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Authors: Keith Laumer,edited by Eric Flint

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The Universe Twister

BOOK: The Universe Twister
5.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Keith Laumer
edited by Eric Flint

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2008 by Keith Laumer
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
ISBN 10: 1-4165-5597-8
ISBN 13: 978-1-4165-5597-1
Cover art by Bob Eggleton
First printing, October 2008
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Printed in the United States of America


Chapter I

Lafayette O'Leary came briskly up the cracked walk leading to Mrs. MacGlint's Clean Rooms and Board, reflecting on his plans for the evening: First, he'd grab a quick bite, then check to see how his plastics experiment was coming along; after that, a look in on his
penicillium notatum
NRRL 1249.B21 culture, and then . . . He hefted the weighty book under his arm. Professor Hans Joseph Schimmerkopf's book on mesmerism ought to be good for at least a week of evenings.

As O'Leary put foot on the sagging veranda, the front screen door popped wide open. A square figure five feet eleven in height confronted him, a heavy-duty broom held at port arms.

"Mr. O'Leary! What's that mess you've got percolating on my hot plate back in my third-best western exposure?"

Lafayette retreated a step. "Did I leave my polymers cooking, Mrs. MacGlint? I thought I turned them off—"

"Them fumes has faded the colors right out of the wallpaper! Not to say nothing about running up the electric bill! I'll put it on your bill, Mr. O'Leary!"


"And all this reading at night! Burning light bulbs like they was free! My other boarders don't set up all hours, studying Lord knows what in them un-Christian books you got!" She eyed the volume under O'Leary's arm with unmistakable hostility.

"Say, Mrs. MacGlint," O'Leary edged back up on the porch, "a funny thing happened last night. I was running a little statistical study, using ball bearings, and I happened to drop a couple of them—three-quarter-inchers—and they all rolled right to the northwest corner of the room—"

"Prob'ly marked up my linoleum, too! And—"

"I knew the floors slanted but I hadn't noticed how much," Lafayette gained another foot. "So I made a few measurements. I'd say there's a two-inch discrepancy from wall to wall. I knew you'd want to know, because Section Four, Article 19 of the Building Code—the part that covers Hazardous Conditions Due to Settlement of Foundations—is pretty clear. Now, the inspector will have to check it, of course, and after the house is condemned and the roomers find other quarters, then maybe they can save the place by pumping in concrete. That's pretty expensive, but it's better than breaking the law, eh, Mrs. MacGlint?"

"Law?" The landlady's voice squeaked. "Building Code? Why, I never heard such nonsense . . ."

"Do you want to report it, or shall I? I know you're awfully busy, keeping everybody's affairs in order, so . . ."

"Now, Mr. O'Leary, don't go to no trouble . . ." Mrs. MacGlint backed through the door; Lafayette followed into the gloom and cabbage aroma of the hall. "I know you got your science work you want to get to, so I won't keep you." She turned and puffed off along the hall. O'Leary let out a long breath and headed up the stairs.


On the shelf behind the curtain in the former broom closet which served Lafayette as kitchen alcove were a two-pound tin of salt-water taffy, a cardboard salt shaker, a ketchup bottle, a can of soup and two tins of preserved fish. He didn't really like sardines, he confessed to himself, unwrapping a succulent taffy. Too bad they didn't can
consommé au beurre blanc Hermitage
. Tend-R Nood-L Soup would have to do. He started warming a saucepan of soup, took a beer from the foot-square icebox and punched a triangular hole in the lid. He finished off the candy, then the beer, waiting for the pot to boil, then set out a bowl, poured the soup and put two sardines on a cracker. Munching, he picked up his book. It was a thick, dusty volume, bound in faded dark blue leather, the cramped gilt letters on the spine almost illegible. He blew the dust away and opened it with care; the old binding crackled. The title page announced:

Mesmerism, Its Proper Study and Practice; or The Secrets of the Ancients Unlocked.
By Herr Professor Doktor Hans Joseph Schimmerkopf, D.D., Ph.D., Litt. D., M. A., B. Sc., Associate Professor of Mental Sciences and Natural Philosophy, Homeopathic Institute of Vienna. 1888.

O'Leary riffled through the tissue-thin pages of fine print; pretty dry stuff, really. Still, it was the only book on hypnotism in the library that he hadn't already read, and what else was there to do? O'Leary looked out the narrow window at the sad late-afternoon light, yellowing into evening. He could go out and buy a newspaper; he might even stroll around the block. He could stop by the Elite Bar and Grill and have a cold beer. There were any number of ways a young, healthy, penniless draftsman in a town like Colby Corners could spend an evening in the sunshine of his happy youth.

A rattle of knuckles at the door announced a narrow-faced man with thin hair and a toothbrush mustache slid into the room.

"Hi, Laff, howza boy?" the newcomer rubbed knuckly hands together. He wore a purple shirt and white suspenders supporting trousers cut high above bony hips.

"Hello, Spender," O'Leary greeted him without enthusiasm.

"Say, Laff, you couldn't slip me a five until Tuesday?"

"I'm busted, Spender. Besides which, you owe me five."

"Hey, what's the book?" Spender edged in beside him and poked at the pages. "When do you get time to read all this stuff? Pretty deep, huh? You're a funny guy; always like studying."

"This is a racy one," O'Leary said. "The press it was printed on was smashed with crowbars by a crowd of aroused peasants. Then they ran the author down and gave him the full werewolf treatment—silver bullet, stake through the heart—the works."

"Wow!" Spender recoiled. "You studying to be a werewolf, O'Leary?"

"No, I'm more interested in the vampire angle. That's the one where you turn into a bat—"

"Look, Laff, that ain't funny. You know I'm kind of like superstitious. You shouldn't ought to read them books."

O'Leary looked at the other speculatively. "What I need now is some practical experience—"

"Yeah, well, I'll see you, boy." Spender backed out the door.

O'Leary finished his repast, then stretched out on the lumpy bed. The water stains on the ceiling hadn't changed since yesterday, he noted. The opalescent globe shielding the sixty-watt bulb dangling on its kinked cord still contained the same number of dead flies. The oleander bush still scraped restlessly on the screen.

He flipped open Schimmerkopf's book at random and skimmed the print-packed pages. The sections on mesmerism were routine stuff, but a passage on autohypnosis caught his eye:

" . . . this state may readily be induced by the adept practitioner of the art of Mesmeric influence, or of hypnotism, as it is latterly termed, requiring only a schooled effort of Will, supported by a concentration of Psychical Energies. Mastery of this Force not only offers instantaneous relief from sleeplessness, night sweats, poor memory, sour bile, high chest, salivation, inner conflict, and other ills both of the flesh and of the spirit, but offers as well a veritable treasurehouse of rich sensation; for it is a commonplace of the auto-mesmerist's art that such scenes of remembered or imagined Delight as must be most highly esteemed by persons sensible of the lamentable drabness of Modern Life can in this fashion be evoked most freely for the delectation and adornment of the idle hour.
"This phenomenon may be likened to the hypnogogic state, that condition of semi-awareness sometimes achieved by a sleeping person who, partially awakened, is capable of perceiving the dream-state images, whilst at the same time enjoying consciousness of their illusory nature. Thus, he is rendered capable of examining the surface texture and detail of an imagined object as acutely as one might study the page of an actual book, throughout maintaining knowledge of the distinction between hallucinatory experience and real experience . . ."

That part made sense, O'Leary nodded. It had happened to him just a few nights ago. It was almost as though his awareness had been attuned to a different channel of existence; as though he had emerged from half-sleep at the wrong floor, so to speak, and stepped off the elevator into a strange world, not totally different, but subtly rearranged—until the shock of realization had jarred him back to the familiar level of stained wallpaper and the lingering memory of Brussels sprouts boiled long ago. And if you could produce the effect at will . . .

O'Leary read on, looking for precise instructions. Three pages further on he found a line or two of specifics:

" . . . use of a bright object, such as a highly polished gem, as an aid to the Powers of Concentration, may, with profitable results, be employed by the earnest student of these pages . . ."

Lafayette considered. He owned no gems—not even glass ones. Perhaps a spoon would work. But no—his ring; just the thing. He tugged at the heavy silver ornament on the middle finger of his left hand. No use; the knuckle was too big. After all, he'd been wearing it for years now. But he didn't need to remove the ring; he could stare at it just as well where it was, on his hand.

Lying on his back in the twilit room, he looked up at ancient floral-patterned paper, faded now to an off-white. This would be a good place to start. Now, suppose the ceiling were high, spacious, painted a pale gold color . . .

O'Leary persevered, whispering persuasively to himself. It was easy, the professor had said; just a matter of focusing the Psychical Energies and attuning the Will . . .

Lafayette sighed, blinked through the gloom at the blotched nongolden ceiling; he rose and went to the icebox for another warm beer. The bed squeaked as he sat on its edge. He might have known it wouldn't work. Old Professor Schimmerkopf was a quack, after all. Nothing as delightful as what the old boy had described could have gone unnoticed all these years.

He lay back against the pillows at the head of the bed. It would have been nice if it
worked. He could have redecorated his shabby quarters and told himself that the room was twice as large, with a view of a skyline of towers and distant mountains. Music, too; with total recall, he could play back every piece of music he'd ever heard.

Not that any of it really mattered. He slept all right on the sagging bed—and taffy and sardines might get boring, but they went right on nourishing you. The room was dreary, but it kept off the rain and snow, and when the weather got cold, the radiator, with many thumps and wheezes, kept the temperature within the bearable range. The furniture wasn't fancy, but it was adequate. There was the bed, of course, and the table built from an orange crate and painted white, and the dresser, and the oval rag rug Miss Flinders at the library had given him.

And, oh yes, the tall locked cabinet in the corner. Funny he hadn't gotten around to opening it yet. It had been there ever since he had moved in, and he hadn't even wondered about it. Strange. But he could open it now. There was something wonderful in it, he remembered that much; but somehow he couldn't quite recall what.

He was standing in front of the cabinet, looking at the black-varnished door. A rich-grained wood showed faintly through the cracked glaze; the key hole was brass lined, and there were little scratches around it. Now, where was the key? Oh, yes . . .

Lafayette crossed the room to the closet and stepped inside. The light was dim here. He pulled a large box into position, stepped up on it, lifted the trapdoor in the ceiling, climbed up and emerged in an attic. Late afternoon sun gleamed through a dusty window. There was a faded rug on the floor, and large, brass-bound trunks were stacked everywhere. Lafayette tried the lids; all locked.

He remembered the keys. That was what he had come for. They were hanging on a nail, behind the door. He plucked them down, started for the trapdoor.

But why not take the stairs? Out in the hall, a white-painted banister gleamed. He went down, walked along a hall, found his room and stepped inside. The French windows were open, and a fresh breeze blew in. The curtains, billowy white, gleamed in the sun. Outside, a wide lawn, noble trees, a path leading somewhere.

But he had to open the cabinet, to see what was inside. He selected a key—a large, brassy one—and tried it in the keyhole. Too large. He tried another; also too big. There was only one more key, a long, thin one of black iron. It didn't fit. Then he noticed more keys, hidden under the last one, somehow. He tried them, one by one. None fitted. He eyed the keyhole, bright brass against the dark wood, scarred by near misses. He had to get the cabinet open. Inside there were treasures, marvelous things, stacked on shelves, waiting for him. He tried another key. It fit. He turned it carefully and heard a soft click!

BOOK: The Universe Twister
5.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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