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Read The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol V Part 18

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Elaine walked to the door. She stepped out into the corridor and walked down the steps.

“All right?”

“Perfect! Try the parking lot. Close the door.”

She went out of the quarters, crossed the areaway, and stood under the landing slot. Far overhead, a segment of sky appeared between the open bomb shutters. Stars shone coldly. She was conscious of a movement and looked down, toward a shadow which moved among the parked helicopters.

“What’s that?”

She looked more closely at the shadow, then shuddered a little.

“Never mind.” The thought was urgent. “Come inside. I got him, too.”

Quickly, Elaine walked back into the apartment. She closed the door and walked to the desk, removing the headband as she approached. Her husband put his headband beside it.

“We’d better get to bed,” he said quietly. “I’ll notify them tomorrow.”

“No, Paul. It would be harder then. And there would be so many questions. Call the sector leader tonight. We’ll have to get it over.” Elaine shivered.

“But what will they do with it?” She asked the question almost despairingly.

Graham shook his head. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I started with the idea of simply building a really effective communicator. But this is more than that. To you and I, it meant full understanding. But to that person out there … I don’t know.”

“His thoughts were flat–almost lifeless. And he made my skin crawl. Paul, do you remember how you used to feel when you came close to a snake? There’s something wrong with that man.”

“I know. I felt it, too. And it made the blood rush into my ears.” Graham moved toward the communicator, placing his hand on the switch. “And you’re right. I’ll have to report immediately. They don’t really need telepathy. And certainly, they never required real evidence. A suspicion is sufficient, and they’d be very suspicious if I didn’t notify the sector leader tonight.”

He depressed the switch deliberately, like a man firing a weapon. Then, he dialed a number, and waited.

The sphere lit, to show the face of Harold Bond.

“Oh, Graham.” Bond frowned a little. “It’s late. Do you have something to report?”

“Yes, sir.” Graham’s face was expressionless. “The mental communicator is finished. Do you wish to test it, sir?”

Bond opened his eyes a little more and nodded. “It’s really done, then?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll be there in a few minutes.” The sphere darkened.

Graham looked at it. De-energized, the communicator seemed to be merely a large ball of clear material. It stood on its low pedestal, against its black background, reflecting a distorted picture of the chiaroscuro of the room. He leaned toward it, and saw a faint, deformed reflection of his own head and shoulders.

He spread his hands a little, and turned around. Elaine had crossed to the divan, where she sat, looking apathetically at the door, her hands folded in her lap. He smiled apprehensively, coughed, and held up a hand, two fingers crossed.

Elaine glanced at him, nodded, and resumed her watch of the door. Graham shrugged and walked over to his desk, where he stood, aimlessly looking down at the two headbands.

They both jumped convulsively when the buzzer sounded. Graham strode rapidly to the door, opened it, and stood back as the sector leader came in. Elaine had come to her feet, and stood rigidly, facing the door.

Sector Leader Bond closed the door, then looked from one of them to the other. He shook his head a little sadly, and waved a hand gently back and forth.

“Relax, you two,” he said. “I’m alone this time.” He turned to Graham. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”

Graham walked to his desk and picked up the two headbands.

“They’re a little rough-looking, sir,” he apologized. “But they work.”

Bond tossed his head back with a little laugh. “They do look a little rugged, don’t they?” he chuckled. “Well, we’ll worry about appearance later. Right now, I’m curious. I want to see what these things do.”

Graham handed over one of the bands and slowly adjusted the other to his head. For a moment, he looked searchingly at the sector leader, then his face relaxed into a relieved expression.

“Hear me?”

Bond had been examining the device in his hands. He looked up, puzzled.

“Of course I hear you,” he said. “I’m not deaf.”

Graham smiled a little, then placed a hand tightly over his mouth.

“Still get me?”

Bond c.o.c.ked his head to one side, looked down at the device in his hands, then looked up again. “Well,” he commented. “So that’s the way they work. I thought you spoke.”

Graham shook his head. “Didn’t have to. Try it on.”

Bond shrugged. “Well, here we go.” He pulled off his cap, tossed it to a chair, and replaced it with the headband. For a moment, he looked around the apartment, then he glanced at Mrs. Graham. He blinked, ducked his head, and looked more closely at her.

“Ow! n.o.body could be as bad as that!” He looked at Graham. “What do you think?”

“There’s one outside.” Graham inclined his head a little.

Elaine Graham sprang to her feet. “I’m terribly sorry,” she apologized contritely. “It’s just that I–“

Bond took off the headband abruptly. “I’m sorry, too,” he said. “I was prying.” He looked down at the device. “I’m not too sure about this thing,” he added. “It works. I can see that much. But I’m almost afraid it works too well. What’s it going to cause?”

Graham pulled off his own headband and extended his hand for the other. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I’m not sure of anything at all.” He frowned. “Wish I hadn’t–” He looked at the sector leader quickly.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he apologized. “Forgot my training, I guess.”

Bond waved a hand. “Look,” he said, “there are times, and there are places. Right now, I’m in your home, and I’m just as worried about this as you are. I’m just another person.” He looked down at his neat uniform.

“Once,” he mused, “we were all just people. Now–” He shrugged. “And then, these things come along.” He looked at the two headbands, then at the man holding them.

“Wonder how many people feel like that?”

Graham held out the headbands. “I know one way to find out.”

Bond nodded. “I see what you mean,” he admitted. “But it could be pretty bad.” He walked over to the chair and picked up his cap.

“Well,” he added with a sigh, “I suppose I’d better grab these things and take them over to Research. Have to find out all we can about them. I’ve still got to report on them.” Again, he looked at Graham. “You’d better come along, too. Research people might have a lot of questions, and I could never answer them.”

Graham nodded and went to the hall closet. He took his coat from the hanger, put it on, and reached for his hat, then hesitated.

“You know,” he said, “we might try one experiment, right here.”

“Oh?” Bond raised his eyebrows.

“There’s a man out in the parking lot. I believe he’s detailed to keep watch on me. You might try him with one of the headbands. Then, see what he’ll do with one on.”

“Any special reason?”

Graham twisted his face uneasily. “I can’t describe it,” he said almost inaudibly. “You’d have to see for yourself.”

Bond looked at him speculatively for a moment, then held out his cap and one of the headbands.

“Here, hold these.”

He put the other headband on, accepted the first, and walked out of the apartment, followed by Graham, who still carried the cap.

As they came out and started across the parking lot, a man approached them.

Bond looked at him, frowned, then cast a sidelong look at Graham.

“That what you meant?” His thought carried an undercurrent of incredulity.

Graham nodded wordlessly, and Bond looked toward the approaching man again. Once more, his face wrinkled distastefully, then he spoke aloud.

“Oh, Ross. Want you to try some thing.” He held out the headband he was carrying in his left hand.

Ross came up, accepted the device, and looked at it curiously. “You mean this is the thing he’s been working on?” He jerked a thumb at Graham. “Saw his wife come out a while ago. Guess she had one of ’em on. She went right back in again.”

Bond nodded. “This is it,” he said. “Let’s see how it works for you.”

Ross shrugged. “Try anything once, I guess.” He adjusted the band to his head, then stood, looking at the two men.

“Notice anything?” Bond looked at him sharply.

Again, Ross shrugged. “Nothing special,” he said with a slight grunt. “Seems as though this guy’s pretty nervous.”

“You don’t have to say anything, just think it. And see if you can communicate with Graham.”

“Huh?” Ross had been looking directly at Bond. He frowned.

“You mean, this thing–” He paused, looking for a moment at Graham, then took the headband off. “Thing doesn’t feel good,” he complained. He held the device out to Bond, who accepted it.

“But it works? You could communicate both ways with it?”

“Oh, sure.” Ross nodded grudgingly. “I got you, all right. But I couldn’t get a thing out of this guy.” He wagged his head toward Graham. “Except he was jittery about something.”

“I see. Thanks.” Bond accepted the headband. “We’re going to take these to Research,” he added. “Let the technicians there find out how good they are.” He turned away and led Graham to his helicopter.

As Graham settled in the seat, he turned to the sector leader. “He just couldn’t use it properly,” he remarked. “Maybe only certain people can use them.”

Bond nodded as he started the motor. “Or maybe only certain people can’t.” He busied himself in getting the machine up through the landing slot, then turned as they climbed into the night sky.

“Maybe you’ve got to be able to understand and like people before you can establish full contact with them. Maybe … Maybe a lot of things.” He was silent for a moment. “You know, this thing might become far more valuable than you thought, Graham.”

Howard Morely looked up from a memo as the clerk tapped on the door.

“Come in.”

The man opened the door and stepped inside.

“Sector Leader Bond is here, sir. He has some gentlemen with him.”

“And what does he want?”

“He said it was about that new communicator, sir.”

“Oh.” Morely turned his attention back to the memo. “Have them wait.” He waved a hand in dismissal and went on with his reading.

The beautification program was progressing well. Twenty miles of the old main highway through the valley had been completely cleared and planted. Crews were working on another stretch. The foreman of the wrecking crew down at the point, in Sector Nine, reported that the last bit of sc.r.a.p had been removed from the old bridge support. Underwater crews had salvaged the cables and almost all of the metal from the fallen bridge itself, and the sc.r.a.p was on the beach, ready for delivery to the reclamation mills in District One.

Morely smiled sourly. Harwood would have a storage problem on his hands in a day or so. The delay in delivery could be explained and justified. Morely had seen to that. Now, all the material was ready and could be delivered in one lot.

Harwood would have to raise his production quota in his community mills to use up the excess material, and that would slow down the clean-up in District One. The Old Man couldn’t help but notice, and he’d see who was efficient in his region. The district leader pushed the memo sheets aside and placed his hands behind his head.

Slowly, he pivoted his chair, to look at the entertainment screen. He started to energize it, then drew his hand back.

So that crackpot, Graham, had finally come up with something definite. Morely smiled again. It had almost seemed as though the man had been stalling for a while. But the pressure and the veiled threats had been productive–again.

To be sure, the agents covering that project had reported that the device seemed to be merely another fairly good means of communication–nothing of any tremendous importance. But results had been obtained, and a communicator which was reasonably free from interception and which required relatively low power might be of some value to the community. He might be able to get a commendation out of it, at least.

And even if it were unsuitable for defense, there’d be a new product for one of the luxury products plants in the district, and the district would get royalties from the manufacturer. Too, it would keep people busy and make ’em spend more of their credits.

He grimaced at his vague reflection in the screen before him, and spoke aloud.

“That’s the way to get things done. Make ’em know who’s in charge. And let ’em know that no nonsense will be tolerated. Breathe down their necks a little. They’ll produce.” He cleared his throat and spun around, to punch the b.u.t.ton on his desk.


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