Sunday, May 8, 2016

"When I Am Finished, Dale, I Shall Probably Kill You"

"The Murder Machine."
By Hugh B. Cave (1910-2004).
First appearance: Astounding Stories of Super-Science, September 1930.
Short story (~18 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg HERE (may require two or more tries to get there).
"Four Lives Lay Helpless Before the Murder Machine, the Uncanny Device by Which Hypnotic Thought Waves Are Filtered Through Men's Minds to Mold Them Into Murdering Tools."
One evening a confused and panic-stricken Sir John Harmon pays Doctor Dale, a psycholo-gist, an unexpected visit, making extraordinary claims: "Some outside power—God knows what it is—is controlling my very existence," and "Is it a dream to have some damnable force move me about like a mechanical robot?" But before Dale can offer any advice or suggest a course of action, "Sir John turned from me in bitterness. Without offering any word of departure, he pulled open the door and stepped across the sill. The door closed, and I was alone."

Shortly afterward, there is a murder; according to the newspaper, "an unknown murderer entered the home of Franklin White, Jr., well known West-End sportsman, and escaped, leaving behind his strangled victim."

The victim's fiancée (and, as Doctor Dale knows full well, one of several suspects in the killing), a lovely French girl named Margot Vernee, comes to Dale with a tale just as outland-ish as Sir John's: "I was engaged to Franklin for more than a month, Doctor: yet for a week now I have been commanded—commanded—by some awful force, to return to—to a man who knew me more than two years ago. I can't explain it. I did not love this man; I hated him bitterly. Now comes this mad desire, this hungering, to go to him."

Reluctantly Dale has to admit he's out of his depth with this one; since the murder is a major aspect of this bizarre case, his best recourse is to seek the help of an old friend at Scotland Yard, a proactive individual who, despite being gifted with a proleptic mind, is still capable of jumping close enough to the wrong conclusion to put the good doctor in grave danger . . .

Principal characters:
~ Sir John Harmon:
   "I've come to you, Dale, because—because I am on the verge of going mad."
~ Margot Vernee:
   "Doctor, for many days now I have been under some strange power. Something frightful, that compels me to think and act against my will."
~ Doctor Dale (no first name, the narrator):
   "I am a doctor, not a master of hypnotism, or a man who can discover the reasons behind that hypnotism. But London has its Scotland Yard, and Scotland Yard has a man who is one of my greatest comrades...."
~ Inspector Thomas Drake:
   "It will be a blind chase, no doubt of it. And when we have followed the trail to its end, I imagine we shall find something very like a tiger to deal with."
~ Inspector Raoul Hartnett:
   "Naturally, Doctor, we have gone rather deeply into the past life of the lady in question. Your name appears, of course, in a rather unimportant interval when Margot Vernee resided in Paris. And so we come to you in the hope that you can perhaps give us some slight bit of information—something that seems insignificant, perhaps, to you, but which may put us on the right track."
~ Michael Strange:
   "You have heard of hypnotism, Dale? You have heard also of radio? Have you ever thought of combining the two?"

Our Mad Scientist Rant of the Day:
   "Science, in its intricate forms, is probably above the mind of a common medical man, Dale. It would be useless to explain to you how my thoughts—and my will—can be transmit-ted through space. Perhaps you have sat in a theater and stared at a certain person until that person turned to face you. You have? Then you will perhaps understand how I can control the minds of any human creature within the radius of my power. You see, Dale, this intricate little machine gives me the power to transform London into a city of stark murder. I could bring about such a horrible wave of crime that Scotland Yard would be scorned from one end of the world to the other. I could make every man murder his neighbor, until the streets of the city were running with blood!"

Typo: "a single staccato shot split the darkness." (Really?)
- Hugh B. Cave was a pulp fiction master who produced stories in just about every genre, Westerns, mysteries, SF/fantasy, and horror (and, yes, he actually did use the nom de plume "Justin Case" for a short period); go to Wikipedia HERE, the SFE HERE, and the ISFDb HERE for more info.
- We recently featured a story about another machine, one that induces people to commit self-murder, which you can find HERE.

The bottom line: "As far as hypnosis is concerned, I had a very serious problem when I was in my twenties. I encountered a man who later became the president of the American Society of Medical Hypnosis. He couldn't hypnotize me."
Theodore Sturgeon

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