He sat there, drumming his fingers on the walnut surface, his eyes closed as if he were listening to something very far away. A buzzer under his desk gave three short buzzes. He reached over and deflected the toggle on the intercom.
"Back already, Martha?" he said cheerily. "Any more left on your list for the Endore?"
Martha checked her list. There had been two left when she went to lunch. They had been checked off, too, while she was gone.
"That's all, Dr. Nale," she said.
"Good," came his voice through the intercom. "Think I'll go out and have something to eat myself."
The click of the intercom was followed at once by the opening of the inner office door. Martha's eyes watched Dr. Nale Hargrave as he walked through the office and out into the corridor.
Her eyes remained on the exit after he had gone, a faint frown creasing the smooth skin above her eyes. She had an IRRATIONAL impression that she had seen Dr. Bemis, the super, instead of Dr. Nale, and with his head bandaged clumsily.
She dismissed this with a pout and took a book out of a drawer to do her afternoon reading.
The buzzer on her desk buzzed a warning. She laid the book flat as the inner office door opened and Dr. Nale escorted Ren Gravenard out into the waiting room.
Martha glanced at her watch. It was ten after nine. Four minutes! She expected the nod from Dr. Nale. Her pencil wrote an O.K. after the dash she had drawn four minutes ago.
"Thank you doctor," Ren Gravenard was saying heartily. The two guards left by the side door back to quarantine.
Dr. Nale went over and bent close to Martha's ear.
"As your psychiatrist," he said pseudo-seriously, "I can advise you that unless you kiss me I am going to feel quite frustrated."
"Oh, that would never do!" Martha laughed, and kissed him.
She jerked back, startled. There was the sound of a shot from the inner office. The door was still open. Martha and Dr. Nale looked through the door, horrified.
Ren Gravenard was standing in the middle of the inner office dropping a flat automatic into his side pocket. There was an ugly wound on either side of his head from a bullet that had passed directly through his brain.
He smiled at them disarmingly, "It's quite all right. You see, it couldn't possibly do me any harm because I'm waiting for the elevator."
"Oh," they said, relieved. They bent and kissed each other again while Ren Gravenard went over to the mirror on the wall and dressed the wounds, wincing from the raw touch of the alcohol on wounded bone and flesh.
The outer door opened and two men came in with a wicker basket.
Dr. Nale pointed over in the corner where one of the guards lay dead.
"What happened to him, Doc?" one of the men asked.
"He got shot through the head," Dr. Hargrave explained. "One of the men off the Endore did it. They're all being taken over to observation. I think I'll have to go over with them. I'm beginning to get an inkling of what's going on, and I'm very much afraid of what I think it is."
The two men set the basket down and lifted the wicker lid. Dr. Bemis came out of the inner office and laid down in the corner. The two men waited until he had settled himself, then lifted him into the basket.
Dr. Hargrave held open the outer door for them. He returned to the desk beside Martha and took a gun out of his coat pocket. He pointed it at her, frowned in indecision, then slowly, with perspiration standing out on his forehead, pulled out the clip and emptied the barrel of the gun.
"Good for you," Martha said. She picked up her book and started reading. Dr. Hargrave put the gun back in his pocket and went to the door.
"Take a few days off starting tomorrow," he said before going out. "I'm going to be slowly going crazy trying to figure this mess out. That's why I insisted to Dr. Bemis that I be confined with the crew of the Endore--just in case."
His heels made loud noises on the marble floor of the corridor. He pushed through the revolving doors to the sidewalk.
There was an argument going on between a small newsboy and an elderly gentlemen type of man.
"I tell you there's only two pennies," the boy insisted.
"There's four," the man insisted just as strongly. "See?"
He pried open the boy's fingers and looked.
"Sorry," he said. "You're right." His hand went into his pocket to make up the deficit.
"Hey! Wait a minute," the boy said. "I was wrong. You gave me two pennies too much."
A small pudgy finger took two of the pennies. The boy glanced at the others to make sure the right number were left.
Nale was close enough to see what happened. He saw the pennies taken from what seemed to be seven or eight in the boy's palm. When the two were taken away there seemed to be a slight blur--and there was only a solitary penny left.
He didn't wait. The paper boy and the customer were still patiently arguing as he climbed into his car and drove away. He drove slowly with his foot close to the brakes.
Although his eyes were warily watching each car on the street, his mind was busy. He was trying to figure out who had been shot.
"It might even have been me!" he thought. And there was no way of knowing.
He drove the car another block. There was doubt growing in his mind. On a sudden impulse he pulled the car over to the curb and stopped the motor. Getting out, he started walking rapidly. There would be three miles of walking before he reached observation, but it would be safer to walk.
A block further he stopped abruptly in surprise. The spaceport observation hospital was just in front of him.
"I should have guessed," he muttered as he pushed through the heavy doors. "The speedometer, of course. Naturally it would go first."
Martha Ryan saw the door close on Dr. Hargrave, then started reading again. She finished the page and turned it over. The first few words of the opposite side of the sheet showed the continuity to be difficult.
Thinking she might have turned two sheets by mistake, she turned back one. It was still wrong. She sighed exasperatedly. She distinctly remembered that she had been on page twenty-five, so the next page should be twenty-six. Since it hadn't been, she would have to look for twenty-six.
She looked through the book, page by page, and it wasn't there. Getting over her exasperation she made a game of it. Finally she developed to the stage where she would open the book at random, note the number of the page, close the book, and then try to find that page she had just seen.
It was a very peculiar book. She found that, (a) she could find any page number she wasn't looking for, and (b) any page number she looked for was not in the book, even though it had been a moment before.
Resting thoughtfully for several minutes on this achievement of deduction she decided to try another experiment. She counted the number of sheets of paper in the book and wrote the number down. It was one hundred twenty-four.
Then she counted them again. There were one hundred eighty-six. She counted them five more times, making seven times she had counted them. She got nine different numbers of sheets in the book. She decided she couldn't get nine different numbers after counting only seven times, and counted the numbers. There were five. She closed her eyes and counted to ten rapidly, then counted them again. There were fourteen.
She held out her hands. She had seven fingers on her right hand and three on her left. She chuckled dryly and thought, "Well, anyway there are ten altogether." She counted them to be sure, and there were thirteen.
Pursing her lips stubbornly she held up two fingers and counted them. There were two. She held them rigid and closed her eyes, counting rapidly to ten. Opening her eyes she looked cautiously at the upraised fingers. There were two.
She raised a third finger to join the other two, and there were five upraised fingers. Not only that, there were seven of them clenched. She closed her eyes and counted to ten quickly, then opened them. There were three upraised fingers. She counted the clenched ones and there were two. Relieved, she checked on the upraised fingers again--and there were seven.
She gave up in disgust. Deciding she ought to go home she stood up and started to cross to the coat tree.
The door to the corridor opened and Ren Gravenard stepped in.
"Hello!" Martha said in surprise. "I thought you were sent to observation."
"I was," Ren said. "That's where I am now, but when there are forty of you, you can sort of get lost in the group and wind up anywhere you want to."
"Well, I'm glad you're here," Martha said dryly. "Maybe you can explain a few things."
Ren grinned crookedly.
"Suppose I do the explaining over something to eat," he said. "I almost stopped and had something on the way over here, but I wanted to wait and eat with you. Do you mind?"
"Of course not," Martha frowned. She was taking a closer look at this spaceman second class. He had a nice way of smiling at her. His eyes had depths she hadn't noticed before.
The illogical thought came to her that maybe now that things didn't behave the way they should, maybe he and his fellow spacemen were the only ones that knew what it was all about.
"All this," Martha waved her hand vaguely. "It must have been caused by something about the Endore, mustn't it?"
Ren nodded, holding the door open for her. They walked along the corridor to the revolving doors, his hand tucked protectively under her arm.
"Is it mental?" Martha asked when they were on the sidewalk.
"No," Ren answered. "But let's wait until we eat. I'm starved to death. If you run into any trouble I'll help you out. You see, I know how to work things."
"Like finding page twenty-six in the book I'm reading?" Martha asked.
"That's simple," Ren said. "All you have to do is look for page twenty-nine and you'll run across page twenty-six right away. Things like that are mental, partly. I mean, you have to have the right attitude to get results you want."
"I don't understand," Martha said.
"Well, it's like this," Ren explained. "If you're looking for page twenty-six it won't be one of the first two pages you look at, regardless of where you open the book. But after you've looked at three of them you've passed the page you want unless you're not looking for it. If you're not looking for it you REACH the right page."
"But why page twenty-nine to find twenty-six?" Martha persisted.
"It has to do with the new arithmetic," Ren said.
"Oh," Martha said dully. "So that's the whole trouble with everything."
"No, that's only part of it," Ren said. "But here's a good place to eat." He guided her through the door.
An hour later Ren lit a cigarette and took a long drag on it, his eyes looking longingly into Martha's. He exhaled the smoke in a long white plume. Then he began talking.
"I don't know whether you read it on the report sheet or not, but the trip of the Endore began from this same spaceport two years ago. The observatory on Pluto had reported a free planet passing within two hundred quadrillion miles of the solar system. The Endore was assigned the task of landing on it, if feasible.
"I had been a member of the crew for only four months when the Endore turned outward from its position just the other side of Mars' orbit."
Ren smiled apologetically.
"I hadn't exactly planned on being a spaceman, second class. I don't know whether you know the system, but whether you do or not, it should suffice to say that I had studied for five years to become a research scientist, and failed. I decided to take out my disappointment by joining up for two years. I planned on making another try at research when I got out.
"Everything went along fine on the trip out. We were a very congenial crew with a fine, human commander. He made it a point to get personally acquainted with every member of the crew eventually. He seemed to take a particular liking to me for some reason. By the time we were half-way out to Metapor, as we found out it was called later, I was an unofficial first mate or something with free run of the pilot room and the instruments.
"I had guessed by now that when I enlisted they looked up my record and passed the word along to Commander Dunnam to sell me on the idea of a career as a spaceman.
"At any rate, I was in an ideal position to see all that went on first hand. We were within three hundred thousand miles of Metapor when we got the first indication of the change in metaphysics. I discovered it myself. I was helping the astrogator get the constants for the planet ..."
"Take a look at the gravy board, Ren," Ford Gratrick, the astrogator said. "What's she say?"
Ren looked at the fine black pointer on the gravity potentiometer. It pointed to a spot just two marks above the number ten on the dial.
"Ten and two tenths," Ren read.
"That can't be right," Ford frowned. "At this distance that would make this baby a super."
He came over and looked himself. While he was looking the pointer moved up to twenty and then down to six tenths.
"Must be out of order," Ford muttered. "Well, this'll give you experience with emergency equipment. Break out the manual gravy dish, Ren."
It was a fine coil spring in a glass tube. Other glass tubes fastened on, to make the length almost ten feet. At one g the spring with its weight would stretch out to the bottom. From there to a ten thousandth of a g the spring rose up to a point half-way.
Ren put it together speedily, placing it in the wall clamps designed to hold it. The glass itself was graduated with the scale of gravity strength. The cylindrical weight at the free end of the spring had a line on it that would coincide with the proper reading.
In practice it vibrated up and down so that it had to be read by estimation of the half-way point of the up and down motion.
Ren and Ford watched the red weight with its black line. It moved slowly and uniformly from the bottom to the top of the scale, from a full g to ten thousandth of a g, and back down again.
Meanwhile the gravity potentiometer (gravy board) was changing its reading constantly and erratically.
Ford licked his lips nervously and said, "Don't know what the old man'll say about this, but it looks like all we can say is that the thing has gravity."
"Why not call him and let him see for himself?" Ren asked.
Ford looked out the viewport at the round object in the distance and shook his head.
"I've got a hunch he knows it already," he said slowly. "The ship is probably on a nonsense track and the automatic tracker is either trying to find out what the law of gravity is, or is exploring for clues to light aberration. One gets you ten he'll give me a buzz in another minute."
He was right. The phone rang almost at once. It was Hugh Dunnam himself, asking for the gravy reading.
"You'll have to see it to believe it," Ford Gratrick said over the phone. "The manual swing is uniform over the whole range. The gravy board can't make up its mind where to settle at. It tries this and that reading."