During the stabilization course one professor had permitted him to skip some classes. Now he wished that he hadn't missed them; he probably wouldn't have this semantic instability to contend with now. Oh, well....
He was tired. He'd spent the previous night, or most of it, worrying about the miserable state of his finances. He needed money, a lot of money. But he wouldn't, of course, admit that to Lawrence.
Lawrence would have understood why he needed money--even more than the hundred thousand he had offered. But then Lawrence might mistrust his motives in accepting the proposal so readily if he knew.
A year before Black had invested too much of his own money in a "sure thing" upon the advice of a fellow psi trainee who, he subsequently and sadly found out, had economic instability. Semantic instability was bad enough!
Not that Martin Black didn't have a hundred thousand dollars. He was, indeed, a rather wealthy young man, thanks to his mother who had been, to her son's knowledge--and to his alone--a psi with definite powers of pre-vision and persuasion.
He recalled the tale Mom had told him of her first meeting with Dad, of how she'd lingered over Dad's well groomed nails three times longer than desire for a good tip made necessary, while she'd gently insinuated into his mind an idea that was next day translated into action on the stock market, with a modest investment from a modest purse that brought the young man a small fortune. After the wedding Martha Black dedicated herself to further improvements in the same direction.
As for Martin's father, his chief business assets had been an unswerving adoration of his wife and complete willingness to do with his money as she saw fit. The combination had been unbeatable.
When Martin's father was laid to rest, Martha Black, concerned over the future of her somewhat unusual son and fearing that economic instability might beset him, continued to improve the fortune he would some day inherit.
Long before the death of his mother five years before, Black Controlled Atomics, Inc., had grown sufficiently important to command the services of a lawyer of Standskill's caliber. Gradually Standskill had become general counsel to the Black enterprises and at the same time a close friend of Martha Black and her son.
It was chiefly in the latter capacity that the widow consulted Standskill as she approached the end of her life. Her Last Will and Testament, duly signed, sealed, published and declared, left one-half of the immediately-to-be-liquidated estate to her son outright. The other half was put in trust.
Under the trust Martin was to receive the income until he was thirty. If then an audit showed that his net worth, exclusive of the trust, had increased by thirty percent the trust was to end and Martin was to receive the principal. If not, the trust would end and the full amount thereof would go to his uncle Ralph, a prospect which caused Martin completely to lose his stability whenever he allowed himself to think of it. He just had to make the thirty percent!
R. W. Standskill was trustee, and the will gave him full power to invest the trust estate as he saw fit and without liability if his investments went bad and without any bond or security required of him whatsoever. More in token of appreciation of his services than anything else, Standskill was to receive one percent of the trust as long as he was trustee.
Martin Black's mind dwelled on the thought of the thirty percent increase. After five years of conservative investing he had taken some bad advice in the past year. And now he had to make some money fast in order to catch up to the quota which was necessary if he were to achieve his goal.
The Lawrence deal would give him his chance. But not if Standskill knew about it. The Lawrence deal seemed a good thing, but perhaps it was only a sure thing if he kept to himself, for the time being at least.
He was so tired.... Fatigue. The French for tired. Funny, he did remember some of the French from school. Standskill was in Paris. Association. Fatigue. The word stuck. That club--Bob Standskill's favorite--Le Cheval Fatigue in Montmartre. The Tired Horse. Tired....
Sleep closed in.... He drifted ... and came to with a sudden start as a hand roughly shook his shoulder. It seemed as though he had been hovering mentally in a dimly-lighted cellar cafe, where there was a babel of voices speaking continental languages, and Standskill was there.
But, no! he couldn't have been in Paris any more than he had been on the meteor-pounded wastes of the moon! It was ridiculous. As far as he knew, no psi had ever been known consciously to flit to the moon--or unconsciously, for that matter--or to the other side of an ocean!
Standskill's partner, G. D. Rich, was shaking his shoulder. "What's the matter, Marty? Big night?"
"Big day," Black said. "Why don't you fellows stick around and take care of your business? I'm not even supposed to answer the telephone, you know, but someone has to!"
"Can I help it that the Legal Secretaries Guild has called a three-day convention? There's not a secretary present in any law office in New York right now! I personally cut the phone in to the answering service before I left for court."
"Inadvertence, I guess," Black said thoughtfully.
"Inadvertence?" Rich said quickly.
"Mine. I must have cut it back."
He didn't tell Rich that he hadn't stirred from the desk since Rich had left. The switch was in the outer office. Had he with his consciousness floating high over New York sensed subconsciously that Lawrence was about to call and so cut in the switch? Had he built into himself something of the pattern of his mother, something of pre-vision or prescience, or call it what you will? Was a latent hunch power coming out in him now, something that would manifest itself by acts not consciously controlled? He hoped not! Semantic instability was bad enough!
Sleep evaded Martin Black again that night.... There was no doubt that Lawrence had a great idea.
Lawrence held forty-five percent of the company's stock. He wanted control. In fact, he wanted outright ownership, but this was not possible because the other major stockholders, holding forty-five percent, seemed to be perfectly satisfied with their lucrative investment. Cautious inquiries had failed to disclose any inclination on their respective parts to sell.
There were, however, enough independent shares outstanding to give Lawrence control if they were added to his own. The thing to do was to figure a way to buy them. The problem was that no matter how secret his operations, news or rumors of them would certainly leak out. The shares would then undoubtedly jump to outrageous highs. Lawrence couldn't risk that. He'd not be able to buy sufficient shares if the price rose.
His corporation had completed Quijotoa City and had built Mojave City and Sanup Plateau City, had through applied atomics created verdant and lovely places out of wasteland and desert. It still owned the atomic piles that provided power for the cities and the profits therefrom were enormous.
Lawrence was progressive. He was at heart a humanitarian. He wanted to develop other areas more from the humanitarian view than the profit motive. He had learned long ago that the profits would take care of themselves.
In probing the man's mind, Black sensed Lawrence's great desire for adulation, his great desire to be remembered as a public benefactor.
Now if only he, Martin J. Black, could benefit financially from this new deal--if he could corner enough of those independent shares, he could and certainly would vote them Lawrence's way. Then, perhaps the possibility of making the thirty percent he needed would approach probability, would reach it. With Lawrence's Midas touch the corporation would also realize millions in profits if the deal went through.
Figures revolved in Black's mind. If Lawrence--or if he--could corner six percent of the stock.... Could some of the independents be persuaded to sell, psionically persuaded? Or one of the other major stockholders? No, that would be unethical and the strongest part of a psi's training was a fine code of ethics.
Black began to doze--and felt something ever so softly probing at his mind. A probe! Probably a service psi checking on him. Why? Just the usual check? No, it wasn't due.
He knew what to do. He had been probed before. Probing was part of the training at psi school but he had never revealed--and his tutors had never guessed--that he could create a block that could not be sensed by the prober. A block which could close off whatever thoughts he wished to conceal.
He blocked his thoughts of Lawrence and the deal now, and opened freely that part of his mind which held the routine thoughts of the law offices. He felt that feather of thought brushing lightly through his brain, then it was gone as quickly as it had come.
There was a cold sweat over him but he knew that he had passed the test. Why the probe? Perhaps a BEB psi had wind of Lawrence's deal and by probing Lawrence's mind--or the mind of someone in the West Coast realty outfit--had somehow learned of Black's association with the industrialist. If that were the case there would be more probes. One time or another a probe might come at a moment of nervous tension or stress and the information would be gleaned from his mind before he could block!
He must work fast.
He arose and went to the visiphone, placed a person-to-person call to Los Angeles.
"Dick Joyce?" he asked before the visual contact was complete, and only his voice went out.
The face that came in sync on the screen was round, jovial. "Well, hello, Marty!"
Lawrence must have called him, or else he plucked the name from my mind. But he didn't probe--or did he?
"Dick, do you register?" With the mind now--cautiously!
Pretend you're my personal friend, Dick. There's no psi on us but we may be wiretapped by BEB--lots of law offices are and trainees connected with them. Can a definite date be set for the picking-up of the options?
"It's good to see you again, Marty! When will you be coming out for another visit?" Yes, the options are in the bag. My agents have them all lined up. Confidentially, they couldn't miss. The only trouble they ran into was that some of the landowners thought they were insane to be interested in the property and one of them actually suffered a sprained wrist from the hand-shaking of an overly thankful owner.
"Soon. That's why I called you. Thought we should get together after all these years." What's the latest date for signing?
Tomorrow night! That doesn't give much time! Since I'm acting for Lawrence I have to see what we're getting.
Well, Lawrence told us to work fast. But I agree that it's a good idea that you see the properties. "How about this weekend?" His voice was casual.
Tomorrow evening local time it is then. But where will we make psi-contact?
A mental picture of a map. Desolation.... Oklahoma....
"Okay, Dick. See you then. Regards to the family!"
He rang off.
He was tired. He went to bed and sought sleep, praying that the block his fatigued mind had set would remain firm.
Martin Black passed a very bad night. Maintaining a mental block when asleep is a major feat, especially when one has semantic instability and a dream can so often be so realistic as to bring one's consciousness awake and mentally screaming miles from the physical being it has involuntarily left.
He dreamed with incredible regularity, waking five times out of nightmares, five times strangely on the hour as though he had tied some part of his mental being to the irresistibly moving, luminescent minute hand of his electric clock. Time is of the essence, he had told himself during the psi-visiphone contact with Joyce. Association!
Two A.M. He had dreamt of Joyce, dreamt that Joyce had somehow revealed the proposed transaction to BEB, putting Dodson on his trail. Wide awake now, he forced himself to think of the options which must be picked up the following night, options drawn so that not only the landowners must sign them but both the realty outfit and he, as Lawrence's attorney-in-fact, as well. Could he sign for Lawrence if Joyce had spilled?... No, it was only a dream. Joyce was so very stable!
Three A.M. He had dreamt of Standskill, tall, lean Standskill striding through the lovely early morning along the Champs elysees, moving purposefully. He had even dreamt he had for a moment invaded Standskill's mind and caught the lawyer's pounding thought, "Lawrence! Buy, Lawrence!" Oh, but that would never do. The service psis would catch Standskill, would test the ethics of it now that Joyce had spilled, would cause Standskill to be disbarred. But Standskill didn't know! A dream. A lunatic dream.
Four A.M. The coincidence of the timing of his wakings struck him then. For a moment the latest dream eluded him and then the sense of airless cold, a bleak, cratered landscape, stark stars staring in a lunar night swept coldly across his mind. He shivered, drew the blanket over him, thought: How many shares? Six thousand? I can do it. I'll contact the broker in the morning. Six thousand at two hundred per. One million two hundred thousand dollars.
But that would raise the price, the attempt to buy so many shares. You can't buy a million plus in one stock without driving the price up--unless you manage to buy all the shares at once! If only he could persuade--psionically persuade--but he couldn't! It wasn't ethical.
His mind drifted.... I'll call the broker in the morning. Perhaps he can start picking up some of the independent shares when the market opens. If only he could snag the four thousand that--what was that name in Lawrence's mind?--yes, Redgrave! The four thousand that Redgrave has! That would be a start!
Redgrave had always fought Lawrence tooth and nail. Lawrence would derive vast personal satisfaction from seeing Redgrave an ex-stockholder. Thankless cad! Investment in the corporation had helped make Redgrave a very wealthy man. Lawrence stock was only part of his vast holdings. Redgrave was definitely out of the red!
Black chuckled, then told himself that this was a grave and not a laughing matter. Sleep was coming again.... Out of the red. Grave. Redgrave!
Five A.M. He awoke in a cold sweat.... This time the dream came back slowly, drenching him with fear as it came. It was sheer madness, this dream! To have even considered investing in Lawrence Applied Atomics! The Government would never condone the deal Lawrence was contemplating--the Applied Atomics Corporation was nearly insolvent, the BEB psis were investigating it....
Black tossed fitfully on the bed, seeking sleep desperately, seeking to escape the black night pressing in, to evade the imagined--or was it real?--probing minds of service psis.
Six A.M. He almost forgot the fears that had assailed him an hour before. He realized then that in the last few minutes or seconds or however long the latest transient phantasm had been in his mind he had dreamt of his broker pacing a dimly-lighted chamber, muttering, "The man's out of his mind. Economic instability, that's certain. Thinking of selling good stock to invest in Lawrence Applied Atomics! Not that Lawrence stock isn't fairly good, but he'll never make enough out of the corporation's piles; the returns are not that great!"
8 A.M. Black stretched, felt strangely relaxed. He realized then that as he had slept and, despite the fitfulness of his sleeping, his mind had apparently gone on analyzing the possible reactions to the big deal.
He arose, took a shower, shaved, ate breakfast. Then he went to the visiphone and buttoned Charles Wythe, his broker, at his office.
"Charlie," Black said to the cadaverous looking man who answered. "Where's the boss?"
"Went to see a psychiatrist."
"I don't know. What's on your mind?"
"I want you to do some selling and buying for me. Sell whatever you like, but buy Lawrence Applied Atomics."
"Look, Marty, let's not go off half-cocked. Last year you had a sudden brainstorm and remember what happened. Lawrence may be a good stock, but it won't help you to build up to that thirty percent you need. Not in the time you have to do it in. It's bad enough for you to take a big licking once. Let's not be stupid again."
"Now, Charlie, don't be nasty. I want you to buy Lawrence as quietly as you can. I want six thousand shares at the current price. Get them for me."
"Are you shaken loose from your psyche or id or whatever?" Wythe cried. "Do it quietly, the man says, do it quietly! You can do it about as quietly as they launched the space station. Where do you think I can get six thousand shares of Lawrence?"
"Why, you buy them!" Black answered innocently. "Isn't that what you do down at the Stock Exchange?"
The broker groaned. "Sure, that's all I do. Buy, that is. But not Lawrence. Look, Marty, see this chart? Yesterday was a big day for Lawrence Applied Atomics. It was unusually active. Three hundred shares changed hands. The day before it was one hundred. Once in my memory Lawrence had a four thousand share day. That must have been when Redgrave bought in. Now you tell me how I'm going to get you six thousand shares, get them quietly, and get them at the current price!"
"Start buying," Black said, "because I've got a hunch you'll find them. My mother had hunches, didn't she? Did she ever tell you or the boss to buy the wrong stocks? Did she--"
"That was your mother, Marty. What about that hunch you had last year, the one that cost you a couple of hundred thou--"
"That was last year!"
"So, what's changed?" asked Wythe.
"Maybe I've changed, Charlie. Do it; that's all I ask."
"Okay, Marty. But I think you're out of your mind, especially with what was on the morning news."
"And what was that?"
"Lawrence is in bad shape. He's not likely to pull through. They operated last night, in case you didn't know."
"But that should drive the stock down!"
"Why? It won't affect the profits from the corporation's piles."
"No. I agree. But that's not the only thing that keeps the price up. What about Lawrence's reputation?"
"Well, there's also a rumor about a government investigation of the corporation," Wythe admitted. "That might have some downward effect."
"Buy, Charlie, buy! I'll ring you later."
Black rang off. He felt an overwhelming confidence. He had only one small doubt in his mind--during or following one of those disturbing dreams had he been sufficiently overwrought to have relaxed his mental block, thereby letting in a fleeting probe from a service psi who would then have gleaned, in a moment, knowledge of the proposed transaction?
The unease waned. The exuberant confidence was in him again. The prescience of Martha Black?
He went out and caught a heli-cab to the law offices. He'd be a good trainee to the eyes and minds of anyone who might check. If the service psis were on his trail, he'd show them how good a trainee he was. He could check with Charlie Wythe later.
At ten A.M., Standskill's partner, G. D. Rich left the office to attend court.
At ten-thirty A.M., a contact call came whispering to Black's mind. He thought it at first a probe and blocked part of his mind; then relaxed as it realized it was a psi asking with overbearing politeness for him to connect the visiphone circuit. The mental touch seemed somehow familiar, but it wasn't Joyce. He knew it wasn't Joyce; there was something unsure and tentative about the whisper of thought.