"We're a good team, Bill. I'm a chemist, but I don't know a thing about people. You're a psychologist. A real one; not one of these night-school boys. A juvenile psychologist, too. And what age-group spends the most money in this country for soft-drinks?"
Knowing the names of the syrup's ingredients, and what their molecular structure was like, was only the beginning. Gallon after gallon of the School Board's chemicals went down the laboratory sink; Fred Benson and Bill Myers almost lived in the fourth floor lab. Once or twice there were head-shaking warnings from the principal about the dangers of over-work. The watchmen, at all hours, would hear the occasional twanging of Benson's guitar in the laboratory, and know that he had come to a dead end on something and was trying to think. Football season came and went; basketball season; the inevitable riot between McKinley and Eisenhower rooters; the Spring concerts. The term-end exams were only a month away when Benson and Myers finally did it, and stood solemnly, each with a beaker in either hand and took alternate sips of the original and the drink mixed from the syrup they had made.
"Not a bit of difference, Fred," Myers said. "We have it!"
Benson picked up the guitar and began plunking on it.
"Hey!" Myers exclaimed. "Have you been finding time to take lessons on that thing? I never heard you play as well as that!"
They decided to go into business in St. Louis. It was centrally located, and, being behind more concentric circles of radar and counter-rocket defenses, it was in better shape than any other city in the country and most likely to stay that way. Getting started wasn't hard; the first banker who tasted the new drink-named Evri-Flave, at Myers' suggestion--couldn't dig up the necessary money fast enough. Evri-Flave hit the market with a bang and became an instant success; soon the rainbow-tinted vending machines were everywhere, dispensing the slender, slightly flattened bottles and devouring quarters voraciously. In spite of high taxes and the difficulties of doing business in a consumers' economy upon which a war-time economy had been superimposed, both Myers and Benson were rapidly becoming wealthy. The gregarious Myers installed himself in a luxurious apartment in the city; Benson bought a large tract of land down the river toward Carondelet and started building a home and landscaping the grounds.
The dreams began bothering him again, now that the urgency of getting Evri-Flave, Inc., started had eased. They were not dreams of the men he had killed in battle, or, except for one about a huge, hot-smelling tank with a red star on the turret, about the war. Generally, they were about a strange, beautiful, office-room, in which a young man in uniform killed an older man in a plum-brown coat and a vivid blue neck-scarf. Sometimes Benson identified himself with the killer; sometimes with the old man who was killed.
He talked to Myers about these dreams, but beyond generalities about delayed effects of combat fatigue and vague advice to relax, the psychologist, now head of Sales & Promotion of Evri-Flave, Inc., could give him no help.
The war ended three years after the new company was launched. There was a momentary faltering of the economy, and then the work of reconstruction was crying hungrily for all the labor and capital that had been idled by the end of destruction, and more. There was a new flood-tide of prosperity, and Evri-Flave rode the crest. The estate at Carondelet was finished--a beautiful place, surrounded with gardens, fragrant with flowers, full of the songs of birds and soft music from concealed record-players. It made him forget the ugliness of the war, and kept the dreams from returning so frequently. All the world ought to be like that, he thought; beautiful and quiet and peaceful. People surrounded with such beauty couldn't think about war.
All the world could be like that, if only....
The UN chose St. Louis for its new headquarters--many of its offices had been moved there after the second and most destructive bombing of New York--and when the city by the Mississippi began growing into a real World Capital, the flow of money into it almost squared overnight. Benson began to take an active part in politics in the new World Sovereignty party. He did not, however, allow his political activities to distract him from the work of expanding the company to which he owed his wealth and position. There were always things to worry about.
"I don't know," Myers said to him, one evening, as they sat over a bottle of rye in the psychologist's apartment. "I could make almost as much money practicing as a psychiatrist, these days. The whole world seems to be going pure, unadulterated nuts! That affair in Munich, for instance."
"Yes." Benson grimaced as he thought of the affair in Munich--a Wagnerian concert which had terminated in an insane orgy of mass suicide. "Just a week after we started our free-sample campaign in South Germany, too...."
He stopped short, downing his drink and coughing over it.
"Bill! You remember those sheets of onion-skin in that envelope?"
"The foundation of our fortunes; I wonder where you really did get that.... Fred!" His eyes widened in horror. "That caution about 'heightened psycho-physiological effects,' that we were never able to understand!"
Benson nodded grimly. "And think of all the crazy cases of mass-hysteria--that baseball-game riot in Baltimore; the time everybody started tearing off each others' clothes in Milwaukee; the sex-orgy in New Orleans. And the sharp uptrend in individual psycho-neurotic and psychotic behavior. All in connection with music, too, and all after Evri-Flave got on the market."
"We'll have to stop it; pull Evri-Flave off the market," Myers said. "We can't be responsible for letting this go on."
"We can't stop, either. There's at least a two months' supply out in the hands of jobbers and distributors over whom we have no control. And we have all these contractual obligations, to buy the entire output of the companies that make the syrup for us; if we stop buying, they can sell it in competition with us, as long as they don't infringe our trade-name. And we can't prevent pirating. You know how easily we were able to duplicate that sample I brought back from Turkey. Why, our legal department's kept busy all the time prosecuting unlicensed manufacturers as it is."
"We've got to do something, Fred!" There was almost a whiff of hysteria in Myers' voice.
"We will. We'll start, first thing tomorrow, on a series of tests--just you and I, like the old times at Eisenhower High. First, we want to be sure that Evri-Flave really is responsible. It'd be a hell of a thing if we started a public panic against our own product for nothing. And then...."
It took just two weeks, in a soundproofed and guarded laboratory on Benson's Carondelet estate, to convict their delicious drink of responsibility for that Munich State Opera House Horror and everything else. Reports from confidential investigators in Munich confirmed this. It had, of course, been impossible to interview the two thousand men and women who had turned the Opera House into a pyre for their own immolation, but none of the tiny minority who had kept their sanity and saved their lives had tasted Evri-Flave.
It took another month to find out exactly how the stuff affected the human nervous system, and they almost wrecked their own nervous systems in the process. The real villain, they discovered, was the incredible-looking long-chain compound alluded to in the original notes as Ingredient Beta; its principal physiological effect was to greatly increase the sensitivity of the aural nerves. Not only was the hearing range widened--after consuming thirty CC of Beta, they could hear the sound of an ultrasonic dog-whistle quite plainly--but the very quality of all audible sounds was curiously enhanced and altered. Myers, the psychologist, who was also well grounded in neurology, explained how the chemical produced this effect; it meant about as much to Benson as some of his chemistry did to Bill Myers. There was also a secondary, purely psychological, effect. Certain musical chords had definite effects on the emotions of the hearer, and the subject, beside being directly influenced by the music, was rendered extremely open to verbal suggestions accompanied by a suitable musical background.
Benson transferred the final results of this stage of the research to the black notebook and burned the scratch-sheets.
"That's how it happened, then," he said. "The Munich thing was the result of all that Gotterdammerung music. There was a band at the baseball park in Baltimore. The New Orleans Orgy started while a local radio station was broadcasting some of this new dance-music. Look, these tone-clusters, here, have a definite sex-excitation effect. This series of six chords, which occur in some of the Wagnerian stuff; effect, a combined feeling of godlike isolation and despair. And these consecutive fifths--a sense of danger, anger, combativeness. You know, we could work out a whole range of emotional stimuli to fit the effects of Ingredient Beta...."
"We don't want to," Myers said. "We want to work out a substitute for Beta that will keep the flavor of the drink without the psycho-physiological effects."
"Yes, sure. I have some of the boys at the plant lab working on that. Gave them a lot of syrup without Beta, and told them to work out cheap additives to restore the regular Evri-Flave taste; told them it was an effort to find a cheap substitute for an expensive ingredient. But look, Bill. You and I both see, for instance, that a powerful world-wide supra-national sovereignty is the only guarantee of world peace. If we could use something like this to help overcome antiquated verbal prejudices and nationalistic emotional attachments...."
"No!" Myers said. "I won't ever consent to anything like that, Fred! Not even in a cause like world peace; use a thing like this for a good, almost holy, cause now, and tomorrow we, or those who would come after us, would be using it to create a tyranny. You know what year this is, Bill?"
"Why, 1984," Benson said.
"Yes. You remember that old political novel of Orwell's, written about forty years ago? Well, that's a picture of the kind of world you'd have, eventually, no matter what kind of a world you started out to make. Fred, don't ever think of using this stuff for a purpose like that. If you try it, I'll fight you with every resource I have."
There was a fanatical, almost murderous, look in Bill Myers' eyes. Benson put the notebook in his pocket, then laughed and threw up his hands.
"Hey, Joe! Hey, Joe!" he cried. "You're right, of course, Bill. We can't even trust the UN with a thing like this. It makes the H-bomb look like a stone hatchet.... Well, I'll call Grant, at the plant lab, and see how his boys are coming along with the substitute; as soon as we get it, we can put out a confidential letter to all our distributors and syrup-manufacturers...."
He walked alone in the garden at Carondelet, watching the color fade out of the sky and the twilight seep in among the clipped yews. All the world could be like this garden, a place of peace and beauty and quiet, if only.... All the world would be a beautiful and peaceful garden, in his own lifetime! He had the means of making it so!
Three weeks later, he murdered his friend and partner, Bill Myers. It was a suicide; nobody but Fred Benson knew that he had taken fifty CC of pure Ingredient Beta in a couple of cocktails while listening to the queer phonograph record that he had played half an hour before blowing his brains out.
The decision had cost Benson a battle with his conscience from which he had emerged the sole survivor. The conscience was buried along with Bill Myers, and all that remained was a purpose.
Evri-Flave stayed on the market unaltered. The night before the national election, the World Sovereignty party distributed thousands of gallons of Evri-Flave; their speakers, on every radio and television network, were backgrounded by soft music. The next day, when the vote was counted, it was found that the American Nationalists had carried a few backwoods precincts in the Rockies and the Southern Appalachians and one county in Alaska, where there had been no distribution of Evri-Flave.
The dreams came back more often, now that Bill Myers was gone. Benson was only beginning to realize what a large fact in his life the companionship of the young psychologist had been. Well, a world of peace and beauty was an omelet worth the breaking of many eggs....
He purchased another great tract of land near the city, and donated it to the UN for their new headquarters buildings; the same architects and landscapists who had created the estate at Carondelet were put to work on it. In the middle of what was to become World City, they erected a small home for Fred Benson. Benson was often invited to address the delegates to the UN; always, there was soft piped-in music behind his words. He saw to it that Evri-Flave was available free to all UN personnel. The Senate of the United States elected him as perpetual U. S. delegate-in-chief to the UN; not long after, the Security Council elected him their perpetual chairman.
In keeping with his new dignities, and to ameliorate his youthful appearance, he grew a mustache and, eventually, a small beard. The black notebook in which he kept the records of his experiments was always with him; page after page was filled with notes. Experiments in sonics, like the one which had produced the ultrasonic stun-gun which rendered lethal weapons unnecessary for police and defense purposes, or the new musical combinations with which he was able to play upon every emotion and instinct.
But he still dreamed, the same recurring dream of the young soldier and the old man in the office. By now, he was consistently identifying himself with the latter. He took to carrying one of the thick-barrelled stun-pistols always, now. Alone, he practiced constantly with it, drawing, breaking soap-bubbles with the concentrated sound-waves it projected. It was silly, perhaps, but it helped him in his dreams. Now, the old man with whom he identified himself would draw a stun-pistol, occasionally, to defend himself.
The years drained one by one through the hour-glass of Time. Year after year, the world grew more peaceful, more beautiful. There were no more incidents like the mass-suicide of Munich or the mass-perversions of New Orleans; the playing and even the composing of music was strictly controlled--no dangerous notes or chords could be played in a world drenched with Ingredient Beta. Steadily the idea grew that peace and beauty were supremely good, that violence and ugliness were supremely evil. Even competitive sports which simulated violence; even children born ugly and misshapen....
He finished the breakfast which he had prepared for himself--he trusted no food that another had touched--and knotted the vivid blue scarf about his neck before slipping into the loose coat of glossy plum-brown, then checked the stun-pistol and pocketed the black notebook, its plastileather cover glossy from long use. He stood in front of the mirror, brushing his beard, now snow-white. Two years, now, and he would be eighty--had he been anyone but The Guide, he would have long ago retired to the absolute peace and repose of one of the Elders' Havens. Peace and repose, however, were not for The Guide; it would take another twenty years to finish his task of remaking the world, and he would need every day of it that his medical staff could borrow or steal for him. He made an eye-baffling practice draw with the stun-pistol, then holstered it and started down the spiral stairway to the office below.
There was the usual mass of papers on his desk. A corps of secretaries had screened out everything but what required his own personal and immediate attention, but the business of guiding a world could only be reduced to a certain point. On top was the digest of the world's news for the past twenty-four hours, and below that was the agenda for the afternoon's meeting of the Council. He laid both in front of him, reading over the former and occasionally making a note on the latter. Once his glance strayed to the cardboard box in front of him, with the envelope taped to it--the latest improvement on the Evri-Flave syrup, with the report from his own chemists, all conditioned to obedience, loyalty and secrecy. If they thought he was going to try that damned stuff on himself....
There was a sudden gleam of light in the middle of the room, in front of his desk. No, a mist, through which a blue light seemed to shine. The stun-pistol was in his hand--his instinctive reaction to anything unusual--and pointed into the shining mist when it vanished and a man appeared in front of him; a man in the baggy green combat-uniform that he himself had worn fifty years before; a man with a heavy automatic pistol in his hand. The gun was pointed directly at him.
The Guide aimed quickly and pressed the trigger of the ultrasonic stunner. The pistol dropped soundlessly on the thick-piled rug; the man in uniform slumped in an inert heap. The Guide sprang to his feet and rounded the desk, crossing to and bending over the intruder. Why, this was the dream that had plagued him through the years. But it was ending differently. The young man--his face was startlingly familiar, somehow--was not killing the old man. Those years of practice with the stun-pistol....
He stooped and picked the automatic up. The young man was unconscious, and The Guide had his pistol, now. He slipped the automatic into his pocket and straightened beside his inert would-be slayer.
A shimmering globe of blue mist appeared around them, brightened to a dazzle, and dimmed again to a colored mist before it vanished, and when it cleared away, he was standing beside the man in uniform, in the sandy bed of a dry stream at the mouth of a little ravine, and directly in front of him, looming above him, was a thing that had not been seen in the world for close to half a century--a big, hot-smelling tank with a red star on its turret.
He might have screamed--the din of its treads and engines deafened him--and, in panic, he turned and ran, his old legs racing, his old heart pumping madly. The noise of the tank increased as machine guns joined the uproar. He felt the first bullet strike him, just above the hips--no pain; just a tremendous impact. He might have felt the second bullet, too, as the ground tilted and rushed up at his face. Then he was diving into a tunnel of blackness that had no end....
Captain Fred Benson, of Benson's Butchers, had been jerked back into consciousness when the field began to build around him. He was struggling to rise, fumbling the grenade out of his pocket, when it collapsed. Sure enough, right in front of him, so close that he could smell the very heat of it, was the big tank with the red star on its turret. He cursed the sextet of sanctimonious double-crossers eight thousand miles and fifty years away in space-time. The machine guns had stopped--probably because they couldn't be depressed far enough to aim at him, now; that was a notorious fault of some of the newer Pan-Soviet tanks. He had the bomb out of his pocket, when the machine guns began firing again, this time at something on his left. Wondering what had created the diversion, he rocked back on his heels, pressed the button, and heaved, closing his eyes. As the thing left his fingers, he knew that he had thrown too hard. His muscles, accustomed to the heavier cast-iron grenades, had betrayed him. For a moment, he was closer to despair than at any other time in the whole phantasmagoric adventure. Then he was hit, with physical force, by a wave of almost solid heat. It didn't smell like the heat of the tank's engines; it smelled like molten metal, with undertones of burned flesh. Immediately, there was a multiple explosion that threw him flat, as the tank's ammunition went up. There were no screams. It was too fast for that. He opened his eyes.
The turret and top armor of the tank had vanished. The two massive treads had been toppled over, one to either side. The body had collapsed between them, and it was running sticky trickles of molten metal. He blinked, rubbed his eyes on the back of his hand, and looked again. Of all the many blasted and burned-out tanks, Soviet and UN, that he had seen, this was the most completely wrecked thing in his experience. And he'd done that with one grenade....
Remembering the curious manner in which, at the last, the tank had begun firing at something to the side, he looked around, to see the crumpled body in the pale violet-gray trousers and the plum-brown coat. Finding his carbine and reloading it, he went over to the dead man, turning the body over. He was an old man, with a white mustache and a small white beard--why, if the mustache were smaller and there were no beard, he would pass for Benson's own father, who had died in 1962. The clothes weren't Turkish or Armenian or Persian, or anything one would expect in this country.
The old man had a pistol in his coat pocket, and Benson pulled it out and looked at it, then did a double-take and grabbed for his own holster, to find it empty. The pistol was his own 9.5 Colt automatic. He looked at the dead man, with the white beard and the vivid blue neck-scarf, and he was sure that he had never seen him before. He'd had that pistol when he'd come down the ravine....
There was another pistol under the dead man's coat, in a shoulder-holster; a queer thing with a thick round barrel, like an old percussion pepper-box, and a diaphragm instead of a muzzle. Probably projected ultrasonic waves. He holstered his own Colt and pocketed the unknown weapon. There was a black plastileather-bound notebook. It was full of notes. Chemical formulae, yes, and some stuff on sonics; that tied in with the queer pistol. He pocketed that. He'd look both over, when he had time and privacy, two scarce commodities in the Army....
At that moment, there was a sudden rushing overhead, and an instant later, the barrage began falling beyond the crest of the ridge. He looked at his watch, blinked, and looked again. That barrage was due at 0550; according to his watch, it was 0726. That was another mystery, to go with the question of who the dead man was, where he had come from, and how he'd gotten hold of Benson's pistol. Yes, and how that tank had gotten blown up. Benson was sure he had used his last grenade back at the supply-dump.
The hell with it; he'd worry about all that later. The attack was due any minute, now, and there would be fleeing Commies coming up the valley ahead, of the UN advance. He'd better get himself placed before they started coming in on him.
He stopped thinking about the multiple mystery, a solution to which seemed to dance maddeningly just out of his mental reach, and found himself a place among the rocks to wait, and while he waited, he looked over the plastileather-bound notebook. In civil life, he had been a high school chemistry teacher, but the stuff in this book was utterly new to him. Some of it he could understand readily enough; the rest of it he could dig out for himself. Stuff about some kind of a carbonated soft-drink, and about a couple of unbelievable-looking long-chain molecules....
After a while, fugitive Communists began coming up the valley to make their stand.
Benson put away the notebook, picked up his carbine, and cuddled the stock to his cheek....
GUN FOR HIRE.
By MACK REYNOLDS
A gun is an interesting weapon; it can be hired, of course, and naturally doesn't care who hires it. Something much the same can be said of the gunman, too....
Joe Prantera called softly, "Al." The pleasurable, comfortable, warm feeling began spreading over him, the way it always did.
The older man stopped and squinted, but not suspiciously, even now.
The evening was dark, it was unlikely that the other even saw the circle of steel that was the mouth of the shotgun barrel, now resting on the car's window ledge.
"Who's it?" he growled.
Joe Prantera said softly, "Big Louis sent me, Al."
And he pressed the trigger.
And at that moment, the universe caved inward upon Joseph Marie Prantera.
There was nausea and nausea upon nausea.
There was a falling through all space and through all time. There was doubling and twisting and twitching of every muscle and nerve.
There was pain, horror and tumultuous fear.
And he came out of it as quickly and completely as he'd gone in.
He was in, he thought, a hospital and his first reaction was to think, This here California. Everything different. Then his second thought was Something went wrong. Big Louis, he ain't going to like this.
He brought his thinking to the present. So far as he could remember, he hadn't completely pulled the trigger. That at least meant that whatever the rap was it wouldn't be too tough. With luck, the syndicate would get him off with a couple of years at Quentin.
A door slid open in the wall in a way that Joe had never seen a door operate before. This here California.
The clothes on the newcomer were wrong, too. For the first time, Joe Prantera began to sense an alienness--a something that was awfully wrong.
The other spoke precisely and slowly, the way a highly educated man speaks a language which he reads and writes fluently but has little occasion to practice vocally. "You have recovered?"
Joe Prantera looked at the other expressionlessly. Maybe the old duck was one of these foreign doctors, like.
The newcomer said, "You have undoubtedly been through a most harrowing experience. If you have any untoward symptoms, possibly I could be of assistance."
Joe couldn't figure out how he stood. For one thing, there should have been some kind of police guard.
The other said, "Perhaps a bit of stimulant?"
Joe said flatly, "I wanta lawyer."
The newcomer frowned at him. "A lawyer?"