This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction November 1960, December 1960, January 1961, February 1961. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
OCCASION ... for DISASTER
By MARK PHILLIPS
Illustrated by van Dongen
A very small slip, at just the wrong place, can devastate any enterprise. One tiny transistor can go wrong ... and ruin a multi-million dollar missile. Which would be one way to stop the missiles....
"We must remember not to judge any public servant by any one act, and especially should we beware of attacking the men who are merely the occasions and not the causes of disaster."
* * * * *
In 1914, it was enemy aliens.
In 1930, it was Wobblies.
In 1957, it was fellow-travelers.
In 1971, it was insane telepaths.
And, in 1973:
"We don't know what it is," said Andrew J. Burris, Director of the FBI. He threw his hands in the air and looked baffled and confused.
Kenneth J. Malone tried to appear sympathetic. "What what is?"
Burris frowned and drummed his fingers on his big desk. "Malone," he said, "make sense. And don't stutter."
"Stutter?" Malone said. "You said you didn't know what it was. And I wanted to know what it was."
"That's just it," Burris said. "I don't know."
Malone sighed and repressed an impulse to scream. "Now, wait a minute, Chief—" he started.
Burris frowned again. "Don't call me Chief," he said.
Malone nodded, "O.K.," he said. "But—if you don't know what it is, you must have some idea of what you don't know. I mean, is it larger than a breadbox? Does it perform helpful tasks? Is it self-employed?"
"Malone," Burris sighed, "you ought to be on television."
"Let me explain," Burris said. His voice was calmer now, and he spoke as if he were enunciating nothing but the most obvious and eternal truths. "The country," he said, "is going to Hell in a handbasket."
Malone nodded again. "Well, after all, Chief—" he started.
"Don't call me Chief," Burris said wearily.
"Anything you say," Malone agreed peacefully. He eyed the Director of the FBI warily. "After all, it isn't anything new," he went on. "The country's always been going to Hell in a handbasket, one way or another. Look at Rome."
"Rome?" Burris said.
"Sure," Malone said. "Rome was always going to Hell in a handbasket, and finally it—" He paused. "Finally it did, I guess," he said.
"Exactly," Burris said. "And so are we. Finally." He passed a hand over his forehead and stared past Malone at a spot on the wall. Malone turned and looked at the spot, but saw nothing of interest. "Malone," Burris said, and the FBI Agent whirled around again.
"Yes, Ch—Yes?" he said.
"This time," Burris said, "it isn't the same old story at all. This time it's different."
"Different?" Malone said.
Burris nodded. "Look at it this way," he said. His eyes returned to the FBI Agent. "Suppose you're a congressman," he went on, "and you find evidence of inefficiency in the government."
"All right," Malone said agreeably. He had the feeling that if he waited around a little while everything would make sense, and he was willing to wait. After all, he wasn't on assignment at the moment, and there was nothing pressing waiting for him. He was even between romances.
If he waited long enough, he told himself, Andrew J. Burris might say something worth hearing. He looked attentive and eager. He considered leaning over the desk a little, to look even more eager, but decided against it; Burris might think he looked threatening. There was no telling.
"You're a congressman," Burris said, "and the government is inefficient. You find evidence of it. What do you do?"
* * * * *
Malone blinked and thought for a second. It didn't take any longer than that to come up with the old, old answer. "I start an investigation," he said. "I get a committee and I talk to a lot of newspaper editors and magazine editors and maybe I go on television and talk some more, and my committee has a lot of meetings—"
"Exactly," Burris said.
"And we talk a lot at the meetings," Malone went on, carried away, "and get a lot of publicity, and we subpoena famous people, just as famous as we can get, except governors or presidents, because you can't—they tried that back in the '50s, and it didn't work very well—and that gives us some more publicity, and then when we have all the publicity we can possibly get—"
"You stop," Burris said hurriedly.
"That's right," Malone said. "We stop. And that's what I'd do."
"Of course, the problem of inefficiency is left exactly where it always was," Burris said. "Nothing's been done about it."
"Naturally," Malone said. "But think of all the lovely publicity. And all the nice talk. And the subpoenas and committees and everything."
"Sure," Burris said wearily. "It's happened a thousand times. But, Malone, that's the difference. It isn't happening this time."
There was a short pause. "What do you mean?" Malone said at last.
"This time," Burris said, in a tone that sounded almost awed, "they want to keep it a secret."
"A secret?" Malone said, blinking. "But that's ... that's not the American way."
Burris shrugged. "It's un-congressman-like, anyhow," he said. "But that's what they've done. Tiptoed over to me and whispered softly that the thing has to be investigated quietly. Naturally, they didn't give me any orders—but only because they know they can't make one stick. They suggested it pretty strongly."
"Any reasons?" Malone said. The whole idea interested him strangely. It was odd—and he found himself almost liking odd cases, lately. That is, he amended hurriedly, if they didn't get too odd.
"Oh, they had reasons, all right," Burris said. "It took a little coaxing, but I managed to pry some loose. You see, every one of them found inefficiency in his own department. And every one knows that other men are investigating inefficiency."
"Oh," Malone said.
"That's right," Burris said. "Every one of them came to me to get me to prove that the goof-ups in his particular department weren't his fault. That covers them in case one of the others happens to light into the department."
"Well, it must be somebody's fault," Malone said.
"It isn't theirs," Burris said wearily. "I ought to know. They told me. At great length, Malone."
Malone felt a stab of honest pity. "How many so far?" he said.
"Six," Burris said. "Four representatives, and two senators."
"Only two?" Malone said.
"Well," Burris said, "the Senate is so much smaller. And, besides, we may get more. As a matter of fact, Senator Lefferts is worth any six representatives all by himself."
"He is?" Malone said, puzzled. Senator Lefferts was not one of his favorite people. Nor, as far as he knew, did the somewhat excitable senator hold any place of honor in the heart of Andrew J. Burris.
"I mean his story," Burris said. "I've never heard anything like it—at least, not since the Bilbo days. And I've only heard about those," he added hurriedly.
"What story?" Malone said. "He talked about inefficiency—"
"Not exactly," Burris said carefully. "He said that somebody was out to get him—him, personally. He said somebody was trying to discredit him by sabotaging all his legislative plans."
"Well," Malone said, feeling that some comment was called for, "three cheers."
"That isn't the point," Burris snapped. "No matter how we felt about Senator Lefferts or his legislative plans, we're sworn to protect him. And he says 'they' are out to get him."
"They?" Malone said.
"You know," Burris said, shrugging. "The great 'they.' The invisible enemies all around, working against him."
"Oh," Malone said. "Paranoid?" He had always thought Senator Lefferts was slightly on the batty side, and the idea of real paranoia didn't come as too much of a surprise. After all, when a man was batty to start out with ... and he even looked like a vampire, Malone thought confusedly.
"As far as paranoia is concerned," Burris said, "I checked with one of our own psych men, and he'll back it up. Lefferts has definite paranoid tendencies, he says."
Malone said, "That's that."
Burris shook his head. "It isn't that simple," he said. "You see, Malone, there's some evidence that somebody is working against him."
"The American public, with any luck at all," Malone said.
"No," Burris said. "An enemy. Somebody sabotaging his plans. Really."
Malone shook his head. "You're crazy," he said.
Burris looked shocked. "Malone, I'm the Director of the FBI," he said. "And if you insist on being disrespectful—"
"Sorry," Malone murmured. "But—"
"I am perfectly sane," Burris said slowly. "It's Senator Lefferts who's crazy. The only trouble is, he has evidence to show he's not."
Malone thought about odd cases, and suddenly wished he were somewhere else. Anywhere else. This one showed sudden signs of developing into something positively bizarre. "I see," he said, wondering if he did.
"After all," Burris said, in a voice that attempted to sound reasonable, "a paranoid has just as much right to be persecuted as anybody else, doesn't he?"
"Sure," Malone said. "Everybody has rights. But what do you want me to do about that?"
"About their rights?" Burris said. "Nothing, Malone. Nothing."
"I mean," Malone said patiently, "about whatever it is that's going on."
Burris took a deep breath. His hands clasped behind his head, and he looked up at the ceiling. He seemed perfectly relaxed. That, Malone knew, was a bad sign. It meant that there was a dirty job coming, a job nobody wanted to do, and one Burris was determined to pass off on him. He sighed and tried to feel resigned.
* * * * *
"Well," the FBI Director said, "the only actual trouble we can pinpoint is that there seem to be a great many errors occurring in the paperwork—more than usual."
"People get tired," Malone said tentatively.
"But computer-secretary calculating machines don't," Burris said. "And that's where the errors are—in the computer-secretaries down in the Senate Office Building. I think you'd better start out there."
"Sure," Malone said sadly.
"See if there's any mechanical or electrical defect in any of those computers," Burris said. "Talk to the computer technicians. Find out what's causing all these errors."
"Yes, sir," Malone said. He was still trying to feel resigned, but he wasn't succeeding very well.
"And if you don't find anything—" Burris began.
"I'll come right back," Malone said instantly.
"No," Burris said. "You keep on looking."
"You do," Burris said. "After all, there has to be something wrong."
"Sure," Malone said, "if you say so. But—"
"There are the interview tapes," Burris said, "and the reports the congressmen brought in. You can go through those."
Malone sighed. "I guess so," he said.
"And there must be thousands of other things to do," Burris said.
"Well—" Malone began cautiously.
"You'll be able to think of them," Burris said heartily. "I know you will. I have confidence in you, Malone. Confidence."
"Thanks," Malone said sadly.
"You just keep me posted from time to time on what you're doing, and what ideas you get," Burris said. "I'm leaving the whole thing in your hands, Malone, and I'm sure you won't disappoint me."
"I'll try," Malone said.
"I know you will," Burris said warmly. "And no matter how long it takes—I know you'll succeed."
"No matter how long it takes?" Malone said hesitantly.
"That's right!" Burris said. "You can do it, Malone! You can do it."
Malone nodded slowly. "I hope so," he said. "Well, I ... well, I'll start out right away, then."
He turned. Before he could make another move Burris said: "Wait!"
Malone turned again, hope in his eyes. "Yes, sir?" he said.
"When you leave—" Burris began, and the hope disappeared "please do one little favor for me. Just one little favor, because I'm an old, tired man and I'm not used to things any more."
"Sure," Malone said. "Anything, Chief."
"Don't call me—"
"Sorry," Malone said.
Burris breathed heavily. "When you leave," he said, "please, please use the door."
"Malone," Burris said, "I've tried. I've really tried. Believe me. I've tried to get used to the fact that you can teleport. But—"
"It's useful," Malone said, "in my work."
"I can see that," Burris said. "And I don't want you to ... well, to stop doing it. By no means. It's just that it sort of unnerves me, if you see what I mean. No matter how useful it is for the FBI to have an agent who can go instantaneously from one place to another, it unnerves me." He sighed. "I can't get used to seeing you disappear like an over-dried soap bubble, Malone. It does something to me—here." He placed a hand directly over his sternum and sighed again.
"I can understand that," Malone said. "It unnerved me, too, the first time I saw it. I thought I was going crazy, when that kid—Mike Fueyo—winked out like a light. But then we got him, and some FBI agents besides me have learned the trick." He stopped there, wondering if he'd been tactful. After all, it took a latent ability to learn teleportation, and some people had it, while others didn't. Malone, along with a few other agents, did. Burris evidently didn't—so he couldn't teleport, no matter how hard he tried or how many lessons he took.
"Well," Burris said, "I'm still unnerved. So ... please, Malone ... when you come in here, or go out, use the door. All right?"
"Yes, sir," Malone said. He turned and went out. As he opened the door, he could almost hear Burris' sigh of relief. Then he banged it shut behind him and, feeling that he might as well continue with his spacebound existence, walked all the way to the elevator, and rode it downstairs to the FBI laboratories.
The labs, highly efficient and divided into dozens of departments, covered several floors. Malone passed through the Fingerprint section, filled with technicians doing strange things to great charts and slides, and frowning over tiny pieces of material and photographs. Then came Forgery Detection, involving many more technicians, many more slides and charts and tiny pieces of things and photographs, and even a witness or two sitting on the white bench at one side and looking lost and somehow civilian. Identification Classified was next, a great barn of a room filled with index files. The real indexes were in the sub-basement; here, on microfilm, were only the basic division. A man was standing in front of one of the files, frowning at it. Malone went on by without stopping.
Cosmetic Surgery Classification came next. Here there were more indexes, and there were also charts and slides. There was an FBI agent sitting on a bench looking bored while two female technicians—classified as O&U for Old and Ugly in Malone's mind—fluttered around him, deciding what disguises were possible, and which of those was indicated for the particular job on hand. Malone waved to the agent, whom he knew very slightly, and went on. He felt vaguely regretful that the FBI couldn't hire prettier girls for the Cosmetic Surgery Division, but the trouble was that pretty girls fell for the agents—and vice versa—and this led to an unfortunate tendency toward only handsome and virile-looking disguises. The O&U Division was unfortunate, he decided, but a necessity.
Chemical Analysis (III) was next. The Chemical Analysis section was scattered over several floors, with the first stages up above. Division III, Malone remembered, was devoted to non-poisonous substances—like clay or sand found in boots or trouser cuffs, cigar ashes and such. They were placed on the same floor as Fingerprints to allow free and frequent passage between the sections on the problems of plastic prints—made in putty or like substances—and visible prints, made when the hand is covered with a visible substance like blood, ketchup or glue.
Malone found what he was looking for at the very end of the floor. It was the Computer Section, a large room filled with humming, clacking and buzzing machines of an ancient vintage, muttering to themselves as they worked, and newer machines which were smaller and more silent. Lights were lighting and bells were ringing softly, relays were relaying and the whole room was a gigantic maze of calculating and control machines. What space wasn't filled by the machines themselves was filled by workbenches, all littered with an assortment of gears, tubes, spare relays, transistors, wires, rods, bolts, resistors and all the other paraphernalia used in building the machines and repairing them. Beyond the basic room were other, smaller rooms, each assigned to a particular kind of computer work.
The narrow aisles were choked here and there with men who looked up as Malone passed by, but most of them gave him one quick glance and went back to work. A few didn't even do that, but went right on concentrating on their jobs. Malone headed for a man working all alone in front of a workbench, frowning down at a complicated-looking mechanism that seemed to have neither head nor tail, and prodding at it with a long, thin screwdriver. The man was thin, too, but not very long; he was a little under average height, and he had straight black hair, thick-lensed glasses and a studious expression, even when he was frowning. He looked as if the mechanism were a student who had cut too many classes, and he was being kindly but firm with it.
* * * * *
Malone managed to get to the man's side, and coughed discreetly. There was no response.
"Fred?" he said.
The screwdriver waggled a little. Malone wasn't quite sure that the man was breathing.
"Fred Mitchell," he said.
Mitchell didn't look up. Another second passed.
"Hey," Malone said. Then he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Fred," he said in a loud, reasonable-sounding voice, "the State Department's translator has started to talk pig-Latin."
Mitchell straightened up as if somebody had jabbed him with a pin. The screwdriver waved wildly in the air for a second, and then pointed at Malone. "That's impossible," Mitchell said in a flat, precise voice. "Simply impossible. It doesn't have a pig-Latin circuit. It can't possibly—" He blinked and seemed to see Malone for the first time. "Oh," he said. "Hello, Malone. What can I do for you?"
Malone smiled, feeling a little victorious at having got through the Mitchell armor, which was almost impregnable when there was a job in hand. "I've been standing here talking to you for some time."
"Oh, have you?" Mitchell said. "I was busy." That, obviously, explained that. Malone shrugged.
"I want you to help me check over some calculators, Fred," he said. "We've had some reports that some of the government machines are out of kilter, and I'd like you to go over them for me."
"Out of kilter?" Fred Mitchell said. "No, you can forget about it. It's absolutely unnecessary to make a check—believe me. Absolutely. Forget it." He smiled suddenly. "I suppose it's some kind of a joke, isn't it?" he said, just a trifle uncertainly. Fred Mitchell's world, while pleasant, did not include much humor, Malone knew. "It's supposed to be funny," he said in the same flat, precise voice.
"It isn't funny," Malone said.
Fred sighed. "Then they're obviously lying," he said, "and that's all there is to it. Why bother me with it?"
"Certainly," Fred said. He looked at the machinery with longing.
Malone took a breath. "How do you know?" he said.
Fred sighed. "It's perfectly obvious," he said in a patient tone. "Since the State Department translator has no pig-Latin circuit, it can't possibly be talking pig-Latin. I will admit that such a circuit would be relatively easy to build, though it would have no utility as far as I can see. Except, of course, for a joke." He paused. "Joke?" he said, in a slightly uneasy tone.
"Sure," Malone said. "Joke."
Mitchell looked relieved. "Very well, then," he began. "Since—"
"Wait a minute," Malone said. "The pig-Latin is a joke. That's right. But I'm not talking about the pig-Latin."
"You're not?" Mitchell asked, surprised.
"No," Malone said.
Mitchell frowned. "But you said—" he began.
"A joke," Malone said. "You were perfectly right. The pig-Latin is a joke." He waited for Fred's expression to clear, and then added: "But what I want to talk to you about isn't."
"It sounds very confused," Fred said after a pause. "Not at all the sort of thing that ... that usually goes on."
"You have no idea," Malone said. "It's about the political machines, all right, but it isn't anything as simple as pig-Latin." He explained, taking his time over it.
When he had finished, Fred was nodding his head slowly. "I see," he said. "I understand just what you want me to do."
"Good," Malone said.
"I'll take a team over to the Senate Office Building," Fred said, "and check the computer-secretaries there. That way, you see, I'll be able to do a full running check on them without taking any one machine out of operation for too long."
"Sure," Malone said.
"And it shouldn't take long," Fred went on, "to find out just what the trouble is." He looked very confident.
"How long?" Malone asked.
Fred shrugged. "Oh," he said, "five or six days."
Malone repressed an impulse to scream. "Days?" he said. "I mean ... well, look, Fred, it's important. Very important. Can't you do the job any faster?"
Fred gave a little sigh. "Checking and repairing all those machines," he said, "is an extremely complex job. Sometimes, Malone, I don't think you realize quite how complex, and how delicate a job it is to deal with such a high-order machine. Why—"
"Wait a minute," Malone said. "Check and repair them?"
"Of course," Fred said.
"But I don't want them repaired," Malone said. Seeing the look of horror on Fred's face, he added hastily: "I only want a report from you on what's wrong, whether they are actually making errors or not. And if they are making errors, just what's making them do it. And just what kind of errors. See?"
Fred nodded very slowly. "But I can't just ... just leave them there," he said piteously. "In ... pieces and everything. It isn't right, Malone. It just isn't right."
"Well, then," Malone said with energy, "you go right ahead and repair them, if you want to. Fix 'em all up. But you can do that after you make the report to me, can't you?"
"I—" Fred hesitated. "I had planned to check and repair each machine on an individual basis—"
"The Congress can allow for a short suspension," Malone said. "Anyhow, they can now—or as soon as I get the word to them. Suppose you check all the machines first, and then get around to the repair work."
"It's not the best way," Fred demurred.
Malone discovered that it was his turn to sigh. "Is it the fastest?" he said.
"Then it's the best," Malone said. "How long?"
Fred rolled his eyes to the ceiling and calculated silently for a second. "Tomorrow morning," he announced, returning his gaze to Malone.
"Fine," Malone said. "Fine."
"Never mind the buts," Malone said hurriedly. "I'll count on hearing from you tomorrow morning."
"Oh—" Fred said. "All right."
"And if it looks like sabotage," Malone added, "if the errors aren't caused by normal wear and tear on the machines—you let me know right away. Phone me. Don't waste an instant."
"I'll ... I'll start right away," Fred said heavily. He looked sadly at the mechanism he had been working on, and put his screwdriver down next to it. It looked to Malone as if he were putting flowers on the grave of a dear departed. "I'll get a team together," Fred added. He gave the mechanism and screwdriver one last fond parting look.
Malone looked after him for a second, thinking of nothing in particular, and then turned in the opposite direction and headed back toward the elevator. As he walked, he began to feel more and more pleased with himself. After all, he'd gotten the investigation started, hadn't he?
And now all he had to do was go back to his office and read some reports and listen to some interview tapes, and then he could go home.
The reports and the interview tapes didn't exactly sound like fun, Malone thought, but at the same time they seemed fairly innocent. He would work his way through them grimly, and maybe he would even indulge his most secret vice and smoke a cigar or two to make the work pass more pleasantly. Soon enough, he told himself, they would be finished with.
Sometimes, though, he regretted the reputation he'd gotten. It had been bad enough in the old days—the pre-1971 days when Malone had thought he was just lucky. Burris had called him a Boy Wonder then, when he'd cracked three difficult cases in a row. Being just lucky had made it a little tough to live with the Boy Wonder label—after all, Malone thought, it wasn't actually as if he'd done anything.
But since 1971 and the case of the Telepathic Spy, things had gotten worse. Much worse. Now Malone wasn't just lucky any more. Instead, he could teleport and he could even foretell the future a little, in a dim sort of way. He'd caught the Telepathic Spy that way, and when the case of the Teleporting Juvenile Delinquents had come up he'd been assigned to that one too, and he'd cracked it. Now Burris seemed to think of him as a kind of god, and gave him all the tough dirty jobs.
And if he wasn't just lucky any more, Malone couldn't think of himself as a Fearless, Heroic FBI Agent, either. He just wasn't the type. He was—well, talented. That was the word, he told himself: talented. He had all these talents and they made him look like something spectacular to Burris and the other FBI men. But he wasn't, really. He hadn't done anything really tough to get his talents; they'd just happened to him.
Nobody, though, seemed to believe that. He heaved a little sigh and stepped into the waiting elevator.
There were, after all, he thought, compensations. He'd had some good times, and the talents did come in handy. And he did have his pick of the vacation schedule lately. And he'd met some lovely girls—
And besides, he told himself savagely as the elevator shot upward, he wasn't going to do anything except return to his office and read some reports and listen to some tapes. And then he was going to go home and sleep all night, peacefully. And in the morning Mitchell was going to call him up and tell him that the computer-secretaries needed nothing more than a little repair. He'd say they were getting old, and he'd be a little pathetic about it; but it wouldn't be anything serious. Malone would send out orders to get the machines repaired, and that would be that. And then the next case would be something both normal and exciting, like a bank robbery or a kidnapping involving a gorgeous blonde who would be so grateful to Malone that—
He had stepped out of the elevator and gone down the corridor without noticing it. He pushed at his own office door and walked into the outer room. The train of thought he had been following was very nice, and sounded very attractive indeed, he told himself.
Unfortunately, he didn't believe it. His prescient ability, functioning with its usual efficient aplomb, told Malone that things would not be better, or simpler, in the morning. They would be worse, and more complicated.
They would be quite a lot worse.
And, as usual, that prescience was perfectly accurate.
The telephone, Malone realized belatedly, had had a particularly nasty-sounding ring. He might have known it would be bad news.
As a matter of fact, he told himself sadly, he had known.
"Nothing at all wrong?" he said into the mouthpiece. "Not with any of the computers?" He blinked. "Not even one of them?"
"Not a thing," Mitchell said. "I'll be sending a report up to you in a little while. You read it; we put them through every test, and it's all detailed there."
"I'm sure you were very thorough," Malone said helplessly.
"Of course we were," Mitchell said. "Of course. And the machines passed every single test. Every one. Malone, it was beautiful."
"Goody," Malone said at random. "But there's got to be something—"
"There is, Malone," Fred said. "There is. I think there's definitely something odd going on. Something funny. I mean peculiar, not humorous."
"I thought so," Malone put in.
"Right," Fred said. "Malone, try and relax. This is a hard thing to say, and it must be even harder to hear. But—"
"Tell me," Malone said. "Who's dead? Who's been killed?"
"I know it's tough, Malone," Fred went on.
"Is everybody dead?" Malone said. "It can't be just one person, not from that tone in your voice. Has somebody assassinated the entire Senate? Or the President and his Cabinet? Or—"
"It's nothing like that, Malone," Fred said, in a tone that implied that such occurrences were really rather minor. "It's the machines."
"That's right," Fred said grimly. "After we checked them over and found they were in good shape, I asked for samples of both the input and the output of each machine. I wanted to do a thorough job."
"Congratulations," Malone said. "What happened?"
Fred took a deep breath. "They don't agree," he said.
"They don't?" Malone said. The phrase sounded as if it meant something momentous, but he couldn't quite figure out what. In a minute, he thought confusedly, it would come to him. But did he want it to?
"They definitely do not agree," Fred was saying. "The correlation is erratic; it makes no statistical sense. Malone, there are two possibilities."
"Tell me about them," Malone said. He was beginning to feel relieved. To Fred, the malfunction of a machine was more serious than the murder of the entire Congress. But Malone couldn't quite bring himself to feel that way about things.
"First," Fred said in a tense tone, "it's possible that the technicians feeding information to the machines are making all kinds of mistakes."
Malone nodded at the phone. "That sounds possible," he said. "Which ones?"
"All of them," Fred said. "They're all making errors—and they're all making about the same number of errors. There don't seem to be any real peaks or valleys, Malone; everybody's doing it."
Malone thought of the Varsity Drag and repressed the thought. "A bunch of fumblebums," he said. "All fumbling alike. It does sound unlikely, but I guess it's possible. We'll get after them right away, and—"
"Wait," Fred said. "There is a second possibility."
"Oh," Malone said.
"Maybe they aren't mistakes," Fred said. "Maybe the technicians are deliberately feeding the machine with wrong answers."
Malone hated to admit, even to himself, but that answer sounded a lot more probable. Machine technicians weren't exactly picked off the streets at random; they were highly trained for their work, and the idea of a whole crew of them starting to fumble at once, in a big way, was a little hard to swallow.
The idea of all of them sabotaging the machines they worked on, Malone thought, was a tough one to take, too. But it had the advantage of making some sense. People, he told himself dully, will do nutty things deliberately. It's harder to think of them doing the same nutty things without knowing it.
"Well," he said at last, "however it turns out, we'll get to the bottom of it. Frankly, I think it's being done on purpose."
"So do I," Fred said. "And when you find out just who's making the technicians do such things—when you find out who gives them their orders—you let me know."
"Let you know?" Malone said. "But—"
"Any man who would give false data to a perfectly innocent computer," Fred said savagely, "would ... would—" For a second he was apparently lost for comparisons. Then he finished: "Would kill his own mother." He paused a second and added, in an even more savage voice: "And then lie about it!"
* * * * *
The image on the screen snapped off, and Malone sat back in his chair and sighed. He spent a few minutes regretting that he hadn't chosen, early in life, to be a missionary to the Fiji Islanders, or possibly simply a drunken bum without any trouble, and then the report Mitchell had mentioned arrived. Malone picked it up without much eagerness, and began going through it carefully.
It was beautifully typed and arranged; somebody on Mitchell's team had obviously been up all night at the job. Malone admired the work, without being able to get enthusiastic about the contents. Like all technical reports, it tended to be boring and just a trifle obscure to someone who wasn't completely familiar with the field involved. Malone and cybernetics were not exactly bosom buddies, and by the time he finished reading through the report he was suffering from an extreme case of ennui.
There were no new clues in the report, either; Mitchell's phone conversation had covered all of the main points. Malone put the sheaf of papers down on his desk and looked at them for a minute as if he expected an answer to leap out from the pile and greet him with a glad cry, but nothing happened. Unfortunately, he had to do some more work.
The obvious next step was to start checking on the technicians who were working on the machines. Malone determined privately that he would give none of his reports to Fred Mitchell; he didn't like the idea of being responsible for murder, and that was the least Fred would do to someone who confused his precious calculators.
He picked up the phone, punched for the Records Division, and waited until a bald, middle-aged face appeared. He asked the face to send up the dossiers of the technicians concerned to his office. The face nodded.
"You want them right away?" it said in a mild, slightly scratchy voice.
"Sooner than right away," Malone said.
"They're coming up by messenger," the voice said.
Malone nodded and broke the connection. The technicians had, of course, been investigated by the FBI before they'd been hired, but it wouldn't do any harm to check them out again. He felt grateful that he wouldn't have to do all that work himself; he would just go through the dossiers and assign field agents to the actual checking when he had a picture of what might need to be checked.
He sighed again and leaned back in his chair. He put his feet up on the desk, remembered that he was entirely alone, and swung them down again. He fished in a private compartment in his top desk drawer, drew out a cigar and unwrapped it. Putting his feet back on the desk, he lit the cigar, drew in a cloud of smoke, and lapsed into deep thought.
Cigar smoke billowed around him, making strange, fantastic shapes in the air of the office. Malone puffed away, frowning slightly and trying to force the puzzle he was working on to make some sense.
It certainly looked as though something were going on, he thought. But, for the life of him, he couldn't figure out just what it was. After all, what could be anybody's purpose in goofing up a bunch of calculators the way they had? Of course, the whole thing could be a series of accidents, but the series was a pretty long one, and made Malone suspicious to start with. It was easier to assume that the goof-ups were being done deliberately.
Unfortunately, they didn't make much sense as sabotage, either.
Senator Deeds, for instance, had sent out a ten-thousand-copy form letter to his constituents, blasting an Administration power bill in extremely strong language, and asking for some comments on the Deeds-Hartshorn Air Ownership Bill, a pending piece of legislation that provided for private, personal ownership, based on land title, to the upper stratosphere—with a strong hint that rights of passage no longer applied without some recompense to the owner of the air. Naturally, Deeds had filed the original with a computer-secretary to turn out ten thousand duplicate copies, and the machine had done so, folding the copies, slipping them into addressed envelopes and sending them out under the senator's franking stamp.
The addresses on the envelopes, however, had not been those of the senator's supporters. The letter had been sent to ten thousand stockholders in major airline companies, and the senator's head was still ringing from the force of the denunciatory letters, telegrams and telephone calls he'd been getting.
* * * * *
And then there was Representative Follansbee of South Dakota. A set of news releases on the proposed Follansbee Waterworks Bill contained the statement that the artificial lake which Follansbee proposed in the Black Hills country "be formed by controlled atomic power blasts, and filled with water obtained from collecting the tears of widows and orphans."
Newsmen who saw this release immediately checked the bill. The wording was exactly the same. Follansbee claimed that the "widows and orphans" phrase had appeared in his speech on the bill, and not in the proposed bill itself. "It's completely absurd," he said, with commendable calm, "to consider this method of filling an artificial lake." Unfortunately, the absurdity was now contained in the bill, which would have to go back to committee for redefinition, and probably wouldn't come up again in the present session of Congress. Judging from the amount of laughter that had greeted the error when it had come to light, Malone privately doubted whether any amount of redefinition was going to save it from a landslide defeat.
Representative Keller of Idaho had made a speech which contained so many errors in fact that newspaper editorials, and his enemies on the floor of Congress, cut him to pieces with ease and pleasure. Keller complained of his innocence and said he'd gotten his facts from a computer-secretary, but this didn't save him. His re-election was a matter for grave concern in his own party, and the opposition was, naturally, tickled. They would not, Malone thought, dare to be tickled pink.
And these were not the only casualties. They were the most blatant foul-ups, but there were others, such as the mistake in numbering of a House Bill that resulted in a two-month delay during which the opposition to the bill raised enough votes to defeat it on the floor. Communications were diverted or lost or scrambled in small ways that made for confusion—including, Malone recalled the perfectly horrible mixup that resulted when a freshman senator, thinking he was talking to his girlfriend on a blanked-vision circuit, discovered he was talking to his wife.
The flow of information was being blocked by bottlenecks that suddenly existed where there had never been bottlenecks before.
And it wasn't only the computers, Malone knew. He remembered the reports the senators and representatives had made. Someone forgot to send an important message here, or sent one too soon over there. Both courses were equally disturbing, and both resulted in more snarl-ups. Reports that should have been sent in weeks before arrived too late; reports meant for the eyes of only one man were turned out in triplicate and passed all over the offices of Congress.
Each snarl-up was a little one. But, together, they added up to inefficiency of a kind and extent that hadn't been seen, Malone told himself with some wonder, since the Harding administration fifty years before.
And there didn't seem to be anyone to blame anything on.
Malone thought hopefully of sabotage, infiltration and mass treason, but it didn't make him feel much better. He puffed out some more smoke and frowned at nothing.
There was a knock at the door of his office.
Speedily and guiltily, he swung his feet off the desk and snatched the cigar out of his mouth. He jammed it into a deep ashtray and put the ashtray back into his desk drawer. He locked the drawer, waved ineffectively at the clouds of smoke that surrounded him, and said in a resigned voice: "Come in."
The door opened. A tall, solidly built man stood there, wearing a fringe of beard and a cheerful expression. The man had an enormous amount of muscle distributed more or less evenly over his chunky body, and a potbelly that looked as if he had swallowed a globe of the world. In addition, he was smoking a cigarette and letting out little puffs of smoke, rather like a toy locomotive.
"Well, well," Malone said, brushing feebly at the smoke that still wreathed him faintly. "If it isn't Thomas Boyd, the FBI's answer to Nero Wolfe."
"And if the physique holds true, you're Sherlock Holmes, I suppose," Boyd said.
Malone shook his head, thinking sadly of his father and the cigar. "Not exactly," he said. "Not ex—" And then it came to him. It wasn't that he was ashamed of smoking cigars like his father, exactly—but cigars just weren't right for a fearless, dedicated FBI agent. And he had just thought of a way to keep Boyd from knowing what he'd been doing. "That's a hell of a cigarette you're smoking, by the way," he said.
Boyd looked at it. "It is?" he said.
"Sure is," Malone said, hoping he sounded sufficiently innocent. "Smells like a cigar or something."
Boyd sniffed the air for a second, his face wrinkled. Then he looked down at his cigarette again. "You're right, Ken. It does smell like a cigar." He came over to Malone's desk, looked around for an ashtray and didn't find one, and finally went to the window and tossed the cigarette out into the Washington breeze. "How are things, anyhow, Ken?" he said.
"Things are confused," Malone said. "Aren't they always?"
Boyd came back to the desk and sat down in a chair at one side of it. He put his elbow on the desk. "Sure they are," he said. "I'm confused myself, as a matter of fact. Only I think I know where I can get some help."
"Really?" Malone said.
Boyd nodded. "Burris told me I might be able to get some information from a certain famous and highly respected person," he said.
"Well, well," Malone said. "Who?"
"You," Boyd said.
"Oh," Malone said, trying to look disappointed, flattered and modest all at the same time. "Well," he went on after a second, "anything I can do—"
"Burris thought you might have some answers," Boyd said.
"Burris is getting optimistic in his old age," Malone said. "I don't even have many questions."
Boyd nodded. "Well," he said, "you know this California thing?"
"Sure I do," Malone said. "You're looking into the resignation out there, aren't you?"
"Senator Burley," Boyd said. "That's right. But Senator Burley's resignation isn't all of it, by any means."
"It isn't?" Malone said, trying to sound interested.
"Not at all," Boyd said. "It goes a lot deeper than it looks on the surface. In the past year, Ken, five senators have announced their resignations from the Senate of the United States. It isn't exactly a record—"
"It sounds like a record," Malone said.
"Well," Boyd said, "there was 1860 and the Civil War, when a whole lot of senators and representatives resigned all at once."
"Oh," Malone said. "But there isn't any Civil War going on now. At least," he added, "I haven't heard of any."
"That's what makes it so funny," Boyd said. "Of course, Senator Burley said it was ill health, and so did two others, while Senator Davidson said it was old age."
"Well," Malone said, "people do get old. And sick."
"Sure," Boyd said. "The only trouble is—" He paused. "Ken," he said, "do you mind if I smoke? I mean, do you mind the smell of cigars?"
"Mind?" Malone said. "Not at all. Not at all." He blinked. "Besides," he added, "maybe this one won't smell like a cigar."
"Well, the last one did," Boyd said. He took a cigarette out of a pack in his pocket, and lit it. He sniffed. "You know," he said, "You're right. This one doesn't."
"I told you," Malone said. "Must have been a bad cigarette. Spoiled or something."
"I guess so," Boyd said vaguely. "But about these retirements—the FBI wanted me to look into it because of Burley's being mixed up with the space program scandal last year. Remember?
"Vaguely," Malone said. "I was busy last year."
"Sure you were," Boyd said. "We were both busy getting famous and well-known."
Malone grinned. "Go on with the story," he said.
Boyd puffed at his cigarette. "Anyhow, we couldn't find anything really wrong," he said. "Three senators retiring because of ill health, one because of old age. And Farnsworth, the youngest. He had a nervous breakdown."
"I didn't hear about it," Malone said.
Boyd shrugged. "We hushed it up," he said. "But Farnsworth's got delusions of persecution. He apparently thinks somebody's out to get him. As a matter of fact, he thinks everybody's out to get him."
"Now that," Malone said, "sounds familiar."
Boyd leaned back a little more in his chair. "Here's the funny thing, though," he said. "The others all act as if they're suspicious of everybody who talks to them. Not anything obvious, you understand. Just—worried. Apprehensive. Always looking at you out of the corners of their eyes. That kind of thing."
Malone thought of Senator Lefferts, who was also suffering from delusions of persecution—delusions that had real evidence to back them up. "It does sound funny," he said cautiously.
"Well, I reported everything to Burris," Boyd went on. "And he said you were working on something similar, and we might as well pool our resources."
"Here we go again," Malone said. He took a deep breath, filling his nostrils with what remained of the cigar odor in the room, and felt more peaceful. Quickly, he told Boyd about what had been happening in Congress. "It seems pretty obvious," he finished, "that there is some kind of a tie-up between the two cases."
"Maybe it's obvious," Boyd said, "But it is just a little bit odd. Fun and games. You know, Ken, Burris was right."
"How?" Malone said.
"He said everything was all mixed up," Boyd went on. "He told me the country was going to Rome in a handbasket, or something like that."
Wondering vaguely if Burris had really been predicting mass religious conversions, Malone nodded silently.
"And he's right," Boyd said. "Look at the newspapers. Everything's screwy lately."
"Everything always is screwy," Malone said.
"Not like now," Boyd said. "So many big-shot gangsters have been killed lately we might as well bring back Prohibition. And the labor unions are so busy with internal battles that they haven't had time to go on strike for over a year."
"Is that bad?" Malone said.
Boyd shrugged. "God knows," he said. "But it's sure confusing as all hell."
"And now," Malone said, "with all that going on—"
"The Congress of the United States decides to go off its collective rocker," Boyd finished. "Exactly." He stared down at his cigarette for a minute with a morose and pensive expression on his face. He looked, Malone thought, like Henry VIII trying to decide what to do about all these here wives.
Then he looked up at Malone. "Ken," he said in a strained voice, "there seem to be a lot of nutty cases lately."
Malone considered. "No," he said at last. "It's just that when a nutty one comes along, we get it."
"That's what I mean," Boyd said. "I wonder why that is."
Malone shrugged. "It takes a thief to catch a thief," he said.
"But these aren't thieves," Boyd said. "I mean—they're just nutty." He paused. "Oh," he said.
"And, two thieves are better than one," Malone said.
"Anyhow," Boyd said with a small, gusty sigh, "it's company."
"Sure," Malone said.
Boyd looked for an ashtray, failed again to find one, and walked over to flip a second cigarette out onto Washington. He came back to his chair, sat down, and said: "What's our next step, Ken?"
Malone considered carefully. "First," he said finally, "we'll start assuming something. We'll start assuming that there is some kind of organization behind all this—behind all the senators' resignations and everything like that."
"It sounds like a big assumption," Boyd said.
Malone shook his head. "It isn't really," he said. "After all, we can't figure it's the work of one person: it's too widespread for that. And it's silly to assume that everything's accidental."
"All right," Boyd said equably. "It's an organization."
"Trying to subvert the United States," Malone went on. "Reducing everything to chaos. And that brings in everything else, Tom. That brings in the unions and the gang wars and everything."
Boyd blinked. "How?" he said.
"Obvious," Malone said. "Strife brought on by internal confusion—that's what's going on all over. It's the same pattern. And if we assume an organization trying to jam up the United States, it even makes sense." He leaned back and beamed.
"Sure it makes sense," Boyd said. "But who's the organization?"
"If I were doing the picking," Boyd said, "I'd pick the Russians. Or the Chinese. Or both. Probably both."
"It's a possibility," Malone said. "Anyhow, if it's sabotage, who else would be interested in sabotaging the United States? There's some Russian or Chinese organization fouling up Congress, and the unions, and the gangs. Come to think of it, why the gangs? It seems to me that if you left the professional gangsters strong, it would do even more to foul things up."
"Who knows?" Boyd said. "Maybe they're trying to get rid of American gangsters so they can import some of their own."
"That doesn't make any sense," Malone said, "but I'll think about it. In the meantime, we have one more interesting question."
"We do?" Boyd said.
"Sure we do," Malone said. "The question is: How?"
Boyd said: "Hm-m-m." Then there was silence for a little while.
"How are the saboteurs doing all this?" Malone said. "It just doesn't seem very probable that all the technicians in the Senate Office Building, for instance, are spies. It makes even less sense that the labor unions are composed mostly of spies. Or, for that matter, the Mafia and the organizations like it. What would spies be doing in the Mafia?"
"Learning Italian," Boyd said instantly.
"Don't be silly," Malone said. "If there were that many spies in this country, the Russians wouldn't have to fight at all. They could vote the Communists into power—and by a nice big landslide, too."
"Wait a minute," Boyd said. "If there aren't so many spies, then how is all this getting done?"
Malone beamed. "That's the question," he said. "And I think I have the answer."
"You do?" Boyd said. After a second he said: "Oh, no."
"Suppose you tell me," Malone said.
Boyd opened his mouth. Nothing emerged. He shut it. A second passed and he opened it again. "Magic?" he said weakly.
"Not exactly," Malone said cheerfully. "But you're getting warm."
Boyd shut his eyes. "I'm not going to stand for it," he announced. "I'm not going to take any more."
"Any more what?" Malone said. "Tell me what you have in mind."
"I won't even consider it," Boyd said. "It haunts me. It gets into my dreams. Now, look, Ken: I can't even see a pitchfork any more without thinking of Greek letters."
Malone took a breath. "Which Greek letter?" he said.
"You know very well," Boyd said. "What a pitchfork looks like. Psi. And I'm not even going to think about it."
"Well," Malone said equably, "you won't have to. If you'd rather start with the Russian spy end of things, you can do that."
"What I'd rather do," Boyd said, "is resign."
"Next year," Malone said instantly. "For now, you can wait around until the dossiers come up—they're for the Senate Office Building technicians, and they're on the way. You can go over them, and start checking on any known Russian agents in the country for contacts. You can also start checking on the dossiers, and in general for any hanky-panky."
Boyd blinked. "Hanky-panky?" he said.
"It's a perfectly good word," Malone said, offended. "Or two words. Anyhow, you can start on that end, and not worry about anything else."
"It's going to haunt me," Boyd said.
"Well," Malone said, "eat lots of ectoplasm and get enough sleep, and everything will be fine. After all, I'm going to have to do the real end of the work—the psionics end. I may be wrong, but—"
He was interrupted by the phone. He flicked the switch and Andrew J. Burris' face appeared on the screen.
"Malone," Burris said instantly, "I just got a complaint from the State Department that ties in with your work. Their translator has been acting up."
Malone couldn't say anything for a minute.
"Malone," Burris went on. "I said—"
"I heard you," Malone said. "And it doesn't have one."
"It doesn't have one what?" Burris said.
"A pig-Latin circuit," Malone said. "What else?"
Burris' voice was very calm. "Malone," he said, "what does pig-Latin have to do with anything?"
"I said one of the State Department translators was acting up," Burris said. "If you want details—"
"I don't think I can stand them," Malone said.
"Some of the Russian and Chinese releases have come through with the meaning slightly altered," Burris went on doggedly. "And I want you to check on it right away. I—"
"Thank God," Malone said.
Burris blinked. "What?"
"Never mind," Malone said. "Never mind. I'm glad you told me, Chief. I'll get to work on it right away, and—"
"You do that, Malone," Burris said. "And stop calling me Chief! Do I look like an Indian? Do I have feathers in my hair?"
"Anything," Malone said grandly, "is possible." He broke the connection in a hurry.
The summer sun beat down on the white city of Washington, D. C. as if it had mistaken its instructions slightly, and was convinced that the city had been put down somewhere in the Sahara. The sun seemed confused, Malone thought. If this were the Sahara, obviously there was no reason whatever for the Potomac to be running through it. The sun was doing its best to correct this small error, however, by exerting even more heat in a valiant attempt to dry up the river.
Its attempt was succeeding, at least partially. The Potomac was still there, but quite a lot of it was not in the river bed any more. Instead, it had gone into the air, which was so humid by now that Malone was willing to swear that it was splashing into his lungs at every inhalation. Resisting an impulse to try the breast-stroke, he stood in the full glare of the straining sun, just outside the Senate Office Building. He looked across at the Capitol, squinting his eyes manfully against the glare of its dome in the brightness.
The Capitol was, at any rate, some relief from the sight of Thomas Boyd and a group of agents busily grilling two technicians. That was going on in the Senate Office Building, and Malone had come over to watch the proceedings. Everything had been set up in what Malone considered the most complicated fashion possible. A big room had been turned into a projection chamber, and films were being run off over and over. The films, taken by hidden cameras watching the computer-secretaries, had caught two technicians red-handed punching errors into the machines. Boyd had leaped on this evidence, and he and his crew were showing the movies to the technicians and questioning them under bright lights in an effort to break down their resistance.
But it didn't look as though they were going to have any more success than the sun was having, turning Washington into the Sahara. After all, Malone told himself, wiping his streaming brow, there were no Pyramids in Washington. He tried to discover whether that made any sense, but it was too much work. He went back to thinking about Boyd.
The technicians were sticking to their original stories, that the mistakes had been honest ones. It sounded like a sensible idea to Malone; after all, people did make mistakes. And the FBI didn't have a single shred of evidence to prove that the technicians were engaged in deliberate sabotage. But Boyd wasn't giving up. Over and over he got the technicians to repeat their stories, looking for discrepancies or slips. Over and over he ran off the films of their mistakes, looking for some clue, some shred of evidence.
Even the sight of the Capitol, Malone told himself sadly, was better than any more of Boyd's massive investigation techniques.
He had come out to do some thinking. He believed, in spite of a good deal of evidence to the contrary, that his best ideas came to him while walking. At any rate, it was a way of getting away from four walls and from the prying eyes and anxious looks of superiors. He sighed gently, crammed his hat onto his head and started out.
Only a maniac, he reflected, would wear a hat on a day like the one he was swimming through. But the people who passed him as he trudged onward to no particular destination didn't seem to notice; they gave him a fairly wide berth, and seemed very polite, but that wasn't because they thought he was nuts, Malone knew. It was because they knew he was an FBI man.
That was the result of an FBI regulation. All agents had to wear hats. Malone wasn't sure why, and his thinking on the matter had only dredged up the idea that you had to have a hat in case somebody asked you to keep something under it. But the FBI was firm about its rulings. No matter what the weather, an agent wore a hat. Malone thought bitterly that he might just as well wear a red, white and blue luminous sign that said FBI in great winking letters, and maybe a hooting siren, too. Still, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was not supposed to be a secret organization—no matter what occasional critics might say. And the hats, at least as long as the weather remained broiling, were enough proof of that for anybody.
Malone could feel water collecting under his hat and soaking his head. He removed the hat quickly, wiped his head with a handkerchief and replaced the hat, feeling as if he had become incognito for a few seconds. The hat was back on now, feeling official but terrible, and about the same was true of the fully-loaded Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolver which hung in his shoulder holster. The harness chafed at his shoulder and chest and the weight of the gun itself was an added and unwelcome burden.
But even without the gun and the hat, Malone did not feel exactly chipper. His shirt and undershirt were no longer two garments, but one, welded together by seamless sweat and plastered heavily and not too skillfully to his skin. His trouser legs clung damply to calves and thighs, rubbing as he walked, and at the knees each trouser leg attached and detached itself with the unpleasant regularity of a wet bastinado. Inside Malone's shoes, his socks were completely awash, and he seemed to squish as he walked. It was hard to tell, but there seemed to be a small fish in his left shoe. It might, he told himself, be no more than a pebble or a wrinkle in his sock. But he was willing to swear that it was swimming upstream.
And the forecast, he told himself bitterly, was for continued warm.
He forced himself to take his mind off his own troubles and get back to the troubles of the FBI in general, such as the problem at hand. It was an effort, but he frowned and kept walking, and within a block he was concentrating again on the psi powers.
* * * * *
Psi, he told himself, was behind the whole mess. In spite of Boyd's horrified refusal to believe such a thing, Malone was sure of it. Three years ago, of course, he wouldn't have considered the notion either. But since then a great many things had happened, and his horizons had widened. After all, capturing a double handful of totally insane, if perfectly genuine telepaths, from asylums all over the country, was enough by itself to widen quite a few stunned horizons. And then, later, there had been the gang of juvenile delinquents. They had been perfectly normal juvenile delinquents, stealing cars and bopping a stray policeman or two. It just happened, though, that they had solved the secret of instantaneous teleportation, too. This made them just a trifle unusual.
In capturing them, Malone, too, had learned the teleportation secret. Unlike Boyd, he thought, or Burris, the idea of psionic power didn't bother him much. After all, the psionic spectrum—if it was a spectrum at all—was just as much a natural phenomenon as gravity, or magnetism.
It was just a little hard for some people to get used to.
And, of course, he didn't fully understand how it worked, or why. This put him in the position, he told himself, of an Australian aborigine. He tried to imagine an Australian aborigine in a hat on a hot day, decided the aborigine would have too much sense, and got back off the subject again.
However, he thought grimly, there was this Australian aborigine. And he had a magnifying glass, which he'd picked up from the wreck of some ship. Using that—assuming that experience, or a friendly missionary, taught him how—he could manage to light a fire, using the sun's thermonuclear processes to do the job. Malone doubted that the aborigine knew anything about thermonuclear processes, but he could start a fire with them.
As a matter of fact, he told himself, the aborigine didn't understand oxidation, either. But he could use that fire, when he got it going. In spite of his lack of knowledge, the aborigine could use that nice, hot, burning fire ...
Hurriedly, Malone pried his thoughts away from aborigines and heat, and tried to focus his mind elsewhere. He didn't understand psionic processes, he thought; but then, nobody did, really, as far as he knew. But he could use them.
And, obviously, somebody else could use them, too.
Only what kind of force was being used? What kind of psionic force would it take to make so many people in the United States goof up the way they were doing?
That, Malone told himself, was a good question, a basic and an important question. He was proud of himself for thinking of it.
Unfortunately, he didn't have the answer.
But he thought he knew a way of getting one.
It was perfectly true that nobody knew much about how psionics worked. For that matter, nobody knew very much about how gravity worked. But there was still some information—and, in the case of psionics, Malone knew where it was to be found.
It was to be found in Yucca Flats, Nevada.
It was, of course, true that Nevada would probably be even hotter than Washington, D. C. But there was no help for that, Malone told himself sadly; and, besides, the cold chill of the expert himself would probably cool things off quite rapidly. Malone thought of Dr. Thomas O'Connor, the Westinghouse psionics expert and frowned. O'Connor was not exactly what might be called a friendly man.
But he did know more about psionics than anyone else Malone could think of. And his help had been invaluable in solving the two previous psionic cases Malone had worked on.
For a second he thought of calling O'Connor, but he brushed that thought aside bravely. In spite of the heat of Yucca Flats, he would have to talk to the man personally. He thought again of O'Connor's congealed personality, and wondered if it would really be effective in combating the heat. If it were, he told himself, he would take the man right back to Washington with him, and plug him into the air-conditioning lines.
He sighed deeply, thought about a cigar and decided regretfully against it, here on the public street where he would be visible to anyone. Instead, he looked around him, discovered that he was only a block from a large, neon-lit drugstore and headed for it. Less than a minute later he was in a phone booth.
* * * * *
The operators throughout the country seemed to suffer from heat prostration, and Malone was hardly inclined to blame them. But, all the same, it took several minutes for him to get through to Dr. O'Connor's office, and a minute or so more before he could convince a security-addled secretary that, after all, he would hardly blow O'Connor to bits over the long-distance phone.
Finally the secretary, with a sigh of reluctance, said she would see if Dr. O'Connor were available. Malone waited in the phone booth, opening the door every few seconds to breathe. The booth was air-conditioned, but remained for some mystical reason an even ten degrees above the boiling point of Malone's temper.
Finally Dr. O'Connor's lean, pallid face appeared on the screen. He had not changed since Malone had last seen him. He still looked, and acted, like one of Malone's more disliked law professors.
"Ah," the scientist said in a cold, precise voice. "Mr. Malone. I am sorry for our precautions, but you understand that security must be served."
"Sure," Malone said.
"Being an FBI man, of course you would," Dr. O'Connor went on, his face changing slightly and his voice warming almost to the boiling point of nitrogen. It was obvious that the phrase was Dr. O'Connor's idea of a little joke, and Malone smiled politely and nodded. The scientist seemed to feel some friendliness toward Malone, though it was hard to tell for sure. But Malone had brought him some fine specimens to work with—telepaths and teleports, though human, being no more than specimens to such a very precise scientific mind—and he seemed grateful for Malone's diligence and effort in finding such fascinating objects of study.
That Malone certainly hadn't started out to find them made, it appeared, very little difference.
"Well, then," O'Connor said, returning to his normal, serious tone, "what can I do for you, Mr. Malone?"
"If you have the time, doctor," Malone said respectfully, "I'd like to talk to you for a few minutes." He had the absurd feeling that O'Connor was going to tell him to stop by after class, but the scientist only nodded.
"Your call is timed very well," he said. "As it happens, Mr. Malone, I do have a few seconds to spare just now."
"Fine," Malone said.
"I should be glad to talk with you," O'Connor said, without looking any more glad than ever.
"I'll be right there," Malone said. O'Connor nodded again, and blanked out. Malone switched off and took a deep, superheated breath of phone booth air. For a second he considered starting his trip from outside the phone booth, but that was dangerous—if not to Malone, then to innocent spectators. Psionics was by no means a household word, and the sight of Malone leaving for Nevada might send several citizens straight to the wagon. Which was not a place, he thought judiciously, for anybody to be on such a hot day.
He closed his eyes for a fraction of a second. In that time he reconstructed from memory a detailed, three-dimensional, full-color image of Dr. O'Connor's office in his mind. It was perfect in detail; he checked it over mentally and then, by a special effort of will, he gave himself the psychic push that made the transition possible.
When he opened his eyes, he was in O'Connor's office, standing in front of the scientist's wide desk. He hoped nobody had been looking into the phone booth at the instant he had disappeared; but he was reasonably sure he'd been unobserved. People didn't go around peering into phone booths, after all, and he had seen no one.
O'Connor looked up without surprise. "Ah," he said. "Sit down, Mr. Malone." Malone looked around for the chair, which was an uncomfortably straight-backed affair, and sat down in it gingerly. Remembering past visits to O'Connor, he was grateful for even the small amount of relaxation the hard wood afforded him. O'Connor had only recently unbent to the point of supplying a spare chair in his office for visitors, and, apparently, especially for Malone. Perhaps, Malone thought, it was more gratitude for the lovely specimens.
Malone still felt uncomfortable, but tried bravely not to show it. He felt slightly guilty, too, as he always did when he popped into O'Connor's office without bothering to stay spacebound. By law, after all, he knew he should check in and out at the main gate of the huge, ultra-top-secret government reservation whenever he visited Yucca Flats. But that meant wasting a lot of time and going through a lot of trouble. Malone had rationalized it out for himself that way, and had got just far enough to do things the quick and easy way, and not quite far enough to feel undisturbed about it. After all, he told himself grimly, anything that saved time and trouble increased the efficiency of the FBI, so it was all to the good.
He swallowed hard. "Dr. O'Connor—" he began.
O'Connor looked up again. "Yes?" he said. He'd had plenty of practice in watching people appear and disappear, between Malone and the specimens Malone had brought him; he was beyond surprise or shock by now.
"I came here to talk to you," Malone began again.
O'Connor nodded, a trifle impatiently. "Yes," he said. "I know that."
"Well—" Malone thought fast. Presenting the case to O'Connor was impossible; it was too complicated, and it might violate governmental secrecy somewhere along the line. He decided to wrap it up in a hypothetical situation. "Doctor," he said, "I know that all the various manifestations of the psi powers were investigated and named long before responsible scientists became interested in the subject."
"That," O'Connor said with some reluctance, "is true." He looked sad, as if he wished they'd waited on naming some of the psionic manifestations until he'd been born and started investigating them. Malone tried to imagine a person doing something called O'Connorizing, and decided he was grateful for history.
"Well, then—" he said.
"At least," O'Connor cut in, "it is true in a rather vague and general way. You see, Mr. Malone, any precise description of a psionic manifestation must wait until a metalanguage has grown up to encompass it; that is, until understanding and knowledge have reached the point where careful and accurate description can take place."
"Oh," Malone said helplessly. "Sure." He wondered if what O'Connor had said meant anything, and decided that it probably did, but he didn't want to know about it.
"While we have not yet reached that point," O'Connor said, "we are approaching it in our experiments. I am hopeful that, in the near future—"
"Well," Malone cut in desperately, "sure. Of course. Naturally."
* * * * *
Dr. O'Connor looked miffed. The temperature of the room seemed to drop several degrees, and Malone swallowed hard and tried to look ingratiating and helpful, like a student with nothing but A's on his record.
Before O'Connor could pick up the thread of his sentence, Malone went on: "What I mean is something like this. Picking up the mental activity of another person is called telepathy. Floating in the air is called levitation. Moving objects around is psychokinesis. Going from one place to another instantaneously is teleportation. And so on."
"The language you use," O'Connor said, still miffed, "is extremely loose. I might go so far as to say that the statements you have made are, essentially, meaningless as a result of their lack of rigor."
Malone took a deep breath. "Dr. O'Connor," he said, "you know what I mean, don't you?"
"I believe so," O'Connor said, with the air of a king granting a pardon to a particularly repulsive-looking subject in the lowest income brackets.
"Well, then," Malone said. "Yes or no?"
O'Connor frowned. "Yes or no what?" he said.
"I" Malone blinked. "I meant, the things have names," he said at last. "All the various psionic manifestations have names."
"Ah," O'Connor said. "Well. I should say." He put his fingertips together and stared at a point on the white ceiling for a second. "Yes," he said at last.
Malone breathed a sigh of relief. "Good," he said. "That's what I wanted to know." He leaned forward. "And if they all do have names," he went on, "what is it called, when a large group of people are forced to act in a certain manner?"
O'Connor shrugged. "Forced?" he said.
"Forced by mental power," Malone said.
There was a second of silence.
"At first," O'Connor said, "I might think of various examples: the actions of a mob, for example, or the demonstrations of the Indian Rope Trick, or perhaps the sale of a useless product through television or through other advertising." Again his face moved, ever so slightly, in what he obviously believed to be a smile. "The usual name for such a phenomenon is 'mass hypnotism,' Mr. Malone," he said. "But that is not, strictly speaking, a psi phenomenon at all. Studies in that area belong to the field of mob psychology; they are not properly in my scope." He looked vastly superior to anything and everything that was outside his scope. Malone concentrated on looking receptive and understanding.
"Yes?" he said.
O'Connor gave him a look that made Malone feel he'd been caught cribbing during an exam, but the scientist said nothing to back up the look. Instead, he went on: "I will grant that there may be an amplification of the telepathic faculty in the normal individual in such cases."
"Good," Malone said doubtfully.
"Such an amplification," O'Connor went on, as if he hadn't heard, "would account for the apparent ... ah ... mental linkage that makes a mob appear to act as a single organism during certain periods of ... ah ... stress." He looked judicious for a second, and then nodded. "However," he said, "other than that, I would doubt that there is any psionic force involved."
Malone spent a second or two digesting O'Connor's reply. "Well," he said at last, "I'm not sure that's what I meant. I mean, I'm not sure I meant to ask that question." He took a breath and decided to start all over. "It's not like a mob," he said, "with everybody all doing the same thing at the same time. It's more like a group of men, all separated, without any apparent connections between any of the men. And they're all working toward a common goal. All doing different things, but all with the same objective. See?"
"Of course I do," O'Connor said flatly. "But what you're suggesting—" He looked straight at Malone. "Have you had any experience of this ... phenomenon?"
"Experience?" Malone said.
"I believe you have had," O'Connor said. "Such a concept could not have come to you in a theoretical manner. You must be involved with an actual situation very much like the one you describe."
Malone swallowed. "Me?" he said.
"Mr. Malone," O'Connor said. "May I remind you that this is Yucca Flats? That the security checks here are as careful as anywhere in the world? That I, myself, have top-security clearance for my special projects? You do not need to watch your words here."
"It's not security," Malone said. "Anyhow, it's not only security. But things are pretty complicated."
"I assure you," O'Connor said, "that I will be able to understand even events which you feel are complex."
Malone swallowed again, hard. "I didn't mean—" he started.
"Please, Mr. Malone," O'Connor said. His voice was colder than usual. Malone had the feeling that he was about to take the extra chair away. "Go on," O'Connor said. "Explain yourself."
Malone took a deep breath. He started with the facts he'd been told by Burris, and went straight through to the interviews of the two computer-secretary technicians by Boyd and Company.
It took quite a while. By the time he had finished, O'Connor wasn't looking frozen any more; he'd apparently forgotten to keep the freezer coils running. Instead, his face showed frank bewilderment, and great interest. "I never heard of such a thing," he said. "Never. Not at any time."
O'Connor shook his head. "I have never heard of a psionic manifestation on that order," he said. It seemed to be a painful admission. "Something that would make a random group of men co-operate in that manner—why, it's completely new."
"It is?" Malone said, wondering if, when it was all investigated and described, it might be called O'Connorizing. Then he wondered how anybody was going to go about investigating it and describing it, and sank even deeper into gloom.
"Completely new," O'Connor said. "You may take my word." Then, slowly, he began to brighten again, with all the glitter of newly-formed ice. "As a matter of fact," he said, in a tone more like his usual one, "Mr. Malone, I don't think it's possible."
"But it happened," Malone said. "It's still happening. All over."
O'Connor's lips tightened. "I have given my opinion," he said. "I do not believe that such a thing is possible. There must be some other explanation."
"All right," Malone said agreeably. "I'll bite. What is it?"
O'Connor frowned. "Your levity," he said, "is uncalled-for."
Malone shrugged. "I didn't mean to be—" he paused. "Anyhow, I didn't mean to be funny," he went on. "But I would like to have another idea of what's causing all this."
"Scientific theories," O'Connor said sternly, "are not invented on the spur of the moment. Only after long, careful thought—"
"You mean you can't think of anything," Malone said.
"There must be some other explanation," O'Connor said. "Naturally, since the facts have only now been presented to me, it is impossible for me to display at once a fully constructed theory."
Malone nodded slowly. "O.K.," he said. "Have you got any hints, then? Any ideas at all?"
O'Connor shook his head. "I have not," he said. "But I strongly suggest, Mr. Malone, that you recheck your data. The fault may very well lie in your own interpretations of the actual facts."
"I don't think so," Malone said.
O'Connor grimaced. "I do," he said firmly.
Malone sighed, very faintly. He shifted in the chair and began to realize, for the first time, just how uncomfortable it really was. He also felt a little chilly, and the chill was growing. That, he told himself, was the effect of Dr. O'Connor. He no longer regretted wearing his hat. As a matter of fact, he thought wistfully for a second of a small, light overcoat.
O'Connor, he told himself, was definitely not the warm, friendly type.
"Well, then," he said, conquering the chilly feeling for a second, "maybe there's somebody else. Somebody who knows something more about psionics, and who might have some other ideas about—"
"Please, Mr. Malone," O'Connor said. "The United States Government would hardly have chosen me had I not been uniquely qualified in my field."
Malone sighed again. "I mean ... maybe there are some books on the subject," he said quietly, hoping he sounded tactful. "Maybe there's something I could look up."
"Mr. Malone." The temperature of the office, Malone realized, was definitely lowering. O'Connor's built-in freezer coils were working overtime, he told himself. "The field of psionics is so young that I can say, without qualification, that I am acquainted with everything written on the subject. By that, of course, I mean scientific works. I do not doubt that the American Society for Psychical Research, for instance, has hundreds of crackpot books which I have never read, or even heard of. But in the strictly scientific field, I must say that—"
He broke off, looking narrowly at Malone with what might have been concern, but looked more like discouragement and boredom.
"Mr. Malone," he said, "are you ill?"
Malone thought about it. He wasn't quite sure, he discovered. The chill in the office was bothering him more and more, and as it grew he began to doubt that it was all due to the O'Connor influence. Suddenly a distinct shudder started somewhere in the vicinity of his shoulders and rippled its way down his body.
Another one followed it, and then a third.
"Me?" Malone said. "I'm ... I'm all right."
"You seem to have contracted a chill," O'Connor said.
A fourth shudder followed the other three.
"I ... guess so," Malone said. "I d-d ... I do s-seem to be r-r-rather chilly."
O'Connor nodded. "Ah," he said. "I thought so. Although a chill is certainly odd at seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit." He looked at the thermometer just outside the window of his office, then turned back to Malone. "Pardon me," he said. "Seventy-one point six."
"Is ... is that all it is?" Malone said. Seventy-one point six degrees, or even seventy-two, hardly sounded like the broiling Nevada desert he'd expected.
"Of course," O'Connor said. "At nine o'clock in the morning, one would hardly expect great temperatures. The desert becomes quite hot during the day, but cools off rapidly; I assume you are familiar with the laws covering the system."
"Sure," Malone said. "S-sure."
The chills were not getting any better. They continued to travel up and down his body with the dignified regularity of Pennsylvania Railroad commuter trains.
O'Connor frowned for a second. It was obvious that his keen scientific eye was sizing up the phenomenon, and reporting events to his keen scientific brain. In a second or less, the keen scientific brain had come up with an answer, and Dr. O'Connor spoke in his very keenest scientific voice.
"I should have warned you," he said, without an audible trace of regret. "The answer is childishly simple, Mr. Malone. You left Washington at noon."
"Just a little before noon," Malone said. Remembering the burning sun, he added: "High noon. Very high."
"Just so," O'Connor said. "And not only the heat was intense; the humidity, I assume, was also high."
"Very," Malone said, thinking back. He shivered again.
"In Washington," O'Connor said, "it was noon. Here it is nine o'clock, and hardly as warm. The atmosphere is quite arid, and about twenty degrees below that obtaining in Washington."
Malone thought about it, trying to ignore the chills. "Oh," he said at last. "And all the time I thought it was you."
"What?" O'Connor leaned forward.
"Nothing," Malone said hastily.
"My suggestion," O'Connor said, putting his fingertips together again, "is that you take off your clothes, which are undoubtedly damp, and—"
Naturally, Malone had not brought any clothes to Yucca Flats to change into. And when he tried to picture himself in a spare suit of Dr. O'Connor's, the picture just wouldn't come. Besides, the idea of doing a modified strip-tease in, or near, the O'Connor office was thoroughly unattractive.
"Well," he said slowly, "thanks a lot, doctor, but no thanks. I really have a better idea."
"Better?" O'Connor said.
"Well, I—" Malone took a deep breath and shut his eyes.
He heard Dr. O'Connor say: "Well, Mr. Malone—good-by. And good luck."
Then the office in Yucca Flats was gone, and Malone was standing in the bedroom of his own apartment, on the fringes of Washington, D. C.
He walked over to the wall control and shut off the air-conditioning in a hurry. He threw open a window and breathed great gulps of the hot, humid air from the streets. In a small corner at the back of his mind, he wondered why he was grateful for the air he had suffered under only a few minutes before. But that, he reflected, was life. And a very silly kind of life, too, he told himself without rancor.
In a few minutes he left the window, somewhat restored, and headed for the shower. When it was running nicely and he was under it, he started to sing. But his voice didn't sound as much like the voice of Lauritz Melchior as it usually did, not even when he made a brave, if foolhardy stab at the Melchior accent. Slowly, he began to realize that he was bothered.
He climbed out of the shower and started drying himself. Up to now, he thought, he had depended on Dr. Thomas O'Connor for edifying, trustworthy and reasonably complete information about psionics and psi phenomena in general. He had looked on O'Connor as a sort of living version of an extremely good edition of the Britannica, always available for reference.
And now O'Connor had failed him. That, Malone thought, was hardly fair. O'Connor had no business failing him—particularly when there was no place else to go.
The scientist had been right, of course, Malone knew. There was no other scientist who knew as much about psionics as O'Connor, and if O'Connor said there were no books, then that was that: there were no books.
He reached for a drawer in his dresser, opened it and pulled out some underclothes, humming tunelessly under his breath as he dressed. If there was no one to ask, he thought, and if there were no books—
He stopped with a sock in his hand, and stared at it in wonder. O'Connor hadn't said there were no books. As a matter of fact, Malone realized, he'd said exactly the opposite.
There were books. But they were "crackpot" books. O'Connor had never read them. He had, he said, probably never even heard of many of them.
"Crackpot" was a fighting word to O'Connor. But to Malone it had all the sweetness of flattery. After all, he'd found telepaths in insane asylums, and teleports among the juvenile delinquents of New York. "Crackpot" was a word that was rapidly ceasing to have any meaning at all in Malone's mind.
He realized that he was still staring at the sock, which was black with a gold clock. Hurriedly, he put it on, and finished dressing. He reached for the phone and made a few fast calls, and then teleported himself to his locked office in FBI Headquarters, on East Sixty-ninth Street in New York. He let himself out, and strolled down the corridor. The agent-in-charge looked up from his desk as Malone passed, blinked, and said: "Hello, Malone. What's up now?"
"I'm going prowling," Malone said. "But there won't be any work for you, as far as I can see."
"Just relax," Malone said. "Breathe easy."
"I'll try to," the agent-in-charge said, a little sadly. "But every time you show up, I think about that wave of red Cadillacs you started. I'll never feel really secure again."
"Relax," Malone said. "Next time it won't be Cadillacs. But it might be spirits, blowing on ear-trumpets. Or whatever it is they do."
"Spirits, Malone?" the agent-in-charge said.
"No, thanks," Malone said sternly. "I never drink on duty." He gave the agent a cheery wave of his hand and went out to the street.
* * * * *
The Psychical Research Society had offices in the Ravell Building, a large structure composed mostly of plate glass and anodized aluminum that looked just a little like a bright blue, partially transparent crackerbox that had been stood on end for purposes unknown. Having walked all the way down to this box on Fifty-sixth Street, Malone had recovered his former sensitivity range to temperature and felt pathetically grateful for the coolish sea breeze that made New York somewhat less of an unbearable Summer Festival than was normal.
The lobby of the building was glittering and polished, as if human beings could not possibly exist in it. Malone took an elevator to the sixth floor, stepped out into a small, equally polished hall, and hurriedly looked off to his right. A small door stood there, with a legend engraved in elegantly small letters. It said:
The Psychical Research Society Push
Malone obeyed instructions. The door swung noiselessly open, and then closed behind him.
He was in a large square-looking room which had a couch and chair set at one corner, and a desk at the far end. Behind the desk was a brass plate, on which was engraved:
The Psychical Research Society Main Offices
To Malone's left was a hall that angled off into invisibility, and to the left of the desk was another one, going straight back past doors and two radiators until it ran into a right-angled turn and also disappeared.
Malone took in the details of his surroundings almost automatically, filing them in his memory just in case he ever needed to use them.
One detail, however, required more than automatic attention. Sitting behind the desk, her head just below the brass plaque, was a redhead. She was, Malone thought, positively beautiful. Of course, he could not see the lower two-thirds of her body, but if they were half as interesting as the upper third and the face and head, he was willing to spend days, weeks or even months on their investigation. Some jobs, he told himself, feeling a strong sense of duty, were definitely worth taking time over.
She was turned slightly away from Malone, and had obviously not heard him come in. Malone wondered how best to announce himself, and regretfully gave up the idea of tiptoeing up to the girl, placing his hands over her eyes, kissing the back of her neck and crying: "Surprise!" It was elegant, he felt, but it just wasn't right.
He compromised at last on the old established method of throat-clearing to attract her attention. He was sure he could take it from there, to an eminently satisfying conclusion.
He tiptoed on the deep-pile rug right up to her desk.
And the expected happened.
The sneeze was loud and long, and it echoed through the room and throughout the corridors. It sounded to Malone like the blast of a small bomb, or possibly a grenade. Startled himself by the volume of sound he had managed to generate, he jumped back.
The girl had jumped, too—but her leap had been straight upward, about an inch and a half. She came down on her chair and reached up a hand. The hand wiped the back of her neck with a slow, lingering motion of complete loathing. Then, equally slowly, she turned.
"That," she said in a low, sweet voice, "was a dirty trick."
"It was an accident," Malone said.
She regarded Malone darkly. "Do you always do that to strangers? Is it some new sort of perversion?"
"I have never done such a thing before," Malone said sternly.
"Oh," the girl said. "An experimenter. Avid for new sensations. Probably a jaded scion of a rich New York family." She paused. "Tell me," she said. "Is it fun?"
Malone opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He shut it, thought for a second and then tried again. He got as far as: "I—" before Nemesis overtook him. The second sneeze was even louder and more powerful than the first had been.
"It must be fun," the girl said acidly, producing a handkerchief from somewhere and going to work on her face. "You just can't seem to wait to do it again. Would it do any good to tell you that the fascination with this form of greeting is not universal? Or don't you care?"
Malone said, goaded, "I've got a cold."
"And you feel you should share it with the world," the girl said. "I quite understand. Tell me, is there anything I can do for you? Or has your mission been accomplished?"
"My mission?" Malone said.
"Having sneezed twice at me," the girl said, "do you now feel satisfied? Will you vanish softly and silently away? Or do you want to sneeze at somebody else?"
"I want the President of the Society," Malone said. "According to my information, his name is Sir Lewis Carter."
"And if you sneeze at him," the girl said, "yours is going to be mud. He isn't much on novelty."
"Besides which," she said, "he's extremely busy. And I don't think he'll see you at all. Why don't you go and sneeze at somebody else? There must be lots of people who would consider themselves honored to be noticed, especially in such a startling way. Why don't you try and find one somewhere? Somewhere very far away?"
Malone was beyond speech. He fumbled for his wallet, flipped it open and showed the girl his identification.
"My, my," she said. "And hasn't the FBI anything better to do? I mean, can't you go and sneeze at counterfeiters in their lairs, or wherever they might be?"
"I want to see Sir Lewis Carter," Malone said doggedly.
The girl shrugged and picked up the phone on her desk. It was a blank-vision device, of course; many office intercoms were. She dialed, waited and then said: "Sir Lewis, please." Another second went by. Then she spoke again. "Sir Lewis," she said, "this is Lou, at the front desk. There's a man here named Malone, who wants to see you."
She waited a second. "I don't know what he wants," she told the phone. "But he's from the FBI." A second's pause. "That's right, the FBI," she said. "All right, Sir Lewis. Right away." She hung up the phone and turned to watch Malone warily.
"Sir Lewis," she said, "will see you. I couldn't say why. But take the side corridor to the rear of the suite. His office has his name on it, and I won't tell you you can't miss it because I have every faith that you will. Good luck."
Malone blinked. "Look," he said. "I know I startled you, but I didn't mean to. I—" He started to sneeze, but this time he got his own handkerchief out in time and muffled the explosion slightly.
"Good work," the girl said approvingly.
* * * * *
There was nothing at all to say to that remark, Malone reflected as he wended his way down the side corridor. It seemed endless, and kept branching off unexpectedly. Once he blundered into a large open room filled with people at desks. A woman who seemed to have a great many teeth and rather bulbous eyes looked up at him. "Can I help you?" she said in a fervent whine.
"I sincerely hope not," Malone said, backing away and managing to find the corridor once more. After what seemed like a long time, and two more sneezes, he found a small door which was labeled in capital letters:
THE PSYCHICAL RESEARCH SOCIETY SIR LEWIS CARTER PRESIDENT
Malone sighed. "Well," he muttered, "they certainly aren't hiding anything." He pushed at the door, and it swung open.
Sir Lewis was a tall, solidly-built man with a kindly expression. He wore gray flannel trousers and a brown tweed jacket, which made an interesting color contrast with his iron-gray hair. His teeth were clenched so firmly on the bit of a calabash pipe with a meerschaum bowl that Malone wondered if he could ever get loose. Malone shut the door behind him, and Sir Lewis rose and extended a hand.
Malone went to the desk and reached across to take the hand. It was firm and dry. "I'm Kenneth Malone," Malone said.
"Ah, yes," Sir Lewis said. "Pleased to meet you; always happy, of course, to do whatever I can for your FBI. Not only a duty, so to speak, but a pleasure. Sit down. Please do sit down."
Malone found a chair at the side of the desk, and sank into it. It was soft and comfortable. It provided such a contrast to O'Connor's furnishings that Malone began to wish it was Sir Lewis who was employed at Yucca Flats. Then he could tell Sir Lewis everything about the case.
Now, of course, he could only hedge and try to make do without stating very many facts. "Sir Lewis," he said, "I trust you'll keep this conversation confidential."
"Naturally," Sir Lewis said. He removed the pipe, stared at it, and replaced it.
"I can't give you the full details," Malone went on, "but the FBI is presently engaged in an investigation which requires the specialized knowledge your organization seems to have."
"FBI?" Sir Lewis said. "Specialized investigation?" He seemed pleased, but a trifle puzzled. "Dear boy, anything we have is at your disposal, of course. But I quite fail to see how you can consider us—"
"It's rather an unusual problem," Malone said, feeling that that was the understatement of the year. "But I understand that your records go back nearly a century."
"Quite true," Sir Lewis murmured.
"During that time," Malone said, "the Society investigated a great many supposedly supernatural or supernormal incidents."
"Many of them," Sir Lewis said, "were discovered to be fraudulent, I'm afraid. The great majority, in fact."
"That's what I'd assume," Malone said. He fished in his pockets, found a cigarette and lit it. Sir Lewis went on chewing at his unlit pipe. "What we're interested in," Malone said, "is some description of the various methods by which these frauds were perpetrated."
"Ah," Sir Lewis said. "The tricks of the trade, so to speak?"
"Exactly," Malone said.
"Well, then," Sir Lewis said. "The luminous gauze, for instance, that passes for ectoplasm; the various methods of table-lifting; control of the ouija board—things like that?"
"Not quite that elementary," Malone said. He puffed on the cigarette, wishing it was a cigar. "We're pretty much up to that kind of thing. But had it ever occurred to you that many of the methods used by phony mind-reading acts, for instance, might be used as communication methods by spies?"
"Why, I believe some have been," Sir Lewis said. "Though I don't know much about that, of course; there was a case during the First World War—"
"Exactly," Malone said. He took a deep breath. "It's things like that we're interested in," he said, and spent the next twenty minutes slowly approaching his subject. Sir Lewis, apparently fascinated, was perfectly willing to unbend in any direction, and jotted down notes on some of Malone's more interesting cases, murmuring: "Most unusual, most unusual," as he wrote.
The various types of phenomena that the Society had investigated came into the discussion, and Malone heard quite a lot about the Beyond, the Great Summerland, Spirit Mediums and the hypothetical existence of fairies, goblins and elves.