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´╗┐Title: Sight Gag
Author: Janifer, Laurence M., 1933-2002
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 "Sight Gag" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction May 1962.
  Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
  copyright on this publication was renewed.



                              SIGHT GAG


                          BY LARRY M. HARRIS


     Intelligence is a great help in the evolution-by-survival--but
     intelligence without muscle is even less useful than muscle
     without brains. But it's so easy to forget that muscle--plain
     physical force--is important, too!



                      ILLUSTRATED BY SCHOENHERR

       *       *       *       *       *



Downstairs, the hotel register told Fredericks that Mr. John P. Jones
was occupying Room 1014. But Fredericks didn't believe the register.
He knew better than that. Wherever his man was, he wasn't in Room
1014. And whoever he was, his real name certainly wasn't John P.
Jones. "P for Paul," Fredericks muttered to himself. "Oh, the helpful
superman, the man who knows better, the man who does better."

Fredericks had first known of him as FBI Operative 71-054P, under the
name of William K. Brady. "And what does the K stand for?" Fredericks
muttered, remembering. "Killer?" Brady wouldn't be the man's real
name, either. FBI Operatives had as many names as they had jobs, that
much was elementary. Particularly operatives like Jones-Brady-X.
"Special talents," Fredericks muttered. "Psi powers," he said, making
it sound like a curse. "Superman."

Upstairs, in Room 1212, the superman sat in a comfortable chair and
tried to relax. He wasn't a trained telepath but he could read surface
thoughts if there were enough force behind them, and he could read the
red thoughts of the man downstairs. They worried him more than he
wanted to admit, and for a second he considered sending out a call for
help. But that idea died before it had been truly born.

Donegan had told him he could handle the situation. Without weapons,
forbidden to run, faced by a man who wanted only his death, he could
handle the situation.

Sure he could, he thought bitterly.

Of course, if he asked for reinforcements he would undoubtedly get
them. The FBI didn't want one of its Psi Operatives killed; there
weren't enough to go round as it was. But calling for help, when
Donegan had specifically told him he wouldn't need it, would mean
being sent back a grade automatically. A man of his rank and
experience, Donegan had implied, could handle the job solo. If he
couldn't--why, then, he didn't deserve the rank. It was all very
simple.

Unfortunately, he was still fresh out of good ideas.

The notion of killing Fredericks--using his telekinetic powers to
collapse the hotel room on the man, or some such, even if he wasn't
allowed to bear arms--had occurred to him in a desperate second, and
Donegan had turned it down very flatly. "Look," the Psi Section chief
had told him, "you got the guy's brother and sent him up for trial.
The jury found him guilty of murder, first degree, no recommendation
for mercy. The judge turned him over to the chair, and he fries next
week."

"So let Fredericks take it out on the judge and jury," he'd said. "Why
do I have to be the sitting duck?"

"Because ... well, from Fredericks' point of view, without you his
brother might never have been caught. It's logic--of a sort."

"Logic, hell," he said. "The guy was guilty. I had to send him up.
That's my job."

"And so is this," Donegan said. "That's our side of it. Fredericks
has friends--his brother's friends. Petty criminals, would-be
criminals, unbalanced types. You know that. You've read the record."

"Read it?" he said. "I dug up half of it."

Donegan nodded. "Sure," he said. "And we're going to have six more
cases like Fredericks' brother--murder, robbery, God knows what
else--unless we can choke them off somehow."

"Crime prevention," he said. "And I'm in the middle."

"That's the way the job is," Donegan said. "We're not superman. We've
got limits, just like everybody else. Our talents have limits."

He nodded. "So?"

"So," Donegan said, "we've got to convince Fredericks' friends--the
unbalanced fringe--that we are supermen, that we have no limits, that
no matter what they try against us they're bound to fail."

"Nice trick," he said sourly.

"Very nice," Donegan said. "And what's more, it works. Nobody except
an out-and-out psychotic commits a crime when he hasn't got a hope of
success. And these people aren't psychotics; most criminals aren't.
Show them they can't get away with a thing--show them we're
infallible, all-knowing, all-powerful supermen--and they'll be scared
off trying anything."

"But killing Fredericks would do that just as well--" he began.

Donegan shook his head. "Now, hold on," he said. "You're getting all
worked up about this. It's your first time with this stakeout
business, that's all. But you can't kill him. You can't kill except
when really necessary. You know that."

"All right. But if he's going to kill me--"

"That doesn't make it necessary, not this time," Donegan said. "This
vengeance syndrome doesn't last forever, you know. Block it, and
you're through with it. And think how much more effective it is,
letting Fredericks go back alive to tell the tale."

"Think how much more effective it would be," he said, "if Fredericks
managed to get me."

"He won't," Donegan said.

"But without weapons--"

"No Psi Operative carries weapons," Donegan said. "We don't need them.
We're supermen ... remember?"

He twisted his face with a smile. "Easy for you to talk about it," he
said. "But I'm going to have to go out and face it--"

"We've all faced it," Donegan said. "When I was an Operative I went
through it, too. It's part of the job."

"But--"

"And I'm not going to tell you how to do the job," Donegan went on
firmly. "Either you know that by now, or you don't belong here."

He got up to leave, slowly. "It's a fine way to find out," he said
mournfully.

Donegan rose, too. "Good luck," he said. And meant it, too.

That was the chief for you, he thought. Send you out into God knows
what with no weapons, no instructions, lots of help planted for the
man who wanted to kill you--and then wish you good luck at the end of
it.

Sometimes he wondered why he didn't go in for some nice, peaceful job
of work--like rocket testing, for instance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fredericks, downstairs, was deciding to do things the subtle way. The
man upstairs--Jones, Brady or whatever his name was--deserved what he
was going to get. Psi powers were all very well, but there were
defenses against them. Briefly he thought of the man who'd sold him
the special equipment, and wondered why more criminals didn't know the
equipment existed. It worked; he was sure of that. Fredericks knew
enough of general psi theory to know when somebody was handing him a
snow job. And the equipment was no snow job.

A force shield, that was the basic thing. A shield with no points of
entrance for anything larger than air molecules. Sight and sound could
get through, because the shield was constructed to allow selected
vibrations and frequencies. But no psi force could crack the shield.

Fredericks has sat through a long explanation. Psi wasn't a physical
force; it was more like the application of a mental "set," in the
mathematical sense, to the existing order. But it could be detected by
specially built instruments--and a shield could be set up behind which
no detection was possible. It wasn't accurate to say that a psi force
was blocked by the shield; no construct can block that which has no
real physical existence. It was, more simply, that the shield created
a framework inside of which the universe existed in the absence of
psi.

That wasn't very clear, either, Fredericks thought; but mathematics
was the only adequate language for talking about psi, anyhow. It had
been the theory of sets that had led to the first ideas of structure
and rationality within the field, and the math had gotten
progressively more complex ever since.

Psi couldn't get through the shield, at any rate; that was quite
certain. And very little else could get in, or out. There was only one
point of exit. Unholstering his gun and aiming it automatically keyed
the shield to allow passage of a bullet, and the point of exit was
controlled by the gun's aiming. It was efficient and simple to handle.

But Fredericks wasn't depending on the shield alone. There was a
binder field, too--a field which linked him to the surrounding area,
quite tightly. That took care of the chance that the Psi Operative
would try to pick him up, force shield and all, and throw him out a
window or through the roof. With the binder field in operation, no psi
force could move him an inch.

A plug gas mask, too, inserted into the nostrils. The shield plus the
mask's pack held two hours' worth of air--just in case the Psi
Operative tried to throw poisonous molecules through the force
shield, or deprive him of oxygen.

And then there was the blindfold. Such a simple thing, and so
effective.

       *       *       *       *       *

Upstairs, the Psi Operative caught the sequence of thoughts. Did the
FBI have to do such a thorough job, he wondered bitterly. The
equipment, he knew, would do everything Fredericks thought it would
do. It was important that Fredericks go up against the Operative
thinking he was completely protected--in that way his final defeat
would be most effective. He'd have guarded against every possible
failure--so, when he failed, there would be nothing to explain it.

Except the "fact" that the Psi Operatives were supermen.

He gritted his teeth. It would be nice, he reflected, to be a real
superman. But any talent has its limits. And, even allowing for that,
only Donegan and a very few others could handle the full theoretical
potentials of their talents. In theory, a telekineticist could move
any object with his mind that he could move with his hands. That was a
rough rule of thumb, but it worked. The larger objects were barred by
sheer mass; no matter what kind of force you're using, there's a limit
to how much of it you can apply.

The smaller objects--molecules, electrons, photons--simply took
practice and training. First the object had to be visualized, and the
general structure memorized. Then the power had to be controlled
carefully enough so that you moved just what you wanted to move and
not, for instance, shift the Empire State Building while trying to
lift a molecule out of its topmast.

It was possible, in theory, to create full sensory hallucinations by
juggling electron streams and molecules within the brain. But
memorizing the entire structure of the brain was a lifelong task,
since you also had to allow for individual variation, and that meant
working with "tracking" molecules inside each brain before any work
began. Most Operatives stuck to one area--usually, as most effective,
sight or sound.

He was a sight man. He could create any visual hallucination, as long
as the subject was within a twenty-five-foot range. Beyond that,
control of the fantastically small electrons and photons simply became
too diffused.

But Fredericks had a shield. And in case the shield didn't work, he
was coming with a blindfold.

The Psi Operative had no weapons, no reinforcements, no chance to
run--nothing except his psi talent, which Fredericks had defenses
against, and his brains.

But there had to be a way out.

Didn't there?

       *       *       *       *       *

The desk clerk looked young and comparatively innocent. Fredericks
ambled over, taking his time about it. The clerk looked up and smiled
distantly. "Yes, sir?"

"You've got a man registered here," Fredericks said, in crisp,
official tones. "He gave the name of John P. Jones--"

The clerk was consulting a card file. "Yes, sir," he said brightly.
"Room 1014."

"He's at work on an FBI matter," Fredericks said. "Naturally, this is
private and confidential--"

"Naturally," the clerk said in a subdued tone. "But I--"

"I'm assigned to work with him," Fredericks said. "You understand."

"Of course, sir," the clerk said, trying to look as if he did.

Fredericks took a deep breath. "I know he's here, but I don't know his
room number," he said. "Some red-tape mixup."

"He's in 1014," the clerk said hopefully.

Fredericks shook his head. "Not that," he said. "The real room number.
Look, I've got to get to him immediately--"

"Of course, sir," the clerk said. "Identification, sir?"

Fredericks grinned and fished in pockets. Naturally, he didn't come up
with a thing, FBI identification was infra-red tested, totally
unmistakable and unavailable to non-Operatives under any circumstances
whatever. "Got it here some place," he muttered.

The clerk nodded. "Of course, sir," he said. "No need to waste time. I
understand."

Fredericks stopped and stared. "You what?"

"The room, sir, is 1212," the clerk said. "Would you like me to
accompany you--"

"No thanks," Fredericks breathed. "I'll find it myself." The man was
too easy to find, he thought savagely. It ought to be tough to find
him--but it's easy.

Remotely, that idea bothered him. But what difference did it make,
after all? He had all the protection in the world. He had all the
protection he was going to need. And all the time to fire one shot.
Doing it blindfolded was going to be tough, but not insuperably tough.
Fredericks had spent a week practicing, and he could locate a fly by
sound within two inches, nineteen times out of twenty. That, he
thought, was going to be good enough.

Upstairs, the Psi Operative thought so, too.

There had to be a way out, he told himself desperately.

But he couldn't find it.

He couldn't even come close.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the way to Room 1212, he flipped on the shield, the mask, the
binder field. Now let the superman try something, he thought wildly.
Now let him try his tricks! He attached the blindfold as he got off
the elevator. He could see Room 1212, three doors down the corridor,
twenty steps--and then the blindfold was on. From now on he worked in
the dark.

He felt the skeleton key in his palm and flipped the shield off for a
second; then the key was in the lock, the shield back on, protecting
him. The door opened slowly.

He heard it shut behind him. Then there was silence. He drew his gun.

"Go ahead," a muffled voice said from his right. "Go ahead and try
something, Fredericks."

He whirled and almost fired--but voices could be thrown. He listened
again. There was silence ... not quite silence ... a movement ... a
rustle--

Breathing was faint but unmistakable. It gave him a new direction.
Breathing couldn't be faked.

He pictured the Psi Operative, in one flash of imagination, trying to
get through the shield, sweating as he strained helplessly against the
force shield, the binder field, the mask, the blindfold--oh, there was
no way out for the poor superman, no way at all.

And Psi Operatives didn't carry weapons or anything else. They
depended on their powers, and that was all.

And he'd neutralized those powers.

The breathing gave him the direction. He turned again, bringing the
gun up, and fired six shots without a second's break between them.
There was a sound like a gasp, and then nothing.

Nothing at all.

Grinning wildly, Fredericks whipped off the blindfold and switched off
his shield in one triumphant motion. There, on the floor--

There, on the floor, was a nice gray rug with nobody at all lying dead
on top of it. In the half-second it took Fredericks to see that, the
Psi Operative moved. Fredericks tossed the empty gun at him and
missed; the man was coming too fast. He guarded his face but the Psi
Operative didn't go for the face. Instead his hands went swinging up
and out and _back_.

The sides of the palms landed neatly on the twin junctions of
Fredericks' arms and shoulders. Fredericks let out a shriek as his
arms turned to acutely painful stone, and the Psi Operative stepped
back and moved again in one blinding motion. This time the solar
plexus was the target for one balled fist.

And then, of course, it was all over.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Of course it was simple," Donegan said. "Anyone could have thought of
it--and I knew you would."

"All the same," the Psi Operative said, "I nearly didn't."

Donegan nodded. "If you hadn't," he said, "we'd stationed a man
downstairs who'd memorized your room. He could have done the job,
too."

The Operative blinked. "Who?" he said.

"Desk clerk," Donegan said.

"Why didn't you tell me--"

"Now, use your head," Donegan said. "If you'd known you were all
right, you'd never have thought of the answer. You had to prove you
could do it--prove it to yourself as well as to me."

"But--"

"And you had to prove you could beat him on his grounds, too, as well
as yours," Donegan went on. "You had to take him, not only with psi
forces, but with the only weapons a Psi Operative is allowed to
carry."

"Fists," the Operative said. "Sure Judo and Karate are standard
subjects--every Operative has to know them. What's so tough about
that?"

"Nothing," Donegan said. "Nothing at all--except for Fredericks. He's
been beaten on your ground, and on his own. Now he _knows_ he's
licked. Standard operating procedure."

"I guess so," the Operative said.

"And after all," Donegan said, "now that you're going up a grade--"

"Now that I'm what?"

"That," Donegan said, "was your promotion test, friend. And you
passed."

There was a second of absolute silence. Then the Operative said: "And
it was all so simple."

"Sure," Donegan said. "Simple enough so that you get a promotion out
of it--and Fredericks gets sixty days for attempted assault."

"Not ADW--assault with a deadly weapon--because we've got to keep up
the myth," the Operative said. "Psi Operatives are untouchable. No
such thing as a deadly weapon for a Psi Operative."

"Which is nonsense," Donegan said, "but necessary nonsense. I wonder
if Fredericks will ever figure out how you got him."

"I wonder," the Operative said. "He'll know about karate, of course."

"Karate's hand-to-hand fighting." Donegan said. "That was _his_ field.
No, I mean _our_ field. Psi."

"It makes a nice puzzle for him, doesn't it?" the Operative said, and
grinned. "After all, I didn't touch him--couldn't, in any way. He'd
shielded himself perfectly from any telekinetic force--and I had no
weapons. I couldn't even get to him barehanded because of his shield
and the binder field. He had me located--no tomfoolery about that. He
fired six shots at me, point-blank at can't-miss range."

"But you got him," Donegan said.

"Sure," the Operative said. "Simplest thing in the world."

"All you had to do--" Donegan began.

"All I had to do," the Operative finished for him, "was use my mind to
move the bullets--as he fired them."

[Illustration]

       *       *       *       *       *





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