He screamed out in horror, and followed the echoes of his own scream as he ran down the stone corridor, blindly, slipping on the wet stone floor, falling on his knees into inches of brackish water, scraping back to his feet with an uncontrollable convulsion of fear and loathing, only to run more-- The corridor suddenly broke into two and he stopped short. He didn't know how far, or how long, he had run, but it suddenly occurred to him that he was still alive, still safe. Only his mind was under attack, only his mind was afraid, teetering on the edge of control. And this maze of dungeon tunnels--where could such a thing exist, so perfectly outfitted to horrify him, so neatly fitting into his own pattern of childhood fears and terrors; from where could such a very individual attack on his sanity have sprung? From nowhere except....
Except from his own mind!
For an instant, he saw a flicker of light, thought he grasped the edge of a concept previously obscure to him. He stared around him, at the mist swirling down the damp, dark corridor, and thought of the rat that had melted in his hand. Suddenly, his mind was afire, searching through his experience with the strange not-men he had learned to detect, trying to remember everything he had learned and deduced about them before they began their brutal persecution.
They were men, and they looked like men, but they were different. They had other properties of mind, other capabilities that men did not have.
They were not-men. They could exist, and co-exist, two people in one frame, one person known, realized by all who saw, the other one concealed except from those who learned how to look. They could use their minds; they could rationalize correctly; they could use their curious four-dimensional knowledge to bring them to answers no three-dimensional man could reach.
But they couldn't project into men's minds!
Carefully, Harry peered down the misty tunnels. They were clever, these creatures, and powerful. Since they had discovered that he knew them, they had done their work of fear and terror on his mind skillfully. But they were limited, too; they couldn't make things happen that were not true--fantasies, illusions....
Yes, this dungeon was an illusion. It had to be.
He cursed and started down the right-hand corridor, his heart sinking. There was no such place and he knew it. He was walking in a dream, a fantasy that had no substance, that could do no more than frighten him, drive him insane; yet he must already have lost his mind to be accepting such an illusion.
Why had he delayed? Why hadn't he gone to the Hoffman Center, laid the whole story before Dr. Webber and Dr. Manelli at the very first, told them what he had found? True, they might have thought him insane, but they wouldn't have put him to torture. They might even have believed him enough to investigate what he told them, and then the cat would have been out of the bag. The tale would have been incredible, but at least his mind would have been safe.
He turned down another corridor and walked suddenly into waist-deep water, so cold it numbed his legs. He stopped again to force back the tendrils of unreasoning horror that brushed his mind. Nothing could really harm him. He would merely wait until his mind finally reached a balance again. There might be no end; it might be a ghastly trap, but he would wait.
Strangely, the mist was becoming greenish in color as it swirled toward him in the damp vaulted passageway. His eyes began watering a little and the lining of his nose started to burn. He stopped short, newly alarmed, and stared at the walls, rubbing the tears away to clear his vision. The greenish-yellow haze grew thicker, catching his eyes and burning like a thousand furies, ripping into his throat until he was choking and coughing, as though great knives sliced through his lungs.
He tried to scream, and started running, blindly. Each gasping breath was an agony as the blistering gas dug deeper and deeper into his lungs. Reason departed from him; he was screaming incoherently as he stumbled up a stony ramp, crashed into a wall, spun around and smashed blindly into another. Then something caught at his shirt.
He felt the heavy planks and pounded iron scrollwork of a huge door, and threw himself upon it, wrenching at the old latch until the door swung open with a screech of rusty hinges. He fell forward on his face, and the door swung shut behind him.
He lay face down, panting and sobbing in the stillness.
Coarse hands grasped his collar, jerking him rudely to his feet, and he opened his eyes. Across the dim, vaulted room he could see the shadowy form of a man, a big man, with a broad chest and powerful shoulders, a man whose rich voice Harry almost recognized, but whose face was deep in shadow. As Harry wiped the tears from his tortured eyes, he heard the man's voice rumble out at him: "Perhaps you've had enough now to change your mind about telling us the truth."
Harry stared, not quite comprehending. "The--the truth?"
The man's voice was harsh, cutting across the room impatiently. "The truth, I said. The problem, you fool, what you saw, what you learned; you know perfectly well what I'm referring to. But we'll swallow no more of this silly four-dimensional superman tale, so don't bother to start it."
"I--I don't understand you. It's--it's true--" Again he tried to peer across the room. "Why are you hunting me like this? What are you trying to do to me?"
"We want the truth. We want to know what you saw."
"But--but you're what I saw. You know what I found out. I mean--" He stopped, his face going white. His hand went to his mouth, and he stared still harder. "Who are you?" he whispered.
"The truth!" the man roared. "You'd better be quick, or you'll be back in the corridor."
"Your last chance, Harry."
Without warning, Harry was across the room, flying across the desk, crashing into the big man's chest. With a scream of fury he fought, driving his fists into the powerful chest, wrenching at the thick, flailing arms of the startled man.
"It's you!" he screamed. "It's you that's been torturing me. It's you that's been hunting me down all this time, not the other people, you and your crowd of ghouls have been at my throat!"
He threw the big man off balance, dropped heavily on him as he fell back to the ground, glared down into the other's angry brown eyes.
And then, as though he had never been there at all, the big man vanished, and Harry sat back on the floor, his whole body shaking with frustrated sobs as his mind twisted in anguish.
He had been wrong, completely wrong, ever since he had discovered the not-men. Because he had thought they had been the ones who hunted and tortured him for so long. And now he knew how far he had been wrong. For the face of the shadowy man, the man behind the nightmare he was living, was the face of Dr. George Webber.
"You're a fool," said Dr. Manelli sharply, as he turned away from the sleeping figure on the bed to face the older man. "Of all the ridiculous things, to let him connect you with this!" The young doctor turned abruptly and sank down in a chair, glowering at Dr. Webber. "You haven't gotten to first base yet, but you've just given Scott enough evidence to free himself from integrator control altogether, if he gives it any thought. But I suppose you realize that."
"Nonsense," Dr. Webber retorted. "He had enough information to do that when we first started. I'm no more worried now than I was then. I'm sure he doesn't know enough about the psycho-integrator to be able voluntarily to control the patient-operator relationship to any degree. Oh, no, he's safe enough. But you've missed the whole point of that little interview." Dr. Webber grinned at Manelli.
"I'm afraid I have. It looked to me like useless bravado."
"The persecution, man, the persecution! He's shifted his sights! Before that interview, the not-men were torturing him, remember? Because they were afraid he would report his findings to me, of course. But now it's I that's against him." The grin widened. "You see where that leads?"
"You're talking almost as though you believed this story about a different sort of people among us."
Dr. Webber shrugged. "Perhaps I do."
"Oh, come now, George."
Dr. Webber's eyebrows went up and the grin disappeared from his face.
"Harry Scott believes it, Frank. We mustn't forget that, or miss its significance. Before Harry started this investigation of his, he wouldn't have paid any attention to such nonsense. But he believes it now."
"But Harry Scott is insane. You said it yourself."
"Ah, yes," said Dr. Webber. "Insane. Just like the others who started to get somewhere along those lines of investigation. Try to analyze the growing incidence of insanity in the population and you yourself go insane. You've got to be crazy to be a psychiatrist. It's an old joke, but it isn't very funny any more. And it's too much for coincidence.
"And then consider the nature of the insanity--a full-blown paranoia--oh, it's amazing. A cunning organization of men who are not-men, a regular fairy story, all straight from Harry Scott's agile young mind. But now it's we who are persecuting him, and he still believes his fairy tale."
Dr. Webber's eyes flashed angrily. "It's too neat, Frank. It's clever, and it's powerful, whatever we've run up against. But I think we've got an ace in the hole. We have Harry Scott."
"And you really think he'll lead us somewhere?"
Dr. Webber laughed. "That door I spoke of that Harry peeked through, I think he'll go back to it again. I think he's started to open that door already. And this time I'm going to follow him through."
It seemed incredible, yet Harry Scott knew he had not been mistaken. It had been Dr. Webber's face he had seen, a face no one could forget, an unmistakable face. And that meant that it had been Dr. Webber who had been persecuting him.
But why? He had been going to report to Webber when he had run into that golden field in the rooming-house hallway. And suddenly things had changed.
Harry felt a chill reaching to his fingers and toes. Yes, something had changed, all right. The attack on him had suddenly become butcherous, cruel, sneaking into his mind somehow to use his most dreaded nightmares against him. There was no telling what new horrors might be waiting for him. But he knew that he would lose his mind unless he could find an escape.
He was on his feet, his heart pounding. He had to get out of here, wherever he was. He had to get back to town, back to the city, back to where people were. If he could find a place to hide, a place where he could rest, he could try to think his way out of this ridiculous maze, or at least try to understand it.
He wrenched at the door to the passageway, started through, and smashed face-up against a solid brick wall.
He cried out and jumped back from the wall. Blood trickled from his nose. The door was walled up, the mortar dry and hard.
Frantically, he glanced around the room. There were no other doors, only the row of tiny windows around the ceiling of the room, pale, ghostly squares of light.
He pulled the chair over to the windows, peered out through the cobwebbed openings to the corridor beyond.
It was not the same hallway as before, but an old, dirty building corridor, incredibly aged, with bricks sagging away from the walls. At the end he could see stairs, and even the faintest hint of sunlight coming from above.
Wildly, he tore at the masonry of the window, chipping away at the soggy mortar with his fingers until he could squeeze through the opening. He fell to the floor of the corridor outside.
It was much colder and the silence was no longer so intense. He seemed to feel, rather than hear, the surging power, the rumble of many machines, the little, almost palpable vibrations from far above him.
He started in a dead run down the musty corridor to the stairs and began to climb them, almost stumbling over himself in his eagerness.
After several flights, the brick walls gave way to cleaner plastic, and suddenly a brightly lighted corridor stretched before him.
Panting from the climb, Harry ran down the corridor to the end, wrenched open a door, and looked out anxiously.
He was almost stunned by the bright light. At first he couldn't orient himself as he stared down at the metal ramp, the moving strips of glowing metal carrying the throngs of people, sliding along the thoroughfare before him, unaware of him watching, unaware of any change from the usual. The towering buildings before him rose to unbelievable heights, bathed in ever-changing rainbow colors, and he felt his pulse thumping in his temples as he gaped.
He was in the New City, of that there was no doubt. This was the part of the great metropolis which had been built again since the devastating war that had nearly wiped the city from the Earth a decade before. These were the moving streets, the beautiful residential apartments, following the modern neo-functional patterns and participational design which had completely altered the pattern of city living. The Old City still remained, of course--the slums, the tenements, the skid-rows of the metropolis--but this was the teeming heart of the city, a new home for men to live in.
And this was the stronghold where the not-men could be found, too. The thought cut through Harry's mind, sending a tremor up his spine. He had found them here; he had uncovered his first clues here, and discovered them; and even now his mind was filled with the horrible, paralyzing fear he had felt that first night when he had made the discovery. Yet he knew now that he dared not go back where he had come from.
At least he could understand why the not-men might have feared and persecuted him, but he could not understand the horrible assault that Dr. Webber had unleashed. And somehow he found Dr. Webber's attack infinitely more frightening.
He seemed to be safe here, though, at least for the moment.
Quickly he moved down onto the nearest moving sidewalk heading toward the living section of the New City. He knew where he could go there, where he could lock himself in, a place where he could think, possibly find a way to fight off Dr. Webber's attack of nightmares.
He settled back on a bench on the moving sidewalk, watching the city slide past him for several minutes before he noticed the curious shadow-form which seemed to whisk out of his field of vision every time he looked.
They were following him again! He looked around wildly as the sidewalk moved swiftly through the cool evening air. Far above, he could see the shimmering, iridescent screen that still stood to protect the New City from the devastating virus attacks which might again strike down from the skies without warning. Far ahead he could see the magnificent "bridge" formed by the sidewalk crossing over to the apartment area, where the thousands who worked in the New City were returning to their homes.
Someone was still following him.
Presently he heard the sound, so close to his ear he jumped, yet so small he could hardly identify it as a human voice. "What was it you found, Harry? What did you discover? Better tell, better tell."
He saw the rift in the moving sidewalk coming, far ahead, a great, gaping rent in the metal fabric of the swiftly moving escalator, as if a huge blade were slicing it down the middle. Harry's hand went to his mouth, choking back a scream as the hole moved with incredible rapidity down the center of the strip, swallowing up whole rows of the seats, moving straight toward his own.
He glanced in fright over the side just as the sidewalk moved out onto the "bridge," and he gasped as he saw the towering canyons of buildings fall far below, saw the seats tumble end over end, heard the sounds of screaming blend into the roar of air by his ears.
Then the rift screamed by him with a demoniac whine and he sank back onto his bench, gasping as the two cloven halves of the strip clanged back together again.
He stared at the people around him on the strip and they stared back at him, mildly, unperturbed, and returned to their evening papers as the strip passed through the first local station on the other side of the "bridge."
Harry Scott sprang to his feet, moving swiftly across the slower strips for the exit channels. He noted the station stop vaguely, but his only thought now was speed, desperate speed, fear-driven speed to put into action the plan that had suddenly burst in his mind.
He knew that he had reached his limit. He had come to a point beyond which he couldn't fight alone.
Somehow, Webber had burrowed into his brain, laid his mind open to attacks of nightmare and madness that he could never hope to fight. Facing this alone, he would lose his mind. His only hope was to go for help to the ones he feared only slightly less, the ones who had minds capable of fighting back for him.
He crossed under the moveable sidewalks and boarded the one going back into the heart of the city. Somewhere there, he hoped, he would find the help he needed. Somewhere back in that city were men he had discovered who were men and something more.
Frank Manelli carefully took the blood pressure of the sleeping figure on the bed; then turned to the other man. "He'll be dead soon," he snapped. "Another few minutes now is all it'll take. Just a few more."
"Absurd. There's nothing in these stimuli that can kill him." George Webber sat tense, his eyes fixed on the pale fluctuating screen near the head of the bed.
"His own mind can kill him! He's on the run now; you've broken him loose from his nice safe paranoia. His mind is retreating, running back to some other delusions. It's escaping to the safety his fantasy people can afford him, these not-men he thinks about."
"Yes, yes," agreed Dr. Webber, his eyes eager. "Oh, he's on the run now."
"But what will he do when he finds there aren't any 'not-men' to save him? What will he do then?"
Webber looked up, frowning and grim. "Then we'll know what he found behind the dark door that he opened, that's what."
"No, you're wrong! He'll die. He'll find nothing and the shock will kill him. My God, Webber, you can't tamper with a man's mind like this and hope to save his life! You're obsessed; you've always been obsessed by this impossible search for something in our society, some undiscovered factor to account for the mental illness, the divergent minds, but you can't kill a man to trace it down!"
"It's too neat," said Webber. "He comes back to tell us the truth, and we call him insane. We say he's paranoid, throw him in restraint, place him in an asylum; and we never know what he found. The truth is too incredible; when we hear it, it must be insanity we're hearing."
The big doctor laughed, jabbing his thumb at the screen. "This isn't insanity we're seeing. Oh, no, this is the answer we're following. I won't stop now. I've waited too long for this show."
"Well, I say stop it while he's still alive."
Dr. Webber's eyes were deadly. "Get out, Frank," he said softly. "I'm not stopping now."
His eyes returned to the screen, to the bobbing figure that the psycho-integrator traced on the fluorescent background. Twenty years of search had led him here, and now he knew the end was at hand.
It was a wild, nightmarish journey. At every step, Harry's senses betrayed him: his wrist watch turned into a brilliant blue-green snake that snapped at his wrist; the air was full of snarling creatures that threatened him at every step. But he fought them off, knowing that they would harm him far less than panic would. He had no idea where to hunt, nor whom to try to reach, but he knew they were there in the New City, and somehow he knew they would help him, if only he could find them.