"Soap?" I say. "Why, you poor fish, something must have happened to your eyes. When you offered me that straight razor, I thought you'd gone off your nut. Now I know it."
The Professor interrupts. He looks excited. "Wait a minute, Eddie. To me that item looks exactly like a full fifth of Old Harvester, 100 proof. Used to be my favorite, before I became an abstainer. To Pete, it looks like soap. To you, it looks like a straight razor while, to Sacks, it resembles a shoe. Does that give you any ideas?"
"Means we're all having hallucinations," I grunts.
"Exactly. Pete, was there anything else in the location where you found this thing?"
"Nothing but some scrap tin."
So, the four of us wanders across the field and, sure enough, there was this silly-looking object lying there. It was about eighteen or twenty feet across, and two feet thick, and I nearly made a fool of myself. I almost screamed when I saw six straight razors crawling out of a hole in its side.
The Professor whistled. "Grab them, boys. We want them."
Well, Sacks sacrifices one of his sacks, and we rounded up fifteen of the useless things. We went back to the jungle, where the Prof explained it.
"Look, fellows, suppose you were a being from another planet that wanted to take over here. Suppose, further, that you were rather small and relatively defenseless. To finish the suppositions, suppose you were a positive telepath, with not only the ability to read minds, but also the ability to create visual and tactile hallucinations. How would you protect yourself?"
A light began to dawn, but I didn't say a word about it.
The Professor continued. "If you could do all this, you'd make yourself look just as useless as possible. To Pete, you'd look like a bar of soap, because he never uses the stuff. To Sacks, you'd look like a shoe, because his dislike for shoes is evident in his mind. To Eddie, who is proud of his beard, you'd look like a razor, while to me, you'd look like a bottle of booze, because I dislike its effects intensely. In other words, you would assume an imposture that would assure you'd never be picked up, except by someone like Pete, who would see in you a salable item, even though not a usable one. It may be, Pete, that you have saved the world."
So, that's the story. We're all still on the Road, of course, but now we are the "Commission for the Investigation of Extraterrestrial Invasion." Congress named us as that, when we got the data to them.
Now, Mr. Mayor, you see our problem. Have your citizens seen anything around that they don't want? If they have, we want to look at it.
I WAS A TEEN-AGE SECRET WEAPON.
BY RICHARD SABIA.
He could truthfully say that he never hurt anybody. You know--like the eye of a hurricane? It never hurts anybody....
"Get away from me!" screamed Dr. Berry at the approaching figure.
"But Ah got to feed an' water the animals an' clean out the cages," drawled the lanky, eighteen-year-old boy amiably.
"Get out of this laboratory, you hoodoo," shrilled Berry, "or I swear I'll kill you! I'll not give you the chance to do me in!"
Tow-headed Dolliver Wims regarded chubby Dr. Berry with his innocent green eyes. "Ah don't know why y'all fuss at me like you do," he complained in aggrieved tones.
"YOU DON'T KNOW WHY!" shrieked two hundred and eighteen pounds of outraged Dr. Berry. "How dare you stand there and say you don't know why?" Berry flung a pudgy hand within an inch of Wims' nose. Slashed across the back of it, like frozen lightning, was a new, jagged scar. "That's why!" he shouted. Berry twisted his head into profile, thrust it at Wims and pointed to a slightly truncated ear lobe. "And that's why!" he roared. He yanked up a trouser leg, revealing a finely pitted patch of skin. "And also why!" he yelled. He paused to snatch a breath and glared at the boy. "And if I weren't so modest I'd show you another why!"
"Kin Ah help it if you're always havin' accidents?" Wims replied with a shrug.
Berry turned a deeper red and a dangerous rumble issued from his throat, as if he were a volcano threatening to erupt. Then quite suddenly, with an obvious effort, he capped his seething anger and subsided somewhat. Through taut lips he said, "I'm not going to stand here and argue with you, Wims; just get out."
"But the animals--"
"You can come back in an hour when I've finished running these rats through the maze."
"I SAID OUT!" Berry leaped at Wims with arms outthrust, intending to push him toward the door, but Wims had stepped aside in slight alarm and the avalanche of meat plunged past and into a bench on which rested a huge, multilevel glass maze which was a shopping-center model being tested to determine a design that would subliminally compel shoppers into bankruptcy. There was a sustained and magnificent tinkling crash as if a Chinese wind-chime factory was entertaining a typhoon. Berry skidded on the shards into a bank of wooden cages and went down in a splintering welter of escaping chimpanzees, Wistar albino rats, ocelots and other assorted fauna.
Wims moved forward to help extricate the stunned Dr. Berry from the Everest of debris in which he sat immersed.
"DON'T TOUCH ME!" Berry screeched.
"O.K.," Wims said, retreating, "but Ah guess y'all gonna blame me fer this, too."
Berry's mouth worked convulsively in sheer rage but he had no words left to contain it. He put his head on his knees and sobbed.
The other psychologists of the research division came crowding into the laboratory to seek the cause of all the tumult.
"What happened?" Dr. Wilholm inquired.
"Well, Doc Berry has gone an' riled hisself into 'nuther accident," Wims informed him.
"I suppose you had nothing to do with it," Wilholm snapped.
"Cain't rightly say Ah had. He worked it out all by hisself."
"Just like the rest of us, I suppose," Wilholm said with unconcealed hostility.
"Well now y'all mention it, Doc, Ah ain't nevah seen sich a collection o' slip-fingered folk. Always bustin' either their gear or theirselves."
"Now lookit Doc Castle up on top o' that lockah. He's gonna bust a leg if he don't quit foolin' with that critter."
Wilholm turned to see Dr. Castle up near the ceiling trying to get at a chimpanzee perched just out of reach on a steam pipe. "Castle, are you crazy?" he cried. "Get down from there before you hurt yourself."
"But I've got to get Zsa Zsa into a cage before one of the cats gets her," Castle protested. Just then an ocelot leaped for Zsa Zsa and she leaped for Dr. Castle who promptly lost his balance and plummeted toward Dr. Wilholm who foolishly tried to catch him. They all crashed to the floor and lay stunned for some moments. Castle attempted to rise but he sank back almost immediately with a grimace of pain. "I think my leg is broken," he announced.
"Well Ah tole you," Wims said. "Ain't that so, Dr. Wilholm?"
Wilholm attempted to hurl Zsa Zsa at Wims but found to his surprise he could only wriggle his fingers. The effort sent little slivers of pain slicing through his back.
By this time the laboratory was resounding with the fury of a riot sale in a bargain basement. Sounds of destruction, counterpointed with cries of pain and imprecations increased as the staff pursued maddeningly elusive animals through a growing jungle of toppled and overturning equipment. At the far end there was a shower of sparks and a flash of flame as something furry plunged into a network of wires and vacuum tubes.
Two hours later, Dr. Titus, the division chief, strolled in just as the firemen quenched the last stubborn flames. He surveyed the nearly total ruin of the laboratory. "Really!" he said to a thickly bandaged Dr. Berry who was attempting to rescue an undamaged electroencephalograph from a gleeful fireman's ax, "can't you test your hypothesis without being so untidy?"
Dr. Berry whirled and struck Dr. Titus.
"Of course you know what this means," Titus said calmly, rubbing his jaw. "I'll just have to have a closer look at your Rorschach."
"You can just go take a closer look," Berry snarled.
"Now, now," Titus said soothingly, "why don't we just go to my office and find out what is disturbing us? Hm-m-m?"
The ax came down on the encephalograph and Berry burst into tears and allowed Titus to lead him away.
Titus seated himself at his desk and waited for the sobbing Berry to subside. "That's it," he said unctuously, "let's just get it right out of our systems, shall we? Hm-m-m?"
Berry stopped in mid-sob and became all tiger again. "Stop talking to me as if I were a schizo!" he roared.
"Now, now, we are not going to become hostile all over again are we? Hm-m-m?"
"Hm-m-m all you want to, Titus, but you'll change your tune soon enough when you hear what happened. It was no band-aid brouhaha this time. I've warned you time and again about Wims and you've chosen to treat the matter as airily as possible--almost to the point of being elfin. However, the casualty list ought to bring you back down to earth." Berry ticked off the names on his fingers: "Dr. Wilholm hospitalized with a broken back; Dr. Castle, a broken leg; Dr. Angelillo, Dr. Bernstein, Dr. Maranos and four lab technicians severely burned; Dr. Grossblatt and two assistants, badly clawed; Dr. Cahill, clawed and burned; and no one knows what's wrong with Dr. Zimmerman. He's locked himself in the broom closet and refuses to come out. Twelve other people will be out a day or two with minor injuries, including your secretary who was pursued by Elvira, the orangutan, and is now being treated for shock."
Titus protested, "Why Elvira wouldn't harm--"
"Elvira has been misnamed. Elvis might be more appropriate."
"Why I had no idea," Titus mused. "Now I'll have to rerun those tests with the new bias."
Berry flared up again. "You don't even have a lab left to run a test in. You can't keep Wims after this!"
"Are you blaming poor Wims for what happened?"
"How can you sit there and ask that question without choking? Ever since that two-legged disaster was hired to sweep up, everybody in the psycho-research division has suffered from one accident after another; even you haven't remained unscathed. Why within the month he arrived we lost the plaque we had won two years running for our unmarred safety record. In fact, the poor fellow who came to remove it from its place of honor in the staff dining room fell from the ladder and broke his neck. Guess who was holding the ladder?"
"I was there at the time," Titus said, "and I saw the entire performance. Wims did nothing but hold the ladder as he had been instructed to do. Old John, instead of confining his attention to what he was doing, kept worrying about whether or not the ladder was being held firmly enough and, as could be expected, he dropped the plaque, made a grab for it and down he went."
"Don't you think it significant, Titus, that Old John had been the university handyman for eighteen years, had climbed up and down ladders, over roofs, and had never fallen or had a serious accident until Wims came upon the scene? And this is just about the case with everyone here?"
"Yes, I think it is very significant."
"Then how can anyone but Wims be blamed?"
"But Wims never has the accidents. He never gets hurt; not so much as a scratch!"
"The devil never gets burned."
"My dear Berry, let the scientist in you consider the fact that never yet has Wims so much as laid a finger on any of our people. And Wims never knocks over equipment, or lets things explode, or sets fire to anything. I find it very odd that it is only my staff that does these things and yet to a man they invariably fix the blame on an eighteen-year-old lad who seems to want nothing more out of life than to be liked. Don't you find it odd?"
"The only thing I find odd is your keeping him in the face of the unanimous staff request to get rid of him."
"And have you ever thought of what my reason might be?"
Dr. Berry looked hard at Dr. Titus and said with unmistakable emphasis, "Some of your people think they know."
It took Titus a moment to fully understand, then he said severely: "Let's discuss this sensibly."
"There's no point in further discussion. There's only one thing more I have to say. I'm not going to endanger my life any longer. Either Wims goes or you can have my resignation."
"Are you serious?"
"Well then, it was pleasant having a good friend as an associate. I'm certain you will easily find something more satisfactory. Of course you can depend on me for a glowing letter of reference."
Berry sat openmouthed. "You mean to say you'd keep a mere porter in preference to me?"
Titus regarded his steepled fingers. "In this case I'm afraid so."
The telephone in the outer office rang several times before Titus remembered he was without his secretary. He pressed a stud and took the call on his line. He identified himself and after listening a long while without comment, he spoke. "That's very good, general, two weeks will be fine. You understand he must be commissioned as soon as possible, perhaps at the end of basic training.... Of course I know it's unheard of but it's got to be done. I realize you are not too happy about being brought into this but someone on the General Staff is needed to pull the necessary strings and the President assured me that we could depend on your complete co-operation." Titus listened and when he spoke again a trace of anger edged his voice. "I don't know why you are so hostile to this project, general. If it succeeds, the benefit to the free world will be immense. If not, all we stand to lose is one man, no equipment to speak of; not even 'face' since it need not ever be made known. A far cry, I must say, from the military, whose expensive Roman candles, when they do manage to get off the ground, keep falling out of the sky and denting Florida and New Mexico with depressing regularity. Good-by!"
Titus hung up and turned to Berry. "Now, my dear Berry, if you'll withdraw your resignation we can go and have dinner and plot how we can milk more funds from the university to refurbish the lab and keep ourselves from getting fired in the process."
"My mind is made up, Titus, and all your cajoling will not get me to change it."
"But Wims is going," Titus said, nodding toward the phone. "In two weeks he will be in the Army."
Berry's face went white. "Heaven preserve us," he gasped.
"Really, my dear Berry, for a jolly, fat man you can be positively bleak at times."
"Let's get the finest dinner we can buy," Berry said. "It may be one of our last."
Private Dolliver Wims liked the Army but was unhappy because the Army did not like him. After only two weeks of basic training his company shunned him, his noncoms hated him and his officers, in order to reduce the wear and tear on their sanity often pretended he did not exist. From time to time they faced reality long enough to attempt to have him transferred but regimental headquarters, suspicious of anything that emanated from the "Jonah" company, ignored their pleas. Now in his third week of basic, Wims sat on the front bench in the barrack classroom, an island unto himself. His company, now twenty-two per cent below strength, and the survivors of his platoon, some newly returned from the hospital, were seating themselves so distant from him that the sergeants were threatening to report the company AWOL if they didn't move closer to the lieutenant-instructor.
The lieutenant watched the sullen company reluctantly coagulating before him and inquired facetiously of the platoon sergeant, "Prisoners of war?"
"No such luck," the sergeant replied grimly.
"Be seated, men," the lieutenant addressed the company. Misinterpreting the resentment of the recruits, he decided a bit of a pep talk was in order. "I know a lot of you are wondering why you're in the Army in the first place, and secondly, why you should be afflicted with the infantry. As civilians you've probably heard so much about the modern pentomic army with its electronic and atomic weapons and all the yak about pushbutton warfare, you figure the infantry is something that should be in the history books with the cavalry. O.K., so let's look at the facts. In the forty-five years since World War II, there've been almost as many localized, 'brush fire' wars as the one now going on in Burma. Sure, there's still a limited use of tactical atomic weapons, but it's still the infantry that has to go in and do the winning. So far nobody wants to try for a knockout and go whoosh with the ICBM. So no matter how many wheels or rotors they hang on it, it is still the infantry, still the Queen of Battles and you should be proud to be a part of it."