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The Demolished Man
Alfred Bester 1951
Explosion! Concussion! The vault doors burst open. And deep inside, the money is racked ready for pillage, rapine, loot. Who's that? Who's inside the vault? Oh God! The Man With No Face! Looking. Looming. Silent. Horrible. Run... Run...
Run, or I'll miss the Paris Pneumatique and that exquisite girl with her flower face and figure of passion. There's time if I run. But that isn't the Guard before the gate. Oh Christ! The Man With No Face. Looking. Looming. Silent. Don't scream. Stop screaming...
But I'm not screaming. I'm singing on a stage of sparkling marble while the music soars and the lights burn. But there's no one out there in the amphitheater. A great shadowed pit... empty except for one spectator. Silent. Staring. Looming. The Man With No Face.
And this time his scream had sound. Ben Reich awoke. He lay quietly in the hydropatlhic bed while his heart shuddered and
his eyes focused at random on in the room, simulating a calm he could not feel. The walls of green jade, the nightlight in the porcelain mandarin whose head nodded interminably if you touched him, the multi-clock that radiated the time of three planets and six satellites, the bed itself, a crystal pool flowing with carbonated glycerine at ninety-nine point nine Fahrenheit.
The door opened softly and Jonas appeared in the gloom, a shadow in puce sleeping suit, a shade with the face of a horse and the bearing of an undertaker.
"Again?" Reich asked. "Yes, Mr. Reich." "Loud?" "Very loud, sir. And terrified." "God damn your jackass cars," Reich growled. "I'm never afraid."
"Yes, sir. Good night, sir." Jonas stepped back and closed the door.
Reich shouted: "Jonas!"
The valet reappeared.
"Quite all right, sir."
"It isn't all right," Reich charmed him with a smile. "I'm treating you like a relative. I don't pay enough for the privilege."
"Oh no, sir."
"Next time I yell at you, yell right back. Why should I have all the fun?"
"Oh, Mr. Reich..."
"Do that and you get a raise." The smile again.
"That's all, Jonas. Thank you."
"Thank you, sir." The valet withdrew.
Reich arose from the bed and toweled himself before the cheval mirror, practicing the smile. "Make your enemies by choice," he muttered, "not by accident." He stared at the reflection: the heavy shoulders, narrow flanks, long corded legs... the sleek head with wide eyes, chiseled nose, small sensitive mouth scarred by implacability.
"Why?" he asked. "I wouldn't change looks with the devil. I wouldn't change places with God. Why the screaming?"
He put on a gown and glanced at the clock, unaware that he was noting the time panorama of the solar system with an unconscious skill that would have baffled his ancestors. The dials read:
Mean Solar Day 22 February 15
Noon + 09
2220 Central Syrtis
MOON IO GANYMEDE CALLISTO TITAN TRITON
2D3H 1D1H 6D8H 13D12H 15D3H 4D9H (eclipsed) (transit)
Night, noon, summer, winter... without bothering to think, Reich could have rattled off the time and season for any meridian on any body in the solar system. Here in New York it was a bitter morning after a bitter night of dreaming. He would give himself a few minutes of analysis with the Esper psychiatrist he retained. The screaming had to stop.
"E for Esper," he muttered. "Esper for Extra Sensory Perception... For Telepaths, Mind Readers, Brain Peepers. You'd think a mind-reading doctor could stop the screaming. You'd think an Esper M.D. would earn his money and peep inside your head and stop the screaming. Those damned mindreaders are supposed to be the greatest advance since Homo sapiens evolved. E for Evolution. Bastards! E for Exploitation!"
He yanked open the door, shaking with fury. "But I'm not afraid!" he shouted. "I'm never afraid." He stepped down the corridor, clacking his sandals sharply on the
silver floor, ke-tat-ke-tat-ke-tat-ke-tat, indifferent to the slumber of his house staff, unaware that this early morning skeletal clack awakened twelve hearts to hatred and dread. He thrust open the door of his analyst's suite, entered and at once lay down on the couch.
Carson Breen, Esper Medical Doctor 2, was already awake and ready for him. As Reich's staff analyst he slept the "nurse's sleep" in which he remained en rapport with his patient and could only be awakened by his needs. That one scream had been enough for Breen. Now he was seated alongside the couch, elegant in embroidered gown (his job paid twenty thousand credits a year) and sharply alert (his employer was generous but demanding).
"Go ahead, Mr. Reich." "The Man With No Face again," Reich growled. "Nightmares?" "You lousy blood-sucker, peep me and find out. No. Sorry. Childish of
me. Yes, nightmares again. I was trying to rob a bank. Then I was trying to catch a train. Then someone was singing. Me, I think. I'm trying to give you the pictures best I can. I don't think I'm leaving anything out..." There was a long pause. Finally Reich blurted: "Well? You peep anything?"
"You persist that you cannot identify The Man With No Face, Mr. Reich?"
"How can I? I never see it. All I know is..."
"I think you can. You simply will not."
"Listen," Reich burst out in guilty rage. "I pay you twenty thousand. If the best you can do is make idiotic statements..."
"Do you mean that, Mr. Reich, or is it simply a part of the general anxiety syndrome?"
"There is no anxiety," Reich shouted. "I'm not afraid. I'm never..." He stopped himself, realizing the inutility of ranting while the deft mind of the peeper searched underneath his overturning words. "You're wrong anyway," he said sulkily. "I don't know who it is. It's a Man With No Face. That's all."
"You've been rejecting the essential points, Mr. Reich. You must be made to see them. We'll try a little free association. Without words, please. Just think. Robbery...
"Jewels - watches - diamonds - stocks - bonds - sovereigns - counterfeiting - cash - bullion - dort..."
"What was that last again?"
"Slip of the mind. Meant to think bort... uncut, gem stones."
"It was not a slip. It was a significant correction or, rather, alteration. Let's continue. Pneumatique..."
"Long - car - compartments - air - conditioned... That doesn't make sense."
"It does, Mr. Reich. A phallic pun. Read `Heir' for `air' and you'll see it. Continue, please."
"You peepers are too damned smart. Let's see. Pneumatique... train - underground - compressed air - ultra sonic speed---`We transport You Into transports,' slogan of the---What the devil is the name of that company? Can't remember. Where'd the notion come from anyway?"
"From the pre-conscious, Mr. Reich. One more trial and you'll begin to understand. Amphitheater...
"Seats - pits - balcony - boxes - stalls - horse stalls - Martian horses - Martian Pampas..."
"And there you have it, Mr. Reich. Mars. In the past six months, you've had ninety-seven nightmares about The Man With No Face. He's been your constant enemy, frustrator, and inspirer of terror in dreams that contain three common denominators... Finance, Transportation, and Mars. Over and over again... The Man With No Face, and Finance, Transportation, and Mars."