The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 9

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"Let's go to electricity," I said speculatively. "Not that we know psi and electricity have anything in common, other than some similar a.n.a.logies, but we don't know they don't. Both of them may be just different manifestations of the same thing. We don't really know why a magnetized core, turning inside a coil of copper wire, generates electricity.

"Oh we've got some phrases," I acknowledged. "We've got a whole structure of phrases, and when you listen to them they sound as if they ought to mean something--like the phrases you were using last night. Everybody a.s.sumes they do mean something to the pundits. So, since it is human to want to be a pundit, we repeat these phrases over and over, and call them explanations. Yet we do know what happens, even if we do just theorize about why. We know how to wrap something around something and get electricity.

"Take the induction coil," I said. "We feed a low-voltage current into one end, and we draw off a high-voltage current from the other. But anyone who wants, any time, can disprove the whole principle of the induction coil. All you have to do is wrap your core with a nonconductor, say nylon thread, and presto, nothing comes out. You see, it doesn't work; and anybody who claims it does is a faker and a liar. That's what happens when science tries to investigate psi by the standard methods.

"You surround a psi-gifted individual with nonbelievers, and probably nothing will come out of it. Surround him with true believers; and it all seems to act like an induction coil. Things happen. Yet even when things do happen, it is usually impossible to prove it.

"Take yourself, Swami. And this is significant. First we have the north point effect. Then those two little beggars trying to get out the door. Then the ones which are bobbing around up there. Without the cylinders there would have been no way to know that anything had happened at all.

"Now, about this psi framework. It isn't something you can turn on and off, at will. We don't know enough yet for that. Aside from some believers and those individuals who do seem to attract psi forces, we don't know, yet, what to wrap around what. So, here's what you're to do: You're to keep a supply of these cylinders near you at all times. If any psi effects happen, they'll record it. Fair enough?

"Now," I said with finality. "I have antic.i.p.ated that you might refuse. But you're not the only person who has psi ability. I've wired General Sanfordwaithe to send me another fellow; one who will cooperate."

The Swami thought it over. Here he was with a suite in a good hotel; with an army lieutenant to look after his earthly needs; on the payroll of a respectable company; with a ready-made flock of believers; and no fear of the bunco squad. He had never had it so good. The side money, for private readings alone, should be substantial.

Further, and he watched me narrowly, I didn't seem to be afraid of the cylinders. It was probably this which gave the clincher.

"I'll cooperate," he agreed meekly.

For three days there was nothing. The Swami seemed cooperative enough. He called me a couple times a day and reported that the cylinders just lay around his room. I didn't know what to tell him. I recommended he read biographies of famous mediums. I recommended fasting, and breathing, and contemplating self. He seemed dubious, but said he'd try it.

On the morning of the third day, Sara called me on the intercom and told me there was another Army lieutenant in her office, and another charac ... another gentleman. I opened my door and went out to Sara's office to greet them. My first glimpse told me Sara had been right the first time. He was a character.

The new lieutenant was no more than the standard output from the same production line as Lieutenant Murphy, but the wizened little old man he had in tow was from a different and much rarer matrix. As fast as I had moved, I was none too soon. The character reached over and tilted up Sara's chin as I was coming through the door.

"Now you're a healthy young wench," he said with a leer. "What are you doing tonight, baby?" The guy was at least eighty years old.

"Hey, you, pop!" I exclaimed in anger. "Be your age!"

He turned around and looked me up and down.

"I'm younger, that way, than you are, right now!" he snapped.

A disturbance in the outer office kept me from thinking up a retort. There were some subdued screams, some scuffling of heavy shoes, the sounds of some running feet as applicants got away. The outer door to Sara's office was flung open.

Framed in the doorway, breast high, floated the Swami!

He was sitting, cross-legged, on a hotel bathmat. From both front corners, where they had been attached by loops of twine, there peeked Auerbach cylinders. Two more rear cylinders were grasped in Lieutenant Murphy's strong hands. He was propelling the Swami along, mid air, in Atlantic City Boardwalk style.

The Swami looked down at us with aloof disdain, then his eyes focused on the old man. His glance wavered; he threw a startled and fearful look at the cylinders holding up his bathmat. They did not fall. A vast relief overspread his face, and he drew himself erect with more disdain than ever. The old man was not so aloof.

"Harry Glotz!" he exclaimed. "Why you ... you faker! What are you doing in that getup?"

The Swami took a casual turn about the room, leaning to one side on his magic carpet as if banking an airplane.

"Peasant!" He spat the word out and motioned grandly toward the door. Lieutenant Murphy pushed him through.

"Why, that no good b.u.m!" the old man shouted at me. "That no-good from nowhere! I'll fix him! Thinks he's something, does he? I'll show him! Anything he can do I can do better!"

His rage got the better of him. He rushed through the door, shaking both fists above his white head, shouting imprecations, threats, and pleading to be shown how the trick was done, all in the same breath. The new lieutenant cast a stricken look at us and then sped after his charge.

"Looks as if we're finally in production," I said to Sara.

"That's only the second one," she said mournfully. "When you get all six of them, this joint's sure going to be jumping!"

I looked out of her window at the steel and concrete walls of the factory. They were solid, real, secure; they were a symbol of reality, the old reality a man could understand.

"I hope you don't mean that literally, Sara," I answered dubiously.





Most useful high explosives, like ammonium nitrate, are enormously violent ... once they're triggered. But they will remain seemingly inert when beaten, burned, variously punished--until the particular shock required comes along....

Many years had pa.s.sed since the original country rock had been broken, cut and set, to form solid pavement for the courtyard at Opertal Prison. And over those years the stones had suffered change as countless feet, scuffing and pressing against once rough edges, had smoothed the bits of rock, burnis.h.i.+ng their surfaces until the light of the setting sun now reflected from them as from polished mosaic.

As Stan Graham crossed the wide expanse from library to cell block, his shoe soles added their small bit to the perfection of the age-old polish.

He looked up at the building ahead of him, noting the coa.r.s.e, weathered stone of the walls. The severe, vertical lines of the ma.s.s reminded him of Kendall Hall, back at the Stellar Guard Academy. He smiled wryly.

There were, he told himself, differences. People rarely left this place against their wishes. None had wanted to come here. Few had any desire to stay. Whereas at the Academy-- How, he wondered, had those other guys they'd booted out really felt? None had complained--or even said much. They'd just packed their gear and picked up their tickets. There had been no expression of frustrated rage to approach his. Maybe there was something wrong with him--some unknown fault that put him out of phase with all others.

He hadn't liked it at all.

His memory went back to his last conversation with Major Michaels. The officer had listened, then shaken his head decisively.

"Look, Graham, a re-examination wouldn't help. We just can't retain you."

"But I'm sure--"

"No, it won't work. Your academic record isn't outstanding in any area and Gravitics is one of the most important courses we've got."

"But I don't see how I could have bugged it, sir. I got a good grade on the final examination."

"True, but there were several before that. And there were your daily grades." Michaels glanced at the papers on his desk.

"I can't say what went wrong, but I think you missed something, way back at the beginning. After that, things got worse and you ran out of time. This is a pretty compet.i.tive place, you know, and we probably drop some pretty capable men, but that's the way it is."

"Sir, I'm certain I know--"

"It isn't enough to know. You've got to know better than a lot of other people."

Michaels got to his feet and came around the desk.

"Look, there's no disgrace in getting an academic tossout from here. You had to be way above average to get here. And very few people can make it for one year, let alone three or four."

He raised a hand as Stan started to speak.

"I know. You think it looks as though you'd broken down somehow. You didn't. From the day you came here, everyone looked for weaknesses. If there'd been a flaw, they'd have found it--and they'd have been on you till you came apart--or the flaw disappeared. We lose people that way." He shrugged.

"You didn't fall apart. They just got to you with some pretty rough theory. You don't have to bow your head to anybody about that."

Stan looked at the heavily barred door before him.

"No," he told himself, "I don't suppose I'm the galaxy's prize b.o.o.b, but I'm no high value s.h.i.+pment, either. I'm just some guy that not only couldn't make the grade, but couldn't even make it home without getting into trouble."

He pushed the door aside and went into the building, pausing for an instant between two monitor pillars. There was no warning buzz and he continued on his way through a hallway.

He barely noticed his surroundings. Once, when he had first been brought here, he had studied the stone walls, the tiny, grilled windows, the barred doors, with fascinated horror. But the feeling had dulled. They were just depressingly familiar surroundings now.

He stopped at a heavy metal grill and handed a slip through the bars. A bored guard turned, dropped the paper into a slot, then glanced at a viewplate. He nodded.

"All right, forty-two ninety. You're on time. Back to your cell." He punched a b.u.t.ton and a gate slid aside.

Stan glanced at the cell fronts as he walked. Men were going about their affairs. A few glanced at him as he pa.s.sed, then looked away. Stan closed his eyes for an instant.

That much hadn't changed. At school, he had never been one with any of the cadet groups. He had been accepted at first, then coolly tolerated, then shunted to the outer edges.

Oh, he'd had his friends, of course. There were those other oddb.a.l.l.s, like Winton and Morgan. But they'd gone. For one reason or another, most of them had packed up and left long before he'd had his final run-in with the academic board.

And there had been Major Michaels. For a while, the officer had been warm--friendly. Stan could remember pleasant chats--peaceful hours spent in the major's comfortable quarters. And he could remember parties, with some pretty swell people around.

Then the older man had become a forbidding stranger. Stan had never been able to think of a reason for that. Maybe it was because of the decline in his academic work. Maybe he'd done something to offend. Maybe-- He shook the thoughts away, walked to a cell door, and stood waiting till the guard touched the release b.u.t.ton.

As Stan tossed his books on his bunk, Jak Holme raised his head and looked across the cell.

"More of them books?"

"Yeah." Stan nodded. "Still trying to find out about this planet."

"You trying to be some kinda big politician when you get out?" Holme snorted.

"Tell you, be better you try mixing with the guys, 'stead of pus.h.i.+ng 'em around with that fancy talk, making 'em jump now and then, see. You get along with 'em, you'll see. They'll tell you all you need. Be working with some of 'em, too, remember?"

"Oh, I don't try to push anybody around." Stan perched on his bunk. "Doesn't hurt anyone to study, though."

"Oh, sure." Holme grimaced. "Do you a lot of good, too. Guy's working on some production run, it helps a lot he knows why all them big guys in the history books did them things, huh?" He laughed derisively.

"Sure it does! What they want, you should make that fabricator spit out nice parts, see?" He swelled his chest.

"Now me, I got my mind on my business, see. I get out of here, I oughta make out pretty good." He looked around the cell.

"Didn't get no parole, see, so I get all the training. Real good trained machinist now, and I'm gonna walk out of here clean. Get a job down at the s.p.a.ce-yards.

"Machinist helper, see? Then, soon's I been there a while, I'll get my papers and go contract machinist. Real good money. Maybe you'd do better, you try that."

From the lower bunk, Big Carl Marlo laughed softly.

"Sure, kid, sure. You got it all made, huh? Pretty quick, you own Janzel Equipment, huh? Hah! Know what happens, you go outside?

"Sure, they give you a job. Like you said, helper. They pay enough you get a pad and slop to keep you alive. That's all you get."

"Aw, now listen!" Holme started up.

Marlo wagged his head. "You go for papers, see? Naw! Got no papers for jailbirds. Staffman'll give you the word. He gets through pus.h.i.+ng you around, you go back, 'counta you don't know nothing else."

He laughed shortly.

"Gopher, that's you. You go fer this, and you go fer that. Slop and a pad you get." He swung out of his bunk.

"Oh, sure, maybe they put you on a fabricator. Even let you set it up for 'em. But that don't get you no extra pins."

Holme shook his head.

"Councilor gave me the word," he said stubbornly. "They need good machinists."

"Yeah." Marlo nodded. "Sure, they want graduates down at Talburg. But they ain't paying 'em for no contract machinist when they can keep 'em as helpers." He turned.

"Ain't that right, Pete?"

Karzer looked up from a bag he was packing.

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 9

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