The Brain, p.1Alexander Blade
Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
By Alexander Blade
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories October1948. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Repairs had to be made in great haste, at night, whileThe Brain's machines slept]
[Sidenote: America's greatest weapon, greater than the Atom Bomb, wasits new, gigantic mechanical brain. It filled a whole mountain--and thenit came to life...!]
Cautiously the young flight engineer stretched his cramped legs acrosssome gadgets in his crowded little compartment. Leaning back in hisswivel chair he folded a pair of freckled hands behind his neck andsmiled at Lee.
"This is it doctor; we're almost there."
The tall and lanky man at the frame of the door didn't seem tounderstand. Bending forward he peered through the little window near theengineer's desk, into the blue haze of the jets and down to the earthbelow, a vast bowl of desert land gleaming like silver in the glow ofthe sunrise.
"But this couldn't possibly be Washington," he finally said in a puzzledtone. "Why, we crossed the California coast only half an hour ago. Evenat 1200 miles an hour we couldn't be almost there."
The engineer's smile broadened into a friendly grin: "No, we're notanywhere near Washington. But in a couple of minutes you'll see Cephalonand that's as far as we go. One professor and 15 tons of termites to beflown from Wallabawalla Mission station, Northern Territory, Australia,to Cephalon, Arizona, U.S.A., one way direct. Those are ourinstructions. Say, this is the queerest cargo I've ever flown, doctor,if you don't mind my saying so."
Lee blinked. Removing his glasses which were fairly thick, he wiped themcarefully and put them on again as if to get a clearer picture of anunexpected situation. His long fingered hand went through his greyinghair and then down the cheek which was sallow, stained with the atabrinefrom his latest malaria attack and badly in need of a shave. His mouthformed a big "O" of surprise as nervously he said:
"I don't get it. I don't understand this business at all. First theDepartment of Agriculture extends an urgent letter of invitation to acompletely forgotten man out there in the Never-Never land. Then almoston the heels of the letter the government sends a plane. I would havebeen glad to mail to the Department samples of "Ant-termes Pacificus"sufficient for most scientific purposes if they needed them forexperiments in termite control; that would have been the simple and thesensible thing to do. But no, they want everything I have; you fellowsdrop out of the sky with a sort of habeas corpus and a whole wreckingcrew. You disturb the lives of my species, which took me ten years tobreed; you pack up their mounds lock, stock and barrel. And then youdrop me at some place I never even heard about--Cephalon. What is thisCephalon, anyway? If the place had any connotations to entomology, Iwould have known about it...."
* * * * *
The flight engineer glanced at the irritated scientist curiously andsympathetically: "If you don't know, I couldn't tell you what it's allabout myself, I'm sure," he said slowly. "Cephalon--Cephalon is a placealright, but it doesn't show on the map. Sort of a Shangri-la, if youknow what I mean."
This cryptic statement failed to have a calming effect on Lee."Nonsense," he frowned. "If it is an inhabited place it must be on themap and if it isn't on the map the place doesn't exist."
"Look here," the flight engineer pointed through the window to thehorizon ahead. "What do you think this is, doctor, a mirage?"
Lee stared at the apparition which swiftly materialized out of theground haze at the plane's supersonic speed. "It _does_ look like amirage," he said judiciously. "Is that Cephalon?"
The engineer nodded. "Prettiest little town in the U. S. for my money.Ideal airport, too. Rather unusual though--I mean the architecture. Takea good look while we're circling around for the come-in signal."
Pretty and unusual were hardly the words for it, Lee thought, as hegazed in admiration. Below, Cephalon spread like a visionary's dream ofa far-away future blended with a far-away past. Along wide, palm shadedavenues the flat-roofed terraced houses fanned out into the desert.Style elements of ancient Peru and Mexico were blended together with thelatest advances of technology, such as the rectangular sheets of waterwhich covered and cooled the roofs. The business center, dotted withhelicopter landing fields on top of the pyramidal buildings, wasreminiscent of the classic Babylon and Nineveh. At the center of theman-made oasis a huge fortress-like structure sprawled and towered likea seven-pointed star. Even so, for all its impressiveness of masonry,the lush green of its parks, the bursts of color from its hanginggardens, made Cephalon resemble one enormous flower bed.
Overawed and mystified the lone passenger from Down-Under took in thescene while the big plane circled with diminished speed. "It'sbeautiful," he murmered. "It's a dream." And louder then: "Pardon me ifI find it hard to trust my senses. I've been away from home for morethan ten years, to be sure. But then, even in the Australian bush I'vereceived some periodicals and scientific journals from the U.S.A. Surelyif a city like this has been built during my absence there should havebeen mention of the fact. And surely a city like this must show on somemap. I don't understand. The longer I look the less I understand...."
The flight engineer shrugged. "It's a new city, maybe that's why itdoesn't show."
Lee nodded. "In that case you must know the meaning of all this. Why didthey build this city in the middle of the desert? What purpose does itserve? Why am I here? Why are we circling for so long? There don't seemto be any other planes up in the air."
"We cannot come in until our cargo has been examined and okayed," theengineer said.
Lee raised a pair of heavy and untidy brows: "Cargo examination? Inmid-air and with nobody from the ground examining it?"
"That's it. It's being done by Radar, one of the new fangled kinds, youknow." He grinned: "I hope, doctor, that your termite species is neitherexplosive nor fissionable in any way. Because in that case we couldnever make a landing in Cephalon."
"How utterly absurd," Lee said disgustedly. "Even a child would knowbetter. There is no war going on--or is there? What makes them take suchabsurd precautions?"
The engineer narrowed his eyes. "You're an American, Dr. Lee, aren'tyou? Well, in any case, I can see no reason why I should be beatingabout the bush. After all, every foreign agent in this country must havelearned by now about the existence of Cephalon. It's too big to besecret anyway. Besides, as you perceive, no attempt has been made tocamouflage the place. Cephalon and the whole district takes up about athousand square miles. It's a military preserve. Only you don't see anyBrass. What they are doing, I wouldn't know, but I would rather try torob all the gold from Fort Knox than get away with a single scrap ofpaper from that Braintrust Building in the center of the city overthere. By the way, that skull shaped building right across the Plaza isthe official hotel reserved for very important persons, such as you arelisted."
* * * * *
A deep-throated buzz over the intercom interrupted him. "There, thankGod, they finally made up their minds to let us in. One minute more andthen a shower, a shave, bacon and eggs, and lots of Java!"
There were what appeared to Lee to be a multitude of people waiting asthey landed. Eager and intelligent white faces all lifted up to him andpressed forward with bewildering offerings and requests. A Western Unionmessenger handed him a telegram in which one Dr. Howard K. Scrivenproffered greetings, expressing a desire to interview him. Some cleancutyoungster, obviously a scientific worker, assured Lee that he was fullyfamiliar with the care and f
There were flowers in his suite, the carpets were deeper, the bathtubwas bigger, the towels piled higher, the breakfast more abundantly richthan anything Lee could remember in the 38 years of his life. "So thisis America in 1960," he thought. "It must have advanced by leaps and bybounds over these past ten years."
He felt embarrassed because he had almost forgotten the uses of allthose comforts, and at the same time deeply moved over the way theyembraced him, him, the lost son, the voluntary exile who once had turnedhis back on them in despair and disgust. But why was all this? He haddone nothing to deserve this kind of hospitality. Entomologists as arule were not transported by magic carpets into Arabian Nights formodest achievements such as the discovery of a new species. All thethings which had happened within the last 24 hours were riddles wrappedup in enigmas. Fatigued as he was he couldn't lie down, he wasdesperately resolved to get at the bottom of this thing.
There came a buzz from the telephone. A soft and melodious contraltovoice announced that its carrier was Dr. Howard K. Scriven's secretaryand would Dr. Lee be good enough to come over to the Braintrust Buildingto meet Dr. Scriven at 9:30 A.M.? Lee said that he would.
* * * * *
The distance across the Plaza was short enough, but as Lee entered thehall of the huge concrete pyramid he was reminded of Washington'sPentagon in wartime, for his progress was halted right from the startand at more than one point. He had to line up at the receptionist's, hewas being checked over the phone, a pass was handed to him, andsomebody, obviously a plain-clothes man, took him to the expresselevator which shot him up to the 40th floor.
There, another plain-clothes man conducted Lee through a long carpetedcorridor and up one flight of stairs to a steel door which slid openautomatically at their approach. Sunlight was flooding through its frameas Lee followed the guard and the door closed noiselessly behind them.
The man from Down-Under took a deep breath. He had not expected this forit was not a stepping in, but rather a stepping out from a vast tombinto the light of day. This was the top of a huge pyramid, and was in anentirely different kind of world.
The terrace was laid with flagstones and landscaped like a luxuriouscountry club. In its middle there arose a penthouse, low and irregularlyshaped like some organic outcropping of native rock. It could hardly besaid that it had walls, overgrown as was the stone by creepers and builtinto the shape of massive pillars. The structure seemed a kind ofStonehenge improved upon by America's late great architect Frank LloydWright. There were birch shade trees around the house, the leaveswhispering in the breeze. From some crevice in the rock came thepeaceful murmurings of a spring. A meandering little brook criss-crossedthe gravel path under Lee's feet. From a stone table which might havebelonged to some Pharaoh there came the only incongruous noise in thisbucolic idyll; it was the nervous ticking of a typewriter, which stoppedabruptly at Lee's approach, and the melodious contralto voice he hadalready heard over the phone greeted him. "Oh--it's Dr. Lee fromCanberra University, isn't it? I'm so happy to meet you. Please, do sitdown. How was your trip? I'm Oona Dahlborg, Dr. Scriven's secretary."
Lee blinked. Out of this world as was this Stone Age cabin in the sky,even more so was the girl. He had a vivid image of American girls asthey had been when he had left the States way back in '49; in fact, hehad an all too vivid memory of at least one of them. His memory had beenrefreshed within the last hour at the airport, at the hotel, at thereceptionist's, and it had been confirmed: they still wore masks insteadof their true faces, they still were overdressed, overloud, oversexed,overhung with trinkets and their voices still resounded shrilly from theroof of their mouths.
This girl Oona Dahlborg was different. He raked his brains to find someconcept which would express how she was different. The word "organic"came to mind; yes, as one looked at her one sensed a unity of being, acreatural whole compared to which those other girls appeared asartificial composites.
She was tall for a girl, the pure Scandinavian type, and she looked likea young Viking with the golden helmet of her hair gleaming in the sun.She wore a tunic, short, sleeveless and of classic simplicity, the kindof dress which once Diana wore. It revealed the splendor of her slenderfigure and stressed the length of her full white limbs. On the black ofthe tunic an antique necklace of large amber beads formed the onlyornament. The bow or the spear of the great huntress whom she resembledso much would have looked more natural in her hands than the typewriter;even so, her every move showed perfect coordination of body and mind, alarge surplus of vital energy carefully controlled. Had she turned tosome different career she might easily have developed into some greatathlete or else a great singer. Her beautiful voice had that rarenatural gift of using the whole thorax for a vessel of resonance insteadof merely the mouth.
* * * * *
It was this voice which fascinated Lee more than the strangeness of thescene, more than her beauty, more even than the things she said. It waslike remembering some haunting melody, it transported him into theforgotten land of his youth. It made him feel happy except that suddenlyhe felt painfully conscious of his ill fitting suit, the emaciation ofhis body, the atabrine stains on the skin of his face, the wildness andthe grey of his hair.
With the shyness of a boy, he accepted first the firm pressure of herhand and then a seat which was another piece of ancient Egyptianfurniture.
"Dr. Scriven will be with you in a few minutes," she said."Unfortunately he is a little delayed by an official visitor fromWashington. The unexpected always happens over here. Meanwhile...."
She suddenly interrupted herself. The searching look of her deep blueeyes startled Lee by its directness. There was in it a depth ofunderstanding and of sympathy which penetrated to his heart. He felt asif she already knew about him and knew everything. It lasted only a fewseconds before she continued, but in a different, a warmer voice:
"I think we can drop the usual conventions," she said. "We know you, Dr.Scriven and I. We know your work as published in the journal ofentomology. It is the work of a man of genius. You are not the kind ofman whom I must entertain with the usual small talk about the weather,how you have enjoyed your trip, or whether you feel very tired--as youprobably do--and all the rest of it. That is routine with most of ourvisitors; it's quite a relief to feel that I can dispense with it foronce."
Lee had blushed under this frankness of compliment as if a decorationhad been pinned to his breast. "Thank you, Miss Dahlberg, you put me atmy ease. I've been out in the wilderness for so long that I've lost thelanguage of the social amenities. I really feel like another Rip vanWinkle. All this," he made a sweeping gesture, "is tremendously new andsurprising to me. There are so many burning questions to ask...."
The girl gave him a smile of sympathy. "Of course," she said, "and I canimagine some of them. To begin with, we owe you an explanation and anapology for having used the methods of deception in getting you here. Asyou probably know by now the work we're doing here is closely connectedwith the National defense. Whether we like it or not, military secrecyforces us to use roundabout ways in con
The sincerity in these regrets was such that Lee hastened to reply: "Youdon't owe me any apology, Miss Dahlborg," he reassured her. "Naturallyit is impossible for me to see any connection between my work with antsand termites and the problems of National Defense. But I am an American;I wouldn't doubt for a moment the legitimacy of your call." The girlnodded: "Besides you have fought for your country in the second worldwar," she added. "And also you are the son of General Jefferson Lee ofthe Marines. You understand of course that we had you investigatedbefore calling you here; do you mind very much?"
* * * * *
Again Lee blushed; this time even deeper than before. He squirmed in hisseat. "No, I guess not. I suppose it's necessary. Now that I'm going tomeet Dr. Scriven, who is he? I probably ought to know--forgive myignorance."
"You really don't know about him?" The girl sounded surprised. "He's asurgeon. He's considered the foremost living brain-specialist. Rememberthe Nuremberg trials of the Nazi war criminals? Dr. Scriven did thepost-mortems on their brains. He wrote a book that made him famous."
"Of course," Lee slapped his forehead. "Yes, but of course, how could Iforget."
"Yes," she answered, "He was made the head of the Braintrust over here."
"What is the Braintrust? What does it do? What am I supposed to dohere?" Lee asked eagerly.
The girl's smile was mysterious: "I think Howard would like to explainall that to you in his own way."
"Howard". The word struck Lee like a vicious little snake. Was he afriend, or more than a friend to her? "This is terrible," he thought,"I've been away from normal life for overlong. Must be that I'memotionally unbalanced. I haven't known her for five minutes. There isnothing between us. I've no earthly right to be jealous; it is absurd,it's mean."
He felt deeply ashamed. Yet as he looked at her he couldn't deny thetruth before himself: that he _was_ jealous, that he _had_ fallen inlove with a girl who looked like the goddess Diana with a golden helmetfor hair.
There was a noise of footsteps on the gravel paths. A man with aportfolio under his arm walked briskly by the stonetable; despite hiscivilian clothes he had "Westpoint" written all over him. He disappearedthrough the steel door.
"That was General Vandergeest", Oona said. "Dr. Scriven will see younow; just walk in, Dr. Lee."
The Brain by Alexander Blade / Science Fiction have rating 2.9 out of 5 / Based on38 votes