Delusion WorldGordon R. Dickson
Gordon R. Dickson
START SCIENCE FICTION
An Imprint of Start Publishing LLC
New York, New York
DELUSION WORLD © 1961 by Ace Books, Inc. © 1989 by Gordon R. Dickson.
First Start Science Fiction edition 2013.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Start Science Fiction, 609 Greenwich Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10014.
All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Published by Start Science Fiction,
an imprint of Start Publishing LLC
New York, New York
“The point is,” Humboldt was saying, “you can pass as a technique trader.”
“Beg your pardon,” said Feliz. “I am a technique trader. The point is whether I can pass as a spy. And the answer to that is no—not even if I wanted to.”
They had come around to this point in the argument now for the third time. Feliz Gebrod looked out through the un-opaqued north wall of the comfortable office lounge, down at the carefully laid grounds of the Defense Center, where a chilly spring wind was nipping the new buds on the maple trees. Feliz had not been back here to Earth in a long time; and when he had planned this little vacation he had been prepared to be properly sentimental. But his plans had not included the problems of the director of defense and Psi-Man Philip Verde. I’m not a stubborn man, thought Feliz muti- nously, but damn it to hell...
The thought was so satisfying, he looked back at the two other occupants of the lounge and said it out loud. Psi-Man Verde showed nothing. Why should he? He had known Feliz was going to say it. But Donster Humboldt’s florid face went even darker.
“You don’t owe us anything, Gebrod, is that it?” said Humboldt.
Feliz looked at him with new interest. He had been almost sure it would be impossible to get under Humboldt’s skin.
But evidently, he finally had. Feliz hunched his massive. shoulders a little deeper in his chair and gave the other two the eye.
They were., not at all alike—Humboldt, the director of defense, and Psi-Man Verde, director of the Talents Department—but Feliz was so different from both of them that he put them both together in a different class. For Feliz was half Micturian, on his mother’s side of the family.
Since the Micturians were original human stock which—back in the bad old days a hundred and fifty years before laws were standardized on all the human-occupied worlds—had been deliberately mutated to allow them to settle a planet where the best chance of survival depended on resembling something double the size of an ordinary human and possessing harder bone and tougher flesh, Feliz himself was something of an oddity. He was not ten feet tall, and his skin was closer to the texture of ordinary human skin than that of well-tanned oxhide. Among Micturians he would have been considered a dwarf, a mere six foot half-breed.
Among unmutated humans, though, he was something else again. He did not get the low-gravity sickness that his mother’s people were prone to suffer when they visited the regular human worlds. His head was normal human size, and so were his hands and feet. His shoulders, however, were abnormally broad for a human; and anyone looking closely at, the extremely loose cut of his tunic would begin to notice his differences. There was a reason for the baggy tailoring of his clothes—to wit, biceps eight inches in diameter when relaxed, and thighs twelve inches ditto, under similar conditions. For all practical purposes his waist was indistinguishable from his chest, but the width of his shoulders and the loose tunic hid this.
His face was quaintly humorous, its underlying features being made up of very large bones crowded together in a relatively small area. He was so ugly, as the saying goes, that he was almost handsome. His nose was short and wide, his broad mouth concealed some magnificently massive teeth. His eyebrows were miniature forests under a broad forehead, and a touch of premature gray streaked his unruly brown hair. His eyes were the same guileless blue as the near-boiling-temperature volcanic pools in Yellowstone National Park—some twelve hundred miles due west of where he happened to be seated at the moment. Someday, he supposed, he would marry and settle down. But there were a good many comfortable years yet before he need seriously consider it.
Humboldt, on the other hand, was a normal, slightly over-weight human in his mid-fifties who had been a hammer-thrower in his college days and had a mind like a cocked and loaded rifle. He was director of defense, because there was an intelligent and technological race called the Malvar abroad in this part of the galaxy and they threatened to run ordinary humanity back into its holes and then stop the holes up for good. The fact that this would not be accomplished for somewhat more than eight hundred Earth years, according to the best forecasts, made no difference. Nor did it matter that, at the moment, the Malvar and humanity were officially the best of spatial neighbors.
The crucial moment in history was not to be eight hundred years from now—when it would be too late—but now, and for the next twenty years. It was a time to damn the consequences and put the most effective man in charge. And so Donster Humboldt was in charge. He would have been in charge even if he had been a worse devil in other aspects than Genghis Khan. Actually, he was not a devil. He simply believed in getting results, no matter who wept. Secretly he thought of all other people as amiable but rather half-witted, soft-natured animals.
Psi-Man Verde (people called him Philip to his face) knew that Humboldt thought of other people this way. He also knew that Humboldt did not even have that high an opinion of Psi-Man Verde. Psi-Man Verde knew that Humboldt’s opinion of the psi-man and his corps of psionically talented people was literally unmentionable; and that tucked away in the back of Humboldt’s mind was the thought that once the current trouble was over and the Malvar taken care of, it would be a pleasant thing to make sure that all those with Talents were neatly removed from the scene—liquidated, and poured down some conveniently handy drain.
Psi-Man Verde knew all this; and yet he drove his frail, six foot nine, hundred and twenty pound body and sensitive mind to execute all the miracles that Humboldt daily required of the psi-man and his staff. Not only this, but he put up with Humboldt’s arrogance and intolerance and unthinking brutality; and without Humboldt’s knowing it, took extra burdens on himself and his people to spare Humboldt’s energies as much as possible and make life an attractive thing for Humboldt.
Psi-Man Verde did all this because he, too, wanted to win the silent war they were engaged in. And also because, since he could see so much more of Humboldt than Humboldt could see himself, he pitied the other man.
So there they were, the three of them. Most of what the other two were was unknown to Feliz. If he had known it, he would have hated Humboldt and been embarrassed by the psi-man. But he did not know it, would never know it, and it did not matter anyway. Each in his own way, all three of them were concerned only with results. And that was what was important.
Accordingly, right at the moment Feliz was grinning internally. Humboldt, he recognized, had been trying to get under his skin with that crack about not owing them (the normal humans, that is) anything. He thought Feliz might be sensitive about being a half-breed. While actually—aside from the fact that Feliz had about as much sensitivity as a rhinocerous hide—Feliz was, in fact, proud of his freakishness. After all, it allowed him to take advantage of the advantages of both strains of humans.
So what Humboldt had really done was allow himself to get impatient an
d lose a point.
“Well! ” said Feliz, loudly hiding his delight from all but Psi-Man Verde. “I’m a taxpayer, and you’ve got no authority over me. I don’t have to sit here and be insulted!”
He rose to his feet with an injured air. Humboldt went pale and then red again.
"Just a minute," said Psi-Man Verde, speaking for almost the first time since Feliz had been ushered in by the Defense Department secretary who had dug him out of his hotel room in town.
Feliz checked and turned cautiously. The psi-man was another kettle of fish.
“I’m afraid all this is my fault,” said Verde.
Danger flags popped up and alarm bells began ringing all over the trouble-sensitive section of Feliz’s alert mind. People who started out by apologizing were liable to drive the hardest bargain in the long run.
“I’m afraid I’ve been less than honest with you,” said Verde.
“Quite all right,” said Feliz. “Don’t bother. I was just leaving." He picked up his hat from an end table to prove it.
“For Dunroamin,” said Verde.
Feliz paused. A puzzled look crept onto his massive face, giving it an almost comical expression.
“Beg pardon?” he said.
“I said,” Verde repeated, “you’re leaving for Dunroamin.”
“No, no,” said Feliz. “Back to my hotel in town. You see—” He broke off suddenly as he felt his hand replace the hat on the table and his body walk back to the chair it had just left, and reseat itself. There was a moment’s pregnant silence in the office. “Good trick,” said Feliz in a strangely colorless and unemotional voice. “I didn’t know you boys could do that sort of thing.”
“I wish we had someone besides myself who could,” sighed Verde.
“You can’t do this to me, you know,” continued Feliz in the same dispassionate voice. Under the loose fabric of his clothes certain of his great muscles were swelling and writhing like pythons—but to no avail. “It’s illegal.”
“I know,” said Verde. “I’m very sorry. But I’m afraid we’ve got some more talking to do.”
“You can make me sit here,” said Feliz. “But I’ve got a hunch you can’t make me take a ship two hundred light-years into Malvar territory and play spy effectively. Want to bet?"
“No. Because I’d lose.” Verde came around to stand in front of Feliz. “My only hope is to convince you to co-operate willingly. Perhaps, as I say, if I’m more truthful with you—”
“Now now,” said Feliz grimly.
“We’ll see,” said Verde. “Tell me, what do you think about the Malvar?"
“I don’t,” said Feliz.
“Waste of time,” commented Humboldt from where he stood.
“It won’t hurt to try the truth on a man like this,” said Verde.
“I don’t butter up!” growled Feliz.
"I wasn’t going to try,” said Verde. “We’ve been asking you to go into the Malvar area of space to do a job for us. We didn’t tell you what the job was, because we wanted to know you were willing to do it, before we started letting any secrets out of the bag. But your answer was no.”
"Spelled N-O," said Feliz. He made another effort to get up and found he still could not.
“I think if you knew the job we had in mind, you wouldn’t refuse,” said Verde. “It’s not spying.”
“Come on now,” said Feliz. “The Malvar are double-hearted, cold-blooded, communal-living lizards. What would any human be doing in their area of space, except spying on them?”
“I take it you don’t, at least, prefer them to your fellow humans?”
Feliz found his shoulders were free enough of Verde’s control to allow him to shrug. He did so.
“Live and let live,” he said.
"You’ve read and heard that the way things are going they should completely overwhelm and occupy the human worlds within the next thousand years?”
“Statistics,” said Feliz. “A lot of fancy figure-juggling and guesswork. A lot can happen in the next thousand years. They’re no better than we are.”
“Yes, I’m afraid they are,” said Psi-Man Verde. “Oh?” Feliz stared at him. “Since when?”
“Since the early days of their technology—in one small area. They have devices capable of broadcasting telepathic orders. Orders they have the natural ability to receive."
“So they hup, two, three, four without the need of words," began Feliz. "They can’t broadcast to us, so we just pay no attention when they order us to move out and let them take over—”
“It’s not that simple,” interrupted Verde. “You see, the human race happens to be telepathic too.”
“I—” Feliz blinked and stiffened. “Say that again!” “The human race is also telepathic. You, for example, are telepathic.”
Verde shook his head.
“The Malvar have a native, inborn ability to receive telepathic commands. They have developed devices to broadcast in that area, so this adds up to a plus talent for them."
“I never heard even a telepathic murmur in my life!”
"Of course not," said Verde a little wearily. "Except for a tiny percentage of unusual people such as we have in the Talents Department, the human race is telepathically as deaf as a race of doorposts. Which is a life-saving thing for them.”
Feliz frowned. “I don’t follow you.”
“You would,” said Verde, almost grimly, “if you were one of the receptives on my staff. Except when you were under drugs or sleeping, you’d be driven half-crazy. The human race normally can’t hear a thing telepathically. But, barring a few freakishly crippled individuals where that department is concerned, every mother’s son and daughter of them broadcast on the telepathic band like champion hog-callers in a contest.”
Feliz stared sharply at the psi-man.
“That’s the truth?”
“ Yes,” said Verde. "And the Malvar can not only receive telepathically—they can control the power and use it. But while it’s possible to construct a physical device that will emit a telepathic signal, it is completely impossible—according to all presently known laws of physics—to build a device that will allow the telepathically deaf to hear. You can boil down the situation between us and the Malvar accordingly, for yourself.”
“For all practical purposes,” said Feliz. “They’re telepathic, and we’re not.”
“Within their own group only, of course,” said Verde. "But this is the sort of small but constant advantage that can give them victory in the end. And since we both like to settle the same sort of worlds...”
“I see,” said Feliz thoughtfully. Absently he rubbed his nose, without noticing that the compulsion of Verde was no longer holding him. He thought the matter over for a moment. “I’m still no spy,” he said.
“We don’t want you to be a spy—at least upon the Malvar,” said Verde. “It just happens that some of our sharpest perceptives have been monitoring pretty deep into Malvar territory to keep tabs on their telepathic broadcasts. And they’ve been receiving some signals that aren’t Malvar.”
“Aren’t . . .?” said Feliz.
“They’re human,” said Verde.
"Human!" exploded Feliz. The two stared eye to eye for a second.
“Exactly,” said Verde. “We can’t make out much of anything. But they’re human. A check of our records has brought up the fact that about six hundred years back, in the Lawless Era, there was a planet settled by an independent human group about where these signals are coming from. It’s registered under the title of Dunroamin. That’s all we know about it.”
“But how've they survived in the middle of the Malvar all this time?” said Feliz. “How come the Malvar haven’t—”
“That’s just what we’d like to know. And the Malvar aren’t likely to agree to our sending a commission in to find out.”
“I see,” said Feliz. He thought a minute. “But why me?” he said.
“Human telepathic emission
s have individual and family characteristics,” said Verde. “Some of the original settlers were connected to your father’s side of the family. You’ve got relatives there now, undoubtedly. If you can get in there fast enough, and out again fast enough, it just may be that the Malvar may not notice someone from outside has made a visit at all. They’ll think you’re one of the natives for the duration of your visit.”
“Relatives,” said Feliz glumly, breathing a little heavily through his nose.
“That’s right,” put in Humboldt.
“This is all assuming, of course,” said Feliz, “that these settlers have found some way to keep the Malvar at a distance, and that they'll be free to talk to me when I get there."
“Yes,” said Verde. “If they’ve found a way of keeping off the Malvar, we want very much to know what it is.”
“Hundred to one they haven’t,” said Feliz.
“No,” agreed Verde gently. “You may well find the Malvar have them all in bottles, or some such thing.”
“Bottles...” said Feliz.
There was a second or two of no talk at all in the office, Feliz stood up heavily. This time, nothing restrained him as he walked over and picked up his hat.
“All right,” he said. “You’ve got me.” He clumped toward the door of the office. With his hand on the button that opened it, he checked suddenly and whirled about.
"What did you say they named that planet?” he demanded.
“Dunroamin,” said Verde.
“Done roaming?” echoed Feliz incredulously.
Verde spelled it out for him.
Feliz shook his head slowly and wonderingly. Still shaking it, he opened the door and went out.
Feliz made it almost to Dunroamin in his own little trader’s ship, before he ran into trouble. First came little trouble, then large trouble piling on top.
The little trouble had to do with Feliz’s hat. Feliz was partial to wearing a hat, like most technique traders—a jaunty flat beret rakishly tipped over one ear. There was no logical reason for it. It was just a custom, a sort of badge of occupation among the men who went hopping from world to world, picking up new techniques and knowledge developed on one planet for later sale to people on other planets who had not yet developed or imported the necessary skills or information themselves.