The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 154

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The supposed departure for school went off neatly, no one in the town of s.h.i.+pmont was surprised when Mrs. Bagley turned up buying an automobile of several years' vintage because this was a community where everybody had one.

The letters continued at the rate of one every two or three weeks. They were picked up by Mrs. Bagley who let it be known that these were progress reports. In reality, they were little tracts on the theory of child education. They kept up the correspondence for the information it contained, and also because Mrs. Bagley enjoyed this contact with an outer world that contained adults.

Meanwhile, James ended his spurt of growth and settled down. Work on his machine continued when he could afford to buy the parts, and his writing settled down into a comfortable channel once more. In his spare time James began to work on Martha's diction.

Martha could not have been called a r.e.t.a.r.ded child. Her trouble was lack of constant parental attention during her early years. With father gone and mother struggling to live, Martha had never overcome some of the babytalk-diction faults. There was still a trace of the omitted 'B' here and there. 'Y' was a difficult sound; the color of a lemon was "Lellow." Martha's English construction still bore marks of the baby. "Do you have to--" came out as "Does you has to--?"

James Holden's father had struggled in just this way through his early experimental days, when he despaired of ever getting the infant James out of the baby-prattle stage. He could not force, he could not even coerce. All that his father could do was to watch quietly as baby James acquired the awareness of things. Then he could step in and supply the correct word-sound to name the object. In those early days the progress of James Holden was no greater than the progress of any other infant. Holden Senior followed the theory of ciphers; no cryptologist can start unravelling a secret message until he is aware of the fact that some hidden message exists. No infant can be taught a language until some awareness tells the tiny brain that there is some definite connection between sound and sight.



For the next few weeks James worked with Martha on her speech, and hated it. So slow, so dreary! But it was necessary, he thought, to keep her from establis.h.i.+ng any more permanent errors, so that when the machine was ready there would be at least a blank slate to write on, not one all scribbled over with mistakes.

Time pa.s.sed; the weather grew colder; the machine spread its scattered parts over his workroom.

Janet Bagley knew that the machine was growing, but it had not occurred to her that it would be finished. She had grown accustomed to her life on Martin's Hill. By her standards, it was easy. She made three meals each day, cleaned the rooms, hung curtains, sewed clothing for Martha and herself, did the shopping and had time enough left over to take excursions in her little car and keep her daughter out of mischief. It was pleasant. It was more than pleasant, it was safe.

And then the machine was finished.

Mrs. Bagley took a sandwich and a gla.s.s of milk to James and found him sitting on a chair, a heavy headset covering most of his skull, reading aloud from a textbook on electronic theory.

Mrs. Bagley stopped at the door, unaccountably startled.

James looked up and shut off his work. "It's finished," he said with grave pride.

"All of it?"

"Well," he said, pondering, "the basic part. It works."

Mrs. Bagley looked at the scramble of equipment in the room as though it were an enemy. It didn't look finished. It didn't even look safe. But she trusted James, although she felt at that moment that she would grow old and die before she understood why and how any collection of apparatus could be functional and still be so untidy. "It--could teach me?"

"If you had something you want to memorize."

"I'd like to memorize some of the pet recipes from my cookbook."

"Get it," directed James.

She hesitated. "How does it work?" she wanted to know first.

He countered with another question. "How do we memorize anything?"

She thought. "Why, by repeating and repeating and rehearsing and rehearsing."

"Yes," said James. "So this device does the repet.i.tion for you. Electromechanically."

"But how?"

James smiled wistfully. "I can give you only a thumbnail sketch," he said, "until I have had time to study the subjects that lead up to the final theory."

"Goodness," exclaimed Mrs. Bagley, "all I want is a brief idea. I wouldn't understand the principles at all."

"Well, then, my mother, as a cerebral surgeon, knew the anatomy of the human brain. My father, as an instrument-maker, designed and built encephalographs. Together, they discovered that if the great waves of the brain were filtered down and the extremely minute waves that ride on top of them were amplified, the pattern of these superfine waves went through convolutions peculiar to certain thoughts. Continued research refined their discovery.

"Now, the general theory is that the cells of the brain act sort of like a binary digital computer, with certain banks of cells operating to store sufficient bits of information to furnish a complete memory. In the process of memorization, individual cells become activated and linked by the constant repet.i.tion.

"Second, the brain within the skull is a prisoner, connected to the 'outside' by the five standard sensory channels of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Stimulate a channel, and the result is a certain wave-shape of electrical impulse that enters the brain and--sort of like the key to a Yale lock--fits only one combination of cells. Or if no previous memory is there, it starts its own new collection of cells to linking and combining. When we repeat and repeat, we are deepening the groove, so to speak.

"Finally comes the Holden Machine. The helmet makes contact with the skull in those spots where the probes of the encephalograph are placed. When the brain is stimulated into thought, the brain waves are monitored and recorded, amplified, and then fed back to the same brain-spots. Not once, but multifold, like the vibration of a reed or violin string. The circuit that accepts signals, amplifies them, returns them to the same set of terminals, and causes them to be repeated several hundred times per millisecond without actually ringing or oscillating is the real research secret of the machine. My father's secret and now mine."

"And how do we use it?"

"You want to memorize a list of ingredients," said James. "So you will put this helmet on your head with the cookbook in your hands. You will turn on the machine when you have read the part you want to memorize just to be sure of your material. Then, with the machine running, you carefully read aloud the pa.s.sage from your book. The vibrating amplifier in the machine monitors and records each electrical impulse, then furnishes it back to your brain as a successive series of repet.i.tious vibrations, each identical in shape and magnitude, just as if you had actually read and re-read that list of stuff time and again."

"And then I'll know it cold?"

James shook his head. "Then you'll be about as confused as you've ever been. For several hours, none of it will make sense. You'll be thinking things like a 'cup of salt and a pinch of water,' or maybe, 'sugar three of mustard and two spoonthree teas.' And then in a few hours all of this mish-mash will settle itself down into the proper serial arrangement; it will fit the rest of your brain-memory-pattern comfortably."

"Why?"

"I don't know. It has something to do with the same effect one gets out of studying. On Tuesday one can read a page of textbook and not grasp a word of it. Successive readings help only a little. Then in about a week it all becomes quite clear, just as if the brain had sorted it and filed it logically among the other bits of information. Well, what about that cookbook?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Bagley, with the air of someone agreeing to have a tooth pulled when it hasn't really started to hurt, "I'll get it."

James Holden allowed himself a few pleasant daydreams. The most satisfactory of all was one of himself pleading his own case before the black-robed Justices of the Supreme Court, demolis.h.i.+ng his detractors with a flow of his brilliance and convincing them beyond any doubt that he did indeed have the right to walk alone. That there be no question of his intellect, James proposed to use his machine to educate himself to completion. He would be the supreme student of the arts and the sciences, of law, language, and literature. He would know history and the humanities, and the dreams and aims of the great philosophers and statesmen, and he would even be able to quote in their own terms the drives of the great dictators and some of the evil men so that he could draw and compare to show that he knew the difference between good and bad.

But James Holden had no intention of sharing this limelight.

His superb brilliance was to be compared to the average man's, not to another one like him. He had the head start. He intended to keep it until he had succeeded in compelling the whole world to accept him with the full status of a free adult.

Then, under his guidance, he would permit the world-wide use of his machine.

His loneliness had forced him to revise that dream by the addition of Martha Bagley; he needed a companion, contemporary, and foil. His mental playlet no longer closed with James Holden standing alone before the Bench. Now it ended with Martha saying proudly, "James, I knew you could do it."

Martha Bagley's brilliance would not conflict with his. He could stay ahead of her forever. But he had no intention of allowing some experienced adult to partake of this program of enforced education. He was, therefore, going to find himself some manner or means of preventing Mrs. Bagley from running the gamut of all available information.

James Holden evaluated all people in his own terms, he believed that everybody was just as eager for knowledge as he was.

So he was surprised to find that Mrs. Bagley's desire for extended education only included such information as would make her own immediate personal problems easier. Mrs. Bagley was the first one of the ma.s.s of people James was destined to meet who not only did not know how or why things worked, but further had no intention whatsoever of finding out.

Instead of trying to monopolize James Holden's machine, Mrs. Bagley was satisfied to learn a number of her pet recipes. After a day of thought she added her social security number, blood type, some birthdays, dates, a few telephone numbers and her multiplication tables. She announced that she was satisfied. It solved James Holden's problem--and stunned him completely.

But James had very little time to worry about Mrs. Bagley's att.i.tude. He found his hands full with Martha.

Martha played fey. Her actions and att.i.tude baffled James, and even confused her mother. There was no way of really determining whether the girl was scared to death of the machine itself, or whether she simply decided to be difficult. And she uttered the proper replies with all of the promptness--and intelligence--of a ventriloquist's dummy: "You don't want to be ignorant, do you?"

"No."

"You want to be smart, like James, don't you?"

"Yes."

"You know the machine won't hurt, don't you?"

"Yes."

"Then let's try it just once, please?"

"No."

Back to the beginning again. Martha would agree to absolutely anything except the educator.

Leaving the argument to Mrs. Bagley, James sat down angrily with a book. He was so completely frustrated that he couldn't read, but he sat there leafing the pages slowly and making a determined show of not lifting his head.

Mrs. Bagley went on for another hour before she reached the end of her own patience. She stood up almost rigid with anger. James never knew how close Mrs. Bagley was to making use of a hairbrush on her daughter's bottom. But Mrs. Bagley also realized that Martha had to go into this process willing to cooperate. So, instead of physical punishment, she issued a dictum: "You'll go to your room and stay there until you're willing!"

And at that point Martha ceased being stubborn and began playing games.

She permitted herself to be led to the chair, and then went through a routine of skittishness, turning her head and squirming incessantly, which made it impossible for James to place the headset properly. This went on until he stalked away and sat down again. Immediately Martha sat like a statue. But as soon as James reached for the little screws that adjusted the electrodes, Martha started to giggle and squirm. He stalked away and sat through another session between Martha and her mother.

Late in the afternoon James succeeded in getting her to the machine; Martha uttered a sentence without punctuating it with little giggles, but it came as elided babytalk.

"Again," he commanded.

"I don't wan' to."

"Again!" he snapped.

Martha began to cry.

That, to James, was the end. But Mrs. Bagley stepped forward with a commanding wave for James to vacate the premises and took over. James could not a.n.a.lyze her expression, but it did look as if it held relief. He left the room to them; a half hour later Mrs. Bagley called him back.

"She's had it," said Mrs. Bagley. "Now you can start, I think."

James looked dubious; but said, "Read this."

"Martha?"

Martha took a deep breath and said, nicely, "'A' is the first letter of the English Alphabet."

"Good." He pressed the b.u.t.ton. "Again? Please?"

Martha recited it nicely.

"Fine," he said. "Now we'll look up 'Is' and go on from there."

"My goodness," said Mrs. Bagley, "this is going to take months."

"Not at all," said James. "It just goes slowly at the start. Most of the definitions use the same words over and over again. Martha really knows most of these simple words, we've just got to be dead certain that her own definition of them agrees wholly and completely with ours. After a couple of hours of this minute detail, we'll be skipping over everything but new words. After all, she only has to work them over once, and as we find them, we'll mark them out of the book. Ready, Martha?"

"Can't read it."

James took the little dictionary. "Um," he said. "Hadn't occurred to me."

"What?" asked Mrs. Bagley.

"This thing says, Three-rd pers period sing periodic indic period of Be,' the last in heavy bold type. Can't have Martha talking in abbreviations," he chuckled. He went to the typewriter and wrote it out fully. "Now read that," he directed.

She did and again the process went through without a hitch. Slowly, but surely, they progressed for almost two hours before Martha rebelled. James stopped, satisfied with the beginning.

But as time wore on into the late autumn, Martha slowly--oh, so slowly!--began to realize that there was importance to getting things right. She continued to tease. But she did her teasing before James closed the "Run" b.u.t.ton.

CHAPTER TEN.

Once James progressed Martha through the little dictionary, he began with a book of grammar. Again it started slowly; he had to spend quite a bit of time explaining to Martha that she did indeed know all of the terms used in the book of grammar because they'd all been defined by the dictionary, now she was going to learn how the terms and their definitions were used.

James was on more familiar ground now. James, like Martha, had learned his first halting sentence structure by mimicking his parents, but he remembered the process of learning why and how sentences are constructed according to the rules, and how the rules are used rather than intuition in forming sentences.

Grammar was a topic that could not be taken in snippets and bits. Whole paragraphs had to be read until Martha could read them without a halt or a misp.r.o.nunciation, and then committed to memory with the "Run" b.u.t.ton held down. At the best it was a boring process, even though it took only minutes instead of days. It was not conflicting, but it was confusing. It installed permanently certain solid blocks of information that were isolated; they stood alone until later blocks came in to connect them into a whole area.

Each session was numbing. Martha could take no more than a couple of hours, after which her reading became foggy. She wanted a nap after each session and even after the nap she went around in a bemused state of mental dizziness.

Life settled down once more in the House on Martin's Hill. James worked with the machine himself and laid out lessons to guide Martha. Then, finished for the day with education, James took to his typewriter while Martha had her nap. It filled the days of the boy and girl completely.

This made an unexpected and pleasant change in Mrs. Bagley's routine. It had been a job to keep Martha occupied. Now that Martha was busy, Mrs. Bagley found time on her own hands; without interruption, her housework routine was completed quite early in the afternoon.

Mrs. Bagley had never made any great point of getting dressed for dinner. She acc.u.mulated a collection of house-frocks; printed cotton washables differing somewhat in color and cut but functionally identical. She wore them serially as they came from the row of hangers in her closet.

Now she began to acquire some dressier things, wearing them even during her shopping trips.

James paid little attention to this change in his housekeeper's routine, but he approved. Mrs. Bagley was also taking more pains with the 'do' of her hair, but the boy's notice was not detailed enough to take a part-by-section inventory of the whole. In fact, James gave the whole matter very little thought until Mrs. Bagley made a second change after her return from town, appearing for dinner in what James could only cla.s.sify as a party dress.

She asked, "James, do you mind if I go out this evening?"

James, startled, shrugged and said, "No, I guess not."

"You'll keep an ear out for Martha?"

The need for watching a sleeping girl of seven and a half did not penetrate. "What's up?" he asked.

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 154

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