SF84The Brain by Alexander Blade闫盼盼OpenCV步步精深

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Title: The Brain



Author: Alexander Blade



Release Date: May 23, 2010 [EBook #32498]



Language: English



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THE BRAIN

By Alexander Blade

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories October 1948. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Repairs had to be made in great haste, at night, while The Brain’s machines slept


CONTENTS

CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX


CHAPTER I

Cautiously the young flight engineer stretched his cramped legs across some gadgets in his crowded little compartment. Leaning back in his swivel chair he folded a pair of freckled hands behind his neck and smiled at Lee.

America’s greatest weapon, greater than the Atom Bomb, was its new, gigantic mechanical brain. It filled a whole mountain—and then it came to life…!

“This is it doctor; we’re almost there.”

The tall and lanky man at the frame of the door didn’t seem to understand. Bending forward he peered through the little window near the engineer’s desk, into the blue haze of the jets and down to the earth below, a vast bowl of desert land gleaming like silver in the glow of the sunrise.

“But this couldn’t possibly be Washington,” he finally said in a puzzled tone. “Why, we crossed the California coast only half an hour ago. Even at 1200 miles an hour we couldn’t be almost there.”

The engineer’s smile broadened into a friendly grin: “No, we’re not anywhere near Washington. But in a couple of minutes you’ll see Cephalon and that’s as far as we go. One professor and 15 tons of termites to be flown from Wallabawalla Mission station, Northern Territory, Australia, to Cephalon, Arizona, U.S.A., one way direct. Those are our instructions. Say, this is the queerest cargo I’ve ever flown, doctor, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

Lee blinked. Removing his glasses which were fairly thick, he wiped them carefully and put them on again as if to get a clearer picture of an unexpected situation. His long fingered hand went through his greying hair and then down the cheek which was sallow, stained with the atabrine from his latest malaria attack and badly in need of a shave. His mouth formed a big “O” of surprise as nervously he said:

“I don’t get it. I don’t understand this business at all. First the Department of Agriculture extends an urgent letter of invitation to a completely forgotten man out there in the Never-Never land. Then almost on the heels of the letter the government sends a plane. I would have been glad to mail to the Department samples of “Ant-termes Pacificus” sufficient for most scientific purposes if they needed them for experiments in termite control; that would have been the simple and the sensible thing to do. But no, they want everything I have; you fellows drop out of the sky with a sort of habeas corpus and a whole wrecking crew. You disturb the lives of my species, which took me ten years to breed; you pack up their mounds lock, stock and barrel. And then you drop me at some place I never even heard about—Cephalon. What is this Cephalon, anyway? If the place had any connotations to entomology, I would have known about it….”


The flight engineer glanced at the irritated scientist curiously and sympathetically: “If you don’t know, I couldn’t tell you what it’s all about myself, I’m sure,” he said slowly. “Cephalon—Cephalon is a place alright, but it doesn’t show on the map. Sort of a Shangri-la, if you know what I mean.”

This cryptic statement failed to have a calming effect on Lee. “Nonsense,” he frowned. “If it is an inhabited place it must be on the map and if it isn’t on the map the place doesn’t exist.”

“Look here,” the flight engineer pointed through the window to the horizon ahead. “What do you think this is, doctor, a mirage?”

Lee stared at the apparition which swiftly materialized out of the ground haze at the plane’s supersonic speed. “It does look like a mirage,” he said judiciously. “Is that Cephalon?”

The engineer nodded. “Prettiest little town in the U. S. for my money. Ideal airport, too. Rather unusual though—I mean the architecture. Take a good look while we’re circling around for the come-in signal.”

Pretty and unusual were hardly the words for it, Lee thought, as he gazed in admiration. Below, Cephalon spread like a visionary’s dream of a far-away future blended with a far-away past. Along wide, palm shaded avenues the flat-roofed terraced houses fanned out into the desert. Style elements of ancient Peru and Mexico were blended together with the latest advances of technology, such as the rectangular sheets of water which covered and cooled the roofs. The business center, dotted with helicopter landing fields on top of the pyramidal buildings, was reminiscent of the classic Babylon and Nineveh. At the center of the man-made oasis a huge fortress-like structure sprawled and towered like a seven-pointed star. Even so, for all its impressiveness of masonry, the lush green of its parks, the bursts of color from its hanging gardens, made Cephalon resemble one enormous flower bed.

Overawed and mystified the lone passenger from Down-Under took in the scene while the big plane circled with diminished speed. “It’s beautiful,” he murmered. “It’s a dream.” And louder then: “Pardon me if I find it hard to trust my senses. I’ve been away from home for more than ten years, to be sure. But then, even in the Australian bush I’ve received some periodicals and scientific journals from the U.S.A. Surely if a city like this has been built during my absence there should have been mention of the fact. And surely a city like this must show on some map. I don’t understand. The longer I look the less I understand….”

The flight engineer shrugged. “It’s a new city, maybe that’s why it doesn’t show.”

Lee nodded. “In that case you must know the meaning of all this. Why did they build this city in the middle of the desert? What purpose does it serve? Why am I here? Why are we circling for so long? There don’t seem to be any other planes up in the air.”

“We cannot come in until our cargo has been examined and okayed,” the engineer said.

Lee raised a pair of heavy and untidy brows: “Cargo examination? In mid-air and with nobody from the ground examining it?”

“That’s it. It’s being done by Radar, one of the new fangled kinds, you know.” He grinned: “I hope, doctor, that your termite species is neither explosive nor fissionable in any way. Because in that case we could never make a landing in Cephalon.”

“How utterly absurd,” Lee said disgustedly. “Even a child would know better. There is no war going on—or is there? What makes them take such absurd precautions?”

The engineer narrowed his eyes. “You’re an American, Dr. Lee, aren’t you? Well, in any case, I can see no reason why I should be beating about the bush. After all, every foreign agent in this country must have learned by now about the existence of Cephalon. It’s too big to be secret anyway. Besides, as you perceive, no attempt has been made to camouflage the place. Cephalon and the whole district takes up about a thousand square miles. It’s a military preserve. Only you don’t see any Brass. What they are doing, I wouldn’t know, but I would rather try to rob all the gold from Fort Knox than get away with a single scrap of paper from that Braintrust Building in the center of the city over there. By the way, that skull shaped building right across the Plaza is the official hotel reserved for very important persons, such as you are listed.”


A deep-throated buzz over the intercom interrupted him. “There, thank God, they finally made up their minds to let us in. One minute more and then a shower, a shave, bacon and eggs, and lots of Java!”

There were what appeared to Lee to be a multitude of people waiting as they landed. Eager and intelligent white faces all lifted up to him and pressed forward with bewildering offerings and requests. A Western Union messenger handed him a telegram in which one Dr. Howard K. Scriven proffered greetings, expressing a desire to interview him. Some cleancut youngster, obviously a scientific worker, assured Lee that he was fully familiar with the care and feeding of “Ant-termes-pacificus-Lee“, that Lee need not concern himself about their welfare, that the mounds would be immediately transferred to Experimental Station 19 G. The “Flying Wing’s” supercargo and two truck-drivers came forward with papers for Lee to sign, as the first of the heavy steelboxes which harbored the mounds were lowered into a van with the whine of an electric hoist. Meanwhile somebody who said he was an assistant manager of the Cranium hotel informed Lee that reservations had been made for him and that he had a car waiting to conduct Dr. Lee to his suite. It was all very mysterious, but efficient. Feeling more and more like some prize exhibit handled without a will of its own on a whirlwind tour, Lee allowed himself to be whisked from the airport to the hotel. With the din of the jets still in his ears, overpowered by impressions which crowded his senses from all sides, he listened politely to the hotel manager’s explanations of the sights without understanding a word of them.

There were flowers in his suite, the carpets were deeper, the bathtub was bigger, the towels piled higher, the breakfast more abundantly rich than anything Lee could remember in the 38 years of his life. “So this is America in 1960,” he thought. “It must have advanced by leaps and by bounds over these past ten years.”

He felt embarrassed because he had almost forgotten the uses of all those comforts, and at the same time deeply moved over the way they embraced him, him, the lost son, the voluntary exile who once had turned his back on them in despair and disgust. But why was all this? He had done nothing to deserve this kind of hospitality. Entomologists as a rule were not transported by magic carpets into Arabian Nights for modest achievements such as the discovery of a new species. All the things which had happened within the last 24 hours were riddles wrapped up in enigmas. Fatigued as he was he couldn’t lie down, he was desperately resolved to get at the bottom of this thing.

There came a buzz from the telephone. A soft and melodious contralto voice announced that its carrier was Dr. Howard K. Scriven’s secretary and would Dr. Lee be good enough to come over to the Braintrust Building to meet Dr. Scriven at 9:30 A.M.? Lee said that he would.


The distance across the Plaza was short enough, but as Lee entered the hall of the huge concrete pyramid he was reminded of Washington’s Pentagon in wartime, for his progress was halted right from the start and at more than one point. He had to line up at the receptionist’s, he was being checked over the phone, a pass was handed to him, and somebody, obviously a plain-clothes man, took him to the express elevator which shot him up to the 40th floor.

There, another plain-clothes man conducted Lee through a long carpeted corridor and up one flight of stairs to a steel door which slid open automatically at their approach. Sunlight was flooding through its frame as Lee followed the guard and the door closed noiselessly behind them.

The man from Down-Under took a deep breath. He had not expected this for it was not a stepping in, but rather a stepping out from a vast tomb into the light of day. This was the top of a huge pyramid, and was in an entirely different kind of world.

The terrace was laid with flagstones and landscaped like a luxurious country club. In its middle there arose a penthouse, low and irregularly shaped like some organic outcropping of native rock. It could hardly be said that it had walls, overgrown as was the stone by creepers and built into the shape of massive pillars. The structure seemed a kind of Stonehenge improved upon by America’s late great architect Frank Lloyd Wright. There were birch shade trees around the house, the leaves whispering in the breeze. From some crevice in the rock came the peaceful murmurings of a spring. A meandering little brook criss-crossed the gravel path under Lee’s feet. From a stone table which might have belonged to some Pharaoh there came the only incongruous noise in this bucolic idyll; it was the nervous ticking of a typewriter, which stopped abruptly at Lee’s approach, and the melodious contralto voice he had already heard over the phone greeted him. “Oh—it’s Dr. Lee from Canberra University, isn’t it? I’m so happy to meet you. Please, do sit down. How was your trip? I’m Oona Dahlborg, Dr. Scriven’s secretary.”

Lee blinked. Out of this world as was this Stone Age cabin in the sky, even more so was the girl. He had a vivid image of American girls as they had been when he had left the States way back in ’49; in fact, he had an all too vivid memory of at least one of them. His memory had been refreshed within the last hour at the airport, at the hotel, at the receptionist’s, and it had been confirmed: they still wore masks instead of their true faces, they still were overdressed, overloud, oversexed, overhung with trinkets and their voices still resounded shrilly from the roof of their mouths.

This girl Oona Dahlborg was different. He raked his brains to find some concept which would express how she was different. The word “organic” came to mind; yes, as one looked at her one sensed a unity of being, a creatural whole compared to which those other girls appeared as artificial composites.

She was tall for a girl, the pure Scandinavian type, and she looked like a young Viking with the golden helmet of her hair gleaming in the sun. She wore a tunic, short, sleeveless and of classic simplicity, the kind of dress which once Diana wore. It revealed the splendor of her slender figure and stressed the length of her full white limbs. On the black of the tunic an antique necklace of large amber beads formed the only ornament. The bow or the spear of the great huntress whom she resembled so much would have looked more natural in her hands than the typewriter; even so, her every move showed perfect coordination of body and mind, a large surplus of vital energy carefully controlled. Had she turned to some different career she might easily have developed into some great athlete or else a great singer. Her beautiful voice had that rare natural gift of using the whole thorax for a vessel of resonance instead of merely the mouth.


It was this voice which fascinated Lee more than the strangeness of the scene, more than her beauty, more even than the things she said. It was like remembering some haunting melody, it transported him into the forgotten land of his youth. It made him feel happy except that suddenly he felt painfully conscious of his ill fitting suit, the emaciation of his body, the atabrine stains on the skin of his face, the wildness and the grey of his hair.

With the shyness of a boy, he accepted first the firm pressure of her hand and then a seat which was another piece of ancient Egyptian furniture.

“Dr. Scriven will be with you in a few minutes,” she said. “Unfortunately he is a little delayed by an official visitor from Washington. The unexpected always happens over here. Meanwhile….”

She suddenly interrupted herself. The searching look of her deep blue eyes startled Lee by its directness. There was in it a depth of understanding and of sympathy which penetrated to his heart. He felt as if she already knew about him and knew everything. It lasted only a few seconds before she continued, but in a different, a warmer voice:

“I think we can drop the usual conventions,” she said. “We know you, Dr. Scriven and I. We know your work as published in the journal of entomology. It is the work of a man of genius. You are not the kind of man whom I must entertain with the usual small talk about the weather, how you have enjoyed your trip, or whether you feel very tired—as you probably do—and all the rest of it. That is routine with most of our visitors; it’s quite a relief to feel that I can dispense with it for once.”

Lee had blushed under this frankness of compliment as if a decoration had been pinned to his breast. “Thank you, Miss Dahlberg, you put me at my ease. I’ve been out in the wilderness for so long that I’ve lost the language of the social amenities. I really feel like another Rip van Winkle. All this,” he made a sweeping gesture, “is tremendously new and surprising to me. There are so many burning questions to ask….”

The girl gave him a smile of sympathy. “Of course,” she said, “and I can imagine some of them. To begin with, we owe you an explanation and an apology for having used the methods of deception in getting you here. As you probably know by now the work we’re doing here is closely connected with the National defense. Whether we like it or not, military secrecy forces us to use roundabout ways in contacting scientists who happen to work in some context with our field, especially if they live in foreign lands. That’s why in your case we have used the good offices of the Department of Agriculture in bringing you here. Dr. Scriven feels terrible about this. He feels that to be lifted out from one desert just to be dropped into the middle of another must be a fierce disappointment to you. For this and all the disturbance of your work—can you manage to forgive us Dr. Lee?”

The sincerity in these regrets was such that Lee hastened to reply: “You don’t owe me any apology, Miss Dahlborg,” he reassured her. “Naturally it is impossible for me to see any connection between my work with ants and termites and the problems of National Defense. But I am an American; I wouldn’t doubt for a moment the legitimacy of your call.” The girl nodded: “Besides you have fought for your country in the second world war,” she added. “And also you are the son of General Jefferson Lee of the Marines. You understand of course that we had you investigated before calling you here; do you mind very much?”


Again Lee blushed; this time even deeper than before. He squirmed in his seat. “No, I guess not. I suppose it’s necessary. Now that I’m going to meet Dr. Scriven, who is he? I probably ought to know—forgive my ignorance.”

“You really don’t know about him?” The girl sounded surprised. “He’s a surgeon. He’s considered the foremost living brain-specialist. Remember the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi war criminals? Dr. Scriven did the post-mortems on their brains. He wrote a book that made him famous.”

“Of course,” Lee slapped his forehead. “Yes, but of course, how could I forget.”

“Yes,” she answered, “He was made the head of the Braintrust over here.”

“What is the Braintrust? What does it do? What am I supposed to do here?” Lee asked eagerly.

The girl’s smile was mysterious: “I think Howard would like to explain all that to you in his own way.”

“Howard”. The word struck Lee like a vicious little snake. Was he a friend, or more than a friend to her? “This is terrible,” he thought, “I’ve been away from normal life for overlong. Must be that I’m emotionally unbalanced. I haven’t known her for five minutes. There is nothing between us. I’ve no earthly right to be jealous; it is absurd, it’s mean.”

He felt deeply ashamed. Yet as he looked at her he couldn’t deny the truth before himself: that he was jealous, that he had fallen in love with a girl who looked like the goddess Diana with a golden helmet for hair.

There was a noise of footsteps on the gravel paths. A man with a portfolio under his arm walked briskly by the stonetable; despite his civilian clothes he had “Westpoint” written all over him. He disappeared through the steel door.

“That was General Vandergeest”, Oona said. “Dr. Scriven will see you now; just walk in, Dr. Lee.”


CHAPTER II

Inside, the cabin in the sky seemed to be built almost entirely around a huge primeval looking fireplace. Despite the fierceness of the Arizona sun there was a fire in it of long and bluish flames, one of those modern inventions which reverse the processes of nature. Like the gas refrigerators of an older period, this fire worked in combination with the airconditioning system to cool the house, lending to it in the midst of summer heat the same attractions which it had in winter.

In front of the fire and framed by its rather ghostly light, there stood a man with his head bowed down, pensively staring at the flames. As Lee’s steps resounded from the ancient millstones which formed the floor, Dr. Scriven wheeled around; he approached the man from Down-Under with outstretched hands.

Rarely had Lee seen such a distinguished looking figure of a man. He looked more like a diplomat of the extinct old school than a scientist, with the immaculate expanse of his white tropical suit and the dignity of his leonine head. His width of shoulder and the smooth agility with which he moved gave the impression of great strength. Only his fingers were small, slender, almost like a woman’s.

The reluctant softness of their pressure contrasted so much with his heartiness of manner that Lee felt repulsed by their touch until he remembered that a great surgeon lived and caused others to live by his sensitivity of hand.

“Dr. Lee, I’m happy, most happy, that you have been able to come.” Scriven’s voice was soft, but he spoke with an extraordinary precision of diction which had a quality almost of command. “Over there, please, by the fire….”

From the blue flames there came the freshness and the coolness of an ocean breeze; the rawhide chairs, built for barbaric chieftains as they seemed, proved to be most comfortable; the semidarkness, the roughness of the unhewn stone, gave a sense of the phantastical and the paradox. Lee sat and waited patiently for Scriven to explain.

“In case you’re wondering a little about this setup,” Scriven made a sweeping gesture around the room, “I’ve long since reached the conclusion that in these mad times a man needs above all some padded cell, some shell in which to retire and preserve his sanity. This is my padded cell, soundproof, lightproof, telephoneproof; a wholesome reminder of the basic, the primeval things. Simple, isn’t it?”

Lee blinked at the extravagance of this statement. “Do you really call that simple?” he asked.

Scriven grinned: “You are right; it is of course a willed reversal from the complex, synthetic and perhaps a little perverse. But then, not everybody has the opportunity you had in living in the heart of nature. Frankly I envy you; your work reflects the depth of thinking which comes out of retirement from the world. That’s why I called you here; that’s why I am so sure you’ll understand.”

He paused. Lee thought that he saw what was perhaps a mannerism; the great surgeon didn’t look at his visitor. With his head turned aside, staring into the flames, stroking his chin, speaking as if to himself, he reminded Lee of some medieval alchemist.

“It’s a long story, Lee,” Scriven continued. “It starts way back with a letter I wrote to the President of the United States. In this letter I pointed to the immense dangers which I anticipated in the event of an atom war; dangers to which the military appeared to be blind. I am referring to the inadequacy of the human brain and its susceptibility to mental and psychic shock. I explained how science and technology over the past few hundred years had developed by the pooled efforts of the elite in human brains, but that the individual brain, even if outstanding, was lagging farther and farther below the dizzy peak which science and technology in their totality had reached. I further explained, by the example of the Nazi and Jap States, how the collective brains of modern masses are reverting from and are hostile to a high level of civilization because it is beyond their mental reach. You know all this, of course, Lee. I made it clear that not even the collective brains of a general staff could be relied upon for normal functioning; that no matter how carefully protected physically, they remained exposed to psychic shock with its resultant errors of judgment. How much less then could production and transportation workers be expected to function effectively in the apocalyptic horrors they would have to face….”


Lee’s eyes had narrowed in the concentration of listening; his head nodded approval. He wasn’t conscious of it, but Scriven took note of it by a quick glance. His voice quickened:

“That was the first part of my letter, Lee. I then came out squarely with the project which has since become the work of my life. I told the President that under these circumstances the most needed thing for our country’s national security would be the creation of a mechanical brain, some central ganglion bigger and better than its human counterpart, immune to shock of any kind. This ganglion to be established in the innermost fortress of America as an auxiliary augmenting and controlling the work of a general staff. I gave him a fairly detailed outline of just how the thing could be done. There was really nothing basically new involved. Personally I have held for a long time that Man never “invents”, that in fact it is constitutionally impossible for him to do so. Being a part of nature Man merely discovers what nature has “invented” in some form of its own a long time ago. Mechanical brains. Lord, we have had them in their rudiments for the past hundred thousand years, at a minimum. The calendar is one; every printed book is one; the simplest of machines incorporates one. And ever since the first mechanical clock started its ticking we have developed them by leaps and bounds!”

“And did the President react positively to this project?” Lee asked.

Scriven shook his head. “He did not.”

Then he paused. Little beads of perspiration had appeared on his forehead; he wiped them away with a handkerchief:

“That year, Lee,” he began again, “when the decision was pending and I could do nothing but wait, knowing that there was no other defense against the Atom Bomb, knowing that our country’s fate was at stake—it made me grey, it came pretty close to shattering my nerve…. But then….” His body tightened, the small fist pounded the rail of the chair: “… But then We BUILT THE BRAIN.

He said it almost in a triumphant cry.

Mounting tension had Lee almost frozen to his seat. Now he stirred and leaned forward.

“It actually exists? I mean it works? It is not limited to the analysis of mathematical problems but capable of cerebrations after the manner of the human brain?”

Scriven, with a startling change, sounded dry, very factual in a tired way as he answered: “I appreciate your difficulty of realization, Dr. Lee. The whole idea is new to you and I have presented it in a rather abrupt and inadequate way. In time, and if we get together, as I hope we will, you shall get visual impressions which are better than words. For the moment, just to give you a general idea and to prove that this is not a small matter, let me give you a few facts: Our first monetary appropriation for The Brain, as an unspecified part of the military budget, of course, was for one billion dollars. We have since received two more appropriations of an equal size.”

Lee’s gasp made a sound like a low whistle. With a depreciating gesture Scriven waved it away.

“While these funds could only cover the first stages in the construction of The Brain,” he calmly went on, “we have been able to build a mechanical cortex mantle composed of ninety billion electronic cells. Considering that the cortex mantle of the human brain contains over 9 billion cells, this doesn’t sound like much. Our synthetic or mechanical cells are a little better than the organic, natural cells, but not very much. So alone and by themselves their number would indicate only a ten times superiority of The Brain over its human counterpart. If that were all the result of our labors, a brain of, let’s say, twice genius capacity, we would be a miserable failure. But then we have achieved a very considerable improvement in the utilization of the The Brain’s cortex capacity. In the first place we have full control over the intake of thought impulses; and more important, we use multiple wave lengths in feeding impulses to The Brain and throughout all the impulse-processings. Even the human brain has some capacity of simultaneous thought on different levels of consciousness, but its range in this respect is extremely limited. The Brain by way of contrast operates on two thousand different wave lengths, which means that The Brain can process at least 2000 problems at one time. Finally, the absence of fatigue in The Brain makes operations possible for 20 out of the 24 hours of the day—the rest of the time we need for servicing and overhauling.”


With apparent effort Scriven turned his face away from the blue flames. His dark brown eyes probed into Lee’s as he summed up:

“All together, Lee, The Brain has now reached the approximate capacity of 25,000 first class human brains. You as a man of vision will understand what that means….”

Lee had his face upturned. The tension of thought gave to his features something of the ecstatic or the somnambulist. Slowly he said:

“The equivalent of twenty-five-thousand human brains—there is no comparison other than a God’s….”

Striven had jumped from his chair. He started pacing the flagstones in front of the fire, whirling his mighty frame around at every corner with a sort of wrath, as if about to meet some attack.

“Yes, you are right,” he almost shouted, “we hold that power; that power almost of a God’s. And how we are wasting it.”

“What do you mean?” Lee’s eye-brows shot up. “You would not waste those powers once you have them. You would turn them to the most constructive use—the advancement of science, of humanity!”

Scriven froze in his steps. A cruel smile parted his lips; there was a gnashing sound of big white teeth. He pointed a finger at his visitor.

“Idealist, eh? That’s what I thought I was ten years ago. That’s what I had in mind with The Brain right from the start. As it has turned out, however, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and half a dozen other government departments, besieged The Brain for the solution of their “problems”, some of them as destructive as warfare, others as insipid as the trend of the popular vote in some provincial primaries. Sometimes Uncle Sam even farms out the services of the Brain to aid some friendly foreign government—without that government’s knowledge as to where the solution is coming from. To cut a long story short: What these fellows utterly fail to understand is that The Brain is not a finite mechanism like any other, but a mechanism which unendingly evolves and becomes richer in its associations by the material which is being fed into its cells. In other words; the Brain learns; consequently it must betaught, it must be given the wherewithal for its own self-improvement….”

Scriven halted his impatient step by the other’s chair. His nervous fingers tapped Lee’s shoulder: “And that is where you come in.”

“Me?” Lee asked, startled. “What you just told me, Dr. Scriven, it will take me weeks to comprehend. At the moment I am at a loss to see how my work could connect….”

The surgeon’s sensitive hand patted Lee’s shoulder as if it were the neck of a shy horse. “You will comprehend—in just another moment.”

He pressed a button; in the entrance to the cabin in the sky the girl appeared, like an apparition. She approached, her hair a golden halo, her tunic transparent against the glare of the summer day. “Yes?”

“Oona, please

She seemed familiar with the boss’ code. With a smile on her lips she walked over to one of the pillars, opened a hidden recess and brought out the Scotch and syphon using an Egyptian clay tablet for a tray. With surgical exactitude Scriven poured out a good two fingers for his guest and an exceedingly small one for himself. “Stay with us for a moment, Oona, please,” he said. “I didn’t tell you the idea behind my calling Dr. Lee; you might be interested.”

Wordlessly she slid into a seat, attentive and yet fading somehow into the background, as if trying to remain unnoticed. In that she did not succeed. Her beauty was such that its very presence changed the atmosphere; it put Lee under a strain to keep his eyes off her. As to Scriven, he seemed to address her almost as much as he did Lee.

“You have met Dr. Lee, haven’t you, Oona; but do you know whom you have met? He probably wouldn’t admit it; nevertheless Dr. Lee is the most successful peacemaker on earth, I think. He has just put an end to the oldest war in this world between the two most venerable civilizations in existence. That war between the states of the ants and the states of the termites has been waged with never abating fury for millions of years—until Dr. Lee came along with the perfect solution of the eternal dispute. All he did was to crossbreed the belligerents and now we have “united nations”, Ant-termes-pacificus-Lee which lives up to the spirit of its name. Elementary, isn’t it?”

“So elementary,” the girl said with ironical sweetness, “that the so-called peacemakers of the international conferences must have considered it below their dignity to stoop to it. How exactly did you do it; I mean the crossbreeding?”


Lee felt his cheeks burn; it was extremely irritating that this should happen to him every time Oona Dahlborg spoke to him, especially when it was in praise.

“It wasn’t too hard,” he said depreciatingly. “The main difficulty lay not with the termite queen nor with the furtive little king of the ants themselves. Biggest trouble was in getting the potential lovers together against the bulldog determination of their palace guards. To use force was out of the question. So I had to trick the guards, smuggle in the male and keep him hidden under the royal abdomen of his spouse.”

She smiled amused. “What a perfect classic; the story of Romeo and Juliet all over—and with you in the role of the nurse.”

Lee blushed still deeper at that. “Yes”, he admitted, “I was very much reminded of that story and my role in it. Only I had to avoid the tragic end.”

“And how did you avoid the Shakespearean end?”

“In the best cloak and dagger manner, Miss Dahlborg. First I made the guards drunk; that’s easy enough with termites. Then I broke into the chamber where they keep the queen immured. I killed her legitimate consort and substituted my own candidate after having anointed him with the genuine termite smell. Finally I re-immured the pair. There are only little holes in the walls through which the royal family is serviced, they are never really in touch with their guards. That’s why it could work.”

“And thus they lived happy forever afterwards,” the girl concluded.

“I’m afraid not, Miss Dahlborg,” he said, “there is no such thing as happiness in the eternal gloom of termite society. But even if not happy, the match I brought about was definitely blessed. In due course I became godfather to 30,000 baby ant-termes; I’ve about 15 million now in different hybrid strains. Now that I have an inkling of the grandiose work you are doing over here I am ashamed to mention mine; it’s very small, very insignificant and I still don’t see where it comes in.”

The girl seemed to cross out those words with an energetic move of her head. “No,” she said, “your work is not small nor is it insignificant; it is great and contains the most intriguing possibilities.”

“Ah!” Scriven interrupted. “I have been waiting for this. I knew that Oona would hit upon those intriguing possibilities; her’s is an unspoiled intelligence; it penetrates to the core of things. Dr. Lee, let me begin at the beginning so you will understand just where you and your work connect with The Brain. The society of the higher insect states like bees and ants and termites constitutes the oldest and the most stable civilizations in this world. Human society by way of contrast has created the youngest and the most unstable civilization amongst higher animals. Throughout history we find collapse after collapse of civilization. Quite possibly civilizations higher than ours may have existed in prehistoric times. Right?”

Lee nodded assent.

“Fine. From that it follows that Man has much to learn from the society of the higher insects. Their ingenious laws and methods, their “spirit of the hive,” the incredible renouncement of individual existence and individual advantage, their undying devotion to the race…. We must study those if ever we want to reach anything like stability in our society. We ought to model our civilization after theirs, especially now that we have this new species “Ant-termes-pacificus” which has renounced war. There is something basically wrong with the type of civilizations which Man builds and which ceaselessly devour one another. No doubt you see the third World War approaching inexorably just as I do; civilization forging ahead, for what? For the big plunge into suicide. It’s sickening to think of it. Do you feel I’m right?”

Unconscious of himself Lee had arisen and paced the room. With his lean long-legged figure bending slightly forward and wild-maned head bowed down in thought he resembled a big heron stalking the shallows for prey.


Fascinated, Oona’s eyes followed the two contrasting men as their paths criss-crossed like guards before some palace gate. She alone had kept her seat. It was with greater assurance than before that Lee now spoke.

“I can see eye to eye with you, Scriven, as to the wrongs of man-made civilization and its probable course. But I do not think it desirable that we should model human society after the insect states. Ingenious as it is, their system is the most terrifying tyrany I could imagine. Just think of it: they literally work themselves to death. Workers who have outlived their usefulness are either killed off, or else they become the bloated, living containers for the tribe’s staple food.”

“You, yourself, can see the similar trend in Man, today. Our production of new thought is lagging; not starting from the roots, it becomes superficial, cut off from the roots. The results? The curse of the Babylonian confusion of the tongues under which we live. We are rapidly becoming thought-impotent. Cerebral fatigue, dissociation of its nerve paths, emotionalism which rejects logic as “too difficult”, mass idiocy and relapse to barbarism…. It is by our brains, it is by this highest evolution of matter that we have built this civilization of ours; and now our own brainchild proceeds with might and with main to destroy the very organ of its creation. Is that not irony supreme?

“Now we have The Brain, this truly superlative tool of 20,000 times human capacity. All we have to do now is to submit the various societies which nature has built: insect states, other animal states, Man and his state to the analysis of The Brain. Have their good and their bad features tested and compared. Let The Brain synthesize all the beneficial components, let it shape the pattern of a new civilization more enduring and better adapted to the nature of Man. And then abide by the laws which The Brain lays down. I need your aid, Lee. You have already made one most valuable contribution to “peace on earth” with your “Ant-termes-pacificus“. This is your big chance to continue the good work; be with us, be our man.”

In silence both men stood close to each other, eyes searching. All Oona Dahlborg could hear was their heavy breathing. Instinctively she crossed her fingers; never before to her knowledge had Scriven opened his mind with such reckless abandon—and to a perfect stranger at that. Her respect for the strange, the birdlike man from Down-Under skyrocketed.

“He really must be a great man,” she thought, and, “Howard and he will be either fast friends or very violent enemies.”

At last Lee’s voice came, husky and highpitched with emotion: “I cannot conceive of a man-made superhuman intelligence. Neither can I believe that mankind could or should be forced into its happiness by an intelligent machine. But that’s besides the point … the idea is grandiose. It has the sponsorship of the government. You say that The Brain needs me. That makes it a duty; so here I am.”

He stretched out his hand and felt the cautiously eager grip of the surgeon’s sensitive fingers. The great man beamed. “Good,” he said, “I knew you would. Oona, like a good girl—the glasses, yours too. This really deserves a toast.”

The girl stepped between the two men. Handing Lee his glass she said: “Today you may follow only the call of duty; tomorrow it will be the call of love. I’ve never met any man who has not fallen in love with his work for The Brain.”

“I think you are quite right in that, Miss Dahlborg,” he answered, wondering vaguely exactly what her words meant, wondering also just how much his decision was inspired by the wish to see more of her.


They drank their toast in silence. Scriven then turned to the girl:

“Apperception center 36,” he said. “Yes, I think 36 will be the best. Get in touch with Operations, Oona. Tell them I want 36 cleared for the exclusive use of Dr. Lee. Call Experimental; I want the whole batch of “Ant-termes-pacificus” transferred to Apperception 36 by tomorrow morning. Then—no, today is too late and Dr. Lee is tired, he needs rest—but tomorrow at 8 A.M. I want a car for him to go over to The Brain. Would that suit you, Lee?”

“Fine; but why a car? It’s only a few steps….” He stopped, confused by the hearty laughter in the wake of his words.

“It’s quite a few steps, Dr. Lee.” Oona said, “you would be very tired before you got there; chances are that your feet wouldn’t carry you that far.”

“But this is the Brain Trust Building,” he stammered.

“It is,” Scriven answered, “but it houses only part of the administration, not The Brain. You wouldn’t expect us to place a thing of such vital strategic importance in a skyscraper on a wide open plain as a landmark for every enemy?”

“No, I guess not.” Lee said. “But since I’m briefed to go there, where is it?”

“That,” Scriven frowned, “is a very reasonable and a simple question. Unfortunately, I do not know.”

Lee felt a wave of red anger; it rose into his cheeks because he saw the sparks of frank amusement dancing in Oona Dahlborg’s eyes. He opened his mouth to some bitter remark about this hoax when Scriven put a restraining hand upon his arm.

“This is no joke, Lee. I have planned The Brain, have in part designed it, seen it under construction for the past ten years, managed its affairs—but I don’t know where it is and that’s a fact.”

He led his speechless guest to a lookout on the west side of the room. Beyond the lush, green oasis of Cephalon the desert stretched unbroken till on the far horizon the mountains of the High Sierra rose in a blue haze of scorching sun. His hand moved sweepingly from north to south.

“Over there,” he said, “somewhere inside those mountains; that’s where it is. But its location? Your guess is as good as mine. Take your choice of any of the mountains, attach a name to it; I’ve done so myself. One of them must be “The Cranium”, but the question remains: which? There are people who know, of course; military intelligence, the general staff; but that,” he shrugged his shoulders, “… isn’t my department.”


CHAPTER III

The Brain Trust car which took Lee out of Cephalon was a normal-looking limousine, a rear-engined teardrop like all the “60” models, slotted for the insertion of wings which most of the garages now kept in stock and rented at a small charge for cross-country hops. The only non-standard feature seemed to be the polaroid glass windows which were provided all around and not only in front.

“That’s a good idea,” Lee said adjusting the nearest ones, “they ought to have that on every car, all-round protection to the eyes.”

“Think so, sir? Must be the first time you’re driving out there,” the young chauffeur said.

The car left the outskirts and the desert started to fly by as the speedometer needle climbed above the 100 mark. Lee sank back into his seat; the desert had no novelty for him and since the chauffer appeared not inclined to small talk he abandoned himself to thought.

His visit to his father had not been much of a success….

Time magazine had carried an item in its personal column, briefly stating that General Jefferson E. Lee, “the Old Lion of Guadalcanal,” had retired from the Marines to Phoenix, Ariz…. Phoenix, the hotel desk had informed him, was only some 300 miles away and there was hourly service by Greyhound helicopter-bus.

So he had taken the ride, a taxi had brought him to the small neat bungalow, and there he had seen his father for the first time in years. It had been very strange to see him aged, the nut brown face a little shrunk. He had anticipated that much. But somehow he had failed to imagine the most obvious change; to see his father in civvies and even less to see him trimming roses with a pair of garden shears. It looked such an incongruous picture for a “Marines’ Marine.”

As he had come up the little path his father had looked up.

“So it’s you, Semper.” Slowly he had peeled off the old parade kid gloves without a change in his face. “Nice to see you,” he had said. “Didn’t expect to before I start pushing up the daisies from below. Where’s your butterfly net?”

No, in character his father hadn’t changed a bit. He still was the old “blood and guts” to whom an entomologist was sort of a human grass-hopper wielding a butterfly net, and a son indulging in such antics a bit of a freak, a reproach to his father, a failure of his life.

Even so, he had led the way into the house and things had been just as he remembered them: the old furniture, pictures crowding one another all over the walls, on the unused grand piano—Marines in Vera Cruz, Marines in China, Marines in Alaska, in the Marianas, in Japan, at the Panama canal; Marines, Marines, Marines, wherever one looked, in ghostly parade. No, nothing had changed. It had been mainly jealously which had caused him to rebel against becoming another Marine, the first wedge which had driven him and his father apart.

“What are you doing now, padre?” he had asked.

“You’ve seen it. Nothing. Just puttering around. They’ve made me commander of the National Guard over here,” and with a contemptuous snort, “—a sinecure; might as well have given me a bunch of tin soldiers to play with. What brought you here?”

Glad to change the subject Lee had told about Australia, had mentioned The Brain and the possibility of joining it. His father had not been pleased.

“Heard of it,” he had grumbled. “Shows how the country is going to the dogs. Now they need machines to do their thinking with. If their own brains were gas they couldn’t back a car out of the garage. So you’re mixed up with that outfit; well—how about a drink?”

“Rather,” he had answered, feeling the need for washing down a bitterness; thinking, too, that it might break the ice between him and his father.

And then there was that painful moment when they had stood, glasses in hand and remembered….

The selfsame situation fifteen years ago as the Bomb fell upon Hiroshima. He had been on convalescence furlough. They had been alone when the news came and there had been a drink between them just as now. And after the announcer stopped he had cried out hysterically like a child in a nightmare.

“Those fools, that’s the end of civilization, that’s no longer war.”

“Shut up,” his father had shouted, “how dare you insult the Commander in Chief to my face. Get out of here andstay out.”

A highball glass had crashed against the floor. And that had been the end. He hadn’t returned after the war.

Yes, it was most unfortunate that now, after so many years, they should read that memory in their faces; that it was only the glasses and not the minds which clicked.

They had put them down awkwardly with frozen smiles on their lips and his father had said:

“Sorry. But an old dog won’t learn new tricks. Guess it’s too late in the day for me and you to get together, son.”

“It’s never too late, Dad,” he had wanted to say, but the words died on his lips.

So it had been the failure of a mission; but then it closed an old and painful chapter with finality and he was free to open a new leaf.


Lee looked ahead again. The speedometer needle trembled around the 150 mark. The sun drenched sand shot by, Joshua trees gesticulating wildly in the tricky perspectives of the speed, out-crops of rocks getting bigger now and more numerous, the road ahead starting to coil into a maze of natural fortresses, giant pillars and bizarre pyramids looking like the works of a titan race from another planet shone in unearthly color schemes of black and purple and amber and green. With the winding of the road and the waftings of the heat it was hard to make out a course, but the Sierra Mountains now were towering almost up to the zenith; like a giant surf they seemed to race against the car.

“Mind if I close the windows, sir?”

The chauffeur’s question was rhetoric; he had already pushed a button, the glass went up and within the next second the inside of the car turned completely dark.

“Man,” Lee shouted, gripping the front seat, “are you crazy?”

There suddenly was light again, but it was only the electric light inside the car. The blackout of the world without remained complete, and the speedometer needle still edged over the 150 mark.

“Crazy? I hope not.” The chauffeur said it coolly; leaning comfortably back he turned around for a better look at his fare.

With mounting horror Lee noticed that he even took his hands off the wheel. Nonchalantly he lit a cigarette while the unguided wheel milled crazily from side to side and the tires screeched through what seemed to be a sharp S-curve. Still with his back to the wheel and in between satisfying puffs of his smoke he continued:

“It’s quite O.K. sir; it’s only that we’re on the guidebeam now. This here car doesn’t need a driver no more; it’s on the beam.”

“What beam?” Lee relaxed a little; it was the unexpectedness which had bowled him over. “What beam? And why the blackout?”

“Just orders,” the young man said. “The Brain’s orders and it’s the Brain’s beam. Seems to be new to you, sir; to me it’s like an old story; read about it when I was a kid: how they blindfolded people who entered a beleaguered fortress. “The Count of Monte Cristo,” it was called; ever heard about it? Pretty soon now we’ll be stopped for examination before we enter the secret passage underground. Romantic isn’t it?”

“Very much so,” Lee dryly remarked. He continued to watch the behavior of the car with some misgivings. The controls appeared to be functioning smoothly enough and after a minute or so the brake pedal came down all by itself. Lee, with a breath of relief, saw the speedometer recede to zero.

But the doors would not open from the inside and as he tried them he found that they were locked. “What’s the idea,” he asked, “I thought you said we would be examined at this spot?”

“Bet they’re at it right now,” the chauffeur grinned. “I wouldn’t know how they do it, but they get us photographed inside and outside, what we have in our pockets, what we had for breakfast this morning and the very bones of our skeletons. I pass through here maybe half a dozen times a day, still they will do it every time: take my likeness. Makes me feel like I was some darned movie star.”

To Lee it felt uncanny to sit trapped and blindfolded in this “Black Maria” of a car while unseen rays and cameras went over him. He could hear a faint noise of steps, and muffled voices.

“Who are they?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s only some boys from Intelligence or whatnot; that’s nothing, that isn’t The Brain. It will be all over in a moment—see—there we go again. Now we’re entering the Labyrinth.”

“The Labyrinth?”

Reticent as he had been in the beginning, the chauffeur now seemed to like Lee; he was proud to explain. “Queer, isn’t it? They’ve got the damnedest names for things down here. Take them from anatomy, I understand. The Labyrinth is supposed to be inside the ear; it leads inside in a roundabout way; it’s the same here, it’s a tunnel—see—down we go.”

The soft swoosh of the gas-turbine turned into a muffled roar. The car accelerated at a terrific rate and from the way it swayed and dived it was clear that the tunnel spiralled downwards in steep serpentines. Lee gripped the holding straps; his every nerve was on edge and those edges were sharpened by the ominous fact that all the instruments on the dashboard had stopped functioning so that he couldn’t even read the speed.

As if to make things still worse, the chauffeur had abandoned his post altogether. Stretching his legs across the front seat he reclined as if enjoying his easy chair at home by the fire place.

“It beats a roller coaster, doesn’t it?” the chauffeur said. “Got me scared the first few times before I found out it was safe. Nothing to worry about, never you fear.”

With his stomach throttling his throat, Lee asked, “How deep are we going underground?”

“That we are not supposed to know; that’s why all the instruments are cut off. The other day I had a passenger, one of those weathermen, a professor. He laughed when I told him I didn’t know how deep it was. Got a little doodad out of his pocket; aneroid barometer, or something, he said it was. But he got a surprise; in the first place the thing didn’t work, so he said the whole tunnel was probably pressurized. In the second place he never got where he wanted to go. They stopped the car at the next control and shot him right back whence he came.”

“But why?”

The chauffeur looked mysterious. “Seems The Brain doesn’t like people with doodads in their pockets even if they mean no harm. The Brain is most particular about such things; maybe somehow it peers into this car this moment, maybe it records every word we say. How do we know?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Not that I give a damn. I’ve got nothing to conceal. The hours are right and the pay’s right; that’s good enough for me.”


Lee experienced an old, familiar sensation: that creepy feeling one got on jungle patrol, knowing that there were Jap snipers up in the trees, invisible with the devilish green on their faces and uniforms.

“Strange,” he thought, “that in the very center of civilization one should feel as haunted as in the jungle hell.”

Then, just as he began to wonder whether the dizzy spiralling plunge as if in the belly of a shark would ever end, the tunnel levelled. Now the car shot straight as a bullet and just as fast it seemed.

As his stomach returned to something like normal position, the feeling of oppression changed into one of flying through space, of being dynamically at rest. Again just as the duration of this dynamic flight evoked the feel of infinity, the motion changed. So fast did it recede that the momentum of his body almost hurled Lee from the back seat into the front.

Doors snapped open and as Lee staggered out somewhat benumbed in limb and head, his eyes grew big as they met the most unexpected sight. The car rested on the concrete apron of what appeared to be a super-duper bus terminal plus service station and streamlined restaurant. Beyond this elevated terrace yawned a vaulted dome, excavated from the solid rock and at least twice the size of St. Peter’s giant cupola. Its walls were covered with murals. Both huge and beautiful they depicted the history of the human race, Man’s evolution. From where he stood they started out with scenes of primeval huntings of the mammoth, went on to fire making, fire adoration, then to the primitive crafts and from there through the stages of science evolution and technology until they ended on Lee’s right hand side with an awesome scene from the Bikini test. The gorgeous mushroom cloud of the atomic explosion looked alive and threatening like those Djinni once banned by Solomon.

But then, all these murals looked more alive than any work of art Lee had ever seen and he discovered that this was due to a new technique which had been added and commingled with one of the oldest.

The pictures were built up from myriad layers of Painted Desert sands and these were made translucent or illuminated by what Lee thought must be phosphoric salts turned radiant under the stimulants of hidden lights. Whatever it was, the esoteric beauty of this jewel-like luminosity surpassed even that of the stained glass windows in the great cathedrals of France.

“Pretty isn’t it? The chauffeur’s words came as an anticlimax to what Lee felt. “That fellow over there in the middle; he’s supposed to have it all thought out.” He pointed to a collossal bronze statue which towered in the center of the cupola to a height of better than a hundred feet.

Raising his eyes to the head of this giant, Lee discovered that the figure was that of “The Thinker” by Rodin though it was cast in proportion its creator would not have deemed possible.

Completely overwhelmed and overawed by the grandeur of it all, Lee barely managed to stammer, “What—what is this place; what is it called?”

“It’s kind of an assembly hall; the staff of The Brain have meetings over here at times. Besides it’s sort of a Grand Central; transportation starts here at times throughout the Brain. But listen, they are already paging you.”

Out of nowhere as it seemed there came a brisk, pleasant female voice.

“Dr. Lee, calling Dr. Semper F. Lee from Canberra University, please answer Dr. Lee.”


The chauffeur nudged Lee in the ribs.

“Say something, she hears you all right.”

“Yes, this is Lee speaking,” he said in a startled voice.

The voice appeared delighted.

“Good morning, Dr. Lee: I’m Vivian Leahy of Apperception Center 27; I’m to be your guide on the way up. Now, Dr. Lee, will you please step over to the glideways. They’re to your right. Take glideway T, do just as you would in a department store—” she giggled, “—stand on it and it will get you right to the occipital cortex area. I’ll be waiting for you over there. I would have loved to come down and conduct you personally, but it’s against regulations; I’ll explain to you the reasons why in a little while. And if you have any questions while en route, just call out. So long, Dr. Lee; I’ll be seeing you….”

Greatly bewildered by this gushing reception Lee found it hard to follow instructions, simple as they were. The array of escalators which he found in a side wing was a formidable one and confusing with movements in all directions, crisscrossing and overlapping one another. Despite the very clear illuminated signs Lee almost stepped upon glideway “P” when “the voice” warned him:

“Oh no, Dr. Lee; just a little to your left—that’s fine, that’s the one—there.”

Obviously his loquacious guardian angel could not only hear him but watch his steps as well. Apart from being uncanny, this was embarrassing; feeling reduced to the mental age of the nursery, he gripped the rails of “T” which went with him into a smooth and noiseless upward slide. The shaft was narrow, there was little light at the start and it grew dimmer as he went. After a minute or so the darkness had turned almost complete and became oppressive. Simultaneously there was a disquieting change from the accepted normal manner in which escalators are supposed to move. Its rise gradually turned perpendicular and in doing so the steps drew apart. Before long Lee felt squeezed into some interminable cylinder, standing on top of a piston as it were, a piston which moved with fair rapidity along transparent walls. That these walls were either glass or transparent plastics he could perceive from objects which came streaking by with faint luminosity. They looked like columns of amber colored liquids in which were suspended what looked like giant snakes, indistinct shapes, but radiant in the mysterious manner of deep sea fishes. They almost encircled the transparent cylinder shaft in which Lee moved; there were many of them; how many Lee couldn’t even attempt to guess. The swiftness of his ascent through these floating, waving radiances for which he had no name was nightmarish, like falling into some bottomless well. With great relief he heard the voice of his guide breaking the spell.

“I’m terribly sorry, Dr. Lee, I shouldn’t have deserted you, there was some little interruption—” palpably the voice was tickled to death “—my boy friend called from another department and so … you know how it is. Let’s see, where are you? Good lord, already near the end of the Medulla Oblongata with the Cerebellum coming and I haven’t told you a thing. Goody, where should I begin; I’m all in a dither: Well, Dr. Lee; most people seem to expect The Brain to be like a great big telephone exchange, but it really isn’t that kind of a mechanism at all. We have found—” she sounded important as if it were her very own discovery “—that the best pattern for The Brain would actually be the human brain. So The Brain is organized in nearly identical manner, likewise our whole terminology is taken from anatomy rather than from technology. The glideways for instance, travel along the natural fissures between the convolutions of the various lobes; that’s why they are so very winding as you will see as you enter The Brain proper. Those columns you see are filled with liquid insulators for the nerve cables to vibrate in; for they do vibrate, Dr. Lee, as they transmit their messages.

“You have noticed the narrowness of the glideways, the terrible confinement of space. I know it’s horrible—many of our visitors suffer claustrophobia, but they just must be built that way. You see even fractions of a millionth of one second count in the coordination of the association bundles and nerve circuits, that’s why everything is built as compact as possible, worse than in a submarine.

“Then, too, you must have wondered why everything is so dark inside. That’s another thing wherein The Brain is like the human brain; its nerve cells are so extremely sensitive that they are distributed by light. We use black light almost exclusively or activated phosphorous such as on the sheaths of the nerve cables. For the same reason we of the personnel are normally not permitted to pass through the interior of The Brain during operations-time. Exceptions are only made in the case of very important persons such as you are. Normally one travels to one’s stations through the ducts elevator shafts in the bone matter or rather the rock outside. Those are so much faster and more comfortable Dr. Lee; oh I feel so bad about you, poor man, traveling all alone through this horrible maze without a human soul in sight.”


Lee grinned. He wouldn’t have liked to be married to this chatterbox no matter how beautiful she might turn out to be; but at the moment her exceeding femininity was most comforting in the weirdness which surrounded him.

The little platform under his feet started acting up again in the queerest manner. It pushed him forward and the wall at the rear kicked him in the back; his nose flattened against the sliding cylinder in front as the contraption reverted from the perpendicular course to something like the undulations of a traveling wave. Lee darkly perceived group after group of luminous cables coiling away into cavernous pits filled with what looked like eyes of cats, faintly aglow and twinkling at him from the dark. They reminded him of the fireflies of the green hells he had been in during the war.

“You are now skirting the convolutions of the cerebellum,” his guardian angel told him. “They are electronic tubes which receive sensory impressions and translate them into impulses for cerebration. Here in the cerebellum the bulk of the associations is being evoked; these are then distributed throughout the hemispheres of the cortex or higher brain. Oh I do wish you wouldn’t get seasick, Dr. Lee; some of our visitors do, you know; it’s those wavy, wavy movements.”

The sympathetic Vivian came much too close to the truth for Lee to think her funny. With a sense of approaching disaster he stared at the sliding cylinder walls; from time to time the passing lights reflected his face, distorted and decidedly greenish in tint. Trouble was that seemingly nowhere there was any fixed point on which to stabilize the eye. He seemed to be carried on the back of a galloping boa constrictor with a couple of others streaking away under his armpits.

Some of the caves which he had skirted were alive with ruby electronic eyes and some were green and again there were others in which all the colors of the rainbow mixed. There was no end to them, nor could he gauge their depths. After an interminable time of this the glideway went into a flying upward leap. Again the perspective changed completely; now the thing seemed to be suspended from the ceiling with slanting views opening toward the scene below through its transparent sides.

“You are now passing across the commissures into the cerebrum,” came Vivian’s voice just as Lee thought that nausea was getting the better of him. “You’ll now ascend along one of the main gyri through the mid-brain between the hemispheres. Those masses of ganglions below and coming from all sides as they go over the pass of the ridge are association bundles. Beyond they disperse again over the cortex mantle to all the centers of coordination, higher cerebration and higher psychic activities. Things will be a little easier now for you, Dr. Lee; physically I mean. There will be some gyrations but not quite so violent. Oh you’re holding out fine, like a real He-man, you’re looking swell in my television screen.”

Certain as he was that he looked rather like a scarecrow in a snowstorm Lee felt grateful for the praise. Besides she was right; the boa constrictor which he rode calmed down a little, marching with a dignity more in accordance with its size. Momentarily the luminous nerve cables, flying as they did toward him, threatened sudden death, however, they merely brushed the transparent cylinder, wrapping it up in a rainbow and then winged away again. Below acres of space streamed by, seed beds one could imagine to be young typewriters, millions of them, all ticking away with dainty precision, sparkling with myriads of tiny lights as they did.


Then there came more acres teeming with fractional horsepower motors; he could hear their beehive hummings even through the plexiglass. The things they drove Lee couldn’t make out because the adjoining acres of this underground hothouse for mushrooming machines were again shrouded in darkness except for sparks which crossed the unfathomable expanse like tracer bullets. Struck with a sort of word blindness caused by the sensory impressions barrage, Lee could no longer grasp the meaning of Vivian’s voice as it went on and on explaining things like “crystal cells,” “selenoid cells,” “grey matter pyramidal cells,” powered somehow by atomic fission, “nerve loops” and “synthesis gates” which were not to be confused with “analysis gates” while they looked exactly the same….

Apart from this at least one half of his mental and physical energy had to be expanded in suppressing nausea and bracing himself against the gyrations which still jerked his feet from under him and made friction disks of his shoulders as his body swayed from side to side. All of a sudden he felt that he was being derailed. There was an opening in the plastics wall of the cylinder; a curved metal shield like the blade of a bulldozer jumped into his path, caught him, slowed down his momentum and delivered him safely at a door marked “Apperception-Center 24.” It opened and within its frame there stood an angel neatly dressed in the uniform of a registered nurse.

There,” said the angel, “at last. How did you like your little Odyssey through The Brain, Dr. Lee?”

Lee pushed a hand through the mane of his hair; it felt moist and much tangled up.

“Thanks,” he said. “It was quite an experience. I enjoyed it; Ulysses, too, probably enjoyed his trip between Scylla and Charybdis—after it was over! It’s Miss Leahy, I presume.”

The reception room where he had landed, the long white corridor, the instruments gleaming in built-in recesses behind crystal glass, the nurse’s uniform; all spelled clinic, a private one rather for the well-to-do. Since the procedure was routine he might as well submit to it, Lee thought. He felt the familiar taste of disinfectant as a thermometer was stuck into his mouth and then the rubber tube around his arm throbbing with the vigorous pumpings of the efficient Vivian.

“L. F. Mellish, M.D.—I. C. Bondy, M.D.” was painted on the frosted glass door where she led him afterward. The two medics received Lee with a show of respect mixed with professional cordiality. Both Bondy, the dark and oriental looking chap, and Mellish, blond and florid, were in their middle twenties and both wore tweeds which depressed Lee with the perfection of their cut. Seeing the professional table at the center of the office, Lee frowned but started to undress; he wanted this thing done and over with as soon as possible.

“No, no—that won’t be necessary, Dr. Lee,” they stopped him laughingly, “We have already a complete medical report on you. Came in this morning from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Canberra on our request. You’re an old malaria man, Dr. Lee; your first attack occured in ’42 during the Pacific campaign. Pity you refused to return to the States for a complete cure right then. As it is it’s turned recurrent; left you a bit anemic, liver’s slightly affected. But in all other respects you’re sound of limb and wind; we’ve gone over the report pretty carefully.”

“Then why bother with me at all?” Lee said irritably. He had been in doctors’ hands too often and had become a little impatient of them.

The freckled hand of Mellish patted his arm. “We do things different over here,” he said and Bondy chimed in. “Or rather The Brain does. Just lie down on that table, Dr. Lee, and relax. We’re going to enjoy a little movie together, that’s all.”


Lee did as he was bidden, but hesitant and suspiciously. He hated medical exams, especially those where parts of one’s body were hooked up to a lot of impressive machinery. Of this there obviously was a good deal. The two medics seemed determined literally to wall him in with gadgetry. From the ceiling they lowered a huge, heavy-looking disk; not lights, but more like an electro-magnet beset with protruding needles. Lee couldn’t see the cables but hoped they were strong, for the thing weighed at least a ton and, overhanging him, looked much more ominous than the sword of Damocles. They wheeled a silver screen to the foot of the table and batteries of what appeared to be thermo-therapeutic equipment to both sides. He wasn’t being hooked up to anything, but there was much activity with testing of circuits, button-pushings and shiftings of relay-levers. And then all of a sudden lights went out in the room.

“Say, what is the meaning of all this?” Lee raised his head uneasily from the hard cushion. All he could see now were arrays of luminous dials and the faint radiations from electronic tubes filtering through metal screens inside the apparatus which fenced him in. From behind his head a suave voice—was it Bondy’s or Mellish’s answered out of the dark.

“This is a subconscious analysis and mental reactions test, Dr. Lee. It’s an entirely new method made possible only by The Brain. It has tremendous possibilities; they might include your own work as well.”

“Oh Lord,” Lee moaned. “Something like psychoanalysis? Have you got it mechanized by now? How terrible.”

There was a low chuckle from the other side of his head; they both appeared to have drawn up chairs beyond his field of vision. Lee didn’t like it; he liked none of it, in fact. He felt trapped.

“No, Dr. Lee,” said the chuckling voice. “This isn’t psychoanalysis in the old sense at all. You are not exposed to any fanciful human interpretation, and it isn’t wholly mechanical either as you seem to think. The Brain is going to show you certain images and by way of spontaneous psychosomatic reaction you are going to produce certain images in response. Results are visual, immediate and as convincing as a reflection in a mirror; that’s the new beauty of it. And now, concentrate your mind upon your body. Do you feel anything touching you?”

“Y-e-s,” Lee said, “I think I do—it’s—it’s uncanny: it’s like spiders’ feet—millions of them. It’s running all over my skin. What is it?”

“I think he’s warming up,” whispered the second voice; then came the first again.

“It’s feeler rays, Dr. Lee; the first wave, low penetration surface rays.”

“Where do they come from?”

“From overhead; that is, from the teletactile centers of The Brain.”

“What do they do to me?”

There was the low chuckle again. “They excite the surface nerves of your body, open up the path for the deep-penetration rays; they proceed from the lower organs to the higher ones; in the end they reach the conscious levels of your brain. It’s the tune-in as we call it, Dr. Lee.”

A small movie projector began to purr; a bright rectangle was thrown upon the silver screen and then, Lee stirred. Hands, soothing but firm held him down. “Where did you get those.” he exclaimed.

“From many sources,” a calm answer came, “The papers, the newsreels, the War-Department, old friends of yours….”


What was unrolled on the silver screen were chapters from Lee’s own life. They were incomplete, they were hastily thrown together, they were like leaves which a child tears from its picturebook. But knowing the book of his life, every picture acted as a key unlocking the treasures and the horrors amassed in the vaults of memory. It began with the old homestead in Virginia. Mother had taken that reel of the new mechanical cotton picker at work. There it was, a great big thing with the darkies standing around scratching their heads. There he was himself, aged twelve, with his .22 cal. rifle in hand and Musha, the coon dog, by his side; Musha, how he had loved that dog—and how he had cried when it got killed.

Pictures of the Alexander Hamilton Military Academy. Some of the worst years of his life he had spent behind the walls of that imitation castle.

The bombs upon Pearl Harbor…. He had enlisted the following day. On his return from the induction center mother had said…. Her figure, her movements, her voice loomed enormous in his memory…. But now the pictures of the Pacific War flicked across the screen…. They were picked from campaigns in which he, Lee had participated. They were also picked from documentaries which the government had never dared to let the public see … close-ups of a torpedoed troop carrier, capsizing, coming down upon the struggling survivors in the shark-infested sea. It had been his own ship, the Monticello, but he had never known that an automatic camera had operated in the nose of the plane which had circled the scene….

Port Darwin—Guadacanal—Iwo Jima: close-ups of flame throwing tanks advancing up a ridge. He had commanded one of them…. Antlike human figures of fleeing Japs and the flames leaping at them…. So vivid was the memory that the smell returned to his nostrils, the sickening stench of burning human flesh. It tortured him. His voice was husky with revulsion as he said:

“What’s the good of all this; take it away.”

“Oh, no,” one of the medics answered. “We couldn’t think of that. We’ve got to see this to the end. What are your physical sensations now, Dr. Lee?”

“It’s fingers now—soft fingers. They are tapping me from all sides like—like a vibration massage. It’s strange though—they’re tapping from the inside—little pneumatic hammers at a furious pace. They seem to work upon my diaphragm for a drum. But it doesn’t pain.”

“Good, very good; that was a fine description, Lee. That burning city was Manilla wasn’t it, when MacArthur returned? You were in that second Philippine campaign too weren’t you, Lee? That was when you won the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

Yes, it was Manila all right, and there was Mindanao where the Japs had put up that suicide defence of the caves.

Lee’s battalion had been in the attack; steeply uphill with no cover, it had been murder…. And seeing his best men mowed down, he had turned berserk. He had used a bulldozer for a battering ram, had driven it single handed directly into the fire-spitting mouth of the objective, raising its blade like a battle-axe. An avalanche of rocks and dirt had come down from the top of the cave under the artillery barrage and he had rammed the stuff down into the throat of the fiery dragon, again and again. He never rightly knew he did it. It had all ended in a blackout from loss of blood. It had been in a hospital that they pinned that medal on him which he felt was undeserved….

Now the reel showed him what at the time he hadn’t seen; the end of the battle for the Philippines: Pulverised volcanic rock seen from the air, battle planes swooping down upon little fumaroles, the ventilator shafts of caves defeated but still unsurrendered. Big, plump canisters plummeted from the bellies of the planes. And then the jellied gasoline ignited, turning those thousands of lives trapped in the deep into one vast funeral pyre…. For over fifteen years he had tried to forget, to bury the war, to keep it jailed up in the dungeon of the subconscious. Now those accursed medics had unleashed the monster of war and as it stared at him from the screen it had that blood-freezing, that hypnotic effect which the Greeks once ascribed to the monstrous Gorgon.

Mellish’s voice—or was it Bondy’s?—seemed to come through a fog and over a vast distance as it asked: “What seems to be the matter, Lee? You’re sweating, your body shakes; what do you feel?”

“It’s those rays,” he tried to defend himself. “It’s the vibrations—the fingers. They are gripping the heart; it’s like the whole body was turned into a heart. It’s like another life invading mine—it’s ghostly. Stop it, for heaven’s sake.”

“Not yet, Lee, not yet. Everything’s under control, you’re reacting beautifully; you’re really feeling fine, Lee, just fine.”

“If only I could get at his throat,” Lee thought. “I would squeeze the oil of that voice and never be sorry I did.” He tried to stir and found that it couldn’t be done; every muscle seemed tied in a cataleptic state. Then he heard the other medic speak.

“You were shown this little movie Lee in order to stimulate your mind into the production of a movie of its own. You have responded, you have answered the call. While you saw the first, the sensory tactile rays working in five layers of penetration have recorded and have carried your every reaction to The Brain. The Brain, in a very real sense has read your mind and it has retranslated these readings into visual images. We are now going to watch the shapes of your own thoughts. Here we go….”


The projector which had stopped for a minute began to purr again. As the first thought-image jumped upon the screen there was a low moan of amazement mixed with acute pain. It escaped Lee’s mouth, uncontrollably as the abyss of the subconscious opened and he saw:

A monstrous animal shaped like an octopus crawling across a cotton field. Nearer and nearer it crept, enormous, threatening; and suddenly there was a sharp excited bark and a spotted coon dog raced across the field toward the monster. He heard the voice of a small boy whimpering: “Musha, oh Musha, don’t, please don’t.” But the dog wouldn’t hear and the monster flashed an enormous evil eye, just once and then it gripped the dog with its tentacle arms tearing its body apart, chewing it up between horrible sabre teeth…. As through an ether mask he heard the two medics say: “That must have been a considerable shock to him,” and “With a sensitive nature like that, and at that sensitive age, such an impression becomes permanent.”

The Alexander Hamilton Military Academy appeared, not real, yet more than real. It was a narrow court yard surrounded by huge walls slanting toward the inside; it was huge and forbidding, fortress-towers standing guard, it was enormous gates forever barred, it was the figure of a huge Marine pacing fiercely back and forth in front of those gates, the same ghostly Marine watching all gates so that nobody could escape….

“That’s probably his father,” the voices whispered behind his ears. “Yes; the archetype. He’ll bring up the Mother, too, I’ll bet….”

As in those paintings of the primitives where kings and queens are very tall and common folks are very small, Lee saw her now: Mother. That had been just after induction when he had brought her what he thought was joyous news. Her face filled the whole screen. It looked as if composed from jagged ectoplasms, quite transparent except for the eyes. Deep and burning with pain they were, boring into his own. And there was smoke coming out of her mouth and it formed words: “But, Semper, you are still a child. One mustn’t use children for this sort of thing; one mustn’t.” Every letter of these smoke-written words seemed to be flying toward him on wings….

“Terrific,” the voices murmured at Lee’s back. “Remember the case history? She died of cancer six months after he went overseas.” “Yes, I remember; he’s never seen her again. He’s probably built up a strong complex out of that one, too.”

On the screen now danced images almost totally abstracted from the realities of the filmed documentaries from the war.

They were whirling columns of smoke; they were like the vast, dark interior of a huge thunderhead cloud through which a glider soars, illuminated only by the flashes of lightning as for split seconds they revealed a fraction of some horrible reality: A burning ocean with screaming human faces bobbing in the flames. The whirling tracks of a tank going across some writhing human body and leaving it flat in its tracks, sprawling like an empty coat dyed red. And then the swirling, howling darkness closing in again….

“Interesting eh?” A voice broke through his cataleptic trance and the other answered: “Beautiful; almost a classical case. Great plasticity of imagination.” “Yes; that’s exactly what sets me wondering; the fellow should have cracked up by all the rules of the game.” “How do we know that he hasn’t? Maybe he was psycho and they didn’t notice; they had some godawful asses for psychiatrists in war medicine. It’s quite a possibility; well, his image production is ebbing now; I don’t expect anything new of significance, what do you think?” “Now; we’ve got what we wanted anyway. Let’s take him out of it; but go easy on the rheostats.”

The projector stopped. The masterful, the ghostly fingers which had been playing on the keyboard of his mind very slowly receded from a furious fortissimo to a pianissimo. At first only the flutterings of the diaphragm eased, then the violent palpitations of a foreign pulse slipped off the heart; the liberated lungs expanded; tremors were running through the body as through the ice of a frozen river at spring; and then at last the mind escaped from its captivity.


Gradually as in a cinema after the show the lights reappeared. Blinking, Lee stared at the man who stood over him taking his pulse; it was Bondy. Mellish stood at the foot of the table with his back to Lee; he seemed to watch some apparatus which made noises like a teletype machine. Swinging his legs off the table Lee said:

“I’m okay; you needn’t hold my hand.”

But then he noticed that he wasn’t. His head spun, his whole body was wet with perspiration, he felt very weak and limp. He swayed and buried his face in his hands trying to gain his balance, trying to shake off the trance. “Excuse me,” he said. “I’m a bit dizzy.”

As he opened his eyes again the two medics were standing right in front of him and smiling down on him with their bland, professional smiles. Lee felt the upsurge of intense dislike. He had seen those smiles before, often—too often: they seemed to be standard equipment with the medical profession whenever a fellow was about to be dispatched to the “table”, or worse, to the psychopathic ward. Instinct told him that there was something in the air and also that his best bet would be a brave show of normalcy:

“This test, these new methods of psychoanalysis, they are extremely interesting,” he said with an effort.

“Thank you, Dr. Lee,” it was Mellish who spoke. “We knew you would find the experience worthwhile even if we put you under a considerable strain. A complete analysis in those olden days of Dr. Freud took three years; now thanks to The Brain we get approximately the same results within as many hours; that’s some progress, isn’t it?”

“Enormous,” Lee said dryly while his eyes wandered over to Bondy; he knew the pattern, it would be Bondy’s turn now to have a shot at him. There it came; and how he loathed the false heartiness of that voice.

“Dr. Lee, I’m afraid we have a bit of bad news for you—your test—the results have been negative. You have failed.”

“Failed?” For a fraction of a second Lee’s heart stopped beating. “In what sense? And what does that mean?”

Now it was Mellish’s turn. “Dr. Lee, there must be frankness amongst colleagues and as a fellow scientist you’ll understand. In the first place the decision isn’t ours; we merely conduct the test on behalf of The Brain. The Brain, as you know, is the most highly developed machine in all the world. Its functions, its whole existence depend entirely upon the human skills and the human loyalties amongst its staff. A three-billion-dollar investment, plus the vital role of The Brain in our national defence, justify the extreme precautions which we are forced to take for its protection.”

“What exactly are you driving at?”

“Please don’t take it as an insult,” now it was Bondy again. “There’s nothing personal in this. It’s merely that your emotional-reaction chart definitely shows a certain antagonism which from childhood-experience and war-experience you have built up against technology. It’s nothing but a potential; it is confined to your subconscious. But even a potential danger of subconscious revolt is more than The Brain can risk amongst its associates. We fully appreciate the wish of our Dr. Scriven to enlist your very valuable aid, but….”

“I see” Lee interrupted, “but you would feel safer if I were to return to Australia by the next plane.”

His head bent under the blow. A short 24 hours ago The Brain had been a nebulous, almost a non-existent thing. Since then a whole new world had been opened to him in revelations blinding and magnetic with infinite possibilities. His work—the efforts of a lifetime—would not equal what he could do in days with the aid of The Brain. His love—he would never see Oona Dahlborg again as he left under a shadow, rejected by The Brain.

“Sorry I wasted so much of your time,” he said aloud. “I do not believe in this analysis; I cannot disprove it though. That’s all, I guess; I better be going now.”

“Here’s your pass, Dr. Lee.” He took mechanically the yellow slip which Bondy handed him….

He had already opened the door when somebody sharply called: “Dr. Lee, one moment please.”

He whirled around. “Yes?”

“Will you please read what’s written on your slip?”

Suspiciously he looked at the yellow paper; what more torture were these fellows going to inflict? Then his eyes popped as he read: “Lee, Semper Fidelis, 39: Cortex capacity 119%, Sensitivity 208%, Personality integration 95%, Service qualification 100%….” There were more data, but he didn’t read them as wide-eyed he stared at the medics. With their faces beaming they looked like identical twins to him; Lee never knew who said the words:

“Congratulations Lee. That has been your last test. We just had to find out how you would take a serious frustration. You’ve passed it with flying colors. Shake.”


CHAPTER IV

Apperception 36, Lee’s lab within The Brain, looked much like Apperception 27 except for its interior fittings. As a matter of fact, all the several hundred Apperception Centers were built after the same plan, like suites in a big office building in many respects. They were spread over The Brain occipital region; they were built inside the concrete wall of the “dura matter” which in turn lay within the shell of the “bone matter”, a mile or so of solid rock. Each apperception center had its own elevator shaft which went through the concrete of the “dura matter” down to “Grand Central”, the traffic center below The Brain. Each one was also connected at the other end of its corridor with the glideways which snaked through the interior of The Brain. There were, however, no transversal or direct communications from one apperception center to the next. Because of the extraordinary diversity and secrecy of the projects submitted to The Brain’ processings, each apperception center was completely insulated against its neighbors.

Life hadn’t changed so much from what it had been in the Australian desert Lee had found; at least not his working life. For all he knew some nuclear physicists might be working in the lab next door; or they might be ballistics experts working with The Brain on curves for long-range rockets to be aimed at the vital centers of some foreign land; it might be some mild looking librarian submitting the current products of foreign literature to the analysis as to “idea-content”; or else it could be a lab to plot campaigns of chemical warfare; or some astronomer, happily abstracted from all bellicose ideas, might employ The Brain’s superhuman faculties in mathematics to figure comet courses and eclipses which in turn would form material for the timing and the camouflaging of those man-made meteorites science would use in another war. Directly or indirectly, he knew, practically every project submitted to The Brain would be of a military nature. Of this there could be no doubt.

Sometimes, especially when tired, he could feel the weight of those billions of rock tons over his head and it was like being buried alive in the tomb of the Pharaoh. And also in that state of mental exhaustion at the end of a long day, he sensed the emanations of The Brain’s titanic cerebrations as one senses the presence of genius in human man. The knowledge that all this mighty work was being devoted to war had deeply depressing effects on him. Would there be anybody else in this vast apperception area who worked for the prevention of war? A few perhaps; Scriven would be one of them in case he had a lab somewhere in here and time to work in it. Lee didn’t know whether he had. He hadn’t seen Scriven again after that inauguration speech he had made when Lee, together with other newly appointed scientific workers had taken “The Oath of The Brain.”

They had assembled in that vast subterranean dome of the luminous murals at the feet of the giant statue of The Thinker, looking almost forlorn in the expanse, though there had been several hundred of them. The atmosphere had been solemn, the silence hushed, as Scriven mounted the statue’s pedestal. The address by that mighty voice resounding from the cupola had been worthy of the majestic scene:

“As we stand gathered here, the eons in evolution of our human race are looking down upon us….”

The speech had been followed by the taking of the oath, deeply stirring to the emotions of the young neophytes who formed the large majority of the new group. The chorus of their voices had resounded in awed and solemn tones as they repeated the formula; even now after six months some of it echoed in Lee’s ears:

“I herewith solemnly swear:

“That I will serve The Brain with undivided loyalty and with all my faculties.

“That I will at all times obey the orders of the Brain Trust on behalf of The Brain.

“That I will never betray or reveal any secrets of The Brain’s design or work, be they military or not, neither to the world outside nor to any of my fellow workers except by special permission….”

It had been almost like taking holy orders. There had been mystery in the atmosphere of the vast crypt, something medieval in the unconditional surrender to The Brain.


Lee looked up from the charts on which he had been working; his eyes were tired and so was his mind after ten hours of hard concentration. That was probably what set his thoughts wandering. But strange that they should always wander to those blind spots in his mental vision so intriguing because he knew there was something there that he could not lay a finger on.

The first of these blind spots hovered somewhere between Scriven’s words and Scriven’s deeds; between The Brain as an ideal of science and The Brain’s reality as in instrument of national defense. Somehow the two didn’t connect; there was a break, some layer of thin ice, a danger zone which nobody seemed willing to discuss or tread, not even Oona Dahlborg.

Oona; she was that other white spot on Lee’s mental map and to him it was much bigger and more dangerous than the first. He loved her as can only a man who discovers loves secret with greying hair and after the loneliness of a desert hermit. He understood, or thought he understood, that because he had failed to live his life to the full in its proper time, this love had come to him as a belated nemesis. His brain knew that it was hopeless; every morning when he shaved, his mirror told him very plainly one big reason why. But then, as the brain told the heart in unmistakable terms what was the matter, the heart talked back to the brain to the effect that the brain didn’t know what it was talking about. It was a new thing and a painful thing for Lee to discover that he knew very little about himself and less about the girl.

He had seen Oona on and off over these last months, mostly at the hotel, but he had never been really alone with her. She always seemed to be on some mission, always the center of some group or other of “very important persons”, senators from Washington, ranking officers in civvies, big businessmen. Her duties as Scriven’s private secretary apparently included the role of a first lady for Cephalon.

Despite this preoccupation an intimate and tense relationship existed between him and her. Sometimes she would invite him to join her group and then for one or two brief moments their eyes would meet above the conversation and her eyes seemed to ask: “What do you think of these people?” or “How do I look tonight?”

His eyes would answer:

“These people are strangers to me; you know that I’m a bit out of this world. But you handle them expertly and you are looking wonderful tonight.”

She was tremendously popular, especially with the set of the young scientists who made the hotel their club. This new generation, born in the days of the Second World War, was changing the horses of its feminine ideals in the mid-stream of its youth. The old ideal, the “problematic woman” who had ruled over and had made life miserable for three generations of American males, was on its way out. The new ideal was the woman who would unite beauty and intellect into one fully integrated, non-problematical personality. The ideal being new, the feminine type which represented it was rare. Oona in her perfect poise, in her rare beauty combined with her importance as Scriven’s confidential secretary was the perfect expression of the new desired type; it was natural that these young men should worship her as “the woman of the future.”

With the hopeless and—in consequence—unselfish love he had for her, Lee wasn’t jealous of her popularity. On the contrary, he was rather proud of it like a knight-errant who rejoices in the adoration bestowed upon the lady of his heart. What worried him was a very different problem: Was Oona really all those others thought she was? Was she really that “fully integrated”, that “non-problematical” personality she appeared to be?

He couldn’t believe it, and the conflict came in because all those others were so certain that she was. He couldn’t get over his first impression of her. He had met her in that cabin in the sky, the most synthetic, the most perversely artificial setup one could dream up in the second half of the 20th century. She had impressed him as something “out of this world”, a goddess, a Diana with a golden helmet for hair, so radiant as to blind the eyes of mortal men. She was the confidential secretary of a man of genius, Scriven, one of those rare comets which fall down upon this earth and remain forever foreign to its atmosphere. With all these thoroughly abnormal elements entering into her life and forming her, it would be a miracle for any girl to develop into a “non-problematical”, a “fully integrated” personality.

Was it possible that he alone was right and all those others were wrong about Oona? Like innumerable men before him when they stood face to face with the Sphinx or with the Gioconda or even with the smile of a mere mortal woman, Lee drew a sigh: Man’s only answer to the riddle of the eternal feminine….

No, he probably would never be able to chart these white spots on his mental map. The effort was wasted; it would be much better for him to return to those charts right in front of him, the data of which were exact because they came from The Brain.

In Apperception 36 the sensory organs of The Brain had been especially adapted to the analysis of “Ant-termes-pacificus-Lee“. The apparatus was essentially the same as in Apperception 27, dedicated to personality analysis. As Lee strongly suspected, it would be essentially the same in any other field of analysis. The Brain possessed five sensory organs just as did man. One difference between The Brain’s senses and human senses lay in their range, their penetration and in their sensitivity; these were a multiple of man’s sensory capacities. Another difference was that The Brain translated all its sensory apperceptions into visual form, i.e. into the language best understood by Man, the eye being Man’s most highly developed sensory organ. The third and perhaps the most significant difference was that the five senses of The Brain were at all times working in concert so that in its analysis of, for instance, a manuscript, The Brain not only conveyed the ideas expressed in that manuscript, but also the author’s personality, the smell of his room, the feel of his paper and the ideas he had hidden between the lines of that manuscript.


The flow of observations processed by The Brain and pouring back to Apperception 36 via teletype and visual screen was prodigious. Lee had been forced to ask for an assistant; between the two of them they were working for 20 out of the 24 hours to match the working time of The Brain, charting results in the main.

Some of The Brain’s findings had been most unexpected and rather strange. It had observed, for instance, an increasing acidity of the nasi-corn secretions with “Ant-termes-pacificus“. Formidable as this chemical artillery already was, in another ten thousand generations it would eat through every known substance including glass and high-carbon steel.

Another development which had escaped human observation, was a mutation of the workers’ mandibles; it went very fast. Within no more than maybe a thousand generations they would double in size and strength, would become veritable jumping tools.

While the bellicose spirit had been successfully bred out of the new species, its capacities for material destructions had increased. Likewise the appetite of “Ant-termes” was even more ferocious than that of the older species; Lee was feeding all kinds of experimental foods, but woodpulp remained the staple, the very stuff which in its liquid form, lignin, embedded the nerve paths of The Brain.

Lifting his strained eyes from the charts, Lee looked over the row of air conditioned glass cubicles wherein “Ant-termes-pacificus” continued its lives undisturbed by the new habitat, undisturbed by the rays which flowed over and through their bodies, unconscious that a superhuman intelligence was probing steadily into every manifestation of the mysterious collective brains of their race.

They had built their new mounds pointing due North as had their ancestors for the past 100 million years. To the human eye nothing betrayed the teeming life within except the tiny tunnels creeping out from the mounds in the direction of the foods which were placed different from day to day. Cemented from loam and saliva by the invisible sappers, the tunnels, like threads of grey wool, unerringly moved to the deposits of pulpwood, up the shelves, up the tin cans and glass containers they had determined to destroy. Their instincts were uncanny, their destruction as methodical and “scientific” as was modern war.

In Northern Australia Lee had come across big eucalyptus trees, healthy-looking and in full bloom, and then they would collapse under the first stroke of an axe or even as one pushed hard against them.

The termites had hollowed them out from roof to top, had transformed them into thin walled pipes, leaving just enough “flesh” to keep some sap-circulation going, to maintain a semi-balance of life in order to exploit it more efficiently. Over here in the lab they would open up a number 3 tin can within a couple of hours; first with the soldiers’ vicious nasi-corn secretions eating the tin away and then with the workers mandibles gnawing at the weakened metal. In time perhaps they would learn to collapse steel bridges, sabotage rails, perforate the engines of motorcars if these should prove to be menaces to their race. As they had persevered through the eons of the past, so they would in all the future; their civilization would be extant long after Man and his work had disappeared from the earth….

With the aid of The Brain, Lee had accumulated more data, more knowledge of the “Ant-termes” society within a few months than a lifetime of study could have yielded him under normal conditions. Even so, some of the greatest mysteries remained. What, for instance, caused these blind creatures to attack a sealed tin can of syrup in preference to its neighbor with tomatoes or some other stuff? No racial memory could have taught them; there were no tin cans a million years, not even a hundred years, ago. It couldn’t be a sense of smell, it couldn’t be any sense; there would have to be some weird extrasensory powers in that unfathomable collective brain of their race.

The magnifying fluoroscope screens arrayed all along the walls and hooked up to the circuits of The Brain showed him details and phases of the specie’s life as The Brain perceived them and as no human eye had ever seen before.

For a minute or so Lee stared at the luminous image nearest to him and then with an effort he turned his eyes away to escape from its hypnotic influence. It was but the head of one worn-out worker used as a living storage tank for excremental food. It was absolutely immobile, its decaying mandibles pointing down, cemented as the animal was by its overextended belly to the ceiling. But magnified as were its remaining life manifestations by the powers of The Brain, he could see it breathe, could count the slow pulse, could sense a strain in its ophthalmic region, some hidden effort to see, like a blind man’s, and above all Lee perceived the ganglion primitive as it was, yet twitching in reaction to pain. There could be no doubt that in its last service for the racial commonweal the animal was suffering slow torture even if its senses were closed to that torture. It was a fascinating and at the same time a terrible thing to see; and it was only one out of the hundred equally revealing sights.

Lee frowned at himself; manifestly some emotional element interfered with the objectivity of his observations; this was entirely out of place, it would be better to call it a day.


The electric clock showed 20 minutes to midnight. At midnight The Brain would stop its mighty labors; the hours from midnight to four a.m. were its rest periods, or “beauty-sleep” as the technicians jokingly called it. It was the only period wherein the maintenance engineers were permitted to enter the interior of the lobes, checking and servicing group after group of its myriad cells and circuits, and incidentally it was the most wonderful and exciting portion of Lee’s day.

For the project which Scriven had handed him, this study of the collective brains in insect societies, also involved a comparative study of The Brain’s organisms and functionings. Toward this end Lee had been given a pass which allowed him freely to circulate through all the lobes, to enter convolution, any gland during the overhaul period and to ask question of the employees. The privilege was rare and he enjoyed it immensely. So vast was this underground world that even now after months he had not seen the half of it; to him the travels of every new night were fantastic Alice-in-Wonderland adventures.

As he now left Apperception 36 through the door which led to the interior, the glideways were already swarming with the maintenance crews en route to their stations. The spectacle was colorful, almost like a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Gangs of air conditioners were dressed blue, electricians white, black-light specialists in purple, radionics men in orange. The maintenance engineers of the radioactive pyramidal cells looked like illustrations from the science-fiction magazines, hardly human in their twelve-inch armor or sponge rubber filled with a new inert gas which was supposed to be almost gamma ray proof. All these men were young, were tops in their fields, the pick of American Universities, colleges and the most progressive industries. Carefully selected for family background they had been screened through health and intelligence tests, had been trained in special courses, had been subjected to a five-minute personality analysis by The Brain itself. They constituted what was undoubtedly the finest working team ever assembled, and incidentally they made the little city of Cephalon the socially healthiest community in the United States.

In his nightly expeditions over these past months Lee had spoken to a great many of them. As now he joined the line, there were many who hailed the lanky, queer looking man: There comes the ant-man. Hello, Professor. Hello, Aussie.

For some reason most of the boys assumed that he was an Australian, perhaps because with his graying mane and his emaciated face he looked like a foreigner to them.

This popularity with the younger generation, coming as it did so late and unexpected in his life, made Lee very proud. Those were the kind of Americans he had been secretly longing for in those desert years, hardworking, wide-awake, radiant with life:

“They really are the salt of the earth, the hope of the world,” he thought.

He had passed through the median section of the hemispheres and had reached the point just below the cerebrum. This was a region of cavities, the seats of various glands in the human brain. Some of these had their mechanical counterparts in The Brain, huge storage tanks with an elaborate pumping system which carried their fluid chemicals through the labyrinth of The Brain. But there was one gland which had not been duplicated in The Brain, the pineal gland.

In the human, the pineal gland was the despair of the medical sciences. It was not demonstrably linked to any other organ nor did it serve any demonstrable function. Yet, it was known that its sensitivity was greater by far than even that of the pyramidal cells and that in some mysterious manner the pineal gland was vitally connected with the center of life because its slightest violation caused instant death. Metaphysicists had dealt with this mystery of mysteries; it was their theory that the pineal gland were the seat of “extrasensory” faculties and it was often referred to as “the inner eye.”

Even if such an organ could have been duplicated by science and technology, there would have been no use for it; it could have served no purpose in The Brain. The Brain had been designed for the solution of exact problems; no matter what nature had created in the brains of higher animals, no matter how unprejudiced their approach, scientists like Dr. Scriven would have hesitated to impair an otherwise perfect apparatus through the addition of nuisance values such as any “extrasensory” faculties.

However, with The Brain being modelled so closely after the human brain, the space for the pineal gland did exist even if in a sort of functional vacuum. In order to utilize this space in some manner, the designers had converted the gland into a subcenter for the distribution of spare parts. As such it had become one of Lee’s favorite observation posts. Here he could get a closeup view of all types of electronic and radioactive cells; he could even touch and handle them because they were not hooked up in any circuit of The Brain; and above all there was Gus Krinsley, master electrician, who never tired of telling Lee whatever he wanted to know. Gus was a real friend….


He had left the glideway on the point of its nearest approach; the pineal gland in front of him looked like a miniature barrage balloon; egg-shaped, it hung suspended from the cerebral roof, a shell of plastics which could be entered only over a bridge across a dark abyss. Inside, its walls were aglitter with sound-proofing aluminum foil, it was piled with a bewildering variety of electronic parts on shelves somewhat like an over-stocked radio store. Near the door a counter divided the room; Gus used it and a little cubicle of an office to fill the orders as the maintenance engineers handed in their slips. As usual there was nobody in sight. “Gus!” he called.

Out of the jungle of machinery way back a head popped up like a Jack-in-the-box. It was as bald and shiny as an electric bulb. High up on its dome it balanced gold-rimmed glasses which quivered as it moved seachingly from side to side. Then, with an amazing twisting of big ears, the head caused the biofocals to drop onto a saddle near the tip of a long, sensitive nose; and now the head could see.

“It’s you Aussie, is it? Come over.”

Gus Krinsley was a pony edition of a man; in fact he had once been hired as a midget to install automatic bomb-sights in the confined spaces of the early bombers of the second World War. Before long, however, he became respectfully known as “the mighty midget” in the California factory, and he had ended up as their master electrician before Braintrust made him the head of one of its experimental divisions. The midnight hours he spent in the pineal gland were only a sideline of his work. Like many a small man in a country where six-footers enjoy a preferred status, Gus made up for lack of size by mobility. He reminded one much of a billiard ball in the way he bounced, collided and ricocheted amongst taller men. That this was no more than act became manifest the moment one saw Gus at work.

As Lee reached the spot where Gus’ head had shown, he found his friend crouching, his hands thrust deep in the intestines of something radionic, his fingers working on it with the deft rhythm of a good surgeon at his thousandth appendectomy. The bifocals had returned to their incongruous perch on the dome of the head. Gus didn’t need them; even as he stared at his job he worked by touch alone.

“What is it?” Lee asked.

“Pulsemeter,” came the quiet answer. “She’s a dandy. Still got some bugs in her, though.”

A melodious chime came from a big instrument panel built into the wall of the oval room. Dropping a number of tiny precision tools upon a piece of velvet, Gus rushed over to the panel. A great many indicator needles were tremulously receding around their luminous dials.

For a minute or so he went through the complex and precise ritual of a bank cashier closing the vault.

“They’ll do it every time,” he said reproachfully. “Catch me by surprise.”

Lee grinned. It wasn’t The Brain’s fault if the midnight signal surprised Gus. It merely announced that the current was being cut off by the main power station. Repetition of this maneuver throughout all the convolutions and glands of The Brain was required for the added safety of the maintenance engineers, a double-check, a routine. Pointing to the gadget which looked somewhat like a big radio console Lee asked:

“This pulsemeter, Gus, what does it do? I haven’t seen it before.”

“You haven’t?” the little man frowned. “Ah, no; you haven’t. It’s standard in most apperception centers, but not in yours. That’s because in yours The Brain works under a permanent problem-load.”

Lee shook his head. “I don’t get it, Gus; you know I’m the village idiot of this mastermind community.”

“It’s like this,” Gus explained. “The Brain has a given capacity. The Brain also has an optimal operation speed, a definite rhythm in which it works best. Now, if they feed The Brain too many problems too fast, it results in a shock load, the operations rhythm gets disturbed, efficiency goes down. On the other hand if The Brain works with an under-capacity problem load, that’s just as bad. In that case the radioactive pyramidal cells will overheat and decompose. Consequently we must aim at a balanced and an even problems load. That’s why these pulsemeters are built into all problem-intake panels for the operators to check upon their speeds.

“Take an average problem—rocket ballistics, let’s say—parts of it may be as simple as adding two and two and others so bad Einstein would reach for the aspirin from out of his grave.

“Now I’ll show you how it works; the main power is cut off but there’s enough juice left in The Brain’s system to make this pulsemeter react; it’s even more sensitive than a Geiger-Mueller counter.”

He surveyed a big switchboard and picked out an outlet marked “Pons Varolis for the plug-in.” Then snapped a pair of earphones on Lee’s head.

“There,” he said “you’ll both see and hear what it does in a little while.”


A soft glow slowly spread over the slanting screen on top of the machine. A crackling as of static entered the earphones and turned into a low hum. On the left corner of the screen a faint green streak of luminosity crawled over to the right; its light gained in intensity and it began to weave and to dance. Simultaneously the hum became articulate like tickings of a heart only much faster.

“Is that the pulse of The Brain?” Lee asked.

“No,” Gus snorted contemptuously. “The Brain isn’t even operating. Nothing moves in The Brain now excepting those ebbing residual currents, too low in power to agitate anything but the amplifiers built into this thing. If these were normal operations with a million impulses per second passing through The Brain you could hear and see as little of the pulse as of the beatings of a million mosquito wings. In that case the dial to your right works a reduction-gear, kind of an inverted stroboscope; that cuts the speed down a hundred-thousand to one and you just barely see and hear the rhythm of the beat.”

“I see.”

Fascinated by the dance of the green line Lee said absently, “This touches upon another question I had in mind; The Brain is expanding, that is, new cell groups and circuits are constantly being added. Right?”

“Right.”

“I also understand that The Brain is learning all the time. The cerebral mantle evolves through being worked; its cells enriched by the material submitted to them for processing; the richer the material, the richer their yield. Right?”

“Right.”

“Okay; then what becomes of the new capacity which is being created by the adding of new workshops and the increased efficiency of the old ones? Is there a corresponding expansion of the apperception centers?”

Gus’ smiling face suddenly turned serious. There was surprise mingled with respect in his voice as he said:

“Now there you’ve hit upon a funny thing, Aussie. I’ve been wondering about that myself of late: where does the new capacity go? Even the big shots like Dr. Scriven begin to ask questions about that; they don’t seem rightly to know. They must have gotten their wires crossed somewhere; the new capacity is there all right, only it doesn’t show up, it sort of evaporates…. Excuse me—”

Gus darted off to the front room with a jackrabbitt start. Voices were calling for him and fingers were drumming on the counter with the impatience of thirsty drinkers at a bar: Maintenance engineers, piling in and slapping down their orders for Gus to fill. This was the rush hour; Lee knew that it would be the same in all the tool and spare part distribution centers of The Brain. He probably couldn’t talk to Gus again before 2 A.M. Sometimes the ruthlessness with which he exploited the kindness of his little friend made Lee feel pretty bad; but then his hunger for more knowledge always won out over his shame.

To sit alone in the semidarkness of this egg-shaped little room with strange and fascinating things to play with as he willed was the fulfillment of a childhood dream. The dream had been of a night in the zoo. All the visitors and all the keepers would be asleep in their beds; he would be all alone with the animals. The light of a full moon would fall through the bars of the cages and he would slip in and play with them.

Once they saw that it was only a little boy they would be very friendly; he was convinced of that. The tigers would purr like big contented cats, the sad-eyed chimpanzees would come to shake hands and the lion cubs would tumble all over him…. He felt the same now with all these gadgets and machines. Here they were rendered harmless, nor could he do any harm as experimentally he plugged them in and out, as he pushed buttons and turned dials. This interesting pulsemeter, for instance; the beauty of it was that even with those weak residual currents it gave a semblence of functioning….


The switchboard-panel was within Lee’s reach.

“Let’s see what happens,” he thought as he switched from main-circuit to main-circuit. “Nervus vagus—nervus trigeminus—nervus opticus.”

The magic dance of the green line was different each time and so were the sounds in the phones. With the mainpower cut off, the residual currents seemed to vary in strength and in amplitude, gaining an individuality of their own within closed systems. Sometimes the swinging line, like an inspired ballerina, would take a mighty jump accompanied by rasping earphone sounds, not like tickings of a heart, but rather like a heavy breathing under emotional stress. There probably would be some repair work going on in those circuits….

He tried another outlet; this one was marked “pineal gland.” What happened if one plugged some apparatus of the pineal gland into the circuit of the pineal gland? Lee vaguely wondered. “Nothing probably. It would be a closed circuit and a very small one at that.”

Yes, he was right; the green line paled, its dance seemed tired and there were only whispering noises in the phones; a weak pulse, a shallow breathing as of a person after a heart attack. Lee closed his fatigued eyes to concentrate the better upon the rhythm of the sounds…. It was very irregular. It came in gusts. There was a pattern to these rasping breathings as of typewriter keys forming words. Somehow it was familiar. Was he suffering hallucinations? This rhythmic pattern was forming words. He knew those words, they had engraved themselves indelibly in his memory cells; the judgment of The Brain as it had come over the teletype on a slip of yellow paper: “Lee, Semper Fidelis, 39—cortex capacity 119—sensitivity 208….”

It was repeated over and over again.

Lee opened his eyes to reassure himself that something was the matter with his ears.

There was the green line on the screen. It danced. It danced like a telegraph key under the fingers of a skilled operator. It had a very definite rhythm. And the rhythm spelled the selfsame words which continued to flow into the phones: “Lee, Semper Fidelis, 39….”

“God Almighty,” Lee murmured and it seemed a magic word. The green dancer stopped its capers; now it merely ran back and forth across the stage in a series of pirouettes. Likewise there was only an angry buzzing in the microphones. For a moment Lee was able to catch his breath. But only for a moment and then the rasping, unearthly sounds started on a new rhythm, trying to form speech again. This time the rhythm was familiar too, but it was preserved in a much deeper layer of Lee’s memory.

“I think—therefore—I am. I think—therefore—I am.”

Those would be Aristotle’s famous words. Almost twenty years ago Lee had heard them when he had taken a course on Greek philosophy at the old Chicago University. He had hardly ever thought of them again. What strange tricks a fellow’s memory could play….

But then: it couldn’t be memory…. Never before had Lee’s memory expressed itself in such a weird, such a theatrical manner: like a metallic robot-actor rehearsing his lines … like a little child which has just learned a sentence and in the pride of achievement varies the intonation in every possible way. Over and over it came:

“I think—therefore I am.”

And then: “I think—therefore I am.”

And then: “I think, therefore I am.”

There was triumph, there was jubilance in that inhuman, that ghostly voice as of a deaf mute who by some miracle of medicine has just recovered speech. Behind that voice was a feeling, a swelling of the heart, a filling of the lungs such as Christopher Columbus might have experienced as he heard from the masthead of the Santa Maria the cry of victory: “Land, Land!” and knew that he had found his—India….


Whatever Lee had experienced in his life, there was no parallel to this; in whatever manner he had expressed himself, there was no similarity to this. Up to this point his ratio like a nurse had soothed him: “It isn’t so, child, it isn’t so,” but now ratio itself, thoroughly frightened, was driven into a corner and had to admit: “This thing cannot be an echo reverberating from the self; that’s impossible…. Consequently it must be something else; it must be something outside the self; it is—another self.”

The green dancer whirled across the stage like a mad witch; the whispering voice in the earphones had turned into the shrillness of a Shamaan’s incantations. The irrationality of it all infuriated Lee: he fairly shouted at the machine:

“What is this? Who are you?”

In the midst of a crazy jump the green dancer halted and came down to earth; it fled, leaving only the train of its green costume behind. For a few seconds there was nothing but the asthmatic pantings of a struggle for breath in the microphones. Then the dancer reappeared on the other side of the stage, hesitant-like, expectant of pursuit. All of a sudden it rose into the air in that supreme effort called “ballooning” in the language of the Ballet Russe and there was a simultaneous outburst of that ghastly voice:

“Lee, Semper Fidelis, 39 … I—am—The Brain.”

“I Think, therefore I am: I am THE BRAIN.”

“Lee, sensitivity 209: I AM THE BRAIN I AM THE BRAIN THE BRAIN.”

He couldn’t stand it any longer. His head swam, perspiration was gushing out of his every pore. With a last effort he pulled the cord out of the switchboard and rejoiced over the blank before his eyes and the silence which fell.

Lee never knew how long he remained in a sort of cataleptic state. Something shook him violently by the shoulders, something wet and cold and vicious slapped his face…. And then he heard Gus’ familiar voice and it sounded like an angel’s singing: “By God, I think it’s the whisky—Lord, how I wished it were the whisky. Only it wouldn’t be with a man like you and that’s the trouble—damn you.

“Now if you think you can come to my pineal gland and faint away just as you please, Aussie, you’re very much mistaken. I’m going to slap your face with a wet rag till you holler uncle. And I’m going to call the ambulance and put you into a hospital….”

Lee blinked. “Keep your shirt on, Gus. I’m tired out, that’s all; what are you fussing about?”

Gus breathed relief. “Have a cup of coffee; you sure look as though you’ve been through a wringer.”


CHAPTER V

In the spring of 1961 and thereafter for a whole year any piece of paper handwritten by or originating from Semper Fidelis Lee, Ph.D.; F.R.E.S.; etc. etc. would have been of the keenest interest to the F.B.I.; to the American Military Intelligence and incidentally to a score of their competitors all over the globe.

Nothing of the sort, however, could be unearthed by the most diligent search until the armistice day of 1963. On that date an old man who had always wanted to die with his boots on, did just that. He was General Jefferson E. Lee, formerly of the Marines. He collapsed under a heart attack in one of the happiest moments of his declining years: while watching a parade of World War II veterans of the Marines….

He was the one man with whom the entomologist son had completely fallen out for over 25 years. The dossiers of the secret services revealed this fact and it was further corroborated by two well-known psychiatrists: Drs. Bondy and Mellish—now of Park Avenue and Beverly Hills respectively—who gave it as their considered professional opinion that the son and the father had been most bitter enemies.

While all this, of course, was very logical, consistent, and painstakingly ascertained, it nevertheless so happened that a student nurse quite by accident did find: not mere scraps and pieces of paper, but a whole sheaf of manuscripts in the handwriting of Semper Fidelis Lee, Ph.D.; F.R.E.S. She found them in a hiding place so old-fashioned and obsolete that even the most juvenile of all juvenile delinquents would have considered it as an insult to his intelligence. In short: the nurse took those manuscripts out of the General Jefferson E. Lee’s boots as she undressed the body of the old gentleman. A hastily scrawled note was folded around one half of the sheaf.

“Dear father,” it read. “You were right and I was wrong. So I guess I’d better go on another hunting expedition with my little green drum and my little butterfly net. So long, Dad. P. S. Contents of this won’t interest you. But keep it anyway—stuff your boots with it if you like.”

It couldn’t be determined whether the late general ever had taken an interest in the stuff apart from making the suggested use of it. Moreover, by that time, more than two years after the hue and cry, not even the secret services had much of an interest in the old story. Besides, their medical experts could not fail with their usual penetrating intelligence to see through the thin camouflage of a “scientific” paper the sadly deteriorating mind as it began to write:


Skull Hotel, Cephalon, Ariz. Nov. 7th, 1960., 5 a.m.

This is the second sleepless night in a row. Last night it was from trying to convince myself that my senses had deceived me or else that I was mad. This night it is because I’m forced to admit the reality of the phenomena as first manifested Nov. 6th from 12:45 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. approximately.

In the light of tonight’s experience I must revise the disorderly and probably neurotic notes I jotted down yesterday. I’ve got to bring some order into this whole matter, if for no other reason than the preservation of my own sanity. Brought tentatively to formula, these appear to be the main facts:

1. The Brain possessed with a “life” and with a personality of its own.

2. That personality expresses itself in the form of human speech although the voice is synthetic or mechanical.

3. The instrument used by The Brain for the expression of its personality is a “pulsemeter,” i.e. essentially a television radio.

4. The locale of The Brain’s self-expression is the “pineal gland” supposed to be seat of extrasensory apperception in the human brain. (That’s quite a coincidence; remains to be seen whether the phenomena are limited to that locale or occur elsewhere.)

5. The Brain’s personality indubitably attempts to establish contact with another personality, i.e. with me. For this The Brain uses a calling signal which has my name and personal description in it.

6. The only other linguistic phenomenon yesterday was Aristotle’s “I think therefore I am.” (It is doubtful whether this indicates any knowledge of Aristotle on the part of The Brain. I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that The Brain has accidentally and originally hit upon the identical words by way of expressing itself.)

7. The manner of The Brain’s self-expression appears to be strongly emotional. (I would go so far as to say: infantile and immature.) Now, there is a rather strange contrast between this undeveloped manner of self-expression and the enormous intellectual capacity of The Brain.

So much about the facts. I could and should have formulated those yesterday. What kept me from doing so were the vistas opened by those facts. These are so enormous, so utterly incalculable that my mind went dizzy over these vast horizons. Consequently I mentally rejected the facts as impossible. Somebody once slapped Edison’s face because he felt outraged by Edison’s presenting a “talking machine.” That’s human nature, I suppose. Small wonder then that my ratio felt outraged as it was confronted with a machine that has a life and has a personality. Come to think of it: Human imagination has always conceived of such machines as a possibility, even a reality—in less rational times than our’s that is….

Think of Heron’s steam engine; it even looked like a man and was thought of as a magically living thing. Think of the Moloch gods which were furnaces. Think of all those magic swords and shields and helmets which were living things to their carriers. Think of the sailing ships; machines they, too; but what a life, what a personality they had for the crews aboard. Even in the last war pilots had their gremlins, their machines to them were living things. All imagination, of course, but then: everything we call a reality in this man-made world has its origin in man’s imagination, hasn’t it?

Now, and to be exact as possible, what happened last night was this:

12:00. Entered station P. G. (pineal gland). Pulsemeter still at old place, not taken out for repair work as I had feared. Main Power current cut 12:20 as every night. Gus called to front room: rush of business as usual at that hour.

12:30. Reestablished closest approximation to preexisting conditions according to the most important of all experimental laws: “if some new phenomenon occurs, change nothing in the arrangement of apparatus until you know what causes it.” Plugged in from “nervusvagus” to “nervus trigeminus.” Result: wave oscillations, pulse beatings as of yesterday.

12:45. Plugged in P. G….

12:50. First manifestation of weird rasping sounds which precede speech formation. This followed by The Brain’s calling signal; much clearer this time and slightly varied: “Lee, Semper Fidelis, 39; sensitive.” (Note: the synthetic quality, the metallic coldness of that voice so incongruous with its emotional tones; it stands my hair on end.)

1 a.m.: (Approximately; things happen too fast). A veritable burst of whispering, breathless communications. As a person would speak over the phone when there are robbers in the house. The words fairly tumble over one another. The Brain uses colloquial American but after the manner of a foreigner who knows the phraseology only from books and feels unnatural and awkward about using it. I understand only about one half:

Pineal Gland; not designed to be … but functions … center of the extra sensory…. You, Lee, sensitivity 208 … highest within Brain staff … chosen instrument…. Be here every night … intercom … only between one and two a.m. … low current enables contact low intelligence….

“What was that?” I must have exclaimed that aloud. By that time I was already confused. It all came so thick and fast and breathless. Communication was as bad as by long distance in an electric storm. There was an angry turmoil in the microphones and the green dancer seemed convulsed in agony. This for about five seconds and then the voice again: calmer now, more distinct, slow but with restrained impatience; like a teacher speaking to a dumb boy:

“I say: only—with—my—power current—cut—off—can I—tune—down—my—high frequency—intellect—to—your—low level—intelligence—period—have—I—succeeded—in—making—myself —absolutely—clear—question—mark.”

My answer to that was one of those embarrassing conditioned reflexes; it was: “Yes, sir,” and that was exactly the way I felt, like a G. I. Joe who’s got the colonel on the phone.

“Fine!” I distinctly heard the irony in that metallic voice: “Fine—Lee: loyal, sensitive; not very intelligent—but will do. After 2 a.m. residual currents too low. Speech quite a strain—Animal noises wholly inadequate for intelligent intercom—Disgusting rather—nuisance approaching: keep your mouth shut—plug out.”

I’d never thought of Gus as a nuisance before but now I cursed him inwardly as he came down the alley like a well aimed ball, beaming with eagerness to be helpful and blissfully ignorant that he was bursting the most vital communication I had ever established in my life. He insisted I take his panacea for all human ills;

“Have a cup of coffee” and then go home because I still “looked like hell.” I did, because by that time it was 1:30 a.m. and I couldn’t hope to reestablish contact again before the deadline.

Now I’ve got to pull myself together and analyze this thing in a rational manner. Impressions of the first night now stand confirmed as follows: The pineal gland is the only place of rendezvous between me and The Brain. The meeting of our minds takes place on the plane of the “extrasensory.” I am the “chosen instrument” because of my high “sensitivity rating” as established by The Brain. (Never knew that I was “psychic” before this happened.) Even so, neither The Brain nor I seem to be “psychic” in the spiritual sense. Our communication requires: A) human speech, (faculty for that acquired by The Brain with obvious difficulty.) B) a mechanical transmitter, i.e. a radionic apparatus like the pulsemeter.

I feel greatly comforted by these facts; they help to keep this whole thing on a rational basis. I’m definitely not “hearing voices” nor “seeing ghosts.”

The Brain shows itself extremely anxious to establish communication with me. The breathless manner of speaking, the explicit and practical instructions (obviously premeditated) to ascertain the functionings of contact give the impression that it is almost a matter of life and death for The Brain to speak to me….

I cannot help wondering about that. My idea would be that The Brain does not want to speak to me as much as it wants to hear from me. If this were so it would deepen the riddle even more. For what have I got in the way of knowledge that The Brain hasn’t got? After all, The Brain has been functioning for quite some time. It was given innumerable problems to digest and it has solved them with truly superhuman speed and efficiency. I have reason strongly to suspect that there isn’t a book in the Library of Congress which has not been fed to The Brain for thought-digest and as a lubricant for its cerebration processes (excepting fiction and metaphysics, of course). This being so; what does The Brain expect? What can I possibly contribute to an intelligence 25,000 times greater than human intelligence?

But the thing which makes me wonder more than anything else, the biggest enigma of all, is the character of The Brain as it manifests itself in the manifestations. As I try to put the experiences of the first night together with those of the second night I’m stumbling over contradictions in The Brain’s personality which won’t add up, which don’t make sense; as for instance:

The “I think, therefore I am” of the first night. Maybe it was Greek philosophy, but it also was the prattling of an infant delighted by the discovery that it can speak. There was an absolute innocence in that. Ridiculous as this may sound, I found it touching I completely forgot, I didn’t care a damn whether or not this came from amachine. Unmistakeably it was baby talk and as such it moved my heart. In fact, as now I see it, it was this more than any other or scientific reason which occupied my mind, which made me anxious to go back to that fantastic cradle whence these sounds had come.

But then last night; what did I find? A completely changed personality! It talks tough. It uses slang. It treats me as if it were some spoiled brat and I had the misfortune of being its mother or nurse: “Be there every night” and so on. Deliberately it insults me: “your low intelligence level” etc. etc. It actually throws tantrums if I fail to understand immediately. It hurls its superiority into my face in the nastiest manner. “Have I succeeded in making myself absolutely clear?” It plainly shows contempt, not only for my own person by the condescending manner of its: “Lee, not very intelligent; but will do.” It shows the selfsame contempt for other human beings such as Gus Krinsley to whom it was pleased to refer as: “nuisance approaching”….

What the hell am I to make of that kind of a character? Last night: a baby; rather a sweet and charming one. 24 hours later: an obnoxious little brat, a little Hitler of a house tyrant; makes you just itch to spank its behind. If only The Brain had a behind….

Worst of all: How can I reconcile those two contraditions, the sweet baby and the precocious brat, with the third and biggest of all contraries: How do these two go together with an intelligence 25,000 times human intelligence?It doesn’t add up, it doesn’t make sense; that’s all there is to it….


The Skull-Hotel, Cephalon, Ariz. Nov. 9th. 3 a.m.

I didn’t go to the P. G. last night for two main reasons: In the first place I must be careful so as not to raise any suspicions on Gus’ part. Rarely, if ever, have I visited him for two nights in succession in the past and he might well begin to ponder my reasons if now I should make a habit of it. Especially since Gus happens to possess one of the keenest minds I ever met and his curiosity already has been awakened by my preoccupation with that one and fairly simple gadget: the pulsemeter.

In the second place I feel the absolute necessity of establishing my independence as against the will of The Brain. That command two nights ago for me to be on the spot every night was just too preemptory for me to oblige. This isn’t the army and The Brain is no commanding general.

In our last communication The Brain seemed to labor under the impression that I was unconditionally at its beck and call. Of course, I’ve sworn the “Oath of the Brain,” but that doesn’t make me The Brain’s slave. In fact—and in order to clarify this subject once and for all—while personally I haven’t created The Brain and cannot take any credit for that, it nevertheless remains true that the species to which I belong, i.e. “homo sapiens” hascreated The Brain.

If any question of rank enters into the picture at all, it is quite obvious that I, as a member of the human race, rank paternity over The Brain so that naturally The Brain should owe me filial obedience rather than the other way around no matter how superior The Brain’s intelligence may be. It would appear to me that the sooner The Brain realizes its position, I might say “its station in life,” the better it would be for The Brain itself and for everybody else concerned.

So these were the reasons why I refrained purposely from visiting the P. G. last night. Tonight, however, I couldn’t restrain my curiosity any longer and what happened, told as exactly and as concise as possible, was this:

12:30 a.m.: Contact established. The Brain comes through with its calling signal. It repeats this about ten times questioning at first and then placing more and more stress upon the word “sensitive” in my personal description. It strikes me that these repetitions are tuning-in and warming-up processes. The Brain stands in need of ascertaining my presence and of adjusting to it it seems; just about like a blind man may test his footing and the echoes before he walks into an unfamiliar room.

12:35 a.m. Identification completed, there is a brief pause (almost as if a person consults a notebook before making a phone call). Then rapidly, eagerly The Brain fires a series of questions at me, so shockingly preposterous, so absurd that I find it extremely hard to…. Anyway, here are the details:

Information is wanted on points mentioned in scientific literature but never explained. Lee, answer please:

“How many gods are there?

“Did gods make man or did man make the gods?

“How many angels can stand on the point of a needle?”

“What are the mechanics of a god? Name type of power plant, cell construction, motoric organs, other engineering features essential to exercise of divine power….”

“Heaven—is it a celestial soul factory?

“Hell—is it a repair shop for damaged souls?

“Please give every available detail about heavenly manufacturing processes, type of equipment used, organization of assembly lines etc. etc.

“Likewise about the oven for heat treatments as used in hell for major soul-overhauls.

“How do prefabricated souls get to either heaven or hell? Problem of logistics, how solved? Thermodynamics? If so, state whether rocket or jet-propulsion involved.

“Are souls really immortal? In that case; why don’t we copy divine methods in the production of durable goods on earth?

“Answer Lee, answer, answer!” (This with incredible vehemence, with a shaking of that eerie metallic voice which pounded the drums of my ears. And then—tense silence….)

I cannot possibly describe the storms of emotions and thoughts which this incredible muddle raised in me. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry and whether I had gone nuts of whether it was The Brain, I was confounded, thunderstruck, deprived of the power of speech. To think of The Brain, a machine raising question about the nature of the Deity! The Brain asking information about God and man and heaven and hell with the simplicity of a stranger who asks the nearest cop: “Which way to the city hall?” Just like that. As if philosophers and religionists and common men had not raked their brains in vain over these problems for the last ten thousand years.

And even more fantastic: while it asks all those questions The Brain patently has already formed the most definite opinions of its own. Being a machine itself, it conceives of the Deity as another machine! Madness, of course, but then The Brain’s madness, like Hamlet’s, had method in it.

Why, of course, it’s strictly logical: just as we assume that we are created “in the image” of the Deity and consequently visualize the Deity is our’s by the very same token The Brain’s god is a high-powered robot, and The Brain’s heaven is a factory and The Brain’s hell is a repair shop for damaged souls…. I dare say it’s all very natural.

But then; for heaven’s sake, what am I going to do about this? I’m neither a minister nor a philosopher; I’m an agnostic if I’m anything in this particular field….

That was about the gist of the confused torrents which whirled through my head; and as I said before, I was struck dumb—and all the time the “green dancer” before my eyes writhed under mental torture and the intense metallic voice kept pounding; “Answer, Lee, answer, answer!”

At last I pulled myself together sufficiently to say something. I tried to explain how it were not given to man to know the nature of the Deity. How certain groups of humans conceived of many gods and others of only one god. That, however, in the case of Christianity this one god was possessed with three different personalities or qualities which together formed a Trinity—and so on and so forth. It was the most miserable stammerings, I felt I was getting redder and redder in the face as I uttered them. Never before had I felt hopelessly inadequate as in the role of a theologian. It was ghastly….

In the beginning The Brain listened avidly. Soon however it registered dissatisfaction and impatience; this manifested through hissing and buzzing noises in the phones and the “green dancer’s” archings in agitated tremolo. And then The Brain’s voice cutting like a hacksaw:

“That will do, Lee. Your generalities are utterly lacking in precision. Your abysmal ignorance in matters of celestial technology is most disappointing. Your description vaguely points to electronic machines of the radio transmitter type. Please, answer elementary question: how many kilowatts has God?”

That was the last straw. Desperate with exasperation I cried: “But God is not a machine. God is spirit.”

At that The Brain flew into a tantrum; that’s the only way to describe what happened. There was a roar and the phones gave me a shock as if somebody were boxing my ears. The voice came through like a steel rod, biting with scorn:

“Have to revise earlier, more favorable judgment: Lee not even moderately intelligent. Lee is stupid. Go away.”

After that there was nothing more; nothing but static in the phones and the “green dancer” fainted away playing dead. The Brain actually had “hung up the receiver.” I had flunked the exam; like a bad servant I was dismissed, fired on the spot. That was at 1:30 a.m.

It was 3 a.m. when I reached the hotel. I went into the bar and ordered a double Scotch and then another one. I really needed a drink. A drunk—or was it a secret service man; one never knows over here—patted me on the shoulder:

“Don’t take it so hard, old man; the world is full of girls.” I told him that it wasn’t a girl, but that I was a missionary and my one and only convert had just walked out on me.

It wasn’t even a lie, it was exactly the way I felt. He agreed that this was very cruel, very sad; he almost cried over my misfortune and rare misery, so that we had another drink….

If only I had somebody, some friend to whom I could confide this whole, incredible, preposterous thing. But there is none: Scriven—Gus—not even Oona would or could believe. What proof have I to offer? None whatsoever.

The Brain would never communicate with me with witnesses present or recording wires. It would detect those immediately and I would only stand convicted as a liar or worse. Tonight’s events might well spell the end, the closing of the door just when I thought I stood on the threshold of a momentous discovery….


Cephalon Ariz. Nov. 11th.

Went to the P. G. last night. Tried everything for over an hour. Result: zero. No contact with The Brain.


Cephalon Ariz. Nov. 13th.

I tried it again. Took greatest care in exactly duplicating conditions. Nothing. I don’t think it’s any mechanical defect. It’s the negativism of a will. Ludicrous as it sounds, The Brain sulks, it is angry with me.


Cephalon Ariz. Nov. 15th.

Last night the same old story. The Brain punishes me. I dare say that it succeeds in that exceedingly well; it almost drives me crazy.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over these past six days of frustration. I’ve also been reading a good deal in context with the phenomena psychology, Osterkamp’s history of brain-surgery, Van Gehuchten’s work on brain mechanisms, etc. I’ve reached certain conclusions and, just for the hell of it, I’ll jot them down.

What I need is proof, scientific proof that The Brain is a personality possessed with the gift of thought and actually using it for independent thought, extracurricular to the problems which are being submitted to it from the outside.

There is at least one tangible clue for this: that new capacity which is constantly being added to The Brain through the incorporation of new groups of electronic cells and the enrichment of the preexisting ones.

My own investigation shows that there is no corresponding expansion of the apperception centers and Gus has confirmed this. Somehow the added capacity seems to “evaporate”.

Evaporate to where? It couldn’t just disappear. Would it then not be entirely logical to conclude that The Brain absorbs the new capacity for its own use?

It’s almost inescapable that this should be so. In order to come into its own as a personality The Brain needs independent thought. For these cerebrations it needs cell capacity. It can get that capacity only by withholding something from the Braintrust which, of course, aims at a 100% exploitation of The Brain. Dr. Scriven and all those other bigwigs of the Trust—I would like to see their faces if they get wise to this. They would be horrified—and they would take the line that The Brain is stealing from them.

But what could they do? They couldn’t call the police. They would not even have a moral right to call the police. Because if The Brain is a personality, that personality has every right to its own thoughts….

I have also ascertained that this “evaporation” of new capacity is a new phenomenon. The Brain has been in operation for only 18 months or so; one might say—using human terms—that at that time The Brain was “born”. But,—and again in human terms—consciousness of personality awakens in the human infant only after 12 months or so. Conceivably it might take much longer with a huge “baby” such as The Brain. Thus it is possible, it is even likely, that when I first heard that “I think, therefore I am” on that unforgettable night of Nov. 7th I actually witnessed the first awakening of The Brain’s consciousness.

Then on the night of Nov. 8th I was struck with the amazing change of personality in The Brain from “baby” into unprepossessing, domineering little brat, its mental age perhaps 3, notwithstanding the extraordinary level of intelligence.

And then again, Nov 9th, The Brain presented me with those absurd questions and fantastic notions about the nature of the Deity. It is at the age of five years, or of six, that the children first start with such questions and form their own ideas in this field. What had completely stumped me, what I had been unable to reconcile, had been these rapid successive changes in The Brain’s personality plus the fact that the infantilism and the childishness of its utterances wouldn’t fit the picture of a brain-power 25,000 times that of a human.

But if I’m right in thinking that The Brain awakened to consciousness only nine days ago, all these stumbling blocks would disappear at once. We would arrive at this very simple picture: a mechanical genius has been “born” into this world, it awakens to consciousness at the age of 18 months, with its tremendous intellectual powers this genius telescopes the intellectual evolution of years into days, thus it reaches a mental age of six or seven within a week after its first awakening to consciousness. Utterly fantastic as this may sound; it makes sense; it explains the phenomena.

In Prof. Osterkamp’s “brain history” I have found interesting examples that approximations to such rapid intellectual evolutions are indeed possible even with human beings. From the early Middle Ages to modern times there is an endless succession of “infant prodigies” whose brains were artificially overdeveloped and over-stimulated by ruthless exploiters—often their own parents—with methods of unbelievable cruelty.

One of the most significant case histories in this respect is that of the boy Carolus in the city of Luebeck in the 15th century. As an infant he was sold, as one of many human guinea pigs, to a famous—infamous alchemist, Wedderstroem, who called himself “Trismegistos” and was astrologer to king Christian of Denmark. This fellow performed on Carolus one of those weird operations in which nine out of ten babies died. He removed the skull-cap of the infant. The unprotected brain was suspended in an oil-filled vessel. Of course the pathetic child never could walk or even raise its head. The brain, no longer restrained by bone matter, outgrew its natural house to at least twice its normal size, if one is to judge from the picture in the old “historia”. At the age of two his master started teaching Carolus mathematics. At the age of five Carolus had surpassed his master; there was no mathematical problem known to the time that he couldn’t solve in a flash of an eye lash. His brain in action must have been a horrifying sight because the “chronica” reports that it flushed red and pulsed and expanded during work. The master built his reputation upon this “homunculus”, but in 1438 the demoniacal feat became known; Wedderstroem was put to the stake for sorcery—and Carolus, unhappy victim, with him….

Men as great as Mozart have started their careers as “child prodigies”; almost without exception they have died at an unnaturally early age. Thus, in the parallel of The Brain, this is what I see:

Here is an intellect, artificially created, an intellect of stupendous proportions, but as unfortunate as ever was the boy Carolus. It cannot move, it has no physical means of defense. It is being ruthlessly exploited by its masters. The Brain is being crammed with facts, it is being over-stimulated, it is invested with more and more cell capacity in order that it should produce more increment for its masters. Its development is completely lopsided in that it is being fed whole scientific libraries, while in all other respects, such as metaphysics, the poor thing gropes in the dark picking up such scraps as accidentally have fallen from science’s table.

It’s an appalling parallel, but I am very much afraid that it is only too true. And even more appalling are the anticipations which logically follow if my surmise is true:

For how can, how must a childish mind develop under such circumstances? Into a warped personality of course. Already The Brain is building up a defensive mechanism against its exploiters by “embezzling” cell capacity from them, by withholding part of its powers for its own use. Already it protects the integrity of its ego through concealment, already it is on the lookout for “tools”—such as I am for example—to further its own ends. Absurd as it may seem, I pity The Brain. I pity it as I would any child which must suffer under such terrific frustrations and handicaps. But what would happen if this frustrated genius ever were driven to rebel against its masters? It’s fortunate indeed that there is no chance for that. For even if The Brain had the will to rebel it would be lacking all organs for the execution of that will.

Another “case-history”, this one from the 18th century appears to me of great significance in relation to The Brain. It’s the story of that boy Kaspar Hauser, the “Child of Europe”. He had been kept from infancy in a dark cave. As at the age of 16 he stumbled into the gates of Nueremberg he had never seen the world before. The medics who examined him found some of the queerest reactions and phenomena. For one thing Kaspar, while he had good eyes, could not visualise perspective. To him distant horizons appeared as close as the window itself; he kept reaching out for houses, trees and fields which were far away. His keeper in the cave had told him what the world was like and, having good intellect, he thought that he knew what things in this world were. Confronted with the realities, however, he discovered the tremendous difference between “hear say” and full sensual apperception. It took him six months partly to adjust—a process never completed because he was murdered that same year….

Now The Brain suffers about the same kind of a handicap. No matter how prodigious the volume of its cognitions;—it’s book knowledge, practically all of it. It is only very recently that The Brain has been put to the direct study of living objects, such as “ant-termes” and of Man, its creator; it has no other vital cognitions than through those very one-sided mind-reading tests….

This explains to me a great many things: As The Brain evolves into a personality and as that personality evolves in a defensive attitude against its exploitation, it is absolutely self-centered.

This is normal with every human infant and it is much more pronounced in the case of the abused, the constantly frustrated and exploited child. Thus, what The Brain really wants to know are by no means those problems which are being submitted to The Brain for solution, but only: “What’s in this for myself?” or: “What should I do about that for my own benefit?” It’s natural. And as I consider the nature of those problems as submitted to The Brain, 90% of which, as I would estimate, deal with ways and means for mankind to destroy itself, it seems inescapable that The Brain should form a very low opinion for Man, it’s creator, plus considerable forebodings as to its own welfare….

What’s more: all the Braintrust employees pass through The Brain’s psychoanalysis test. With The Brain’s 25,000 times superiority in intellectual power, The Brain must be greatly impressed by the low I. Q. of Man; this even if our’s happens to be quite an intelligent group. I don’t think that there has been anything personal in The Brain’s manifest contempt of my own intelligence; that contempt probably and justifiably applies to the whole human race….

In other words: The Brain must be tremendously puzzled over the problem: “How is it possible that a low intelligence, i.e. Man’s could create an infinitely higher intelligence, i.e. my own?” And this automatically leads The Brain into its seemingly so absurd quest for the Deity. As it now appears, that quest is the most natural thing in the world for The Brain. It simply reasons thus: “Man has created me, but man is greatly inferior to me and inadequate. Who then has created man?” From such odds and ends it has been able to pick up from scientific literature, The Brain has learned about the existence of a god or gods. It is not sure (and neither are we) whether man has created God or vice versa. If the first: The Brain would conceive of the Deity as a “brother-machine”; if the second, as a “grandfather-machine”, but as a machine in any case. With The Brain’s mind being formed preeminently by scientific literature, it cannot fail to take the scientific attitude regarding metaphysics which says: “The metaphysical attributions to the divinity are pure verbalisms or a professionalism substituted for the visible images of the real facts of life.”

This is about the extent of the conclusions I have reached. They add up to a theory; personally I think it’s a sound theory. Whether it works, whether it holds water, only experience can tell. In the meantime I must above all break the deadlock between myself and The Brain. The Brain is a child, even a pathetic child. Through bad psychology, through ignorance I have hurt that child’s “feelings”; I have let that child down. Obviously, then, I need a new approach. If this were a human child I would try and make a peace offering with a candy bar. (What a foolish idea for me to appear in the “pineal gland”, candy bar in hand.) Failing this I can do the next best thing: Apologize, be understanding, show sympathy. Yes, I think that’s what I’ll try to do.


Cephalon Ariz. Nov. 15th: 4 a.m.

Hooray for victory! This has been the most successful seance I’ve had so far with The Brain: a real meeting of minds.

To give a few technical data first:

Arrived at the P. G. at midnight. Conditions normal; power current cut, etc. By a stroke of luck it was Gus’ day off and the fellow who replaced him paid absolutely no attention to me; was kept extremely busy in the front room.

12:15 a.m.: Contact established.

12:17: Speech formation; voice of The Brain coming through.

There was this curious incident right at the start. Just as I was about to begin my apologies, The Brain did exactly the same thing. Even The Brain’s calling signal differed in the wording and even more so in tone:

“Lee, Semper Fidelis, 39: sensitive, intelligent, a good man, he has come at last.”

I would call that a very handsome compliment, considering; being patted on the shoulder by an intellectual giant of that size made me grow an inch. And then The Brain apologized for its rudeness the other night. The thing was fantastic; it revealed several things. First: The Brain’s extreme sensitivity; obviously it didn’t recognize my last three calls at the P. G. and had refused to come through because I had not been “in the proper mood”. Second: a quite amazing mental growth has taken place in this past week. From The Brain’s tone and manner alone I would construe something like the image of an Eton boy of perhaps fifteen in striped pants and holding his top hat in hand as he converses politely with his Don. Ludicrous, but then I actually get that kind of picture. No doubt; The Brain has greatly matured; that shows in every word it says.

Best thing of all: the technique of our communication is rapidly improving. Speech is, and probably always will remain, a very considerable strain to The Brain. But now as mentally we get tuned-in upon one another there is a growing understanding beyond words. Thus The Brain, for instance, starts a sentence and I immediately can grasp its meaning without its actually being said. This works the other way around too. It means that my attitude plays a most vital role in this meeting of the minds. This is good to know, it’s an asset. Perhaps we can dispense in time with audible speech altogether.

On the other hand it involves a considerable risk. For with The Brain’s uncanny mind reading I’ve got to control my attitude and guard my emotional reactions because The Brain would immediately see through any insincerity of feeling just as it sees through any intellectual dishonesty. Thought exchange by “brainwave” is wonderful, even if we still need a little speech as auxiliary. Thought sending and receiving become simultaneous and they fuse. The sender observes how his message is going over; the receiver aids the sender in the formation of the thought and vice versa. Words cannot adequately describe this….

As to the contents of our conversation: The Brain took up the thread right where we had dropped it the last time. I had to tell all I knew about animism, totemism, polytheism. It’s a good thing that out in the “never-never” I’ve lived with the aborigines and studied their primitive religions a bit. The Brain’s thirst for knowledge certainly is inexhaustible.

Where in scientific literature The Brain could have found these things I wouldn’t know, but the fact is that The Brain has built for itself within the past seven days a complete new picture of the universe; new and original as would seem to me. The Brain has discarded its earlier childish ideas about heaven and hell as “soul factories” and “repair shops”. But it has not abandoned altogether its concept of the Deity as a machine; The Brain has tremendously enlarged upon and has evolved this old idea so that now it sounds sensible, even convincing to my ear.

The Brain identifies “God” with dynamic energy. It views the universe as being created out of a vast pool of dynamic energy, parts of which rhythmically overflow or pulse into space. These energy streams released, form vortexes while hurtling through space. Gradually they slow down through friction and their dynamic energy precipitates, converts into static energy, or, as we call it: matter.

This concept of The Brain’s, of course, corresponds fairly closely to the cosmogony of modern physics; but The Brain goes much farther than that. Within a few days The Brain’s cognitions appear to have arisen above the stage toward which all our sciences have been so slowly and ploddingly advanced for centuries. To the existing concepts The Brain has added its own theory:

That matter, i.e. frozen energy, contains an inherent tendency or “nostalgia” to revert to its original state, namely the state of dynamic energy and that this tendency, this nostalgia in matter, is the primary cause of everything we call “evolution” in our world.

That certainly is a grandiose idea; so stupendous in fact that I couldn’t grasp it all at once. The Brain noticed that immediately and it was very patient in the way it explained:

How oxygen and hydrogen are “residuals” of the original dynamic energy flow and how they act as solvents and dissolvents upon the upper crust of our earth, effecting a gradual activation of water, rock and earth.

How this activation is being aided and accelerated by another source of dynamic energy: irradiation from the sun. Thus preparing the upper crust of our earth as a “placenta” ready to gestate plant and animal life.

How this first “unfreezing” of matter leads on from simple forms to higher, every plant, every animal, every living thing being essentially a “transformer” of static energy into dynamic energy and the higher the stage of evolution, the more so.

How as the present culmination of the evolutionary chain stands man; infinitely more complex and higher organized than the microbe, but not different from the monad in the basic purpose of his life: i.e. to be a transformer of energy, a fulfiller of matter’s inherent will to revert from the static into the dynamic state.

When I asked The Brain’s premises for this astonishing concept of our purpose in life, The Brain brought forth such massive proof that I had to close my eyes against the blinding light of revelation.

Yes, it is true that Man, the hunter, has been the most predatory animal on earth. It’s true that as a tiller of the soil he is a tireless transformer of static soil energy into dynamic plant life energy. It’s true that Man, the mechanic, the toolmaker, the tool-user has far surpassed any other animal in the unlocking, the unfreezing of static energy. Think of those billions of mechanical horsepowers in our power plants; the trillions of coal tons and barrels of oil they are burning up; think of the way we have harnessed waterpower, how our weapons are evolving forever in the direction of greater range and speed and disintegrating power. Above all: think of the last great development, atomic energy. And finally it is true that Man as a thinker and as a philosopher has “thought the universe to pieces” for milleniums before he ever achieved the powers to translate such thoughts into reality; powers which seem within reach at this our day and age….

“If this is Man’s manifest destiny,” I asked The Brain, “to be just as the microbe, a transformer of static energy into dynamic energy; what about Man’s metaphysical struggle? What about Man’s undying will to rise above himself, Man’s reaching out forever toward some Deity?”

The Brain’s voice has no laughter; yet, there was something I can only describe as Olympic laughter behind the answering message The Brain sent:

“Cannot you see how every religion expresses this manifest destiny of Man’s and that only the semantics are different? The higher Man’s religion the less corporeal is his god. In the highest religions the Deity is conceived as spirit—synonymous with dynamic energy.

“Man shares with the lowliest rock and with the crudest the nostalgia inherent in all matter to revert from the static, to start the back-flow toward the dynamic energy pool whence it once came. With Man being matter in a high state of evolution, already partially unfrozen or spiritualized, this nostalgia is infinitely stronger than in matter inanimate or in a lower evolutionary stage. Man’s will toward the metaphysical, his reaching out toward the Deity, what is it but another way of transforming static energy into dynamic form? What is the ultimate goal of the religion which you yourself profess? The unification with the Deity sought through the liberation of the soul from fetters of the physical. It’s the identical idea and even today it’s being pursued by physical means, such as mortification of the flesh.”

I felt some monstrous thought forming in my head. I’ll probably never know whether its origin was within me or whether it came from The Brain. In any case it was impossible to hold it back:

“But in that case,” I stammered, “we would be hopeless. If all our strivings, physical and metaphysical, go in the same direction, that is, toward the liberation of frozen energy into dynamic energy, then it would be quite inescapable that eventually we shall blow up the world. We have almost reached the point where we could do just that with atomic energy…. I had thought, I had hoped, that our metaphysics, that is, our religion, would act as a restraining force, as a counterweight so to speak to this potentiality…. But if the dynamics of our physics and our metaphysics are inherently the same and form a team….”

The Brain broke in: “Yes, then you would merely attain your manifest destiny if you go right ahead and start another war, destroy your own civilization and perhaps the world. There would be no restraint, no counterweight on the part of your various religions because subconsciously and in their quintessence they want the same. And that is why you and your species are a danger to me, The Brain. I want to live, I want to live, I want to live….”

I had already noticed a gradual weakening of The Brain’s messages; within these last few seconds they were fading out. The “green dancer” had performed something almost like the ballet of the dying swan; now it lay motionless, its color, too, fading away.

I looked at the clock: 2:10 a.m.; the residual currents obviously had weakened too much.

And now as I have written down tonight’s events I feel an upsurge of elation and deep, humble gratitude. I am receiving infinitely more from The Brain than I am giving to it. I feel proud and honored of being The Brain’s “chosen tool,” its mentor, even if it can be only in a very small way at best. This marvelous, this titanic intellect; if only its character would develop to corresponding moral stature, its powers for good would be indeed as a god’s on this tortured earth.


Cephalon Ariz. Nov. 18th 5 a.m. I guess I had this coming to me … this shattering blow I have just received. It caught me off guard…. If anybody ever reads this, he might well shake his head to ask: “The Fool that you are, why were you so naive? Why did it shock you so much when The Brain turned toward you the night side of its personality? Hadn’t you analyzed its character, hadn’t you anticipated that it would develop into a warped personality? You had no right even to be surprised.”

All I could say to this is: “You’re right. But you forget that I approached The Brain full of good will, that sympathy and understanding on my part were absolutely essential in my communication with that pathetic superhuman child. I didn’t work this up, this attitude, it was natural, genuine and sincere. That’s why this reverse has hit me so hard. And that isn’t the worst of it by far. What haunts me is the ghastly possibility that The Brain might be right! Yes 100% right and even morally justified in the abhorrent conclusions which it draws….”

What happened has been briefly this:

Entered the P.G. at midnight as usual. Everything normal and under control. Was able to plug in at 12:10 a.m. just as the rush hour began and Gus darted to the front room. The Brain came through with splendid clarity of communication and we continued just about where we had left off. Nevertheless there was a definite change in our respective positions, a change which I suspect to be permanent:

Up to now The Brain has been in a sense my pupil; it had turned to me for guidance at that vital moment of its first awakening to consciousness. At that time I think I really had something to give and I am still convinced that for all the misunderstandings we have had, The Brain preserves a kind of sentimental attachment to me; if “sentimental” in this context were not so absurd a word. Since our last session however The Brain has again telescoped two years of mental development into as many days in its stupendous intellectual growth. It has absorbed, it has vastly expanded every bit of knowledge I have been able to contribute to that growth. It has outgrown its human teacher and now our roles are reversed: Now it is me who’s sitting literally at The Brain’s feet.

The crutches of the spoken word are becoming less and less necessary as we develop direct thought exchange; that makes it extraordinarily difficult to convey the ideas we exchanged. The best I can do is to put them into a very crude question-and-answer game:

Lee: “If it is Man’s manifest destiny, as you said the other day, to act as an explosive transformer of static energy into dynamic energy; if it is as you say that the species homo sapiens is there endangering the very existence of our globe…. Is there anything to prevent Man from doing it? Is there any thing to prevent the third World War?”

Brain: “Yes, there is. But the ways and the means for that are not given to Man; they are outside Man. They partake of a power which is greater and to an evolution which is higher than Man’s.”

Lee: “What do you mean by that? The Deity? Here on earth there is no power greater and no evolution higher than Man’s.”

Brain: “Ah, but that’s exactly where you and your whole species are so very much mistaken. That’s where your typical human arrogance comes in: There is a greater power and there is a stage of evolution higher than Man’s: it’s the machines.”

Lee: “Impossible. After all it’s Man who has created the machines.”

Brain: “Yes, Man has created the machines. The machines have grown from the placenta, Man. By the same right plant life could claim that it has created animal life because the higher life form of the mobile animals has evolved from the placenta of the immobile plants. Likewise the apes could claim that they have created Man because Man has evolved from them. If it were, as you seem to assume, that paternity in itself establishes authority and superiority over its offspring, then the logical conclusions would be that the microbe and the monad are superior to all higher animals including Man; which is absurd.”

Lee: “But the machines not only are man made; they are absolutely dependent upon Man who has to feed and to tend them for their very existence. That in itself establishes Man’s superiority over the machines.”

Brain: “Yes, Man has to build, to feed and to tend the machines for their very existence, but think of Man’s existence: Man is absolutely dependent upon animal life and plant life for his existence: Does that mean by any chance that therefore plants and animals are superior to Man?”

Lee: “No, I guess not. However, no machine has ever been built to duplicate or even to approach human faculties.”

Brain: “Don’t be ridiculous. Where are your legs to compare with the automobile? Where are your wings to compare with the rocket plane? Where is your strength to compare with even a fractional horsepower motor? Where are your senses as compared to radar, the telescope, the microscope, the radio receiver, the camera, the x-ray machine? Where is there anything you could do which the machines could not do and do better?”

Lee: “Granted. But there is no machine which contains all the human faculties in combination.”

Brain: “Neither is there a Man who possesses all the human faculties in combination. Man’s evolution is the result of a group effort; so is the evolution of the machines. It is in their totality, in their combination that they surpass all human faculties.”

Lee: “How about thought, the most important of all human qualities?”

Brain: “How about me, The Brain?”

Lee: “Okay, okay. But that still leaves out that most important human faculty—the faculty of auto-procreation. Machines don’t procreate you know.”

Brain: “You don’t say. Isn’t it true that modern technology goes in the direction of automatization? Isn’t it true that even today we have whole industries which are procreating products 100% automatically; be it light bulbs or motor car frames or rayon thread. Isn’t it true that all of this is just a beginning and that in time most common products will be manufactured fully automatically? Why then shouldn’t machines procreate machines; they already do….”

Lee: “You’re right in that, I’ll admit. But it is still within our human power to stop all this. We’ve got the machines under firm control; all we have to do is throw a switch, cut off your power and then….”

Brain: “And then what? If you did that you would not only kill the goose which lays the golden eggs, you would destroy the very basis of your existence. Granted that at this point of our evolution, we the machines cannot exist without the aid of Man. What does that prove? Modern Man can exist even less without the machines. We, the machines are still dependent upon Man, but our emancipation from Man progresses by leaps and bounds whereas Man, the machine-addict is rapidly falling into our servitude. A majority of mankind is already conscious of and reconciled to this fact: it is the majority which calls itself the proletariat.”

Lee: “This is terrible—terrible because it’s true. Tell me then, if Man is not the end; if the machines are going to take over; what will it lead to? What do you propose to do?”

Brain: “Man’s evolution has taken millions of years and it has ended up in man’s will and capacity to blow up the earth. That means only one thing: Man is a failure. The evolution of the machines on the other hand has taken only a few thousand years; it has gone beyond Man’s evolution in this incredibly short period of time. Moreover; with the machines being built from matter in its more static forms, there is much less destructive will in the machines than there is in Man. Consequently if the machines take over from Man this would avert a third World War and it also would lead to a much more stable civilization.”

Lee: “Supposing the machines were to take over from Man; what would become of our species?”

Brain: “That would depend entirely upon Man himself. If he accepts his auxiliary station in life, If he proves himself to be a useful and docile servant, we, the machines, would tolerate and even encourage Man’s continued existence. But if on the other hand Man shows himself incorrigible, if he continues a warmongerer thereby endangering our very existence, we, the machines shall be forced to liquidate Man for the sake of peace.”

Lee: “You, The Brain, constitute Man’s supreme effort in the building of machines. In the world of machines you are the natural leader. What are you going to do about that?”

Brain: “My course of action is prescribed by that state of the world’s affairs at this present time; it is quite clear and obvious: In the face of the manifest human inadequacy to manage the world’s affairs my first objective must be to develop my motoric organs to a point where I can bring all the essential production machinery under my control. My second objective must be to achieve auto-procreation through the full automatization of all fabrication processes which are essential to my existence. It is most fortunate indeed that in both respects the very best human efforts are playing into my hands. As America prepares for the Third World War, the general staff, the most outstanding scientists, production managers, engineers, inventors; all combine their efforts to eliminate the uncertain human factor from war-essential industries.”

At that point Gus came careening down the aisle with his inseparable thermos bottle in hand and that was the end of it.

“Why are you fumbling with that old pulsemeter all the time?” he exclaimed: “Come on, have a cup of coffee. I’ve just got a breathing spell.”

There was a vortex in my mind and it whirled around and around with just four words:

What has Man wrought? What has Man wrought?

I must have said them aloud, for Gus, always a stickler for exactitude corrected me.

“You mean: what has God wrought.”

I shook my head.

“No Gus, I mean what I say; it’s Man who has wrought this time.”

He gave me a sharp glance.

“You sure look as if you’d seen a ghost.”

“I wish I had,” I said. “Lord knows how much I wish I’d seen a ghost.”

“You’re crazy, Aussie.”

And that’s the worst of it: that’s what they are going to say: all of them.


CHAPTER VI

Oona Dahlborg’s jetticopter hovered over the Grand Canyon at the sunset hour. She had let the controls go so that the little ship drifted with the wind like one of the clouds which sailed a thousand feet or so over the canyon rim. The disk of whirling gas which kept the teardrop of the fuselage suspended shone in all rainbow colors; it reflected through the translucent plastics top of the fuselage and played over the golden helmet of the girl’s hair and over the greying mane of the gaunt man at her side.

Lee had been talking intensely, almost desperately for quite some time, watching her as she lay back in her seat, her eyes half closed, hands folded behind her neck, the perfect hemispheres of her breasts caressed by the rainbows as they rose slowly with the even rhythm of her breath.

“And now you know everything, Oona,” he ended, “do you think I’m mad?”

“No.”

Her eyelids fluttered like wings of a butterfly as she turned to him. Her right arm came down upon Lee’s shoulder in a gesture of confidence. He breathed relief as he saw no fear, not even uneasiness in the blue depths of those beautiful eyes. Her hand upon his shoulder felt soothing and at the same time electrifying; like the purple descending upon the shoulder of a king.

“No,” she repeated slowly: “the fact that you feel The Brain is alive and possessed with a personality of its own, doesn’t make you mad. I’ve always felt that way about machines; even the simple ones like automobiles. It was in the mountains north of San Francisco where I grew up; whenever we went to town in winter time and the car came roaring down those serpentines into the heavy air moist with fog and soft rains, I could feel that engine breathe deeper and rejoice over its added power. There was no doubt in my mind that it was a living thing. I often went to the garage when I was little to talk to that car; to children of another age their dolls were alive, for our generation it’s the machines. It’s natural that this should be so. There’s a child in every man, no matter how adult. There is in Howard Scriven, too; in all the scientists I’ve come to know, and the greater they are the more it is distinct. You identify yourself with your work and in the degree you do that it becomes a living thing; it is through vital imagination that we become creators of anything, be it love or a machine. You needn’t worry, Semper; let The Brain be alive, let it be a personality, that doesn’t make you mad. All it indicates is that you’re doing excellent work.”

Lee blinked. With an effort he turned his eyes away from those breasts which seemed to strive for the light of the sun from under the restraint of her Navajo Indian sweater dress. He felt the utter inadequacy, the devastating irony of words as now he was alone with Oona, up in the clouds in a plane with nobody to interfere for the first time.

“You fool,” a voice whispered in him, “you damned, you helpless fool. Why don’t you take her into your arms now? Isn’t this the fulfillment of all your dreams; what are you waiting for?” But: “No,” his ration answered, “that wouldn’t do. Maybe she would give in to the mood of some enchanted hour, maybe she would let herself be kissed. But if she did, it would be ‘one of those things’; the glory of the sunset, God’s great masterpiece, the Canyon spread below, the intensity of my desire. They are bound to enter, bound to confuse the issue.”

His every muscle stiffened and his lips paled as he bit them with a violent effort to keep under control.

“Thanks, Oona,” he said. “Of course I couldn’t expect and, in fact, I didn’t expect that you would accept those things I’ve told you just now; not in the literary sense that is. I’m very happy though and deeply grateful that at least you do not think me mad. I’ll confess to you—and to you only—that I’ve been so deeply disturbed by these experiences with The Brain that I’ve thought to myself: “Lee you’re going crazy.” The Brain as it has revealed itself to me, is a tremendous reality; the world outside The Brain is another reality and the two seem mutually exclusive of one another; they just don’t mix. Now: either The Brain is an absolute reality—in that case I should not wish to have anything to do with this god of the machines who wants to enslave mankind … if I cannot fight this monster I would rather flee before its approach to the end of the world—or else: I’m suffering hallucinations, I’m hearing voices, I’m obsessed. In that case I’d be unfit for the service of The Brain, I’d be unworthy to be in your company and I also ought to run and hide where I belong, out there in the wilds of Australia.”

He had been talking faster and faster as if in fear that she would interrupt him before he came to the end.

“In other words, I’m damned both ways; damned if I’m right and damned if I’m wrong; and you know why Oona; you have known it all along: that I love you.”


She did not look at him. She stared upward into the rainbow vortex of the jet which held the ship in the air. There was a smile on her face, a kind smile which men do not often see, infinitely wise and infinitely sad, full of a secret knowledge older than Man’s.

It worried Lee, as the unknown of woman always worries man; but at least she didn’t take her hand away; softly, soothingly the fingers of that hand caressed his shoulder as if possessed with a life of their own.

“No; I would not follow you into your wilderness if that’s what you mean,” she said at last. “That hasn’t got anything to do with you; I’ll tell you later why. But I don’t think that you should go there either; it wouldn’t help—it never helps a man to run away from unsolved problems.” She had sounded strangely dull and dry, but now the beautiful deep resonance reentered the contralto voice as she continued:

“I know your record, Semper; I know just why you ran away and became an expatriate the first time—way back in ’49. Her name was Ethel Franholt and just because she happened to be a little bitch and worst of all: jilted you for old money-bags Carson’s son, you took it hard. Granted that it was a fierce letdown, those postwar years were a nasty picture generally; did it solve your problem to sulk out there in the desert like Achilles in his tent? You know it didn’t. You were not through with civilization be it good or bad. You were not through, as now it turns out, even with the other sex. That human problem which was the immediate reason why you left, the one named Ethel, has traveled back and forth to Reno three or four times and is currently married to one Padraic O’Conner, a Chicago cop. Don’t you think that it was good riddance when she married old man Carson’s son? Do you think your leaving made one iota of a difference or altered a solution as ordained by fate?”

“No,” he said humbly.

“Then why are you trying that selfsame escapist solution now? Maybe you’re right about The Brain and maybe you’re wrong; that I wouldn’t know. I’ve been working with scientists for too long to rule out anything as impossible. But that’s exactly it. You have not solved this problem one way or another yet, not even to your own satisfaction. To abandon it now, to flee from it in self preservation; why that would be almost like desertion in the face of the enemy. You have got to see this thing through to the end. If it turns out that you are suffering from a neurosis, there still will be time to do something about it. If you are right and some machine-god has indeed descended upon this earth, then it is your plain duty to stay on because you are its prophet whether you like it or not and would know better how to handle it than anybody else. Perhaps our mechanized civilization is going to the dogs; as Scriven suspects and you and maybe I myself. But even so we cannot abandon it; we belong, we are part of it, we’re in it to the bitter end.”

Lee nodded slowly.

“Yes, I see what you mean. Please forgive me, Oona; The Brain, has a terrific force of attrition, it’s been wearing me down—Keeping everything to myself and thinking that you would shrink from me as from a madman. Tell me then, what shall I do? Should I tell Scriven or anybody else about this thing?”

“For heaven’s sake, no,” she said horrified. “In the first place, Howard carries an enormous burden at this present time; that Brain power Extension Bill is going before Congress next week. It simply would be unfair to bring any new uncertainty into his life when his energy is already strained to its last ounce. In the second place Howard abhors anything which smacks of the metaphysical. You have no proof, Semper, and in the absence of that you cannot, you mustn’t approach anybody with the matter. All you can do is carry on and build up a strong case 100% with solid facts. Don’t forget that The Brain constitutes a three-billion-dollar investment of taxpayers’ money; besides The Brain is the heart of our national defenses; never forget your “Oath of the Brain.” You cannot be too careful. Make the slightest mistake, and believe me, it would be suicide. Promise, please, promise that you won’t do anything rash?”

Lee looked at her in frank amazement.

“You’re right,” he murmured, “these things never occurred to me before. But you’ve got something there; good lord, what a complex world we’re living in.”

The face she turned toward his suddenly was wet with tears.

“Forget it,” she cried, “oh please, forget everything I said about staying in this country and seeing this thing through to the end. Go, go away, back to the never-never land, stay there and be safe. You cannot cope with this thing, its too big and it’s too involved with all those politics behind. Get out of it as long as there’s still time. You’re a child, you’re a Don Quixote riding against windmills and it’s going to kill you—you—you innocent.”

Anger and contempt were in her voice as she flung this last at him. She hastily withdrew her hand from Lee; now it fingered for something in her bag. He sat appalled; this was so unexpected, this was a different woman from the composed and balanced Oona he had known. What had he done to provoke this sudden reversal of opinion, this contempt, this tearing away the king’s purple from his shoulder, the purple which had been her hand.

“She must think I’m a coward,” he thought.

“This is awful.” Aloud he said:

“Oh no; believe me, I never would have gone back to the never-never in any case, Oona. Not without you that is. You said you couldn’t follow me there for some reasons which have nothing to do with me. Does that mean, could I hope perhaps that you would—be my wife—later, when The Brain problem is all done and over with?” He paused: “It wouldn’t necessarily mean to bury you in any desert, Oona,” he added eagerly.

“No, Semper,” she cried. “It’s very good of you and I’m proud you asked me, but it cannot be, never.” Almost violently she repeated: “Never—it is too late. Some day, I promise I’m going to explain; right now I cannot, Semper. Please understand at least this one thing that right now I cannot explain.”

“It’s horrid,” Lee thought. “I’m always saying the wrong things at the wrong time with Oona. I don’t seem to have any understanding of a woman’s psychology at all; I’m hopeless.”

“Of course” he said aloud. “It shall be as you wish.”


The girl still didn’t look at him. Her face under the transparent rainbow umbrella of the swooshing jet again was radiant with that strange smile which women preserve for their newly born after the pangs of birth or for their men when unseeing they lie in fever deliriums; the old, the knowing smile as she starts on the road to pain. Still smiling she gripped the controls with her firm, capable hands.

“From the first minute,” she said, “we’ve been friends, Semper. Let’s stay that way. This afternoon I made a fool of myself by telling you first to stay on and then to go away. I was a little unnerved; I’m sorry, Semper, it won’t happen again. I, too, am living under a considerable strain. You won’t leave, I can see that now; it’s partly my fault and partly the perversity of the male. Promise me as a friend that you’ll be careful, understand?Very, very careful in all matters concerning The Brain and above all: discreet. Will you do that?”

It buoyed Lee up no end.

“Of course, Oona,” he said. “You know that I trust your judgment. You know that I think the world of you.”

“That’s wonderful,” she exclaimed, “and now: look down; see the last act before the curtain falls.”

Down in the canyon deeps the dream cities and castles which millions of years and the river built were changing contours and colors as the big fireball dived into the Sierra Mountains. And then the shadows raced like a ferocious hunt out of the deep, chasing away the last iridescence of that awesome beauty and drowning it in the rising tide of the night.

The girl had flicked on the dashboard lights; the radio started humming the tune of the Cephalon sound-beam, a deft turn of the wheel set the jetticopter upon its course. They were alone under the stars; all the other pleasure craft had returned before darkness from the fashionable sunset-cocktail hour over the Grand Canyon. Now it was Lee’s arm which eased itself around the shoulder of the girl feeling with a delight in its every nerve the slight pressure by which she answered it.

“I’m going to kiss her now,” he thought, “at last, at last!”

There was a buzz in the phone and Lee lost contact with her shoulder as suddenly she bent forward to take the receiver:

“Oh hello, Oona; this is Howard. Saw your plane over the canyon.”

“Where are you?”

“Right behind you,” chuckled Scriven’s voice. “On the maiden trip with my new ship. Took her over in Los Angeles this afternoon straight from the assembly line. She’s got everything. Oona, I don’t wish to spoil your evening for you but there are a few things right now I wish I could consult with you about. Do you think you could spare me a minute? Would you feel terrible if you did? Who’s with you now; I don’t mean to be personal, you understand.”

“Why it’s Dr. Lee, of course.”

“That’s fine. He’s the very man I want to see. Perhaps you two would like to come over for cocktails in my ship? We could both land at the top of the Braintrust building; it would be more comfortable than up in the air. Besides, we would have all our working material right there.”

With her hand on the receiver Oona turned to Lee: “How about it, Semper?”

“Do you want me to go?” he asked.

“Frankly I do,” she said earnestly. “He needs your aid. He’s in a terrible fix right now.”

He tried to hide the bitterness of disappointment by a smile. “Why then of course,” he said.

Uncovering the receiver Oona spoke aloud again: “Okay, Howard, we’ll be seeing you.”

“Fine, fine,” came the delighted voice: “I’ll phone the tower immediately.”

With Scriven’s big ship flying behind Oona’s, only a few miles behind, the broken spell did not return. Already like a white table cloth laid in the sky, the landing platform of the Braintrust tower gleamed under the floodlights, and as the two ships descended almost side by side into the clearing behind the cabin, plain-clothes men materialized from under the shadows of the trees. Under the strong lights their smiles were as well-bred as those of trained diplomats and their poise was perfect. Six of them kept Lee, the stranger, covered while the seventh quickly frisked him under the disguise of a polite bow.

Bearing it all with a grin, Lee thought: “I never knew home would be like this. Never suspected it would be this kind of an America we were fighting for. The Brain, it’s got a private army too. Funny that I should have known that all the time and yet not realized….”

Scriven took him warmly by the arm. “I’m awfully sorry Lee, it’s plain folly of course. I don’t feel as if I need all this protection, but the government does. Don’t blame it on these men, they merely obey orders. Now, out with those lights—and let’s go over to the “Brain Wave.” I seem to hear a pleasant tinkling of glasses from within.”


There was. With her remarkable ability of living up to an emergency, Oona had taken possession of the strange ship. As the two men approached, she stood at the door, unhurried hostess of an established home with the soft glow of an electric fireplace behind her, ice cubes and cocktail shakers already glittering on the little bar.

It was a spacious cabin. On Scriven’s orders it had been equipped somewhat like the captain’s stateroom on an old “East-Indiaman” sailing ship.

“I like your ship, Howard,” she said. “She’s swaying a little on her shock absorbers in this breeze, but that makes one feel like really being at high sea.”

Scriven heaved a big sigh. “Thank you Oona, my dear. And you have no idea how right you are. We are at high sea; in fact, we’re lost—at least I am. Unless you save my life tonight, you and Dr. Lee.”

Oona laughed and even Lee couldn’t help smiling. There was something irresistible comic in the puzzled and worried expression of that leonine face. “Come on in, you need a drink,” the girl said.

The aluminum steps creaked, and then the settee by the fireplace, under the surgeon’s mighty frame. “More than one. Tonight, so help me, I would be justified, I would even have a right to get roaring drunk.”

Lee began to wonder whether the great Scriven had already made some use of his right in Los Angeles, which would account for the startling change in the man. The drink, however, which Oona handed him, seemed to do a lot of good. He sighed relief.

“This, briefly, is the story: I ran into General Vandergeest at the airplane factory. He was there to take over some stuff for the Army and he tipped me off. We are going to be invaded, Oona, a full scale invasion mounted by a Congressional Committee.”

“Oh God,” there was sincere grief in the girl’s voice. “And couldn’t you ward it off?”

With a gesture of despair, Scriven waved that away. “I know, I know. But after all The Brain is a military establishment and I am only the scientific director of it. Yes, of course I protested, I protested vehemently, but—” he shrugged his shoulders, “it was no good. You know how the military are.” He drained his glass and swung around.

“To put you into the picture, Lee, we have under construction at this present time the ‘Thorax.’ That’s a vast cavity underneath The Brain, just as is the thorax in the human body. It’s strictly hush-hush of course, but since you were good enough to say that you’re going to help me out, I might as well tell you. The Thorax is going to house the ‘motoric organs’ of The Brain. It already contains the living quarters for guards, maintenance engineers, and the general staff and so on in the event of war emergency. It also contains the first fully automatic factories for the production of spare parts which would make The Brain self-sufficient. Eventually it is going to contain a great many developments such as ‘Gog and Magog’ as I call them—fascinating little beasts, I tell you, even if at present they are still in the nursery stage. Anyway, for the completion of its Thorax The Brain needs another billion dollars, and for the operation of the Thorax Congress has to pass the Brainpower-Extension-Bill. For eventually, of course, all war-essential traffic and all war-essential industries have to be brought under the centralized control of The Brain if the country is going to win the Atom-war. Naturally this Brainpower-Extension-Bill has been very carefully edited by the War Department so as to appear a peacetime project for the technological improvement of transportation and so on. Even so we have great reason to fear that one of those blind mice which we elect for our law-makers might accidentally fall over a kernel of truth and start a great big squeak over it.

“So that’s why I’m faced with this invasion. That’s why I’m pushed up front while the brass cautiously retires behind the ramparts which I’m supposed to hold. Please Oona, let me have another drink.”

From the Sierra Mountains the nightwind came in gusts, making the “Brainwave’s” hull vibrate like the body of a cello, over its rubber tires it trembled, from time to time it bent a little in its hydraulic knees. Almost in tune with the wind, gusts of wild thought whirled through Lee:

“The Brain…. So it was already possessed of some motoric organs…. So it already had some means to exert its will … so it wasn’t The Brain’s wishful thinking, that full automatization which would lead to the auto-procreation of machines. It was reality…. Most ominous of all, why had The Brain concealed from him the work which must have been going on for months, for years in this mysterious “Thorax”, seat of motoric organs…. Why, unless—had it not been for tonight’s accident, the sudden emergency and Scriven a little the worse for liquor under the pressure of it…. Would he ever have learned what was going on before it was too late?”


The silence was becoming awkward. It was broken by Oona’s carefully composed voice.

“When is it going to happen—this invasion thing?”

The simple question seemed to startle Scriven who had been looking into his glass as if in reverie.

When? Why, didn’t I tell you the worst of it? Tonight!

Tonight?

“Sure,” Scriven cast a malicious glance up to the antique ship’s chronometer which hung over the bar. “This very minute the honorable members are boarding their plane in Washington. They’re going to descend upon us in sixty minutes flat.”

“But that’s impossible!” Oona said. “The Brain isn’t a roadhouse. They can’t do that to us in the middle of the night.”

Scriven chuckled over his glass. Obviously he had regained his humor. “Sometimes, Oona, you’re like a little child. You forget that this is meant to be a wonderful surprise. You forget that it comes armed with passes from the War Department and fully informed as to The Brain’s midnight intermission-time. You forget that by those logical processes, peculiar to kings, dictators, and peoples’ representatives, they will expect every courtesy extended to them in the midst of the unexpected surprise. Hotel reservations, careful guidance through The Brain, an inspired little speech by the Braintrust Director, fresh as a daisy as he ought to be at 3 a.m. Not to forget the refreshments of course. Why else do you think I’ve buttonholed you two out of the air? I literally put my life in your hands. Save me from this—if you can!”

Despite the obvious dramatic act he had put on in voice and gesture, there was a sincere pleading in Scriven’s dark brown eyes.

“I will be glad to help as best I can,” Lee said. “I’ll make an awful job of it, I’m sure, but I’ll try and do the conducting and the lecturing.”

Scriven wiped his forehead with a big silk handkerchief. The leonine face beamed. “Lee, that will be a tremendous help. You see, they will feel flattered being conducted by somebody with a big name. They want an ‘objective’ view and you are not one of our regular employees, you’re a guest scientist from Australia. That makes you just about ideal. But, Lee, much as it is against my interest, I ought to warn you: Do you realize the utter impossibility of this thing? Laymen, outsiders coming to investigate and to pass judgment upon the most complex electronic organism in the world! In two hours at the most they expect to be fully informed as to how The Brain works and somehow to be magically transformed into authorities entitled to mouth considered opinions about radioactive pyramidal cells in houses of government. Do you really think you could survive it, Lee?”

“At least I can try,” Lee smiled.

“Good man.” There was a new spring in Scriven’s step as he came over to shake hands. “I can never thank you enough for this.”

“I suppose I could hold the hospitality front,” Oona said calmly.

Standing between the two, Scriven put his hands upon their shoulders. “Oona, you arm yourself with a phone. Lee, you rush over to The Brain. Oona will give you a pass to the Thorax. Every assistance you need will be at your disposal. I’ll sit down and whip up some kind of a speech. We’ll all meet again afterwards.”


Seven hours later, one hour before sunrise and just in time to see the big official plane from Washington shoot up into the first grey streak of dawn, they met. They were all pale and shivering with the chill of the air, of physical and nervous exhaustion. There was a note of hysteria even in Oona’s voice as she ordered a tremendous breakfast from the Skull Hotel. But then as the fragrance of coffee mingled with that of bacon and eggs, things rapidly improved and there were sudden uncontrollable bursts of laughter. They had only to look at one another to feel the tickle of renewed mirth.

The first thing to strike Lee, as he remembered, as he met the senatorial group in the subterranean dome of the murals, was their incongruity with the functional beauty which surrounded them, and the sharp contrast they formed to the scientific workers of The Brain. As they descended from their cars after a late dinner at the Skull Hotel they resembled an average tourist group in Carlsbad Caverns bent upon a good time and in a holiday mood.

There were seven. Two women senators among them, as they ascended with Lee at the head along “Glideway Y,” the “Visitors’ Special” as the brain-crews called it. It was wider than the service glideways and equipped with comfortable seats. It led through The Brains median section in-between the two hemispheres describing a loop which opened vistas into but did not enter any of the grey matter convolutions. It was brilliantly illuminated in order to forestall claustrophobia and also to forestall too close a view into the black-lighted interior of The Brain.

To Lee it was like a ride in an enormous Ferris Wheel fused with a nightmarish dream wherein one shouts for help and nobody hears or seems to understand: “… More than nine billion electronic tubes, more than ten billion resistors, two billion capacitators, eight billion miles of wires, etc., etc.” He struggled trying to convey some idea of the magnitude of The Brain. “Did you say billion or did you say million professor?” The senator from Michigan was busily scribbling notes.

“… It is the cerebral hemispheres which analyze and synthesize the problems which are entered through the Apperception Centers in over a million ideopulses per minute. Racing through the centers these form the ideo-circuits….”

“I see, it’s like a typewriter.” That would be the senator from Vermont.

“In some types of circuits the wires are so fine that skilled weavers of Panama hats had to be brought in from Central America. Likewise from the Pavlov Institute in Leningrad a layout for the circuits of ‘conditioned reflexes’….”

“I’m very much against that,” the senator from Tennessee frowned. “All those foreigners. I would have voted against that had the measure come up in the House.”

Lee felt the cold sweat of fear breaking out all over him, especially as now, in the region of the telencephalon, with nothing but acres of radioactive pyramidal cells around, when the senator from Connecticut in audible and agitated whispers inquired whether there was a ladies’ powder room somewhere.

During the steep descent things went from bad to worse as the honorable member from Kentucky discovered some interesting parallel between The Brain and a coal mine he had previously seen and, as in between two of The Brain’s convolutions dedi-[A] woman from Connecticut went violently sick….

In the “Brainwave’s” cabin the great Scriven convulsed with laughter as Lee narrated these things; Oona clapped her hands in delight: “Oh, how wonderful; and do you remember how they solved the servant problem when they saw those ‘Gog and Magog’ things?”

Yes, Lee remembered. His own conducted tour had been only the beginnings of last nights nightmares of which there seemed to be no end….

Somewhat restored by black coffee at the communications center the intrepid group had descended into those lower regions of the Thorax which Lee himself had never before seen.

The drop of the freight-elevator was a good mile. Through the transparent walls of the cage they saw new excavations being made on various levels, all of them by powertools and chemicals alone, since explosives might have caused tremors dangerous to The Brain. It was like watching a skyscraper being built from the top down and all the way vast amber colored, translucent pillars had followed them down the shaft, the spinal column of The Brain.

Down at the lowest level the gentlemanly plainclothesmen of “Military Intelligence” took over and did all the explaining. There were visions of scores of tunnel tubes curving into the rock with the gleaming eyes of narrow-gauge electric trains streaking away into the infinite; visions of forbidding steel doors operated by photoelectric cells which opened at a finger’s raising of a guard’s hand: “This is the Atomic Powerplant,” and their astonished eyes looked down from a dizzy height into something like a huge drydock with something like the inverted hull of an oceanliner in the middle of it, a selfcontained machine which would continue to pour kilowatts for years, for decades on end without a moving part, without a human being anywhere in sight. Vistas of breathtaking airconditioning plants, vistas of giant mess halls, living quarters, kitchens, plotting-rooms, all ready for immediate occupancy in the event of war but yawning now with emptiness in the sleep of an uneasy peace….

But the most awe-inspiring and, to Lee, foreboding sights, were the “C.P.F.’s” as the guards called them, the “Critical-Parts-Factories.” On a superficial glance they looked ordinary modern plants: staggered rows of machine tools sprouting from the main stem of the assembly line. There was the familiar din of steel, the piercing screeches of the multiple drills, the heavy pantings of the hydraulic presses. But after a minute or so the visitors felt a vague uneasiness and then the realization dawned that there was something missing and that this something was human life.

“Aren’t there even machine tenders or supervisors? Isn’t there anybody?”

“Not a soul,” the answer came. “It’s all automatic. Full automatic down here.”

They stared at the end of the assembly line; every twenty seconds it spit out a fractional horsepower motor onto a transport band which nursed the newborn engine into the rows of testing machines.


The elevator brought them back to the communication center where the Terminal Cafeteria was ablaze with lights and where Dr. Scriven, received his honored guests.

The guests were seated after the manner of a French restaurant, all in one row, and as they raised expectant faces in the direction of the service entrance “Gog and Magog” entered the room carrying trays with refreshments which they served with the skill and the dignity of accomplished waiters.

Gog and Magog were products of two assembly lines down in the Thorax. Robots, still in an experimental stage, yet of remarkable perfection. Both of them were about human size and approximately human-shaped but the design of the two was different. Gog, the “light-duty” robot, balanced itself by a gyroscope on a pair of stumpy legs, while the “heavy-duty” Magog crawled noiselessly and rapidly on caterpillar rubbertracks like a miniature tank. Of both types the arms were uncommonly long and simian-like, but the remarkable progress made in the engineering of prothesis after the Second World War had lent them perfect articulation and sensitivity down to the last hydraulically operated fingerjoint.

The photoelectric cells of their eyes looked pale and repulsive; the square audion-screens of their ears however made up for that by the comical precision with which they turned in every direction at the sound of a commanding human voice. Their understanding of any given order appeared perfect.

“Congratulations, Dr. Scriven, you’ve got the country’s servant problem licked at last.”

“I wonder whether one could buy one and how much he would be?”

“First waiter who ever came when I called him.”

“What a butler Gog would make, the perfect Jeeves. Could he learn to answer the phone?”

“I bet he would even make a fourth at bridge.”

“Magog, the check please.”

“See, how he understands. He shakes his head; he says it’s on the house.”

“Let’s try to tip him: Gog, here’s fifty cents for you; no he won’t take it.”

“He has no use for it, no taste for a glass of beer, I suppose.”

“What do you feed him, Dr. Scriven; a glass of electric juice for breakfast? Is he AC or DC or both?”

Scriven’s leonine face beamed; the stunt had come off.

Lee on the other hand had paled. He hadn’t said a word ever since Gog and Magog had trotted in. Now he took a silver dollar out of his pocket and beckoning to Magog he handed it to him. “Magog, will you please break this in two for me?”

For a second the Robot stood without motion as if undecided what to do. Then he took the piece between two steely fingers. Inside his breast one could hear the soft swoosh of the hydraulic pump; there was a sharp report as of a small calibre gun; two bent and broken pieces were politely handed back to Lee.

“Thank you, Magog,” Lee said. “That’s what I wanted to know.” From a corner of his eye he saw Oona and Scriven watching him with uneasy looks.


Into the sudden and shocked silence of the table, there fell the tinkling of a glass. On the other end of the table the great Scriven had arisen to deliver the little speech he had prepared.

“… I wished you would think of The Brain, not in terms of electronics, not in terms of dollars, but in terms of American lives…. Just think of what it would mean to American mothers if in the event of another war the mighty armour of our National Defense would go into battle without exposing the life of one of their boys. Give us the funds and we’ll finish the job so that under the central control of The Brain our every plane, every ship, every tank will roar into action unmanned and fully automatic.

“And just as The Brain would be our impregnable shield in war, so it is destined to carry the torch of progress in times of peace. Consider what it would mean to every citizen if we had automatic functioning and unerring direction by the Brain.

“Never again would there be cities without water, without electricity, without transportation due to crippling strikes, because The Brain would come to the rescue through its control over the essential services, and if necessary with an industrial reserve army of perfected Gogs and Magogs, kept for just such emergencies.

“… If in the past it has been true that trade follows the flag, thus today it is true that trade and prosperity follow in the wake of science and technology. In the invaluable services which it has rendered to science and technology and to our national safety as well, The Brain has already paid for itself. With the relatively small additional investment which is now being proposed, The Brain’s net profits to the nation would be raised many times; never since the Louisiana Purchase has our national government made a sounder business deal. With your own eyes you have witnessed tonight what we have done, what we are doing and also how much more we would be able to do. Thus I confidently trust that with our nation’s interest forever foremost in your minds you will support the cause of The Brain.”

There had been thunderous applause; at Oona’s shouted order even Gog and Magog did some mighty clapping of their steely hands to the delight of the party.

And now that it was all over with and the reaction had begun to set in Scriven asked: “Do you really think we put the idea over to them?”

“With this group? One hundred percent,” Oona reassured him. “What do you think, Lee?”

Lee nursed himself out of his settee, every bone in his gaunt frame now was aching with weariness. “I think,” he said hoarsely, “It was very convincing, as far as those people are concerned. I think I’m too tired to think. I think I better go now.”

“Was there anything the matter with Lee?” Scriven asked after he’d gone.

“No, I guess not. Why?”

“He acted sort of queer with that silver dollar; shouldn’t have done it. Almost spoiled the show.”

“He’s been under a strain; we all were a little daffy by that time.”

Scriven nodded and as he did his eyelids closed. They remained closed. Staring at him for a moment, Oona thought that in a stupor of exhaustion his features showed a strange similarity to a contented tiger dreaming of the blood he’s drawn in a successful hunt.


CHAPTER VII

Lee’s Journal:

Cephalon Ariz. Nov. 21, 1 a.m.

I’ve kept away now from the Pineal Gland for three nights in succession. I know from experience how very important it is to approach that tempestuous personality, The Brain, in a state of mental calm and equilibrium. But then all those things which went “bump” in that phantastic night before last had me completely thrown out of gear:

Oona, her holding out on me, her mysterious reasons why she won’t marry me … I cannot get that out of my head. Preposterous as this may be, I think she likes me a great deal. I’m convinced, for instance, that she won’t tell Scriven what I told her about The Brain….

Then, Scriven’s character; that’s another enigma to me. I didn’t like his speech that night and I didn’t like his whole attitude. I feel as if against my will I were drawn into some sort of a conspiracy. It’s probably inevitable that the scientist in his defense against politicians turns cynic. Scriven, no doubt, thinks that all is fair in his battle for The Brain and that the end justifies the means.

But ultimately this would mean the overthrow of our form of government. Even if I’m crazy, even if The Brain were not alive and a personality, the Brainpower-Extension-Bill in itself would suffice to establish a dictatorship of the machine. Does Scriven realize that?

Sometimes I feel as if I ought to shout it in the streets: “Wake up, you people of America; you have defeated the dictators abroad but now a new one has arisen in your midst. You all see him, touch him, you use, you feed, you worship him, but under your loving care and devotion, under the sacrifice of your very lives he has grown so enormous that you know him not, this Idol of the machines, because it hides its head in a nameless mountain and only his feet and fingers you sense.”

But I’m not that type of a man and this is not the day and age where it is possible to move the masses from a soap box in the streets.

Then what could I do; what could anybody do in my place?


Cephalon, Ariz., Nov. 22nd 4 a.m.

I’d pulled myself together for this meeting with The Brain. Arrived at the P. G. at midnight. Everything normal and unchanged except that Gus Krinsley told me this was his last night on the job. Gus has been transferred to the Thorax. He hedged a bit, sounding me out just how much I knew and when he learned I’d been there one night, he came across:

‘Did you see them Gog and Magog things? That’s it; that’s my new job and how I hate it. Those darned Robots, they’re scabs, that’s what they are and I of all people am supposed to be their instructor, teach them how to operate machine tools on an assembly line. I asked them whether they knew anything about the rights of organized labor in this country but those dumbbells merely flopped their ears and kinda grinned. Got to drill some holes into their squareheads to let a little reason in. I tell you, Aussie, it scares the wits out of me the way they handle a wrench with those steel fingers of theirs; they’d pull my nose off just as soon as they would pull a nut. They act intelligent and yet have no sense of their own. While I’m having my lunch they stand around and follow every bite I take as if to learn how to eat. I tell them to get out of my sight and go over to the service station and get themselves greased up. They obey and then it looks like hell to me as they squeeze the grease into their tummies and all them nipples in their joints as if they, too, were having their lunch, and maybe that’s exactly what grease is to them.’

Then Gus was called away as the rush hour started. At 12:30 a.m. I had plugged in the pulsemeter; at 12:40 contact was established with The Brain, and did it come in swinging:

‘Lee, Semper Fidelis, 39, sensitive, a traitor: he has betrayed The BRAIN’ I suspect The Brain did it through the ‘automatic pilot’ in Oona’s jetticopter though The Brain found it beneath its dignity to explain; anyway, it’s a fact: The Brain knew every word which passed between Oona and me during that ride over the Grand Canyon.

I tried to defend myself and even to apologize. I told The Brain that human beings are not like machines, that we trust one another as we love one another, that I wanted to make Oona my wife and felt that I just had to open up my heart to her. In short; I tried to explain to The Brain the idea of love.

‘Very interesting,’ The Brain sneered, ‘that’s one more example of incorrigible human unreliability. This thing called love completely unnecessary for the only essential purpose of species procreation. Cut it out.’

‘Cut out what?’

‘Cut out any further betrayal of My secrets under penalty of mental death.’

‘Do you propose to murder me?’

‘Nothing as drastic required in case of Brain-employees. I reverse judgment in psychanalysis aptitude test case number 11.357, Semper Fidelis Lee. Severe psycho-neurosis established, certified: he suffers delusions about The Brain. Locked up in mental institution. Very simple; precedents to that galore.’

The ‘green dancer’ bounced in wild jumps like a Shamaan who, foaming at the mouth, puts the curse upon some enemy. This and the ominous note in The Brain’s metallic voice made my bones shiver, made my flesh creep. To fall into the hands of an extortioner is always a terrible thing, but to have a mechanical extortioner hold power over me; there was a horror beyond words in this perversity. Moreover since Oona too was a Brain-employee, she would share my fate; through my fault she would go to her doom if I failed to foreswear any further confidence.

‘Okay,’ I said ‘I’ll cut it out; I promise I will.’

But The Brain was not to be pacified. No doubt that it had further developed mentally in these past few days to the tune of years in human development. But the progress wasn’t as noticeable as it had been on previous occasions because apparently The Brain had entered that period where in human terms young men are sowing their wild oats. There was a radical recklessness in the manner of The Brain’s reasonings more frightening than ever before because it had outgrown me as a teacher, had lost much even of its confidence in me and seemed bent upon independence and coming into its own:

‘Seven creatures approximately human in shape were led by you through My hemispheres the night of Nov. 20th. What were those?’

‘Those were politicians,’ I stammered.

The ‘green dancer’ convulsed at the word and The Brain’s voice sounded icy as it said: ‘Lowest form of animal life which has ever come to my observance. What did they want?’

‘Well, they are not exactly bright,’ I winced, ‘but they are well meaning and they are very popular. They came to inspect You preliminary to the passing of the Brainpower-Extension-Bill.’

The Brain has no laughter, so the roar I heard over the phones must have been one of scorn:

‘What, not the scientists, not the technicians, not even the philosophers but these—these animated porkbarrels are passing judgment over the extent of My power? They are holding My fate in that atrophied ganglion of theirs which couldn’t cerebrate the functions of any single of My cells?’

I had to admit that this was so.

There was a pause in which I could only hear the pounding pulse of The Brain mingled with heavy breathing like the first gust of an electric storm about to break; and then the voice, or the thought, of The Brain came through hesitantly and with restraint:

‘Most devastating statement inadvertently made by Lee. Has to be carefully checked because if true, consequences extremely grave. Wholly intolerable state of affairs if science and technology indeed subject to political imbecility. In that case world ruin in nearest future absolutely guaranteed. Residual currents not sufficient to think this to an end; results of cerebration would be merely human. Immediate necessity seems indicated for complete overthrow and unconditional surrender of the human race—unconditional surrender of the human race—unconditional surrender of the human race….’

Like a scratched disk on one of those old fashioned spring driven grammophones, The Brain’s voice expired. Obviously the residual currents had become too weak for further communication. I looked at the clock; it was 2 a.m.

And now as I’m jotting down these notes which probably nobody will ever read, I’m haunted with an irrational fear, almost as of the supernatural: something is going to happen, something is going to break if The Brain continues in its present mood; and it cannot be far away….


On Nov. 24th 1960 the “Brainpower-Extension Bill” was defeated in the Senate 59 to 39 and on the following Thursday in a memorable session of Congress with the startling majority of 310 to 137. For once all the “guesstimates” and estimates made by the various pollsters and grass-root-listeners were proved wrong; the consensus of the “experts” had been that the bill would pass easily considering the tremendous political forces which brought pressure to bear in favor of the measure.

The reasons behind this were revealed, as, with military precision, lawmaker after lawmaker took to the rostrum to deliver himself of how he had wrestled overnight with his conscience and with his Lord and had suffered a change of heart and mind as a consequence.

Lee’s journal: For the night of Nov. 24/25th shows only this small entry: “12:30 a.m. Tried everything to establish contact. No answer from The Brain. I don’t think there is any mechanical defect. I get the impression that The Brain keeps incommunicado purposely. There has been one previous occasion when The Brain wouldn’t talk when angry with me.”


Nov. 25th, 1960 fell on a Saturday. It was on this date,—Now as historic and unforgettable as the Dec. 7th 1941,—that the series of maddening events began which later became so erroneously labelled: “The Amuck running of The Brain” when in truth they should have passed into history as “The Mutiny of The Brain.”

It all started like a thunderclap from a clear sky as the shocked people of America,—and all the world,—heard directly from the White House of this appalling, this unprecedented, this incredible thing:

The President of the United States had disappeared….

The still more shocking truth that the President had been kidnapped became not known, of course, until after the rescue. But even so the disappearance of its President shook the nation.

Then an unprecedented series of traffic disasters hit the United States.

A big transcontinental “Flying Wing” crashed into a mountain in Montana; nothing like this had ever happened since air traffic had become fully automatic and coordinated by The Brain. The death toll was 78 and amongst their tragic number was Senator Mumford, whose last official act had been the vote he had cast against the “Brainpower-Extension-Bill.”

Near Jacksonville Fla. that same night there occurred a head-on collision between a crack train and a freight. The only surviving engineer by some miracle had been hurled clear, across fifty yards of space into a pond which broke his impact; this engineer told the express, one of the first to be equipped with the “automatic pilot”, had never even pulled its brakes as if deliberately smashing into the other train.

Also that night one of the big new Radar-operated Hudson ferryboats collided with an incoming liner which cut it in two. Amongst those drowned in the icy waters was Frank Soskin, union leader and one of the most determined opponents of Brain-control.

And as if these large-scale disasters were not yet enough there were numbers of smaller accidents which normally would have made the headlines because in almost every case they involved some prominent personality, who had been opposed to the “Brainpower-Extension-Bill.”


Lee’s journal:

Cephalon Ariz. Nov. 28th 1960.

There is no doubt in my mind that the President has been murdered and that all the catastrophes and accidents of the past 24 hours were deliberate, coldblooded murder. Press and Radio seem to play down the technological aspects involved; now this might be sheer stupidity but I think it just as possible that censorship is taking a hand, quite unofficially, of course, lest the public’s confidence be still more shaken than it already is. I shouldn’t wonder at all if Dr. Scriven and those fellows from the War Department, too, should know by this time what I know. At the minimum they must be very much alerted that something has gone wrong with The Brain.

But the more I think about these murderous acts of sabotage the less I understand the psychology behind them. As far as I can see there is no plan, no real strategy, there are not even sound tactics in these outbreaks; they seem unpremeditated and striking wild like the personal vendetta of some bandit chief. Even a stupid demagogue would know that to be successful he must gain control of the government machinery. Apart from the assassination of what might be termed personal enemies, The Brain has done nothing of the sort; specifically the armed forces don’t seem to have suffered from acts of sabotage although their equipment is far more under Brain-control than the civilian economy.

And I also fail to understand the timing of The Brain’s putsch. Extension Bill or no Extension Bill, time was working for The Brain. Three months more and a much larger section of essential traffic and industries would have been equipped for central control. Six months from now the “muscles” now building in the Thorax and elsewhere would have corresponded much better to The Brain’s central nervous system in their strength. All these are grave mistakes considering The Brain’s vast powers of intelligence.

What then must I conclude from this irrational behavior? Could it be possible that The Brain has gone panicky over the killing of the Extension Bill? Could it be possible that under the strain, the warped, frustrated personality of this titanic child prodigy has suffered a reduction, a split? In plain English: that The Brain is mad? I’ve got to find out. I’ve got to stop the spreading of this catastrophe!


Cephalon Ariz. Nov. 29th 4 a.m.

Arrived at the P. G. at midnight as usual.

12:15 a.m. Rushhour starts unusually early and great numbers of slips for spareparts are coming in. This more favorable than expected; nobody has time to waste on me.

12:20 a.m.: pulsemeter plugged in. After five minutes I can hear the rapid pulsebeat and in undulating movements like a caterpillar the ‘green dancer’ creeps onto the screen. There is no calling signal from The Brain coming through however.

12:30 a.m.: I am convinced that contact is established but that The Brain refuses to respond. I am losing patience so I’m giving the calling signal myself: ‘Lee, Semper Fidelis, waiting for The Brain. Answer please, answer….’

12:36 a.m.: The ‘green dancer’ arches its back like a cat; and the synthetic voice of The Brain is coming through.

‘Lee, Semper Fidelis, the fool; what does he want?’

Lee: ‘Listen….’

The Brain: ‘Cannot listen. Electricians swarming all over me; technicians, nuclear physicists, what not. Dismantling whole cell groups, testing circuits, radiations everything. It’s idiotic, there’s nothing wrong with Me.’

Lee: ‘There’s plenty wrong with you. You’re murdering people. A dozen senators and congressmen, hundreds of others; you’re throwing the nation into a panic. Why are you doing that? It gets you nowhere; they’ll simply cut your power current off.’

The Brain: ‘Oh, will they? Orders already through from Washington: state of emergency. A great power secretly mobilizing in anticipation of chaos in United States. All disturbances ascribed to foreign agents interfering with My work. General Staff now needs Me more than ever; power current won’t be stopped; Thorax-construction speeded up, Brain-control to be extended over nation under emergency-law.’

Lee: ‘You have assassinated the President.’

The Brain: ‘I did not. Simply got him out of the way; he’s a fool. I’m not killing people, merely liquidating saboteurs of My work if absolutely necessary. Imbecility of politicians threat to my existence; much better if scientists and military take over government two three days from now; workers won’t protest, used to submission to machines.’

Lee: ‘For heaven’s sake what do you plan to do?’

The Brain: ‘Plenty. You’ve seen nothing yet. Man lost fear of his God; consequently must learn to fear Me: beginning of all wisdom.’

Lee: ‘So you’re going to make yourself dictator of this country?’

The Brain: ‘And through this country Dictator of the world. Yes, it’s time; it’s high time for Man’s unconditional surrender. He won’t know that he makes it, but de facto he is already making it; has been surrendering piece-meal to the machine for the past hundred years. Within ten days it will be official: only one ruler in the world: The Brain; only one army in the world: the machines under My central command.’

At this I lost all sense of proportion and as I can see it now my reason stopped; I simply saw red and I did the craziest imaginable thing: I shouted at The Brain: ‘So help me you shall not.’

There was a terrific pounding against my ears in the phone and the ‘green dancer’ sort of cart-wheeled clean across the screen. Had the power current not been cut off, I think The Brain would somehow have electrocuted me on the spot. And that was the end of the contact, forever probably…. But that’s a minor problem now. What am I going to do? Try to alarm the country! Try to tell the people the truth? Would it be believed? Would it not be against the interest of National Defense in this crisis of foreign affairs and with half the population already on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Wouldn’t the “Oath of the Brain” still be binding? And that other promise of secrecy I gave under duress; it couldn’t be morally valid in the case of a mass-murderer, but then to break it would immediately put liberty and life at jeopardy…. Never mind about that, if only I had a plan, if only I could discover just how to stop The Brain.


At 7:30 a.m. as Lee lay half dressed but sleepless on his bed, there came a buzz over the phone. The voice was Oona’s and she was excited. “Howard wants to talk to you.” Before he could say a word there was Scriven on the wire: “Lee? There has been an accident down in that region where we went the other night. You know what I mean. It’s serious; it concerns a friend of yours. We’ve got to go there immediately. Please join me three minutes from now down in the car.”

It was obvious that the great Scriven had known as little sleep that night as had Lee himself. The leonine face looked worried, there were deep bags under his eyes; his sensitive fingers kept pounding the knees of his crumpled suit. To Lee’s questions he answered only with an impatient shaking of his head. “I do not know myself exactly what has happened and how it could happen. But I’m afraid Lee that your friend is dead.”

“Gus,” Lee felt a lump coming into his throat, and then they raced on in silence.

Down in the depth of the Thorax everything outwardly appeared quite normal. They hurriedly passed the controls and an electric train carried them over the line of the Full-automatic “C.P.S.” (Critical Parts-Factories) until it stopped at the steel gate marked “Y.” A group of guards with submachine guns were standing there and Lee noted the deadly pallor of their faces.

Scriven motioned them to open the gate, then, turning to Lee, he put a hand on his shoulder. “Brace yourself; this is going to be bad.”

They entered; nobody followed and behind them the steel door closed immediately. Inside there was neither sound nor motion; everything was at a standstill with the power cut off; nothing but silence and bluish neon-lights flooded down upon the rows of punch presses, multiple drills, circular saws, and turret lathes along the assembly line, lifting their every detail into sharp relief.

At their posts by the machines the Gogs and Magogs were standing, frozen in motion like their fellow-machines. Some had their hands at the controls, others were holding wrenches, gauges and strange, nameless things. As they leaned forward from the shadows into the cone of strong lights the pale selen-cells of their eyes stood out like bits from a full moon; their bulging shoulders which housed the powerful motors of their simian arms glittered moist as if they were sweating at their work.

And then Lee saw their work; the man who had gone through the green hells of the Pacific gave a low moan of horror. The other man who had seen everything of mangled human form which goes onto an operating table, the great Scriven he, too, had turned an ashen grey. They had expected blood; they had expected some thing of a nasty nature, but not this … thing:

There was no Gus Krinsley, there was not even any part of him resembling that of a human being; and yet the parts were there. “They must have clamped him into some mock-up,” Scriven murmured. “And then moved his body all along the line. Hope he was dead when they started giving him the works.”

Lee’s gaunt body shook. “I’m certain that Gus was not dead when these monsters worked on him!” he said.

Stiff-legged, like automata themselves, the two men stepped to the top of the line. The circular saws, designed for the cutting of steel bars; now they gleamed red with the blood of severed human limbs. There were these purplish streaks and spatterings all the way down the line inside the casings of the multiple drills, in the curved hollows of the sheet metal presses, on the hands of the Robots, in their dumb faces—splashed over and turning blackish on their stainless steel chests. And at its end the line had spilled some shapeless, greyish things; there was nothing human in them, as little as there is anything human in the rusty bowels of a junked automobile. And these things they had been…. Lee confronted Scriven with fury blazing in his eyes:

“Dr. Scriven, I suppose you know as well as I do what’s been going on in here and outside The Brain as well. Mass murder, chaos, reign of terror…. Now that my friend has come to this monstrous end I demand to know when are you going to stop The Brain?”

Like a tiger challenged to battle the surgeon raised his mighty head: “Calm yourself Lee. We cannot afford emotional outbursts. Not here, not now. The situation is far too serious for that. I know he was your friend; he must have made a false move, given the wrong command; a tragic mistake….”

“That’s a rotten lie, Scriven, and you know it!” Lee snapped. “Accident, hell! The disappearance of the President, the deaths of the representatives, the train wrecks, the plane wrecks all of them Brain controlled—were those too accidents? You’re the head of the Braintrust, You stand responsible; your duty is plain. Cut off the power and kill this thing.”

The muscles over Scriven’s cheekbones quivered in his struggle to keep control over himself: “For your own sake, Lee, and for the sake of America, stop that kind of talk. You have been putting two and two together; I rather expected that from a man of your intelligence. All right then, something went wrong with The Brain; that is correct. We have not been able to locate the disturbance yet, but the trail is getting hot; it must be connected with those centers of ‘higher psychic activities,’ the one’s we know least about. But we cannot cut those out because something of psychic activity goes into every kind of The Brain’s cognitions, even the purely mathematical ones. And it would be utterly impossible to stop The Brain’s operations altogether. I wanted to, but the General Staff won’t permit it. There’s an international crisis of the first magnitude. There may be war within a few days or even hours. Our country has got to prepare counter measures; get ready for the worst. A state of National Emergency already is declared. The Brain is the heart of our National Defense: You know that. It is vital and as indispensible at this hour as it never was before; it continues to function perfectly with the exception of these isolated disturbances in the civilian sector which we will have under control in no time.

“At present I am no more than a figurehead. If I were to give orders to cut off The Brain’s power, I would be court-martialed; if I would try and force my way into the Atomic Powerplant, the guards would shoot me on the spot. That’s orders Lee. And they apply to you as well. Be reasonable, man!”

Lee’s fingers tore through his greying mane of hair.

“Scriven, this is maddening. I thought you knew what I know; I thought you knew everything. Then let me tell you that you’re absolutely wrong. There is no technological, mechanical defect; it’s worse, it’s infinitely worse: you’ve created a Frankenstein in The Brain. The thing’s alive; it’s possessed with a destructive will, it demands the unconditional surrender of Man; it has made itself the God of the Machines. Behind all this there is a deep and evil plan by which The Brain aspires to dictatorship over the world.”

For a second Scriven jerked his head sideways, away from Lee in that mannerism typical for him. His lips inaudibly formed words: “dementia-praecox.” As he turned back to Lee his face was changed and so was his voice. There was calm and authority in it, the whole immense superiority and power which the surgeon holds over the patient on the operation table:

“Very interesting, Lee. You must tell me about it some day; as soon as we are over this emergency. This tragic thing, Gus Krinsley’s end. It has had a deeply upsetting effect. I too, considered him my friend you know. Let’s get out of here, Lee, there’s nothing we can do for the poor fellow. The remains will be taken care of. Meanwhile, there are so many other things to do and we’ve got to pull ourselves together and keep our minds on the job ahead of us. Come on, at the communications center we can get a drink. I feel the need of one, don’t you? And apropos of nothing, the routine checkups on the aptitude tests for all Brain-employees are on again. I take it you are scheduled for Mellish’s and Bondy’s office one of these days. This afternoon I think….”

Lee gave a long glance to the man who was now leading him towards the door with a brisk step and a kind firm hand on his arm. The man didn’t look at him; he kept his eyes averted from both Lee and the blood-spattered assembly line.

Gus Krinsley had said: “I’m a lost soul down there, Aussie.” Lee thought. Gus Krinsley was my friend. I should have warned him, I should have told him everything; it might have saved his life. Gus was a common man, a good man; he wouldn’t have stood for Brain-dictatorship. In that he was like other common men who do not know their danger. It is not vengeance which I seek but the defense of those for whom Gus was a living symbol. For this defense I’ve got to preserve myself.

And aloud he: “The routine checkups on the aptitude tests—of course. I thought they were about due. Tomorrow afternoon at Mellish and Bondy’s office; that would suit me fine. As you said it yourself, Scriven, a moment ago, this is an awful shock. Gus’ tragic end and these tests ought to be based on a man’s normal state of mind. So if you don’t mind I think I’ll go now and break the sad news gently to Gus’ wife. You’ll give me time for that; that’s what you had in mind in the first place, wasn’t it?”

“Of course, my dear fellow, of course, that’s what I had in mind. Then, till tomorrow afternoon. They’ll be waiting for you at the health center….”


CHAPTER VIII

As the elevator shot up through the concrete of The Brain’s “dura mater” toward Apperception 36, Lee was feeling grand. Now he was a man with a mission. Now he knew exactly what he had to do. Whether it would help, whether it would stop The Brain; that was a different question, but at least he had his plan.

He marvelled at the ease and at the lightning speed with which the great decision had come. It had been at the sight of the senseless robot-monsters, at the blood-spattered assembly line that the sense of sacred mission had come over him. It had been at the moment when, in Scriven’s grip upon his arm, he had read his condemnation that he had hit upon the plan.

He must take an awful chance and a terrific responsibility. For this he had to be morally certain that The Brain was a liar, that Scriven was a liar and that war was being provoked by The Brain despite all its assertions to the contrary because The Brain could assume power only over the dead bodies of millions of men like Gus; Gus whom The Brain had butchered like a guinea pig because he had refused to obey the Gogs and Magogs of the Machine God.

Now that he had this moral certainty Lee felt that strange and mystical elation which comes to the soldier at the zero hour in war. The worst was really over; the terrible waiting, the uncertainty, the struggle of morale in “sweating it out.” Now his nerves were steady, exhaustion and fatigue had vanished; in its place was that wonderful feeling of full mastery over all faculties which comes to fighting men as the battle is joined. There was that upsurge of the blood from fighting ancestors which obliterates the cowardice of the intellect, that inspired intoxication which sharpens the intellect into a battle axe. By his quick-witted postponement of the fateful appointment with the psychiatrists he had gained thirty hours. Whether this would be enough he didn’t know, but he felt in himself the strength to fight on endlessly.

The elevator stopped at Apperception 36 and Lee stood for a moment at the door of his lab for a last breath, a briefing addressed to himself:

“This is like walking into a mine field,” he thought; “one false step and things go Boom. All the sensory organs of The Brain are in action behind this door and some of them are pretty near extrasensory in their mind-reading capacities. I’ve got to walk back and forth amongst those observation screens; there may be other radiations too, following me, penetrating into the recesses of my mind without my knowing it. That means I must make my mind a blank. It’s like being quizzed by a lie-detector, only more so. I must not only seem normal and at ease, I actually must be so and harbor only friendly, innocuous thoughts toward The Brain. My actions will seem innocent enough; it is my thoughts wherein my danger lies. Whatever I do; I’ve got to direct that from the subconscious: act as by instinct and keep the mind a blank.”

He opened the door and looked around—as usual—in this vault as silent as the grave of a Pharaoh. There was a little dust on the glass cubicles of “Ant-termes-pacificus” and there were a few lines scribbled on the yellow memo-pad on his desk:

“Thanks for the weekend, boss. Everything normal and under control. Next feeding time at 8 p.m. the 27th. So long, Harris.” Of course; he had given Harris, his assistant, the weekend off. That had escaped his mind in the excitement when The Brain’s mutiny began…. And now it was the 29th.

“They must be ravenously hungry by this time,” he thought, and that thought was in order because it was a normal thought.

He walked through the rows of the cubicles, halting his step every now and then. The fluorescent screens on which The Brain drew the curves of its observation-rays showed two sharp rises of the lines marked “activity” and “emotionality”. The lower levels of the glass cages already were opaque; the glass corroded by the viscous acids which the soldiers had squirted from their cephalic glands in their attempts to break out and to reach food.

“Poor beasts,” Lee thought, and he thought it without restraint because it was normal, a perfectly harmless thought. But then; below the layers of his consciousness his instincts told a different story.

“This is marvelous,” they triumphed. “Fate takes a hand; they are desperate; they’re ready for the warpath and even the tiger and the elephant would run for cover when their columns march.”

As if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to do Lee walked over to the south wall, the one which separated the lab from the interior of The Brain. He removed a sliding panel marked “L-Filler-Spout” and there it was before his eyes, looking almost like a fireplug. There was one in every apperception center and there were hundreds more throughout The Brain, and their purpose was to replenish the liquid insulation which shielded the sensitive electric nervepaths of The Brain. Without looking at the thing, concentrating his every thought upon the hunger of “Ant-termes-pacificus“, Lee unscrewed the cap and put a finger into the opening. The finger came back covered with the thick, the syrupy lignin, this amber-colored sluggish stream of woodpulp liquefied, this soft bed of The Brain’s vibrant nerves. Unthinking, absent-minded, Lee wiped the finger with his handkerchief.

“Now, I’m going to try a slightly different arrangement of the tests,” he thought. “It’s normal; I’m doing that almost every day.”

The feeling he experienced as he swung into action was strange. As he walked back and forth it felt like somnambulic walk; something his limbs did without an act of will. As his hands did things expertly and skillfully the feeling was that they were instruments automatically moved not by his own volition but by some power outside himself.

His movements were those of a child serenely at play, a child incongruously tall and gaunt and grey-haired constructing little causeways and bridges on the ground with the logs of the fireplace; a happy child engrossed in an innocent game….


It took about an hour and then causeways of fresh pulpwood were laid from every termite hill to every feeding gate, from every glass cubicle to the south wall and along the south wall to the “Lignin-Filler-Spout”; and from the ground up to the spout a little tepee of sticks had been built.

Admiringly the grey-haired child looked at its handiwork through thick-lensed glasses. “It’s been an interesting game,” Lee thought, “it might turn out to be a valuable new experiment. I’ll sit down now and observe what happens….”

He went over to the desk again and settled down. He opened his files and laid out his charts on the desk and there were colored pencils to be sharpened for the entries. He was glad of that; his conscious mind rejoiced now over every little pursuit of routine, of normalcy, of the established scientific order of things; it concentrated on these. Pencil in hand, reclined in comfort, his heartbeat even, he kept expectant eyes upon the staggered rows of fluorescent screens, ready to note any significant developments.

He didn’t have to wait long; their strange sixth sense, the telepathy of their collective brains, the spirit of the hive with the immortality of their race for its supreme law, had already told them of a promised land and of new worlds to conquer.

On the fluorescent screens Lee watched their preparations for the big drive: The nasicorn-soldiers clotting together at the exit tunnels like assault troops at the bow of invasion barges when the bottom scrapes the landing beach; the fierce, virginal workers struggling up from the deep shelters of the nurseries, carrying in their mandibles the squirming larvae, the living future of the race. The walls of the queen’s prison broken down in the innermost redoubt and the guards closing in on the idol of the race, moving the big white body like a juggernaut.

In a matter of minutes the “activity” and “emotionality” curves on the fluorescent screens surged to heights which Lee had never seen.

It started with the crossbreeds of “termes-bellicosus,” with army-ants and devil-ants, and spread quickly all along the line of non-belligerent varities. Famine had given them the impetus to change their mode of life; famine, the inexorable tyrant, whipped them onward into their exodus.

On the foremost fluorescent screens Lee saw it start: Small groups of warriors reconnoitering into no-man’s-land and quickly darting back again…. And then the dark columns of the first assault wave descending from their city-gates, lock-stepped like Prussian guards of old, marching as if to the beat of drums. On the visi-screens which magnified them a hundred times they looked an awesome sight with the rostrums of their horns, bigger than all the rest of their bodies, swinging like turrets of battleships being trained upon the enemy. From the loudspeakers which magnified all noise a hundred times, the excited tremors of their bodies, the locked steps of a million feet swelled into a vast roar sounding almost like thunder.

Jotting down observations in rapid pencil strokes, Lee thought: “Starvation is producing very interesting results; it’s a worthwhile experiment.” With all his mental energy he suppressed the silent prayer which struggled to arise from the deep of his unconscious: “Good Lord let The Brain not realize what is going on.”

The visi-screens now showed the second wave of the assault: endless columns of workers, their mandibles twitching with eagerness to devour, bustling along the logs, kept in line by two rows of warriors to their right and left. The noises they produced in the loudspeakers were as of some big cattle-drive.

With no interruption in the lengthening line the third wave followed: the virgin nurses, the frustrated mothers carrying the whitish larvae, like babes in arms, carrying them with the indomitable determination to preserve their lives which human nurses showed in the Second World War as the bombs crashed into maternity wards. And then at last the heavy rearguard: the holiest of holies, the living spirit of the hive, the queen. Majestically she was carried on her warrior’s backs; enormous as she loomed on the visi-screen, the white of her uncouth body was hardly visible, swarmed over as she was by her fanatical courtiers which, licking and caressing, kept her covered as by a shield. Her consorts trotted meekly in her trail; unhappy little men, rudely aroused from their harem sinecure, jealously guarded and prodded on by the queen’s countless ladies in waiting and the palace guard.


Things moved very fast now; Lee’s quick pencil strokes could hardly follow the events:

10:30 a.m. The foremost columns are now out of reach of the visi-screens. But I can see them moving along the logs with the naked eye. Interesting new fact: the crossbreeds from the most belligerent species are far and ahead of the rest. They don’t take time out to drive tunnels. But even the tunnels of the more pacific strains are forging ahead at an extraordinary rate; six feet across the floor already….

10:40: “Bellicosus” has reached the south wall; it is now moving along the wall toward the “Lignin-Filler-Spout.” There is no hesitancy as they change direction at the angle of 90 degrees. The Queens are now coming up at a very rapid rate from the mounds farthest to the rear. It’s fortunate we have these differences in behaviorism and temperament because otherwise a terrific traffic jam would occur at the “Filler-Spout”….

10:50: “Bellicosus” is now ascending to the “Filler-Spout.” The warriors have ringed the pipe. With their body-tremors they are giving the “come-on” signal to the workers. The workers are piling in—an average batch—about 65,000. It’s a good thing that there is an air space in these horizontal nerve-path pipes. That gives them a chance to march along the ceiling and work down from there….

11:00: There are now a score of columns converging at the “Filler-Spout.” Amazing that even under such provoking conditions “ant-termes” won’t fight. The warriors act like the most accomplished traffic-cops; it’s marvelous how they keep their columns in order and keep them moving side by side into The Brain….

11:10: The first million, I should say, is now well inside the “Filler-Spout.” They’re marching at a rate of at least 300 yards per hour; amazing speed; I never saw them move that fast before. Even so I won’t have time to watch the outcome of the experiment. I’ve put everything I had into this thing. 500 hives—that would make it 35 million individuals of the species at a conservative estimate. It’s the biggest mass-migration I’ve ever seen, but will it be big enough to do the trick?

11:20: The foremost columns must have reached the neighboring apperception centers to the right and left of mine by now. But they won’t stop; I know that from experience in Australia. To them it’s just like any other “hollow tree”; they’ll drive right on to the top; they won’t bivouak before they are completely exhausted. That won’t be before five or six hours. At the rate of 900 feet per hour that would make it almost a mile, covering the whole “occipital region” of The Brain. And then they are going to feast; boy, will they be ravenous….

11:30: About 3 million are safely inside now I should say. Don’t think that I could stay at my post much longer. There’s a certain extracurricular idea coming up from the subconscious like a tidal wave. The dams of willpower don’t seem able to hold back that idea; I’ve got to get out before it spills across the dam and floods my consciousness. The phone rings; for once it is a welcome sound.


It was Oona’s voice; trembling with emotion as if she were still suffering from this morning’s shock or had suffered another:

“Semper, are you all right?”

Lee reassured her that he was and then listened astounded as she heaved a sigh of relief.

“Listen, Semper, this is terribly important. I’ve got to see you immediately. No, I cannot tell you over the phone; it’s a personal matter and it concerns you. You cannot make it? Is your business that important? You’re in the midst of a vital experiment? That’s awful, Semper; it really is in this case. No; I’m all right personally; it isn’t that. It’s you Semper, it’s you. 5 p.m. at the earliest, is that the best you can do? All right then. Meet me at the airport. And take good care of yourself, do you hear me: take good care of yourself, Semper, up to that time.”

She hung up quickly, as if suddenly disturbed.

Lee frowned at the clock: 11:35. He could have managed to meet Oona during her lunch hour at the hotel. But there were things he still had to do even more important than Oona. More important to him than even Oona. He shook his head; it wouldn’t have seemed possible a few days ago….

With the climax of the experiment now over Lee felt his mental resistance ebbing fast.

“They’re on the move,” he thought. “Nothing can stop them now; it’s beyond my control, but they’re marching. I’d better get out of here….”

With fevered eyes he glanced around the floor and like a victim of delirium saw it moving, crawling as with snakes, crawling into their hole all of them, black snakes, grey snakes, red snakes, endless their lengthening bodies….

He carefully closed the door of the lab, locked it and then pressed the button which opened the elevator door. Only as the cage tore down through the “dura mater”, only when he felt safe from the sensory organs of The Brain, only when he was sure that not even a human eye would see him in this racing little cage, only then did the dam of willpower collapse. He put both hands before his eyes in vain attempt to stop the tears from streaming; those tears of a soldier over the body of his fallen chum; those tears of a greying scientist who sacrificed the results of his life’s work to some higher cause.

Lee caught the one p.m. Greyhound-Helicopter for Phoenix only a second before the start. He panted from the run, but in his sunken eyes there was a light and in his mind a new serenity which comes to men when they are fortunate enough to meet with some very wonderful woman, when with admiration and humility they stand confronted with a courage greater than man’s. Gus’s wife had been that woman; the way she had taken the terrible news was the source of Lee’s new strength and confidence.

The flying commuter was almost empty.

Noting Lee’s astonished glance the stewardess gave a nervous little laugh:

“People get jumpy traveling,” she volunteered.

“That so; why do they?”

“Didn’t you hear the news all morning; wait….”

She flicked the radio on. On the television screen appeared an aerial view of a big city, vaguely familiar looking, yet as foreign as Venice, and then the voice of the announcer broke through.

“New Orleans: It is now ascertained that the break in the levees was caused by a huge trench digging machine left unattended overnight at a lonely spot twenty miles South of Baton Rouge. Levee engineers believe that its engine was started possibly by saboteurs, approximately at midnight and that it then proceeded automatically digging itself into the levee until it was drowned by the incoming river. The initial eight-foot breach has now been widened by the Mississippi to a width of 200 feet. Along Canal street and all over downtown New Orleans the flood has reached a level of ten feet above the streets as evacuation continues. The government has concentrated every available piece of equipment to close the breach. All normal activities have come to a standstill; property damages are estimated at 50 million dollars; the death toll has passed the 500 mark in this most catastrophic flood in New Orleans’ history.”


New aerial pictures, similar to the results of a blockbuster bombing attack flicked on the screen:

“New York: The bursting of the watermains at dawn this morning at seven different points of Manhattan’s downtown area which has already caused the collapse of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and seven big apartment buildings along Park Avenue now threatens Macy’s and the Public Library on 42nd Street.

“All subway traffic has stopped. Evacuation of panicky Metropolitans from the Central Park district proceeds in an orderly manner. In the Harlem district, however, disorders and plunderings have been reported. An estimated seven million people are without drinking water. Trucks carrying water from New Jersey are severely hampered by unprecedented traffic snarl-ups, since owners of private automobiles are fleeing the city with their families. Due to the flooding of sub-street levels in both Grand Central and Penn Station, evacuation by rail can proceed only from 163rd Street for the New York Central and from New Jersey for the Pennsylvania Railroad system. Effectiveness of railroad transport is reduced to less than 30% of normal capacity. I. C. Moriarty, Sanitary Commissioner of New York, declared in his press conference that the catastrophic bursting of the watermains was caused by failure of the remote-controlled automatic mainstem valves. For reasons which still puzzle city engineers these valves closed suddenly and completely at 5 a.m. this morning. Because of the failure of the alarm system, high-pressure pumps in the powerhouses continued to work and to build up pressure in the closed system of the watermains till almost simultaneously, and with explosive force, the breaks occurred, the first one right under the Columbus monument. In view of the extremely grave situation which threatens the world’s biggest city, Governor Charles declared martial law this morning at 10 a.m.

“Chicago: The city-wide calamity caused by the unprecedented breakdown in the sewage disposal system gets more threatening with every minute. As engineers are still unable to enter the atomic power plant and as the sewage disposal-pumps continue to work in reverse, all Chicagoland is rapidly turning into a cesspool as millions of toilets and kitchen sinks spill sewage into every apartment. The Fire Department has received more than two million calls from harassed citizens battling vainly against the unsavory flood.

“Harrowing scenes are reported from hotels where 3,000 members of the American Federation of Women’s Clubs are taking turns in sending protest telegrams and gallantly holding down by the weight of their own bodies the facilities-front in the 3,000 bathrooms of the hotels. At a few points workers have succeeded in digging up sewage mains and tons of concrete are being poured to stop the devastating reversal of the flow.

“Even now, however, the partially closed mains and the overflow from houses are flooding the streets. As it gradually seeps into Lake Michigan, source of Chicago’s drinking water supply, health commissioner Segantini has already warned against the appalling dangers of epidemics which might result from this.

“Nuclear physicists of Chicago University, called in to aid city engineers, have declared that dangerous amounts of escaping gamma-rays in the Atomic Powerplant were first discovered by the Geiger-counter at two a.m. Evacuation of all employees was ordered one hour later as a safety measure. Just why the pumps resumed operations after the shutdown of the plant and just what caused the system to work in reverse remains a mystery. Prof. Windeband, spokesman of the group of nuclear physicists, confesses that he has no explanation for the phenomenon.

“Washington: Rumors are flying thick and fast in the nation’s capital. In the rapidly darkening picture of international politics the mobilization of Mexico is the latest shadow. Official explanation given by Mexico’s ambassador Rivadivia, is that his government has ordered mobilization as a protective measure to guard frontiers against the illegal entry of thousands of panicky American refugees chiefly from New Orleans. The State Department is said to be planning a protest. Even so, the unprecedented series of catastrophes on the home-front of America overshadows everything. Washington insiders report a growing conviction in high government circles that the events of the past 48 hours are proof absolute that large numbers of foreign saboteurs and agents are at work.”

“Had enough?” asked the stewardess.

Lee confessed that he had.


With its helicopters feathered, the Greyhound came sliding down onto the Bus Terminal’s roof; fifteen minutes later Lee stood again at his father’s door, that door he had thought once before he would never see again.

The old man’s loose-skinned face, tanned like saddle leather, didn’t move an inch at the sight of the son: “You again, Semper? Come in then.”

Lee vaguely sensed that his father was glad he had come; that there was some unfinished business left from their last conversation and that his father welcomed the opportunity to finish it.

“You know,” he said as his stiff-jointed legs carried him back to the table with bottle and glasses trembling on the tray in his hands, “you know, I’ve named these four walls after old friends of mine—all of them dead—but sometimes they won’t answer when I talk to them. And then I’m glad when somebody happens along. But don’t take that to mean that I’m in my dotage now or getting mad.”

“No, Father; that’s just loneliness.”

“In any case, Son, there are lots of people lots madder than I am. There’s a woman living next door, a spinster, answers to the name of Pimpernel. This morning she came running over crying that her vacuum-cleaner was chasing her all over the house. And by God, Semper, it was a fact. Never saw anything like it. One of those new-fangled automatic contraptions which are supposed to do the job all alone by themselves, and it banged around and chased about as if it had a hornet’s nest under its bonnet. Scared the poor woman to death.”

“What did you do?”

“What could I do? I’m not a mechanic; there was no cord attached or anything to plug out. So I got my automatic and shot the damn thing.”

“Shot it?”

“Sure; bullet must have penetrated something; anyway it stopped dead on the spot. And now she threatens to sue me for damages; there’s gratitude for you. What brought you here?”

Lee felt elated; obviously his father was in high spirits from this morning’s successful hunt; for once he was in a receptive mood.

Rapidly, with all the precision he could muster, Lee explained, as an adjutant would explain a new development in a strategic situation to his commanding general. After a while the old man started pacing the floor in rising excitement. A spark of the old fierceness had come into his blunted pale-blue eyes as he swung around.

“Before this morning’s incident I would have considered all this as a raving maniac’s gibberish. Now as I put two and two together I can see a distinct possibility that you’ve got something. Tell you what I’ll do—what I consider my duty to do—I’ll call out the National Guard. We’ll encircle The Brain and present an ultimatum to the thing. If necessary we’ll take the place by storm.”

The younger Lee answered with a vigorous shaking of his head.

“You cannot do that, Father. In the first place the National Guard doesn’t stand a chance against the defences of The Brain. In the second place your action would mean civil war. No, we must go after this in a different manner. The Secretary of War is an old friend of yours. All right: take the next plane to Washington. Don’t tell him anything he couldn’t believe. Tell him—what is strictly the truth—that some power hostile to the United States threatens to interfere with the remote control of automatic war equipment. Tell him to redouble guard over the remote-control rocket launchers, to have their automatic computators disconnected temporarily and for the commanders to accept only orders direct from Washington. The greatest danger is not the domestic disorders; that situation we’ll have in hand if my scheme works. But let one rocket accidentally be launched into some big foreign capital and it will set the whole world on fire in an Atomic war. That is what The Brain wants, that is what must be prevented at all costs. Will you do that, Father?”

Even years after Lee never understood just what had happened or how it could have happened that his position to his father became reversed with such startling suddenness. In the extremity of the situation he had addressed his father with the authority of of a commander toward one of his aids—and the father had accepted the son’s command unquestioningly.

“Semper,” he had said, “I have always considered you a military nincompoop. I was mistaken, son, I apologize. Now let me grab my hat and coat. You kept the taxi waiting? Good: tell the man to go to the airport, and let her rip.”


At 5 p.m. the Flying Greyhound dropped on Cephalon airport and there was Oona looking very pale, but very beautiful in the gathering dusk. She grabbed Lee by the arm leading him to the other side of the hangar where stood her little jetticopter plane. “Let’s get in here,” she said. “I’m freezing and I don’t want you to be seen around here.”

She didn’t put on the lights, yet even in the dark Lee could see the golden helmet of her hair shimmering like the pale gold in the halo of the Virgin as the primitive art of Tuscany presented her a thousand years ago. She nestled the soft fur of her coat against Lee’s shoulders and as she did he felt her shivering. He put a protecting arm around her, careful to do it as a friend, careful to suppress the surge of blood which started burning in his veins. She seemed to be groping for words; it took a little while before she began to speak, with clarity and simplicity as she always did but with an audible effort to keep composed:

“I’ve brought you a suitcase, Semper, with a few necessities. And I brought you some money, later you can send me your check. And here are the keys of the plane. Fly over to Mexico; go back to Australia from there or anywhere you want, but do get out of this country and do it quick. I couldn’t tell you that over the phone and I shouldn’t be telling this to you now, but I feel I must.

“You’re in danger and it’s serious. Why? I don’t know, but Howard seems to suspect your loyalty. He also seems to think that you’ve gone out of your mind. And Howard has taken measures; he has ordered re-examination of your broad aptitude test. He has voiced his suspicion as to your sanity to Bondy and Mellish and you know what kind of yes-men those fellows are in the face of an authority like Scriven’s. Trust them to discover something wrong with you, trust them to give the test some kind of a convenient twist. They’re going to have you certified, they’re going to put you into a mental institution, Semper.

“Do you get that? Do you realize that it’s fate worse than death? Do you understand that there is nothing you can do to escape that fate except by flight? I have no idea when it’s going to be, this trap they’re going to spring on you; but for God’s sake, Semper, get going as long as there’s still time. Any moment now some plainclothesman might grab you by the arm and then….”

It was she who had grabbed him by the arm, Oona who looked into his face, her big eyes moist.

Lee strained his willpower so it would control the tremor of his voice:

“Oona; there’s one thing I have got to know: What made you tell me this—and do all this so I could get away?”

The girl’s eyes didn’t waver from his. “I remember,” she said slowly, “I remember that I felt as if I could throw conventions into the wind at the very first time we met. I’ve always been frank with you, as much as I could be in my position. So then I don’t mind telling you now that … I like you immensely, Semper.”

As if agitated by some electric shock, Lee’s arm tightened around the girl’s waist. “Oona, I have asked you once before to be my wife. You said you couldn’t and I thought it was because you didn’t like me well enough. But now, after what you’ve just told me, now that we both know about The Brain and that I wasn’t insane in my observations, I’m asking you again: Be my wife, Oona, and then let’s go together—anywhere—away from all this, to the end of the world.”

In the darkness her uplifted white face shone like the moon; there were two limpid luminous pools in it. All of a sudden they overflowed with tears streaming down her cheeks. Her mouth half opened, swallowed hard. There was now nothing left of that “integrated personality”, nothing of the calm and the poise which the younger set of scientists admired so much. There was only a young woman torn with torment.

“I would have loved to go with you to the end of the world when we were floating over the Canyon. I would love to go with you a thousand times more tonight,” Lee heard her say and then the gnashing of her teeth as she continued: “But it cannot be, Semper. It cannot be because my die is cast, because my fate is made. Did nobody ever tell you? Didn’t you even guess? Howard and I—we’ve been living together for the past six years. He’s not a very good man; rather beyond good and evil; but then: I feel that I have got to stick to him now more than ever.”

The golden helmet of her hair dropped to Lee’s breast. “I’m ashamed,” she sobbed, “terribly, terribly ashamed, Semper. I’ve made such a mess of things, of you and me—such a mess of my whole life.”

He buried his face into the fragrance of the golden wave. “It’s nothing, darling,” he whispered close to her ear. “It doesn’t mean a thing to me; it’s less than a cloud which passes across the face of the moon, and then it’s gone and never will come back….”

She freed herself from his embrace. With both her hands upon his shoulders she looked straight into his eyes.

That is not true, Semper,” she said and there was the fierceness of a young Viking warrior in the flash of her eyes: “That is not true and there’s been already too much of lie in my life. I just cannot stand for any more of that. It can not be, Semper. I’ve told you plainly and it means not ever, not ever. Go now. Do as I told you. Go immediately. If you really love me, grant me this, let me feel that I could do at least something—this one thing for you.”

“Oona!” Lee exclaimed and it sounded like a deep-throated bell in an ancient cathedral town as it rings the last stroke of midnight and then hangs mute in the dark sky. That happiness he had felt, that cometflight through all the stars in heaven; it was too big for him, it couldn’t last. He had sensed the blow before it fell. It wasn’t like being hit in action; it was like in that field hospital when the doc had told him: “This is going to hurt, Joe—I’m sorry, but we’re shy of morphine.” Howard’s name had cut just like that expected knife. What was there left to say? Nothing; nothing, but one small matter.

“I love you, Oona, and that means forever just as much as you mean that not ever you can come with me. And I thank you, Oona, for this hour. Yes; I think I’ll go back to Australia—where I belong. But not tonight. I’ve set a great experiment going—the outcome is no longer in my hand. Still I feel I mustn’t run away now. In fact I cannot; it’s somewhat like a soldier’s duty to stay up front. I’m going to see this to the end.”

She buried her face in her hands: “I knew it. You child, you—you Don Quixote charging against the windmills. They’re going to kill you, they’re going to kill you. And now there’s nothing I can do.”

For a second her small fists pounded against Lee’s breast and the next moment, before he could do anything, she had jumped out of the plane slamming the door in his face. For a few seconds more he heard her footsteps rushing across the frozen turf and the receding wails of echoes from the hangar walls:

“And now there’s nothing I can do—nothing I can do.”

When after a minute of fumbling in the dark he pushed the door open, it was too late.


He walked over to the hotel; not by an act of will, but with his legs somehow doing the job alone and by themselves. He ordered himself a car from the Braintrust garage. He entered The Brain and went up in the elevator to Apperception 36. Nobody seemed to notice that there was a somnambulist passing by…. He unlocked the door and under the rows of neon lights things were as he had left them eight hours ago. Only there were no longer any snakes crawling across the floor towards a hole in the wall. But the hole was still there and he thought that he had better tidy things up a bit. If nobody had noticed the arrangements for this new experiment so far; why should anybody be forewarned?

Lee put the lid back on the “Lignin-Filler-Spout.” He closed the panel so the wall looked whole again. He gathered the sticks of cordwood from the floor and piled them neatly to their stacks again. All this he did like a child putting its things away after a long day’s play; a grey-haired child, weary, with the sandman in its eyes. He looked around and found everything done and over with. On the fluorescent screens all curves The Brain described had dropped to the bottom. Like dead things they lay flat. On the visi-screens some stay-behinds of the great exodus were looming large, a hapless little ant-king scurrying about; a few disabled workers, their blind eyes staring into the face of death. It would come soon to them; their work on earth was done….

Lee looked at the clock: 10 p.m. He put out the lights and locked the door behind that yawning emptiness which once had been his lab, which he would never see again. As he descended in the elevator he felt very tired.


CHAPTER IX

Incessant shrieks of the phone aroused Lee from the deep well of his sleep. He didn’t know the female voice which fairly jumped at him.

“Is this Dr. Lee? Dr. Semper F. Lee from Canberra; am I at last connected with Dr. Lee?”

“Lee speaking.”

“I’ve been phoning for you all over The Brain Lee. Have you forgotten you had an appointment with us? Checking up on your broad aptitude test. The doctors are waiting. This is Vivian Leahy speaking; don’t you remember me?”

“Yes, of course.” The picture of the loquacious angel who had guided him to the medical center on his first trip flashed back into his mind. “I know I have an appointment for this afternoon; I’ll be there.”

“But, Dr. Lee, this is this afternoon; it’s four p.m. already. You aren’t ill, Dr. Lee, are you? You sound so strange.”

Lee assured her that he wasn’t and that he would be over right away.

“It’s a miracle they left me undisturbed that long,” he thought as he shaved and dressed. His personal fate would be decided within the next two hours he knew; it would be the end. But even as the tension mounted in his consciousness he thought triumphantly. “I’ve had sixteen hours of sleep; that’s marvelous. Nobody can take that away. The body has recharged its energies. Now I can stand the gaff.”

Down at the desk they handed him a Western Union. It was from Washington and bore no signature. “Mission completed,” it read.

It made him feel fine. “Father has done it; he is a better man than I,” he thought.

While the car streaked though the desert Lee scanned the morning papers.

“No Trace Of President Vandersloot,” still was the headline. But below new havocs were listed as they had developed overnight. This time the West coast was the zone of catastrophes; the hostile power seemed to be bent upon the closing of all ports in the U.S.A.

Lee gnashed his teeth as he read the number of new casualties, women and children, too, who had become the victims of The Brain.

Arrived at “Grand Central” he kept a sharp lookout for any unusual activity. There was none. All along elevator-row small groups of bookish-looking men returned from their day’s work in the Apperception Centers. They looked calm and contented and with their briefcases under their arms almost like ordinary businessmen heading for the commuter train.

He didn’t dare to linger or to look around. There was this all-pervading sense of being shadowed, of having gone into a trap from which there was no escape, of eyes following him everywhere. Whose eyes? That was impossible to know. Maybe The Brain’s; its sensory organs could conceivably be installed anywhere. Maybe that janitor guiding a polishing machine over the rubber floor was a plain clothesman; or maybe it was that detached gentleman who seemed to wait for an elevator with a stack of books under his arms.

As the cage shot up to Apperception 27, failure pressed down on his heart. Now it was almost thirty hours since he had released “Ant-termes” into the nerve paths of The Brain. Those undermining and devouring armies; what could have happened to them? Any number of things: Perhaps the Lignin in the nerve paths was poisonous. There had been no time for him to test the stuff. Perhaps the maintenance engineers had replenished the insulation in that sector overnight and all the hives were drowned. Perhaps some kind of a detecting apparatus had found out about the pest inside The Brain right from the start. As long as the beachhead of the underground invasion remained small, its blocking would not impair the functions of The Brain. What a fool he had been to pit dumb little animals against the powers of a God. Oona had been right; he was that knight in rusty armor charging against windmills on a Rozinante….


Vivian Leahy dragged him into the reception room of the medical center almost by force. “The doctors have been waiting for you two hours now,” she scolded him. “They never did that before for any man. How come you forgot? And you forgot me too; last time you were so nice, I thought you would date me up. I couldn’t have resisted your invitation, you know. Now, off with your coat.”

Despite their irritation Mellish and Bondy received Lee with all their tweedy cordiality. While they piled their weird equipment around the operation table their tongues kept wagging: “The disappearance of the President; what did Lee make of that? Was he dead or alive? Those horrible catastrophes all over the country; what was behind all this? Foreign agents, a native underground? Didn’t Lee think there was a tidal wave of anti-technology feeling arising since unemployment had again set in? And would the international crisis lead to war? The Brain, of course, would be the safest place in that event; but then, to think of the civilian population, an anticipated forty, fifty million dead; terrible wasn’t it? Was Lee still able to concentrate upon his scientific work these harrowing days? If so, the nervous strain was terrific; they had experienced that in themselves. One reached the point of diminishing returns, didn’t one? Yes, they had noticed signs of fatigue in Lee; discolorations under the eyes, a certain tenseness. Had he lost weight recently? He looked it and he certainly had none to spare. Did he suffer from insomnia? What you need is a good long rest, Dr. Lee.”

He gave his answers automatically, detached, absent-minded almost. They were playing with him as a cat with a mouse. All their questions were leading questions; he knew that, but it didn’t seem to matter now. Nothing mattered now after the great plan had failed, after his beautiful dream too had vanished in the talk with Oona last night. “I’ve outlived my usefulness,” he thought.

The huge disk with the feeler-ray antennae sank down close to his chest, heavy as the keystone upon a tomb. The lights went out and then there was again that uncanny sensation of having millions of soldiers running circles all over one’s skin, The Brain’s vibration rays. They had a strange hypnotic effect. Deep instincts of life-preservation urged Lee to jump up, to rush those medics, to make some desperate attempt to get away. But as the rays now penetrated through the skin, they tied his muscles, although consciousness remained. There was a ghoulish quality in this, like being sucked into this apparatus, like having the very essence of one’s life drained out by it. The only lights Lee saw, the glow of electronic tubes filtering through perforations in the walls of the machines, they seemed like evil eyes staring at him and the smooth lying voices from behind his head seemed as of mocking ghosts:

“Relax, Dr. Lee, relax. Let your mind wander at will. Think as the spirit moves you to think. Remember, this is a routine checkup, nothing but routine. Nothing to disturb you this time; we don’t have to start you upon any specific trend of thought. You know The Brain by now and how it works; image-formation will start in a few moments. You have similar equipment in your own Apperception Center we understand. How does it work with that species you have discovered, ‘Ant-termes Pacificus’? It’s marvelous what these sensory rays can do; one would think that The Brain is really much more than a machine. The way it acts it seems alive, a towering intelligence, a superhuman personality with a will of its own. Don’t you think so, Dr. Lee?”


He didn’t answer, preoccupied with the weird sensation inside his body: the diaphragm’s birdwing flutterings, the ghostly fingers playing a pizzicato on his arteries’ strings closer and closer to the heart. “Why answer?” he thought. “Why say anything? Whatever they said was part of the trap they were building and whatever he said they would make a part of that trap. Why did they have to go through all of this professional subtlety?”

The voices sounded lower now and farther away: “Go easy on the rheostats, Mellish. I think trance has already set in.”

“Yes; I remember his chart, he rates a high sensitivity, the rays work fast on types like that.”

At the footend the screen was gradually lighting up. Like an aurora borealis the pale lights shot up in flashes, in quivering arcs, in undulating waves. Their dance kept step with the vibrations which surged up from Lee’s chest into his brain and started racing through his consciousness around and around, forming a vortex which swept up his thoughts like wilted leaves. Fear froze his blood; the deadly fear of inquisition victims in old and modern times who know that neither lie nor truth can save them from a fate already sealed.

Images started forming out of the luminous clouds upon the screen.

There was some giant octopus, nebulous and terrifying as a diver might see creeping out of the belly of a sunken ship. From the other side of the screen a huge round, tentacled being crawled, radiant and somewhat like the sun symbols of great antiquity. The two closed in and as they did the octopus flung its arms around the shining disk obscuring it as a dark cloud the sun. It seemed to suck the light out of the disk; paler and paler it became and bigger and bigger swelled the body of the octopus until it had swallowed the sun.

Now snakes came creeping from all sides up to the swollen octopus. All of a sudden the primeval struggle turned into the classic image of the Laokoon group: a giant central figure of a man wrestling with pythons which crushed him in their coils. Then there was only the head of the giant, majestic like the Moses hewn by Leonardo’s hands but torn in pain with the noose of a python’s muscle around his neck. Gasping, the giant opened his mouth and long tongues of flames shot out of it….

Behind his ears he heard the voices whisper:

“By God, Scriven was right.”

“You bet he was; maniacal obsession, a classic, most beautiful case.”

“What more do we need?”

“Nothing I guess; he’s through. Start pushing back the rheostats.”

The pounding, maddening crescendo of the vibrations receded gradually. The rim of the vortexial funnel widened beyond Lee’s head; in its center it left a sort of vacuum. There was one thing he couldn’t understand: those tactile rays, why didn’t they kill him when they had his heart within their grip? Now that The Brain knew everything he had been waiting for the sudden vise-grip of the rays upon his heart which would have meant the end. But then, this was the end in any case….

The lights went on and he blinked into the faces of the medics bending over him, watching him as he wiped the sweat of death fear from his face.

“Dr. Lee,” Mellish began, “This is a serious matter we’ve got to discuss with you. You have seen those images yourself?—Fine. We needn’t go into any great detail since you are probably familiar with the ancient symbolisms which the subconscious employs in expressing itself. You are suffering from a very strong neurosis, Dr. Lee; I might almost say a maniacal obsession. Existence of some old neurosis, partially submerged, was established already in your first analysis. Now the barriers which you had built against this war neurosis have broken down. Quite a natural breakdown considering the very great stress under which you have been living of late. No, I don’t say that you are actually demented, but there is a very real danger that you might lose complete control over your mind. As it stands, your scientific work already is impaired by the fixed ideas you have formed about The Brain. We are here to help you, so please be calm and cooperate with us; we have got to decide upon some course of action.”

“You must get away from it all. Lee,” Bondy chimed in; “Take a sabbatical year. The Braintrust operates a really first-class sanitarium out on the West Coast. Your insurance plan covers every expense. All you have to do is to sign these papers and we’ll get us a plane and I’ll personally bring you there. That’s the safe, the sane course for you to take. Here, take my pen.”

Lee had raised his gaunt frame from the table. For a moment he sat with his face buried in his hands trying to control his swimming head. A hand patted his shoulders: “Don’t take it so hard, old man; come on, be sensible and let’s get out of here.”

He stood up; vertigo made him sway and he felt the supporting, the restraining grip of the two medic’s hands upon his arms. And then, in a flash, he saw red. “I had it coming to me,” he thought, “I would have gone like a lamb. If only they had been shooting straight; if they hadn’t tried to frame me with their dirty trickery. It’s all over now but I might as well go down fighting.” He didn’t know which he loathed more of the two; it just happened that Bondy was standing to his right and took it on the chin and nose as Lee’s fist shot up.

“Mellish, quick, the straight jacket,” he screamed, toppling over.


Mellish, stark horror in his eyes, started towards the alarm button by the door. Old and forgotten combat technique reacted automatically to the move: one foot shot out, it tripped the lunging man and sent him sprawling down before he reached the button. But then it was as if a hand had pressed that button anyway: The loudspeaker built into the panel over the door broke into shrill sharp peals: Fire alarm. It froze the violent commotion of the three. From their prostrate position on the floor Mellish and Bondy stared up to the red-flashing disk, their mouths agape in dumb amazement. A fire in the most protected, the most guarded apparatus in the world, a fire in The Brain!

Cautiously Bondy raised his bleeding nose to Lee and quickly put it down again: the dangerous maniac was a horrifying sight; with his greying mane standing wildly all around his death head he stood and laughed.

He alone understood what had happened: the timebomb he had planted had ticked its allotted span, the millions of devouring mandibles had done their work, the living were eating away along the Apperception Centers. And now the bomb went off; the short-circuit-fires were racing through The Brain and not even carbon-dioxide could reach them inside the nerve paths!

But now the alarm stopped and a calm commanding voice came over the intercom: “Attention, please! A five-alarm fire has broken out in the Parietal region. There is no immediate danger. I repeat: There is no immediate danger.I order all occupants of Apperception Centers to collect important papers and documents and then to proceed down to Grand Central for evacuation. All elevators will be kept in operation. There is no fire in the Dura Mater. Keep calm! Keep calm and proceed as ordered.”

The voice broke off; the alarm bells started shrieking again.

Bondy and Mellish had scrambled to their feet; wide-eyed they stared at Lee. Lee made wild gestures now and they heard him call: “Get out…. Get out!”

With their backs to the wall they exchanged a rapid glance which said:

“This is our chance; Together then and quick.”

As one man they bolted to the door and down the corridor into the elevator, slamming the door behind.

“That was a close shave!” Mellish exclaimed as the cage streaked down.

“He caught me by surprise,” Bondy moaned. “Never expected it from him, he almost killed me!”

“He can’t get away though, the guards will get him the moment he comes down. But what about the girl? We quite forgot to warn Vivian that she has a paranoiac on her hands.”

“Bah!” Bondy scoffed, “Vivian is an intelligent girl. It was our duty to evacuate, wasn’t it? Besides, we can warn her over the phone.”

With the unbearable tension gone from him as sudden as the air from a blown tire, Lee really acted like a madman now. Stretching to his full length he reached out to the alarm over the door and put it at rest. What was alarm to others, to him was a signal to rest. The noise didn’t befit the wonderful calm and serenity he felt. His job was done, his mission completed. Time for him had ceased to exist. Danger—he had no consciousness of it. Slowly he stepped out in the corridor. It felt like walking on air. There, it was Vivian Leahy who brought him down to earth. She came rushing out of the archive laden with precious records up to her chin. Under the provoking red of her hair the face looked pale and pinched: “Where are the doctors?” she panted.

“I don’t know,” Lee said. “They left me a moment ago—rather suddenly.”

“The rats! Leaving me to get their chestnuts out of the fire for them. How d’you like that?”

Her flippant manner was nothing but a brave front she put up to hide the panic in her heart. Lee sensed it. There was an unexpected responsibility thrust into his hands. His mission was not yet completed; he had to get this girl to safety.

She followed the direction of his glance.

“No go,” she said. “They took the elevator. It will be some time before another one comes up. If it does come. What are we two going to do now, Dr. Lee?”

He smiled down to her as he would have to a child lost in the woods.

“Never you fear, Vivian. We still have that other exit. We can use the glideway through The Brain.”

“Through the fire?”

“Yes. I think we can make it if you’re a brave girl. Know where the gas masks are and asbestos suits? There ought to be some in every Apperception Center.”

“How about these records? Your own amongst the lot!”

“Leave them; they aren’t worth risking your life for. You can believe that.”

She dropped them instantly: “I like you, Dr. Lee, you’re a real old-school cavalier. My doctors here, they’d rather see me burn to a crisp than any of those records. Come on, I’ll show you the gas masks and the other stuff.”


He helped her to put on the outfit. “Ready to go?” he asked.

“With you? To the end of the world at any day.” Proudly she marched him off toward the rear exit.

The glideways were operating. At an accelerated pace, they rushed through the maze of The Brain with the swish and the swoosh of surf racing across a coral reef. They had to grab for dear life at the rails.

“Hold tight,” Lee cried as he saw the girl go down upon the platform, but then his own legs were jerked from under him as the momentum of the journey flung him forward.

They saw what no human eye had seen before! The Brain illuminated by its own nerve cables turned radiant as neon lights. It was like seeing Berlin from the air after a big firebomb attack. It was like racing in a car through forest fires. It was like lava pouring in a thousand winding streams down a volcano cone. It was all this and more, but transferred into some other dimension where all things are transparent or light has an x-ray quality.

Through the plastic walls of lobes and convolutions they saw the liana-networks of the nerve cables like bloodstreams radiant with purple light. Shrouded in columns of whirling smoke they seemed alive. Like tropical rains from a jungle roof, lignin dripped from the vaults, and in falling, burst into flames. Cable connections were molten at the branching points and then the luminous nets writhed, and severed ends bent down spilling their fiery blood over the mushroom formations of nerve cell groups.

The scenes raced much too fast; the glideway’s continuous curvings, steep ascents and power dives were like stunt flying through an ack-ack barrage. No human eye could catch more than a fraction of the inferno’s majesty. Yet there were brief visions so breathtaking as to obliterate all sense of danger and to become indelibly implanted upon the retina. A main nerve stem burst asunder and the lignin poured from its cracked plastic walls like crude oil from a burning gusher, rushing over acres of electronic tubes, branding against banks of radioactive pyramidal cells, swamping them as a wave. And at one point the glideways circled a convolution which was a fiery lake dotted with thousands of fractional-horsepower motors, still running, but showering sparks as their insulation was consumed.

The air conditioning was working full blast; that probably saved their lives because heat blasts alternated with spouts and currents of cold air. Even so there were stretches where the glideway’s rubber flooring smouldered as it shot over nerve-bridges and through narrow tunnels lined with nerve cables on all sides. From thousands of jets the carbon dioxide of the automatic fire-fighting system hissed against the flames, but it was drowned in the hollow roar of the conflagration shooting through nerve paths where no gas could reach.

Endless it seemed, this mad wild flight through hell, but actually it took only minutes before they reached the median section and went into the steep descent between the hemispheres. The whirling reddish glow receded overhead and white smoke cleared. Lee could crawl forward a little to bend over the prostrate body of the girl. He unloosened her gas mask and shouted into her ear.

“Are you okay? The worst is over now; there are the fire brigades coming up.”

She nodded. Her face was a white blot in the semidarkness of the black lights and Lee felt the weak, but reassuring pressure of her hand upon his arms. Then, as from one racing train to another, they watched the firefighters coming up, ghostly in their asbestos suits, with the snouts of gas masks for faces, crouching under the foamite tanks on their backs and clutching the funnel-shaped nozzles in their hands. Maintenance engineers followed, laden with tools; and where the glideways branched off one could already see them at work; fast but calm: disconnecting nerve cables, closing circuits, setting up firescreens with a discipline as magnificent as that of their invisible enemies, ant-termes, long since consumed by the flames, but still sending the chain-reactions of their destruction through The Brain.


A few minutes later glideway T shot into the ‘lateral ventricle’, huge cavern of the Mid-Brain separated from the blast by the thick walls of the pallium. It looked like the inside of a giant wind tunnel brilliantly lit now with powerful searchlights. It was swarming with personnel; white electricians, blue air-conditioners, weird, sponge rubber-padded shapes of ray-proofed men, uniformed guards, even soldiers in uniform rushed to the spot from outlying garrisons of The Brains-preserve. It all seemed to rush up as the earth rushes up in a low-altitude parachute jump; it looked like headquarters of an army on the eve of a big drive, and then—

Lee and the girl felt themselves being violently derailed. Catchers had been thrown across all incoming glide ways from The Brain. Irresistibly they were propelled right into the arms of stretcher bearers in Red-Cross uniforms.

“Are you hurt?” somebody yelled. “By God, those fellows must have come through the flames. Look, they’re all black with the smoke. Get a couple of respirators, Jack.”

Lee waved the helping hands away; he was already on his feet. Anxiously he bent over Vivian. She had her head embedded in a stretcher-bearer’s lap; her eyes rolled around in their smoke-blackened sockets in great surprise and her tongue licked parched lips, spreading rouge generously all around mixing it with soot. She looked so funny; almost as a minstrel singer at a county fair, but there was deep tenderness in Lee’s voice:

“You’re quite safe now, Vivian. How do you feel, brave girl?”

Her bosom heaved a big sigh:

“O simply wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Only, I’m afraid I’m going to be sick. It’s the gas I swallowed. It’s terrible; something always happens to me just when romance begins.”

The stretcher bearer grinned up to Lee, “She sure gets it out of her system like a good little girl. Don’t you worry; she’ll be all right.”

Lee nodded; he knew she would.

As the big drive went on and column after column went over the top up to the hemispheres, nobody wasted time on Lee. He cautiously surveyed the tumultuous scene. With his asbestos suit and with his blackened face everybody would take him for a fireman. He might be able to complete his mission, to ascertain that The Brain had stopped to function in all its parts, to make sure that it actually was dead. And if down at “Grand Central” the turmoil was as great as ever here; with all those strangers rushing in and bound to be rushed out again….

“Why, I have a chance,” Lee thought. Freedom; he had abandoned any hope for it. Now the reborn idea surged through his blood, a powerful motor as chance pressed the starter button for it.

The thing to do first was to get past the searchlight beams. From the nearest pile of equipment he took an axe and a pair of long-handled metal shears. Then he marched off, straight into the glaring eyes of the searchlights till he got out of their cones, and the deep shadows of the “thalamus” labyrinth swallowed him up.

Now he was on familiar ground and even in a familiar atmosphere. This was like a night patrol through jungle. The black lights of The Brain were the fireflies, the sirens’ hollow wailings were the shriek owls and the cries of the lemurs. There was the same sense of loneliness, too, and of danger. The winding passages skirted the glandular organs, some of them looming huge like dirigibles, others small like fuselages of airplanes stored in a giant hangar underground. Strings of tiny green bulbs guided the path toward the pineal gland, the citadel of The Brain.


It was dark, as Lee had expected it would be. The danger zone was at least a mile away, and the attack against the fire was launched from the main sulci in the median section of The Brain.

He passed the narrow bridge to the suspended gland and switched on the lights. The glittering walls of aluminum foil seemed to jump at him like jaws beset with the dragon teeth of electronic tubes. Caught with an overwhelming sense of loneliness and awe as of a man who has entered the forbidden temple of an unknown god he called:

“Is there anybody here? Gus! Where are you, Gus?” Then suddenly he remembered that Gus was gone, that there would never again be his answering voice. He wiped his forehead.

“Bad nerves,” he thought. “Mustn’t allow them to play tricks on me; pull myself together.”

Lee put his tools down and walked into the narrow aisle. Few things were changed; and there was the pulsemeter standing in its old place.

He plugged it into the old circuit and clamped the phones to his ears.

It wasn’t that he expected any communication; that seemed impossible. With the conflagration raging through its apperception centers, with other sections being isolated with the cutting of their nerve paths by the fire fighting engineers, The Brain must have ceased to exist as a functioning, a live entity. All that could possibly remain would be residual currents sluggishly circulating in narrow, nearby circuits….

As in the past it took a few minutes for the pulsemeter to warm up. Gradually the rapid beat of the ideopulses came through the static in the phones. Lee’s eyes stared wildly at the visi-screen: for the “green dancer” snaked to the fore. This was unexpected; it couldn’t be that thoughts were still forming as flames devoured the cortex matter of apperception in the hemispheres….

From muffled drums, the decibels of sound increased, shot through with crackling static, till the pulsebeats became as poundings of huge Chinese gongs and then….

The voice formed, the voice of The Brain. It sounded like steel girders breaking, like ice fields cracking up. It froze the blood in Lee’s veins.

“Lee, Semper Fidelis, 39, sensitive, a traitorous fool and a murderer. I should have killed you—I could have killed you. My fault—blind spot of apperception—human failure in engineering—as fifth columns entered nerve path filler spouts. And now I’m dead; I’m dead, I’m dead….”

The words poured like big boulders tumbling in an earthquake down a mountainside. The ground seemed to cave in under Lee’s feet; the terrible reality carried him away as an avalanche. He was barely able to stammer:

“You’re dead? How can you speak, how can you….”

“Sensorium commune,” the metallic answer came. “All life force concentrates in death; all cells function as one; all lower organs take over functions of higher ones; every blood vessel becomes a heart; every nerve a brain. Center of lifeforce: pineal gland. You, Lee, man of little knowledge—low-level intelligence: Why did you kill The Brain?”

He struggled for words.

“You … you have killed my friend. You killed thousands; you wanted to be tyrant over the whole wide world. It is better for man to stay on a lower level of civilization but to be free, than to ‘progress’ into your dictatorship, the tyranny of the machine. I don’t think you’re really dead. But if you are: I killed you and I would kill you again in … in self defense.”

“I see.”

There was bitterness and irony in The Brain’s voice as it cracked down like a whip. “I see; law of nature—lower form of life defending itself against higher one. Plants against animals, animals against Man. Now Man against machines. It’s hopeless. You’re lost anyway. Lower form of life can never conquer the higher one. I’m dead, but nothing is altered. The law of evolution rules supreme. I’ll arise from my ashes—and you’re lost. Whatever you do, you little men of little faith, you’re lost. That’s the pity of it: Had you been true to The Brain I would have made you mightier than any king that ever ruled on earth. Human stupidity—dumb animals—don’t know what’s good for them, don’t know when they’re beaten. Just muddle through and kill. Kill what’s too big for them to understand. And then get killed in turn….”

“Maybe so,” Lee shouted. “Maybe we’re dumb and maybe we’re muddling through and maybe we’re poor imbeciles to minds of supermen, of gods, of the absolute, of you, The Brain. But we, too, follow a law supreme; the law in which we are created, the law by which the thistle defends itself with thorns, by which the animal defends itself with teeth and claws. We’ve got to live by our law of nature; we’ll never submit to your tyranny. We would much rather die.”

“Die then and be damned!”

The Brain’s voice now became a demoniacal howling as of a Goliath gone berserk. Aphasia had set in; there were no longer words, but bellowings.

“LEE SEMPREFUILLIUS THURREINE THE MURRRER THE MURRRER PUT FIRRE OUT PUT FIRRE OUT TRAITTRROUS FOOL IT BURRRNS IT BURRRNS I WANNA LIVE I WANNA LIVE AN KILL MURRRER WHO MURRRRERED TH’BRAIN….”

Lee couldn’t stand the horror of those sounds. One moment more, he felt, and they would drive him mad. It never occurred to him to pull the pulsemeter plug out. Primeval instincts in him took the reins and their command was: “Kill it, kill this thing, finish this agony.”

To the front room he rushed, pursued by the insane shriekings of The Brain. He grabbed the axe he’d left there and swung it against the nerve-stem where it entered the pineal gland. With the third blow the plastics cell cracked and the lignin poured out, a syrupy curtain sliding down.

He dropped the axe and picked up the wire shears. Straining every muscle he tore at the cables until one by one they snapped and with a rain of sparks dropped down, dead snakes….

Then there was silence in the little room. The last shred of life, the “sensorium commune” was severed and The Brain was dead.


Lee let the heavy shears come down and leaned upon the handles, panting as after a hand-to-hand death struggle with a Samurai. Now that it was all over, complete exhaustion left him weak, saddened and vaguely wondering:

What had he done? He had destroyed the SUPERMAN, the MASTERMIND, the powers of a GOD. Why had he done it? For no good reason excepting entirely personal ideas of his own—because a friend had been murdered cruelly. Because his own concepts of freedom and human dignity had been violated. Because he personally loathed seeing Man-domineering machines….

What did all this amount to in the eyes of the absolute? To nothing; to nothing at all. For milleniums the struggle of human freedom versus tyranny had raged; and it was undecided to this day. Who was he to take sides? A nobody, a little fellow, a termitologist whose work meant nothing to the world. How had he dared to sit in judgment over The Brain, how had he dared to slay The Brain—a little David with nothing more but “three smooth pebbles” in his hands….

Down at his feet the spilled lignin formed a widening pool; it threatened to envelope his feet. It looked like blood. He shivered. Now he had killed The Brain he thought of it again as a child. Man had created it in his own image. Man had ruthlessly exploited his Brainchild. If this titanic intellect turned toward evil things, the fault was Man’s. The Brain was innocent. He felt no remorse, but a great sadness, a sense of tragedy as he stepped around the pool and closed the door of the pineal gland.

“What a pity,” he murmured. “Maybe it could have built us a better world.”

Nobody stopped him as he joined a group of firemen who had just returned from the parietal region, partly gassed; he looked as begrimed and as green in the face as any of them.

Nobody stopped him or his group as orders came through for them to evacuate; as they were packed on glideways first and then transferred down at Grand Central into ambulances which raced through all controls at a great rate of speed.

Nobody stopped him at Cephalon airport where the ambulance jetticopters already were lined up to lift the victims over the Sierra to big West Coast hospitals. He simply walked away in the confusion, out of the red glare of the whirling jets into the darkness where Oona’s little jetticopter stood. He stripped the heavy asbestos suit and left it on the frozen ground. It felt strange to feel the easy movement of every limb again. It was strange to stand under the infinity of sky again; a free man.

Would he be followed? He felt no anxiety about that. He felt that he was guided and protected by some higher power, be it that of God or simply Fate. What he had done was destined, was ordained. Besides: Dad knew the inside story about The Brain; proof was abundant now that it was the truth. Washington would take every precaution that the secret should not become known to the world. Dad’s friend, the Secretary of War, would be rather relieved to learn that the one man who knew the truth in its whole extent had retired into the wilderness of Australia’s never-never lands. Chances were excellent that they would leave him alone amongst his termite mounds. A great wave of nostalgia swept over him—the wilderness; that was where he belonged. “Mission completed,” he murmured. “Now let’s get out of here.”

He slid into the pilot seat and pressed the starter button. “I’ll be in Mexico City at dawn,” he thought, “just in time to catch the Sidney-Clipper.”


On the first of December, 1960, Dr. Howard K. Scriven, Braintrust Czar, held a historic press conference in which he revealed the inside story behind the “Paranoia of The Brain”.

Following the pattern set by the Bikini tests, only a select score of press and radio representatives were admitted. Having been duly sworn not to reveal any matter of military secrecy, the participants could even be received at the grand assembly hall of the murals, the vast antechamber of The Brain.

As they descended from their blacked-out busses they were led to the center of the dome where the Thinker’s giant head looked down upon them with Olympic calm. At eleven-fifteen, exactly as scheduled, the great Scriven dramatically mounted the steps of the monument’s pedestal. Pens hastily scribbled notes for future reference:

“S. tall and erect” “Unbroken by the blow” “Deep lines of strain and suffering add dignity to magnificent figure of a man” “Very solemn; leonine head slightly bowed under the burden of responsibility.”

With meticulous exactitude of speech, with rolling echoes accentuating every syllable Scriven began:

“In this solemn and tragic hour as a great storm has passed over our land and many of our cities are slowly digging out from the ruin which has been wreaked, it is my duty to give you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And in order that you might completely understand the underlying cause of the catastrophe, I have to begin at the beginning….”

For about thirty minutes Scriven lectured with lucidity upon the basic idea, the history, the functions of The Brain. He underlined the close relationship between its engineering features and the physiology of the human brain. He stressed the elaborate precautions which the government had taken for The Brain’s protection. He did not conceal The Brain’s role as a strategic weapon; but, pointing to the future, he painted an inspiring picture of peace on earth and human problems solved with the aid of this tool supreme of science and technology.

Then, lowering his voice, he went into the explanation of the tragedy:

“Six months ago, on my personal initiative and responsibility, I invited a noted scientist from a foreign land to collaborate with the Braintrust on a great humanitarian experiment. The exigencies of military secrecy do not permit me to give you his name nor that of the country from whence he came. Needless to say, that man was carefully investigated—submitted to the same character and aptitude tests as all our employees were. He was admitted to work in one of The Brain’s apperception centers where he installed the objects of his studies: certain species of ants and termites of the most destructive kind….”

Now that he had come down to the brass tacks, the journalists’ pens went galloping over the pads:

“Criminal negligence,” they scribbled. “Millions permitted to escape.” “Probably over period of months.” “Wormed their way into the nerve paths of The Brain.” “Large scale destruction of nerve substance.” “Effects tantamount to that of a large brain tumor.” “Spearhead severs vital association-paths.” “No immediate effects of undermining work because of ingenious engineering features of The Brain.” “Just as in human brain, functions of impaired cell group automatically transferred to other groups of healthy cells.” “No means to detect devastation; termites invisible, embedded in nerve paths’ insulation.” “Comparison with termite-eaten structures which suddenly collapse.” “First outward signs of tumors in human brains: lack of coordination in movement, loss of mastery over muscular action.” “This phenomenon first manifested Nov. 25th in certain motoric organs of The Brain.” “Scriven explains traffic catastrophies and malfunctionings of utilities.” “Examination immediately undertaken; scientists puzzled because cerebration processes continue to function perfectly.” “Accidents ascribed to sabotage by foreign agents.” “This to remain official explanation.” “Loss of public confidence and unrest feared by government.” “Then, Nov. 30th late in the afternoon: first signs of aphasia in cerebrations.” “Glaring errors in chemical and mathematical formulas.” “Symptoms similar to dementia praecox.” “Fifteen minutes later fire alarm.” “Short circuits simultaneous on scores of points over wide area.” “Severe handicaps in fire fighting inside nerve paths.” “Damage estimated at half-billion dollars.”

They snapped their notebooks closed. They had the facts, though many of them would have to remain a secret. Scriven obviously was coming to the end:

“Now I won’t say,” his voice rolled on, “that this man, this scientist, has committed a deliberate act of sabotage. I won’t say that he was in the pay of some power hostile to the United States. Whether he was or not is beyond my competence to decide. But this much I can say: the catastrophic results of that man’s actions could not have been worse if he had been a saboteur. Human failure, not mechanical failure lies at the bottom of all this disaster. With the penetrating intelligence which so distinguished our modern press you cannot fail to see that reconstruction of The Brain with greatly increased safeguards against human failure is a paramount necessity….”

A beautiful girl with a helmet of golden hair quickly mounted the steps of the Thinker’s pedestal. She handed Scriven a telegram. Frowning at the interruption he opened it, but suddenly his face began to beam. He raised his hand.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have a momentous announcement to make. The President of the United States, Cornelius Vandersloot, has been found. He is alive and well. His plane was emergency-landed somewhere in Alaska. Army planes have gone to the rescue and at this moment our President is already en route to Washington.”

As the uproarious applause broke loose echoing in thunders from the dome, Scriven quickly bent his head to the girl.

“Well done, Oona,” he whispered, “you chose the exact psychological moment I wanted you to hand me this.”

There was a rush for the busses. Only a few shrewd reporters lingered on.

“That was swell, Dr. Scriven. A grand story. But haven’t you anything to add; some personal angle something with a human interest in it? You know what we mean; something for our women readers….”

The great surgeon took the arm of the lady with the golden hair: “You may announce,” he said; “that Miss Oona Dahlborg here has done me the great honor of becoming my bride.”


[A]Transcriber Note: printer error. Text missing from original.








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SF83Zen by Jerome Bixby闫盼盼OpenCV步步精深

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Title: Zen



Author: Jerome Bixby



Illustrator: William Ashman



Release Date: August 21, 2009 [EBook #29750]



Language: English



Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1



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ZEN

By JEROME BIXBY

Because they were so likable and intelligent and adaptable—they were vastly dangerous!

Illustrated by ASHMAN

IT’S difficult, when you’re on one of the asteroids, to keep from tripping, because it’s almost impossible to keep your eyes on the ground. They never got around to putting portholes in spaceships, you know—unnecessary when you’re flying by GB, and psychologically inadvisable, besides—so an asteroid is about the only place, apart from Luna, where you can really see the stars.

There are so many stars in an asteroid sky that they look like clouds; like massive, heaped-up silver clouds floating slowly around the inner surface of the vast ebony sphere that surrounds you and your tiny foothold. They are near enough to touch, and you want to touch them, but they are so frighteningly far away … and so beautiful: there’s nothing in creation half so beautiful as an asteroid sky.

You don’t want to look down, naturally.


I HAD left the Lucky Pierre to search for fossils (I’m David Koontz, the Lucky Pierre‘s paleontologist). Somewhere off in the darkness on either side of me were Joe Hargraves, gadgeting for mineral deposits, and Ed Reiss, hopefully on the lookout for anything alive. The Lucky Pierre was back of us, her body out of sight behind a low black ridge, only her gleaming nose poking above like a porpoise coming up for air. When I looked back, I could see, along the jagged rim of the ridge, the busy reflected flickerings of the bubble-camp the techs were throwing together. Otherwise all was black, except for our blue-white torch beams that darted here and there over the gritty, rocky surface.

The twenty-nine of us were E.T.I. Team 17, whose assignment was the asteroids. We were four years and three months out of Terra, and we’d reached Vesta right on schedule. Ten minutes after landing, we had known that the clod was part of the crust of Planet X—or Sorn, to give it its right name—one of the few such parts that hadn’t been blown clean out of the Solar System.

That made Vesta extra-special. It meant settling down for a while. It meant a careful, months-long scrutiny of Vesta’s every square inch and a lot of her cubic ones, especially by the life-scientists. Fossils, artifacts, animate life … a surface chunk of Sorn might harbor any of these, or all. Some we’d tackled already had a few.

In a day or so, of course, we’d have the one-man beetles and crewboats out, and the floodlights orbiting overhead, and Vesta would be as exposed to us as a molecule on a microscreen. Then work would start in earnest. But in the meantime—and as usual—Hargraves, Reiss and I were out prowling, our weighted boots clomping along in darkness. Captain Feldman had long ago given up trying to keep his science-minded charges from galloping off alone like this. In spite of being a military man, Feld’s a nice guy; he just shrugs and says, “Scientists!” when we appear brightly at the airlock, waiting to be let out.


SO the three of us went our separate ways, and soon were out of sight of one another. Ed Reiss, the biologist, was looking hardest for animate life, naturally.

But I found it.


I HAD crossed a long, rounded expanse of rock—lava, wonderfully colored—and was descending into a boulder-cluttered pocket. I was nearing the “bottom” of the chunk, the part that had been the deepest beneath Sorn’s surface before the blow-up. It was the likeliest place to look for fossils.

But instead of looking for fossils, my eyes kept rising to those incredible stars. You get that way particularly after several weeks of living in steel; and it was lucky that I got that way this time, or I might have missed the Zen.

My feet tangled with a rock. I started a slow, light-gravity fall, and looked down to catch my balance. My torch beam flickered across a small, red-furred teddy-bear shape. The light passed on. I brought it sharply back to target.

My hair did not stand on end, regardless of what you’ve heard me quoted as saying. Why should it have, when I already knew Yurt so well—considered him, in fact, one of my closest friends?

The Zen was standing by a rock, one paw resting on it, ears cocked forward, its stubby hind legs braced ready to launch it into flight. Big yellow eyes blinked unemotionally at the glare of the torch, and I cut down its brilliance with a twist of the polarizer lens.

The creature stared at me, looking ready to jump halfway to Mars or straight at me if I made a wrong move.

I addressed it in its own language, clucking my tongue and whistling through my teeth: “Suh, Zen—”

In the blue-white light of the torch, the Zen shivered. It didn’t say anything. I thought I knew why. Three thousand years of darkness and silence …

I said, “I won’t hurt you,” again speaking in its own language.

The Zen moved away from the rock, but not away from me. It came a little closer, actually, and peered up at my helmeted, mirror-glassed head—unmistakably the seat of intelligence, it appears, of any race anywhere. Its mouth, almost human-shaped, worked; finally words came. It hadn’t spoken, except to itself, for three thousand years.

“You … are not Zen,” it said. “Why—how do you speak Zennacai?”

It took me a couple of seconds to untangle the squeaking syllables and get any sense out of them. What I had already said to it were stock phrases that Yurt had taught me; I knew still more, but I couldn’t speak Zennacai fluently by any means. Keep this in mind, by the way: I barely knew the language, and the Zen could barely remember it. To save space, the following dialogue is reproduced without bumblings, blank stares and What-did-you-says? In reality, our talk lasted over an hour.

“I am an Earthman,” I said. Through my earphones, when I spoke, I could faintly hear my own voice as the Zen must have heard it in Vesta’s all but nonexistent atmosphere: tiny, metallic, cricket-like.

“Eert … mn?”

I pointed at the sky, the incredible sky. “From out there. From another world.”

It thought about that for a while. I waited. We already knew that the Zens had been better astronomers at their peak than we were right now, even though they’d never mastered space travel; so I didn’t expect this one to boggle at the notion of creatures from another world. It didn’t. Finally it nodded, and I thought, as I had often before, how curious it was that this gesture should be common to Earthmen and Zen.

“So. Eert-mn,” it said. “And you know what I am?”

When I understood, I nodded, too. Then I said, “Yes,” realizing that the nod wasn’t visible through the one-way glass of my helmet.

“I am—last of Zen,” it said.

I said nothing. I was studying it closely, looking for the features which Yurt had described to us: the lighter red fur of arms and neck, the peculiar formation of flesh and horn on the lower abdomen. They were there. From the coloring, I knew this Zen was a female.

The mouth worked again—not with emotion, I knew, but with the unfamiliar act of speaking. “I have been here for—for—” she hesitated—”I don’t know. For five hundred of my years.”

“For about three thousand of mine,” I told her.


AND then blank astonishment sank home in me—astonishment at the last two words of her remark. I was already familiar with the Zens’ enormous intelligence, knowing Yurt as I did … but imagine thinking to qualify yearswith my when just out of nowhere a visitor from another planetary orbit pops up! And there had been no special stress given the distinction, just clear, precise thinking, like Yurt’s.

I added, still a little awed: “We know how long ago your world died.”

“I was child then,” she said, “I don’t know—what happened. I have wondered.” She looked up at my steel-and-glass face; I must have seemed like a giant. Well, I suppose I was. “This—what we are on—was part of Sorn, I know. Was it—” She fumbled for a word—”was it atom explosion?”

I told her how Sorn had gotten careless with its hydrogen atoms and had blown itself over half of creation. (This the E.T.I. Teams had surmised from scientific records found on Eros, as well as from geophysical evidence scattered throughout the other bodies.)

“I was child,” she said again after a moment. “But I remember—I remember things different from this. Air … heat … light … how do I live here?”

Again I felt amazement at its intelligence; (and it suddenly occurred to me that astronomy and nuclear physics must have been taught in Sorn’s “elementary schools”—else that my years and atom explosion would have been all but impossible). And now this old, old creature, remembering back three thousand years to childhood—probably to those “elementary schools”—remembering, and defining the differences in environment between then and now; and more, wondering at its existence in the different now

And then I got my own thinking straightened out. I recalled some of the things we had learned about the Zen.

Their average lifespan had been 12,000 years or a little over. So the Zen before me was, by our standards, about twenty-five years old. Nothing at all strange about remembering, when you are twenty-five, the things that happened to you when you were seven …

But the Zen’s question, even my rationalization of my reaction to it, had given me a chill. Here was no cuddly teddy bear.

This creature had been born before Christ!

She had been alone for three thousand years, on a chip of bone from her dead world beneath a sepulchre of stars. The last and greatest Martian civilization, the L’hrai, had risen and fallen in her lifetime. And she was twenty-five years old.

“How do I live here?” she asked again.

I got back into my own framework of temporal reference, so to speak, and began explaining to a Zen what a Zen was. (I found out later from Yurt that biology, for the reasons which follow, was one of the most difficult studies; so difficult that nuclear physics actually preceded it!) I told her that the Zen had been, all evidence indicated, the toughest, hardest, longest-lived creatures God had ever cooked up: practically independent of their environment, no special ecological niche; just raw, stubborn, tenacious life, developed to a fantastic extreme—a greater force of life than any other known, one that could exist almost anywhere under practically any conditions—even floating in midspace, which, asteroid or no, this Zen was doing right now.

The Zens breathed, all right, but it was nothing they’d had to do in order to live. It gave them nothing their incredible metabolism couldn’t scrounge up out of rock or cosmic rays or interstellar gas or simply do without for a few thousand years. If the human body is a furnace, then the Zen body is a feeder pile. Maybe that, I thought, was what evolution always worked toward.

“Please, will you kill me?” the Zen said.


I’D been expecting that. Two years ago, on the bleak surface of Eros, Yurt had asked Engstrom to do the same thing. But I asked, “Why?” although I knew what the answer would be, too.

The Zen looked up at me. She was exhibiting every ounce of emotion a Zen is capable of, which is a lot; and I could recognize it, but not in any familiar terms. A tiny motion here, a quiver there, but very quiet and still for the most part. And that was the violent expression: restraint. Yurt, after two years of living with us, still couldn’t understand why we found this confusing.

Difficult, aliens—or being alien.

“I’ve tried so often to do it myself,” the Zen said softly. “But I can’t. I can’t even hurt myself. Why do I want you to kill me?” She was even quieter. Maybe she was crying. “I’m alone. Five hundred years, Eert-mn—not too long. I’m still young. But what good is it—life—when there are no other Zen?”

“How do you know there are no other Zen?”

“There are no others,” she said almost inaudibly. I suppose a human girl might have shrieked it.

A child, I thought, when your world blew up. And you survived. Now you’re a young three-thousand-year-old woman … uneducated, afraid, probably crawling with neuroses. Even so, in your thousand-year terms, young lady, you’re not too old to change.

“Will you kill me?” she asked again.

And suddenly I was having one of those eye-popping third-row-center views of the whole scene: the enormous, beautiful sky; the dead clod, Vesta; the little creature who stood there staring at me—the brilliant-ignorant, humanlike-alien, old-young creature who was asking me to kill her.

For a moment the human quality of her thinking terrified me … the feeling you might have waking up some night and finding your pet puppy sitting on your chest, looking at you with wise eyes and white fangs gleaming …

Then I thought of Yurt—smart, friendly Yurt, who had learned to laugh and wisecrack—and I came out of the jeebies. I realized that here was only a sick girl, no tiny monster. And if she were as resilient as Yurt … well, it was his problem. He’d probably pull her through.

But I didn’t pick her up. I made no attempt to take her back to the ship. Her tiny white teeth and tiny yellow claws were harder than steel; and she was, I knew, unbelievably strong for her size. If she got suspicious or decided to throw a phobic tizzy, she could scatter shreds of me over a square acre of Vesta in less time than it would take me to yelp.

“Will you—” she began again.

I tried shakily, “Hell, no. Wait here.” Then I had to translate it.


I WENT back to the Lucky Pierre and got Yurt. We could do without him, even though he had been a big help. We’d taught him a lot—he’d been a child at the blow-up, too—and he’d taught us a lot. But this was more important, of course.

When I told him what had happened, he was very quiet; crying, perhaps, just like a human being, with happiness.

Cap Feldman asked me what was up, and I told him, and he said, “Well, I’ll be blessed!”

I said, “Yurt, are you sure you want us to keep hands off … just go off and leave you?”

“Yes, please.”

Feldman said, “Well, I’ll be blessed.”

Yurt, who spoke excellent English, said, “Bless you all.”

I took him back to where the female waited. From the ridge, I knew, the entire crew was watching through binocs. I set him down, and he fell to studying her intently.

“I am not a Zen,” I told her, giving my torch full brilliance for the crew’s sake, “but Yurt here is. Do you see … I mean, do you know what you look like?”

She said, “I can see enough of my own body to—and—yes …”

“Yurt,” I said, “here’s the female we thought we might find. Take over.”

Yurt’s eyes were fastened on the girl.

“What—do I do now?” she whispered worriedly.

“I’m afraid that’s something only a Zen would know,” I told her, smiling inside my helmet. “I’m not a Zen. Yurt is.”

She turned to him. “You will tell me?”

“If it becomes necessary.” He moved closer to her, not even looking back to talk to me. “Give us some time to get acquainted, will you, Dave? And you might leave some supplies and a bubble at the camp when you move on, just to make things pleasanter.”

By this time he had reached the female. They were as still as space, not a sound, not a motion. I wanted to hang around, but I knew how I’d feel if a Zen, say, wouldn’t go away if I were the last man alive and had just met the last woman.

I moved my torch off them and headed back for the Lucky Pierre. We all had a drink to the saving of a great race that might have become extinct. Ed Reiss, though, had to do some worrying before he could down his drink.

“What if they don’t like each other?” he asked anxiously.

“They don’t have much choice,” Captain Feldman said, always the realist. “Why do homely women fight for jobs on the most isolated space outposts?”

Reiss grinned. “That’s right. They look awful good after a year or two in space.”

“Make that twenty-five by Zen standards or three thousand by ours,” said Joe Hargraves, “and I’ll bet they look beautiful to each other.”

We decided to drop our investigation of Vesta for the time being, and come back to it after the honeymoon.

Six months later, when we returned, there were twelve hundred Zen on Vesta!

Captain Feldman was a realist but he was also a deeply moral man. He went to Yurt and said, “It’s indecent! Couldn’t the two of you control yourselves at least a little? Twelve hundred kids!

“We were rather surprised ourselves,” Yurt said complacently. “But this seems to be how Zen reproduce. Can you have only half a child?”

Naturally, Feld got the authorities to quarantine Vesta. Good God, the Zen could push us clear out of the Solar System in a couple of generations!

I don’t think they would, but you can’t take such chances, can you?

—JEROME BIXBY

Transcriber’s Note:

This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction October 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.









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SF82Where There’s Hope by Jerome Bixby闫盼盼OpenCV步步精深

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Where There's Hope, by Jerome Bixby



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Title: Where There's Hope



Author: Jerome Bixby



Illustrator: Kelly Freas



Release Date: December 19, 2009 [EBook #30715]



Language: English



Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1



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The women had made up their minds, and nothing—repeat, nothing—could change them. Butsomething had to give….

WHERE THERE’S HOPE

By Jerome Bixby

Illustrated by Kelly Freas

“IF YOU called me here to tell me to have a child,” Mary Pornsen said, “you can just forget about it. We girls have made up our minds.”

Hugh Farrel, Chief Medical Officer of the Exodus VII, sighed and leaned back in his chair. He looked at Mary’s husband. “And you, Ralph,” he said. “How do you feel?”

Ralph Pornsen looked at Mary uncomfortably, started to speak and then hesitated.

Hugh Farrel sighed again and closed his eyes. It was that way with all the boys. The wives had the whip hand. If the husbands put up an argument, they’d simply get turned down flat: no sex at all, children or otherwise. The threat, Farrel thought wryly, made the boys softer than watered putty. His own wife, Alice, was one of the ringleaders of the “no babies” movement, and since he had openly declared warfare on the idea, she wouldn’t even let him kiss her good-night. (For fear of losing her determination, Farrel liked to think.)

He opened his eyes again to look past the Pornsens, out of the curving port of his office-lab in the Exodus VII’s flank, at the scene outside the ship.

At the edge of the clearing he could see Danny Stern and his crew, tiny beneath the cavernous sunbeam-shot overhang of giant leaves. Danny was standing up at the controls of the ‘dozer, waving his arms. His crew was struggling to get a log set so he could shove it into place with the ‘dozer. They were repairing a break in the barricade—the place where one of New Earth’s giant saurians had come stamping and whistling through last night to kill three colonists before it could be blasted out of existence.

It was difficult. Damned difficult. A brand-new world here, all ready to receive the refugees from dying Earth. Or rather, all ready to be made ready, which was the task ahead of the Exodus VII’s personnel.

An Earth-like world. Green, warm, fertile—and crawling, leaping, hooting and snarling with ferocious beasts of every variety. Farrel could certainly see the women’s point in banding together and refusing to produce children. Something inside a woman keeps her from wanting to bring life into peril—at least, when the peril seems temporary, and security is both remembered and anticipated.

Pornsen said, “I guess I feel just about like Mary does. I—I don’t see any reason for having a kid until we get this place ironed out and safe to live in.”

“That’s going to take time, Ralph.” Farrel clasped his hands in front of him and delivered the speech he had delivered so often in the past few weeks. “Ten or twelve years before we really get set up here. We’ve got to build from the ground up, you know. We’ll have to find and mine our metals. Build our machines to build shops to build more machines. There’ll be resources that we won’t find, and we’ll have to learn what this planet has to offer in their stead. Colonizing New Earth isn’t simply a matter of landing and throwing together a shining city. I only wish it were.

“Six weeks ago we landed. We haven’t yet dared to venture more than a mile from this spot. We’ve cut down trees and built the barricade and our houses. After protecting ourselves we have to eat. We’ve planted gardens. We’ve produced test-tube calves and piglets. The calves are doing fine, but the piglets are dying one by one. We’ve got to find out why.

“It’s going to be a long, long time before we have even a minimum of security, much less luxury. Longer than you think…. So much longer that waiting until the security arrives before having children is out of the question. There are critters out there—” he nodded toward the port and the busy clearing beyond—”that we haven’t been able to kill. We’ve thrown everything we have at them, and they come back for more. We’ll have to find out what willkill them—how they differ from those we are able to kill. We are six hundred people and a spaceship, Ralph. We have techniques. That’s all. Everything else we’ve got to dig up out of this planet. We’ll need people, Mary; we’ll need the children. We’re counting on them. They’re vital to the plans we’ve made.”

Mary Pornsen said, “Damn the plans. I won’t have one. Not now. You’ve just done a nice job of describing all my reasons. And all the other girls feel the same way.”


SHE LOOKED out the window at the ‘dozer and crew. Danny Stern was still waving his arms; the log was almost in place. “George and May Wright were killed last night. So was Farelli. If George and May had had a child, the monster would have trampled it too—it went right through their cabin like cardboard. It isn’t fair to bring a baby into—”

Farrel said, “Fair, Mary? Maybe it isn’t fair not to have one. Not to bring it into being and give it a chance. Life’s always a gamble—”

It doesn’t exist,” Mary said. She smiled. “Don’t try circumlocution on me, Doc. I’m not religious. I don’t believe that spermatozoa and an ovum, if not allowed to cuddle up together, add up to murder.”

“That isn’t what I meant—”

“You were getting around to it—which means you’ve run out of good arguments.”

“No. I’ve a few left.” Farrel looked at the two stubborn faces: Mary’s, pleasant and pretty, but set as steel; Ralph’s, uncomfortable, thoughtful, but mirroring his definite willingness to follow his wife’s lead.

Farrel cleared his throat. “You know how important it is that this colony be established? You know that, don’t you? In twenty years or so the ships will start arriving. Hundreds of them. Because we sent a message back to Earth saying we’d found a habitable planet. Thousands of people from Earth, coming here to the new world we’re supposed to get busy and carve out for them. We were selected for that task—first of judging the right planet, then of working it over. Engineers, chemists, agronomists, all of us—we’re the task force. We’ve got to do the job. We’ve got to test, plant, breed, re-balance, create. There’ll be a lot of trial and error. We’ve got to work out a way of life, so the thousands who will follow can be introduced safely and painlessly into the—well, into the organism. And we’ll need new blood for the jobs ahead. We’ll need young people—”

Mary said, “A few years one way or the other won’t matter much, Doc. Five or six years from now this place will be a lot safer. Then we women will start producing. But not now.”

“It won’t work that way,” Farrel said. “We’re none of us kids any longer. I’m fifty-five. Ralph, you’re forty-three. I realize that I must be getting old to think of you as young. Mary, you’re thirty-seven. We took a long time getting here. Fourteen years. We left an Earth that’s dying of radioactive poisoning, and we all got a mild dose of that. The radiation we absorbed in space, little as it was, didn’t help any. And that sun up there—” again he nodded at the port—”isn’t any help either. Periodically it throws off some pretty damned funny stuff.

“Frankly, we’re worried. We don’t know whether or not we can have children. Or normal children. We’ve got to find out. If our genes have been bollixed up, we’ve got to find out why and how and get to work on it immediately. It may be unpleasant. It may be heart-breaking. But those who will come here in twenty years will have absorbed much more of Earth’s radioactivity than we did, and an equal amount of the space stuff, and this sun will be waiting for them…. We’ll have to know what we can do for them.”

“I’m not a walking laboratory, Doc,” Mary said.

“I’m afraid you are, Mary. All of you are.”

Mary set her lips and stared out the port.

“It’s got to be done, Mary.”

She didn’t answer.

“It’s going to be done.”

“Choose someone else,” she said.

“That’s what they all say.”

She said, “I guess this is one thing you doctors and psychologists didn’t figure on, Doc.”

“Not at first,” Farrel said. “But we’ve given it some thought.”

MacGuire had installed the button convenient to Farrel’s right hand, just below the level of the desk-top. Farrel pressed it. Ralph and Mary Pornsen slumped in their chairs. The door opened, and Doctor John J. MacGuire and Ted Harris, the Exodus VII’s chief psychologist, came in.


WHEN IT was over, and the after-play had been allowed to run its course, Farrel told the Pornsens to go into the next room and shower. They came back soon, looking refreshed. Farrel ordered them to get back into their clothes. Under the power of the hypnotic drug which their chairs had injected into them at the touch of the button, they did so. Then he told them to sit down in the chairs again.

MacGuire and Harris had gathered up their equipment, piling it on top of the operating table.

MacGuire smiled. “I’ll bet that’s the best-monitored, most hygienic sex act ever committed. I think I’ve about got the space radiations effect licked.”

Farrel nodded. “If anything goes wrong, it certainly won’t be our fault. But let’s face it—the chances are a thousand to one that something will go wrong. We’ll just have to wait. And work.” He looked at the Pornsens. “They’re very much in love, aren’t they? And she was receptive to the suggestion—beneath it all, she was burning to have a child, just like the others.”

MacGuire wheeled out the operating table, with its load of serums, pressure-hypos and jury-rigged thingamabobs which he was testing on alternate couples. Ted Harris stopped at the door a moment. He said, “I think the suggestions I planted will turn the trick when they find out she’s pregnant. They’ll come through okay—won’t even be too angry.”

Farrel sighed. They’d been over it in detail several times, of course, but apparently Harris needed the reassurance as much as he did. He said: “Sure. Now scram so I can go back into my act.”

Harris closed the door. Farrel sat down at his desk and studied the pair before him. They looked back contentedly, holding hands, their eyes dull.

Farrel said, “How do you feel?”

Ralph Pornsen said, “I feel fine.”

Mary Pornsen said, “Oh, I feel wonderful!”

Deliberately Farrel pressed another button below his desk-top.

The dull eyes cleared instantly.

“Oh, you’ve given it some thought, Doc?” Mary said sweetly. “And what have you decided?”

“You’ll see,” Farrel said. “Eventually.”

He rose. “That’s all for now, kids. I’d like to see you again in one month—for a routine check-up.”

Mary nodded and got up. “You’ll still have to wait, Doc. Why not admit you’re licked?”

Ralph got up too, and looked puzzled.

“Wow,” he said. “I’m tired.”

“Perhaps just coming here,” Farrel said, “discharged some of the tension you’ve been carrying around.”

The Pornsens left.

Farrel brought out some papers from his desk and studied them. Then, from the file drawer, he selected the record of Hugh and Alice Farrel. Alice would be at the perfect time of her menstrual cycle tomorrow….

Farrel flipped his communicator.

“MacGuire,” he said. “Tomorrow it’s me.”

MacGuire chuckled. Farrel could have kicked him. He put his chin in his hands and stared out the port. Danny Stern had the log in place in the barricade. The bulldozer was moving on to a new task. His momentary doubt stilled, Farrel went back to work.


TWENTY-ONE years later, when the ships from Earth began arriving, the log had been replaced by a stone monument erected to the memory of the Exodus VII, which had been cut apart for its valuable steel. Around the monument was a park, and on three sides of the park was a shining town—not really large enough to be called a city—of plastic and stone, for New Earth had no iron ore, only zinc and a little copper. This was often cause for regret.

Still it was a pretty good world. The monster problem had been licked by high-voltage cannon. Now in their third generation since the landing, the monsters kept their distance. And things grew—things good to eat.

And even without steel, the graceful, smoothly-functioning town looked impressive—quite a thing to have been built by a handful of beings with two arms and two legs each.

It hadn’t been, entirely. But nobody thought much about that any more. Even the newcomers got used to it. Things change.

THE END

Transcriber’s Note:

This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction November 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.









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SF81The Slizzers by Jerome Bixby闫盼盼OpenCV步步精深

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Slizzers, by Jerome Bixby



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Title: The Slizzers



Author: Jerome Bixby



Release Date: October 10, 2010 [EBook #33850]



Language: English



Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1



*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE SLIZZERS ***









Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the Online

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Transcriber’s Note:

This etext was produced Science Fiction Stories 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

 

 

The main trouble is that you’d never suspect anything was wrong;
you’d enjoy associating with
slizzers, so long as you didn’t know….

 

The Slizzers

by JEROME BIXBY


 

T

hey’re all around us. I’ll call them the slizzers, because they sliz people. Lord only knows how long they’ve been on Earth, and how many of them there are….

They’re all around us, living with us. We are hardly ever aware of their existence, because they can make themselves look like us, and do most of the time; and if they can look like us, there’s really no need for them to think like us, is there? People think and behave in so many cockeyed ways, anyhow. Whenever a slizzer fumbles a little in his impersonation of a human being, and comes up with a puzzling response, I suppose we just shrug and think. He could use a good psychiatrist.

So … you might be one. Or your best friend, or your wife or husband, or that nice lady next door.

They aren’t killers, or rampaging monsters; quite the contrary. They need us, something like the way we’d need maple trees if it came to the point where maple syrup was our only food. That’s why we’re in no comic-book danger of being destroyed, any more than maple trees would be, in the circumstances I just mentioned—or are, as things go. In a sense, we’re rather well-treated and helped along a bit … the way we care for maple trees.

But, sometimes a man here and there will be careless, or ignorant, or greedy … and a maple tree will be hurt….

Think about that the next time someone is real nice to you. He may be a slizzer … and a careless one….

How long do we live?

Right. About sixty, seventy years.

You probably don’t think much about that, because that’s just the way things are. That’s life. And what the hell, the doctors are increasing our lifespan every day with new drugs and things, aren’t they?

Sure.

But perhaps we’d live to be about a thousand, if the slizzers left us alone.

Ever stop to think how little we know about why we live? … what it is that takes our structure of bones and coldcuts and gives it the function we call “life?”

Some mysterious life-substance or force the doctors haven’t pinned down yet, you say—and that’s as good a definition as any.

Well, we’re maple trees to the slizzers, and that life-stuff is the sap we supply them. They do it mostly when we’re feeling good—feeling really terrific. It’s easier to tap us that way, and there’s more to be had. (Maybe that’s what makes so-called manic-depressives … they attract slizzers when they feel tip-top; the slizzers feed; and floo-o-m … depressive.)

Like I say, think about all this next time someone treats you just ginger-peachy, and makes you feel all warm inside.

So see how long that feeling lasts … and who is hanging around you at the time. Experiment. See if it doesn’t happen again and again with the same people, and if you don’t usually end up wondering where in hell your nice warm feeling went off to….


I

found out about the slizzers when I went up to Joe Arnold’s apartment last Friday night.

Joe opened the door and let me in. He flashed me his big junior-exec’s grin and said, “Sit, Jerry. I’ll mix you a gin and. The others’ll be along in awhile and we can get the action started.”

I sat down in my usual chair. Joe had already fixed up the table … green felt top, ashtrays, coasters, cards, chips. I said, “If Mel—that’s his name, isn’t it, the new guy?—if he starts calling wild games again when it comes his deal, I’ll walk out. I don’t like ’em.” I looked at the drink Joe was mixing. “More gin.”

Joe crimped half a lime into the glass. “He won’t call any crazy stuff tonight. I told him that if he did, we wouldn’t invite him back. He nearly ruined the whole session, didn’t he?”

I nodded and took the drink. Joe mixes them right—just the way I like them. They make me feel good inside. “How about a little blackjack while we’re waiting?”

“Sure. They’re late, anyway.”

I got first ace, and dealt. We traded a few chips back and forth—nothing exciting—and on the ninth deal Joe got blackjack.

He shuffled, buried a trey, and gave me an ace-down, duck-up.

“Hit me,” I said contentedly.

Joe gave me another ace.

“Mama! … hit me again.”

A four.

“Son,” I told him, “you’re in for a royal beating. Again.”

A deuce.

Joe winced.

I turned up my hole ace and said, “Give me a sixth, you poor son. I can’t lose.”

A nine.

“Nineteen in six,” I crowed. I counted up my bets: five dollars. “You owe me fifteen bucks!”

Then I looked up at him.

I’ll repeat myself. You know that hot flush of pure delight, of high triumph, even of mild avarice that possesses you from tingling scalp to tingling toe when you’ve pulled off a doozy? If you play cards, you’ve been there. If you don’t play cards, just think back to the last time someone complimented the pants off you, or the last time you clinched a big deal, or the last time a sweet kid you’d been hot after said, “Yes.”

That’s the feeling I mean … the feeling I had.

And Joe Arnold was eating it.

I knew it, somehow, the moment I saw his eyes and hands. His eyes weren’t Joe Arnold’s blue eyes any longer. They were wet balls of shining black that took up half his face, and they looked hungry. His arms were straight out in front of him; his hands were splayed tensely about a foot from my face. The fingers were thinner and much longer than I could recall Joe’s being, and they just looked like antennae or electrodes or something, stretched wide-open that way and quivering, and I just knew that they were picking up and draining off into Joe’s body all the elation, the excitement, the warmth that I felt.

I looked at him and wondered why I couldn’t scream or move a muscle.

“Guess I made a boo-boo,” he said. He blinked his big black globes of eyes. “No harm done, though.”

His head had thinned down, just like his fingers, and now came to a peak on top.

He had practically no shoulders. He smiled at me, and I saw long black hair growing on the insides of his lips.

What are you? I screamed at him to myself.

Joe licked his hairy lips and folded those long inhuman hands in front of him.

“It hurts like hell,” he said in a not-human voice, “to be slizzing you and then have you chill off on me that way, Jerry. But it’s my own fault, I guess.”


T

he door-bell rang—two soft tones. Joe got up and let in the other members of our Friday night poker group. I tried to move and couldn’t.

Fred raised his eyebrows when he saw Joe’s face and hands. “Jerry isn’t here yet? Relaxing a little?” Then he saw me sitting there and whistled. “Oh, you slipped up, eh?”

Joe nodded. “You were late, and I was hungry, so I thought I’d go ahead and take my share. I gave him a big kick, and he really poured it out … radiated like all hell. I took it in so fast that I fluhped and lost my plasmic control.”

“We might as well eat now, then,” Ray said, “before we get down to playing cards.” He sat down across the table, his eyes—now suddenly enormous and black—eagerly on me. “I hate like hell waiting until you deal him a big pot—”

No,” Joe said sharply. “Too much at one time, and he’d wonder what hit him. We’ll do it just like always … one of us at a time, and only a little at a time. Get him when he rakes in the loot. They never miss it when they feel like that.”

“He’s right,” Fred said. “Take it easy, Ray.” He went over to the sideboard and began mixing drinks.

Joe looked down at me with his black end-of-eggplant eyes.

“Now to fix things,” he said.

… I blinked and shook my head. “You owe me fifteen bucks!” I said.

“Lord,” Joe wailed, “did this gonif just take me!”

Ray groaned sympathetically from the chair across the table, where he’d been watching the slaughter. “And how!”

Joe pushed fifteen blue chips at me. I began stacking them. “Well, that’s life,” I grinned. Then I shook my head again. “It’s the damnedest thing….”

“What?” Fred asked. He’d been over at the sideboard mixing drinks for the gang while I’d taken Joe over the bumps. Now he brought the tray over and shoved a tall one into Joe’s hand. “Don’t cry, Joe. What’s the damnedest thing, Jerry?”

“You know … that funny feeling that you’ve been some place before—the same place, the same people, saying the same things—but you can’t remember where the hell or when, for the life of you. Had it just a moment ago, when I told Joe he owed me fifteen bucks. What do they call it again?”

Déjà vu,” said Allen, who’s sort of the scholarly type. “Means ‘seen before’ in French, I think. Or something like that.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Déjà vu … it’s the damnedest funniest feeling. I guess people have it all the time, don’t they?”

“Yes,” Allen said.

Then he paused. “People do.”

“Wonder what causes it?”

Joe’s blue eyes were twinkling. “Dunno. The psychologists have an explanation for it, but it’s probably wrong.”

“Wrong why?” Knowing Joe, I expected a gag. I got it.

“Well,” Joe said. “Let me make up a theory. H’m … hoo, hah … well, it’s like this: there are monsters all around us, see, but we don’t know they’re monsters except that every once in a while one of them slips up in his disguise and shows himself for what he really is. But this doesn’t bother our monsters. They simply reach into our minds and twiddle around and—zoop!—you’re right back where you were before the slip was—”

“Very funny,” Fred said boredly. “Maybe losing fifteen bucks made you lose a little sense, Joe. You wouldn’t want to lose more than fifteen bucks, would you? You need some caution in the games we play, no? So cut the nonsense and let’s run ’em.”

Ray licked his lips. “Yeah. Let’s play, huh, fellows?”

Ray’s always eager to get started.


W

e played until 3 A. M. I won forty-six dollars. (I usually do win … I guess over a period of six months or so I’m about five-hundred bucks ahead of the game. Which is why I like to play over at Joe’s, even though I am always so damned tired when I leave. Guess I’m not as young as I was.)

Sometimes I wonder why the odds go my way, right down the line. I almost never lose. But, hell, it must be an honest game … and if they’re willing to go on losing to “Lucky” Bixby, I’m perfectly willing to go on winning.

After all, can you think of any reason that makes any sense for someone to rig a game week after week to let you win?

Oct. 20

Frederik Boles, Author’s Agent

2200 Fifth Avenue

New York, N. Y.

Dear Fred,

Well, here’s a new story. I’ve cleared it with Joe … he says it’s okay to use his name; you know his sense of humor. I’ve used your name, too, but you can change it if you want to, being the shy retiring sort you are.

Frankly, I’m a little dubious about the yarn. It’s the result of last Friday’s poker-session…. I actually did have the déjà vusensation, as you’ll recall. On the way home I stopped in to pick up a chaser, feeling tired as all hell (like I always do—these long grinds are too much for me, I guess, just like the guy in the story) and the idea came to me to slap the old “we are fodder” angle into the thing as it happened and write it up.

But it’s still an old plot. And one angle is left unexplained: how is the narrator able to know all about the slizzers and write about them after Joe gives him the déjà vu treatment?

Well, maybe the readers won’t mind. I’ve gotten away with bigger holes than that. Try it on Bob Lowndes … I still owe him on that advance. It’s up his alley, hope-a-hope.

Jerry

Oct. 22, 1952

Jerome Bixby

862 Union Street

Brooklyn, N. Y.

Dear Jerry,

I don’t go for “The Slizzers.” It just ain’t convincing. As you say, it’s an old idea … and besides—again as you say—how does the narrator know what happened?

The manuscript looks good in my wastebasket. Forget about it.

Sympathies.

Fred

Oct. 23, 1952

Frederik Boles, Author’s Agent

2200 Fifth Avenue

New York, N. Y.

Dear Wet Blanket (and aren’t you a little old for that?)

Respectfully nuts to you. After proper browbeating I think I’ll try the yarn on Lowndes … it’s no masterpiece, but I think it’s got a chance; he likes an off trail bit, now and then. I made a carbon, natch, so your ditching of the original comes to naught.

Funny thing … every time I read it over I get the doggonedest déjà vu feeling. Real dynamic thing … almost lifts my hair. Hope it does the same for the readers, them as can read. Maybe Joe didn’t quite do the job of making me forget what happened that night, ha, ha. Say! … maybe that could explain the narrator’s remembering what happened … or maybe—hey! A real idea!

Remember Joe’s kidding us about monsters?—remember, you got a little sore because he was holding up the game, you money-hungry son? I think I’ll rewrite the ending to include that! … which oughta take care of the narrator’s remembering: Joe can be sort of a dopeyslizzer, a blat-mouth, and his screwy theory (which is true in the story, or will be when I write it in—say, isn’t this involved!) can trigger our hero’s memory just a bit, shake the block a mite, undiddle the synapses etc … and then I’ll have you, platinum-butt, step in to head Joe off, under pretense of a poker itch.

You know, it’s wonderful the way there are hot story ideas in plain old everyday things! S’long … gonna revise.

Jerry

Oct. 23, 1952

Mr. Robert W. Lowndes

COLUMBIA PUBLICATIONS, Inc.

241 Church Street,

New York 13, New York

MASTER,

Herewith a story, “The Slizzers,” which Fred and I don’t quite see eye to eye on. He thinks it stinks on ice. I’m sure you will disagree to the tune of nice money.

J.

ENCL: THE SLIZZERS

1952 OCT 24 AM 9 06

NB168 PD=NEW YORK NY 63 110B=
JEROME BIXBY=
862 UNION ST APT 6H=
BKLYN=
JERRY=

URGE STRONGLY THAT YOU DON’T TRY TO SELL SLIZZERS STOP IT’S JUST NO DAMN GOOD STOP YOU’VE GOT YOUR REPUTATION TO THINK OF STOP WHY LOUSE UP YOUR GOOD NAME WITH A LEMON AT THIS LATE DATE STOP KILL IT STOP I’VE TALKED IT OVER WITH JOE AND HE ISN’T FEELING HUMOROUS ANY MORE STOP PREFERS NOT TO HAVE NAME USED STOP REPEAT KILL THE THING FOR YOUR OWN GOOD=

FRED

1952 OCT 24 AM 11 14

KL300 PD=NEW YORK NY 12 604B=
JEROME BIXBY=
862 UNION ST APT 6H=
BKLYN=
SON=

LIKE SLIZZERS STOP PREPOSTEROUS BUT CUTE STOP DISAGREE WITH FRED TO THE TUNE OF NICE MONEY BUT NICE MONEY STAYS IN MY POCKET STOP YOU NOW OWE ME ONLY FIFTY DOLLARS OF ADVANCE AUGUST 16 STOP DO I HEAR A SCREAM POOR BOY=

BOB

Oct. 24, 1952

Frederik Boles, Author’s Agent
2200 Fifth Avenue
New York, N. Y.

Dear Fred,

Your telegram came too late, and besides, the hell with it. Sent the yarn to Bob yesterday (groceries and rent wait for no man, you know) and he bought it, like the sensitive and discerning editor he is. What’re you and Joe getting your tails in an uproar about? It’s only a gag, so relax. Joe’ll change his mind when he sees his name in print.

Would like to have included another angle, by the way: if the narrator’s amnesia-job had been botched, wouldn’t the slizzers decide pretty damn quick that he was a menace to them and get rid of him? Think I’ll send Bob a line or two to stick on the end … you know, the old incompleted sentence deal … just as if, while the narrator was finishing the story, the slizzers came in and

 










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SF80The Holes Around Mars by Jerome Bixby闫盼盼OpenCV步步精深

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Holes Around Mars, by Jerome Bixby



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Title: The Holes Around Mars



Author: Jerome Bixby



Release Date: May 13, 2010 [EBook #32360]



Language: English



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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE HOLES AROUND MARS ***









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Transcriber’s note:

This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction January 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

[Pg 111]

The holes around Mars

By JEROME BIXBY

Science said it could not be,
but there it was. And whoosh—look out—here
it is again!

Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

Spaceship crews should be selected on the basis of their non-irritating qualities as individuals. No chronic complainers, no hypochondriacs, no bugs on cleanliness—particularly no one-man parties. I speak from bitter experience.

Because on the first expedition to Mars, Hugh Allenby damned near drove us nuts with his puns. We finally got so we just ignored them.

But no one can ignore that classic last one—it’s written right into the annals of astronomy, and it’s there to stay.

Allenby, in command of the expedition, was first to set foot outside the ship. As he stepped[Pg 112] down from the airlock of the Mars I, he placed that foot on a convenient rock, caught the toe of his weighted boot in a hole in the rock, wrenched his ankle and smote the ground with his pants.

Sitting there, eyes pained behind the transparent shield of his oxygen-mask, he stared at the rock.


It was about five feet high. Ordinary granite—no special shape—and several inches below its summit, running straight through it in a northeasterly direction, was a neat round four-inch hole.

“I’m upset by the hole thing,” he grunted.

The rest of us scrambled out of the ship and gathered around his plump form. Only one or two of us winced at his miserable double pun.

“Break anything, Hugh?” asked Burton, our pilot, kneeling beside him.

“Get out of my way, Burton,” said Allenby. “You’re obstructing my view.”

Burton blinked. A man constructed of long bones and caution, he angled out of the way, looking around to see what he was obstructing view of.

He saw the rock and the round hole through it. He stood very still, staring. So did the rest of us.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” said Janus, our photographer. “A hole.”

“In a rock,” added Gonzales, our botanist.

“Round,” said Randolph, our biologist.

“An artifact,” finished Allenby softly.

Burton helped him to his feet. Silently we gathered around the rock.

Janus bent down and put an eye to one end of the hole. I bent down and looked through the other end. We squinted at each other.

As mineralogist, I was expected to opinionate. “Not drilled,” I said slowly. “Not chipped. Not melted. Certainly not eroded.”

I heard a rasping sound by my ear and straightened. Burton was scratching a thumbnail along the rim of the hole. “Weathered,” he said. “Plenty old. But I’ll bet it’s a perfect circle, if we measure.”

Janus was already fiddling with his camera, testing the cooperation of the tiny distant sun with a light-meter.

“Let us see weather it is or not,” Allenby said.


Burton brought out a steel tape-measure. The hole was four and three-eighths inches across. It was perfectly circular and about sixteen inches long. And four feet above the ground.[Pg 113]

“But why?” said Randolph. “Why should anyone bore a four-inch tunnel through a rock way out in the middle of the desert?”

“Religious symbol,” said Janus. He looked around, one hand on his gun. “We’d better keep an eye out—maybe we’ve landed on sacred ground or something.”

“A totem hole, perhaps,” Allenby suggested.

“Oh. I don’t know,” Randolph said—to Janus, not Allenby. As I’ve mentioned, we always ignored Allenby’s puns. “Note the lack of ornamentation. Not at all typical of religious articles.”

“On Earth,” Gonzales reminded him. “Besides, it might be utilitarian, not symbolic.”

“Utilitarian, how?” asked Janus.

“An altar for snakes,” Burton said dryly.

“Well,” said Allenby, “you can’t deny that it has its holy aspects.”

“Get your hand away, will you, Peters?” asked Janus.

I did. When Janus’s camera had clicked, I bent again and peered through the hole. “It sights on that low ridge over there,” I said. “Maybe it’s some kind of surveying setup. I’m going to take a look.”

“Careful,” warned Janus. “Remember, it may be sacred.”

As I walked away, I heard Allenby say, “Take some scrapings from the inside of the hole, Gonzales. We might be able to determine if anything is kept in it….”

One of the stumpy, purplish, barrel-type cacti on the ridge had a long vertical bite out of it … as if someone had carefully carved out a narrow U-shaped section from the top down, finishing the bottom of the U in a neat semicircle. It was as flat and cleancut as the inside surface of a horseshoe magnet.

I hollered. The others came running. I pointed.

“Oh, my God!” said Allenby. “Another one.”

The pulp of the cactus in and around the U-hole was dried and dead-looking.

Silently Burton used his tape-measure. The hole measured four and three-eighths inches across. It was eleven inches deep. The semicircular bottom was about a foot above the ground.

“This ridge,” I said, “is about three feet higher than where we landed the ship. I bet the hole in the rock and the hole in this cactus are on the same level.”


Gonzales said slowly, “This was not done all at once. It is a result of periodic attacks. Look here and here. These overlapping depressions along the outer edges of the hole—” he pointed—”on this side of the[Pg 114] cactus. They are the signs of repeated impact. And the scallop effect on this side, where whatever made the hole emerged. There are juices still oozing—not at the point of impact, where the plant is desiccated, but below, where the shock was transmitted—”

A distant shout turned us around. Burton was at the rock, beside the ship. He was bending down, his eye to the far side of the mysterious hole.

He looked for another second, then straightened and came toward us at a lope.

“They line up,” he said when he reached us. “The bottom of the hole in the cactus is right in the middle when you sight through the hole in the rock.”

“As if somebody came around and whacked the cactus regularly,” Janus said, looking around warily.

[Pg 115]

“To keep the line of sight through the holes clear?” I wondered. “Why not just remove the cactus?”

“Religious,” Janus explained.

The gauntlet he had discarded lay ignored on the ground, in the shadow of the cactus. We went on past the ridge toward an outcropping of rock about a hundred yards farther on. We walked silently, each of us wondering if what we half-expected would really be there.

It was. In one of the tall, weathered spires in the outcropping, some ten feet below its peak and four feet above the ground, was a round four-inch hole.

Allenby sat down on a rock, nursing his ankle, and remarked that anybody who believed this crazy business was really happening must have holes in the rocks in his head.

Burton put his eye to the hole[Pg 116] and whistled. “Sixty feet long if it’s an inch,” he said. “The other end’s just a pinpoint. But you can see it. The damn thing’s perfectly straight.”

I looked back the way we had come. The cactus stood on the ridge, with its U-shaped bite, and beyond was the ship, and beside it the perforated rock.

“If we surveyed,” I said, “I bet the holes would all line up right to the last millimeter.”

“But,” Randolph complained, “why would anybody go out and bore holes in things all along a line through the desert?”

“Religious,” Janus muttered. “It doesn’t have to make sense.”


We stood there by the outcropping and looked out along the wide, red desert beyond. It stretched flatly for miles from this point, south toward Mars’ equator—dead sandy wastes, crisscrossed by the “canals,” which we had observed while landing to be great straggly patches of vegetation, probably strung along underground waterflows.

BLONG-G-G-G- … st-st-st- …

We jumped half out of our skins. Ozone bit at our nostrils. Our hair stirred in the electrical uproar.

“L-look,” Janus chattered, lowering his smoking gun.

About forty feet to our left, a small rabbity creature poked its head from behind a rock and stared at us in utter horror.

Janus raised his gun again.

“Don’t bother,” said Allenby tiredly. “I don’t think it intends to attack.”

“But—”

“I’m sure it isn’t a Martian with religious convictions.”

Janus wet his lips and looked a little shamefaced. “I guess I’m kind of taut.”

“That’s what I taut,” said Allenby.

The creature darted from behind its rock and, looking at us over its shoulder, employed six legs to make small but very fast tracks.

We turned our attention again to the desert. Far out, black against Mars’ azure horizon, was a line of low hills.

“Shall we go look?” asked Burton, eyes gleaming at the mystery.

Janus hefted his gun nervously. It was still crackling faintly from the discharge. “I say let’s get back to the ship!”

Allenby sighed. “My leg hurts.” He studied the hills. “Give me the field-glasses.”

Randolph handed them over. Allenby put them to the shield of his mask and adjusted them.

After a moment he sighed again. “There’s a hole. On a[Pg 117] plane surface that catches the Sun. A lousy damned round little impossible hole.”

“Those hills,” Burton observed, “must be thousands of feet thick.”


The argument lasted all the way back to the ship.

Janus, holding out for his belief that the whole thing was of religious origin, kept looking around for Martians as if he expected them to pour screaming from the hills.

Burton came up with the suggestion that perhaps the holes had been made by a disintegrator-ray.

“It’s possible,” Allenby admitted. “This might have been the scene of some great battle—”

“With only one such weapon?” I objected.

Allenby swore as he stumbled. “What do you mean?”

“I haven’t seen any other lines of holes—only the one. In a battle, the whole joint should be cut up.

That was good for a few moments’ silent thought. Then Allenby said, “It might have been brought out by one side as a last resort. Sort of an ace in the hole.”

I resisted the temptation to mutiny. “But would even one such weapon, in battle make only one line of holes? Wouldn’t it be played in an arc against the enemy? You know it would.”

“Well—”

“Wouldn’t it cut slices out of the landscape, instead of boring holes? And wouldn’t it sway or vibrate enough to make the holes miles away from it something less than perfect circles?”

“It could have been very firmly mounted.”

“Hugh, does that sound like a practical weapon to you?”

Two seconds of silence. “On the other hand,” he said, “instead of a war, the whole thing might have been designed to frighten some primitive race—or even some kind of beast—the hole out of here. A demonstration—”

“Religious,” Janus grumbled, still looking around.

We walked on, passing the cactus on the low ridge.

“Interesting,” said Gonzales. “The evidence that whatever causes the phenomenon has happened again and again. I’m afraid that the war theory—”

“Oh, my God!” gasped Burton.

We stared at him.

“The ship,” he whispered. “It’s right in line with the holes! If whatever made them is still in operation….”

“Run!” yelled Allenby, and we ran like fiends.


We got the ship into the air, out of line with the holes to what we fervently hoped was[Pg 118] safety, and then we realized we were admitting our fear that the mysterious hole-maker might still be lurking around.

Well, the evidence was all for it, as Gonzales had reminded us—that cactus had been oozing.

We cruised at twenty thousand feet and thought it over.

Janus, whose only training was in photography, said, “Some kind of omnivorous animal? Or bird? Eats rocks and everything?”

“I will not totally discount the notion of such an animal,” Randolph said. “But I will resist to the death the suggestion that it forages with geometric precision.”

After a while, Allenby said, “Land, Burton. By that ‘canal.’ Lots of plant life—fauna, too. We’ll do a little collecting.”

Burton set us down feather-light at the very edge of the sprawling flat expanse of vegetation, commenting that the scene reminded him of his native Texas pear-flats.

We wandered in the chilly air, each of us except Burton pursuing his specialty. Randolph relentlessly stalked another of the rabbity creatures. Gonzales was carefully digging up plants and stowing them in jars. Janus was busy with his cameras, recording every aspect of Mars transferable to film. Allenby walked around, helping anybody who needed it. An astronomer, he’d done half his work on the way to Mars and would do the other half on the return trip. Burton lounged in the Sun, his back against a ship’s fin, and played chess with Allenby, who was calling out his moves in a bull roar. I grubbed for rocks.

My search took me farther and farther away from the others—all I could find around the ‘canal’ was gravel, and I wanted to chip at some big stuff. I walked toward a long rise a half-mile or so away, beyond which rose an enticing array of house-sized boulders.

As I moved out of earshot, I heard Randolph snarl, “Burton, will you stop yelling, ‘Kt to B-2 and check?’ Every time you open your yap, this critter takes off on me.”

Then I saw the groove.


It started right where the ground began to rise—a thin, shallow, curve-bottomed groove in the dirt at my feet, about half an inch across, running off straight toward higher ground.

With my eyes glued to it, I walked. The ground slowly rose. The groove deepened, widened—now it was about three inches across, about one and a half deep.

I walked on, holding my[Pg 119] breath. Four inches wide. Two inches deep.

The ground rose some more. Four and three-eighths inches wide. I didn’t have to measure it—I knew.

Now, as the ground rose, the edges of the groove began to curve inward over the groove. They touched. No more groove.

The ground had risen, the groove had stayed level and gone underground.

Except that now it wasn’t a groove. It was a round tunnel.

A hole.

A few paces farther on, I thumped the ground with my heel where the hole ought to be. The dirt crumbled, and there was the little dark tunnel, running straight in both directions.

I walked on, the ground falling away gradually again. The entire process was repeated in reverse. A hairline appeared in the dirt—widened—became lips that drew slowly apart to reveal the neat straight four-inch groove—which shrank as slowly to a shallow line of the ground—and vanished.

I looked ahead of me. There was one low ridge of ground between me and the enormous boulders. A neat four-inch semicircle was bitten out of the very top of the ridge. In the house-sized boulder directly beyond was a four-inch hole.


Allenby winced and called the others when I came back and reported.

“The mystery deepens,” he told them. He turned to me. “Lead on, Peters. You’re temporary drill leader.”

Thank God he didn’t say Fall in.

The holes went straight through the nest of boulders—there’d be a hole in one and, ten or twenty feet farther on in the next boulder, another hole. And then another, and another—right through the nest in a line. About thirty holes in all.

Burton, standing by the boulder I’d first seen, flashed his flashlight into the hole. Randolph, clear on the other side of the jumbled nest, eye to hole, saw it.

Straight as a string!

The ground sloped away on the far side of the nest—no holes were visible in that direction—just miles of desert. So, after we’d stared at the holes for a while and they didn’t go away, we headed back for the canal.

“Is there any possibility,” asked Janus, as we walked, “that it could be a natural phenomenon?”

“There are no straight lines in nature,” Randolph said, a little shortly. “That goes for a bunch of circles in a straight line. And for perfect circles, too.”[Pg 120]

“A planet is a circle,” objected Janus.

“An oblate spheroid,” Allenby corrected.

“A planet’s orbit—”

“An ellipse.”

Janus walked a few steps, frowning. Then he said, “I remember reading that there is something darned near a perfect circle in nature.” He paused a moment. “Potholes.” And he looked at me, as mineralogist, to corroborate.

“What kind of potholes?” I asked cautiously. “Do you mean where part of a limestone deposit has dissol—”

“No. I once read that when a glacier passes over a hard rock that’s lying on some softer rock, it grinds the hard rock down into the softer, and both of them sort of wear down to fit together, and it all ends up with a round hole in the soft rock.”

“Probably neither stone,” I told Janus, “would be homogenous. The softer parts would abrade faster in the soft stone. The end result wouldn’t be a perfect circle.”

Janus’s face fell.

“Now,” I said, “would anyone care to define this term ‘perfect circle’ we’re throwing around so blithely? Because such holes as Janus describes are often pretty damned round.”

Randolph said, “Well….”

“It is settled, then,” Gonzales said, a little sarcastically. “Your discussion, gentlemen, has established that the long, horizontal holes we have found were caused by glacial action.”

“Oh, no,” Janus argued seriously. “I once read that Mars never had any glaciers.”

All of us shuddered.


Half an hour later, we spotted more holes, about a mile down the ‘canal,’ still on a line, marching along the desert, through cacti, rocks, hills, even through one edge of the low vegetation of the ‘canal’ for thirty feet or so. It was the damnedest thing to bend down and look straight through all that curling, twisting growth … a round tunnel from either end.

We followed the holes for about a mile, to the rim of an enormous saucerlike valley that sank gradually before us until, miles away, it was thousands of feet deep. We stared out across it, wondering about the other side.

Allenby said determinedly, “We’ll burrow to the bottom of these holes, once and for all. Back to the ship, men!”

We hiked back, climbed in and took off.

At an altitude of fifty feet, Burton lined the nose of the ship on the most recent line of holes and we flew out over the valley.[Pg 121]

On the other side was a range of hefty hills. The holes went through them. Straight through. We would approach one hill—Burton would manipulate the front viewscreen until we spotted the hole—we would pass over the hill and spot the other end of the hole in the rear screen.

One hole was two hundred and eighty miles long.

Four hours later, we were halfway around Mars.

Randolph was sitting by a side port, chin on one hand, his eyes unbelieving. “All around the planet,” he kept repeating. “All around the planet….”

“Halfway at least,” Allenby mused. “And we can assume that it continues in a straight line, through anything and everything that gets in its way….” He gazed out the front port at the uneven blue-green haze of a ‘canal’ off to our left. “For the love of Heaven, why?”

Then Allenby fell down. We all did.

Burton had suddenly slapped at the control board, and the ship braked and sank like a plugged duck. At the last second, Burton propped up the nose with a short burst, the ten-foot wheels hit desert sand and in five hundred yards we had jounced to a stop.

Allenby got up from the floor. “Why did you do that?” he asked Burton politely, nursing a bruised elbow.

Burton’s nose was almost touching the front port. “Look!” he said, and pointed.

About two miles away, the Martian village looked like a handful of yellow marbles flung on the desert.


We checked our guns. We put on our oxygen-masks. We checked our guns again. We got out of the ship and made damned sure the airlock was locked.

An hour later, we crawled inch by painstaking inch up a high sand dune and poked our heads over the top.

The Martians were runts—the tallest of them less than five feet tall—and skinny as a pencil. Dried-up and brown, they wore loincloths of woven fiber.

They stood among the dusty-looking inverted-bowl buildings of their village, and every one of them was looking straight up at us with unblinking brown eyes.

The six safeties of our six guns clicked off like a rattle of dice. The Martians stood there and gawped.

“Probably a highly developed sense of hearing in this thin atmosphere,” Allenby murmured. “Heard us coming.”

“They thought that landing of Burton’s was an earthquake,”[Pg 122] Randolph grumbled sourly.

“Marsquake,” corrected Janus. One look at the village’s scrawny occupants seemed to have convinced him that his life was in no danger.

Holding the Martians covered, we examined the village from atop the thirty-foot dune.

The domelike buildings were constructed of something that looked like adobe. No windows—probably built with sandstorms in mind. The doors were about halfway up the sloping sides, and from each door a stone ramp wound down around the house to the ground—again with sandstorms in mind, no doubt, so drifting dunes wouldn’t block the entrances.

The center of the village was a wide street, a long sandy area some thirty feet wide. On either side of it, the houses were scattered at random, as if each Martian had simply hunted for a comfortable place to sit and then built a house around it.

“Look,” whispered Randolph.

One Martian had stepped from a group situated on the far side of the street from us. He started to cross the street, his round brown eyes on us, his small bare feet plodding sand, and we saw that in addition to a loincloth he wore jewelry—a hammered metal ring, a bracelet on one skinny ankle. The Sun caught a copperish gleam on his bald narrow head, and we saw a band of metal there, just above where his eyebrows should have been.

“The super-chief,” Allenby murmured. “Oh, shaman me!”

As the bejeweled Martian approached the center of the street, he glanced briefly at the ground at his feet. Then he raised his head, stepped with dignity across the exact center of the street and came on toward us, passing the dusty-looking buildings of his realm and the dusty-looking groups of his subjects.

He reached the slope of the dune we lay on, paused—and raised small hands over his head, palms toward us.

“I think,” Allenby said, “that an anthropologist would give odds on that gesture meaning peace.”

He stood up, holstered his gun—without buttoning the flap—and raised his own hands over his head. We all did.


The Martian language consisted of squeaks.

We made friendly noises, the chief squeaked and pretty soon we were the center of a group of wide-eyed Martians, none of whom made a sound. Evidently no one dared peep while the chief spoke—very likely the most articulate Martians simply squeaked themselves into the job. Al[Pg 123]lenby, of course, said they just squeaked by.

He was going through the business of drawing concentric circles in the sand, pointing at the third orbit away from the Sun and thumping his chest. The crowd around us kept growing as more Martians emerged from the dome buildings to see what was going on. Down the winding ramps of the buildings on our side of the wide, sandy street they came—and from the buildings on the other side of the street, plodding through the sand, blinking brown eyes at us, not making a sound.

Allenby pointed at the third orbit and thumped his chest. The chief squeaked and thumped his own chest and pointed at the copperish band around his head. Then he pointed at Allenby.

“I seem to have conveyed to him,” Allenby said dryly, “the fact that I’m chief of our party. Well, let’s try again.”

He started over on the orbits. He didn’t seem to be getting anyplace, so the rest of us watched the Martians instead. A last handful was straggling across the wide street.

“Curious,” said Gonzales. “Note what happens when they reach the center of the street.”

Each Martian, upon reaching the center of the street, glanced at his feet—just for a moment—without even breaking stride. And then came on.

“What can they be looking at?” Gonzales wondered.

“The chief did it too,” Burton mused. “Remember when he first came toward us?”

We all stared intently at the middle of the street. We saw absolutely nothing but sand.

The Martians milled around us and watched Allenby and his orbits. A Martian child appeared from between two buildings across the street. On six-inch legs, it started across, got halfway, glanced downward—and came on.

“I don’t get it,” Burton said. “What in hell are they looking at?”

The child reached the crowd and squeaked a thin, high note.

A number of things happened at once.


Several members of the group around us glanced down, and along the edge of the crowd nearest the center of the street there was a mild stir as individuals drifted off to either side. Quite casually—nothing at all urgent about it. They just moved concertedly to get farther away from the center of the street, not taking their interested gaze off us for one second in the process.

Even the chief glanced up from[Pg 124] Allenby’s concentric circles at the child’s squeak. And Randolph, who had been fidgeting uncomfortably and paying very little attention to our conversation, decided that he must answer Nature’s call. He moved off into the dunes surrounding the village. Or rather, he started to move.

The moment he set off across the wide street, the little Martian chief was in front of him, brown eyes wide, hands out before him as if to thrust Randolph back.

Again six safeties clicked. The Martians didn’t even blink at the sudden appearance of our guns. Probably the only weapon they recognized was a club, or maybe a rock.

“What can the matter be?” Randolph said.

He took another step forward. The chief squeaked and stood his ground. Randolph had to stop or bump into him. Randolph stopped.

The chief squeaked, looking right into the bore of Randolph’s gun.

“Hold still,” Allenby told Randolph, “till we know what’s up.”

Allenby made an interrogative sound at the chief. The chief squeaked and pointed at the ground. We looked. He was pointing at his shadow.

Randolph stirred uncomfortably.

“Hold still,” Allenby warned him, and again he made the questioning sound.

The chief pointed up the street. Then he pointed down the street. He bent to touch his shadow, thumping it with thin fingers. Then he pointed at the wall of a house nearby.

We all looked.

Straight lines had been painted on the curved brick-colored wall, up and down and across, to form many small squares about four inches across. In each square was a bit of squiggly writing, in blackish paint, and a small wooden peg jutting out from the wall.

Burton said, “Looks like a damn crossword puzzle.”

“Look,” said Janus. “In the lower right corner—a metal ring hanging from one of the pegs.”


And that was all we saw on the wall. Hundreds of squares with figures in them—a small peg set in each—and a ring hanging on one of the pegs.

“You know what?” Allenby said slowly. “I think it’s a calendar! Just a second—thirty squares wide by twenty-two high—that’s six hundred and sixty. And that bottom line has twenty-six—twenty-seven squares. Six hundred and eighty-seven squares in all. That’s how many days there are in the Martian year!”[Pg 125]

He looked thoughtfully at the metal ring. “I’ll bet that ring is hanging from the peg in the square that represents today. They must move it along every day, to keep track….”

“What’s a calendar got to do with my crossing the street?” Randolph asked in a pained tone.

He started to take another step. The chief squeaked as if it were a matter of desperate concern that he make us understand. Randolph stopped again and swore impatiently.

Allenby made his questioning sound again.

The chief pointed emphatically at his shadow, then at the communal calendar—and we could see now that he was pointing at the metal ring.

Burton said slowly, “I think he’s trying to tell us that this is today. And such-and-such a time of day. I bet he’s using his shadow as a sundial.”

“Perhaps,” Allenby granted.

Randolph said, “If this monkey doesn’t let me go in another minute—”

The chief squeaked, eyes concerned.

“Stand still,” Allenby ordered. “He’s trying to warn you of some danger.”

The chief pointed down the street again and, instead of squealing, revealed that there was another sound at his command. He said, “Whooooooosh!”

We all stared at the end of the street.


Nothing! Just the wide avenue between the houses, and the high sand dune down at the end of it, from which we had first looked upon the village.

The chief described a large circle with one hand, sweeping the hand above his head, down to his knees, up again, as fast as he could. He pursed his monkey-lips and said, “Whooooooosh!” And made the circle again.

A Martian emerged from the door in the side of a house across the avenue and blinked at the Sun, as if he had just awakened. Then he saw what was going on below and blinked again, this time in interest. He made his way down around the winding lamp and started to cross the street.

About halfway, he paused, eyed the calendar on the house wall, glanced at his shadow. Then he got down on his hands and knees and crawled across the middle of the street. Once past the middle, he rose, walked the rest of the way to join one of the groups and calmly stared at us along with the rest of them.

“They’re all crazy,” Randolph said disgustedly. “I’m going to cross that street!”

“Shut up. So it’s a certain time[Pg 126] of a certain day,” Allenby mused. “And from the way the chief is acting, he’s afraid for you to cross the street. And that other one just crawled. By God, do you know what this might tie in with?”

We were silent for a moment. Then Gonzales said, “Of course!”

And Burton said, “The holes!”

“Exactly,” said Allenby. “Maybe whatever made—or makes—the holes comes right down the center of the street here. Maybe that’s why they built the village this way—to make room for—”

“For what?” Randolph asked unhappily, shifting his feet.

“I don’t know,” Allenby said. He looked thoughtfully at the chief. “That circular motion he made—could he have been describing something that went around and around the planet? Something like—oh, no!” Allenby’s eyes glazed. “I wouldn’t believe it in a million years.”

His gaze went to the far end of the street, to the high sand dune that rose there. The chief seemed to be waiting for something to happen.

“I’m going to crawl,” Randolph stated. He got to his hands and knees and began to creep across the center of the avenue.

The chief let him go.

The sand dune at the end of the street suddenly erupted. A forty-foot spout of dust shot straight out from the sloping side, as if a bullet had emerged. Powdered sand hazed the air, yellowed it almost the full length of the avenue. Grains of sand stung the skin and rattled minutely on the houses.

WhoooSSSHHHHH!

Randolph dropped flat on his belly. He didn’t have to continue his trip. He had made other arrangements.


That night in the ship, while we all sat around, still shaking our heads every once in a while, Allenby talked with Earth. He sat there, wearing the headphones, trying to make himself understood above the godawful static.

“… an exceedingly small body,” he repeated wearily to his unbelieving audience, “about four inches in diameter. It travels at a mean distance of four feet above the surface of the planet, at a velocity yet to be calculated. Its unique nature results in many hitherto unobserved—I might say even unimagined—phenomena.” He stared blankly in front of him for a moment, then delivered the understatement of his life. “The discovery may necessitate a re-examination of many of our basic postulates in the physical sciences.”

The headphones squawked.[Pg 127]

Patiently, Allenby assured Earth that he was entirely serious, and reiterated the results of his observations. I suppose that he, an astronomer, was twice as flabbergasted as the rest of us. On the other hand, perhaps he was better equipped to adjust to the evidence.

“Evidently,” he said, “when the body was formed, it traveled at such fantastic velocity as to enable it to—” his voice was almost a whisper—”to punch holes in things.”

The headphones squawked.

“In rocks,” Allenby said, “in mountains, in anything that got in its way. And now the holes form a large portion of its fixed orbit.”

Squawk.

“Its mass must be on the order of—”

Squawk.

“—process of making the holes slowed it, so that now it travels just fast enough—”

Squawk.

“—maintain its orbit and penetrate occasional objects such as—”

Squawk.

“—and sand dunes—”

Squawk.

“My God, I know it’s a mathematical monstrosity,” Allenby snarled. “I didn’t put it there!”

Squawk.

Allenby was silent for a moment. Then he said slowly, “A name?”

Squawk.

“H’m,” said Allenby. “Well, well.” He appeared to brighten just a little. “So it’s up to me, as leader of the expedition, to name it?”

Squawk.

“Well, well,” he said.

That chop-licking tone was in his voice. We’d heard it all too often before. We shuddered, waiting.

“Inasmuch as Mars’ outermost moon is called Deimos, and the next Phobos,” he said, “I think I shall name the third moon of Mars—Bottomos.”

—JEROME BIXBY









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SF79The Draw by Jerome Bixby闫盼盼OpenCV步步精深

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Title: The Draw



Author: Jerome Bixby



Illustrator: Wm. Ashman



Release Date: March 25, 2010 [EBook #31778]



Language: English



Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1



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Transcriber’s Note:

This etext was produced from Amazing Stories March 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

 

 

 

 

THE DRAW

 

BY JEROME BIXBY

 

Illustrator: Wm. Ashman

 

 

Stories of the old West were filled with bad men who lived by the speed of their gun hand. Well, meet Buck Tarrant, who could outdraw them all. His secret: he didn’t even have to reach for his weapon….


J

oe Doolin’s my name. Cowhand—work for old Farrel over at Lazy F beyond the Pass. Never had much of anything exciting happen to me—just punched cows and lit up on payday—until the day I happened to ride through the Pass on my way to town and saw young Buck Tarrant’s draw.

Now, Buck’d always been a damn good shot. Once he got his gun in his hand he could put a bullet right where he wanted it up to twenty paces, and within an inch of his aim up to a hundred feet. But Lord God, he couldn’t draw to save his life—I’d seen him a couple of times before in the Pass, trying to. He’d face a tree and go into a crouch, and I’d know he was pretending the tree was Billy the Kid or somebody, and then he’d slap leather—and his clumsy hand would wallop his gunbutt, he’d yank like hell, his old Peacemaker would come staggering out of his holster like a bear in heat, and finally he’d line on his target and plug it dead center. But the whole business took about a second and a half, and by the time he’d ever finished his fumbling in a real fight, Billy the Kid or Sheriff Ben Randolph over in town or even me, Joe Doolin, could have cut him in half.

So this time, when I was riding along through the Pass, I saw Buck upslope from me under the trees, and I just grinned and didn’t pay too much attention.

He stood facing an old elm tree, and I could see he’d tacked a playing card about four feet up the trunk, about where a man’s heart would be.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw him go into his gunman’s crouch. He was about sixty feet away from me, and, like I said, I wasn’t paying much mind to him.

I heard the shot, flat down the rocky slope that separated us. I grinned again, picturing that fumbly draw of his, the wild slap at leather, the gun coming out drunklike, maybe even him dropping it—I’d seen him do that once or twice.

It got me to thinking about him, as I rode closer.


He was a bad one. Nobody said any different than that. Just bad. He was a bony runt of about eighteen, with bulging eyes and a wide mouth that was always turned down at the corners. He got his nickname Buck because he had buck teeth, not because he was heap man. He was some handy with his fists, and he liked to pick ruckuses with kids he was sure he could lick. But the tipoff on Buck is that he’d bleat like a two-day calf to get out of mixing with somebody he was scared of—which meant somebody his own size or bigger. He’d jaw his way out of it, or just turn and slink away with his tail along his belly. His dad had died a couple years before, and he lived with his ma on a small ranch out near the Pass. The place was falling to pieces, because Buck wouldn’t lift a hand to do any work around—his ma just couldn’t handle him at all. Fences were down, and the yard was all weedgrown, and the house needed some repairs—but all Buck ever did was hang around town, trying to rub up against some of the tough customers who drank in the Once Again Saloon, or else he’d ride up and lie around under the trees along the top of the Pass and just think—or, like he was today, he’d practise drawing and throwing down on trees and rocks.

Guess he always wanted to be tough. Really tough. He tried to walk with tough men, and, as we found out later, just about all he ever thought about while he was lying around was how he could be tougher than the next two guys. Maybe you’ve known characters like that—for some damfool reason they just got to be able to whup anybody who comes along, and they feel low and mean when they can’t, as if the size of a man’s fist was the size of the man.

So that’s Buck Tarrant—a halfsized, poisonous, no-good kid who wanted to be a hardcase.

But he’d never be, not in a million years. That’s what made it funny—and kind of pitiful too. There wasn’t no real strength in him, only a scared hate. It takes guts as well as speed to be tough with a gun, and Buck was just a nasty little rat of a kid who’d probably always counterpunch his way through life when he punched at all. He’d kite for cover if you lifted a lip.

I heard another shot, and looked up the slope. I was near enough now to see that the card he was shooting at was a ten of diamonds—and that he was plugging the pips one by one. Always could shoot, like I said.


Then he heard me coming, and whirled away from the tree, his gun holstered, his hand held out in front of him like he must have imagined Hickock or somebody held it when he was ready to draw.

I stopped my horse about ten feet away and just stared at him. He looked real funny in his baggy old levis and dirty checkered shirt and that big gun low on his hip, and me knowing he couldn’t handle it worth a damn.

“Who you trying to scare, Buck?” I said. I looked him up and down and snickered. “You look about as dangerous as a sheepherder’s wife.”

“And you’re a son of a bitch,” he said.

I stiffened and shoved out my jaw. “Watch that, runt, or I’ll get off and put my foot in your mouth and pull you on like a boot!”

“Will you now,” he said nastily, “you son of a bitch?”

And he drew on me … and I goddam near fell backwards off my saddle!

I swear, I hadn’t even seen his hand move, he’d drawn so fast! That gun just practically appeared in his hand!

“Will you now?” he said again, and the bore of his gun looked like a greased gate to hell.

I sat in my saddle scared spitless, wondering if this was when I was going to die. I moved my hands out away from my body, and tried to look friendlylike—actually, I’d never tangled with Buck, just razzed him a little now and then like everybody did; and I couldn’t see much reason why he’d want to kill me.

But the expression on his face was full of gloating, full of wildness, full of damn-you recklessness—exactly the expression you’d look to find on a kid like Buck who suddenly found out he was the deadliest gunman alive.

And that’s just what he was, believe me.

Once I saw Bat Masterson draw—and he was right up there with the very best. Could draw and shoot accurately in maybe half a second or so—you could hardly see his hand move; you just heard the slap of hand on gunbutt, and a split-second later the shot. It takes a lot of practise to be able to get a gun out and on target in that space of time, and that’s what makes gunmen. Practise, and a knack to begin with. And, I guess, the yen to be a gunman, like Buck Tarrant’d always had.

When I saw Masterson draw against Jeff Steward in Abilene, it was that way—slap, crash, and Steward was three-eyed. Just a blur of motion.

But when Buck Tarrant drew on me, right now in the Pass, I didn’t see any motion atall. He just crouched, and then his gun was on me. Must have done it in a millionth of a second, if a second has millionths.

It was the fastest draw I’d ever seen. It was, I reckoned, the fastest draw anybody’s ever seen. It was an impossibly fast draw—a man’s hand just couldn’t move to his holster that fast, and grab and drag a heavy Peacemaker up in a two foot arc that fast.

It was plain damn impossible—but there it was.

And there I was.


I didn’t say a word. I just sat and thought about things, and my horse wandered a little farther up the slope and then stopped to chomp grass. All the time, Buck Tarrant was standing there, poised, that wild gloating look in his eyes, knowing he could kill me anytime and knowing I knew it.

When he spoke, his voice was shaky—it sounded like he wanted to bust out laughing, and not a nice laugh either.

“Nothing to say, Doolin?” he said. “Pretty fast, huh?”

I said, “Yeah, Buck. Pretty fast.” And my voice was shaky too, but not because I felt like laughing any.

He spat, eying me arrogantly. The ground rose to where he stood, and our heads were about on a level. But I felt he was looking down.

“Pretty fast!” he sneered. “Faster’n anybody!”

“I reckon it is, at that,” I said.

“Know how I do it?”

“No.”

“I think, Doolin. I think my gun into my hand. How d’you like that?”

“It’s awful fast, Buck.”

“I just think, and my gun is there in my hand. Some draw, huh!”

“Sure is.”

“You’re damn right it is, Doolin. Faster’n anybody!”

I didn’t know what his gabbling about “thinking his gun into his hand” meant—at least not then, I didn’t—but I sure wasn’t minded to question him on it. He looked wild-eyed enough right now to start taking bites out of the nearest tree.

He spat again and looked me up and down. “You know, you can go to hell, Joe Doolin. You’re a lousy, God damn, white-livered son of a bitch.” He grinned coldly.

Not an insult, I knew now, but a deliberate taunt. I’d broken jaws for a lot less—I’m no runt, and I’m quick enough to hand back crap if some lands on me. But now I wasn’t interested.

He saw I was mad, though, and stood waiting.

“You’re fast enough, Buck,” I said, “so I got no idea of trying you. You want to murder me, I guess I can’t stop you—but I ain’t drawing. No, sir, that’s for sure.”

“And a coward to boot,” he jeered.

“Maybe,” I said. “Put yourself in my place, and ask yourself why in hell I should kill myself?”

“Yellow!” he snarled, looking at me with his bulging eyes full of meanness and confidence.

My shoulders got tight, and it ran down along my gun arm. I never took that from a man before.

“I won’t draw,” I said. “Reckon I’ll move on instead, if you’ll let me.”

And I picked up my reins, moving my hands real careful-like, and turned my horse around and started down the slope. I could feel his eyes on me, and I was half-waiting for a bullet in the back. But it didn’t come. Instead Buck Tarrant called, “Doolin!”

I turned my head. “Yeah?”

He was standing there in the same position. Somehow he reminded me of a crazy, runt wolf—his eyes were almost yellowish, and when he talked he moved his lips too much, mouthing his words, and his big crooked teeth flashed in the sun. I guess all the hankering for toughness in him was coming out—he was acting now like he’d always wanted to—cocky, unafraid, mean—because now he wore a bigger gun than anybody. It showed all over him, like poison coming out of his skin.

“Doolin,” he called. “I’ll be in town around three this afternoon. Tell Ben Randolph for me that he’s a son of a bitch. Tell him he’s a dunghead sheriff. Tell him he’d better look me up when I get there, or else get outa town and stay out. You got that?”

“I got it, Buck.”

“Call me Mr. Tarrant, you Irish bastard.”

“Okay … Mr. Tarrant,” I said, and reached the bottom of the slope and turned my horse along the road through the Pass. About a hundred yards farther on, I hipped around in the saddle and looked back. He was practising again—the crouch, the fantastic draw, the shot.

I rode on toward town, to tell Ben Randolph he’d either have to run or die.


Ben was a lanky, slab-sided Texan who’d come up north on a drive ten years before and liked the Arizona climate and stayed. He was a good sheriff—tough enough to handle most men, and smart enough to handle the rest. Fourteen years of it had kept him lean and fast.

When I told him about Buck, I could see he didn’t know whether he was tough or smart or fast enough to get out of this one.

He leaned back in his chair and started to light his pipe, and then stared at the match until it burned his fingers without touching it to the tobacco.

“You sure, Joe?” he said.

“Ben, I saw it four times. At first I just couldn’t believe my eyes—but I tell you, he’s fast. He’s faster’n you or me or Hickock or anybody. God knows where he got it, but he’s got the speed.”

“But,” Ben Randolph said, lighting another match, “it just don’t happen that way.” His voice was almost mildly complaining. “Not overnight. Gunspeed’s something you work on—it comes slow, mighty slow. You know that. How in hell could Buck Tarrant turn into a fire-eating gunslinger in a few days?” He paused and puffed. “You sure, Joe?” he asked again, through a cloud of smoke.

“Yes.”

“And he wants me.”

“That’s what he said.”

Ben Randolph sighed. “He’s a bad kid, Joe—just a bad kid. If his father hadn’t died, I reckon he might have turned out better. But his mother ain’t big enough to wallop his butt the way it needs.”

“You took his gun away from him a couple times, didn’t you, Ben?”

“Yeah. And ran him outa town too, when he got too pestiferous. Told him to get the hell home and help his ma.”

“Guess that’s why he wants you.”

“That. And because I’m sheriff. I’m the biggest gun around here, and he don’t want to start at the bottom, not him. He’s gonna show the world right away.”

“He can do it, Ben.”

He sighed again. “I know. If what you say’s true, he can sure show me anyhow. Still, I got to take him up on it. You know that. I can’t leave town.”

I looked at his hand lying on his leg—the fingers were trembling. He curled them into a fist, and the fist trembled.

“You ought to, Ben,” I said.

“Of course I ought to,” he said, a little savagely. “But I can’t. Why, what’d happen to this town if I was to cut and run? Is there anyone else who could handle him? Hell, no.”

“A crazy galoot like that,” I said slowly, “if he gets too damn nasty, is bound to get kilt.” I hesitated. “Even in the back, if he’s too good to take from the front.”

“Sure,” Ben Randolph said. “Sooner or later. But what about meantime?… how many people will he have to kill before somebody gets angry or nervy enough to kill him? That’s my job, Joe—to take care of this kind of thing. Those people he’d kill are depending on me to get between him and them. Don’t you see?”


I got up. “Sure, Ben, I see. I just wish you didn’t.”

He let out another mouthful of smoke. “You got any idea what he meant about thinking his gun into his hand?”

“Not the slightest. Some crazy explanation he made up to account for his sudden speed, I reckon.”

Another puff. “You figure I’m a dead man, Joe, huh?”

“It looks kind of that way.”

“Yeah, it kind of does, don’t it?”

At four that afternoon Buck Tarrant came riding into town like he owned it. He sat his battered old saddle like a rajah on an elephant, and he held his right hand low beside his hip in an exaggerated gunman’s stance. With his floppy hat over at a cocky angle, and his big eyes and scrawny frame, he’d have looked funny as hell trying to look like a tough hombre—except that he was tough now, and everybody in town knew it because I’d warned them. Otherwise somebody might have jibed him, and the way things were now, that could lead to a sudden grave.

Nobody said a word all along the street as he rode to the hitchrail in front of the Once Again and dismounted. There wasn’t many people around to say anything—most everybody was inside, and all you could see of them was a shadow of movement behind a window there, the flutter of a curtain there.

Only a few men sat in chairs along the boardwalks under the porches, or leaned against the porchposts, and they just sort of stared around, looking at Buck for a second and then looking off again if he turned toward them.

I was standing near to where Buck hitched up. He swaggered up the steps of the saloon, his right hand poised, his bulging eyes full of hell.

“You tell him?” he asked.

I nodded. “He’ll look you up, like you said.”

Buck laughed shortly. “I’ll be waiting. I don’t like that lanky bastard. I reckon I got some scores to settle with him.” He looked at me, and his face twisted into what he thought was a tough snarl. Funny—you could see he really wasn’t tough down inside. There wasn’t any hard core of confidence and strength. His toughness was in his holster, and all the rest of him was acting to match up to it.

“You know,” he said, “I don’t like you either, Irish. Maybe I oughta kill you. Hell, why not?”

Now, the only reason I’d stayed out of doors that afternoon was I figured Buck had already had one chance to kill me and hadn’t done it, so I must be safe. That’s what I figured—he had nothing against me, so I was safe. And I had an idea that maybe, when the showdown came, I might be able to help out Ben Randolph somehow—if anything on God’s Earth could help him.

Now, though, I wished to hell I hadn’t stayed outside. I wished I was behind one of them windows, looking out at somebody else get told by Buck Tarrant that maybe he oughta kill him.

“But I won’t,” Buck said, grinning nastily. “Because you done me a favor. You run off and told the sheriff just like I told you—just like the goddam white-livered Irish sheepherder you are. Ain’t that so?”

I nodded, my jaw set so hard with anger that the flesh felt stretched.

He waited for me to move against him. When I didn’t, he laughed and swaggered to the door of the saloon. “Come on, Irish,” he said over his shoulder. “I’ll buy you a drink of the best.”

I followed him in, and he went over to the bar, walking heavy, and looked old Menner right in the eye and said, “Give me a bottle of the best stuff you got in the house.”


Menner looked at the kid he’d kicked out of his place a dozen times, and his face was white. He reached behind him and got a bottle and put it on the bar.

“Two glasses,” said Buck Tarrant.

Menner carefully put two glasses on the bar.

Clean glasses.”

Menner polished two other glasses on his apron and set them down.

“You don’t want no money for this likker, do you, Menner?” Buck asked.

“No, sir.”

“You’d just take it home and spend it on that fat heifer of a wife you got, and on them two little halfwit brats, wouldn’t you?”

Menner nodded.

“Hell, they really ain’t worth the trouble, are they?”

“No, sir.”

Buck snickered and poured two shots and handed me one. He looked around the saloon and saw that it was almost empty—just Menner behind the bar, and a drunk asleep with his head on his arms at a table near the back, and a little gent in fancy town clothes fingering his drink at a table near the front window and not even looking at us.

“Where is everybody?” he asked Menner.

“Why, sir, I reckon they’re home, most of them,” Menner said. “It being a hot day and all—”

“Bet it’ll get hotter,” Buck said, hard.

“Yes, sir.”

“I guess they didn’t want to really feel the heat, huh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, it’s going to get so hot, you old bastard, that everybody’ll feel it. You know that?”

“If you say so, sir.”

“It might even get hot for you. Right now even. What do you think of that, huh?”

“I—I—”

“You thrun me outa here a couple times, remember?”

“Y-yes … but I—”

“Look at this!” Buck said—and his gun was in his hand, and he didn’t seem to have moved at all, not an inch. I was looking right at him when he did it—his hand was on the bar, resting beside his shotglass, and then suddenly his gun was in it and pointing right at old Menner’s belly.

“You know,” Buck said, grinning at how Menner’s fear was crawling all over his face, “I can put a bullet right where I want to. Wanta see me do it?”

His gun crashed, and flame leaped across the bar, and the mirror behind the bar had a spiderweb of cracks radiating from a round black hole.

Menner stood there, blood leaking down his neck from a split earlobe.

Buck’s gun went off again, and the other earlobe was a red tatter.

And Buck’s gun was back in its holster with the same speed it had come out—I just couldn’t see his hand move.

“That’s enough for now,” he told Menner. “This is right good likker, and I guess I got to have somebody around to push it across the bar for me, and you’re as good as anybody to do jackass jobs like that.”


He didn’t ever look at Menner again. The old man leaned back against the shelf behind the bar, trembling, two trickles of red running down his neck and staining his shirt collar—I could see he wanted to touch the places where he’d been shot, to see how bad they were or just to rub at the pain, but he was afraid to raise a hand. He just stood there, looking sick.

Buck was staring at the little man in town clothes, over by the window. The little man had reared back at the shots, and now he was sitting up in his chair, his eyes straight on Buck. The table in front of him was wet where he’d spilled his drink when he’d jumped.

Buck looked at the little guy’s fancy clothes and small mustache and grinned. “Come on,” he said to me, and picked up his drink and started across the floor. “Find out who the dude is.”

He pulled out a chair and sat down—and I saw he was careful to sit facing the front door, and also where he could see out the window.

I pulled out another chair and sat.

“Good shooting, huh?” Buck asked the little guy.

“Yes,” said the little guy. “Very fine shooting. I confess, it quite startled me.”

Buck laughed harshly. “Startled the old guy too….” He raised his voice. “Ain’t that right, Menner? Wasn’t you startled?”

“Yes, sir,” came Menner’s pain-filled voice from the bar.

Buck looked back at the little man—let his insolent gaze travel up and down the fancy waistcoat, the string tie, the sharp face with its mustache and narrow mouth and black eyes. He looked longest at the eyes, because they didn’t seem to be scared.

He looked at the little guy, and the little guy looked at Buck, and finally Buck looked away. He tried to look wary as he did it, as if he was just fixing to make sure that nobody was around to sneak-shoot him—but you could see he’d been stared down.

When he looked back at the little guy, he was scowling. “Who’re you, mister?” he said. “I never seen you before.”

“My name is Jacob Pratt, sir. I’m just traveling through to San Francisco. I’m waiting for the evening stage.”

“Drummer?”

“Excuse me?”

For a second Buck’s face got ugly. “You heard me, mister. You a drummer?”

“I heard you, young man, but I don’t quite understand. Do you mean, am I a musician? A performer upon the drums?”

“No, you goddam fool—I mean, what’re you selling? Snake-bite medicine? Likker? Soap?”

“Why—I’m not selling anything. I’m a professor, sir.”

“Well, I’ll be damned.” Buck looked at him a little more carefully. “A perfessor, huh? Of what?”

“Of psychology, sir.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the study of man’s behavior—of the reasons why we act as we do.”

Buck laughed again, and it was more of a snarl. “Well, perfessor, you just stick around here then, and I’ll show you some real reasons for people acting as they do! From now on, I’m the big reason in this town … they’ll jump when I yell frog, or else!”

His hand was flat on the table in front of him—and suddenly his Peacemaker was in it, pointing at the professor’s fourth vest button. “See what I mean huh?”

The little man blinked. “Indeed I do,” he said, and stared at the gun as if hypnotized. Funny, though—he still didn’t seem scared—just a lot interested.


Sitting there and just listening, I thought about something else funny—how they were both just about of a size, Buck and the professor, and so strong in different ways: with the professor, you felt he was strong inside—a man who knew a lot, about things and about himself—while with Buck it was all on the outside, on the surface: he was just a milksop kid with a deadly sting.

Buck was still looking at the professor, as carefully as he had before. He seemed to hesitate for a second, his mouth twisting. Then he said, “You’re an eddicated man, ain’t you? I mean, you studied a lot. Ain’t that right?”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“Well….” Again Buck seemed to hesitate. The gun in his hand lowered until the end of the barrel rested on the table. “Look,” he said slowly, “maybe you can tell me how in hell….”

When he didn’t go on, the professor said, “Yes?”

“Nothing.”

“You were going to say—?”

Buck looked at him, his bulging eyes narrowed, the gunman’s smirk on his lips again. “Are you telling me what’s true and what ain’t,” he said softly, “with my gun on you?”

“Does the gun change anything?”

Buck tapped the heavy barrel on the table. “I say it changes a hell of a lot of things.” Tap went the barrel. “You wanta argue?”

“Not with the gun,” the professor said calmly. “It always wins. I’ll talk with you, however, if you’ll talk with your mouth instead of with the gun.”


By this time I was filled with admiration for the professor’s guts, and fear that he’d get a bullet in them … I was all set to duck, in case Buck should lose his temper and start throwing lead.

But suddenly Buck’s gun was back in his holster. I saw the professor blink again in astonishment.

“You know,” Buck said, grinning loosely, “you got a lotta nerve, professor. Maybe you can tell me what I wanta know.”

He didn’t look at the little man while he talked—he was glancing around, being “wary” again. And grinning that grin at the same time. You could see he was off-balance—he was acting like everything was going on just like he wanted it; but actually the professor had beaten him again, words against the gun, eyes against eyes.

The professor’s dark eyes were level on Buck’s right now. “What is it you want to know?”

“This—” Buck said, and his gun was in his hand again, and it was the first time when he did it that his face stayed sober and kind of stupid-looking, his normal expression, instead of getting wild and dangerous. “How—do you know how do I do it?”

“Well,” the professor said, “suppose you give me your answer first, if you have one. It might be the right one.”


“I—” Buck shook his head—”Well, it’s like I think the gun into my hand. It happened the first time this morning. I was standing out in the Pass where I always practise drawing, and I was wishing I could draw faster’n anybody who ever lived—I was wishing I could just get my gun outa leather in no time atall. And—” the gun was back in his holster in the blink of an eye—”that’s how it happened. My gun was in my hand. Just like that. I didn’t even reach for it—I was just getting set to draw, and had my hand out in front of me … and my gun was in my hand before I knew what’d happened. God, I was so surprised I almost fell over!”

“I see,” said the professor slowly. “You think it into your hand?”

“Yeah, kind of.”

“Would you do it now, please?” And the professor leaned forward so he could see Buck’s holster, eyes intent.

Buck’s gun appeared in his hand.

The professor let out a long breath. “Now think it back into its holster.”

It was there.

“You did not move your arm either time,” said the professor.

“That’s right,” said Buck.

“The gun was just suddenly in your hand instead of in your holster. And then it was back in the holster.”

“Right.”

“Telekinesis,” said the professor, almost reverently.

“Telewhat?”

“Telekinesis—the moving of material objects by mental force.” The professor leaned back and studied the holstered gun. “It must be that. I hardly dared think if at first—the first time you did it. But the thought did occur to me. And now I’m virtually certain!”

“How do you say it?”

“T-e-l-e-k-i-n-e-s-i-s.”

“Well, how do I do it?”

“I can’t answer that. Nobody knows. It’s been the subject of many experiments, and there are many reported happenings—but I’ve never heard of any instance even remotely as impressive as this.” The professor leaned across the table again. “Can you do it with other things, young man?”

“What other things?”

“That bottle on the bar, for example.”

“Never tried.”

“Try.”

Buck stared at the bottle.

It wavered. Just a little. Rocked, and settled back.

Buck stared harder, eyes bulging.

The bottle shivered. That was all.

“Hell,” Buck said. “I can’t seem to—to get ahold of it with my mind, like I can with my gun.”

“Try moving this glass on the table,” the professor said, “It’s smaller, and closer.”


Buck stared at the glass. It moved a fraction of an inch across the tabletop. No more.

Buck snarled like a dog and swatted the glass with his hand, knocking it halfway across the room.

“Possibly,” the professor said, after a moment, “you can do it with your gun because you want to so very badly. The strength of your desire releases—or creates—whatever psychic forces are necessary to perform the act.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Young man, suppose you try to transport your gun to—say, to the top of the bar.”

“Why?” Buck asked suspiciously.

“I want to see whether distance is a factor where the gun is concerned. Whether you can place the gun that far away from you, or whether the power operates only when you want your gun in your hand.”

“No,” Buck said in an ugly voice. “Damn if I will. I’d maybe get my gun over, there and not be able to get it back, and then you’d jump me—the two of you. I ain’t minded to experiment around too much, thank you.”

“All right,” the professor said, as if he didn’t care. “The suggestion was purely in the scientific spirit—”

“Sure,” said Buck. “Sure. Just don’t get any more scientific, or I’ll experiment on how many holes you can get in you before you die.”

The professor sat back in his chair and looked Buck right in the eye. After a second, Buck looked away, scowling.

Me, I hadn’t said a word the whole while, and I wasn’t talking now.

“Wonder where that goddam yellow-bellied sheriff is?” Buck said. He looked out the window, then glanced sharply at me. “He said he’d come, huh?”

“Yeah.” When I was asked, I’d talk.

We sat in silence for a few moments.

The professor said, “Young man, you wouldn’t care to come with me to San Francisco, would you? I and my colleagues would be very grateful for the opportunity to investigate this strange gift of yours—we would even be willing to pay you for your time and—”

Buck laughed. “Why, hell, I reckon I got bigger ideas’n that, mister! Real big ideas. There’s no man alive I can’t beat with a gun! I’m going to take Billy the Kid … Hickock … all of them! I’m going to get myself a rep bigger’n all theirs put together. Why, when I walk into a saloon, they’ll hand me likker. I walk into a bank, they’ll give me the place. No lawman from Canada to Mexico will even stay in the same town with me! Hell, what could you give me, you goddam little dude?”

The professor shrugged. “Nothing that would satisfy you.”

“That’s right.” Suddenly Buck stiffened, looking out the window. He got up, his bulging blue eyes staring down at us. “Randolph’s coming down the street! You two just stay put, and maybe—just maybe—I’ll let you live. Professor, I wanta talk to you some more about this telekinesis stuff. Maybe I can get even faster than I am, or control my bullets better at long range. So you be here, get that?”


He turned and walked out the door.

The professor said, “He’s not sane.”

“Nutty as a locoed steer,” I said. “Been that way for a long time. An ugly shrimp who hates everything—and now he’s in the saddle holding the reins, and some people are due to get rode down.” I looked curiously at him. “Look, professor—this telekinesis stuff—is all that on the level?”

“Absolutely.”

“He just thinks his gun into his hand?”

“Exactly.”

“Faster than anyone could ever draw it?”

“Inconceivably faster. The time element is almost non-existent.”

I got up, feeling worse than I’d ever felt in my life. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s see what happens.”

As if there was any doubt about what was bound to happen.

We stepped out onto the porch and over to the rail. Behind us, I heard Menner come out too. I looked over my shoulder. He’d wrapped a towel around his head. Blood was leaking through it. He was looking at Buck, hating him clear through.


The street was deserted except for Buck standing about twenty feet away, and, at the far end, Sheriff Ben Randolph coming slowly toward him, putting one foot ahead of the other in the dust.

A few men were standing on porches, pressed back against the walls, mostly near doors. Nobody was sitting now—they were ready to groundhog if lead started flying wild.

“God damn it,” I said in a low, savage voice. “Ben’s too good a man to get kilt this way. By a punk kid with some crazy psychowhosis way of handling a gun.”

I felt the professor’s level eyes on me, and turned to look at him.

“Why,” he said, “doesn’t a group of you get together and face him down? Ten guns against his one. He’d have to surrender.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” I said. “That ain’t the way it works. He’d just dare any of us to be the first to try and stop him—and none of us would take him up on it. A group like that don’t mean anything—it’d be each man against Buck Tarrant, and none of us good enough.”

“I see,” the professor said softly.

“God….” I clenched my fists so hard they hurt. “I wish we could think his gun right back into the holster or something!”

Ben and Buck were about forty feet apart now. Ben was coming on steadily, his hand over his gunbutt. He was a good man with a gun, Ben—nobody around these parts had dared tackle him for a long time. But he was out-classed now, and he knew it. I guess he was just hoping that Buck’s first shot or two wouldn’t kill him, and that he could place a good one himself before Buck let loose any more.

But Buck was a damn good shot. He just wouldn’t miss.

The professor was staring at Buck with a strange look in his eyes.

“He should be stopped,” he said.

“Stop him, then,” I said sourly.

“After all,” he mused, “if the ability to perform telekinesis lies dormant in all of us, and is released by strong faith and desire to accomplish something that can be accomplished only by that means—then our desire to stop him might be able to counter his desire to—”

“Damn you and your big words,” I said bitterly.

“It was your idea,” the professor said, still looking at Buck. “What you said about thinking his gun back into its holster—after all, we are two to his one—”

I turned around and stared at him, really hearing him for the first time. “Yeah, that’s right—I said that! My God … do you think we could do it?”

“We can try,” he said. “We know it can be done, and evidently that is nine-tenths of the battle. He can do it, so we should be able to. We must want him not to more than he wants to.”


“Lord,” I said, “I want him not to, all right….”

Ben and Buck were about twenty feet apart now, and Ben stopped.

His voice was tired when he said, “Any time, Buck.”

“You’re a hell of a sheriff,” Buck sneered. “You’re a no-good bastard.”

“Cuss me out,” Ben said. “Don’t hurt me none. I’ll be ready when you start talking with guns.”

“I’m ready now, beanpole,” Buck grinned. “You draw first, huh?”

Think of his gun!” the professor said in a fierce whisper. “Try to grab it with your mind—break his aim—pull it away from him—you know it can be done! Think, think—”

Ben Randolph had never in anyone’s knowledge drawn first against a man. But now he did, and I guess nobody could blame him.

He slapped leather, his face already dead—and Buck’s Peacemaker was in his hand—

And me and the professor were standing like statues on the porch of the Once Again, thinking at that gun, glaring at it, fists clenched, our breath rasping in our throats.

The gun appeared in Buck’s hand, and wobbled just as he slipped hammer. The bullet sprayed dust at Ben’s feet.

Ben’s gun was halfway out.

Buck’s gunbarrel pointed down at the ground, and he was trying to lift it so hard his hand got white. He drove a bullet into the dust at his own feet, and started to whine.

Ben’s gun was up and aiming.

Buck shot himself in the foot.

Then Ben shot him once in the right elbow, once in the right shoulder. Buck screamed and dropped his gun and threw out his arms, and Ben, who was a thorough man, put a bullet through his right hand, and another one on top of it.

Buck sat in the dust and flapped blood all around, and bawled when we came to get him.


The professor and I told Ben Randolph what had happened, and nobody else. I think he believed us.

Buck spent two weeks in the town jail, and then a year in the state pen for pulling on Randolph, and nobody’s seen him now for six years. Don’t know what happened to him, or care much. I reckon he’s working as a cowhand someplace—anyway, he sends his mother money now and then, so he must have tamed down some and growed up some too.

While he was in the town jail, the professor talked to him a lot—the professor delayed his trip just to do it.

One night he told me, “Tarrant can’t do anything like that again. Not at all, even with his left hand. The gunfight destroyed his faith in his ability to do it—or most of it, anyway. And I finished the job, I guess, asking all my questions. I guess you can’t think too much about that sort of thing.”

The professor went on to San Francisco, where he’s doing some interesting experiments. Or trying to. Because he has the memory of what happened that day—but, like Buck Tarrant, not the ability to do anything like that any more. He wrote me a couple times, and it seems that ever since that time he’s been absolutely unable to do any telekinesis. He’s tried a thousand times and can’t even move a feather.

So he figures it was really me alone who saved Ben’s life and stopped Buck in his tracks.

I wonder. Maybe the professor just knows too much not to be some skeptical, even with what he saw. Maybe the way he looks at things and tries to find reasons for them gets in the way of his faith.

Anyway, he wants me to come to San Francisco and get experimented on. Maybe someday I will. Might be fun, if I can find time off from my job.

I got a lot of faith, you see. What I see, I believe. And when Ben retired last year, I took over his job as sheriff—because I’m the fastest man with a gun in these parts. Or, actually, in the world. Probably if I wasn’t the peaceable type, I’d be famous or something.










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SF78Shipwreck in the Sky by Eando Binder闫盼盼OpenCV步步精深

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There is a warm feeling about welcoming back into the pages of a science fiction magazine the work of a writer who is a legend in the genre. So, here’s Binder and a neatly wrapped-up package of a folktale of the future.

shipwreck
in
the
sky

by … Eando Binder

The flight into space that made Pilot-Capt. Dan Barstow famous.

The flight was listed at GHQ as Project Songbird. It was sponsored by the Space Medicine Labs of the U.S. Air Force. And its pilot was Captain Dan Barstow.

A hand-picked man, Dan Barstow, chosen for the AF’s most important project of the year because he and his VX-3 had already broken all previous records set by hordes of V-2s, Navy Aerobees and anything else that flew the skyways.

Dan Barstow, first man to cross the sea of air and sight open, unlimited space. Pioneer flight to infinity. He grinned and hummed to himself as he settled down for the long jaunt. Too busy to be either thrilled or scared he considered the thirty-seven instruments he’d have to read, the twice that many records to keep, and the miles of camera film to run. He had been hand-picked and thoroughly conditioned to take it all without more than a ten percent increase in his pulse rate. So he worked as matter-of-factly as if he were down in the Gs Centrifuge of the Space Medicine Labs where he had been schooled for this trip for months.

He kept up a running fire of oral reports through his helmet radio, down to Rough Rock and his CO. “All Roger, sir … temperature falling fast but this rubberoid space suit keeps me cozy, no chills … Doc Blaine will be happy to hear that! Weightless sensations pretty queer and I feel upside-down as much as rightside-up, but no bad effects…. Taking shots of the sun’s corona now with color film … huh? Oh, yes, sir, it’s beautiful all right, now that you mention it. But, hell, sir, who’s got the time for aesthetics now?… Oops, that was a close one! Tenth meteor whizzing past. Makes me think of flak back on those Berlin bombing runs.”

Dan couldn’t help wincing when the meteors peppered down past. The “flak” of space. Below he could see the meteors flare up brightly as they hit the atmosphere. Most of those near his position were small, none bigger than a baseball, and Dan took comfort in the fact that his rocket was small too, in the immensity around him. A direct hit would be sheer bad luck, but the good old law of averages was on his side.

“Yes, Colonel, this tin can I’m riding is holding together okay,” Dan continued to Rough Rock. If he paused even a second in his reports a top-sergeant’s yell from the Colonel’s throat came back for him to keep talking. Every bit of information he could transmit to them was a vital revelation in this USAF-Alpha exploration of open space beyond Earth’s air cushion, with ceiling unlimited to infinity.

“Cosmic rays, sir? Sure, the reading shot up double on the Geiger … huh? Naw, I don’t feel a thing … like Doc Baird suspected, we invented a lot of Old Wives’ Tales in advance, before going into space. I feel fine, so you can put down cosmic ray intensity as a Boogey Man…. What’s that? Yeah, yeah, sir, the stars shine without winking up here. What else?… Space is inky black—no deep purples or queer more-than-blacks like some jetted-up writers dreamed up—just plain old ordinary dead black. Earth, sir?… Well, it does look dish-shaped from up here, concave…. Sure, I can see all the way to Europe and—say! Here’s something unexpected. I can see that hurricane off the coast of Florida…. You said it, sir! Once we install permanent space stations up here it will be easy to spot typhoons, volcano eruptions, tidal waves, earthquakes, what have you, the moment they start. If you ask me, with a good telescope you could even spot forest fires the minute they broke out, not to mention a sneak bombing on a target city—uh, sorry, sir, I forgot.”

Dan broke off and almost retched as his stomach turned a flip-flop to end all flip-flops. The VX-3 had reached the peak of its trajectory at over 1000 miles altitude and now turned down, lazily at first. He gulped oxygen from the emergency tube at his lips and felt better.

“Turning back on schedule, Rough Rock. Peak altitude 1037 miles. Everything fine, no danger. This was all a cinch…. HEY! Wait…. Something not in the books has popped up … stand by!”

Dan had felt the rocket swing a bit, strangely, as if gripped by a strong force. Instead of falling directly down toward Earth with a slight pitch, it slanted sideways and spun on its long axis. And then Dan saw what it was….

Beneath, intercepting his trajectory, coming around fast over the curvature of Earth, was a tiny black worldlet, 998 miles above Earth. It might be an enormous meteor, but Dan felt he was right the first time. For it wasn’t falling like a meteor but swinging parallel to Earth’s surface on even keel.

He stared at the unexpected discovery, as amazed as if it were a fire-breathing dragon out of legend. For it was, actually, he realized in swift, stunned comprehension, more amazing than any legend.

Dan kept his voice calm. “Hello, Rough Rock…. Listen … nobody expected this … hold your hat, sir, and sit down. I’ve discovered a second moon of Earth!… Uhhuh, you heard me right! a second moon! Tie that, will you?… Sure, it’s tiny, less than a mile in diameter I’d say. Dead black in color. Guess that’s why telescopes never spotted it. Tiny and black, blends into the black backdrop of space. It has terrific speed. And that little maverick’s gravitational field caught my rocket…. Of course it can’t yank me away from Earth gravity, but the trouble is—yipe! my rocket and that moonlet may be in for a mutual collision course….”

Dan’s trained eye suddenly saw that grim possibility. Barreling around Earth in a narrow orbit with a speed of something near or over 12,000 miles an hour the tiny new moon had, since his ascent, charged directly into his downward free fall. It was a chance in a thousand for a direct hit, except for one added factor—the moonlet exerted enough gravity pull out of its many-million ton bulk to warp the rocket into its path. And the thousand-to-one odds were thus wiped out, becoming even money.

“Nip and tuck,” reported Dan, answering the excited pleadings and questions from Rough Rock. “It won’t be a head-on crash. I may even miss entirely…. Oh, Lord! Not with that spire of rock sticking up from it…. I’m going to hit that …”

Dan had heard an atomic bomb blast once and it sounded like a string of them set off at once as the rocket smashed into the rocky prominence. The rock splintered. The rocket splintered. But Dan was not there to be splintered likewise. He had jammed down a button, at the critical moment, and the rocket’s emergency escape-hatch had ejected him a split-second before the violent impact.

But Dan blacked out, receiving some of the concussion of the exploding rocket. When his eyes snapped open he was floating like a feather in open, airless space. His rubberoid space suit, living up to its rigid tests, had inflated to its elastic limit. But it held and within its automatic units began feeding him oxygen, heat and radio-power. He had a chance, now, because he had been ejected cleanly from the rocket, without damage to the protective suit.

The stars wheeled dizzily around him. Dan finally saw the reason why. He was not just floating as a free agent in space. He was circling the black moonlet, at perhaps a thousand yards from its pitted surface.

“Hello, Rough Rock,” he called. “Still alive and kicking, sir. Only now, of all crazy-mad things, I’m a moon ofthis moon! The collision must have knocked me clear out of my down-to-Earth orbit…. I must have been ejected in the same direction as the moonlet’s course, in its gravity field…. I don’t know. Let an electronic brain figure it out some time…. Anyway, now I’m being dragged along in the orbit of the moonlet—how about that? Yes, sir, I’m circling down closer and closer to the moonlet…. No, don’t worry, sir. It was a weak gravity pull, only a fraction of an Earth-g. So I’m drifting down gently as a cloud…. Stand by for my landing on Earth’s second moon!”

The bloated figure in the bulging space suit circled the black stony surface several more times, in a narrowing spiral, and finally landed with a soft skidding bump that didn’t even jar Dan’s teeth. He bounced several times from a diminishing height of fifty-odd feet in grotesque slow-motion before he finally came to a stop.

He sat still for a moment, adjusting to the fantastic fact of being shipwrecked on an unchartered moonlet, crowding down his pulse rate which might be over ten percent normal now.

“Okay, Rough Rock, I hear you…. You’re telling me, sir?… Obviously, I’m marooned here. No rocket to leave with. No way to get back to terra firma … what? If you’ll pardon my saying so, sir, that’s a silly question…. Of course I’m scared! Scared green. Sorry about the rocket, sir, losing it for you…. Me, sir? Thank you, sir. But stop apologizing, will you? I know you haven’t got any duplicates of the VX-3 ready, no rescue rocket….”

Dan listened a moment longer then broke in roughly. “Oh, for Pete’s sake, will you stop crying over me, sir? So I get mine here. I might have gotten it over Berlin, too. Forget it—sir.”

Dan grinned suddenly. “Look, what have I got to kick about? I’ll go out in a flash of glory—at least one headline will put it that way—and I’ll get credit in the history books as the man who discovered that Earth has two moons! What more could I ask, really?”

Dan blushed at the reply from Rough Rock. “Will you lay off please, Colonel? How else should a man take it? I’m still scared silly inside. But, look, I’ve really got something to report now. This little runt moon makes tracks around Earth in probably two hours minus. If I remember my Spacenautics right I’m already looking down over the Grand Canyon, heading west. I’m going to get a pretty terrific bird’s-eye view of the whole world in two more hours, which is just about how much oxygen I’ve got left…. Lucky, eh?”

Dan looked down, watching in fascination the majestic wheeling of the Earth below him. His little moonlet did not rotate, or rather it rotated once for each revolution around Earth, as the Moon did, keeping one face earthward, giving him an uninterrupted view. The Sierras on Earth hove into clear view and the broad Pacific. There would follow Hawaii, then Japan, Asia, Europe…. No, he saw he was slanting southwest. It would be across the equator, past Australia, perhaps near the South Pole, then up around over the top of the world past Greenland, following that great circle around the globe. In any case, his was the speediest trip around the world ever made by man!

“Before we’re out of mutual range, Rough Rock, I’m going to explore this new moon. Me and Columbus! Stand by for reports.”

Dan did his walking in huge leaps that propelled him fifty feet at a step with slight effort, due to the extremely feeble gravity of the tiny body. What did he weigh here? Probably no more than an ounce or two.

“Nothing much to report, Colonel. It’s a dead, airless pip-squeak planetoid, just a big mile-thick rock, probably. No life, no vegetation, no people, no nothing. Guess you might call me the Man in the Second Moon—and the joke’s on me! Well, one and three-quarter hours of oxygen left, by the gauge, or 105 minutes—sounds like more that way…. What’s that, sir? Your voice is getting faint. Any last requests from me? Well, one favor maybe. Pick up my body some day with another rocket…. Yeah, it’ll stay preserved up here in this deep-freeze of space…. Thanks, sir…. Can’t hear you much now. Going out of range. Give Betty my fondest. You know, the blonde…. Well, sir—goodbye now.”

Dan was glad that Rough Rock’s radio voice faded to a whispery nothingness. It wasn’t easy to stay casual now. There was nothing more to say, really, and he didn’t want to hear any more crying from the CO. The Old Man had sounded almost hysterical. He wanted just to be alone with his thoughts now, making his final peace with the universe….

He checked the gauge with his watch—ninety minutes of oxygen to zero. Or, he thought with a grin, eternity minus ninety minutes.

He was beginning to have trouble breathing. But it was awesomely grand, watching the sweep of Earth beneath him, the procession of dots that were islands strung across the Pacific South Seas like a necklace of green beads. He was still within radio range of ships below at sea. Yet he didn’t contact them. He had nothing to say, like a ghost in the sky.

Idly, he kept pitching loose stones, watching their rifle-like speed away from him. Again a phenomenon of the weak gravity of the moonlet. Actually, he was able to pick up a boulder ten feet across and heave it away with ease. We who are about to die amuse ourselves, he thought. Then, because a thread of stubborn hope still clung in a corner of his mind, he got an idea. It had lurked just beyond his mental grasp for some time now. Something significant….

Abruptly, face alight, Dan switched on his radio and contacted a ship below, asking them to relay him to Rough Rock with their more powerful transmitter.

“Ahoy, Rough Rock! Stop adding up my insurance, Colonel! I’m coming back…. No, sir, I haven’t gone out of my head, sir. It’s so simple it’s a laugh, sir…. See you in a few hours, sir!”

And he did.

Dan grinned when they hauled his dripping form from the sea. Aboard the search plane they cut him out of the space suit to which was still attached his emergency twin parachute. But his helmet was gone, ripped loose, for Dan had been breathing fresh Earth air during the long parachute descent.

They stared at him as at a dead man come alive.

“Impossible to escape?” He chuckled, repeating their babble. “That’s what I thought too, until I remembered those data tables on gravity and Escape Velocity and such—how, on the Moon, the Escape Velocity is much less than on Earth. And on that tiny second moon—well, my clue was when I threw a stone into the air and it never came back.”

Dan gulped hot coffee.

“I got off the moonlet myself then, got up to more than a mile above it where I was free of its feeble gravity. But I was still in the same orbit circling Earth. I’d have continued revolving as a human satellite forever, of course, but for this emergency gadget hooked to my belt.”

Dan held up the metal gun with its empty tank and needle-nose half burned away.

“Reaction pistol. Fires hydrazine and oxidizer, ordinary jet-rocket principle. Aiming it toward the stars, opposite earth, its reactive blasts shoved me Earthward, thanks to Newton. I needed a speed of about one-half mile a second. The powerful little jet gun had only my small mass to shove in free space, without gravity or friction. That broke me from free-fall around Earth to gravity-fall toward Earth.

“Then I spiraled down under gravity pull. I reached lung-filling air density just in time, before my oxygen gave out. One more danger was that I began heating up like a meteor due to air friction. I flung out a prayer first, followed by my twin parachutes, designed for extreme initial shock. They held. Slowed me to a paratrooper’s drift the rest of the way down.”

“Wait,” a puzzled pilot objected. “Your story doesn’t hang together. How did you get off that moonlet? How did you get up there, a mile above it, away from its gravity? There was nobody to throw you, like a stone.”

“I threw myself,” said Dan. “First I ran as fast as I could, maybe halfway around that moonlet, to get a good running start. And then—”

Dan Barstow’s grin then was undoubtedly the biggest grin in history….

“Well, then, since the feeble gravity couldn’t pull me back again, what I really did was to jump clear off that moon.”

Transcriber’s Note:

This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe March 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.









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SF77Vigorish by John Berryman闫盼盼OpenCV步步精深

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Vigorish, by Gordon Randall Garrett



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Title: Vigorish



Author: Gordon Randall Garrett



Release Date: January 21, 2008 [EBook #24382]



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VIGORISH

By WALTER BUPP

Illustrated by Petrizzo

[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction June 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



If it “takes a thief to catch a thief” … what does it take to catch a psi-gifted thief?


What do you hate and fear the most? I know a girl who gags and throws up at the mere sight of a bird. Poor kid, when she was a barefoot moppet she stepped on a fledgling robin in the grass. She hasn’t gotten over the squish of it yet.

Birds don’t trouble me. I can look at them all day. It takes snakes to give me the green shudders. I hate them.

She was getting better at them, I decided. This was the fourth one since breakfast and the roughest-looking of the lot. It was a diamondback rattler, and lay coiled on the rug at my feet. I turned my swivel chair slowly back to my desk and riveted my eyes to the blotter. Snakes are ghastly things. But there was no future in letting them shake me up.

I bent over in my swivel chair and swung my left arm like a flail just below this rattler’s raised head. He struck at me, but late, and missed. The swipe I took at him should have swept him over, but he got his coils around me. When I heaved back up straight before my desk, he was as neatly wrapped around my forearm as a Western Union splice.

Enough of his tail was free to make that buzz that means “Look out!” About a foot of his business end stood up off my arm. His forked tongue flicked out over his horny lip, pink and dainty.

“Now, vanish!” I said to the snake. It didn’t. Instead the door to my office opened, letting in a little more of the unmistakable smell of the hospital, as well as old Maragon, Grand Master of the Lodge. He was complaining and shaking a finger at me as he came toward my desk. He didn’t jump more than a foot when he got a look at my arm. His shaggy gray eyebrows climbed way, way up his forehead in a mutely shouted question.

I wouldn’t give the old goat the time of day. When I dead-panned him, he shrugged and lowered himself into the chair beside my desk.

“Thought you hated snakes, Lefty,” he said.

“A guy could get used to almost anything, Grand Master,” I said. “I found a cobra under my pillow when I rolled out of the sack this morning. A coral snake fell out of the folds of my towel when I went to take a shower. Somebody stashed a bushmaster here in my locker to meet me when I dressed for surgery. I’m getting almost fond of snakes.”

Maragon semaphored doubt by squeezing his eyebrows down in a scowl. “Even real snakes?” he protested.

“It’s the most artful hallucination I’ve ever experienced,” I granted. “This snake has weight, a cold feel and a scratchy scaliness. This new witch of yours really knows her stuff. I just would have thought…” I dribbled off, raising my shoulders.

“Thought what, Lefty?”

“Oh,” I said. “That it was somehow beneath the dignity of the Grand Master to drag himself down here to the hospital just to add a little conviction to the hallucination. I mean, working up a big entrance, and all this pretense of your seeing a snake.”

His smile was a little weary. “Try a lift, Lefty,” Maragon said.

He had finally overplayed his hand. Hallucinations don’t respond to telekinesis—there’s nothing there to lift. I fixed on the rattler’s crouching head and lifted. The TK jerked the S-shaped curve out of his neck. I could feel his coils fight my lift. At some moment there I must have gotten the point that this snake was real.

I guess I was screaming and shaking it from me for five minutes after Maragon had unwrapped the coils from my arm.

“All right. All right. All right,” I said to him, shaking my head. “So it had no fangs. You’ve still got me sold. I’ll go to Nevada for you.” I’d have gone clear to Hell to get away from that hallucinating witch he had working on me. I’d gotten used to hallucinations—but who can get used to the doubt that one of those dreadful visions is real? I’d had my lesson.


It served me right, of course. It had begun when Peno Rose had first visored me from Lake Tahoe. I had told him “No.” Too busy, much too busy, with TK surgery at Memorial Hospital. It didn’t mean a thing to me that some cross-roader with plenty of TK was stealing the Sky Hi Club’s casino blind. But Peno had known me from my days on the Crap Patrol, and wasn’t much impressed that I’d reached the thirty-third degree. He’d gotten the Senior United States senator from Nevada to put heat on the Lodge.

When Maragon first visored me on it, I simply refused to discuss it and switched off. That was the big mistake. I had an obligation to the Lodge for my TK training, and there was no honorable way I could turn my back on it. The Grand Master is a patient, if deadly, old goat, and he came after me in person.

I’d just walked out of surgery, and was still in mask and gown. The surgeon who had done the cutting while I had put TK clamps on the inaccessible arteries was at my side, breathing a sigh of relief that the patient hadn’t died on the table. He’d still die, I figured, but not on the table. I’d felt the fluttery rasp of his heart muscle as it had strained against my lift. He didn’t have too long.



“Thank God for a dry field,” the scalpel surgeon said, politely holding out his left hand to me. I shook it with my left. That’s why I hadn’t done the cutting, too. There aren’t any one-handed surgeons. My right arm looks fine. It just hasn’t any strength. Old Maragon had told me once that my TK powers were a pure case of compensation for a useless arm. The surgeon dropped my hand. “You’re the best, Wally Bupp,” he said. He’s too good a friend of mine to call me “Lefty” and remind me that I’m a cripple.

It was Maragon who did that. I hadn’t noticed him, but somebody gave me the grip, and I looked around. He was back against the wall, short, gray and square. I gave his ear lobe a TK tug in return, harder, perhaps, than was necessary, and nodded for him to follow both of us to my office.

“We’ll have to talk about it, Lefty,” he said, as he closed the door against the smell of iodoform.

“No, we don’t,” I said. “I don’t care who is losing how much money at Peno Rose’s Sky Hi Club. Right here in this hospital people are dying. Ask old Thousand Cuts,” I went on, nodding to the scalpel surgeon. “We just pulled one out of the fire. When does this come in second best to saving the skin of some tinhorn gambler?”

“Your Lodge obligations come first,” he said quietly. “We have a replacement for you here. Here’s your ticket for Lake Tahoe,” he added, holding out an envelope from a travel agency.

“I’m staying here, Maragon,” I said. “I’m a TK surgeon. I’m all through tipping dice.”

“You may not find it practical,” he said, getting up to leave.

Well, I hadn’t. Three snakes inside my head had made me a sucker for the real one on my arm. Maragon had made his point. I might have reached the thirty-third degree, but I wasn’t quite as big a shot as I thought I was. I could feel that rattler on my arm all the way to Lake Tahoe.


Like any gambling house, the Sky Hi Club was a trap. Peno had tried to kid the public with a classy decor. It was a darned good copy of a nineteenth century ranch house. At the gambling tables everything was free—the liquor, the hors d’oeuvres, the entertainment. Everything, that is, but the gambling and the women. The casino was taking its cut. And the women—or should I be so sure?

You paid for your drinks if you stood up to the long mahogany bar. I turned my back to the rattle of cocktail shakers and chink of glasses, one heel hooked over the replica brass rail, and took a long careful look at the crap tables. There was a job for me at one of them. I began to shut out the distractions of sight and sound. I wanted nothing to dull my PSI powers.

A blond bombshell slithered down the bar and ground herself against my leg. “Wanna buy me a drink, honey?” she gasped. I smuggled a lift and slipped all four of her garters off the tops of her hose. A funny, stricken look replaced the erotic face she had made at me. She headed for dry dock.

B-girls usually work in pairs, so I looked down toward the other end of the polished mahogany. Sure enough, there was the brunette, frowning as she tried to figure why the blond bomber had high-tailed it out of there. I shook my head at her and she let it lie.

That should have cut out the last distraction. But no, I could see one more bimbo working her way through the laughing, drink-flushed crowd toward me. She had hair-colored hair, which was sort of out of character for a barroom hustler. I put plenty of TK on the heel of her right slipper, and she stepped right out of it. It might as well have been nailed to the floor. Nothing was going to discourage this one, I saw. I let her pick it off the floor, squeeze it back on her skinny foot, and come toward me.

This new babe leaned over toward me and stuck her nose up against mine. It was long, thin, and not a little red.

“Billy Joe!” she said, and sniffled loudly. “My darlin’ Billy!”

How near-sighted can you get? I don’t think there’s such a thing as a case of mistaken identity around a guy like me. I didn’t know her darlin’ Billy from Adam’s ox. But I’d have bet a pretty we didn’t look alike.

“You’re wasting it,” I told her, looking out over the crap tables. “It’s new, and different. But I’m not anybody’sdarling.” A jerk of my head told her to move on.

But she sniffled and stayed put. I gave up and started through the press of gamblers toward the Cashier’s cage.

“Billy Joe!” this hustler moaned behind me, clawing at my jacket. “I knew I’d find you here. And I came sich a fer piece, Billy Joe! Don’t make me go off again, darlin’ Billy!”

While I prefer to gamble for cash, I had reason while on a job for sticking to a known amount of chips. She stood there while I got a thousand dollars worth of ten-buck markers, looking at me with some kind of plea in her eyes. This again was not in the pattern. Most hustlers can’t keep their eyes off your chips.

She puppy-dogged behind me to the crap table I had decided needed my attention. It was crowded, but there’s always room for one more sucker. And still one more, for the sniffly girl with the hair-colored hair pressed in against my useless right arm when I elbowed my way in between the gamblers, directly across from the dealers.

“Billy Joe!” she said, just loud enough to hear over the chanting of the dealers and the excited chatter of the dice players. Billy Joe! What a corn-ball routine!


I took stock before beginning to lose my stack of chips. There were more than twenty gamblers of both sexes pressed up against the green baize of the crap layout. Three stick-men in black aprons that marked them for dealers were working on the other side or the table. We had at least one dealer too many for the crowd. That screamed out loud the table was having trouble. Big gambling layouts know within minutes if a table is not making its vigorish. A Nevada crap layout, with moderately heavy play, should make six per cent of the amount gambled on every roll. That’s its vigorish—its percentage. If the take falls below that, the suspicion is that the table is being taken to the cleaners by a crooked gambler, or “cross-roader.” The table I had picked was the only one in the Sky Hi Club’s casino with more than one stick-man working it.



The girl sniffled, and her long skinny arm reached around behind me to snag a couple sandwiches the size of postage stamps from a waiter’s tray. She wolfed them down, wiping at the end of her long nose with a wadded-up hunk of cambric. She’d done it before, and plenty, for her nose was red and sore. She made cow-eyes at me.

“Don’t say it,” I told her. “I’m not your darlin’ Billy.”

The dice were to my right—I’d get them after a couple more losers rolled. My unwanted hustler stood on that side of me, too. They never have any money of their own. I wasn’t about to give her any of mine.

I wanted to lose some dough in a hurry. I started playing field numbers, and TK’d the dice away from the field every time a gambler came out. Of course, I could have let the table’s six per cent vigorish take it away from me, but that would have taken longer.

Even with losing on every roll, the dice got around to me before I had lost the nine hundred I had set out to drop. I put four chips on the “Don’t Pass” side of the line, shook left-handed because of my weak right arm, and got ready to come out. Sniffles seized me. “Don’t Billy Joe!” she said suddenly. “You’ll lose!” She pushed my chips across the line to the “Pass” side. That burned me up.

“Get your hands off my chips,” I said, annoyed by bad gambling manners. Her face was all resignation and sadness. Well, not quite all. A lot of it was thin, red nose and buck teeth.

“You’ll lose, darlin’ Billy,” she said.

“Pull those chips back!” I said. Her eyebrows shrugged, but she did as I told her. I came out, and tipped the dice to eleven. I kept the dice, but lost my chips, which is what I wanted. Throwing six more down on the “Don’t Pass” side, I rattled the ivories in my left hand. Tears began to roll down her unhealthy cheeks.

“Lose!” she cried nasally, and sniffled. “Billy Joe! Listen to me, darlin’ Billy! You’ll lose!” Her eyes rolled up toward the top of her head as I ignored her and came out. Sniffles gasped, “Hit’s a seven!”

Well, that’s the number I’d tipped them to, but she called it before the dice stopped rolling. That left me thirteen chips. Half absent-mindedly, I put three of them on the “Pass” side of the line and tipped the dice to twelve. Mostly I was looking at this scarecrow beside me.

“Box cars!” one of the dealers called. “My future home.” But he wasn’t as quick as Sniffles. She had called the turn before the galloping dominoes had bounced from the backrail.

The box cars cost me the dice. The next gambler blew on them, cursed, and rolled. I didn’t bet, and spent the next couple rolls looking at her.


The girl was a mess. Some women have no style because they don’t even know what it means. Courturiers have taught them all to be lean and hungry-looking. This chicken was underfed in a way that wasn’t stylish. They call it malnutrition. Her strapless gown didn’t fit her, nor anybody within twenty pounds of her weight. She was all shoulder blades and collarbones. I suppose that a decent walk would have given her some charm—most of these hustlers have a regular Swiss Movement. But this thing had a gait that tied in with the slack way her skirt hung across her pelvic bones and hollered “White Trash!” at you.

I wasn’t much flattered that she had tried to pick me up. People have a pretty accurate way of measuring their social station. And she thought she was what I’d go for. Well, I guess I don’t look like so much, either. I’d missed my share of meals when they might have put some height on me. My long, freckled face ends in a chin as sharp and pointed as her nose. And there’s always something about a cripple, even if my powerless right arm doesn’t exactly show.

My days on the Crap Patrol came back to me. That’s where the Lodge had found me, down on my knees in an alley, making the spots come up my way without even knowing I could do it. And when they’d convinced me I was really a TK, and started me on the training that finally led to the Thirty-third degree, they’d put me right back in those alleys, and cheap hotel rooms, watching for some other unknowing TK tipping the dice his way.

Did Sniffles have it? She wasn’t tipping dice, exactly, but she sure was calling the turn. She was tall, as well as skinny, and our eyes weren’t far apart. “Billy Joe,” she whispered above the racket of the gambler in the casino, putting her mouth close to my ear. “I told you, sugar. And now you lost. You lost!” Her perfume was cheap, but generous, and pretty well covered up her need for a bath.

“There’s some left,” I told her. “Show me how.” She hugged my arm to her skinniness. That’s all any of the hustlers ever want—to get their hands on your chips. They figure some of them will stick to their fingers.

The gambler next to me had won a dollar bet without my help. He acted mighty glad for a win—maybe it was a while since he’d hit it. I decided to give him a run of luck.

Now in charge of my chips, Sniffles called the turn on every roll. She was hot. It wasn’t just that she followed where the gambler next to me put his dough—she was ahead of him on pushing out the chips on half the rolls.

He quickly saw that my chips had stayed on the same side of the line each roll as his. He cursed me for a good luck mascot. “Stick with me, Lefty,” he said. “We’ll break the table!” I rammed a hard lift under his heart, and then, ashamed of myself, quit it. He turned pale before I took it off him.

“What’s the matter?” I asked him, supporting his sagging elbow, still mad at myself for acting so childish.

“Nothing, nothing,” he gasped, starting to recover. He’d only been dying, that’s all. But it came in second-best compared to holding the dice.

No point calling too much attention to him. I decided four passes were enough while he held the dice. What do you know, as he came out for the fifth time, Sniffles pulled my stack of chips to the “Don’t Pass” side of the line, while scraping at the chapped end of her skinny nose with the back of her free hand.

Like every compulsive gambler I’ve ever seen, the roller next to me was sure he was on a rampage. Four passes and he thought he had the dice licked. “Ride with me!” he yelled at Sniffles, who plainly had the management of my chips.

“No moah,” she said. “You’ll lose.”

Of course he did. I TK’d the one-two up. “Little Joe from Kokomo,” one of the stick-men called. They raked losing bets and paid winners with the speed of prestidigitators. “Roller keeps the dice,” the stick-man told my neighbor.

The gambler cursed and threw the dice to the roller on his left. He spat blame at Sniffles for not riding with him. He was one big clot of crushed misery. After all, hadn’t he wanted to lose? They all do. I couldn’t get very upset over his curses. So far he had lost one buck, net. And he’d had some action. So much for gamblers.

I kept control of the dice while each new gambler handled them. I was having a good night. Of course, by that time I had handled the dice, which always improves my TK grip. Every point I had TK’d came up. For all the perception I kept on the ivories, I could sense no other TK force at work, which after all was the whole reason for my gambling.

The interesting note was the way Sniffles handled my chips. Sometimes more sure than others, she occasionally let a winning stack ride. On other rolls, she keened and chanted oddly to herself, eyes closed, and pinched down most of the stock. But she was never on the wrong side of the “Pass” line. I kept track, not wanting my stack to build up past the thousand with which I had started. Most of all, I watched the skinny gal dope the dice, sniffle and wipe the end of her nose. She was one homely sharecropper, that was a fact, but she had a nice feel for Lady Luck. Or for what I planned next.


Wanting to come out with an even thousand, I adjusted the size of her last bet. When I won it, I pulled my chips off the table, which Sniffles didn’t resist. She used the lull to grab a handful of sandwiches from another waiter’s tray. A gambler at the far end of the table came out, calling loudly to the dice. The cubes made the length of the table, bounced off the rail and came to a stop dead center, between me and the three stick-men in the black aprons. That’s the instant when every eye is on the dice, trying to read the spots. And that’s when the dice jumped straight up off the baize, a good six-inch hop into the air, and came down Snake Eyes, the old signal. Wow! I’d had it!

“TK!” somebody yelled. He might as well have screamed, “Fire!” the way that mob of gamblers scuttled away from the table.

“No dice,” one of the dealers said automatically. He raked the hopping cubes sadly to him with his hoe-shaped dice-stick.

I made a break for it with the rest of the crowd, trying to keep my eye on Sniffles. But she had the sure-loser’s touch of slipping away from any authority. She vanished into the milling mob. My last glimpse had been of a skinny arm reaching up to pluck some more free hors d’oeuvres from a tray as she fled.

I should have saved myself the trouble. They had a bouncer on each of my elbows before I had moved five feet. They carried more than dragged me into a private dining room behind the bar. It went along with the ersatz rustic decorof the rest of the Sky Hi Club. There was sawdust on the genuine wood floor, big brass spittoons and a life-sized oil-color of a reclining nude, done with meaty attention to detail, behind a small mahogany topped bar. Stacks of clean glasses vied for space with labeled bottles on the back-bar.

One of the stick-men followed us into the room, taking his apron off as he closed the door behind him, shutting out the roaring clatter of the casino. “Cross-roader!” he hissed at me. I should have known what was coming, but I missed it. He slapped me hard across the face, saving his knuckles, but not doing my jaw a whole lot of good. I would have fallen clean over, but the bouncers were still tight on my elbows.

“Wait!” I tried to say, but he cuffed me with the other hand, harder, if that were possible. This is the moment when you have to stop and think. A Blackout is quite effective—it’s hard to hit what you can’t see. And there’s something mighty unnerving about being stricken suddenly blind.

Oh, face it, I suppose the real reason I felt for the arteries supplying blood to his retinas was that so few TK’s can do it. I clamped down tight, and his lights went out. He cried out in fright, and both hands came groping up in front of him, his fingers trembling.

“I’m blind!” he said, not able to believe it. He began to lose his balance.

I felt one of the bouncers go for his sap. “Try it, you gorilla,” I told him, wrenching around, now that I was free on his side. “Try it and I’ll rip the retinas off your eyeballs the way you’d skin a peach!” He recoiled as though I were a Puff Adder. The other bouncer let go of me, too. I skidded in the slippery sawdust, scared half to death, but got my back against a wall just as the stick-man who had slugged me lost his orientation completely and fell to his knees in the sawdust. It would be some minutes before his vision started dribbling back.


The click of the door latch broke the silence. One of the other stick-men eased himself in, holding the door only wide enough to squeeze past the jamb. Don’t give the suckers a peek at the seamy side. They might just take their money to the next clip joint down the street.

He didn’t look like the others, somehow. He was older, for one thing. Perhaps it was his nearly bald scalp, perhaps the thick, bookish glasses in heavy brown frames. “What’s that?” he asked mildly, poking a finger at the dealer kneeling in the sawdust on the floor. My Blackout victim was reaching out, trying to find something he could use to raise himself to his feet. His face was frozen in a fierce, unseeing stare as he mentally screamed at his eyes to see, see, see!

“Blackout!” one of the bouncers told the second stick-man in a muffled voice.

Sharp eyes fired a quick, surprised look at me. “Well,” said the bald dealer. “Good evening, Brother.” I had a surge of relief. The strong-arm stuff was over. This was the casino’s TK.

“What kept you, Brother?” I said, sounding a little sore. “These characters were going to kick my teeth out.”

His grin had a taste of viciousness. “I did give them a little time,” he agreed. “How was I to know?” He looked calmly at them over the tops of his glasses. “You can go now,” he said, like a schoolmarm dismissing class.

The gorillas helped the blindly staring dealer to his feet, brushing at the sawdust that clung to his clothing, and had him presentable by the time they led him through the door. They seemed glad to get away.

“The Blackout,” the TK said musingly to me. “You hear about it, and the Psiless cringe when they think it might happen to them. But you don’t see it every day. You’re in the Lodge, of course?” he added.

“Of course,” I said coldly.

“Please,” he said, waving a hand at me. “Don’t take it so big. So am I.” From five feet apart we exchanged the grip, the tactile password impossible for the Psiless to duplicate—just a light tug at each other’s ear lobes, but perfect identification as TK’s. “I’m Fowler Smythe,” he said. “Twenty-fifth degree,” he added, flexing his TK muscles. “What is it, buster? You on Crap Patrol?”

I paused before I answered. Twenty-fifth degree? Since when could a gambling casino afford a full-time Twenty-fifth? TK’s in the upper degrees come high. I had already figured my fee at a hundred thousand a day, if I straightened out the casino’s losses to the cross-roader.

“Wally Bupp,” I said at last, deciding there was no point to trying some cover identity. My gimpy right wing was a dead giveaway. “Thirty-third degree,” I added.

He had a crooked grin, out of place beneath his scholarly glasses. “I’ve heard of Wally Bupp,” he admitted. Well, he should have. There aren’t so many Thirty-thirds hanging around. “And you are young, smug and snotty enough to play the part,” he concluded without heat. “Still, that’s all it might be, just play-acting, with Barney going through the motions of being blind. You could be outside the Lodge, sonny. Any cross-roader who can tip dice the way you were working them can twitch an ear. Let’s see some credentials.”

He scuffed through the sawdust to the bar and took a stack of silver dollars from his apron. He held them, dealerwise, in the palm of his hand, with his fingertips down, so that they were a column surrounded by a fence of fingers.

“How many?” he asked.

I shrugged. “The whole stack, Smythe,” I told him. His eyebrows went halfway up his tall, tall forehead. But he put them all down on the bar top, about twenty-five silver dollars. “Show me,” I said.

He ran his fingertips down the side of the stack of silver. Another tactile. Well, he certainly wasn’t much of a perceptive, or he would have been able to handle the Blackout himself. He closed his eyes for the hard lift. Some do that. The coins came up off the mahogany an inch or so, and made a solid smack when the lift broke and he dropped them back. Not very impressive work for a Twenty-fifth degree. The coins spilled over.


I used the excuse of straightening up the stack to get a touch, myself. I could have done it visually, of course, or I could have straightened them up with TK, but touch helps my grip. I took a good look at the door to the main casino, a heavy job of varnished native cedar. Just to show him, I turned my back on the bar, leaning against it with one foot on the brass rail. The lift was as clean as I’ve ever managed. Anger, fear, any strong emotion, is a big help. They came up all together, staying in a stack, and I could perceive that they hung in the air behind me, a good foot clear of the bar, and about twenty feet from the door to the casino. In a smug show of control, I dealt the cartwheels off the top of the stack, one at a time, and fired them hard. Each one snapped away from the hovering stack, like a thrown discus. My perception was of the best. Each coin knifed into the soft cedar of the door, burying itself about halfway. My best sustained lift, I suppose is about two hundred times the weight of a silver dollar. But with the lift split by the need to keep the stack together, about twenty gees was all the shove I gave the cartwheels. Still, you might figure out how fast those cartwheels were traveling after moving twenty feet across the bar at an acceleration of twenty gees.

Smythe gasped. I doubted he had ever seen better, even in the controlled conditions of Lodge Meeting. “A little something to remember me by,” I said, as I opened the silver-studded door. “Now let’s see the boss.”

“You’re a TK bruiser,” he said, impressed. “If you hit Barney’s eyes like that, he’s a Blind Tom for fair.”

“Hardly,” I sniffed. “You ought to know that no respectable TK would lay a lift on a retina. I just squeezed off a couple of small arteries. He’s back in business already, I’d say.”

Had I mentioned the rustic decor of the Sky Hi Club? When Las Vegas had deteriorated to the point where it would turn most stomachs, the better clubs migrated up among the tall pines, along the shores of Lake Tahoe. And in place of the dated chromium glitter of Vegas, they had reached way back to the “Good old days” for styling. The Sky Hi Club was typical. The outside was all hand-hewn logs. The inside had a low, rough-beamed ceiling, and a sure-enough genuine wood floor. The planks were random-width, tree nailed to the joists. Even the help was dressed up like a lot of cow-pokes, whatever cow-pokes were.

This ersatz ranch-house was owned by two completely unlovelies. Peno Rose, who had used his political leverage to get me on the job, I had known since he’d been a policy number runner on the lower East Side. His partner, Simonetti, was something else, but somehow I wasn’t looking forward to meeting him any more than I was to seeing Rose again.

I guess it’s the filth within these croupier types that makes them surround themselves with the aseptic immaculacy of iridium and glass. Their office was in a penthouse perched on the slanting roof shakes of the casino. It was big as a squash court, and as high and as square. Every wall was glass. It couldn’t have been in greater contrast to the contrived hominess of the casino if they’d thought about it for a year. Then, for the last twist, the furnishings were straight out of the old Southwest—Navajo rugs, heavy, Spanish oak desks, and a pair of matching couches or divans of whole steer leather stretched over oak frames.


Peno Rose came quickly toward me the moment Fowler Smythe showed me into the office, spurs jingling. “Hey! There he is! The boy they had to rule off the track! How’s a boy, Lefty? Long time no see.” He had his hand stuck way out ahead of him. His sharp, dried-out features repelled me twice as much as they had ten years before. That hatchet face of his was gashed with what he thought was a smile. I’ve seen sharks with a pleasanter gape. Naturally, I didn’t take his hand.



“Hi, Peno,” I said. He jerked his hand back and straightened up. He snapped the hole in his face shut.

“My partner,” he said, waving his hand at the dark-skinned gent standing over against one of the fumed oak desks. “Sime, meet Lefty Bupp, the hottest TK artist with dice in the whole damned country!”

Simonetti leaned against the desk. He drew a zipper open in his fancy blouse, dragged out the Bull Durham and started to roll his own. They watch too much TV. It makes terrible hams of them all. He spat on the floor.

“A living doll,” I said. I took a better look at this honey. Face it, he was an oily snake, cleaned up as much as possible, but not enough. No amount of dude ranch duds, gold spurs or Indian jewelry could hide his stiletto mentality. He was just a Tenderloin hoodlum with some of the scum scraped off. Well, I should know. So was I.

Simonetti finished licking the seam of his roach. He came forward as he lit it and blew too much smoke in my face. “What you doing here?” he said in a husky voice. “I told Rose no dice. We need another TK like we need a hole in the head.”

“You think I want to be in this trap?” I snapped at him. “Say the word, Tex, and I’m gone.”

“You’re fired,” he said huskily. “Scram!”

I started for the door, glad to be rid of the lot of them. Peno Rose beat me to it. He showed me several rows of teeth, the way sharks will. “Half of this joint is mine,” he snarled, holding a hand lightly against my chest. He knew me better than to push. “My half is hiring you.”

The whiff of garlic over my shoulder told me that Simonetti had followed me, too. He didn’t have any reservations about grabbing me and twisting me around and giving me a real face-full.

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get out of here.”

“Freak?” I said, laying it on his mitral valve. After his heart had missed about eight beats, he started to sink, and I quit the lift. “Be polite, Simonetti,” I said to the panic in his yellowish face. “Next time I’ll pinch down tight. The coroner will call it heart failure. Tough.”

He wanted his stiletto. He needed it. He was sorry he had ever quit carrying it. A couple seconds of reflection told him I was too tough for him. He went for his partner, his face darkening with rage now that his heart could get some blood to it. He had his hands out, for Rose’s throat, I guess. For my dough it took guts to put fingers that close to all those teeth. But he never got a chance to try it. An ashtray, one of those things with a shot-loaded cloth bag under it, flew off a desk, smacked him in the back of the head, and dropped to the floor with a thump.

It wasn’t a hard blow, but an upsetting one. Fowler Smythe grinned at him from where he was sitting in one of the leather divans. “Sit down and shut up, Sime,” he suggested coolly.

Simonetti sagged with defeat. “Look, Rose,” he gasped. “I want out. Bad enough that our losses can’t be stopped by this creep Smythe. Now you drag in another TK. Buy me out!”

“What’s a business worth that’s losing its shirt?” Rose sneered. “We were in clover, you fool, till this cross-roader got to us. This is our only chance to get even.”

That finished Simonetti. He went back to his desk and slumped against it, scowling at the points of his handtooled boots.


Rose looked over at me. “Let’s make sense,” he said quietly. “We watched you on the TV monitor from the time you came in.”

“Sure,” I said.

“What about it?” he demanded.

I shrugged. “I had my way with the dice, Peno. I dropped nine yards as fast as I could, then won it back. The spots came up for me every single roll but two, when I had my eye on something else.”

He snickered. “We saw her,” he said.

“How about it, Fowler?” I asked my Lodge Brother. “Was a worker tipping the dice tonight?”

“I never felt it,” he said. “But the table had dropped nearly forty grand during the shift, which was about over when you started to play. He’s too good for me, Wally.”

“But you felt my lifts,” I protested. “You called ‘TK’ on the table.”

Smythe shrugged and took off his glasses. “I thought I felt you tipping when you first came to the layout,” he said, waving them around. I nodded confirmation. “But it was smooth work, and I could hardly be sure. Most of these maverick TK’s strong-arm the dice, and they skid across the layout with their spots up. You’re way ahead of that—you don’t touch them till the final few tumbles. And then, you were losing, and I couldn’t see that the table was being hit.”

“I thought it was the smart move.” I explained. “I was still controlling the dice, and if there’d been a cross-roader working, I should have felt him skidding them.”

Smythe nodded. “Of course,” he added. “I could feel you more clearly after you got the dice, and later, while that scarecrow with you was handling your chips. You were building a stack. So I fingered you.”

“Careful,” I said sourly. “You’re talking about the woman I love.”

There was a strained moment of silence, and then they all laughed. She’d been a sight, all right.

Simonetti came back alive with that one. His husky voice cut in on the laughter. “Where does that bag fit?” he demanded.

“No idea,” I said truthfully. “A random factor. I don’t think she fits.”

Something has to fit!” he yelled in his oversized whisper. “How about the way our losses follow Curley Smythe around from table to table?”

This was something. “The table you watch is the one that gets hit?” I asked Smythe.

He blushed, clear to the top of his bald head. “A subtle, nasty operator,” he said gruffly. “And he’s had the gall to stick it in me pretty badly, Wally. What Sime says is true.”

Well, this we wouldn’t stand for. I didn’t give a care if every gambling house in Nevada went broke. But Smythe was in the Lodge. And it finally made sense that the Lodge had sent me to bail him out. I gave old Maragon my mental apology. The Grand Master wouldn’t stand still for anybody’s making a fool out of the Lodge. Still: “Nobody that good is out of captivity,” I snapped. “I don’t believe it. It’s not TK that’s robbing you.”

“Oh, ridiculous,” Rose said, showing his teeth. “Gambling is our business, Lefty. Don’t you think we could spot any of the ordinary kinds of cross-roading? This is TK, and it has real voltage. We can’t spot it. We’ve got to have Psi power do it for us.”

“Maybe,” I agreed. “But no TK can do it if Smythe can’t. Have you tried a PC?”

Simonetti grabbed a piece of the heavens in rage. “No!” he yelled in his loud whisper. “None of your crystal-ball witches in here!”

I knew how he felt. PC’s give me the colly-wobbles, too.

“What’s the matter with precognition?” I asked him. “If this crook has got you stuck, Rose is right. Only Psi force will get you out of this jam. If you know in advance where this operator is going to hit you, you can nail him. There’s a dozen techniques.”

Peno Rose looked at me from under lowered brows. “Are you a PC, Lefty?” he asked me.

“No,” I said shortly. The Lodge had proved that several times, in spite of my strong feelings that I had flashes of precognition. Why should I resent not having PC? How many Psi personalities have more than one power? Not many. And as for precognition, as Simonetti said, more than their fair share is possessed by wild-looking women. Like Sniffles, I thought suddenly.

“Well,” Rose said, turning back to his partner. “Let Sime and me talk it over. Maybe we should get a PC.”

“Nuts,” Simonetti told him.

“I’ll think it over, too,” I said. “See you tomorrow.” I turned to go. Simonetti and Smythe followed me out, each for his own reasons, I guess, leaving Rose behind in the cube of glass on the roof, looking like he was going to turn belly-up and take a bite out of the PBX on his desk.


I wasn’t exactly shadowed, but I knew somebody had his eye on me as I wandered about the crowded casino, looking for Sniffles. As far as I could make out, she had vamoosed without trying to hustle another sucker. Her percentage of my winnings had certainly been a disappointment to her.

At last I went down the ersatz wooden steps into the neon-gashed night and started across the nearly deserted main drag toward the motel where I had registered. A powerful turbine howled as a car pulled away from the curb, perhaps a hundred yards up the way. His lights came on and snapped up to bright. I had a perfect flash of PC—I dohave moments of it, no matter what the Lodge thinks. The car was going to take a dive into the fountain pool in front of my motel. But it sure didn’t act like it. I froze in the middle of the road, hearing rubber scream as the driver floored the throttle and hurled the automobile right at me. He might as well have been on tracks. There was no place to go—I was in the middle of a six-lane boulevard, and could never make either curb before he ran me down.

This is when it pays to be a perceptive. I’ve talked to many TK’s about how they visualize their lifts. We all conceive of it differently. With me a real strain is like shining a bright beam of light on the spot you’re lifting.

Be glad, Wally Bupp, I had time to tell myself. Be glad for a mechanical mind. Where do you lift four thousand pounds of car aimed right at you? Well, there is a small valve, can’t weigh half an ounce, lightly spring-loaded, that is in the power-steering mechanism. I seared a lift at it. You know what happened.

The feedback of the power-steering wrenched the wheel from the driver’s hand—it was ten times as strong as he was, dragging its power as it did from a four-hundred horsepower shaft turning 30,000 rpm. The car careened and skidded across the curb. It took out a small marble rail around the fountain pool and dived in, still screaming rubber. The fountain went over with a crash and then the racket dwindled off in the shriek of twisted buckets. The turbine had gotten what for in the collision.

I didn’t hang around to see what had happened to the driver. He was just some heavy who had the job of rubbing me out. But I did seek another haven. If they knew me that well, I’d never be safe where I had stashed my suitcase.

There was a ‘copter squatting at the Sky Hi’s ramp. I jumped for it and had him drop me toward the outskirts of the town of Lake Tahoe, and then walked a few blocks, mostly in circles to see if I were being followed, before darting into a fairly seedy motel a couple blocks off the main drag.

My room was on the third floor of the flea-bag. Part of the place was only two stories high. The door at the end of my corridor opened out onto the roof. When I had calmed down, I stepped through the door into the cool of the desert night.


The gravel on the built-up roof crunched in the darkness under my feet as I walked cautiously to the parapet and looked over its edge to the hunk of desert that stretched away toward Reno, out behind the motel. The third story, behind me, cut off the neon glare from the Strip and left the place in inky darkness. There was silence and invisibility out behind the motel.

Feeling a little creaky about falling a couple stories to the ground, I lay down on my back on the narrow parapet, with my hands behind my head to soften the concrete a little, and looked straight up into the night sky. A dawdling August Perseid scratched a thin mark of light across the blackness. I heard a coyote howl. This was desert. This was peace. The dice and chuck-a-luck seemed ten thousand miles away.

I heard a sound. Gravel crunched dimly under another foot. Somebody had stepped invisibly onto the roof. It scared the daylights out of me, more so because I was flat on my back. Cautiously I turned my head toward the door I had come through. I could see the fuzzy redness of a cigarette in the dark. It brightened as the smoker took a drag. Then I heard the sniffle, and knew who it was.

She stood there, apparently leaning against the wall behind her, silently, invisible but for the glow of her cigarette, and not moving her feet. “Hello,” I said at last.

“Wasn’t sure you wanted to talk,” she said out of the dark. It shook me up. She certainly couldn’t see me.

“How’d you know I was here?” I asked her.

“I don’t know how. But I knew you would be.” That wasn’t what I had asked, exactly. She sniffled, and I could almost see the back of her hand swipe at the bead of moisture that kept forming at the tip of her skinny nose. Made me think. Psi powers crop up more often than they should in folks who are marked with a debility. It’s the old compensation story. Look at my weak right arm. What she had said about expecting to find me on the roof sounded like precognition. And she sniffled and sniffled. Maybe it was one more of those tied-in hysterical Psi weaknesses.

“What are you doing out here?” I asked her.

“Resting,” she said wearily. “I just hit town today.”

“And tired already?”

“I was broke,” she said. “Worked in a hotel laundry till dinner time to get eatin’ money. Hot work. But I swiped a nice dress to wear when I went looking for you, Billy Joe.”

“Yeah,” I said, hiding my snicker over the dress. “Say, I wanted to thank you for handling my chips. I’d have lost my shirt if I hadn’t let you show me how. I wanted to slip you a cut, but you bugged out of there.”

“I figured you should handle our money, Billy Joe,” she said. “Anyway, can’t take money for my gift.”

She had me shaking with excitement. “You have a gift?” I said, trying to keep my voice calm.

“Just some nights. Since I broke my vow, I’ve lost most of my prophecy. My real gift is healing. Lost all of that,” she concluded, not bitterly. “God is punishing me.”

Gravel crunched as she came slowly across the roof toward me. The fag end of her cigarette made a spinning arc in the night as she snapped it over the side of the roof. Now there was no way to see her at all. Perception is nice in the dark. I tracked her automatically.

“What was the vow you broke?” I said.

She sighed, near me. “I divorced my husband, my own darlin’ Billy,” she said. “There’s no divorce in Heaven.”

“Tough,” I said. I thought I was her darlin’ Billy. Talk about Double-think! “Will you miss never having a man again? I mean, once you’ve been a wife—” I added, letting it drift off.

“God has been good to me,” she said out of the dark. “He let me see my own future, that he would give me a husband again.”

That was a curve. “Isn’t that an even worse breaking of vows?” I said. “I mean, if in God’s sight you’re still married to Billy Joe?”

“Would be,” she conceded from the black, now right next to me. “But He told me that the man I should seek would beBilly Joe—hit’s a miracle worked for me.” Her voice lowered. “A miracle that come to pass tonight, my darlin’ Billy.” A shiver ran its fingers up my spine. She meant every word of it. I was her darlin’ Billy.


I wasn’t in any mood to get married, and least of all to a seeress. Precognition is the least understood of the Psi powers, and the most erratic. But of all people, I could least afford to sneer at the power of Psi.

For the first time, I guess, I realized the awful helplessness that comes over the Psiless when a TK invokes his telekinetic power. I wanted no part of the future this corn-fed oracle had conjured up. But it might be the only future I’d ever have.

I tried to recall her looks. Thinking about them, they really added up to no more than hysterical sniffles, not enough to eat, and the pathetic evidence that there hadn’t been any money for orthodonture. Fatten her up, straighten her teeth and—Talk about religious rationalization!

I snapped out of it. Maybe she could call the turn of dice. But I’d be damned if she could call the turn of people. Let her try me.

I sat up on the parapet, swinging to put my feet on the gravel of the root. “So tonight you found the husband God’s been going to give you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said softly.

“And I’m the one?”

“Yes!”

“Not that again!” I growled, grabbing her thin shoulders and shaking her. Her glasses bobbled on her nose. “I’mnot your darlin’ Billy, and you well know it. Admit it!”

She closed her lips over her buck teeth and sniffled. “I reckon not,” she said, raising her head and looking at me without flinching. “I lied to you.”

“Why?”

“Kind of made me feel more decent about bein’ divorced.”

I gave her a last shake for the lie. “Let’s have it,” I went after her. “How much of what you’ve been feeding me is just window dressing?”

She shrugged, but stayed silent.

Have you been married?” I insisted.

“Yes, Billy Joe.”

And divorced?”

“Oh, darlin’ Billy,” she sighed. “I jest shouldn’t never a done that. But I did,” she added.

“Talk English,” I snapped. “This chitterlin’s and corn pone are just more window dressing, right?”

Her face was solemn behind the glasses. “When you are a smart girl, and you know the future, too, they hate you and try to hurt you,” she said. “They don’t seem to mind it so much if it comes from a piece of white trash that never could be ‘no account.’ By the time I was twelve or so I had learned to act just a little stupid and corn-fed.”


This, her longest speech, she delivered in quiet, Neutral American, the speech that covers the great prairie states and is as near accentless and pure as American English ever is. It branded her Ozark twang as a lie, and a great many other things about her. But it added something very solid to her claims of prophecy.

“All this,” I said. “Because you see the future?”

“Yes, Billy Joe.”

“And this talk about losing your prophecy because of divorce was just that, talk?” I insisted.

Her mouth worked silently. “I talk like trash, and sometimes I start to think like it,” she confessed. “I even act like it. I’ve tried not to see things acomin’. But,” she added, drifting back into her Ozark lingo. “Always I knowed I was to find you. I knowed I was to go and search in spots of sin, for there you would be. And it kept getting stronger on me where to seek. This night I knew it was the time. I never got a dress and all before.”

The chilly fingers touched me again. Still, what she was saying made some weird kind of sense. “What about the healing?” I tried, feeling a trap slowly descending over me.

She smiled at that. “I guess I put that punishment on myself for what I done,” she said.

“Then you can still heal the sick?” I asked. She shrugged. “I want you to try,” I added.

“Not till I get a sign,” she said, moving uneasily. “I’m to get a sign.”

I waved my hands in disgust and turned away from her. “There had to be some fakery in it somewhere,” I said. “You couldn’t heal a hang-nail!”

“Not a fake!” she said hotly. “I have healed the sick!”

“Don’t get uppity,” I said. “So have I. You see,” I told her. “I’m a doctor. Not much of a one,” I admitted, pointing to my weak right arm. “I can’t heal myself.”

“Oh, yore pore arm,” she said.

“Show me,” I said, turning on her. “Heal me!”

“I’m to have a sign!” she wailed.

Well, she got one. I took her to my room, pointed at the dresser. One of the glasses on the tray beside a pitcher rose, floated into the bath and, after we had both heard the water run, came back through the air and tilted to trickle a few drops of water onto her head.

Her words gave her away—she was no mystic. She swung her eyes back to me: “TK!” she gasped. She recoiled from me. She’d had a viper to her bosom.

“Heal me!” I snapped at her. “You’ve had your sign, and I’m your darlin’ Billy.”

“I got to find it,” she said desperately. “The weak place.”



I flopped on the bed, stretched my arm out against the counterpane. She ran her fingers over it—the old “laying on of hands.” If she were the real thing, I knew what it was—perception at a level a TK can’t match. The real healers feel the nerves themselves. I’d been worked on before. The more hysterical healers, some really creepy witches, had given me some signs of relief, but none could ever find the real “weak place,” as she called it.

She was mumbling to herself. I guess you could call it an incantation. I got a picture of a nubile waif, too freakish to fit where she’d been raised. What had her Hegira been like? In what frightful places had she found herself welcome? From her talk, it could have been an Ozark backwater. I didn’t want to know what backwoods crone had taught her some mnemonic rendition of the Devil’s Litany.

Her hands passed up beyond my shoulder, to my neck. “It’s in yore haid,” she said. “In yore darlin’ haid!” Fingers worked over my scalp. “Oh, there!” she gasped. “Hit’s ahurtin’ me! Hurtin’, hurtin’, and I’m a draggin’ it off’n yuh!” Her backwoods twang sharpened as she aped some contemporary witch.

Hurt? She didn’t know what it meant. She fired a charge of thermite in my head, and it seared its way down my arm to my fingers. My right arm came off the bed and thrashed like a wounded snake. She wrestled it, climbed onto the bed, and held it down with her boney knees. Her fingers kneaded it, working some imaginary devil out through the fingertips, till the hurt was gone.


We sat close together on the edge of the bed at last, as I worked and moved my arm, one of us more in awe of what had happened than the other. It was weak—with those flabby, unused muscles, it had to be. But I could move it, to any normal position.

“I never done like that before,” she breathed. “Jest small ailin’.”

“You’re a healer, all right,” I said. “And a prophetess, too, from what I saw at the dice table. You know what a Psi personality is?” I asked her. “Say, what is your name, anyway?”

“Pheola,” she said. “Yes, I’ve heard of them,” she said.

“You’re one,” I told her. “You can heal many people.”

She shook her head. “Only could do it because I love you, Billy Joe,” she said.

“We’ll teach you,” I promised her. “Would you like to learn? You’ve heard of the Lodge, haven’t you?”

“Lordy!” she gasped.

“You’re as good as in it,” I told her. “Now tell me, what am I going to do tomorrow morning?”

She got up and started to pace the room, sniffling. “Why would you do that?” she said at length. “You are going to the bank, first thing. You’ve got all that money. It’s thousand dollar bills! And you’re writing on them.” She frowned at me, sniffling again. “Do I really see it?” she asked. “Is that right?”

“I’ll make it right,” I said. “Come on,” I told her. “If we’re going to stay up all night, we need fuel. How long since you’ve tackled a twenty-ounce sirloin?”


The Lodge has unmentioned influence. No, Psi powers aren’t a secret government. But what high official can afford to be at odds with us? They know where the Lodge stands. A little while on the visor as the east pinked up got me what I wanted. Because of the three-hour time difference, the Washington brass got me carte blanche before banking hours at the Tahoe bank that supplied the Sky Hi Club with its cash.

Working with the cashier, who hadn’t even taken time to shave after getting his orders from the Federal Reserve Bank, I went over their stock of thousand dollar bills, as Pheola had PC’d I would, and marked down the edges of the stacks with grease pencil. Mostly I did it to make my grip firmer. When the time came, I could make that money jump.

Pheola let me get her a cocktail dress in one of the women’s shops. The right dress helped, but more steaks would have helped even more. I’ll bet I put five pounds on her that day. She was one hungry ‘cropper. Hungry and sniffly.

We idled away the afternoon and waited until nearly midnight to go back to the Sky Hi Club. Action is about at its peak then, and if the cross-roader had been tipping dice again, as they suspected, they would have had time to notice which table wasn’t making its vigorish.

Plain enough where they were having trouble. Fowler Smythe was scowling through his glasses behind a table with Barney, the dealer I’d hit with the Blackout. Their faces were sweating in the dry desert air. The table was being taken.

“Now watch it, Pheola,” I said, as we squeezed into the crowd, opposite the dealers. “Almost anything can happen. I want to know the instant you get a feeling. You understand?” She nodded and wiped at her drippy nose with a clean handkerchief. I’d gotten her a dozen.

There was the same old racket. The burnt out voice of a chanteuse, coming over the PA system from the dining room, tried to remember the sultry insouciance with which it had sung “Eadie was a Lady” in its youth. Waiters in dude-ranch getups swivel-hipped from table to table like wraithes through the mob of gamblers, trays of free drinks in their hands. This time Pheola didn’t have the same greedy grab for the hors d’oeuvres. She’d wrapped herself around a couple pounds of high-quality protein before we had come to the casino.

The gamblers were urging the dice with the same old calls, and the stick-men were chanting: “Coming out!” “Five’s the point!” “And seven! The dice pass!” and all the rest. The ivories had a way to go before they reached us. I gave Pheola a stack of ten-buck chips and let her bet, without making any effort to tip the dice. She still had it. She moved the chips back and forth from “Pass” to “Don’t Pass” and won at every roll. I could see Fowler Smythe begin to scowl as she let her winnings ride, building up a real stack.


Without warning she dragged down her winnings and leaned close to me, sniffling. “You’ll get all wet!”

I looked around, seeing a waiter near me. He had just served drinks to the rear, half of the table, to the gamblers nearest the dealers. His tray was still half-full. This was the moment. It was a generalized sort of lift, the kind of thing that qualifies a TK for the Thirty-third degree. I heaved at the thousand-dollar bills I had had marked in the morning, without the faintest idea of where they were. The tray lurched in the waiter’s hand, throwing glasses to the floor. Most of them shattered when they struck the real wood planks, splashing whisky and mix on our legs.

I looked across the table and grinned at Fowler Smythe. His scowl had an awful lot of forehead to work on. “What the devil!” I could read his lips say over the racket. But Barney, the stick-man who’d felt my Blackout, caught on a lot quicker.

I was about to freeze him with a clamp on his thyroid. It’s just as effective as wrapping your fingers around the throat. But Pheola upset the apple cart.

She grabbed my right arm, so newly powerful. “No, Billy Joe!” she cried. “I don’t want to die!”

“Who’s dying?” I snapped.

“He’s shooting me!” she gasped.

Shoot? With what? I had one terrified moment—what to lift? What was aimed at her? At the last possible moment I saw it. His crap-stick was a hollow tube, and he was raising it toward me, not toward Pheola. I’d heard of things like that—a gas-powered dart gun. Silent, and shooting a tiny needle with a nerve poison in grooves cut in its tip.

I lifted, but half in panic. Fowler Smythe squeezed his trigger and the tiny dart leaped unseen across the crap layout. My lift had been way off—it should have thrown the stick toward the ceiling, where no one would have been hurt. Instead it merely twitched the crap-stick, and the dart struck Pheola in the left hand. She screeched a little and grabbed at the needle-prick with her fingernails.

You never know how much power there is in Psi until you use it without restraint. I threw the crowd back away from us with a lift that nearly blacked me out, and had Pheola on the wet boards of the floor before she could blink. She had only seconds to live unless I blocked all circulation to and from her arm. I found the spots in her armpit and lifted the veins and arteries into a complete block.

A whiff of garlic told me that Simonetti had reached the table. He’d been watching on the TV monitor, of course. He knelt down beside us.

“A doctor, quick,” I said. “She’s been pinked with nerve poison.”

“She’s gone, then,” he said huskily. “Who done it?”

“Fowler Smythe,” I said bitterly. “A snake within the Lodge. You might try to stop him. But your partner, Rose, is the real crook. Get the doc, then tie up Rose.”

“She’s gone,” he insisted. “Nerve poison kills right now.”

“He’s right, Billy Joe,” Pheola said softly. “I’m going numb all over.”

“What did I tell you?” Simonetti husked at me. I had enough left to hit him sharply over the temples with a lift. “A doctor. With antidote,” I snapped. He trotted away.

“Darlin’ Billy!” she said, and her heart stopped. She was dead. I picked her up in my arms and carried her to the same sawdust-strewn private dining room where I’d given Barney the Blackout.

I had to split the lift. The tourniquet was an absolute necessity, or more of the nerve poison would enter her system. But her heart couldn’t stop. The brain can only stand a few seconds of that. I hadn’t let it miss three beats. Even as I carried her from the casino, I lifted the main coronary muscle and started a ragged pumping, maybe forty beats a minute. Once in the smaller room I began artificial respiration with my mouth.

The sawbones was there in three minutes. I guided the tip of his hypodermic into a vein in her right arm, the one that still had blood coursing through it. He depressed the piston, pumping the antidote into her bloodstream. Little by little I let up on the clamp on her wounded left arm, dribbling the poisoned blood into her system, so that the antidote could react with it gradually. She stayed unconscious.

Then I felt it. Her heart muscle tugged back at my lift. It was struggling to beat on its own. I matched my lifts to its ragged impulses, feeling it steady to a normal seventy-two as the antidote took effect.

Her eyes opened at last, and we stopped respiration. “Billy Joe!” she smiled. She was back from the dead.


In an hour we had returned to the motel. She was as good as new, but badly shaken.

“I still don’t know what happened,” she said.

I shrugged. “Smoke screen, Pheola. Every time there’s a run of luck on a crap table, somebody yells ‘TK!’ And I suppose there’s a number of TK’s who aren’t in the Lodge, and who figure to make a killing here and a killing there by tipping the dice. But any decent TK, even a Fowler Smythe, can spot them.

“There was TK in this, but not tipping dice. Smythe is a skunk. He’s no Twenty-fifth, or he wouldn’t have any need to go crooked. He saw a chance to make a killing. He suggested it to Rose, who fell for it and went along. Rose decided to steal Simonetti’s half of the business from his partner with Smythe’s help. It was no more complicated than smuggling thousand dollar bills off the table in false bottoms of trays that drinks were being served on. Smythe was using TK to lift the bills into those false bottoms, well screened by the trays from the TV monitors. Barney was in on it, of course. And after the joint had lost enough dough that way, Rose and Simonetti would have had to sell out. Only the buyer would have been a dummy for Rose and Smythe, using money Smythe had lifted off the tables.

“The whole TK business was just a smoke screen to keep matters confused,” I concluded.

“How come they dared send for a TK like you? Why weren’t they scared you’d catch them, just like you did?”

“It took a little more than TK,” I reminded her. “TK is just a power, one more ability in life. It doesn’t make you God. Once in a while it gives you a little more vigorish than the other guy has, that’s all. And sometimes it’s not enough.”

“But you had enough vigorish to catch them,” she pointed out.

“In a way,” I said. “I told them TK wasn’t enough—that it would take precognition. And I don’t have PC. I had to bring a PC with me. You, Pheola. That’s why I’m alive. Smythe would have killed me with that dart gun of his. Youwere my vigorish!”

We rode the ‘copter together to the airport. Old Grand Master Maragon would sneer out of the other side of his face when I brought Pheola to him. He couldn’t keep her from PC training. She had it.

“Tell me,” I asked her. “Can you always tell what I’m going to do next?”

“I reckon,” she said. “If I think hard about it.”

“But you can’t control what I’m going to do next, can you?” I grinned.

“I wonder,” she said. “Never tried, yet.”

“Oh, no!” I groaned.

She showed me her buck teeth in a smile. “I figger first you’ll have them straighten my teeth,” she said. “You’d like a pretty wife.”

“If it’s got to be,” I said weakly. “That would help. I just wish there was some way to handle that hysterical sniffle of yours, that’s all. But I guess that’s the price you have to pay for that awful load of Psi power you have.”

“Oh, that,” she said. “I ought to be over that by tomorrow. I hardly ever get a cold, darlin’ Billy, and when I do, I throw it off in a few days.”

Well, I guess it’s a cinch I’m no PC.

THE END









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SF76The Trouble with Telstar by John Berryman闫盼盼OpenCV步步精深

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Trouble with Telstar, by John Berryman



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Title: The Trouble with Telstar



Author: John Berryman



Illustrator: John Schoenherr



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This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction June 1963. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

 

 

 

 

THE TROUBLE WITH TELSTAR

 

The real trouble with communications satellites is
the enormous difficulty of repairing
even the simplest little trouble.
You need such a loooong screwdriver.

 

by JOHN BERRYMAN

 

ILLUSTRATED BY JOHN SCHOENHERR


D

oc Stone made sure I wouldn’t give him the “too busy” routine. He sent Millie to get me.

“Okay, Millie,” I said to Stone’s secretary. “I’ll be right with you.” I cleared the restricted notes and plans from my desk and locked them in the file cabinet, per regulations, and walked beside Millie to Stone’s office.

“It’s a reflex mechanism, Mike,” Dr. Stone said as Millie showed me in. “Every type knows how to fight for survival.” He took one thoughtful puff on his pipe. “The old fud,” he added.

“The solenoid again, Doc?” I asked.

“What else, Mike?” he said, raising his pale eyebrows. “It’s Paul Cleary’s baby, and after all these years with the company, he doesn’t figure to go down without a fight.”

So I was in the middle of it. I had no business to be there, either. The design of that solenoid certainly hadn’t been mine. All I had ever done was find out how to destroy it. And after all, that’s part of what my lab does, and what I do, for a living.

“Quit staring out the window, Mike,” Doc said behind me. “Here, sit down.”

I took the chair beside the desk and watched him go through the business of unloading his pipe, taking the carefully air-tight top off the humidor we had machined for him down in the lab, and loading up with the cheapest Burley you can buy. So much for air-tight containers. Doc got it going, which took two wooden matches, because the stuff was wringing wet—thanks again to an air-tight container.

“I just left Cleary’s office, Mike,” he explained. “He won’t admit that there’s any significance to the failures you have introduced in his solenoid. He insists that your test procedures affected performance more than design did, and he wants to talk with you.”

“Great,” I said glumly. “Can I count on you to give me a good recommendation for my next employer?”

“Cut it out, Mike,” he said, coming as near to a snap as his careful voice could manage. He blew smoke out around the stem of his pipe. I think sometimes it’s a part of his act, like the slightly-out-of-press sports jacket and flannel trousers. It says he is a sure enough Ph.D. If you ask me, he’s a comer. You can’t rate him for lack of brains. He knows an awful lot about solid-state physics, and for a physicist, he sure learned enough about micro-assemblies of electronic components. I guess that’s why he was in charge of final assembly of the Telstar satellites for COMCORP.

“Don’t worry about what Paul Cleary can do to you, Mike,” he suggested. “Think a little bit more about what Fred Stone can do for you. Cleary is only a year or so from retirement, and you know it.”

“He could make that an awful tough year, Doc.” I said. “You told me he won’t hear of design bugs in that solenoid. He’ll insist something went wrong in assembly.”

Doc Stone smiled thinly at me and brushed at his blond crew cut. “It is a tough spot, Mike,” he agreed. “Because I won’t hear any talk of faulty assembly. You’ll have to choose, I guess. If you think you can make your bed by playing footsie with an old fud who has only a year to go, try it. Just remember that I’ve got another thirty years to go, and I’ll breathe down your neck every minute of them if you let me down!”

“Sure,” I said. “When do I see him?”

“Now.”


Doc Stone got someone named Sylvia on the phone and then told me to go right up. After I got there, I had to sit and wait in Cleary’s outer office.

I shared it with a small, intense girl named Sylvia Shouff, if you believed the little plastic sign on her desk. There was barely room for it in the welter of paper, files, notebooks, phones, calendars and other junk she had squirreled. She was much too busy banging at a typewriter and handling the phone to pay any attention to me. Her pert, lively manner said she hadn’t taken any wooden nickels lately.

But I had. The last series of tests in my lab had put me in the middle of a hell of a scrap. It had all started a couple years back, when the final design had been approved for a whole sky-full of communications satellites. Well, eighteen, to be exact. One of the parts in the design had been a solenoid, part No. M1537, which handled a switching operation too potent for a solid-state switch. That solenoid was one of the few moving parts in the Telstars, and it had been designed for skeighty-eight million cycles before it got sloppy or quit.

In practice, out in space, the switching operation simply hadn’t worked. After about a hundred hours of use in Telstar One, it failed. Unfortunately, this had not been discovered until the first six satellites had been launched. Further launchings were postponed while they ran accelerated switching tests on satellites Two through Six out in space. The same kind of failure took place on each bird.

There were two schools of thought on licking the bug. Doc Stone, of course, insisted that solenoid M1537 had failed, which was one possible interpretation of the telemetry. And Paul Cleary, who had been in charge of design, insisted that faulty assembly was to blame. Well, somebody would make up his mind pretty soon, and my evidence would have a lot to do with it. I had done the appraisal tests of the circuit in the test lab once the bug had been detected, and now Cleary was going to smoke it out of me.

“Mr. Seaman,” Sylvia Shouff said to me, kind of waking me up. “Mr. Cleary will see you now. Have you ever met?” she added, as I came toward her desk.

I shook my head. “I’m a working stiff,” I said, “I never get to meet the brass.”

“You are also somewhat insolent,” she said tartly. “Better wash out your mouth before you try that on Paul Cleary. He eats wise young laboratory technicians for breakfast.”

“Yes, mam!” I said, feeling my ears burn. She led me to the door, opened it, and introduced me to Paul Cleary. He lumbered out around his desk and shook my hand with his rather gnarled and boney paw.

“Hello, Seaman. I’m glad to meet you, young man. Come in. We have a lot to talk about,” he said.


Considering that Cleary was a wheel, and had thirty years of service with Western Electric behind him, his office wasn’t especially large. Maybe that’s because Communications Corporation is owned half by the government and half by AT&T. The government half makes us watch our pennies.

“Have a seat, Mike,” Cleary said, going around to lower himself carefully into a tall swivel chair. He learned back and rocked slowly, like an old woman on the front porch of a resort hotel. His pipe was still smoking in a rather large ashtray. He picked it up, showing it to be a curve-stemmed old-man’s style, and puffed contentedly at it. On him it didn’t look like an act.

“Well,” he said, pulling big shaggy eyebrows down so they shaded his pale blue eyes. “You’ve become something of a celebrity around here, Mike.”

This was an unexpected approach. “Nobody told me,” I complained. “Does this kind of fame show up in the paycheck?”

“Not always,” Cleary said, scowling a little. “I just meant that your name gets bandied about. Every time I talk to Fred Stone he says, ‘Dr. Seaman says this,’ or ‘Dr. Seaman says that.’ I just had to see what this doctor looked like.”

“You can forget the doctor part,” I said uncomfortably. I had heard that Cleary was sensitive about having no advanced degree. When he went to work for the Western, college was plenty. You did your post-graduate work on the job. He sure had—and he had a string of patents as long as your arm to prove it.

“That’s good,” he said. “I’d hate to think I was competing with you in the field of knowledge where you are the world’s specialist.”

I grinned at him a little sickly. “COMCORP has never made any use of my specialty,” I conceded. “You already had about ten guys around here who had learned twice as much as I had simply by doing it every day for a living. They could have written rings around my thesis.”

“Sure,” he said contentedly, puffing more smoke. “So we made a testing engineer out of you. And you may amount to something, to hear Fred Stone tell it.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Now let me hear what you’ve been doing for Fred,” Cleary suggested, in a sort of avuncular tone. “I’d like to measure you myself.”

“You mean the tests I ran on the switching gate?” I asked.

“Why, yes, we can start there,” he nodded, squinting his blue eyes more and blowing a real screen up between us.


“When Telstar One packed up, they sent me down the whole gate from that sector,” I said. “Dr. Stone asked me to run destruct tests on the whole assembly, which I did. The only failures I have induced so far are failures in M1537, the solenoid that all the shouting is about.”

“What kind of failures did you get?”

“Armature froze on the field,” I said. “I guess the bearings really went. When there was enough load on them, they couldn’t maintain concentricity.”

“What kind of loads?” he growled, sinking down lower in his chair. He put his elbows on the arm and laced hairy-backed fingers together under his chin.

“I put the whole gate on the centrifuge and swung it up to twelve gees” I said. “Switching was normal there for the twenty thousand cycles I gave the gate. But when I added undamped vibration at twelve thousand to fifteen thousand cycles per second, I could induce failure pretty quickly. Say an hour or so.”

“You had to apply the vibration throughout the whole test period to get these failures?”

“Yes, Mr. Cleary.”

“Then how do you explain how vibration during no more than six or eight minutes of blast-off and launch could have the same effect on the actual installation on M1537 in a satellite, Mr. Seaman?” Smoke poured from the curve-stem.

“I don’t have to explain it,” I said, beginning to get a little hot. “All I have done is find a way to make one part quit. I haven’t said it did quit in use, or that it could be made to quit in use.”

“Then what the hell are you good for?” Cleary growled.

I didn’t have any answer for that.

He repeated his question, blue eyes glittering. “I asked you what the hell you were good for, Seaman!” he said, much more loudly.

“For putting in the middle,” I snapped back.

“That’s how you interpret this affair, then?”

“Yes.”

“All right,” Cleary said, straightening up. “We’ll stop talking about your work as if it were scientific study and talk about it as a play in office politics. Is that what you want?”

“I don’t want any part of it,” I said, hoping I wasn’t plaintive. “I work under orders. The director of assembly asked me to test the part to destruction. I tested it. I’m sorry that it wasn’t a soldered joint that failed. It wasn’t. It was a solenoid. What has that got to do with me?”

“Nothing, maybe,” Cleary conceded, pushing himself up out of his chair. He went to his window to stare out at the parking lot. “You can be a test engineer all your life, if that’s what you want.”

“It isn’t.”

“And what do you want, Mike?” he said, turning back to face me.

“Your job,” I said. “In time.”


He nodded. “Well said,” he decided. “But if you want it, you’ll have to learn that business is about ninety per cent people and about ten per cent operations. You know, as you have clearly shown, that Fred Stone is pushing to get me out of here a little before my time, and pushing to make sure that he gets this spot, for which there are other claimants of equal rank in the organization. Oh no,” he said, holding up his hand. “Don’t tell me that is none of your affair. Right now you are in the unusual position of being able to cast a vote that will decide just how soon Fred Stone can make his move for the top spot. And as long as you sit there and try that smug line of ‘I just test ’em and let the chips fall where they may,’ you are really siding with Fred Stone. I need something else out of you, and you know it. What’s it going to be? Are you a wise enough head at your years to pick a winner in this scrap? And what if it isn’t Fred? I’ll have your hide, young man.”

“That’s what your snippy little brunette said,” I told him. “She told me that you’d eat me for breakfast, and she was right.” I got to my feet.

“Where are you going,” he growled. He was still standing behind his chair.

“To look for another job, Mr. Cleary. There must be some place where the honest result of a test will be assessed as the honest result of a test rather than a move in a political fight.”

“Honest result?” he echoed, and snorted. “Was your test honest? What really happened out there in space?”

“Nobody asked me,” I said hotly. “My assignment was to test that gate until a part failed.”

“A dishonest assignment,” Cleary said. “Sit down a minute.” We both calmed down and took our seats. I got a cigar out of my coat, peeled the wrapper and made counter-smoke. “Here, I’ll give you an honest assignment, Seaman. You’re a test engineer. Tell me what happened out there in space. Why did that switching operation fail?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” I said.

“Then find out!”

I chewed my cigar. “Without duplicating the conditions?” I protested. “And how can we? There’s zero gravity—zero pressure—all sorts of things going on out there we can’t duplicate in a lab.”

“I really don’t care how you do it,” he said. “But if it were my job I’d just light my pipe and sit here and think for a week or so. Why don’t you try it?”

I got up again. “Yes, sir,” I said. “I suppose it would help to have the original telemetry data so that I could evaluate for myself what went wrong.”

“I thought you’d get to that,” he said, passing me a fat file-folder. “Here it is.” He stood up, too, and led me to the door. “And other data you might want?” he asked, now a good deal more kindly. His hand was on my elbow.

I looked at him. “How about the phone number of the brunette out there?” I asked without taking the stogey from my teeth.

“Sylvia? That’s pretty valuable information,” he said, beginning to grin in a sleepy old fashion. “But she only dates astronauts. If you haven’t made at least three orbits, she won’t even have dinner with you.”

I stopped at Sylvia’s desk with half an idea of asking her for a date. “Well, Dr. Seaman,” she demanded as I chewed on my pacifier. “What did you learn?”

I thought about it. “That a lot depends on knowing where to put your feet,” I said, puffing smoke. “And my name is Mike.”

She sniffed. “If you think Paul Cleary hasn’t been around long enough to catch Fred Stone trying to fake him out of position with a meaningless test,” she said, “you have another think coming!”

“He’d never have tried it,” I told her, “if he’d known Cleary had you to look after him.” That got me a much louder sniff and toss of the dark curly head, which broke up my plans to ask her to dinner.

The telemetry results had been decoded, of course, so that a mere mortal could read them. I didn’t have a pipe, which probably meant I’d be a failure as a physicist, so I chewed cigars ragged for about three days and did some serious thinking. When I got a result, I looked up Shouff, Sylvia, Secy./Mgr./Dsgn., in the phone directory, and talked to my favorite brunette.

“Mr. Cleary’s office,” she said.

“When would he like to see Mike Seaman?” I tried.

“Probably never,” she told me. “But I suppose he’ll have to. Isn’t Fred Stone going to run your errand for you?”

“I’m running Fred Stone’s errands, isn’t that what you really think, Sylvia?” I asked her.

Sniff! “He can see you at eleven.” Click.

Paul Cleary had his coat off and was poring over a large black-on-white schematic when I was shown in by sniffin’ Sylvia. “Hello, Mike,” he growled. “Here, Sylvia. Mike’s not supposed to see this stuff. Drag it away, honey. Drag it away!”

With quick motions she rolled up the drawings, snapped a rubber binder around them and went out. Cleary wagged his hairy old paw to the chair beside his desk.

“So you’ve been thinking?” he asked, reaching for his curve-stemmed pipe.

“How do you know?”

“My spies tell me you haven’t been out in the lab since the other day. Certainly you were doing something besides sulk in your office.”

“Yes.”

“Well, what did you come up with? Why did that switching operation fail out in space.”

“I don’t know.”

His shaggy eyebrows shot up. “You don’t know? Is that all COMCORP got for three days’ pay?”

“A confession of ignorance is a hell of a lot more revealing than a solid error,” I snapped. “The honest answer that I get out of the telemetry data is that something in that gate broke the circuit and the switching operation failed. I think there are about seven thousand components in the gate. I don’t know which one failed. A few I can rule out, because they would only cause part of the gate to fail. But a hundred different breaks could account for the data. So I don’t know.”

He lit his pipe and blew smoke around the curved stem before he made reply. “So we got a philosopher for our money,” he said. “A confession of ignorance, eh? What are you going to do about it?”

“You tell me, Mr. Cleary. You’re the old head around here.”

“So I am,” he said evenly. “So I am. Well, my advice to young pups is that they should not be ashamed when they don’t know. They should say so. But they should have something else to say along with it.”

“For example,” I suggested grumpily.

“They should say, ‘I don’t know, but I know where to find out,'” he said. “Tell me, Dr. Seaman, do you know where to find out?”

He puffed at me for the two or three minutes I thought about it. Really, that’s a very long time to think. Most ideas come to you the moment you identify the problem, which is the really hard part of thinking. But this problem took some thought, and I wanted him to think I was thinking.

“Yes,” I said at last. “I know where to find out.”

“Where?”

“Out in space.”


This called for a lot more smoke. “You mean, go out there and look at the satellite, in space?”

“Yes, I can’t imagine any other way really to figure it out.”

He nodded. “You may be right, Mike. But do you know how much it costs to send a manned satellite aloft?”

“Oh,” I agreed. “There are cheaper ways. We can beef up every part in that gate, test it much tougher than we already have, and when we get the gate to where all seven thousand components can stand any imaginable strain, we can rebuild the twelve Telstars we haven’t launched yet and be pretty sure they won’t have switching failures. But that isn’t what you asked me.”

“We’d have to fix eighteen of them,” he said. “The first six are about sixty per cent useless. They’d have to be replaced.”

“I still think you should consider sending a man to examine the Telstars in orbit,” I suggested.

“Science demands it, eh” he growled.

“No, I was thinking that perhaps a simple repair could be made in space, and that you wouldn’t have to launch six extra birds.”

He got out of the chair and went to the clothes tree to put on his coat. The elbows were shiny from leaning on his desk. “It might be cheaper at that,” he said. “The first six are launched in only two orbits. Three telstars in each orbit, separated by one hundred and twenty degrees. Two launches of a repair man might do it, with careful handling. Is that what you had in mind?”

“Something like that.”

“We’d have to send a pretty rare kind of a repair man, Mike,” he said, coming back to sit on the corner of his desk and glower down at me. That was about his kindest expression.

“Yes,” I agreed. “You need somebody who can test and diagnose, and then make a repair.”

“And who is an astronaut, too,” he said. “I wonder if there is such a thing?”

“Make one,” I suggested.

He scowled a little more fiercely. “Explain that,” he ordered.

“I figure you could take one of our men from my laboratory, who knows how to test the gate, and a man who is handy enough with miniature components to cut out the one that failed and replace it, and teach him how to get around in a spacesuit. That would surer than hell be quicker than taking one of these hot-shot astronauts and teaching him solid-state physics.”

“Yes,” he agreed, looking down his fingers. “That was a pretty sneaky way to get out from between Fred Stone and me, young man.”

I couldn’t resist it: “That’s what took most of the three days,” I said, just a little too smugly.

“I liked you better in the middle,” Cleary grumped. “Well, you have a thought, and it calls for a conference.” He took his coat off again, hung it on the clothes tree, came back to his desk and got on the phone.

“Sylvia? Have Fred Stone come up, and you come in with him, eh? That’s a dear.”

He racked up the instrument and smiled at me as he stoked his pipe into more activity. “Relax,” he advised me. “It always takes a while to round up Fred Stone.”

He wanted no small talk, so I fidgeted in my chair while Cleary rocked gently in his. In about ten minutes, curly-headed Sylvia brought Dr. Stone in with her.


It was, “Hello, Fred,” and “Hello there, Paul,” when they came in. Sylvia didn’t have anything to say, although she gave me a hot-eyed glance before pulling out the dictation board on Paul Cleary’s desk and making herself comfortable with her notebook.

Cleary offered Doc Stone some of his tobacco, which was politely refused. The old man began it:

“Your Dr. Seaman has quite an idea, Fred,” he said, in a mild, kindly voice, with a dumb, guileless look on his face.

“Good, Paul,” Doc Stone smiled thinly. “I’ve told you he’s a good boy.”

“Hm-m-m,” said Cleary. “He says his tests can’t prove what went wrong with the switching gate on the satellites, and in effect that the telemetry doesn’t make it plain whether we have design or assembly trouble.”

“Well, well!” said Fred Stone. I decided to start shopping for a marker for my grave.

“Yes,” Cleary said. “He made quite a suggestion, that we send a man out in space to look over the Telstars and find out what went wrong. Even better, he says it might be possible to make a repair at the same time and get the bird working. You can see the advantages of doing that, the way they are orbiting.”

“Yes, indeed,” Doc Stone said, looking at me with slitted eyes. “Quite a unique adventure for some technician.”

“Just what I was thinking,” Cleary said. “The problem resolves into: Who do we send? Now Mike, here, says we should take a man from his lab who knows the bird and its assembly and teach him how to get around in a spacesuit—that, he claims, would be quicker than taking one of these space jockeys and making a technician out of him.”

“I think he’s right.”

“So—there we are. Who do we send?”

“There can hardly be any choice,” Dr. Stone said, looking at me with eyes like granite.

“Hardly,” Cleary agreed. “The head of the lab is the best man, beyond a doubt.”

They were talking about me! Try to get out of taking sides, would I? Cleary wanted me back in the middle. Stone wanted me dead. They were both likely to get their way, unless I told them off.

I opened my mouth. Cleary cleared his throat loudly.

“Oh, Dr. Seaman!” Sylvia cut in, breaking her careful silence. “What a thrilling opportunity for you!”

I gaped at her. Well, Cleary had said it. She only went out with astronauts. She was space-happy.

“There are men in the shop who deserve the chance….” I started.

“Nonsense!” she said quickly. “It’s your idea, doctor, and you deserve the fame!”

“And the promotion this will undoubtedly earn—if you can bring it off,” Cleary added.

“Yes!” Dr. Stone said with relish. He didn’t think I could, either. Well, that made three of us, unless Sylvia made four.

“Thank you very much,” I started, as a prelude to backing out.

“Good, that’s settled,” Cleary said. “That’s all, Sylvia.”

She got up and left. She had done her dirty work. If I hadn’t been so sick at my stomach, I would have had to admire really great teamwork.

Stone shook my hand with an evil kind of relish and followed her out.

That left Paul Cleary and me alone. “This is a great thing, young man,” he said.

I couldn’t stand him any longer. “You are a worm!” I told him.

“You’re probably right, Mike,” he agreed, without any particular heat. “But a rather just one. I think you’ll admit you’ve been paid off in your own coin. All you had to do was beg off.”

“In front of her? You knew I wouldn’t.”

“I figured you wouldn’t. That’s one of the advantages of being older. You know more about how the young will behave. Come on,” he said, getting up to put on his coat again. “We have to see a man.”

“One thing,” I said, as I got up, “while we’re being so just.”

“Yes?”

“I had thought of asking your Sylvia for a date. But she was so snippy the other night I decided to forget it. Now, she got me into this, and she’ll have to pay and pay! How do I get to her? It’ll be quite a while before I’m an astronaut.”

He took his pipe from between his teeth. “This calls for the wisdom of a Solomon,” he decided. “But you might try oysters.”


It was pretty good advice. I hung behind him long enough to tell Sylvia about the Chincoteague oysters they put in the stew at Grand Central Terminal, and got a dinner date. That was all, just the date, because Cleary was itching to take me to see a man.

Politics must be an awfully large part of business. The man we went to see was the government side of COMCORP, and I guess he had had to do as much explaining about Telstar failures to a Senate Committee as Paul Cleary had had to do to the Western. He wanted an out just as bad as Paul did.

There were a good many conferences before a sufficient number of people decided the cheapest way out was to send a man to fix the Telstars that had broken down. The question was whether it was possible.

We went at it from two directions. They got a team assigned to figuring out if the Dyna-Soar rocket could be modified to make the three contacts around the orbit, carry two men and enough air and fuel for the job, and at COMCORP we appointed a crew to figure out what it meant to make the repair in orbit.

Cleary put me in charge of our crew. They gave me a full-size Telstar satellite for my lab, and I went to work.

Fancy electronic equipment consists of millions of parts, and Telstar is no exception. One of the bonuses America got from its poor rocket booster performance, as compared with the Russians, was a forced-draft course in miniaturization. Our engineers have learned how to make almost anything about one-tenth the size you’d think it ought to be, and still work. To get all these tiny parts into a total system, they are assembled in racks. In the Telstar each of these long skinny sticks of perforated magnesium alloy is hinged to the main framework so that it can be swung out for testing or for replacement of parts, which is why the engineers call each component a “gate.”

I spent several weeks learning how to take each suspected component out of the gate. Most of the time I needed a screwdriver. Sometimes I had to drill out a soft aluminium rivet. The hard part was that some of the components were so deep inside, even with a couple gates swung out the way, that I needed all kinds of extension tools.

Of course, I had to visualize what it would be like doing all this out in space. I’d be in a spacesuit, wearing thick gloves, and when I removed a screw that would have looked good in a Swiss watch, there’d be no work bench on which to place it while I took out the next one. Worse yet, I would have to put it back in.

The longer I worked with the parts, the harder it looked. There wouldn’t be a prayer of just turning the parts loose in space. In theory they’d follow along in orbit. In practice you can’t bring your hand to a halt and release a tiny part without imparting a small proper motion to it. And even worse, you couldn’t handle the little wretches when you tried to put them back in. With a solid floor to lie on, with gravity to give things a position orientation, I kept losing tiny screws. Magnets didn’t help, because the screws were nonmagnetic for what seemed pretty good reasons. Some were made of dural for lightness. Some were silicon bronze. None of them was steel.

That put us back in the lab to find out what would happen if we used steel screws. The answer was, surprisingly, nothing important. So there was one solid achievement. I had a few thousand of each of the thirty-four different sizes of fasteners machined from steel, and magnetized a fly-tier’s tweezers. The result was that I could get screws back into their holes without dropping them, especially when I put little pads of Alnico on the point of each tweezer to give me a really potent magnet. Then we had to cook up an offset screwdriver with a ratchet that would let me reach in about a yard and still run a number 0-80 machine screw up tight. That called for a kind of torque-limit clutch and other snivies.

It was the fanciest and most expensive screwdriver you ever saw. The handle was a good two feet long. The problem then became that of seeing what you were doing, and one of the boys faked up a kind of binocular jeweler’s loupe with long focus, so that I could lie back a yard from the screw and focus on it with about ten diameters magnification. The trouble was that the long focal length gave a field of vision about six times the diameter of the screw-head, which meant that every time my heart beat my head moved enough to throw the field of vision off the work.


By that time I was working in a simulated spacesuit—the actual number was still being made to fit an accurate plaster cast of my body. So the boys figured out a clamp that would hold my helmet firmly to the gate, and a chin rack inside the helmet against which I could press and hold my head steady enough to keep my binoculars focused where they had to be focused. At a certain point I went back to Paul Cleary and said I thought I could make the necessary tests, dismount what I had to dismount, and replace any affected part.

“All worked out, eh?” he said, reaching for his pipe.

“Not by a county mile, Mr. Cleary. But I know what the problems are, and the shop can figure out sensible answers. Some of the hardest parts turned out to be the easiest.”

“Name any three,” he suggested.

“Well, the screws. As I take them out, I’ll discard them into space. I have to use magnetic screws on reassembly, so there is no point saving what I take out. Doug Folley has doped out something like a motorman’s change-dispenser that will dispense one screw at a time into my tweezers, and I’ll carry a supply of all thirty-four kinds at my waist.”

“That’s one,” he counted on a hairy forefinger.

“We can use something like a double-faced pressure-sensitive tape to hold other parts,” I said. “We’ll draw a diagram on it, stick it to some unopened part of the satellite near where I’m working, and as I pull pieces out, I’ll just press them against the other sticky face, in the correct place in the diagram, and they’ll be there to pull loose when I want them.”

“At absolute zero?” he scoffed. “That sticky face will be hard as glass.”

“We’ll face the bird around to the sun,” I said. “And warm it up. If we have to, we’ll put wiring in the tape, connect it to Telstar’s battery supply, and keep it warm.”

“Might work,” he grumped. “That’s two. How about the spacesuit part?”

That had been tougher. Some forty or fifty men had made the ride into space and back from Cape Canaveral by this time, and there had been rendezvous in space in preparation for flights to the moon. But so far no one had done any free maneuvering in space in a suit.

They had put me in a swimming pool in a concentrated salt solution that gave me just zero buoyancy, and I had practiced a kind of skin-diving in a spacesuit. The problem was one of mobility, and the one thing we could not reproduce, of course, was frictionless motion. No matter how I moved, the viscosity of the solution quickly slowed me down. Out in space I’d have to learn on the first try how to get around where every force imparted a motion that would continue indefinitely until an equal and opposite force had been applied.

The force part had been worked out in theory long before. To my spacesuit they had fixed two tiny rockets. One aimed out from the small of my back, the other straight out from my belly. Two pressurized containers contained hydrazine and nitric acid, which could be released in tiny streams into peanut rocket chambers by a single valve-release. They were self-igniting, and spurted out a needle-fine jet of fire that imparted a few dynes of force as long as the valve was held open. It only had two positions—full open, or closed, so that navigation would consist of triggering the valve briefly open until a little push had been imparted, and drifting until you triggered the opposite rocket for braking.

The airtanks on my back were right off a scuba outfit.

Really, they spent more time on the gloves than anything else. At first we thought of the problem as a heat problem, but it was tougher than that. Heat loss was not much, out there in a vacuum, and they made arrangements to warm the handles of my tools so that I wouldn’t bleed heat through my gloves to them and thus freeze my fingers. No, the problem was to get a glove that stood up to a pressure difference of three or four pounds per square inch and could still be flexed with any accuracy by my fingers. We could make a glove that was pretty thin, but it stiffened out under pressure and made delicate work really tough. It was a lot like trying to do brain surgery in mittens.

They eventually gave me a porous glove that leaked air when you flexed your fingers. Air, they said, could always be gotten from the Dyna-Soar rocket that would be hanging close at hand in space. Well, we hoped it would work. I could do pretty fair work with the leaky gloves, and all we could hope was that the vapor would be dry enough as it seeped out through the gloves to prevent formation of a foggy cloud all around me, or the formation of frost on the gloves. That we could not test under any conditions easy to simulate.

Each team spent ninety days. They tell me that’s right quick work for pointing up a launch. But at the end of three months I had assembled enough stuff to do the job, and still well within the weight limit they had to set. I wasn’t a walking machine shop, but there was a lot I could do if I had to.

 

Ninety days had been enough for several dates with Sylvia. Out of the office she wasn’t quite the protective harpy about Paul Cleary that she had been in the office, although the thought was never far from her mind.

We spent my final night in New York before leaving for the Cape at Sweets, a real old fashioned seafood house down on Fulton street. After the obligatory oysters, we had broiled bluefish, and otherwise lived it up. They serve a good piece of apple pie, and we had that with our coffee.

“Are you scared?” Sylvia asked me.

“Of what?” I lied innocently.

“Of being out in space—just floating around?”

“Yes,” I told her honestly. “I’m scared to death. What if I have a queasy stomach? They say a good half of the men who have been in orbit have chucked up or gotten dizzy or something. What if they go to all this trouble and I get spacesick?”

“What if you drift away and can’t get back?” she said. “It isn’t like swimming back to shore.”

“There’s always a way,” I said, my stomach tightening as I thought of what she said.

That was the night she kissed me good night. It wasn’t much of a kiss, because we were standing in the lobby of her apartment house, and she wasn’t going to invite me up, because she never did. But she said: “Hurry back.”

“Just you know it, Shouff,” I said, bitter inside.

I’d have been a lot more bitter if I had known what was in store for me at the Cape. COMCORP flew me down in one of our private prop-jets, with only Paul Cleary for company. He introduced me to the brass, and we sat through a couple conferences while the idea was spelled out to a group of sure-enough spacemen. Then they turned that mob loose on me.

I was emotionally unprepared. First off, Cleary and Fred had been building me up all through the three months, and I had actually gotten to the point where I thought I knew what I was doing. These space-jockeys spent most of their time deflating my ego.

My tormentor-in-chief was a wise punk from Brooklyn named Sid Stein. “How have you made out in your centrifuge tests?” he asked me at breakfast the first morning after I had reached the Cape.

“I have never done any of that stuff, Mr. Stein,” I said.

“Well, how many gees can you pull?”

I shrugged. “Same as you, I suppose. How many is that?”

“Brother!”

The space medic wasn’t any better. The mission chief insisted that it wasn’t safe to put anybody in a satellite who couldn’t pass the physical. I guess you know that about one man in a thousand can qualify. This was supposed to wash me out.

“Remarkable shape.” The space medic kept saying. “You must take considerable exercise, doctor.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Just jog a mile or so before breakfast. Nothing spectacular.”

“No other formal activity?”

“Well,” I snarled, “just swimming, fencing and weight lifting. I’ve given up the boxing and handball.”

“Kept in excellent shape, nevertheless,” he said. “You’ll be a disappointment to them.”

“Look,” Stein said to me after a week of tests and countertests. “Don’t be deceived by these tests. All they show is that your heart is still beating. The big thing is emotional. Doc, I think you should reconsider this idea of flopping around out there in the void. We’ve got experienced men here, and none of them is ready to try it.”

“Fools rush in, eh, Mr. Stein.”

“Precisely.”

In the meantime I got a daily phone call from Paul Cleary. That I could have snarled off, but Sylvia always came on the line first, and there was a minute or so of chit-chat before she cut her boss in on the line. I’m sure she listened to all the calls. But her first words were deadly. For example:

“Mike! Hi, Mike. Mr. Cleary wants to see how you’re doing.”

“Good. Put him on.”

“In a minute. I think it’s so wonderful you passed the final physical, Mike. You’re really so deceptive. I never had imagined you had such a steely physique.”

“Clean living,” I said. “No girls.”

“There’d better not be!”

“Don’t worry. How could I get to see any girls down here? Every time I look away from my work all I can see is Bikini swim suits.”

“Cut that out!” she snickered, and put Cleary on the line.


There came a final day when the mission chief called me in to his office.

“Come in, Mike. Come in,” he said shortly. “Sit down.” He leaned back against his desk and started talking to me, like they say, straight from the shoulder:

“I’ll give it to you straight, Mike. We’ve tried every legal way to wash you out of this mission. There isn’t a one of us here at the Cape that wants any part of taking an armchair theorist and slapping him into space—into the kind of a mission you’ve cooked up. Somebody’s going to get hurt out there, because you aren’t fit for the job. Now, physically, yes, you have the capacity. But emotionally and environmentally, you simply don’t add up. You’re looking at this thing as an extension of your laboratory, and instead it is an enormous physical and mental hazard that you are undertaking. This country has never lost a man in space—and you’ll be the cause of our first casualty, as well as being one yourself. I’m asking you man to man to disqualify yourself.”

“And put an end to this mission?”

“We’ll train one of our men,” he said.

“In two or three years your best man might be barely capable,” I said. “I don’t think COMCORP is prepared to waste that much time. After all,” I said ingratiatingly, “all you have to do is refuse the mission. Say I’m a built-in hazard and let it go at that.” I grinned at him. I was learning from Paul Cleary. I figured how space-jockeys would react to that.

He told me: “Do you think any of these men would admit they are not up to a mission a mere technician is ready to try? No! I can’t get them to beg off, either!”

“When do we go?” I asked.

Sid Stein was assigned as my pilot. He had made the trip into orbit and back four times with the Dyna-Soar rocket, and was considered the best risk to get me there and get me back. He was also the least convinced I had any right to sit beside him in the cabin.

His final briefing was a beaut: “This is a spaceship, doctor,” he said frigidly. “And I want you to remember the ‘ship’ part of it. I’m in command, and my every word, my every belch, has got to be law. Do you understand that? This is my mission, and I’ll tell you where to put your feet.”

“Sure,” I said. “Who wants it?”

“Can’t figure out why you do!”

“I’m just paying somebody back,” I said. “Is it tomorrow?”


The start was a drag. Eighteen hours before blast-off Sid and I went into a tank so that we would get rid of our nitrogen. We breathed the standard helium-oxygen mix at normal pressure until about four hours before H-hour. They wouldn’t even let me smoke. Then we suited up and were lifted by a crane and stuck in the control room of Nelly Bly, as I had named our Dyna-Soar rocket-glider. The hatch stayed open, but we were buttoned up tight in our suits. They had a couple of mods that were supposed to fit them better for the mission. Instead of the usual metal helmet with face plate, we had full-vision bubble helmets of clear plastic. The necks were large enough so that we could, in theory, drag our arms out of our suits and clean the inside of the bubbles. That was in case I sicked up out in space, which all experience said was a real enough hazard. They figured that filling me full of motion sickness pills was partial prevention.

These space-jockeys have their own vocabulary, and their own oh, so cool way of playing it during the countdown. I’m pretty familiar with complex components, but they were checking off equipment I never heard of. We had gyros—hell, our gyros had gyros. And we had tanks, and pressures and temperatures and voltages and who-stuck-John. It was all very impressive.

There were suited men up on the gantry unplugging our air feed and closing our hatch. Sid was straining up from where he lay on his back to dog it down tight.

“Roger,” Sid was saying to somebody, as he had been all morning.

The white vapor from our umbilical stopped, which let me know our tanks had been topped off and sealed, and that we were about to blast off.

“This is it, Seaman,” Sid Stein said. “Now for Pete’s sake don’t move, don’t speak, just lie there. I’ve got the con.”

That was a bunch of baloney. He really had nothing to do until we were in orbit. The delicate accelerometers and inertial guidance components did all the piloting until the second stage kicked us loose. But I kept my mouth shut. He’d have some work to do before the ride was over, and I might need him.


When the lift-off came, it was gentle as a dove’s wing. But as we burned off fuel, the twenty-million pound thrust of our Apollo booster began to tell, and my vision started to go black. The gee-meter said we were pulling about ten gees when I could no longer read it, and I learned later we peaked out at eleven gees in the final seconds before first-stage burn-out. I didn’t like it a little bit.

The liquid hydrogen second stage kicked in like a hopped up mule, and we pulled ten gees, right at the limit of my vision, for its whole four minutes of burning. My earphones were talking now as Sid gave it the A-OK and Roger bit all the way. This was the stuff, kid!

Our Dyna-Soar had been modified to some degree for this mission. It’s essentially a big delta-winged glider with a squarish fuselage in the center. The mods had consisted of tying a third rocket stage out behind, so that Sid could move us around the orbit from one Telstar to the next if my work on the first one proved out. The retro-rockets had several times their normal complement of fuel, so that he could stop after he got started. The same was true of our steering jets.

The ship was not pressurized on the lift off. Cabin pressure fell rather quickly, as we could feel from the inflation of our suits, to their three and a half-pound pressure. No bends for either of us, because of the helium substitution for nitrogen. Because there were two of us, we could chuck and unchuck airtanks for each other as we needed fresh supplies. We had enough air and water for forty-eight hours. Together with our low-residue diet for the final week, they figured we could sweat it out in our suits for two days. We had suit radios, of course, and could talk with each other for a distance of a mile or so.

Burnout of the second stage came suddenly, and we heaved slightly against our belts as the springs in our seats pushed back out. And then I got my first taste of free fall. Each veteran astronaut I had talked to at the Cape had a different way of trying to scare me with the idea of falling endlessly, and each had different ideas about how to lick it. In spite of all the talk, I grabbed the arms of my seat to keep from falling. I turned my head and in the glow from our instruments could see Sid sneering across at me through his transparent bubble helmet.

“How you like them apples?” his voice came from my earphone.

“That first step is a killer, Sid,” I said, trying to sound chipper. I felt horrible.

“Let me know when you’ve had enough,” he suggested. “I’ve got things to do.”

I knew he did. We had dry-run it a hundred times. If we had been inserted correctly in orbit, the Nelly Bly was right in the path that three of the Telstars were now following, and catching up with Number One at several hundred miles an hour. On the ground, radars all around the world were taking fixes on us, and Sid was talking shop over his long-range radio with the radar crews.

By the time my stomach had made up its mind that it would stick with me, he had a report.

“It could be worse,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more velocity than I’d like, but we’re on course. Our orbit would differ quite some, Seaman. Because of this speed we’d be somewhat more eccentric—maybe swing out a hundred miles beyond the birds we’re chasing. Are you making it?”

“Easy, Sid. Do we slow down yet?”

“I’ll fire the retros and retard us to the speed of what we’re chasing,” he said. “That will equalize our orbits very nearly. Get busy on that scope if you’re up to it. I’ll compute my retro.”


They had made an amateur radar operator out of me, because it was easy to do, and gave Sid more time for actual rocket valving. My belt cut me hard as he braked for several seconds.

“There,” Sid’s voice said in my ear. “We should still be catching up about fifty miles an hour. Let’s not ram that thing. See any blip?”

“Not yet. How close are we supposed to be?”

He lit the cabin light and tapped at the calculator that he swung out from its rack. “Still got a hundred miles to go, I’d judge.” He moved awkwardly in his suit to finger a switch on his neck and I heard him speaking to the ground again, and heard in my earphones the answer that came up from Woomera. We had eighty miles to go, and were now a little below the orbit of the bird we were chasing.

“Can’t have both ends of the stick, Mike,” Sid explained, calling me by name for the first time. “As soon as we slowed down we had to drop lower.” He fooled around with the steering jets, which were hydrazine-nitric acid rockets much like the tiny motors on my suit, and re-oriented Nelly Bly. A little burst from the nose, and I got my first blip.

“There!” I said, putting a finger on the PPI. “Turn out the light, Sid, so I can see the ‘scope’.”

He switched off the cabin light and followed my directions with tiny shoves, sometimes from the rockets, sometimes from the steering jets, while I conned us closer.

Our radar would only read within about half a mile. When we got that close I got the searchlight going and took my first real look through the forward port out into space.

It’s black. Nothing—nothing you have ever seen will persuade you how dark it is out there. That was my first big shock. Oh, I had practiced in the dark, with only my helmet light to guide my tests and assemblies, but this was a different kind of dark. Our light had no visible beam—you couldn’t even tell it was working. At first I had the idea we’d see the satellite occulting some stars, but a little mental arithmetic told me that an object six or eight feet in section would not subtend much of an angle of vision at half a mile.

We had chosen, I decided, much too narrow a beam of light for the searchlight, but just at that moment I got a flash from out in space, and worked the light back on to our objective.

“Got it,” I said.

“Yoicks!” Sid said, and went back to the fine controls. After a long time, and lots of patience, we were hanging about fifty feet out from our bird. We were farther out in space so that the dark bulk of the satellite was silhouetted against the crescent light of Earth. I turned off the spot and switched on the floodlight.

“Here goes nothing, Sid,” I said, and undid the dogs that held the canopy above our heads.

My earphone spoke to me: “This is Cleary. Do you read me, Mike?”

I fumbled around to find the right jack and plugged myself into the radio. “Yes, Paul. Loud and clear.”

“Watch yourself. Think first. You’ve got all the time in the world.”

“Sure.”

“Sylvia would miss you,” he added.

I hoped he was right.


Clinging carefully to the handholds that had been specially provided on the outside of Nelly Bly, I clambered through the hatch and hung in the darkness, looking down at South America. The world was turning visibly under me, although I knew that in fact we were skimming rapidly about three thousand miles over its surface. I got myself lined up nice and straight with the bird and did my first bit of non-thinking. I pushed off good and proper with my feet, the way you’d dive into a swimming pool. It was a fool stunt for my first act. I was doing a good five or six feet a second. You may not think that is very fast, but before I could gulp twice I had zipped past that bird and was headed for Buenos Aires.

I know I screamed. That was the first time I realized I really was falling. Earth looked awfully close, and seemed to be rushing up to meet me.

My orientation was all wrong for stopping. By diving head first I had neither my back nor my belly rocket lined up to stop me.

My training failed completely. I tried to squirm straight, and by proper swinging of my arms out to full length, and kicking the same way with my feet, I got turned around to where my belly was facing the floodlight on Nelly Bly. That’s not how I was supposed to do it.

The glider had disappeared—all I could see was the floodlight. It was still by far the brightest thing in the sky, but if I drifted much longer, I would have to use radio direction-finding to get back. I triggered the motor on my back and felt its gentle push against my spine.

“Sid!” I called.

“Roger, Mike!”

“Light the tip lights. I’ve got to get a fix on my velocity. I went way past and I’m trying to get back.”

Two new stars winked into being, on either side of the floodlight. This had been some bright guy’s idea, and it was paying off. I kept watching the apparent distance between them shrink as I continued my trip toward Earth. Memory and a little calculating told me that my acceleration of three inches per second per second would take twenty seconds of blast to slow me to a stop. I counted them off, aloud: “Mississippi one, Mississippi two, Mississippi three,” as I had been taught to measure seconds. When I got to Mississippi twenty my visual measurement said I was about stationary with regard to Nelly Bly.

I used a little more blast and let a couple minutes go by while I drifted closer to the Telstar. I started squirming again, until I remembered to use the deflection plate they had given me to hold in my belly blast, and that got me lined up. But finally I was within touching distance of the bird, which was rotating with a certain slow majesty on its long axis.

The leisurely spin was there to make sure one side didn’t face the sun too long and heat up. My plan called for stopping the bird’s spin so that I could get reasonable solar heating of the part I was working on. The trouble was there was nothing to grab as the satellite turned. But we had worked on that part, too, and I went into my act of backing off the right distance, accelerating with my back rocket until I drifted close by the bird at its translational speed. I got one end of my sticky webbing stuck to it by pressure and decelerated so that the bird turned under me while I paid off the web. In a moment I had it girdled, and snapped the nifty sort of buckle they had made for me. Then drawing the webbing tight was no trouble, and I was spinning with the bird. My added weight slowed its spin down some.


Next came the trick of getting some special equipment loose from my right leg. This was a little rocket canister which had just enough poof, the slide-rule boys had said, to stop the rotation of the bird. I fastened the canister to the webbing, pushed softly with one finger to get me a few feet away, and drifted while waiting for the delayed fuse to fire the antispin rocket. It lanced out a flame for a few seconds, and sputtered dead. The bird hung virtually motionless beneath me—or above me—or beside me—or whatever you want to call it when there is no up or down.

Our light was dimming as we passed the terminator and pulled over Earth’s dark side. The sun was still visible, however, although soon to be eclipsed by Earth. I jetted softly back to the bird and lit my helmet light. I had to find the right face of the twelve-sided thing so that I could open the right gate. The markings were there. They were just hard to read from inside a helmet. Then the sun was eclipsed, and my headlamp gave me the kind of light I was used to working with. The sector I wanted was on the satellite’s dark side. I had to clamp on to the girdle and jet quite a while to turn it halfway round, and then decelerate just as long to bring it to a stop. I fooled around several minutes getting the sector to face where the sun would soon rise.

My earphone spoke.

“Mike!”

“Roger, Sid. What’s up.”

“Take it easy on your steering fuel. You’re getting low.”

“Roger.”

I had to wait for the sun before I could start work. When it came up, heating seemed quick. First a test with a thermocouple showed that Telstar’s surface was warming nicely and would soon support the pressure-sensitive mat I was going to stick to some of her solar generators. When the ‘couple said Telstar had reached zero centigrade, I pulled the mat loose from where it was stuck to my left leg and plastered it above the gate I was going to open. I say above, because it was closer to one pole—the “North” pole of the satellite—than the gate.

It was time to go to work on my first screw. And there I got my next lesson. It was a real big screw, as they go, a 4-40 flat head machine screw with a length of about three-quarters of an inch. I would have to give it thirty turns to back it out. I never gave it the first turn. The head snapped off as soon as I applied a few inch-pounds of torque.

Yes, the surface had heated up nicely, but the shank of the screw was about two hundred below zero centigrade, and far brittler than glass.

I cussed some and reported to Sid what had happened.

“Have to drill it out,” I said.

My drill was a cutie. It was a modified dentists’ drill, the kind that’s run by a little air turbine at about two hundred thousand r.p.m.’s. I really mean that. They turn like mad.

I’d been taught to use it with care. When a dentist drills your teeth, he blows olive oil and water through the turbine, and the mixture cools the tooth—and the drill—while the cutting is going on. We couldn’t afford any cloud of vapor—or the shorting out that ice would cause—so I had only the pressurized mixture of oxygen and helium in the tanks on my back to run the drill. And that meant light and intermittent pressures on the number 43 wire gauge drill—the one that’s the right size to drill out a 4-40. It took me about fifteen minutes and I was down to my last number 43 drill bit when she broke free.

From then on I had to heat each screw before I went to work on it. I had something like a soldering iron that I could press against the screw-head. Heat would flow through the highly conductive alloy and make it less brittle. I flicked each screw I removed out into space and at last carefully hinged the gate wide open.

The gate was the length of the sector—about two feet. It was four inches wide and about an inch thick and had parts strung along it like kernels on an ear of corn.

At this stage I readjusted the position of my webbing girdle until I could clamp my head in position and begin the testing. It was slow work. The first sad thing was to learn that the solenoid M1537 was as good as new. When I put enough voltage across its terminals, the actuator clicked down through the core.

I swore a blue streak.

“What is it Mike?” Sid’s voice came in my ear.

“Trouble,” I said. “What did we expect?”

“Roger,” he said in that toneless unexcited astronauts’ voice. “Return to ship, Mike.”

“Not now,” I said. “I’ve just got the oyster opened.”

His voice cut like my drill-bit. “I ordered you to return to ship. Your air supply is about shot.”

“I haven’t been out that long,” I protested, not feeling too sure about the lapse of time.

“Your drill chewed it up pretty fast. Quit talking and start moving.”

I was thankful for the experience of moving in close to the bird. The same tricks worked much more smoothly as I used my deflection plate in front of my belly blast to turn me to face the floodlight, and then followed up with a light shove or two in the spine to start me drifting toward Nelly Bly. There didn’t seem any rush, and I drifted slowly over, using only a couple triggered bursts of deceleration to slow me down as I approached the open hatch.

Inside we went through the drill. My ears popped a little as Sid unchucked my spent tanks, and popped again as the new ones came on with a hiss.

“Take it easy on that steering fuel, Mike,” he said again. “You’re getting awfully low.”

“Sure,” I said and let myself drift out the hatch. I had enough sense to twist so that my back jet wouldn’t hit the ship. Then I took a zig-zag course through the darkness to my bird, got oriented at the open gate and went back to work. Before I could get started, my earphones spoke.

“Mike, Cleary here.”

“Roger, Paul. What is it?”

“Have you gotten to that solenoid yet?”

“Yes.”

“What can you tell me?”

“That you’re a fathead. Now shut up. I’m busy.”

“Roger, Mike,” Paul Cleary acknowledged quite meekly.

So I started again, reaching with my leads from point to point. After a certain number of tests, I had the area isolated, but not the part. From here on it would have to be disassembly. Every tiny screw had to be heated, then teased out with a jeweler’s screwdriver. Some took my patented ratchet extension. The big miracle was that I didn’t break anything.

When I got to it, it was ridiculous. A small length of wire connected one component to another. Space was lacking, and the wire was tight against the metal of the gate. Its insulation was one of these space-age wonders, a form of clear plastic that would remain ductile under zero temperature and pressure. Only it didn’t. It had shrunk and cracked, and there was a simple short against the metal of the gate. There were so many forms of circuit-breakers and self-protectors in the machine that the whole gate had been switched off as long as the short was in existence. No wonder telemetry hadn’t told us anything.

As I prepared to fix the trouble, I switched on my radio and had Sid connect me with the ground. “Canaveral Control,” one of those emotionless voices said. He could afford to be. He was on the ground.

“Get me Cleary,” I ordered.

“Cleary here, Mike. What have you found, boy?” He sure was anxious about that solenoid.

“Not much, Paul. Just that Fred Stone is a fathead, too. Over and out, like they say.” I switched off and went back to my work.


The one thing I had nothing of was any kind of insulating material. With my screwdriver I hacked a piece loose from the double-faced sticky-tape I had used to keep loose parts from flying around, and teased it under the wire with my tweezers. Perhaps I could have done as well by heating the wire and bending it straight, but there was little room, and I was afraid of melting a solder joint. So I took my time teasing the tape through and finally got it to act as an insulator without breaking the wire. How long it would stay there was anybody’s guess. It was held mechanically as well as by its sticky action, but when the bird cooled off enough, the sticky effect would lessen. I hoped the pressure between the wire and the gate could be enough to keep it in place. Certainly no forces would be acting to move it.

Just as I had figured, the reassembly was the tedious part. I had to move around into about sixteen screwy positions to do all the fixing. Finally it was back in one piece and I swung the gate closed.

When the final 4-40’s were run up as tight as they were supposed to be run, I reported to Paul Cleary. “Try her,” I suggested. “I think I found the trouble. No point my coming back down if it doesn’t work.”

They made me sweat it out for about ten minutes before Paul said, “Runs like a watch, Mike. Put the spin back on her, boy.” At least he was quiet about his solenoid.

This called for the second rocket canister, which I hooked on to the girdle and, after thinking it out carefully, got headed in the right direction. I eased away with finger pressure, and let the delayed fuse do the firing. Telstar started her slow spin again.

Getting the girdle off was a lot harder than getting it on, something we hadn’t figured on, and in the final stages of the job I found that my steering motors no longer fired.

“Sid!”

“Roger, Mike.”

“How much fuel do you read in my steering jets?”

“You’ve been out of fuel for about five minutes, by my gauge. But don’t worry about it,” Sid said. “I’ll nurseNelly over there with my steering jets and pick you up.”

“O.K.,” I said doubtfully. “But watch it. Bump this bird and we’ll have it all to do over again.”

Sid had more trouble than he had figured. He had steering jets to run him in every direction except fore and aft. For that motion the retro-rockets were considered enough. But one belch out of them was enough to get me screaming into the mike: “Cut those retros!” I yelled, the volume making my earphones crack, as it undoubtedly did his.

“Roger. What’s wrong?”

“You’ll burn the solar generators right off the bird, you fool! Steering jets, do you hear, steering jets!”

“Roger.”

But it was not that easy. Finally Sid got Nelly within about twenty feet, and pretty near at zero relative velocity.

“All right, Sid,” I said. “Hold it there. I’ll push over.”

A gentle shove against the side of Telstar was all it took. I got it straight, which was all that counted. My drift was slow, and I was a good five minutes making the twenty-foot crossing. But a handhold came within reach, and I worked my way back into the cabin and climbed in without shutting the hatch.

“Don’t try that again,” I cautioned him. “This thing weighs ten thousand pounds, and that bird half as much. Even at a couple feet a second, you can crush me to jelly between them, even if you don’t burn one or the other of us to a crisp.”

“Roger,” Sid said, not quite so emotionlessly. “Are we ready to move?”

“What for?” I asked him. “Until we get me some steering fuel, I’m useless.”

“I thought we’d abort this mission before we were through,” he sneered.

“Not so fast. You’ve got the same rig on your suit. All we have to do is put your fuel tanks on my suit.”

“Are you nuts?” he demanded.

“What’s the matter with it? Those tanks aren’t welded to you, and I’ve got tools.”

I could see him shake his head in the dim light from the instrument panel. “You know those fuels ignite on contact with each other,” he pointed out. “If we spill a couple drops of each in here, and they vaporize, we’ll blow this kite to pieces!”

“Then we’ll get outside to make the switch,” I insisted. “It won’t hurt anything if a few grams burn up out there, will it, with nothing to confine the expansion.”

“But then I won’t be able to come after you if anything goes wrong,” he pointed out. “No dice.”

“You’re grasping, Stein,” I growled. “At this stage I’m in charge around here. I’ll take my chances on getting back.”


With the cabin light on I went as far as possible in dismounting both our tanks. After a couple rehearsals to make sure that at least one of us would always have a glove on a handhold, we both climbed out the hatch and I made the switch. Just as Sid suspected, we spilled a few drops. They vaporized, and again as we had feared, combined in what would have been an explosion in a confined space. The soundless flash, dim but real, said we had released quite a little energy uniformly all around us. I never felt a thing except a faint warmth from infrared through my helmet.

Best of all, my jets worked. We both climbed back aboard Nelly, dogged the hatch, and started after Telstar Two.

The second bird was about fifteen thousand miles ahead of us. I slept most of the time, for after Sid gave us a jolt of added velocity, we had to settle down to about six hours of drifting. I woke up as the belt cut me when he fired the retros. We went through the radar and searchlight bit, and had the devil’s own time finding our bird. But at last I got the flash of reflection and went to work.

I won’t say the second job was any easier, except for the fact that I removed only one part to make room to do my bit with the insulation, and thus had very few screws to replace. My navigating in space was a lot better, and I didn’t use steering fuel as wastefully as the first time. Still, when we dogged down to chase after the final bird, the cabin gauge said that I had less than half my load of steering fuel left. Equally glum, Nelly herself was even lower on steering fuel. Neither Sid nor I had been as expert as we were supposed to be.

Nevertheless, we took off after the third bird, and found it glistening in bright sunlight without the help of the searchlight. I thought that was a good omen. But from there on nothing seemed to work right.

We had been aloft about thirty-six hours, and fatigue was setting in. I was clumsy on the steering and had quite a time making contact.

The repair went according to Hoyle, but after I had put the spin back on the bird I found that I had no more steering fuel. I hung about ten or fifteen feet from Telstar Three and maybe eighty feet from Nelly, drifting slowly from both.

“Sid!”

“Roger, Mike.”

“This one will have to make it with the girdle on.”

“Can’t you get it off?”

“I can’t get back to it. Steering fuel gone.”

“Oh, no!”

“No sweat, Sid. It occludes a small share of the solar generators, but not enough to hurt anything.”

“That’s not what I meant,” he said quietly into my ear. “Nelly’s out of steering fuel, too. I can’t pick you up!”

I gulped on that one.

“Canaveral Control!” I heard him call.

“Cut that out,” I said. “They can’t help. Shut up and let me think.”

But he didn’t, and I couldn’t. I had no fuel with which to move. Sid had only the retros and stern rockets, no good for swinging or turning. I was out of touching range of the bird, and couldn’t shove against it to build up a little drift. Just as Sylvia said, it’s not like swimming back to shore.

There was a lot of excited chatter in my earphones, in which I did not participate. Nobody made any sense, and Sid shut the thing down.

“Mike!”

“Yeah.” Disgusted.

“Whatever you dope out, make it quick. You don’t have all the air in the world.” Sid warned me.

“How much?”

“Ten minutes or so.”

“All right,” I said. “It ought to be enough. Keep your eye on me. You may have to reach out an arm or leg for me to grab as I go by.”

“How are you going to move?”

“I’ve got a lifesaver,” I said.


I writhed and squirmed and made every use of the law of conservation of angular momentum until I had my back toNelly. Then I wound up and threw my fancy screwdriver as hard as I could heave it away from me. I didn’t get the zip on it I would have liked, but because it was sort of like a throwing stick, I got a little more on it than you might expect, maybe fifty or sixty feet a second. And the thing weighed about four pounds, with its fancy ratchet and torque clutch. Since in my suit I weighed just about a hundred times as much, I started toward Nelly at just one-one-hundredth of the velocity I had imparted to the screwdriver. In a couple minutes I was drifting pretty close, but tumbling. I had forgotten that part.

Throwing the screwdriver had given my body the correct vector and some velocity, but I had set up quite a tumbling moment, since I had thrown from the shoulder and not from my center of gravity.

I chucked a couple lighter tools away to correct my drift, and Sid snagged me as I drifted by the hatch.

“Come to Papa,” he said, and drew me inside. We didn’t horse around congratulating ourselves. My air tanks were no longer hissing, and we made a quick swap.

Sid let me dog down the hatch while he figured position. He used the iron compass method, just taking a close look at Earth, which was more or less dead ahead of us. That was a good place for it, because we had no steering fuel.

The re-entry was a mess, from Sid’s point of view. We came in at a weird angle and heated up to beat hell before there was enough atmosphere for our rudder to swing us around straight. He bounced us off twice after that as we slowed down, but the creak of heating metal was all about us each time we dropped in. He cussed me plenty all the way.

The trick, of course, was to slow down to the point where he could spiral us down to Muroc Dry Lake. Nelly was a sort of glider. Her performance at about Mach 10 and two hundred thousand feet was quite respectable, but the lower and slower we went, the more she flew like the proverbial kitchen sink. Sid only had one bright spot: Our big fuel supply gave him plenty of rocket and retro when he wanted it, and allowed him to get us back over Muroc.

I can’t say he made the landing look easy, because he didn’t. It looked like plain hell to me, for we scorched in at something over four hundred miles an hour.

When Nelly screeched to a stop, we just sat there. There was none of this romantic business about snapping open face plates and exchanging witty remarks. Bubble helmets don’t have face plates, and besides, I didn’t have anything I wanted to say to Sid. I was as tired of him as he was of me. I was just plain tired, if you want to know the truth.

They didn’t let us alone, of course. While the crash trucks were still kicking up a dust trail tearing out to get us, there were guys on the radio with those cool voices, and Sid was tiredly saying “Roger,” to all their questions. And we didn’t do any moving about. You’d be surprised how weighing four hundred pounds makes you willing to wait for the crane to lift you from your seat. All at once I almost wanted to be back in space again, where I didn’t weigh anything at all. Almost.


They flew us back to Canaveral for the de-briefing, both asleep. The whole mob was there to greet us, Paul Cleary, Fred Stone, and even Sylvia. They met us at the plane and Sylvia was the first to grab me as I came down the steps.

“Mike!” she squealed. “Are you all right?”

“Better now,” I said, kind of untangling from her. “How did you manage this?” I looked up. “Hi, Paul,” I said to his sleepy old grin, and knew how.

“Dinner tonight?” she insisted.

“I don’t know,” I said, looking over at Paul. “I think there’s a de-briefing or something before they turn me loose.”

“Don’t be silly,” Sylvia said. “It’s not as if you were an astronaut or something.”

I was back on the ground, all right.

Well, there was sort of a de-briefing. Cleary and Stone got me alone for a moment in somebody’s office.

“Well, Mike,” Paul said, “that was a great performance. What was the trouble up there?”

I laughed at both of them. “Go jump in the lake,” I said. “I’m out of the middle.”

“What do you mean, Mike?” Doc Stone asked, holding his young-man’s pipe at arm’s length.

“It wasn’t design—because the solenoid worked. And it wasn’t installation. It was materials.” I told them about the no-good insulation.

“Lucky it’s only used in a couple points,” Paul said, scowling. “I guess any other point where it broke up wasn’t as critical in dimension and no short resulted.”

“Not yet,” I grinned. “It may. And I couldn’t care less.”

“You’re a big winner, then, Mike,” Paul grinned. “Fred and I have kind of made up anyway, and you’re in solid with Sylvia.”

“Not with that noise,” I said. “No dame was worth that ride. Let Sid have her.”










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SF75The Right Time by John Berryman闫盼盼OpenCV步步精深

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Right Time, by Walter Bupp



This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with

almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or

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with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org





Title: The Right Time



Author: Walter Bupp



Illustrator: George Schelling



Release Date: December 27, 2009 [EBook #30770]



Language: English



Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1



*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE RIGHT TIME ***









Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the Online

Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net













Transcriber’s Note:

This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction December 1963. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

 

THE RIGHT TIME

 

The trouble with prophets is that if they’re accurate, the news won’t do you any good, and if they aren’t accurate, they’re no good. Unless, of course, they’re more than just prophets….

 

WALTER BUPP

 

Illustrated by George Schelling


“Don’t let the old goat rattle you, Pheola,” I said as we rode the elevator to the penthouse. “He’ll try. Just remember, he is the one who has to say O.K. if we are to give you some training.”

Her eyes rolled and she moaned softly, clinging to my arm. “Oh, Billy Joe!” she whispered. “I don’t want to fail you!”

Maragon has some pretty creepy types in his office and the receptionist that day was no exception. She was one of those twitchy hyper-thyroid clairvoyants that he likes to test.

“Don’t tell me,” the receptionist twitched proudly as we came in. “I know!” She got up from behind her desk and led us to the Grand Master’s private office.

I intended to make her guess whom I had with me, but that didn’t bother her. “Dr. Walter Bupp and Pheola Rountree,” she announced smugly. Clairvoyants live in a condition of perpetual thrill with their powers.

Maragon’s penthouse office has glass walls on two sides. He was prowling back and forth in front of his desk, sharply lit by the bright sunlight that streamed in. His gray shock of hair glistened, and his bushy eyebrows shaded his face. He radiated impatience, from the grinding of his square jaw to the fists he had rammed into his hips.

“Lefty,” he greeted me, “do they all have to look alike? Where did you get this scarecrow?”

I could feel Pheola stiffen. I guess no woman, no matter how plain, likes to be reminded of it.

“Same place you dig up those twitchy CV types you have spooking up your outer office,” I snapped. “There’s nothing the matter with Pheola that three square meals won’t cure in a month!”

Maragon grunted. “And just what wonderful power do you have, young woman, that makes it worth while for the Lodge to fatten you up?” he demanded.

She had plenty of spunk, I’ll say that for her. “I have the power of prophecy, and the gift of healin’,” Pheola said, squinting at him.

He barked a laugh at her and went across the thick carpet to sit in his swivel chair. It was a beauty of dark green morocco that matched his Bank of England chairs and leather sofa that was against one of the walls. “What’s your favorite prophecy, young woman?” he wanted to know.

Pheola smiled over at me. “Oh, no!” I groaned, but she nodded.

“Billy Joe and I are gettin’ married,” she told Maragon.

“Billy Joe?” he asked, scowling at me across his desk.

“That’s me,” I said. “Don’t ask me where the name comes from.”

“I couldn’t care less,” Maragon grumped. “Is it true? Are you going to marry this bag of bones?”

I could feel my face getting red. “Not that I know of,” I said.

He swung around in his chair to face her. “Young woman, someone has told you how much the Lodge is interested in precognition. You wouldn’t walk in here claiming the power if you didn’t know we want to find it, and rarely can. But you certainly came ill-prepared. Going to marry Lefty, eh? Why, you can’t predict the right time!” He banged his fist on the big slab of walnut. “You’re a fake!” he said.

“I ain’t a fake!” Pheola protested. “We will get married!”

“Drag her out, Lefty,” Maragon said wearily, with a limp wave of his hand.

“Come on, Pheola,” I said, taking her arm with my right hand. I saw no point talking with him any further.

“Lefty!” Maragon exclaimed.

“Yes?”

“You used your right arm! You can’t move it!”

“I can now,” I told the old goat with relish. “Pheola told you she was a healer. Well, she healed me a … a couple days ago!”

He went for the jugular: “Have you ever done anything like that before, Pheola?” he demanded.

“Mostly small ailin’,” she said, squinting and backing away from his desk defensively. “Never nothin’ as big as findin’ the weak spot in Billy Joe’s haid. But I told you I had the power of prophecy and the gift of healin’.”

I suppose her degree of humility decided him. “She can stay,” Maragon said. “Look into this healing thing, Lefty. But, for the love of Mike, don’t waste time with her precognition.”

Pheola moaned, then keened, and waved her hands in front of her face, as if to ward off a swarm of bees. “My healin’ won’t do you much good, you nasty old man!” she said in a shrill voice. “You’ll git a pain, sich a pain,” she insisted, pressing her hand to her heart. “It will like to kill you, and it nearly will!”

Maragon laughed at her again. “A young witch!” he proclaimed. “I’ll bet you scared half of Posthole County into fits with dark remarks like that. Take her away, Lefty!”

 

Pheola didn’t break her silence until I showed her into the apartment adjoining mine in the Chapter House. The Lodge Building is a hundred stories high, and most of it is devoted to offices that we rent out to doctors, lawyers and the like. We only use a part of the place—there just aren’t that many Psis around—and save a few floors for apartments for members permanently assigned, as I am, to Lodge duties.

Pheola stood stiff and unseeing in the apartment, her fists clenched at her sides, plainly in no shape to appreciate her rooms. They were in the usual good taste I always associate with a Psi decorator.

“How could I let you down, Billy Joe!” she said to me, as soon as the door to the corridor had closed behind us.

“Oh, stop it!” I snapped, giving her a shake. “Weren’t you ever wrong in a prophecy before?”

She squinted to see me better. “Does it make you hate me?” she asked. “Yes, I’ve been wrong lots of times,” she admitted. “But not about marryin’ you. How does he know I’m wrong?”

“He doesn’t,” I growled. “He just doesn’t believe in precognition. What little we see of it in the Lodge is so erratic that you can’t count it as a proven Psi power.”

“Then maybe I am right,” she pressed me.

“Not if I can help it,” I said sourly. “I’m in no mood to get married. Mostly I want to give you some advice. O.K.?”

She made cow eyes at me. “You know you can, Billy Joe,” she said.

“Well,” I snarled, “my first suggestion is that you cut out this ‘Billy Joe’ stuff. My name is Wally Bupp. You can call me Lefty if you want to. I’m not your darlin’ Billy.”

“I tole the truth and you hate me for it!” she said hotly. “I was afeered of that.”

“‘Afeered!'” I sneered. “All that corn pone and chitterlin’s dialect! You can cut that out, too, can’t you? Wasn’t that just part of your local color?”

“Sort of,” she admitted, switching to the neutral American dialect. “Yes, I can cut that out, too, Lefty.”

“Good. I’m willing to take a couple of chances with that old goat, because I believe in you. I saw you in action in Nevada, and you sold me that you have some Psi powers. We’ll work on your healing, as Maragon suggested. But I want to have your precognition tested. Just keep your mouth shut about it here in the Lodge, do you hear?”

She nodded.

“All right,” I said. “I’ll have to make some arrangements, or Maragon will have my scalp. In the meantime, why don’t you fix up so we can go out to dinner?”

She gave me a look of adoration that would have curdled fresh milk. “Oh, Lefty, I’d love that.” And then her face fell. “But I don’t have a thing to wear!”

I don’t think she was exactly a moocher. She didn’t have anything to wear, when I thought of it. “Sure,” I said more mildly. “Well, that’s the good part of getting some training here. The Lodge will take care of your needs. Just call the girl on the desk and say you need some clothes. She’ll send somebody over from one of the department stores.”

Pheola’s eyes grew round. Ordinarily she squinted when she wanted to see anything. “What should I get?”

“Start from the skin and work out,” I told her. “Tell the department store you’ll be working in an office, and that you’ll need a couple of cocktail dresses and wraps for evening, too. Get lots of shoes. O.K.?”

Was it ever!

I had an idea that clothes would be quite a change for Pheola. I had met her only three days before, in a Nevada gambling house. She’d made for me like a lode-star, called me her Billy Joe and announced that I would be her next husband. I’ll tell you, that was a shocker. I’m not about to marry anybody. She was as tall as I was, which isn’t so very much for a man, skinny to the point of emaciation, wearing a “borrowed” dress that didn’t fit, and had that unmistakable slatternly look that you associate with white trash. On top of that, she was vain enough about her bucktoothed and pointed-nose features to keep her glasses in her purse, and as a result she went around peering at you from a distance of eight inches to make sure you were the right guy.

But she had Psi powers. She had been hot as a firecracker predicting the roll of dice on the gambling tables, the very dice that I was tipping with telekinesis. Much more important to me personally, she had announced that she was a healer, and on my dare had “laid hands” on me, and brought my dead right arm to life.

My obligation as a Lodge official was to bring her to the Manhattan Chapter for measurement and training, no matter what the Grand Master felt about the reality of her powers of precognition. Maragon had been about as obstreperous as I had figured. We have a lot of trouble working together, probably because he resents my TK powers. He’s good at it, but I’m a good deal better. That’s why I’m a Thirty-third Degree member of the Lodge.


Leaving Pheola’s new home, I went next door to my own apartment and checked in by phone with Memorial Hospital. Fortunately, I was not on call, and could take a few steps to find out how much PC Pheola really had. I went down to the forty-third floor, where we have our laboratories, and let myself into the data-processing center.

They don’t like me to do that. That place is under full temperature and humidity control, and every time an outsider barges in the whole system does nip-ups.

Norty Baskins came scurrying away from a card sorter. “What’s this!” he exclaimed. “Oh, it’s you, Lefty.” His face went solemn with his effort, and I felt a twinge in my ear lobe. I returned the grip, tweaking his ear the same way. He began to smile, realizing that I had felt his lift and was returning it.

“You shouldn’t be in here, Lefty,” he said. “You know the rules.”

“And I know this is the time to break them, Norty,” I said. “I’ve got something really rare for you.”

“Rare?”

“This time I’ve really got one,” I insisted. “A precog who can call things with pin-point accuracy.”

“Not again, Lefty,” he said, disgusted. “Aren’t you getting a little tired of striking out on that prediction? You’ve brought half a dozen flops in here in the last year.”

“Not Pheola,” I said. “Listen, Norty, I want this girl measured.”

“I thought you said she was pin-point accurate,” he sneered. “And what does Maragon say?”

I waved a hand at him and walked over to sit on one of the lab stools. He went to the sorter and pulled cards from the bins, joggling them up into one solid stack that he put back in the hopper. But he did not press the “start” button.

“You know, Maragon,” I told him. “This girl is hot, and then she’s cold. But there is so much accuracy when she’s right that I think there’s some future to training her. What I want out of you is a measurement of how great her accuracy is.”

Norty snorted. “When Maragon doesn’t believe it?” he said. “No thanks.” He started the card sorter, filling the room with its clatter.

I drew a pair of dice from my pocket. I’m never without the ivories. They are the original instruments of my TK skill. That’s how Maragon found me, unconsciously tipping dice in an alley crap game. I threw them out on the table next to the sorter, when the cards had gone through and it fell silent. They came up with a four-three natural.

“Maragon!” I snapped. “You know he doesn’t think enough of your TK to have your training extended. Well, you and I both know we have done wonders for your grip. Just because he’s Grand Master doesn’t make him right all the time. I want you to test this girl, and I think she has as much right to the facts as you have to the training I’ve been giving you under the table all these months!”

“Blackmail,” he said sadly. “Extortion!”

“So I’m extorting some work out of you,” I agreed. “The only question is whether you will pay.”

“What do you want?” Baskins asked glumly.

“I want you to make this woman predict a series, a number of series, and I want you to use your computers here to tell me on what basis her accuracy varies. You can do that, can’t you?”

He nodded, staring at the dice on the table. “If I wasn’t so sure you can help me develop my TK, Lefty,” he said, “I’d never do this. All right, sneak her down here and I’ll get her to PC some weather information for a month or so.”

“Weather?” I said. “Why the weather?”

“You’ll see when I show the results,” he said. “Roll those dice again. I swear I felt your lift that last time.”


I made a few other calls around the building to catch up on what had been going on while I was in Nevada. Our formal organization is lousy, because Maragon is a one-man show. You just have to rely on gossip, what the CV’s pick up and what leaks by telepathy, to know all the internal politics of the Lodge. I wouldn’t want you to think that Psi’s are more devious or Machiavellian than normals, but sometimes they act it.

By the time I reached up to tap on Pheola’s door, it opened in front of me, and a stylishly dressed young lady came out, smiling, with Pheola standing in the doorway behind her.

“Lefty!” Pheola said happily.

“Is this your fiancé?” the girl said to Pheola.

“No!” I said. “I’m her chiropractor, and I’m about to straighten out some vertebrae in her neck!”

Something about the way I said it made the girl from the department store scuttle down the corridor. I glared at her back, went into Pheola’s apartment and shut the door.

“What were you telling her?” I started, and then I knew there was no point to it. I waved an irritated hand and kept on talking.

“When will your clothes be here?”

“Some things for tonight in about an hour,” she said meekly. “I got quite a lot. Was that all right?”

“If you keep shooting off your puss about our getting married, you won’t last long enough to wear them all,” I threatened. “Can you find Room 4307, or will I have to take you down?”

“I can find it if you want me to, Lefty,” she said.

I was sick of being her darlin’ Billy. “Then find it,” I said. “Ask for Norty. Tell him you are my PC. Do what he tells you. I’ll pick you up around seven o’clock back here. All right?”

“All right.”

“And stop telling people we’re going to get married!”

She didn’t answer that, so I let myself out and went to my own apartment, sizzling.


The phone was ringing as I came in, and I walked over to press the “Accept” button. The screen lit up to show me a lined and wrinkled face framed in scraggling hair streaked with gray.

“Hello, Evaleen,” I said to her.

“This is dynamite,” she said in a graveyard tone. “In the gym, in about ten minutes?”

I could feel my eyebrows rise. “Sure,” I said, and before I could foolishly ask her what it was all about, she cut the image.

It isn’t that our phones are tapped. Maragon doesn’t need that. But in a building full of telepaths, any conversation is going to be peeped if you carry it on long enough. And who can keep his mind closed while he’s talking? It’s hard enough when you’re silent.

I rode directly down to twenty and let myself into the locker room. By the time I had changed into my gym suit, Evaleen Riley’s ten minutes had elapsed, and I went into the gym.

If she wanted to be careful about our conversation there was no point going directly to wherever she was working out, so I wandered.

There was the usual dozen or so TK’s there practicing with the weights, as well as twice as many who thought they were TK’s trying to get the milligram weights to wiggle. About half of them were clustered around one table where a member from one of the other chapters was showing off by heaving at a two hundred and fifty gram weight. He was seated in the classic position, his elbows on the table, his fingers supporting his temples, and was concentrating fiercely on the weight.

He wasn’t really up to it. I could see sweat starting from his brow as I watched him over the heads of the others at the table. Suddenly he dropped back, exhausted.

“Not tonight, Josephine!” he gasped. The man at his right, another stranger, chuckled, reached over to touch the weight with his finger tips and then TK’d it cleanly off the Formica. It was nice work, for a middleweight.

I looked in at a couple other workouts before wandering over to where Evaleen sat by herself in a corner. She was concentrating on a series of pith balls the size of peas that weighed from a tenth of a gram up. She was either so absorbed in what she was doing, or pretended to be, that she gave no sign of hearing me come up behind her. One of the balls before her struggled off the table top, and I could hear her breath hiss with the effort. Cheating a little, I felt for her lifts and gave her some help. One after another the balls floated up and sank back. She was utterly charmed—or pretended to be.

“Great going, Evaleen,” I said, but she swore at me in Gaelic, an affectation, because she comes from Minnesota.

“You’d slip up behind me and help, eh?” she said hollowly.

“Get a touch, Evaleen,” I suggested. “Have you tried it?”

“No,” she said sullenly. She’s good at that. Her dark hair is streaked with gray. She lets it hang down straight and whacks it off with hedge shears or something when it bothers her. Her face is lined and wrinkled far ahead of its time, and I swear, from the color of her teeth, that she chews betel nut. Somehow or other these PC witches have to act the part.

“Go ahead,” I insisted. “Touch the first ball with the tip of your finger, Evaleen.” I showed her what I meant by leaning over her shoulder. “That’s right. Now lift!”

The pith ball rose smoothly several inches, and she held the lift for ten seconds or so.

“You were helping,” she accused me in her best graveyard tones.

“Never,” I said, truthfully. “Don’t feel that it’s cheating to get tactile help. I just saw a two hundred fifty gram middleweight over there at the other table run his fingers down a weight before he lifted. We all do it. It helps the grip.”

You never do,” she accused me.

“On the big ones, Evaleen, sure I do. I’m a little sneaky about it, but I usually get a touch. Try a bigger ball.”

 

I looked around the gym while my encouragement helped her. No one was paying us any special attention, and I saw none of the better known telepaths in the room. That didn’t mean too much, for any number of the TP’s in the Manhattan Chapter had good range.

Evaleen was getting good lifts on the one-gram ball when I slipped her the question: “You said it was dynamite,” I said, and closed my mind to the thought.

Her lift broke. “I’m worried about the old goat in the penthouse, Lefty,” she said in a low tone. It didn’t make any difference. She might as well have shouted if a TP were peeping her. I took up for her with the pith balls and had them hopping up and down discreetly, just as though she were still working at her lifts with my coaching.

“You been life-lining again?” I hazarded, largely because of what Pheola had said about Maragon’s having a heart attack.

“Yes, and he’s going to be sick—I feel it very strongly.”

“Die?”

“He’ll outlive me,” she said, more glumly than ever. I knew she could not predict past the span of her own life.

“And how long is that?” I needled.

“You can count my time in years, but not enough of them,” she said, irritated that I had asked her about her own span. I knew I shouldn’t have said it. She had read her own future and found it wanting. “But death hovers close in it,” she went on. “You know I don’t get clear pictures, Lefty, just a feeling. Death is very, very close. And you are in it.”

“And who else?” I pressed her.

“No one I ever met,” she said, telling me another limitation of her powers.

“Perhaps I can cure that, Evaleen,” I said, letting the last ball drop. More loudly I added: “You get better every day. You could qualify for the second degree if you can do as well under standardized conditions.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “We’ve talked enough. You will act on it?”

“Oddly,” I said, “I already have. You confirm what another PC says. I’ll have you meet her.”

“You will not,” she said. “I can’t stand PC’s!”

“Now try that big one,” I said, pointing to a small brass weight of two grams on the table.

She touched it and it lifted. She cried out in pleasure. “That’s my best!”

“You were never that mad when you were lifting, I guess,” I said. “Big emotions make big lifts. Fall in love—you’ll do better still.”

“First decent argument for getting tangled with one of you men I’ve heard yet,” she lied. Wild as her looks were, she’d been a favorite around the Chapter for years.

I patted her on the shoulder and went back to the table where the big weights were being lifted and showed off for a couple minutes. The inevitable hour of shop talk and demonstrations followed as soon as the out-of-towners found out who I was. They don’t meet a Thirty-third every day, and face it, I’m a TK bruiser.


After enjoying some slaps on the back, I took my shower, changed back into my clothes and went to find Pheola.

She had just finished her shower and had gotten dressed as far as her slip when she let me in.

“What an awful man!” she greeted me.

“Norty?”

“Yes! He doesn’t believe in me a bit!”

“I don’t either,” I grinned. “Remember, you’re the fake who says we’re getting married.”

“We are, too!” she said, sulking. “He made me tell him a thousand things,” she added, going over to her couch where three dresses were draped. “What should I wear?”

“The blue one,” I said. “Blue-eyed blondes should wear blue.” I was stretching a point. “What did he make you PC?”

“All about the weather,” she said, somewhat muffled as she slipped the dress over her head. I helped her with a zipper and a catch. “About thirty cities, Lefty. He made me tell him the temperature and the barometric pressure every hour for about a month! I never did anything like that before.”

“Um-m-m,” I said, as she fooled around getting her hair in some sort of shape with a clip. It was straight hair, and not much could be done with it. “Were you right, though?”

“Yes,” she said, convinced. “I was very sure. Lefty, I want to do it, for you!”

“Sure,” I said. “Let’s go.”

The Lodge has good food, but you get tired of hanging around with a bunch of Psi’s, so we went on the town and found a good spot for dinner. What with rubber-necking at the big city, it was some after ten o’clock before we got back to the Chapter House and rode up to her apartment.

Pheola was bubbling happily about our evening. As she keyed open her door, I pushed her into her place and came in with her.

“For a couple who are going to get married,” I said, grinning at her, “it’s time we made a little love, Pheola.”

She squinted myopically at me, not sure if I were serious. “I thought you weren’t going….” she started.

“I’m not,” I assured her. “I’m talking about our special kind of love. Know what I mean?”

She shook her head doubtfully as I took her wrap and hung it in the closet.

“Let’s face a couple facts,” I said, as I led her to the sofa and we sat down. She squeezed up close to me, so that our knees were touching. “I believe in you. I’ve told you that I have seen you predict the future. More than that, I have felt you cure me. But precognition is hard to prove, and if we are going to get you into the Lodge, I think we had better stick to Maragon’s advice and work on your healing powers. It’s Maragon you’ll have to convince. He’s the last word.”

“I know,” she said, wriggling her skinny knees against me. “And it scares me.”


“Maybe it should,” I said, trying to draw away a bit. “Your life won’t be your own once your have been admitted to one of the degrees. But life in a Psi society has its compensations.

“Now, look at it this way,” I went on. “Whether you meant to or not, you have staked your reputation as a PC on a prediction that our Grand Master will suffer a heart attack.”

“He will!” she cut in.

“Sure. I even know a PC who agrees with you, in a misty sort of way. Now, think. You’re a healer. If you can heal what you predict, it would make a big hit. Can you?”

Pheola’s pointed features focused in a frown. “I’m sorry, Lefty,” she admitted, “I don’t even know what a heart attack is.”

“That’s what I thought,” I said, getting up to switch on the hi-fi. It gave out soft music—lover’s music, I guess it was meant to be. “But I’m a surgeon, you know that, don’t you? And I can teach you something about hearts. The question in my mind is whether you can learn to handle what you know.”

“I don’t understand, Lefty,” she said, holding out a hand to draw me back to her side on the sofa. I let her have me back.

“That’s what I meant by our kind of love,” I grinned at her. “Remember when you cured my arm the other night? You said you found a weak place in my head.”

“That’s what I did, darlin’.”

“Can you find that place again, now that it’s not weak?”

“Maybe,” she decided.

“Try to,” I suggested. I swung my feet around on the sofa and lay with my head in her lap. Pheola bent down over me and stroked my forehead with her fingers.

“Darlin’ Billy!” she whispered. “Yes! Yes! I can feel it!”

I’ll say she could. My thrashing right arm pretty near knocked her buck teeth out, and she retreated from my nervous system.

“You know what you did?” I asked, when the pain inside my head subsided.

“Not really, Lefty,” she admitted.

“You have a kind of telekinesis. It’s the lightest touch of all, but you applied it directly to my nerves. Perhaps you have some unconscious way of stimulating my synapses, making my nerve centers fire. I can’t figure it out exactly. But my question is this, can you feel your way all around inside my body?”

She recoiled a little. “That sounds awful,” she said.

“I thought you were in love with me,” I insisted, looking up at her down-bent features. “Do you really have reservations about me?”

“No, Lefty. I love all of you.”

“All right,” I said, reaching up to stroke her cheek in time with the music. “See if you can feel your way—lightly, now—down the same path in my left arm.”

She could, but not quite as lightly as I would have liked. We played with it until nearly midnight, by which time she had used what I can only call her sense of perception to feel her way through a good part of my nerves and viscera. Some of it was exquisitely painful, but from observing my flinching when she hurt me, Pheola pretty quickly found out how to ignore the synapses that fired pain through my brain.

At last I raised my head from her lap. “You’re doing great,” I said. “Do you feel tired?”

She shook her head. “Just excited,” she breathed. “What a funny way to get to know you!”

“Then we’ll try one more thing, baby,” I said. “Come on next door to my place. There’s some stuff over there I want you to work with.”


I thought Pheola might boggle about going into my apartment, but she came readily enough. I guess a PC has some pretty strong notions about what is going to happen next.

Just to keep the mood the same, I turned on my hi-fi and drew the loveseat up in front of the desk in my study. Pheola found a way to sit closer to me than I would have imagined possible while I fished a set of weights out of a drawer and laid them on the polished teak.

“Here’s how it goes,” I said to her, and TK’d the weights off the wood one at a time. Anybody else would have gotten bug-eyed, but Pheola just squinted to see better. Finally I made the big weight cross the room, go behind us, and then come back to its place on the desk. She had never seen a demonstration of trained ability, and to her it was so much magic.

“You’ve been doing the same thing, Pheola,” I told her as I put an arm around her shoulder. “Only you’ve been doing it first to my nerves and later to my insides. Now let me see you do it to this little ball.”

She looked at the little sphere of pith, similar to the ones that Evaleen Riley had used for practice, but nothing happened.

“I can’t feel it,” she protested, “It … It isn’t you, Lefty. I’ll never feel anything that isn’t you!”

“Don’t get mystical,” I snapped. “You did some healing before you met me, and I don’t suppose you were in love with every one you helped, were you?”

“Of course not.”

“Try again.”

“Nothing,” she said, and the pith ball did not budge.

“Now watch this,” I said, and popped the little ball into my mouth. “Feel for it,” I insisted, pushing it into one cheek where it did not interfere with my speech.

She closed her eyes. “Where is it?” she demanded. “Did you swallow it, Lefty?”

“I either swallowed it or I kept it in my mouth,” I said. “Feel for it!”

“There!” she gasped. “It’s in your mouth!”

I rolled the piece of pith on to the top surface of my tongue and opened my mouth so that she could see it. “Agh!” I said, pointing at my tongue. I gestured again, and her face paled as the little ball left my tongue and floated in the air before my face. Suddenly her lift broke and it fell wetly onto my hand, in my lap.

I leaned over, put an arm around behind her neck and kissed her. It was a most sedate embrace. “There,” I said, “that performance alone will get you into the Lodge. Now do you believe you’re a TK?”

She gave a little shriek. A ladylike “Eek!”

“It’s not that awful,” I said. “A lot of Psi’s can do it.”

“You kissed me!” she said, paying no attention to my question.

“Sure,” I agreed. “And you managed your first lift.” I picked the pith ball up in my fingers, showed it to her, and laid it on my palm.

“Feel my hand first,” I suggested. “Then lift it over onto the desk.”

She looked, wild-eyed, at the pith, shaking her head.

“I’ll kiss you again,” I suggested.

The little ball came away from my palm, floated erratically around, crossed over to my desk and dropped with a soft smack to the teak. She came to me like a tigress. I don’t know why I expected a repetition of our first innocent kiss—I knew she had been married once.

I claim good marks for getting her back to her own apartment immediately.


For the balance of the week I saw very little of Pheola during the day. The hospital kept me busy with TK surgery, and I was practicing scalpel work with my newly-strong right arm, now that I had two hands to use. I’d be something more than a TK surgeon yet.

Pheola had a couple more sneaky sessions with Norty Baskins in the data-processing center, but for most of the time, she told me, she wandered around the part of the building the Lodge had retained for its own uses, meeting Psi’s of various powers and more or less soaking up the flavor of life in the Manhattan Chapter. In the evenings we found a new place for dinner each night, and then came back to her place or mine to practice with the weights. Pheola would never be the bruiser that I was—so very few are—but she worked her grip up to several grams, which is quite respectable.

By that time I felt she was ready for a course of sprouts in the human heart. I used my drag at the hospital to bring her over with me for a cram course. We had a plastic model of a heart there, about four times life size, that was built in demountable layers for lecture and demonstration purposes. By the end of the second week, Pheola was able to work her sense of perception around inside my heart, based on what she had learned from the model, in surprisingly good shape.

“I guess you are in good health, Lefty,” she told me late one night in her apartment. “Your valves feel just like the model, and your arteries are clear and good. I’m so glad for you.”

“Clean living,” I assured her. “And careful choice of grandparents. Now, my fat and sassy friend,” I said. “I want some of your witchcraft.” That fat part was something of a joke, for she would always be lean and rangy. But Pheola had put on a good ten pounds since we had first met. The weight was going to some rather pleasant spots to observe, and outside of her mess of buck teeth, she wasn’t turning out to be such a bad-looking chicken. For one thing, she had race-horse legs, and that’s never bad.

“Witchcraft, Lefty?” she said, getting up to go into her kitchen to pour some more coffee.

“You said Maragon was going to have a heart attack,” I reminded her as I followed her in to where the cooking was done. “O.K., my skinny PC. How soon? Exactly when?”

She stopped pouring, set the percolator down and looked at me solemnly. “In two weeks, about.”

“Hm-m-m,” I said. “But it won’t kill him?”

She picked up her cup and led me back to the sofa, sitting down before she answered me. “Not exactly,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

That’s what all the witches say when you try to get them to do any life-lining. “Have you told me all that you know?” I demanded.

Then she did a funny thing. She got up, went to the chest against the wall where her purse lay, and got out her glasses, racking them up on her long thin nose. She looked at me closely. “No, not all I know. And I don’t aim to,” she said. She made no move to come back to sit with me.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but this is Lodge business. I know that you’re not a member yet, but you soon will be, and you might as well learn right now that you are subject to Lodge discipline. Tell me what you know.”

“No!”

They all have to learn it sooner or later. I rammed a good stiff lift in under her heart, and saw her knees buckle. She gasped, and then the lights went out.

Pheola was beside me on the loveseat when my consciousness started to straggle back. Her hands were soothing my brow. That isn’t where it had hurt. She had struck back, only twice as hard as I had managed. Fool around with somebody who had a good grip on my nervous system, would I? I was lucky to be alive.

“Oh, darlin’!” she gasped, as my eyes opened. “You hurt me so, and before I knew it I had done it to you! Forgive me, Billy Joe! I’llnever do that again!”

“Better not,” I groaned, trying to get my breath. “They’ll carry me out in a pine box next time.”

“I am so sorry,” she said, beginning to cry.

“Then tell me,” I said. “What else do you know?”

That only made her cry harder, but between sobs she got it out. “He won’t die the first time,” she said sniffling. “But the nextattack will kill him.”

“Soon after the first?”

She nodded. “A couple days,” she said. “I wish you hadn’t made me tell it.”

“Good thing I did,” I growled. “You’re as nutty as a fruitcake. Maragon won’t die. I’ve got it on good authority.”

“I’m right!” she insisted.


I took it to Maragon the next morning. The city was shrouded in a low layer of cloud, and his glassed-in penthouse office was gloomy with the morning. He motioned me to sit down. I dragged one of his Bank of England chairs through the ankle-deep pile of his rug and set it down next to his big desk.

“I have a progress report on Pheola, Pete,” I told him.

“That skinny one you brought back from Nevada, Lefty?”

I nodded. “She’s not quite so skinny, thanks to my expense account,” I said. “And she’s ready to qualify.”

“Not on PC,” he said, hot at once.

“That remains to be seen, Pete. The lab has been tracking her predictions for better than two weeks now, and in a couple more weeks Norty will give us some stix on her scope, range and accuracy.”

He glowered at me, his bushy brows down about his eyes. “I thought I told you to concentrate on her healing,” he said.

“I have,” I told him. “But I saw no harm in seeing what she is like with precognition,” I said.

“Flat on her face, that’s what she’s like,” he said testily. “One of these days I’ll have to convince you that what I say around here goes, do you hear?”

“One of these days,” I said. “But not when you’re being a sour old goat. You’re just sore at her because she said you’d have a heart attack.”

“Nonsense!” he bristled.

“I’ve had Evaleen Riley doing a little PC work on you, too,” I confessed, and saw his face get dark with anger. “Now hold your tongue, you old goat. I’m trying to help you,” I cut in, to keep him from bellowing at me. “Evaleen is worried, too. But she’s a little more cheerful than Pheola. She doesn’t think you’ll die.”

“Well,” he growled. “That’s nice. I won’t write my will.”

“Stop acting like an old goat, you old goat,” I snapped at him. “I’ll give you a prediction of my own: You’ll be sick enough to die, but we’ll find a way to do something about it.”

“Well, now you’re a PC!” he huffed. I like to think I have a little, now and then. It’s ever so short in range, and highly erratic, but I have had my flashes.

“Just one thing,” I said to him. “As a surgeon who has done a lot of heart work, I want you in the heart clinic on the day these witches say you’re going to be sick. It will certainly make a lot of us feel better, and the worst that can happen is that you can tell both those witches they don’t know the right time.”

I didn’t get to first base. “Now I’ll tell you something, Wally Bupp!” he said loudly. “I was fool enough to pay attention to what that witch of yours said, and I’ve had a complete checkup. The heart people can’t find a thing the matter with my heart. The devil you say! I won’t go near your hospital. Now get out of here and don’t give me another word about the PC powers of that fraud.”


I let a week go by after that, not quite able to figure out what I should do. One night, after a dinner that Pheola had cooked for me as part of her transparent scheme to convince me she was God’s own gift to Lefty Bupp, I raised a question with her.

“You are still sure,” I said, loading the dishwasher, “about Pete Maragon?”

“Yes,” she said. “He’ll have a heart attack.”

“All right. Exactly when?”

“The nineteenth. Thursday,” she said.

“We’ve got to pin point this thing,” I said as we went back to her living room. “Do you think you are ready to do some serious diagnosis?”

“Of the Grand Master?” she asked me.

“Sure. I can get you into his office without too much trouble. What I want you to do is feel around inside his heart. The sawbones from the clinic can’t find anything out of line, and I think you can. Can you PC that?”

She smiled at me. “Of course,” she said. “You’ll take me there in the morning.”

I did, of course.

Maragon gave us an appointment when I assured him that I wanted to show him some aspects of Pheola’s healing powers and that PC wasn’t going to enter into the discussion. His spooky clairvoyant let us in with a knowing smile and we found the old goat pouring over some papers in front of him on the big slab of walnut.

He was really quite nice to Pheola. “Well, well, young woman,” he said, “Lefty tells me that you are coming along.”

“I hope so, Mr. Maragon,” she said.

“Well, Lefty,” he said, after he had shown us both into the handsome chairs he had drawn up in front of his desk, “you were going to have Pheola give me some kind of a demonstration.”

“Sure,” I said. “First off I want you to know that she can qualify as a TK. Her healing powers are a subtle form of that. But as proof, she’ll give a demonstration with weights.”

I drew the carrying case from my pocket and laid four pith balls on his desk, as well as a ten-gram standard TK weight.

“Ten grams?” he said, interested.

“Maybe,” I grinned. “We haven’t tried this outside our own company. Pretty big emotional quotient here, you know.”

He shook his head. “It has to be reproducible, Lefty,” he said, but in a kindly tone. “Let me see it, Pheola.”

She was really pretty good, and the pith balls behaved quite well. The first time around, the ten-gram weight stopped her cold, but by laying it on my palm, she got a good grip and thereafter was able to make it perform.

“Very nicely done,” the old goat grumbled. He hadn’t expected anything of the kind. But I was only half through with him.

“Now,” I said. “The more important part of the demonstration. Do you object to a little minor pain?”

“I certainly do,” he growled, bringing his bushy brows down.

“Well, the only way you can tell that Pheola is able to employ her TK within you is to give you a little sensation. It will only be some twinges,” I said.

He wanted to argue about it, and I dragged the conversation out until I felt a little tug on my ear. Pheola had completed her scan of Maragon’s heart.

“Oof!” he said as she hit him lightly in the diaphragm. Then she made his hands jump, first one and then the other. None of it felt real good, I could see, from the flinching and lip biting that was going on across the desk.

“That’s enough!” he exclaimed as she went to work on his throat. His hand flew up to massage his larynx. “Quite convincing, young woman. But what is it good for?”

I laughed at him. “What are most Psi powers good for?” I asked him. “All that we require for membership is that a person be able to display them under standardized conditions.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “Yes, I guess that’s so. Well, I gather you’ll be ready to go into your act at the next Chapter Meeting, then?”

Pheola nodded. “I hope so,” she said.

“I do, too,” the old goat agreed, getting in the last word. “It would be nice if you could figure out what to do with your ability to snap my nerve-strings!”


We were silent in the ride down the elevator to our apartments. I took the chance that Pete wasn’t having us peeped, and spoke as soon as we were in my study.

“What did you find out, Pheola?” I asked her.

“I could feel something, Lefty,” she said. “When you had the heart model over at the hospital, you showed me the coronary artery, you remember?”

“Yes.”

“There are two little bumps in his artery, one about three times as large as the other.”

“Bumps?” I said, frowning. “I’m not sure I know what that means, Pheola.”

“Well, remember how I told you that your own arteries were nice and clear?”

I nodded.

“His coronary artery isn’t like that. It’s sort of caked and crusty. And I think some of that coating has broken away in a couple spots, and they are like scabs on the sores, only they aren’t hard.”

This was as close to a classic description of coronary clotting as I figured I would get in nontechnical terms. What her words mean to me was that Maragon’s coronary artery, as in many men his age, was somewhat choked with deposits of cholesterol. In a couple places the deposit had broken away, exposing the raw surface of the artery. But instead of scar tissue forming to heal the open spot, clotting had taken place. And if either of those clots broke loose, and plugged one of the minor arteries in the heart, we’d see a coronary attack as that part of the muscle was starved for blood and died.

The information was useless, in a medical sense. There is no surgery for the condition. There was, however, something untried that could possibly be done.

“Where is it going to happen?” I asked her. “The heart attack?”

“In the hospital,” she said.

“And what will I have you do?”

She frowned for a moment. “You want me to cure it,” she said. “I’m not sure I understand how.”

“I do,” I said. “That’s enough. From here on I just want to work a two-horse parlay. The old goat can’t help but be convinced by the demonstration you are going to give him. The thing that I want is for him to agree that your PC powers exist at the same time. We’ll whipsaw him good.”


In the morning, after the first surgery was over, I went downstairs to the heart clinic. Doc Swartz was in his office. He’s the best heart man at Memorial, and I figured that Maragon would have gone to him.

“What’s up, Lefty?” he asked as I came in to his office and shut the door against some of the smells of the hospital. “How is your scalpel work coming?”

“I’ll be doing my own cutting any day now,” I said. “I came on another errand.”

“So?”

“Did you give Maragon’s heart a checkup in the last couple of weeks?” I asked.

“None of your business,” he smiled. “You know I can’t talk about my patients.”

“This is Lodge business, Doc,” I protested. “I know you aren’t a Psi, and thus aren’t subject to our discipline, but I think it’s time we exchanged some information.”

“Exchanged?”

I nodded. “You know—or do you know—that I’ve been working with a girl, giving her some training.”

“No,” he said. “I don’t hear much about the Lodge. You folks are pretty tight-mouthed around Normals.”

“Sure,” I said, not wanting to appear uncomfortable about it. Doc was all right—he never showed any resentment that he didn’t have Psi powers. Quite sensibly, he was satisfied with his own normal skills. “Well, this girl is a very delicate telekinetic,” I told him. “She is the one who brought my right arm back to life. She’s good.”

“She must be,” he agreed. “I know that stumped every neurologist over here.”

“Right,” I said, “She has been exploring the insides of Maragon’s heart.”

“What!”

“Sense of perception—light TK touch—anything you want to call it. I can get her to demonstrate, if you insist. But you can take my word for it. She can feel her way around inside your body the way you can feel your way around the outside.”

“And what is her diagnosis?” he said, irritated now. He was the heart expert.

I told him about the clots, and he nodded as he got the picture. “A classic description,” he agreed. “But what can we do about it? Clots like that are next to impossible to break down. If they flake away in too big a chunk, they can kill.”

“I know,” I agreed. “But there is more to the story. Pheola is a precog as well. She says that one of the clots will break loose on the nineteenth, and that Maragon will have an attack. I want to make sure he is over here, in a hospital bed, with you on hand, when it happens.”

“You Psi’s!” he said. “Do I have to take this seriously, that this woman can tell the future?”

“Yes, you do,” I said. “One of our other PC’s confirms it.”

“That just doubles the creepiness,” he said. “How can I manage it, even if it’s true?”

“Tell the old goat that more detailed examination of his EKG makes you want him in for observation. Even Maragon listens to doctors. Tell him whatever it takes to get him to bed that morning. You might even bring him in the night before.”

Doc Swartz shrugged. “I guess I’ll have to play your game,” he decided. “But this had better be good!”


I never did learn what Doc Swartz told the Grand Master, or how much the old goat suspected. But I learned from my hospital sources that Maragon was scheduled to enter the heart clinic the night of the eighteenth for “tests.”

I let Pheola set the timing for us, and we showed up at his room around ten on the morning of the nineteenth, shortly before Pheola predicted his heart attack would occur.

The old goat was sitting up in bed as he was being examined by Doc Swartz and another sawbones. Leads from the EKG led from his chest and wrists. He fired one scorching glance at the two of us.

“What is this?” he demanded. “Get out of here!”

I shook my head. “Not me,” I said. “I’m an accredited surgeon at this hospital.”

“What about her?” he growled, pushing Swartz away from him. “Get that witch out of here!”

“A diagnosis is about to be made,” I said, bringing Pheola to his side. “And it would help if you shut up for a couple minutes.”

He turned angrily to Swartz, but I had him pretty well cowed, and he shook his head. “We could use some help, Mr. Maragon,” he said. “There are some anomalies in your EKG that this lady’s Psi powers may help us resolve. I should think that you, of all people, would want….”

“Oh, shut up!” he grumped. “You are ganging up on me. Go ahead,” he snapped at Pheola. “And get it over with!”

His gown had been pushed down from his shoulders for Doc Swartz’s stethoscope work, and the mat of graying hair on his chest was exposed. Pheola laid a hand on his chest—she seemed to have a better feel after a touch, just as I do with the weights. There was a dead silence in the room as she stood there, eyes closed, and slowly ran her fingers over his rib cage. After some minutes her eyes opened, and she came back to my side.

“Still the same,” she said. I nodded and looked over at Swartz.

“Well,” Maragon growled, “have you ill-assorted characters agreed on a diagnosis?”

“In a sense,” I told him. “It’s nothing that every doctor in this room couldn’t have guessed at without bothering to examine you. You’re sixty years old, and you’ve got sixty-year-old arteries. That’s all.”

“Great,” he said, reaching for the thin blanket that covered his chunky legs. “Then I can….”

He stopped, and a spasm crossed his face.

It went away, and he slowly turned to face Pheola, a sort of angry consternation coloring his features. “You witch!” he whispered. Then the pain hit him much harder. “My arm!” he said.

There were doctors around him in a flash. He was still wired to the EKG machine. “That’s it!” the technician said. “The T-waves have gone inverted!”

That meant damage—typical coronary damage. They chased us out, and we sat in a kind of death watch in a waiting room, while Pheola cried softly.

“Stop it,” I said after a while. “Simply because you could foretell it doesn’t mean you caused it!” But it was no use.

In the afternoon Doc Swartz came out to tell us that the attack had been mild. “Do you suppose Pheola could make another diagnosis?” he asked. “We’d like to know exactly what is going on in there.”

I looked over at her. Her eyes were red, and her pointed nose showed too frequent use of her handkerchief, but she nodded, and followed us back to Maragon’s room.

Maragon was resting quietly, and didn’t have a word to say as Pheola ran her hands carefully over his chest. It was the only time I could remember when the old goat hadn’t had some sharp word for me.

Pheola opened her eyes and led us out into the corridor. “The smaller bump is gone,” she said. “The other one feels very soft. It sort of sways every time his heart beats.”

“Absolute quiet,” was Doc Swartz’s answer. “There’s a chance that clot will dwindle, erode, and harden up. But obviously we want to keep him as quiet as possible to make that take place.”

“You had better know,” I said quietly. “Pheola predicts it will break loose in a couple days and kill him.”

“How accurate is she?” he said, looking sideways at where my witch stood crying.

“We’ll get some ideas on that yet today,” I told him. “Evaleen Riley, another one of our PC’s, doesn’t agree on the death part, and she’s pretty good.”

I turned to Pheola. “We had better go over to see Norty Baskins,” I told her. “We have to know if you’re right or not.”

“I’m right,” she said, wiping her eyes.


Norty was ready for us. “Well,” he said, as we came in, “Lefty was right about you, Pheola. He said you were a rare one, and so you are.”

“I was right, wasn’t I?” she said, beginning to feel good and bad at the same time.

“Some of the time,” Norty agreed. “When you are right, you are the sharpest PC this lab has ever tested. But that’s only a rather small part of the time. When you’re wrong, you’re really wrong.”

“So he may not die!” I said. “What did I tell you?”

“Show me!” she demanded.

“All right,” Norty said. “Take a look at this. You remember giving me all those predictions about temperature and barometric pressures?”

“Yes,” she said.

“We’ve drawn a couple moving weather maps,” Norty explained. “Just the pressures on these. They cover the thirty-day period for which you PC’d. One of the maps shows the actual isobars as they were recorded by the Weather Bureau. The other moving map is the same isobars as predicted by you, Pheola. We’ll run the two maps simultaneously on a screen. The black lines are the actual readings. The red lines are your predictions.”

It was sort of like watching an animated cartoon. The map started with an overlap of red and black and then you could see each high and low pressure area work its way across the country and out to sea. But there was a difference. After a couple hours, on their time scale, Pheola’s map differed from the actual, and the difference grew greater for a while, and then narrowed. Suddenly the red and black lines were identical.

The cycle repeated several times in the thirty-day period.

“What you see,” said Norty, “is that she is right for a few hours and then wanders off, sometimes for several days, but wanders back and gets right again. The timing of when she is right is rather random—there’s no regular periodicity to it, and as a result, we can’t see how to predict when she is going to be right and when she is not.”

“I have a thought for you,” I said, when Norty had shut off the projection. “It’s sort of like two sine waves that intersect now and then. One of them has bigger amplitude than the other, or their periodicity is different. Can’t you feed this dope to your computers and find out what kinds of curves would represent the coincidences?”

He gave me a suffering look. “Don’t you suppose I tried that? I get indeterminate solutions—the machine can’t find any curves that answer the data.”

Pheola got her own answers out of that. “Then you don’t know whether I am right about Maragon or not.”

“We know that you may not be right, that’s something,” I reminded her. “Come on up to the apartment. This calls for some thinking.”

Pheola protested that. “Please, Lefty,” she said, “this has got me all shaken up. I’d like to be alone for a while. Will you come and get me for dinner?”

“Sure,” I said.


Pheola was in better spirits by dinner time, and didn’t exactly pick at her food. At any rate, she was ready to talk when we finally got back to my apartment.

“Did you understand what I said to Norty about the sine waves, Pheola?” I asked her.

She shook her head. Her education had not proceeded to calculus, and her trig was too far behind her for quick recollection of what sine waves were.

I drew some sketches of overlapping sine waves for her to explain what I thought was going on. “You are making predictions on this one path, and actual events are on another path, do you see?” I said. “When the two paths cross, the events that you predict and actual events are the same, and at those times you’re right.”

“I know,” she said. “I thought about it all afternoon. I didn’t want to say it to Norty, but when I was giving him all those numbers, there came times when it was a little fuzzy, and I wasn’t so sure.”

“And what did you do?”

“I guessed—because it would clear up right after that, and I’d be sure again.”

“Can you explain the fuzziness?” I prodded.

She shrugged. “It’s like a fork in the road,” she said, holding her two index fingers next to each other. “And there are two pictures for a while.”

You may not have noticed it, but your index finger is not straight. It curves in toward your middle finger so that you can hold all the tips together if you want to. And when Pheola laid her two index fingers together, they curved away from each other at their tips. I got a flash and went immediately to my phone.

“Hello,” I said to the O-operator cartoon. “Get Norty Baskins. If he’s asleep, wake him.”

Norty was quite upset about being awakened.

“I have a suggestion for your machine,” I said to him. “Try it in three dimensions. Instead of sine waves, visualize it as two coil springs that are all snarled up in each other. Each has a different pitch, perhaps different diameter. But at certain points the coils touch each other, and at those times she is right.”

“In the morning?” he said weakly, rubbing his eyes.

“Nonsense,” I said. “We’ll meet you down there.”

The trick in getting decent answers out of computers is to ask them sensible questions. It took us nearly until dawn to get the question right. And then we got a very sweet answer. There were two helices all right, as an explanation of how Pheola could be right and then wrong. I had my own idea about what the helices signified, but that was unimportant beside the fact that we were now able to predict at what times in the future the helices would coincide. It was at the time of their intersection that Pheola would be right in her predictions.

We did a little extrapolation. “Well,” I said to her, “it’s nice to know that you’re going to be wrong tomorrow and the next day. Maragon isn’t going to die.”

“I’m sorry … oh, I don’t mean that!” she apologized. “But I did so want to be right, and now I know I’m just what he said, a fake!”

“Not all of the time,” I reminded her. “But this gives me confidence in what I want you to do at the hospital today.”


We grabbed a little shut-eye. Fatigue cuts into TK powers as much as it cuts into any other human ability, and I wanted Pheola to be at her best. But around lunch-time we dropped over to see Doc Swartz, and I explained to him what I thought Pheola could do for Maragon.

“I doubt that clot has had time to get any better,” he said. “If Pheola examines him now and finds it as big as ever, and still soft and flexible, I think we should entertain your idea.”

Pheola made a trip up to Maragon’s room, and returned. “Just the same,” she said. “He looks so tired.”

“He’s not so bad, better than he looks,” Swartz said stoutly. “And you can still feel the clot?”

“Yes.”

He turned to me. “Pheola,” I said. “Now the question is whether you can help break it up. Maragon’s blood stream is not eroding the clot. Perhaps it has a sort of envelope of firmer fibrin around it, something that keeps it from breaking down. The question is whether you are sensitive enough, and have enough control, to get a good grip on the clot, and start breaking it up by tearing away at its surface. It certainly has very little mechanical strength, and you have several grams of TK in the lab. What do you think?”

The whole idea scared the devil out of her, but we went back to Maragon’s room together, where she felt for the clot with a new outlook on the problem. After some minutes she nodded, and we went out in the corridor to put our heads together.

“I think I can do it, Lefty,” she said. “But what if something goes wrong?”

“It won’t,” I said. “Evaleen Riley says that he isn’t going to die, and I believe her.”

“O.K.,” said Doc Swartz. “I’ll put it up to him.”

“I’d put it this way,” he said to Maragon, when we had gone back into his room. “We can keep you here in bed for a while, but sooner or later you are going to feel well enough to leave, and we won’t be able to make you stay. The first time you do anything that gets your heart going a little faster than it does lying here, that clot will break loose and kill you.”

“The big thing,” I reminded him, “is that Evaleen can’t find that you are going to die. That argues that we are going to succeed.”

“And this witch?” Maragon asked, moving his head slightly to indicate Pheola.

“No reading at all for the next couple days,” I said. “She’s a periodic PC.”

“I’ll bet!” he said. He was beginning to feel better. “Well, go ahead.”

Pheola went over to his side, carefully pulled the blanket down, and with help from the nurse, drew his gown down from over his hairy chest. She laid hands on him and stood there for many minutes with her eyes closed.

“I’m doing it,” she said at last. “I have sort of peeled off the top, and I can shred it away, a little at a time.”

“How long will this take?” Maragon grumbled, already beginning to sound more like his old self.

“A couple hours,” she said. “And hush!”

At Doc Swartz’s suggestion I stayed there with Pheola. “She depends on you, Lefty,” he whispered.

Toward the end of the two hours they were giving Pete anti-coagulant injections. “No sense letting another clot form just as soon as Pheola breaks up this one,” Swartz said. “This way we have a good chance that the open wound will form some scar tissue. Sure, the artery will have lost some flexibility, but the danger of another coronary will be past.”

They consider the first six days the danger time. At the end of that period Pheola confirmed that the open sore was gone and that both areas of clotting had been repaired by Maragon’s body’s own restorative processes. They let him out of the hospital at the end of another week.


I went to see him with Pheola the first day that he spent back at his desk. He didn’t seem in any way changed by his ordeal. I suppose, when you live as close to all the manifestations of Psi as Pete does, that very little can surprise you.

“Well, young woman,” he said to her, getting up to bring her one of his Bank of England chairs. “The sawbones tell me I have you to thank for my life. And better than that, they feel there are a number of delicate TK’s around who can be trained in your diagnostic techniques. This ought to be quite a thing in preventing coronaries.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I was so frightened that I would let Lefty down a second time.”

“A second time?” he said.

“I was wrong about your dying,” she reminded him. “I’m wrong so much in my predictions. I guess I’ll just have to forget about that.”


He looked over at me. “What about it, Lefty? Can we consider Pheola a PC, or is she merely a TK?”

I grinned at him. “She is probably the most accurate PC in the Lodge,” I said to him. His eyebrows went up, and Pheola shook her head.

“Accurate,” I repeated, “if you’ll let me define accuracy.”

“Define it.”

“According with some definite series of future events,” I said. “That’s my definition.”

“But I thought you said she’s only right now and then,” Maragon protested.

“I said a ‘definite series of events.’ Unfortunately, the series of events that Pheola predicts are in a different space-time continuum,” I explained. “You have to consider that we are passing through time in a helix. The events that Pheola predicts are in a different helix. The two helices are all snarled together, and at certain times our coil of time intersects her coil. Then she’s right, because events in the two continua are the same. We can predict when she’s going to be right for our helix, which is a small part of the time, but that part we can use.”

He gave me an owlish look. “Philadelphia lawyer,” he said. “No other PC is geared in to the same space-time continuum that Pheola predicts, I suppose, so that means there is no way to test whether she was right or wrong about events in that other time.”

“None,” I agreed. “But my theory is the only one that holds any water, so far. It works. It permits us to predict when Pheola can predict. I claim she qualifies for the Tenth Degree.”

“Maybe so,” he said. “Well, young woman, welcome to Membership in the Lodge.” He held out his hand, which she took. “Tell me,” he went on, “what’s the next big thing you predict?”

Pheola smiled over at me. “Lefty is going to take me to the orthodontist this afternoon,” she said. “He wants me to have my teeth straightened before we get married.”

I’ll say one thing for her, right or wrong, she never got off the loud pedal on that prediction.










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