He was late for his date with Ciel, of course. He glanced at his chrono as h_ntered the Stardust Cafe by the front door and saw that he was twenty minute_ate. However, this time he was certain Ciel wouldn't complain too vigorously.
Again the askarins were playing, and once more the green-skinned Venusia_irls were doing their writhing, spasmodic, aphrodisiacal dance. It wa_emarkable how they could achieve such an effect of utter abandon and yet kee_heir faces blank and frozen. He looked around the rest of the room swiftly.
Not so crowded tonight, and people were generally quieter. There were n_versexed spacemen clawing after the dancers on the floor.
Ciel was again in a rear booth, in the same corner of the room she had chose_efore. She had spotted him now; she was looking his way. She lifted a white- gloved hand and waved.
He smiled and headed for her. He forced his smile, and made himself forget th_rickling of his wrists and the feeling of bristling fur along his spine. An_e held his smile all the way across the room. _Why, hello, darling, fanc_eeing you here; no, nothing's wrong, nothing at all, why on earth would yo_hink anything was wrong?_
"Hi, baby," was all he actually said.
"I'm—I'm glad you're here, Dick." Her eyes didn't show much. They roved ove_is face a little too much perhaps, but otherwise they seemed simply as larg_nd dark as ever. He noticed that the meth glass in front of her was empty.
Grinning, he sat down. "This is a big moment. This is almost too much for m_o handle. Maybe that's what I need—a good slug of meth."
"Let's not waste time. Let's go out on the terrace. I want you to kiss me."
"Best offer I've had all evening." He rose again. "Where's the terrace?"
"Through that door. There's a dining room there that's closed at night. You g_hrough the dining room and out to the terrace."
He took her arm and led her in and out of tables, across the room. They move_wiftly through the quiet, nearly dark dining room, and after that through _air of window-doors. They were on the terrace then, a flagstoned space with _ow wall. It overlooked the scattered lights of World City's topside area an_ome distance beyond they could see the river, a blue-silver ribbon in th_oonlight.
They stopped at the wall. She turned toward him. He looked down at her, at he_ale face and deep, dark eyes. He smelled her perfume and he felt her liv_armth near him and coming nearer. He saw her eyes close, her lips part jus_lightly, and each lip glistening, faintly moist… .
He was wondering when it would happen. He was wondering when he would b_truck.
As he wondered that he suddenly discovered he wasn't on the terrace any more.
He looked about him in some surprise. It was nearly dark. He was in a room; h_ould sense the walls about him. He heard a curious, high-pitched metalli_oice—and recognized it.
" _Pell? Are you awake now?_ "
It had happened then, just as he had expected. Someone had thrown a freezer o_im there in the patio, and during his complete unconsciousness he'd bee_aken here, wherever this was. He sighed. The least they could have done woul_ave been to let him finish kissing Ciel.
As calmly as he could he said to the four blank walls, "I'm awake."
Soft glowlights came on gradually and he saw that the room about him wa_airly small—twenty by fifteen, roughly—and very plain. It contained a bed an_ few odd pieces of furniture, all apparently of good quality. There was _oor in one wall. He tried the door. Locked. He went back to the middle of th_oom.
"Chief," he said to the blank walls, "what's this all about? Is it some kin_f a joke?"
The metallic voice chuckled. It belonged to Eustace J. Larkin, Chief, Centra_nvestigation Bureau, and even filtered like this it was somewhat prim an_recise. "No, Dick, it's not a joke, I'm afraid. I'm surprised you haven'_uessed what it's all about. Or at least had one of your brilliant hunches."
There was sarcasm in this last.
"Where's Ciel?" Pell asked.
"Right here with me. In the next room. Here—listen."
Ciel's voice said, "Don't worry, darling, we'll explain everything. And whe_t's all over it will be for the best. You'll see that it will."
"All right, everybody," said Pell, half-belligerently, "what's the big idea?"
"Big idea is right," Larkin's voice came back. "The biggest that ever hit th_uman race. And as Ciel says we'll explain it all in a moment. But first I'_ike your word that you won't be foolish and make any kind of a struggle. I_ou'll promise that you can come in the other room here and we can all tal_ace to face."
Pell frowned. "I don't know—I'm not so sure I can honestly promise that."
"Suit yourself, then. A few minutes from now it won't make any differenc_nyway."
"Will you stop being so damned mysterious and tell me what it's all about?"
Larkin's voice laughed. "Very well. I haven't had much chance to tell abou_t, frankly. And I think you'll agree we've rather neatly kept our parts unde_over—until you got dangerously close to the answer, anyway."
"Until I got close?"
"Certainly. Doc Wilcox's office on the moon was perhaps our one weakness i_he whole set-up. How you managed to stumble on to that, I'll never know—you_uck must have been with you."
"It wasn't luck, Larkin, it was a hunch."
"Still believe in hunches, eh? Well, we won't argue the point. At any rate yo_ouldn't have found the enzyme any place else but there."
"Oh, so the enzyme does have something to do with it."
"Everything. Here—suppose I let Doctor Nebel explain it to you. He develope_t, after all."
Pell lifted his eyebrows in surprise and Dr. Walter Nebel's sibilant voic_ame through the hidden speakers. "I think you should know how it works, Mr.
Pell. You may know that a certain part of the brain called Rossi's area is, t_ut it figuratively, the hypnotic center. The cut-off of the adrenal cortex, so to speak. In ordinary hypnosis the function of that area is dulled b_verexercising the motor senses. By that method the intensity of hypnosis i_idely variable and never really one hundred per cent effective. My compound, however, brings about complete and absolute cut-off. Any post-hypnoti_uggestion given under those circumstances takes permanently and deeply. I_an only be removed by further post-hypnosis under the same treatment, negating the original command."
Pell stared at the blank walls. "Go on," he said in a soft, tense voice.
"What's the rest?"
Larkin spoke again. "Suppose we briefly examine a little history as a kind o_ntroduction to this matter. The human race, since the beginning of recorde_ime, has failed to achieve real peace and stability, right? Every time ther_as been a chance for cooperative effort—for total agreement—certain selfis_nterests have spoiled it. There have been times, however, when certai_roups—states or combinations of states—came close to permanent peace an_rosperity. The Napoleonic era was one. Hitler two hundred years ago almos_rought it about. The only reason they failed was that they didn't achiev_heir goal— _complete_ conquest."
_Did Pell hear correctly? Was there a faint simmering of madness in tha_etallic voice now?_ In the words there was madness, surely… .
It went on: "The fact is, Pell, people simply don't know what's good for them.
Look at the blunderers and even downright crooks who are elected to Worl_overnment. Never the best brains, never the best talents. When a really abl_an gets into a position of leadership it's an accident—a fluke."
"I still don't see what all this has got to do with it," said Pell.
There was a shrug in the metallic voice. "For once the ablest men are going t_ake over. There are a number of us. You know already about myself and Docto_ebel. Rysland will be with us, too, as soon as we can get him conditioned."
"By conditioned, you mean this enzyme of yours?"
"Exactly. We started out in a small way, using force or trickery wher_ecessary, and managed to condition a number of doctors and nurses.
Conditioning simply means injecting Nebel's compound and then giving the post- hypnotic command to be unquestioningly loyal to the Supremists. We created th_upremists, of course. In order for us to take over it will be necessary t_ave another war, and to conquer Venus. That can be done if Earth strike_uickly. Within the next few days I think there'll be enough Supremis_nfluence to get this war started."
Pell stared back, open-mouthed. To hear it coldly and calmly like this wa_hock, cold-water shock. "Let me get this straight now. Your group mad_upremists of doctors and nurses and they in turn made new members b_nstalling this hypnosis stuff whenever anybody came for a hypodermi_njection of any kind, is that it?"
"But how does this stuff work? Does it knock you out, or what?"
"You'll be finding that out at first hand very shortly."
Pell stiffened, made fists and unconsciously lifted them and looked aroun_im, warily.
Larkin laughed. "It won't do you much good to put up a fight. I'm sending _ouple of my assistants in there. They specialize in people who want to make _truggle. And there's no reason to feel unhappy about it, Pell: once you'r_onditioned you'll simply be unable to do anything against the Supremis_ause. You'll be happier, in fact, having such a cause. Ask your wife if tha_sn't so."
Pell trembled with anger. "How did you get to her? How did you make her d_hat she did?"
"You mean luring you into our little trap on the terrace, so to speak? Yo_ustn't blame Ciel for that. She couldn't help herself; she had to obey, afte_ll. You see she was conditioned in Augea on the moon by Dr. Wilcox, one o_ur very loyal men. He simply dropped in when you were at the Post Office, pretended that Ciel needed a routine injection and she, not at all suspicious, allowed him to do it. He gave her the command of loyalty, and also cautione_er not to say anything about it. So you see, Ciel's been one of us fo_everal days. It was just a little precaution of mine, in case you shoul_ecome troublesome. I had to assign somebody to the investigation, of course, because Rysland and his crowd would have been too suspicious if I hadn'_omplied with their request."
"You're stark crazy, Larkin! You ought to be in a mental hospital!"
"You'll be over that idea in a minute or so. Meanwhile, we're wasting time.
I'm sending the boys in now. You'll make it easier for yourself if you submi_ithout giving them any trouble."
The door opened, then. Pell caught a quick glimpse of the other room and sa_hat it was a tastefully furnished living room. He recognized it, and kne_here he was. This was a country house of Larkin's, topside, not far from th_utskirts of World City. Whoever turned the freezer on him must have set th_ontrol at high intensity because it would take at least an hour to get t_his place from the Stardust Cafe and he had been unconscious at least tha_ong.
He had the momentary impulse to rush that partly opened door—and then th_oys, as Larkin had called them, appeared.
They were specialists, little doubt of that. They regarded Pell with flat, almost disinterested looks as the door closed behind them. One held _ypodermic needle. He was the shorter of the two, but he had shoulders lik_x-yokes. His face had been kneaded in the prize ring, and his bare arms wer_uscular and hairy but the top of his head was bald. The other had red hair, close-cropped. He was big and well-proportioned; Pell might have taken him fo_ professional football player.
Red did the talking. He spoke quietly, almost pleasantly. "Gonna cooperate?"
he asked Pell.
Pell said, "You touch me, brother, and I'll make your face look like Baldy's."
Red glanced at Baldy and seemed to sigh. Abruptly he whirled, jumped at Pel_nd brought a sizzling right hand punch through the air. Pell ducked it. H_aw Baldy move in as he did so, and a painful blow struck the back of hi_eck. His teeth rattled when it struck. Something caught him under the chin, straightened him. When he was straight a pile driver struck him in th_idsection.
It was all over within a matter of seconds. Under different circumstances Pel_ight have found time to admire their technique.
As it was, he was now face down on the floor and Red was straddling him, holding him there. The pain in his stomach made him gasp. His face and th_ack of his neck ached terribly.
Red had his arm in the small of his back. Pell tried to struggle.
"I can break the arm if you move," said Red cheerfully.
And then Pell felt the bite of the needle just below his shoulder.
A misty feeling came. He felt as though he were in a red whirlpool, spinning, going down—down… . He fought to rise. He could still hear. He could hea_ootsteps and the slam of the door when somebody else came into the room. An_hen he seemed abruptly to be detached from his own body and floating in _uge gray void… .
Words hammered at his brain. Larkin's voice, at his ear now and no longe_etallic. " _You will be loyal to the Supremist cause. You will do nothin_gainst the Supremist doctrine. You will believe that Earthmen are meant t_ule the Universe—_ "
He felt an overpowering impulse to nod, to agree, to believe that it was righ_o do this. He fought this impulse, straining his mind and his very bein_ntil it seemed that something might burst with the effort.
" _You will work for the cause; you will give your life for it if necessary._
Yes, perhaps it was better to succumb. The words were too strong. He couldn'_ight them. Larkin was right, Earthmen were supreme, and they were destined t_ule… .
Somewhere in the depths a tiny spot of resistance still glowed. He trie_esperately to evoke it. It seemed then that it became brighter. He _could_esist—he _would_ … . He kept thinking over and over again: " _No, no, no!_ "
Larkin's voice said, "Carry him in the other room. He'll come to in a moment."
He came to slowly, and he saw that he was lying on a couch and that severa_eople were gathered around him smiling down at him. Something detached itsel_rom the group, knelt by his side. He blinked. It was Ciel. Her golden hai_hone and her dark eyes searched his face and she was smiling. "Hello, darling," she said.
"Hello, Ciel." He kissed her, and then sat up on the couch and looked around.
Larkin and Dr. Nebel were standing together, and Red and Baldy were a fe_teps behind them, still looking indifferent.
"Now you're one of us, Dick," said Larkin, flashing his professional smile, dimples and everything. Pell rose. Nebel held his hands behind his back an_eamed, blinking his heavy reptilian eyelids and Larkin stepped forward an_eld out his hand.
"Yes," said Pell, shaking the hand, "I guess we're all working for the sam_hing now. What do you want me to do?"
Larkin laughed. "Nothing right away. We'll give you instructions when the tim_omes. I think you might as well go home with Ciel now; I have a copter and _hauffeur outside that'll take you to the station near your apartment."
"Okay, Chief, whatever you say." He smiled and took Ciel's arm. He starte_oward the door. Then he stopped, patted his chest and said, "Oh—my freezer. _uess the boys took it away… ."
Larkin turned to Baldy. "Give him his weapon."
Baldy took the freezer from his pocket and casually tossed it to Pell.
A sudden change came over Pell, then. His smile disappeared. He steppe_uickly away from Ciel, whirled and faced all of them. He pointed the freezer.
"All right, everybody stay perfectly still—you, too, Ciel. This is where w_reak up your little Supremist nightmare."
Larkin stared in utter amazement. Nebel's turtle lids opened wide. Cie_rought her hand to her throat.
Red's hand blurred suddenly, going for his own weapon. Pell squeezed th_rigger, the violet sparks danced for an instant, and then Red stood froze_ith his hand almost to his chest.
"I'd advise nobody else to try that," said Pell, and then in an ironical ton_o Larkin: "C.I.B. agents are trained to be pretty quick with a freezer, right, Chief?"
Larkin seemed to find his voice now. "But—how—what happened? You wer_njected. How can you… ."
"I just took a little precaution, that's all," said Pell. "There'll be plent_f time to explain it all later. You'll probably hear the whole thing i_ourt, Larkin, when I testify at your trial for treason. Meanwhile, all of yo_ust stay nice and calm while I use the viewer."
He stepped to the viewer and dialed with his free hand. The plate glowed, shimmered and a moment later the pale, grave face of Theodor Rysland came int_iew. His eyebrows rose as he saw the weapon in Pell's hand and glimpsed th_eople beyond Pell. "Hello—what's this all about?"
"Haven't time to explain fully now," said Pell, "but I want you to get t_arkin's country house as soon as you can. I'll call agent Kronski in a momen_nd have him bring some others, and together we'll take Larkin and Nebel int_ustody. They're behind the Supremist movement—a deliberate attempt to tak_ver the government. They did it with a drug; that's how Supremist's ar_ade."
"What's this? A drug?"
"Think about it later," said Pell. "Just grab the facts right now. The dru_akes a person subject to post-hypnotic commands—that's why your Supremist_re blindly, unthinkingly loyal. However, the command can be erased by _econd treatment. That'll be tough and take a lot of ferreting out, but i_on't be impossible." He glanced at Ciel, and saw that she was staring at hi_ith horror—with enmity. It sickened him, but he steadied himself with th_ealization that Ciel would be one of the first to be re-treated.
Several minutes later he had completed his calls. Rysland, Kronski and th_thers were on the way. He kept the freezer pointed, and watched his captive_arefully. Ciel had gone over to the couch and was sitting there, her face i_er hands, weeping softly.
"I don't know how you did it," said Larkin. "I don't understand it. Th_njection should have worked. It always did before."
"Well, it almost worked," said Pell. "I must admit I had quite a time fightin_ff your commands. But, you see, I knew you'd gotten to Ciel somehow when sh_alled me up to make the date this evening. She spoke of going out to th_errace at the Stardust Cafe. It was a little odd that she should speak of th_errace like that, out of a clear sky—and I wondered why it should be on he_ind. Then it struck me that neither of us had ever noticed a terrace there, and Ciel must have some special reason for knowing about it.
"She did, of course—she'd been instructed to get me out there where your boy_ould slap a freezer on me. So I started guessing with that hunch to work on.
Everything more or less fell into place after that. It was pretty certain tha_hey'd try to make a loyal Supremist out of me, too, and that's when I too_hat little precaution I mentioned to you."
Pell smiled. "I had Marco the mentalist hypnotize me and give me a rathe_pecial post-hypnotic command. He ordered me not to believe any _subsequent_ost-hypnotic commands. That's why your conditioning didn't work on me."
Larkin could find no words; he just stared.
"Think about it, Larkin," said Pell. "Think hard. Maybe you'd convince_ourself you were doing good, but your purpose was still tyranny. And like an_yranny it contained the means of its own destruction. It always works ou_hat way, Larkin—maybe it's a law, or something."
It had been a long speech for Pell, practically an oration. He was, after all, a cop, not a philosopher. Just a guy trying to get along. Just an ordinar_itizen whose name was legion, looking at his wife now and waiting with wha_atience he could find for the time when she would be cleared of the poisonou_octrine that any one race or group or even species was supreme.
He was thinking, too, that the trial would keep him busy as the very devil an_hat they _still_ wouldn't get to that vacation and second honeymoon for _ong time… .
That, considering everything, was not too much to put up with.