Night chills, p.14
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       Night Chills, p.14
 

           Dean Koontz
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  However, because he hadn’t perceived something which had registered with the general in mere seconds, Salsbury felt uneasy. For almost two years now, day and night, he had been telling himself that he must be quicker, sharper, more cunning, and more forward-thinking than either of his partners—if he was to keep his partners from eventually putting a bullet in his head and burying him at the southern end of the estate beside Brian Kingman. Which was surely what they had in mind for him. And for each other. Either that or slavery through the key-lock program. Therefore, it was quite disturbing to him that Klinger—hairy, flat-faced gorilla that he was—should make, of all things, an aesthetic observation before Salsbury himself had made it.

  The only way he could deal with his own uneasiness was to put the general off his stride as quickly as possible. “You can’t smoke in here. Put that out at once.”

  Rolling the cheroot from the center of his thick lips to one side, Klinger said, “Oh, surely—”

  “The delicate machinery,” Salsbury said sharply, gesturing at the Christmasy lights.

  Klinger took the slender cigar from his mouth and appeared to be about to drop it on the floor.

  “The waste can.”

  When he had disposed of the cheroot, the general said, “Sorry.”

  Salsbury said, “That’s all right. You’re not familiar with a place like this, with computers and all of that. You couldn’t be expected to know.”

  And he thought: Score one for me.

  “Where’s Leonard?” Klinger asked.

  “He won’t be here.”

  “For such an important test?”

  “He wishes it weren’t necessary.”

  “Pontius Pilate.”

  “What?”

  Looking at the ceiling as if he could see through it, Klinger said, “Up there washing his hands.”

  Salsbury wasn’t about to take part in any conversation meant to dissect or analyze Dawson. He had taken every measure to protect himself from any attempt on Dawson’s part to plant bugs in his work area. He didn’t believe it was possible for anyone to spy on him while he was in here. But he couldn’t be positively, absolutely certain of that. Under the circumstances, he felt that paranoia was a rational vantage point from which to view the world.

  “What all have you got to show me?” Klinger asked.

  “For a start, I thought you’d want to see a few print-outs from the key-lock program.”

  “I’m curious,” the general admitted.

  Picking up a sheet of computer paper that was folded like an accordion into dozens of eighteen-inch-long sections, Salsbury said, “All three of our new employees—”

  “The mercenaries?”

  “Yes. All three of them were given the drug and then shown a series of films, ostensibly as evening entertainment: The Exorcist, Jaws, and Black Sunday, on successive nights. These were, of course, very special copies of the films. Processed right here on the estate. I did the work personally. Printed each of them over a different stage of the subliminal program.”

  “Why those three movies in particular?”

  “I could have used any I wanted,” Salsbury said. “I just chose them at random from Leonard’s film library. The movie is simply the package, not the content. It merely establishes a reason for the subjects to stare at the screen for a couple of hours while the subliminal program is running below their recognition threshold.” He handed the print-out to Klinger. “This is a second-by-second verbal translation of the images appearing on the screen in the rheostatic film, which begins simultaneously with the movie. Wherever the computer prints ‘This Legend’ it means that the visual subliminals have been interrupted by a block-letter message on the rheostatic film, a direct command to the viewer.”

  “The first sixty seconds do nothing but insure that the subject will pay close attention to the rest of the movie,” Salsbury said. “Beginning with the second minute and continuing throughout the movie, he is very carefully, very gradually primed for stage two of the program and for eventual, total submission to the key-lock behavior mode.”

  “Carefully and slowly—because of what happened to Brian Kingman?” the general asked.

  “Because of what happened to Brian Kingman.”

  Klinger said, “The penis doesn’t become erect until the viewer is told that obedience to the key equals satisfaction.”

  “That’s right. And you’ll notice that both the man’s and woman’s orgasms are represented. This program would be effective with either sex.”

  “Was all this taken from some porno movie?”

  “It was shot especially for me by a professional pornographic film maker in New York City,” Salsbury said, pushing his glasses up on his nose and wiping his damp forehead. “He was instructed to use only the most attractive performers. He shot everything at regular light intensity, but I used a special process to print below the recognition threshold. Then I intercut the sex footage with the block-letter messages.” He unfolded some of the print-out. “This first sequence lasts another forty seconds. Then there is a two-second pause, and another message is presented in the same fashion.”

  “I see the pattern,” Klinger said. “How many of these ‘legends’ were there?”

  They were standing at one of the computer consoles. Salsbury leaned over and used the keyboard.

  One of the screens mounted on the wall began a line-print:

  KEY/LOCK STAGE ONE BLOCK-LETTER MESSAGES, IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE, AS FOLLOWS:

  Salsbury touched a tab on the console.

  The screen went blank.

  “The series was repeated three times through the film.”

  “The same thing the second night?” Klinger asked.

  “No.” He picked up another folded print-out from the seat of the console chair and exchanged it for the stage one analysis. “The first minute is spent securing the subjects’ undivided attention, as it was in the first film. The difference between stage one and stage two becomes evident starting with the second minute.”

  “The second stage of the program alternates between negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement,” Salsbury said. “The next twenty-five seconds are devoted to a sex reinforcement sequence much like those you saw on the first print-out. Skip ahead just a bit.”

  Looking up from the print-out, Klinger said, “Do you mean that death is as effective as sex in subliminal persuasion?”

  “Nearly so, yes. In advertising, subliminals can be used to establish the same sort of motivational equation with death as with sex. According to Wilson Bryan Key, who wrote a book about the nature of subceptive manipulation a few years back, the first use of death images might have come in a Calvert Whiskey ad that appeared in a number of magazines in 1971. Since then hundreds of death symbols have become standard tools of the major ad agencies.”

  Putting down the second print-out, the general said, “What about the third stage? What was hidden in the film you showed them on the third night?”

  Salsbury had another length of computer paper. “In the beginning, this one reinforces and strengthens the messages and effects of the first two films. It’s broken down into tenths of seconds in some places because by this time the subjects are primed for faster input, rapid-fire commands. Like the others, it really begins with the second minute.”

  Farther on, both the tempo and the emotional impact of the images increased drastically:

  Much farther on, faster and faster:

  Eventually, there was less time given to the motivating images and more to the direct commands:

  “That pace is maintained straight through to the end of the film,” Salsbury said. “During the last fifteen minutes, while all of this sex and death input continues, the concept of the key-lock code phrases is also introduced and implanted permanently in the viewer’s deep subconscious mind. ”

  “That’s all there is to it?”

  “Thanks to the drug that primes them for the subliminals—yes, that’s all there is to it.”


  “And they don’t realize they’ve seen any of it.”

  “If they did know, the program would have no effect on them. It has to speak solely to the subconscious in order to pass the natural reasoning ability of the conscious mind.”

  Klinger pulled the command chair away from the console and sat down. His left hand was curled in his lap. It was so matted with black hair that it reminded Salsbury of a sewer rat. The general petted it with his other hand while he considered the print-outs he had just seen. At last he said, “Our three mercenaries. When did they complete the third stage of the program?”

  “Thirty days ago. I’ve been observing them and testing their submissiveness for the past few weeks.”

  “Any of them react at all as Kingman did?” “They all had bad dreams,” Salsbury said. “Probably about what they had seen on the rheostatic screen. None of them could recall. Furthermore, they all had severe night chills and mild nausea. But they lived.”

  “Encountered any other problems?”

  “None.”

  “No weak spots in the program? No moments when they refused to obey you?”

  “None at all, so far. In a few minutes, after we’ve put them to the ultimate test, we’ll know whether or not we have absolute control of them. If not, I’ll start over. If we do—champagne.”

  Klinger sighed. “I suppose this is something we have to know. I suppose this last test is entirely necessary.”

  “Entirely.”

  “I don’t like it.”

  “Weren’t you an officer in Vietnam?”

  “What’s that got to do with this?”

  “You’ve sent men to die before.”

  Grimacing, Klinger said, “But always with honor. Always with honor. And there’s sure as hell no honor in what’s going to happen here.”

  Honor, Salsbury thought acidly. You’re as big an idiot as Leonard. There isn’t any heaven, and there’s no such thing as honor. All that counts is getting what you want. You know that and I know that and even Leonard, when he’s humbled over his fruit cup at a White House prayer breakfast with Billy Graham and the President, knows that—but I’m the only one of us who will admit it to himself.

  Getting to his feet, Klinger said, “Okay. Let’s finish this. Where are they?”

  “In the next room. Waiting.”

  “They know what they’re going to do?”

  “No.” Salsbury went to his desk, thumbed a button on the intercom, and spoke into the wire grid. “Rossner, Holbrook, and Picard. Come in now. We’re ready for you. ”

  A few seconds later the door opened, and three men filed inside.

  “Go to the center of the room,” Salsbury said.

  They did as he directed.

  “You’ve already opened them with the code phrase?” Klinger asked.

  “Before you came.”

  The first of them, in spite of the fact that he was in his late thirties or early forties, looked like a dangerous street-corner punk. Slim but hard and wiry. Five feet ten. Dark complexion. Dark brown hair combed straight back and graying at the temples. A way of standing with his feet apart and most of his weight on his toes so that he was always prepared to move and move quickly. His face was pinched, his eyes a bit too close together, his lips thin and a grayish-pink above a pointed chin.

  “This is Rossner,” Salsbury told Klinger. “Glenn Rossner. American. He’s been a free-lance soldier for sixteen years.”

  “Hello,” Rossner said.

  “None of you is to speak unless spoken to,” Salsbury said. “Is that understood?”

  Three voices: “Yes.”

  The second man was approximately the same age as the first; otherwise, he could not have been less like Rossner. Six feet two. Husky. Fair complexion. Reddish-blond hair cropped close to his head. A broad face. Heavy jowls. His stem expression had been held for so many years that it seemed graven in his flesh. He looked like the sort of father who made arbitrary rules, used corporal punishment with a child at least twice a week, talked tough, acted bullheaded, and turned sons like Glenn Rossner into street-corner punks.

  Salsbury said, “This is Peter Holbrook. He’s British. He’s been a mercenary for twenty years, ever since he was twenty-two. ”

  The last man was no older than thirty, and he was the only one of the three who could be called handsome. Six feet. Lean and muscular. Thick brown hair. A broad brow. Peculiar green-gray eyes with long lashes that any woman would have been proud to have for her own. Very rectangular features and an especially strong jawline and chin. He somewhat resembled the young Rex Harrison.

  “Michel Picard,” Salsbury said. “French. Speaks fluent English. He’s been a mercenary for four years.”

  “Which will it be?” Klinger asked.

  “Picard, I think.”

  “Let’s get on with it, then.”

  Salsbury turned to Rossner and said, “Glenn, there’s a folded canvas dropcloth on my desk. Bring it here.”

  Rossner went to the desk, came back with the cloth.

  “Peter, you help him unfold it on the floor.”

  A minute later the nine-foot-square canvas sheet was spread out in the middle of the room.

  “Michel, stand in the middle of the cloth.”

  The Frenchman obeyed.

  “Michel, what am I?”

  “You are the key.”

  “And what are you?”

  “I am the lock.”

  “You will do what I tell you to do.”

  “Yes. Of course,” Picard said.

  “Relax, Michel. You are very relaxed.”

  “Yes. I feel fine.”

  “You are very happy.”

  Picard smiled.

  “You will remain happy, regardless of what happens to you in the next few minutes. Is that understood?”

  “Yes.”

  “You will not attempt to stop Peter and Glenn from carrying out the orders I give them, regardless of what those orders are. Is that understood?”

  “Yes.”

  Taking a three-foot length of heavy nylon cord from a pocket of his white laboratory smock, Salsbury said, “Peter, take this. Slip it about Michel’s neck as if you were going to strangle him—but proceed no further than that.”

  Holbrook stepped behind the Frenchman and looped the cord around his throat.

  “Michel, are you relaxed?”

  “Oh, yes. Quite relaxed.”

  “Your hands are at your sides now. You will keep them at your sides until I tell you to move them.”

  Still smiling, Picard said, “All right.”

  “You will smile as long as you are able to smile.”

  “Yes.”

  “And even when you are no longer able to smile, you’ll know this is for the best.”

  Picard smiled.

  “Glenn, you will observe. You will not become involved in the little drama these two are about to act out. ”

  “I won’t become involved,” Rossner said.

  “Peter, you will do what I tell you.”

  The big man nodded.

  “Without hesitation.”

  “Without hesitation.”

  “Strangle Michel.”

  If the Frenchman’s smile slipped, it was only by the slightest fraction.

  Then Holbrook jerked on both ends of the cord.

  Picard’s mouth flew open. He seemed to be trying to scream, but he had no voice. He began to gag.

  Although Holbrook was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, Salsbury could see the muscles bunching and straining in his thick arms.

  Each desperate breath that Picard drew produced a thin, rattling wheeze. His eyes bulged. His face was flushed.

  “Pull tighter,” Salsbury told Holbrook.

  The Englishman obliged. A fierce grin, not of humor but of effort, seemed to transform his face into a death’s head.

  Picard fell against Holbrook.

  Holbrook stepped back.

  Picard went to his knees.

  His hands were still
at his sides. He was making no effort to save himself.

  “Jesus jump to hell,” Klinger said, amazed, numbed, unable to speak above a whisper.

  Shuddering, convulsing, Picard lost control of his bladder and bowels.

  Salsbury was pleased that he had thought to provide the canvas dropcloth.

  Seconds later Holbrook stepped away from Picard, his task completed. The garrote had made deep, angry red impressions in the palms of his hands.

  Salsbury took another length of cord from another pocket in his smock and
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