MAN OF MANY MINDS
by E. EVERETT EVANS
PYRAMID BOOKS, 444 Madison Avenue, New York 22, New York
A Pyramid Book, published by arrangement with Fantasy Press
Pyramid Books edition: November, 1959
Copyright, (c) 1953, by E. Everett Evans All Rights Reserved
Printed in the United States of America
This book is fiction. No resemblance is intended between any character herein and any person, living or dead; any such resemblance is purely coincidental.
* * * * *
To Thelma, a wedding anniversary present
* * * * *
GALAXY IN DANGER!
Somewhere, somehow, the first moves have been made—the pattern is beginning to emerge. Someone—or something—is on the way to supreme power over all the planets held by Man.
And the Inter-stellar Corps is helpless to meet the threat—no normal man can hope to penetrate the conspiracy.
But—the Corps has a man who isn't normal, a man with a very strange weapon...
Exciting! Strange! Extraordinary! One of the most unusual science fiction adventures ever published.
Cadet George Hanlon stood stiffly at attention. But as the long, long minutes dragged on and on, he found his hands, his spine and his forehead cold with the sweat of fear. He tried manfully to keep his eyes fixed steadily on that emotionless face before him, but found it almost impossible to do so.
Tension grew and grew and grew in the room until it seemed the very walls must bulge, or the windows burst to relieve the pressure. The cadet felt he could not stand another minute of it without screaming. Why didn't that monster say something? What kind of torture was this, anyway? And why was he here in the first place? He couldn't think of a single reg he had broken—yet why else would he be called before Admiral Rogers, the dread Commandant of Cadets?
In spite of his utmost efforts to stand eye to eye with the commandant, Hanlon couldn't keep his gaze steadily on that feared visage. His eyes insisted on straying, time after time, although he always forced them back. He caught glimpses of the dozens of communicator studs and plates on the huge metal desk. He saw the bit of scenery showing through the window. He noted the pictures of great Corps heroes that adorned the walls. In fact, he had to look at anything except those boring, impassive eyes fixed so steadily on his own face. If only he could gain such perfect control of his nerves. If only he knew what this was all about!
By the big wall chronom he saw he had already been standing there at rigid attention a full five minutes. The second hand crept around again. Six minutes! It dragged slowly around once again. Seven minutes.
Then the unbearable silence was mercifully broken by the admiral's voice.
"In some ways, Mister, you're quite a stupid young man," he said. "I'm inclined to be disappointed in you."
Hanlon gave a start of surprise, and forced himself to scrutinize more carefully that enigmatic face.
"What ... what do you mean, sir?"
The stern eyes were still boring into his. But now the cadet thought he could detect a trace of secret amusement behind them.
"Why do you torture yourself like this? You know how to find out what it's all about."
There was a sinking feeling in George Hanlon's mind. Did that mean what he was afraid it meant?
He sent out a tentative feeler of thought toward the mind behind that expressionless face. He expected to find it difficult to do, because of long disuse of the faculty. But he was amazed both at the ease with which the technique returned to him, and with the feeling of warm friendliness he found in that mind—almost like a sort of fatherly pride.
He probed a bit deeper, and was aware of assurance that he had done nothing to merit punishment. Indeed, it seemed he could catch exactly the opposite feeling.
He must have shown his relief, for the commandant's stern face relaxed into a broad smile, and he lounged back in his big chair.
"That's better. At ease, and sit down."
Slowly, disbelieving the sudden change, the astonished young cadet gingerly sank onto the front edge of a chair. He had to, his legs were suddenly rubbery.
"I ... I don't understand at all, sir."
The admiral leaned forward and spoke impressively. "Do you think, Cadet Hanlon, that we would let any man get to within weeks of graduation without knowing all about him?"
The young man's eyes widened, and his hands clutched at his knees in an effort to keep them from shaking.
"Oh, yes, we know all about you, George Spencer Newton Hanlon," and the cadet's eyes opened even wider at that name. "We know about your talent for mind-reading as a child, and how you suppressed it as you grew older and found how it got you into trouble. We know all about your father's disgrace and disappearance; your mother's death; your running away, and your adoption by the Hanlons, whose last name you assumed."
"How ... how'd you learn all that, sir?"
"The Corps has its ways. And that's why you're here now. Oh, all the Fifth Year Cadets will be interviewed by myself or my assistants this coming week, to determine their first assignment after graduation. But I called you in today for a very, very special reason. And your ability to read minds is part of it."
The cadet drew himself up stiffly. "I'm through with all that, sir, definitely!"
The commandant regarded him enigmatically for a moment. "Just what do you expect to do in the Corps, Mister?"
"Why, whatever I'm assigned to do, I suppose, sir. Or whatever I can do."
"And just how far will you go for the Corps?" The admiral leaned forward and eyed him critically.
"All the way, sir, of course."
"Don't you believe a Corpsman should use all his abilities in his service?" The question was barked at him.
"Certainly, sir." But his eyes showed he realized he had been trapped by that admission.
"You're one of the few persons known who have ever actually been able to read another's mind. That's important—very important—to the Corps. It must be used!"
Hanlon's eyes were still stormy, but he kept his lips tightly closed.
The commandant's face grew kindly again. "We know how it got you into trouble when you were a boy, because the other children resented it, and avoided or abused you for using it on them. But now it will be a great assistance to you—and to the Corps. We know you will use that talent wisely, for it has been proven time and again, by test after test, that you are scrupulously honest. You've lost your allowance several times in card games, when you could have read what cards your opponents held, and so won. You have let yourself fail on examination questions you did not know, when you could have read the answers in your instructor's mind."
"No, not that, sir," Hanlon shook his head. "I never could read from a mind such specific information as answers to questions or to problems."
"I imagine that will come when you start using your talent maturely," Admiral Rogers shrugged indifferently. "But at the moment I want to talk very seriously about your assignment. First, however, I must have your most solemn oath never to reveal what I am about to tell you, for it is our most carefully-guarded secret."
"I swear by my mother's memory, sir, never to reveal anything I am told to keep confidential."
"Very well. I have been delegated by the High Command to ask you to join the Secret Service of the Inter-stellar Corps."
Cadet George Hanlon drew in a sharp, startled breath and half-rose from his chair. "The ... the Secret Service, sir? I didn't know there was one."
"I told you it was top secret," Admiral Rogers said impressively. "We believe no one knows anything about its existence outside of the membership of that service, and officers of the rank of Rear Admiral or above."
The young cadet sat silent, his eyes on the tips of his polished boots, as though to see reflected there the answer to this astounding new situation that had been slapped into his consciousness.
This was all so utterly unforeseen. He had dreamed of doing great deeds in the Corps, of course, but actually had never expected to be assigned to anything but routine work at first. His mind was a chaotic whirlpool of conjectures. How could he fit into such an organization? Why had he been selected? Surely, the fact that as a child he was supposed to have been a mind-reader wasn't enough ... or was it, from their standpoint?
After some time he looked up. "I don't know as I'd make a very good detective, sir."
Admiral Rogers threw back his head and laughed, breaking the tension. "I think, and so do the top men of the Secret Service, who have studied you thoroughly, that you will soon become one of its most useful members."
That was another shock, but out of it grew determination.
"Very well, sir, I'll try it."
"Good! But not 'try it,' Hanlon. Once you're in, it's for life. And there's one other thing I haven't told you yet. I couldn't, until after you had agreed to join. This may make you change your mind, which you are still at liberty to do."
The cadet's throat tightened, and he moistened his lips as he saw the admiral's face grow ominous.
"I want you to consider this very seriously," he said slowly, grimly, and Hanlon's probing mind caught the aura of importance in his manner. "Take your time, and figure carefully all the angles and connotations inherent in it, for it will not be an easy decision to make."
He paused impressively. "Here it is, cold! You'll have to be, apparently, dismissed from the Corps in disgrace. That is horribly harsh, we know," he added quickly, compassionately, as he saw the look of dismay that whitened the cadet's face. "But we have found over the years that it is the best way to make members of the SS most valuable to us. Every one of them has gone through the same thing, if that is any encouragement or consolation."
Young Hanlon's spirits sank to absolute nadir. "Not ... not even graduate?" he whispered, agonizedly.
"Not publicly, with your class, no. But you'll be given private graduation, for you'll still be a member of the Corps."
He was silent again to allow the young man to recover a bit, then continued in a fatherly voice. "We know it's a terrible price to ask any man to pay. It takes guts to withstand, publicly and willingly, the dishonor, the loss of friends and the good will of people who know you. It means life-long disgrace in the eyes of the public and those members of the Corps who have ever known you or will hear of you."
The blood drained from Hanlon's face, his breathing was quick and rasping. The admiral's heart went out to him in sympathy, but he had to keep on. Now, though, he tried to soften the blow.
"Yet there are rewards in honor from those who do know. There will come a deep satisfaction from the years of devoting your life and abilities to the tremendous service of maintaining peace and security for all mankind of the entire Federation of Planets. Actually, the SS does more to keep that peace than all the rest of the Corps. So these things are, in the estimation of those who have gone through it, well worth any pain and humiliation they have to suffer."
His tone was so kind that Hanlon found a measure of comfort in the looks and attitude of the officer before him, now suddenly not a dread ogre, and martinet, but a kindly, fatherly, understanding friend.
George Hanlon sat with downcast eyes, thinking swiftly but more cogently than he had ever done before. He had come into this room still a boy despite his twenty-two years. Now, abruptly, he was roughly forced into manhood.
As such an adult, then, he quickly realized this was the crucial point in his life to date—probably in all the years to come. But to lose the respect and friendship of everyone he knew—he shuddered. To be despised, an outcast!
Yet Admiral Rogers said all the SS men had gone through it, and now felt it worth all the pain and disgrace, to be able to do the work they were doing.
He had been trained all his life, and especially in Corps school, to scan all available data for and against each problem that arose, and then make a decision quickly and intelligently.
He rose to his feet and straightened determinedly. "I'll still take it on, sir, if you and the general staff think I'm worthy and will be useful."
The admiral rose swiftly and came around the desk to grasp the cadet's hands in both of his. "I'm proud of you, my boy. It took real strength of character to make that decision. I'm sure you will never regret it, though there'll be moments when it will hurt to the pit of your soul, especially the first few days."
The cadet's eyes clouded again, and he shivered convulsively. "That part's got me in a blue funk, no fooling. Do you suppose I can take it, and not give the show away?"
Again the commandant's hearty, friendly laugh boomed out, filling the office with merriment and honest pride. "By Snyder, you will, Son, like a thoroughbred!" He went back behind that great desk, and was suddenly once more the strict disciplinarian. "Cadet Hanlon, 'ten-shun!" he barked.
The young man stood rigid.
"Raise your right hand. Do you swear before the Infinite Essence to uphold, with all your abilities, the Inter-Stellar Corps, and the laws and decisions of the Federated Planets?"
"On my honor, sir, and with God's help, I pledge allegiance to the Inter-Stellar Corps and to the people and governments of all the Federated Planets!"
Hanlon came to a punctilious salute, which Admiral Rogers returned as precisely before resuming his seat.
"Senior Lieutenant George Hanlon, at ease."
He grinned companionably at the young man's start of surprise. "Promotions are swift in the Secret Service, Hanlon. Now, go through that door. There you'll meet your immediate superior officer, who will give you instructions. And Hanlon, my sincerest personal good wishes. Safe flights, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, sir, for everything."
Senior Lieutenant George Hanlon opened the designated door and stepped through into the next office. A grey-haired man, wearing the Twin Comets of a Regional Admiral, was sitting behind a desk, studying some papers. He continued sitting thus, the papers held so they hid his face, apparently so intent on his work he had not noticed anyone entering.
But Hanlon instinctively knew better, and stood stiffly at attention, awaiting the other's pleasure. Soon the man lowered the papers ... and Hanlon gasped,
"Da...". His mouth snapped shut, and his eyes became swiftly hostile at remembrance of the hate he had carried all these years on account of this man. He wanted to stalk out, but ingrained discipline chained him to the spot. His voice, though, was very cold when he spoke. "Senior Lieutenant George Hanlon reporting, sir."
The big man was a startling older edition of the newly-appointed lieutenant, only grey where the latter was blond, assured from long, bitter experience where the other was as yet untried. Now he rose to his feet, acknowledging the salute.
"At ease. I can imagine your surprise at seeing me," and if there was a hurt look on his face at sight of that implacable hatred in his son's eyes and demeanor, he could not be blamed. "However, I think your experience of the past hour might have prepared you for sight of me in uniform. Yes," as he saw the sudden surprise in the young man's eyes, "that was the reason for my apparent disgrace. I hope you will forgive me, now that you know why it was necessary."
"Of course," stiffly punctilious, "only," his eyes were still hard and stormy, "was it important enough to break mother's heart?"
The older man's voice grew soft and shook with genuine emotion. "You and everyone had to believe that, Spence, all these years. I've been prayerfully waiting for the day when I could explain to you. I can assure you, Son," with all the sincerity his voice could carry, "that she did not die of a broken ..."
"I know bet ..."
"You do not know better!" his father interrupted sternly. "Please wait until I finish explaining. No, Spence," his voice was still, emphatic but softer now, almost pleading. "She knew and approved. Your mother was one of Earth's greatest heroines."
Hanlon was still standing stiffly, but now his eyes clouded with mixed emotions, of which doubt predominated. His mind touched that of his father, and he seemed to read truth there. But could he believe this now ... after all those dreadful years?
"Actually," his father was continuing, "your mother had become a victim of multiple sclerosis. When we knew she had less than two months to live, I talked to her, with the Corps' permission, about my going into Secret Service work. With her death so near, it could be done convincingly. Believing you would understand some day, and approve, she agreed. I'm terribly sorry for all you've had to suffer during the intervening years. Again I beg forgiveness."
As his father talked, Hanlon's eyes and heart gradually lost their hardness, and at the end he ran forward and grasped the other's hands.
"Oh, Dad, I'm so sorry. I've hated hating you. If it hadn't been for the long talks Pa and Ma Hanlon had with me, I don't believe I would ever have gone into the cadet school."
The older man hugged his son hungrily.
"Believe me, Spence, it wasn't easy for me, either. But I didn't actually desert you, even though it had to seem so. I know everywhere you've been, everything you've done. You've been watched over constantly. I engineered your adoption by the Hanlons—he was a retired Corpsman, you know—and I've paid your expenses. You see, I happen to love my son very much."
"And I loved my Dad so, too. That's why it hurt ... say, now I can change my name back, can't I? The Hanlons both died since I started cadet school, you know."
"Well ... no, for the time being I think not. You're well known as 'Hanlon' now, and you'd better leave it that way, for now, at least. However, you'll find need of an alias from time to time in this new job—you can use it then. I certainly will be proud to have you wearing my name again."
But both men were shying away from all this frank expression of their emotion, and Hanlon dropped back a pace.
"How does it happen I've never seen you around the buildings or grounds here?"
"No one ever sees me in uniform, except in this or some other Base office on special occasions. Outside, I'm always disguised. When I come into a Reservation I'm a bearded janitor or something. You'll soon learn about disguising, yourself."
Then he became all business, and his face sobered as he went back to his desk.
"Sit there, Lieutenant. There's a lot to tell you, and you are to pay strict attention and get it all in this one interview, for there can't be another at this time. It would attract too much attention for you to be called here more than this once."
He smiled again, with a warm, fatherly pride. "First, let me congratulate you, officially on your decision, and to welcome you sincerely into the Secret Service."
Hanlon bowed in acknowledgement, then sat down and leaned forward attentively. "I'll try to get it all, sir."
"First, the matter of your dismissal. It will come some time within the next few days, but even I won't know ahead of time when or how it will happen. Some SS man unknown on Terra will be called in to attend to it. But when it does come you will recognize it almost instantly, and you must play it up big. Don't let on in any way that you suspect or know it is anything but genuine. You must impress on your fellow students, and upon everyone else you know or later come to know, that it was real, and that it has soured you for all time on the Corps, and on all law and order and government."
The young man nodded, but said nothing, for his throat was clogged and his spirits quailing at thought of that public disgrace. He had been so proud here ... how could he possibly stand giving it all up? Maybe he was a fool ever to have agreed.
But the admiral was continuing. He shoved a sheaf of bills across the desk. "Here's a thousand credits. Use them to buy your civilian clothes and kit after your dismissal. Buy a few shares of some stock, too—the amount or value doesn't matter. Get a small insurance policy. Yes," seeing his son's questioning look, "there's a reason.
"After you get your clothing and things and have discarded your uniform, go rent a hotel room, then go to the Inter-Stellar bank and rent a safety deposit box. That's one of the first things you do in each city on any planet to which you may be sent on assignment. Now, here are two keys that fit box number 1044 in all the I-S banks. They are special master keys of our own designing. Box 1044 is used because of its nearness to those private booths, in the universal set-up all I-S banks use. That box is our means of confidential communication.
"After you get into the vault ostensibly to get into your own box, use these to open box 1044. There's a little electronic gadget in each box 1044. When you want immediate service on anything you put into the box, press the red button on the mechanism. Go back a few hours later and it will have been attended to. So now, when you get into the bank, put a note there listing your hotel room number and also your new deposit key number. Come back in a couple of hours and you'll find a key that will have your box number stamped on it, but which will open both boxes. Then leave your old key and one of these in 1044, and carry the other and the new one."
"Oh, I see. The stock and insurance policy in my own box are decoys, eh?"
"Right. You put all your reports in box 1044, and get your orders there. We all use 1044, so just sort through the envelopes for any with your name on them. The same key also locks the sound-proof and spyray-proof cubicle in the vault, so no one, not even another SS man, can interrupt you unless you want to let them in."
"My own box for decoy; 1044 for service matters; key fits both boxes and cubicles; red button for quick service. Yes, sir."
"When you get to a new city or planet, put your local address there as soon as feasible. That's your one sure contact. Also, in each box you'll find quite a lot of money at all times. You take what you need for expenses and get your salary that way. If your job calls for more than is in the box at any time, leave a request and press the red button. More will be brought immediately."
"That's quite a trust, sir," Hanlon gulped. "I hope I'll always use it wisely."
His father nodded and smiled. "You will, Spence. We wouldn't have asked you to join us if we weren't sure. As your father, I'm mighty proud to have you for a son. As Assistant Chief of the SS, I feel sure you'll be a credit to us.
"Now," all business again, "a sleep instructor and some reels of the language and other information about Simonides Four will be delivered to your hotel room. Simonides Four is your first assignment. There's something fishy going on there we haven't been able to find out about, but we think you can get us some good leads.
"Don't try to handle it alone—just get us information. And, son, use your talent for reading minds. I heard over the intercom all you said to Rogers, and while that wasn't the only reason you were asked into the SS, believe me, it will be tremendously important in your work with us—it'll help us where no other agent can get to first check station. And I have a feeling, too, that you'll develop both that and many other mental abilities once your mind starts to hit the ball. You'll find in this work every single talent and ability you can develop will be useful and needed."
"Yes," Hanlon nodded slowly, "I'm beginning to realize that. I'll practice a lot."
"As for money, don't be niggardly—spend what you like and always carry quite a bit with you for emergencies. Live well, although not extravagantly unless the occasion of your work demands it. Not to save money, but to remain as inconspicuous as possible."
"The Service has it all thought out, hasn't it?" Admiration shone in the young lieutenant's eyes.
"They've had a lot of years for it, Spence. Now, there's another means of contact, for cases of emergency. Get word to, or an interview with, any officer of the rank of Rear Admiral or above. The words 'Andromeda Seven' are the passwords to let him know who and what you are. Once you've made that contact, commandeer anything or any service needed to assist your work."
"I understand, sir." Hanlon strained to review all this new knowledge quickly. Then, "I'm sure I have it all. Get civilian kit; hotel room; stocks and insurance; deposit boxes—my own and 1044; sleep-learn Simonidean; 'Andromeda Seven'."
"Correct. Now, you'll be interested in a little of the background of the Secret Service. It was John Snyder himself who organized it, shortly after the formation of the Snyder Patrol. He realized almost at once that such an unknown, undercover echelon would be a must. There's usually not more than two hundred of us. New members are taken in only as replacements, or when some Corpsman with a special ability, such as your mind-reading, is discovered.
"We work anywhere throughout space when there's a need, but there are usually one or two of us on each planet of the Federation at all times. When not on any special assignment we keep busy on some planet not our original home, checking the background of cadets or especially-appointed government workers, guarding VIP's, and such other vital matters. But whatever we are, or whatever we are doing, we are the Corps!
"We are mighty proud of the fact that no SS man has ever betrayed his trust, even to save his life. Our work is dangerous in the extreme, but without exception we are all men with high mental ability—quick-thinking, clever, and unusually adept at getting out of scrapes." He grimaced mirthlessly. "We learn that last mighty quick in this business ... if we last.
"And to all of us, our dangerous, unadvertised, publicly unrecognized work is personally highly satisfying. We know we are the guardians of the peace of the Federation, even though we get no hero-worship from the populace who don't know we exist."
Hanlon nodded slowly, thoughtfully. "One thing puzzles me, Dad. You and Admiral Rogers both spoke about how secret all this is, yet I was given the chance to back out after I knew about it."
His father grinned. "Several have, over the years. They underwent treatment to erase that knowledge from their mind." He stood up and came around the desk to where his son had also risen. "I may not see you again before you leave, Spence ... George, I mean," he smiled ruefully, then brightened. "But the best of luck, son, and keep in mind that you have the honor of the finest body of men in the Universe in your keeping, and always try to be worthy of the trust."
"I will, sir," gravely. "It seems almost too much responsibility for a cub like me, and I'm scared. But I'll do my best."
"Take it easy at first. Don't try too much, and don't put yourself in any more danger than you have to until you learn the ropes, which you will, faster than you may now think. On this assignment, all we ask is that you try to get us some leads we can work on."
"Right! I don't want to conk out too soon, now. I've got a lot of living I want to do first, especially now I've got my dad back again. I sure hope we manage to see each other fairly often."
"Oh, we undoubtedly will, except when one or the other of us is on a long job. We'll meet—somewhere—quite often."
"About this assignment of mine, Dad. Can you give me any dope on it?"
"You'll get what any of us know, from the reels, and the latest development from the box when you're ready to start out. Oh, yes, I almost forgot. The paper we use is a digestible plastic, so make a meal off all orders and confidential communications you receive. The box always contains a supply for your reports or requests for specific information or assistance."
"Saves money on feed bills, eh?"
His father grinned appreciatively, then sobered. "Make sure you understand each step you take first, and don't try to run until you know how to crawl. Well, safe flights, Spence."
"Safe flights to you, too, Dad, always. And I want you to know I'm so glad to have all those horrible misunderstandings and hates cleared away."
"I missed my boy, too. But 'vast rewards', you know."
With mixed sensations of high elation and worried fear, the swiftly-maturing young Corpsman walked slowly through the beautiful park that surrounded the great stainless-steel skyscraper that housed the cadets during their training period. His thoughts were as twisted as were the meandering paths and walks he trod so unseeingly.
As Hanlon entered his dormitory room, his roommate looked up from his studies.
"What'd the Big Brass Bull want, Han?"
"Huh?" Hanlon snapped out of his abstraction and grinned. "Nothing important. You'll be up soon. Just about our first assignments after graduation." He was thinking swiftly. "... Uh, I get some extra instruction in piloting, and a chance at the controls."
"Gee, I hope they let me work on codes."
Hanlon shrugged. "They probably will, Dick. They try to fit us where we can do the most good, Rogers said." He picked up a book and sat down, apparently studying intently, and young Trowbridge resumed his own lessons.
Hanlon began practicing his mind-reading at every opportunity. At first he felt sure he would be caught at it, but quickly remembered that, as a child, his victims never suspected they were being mentally invaded unless he told them or acted carelessly upon information so gleaned.
Yet it had been his naive, boyish pride then, that had made him boast to his playmates of his ability, and prove it by telling them things he had learned about them. All that, naturally, got him into much trouble and not a few fights, and caused the loss of all his early boyhood friends. That was why he had quit using his wild talent and had been so determined never to do so again, as he had first told Admiral Rogers.
But now he realized he must use it with all the ability and skill he could acquire. For this mind-reading, whatever of it he could do, was decidedly his dish. The SS would be sure to hand him all the jobs where it might best get them what they needed—if he showed he could produce.
Yet with his present equipment Hanlon knew he could do little. As he had also told the commandant, he couldn't actually read anyone's mind to the extent of getting definite wording or specific information. But he could get quite clear sensory impressions that helped him deduce what the other person was thinking.
He had partially learned—and now practiced with all his abilities and gained knowledge and intellect to improve and perfect the technique—to gauge the other's looks, glances, facial expressions, muscle movements, sudden tensenesses, and so on. For those, together with the mood-impressions and bits of fleeting thoughts, enabled him to know almost to a certainty what the other was actually thinking at the observed time.
In the barracks, later that first evening, he got into a card game and concentrated on trying to win by this method. Nor was it consciously that he chose a game being played for low stakes—he just wouldn't have thought of trying to win large sums by such "cheating".
For some time he won consistently and easily. He couldn't know what cards his opponents held, by suit or number, but he could tell without any difficulty whether each of the other players felt he had a poor, medium or good hand. By playing his own accordingly, his wins were far greater than his losses. After an hour or so of play had proved he could do it, and had given him considerable practice, Hanlon closed his mind to their impressions. He now played his cards so recklessly he soon lost his winnings. Then he got out of the game on a plea of having to study.
The next morning during first class, the door opened and Admiral Rogers entered the classroom.
"'Ten-shun!" the teacher called, springing to his feet.
"As you were. I want to borrow one of your young gentlemen for the day, Major. A VIP is in town, and we want to give him an aide." He looked about the room, as though to pick out a likely-looking candidate. "How about Cadet Hanlon? Does he especially need today's lesson?"
"Oh, no, sir, he's one of our top students."
Admiral Rogers looked directly at Hanlon, who had risen to attention when his name was mentioned. "In my office, in full dress uniform, on the double."
"Dismiss, Hanlon," the instructor said, and the cadet ran out.
In Admiral Rogers' office ten minutes later, Hanlon received his instructions. "Report to the Simonidean Embassy and put yourself at the disposal of Hector Abrams, First Secretary to the Simonidean Prime Minister. But first, hang this stuff on you. This dress sword is a little unusual—the scabbard is rounder than yours, but not noticeably so. It's really a blaster; the trigger is here on the handle as you grasp it. Put on these aide's aguillettes—the metal tips are police whistles. No," seeing Hanlon's questioning look, "we don't expect any trouble today—these are just routine, for we like to be ready for emergencies."
Hanlon fastened the braided cords to his shoulder tabs, and belted on the twenty-inch-long blaster-sword. The admiral touched a switch on his desk and spoke into a microphone. "My personal car to take Cadet Hanlon to the Simonidean Embassy, then return."
At the Embassy, Hanlon reported to the receptionist, and was shown with due deference into one of the private offices, where he was introduced to several men, among them the Secretary he was to accompany.
"I have a number of errands to do today, but the first and most important is laying the cornerstone of our new Embassy building—this one is merely rented, you may know."
"I am entirely at your disposal, sir," Hanlon saluted crisply, and fell into step just behind the portly statesman as he left the building.
They rode in an open car with a uniformed chauffeur, the others following in other cars. As they rode Hanlon probed the statesman's mind, but found only worry-tension, that he shrewdly guessed had to do with the coming speech, rather than with any thought of intrigue or illegal machination.
As they came into the Greek section of the city, their ride took on more and more the aspects of a parade, as the Simonidean was recognized.
Hanlon opened his mind wide and attempted to analyze the thought-sensations he received from the crowds. It was one of gaiety and good nature, and reminded him of the way his boyish mind interpreted the thoughts of holiday crowds at the circus, Fourth of July celebrations, picnics, and so on.
From the moment he first entered the Embassy, Hanlon had been probing with every iota of his ability, hoping he could find some lead to whatever it was that was bothering the Corps about Simonides, but had found nothing sinister or menacing, nor could he get any such sensations from the crowd.
But now he concentrated more on watching the increasingly denser throng of people, for the car was nearing their destination. The buildings along here were all bedecked with Simonidean and Greek-Terran flags, and there was now a continuous cheering from the populace. Abrams was standing in the back of the car now, smilingly acknowledging their plaudits by bowing to one side and the other.
Hanlon, sitting stiffly at attention, nevertheless kept his eyes darting here and there, watching as carefully as he could for any possible hostile demonstrations or menacing figures.
Arrived at the building site, Abrams was greeted by numerous dignitaries, and escorted with much pomp to the flag-bedecked stand, amid greater cheering from the assembled crowd.
The chairman of the occasion stepped to the public-address microphone, and raised his hands for silence. The band broke off in the middle of a number, the cheering from the huge throng gradually died down, and the ceremony got under way.
Hanlon, who had taken his post at one corner of the platform, paid scant attention to what was happening on it, as it neither interested him nor could he understand too much of it, even though he knew quite a bit of Greek. Again his eyes were busy continually looking all about the great crowd and the surroundings.
Nothing of note occurred until the chairman began introducing Abrams, and then hecklers in the crowd began shouting:
"Freedom for the Greeks of Simonides!"
"Empires are out of date; let the people rule!"
These calls were few at first, but the men yelling them were leather-lunged. The chairman's face turned reddish, and he wavered a bit in his speech, then raised his own voice in an attempt to drown out the interruptions.
Others were now crying out, though still only a few, but in spite of their shouts the ceremonies continued, and Abrams, properly introduced, rose and began his prepared speech.
Hanlon, more alert than ever, could see local police shoving through the crowd, trying to apprehend and silence the hecklers. But from his vantage point Hanlon saw the latter shifting rapidly from place to place, partly to escape detection, he swiftly deduced, and partly to make it seem as though more and more people were joining in the demonstration.
In a side glance Hanlon saw that the Secretary was nettled at the disturbance, and his color was high although he bravely continued speaking. The great audience was largely paying attention to him, and must have found him interesting, from their frequent cheers.
Suddenly, at one side, there seemed to be a more determined demonstration, and Hanlon tore his gaze from it, remembering his instructor's words:
"Disregard specific diversions in one spot! Let the police handle those—you must watch most carefully then for assassins!"
Instantly he was more alert, more carefully scanning the whole scene before him, his eyes travelling forth and back.
A glint of reflected sunlight from a nearby roof jerked his eyes upward, and at what he saw, with one swift, smooth motion he drew his blaster-sword, sighted carefully, and pressed the trigger.
There was a crack of flame, and a gunman half-hidden behind a chimney screamed, half-rose, then, his body charred by the force of that blast, toppled from the roof into the street below, his rifle falling near him. Hanlon swivelled. "Cover Abrams!" his voice rang out commandingly, and he himself jumped in front of the Secretary while others on the platform sprang up to completely surround the Simonidean, and hide him from possible further danger.
Hanlon raised one of the tassel-whistles and blew a piercing blast. Now he could see several local policemen running toward the platform, and in moments Abrams, surrounded by an armed and alert escort, was hustled into a waiting police car, which sped back to the Embassy.
The Simonidean was white and shaking, upset by the episode.
"Why?" he kept asking, but no one had any answers. "I'm not important enough for anyone to want to kill," Abrams shook his head. "The people of Simonides like the empire status—why should anyone here on Terra object?"
"There's always crackpots in every crowd," a police captain said. "We get riots like this one almost every time there's a public ceremony. Most of 'em're plain nuts—once in a while only is there one who feels he's got a real grievance, personal."
"But with so many participating, this one looked planned," Hanlon objected. "I was higher and watching, and I could see at least a dozen men shouting at the beginning, starting all at the same time, although a lot more took it up. It must have been a plot of some kind."
His mind was racing. Was this part of what he was being sent to Simonides to investigate? He had tried to probe the crowd minds, but there were so many conflicting thought-emanations, such a welter of sensations he wasn't able to isolate any single, individual moods or thoughts.
Safely back inside the Embassy, Abrams seemed to relax a bit. He turned now to Hanlon.
"My very sincere thanks, young man, for your quickness and alertness in saving my life. I shall be eternally grateful."
Hanlon waved his hand deprecatingly. "It was my job, sir. I'm sorry your day was spoiled that way."
"I still can't make out why?" The Simonidean said slowly, and Hanlon, probing, could sense that his mind was full of question marks. "I'm not that important. If it had been the emperor"—Hanlon caught an impression of loyalty and love for that dignitary—"or even the Minister"—here he caught a feeling of doubt and some dislike—"it might make sense. Just as I cannot figure out why I should have been sent here for this purpose. It's almost ..." he was silent, and Hanlon's probes found only puzzlement.
"Nuts!" the young Corpsman felt frustrated. "If only I could really read minds! I think this guy knows something I want to learn, but I can't get the least idea of what it is."
But he kept trying, and not only with the mind of this one man he had been sent here to guard. He reached out to all other minds in the room, but none of them seemed to have any thoughts about the why of this unexpected happenstance. There were mostly feelings of anger that their beautiful new Embassy building had not been properly dedicated, and their ceremony ruined.
Abrams had sunk into a chair, and it soon became apparent to Hanlon that he wasn't planning on handling any of his other outside errands that day.
"Will you want me any more, sir?" he finally asked after a considerable period of uneasy fidgetting. The Simonidean broke out of his abstraction, and rose to his feet.
"No, I shall stay here for the balance of the day at least. You may as well return to your other duties. Again, thank you, personally, for saving my life, and please express my thanks to the Corps for sending you. But I still can't understand ..." He turned away, muttering.
Hanlon saluted the other members of the Embassy staff, and rode the slideways back to Base, reporting to Admiral Rogers, to whom he gave a full and concise account of all that had happened.
"Whatever Mr. Abrams and the police may think, I still believe it was all carefully planned," he concluded thoughtfully. "It wasn't just one man, for I could see at least a dozen. Though, of course," he added quickly, "one man may have been behind it."
"Undoubtedly," the admiral said. "There was the chance of something like this, which is why I picked you for the job, hoping you could get some leads from it."
"I told you I couldn't read specific thoughts or information," Hanlon said. "If you and the top brass picked me for the SS because you thought I could, you'd better release me from it. I can't work in a crowd at all, for there's such a jumble of thought-emanations I can't separate them. Even working with an individual I can only sense something of his feelings. Just as now," he grinned mirthlessly, "you're disappointed because I didn't get any data, and thinking my so-called mind-reading is all a fake."
The admiral almost jumped. "Why, I am not ...," then he looked surprised, and laughed. "By Snyder, I was, too!" He sobered. "But if you can do that, even if you can't actually read the words of the thought, you'll still be able to help, I'm sure. No, you keep on studying. I'll bet you'll be able to do a lot more before long."
"I sure hope so," Hanlon slowly unfastened the aiguellettes and removed the sword and belt, laying them on the corner of the big desk. At touch of that weapon he suddenly realized what he had done with it, and shuddered, while his face grew white and strained.
"What's the matter?" the admiral asked anxiously.
"I ... killed ... a ... man," Hanlon trembled.
"No! You killed a snake!" Admiral Rogers laid his arm comfortingly about the younger man's shoulders. "It isn't the same at all. Don't let it bother you."
Hanlon tried manfully to rise from his dark mood. "You're right, in a way, sir, and I'll try to look at it that way. As to the mind-reading, I'll keep on trying, and I hope I can prove of some use."
The admiral patted his shoulder encouragingly. "You will. Dismiss."
The cadets were all keyed up about graduation, now so near, and most of them were cramming at every opportunity on the subjects in which they felt themselves deficient. Such tenseness is natural before any final examinations, but in their case more so than it would have been in an ordinary school or university.
For not until the final marks were posted from these last examinations, plus their marks for the entire five years, would any of them—except Hanlon, of course—know for a surety that he would be graduated and become a permanent member of the Inter-Stellar Corps. And how intensely each of them wanted to belong!
Four days had now passed since George Hanlon's fateful interview with the Commandant of Cadets, and its unexpected outcome. He could hardly believe, even yet, that he was now actually a member of the unknown Secret Service of the Corps.
Only the great inner joy he knew at the recovery of his once-adored dad, and the complete dismissal of all those black hatreds, gave proof that it wasn't all a fantastic dream.
Hanlon hadn't experienced anything unusual in the cadet routine, and was growing more and more nervous as to just what was to happen to him. He still shivered every time he thought of that coming, dreaded ordeal. And all this waiting, this worrying, this wondering when—it wasn't making life any easier. If only they would get it over and done with!
But he strove to compose himself for it as best he could, and it was a measure of his inherent stability that he never let his comrades, even his roommate, see how apprehensive he was.
Now the day had come for the first of their finals. Hanlon never worried about exams, for he had always been near the top of his class. Now, especially, since he was already graduated and a Senior Lieutenant, he could have taken things easily. But pride in his scholarship made him anxious as always to do his best.
Their first examination was History, one of Hanlon's pet subjects, for he loved this story of Mankind, his ups and downs and gradual growth.
When the examination papers were handed out and he noted the first question he smiled. If only they were all that easy.
"Give briefly a resume of the events leading up to the formation of the Inter-Stellar Corps."
Hanlon uncapped his writo, and began:
"In the middle of the Twentieth Century the various governments of Earth were all tending toward either a totalitarian or a welfare-form state. More and more power became vested in the Executive branch; more and more citizens were either working directly for government, or were supported by relief funds. Business was, to an increasingly greater extent, stifled by over-control. Public debts became a staggering load, and workers had less and less of their income available for living needs.
"When atomic energy was first released by the United States, in the form of a bomb during a war, the military took complete control of it. Neither private nor industrial scientists or technicians were allowed to experiment with possibilities of getting power directly from atomic fission.
"In 1958 a young man named Travis Burkett was elected to the United States Congress from California. During his four terms as member of the Lower House he became increasingly well-known as possessor of one of the finest minds in public life. In 1966 he was advanced to the Senate, and soon became its leading member.
"In 1976 (prophetic year) he ran for President on the simple platform of 'give the country back to the people'. His ideas and views so fired the minds and hopes of the citizens of America, regimented and ground down by the cancerous growth of bureaucracy, that even most of the bureaucrats and reliefers joined to elect him by one of the greatest pluralities ever polled.
"During his two terms of office, with the help of a Cabinet of men who believed as he did, he fulfilled his promises. The tremendous power of the Executive was gradually returned to the Legislative, where it belonged. Unnecessary, over-lapping, and duplicated bureaus and agencies were reduced to the minimum. Only persons actually in need were supported from the public purse. Where almost 80% of the citizenry had been working for or supported by government when he took office, less than 15% were doing so when he retired.
"Tax restrictions and governmental meddling in industry and business were reduced save for a few necessary safe-guards of minimum-wage and maximum-safety laws. With these restrictions removed, and with control of so many vital sciences and technologies taken away from the military, inventions took an accelerated up-swing.
"The peoples of other countries, fired by the realization of what could be done, staged revolutions, happily largely bloodless, and soon, working through the United Nations Council, a United World government became an actuality, and Burkett one of its first presidents.
"An American named John Snyder had, years before, secretly worked out a simple and inexpensive method of obtaining practically unlimited power directly from atomic fission. Now he could legally bring this to the public, and soon homes, public transportation and industry were using his power method.
"Snyder attracted to him a group of gifted scientists and technicians. These now turned their attention to space flight and Man, the Insatiable, began stretching out greedy hands to the Stars.
"They put a robot rocket on the Moon in less than two years. Their third rocket carried two scientists who did not make the return trip—they stayed to study and to learn. Five years later the first ship landed on Mars, and within a decade that planet was largely colonized. So, two years later, was Venus. Another fifteen years saw colonization of most of the moons of the outer planets.
"For, using new techniques and inventions learned from many experiments, the moons and planets were given air, water and warmth as needed. Android robots, developed by Varney, one of Snyder's scientists, helped greatly in this work, especially one young female android who was a true genius.
"Then Man reached the Stars ... and the planets of those distant suns. It was here that the now-aged Snyder proved himself again one of the greatest humanitarians ever to have lived. He promulgated the ruling that is still in force:
"'Man must never colonize any planet having inhabitants intelligent enough to show cultural activity and growth'.
"Controlling all means of transportation between planets as he did, because he held all the basic patents, Snyder was able to enforce that ruling. To do so, he organized the 'Snyder Patrol', which later was taken over by the Federated Planets when that organization was formed, and became today's Inter-Stellar Corps.
"Today there are fifty-seven planets colonized by former inhabitants of Tellus or their descendants from colonized planets. These each have their own sovereignty and chosen form of government, but are united in a loosely-knit Federation which is solely a Court of Arbitration for Inter-Planetary affairs. The I-S C is the Federation's Investigation and Enforcement branch, not a governing or military patrol."
Hanlon had finished that question and the second, which asked for the dates of the war between the colonists of Mars and those of the Jovian satellites. He was resting his eyes by glancing unseeingly about the room momentarily before starting the third question, when he heard the loud, angry voice of the instructor in charge.
"Cadet Hanlon, on your feet, sir! Just how, Mister, do you think you can get away with cheating at a final examination?"
Hanlon's head jerked up and his face went dead-white as the blood drained from it. He stumbled to his feet and, conscious of the amazed expressions of his classmates, looked up at the teacher.
"Bu ... but I don't understand, sir. I wasn't cheating."
"Don't lie to me!" the voice was a whiplash. "I distinctly saw you looking at Cadet Fox's paper. The idea of any cadet, this close to graduation, trying such a contemptible thing!"
Hanlon's bewilderment was changing to anger at such an unjust accusation, when suddenly a thought struck him ...
This was it!
Cheating at examinations always meant expulsion and disgrace.
He had all he could do to keep from betraying himself as he probed quickly toward the mind on the rostrum. Now he perceived the feeling of commiseration which the stern, hot eyes of the apparently outraged instructor did not reveal.
Hanlon remembered his father's instructions to "play it up big". He made himself glare back at the teacher, and his blue eyes took on the hardness of glacial ice.
"You're making a colossal mistake, sir," his voice was louder and angrier than it should ever have been. "If our regular instructor was giving this exam he'd never make such an accusation. I've led this class in grades all through school. And not by cheating, either."
"Lower your voice, Mister, and don't talk back!" But Hanlon's mind-probing was receiving approbation now. "I saw you cheating, and I know what I saw. Do you want to resign, or will you force me to take you to the commandant?"
"I don't know who you are, but you're a stupid fool!" Hanlon apparently lost all control of himself, and his voice and red face showed the anger he was simulating so well. "If you think you're going to frame me out of this class and out of graduating, you're a confounded idiot! Ask any of these chaps here—they all know I'm not a cheat."
But the cadets, though puzzled and dismayed, were far too clever to get mixed up in this unexpected brawl. They all sat, eyes lowered but faces straight ahead, arms folded across their chests, having no part in it at all.
The examining instructor, a man much larger and heavier than Hanlon's five feet eleven inches and one hundred and seventy-five pounds, rushed down from the platform. He grabbed at the cadet's arms, but Hanlon swivelled away, then stepped back in and struck at the officer.
That was mutiny! It was unthinkable for a cadet to strike an officer, under any circumstances or provocation.
The teacher, however, snared the cadet in a neo-judo hold that no neophyte, however skilled or strong could break. He dragged the struggling Hanlon up to the rostrum and, with his elbow, activated the intercom.
"Ask the commandant to come to room 12-B. A cadet, caught cheating at examinations, has mutinied."
Still holding the struggling, angry Hanlon, the instructor-officer excoriated his victim for such breach of cadet honor. Hanlon, meanwhile, yelled insults and oaths. He twisted and squirmed as though trying to escape, although he had quickly realized he was now being held in a loose though apparently-valid grip he could have broken easily had he so desired.
Yet during all this Hanlon was receiving from the officer's mind the distinct impression that the latter hated what he was doing, yet was approving the way the new SS man was playing his part. Further, Hanlon sensed he was being welcomed into the fellowship of those unknown SS men to whom he was now brother.
Soon Admiral Rogers, followed by two hulking space marines, came running into the room.
"What's going on here?" he barked.
Quickly the teacher repeated his charges, while Hanlon yelled denials and vituperations at the moronic imbecile who dared accuse him of such treachery.
"I'm ashamed of you, Hanlon!" the admiral said coldly. "We had high hopes for you, as I told you when I interviewed you about your initial assignment."
"Then why don't you listen to me instead of taking the word of this slime-snake who calls himself an instructor? Bah! He oughta be digging ditches!"
"That'll do!" Disgust showed on the admiral's face as he gestured to the marines, who jumped forward and grabbed Hanlon's arms, twisting them behind his back and handcuffing them.
"George Hanlon, you are hereby officially dismissed from the Inter-Stellar Corps' Cadet School!"
So saying, Admiral Rogers ripped all identifying symbols from Hanlon's uniform, then turned again to the marines. "Take him outside the Reservation."
They hauled Hanlon, still shrieking and cursing, out of the room, out of the building, across the park, and to the gate of the Corps' property.
There his handcuffs were removed, and the sneering marines literally and not-too-gently booted him into the street, where he sprawled face downward in a muddy puddle.
Hanlon pulled himself erect, apparently mad clear through. He shook his fist at the grinning marines gathered just inside the gate. He cursed them fluently with every foul oath and name he could remember ever having heard. Innately clean of speech and thought, this swearing nearly gagged him. But he was "putting on a good act."
They stood his insults for some time, but when he began to get too personal, a couple of them started toward him, their mocking laughter gone. To "make his act better," Hanlon now pretended to be frightened, cowardly, and accompanied by the jeers of the civilian on-lookers who had quickly congregated to see what all the rumpus was about, he fled down the city street away from the Reservation.
At first opportunity, after he had outdistanced his pursuers, Hanlon ducked into an alley. He ran down this until he spotted the back door of a little cafe, and dodged inside. There, in the washroom, he cleaned himself as best he could.
Again somewhat presentable, he left by the front door and rode the slideways to a section of the city where he could buy some good but not too expensive clothing.
Now inconspicuously dressed, he got a hotel room, then went to the bank where he bought some shares of stock, arranged for insurance, and rented a deposit box.
In the hotel room assigned him, George Hanlon threw himself on the bed and for an hour lay there reviewing this sudden, strange turn of events, and all it presaged. He tried in vain to thrust out of his mind the astonished consternation of his classmates, the sneers of the marines and the jeers of the civilians there at the gate, who had seen his disgrace. Almost in tears now, he realized at last this was but a prelude to years of being scorned and vilified as a despised outcast.
Finally he calmed a bit, then got up to pace the room, wondering what the next move would be. The answer came almost at once. A rap on the door disclosed a messenger with a package for him. On opening it, after the man had gone, Hanlon found the sleep-instructor and reels. On top was a smaller reel marked, "No. 1. Listen to this awake."
He plugged in the machine, and put on the reel. It was his father's voice.
"You've got this far, now begins your real work. You should be able to memorize the contents of these reels in two weeks. Briefly, here is what they contain. Simonides Four was colonized under the direction of a Greek merchant who gave it his name. Four is the only habitable planet. Most of the original inhabitants under him were of his nationality, and the present language is an outgrowth of modern Greek, which you know somewhat. There are now, of course, many variations and new words, terms peculiar to their growing and evolving culture. The reels give all this more fully.
"The last reel tells their history, geography and economic situation as of today. Also, details about their various large cities, especially New Athens, their capitol. We believe you will find that city the best place to start your investigations. When you have these reels memorized, go to the bank, get your final instructions from the box, and your money for the trip.
"As to the problem, again briefly this is it: In the past year or so Federation agents have sensed a movement there, but have not been able to interpret it. Whatever it is, it is very, very secret—the agents can't even tell if it is political, religious, or merely social. Also, they have discovered that many important men, as well as dozens—maybe hundreds—of less important men, have mysteriously disappeared. All this has the smell of trouble for the Federation.
"At last the Secret Service was called in. We sent first one man, then a second. They tried to 'bore from within' by joining whatever the movement was. But they haven't been able to get even a start—they've hit it and bounced. The second is still there, still trying.
"As a matter of fact, we have no evidence at all, merely a sort of 'hunch', or presentiment, of a plot against the peace and welfare of the Federated Planets. There may be nothing wrong at all, but we don't like to take chances. With your ability to read minds you may be able to find out. We hope so."
Hanlon thought the message was ended, but then the voice began again. "I was told you came through your disgrace-scene very well. I know just what you are undoubtedly feeling at the moment, Spence—how sick at heart you are—and I only wish there was some way of easing your pain. But it will pass.
"Good luck, son, and safe flights. Take care of yourself. We're all behind you, and by the devious ways you know you can call on any or all of us at need. These reels are all water soluble, so dissolve them in the washbowl and flush down the drain as soon as you're through with each."
* * * * *
For the next two weeks Hanlon stayed fairly close to his room, studying by day from books obtained at the library the things he was learning at night via the sleep-instructor.
The evening of Graduation Day he sat miserably in front of a video screen in his room, watching the broadcast of the stately ceremony of which he would have been a part but for his decision to join the Secret Service.
All the longings of the years he had wanted to become a part of the Inter-Stellar Corps; all the hopes and plans he had made during his five long years in cadet school; all the thrilling pride he had known that he was to be a part of the greatest organization in the Universe, swelled inside him and choked him.
When, at long last, the class rose to take the Oath of Allegiance, Hanlon found himself on his feet, rigidly at attention, repeating the impressive ritual aloud with them.
Now, for the first time, despite his decision and his private graduation, he truly felt himself a vital part of the Corps.
* * * * *
On the street on his way to the library the following day, Hanlon chanced to meet a small group of his former classmates, now clad in their brand-new dress uniforms of sky-blue and crimson, their new junior lieutenant's bars shining brightly.
"Hi, fellows!" he greeted them, only to be met by silent glares of contempt.
"Aw, look, fellows, you know I was framed," Hanlon planted himself in front of them, and made himself look hurt, nor was that any effort. This really cut deep. But he had to "play it out"; had to make them keep on thinking his disgrace was real.
"You guys know I'd never do anything like that," he continued plaintively. "I didn't cheat—didn't need to. I know I lost my head when he accused me, but anyone'd do that."
"You mean you were never caught cheating before," Trowbridge sneered. "You sure had me ... us ... all fooled. Now scram, or else...." He doubled his fists and took a step toward Hanlon.
The latter still played out his string, but his heart was sick. He liked the fellows—they had been among his best friends for five long, happy years. Only now was he truly beginning to realize what a tremendous price he was paying ... and would have to pay all his life.
He stepped in and swung ... and was instantly the target for flying fists. He was knocked down several times, but always managed to get up again. He had been well trained in fighting of all types—and now he was putting all his knowledge and skill into use—but only for defense and the pretense of attack.
Even so he was getting badly mauled, for they were as well trained—and were five to his one. His clothes were dirty and ripped from the knock-downs, and a button was torn off his coat. His knuckles were skinned, and he could feel that his face was becoming a mass of bruises. A hard left connected with his mouth, and he spat out a broken tooth.
"'Ten-shun!" a commanding voice suddenly broke in.
Instantly the five Corpsmen jumped back and, so ingrained was the training he had received, so did Hanlon, to come at salute as they saw a High Admiral climbing out of a ground-cab at the curb.
Hanlon, instantly realizing he wasn't in uniform and was supposedly a discharged Corpsman, quickly dropped his salute and slouched truculently.
"What's going on here!" the officer asked icily.
"This man's a disgraced cadet, sir. Cheated on final exams," one of them explained. "He tried to talk to us."
"It's a lousy lie!" Hanlon rasped. "I was framed. The Corps. Paugh!" he spat in pretend disgust. "I'm getting out of here just as damned quick as I can, and as far as I can. I'll go clear to Andromeda Seven if I can raise enough credits!"
Only he, apparently saw the minute widening of the admiral's eyes at that code-word. The officer faced the new lieutenants sternly.
"A Corpsman is supposed to be able to handle five civilians, not five Corpsmen to one. If this man is a disgraced cadet, you have a right to feel as you do about him. But leave him alone—the years will bring him more sorrow and pain than you can with your fists. And you, fellow," turning to Hanlon. "Don't think I'm interfering just to save your worthless skin," his tone was one of utmost contempt. "I just don't want Corpsmen fighting on the street. Dismiss."
The five saluted smartly and marched away. The admiral winked briefly and with respect at Hanlon before reentering his cab.
But as the young man hurried back to his hotel to clean up, he was heartsick, remembering the many, many months of pleasant companionship with those boys. Especially Dick Trowbridge, who had been his roommate and special chum all through cadet school, and who today had seemed particularly disgusted and vicious in that fight.
Giving up all that had made life so happy and wonderful was more than a fellow could bear, his bitter thoughts ran. What a fool he had been to let himself be talked into taking this on. Where were all those "vast rewards" his dad and Admiral Rogers had talked about so eloquently? How could anything possibly make up for losing the respect and friendship of everyone he had ever known?
However, he had to admit, though still doubtfully, Dad had gone through it even to the point of giving up his son, and those last few weeks with his adored wife, yet now seemed satisfied and content. Maybe ... maybe there was something behind it all, that time would prove. But it was mighty hard to take, just the same.
And this throbbing toothache didn't help his feelings any, either. The exposed nerve in that broken tooth made it ache like blazes. He'd better get it fixed before it drove him mad.
He started to go out, then stopped with the realization he had no money of his own to pay a dentist for the extraction and a bridge.
"What do I do in a case like this?" he wondered. "Is it ethical in such a purely personal matter, to use Corps funds? Dad didn't mention things of this sort. On the other hand, he said we got our salaries and expenses that way. Besides, you could say I lost the tooth in line of duty, and the Corps should replace it."
He went on, found a dentist and had the work done. Nor did he ever again feel doubt about spending the Corps' money for things he actually needed ... but neither did he ever spend any on purely personal pleasures or extra comforts save as he needed to do so to play up to whatever position he assumed in the prosecution of his various assignments.
Evening, however, found him still with that smothered feeling of self-pity about his fight with the fellows, and it persisted even after he went to bed. By the Shade of Snyder, it wasn't fair to saddle a thing like this on a mere kid.
It wasn't until after a couple of hours of tossing sleeplessness that he remembered he hadn't turned on the sleep-instructor. Half-rebelliously, he nevertheless got up and did so ... and that little act broke his mood. He dropped asleep almost immediately after returning to bed.
At the end of the two weeks Hanlon felt he knew both the Simonidean language and its customs well enough to start working. He went to the bank and, deviously, to box 1044.
Sorting through a thick sheaf of envelopes he found one with his name on it. He took it to one of the cubicles, whose door he locked from the inside, setting up full coverage.
As he read there flashed through his mind the background of this other planet's situation. From his knowledge of politico-history within the Federation he knew there was an iron-clad agreement that each planet could choose its own form of government. Most of them chose the democratic form, but some had a type of fascistic state. One or two—the most advanced—even had an anarchistic state, with a very minimum of laws and governing.
Simonides had, about a century earlier, reverted to the empire status—the only planet within the Federation to do so. It had originally been colonized as a world-wide republic, but later had broken up into five independent countries, as different sections became populated more heavily with people of other national backgrounds than Greek. These five countries had eventually been recombined, after a spectacular coup, as an empire.
Then had come this belief of the Corps that something was brewing there that would affect the peace of the Federation, and the failure of their agents so far to find out about it.
Now SSM Hanlon's orders were to take ship to Simonides Four, and seek to learn what he could about these guessed-at conditions as swiftly as possible. If he gained any impressions of who or what group was behind this movement, he was to attempt to join it and ferret out that secret so it could be reported.
With such information in their possession, the Corps would know if it was anything inimical to the peace and security of the Federation, and would take the necessary steps.
His instructions ended, "The cost of a first class ticket to Simonides is seven hundred and fifty credits, so you should draw enough to have at least fifteen hundred, for all needed expenses. Take the 'Hellene' which leaves Centropolis spaceport Friday of this week. We have good reason to believe that certain interesting people will be aboard that ship."
Hanlon's mind raced. Evidently someone wanted him to see what impressions or evidence he could pick up from those suspected persons. He grimaced as he realized the SS had left it strictly up to him to discover who those "interesting people" were. Perhaps they looked on it as a sort of test.
But he thrilled to the sudden awareness of what a wonderfully efficient and competent organization the SS was—how it kept careful watch on all its members, and assisted them in every possible manner.
He "dined" on the edible plastic sheets, then left the safety deposit vault. He arranged for his ticket and reservations at the bank's travel agency, then went back to his hotel to pack.
So it was that early Friday morning George Hanlon, still dressed in civvies, of course, arrived at the great passenger liner that was to take him to far Simonides. He was thrilled with the idea of making such a trip, for he loved the deeps of space—its immensity and its fathomless mystery gripped him with a feeling of grandeur.
Yet he had never been far outside the Solar system. The latter was not necessary on his training cruises, since all the details of a pilot's job—the branch of the Service he had hoped to enter—were the same for both inter-planetary and inter-stellar travel. It was the navigator's job that was the harder and more complicated on the longer, faster trips to destinations one could not see when blasting off.
This "Hellene" on which he was to ride was about sixty-five feet in diameter and approximately three times that in length. The propulsion was, the builders and engineers acknowledged, not the ultimate by any means. They were still constantly experimenting and hoping for much swifter travel. Still, they did pretty well.
They had some measure of anti-gravity to help lift the ship from a planet. About 22%, Hanlon remembered. They still had to use rockets when near a planet—but these present-day rockets were a far cry from the early crude ones with which Snyder and his men had put first ships on the Moon and planets. These could deliver a thrust far more powerful than those early ones.
For long distances they used a type of "warping" that made the ship "skip" along the lines of force that permeate all space. Hanlon had never quite got it firmly fixed in his mind just how this was done, especially the technique of the engines that made it possible. That was "advanced stuff" that the cadets were not taught in their regular courses—it was Post Graduate work for those who were to become Engineering Masters.
As he went up the escalator into the ship Hanlon was met at the outer lock by a deck steward who led him toward the level where his cabin was located.
This was Hanlon's first time aboard one of these luxury liners—how different the deep-piled rugs, the magnificently frescoed passageway walls, the deeply upholstered furniture, from the utilitarian plainness of the Corps' warships on which he had made his practice cruises.
"As you may know, sir," the steward said as they walked along, "there is neither night nor day in space, but we use Terran time on the ship, and lights are turned on and off to conform to the regular Terran day. Breakfast is served from seven to nine, luncheon from twelve to fourteen, and dinner from eighteen to twenty-one."
"Thanks." A credit note changed from hand to hand—tipping was still in style. The obsequious steward gave him further directions for finding the games and recreational rooms, and other points of interest aboard.
Hanlon unpacked, and stored his luggage in the compact closets and then, having heard the first and second warnings, hastened to the observation desk, to watch the take-off. He had barely reached it and been strapped into the acceleration chair turned to face the long, narrow quartzite port, when the blast-off sirens began screaming their third and final warning.
The intra-ship communicators blared, "All passengers and personnel strap in. Five minutes until blast-off ... four minutes ... three ... two ... one ... thirty seconds ... fifteen ... ten ... five, four, three, two, one, BLAST!"
Dimly heard through the insulated hull was what Hanlon knew to be a tremendous crescendo roar of sound, and he was pushed deep into the resilient spring-cushions of his chair. A constricting band seemed to be clamped on his chest, while at the same time there was a curious feeling that he should weigh less but didn't. That was the peculiar sensation the combination of anti-gravity and the thrust of the rockers always gave.
From experience he knew how to regulate his breathing and to let his muscles and nerves relax as much as possible, so that for him there was but a brief moment of discomfort. Then he was able to watch the scene unfolding before and below him.
The ground and that outward splash of almost-intolerable flame quickly dropped away and within minutes the scene expanded until he was able to see hundreds of square miles of city, country and ocean. Soon he could see the distant mountains; but gradually the scene assumed a dimness of detail that persisted until they were far outside the atmosphere. Then the great continental masses became visible as a whole, but without any smaller details apparent.
Two and a half hours later they were past the Moon, and began building up the tremendous speed that was to take them across inter-stellar depths in a matter of short days. And as Luna shrank to a small sphere behind them, Hanlon felt the acceleration grow constant, so unstrapped himself and got up. He stretched hugely, to relieve the cramped feeling in his muscles, then turned to survey his fellow passengers.
He noticed several men in Corps' uniform, and hoped none of them knew him—or if so, would be good enough not to spread word of his disgrace. That would make the trip uncomfortable, lonely and unproductive, for then it would be better for him to spend most of his time in his stateroom. He thought of those "interesting people" he had been told about ... whatever that tip might mean.
For George Hanlon, youngest man ever to be assigned to the Inter-Stellar Corps' Secret Service—although he did not know this until later—had that within him which placed matters of duty uppermost in his mind at all times.
Accustomed for nearly half of his life to the conscious task of keeping his mind-reading talent hidden and unused, he now knew he must work at it continuously to bring it up to its highest possible level of efficiency. Only by thus knowing every facet of his ability could he do what had to be done in his new task.
He sat down again and closed his eyes in order better to study this problem without outside and extraneous matters interfering. He became awed and a little frightened as he realized fully the weight of his new duties and responsibilities, even though he had been all through this several times before. Somehow, his being aboard ship on his way to his actual work seemed to make this terrific responsibility more weighty.
Why must he be burdened with such a load as they had tied onto him? What were the Corps' top brass thinking of, anyway, to put so much on an untried kid just out of school?
At last he began to think less of his own burden and to concentrate on seeing what he could pick up mentally. He kept his eyes closed, but opened his mind wide and let the welter of thought-impressions roll in unhindered.
There was much laughter and lighthearted gaiety about him, as was natural on such a luxury liner. There was also some fear of space and the emptiness; some actual illness from space-fright. There were many mental undercurrents, and in one or two instances he thought he caught vague hints of sinister intrigue, but was never quite able to isolate these, or to bring them into more distinct focus. Quite evidently the men—or women—thinking such thoughts were able to close their minds to some extent—or else he was too rusty at reading. He realized, too, that they might not be thinking of any such thing—he remembered once when he was a boy he thought he had caught some such thought, then found later it was merely a neighbor reading a story with a sinister plot.
Mind-reading, he told himself, was the field in which he would be assigned to work. The Corps and the SS would be sure to hand him all the jobs where other agents had failed, just as they had in this case, in hopes that he could get them some beginning points of contact. So it was up to him to get busy and learn how to do it better.
The call for lunch found him still studying, but he was hungry, and went down to eat. He could work there as well as on the observation deck, anyway.
Going into the dining room, the head waiter assigned him to a table almost in the center of the large and tastefully decorated room. For some moments he busied himself studying the menu, and when he had ordered he glanced up again at his tablemates.
He had been introduced to this matron, and to her son who appeared to be about his own age. He probed briefly, finding her a good sort but a little too impressed with her own importance—new-rich, he guessed. The boy he disliked on sight—he seemed a selfish, pampered brat.
So he forgot them and concentrated on letting his mind roam about the great room, seeking information and trying to refine and develop his mind-reading ability. It seemed to him the latter was improving to some extent ... yet realized this could as easily be wish-fulfillment as actuality.
After luncheon he returned to the observation deck and there, as the long afternoon slowly passed, he sat in his deck chair, eyes closed, mind wide open.
Several times he caught some one thought-impression more distinctly than the general run, and concentrated on trying to trace it mentally; to read it more clearly and minutely. But as he did not have much success, it began to irritate him ... and that made him angrier.
"Keep at it, and don't expect miracles," he scolded himself. "Sure, you've got something, but anything—any ability of mind or muscle—needs training and practice to get anywhere!"
After dinner that first evening Hanlon went into the recreation hall. There were dozens of tables where people were playing various games. He saw that around many of these other people were standing, watching the play, and knew from this that social custom on the ship did not frown on such silent kibitzing.
Therefore, he wandered about until he found a table where four men were playing stud poker. Here he stood, watching the game, but concentrating on the mind of the man opposite him, checking his mental impressions against the man's wins and losses.
He couldn't, at any time, actually read in the man's mind what his "hole card" was, he found. But he could quite easily sense from the player's mind whether the latter considered it a good one, a very poor one, or only a possible winner. By watching the play as well as studying the man's feelings, facial movements and muscle twitches or tensenesses, Hanlon was soon able to make some remarkably accurate predictions as to what the card was. By checking his deductions with the card when it was shown, he saw he was gradually coming closer and closer to a perfect score of "reading."
* * * * *
The next day Hanlon again sat most of the time in the lounge, his eyes closed, letting his mind soak up all the impressions and vibrations he could. When one seemed particularly strong, he tried to follow it and locate the person—with his mind, not his eyes—and read the whole thought.
Mostly he found again excitement and pleasure. Almost everyone on board seemed to be having a grand time, and enjoying the trip to the utmost. It was what might be expected—a gay, carefree holiday crowd.
Yet there was, occasionally caught, that sinister undercurrent that had so puzzled him since he first sensed it the day before. It was not prominent at any time, nor continuous ... more as though only one or two minds held the thought, and those not in the lounge all the time, but wandering in and out.
He tried to analyze the feeling of those thoughts. They were malevolent—that he had sensed from the beginning. And finally, later in the afternoon, the person or persons thinking them evidently spent some time near him in the lounge, for the feeling became much clearer to the SS man.
Hanlon still kept his eyes closed. He made no effort at this time to try to identify who was giving out those menacing sensations. That would come later. At the moment he was more interested in trying to work out just what those sinister impressions meant.
And gradually his mind was forced to the conclusion that it could mean only one thing—a killing.
Hanlon was devoting almost all his mind to this problem when another mental impression intruded, and grew stronger, more demanding of his attention.
It was a feeling of sympathetic concern, yet diffident, apologetic. He felt it growing stronger, seeming to be approaching him, to be directed at him.
For the moment he left off worrying about the other matter, and watched this new thought.
By the instant it was growing stronger, and closer. He knew that, some way. He directed his attention toward what he believed was its source, but idly, half angry at it for interrupting his more important thoughts. It was in front of him ... and suddenly, like a bright, white beam of light, his mind reached out and touched directly the mind holding that thought.
Touched it ... it was instantly, unbelievably, inside that mind!
He was able, actually, to read the surface thoughts!
Clearly, distinctly, as though it were his own mind, Hanlon knew he was one with a deck steward, who had noticed him sitting there all day and the day before, with closed eyes and strained face. (His efforts at concentration must have been too apparent—he'd have to learn to guard that; to keep his face more impassive.)
Now the steward was coming to see if he was ill. And at that instant a soft, apologetic voice spoke from in front of him—spoke words he had already read in that mind.
"Beg pardon, Mr. Hanlon, sir, but is anything wrong?"
He opened his eyes lazily, and let a smile break out as he saw the solicitous face of the white-coated attendant.
"Me? Not really. Just a little queazy, but I'm feeling better all the time."
"I'm glad. But be sure and call if I can be of any service."
"Thank you, I will." Hanlon reached in his pocket and slipped a credit note into the man's hand.
And as the steward walked away Hanlon's mind was instantly whirling with this newly-discovered ability. He was astonished and delighted, of course ... but a little disturbed, too.
"I was actually inside the guy's mind!" he thought in amazement. "That's a new one! I was never able to do that before. I really read his thoughts! I've got to find out more about this. Let's see, now, how did I do it?"
George Hanlon glanced about the observation deck and saw at some distance the young man who had sat at the same dining table. Hanlon grinned a bit, and directed his mind that way.
To the best of his memory, he concentrated on doing the same thing he had done when he got inside the steward's mind. For long, anxious minutes he tried. He felt tense, and the strain made his heart pound. At last he sank back into his chair.
"The other was just a fluke, I guess," he frowned in frustration and disgust at himself. "I keep thinking I'm getting good—then flooie!" He idly sent his mind towards the boy again ... and suddenly found himself once more within another person's mind.
It was a strange, weird feeling ... this getting two sets of thoughts at the same time. Also, Hanlon felt a bit as though he was a trespasser in some forbidden temple. Yet he persevered, trying to see if he could read anything there ... and was disappointed to find he could peruse and understand only the fleeting surface thoughts.
With all his might, in every way he could think of, he tried to probe back and beneath those passing thought-concepts, but could get no information whatever of the young man's past or knowledge. Only vacuous, self-centered thoughts which were flowing idly through the youth's mind were available to him.
He wondered if he could influence the other to do something. If he could control another's mind—even just a little—it would really help in his work. So he now tried every method his agile mind could imagine, to make the fellow pick up the book that lay beside his chair. He concentrated on it, he insisted, he willed it. But in vain—he could make no impression whatever.
Hanlon withdrew his mind. "I've no control," he thought to himself. "I can't take over his mind in any way. Neither can I read his past; just his present thoughts. That's not too bad, although I hoped I had hit the jackpot at last."
After some further reflection the thought occurred, "Maybe I can do better with someone else."
During the balance of the day he kept trying to read the minds of others of his fellow passengers, but found the same results in each case. He did, however, develop the technique of making a much quicker entrance into a mind—could do that reading more swiftly, and yet know he was correct.
"I get it now. I've got to approach it relaxed, not all tensed up like I was at first," he finally realized.
But when it came to probing into and reading the whole mind, into its past thoughts and knowledges, no. Just that ... no!
Pessimistically he began to feel he wasn't going to be able to do as much with his "mind-reading" as he—and his superiors—had hoped.
Did this mean, he wondered disconsolately as he went to his stateroom, that he was to be a failure in the Secret Service? Or, he brightened momently, could he develop other methods of ferreting out information? But that, he told himself honestly, was out. What did he know about detective work? The SS already had the best detectives in the Universe.
This dark mood persisted while he went to bed and finally dropped off to sleep. But when he awoke the next morning he felt cheerful again. He had a lot—and he would get more.
He ate a good breakfast, then went back to his deck chair and there, resolutely, he opened his mind once more to general impressions. He would keep working at it, and more was bound to come. Look how far he'd advanced already. A lot further than when he had started. And at that, he probably—no, undoubtedly—could do more than any of the other fellows on certain problems. As far as he knew—and Dad and Admiral Rogers had talked as though he were the only one they knew about—no one else could read even surface thoughts.
So he kept diligently at it. And very soon, so strongly he deduced the mind must be very close to him, he again found those sinister impressions that had bothered him so much.
This time he glanced about, in apparently casual curiosity, yet touched mind after mind of those nearest him. Then hit pay dirt!
Why, it was that bluff, hearty-looking, red-headed man in the third chair to his right. He didn't look vicious, that was certain, though there was a grim set to his jaw. Yet his surface thoughts showed the man to be hard, cold and ruthless—a pure killer type. Hanson sensed he was one of those men who have such a will to power that the lives and rights of others are held cheaply, contemptuously. The kind who, if another gets in his way, removes him ... but carefully, lest his own highly-valuable skin be put in jeopardy. If he could get some one else to do the dirty work, so much the better. Such conscienceless killers were, Hanlon knew, usually arrant cowards.
There was someone on this ship who was in this man's way—of that Hanlon felt sure. The killer was determined to destroy this other the first chance he got. His mind was now weighing chances and possible opportunities—and Hanlon read and learned.
Yes, this must be one of those "interesting people" that unknown SS tipster back on Terra had mentioned. Was the victim another? Probably. For Hanlon had not yet read any thoughts in this killer's mind about any confederates.
Hanlon kept close watch on this man and his mind, and picked up many other stray bits of information, including his name, Panek. None seemed of too much immediate importance regarding the matter at hand. Yet they gave the Secret Service man a fairly good picture of the assassin's personality, when pieced all together.
Suddenly, and but a barely passing whisper of thought, Hanlon caught the concept that the intended victim's death was necessary to the coup "they" were planning on Simonides.
Hanlon was instantly alerted by that planet-name. Perhaps this was a definite lead for him. He strained to get more. The killer thought occasionally of a man he called "The Boss", but not the name of that dignitary, nor his actual position—politically, socially, economically, or otherwise.
The SS man fumed inwardly because he could not get a clear picture of that "Boss." This murderer did not have a visual type of mind, darn it. He didn't see clearly in pictorial terms any of the people or scenes about which he thought.
Hanlon had been gradually impressed, though, with the realization that this man was very much afraid of his boss. There was a mental shiver every time thought of his employer entered his mind. There was something about a previous failure, and what would undoubtedly happen unless it was done now, but Hanlon couldn't get enough of that to make any sense to him.
Again Panek began thinking, though very sketchily, about "Sime", as he called Simonides, and the "plot" that was being hatched there. Hanlon felt the man's sneering contempt for "those beasts"—but could gain no idea whatever about what that reference meant.
In so many ways this puzzle seemed to be growing worse instead of better, and Hanlon knew a moment of frustration. But his sense of humor came to his rescue. "You want the whole thing written out for you in black and white?" he jeered at himself. "Snap out of it! Quit being a defeatist."