"Look down," the visitor commanded Mersey. "Shut your eyes. Don't let him see me."
But Mersey continued to be held by the doctor's eyes. The visitor cowered back into the crazed mental tangle.
Gradually, then, his fear ebbed. There was more likelihood that Cloyd did not believe Mersey's words than that he did. The doctor treated hundreds of patients and surely many of them had delusions as fanciful as this one might seem.
The traveler's alarm simmered down until he was capable of appreciating the irony of the situation.
But at the same time, he thought with pain, "Is it our fate that of all the millions of creatures on this world, we can establish communication only through the insane? And even then to have only imperfect control of the mind and, worse, to have it become a transmitter for our most secret thoughts?"
It was heartbreaking.
Dr. Cloyd broke the long silence. Pulling at his ear, he spoke calmly and matter-of-factly: "Let me see if I understand your problem, Mersey. You believe yourself to be from another world, from which you have traveled, although not physically. Your world is not a material one, as far as its people are concerned. Your civilization is a mental one, which has been placed in danger. You must resettle your people, but this cannot be done here, on Earth, except in the minds of the mentally ill--and that would not be a satisfactory solution. Have I stated the case correctly?"
"Yes," Mersey's voice said over the traveler's mental protests. "Except that it is not a 'case,' as you call it. I am not Mersey. He is merely a vehicle for my thoughts. I am not here to be treated or cured, as the human being Mersey is. I'm here with a life-or-death problem affecting an entire race, and I would not be talking to you except that, at the moment, I'm trapped and confused."
The madman was doing it again, the traveler thought helplessly--spilling out his knowledge, betraying him and his kind. Was there no way to muffle him?
"I must admit that I'm confused myself," Dr. Cloyd said. "Humor me for a moment while I think out loud. Let me consider this in my own framework, first, and then in yours, without labeling either one absolutely true or false.
"You see," the doctor went on, "this is a world of vitality. My world--Earth. Its people are strong. Their bodies are developed as well as their minds. There are some who are not so strong, and some whose minds have been injured. But for the most part, both the mind and the body are in balance. Each has its function, and they work together as a coordinated whole. My understanding of your world, on the other hand, is that it's in a state of imbalance, where the physical has deteriorated almost to extinction and the mind has been nurtured in a hothouse atmosphere. Where, you might say, the mind has fed on the decay of the body."
"No," said Mersey, voicing the traveler's conviction. "You paint a highly distorted picture of our world."
"I theorize, of course," Dr. Cloyd agreed. "But it's a valid theory, based on intimate knowledge of my own world and what you've told me of yours."
"You make a basic error, I think," Mersey said, speaking for the unwilling visitor. "You assume that I have been able to make contact only with this deranged mind. That is wrong. I have shared the experiences of many of you--a man, a boy, a woman about to bear a child. Even a cat. And with each of these, my mind has been perfectly attuned. I was able to share and enjoy their experiences, their pleasures, to love with them and to fear, although they had no knowledge of my presence.
"Only since I came to this poor mind have I failed to achieve true empathy. I have been shocked by his madness and I've tried to resist it, to help him overcome it. But I've failed and it apparently has imprisoned me. Whereas I was able to leave the minds of the others almost at will, with poor Mersey I'm trapped. I can't transfer to you, for instance, as I could normally from another. If there's a way out, I haven't found it. Have you a theory for this?"
In spite of his distress at these revelations, the traveler was intrigued, now that they had been voiced for him, and he was eager to hear Dr. Cloyd's interpretation of them.
The psychiatrist took a pipe out of his pocket, filled it, lighted it and puffed slowly on it until it was drawing well.
"Continuing to accept your postulate that you're not Mersey, but an alien inhabiting his mind," the doctor said finally, "I can enlarge on my theory without changing it in any basic way.
"Your world is not superior to ours, much as it may please you to believe that it is. Nature consists of a balance, and that balance must hold true whether in Sioux City, or Mars, or in the fourth dimension, or in your world, wherever that may be. Your world is out of balance. Evidently it has been going out of balance for some time.
"Your salvation lies not in further evolution in your world--since your way of evolving proved wrong, and may prove fatal--but in a change in course, back along the evolutionary path to a society which developed naturally, with the mind and the body in balance. That society is the one you have found here, in our world. You found it pleasant and attractive, you say, but that doesn't mean you're suited to it.
"Nature's harsh rules may have operated to let you observe a way of life here that you enjoy, but to exclude you otherwise--except from a mind that is not well. In nature's balance, it could be that the refuge on this world most closely resembling your needs is in the mind of the psychotic. One conclusion could be that your race is mentally ill--by our standards, if not by yours--and that the type of person here most closely approximating your way of life is one with a disordered mind."
Dr. Cloyd paused. Mersey had no immediate reply.
The traveler made use of the silence to consider this plausible, but frightening theory. To accept the theory would be to accept a destiny of madness here on this world, although the doctor had been kind enough to draw a distinction between madness in one dimension and a mere lack of natural balance in another.
Mersey again seized upon the traveler's mind and spoke its thoughts. But as he spoke, he voiced a conclusion which the traveler had not yet admitted even to himself.
"Then the answer is inescapable," Mersey said, his tone flat and unemotional. "It is theoretically possible for all of our people to migrate to this world and find refuge of a sort. But if we established ourselves in the minds of your normal people, we'd be without will. As mere observers, we'd become assimilated in time, and thus extinguished as a separate race. That, of course, we could not permit. And if we settled in the minds most suitable to receive us, we would be in the minds of those who by your standards are insane--whose destiny is controlled by the others. Here again we could permit no such fate.
"That alone would be enough to send me back to my people to report failure. But there is something more--something I don't think you will believe, for all your ability to synthesize acceptance of another viewpoint."
"And what is that?"
"First I must ask a question. In speaking to me now, do you still believe yourself to be addressing Mersey, your fellow human being, and humoring him in a delusion? Or do you think you are speaking through him to me, the inhabitant of another world who has borrowed his mind?"
The doctor smiled and took time to relight his pipe.
"Let me answer you in this way," he said. "If I were convinced that Mersey was merely harboring a delusion that he was inhabited by an alien being, I would accept that situation clinically. I would humor him, as you put it, in the hope that he'd be encouraged to talk freely and perhaps give me a clue to his delusion so I could help him lose it. I would speak to him--or to you, if that were his concept of himself--just as I am speaking now.
"On the other hand, if I were convinced by the many unusual nuances of our conversation that the mind I was addressing actually was that of an alien being--I would still talk to you as I am talking now."
The doctor smiled again. "I trust I have made my answer sufficiently unsatisfactory."
The visitor's reaction was spoken by Mersey. "On the contrary, you have unwittingly told me what I want to know. You'd want your answer to be satisfactory if you were speaking to Mersey, the lunatic. But because you'd take delight in disconcerting me by scoring a point--something you wouldn't do with a patient--you reveal acceptance of the fact that I am not Mersey. Your rules would not permit you to give him an unsatisfactory answer."
"Not quite," contradicted Dr. Cloyd, still smiling. "To Mersey, my patient, troubled by his delusion and using all his craft to persuade both of us of its reality, the unsatisfactory answer would be the satisfactory one."
Mersey's voice laughed. "Dr. Cloyd, I salute you. I will leave your world with a tremendous respect for you--and completely unsure of whether you believe in my existence."
"I am leaving, you know," Mersey's voice replied.
The traveler by now was resigned to letting the patient be his medium and speak his thoughts. Thus far, he had spoken them all truly, if somewhat excessively. The traveler thought he knew why, now, and expected Mersey to voice the reason for him very shortly. He did.
"I'm leaving because I must report failure and advise my people to look elsewhere for a new home. Part of the reason for that failure I haven't yet mentioned: "Although it might appear that I, the visitor, am manipulating Mersey to speak the thoughts I wished to communicate, the facts are almost the opposite. My control over either Mersey's body or mind is practically nil.
"What you have been hearing and what you hear even now are the thoughts I am thinking--not necessarily the ones I want you to know. What has happened is this, if I may borrow your theory: "My mind has invaded Mersey's, but his human vitality is too strong to permit him to be controlled by it. In fact, the reverse is true. His vitality is making use of my mind for its own good, and for the good of your human race. His own mind is damaged badly, but his healthy body has taken over and made use of my mind. It is using my mind to make it speak against its will--to speak the thoughts of an alien without subterfuge, as they actually exist in truth. Thus I am helplessly telling you all about myself and the intentions of my people.
"What is in operation in Mersey is the human body's instinct of self-preservation. It is utilizing my mind to warn you against that very mind. Do you see? That would be the case, too, if a million of us invaded a million minds like Mersey's. None of us could plot successfully against you, if that were our desire--which, of course, it is--because the babbling tongues we inherited along with the bodies would give us away."
The doctor no longer smiled. His expression was grave now.
"I don't know," he said. "Now I am not sure any longer. I'm not certain that I follow you--or whether I want to follow you. I think I'm a bit frightened."
"You needn't be. I'm going. I'll say good-by, in your custom, and thank you for the hospitality and pleasures your world has given me. And I suppose I must thank Mersey for the warning of doom he's unknowingly given my people, poor man. I hope you can help him."
"I'll try," said Dr. Cloyd, "though I must say you've complicated the diagnosis considerably."
"Good-by. I won't be back, I promise you."
"I believe you," said the doctor. "Good-by."
Mersey slumped back on the couch. He looked up at the ceiling, vacantly.
For a long time there was no sound in the room.
Then the doctor said: "Mersey."
There was no answer. The man continued to lie there motionless, breathing normally, looking at the ceiling.
"Mersey," said the doctor again. "How do you feel?"
The man turned his head. He looked at the doctor with hostility, then went back to his contemplation of the ceiling.
"Drop dead," he muttered.
THE VERY SECRET AGENT.
By Mari Wolf
Poor Riuku!... Not being a member of the human race, how was he supposed to understand what goes on in a woman's mind when the male of the same species didn't even know?
In their ship just beyond the orbit of Mars the two aliens sat looking at each other.
"No," Riuku said. "I haven't had any luck. And I can tell you right now that I'm not going to have any, and no one else is going to have any either. The Earthmen are too well shielded."
"You contacted the factory?" Nagor asked.
"Easily. It's the right one. The parking lot attendant knows there's a new weapon being produced in there. The waitress at the Jumbo Burger Grill across the street knows it. Everybody I reached knows it. But not one knows anything about what it is."
Nagor looked out through the ports of the spaceship, which didn't in the least resemble an Earth spaceship, any more than what Nagor considered sight resembled the corresponding Earth sense perception. He frowned.
"What about the research scientists? We know who some of them are. The supervisors? The technicians?"
"No," Riuku said flatly. "They're shielded. Perfectly I can't make contact with a single mind down there that has the faintest inkling of what's going on. We never should have let them develop the shield."
"Have you tried contacting everyone? What about the workers?"
"Shielded. All ten thousand of them. Of course I haven't checked all of them yet, but--"
"Do it," Nagor said grimly. "We've got to find out what that weapon is. Or else get out of this solar system."
Riuku sighed. "I'll try," he said.
Someone put another dollar in the juke box, and the theremins started in on Mare Indrium Mary for the tenth time since Pete Ganley had come into the bar. "Aw shut up," he said, wishing there was some way to turn them off. Twelve-ten. Alice got off work at Houston's at twelve. She ought to be here by now. She would be, if it weren't Thursday. Shield boosting night for her.
Why, he asked himself irritably, couldn't those scientists figure out some way to keep the shields up longer than a week? Or else why didn't they have boosting night the same for all departments? He had to stay late every Friday and Alice every Thursday, and all the time there was Susan at home ready to jump him if he wasn't in at a reasonable time....
"Surprised, Pete?" Alice Hendricks said at his elbow.
He swung about, grinned at her. "Am I? You said it. And here I was about to go. I never thought you'd make it before one." His grin faded a little. "How'd you do it? Sweet-talk one of the guards into letting you in at the head of the line?"
She shook her bandanaed head, slid onto the stool beside him and crossed her knees--a not very convincing sign of femininity in a woman wearing baggy denim coveralls. "Aren't you going to buy me a drink, honey?"
"Oh, sure." He glanced over at the bartender. "Another beer. No, make it two." He pulled the five dollars out of his pocket, shoved it across the bar, and looked back at Alice, more closely this time. The ID badge, pinned to her hip. The badge, with her name, number, department, and picture--and the little meter that measured the strength of her Mind Shield.
The dial should have pointed to full charge. It didn't. It registered about seventy per cent loss.
Alice followed his gaze. She giggled. "It was easy," she said. "The guards don't do more than glance at us, you know. And everyone who's supposed to go through Shielding on Thursday has the department number stamped on a yellow background. So all I did was make a red background, like yours, and slip it on in the restroom at Clean-up time."
"But Alice...." Pete Ganley swallowed his beer and signaled for another. "This is serious. You've got to keep the shields up. The enemy is everywhere. Why, right now, one could be probing you."
"So what? The dial isn't down to Danger yet. And tomorrow I'll just put the red tag back on over the yellow one and go through Shielding in the same line with you. They won't notice." She giggled again. "I thought it was smart, Petey. You oughta think so too. You know why I did it, don't you?"
Her round, smooth face looked up at him, wide-eyed and full-lipped. She had no worry wrinkles like Susan's, no mouth pulled down at the corners like Susan's, and under that shapeless coverall....
"Sure, baby, I'm glad you did it," Pete Ganley said huskily.
Riuku was glad too, the next afternoon when the swing shift started pouring through the gates.
It was easy, once he'd found her. He had tested hundreds, all shielded, some almost accessible to him, but none vulnerable enough. Then this one came. The shield was so far down that contact was almost easy. Painful, tiring, but not really difficult. He could feel her momentary sense of alarm, of nausea, and then he was through, integrated with her, his thoughts at home with her thoughts.
He rested, inside her mind.
"Oh, hi, Joan. No, I'm all right. Just a little dizzy for a moment. A hangover? Of course not. Not on a Friday."