He didn't want it.
There was a numbness where there should have been emotion, and all he could feel for his loss was the resignation and the faint bitter humor permitted him by Pierce's smile. Watching that smile he shifted the heavy little gun in his hand, turning it over casually, feeling its familiar weight and the texture of its surfaces.
He spoke gently. "If you don't mind my asking, have you passed through your first three cases yet?"
"You are my first," said Roy Pierce, whom he had trusted. "I'm afraid I was clumsy."
"Oh--you did all right." Bryce shot him then, placing the bullet carefully in the pit of his stomach where it would hurt. That was for doing well. For justice. No man has the right to meddle in another man's mind.
Pierce had been starting to speak. He swayed back a half step with a flicker of change crossing his face then stood steady and smiling again. That brief grimace touched Bryce's nerves with a sensation that was like the jangle of something heavy dropped inside a piano, a sound he had heard once. But the numbness did not lift from his feelings. He was still smiling. The third bullet would be between the eyes.
The words were low and rapid but clear.
Bryce did not listen. "This is for doing a good job," he said, overriding the other voice with his own, and pulled the trigger again, placing the slug slightly lower this time, in the belly, where if it entangled in one of the spinal plexus it could hurt past belief. Pierce swayed slightly. His face went to the clay-blue color that comes to dark-skinned races when they pale. Bleeding inside somewhere, and already dead unless he were given help, Bryce figured.
For a moment Bryce saw something like effort in the dark unreadable eyes. Then suddenly Pierce smiled, his young face disarmingly innocent and merry. "Oh, come on, Bryce, it's not that serious. Be a good sport. You don't want to--"
Suddenly Bryce saw the situation as the sheerest humor, a sort of lunatic farce for the laughter of some cosmic joker. He swung the gunsights up towards the smiling face. Amusement bubbled in his blood and he heard himself laugh--heard it with a grim secondary amusement.
"The joke's on you," he said, and pulled the trigger, then laughed again. The joke was on him.
He had missed. He had missed at a distance of three feet. Yet his hand was rock-steady. Pierce's control had him. His laughter stopped as the humor in Pierce's attitude faded down again to the small wry smile that had been there from the beginning.
Bryce had not lost. He had only to wait a little and he had won. Unless Pierce could use his control to force him to call help. He set himself to resist and not to listen. There was not long to go. The expressionless dark eyes that held his were beginning to widen slightly in an effort of sight that meant that a private darkness was closing in on the psychotherapist. The rumble of distant rockets seemed louder, covering his fading voice. "It's your choice, Bryce. I give it to you. You won't want this later--Bryce--but don't--hunger to undo. It is payment enough for all--times like this--that you change--and do not--want--them any--again--" Pierce pulled in a strangling breath, swaying more visibly. "Gun," he whispered, reaching out in Bryce's direction, his eyes going sightless.
Bryce handed him the magnomatic, and watched as Pierce fumbled his hands over it, putting his prints on it blindly, his knees bending.
When he fell, Bryce picked up the phone and called Emergency. The emergency squad would be cruising around in the halls somewhere nearby, looking for the source of the three radio notes that had told them that a gun was fired.
"That was the last I saw of him," the young man stopped talking and looked pleased with himself.
Donahue drained his drink irritably and put it on the bar that had been set up on the ceiling when the Gs went off. It clung magnetically. "Make it the same, please." He turned to Roy Pierce, floating beside him. "Stop needling me, man, finish the story. The way you tell it, I don't know what you did, how you did it, or even whether you died or not."
"Oh, I died," said Roy Pierce. "But they revived me," he added.
"Good! I'm glad to hear that!" said Donahue more cheerfully, wondering suddenly just how extensively he was being kidded. "For a moment there you had me worried. Now explain about this treatment."
"It's called soul eating," explained the dark-skinned, straight-haired boy, "I don't think you could do it."
Donahue thought that information over carefully. "Maybe not. How's it done?"
"In the tribes of my people the soul is supposed to be an invisible double who walks at your side, protecting you and speaking silently to your mind. Its face is the face that looks out of mirrors and up from pools at you, and the shadow that walks on the ground beside you. Evildoers, after they had spoken to a Manoba, would say that their reflections were gone. Our family was called The Eaters of Souls, and all the tribes were afraid of us for nine hundred miles around."
"So am I," said Donahue compactly. "As my Yiddish grandmother on my mother's side would say, it sounds from werewolves."
"I can explain it."
"Look," said the youth tersely, "Do I want to get kicked out of the FNMA? What if I had sat in a jungle circle loaded to the ears with herbs and spells, with the drums of my cousins throbbing around me, and learned the best and subtlest ways of my technique back in time looking through the eyes of my great grandfather, or conversing with his ghost. Do you think I would say so?"
"No," Donahue admitted. He edged away a little.
The youth spoke gloomily. "Rapport and intensified empathy is something you learn by exposing yourself to mirrors. The technique is published, known and accepted among psychologists, but most of them just don't try. It backfires too easily, and it takes too high a level of skill. It originated with my family." The youth spoke even more gloomily. "What I do is obvious enough if I make it so. It's simply prior mimicry. I watch the trend of what goes on in his thoughts, and express approximately what he is feeling and thinking a little before he does. So that presently, subconsciously he is depending on me to tell him what he thinks and how he feels.
"I was his mirror, his prior mirror. I am a clear, expressive underplaying actor as an actor, and each shade of reaction is separate and unmistakable. The subconscious is not rational, but it generalizes from regularities that the conscious mind never has the subtlety to notice. It saw me consistently representing its own internal reactions, hour after hour in every situation more clearly than Bryce ever saw himself express anything in a mirror, and more steadily than he ever saw any mirror. The subconscious then associated the inside emotion with the corresponding outside image for each one. I became Bryce's subconscious self image. When he thinks of doing anything, the image in the imagination that does it is not himself, it is me. This can cause considerable mental confusion."
"It should!" Donahue agreed fervently.
"I put him in new places and situations where he was unsure and I was sure, so that when I diverged from mirroring him, he gave me the lead and mirrored me. One of us had to be the originator and the other the reflection, but now it was reversed. He did not fight it subconsciously because the results were pleasant. I kept the lead and led him a mental dance through thoughts and reactions he had never had before, in a personality pattern completely foreign to his own, one that I wanted him to have. I hadn't been hired for that, but I had time to pass before I could untangle that UT problem, and I wanted to do it for him. The mirror link was complete the first day, but I'm afraid the extra days made it indelible. He'll always be me in his mind, and mirrors will never look right to him."
"It's so simple, it's obvious," said Donahue with disappointment. "It doesn't sound like magic to me."
The youth was thoughtful, frowning. "Sometimes it doesn't to me either. I wonder if the ghost of my grandfather was telling me the right--"
"Forget the ghost of your grandfather," Donahue interrupted hastily. On his few space trips he could never get used to this business of floating eerily around in the air, and it seemed a poor time to talk about ghosts. "What about Bryce Carter. What became of him? You know," he said defiantly, "I like his plans for organizing the Belt and breaking UT. And, come to think of it, if I had been there when you were interfering with that, I think I would have shot you myself."
"UT had only hired me to find the organizer of the smuggling ring and persuade him to disband his organization in UT. I had done that. So the third day, when I could walk, I left the hospital and went back to Earth, and collected my fee for a job done. Many people had vanished suddenly from their payrolls, and the crime statistics in some cities had shown a startling lull. They knew I had done it, and so they paid and were grateful." The dark youth shrugged. "I didn't feel I had to tell them about Orillo. He tipped the police and started a rumor, and there was evidence enough in the crime statistics of the months before, when they were correlated with the distribution of branches of Union Transport, though there was nothing to point at anyone in particular except the ones who had disappeared."
Donahue remembered. "Sure that's that investigation of transportation monopolies that raised such a stink last year. I saw part of it in Congress."
Pierce handed him a travel folder. Gaudily illustrated, it advertised the advantages of the C&O lines for space tourists. "Carter and Orillo."
Donahue looked up, puzzled, "But this is the next step in what he planned. I thought you changed him."
"Mahatma Gandhi would have followed out those plans," Pierce said with a touch of grimness. "As you pointed out, they are attractive. But I changed him. I won't give you personality dynamics, but if you want a list of changes--He's married to Sheila Wesley, that's one change. And instead of going home nights he roisters around in bars and restaurants, talking to everybody, listening to everybody, liking them all and enthusiastically making friends in carload lots. That's another change. He doesn't look into mirrors because they make him feel cross-eyed. That's because he unconsciously expects to see me in the mirror. And he will organize the Belt and be president as he planned. I won't stop him in that. The difference will be that he won't want the power he'll get." Pierce said grimly, "A power-lusting man can never be trusted with power: he goes megalomaniacal. Carter was already halfway there. But he's safe from that now. He's going to be given plenty of power, and see it only as responsibility, and not want it. That's the only safe kind of man to have in a powerful position."
"That--" said Donahue with great earnestness, "--is like sending a poor damned soul to Kismetic paradise as a eunuch. You psychologists are all complete sadists," he said lifting his drink. "I suppose you've put something in my drink?"
"Absolutely nothing," Roy Pierce assured him, grinning. "Funny thing was, when I got back to Earth that time, I kept feeling cross-eyed when I looked into a mirror. And my friends said I was not myself. If I was not myself, I knew I must still be Bryce Carter. Things had seemed different, and they had warned me that the technique sometimes backfired when I was learning. So I called my uncle Mordand on the televiewer--he's the head of the family, and he lives in an estate in the jungle--and he--"
Donahue was fascinated again.
There was a different approach for each case, Pierce had found. It was not ordinarily ethical to discuss any case history, but he knew with great surety that Donahue could be trusted not to repeat what he was being told. The only reason there wasn't something extra in his current drink was because there had been something in the last drink.
This was case five.
THE TALKATIVE TREE.
By H. B. Fyfe
Dang vines! Beats all how some plants have no manners--but what do you expect, when they used to be men!
All things considered--the obscure star, the undetermined damage to the stellar drive and the way the small planet's murky atmosphere defied precision scanners--the pilot made a reasonably good landing. Despite sour feelings for the space service of Haurtoz, steward Peter Kolin had to admit that casualties might have been far worse.
Chief Steward Slichow led his little command, less two third-class ration keepers thought to have been trapped in the lower hold, to a point two hundred meters from the steaming hull of the Peace State. He lined them up as if on parade. Kolin made himself inconspicuous.
"Since the crew will be on emergency watches repairing the damage," announced the Chief in clipped, aggressive tones, "I have volunteered my section for preliminary scouting, as is suitable. It may be useful to discover temporary sources in this area of natural foods."
Volunteered HIS section! thought Kolin rebelliously.
Like the Supreme Director of Haurtoz! Being conscripted into this idiotic space fleet that never fights is bad enough without a tin god on jets like Slichow!
Prudently, he did not express this resentment overtly.
His well-schooled features revealed no trace of the idea--or of any other idea. The Planetary State of Haurtoz had been organized some fifteen light-years from old Earth, but many of the home world's less kindly techniques had been employed. Lack of complete loyalty to the state was likely to result in a siege of treatment that left the subject suitably "re-personalized." Kolin had heard of instances wherein mere unenthusiastic posture had betrayed intentions to harbor treasonable thoughts.
"You will scout in five details of three persons each," Chief Slichow said. "Every hour, each detail will send one person in to report, and he will be replaced by one of the five I shall keep here to issue rations."
Kolin permitted himself to wonder when anyone might get some rest, but assumed a mildly willing look. (Too eager an attitude could arouse suspicion of disguising an improper viewpoint.) The maintenance of a proper viewpoint was a necessity if the Planetary State were to survive the hostile plots of Earth and the latter's decadent colonies. That, at least, was the official line.
Kolin found himself in a group with Jak Ammet, a third cook, and Eva Yrtok, powdered foods storekeeper. Since the crew would be eating packaged rations during repairs, Yrtok could be spared to command a scout detail.
Each scout was issued a rocket pistol and a plastic water tube. Chief Slichow emphasized that the keepers of rations could hardly, in an emergency, give even the appearance of favoring themselves in regard to food. They would go without. Kolin maintained a standard expression as the Chief's sharp stare measured them.
Yrtok, a dark, lean-faced girl, led the way with a quiet monosyllable. She carried the small radio they would be permitted to use for messages of utmost urgency. Ammet followed, and Kolin brought up the rear.
To reach their assigned sector, they had to climb a forbidding ridge of rock within half a kilometer. Only a sparse creeper grew along their way, its elongated leaves shimmering with bronze-green reflections against a stony surface; but when they topped the ridge a thick forest was in sight.
Yrtok and Ammet paused momentarily before descending.
Kolin shared their sense of isolation. They would be out of sight of authority and responsible for their own actions. It was a strange sensation.
They marched down into the valley at a brisk pace, becoming more aware of the clouds and atmospheric haze. Distant objects seemed blurred by the mist, taking on a somber, brooding grayness. For all Kolin could tell, he and the others were isolated in a world bounded by the rocky ridge behind them and a semi-circle of damp trees and bushes several hundred meters away. He suspected that the hills rising mistily ahead were part of a continuous slope, but could not be sure.
Yrtok led the way along the most nearly level ground. Low creepers became more plentiful, interspersed with scrubby thickets of tangled, spike-armored bushes. Occasionally, small flying things flickered among the foliage. Once, a shrub puffed out an enormous cloud of tiny spores.
"Be a job to find anything edible here," grunted Ammet, and Kolin agreed.
Finally, after a longer hike than he had anticipated, they approached the edge of the deceptively distant forest. Yrtok paused to examine some purple berries glistening dangerously on a low shrub. Kolin regarded the trees with misgiving.
"Looks as tough to get through as a tropical jungle," he remarked.
"I think the stuff puts out shoots that grow back into the ground to root as they spread," said the woman. "Maybe we can find a way through."
In two or three minutes, they reached the abrupt border of the odd-looking trees.
Except for one thick trunked giant, all of them were about the same height. They craned their necks to estimate the altitude of the monster, but the top was hidden by the wide spread of branches. The depths behind it looked dark and impenetrable.
"We'd better explore along the edge," decided Yrtok. "Ammet, now is the time to go back and tell the Chief which way we're--Ammet!"
Kolin looked over his shoulder. Fifty meters away, Ammet sat beside the bush with the purple berries, utterly relaxed.
"He must have tasted some!" exclaimed Kolin. "I'll see how he is."
He ran back to the cook and shook him by the shoulder. Ammet's head lolled loosely to one side. His rather heavy features were vacant, lending him a doped appearance. Kolin straightened up and beckoned to Yrtok.
For some reason, he had trouble attracting her attention. Then he noticed that she was kneeling.
"Hope she didn't eat some stupid thing too!" he grumbled, trotting back.
As he reached her, whatever Yrtok was examining came to life and scooted into the underbrush with a flash of greenish fur. All Kolin saw was that it had several legs too many.
He pulled Yrtok to her feet. She pawed at him weakly, eyes as vacant as Ammet's. When he let go in sudden horror, she folded gently to the ground. She lay comfortably on her side, twitching one hand as if to brush something away.
When she began to smile dreamily, Kolin backed away.
The corners of his mouth felt oddly stiff; they had involuntarily drawn back to expose his clenched teeth. He glanced warily about, but nothing appeared to threaten him.
"It's time to end this scout," he told himself. "It's dangerous. One good look and I'm jetting off! What I need is an easy tree to climb."
He considered the massive giant. Soaring thirty or forty meters into the thin fog and dwarfing other growth, it seemed the most promising choice.
At first, Kolin saw no way, but then the network of vines clinging to the rugged trunk suggested a route. He tried his weight gingerly, then began to climb.
"I should have brought Yrtok's radio," he muttered. "Oh, well, I can take it when I come down, if she hasn't snapped out of her spell by then. Funny ... I wonder if that green thing bit her."
Footholds were plentiful among the interlaced lianas. Kolin progressed rapidly. When he reached the first thick limbs, twice head height, he felt safer.
Later, at what he hoped was the halfway mark, he hooked one knee over a branch and paused to wipe sweat from his eyes. Peering down, he discovered the ground to be obscured by foliage.
"I should have checked from down there to see how open the top is," he mused. "I wonder how the view will be from up there?"
"Depends on what you're looking for, Sonny!" something remarked in a soughing wheeze.
Kolin, slipping, grabbed desperately for the branch. His fingers clutched a handful of twigs and leaves, which just barely supported him until he regained a grip with the other hand.