LEMUEL CLUNG TO THE WALL of his dark bedroom, tense, listening. A faint breeze stirred the lace curtains. Yellow street-light filtered over the bed, the dresser, the books and toys and clothes.
In the next room, two voices were murmuring together. "Jean, we've got to do something," the man's voice said.
A strangled gasp. "Ralph, please don't hurt him. You must control yourself. I won't let you hurt him."
"I'm not going to hurt him." There was brute anguish in the man's whisper. "Why does he do these things? Why doesn't he play baseball and tag like normal boys? Why does he have to burn down stores and torture helpless animals? Why?"
"He's different, Ralph. We must try to understand."
"Maybe we better take him to the doctor," his father said. "Maybe he's got some kind of glandular disease."
"You mean old Doc Grady? But you said he couldn't find --"
"Not Doc Grady. He quit after Lemuel destroyed his X-ray equipment and smashed all the furniture in his office. No, this is bigger than that." A tense pause. "Jean, I'm taking him up to the Hill."
"Oh, Ralph! Please --"
"I mean it." Grim determination, the harsh growl of a trapped animal. "Those psychologists may be able to do something. Maybe they can help him. Maybe not."
"But they might not let us have him back. And oh, Ralph, he's all we've got!"
"Sure," Ralph muttered hoarsely. "I know he is. But I've made up my mind. That day he slashed his teacher with a knife and leaped out the window. That day I made up my mind. Lemuel is going up to the Hill."
The day was warm and bright. Between the swaying trees the huge white hospital sparkled, all concrete and steel and plastic. Ralph Jorgenson peered about uncertainly, hat twisted between his fingers, subdued by the immensity of the place.
Lemuel listened intently. Straining his big, mobile ears, he could hear many voices, a shifting sea of voices that surged around him. The voices came from all the rooms and offices, on all the levels. They excited him.
Dr. James North came toward them, holding out his hand. He was tall and handsome, perhaps thirty, with brown hair and black horn-rimmed glasses. His stride was firm, his grip, when he shook hands with Lemuel, brief and confident. "Come in here," he boomed. Ralph moved toward the office, but Dr. North shook his head. "Not you. The boy. Lemuel and I are going to have a talk alone."
Excited, Lemuel followed Dr. North into his office. North quickly secured the door with triple magnetic locks. "You can call me James," he said, smiling warmly at the boy. "And I'll call you Lem, right?"
"Sure," Lemuel said guardedly. He felt no hostility emanating from the man, but he had learned to keep his guard up. He had to be careful, even with this friendly, good-looking doctor, a man of obvious intellectual ability.
North lit a cigarette and studied the boy. "When you tied up and dissected those old derelicts," he said thoughtfully, "you were scientifically curious, weren't you? You wanted to know -- facts, not opinions. You wanted to find out for yourself how human beings were constructed."
Lemuel's excitement grew. "But no one understood."
"No." North shook his head. "No, they wouldn't. Do you know why?"
"I think so."
North paced back and forth. "I'll give you a few tests. To find out things. You don't mind, do you? We'll both learn more about you. I've been studying you, Lem. I've examined the police records and the newspaper files." Abruptly, he opened the drawer of his desk and got out the Minnesota Multiphasic, the Rorschach blots, the Bender Gestalt, the Rhine deck of ESP cards, an ouija board, a pair of dice, a magic writing tablet, a wax doll with fingernail parings and bits of hair, and a small piece of lead to be turned into gold.
"What do you want me to do?" Lemuel asked.
"I'm going to ask you a few questions, and give you a few objects to play with. I'll watch your reactions, note down a few things. How's that sound?"
Lemuel hesitated. He needed a friend so badly -- but he was afraid.
Dr. North put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "You can trust me. I'm not like those kids that beat you up, that morning."
Lemuel glanced up gratefully. "You know about that? I discovered the rules of their game were purely arbitrary. Therefore I naturally oriented myself to the basic reality of the situation, and when I came up at bat I hit the pitcher and the catcher over the head. Later I discovered that all human ethics and morals are exactly the same sort of --" He broke off, suddenly afraid. "Maybe I --"
Dr. North sat down behind his desk and began shuffling the Rhine ESP deck. "Don't worry, Lem," he said softly. "Everything will be all right. I understand."
After the tests, the two of them sat in silence. It was six o'clock, and the sun was beginning to set outside. At last Dr. North spoke.
"Incredible. I can scarcely believe it, myself. You're utterly logical. You've completely cast off all thalamic emotion. Your mind is totally free of moral and cultural bias. You're a perfect paranoid, without any empathic ability whatever. You're utterly incapable of feeling sorrow or pity or compassion, or any of the normal human emotions."
Lemuel nodded. "True."
Dr. North leaned back, dazed. "It's hard even for me to grasp this. It's overwhelming. You possess super-logic, completely free of value-orientation bias. And you conceive of the entire world as organized against you."
"Of course. You've analyzed the structure of human activity and seen that as soon as they find out, they'll pounce on you and try to destroy you."
"Because I'm different."
North was overcome. "They've always classed paranoia as a mental illness. But it isn't! There's no lack of contact with reality -- on the contrary, the paranoid is directly related to reality. He's a perfect empiricist. Not cluttered with ethical and moral-cultural inhibitions. The paranoid sees things as they really are; he's actually the only sane man."
"I've been reading Mein Kampf," Lemuel said. "It shows me I'm not alone." And in his mind he breathed the silent prayer of thanks: Not alone. Us. There are more of us.
Dr. North caught his expression. "The wave of the future," he said. "I'm not a part of it, but I can try to understand. I can appreciate I'm just a human being, limited by my thalamic emotional and cultural bias. I can't be one of you, but I can sympathize..." He looked up, face alight with enthusiasm. "And I can help!"
The next few days were filled with excitement for Lemuel. Dr. North arranged for custody of him, and the boy took up residence at the doctor's uptown apartment. Here, he was no longer under pressure from his family; he could do as he pleased. Dr. North began at once to aid Lemuel in locating other mutant paranoids.
One evening after dinner, Dr. North asked, "Lemuel, do you think you could explain your theory of Null-O to me? It's hard to grasp the principle of non-object orientation."
Lemuel indicated the apartment with a wave of his hand. "All these apparent objects -- each has a name. Book, chair, couch, rug, lamp, drapes, window, door, wall, and so on. But this division into objects is purely artificial. Based on an antiquated system of thought. In reality there are no objects. The universe is actually a unity. We have been taught to think in terms of objects. This thing, that thing. When Null-O is realized, this purely verbal division will cease. It has long since outlived its usefulness."
"Can you give me an example, a demonstration?"
Lemuel hesitated. "It's hard to do alone. Later on, when we've contacted others... I can do it crudely, on a small scale."
As Dr. North watched intently, Lemuel rushed about the apartment gathering everything together in a heap. Then, when all the books, pictures, rugs, drapes, furniture and bric-a-brac had been collected, he systematically smashed everything into a shapeless mass.
"You see," he said, exhausted and pale from the violent effort, "the distinction into arbitrary objects is now gone. This unification of things into their basic homogeneity can be applied to the universe as a whole. The universe is a gestalt, a unified substance, without division into living and non-living, being and non-being. A vast vortex of energy, not discrete particles! Underlying the purely artificial appearance of material objects lies the world of reality: a vast undifferentiated realm of pure energy. Remember: the object is not the reality. First law of Null-O thought!"
Dr. North was solemn, deeply impressed. He kicked at a bit of broken chair, part of the shapeless heap of wood and cloth and paper and shattered glass. "Do you think this restoration to reality can be accomplished?"
"I don't know," Lemuel said simply. "There will be opposition, of course. Human beings will fight us; they're incapable of rising above their monkey-like preoccupation with things -- bright objects they can touch and possess. It will all depend on how well we can coordinate with each other."
Dr. North unfolded a slip of paper from his pocket. "I have a lead," he said quietly. "The name of a man I think is one of you. We'll visit him tomorrow -- then we'll see."
Dr. Jacob Weller greeted them with brisk efficiency at the entrance of his well-guarded lab overlooking Palo Alto. Rows of uniformed government guards protected the vital work he was doing, the immense system of labs and research offices. Men and women in white robes were working day and night.
"My work," he explained, as he signaled for the heavy-duty entrance locks to be closed behind them, "was basic in the development of the C-bomb, the cobalt case for the H-bomb. You will find that many top nuclear physicists are Null-O."
Lemuel's breath caught. "Then --"
"Of course." Weller wasted no words. "We've been working for years. Rockets at Peenemunde, the A-bomb at Los Alamos, the hydrogen bomb, and now this, the C-bomb. There are, of course, many scientists who are not Null-O, regular human beings with thalamic bias. Einstein, for example. But we're well on the way; unless too much opposition is encountered we'll be able to go into action very shortly."
The rear door of the laboratory slid aside, and a group of white-clad men and women filed solemnly in. Lemuel's heart gave a jump. Here they were, full-fledged adult Null-O's! Men and women both, and they had been working for years! He recognized them easily; all had the elongated and mobile ears, by which the mutant Null-O picked up minute air vibrations over great distances. It enabled them to communicate, wherever they were, throughout the world.
"Explain our program," Weller said to a small blond man who stood beside him, calm and collected, face stern with the importance of the moment.
"The C-bomb is almost ready," the man said quietly, with a slight German accent. "But it is not the final step in our plans. There is also the E-bomb, which is the ultimate of this initial phase. We have never made the E-bomb public. If human beings should find out about it, we should have to cope with serious emotional opposition."
"What is the E-bomb?" Lemuel asked, glowing with excitement.
"The phrase, 'the E-bomb,' " said the small blond man, "describes the process by which the Earth itself becomes a pile, is brought up to critical mass, and then allowed to detonate."
Lemuel was overcome. "I had no idea you had developed the plan this far!"
The blond man smiled faintly. "Yes, we have done a lot, since the early days. Under Dr. Rust, I was able to work out the basic ideological concepts of our program. Ultimately, we will unify the entire universe into a homogeneous mass. Right now, however, our concern is with the Earth. But once we have been successful here, there's no reason why we can't continue our work indefinitely."
"Transportation," Weller explained, "has been arranged to other planets. Dr.Frischhere --"
"A modification of the guided missiles we developed at Peenemunde," the blond man continued. "We have constructed a ship which will take us to Venus. There, we will initiate the second phase of our work. A V-bomb will be developed, which will restore Venus to its primordial state of homogeneous energy. And then --" He smiled faintly. "And then an S-bomb. The Sol bomb. Which will, if we are successful, unify this whole system of planets and moons into a vast gestalt."
By June 25, 1969, Null-O personnel had gained virtual control of all major world governments. The process, begun in the middle thirties, was for all practical purposes complete. The United States and Soviet Russia were firmly in the hands of Null-O individuals. Null-O men controlled all policy-level positions, and hence, could speed up the program of Null-O. The time had come. Secrecy was no longer necessary.
Lemuel and Dr. North watched from a circling rocket as the first H-bombs were detonated. By careful arrangement, both nations began H-bomb attacks simultaneously. Within an hour, class-one results were obtained; most of North America and Eastern Europe were gone. Vast clouds of radioactive particles drifted and billowed. Fused pits of metal bubbled and sputtered as far as the eye could see. In Africa, Asia, on endless islands and out-of-the-way places, surviving human beings cowered in terror.
"Perfect," came Dr. Weller's voice in Lemuel's ears. He was somewhere below the surface, down in the carefully protected headquarters where the Venus ship was in its last stages of assembly.
Lemuel agreed. "Great work. We've managed to unify at least a fifth of the world's land surface!"
"But there's more to come. Next the C-bombs are to be released. This will prevent human beings from interfering with our final work, the E-bomb installations. The terminals must still be erected. That can't be done as long as humans remain to interfere."
Within a week, the first C-bomb was set off. More followed, hurtled up from carefully concealed launchers in Russia and America.
By August 5, 1969, the human population of the world had been diminished to three thousand. The Null-O's, in their subsurface offices, glowed with satisfaction. Unification was proceeding exactly as planned. The dream was coming true.
"Now," said Dr. Weller, "we can begin erection of the E-bomb terminals."
One terminal was begun at Arequipa, Peru. The other, at the opposite side of the globe, at Bandoeng, Java. Within a month the two immense towers rose high against the dust-swept sky. In heavy protective suits and helmets, the two colonies of Null-O's worked day and night to complete the program.
Dr. Weller flew Lemuel to the Peruvian installation. All the way from San Francisco to Lima there was nothing but rolling ash and still-burning metallic fires. No sign of life or separate entities: everything had been fused into a single mass of heaving slag. The oceans themselves were steam and boiling water. All distinction between land and sea had been lost. The surface of the Earth was a single expanse of dull gray and white, where blue oceans and green forests, roads and cities and fields had once been.
"There," Dr. Weller said. "See it?"
Lemuel saw it, all right. His breath caught in his throat at its sheer beauty. The Null-O's had erected a vast bubble-shield, a sphere of transparent plastic amidst the rolling sea of liquid slag. Within the bubble the terminal itself could be seen, an intricate web of flashing metal and wires that made both Dr. Weller and Lemuel fall silent.
"You see," Weller explained, as he dropped the rocket through the locks of the shield, "we have only unified the surface of the Earth and perhaps a mile of rock beneath. The vast mass of the planet, however, is unchanged. But the E-bomb will handle that. The still-liquid core of the planet will erupt; the whole sphere will become a new sun. And when the S-bomb goes off, the entire system will become a unified mass of fiery gas."
Lemuel nodded. "Logical. And then --"
"The G-bomb. The galaxy itself is next. The final stages of the plan -- So vast, so awesome, we scarcely dare think of them. The G-bomb, and finally --" Weller smiled slightly, his eyes bright. "Then the U-bomb."
They landed, and were met by Dr. Frisch, full of nervous excitement. "Dr. Weller!" he gasped. "Something has gone wrong!"
"What is it?"
Frisch's face was contorted with dismay. By a violent Null-O leap he managed to integrate his mental faculties and throw off thalamic impulses. "A number of human beings have survived!"
Weller was incredulous. "What do you mean? How --"
"I picked up the sound of their voices. I was rotating my ears, enjoying the roar and lap of the slag outside the bubble, when I picked up the noise of ordinary human beings."
"Below the surface. Certain wealthy industrialists had secretly transferred their factories below ground, in violation of their governments' absolute orders to the contrary."
"Yes, we had an explicit policy to prevent that."
"These industrialists acted with typical thalamic greed. They transferred whole labor forces below, to work as slaves when war began. At least ten thousand humans were spared. They are still alive. And --"
"They have improvised huge bores, are now moving this way as quickly as possible. We're going to have a fight on our hands. I've already notified the Venus ship. It's being brought up to the surface at once."
Lemuel and Dr. Weller glanced at each other in horror. There were only a thousand Null-O's; they'd be outnumbered ten to one. "This is terrible," Weller said thickly. "Just when everything seemed near completion. How long before the power towers are ready?"
"It will be another six days before the Earth can be brought up to critical mass," Frisch muttered. "And the bores are virtually here. Rotate your ears. You'll hear them."
Lemuel and Dr. Weller did so. At once, a confusing babble of human voices came to them. A chaotic clang of sound, from a number of bores converging on the two terminal bubbles.
"Perfectly ordinary humans!" Lemuel gasped. "I can tell by the sound!"
"We're trapped!" Weller grabbed up a blaster, and Frisch did so, too. All the Null-O's were arming themselves. Work was forgotten. With a shattering roar the snout of a bore burst through the ground and aimed itself directly at them. The Null-O's fired wildly; they scattered and fell back toward the tower.
A second bore appeared, and then a third. The air was alive with blazing beams of energy, as the Null-O's fired and the humans fired back. The humans were the most common possible, a variety of laborers taken subsurface by their employers. The lower forms of human life: clerks, bus drivers, day-laborers, typists, janitors, tailors, bakers, turret lathe operators, shipping clerks, baseball players, radio announcers, garage mechanics, policemen, necktie peddlers, ice cream vendors, door-to-door salesmen, bill collectors, receptionists, welders, carpenters, construction laborers, farmers, politicians, merchants -- the men and women whose very existence terrified the Null-O's to their core.
The emotional masses of ordinary people who resented the Great Work, the bombs and bacteria and guided missiles, were coming to the surface. They were rising up -- finally. Putting an end to super-logic: rationality without responsibility.
"We haven't a chance," Weller gasped. "Forget the towers. Get the ship to the surface."
A salesman and two plumbers were setting fire to the terminal. A group of men in overalls and canvas shirts were ripping down the wiring. Others just as ordinary were turning their heat guns on the intricate controls. Flames licked up. The terminal tower swayed ominously.
The Venus ship appeared, lifted to the surface by an intricate stage-system. At once the Null-O's poured into it, in two efficient lines, all of them controlled and integrated as the crazed human beings decimated their ranks.
"Animals," Weller said sadly. "The mass of men. Mindless animals, dominated by their emotions. Beasts, unable to see things logically."
A heat beam finished him off, and the man behind moved forward. Finally the last remaining Null-O was aboard, and the great hatches slammed shut. With a thunderous roar the jets of the ship opened, and it shot through the bubble into the sky.
Lemuel lay where he had fallen, when a heat beam, wielded by a crazed electrician, had touched his left leg. Sadly, he saw the ship rise, hesitate, then crash through and dwindle into the flaming sky. Human beings were all around him, repairing the damaged protection bubble, shouting orders and yelling excitedly. The babble of their voices beat against his sensitive ears; feebly, he put his hands up and covered them.
The ship was gone. He had been left behind. But the plan would continue without him.
A distant voice came to him. It was Dr. Frisch aboard the Venus ship, yelling down with cupped hands. The voice was faint, lost in the trackless miles of space, but Lemuel managed to make it out above the noise and hubbub around him.
"Goodbye... We'll remember you --"
"Work hard!" the boy shouted back. "Don't give up until the plan is complete!"
"We'll work..." The voice grew more faint. "We'll keep on..." It died out, then returned for a brief instant. "We'll succeed..." And then there was only silence.
With a peaceful smile on his face, a smile of happiness and contentment, satisfaction at a job well done, Lemuel lay back and waited for the pack of irrational human animals to finish him.