Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Demolished Man part 5: Reich Victorious

Continuing our look at Alfred Bester's space noir crime novel, The Demolished Man

As any mystery buff will tell you, a criminal investigation rests on three things: Means, Motive and Opportunity. Telepathic detective Lincoln Powell can prove that industrialist Ben Reich had the means and the opprtunity to kill his business rival, Craye D'Courtney. He thought he could prove the motive as well, but the coded message from D'Courtney to Reich believed to carry a rejection of Reich's murder offer was actually an acceptance. Reich had every reason, financially, to keep D'Courtney alive; and so the computer in the D.A.'s office which authorizes all prosecutions has thrown out the whole case. Has Reich successfully avoided Demolition?

The dreams won't stop.

He has killed his arch-enemy and rival, he has avoided the police at every turn, but still Ben Reich finds himself pursued in his nightmares by the relentless Man With No Face. He thought that the Man represented D'Courtney, but D'Courtney's dead; why does the Man still chase him?

He just returning to New York from Spaceland. Awakened from another of his nightmares, he goes into the shower of his stateroom to wash up before disembarking. He's just starting up the auto-massage when on a whim he ducks out of the alcove to call room service for a cup of coffee. That whim saves his life as an explosion rips through the sauna. Someone has taken the Detonation Bulbs he carries with him out of his luggage and planted them in the heads of the automatic massage unit.

Why would he carry mini-grenades with him? For self-defense, since guns seem unknown? As a JIC if he should need to kill another witness? We aren't told; just that; he always carried them. After all, even paranoids have enemies; and it seems that Ben Reich has one too.

When he arrives at his office, he calls his Chief of Espionage, 2nd Class Esper Ellery West. If someone is trying to assassinate him, Reich will need an esper to help him. Ellery is packing his desk. It seems that the Esper's Guild has decided that using telepathy to conduct corporate espionage is a violation of it's Ethical Code, and so West must resign. Reich offers to put West on private retainer, like his personal physician; but he learns that the Guild has ruled against exclusive practices as well. "It limits the service of peepers. We've got to be dedicated to the most good for the most people."

Reich is sure that Powell arranged this somehow, but West assures him this is not the case. The astute reader might even recall a hint this might happen in the cascading conversation at Powell's cocktail party before the murder.

Reich tries calling his accomplice, Gus Tate and gets a notice of disconnection. Tate is dead, killed by one of the goons sent by Keno Quizzard to eliminate Powell. Next he goes to his safe and once again narrowly escapes being caught in the explosion of a bomb.

He grabs "the malignant steel flower", the collapsible knife/pistol he used to murder D'Courtney, from the wreckage of his safe as well as the neuron scrambler he had taken from Chooka Frood's bodyguard, and another handful of Detonation Bulbs from his desk. Handy things to have. Ignoring the stares of his staff at his shredded clothing and the bleeding lacerations on his skin, he goes down to the basement garage to get a jumper. But as he turns the key in the car door, he hears the sound of another booby trap and dives for cover as the bomb in the jumper goes off, rupturing the fuel tank and spewing fuel over the garage.

Three assassination attempts in less than a day. Reich is not about to wait for more. He hails a cab for Chooka Frood's Rainbow House. He barges in, clobbers Chooka's bodyguard -- (Chooka really needs a better bodyguard; this is the second time Reich's mopped the floor with her) -- and accuses her of setting the booby traps.
"I beat the hell out of your girl-friend and I beat the hell out of you. So you got frabbed off and set those traps, right? ... It has to be you, Chooka. You're the only one with a gripe and the only one who hires gimpsters. That adds up to you, so let's get it squared off." He slapped the safety off the scrambler. "I've got no time for a two-bit hater with coffin-queer friends."
Chooka denies knowing anything about the bombs. She suggests it might be Quizzard, or Jerry Church; or maybe a peeper got the combination to his safe...

Reich makes the obvious connection. "My God... Oh my God... Yes," he says. "The cop. Powell. Yes. Mr. Holy Lincoln Powell." It all makes sense.

Immediately Reich comes up with a plan. He's getting good at improvisational murder. He has Chooka summon Powell on a pretext. While Powell is on his way to the Rainbow House, Reich scoots over to Powell's place to set a trap of his own. Encountering Mary Noyes in the garden, he paralyzes her with the neural scrambler. He carries Mary inside, deciding to kill her in the house, plant detonation bulbs on her body, and wait for Powell to find her. But before he can carry out the plan, he realizes he's being watched.
She was at the head of the stairs, kneeling and peeping through the banisters like a child. She was dressed like a child in tight little leotards with her hair drawn back and tied with ribbon. She looked at him with the droll, mischievous expression of a child. Barbara D'Courtney. 
"Hello," she said. 
Reich began to shake. 
"I'm Baba," she sad. 
Reich motioned to her faintly. 
She arose at once and came down the stairs, holding on to the banister carefully.  "I'm not s'posed to," she said.  "Are you Papa's friend?" 
He's face to face with the daughter of the man he killed and the only witness to the crime. And she doesn't know it. Her conscious mind has been regressed to that of a child as part of the therapy to help her cope with the psychic trauma of seeing her father's death. The "Papa" she's referring to, and whom she says is coming back soon, is Powell, who has been caring for her and is the only father her conscious mind currently remembers. Reich thinks she means her real father and that this is all part of some elaborate mind game.

He grabs Barbara roughly. As she struggles with him, Powell returns. Partway to Chooka's place he realized her call was a trick and hurried home; now he's back just in time to beat the living snot out of Reich.

Then Powell tells Reich that he's a free man. "Notice I said free. Not innocent." The case against him is closed. He explains how they had everything they needed to convict him except for the Objective Motive. "Of course I could throw this breaking and entering with deadly intent at you ... but it's too small a charge. Like shooting a popgun after you misfire with a cannon. You could probably beat it too."

Reich refuses to believe it and accuses Powell of planting the booby traps in the stateroom, in the safe and in the jumper. Powell has no idea what he's talking about, and so peeps into Reich's mind. What he sees shocks him.

"My God!" ... "That's it. ... That explains it ... And Old Man Mose was right. Passion motive, and we thought he was kittenish ... and Barbara's Siamese Twin Imge ... And D'Courtney's guilt ... No wonder Reich couldn't kill us at Chooka's ..." But he sees something else in Reich's mind that makes him realize that Reich isn't just a criminal who needs to be brought to justice; he poses an even greater threat to all of society.

At this point, we are as confused as Reich is; Powell does not explain what he peeped or how that led him to this conclusion. It takes a moment for Powell to regain his composure, and when he does he tells Reich flat out why the case against him collapsed. The coded message D'Courtney sent to Reich was an agreement to a merger; so Reich had no reason to want him dead.

Reich doesn't believe him. "The bastard refused." But Powell goes on.
"I'm not the man who's trying to murder you. That man is trying to kill you because he knows you're safe from Demolition. He's always known what I've just discovered ... that you're the deadly enemy of our entire future. ...He's your ancient enemy, Reich ... A man you'll never escape. ... The Man With No Face."
Reich runs out into the night, frantically trying to sort it all out: the nightmares, the assassination attempts, D'Courtney's message -- he's sure the message said "refused"! -- all mixed up with his relentless mantra: "Tension, apprehension and dissension have begun!"

In this feverish state he runs into someone we'd forgotten about: Galen Chevril, the young esper who tried to crash Maria Beaumont's party the night of the murder. Reich had warned the kid off to keep him from peeping his murder plan. As far as Chevril knows, Reich did him a favor that night and he's happy to help him out.

Reich takes Chevril to see the Police Commissioner. "I was almost murdered three times today."

Commissioner Crabbe is aghast. "Murdered! ... Of Course. That Powell is a fool. I should never have listened to him. The men who killed D'Courtney is trying to kill you." And he tells Reich how the D.A.'s computer had vindicated him.

Chevil confirms the truth of what the Commissioner says. "The Prosecution Computer has declined to authorize any action against you for the D'Courtney murder. Mr. Powell has been forced to abandon the case and ... well ... his career is very much in jeopardy."

This is the best possible news for Reich. He leaves the Commissioner's office laughing in triumph. He's beaten the murder rap, he's in a position to take over D'Courtney's empire; he has everything.
"And I'll own you!" he shouted, raising his arms to engulf the universe. "I'll won you all! Bodies, passions, and souls!"
That's when he catches glimpse of a tall, ominous, familiar figure on the street... A Man With No Face.
And then everything goes black.

NEXT:  Powell takes the ultimate risk; Mass Cathexis; Reich's triumph. And then all the stars go out. Demolition.

Monday, February 24, 2014

CANCER UPDATE

Health

I was asked for an update from one of our readers, and I thought it was a good idea.  I have been told that the cancer is now either gone or so little as to be considered defeated.   I have to still get radiation for the coup de grâce.   I am not finished with the journey, but I nearly am.  Thank you to the many people sending kind wishes.  I am on the downhill side of treatment, and appreciate every kind deed, act and word.

Business

I wrote a short comment and quickly deleted it a while back.   I had mentioned shysters and such and naming of names.   I deleted it but was asked why.   There are three reasons for deleting it, none of which will satisfy people wanting to know the names of the shysters.

The first reason was because I wrote the article in anger, and I rarely ever let myself do that.   I was in the throes of pain from cancer and treatments and thought I might inflict such upon those who had wounded me in this publishing life.

The second reason was I decided that it is bad form to spend time hashing out the issues in public.   Although in each case there are many reasons I was right, I couldn't offer a fair argument for the other side, and writing diatribes is just not cool.    I haven't been able to forgive the other parties, but I plan to do so.   And you won't read about broken contracts or shysters in my column here in the future.

The final reason was that while I do not mind, at all, promoting my work here, carrying out the dirty laundry and hanging it up for all eyes to see is tacky.    I am many things but I do not want to appear what I am not.

I reserve the right of course to change my mind, since dealing with others is always a fluid situation.   But I prefer to at least try to be free from flinging mud, feces or the truth at my former partners.

I still am writing, and have done so throughout my treatment.   I have two books in formatting and I expect to have more by the end of the year published.   Since I've been hosed people assume you just lay there wounded, but I am nothing if not determined to keep trudging forward.

You can find me here at Poplitiko of course but also at:

My short fiction blog
My poetry blog
Twitter
I post at this comic book forum

Special Thanks go to a number of people.

Defiant1
Jason and Stacy Moser
Marc Kleinhenz
Chuck Dixon
JM Hunter
Peter Urkowitz
Paul Ewert
The Staff at Buffalo Hospital
The Virginia Piper Cancer Inst. at Buffalo Hospital

And of course all of my family and friends.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Demolished Man part 4: In Search of a Motive

Continuing our look at Alfred Bester's Space Opera Noir, The Demolished Man.

In a society where telepaths exist in every profession, you'd think it would be easy to catch a murderer; but so far, wealthy industrialist Ben Reich has managed to avoid capture. Police Prefect Lincoln Powell, 1st Class Esper, knows that Reich killed his business rival, Craye D'Courtney; but he needs proof that will stand up to the rigorous standards of "Ol' Man Mose", the Prosecuting Computer which acts as Grand Jury in his legal system. Finally, Powell has caught a break. He has located D'Courtney's daughter, Barbara; the only witness to the crime who fled the party where it occurred and who has been missing for a week. But the experience of seeing her father killed has shattered her mind.
"She's in a state of Hysterical Recall," Dr. Jeems of the Kingston Hospital explained to Powell and Mary Noyes in the living room of Powell's house. "She responds to the key word 'help' and relives one terrifying experience..." 
"The death of her father," Powell said. 
"...Outside of that ... Catatonia."
The doctor explains that Barbara can be treated, but that it will take time. The treatment is called "Déjà Èprouvé", after a 19th Century psychiatric term, and it creates a comforting, false reality for the conscious mind to give the traumatized unconscious time to heal. "We dissociate the mind from the lower levels, send it back to the womb, and let it pretend it's being born to a new life all over again... On the surface of the mind ... in the conscious level ... the patient goes through development all over again at an accelerated rate. Infancy, childhood, adolescence, and finally maturity."

The process will take about three weeks. "By the time she catches up with herself, she'll be ready to accept the reality she's trying to escape." We're going to come across this idea of stripping away and re-building of reality and identity again.

Dr. Jeems tells Powell that he can still try reading Barbara's subconscious mind, but warns that "she must be pretty scared down there" and that it might be hard to find what he wants. "Of course, that's your specialty. You'll know what to do." Jeems is not himself a "peeper" and defers to Powell's area of expertise.
Powell has decided to keep Barbara at his place rather than have her stay at Kingston, the famous psychiatric clinic that Jeems works for, and has asked his friend, Mary Noyes, to help take care of her. He wants to be able to question Barbara, to get the murder out of her piece by piece, something that would be difficult to do in the hospital. Mary catches a glimpse in his mind of another reason why he might want a chaperone, but it's an ulterior motive of which Powell himself seems unaware.

His first attempt to descend into Barbara's mind is a fight. She wants to be left alone. He triggers the memory and forces her to relive it, but in the chaos of her mind Powell can only catch fragments of what she knows. It confirms that Reich was indeed present; but Powell still doesn't have a clear picture of how the crime was committed.

Powell also receives a startling piece of information. D'Courtney wanted to die. So did Reich actually kill him, or did D'Courtney commit suicide in his presence?

To find the answer, Powell travels to Venus to visit D'Courtney's doctor, Sam @kins; a prominent 1st Class Esper who has been mentioned previously and whose name is another of the typographic puns Bester drops into the story from time to time. @kins is a strong supporter of the Esper Guild's policy of identifying and cultivating new espers. He believes that all humans have a latent psionic talent and so he does a lot of charity work, inviting poor patients to his clinic on Venus so that he can try to develop their psychic abilities. He seems to do this chiefly by yelling at them, both audibly and telepathically.
One of @kins' flock unaccountably flinched and Sam turned on the man excitedly. "You heard that, didn't you?" 
"No sir. I didn't hear nothing." 
"Yes you did. You picked up a TP broadcast." 
"No, Dr. @kins." 
"Then why did you jump?" 
"A bug bit me." 
"It did not," @kins roared. "There are no bugs in my garden You heard me yell to my wife." And then he began a frightful racket. "YOU CAN ALL HEAR ME. DON'T SAY YOU CAN'T. DON'T YOU WANT TO BE HELPED? ANSWER ME. GO AHEAD. ANSWER ME!"
Privately, in a conversation with Powell, @kins confirms that D'Courtney was suicidal. "He was crumbling. His adaptation pattern was shattering. He was regressing under emotional exhaustion and on the verge of self-destruction." That was why @kins had come to Earth to try to meet him; to prevent him from acting rashly. D'Courtney was suffering from deep feelings of guilt regarding his child. Sam hadn't been able to divine the exact causes of these feelings, but they involved irrational symbols of abandonment, desertion and shame. He never had the chance to pursue the problem further.

But @kins doesn't think D'Courtney would have blown his brains out. The man was suicidal, yes, but his suicidal thoughts centered on taking poison. "You know suicides, Linc. Once they've fixed on a particular form of death, they never change it."

@kins gives Powell an important clue. The suggestion that Reich might have had expert help leads to @kins memory of the cocktail party at Powell's place the week before the murder, when Gus Tate had asked @kins so many questions about D'Courtney. The pieces fit together. Gus Tate was Reich's accomplice, providing inside information and running psychic interference for him.

Powell is immediately summoned back to earth. Jordan, the Monarch Industries technician who had gone off to Callisto, has returned. He has come into an unexpected inheritance and is just tidying up his affairs before leaving Earth for good. The estate he inherited belonged to Ben Reich, but apparently there was some question as to the title and Reich withdrew his claim in Jordan's favor.

Jordan isn't about to testify against his former boss and benefactor, so Powell doesn't question him directly; instead he sets up a situation where Jordan will feel comfortable enough to tell him exactly what he needs to know. So Jordan tells Powell all about the "Visual Purple Ionizer" he'd been working on for Monarch, the means Reich used to knock out D'Courtney's bodyguards.

Barbara mental state is advancing through infancy. She's crawling on all fours now and starting to babble. Powell is sure she called him "Dada"; Mary tells him it sounded more like "Haja". Barbara's inner mind is a bit calmer now; when Powell enters it he can actually converse with her. He makes her replay the murder again. The mental trauma of experiencing it through her mind knocks him out for nearly half an hour, but this time he clearly sees the crime committed and the weapon used: an old 20th Century gun.

He plays a hunch. Jerry Church, the exiled esper, worked for Reich before; and he now runs a pawn shop near a museum. Church is just the sort of person who might supply such an archaic weapon and whom Reich might go to. But Powell plays it cagey. When he calls Church, he doesn't mention Reich at all; he asks if Gus Tate had bought a gun from him, and says he'll be over in half an hour to show him a picture of the murder weapon.

This is deliberate. He he guesses that Church will probably call Gus, and wants to set up a situation where he can play the two men against each other. "We've failed on the Objective Level all the way down the line," he tells Mary. "From here on in it's got to be peeper tricks or I'm through."

As expected, when Powell arrives at the pawn shop, both Church and Tate are there. "I didn't come to peep anybody. I'm sticking to straight talk. You two peepers may consider it an insult to have words addressed to you. I consider it evidence of good faith. While I'm talking, I'm not peeping." He accuses Jerry of selling Reich the gun that killed D'Courtney. Powell reminds him of the previous instance when Reich persuaded him to use his esper talents to conduct some insider trading, a swindle that made Reich a million and got Church booted out of the Esper Guild.

Jerry refuses to talk. "I sold no gun, peeper, and I don't know how any gun was used. That's my objective evidence for the court."

Unruffled, Powell turns to pressure Tate. He tells Tate he knows all about how he helped Reich gain information about D'Courtney, and acted as accomplice in the murder. "All I want to know is whether I've guessed Reich's bribe correctly."

Gus panics, but Powell maintains the pressure. And the fact that Powell is speaking verbally rather than telepathically rattles him all the more.
"You'll never prove anything. You'll--" 
"Prove? What?" 
"Your word against mine. I--" 
"You little tool. Haven't you ever been at a peeper trial? We don't run 'em like a court of law, where you swear and then I swear and then a jury tries to figure who's lying. No, little Gus. You stand up there before the board and all the 1sts start probing. You're a 1st, Gus. Maybe you could block two ... Possibly three ... But not all. I tell you, you're dead."
Tate breaks. He's willing to confess everything. "It was an aberration. I'm sane now. Tell the Guild. When you get mixed up with a damned psychotic like Reich, you fall into his pattern. You identify yourself with it. But I'm out of it."

He starts to tell Powell about the Man With No Face from Reich's nightmares, but Powell stops him. "He was a patient?"

This changes things. Much as Powell wants to nail Reich, he won't do it at the cost of violating doctor/patient confidentiality. Earlier Jerry called him "Preacher Powell" for his sanctimonious attitude towards esper ethics, but Powell really does take the Esper Pledge very seriously and refuses to violate it.

Or is he being ethical? He may be "Preacher Powell", upright pillar of the Espers Guild, but he's also "Dishonest Abe", the joker with a talent for lying with a straight face. Maybe he is being sincere in rejecting Tate's confession; but his little psychodrama with Gus is also for Jerry's benefit, to persuade him to give evidence after all. Jerry wavers...

...And that's when the goons attack. One of Quizzard's hired thugs hits the place with a harmonics gun, a sonic weapon that literally vibrates everything it hits to pieces. Powell manages to save Church, but Gus Tate is unable to get to safety. The attempted hit convinces Jerry that he can't trust Reich. He agrees to talk.
Barbara has matured to the toddler stage now. She speaks with an adorable lisp and scribbles on Powell's walls with crayon. Her subconscious is a different matter. When he attempts to probe it, Powell gets hit but a wave of passion so intense that he immediately backs out and calls for Mary to help him. "She's made contact with her Id. Down on the lowest level. Almost had my brains burned out."

"What do you want? A chaperone?" Mary teases. "Someone to protect the secrets of her sweet girlish passions?"

"Are you comic? I'm the one who needs protection."

Barbara's subconscious is a raging maelstrom of anger, hatred and lust. Mary warns him that he needs to get out. "You can't find anything there except raw love and raw death." But Powell presses on, stepping carefully through the furnace of Barbara's emotions, "...like an electrician gingerly touching the ends of exposed wires to discover which of them did not carry a knock-out charge."

He discovers a puzzling image in her mind: Barbara and Ben Reich, conjoined as if they were Siamese twins. He discovers something even more disturbing. Barbara D'Courtney is in love with him. As he tries to make sense of the confusing imagery and raw emotions in Barbara's mind, he senses Mary calling to him. He's been submerged in Barbara's Id for three hours now and Mary has been desperately trying to pull him out.
He tells Mary what he's found. "My God, Mary, I think the poor kid's in love with me."

"And what about you?" she asks.
"Why do you think you refused to send her to Kingston Hospital?" she said. "Why do you think you've been peeping her twice a day since you brought her here? Why did you have to have a chaperone? I'll tell you, Mr. Powell..." 
"Tell me what?" 
"You're in love with her. You've been in love with her since you food her at Chooka Frood's."
This was what Mary had glimpsed in his mind the day he brought Barbara home, the secret that was obvious to everybody except Powell himself. Mary also loves Powell and can't help being bitterly jealous. "Never mind me. To hell with me," she says. "You're in love with her, and the girl isn't a peeper. She isn't even sane." Under the rules of the Esper Guild, Powell is required to marry another esper before he turns forty in order to propagate the species. "Damn you! I wish I'd let you stay inside her mind until you rotted!"

There's not time to sort this out. Powell has been called off on yet another emergency. One of his leads, a man named Hassop who is a high-ranking administrator in Reich's company, has disappeared in Spacetown. Spacetown is an enormous combination theme park and health resort and retirement community built on a large asteroid near Jupiter. Reich sent Hassop out to Spacetown ("on vacation") with a spool of film in his luggage containing Monarch's secret books.

Powell has figured out the Means Reich used to kill D'Courtney and his Opportunity, but unless he can prove Motive, Old Mose, the prosecuting computer won't approve filing charges. (Means, Motive and Opportunity, the tripod of investigation familiar to any mystery fan). Hassop is Reich's Code Chief, and Powell believes he has the information which will verify the Motive.

But about the same time as the Rough Tail following Hassop lost him, Reich turns up in Spacetown, following an accident in which his space yacht crashed. A couple of the crew of his yacht were injured and one man killed. That man is Quizzard. Powell guesses that Quizzard had become a liability, and that Reich killed him to keep him quiet, faking the accident to cover it up. Now both Hassop and Reich have dropped off the radar, and Powell realizes that Hassop is likely next of Reich's list.

So Powell wanders through Spacetown, trying to pick up a lead. He finds one at "Ye Wee Kirk O' The Glen", a faithful reproduction of the Notre Dame Cathedral where tourists are able to see animatronic recreations of some of the great events from the history of pretty much every religion you can imagine. "ATTENTION ALL WORSHIPERS. NO LOUD TALKING OR LAUGHING." There he runs into Duffy Wyg&, the cute li'l number who gave Reich the "Tenser/Tensor" jingle, and who also happened to distract Hassop's Tail. She says she didn't know the guy was a cop; Reich just told her to do him a favor. "Go ahead and peep me. If Reich wasn't in the Reservation you could peep that double-crossing --"

That's what Powell needs. Reich is in the Reservation; a domed region on the other side of the asteroid about fifty miles in diameter which has been made into a wildlife preserve. No mechanical devices other than cameras are permitted in the Reservation.
"You hike on your own feet. You carry your own food. You take one Defensive Barrier Screen with you so's the bears don't eat you. If you want a fire you got to build it. If you want to hunt animals, you got to make your own weapons. ... You versus nature. And they make you sign a release in case nature wins."
It's a perfect place for Reich to stage another "accident" for his last loose end. And the only way for Powell to stop him is to search hundreds of square miles on foot. He does this by sending a message through the psychic grapevine and recruiting every esper in Spaceland. Like a living net, Powell's myrmidons spread out through the wilderness until one of the finds Reich and Hassop.

Reich hasn't killed Hassop yet; he's setting up a situation that will look like a hunting accident, when Powell arrives on the scene. (As Reich prepares, he hums "Tenser, said the Tensor" to himself; the jingle has become like a mantra). But Powell wants to try to snatch Hassop without Reich realizing what's happening. To do this, Powell begins telepathically broadcasting on a purely emotional level feelings of terror and fear. He stirs up a stampede of the local wildlife and sends them all thundering at Reich and Hassop's camp, just as Reich is trying to shoot an arrow through his buddy's wishbone. In the confusion, the two hunters are separated, and Powell is able to spirit Hassop away.

Powell finally has all the pieces he needs for his case: Means, Opportunity, and the coded message Hassop has provided him that Reich originally sent to D'Courtney and the victim's response will provide the Motive, as soon as his own staff get through with it. He's even figured out how Reich could shoot D'Courtney in the head without leaving a bullet. He had removed the bullets from the cartridge shells in Church's pawn shop when he bought the gun, and then replaced them with gel capsules containing water. The concussive force of the gun fired in D'Courtney's mouth blew the back of his head out, leaving only small bits of gel as a residue. He has one of the "Visual Purple" knockout devices used to take out the guards. The technicians in the District Attorney's department feed all the data into "Old Mose" for his verdict.

"PASSION MOTIVE FOR CRIME INSUFFICIENTLY DOCUMENTED."

"Passion Motive? ... Is Mose crazy? It's a profit motive," Powell says. His partner explains that sometimes the computer gets "kittenish." They re-run the data, making sure to emphasize that the motive in this case is profit; but still the computer says "INSUFFICIENTLY DOCUMENTED."

Ah, but that's because the coded message hasn't been verified yet. The codebreakers are still working on the message. "Assuming that our merger evidnece is unassailable (which it is) what does Mose think of the case?"

This time the Mosaic Multiplex Computer likes it better. "ACCEPTING ASSUMPTION, PROBABILITY OF SUCCESSFUL PROSECUTION 97.0099%"

Then the codebreakers come in with the bad news.

Reich sent a message to D'Courtney requesting a merger of their companies. D'Courtney's refusal of that merger was Reich's motive for killing him. Except that D'Courtney didn't refuse. His reply was "WWHG." "That reads: ACCEPT OFFER."

"We busted it," the codebreakers tell him, "and now you're busted, Powell. The whole case is busted."


NEXT:  Reich has won! He has beaten the rap! But who then is trying to kill him? Could it be The Man With No Face?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jules Verne




The story goes that when Jules Verne was about eleven years old, he ran away to become a cabin boy on board a sailing ship. His father found out about it and was able to intercept the ship at it's next port and dragged little Jules home. Jules vowed to his father "From now on, I will travel only in my imagination."

He did not keep the vow exactly, because as an adult he actually did a great deal of traveling; but it is the extraordinary voyages of his imagination which earned him the title "Father of Science Fiction."

Verne was born in Nantes, France in 1828, the son of a sober, methodical attorney. When he was a young man, Jules was sent by his father to Paris to study Law, but young Jules slacked off on his studies and wrote theatrical libretti on the side. He made the acquaintance of some of the leading lights of French literature, including Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo and the scandalous George Sands.

When Pierre Verne found out about his son's theatrical dabbling, he cut off Jules' funding, forcing him to take a job as a stockbroker to support himself. Verne married about this time, and his wife, Honore, encouraged his writing. There's a story that he once threw a manuscript he was working on into the fireplace in frustration. Honore rescued it and persuaded him to finish it.

He sent the manuscript to a publisher named Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who saw possibilities in Verne's scientific speculation about the feasibility of exploring the African continent via balloon. He suggested that Verne re-work the idea as an adventure story, and the result, Cinq semaines en ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon), marked a turning point in Verne's career.

About this time, Hetzel was publishing a magazine titled Le Magasin d'éducation et de récréation ("Education and Entertainment Magazine"). He recognized that Verne's blending of science and story was a perfect fit, and contracted him to write two novels per year which were serialized in the magazine under the overall title of "Voyages Extraordinaires". He also gave Verne advice about his writing, acting as a mentor and helping him to shape it to better appeal to the audience. The sense of technological optimism that pervades many of Verne's novels was an editorial mandate from Hetzel. One early novel, "Paris au XXe siècle" (Paris in the Twentieth Century), was rejected by Hetzel for being too downbeat and was not published until nearly a century after Verne's death.

The early novels Verne wrote for Hetzel include some of his most famous ones: A Journey to the Center of the Earth; From the Earth to the Moon; and what is arguably his most popular work, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Although best remembered today as a prophet of science and for the incredible inventions such as the Nautilus from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea or the Columbiad from the novel From the Earth to the Moon, the common theme of all his books was travel; journeys to distant and remarkable places. He might employ a hot-air balloon or a steam-powered mechanical elephant to get there, but the travel was the important part. Many of his novels, such as Michael Strogoff, a suspensful adventure of a courier traveling across Siberia, have no steampunk in them at all.

His work for Hetzel gave him financial stability, but his stage adaptation of his novel Around the World in 80 Days made him wealthy. His success enabled him to buy a small yacht, the Saint-Michel, where he did much of his writing. He received a knighthood in the French Légion d'honneur.

In 1886, while walking home one day, his nephew Gaston met him with a gun and shot him in the leg. It was said that the young man suffered from a persecution complex and the family bundled him off to an asylum. The wound left Verne partially crippled for the rest of his life and he was forced to give up sailing. Shortly afterwards both his mother and Hetzel, his mentor died. His works took on a more somber note.

No longer able to sail, Verne developed an interest in local politics. He was elected town councilor of Amiens, the city in which he lived; a position he held for the next fifteen years.

He continued writing until his death in 1905 of complications from diabetes. at the age of 77. He left several unfinished manuscripts which his son Michel published, sometimes drastically revising them.

Verne lived during a century of rapid technological change and we often think of him primarily as a Prophet of Science; but his lifetime also saw tremendous political upheavals as well. Many of his works have deep political themes which tend to be overlooked, partially because his chief English translator, Mercier Lewis, tended to cut those parts out of his translations, and partially because we in America know little of our own history, let alone the history of France.

Jules Verne was born during the Bourbon Restoration. The Emperor Napoleon had been finally defeated about 14 years earlier and a King of the old Bourbon dynasty, Louis XVIII, the younger brother of Louis XVI, had been placed on the throne with the clear understanding that the French Revolution Would Not Happen Again. But revolution is a genie that cannot be easily put back into the bottle. Louis XVIII established a constitution which preserved some of the liberties won in the Revolution, and set up a parliament. but only the wealthiest of men were permitted to vote.

The Restoration lasted only until 1830, when street protests led by students and working men who barricaded the streets of Paris led to the deposition of the Bourbon king, Charles X, and his replacement with Louis-Phillipe, the "Citizen-King". Louis-Phillipe was a constitutional monarch, unlike the Bourbons who considered their power absolute. He was backed by the haute bourgeoisie; bankers, financiers and industrialist, who although technically commoners, had greater influence than the aristocracy due to their enormous wealth. This early Occupy Paris movement wound up putting one of the 1% in power, although he was undoubtedly considered a better choice than the old aristocracy.

During this period, the Romantic Movement in French literature was in flower, and writers like Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, who became friends with Verne and were a big influence on him, were in their prime. But Louis-Phillipe's reign was a troubled one, having to deal with worker's revolts on the one side and disgruntled monarchists seeking to overthrow him on the other. Louis-Phillipe responded with increased oppression of his political enemies and by banning political meetings. It was against this background of creative flowering and political suppression that Verne worked as a stock broker by day and a struggling librettist by night.

Things came to a head in 1848, the year of revolutions in which virtually every nation in Europe faced political uprisings of some sort or other. Louis-Phillipe was forced out and replaced by the Second Republic. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew and heir of the late Emperor, was elected president; mostly by promising low taxes and being vague about what his actual policies would be. His administration on the whole was a conservative one which saw an increase in industry and a robust, but less successful, foreign policy. When his term of office expired, he had himself declared president-for-life, and and took the title Emperor Napoleon III.

Napoleon III is probably best known for getting suckered into declaring war on Prussia. During the war, Verne and his yacht were drafted into the coast guards. One of the books he wrote while patrolling the Bay of the Somme, Measuring a Meridian, has as its theme the folly of war and nationalism. It's about an international group of scientists performing a survey in Africa when they learn that their countries have declared war. Verne was privately pessimistic about how the Franco-Prussian War would turn out. He was right. France got its butt kicked and was forced to pay Prussia humiliating reparations. In Verne's early novels, you occasionally see a sympathetic, even a heroic, German. After the Franco-Prussian War, all the Germans are bad guys.

Following France's defeat, a new National Assembly was convened which established the Third Republic in 1871. This new government had to deal with more civil unrest and workers' rebellions. The National Guard in Paris revolted against the government, set up barricades in the streets once more, and declared The Paris Commune. It took months of bloody fighting in the streets to crush the revolt.

(You've perhaps heard the joke that Paris has wide tree-lined boulevards so that the German army can march in the shade? The truth of the matter is, that the famous broad boulevards of Paris were built so that Revolutionaries couldn't easily barricade them any more.)

In the late 1890s, France was rocked by the Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish officer in the French Army was accused of passing secrets to the Germans. Like much of France, Verne got caught up in the anti-Dreyfus hysteria; but as evidence eventually came to light of Dreyfus's innocence and of the Army's cover-up of the true culprit he supported a judicial review of the case. His 1896 novel Facing the Flag, about a bitter scientist wishing to sell his discovery to the highest bidder, is thought to contain echoes of the Dreyfus Affair.

The turbulent political period Verne lived through might explain the respectable, conservative middle-class aspect of his public life. When he served as town councilor of Amiens, even though he ran as a progressive and pushed for civic improvements, he also cautioned women to beware the perils of feminism. He was the model of bourgeois respectability. But he did not forget the wild romantic friends of his youth, and in his writings he tends to sympathize with the outcasts and the rebels, like Captain Nemo.

Verne's views of colonialism are also a bit difficult for the modern reader to untangle. His stories of travels to exotic lands often brings his characters in contact with the natives of those lands. On the one hand, he often reflects the idealistic 18th Century notion of the "noble savage" living in a state of nature; on the other hand, he also betrays the mindset that primitive people are barbarians in need of the White Man's Civilization. And sometimes both views can be found in the same paragraph.

Although I think Verne's intentions were noble regarding race, it's also telling that the black characters in his novels tend to be virtuous but subservient, such as Neb from The Mysterious Island, or stock comedic figures, such as the cowardly Frycollin from Robur the Conqueror. He never created any black characters as strong or as compelling as those of H. Rider Haggard; who, although a champion of colonialism, had lived in Africa and had personal experience with and a respect for its people.

Perhaps the last word on Verne's politics should go to one of his final novels, The Survivors of the "Johnathan". The main character, a recluse calling himself Kaw-djer , is an anarchist and a pacifist whose motto is "Neither God nor master", living on a small island near Tierra del Fuego. When a shipload of colonists is wrecked on a nearby island he finds that he is the only one competent enough to help them survive. Unwillingly, the man who does not believe in authority finds himself compelled to take on a leadership role. And when gold is discovered on the island and outsiders try to seize it, he winds up leading his unasked-for community in war. Although Verne shows Kaw-djer's personal anarchism to be unworkable in a practical setting, he nevertheless portrays the man and his beliefs in a sympathetic manner.

Over his span of over fifty novels, Verne led his readers through some extraordinary journeys through not only geography, but through science and political thought as well.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Demolished Man part 3: Girl Hunt

Continuing our look at Alfred Bester's SF crime novel, The Demolished Man.

He's done it. The die is cast. Mega-millionaire Ben Reich has murdered his arch-rival, Craye D'Courtney; theoretically an impossible crime in a world where telepaths exist in most levels of society. The police have set their best detective on the case, Lincoln Powell, a 1st Class esper. Powell knows that Reich is guilty, but he will have a hard time proving it. Reich has covered all his bases. There's only one loose end. There was this girl...

Lincoln Powell meets with his staff. He is certain that Reich is guilty of D'Courtney's murder, but he needs to prove it. Esper testimony is inadmissible in court without the subject's consent. He needs to build a case that will satisfy the Mosaic Multiplex Prosecution Computer ("Old Man Mose" as Powell and his staff call it, or "that confounded adding machine" as the Police Commissioner prefers), the computer that serves as grand jury.

The Commissioner is a little leery of going after someone as powerful as Reich. He's rich and he has connections. He also once contributed to the Commissioner's campaign for District Attorney once. Powell wants to go all out to nail Reich and wants to know if the Commissioner will back him. When pressed, he says he will; but Powell notes: "But with strong reservations... He's scared to death of Reich... so am I."

Powell plans a full scale blitz on two levels:
"...we're going to pull the Rough & Smooth on Reich. You know the method. We'll assign a clumsy operative and a slick one to every subject. The cluck won't know the smoothie is on the job. Neither will the subject. After he's shaken the Rough Tail he'll imagine he's clear."
He outlines several lines of investigation: the party game that gave Reich the opportunity; the annoying jingle that kept low-level espers from sensing his murderous intent; the "Visual Purple Ionizer" which knocked out the guards; the business relationship between Reich and D'Courtney...

Then there's the girl. Craye D'Courtney's daughter, Barbara, was also at the Beaumont mansion that night and fled. She undoubtedly witnessed the murder. Powell needs to find that girl and promises a promotion of five grades in rank to the officer who finds her. Normally regulations forbid elevation of more than three ranks at a time; "To hell with Regulations... I've got to get that girl."

Powell also visits the Esper Guild Institute, headquarters of the Esper Guild where young and recently-identified Espers are trained to develop their telepathic talents. We get a couple glimpses of the screening process for potential espers, a classroom full of beginners ("Think, class. Think. Words are not necessary. Think. Remember to break the speech relfex. Repeat the first rule after me..."), and another classroom where more advanced students are practicing weaving threads of thought into simple patterns. Powell pauses to read the Esper Pledge, engraved on a golden plaque on the wall: a formal oath, modeled after the Hippocratic Oath. Powell, we have seen, takes this oath very seriously. Some other espers we have seen, not so much.

Powell's purpose is to speak with the T'Sung H'sai, President of the Guild, who is in the process of dictating an angry letter to the League of Esper Patriots, a splinter group within the Guild which seeks to reduce the Guild's taxes and eliminate its education programs in order to maintain their own power and position in society. You might call them the "One Percent." T'sung calls them "a gang of selfish, self-seeking reactionaries."

As he shouts at his secretary, T'sung engages in telepathic small talk with Powell, ("...have you found the peeper of your dreams yet?" "Not yet, sir.") before referring him to another staff member. Powell wants to send a message through the esper grapevine. He gives her a photo and official police description of Barbara D'Courtney and promises that the esper who locates her will have his Guild taxes remitted for a year. Since the Esper Guild levys a 90% tax on its members, (one reason why the League of Esper Patriots makes such a big stink about it), this is a big deal. Powell is important enough in the Guild that he thinks he can persuade the Guild Council to approve the reward.

Meanwhile, Ben Reich has been working on his own plans. He contacts Jerry Church, the disgraced esper who was booted out of the Guild for participating in an underhanded scheme with Reich some years before, and who gave Reich the weapon he used to kill D'Courtney. Now Reich promises to get Jerry reinstated in the Guild in return for his services. For some time now, Reich has been bankrolling the League of Esper Patriots and believes they'll do what he wants. He also tells Jerry to set up a meeting with Keno Quizzard.
Earlier I have described the world of The Demolished Man as "a crime-free society." That of course is an overstatement. Premeditated murder is virtually unknown, but there are all sorts of crime and vice. Keno Quizzard, the blind croupier of Quizzard's Casino deals in many of them. Reich hires Quizzard to find Barbara D'Courtney.
"Check every bawdy house, bagnio, Blind Tiger, and frab-joint in the city. Pass the word down the grapevine. I'm willing to pay. I don't want any fuss. I just want the girl Understand?"
Here's another place where Bester excels. Slang drips from his characters' dialogue in musical cascades; sometimes incomprehensible, and yet the sense comes through. I think he does a better job at imagining a future dialect than Heinlein does in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The slang, the jargon, the idioms and catchphrases in Bester's work just flow better and each one carries with it a glimpse of one facet of the culture. At his best, Heinlein does this too; but here Bester immerses us in his world.

The next week becomes a chess game between Powell and Reich. We witness it through the memos Gus Tate, Reich's esper accomplice, sends to him, and the memos Powell sends to his staff. The police seem to be following blind alleys, but Reich isn't taking any chances.

Reich sets up a couple more schemes to find the D'Courtney girl. He tells the advertising staff promoting a new Jumper his company is selling he wants a girl to be the product's spokesmodel. He describes the type girl that would make the idea model -- coincidentally just like the D'Courtney girl -- and tells his staff to find her. Elsewhere he announces the funding of a new string of homeless shelters. Ostensibly a public relations gimmick, these shelters are the type of place where the girl might turn up. And so he also instructs his director of corporate espionage to have photos taken of everyone who comes to the shelter.

He also arranges for Wilson Jordan, the technician who developed the Rhodopsin Ionizer Reich used to knock out the guards, to "inherit" an estate on Callisto. When the police come to interview him, he is already gone.

Move and counter-move; step and counter-step; Reich and Powell play their game of cat and mouse. All the while, both men are furiously trying to find the girl who witnessed the crime.

She turns up in the establishment of Chooka Frood, the landlady of a labyrinthine warehouse catering to all manners of vice, who runs a fortune-telling racket on the side. A low-rent con artist staying at Chooka's place spots the girl and doesn't think anything of it; but the information in his mind is peeped, first by Jerry Church, when the guy comes to his pawn shop begging for cash, and then by an esper security man at the bank where he tries to pull an unsuccessful con. Both Reich and Powell receive the information at nearly the same time. Now it becomes a race to get the girl.

Chooka's Rainbow House was at one time a ceramics factory before it was bombed during a war the previous century. The bombing caused the various glazes, metals, glasses and plastics in the factory to become fused to the basement walls, resulting in a psychedelic riot of color. This is where Chooka stages her fortune-telling act, and this is where Powell goes first.

He is unimpressed by Chooka's act, until he realizes that she is also a peeper; an untrained one who never joined the Guild. That any esper would deliberately avoid joining the Esper Community frankly boggles Powell, but he doesn't have time to chat about it. Peeping her mind and those of her customers, he sees that Chooka has been using the D'Courtney girl in her act; and that the girl is presently upstairs.

Reich is just entering the building. Quizzard was supposed to meet him. He hears Chooka screaming "Get out of here, you goddam cop!" from downstairs and realizes he has to hurry. Audacity, Bravery and Confidence. He has a head start on Powell and gets to the upper level of the building first, the labyrinth of rooms Chooka lets out and where she has her own residence. He finds the room where the D'Courtney girl was staying, but the girl is not there. He does find the murder weapon she ran off with the night of the fatal party.

He finds a small chamber with a crystal floor overlooking the lower level, the level between the cellar and the labyrinth, occupied by Chooka's other business, the bordello. This is a Voyeur Chamber, and though the transparent floor, Reich can see a boudoir beneath where Quizzard sits fondling the D'Courtney girl on his lap. But the girl stares blankly, seemingly oblivious to what is going on.
Reich is carrying a scrambler, a neural weapon he seized from Chooka's bodyguard on the way in. He now aims it at Quizzard.

Which is when Powell bursts on the scene. Powell knocks out Quizzard and the other woman in the room with a psychic blast.
There was no doubt that Powell had accomplished this on a TP level, and for the first time in their war, Reich was afraid of Powell ... physically afraid. Again he aimed the scrambler, this time at Powell's head as the peeper walked to the chair.
Then something unexpected happens. Powell asks if the girl needs any help. At the word "help", the girl seems to come awake. She darts around, and then starts screaming, "Father! ... For God's sake! Father!"
Reich realizes that the girl is reliving -- and re-enacting -- the night of her father's murder. She collapses in a heap and Powell picks her up. There they are, the cop who wants to catch him and the witness who can incriminate him, beneath him like sitting ducks. They can't see him; they don't know 'there. He has the scrambler at its most lethal setting. All he has to do is pull the trigger...

Powell looks up. "Go ahead," Powell called. "Here we are. An easy shot. One for the both of us. Go ahead!"

Reich doesn't. And Powell takes the docile girl out of the building.

Reich is halfway to Demolition.


NEXT:  Powell has his witness, but can she testify? The @kins Method; Powell needs a chaperone, and sets a trap. Like Yogi Berra said, it's Déjà Èprouvé all over again!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Demolished Man part 2: Party Games

Last week we met Ben Reich, a man who has everything except peace of mind; a man tormented by dreams of a Faceless Man and bedeviled by a business rival, Craye D'Courtney. Reich has come to the conclusion that his rival must die. But how can he kill his enemy in a world where telepaths are present in every level of society and where there hasn't been a successful murder in nearly a century?

Reich has persuaded another esper, a 1st Class named Gus Tate, to act as his accomplice, gathering information and running interference against other mind-readers. The Esper Guild has a very strict ethical code, and if Tate's role in the crime is discovered, it will ruin him; but Tate is also very, very greedy. Tate has picked up information about D'Courtney at a cocktail party hosted by Lincoln Powell, another prominent 1st Class who is a high-ranking police detective.

D'Courtney is on his way from Mars and will be arriving on Earth in a couple days. He will be staying secretly for one night at the townhouse of Maria Beaumont, a high society type known for her lavish and lascivious parties. Tate doesn't know D'Courtney's plans, other than that he seems to be planning some drastic action.

"Against me!" Reich growls. He has already sent a coded peace offering, suggesting a merger between the two companies, but the offer was rejected.

So Reich works on plans of his own. He recalls seeing an antique old-fashioned book, the kind with pages that they used to read in the old days, of party games in a fancy shop. He goes to the shop in order to purchase a gift "for a friend I've neglected." He pretends to come across the book he wants by chance and purchases it.

He then takes it home and systematically vandalizes each and every page except one, with burns, stains, scissors, etc.; so that only one game in the entire book is completely readable: the game that fits with his plan. As he mutilates the book, he fantasizes about doing the same to D'Courtney. Yes, he is one sick puppy. He has the book gift-wrapped and sent to Maria. The plan is that Maria will then play the legible party game at one of her soirees, and Reich will use that as cover for his murder. Which always seemed to me like a rather improbable plan, but as it turns out, it works.

Her reply comes quickly:
"Darling! Darling! I thot you'd forgotten little ol sexy me. How 2 divine. Come to Beaumont House tonite. We're having a party. We'll play games from your sweet gifft."
Yes, Bester also predicted netspeak, although I suppose a version of it was current in the advertising of his day. Reich begs off on tonight, but says he can come on Wednesday, the day he knows D'Courtney will be there.

He picks up a useful gadget from his company's R&D department, a Rhodopsin Ionizer, "visual knockout capsules" which flash a frequency of light which not only blinds the subject but abolishes the subject's sense of time and space, rendering him unconscious.

Next Reich visits Duffy Wyg&, a girl he knows who works as a songwriter and who had written some effective propaganda jingles to help break a strike at his company some time back. (That was not a typo; several of the characters have typographic puns in their names; just pronounce it "Duffy Wygand." She's a clever girl, and Reich considers her "the epitome of the modern career girl -- the virgin seductress. She flirts with Reich relentlessly as he commissions another behavior-modifying jingle before he casually shifts the subject to the real purpose of his visit. He asks her what was the most persistent song she's ever written, the kind of song you just can't get out of your head.
"Oh. Pepsis, we call 'em." 
"Why?" 
"Dunno. They say the first one was written centuries ago by a character named Pepsi."
She tells him about a theme song she wrote for a flop sitcom about a wacky mathematician. (Gee, sounds like comedy gold to me!). The song was so annoying, that the show was cancelled just because of the crazy theme. The song is titled "Tenser said the Tensor" and at his urging and despite her warning, she plays it for him. She's right; it's a stupid, monotonous little earworm, "Guaranteed to obsess you for a month. It haunted me for a year."

Last of all, Reich needs a weapon; and for that he goes to a pawn shop run by Jerry Church, a 2nd Class Esper who once worked for him and whom Riech once talked into helping with a shady deal. Church was caught breaking the Esper Code and booted out of the Esper Guild. Now he is an exile, ostracized by his own kind and forced to interact with other humans solely through spoken words and unable to share another esper's thoughts. He is a bitter and broken man, and he hates Reich. But he sells Reich a gun. Firearms are practically unknown in this society. Since espers have made murder all but impossible, guns have ceased to be an effective means of violence. (You may argue whether this is believable or not; the story establishes it as a given). Reich buys a small pistol from Church, a collapsible gadget, easily concealable and with a built-in stiletto. He tells Church that he wants it as a gift for Gus Tate. The mental static from the jingle running through Reich's brain ("Tenser, said the tensor...") prevents Church from reading exactly what his true intentions are.

Madame Maria Beaumont lives in a lavish mansion modeled after the old Pennsylvania Station in New York City. Her "thousand most intimate enemies" know her as "the Gilt Corpse." That's how Reich thinks of her: "...the painted figurehead of a pornographic ship." This hedonistic hostess is known for her sybaritic parties and for the nude portraits of herself that she gives to friends.

Reich comes to the Wednesday night party, accompanied by Tate. As a rule, Maria does not invited espers to her parties, but Reich's invitation is for himself and a guest. I suspect that this lack of espers is the reason why D'Courtney is staying at her place; for the privacy. Maria does employ a couple esper secretaries, who are welcoming and screening the guests. "Your murder's showing," Tate warns Reich as they approach. Reich had been letting his thoughts wander to his plans. He switches to thinking about the jingle: ("Eight, sir; seven sir...").

He schmoozes a bit with Maria under the ever-changing lights of the hall. Many of the guests are wearing clothing with ultraviolet panels which turn transparent under UV light. Reich isn't. He doesn't seem to have a huge interest in sex and a certain disdain for those who do; as with Miss Wyg&, he keeps his relationship with Maria strictly on the level of insincere banter.

One of the secretaries informs Maria of a gate-crasher: a young man named Chervil who has snuck in on a bet. He's cute, and Maria considers letting him stay and having some fun with him.

Tate is worried. Chervil is a 2nd Class esper and their plan depends on no one being able to read Reich's mind. "Reich, I can block the social secretaries. They're only 3rds. But I can't guarantee to handle them and a 2nd too ... even if he is only a kid. He's young. He may be too nervous to do any clever peeping. But I can't promise."

Reich refuses to back down. This may be his only chance to kill D'Courtney. He trusts to the principles outlined by his ancestor's murder file: "Be audacious; be brave; be confident." Reich goes directly to Chervil; he tells the boy he's been discovered and warns that he'd better leave right away. Preoccupied by his own illicit activities and distracted by the damn pepsi running through Reich's head, ("Tension, apprehension...") Chervil gratefully follows Reich's advice. Maria is miffed with him when she discovers Reich has frightened off her new chew toy, but the plan can proceed.

Tate has located where in the mansion D'Courtney is hiding and identified the security: two bodyguards. "@kins was right. He's dangerously sick." But Reich remains undeterred. The games are starting, and as promised, Maria has announced the game he maneuvered her into selecting: "Sardine", a type of hide-and-seek played in the dark. (Of course, Maria has to include a kinky twist of her own; she strips as the lights go out and she tells her guests to get naked). The only thing that matters to Reich is that for the next half hour or so the entire house will be dark and he'll be able to slip out of the party without being seen.

Following Tate's directions, he finds the suite where D'Courtney is spending the night. He uses the Rodopsin Ionizer to incapacitate the bodyguards and enters the room.

He has never seen D'Courtney before. The man is old. He is withered and decrepit. For a moment Reich has the horrible suspicion that the man might already be dead and that he has been cheated of his murder. D'Courtney can barely speak, but incredibly he seems happy to see Reich and even attempts to hug him. He seems genuinely bewildered by Reich's hostile reaction.
"You know why I'm here. What are you trying to do? Make love to me?" Reich laughed. "You crafty old pimp. Am I supposed to turn soft for your chewing?" His hand lashed out. The old man reeled back from the slap into an orchid chair that looked like a wound. 
... 
"... Last week I gave you one last chance to wash in decency. Me. Ben Reich. I asked for armistice. Begged for peace. Merger. I begged like a screaming woman. My father would spit on me if he were alive. Every fighting Reich would blacken my face with contempt. But I asked for peace, didn't I? Eh? Didn't I" Reich prodded D'Courtney savagely. "Answer me." 
D'Cournety's face was blanched and staring. Finally he whispered: "Yes. You asked ... I accepted."
Bester suckered us. When Reich sent the merger offer to D'Courtney back in chapter one, we got to see a page from the code book he used; and like most readers, I'm sure, when I first read that part I skimmed over the code. Later on, Reich received the coded reply, WWHG and took Reich's word that it meant "Offer rejected." Riech was wrong; D'Courtney had accepted the offer and had come to Earth to cement the peace negotiations.

Reich won't believe it. "Liar. Clumsy old liar." He pulls out the weapon and shoves it into the old man's mouth to kill him.

And that's when the girl comes in.

Reich thought D'Courtney would be alone. Even Tate thought he'd be alone. Neither one suspected that the old man was travelling with his daughter. She struggles with him. He shoots and kills D'Courtney, but the girl manages to grab his weapon and runs off with it.

He doesn't have time to chase her. Reich returns to the party in time to catch the end of the game. The lights come back on and Reich, as the only one not "tagged" in the game, is the loser. He's a good sport about it, because he wasn't playing the stupid game anyway; (although Maria scolds him for not stripping naked like everyone else). Then Maria notices the blood on his sleeve, and screams.

Lincoln Powell, Prefect of the Psychotic Crimes Division and 1st Class Esper is summoned to the Beaumont mansion. The regular police are already there and they've quickly realized that they're dealing with a Triple-A Felony, a crime which hasn't been successfully committed in nearly a century. The police inspector on the scene, a 2nd Class esper named Jackson Beck, mentally fills him in, and they agree to do a Good Cop/Bad Cop routine on the assembled guests.

He meets a late arrival: a 2nd Class esper attorney named Jo 1/4maine (geddit? Quarter-maine? Sheesh, you guys are squares.). 1/4maine has been summoned by his client, Ben Reich. Powell finds this suspicious, but there's nothing illegal about it. Under the law, evidence obtained through mind-reading is inadmissible in court unless the subject agrees to be read. 1/4maine is here to protect his client and make sure the police espers don't overstep their authority. Powell questions Reich under 1/4maine's supervision and finds he likes the guy. Reich has a natural charisma and charm. It doesn't stop him from suspecting Reich, though.

Powell sets up a little psycho-drama for the benefit of the assembled suspects. He tries to persuade the innocent guests to volunteer to be peeped in order to identify the not-so-innocent by elimination. Unfortunately, if they were innocent, they wouldn't be attending parties thrown by Maria Beaumont; they all have secrets to hide and all refuse to be scanned. But the farce does distract people enough to allow Powell to peep a few unguarded thoughts from Reich. It's not evidence he can use in court, but he is morally certain now that Reich is his killer.

Powell has another conversation with Reich; this one private without his lawyer. Without either of them admitting anything, the two men lay their cards on the table.
"You're two men, Reich. One of them's fine; and the other's rotten. If you were all killer, it wouldn't be so bad. But there's half louse and half saint in you and that makes it worse." 
"I knew it was going to be bad when you winked," Riech grinned. "You're really tricky, Powell. You really scare me. I never can tell when the punch is coming or which way to duck." 
"Then for God's sake stop ducking and get it over with," Powell said. His voice burned. His eyes burned. Once again he terrified Reich with his intensity. "I'm going to lick you on this one, Ben. I'm going to strangle the lousy killer in you, because I admire the saint. This is the beginning of the end, for you. You know it. Why don't you make it easier for yourself?" 
For an instant, Reich wavered on the verge of surrender. Then he mustered himself to meet the attack. "And give up the best fight of my life? No. Never in a million years, Linc. We're going to slug this out straight down to the finish."
The two men shake hands grimly.
"I lost a great partner in you," Riech said. 
"You lost a great man in yourself, Ben." 
"Enemies?" 
"Enemies." 
It was the beginning of Demolition.

NEXT: The game of cat and mouse begins. Powell knows Reich is guilty, but can he prove it? Can Reich stay one step ahead of the combined forces of the police and the Espers Guild? And what happened to D'Courtney's daughter?

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Anatomy of Cynicism and Despair when a Celebrity dies.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman died of what seems to have been a heroin overdose.
Amy Winehouse died of alcohol intoxication after weeks of being dry.
Ryan Dunn crashed his car going wildly over the limit while being completely drunk.

These stars, a.k.a. people died, and left behind both fans, and family and friends who will miss them.  But in every corner of the internet where people pay homage to the life lost, outside of the addictions, people remark how foolish the addicted persons were.

Cynicism credits no honor, no value outside of money or gain.   Cynicism and despair allow a person to look at a tremendous loss and, remarkably, instead of feeling sad for the loss, get angry. Many of the complaining people are former fans, now left with only memories.    And the feeling they having is "How dare this person do things that made them die".  

If you read this and feel inspired to bitch about my commentary, answer me if what I am saying isn't true.   You cannot feel sympathy for the loss because it would make you have to realize that your stars are human, and whatever level of talent they had/have, they saw the need to use drugs or alcohol to quiet their demons.   The demons won.     No one is saying a proper commentary wouldn't include discussion of the demons that afflict and addict, but if you are the sort who reserves all kindness and sympathy because they suffered the Scarlet Letter of addiction, perhaps you need to look inside your heart and ask if you are an asshole.   (And for the cynics demanding to know if I am an apologist because I myself am addicted,  no, I am not addicted to anything outside of caffeine. )

Cynicism is a disease.
Despair makes us unable to respond to sorrow.