator. Before she could answer, the instrument grew warm in his
hand, then hot and soft, like wax. Slowly, it melted and ran down his
arm.

He bolted out into the stream of people, trying desperately to draw some
comfort from the crowd around him.

He felt utterly alone; he _had_ to contact the not-men who were in the
city, warn them, before they spotted him, of the attack he carried with
him. If he were leading his pursuer, he could expect no mercy from the
ones whose help he sought. He knew the lengths to which they would go to
remain undetected in the society around them. Yet he had to find them.

In the distance, he saw a figure waiting, back against one of the show
windows. Harry stopped short, ducked into a doorway, and peered out
fearfully. Their eyes locked for an instant; then the figure moved on.
Harry felt a jolt of horror surge through him. Dr. Webber hunting him in
person!

He ducked out of the doorway, turned and ran madly in the opposite
direction, searching for an up escalator he could catch. Behind him he
heard shots, heard the angry whine of bullets past his ear.

He breathed in great, gasping sobs as he found an almost empty
escalator, and bounded up it four steps at a time. Below, he could see
Webber coming too, his broad shoulders forcing their way relentlessly
through the mill of people.

Panting, Harry reached the top, checked his location against a wall map,
and started down the long ramp which led toward the building he had
tried to call.

Another shot broke out behind him. The wall alongside powdered away,
leaving a gaping hole. On impulse, he leaped into the hole, running
through to the rear of the building as the weakened wall swayed and
crumbled into a heap of rubble just as Webber reached the place Harry
had entered.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief and raced up the stairs of the building
to reach a ramp on another level. He turned his eyes toward the tall
building at the end of the concourse. There he could hide and relax and
try, somehow, to make a contact.

Someone fell into step beside him and took his arm gently but firmly.
Harry jerked away, turning terrified eyes to the one who had joined him.

"Quiet," said the man, steering him over toward the edge of the
concourse. "Not a sound. You'll be all right."

Harry felt a tremor pass through his mind, the barest touching of mental
fingertips, a recognition that sent a surge of eager blood through his
heart.

He stopped short, facing the man. "I'm being followed," he gasped. "You
can't take me anywhere you don't want Webber to follow, or you'll be in
terrible danger."

The stranger shrugged and smiled briefly. "You're not here. You're in a
psycho-integrator. It can hurt you, if you let it. But it can't hurt
me." He stepped up his pace slightly, and in a moment they turned
abruptly into a darkened cul-de-sac.

Suddenly, they were moving _through_ the wall of the building into the
brilliantly lit lobby of the tall building. Harry gasped, but the
stranger led him without a sound toward the elevator, stepped aboard
with him, and sped upward, the silence broken only by the
whish-whish-whish of the passing floors. Finally they stepped out into a
quiet corridor and down through a small office door.

A man sat behind the desk in the office, his face quiet, his eyes very
wide and dark. He hardly glanced at Harry, but turned his eyes to the
other man.

"Set?" he asked.

"Couldn't miss now."

The man nodded and looked at last at Harry. "You're upset," he murmured.
"What's bothering you?"

"Webber," said Harry hoarsely. "He's following me here. He'll spot you.
I tried to warn you before I came, but I couldn't."

The man at the desk smiled. "Webber again, eh? Our old friend Webber.
That's all right. Webber's at the end of his tether. There's nothing he
can do to stop us. He's trying to attack with force, and he fails to
realize that time and thought are on our side. The time when force would
have succeeded against us is long past. But now there are many of us,
almost as many as not."

Harry stared shrewdly at the man behind the desk. "Then why are you so
afraid of Webber?" he asked.

"Afraid?"

"You know you are. Long ago you threatened me, if I reported to him. You
watched me, played with me. Why are you afraid of him?"

The man sighed. "Webber is premature. We are stalling for time, that's
all. We wait. We have grown from so very few, back in the 1940s and 50s,
but the time for quiet usurpation of power has not quite arrived. But
men like Webber force our hand, discover us, try to expose us."

Harry Scott's face was white, his hands shaking. "And what do you do to
them?"

"We--deal with them."

"And those like me?"

The man smiled lopsidedly. "Those like Paulus and Wineberg and the
rest--they're happy, really, like little children. But one like you is
so much more useful." He pointed almost apologetically to the small
screen on his desk.

Harry looked at it, realization dawning. He watched the huge,
broad-shouldered figure moving down the hallway toward the door.

"Webber was dangerous to you?"

"Unbelievably dangerous. So dangerous we would use any means to trap
him."

Suddenly the door burst open and there stood Webber, a triumphant
Webber, face flushed, eyes wide, as he stared at the man behind the
desk.

The man smiled back and said, "Come on in, George. We've been waiting
for you."

Webber stepped through the door. "Manelli, you fool!"

There was a blinding flash as he crossed the threshold. A faint crackle
of sound reached Harry's ears; then the world blacked out....

       *       *       *       *       *

It might have been minutes, or hours, or days. The man who had been
behind the desk was leaning over Harry, smiling down at him, gently
bandaging the trephine wounds at his temples.

"Gently," he said, as Harry tried to sit up. "Don't try to move. You've
been through a rough time."

Harry peered up at him. "You're--not Dr. Webber."

"No. I'm Dr. Manelli. Dr. Webber's been called away--an accident. He'll
be some time recovering. I'll be taking care of you."

Vaguely, Harry was aware that something was peculiar, something not
quite as it should be. The answer slowly dawned on him.

"The statistical analysis!" he exclaimed. "I was supposed to get some
data from Dr. Webber about an analysis, something about rising insanity
rates."

Dr. Manelli looked blank. "Insanity rates? You must be mistaken. You
were brought here for an immunity examination, nothing more. But you
can check with Dr. Webber, when he gets back."



6


George Webber sat in the little room, trembling, listening, his eyes
wide in the thick, misty darkness. He knew it would be a matter of time
now. He couldn't run much farther. He hadn't seen them, true. Oh, they
had been very clever, but they thought they were dealing with a fool,
and they weren't. He _knew_ they'd been following him; he'd known it for
a long time now.

It was just as he had been telling the man downstairs the night before:
they were everywhere--your neighbor upstairs, the butcher on the corner,
your own son or daughter, maybe even the man you were talking
to--_everywhere_!

And of course he had to warn as many people as he possibly could before
_they_ caught him, throttled him off, as they had threatened to if he
talked to anyone.

If only the people would _listen_ to him when he told them how cleverly
it was all planned, how it would only be a matter of months, maybe only
weeks or days before the change would happen, and the world would be
quietly, silently taken over by the _other_ people, the different people
who could walk through walls and think in impossibly complex channels.
And no one would know the difference, because business would go on as
usual.

He shivered, sinking down lower on the bed. If only people would listen
to him--

It wouldn't be long now. He had heard the stealthy footsteps on the
landing below his room some time ago. This was the night they had chosen
to make good their threats, to choke off his dangerous voice once and
for all. There were footsteps on the stairs now, growing louder.

Wildly he glanced around the room as the steps moved down the hall
toward his door. He rushed to the window, threw up the sash and
screamed hoarsely to the silent street below: "Look out! They're here,
all around us! They're planning to take over! Look out! Look out!"

The door burst open and there were two men moving toward him,
grim-faced, dressed in white; tall, strong men with sad faces and strong
arms.

One was saying, "Better come quietly, mister. No need to wake up the
whole town."





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