THE MIND GAME
Birds sang, sunlight poured through the treetops, and Annie was babbling excitedly as they walked along the pathways of the Institute to God-knows-where. The air, the effort of his own body, the presence of Annie beside him, the rap that he was simply letting wash over him, all combined to relieve Weller of the pressure of his own thoughts. We'll just walk through the woods and then make love, and we won't have to think of anything for a while....
"... such high-energy people at the Colony. Maybe we can even rig up a mobile unit for you while you're working with John. We should really get some meaningful results out of that!"
As Annie paused at the crest of a gentle slope crowned with trees, Weller realized that he had lost all track of whatever it was she had been talking about. And she was, apparently, talking about something that meant a lot to her. "The Colony?" he said. "What's that? You keep talking about it, but I'm afraid I've been too happy to pay much attention. "
Annie led him through the line of trees. In the hollow beyond Weller saw perhaps two dozen bungalows shaded by trees and clustered around a low white building. He thought he recognized the scene from yesterday's walking tour. And sure enough, when he took a closer look, there was the fence surrounding the area and the guarded gate.
"The Colony," Annie said, nodding in the direction of the cluster of bungalows.
"Yeah, but what is it? What goes on?"
Annie looked at him peculiarly. "Don't you know?" she said. "It's one of the few projects under John's personal directive; it's got top priority. We've got about twenty residents now -- writers, painters, sculptors, even a photographer."
"You mean Transformationalism is running some kind of artist's colony?" Weller said with some surprise. "What on earth for? As a reward for creative people in the movement?"
"Oh no," Annie said, "it's not for movement people. Everyone has to be a working professional with real credits. They get three months free room and board and unlimited free processing while they work on their approved projects."
"In return for which?" Weller asked. There had to be a quid pro quo. Selflessly bankrolling a playpen for indigent artistes seemed way out of character for Steinhardt.
"In return for which they serve as subjects for our experiments with creativity," Annie said.
"What sort of experiments?" Weller asked, with a picture of some diabolical Frankenstein laboratory in his head.
"They're circuited into brainwave monitors while they're actually doing their creative work," Annie said. "We're recording creative consciousness so we can monitor the changes different Transformational processes make in their creativity. So we can try out different eptifier formulas."
"What for?" Annie said, dumbfounded. "So there'll be no more writer's blocks. No more down days on the set with you dragging yourself home in a black funk. We're going to be able to optimize creative consciousness with eptifiers and new processes. Some day doing creative work is going to be a conscious function that you can turn on like a faucet. We're going to take all the agony and frustration out of it. We're going to turn creative consciousness into a permanent state of mind."
The notion had to be seductive to anyone who had ground his way through day after day of deadening hackwork, but Weller's mind didn't get caught up in that for very long. His consciousness was focused on Annie. He had never seen her so totally into what she was doing, not for what she might get out of it, but for the thing itself. But what the hell was she doing?
"You didn't say anything about actors," he said. "What are you doing to optimize your creativity, Annie?"
"Oh, I'm beyond all that," she said breezily. "You have no idea what a relief it is. There was never anything creative about my so-called career. I was just trying to become a movie star; rich, famous, a wet-dream fantasy for guys sitting there in the dark watching me on the screen. It was all just a super ego trip. I was empty inside, and all I was doing was trying to fill that empty space with fame and adulation. "
"And that's it?" Weller said sullenly. "All those years of trying, and you walk away from it just like that?"
Annie smiled at him, and the tranquil radiance of it nearly drove him crazy. "Can't you understand how wonderful it is to stop trying to feed your own starving ego and be totally involved with what you're doing on a really meaningful, fully eptified level?"
"Well, what the hell are you doing?" Weller grunted.
''I'm a creativity monitor," she said.
"I work in the creativity program. I'm in charge of the brainwave tapes. I keep records of who's doing how much work on what. I help decide which process to run on who when.
Weller's growing anger broke through for a moment. "Sounds boring as hell," he said.
"It's vital work, Jack," she said somewhat testily. "It's important to the movement."
"Running a time clock is probably important at MGM," Weller said sourly. "That doesn't make the job less of a bummer."
"It's not just mechanical work," Annie insisted. ''I'm working" to create more creative consciousness. And I'm one of the people involved in project decisions. I'm the one who evaluates how well which programs are working on the subjects."
"So you're not just a clerk, you're a cultural commissar," Weller blurted.
"Commissar?" Annie said, laughing. "Where did you get a crazy idea like that?"
"From the highest authority," Weller said. "Steinhardt told me flat out that you'd be giving him evaluation reports on me."
Annie's expression finally darkened, as if she had just realized that they were having something like an argument. "You make it sound so awful," she said. "But it's not like that. I'm not spying on you, I'm helping you. Together we're going to convince John that you're the man for the job. I don't have any doubts. Do you?"
"No," Weller muttered, unable to express what he truly felt. Anger, sadness, a sense of loss. That it had gone this far! That Annie could trade her career for playing Comrade Commissar to a bunch of freeloading writers and painters! That she could even report back to Steinhardt on him and expect him to approve of it! That he couldn't feel free to.say a damned true thing about it! Oh baby, baby, I've got to get us the fuck out of here -- fast!
There was a long period of awkward silence. Then Annie broke it with a warm smile that seemed like a forced act of will. "Let's not spoil today with an argument then, okay?" she said breezily.
"Yeah, sure, okay," Weller said, making himself smile back. She took his hand and led him down the far side of the hill. There was no trouble at the gate -- the guard recognized Annie and had gotten an updated directive on Weller too.
Annie led him to a secluded cabin in a corner of the compound, heavily shaded by lowering oaks, its rough wooden siding blending it into the landscape.
Inside were two rather small rooms and a full bath. The bedroom was paneled in knotty pine, with rich blue draperies and bedspread. The other room was a combination living room, kitchen, and dinette in the manner of a family style motel. There was a compact stove-sink-refrigerator-combo unit behind a Formica breakfast bar with yellow stools. There were two easy chairs, a leather couch, a low round walnut table, a desk, and a color television set. Plush green wall-to-wall carpeting, anonymous framed prints, a complete set of pots, dishes, and silverware. Everything but the checkout notice. And of course, an extension phone. Apparently even a "creativity monitor" did not rate free contact with the outside world.
"Cozy, isn't it?" Annie said as they sat side by side on the couch after the ten-cent tour.
"Yeah, all the comforts of Las Vegas," Weller said. He found that he had made an unconscious decision not to bring up the matter of missing phones. Already he found himself being somewhat guarded with Annie, slipping easily into the persona he had crafted for himself during his stay in the movement, and hating himself a little for it. But both Steinhardt and Annie had made it quite clear that she would be reporting on him as if he were one of the Colony guinea pigs, and nothing that he had seen in her so far gave him any confidence that her loyalties were not still split. Transformed? he thought bitterly. Yeah, that's just about the measure of how we've both been transformed.
And here we sit, he thought, knowing it's long since time to make love. I know it, you know it, but where's our reality? There are so many piled up changes in both of us that we're like two kids sitting in the backseat of a parked car with our strangenesses and desires forming an invisible wall of tension between us.
Later, after the long ice was broken, making love could just be making love again, but now it was something that had to be done, which made Weller's first move a willful act of determination.
Weller snaked his arm around Annie's shoulders. She moved hesitantly into the crook of his arm, but he could feel a holding back, a tension, in the pressure of her body against his. They turned to face each other, eye to eye, lips shimmering across a spark gap from lips, close enough for Weller to smell the perfume of her breath.
"Well ... ?
"Oh, this is ridiculous!" Weller said, trying to giggle it and failing, and he reached out, pulled her to him, and at last touched his lips to hers.
At that moment psychic tension alchemized itself to almost tearful lust, and the body's visceral memories and longing freed him from the paralysis of the mind. The kiss became deep and melting and endless, a dissolution of the tension interface between them.
Weller released his breath into her and tasted her answering sigh, and at last he was free from history and expectation, free from the games and torments of the mind, a human animal come home to his own.
They kissed and they touched, and they tasted each other anew. Clothes came away fumbling in haste, and in what seemed like one continuous bright moment, Weller was deep inside her.
But not deep enough. As he felt her body responding beneath him, he found himself wanting to concentrate his total life-force into the knightly lance of his cock. He had to thrust its purifying length into the ambivalent shrouded core of her and reconquer the lady of his heart from the dragons of the mind.
So what had begun as one thing became another. Tender homecoming became a demonic exercise in fancy fucking. Male ego lust combined with righteous wrath and messianic husbandhood to turn him on in darker and deeper ways than he had ever been before.
Once she began to cry out in orgasm, he threw himself into the center of her ecstasy with even more heightened fervor. He wanted to keep her there for a long, long time. Until she was reformed from the chaos of ecstasy around him, purified of that which had been put there by Transformationalism.
On and on he went, moving into the sound of her rising and falling cries, determined to keep her changes coming until be had fucked her brains clean.
When he finally came himself, it was with blinding, uncontrollable force that shook him to his toes, but even that wasn't enough. Far from being a culmination or a release, it was a goad and a challenge. He wanted to pour himself through this instantaneous pipeline to her center, flow with his own seed, and fill her with himself.
He went on and on afterward until they were both far over the ragged edge of exhaustion, panting and heaving for air.
"My God, it's been a long time," Annie said huskily. "Ah, I've missed you!"
As soon as words returned, Weller felt himself returning from the cosmic battlefield. Now they were neither engaged in some Armageddon of lust and will, nor were they tension-ridden strangers. Now we're just Jack and Annie again.
Annie smiled impishly at him. "It was a lot better than I remembered," she said teasingly. "And as I remember, what I remember was pretty damn good."
"Pretty fucking good!" Weller said, and a laugh managed to bubble out of him. What had to be done, had been done, and from here on in, their lovemaking would become what it had always been -- neither a thing of cosmic tension between them nor the golden path to the reclaimed Annie of his desires.
That battle was going to be decided on a psychic level, not in bed.
On balance he found be couldn't decide whether that was a bledsing or a curse.
In a gesture of housewifely normalcy Annie stacked the last of the dinner dishes in the sink, wiped off her hands, and sat down beside Weller on the couch, which happened to be facing the television set.
But once again her words came not from his wife but from her Transformationalist persona. "I think it's time for you to get your first look at what we're doing here at the Colony."
They had lazed away the afternoon making love and talking, and their lovemaking had become more and more ordinary, even as Weller had known it would, for which he was warmly grateful. The more familiar it seemed, the more of a homecoming it was. There were times when the pleasure of making love to your own wife became the kinkiest sex trip of all.
But he also wondered if they hadn't done so much lovemaking partially because it kept them from talking. She was shining with the fulfilling light of Transformationalism -- what had been a time of agony for him had been a golden age for her. He couldn't be honest with her about what he felt about the movement, nor could he react from the heart to what she told him.
So whenever words replaced touch, the walls were up, and their conversations swiftly degenerated into stylized fencing matches, half-sincere and half-political, in the most loathsome sense of the word.
The last one, mercifully terminated by steak and home fries, had come pretty close to the edge.
She couldn't get over how wonderful it was that he had left Monkey Business and become a director for the movement. "God, it's so good to see you out of there and doing something real. It's like seeing you get out of prison."
"If you consider shooting television commercials a step up from kiddie shows," Weller said.
"But they're Transformational commercials. They're doing something real to change the world, it's not just a meaningless Hollywood sausage factory."
"I seem to remember you had a pretty strong desire to become an Armor Star frankfurter yourself," Weller said testily. "And believe me, all I'm doing now is turning out a different brand of baloney."
Annie looked at him narrowly. "You're not happy to be working for the movement?" she said. "You don't believe in what you're doing?" Suddenly he had the feeling that there was a tape recorder built into the nearest lamp. That was definitely a commissar-type question.
"They're wasting my talents," Weller said, backing off from the test. "I want to be doing the best I can, and churning out commercials is not it, I hope."
"But that's why you're here, Jack," Annie said more brightly. "You've reached a level of consciousness where they'll really let you direct." She kissed him on the cheek. "You're even going to get to work with John! If that doesn't make you proud, it sure does me."
"Well, it's good to hear that," Weller said sullenly. "Seeing as how your little reports on me will help determine whether I get to do it or not. "
"Oh Jack, don't be so paranoid about it. It's nothing, just a formality. Do you think you'd be here at the Institute with me if John had any real doubts?"
"That didn't seemed to be John's attitude," Weller said.
"Do you really think you can understand John's attitudes? We're all supposed to report any regressive tendencies we see in each other. It's for everyone's own good."
"That's charming," Weller snapped. "Does that mean I'm supposed to report any regressive tendencies I see in you?"
Annie actually got nervous for a moment. "Why? Have I said something wrong?"
The humorlessness of it was ridiculous. "Well, I'm not entirely convinced that some wee part of you isn't still interested in a regressive career as a movie star," Weller chided, trying to zing her into seeing the fatuousness of of such an extreme of Transformationalist zeal.
"Really?" she said earnestly. "I really think I've eliminated that block, but if that's what you're picking up, it may be what I'm putting out on some level, and maybe you should report it."
"Oh Annie, can't you tell when I'm putting you on any more?"
''I've forgotten all those tacky little Hollywood games," she had said, giving him a look of momentary contempt.
Fortunately at that point there had been a loud sizzle from the broiler as the steaks called angrily for attention, and the ideological tension that had been building up to a confrontation again had been aborted once more, this time by the dinner table instead of the bed.
But now the dishes were in the sink, and the fencing match would probably begin again, because now they were going on a tour of the Colony, according, no doubt, to his directive for the day. Well, there was no point in delaying the inevitable, and he did have a certain curiosity about what was going on here.
"Okay," he said. "I guess it's time I got the grand tour."
The first stop was in the low white building at the center of the cluster of cabins, where a big, loft-like room was divided up into a series of cubicles. What was going on looked like standard preliminary processing: a subject wired into a brainwave monitor and a processor reading off block-auditing sequences, or life scenarios. Half a dozen people undergoing standard block auditing and meditative deconditioning? Here, at the Institute? It didn't make sense, not after what he had had to go through to get here.
Silently he motioned Annie into the access hall. "What's going on here?" he said. "How come you're running such low-level processes on these people? I was told that no one got into the Institute without going all the way through life analysis. What are these beginners doing here?" He found to his surprise that he somehow felt indignant about it.
"The people at the Colony are an exception," Annie said. She suddenly began to look uneasy, as if there were something going on that she didn't care to talk about.
"Well ... ah ... the Colony has a dual purpose.
"Shall we go meet some of the people at their work?" Annie said with forced brightness.
"You haven't answered my question."
"It's really pretty technical, and I don't think --"
"Come on, Annie, this is me you're jiving," Weller snapped. "Besides, you're my official guide, and if I'm going to work with John, I have to know these things. "
Annie fidgeted for a moment, caught up in some unguessable conflict of directives. "Well, okay. The truth is we have a problem attracting creative people into the movement and keeping them there," she finally admitted grudgingly. They just don't come to the regular Transformation Center -- that's why John thought up the Celebrity Centers. And when we do get them into processing, they almost always drop out at low levels. Something about creative consciousness seems to block processing."
"So you lure them here with free room and board so you can play with their heads."
"You make it sound so tacky."
"Not at all," Annie insisted righteously. "If something about Transformational processing turns off creative people, we've got to learn what it is, and correct it. If we don't bring Transformational Consciousness to the very people who mold mass consciousness, how can we create a Transformational culture? We've got to make Transformationalism chic with the molders of public consciousness."
"A direct quote from John?" Weller said dryly.
"More or less. John is very concerned with this problem, having been a writer himself. But we are getting somewhere, thanks to the Colony. We can process a hundred people a year here. Processing may not be what they come for, but at least they get it, and some of it must stick."
"If creativity interferes with processing, I'd bet my bottom dollar that processing interferes with creativity," Weller said angrily. "How much creative work have you done lately?" For that matter, how creative have I been since I got involved in this mess, he realized glumly. All these mind games sap up psychic energy like vampire bats. No wonder creative people instinctively avoid it! But these poor bastards here get it force fed to them like I did.
"How much work is really getting done in the Colony?" Weller said sharply. "I'll bet all your guinea pigs are sitting around on their asses or reaming out crud to justify their existences."
"That's not so." Annie said. "With modified processing and eptifiers, we're succeeding here. People are being processed and working creatively at the same time. I'll show you. I have to collect some brainwave recordings anyway."
"Sure, why not?" Weller said. "Let's see if the guinea pigs are spinning their exercise wheels."
Annie took him through a copse of trees to a nearby cabin where an emaciated man in cut-off jeans was working on a large abstract canvas in a midden of paints and brushes. But instead of the beret that seemed to go with the act, he wore a brainwave monitor band, but without a wire lead in evidence. As for the work in progress, Weller might not have known much about art, but he knew enough about baloney.
"Hello, Jerry," Annie said. "This is my husband Jack. He makes commercials for the movement. He'll be staying with me now." There was something cold and guarded in the way Annie spoke. She had pointedly avoided mentioning that he was going to be working with John with an instant cover story, and that was something she had seemed womanly proud of, a boast about him that he would've thought she was dying to make.
"Jerry Winter," the thin man said. "So you're the latest inmate of Uncle John's Funny Farm?"
Annie shot Winter an absolutely poisonous look, and Winter seemed to fear it. "Oh come on, Annie," he said ingratiatingly, "it's just a little affectionate inside joke. Don't lose your sense of humor."
He succeeded in forcing a rueful little smile from her. ''I'll just change your tapes, and we'll get out of your way," she said. Then, with painfully obvious emphasis, "I can see you're right in the middle of important work, and I'm sure your tape will confirm it."
She went over to a piece of equipment half obscured by some canvases which looked like a small brainwave monitor without a screen. Instead, reels of tape were spinning atop it at low speed. Annie shut it down and began rewinding the tape onto one reel.
"Is that really what this place is like, a booby hatch?" Weller asked Winter while Annie was absorbed in changing the tapes.
Winter laughed uneasily. "Come on, man," he said, "it was just a joke. We all love it here. This is the best place on the circuit. I've been living at artists' colonies for three continuous years now, so I ought to know. The food is great, the scenery is attractive, and the booze is free. What more could anyone ask?"
Annie started threading a new tape in the machine from a large pile behind it. Winter glanced in her direction, then said confidentially: "Of course, it does get a little weird. Being wired into these machines all day. The processing sessions. The strange potions they give us to drink. "
Annie came back with a reel of tape in her hand, and Winter changed gears again. "As you can see," he continued much more loudly, "we're treated like pampered pets. So if our hosts ask us to contribute ourselves as subjects to their experiments, we'd be ingrates to complain. How sweet it is, compared to teaching Art One to snot-nose kids!"
"And you are working well here, aren't you?" Annie said.
Winter beamed at her, and presented his work in progress -- an endless spaghetti bowl of random multicolored strands that looked as if he had doodled with it forever and as if he could jive it along for twice as long as that. "See for yourself," he said, with a grand paternal flourish of his arm.
Weller had trouble not breaking up, and he had a feeling that Winter was choking on his own laughter too.
Annie accepted that as an exit line, and they left for the next cabin. Weller didn't know whether to be embarrassed at the way Winter was putting on his own wife, or to be amused and pleased at the way he was professionally sponging off John Steinhardt.
"Don't take Jerry too seriously," Annie said as they walked across an expanse of shaded brown earth. "As you can see, he pretends not to take himself seriously either. It's a common mind block with creative people. But you can also see that he is doing creative work."
"Oh sure," Weller muttered, reluctant to pursue the subject further and start another argument. "Uh ... by the way, I noticed there weren't any wires from the headband to the recorder, " he said, in an effort to change the subject. ''What do you use, a radio transmitter in the headband?"
"Uh-huh," Annie said, as they reached the door to the next cabin, "better mobility." Apparently however, she was not about to switch tracks. "Now here we have someone who is as creative and sincere as you could imagine," she said. "Magda Talbot Lawrence, author of ten published novels."
"Never heard of her," Weller said.
"Well ... uh ... they've all been gothics or sex novels up until now," Annie said in a smaller voice. "But that's why she's here," she said more brightly. "Now she's working on a meaningful novel about the Spanish conquest of Mexico. We're giving her the freedom and consciousness to do serious noncommercial work."
In the front room of the cabin a pudgy gray-haired woman in her fifties was typing furiously on an electric typewriter. A fat manuscript was piling up neatly on her desk with Prussian precision. She merely glanced up as they entered. Her face was lined and hard, and she had the eyes of a dedicated proofreader; bored, bleary, but punctiliously alert.
"Please, no conversation now, Annie," she said in a schoolteacher's voice. ''I'm right in the middle of a critical scene, and I can't interrupt the flow."
"I'm only here to collect the tape," Annie said defensively. "I didn't mean to intrude on a creative moment."
"Well, you have, my dear, you have," said Magda Talbot Lawrence. "You don't want to create negative results in your experiments by intruding upon my creative consciousness, now do you? So please go about your business quietly, and let me continue to go about mine."
With that, she determinedly resumed typing, and Annie felt constrained to walk on tiptoe as she did her business and led Weller out of the cabin with a psychic finger to her lips.
"Now tell me people aren't creating here!" she said triumphantly, when they were outside in the free air.
"Well, she looks creative, anyway," Weller said. He wondered whether Magda Talbot Lawrence was the real thing, a tough old bird who was determined to get some work done no matter what went on, or whether her freeloading act was just more sophisticated. Either way, the manner in which she seemed to control the situation and Annie had to be impressive.
"Still the skeptic, Jack?" Annie said, fondling her precious reels of tape. "But these tapes go beyond personas and appearances. When we feed them through the computer, we know who was really in what state of consciousness when. Scientifically."
Then how come your top-scientific brain Bernstein apparently thinks that's baloney? Weller wanted to say. "Uh-huh," he muttered, retreating into his own thoughts. Brainwave patterns characteristic of the creative parts of the mind at work, he could believe. But a machine that could tell whether crud or genius was coming out by reading brainwaves was probably another gizmo out of the science-fiction mind of John B. Steinhardt. An electronic shit detector was a little hard to swallow, especially in the light of how much bullshit there was here that didn't seem to register on their meters.
The final four cabins that they visited confirmed Weller's opinion that the artistes of the Colony were taking John B. Steinhardt and Annie for a ride. There was a young hippie poet who mumbled stoned aesthetic impenetrabilities. And a wood sculptress who wore a muumuu and seemed ready to serve them her special herbal tea. There was a science fiction writer, perhaps a pensioned old crony of Steinhardt's, churning out one more in a long line of potboilers, and ready to deliver an hour-long sermon on the sins of the New York literary establishment at the drop of his own wrongly ignored name. Finally there was a once-famous novelist who hadn't published a book in eight years, who was supposed to be working on some kind of screenplay about his own life, and who was maintaining very well considering that he seemed fried to the eyeballs.
They were a slick collection of ducks, and they knew they had a soft touch here. The con job they seemed to be doing on Transformationalism seemed at least as professional as anything Transformationalism was running on them.
It pleased him to think that know-it-all Steinhardt could still be sucker enough to be exploited by artsy-fartsy slickies even while he was running his programs on them. It restored some of his confidence in his own ability to cope with the Great Man.
"Well, do we have artists or don't we have artists?" Annie said smugly as they walked to their own cabin.
"They're artists, all right," Weller said. "The medium is the message."
The next morning Annie went to work somewhere right after breakfast, and Weller, left alone to sit and wait for nothing in particular, had a flash of what it must have been like for her to stay at home most days waiting for the phone to ring while he was at the studio. He began to understand the attraction of her new life for her. Here she had programmed activity all day that she was convinced was meaningful. She in effect was happier in a nine-to-five job than as a free-lance actress. Was that the thing she had found out about herself that made her happy to give up her career?
One thing you had to say for the Institute, thought seemed to develop complexities in this environment.
He hung around the cabin for an hour or so then took an aimless walk around the compound. When he got back, John B. Steinhardt was wailing for him perched on a golf cart and looking like Teddy Roosevelt as the Great White Hunter in a bush suit with a silver flask sticking out of a pocket.
"Climb aboard, kiddo," Steinhardt mumbled. "We're going to run a little program on old Doc Bernstein. It'll give you the feel of what I want to do with my testament, and we'll have a little fun with the pompous old fart."
"What did you have in mind?" Weller asked, climbing into the cart.
'''Your Monitor act, bucko," Steinhardt said genially. "Don't be coy with me, cobber. Bernstein's half convinced you're a Monitor, and we both know it."
"So," said Steinhardt, starting the car and heading off toward the compound gate. "So we'll help keep his thinking Transformational."
"I have no idea what you want me to do," Weller said.
"Just disagree with me all the time to the best of your ability," Steinhardt said. ''I'll do the rest."
Steinhardt waved patricianly to the guard at the gate, and they buzzed off in the direction of the computer complex. Weller had no idea of what sort of test this was going to be and how he was supposed to pass it. He had a momentary urge to ask Steinhardt for a belt from his hip flask.
"By the way, that reminds me that Annie seems to feel you may have a regressive attitude toward the Colony," Steinhardt said.
Anger coursed suddenly through Weller, not without an admixture of fear. "What did she report I said?" he asked, barely containing his belligerent indignation.
"Why, the poor lass thinks that you believe that our resident intellectuals are a bunch of phonies," Steinhardt said, suppressing a grin that showed only in his eyes. "That their only creative area is that of the mooch artist."
"Uh ... I don't remember saying.... "
"Come on, kiddo, don't try to out-insult me," Steinhardt said genially. "Neither of us is as stupid as we're both pretending. Or course our intellectual zoo here is full of blocked writers, artsy con men, and bullshit artists who can't make it in the marketplace. You think the heavyweights are going to be attracted by free food and flop?"
"But these people are ripping you off and you know it?" Weller said perplexedly.
"You're concerned for my well-being," Steinhardt exclaimed, breaking up into bellowing laughter. He took the flask out of his pocket and unscrewed the cap. "I'll drink to that!" he said, toasting Weller and taking a gulp. "But then, I'll drink to anything!"
"You think that's funny?" Weller said.
Steinhardt nodded, then waved his flask at three passing technicians. ''I'm touched," he said. "To think that you're concerned for my well-being. I always said I was too easily taken advantage of." He broke up into laughter again.
"Would you mind letting me in on the joke?" Weller asked.
"M'boy, these clowns are perfect for my purposes," Steinhardt said. "When they leave here, they'll hang around in bars talking about themselves for hours on end, bullshit forever in endless seminars, and make ends meet by occasionally teaching our impressionable youth. They'll talk about their favorite subject, themselves, in as favorable a light as possible, and that will improve our image in media and publishing circles. Ten years of processing hype artists like these, and Transformationalism will be table talk where the intellectual and media elite meet to eat."
"So it's just a con to sell more Transformationalism?" Weller blurted.
"Everything Transformationalism does is a con to sell more Transformationalism," Steinhardt said matter-of-factly. "But everything is also something else. If I can develop processes and eptifiers that will make these characters creatively conscious, I'll have it."
Steinhardt became more intense than Weller had ever seen him. ''The philosopher's stone, kiddo," he said. ''The ability to make men creative at will. The key to a Transformational world. The culmination of everything I'm trying to do. The new millennium."
"And, incidentally, a cure for writer's block," Weller couldn't help cracking. It made more sense now. All this must in some way be a grandiose attempt to break his own years-long block.
Steinhardt took it with a smile. "Incidentally, my ass!" he said. Being at the mercy of my own subconscious drove me nuts. Try waiting three years for nothing to come, and you'll see what success here can mean. My goddamn writer's block is the essence of the problem."
""The Great I Am," Weller muttered under his breath.
"What did you say?" Steinhardt said sharply.
"Nothing," Weller replied, for he realized that that was what Maria was always calling Steinhardt, and he certainly didn't want to sidetrack Steinhardt into that.
Steinhardt grinned at him strangely. "That was no lady, that was my wife," he said. "When will you learn how far I really am ahead of you, kiddo?"
At that moment they finally reached the computer complex. "And now for our next Transformational lesson of the day," Steinhardt said, parking by the entrance. "Remember, laddybuck, disagree with me as best you can. I'm sure that you'll do fine, now that we've gotten in a little practice."
Storming through the computer complex, Steinhardt accosted Bernstein in the main control room, typing on a keyboard below a display screen. "There you are, Arthur," he said. "We've been having a little discussion I'd like your expert opinion on."
Bernstein looked up, saw that it was Weller with Steinhardt, and seemed to retreat immediately into some psychic distance. "What is it now, John?" he said slowly. "As you can see, I'm busy right now."
"Well, this is a matter of cosmic importance," Steinhardt said. "Jack here thinks our creativity program is a waste of time and money, that we're chasing after the unattainable."
Bernstein looked sharply at Weller. "And what's more, he thinks that you seem to be of the same opinion." Now Weller looked at Steinhardt in surprise. What was this role that Steinhardt was casting him in?
"I've never made a secret of the fact that I believe a lot of this brainwave stuff is of questionable validity," Bernstein said indignantly. "You don't have to send Monitors around to find that out."
"Let's just say that Jack here has persuaded me to look at my obsessions with a more open mind," Steinhardt said, ignoring the innuendo. "So let's have some updated results."
"As you wish, John," Bernstein said coldly. "So far, we've verified that there are certain brainwave patterns that always seem present when a subject is doing creative work." He touched some keys. A series of four regular wavy lines appeared on the display scene. "Subject Jerry Winter in ordinary conversation." He played more keys. The top two lines flattened out while the bottom two seemed more agitated. "Same subject in the act of painting." He typed a long sequence. Five more brainwave patterns appeared on the screen, all closely approximating Winter's. "Five random Colony subjects in objectively verifiable creative states."
Bernstein looked up and back at Steinhardt. "Conclusion: creative states are always associated with characteristic brainwave patterns," he said.
"But we've known that for a long time, Arthur," Steinhardt said impatiently. "What about inducing creative consciousness electronically? That's what you're supposed to be inventing. That's the number-one priority under my personal directive. How long is it going to take?"
Bernstein spoke to Weller, or to Steinhardt through Weller. "John insists that I leap to the next conclusion and build him a creativity machine."
"That's right," Steinhardt said. "I don't see why you're having so much trouble with the piddling details. I gave you the whole idea myself. Reverse the polarity of a brainwave monitor so you can broadcast the creative wave pattern into the brain. Create the right electronic environment, and the creative juices should start to flow."
"You see, Mr. Weller," Bernstein said, "we've built such a device according to John's specifications, and we have been experimenting with it --"
"So where are my results?" Steinhardt roared. ''I'm getting tired of all this dicking around."
"We're still not getting them, John," Bernstein said. "Fear, panic, anger, and tranquility we seem to be able to induce electronically, because they're simple and powerful mental states that override the subtleties. But electronically induced creativity eludes us. Because although certain brainwave patterns are always associated with creativity, it does not necessarily follow that creative activity always arises from the presence of those patterns. It's obviously not a straight causal relationship."
"That's a lot of bullshit," Steinhardt said. "I'm not asking for perfection yet, I just want something that more or less works." He gave Weller a kick and a sidelong glance. "You just want to forget about electronically induced creativity so you can concentrate on the chemical stuff."
What am I supposed to do now? Weller wondered. Disagree with him? Disagree with what?"
"That chemical stuff, as you call it, John," Bernstein said, "is what's getting the best results." He touched a few keys. The six closely approximating brainwave patterns on the screen coalesced into one average pattern. "Characteristic creative pattern." Bernstein typed another sequence, and a second series of brain traces appeared, quite different from the first. "An ordinary subject in resting state," Bernstein said. "The same subject told to write a paragraph about himself." The second pattern moved into a somewhat closer approximation of the first. "Now with eptifier." Now the approximation of the second pattern to the first became much closer.
"Conclusion," Bernstein said, "eptifier elevates the creative consciousness of an ordinary subject doing something like a creative task. Further conclusion: this is the line of research we should give our number-one priority."
'''You see what I mean?" Steinhardt said to Weller. "He's dragging his feet on my project so I'll forget about it and let him ride his own hobbyhorse," Again Steinhardt gave Weller a little kick. Disagree ...? How ... ?
It suddenly dawned on Weller that maybe both of them were chasing rainbows. Steinhardt, with his idea of playing the brain like an electronic organ and Bernstein, with his genius drugs. They were both trying to create talent out of thin air. And all these damn brainwave patterns could possibly show was creative effort, not results. Disagree? It was easy enough to disagree with them both.
"Well, I can see Dr. Bernstein's point about electronically induced creative consciousness," he said, giving Steinhardt what he wanted first. "Seems to me if you recorded Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel and Joe Blow grinding his heart out on his fifteenth unpublishable novel, the screen would show the same damn thing."
"Exactly," Bernstein said, obviously pleasantly surprised. All we can measure is a state of effort. Other states also seem to produce the same brainwave pattern -- stress, for example, and even meditative deconditioning. We can produce the pattern at will electronically, but not the results."
Steinhardt winked at Weller. Weller decided to throw a curve and disagree with Bernstein too. "On the other hand," he said, "all you can do with the eptifier is produce heightened effort in the same situation, not better product, right?"
"So far ...," Bernstein muttered. "But if we could concentrate more effort --"
"So what you're saying is that we're both equally full of shit," Steinhardt said.
"I didn't --"
"No, no!" Steinhardt said, holding up his palm. "That's exactly the kind of feedback I want to get. That's why I wanted you to look things over without preconceptions, Jack. Now what's your recommendation?"
"Recommendation ... ?"
"We're at an impasse here," Steinhardt said. ''I'm willing to listen to reason. That's why I asked you for a fresh opinion. Where do we put our number-one priority? With Arthur's vast scientific background or my vast instinctual vision? Make your recommendation."
By now Weller couldn't figure out what would be taking which side against whom, nor whose side Steinhardt really wanted him to take. Bernstein looked at him very nervously. Sure, as far as he thinks, I'm about to deliver some kind of official Monitor opinion. But what the hell is going on in Steinhardt's head? Well....
"Well, if it were up to me, I guess I'd say go both ways," Weller said. He looked at Bernstein slyly, then exchanged his end of a confidential glance with Steinhardt. Trouble is," he said, "the good doctor here is motivated to make the eptifier experiment succeed at the expense of the electronic stuff." He smiled sweetly at Steinhardt. "And you're biased in the opposite direction."
''I'm biased only toward getting results," Bernstein said angrily.
"Oh come on, Arthur, he's right," Steinhardt said. "If I can admit it, so can you. Question is, what do we do about it, Jack?"
Weller shrugged, having reached the end of his line of bullshit.
Steinhardt clapped his hands together. "I've got it," he said brightly, but with a certain falseness, even sarcasm, to his tone that gave Weller the idea he had been working around to this for a long time. "We'll make it a contest."
"A contest?" Bernstein muttered uneasily.
''I'll free you to work full-time on the eptifier experiments, Arthur," Steinhardt said. "That's what you want, isn't it?"
Bernstein looked at him suspiciously. "Yes," he admitted grudgingly.
"Great. Then it's settled. Hayakawa will take over supervision of the brainwave-induction experiments. You'll both go full bore. At the end of three months we'll see who's produced more results, and the losing project will be canceled."
"Science isn't a contest!" Bernstein said angrily. "This isn't fair. It's blackmail."
"Oh, come on, Arthur," Steinhardt said soothingly. ''I'm putting my own pet project in the same jeopardy as yours, and I'm the boss of everything. Fair is fair. Wouldn't you say so, Jack?"
I guess I'm still supposed to disagree with him, Weller thought. "Well, to tell you the truth, it does sound a little unscientific, John," he said.
"You're not here to tell me what's scientific or not, bucko," Steinhardt said angrily. "What the hell do you know about it? There's too much Monitor interference in scientific affairs around here anyway. Wouldn't you say so, Arthur?"
Suddenly he was directing his confidential looks at Bernstein. What the hell did I do wrong? Weller wondered.
'''For once I agree with you, John," Bernstein said with some emotion.
"Then that's that," Steinhardt said. ''I've listened to enough advice, and now I've decided. Turn over the induction experiments to Hayakawa. So it is written, so it shall be."
"But John --"
Steinhardt held up his hand. "I hear no more," he said. "Come on, Weller, I want a word with you."
He led Weller out to the golf cart without a word, but with an attitude that glowered at him like a thundercloud about to burst. But once outside Steinhardt leaned up against the golf cart and broke into laughter. "Perfect, kiddo," he said. "Now do you see what I'm getting at?"
"Come on," Steinhardt said, climbing into the golf cart. ''It's really quite simple. I'd hoped you'd get it for yourself." Weller got into the cart beside Steinhardt, and they began driving back in the general direction of the Colony.
"Observe what we've done to old Bernstein's head," Steinhardt said. "Now he'll bust his balls to prove his own theories while Hayakawa gives his all to prove mine. And he's not sure whether I just saved his baby from cancellation at the recommendation of the Monitors. You took his side against me and my side against him, so he doesn't know what to think about you. Whose influence am I under? And how much?"
"But what's the purpose of that, except to create paranoia?" Weller said.
Steinhardt laughed. "That's exactly the purpose," he said. "Paranoia is the great motivator of subordinates. Creative chaos, m'boy. The operant characteristic of great leadership such as mine. That's exactly the effect I want my taped testament to have. The kind of ongoing chaos that maintains a true Transformational Consciousness. I mean you've certainly got to admit that we put Bernstein through changes."
He looked at Weller speculatively. "And in regard to you, I wanted to see if we could work together in the production of such Transformational mischief," he said. "And I think we could. But the trouble is, the more you convince me that you're the man I need, the less you convince me that I can trust you. Once more I find myself caught in our central paradox."
"Which is?" Weller said, lost in Steinhardt's maze of machinations.
"Which is that talented people don't seem to trust Transformationalism, and Transformationalism doesn't seem to be able to trust creative talent," Steinhardt said. He took his hands off the wheel to wave his arms momentarily, as if to embrace the Institute. "You think I don't know that all this is my pigheaded Faustian determination to manufacture creative talent out of the general run of mediocrities we attract? To synthesize what I can't extract. My God, I was a creative type myself, and I would've avoided anything like Transformationalism like the plague if I couldn't get to be guru. You think I don't understand where people like you are coming from?"
"Then why not forget the power trips and mind games?" Weller said. "Why not surround yourself with independent equals like Bernstein?"
"Bernstein? Equals?" Steinhardt roared. "I don't have any equals! Creative talent is one thing, being what I am is quite another. I need creative people to serve me, not to tell me what to do."
"You're really serious?" Weller said. "You really think you can surround yourself with talented slaves?"
"Slaves?" Steinhardt said. "Why are you people all so dense? I've got slaves coming out of my asshole! I need wide-awake servants."
"There's a difference?"
"Of course, there's a difference," Steinhardt said, calming down a little. "I know more about making people do what I want them to than any man in history. I can manipulate their minds like a maestro. But what I need is people who are self-motivated to serve the cause, with their talent intact and their minds unprogrammed."
"Sincere, dedicated, self-motivated, creative talent that does what it's told?" Weller said. "You don't ask for very much, do you?"
"No, I don't," Steinhardt said seriously. "I don't want you worshiping me because I'm such a charismatic son of a bitch. I have enough of that to make me puke. I want you to be dedicated to what I'm doing because you believe in it, because you know it works, because you see that I'm right -- of your own free will. Think about it."
They had reached the gate to the Colony compound, and Steinhardt was silent as they passed through it and drove back to the cabin where Weller was staying with Annie, no doubt trying to give Weller the time to see the clear, pure light.
He stopped the golf cart in front of the cabin, leaned back, took a slug of whiskey, and regarded Weller as if he were a father pleading for the love of his errant son. "Look, the way I've handled you is a kind of experiment, Jack," Steinhardt said. "By the time Maria brought you to my attention, every little thing about you was in your dossier. I knew exactly what you were doing and why from the beginning. Torrez wanted you dealt with in the usual way, but I said: no, Fred, this guy's got style, let's give him his run. Let him follow his own star to me, but let's throw the book at him. If he makes it on his own hook, playing his own game, and we transform him from a regressive to a believer in the process, he'll have gotten there creatively, and we'll have solved one of our central problems."
He put his hand on Weller's shoulder. "So here you are, kiddo," he said. "and I still don't know if my little experiment worked. Are you sincere, Weller? You've got everything to gain. Work with me, and you'll be rich and powerful, and your talent will be optimized. All you've got to be able to say to yourself is, 'I was wrong, and John Steinhardt is right,' and a whole, new world opens up. I kid you not."
Weller stared silently at Steinhardt. For a moment he felt the force of a bond of sincerity between them, the impact of a powerful and perhaps even genuinely great man asking for his willing allegiance. He's right, Weller thought. He's offering me the world. Money, power, Annie, a chance to do really creative work. Why can't I just give in and accept it? Why does it repel me?
Why, said the other side of his head, can't you learn to love Big Brother?
So when he finally answered, his words were those of his carefully crafted persona, the character which had brought him this far, and which he could not abandon for the sake of John B. Steinhardt. ''I'm ready to go to work for you right now, John," he said.
"Jesus, I know that, laddy-buck," Steinhardt said. "But are you sincere about it, or are you still just a good con man?"
Weller laughed. "I'd probably give you the same answer you'd give me to that one," he said.
Steinhardt laughed with him. ''I'll drink to that answer," he said, toasting Weller with his flask and gulping down a slug of whiskey.
His eyes narrowed, he shook his head speculatively, and seemed to suddenly withdraw into some private, murky head space. "But as I've said before," Steinhardt said darkly, ''I'll drink to anything."