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Brain Twister
by Gordon Randall Garrett
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Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from the 1962 book publication of the story. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed.

Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.

* * * * *

"Mark Phillips" is, or are, two writers: Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer. Their joint pen-name, derived from their middle names (Philip and Mark), was coined soon after their original meeting, at a science-fiction convention. Both men were drunk at the time, which explains a good deal, and only one has ever sobered up. A matter for constant contention between the collaborators is which one.

They have been collaborating for some time now, and have devised an interesting method of work: Mr. Garrett handles the verbs, the adverbs and the interjections, Mr. Janifer the nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. Conjunctions are a matter of joint decision, and in the case of a tie, the entire game is replayed at Fenway Park, Boston, early in the following year.

BRAIN TWISTER was fifteen years in the making, of which time three days were spent in the actual writing. When the book was finished, both authors relaxed in the mutual pleasure of nervous breakdowns, from which it is not certain that either has ever recovered.

Mr. Garrett is a large, roundish fellow with a beard. He wears flowered vests and always carries a small talisman which no one has ever seen. Mr. Janifer is a somewhat shorter and thinner type, with a shorter and thinner beard. His vests are in solid colors, he wears horn-rimmed glasses because he has always done so, and he is never found without a souvenir subway token from the City of New York.

The personal lives of the authors differ widely. Mr. Garrett's hobbies, for instance, include such sports as close-order drill and river pollution. Mr. Janifer, a less active type, prefers sedentary games such as humming or blinking.

Mr. Garrett is engaged to an exotically beautiful creature, and the two plan to be married as soon as they run out of excuses. Mr. Janifer, on the other hand, is fascinated by women, and hopes some day to meet one.

Brain Twister

Mark Phillips

A shorter version of this work appeared in Astounding Science Fiction under the title of That Sweet Little Old Lady.

Prologue

In nineteen-fourteen, it was enemy aliens.

In nineteen-thirty, it was Wobblies.

In nineteen-fifty-seven, it was fellow-travelers.

And, in nineteen seventy-one, Kenneth J. Malone rolled wearily out of bed wondering what the hell it was going to be now.

One thing, he told himself, was absolutely certain: it was going to be terrible. It always was.

He managed to stand up, although he was swaying slightly when he walked across the room to the mirror for his usual morning look at himself. He didn't much like staring at his own face, first thing in the morning, but then, he told himself, it was part of the toughening- up process every FBI agent had to go through. You had to learn to stand up and take it when things got rough, he reminded himself. He blinked and looked into the mirror.

His image blinked back.

He tried a smile. It looked pretty horrible, he thought—but, then, the mirror had a slight ripple in it, and the ripple distorted everything. Malone's face looked as if it had been gently patted with a waffle-iron.

And, of course, it was still early morning, and that meant he was having a little difficulty in focusing his eyes.

Vaguely, he tried to remember the night before. He was just ending his vacation, and he thought he recalled having a final farewell party for two or three lovely female types he had chanced to meet in what was still the world's finest City of Opportunity, Washington, D.C. (latest female-to-male ratio, five-and-a-half to one). The party had been a classic of its kind, complete with hot and cold running ideas of all sorts, and lots and lots of nice powerful liquor.

Malone decided sadly that the ripple wasn't in the mirror, but in his head. He stared at his unshaven face blearily.

Blink. Ripple.

Quite impossible, he told himself. Nobody could conceivably look as horrible as Kenneth J. Malone thought he did. Things just couldn't be as bad as all that.

Ignoring a still, small voice which asked persistently: "Why not?" he turned away from the mirror and set about finding his clothes. He determined to take his time about getting ready for work: after all, nobody could really complain if he arrived late on his first day after vacation. Everybody knew how tired vacations made a person.

And, besides, there was probably nothing happening anyway. Things had, he recalled with faint pleasure, been pretty quiet lately. Ever since the counterfeiting gang he'd caught had been put away, crime seemed to have dropped to the nice, simple levels of the 1950's and '60's. Maybe, he hoped suddenly, he'd be able to spend some time catching up on his scientific techniques, or his math, or pistol practice....

The thought of pistol practice made his head begin to throb with the authority of a true hangover. There were fifty or sixty small gnomes inside his skull, he realized, all of them with tiny little hammers. They were mining for lead.

"The lead," Malone said aloud, "is farther down. Not in the skull."

The gnomes paid him no attention. He shut his eyes and tried to relax. The gnomes went right ahead with their work, and microscopic regiments of Eagle Scouts began marching steadily along his nerves.

There were people, Malone had always understood, who bounced out of their beds and greeted each new day with a smile. It didn't sound possible, but then again there were some pretty strange people. The head of that counterfeiting ring, for instance: where had he got the idea of picking an alias like Andre Gide?

Clutching at his whirling thoughts, Malone opened his eyes, winced, and began to get dressed. At least, he thought, it was going to be a peaceful day.

It was at this second that his private intercom buzzed.

Malone winced again. "To hell with you," he called at the thing, but the buzz went on, ignoring the code shut-off. That meant, he knew, an emergency call, maybe from his Chief of Section. Maybe even from higher up.

"I'm not even late for work yet," he complained. "I will be, but I'm not yet. What are they screaming about?"

There was, of course, only one way to find out. He shuffled painfully across the room, flipped the switch and said:

"Malone here." Vaguely, he wondered if it were true. He certainly didn't feel as if he were here. Or there. Or anywhere at all, in fact.

A familiar voice came tinnily out of the receiver. "Malone, get down here right away!"

The voice belonged to Andrew J. Burris. Malone sighed deeply and felt grateful, for the fiftieth time, that he had never had a TV pickup installed in the intercom. He didn't want the FBI chief to see him looking as horrible as he did now, all rippled and everything. It wasn't—well, it wasn't professional, that was all.

"I'll get dressed right away," he assured the intercom. "I should be there in—"

"Don't bother to get dressed," Burris snapped. "This is an emergency!"

"But, Chief—"

"And don't call me Chief!"

"Okay," Malone said. "Sure. You want me to come down in my pyjamas. Right?"

"I want you to—" Burris stopped. "All right, Malone. If you want to waste time while our country's life is at stake, you go ahead. Get dressed. After all, Malone, when I say something is an emergency—"

"I won't get dressed, then," Malone said. "Whatever you say."

"Just do something!" Burris told him desperately. "Your country needs you. Pyjamas and all. Malone, it's a crisis!"

Conversations with Burris, Malone told himself, were bound to be a little confusing. "I'll be right down," he said.

"Fine," Burris said, and hesitated. Then he added: "Malone, do you wear the tops or the bottoms?"

"The what?"

"Of your pyjamas," Burris explained hurriedly. "The top part or the bottom part?"

"Oh," Malone said. "As a matter of fact, I wear both."

"Good," Burris said with satisfaction. "I wouldn't want an agent of mine arrested for indecent exposure." He rang off.

Malone blinked at the intercom for a minute, shut it off and then, ignoring the trip-hammers in his skull and the Eagle Scouts on his nerves, began to get dressed. Somehow, in spite of Burris' feelings of crisis, he couldn't see himself trying to flag a taxi on the streets of Washington in his pyjamas. Anyhow, not while he was awake. I dreamed I was an FBI agent, he thought sadly, in my drafty BVDs.

Besides, it was probably nothing important. These things, he told himself severely, have a way of evaporating as soon as a clear, cold intelligence got hold of them.

Then he began wondering where in hell he was going to find a clear, cold intelligence. Or even, for that matter, what one was.

1

"They could be anywhere," Burris said, with an expression which bordered on exasperated horror. "They could be all around us. Heaven only knows."

He pushed his chair back from his desk and stood up, a chunky little man with bright blue eyes and large hands. He paced to the window and looked out at Washington, and then he came back to the desk. A persistent office rumor held that he had become head of the FBI purely because he happened to have an initial J in his name, but in his case the J stood for Jeremiah. And, at the moment, his tone expressed all the hopelessness of that Old Testament prophet's lamentations.

"We're helpless," he said, looking at the young man with the crisp brown hair who was sitting across the desk. "That's what it is, we're helpless."

Kenneth Malone tried to look dependable. "Just tell me what to do," he said.

"You're a good agent, Kenneth," Burris said. "You're one of the best. That's why you've been picked for this job. And I want to say that I picked you personally. Believe me, there's never been anything like it before."

"I'll do my best," Malone said at random. He was twenty-six, and he had been an FBI agent for three years. In that time, he had, among other things, managed to break up a gang of smugglers, track down a counterfeiting ring, and capture three kidnappers. For reasons which he could neither understand nor explain, no one seemed willing to attribute his record to luck.

"I know you will," Burris said. "And if anybody can crack this case, Malone, you're the man. It's just that—everything sounds so impossible. Even after all the conferences we've had."

"Conferences?" Malone said vaguely. He wished the Chief would get to the point. Any point. He smiled gently across the desk and tried to look competent and dependable and reassuring. Burris' expression didn't change.

"You'll get the conference tapes later," Burris said. "You can study them before you leave. I suggest you study them very carefully, Malone. Don't be like me. Don't get confused." He buried his face in his hands. Malone waited patiently. After a few seconds, Burris looked up. "Did you read books when you were a child?" he asked.

Malone said: "What?"

"Books," Burris said. "When you were a child. Read them."

"Sure I did," Malone said. "Bomba the Jungle Boy, and Doctor Doolittle, and Lucky Starr, and Little Women—"

"Little Women?"

"When Beth died," Malone said, "I wanted to cry. But I didn't. My father said big boys don't cry."

"And your father was right," Burris said. "Why, when I was a—never mind. Forget about Beth and your father. Think about Lucky Starr for a minute. Remember him?"

"Sure," Malone said. "I liked those books. You know it's funny, but the books you read when you're a kid, they kind of stay with you. Know what I mean? I can still remember that one about Venus, for instance. Gee, that was—"

"Never mind about Venus, too," Burris said sharply. "Keep your mind on the problem."

"Yes, sir," Malone said. He paused. "What problem, sir?" he added.

"The problem we're discussing," Burris said. He gave Malone a bright, blank stare. "My God," he said. "Just listen to me."

"Yes, sir."

"All right, then." Burris took a deep breath. He seemed nervous. Once again he stood up and went to the window. This time, he spoke without turning. "Remember how everybody used to laugh about spaceships, and orbital satellites, and life on other planets? That was just in those Lucky Starr books. That was all just for kids, wasn't it?"

"Well, I don't know," Malone said slowly.

"Sure it was all for kids," Burris said. "It was laughable. Nobody took it seriously."

"Well, somebody must—"

"You just keep quiet and listen," Burris said.

"Yes, sir," Malone said.

Burris nodded. His hands were clasped behind his back. "We're not laughing any more, are we, Malone?" he said without moving.

There was silence.

"Well, are we?"

"Did you want me to answer, sir?"

"Of course I did!" Burris snapped.

"You told me to keep quiet and—"

"Never mind what I told you," Burris said. "Just do what I told you."

"Yes, sir," Malone said. "No, sir," he added after a second.

"No, sir, what?" Burris asked softly.

"No, sir, we're not laughing any more," Malone said.

"Ah," Burris said. "And why aren't we laughing any more?"

There was a little pause. Malone said, tentatively: "Because there's nothing to laugh about, sir?"

Burris whirled. "On the head!" he said happily. "You've hit the nail on the head, Kenneth. I knew I could depend on you." His voice grew serious again, and thoughtful. "We're not laughing any more because there's nothing to laugh about. We have orbital satellites, and we've landed on the Moon with an atomic rocket. The planets are the next step, and after that the stars. Man's heritage, Kenneth. The stars. And the stars, Kenneth, belong to Man—not to the Russians!"

"Yes, sir," Malone said soberly.

"So," Burris said, "we should learn not to laugh any more. But have we?"

"I don't know, sir."

"We haven't," Burris said with decision. "Can you read my mind?"

"No, sir," Malone said. "Can I read your mind?"

Malone hesitated. At last he said: "Not that I know of, sir."

"Well, I can't," Burris snapped. "And can any of us read each other's mind?"

Malone shook his head. "No, sir," he said.

Burris nodded. "That's the problem," he said. "That's the case I'm sending you out to crack."

This time, the silence was a long one.

At last, Malone said: "What problem, sir?"

"Mind reading," Burris said. "There's a spy at work in the Nevada plant, Kenneth. And the spy is a telepath."

* * * * *

The video tapes were very clear and very complete. There were a great many of them, and it was long after nine o'clock when Kenneth Malone decided to take a break and get some fresh air. Washington was a good city for walking, even at night, and Malone liked to walk. Sometimes he pretended, even to himself, that he got his best ideas while walking, but he knew perfectly well that wasn't true. His best ideas just seemed to come to him, out of nowhere, precisely as the situation demanded them.

He was just lucky, that was all. He had a talent for being lucky. But nobody would ever believe that. A record like his was spectacular, even in the annals of the FBI, and Burris himself believed that the record showed some kind of superior ability.

Malone knew that wasn't true, but what could he do about it? After all, he didn't want to resign, did he? It was kind of romantic and exciting to be an FBI agent, even after three years. A man got a chance to travel around a lot and see things, and it was interesting. The pay was pretty good, too.

The only trouble was that, if he didn't quit, he was going to have to find a telepath.

The notion of telepathic spies just didn't sound right to Malone. It bothered him in a remote sort of way. Not that the idea of telepathy itself was alien to him—after all, he was even more aware than the average citizen that research had been going on in that field for something over a quarter of a century, and that the research was even speeding up.

But the cold fact that a telepathy-detecting device had been invented somehow shocked his sense of propriety, and his notions of privacy. It wasn't decent, that was all.

There ought to be something sacred, he told himself angrily.

He stopped walking and looked up. He was on Pennsylvania Avenue, heading toward the White House.

That was no good. He went to the corner and turned off, down the block. He had, he told himself, nothing at all to see the President about.

Not yet, anyhow.

The streets were dark and very peaceful. I get my best ideas while walking, Malone said without convincing himself. He thought back to the video tapes.

The report on the original use of the machine itself had been on one of the first tapes, and Malone could still see and hear it. That was one thing he did have, he reflected; his memory was pretty good.

Burris had been the first speaker on the tapes, and he'd given the serial and reference number in a cold, matter-of-fact voice. His face had been perfectly blank, and he looked just like the head of the FBI people were accustomed to seeing on their TV and newsreel screens. Malone wondered what had happened to him between the time the tapes had been made and the time he'd sent for Malone.

Maybe the whole notion of telepathy was beginning to get him, Malone thought.

Burris recited the standard tape-opening in a rapid mumble, like a priest involved in the formula of the Mass: "Any person or agent unauthorized for this tape please refrain from viewing further, under penalties as prescribed by law." Then he looked off, out past the screen to the left, and said: "Dr. Thomas O'Connor, of Westinghouse Laboratories. Will you come here, Dr. O'Connor?"

Dr. O'Connor came into the lighted square of screen slowly, looking all around him. "This is very fascinating," he said, blinking in the lamplight. "I hadn't realized that you people took so many precautions—"

He was, Malone thought, somewhere between fifty and sixty, tall and thin with skin so transparent that he nearly looked like a living X- ray. He had pale blue eyes and pale white hair, and, Malone thought, if there ever were a contest for the best-looking ghost, Dr. Thomas O'Connor would win it hands (or phalanges) down.

"This is all necessary for the national security," Burris said, a little sternly.

"Oh," Dr. O'Connor said quickly. "I realize that, of course. Naturally. I can certainly see that."

"Let's go ahead, shall we?" Burris said.

O'Connor nodded. "Certainly. Certainly."

Burris said: "Well, then," and paused. After a second he started again: "Now, Dr. O'Connor, would you please give us a sort of verbal rundown on this for our records?"

"Of course," Dr. O'Connor said. He smiled into the video cameras and cleared his throat. "I take it you don't want an explanation of how this machine works. I mean: you don't want a technical exposition, do you?"

"No," Burris said, and added: "Not by any means. Just tell us what it does."

Dr. O'Connor suddenly reminded Malone of a professor he'd had in college for one of the law courses. He had, Malone thought, the same smiling gravity of demeanor, the same condescending attitude of absolute authority. It was clear that Dr. O'Connor lived in a world of his own, a world that was not even touched by the common run of men.

"Well," he began, "to put it very simply, the device indicates whether or not a man's mental—ah—processes are being influenced by outside— by outside influences." He gave the cameras another little smile. "If you will allow me, I will demonstrate on the machine itself."

He took two steps that carried him out of camera range, and returned wheeling a large heavy-looking box. Dangling from the metal covering were a number of wires and attachments. A long cord led from the box to the floor and snaked out of sight to the left.

"Now," Dr. O'Connor said. He selected a single lead, apparently, Malone thought, at random. "This electrode—"

"Just a moment, Doctor," Burris said. He was eyeing the machine with a combination of suspicion and awe. "A while back you mentioned something about 'outside influences.' Just what, specifically, does that mean?"

With some regret, Dr. O'Connor dropped the lead. "Telepathy," he said. "By outside influences, I meant influences on the mind, such as telepathy or mind-reading of some nature."

"I see," Burris said. "You can detect a telepath with this machine."

"I'm afraid—"

"Well, some kind of a mind-reader anyhow," Burris said. "We won't quarrel about terms."

"Certainly not," Dr. O'Connor said. The smile he turned on Burris was as cold and empty as the inside of Orbital Station One. "What I meant was—if you will permit me to continue—that we cannot detect any sort of telepathy or mind-reader with this device. To be frank, I very much wish that we could; it would make everything a great deal simpler. However, the laws of psionics don't seem to operate that way."

"Well, then," Burris said, "what does the thing do?" His face wore a mask of confusion. Momentarily, Malone felt sorry for his chief. He could remember how he'd felt, himself, when that law professor had come up with a particularly baffling question in class.

"This machine," Dr. O'Connor said with authority, "detects the slight variations in mental activity that occur when a person's mind is being read."

"You mean, if my mind were being read right now—"

"Not right now," Dr. O'Connor said. "You see, the bulk of this machine is in Nevada; the structure is both too heavy and too delicate for transport. And there are other qualifications—"

"I meant theoretically," Burris said.

"Theoretically—" Dr. O'Connor began, and smiled again—"Theoretically, if your mind were being read, this machine would detect it, supposing that the machine were in operating condition and all of the other qualifications had been met. You see, Mr. Burris, no matter how poor a telepath a man may be, he has some slight ability—even if only very slight—to detect the fact that his mind is being read."

"You mean, if somebody was reading my mind, I'd know it?" Burris said. His face showed, Malone realized, that he plainly disbelieved this statement.

"You would know it," Dr. O'Connor said, "but you would never know you knew it. To elucidate: in a normal person—like you, for instance, or even like myself—the state of having one's mind read merely results in a vague, almost sub-conscious feeling of irritation, something that could easily be attributed to minor worries, or fluctuations in one's hormonal balance. The hormonal balance, Mr. Burris, is—"

"Thank you," Burris said with a trace of irritation. "I know what hormones are."

"Ah. Good," Dr. O'Connor said equably. "In any case, to continue: this machine interprets those specific feelings as indications that the mind is being—ah—'eavesdropped' upon."

You could almost see the quotation marks around what Dr. O'Connor considered slang dropping into place, Malone thought.

"I see," Burris said with a disappointed air. "But what do you mean, it won't detect a telepath? Have you ever actually worked with a telepath?"

"Certainly we have," Dr. O'Connor said. "If we hadn't, how would we be able to tell that the machine was, in fact, indicating the presence of telepathy? The theoretical state of the art is not, at present, sufficiently developed to enable us to—"

"I see," Burris said hurriedly. "Only wait a minute."

"Yes?"

"You mean you've actually got a real mind-reader? You've found one? One that works?"

Dr. O'Connor shook his head sadly. "I'm afraid I should have said, Mr. Burris, that we did once have one," he admitted. "He was, unfortunately, an imbecile, with a mental age between five and six, as nearly as we were ever able to judge."

"An imbecile?" Burris said. "But how were you able to—"

"He could repeat a person's thoughts word for word," Dr. O'Connor said. "Of course, he was utterly incapable of understanding the meaning behind them. That didn't matter; he simply repeated whatever you were thinking. Rather disconcerting."

"I'm sure," Burris said. "But he was really an imbecile? There wasn't any chance of—"

"Of curing him?" Dr. O'Connor said. "None, I'm afraid. We did at one time feel that there had been a mental breakdown early in the boy's life, and, indeed, it's perfectly possible that he was normal for the first year or so. The records we did manage to get on that period, however, were very much confused, and there was never any way of telling anything at all, for certain. It's easy to see what caused the confusion, of course: telepathy in an imbecile is rather an oddity— and any normal adult would probably be rather hesitant about admitting that he was capable of it. That's why we have not found another subject; we must merely sit back and wait for lightning to strike."

Burris sighed. "I see your problem," he said. "But what happened to this imbecile boy of yours?"

"Very sad," Dr. O'Connor said. "Six months ago, at the age of fifteen, the boy simply died. He simply—gave up, and died."

"Gave up?"

"That was as good an explanation as our medical department was able to provide, Mr. Burris. There was some malfunction—but—we like to say that he simply gave up. Living became too difficult for him."

"All right," Burris said after a pause. "This telepath of yours is dead, and there aren't any more where he came from. Or if there are, you don't know how to look for them. All right. But to get back to this machine of yours: it couldn't detect the boy's ability?"

Dr. O'Connor shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not. We've worked hard on that problem at Westinghouse, Mr. Burris, but we haven't yet been able to find a method of actually detecting telepaths."

"But you can detect—"

"That's right," Dr. O'Connor said. "We can detect the fact that a man's mind is being read." He stopped, and his face became suddenly morose. When he spoke again, he sounded guilty, as if he were making an admission that pained him. "Of course, Mr. Burris, there's nothing we can do about a man's mind being read. Nothing whatever." He essayed a grin that didn't look very healthy. "But at least," he said, "you know you're being spied on."

Burris grimaced. There was a little silence while Dr. O'Connor stroked the metal box meditatively, as if it were the head of his beloved.

At last, Burris said: "Dr. O'Connor, how sure can you be of all this?"

The look he received made all the previous conversation seem as warm and friendly as a Christmas party by comparison. It was a look that froze the air of the room into a solid chunk, Malone thought, a chunk you could have chipped pieces from, for souvenirs, later, when Dr. O'Connor had gone and you could get into the room without any danger of being quick-frozen by the man's unfriendly eye.

"Mr. Burris," Dr. O'Connor said in a voice that matched the temperature of his gaze, "please. Remember our slogan."

* * * * *

Malone sighed. He fished in his pocket for a pack of cigarettes, found one, and extracted a single cigarette. He stuck it in his mouth and started fishing in various pockets for his lighter.

He sighed again. Perfectly honestly, he preferred cigars, a habit he'd acquired from the days when he'd filched them from his father's cigar- case. But his mental picture of a fearless and alert young FBI agent didn't include a cigar. Somehow, remembering his father as neither fearless nor, exactly, alert—anyway, not the way the movies and the TV screens liked to picture the words—he had the impression that cigars looked out of place on FBI agents.

And it was, in any case, a small sacrifice to make. He found his lighter and shielded it from the brisk wind. He looked out over water at the Jefferson Memorial, and was surprised that he'd managed to walk as far as he had. Then he stopped thinking about walking, and took a puff of his cigarette, and forced himself to think about the job in hand.

Naturally, the Westinghouse gadget had been declared Ultra Top Secret as soon as it had been worked out. Virtually everything was, these days. And the whole group involved in the machine and its workings had been transferred without delay to the United States Laboratories out in Yucca Flats, Nevada.

Out there in the desert, there just wasn't much to do, Malone supposed, except to play with the machine. And, of course, look at the scenery. But when you've seen one desert, Malone thought confusedly, you've seen them all.

So, the scientists ran experiments on the machine, and they made a discovery of a kind they hadn't been looking for.

Somebody, they discovered, was picking the brains of the scientists there.

Not the brains of the people working with the telepathy machine.

And not the brains of the people working on the several other Earth- limited projects at Yucca Flats.

They'd been reading the minds of some of the scientists working on the new and highly classified non-rocket space drive.

In other words, the Yucca Flats plant was infested with a telepathic spy. And how do you go about finding a telepath? Malone sighed. Spies that got information in any of the usual ways were tough enough to locate. A telepathic spy was a lot tougher proposition.

Well, one thing about Andrew J. Burris. He had an answer for everything. Malone thought of what his chief had said: "It takes a thief to catch a thief. And if the Westinghouse machine won't locate a telepathic spy, I know what will."

"What?" Malone had asked.

"It's simple," Burris had said. "Another telepath. There has to be one around somewhere. Westinghouse did have one, after all, and the Russians still have one. Malone, that's your job: go out and find me a telepath."

Burris had an answer for everything, all right, Malone thought. But he couldn't see where the answer did him very much good. After all, if it takes a telepath to catch a telepath, how do you catch the telepath you're going to use to catch the first telepath?

Malone ran that through his mind again, and then gave it up. It sounded as if it should have made sense, somehow, but it just didn't, and that was all there was to that.

He dropped his cigarette to the ground and mashed it out with the toe of his shoe. Then he looked up.

Out there, over the water, was the Jefferson Memorial. It stood, white in the floodlights, beautiful and untouchable in the darkness. Malone stared at it. What would Thomas Jefferson have done in a crisis like this?

Jefferson, he told himself without much conviction, would have been just as confused as he was.

But he'd have had to find a telepath, Malone thought. Malone determined that he would do likewise, If Thomas Jefferson could do it, the least he, Malone, could do was to give it a good try.

There was only one little problem:

Where, Malone thought, do I start looking?

2

Early the next morning, Malone awoke on a plane, heading across the continent toward Nevada. He had gone home to sleep, and he'd had to wake up to get on the plane, and now here he was, waking up again. It seemed, somehow, like a vicious circle.

The engines hummed gently as they pushed the big ship through the middle stratosphere's thinly distributed molecules. Malone looked out at the purple-dark sky and set himself to think out his problem again.

He was still mulling things over when the ship lowered its landing gear and rolled to a stop on the big field near Yucca Flats. Malone sighed and climbed slowly out of his seat. There was a car waiting for him at the airfield, though, and that seemed to presage a smooth time; Malone remembered calling Dr. O'Connor the night before, and congratulated himself on his foresight.

Unfortunately, when he reached the main gate of the high double fence that surrounded the more than ninety square miles of United States Laboratories, he found out that entrance into that sanctum sanctorum of Security wasn't as easy as he'd imagined—not even for an FBI man. His credentials were checked with the kind of minute care Malone had always thought people reserved for disputed art masterpieces, and it was with a great show of reluctance that the Special Security guards passed him inside as far as the office of the Chief Security Officer.

There, the Chief Security Officer himself, a man who could have doubled for Torquemada, eyed Malone with ill-concealed suspicion while he called Burris at FBI headquarters back in Washington.

Burris identified Malone on the video screen and the Chief Security Officer, looking faintly disappointed, stamped the agent's pass and thanked the FBI chief. Malone had the run of the place.

Then he had to find a courier jeep. The Westinghouse division, it seemed, was a good two miles away.

As Malone knew perfectly well, the main portion of the entire Yucca Flats area was devoted solely to research on the new space drive which was expected to make the rocket as obsolete as the blunderbuss—at least as far as space travel was concerned. Not, Malone thought uneasily, that the blunderbuss had ever been used for space travel, but—

He got off the subject hurriedly. The jeep whizzed by buildings, most of them devoted to aspects of the non-rocket drive. The other projects based at Yucca Flats had to share what space was left—and that included, of course, the Westinghouse research project.

It turned out to be a single, rather small white building with a fence around it. The fence bothered Malone a little, but there was no need to worry; this time he was introduced at once into Dr. O'Connor's office. It was paneled in wallpaper manufactured to look like pine, and the telepathy expert sat behind a large black desk bigger than any Malone had ever seen in the FBI offices. There wasn't a scrap of paper on the desk; its surface was smooth and shiny, and behind it the nearly transparent Dr. Thomas O'Connor was close to invisible.

He looked, in person, just about the same as he'd looked on the FBI tapes. Malone closed the door of the office behind him, looked for a chair and didn't find one. In Dr. O'Connor's office, it was perfectly obvious, Dr. O'Connor sat down. You stood, and were uncomfortable.

Malone took off his hat. He reached across the desk to shake hands with the telepathy expert, and Dr. O'Connor gave him a limp fragile paw. "Thanks for giving me a little time," Malone said. "I really appreciate it." He smiled across the desk. His feet were already beginning to hurt.

"Not at all," Dr. O'Connor said, returning the smile with one of his own special quick-frozen brand. "I realize how important FBI work is to all of us, Mr. Malone. What can I do to help you?"

Malone shifted his feet. "I'm afraid I wasn't very specific on the phone last night," he said. "It wasn't anything I wanted to discuss over a line that might have been tapped. You see, I'm on the telepathy case."

Dr. O'Connor's eyes widened the merest trifle. "I see," he said. "Well, I'll certainly do everything I can to help you."

"Fine," Malone said. "Let's get right down to business, then. The first thing I want to ask you about is this detector of yours. I understand it's too big to carry around—but how about making a smaller model?"

"Smaller?" Dr. O'Connor permitted himself a ghostly chuckle. "I'm afraid that isn't possible, Mr. Malone. I would be happy to let you have a small model of the machine if we had one available—more than happy. I would like to see such a machine myself, as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, Mr. Malone—"

"There just isn't one, right?" Malone said.

"Correct," Dr. O'Connor said. "And there are a few other factors. In the first place, the person being analyzed has to be in a specially shielded room, such as is used in encephalographic analysis. Otherwise, the mental activity of the other persons around him would interfere with the analysis." He frowned a little. "I could wish that we knew a bit more about psionic machines. The trouble with the present device, frankly, is that it is partly psionic and partly electronic, and we can't be entirely sure where one part leaves off and the other begins. Very trying. Very trying indeed."

"I'll bet it is," Malone said sympathetically, wishing he understood what Dr. O'Connor was talking about.

The telepathy expert sighed. "However," he said, "we keep working at it." Then he looked at Malone expectantly.

Malone shrugged. "Well, if I can't carry the thing around, I guess that's that," he said. "But here's the next question: do you happen to know the maximum range of a telepath? I mean: how far away can he get from another person and still read his mind?"

Dr. O'Connor frowned again. "We don't have definite information on that, I'm afraid," he said. "Poor little Charlie was rather difficult to work with. He was mentally incapable of cooperating in any way, you see."

"Little Charlie?"

"Charles O'Neill was the name of the telepath we worked with," Dr. O'Connor explained.

"I remember," Malone said. The name had been on one of the tapes, but he just hadn't associated "Charles O'Neill" with "Little Charlie." He felt as if he'd been caught with his homework undone. "How did you manage to find him, anyway?" he said. Maybe, if he knew how Westinghouse had found their imbecile-telepath, he'd have some kind of clue that would enable him to find one, too. Anyhow, it was worth a try.

"It wasn't difficult in Charlie's case," Dr. O'Connor said. He smiled. "The child babbled all the time, you see."

"You mean he talked about being a telepath?"

Dr. O'Connor shook his head impatiently. "No," he said. "Not at all. I mean that he babbled. Literally. Here: I've got a sample recording in my files." He got up from his chair and went to the tall gray filing cabinet that hid in a far corner of the pine-paneled room. From a drawer he extracted a spool of common audio tape, and returned to his desk.

"I'm sorry we didn't get full video on this," he said, "but we didn't feel it was necessary." He opened a panel in the upper surface of the desk, and slipped the spool in. "If you like, there are other tapes—"

"Maybe later," Malone said.

Dr. O'Connor nodded and pressed the playback switch at the side of the great desk. For a second the room was silent.

Then there was the hiss of empty tape, and a brisk masculine voice that overrode it:

"Westinghouse Laboratories," it said, "sixteen April nineteen-seventy. Dr. Walker speaking. The voice you are about to hear belongs to Charles O'Neill: chronological age fourteen years, three months; mental age, approximately five years. Further data on this case will be found in the file O'Neill."

There was a slight pause, filled with more tape hiss.

Then the voice began.

"... push the switch for record ... in the park last Wednesday ... and perhaps a different set of ... poor kid never makes any sense in ... trees and leaves all sunny with the ... electronic components of the reducing stage might be ... not as predictable when others are around but ... to go with Sally some night in the...."

It was a childish, alto voice, gabbling in a monotone. A phrase would be spoken, the voice would hesitate for just an instant, and then another, totally disconnected phrase would come. The enunciation and pronunciation would vary from phrase to phrase, but the tone remained essentially the same, drained of all emotional content.

"... in receiving psychocerebral impulses there isn't any ... nonsense and nothing but nonsense all the ... tomorrow or maybe Saturday with the girl ... tube might be replaceable only if . . . something ought to be done for the . . . Saturday would be a good time for ... work on the schematics tonight if...."

There was a click as the tape was turned off, and Dr. O'Connor looked up.

"It doesn't make much sense," Malone said. "But the kid sure has a hell of a vocabulary for an imbecile."

"Vocabulary?" Dr. O'Connor said softly.

"That's right," Malone said. "Where'd an imbecile get words like 'psychocerebral?' I don't think I know what that means, myself."

"Ah," Dr. O'Connor said. "But that's not his vocabulary, you see. What Charlie is doing is simply repeating the thoughts of those around him. He jumps from mind to mind, simply repeating whatever he receives." His face assumed the expression of a man remembering a bad taste in his mouth. "That's how we found him out, Mr. Malone," he said. "It's rather startling to look at a blithering idiot and have him suddenly repeat the very thought that's in your mind."

Malone nodded unhappily. It didn't seem as if O'Connor's information was going to be a lot of help as far as catching a telepath was concerned. An imbecile, apparently, would give himself away if he were a telepath. But nobody else seemed to be likely to do that. And imbeciles didn't look like very good material for catching spies with. Then he brightened. "Doctor, is it possible that the spy we're looking for really isn't a spy?"

"Eh?"

"I mean, suppose he's an imbecile, too? I doubt whether an imbecile would really be a spy, if you see what I mean."

Dr. O'Connor appeared to consider the notion. After a little while he said: "It is, I suppose, possible. But the readings on the machine don't give us the same timing as they did in Charlie's case—or even the same sort of timing."

"I don't quite follow you," Malone said.

Truthfully, he felt about three miles behind. But perhaps everything would clear up soon. He hoped so. On top of everything else, his feet were now hurting a lot more.

"Perhaps if I describe one of the tests we ran," Dr. O'Connor said, "things will be somewhat clearer." He leaned back in his chair. Malone shifted his feet again and transferred his hat from his right to his left hand.

"We put one of our test subjects in the insulated room," Dr. O'Connor said, "and connected him to the detector. He was to read from a book— a book that was not too common. This was, of course, to obviate the chance that some other person nearby might be reading it, or might have read it in the past. We picked The Blood is the Death by Hieronymus Melanchthon, which, as you may know, is a very rare book indeed."

"Sure," Malone said. He had never heard of the book, but he was, after all, willing to take Dr. O'Connor's word for it.

The telepathy expert went on: "Our test subject read it carefully, scanning rather than skimming. Cameras recorded the movements of his eyes in order for us to tell just what he was reading at any given moment, in order to correlate what was going on in his mind with the reactions of the machine's indicators, if you follow me."

Malone nodded helplessly.

"At the same time," Dr. O'Connor continued blithely, "we had Charlie in a nearby room, recording his babblings. Every so often, he would come out with quotations from The Blood is the Death, and these quotations corresponded exactly with what our test subject was reading at the time, and also corresponded with the abnormal fluctuations of the detector."

Dr. O'Connor paused. Something, Malone realized, was expected of him. He thought of several responses and chose one. "I see," he said.

"But the important thing here," Dr. O'Connor said, "is the timing. You see, Charlie was incapable of continued concentration. He could not keep his mind focused on another mind for very long, before he hopped to still another. The actual amount of time concentrated on any given mind at any single given period varied from a minimum of one point three seconds to a maximum of two point six. The timing samples, when plotted graphically over a period of several months, formed a skewed bell curve with a mode at two point oh seconds."

"Ah," Malone said, wondering if a skewed ball curve was the same thing as a belled skew curve, and if not, why not?

"It was, in fact," Dr. O'Connor continued relentlessly, "a sudden variation in those timings which convinced us that there was another telepath somewhere in the vicinity. We were conducting a second set of reading experiments, in precisely the same manner as the first set, and, for the first part of the experiment, our figures were substantially the same. But—" He stopped.

"Yes?" Malone said, shifting his feet and trying to take some weight off his left foot by standing on his right leg. Then he stood on his left leg. It didn't seem to do any good.

"I should explain," Dr. O'Connor said, "that we were conducting this series with a new set of test subjects: some of the scientists here at Yucca Flats. We wanted to see if the intelligence quotients of the subjects affected the time of contact which Charlie was able to maintain. Naturally, we picked the men here with the highest IQ's, the two men we have who are in the top echelon of the creative genius class." He cleared his throat. "I did not include myself, of course, since I wished to remain an impartial observer, as much as possible."

"Of course," Malone said without surprise.

"The other two geniuses," Dr. O'Connor said, "the other two geniuses both happen to be connected with the project known as Project Isle—an operation whose function I neither know, nor care to know, anything at all about."

Malone nodded. Project Isle was the non-rocket spaceship. Classified. Top Secret. Ultra Secret. And, he thought, just about anything else you could think of.

"At first," Dr. O'Connor was saying, "our detector recorded the time periods of—ah—mental invasion as being the same as before. Then, one day, anomalies began to appear. The detector showed that the minds of our subjects were being held for as long as two or three minutes. But the phrases repeated by Charlie during these periods showed that his own contact time remained the same; that is, they fell within the same skewed bell curve as before, and the mode remained constant if nothing but the phrase length were recorded."

"Hmm," Malone said, feeling that he ought to be saying something.

Dr. O'Connor didn't notice him. "At first we thought of errors in the detector machine," he went on. "That worried us not somewhat, since our understanding of the detector is definitely limited at this time. We do feel that it would be possible to replace some of the electronic components with appropriate symbolization like that already used in the purely psionic sections, but we have, as yet, been unable to determine exactly which electronic components must be replaced by what symbolic components."

Malone nodded, silently this time. He had the sudden feeling that Dr. O'Connor's flow of words had broken itself up into a vast sea of alphabet soup, and that he, Malone, was occupied in drowning in it.

"However," Dr. O'Connor said, breaking what was left of Malone's train of thought, "young Charlie died soon thereafter, and we decided to go on checking the machine. It was during this period that we found someone else reading the minds of our test subjects—sometimes for a few seconds, sometimes for several minutes."

"Aha," Malone said. Things were beginning to make sense again. Someone else. That, of course, was the spy.

"I found," Dr. O'Connor said, "on interrogating the subjects more closely, that they were, in effect, thinking on two levels. They were reading the book mechanically, noting the words and sense, but simply shuttling the material directly into their memories without actually thinking about it. The actual thinking portions of their minds were concentrating on aspects of Project Isle."

There was a little silence.

"In other words," Malone said, "someone was spying on them for information about Project Isle?"

"Precisely," Dr. O'Connor said with a frosty, teacher-to-student smile. "And whoever it was had a much higher concentration time than Charlie had ever attained. He seems to be able to retain contact as long as he can find useful information flowing in the mind being read."

"Wait a minute," Malone said. "Wait a minute. If this spy is so clever, how come he didn't read your mind?"

"It is very likely that he has," O'Connor said. "What does that have to do with it?"

"Well," Malone said, "if he knows you and your group are working on telepathy and can detect what he's doing, why didn't he just hold off on the minds of those geniuses when they were being tested in your machine?"

Dr. O'Connor frowned. "I'm afraid that I can't be sure," he said, and it was clear from his tone that, if Dr. Thomas O'Connor wasn't sure, no one in the entire world was, had been, or ever would be. "I do have a theory, however," he said, brightening up a trifle.

Malone waited patiently.

"He must know our limitations," Dr. O'Connor said at last. "He must be perfectly well aware that there's not a single thing we can do about him. He must know that we can neither find nor stop him. Why should he worry? He can afford to ignore us—or even bait us. We're helpless, and he knows it."

That, Malone thought, was about the most cheerless thought he had heard in sometime.

"You mentioned that you had an insulated room," the FBI agent said after a while. "Couldn't you let your men think in there?"

Dr. O'Connor sighed. "The room is shielded against magnetic fields and electro-magnetic radiation. It is perfectly transparent to psionic phenomena, just as it is to gravitational fields."

"Oh," Malone said. He realized rapidly that his question had been a little silly to begin with, since the insulated room had been the place where all the tests had been conducted in the first place. "I don't want to take up too much of your time, Doctor," he said after a pause, "but there are a couple of other questions."

"Go right ahead," Dr. O'Connor said. "I'm sure I'll be able to help you."

Malone thought of mentioning how little help the Doctor had been to date, but decided against it. Why antagonize a perfectly good scientist without any reason? Instead, he selected his first question, and asked it. "Have you got any idea how we might lay our hands on another telepath? Preferably one that's not an imbecile, of course."

Dr. O'Connor's expression changed from patient wisdom to irritation. "I wish we could, Mr. Malone. I wish we could. We certainly need one here to help us here with our work—and I'm sure that your work is important, too. But I'm afraid we have no ideas at all about finding another telepath. Finding little Charlie was purely fortuitous— purely, Mr. Malone, fortuitous."

"Ah," Malone said. "Sure. Of course." He thought rapidly and discovered that he couldn't come up with one more question. As a matter of fact, he'd asked a couple of questions already, and he could barely remember the answers. "Well," he said, "I guess that's about it, then, Doctor. If you come across anything else, be sure and let me know."

He leaned across the desk, extending a hand. "And thanks for your time," he added.

Dr. O'Connor stood up and shook his hand. "No trouble, I assure you," he said. "And I'll certainly give you all the information I can."

Malone turned and walked out. Surprisingly, he discovered that his feet and legs still worked. He had thought they'd turned to stone in the office long before.

* * * * *

It was on the plane back to Washington that Malone got his first inkling of an idea.

The only telepath that the Westinghouse boys had been able to turn up was Charles O'Neill, the youthful imbecile.

All right, then. Suppose there were another like him. Imbeciles weren't very difficult to locate. Most of them would be in institutions, and the others would certainly be on record. It might be possible to find someone, anyway, who could be handled and used as a tool to find a telepathic spy.

And—happy thought!—maybe one of them would turn out to be a high- grade imbecile, or even a moron.

Even if they only turned up another imbecile, he thought wearily, at least Dr. O'Connor would have something to work with.

He reported back to Burris when he arrived in Washington, told him about the interview with Dr. O'Connor, and explained what had come to seem a rather feeble brainstorm.

"It doesn't seem too productive," Burris said, with a shade of disappointment in his voice, "but we'll try it."

At that, it was a better verdict than Malone had tried for. Though, of course, it meant extra work for him.

Orders went out to field agents all over the United States, and, quietly but efficiently, the FBI went to work. Agents began to probe and pry and poke their noses into the files and data sheets of every mental institution in the fifty states—as far, at any rate, as they were able.

And Kenneth J. Malone was in the lead.

There had been some talk of his staying in Washington to collate the reports as they came in, but that had sounded even worse than having to visit hospitals. "You don't need me to do a job like that," he'd told Burris. "Let's face it, Chief: if we find a telepath the agent who finds him will say so. If we don't, he'll say that, too. You could get a chimpanzee to collate reports like that."

Burris looked at him speculatively, and for one horrible second Malone could almost hear him sending out an order to find, and hire, a chimpanzee (after Security clearance, of course, for whatever organizations a chimpanzee could join). But all he said, in what was almost a mild voice, was: "All right, Malone. And don't call me Chief."

The very mildness of his tone showed how worried the man was, Malone realized, and he set out for the first hospital on his own list with grim determination written all over his face and a heartbeat that seemed to hammer at him that his country expected every man to do his duty.

"I find my duty hard to do today," he murmured under his breath. It was all right to tell himself that he had to find a telepath. But how did you go about it? Did you just knock on hospital doors and ask them if they had anybody who could read minds?

"You know," Malone told himself in a surprised tone, "that isn't such a bad idea." It would, at any rate, let him know whether the hospital had any patients who thought they could read minds. From them on, it would probably be simple to apply a test, and separate the telepathic sheep from the psychotic goats.

The image that created in his mind was so odd that Malone, in self- defense, stopped thinking altogether until he'd reached the first hospital, a small place situated in the shrinking countryside West of Washington.

It was called, he knew, the Rice Pavilion.

* * * * *

The place was small, and white. It bore a faint resemblance to Monticello, but then that was true, Malone reflected, of eight out of ten public buildings of all sorts. The front door was large and opaque, and Malone went up the winding driveway, climbed a short flight of marble steps, and rapped sharply.

The door opened instantly. "Yes?" said the man inside, a tall, balding fellow wearing doctor's whites and a sad, bloodhound-like expression.

"Yes," Malone said automatically. "I mean—my name is Kenneth J. Malone."

"Mine," said the bloodhound, "is Blake. Doctor Andrew Blake." There was a brief pause. "Is there anything we can do for you?" the doctor went on.

"Well," Malone said, "I'm looking for people who can read minds."

Blake didn't seem at all surprised. He nodded quietly. "Of course," he said. "I understand perfectly."

"Good," Malone told him. "You see, I thought I'd have a little trouble finding—"

"Oh, no trouble at all, I assure you," Blake went on, just as mournfully as ever. "You've come to the right place, believe me, Mr.— ah—"

"Malone," Malone said. "Kenneth J. Frankly, I didn't think I'd hit the jackpot this early—I mean, you were the first on my list—"

The doctor seemed suddenly to realize that the two of them were standing out on the portico. "Won't you come inside?" he said, with a friendly gesture. He stepped aside and Malone walked through the doorway.

Just inside it, three men grabbed him.

Malone, surprised by this sudden reception, fought with every ounce of his FBI training. But the three men had his surprise on their side, and three against one was heavy odds for any man, trained or not.

His neck placed firmly between one upper and lower arm, his legs pinioned and his arms flailing wildly, Malone managed to shout: "What the hell is this? What's going on?"

Dr. Blake was watching the entire operation from a standpoint a few feet away. He didn't look as if his expression were ever going to change.

"It's all for your own good, Mr. Malone," he said calmly. "Please believe me."

"My God!" Malone said. He caught somebody's face with one hand and then somebody else grabbed the hand and folded it back with irresistible force. He had one arm free, and he tried to use it—but not for long. "You think I'm nuts!" he shouted, as the three men produced a strait-jacket from somewhere and began to cram him into it. "Wait!" he cried, as the canvas began to cramp him. "You're wrong! You're making a terrible mistake!"

"Of course," Dr. Blake said. "But if you'll just relax we'll soon be able to help you—"

The strait-jacket was on. Malone sagged inside it like a rather large and sweaty butterfly rewrapped in a cocoon. Dimly, he realized that he sounded like every other nut in the world. All of them would be sure to tell the doctor and the attendants that they were making a mistake. All of them would claim they were sane.

There was, of course, a slight difference. But how could Malone manage to prove it? The three men held him up.

"Now, now," Dr. Blake said. "You can walk, Mr. Malone. Suppose you just follow me to your room—"

"My room?" Malone said. "Now, you listen to me, Doctor. If you don't take this stuff off me at once I promise you the President will hear of it. And I don't know how he'll take interference in a vital mission—"

"The President?" Blake asked quietly. "What President, Mr. Malone?"

"The President of the United States, damn it!" Malone shouted.

"Hmm," Blake said.

That was no good, either, Malone realized. Every nut would have some sort of direct pipeline to the President, or God, or somebody high up. Nuts were like that.

But he was an FBI Agent. A special agent on a vital mission.

He said so.

"Now, now, Mr. Malone," Blake told him. "Let's get to your room, shall we, and then we can talk things over."

"I can prove it!" Malone told him. The three men picked him up. "My identification is in my pocket—"

"Really?" Blake said.

They started moving down the long front hall.

"All you have to do is take this thing off so I can get at my pockets—"

Malone began.

But even he could see that this new plan wasn't going to work, either.

"Take it off?" Blake said. "Oh, certainly, Mr. Malone. Certainly. Just as soon as we have you comfortably settled."

It was ridiculous, Malone told himself as the men carried him away. It couldn't happen: an FBI agent mistaken for a nut, wrapped in a strait- jacket and carried to a padded cell.

Unfortunately, ridiculous or not, it was happening.

And there was absolutely nothing to do about it.

Malone thought with real longing of his nice, safe desk in Washington. Suddenly he discovered in himself a great desire to sit around and collate reports. But no—he had to be a hero. He had to go and get himself involved.

This, he thought, will teach me a great lesson. The next time I get offered a job a chimpanzee can do, I'll start eating bananas.

It was at this point in his reflections that he reached a small door. Dr. Blake opened it and the three men carried Malone inside. He was dumped carefully on the floor. Then the door clanged shut.

Alone, Malone told himself bitterly, at last.

* * * * *

After a minute or so had gone by he began to think about getting out. He could, it occurred to him, scream for help. But that would only bring more attendants, and very possibly Dr. Blake again, and somehow Malone felt that further conversation with Dr. Blake was not likely to lead to any very rational end.

Sooner or later, he knew, they would have to let him loose.

After all, he was an FBI agent, wasn't he?

Alone, in a single cheerless cell, caught up in the toils of a strait- jacket, he began to doubt the fact. Maybe Blake was right; maybe they were all right. Maybe he, Kenneth J. Malone, was totally mad.

He told himself firmly that the idea was ridiculous.

But, then, what wasn't?

The minutes ticked slowly by. After a while the three guards came back, opening the door and filing into the room carefully. Malone, feeling more than ever like something in a cocoon, watched them with interest. They shut the door carefully behind them and stood before him.

"Now, then," one of them said. "We're going to take the jacket off, if you promise to be a good boy."

"Sure," Malone said. "And when you take my clothing, look in the pockets."

"The pockets?"

"To find my FBI identification," Malone said wearily. He only half- believed the idea himself, but half a belief, he told himself confusedly, was better than no mind at all. The attendants nodded solemnly.

"Sure we will," one of them said, "if you're a good boy and don't act up rough on us now. Okay?"

Malone nodded. Carefully, two of the attendants began to unbuckle him while the third stood by for reinforcements. Malone made no fuss.

In five minutes he was naked as—he told himself—a jay-bird. What was so completely nude about those particular birds escaped him for the moment, but it wasn't important. The three men were all holding various parts of the strait-jacket or of his clothing.

They were still watching him warily.

"Look in the pockets," Malone said.

"Sure," one said. The man holding the jacket reached into it and dropped it as if it were hot.

"Hey," he announced in a sick voice, "the guy's carrying a gun."

"A gun?" the second one asked.

The first one gestured toward the crumpled jacket on the floor. "Look for yourself," he said. "A real honest-to-God gun. I could feel it."

Malone leaned against one wall, looking as nonchalant as it was possible for him to look in the nude. The room being cool, he felt he was succeeding reasonably well. "Try the other pocket," he suggested.

The first attendant gave him a long stare. "What've you got in there, buddy?" he asked. "A howitzer?"

"Jesus," the second attendant said, without moving toward the jacket. "An armed nut. What a world."

"Try the pocket," Malone said.

A second went by. The first attendant bent down slowly, picked up the jacket and slipped his hand into the other inside pocket. He came out with a wallet and flipped it open.

The others looked over his shoulder.

There was a long minute of silence.

"Jesus," the second attendant said, as if it were the only word left in the language.

Malone sighed. "There, now," he said. "You see? Suppose you give me back my clothes and let's get down to brass tacks."

* * * * *

It wasn't that simple, of course.

First the attendants had to go and get Dr. Blake, and everybody had to explain everything three or four times, until Malone was just as sick of being an FBI agent as he had ever been of being a padded-cell case. But, at last, he stood before Dr. Blake in the corridor outside, once again fully dressed. Slightly rumpled, of course, but fully dressed. It did, Malone thought, make a difference, and if clothes didn't exactly make the man they were a long way from a hindrance.

"Mr. Malone," Blake was saying, "I want to offer my apologies—"

"Perfectly okay," Malone said agreeably. "But I would like to know something. Do you treat all your visitors like this? I mean—the milkman, the mailman, relatives of patients—"

"It's not often we get someone here who claims to be from the FBI," Blake said. "And naturally our first thought was that—well, sometimes a patient will come in, just give himself up, so to speak. His unconscious mind knows that he needs help, and so he comes to us. We try to help him."

Privately, Malone told himself that it was a hell of a way to run a hospital. Aloud, all he said was: "Sure. I understand perfectly, Doctor."

Dr. Blake nodded. "And now," he said, "what did you want to talk to me about?"

"Just a minute." Malone closed his eyes. He'd told Burris he would check in, and he was late. "Have you got a phone I can use?"

"Certainly," Blake said, and led him down the corridor to a small office. Malone went to the phone at one end and began dialing even before Blake shut the door and left him alone.

The screen lit up instantly with Burris' face. "Malone, where the hell have you been?" the head of the FBI roared. "I've been trying to get in touch with you—"

"Sorry," Malone said. "I was tied up."

"What do you mean, tied up?" Burris said. "Do you know I was just about to send out a general search order? I thought they'd got you."

"They?" Malone said, interested. "Who?"

"How the hell would I know who?" Burris roared.

"Well, nobody got me," Malone said. "I've been investigating Rice Pavilion, just like I'm supposed to do."

"Then why didn't you check in?" Burris asked.

Malone sighed. "Because I got myself locked up," he said, and explained. Burris listened with patience.

When Malone was finished, Burris said: "You're coming right on back."

"But—"

"No arguments," Burris told him. "If you're going to let things like that happen to you you're better off here. Besides, there are plenty of men doing the actual searching. There's no need—"

Secretly, Malone felt relief. "Well, all right," he said. "But let me check out this place first, will you?"

"Go ahead," Burris said. "But get right on back here."

Malone agreed and snapped the phone off. Then he turned back to find Dr. Blake.

* * * * *

Examining hospital records was not an easy job. The inalienable right of a physician to refuse to disclose confidences respecting a patient applied even to idiots, imbecile and morons. But Malone had a slight edge, due to Dr. Blake's embarrassment, and he put it mercilessly to work.

For all the good it did him he might as well have stayed in his cell. There wasn't even the slightest suspicion in any record that any of the Rice Pavilion patients were telepathic.

"Are you sure that's what you're looking for?" Blake asked him, some hours later.

"I'm sure," Malone said. "When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

"Oh," Blake said. After a second he added: "What does that mean?"

Malone shrugged. "It's an old saying," he told the doctor. "It doesn't have to mean anything. It just sounds good."

"Oh," Blake said again.

After a while, Malone said farewell to good old Rice Pavilion, and headed back to Washington. There, he told himself, everything would be peaceful.

And so it was. Peaceful and dispiriting.

Every agent had problems getting reports from hospitals—and not even the FBI could open the private files of a licensed and registered psychiatrist.

But the field agents did the best they could and, considering the circumstances, their best was pretty good.

Malone, meanwhile, put in two weeks sitting glumly at his Washington desk and checking reports as they arrived. They were uniformly depressing. The United States of America contained more sub-normal minds than Malone cared to think about. There seemed to be enough of them to explain the results of any election you were unhappy over. Unfortunately, subnormal was all you could call them. Like the patients at Rice Pavilion, not one of them appeared to possess any abnormal psionic abilities whatever.

There were a couple who were reputed to be poltergeists—but in neither case was there a single shred of evidence to substantiate the claim.

At the end of the second week, Malone was just about convinced that his idea had been a total washout. He himself had been locked up in a padded cell, and other agents had spent a full fortnight digging up imbeciles, while the spy at Yucca Flats had been going right on his merry way, scooping information out of the men at Project Isle as though he were scooping beans out of a pot. And, very likely, laughing himself silly at the feeble efforts of the FBI.

Who could he be?

Anyone, Malone told himself unhappily. Anyone at all. He could be the janitor who swept out the buildings, one of the guards at the gate, one of the minor technicians on another project, or even some old prospector wandering around the desert with a scintillation counter.

Is there any limit to telepathic range?

The spy could even be sitting quietly in an armchair in the Kremlin, probing through several thousand miles of solid earth to peep into the brains of the men on Project Isle.

That was, to say the very least, a depressing idea.

Malone found he had to assume that the spy was in the United States— that, in other words, there was some effective range to telepathic communication. Otherwise, there was no point in bothering to continue the search.

Therefore, he found one other thing to do. He alerted every agent to the job of discovering how the spy was getting his information out of the country.

He doubted that it would turn up anything, but it was a chance. And Malone hoped desperately for it, because he was beginning to be sure that the field agents were never going to turn up any telepathic imbeciles.

He was right. They never did.

3

The telephone rang.

Malone rolled over on the couch and muttered four words under his breath. Was it absolutely necessary for someone to call him at seven in the morning?

He grabbed at the receiver with one hand, and picked up his cigar from the ashtray with the other. It was bad enough to be awakened from a sound sleep—but when a man hadn't been sleeping at all, it was even worse.

He'd been sitting up since before five that morning, worrying about the telepathic spy, and at the moment he wanted sleep more than he wanted phone calls.

"Gur?" he said, sleepily and angrily, thankful that he'd never had a visiphone installed in his apartment. A taste for blondes was apparently hereditary. At any rate, Malone felt he had inherited it from his father, and he didn't want any visible strangers calling him at odd hours to interfere with his process of collection and research.

He blinked at the audio circuit, and a feminine voice said: "Mr. Kenneth J. Malone?"

"Who's this?" Malone said peevishly, beginning to discover himself capable of semirational English speech.

"Long distance from San Francisco," the voice said.

"It certainly is," Malone said. "Who's calling?"

"San Francisco is calling," the voice said primly.

Malone repressed a desire to tell the voice that he didn't want to talk to St. Francis, not even in Spanish, and said instead: "Who in San Francisco?"

There was a momentary hiatus, and then the voice said: "Mr. Thomas Boyd is calling, sir. He says this is a scramble call."

Malone took a drag from his cigar and closed his eyes. Obviously the call was a scramble. If it had been clear, the man would have dialed direct, instead of going through what Malone now recognized as an operator.

"Mr. Boyd says he is the Agent-in-Charge of the San Francisco office of the FBI," the voice offered.

"And quite right, too," Malone told her. "All right. Put him on."

"One moment," There was a pause, a click, another pause and then another click. At last the operator said: "Your party is ready, sir."

Then there was still another pause.

Malone stared at the audio receiver. He began to whistle When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.

... And the sound of Irish laughter.... "Hello? Malone?"

"I'm here, Tom," Malone said guiltily. "This is me. What's the trouble?"

"Trouble?" Boyd said. "There isn't any trouble. Well, not really. Or maybe it is. I don't know."

Malone scowled at the audio receiver, and for the first time wished he had gone ahead and had a video circuit put in, so that Boyd could see the horrendous expression on his face.

"Look," he said. "It's seven here and that's too early. Out there, it's four, and that's practically ridiculous. What's so important?"

He knew perfectly well that Boyd wasn't calling him just for the fun of it. The man was a damned good agent. But why a call at this hour?

Malone muttered under his breath. Then, self-consciously, he squashed out his cigar and lit a cigarette while Boyd was saying: "Ken, I think we may have found what you've been looking for."

It wasn't safe to say too much, even over a scrambled circuit. But Malone got the message without difficulty.

"Yeah?" he said, sitting up on the edge of the couch. "You sure?"

"Well," Boyd said, "no. Not absolutely sure. Not absolutely. But it is worth your taking a personal look, I think."

"Ah," Malone said cautiously. "An imbecile?"

"No," Boyd said flatly. "Not an imbecile. Definitely not an imbecile. As a matter of fact, a hell of a fat long way from an imbecile."

Malone glanced at his watch and skimmed over the airline timetables in his mind. "I'll be there nine o'clock, your time," he said. "Have a car waiting for me at the field."

* * * * *

As usual, Malone managed to sleep better on the plane than he'd been able to do at home. He slept so well, in fact, that he was still groggy when he stepped into the waiting car.

"Good to see you, Ken," Boyd said briskly, as he shook Malone's hand.

"You, too, Tom," Malone said sleepily. "Now what's all this about?" He looked around apprehensively. "No bugs in this car, I hope?" he said.

Boyd gunned the motor and headed toward the San Francisco Freeway. "Better not be," he said, "or I'll fire me a technician or two."

"Well, then," Malone said, relaxing against the upholstery, "where is this guy, and who is he? And how did you find him?"

Boyd looked uncomfortable. It was, somehow, both an awe-inspiring and a slightly risible sight. Six feet one and one-half inches tall in his flat feet, Boyd posted around over two hundred and twenty pounds of bone, flesh and muscle. He swung a pot-belly of startling proportions under the silk shirting he wore, and his face, with its wide nose, small eyes and high forehead, was half highly mature, half startlingly childlike. In an apparent effort to erase those childlike qualities, Boyd sported a fringe of beard and a moustache which reminded Malone of somebody he couldn't quite place.

But whoever the somebody was, his hair hadn't been black, as Boyd's was...

He decided it didn't make any difference. Anyhow, Boyd was speaking.

"In the first place," he said, "it isn't a guy. In the second, I'm not exactly sure who it is. And in the third, Ken, I didn't find it."

There was a little silence.

"Don't tell me," Malone said. "It's a telepathic horse, isn't it? Tom, I just don't think I could stand a telepathic horse...."

"No," Boyd said hastily. "No. Not at all. No horse. It's a dame. I mean a lady." He looked away from the road and flashed a glance at Malone. His eyes seemed to be pleading for something—understanding, possibly, Malone thought. "Frankly," Boyd said, "I'd rather not tell you anything about her just yet. I'd rather you met her first. Then you could make up your own mind. All right?"

"All right," Malone said wearily. "Do it your own way. How far do we have to go?"

"Just about an hour's drive," Boyd said. "That's all."

Malone slumped back in the seat and pushed his hat over his eyes. "Fine," he said. "Suppose you wake me up when we get there."

But, groggy as he was, he couldn't sleep. He wished he'd had some coffee on the plane. Maybe it would have made him feel better.

Then again, coffee was only coffee. True, he had never acquired his father's taste for gin (and imagined, therefore, that it wasn't hereditary, like a taste for blondes), but there was always bourbon.

He thought about bourbon for a few minutes. It was a nice thought. It warmed him and made him feel a lot better. After a while, he even felt awake enough to do some talking.

He pushed his hat back and struggled to a reasonable sitting position. "I don't suppose you have a drink hidden away in the car somewhere?" he said tentatively. "Or would the technicians have found that, too?"

"Better not have," Boyd said in the same tone as before, "or I'll fire a couple of technicians." He grinned without turning. "It's in the door compartment, next to the forty-five cartridges and the Tommy- gun."

Malone opened the compartment in the thick door of the car and extracted a bottle. It was Christian Brothers Brandy instead of the bourbon he had been thinking about, but he discovered that he didn't mind at all. It went down as smoothly as milk.

Boyd glanced at it momentarily as Malone screwed the top back on.

"No," Malone said in answer to the unspoken question. "You're driving." Then he settled back again and tipped his hat forward.

He didn't sleep a wink. He was perfectly sure of that. But it wasn't over two seconds later that Boyd said: "We're here, Ken. Wake up."

"Whadyamean, wakeup," Malone said. "I wasn't asleep." He thumbed his hat back and sat up rapidly. "Where's 'here?'"

"Bayview Neuropsychiatric Hospital," Boyd said. "This is where Dr. Harman works, you know."

"No," Malone said. "As a matter of fact, I don't know. You didn't tell me—remember? And who is Dr. Harman, anyhow?"

The car was moving up a long, curving driveway toward a large, lawn- surrounded building. Boyd spoke without looking away from the road.

"Well," he said, "this Dr. Wilson Harman is the man who phoned us yesterday. One of my field agents was out here asking around about imbeciles and so on. Found nothing, by the way. And then this Dr. Harman called, later. Said he had someone here I might be interested in. So I came on out myself for a look, yesterday afternoon—after all, we had instructions to follow up every possible lead."

"I know," Malone said. "I wrote them."

"Oh," Boyd said. "Sure. Well, anyhow, I talked to this dame. Lady."

"And?"

"And I talked to her," Boyd said. "I'm not entirely sure of anything myself. But—well, hell. You take a look at her."

He pulled the car up to a parking space, slid nonchalantly into a slot marked ReservedExecutive Director Sutton, and slid out from under the wheel while Malone got out the other side.

They marched up the broad steps, through the doorway and into the glass-fronted office of the receptionist.

Boyd showed her his little golden badge, and got an appropriate gasp. "FBI," he said. "Dr. Harman's expecting us."

The wait wasn't over fifteen seconds. Boyd and Malone marched down the hall and around a couple of corners, and came to the doctor's office. The door was opaqued glass with nothing but a room number stenciled on it. Without ceremony, Boyd pushed the door open. Malone followed him inside.

The office was small but sunny. Dr. Wilson Harman sat behind a blond- wood desk, a little man with crew-cut blond hair and rimless eyeglasses, who looked about thirty-two and couldn't possibly, Malone thought, have been anywhere near that young. On a second look, Malone noticed a better age indication in the eyes and forehead, and revised his first guess upward between ten and fifteen years.

"Come in, gentlemen," Dr. Harman called. His voice was that rarity, a really loud high tenor.

"Dr. Harman," Boyd said, "this is my superior, Mr. Malone. We'd like to have a talk with Miss Thompson, if we might."

"I anticipated that, sir," Dr. Harman said. "Miss Thompson is in the next room. Have you explained to Mr. Malone that—"

"I haven't explained a thing," Boyd said quickly, and added in what was obviously intended to be a casual tone: "Mr. Malone wants to get a picture of Miss Thompson directly—without any preconceptions."

"I see," Dr. Harman said. "Very well, gentlemen. Through this door."

He opened the door in the right-hand wall of the room, and Malone took one look. It was a long, long look. Standing framed in the doorway, dressed in the starched white of a nurse's uniform, was the most beautiful blonde he had ever seen.

She had curves. She definitely had curves. As a matter of fact, Malone didn't really think he had ever seen curves before. These were something new and different and truly three-dimensional. But it wasn't the curves, or the long straight lines of her legs, or the quiet beauty of her face, that made her so special. After all, Malone had seen legs and bodies and faces before.

At least, he thought he had. Offhand, he couldn't remember where. Looking at the girl, Malone was ready to write brand-new definitions for every anatomical term. Even a term like "hands." Malone had never seen anything especially arousing in the human hand before—anyway, not when the hand was just lying around, so to speak, attached to its wrist but not doing anything in particular. But these hands, long, slender and tapering, white and cool-looking....

And yet, it wasn't just the sheer physical beauty of the girl. She had something else, something more and something different. (Something borrowed, Malone thought in a semidelirious haze, and something blue.) Personality? Character? Soul?

Whatever it was, Malone decided, this girl had it. She had enough of it to supply the entire human race, and any others that might exist in the Universe. Malone smiled at the girl and she smiled back.

After seeing the smile, Malone wasn't sure he could still walk evenly. Somehow, though, he managed to go over to her and extend his hand. The notion that a telepath would turn out to be this mind-searing Epitome had never crossed his mind, but now, somehow, it seemed perfectly fitting and proper.

"Good morning, Miss Thompson," he said in what he hoped was a winning voice.

The smile disappeared. It was like the sun going out.

The vision appeared to be troubled. Malone was about to volunteer his help—if necessary, for the next seventy years—when she spoke.

"I'm not Miss Thompson," she said.

"This is one of our nurses," Dr. Harman put in. "Miss Wilson, Mr. Malone. And Mr. Boyd. Miss Thompson, gentlemen, is over there."

Malone turned.

There, in a corner of the room, an old lady sat. She was a small old lady, with apple-red cheeks and twinkling eyes. She held some knitting in her hands, and she smiled up at the FBI men as if they were her grandsons come for tea and cookies, of a Sunday afternoon.

She had snow-white hair that shone like a crown around her old head in the lights of the room. Malone blinked at her. She didn't disappear.

"You're Miss Thompson?" he said.

She smiled sweetly. "Oh, my, no," she said.

There was a long silence. Malone looked at her. Then he looked at the unbelievably beautiful Miss Wilson. Then he looked at Dr. Harman. And, at last, he looked at Boyd.

"All right," he said. "I get it. You're Miss Thompson."

"Now, wait a minute, Malone," Boyd began.

"Wait a minute?" Malone said. "There are four people here, not counting me. I know I'm not Miss Thompson. I never was, not even as a child. And Dr. Harman isn't, and Miss Wilson isn't, and Whistler's Great-Grandmother isn't, either. So you must be. Unless she isn't here. Or unless she's invisible. Or unless I'm crazy."

"It isn't you, Malone," Boyd said. "What isn't me?"

"That's crazy," Boyd said.

"Okay," Malone said. "I'm not crazy. Then will somebody please tell me—"

The little old lady cleared her throat. A silence fell. When it was complete she spoke, and her voice was as sweet and kindly as anything Malone had ever heard.

"You may call me Miss Thompson," she said. "For the present, at any rate. They all do here. It's a pseudonym I have to use."

"A pseudonym?" Malone said.

"You see, Mr. Malone," Miss Wilson began.

Malone stopped her. "Don't talk," he said. "I have to concentrate and if you talk I can barely think." He took off his hat suddenly, and began twisting the brim in his hands. "You understand, don't you?"

The trace of a smile appeared on her face. "I think I do," she said.

"Now," Malone said. "You're Miss Thompson, but not really, because you have to use a pseudonym." He blinked at the little old lady. "Why?"

"Well," she said, "otherwise people would find out about my little secret."

"Your little secret," Malone said.

"That's right," the little old lady said. "I'm immortal, you see."

Malone said: "Oh." Then he kept quiet for a long time. It didn't seem to him that anyone in the room was breathing.

He said: "Oh," again, but it didn't sound any better than it had the first time. He tried another phrase. "You're immortal," he said.

"That's right," the little old lady agreed sweetly.

There was only one other question to ask, and Malone set his teeth grimly and asked it. It came out just a trifle indistinct, but the little old lady nodded.

"My real name?" she said. "Elizabeth. Elizabeth Tudor, of course. I used to be Queen."

"Of England," Malone said faintly. "Malone, look—" Boyd began.

"Let me get it all at once," Malone told him. "I'm strong. I can take it." He twisted his hat again and turned back to the little old lady.

"You're immortal, and you're not really Miss Thompson, but Queen Elizabeth I?" he said slowly.

"That's right," she said. "How clever of you. Of course, after little Jimmy—cousin Mary's boy, I mean—said I was dead and claimed the Throne, I decided to change my name and all. And that's what I did. But I am Elizabeth Regina." She smiled, and her eyes twinkled merrily. Malone stared at her for a long minute.

Burris, he thought, is going to love this.

"Oh, I'm so glad," the little old lady said. "Do your really think he will? Because I'm sure I'll like your Mr. Burris, too. All of you FBI men are so charming. Just like poor, poor Essex."

Well, Malone told himself, that was that. He'd found himself a telepath.

And she wasn't an imbecile.

Oh, no. That would have been simple.

Instead, she was battier than a cathedral spire.

* * * * *

The long silence was broken by the voice of Miss Wilson.

"Mr. Malone," she said. "You've been thinking." She stopped. "I mean, you've been so quiet."

"I like being quiet," Malone said patiently. "Besides—" He stopped and turned to the little old lady. Can you really read my mind? he thought deliberately. After a second he added: ... your Majesty?

"How sweet of you, Mr. Malone," she said. "Nobody's called me that for centuries. But of course I can. Although it's not reading, really. After all, that would be like asking if I can read your voice. Of course I can, Mr. Malone."

"That does it," Malone said. "I'm not a hard man to convince. And when I see the truth, I'm the first one to admit it, even if it makes me look like a nut." He turned back to the little old lady. "Begging your pardon," he said.

"Oh, my," the little old lady said. "I really don't mind at all. Sticks and stones, you know, can break my bones. But being called nuts, Mr. Malone, can never hurt me. After all, it's been so many years—so many hundreds of years—"

"Sure," Malone said easily.

Boyd broke in. "Listen, Malone," he said. "Do you mind telling me what the hell is going on?"

"It's very simple," Malone said. "Miss Thompson here—pardon me; I mean Queen Elizabeth I—really is a telepath. That's all. I think I want to lie down somewhere until it goes away."

"Until what goes away?" Miss Wilson said.

Malone stared at her almost without seeing her, if not quite. "Everything," he said. He closed his eyes.

"My goodness," the little old lady said after a second. "Everything's so confused. Poor Mr. Malone is terribly shaken up by everything." She stood up, still holding her knitting, and went across the room. Before the astonished eyes of the doctor and nurse, and Tom Boyd, she patted the FBI agent on the shoulder. "There, there, Mr. Malone," she said. "It will all be perfectly all right. You'll see." Then she returned to her seat.

Malone opened his eyes. "My God," he said. He closed them again but they flew open as if of their own accord. He turned to Dr. Harman. "You called up Boyd here," he said, "and told him that—er—Miss Thompson was a telepath. How'd you know?"

"It's all right," the little old lady put in from her chair. "I don't mind your calling me Miss Thompson, not right now, anyhow."

"Thanks," Malone said faintly.

Dr. Harman was blinking in a kind of befuddled astonishment. "You mean she really is a—" He stopped and brought his tenor voice to a squeaking halt, regained his professional poise, and began again. "I'd rather not discuss the patient in her presence, Mr. Malone," he said. "If you'll just come into my office—"

"Oh, bosh, Dr. Harman," the little old lady said primly. "I do wish you'd give your own Queen credit for some ability. Goodness knows you think you're smart enough."

"Now, now, Miss Thompson," he said in what was obviously his best Grade A Choice Government Inspected couchside manner. "Don't—"

"—upset yourself," she finished for him. "Now, really, Doctor. I know what you're going to tell them."

"But Miss Thompson, I—"

"You didn't honestly think I was a telepath," the little old lady said. "Heavens, we know that. And you're going to tell them how I used to say I could read minds—oh, years and years ago. And because of that you thought it might be worthwhile to tell the FBI about me— which wasn't very kind of you, Doctor, before you know anything about why they wanted somebody like me."

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