- Author: Randall Garrett
Read book online «What The Left Hand Was Doing by Randall Garrett (classic novels TXT) 📕». Author - Randall Garrett
WHAT THE LEFT HAND … WAS DOING
By DARRELL T. LANGART
Illustrated by Freas
The building itself was unprepossessive enough. It was an old-fashioned, six-floor, brick structure that had, over the years, served first as a private home, then as an apartment building, and finally as the headquarters for the organization it presently housed.
It stood among others of its kind in a lower-middle-class district of Arlington, Virginia, within howitzer range of the capitol of the United States, and even closer to the Pentagon. The main door was five steps up from the sidewalk, and the steps were flanked by curving balustrades of ornamental ironwork. The entrance itself was closed by a double door with glass panes, beyond which could be seen a small foyer. On both doors, an identical message was blocked out in neat gold letters: The Society For Mystical and Metaphysical Research, Inc.
It is possible that no more nearly perfect cover, no more misleading front for a secret organization ever existed in the history of man. It possessed two qualities which most other cover-up titles do not have. One, it was so obviously crackpot that no one paid any attention to it except crackpots, and, two, it was perfectly, literally true.
Spencer Candron had seen the building so often that the functional beauty of the whole setup no longer impressed him as it had several years before. Just as a professional actor is not impressed by being allowed backstage, or as a multimillionaire considers expensive luxuries as commonplace, so Spencer Candron thought of nothing more than his own personal work as he climbed the five steps and pushed open the glass-paned doors.
Perhaps, too, his matter-of-fact attitude was caused partially by the analogical resemblance between himself and the organization. Physically, Candron, too, was unprepossessing. He was a shade less than five eight, and his weight fluctuated between a hundred and forty and a hundred and forty-five, depending on the season and his state of mind. His face consisted of a well-formed snub nose, a pair of introspective gray eyes, a rather wide, thin-lipped mouth that tended to smile even when relaxed, a high, smooth forehead, and a firm cleft chin, plus the rest of the normal equipment that normally goes to make up a face. The skin was slightly tanned, but it was the tan of a man who goes to the beach on summer weekends, not that of an outdoorsman. His hands were strong and wide and rather large; the palms were uncalloused and the fingernails were clean and neatly trimmed. His hair was straight and light brown, with a pronounced widow's peak, and he wore it combed back and rather long to conceal the fact that a thin spot had appeared on the top rear of his scalp. His clothing was conservative and a little out of style, having been bought in 1981, and thus three years past being up-to-date.
Physically, then, Spencer Candron, was a fine analog of the Society. He  looked unimportant. On the outside, he was just another average man whom no one would bother to look twice at.
The analogy between himself and the S.M.M.R. was completed by the fact that his interior resources were vastly greater than anything that showed on the outside.
The doors swung shut behind him, and he walked into the foyer, then turned left into the receptionist's office. The woman behind the desk smiled her eager smile and said, “Good morning, Mr. Candron!"
Candron smiled back. He liked the woman, in spite of her semifanatic overeagerness, which made her every declarative sentence seem to end with an exclamation point.
“Morning, Mrs. Jesser,” he said, pausing at the desk for a moment. “How have things been?”
Mrs. Jesser was a stout matron in her early forties who would have been perfectly happy to work for the Society for nothing, as a hobby. That she was paid a reasonable salary made her job almost heaven for her.
“Oh, just fine, Mr. Candron!” she said. “Just fine!” Then her voice lowered, and her face took on a serious, half conspiratorial expression. “Do you know what?”
“No,” said Candron, imitating her manner. “What?”
“We have a gentleman … he came in yesterday … a very nice man … and very intelligent, too. And, you know what?”
Candron shook his head. “No,” he repeated. “What?”
Mrs. Jesser's face took on the self-pleased look of one who has important inside knowledge to impart. “He has actual photographs … three-D, full-color photographs … of the control room of a flying saucer! And one of the Saucerites, too!"
“Really?” Candron's expression was that of a man who was both impressed and interested. “What did Mr. Balfour say?”
“Well—” Mrs. Jesser looked rather miffed. “I don't really know! But the gentleman is supposed to be back tomorrow! With some more pictures!”
“Well,” said Candron. “Well. That's really fine. I hope he has something. Is Mr. Taggert in?”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Candron! He said you should go on up!” She waved a plump hand toward the stairway. It made Mrs. Jesser happy to think that she was the sole controller of the only way, except for the fire escape, that anyone could get to the upper floors of the building. And as long as she thought that, among other things, she was useful to the Society. Someone had to handle the crackpots and lunatic-fringe fanatics that came to the Society, and one of their own kind could do the job better than anyone else. As long as Mrs. Jesser and Mr. Balfour were on duty, the Society's camouflage would remain intact.
Spencer Candron gave Mrs. Jesser a friendly gesture with one hand and then headed up the stairs. He would rather not have bothered to take the stairway all the way up to the fifth floor, but Mrs. Jesser had sharp ears,  and she might wonder why his foot-steps were not heard all the way up. Nothing—but nothing—must ever be done to make Mrs. Jesser wonder about anything that went on here.
The door to Brian Taggert's office was open when Candron finally reached the fifth floor. Taggert, of course, was not only expecting him, but had long been aware of his approach.
Candron went in, closed the door, and said, “Hi, Brian,” to the dark-haired, dark-eyed, hawk-nosed man who was sprawled on the couch that stood against one corner of the room. There was a desk at the other rear corner, but Brian Taggert wasn't a desk man. He looked like a heavy-weight boxer, but he preferred relaxation to exercise.
But he did take his feet from the couch and lift himself to a sitting position as Candron entered. And, at the same time, the one resemblance between Taggert and Candron manifested itself—a warm, truly human smile.
“Spence,” he said warmly, “you look as though you were bored. Want a job?”
“No,” said Candron, “but I'll take it. Who do I kill?”
“Nobody, unless you absolutely have to,” said Taggert.
Spencer Candron understood. The one thing that characterized the real members of The Society for Mystical and Metaphysical Research—not the "front” members, like Balfour and Mrs. Jesser, not the hundreds of "honorable” members who constituted the crackpot portion of the membership, but the real core of the group—the thing that characterized them could be summed up in one word: understanding. Without that one essential property, no human mind can be completely free. Unless a human mind is capable of understanding the only forces that can be pitted against it—the forces of other human minds—that mind cannot avail itself of the power that lies within it.
Of course, it is elementary that such understanding must also apply to oneself. Understanding of self must come before understanding of others. Total understanding is not necessary—indeed, utter totality is very likely impossible to any human mind. But the greater the understanding, the freer the mind, and, at a point which might be called the “critical point,” certain abilities inherent in the individual human mind become controllable. A change, not only in quantity, but in quality, occurs.
A cube of ice in a glass of water at zero degrees Celsius exhibits certain properties and performs certain actions at its surface. Some of the molecules drift away, to become one with the liquid. Other molecules from the liquid become attached to the crystalline ice. But, the ice cube remains essentially an entity. Over a period of time, it may change slowly, since dissolution takes place faster than crystallization at the corners of the cube. Eventually, the cube will become a sphere, or something very closely approximating it. But the  change is slow, and, once it reaches that state, the situation becomes static.
But, if you add heat, more and more and more, the ice cube will change, not only its shape, but its state. What it was previously capable of doing only slightly and impermanently, it can now do completely. The critical point has been passed.
Roughly—for the analog itself is rough—the same things occurs in the human mind. The psionic abilities of the human mind are, to a greater or lesser degree, there to begin with, just as an ice cube has the ability to melt if the proper conditions are met with.
The analogy hardly extends beyond that. Unlike an ice cube, the human mind is capable of changing the forces outside it—as if the ice could seek out its own heat in order to melt. And, too, human minds vary in their inherent ability to absorb understanding. Some do so easily, others do so only in spotty areas, still others cannot reach the critical point before they break. And still others can never really understand at all.
No one who had not reached his own critical point could become a “core” member of the S.M.M.R. It was not snobbery on their part; they understood other human beings too well to be snobbish. It was more as though a Society for Expert Mountain Climbers met each year on the peak of Mount Everest—anyone who can get up there to attend the meeting is automatically a member.
Spencer Candron sat down in a nearby chair. “All right, so I refrain from doing any more damage than I have to. What's the objective?”
Taggert put his palms on his muscular thighs and leaned forward. “James Ch’ien is still alive.”
Candron had not been expecting the statement, but he felt no surprise. His mind merely adjusted to the new data. “He’s still in China, then,” he said. It was not a question, but a statement of a deduction. “The whole thing was a phony. The death, the body, the funeral. What about the executions?”
“They were real,” Taggert said. “Here’s what happened as closely as we can tell:
“Dr. Ch’ien was kidnaped on July 10th, the second day of the conference in Peiping, at some time between two and three in the morning. He was replaced by a double, whose name we don’t know. It’s unimportant, anyway. The double was as perfect as the Chinese surgeons could make him. He was probably not aware that he was slated to die; it is more likely that he was hypnotized and misled. At any rate, he took Ch’ien’s place on the rostrum to speak that afternoon.
“The man who shot him, and the man who threw the flame bomb, were probably as equally deluded as to what they were doing as the double was. They did a perfect job, though. The impersonator was dead, and his skin was charred and blistered clear up to the chest—no fingerprints.
 “The men were tried, convicted, and executed. The Chinese government sent us abject apologies. The double’s body was shipped back to the United States with full honors, but by the time it reached here, the eye-cone patterns had deteriorated to the point where they couldn’t be identified any more than the fingerprints could. And there were half a hundred reputable scientists of a dozen friendly nations who were eye-witnesses to the killing and who are all absolutely certain that it was James Ch’ien who died.”
Candron nodded. “So, while the whole world was mourning the fact that one of Earth’s greatest physicists has died, he was being held captive in the most secret and secure prison that the Red Chinese government could put him in.”
Taggert nodded. “And your job will be to get him out,” he said softly.
Candron said nothing for a moment, as he thought the problem out. Taggert said nothing to interrupt him.
Neither of them worried about being overheard or spied upon. Besides being equipped with hush devices and blanketing equipment, the building was guarded by Reeves and Donahue, whose combined senses of perception could pick up any