The Penal Cluster
From: The Penal Cluster
Tomorrow's technocracy will
produce more and more things
for better living. It will
produce other things, also;
among them, criminals too
despicable to live on this
earth. Too abominable to
breathe our free air.
The clipped British voice said, in David Houston's ear, I'm quite sure
he's one. He's cashing a check for a thousand pounds. Keep him under
Houston didn't look up immediately. He simply stood there in the lobby
of the big London bank, filling out a deposit slip at one of the long,
high desks. When he had finished, he picked up the slip and headed
towards the teller's cage.
Ahead of him, standing at the window, was a tall, impeccably dressed,
aristocratic-looking man with graying hair.
"The man in the tweeds?" Houston whispered. His voice was so low that it
was inaudible a foot away, and his lips scarcely moved. But the
sensitive microphone in his collar picked up the voice and relayed it to
the man behind the teller's wicket.
That's him, said the tiny speaker hidden in Houston's ear. The
fine-looking chap in the tweeds and bowler.
"Got him," whispered Houston.
* * * * *
He didn't go anywhere near the man in the bowler and tweeds; instead, he
went to a window several feet away.
"Deposit," he said, handing the slip to the man on the other side of the
partition. While the teller went through the motions of putting the
deposit through the robot accounting machine, David Houston kept his
"How did you want the thousand, sir?" asked the teller in the next
"Ten pound notes, if you please," said the graying man. "I think a
hundred notes will go into my brief case easily enough." He chuckled, as
though he'd made a clever witticism.
"Yes, sir," said the clerk, smiling.
Houston whispered into his microphone again. "Who is the guy?"
On the other side of the partition, George Meredith, a small,
unimposing-looking man, sat at a desk marked: MR. MEREDITH--ACCOUNTING
DEPT. He looked as though he were paying no attention whatever to
anything going on at the various windows, but he, too, had a microphone
at his throat and a hidden pickup in his ear.
At Houston's question, he whispered: "That's Sir Lewis Huntley. The
check's good, of course. Poor fellow."
"Yeah," whispered Houston, "if he is what we think he is."
"I'm fairly certain," Meredith replied. "Sir Lewis isn't the type of
fellow to draw that much in cash. At the present rate of exchange,
that's worth three thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars American.
Sir Lewis might carry a hundred pounds as pocket-money, but never a
Houston and Meredith were a good thirty feet from each other, and
neither looked at the other. Unless a bystander had equipment to tune in
on the special scrambled wavelength they were using, that bystander
would never know they were holding a conversation.
"... nine-fifty, nine-sixty, nine-seventy, nine-eighty, nine-ninety, a
thousand pounds," said the clerk who was taking care of Sir Lewis's
check. "Would you count that to make sure, sir?"
"Certainly. Ten, twenty, thirty, ..."
While the baronet was double-checking the amount, David Houston glanced
at him. Sir Lewis looked perfectly calm and unhurried, as though he were
doing something perfectly legal--which, in a way, he was. And, in
another way, he most definitely was not, if George Meredith's suspicions
"Your receipt, sir." It was the teller at Houston's own window.
Houston took the receipt, thanked the teller, and walked toward the
broad front doors of the bank.
"George," he whispered into the throat mike, "has Sir Lewis noticed me?"
"Hasn't so much as looked at you," Meredith answered. "Good hunting."
* * * * *
As Houston stepped outside the bank, he casually dropped one hand into a
coat pocket and turned a small knob on his radio control box. "Houston
to HQ," he whispered.
"London HQ; what is it, Houston?" asked the earpiece.
"Leadenhall Street Post. Meredith thinks he's spotted one. Sir Lewis
"Righto. We've got men in that part of the city now. We'll have a
network posted within five minutes. Can you hold onto him that long?"
Houston looked around. Leadenhall Street was full of people, and the
visibility was low. "I'll have to tail him pretty closely," Houston
said. "Your damned English fogs don't give a man much chance to see
There was a chuckle from the earphone. "Cheer up, Yank; you should have
seen it back before 1968. When atomic power replaced coal and oil, our
fogs became a devil of a lot cleaner."
The voice was quite clear; at the London headquarters of the UN
Psychodeviant Police, there was no need to wear a throat mike, which had
a tendency to make the voice sound muffled in spite of the Statistical
Information-Bit Samplers which were supposed to clarify the speech
coming through them.
"What do you know about 1968?" Houston asked sardonically. "Your mother
was still pushing you around in a baby-carriage then."
"In a pram," corrected the Headquarters operator. "That is true, but my
dear Aunt Jennifer told me all about it. She was--"
"The hell with your Aunt Jennifer," Houston interrupted suddenly. "Here
comes Sir Lewis. Get me cover--fast!"
"Right. Keep us posted."
Sir Lewis Huntley stepped out of the broad door of the bank and turned
left. He took a couple of steps and stopped. He didn't look around; he
simply took a cigarette out of a silver case, put it in his mouth, and
lit it. The glow of the lighter shone yellowly on the brass plate near
the door which said: An Affiliate of Westminster Bank, Ltd.
Sir Lewis snapped the light out, drew on the cigarette, and strode on
down the street, swinging a blue plastex brief case which contained a
thousand pounds in United Nations Bank of England notes.
Houston decided the baronet had not been looking for a tail; he wished
he could probe the man's mind to make sure, but he knew that would be
fatal. He'd have to play the game and hope for the best.
"He's heading east," Houston whispered. "Doesn't look as if he's going
to get a cab."
"Check," said the earphone.
Sir Lewis seemed in no great hurry, but he walked briskly, as though he
had a definite destination in mind.
After a little way, he crossed to the south side of Leadenhall Street
and kept going east. Houston stayed far enough behind to be above
suspicion, but not so far that he ran a chance of losing his man.
"He's turning south on Fenchurch," Houston said a little later. "I
wonder where he's going."
"Keep after him," said Headquarters. "Our net men haven't spotted either
of you yet. They can hardly see across the street in this damned fog."
Houston kept going.
"What the hell?" he whispered a few minutes later. "He's still following
Fenchurch Street! He's doubling back!"
Leadenhall Street, the banking center of the City of London, runs almost
due east-and-west; Fenchurch Street makes a forty-five degree angle with
it at the western end, running southwest for a bit and then curving
toward the west, toward Lombard.
"Houston," said HQ, "touch your left ear."
Houston obediently reached up and scratched his left ear.
"Okay," said HQ. "Bogart's spotted you, but he hasn't spotted Sir Lewis.
Bogart's across the street."
"He can't miss Sir Lewis," whispered Houston. "Conservatively
dressed--matching coat and trousers of orange nylon tweed--royal blue
half-brim bowler--carrying a blue brief case."
There was a pause, then: "Yeah. Bogart's spotted him, and so has
MacGruder. Mac's on your side, a few yards ahead."
"Check. How about the rest of the net?"
"Coming, coming. Be patient, old man."
"I am patient," growled Houston. I have to be, he thought to
himself, otherwise I'd never stay alive.
"We've got him bracketed now," HQ said. "If we lose him now, he's a
Sir Lewis walked on, seemingly oblivious to the group of men who had
surrounded him. He came to the end of Fenchurch Street and looked to his
left, towards London Bridge. Then he glanced to his right.
"I think he's looking for a cab," Houston whispered.
"That's what MacGruder says," came the reply. "We've got Arthmore in a
cab behind you; he'll pick you up. MacGruder will get another cab, and
we have a private car for Bogart."
Sir Lewis flagged a cab, climbed in, and gave an address to the driver.
Houston didn't hear it, but MacGruder, a heavy-set, short, balding man,
was standing near enough to get the instructions Sir Lewis had given to
* * * * *
A cab pulled up to the curb near Houston, and he got in.
Arthmore, the driver, was a thin, tall, hawknosed individual who could
have played Sherlock Holmes on TV. Once he got into character for a
part, he never got out of it unless absolutely necessary. Right now, he
was a Cockney cab-driver, and he would play the part to the hilt.
"Where to, guv'nor?" he asked innocently.
"Buckingham Palace," said Houston. "I've got a poker appointment with
"Blimey, guv'nor," said Arthmore. "You are movin' in 'igh circles!
'Ow's 'Er Majesty these days?"
The turboelectric motor hummed, and the cab shot off into traffic.
"According to the report I get on the blinkin' wireless," he continued,
"a chap named MacGruder claims that the eminent Sir Lewis 'Untley is
'eaded for Number 37 Upper Berkeley Mews."
"One of these days," said Houston, "all those H's you drop is going to
bounce back and hit you in the face."
"Beg pardon, Mr. Yewston?" Arthmore asked blankly.
Houston grinned. "Nothing, cabbie; it's just that you remind me of a
cultured, intelligent fellow named Jack Arthmore. The only difference is
that Jack speaks the Queen's English."
"Crikey!" said Arthmore. "Wot a coincidence!" He paused, then: "The
Queen's English, you say? She 'as to be, don't she?"
"Shut up," said Houston conversationally. "And give me a cigarette," he
"There's a package of Players in my shirt pocket," Arthmore said,
keeping his hands on the wheel.
* * * * *
Houston fished out a cigarette, lit it, and returned the pack.
Apropos of nothing, Arthmore said: "Reminds me of the time I was workin'
for a printer, see? We 'ad to print up a bunch of 'andbills advertisin'
a church charity bazaar. Down at the bottom was supposed to be printed
'Under the auspices of St. Bede's-on-Thames.' So I--"
He went on with a long, rambling tale about making a mistake in printing
the handbill. Houston paid little attention. He smoked in silence,
keeping his eyes on the red glow of the taillight ahead of them.
Neither man mentioned the approaching climax of the chase. Even hardened
veterans of the Psychodeviant Police don't look forward to the
possibility of having their minds taken over, controlled by some outside
It had never happened to Houston, but he knew that Arthmore had been
through the experience once. It evidently wasn't pleasant.
"--and the boss was 'oppin' mad," Arthmore was saying, "but, crikey, 'ow
was I to know that auspice was spelled A-U-S-P-I-C-E?"
Houston grinned. "Yeah, sure. How're we doing with Sir Lewis?"
"Seems to be headed in the right direction," Arthmore said, suddenly
dropping the Cockney accent. "This is the route I'd take if I were
headed for Upper Berkeley Mews. He probably hasn't told the driver to
change addresses--maybe he won't."
"The victims never do," Houston said. "He probably is actually headed
toward Number 37 Upper Berkeley Mews."
"Yeah. Nobody's perfect," said Arthmore.
* * * * *
Forty-five minutes of steady progress through the streets of Greater
London brought Sir Lewis Huntley to Upper Berkeley and to the short
dead-end street which constituted the Mews. By the time the dapper
baronet stepped out of the machine and paid his driver, the whole area
was surrounded by and filled with the well-armed, silent, and careful
agents of the Psychodeviant Police.
Number 37 was an old concrete-and-steel structure of the George VI
period, faced with a veneer of red brick. It had obviously been
remodeled at least once to make the facade more modern and more
fashionable; the red-violet anodized aluminum was relatively fresh and
unstained. It wouldn't have taken vast wealth to rent a flat in the
building, but neither would an average income have been quite enough.
Houston looked out of the window of Arthmore's cab and glanced at the
tiers of windows in the building. Presumably, the man they were looking
for was up there--somewhere.
So you occupy a station in the upper middle-class, thought Houston. It
checked. Every bit of evidence that came his way seemed to check
perfectly and fit neatly into the hypothesis which he had formed. Soon
it would be time to test that theory--but the time had not yet come.
"Stand by and wait for orders, Houston," said the speaker in Houston's
ear. "We've got men inside the building."
Sir Lewis Huntley opened the sparkling, translucent door of Number 37
Upper Berkeley Mews and went inside.
Arthmore pulled the cab over to the curb a few yards from the entrance
and the two men waited in silence. All around them were other men, some
in private cars, some walking slowly along the street. All of them were
part of the net that had gathered to catch one man.
Poor fish, Houston thought wryly.
There was no noise, no excitement. Five minutes after Sir Lewis had
entered the front door, it opened again. A man whom Houston had never
seen before stepped out and gestured with one hand. At the same time,
Houston's speaker said: "They've got him. Hit him with a stun gun when
he tried to get out through the fire exit."
An ambulance which had been waiting at the entrance of the Mews pulled
up in front of Number 37, and a minute or so later a little clot of men
came out bearing a stretcher, which was loaded into the ambulance.
Immediately after them came another man who had a firm, but polite grip
on the arm of Sir Lewis Huntley.
Houston sighed and leaned back in his seat. That was that. It was all
over. Simple. Nothing to it.
Another Controller had been apprehended by the Psychodeviant Police.
Another deviant, already tried and found guilty, was ready to be exiled
from Earth and imprisoned on one of the Penal Asteroids. All in the
There's just one thing I'd like to know, Houston thought blackly.
What in the hell's going on?
* * * * *
In his hotel room near Piccadilly Circus, several hours later, David
Houston sat alone, drink in hand, and put that same question to himself
"What's going on?"
On the face of it, it was simple. On the face of it, the answer was
right in front of him, printed in black and white on the front page of
the evening Times.
Houston lifted the paper off the bed and looked at it. The banner line
said: Controller Captured in Lambeth!
Beneath that, in smaller type, the headline added: Robert Harris Accused
of Taking Control of Barrister Sir Lewis Huntley.
The column itself told the whole story. Mr. Robert Harris, of No. 37
Upper Berkeley Mews, had, by means of mental control, taken over the
mind of Sir Lewis and compelled him to draw one thousand pounds out of
his bank. While Sir Lewis was returning to Harris with the money, the
United Nations Psychodeviant Police had laid a trap. Sir Lewis, upon
recovering his senses when Harris was rendered unconscious by a stun
gun, had given evidence to the PD Police and to officials at New
Houston looked at the full-color photo of Harris that was printed
alongside the column. Nice-looking chap; late twenties or early
thirties, Houston guessed. Blond-red hair, blue eyes. All-in-all, a
very pleasant, but ordinary sort of man.
There had been evidence that a Controller had been at work in London for
some weeks now. Twelve days before, several men, following an impulse,
had mailed twenty pounds to a "Richard Hempstead," General Delivery,
Waterloo Station. By the time the matter had come to the authorities'
attention, the envelopes had been called for and the Controller had
Robert Harris was not the first Controller to be captured, nor, Houston
knew, would he be the last. The first one had shown up more than sixteen
years before, in Dallas, Texas, USA.
Houston grinned as he thought of it. Projective telepathy had only been
a crackpot's idea back then. In spite of the work of many intelligent,
sane men, who had shown that mental powers above and beyond the ordinary
did exist, the average man simply laughed off such nonsense. It was
mysticism; it was magic; it was foolish superstition. It was anything
But ever since "Blackjack" Donnely had practically taken control of the
whole city of Dallas, the average man had changed his mind. It was still
mysterious; it was still magic; but now the weird machinations of the
supernormal mind were something to be feared.
In the sixteen years that had ensued since the discovery of the abnormal
mental powers of "Blackjack" Donnely, rumors had spread all over the
world. There were supposed to be men who could levitate--fly through the
air at will. Others could walk through walls, and still others could
make themselves invisible. The horrible monsters that were supposed to
be walking the Earth were legion.
* * * * *
Actually, only one type of supernormal psychodeviant had been found--the
telepath, the mindreader who could probe into the mental processes of
others. Worse than that, the telepath could project his own thoughts
into the mind of another, so that the victim supposed that the thoughts
were his own. Actually, it was a high-powered form of hypnotism; the
victim could be made to do anything the projective telepath wanted him
"Blackjack" Donnely had made that clear in his trial in Texas.
Donnely had been a big man--big physically, and important in city
politics. He had also been as arrogant as the Devil himself.
It was the arrogance that had finally tripped up Donnely. He had thought
himself impregnable. Haled into court on charges of misappropriation of
public funds, he had just sat and smirked while several witnesses for
the State admitted that they had aided Donnely, but they claimed he had
"hypnotized" them. Donnely didn't try to interfere with the
evidence--that's where he made his mistake. And that's where his
arrogance tripped him up.
* * * * *
If he'd used telepathic projection to influence the State Attorney or
the witnesses or the judge or the Grand Jury before the trial, he
might never have been discovered as the first of the Controllers. But
that wasn't Donnely's style.
"None of this namby-pamby stuff," he had once been quoted as saying; "if
you got enemies, don't tease 'em--show 'em who's running things.
Blackjack 'em, if you have to."
And that's exactly what "Blackjack" Donnely had done. The trial was a
farce from beginning to end; each witness gave his evidence from the
stand, and then Donnely took control of their minds and made them refute
every bit of it, publicly and tearfully apologizing to the "wonderful
Mr. Donnely" for saying such unkind things about him.
The judge and the jury knew something funny was going on, but they had
no evidence, one way or another. The case, even at that point, might
have ended with an acquittal or a hung jury, but Donnely wasn't through
using his blackjack.
He took over the mind of the foreman of the jury. The foreman claimed
later that the jury had decided that they could reach no decision. Other
jurors claimed that they had decided Donnely was guilty, but that was
probably an ex post facto switch. It didn't matter, anyway; when the
foreman came out, he pronounced Donnely innocent. That should have ended
The other jurors began to protest, but by that time, Donnely had gained
control of the judge's mind. Rapidly, the judge silenced the jurors,
declared Donnely to be free, and then publicly apologized for ever
daring to doubt Mr. Donnely.
The State's Attorney was equally verbose in his apology; he was almost
in tears because of his "deep contrition at having cast aspersions on
the spotless character of so great a man."
Donnely was released.
The next evening, "Blackjack" Donnely was shot down at the front door of
his own home. There were fifteen bullets in his body; three from a .32,
five from a .38, and seven from a .45.
The police investigation was far from thorough; any evidence that may
have turned up somehow got lost. It was labelled as "homicide committed
by person or persons unknown," and it stayed that way.
* * * * *
Donnely was only the first. In the next two years, four more showed up.
Everyone of them, in one way or another, had attempted to gain power or
money by mental projection. Everyone of them was a twisted megalomaniac.
Houston looked again at Harris's picture on the front page of the
Times. Here was one Controller who neither looked nor acted like a
megalomaniac. That wouldn't make much difference to the PD Police; as
far as the officials were concerned, the ability to project
telepathically and the taint of delusions of grandeur went hand in hand.
Controllers were power-mad and criminal by definition.
Fear still ruled the emotional reactions against Controllers, in spite
of the protection of the Psychodeviant Police.
But David Houston knew damned good and well that all telepaths were not
He should know. He was a Controller, himself.
* * * * *
David Houston tossed the paper on the bed and walked over to the phone.
He cut in the circuit, and waited for the phone's TV screen to show the
face of his caller. But the screen remained blank.
"Who is it?" Houston asked.
"Is this CHAring Cross 7-8161?" It was a woman's voice, soft and
"No, this is CHElsea 7-8161," Houston said. "You must have dialed C-H-E
instead of C-H-A."
"Oh. I'm very sorry. Excuse me." There was a click, and she hung up.
Houston walked back over to the bed and picked up his paper. He looked
at it, but he didn't read it. It no longer interested him.
So Dorrine was finally in London, eh? He'd recognized her voice
instantly; even years of training couldn't smother the midwestern
American of Chicago completely beneath the precise British of the
well-educated English girl.
The signal had been agreed upon, just in case his phone was tapped. Even
the Psychodeviant Police could be suspected of harboring a
Controller--although Houston didn't think it too likely. Nevertheless,
he wasn't one to take too many chances.
He glanced at his watch. He had an hour yet. He'd wait five minutes
before he phoned headquarters.
* * * * *
He sat down in his chair again and forced himself to relax, smoke a
cigarette, and read the paper--the sports section. Perusing the records
of the season's cricket matches kept his mind off that picture on the
front page. At least, he hoped they would. Let's see, now--Benton was
being rated as the finest googly bowler on the Staffordshire Club ...
Everything went fine until he came across a reference to a John Harris,
a top-flight batsman for Hambledon; that reminded him of Robert Harris.
Houston threw down the paper in disgust and walked over to the phone.
The number was TROwbridge 5-4321, but no one ever bothered to remember
it. Simply dial 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, and every time a voice at the other end
"Houston here; will I be needed in the next hour or so?"
"Mmmm. Just a second; I'll check the roster. No; your evidence won't be
needed personally. You've filed an affidavit. No, I don't think--wait a
minute! Yes, there's a return here for you; reservation on the six A.M.
jet to New York. Your job here is done, Houston, so you can take the
rest of the evening off and relax. Going anywhere in particular?"
"I thought I'd get a bite to eat and take in a movie, maybe, but if I'm
due out at six, I'll forego the cinematic diversion. When's the trial?"
"It's scheduled for eleven-thirty this evening. Going to come?"
Houston shook his head. "Not if I'm not needed to give evidence. Those
Controllers always give me the creeps."
"They do everybody," said Hamilton. "Well, you caught him; there's no
need for you to stick around for the windup. Have a good time."
"Thanks," said Houston shortly, and hung up.
The windup, Houston thought. Sure. That's all it will be. A
Controller's trial is a farce. Knock him out with a stun gun and then
pump him full of comatol. How can he defend himself if he's unconscious
all through the trial?
Houston knew what the average man's answer to that would be: "If a
Controller were allowed to remain conscious, he'd take over the judge's
mind and get himself freed."
Houston said an obscene word under his breath, jammed his hat on his
head, put on his coat, and left his apartment.
* * * * *
With the coming of darkness, the heavy fog had become still denser. The
yellow beams of the sodium vapor lamps were simply golden spots hanging
in an all-enveloping blackness. Walking the street was a process of
moving from one little golden island of light to another, crossing seas
of blankness between. The monochromatic yellow shone on the human faces
that passed beneath the lamps, robbing them of all color, giving them a
dead, grayish appearance beneath the yellow itself.
David Houston walked purposefully along the pavement, his hand jammed
deep in his overcoat pockets. One hand held the control box for the
little earpiece he wore. He kept moving the band selector, listening for
any sign that the Psychodeviant Police were suspicious of a Controller
in their midst.
If they were following him, of course, they would use a different
scrambler circuit than the one which was plugged into his own unit, but
he would be able to hear the gabble of voices, even if he couldn't
understand what they were saying.
So far, there hadn't been a sound; if he was being followed, his tailers
weren't using the personal intercom units.
He didn't try to elude anyone who might be following. That, in itself,
would be a giveaway. Let them watch, if they were watching. They
wouldn't see anything but a man going to get himself a bit of dinner.
The Charles II Inn, on Regent Street, near Piccadilly Circus, was a
haven of brightness in an otherwise Stygian London. It was one of those
"old-fashioned" places--Restoration style of decoration, carried out in
modern plastics. The oak panelling looked authentic enough, but it was
just a little too glossy to be real.
Houston pushed open the door, stepped inside, removed his hat and coat
and shook the dampness from them. As he handed them to the checker, he
looked casually around. Dorrine was nowhere in sight, but he hadn't
expected her to be. There would be no point in their meeting physically;
it might even be downright dangerous.
The headwaiter, clad in the long waistcoat and full trunk-hose of the
late Seventeenth Century, bowed punctiliously.
"You're alone, sir?"
"Alone, yes," Houston said. "I'll just be wanting a light supper and a
drink or two."
"This way, sir."
Houston followed the man to a small table in the rear of the huge dining
room. It was set for two, but the other place was quickly cleared away.
Houston ordered an Irish-and-soda from a waiter who was only slightly
less elaborately dressed than the headwaiter, and then settled himself
down to wait. If he knew Dorrine, she would be on time to the minute.
She came while the waiter was setting the drink on Houston's table. She
stepped in through the door, her unmistakable hair glowing a rich red in
the illumination of the pseudo-candlelight.
She didn't bother to look around; she knew he would be there.
After a single glance, Houston averted his eyes from her and looked back
at his drink.
And in that same instant, their minds touched.
Dave, darling! I knew you'd be early!
And then their minds meshed for an instant.
* * * * *
Houston looked complacently at his drink while the headwaiter led
Dorrine to a table on the far side of the room. She sat down gracefully,
smiled at the waiter, and ordered a cocktail. Then she took a magazine
from her handbag and began--presumably--to read.
Her thought came: Who is this Richard Harris? He's not one of our
Houston sipped at his drink. No. An unknown, like the others. I wonder
if he's even a telepath.
What? Her thought carried astonishment. Why, Dave--he'd have to be!
How else could he have controlled this Sir Lewis--whatsisname--Huntley?
Well--I've got a funny idea, Houston replied. Look at it this way: So
far as we know, there are two Groups of telepaths. There's our own
Group. All we want is to be left alone. We don't read a Normal's mind
unless we have to, and we don't try to control one unless our lives are
threatened. We stay under cover, out of everyone's way.
Then there are the megalomaniacs. They try, presumably, to gain wealth
and power by controlling Normals. And they get caught with monotonous
The girl caught an odd note in that thought. What do you mean,
"monotonous regularity"? she asked.
I mean, Houston thought savagely, why is it they're all so bloody
stupid? Look at this Harris guy; he is supposed to have taken over Sir
Lewis's mind in order to get a thousand pounds. So what did he have Sir
Lewis do? Parade all around the city to pick up a PD Police net, and
then give his address to a cabman in a loud voice and lead the whole
net right to Harris! How stupid can a man get?
It does look pretty silly, Dorrine agreed. Have you got an
Several, Houston told her. And I don't know which one is correct.
Let's have them, the girl thought.
* * * * *
Houston gave them to her. None of them, he knew, was completely
satisfactory, but they all made more sense that the theory that Harris
had done what the PD Police claimed he'd done.
Theory Number One: The real megalomaniac Controller had taken over Sir
Lewis's mind and made him draw out the thousand pounds and head west on
Leadenhall Street. Somehow, the Controller had found out that Sir Lewis
was being followed, and had steered him away from the original
destination, heading him toward the innocent Robert Harris. That implied
that the Controller had been within a few dozen yards of the net men
that afternoon. A Controller can't control a mind directly from a
distance, although orders can be implanted which will cause a man to
carry out a plan of action, even though he may be miles from the
Controller. But in order to change those plans, the Controller would
have to be within projection range.
Theory Two: Robert Harris actually was a megalomaniac Controller; with a
long record of success behind him, who had finally grown careless.
At that point, Dorrine interjected a thought: Isn't it possible that he
wanted to be caught?
Houston mulled it over for a minute. A guilt-punishment reaction? He
wanted to be punished for his crimes? I suppose that might account for
part of it, yes. But if he'd been so successful, what did he do with all
Dorrine gave a mental shrug. Who knows? What's Theory Number Three?
* * * * *
Number Three was the screwiest one of all, yet it made a weird kind of
sense. Suppose that Sir Lewis himself had had a grudge against Harris?
The whole thing would have been ridiculously easy; all he'd have to do
would be to act just as he had acted and then give evidence against
The thing that made it odd wasn't the actual frame-up (if that's what it
was); these days, every crime was blamed on a Controller. A man accused
of murder simply looked virtuous and said that he would never have done
such a thing if he hadn't been under the power of a Controller. Ditto
for robbery, rape, and any other felony you'd care to name.
An aura of fear hung over the whole Earth; each man half suspected
everyone with whom he came in contact of being a Controller.
So it wasn't that the frame-up in itself was peculiar in this case; it
was simply that it wasn't Sir Lewis Huntley's style. If Sir Lewis had
wanted to get Harris, he'd have done it legally, without any underhanded
frame-ups. Still, the theory remained as a possibility.
I suppose it does, Dorrine agreed, but how does that tie in with our
own Group? What about Jackson and Marcy? What happened to them?
I don't know, Houston admitted, I just don't know.
Jackson and Marcy had been members of the Group of telepaths who had
banded together for companionship and mutual protection. Both of them
had been trapped by the PD Police in exactly the same way that Harris
had been trapped. They were now where Harris would be in a matter of
hours--in the Penal Cluster.
Their arrests didn't make sense, either; they had been accused of taking
over someone's mind for the purpose of gaining money illegally--illegal,
that is, according to the new UN laws that had been passed to supersede
the various national laws that had previously been in effect.
But Houston had known both men well, and neither of them was the kind of
man who would pull such a stunt, much less do it in such a stupid
Dorrine thought: Well, Dave, this Harris case is out of our hands now;
we've got to concentrate on getting others into the Group--we've got to
find the other sane ones.
You're ready to take over here, then? he asked.
* * * * *
At the table, several yards away from where Houston was sitting,
Dorrine, still looking at the book, smiled faintly.
I'll have to; you're being transferred back to New York at six in the
Houston allowed a feeling of startled surprise to bridge the gap between
their minds. How'd you know that? He hadn't told her, and she couldn't
have forced the knowledge from his mind. A telepath can open the mind
of a Normal as simply as he might open the pages of a book, but the mind
of another Controller is far stronger. One telepath couldn't force
anything from the mind of another; all thoughts had to be exchanged
She was still smiling. We've got a few spies in the UN now, she told
him. I got the information before you did.
You knew before you left New York? he asked incredulously.
That's right, she thought. The decision was made last night. Why?
Nothing, he told her. I was just surprised, that's all. But deep
behind the telepathic barrier he had erected against her probing mind,
he was thinking something else. He had been assigned to London to
capture the Controller--then unknown--who was said to be active in
England. But his recall order had been decided upon before Harris was
caught--or even suspected. Someone in the UN Psychodeviant Police
Supreme Headquarters in New York must have known that Harris would be
caught that day!
Something's bothering you, Dorrine stated flatly.
I was thinking about leaving London, he replied evasively. I haven't
seen you for six months, and now I have to leave again.
I'll be back in New York within three weeks, the girl thought warmly.
Her thoughts were cut off suddenly by a strident voice in Houston's ear.
"Attention; all-band notice. Robert Bentley Harris, arraigned this
evening on a charge of illegal use of psychodeviant powers for the
purpose of compounding a felony, has been found guilty as charged. He
was therefore sentenced by the Lord Justice of Her Majesty's Court of
Star Chamber to be banished from Earth forever, such banishment to be
carried out by the United Nations Penology Service at the Queen's
The words that were running through Houston's brain, had been
transmitted easily to Dorrine. For a moment, neither of them made any
comment. Then Houston glanced at his watch.
Twenty-one minutes, he thought bitterly. What took them so long?
* * * * *
High in the thin ionosphere, seventy miles above the surface of the
Earth, a fifteen-hundred-mile-an-hour rocket airliner winged its way
westward across the Atlantic, pushing herself forward on the thin,
whispering, white-hot jets of her atomic engine. Behind her, the
outdistanced sun sank slowly below the eastern horizon.
David Houston wasn't watching the sunrise-in-reverse; he was sitting
quietly in his seat, still trying to puzzle out his queer recall to New
York. When Hamilton had told him about it over the phone, he'd assumed
that New York, having been notified that Harris had been captured, had
decided to send for Houston, now that his job was over.
But now he knew that the order had come through nearly twenty-four hours
before Harris was captured.
Did someone at UN Headquarters know that Harris was going to be
captured? Or did someone there suspect that there was something odd
about Police Operative David Houston?
Whatever it was, Houston would have to take his chances; to act
suspiciously would be a deadly mistake.
A stewardess, clad in the chic BOAC uniform, moved down the aisle,
quietly informing the passengers that they could have coffee served at
their seats or take breakfast in the lounge. The atmosphere of the
plane's interior was filled with the low murmur of a hundred
conversations against the background of the susurrant mutter of the
The sounds in the plane altered subtly as the faint thought insinuated
itself on every brain inside the aircraft. None of the Normal passengers
recognized it for what it was; it was too gentle, too weak, to be
recognized directly by their minds.
But David Houston recognized it instantly for what it was.
Somewhere on the plane, a Controller had been unconscious. Had been.
For now, his powerful mind was trying to swim up from the black depths
The Normal passengers became uneasy, not knowing why they were
disturbed. To them, it was like a vaguely unpleasant but totally
unrecognizable nudge from their own subconscious, like some
long-forgotten and deeply buried memory that had been forced down into
oblivion and was now trying to obtrude itself on the conscious mind.
A fully conscious telepath could project his thoughts along a narrow
locus, focusing them on a single brain, leaving all other brains
oblivious to his thoughts. Like a TV broadcasting station, he could
choose his wavelength and stick to it.
But a half-conscious Controller sprayed his thoughts at random, creating
mental disturbances in his vicinity. Like a thunderstorm creating radio
static, there was no selectivity.
Savagely, David Houston did what he had to do. It might be a trap, but
he had to avoid the carnage that might follow if this went on. He hurled
a beam of thought, hard-held, at the offending mind of the awakening
DON'T THINK! RELAX!
Normally it was impossible for a Controller to take over the mind of
another Controller, but these were abnormal circumstances; the
half-conscious man, whoever he was, was weakened mentally by some kind
of enforced unconsciousness--either a drug or a stun gun. Houston took
over his mind smoothly and easily.
Houston recognized the mind as soon as he held it.
He didn't try to force anything on Harris's mind; he simply held it,
cradling it, helping Harris to regain consciousness easily, bringing him
up from the darkness gently.
In normal sleep, everyone's mind retains a certain amount of
self-control and awareness of environment. If it didn't, noise and
bright lights wouldn't awaken a sleeping person.
* * * * *
In normal sleep, a telepath retained enough control to keep his thoughts
to himself, even when waking up.
But total anaesthesia brought on a mental blackout from which the victim
recovered only with effort. And during that time, a Controller's mind
was violently disturbing to the Normal minds around him, who mistook his
disordered thoughts for their own.
Like pouring heavy oil on choppy waters, Houston soothed the
disturbances of Harris's mind, focusing the random broadcasts on his own
And while he did that, he probed gently into the weakened mind of the
prisoner for information.
Harris was a Controller, all right; there was no doubt about that. But
nowhere in his mind was there any trace of any knowledge of what had
happened to Sir Lewis Huntley. If Sir Lewis had actually been
controlled, it hadn't been done by Robert Harris.
Houston wished he'd been able to probe Sir Lewis's mind; he'd have been
able to get a lot more information out of it than he had in his
possession now. But that would have been dangerous; if Sir Lewis was a
Controller himself, and had been acting a part, Houston would have given
himself away the instant he attempted to touch the baronet's mind. If,
on the other hand, Sir Lewis had actually been under the control of
another telepath, any probing into the mind of the puppet would have
betrayed Houston to the real Controller.
Harris knew nothing. He wasn't acquainted with any other Controllers,
and had kept his nose clean ever since he'd discovered his latent
powers. He knew that megalomaniac Controllers were either captured or
mobbed, and he had no wish to experience either.
The Normals had long since discovered that the only way to overcome a
Controller was by force of numbers. A Controller could only hold one
Normal mind at a time. That was why a mob could easily kill a single
Controller; that was why the Psychodeviant Police had evolved the "net"
system for arresting a telepath.
Harris, then, had been framed. Or could it be called a frame-up when
Harris was really guilty of the actual crime? Because the crime he had
really been accused of was not that of controlling Sir Lewis, but the
crime of being a telepath. That, and that alone, damned him in the eyes
of the Normals; the crime of taking over a mind for gain was incidental.
The stigma lies in what he was, not what he did.
Harris himself was in the bottom of the plane, in the baggage section
near the landing gear. After his trial, still drugged, he had been
secretly put aboard, to be taken to the Long Island Spaceport in New
York. It had had to be secret; no Normal would knowingly ride on an
aircraft which carried a Controller, even if he were drugged into total
With Harris were two PD Police guards. Their low conversation impinged
on Harris's ears, and was transmitted to Houston's mind.
Suddenly, one of them said: "Hey! He's moving!"
"Better give him another shot, Harry;" said the other, "when those guys
wake up, they drive you crazy."
Houston could almost feel the sting of the needle as it was inserted
into the arm of the helpless prisoner.
Slowly, Harris's thoughts, which had begun to become fully coherent,
again became chaotic, finally sliding off into silence and darkness.
"Are you all right, sir?"
Houston looked up from his intense concentration. The stewardess was
standing by his seat. He realized that there was a film of perspiration
on his brow, and that he probably had looked dazed while he was
concentrating on Harris's mind.
"Sure," he said quickly, "I'm all right. I'm just a little tired. Had to
get up too early to catch this plane." He rubbed his forehead. "I do
have a little headache; would you happen to have any aspirin aboard?"
She smiled professionally. "Certainly, sir. I'll get a couple of
As she left for the first-aid cabinet, Houston thought bleakly to
himself: Harris was framed. Possibly others have been, too. But by
whom? And why?
He could see why a Normal might do such a thing. But why would a
Controller do it?
There was only one answer. Somewhere, there was a Controller, or a group
of Controllers who were megalomaniacs par excellence. If that were so,
he--or they--could make the late "Blackjack" Donnely look like a meek,
harmless, little mouse.
* * * * *
The one part of Continental U.S.A. over which the American Government
had no jurisdiction was small, areawise, in comparison with its power.
The District of the United Nations occupied the small area of Manhattan
Island which ran from 38th Street on the south to 49th Street on the
north; its western border was Third Avenue, its eastern, the East River.
From here, the UN ruled Earth.
There were no walls or fences around it; only by looking at street signs
could anyone tell that they had crossed an international border.
Crossing Third Avenue from west to east, one found that 45th Street had
suddenly become Deutschland Strasse; 40th Street became Rue de France;
47th was the Via Italiano. 43rd Street's sign was painted in Cyrillic
characters, but beneath it, in English, were the words "Avenue of Mother
Third Avenue was technically One World Drive. Second Avenue was labelled
as Planetary Peace Drive, and First was United Nations Drive.
But New Yorkers are, and always have been, diehards. Just as The Avenue
of the Americas had forever remained Sixth Avenue, no matter what the
maps called it, so had the other streets retained their old names in
Even the International Post Office, after years of wrangling, had given
up, and letters addressed to Supreme Headquarters, United Nations
Police, 45th Street at Second Avenue, were delivered without comment,
even though the IPO still firmly held that they were technically
misaddressed. And, privately, even the IPO officials admitted that the
numbers were easier to say and remember than the polyglot street names
that had been tagged on by the General Assembly.
So when David Houston signalled a taxi at Grand Central Station and
said, "Forty-fifth and Second," the driver simply set his automatic
controls, leaned back in his seat, and said, "Goin' to see the cops,
When no answer was forthcoming, the driver turned around and took a good
look at his passenger. "Maybe you're a UN cop yourself, huh?"
Houston shook his head. "Nope. Some kids have been scribbling dirty
words on my sidewalk, and I'm going to report it to the authorities."
The driver turned back around and looked ahead again. "Jeez! That's
serious. Hadn't you better take it up with the Secretary General? I
wouldn't be satisfied with no underlings in a case like that."
"I'm thinking of taking it up with the Atomic Energy Control Board,"
Houston told him. "I think those kids are using radioactive chalk."
"That's one way for 'em to get blue jeans," said the driver cryptically.
There was silence for a moment as the taxi braked smoothly to a halt,
guided and controlled by the automatic machinery in the hood.
Then, suddenly, the driver said: "Ship up!" He pointed east, along 45th
Street, toward Long Island. Far in the distance was a rapidly rising
vapor trail, pointing vertically toward the sky, the unmistakable sign
of a spaceship takeoff. They didn't leave often, and it was still an
Houston said nothing as he climbed out and paid the driver, tossing in
an extra tip.
"Thanks, buddy," said the driver. "Watch out for them kids."
Houston didn't answer. He was still watching the vapor trail as the cab
* * * * *
There goes Harris, he was thinking. An innocent man, guilty of
nothing more than being born different. And because of that, he's
labelled as an inhuman monster, not even worthy of being executed.
Instead, he's taken into space, filled full of hibernene, and chained to
a floating piece of rock for the rest of his life.
Such was humanity's "humane" way of taking care of the bogey of
Controllers. Capital punishment had been outlawed all over Earth; it had
long since been proved that legalized murder, execution by the State,
solved nothing, helped no one, prevented no crimes, and did infinitely
more harm than good in the long run.
With the coming of the Controllers, a movement had arisen to bring back
the old evil of judicial murder, but it had been quickly put down when
the Penal Cluster plan had been put forth as a more "humane" method.
Hibernene was a drug that had been evolved from the study of animals
like the bear, which spent its winters in an almost death-like sleep. A
human being, given a proper dosage of the drug, lapsed into a deep coma.
The bodily processes were slowed down; the heart throbbed sluggishly,
once every few minutes; thought ceased. It was the ideal prison for a
mental offender that ordinary prisons could not hold.
But it wasn't quite enough for the bloodthirsty desire for vengeance
that the Normals held for the Controllers. There had to be more.
Following Earth in its orbit around the sun, trailing it by some
ninety-three million miles, were a group of tiny asteroids, occupying
what is known as the Trojan position. They were invisible from Earth,
being made of dark rock and none of them being more than fifteen feet in
diameter. But they had been a source of trouble in some of the early
expeditions to Mars, and had been carefully charted by the Space
Now a use had been found for them. A man in a spacesuit could easily be
chained to one of them. With him was a small, sun-powered engine and
tanks of liquified food concentrates and oxygen. Kept under the
influence of hibernene, and kept cool by the chill of space, a man could
spend the rest of his life there--unmoving, unknowing, uncaring, dead as
far as he and the rest of Mankind were concerned--his slight bodily
needs tended automatically by machine.
It was a punishment that satisfied both sides of the life-or-death
Houston shook off the bleak, black feeling of terrible chill that had
crept over him and pushed his way into the UN Police building.
* * * * *
The thirteenth floor housed the Psychodeviant Division. As he stood in
the rising elevator, Houston wondered wryly if the number 13 was good
luck or bad in this case.
He stepped out of the elevator and headed for the Division Chief's
Division Chief Reinhardt was a heavy-set, balding man, built like a
professional wrestler. His cold blue eyes gleamed from beneath shaggy,
overhanging brows, and his face was almost expressionless except for a
faint scowl that crossed it from time to time. In spite of the fact that
a Canadian education had wiped out all but the barest trace of German
accent, his Prussian training, of the old Junkers school, was still
evident. He demanded--and got--precision and obedience from his
subordinates, although he had no use for the strictly military viewpoint
of obsequiousness towards one's superiors.
He was sitting behind his desk, scowling slightly at some papers on it
when Houston stepped in.
"You wanted me to report straight to you, Mr. Reinhardt?"
Reinhardt looked up, his heavy face becoming expressionless. "Ah,
Houston. Yes; sit down. You did a fine job on that London affair; that's
what I call coming through at the last moment."
"Your orders to return," he said, "were cut before you found your man.
We have a much more important case for you than some petty pilfering
Controller. We are after much more dangerous game."
Houston nodded. "I see." Inwardly, he wondered. It was almost as if
Reinhardt knew that Houston had found out that the recall had come
early. Houston would have given his right arm at that moment to be able
to probe Reinhardt's mind. But he held himself back. He had, in the
past, sent tentative probes toward the Division Chief and found nothing,
but he didn't know whether it would be safe now or not. It would be
better to wait.
* * * * *
Reinhardt stood up, walked to the wall, and turned on a display screen.
He twisted a knob to a certain setting, and a map of Manhattan Island
sprang onto the screen in glowing color.
"As you know," Reinhardt said pedantically, "no Controller can do a
perfect job of controlling a normal person. No matter how much he may
want to make John Smith act naturally, some of the personality of the
Controller will show up in the actions of John Smith. Am I correct?"
Houston nodded without saying anything. The question was purely
rhetorical, and the statement was perfectly correct.
"Very well, then," Reinhardt continued, "by means of these
peculiarities, our psychologists have found that there is widespread,
but very subtle controlling going on right in the UN General Assembly
itself! The amazing thing is that they all bear the--shall we
say--trademark of the same Controller. Whoever he is, he seems to have a
long-range plan in mind; he wants to change, ever so slightly, certain
international laws so that he will profit by them. Do you follow?"
"I follow," said Houston.
"Good. It has taken painstaking research and a great deal of
psychological statistical analysis, but we have found that one
company--and one company only--benefits by these legal changes. Did you
ever hear of Lasser & Sons?"
"Sure," said Houston. "They're in the import-export business, with a few
fingers in shipping and air transport."
"That's them," said Reinhardt. "Someone in that company, presumably
someone at the top, is a Controller. And he's a very subtle, very
dangerous man. Unlike the others, there is nothing hasty or overt in his
plans. But within a few years, if this goes on, he will have more power
than the others ever dreamed of."
"And my job is to get him?" Houston asked.
Reinhardt nodded. "That's it. Get him. One way or another. You're in
charge; I don't care how you do it, but this one Controller is more
dangerous than any other we've come across, so get him."
Houston nodded slowly. "Okay. Can you give me all the data you have so
Reinhardt patted a heavy folder on his desk. "It's all here." Then he
tapped the projected map on the screen. "That's the Lasser
Building--Church Street at Worth. Somewhere in there is the man we're
* * * * *
David Houston spent the next six weeks gathering facts, trying to
determine the identity of the mysterious Controller at Lasser & Sons.
Slowly, the evidence began to pile up.
At the same time, he worried over his own problem. Who was betraying
non-criminal Controllers to the PD Police?
In that six-week period, two more men and a woman were arrested--one in
Spain, one in India, and one in Hawaii.
There weren't very many Controllers on Earth, percentagewise. Of the
three and a half billion people on Earth, less than an estimated
one-thousandth of one percent were telepathic. But that made a grand
total of some thirty-five thousand people.
Spread, as they were, all over the planet, it was rare that one
Controller ever met another. The intelligent ones didn't use their
power; they remained concealed, even from each other.
But someone, somewhere, was finding them and betraying them to the
As more and more data came in on the Lasser case, Houston began to get
an idea. If there were a really clever, highly intelligent, megalomaniac
Controller, wouldn't it be part of his psychological pattern to attempt
to get rid of the majority of Controllers, those who simply wanted to
lead normal lives?
And, if so, wasn't it possible that both his cases--the official and the
unofficial--might lead to the same place: Lasser & Sons?
It began to look as though Houston could kill both his birds at once, if
he could just figure out when, how, and in what direction to throw the
In the middle of the seventh week, a Controller in Manchester, England,
was mobbed and torn to bits by an irate crowd before the PD Police
could get to him. There was no doubt in Houston's mind that this one was
a real megalomaniac; he had taken over another man's brain and forced
him to commit suicide. The controlled man had taken a Webley automatic,
put it to his temple, and blown his brains out.
The Controller's mistake was in not realizing what the sudden shock of
that bullet, transmitted to him telepathically, could do to his own
mind. In the mental disorder that followed, he was spotted and killed
* * * * *
There was still no word from Dorrine. She had flown back to the States a
week after Houston had returned, but she had had to get back to England
after three days. Since then, he had had three letters, nothing more.
And letters are a damned unsatisfactory way for a telepath to conduct a
The one other factor that entered in was The Group, the small band of
sane, reasonable telepaths who had begun to build themselves into an
organization--a sort of Mutual Protective Association.
Personally, Houston didn't think much of the idea; the Group didn't have
any real organization, and they refused to put one together. It was
supposed to be democratic, but it sometimes bordered on the anarchic.
He stayed with them more for companionship than any other reason. When
Dorrine had come back for her short stay, Houston had met with them and
tried to get them to help him trace down the megalomaniac Controller who
was doing so much damage, but they'd balked at the idea. Their job, they
claimed, was to get enough members so that they could protect themselves
from arrest by the Normals, and then just let things ride.
"After all," Dorrine had said, "things will work themselves out,
darling; they always do."
"Not unless somebody helps them, they don't," Houston had snapped back.
"Someone has to do something."
"But, Dave, darling--we are doing something! Don't you see?"
He didn't, but there was no convincing either the Group or Dorrine. She
was passionately interested in the recruiting work she was doing, and
she thought that the Group was the answer to every Controller's
And then she had rushed back to England. "I'll be back soon, Dave,"
she'd said. "I think I have a lead on a girl in Liverpool."
So far, the girl hadn't been found. Controllers didn't like to give
themselves away to anyone, so they kept a tight screen up most of the
It seemed as though everyone on Earth was in deadly fear all the time.
The Normals feared losing their identities to Controllers, and the
Controllers feared death at the hands of the Normals.
And death or the Penal Cluster were their only choices if they were
Houston worried about the risks Dorrine was taking, but there was
nothing he could do. She was doing what she thought was right, just as
he was; how could he argue with that?
Houston went on with his job, putting together facts and rumors and
statistical data analysis, searching out his quarry.
And, at the end of the eighth week, everything blew high, wide, and
* * * * *
It was late evening. A cool wind blew over New York, bringing with it a
hint of the rain to come. Church Street, in lower Manhattan, was not
crowded, as it had been in the late afternoon, but neither was it
entirely deserted. The cafes and bars did a lively business, but the
tall, many-colored office buildings gaped at the street with blind and
darkened eyes. Only a few of the windows glowed whitely with fluorescent
In one of the small coffee shops, David Houston sat, smoking a cigarette
and stirring idly at a cup of cooling coffee.
Across the street was the Lasser Building; high up on the sixtieth
floor, a whole suite of offices was brightly lit. The rest of the
building was clothed in blackness.
Who was up there in that suite? Houston wasn't quite sure. He had
narrowed his list of suspects down to three men: John Sager, Loris
Pederson, and Norcross Lasser, three top officials in the company. Sager
and Pederson were both vice-presidents of the firm; Sager was in charge
of the Foreign Exports department, while Pederson handled the actual
shipping. Lasser, by virtue of being the grandson of the man who had
founded the firm, was president of Lasser & Sons, Inc.
Lasser seemed like a poor choice as chief villain of the outfit; he was
a mild, bland man, quiet and friendly. Besides, his position made him
an obvious suspect; naturally, the majority stockholder of the firm
would profit most by the increased power of the company. And, equally
obviously, a Controller wouldn't want to put himself in such an exposed
Which made Lasser, in Houston's mind, a hell of a good suspect. If
anything happened, Lasser could cover by claiming that he, too, had been
controlled, and the chances were that he could get away with it. A
Controller never did anything directly; their dirty work was done by
someone else--a puppet under their mental control. At least, so ran the
popular misconception. If Lasser were the man, he stood a good chance of
getting away with it, even if he were caught, provided he played his
* * * * *
That reasoning still didn't eliminate Sager or Pederson. Either of them
could be the Controller. And there still remained the possibility that
some unknown, unsuspected fourth person had the company of Lasser & Sons
under his thumb.
That was what Houston intended to find out tonight.
He took a sip of his coffee, found it still reasonably hot.
Damn the megalomaniacs, anyway! Houston subconsciously tightened his
fists. He, personally, had more to fear from the Normals than from
another Controller. Normals could kill or imprison him, while a
Controller would have a hard time doing either, directly.
But Houston could understand the Normal man; he could see how fear of a
Controller could drive a man without the ability into a frenzied panic.
He could understand, even forgive their actions, born and bred in
ignorance and fear.
No, the ones he hated were the ones who had conceived and fostered that
fear--the psychologically unstable megalomaniac Controllers. There were
only a handful of them--probably not more than a few hundred or a
thousand. But because of them, every telepath on Earth found his life in
danger, and every Normal found his life a hell of terror.
Let Dorrine and her do-nothing friends run around the globe recruiting
members for their precious Group; that was all right for them.
Meanwhile, David Houston would be doing something on a more basic action
He glanced at his watch. Almost time.
"How's the deployment?" he whispered in his throat.
"We've got the building surrounded now," said the voice in his ear. "You
can go in anytime."
"How about the roof?"
"That's taken care of, sir; we've got 'copter that can be on the top of
the Lasser Building at any time you call. They can land within thirty
seconds of your signal."
"Okay," Houston said; "I'm going in now. Remember--no matter what I say
or do, no one is to leave that building if they're conscious. And keep
your eyes on me; if I act in the least peculiar, handcuff me--but don't
knock me out.
"And if I'm not back on time, come in anyway."
* * * * *
Houston finished his coffee, dropped a coin on the counter, and headed
for the other side of the street.
The big problem was getting into the building itself. It was ringed with
alarms; Lasser & Sons didn't want just anybody wandering in and out of
So Houston had arranged a roundabout way. The building next to the
Lasser Building was a good deal smaller, only forty-five stories high. A
week before, Houston had rented an office on the eighteenth floor of
the building; on the door, he had already had a sign engraved: Ajax
It was a shame the office would never be used.
Houston walked straight to the next-door building and opened the front
door with his key. Inside, a night watchman lounged behind a desk,
smoking a blackened briar. He looked up, smiled, and nodded.
"Evening, Mr. Griswold; working late tonight?"
Houston forced a smile he did not feel. "Just doing a little paper
work," he said.
He took the automatic elevator to the eighteenth floor. He didn't relish
the idea of walkin
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