"In general, yes," Taggert said.
"But what about the details?" Forsythe asked doggedly. "I mean, just how are we going to go about this? You must remember that I'm not at all familiar with ... er ... scientific research procedures."
"Oh, we'll work all that out together," said Miss Tedesco brightly. "You didn't think we'd plan a detailed work schedule without your co-operation, did you?"
"Well--" Forsythe said, swelling visibly with pride, "I suppose--"
Taggert, glancing at his watch, interrupted. "I'll have to leave you two to work out your research schedule together. I have an appointment in a few minutes." He grasped Forsythe's hand and pumped it vigorously. "I believe we'll get along fine, Dr. Forsythe. And I believe our work here will be quite fruitful. Will you excuse me?"
"Certainly, Mr. Taggert. And I want to thank you for this opportunity to do research work along these lines."
Brian Taggert thanked Forsythe and hurried out with the air of a man with important and urgent things on his mind.
He went up the stairs to the office directly over the one he had assigned to Forsythe and stepped in quietly. Two men were relaxed in lounge chairs, their eyes closed.
Meshing? Taggert asked wordlessly.
Taggert closed the door carefully and went into his own office.
General Howard Layton, USSF, looked no different from any other Space Force officer, except that he was rather handsomer than most. He looked as though he might have posed for recruiting posters at one time, and, in point of fact, he had--back when he had been an ensign in the United States Navy's Submarine Service. He was forty-nine and looked a prematurely graying thirty.
He stood in the observation bunker at the landing area of St. Thomas Spacefield and watched through the periscope as a heavy rocket settled itself to the surface of the landing area. The blue-white tongue of flame touched the surface and splattered; then the heavy ship settled slowly down over it, as though it were sliding down a column of light. The column of light shortened-- And abruptly vanished as the ship touched down.
General Layton took his eyes away from the periscope. "Another one back safely. Thank God."
Nearby, the only other man in that room of the bunker, a rather short civilian, had been watching the same scene on a closed-circuit TV screen. He smiled up at the general. "How many loads does that make, so far?"
"Five. We'll have the job done before the deadline time."
"Were you worried?"
"A little. I still am, to be honest. What if nothing happens at the end of sixty days? The President isn't one of us, and he's only gone along with the Society's recommendations so far because we've been able to produce results. But"--he gestured outside, indicating the newly-landed ship--"all this extra expense isn't going to set well with him if we goof this once."
"I know," said the civilian. "But have you ever known Brian Taggert to be wrong?"
General Layton grinned. "No. And in a lesser man, that sort of omniscience could be infernally irritating. How is he progressing with Forsythe?"
The civilian frowned. "We've got plenty of data so far, and the method seems to be working well, but we don't have enough to theorize yet.
"Forsythe just sits in his office and gives 'readings,' or whatever you want to call them, to the subjects who come in. The Metaphysicist has been running an ad asking for volunteers, so we have all kinds of people calling up for appointments. Forsythe is as happy as a kid."
"How about his predictions?"
"Donna Tedesco is running data processing on them. She's in constant mental contact with him. So are Hughes and Matson, in the office above. The three of them are meshed together with each other--don't ask me how; I'm no telepath--and they're getting a pretty good idea of what's going on in Forsythe's mind.
"Every once in a while, he gets a real flash of something, and it apparently comes pretty fast. The team is trying to analyze the fine-grain structure of the process now.
"The rest of the time, he simply gives out with the old guff that phony crystal-ball gazers have been giving out for centuries. Even when he gets a real flash, he piles on a lot of intuitive extrapolation. And the farther he gets from that central flash, the less reliable the predictions are."
"Do you think we'll get theory and symbology worked out before that meteor is supposed to hit Moonbase One?" asked the general.
The civilian shrugged. "Who knows? We'll have to take a lot on faith if we do, because there won't be enough time to check all his predictions. Each subject is being given a report sheet with his forecast on it, and he's supposed to check the accuracy of it as it happens. And our agents are making spot checks on them just to make sure. It'll take time. All we can do is hope."
"I suppose." General Layton took a quick look through the periscope again. The ship's air lock still hadn't opened; the air and ground were still too hot. He looked back at the civilian. "What about the espionage reports?"
The civilian tapped his briefcase. "I can give it to you in a capsule, verbally. You can look these over later."
"The Soviets are getting worried, to put it bluntly. We can't hide those rockets, you know. Their own Luna-based radar has been picking up every one of them as they come in and leave. They're wondering why we're making so many trips all of a sudden."
"Have they done any theorizing?" the general asked worriedly.
"They have." The civilian chuckled sardonically. "They've decided we're trying for another Mars shot--a big one, this time."
The general exhaled sharply. "That's too close for comfort. How do they figure?"
"They figure we're amassing material at Moonbase One. They figure we intend to build the ship there, with the loads of stuff that we're sending up in the rockets."
"What?" General Layton opened his mouth, then closed it. Then he began to laugh.
The civilian joined him.
Donna Tedesco pushed the papers across Brian Taggert's desk. "Check them yourself, Brian. I've gone over them six ways from Septuagesima, and I still can't see any other answer."
Taggert frowned at the papers and tapped them with a thoughtful finger, but he didn't pick them up. "I'll take your word for it, Donna. At least for right now. If we get completely balled up, we'll go over them together."
"If you ask me, we've already completely balled up."
"You think it's that bad?"
She looked at him pleadingly. "Can you think of any other explanation?"
"Not just yet," Brian Taggert admitted.
"Nor can I. There it is. Every single one of his valid predictions, every single one of his precognitive intuitions--without exception--has been based on the actions of human beings. He can predict stock market fluctuations, and family squabbles, and South American election results. His disaster predictions, every one of them, were due to human error, human failure--not Acts of God. He failed to predict the earthquake in Los Angeles; he missed the flood in the Yangtze Valley; he knew nothing of the eruption of Stromboli. All of these were disasters that took human lives in the past three weeks, and he missed every one of them. And yet, he managed to get nearly every major ship, airplane, and even automobile accident connected with his subjects.
"Seven of his subjects had relatives or friends who were hurt or killed in the earthquake-flood-eruption sequence, but he didn't see them. Yet he could pick up such small things as a nephew of one of the men getting a bad scald on his arm.
"In the face of that, how can we rely on his one prediction about a meteor striking Moonbase One?"
Taggert rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. "I don't know," he said slowly. "There must be a connection somehow."
"Oh, Brian, Brian!" Her eyes were glistening with as yet unshed tears. "I've never seen you go off on a wild tangent like this before! On the word of an old fraud like Forsythe, a man who lies about half the time, you talk the Administration into sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into the biggest space lift in history!
"Oh, sure; I know. The old fraud is convinced he was telling the truth. But were you tapping his mind when the prediction flash came? No! Was anyone? No! And he's perfectly capable of lying to himself, and you know it!
"And what will happen if it doesn't come off? We're past the first deadline already. If that meteor doesn't hit within the next twenty-eight days, the Society will be right back where it was ten years ago! Or worse!
"And all because you trusted the word of Mr. Phony-Doctor Forsythe!"
"Donna," Taggert said softly, "do you really think I'm that big a fool?" He handed her a handkerchief.
"N-no," she answered, wiping at her eyes. "Of c-course I don't. It's just that it makes me so d-darn mad to see everything go wrong like this."
"Nothing's gone wrong yet. I suggest you go take a good look at Forsythe's mind again and really try to understand the old boy. Maybe you'll get more of the fine-grain structure of it if you'll try for more understanding."
"What do you mean?" she asked, sniffing.
"Look. Forsythe has made his living being a fraud, right? And yet he sent out those warning free--and anonymously. He had no thought of any reward or recompense, you know that. Why? Because he is basically a kind, decent human being. He wanted to do all he could to stop any injury or loss of life.
"Why, then, would he send out a fraudulent warning? He wouldn't. He didn't. Every one of those warnings--including the last one--was sent out because he knew that something was going to happen.
"Evidently, once he gets a flash about a certain event, he can't get any more data on that particular area of the future, or we could get more data on the Moonbase accident. I think, if we can boost his basic understanding up past the critical point, we'll have a man with controlled prescience, and we need that man.
"But, Donna, the only way we're ever going to do that--the only way we'll ever whip this problem--is for you to increase your understanding of him.
"You're past the critical point--way past it--in general understanding. But you've got to keep an eye on the little specific instances, too."
She nodded contritely. "I know. I'm sorry. Sometimes a person can get too near a problem." She smiled. "Thanks for the new perspective, Brian. I'll go back to work and see if I can't look at it a little more clearly."
In the White House, Senator Mikhail Kerotski was facing two men--James Bandeau, the Secretary of Space, and the President of the United States.
"Mr. President," he said evenly, "I've known you for a long time. I haven't failed you yet."
"I know that, Mike," the President said smoothly. "Neither has your Society, as far as I know. It's still difficult for me to believe that they get their information the way you say they do, but you've never lied to me about anything so far, so I take your word for it. Your Society is the most efficient espionage and counterespionage group in history, as far as I know. But this is different."
"Damned right it's different!" snapped Secretary Bandeau. "Your own Society, senator, admits that we've stirred the Soviets up with this space lift thing. They've got ships of their own going out there now. According to reports from Space Force intelligence, Chinese Moon cars have been prowling around Moonbase One, trying to find out what's going on."
"More than that," added the President, "they've sneaked a small group aboard the old Lunik IX to see what they can see from up there."
Secretary Bandeau jerked his head around to look at the President. "The old circumlunar satellite? Where did you hear that?"
The President smiled wanly. "From the S.M.M.R.'s report." He looked at Kerotski. "I doubt that it will do them any good. I don't think they'll be able to see anything now."
"Not unless they've figured out some way to combine X rays with radar," the senator said. "And I'm quite sure they haven't."
"Senator," said the Secretary of Space, "a lot of money has been spent and a lot of risks have been taken, just on your say-so. I--"
"Now, just a minute, Jim," said the President flatly. "Let's not go off half-cocked. It wasn't done on Mike's say-so; it was done on mine. I signed the order because I believed it was the proper, if not the only thing to do." Then he looked at the senator. "But this is the last day, Mike. Nothing has happened.
"Now, I'm not blaming you. I didn't call you up here to do that. And I think we can quit worrying about explaining away the money angle. But we're going to have to explain why we did it, Mike. And I can't tell the truth."
"I'll say you can't!" Bandeau exploded. "That would look great, wouldn't it? I can see the headlines now: 'Fortuneteller Gave Me Advice,' President Says. Brother!"
"Jim," the President said coldly, "I said to let me handle this."
"What you want, then, Mr. President," Kerotski put in smoothly, "is for me to help you concoct a good cover story."
"That's about it, Mike," the President admitted.
Kerotski shook his head slowly. "It won't be necessary."
Bandeau looked as though he were going to explode, but a glance from the President silenced him.
"Go on, Mike," he said to the senator.
"Mr. President, I know it looks bad. It's going to look even worse for a while. But, let me ask you one question. How is the Ch'ien space drive coming along?"
"Why ... fine. It checked out months ago. The new ship is on her shakedown cruise now. You know that."
"Right. Now, ask yourself one more question: What is the purpose of Moonbase One?"
The telephone rang.
The President scooped it up with one hand. "Yes?"
Then he listened for a long minute, his expression changing slowly.
"Yes," he said at last. "Yes, I got it. No; I'll release it to the newsmen. All right. Fine." He hung up.
"Twelve minutes ago," he said slowly, "the old Lunik IX smashed into Moonbase One and blew it to smithereens. The Soviets say that a meteor hit Lunik IX at just the right angle to slow it down enough to make it hit the base. They send their condolences."
Brian Taggert lay back on the couch in his office and folded his hands complacently on his abdomen. "So Donna's theory held water and so did mine. The accident was due to human intervention. Forsythe saw something from space hitting Moonbase One and assumed it was a meteor. He never dreamed the Soviets would drop old Lunik IX on it."
Senator Kerotski carefully lit a cigar. "There's going to be an awful lot of fuss in the papers, but the President is going to announce that he accepts the Soviet story. I convinced him that it is best to let the Soviets think they're a long way ahead of us in the space race now. There's nothing like a little complacency to slow someone down."
"How'd you convince him?"
"Asked the same question you asked me. Now that we have the Ch'ien space drive, what purpose does a moon base serve? None at all, of course."
Donna Tadesco leaned forward in her chair. "Did you happen to notice the sequence of events, senator? We were warned that the base would be struck. We decided to abandon it. We organized the biggest space lift in history to evacuate the men and the most valuable instruments. But the Soviets thought we were sending equipment up instead of bringing it down. They didn't know what we were up to, but they decided to put a stop to it, so they dropped an abandoned space satellite on it.
"If we hadn't decided to evacuate the base, it would never have happened.
"That is human intervention with a vengeance. We still don't know whether or not Forsythe's predictions will ever do us any good or not. Every time we've taken steps to avoid one of his prophesied catastrophes, we've done the very thing that brought them about."