Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Brink of Madness
Author: Sheldon, Walter J., 1917-
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 "Brink of Madness" ***

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



                          BRINK OF MADNESS

                          By Walt Sheldon

                     Illustrated by KELLY FREAS

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science
Fiction July 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: _C.I.B. Agent Pell used his head, even if he did rely on
hunches more than on the computer. In fact, when the game got rough, he
found that to use his head, he first had to keep it...._]



Chapter I


The night the visitors came Richard Pell worked late among the great
banks of criminological computers. He whistled to himself, knowing that
he was way off key but not caring. Ciel, his wife, was still in his
mind's eye; he'd seen her on the viewer and talked with her not ten
minutes ago.

"Be home shortly, baby," he'd said, "soon as I fill in a form or two."

"All right, dear. I'll wait," she'd answered, with just the slightest
tone of doubt.

It was an important night. It was at once their second anniversary and
the beginning of their second honeymoon. Just how Pell--knobby, more or
less homely, and easygoing--had won himself a lovely, long-limbed blonde
like Ciel was something of a mystery to many of their friends. She could
hardly have married him for his money. Central Investigation Bureau
agents were lucky if all their extras and bonuses brought them up to a
thousand credits a year.

Pell had unquestionably caught her in a romantic moment. Maybe that was
part of the trouble--part of the reason they needed this second
honeymoon, this period of re-acquaintance so badly. Being the wife of a
C.I.B. agent meant sitting at home nine-tenths of the time while he was
working on a case, and then not hearing about the case for security
reasons during the one-tenth of the time he was with her.

Four times now Pell had been ready to take his vacation; four times last
minute business had come up. No more, though, by golly. Tonight he'd get
out of here just as quickly as....

The Identifier, beyond the door, began to hum. That meant somebody was
putting his hand to the opaque screen, and if the scanner recognized the
fingerprints the door would open. Pell scowled at the bulky shadows
outside.

"Go away, whoever you are," he muttered to himself.

Some of the other agents were out there, no doubt; they were always
getting sudden inspirations late at night and returning to use the
computers again. In fact, it had been tactfully suggested to Agent
Richard Pell that he might use the computers a little more himself
instead of relying on hunches as he so often did. "Investigation's a
cold science, not a fancy art," Chief Larkin was fond of saying to the
group--with his eyes on Pell.

Well, whoever it was, Pell was definitely through. No time-wasting
conversation for him! He was ready for six glorious weeks of saved-up
vacation time. He and Ciel, early tomorrow, would grab a rocket for one
of the Moon resorts, and there they'd just loaf and relax and pay
attention to each other. Try to regain whatever it was they'd had....

       *       *       *       *       *

The door opened and Chief Larkin walked in.

Chief Eustace J. Larkin was tall, in his forties, but still boyishly
handsome. He dressed expensively and well. He was dynamic and confident
and he always had about him just the faintest aroma of very expensive
shaving cologne. He had a Master's degree in criminology and his rise to
the post of Director, C.I.B., had been sudden, dramatic and impressive.
Not the least of his talents was a keen sense of public relations.

"I--uh--was on my way out," said Pell. He reached for his hat. Funny
about hats: few people traveled topside anymore, and in the
climate-conditioned tunnels you didn't need a hat. But C.I.B. agents had
to be neat and dignified; regulations required hats and ties and cuffs
and lapels. Thus, you could always spot a C.I.B. agent a mile away.

Larkin had a dimple when he smiled and Pell would bet he knew it. "We'd
have called your home if we hadn't found you here. Sit down, Dick."

Pell sat glumly. For the first time, he noticed the men who had come in
with the Chief. He recognized both. One was fiftyish, tall,
solidly-built and well-dressed on the conservative side. His face was
strong, square and oddly pale, as if someone had taken finest white
marble and roughly hacked a face into it. Pell had seen that face in
faxpapers often. The man was Theodor Rysland, once a wealthy corporation
lawyer, now a World Government adviser in an unofficial way. Some
admired him as a selfless public servant; others swore he was a
power-mad tyrant. Few were indifferent.

"I'm sure you recognize Mr. Rysland," said Chief Larkin, smiling. "And
this is Dr. Walter Nebel, of the World Department of Education."

Dr. Walter Nebel was slight and had a head remarkably tiny in proportion
to the rest of him. He wore cropped hair. His eyes were turtle-lidded
and at first impression sleepy, and then, with a second look--wary. Pell
remembered that he had won fame some time ago by discovering the
electrolytic enzyme in the thought process. Pell wasn't sure exactly
what this was, but the faxpapers had certainly made a fuss about it at
the time.

He shook hands with the two men and then said to Larkin, "What's up?"

"Patience," said Larkin and shuffled chairs into place.

Rysland sat down solidly and gravely; Nebel perched. Rysland looked at
Pell with a strong, level stare and said, "It's my sincere hope that
this meeting tonight will prevent resumption of the war with Venus."

Larkin said, "Amen."

Pell stared back in some surprise. High-level stuff!

Rysland saw his stare and chuckled. "Chief Larkin tells me your
sympathies are more or less Universalist. Not that it would be
necessary, but it helps."

"Oh," said Pell, with mild bewilderment. The difference between the
Universal and Defense parties was pretty clear-cut. The Universalists
hoped to resume full relations with Venus and bring about a really
secure peace through friendship and trade. It would admittedly be a
tough struggle, and the Defenders didn't think it was possible. Forget
Venus, said they; fortify Earth, keep the line of demarcation on Mars,
and sit tight.

"But there is, as you may know," said Rysland, "a third course in our
relations with Venus."

"There is?" asked Pell. From the corner of his eye he saw Chief Larkin
looking at him with an expression of--what, amusement? Yes, amusement,
largely, but with a touch of contempt, too, perhaps. Hard to say.

"The third course," said Rysland, not smiling, "would be to attack Venus
again, resume the war, and hope to win quickly. We know Venus is
exhausted from the recent struggle. A sudden, forceful attack might
possibly subjugate her. At least, that is the argument of a certain
group called the Supremists."

Dr. Nebel spoke for the first time. Pell realized that the man had been
watching him closely. His voice was sibilant; it seemed to drag itself
through wet grass. "Also Venus is psychologically unprepared for war;
the Supremists believe that, too."

Pell reached back into his memory. The Supremists. They were a minor
political party--sort of a cult, too. The outfit had sprung up in the
last year or so. Supremists believed that Earthmen, above all other
creatures, had a destiny--were chosen--were supreme. They had several
followers as delegates in World Congress. General impression: slightly
crackpot.

"The Supremists," said Theodor Rysland, tapping his hard, white palm,
and leaning forward, "have been calling for attack. Aggression. Starting
the war with Venus all over again. And they're not only a vociferous
nuisance. They have an appeal in this business of Earthman's supremacy.
They're gaining converts every day. In short, _they've now become
dangerous_."

       *       *       *       *       *

Pell thought it over as Rysland talked. Certainly the idea of renewed
war was nightmarish. He'd been in the last one: who hadn't? It had
started in 2117, the year he was born, and it had dragged on for
twenty-five years until T-day and the truce. The causes? Well, both
Earth and Venus worked the mineral deposits on Mars unimpeded by the
non-intelligent insectile life on that planet, and the original
arguments had been about those mineral deposits, though there were
enough for a dozen planets there. The causes were more complicated and
obscure than that. Semantics, partly. There was freedom as Earthmen saw
it and freedom as the Venusians saw it. Same with honor and good and
evil. They were always two different things. And then Venusians had a
greenish tinge to their skins and called the Earthmen, in their clicking
language, "Pink-faces." And both Earthmen and Venusians hated like the
devil to see the other get away with anything.

Anyway, there had been war, terrible war. Space battle, air battle,
landing, repulse. Stalemate. Finally, through utter weariness perhaps,
truce. Now, a taut, uneasy, suspicious peace. Communications opened, a
few art objects mutually exchanged. Immigration for a few Venusian
dancers or students or diplomats. It wasn't much, but it was all in the
right direction. At least Pell felt so.

Rysland was saying: "We're not sure, of course, but we suspect--we
_feel_--that more than mere accident may be behind these Supremists."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Someone seeking power, perhaps. As I said, we don't know. We want to
find out. Dr. Nebel has been interested for some time in the curious
psychology of these Supremists--their blind, unthinking loyalty to their
cause, for instance. He is, as you know, a special assistant in the
Department of Education. He asked my help in arranging for an
investigation, and I agreed with him wholeheartedly that one should be
made."

"And I told these gentlemen," said Chief Larkin, "that I'd put a detail
on it right away."

Now Pell believed he saw through it. Larkin didn't believe it was
important at all; he was just obliging these Vips. A man couldn't have
too many friends in World Government circles, after all. But of course
Larkin couldn't afford to put one of his bright, machine-minded boys on
it, and so Pell was the patsy.

"Could I remind you," said Pell, "that my vacation is supposed to start
tomorrow?"

"Now, now, Dick," said Larkin, turning on the personality, "this won't
take you long. Just a routine report. The computers ought to give you
all the information you need in less than a day."

"That's what you always say, every time I'm ready to take a vacation.
I've been saving up for two years now...."

"Dick, that's hardly the right attitude for an agent who is so close to
making second grade."

Larkin had him over a barrel, there. Pell desperately wanted to make his
promotion. Second-graders didn't spend their time at the control banks
gathering data; they did mostly desk work and evaluation. They had a
little more time to spend with their wives. He said, "Okay, okay," and
got up.

"Where are you going?"

"To get my wife on the viewer and tell her I won't be home for a while
after all."

He left the three of them chuckling and thought: _He jests at scars who
never felt a wound._ He didn't say it aloud. You could quote formulae or
scientific precepts in front of Larkin, but not Shakespeare.

       *       *       *       *       *

He punched out his home number and waited until Ciel's image swirled
into the viewplate. His heart went boppety-bop as it always did. Hair of
polished gold. Dark eyes, ripe olives, a little large for her face and
sometimes deep and fathomless. She wore a loose, filmy nightgown and the
suggestion of her body under it was enough to bring on a touch of
madness in him.

"Let me say it," Ciel said. She wasn't smiling. "You won't be home for a
while. You've got another case."

"Well--yes. That's it, more or less." Pell swallowed.

"Oh, Dick."

"I'm sorry, honey. It's just that something important came up. I've got
a conference on my hands. It shouldn't take more than an hour."

"And we were supposed to leave for the moon in the morning."

"Listen, baby, this is absolutely the last time. I mean it. As soon as
this thing is washed up we'll _really_ take that vacation. Look, I'll
tell you what, I'll meet you somewhere in an hour. We'll have some
fun--take in a floor show--drink a little meth. We haven't done that in
a long time. How about the Stardust Cafe? I hear they've got a terrific
new mentalist there."

Ciel said, "No."

"Don't be like that. We need an evening out. It'll hold us until I get
this new case washed up. That won't be long, but at least we'll have a
little relaxation."

Ciel said, "Well...."

"Attababy. One hour. Absolutely. You just go to Station B-90, take the
lift to topside and it's right on Shapley Boulevard there. You can't
miss it."

"I know where it is," said Ciel. She shook her finger. "Richard Pell, so
help me, if you stand me up this time...."

"Baby!" he said in a tone of deep injury.

"Goodbye, Dick." She clicked off.

Pell had the feeling that even the free-flowing meth and the gaiety of
the Stardust Cafe wouldn't really help matters much. He sighed deeply as
he turned and went back into the other room.



Chapter II


A little over an hour later he stepped from the elevator kiosk at
Station B-90 and breathed the night air of topside. It was less pure
actually than the carefully controlled tunnel air, but it was somehow
infinitely more wonderful. At least to a sentimental primitive boob like
Richard Pell, it was. Oh, he knew that it was infinitely more sensible
to live and work entirely underground as people did these days--but just
the same he loved the look of the black sky with the crushed diamonds of
stars thrown across it and he loved the uneven breeze and the faint
smell of trees and grass.

This particular topside section was given over to entertainment; all
about him were theaters and cafes and picnic groves and airports for
flying sports. A few hundred feet ahead he could see the
three-dimensional atmospheric projection that marked the Stardust Cafe,
and he could hear faintly the mournful sound of a Venusian lament being
played by the askarins. He was glad they hadn't banned Venusian music,
anyway, although he wouldn't be surprised if they did, some day.

That was one of the things these Supremists were trying to do. Rysland
and Chief Larkin had given him a long and careful briefing on the outfit
so that he could start work tomorrow with his partner, Steve Kronski.
Steve, of course, would shrug phlegmatically, swing his big shoulders
toward the computer rooms and say, "Let's go to work." It would be just
another assignment to him.

As a matter of fact, the job would be not without a certain amount of
interest. There were a couple of puzzling things about these Supremists
that Rysland had pointed out. First of all, they didn't seem to be at
all organized or incorporated. No headquarters, no officers that anybody
knew about. They just _were_. It was a complete mystery how a man became
a Supremist, how they kept getting new members all the time. Yet you
couldn't miss a Supremist whenever you met one. Before the conversation
was half over he'd start spouting about the destiny of Earthmen and the
general inferiority of all other creatures and so on. It sounded like
hogwash to Pell. He wondered how such an attitude could survive in a
scientific age.

Nor would a Supremist be essentially a moron or a neurotic; they were
found in all walks of life, at all educational and emotional levels.
Rysland told how he had questioned a few, trying to discover when, where
and how they joined the movement: Apparently there was nothing to join,
at least to hear them tell it. They just knew one day that they were
Supremists, and that was the word. Rysland had shaken his head sadly and
said, "Their belief is completely without logic--and maybe that's what
makes it so strong. Maybe that's what frightens me about it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Okay, tomorrow then Pell would tackle it. Tomorrow he'd think about it.
Right now he had a date with his best girl.

He entered the cafe and the music of the askarins swirled more loudly
about his head and he looked through the smoke and colored light until
he spotted Ciel sitting in a rear booth. The place was crowded. On the
small dance floor before the orchestra nearly nude Venusian girls were
going through the writhing motions of a serpentine dance. Their greenish
skins shimmered iridescently. The sad-faced Venusian musicians on the
band-stand waved their graceful, spatulated fingers over their curious,
boxlike askarins, producing changing tones and overtones by the altered
capacitance. A rocketman in the black and silver uniform of the Space
Force was trying to stumble drunkenly out on to the floor with the
dancers and his friends were holding him back. There was much laughter
about the whole thing. The Venusian girls kept dancing and didn't change
their flat, almost lifeless expressions.

Ciel looked up without smiling when he got to the booth. She had a
half-finished glass of meth before her.

He tried a smile anyway. "Hello, baby." He sat down.

She said, "I didn't really think you'd get here. I could have had dates
with exactly eleven spacemen. I kept count."

"You have been faithful to me, Cynara, in your fashion. I need a drink
and don't want to wait for the waitress. Mind?" He took her half glass
of meth and tossed it down. He felt the wonderful illusion of an
explosion in his skull, and it seemed to him that his body was suddenly
the strongest in the world and that he could whip everybody in the joint
with one arm tied behind his back. He said, "Wow."

Ciel tried a smile now. "It does that to you when you're not used to
it."

The first effect passed and he felt only the warmth of the drink. He
signaled a waitress and ordered a couple more. "Don't forget to remind
me to take a hangover pill before I go to work in the morning," he told
Ciel.

"You--you are going to work in the morning, then?"

"Afraid I can't get out of it."

"And the moon trip's off?"

"Not off, just postponed. We'll get to it, don't worry."

"Dick."

"Yes?"

"I can take it just so long, putting our vacation off and off and off."
Her eyes were earnest, liquid and opaque. "I've been thinking about it.
Trying to arrive at something. I'm beginning to wonder, Dick, if maybe
we hadn't just better, well--call it quits, or something."

He stared at her. "Baby, what are you saying?"

       *       *       *       *       *

A sudden, fanfare-like blast from the orchestra interrupted. They looked
at the dance floor. There was a flash of light, a swirling of mist, and
within the space of a second the Venusian girls suddenly disappeared and
their place was taken by a tall, hawk-nosed, dark-eyed man with a cloak
slung dramatically over one shoulder. The audience applauded.

"That's Marco, the new mentalist," said Pell.

Ciel shrugged to show that she wasn't particularly impressed. Neither
was Pell, to tell the truth. Mentalists were all the rage, partly
because everybody could practice a little amateur telepathy and
hypnotism in his own home. Mentalists, of course, made a career of it
and were much better at it than anybody else.

Their drinks came and they watched Marco go through his act in a rather
gloomy silence. Marco was skillful, but not especially unusual. He did
the usual stuff: calling out things that people wrote on slips of paper,
calling out dates on coins, and even engaging in mental duels wherein
the challenger wrote a phrase, concealed it from Marco, and then
deliberately tried to keep him from reading it telepathically. He had
the usual hypnotism session with volunteers who were certain they could
resist. He made them hop around the stage like monkeys, burn their
fingers on pieces of ice, and so on. The audience roared with laughter.
Pell and Ciel just kept staring.

When Marco had finished his act and the thundering applause had faded
the Venusian dancing girls came back on the stage again.

Ciel yawned.

Pell said, "Me, too. Let's get out of here."

It wasn't until they were home in their underground apartment and
getting ready for bed that Ciel turned to him and said, "You see?"

He was buttoning his pajamas. "See what?"

"It's _us_, Dick. It's not the floor show, or the meth, or
anything--it's _us_. We can't enjoy _anything_ together any more."

He said, "Now wait a minute...."

But she had already stepped into the bedroom and slammed the door. He
heard the lock click.

"Hey," he said, "what am I supposed to do, sleep out here?"

He took the ensuing silence to mean that he was.

And he did.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning, as he came into the office, Pell scowled deeply and
went to his desk without saying good morning to anybody. Ciel had kept
herself locked in the bedroom and he had made his own breakfast. How it
was all going to end he didn't know. He had the feeling that she was
working herself up to the decision to leave him. And the real hell of it
was that he couldn't exactly blame her.

"Morning, partner," said a voice above him. He looked up. Way up. Steve
Kronski was built along the general lines of a water buffalo. The usual
battered grin was smeared across his face. "I see we got a new
assignment."

"Oh--did Larkin brief you on it already?"

"Yeah. Before I could get my hat off. Funny set-up, all right. I punched
for basic data before you got in. Hardly any."

"Maybe that means something in itself. Maybe somebody saw to it that the
information never got into the central banks."

The C.I.B. computers could be hooked into the central banks which stored
information on nearly everything and everybody. If you incorporated,
filed for a patent, paid taxes, voted, or just were born, the central
banks had an electronic record of it.

Kronski jerked his thumb toward the computer room. "I punched for names
of Supremist members coupla minutes ago. Thought maybe we could start in
that way."

Pell followed, his mind not really on the job yet. He wasn't at his best
working with the computers, and yet operating them was ninety per cent
of investigation. He supposed he'd get used to it sometime.

Three walls of the big computer room were lined with control racks,
consisting mostly of keyboard setups. Code symbols and index cards were
placed in handy positions. The C.I.B. circuits, of course, were adapted
to the specialized work of investigation. In the memory banks of tubes
and relays there was a master file of all names--aliases and nicknames
included--with which the organization had ever been concerned.
Criminals, witnesses, complaints, everyone. Code numbers linked to the
names showed where data on their owner could be found. A name picked at
random might show that person to have data in the suspect file, the
arrest file, the psychological file, the modus operandi file, and so
forth. Any of the data in these files could be checked, conversely,
against the names.

Kronski walked over to where letter sized cards were flipping from a
slot into a small bin. He said, "Didn't even have to dial in Central
Data for these. Seems we got a lot of Supremist members right in our own
little collection."

Pell picked up one of the cards and examined it idly. Vertical columns
were inscribed along the card, each with a heading, and with further
sub-headed columns. Under the column marked _Modus Operandi_, for
instance, there were subcolumns titled _Person Attacked_, _Property
Attacked_, _How Attacked_, _Means of Attack_, _Object of Attack_, and
_Trademark_. Columns of digits, one to nine, were under each item. If
the digits 3 and 2 were punched under _Trademark_ the number 32 could be
fed into the Operational Data machine and this machine would then give
back the information on a printed slip that number 32 stood for the
trademark of leaving cigar butts at the scene of the crime.

"Got five hundred now," said Kronski. "I'll let a few more run in case
we need alternates."

"Okay," said Pell. "I'll start this batch through the analyzer."

He took the cards across the room to a machine about twenty feet long
and dropped them into the feeder at one end. Channels and rollers ran
along the top of this machine and under them were a series of vertical
slots into which the selected cards could drop. He cleared the previous
setting and ran the pointer to _Constants_. He set the qualitative dial
to 85%. This meant that on the first run the punch hole combinations in
the cards would be scanned and any item common to 85% of the total would
be registered in a relay. Upon the second run the machine would select
the cards with this constant and drop them into a slot corresponding
with that heading. Further scanning, within the slot itself, would pick
out the constant number.

Pell started the rollers whirring.

Kronski came over. He rubbed his battered nose. "Hope we get outside on
this case. I'm gettin' sick o' the office. Haven't been out in weeks."

Pell nodded. Oh, for the life of a C.I.B. man. In teleplays they
cornered desperate criminals in the dark ruins of the ancient cities
topside, and fought it out with freezers. The fact was, although
regulations called for them to carry freezers in their shoulder
holsters, one in a thousand ever got a chance to use them.

Pell said, "Maybe you need a vacation."

"Maybe. Only I keep putting my vacation off. Got a whole month saved up
now."

"Me, too." Pell sighed. Ciel would probably be pacing the floor back
home now, trying to make up her mind. To break it up, or not to break it
up? There would be no difficulty, really: she had been a pretty good
commercial artist before they were married and she wouldn't have any
trouble finding a job again somewhere in World City.

The rollers kept whirring and the cards flipping along with a whispering
sound.

"Wonder what we're looking into these Supremists for?" asked Kronski. "I
always thought they were some kind of harmless crackpots."

"The Chief doesn't think so. Neither does Theodor Rysland." He told
Kronski more about the interview last night.

Presently the machine stopped, clicked several times and began rolling
the other way.

"Well, it found something," said Kronski.

They kept watching. Oh, for the life of a C.I.B. man. Cards began to
drop into one of the slots. The main heading was _Physical_ and the
sub-heading _Medical History_. Pell frowned and said, "Certainly didn't
expect to find a constant in this department." He picked up a few of the
first cards and looked at them, hoping to catch the constant by eye. He
caught it. "What's 445 under this heading?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Kronski said, "I'll find out," and stepped over to the Operational Data
board. He worked it, took the printed slip that came out and called
back: "Record of inoculation."

"That's a funny one."

"Yup. Sure is." Kronski stared at the slip and scratched his neck. "It
must be just any old kind inoculation. If it was special--like typhoid
or tetanus or something--it'd have another digit."

"There must be some other boil-downs, if we could think of them." Pell
was frowning heavily. Some of the other men, used to the machines, could
grab a boil-down out of thin air, run the cards again and get another
significant constant. The machine, however, inhibited Pell. It made him
feel uneasy and stupid whenever he was around it.

"How about location?" suggested Kronski.

Pell shook his head. "I checked a few by eye. All different numbers
under location. Some of 'em come from World City, some from Mars
Landing, some from way out in the sticks. Nothing significant there."

"Maybe what we need is a cup of coffee."

Pell grinned. "Best idea all morning. Come on."

Some minutes later they sat across from each other at a table in the big
cafeteria on the seventy-third level. It was beginning to be crowded now
with personnel from other departments and bureaus. The coffee urge came
for nearly everybody in the government offices at about the same time.
Pell was studying by eye a handful of spare data cards he'd brought
along and Kronski was reading faxpaper clippings from a large manila
envelope marked _Supremist Party_. Just on a vague hunch Pell had
viewplated Central Public Relations and had them send the envelope down
by tube.

"_Prominent Educator Addresses Supremist Rally_," Kronski muttered.
"_Three Spaceport Cargomen Arrested at Supremist Riot. Young Supremists
Form Rocket Club._ Looks like anybody and everybody can be a Supremist.
And his grandmother. Wonder how they do it?"

"Don't know." Pell wasn't really listening.

"And here's a whole town went over to the Supremists. On the moon."

"Uh-huh," said Pell.

Kronski sipped his coffee loudly. A few slender, graceful young men from
World Commerce looked at him distastefully. "Happened just this year.
New Year they all went over. Augea, in the Hercules Mountains. Big
celebration."

Pell looked up and said, "Wait a minute...."

"Wait for what? I'm not goin' anywhere. Not on this swivel-chair of a
job, damn it."

"New Year they all become Supremists. And the last week of December
everybody on the moon gets his inoculations, right?"

"Search me."

"But I know that. I found that out when I was tailing those two gamblers
who had a place on the moon, remember?"

"So it may be a connection." Kronski shrugged.

"It may be the place where we can study a bunch of these cases in a
batch instead of picking 'em one by one."

"You mean we oughta take a trip to the moon?"

"Might not hurt for a few days."

Kronski was grinning at him.

"What are you grinning at?"

"First you got to stay over on your vacation, so you can't go to the
moon with your wife. Now all of a sudden you decide duty has got to take
you to the moon, huh?"

Pell grinned back then. "What are you squawking about? You said you
wanted to get out on this case."

Kronski, still grinning, got up. "I'm not complaining. I'm just
demonstrating my powers of deduction, as they say in teleplays. Come on,
let's go make rocket reservations."



Chapter III


The big tourist rocket let them down at the Endymion Crater Landing, and
they went through the usual immigration and customs formalities in the
underground city there. They stayed in a hotel overnight, Pell and Ciel
looking very much like tourists, Kronski tagging along and looking
faintly out of place. In the morning--morning according to the 24 hour
earth clock, that is--they took the jitney rocket to the resort town of
Augea, in the Hercules Mountains. The town was really a cliff dwelling,
built into the side of a great precipice with quartz windows overlooking
a tremendous, stark valley.

It was hard to say just what attraction the moon had as a vacation land,
and it was a matter of unfathomable taste. You either liked it, or you
didn't. If you didn't, you couldn't understand what people who liked it
saw in it. They couldn't quite explain. "It's so quiet. It's so vast.
It's so beautiful," they'd say, but never anything clearer than that.

[Illustration]

Augea itself was like twenty other resorts scattered throughout both the
northern and southern latitudes of the moon. Except for the military
posts and scientific research stations the moon had little value other
than as a vacation land. People came there to rest, to look at the
bizarre landscape through quartz, or occasionally to don spacesuits and
go out on guided exploration trips.

Immediately after checking into their hotel Pell and Kronski got
directions to the office of the Resident Surgeon and prepared to go
there. Ciel looked on quietly as Pell tightened the straps of his
shoulder holster and checked the setting on his freezer.

Ciel said, "I knew it."

"Knew what, honey?" Pell went to the mirror to brush his hair. He wasn't
sure it would materially improve the beauty of his long, knobby, faintly
melancholy face, but he did it any way.

"The minute we get here you have to go out on business."

He turned, kissed her, then held and patted her hand. "That's just
because I want to get it over with. Then I'll have time for you. Then
we'll have lots of time together."

She melted into him suddenly. She put her arms around his neck and held
him tightly. "If I didn't love you, you big lug, it wouldn't be so bad.
But, Dick, I can't go on like this much longer. I just can't."

"Now, baby," he started to say.

There was a knock on the door then and he knew Kronski was ready. He
broke away from her, threw a kiss and said, "Later. Later, baby."

She nodded and held her under lip in with her upper teeth.

He sighed and left.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pell and Kronski left the hotel and started walking along the winding
tunnel with the side wall of quartz. On their right the huge valley,
with its stark, unearthly landshapes, stretched away. It was near the
end of the daylight period and the shadows from the distant peaks,
across the valley, were long and deep. Some of them, with little
reflected light, seemed to be patches of nothingness. Pell fancied he
could step through them into another dimension.

All about them, even here in the side of the mountain, and behind the
thick quartz, there was the odd, utterly dead silence of the moon.

Their footsteps echoed sparsely in the corridor.

Pell said to Kronski, "Got the story all straight?"

"Like as if it was true."

"Remember the signal?"

"Sure. Soon as you say we're out of cigarettes. What's the matter, you
think I'm a moron, I can't remember?"

Pell laughed and clapped him on the shoulder blade.

Minutes later they turned in from the corridor, went through another,
shorter passageway and then came to a door marked: Resident Surgeon.
They knocked and a deep voice boomed: "Come in!"

It was a medium-sized room, clearly a dispensary. There was an operating
table, a sterilizer, tall glass-fronted instrument cabinets and a
refrigerator. At the far end of the room a hulking, bear-like man sat
behind a magnalloy desk. The nameplate on the desk said: Hal H. Wilcox,
M.D.

"Howdy, gents," said Dr. Hal H. Wilcox, shattering the moon-silence with
a vengeance. "What can I do for you?" he was all smiles.

That smile, decided Pell, didn't quite match the shrewdness of his eyes.
Have to watch this boy, maybe. There was a big quartz window behind the
man so that for the moment Pell saw him almost in silhouette. "We're
from _Current_ magazine," said Pell. "I'm Dick Pell and this is Steve
Kronski. You got our radio, I guess."

"Oh, yes. Yes, indeed." Wilcox creaked way back in his chair. "You're
the fellas want to do a story on us moon surgeons."

"That's right." Pell fumbled a little self-consciously with the gravity
weights clipped to his trousers. Took a while for moon visitors to get
used to them, everybody said.

"Well, I don't know exactly as how there's much of a story in what we
do. We're just a bunch of sawbones stationed here, that's all."

"We're interested in the diseases peculiar to the moon," said Pell. "For
instance, why do the permanent residents up here have to have an
inoculation every year?"

"That's for the Venusian rash. Thought everybody knew that."

"Venusian rash?"

"Nearest thing we ever had to it on Earth was Rocky Mountain Spotted
Fever. It's a rickettsia disease. Makes a fella pretty sick; sometimes
kills him in two, three days. It started when they had those Venusian
construction workers and tunnel men here, oh, long before the war. Under
certain conditions the rickettsia stays dormant and then pops up again."

"And the inoculation's for that?"

"Standard. Once a year. You got the inoculation yourself, no doubt,
before you jumped off for the moon."

"Where does the serum or whatever you call it come from?"

Pell thought he saw Wilcox's eyes flicker. The doctor said, "It's stored
at the main landings. We draw it as we need it from there."

"Have any here now?"

Wilcox's eyes did move this time. He looked at the refrigerator--but
only for the veriest moment. "Don't really reckon so," he said finally.
He was staring blankly at Pell again.

Pell patted his pockets, turned to Kronski and said, "You know, I think
we're out of cigarettes." Before Kronski could answer he moved to the
big quartz window behind Wilcox's desk. He gazed at the moonscape. "Just
can't get over how big and quiet it is," he said.

Wilcox turned and gazed with him.

Kronski drew his freezer. He pointed it, squeezed, and there was a soft,
momentary buzzing and a twinkling of violet sparks at the muzzle of the
weapon.

Wilcox sat where he was, frozen, knowing nothing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pell turned fast. "Come on, Steve. Let's get it." They both stepped to
the refrigerator.

They had only seconds; Kronski's weapon had been set at a low reading.
The time of paralysis varied with the individual and Doc Wilcox looked
husky enough not to stay frozen very long. If Pell and Kronski returned
to their original positions after he came out of it he would never know
that anything had happened.

Far back on a lower shelf of the refrigerator were a dozen small bottles
of the same type. Pell grabbed one, glanced at the label, nodded, and
dropped it into his pocket. They took their places again.

A few moments later Wilcox moved slightly and said, "Yup. Moon's a funny
place all right. You either like it or you don't."

The rest of the conversation was fairly uninspired. Pell didn't want to
walk out too quickly, and had to keep up the pretense of interviewing
Wilcox for a magazine story. It wasn't easy. They excused themselves
finally, saying they'd be back for more information as soon as they made
up some notes and got the overall picture--whatever that meant. Wilcox
seemed satisfied with it.

They hurried back along the tunnel, descended to another level and found
the Augea Post Office. They showed the postmaster their C.I.B. shields
and identification cards and arranged for quick and special handling for
the bottle of vaccine. Pell marked it _Attention, Lab_, and it was
scheduled to take a quick rocket to the Endymion landing and the next
unmanned mail rocket back to World City.

Pell stayed at the Post Office to make out a quick report on the
incident so he wouldn't have to bore Ciel by doing it in the room, and
Kronski sauntered on back to the hotel.

There was a fax receiver there and Pell, missing the hourly voice
bulletins of World City Underground, checked it for news. The pages were
coming out in a long tongue. He looked at the first headline:

     VENUSIAN OBSERVERS ADMITTED TO WORLD CONGRESS

Well, that was a step in the right direction. Maybe one of these days
they'd get around to a Solar Congress, as they ought to. The recent open
war with Venus had taught both Earthmen and Venusians a lot about space
travel, and it was probably possible to explore the solar system further
right now. No one had yet gone beyond the asteroids. Recent observations
from the telescope stations here on the moon had found what seemed to be
geometrical markings on some of Jupiter's satellites. Life there? Could
be. Candidates for a brotherhood of the zodiac--if both Terrans and
Venusians could get the concept of brotherhood pounded through their
still partially savage skulls.

Another headline:

     'WE CAN LICK UNIVERSE'--WAR SEC

Not so good, that. Loose talk. Actually it was an Undersecretary of War
who had said it. Pell ran over the rest of the article quickly and came
to what seemed to him a significant excerpt. "_Certain patriotic groups
in the world today are ready and willing to make the necessary
sacrifices to get it over with. There is a fundamental difference
between Earthmen and other creatures of the system, and this difference
can be resolved only by the dominance of one over the other._"

Supremist stuff. Strictly. If this Undersecretary were not actually a
member he was at least a supporter of the Supremist line. And that line
had an appeal for the unthinking, Pell had to admit. It was pleasant to
convince yourself that you were a superior specimen, that you were
chosen....

     VENUSIAN SPY SUSPECTS HELD ON MARS

Pell frowned deeply at that one and read the story. A couple of Venusian
miners on Mars had wandered too close to one of the Earth military
outposts, and had been nabbed. He doubted that they were spies; he
doubted that the authorities holding them thought so. But it seemed to
make a better story with a slight scare angle. He thought about how Mars
was divided at an arbitrary meridian--half to Venus, half to Earth. The
division solved nothing, pleased nobody. Joe Citizen, the man in the
tunnels could see these things, why couldn't these so-called trained
diplomats?

Pell finished his report, questioned the Postmaster a little on routine
facts concerning the town, and went back to the hotel.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ciel was waiting for him. She was in a smart, frontless frock of
silvercloth. Her golden hair shone. Her large, dark eyes looked deep,
moist, alive. She looked at him questioningly? and he read the silent
question: _Now can you spare a little time?_

"Baby," he said softly, and kissed her.

"Mm," he said when he had finished kissing her.

The voice-phone rang.

He said, "Damn it."

It was Kronski, in his own room next door. "Did Wilcox leave yet?" he
asked.

"Wilcox?"

"Yeah. The Doc. Is he still there?"

"I didn't know he was here at all."

Kronski said, "Huh?"

Pell said, "Maybe we better back up and start all over again."

"Wilcox, the Resident Surgeon Doc Wilcox," said Kronski, not too
patiently. "He was in my room a little while ago. Said he'd drop by on
his way out and see if you were in."

Pell glanced at Ciel. She was busy lighting a cigarette at the other end
of the room. Or pretending to be busy. Pell said, "I just got here. Just
this minute. I didn't see any Wilcox. What'd he want?"

"I don't know exactly. He was kind of vague about it. Wanted to know if
he could answer any more questions for us, or anything like that."

"Sounds screwy."

"Yeah. It sure does, now that I think it over."

"Let me call you back," said Pell and hung up. He turned to Ciel. "Was
Doc Wilcox here?"

"Why, yes. He stopped in." Nothing but blank innocence on her face.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Hm?" She raised her eyebrows. "He just stopped in to see if you were
here, that was all. I told him you weren't and he went out again."

"But you didn't mention it."

"Well, why should I?"

"I don't know. I'd think you'd say something about it."

"Now, listen, Dick--I'm not some suspect you're grilling. What's the
matter with you, anyway?"

"It just strikes me as funny that Wilcox should drop in here and you
shouldn't say one word about it, that's all."

"Well, I like that." She folded her arms. "You're getting to be so much
of a cop you're starting to be suspicious of your own wife."

"Now, you know it's not that at all."

"What else is it? Dick, I'm sick of it. I'm sick of this whole stupid
business you're in. The first time we get a few minutes alone together
you start giving me the third degree. I won't stand for it, that's all!"

"Now, baby," he said and took a step toward her.

The deeper tone of the viewer sounded.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Agh, for Pete's sake," he said disgustedly and answered the call. The
image of Chief Larkin's boyishly handsome face came into focus on the
screen. Pell lifted a surprised eyebrow and said, "Oh, hello, Chief."

Larkin's eye was cold. Especially cold in the setting of that boyish
face. "What in hell," he asked, "are you and Kronski doing on the moon?"

"Hm?" Now it was Pell's turn to look innocent. "Why, you know what we're
doing, Chief. We're investigating that case. You know the one--I don't
want to mention it over the viewer."

"Who the devil authorized you to go traipsing to the _moon_ to do it?"

"Why, nobody authorized us. I thought--I mean, when you're working on a
case and you have a lead, you're supposed to go after it, aren't you?"

"Yes, but not when it's a crazy wild goose chase." In the viewer Pell
saw the Chief slam his desk with the palm of his hand. "I'd like to know
what in blazes you think you can do on the moon that you can't do in a
good healthy session at the computers?"

"Well, that's kind of hard to explain over the viewer. We have made some
progress, though. I just sent you a report on it."

Larkin narrowed one eye. "Pell, who do you think you're fooling?"

"Fooling?"

"You heard me. I know damn well you wanted to take a vacation on the
moon. But we have a little job for you that holds you up, and what do
you do? The next best thing, eh? You see to it that the job _takes_ you
to the moon."

"Now, Chief, it wasn't that at all...."

"The devil it wasn't. Now, listen to me, Pell. You pack your bags and
get right back to World City. The next rocket you can get. You
understand?"

Before he answered the question he looked at Ciel. She was staring at
him quietly. Again he could read something of what was in her mind. He
knew well enough that she was trying to say to him: "_Make a clean break
now. Tell him No, you won't come back. Quit. Now's the time to do
it--unless you want that stupid job of yours more than you want me...._"

Pell sighed deeply, slowly looked into the viewer again and said,
"Kronski and I'll be back on the next rocket, Chief."



Chapter IV


Back again in the underground offices of C.I.B., Agent Richard Pell
plunged into his job. Up to his neck. It was the only way he could keep
from brooding about Ciel. She was somewhere in the city at this very
moment and if he really wanted to take the trouble he'd be able to find
her easily enough--but he didn't want it to happen that way. She'd never
really be his again unless _she_ came to _him_....

And so once more he found himself in the office late at night. Alone.
Poring over the lab reports that had come in that afternoon, turning
them over in his mind and hoping, he supposed, for a nice intuitive
flash, free of charge.

As a matter of fact the analysis of the vaccine he'd lifted from
Wilcox's dispensary was not without significance. There was definitely
an extraneous substance. The only question was just what this substance
might be. Take a little longer to find that out, the report said.

It made Pell think of the corny sign World Government officials always
had on their desks, the one about doing the difficult right away and
taking a little longer for the impossible. Some day, when he was a
big-shot, he would have a sign on his desk saying: _Why make things
difficult when with even less effort you can make them impossible?_ Of
course, ideas like that were probably the very reason he'd never be a
big-shot....

The Identifier humming. Someone coming again.

He looked up, and then had the curious feeling of being jerked back in
time to several nights ago. Chief Larkin and Theodor Rysland entered.

"Hello, Dick," said Larkin, with a touch of studied democracy. He
glanced at the government adviser as if to say: _See? Knew we'd find him
here._

Pell made a sour face. "Some day I'm going to stop giving all this free
overtime. Some day I'm not going to show up at all."

Rysland smiled, dislodging some of the rock strata of his curiously pale
face. He seemed a little weary this evening. He moved slowly and with
even more than his usual dignity. He said, "I hope, Mr. Pell, that
you'll wait at least until you finish this job for us. I understand
you've made some progress."

Pell shrugged and gestured at the lab report. "Progress, maybe--but I
don't know how far. Just a bunch of new puzzles to be perfectly frank."

Rysland sat down at the other desk and drummed on it with his
fingertips. He looked at Pell gravely. "As a matter of fact, since we
last talked to you the situation has become even more urgent. A
Supremist congressman introduced a bill today before the world delegates
which may prove very dangerous. Perhaps you know the one I refer to."

"I was too busy to follow the news today," said Pell, looking
meaningfully at Larkin.

Larkin didn't seem to notice.

Rysland said, "I'll brief you then. The bill purports to prohibit
material aid of any kind to a non-Terran government. That means both
credit and goods. And since the only real non-Terran government we know
is Venus, it's obviously directed specifically at the Venusians."

Pell thought it over. High level stuff again. He nodded to show he
followed.

"On the surface," continued Rysland, "this would seem to be a sort of
anti-espionage bill. Actually, it's a deliberately provocative act. I
know the Venusians will take it that way. But right now certain quarters
are secretly trying to negotiate a trade treaty with Venus which would
be a major step toward peaceful relations. If this bill became law, such
a treaty would be impossible."

"But World Congress isn't likely to pass such a bill, is it? Won't they
see through it?"

Rysland frowned. "That's what we're not sure of. Messages are pouring in
urging passage--all of them from Supremists, of course. The Supremists
are relatively few, but they make a lot of noise. Sometimes noise like
that is effective. It could swing a lot of delegates who don't see the
real danger of this bill and are at the moment undecided. The Defender
side, with its desire to isolate and fortify, is especially
susceptible."

"That _is_ bad," said Pell thoughtfully.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rysland put his palm on the desk. "Now then, if we can somehow discredit
the Supremists--get to the bottom of this thing quickly enough--I'm sure
that bill will be killed. I came here tonight, I suppose, out of pure
anxiety. In other words, Mr. Pell, just how far are you?"

Pell smiled and shook his head. "Not very, I'm afraid. This Supremist
thing is the damndest I ever came across. No central headquarters, no
officers, no propaganda mill--entirely word of mouth as far as I can
see. No way of finding out how it started, or even how the new members
are proselyted. Ask any member how he became a Supremist. He just looks
kind of dreamy and mutters something about the truth suddenly dawning
upon him one day."

"But don't you have any theories?"

"I've got a hunch," Pell said, picking up the lab report.

Chief Larkin snorted softly. The snort said clearly enough that an
efficient investigator didn't depend on hunches these days: he went
after something doggedly on the computer, or by other approved
techniques.

Pell pretended not to hear the snort. "First of all we discovered that
nearly all Supremists received some kind of an inoculation before they
became Supremists. Then we found a whole village, one of those moon
resort towns, that had gone over. There was the record of inoculation
there, too. I got hold of some of the vaccine and had the lab analyze
it. It's mostly vaccine all right, but there _is_ a foreign substance in
it. Listen." He read from the report: "_Isolated point oh six four seven
grams unclassified crystal compound, apparently form of nucleotide
enzyme. Further analysis necessary._"

"You think this enzyme, or whatever it is, has something to do with it?"

"I don't know. All I have is a pretty wild theory. To begin, when our
lab can't analyze something right away, it's pretty rare--possibly even
unknown to chemistry in general. Now it's just possible that this
substance does something to the brain that makes a man into a Supremist,
and that somebody's behind the whole thing, deliberately planting the
stuff so that people here and there become injected with it."

"Pell." Larkin made a pained face. "Really."

Pell shrugged. "Well, as I say, it's a hunch, that's all."

"It's a pipe dream," said Larkin. "I never heard of anything so
fantastic."

"That's what folks said a couple of centuries ago when the Venusians
were first trying to make contact and their ships were sighted all over
the place. 'I never heard of anything so fantastic,' they all said."

Theodor Rysland still looked interested. "Granted there is some
connection between the Supremist mental state and this, er, enzyme. What
then, Mr. Pell?"

"Well," said Pell, stretching his legs out, "I had an idea maybe your
friend Dr. Nebel could give us some help on that."

"Nebel?"

"He's interested in this thing, isn't he?"

"Definitely. Nebel's a very public spirited man."

"Well, I understand he's one of the top psychobiologists in the country
today. Seems to me this new enzyme, whatever it is, would be right up
his alley. Of course the lab should get to it eventually, but he might
do it a lot quicker."

Larkin had been examining some statistical crime charts on the wall. He
turned from them. "Pell, does Kronski know about all these wild hunches
of yours?"

"I haven't talked with him about them yet. He left today before the lab
report came in. Why?"

"I was just wondering," said Larkin evenly, "whether I had two maniacs
in my organization or only one."

Rysland, frowning, turned to the chief. "I wouldn't be hasty, Larkin,"
he said. "Crazy as it sounds Pell may have something here."

Larkin snorted again, and this time along with it he shook his head
sadly.

"What's your next move then?" Rysland asked Pell.

"Tomorrow morning, first thing," Pell said, "I'll take a sample of this
stuff to Dr. Nebel and see what he can do with it. Of course the lab can
keep on working on it in the meantime."

"Don't you think you might do better to get busy on those computers?"
Larkin asked.

Pell shook his head. "This hunch is too strong, Chief."

Rysland smiled, and got up. "I'm inclined to put a little stock into
this man's hunches. He's done pretty well with them so far. I'd even say
he's pretty close to a solution of this thing--possibly."

Larkin shrugged and started to look at the crime charts again.

Rysland held out his hand. "Good night, Mr. Pell. You've encouraged me.
Larkin and I are going topside for a little night cap before we turn in.
Like to join us?"

"No, thanks," said Pell. "I'm sleepy. I want to get home and hit that
sack."

"Very well. Good night again." The two men went toward the door.

Pell watched them quietly. He had lied. He wasn't sleepy at all. He just
wanted to get home and sit by that viewer and hope, hope against hope,
that it would ring and that Ciel's lovely image would swirl into
view....

       *       *       *       *       *

On the way home he was just the least bit tempted to go topside,
however. He thought he might like to walk the broad, quiet boulevards
under the stars. His brain functioned better there. The tunnels were so
clean and bright and sterile, so wonderfully functional and sensible,
that they oppressed him somehow. Maybe, he sometimes thought, he wasn't
fit for this age. Maybe he should have been born a couple of hundred
years ago. But common sense told him that people in _that_ age must have
often thought exactly the same thing to themselves.

He looked at his chrono and decided he had better go home.

The apartment, when he came to it, was cold and empty without Ciel. He
bathed and tried to keep up his spirits by singing in his tuneless way,
but it didn't help.

He went back into the living room, selected a film from the library and
slipped it into a lap projector. He sat down and tried to concentrate on
the film, a historical adventure about the days of the first moon
rockets. He couldn't follow it.

The viewer rang.

He bounded from the chair as though he had triggered a high speed
ejection seat in a burning jet. He went to the viewer and flicked it on.
The plate shimmered, and then Ciel's image came into focus.

"_Baby!_" He was certain his shout overmodulated every amp tube in the
entire World City viewer system. But he felt better, wonderfully better,
already.

She was smiling. "Hello, Dick."

"Hello."

And then they looked at each other in affectionate embarrassment for a
moment.

"One of us," said Pell, "ought to have his script writer along."

"Dick, I don't know exactly how to say what I want to say...."

"Don't. Don't say anything. Just pretend nothing ever happened. Just
come on home fast as you can."

"No, Dick. Not yet. I still want to talk about--well, everything. Dick,
we've got to reach some sort of compromise. There _must_ be a way."

"Come on home. We'll find a way."

"Not home. Too many memories there. Besides," she smiled a little, "I
don't trust us alone together. You know what would happen. We wouldn't
get _any_ talking done. Not any sensible talking anyway. You'd better
meet me someplace."

He sighed. "Okay. Where can I meet you?"

"How about the Stardust Cafe?"

"Again? That place didn't help us much the last time."

"I know, but it's the handiest. I'm sure we can find a quiet place. Out
on the terrace or something."

"Is there a terrace?"

"Yes, I think so. I'm sure there must be."

He looked at his chrono. "All right, baby. Half an hour?"

"Half an hour."

When she clicked off he felt his heart pounding. He felt dizzy. He felt
as though he had just taken a quart of meth at one jolt--intravenously.
He sang, more loudly and more off-key than ever. He went into the
bedroom and started to get dressed again.

It wasn't until he was finishing the knot in his tie that the hunch hit
him.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was funny about that hunch. He would have said it came out of
nowhere, and yet it must have broken from the bottom of his mind through
some kind of restraining layer into the conscious levels. He didn't
remember thinking anything that might have brought it on--his mind was
strictly on Ciel. Maybe that was how it came through, with the attention
of his conscious mind directed elsewhere.

With the hunch he heard Ciel's voice again, heard it very clearly,
saying: "_I'm sure we can find a quiet place. Out on the terrace or
something._" And with that other things started to fall into place.

As he thought, and as the possibilities of his hunch fanned out to
embrace other possibilities he became suddenly cold and sick inside. He
fought the feeling. "Got to go through with it," he muttered to himself.
"Got to."

As soon as he was dressed he took the tunnel cars to Station D-90,
changing twice. People were aboard at this hour, returning from the
evening. Lots of men and women in uniform: the green of the
landfighters, the white of the seamen, the blue of the flyers, the
silver and black of the space force. Young people. Kids mostly: kids who
had never seen war, smelled death, heard the wounded scream. He hoped
they never would. But if his hunch was correct they might be dangerously
near to it right now.

If only he had time to call Kronski. He'd feel a lot safer....

He shook himself. Have to stop thinking about it. Proceed cautiously
now, and take each thing as it came. That was the only thing to do.

He went topside and stepped from the elevator kiosk into the night air.
Ahead he saw the bright globular sign of the Stardust Cafe. But he
didn't go toward it right away. He turned in the other direction, walked
swiftly, and kept a sharp eye on the shadows. He turned off on a side
street, circled a small park, and then crossed a sloping lawn toward the
back of the night club. He headed for the light of the service entrance.

A half-credit bill got him inside through the back entrance. He found
the door with the temporary sign saying: Marco the Mentalist. He
knocked.

Marco the Mentalist opened the door. He didn't look quite as tall
face-to-face as he did out on the floor, nor quite as impressive. His
face was still dark and faintly saturnine, but the jowls seemed a little
puffier now, there was a faint network of capillaries around his
nostrils and his eyes looked just the least bit weary and tired. In a
pleasant enough voice he said, "Yes?"

Pell showed his C.I.B. identification.

Marco raised his eyebrows a little and said, "Come inside, please."
Inside he found a chair for Pell. He sat across from him at his dressing
table, half-turned toward the room. "I must get ready for my show in a
little while. You understand that, of course."

Pell nodded. "What's on my mind won't take long. First of all, I want to
ask a few questions about hypnotism. They may seem silly to you, or
maybe a little elementary, but I'd like you to answer 'em just the
same."

Marco's eyebrows went a little bit higher and he said, "Proceed."

"Okay. Question number one: can anybody be hypnotized against his will?"

"Some can, some can't." Marco smiled. "The average person, under average
circumstances--no. I appear in my act to hypnotize people against their
wills. Actually, subconsciously, they _wish_ to be hypnotized, which is
why they volunteer to let me try in the first place."

"Okay, number two. Is there any drug that can hypnotize a person?"

Marco frowned. "Pentothal and several things _appear_ to do that. You
could argue it either way, whether the subject is actually hypnotized or
not. I believe post-hypnotic commands have been given to subjects under
sodium pentothol and carried out, even back in the dark ages of
psychiatry several hundred years ago."

"I've got one more really important question," Pell said then. "I'd
understood that somebody under hypnosis won't do anything against his
moral or ethical sense. An honest man, for instance, can't be forced to
steal. Is that true?"

Marco laughed and gestured with his graceful fingers. "I don't think it
is true. It was once believed to be, because hypnotic technique was not
strong enough. That is, the subject's hypnosis was not strong enough to
overcome a strong moral sense, which is actually a surface veneer on a
deeper, more brutal nature. But I think with deep enough hypnosis, and
the right kind of command, you can get a person to do most anything in
post-hypnotic behavior--and of course not know why he _must_ do it, even
knowing it's wrong. Do you follow me?"

"I hope I do." Then Pell leaned forward. "And now I have a very great
favor to ask of you."

"Yes?"

"I want you to put on a little special private performance for me, right
here and now."

"I'm afraid I don't understand."

"You will, in about sixty seconds. Just listen carefully...."



Chapter V


He was late for his date with Ciel, of course. He glanced at his chrono
as he entered the Stardust Cafe by the front door and saw that he was
twenty minutes late. However, this time he was certain Ciel wouldn't
complain too vigorously.

Again the askarins were playing, and once more the green-skinned
Venusian girls were doing their writhing, spasmodic, aphrodisiacal
dance. It was remarkable how they could achieve such an effect of utter
abandon and yet keep their faces blank and frozen. He looked around the
rest of the room swiftly. Not so crowded tonight, and people were
generally quieter. There were no oversexed spacemen clawing after the
dancers on the floor.

Ciel was again in a rear booth, in the same corner of the room she had
chosen before. She had spotted him now; she was looking his way. She
lifted a white-gloved hand and waved.

He smiled and headed for her. He forced his smile, and made himself
forget the prickling of his wrists and the feeling of bristling fur
along his spine. And he held his smile all the way across the room.
_Why, hello, darling, fancy seeing you here; no, nothing's wrong,
nothing at all, why on earth would you think anything was wrong?_

"Hi, baby," was all he actually said.

"I'm--I'm glad you're here, Dick." Her eyes didn't show much. They roved
over his face a little too much perhaps, but otherwise they seemed
simply as large and dark as ever. He noticed that the meth glass in
front of her was empty.

Grinning, he sat down. "This is a big moment. This is almost too much
for me to handle. Maybe that's what I need--a good slug of meth."

"No."

"No?"

"Let's not waste time. Let's go out on the terrace. I want you to kiss
me."

"Best offer I've had all evening." He rose again. "Where's the terrace?"

"Through that door. There's a dining room there that's closed at night.
You go through the dining room and out to the terrace."

"Okay."

He took her arm and led her in and out of tables, across the room. They
moved swiftly through the quiet, nearly dark dining room, and after that
through a pair of window-doors. They were on the terrace then, a
flagstoned space with a low wall. It overlooked the scattered lights of
World City's topside area and some distance beyond they could see the
river, a blue-silver ribbon in the moonlight.

They stopped at the wall. She turned toward him. He looked down at her,
at her pale face and deep, dark eyes. He smelled her perfume and he felt
her live warmth near him and coming nearer. He saw her eyes close, her
lips part just slightly, and each lip glistening, faintly moist....

He was wondering when it would happen. He was wondering when he would be
struck.

As he wondered that he suddenly discovered he wasn't on the terrace any
more.

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked about him in some surprise. It was nearly dark. He was in a
room; he could sense the walls about him. He heard a curious,
high-pitched metallic voice--and recognized it.

"_Pell? Are you awake now?_"

It had happened then, just as he had expected. Someone had thrown a
freezer on him there in the patio, and during his complete
unconsciousness he'd been taken here, wherever this was. He sighed. The
least they could have done would have been to let him finish kissing
Ciel.

As calmly as he could he said to the four blank walls, "I'm awake."

Soft glowlights came on gradually and he saw that the room about him was
fairly small--twenty by fifteen, roughly--and very plain. It contained a
bed and a few odd pieces of furniture, all apparently of good quality.
There was a door in one wall. He tried the door. Locked. He went back to
the middle of the room.

"Chief," he said to the blank walls, "what's this all about? Is it some
kind of a joke?"

The metallic voice chuckled. It belonged to Eustace J. Larkin, Chief,
Central Investigation Bureau, and even filtered like this it was
somewhat prim and precise. "No, Dick, it's not a joke, I'm afraid. I'm
surprised you haven't guessed what it's all about. Or at least had one
of your brilliant hunches." There was sarcasm in this last.

"Where's Ciel?" Pell asked.

"Right here with me. In the next room. Here--listen."

Ciel's voice said, "Don't worry, darling, we'll explain everything. And
when it's all over it will be for the best. You'll see that it will."

"All right, everybody," said Pell, half-belligerently, "what's the big
idea?"

"Big idea is right," Larkin's voice came back. "The biggest that ever
hit the human race. And as Ciel says we'll explain it all in a moment.
But first I'd like your word that you won't be foolish and make any kind
of a struggle. If you'll promise that you can come in the other room
here and we can all talk face to face."

Pell frowned. "I don't know--I'm not so sure I can honestly promise
that."

"Suit yourself, then. A few minutes from now it won't make any
difference anyway."

"Will you stop being so damned mysterious and tell me what it's all
about?"

Larkin's voice laughed. "Very well. I haven't had much chance to tell
about it, frankly. And I think you'll agree we've rather neatly kept our
parts under cover--until you got dangerously close to the answer,
anyway."

"Until I got close?"

"Certainly. Doc Wilcox's office on the moon was perhaps our one weakness
in the whole set-up. How you managed to stumble on to that, I'll never
know--your luck must have been with you."

"It wasn't luck, Larkin, it was a hunch."

"Still believe in hunches, eh? Well, we won't argue the point. At any
rate you wouldn't have found the enzyme any place else but there."

"Oh, so the enzyme does have something to do with it."

"Everything. Here--suppose I let Doctor Nebel explain it to you. He
developed it, after all."

Pell lifted his eyebrows in surprise and Dr. Walter Nebel's sibilant
voice came through the hidden speakers. "I think you should know how it
works, Mr. Pell. You may know that a certain part of the brain called
Rossi's area is, to put it figuratively, the hypnotic center. The
cut-off of the adrenal cortex, so to speak. In ordinary hypnosis the
function of that area is dulled by overexercising the motor senses. By
that method the intensity of hypnosis is widely variable and never
really one hundred per cent effective. My compound, however, brings
about complete and absolute cut-off. Any post-hypnotic suggestion given
under those circumstances takes permanently and deeply. It can only be
removed by further post-hypnosis under the same treatment, negating the
original command."

Pell stared at the blank walls. "Go on," he said in a soft, tense voice.
"What's the rest?"

Larkin spoke again. "Suppose we briefly examine a little history as a
kind of introduction to this matter. The human race, since the beginning
of recorded time, has failed to achieve real peace and stability, right?
Every time there has been a chance for cooperative effort--for total
agreement--certain selfish interests have spoiled it. There have been
times, however, when certain groups--states or combinations of
states--came close to permanent peace and prosperity. The Napoleonic era
was one. Hitler two hundred years ago almost brought it about. The only
reason they failed was that they didn't achieve their goal--_complete_
conquest."

_Did Pell hear correctly? Was there a faint simmering of madness in that
metallic voice now?_ In the words there was madness, surely....

       *       *       *       *       *

It went on: "The fact is, Pell, people simply don't know what's good for
them. Look at the blunderers and even downright crooks who are elected
to World Government. Never the best brains, never the best talents. When
a really able man gets into a position of leadership it's an accident--a
fluke."

"I still don't see what all this has got to do with it," said Pell.

There was a shrug in the metallic voice. "For once the ablest men are
going to take over. There are a number of us. You know already about
myself and Doctor Nebel. Rysland will be with us, too, as soon as we can
get him conditioned."

"By conditioned, you mean this enzyme of yours?"

"Exactly. We started out in a small way, using force or trickery where
necessary, and managed to condition a number of doctors and nurses.
Conditioning simply means injecting Nebel's compound and then giving the
post-hypnotic command to be unquestioningly loyal to the Supremists. We
created the Supremists, of course. In order for us to take over it will
be necessary to have another war, and to conquer Venus. That can be done
if Earth strikes quickly. Within the next few days I think there'll be
enough Supremist influence to get this war started."

Pell stared back, open-mouthed. To hear it coldly and calmly like this
was shock, cold-water shock. "Let me get this straight now. Your group
made Supremists of doctors and nurses and they in turn made new members
by installing this hypnosis stuff whenever anybody came for a hypodermic
injection of any kind, is that it?"

"That's it."

"But how does this stuff work? Does it knock you out, or what?"

"You'll be finding that out at first hand very shortly."

Pell stiffened, made fists and unconsciously lifted them and looked
around him, warily.

Larkin laughed. "It won't do you much good to put up a fight. I'm
sending a couple of my assistants in there. They specialize in people
who want to make a struggle. And there's no reason to feel unhappy about
it, Pell: once you're conditioned you'll simply be unable to do anything
against the Supremist cause. You'll be happier, in fact, having such a
cause. Ask your wife if that isn't so."

Pell trembled with anger. "How did you get to her? How did you make her
do what she did?"

"You mean luring you into our little trap on the terrace, so to speak?
You mustn't blame Ciel for that. She couldn't help herself; she had to
obey, after all. You see she was conditioned in Augea on the moon by Dr.
Wilcox, one of our very loyal men. He simply dropped in when you were at
the Post Office, pretended that Ciel needed a routine injection and she,
not at all suspicious, allowed him to do it. He gave her the command of
loyalty, and also cautioned her not to say anything about it. So you
see, Ciel's been one of us for several days. It was just a little
precaution of mine, in case you should become troublesome. I had to
assign somebody to the investigation, of course, because Rysland and his
crowd would have been too suspicious if I hadn't complied with their
request."

"You're stark crazy, Larkin! You ought to be in a mental hospital!"

"You'll be over that idea in a minute or so. Meanwhile, we're wasting
time. I'm sending the boys in now. You'll make it easier for yourself if
you submit without giving them any trouble."

The door opened, then. Pell caught a quick glimpse of the other room and
saw that it was a tastefully furnished living room. He recognized it,
and knew where he was. This was a country house of Larkin's, topside,
not far from the outskirts of World City. Whoever turned the freezer on
him must have set the control at high intensity because it would take at
least an hour to get to this place from the Stardust Cafe and he had
been unconscious at least that long.

He had the momentary impulse to rush that partly opened door--and then
the boys, as Larkin had called them, appeared.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were specialists, little doubt of that. They regarded Pell with
flat, almost disinterested looks as the door closed behind them. One
held a hypodermic needle. He was the shorter of the two, but he had
shoulders like ox-yokes. His face had been kneaded in the prize ring,
and his bare arms were muscular and hairy but the top of his head was
bald. The other had red hair, close-cropped. He was big and
well-proportioned; Pell might have taken him for a professional football
player.

Red did the talking. He spoke quietly, almost pleasantly. "Gonna
cooperate?" he asked Pell.

Pell said, "You touch me, brother, and I'll make your face look like
Baldy's."

Red glanced at Baldy and seemed to sigh. Abruptly he whirled, jumped at
Pell and brought a sizzling right hand punch through the air. Pell
ducked it. He saw Baldy move in as he did so, and a painful blow struck
the back of his neck. His teeth rattled when it struck. Something caught
him under the chin, straightened him. When he was straight a pile driver
struck him in the midsection.

It was all over within a matter of seconds. Under different
circumstances Pell might have found time to admire their technique.

As it was, he was now face down on the floor and Red was straddling him,
holding him there. The pain in his stomach made him gasp. His face and
the back of his neck ached terribly.

Red had his arm in the small of his back. Pell tried to struggle.

"I can break the arm if you move," said Red cheerfully.

And then Pell felt the bite of the needle just below his shoulder.

A misty feeling came. He felt as though he were in a red whirlpool,
spinning, going down--down.... He fought to rise. He could still hear.
He could hear footsteps and the slam of the door when somebody else came
into the room. And then he seemed abruptly to be detached from his own
body and floating in a huge gray void....

Words hammered at his brain. Larkin's voice, at his ear now and no
longer metallic. "_You will be loyal to the Supremist cause. You will do
nothing against the Supremist doctrine. You will believe that Earthmen
are meant to rule the Universe--_"

He felt an overpowering impulse to nod, to agree, to believe that it was
right to do this. He fought this impulse, straining his mind and his
very being until it seemed that something might burst with the effort.

"_You will work for the cause; you will give your life for it if
necessary._"

Yes, perhaps it was better to succumb. The words were too strong. He
couldn't fight them. Larkin was right, Earthmen were supreme, and they
were destined to rule....

Somewhere in the depths a tiny spot of resistance still glowed. He tried
desperately to evoke it. It seemed then that it became brighter. He
_could_ resist--he _would_.... He kept thinking over and over again:
"_No, no, no!_"

Larkin's voice said, "Carry him in the other room. He'll come to in a
moment."

       *       *       *       *       *

He came to slowly, and he saw that he was lying on a couch and that
several people were gathered around him smiling down at him. Something
detached itself from the group, knelt by his side. He blinked. It was
Ciel. Her golden hair shone and her dark eyes searched his face and she
was smiling. "Hello, darling," she said.

"Hello, Ciel." He kissed her, and then sat up on the couch and looked
around.

Larkin and Dr. Nebel were standing together, and Red and Baldy were a
few steps behind them, still looking indifferent.

"Now you're one of us, Dick," said Larkin, flashing his professional
smile, dimples and everything. Pell rose. Nebel held his hands behind
his back and beamed, blinking his heavy reptilian eyelids and Larkin
stepped forward and held out his hand.

"Yes," said Pell, shaking the hand, "I guess we're all working for the
same thing now. What do you want me to do?"

Larkin laughed. "Nothing right away. We'll give you instructions when
the time comes. I think you might as well go home with Ciel now; I have
a copter and a chauffeur outside that'll take you to the station near
your apartment."

"Okay, Chief, whatever you say." He smiled and took Ciel's arm. He
started toward the door. Then he stopped, patted his chest and said,
"Oh--my freezer. I guess the boys took it away...."

Larkin turned to Baldy. "Give him his weapon."

Baldy took the freezer from his pocket and casually tossed it to Pell.

A sudden change came over Pell, then. His smile disappeared. He stepped
quickly away from Ciel, whirled and faced all of them. He pointed the
freezer. "All right, everybody stay perfectly still--you, too, Ciel.
This is where we break up your little Supremist nightmare."

Larkin stared in utter amazement. Nebel's turtle lids opened wide. Ciel
brought her hand to her throat.

Red's hand blurred suddenly, going for his own weapon. Pell squeezed the
trigger, the violet sparks danced for an instant, and then Red stood
frozen with his hand almost to his chest.

"I'd advise nobody else to try that," said Pell, and then in an ironical
tone to Larkin: "C.I.B. agents are trained to be pretty quick with a
freezer, right, Chief?"

Larkin seemed to find his voice now. "But--how--what happened? You were
injected. How can you...."

"I just took a little precaution, that's all," said Pell. "There'll be
plenty of time to explain it all later. You'll probably hear the whole
thing in court, Larkin, when I testify at your trial for treason.
Meanwhile, all of you just stay nice and calm while I use the viewer."

He stepped to the viewer and dialed with his free hand. The plate
glowed, shimmered and a moment later the pale, grave face of Theodor
Rysland came into view. His eyebrows rose as he saw the weapon in Pell's
hand and glimpsed the people beyond Pell. "Hello--what's this all
about?"

"Haven't time to explain fully now," said Pell, "but I want you to get
to Larkin's country house as soon as you can. I'll call agent Kronski in
a moment and have him bring some others, and together we'll take Larkin
and Nebel into custody. They're behind the Supremist movement--a
deliberate attempt to take over the government. They did it with a drug;
that's how Supremist's are made."

"What's this? A drug?"

"Think about it later," said Pell. "Just grab the facts right now. The
drug makes a person subject to post-hypnotic commands--that's why your
Supremists are blindly, unthinkingly loyal. However, the command can be
erased by a second treatment. That'll be tough and take a lot of
ferreting out, but it won't be impossible." He glanced at Ciel, and saw
that she was staring at him with horror--with enmity. It sickened him,
but he steadied himself with the realization that Ciel would be one of
the first to be re-treated.

       *       *       *       *       *

Several minutes later he had completed his calls. Rysland, Kronski and
the others were on the way. He kept the freezer pointed, and watched his
captives carefully. Ciel had gone over to the couch and was sitting
there, her face in her hands, weeping softly.

"I don't know how you did it," said Larkin. "I don't understand it. The
injection should have worked. It always did before."

"Well, it almost worked," said Pell. "I must admit I had quite a time
fighting off your commands. But, you see, I knew you'd gotten to Ciel
somehow when she called me up to make the date this evening. She spoke
of going out to the terrace at the Stardust Cafe. It was a little odd
that she should speak of the terrace like that, out of a clear sky--and
I wondered why it should be on her mind. Then it struck me that neither
of us had ever noticed a terrace there, and Ciel must have some special
reason for knowing about it.

"She did, of course--she'd been instructed to get me out there where
your boys could slap a freezer on me. So I started guessing with that
hunch to work on. Everything more or less fell into place after that. It
was pretty certain that they'd try to make a loyal Supremist out of me,
too, and that's when I took that little precaution I mentioned to you."

"What precaution?"

Pell smiled. "I had Marco the mentalist hypnotize me and give me a
rather special post-hypnotic command. He ordered me not to believe any
_subsequent_ post-hypnotic commands. That's why your conditioning didn't
work on me."

Larkin could find no words; he just stared.

"Think about it, Larkin," said Pell. "Think hard. Maybe you'd convinced
yourself you were doing good, but your purpose was still tyranny. And
like any tyranny it contained the means of its own destruction. It
always works out that way, Larkin--maybe it's a law, or something."

It had been a long speech for Pell, practically an oration. He was,
after all, a cop, not a philosopher. Just a guy trying to get along.
Just an ordinary citizen whose name was legion, looking at his wife now
and waiting with what patience he could find for the time when she would
be cleared of the poisonous doctrine that any one race or group or even
species was supreme.

He was thinking, too, that the trial would keep him busy as the very
devil and that they _still_ wouldn't get to that vacation and second
honeymoon for a long time....

That, considering everything, was not too much to put up with.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Brink of Madness" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home