MoboReader > Literature > Supermind

   Chapter 2 No.2

Supermind By Randall Garrett Characters: 26074

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The telephone, Malone realized belatedly, had had a particularly nasty-sounding ring. He might have known it would be bad news.

As a matter of fact, he told himself sadly, he had known.

"Nothing at all wrong?" he said into the mouthpiece. "Not with any of the computers?" He blinked. "Not even one of them?"

"Not a thing," Mitchell said. "I'll be sending a report up to you in a little while. You read it; we put them through every test, and it's all detailed there."

"I'm sure you were very thorough," Malone said helplessly.

"Of course we were," Mitchell said. "Of course. And the machines passed every single test. Every one. Malone, it was beautiful."

"Goody," Malone said at random. "But there's got to be something-"

"There is, Malone," Fred said. "There is. I think there's definitely something odd going on. Something funny. I mean peculiar, not humorous."

"I thought so," Malone put in.

"Right," Fred said. "Malone, try and relax. This is a hard thing to say, and it must be even harder to hear, but-"

"Tell me," Malone said. "Who's dead? Who's been killed?"

"I know it's tough, Malone," Fred went on.

"Is everybody dead?" Malone said. "It can't be just one person, not from that tone in your voice. Has somebody assassinated the entire senate? Or the president and his cabinet? Or-"

"It's nothing like that, Malone," Fred said, in a tone that implied that such occurrences were really rather minor. "It's the machines."

"The machines?"

"That's right," Fred said grimly. "After we checked them over and found they were in good shape, I asked for samples of both the input and the output of each machine. I wanted to do a thorough job."

"Congratulations," Malone said. "What happened?"

Fred took a deep breath. "They don't agree," he said.

"They don't?" Malone said. The phrase sounded as if it meant something momentous, but he couldn't quite figure out what. In a minute, he thought confusedly, it would come to him. But did he want it to?

"They definitely do not agree," Fred was saying. "The correlation is erratic; it makes no statistical sense. Malone, there are two possibilities."

"Tell me about them," Malone said. He was beginning to feel relieved. To Fred, the malfunction of a machine was more serious than the murder of the entire Congress. But Malone couldn't quite bring himself to feel that way about things.

"First," Fred said in a tense tone, "it's possible that the technicians feeding information to the machines are making all kinds of mistakes."

Malone nodded at the phone. "That sounds possible," he said. "Which ones?"

"All of them," Fred said. "They're all making errors-and they're all making about the same number of errors. There don't seem to be any real peaks or valleys, Malone; everybody's doing it."

Malone thought of the Varsity Drag and repressed the thought. "A bunch of fumblebums," he said. "All fumbling alike. It does sound unlikely, but I guess it's possible. We'll get after them right away, and-"

"Wait," Fred said. "There is a second possibility."

"Oh," Malone said.

"Maybe they aren't mistakes," Fred said. "Maybe the technicians are deliberately feeding the machine with wrong answers."

Malone hated to admit it, even to himself, but that answer sounded a lot more probable. Machine technicians weren't exactly picked off the streets at random; they were highly trained for their work, and the idea of a whole crew of them starting to fumble at once, in a big way, was a little hard to swallow.

The idea of all of them sabotaging the machines they worked on, Malone thought, was a tough one to take, too. But it had the advantage of making some sense. People, he told himself dully, will do nutty things deliberately. It's harder to think of them doing the same nutty things without knowing it.

"Well," he said at last, "however it turns out, we'll get to the bottom of it. Frankly, I think it's being done on purpose."

"So do I," Fred said. "And when you find out just who's making the technicians do such things-when you find out who gives them their orders-you let me know."

"Let you know?" Malone said. "But-"

"Any man who would give false data to a perfectly innocent computer," Fred said savagely, "would-would-" For a second he was apparently lost for comparisons. Then he finished: "Would kill his own mother." He paused a second and added, in an even more savage voice, "And then lie about it!"

The image on the screen snapped off, and Malone sat back in his chair and sighed. He spent a few minutes regretting that he hadn't chosen, early in life, to be a missionary to the Fiji Islands, or possibly simply a drunken bum without any troubles, but then the report Mitchell had mentioned arrived. Malone picked it up without much eagerness, and began going through it carefully.

It was beautifully typed and arranged; somebody on Mitchell's team had obviously been up all night at the job. Malone admired the work, without being able to get enthusiastic about the contents. Like all technical reports, it tended to be boring and just a trifle obscure to someone who wasn't completely familiar with the field involved. Malone and cybernetics were not exactly bosom buddies, and by the time he finished reading through the report he was suffering from an extreme case of ennui.

There were no new clues in the report, either; Mitchell's phone conversation had covered all of the main points. Malone put the sheaf of papers down on his desk and looked at them for a minute as if he expected an answer to leap out from the pile and greet him with a glad cry. But nothing happened. Unfortunately, he had to do some more work.

The obvious next step was to start checking on the technicians who were working on the machines. Malone determined privately that he would give none of his reports to Fred Mitchell; he didn't like the idea of being responsible for murder, and that was the least Fred would do to someone who confused his precious calculators.

He picked up the phone, punched for the Records Division, and waited until a bald, middle-aged face appeared. He asked the face to send up the dossiers of the technicians concerned to his office. The face nodded.

"You want them right away?" it said in a mild, slightly scratchy voice.

"Sooner than right away," Malone said.

"They're coming up by messenger," the voice said.

Malone nodded and broke the connection. The technicians had, of course, been investigated by the FBI before they'd been hired, but it wouldn't do any harm to check them out again. He felt grateful that he wouldn't have to do all that work himself; he would just go through the dossiers and assign field agents to the actual checking when he had a picture of what might need to be checked.

He sighed again and leaned back in his chair. He put his feet up on the desk, remembered that he was entirely alone, and swung them down again. He fished in a private compartment in his top desk drawer, drew out a cigar and unwrapped it. Putting his feet back on the desk, he lit the cigar, drew in a cloud of smoke, and lapsed into deep thought.

Cigar smoke billowed around him, making strange, fantastic shapes in the air of the office. Malone puffed away, frowning slightly and trying to force the puzzle he was working on to make some sense.

It certainly looked as though something were going on, he thought. But, for the life of him, he couldn't figure out just what it was. After all, what could be anybody's purpose in goofing up a bunch of calculators the way they had? Of course, the whole thing could be a series of accidents, but the series was a pretty long one, and made Malone suspicious to start with. It was easier to assume that the goof-ups were being done deliberately.

Unfortunately, they didn't make much sense as sabotage, either.

Senator Deeds, for instance, had sent out a ten-thousand-copy form letter to his constituents, blasting an Administration power bill in extremely strong language, and asking for some comments on the Deeds-Hartshorn Air Ownership Bill, a pending piece of legislation that provided for private, personal ownership, based on land title, to the upper stratosphere, with a strong hint that rights of passage no longer applied without some recompense to the owner of the air. Naturally, Deeds had filed the original with a computer-secretary to turn out ten thousand duplicate copies, and the machine had done so, folding the copies, slipping them into addressed envelopes and sending them out under the Senator's franking stamp.

The addresses on the envelopes, however, had not been those of the Senator's supporters. The letter had been sent to ten thousand stockholders in major airline companies, and the Senator's head was still ringing from the force of the denunciatory letters, telegrams and telephone calls he'd been getting.

And then there was Representative Follansbee of South Dakota. A set of news releases on the proposed Follansbee Waterworks Bill contained the statement that the artificial lake which Follansbee proposed in the Black Hills country "be formed by controlled atomic power blasts, and filled with water obtained from collecting the tears of widows and orphans."

Newsmen who saw this release immediately checked the bill. The wording was exactly the same. Follansbee claimed that the "widows and orphans" phrase had appeared in his speech on the bill, and not in the proposed bill itself. "It's completely absurd," he said, with commendable calm, "to consider this method of filling an artificial lake." Unfortunately, the absurdity was now contained in the bill, which would have to go back to committee for redefinition, and probably wouldn't come up again in the present session of Congress. Judging from the amount of laughter that had greeted the error when it had come to light, Malone privately doubted whether any amount of redefinition was going to save it from a landslide defeat.

Representative Keller of Idaho had made a speech which contained so many errors of fact that newspaper editorials, and his enemies on the floor of Congress, cut him to pieces with ease and pleasure. Keller complained of his innocence and said he'd gotten his facts from a computer-secretary, but this didn't save him. His re-election was a matter for grave concern in his own party, and the opposition was, naturally, tickled. They would not, Malone thought, dare to be tickled pink.

And these were not the only casualties. They were the most blatant foul-ups, but there were others, such as the mistake in numbering of a House Bill that resulted in a two-month delay during which the opposition to the bill raised enough votes to defeat it on the floor. Communications were diverted or lost or scrambled in small ways that made for confusion-including, Malone recalled, the perfectly horrible mixup that resulted when a freshman senator, thinking he was talking to his girlfriend on a blanked-vision circuit, discovered he was talking to his wife.

The flow of information was being blocked by bottlenecks that suddenly existed where there had never been bottlenecks before.

And it wasn't only the computers, Malone knew. He remembered the reports the senators and representatives had made. Someone forgot to send an important message here, or sent one too soon over there. Both courses were equally disturbing, and both resulted in more snarl-ups. Reports that should have been sent in weeks before arrived too late; reports meant for the eyes of only one man were turned out in triplicate and passed all over the offices of Congress.

Each snarl-up was a little one. But, together, they added up to inefficiency of a kind and extent that hadn't been seen, Malone told himself with some wonder, since the Harding administration fifty years before.

And there didn't seem to be anyone to blame anything on.

Malone thought hopefully of sabotage, infiltration and mass treason, but it didn't make him feel much better. He puffed out some more smoke and frowned at nothing.

There was a knock at the door of his office.

Speedily and guiltily, he swung his feet off the desk and snatched the cigar out of his mouth. He jammed it into a deep ashtray and put the ashtray back into his desk drawer. He locked the drawer, waved ineffectively at the clouds of smoke that surrounded him, and said in a resigned voice: "Come in."

The door opened. A tall, solidly-built man stood there, wearing a fringe of beard and a cheerful expression. The man had an enormous amount of muscle distributed more or less evenly over his chunky body, and a pot-belly that looked as if he had swallowed a globe of the world. In addition, he was smoking a cigarette and letting out little puffs of smoke, rather like a toy locomotive.

"Well, well," Malone said, brushing feebly at the smoke that still wreathed him faintly. "If it isn't Thomas Boyd, the FBI's answer to Nero Wolfe."

"And if the physique holds true, you're Sherlock Holmes, I supp


Boyd said.

Malone shook his head, thinking sadly of his father and the cigar. "Not exactly," he said. "Not ex-" And then it came to him. It wasn't that he was ashamed of smoking cigars like his father, exactly, but cigars just weren't right for a fearless, dedicated FBI agent. And he had just thought of a way to keep Boyd from knowing what he'd been doing. "That's a hell of a cigarette you're smoking, by the way," he said.

Boyd looked at it. "It is?" he said.

"Sure is," Malone said, hoping he sounded sufficiently innocent.

"Smells like a cigar or something."

Boyd sniffed the air for a second, his face wrinkled. Then he looked down at his cigarette again. "By God," he said, "you're right, Ken. It does smell like a cigar." He came over to Malone's desk, looked around for an ashtray and didn't find one, and finally went to the window and tossed the cigarette out into the Washington breeze. "How are things, anyhow, Ken?" he said.

"Things are confused," Malone said. "Aren't they always?"

Boyd came back to the desk and sat down in a chair at one side of it. He put his elbow on the desk. "Sure they are," he said. "I'm confused myself, as a matter of fact. Only I think I know where I can get some help."

"Really?" Malone said.

Boyd nodded. "Burris told me I might be able to get some information from a certain famous and highly respected person," he said.

"Well, well," Malone said. "Who?"

"You," Boyd said.

"Oh," Malone said, trying to look disappointed, flattered and modest all at the same time. "Well," he went on after a second, "anything I can do-"

"Burris thought you might have some answers," Boyd said.

"Burris is getting optimistic in his old age," Malone said. "I don't even have many questions."

Boyd nodded. "Well," he said, "you know this California thing?"

"Sure I do," Malone said. "You're looking into the resignation out there, aren't you?"

"Senator Burley," Boyd said. "That's right But Senator Burley's resignation isn't all of it, by any means."

"It isn't?" Malone said, trying to sound interested.

"Not at all," Boyd said. "It goes a lot deeper than it looks on the surface. In the past year, Ken, five senators have announced their resignations from the Senate of the United States. It isn't exactly a record-"

"It sounds like a record," Malone said.

"Well," Boyd said, "there was 1860 and the Civil War, when a whole lot of senators and representatives resigned all at once."

"Oh," Malone said. "But there isn't any Civil War going on now. At least," he added, "I haven't heard of any."

"That's what makes it so funny," Boyd said. "Of course, Senator Burley said it was ill health, and so did two others, while Senator Davidson said it was old age."

"Well," Malone said, "people do get old. And sick."

"Sure," Boyd said. "The only trouble is-" He paused. "Ken," he said, "do you mind if I smoke? I mean, do you mind the smell of cigars?"

"Mind?" Malone said. "Not at all." He blinked. "Besides," he added, "maybe this one won't smell like a cigar."

"Well, the last one did," Boyd said. He took a cigarette out of a pack in his pocket, and lit it. He sniffed. "You know," he said, "you're right. This one doesn't."

"I told you," Malone said. "Must have been a bad cigarette. Spoiled or something."

"I guess so," Boyd said vaguely. "But about these retirements-the FBI wanted me to look into it because of Burley's being mixed up with the space program scandal last year. Remember?"

"Vaguely," Malone said. "I was busy last year."

"Sure you were," Boyd said. "We were both busy getting famous and well known."

Malone grinned. "Go on with the story," he said.

Boyd puffed at his cigarette. "Anyhow, we couldn't find anything really wrong," he said. "Three senators retiring because of ill health, one because of old age. And Farnsworth, the youngest, had a nervous breakdown."

"I didn't hear about it," Malone said.

Boyd shrugged "We hushed it up," he said. "But Farnsworth's got delusions of persecution. He apparently thinks somebody's out to get him. As a matter of fact, he thinks everybody's out to get him."

"Now that," Malone said, "sounds familiar."

Boyd leaned back a little more in his chair. "Here's the funny thing, though," he said. "The others all act as if they're suspicious of everybody who talks to them. Not anything obvious, you understand. Just worried, apprehensive. Always looking at you out of the corners of their eyes. That kind of thing."

Malone thought of Senator Lefferts, who was also suffering from delusions of persecution, delusions that had real evidence to back them up. "It does sound funny," he said cautiously.

"Well, I reported everything to Burris," Boyd went on. "And he said you were working on something similar, and we might as well pool our resources."

"Here we go again," Malone said. He took a deep breath, filling his nostrils with what remained of the cigar odor in the room, and felt more peaceful. Quickly, he told Boyd about what had been happening in Congress. "It seems pretty obvious," he finished, "that there is some kind of a tie-up between the two cases."

"Maybe it's obvious," Boyd said, "but it is just a little bit odd. Fun and games. You know, Ken, Burris was right."

"How?" Malone said.

"He said everything was all mixed up," Boyd went on. "He told me the country was going to Rome in a handbasket, or something like that."

Wondering vaguely if Burris had really been predicting mass religious conversions, Malone nodded silently.

"And he's right," Boyd said. "Look at the newspapers. Everything's screwy lately."

"Everything always is screwy," Malone said.

"Not like now," Boyd said. "So many big-shot gangsters have been killed lately we might as well bring back Prohibition. And the labor unions are so busy with internal battles that they haven't had time to go on strike for over a year."

"Is that bad?" Malone said.

Boyd shrugged. "God knows," he said. "But it's sure confusing as all hell."

"And now," Malone said, "with all that going on-"

"The Congress of the United States decides to go off its collective rocker," Boyd finished. "Exactly." He stared down at his cigarette for a minute with a morose and pensive expression on his face. He looked, Malone thought, like Henry VIII trying to decide what to do about all these here wives.

Then he looked up at Malone. "Ken," he said in a strained voice, "there seem to be a lot of nutty cases lately."

Malone considered. "No," he said at last. "It's just that when a nutty one comes along, we get it."

"That's what I mean," Boyd said. "I wonder why that is."

Malone shrugged. "It takes a thief to catch a thief," he said.

"But these aren't thieves," Boyd said. "I mean, they're just nutty."

He paused. "Oh," he said.

"And two thieves are better than one," Malone said.

"Anyhow," Boyd said with a small, gusty sigh, "it's company."

"Sure," Malone said.

Boyd looked for an ashtray, failed again to find one, and walked over to flip a second cigarette out onto Washington. He came back to his chair, sat down, and said, "What's our next step, Ken?"

Malone considered carefully. "First," he said finally, "we'll start assuming something. We'll start assuming that there is some kind of organization behind all this, behind all the senators' resignations and everything like that."

"It sounds like a big assumption," Boyd said.

Malone shook his head. "It isn't really," he said. "After all, we can't figure it's the work of one person: it's too widespread for that. And it's silly to assume that everything's accidental."

"All right," Boyd said equably. "It's an organization."

"Trying to subvert the United States," Malone went on. "Reducing everything to chaos. And that brings in everything else, Tom. That brings in the unions and the gang wars and everything."

Boyd blinked. "How?" he said.

"Obvious," Malone said. "Strife brought on by internal confusion, that's what's going on all over. It's the same pattern. And if we assume an organization trying to jam up the United States, it even makes sense." He leaned back and beamed.

"Sure it makes sense," Boyd said. "But who's the organization?"

Malone shrugged.

"If I were doing the picking," Boyd said, "I'd pick the Russians. Or the Chinese. Or both. Probably both."

"It's a possibility," Malone said. "Anyhow, if it's sabotage, who else would be interested in sabotaging the United States? There's some Russian or Chinese organization fouling up Congress, and the unions, and the gangs. Come to think of it, why the gangs? It seems to me that if you left the professional gangsters strong, it would do even more to foul things up."

"Who knows?" Boyd said. "Maybe they're trying to get rid of American gangsters so they can import some of their own."

"That doesn't make any sense," Malone said, "but I'll think about it.

In the meantime, we have one more interesting question."

"We do?" Boyd said.

"Sure we do," Malone said. "The question is: how?"

Boyd said: "Mmm." Then there was silence for a little while.

"How are the saboteurs doing all this?" Malone said. "It just doesn't seem very probable that all the technicians in the Senate Office Building, for instance, are spies. It makes even less sense that the labor unions are composed mostly of spies. Or, for that matter, the Mafia and the organizations like it. What would spies be doing in the Mafia?"

"Learning Italian," Boyd said instantly.

"Don't be silly," Malone said. "If there were that many spies in this country, the Russians wouldn't have to fight at all. They could vote the Communists into power, and by a nice big landslide, too."

"Wait a minute," Boyd said. "If there aren't so many spies, then how is all this getting done?"

Malone beamed. "That's the question," he said. "And I think I have an answer."

"You do?" Boyd said. After a second he said: "Oh, no."

"Suppose you tell me," Malone said.

Boyd opened his mouth. Nothing emerged. He shut it. A second passed and he opened it again. "Magic?" he said weakly.

"Not exactly," Malone said cheerfully. "But you're getting warm."

Boyd shut his eyes. "I'm not going to stand for it," he announced.

"I'm not going to take any more."

"Any more what?" Malone said. "Tell me what you have in mind."

"I won't even consider it," Boyd said. "It haunts me. It gets into my dreams. Now, look, Ken, I can't even see a pitchfork any more without thinking of Greek letters."

Malone took a breath. "Which Greek letter?" he said.

"You know very well," Boyd said. "What a pitchfork looks like. Psi.

And I'm not even going to think about it."

"Well," Malone said equably, "you won't have to. If you'd rather start with the Russian-spy end of things, you can do that."

"What I'd rather do," Boyd said, "is resign."

"Next year," Malone said instantly. "For now, you can wait around until the dossiers come up-they're for the Senate Office Building technicians, and they're on the way. You can go over them, and start checking on any known Russian agents in the country for contacts. You can also start checking on the dossiers, and in general for any hanky-panky."

Boyd blinked. "Hanky-panky?" he said.

"It's a perfectly good word," Malone said, offended. "Or two words.

Anyhow, you can start on that end, and not worry about anything else."

"It's going to haunt me," Boyd said.

"Well," Malone said, "eat lots of ectoplasm and get enough sleep, and everything will be fine. After all, I'm going to have to do the real end of the work, the psionics end. I may be wrong, but-"

He was interrupted by the phone. He flicked the switch and Andrew J.

Burris' face appeared on the screen.

"Malone," Burris said instantly, "I just got a complaint from the State Department that ties in with your work. Their translator has been acting up."

Malone couldn't say anything for a minute.

"Malone," Burris went on. "I said-"

"I heard you," Malone said. "And it doesn't have one."

"It doesn't have one what?" Burris said.

"A pig-Latin circuit," Malone said. "What else?"

Burris' voice was very calm. "Malone," he said, "what does pig-Latin have to do with anything?"

"You said-"

"I said one of the State Department translators was acting up," Burris said. "If you want details-"

"I don't think I can stand them," Malone said.

"Some of the Russian and Chinese releases have come through with the meaning slightly altered," Burris went on doggedly. "And I want you to check on it right away. I-"

"Thank God," Malone said.

Burris blinked. "What?"

"Never mind," Malone said. "Never mind. I'm glad you told me, Chief.

I'll get to work on it right away, and-"

"You do that, Malone," Burris said. "And for God's sake stop calling me Chief! Do I look like an Indian? Do I have feathers in my hair?"

"Anything," Malone said grandly, "is possible." He broke the connection in a hurry.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top