"Special buses will take them to closed circuit 3-D houses," said Cam.
"Fantastic," said Ev.
Inside, there were just about the same number of last-minute panics and snafus as at most 3-D spectaculars. Power for the innumerable huge coaxial snakes was several times inadequate, which problem no one, of course, had foreseen. But eventually all the crises had had their moment and were coped with--and suddenly it was almost air time.
Cam, Curt, and Ev repaired to the control booth and found an area where they wouldn't be under the technicians' feet. (Cam had decreed a triple platoon system on this one: a fresh director and crew were alternated in every fifteen minutes.) Ev produced a flask, which Cam and Curt declined; but the super-mongoose took a few greedy licks at the cap.
"A lush Gestalt yet," muttered Curt.
"Don't insult the folks that put you in silk, sonny," advised Ev.
"Tell me about the others now," said Cam. "Everything's out of our hands anyhow."
Ev breathed deeply. "Okay, I'll tell you a wee bit. One of us is a Pathan valet in Bombay--which would cut up the Reaper worse than the fictitious entente with the squid. And the Pathan must have a few drops of Irish blood and, ergo, second sight--he contributes enormously to the acuity of our insight into potential human reaction."
"My small friend here, the super-mongoose, is the amplifier. Some goofy new gland, I suppose--or as you guessed, a mutational development. In that tiny corpus, however it came about, is an organ that enables us to communicate on an elemental level among ourselves without regard to mileage; and to probe psyches anywhere in the world--as many as we want. Actually, we have to keep his output at a fraction of capacity, or else get swamped in a tidal wave of emotion."
"That accounts for three. But you indicated there were four," said Cam.
"No, I never! But you're right. There is a fourth. Twelve years old; IQ about 180. Never even leaves his room. But his mind--and his psi faculties--have seven-league boots. He runs our team."
"Where does he live?"
"High on a windy hill. He, he, he!" Ev hit the flask as a trout the fly, and an engineer glared. The gradually rising stage lights signalled the Zero Second in a symphony of changing color.
First, the cross-and-star symbol grew from a tiny point on the stage until it became a living pillar of luminosity that seemed to dwarf the night.
Then came the distant music of fife and drum, augmented by cornet: "Yankee Doodle;" and in the traditional Revolutionary regalia, the musical minute-men led a parade down the aisles of the Choral Guard. They segued to "Onward Christian Soldiers" as they marched past the mesmerized audience, up to and onto the stage; and topped off the medley with "The Battle Hymn of The Republic." It was only great.
"The folks are already on the ropes," said Ev.
"Where does he live?" asked Cam.
A Brother-Major came forward and led the Choral Guard and audience in a responsive psalm that emphasized the smiting of enemies. With the "Amen," the cameras panned with the audience's eyes up to the pregnant night sky. You could hear an option drop.
Then the Guard did some fancy quick-step singing on stage: "God Bless America"; "Over there"; and "The Soldiers Are Coming", to the tune of "The Campbells Are Coming", complete with bagpipe brigade.
Next, a rather hard-featured Sister Captain told how the growing army of the Lord needed support. The Offertory was handled by Brother N.C.O.'s while super-imposed 3-D slides told the brethren at home exactly how to get their bux to Sowles. Meanwhile a battery of organs swept through the "Marseillaise", "Land Of Hope And Glory", and other U. S. of E. songs. Finally, a Guard contralto came forward and got the whole crowd on its feet to join her in singing "The Star Spangled Banner."
"They're limp as old wet-wash," said Ev.
Now the Bowl went dark except for the pale light of the moon and stars. Minutes passed. Eventually, a spotlight picked out Sowles standing alone, quietly, meditatively, at Stage Right. He looked as though wondering if it was all right to come out. The audience went wild. Cam reflected that it probably would have, even without the claques he had planted. As it was, had the Bowl had a roof, it would have been blasted off.
"We're picking up reactions like mad," said Ev.
"The U. S. of E. audience alone will hit at least 200 million," said Cam.
"All thinking--I should say feeling--like one great docile beast."
"Where does he live?" Cam asked again.
"Tibet," blurted Ev unthinkingly; then he turned and glared at Cam as he might at a tarantula in his daiquiri.
But Sowles had begun to speak. A huge rear-projection screen behind him visualized each thought uttered. He started with the theme of the West: how logical that a great new crusade should be born here where men of the cloth had first blazed Western civilization's trails; Berkeley was quoted about the Westward Star of Empire; this was the shore sought by the most valiant of the westering tide of pioneers; etc., etc. Meanwhile the 3-D living mural milked Western scenery to a fare-thee-well. Gaunt fishermen stared out over Puget Sound, and Big Sur underlined the concept of rugged strength. Mount McKinley and Mazatlan passed in review.
Then Sowles got down to business. This vital young giant--the West--was not going to let the effete pestholes of the East (by this he meant all the way East, including Stockholm, Athens, and Kashmir) forfeit the Caucasian heritage with their decadent goings-on. The Commie Complex was not going to be handed the rest of the planet on a silver platter because of Euramerican "marshmallow moral fiber."
He proceeded to the list of Hates: Welfare Statism; tyranny by tax ("Remember the Boston Tea Party!"); loose divorce laws; fraternal lodges; "promiscuous enfranchisement"; water fluoridation; and so on. These were but a few of the cancers, he screamed, that must be ruthlessly excised from the body politic so that a lean, clean Euramerica might face the Arch-Enemy on reasonably even terms.
"They're frothing at the mouth," said Ev.
Now Sowles really tore the rag off the bush. He described the Godless Atheists that held half the world in thrall. He rehearsed again the butchery of the kulaks and the kangaroo courts of Cuba. He showed the Mongol tanks rumbling into Budapest and the pinched-face terror of the East German refugees; the "human sea" charges in Korea and the flight of the Dalai Lama.
Suddenly Cam was struck by a wild surmise.
"Number Four--he's the Panchen Lama, isn't he?" Cam knew that the current Red puppet high priest was about twelve.
"You win the cigar," said Ev.
Cam made up his mind quickly. "Ev, listen to me and do exactly as I say. This is crucial."
"Turn up the gain on the mongoose."
"What for? It's all I can stand right now!"
"Never mind. Turn it up."
"You're the account exec."
Now Sowles began telling in hushed whispers how it would be under the Reds. The huge mural became a panorama of rapine. Commie soldiers sacked Euramerican cities and hamlets. Girls were dragged off for the pleasure of drunken battalions. Barbarian guffaws rang out as homes and stores were pillaged and put to the torch.
"Ourch!" gritted Ev. "All this hate...."
"Have another snort and turn up the gain."
The crowd began to low like a cow in labor. Sowles swung into the climax: A series of questions shouted to the audience....
"Would you work night and day to crush this menace to your homes, your family, your country, your God?"
"YES!" The hills rang with the full-throated bellow.
"Would you fight, and if need be, die, to save our civilization and slay the Commie monsters in their lairs?"
Cam thought he could even hear answering shouts from outside the Bowl. "Turn up the gain again."
"Will you place in the hands of your servants, the Christian Soldiers, all powers necessary to crush the barbarian tide?" This last was fairly screamed. Sowles was draped across the podium, arms outstretched to the audience.
"YES! YES! YES!" thundered the reverberating response.
Fife, drum, and cornet struck up "Onward" very softly.
"Will you follow me to the ends of the earth--to the very gates of Red Hell itself--destroying every obstacle in our path--until the Anti-Christ has been annihilated root and branch, and we have come into our Kingdom? Will you follow ME??!"
Pandemonium. The crowd surged into the aisles, falling in with the Choral Guard, singing, shouting, weeping.
"He hit high C," said Ev.
"Full gain," said Cam.
Ev gulped more skull-buster and stroked the "amplifier" in the region of the pancreas.
Sowles' arms were uplifted, and one of Cam's clever little effects haloed his flying locks.
"KILL THE REDS!" he shrilled.
"Kill ... REDS ... KILL ... REDS ..." chanted the crowd, in time to the drum.
The bright feral light of the super-mongoose's eyes seemed to lance at Sowles, like an infra-red flash. Then there was a puff where the would-be messiah had stood--a crackle, and a smell of scorched air; but no more Sowles.
"He's gone!" said Curt.
"You're damn right, and thank God for it," said Cam, ministering to Ev who had slumped unconscious from his chair.
The mob broke up uncertainly, with the disappearance of the focus for its concerted bloodlust. The police asked many questions but none of the right ones. Finally, Cam, Ev, and Curt escaped to the waiting limo and started the long slow crawl downhill.
"Now--give," said Ev.
"Feedback. That's why I had you unleash Mighty Mouse. All that hate in hundreds of millions of people had to boomerang back through your Gestalt in some psi-fashion ... although I did not anticipate the pyrotechnics--or should I say pyrokinetics?"
"But what for, Cam?" asked Curt. "I've never seen such an effective job of mass influence."
"He could have been elected President tomorrow," said Ev.
"That's just it--we did too good a job. And I think that's the way your Tibetan quarterback wanted it." Cam tilted Ev's flask. "Sowles was a cinch to go all the way, which would have meant all-out war. Maybe your junior Fu Manchu figured he could pick up the pieces afterwards."
"How could he know you'd have a character like Sowles all set to go?" Ev said. "Oh, I get it--precognition. It's fortunate that his crystal ball didn't read as far as the outcome tonight."
"In any case, we'd better get your Pathan over here, and start rebuilding your Gestalt," said Cam. "You won't hear from the Panchen--he's undoubtedly constructing a new, all-Red unit right now. After this bit, psi faculties, including telempathy, have to be considered another weapons family in the Cold War ... a new set of pieces of the big chessboard. So you're going to have to find a substitute for the Himalayan Quiz Kid, and git crackin'."
"I'll consider your application," said Ev, giving his flask the coup de grace; and the lights of L.A. rushed up around them like a huge breaker--gaudy, garish, and beautifully comprehensible.
LOOT OF THE VOID.
By Edwin K. Sloat
Dick Penrun glanced up incredulously.
"Why, that's impossible; you would have to be two hundred years old!" he exclaimed.
Lozzo nervously ran a hand through his white mop of hair.
"But it is true, Sirro," he assured his companion. "We Martians sometimes live three centuries. You should know that I am only a hundred and seventy-five, and I do not lie when I say I was a cabin boy under Captain Halkon."
His voice sank to a whisper, and he glanced apprehensively about the buffet of the Western Star which was due now in three days at the Martian city of Nurm. Penrun's eyes followed his anxious glances curiously. The buffet was partly filled with passengers, smoking, gossiping women, and men at cards, or throwing dice in the Martian gambling game of diklo, which was the universal fad of the moment. No place could have been safer, Penrun reflected. Doubtless the old man's caution was a lifelong habit acquired in his youth, if he had actually served under Halkon.
Before long the old codger would be saying that he knew the hiding place of Halkon's treasure, about which there were probably more legends and yarns than anything else in the Universe. A century had elapsed since the death of the famous pirate who had preyed on the shipping of the Void with fearless, ruthless audacity and had piled up a fabulous treasure before that fatal day when the massed battle spheres of the Interplanetary Council trapped his ships out near Mercury and blew them to atoms there in the sun-beaten reaches of space. Some of the men had been captured; old Lozzo might have been one of them. Penrun knew the history of Halkon from childhood, and for a very good reason.
The ancient Martian stirred uneasily. His piercing blue eyes turned again to Penrun's face.
"Every word I have said is true, Sirro," he repeated hurriedly. "I boarded this ship at New York with the sole intention of discharging my sworn duty and giving a message to the grandson of Captain Orion Halkon, his first male descendant."
Penrun's eyes widened in startled amazement. He, himself, was the grandson of the notorious Halkon, a fact that not more than half a dozen people in the Universe knew--or so he had always believed. His mother, Halkon's only daughter, good and upright woman that she was, had hidden that family skeleton far back in the closet and solemnly warned Dick Penrun and his two sisters to keep it there. Yet this old man, who had singled him out of the crowd in the buffet not thirty minutes ago and drew him into conversation, knew the secret. Perhaps he really had been a cabin boy under Halkon!
"I have been serving out the hundred-year sentence for piracy the judges imposed on me, a century in your own Earth prison of Sing Sing," muttered Lozzo. "I have just been released. Quick! My inner gods tell me my vase of life is toppling. I swore to your grandfather that I would deliver the message. It is here. Guard well your own life, for this paper is a thing of evil!"
His hand rested nervously on the edge of the table. The ancient blue eyes swept the buffet with a lightning glance. Then he slid his hand forward across the polished wood. Penrun glimpsed a bit of yellow, folded paper beneath it. Then something tweaked his hair. A deafening explosion filled the buffet. Lozzo stiffened, his mouth gaped in a choked scream, and he sprawled across the table, dead.
As he fell, a fat white hand darted over the table toward the oblong of folded, yellow paper lying unprotected on its surface. Penrun clutched at it frantically. The fat fingers closed on the paper and were gone.
Penrun whirled about. The drapes of the doorway framed a heavy, pasty face with liquid black eyes. The slug gun was aiming again, this time at Penrun. He hurled himself sideways out of his chair as it roared a second time. The heavy slug buried itself in the corpse of the old Martian on the table. The face in the doorway vanished.