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´╗┐Title: Sound of Terror
Author: Berry, Don
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 "Sound of Terror" ***

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



[Illustration: Illustrated by Ed Emsh]


 _What is more frightening
 than the fear of the unknown?
 Johnny found out!_


           SOUND OF
            TERROR

         BY DON BERRY


The day was still no more than a ragged streak of red in the east; the
pre-dawn air was sharply cold, making Johnny Youngbear's face feel
slightly brittle as he dressed quietly in the gray bedroom.

He sat down on the bed, pulling on his boots, and felt his wife stir
sleepily beneath the covers. Suddenly she stiffened, sat upright in the
bed, startled into wakefulness. Johnny put one dark, bony hand on her
white shoulder, gently, reassuring. After a moment, finding herself, she
turned away and lit a cigarette. Johnny finished pulling on his boots
and stood, his hawk-like face unreadable in the cold gray light
streaming through the huge picture window.

"Johnny?" said his wife hesitantly.

He murmured an acknowledgement, watching the bright flare of color as
she drew on the cigarette. Her soft, dark hair was coiled loosely around
her shoulders, very black against the pale skin. Her eyes were invisible
in shadow, and Johnny could not read their expression. He turned away,
knowing she was watching him.

"Be careful," she said simply.

"Try," he said. Then he shrugged. "Not my day, anyway."

"I know," she said. "But--be careful."

He left the house and walked out into the chill desert dawn. He turned
his face to the brightness in the east, trying to catch a little warmth,
but could not.

He warmed up the jeep, listening to the engine grumble protest until it
settled to a flat, banging roar. He swerved out of the driveway with a
screaming of tires. Reaching the long ribbon of concrete that led out
into the desert, he settled down hard on the accelerator, indifferent to
the whining complaint of the jeep's motor.

It was eight miles from his sprawling house to the Mesa Dry Lake
launching site, due east, into the sun. He pulled to the top of Six Mile
Hill and stopped in the middle of the highway. Two miles ahead was
Launching Base I, throwing long, sharp shadows at him in the rosy dawn
light. A cluster of squat, gray blockhouses; a long runway tapering into
the distance with an Air Force B-52 motionless at the near end; that was
all.

Except the Ship.

The Ship towered high, dominating the desert like a pinnacle of bright
silver. Even silhouetted against the eastern sky, it sparkled and
glistened. Impassive it stood, graceful, seeming to strain into the sky,
anxious to be off and gone. The loading gantry was a dark, spidery
framework beside The Ship, leaning against it, drawing strength from its
sleek beauty.

Johnny watched it in silence for a moment, then turned his eyes up, to
the sky. Somewhere up there a tiny satellite spun wildly about the
earth, a little silver ball in some celestial roulette wheel. Gradually
it would spiral closer and closer, caught by the planet's implacable
grasp, until it flared brightly like a cigarette in the heavens before
dissolving into drops of molten metal.

But it would have served its purpose. In its short life it would have
given Man knowledge; knowledge of space, knowledge enough that he could
go himself, knowing what he would find in the emptiness between the
earth and the moon. Or knowing nearly.

_What's it like out there?_

The satellite answered partly; the Ship would answer more.

Johnny slammed the jeep into gear, hurtled down the other side of Six
Mile Hill. Through his mind ran the insistent repetition of an old song
he knew, and he hummed it tunelessly through closed teeth.

_I had a true wife but I left her ... oh, oh, oh._

The jeep skidded to a halt beside Control. Mitch Campbell's green
station wagon was already there, creaking and settling as the motor
cooled.

Control was full of people; Air Force brass, technicians, observers,
enlisted men of indiscernible purpose. The room hummed with the muted
buzz of low, serious conversation.

Mitch Campbell sat in one corner, apparently forgotten in the confusion.
He had nothing to do. Not yet. He was already in flight dress, holding
the massive helmet in his hands morosely, turning it over and over,
staring at it as though he thought he might find his head inside if he
looked carefully enough.

"Morning, Colonel," said Johnny, forcing his voice to be casual and
cheerful. "You're up early this morning."

"Morning, Colonel, yourself," said Mitch, looking up.

"Big date today?"

"Well--yeah, you might say so," Mitch said, smiling faintly and with
obvious effort. "Thought I might go once around lightly," he said,
hooking his thumb upwards. Upwards through the concrete ceiling, into
the air, through the air, up where there was no air for a man to
breathe. Once around lightly.

Around the world. Lightly.

"Tell you what, Mitch."

"O.K., tell me what," he said.

"You like the movies?" Johnny asked. "You like to get a little adventure
in your soul? You like a little vicarious thrill now and then?"

"Yeah, I like that."

"Tell you what. We'll go. No, don't thank me. We'll go. Tonight. Eight
o'clock, you come by."

"Wives and everybody?" Mitch asked.

"Why not?" Johnny said. "They're cooped up in the house all day."

They both knew the wives would be in Control in an hour, listening to
the radio chatter, waiting, eyes wide, shoulders stiff and tight.

"Fine," said Mitch. "Fine."

A crew-chief came up and touched Johnny's shoulder. "Colonel Youngbear,"
he said, "Observation is going up."

Johnny stood and looked out the tiny window at the red-painted B-52.

"See you tonight, Mitch. Eight o'clock? Don't forget. Westerns."

"See you," said Mitch. He looked back down at the helmet and was turning
it over and over again when Johnny left.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Observation B-52 climbed, screaming.

Johnny lit a cigarette and watched out the port at the contrails rolling
straight and white behind the jets.

He sat by the radioman, a Sergeant, ignoring the rest of the officers in
the converted bomb-bay.

"Hope he makes it, Colonel," said the Sergeant.

"He'll make it," Johnny said flatly, irritated. Relenting, he added in a
gentler tone, "The pilot section breaks away. If he gets in serious
trouble, he can dump it and ride the nose down. Like a bird. He'll make
it."

There was a raucous buzz, and a squawk box said: "On my mark it will be
Zero minus four minutes ... mark!" The voice of Control, 35,000 feet
below.

The B-52 swung ponderously onto the base leg of its circle, and there
was a creaking of stretching metal inside.

"Minus two minutes." _Not my day, anyway_, Johnny thought. He lit
another cigarette.

"Control," said a new voice, "This is Red Leader. Red Leader. Red Flight
is in position."

"Rog, Red Leader," Control acknowledged. The Observation flight of jet
fighters was waiting, too.

"Minus five ... four ... three ... two ... one ... mark!"

Silence.

_I had a true wife but I left her ... oh, oh, oh._

There was another rattle of the speaker, and Mitch's voice came through,
grunting, heavy, as the acceleration of the Ship laid a heavy hand on
his chest.

"Acceleration ... eight gee ... controls respond."

Silence.

"There he is," someone said. A wavering trail of smoke was barely
visible below, a thread of white, coming up fast, blown erratically by
winds into a distorted tiny snake.

"Altitude ..." said Mitch's voice, "40,000.... Acceleration ...
dropping."

The white snake wriggled up to their level, rose above them. Johnny
could not see the silver head.

"Altitude ... 65,000.... I have a loud, very high buzz in my headphones.
I'm going to--there, it's gone now, went out of my range."

His voice sounded wrong to Johnny, but he couldn't pin it down.

"Altitude ... 105,000. Beginning orbital correction.
Beginning--beginning ... I can't--I'm--I'm--" The voice became
unintelligible. It was pitched very high, like a woman's, and it sounded
as if his teeth were chattering.

"Mitch," Johnny pleaded softly. "Mitch, baby. Dump it, boy, come on
home, now. Dump it."

There was no more from the speaker. A confused babble broke out in the
bomb-bay. The Sergeant fiddled with his dials frantically, spinning
across wavelengths, trying to find a word. The confusion ceased when the
speaker rattled again, seeming hours later.

"Uh, hello, Control, this is Red Three, do you read me?" One of the
fighter flight.

"Rog, Red Three, go ahead," came Control's voice from below.

"Uh, Control, I have a flash and smoke cloud on a bearing of three-seven
degrees."

"Red Three, what altitude? What altitude?"

"None," said the fighter pilot. "On the deck."

After a moment, Johnny climbed unsteadily to his feet in the midst of a
booming silence. He made his way back along the catwalk to the head,
where he retched violently until the tears came to his eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three weeks later, Johnny sat in Doctor Lambert's office. He watched the
lean, graying psychologist turn off the tape recorder, watched him
methodically tamp tobacco in his pipe.

"That's all she wrote, Johnny," said Lambert, finally. "That recording
of Mitch's voice is just about all we have. The Ship was under full
power when it hit. There wasn't much left."

Johnny looked absently out the window at the gleaming needle of Ship II
beside the flimsy-looking gantry. Full power was a lot of power.

The psychologist followed Johnny's eyes. "Beautiful," he said, and the
word brought to Johnny's mind the wide-eyed pale face of Mitch's wife,
staring at him.

"That Ship is the best we can make her," Lambert said. "Engineering is
as certain as they can be that there was no structural failure on Ship
I."

"So?" Johnny said, still staring at the Ship. Even at this distance, he
could almost believe he could see his own lean face reflected in the
shining metal.

"So we look somewhere else for the cause of failure," said Lambert.

"Where?" said Johnny. He turned back, saw that the psychologist was
putting a new reel on the tape recorder.

"The weak link in the control system," Lambert said.

"There weren't any."

"One."

"What?"

"Mitch Campbell."

Johnny stood, angry. "Mitch was good. Damn good."

The psychologist looked up, and his eyes were tired. "I know it," he
said calmly. "Listen to this." He started the machine playing the new
tape.

Johnny listened to it through. The voice that came out was high and
wavering. It shook, it chattered, words were indistinguishable. It was
thin with tension, and it rang in Johnny's ears with unwanted
familiarity.

"What's it sound like to you?" Lambert asked when it had finished.

"Like Mitch's voice," Johnny admitted reluctantly.

"It did to me, too. What do you think it is?"

"Don't know," said Johnny shortly. "Might be a pilot whose plane is
shaking apart."

"No."

"I don't know."

Lambert sat back down behind his desk and sucked on his pipestem. He
regarded Johnny impassively, seeming to consider some problem remote
from the room.

Abruptly, he stood again and went to the window, watching the ant-like
activity around the base of Ship II.

"That was a madman's voice," he said. "I made the recording while I was
interning at a state institution."

"So?"

"Mad with fear," Lambert said. "Pure. Simple. Unadulterated. That was
the sound of terror you heard, Johnny. Terror such as few humans have
ever known. That man knew such fear he could not remain sane and live
with it."

_I had a true wife but I left her ... oh, oh, oh._

"You think Mitch--"

"You said yourself the voices were alike." Lambert pointed out.

"I don't believe it."

"Don't have to," said Lambert, turning from the window. "But I'll tell
you something, Johnny. That Ship--" he hooked his thumb out the
window--"is a very big toy. Maybe too big."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning it's possible we've reached beyond Man's limitations. Meaning
it's possible we've built something too big for a man to handle and stay
sane. Maybe we've finally gone too far."

"Maybe."

"I don't insist it's true," said the psychologist. "It's an idea. Fear.
Fear of the unknown, maybe. Too much fear to hold."

"You think I'll crack?" asked Johnny.

The psychologist didn't answer directly. "It's an idea, as I said. I
just wanted you to think it over."

"I will," said Johnny. He stood again, his jaw held tight. "Is that
all?"

"Yes, Colonel, that's all," said Lambert.

When Johnny left, the psychologist sat in brooding silence, staring
morosely at a trail of blue smoke rising from his pipe bowl. He sat
there until the afternoon light faded from the desert base. Then he
stood in the darkened office, sighed, lit his pipe and went home. He was
very tired.

       *       *       *       *       *

Six weeks later, Johnny Youngbear walked out of the Control blockhouse
into the cold desert morning, carrying his helmet under his arm.

He ran his eyes swiftly up the length of Ship II, trying to forget those
other eyes staring at his back from the blockhouse. The Ship rippled and
gleamed, alive, eager, the thundering power in her belly waiting to be
born.

_Oh, you bitch! You beautiful bitch_, Johnny thought. _Pregnant with
power like a goddess with a god's child. Bitch, bitch, bitch! I love
you. I hate you. You kill me._

The crew-chief walked by his side. "Nice morning, Colonel," he said.

"Very," said Johnny.

_I had a true wife but I left her ... oh, oh, oh. For you, you beautiful
bitch._

"Say something, Colonel?" asked the crew-chief.

"No. Song running through my head," he explained.

"Yeah," the other man chuckled. "I know how it is."

They strapped him into the padded control chair, the controls arranged
around him in a neat semicircle, easy to reach.

_This is my day._

They left him. Alone. _Once around lightly._

The loneliness was in his belly, aching like a tumor.

"... read me?" Control's voice in his earphones.

"Loud and clear," he said absently.

"... minus two minutes ... mark!" A different voice. So many different
voices. They knew him, they talked to him. But he was alone with his
bitch.

_I had a true wife but--_

"... minus one minute ... mark!"

_This is my day I had a true wife--_

"... three ... two ... one ... mark!"

There was the sound of a world dying in his mind, the sound of thunder,
the sound of a sun splitting, the sound of a goddess giving birth, with
pain with agony in loneliness.

A giant's fist came from out of nothingness and smashed into his body.
His chest was compressed, his face was flattened, he could not get
enough air to breathe. The heavy sledge of acceleration crushed him back
into the padded chair, inexorable, implacable, relentless, heavy. His
vision clouded in red and he thought he would die. Instead, he spoke
into the lip mike, resenting it bitterly.

"Acceleration ... nine gee." He looked at the gauge that shimmered redly
before him, disbelieving. "Altitude 20,000."

He blacked out, sinking helplessly into the black plush night of
unawareness. _I had a true I had I had--_

Awakening to pain, he glanced at the gauges. He had been gone only a
split second.

"Altitude 28,000, acceleration pressure dropping."

His face began to resume its normal shape as the acceleration dropped.
"... six gee," he said, and breathing was easier. The giant reluctantly
began to withdraw his massive fist from Johnny's face.

He tipped a lever, watched the artificial horizon tilt slightly. "Air
control surfaces respond," he said. But soon there would be no air for
the surfaces to move against, and then he would control by flicking the
power that rumbled behind him.

"Altitude 40,000 ...

"... 85,000 ...

"... 100,000...." The sky was glistening black, he was passing from the
earth's envelope of air into the nothingness that was space. Now.

Now.

Now it was time to change angle, flatten the ship out, bring it into
position to run around the earth. _Once around lightly._

There was a high-pitched scream in his earphones. He remembered it had
been there for long, and wondered if he had told Control.

He flicked the switch that ignited the powerful steering rockets, and
the whine grew louder, unbearably loud. It sang to him, his bitch sang,
_I had a true wife, but I left her ... oh, oh, oh._

He began to feel a light tingle over his body, tiny needles delicately
jabbing every inch. His face became wooden, felt prickly. He tried to
lick his lips and could feel no sensation there. His vision fogged
again, and he knew it was not from acceleration this time, it was
something else.

Something else.

_What's it like out there?_

His belly told him. Fear.

He reached out his hand to touch the control panel, and his arm did not
respond. It was shaking, uncontrollably, and moved off to the right of
where he wanted it to go. When he tried to correct, it swung too far to
the left, waving as if it were alive. It hung there before him as in a
dream, oscillating back and forth.

He could not control his body, and the realization nurtured the tiny
seed of panic that lay heavily in his belly.

_Dump it...._

What did that mean? _Dump it ... go home now, baby ... _I had_ a
true ..._

Decision ... there was a decision he had to make, but he was too
frightened to know what it was.

He had been born in fear and lived in fear and his body was full of it,
quivering to the lover's touch of fear. Falling, darkness, the fear of
dying, the unknown, the unimaginable always lurking just out of the
corner of his eye.

He wanted to scream and the fear choked it off. His hands were at his
sides, limply useless, dangling at the seat. He had to hang on to
something. His hand found a projection at the side of the seat. He
clutched it desperately.

He knew he would fall, down, spiraling, weightless, off the cliff as in
a dream, off the ladder, the tree, he was a child and his toes were
tingling as he stood too near the edge of the cliff, knowing he might
fall.

He clutched tightly, putting every ounce of his strength into holding on
to the lever, the single solid reality in a world of shifting unreality.
He was going to fall he was falling I love you I hate you I had a true
wife ...

       *       *       *       *       *

There was softness beneath his back, and he moved his hands, feeling the
crispness of sheets. There was a low murmur of voices. He raised his
hands to his eyes and the voices stopped. There were heavy bandages on
his eyes.

"Colonel?" came a questing voice, and Johnny realized it was Doctor
Lambert. "Awake?"

"I can't see. Why can't I see?"

"You'll be all right. It's all right."

"What happened?"

"How much do you remember?" asked the voice. "The blast-off?"

"Yes--yes, I remember that."

"The orbit? The landing?"

"No," he said. "Not that."

"You did it," said the voice. "You made it."

_This is my day. Once around lightly._

"Johnny," said the voice. "I don't know just how to say this. We know
what was wrong with Ship I, and why it killed Mitch. We know--hell, we
don't even begin to realize what we have at our fingertips now. It's so
big it's impossible to evaluate."

"What? I don't--"

"Sound, Johnny, sound. Or rather, vibration. It's something we're just
beginning to learn about. We know a few things; we know you can boil
water with sound if the frequency is high enough. And you can drill
metal with it--and it does things to the human body.

"There are frequencies of sound which can act directly on human nerves,
directly on the human brain. It means that if we know the right
frequency, we'll be able to produce any state we want in a man, any
emotion. Fear, anguish, anything.

"When the steering rockets were cut in, the Ship began to vibrate. It
generated frequencies so high that ordinary human senses couldn't detect
them. And when your nerves were exposed to those vibrations, it produced
fear. Pure and absolute fear. Motor control went, rational processes
went, all the nervous functions of the body went out of control. Your
body became a giant tuning fork, and the frequency to which it vibrated
was fear.

"I can't remember--"

"Sanity went, too, Johnny," said the man softly. "You could not stand
that fear and remain sane, so something cut off. That was what happened
to Mitch."

"How did I get back?"

"We don't know. The films show your face suddenly going blank. Then you
flew. That's all. We hoped you could tell us."

"No. No--I don't remember--"

"There was something in you so strong it overrode everything else, even
the fear. We'd like to know what it is. We'll find out, Johnny, and it
will mean a lot to the human race when we do."

_This is my day._

"Is my wife here?"

There was a cool hand on his forehead. "Yes, Johnny."

"Well," he said helplessly. "Well, how are you?"

"I'm fine, Johnny," she whispered, and there was the sound of tears in
her voice. "I'm just fine."

He felt the warm softness of her lips on his.

_I had a true wife but I left her ... oh, oh, oh._

And then he came home again.


END

[Illustration]



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _If Worlds of Science Fiction_ June
    1958. 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.





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