by Randall Garrett

Copyright© 2018 by Randall Garrett

Science Fiction Story: Given psi powers like clairvoyance and telepathy, solving problems of sabotage would be easy, of course. That is, it seems that way at first thought!_

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

The man in the pastel blue topcoat walked with steady purpose, but without haste, through the chill, wind-swirled drizzle that filled the air above the streets of Arlington, Virginia. His matching blue cap-hood was pulled low over his forehead, and the clear, infrared radiating face mask had been flipped down to protect his chubby cheeks and round nose from the icy wind.

No one noticed him particularly. He was just another average man who blended in with all the others who walked the streets that day. No one recognized him; his face did not appear often in public places, except in his own state, and, even so, it was a thoroughly ordinary face. But, as he walked, Senator John Peter Gonzales was keeping a mental, fine-webbed, four-dimensional net around him, feeling for the slightest touch of recognition. He wanted no one to connect him in any way with his intended destination.

It was not his first visit to the six-floor brick building that stood on a street in a lower-middle-class district of Arlington. Actually, government business took him there more often than would have been safe for the average man-on-the-street. For Senator Gonzales, the process of remaining incognito was so elementary that it was almost subconscious.

Arriving at his destination, he paused on the sidewalk to light a cigarette, shielding it against the wind and drizzle with cupped hands while his mind made one last check on the surroundings. Then he strode quickly up the five steps to the double doors which were marked: The Society For Mystical And Metaphysical Research, Inc.

Just as he stepped in, he flipped the face shield up and put on an old-fashioned pair of thick-lensed, black-rimmed spectacles. Then, his face assuming a bland smile that would have been completely out of place on Senator Gonzales, he went from the foyer into the front office.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Jesser,” he said, in a high, smooth, slightly accented voice that was not his own. “I perceive by your aura that you are feeling well. Your normal aura-color is tinged with a positive golden hue.”

Mrs. Jesser, a well-rounded matron in her early forties, rose to the bait like a porpoise being hand-fed at a Florida zoo. “Dear Swami Chandra! How perfectly wonderful to see you again! You’re looking very well your-self.”

The Swami, whose Indian blood was of the Aztec rather than the Brahmin variety, nonetheless managed to radiate all the mystery of the East. “My well-being, dear Mrs. Jesser, is due to the fact that I have been communing for the past three months with my very good friend, the Fifth Dalai Lama. A most refreshingly wise person.” Senator Gonzales was fond of the Society’s crackpot receptionist, and he knew exactly what kind of hokum would please her most.

“Oh, I do hope you will find time to tell me all about it,” she said effusively. “Mr. Balfour isn’t in the city just now,” she went on. “He’s lecturing in New York on the history of flying saucer sightings. Do you realize that this is the fortieth anniversary of the first saucer sighting, back in 1944?”

“The first photographed sighting,” the Swami corrected condescendingly. “Our friends have been watching and guiding us for far longer than that, and were sighted many times before they were photographed.”

Mrs. Jesser nodded briskly. “Of course. You’re right, as always, Swami.”

“I am sorry to hear,” the Swami continued smoothly, “that I will not be able to see Mr. Balfour. However, I came at the call of Mr. Brian Taggert, who is expecting me.”

Mrs. Jesser glanced down at her appointment sheet. “He didn’t mention an appointment to me. However--” She punched a button on the intercom. “Mr. Taggert? Swami Chandra is here to see you. He says he has an appointment.”

Brian Taggert’s deep voice came over the instrument. “The Swami, as usual, is very astute. I have been thinking about calling him. Send him right up.”

“You may go up, Swami,” said Mrs. Jesser, wide-eyed. She watched in awe as the Swami marched regally through the inner door and began to climb the stairs toward the sixth floor.

One way to hide an ex-officio agency of the United States Government was to label it truthfully--The Society For Mystical And Metaphysical Research. In spite of the fact that the label was literally true, it sounded so crackpot that no one but a crackpot would bother to look into it. As a consequence, better than ninety per cent of the membership of the Society was composed of just such people. Only a few members of the “core” knew the organization’s true function and purpose. And as long as such scatter-brains as Mrs. Jesser and Mr. Balfour were in there pitching, no one would ever penetrate to the actual core of the Society.

The senator had already pocketed the exaggerated glasses by the time he reached the sixth floor, and his face had lost its bland, overly-wise smile. He pushed open the door to Taggert’s office.

“Have you got any ideas yet?” he asked quickly.

Brian Taggert, a heavily-muscled man with dark eyes and black, slightly wavy hair, sat on the edge of a couch in one corner of the room. His desk across the room was there for paperwork only, and Taggert had precious little of that to bother with.

He took a puff from his heavy-bowled briar. “We’re going to have to send an agent in there. Someone who can be on the spot. Someone who can get the feel of the situation first hand.”

“That’ll be difficult. We can’t just suddenly stick an unknown in there and have an excuse for his being there. Couldn’t Donahue or Reeves--”

Taggert shook his head. “Impossible, John. Extrasensory perception can’t replace sight, any more than sight can replace hearing. You know that.”

“Certainly. But I thought we could get enough information that way to tell us who our saboteur is. No dice, eh?”

“No dice,” said Taggert. “Look at the situation we’ve got there. The purpose of the Redford Research Team is to test the Meson Ultimate Decay Theory of Dr. Theodore Nordred. Now, if we--”

Senator Gonzales, walking across the room toward Taggert, gestured with one hand. “I know! I know! Give me some credit for intelligence! But we do have one suspect, don’t we? What about him?”

Taggert chuckled through a wreath of smoke. “Calm down, John. Or are you trying to give me your impression of Mrs. Jesser in a conversation with a saucerite?”

The senator laughed and sat down in a nearby chair. “All right. Sorry. But this whole thing is lousing up our entire space program. First off, we nearly lose Dr. Ch’ien, and, with him gone, the interstellar drive project would’ve been shot. Now, if this sabotage keeps up, the Redford project will be shot, and that means we might have to stick to the old-fashioned rocket to get off-planet. Brian, we need antigravity, and, so far, Nordred’s theory is our only clue.”

“Agreed,” said Taggert.

“Well, we’re never going to get it if equipment keeps mysteriously burning itself out, breaking down, and just generally goofing up. This morning, the primary exciter on the new ultracosmotron went haywire, and the beam of sodium nuclei burned through part of the accelerator tube wall. It’ll take a month to get it back in working order.”

Taggert took his pipe out of his mouth and tapped the dottle into a nearby ash disposal unit. “And you want to pick up our pet spy?”

Senator Gonzales scowled. “Well, I’d certainly call him our prime suspect.” But there was a certain lack of conviction in his manner.

Brian Taggert didn’t flatly contradict the senator. “Maybe. But you know, John, there’s one thing that bothers me about these accidents.”

“What’s that?”

“The fact that we have not one shred of evidence that points to sabotage.”

In a room on the fifth floor, directly below Brian Taggert’s office, a young man was half sitting, half reclining in a thickly upholstered adjustable chair. He had dropped the back of the chair to a forty-five degree angle and lifted up the footrest; now he was leaning back in lazy comfort, his ankles crossed, his right hand holding a slowly smoldering cigarette, his eyes contemplating the ceiling. Or, rather, they seemed to be contemplating something beyond the ceiling.

It was pure coincidence that the focus of his thoughts happened to be located in about the same volume of space that his eyes seemed to be focused on. If Brian Taggert and Senator Gonzales had been in the room below, his eyes would still be looking at the ceiling.

In repose, his face looked even younger than his twenty-eight years would have led one to expect. His close-cropped brown hair added to the impression of youth, and the well-tailored suit on his slim, muscular body added to the effect. At any top-flight university, he could have passes for a well-bred, sophisticated, intelligent student who had money enough to indulge himself and sense enough not to overdo it.

He was beginning to understand the pattern that was being woven in the room above--beginning to feel it in depth.

Senator Gonzalez was mildly telepathic, inasmuch as he could pick up thoughts in the prevocal stage--the stage at which thought becomes definitely organized into words, phrases, and sentences. He could go a little deeper, into the selectivity stage, where the linking processes of logic took over from the nonlogical but rational processes of the preconscious--but only if he knew the person well. Where the senator excelled was in detecting emotional tone and manipulating emotional processes, both within himself and within others.

Brian Taggert was an analyzer, an originator, a motivator--and more. The young man found himself avoiding too deep a probe into the mind of Brian Taggert; he knew that he had not yet achieved the maturity to understand the multilayered depths of a mind like that. Eventually, perhaps...

Not that Senator Gonzales was a child, nor that he was emotionally or intellectually shallow. It was merely that he was not of Taggert’s caliber.

The young man absently took another drag from his cigarette. Taggert had explained the basic problem to him, but he was getting a wider picture from the additional information that Senator Gonzales had brought.

Dr. Theodore Nordred, a mathematical physicist and one of the top-flight, high-powered, original minds in the field, had shown that Einstein’s final equations only held in a universe composed entirely of normal matter. Since the great Einstein had died before the Principle of Parity had been overthrown in the mid-fifties, he had been unable to incorporate the information into his Unified Field Theory. Nordred had been able to show, mathematically, that Einstein’s equations were valid only for a completely “dexter,” or right-handed universe, or for a completely “sinister” or left-handed universe.

Although the universe in which Man lived was predominantly dexter--arbitrarily so designated--it was not completely so. It had a “sinister” component amounting to approximately one one-hundred-thousandth of one per cent. On the average, one atom out of every ten million in the universe was an atom of antimatter. The distribution was unequal of course; antimatter could not exist in contact with ordinary matter. Most of it was distributed throughout interstellar space in the form of individual atoms, freely floating in space, a long way from any large mass of normal matter.

But that minute fraction of a per cent was enough to show that the known universe was not totally Einsteinian. In a purely Einsteinian universe, antigravity was impossible, but if the equations of Dr. Theodore Nordred were actually a closer approximation to true reality than those of Einstein, then antigravity might be a practical reality.

And that was the problem the Redford Research Team was working on. It was a parallel project to the interstellar drive problem, being carried on elsewhere.

The “pet spy,” as Taggert had called him, was Dr. Konrad Bern, a middle-aged Negro from Tanganyika, who was convinced that only under Communism could the colored races of the world achieve the technological organization and living standard of the white man. He had been trained as a “sleeper”; not even the exhaustive investigations of the FBI had turned up any relationship between Bern and the Soviets. It had taken the telepathic probing of the S.M.M.R. agents to uncover his real purposes. Known, he constituted no danger.

There was no denying that he was a highly competent, if not brilliant, physicist. And, since it was quite impossible for him to get any information on the Redford Project into the hands of the opposition--it was no longer fashionable to call Communists “the enemy”--there was no reason why he shouldn’t be allowed to contribute to the American efforts to bridge space.

Three times in the five months since Bern had joined the project, agents of the Soviet government had made attempts to contact the physicist. Three times the FBI, warned by S.M.M.R. agents, had quietly blocked the contact. Konrad Bern had been effectively isolated.

But, at the project site itself, equipment failure had become increasingly more frequent, all out of proportion to the normal accident rate in any well-regulated laboratory. The work of the project had practically come to a standstill; the ultra-secret project reports to the President were beginning to show less and less progress in the basic research, and more and more progress in repairing damaged equipment. Apparently, though, increasing efficiency in repair work was self-neutralizing; repairing an instrument in half the time merely meant that it could break down twice as often.

It had to be sabotage. And yet, not even the S.M.M.R. agents could find any trace of intentional damage nor any thought patterns that would indicate deliberate damage.

And Senator John Peter Gonzales quite evidently did not want to face the implications of that particular fact.

“We’re going to have to send an agent in,” Taggert repeated.

(That’s my cue, thought the young man on the fifth floor as he crushed out his cigarette and got up from the chair.)

“I don’t know how we’re going to manage it,” said the senator. “What excuse do we have for putting a new man on the Redford team?”

Brian Taggert grinned. “What they need is an expert repair technician--a man who knows how to build and repair complex research instruments. He doesn’t have to know anything about the purpose of the team itself, all he has to do is keep the equipment in good shape.”

Senator Gonzalez let a slow smile spread over his face. “You’ve been gulling me, you snake. All right; I deserved it. Tell him to come in.”

As the door opened, Taggert said: “Senator Gonzales, may I present Mr. David MacHeath? He’s our man, I think.”

David MacHeath watched a blue line wriggle its way erratically across the face of an oscilloscope. “The wave form is way off,” he said flatly, “and the frequency is slithering all over the place.”

He squinted at the line for a moment then spoke to the man standing nearby. “Signal Harry to back her off two degrees, then run her up slowly, ten minutes at a time.”

The other man flickered the key on the side of the small carbide-Welsbach lamp. The shutters blinked, sending pulses of light down the length of the ten-foot diameter glass-walled tube in which the men were working. Far down the tube, MacHeath could see the answering flicker from Harry, a mile and a half away in the darkness.

MacHeath watched the screen again. After a few seconds, he said: “O.K.! Hold it!”

Again the lamp flashed.

“Well, it isn’t perfect,” MacHeath said, “but it’s all we can do from here. We’ll have to evacuate the tube to get her in perfect balance. Tell Harry to knock off for the day.”

While the welcome message was being flashed, MacHeath shut off the testing instruments and disconnected them. It was possible to compensate a little for the testing equipment, but a telephone, or even an electric flashlight, would simply add to the burden.

Bill Griffin shoved down the key on the lamp he was holding and locked it into place. The shutters remained open, and the lamp shed a beam of white light along the shining walls of the cylindrical tube. “How much longer do you figure it’ll take, Dave?” he asked.

“Another shift, at least,” said MacHeath, picking up the compact, shielded instrument case. “You want to carry that mat?”


Griffin picked up the thick sponge-rubber mat that the instrument case had been sitting on, and the two men started off down the tube, walking silently on the sponge-rubber-soled shoes which would not scratch the glass underfoot.

“Any indication yet as to who our saboteur is?” Griffin asked.

“I’m not sure,” MacHeath admitted. “I’ve picked up a couple of leads, but I don’t know if they mean anything or not.”

“I wonder if there is a saboteur,” Griffin said musingly. “Maybe it’s just a run of bad luck. It could happen, you know. A statistical run of--”

“You don’t believe that, any more than I do,” MacHeath said.

“No. But I find it even harder to believe that a materialistic philosophy like Communism could evolve any workable psionic discipline.”

“So do I,” agreed MacHeath.

“But it can’t be physical sabotage,” Griffin argued. “There’s not a trace of it--anywhere. It has to be psionic.”

“Right,” said MacHeath, grinning as he saw what was coming next.

“But we’ve already eliminated that. So?” Griffin nodded firmly as if in full agreement with himself. “So we follow the dictum of the Master: ‘Eliminate the impossible; whatever is left, no matter how improbable, is the truth.’ And, since there is absolutely nothing left, there is no truth. At the bottom, the whole thing is merely a matter of mental delusion.”

“Sherlock Holmes would be proud of you, Bill,” MacHeath said. “And so am I.”

Griffin looked at MacHeath oddly. “I wish I was a halfway decent telepath, I’d like to know what’s going on in your preconscious.”

“You’d have to dig deeper than that, I’m afraid,” MacHeath said ruefully. “As soon as my subconscious has solved the problem, I’ll let you know.”

“I’ve changed my mind,” said Griffin cheerfully. “I don’t envy your telepathy. I don’t envy a guy who has to TP his own subconscious to find out what he’s thinking.”

MacHeath chuckled softly as he turned the bolt that opened the door in the “gun” end of the stripped-nuclei accelerator. The seals broke with a soft hiss. Evidently, the barometric pressure outside the two-mile-long underground tube had changed slightly during the time they had been down there.

“It’ll be a week before we can test it,” MacHeath said in a tired voice. “Even after we get it partly in balance. It’ll take that long to evacuate the tube and sweep it clean.”

It was the first sentence he had spoken in the past hour or so, and it was purely for the edification of the man who was standing on the other side of the air lock, although neither Griffin nor MacHeath had actually seen him as yet.

Griffin was not a telepath in the sense that the S.M.M.R. used the word, but to a non-psionicist, he would have appeared to be one. Membership in the “core” group of the Society for Mystical and Metaphysical Research required, above all, understanding. And, with that understanding, a conversation between two members need consist only of an occasional gesture and a key word now and then.

The word “understanding” needs emphasis. Without understanding of another human mind, no human mind can be completely effective. Without that understanding, no human being can be completely free.

And yet, the English word “understanding” is only an approximation to the actual process that must take place. Total understanding, in one sense, would require that a person actually become another person--that he be able to feel, completely and absolutely, every emotion, every thought, every bodily sensation, every twinge of memory, every judgment, every decision, and every sense of personal identity that is felt by the other person, no more and no less.

Such totality is, obviously, neither attainable nor desirable. The result would be a merger of identities, a total unification. And, as a consequence, a complete loss of one of the human beings involved.

Optimum “understanding” requires that a judgment be made, and that, in turn, requires two minds--not a fusion of identity. There must be one to judge and another to be judged, and each mind plays both roles.

Love thy neighbor as thyself. But the original Greek word would translate better as “respect and understand” than as the modern English “love.” The founders of our modern religions were not fools; they simply did not have the tools at hand to formulate their knowledge properly. As understanding increases, a critical point is reached, which causes a qualitative change in the human mind.

First, self-understanding must come. The human mind operates through similarities, and the thing most similar to any human mind is itself. The next most similar thing is another human mind.

From that point on, all objects, processes, and patterns in the universe can be graded according to their similarity to each other, and, ultimately, to their similarity to the human mind.

Two given entities may seem utterly dissimilar, but they can always be linked by a tertium quid--a “third thing” which is similar to both. This third thing, be it a material object or a product of the human imagination, is called a symbol. Symbols are the bridges by which the human mind can reach and manipulate the universe in which it exists. With the proper symbols and the understanding to use them, the human mind is limited only by its own inherent structural restrictions.

One of the most active research projects of the S.M.M.R. was the construction of a more powerful symbology. Psionics had made tremendous strides in the previous four decades, but it was still in the alchemy stage. So far, symbols for various processes could only be worked out by cut-and-try, rule-of-thumb methods, using symbols already established, including languages and mathematics. None were completely satisfactory, but they worked fairly well within their narrow limits.

As far as communication was concerned, the hashed-together symbology used by the S.M.M.R. was better than any conceivable code. The understanding required to “break” the “code” was well beyond the critical point. Anyone who could break it was, ipso facto, a member of the S.M.M.R.

Most people didn’t even realize that a conversation was taking place between two members, especially if a “cover conversation” was used at the same time.

MacHeath’s verbal discussion of the testing of the nuclei accelerator was just such a cover. Even before he had cracked the air lock, he had known that Dr. Theodore Nordred was standing on the other side of the thick wall.

MacHeath pushed the heavy door open on its smooth hinges. “Oh, hello, Dr. Nordred. How’s everything?”

The heavy-set mathematician smiled pleasantly as MacHeath and Griffin came into the gun chamber. “I just thought I’d come down and see how you were getting along,” he said. His voice was a low tenor, with just a touch of Midwestern twang. “Sometimes the creative mind gets bogged down in the nth-order abstractions that have no discernible connection with anything at all.” He chuckled. “When that happens, I drop everything and go out to find something mundane to worry about.”

Nordred was only an inch shorter than the slim MacHeath, and he weighed in at close to two hundred pounds. At twenty-five, he had had the build of a lightweight wrestler; thirty more years had added poundage--a roll beneath his chin and a bulge at the belly--but he still looked capable of going a round or two without tiring. His shock of heavy hair was a mixture of mouse-brown and gray, and it seemed to have a tendency to stand up on end, which added another inch and a half to his height. His round face had a tendency to smile when he was talking or working with his hands; when he was deep in thought, his face usually relaxed into thoughtful blankness. He frowned rarely, and only for seconds at a time.

“It seems to me you have enough to worry about, doctor,” MacHeath said banteringly, “without looking for it.” He put down his instrument case and took out a cigarette while Griffin closed the door to the acceleration tube.

“Oh I don’t have to look far,” Nordred said. “How long do you think it will be before we can resume our work with the Monster?”

“Ten days to two weeks,” MacHeath said promptly.

“I see.” One his rare frowns crossed his face. “I wish I knew why the exciter arced across. It shouldn’t have.”

“Don’t you have any idea?” MacHeath asked innocently. At the same time, he opened his mind wide to net in every wisp and filament of Nordred’s thoughts that he could reach.

“None at all,” admitted the mathematician. “Weakness in the insulation, I suppose, though it tested solidly enough.” And his mind, as far back as his preconscious and the upper fringes of his subconscious, agreed with his words. MacHeath could go no deeper as yet; he didn’t know Nordred well enough yet.

There were suspicions in Nordred’s mind that the insulation weakness must have been caused by deliberate sabotage, but he had no one to pin his suspicions on. Neither he nor anyone else connected with the Redford project was aware of the true status of Dr. Konrad Bern.

“Well, let’s hope it doesn’t happen again,” MacHeath said. “Balancing these babies so that they work properly is hard enough for a deuteron accelerator, but the Monster here is ten times as touchy.”

Nordred nodded absently. “I know. But our work can’t be done with anything less.” Nordred actually knew less about the engineering details of the big accelerator than anyone else on the project; he was primarily a philosopher-mathematician, and only secondarily a physicist. He was theoretically in charge of the project, but the actual experimentation was done by the other four men; Drs. Roger Kent, Paul Luvochek, Solomon Bessermann, and Konrad Bern. These four and their assistants set up and ran off the experiments designed to test Dr. Nordred’s theories.

MacHeath picked up his instrument case again, and the three men went out of the gun chamber, into the outer room, and then started up the spiral stairway that led to the surface, talking as they went. But the apparent conversation had little to do with the instruction that MacHeath was giving Griffin as they climbed.

So when MacHeath stopped suddenly and patted at his coverall pockets, Griffin was ready for the words that came next.

“Damn!” MacHeath said. “I’ve left my notebook. Will you go down and get it for me, Bill?”

Dr. Nordred had neither understood nor noticed the actual instructions:

“Bill, as soon as I give you an excuse, get back down there and check that gun chamber. Give it a thorough going-over. I don’t really think you’ll find a thing, but I don’t want to take any chances at this stage of the game.”

“Right,” said Griffin, starting back down the stairway.

MacHeath and Dr. Nordred went on climbing.

David MacHeath sat at a table in the project’s cafeteria, absently stirring his coffee, and trying to look professionally modest while Dr. Luvochek and Dr. Bessermann alternately praised him for his work.

Luvochek, a tubby little butterball of a man, whose cherubic face would have made him look almost childlike if it weren’t for the blue of his jaw, said: “You and those two men of yours have really done a marvelous job in the past four days, Mr. MacHeath--really marvelous.”

“I’ll say,” Bessermann chimed in. “I was getting pretty tired of looking at burned-out equipment and spending three-quarters of my time putting in replacement parts and wielding a soldering gun.” Bessermann was leaner than Luvochek, but, like his brother scientist, he was balding on top. Both men were in their middle thirties.

“I don’t understand this jinx, myself,” Luvochek said. “At first, it was just little things, but the accidents got worse and worse. And then, when the Monster blew--” He stopped and shook his head slowly. “I’d suspect sabotage, except that there was never any sign of tampering with the equipment I saw.”

“What do you think of the sabotage idea?” Bessermann asked MacHeath.

MacHeath shrugged. “Haven’t seen any signs of it.”

“Run of bad luck,” said Luvochek. “That’s all.”

As they talked MacHeath absorbed the patterns of thought that wove in and out in the two men’s minds. Both men were more open than Dr. Nordred; they were easier for MacHeath to understand. Nowhere was there any thought of guilt--at least, as far as sabotage was concerned.

MacHeath drank his coffee slowly and thoughtfully, keeping up his part of the three-way conversation while he concentrated on his own problem.

One thing was certain: Nowhere in the minds of any of the personnel of the Redford Project was there any conscious knowledge of sabotage. Not even in the mind of Konrad Bern.

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