that you have to chat us up at cocktail parties.'

'The pleasure of talking to you and answering your questions is mine, Jonathan. The fact is that I don't understand why you invited me here in the first place.'

'Success isn't the criterion for being asked to come here; uniqueness is. Your work is unique.'

'That and a dollar will buy me a cup of coffee in Times Square. But thank you, Jonathan.'

'You've had your intake interview with Henry—Dr. Ibber. You'll be talking to a lot of other people from a number of different disciplines. You'll have all sorts of machines beeping in your face, be goosed in more holes than you know you have, and undergo hypnosis. If you have no objections, we may even try a few tricks with sensory deprivation.'

Veil suppressed harsh, sour laughter that he was certain would be misunderstood. He had endured far worse than anything they could do to him here, had seen others endure far worse. He felt a chill. 'I can understand running tests like that on an athlete,' he said quietly, 'but I'm not sure I see the point with a painter.'

'Why? Because the creative act is, and always shall remain, a mystery?'

'Something like that.'

'Well, you could be right. In any case, we'll be taking a long, hard look at the right hemisphere of your brain.'

'I'll have no objections to anything you want to do with me, Jonathan. It all sounds very interesting.'

'Good. Where did you learn to paint?'

'I'm still learning to paint.'


Veil nodded.

'Critics call your work 'dream painting.' Is that how you think of it?'

'Not really. Most of my paintings are based on the colors and textures of dreams, but I never think of my work in terms of a label.'

'Still,' Pilgrim said in what seemed to Veil a curiously flat, neutral tone, 'you must have exceptionally vivid dreams.'

Veil hesitated before this probe into the deepest part of his being. Then he reminded himself of the commitment he had made, and he decided he would not cheat Pilgrim or his Institute. 'I do,' he said after a pause. 'The cause is organic. The infection I mentioned caused some brain damage. In effect, it tore away the protective psychic membrane everyone else has between the conscious and subconscious. For me, dreams and reality are experienced in pretty much the same way—although I did finally learn to tell when I'm dreaming.' He paused again, smiled thinly. 'Before I picked up that particular skill, dreaming caused me one or two problems.'

'Jesus, I would think so,' Pilgrim said in a hushed tone that was just above a whisper. 'You must know one or two things about terror.'

Jonathan Pilgrim was a very perceptive and wise man, Veil thought. His reply was a shrug.

'Have you ever had a CAT scan?'

'A number of times. I can have the results sent here, if you'd like.'

'We'd prefer to do our own.'

'You'll find lesions on the pons and hippocampus, as well as some minimal synaptic damage.'

Pilgrim nodded absently as he blew a smoke ring that was immediately swallowed by the wind. Veil had the distinct impression that Pilgrim badly wanted to pursue this line of questioning, but for some reason the director of the Institute for Human Studies now chose to remain silent.

'If you don't mind, there are a few things I'd like to ask you,' Veil continued at last.

Pilgrim casually tossed the butt of his cigar over the balcony's marble railing. 'Ask away, Veil.'

'Where did you get the idea for the Institute?'

Pilgrim laughed softly. 'In space, of course. Where else? Space is a bit spooky, and out there the brilliant insight came to me that we're just a bit spooky ourselves. I thought it would be nice if, one day, all the best people, ideas, and research connected with human studies could be brought together in one facility. After the accident, I had the time to put it together.'

'How do you fund it?'

'We publish a number of scientific journals, as well as a hefty psychobiological newsletter that a few industries and government agencies find useful, and which they don't mind paying a lot of money for. We do recombinant DNA research, and we hold better than two hundred patents in the field. We do some contract work for corporations. We have an excellent sports-medicine complex, and most of the pro teams use us on occasion to evaluate prospects. We generate some money from books and lecture fees, and once in a while some film studio will spring with a lot of cash for the privilege of using the grounds for location shooting. I suppose we get more than our share of bequests, foundation money, and what's left of the government grants. For the rest, I go out and tap- dance.'

'I'm very impressed, Jonathan. You've done one hell of a job.'

'Well, I'm happy you could accept our invitation.'

'What happens next?'

'Psychological tests. I've arranged an appointment for you with one of our psychologists, Dr. Solow, at ten in the morning. Okay?'


'You'll find a golf cart parked outside your cottage, and a map of the grounds on the desk inside. The psychometric labs are in the C building. If you don't feel like chauffeuring yourself, I'll have someone on the staff pick you up.'

'I'll drive myself.'

'When you're not scheduled for tests, feel free to wander around. Some of the things we do may interest you.'

'I know they will.'

'Is there anything you need?'

'A place to work out, if you have one.'

'There's a fully equipped gym in the basement of F building. It has a weight room with a Nautilus, a pool, steam room, and sauna. If that doesn't suit you, you can always jog around the complex.'


'Anything else?'

'No. Thank you.'

'Then I'll be saying good night.'

'Good night, Jonathan.'

Chapter 3


Veil dreams.

The seven Hmong tribesmen who've escorted him to the meeting site form a semicircle to protect his flanks and back. The Hmongs' automatic rifles are held at the ready as they peer into the surrounding jungle and listen intently for sounds of the enemy. Veil, his M-60 machine gun slung around his bare torso, stands in the middle of the clearing. The humid air is fetid with the smell of rotting vegetation and the human excrement used by the Laotians as fertilizer.

Shortly after three o'clock the helicopter appears in the southwest. Flying at a high altitude to avoid mortar and small-arms fire, the helicopter first appears as a mere speck in the azure sky. The whop-whop- whop of its rotors grows steadily louder as it approaches, then drops at a sharp angle from the sky to hover a foot off the ground at the far end of the clearing. Colonel Bean, Orville Madison, and an ARVN major jump from the Huey, crouch beneath the rotors, and hurry toward Veil. Bean and the South Vietnamese are dressed in fatigues; the sluglike Madison wears a tan summer suit stained with sweat at the crotch and from armpit to waist on both sides. Veil knows that Madison's presence is a bad omen. In addition to being an army officer, Veil is a Central Intelligence Agency operative; here, in the midst of an agency-run secret war in Laos, it is Madison who is

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