“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 jaw line 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.”
Saisbury turned to Rossner and said, “Glenn, there’s a folded canvas drop cloth 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.”
“You will remain happy, regardless of what happens to you in the next few minutes. Is that understood?”
“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?”
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.”
“And even when you are no longer able to smile, you’ll know this is for the best.”
“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 gave it to Rossner. “Do you know what that is, Glenn?”
“Yes.” He had watched impassively as Holbrook murdered the Frenchman.
“Glenn, I want you to give the cord to Peter.” Without even pausing to think about it, Rossner placed the second garrote in the Englishman’s hands.
“Now turn your back to Peter.”
“Are you relaxed, Glenn?”
“Relax. Be calm. Don’t worry about anything at all. That’s an order.”
The lines in Rossner’s face softened.
“How do you feel, Glenn?”
“Good. You won’t try to keep Peter from obeying the orders I give him, regardless of what those orders are.”
“I won’t interfere,” Rossner said.
Salsbury turned to the Englishman. “Loop that cord around Glenn’s neck as you did with Michel.”
With an expert flip and twist of the garrote, Holbrook was in position. He waited for orders.
“Glenn,” Salsbury said, “are you tense?”
“No. I’m relaxed.”
“That’s fine. Just fine. You will continue to be relaxed. Now, I’m going to tell Peter to kill you—and you are going to permit him to do that. Is that clear?”
"Yes. I understand.” His placid expression didn’t waver.
Don t you want to live?
“Yes. Yes, I want to live.”
“Then why are you willing to die?”
“I—I—” He looked confused.
“You are willing to die because refusal to obey the key means pain and death anyway. Isn’t that right,, Glenn?”
Salsbury watched the two men closely for signs of panic. There were none. Nor even any of stress.
The stench from Michel Picard’s fouled body was nearly overpowering and getting worse.
Rossner surely knew what was about to happen to him. He had seen Michel die, had been told he would die in the same way. Yet he stood unmoving, apparently unafraid.
He was willing to commit what amounted to suicide rather than disobey the key. In fact disobedience was literally inconceivable to him.
“Total control,” the general said. “Yet they don’t look or behave like zombies.”
“Because they aren’t. There’s nothing supernatural involved. Just the ultimate in behavior modification techniques.” Salsbury was elated. “Peter, give me the cord. Thank you. You have both done well. Exceptionally well. Now, I want you to wrap Michel’s body in the canvas and move it to the next room. Wait there until I have additional orders for you.”
As if they were a pair of ordinary laborers talking about how to move a load of bricks from here to there, Rossner and Holbrook quickly discussed the job at hand. When they had decided on the best way to roll and carry the corpse, they set to work.
“Congratulations,” Klinger said. He was perspiring. Cool, dry, steady-eyed Ernst Klinger was sweating like a pig.
What do you think of the computer lights now? Salsbury
wondered. Do they look as Christmasy as they did ten minutes ago?
The computer room smelled of lemons. Salsbury had used an aerosol spray to get rid of the odor of feces and urine.
He took a bottle of whiskey from his desk drawer and poured himself a shot to celebrate.
Klinger had a double shot to steady his nerves. When he had tossed it back he said, “And now what?”
“The field test.”
“You’ve mentioned that before. But why? Why can’t we go ahead with the Middle East plan as Leonard outlined it in Tahoe, nearly two years ago? We know the drug works, don’t we? And we know the subliminals work.”
“I achieved the desired results with Holbrook, Rossner, and poor Picard,” Salsbury said, sipping his whiskey. “But it doesn’t necessarily follow that everyone will react as they have. I can’t possibly have complete confidence in the program until I’ve treated and observed and tested a few hundred subjects of both sexes and of all ages. Furthermore, our three mercenaries were treated and responded in controlled lab situations. Before we can take the extraordinary risks involved with something like the Middle East plan—where we’ve got to create a new subliminal series for another culture and in another language—. we’ve simply got to know what the results will be in the field.”
Klinger poured himself another shot of whiskey. As he lifted the glass to his lips, a look of fear flitted across his face. It lasted no more than a second or two. Pretending to be thinking about the field test, he stared at the liquor in his glass and then at the bottle on the desk and then at Salsbury’s glass.
Laughing, Salsbury said, “Don’t worry, Ernst. I wouldn’t slip the drug into my own Jack Daniels. Besides, you’re not a potential subject. You’re my partner.”
Klinger nodded. Nevertheless, he put his glass down without tasting the whiskey. “Where would you run a field test like this?”
“Black River, Maine. It’s a small town near the Canadian border.”
Salsbury went to the nearest programming console and typed out an order to the computer. As he typed he said, “Two months ago I drew a list of the basic requirements for the ideal test site.”
All of the screens began to present the same information:
KEY/LOCK FIELD TEST DATA, AS FOLLOWS:
1A. SITE SHOULD BE SMALL TOWN, YET PROVIDE SUFFICIENT NUMBER OF SUBJECTS FOR STATISTICAL ACCURACY
1B. BLACK RIVER, MAINE——POPULATION 402 LUMBER CAMP——POPULATION 188
ADDITIONAL POPULATION WITHIN 5 MILES——NONE
“Lumber camp?” Klinger asked.
“It’s a company town for Big Union Supply. Nearly everyone in Black River works for Big Union or services the people who do. The company maintains a full-scale camp—barracks, mess hail, recreation facilities, the whole works—near their planned forests for unmarried loggers who don’t want to go to the expense of renting a room or an apartment in the village.”
2A. SITE SHOULD BE GEOGRAPHICALLY ISOLATED BY CURRENT SOCIAL STANDARDS
2B. FIRST NEAREST TOWN TO BLACK RIVER——30 MILES
SECOND NEAREST TOWN TO BLACK RIVER——62 MILES
LAND ROUTES TO BLACK RIVER——1 STATE HIGHWAY, 2—LANE
——1 RAILROAD LINE, ONLY INDUSTRIAL TRAFFIC
RIVER ROUTES TO BLACK RIVER——RIVER NAVIGABLE, NO REGULAR TRAFFIC
AIRFIELD FACILITIES AT BLACK RIVER——NONE
3A. SITE SHOULD BE WITHIN RECEPTION RANGE OF ONE OR MORE TELEVISION STATIONS
3B. STATIONS RECEIVED IN BLACK RIVER——1 AMERICAN
“There’s an interesting bit of additional data that goes with that one,” Salsbury said. “The American station is owned by a subsidiary of Futurex. It plays a lot of old movies at night and on weekends. We’ll be able to get copies of the station’s program schedules well in advance. We can prepare subliminally augmented prints of the movies they’re going to show and switch those for the original prints in the station’s film library.”
“That’s a bit of luck.”
“Saves us some time. Otherwise, Futurex would have had to acquire one of the stations, and that could take years.”
“But how can you be certain the people in Black River will watch these movies you’ve doctored?”
“They’re going to be inundated with subliminals in a variety of media that will command them to watch. For instance, the Dawson Foundation for Christian Ethics will run dozens of public service commercials on both the Canadian and American stations, two days in advance of the movies. Each of these commercials will harbor very strong subliminal commands directing the people in town and in the lumber camp to tune in at the right time on the right channel. We’ll also do direct mail advertising for several of Leonard’s companies—as a means of getting even more subceptive messages to them. Everyone in town will receive ads in the mail and some free gifts like soap samples, shampoo samples, and free rolls of photographic film. The advertisements and the samples will be packaged in wrappers rich in subliminal commands to watch .a certain television station at a certain hour on a certain day. Even if the subject throws the piece of mail away without opening it, he’ll be affected, because the envelopes will also be printed over with subliminal messages. The major magazines and newspapers entering Black River during the period of programming will carry ads full of subceptive commands that direct the people to watch the movies.” He was getting a bit breathless in his recital. “A motion picture theater could not ordinarily prosper in a town the size of Black River. But Big Union runs one as a service to the town. During the summer, every day but Sunday, there’s a matinee show for children. The prints of the films shown at those matinees will be our prints, with subliminals urging the children to watch the television movies that will contain the key-lock program. All radio stations reaching the area will carry’ special thirty-second spot ads, hundreds of them, with subaudial subliminal directives. These account for only half our methods. By the time all of this washes through the community, everyone will be in front of a television set at the right time.”
“What about the people who don’t have television sets?” Klinger asked.
“There’s not much to do in a place as isolated as Black River,” Salsbury said. “The recreation hall in the camp has ten sets. Virtually everyone in town owns a set. Those who don’t will be directed, by the first wave of preliminary subliminals, to watch the movies at a friend’s house. Or with a relative or neighbor.”