- Author: George O. Smith
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Highways in Hiding is based upon material originally copyrighted by Greenleaf Publishing Co., 1955. All rights reserved
Library of Congress Catalog Card No.: 56-10457
Printed in the U.S.A.
Cover painting by Roy G. Krenkel A LANCER BOOK, 1967
LANCER BOOKS, INC., 185 MADISON AVENUE, NEW YORK, N.Y. 10016
[Transcriber's note: This is a rule 6 clearance. PG has not been able to find a U.S. copyright renewal.]For my drinking uncle
and, of course
MARIAN CONTENTS Historical Note
In the founding days of Rhine Institute the need arose for a new punctuation mark which would indicate on the printed page that the passage was of mental origin, just as the familiar quotation marks indicate that the words between them were of verbal origin. Accordingly, the symbol # was chosen, primarily because it appears on every typewriter.
Up to the present time, the use of the symbol # to indicate directed mental communication has been restricted to technical papers, term theses, and scholarly treatises by professors, scholars, and students of telepathy.
Here, for the first time in any popular work, the symbol # is used to signify that the passage between the marks was mental communication.
Steve Cornell, M. Ing.STALEMATE
Macklin said, "Please put that weapon down, Mr. Cornell. Let's not add attempted murder to your other crimes."
"Don't force me to it, then," I told him.
But I knew I couldn't do it. I hated them all. I wanted the whole Highways in Hiding rolled up like an old discarded carpet, with every Mekstrom on Earth rolled up in it. But I couldn't pull the trigger. The survivors would have enough savvy to clean up the mess before our bodies got cold, and the Highways crowd would be doing business at the same old stand. Without, I might add, the minor nuisance that people call Steve Cornell.
What I really wanted was to find Catherine.
And then it came to me that what I really wanted second of all was to possess a body of Mekstrom Flesh, to be a physical superman....I
I came up out of the blackness just enough to know that I was no longer pinned down by a couple of tons of wrecked automobile. I floated on soft sheets with only a light blanket over me.
I hurt all over like a hundred and sixty pounds of boil. My right arm was numb and my left thigh was aching. Breathing felt like being stabbed with rapiers and the skin of my face felt stretched tight. There was a bandage over my eyes and the place was as quiet as the grave. But I knew that I was not in any grave because my nose was working just barely well enough to register the unmistakable pungent odor that only goes with hospitals.
I tried my sense of perception, but like any delicate and critical sense, perception was one of the first to go. I could not dig out beyond a few inches. I could sense the bed and the white sheets and that was all.
Some brave soul had hauled me out of that crack-up before the fuel tank went up in the fire. I hope that whoever he was, he'd had enough sense to haul Catherine out of the mess first. The thought of living without Catherine was too dark to bear, and so I just let the blackness close down over me again because it cut out all pain, both physical and mental.
The next time I awoke there was light and a pleasant male voice saying, "Steve Cornell. Steve, can you hear me?"
I tried to answer but no sound came out. Not even a hoarse croak.
The voice went on, "Don't try to talk, Steve. Just think it."
#Catherine?# I thought sharply, because most medicos are telepath, not perceptive.
"Catherine is all right," he replied.
#Can I see her?#
"Lord no!" he said quickly. "You'd scare her half to death the way you look right now."
#How bad off am I?#
"You're a mess, Steve. Broken ribs, compound fracture of the left tibia, broken humerus. Scars, mars, abrasions, some flashburn and post-accident shock. And if you're interested, not a trace of Mekstrom's Disease."
#Mekstrom's Disease—?# was my thought of horror.
"Forget it, Steve. I always check for it because it's been my specialty. Don't worry."
#Okay. So how long have I been here?#
#Eight days? Couldn't you do the usual job?#
"You were pretty badly ground up, Steve. That's what took the time. Now, suppose you tell me what happened?"
#Catherine and I were eloping. Just like most other couples do since Rhine Institute made it difficult to find personal privacy. Then we cracked up.#
"What did it?" asked the doctor. "Perceptives like you usually sense danger before you can see it."
#Catherine called my attention to a peculiar road sign, and I sent my perception back to take another dig. We hit the fallen limb of a tree and went over and over. You know the rest.#
"Bad," said the doctor. "But what kind of a sign would call your interest so deep that you didn't at least see the limb, even if you were perceiving the sign?"
#Peculiar sign,# I thought. Ornamental wrought iron gizmo with curlicues and a little decorative circle that sort of looks like the Boy Scout tenderfoot badge suspended on three spokes. One of the spokes were broken away; I got involved because I was trying to guess whether it had been shot away by some vandal who missed the central design. Then—blooie!#
"It's really too bad, Steve. But you'll be all right in a while."
#Thanks, doctor. Doctor? Doctor—?#
"Sorry, Steve. I forget that everybody is not telepath like I am. I'm James Thorndyke."
Much later I began to wake up again, and with better clarity of mind, I found that I could extend my esper as far as the wall and through the door by a few inches. It was strictly hospital all right; sere white and stainless steel as far as my esper could reach.
In my room was a nurse, rustling in starched white. I tried to speak, croaked once, and then paused to form my voice.
"Can—I see—How is—? Where is?" I stopped again, because the nurse was probably as esper as I was and required a full sentence to get the thought behind it. Only a telepath like the doctor could have followed my jumbled ideas. But the nurse was good. She tried:
"Mr. Cornell? You're awake!"
"Take it easy. I'm Miss Farrow. I'll get the doctor."
"No—wait. I've been here eight days—?"
"But you were badly hurt, you know."
"But the doctor. He said that she was here, too."
"Don't worry about it, Mr. Cornell."
"But he said that she was not badly hurt."
"Then why was—is—she here so long?"
Miss Farrow laughed cheerfully. "Your Christine is in fine shape. She is still here because she wouldn't leave until you were well out of danger. Now stop fretting. You'll see her soon enough."
Her laugh was light but strained. It sounded off-key because it was as off-key as a ten-yard-strip of baldfaced perjury. She left in a hurry and I was able to esper as far as outside the door, where she leaned back against the wood and began to cry. She was hating herself because she had blown her lines and she knew that I knew it.
And Catherine had never been in this hospital, because if she had been brought in with me, the nurse would have known the right name.
Not that it mattered to me now, but Miss Farrow was no esper or she'd have dug my belongings and found Catherine's name on the license. Miss Farrow was a telepath; I'd not called my girl by name, only by an affectionate mental image.II
I was fighting my body upright when Doctor Thorndyke came running. "Easy, Steve," he said with a quiet gesture. He pushed me gently back down in the bed with hands that were as soft as a mother's, but as firm as the kind that tie bow knots in half-inch bars. "Easy," he repeated soothingly.
"Catherine?" I croaked pleadingly.
Thorndyke fingered the call button in some code or other before he answered me. "Steve," he said honestly, "you can't be kept in ignorance forever. We hoped it would be a little longer, when you were stronger—"
"Stop beating around!" I yelled. At least it felt like I was yelling, but maybe it was only my mind welling.
"Easy, Steve. You've had a rough time. Shock—" The door opened and a nurse came in with a hypo all loaded, its needle buried in a fluff of cotton. Thorndyke eyed it professionally and took it; the nurse faded quietly from the room. "Take it easy, Steve. This will—"
"No! Not until I know—"
"Easy," he repeated. He held the needle up before my eyes. "Steve," he said, "I don't know whether you have enough esper training to dig the contents of this needle, but if you haven't, will you please trust me? This contains a neurohypnotic. It won't put you under. It will leave you as wide awake as you are now, but it will disconnect your running gear and keep you from blowing a fuse." Then with swift deftness that amazed me, the doctor slid the needle into my arm and let me have the full load.
I was feeling the excitement rise in me because something was wrong, but I could also feel the stuff going to work. Within half a minute I was in a chilled-off frame of mind that was capable of recognizing the facts but not caring much one way or the other.
When he saw the stuff taking hold, Thorndyke asked, "Steve, just who is Catherine?"
The shock almost cut through the drug. My mind whirled with all the things that Catherine was to me, and the doctor followed it every bit of the way.
"Steve, you've been under an accident shock. There was no Catherine with you. There was no one with you at all. Understand that and accept it. No one. You were alone. Do you understand?"
I shook my head. I sounded to myself like an actor reading the script of a play for the first time. I wanted to pound on the table and add the vigor of physical violence to my hoarse voice, but all I could do was to reply in a calm voice:
"Catherine was with me. We were—" I let it trail off because Thorndyke knew very well what we were doing. We were eloping in the new definition of the word. Rhine Institute and its associated studies had changed a lot of customs; a couple intending to commit matrimony today were inclined to take off quietly and disappear from their usual haunts until they'd managed to get intimately acquainted with one another. Elopement was a means of finding some personal privacy.
We should have stayed at home and faced the crude jokes that haven't changed since Pithecanthropus first discovered that sex was funny. But our mutual desire to find some privacy in this modern fish-bowl had put me in the hospital and Catherine—where—?
"Steve, listen to me!"
"I know you espers. You're sensitive, maybe more so than telepaths. More imagination—"
This was for the birds in my estimation. Among the customs that Rhine has changed was the old argument as to whether women or men were smarter. Now the big argument was whether espers or telepaths could get along better with the rest of the world.
Thorndyke laughed at my objections and went on: "You're in accident shock. You piled up your car. You begin to imagine how terrible it would have been if your Catherine had been with you. Next you carefully build up in your subconscious mind a whole and complete story, so well put together that to you it seems to be fact."
But, #—how could anyone have taken a look at the scene of the accident and not seen traces of woman? My woman.#
"We looked," he said in answer to my unspoken question. "There was not a trace, Steve."
"You'd been dating her."
Thorndyke nodded quietly. "There were a lot of her prints on the remains of your car. But no one could begin