Read book online «Supermind by Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer (well read books .TXT) 📕». Author - Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer
This etext was produced from the 1963 book publication of the story. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed.
Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.
The word “PLaza” (two capital letters) was correct usage to designate a telephone exchange at the time the story was written. It has been left as printed.
In 1914, it was enemy aliens.
In 1930, it was Wobblies.
In 1957, it was fellow travelers.
In 1971, it was insane telepaths.
And, in 1973:
“We don’t know what the hell it is,” said Andrew J. Burris, Director of the FBI. He threw his hands in the air and looked baffled and confused.
Kenneth J. Malone tried to appear sympathetic. “What what is?” he asked.
Burris frowned and drummed his fingers on his big desk. “Malone,” he said, “make sense. And don’t stutter.”
“Stutter?” Malone said. “You said you didn’t know what it was. What the hell it was. And I wanted to know what it was.”
“That’s just it,” Burris said. “I don’t know.”
Malone sighed and repressed an impulse to scream. “Now wait a minute, Chief—” he started.
Burris frowned again. “Don’t call me Chief,” he said.
Malone nodded. “Okay,” he said. “But if you don’t know what it is, you must have some idea of what you don’t know. I mean, is it larger than a breadbox? Does it perform helpful tasks? Is it self-employed?”
“Malone,” Burris sighed, “you ought to be on television.”
“Let me explain,” Burris said. His voice was calmer now, and he spoke as if he were enunciating nothing but the most obvious and eternal truths. “The country,” he said, “is going to hell in a handbasket.”
Malone nodded again. “Well, after all, Chief—”
“Don’t call me Chief,” Burris said wearily.
“Anything you say,” Malone agreed peacefully. He eyed the Director of the FBI warily. “After all, it isn’t anything new,” he went on. “The country’s always been going to hell in a handbasket, one way or another. Look at Rome.”
“Rome?” Burris said.
“Sure,” Malone said. “Rome was always going to hell in a handbasket, and finally it—” He paused. “Finally it did, I guess,” he said.
“Exactly,” Burris said. “And so are we. Finally.” He passed a hand over his forehead and stared past Malone at a spot on the wall. Malone turned and looked at the spot, but saw nothing of interest. “Malone,” Burris said, and the FBI agent whirled around again.
“Yes, Ch—Yes?” he said.
“This time,” Burris said, “it isn’t the same old story at all. This time it’s different.”
“Different?” Malone said.
Burris nodded. “Look at it this way,” he said. His eyes returned to the agent. “Suppose you’re a congressman,” he went on, “and you find evidence of inefficiency in the government.”
“All right,” Malone said agreeably. He had the feeling that if he waited around a little while everything would make sense, and he was willing to wait. After all, he wasn’t on assignment at the moment, and there was nothing pressing waiting for him. He was even between romances.
If he waited long enough, he told himself, Andrew J. Burris might say something worth hearing. He looked attentive and eager. He considered leaning over the desk a little, to look even more eager, but decided against it; Burris might think he looked threatening. There was no telling.
“You’re a congressman,” Burris said, “and the government is inefficient. You find evidence of it. What do you do?”
Malone blinked and thought for a second. It didn’t take any longer than that to come up with the old, old answer. “I start an investigation,” he said. “I get a committee and I talk to a lot of newspaper editors and magazine editors and maybe I go on television and talk some more, and my committee has a lot of meetings—”
“Exactly,” Burris said.
“And we talk a lot at the meetings,” Malone went on, carried away, “and get a lot of publicity, and we subpoena famous people, just as famous as we can get, except governors or presidents, because you can’t—they tried that back in the Fifties, and it didn’t work very well—and that gives us some more publicity, and then when we have all the publicity we can possibly get—”
“You stop,” Burris said hurriedly.
“That’s right,” Malone said. “We stop. And that’s what I’d do.”
“Of course, the problem of inefficiency is left exactly where it always was,” Burris said. “Nothing’s been done about it.”
“Naturally,” Malone said. “But think of all the lovely publicity. And all the nice talk. And the subpoenas and committees and everything.”
“Sure,” Burris said wearily. “It’s happened a thousand times. But, Malone, that’s the difference. It isn’t happening this time.”
There was a short pause. “What do you mean?” Malone said at last.
“This time,” Burris said, in a tone that sounded almost awed, “they want to keep it a secret.”
“A secret?” Malone said, blinking. “But that’s—that’s not the American way.”
Burris shrugged. “It’s un-congressman-like, anyhow,” he said. “But that’s what they’ve done. Tiptoed over to me and whispered softly that the thing has to be investigated quietly. Naturally, they didn’t give me any orders—but only because they know they can’t make one stick. They suggested it pretty strongly.”
“Any reasons?” Malone said. The whole idea interested him strangely. It was odd—and he found himself almost liking odd cases, lately. That is, he amended hurriedly, if they didn’t get too odd.
“Oh, they had reasons, all right,” Burris said. “It took a little coaxing, but I managed to pry some loose. You see, every one of them found inefficiency in his own department. And every one knows that other men are investigating inefficiency.”
“Oh,” Malone said.
“That’s right,” Burris said. “Every one of them came to me to get me to prove that the goof-ups in his particular department weren’t his fault. That covers them in case one of the others happens to light into the department.”
“Well, it must be somebody’s fault,” Malone said.
“It isn’t theirs,” Burris said wearily, “I ought to know. They told me. At great length, Malone.”
Malone felt a stab of honest pity. “How many so far?” he asked.
“Six,” Burris said. “Four representatives, and two senators.”
“Only two?” Malone said.
“Well,” Burris said, “the Senate is so much smaller. And, besides, we may get more. As a matter of fact, Senator Lefferts is worth any six representatives all by himself.”
“He is?” Malone said, puzzled. Senator Lefferts was not one of his favorite people. Nor, as far as he knew, did the somewhat excitable senator hold any place of honor in the heart of Andrew J. Burris.
“I mean his story,” Burris said. “I’ve never heard anything like it— at least, not since the Bilbo days. And I’ve only heard about those,” he added hurriedly.
“What story?” Malone said. “He talked about inefficiency—”
“Not exactly,” Burris said carefully. “He said that somebody was out to get him—him, personally. He said somebody was trying to discredit him by sabotaging all his legislative plans.”
“Well,” Malone said, feeling that some comment was called for, “three cheers.”
“That isn’t the point,” Burris snapped. “No matter how we feel about Senator Lefferts or his legislative plans, we’re sworn to protect him. And he says ‘they’ are out to get him.”
“They?” Malone said.
“You know,” Burris said, shrugging. “The great ‘they.’ The invisible enemies all around, working against him.”
“Oh,” Malone said. “Paranoid?” He had always thought Senator Lefferts was slightly on the batty side, and the idea of real paranoia didn’t come as too much of a surprise. After all, when a man was batty to start out with ... and he even looked like a vampire, Malone thought confusedly.
“As far as paranoia is concerned,” Burris said, “I checked with one of our own psych men, and he’ll back it up. Lefferts has definite paranoid tendencies, he says.”
“Well, then,” Malone said, “that’s that.”
Burris shook his head. “It isn’t that simple,” he said. “You see, Malone, there’s some evidence that somebody is working against him.”
“The American public, with any luck at all,” Malone said.
“No,” Burris said. “An enemy. Somebody sabotaging his plans. Really.”
Malone shook his head. “You’re crazy,” he said.
Burris looked shocked. “Malone, I’m the Director of the FBI,” he said. “And if you insist on being disrespectful—”
“Sorry,” Malone murmured. “But—”
“I am perfectly sane,” Burris said slowly. “It’s Senator Lefferts who’s crazy. The only trouble is, he has evidence to show he’s not.”
Malone thought about odd cases, and suddenly wished he were somewhere else. Anywhere else. This one showed sudden signs of developing into something positively bizarre. “I see,” he said, wondering if he did.
“After all,” Burris said, in a voice that attempted to sound reasonable, “a paranoid has just as much right to be persecuted as anybody else, doesn’t he?”
“Sure,” Malone said. “Everybody has rights. But what do you want me to do about that?”
“About their rights?” Burris said. “Nothing, Malone. Nothing.”
“I mean,” Malone said patiently, “about whatever it is that’s going on.”
Burris took a deep breath. His hands clasped behind his head, and he looked up at the ceiling. He seemed perfectly relaxed. That, Malone knew, was a bad sign. It meant that there was a dirty job coming, a job nobody wanted to do, and one Burris was determined to pass off on him. He sighed and tried to get resigned.
“Well,” the FBI director said, “the only actual trouble we can pinpoint is that there seem to be a great many errors occurring in the paperwork. More than usual.”
“People get tired,” Malone said tentatively.
“But computer-secretary calculating machines don’t,” Burris said. “And that’s where the errors are, in the computer-secretaries down in the Senate Office Building. I think you’d better start out there.”
“Sure,” Malone said sadly.
“See if there’s any mechanical or electrical defect in any of those computers,” Burris said. “Talk to the computer technicians. Find out what’s causing all these errors.”
“Yes, sir,” Malone said. He was still trying to feel resigned, but he wasn’t succeeding very well.
“And if you don’t find anything—” Burris began.
“I’ll come right back,” Malone said instantly.
“No,” Burris said. “You keep on looking.”
“You do,” Burris said. “After all, there has to be something wrong.”
“Sure,” Malone said, “if you say so. But—”
“There are the interview tapes,” Burris said, “and the reports the Congressmen brought in. You can go through those.”
Malone sighed. “I guess so,” he said.
“And there must be thousands of other things to do,” Burris said.
“Well—” Malone began cautiously.
“You’ll be able to think of them,” Burris said heartily. “I know you will. I have confidence in you, Malone. Confidence.”
“Thanks,” Malone said sadly.
“You just keep me posted from time to time on what you’re doing, and what ideas you get,” Burris said. “I’m leaving the whole thing in your hands, Malone, and I’m sure you won’t disappoint me.”
“I’ll try,” Malone said.
“I know you will,” Burris said warmly. “And no matter how long it takes, I know you’ll succeed.”
“No matter how long it takes?” Malone said hesitantly.
“That’s right!” Burris said. “You can do it, Malone! You can do it.”
Malone nodded slowly. “I hope so,” he said. “Well, I—Well, I’ll start out right away, then.”
He turned. Before he could make another move Burris said, “Wait!”
Malone turned again, hope in his eyes. “Yes, sir?” he said.
“When you leave—” Burris began, and the hope disappeared. “When you leave,” he went on, “please do one little favor for me. Just one little favor, because I’m an old, tired man and I’m not used to things any more.”
“Sure,” Malone said. “Anything, Chief.”
“Don’t call me—”
“Sorry,” Malone said.
Burris breathed heavily. “When you leave,” he said, “please, please use the door.”
“Malone,” Burris said, “I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. Believe me. I’ve tried to get used to the fact that you can teleport. But—”
“It’s useful,” Malone said, “in my work.”
“I can see that,” Burris said. “And I don’t want you to, well, to stop doing it. By no means. It’s just that it sort of unnerves me, if you see what I mean. No matter how useful it is for the FBI to have an agent who can go instantaneously from one place to another, it unnerves me.” He sighed. “I can’t get used to seeing you disappear like an overdried soap bubble, Malone. It does something to me, here.” He placed a hand directly over his sternum and sighed again.
“I can understand that,” Malone said. “It unnerved me, too, the first time I saw it. I thought I was going crazy, when that kid—Mike Fueyo—winked out like a light. But then we got him, and some FBI agents besides me have learned the trick.”