It was during dinner on the Moon that he and Pierce loosened up for the first time since the ambush. Pierce had been comparatively silent since the chess game on the trip back and Bryce too, whether in sympathy with him or in a naturally parallel mood, had little to say. But now the tension had diffused and, with the stimulus of aromatic food, they climbed out of their depression of emotional solemnity.
The decorations of the dining room were lush. While they ate, the materialism of their lives was reinforced. From silvered-and-tapestried wall to wall there was life here, low-keyed with excitement in the blend of subdued talk and the shifting artistry of lights and music. Their table was almost in the center of the islands of tables and potted trees, and around them were the diners, their voices washing up at them both, inviting them with gentle tugs to surrender their resistance, beckoning them into the sea of simple pleasures.
"We owe ourselves some fun, Bryce."
At Pierce's words, Bryce sharpened his eyes on the face across the table. There was a touch of seriousness in those words; more like a statement than a suggestion.
Pierce smiled wryly and took a vial out of his pocket and poured it into his drink. He spun the empty bottle between thumb and fingers.
"We owe ourselves some fun," Pierce repeated. "We've nothing on the fire tonight, nothing to do that's crucial. It's a good night to experiment."
The warm voice waves lapping at Bryce's mind suddenly receded and left a chill. With instinctive wariness he thought of hypnotics and single-shot addictors.
Pierce couldn't have missed the emotionless freeze on the other's face. Still twirling the vial casually, he began to explain. It was a new drug, he said, found being used by a tribe in Central Africa. "I've heard of it for some time and what you mentioned a little while back reminded me of it."
Bryce caught the hidden reference. Central Africa--and the Manoba group. So Pierce had not dismissed the mind hunter from his thoughts as a problem to be easily dealt with.
"It's still in the testing stage," Pierce added. "But some of it is circulating among medical students. The tests have interesting effects. And, as I say, tonight's a good night to experiment, it's called B'nyab i'io."
The chill in Bryce's head and spine was thawing out. "You're not conning me?" He said it with a grin, but there was an edge to the question which demanded an answer.
Pierce gave it to him, for a brief moment deadly serious. "You couldn't get addicted if you swam in it."
Bryce believed him. He stared at the glass. "What does it do to the I.Q.? We've got to collect some information here and there this evening. I want to be able to read and talk." He smiled crookedly. "No worse than usual, that is."
"Either raises the I.Q. or leaves it alone."
"What's the effect?"
"It affects different people different ways. After hearing the reports I'd like to see how it hits us." Pierce pushed it towards him, grinning. "Leave half for me."
Bryce's wary thoughts touched poison and immunity and murder, but inwardly he began to scoff at his own habits of suspicion. However, before he could reach for the glass, Pierce had given a short snort as though in recognition of his presumptuousness and drank his own share first.
Then Bryce raised the cold glass to his lips.
As he put it down he could feel the change beginning to spread through his blood, warming and relaxing, bringing closer the memories of pleasure and good times. The restaurant was now completely seductive, with the surf of voices pleasant in his ears, calling to him to join the world and its offers of uncomplicated pleasures. He felt himself blending with the ethereal background mixture of light and sound.
"I like this," he decided.
"We should take notes." Pierce was smiling as he stuffed the empty vial back in his pocket.
The next day Bryce looked back on that evening with pleasure. Everyone had been remarkably pleasant, friendly and considerate, and Pierce had always had the right friendly word and gesture to reward them, speaking for Bryce, knowing his way around the cities of the Moon to the right places for the information they sought, always speaking for Bryce Carter, his employer, getting him the things he wanted, giving the orders he wanted to give before Bryce had even fully realized that he wanted them. Bryce had needed to say nothing the whole time except "Right. That's it," and everything went as he wanted it.
"A perfect left hand man," he smiled, stretching, and turned the polarization dial to let in the sunlight.
The telephone rang. He picked it up and the desk clerk said in a deferentially hushed voice, "Eight o'clock, Mister Carter."
For some reason the hushed voice struck him as funny. "Thanks, I'm up." He hung up and stretched again. It was soothing to have someone solicitous that he arose on time, if only a hotel. The hotel had given him a lot of good service. He felt suddenly grateful for all the pleasures and luxuries and small services they surrounded him with. It was a good place. He was feeling good that morning. Maybe because the sun was so bright....
He liked the look of the people passing in the lobby as Pierce joined him, and he liked the look of the passengers in the tube trains on the way to the office. They all looked more friendly. And as he pushed through the second glass door into his offices he liked the clean shine of the glass and the rich blended colors and soft rugs and gray textured desks and the soft efficient hum of work in progress.
Bryce usually passed Kesby's office with a businesslike nod, but Pierce smiled in, stopping for an instant with Bryce. "Good morning, Kesby. We're glad to see you." It was true enough and expressed what he felt.
Bryce exchanged a grin with Kesby at the boy's insolence and then went on into his office.
It was a good day.
It was a good day for what he had to do.
In the luxury of his inner office he sank into the deepest, softest chair, letting his cousin-from-Montehedo sort the mail, agreeing with the boy's suggestions for action or sometimes issuing his own instructions, keeping only half his mind on the routine day's business, relying on Pierce, and concentrating the other half on the deed to be done. The plan was set in his mind but he had changes to make.
He was barely conscious of the time slipping by as he lay, rarely moving, in his chair, while Pierce worked at top speed.
By one o'clock the deck was cleared for action.
Bryce stood up, stretched, and checked his watch again. It was 1304 hours. A telephone call was scheduled in about another hour, and five more successively about a half hour apart.
"Order us some lunch, Pierce, before I lift the drawbridge."
The food came in as he was instructing his staff to leave them undisturbed for the rest of the afternoon.
By the time they had finished eating, their isolation was complete. The office was a command post now, with only the slender, unattended telephone wires connecting them with the outside worlds.
Bryce moved over behind his desk. He drew the telephone toward him and dialed a number. Somewhere, in the locked safe, the phone rang.
From the case he took a toy dial phone. Pierce's eyes were on it, his eyebrows lifted quizzically, but Bryce offered no explanation. The boy was due for a series of surprises. And when it was over, he would know everything without any explanations, and too late to interfere.
"Hi Al," Bryce said to the recorded "Yeah?" at the other end. He dialed a number on the toy dial, the one receiver against the other's back. After the usual ritual, Bryce said, "Hello George, how's everything going?"
This is it, Bryce thought. This was the first part of the final blow to UT. And the only instrument he needed in his delightfully simple method was a telephone. Originally he had planned six brief warning calls to the six key numbers of the ground organization. He would tell them to refuse to take anything from the hands of the UT branch, and break contact with them immediately after accepting cash for miscellaneous items. That would set the stage.
The police trap would close on all members of the UT branch of the organization while they were encumbered with a maximum of incriminating objects to dispose of in too little time. Then would come his anonymous tip to the police. He'd inform them that certain employees of UT in a few listed cities would be found to be smuggling in large quantities of drugs. The thing would be so simple. And the whole works would blow up with the efficiency of the calculated explosion of nuclear reaction.
That had been his original plan.
But things would be different now. The morning in the easy chair had changed his approach. The newer, more elaborate program, still remarkably simple, would bring down the whole structure within UT without the help of the police, but by himself alone, planning it, initiating it, executing it with no one's help. Not even Pierce's.
He heard himself saying: "This is 'Hello George.' Listen to me and don't interrupt.
"Somebody has talked. I've been betrayed myself. Get that? Hello George is washed up. Right now the cops are tapping this line. It doesn't make any difference to me, now. But it does to you. This is an open warning from Hello George to you. Spread the word. I'll keep making calls until they break in on me and cut this line.
"Meanwhile, spread the word. Break connections with me and the whole organization. Get out of range before the trap closes. But pass on this warning first.
"I'll hold out against questioning a short time. The police will get me eventually, of course. And when they do they'll pump me dry. They'll get names and addresses. The whole works will get grabbed, unless you move fast. Spread the word."
Bryce paused and winked at Pierce who was standing at his elbow, "Any questions? Yes, I'm sure. Of course I'm sure. Any other questions? Good luck, Okay."
He hung up.
As Caesar once said, the dice were rolling.
Pierce, beside him through it all, simply stood there, his eyes wide and his face sharp with curiosity and incredulity, his body twitching now and then from the infection of the excitement which rippled over the room. That excitement had been there, though Bryce had not permitted himself to indulge in it in any visible way. He had showed Pierce a new facet to his operations, one which Pierce could not anticipate immediately, one in which only he, Bryce, could make the snap decisions and evaluate the immediate responses demanded of him.
That was with the first call.
With the second one Pierce began to contribute, rising to the occasion as he had so often and quickly done in the past. He began pacing up and down between calls, smoking furiously and laughing under his breath.
"Tell 'em the police are breaking down the door," he suggested during the third call. "Say you're hypnoed to hold out against questioning five days at the most, two hours more likely."
His suggestions were a howl. Bryce repeated them into the phone with counterfeit desperation and was rewarded by the sounds of panic at the other end. He and Pierce chortled over the frantic queries and exclamations from the victim. The whole thing, succinct and pointed and with the dramatic power of simplicity, was one super practical joke which would set the entire solar system scurrying around for the next few weeks.
The ramifications would be endless. Persons would vanish abruptly and take up new names and identities in the obscure countries, others would draw out their heavy savings and take the first rocket out from Earth. There would be a new influx of refugees to the Belt, new settlers to be honest farmers and factory workers and repair men.
Yes, the situation was dramatic.
The day was a good day.
But as Bryce hung up on the last call, a depressing sense of calamity, unsettlingly anti-climatic, began to press down on him. Pierce was talking about plans for the next week with an enthusiasm which should have been completely contagious.
But there was something wrong. There was something wrong.
What was it?
Bryce felt Pierce's enthusiasm catch at him and start to sweep him away. He savored the pleased glow produced by the shattering changes he had managed to cram into one day. With six telephone calls he had broken the drug ring completely and forever, broken it so completely that no member of it would ever have dealings with any member of it again. All of them were out of business, fleeing with the imaginary hounds of the law baying at their heels.
He smiled at the thought.
And then his smile faded for some strange reason and he ceased listening to Pierce for a moment, looked away and ceased listening, for hearing Pierce just then distracted oddly from the clarity of his thinking. He wanted to review what he had just done.
What was wrong?
He struggled with a mounting confusion, the desk top and telephones blurring as he tried to concentrate with desperate effort.
Unexpectedly the question sprang into focus. It was as if the room turned inside out, the day turned upside down.
He had smashed himself--not UT!
Why had he made those calls--changed his plans--and made those calls?
With the most perfect and terrible clarity he saw the results of what he had done. The organization destroyed. The contacts he had made fifteen years ago as an anonymous young dock hand, contacts that as Bryce Carter he could never make again--vanishing--merging with the great mass of the public--becoming gray unknown figures. The building of years melting like a sugar castle melts into the tide--the invisible army that had obeyed his sourceless voice without being able to blackmail or rebel, the perfectly balanced tool in his hands that could be used for the bribing of venal politicians, with a limitless fund for the bribery, the growing secret control of the most venal of the political machines of Earth, that by the time he needed it it would have been an irresistible weapon in his hand for the single swift political blow that would rip the Belt from Earth control, and give it a seat on the Assembly of the Federated Nations, and mastery of the solar system-- But as he sat there the organization dissolved.
He grasped the phone, but there was nobody to call now, no one would answer. He could never reach them again.
This was sanity now, but what had it been before when he was cheerfully destroying his future? It seemed to him that there were two halves to his brain, each wanting different things. For a moment the one that had controlled the day was gone, and he was sane again, but how long would that moment last? What sign had there been when it took control? Would he know it when it came again?
He remembered that in the tube train that morning he and Pierce had had a half joking argument about the best short-and-merry life. One of the happy ones on the list had been the INC agent, because they spent so much of their lives working into smuggling gangs that they had all the pleasures and profits of being a crook and an honest man too. Was that where he had slipped his cog?
Looking back on the things he had done that day he saw that much of it had fitted an abstract pattern of justice, as if he had been thinking of himself as an INC man. Or as if-- He thought of the things he had seen in his childhood that they had called zombies, and jeered at and tormented without fear of any retaliation or vengeance from their gray-faced victims. Imprisoned men--they looked normal--but they had been mentally imprisoned. Law-zombies, memorizing and following laws and being honest with a simple and terrifying literalness.
He had not known that he had any capacity for terror.
Bryce Carter. He had his name, his identity and his memory, and they were his own. Sometimes he had had nothing else, only the pride and strength of knowing his identity, that it was his and stronger than others, just as his hands were stronger, a thing they couldn't take from him.
Could they? There was a nightmare he had had more than once, that he remembered suddenly for the first time, with all its atmosphere of childish strangeness. The cop psychos were after him. He was trapped in a big room with lights and they had his head open and were chasing him around inside his head somehow, trying to catch him, and kill him, the him that lived in his mind.
Would he know if it was gone?
The black sharp-edged shadows of the crater walls were drawing across the landing plain outside, bringing to a close the two weeks of daylight, and the reflected sunlight was dimming in the room. He could hear the rumble of a heavy ship of a cargo fleet lowering in to a landing.
His assistant was sitting quietly on the edge of the desk as he had been for some time, motionlessly watching the thin plume of smoke that rose from a cigarette in his hand. He was as still as if he were listening for some subtle sound far away. Rocket jets flashed an orange glow through the venetian blinds and fell in stripes of orange light across the dark young face. The brief rumble of a rocket take-off came, transmitted through the ground and the building. Smoke curling up from the cigarette was the only motion.
"Roy, is Pierce your real name?"
The light flashed and faded in bars of orange across the young face he had thought was like his own, the boy he had thought had come from Pop Yak. The quick deep rumble of sound came and faded in the walls around them. A fleeting smile touched the face, and the dark eyes rested on his for a moment as Roy Pierce gave the information casually as if it were any other information, answering the question that had been meant. "It is my mother's name. We always take our mother's names. I am a Manoba--a Manoba of Jaracho."
Looking into Bryce's face he slid to his feet slowly, ground out the stub of his cigarette and stood before the desk.
Bryce took out his gun and held it where Pierce could see it. "Are Manobas ever shot?" It was a heavy little gun, his maggy, its barrel sleek and rounded, the heavy metal warm from being worn close to the skin.
"Sometimes. It's a natural enough reaction."
It was a spaceworthy gun with adjustable velocity for driving through padded suits and pressure suits. The velocity was set high, but it would be inartistic to blow a large hole through a psychotherapist. Bryce turned the dial down slowly, watching him.
"Do the professional ethics of privacy and non-publicity cover this kind of situation?"
Pierce was smiling slightly with a touch of bitter humor. "It's undiplomatic to tell you that, but yes, the contingency is covered. There is nothing to connect myself with you as a case in any records, nor anything to identify me as a member of the Manoba group contracted by your company. The ethic of privacy is allowed to have no exceptions for the family's record."
A cool curiosity held him. "Tell me--when you saw that I was beginning to think, why didn't you just needle me down for a short nap and leave?"
The smile remained. "I am supposed to control the shock of realization, and make sure that it is assimilated without damage to the subject." His dark expressionless eyes met Bryce's, and Bryce felt the impact of them, and realized for the first time that there was the same slight bitter off-hand smile on his own lips, and inwardly the quiet ironical mood with the still clarity of a deep pool. His own mood? He hefted the gun in his hand, feeling its weight and balance. "You could have done that over the televiewer," he pointed out dispassionately. "What is the average mortality, do you know?"
"Not high. It is only inexperience that is dangerous. If one can get through one's first three or four cases, it's safe enough."
Looking back over the past days it was quite clear that Pierce had control over his emotions. Any emotion Pierce chose him to feel he would feel. It remained to be seen how much that could influence what he was going to do. The dark-skinned young man stood before the desk casually and answered questions with a slight restrained smile that set the wry irony of both their minds.
A man does what he wants. That is freedom, but what he wanted could be controlled apparently. A man is what he wants. But what he wanted could be changed. How easy had it been to change him. Bryce tried himself with a thought of the power and glory of rule, the reign and mastery of space--a goal that had warmed his thoughts for many years.