The Ultra Man (1966) by A. E. van Vogt

(actualisé le ) by A. E. van Vogt

On a large and very cosmopolitain United Nations space-station on the moon, a gifted psychologist is explaining to a colleague what people way down on the street below are thinking and saying just by studying the expressions on their faces through field-glasses, when all of a sudden he declares that one of the passers-by is a non-human! Who promptly realises that he has been discovered and opens fire on his detector with a deadly ray-gun!

After such a rousing start – we are still on page 1 – the story rolls along at a good pace as the chase of the alien spy heats up and they and we begin to realize that the alien is backed up by a whole fleet of super-beings who might just decide to blow the whole station out of existence, for starters.

But our psychologist is endowed with special albeit only short-lived powers of exrtra-sensory perception, and has the back-up of some very competent people, notably a British security expert and a Soviet psychiatrist [1] - which just might be enough to face up to this menace if his powers last long enough . . .

The Ultra Man was first published in the May 1966 edition of Worlds of Tomorrow, and was one of van Vogt’s first stories published after a long 14-year absence from the science-fiction field.

It remains one of the tales from his post-golden-age period that has best passed the test of time.

With the original Worlds of Tomorrow illustrations by Lutjens.



e-book versions of the text are available for downloading below.


THE ULTRA MAN

I

THE SIGN on the door glittered quietly. It read:

RICHARD CARR, PH. D.
Psychologist
Moon Station

Inside the office, Carr—a chubby young man—was at one of the two windows of his inner sanctum, gazing with a pair of binoculars down at the fourth level. A microphone was suspended from a black cord around his neck. From his lips came a steady stream of comments. "—Now, that man is thinking about some technical matter. He wants to get back to it. But all he says to her is, ’Let’s hurry!’ Surprisingly, because of a reason I can’t read, she wants to get away, too. But she can’t let him go that easy. So she’s saying: ’Let’s walk a little and talk about the future.’ The man says, ’I don’t see much of a future—’ " Carr broke off. "Colonel, that conversation just became very personal. Let’s move to someone else."
Colonel Wentworth, at the other window, said, "Any idea what language they’re talking?"
"Not really. A Slav language. East Europe. The way the lines in their faces shift as they talk reminds me of—all right, Polish."
Wentworth reached over and shut off the recorder, with which through a pick-up device he had recorded the actual words spoken by the people below.
He was a man about six feet tall, thirty-eight years of age, deceptively slim of build, with gray eyes whose calmness partially concealed an alert intelligence. He had been eight years attached to the moon station security staff, but he still had his stiff British manner. Since the American psychologist—Carr—was a newcomer on the moon, the two men had not previously met.
Wentworth now grasped the snooper and peered through its sighting device at the people below. He knew what Carr apparently did not, that what they were doing was probably slightly illegal here on this lunar city, where so many nationalities lived together by international agreements—which did not include anyone having the right to spy on their thoughts as revealed by the expressions on their faces.
Nonetheless, keeping his own face averted from the other —there were thoughts on it that he didn’t wish Carr to know about at this stage—Wentworth now said noncomittally to the psychologist:
"We’ve been going at this for ten minutes. So let’s just do one more. See that redheaded woman and the small man?"
Carr did not reply at once. He seemed to be very intent on something below. Suddenly, he said in an amazed tone,
"Colonel, that man down there! That tall, gaunt fellow with the headdress— That man is not a human being!"
Wentworth was taken by surprise. "What are you talking about?"
He grabbed for his own binoculars, as Carr continued in a high-pitched voice, "Oh, my God, he’s become aware of me!
He’s going to kill me! Watch out!"
Instinctively, Wentworth ducked down and back. The next instant there was a glare of light, brighter than the day out­side. Glass shattered. And then there was the rattle of plaster falling.
Silence settled.
Wentworth had been vaguely aware that Carr had also flung himself to the floor. He presumed the man was all right. He wasted no time, but raised himself, crawled to the desk, got the phone down and moments later was sound­ing the alarm.

II

Boris Denovich, M.D., psychiatrist, newly-arrived head of the psychiatric section, listened with a faint frown through the translation machine to what he realized presently was an unacceptable story.
He adjusted his tiny earphone, then spoke into the translation microphone in his thick Russian.
"Are you trying to tell me," he interrupted Colonel Wentworth, "that this young American claims to read thoughts from the expressions on the faces of people? Surely, Colonel, you mean mental telepathy?"
Wentworth stared at the intense, middle-aged man thought­fully. He knew something that neither Carr nor Denovich was aware of. The other’s reaction was what he had ex­pected. But he’d had to be sure.
Denovich continued: "You’ve already checked it? Lan­guages and all?"
Wentworth had decided it was vital to give the time to a check-out. So he had spent twenty important minutes in the translation department. He said now, "The languages of the various people I taped were Polish, German, Greek and Japanese."
"And what Carr says they were saying matches the translations?"
"Not word for word, no. But he was certainly getting it straight."
The psychiatrist’s thin face seemed to grow thinner. He took it for granted that the security officer had been made the victim of a staged deception by the American psychologist. How, or why, didn’t matter now.
Colonel Wentworth was speaking again. "You’d better hear the end of the tape."
Denovich replied patiently, "It’s not necessary. I presume he was successful." He frowned. "Colonel, I hope this Amer­ican isn’t just an expert lip-reader, and a linguist."
The security officer directed the broad-faced secretary,
"Roll it over to that little slip of white paper." To Denovich, he said, "You’ve got to hear this, Doctor."
The first voice on the tape, when it started again, was that of Colonel Wentworth. He was directing Carr’s attention to another couple. There was a pause. Then Carr’s voice made the arresting statement that had, earlier, electrified and galvanized Wentworth.
Denovich sat bolt upright in his chair, as the crash of glass and the explosion sounded from the speaker. He was vaguely conscious of the security officer shutting off the re­corder. Then he heard his own high-pitched voice say, "What was that? What happened?"
By the time Wentworth had explained, Denovich was re­covered. "This has to be a hoax," he said. He broke off. "Did you look out of the window? What did you see?"
"I was taken by surprise," Wentworth confessed. "I’d thrown myself flat on the floor. By the time the plaster had settled, two or three minutes may have gone by."
"So you didn’t see any tall, gaunt, non-human man?" Deno­vich said satirically.
Wentworth agreed that by the time he returned to the window there was no person on any level below who answered to such a description.
The Soviet psychiatrist leaned back, striving for calm. He realized he was over-stimulated in an unpleasant fashion. It was the closest he had been to anger in a long time. His negative feeling was directed exclusively against Dr. Richard D. Carr, the American psychologist.
Nevertheless, he presently controlled himself and said, "Why don’t we just let him experiment with his so-called ability? I’ll provide him with facilities. That’ll give me a chance to size him up, give him a chance to prove himself’—and we can go on from there." A grim smile played around his thin lips. "I’d like to give him the chance to read my thoughts on my face."
He appeared to be completely satisfied with his proposal and seemed unaware that the matter was more urgent than that to Wentworth. The security officer bit his lips, then said, "I’ll get Dr. Carr. We can talk about it."
Wentworth walked to the elevator to meet Carr. As the psychologist came out, Wentworth was standing with his back to the elevator door. When the other greeted him, he glanced over his shoulder in a quick acknowledgment; then he said, "This way, Doctor."
During the walk back to the Russian psychiatrist’s office, he not only kept inches ahead of Carr but also held his head so that his face was slightly averted.

As they entered, first Carr, then Wentworth, Denovich hurried forward. His ear-piece was fitted for walking and his translation microphone was pinned into one lapel.
On Earth, he had had a technique for greeting people he didn’t want 1 associate with: keep them moving, dismiss them in an offhand fashion as soon as possible, preferably some distance from an exit.
His first glimpse of the plump, unhealthy looking Ameri­can, and the softness of the pudgy hand which Carr placed limply in his muscular fingers, brought no reason for a change of mind. The Russian indicated the hall. "This way," he said.
Carr did not move. He stood, a faint, tolerant smile on his heavy face. Denovich, who had pulled the door open and was holding it ajar, looked back.
Carr said softly, "We’ll have to have a better understand­ing than that, Doctor."
Denovich was instantly cynical. "I forgot," he said. "You read faces and you must be reading mine. What do you see?"
Still with that faint smile, Carr said, "Doctor, would you really like me to say out loud?"
The psychiatrist felt himself to be completely in con­trol. "I’ll be glad to let you off that hook," he said good-naturedly.
At this point, Wentworth—who had been anxiously wait­ing for the barest minimum of the initial confrontation to run its course—decided that it had. He thereupon ex­plained firmly that Carr’s ability could be tested as well in a practical as in an experimental circumstance. He finished: "So I’d like you both to accompany me to the Port of Entry—"
Wentworth had spoken the words, while still partly fac­ing away from Carr. He was aware of the psychologist turning and staring at him.
The American said slowly, "Until now, I’ve respected what I believed to be your personal desire for privacy. But I’ve had a glimpse or two through that British stiffness in your cheeks, and in spite of all your evasiveness, I detect some thought about me. You know something about my special ability; something—" He stopped, frowning, then said chal­lengingly, "This is not new to you, what I’m doing! Some­body’s done it before."
Still facing away, Wentworth said diplomatically, "You’re close. Look, I’ll tell you both the whole story as soon as possible. Right now we’ve got work to do. All right?"

As he led the way out of the office, Wentworth continued to believe that Carr’s ability might still be useful in connec­tion with the alien. But time was of the essence, if he hoped to gain any value from the man’s marvelous power.
What neither Carr nor Denovich knew was that, from the beginning of the moon station, a few persons had experienced a sudden, remarkable buldup of ESP [2] or PSI [3] ability. The ability of one person was always different from that of another. This was the first time that the skill had been to read faces. Each time an ability showed, it seemed to re­flect an interest that the person had previously had, but now it was intensified to a perfect state. Yet often it seemed so natural to the possessor that he did not immediately re­port it or even consider it unusual.
The first stage of the ability lasted about two days.
At the end of that time, it faded rapidly and disappeared entirely for several hours. The person even forgot that he had had the ability.
Then—abruptly—the ESP power appeared again, but in a twisted form.In this form it was a fantastic thing, a highly energized but different version of the original ability.
Wentworth had once described it: "Like an animal in its death throes, achieving briefly the most herculean effort of its entire lifetime, we have in this twist a view of an ESP ability in the nth degree. Perhaps, for a few hours, we actually have a glimpse of some incredible ability that man will attain in the far future of his evolution."
The finale now came rapidly. After a few brief hours, the twisted version faded also, and that was the end. The ability never reappeared.
What bothered Wentworth was that he knew Carr had been on the moon approximately forty-eight hours. He sus­pected the psychologist had been able to read thoughts on faces for the full tune. Therefore, the two-day first phase would end at any moment.
. . . No time to waste! Stop not a minute, now that the necessary preliminaries were done! Do not allow Carr to become confused and distracted by a sudden discovery of the truth, and so therefore keep his own face averted; permit no reading of his thoughts!

III

They headed down to cross-station transport and were quickly whisked to the underground port below the spaceship landing field. As they emerged from the little monorail ma­chine, a man in the uniform of a port officer emerged from a doorway and came along the corridor toward them.
Wentworth recognized him as an old-timer on the moon and nodded greeting. The man acknowledged with a wave of his hand and walked on. Wentworth motioned his two com­panions to go in the direction from which the port official had come. Denovich complied at once. Carr took several steps, and then he stopped and looked back.
"Colonel," he said, "may I speak to that officer?"
"Who?" Wentworth had already forgotten the chance meeting.
"That port officer who just passed us."
"Peterson? Oh, sure!" He turned. "Hey, Pete," Wentworth called.
But Carr was loping along the hallway. By the time Denovich became aware that something was wrong and faced about, Carr and Peterson were already talking. The man in uniform nodded twice and then abruptly laughed hysterically.
The sound of laughter came unexpectedly loud. Some people who had come out of the baggage room stopped and stared.
As Denovich watched, astounded, Peterson burst into tears. Denovich, acutely aware of how tense his thin body felt, walked back to within a few feet of the two men. He was vaguely aware of Wentworth joining him.
The port aide was bawling noisily and at the same time trying to control himself.
He sobbed. "What did you say? I didn’t catch your words. .. . Say, what’s happened to me? I never did a thing like this."
He gulped, made a tremendous effort—and was instantly in a rage. "You so-and-so!" he snarled. "What did you do to me?"
"Somebody came through here yesterday afternoon and took control of your mind," said Carr. "Tell us about it."
"Wel-l-11!" Peterson seemed to forget his rage. "Oh, you mean those Negroes. Three of them. One was kind of odd-looking—hollow-cheeked, you know—and so I asked him to remove his headdress."
He stopped, blinked at Carr, his jaw lax, face almost stupid looking in his puzzlement.
Carr urged, "What did he do to you?"
"Why-uh!" The man’s eyes widened. "He shot a light beam at me—right out of that thing on the top of his—"
Once again he stopped, looking blank. Then: "What am I talking about? I must be dreaming!"
Denovich walked forward. There was no longer any ques­tion in his mind as to what Carr could do. He had wit­nessed—it seemed to him—the fastest hypnotic induction of his experience.
He said in a low, angry voice, "Dr. Carr, get away from that man!"
Carr half-turned, startled. Denovich almost felt the other’s eyes search his face. Carr said, "Oh!" Then firmly: "One moment, Doctor?"
He turned back to the port official. "Go to your quarters and lie down. If you don’t feel better in an hour, come and see me in my office." He handed Peterson a card.
Carr faced Wentworth. "I think we’d better talk to the Chief of Port of Entry," he said.

The Chief of Port of Entry was considerably heavier-looking than Carr. He was an Italian, good-natured, efficient, subjective. His name was Carlo Pontine. He ignored Den­ovich’s translator and instead spoke into his own personal translation microphone.
"Those three Africans arrived from Vastuland." He put up his hands in the gesture of helplessness. "So you have your problems, gentlemen."
Wentworth, who had already called out the black con­tingent of Security, knew what he meant. The alien had either been very clever or very lucky to arrive as a Negro, for normally that would give him the protection of race ten­sion. Their main hope was that Carr’s ability would by­pass such barriers.
Pontine had photographs of the three Vastulanders; and there, unmistakably, was a gaunt figure with a headdress. The appearance was of an unusually elaborate Mohammed­an-style head decoration. The cloth came down low over the forehead, and the face—it was dismally plain to see—was only superficially human.
Blown up on a large screen in the projection room, the black pigmentation showed plainly. Underneath was a scaly skin.
Moments later, an uneasy Wentworth was showing the photo on the security band of the port’s TV intercom. Hav­ing given his tense account, he turned his special TV key to its second position. One by one the lights on the key went out until only two remained blinking. Which was pretty fair emergency coverage.
Wentworth visualized the scene out there. In dozens of sectors of the great moon station, his men were stepping out into corridors, glancing into departmental offices, survey­ing their territory. More important, if one of them had pre­viously observed the wanted person, he would now be check­ing if he was where he ought to be.
Even as he had the thought, a buzzer sounded softly and a light came back on. Carr pressed the button and found himself staring at a clean-shaven young man—Ledoux in the French section.
"Colonel Wentworth."
"Yes?"
"That man was assigned an apartment in this sector yes­terday afternoon. However, he went out an hour ago, and I haven’t seen him since."
By the time that message was completed, another light was blinking. That message was:
"Saw him about thirty-five minutes ago, walking rapidly into R-1."

Wentworth groaned inwardly. R-1 was the main residence complex for visitors. It had fifteen hundred and forty-four apartments, most of which were at the moment unoccu­pied. But an imaginative artist had originally designed it to be futuristic; and a committee untroubled by knowledge of security had authorized its construction. With its innumera­ble corridors, back stairways, patios, its three dozen res­taurants, its four theaters, sunken gardens and lovers’ nooks and moon surface transport cars—it was a veritable sieve with hundreds of openings.
R-1 was easily the safest hideaway in Moon City; and it was their misfortune that the alien had located it and had taken refuge in it. Gloomily, Wentworth turned the TV con­trol key back to its One position and called for General Alarm H.
The instant that was done, he turned, grabbed Carr’s arm, beckoned Denovich and—face still averted—said breath­lessly, "Come along!" He led the way back to the elevator.
His first and best hope was a swift search, using every means. Carr’s ability—which had already proved itself—was one of those means. What made it a possible hope was that, because their part of the moon was turned away from the sun, only thirty-eight of the apartments in R-1 were occupied. Wentworth personally preferred the moon during its night period with its magnificent view of Earth. But it was their good luck at this decisive moment that tourists did not share his opinion.
Briefly, Wentworth explained what he had in mind. The pattern was: when the door opened, Carr was to read the face of the person who answered while Wentworth asked questions.
As it worked out, usually before the individual could reply, Carr said, "Nope." The instant he did that, a security aide took over; and Carr, Denovich, Wentworth and their ac­companying squad raced on to the next occupied apartment.
The idea was that someone would have seen the alien.
The door of the seventh apartment was opened by a small woman who stared at them questioningly. She wore a prim, black dress, and how anyone had ever persuaded her to make the dramatic tourist trip to the moon, Wentworth would never know. But then he was often amazed at the types that showed up.
He saw that Carr was hesitating. The psychologist seemed momentarily confused. Then: "He’s inside," he said.

Somebody grabbed the woman and jerked her out of the door, instantly covered her mouth, stifling all but a faint squeal. Seconds later, at a signal from Wentworth, the men in the mobile unit rolled up on their silent rubber wheels. Without pausing, they went straight on into the apartment.
As he crouched beside the door, waiting, Wentworth was vaguely uneasy about the order he had given: to strike and strike hard. The thought that was suddenly in his mind was that here was a representative of another race, the first ever to show up in the solar system. Ought he to be killed out of hand?
After a moment’s consideration, he allowed his doubts to fade. The alien had instantly tried to kill Carr, when he was discovered; and, equally culpable, he had come secretly into the moon station. The creature’s approach was hostile and must be dealt with in the same way.
His thought ended in a horrid thrill of excitement, as he suddenly felt the peculiar crawling sensation in his skin that came from the mobile unit’s electric vibration mechanism. It was a full-charge feeling.
As Wentworth was silently congratulating himself, the hall­way suddenly lit up to a dazzling brightness. The doorway blazed with a direct sunlight brilliance.
The blinding light ended as suddenly as it had begun. A minute went by. There was the sound of debris falling but no movement. Pale, concerned, taut, Wentworth waited.

IV

What had happeneed was, a few minutes earlier Xilmer had realized that the moment of confrontation could be at hand—if he wished. He thereupon sent a message by way of the device in his headpiece to the giyn—battleship—in orbit far out beyond the moon. In asking for instructions, he said:
"Only one thing bothers me about this spy visit of mine. Somebody detected me from a room high up in one of the building structures an hour ago. His ability to do so suggests that there are two types of beings in the moon station. One group—the main mass of people—is unimportant. However, the second type of being—one of whom spotted me, and from a distance at that—could be a more powerful life form. So I think I should escape through a wall of this apartment and attempt by all possible means to make my way to the room from which that superior type observed me. I really believe I should size him up before any irreversible decisions are made."
The reply was grim: "Twenty-four hours from now, the fleet will risk one minute of sub-space communication. We must be ready to tell them to come here, or go elsewhere."
Xilmer protested, "I plan to proceed cautiously, breaking through walls and so on, to avoid corridors. And before I leave, I’ll try to erase the memory of my presence from important personnel here. Even at worst, that should all only take a few hours."
"Nonetheless, why not test their weaponry for just a few seconds? See what they’ve got in such a situation?"
"Very well."

Wentworth gazed around at the shambles with a sinking sensation. Then he turned to the two dazed men who had scrambled out of the wrecked mobile unit.
"What happened?" he asked.
Surprisingly, they weren’t sure. They had seen the man-like figure, as the unit drove into the living room of the apartment.
Sergeant Gojinski shook his head, as if to clear the mists from his mind. Then he spoke in a shaky voice through his own translation microphone: "There he was. I saw him look­ing us over, and he wasn’t afraid. I pointed the lightning rod at him—you know—uh—"
It was a slang term for the mobile unit’s aiming device. Wentworth nodded, urgently.
"So then I said, ’Fire!’ " continued Sergeant Gojinski. "I saw the vibration bolt reach out to him. And then something bright hit the unit—us. I guess I was stunned. When I could see, again, there was the hole in the wall, and he was gone."
The other man, who was from South America, had had the same experience.
Listening to the accounts, Wentworth felt a chill. There was an implication here of casual weapon superiority. Un­decided, he walked over to the gaping hole in the wall. The interior steel construction had been cleanly sliced through. He held his geiger counter toward it, but it remained as silent as it had throughout.
Here was evidence of incredible power without radiation.
Slowly, Wentworth braced himself. The moon station had a dozen mobile units stored against an unnamed emergency, but they would have to be charged up; which would take somewhat over an hour.
He explained his plan quietly to the men around him.
"We’ll use several mobile units with each search crew."
He used his TV key on the nearest communicator and issued a specific order: "All observers stay at your posts.
As soon as the supplementary mobile units are ready, call me at—"
He hesitated, then he gave Dr. Denovich’s address.
He was aware of Carr coming up beside him. Without looking at the plump man, Wentworth said, "Doctor, I want you to remain well in the rear of future action. Let’s remember that when this being spotted you observing him, he immediately tried to kill you. Apparently, he has not considered it worthwhile to attempt to exterminate anyone else. That’s got to be significant."
Carr said in a nervous tone, "You don’t think he was just surprised into striking at me?"
It was, of course, possible. But Wentworth was not prepared to take the risk.
Beside him, Carr continued uneasily. "There’s something I should report. When I first looked at that little woman’s face, just for a second it seemed as if I couldn’t read it. Do you think that alien had some way of scrambling her thoughts, so that her face didn’t display them?"
Wentworth felt sorry for the plump man, for obviously the partial failure meant that the ESP ability was coming to the end of its initial stage. It was a cruel prank of fate, but—equally obviously—the time had come for Carr to understand his situation.
Deliberately, he faced the psychologist and said gently, "Why don’t you read me, Doctor?"
Carr gave him a quick look. Then he frowned, and then some of the color drained from his cheeks.
He said at last, unhappily, I’m having difficulty, and it’s a pretty complicated thought. You’re thinking that my ability to read faces is a—a—"
He shook his head, bewildered. "I don’t get it—a common stereotype? That doesn’t seem right."
The near miss established once more for Wentworth that the marvelous ability was beginning to disappear. Aloud, he said, "Let’s go to Dr. Denovich’s office. I’m sure I now have time to tell you both the whole story."

An hour later, there was still no call to indicate that additional mobile units were ready; and he had finished his account.
Carr’s face had a blotched look, and his lips twitched. He had the appearance of a man confronting an unpleasant truth. He mumbled, "It all seemed so natural. I’ve thought about people’s expressions for years."
"When did the ability actually start?" asked Wentworth.
"Well," Can muttered, "it was when I was studying the faces of the other passengers on my way to the moon two days ago that the pieces started to fall into place. When we landed, I had the entire system worked out on a prac­tical application basis."
"So it was just a few hours short of the two days when you finally called me. And so the ability is now in its fading stage; and the twist will show up in a few hours."
Carr grew even paler, if that were possible.
He said thickly, "But what form could such an intensifica­tion of face-reading take? I can’t imagine anything more complete than what I have been able to do."
Denovich, thin face taut, thin body tense as he leaned forward, interrupted harshly, "I feel outraged by all this secrecy. Why was I not briefed on arrival? Why has there been no previous publicity on this important matter?"
The English security officer pointed out stiffly that the moon station in its present form was now only eight years old. Space travel was still new. People were easily alarmed. Such a freak happening might have been a great setback. However, the information blackout was now going to be ended. A joint paper had been prepared by their predeces­sors. This was to be given to the world press after it had been cleared by the U.N. Security Council.
"And," Wentworth continued, "as for briefing you and Dr. Carr—I intended to do that after you had guessed that one of you would be—uh—a victim of the condition?"
Under the circumstances it had seemed credible that it might be a genuine system, as worked out by an expert.
Wentworth smiled his faint smile. "I hope, Dr. Carr, that you kept records."
"I have complete notes," replied Carr glumly.
"It will be the first time," said Wentworth. "So we have a win."
Having made the comment, he spread his hands almost helplessly. "And there’s your story."
He stood up. "I think I’d better go and see what prog­ress is being made on those mobile units." He addressed himself to Dr. Denovich. "Keep an eye on your colleague, sir."
The psychiatrist nodded curtly.

When the two men were alone, Dr. Denovich gazed at the plump American with a hint in his manner of personal concern.
"This seems to have been quite a shock to you, Dr. Carr.
Why don’t I give you a mild sleep potion, so that you can be in a relaxed state while the ability is fading?"
Carr studied the older man’s face with narrowing eyes.
"My ability may be fading," he said, "but you ought to be ashamed of yourself for what I think you’re thinking."
Denovich protested. "I’m sure you’re reading me wrong."
"You intended to get my notes while I slept," the psychologist accused.
"I thought of your notes," admitted the Russian, "and realized how important they were. It did not occur to me that you were not planning to share them."
Carr muttered, "I guess what I saw could have meant that." He broke off. "I apologize. Look, we’re both on edge. So let’s take a look at the situation."
As he analyzed it, here were two experts confronted by phenomena. Why didn’t they sit down, and keep a moment by moment record of the fading of the special ability?
"Perhaps," he concluded, "by continual discussion and restatement, we can prevent my memory from fading."
It was an excellent idea, and the two men settled down. For two and a half hours, the plan seemed to work, in that there was no apparent memory fading.
Then the phone rang.
It was Wentworth, reporting that the search parties had finally been augmented by additional mobile units. The security officer asked "I wondered if you cared to come along?"
Denovich explained that what Carr and he were doing was too important to leave.
When he turned from the phone, he was startled to see that the psychologist was leaning back with eyes closed. What was startling was that his body seemed limp. Deno­vitch bent over the man, shook him, but there was no quickening of wakefulness. A swift examination established a sleeping man’s pulse, the slow, deep breathing of sleep.
Dr. Denovich wasted no time. He prepared a syringe and injected a sleep potion in the American’s arm. Then he dispatched his secretary on a research errand that would keep her away from the office for the rest of the day. Quick­ly he searched the unconscious man, found his key ring; then, picking up his copying camera, he headed along the hall and up the elevator to Carr’s office in the American section.
He had no sense of guilt. "This is not a moment to he squeamish," he told himself. National interests—paramount.
He found the notes almost at once. They were unexpected­ly voluminous. Expertly, he set about his task. Half an hour later, he was still intently copying one sheet after an­other—when he heard a faint sound behind him.
Denovich was not to be rattled. He turned slowly. And then a thrill of fear struck through him.
A figure stood there.

How the creature could ever have been taken for human was not clear to the startled Russian. The gauntness of the body was unnatural; the face, blackened as it was, did have something human in it. But the legs under the long gown showed . . . wrong—the way the cloth lay against them and outlined them! His physician’s eye recorded the details in a single, flashing look.
The next instant a voice from the headpiece said in Rus­sian, "Where is"—hesitation—"Dr. Carr?"
Denovich had not in his entire life had a single desire to be a martyr and he had none now. But, as in the past, he faced the Communist dilemma. Party doctrine required that he do what was necessary "for the people" in any sit­uation, regardless of personal danger. Failure to do so meant that he would have to attend a self-criticism meeting and explained his dereliction.
He had long ago solved the problem by a simple, quick analysis on the spot by one yardstick: the chances of discovery.
No chance of that here, he decided. But he deduced in a single, continuing evaluation that his only way of escape from this baleful being was total collaboration, and he had but one anguished hope: Maybe he’ll let me live.
"Eleven floors down, the Russian section—my office—422-N." He spoke hoarsely.
The creature gazed at him somberly. Then, contemptuous­ly: "Don’t worry. We’re not after people. And, in view of the secret computation you just made, I’ll leave you your mem­ory."
A flash of indescribably bright light from the headpiece struck the psychiatrist’s forehead.
Blackout!

V

It took a while for Xilmer, by his careful method, to reach 422-N. But presently he stood over the man lying on the couch and sent a message, describing Carr’s unconscious state.
"So far as I can see, I could destroy him without him or anyone else being able to prevent it."
"Wait!"
There was a silence of several minutes, then: "Tell us exactly how his unconsciousness came about."
Xilmer dutifully reported what he had perceived in the psychiatrist’s mind about the special ESP aspect, and how Denovich had injected Carr with a strong sedative. "It is this sedative that puts his body at our mercy."
He concluded, "He seems completely helpless, and I strongly urge that he not be allowed to awaken. Who knows what the ESP twist would be?"
"Wait!"
Again the receiving unit on his head stilled; finally: "According to our calculations," came the message, "this hu­man being has had time to go into the advanced ESP state, which apparently is a part of his cycle. So before you do anything, examine what is going on in the lower brain."
"I have already done so."
"With what result?"
"Despite his unconscious condition, something inside the brain is observing me and, I would say, is monitoring this conversation."
. . . But there were no energy connections strong enough to control power flows. So Carr could not fight back. Whatever the twist was, it was not in itself a weapon capable of causing an impact."
Xilmer concluded grimly, "I think we can safely say that, if we do not permit this man to awaken, the inhabitants of this star system cannot defend themselves."
"Too bad!" was the laconic, unsympathetic reply.
They grinned at each other mentally through the head mechanism, and enjoyed the feeling of total superiority.
"What is the recommendation?" Xilmer asked, routinely now.
"Kill him!"

When Denovich came to, he was lying on the carpeted floor. He raised himself and looked around. He was greatly re­lieved when he saw no sign of the alien. Trembling, he stood up and went to the outer door; peered out. Noth­ing. Not a soul in sight.
Fighting panic, he collected his equipment, but hesitated as he realized that his copying task was not completed. After a moment’s thought, he picked up all the psycholo­gist’s notes, including those he had previously photographed.
As he hurried along the hallway, he glanced at his watch for the first time. It was two hours since he had been ren­dered unconscious. That was briefly startling. He thought, shocked: The creature has had all that time to find Carr in my office.
He expected to find his quarters damaged. But at first look, everything was in order. Hastily he locked up the stolen notes, then went throught the door to the treatment room, where he had left Carr sleeping.
There was no one on the couch.
Denovich was about to turn away, when he saw the ob­ject lying half hidden on the far side of the little cot. He walked over and looked down at Xilmer’s turban. The cloth was disarrayed and stained by a bluish fluid, and a metal structure was visible through the folds of the silk-like stuff.
After a moment, he saw that the blue carpeting was heavily encrusted by more of the dark blue liquid.
As he stood there, undecided, voices sounded in his outer office. He recognized Wentworth’s British baritone, and then Carr’s softer voice. Denovich turned and faced the en­trance. Seconds later the two men entered.
The Soviet psychiatrist was aware of several other men crowding the doorway, but they stopped short of it. He had seen only one of them before—recognized him as a Rus­sian member of the security police. Their gazes met, held for an instant, significantly, then separated.
Wentworth said, "Oh, here you are, Doctor."
Denovich said nothing. He was gazing tensely at the face of the plump American, thinking: Right now, this instant, he’s in this superstate.
And, if Carr had been able to read thoughts on faces before, what he could do now must be so far in advance that his—Denovich’s—every act of the past few hours was as plainly visible to the other as a picture on a screen.
The Soviet psychiatrist cringed, then braced himself. De­nials rushed to the tip of his tongue and waited there, ready to be spoken.
Wentworth was continuing: "Dr. Carr is puzzled, sir. When he came to he was lying on this couch, and he had no idea how he had got here. But that"—he indicated Xihner’s turban—"was lying right there. As he went out, he saw your name on the door. That’s how he knows you, because, of course, he has no memory of the first stage of the ESP. What happened?"
Even as Wentworth was talking, Denovich’s mind began to race around seeking a plausible explanation for his own whereabouts. But he knew better than to make a quick answer. And so, as the English officer ceased speaking, Denovich addressed Carr.
"Are you all right, Doctor?"
Carr gave him, perhaps, too long a look before answering, but when he spoke he said simply, "Yes."
"You’re not hurt?"
"No. Should I be?" His eyes were, of all things, shifty, uneasy, puzzled.
"What about the, uh, twist?" Denovich said.
"The what?"

Denovich was thunderstruck. What he had expected, he didn’t know. But not this!—this ordinary person, with ordi­nary, everday responses. And no memory.
"You mean," he said, "you have no awareness of anything unusual?"
Carr shook his head. "Really, Doctor, I think you have more information on this matter than I. How did I get into your quarters? Have I been ill?"
Denovich turned and stared helplessly at Wentworth. He had his own story ready now, but he felt too bewildered even to offer it.
"Colonel," he said, "if you will fill me in, I’ll do the same for you."
Wentworth did so succinctly. After the phone conversation, he had accompanied one of the parties scouting for Xilmer. A few minutes ago, Dr. Carr had been seen wandering along a corridor; and since people lipd been forbidden to leave their apartments, Wentworth had been called to deal with the situation. He had come at once.
"Naturally, knowing where he had last been, I asked him what had happened, and of course, discovered only that he had awakened and seen this turban and all that sticky stuff."
He bent down, touched the bluish liquid gingerly with the tip of a finger, and when apparently it did not hurt him, raised it to his nose and sniffed. He made a face.
"Must be the blood of this race," he said. "Quite a strong odor."
"What race?" Carr asked. "And, look, gentlemen, what—" That was as far as he got. At that moment a voice spoke from Xilmer’s headpiece in English.
"We have been monitoring this conversation, and it would appear that an accident has befallen our agent."
Wentworth stepped forward quickly. "You can hear me?" he said.
The voice continued, "Give us an exact description of the present condition of our agent."
Wentworth replied firmly, "We’re quite willing to do so. But in return we would like some information from you."
"We’re only about three hundred thousand miles away. You’ll see us in slightly less than an hour, and unless your explanations are satisfactory, we shall blast your entire station out of existence. Now, quick!"
The threat was chilling, and instantly convincing. One of the men at the door said, "My God!"
Wentworth, after a long, tense moment, described in an even tone exactly what was left of Xilmer.
When he had finished, the voice said, "Wait!"
At least three minutes went by; then: "We must know exactly what happened. Interrogate Dr. Carr."
"Me?" said Carr, his voice scarcely more than a croak.
Wentworth made a ssssh gesture, then silently waved the men in the open door away, and then nodded at Denovich and Carr.
"Get it out of him!" he commanded Dr. Denovich; then he tiptoed from the room and headed for the phone in the psychiatrist’s private office.

As the Russian faced Carr, he was aware of the English­man’s muffled but earnest voice sounding the alarm. Con­sciously, he shut out the other’s voice and gazed at Carr.
"Doctor," he said, "what is your last recollection?"
The American psychologist swallowed, as if something unpalatable was in his throat; it was that much of a gri­mace. Then he countered: "How long have I been at the moon station?"
Dazzling lights of understanding blazed through the psy­chiatrist’s mind. Of course, he thought, he really doesn’t remember anything after he got that first ESP on his ac­tual journey to the moon.
His recollection flashed to a question Carr had asked a few minutes before, about being ill. Of course," Denovich thought again. He must think he’s mentally ill!
He stood then, trembling with the possibilities of his lightning analysis, and he tried to visualize how he himself might feel in Carr’s place.
Instantly he realized the other’s problem. An American psychologist confessing to his Soviet colleague that he believed himself to be mad!
Denovich said gently, "Doctor, in what way do you think you’re crazy?"
When Carr hesitated, the psychiatrist urged: "Our lives are at stake. You must not hold back."
Carr sighed. "I have paranoid symptoms," he said. And he sounded suddenly tearful.
"Details! Hurry!"
Carr smiled wanly. "It’s really very extreme. When I awakened, I became aware of signals."
"Signals?"
"Everything means something."
"Oh, that one!" said Denovich. He added. "For example?"
"Well, I look at you, and you’re just one mass of—well—meaningful signals. Even the way you stand is a message."
Denovich was baffled. What Carr seemed to be des­cribing was certainly only a variation of a routine paranoid stereotype.
Was this the famous second stage of the ESP cycle, which —he had to admit it—had been so convincing in its initial stage?
He caught himself. "Explain further," he urged.
"Well—" Carr paused, his pudgy face showed helpless­ness. "Well, your pulsations!"
As he haltingly explained it, Denovich’s body was like a large mass of energy circuits that gave off a set of signals.
Carr looked at the man, and at the surface signals in the exposed part of the body. And through the skin to the atom­ic structure inside: tiny golden balls in stacks of billions to each cubic millimeter, pulsing and signaling—and connect­ed . . .
Connected by quadrillions of force lines to distant stars, to the near universe, already stretching out, shiningly tenuous, to other people on the moon station.
But the overwhelming majority of the lines curved off through the walls and across to the Earth . . . A solid mass of connections with other people and with all the places Denovich had ever been.
The signals that pulsed along some of the lines were intense; Carr followed one of the more powerful com­plexes to an earlier year in Denovich’s life, to a young woman, with tears streaming down her face.
The thoughts that came along that set of lines were: "I trusted you and you betrayed me!"
"Now, Natasha—" said that younger Denovich.
"You—see—" said Carr, helplessly. He stopped. "What’s the matter?"
The Russian psychiatrist wondered if his face looked as bloodless as he felt.
"What? W-what?" he gasped. He was stunned. Natasha was a girl he had got pregnant in his younger days and she had died in childbirth. With an effort, he controlled himself. "Can you do anything with it?"
"Well—yes, I guess so."
As he spoke uncertainly, Carr did something that cut the bundle that connected with the girl and watched the lines recoil back upon Denovich like a rubber band, suddenly re­leased.
Denovich uttered a cry; he couldn’t help it. It was a cater­wauling sound, with a bass, throaty yowl in it, that brought Wentworth out of the other office on the double.
By this time, Denovich was trying to reach the couch. But his knees buckled. He fell to the floor and lay there, at first writhing and moaning. But all at once he began a mad screaming.
The Russian agent pressed into the room behind Went­worth and stood there with bulging eyes. After a moment, Wentworth returned to the phone and called Medical Emer­gency.
The two men who came injected the insanely screaming body with a sedative. The screaming died down to a sobbing sound and then silence. They carried the unconscious man out on a stretcher to a small, mobile unit, called an ambulette and rode off with him.
The machine in Xilmer’s helmet spoke: "We absolutely require that Dr. Carr explain what he did to Dr. Denovich."
Carr gazed helplessly at Wentworth. "I just cut the lines. I’m guessing that, instantly, all the barriers he had between himself and that girl went down. I think that what we saw was the effect of total guilt suddenly breaking through."
"Wait!" said the voice from the Xilmer turban machine.
Wentworth, who could not forget that Xilmer’s headpiece had energy weaponry in it, silently waved everybody out of the room. He himself backed into position beyond the door jamb.
One minute. Two. Then the voice spoke: "Unquestionably a powerful mental force exists in Dr. Carr. The analysis of Xilmer’s death was that the unconscious mind of Dr. Carr defended itself from him by cutting the energy lines involving the execution intent of Xilmer. Hence, a rever­sal was induced, whereby he promptly used his mirt—a weapon in his headpiece—to commit suicide. The condition of his body indicated that almost total dissolution occurred."
Wentworth turned to Carr. "Any comment about that?" he whispered slowly.
Carr shook his head.
"No memory of it?"
Again, the head shake.
The voice was continuing, sarcastically, "Naturally, we shall wait until this man’s remarkable mental gift runs through its cycle, a few hours from now. You shall hear from us then."
Silence.

VI

Two hours; perhaps less.
Other men came. There were tense conferences. Carr sat off to one side. Presently, as the voices grew more urgent, he slipped away into the room where Xilmer’s turban lay and stood with eyes closed, gazing at a universe of count­less—signals.
Billions of these—pulsations—still lingered around the ma­chine in Xilmer’s headpiece. Quadrillions of lines were fo­cused on it from somewhere out in space.
Carr glanced along the lines with a casual ability. Now that he was no longer disturbed by the mental phenomenon itself, he was aware that there was a faculty in his mind which could understand the meaning of millions of lines at once.
He saw with total clarity that signals and pulsations were merely a surface activity of the basic universe structure. Underneath was—truth.
Between the signals and what they represented was an intricate feedback, an interchange of the surface meaning with the colossal fact below.
He was aware of Wentworth coming up beside him. "Dr. Carr," the security officer said softly, "our discussions have led us to the launching of nuclear missiles from the U.N. Space Station hovering over the Atlantic. These will be available close to here in about five hours, but in the final issue our real hope comes back to you and what you can do. What can you do?"
"I can—experiment," Carr answered, "with signals."
Wentworth experienced an intense disappointment. For signals, it seemed to him, were a part of communication, and not of weaponry. And that, he realized bitterly, was obviously logical. Beginning with the reading of thoughts on faces, the American psychologist had now, in the twist, come to some ultimate ability to understand and manipulate communication.
It was a great gift, but it was not what was needed in this fantastic emergency.
"What kind of experiment?" Wentworth asked.
"Like this!" said Carr.
And he disappeared.
Wentworth stood tense. Then, aware of Xilmer’s turban and the importance of the enemy not finding out what had happened, he tiptoed from the room. Hurrying to the nearest hall communicator, he inserted his key and asked his agents to make a quick search for Carr.
In ten minutes it was fairly well established that the plump psychologist was not in the moon station. As the reports trickled in confirming this improbable fact, Wentworth put out a call to leading scientists in the station, and soon there were men and women of several nationalities standing around him, speaking into their translation microphones, giving him their concepts of the situation.
But the sum total of the scientific speculations added up to a question: what could be done by one individual to thousands?
And that, in terms of Carr’s ability, came down to: what was the smallest number of lines that needed to be cut to defeat the invader?
As Wentworth stood by, glancing from face to face, it became clear that none of these trained people had any idea what the answer was.

For Carr, after he arrived on the giyn, there was a period of—not confusion, for he was totally aware of the problem—but of immense . . . violence.
He had—selected—an unoccupied room to arrive in; and there he was in what seemed to be a laboratory. Instruments. Tables. Machines. All these stood silently around him, unattended and unthreatening.
His problem derived from the fact that the giyn was pro­grammed to resist the presence of unregistered life forms. That defense system, being quiescent, had no visible lines until his appearance triggered the mechanism.The result of that triggering created the violence.
At the instant of his appearance in the room, the walls, the ceiling and the floor focused their weapons on him. Lines of force sprang out from every side, spun a web of energy around him; tried to hold him.
And that was but the first of four progressively more des­tructive attack systems. The energy trap was succeeded by an elementary mirt discharge, designed to stun; then came a primary mirt, consisting of murderous impact energies; and, finally, there was a nuclear reaction pattern, as strong as it could be in a confined space.
To the faculty in Carr’s brain, it was all signals, ob­served, correlated, defeated at source. Each attack was a cycle that ran its programmed measure. All cycles com­pleted. Silence settled.
Pause.
Abruptly, somewhere aboard, a living mind took note. And an astonished voice spoke into Carr’s brain:
"Who are you?"
Carr did not reply.
The immense number of signals that had been flooding in on him from other levels told him that he was inside a ship twenty miles long, five miles wide and four miles thick. There were eighty thousand Gizdans aboard, each of whom now tuned in on the alarm that had alerted the entire ship.
For a few moments, they had the same general thought; the same conditioning responded, the same attention focused on the intruder. Like so many iron filings abruptly mag­netized, the pulsations of alignment made a pattern. It was the pattern that made them manageable.
Carr in a single, comprehensive glance isolated the tiny portion of significant lines—and cut them.
Then, with equal unerring skill, he selected a mass of lines that interrelated and interacted with Basic Truth, drew them to him, intertwined himself with them—and stepped through an energy vacuum into the room on the moon station where Denovich lay asleep under sedation. He had a feeling that very little time remained for the "twist" ability.

Hastily, he repaired the lines he had cut earlier and watched the massive, internal armor of the psychiatrist re­align. Whereupon Dr. Carr walked out of the room, out of the hospital sector, to the nearest phone booth. He called Wentworth.
When the security officer finally came on the line, he said, "Doctor, what happened?
"They’ve left," said Carr simply.
"B-but—" Wentworth’s voice poised at a peak of puzzle­ment. But he caught hold of himself and said more calmly, "Doctor, we figured out here that there was probably a smallest decisive group of lines to cut—"
"That’s what I did."
"But what could that be? What could be the lowest com­mon denominator for so many persons?"
Carr told him.
Wentworth said, admiringly, "Well, I’ll be . . . Of course. Congratulations, Doctor."

Hours later, when the ESP twist was already faded, at a time when the giyn was nearing the remote end of the solar system and still accelerating, it made its sub-space contact with the great Gizdan fleet cruising in another part of space.
"Got anything for us?" said the fleet commander.
"No!" said the captain of the giyn.
"We understood you were approaching an inhabited sys­tem that looked easy."
"I don’t know how you could have got such an impression. There’s nothing here at all."
"Okay. Break contact."
As the captain of the giyn complied, for an instant he had a fleeting impression, like a dream, as if there was something he ought to know about the sun system through which the giyn had passed.
Had he been able to be aware of such things, he would have noticed that all lines relating to Earth and the moon were cut and coiled back into a tiny corner of his brain.
The feeling of something known and understood . . . faded. And was gone.
Forever.


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Footnotes

[1in 1966 the idea that the Soviet Union might not still be around in the foreseeable future no doubt appeared highly improbable even to the author of the very anti-communist (mainline ) novel The Violent Man (1962.

[2ESP = Extra-Sensory Perception (editor’s note).

[3PSI or psi = "the unknown factor in extrasensory perception and psychokinesis experiences that is not explained by known physical or biological mechanisms." (editor’s note)