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       Assignment's End, p.1

           Roger D. Aycock
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Assignments End

  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at



  Illustrated by DOCKTOR

  [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science FictionDecember 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that theU.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: _Alcorn's wild talent was miraculous ... he brought peace toeverybody who came near him. Only one person was exempt--himself!_]

  He was just emerging for the hundredth time during the week from thefrightening hallucination that had come to plague him, when KittyMurchinsom came into his office.

  "It's almost 15:00, Philip," she said.

  When she had entered, her face had taken on the placid look thateveryone wore--unwittingly, but inevitably--the instant they came nearAlcorn.

  Finding Kitty's cool blonde loveliness projected so abruptly against thebleak polar plain of his waking dream, he knew how much more she wasthan either fiancee or secretary alone. She was a beacon of reassurancein a sea of uncertainty.

  "Thanks, darling," he said, and looked at his watch. "I'd havewoolgathered past my appointment and it's an important one."

  He stood up. Kitty came closer and put both hands on his shoulders.

  "You've had another of those dreams, haven't you? I wish you'd see a--adoctor about them."

  He laughed, and if the sound rang hollow, she seemed not to notice.

  "That's why I asked you to call me. I've made an appointment with one."

  * * * * *

  She stood on tiptoe to kiss him. "I'm glad you're decided. You haven'tbeen yourself at all for a week, Philip, and I couldn't _bear_ ahoneymoon with a preoccupied husband!"

  He managed the appropriate leer, though he had never felt less like it.The apprehension that followed his daytime chimera was on him again, sostrongly that what he wanted most to do was to take Kitty's handtightly, like a frightened child, and run headlong until he was beyondreach of whatever it was that threatened him.

  "Small chance," he said, instead. "Any man who'd dream away a honeymoonwith you is dead already."

  She sighed placidly and turned back to the business at hand. "You won'tbe late for your 16:00 conference with our Mr. O'Donnell and DirectorMulhall of Irradiated Foods, will you? Poor Sean would be lost withoutyou."

  He felt the usual nagging dissatisfaction with the peculiar talent thathad put him where he was in Consolidated Advertising. "He'd probablylose this case without my soothing presence and CA would pay its firstungrounded refund claim in--" he counted back over the time he had beenwith Consolidated--"four years and eight months."

  Kitty said wistfully, "Shall I see you tonight, Philip?"

  He frowned, searching for a way to ease the hurt she would feel later,and finding none. "That depends on the psychiatrist. If he can't helpme, I may fly up to my cabin in the Catskills and wrestle this thing outfor myself."

  Kitty moved to go, and then turned back. "I almost forgot. There was acall for you at noon from a secretary of Victor Jaffers' at CarterInternational. She seemed to know you'd be out and said that Mr. Jafferswould call again at 15:00."

  "Victor Jaffers?" Alcorn repeated. The name added a further premonitorydepression. "I think I know what he wants. It's happened before."

  When Kitty had gone, Alcorn took a restless turn about the room and wasinterrupted at once by the gentle buzzing of the radophone unit on hisdesk. He pressed the receiving stud and found himself facing VictorJaffers' image.

  "Don't bother to record this," Jaffers said without preamble. "Completearrangements have already been made to prove that I've never spoken toyou in my life."

  * * * * *

  Jaffers was a small, still-faced man who might have been mistaken for asenior accountant's clerk--until the chill force of his eyes made itselffelt. Alcorn had seen the Carter International head before only inteleprint pictures, had heard and discounted the stories about the man'sstudied ruthlessness. But those eyes and the blunt approach made himwonder.

  "I've got a place in the contact branch of my organization for yourparticular talent, Alcorn," Jaffers said flatly. "It will pay you fivetimes what you earn with Consolidated. You understand why I'm taking youon."

  "I know." The arrogance wearied rather than angered Alcorn. "I have agift for arranging fair settlements when both principals are present.Mr. Jaffers, I've never exploited my gift for personal profit. That's amatter of self-protection as well as ethics--I don't like trouble." Hereached for the canceling stud to end the interview. "Others have madethe same offer before you and there'll be others again. But I won't usemy ability unfairly."

  Jaffers smiled, unamused. "You do go straight to the point, which savesargument. But you'll work for me, Alcorn. Those others made the mistakeof talking to you personally. I know that you can be reached as easilyas any other man if my agents keep more than fifty feet away from you."His eyes moved past Alcorn to the window. "Look at the window across thestreet."

  Alcorn, turning, felt his neck prickle. Across the narrow canyon ofstreet, without pretense at concealing himself, a man in gray clothingwatched him from an open office window.

  "I've had you under surveillance for days," Jeffers' voice said behindhim. "I've located two others of your sort since my statisticiansbrought their existence to my attention, but somehow they slippedthrough my fingers this week. I'm taking no chances on you."

  Alcorn whirled back incredulously. "You've found others? Where and--"

  "I'll tell you that when you're on my payroll."

  "It's a trick," Alcorn said angrily. "I searched for years before Isettled down with Consolidated and I didn't find a trace of anybody likemyself. I don't believe there are any."

  "Most of them covered themselves better." Jaffers added, with coldfinality, "I don't haggle, Alcorn. You'll work for me or for no one."

  * * * * *

  "The trouble is," Alcorn said, "that I'm different from other people andI have to know why. I know _how_ I'm different, but if I knew _why_, I'dnever have come to a psychiatrist."

  Dr. Hagen rattled the data sheet in his hands and blinked behind hispince-nez like a friendly beagle. He was a very puzzled man, beingaccustomed to analyzing his own reactions as well as those of hispatients. Alcorn could see him struggling to account for the suddenserenity that had come over him the instant Alcorn entered theoffice--certainly it was not the doctor's usual frame of mind, from thefirst sour look of him--and failing.

  "Different in what way, Mr. Alcorn?"

  "I soothe people," Alcorn said. "There's something about me thatinspires trust and an eagerness to please. Everyone roughly within aradius of fifty feet--I've checked the limit a thousandtimes--immediately feels a sort of euphoria. They're as happy as so manychildren at a picnic and they can't do enough for me or for each other."

  Dr. Hagen blinked, but not with disbelief.

  "It affects psychiatrists, too," Alcorn went on. "You'd cheerfully waivethe fee for this consultation if I asked it, or lend me fifty credits ifI were strapped. The point is that people are never difficult when I'maround, because I was born with the unlikely gift of making them happy.That gift is the most valuable asset I own, but I've never understoodit--and as long as I don't understand it, there's the chance that it maybe a mixed blessing. I think it's backfired on me already in one fashionand possibly in another."

  He shook out a cigarette and the psychiatrist obligingly held a lighterto it. Dr. Hagen, Alcorn thought, must normally have been anexceptionally strong-willed man, for he hesitated noticeably before hesp
un the wheel.

  "Actually," Alcorn said, "I've begun to worry about my sanity and I'mafraid my gift is responsible. For the past week, I've had a recurrenthallucination, a sort of waking nightmare that comes just when I leastexpect it and leaves me completely unstrung. It's worse thanrecurrent--it's progressive, and each new seizure leaves me a littlecloser to something that I'm desperately afraid to face."

  The psychiatrist made a judicious tent of his fingers. "Obviously
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