Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Fear struck into Doctor Martin's brain—sheer, petrifying terror that froze his heart; and he died because he was afraid to fall six inches.
INTERPLANETARY INSPECTOR CARSON removed the fat Venusian cigar from the corner of his mouth and placed it with tender care on the ash tray next to his elbow. Reaching out a pudgy paw, he flicked off the button on the newstape reposing on the corner of his desk. The machine ceased its clicking, and the long sheet of paper that had been spitting out of it into a wastebasket suddenly stopped. Carson tore off a section of the printed matter from the machine. Then, planting his feet on his desk, he leaned back in his chromalloy chair, sighed deeply, and began to read.
"Damn," Carson muttered. "Damn all editorial writers."
The door opened, and Brisk Haynes, Carson's young assistant, stepped into the room, face wreathed in a mile-wide grin.
"Hi-ya, Chief," Haynes saluted. "Seen the editorials on the newstape? See what they're calling you now?"
"Twenty-fifth Century Sherlock," Carson muttered with obvious distaste. "Lotta nonsense!"
"Now Chief—" Brisk Haynes began, obviously relishing his superior's discomfort.
Carson cut in: "All bunk, all prattle!" He rose, to better give vent to his favorite gripe. "There's no more difference in criminal deduction today than there was six centuries ago. You know it as well as I do." He was panthering angrily back and forth. "This streamlined age is getting me down, I tell yuh. We oughtta go on a vacation, both of us. Find some isolated little asteroid and rough it for a while. Get away from it all.
"Modern crime deduction, bah! You'd think I ran around the interplanetary chain with a test-tube in my pocket and a slide- chromometer behind my ear. You'd think that every damn scientist this side of Mercury was making it soft for me to find out who- dun-it.
"Hell," Carson described a vicious arc with his fist, "I gotta fight the most advanced methods of crime ever known to man—and with nothing more than the same set of brains that Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason, and those others had. It's getting me down!"
Carson suddenly decided. "Vacation? Why not, eh? Why not?" He pulled forth a fat, fresh Venusian cigar. "Let's get going!"
CARSON and Haynes were in their rented rocket cruiser. In the back of the ship was stacked enough paraphernalia to equip an asteroid camping vacation for a month. Space suits, ground gear, odds and ends that would all go to making their stay on the asteroid that had been selected more comfortable, were piled there.
Puffing on his inevitable Venusian cigar, Interplanetary Inspector Carson sat beside Brisk Haynes at the control panels.
"This is the life," Carson remarked. "I haven't felt as free and easy since I was a punk in the Space Patrol Force." He sighed. "Those were the good old days—"
Haynes glanced at the control panel.
"We're due to find our paradise in a short while. I'd better start cutting down our g's, so we won't overshoot it. Understand it's a dinky little blob."
"Dinky, but deserted," Carson corrected. "And how I go for that last word!" He closed his eyes. "Deserted; peace and quiet; nobody who wants to disintegrate somebody else!"
Haynes let out a yipe. "There she is!" His eyes danced excitedly. "Down below!"
They grounded the little rocket-cruiser on the tiny asteroid precisely ten minutes later. Carson was the first out of the ship, for he had donned his space gear as they leveled down. He was waiting on the bumpy terrain when Haynes appeared at the door.
"Hey," Carson shouted through his voice amplifier, "get back in the ship, you nitwit. Get back and put on your Polaroid specs!"
Haynes had been about to step down from the cabin of the ship. He, too, was clad in space gear. But unlike Carson, he wore no treated glasses beneath the turret of his helmet.
"Do you wanta go space-blind in two minutes?" Carson repeated. "Good Lord, Brisk, get back and put your polaroids on!"
Haynes grinned, tapping the side of his glass turret helmet, rolling his eyes foolishly to indicate that he must have been crazy. He reappeared a minute later. The glasses covered his eyes inside the turret. In his arms he carried some of the camping equipment.
Carson spoke into his amplifier again.
"Let's leave the junk here, Brisk, and take a look around our new home first!"
Haynes nodded, depositing the equipment on the asteroid crust at his feet.
CARSON looked around the lumpy, knolled crust of the asteroid. Some of the protruding bumps on its surface were high enough to conceal the stretches that lay beyond. He pointed to one of these knolls, the highest.
"Let's climb that lump," he suggested. "We can get a good view from there."
Haynes smiled inwardly. It was typical of his Chief's outlook on anything concerning exertion, that he should eliminate as much physical action as possible. But the butterball assistant nodded agreement, and the two set out for the asteroid rise. Minutes later, with Carson breathing heavily, they stood on the top.
The knoll was, indeed, the tallest on the little asteroid, and from this vantage point they could see the surrounding stretches of planet crust. The entire asteroid couldn't have been more than three miles in diameter. However, the view encompassed the entire horizon, and was quite clear.
And suddenly, Haynes grabbed Carson by the arm, his voice coming sharply over the amplifier.
"Chief! Look over there!"
He was pointing toward a comparatively even stretch of asteroid crust less than a mile away. A crust rutted with the smallest of knoll ridges—on which lay the body of a man clad in space gear!
Carson's oath of surprise was choked off abruptly as he began to descend the steep slope of the summit in hasty, jerky strides. Brisk Haynes was at his heels, and by the time they had reached the more level stretches the butterball assistant was running well ahead of his Chief.
Haynes arrived at the side of the figure in the space suit first, and was bending over beside the body when Carson pulled up puffing heavily.
"Who is it? What, how—" Carson began.
Frowning, Haynes looked up. "It's a guy, Chief. Kind of old, and dead."
"Killed?" Carson's question was automatic. Haynes frowned in deeper perplexity.
"Dunno. Can't see any evidences of violence. Doesn't look like he's been lying here long."
Carson was now bending over the body. Haynes had rolled it over, so that the face was visible. It was, as Carson's assistant stated, an old man inside the turret of the space suit. His eyes were closed tightly, and his face with its gray moustache and vandyke beard—was rigid in death. Carson had stripped off the fellow's space gauntlet, and was removing his own—momentarily exposing his flesh to the empty vacuum so that he could ascertain the time the old man had been dead.
"Body's still warm," Carson observed, puzzled. Swiftly, he put his own space gauntlet back on.
"I didn't see any craft around here, other than our own rocket-cruiser," Haynes cut in. "How in the blazes could this old guy ever get up here. How, or why, is he here now?"
Carson stood up. "That's just what I intend to find out. If we take a closer look around this, ah deserted little asteroid, we might—"
Haynes saw the change in his expression. "What's—" he began.
"It's my turn to point," Carson said. "Look down there—against the side of the knoll—see it?"
Haynes wheeled to face the direction in which his Chief was pointing. "Well, I'll be disintegrated! An alenoid metal shack—a lean-to, up against the side of the knoll!"
"We couldn't see it from the summit," Carson grunted. "Let's pick this old guy up and take him over there. Evidently that's his hangout."
Together, they carried the body of the old man across the several hundred yards that separated them from the newly discovered alenoid shack. It was built against the side of the knoll, and must have been approximately twenty feet in width, sixty in length. It was of one story construction, evidently recently erected, for the alenoid was gleaming new. The door to the shack was closed when they arrived there, but Carson, leaving Haynes with the body, pried it open, gaining entrance to the second door which formed an airlock.
By the time Haynes had dragged the body inside the airlock, Carson was pounding on the inner door.
"How do you know there's anyone in there?" Haynes asked. "This old guy might have bunked here alone."
"These things only lock from the inside," Carson said.
And then, to the sound of shuffling feet, a fumbling against the door-panel, the second door swung inward.
A sleepy eyed young man stood there, looking bewilderedly at the panorama that confronted him.
Then, he seemed to spy the body of the old man for the first time. His eyes widened in horror. "Good God, Doctor Martin!"
He was speaking to Carson and Haynes, now. "How, what, who are you people? Where did—" he choked off in confused consternation, obviously struggling to find a meaning for all this.
"Know him, eh?" Carson said, helping Haynes to bring the body inside the shack. "But of course you would. Maybe you can tell us how all this happened. What's your name?"
The young fellow pushed a wild lock of black hair from his eyes, his hand shaking visibly.
"My name is Brophy. I was Doctor Martin's assistant. We've only been here a month—working on our experiment. Who are you people? How did you get here?" His voice was husky and uneven.
"Name's Carson. This is Haynes. Interplanetary Police."
They had laid the body of the old man on a bunk in the corner of the room, and now Haynes and his Chief stood facing the shaken young man.
Haynes put in "We came here thinking the asteroid was deserted. Sort of a vacation. Didn't know there'd be anyone else about."
The young fellow, Brophy, was regaining some measure of composure.
But Carson was talking now.
"How did this happen?" He jerked a thumb in the direction of the body on the cot. "Give us the story, and an explanation, if you can think of any. The old fellow hasn't been dead over twenty four hours, if that long."
"It must have been those shots—possibly an overdose," young Brophy said despairingly. "I warned him that he might be taking too much. But he insisted. It's my fault, I shouldn't have fallen asleep. I should have watched him. But I was tired, God, I was tired. He must have left the shack when I slept."
Carson frowned. "What's it all about, man? Explain!"
"The experiment," Brophy went into a rapid explanation, "on which we were working. It concerned artificial stimulation of phobia, synthetic creation of fears. Through it we were trying to determine the fear spots in the human mind. This would lead to a possible elimination of them. Doctor Martin thought that it would be best if we got away, to some isolated asteroid, to conduct the final experiments in our work. They involved testings of the serums we'd discovered. Martin wouldn't agree to try it on anyone but himself."
"That's why you came up here, eh? Scientific solitude, is that it?"
Brophy nodded. "I was to carry on the tabulations after we'd tried our serums on Doctor Martin. He would be inoculated with them—and I'd watch and record his actions."
"Inoculated with phobia stimulations, eh?" Haynes put in.
"Yes, we'd been doing so for the past three weeks. Doctor Martin wouldn't hear of my taking any chances on the inoculations. He insisted that he, and he alone, should run the risk."
"Risk?" Carson's voice was perplexed.
"Yes," Brophy answered. "There was a certain risk involved. You see, inoculation of phobias made the person under inoculation act strangely—dazed, as from a drug. Undoubtedly, this was the reason why Doctor Martin wandered off while I slept. He had been under the influences of an inoculation. But I thought he was sleeping, so I risked taking a few winks myself. Oh, God," the young man's voice broke, "I shouldn't have been so selfish!"
Carson shook his head sympathetically. "It isn't all your fault lad. From what you say, he just wandered off, died a few hundred yards from the shack last night."
Haynes broke in. "Would anything about the drug influence his death? That is to say, would his being outside of the shack under that condition have anything to do with his dying?"
"How did you find him?" Brophy asked suddenly.
Carson closed his eyes momentarily.
"On a very small ridge; couldn't have been more than a half a foot from the ground. He had closed his hands tightly against the sides of the ridge, as though he was hanging on."
Brophy's sob seemed torn from the boy's heart. "No! No! It's too horrible, oh God. That was it, then. It was directly the fault of the serum. He was inoculated with a fear of heights—don't you see?"
Haynes snapped his fingers. "Good Lord, Chief. Fear of heights. That must have been it!" He shuddered. "The old boy probably wandered out there, dazed, fell on the half-foot high ridge. Maybe he imagined himself at a height, and—" he turned suddenly to Brophy. "How heavy was the inoculation? Would the fear possibly stop a man's heart?"
Brophy nodded. "Yes." His voice was still husky. "The fear—when administered artificially—is naturally much more powerful in its effect; increased to much greater strength. That was why Doctor Martin was in constant danger unless watched."
Carson cleared his throat. "But the ridge was only a half-foot from the ground. The inoculation wouldn't increase his sense of heights, would it? It couldn't make him believe that he was much higher than he was, throw things out of proportion, could it?"
Young Brophy shook his head, sadly. "It's quite possible that it could. I'm not certain. But in our experiments in other phobia inoculations judgment was impaired."
"Then that," Haynes said softly, "clears up the picture. The old guy looked down a half-foot, and it looked like he was a mile high. His fear of what he thought was a tremendous height killed him, stopped his heart cold."
Brophy was lighting a cigarette with hands that trembled. "I am afraid that that is the solution, gentlemen—a horrible solution." His shoulders shook convulsively.
"Possibly," Carson said. Brophy looked up at him suddenly, and Haynes turned to face him. Both were astonished at what they saw. The Inspector was pointing an atomic pistol at young Brophy.
"Truss our young friend up, Brisk," Carson ordered Haynes, "and take him to our cruiser. We've just had our vacation spoiled by the unpleasant duty of bringing a murderer back to Earth!"
"But, Boss!" Haynes was astonished. "The kid—"
"The kid said too much. Scientists usually do. They gotta make things too elaborate," Carson cut in. "Truss him up!"
"MAYBE I'm getting thicker and thicker," Brisk Haynes told his Chief, as he guided the little rocket cruiser back toward a Spaceways Base. Their prisoner was securely bound and lying against the equipment—unbaptized—in the back of the ship.
"Maybe you are," Carson conceded smugly.
"But—" Haynes began.
"Look," Carson said patiently. "Young Brophy evidently saw our ship approaching the asteroid. Maybe he killed the old guy a few hours before, maybe a few minutes before. Anyhow, he saw us coming.
"Knowing he had plenty of time, and knowing that he had proof of the experiments for his background, he took Doctor Martin outside the shack, left him on the ridge. He knew we'd find him there if we landed. Then he went back to the shack and pretended he'd been sleeping too long. That was his act when we broke in on him."
"Yeah, I know that. But—" Haynes began.
"Willya listen!" Carson snapped. "Like I say, the kid waited, and sure enough, we appeared with the body. He had his explanation all set—with positive proof, in the experiments. He was almost a little bit pleased—although he didn't dare show it—because we were witnesses. But like all scientists, he wanted to make it too perfect. He could have said the old guy wandered off, and just died out there, from plain heart failure. He could have said that and been perfectly clear."
"He could have said that," Haynes admitted.
"But he didn't. He thought he had an even better yarn in the stuff about the experiments—which were actual fact—so he used the phobia hocus-pocus instead. The old guy had been inoculated with a fear of heights. But the sight of little half-foot drop couldn't have killed him."
"Scientifically, it could have!" Haynes protested.
"Yeah," Carson agreed caustically. "If he could have seen it!"
"Seen it?" Haynes almost bleated. "Of course. Didn't you notice that when we found the old guy he wasn't wearing any polaroid spectacles?"
Carson continued. "So if he wasn't wearing polaroid glasses, he would have been space-blind by the time he had covered the distance from the shack to where we found him. Space-blind, and unable to see anything—especially a tiny half-foot edge on a ridge! So, not being able to see it, he wouldn't have known it was there, and his fear wouldn't have killed him!"
Haynes sighed. "Okay, right again."
Carson grinned. "If it will help for me to put the last piece of the puzzle together for you, listen to this. He was killed when under the terrible fear of height. But not from any height itself. Young Brophy probably told him that he was at a great height, while the old guy was dazed, and that was what killed him!"*
* The power of suggestion is amazing in its scope of possibility. Hypnotic suggestion can cause a person to carry out orders after they are no longer under the spell of the hypnotizer, and no question will arise in the victim's mind as to why he or she is carrying out the order. Therefore, it doesn't seem at all impossible to suggest a condition to a person whose mind has been made extremely receptive to reception—as Doctor Martin's was by the scientific drug injected into him by his assistant—so as to cause death by heart failure through a sense of extreme fear. It is well known that fear, if powerful enough, can cause great bodily harm through cessation of normal gland functions. It can easily stop the heart and cause death.—Ed.
"All of which proves your pet point all wrong, Chief," said Haynes triumphantly.
"About science not helping you to be a Twenty-fifth Century Sherlock. You couldn'ta solved this crime without science!"
Carson smiled indulgently. "Haynes, didn't it ever occur to you that the strongest bit of evidence of all, and one that even a Hottentot could have caught—and you missed—was the fact that the airlock of the shack was locked from the inside? And that therefore Dr. Martin couldn't have wandered off while Brophy slept? Science? No, my dear Haynes, I repeat, not science just a set of brains."
"Well anyway, Chief," said Brisk Haynes sorrowfully, "whatever it was, it sure ruined our vacation!