"That's the last one, sir," Dwindle said six hours later as he added the one hundred twelfth graded test to the neat stack at the left of his desk. He stared through the thousand-plus holes in the answer key as if expecting the holes to shift.
"And still no change in the standings?" General Marcher asked again.
"Mr. Smith still has the best grade," Dwindle answered.
"The percentages again?" the general asked.
"Over all, ninety-six per cent for Mr. Smith," Dwindle said for the fourth time. "His lowest percentage in any one category was eighty per cent. The next highest score was by Dr. Schmelling, who had seventy-eight per cent, but he failed in six categories. The third highest score was by Dr. Ranson, seventy-six per cent, failing in seven categories. The fourth highest score was--"
"Enough. Enough," General Marcher interrupted. "I think we've found our man, don't you, Dwindle?"
"I hope we don't have to use pressure, sir," Dwindle replied.
Jones turned from the window, from which he was observing the bums in the park. "How can you possibly consider such a thing," he blurted, "as to send a penniless, unemployed, dirty, ragged tramp to Ganymede as the United States' Number One emissary?"
"Jones, perhaps I'd best clarify a point or two for you," General Marcher said in measured tones. "We've been searching the nation over, seeking a man who can fulfill our exacting requirements. We have found that man. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Smith possesses the greatest single store of knowledge about this planet and its people. So far as I'm concerned, which is considerable, it doesn't matter that this man has chosen the way of a philosopher instead of seeking an occupation. It doesn't matter that he lacks the necessary status to be listed on your IBM cards. It doesn't matter that you failed to find this man, because Dwindle succeeded. And, it doesn't matter whether I ever see you again!"
"Yes, sir," Jones said, and picked up his hat and left.
"Now, back to the business at hand, Dwindle. You say these prospects don't know the reasons behind the test?"
"That is correct, sir. I feared there might be some temptation for the prospects to not do their best, if they knew that success might result in their being removed from the face of the Earth."
"Wise. Then I suggest we approach Mr. Smith on the idea, cautiously, to determine his sentiments. If he doesn't want to go, of course, we've got to draft him."
Freddy cracked the peanut, put half in his mouth and tossed the other half to the sparrows.
"I might be going away for a while, Willy," he said, ending a rather long silence.
"You ain't gettin' a job, are ya Freddy?"
"Watch yer language," Oscar scolded.
"Naw, not really a job. At least not the kind you think of. Sort of an all-expense-paid vacation, with a change of scenery."
"Ya ain't had a run-in with the bulls, have ya?" the stricken Willy asked.
"Me? You know me better, Willy. Nothing like that. And I'm not even sure the thing will pan out, but you know all those newspaper stories about messages from another planet?"
"Yeh! Yeh! Ya read it to me!" Willy jabbered excitedly.
"And that test I took that you sent in and the fellas talked to me about?"
"Yeh! Say, I hope that didn't make you trouble, Freddy, 'cuz me 'n' Oscar was just kinda jokin', see, and--"
"It's O.K., Willy. Well, one of the fellas I talked to was General Marcher, who's been mentioned in the newspaper stories in connection with ... here, Willy, take these," he interrupted himself when he saw the two men approaching. "See that new guy at the bench over yonder? Give him these peanuts. I think he'd like to feed my sparrows while I'm gone. Name's Jones, and he'll probably be around for a spell."
Freddy stood up to greet the two arrivals.
"Hello, general," he said, tipping his battered cap. "It's about the trip to Ganymede, I suppose?"
By ROG PHILLIPS
If Nature suddenly began to behave differently, what we consider obvious and elementary today might become--unthinkable.
In the story THE DESPOILERS in the October 1947 Amazing Stories I raised the question, "Is there anything absolutely beyond human comprehension?" In that story I gave humanity a thousand years to give birth to one man who could comprehend the incomprehensible.
The incomprehensible is harder to portray in a story than is merely the unknown. If we denote anything incomprehensible by the symbol X, we can describe what X is to a certain extent by knowing what it is not. We can, gradually, gain a certain insight into what it is by comparing it to what IS comprehensible.
In the last analysis the universe of normalcy is incomprehensible. We have made progress in comprehending it because we have isolated it into small bundles of events that can be dealt with by the human intellect.
We have arrived at certain basic pictures of the behavior of the incomprehensible. We have found a certain stability existing in the picture we have built up. We have searched the heavens and found that stars are made up of the same elements as the Earth--with a few exceptions. And with those exceptions we have brought them into the framework of our picture of the Universe by postulating "dense matter."
We have, slowly, come to the belief that the same laws operate throughout the entire Universe, just as they do here on the Earth. This is the Uniformity Postulate.
In that story THE DESPOILERS the Uniformity Postulate was not denied. The incomprehensible in that story was the mind of a Despoiler. It, to the human mind, was incomprehensible; and to the Despoiler, the human mind was incomprehensible.
Each viewed the Universe differently due to a difference in whatever lies at the foundations of the thinking processes. In other words, uniformity of the principle of thought was denied there.
Both the Despoilers and Man had mechanical civilization and science, but due to their different minds neither could comprehend completely the viewpoint of the other ON THE SAME THING. Each had applied his REASON to the disorder of nature and constructed what to him was a REASONABLE PICTURE.
The type of mentality I attributed to the Despoiler may be impossible. It may be that if the human race eventually reaches out and encounters other intelligent races it will find that the basic principles which result in thought as we know it are the ONLY basic principles that can give rise to thinking intelligence, so that wherever we find civilization we will find creatures that think the same as we do, and have seen the same pattern in nature that we have.
There is another possibility besides the encountering of incomprehensible minds. That is the possibility of encountering incomprehensible "islands" of reality.
One thing we have discovered about nature that makes such "islands" possible--or that makes it possible WE are living in such an "island"--is that matter has a habit of "reacting" to some types of energy patterns, and "totally ignoring" others.
Perhaps you can better understand what I mean by the following analogous position: Kah is an intelligent entity fixed at a certain point. He can only derive a picture of reality from what he sees. He can only see a foot in front of him. In all his existence he has seen only one type of thing--rocks about an inch in diameter. He therefore concludes that all reality is rocks an inch in diameter.
He is unable ever to learn that he is situated at a place where the one-inch rocks leave a screen with seven-eighths-inch holes that let every smaller pebble and all the sand through, and that seven-eighths-inch screen is the catch-all for a higher screen with one-inch holes that kept everything larger from coming through.
His Universe is brought to him by selective screening. He rationalizes what his Universe presents him, and postulates that ALL reality is identical to what he can experience. He can NOT conceive of what is utterly beyond his range of experience and imagination--which is merely the re-arrangement of reality or of thoughts derived from reality.
We are perhaps in much that same position. To be sure, our telescopes bring us data from stars that are so far away the human race will never reach them--but is not our telescope a "screen" that brings us only the one-inch rocks?
There may be and probably is a vast realm of reality co-existent with the reality we know, right around us; but it is "screened" from us. It may be possible that we know less than ten percent of actual reality around us due to the screening of our senses and our instruments that blocks completely, or permits to pass completely, every energy pattern that can't pass through the "holes" of our "screen."
Going back to Kah, the one-inch-rock-universe observer, suppose that in one batch of dirt dumped at the head of the screening system there happened to be no one-inch rocks at all? Or, more closely to the story you are about to read, suppose, with his mind deeply grooved with the tracks of the one-inch rocks, he were to move to a vantage point where there were no one-inch rocks, but larger or smaller ones?
He would immediately find nature behaving according to an utterly strange pattern, BUT he could only sort the incoming sensations according to the neural grooves already built up in his mind! In his mind he could only see one-inch rocks or nothing, and since what he would see would obviously be something, it would either seem nothing to him, or one-inch rocks behaving strangely.
His instruments and his mind would interpret by the old gradations and scales and concepts. His Universe would still be made of nothing but one-inch rocks, to him, but its behavior would be strange.
Perhaps slowly, like a newborn child making sense out of its surroundings, or a foreigner slowly making sense out of our language, he would penetrate to the new reality with his mind. Perhaps in the very process his being would change its structure.
In the end he would be in a unique position. He would have the memories of one Reality, and the experiences of a new one. He would have the language of the old with which to describe the new to his old companions. Could he do it so they would comprehend it?
It would do him no good simply to invent new words to describe something beyond the experience of his old companions. He would have to describe something beyond their experience with words and sentences they had created to describe only what they had gained from their own experience! How could he hope to make them gain a true understanding of it?
He might tell them simply and truthfully everything he experienced--and it might come out utter nonsense! It probably would. Unless he could bring back some of the evidence, either intentionally or unwittingly.
At first that evidence might present a pattern of utter nonsense and contradiction with known thought patterns and concepts. It might present seemingly normal events in nonsense sequences. It might present impossible events in seemingly normal sequences. It might even present disjointed events in sequence.
What it would present would be only what the screen of the senses and the screen of the mind could accept. Underneath would be a perfectly orderly pattern of events of some sort, behaving according to different natural laws in conflict with those we have existed under. Slowly we might penetrate to an understanding of them, but not at first, because at first they would be completely UNTHINKABLE.
In this story, UNTHINKABLE, an attempt has been made to depict such a conflict of nature and human mentality. It is not the ordinary science fiction attempt. It is not new laws working in harmony with old, or new discoveries that fit into the old pattern. It is, if you please, an utterly alien bit of reality in conflict with the old.
The story cannot but be inadequate. It is the froth and foam of the struggle. It is the parts that fit into the words and phrases and sentences. You won't like it at all--unless you have the type of mind that can reach a little way beyond experience. And though what you may "see" may have no counterpart in all reality, if this story serves to expand your mental horizons, it has at least found an excuse for being written.
Dr. Nale Hargrave tossed his spotless grey hat expertly across the six feet of space between him and the coat tree, humming the while a currently popular tune whose only words he could remember were "Feemo fimo fujo, the flumy fwam to fwojo."
His eyes rested self-congratulatingly on the hat after it came to a safe stop, then turned to beam an instant at his receptionist before he continued on to his office.
She smiled after him with an affectionate, indulgent look, gave him as long as it took her to powder her nose and tuck a few stray hairs into place, then pressed the buzzer that signaled to quarantine that the doctor was ready to screen the crew of the U triple S Endore.
The Endore had arrived during the night. Usually crews that had to wait hours before passing through psych raised a big fuss. Quarantine wasn't exactly designed for comfort. A man couldn't be expected to enjoy sitting on a bench and reading a worn-out magazine after looking forward to visiting his old haunts on Earth after months or years in space. His only thought was to get through the red tape and step through the door on the other side of which lay freedom of expression and freedom from space discipline--and girls.
That was the usual result of forced delay in quarantine. The crew of the Endore hadn't let a peep out of them.
Martha Ryan, the receptionist, glanced knowingly at the closed door. She knew that Nale was sitting at his desk, his legs crossed carelessly, his long fingers holding the report on the Endore and the report of the psych observer. He was probably frowning slightly over the unusual behavior of the crew.
She had her own list of names of the crew on the desk before her. Heading the list was the name, Comdr. Hugh Dunnam. Dr. Nale would ordinarily call him first. Next would come any of the crew that the commander reported unbalanced, followed by the rest of the crew.
Sometimes when the psych observer's report was unfavorable to the whole crew he called some crew member at random before calling the top name.
It didn't surprise her, therefore, when the intercom came to life and Dr. Nale's voice pleasantly asked for a name two-thirds of the way down on the list of forty names--Ren Gravenard, spaceman/2d cls.
Martha's pencil followed the list down, making a light check after the name while she dialed quarantine to send in the man.
In her mind's eye she could visualize the lifted eyebrows of the day shift guards as they glanced over the huddled crew. She could see their suddenly changed attitude toward the crew, their new caution as they opened the heavy wire door and led the man out. She could see, too, the worried frown of Comdr. Dunnam, whoever he was, as he realized what that meant--to have a crew member precede him.
She could see, too, Dunnam's probable warning look to spaceman Gravenard to keep mum and play his cards close.
That was the trouble with crews of ships when they thought they might be held up by psych over something. They invariably overplayed their innocence right from the start.
The side door from quarantine opened. Two guards entered, preceding and following the first victim warily. Martha sized Ren Gravenard up closely while her face assumed the careful, welcoming smile that often brought attempts at dating.
Ren Gravenard was no different in appearance than a million like him. He was average in everything including his type of character.
"You are Ren Gravenard?" she asked.
He nodded without speaking.
Martha pressed the button that told Doctor Nale the first one had arrived, got his O.K. signal, and motioned Gravenard and the guards toward the inner door with a sweep of long yellow pencil in perfectly manicured fingers.
As the three passed into the private office she made a slow dash after the spaceman's name preparatory to writing his destination when he came out. It would be "obs" or "O.K."
Then she glanced at her wrist watch. Its hands pointed to six after nine. Two hours and fifty-four minutes later Ren Gravenard had still not come out. And in her two years as receptionist for Dr. Nale Hargrave, Martha Ryan had never known him to spend more than twenty minutes with any subject....
Her manicured nail pressed the buzzer three times to signal she was going to lunch. Giving Dr. Nale a full minute to make any request, without receiving any, she opened the door to the corridor and left.
When she returned an hour later she was surprised to see the door to Dr. Hargrave's inner office open and Dr. John Bemis, the chief of the psych staff, at the desk.
"Come in, Miss Ryan," Dr. Bemis said, accenting his invitation with a wave of his hand.
He waited until she had come in and closed the door behind her before continuing.
"There's something's happened," he said gravely. "I don't know just what, and maybe I don't exactly WANT to know."
Dr. Bemis spread his hands in an all inclusive gesture.
"The universe is a big place," he said. "I suppose we should have expected that sooner or later we'd run into something a little outside normal experience."
He shook his head slowly, looking up at the ceiling as though trying to pierce it and see beyond. When he continued, his voice was sharp and businesslike.
"Tell me exactly what you saw, thought, and felt this morning. Every detail, however unimportant you might think it."
"There's really very little to tell," Martha said, surprised and alarmed. "There was this crew of the Endore in quarantine when I came to work this morning. They were unusual in that they didn't complain about having to wait, indicating a guilt feeling in the crew. Dr. Hargrave asked to see a common spaceman first. That proved he recognized this. The name of the spaceman he saw is Ren Gravenard, who was brought in at a little after nine and was still in there when I left at twelve."
She looked keenly at Dr. Bemis. Something was so radically wrong somewhere that she didn't have the courage to even ask him. She just waited.
"Dr. Hargrave has been taken to observation," he said without warning. "So has the crew of the Endore. I--ah--believe you may take an indefinite leave from the office until further notice. With full pay, of course."
"Dr. Hargrave?" Martha asked, not hearing the last.
"Yes!" Dr. Bemis's voice changed from harsh tenseness to contriteness. "I'm sorry, Miss Ryan, but I feel it inadvisable to discuss it just now. All I can say is that full quarantine measures are now in force as of fifteen minutes ago. There will be no landing or taking off from Earth until it is lifted; and within this area the same quarantine applies."
Martha Ryan hesitated, then turned and left. Dr. Bemis watched her go. After the door closed behind her he did a very peculiar thing. He took a gun out of his coat pocket and shot himself through the head. After that he went to a mirror on the wall, dressed the wounds carefully, wincing at the bite of the alcohol in the raw flesh, and, after drinking several glasses of water, returned to Dr. Hargrave's desk.