By DARREL T. LANGART
Given psi powers like clairvoyance and telepathy, solving problems of sabotage would be easy, of course. That is, it seems that way at first thought!
Illustrated by van Dongen
he man in the pastel blue topcoat walked with steady purpose, but without haste, through the chill, wind-swirled drizzle that filled the air above the streets of Arlington, Virginia. His matching blue cap-hood was pulled low over his forehead, and the clear, infrared radiating face mask had been flipped down to protect his chubby cheeks and round nose from the icy wind.
No one noticed him particularly. He was just another average man who blended in with all the others who walked the streets that day. No one recognized him; his face did not appear often in public places, except in his own state, and, even so, it was a thoroughly ordinary face. But, as he walked, Senator John Peter Gonzales was keeping a mental, fine-webbed, four-dimensional net around him, feeling for the slightest touch of recognition. He wanted no one to connect him in any way with his intended destination.
It was not his first visit to the six-floor brick building that stood on a street in a lower-middle-class district of Arlington. Actually, government business took him there more often than would have been safe for the average man-on-the-street. For Senator Gonzales, the process of remaining incognito was so elementary that it was almost subconscious.
Arriving at his destination, he paused on the sidewalk to light a cigarette, shielding it against the wind and drizzle with cupped hands while his mind made one last check on the surroundings. Then he strode quickly up the five steps to the double doors which were marked: The Society For Mystical And Metaphysical Research, Inc.
Just as he stepped in, he flipped the face shield up and put on an old-fashioned pair of thick-lensed, black-rimmed spectacles. Then, his face assuming a bland smile that would have been completely out of place on Senator Gonzales, he went from the foyer into the front office.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Jesser," he said, in a high, smooth, slightly accented voice that was not his own. "I perceive by your aura that you are feeling well. Your normal aura-color is tinged with a positive golden hue."
Mrs. Jesser, a well-rounded matron in her early forties, rose to the bait like a porpoise being hand-fed at a Florida zoo. "Dear Swami Chandra! How perfectly wonderful to see you again! You're looking very well your-self."
The Swami, whose Indian blood was of the Aztec rather than the Brahmin variety, nonetheless managed to radiate all the mystery of the East. "My well-being, dear Mrs. Jesser, is due to the fact that I have been communing for the past three months with my very good friend, the Fifth Dalai Lama. A most refreshingly wise person." Senator Gonzales was fond of the Society's crackpot receptionist, and he knew exactly what kind of hokum would please her most.
"Oh, I do hope you will find time to tell me all about it," she said effusively. "Mr. Balfour isn't in the city just now," she went on. "He's lecturing in New York on the history of flying saucer sightings. Do you realize that this is the fortieth anniversary of the first saucer sighting, back in 1944?"
"The first photographed sighting," the Swami corrected condescendingly. "Our friends have been watching and guiding us for far longer than that, and were sighted many times before they were photographed."
Mrs. Jesser nodded briskly. "Of course. You're right, as always, Swami."
"I am sorry to hear," the Swami continued smoothly, "that I will not be able to see Mr. Balfour. However, I came at the call of Mr. Brian Taggert, who is expecting me."
Mrs. Jesser glanced down at her appointment sheet. "He didn't mention an appointment to me. However—" She punched a button on the intercom. "Mr. Taggert? Swami Chandra is here to see you. He says he has an appointment."
Brian Taggert's deep voice came over the instrument. "The Swami, as usual, is very astute. I have been thinking about calling him. Send him right up."
"You may go up, Swami," said Mrs. Jesser, wide-eyed. She watched in awe as the Swami marched regally through the inner door and began to climb the stairs toward the sixth floor.
One way to hide an ex-officio agency of the United States Government was to label it truthfully—The Society For Mystical And Metaphysical Research. In spite of the fact that the label was literally true, it sounded so crackpot that no one but a crackpot would bother to look into it. As a consequence, better than ninety per cent of the membership of the Society was composed of just such people. Only a few members of the "core" knew the organization's true function and purpose. And as long as such scatter-brains as Mrs. Jesser and Mr. Balfour were in there pitching, no one would ever penetrate to the actual core of the Society.
The senator had already pocketed the exaggerated glasses by the time he reached the sixth floor, and his face had lost its bland, overly-wise smile. He pushed open the door to Taggert's office.
"Have you got any ideas yet?" he asked quickly.
Brian Taggert, a heavily-muscled man with dark eyes and black, slightly wavy hair, sat on the edge of a couch in one corner of the room. His desk across the room was there for paperwork only, and Taggert had precious little of that to bother with.
He took a puff from his heavy-bowled briar. "We're going to have to send an agent in there. Someone who can be on the spot. Someone who can get the feel of the situation first hand."
"That'll be difficult. We can't just suddenly stick an unknown in there and have an excuse for his being there. Couldn't Donahue or Reeves—"
Taggert shook his head. "Impossible, John. Extrasensory perception can't replace sight, any more than sight can replace hearing. You know that."
"Certainly. But I thought we could get enough information that way to tell us who our saboteur is. No dice, eh?"
"No dice," said Taggert. "Look at the situation we've got there. The purpose of the Redford Research Team is to test the Meson Ultimate Decay Theory of Dr. Theodore Nordred. Now, if we—"
Senator Gonzales, walking across the room toward Taggert, gestured with one hand. "I know! I know! Give me some credit for intelligence! But we do have one suspect, don't we? What about him?"
Taggert chuckled through a wreath of smoke. "Calm down, John. Or are you trying to give me your impression of Mrs. Jesser in a conversation with a saucerite?"
The senator laughed and sat down in a nearby chair. "All right. Sorry. But this whole thing is lousing up our entire space program. First off, we nearly lose Dr. Ch'ien, and, with him gone, the interstellar drive project would've been shot. Now, if this sabotage keeps up, the Redford project will be shot, and that means we might have to stick to the old-fashioned rocket to get off-planet. Brian, we need antigravity, and, so far, Nordred's theory is our only clue."
"Agreed," said Taggert.
"Well, we're never going to get it if equipment keeps mysteriously burning itself out, breaking down, and just generally goofing up. This morning, the primary exciter on the new ultracosmotron went haywire, and the beam of sodium nuclei burned through part of the accelerator tube wall. It'll take a month to get it back in working order."
Taggert took his pipe out of his