The Puppet Masters
|Author:||Robert A. Heinlein
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|Sub-Genre Tags:||Alien Invasion|
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First came the news that a flying saucer had landed in Iowa. Then came the announcement that the whole thing was a hoax. End of story. Case closed.
Except that two agents of the most secret intelligence agency in the U.S. government were on the scene and disappeared without reporting in. And four more agents who were sent in also disappeared. So the head of the agency and his two top agents went in and managed to get out with their discovery: an invasion is underway by slug-like aliens who can touch a human and completely control his or her mind. What the humans know, they know. What the slugs want, no matter what, the human will do. And most of Iowa is already under their control.
Sam Cavanaugh was one of the agents who discovered the truth. Unfortunately, that was just before he was taken over by one of the aliens and began working for the invaders, with no will of his own. And he has just learned that a high official in the Treasury Department is now under control of the aliens. Since the Treasury Department includes the Secret Service, which safeguards the President of the United States, control of the entire nation is near at hand . . .
Were they truly intelligent? By themselves, that is? I don't know and I don't know how we can ever find out. I'm not a lab man; I'm an operator.
With the Soviets it seems certain that they did not invent anything. They simply took the communist power-for-power's-sake and extended it without any "rotten liberal sentimentality" as the commissars put it. On the other hand, with animals they were a good deal more than animal.
(It seems strange no longer to see dogs around. When we finally come to grips with them, there will be a few million dogs to avenge. And cats. For me, one particular cat.)
If they were not truly intelligent, I hope I never live to see us tangle with anything at all like them, which is intelligent. I know who will lose. Me. You. The so--called human race.
For me it started much too early on July 12, '07, with my phone shrilling in a frequency guaranteed to peel off the skull. I felt around my person, trying to find the thing to shut it off, then recalled that I had left it in my jacket across the room. "All right," I growled. "I hear you. Shut off that damned noise."
"Emergency," a voice said in my ear. "Report in person."
I told him what to do with his emergency. "I'm on a seventy-two hour pass."
"Report to the Old Man," the voice persisted, "at once."
That was different. "Moving," I acknowledged and sat up with a jerk that hurt my eyeballs. I found myself facing a blonde. She was sitting up, too, and staring at me round-eyed.
"Who are you talking to?" she demanded.
I stared back, recalling with difficulty that I had seen her before. "Me? Talking?" I stalled while trying to think up a good lie, then, as I came wider-awake, realized that it did not have to be a very good lie as she could not possibly have heard the other half of the conversation. The sort of phone my section uses is not standard; the audio relay was buried surgically under the skin back of my left ear-bone conduction. "Sorry, babe," I went on. "Had a nightmare. I often talk in my sleep."
"Sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine, now that I'm awake," I assured her, staggering a bit as I stood up. "You go back to sleep."
"Well, uh--" She was breathing regularly almost at once. I went into the bath, injected a quarter grain of "Gyro" in my arm, then let the vibro shake me apart for three minutes while the drug put me back together. I stepped out a new man, or at least a good mock-up of one, and got my jacket. The blonde was snoring gently.
I let my subconscious race back along its track and realized with regret that I did not owe her a damned thing, so I left her. There was nothing in the apartment to give me away, nor even to tell her who I was.
I entered our section offices through a washroom booth in MacArthur Station. You won't find our offices in the phone lists. In fact, it does not exist. Probably I don't exist either. All is illusion. Another route is through a little hole-in-the-wall shop with a sign reading RARE STAMPS & COINS. Don't try that route either--they'll try to sell you a Tu'penny Black.
Don't try any route. I told you we didn't exist, didn't I?
There is one thing no head of a country can know and that is: how good is his intelligence system? He finds out only by having it fail him. Hence our section. Suspenders and belt. United Nations had never heard of us, nor had Central Intelligence--I think. I heard once that we were blanketed into an appropriation for the Department of Food Resources, but I would not know; I was paid in cash.
All I really knew about was the training I had received and the jobs the Old Man sent me on. Interesting jobs, some of them--if you don't care where you sleep, what you eat, nor how long you live. I've totaled three years behind the Curtain; I can drink vodka without blinking and spit Russian like a cat--as well as Cantonese, Kurdish, and some other bad-tasting tongues. I'm prepared to say that they've got nothing behind the Curtain that Paducah, Kentucky doesn't have bigger and better. Still, it's a living.
If I had had any sense, I'd have quit and taken a working job.
The only trouble with that would be that I wouldn't have been working for the Old Man any longer. That made the difference.
Not that he was a soft boss. He was quite capable of saying, "Boys, we need to fertilize this oak tree. Just jump in that hole at its base and I'll cover you up."
We'd have done it. Any of us would.
And the Old Man would bury us alive, too, if he thought that there was as much as a 53 percent probability that it was the Tree of Liberty he was nourishing.
He got up and limped toward me as I came in. I wondered again why he did not have that leg done over. Pride in how he had gotten the limp was my guess, not that I would ever know. A person in the Old Man's position must enjoy his pride in secret; his profession does not allow for public approbation.
His face split in a wicked smile. With his big hairless skull and his strong Roman nose he looked like a cross between Satan and Punch of Punch-and-Judy. "Welcome, Sam," he said. "Sorry to get you out of bed."
The deuce he was sorry! "I was on leave," I answered shortly. He was the Old Man, but leave is leave--and damned seldom!
"Ah, but you still are. We're going on a vacation."
I didn't trust his "vacations" so I did not rise to the bait. "So my name is 'Sam'," I answered. "What's my last name?"
"Cavanaugh. And I'm your Uncle Charlie--Charles M. Cavanaugh, retired. Meet your sister Mary."
I had noticed that there was another person in the room, but had filed my one glance for future reference. When the Old Man is present he gets full attention as long as he wants it. Now I looked over my "sister" more carefully and then looked her over again. It was worth it.
I could see why he had set us up as brother and sister if we were to do a job together; it would give him a trouble-free pattern. An indoctrinated agent can't break his assumed character any more than a professional actor can intentionally muff his lines. So this one I must treat as my sister--a dirty trick if I ever met one!
A long, lean body, but unquestionably and pleasingly mammalian. Good legs. Broad shoulders for a woman. Flaming, wavy red hair and the real redheaded saurian bony structure to her skull. Her face was handsome rather than beautiful; her teeth were sharp and clean. She looked me over as if I were a side of beef.
I was not yet in character; I wanted to drop one wing and run in circles. It must have showed, for the Old Man said gently, "Tut tut, Sammy--there's no incest in the Cavanaugh family. You were both carefully brought up, by my favorite sister-in-law. Your sister dotes on you and you are extremely fond of your sister, but in a healthy, clean--cut, sickeningly chivalrous, All-American-Boy sort of way."
"As bad as that?" I asked, still looking at my "sister".
"Oh, well--howdy, Sis. Glad to know you."
She stuck out a hand. It was firm and seemed as strong as mine. "Hi, Bud." Her voice was deep contralto, which was all I needed. Damn the Old Man!
"I might add," the Old Man went on in the same gentle tones, "that you are so devoted to your sister that you would gladly die to protect her. I dislike to tell you so, Sammy, but your sister is a little more valuable, for the present at least, to the organization than you are."
"Got it," I acknowledged. "Thanks for the polite qualification."
"She's my favorite sister; I protect her from dogs and strange men. I don't have to be slapped with an ax. Okay, when do we start?"
"Better stop over in Cosmetics; I think they have a new face for you."
"Make it a whole new head. See you. 'By, Sis."
They did not quite do that, but they did fit my personal phone under the overhang of my skull in back and then cemented hair over it. They dyed my hair to the same shade as that of my newly acquired sister, bleached my skin, and did things to my cheekbones and chin. The mirror showed me to be as good an authentic redhead as Sis. I looked at my hair and tried to recall what its natural shade had been, way back when. Then I wondered if Sis were what she seemed to be along those lines. I rather hoped so. Those teeth, now--Stow it, Sammy! She's your sister.
I put on the kit they gave me and somebody handed me a jump bag, already packed. The Old Man had evidently been in Cosmetics, too; his skull was now covered by crisp curls of a shade just between pink and white. They had done something to his face, for the life of me I could not tell just what--but we were all three clearly related by blood and were all of that curious sub-race, the redheads.
"Come, Sammy," he said. "Time is short. I'll brief you in the car." We went up by a route I had not known about and ended up on the Northside launching platform, high above New Brooklyn and overlooking Manhattan Crater.
I drove while the Old Man talked. Once we were out of local control he told me to set it automatic on Des Moines, Iowa. I then joined Mary and "Uncle Charlie" in the lounge. He gave us our personal histories briefly and filled in details to bring us up to date. "So here we are," he concluded, "a merry little family party-tourists. And if we should happen to run into unusual events, that is how we will behave, as nosy and irresponsible tourists might."
"But what is the problem?" I asked. "Or do we play this one entirely by ear?"
"Okay. But when you're dead, it's nice to know why you're dead, I always say. Eh, Mary?"
"Mary" did not answer. She had that quality, rare in babes and commendable, of not talking when she had nothing to say. The Old Man looked me over, his manner not that of a man who can't make up his mind, but rather as if he were judging me as I was at that moment and feeding the newly acquired data into the machine between his ears.
Presently he said, "Sam, you've heard of 'flying saucers'."
"Huh? Can't say that I have."
"You've studied history. Come, now!"
"You mean those? The flying-saucer craze, 'way back before the Disorders? I thought you meant something recent and real; those were mass hallucinations."
"Well, weren't they? I haven't studied much statistical abnormal psychology, but I seem to remember an equation. That whole period was psychopathic; a man with all his gaskets tight would have been locked up."
"But this present day is sane, eh?"
"Oh, I wouldn't go so far as to say that." I pawed back through the unused drawers of my mind and found the answer I wanted. "I remember that equation now--Digby's evaluating integral for second and higher order data. It gave a 93.7 percent certainty that the flying-saucer myth, after elimination of explained cases, was hallucination. I remember it because it was the first case of its type in the history of science in which the instances had been systematically collected and evaluated. Some sort of a government project, God knows why."
The Old Man looked benignly avuncular. "Brace yourself, Sammy. We are going to inspect a flying saucer today. Maybe we'll even saw off a piece for a souvenir, like true tourists."
Copyright © 1951 by Robert A. Heinlein
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