THE ANALYST SAID: "I'm Humphrys, the man you came to see." There were fear and hostility on the patient's face, so Humphrys said: "I could tell a joke about analysts. Would that make you feel better? Or I could remind you that the National Health Trust is paying my fee; it's not going to cost you a cent. Or I could cite the case of Psychoanalyst Y, who committed suicide last year because of overburdening anxiety resulting from a fraudulently filled out income tax."
Grudgingly, the patient smiled. "I heard about that. So psychologists are fallible." He got to his feet and held out his hand. "My name is Paul Sharp. My secretary made the arrangements with you. I have a little problem, nothing important, but I'd like to clear it up."
The expression on his face showed that it was no small problem, and that, if he didn't clear it up, it would probably destroy him.
"Come inside," Humphrys said genially, opening the door to his office, "so we can both sit down."
Sinking down in a soft easy chair, Sharp stretched his legs out in front of him. "No couch," he observed.
"The couch vanished back around 1980," Humphrys said. "Post-war analysts feel enough confidence to face their patients on an equal level." He offered a pack of cigarettes to Sharp and then lit up himself. "Your secretary gave me no details; she just said you wanted a conference."
Sharp said: "I can talk frankly?"
"I'm bonded," Humphrys said, with pride. "If any of the material you tell me gets into the hands of security organizations, I forfeit approximately ten thousand dollars in Westbloc silver -- hard cash, not paper stuff."
"That's good enough for me," Sharp said, and began. "I'm an economist, working for the Department of Agriculture -- the Division of War Destruction Salvage. I poke around H-bomb craters seeing what's worth rebuilding." He corrected himself. "Actually, I analyze reports on H-bomb craters and make recommendations. It was my recommendation to reclaim the farm lands around Sacramento and the industrial ring here at Los Angeles."
In spite of himself, Humphrys was impressed. Here was a man in the policy-planning level of the Government. It gave him an odd feeling to realize that Sharp, like any other anxiety-ridden citizen, had come to the Psych Front for therapy.
"My sister-in-law got a nice advantage from the Sacramento reclamation," Humphrys commented. "She had a small walnut orchard up there. The Government hauled off the ash, rebuilt the house and outbuildings, even staked her to a few dozen new trees. Except for her leg injury, she's as well off as before the war."
"We're pleased with our Sacramento project," Sharp said. He had begun to perspire; his smooth, pale forehead was streaked, and his hands, as he held his cigarette, shook. "Of course, I have a personal interest in Northern California. I was born there myself, up around Petaluma, where they used to turn out hens' eggs by the million . . ." His voice trailed off huskily. "Humphrys," he muttered, "what am I going to do?"
"First," Humphrys said, "give me more information."
"I --" Sharp grinned inanely. "I have some kind of hallucination. I've had it for years, but it's getting worse. I've tried to shake it, but --" he gestured -- "it comes back, stronger, bigger, more often."
Beside Humphrys' desk the vid and aud recorders were scanning covertly. "Tell me what the hallucination is," he instructed. "Then maybe I can tell you why you have it."
He was tired. In the privacy of his living room, he sat dully examining a series of reports on carrot mutation. A variety, externally indistinguishable from the norm, was sending people in Oregon and Mississippi to the hospital with convulsions, fever and partial blindness. Why Oregon and Mississippi? Here with the report were photographs of the feral mutation; it did look like an ordinary carrot. And with the report came an exhaustive analysis of the toxic agent and recommendation for a neutralizing antidote.
Sharp wearily tossed the report aside and selected the next in order.
According to the second report, the notorious Detroit rat had shown up in St. Louis and Chicago, infesting the industrial and agricultural settlements replacing the destroyed cities. The Detroit rat -- he had seen one once. That was three years ago; coming home one night, he had unlocked the door and seen, in the darkness, something scuttle away to safety. Arming himself with a hammer, he had pushed furniture around until he found it. The rat, huge and gray, had been in the process of building itself a wall-to-wall web. As it leaped up, he killed it with the hammer. A rat that spun webs . . .
He called an official exterminator and reported its presence.
A Special Talents Agency had been set up by the Government to utilize parabilities of wartime mutants evolved from the various radiation-saturated areas. But, he reflected, the Agency was equipped to handle only human mutants and their telepathic, precog, parakinetic and related abilities. There should have been a Special Talents Agency for vegetables and rodents, too.
From behind his chair came a stealthy sound. Turning quickly, Sharp found himself facing a tall, thin man wearing a drab raincoat and smoking a cigar.
"Did I scare you?" Giller asked, and snickered. "Take it easy, Paul. You look as if you're going to pass out."
"I was working," Sharp said defensively, partially recovering his equilibrium.
"So I see," said Giller.
"And thinking about rats." Sharp pushed his work to one side. "How'd you get in?"
"Your door was unlocked." Giller removed his raincoat and tossed it on the couch. "That's right -- you killed a Detroit. Right here in this room." He gazed around the neat, unostentatious living room. "Are those things fatal?"
"Depends where they get you." Going into the kitchen, Sharp found two beers in the refrigerator. As he poured, he said: "They shouldn't waste grain making this stuff. . . but as long as they do, it's a shame not to drink it."
Giller accepted his beer greedily. "Must be nice to be a big wheel and have luxuries like this." His small, dark eyes roved speculatively around the kitchen. "Your own stove, and your own refrigerator." Smacking his lips, he added: "And beer. I haven't had a beer since last August."
"You'll live," Sharp said, without compassion. "Is this a business call? If so, get to the point; I've got plenty of work to do."
Giller said: "I just wanted to say hello to a fellow Petaluman."
Wincing, Sharp answered: "It sounds like some sort of synthetic fuel."
Giller wasn't amused. "Are you ashamed to have come from the very section that was once --"
"I know. The egg-laying capital of the universe. Sometimes I wonder -- how many chicken feathers do you suppose were drifting around, the day the first H-bomb hit our town?"
"Billions," Giller said morosely. "And some of them were mine. My chickens, I mean. Your family had a farm, didn't they?"
"No," Sharp said, refusing to be identified with Giller. "My family operated a drug store facing on Highway 101. A block from the park, near the sporting goods shop." And, he added under his breath: You can go to hell. Because I'm not going to change my mind. You can camp on my doorstep the rest of your life and it still won't do any good. Petaluma isn't that important. And anyhow, the chickens are dead.
"How's the Sac rebuild coming?" Giller inquired.
"Plenty of those walnuts again?"
"Walnuts coming out of people's ears."
"Mice getting in the shell heaps?"
"Thousands of them," Sharp sipped his beer; it was good quality, probably as good as pre-war. He wouldn't know, because in 1961, the year the war broke out, he had been only six years old. But the beer tasted the way he remembered the old days: opulent and carefree and satisfying.
"We figure," Giller said hoarsely, an avid gleam in his face, "that the Petaluma-Sonoma area can be built up again for about seven billion Westbloc. That's nothing compared to what you've been doling out."
"And the Petaluma-Sonoma area is nothing compared with the areas we've been rebuilding," Sharp said. "You think we need eggs and wine? What we need is machinery. It's Chicago and Pittsburgh and Los Angeles and St. Louis and --"
"You've forgotten," Giller droned on, "that you're a Petaluman. You're turning your back on your origin -- and on your duty."
"Duty! You suppose the Government hired me to be a lobbyist for one trivial farm area?" Sharp flushed with outrage. "As far as I'm concerned --"
"We're your people," Giller said inflexibly. "And your people come first."
When he had got rid of the man, Sharp stood for a time in the night darkness, gazing down the road after Giller's receding car. Well, he said to himself, there goes the way of the world -- me first and to hell with everybody else.
Sighing, he turned and made his way up the path toward the front porch of his house. Lights gleamed friendlily in the window. Shivering, he put his hand out and groped for the railing.
And then, as he clumsily mounted the stairs, the terrible thing happened.
With a rush, the lights of the window winked out. The porch railing dissolved under his fingers. In his ears a shrill screaming whine rose up and deafened him. He was falling. Struggling frantically, he tried to get hold of something, but there was only empty darkness around him, no substance, no reality, only the depth beneath him and the din of his own terrified shrieks.
"Help!" he shouted, and the sound beat futilely back at him. "I'm falling!"
And then, gasping, he was outstretched on the damp lawn, clutching handfuls of grass and dirt. Two feet from the porch -- he had missed the first step in the darkness and had slipped and fallen. An ordinary event: the window lights had been blocked by the concrete railing. The whole thing had happened in a split second and he had fallen only the length of his own body. There was blood on his forehead; he had cut himself as he struck.
Silly. A childish, infuriating event.
Shakily, he climbed to his feet and mounted the steps. Inside the house, he stood leaning against the wall, shuddering and panting. Gradually the fear faded out and rationality returned.
Why was he so afraid of falling?
Something had to be done. This was worse than ever before, even worse than the time he had stumbled coming out of the elevator at the office -- and had instantly been reduced to screaming terror in front of a lobbyful of people.
What would happen to him if he really fell? If, for example, he were to step off one of the overhead ramps connecting the major Los Angeles office buildings? The fall would be stopped by safety screens; no physical harm was ever done, though people fell all the time. But for him -- the psychological shock might be fatal. Would be fatal; to his mind, at least.
He made a mental note: no more going out on the ramps. Under no circumstances. He had been avoiding them for years, but from now on, ramps were in the same class as air travel. Since 1982 he hadn't left the surface of the planet. And, in the last few years, he seldom visited offices more than ten flights up.
But if he stopped using the ramps, how was he going to get into his own research files? The file room was accessibly only by ramp: the narrow metallic path leading up from the office area.
Perspiring, terrified, he sank down on the couch and sat huddled over, wondering how he was going to keep his job, do his work.
And how he was going to stay alive.
Humphrys waited, but his patient seemed to have finished.
"Does it make you feel any better," Humphrys asked, "to know that fear of falling is a common phobia?"
"No," Sharp answered.
"I guess there's no reason why it should. You say it's shown up before? When was the first time?"
"When I was eight. The war had been going on two years. I was on the surface, examining my vegetable garden." Sharp smiled weakly. "Even when I was a kid, I grew things. The San Francisco network picked up exhaust trails of a Soviet missile and all the warning towers went off like Roman candles. I was almost on top of the shelter. I raced to it, lifted the lid and started down the stairs. At the bottom were my mother and father. They yelled for me to hurry. I started to run down the stairs."
"And fell?" Humphrys asked expectantly.
"I didn't fall; I suddenly got afraid. I couldn't go any farther; I just stood there. And they were yelling up at me. They wanted to get the bottom plate screwed in place. And they couldn't until I was down."
With a touch of aversion, Humphrys acknowledged: "I remember those old two-stage shelters. I wonder how many people got shut between the lid and the bottom plate." He eyed his patient. "As a child, had you heard of that happening? People being trapped on the stairs, not able to get back up, not able to get down . . ."
"I wasn't scared of being trapped! I was scared of falling -- afraid I'd pitch head-forward off the steps." Sharp licked his dry lips. "Well, so I turned around --" His body shuddered. "I went back up and outside."
"During the attack?"
"They shot down the missile. But I spent the alert tending my vegetables. Afterward, my family beat me nearly unconscious."
Humphrys' mind formed the words: origin of guilt.
"The next time," Sharp continued, "was when I was fourteen. The war had been over a few months. We started back to see what was left of our town. Nothing was left, only a crater of radioactive slag several hundred feet deep. Work teams were creeping down into the crater. I stood on the edge watching them. The fear came." He put out his cigarette and sat waiting until the analyst found him another. "I left the area after that. Every night I dreamed about that crater, that big dead mouth. I hitched a ride on a military truck and rode to San Francisco."
"When was the next time?" asked Humphrys.
Irritably, Sharp said: "Then it happened all the time, every time I was up high, every time I had to walk up or down a flight of steps -- any situation where I was high and might fall. But to be afraid to walk up the steps of my own house --" He broke off temporarily. "I can't walk up three steps," he said wretchedly. "Three concrete steps."
"Any particular bad episodes, outside of those you've mentioned?"
"I was in love with a pretty brown-haired girl who lived on the top floor of the Atcheson Apartments. Probably she still lives there; I wouldn't know. I got five or six floors up and then -- I told her good night and came back down." Ironically, he said: "She must have thought I was crazy."
"Others?" Humphrys asked, mentally noting the appearance of the sexual element.
"One time I couldn't accept a job because it involved travel by air. It had to do with inspecting agricultural projects."
Humphrys said: "In the old days, analysts looked for the origin of a phobia. Now we ask: what does it do? Usually it gets the individual out of situations he unconsciously dislikes."
A slow, disgusted flush appeared on Sharp's face. "Can't you do better than that?"
Disconcerted, Humphrys murmured: "I don't say I agree with the theory or that it's necessarily true in your case. I'll say this much though: it's not falling you're afraid of. It's something that falling reminds you of. With luck we ought to be able to dig up the prototype experience -- what they used to call the original traumatic incident." Getting to his feet, he began to drag over a stemmed tower of electronic mirrors. "My lamp," he explained. "It'll melt the barriers."
Sharp regarded the lamp with apprehension. "Look," he muttered nervously, "I don't want my mind reconstructed. I may be a neurotic, but I take pride in my personality."
"This won't affect your personality." Bending down, Humphrys plugged in the lamp. "It will bring up material not accessible to your rational center. I'm going to trace your life -- track back to the incident at which you were done great harm -- and find out what you're really afraid of."
Black shapes drifted around him. Sharp screamed and struggled wildly, trying to pry loose the fingers closing over his arms and legs. Something smashed against his face. Coughing, he slumped forward, dribbling blood and saliva and bits of broken teeth. For an instant, blinding light flashed; he was being scrutinized.
"Is he dead?" a voice demanded.
"Not yet." A foot poked experimentally into Sharp's side. Dimly, in his half-consciousness, he could hear ribs cracking. "Almost, though."
"Can you hear me, Sharp?" a voice rasped, close to his ear.
He didn't respond. He lay trying not to die, trying not to associate himself with the cracked and broken thing that had been his body.
"You probably imagine," the voice said, familiar, intimate, "that I'm going to say you've got one last chance. But you don't, Sharp. Your chance is gone. I'm telling you what we're going to do with you."
Gasping, he tried not to hear. And, futilely, he tried not to feel what they were systematically doing to him.
"All right," the familiar voice said finally, when it had been done. "Now throw him out."
What remained of Paul Sharp was lugged to a circular hatch. The nebulous outline of darkness rose up around him and then -- hideously -- he was pitched into it. Down he fell, but this time he didn't scream.
No physical apparatus remained with which to scream.
Snapping the lamp off, Humphrys bent over and methodically roused the slumped figure.
"Sharp!" he ordered loudly. "Wake up! Come out of it!"
The man groaned, blinked his eyes, stirred. Over his face settled a glaze of pure, unmitigated torment.
"God," he whispered, eyes blank, body limp with suffering. "They --"
"You're back here," Humphrys said, shaken by what had been dredged up. "There's nothing to worry about; you're absolutely safe. It's over with -- happened years ago."
"Over," Sharp murmured pathetically.
"You're back in the present. Understand?"
"Yes," Sharp muttered. "But -- what was it? They pushed me out -- through and into something. And I went on down." He trembled violently. "I fell."
"You fell through a hatch," Humphrys told him calmly. "You were beaten up and badly injured -- fatally, they assumed. But you did survive. You are alive. You got out of it."
"Why did they do it?" Sharp asked brokenly. His face, sagging and gray, twitched with despair. "Help me, Humphrys . . ."
"Consciously, you don't remember when it happened?"
"Do you remember where?"
"No." Sharp's face jerked spasmodically. "They tried to kill me -- they did kill me!" Struggling upright, he protested: "Nothing like that happened to me. I'd remember if it had. It's a false memory -- my mind's been tampered with!"
"It's been repressed," Humphrys said firmly, "deeply buried because of the pain and shock. A form of amnesia -- it's been filtering indirectly up in the form of your phobia. But now that you recall it consciously --"
"Do I have to go back?" Sharp's voice rose hysterically. "Do I have to get under that damn lamp again?"
"It's got to come out on a conscious level," Humphrys told him, "but not all at once. You've had your limit for today."
Sagging with relief, Sharp settled back in the chair. "Thanks," he said weakly. Touching his face, his body, he whispered: "I've been carrying that in my mind all these years. Corroding, eating away --"
"There should be some diminution of the phobia," the analyst told him, "as you grapple with the incident itself. We've made progress; we now have some idea of the real fear. It involves bodily injury at the hands of professional criminals. Ex-soldiers in the early post-war years. . . gangs of bandits, I remember."
A measure of confidence returned to Sharp. "It isn't hard to understand a falling fear, under the circumstances. Considering what happened to me . . . Shakily, he started to his feet. And screamed shrilly.
"What is it?" Humphrys demanded, hastily coming over and grabbing hold of his arm. Sharp leaped violently away, staggered, and collapsed inertly in the chair. "What happened?"
Face working, Sharp managed: "I can't get up."
"I can't stand up." Imploringly, he gazed up at the analyst, stricken and terrified. "I'm -- afraid I'll fall. Doctor, now I can't even get to my feet."
For an interval neither man spoke. Finally, his eyes on the floor, Sharp whispered: "The reason I came to you, Humphrys, is because your office is on the ground floor. That's a laugh, isn't it? I couldn't go any higher."
"We're going to have to turn the lamp back on you," Humphrys said.
"I realize it. I'm scared." Gripping the arms of the chair, he continued: "Go ahead. What else can we do? I can't leave here. Humphrys, this thing is going to kill me."
"No, it isn't." Humphrys got the lamp into position. "We'll get you out of this. Try to relax; try to think of nothing in particular." Clicking the mechanism on, he said softly: "This time I don't want the traumatic incident itself. I want the envelope of experience that surrounds it. I want the broader segment of which it's a part."
Paul Sharp walked quietly through the snow. His breath, in front of him, billowed outward and formed a sparkling cloud of white. To his left lay the jagged ruins of what had been buildings. The ruins, covered with snow, seemed almost lovely. For a moment he paused, entranced.
"Interesting," a member of his research team observed, coming up. "Could be anything -- absolutely anything -- under there."
"It's beautiful, in a way," Sharp commented.
"See that spire?" The young man pointed with one heavily gloved finger; he still wore his lead-shielded suit. He and his group had been poking around the still-contaminated crater. Their boring bars were lined up in an orderly row. "That was a church," he informed Sharp. "A nice one, by the looks of it. And over there --" he indicated an indiscriminate jumble of ruin -- "that was the main civic center."
"The city wasn't directly hit, was it?" Sharp asked.
"It was bracketed. Come on down and see what we've run into. The crater to our right -- "
"No, thanks," Sharp said, pulling back with intense aversion. "I'll let you do the crawling around."
The youthful expert glanced curiously at Sharp, then forgot the matter. "Unless we run into something unexpected, we should be able to start reclamation within a week. The first step, of course, is to clear off the slag-layer. It's fairly well cracked -- a lot of plant growth has perforated it, and natural decay has reduced a great deal of it to semi-organic ash."
"Fine," Sharp said, with satisfaction. "I'll be glad to see something here again, after all these years."
The expert asked: "What was it like before the war? I never saw that; I was born after the destruction began."
"Well," Sharp said, surveying the fields of snow, "this was a thriving agricultural center. They grew grapefruit here. Arizona grapefruit. The Roosevelt Dam was along this way."
"Yes," the expert said, nodding. "We located the remnants of it."
"Cotton was grown here. So was lettuce, alfalfa, grapes, olives, apricots -- the thing I remember most, the time I came through Phoenix with my family, was the eucalyptus trees."
"We won't have all that back," the expert said regretfully. "What the heck -- eucalyptus? I never heard of that."
"There aren't any left in the United States," Sharp said. "You'd have to go to Australia."
Listening, Humphrys jotted down a notation. "Okay," he said aloud, switching off the lamp. "Come back, Sharp."
With a grunt, Paul Sharp blinked and opened his eyes. "What --" Struggling up, he yawned, stretched, peered blankly around the office. "Something about reclamation. I was supervising a team of recon men. A young kid."
"When did you reclaim Phoenix?" Humphrys asked. "That seems to be included in the vital time-space segment."
Sharp frowned. "We never reclaimed Phoenix. That's still projected. We hope to get at it sometime in the next year."
"Are you positive?"
"Naturally. That's my job."
"I'm going to have to send you back," Humphrys said, already reaching for the lamp.
The lamp came on. "Relax," Humphrys instructed briskly, a trifle too briskly for a man supposed to know exactly what he was doing. Forcing himself to slow down, he said carefully: "I want your perspective to broaden. Take in an earlier incident, one preceding the Phoenix reclamation."
In an inexpensive cafeteria in the business district, two men sat facing each other across a table.
"I'm sorry," Paul Sharp said, with impatience. "I've got to get back to my work." Picking up his cup of ersatz coffee, he gulped the contents down.
The tall, thin man carefully pushed away his empty dishes and, leaning back, lit a cigar.
"For two years," Giller said bluntly, "you've been giving us the runaround. Frankly, I'm a little tired of it."
"Runaround?" Sharp had started to rise. "I don't get your drift."
"You're going to reclaim an agricultural area -- you're going to tackle Phoenix. So don't tell me you're sticking to industrial. How long do you imagine those people are going to keep on living? Unless you reclaim their farms and lands --"
Harshly, Giller said: "The people living at Petaluma. Camped around the craters."
With vague dismay, Sharp murmured: "I didn't realize there was anybody living there. I thought you all headed for the nearest reclaimed regions, San Francisco and Sacramento."
"You never read the petitions we presented," Giller said softly.
Sharp colored. "No, as a matter of fact. Why should I? If there're people camping in the slag, it doesn't alter the basic situation; you should leave, get out of there. That area is through." He added: "I got out."
Very quietly, Giller said: "You would have stuck around if you'd farmed there. If your family had farmed there for over a century. It's different from running a drug store. Drug stores are the same everywhere in the world."
"So are farms."
"No," Giller said dispassionately. "Your land, your family's land, has a unique feeling. We'll keep on camping there until we're dead or until you decide to reclaim." Mechanically collecting the checks, he finished: "I'm sorry for you, Paul. You never had roots like we have. And I'm sorry you can't be made to understand." As he reached into his coat for his wallet, he asked: "When can you fly out there?"
"Fly!" Sharp echoed, shuddering. "I'm not flying anywhere."
"You've got to see the town again. You can't decide without having seen those people, seen how they're living."
"No," Sharp said emphatically. "I'm not flying out there. I can decide on the basis of reports."
Giller considered. "You'll come," he declared.
"Over my dead body!"
Giller nodded. "Maybe so. But you're going to come. You can't let us die without looking at us. You've got to have the courage to see what it is you're doing." He got out a pocket calendar and scratched a mark by one of the dates. Tossing it across the table to Sharp, he informed him: "We'll come by your office and pick you up. We have the plane we flew down here. It's mine. It's a sweet ship."
Trembling, Sharp examined the calendar. And, standing over his mumbling, supine patient, so did Humphrys.
He had been right. Sharp's traumatic incident, the repressed material, didn't lie in the past.
Sharp was suffering from a phobia based on an event six months in the future.
"Can you get up?" Humphrys inquired.
In the chair, Paul Sharp stirred feebly. "I --" he began, and then sank into silence.
"No more for a while," Humphrys told him reassuringly. "You've had enough. But I wanted to get you away from the trauma itself."
"I feel better now."
"Try to stand." Humphrys approached and stood waiting, as the man crept unsteadily to his feet.
"Yes," Sharp breathed. "It has receded. What was that last? I was in a cafe or something. With Giller."
From his desk Humphrys got a prescription pad. "I'm going to write you out a little comfort. Some round white pills to take every four hours." He scribbled and then handed the slip to his patient. "So you will relax. It'll take away some of the tension."
"Thanks," Sharp said, in a weak, almost inaudible voice. Presently, he asked: "A lot of material came up, didn't it?"
"It certainly did," Humphrys admitted tightly.
There was nothing he could do for Paul Sharp. The man was very close to death now -- in six short months, Giller would go to work on him. And it was too bad, because Sharp was a nice guy, a nice, conscientious, hard-working bureaucrat who was only trying to do his job as he saw it.
"What do you think?" Sharp asked pathetically. "Can you help me?"
"I'll try," Humphrys answered, not able to look directly at him. "But it goes very deep."
"It's been a long time growing," Sharp admitted humbly. Standing by the chair, he seemed small and forlorn; not an important official but only one isolated, unprotected individual. "I'd sure appreciate your help. If this phobia keeps up, no telling where it'll end."
Humphrys asked suddenly, "Would you consider changing your mind and granting Giller's demands?"
"I can't," Sharp said. "It's bad policy. I'm opposed to special pleading, and that's what it is."
"Even if you come from the area? Even if the people are friends and former neighbors of yours?"
"It's my job," Sharp said. "I have to do it without regard for my feelings or anybody else's."
"You're not a bad fellow," Humphrys said involuntarily. "I'm sorry --" He broke off.
"Sorry what?" Sharp moved mechanically toward the exit door. "I've taken enough of your time. I realize how busy you analysts are. When shall I come back. Can I come back?"
"Tomorrow." Humphrys guided him outside and into the corridor. "About this same time, if it's convenient."
"Thanks a lot," Sharp said, with relief. "I really appreciate it."
As soon as he was alone in his office, Humphrys closed the door and strode back to his desk. Reaching down, he grabbed the telephone and unsteadily dialed.
"Give me somebody on your medical staff," he ordered curtly when he had been connected with the Special Talents Agency.
"This is Kirby," a professional-sounding voice came presently. "Medical research."
Humphrys briefly identified himself. "I have a patient here," he said, "who seems to be a latent precog."
Kirby was interested. "What area does he come from?"
"Petaluma. Sonoma County, north of San Francisco Bay. It's east of --"
"We're familiar with the area. A number of precogs have showed up there. That's been a gold mine for us."
"Then I was right," Humphrys said.
"What's the date of the patient's birth?"
"He was six years old when the war began."
"Well," Kirby said, disappointed, "then he didn't really get enough of a dose. He'll never develop a full precog talent, such as we work with here."
"In other words, you won't help?"
"Latents -- people with a touch of it -- outnumber the real carriers. We don't have time to fool with them. You'll probably run into dozens like your patient, if you stir around. When it's imperfect, the talent isn't valuable; it's going to be a nuisance for the man, probably nothing else."
"Yes, it's a nuisance," Humphrys agreed caustically. "The man is only months away from a violent death. Since he was a child, he's been getting advanced phobic warnings. As the event gets closer, the reactions intensify."
"He's not conscious of the future material?"
"It operates strictly on a subrational level."
"Under the circumstances," Kirby said thoughtfully, "maybe it's just as well. These things appear to be fixed. If he knew about it, he still couldn't change it."
Dr. Charles Bamberg, consulting psychiatrist, was just leaving his office when he noticed a man sitting in the waiting room.
Odd, Bamberg thought. I have no patients left for today.
Opening the door, he stepped into the waiting room. "Did you wish to see me?"
The man sitting on the chair was tall and thin. He wore a wrinkled tan raincoat, and, as Bamberg appeared, he began tensely stubbing out a cigar.
"Yes," he said, getting clumsily to his feet.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No appointment." The man gazed at him in appeal. "I picked you --" He laughed with confusion. "Well, you're on the top floor."
"The top floor?" Bamberg was intrigued. "What's that got to do with it?"
"I -- well, Doc, I feel much more comfortable when I'm up high."
"I see," Bamberg said. A compulsion, he thought to himself. Fascinating. "And," he said aloud, "when you're up high, how do you feel? Better?"
"Not better," the man answered. "Can I come in? Do you have a second to spare me?"
Bamberg looked at his watch. "All right," he agreed, admitting the man. "Sit down and tell me about it."
Gratefully, Giller seated himself. "It interferes with my life," he said rapidly, jerkily. "Every time I see a flight of stairs, I have an irresistible compulsion to go up it. And plane flight -- I'm always flying around. I have my own ship; I can't afford it, but I've got to have it."
"I see," Bamberg said. "Well," he continued genially, "that's not really so bad. After all, it isn't exactly a fatal compulsion."
Helplessly, Giller replied: "When I'm up there --" He swallowed wretchedly, his dark eyes gleaming. "Doctor, when I'm up high, in an office building, or in my plane -- I feel another compulsion."
"What is it?"
"I --" Giller shuddered. "I have an irresistible urge to push people."
"To push people?"
"Toward windows. Out." Giller made a gesture. "What am I going to do, Doc? I'm afraid I'll kill somebody. There was a little shrimp of a guy I pushed once -- and one day a girl was standing ahead of me on an escalator -- I shoved her. She was injured."
"I see," Bamberg said, nodding. Repressed hostility, he thought to himself. Interwoven with sex. Not unusual.
He reached for his lamp.