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´╗┐Title: A Touch of E Flat
Author: Gibson, Joe
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Touch of E Flat" ***

                           A Touch of E Flat

                             By JOE GIBSON

                      Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                   Galaxy Science Fiction May 1957.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

              Warning: never let anyone point any weapon
              at you; even something as harmless-looking
              as a water pistol--it may be a Cooling gun!

Most people can find something wrong with the world, and some make a
practice of it, but few people ever get the chance to do something
about it--and those few usually go down in history with a resounding

Well, it's been rather noisy around here.

From the very beginning, it had been my intention to write this
account. But I certainly hadn't intended to write it while residing
under police surveillance in the Recuperating Ward of St. Luke's
Memorial Hospital. Nor did I expect the interest and encouragement of
the police officer who put me here. Nonetheless, Sgt. Nicolas Falasca
of the Ohio State Police has been most helpful both in the many long
discussions we have had and in procuring the notes and data from my
laboratory for the preparation of this manuscript.

But I'm afraid there shall be a considerable lot of me in this
manuscript--which, I hastily assert, is not its purpose at all. My
apologies for that. Fact is, there's a considerable lot of me, as
anyone can see. The term I rather prefer using is roly-poly.

For the record, however, I am duly Certified-at-Birth as one Albert
Jamieson Cooling, to which has been added, by my own modest efforts,
a few odd alphabetic symbols such as M.S. and Ph.D. I am currently
holding down a professorship at a small, privately endowed Tech
college, have some mentionable background in both nuclear physics and
biochemistry, possess a choice collection of rather good jazz records,
have a particular fondness for barbecued spareribs--and, of late, have
become an inventor.

If I've left something out, such as horn-rimmed glasses, then, by the
point of my little black beard, it must be the wardrobe of 36 sport
jackets. Wives? Well, I've been tempted, but a professor's salary can't
support alimony.

       *       *       *       *       *

My discovery of the Cooling Effect itself came quite by accident.
But twice now, that accident has almost killed me. It may be argued
that this is no more than I should have expected, however, since the
invention which "followed naturally" can only be called one thing.

I have invented a new weapon.

That's right--a Cooling gun.

But let it be said that because I was once a war scientist, my
inventiveness must therefore tend toward weapons and I should be
strongly tempted to reach for the nearest one available. The term war
scientist has been used so much, and has grown so commonplace, that it
has become universally accepted as the label for anyone who spent as
little as six weeks in the old AEC. I was in it for six years, and I
voluntarily walked out.

The official policies and inter-agency politics of that era seem of
little consequence now, when we have three permanent space satellites
circling the Earth and one of them is Russian. We're no longer in a
weapons race; both sides have reached the Ultimate Weapon in that
contest. Nobody's hiding or betraying classified secrets any more.
There's all that silicon-rich basalt waiting to be cheaply processed
out on the Moon, if we can only get there....

Back in '69, the official news releases were still boasting how much
bigger was each new toy we rolled out of the workshop, how much
more terrible destruction it would wreak than the last one. That was
hogwash dished out by our PR boys (and, on the other side, by the Reds'
Propaganda Ministry) simply because people didn't know any better.
Actually, our toys that made the biggest bang were the worst flops as

You don't conquer an enemy by exterminating him. A hundred million
corpses are no problem--just use bulldozers and they're out of the way.
But a hundred million living, breathing, freezing, starving, filthy and
ragged human beings can raise one hell of an uproar. And they usually
do. Some of us felt that we wouldn't need to knock off even a third of
Russia's major cities. Much less, in fact.

Dr. Charles Whitney made the mistake of saying so. And they canned him.
The scuttlebutt was that Doc's conscience backfired. I know better; I
saw the explosion. It was his patience, not his conscience.

Anyway, I turned in my resignation two weeks later. I walked out, kept
my mouth shut and settled down to a small college professorship. I
mention these events now simply because I believe it was there that the
development of the Cooling gun actually started.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had begun to see what devastating weapons could never achieve. They
_had_ deterred warfare, at least up to that August of 1969, by their
threat of utter destruction--and perhaps Whitney deserved to get
canned--but they offered no guarantee for the future. And they couldn't
liberate a conquered nation or protect people from a dictator's secret

It was time we had something better. (We did, of course, but only a
small part of the AEC was in on the development of atomic rockets.)
Until we did, I could sense that we were simply going through the

But it all began to go places fast with that cold research we were
dabbling in, last semester. In fact, it was my fault that General
Atomics tossed that little problem into our Cold Lab here at Webster
Tech--my own past service in the AEC, my rather unusual background
combining nuclear physics and biochemistry, and the post-grad crew I've
managed to accumulate under my professorial wing.

The whole deal was shoveled obligingly into my Christmas stocking and
the rest of the faculty obligingly left me to play with it--providing I
continued to conduct my regular classes, of course.

Perhaps it's just as well I kept my hand in, though, because that line
of research got rapidly nowhere. We found that materials which have
their temperatures reduced to near-absolute zero are just plain cold.
Bring them into room temperature and strange things happen sometimes
that isn't just them trying to warm up. It isn't friction-loss and it
isn't radiation damage and it isn't entropy.

It shows.

There's a band of radiant energy somewhere between ultrasonics and
radiant heat that hits fast and goes deep, and comes out just as
fast, and it gets triggered off by whatever this is that happens with
near-absolute zero objects subjected to room temperature. But the whole
thing is so negligible that for most practical purposes it can be

Finding _that_ out cost General Atomics thirty thousand dollars,
but our kids in the Cold Lab had a ball rigging the Mad Scientist's
super-disintegrator gizmo that reproduced the phenomenon.

Then, that night--it's nearly four months ago now--I was alone in the
lab, just switched off the lights, about to close up and go home. And I
stumbled over the corner of the thing. Scrambling up, somehow I put my
foot into it. And reaching out to grasp its frame, to steady myself, my
hand hit the switch. It went on and I went out.

It was still on--I thought--when I regained consciousness, spraddled
out on the concrete floor. I pulled the switch open and jerked the cord
out of the wall socket.

       *       *       *       *       *

When I got home, there wasn't a bruise or a bump on my noggin. Nor the
faintest sign of a burn anywhere on my foot or leg or even on the sole
of my shoe.

That was a Tuesday night.

The next day, the lab remained closed. But that night, I went in,
switched the lights on and studied the machine. It showed absolutely
no sign of damage, no burned insulation, nothing. I stuck my hand into
it and closed the switch. It came on with its usual quiet hum. Nothing

It was almost a week before I heard that the janitor was still
wondering who'd blown all the campus fuses on Tuesday night. Then I
remembered that I hadn't switched the lights back on when I regained

I had been blinded when I switched them off, had stumbled over the
machine, fallen, all the rest of it. But I'd come to with night vision,
naturally. I saw well enough then by the moonlight streaming in the lab
windows. All the lights--the machine, too--could have been off, with
the fuses blown, without my noticing it. I had assumed the machine was
on because its switch was closed, had opened the switch and jerked out
the cord plug.

What happened had therefore required a tremendous spurt of juice in
the circuits, or else a heck of a lot less juice than we carry in our
lab outlets. So I took home the prints on the rig and began making
changes. Which led to more changes. Which resulted in some rather
complicated mathematics to which we scientific chaps resort when the
kind we teach in colleges just won't work out right. I got it: a very
low power-input. And I got more.

The thing is a sort of invisible ray. It can only be emitted,
or broadcast, as a narrow beam from the muzzle-coils of a very
fancy-looking electronic rig. Low power is a must; more juice not only
heats up the rig and smokes insulation, but it won't shoot the beam.

I tested it on the black tulips (Biochemical Research Project 187)
which I got to close up by the clock, not by the Sun, last year
(Project 187-A) and their blossoms closed each time the beam touched
them. The purple mushrooms which fluff their tops in radioactivity
showed no effects.

It works on a simple "A" battery. But there's a transistor hookup that
behaves like no transistor. Its molecular structure vibrates, which it
shouldn't, and emits a sharp, keening note in the vicinity of E flat. A
rather bulky muffler would be required, I'm afraid, to get rid of that

But the oddest thing, technically, is that invisible ray-beam. It
hasn't any of the effects of electric shock. I'll not go into the
electro-neurological aspects of that--nobody could understand it
except, just possibly, a neurologist--but the simple fact is that this
ray puts a victim to sleep instantly _and it doesn't do anything else_!

No blockages or convulsions of nerve ganglia, not even a temporary
catharsis of "mild" shock! Apparently it gallops up the "white
matter" of the nervous system quite harmlessly, then smacks the "gray
matter"--the brain, the spinal column--a good wallop. Painlessly.

In short, the victim just flops over and snores up a half-hour or so,
and then awakens as if from a short nap, though perhaps with some
puzzlement. There is no injury whatsoever.

       *       *       *       *       *

Naturally I wanted to find out how the Cooling Effect worked and
why--though I may never learn _what_ it is. Hypnosis? Artificially
induced, instantaneous sleep? (Victims can be handled without
awakening.) Of course, I was curious. I'd have gone through it step by
step for my own satisfaction, even if somebody else had already done it

Nobody had--and it wasn't easy. During the rest of the term, even
through final exams, I devoted every spare moment to the Cooling
Effect. Even so, it took another two months' hot sweat--the summer
vacation's practically gone now--to get those final diagrams onto my
drawing board.

But once I did, there it was, at least its basic circuits and
components. All I needed was to juggle them around, coax them into a
slim, tubular case, put a carved butt on it containing the "A" battery
and give it a push-button trigger. With that data, any good bench-hand
in an electrical repair shop could have done the job. I fashioned it
out of plastic and odds and ends in my basement laboratory.

A glance in the telephone Red Book gave me the number of a local
breeding farm and a call soon brought a pair of fat, inquisitive
guinea pigs in a small, wire-screened carrying cage. Beyond the patio
wall, my house sides directly on open pasturage, and beyond that,
lower in the valley, the alfalfa field begins. With a brisk pacing off
of a base-line and some rough, splay-thumbed triangulation, I soon
determined my new weapon's effectiveness from point-blank range to a
thousand yards--on guinea pigs, that is.

At nine hundred yards, it still knocked them over for the count. At a
thousand yards, it had no effect whatever, so far as I could determine
through field glasses. The animals gave no sign that they even noticed
it. That, plus the nature of the mechanism, indicates its application
is definitely limited. Whether you make it small enough to fit a lady's
purse or as big as an atomic cannon, its maximum effective range will
still remain 900 yards. And not just on guinea pigs.

I already knew from my own experience what it does to a man at close
range. Blowing the fuses on the whole campus had been the real danger
there, however. Had it been the slightest bit different, even to the
position of my foot in that big machine, I should certainly have been
electrocuted that night.

That was the first time it almost killed me.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Cooling Effect is worthless as an anesthetic for surgery. While the
sleeping guinea pigs don't awaken when I pick them up out of their
cage and handle them, even pulling their legs, they do struggle. They
resist, like sleeping animals, not wanting to be disturbed. Still, I
pinched them and bounced them and they invariably slept through an
approximate half-hour. It's shock, and it isn't. It's sleep, and it

But I certainly knew it was a weapon. A new weapon. And man alive,
_what_ a weapon!

I turned the guinea pigs loose in the patio, let them scamper, then
tumbled them both with a quick sweep of the beam.

       *       *       *       *       *

One man in ambush could knock over a whole company of marching troops!

The guns could be mounted on tripods with a rotating mechanism that
kept them sweeping the area constantly. Anyone who approached within
900 yards would go down--then wake up, climb back to their feet, and go
down again every half-hour. Man or animal. The guns could be strung out
to cover a whole sector, then wired to a single main switch--and one
lone observer could stop an infantry advance.

But they wouldn't stop guided missiles or even mortar fire. Nor would
they deflect through peepholes on a tank or pillbox. There isn't
quite that much "scatter" from the beam reflecting off a hard surface.
However, there is some--I fired through the wire-screen openings of the
cage and had the beam glance directly off the back wall, often knocking
the guinea pigs down without hitting them directly. It went through
a handkerchief easily, even when folded thick. A thin glass tumbler,
however, stopped it.

You could take cover from it almost anywhere--if you knew when you
were going to be shot at. You could wear a light plastic armor--if
the joints were sealed and you kept it hooked to about a fifty-pound
air-condition unit. No problem at all if you ride a motor scooter.

It wouldn't stop an invading army, but it could certainly raise the
devil with the occupation. Almost anyone could make the gun. Given the
components of a pocket radio, a few pieces of copper wire, a few sticks
of chewing gum and a penknife, I could whittle one out of wood or put
it into a plastic toy water-pistol.

But what the Armed Forces _don't_ want right now is a new secret
weapon! They have their manned satellite now, keeping its vigil over
the arsenals of Earth, their big atomic missiles ready to jump off
against preset targets--but with the frightful unknown of deep space
chilling their backsides.

And, too, I can imagine trying to sell those Generals on something that
won't even stop a tank.

I'm afraid I forgot to shut off the kitchen monitor that night. The
servos dished out the dinner menu I'd dialed before noon, then whisked
it away when it got cold. I noticed it when the waste processor's
stuttering hum went on a bit longer than usual.

       *       *       *       *       *

I realized all too clearly what a predicament I was in.

The Armed Forces would undoubtedly suppress my invention. Their lives
are nightmarish enough already--not knowing what they'll find out in
space or how it will affect matters. What's more, they would suppress
_me_! There are certain retroactive clauses in that contract I signed
with the AEC which would do the job with complete legality. A nice
little hideaway, then, with nothing for miles but security guards,
radar traps, trip-wires and electric fences.

But that was the kindest fate I could expect. Quite a number of
assorted big and small dictators might like my head blown off.

The most obvious alternative was to suppress the invention myself. To
destroy all traces of my experiments and forget about it. To convince
myself the world wasn't ready for it.

It's quite possible I might have--if I hadn't kept forgetting to shut
off things--and if not for an unsavory little group.

There is small chance that Big Jake Claggett and his three henchmen
will ever be remembered for their unwitting contribution to science
and the future of mankind. In fact, their contribution can be accepted
as the merest coincidence--unless you discount Big Jake's liking for
foreign sports cars. But that came later.

We always have had criminals and crime, and it just happened that
Claggett's gang were the big news that day. It could as easily have
been some other bunch of crooks.

Anyway, when nine P.M. rolled around, my wall TV burst into
its customary serenade of sound and color, timed for just enough of the
opening commercial to let me settle down to watch Mr. Winkle's news
commentary. It was August 23rd, 1979. At two o'clock that afternoon,
Big Jake Claggett and his gang robbed the Bellefontaine County Savings
Bank and got away with $23,000.

One of the gang clubbed the elderly bank guard senseless with the
barrel of his revolver. The guard was hospitalized for a possible skull
fracture. Witnesses said Big Jake cursed the gunman who struck the
guard, warning him to "get hold of himself!"

That was enough for me. The world had to be given my new weapon. (I'm
even more convinced of it now, after discussing it with Sgt. Falasca.
Practically every professional criminal in this country would give
almost anything for the Cooling gun. Then they could commit armed
robbery with no risk of earning a murder rap!) I could see that both
criminals and police officers would welcome it and for one simple

It doesn't kill, maim or injure. Even if it should cause a tremendous
increase in robberies and similar crimes, its victims wouldn't be dead.
Better a hundred robberies than one man's death.

Besides, I had a notion that I could discourage its criminal use.

       *       *       *       *       *

First I had to prevent its suppression. Solve that problem and there
wouldn't be any reason I couldn't manufacture the pistols, advertise
them, and sell them exactly as any firearms company can sell .22
rifles. Except that I should probably do better to arrange for their
manufacture by some established firm.

That was when I began planning to write this. There is just one
condition under which no secret can be suppressed--_when it ceases to
be a secret!_

It took preparation. The roughed-out diagrams and scribbled notes a
man uses in research are hardly suitable for publication. Technical
specifications had to be phrased in clear, understandable terms.
The complete data took nearly two weeks to reach final draft. Also,
it seemed best to establish the importance, and at least imply the
probable consequences, of this publication.

And then, obviously, I had to find a publisher.

That one had me stumped.

Furthermore, I suspect it might still have me stumped if I did not now
have the full support of the Governor and the State Police of Ohio.
_These police officers want Cooling guns!_ But even back then, while
I was still the only man on Earth who knew about it, I managed to
formulate a solution of sorts.

Any publisher would be scared of the thing while only he and I and the
printers knew about it. He'd be risking a Federal injunction, at the
very least, even to consider publishing it.

But if it were no longer a secret and simply not yet _common
knowledge_, most publishers would grab it. If, for example, some
manufacturing firm had already considered it and was planning to put
Cooling guns into production....

Dr. Charles Whitney is currently the president and chief stockholder of
the Cleveland Atomic Equipment Company, which designs and manufactures
special tools and equipment for nuclear power companies, radiation labs
and universities throughout the Midwest. He started the business after
his dismissal from the AEC and built it up gradually over the ensuing
ten years. We have some of his tools at Webster Tech.

Then, too, Whitney and I had maintained a cursory, but friendly contact
through the years, so naturally I thought of him first. He had the
production layout for the job; what's more, he had the guts to go
through with it. All I had to do was sell him on it.

Unfortunately, by then I was scared silly. I was the furtive, sneaky
little man whose invention would change the world. I contacted Dr.
Whitney with a simple televisor call--but instead of suggesting a
perfectly normal appointment at his office, I had to swear him to
secrecy and arrange a clandestine meeting in the country! I wonder he
didn't consult an almanac to see if there wasn't a full moon that night.

In fact, I wonder that he came at all. It was pouring rain.

       *       *       *       *       *

At least six hours are still required to reach Indian Lake in dry
weather, even allowing the Federal Freeway's 125 mph speed limit.
Once through the Columbus Turnoff, you have to double back westward
and northward through a hilly, rural country with twisting county
roads. You must have excellent driving ability to average more than 30
mph--and it won't be much more--over that maze of roads. When they're
wet, you need driving ability just to stay on them.

I'd worked late the night before, arranging my material for this
meeting, and didn't arise until noon. One glance at the sky's heavy
overcast told me what to expect. The weather reports confirmed it.

The world proceeded about its own business, of course, thoroughly
indifferent to a worried man eating his belated breakfast. I was
so completely _alone_! If I felt any sense of foreboding, stuffing
articles into my pockets, picking up the guinea pigs' case and going
out to the car, I couldn't distinguish it from my feeling of gloom.
Perhaps I did, since the world's affairs caught up with me quite
forcibly that night.

I met the rain before I was halfway up the Freeway and had to cut
speed clear down to 85.

The old hotel on Indian Lake was my natural choice for a rendezvous,
since it was a gutted ruin in abandoned backwoods--though "abandoned"
isn't exactly true. Local residents still fish the lake and there are a
few homes around the shore area.

Strictly speaking, the region has simply changed with the times. Today,
you can't get past the toll-gate onto a Federal Freeway unless you have
a Federal Driver's License and your Vehicle Inspection sticker is up
to date--which changed more things, I think, than nuclear power and
industrial automation.

       *       *       *       *       *

When people suddenly couldn't drive across the country in any junkheap
with a nut at the wheel, it became a mark of distinction just to _live_
in the country. That's what made more rural jobs--the small community
shopping centers springing up, products having to be shipped out to
them, the growth of rural power and water systems--when work in the
cities got scarce, with automation taking over the factories.

But it hit the small resort areas especially hard. More people are
vacationing in the cities now than at the seashore or mountains!

I hadn't been out to the lake in years, but I had less trouble finding
my way this time than ever before. The influx of new home-builders has
considerably improved the road signs around there, both in number and
accuracy, and that's all you need in a Porsche Apache. My little blue
speedster takes those narrow, rain-slicked county roads like a Skid Row
bum making the saloon circuit with a brand new ten-dollar bill. The
only real problem is getting around those armor-sided Detroit mastodons
that can't decide which end is the front.

Anyway, driving kept me too busy to think much of anything else. But
I made good time--better than I expected--and it wasn't long after
dark when my headlights cut through the sheeting rain to pick out the
fire-blackened ruin of the hotel.

I jounced the little Porsche around the deep-rutted drive and parked
next to the empty frame building that had once been the restaurant and

I had plenty of time to think, for Dr. Whitney didn't arrive until two
hours later.

It was sometime during those two hours that the Claggett gang smashed
their way through a police roadblock just outside Lima, their guns
blasting reply to the machine-gun bullets peppering their big sedan.
Two policemen were seriously wounded; one died on the way to the

Shortly afterward, the bullet-riddled sedan was found by the roadside,
but only one of the gang was in it. He was dead.

And some time later, a call aroused Sgt. Falasca from a sound sleep.
He didn't even take time to don his State Police uniform, but merely
pulled a trenchcoat on over his pajamas, got his revolver out of the
bureau drawer, and kissed his wife on the way out the front door. He
had three other State Troopers to pick up, off-duty as he was, before
proceeding to the assembly point at Lima.

The Claggett gang had split up, some of them probably wounded, each of
them armed and more dangerous than ever. They were wanted for murder

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Whitney made the trip by helicopter, of course--the head of a
scientific instrument company must keep up appearances. He'd waited as
long as he could, hoping the weather might clear, then had taken off on
instruments and reached the lake by ADF gridmap. He settled to the lake
surface and crept in to shore, his landing lights probing the thick
curtains of rain.

I heard the hollow roar of his turbine, rather than the throb of his
rotor blades, and hurried around the slanting wing of the old hotel
to meet him. The lakefront presented a macabre view that wrenched at
my memory. The desolate, cracked-stucco walls with the black holes of
their windows rising from mounds of rubble beside me, a weed-grown lawn
and a straggle of trees half-masking the lake--stark-looking trees now,
in the 'copter's landing lights--and a small boat-dock leaning half
into the black water.

Once, as a rather obnoxious young high-school student, I had seen
this lakefront on just such a night. A steady rain fell, lightning
flickered, and thunder blasted its anger ... and, for a moment, I saw
it as it had been, with that grand old British pioneer of space flight,
Arthur C. Clarke, standing out there in the pelting rain with his
camera, taking pictures of the lightning!

Dr. Whitney brought his sleek craft over the treetops and settled
neatly into the small space that remained of the lawn, his rotor tips
almost nicking the crumbled walls of the hotel. It was a plexi-nosed,
three-place executive ship--a Bell, I think. A lot of people prefer
flying. They must fly specific air routes and airfield traffic
patterns; and with airfields so crowded, they have trouble finding a
place to park. It's not for me.

But Dr. Whitney had heard the newscasts on the way out. I don't recall
what was said at our meeting. It was rather uncomfortable, under the
circumstances--the more so for me, I think, as those circumstances were
my own making. But when we'd rounded the hotel and entered the old
restaurant-bar, I recall Whitney's jocular approval.

"Well, we're cozy enough here," he said. "So long as the Claggett gang
doesn't drop in on us!"

That was how I heard of the night's happenings. When he saw that his
remark puzzled me, he related the news while I was setting things up
for our conference. We were in the back room, which had once been the
bar--the front section, formerly the restaurant, had had windows all
around, which now formed an unbroken gap with a chill wind whistling
through it. The place was stripped bare of its former fixtures, but
some unsung fisherman had provided the old barroom with a rickety table
and several pressed-board boxes to sit on. I had a Coleman radiant heat
lantern which I swung from a ceiling wire hook, a plastic sheet which
I threw across the table, and a couple of patio chair cushions for the

It took some shifting about to get everything out of the way of several
roof leaks, and I had to choose a sturdy box for myself, first testing
a few.

       *       *       *       *       *

I can well imagine the thoughts and emotions struggling through Dr.
Whitney's mind then, but he showed none of them. It was I, rather, with
my clumsy movements, the pauses to polish my glasses, the lump I kept
trying to swallow, who took so long to face up to it.

But finally we were ready. I took out my notebook and opened it upon
the table before me. Whitney's frosty eyebrows raised. Then he quietly
reached inside his own topcoat, produced his notebook and pen, and laid
the notebook open before him. It was a gesture of an almost-forgotten
past, but a habit neither of us had ever abandoned. Something about
it--the reminder of countless AEC conferences we had both attended--had
a steadying effect on me.

I placed my pistol in the center of the table. The guinea pigs' cage
was on the floor before us. I told what I had to tell.

Then I went to the cage, removed one of the animals and tucked it into
my pocket. Returning to the table, I picked up the pistol and fired at
the cage. The shrill E flat note pierced the rushing sound of the rain.

Whitney rose and went to the cage. Gently removing the little
creature, he felt it a moment, then nodded.

"Asleep," he said, and replaced it in the cage.

Looking over my notes, I see that considerable space would be required
to cover the entire interrogation which followed. Also, I see that
I failed to note down the almost gradual change in my old friend's
demeanor--from his calm, quiet manner at first to the keen-eyed
excitement of his flushed features, his rapid-fire questions at the end.

I shall, instead, give some examples of that discussion.

"The guinea pigs sleep for only a half-hour? Always a half-hour?"

"Yes. It never varies much. A minute or so each way."

"If you--uh--shoot one, then shoot it again, does that prolong its
sleep any?"

"Not at all! Still only a half-hour, no matter how many times you shoot
them while they sleep."

"Ummm. That could indicate sleep is the brain's defense mechanism
against the effects of your ray. A successful defense, it would seem.
They show _no_ after-effects of this?"

"None whatever. They've begun to associate it with the pistol, though.
Each time I point the pistol at them, they get mad--"

"You mean angry? They aren't _afraid_ of it?"

"Certainly not afraid! One in my pocket here tries burrowing into
corners, making furious grunting sounds. The other one usually just
stands and glares at me."

"How about when they wake up?"

"Well, generally, their first reaction is to keep a sharp eye out for
me--and the pistol."

"Wary, eh? Damned inconvenient, I suppose, getting knocked asleep all
the time. But it certainly doesn't seem to hurt them. What about mental

"No obvious aberrations. But I don't know--"

"Yes, they're only guinea pigs. Hardly be satisfactory to the American
Medical Association, among others. Take years of research to determine
its absolute safety--"

"But it should be released to the public now!"


"Because its harmful effects, if any, are very likely to be
insignificant--or we'd have no doubts about their existence."

"That assumption _could_ be dangerous."

"Yes. But there's something else, too. This new weapon will replace
firearms--which certainly _do_ inflict injury, even death."

"Ah, society's application of it--" And Dr. Whitney took several
minutes to digest that aspect.

I outlined my plans to him.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was incredulous at first, then frankly aghast. "You expect me to
_mass-produce_ that thing?"

I said I hoped he would.

He then commenced raking me over the coals in a most fitting and proper
manner. Didn't I realize what I had created? My visions of it freeing
peoples from police-state enslavement were all fine and good, and it
might conceivably have such result; but what I had here was nothing
more than _the most fiendish instrument ever inflicted upon human

What did I think it might do in the hands of muggers, sex offenders,
pickpockets, burglars or worse? Why, our whole civilized culture would
be thrown into chaos! No person would dare ever be alone, for fear of
ambush. No one could sleep without someone else standing watch! No man
could defend his own possessions, no woman could keep her chastity,
unless people were around them, watching them _every moment of their

Goods could no longer be transported without heavy guard. The
wealthy--who could afford it--would have to live in massive,
well-guarded fortresses. The rest of us would be like the feudal
serf, with nothing worth stealing and quite accustomed to having his
daughters raped. _We'd be thrown back into the Dark Ages!_

I nodded agreement to everything he said.

Then I took the guinea pig from my pocket, held it squirming, and
fastened a little collar about its neck. I unwound a wire from the
plastic disc on the collar so Dr. Whitney could see it. He instantly
recognized the tiny node on the wire as a miniature microphone.

"Remember how you determined that the other pig was asleep?" I asked.
I taped the tiny node to the artery on the pig's neck, carried it
over to the cage, and placed it inside. "I call this my 'Hey, Rube!'"
I explained, grinning. "But imagine it as a little wrist radio
transmitter, worn by everyone who requests them, tuned to the police
broadcast frequency. Radio DF could pinpoint the location in seconds."

Going back to the table, I picked up the pistol. "This one's just for
demonstration," I added, and fired at the cage.

As the guinea pig slumped beside its companion, the disc on its collar
emitted a harsh, buzzing noise.

Whitney chuckled. "Slowed heartbeat, eh? Simple as that!"

"And better than any burglar alarm," I pointed out. "This one needn't
sit still while some crook disconnects it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He pointed out, of course, that this might destroy its usefulness to
people in a police-state. The dictator's police and troops could wear
"Hey, Rube!" radios, too. I replied that all the people's underground
fighters would need is a Cooling pistol and a saw-edged meat knife.
One man could knock over a whole platoon and cut their heel-tendons in
minutes. "The American Indians used to collect scalps in less time!" I
said. "But a wounded man's more trouble to the enemy than a dead one. I
think the heel-tendon would be easiest."

Perhaps it was a bit out of character for me. Whitney looked at me for
a long moment, and blinked. Both eyes, tight.

But still he didn't think much of my plans.

His subsequent suggestions were far more rational, however, than the
ones I had evolved through fear.

First, we didn't really know the Armed Forces _would_ suppress this
gun. They were completely involved in their problems of space flight
and military satellites; there probably wasn't anyone left in
Washington who was even looking for secret weapons now. And we just
might get this gun through while they weren't looking.

He suggested, therefore, that I attempt to patent my invention. But
that we should take adequate safeguards: I must handle all patent
correspondence through his office. Then, if the Armed Forces clamped
down, they'd come there first--and he could tip me off in time to
escape. I'd have to flee the country. But at least I'd be free and we
could adopt other measures for bringing out the gun.

It would be pointless now to disclose what other plans and arrangements
we made. It's enough to say I agreed. The discussion then turned to
further speculation of what the future might be with the Cooling gun.

Whitney was not at all convinced it would be good, but, rather, that
neither we nor any group of men had the right to decide what humanity
should or should not do.

He had strong doubts that it would mean the end of dictatorship.
"Dictators dream world conquest, and dreams like that breed war," he
said. "But they aren't the only ones to blame. You'll find people who
_like_ dictatorships!"

But the truth was that most of humanity didn't want to get involved,
never realizing that that involved them more than anything else could.

It was at approximately this time, so far as I can determine, that Big
Jake Claggett and one of his henchmen walked up to a service station
where a Porsche speedster was getting gas. They clubbed the station
attendant unconscious, hauled the driver out of the little sports car
and took off in it.

Dr. Whitney left me with a problem. What could be done to keep people
alert? It is this one thing that will determine the Cooling gun's
effect on the world--whether as an instrument of crime or protection
for the weak, the innocent.

Where people are complacent, it will be a boon to thieves and

Where people are alert--

But what could keep us alert?

       *       *       *       *       *

Driving back, I was preoccupied, hardly conscious of the little car's
deft progress over the slick roads. It was almost with a feeling of
detached interest that I saw the black skid-marks at the bottom of the
hill--then, with chill shock, the dark bulk of the sedan on its side in
the ditch.

I was slowing when a flashlight beam raked outward from the car,
showing crumpled metal and broken headlights. One figure, perhaps
two, were standing behind it. Another one, a man in a trenchcoat,
mud-splattered almost to his hips, was walking onto the road in front
of me, flagging me down.

"Get out of that car!"

There were exasperation and rage in his voice, an expression of utter
fury on his face. He stood just at the edge of my headlights' glare,
not directly in it, with his hands thrust deep in his pockets.

There was that. There was the speed of the sedan, as evidenced by
its skid-marks. My mind leaped instantly to one nerve-shattering

And I felt absolutely calm. I can't explain that. It may have been that
the night's events had already drained me of tense emotion.

_They're armed_, I thought, _but so am I! And I have a weapon that can
get them all with one sweep--_

This, while I opened the door and climbed out. While I thrust my hand
into my own pocket.

I whipped out the little pistol.

One instant, he was standing still, hands thrust in the wet
trenchcoat. The next, a heavy revolver exploded at his hip. A
sledgehammer caught me in the right side, knocked me reeling.

It occurred to me then, lying there on the road, cold rain pelting my
face, a warm wetness spreading along my side. I had met the one pitfall
we shall never escape in a pistol-packing society: the man who's faster
with a gun than you are!

Bending over me, Sgt. Nicolas Falasca picked up the little plastic
Cooling gun and straightened up, peering at it, scowling. "What the
hell!" he muttered.

I was rather inclined to agree.

       *       *       *       *       *

Naturally, this had to be told. The State of Ohio wants Cooling guns
for its police officers; after this, other States will undoubtedly
follow suit. The Armed Forces don't want to suppress it. And Dr.
Whitney will start production in just another week.

They've been very decent about paying my hospital bills and seeing that
nothing else happens to me.

Even though Sgt. Falasca was saddled with the latter responsibility, I
must repeat that he's treated me very well. The future will depend a
lot on men like him.

As for the rest--I've been assured that the guinea pigs were honorably
retired to the breeding farm; Nurse wouldn't let me keep them here.
Everyone knows of the violent end of the Claggett gang.

I want to state vigorously at this point that, despite widespread
public belief, neither I nor the Cooling gun had anything whatsoever to
do with it. I never at any time even saw Claggett or any member of his
gang. Their unwitting contribution was the alerting of Sgt. Falasca and
the rest of the police, and, as I mentioned at the beginning of this
account, Claggett's stealing a Porsche like mine because he was fond of
sports cars.

That's the whole of the story, except for one additional item:

This is scheduled to appear at the same time as the plans and
specifications for the Cooling gun. You'll find them given as premiums
with safety razors, breakfast cereals, cigarettes and other articles. I
wish to thank the manufacturers for their kind cooperation.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Touch of E Flat" ***

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