Read CHAPTER III of The Sensitive Man , free online book, by Poul William Anderson, on ReadCentral.com.

He woke slowly, with a dry retch, and blinked his eyes open. Noise of air, he was flying, it must have been a triphibian they took him onto. He tried to force recovery but his mind was still too paralyzed.

“Here. Drink this.”

Dalgetty took the glass and gulped thirstily. It was coolness and steadiness spreading through him. The vibratto within him faded, and the headache dulled enough to be endurable. Slowly he looked around, and felt the first crawl of panic.

No! He suppressed the emotion with an almost physical thrust. Now was the time for calm and quick wit and

A big man near him nodded and stuck his head out the door. “He’s okay now, I guess,” he called. “Want to talk to him?”

Dalgetty’s eyes roved the compartment. It was a rear cabin in a large airboat, luxuriously furnished with reclining seats and an inlaid table. A broad window looked out on the stairs.

Caught! It was pure bitterness, an impotent rage at himself. Walked right into their arms!

Tyler came into the room, followed by a pair of burly stone-faced men. He smiled. “Sorry,” he murmured, “but you’re playing out of your league, you know.”

“Yeah.” Dalgetty shook his head. Wryness twisted his mouth. “I don’t league it much either.”

Tyler grinned. It was a sympathetic expression. “You punsters are incurable,” he said. “I’m glad you’re taking it so well. We don’t intend any harm to you.”

Skepticism was dark in Dalgetty but he managed to relax. “How’d you get onto me?” he asked.

“Oh, various ways. You were pretty clumsy, I’m afraid.” Tyler sat down across the table. The guards remained standing. “We were sure the Institute would attempt a counterblow and we’ve studied it and its personnel thoroughly. You were recognized, Dalgetty and you’re known to be very close to Tighe. So you walked after us without even a face-mask....

“At any rate, you were noticed hanging around the colony. We checked back on your movements. One of the rec girls had some interesting things to tell of you. We decided you’d better be questioned. I sounded you out as much as a casual acquaintance could and then took you to the rendezvous.” Tyler spread his hands. “That’s all.”

Dalgetty sighed and his shoulders slumped under a sudden enormous burden of discouragement. Yes, they were right. He was out of his orbit. “Well,” he said, “what now?”

“Now we have you and Tighe,” said the other. He took out a cigarette. “I hope you’re somewhat more willing to talk than he is.”

“Suppose I’m not?”

“Understand this.” Tyler frowned. “There are reasons for going slow with Tighe. He has hostage value, for one thing. But you’re nobody. And while we aren’t monsters I for one have little sympathy to spare for your kind of fanatic.”

“Now there,” said Dalgetty with a lift of sardonicism, “is an interesting example of semantic evolution. This being, on the whole, an easy-going tolerant period, the word ‘fanatic’ has come to be simply an epithet a fellow on the other side.”

“That will do,” snapped Tyler. “You won’t be allowed to stall. There are questions we want answered.” He ticked the points off on his fingers. “What are the Institute’s ultimate aims? How is it going about attaining them? How far has it gotten? Precisely what has it learned, in a scientific way, that it hasn’t published? How much does it know about us?” He smiled thinly. “You’ve always been close to Tighe. He raised you, didn’t he? You should know just as much as he.”

Yes, thought Dalgetty, Tighe raised me. He was all the father I ever had, really. I was an orphan and he took me in and he was good.

Sharp in his mind rose the image of the old house. It had lain on broad wooded grounds in the fair hills of Maine, with a little river running down to a bay winged with sailboats. There had been neighbors quiet-spoken folk with something more real about them than most of today’s rootless world knew. And there had been many visitors men and women with minds like flickering sword-blades.

He had grown up among intellects aimed at the future. He and Tighe had traveled a lot. They had often been in the huge pylon of the main Institute building. They had gone over to Tighe’s native England once a year at least. But always the old house had been dear to them.

It stood on a ridge, long and low and weathered gray like a part of the earth. By day it had rested in a green sun-dazzle of trees or a glistering purity of snow. By night you heard the boards creaking and the lonesome sound of wind talking down the chimney. Yes, it had been good.

And there had been the wonder of it. He loved his training. The horizonless world within himself was a glorious thing to explore. And that had oriented him outward to the real world he had felt wind and rain and sunlight, the pride of high buildings and the surge of a galloping horse, thresh of waves and laughter of women and smooth mysterious purr of great machines, with a fullness that made him pity those deaf and dumb and blind around him.

Oh yes, he loved those things. He was in love with the whole turning planet and the big skies overhead. It was a world of light and strength and swift winds and it would be bitter to leave it. But Tighe was locked in darkness.

He said slowly, “All we ever were was a research and educational center, a sort of informal university specializing in the scientific study of man. We’re not any kind of political organization. You’d be surprised how much we differ in our individual opinions.”

“What of it?” shrugged Tyler. “This is something larger than politics. Your work, if fully developed, would change our whole society, perhaps the whole nature of man. We know you’ve learned more things than you’ve made public. Therefore you’re reserving that information for uses of your own.”

“And you want it for your purposes?”

“Yes,” said Tyler. After a moment, “I despise melodrama but if you don’t cooperate you’re going to get the works. And we’ve got Tighe too, never forget that. One of you ought to break down if he watches the other being questioned.”

We’re going to the same place! We’re going to Tighe!

The effort to hold face and voice steady was monstrous. “Just where are we bound?”

“An island. We should be there soon. I’ll be going back again myself but Mr. Bancroft is coming shortly. That should convince you just how important this is to us.”

Dalgetty nodded. “Can I think it over for awhile? It isn’t an easy decision for me.”

“Sure. I hope you decide right.”

Tyler got up and left with his guards. The big man who had handed him the drink earlier sat where he had been all the time. Slowly the psychologist began to tighten himself. The faint drone of turbines and whistle of jets and sundered air began to enlarge.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“CAN’T TELL YOU THAT. SHUDDUP, WILL YOU?”

“But surely....”

The guard didn’t answer. But he was thinking. Ree-villa-ghee-gay-doe never would p’rnounce that damn Spig name ... cripes, what a God-forsaken hole!... Mebbe I can work a trip over to Mexico.... That little gal in Guada....

Dalgetty concentrated. Revilla he had it now. Islas de Revillagigedo a small group some 350 or 400 miles off the Mexican coast, little visited with very few inhabitants. His eidetic memory went to work, conjuring an image of a large-scale map he had once studied. Closing his eyes he laid off the exact distance, latitude and longitude, individual islands.

Wait, there was one a little further west, a speck on the map, not properly belonging to the group. And he riffled through all the facts he had ever learned pertaining to Bancroft. Wait now, Bertrand Meade, who seemed to be the kingpin of the whole movement yes, Meade owned that tiny island.

So that’s where we’re going! He sank back, letting weariness overrun him. It would be awhile yet before they arrived.

Dalgetty sighed and looked out at the stars. Why had men arranged such clumsy constellations when the total pattern of the sky was a big and lovely harmony? He knew his personal danger would be enormous once he was on the ground. Torture, mutilation, even death.

Dalgetty closed his eyes again. Almost at once he was asleep.