Amazing Stories/Volume 01/Number 03/Whispering Ether
↬By Charles S. Wolfe↫
I Point It Right At His Head, and Makin' My Voice As Hard As I Can I Says, Tense-like, "You Speak One Word and You'll Eat Your Breakfast In Hell." And Proctor Smiles. Get That? With My Gat Aimed At His Head He Smiles. And, Fellow, When Proctor Smiles It Gives You the Creeps.
AN amazing story by that versatile author, Mr. Wolfe, The ether is something we know nothing about. But its action and its waves give a basis for the strange mystery we are told of here. It touches on the world of ether waves to which our radio fans are appealing and while this of course is in the realm of abstruce science, we have again in this story, the everyday crude thinker mystified by it all, and this is the history of the world. The intelligence of each of us is very limited, and our habits and ways of thought are only a little more clumsy than our author's characters, whom he uses to bring out as always a wonderful contrast. The story is well worth reading.
'M NOT a scientist. "Cans" is my line. Safes, you know. "Soup," nitro-glycerine, that kind of thing, get me? "Shoe-maker stick to your last." Them is my sentiments, and I stick to my own trade. But now that they got me tied up in this confounded jail, and I ain't got much to do with my spare time I got a notion to jot down what I know about that Proctor affair that you maybe read about in the papers. Reporters was after me thick when it happened, but I was the silent kid. It pays to keep your mouth shut in the circles I move in.
Proctor's in the bug house. Three alienists, or whatever you call those ginks that admit they're sane and prove you're not, pronounced him hopelessly insane. I ain't disputing no jury of my peers. If they say he's a nut, he's a nut, that's all. But——
I didn't get introduced to Proctor in the regular way. We didn't have no mutual acquaintances to slip us the knock-down. It all came about thru me droppin' in one night, casual like, to blow his safe. You might wonder what a yegg would want out of a laboratory safe. Maybe you'll wise up when I tip you it was a contract job. Not my own, see? I'm namin' no names, but there was a gang of big guys that wanted old Proctor's formula for Chero, and thought it would be cheaper to buy it off me than him. Anyway, I'm after the paper with the makeup of this explosive when I jimmied the laboratory window.
I'm sayin' this right here: Proctor may be a nut, but he's no boob. I was expecting burglar alarms, scientific thief traps, all that kind of stuff. And I was all fixt for an electrified box. Proctor put one over on me just the same. And if he didn't do it with the mind machine, how in Hell else do you account for it?
I was workin' on the old can. She was a fairly respectable affair, and I make up my mind to blow her. I was drillin' away when click goes a switch and the sudden flare of light dazzled me. Were you ever caught working on a guy's safe, brother? No? Well, take it from Oscar, it's like nothing you ever felt before.
Even before I can see right my mind's workin' overtime hunting for a way out. And then I can see again, and there stands Proctor, a long cord trailing behind him and 'phones over his ears like the wireless men. And I notice with joy that he ain't got a gat—not that I can see.
Anyway, I risk it. Just as quick as I can draw I flashes my automatic. I point it right at his head, and makin' my voice as hard as I can I says, tense-like, "You speak one word and you'll eat your breakfast in Hell."
And Proctor smiles. Get that? With my gat at his head he smiles. And, fellow, when Proctor smiles it gives you the creeps. And then he says—s' help me—I'm not bullyin' you—"Put your gun away, my man, its not loaded."
Can you beat that? It wasn't either, but how did he know it? Bluffing? That's what I thought, and I sees his bet and raises him. "You move," I growls, "and you'll discover you're a bad guesser."
He smiles again. Say, I can feel my flesh creep yet. "It's not loaded," he says, very calm, and he walks a few steps toward me. I don't shoot. You can't you know, with an empty gun, and I see that he's called my bluff.
"You win," I says. "It ain't. But I can beat the life out of you with it."
That smile again. His hand goes to his pocket. He pulls out a little bottle, just about the size they sell you pills in. "That, my friend," he says, "is full of Chero. If I just toss it at your feet, you'll never attempt to steal a formula again on this planet."
Does he win? He owns the building. "Call the officer," and I chucks the gun on the floor, "I'll go quietly."
"Sensible," he remarks; "very sensible. You possess judgment, even if you do lack courage. Who sent you here?"
"Call in the bulls," I growls. "I'm not squealing."
He takes no notice, "I know who sent you, I knew you were coming."
"Look here," I blurts, "if that gang framed me, I'll talk. They sent for me, I didn't go to them. I——"
"No one informed me, if that's what you mean," he says, coldly. "It is not necessary for any one to inform me of anything. The world is an open book to me."
(That's just what he told that gang of saw-bones afterwards, and they said he was looney. But if they had seen him as I seen him——)
He was talking again. "My man," I wriggled when he spoke, "the men for whom you work are imbeciles. I have named my price for Chero, and they don't want to pay it. They believe they can wrest it from me by force or trickery. You are their first emissary, and it is my wish that you be their last. I am going to convince them that it is useless to attempt anything of the kind with me. I am not going to turn you over to the police. I am going to show you something, and then I am going to send you back to your masters to tell them what you have seen. After that," he smiled, "I don't think I shall be troubled by them. Come!"
He stalked into the next room, me at his heels. There wasn't much in that room—just a table covered with apparatus. I have seen a wireless set. It looked something like that, only—well there was something different about it.
He pointed to it. Oh! I can see him yet, with his flashing eyes, and his big dome. "There," says he, "is the mind machine. And you, a criminal, are the first man to see it except its creator."
I'm getting on my feet again, and not so scared, and so I gazes at it curious. "What is it, Doc?" I asks.
"It reads your thoughts," he says, just as solemn as an owl.
That's right, laugh, I don't blame you. I grinned myself. He saw me grin, and he turned on me like a tiger.
"Dolt," he hollers. "Clod! You doubt. Pig! Your type has retarded the progress of mankind throughout the ages. You sneer—you imbecile!"
Well, just then I'm like the doctors. "A nut!" I thinks, "and loose with that bottle of Chero in his pocket!" And it's up to me to soothe him.
"How does it work?" I asks, to gain time. When you're in a room with a nut that's nursin' a bottle of H. E. your one thought is to go away from there. And this particular nut don't want me to. But I have hopes.
By dumb luck I hits the right chord. "How does it work?" gets results. Right away he seems to forget he's mad. He seems to forget I'm a yegg, he gets kind of dreamy, and he runs a caressin' hand over the shiny brass of the nearest instrument.
"Simple," he says, "very simple. It is based on the electro-magnetic wave and the conducting ether theories." It's over my head, but I listen. "Have you ever considered just what happens when you think intensely? By an effort of what you call the Will, you concentrate on what you are thinking. Emotion, too, plays its part. You are intensely angry, intensely worried, intensely interested. This concentrating acts physically on the brain. There is a call on the heart for more blood. And the heart responds, sending a thicker, faster stream to the affected locality. Now what happens?" He turns to me like my teacher used to do in school when there was a question to be answered.
"Search me," I murmurs.
But he doesn't even see me, I guess. "The increased stream, rushing at an unusual rate, rubs against the walls of the veins and arteries of the head, producing friction."
"I see," I says, politely. But I don't.
"This friction is the physical result of the mental action. Your purely mental process has, by the membership of the rushing blood and its attending friction, been transformed into, or has produced, a physical manifestation."
His voice sank to a whisper. "It is this fact that makes my great invention possible. The friction set up produces faint currents of electricity. It is Nature's own generator. The currents are faint, weak, but they are there. And they vary in intensity in proportion as the rushing blood stream surges and ebbs. Thus they have imprinted on them all the characteristics of the thought that gives rise to them. They vary in the individual. Some minds can generate a current one hundred—yes, one thousand—times greater than others, but all minds generate to some extent.
"And these electrical impulses are thrown out into space in wave trains, exactly as the radio telegraph throws them out. This accounts for the phenomena of mental telepathy. If conditions are just right, the receiving mind in perfect tune with the transmitting mind, and sensitive enough to interpret the received impulses, you have accomplished telepathy. All that remained for me to do was to measure the intensity and characteristics of the generated current, its frequency—and it is high—and——"
He paused and fixt me with that fishy stare. I didn't know just what to say, so I took a Brody. "And what, Doc? Slip it to me quick."
"And the length of the emitted wave," he comes back at me, triumphantly, "It might be one millionth of a meter or it might be one million meters. Or it might be any length between those extremes. Or beyond them, for that matter. I succeeded in making these measurements."
He laughed. Or, rather, he laughed and snarled all at once. I'm telling you straight, fellow, your hair stands on end when Proctor laughs like that.
"I fancy some of your radio experts would gape if they were permitted to see my wave meter. I believe it would cause some excitement in the laboratories of Lodge or Marconi. I—Proctor—I measured these waves which, of course, means that I found a detector for them. Our friend DeForest thinks that he has a monopoly on ultra-sensitive detectors. Proctor's detector is to the audion what a stop watch is to a wheel barrow!
"And the frequency. It is beyond the limits of audibility, as that term is understood. I wound phones that will render the received signals audible. And the task was done."
Most of that stuff had gone over, but like a lightning flash the big idea burst thru' my shrapnel-proof cranium. I fairly stuttered as I got his drift. I'll bet my eyes popped as I gaped at that machine. "Good God!" I spluttered. "Do you mean that that thing can hear you think?"
Proctor smiled the nearest to a human smile that I ever saw on his mug. "You have glimmerings of intelligence," he said, in a gratified way; "I mean just that."
And then he went off his handle again. "And I mean," he roared, "that you are to go back to the scum that sent you and tell them that it is useless for them to plot against me, for I can hear then very thoughts as they think them. I can read their miserable souls! That's how I knew you were coming here to-night! That's how I knew that your lethal weapon contained no charge! And," he seized me and shook me until my heels nearly broke my neck, "And that's how I know, you swine, that even now you don't know whether to believe me or not."
He released me and tore the telephone things from off his ears. "Here!" he bellowed, clamping them over my ears, "here! Listen, and be convinced."
He wheeled to the table and whirled knobs and dials. A continuous humming and buzzing sounded in the 'phones.
And then it happened. Listen to me close, I know they labeled Proctor "squirrel food" for telling them less than this, but—— This was July of 1914. Get that?
Suddenly something like a voice—no, not like a voice, either—like a voice inside my own head, if you can get me, said masterfully, with a strong German accent, "Serbia will, because she dare not submit. France must, because she will see my hand behind it. England must as a last desperate effort to save herself. But my armies will grind them like grain in the mill. And then——"
Proctor tore the 'phones from me. I was like a stuffed doll and I never raised a mitt. He grabbed me, and it was just like being caught in the jaws of a vise. "You have heard," he thundered. "Now go."
The last thing I remember was that he heaved me toward the door. I remember spinning toward it. And that's all.
The next thing I remember is waking up in that hospital ward. It was July of 1914 when Proctor chucked me, and it was late August when I found myself in that hospital.
As near as I can learn I missed the door, hit the wall and a bottle of that Chero stuff got knocked off a shelf. They dug Proctor and I out of the ruins, and we were both pretty well messed up.
Proctor raved about his ruined mind machine, and it got him a pass to the squirrel cage.
If you read the papers at the time you'll remember Proctor wanted me to back him up, but I wouldn't talk. Least said, easiest remedied.
Now you got all I know about it. I spilled it once to Gentleman Joe, a high-browed crook, who soaked up all they pass you at Harvard when he was young. Joe said maybe Proctor fooled me with a camoflaged phonograph.
Maybe he did. I might think so myself if it had happened in September instead of July, 1914. Get me?