He listened briefly. "Yes, sir," he said, and hung up. "He wants you in the pilot room, Ren," he added.
Ren started out of the central instrument room through the axis tube.
"Better be careful," Ford shouted after him. "No telling how this gravitation will behave. Don't let it slam you against anything."
Ren heard his words. He had a sudden, crazy thought that it was his own voice, and that he, as he sped along through the ship, was in reality Ford Gratrick. The thought startled him. He promptly forgot it.
There was a frown of concentration on his face. He was trying to visualize a gravity pull whose intensity was not a single-valued pressure but a uniform continuum of pressure values from a minimum to a maximum.
It was like--well, like having an air pressure in a car tire that wasn't thirty pounds or thirty-two pounds, but every value from zero to thirty-five pounds.
It was like transforming the points and intervals on a line to a domain where there had previously been only points!
Hugh Dunnam was waiting for him when he arrived in the pilot room. His iron grey hair was mussed from exasperated hair-pulling. He jabbed a finger in the direction of the automatic pilot without speaking.
Ren saw that it had been cut out. The first mate was controlling the ship manually. The robot mechanism was still turning out its data sheets, however. In five minutes Ren saw that the only consistent detail was the distance of the ship from the planet.
Commander Dunnam watched him silently for several minutes. Finally Ren laid down the data sheets and looked at him with a slow smile.
"Well?" Dunnam asked.
"It reminds me of a kid I knew quite well when I was in grade school," Ren said. "He was an incurable liar, so you could never take anything he said, but always had to figure out the truth yourself and act on it regardless of what he might claim to be the truth."
"You mean the instruments have all become liars?" Hugh Dunnam asked, amazed at the idea.
"No," Ren replied. "I don't think that. I think nature is the liar, in a way. I mean she is according to our standards. We'll have to outguess her, that's all."
"Now you're cooking," Hugh exclaimed. "What would you suggest?"
"We know this planet has gravity," Ren replied. "There's no way of knowing how much or how little. Suppose we kill our tangential speed and just fall in? The gravity will take care of that, regardless of its value or set of values."
"But we'll crash!" Hugh objected.
Ren took one of the report sheets and figured rapidly on its back.
"Unless I'm radically wrong," he said, "our speed of impact will be every speed from zero to a thousand miles a minute. Not only that, no matter how we try to land that will be the set of values for our speed. Naturally the thousand miles a minute will smash us flat, but the zero speed will let us down easy."
"And so?" Hugh asked suspiciously.
"No matter how we go in," Ren smiled, "we'll smash the ship and kill everybody--and we'll land safely."
"Are you crazy?" Hugh snorted.
"I--I'm not quite sure," Ren said seriously. "I think that we've run across a bit of matter that works from different basics than what we are used to. You might call it a different metaphysics. That's what it really amounts to."
A pain of remembrance appeared on his face.
"That's why I didn't get my degree," he said softly. "I insisted that it might be possible there were no absolute rules underlying all reality, but only relative rules that might be changeable. In other words, I questioned the validity of asserting that natural law was universal. They flunked me in stability."
"Yes, I know," Commander Dunnam said sympathetically. "One of the most unjust rules of modern education in the opinion of many, but no way of changing it unless the educators themselves did it. Since they all passed O.K. in stability, they think everyone else should. Maybe they're afraid they would be considered unstable if they wanted to make such a major change."
Ren glanced toward the screen that showed the magnified image of the interstellar wanderer, and back again to the commander.
"Of course," he said, "I'm trying to use ordinary basics transposed onto the basics of this system, which is wrong. Or it may be right. It might be better if we just turned around and went back. There's no way of knowing ahead of time whether we'd be killed on landing or not."
"Look, Ren," the commander said seriously. "I like you. You--you're just about like my son would have been today if he had lived. I'm just a spaceman. I depend on instruments. They don't work here. All of us are just as helpless as if we didn't know the first thing about our trade. We can't go back without landing on this stray planet. If we tried to tell them the reasons, I'd be retired and the whole crew would be stuck on various routine tub runs. Suppose you unofficially take charge. If we get killed--we all expect to end that way in our trade. If we don't, we'll be able to take back something with us to prove what we've run into. Maybe it will vindicate you and make you a reputation. You'll get all the credit I can turn your way."
"Thank you, sir," Ren said, his voice choked with gratitude. In his heart he knew that he would have sold his soul to the devil for this coming experience that had been given him without his asking.
He had spent years preparing for this--years that his teachers had felt were wasted. He had explored all the crazy systems of logic abandoned in the march of progress. He had even devised systems of his own, synthesized from undefined symbols according to strange patterns outside the field of logic.
Yes. He felt that even if the basics of natural law in operation here were purely nonsense laws, he would be able to penetrate to a rational manipulation and control of things. Perhaps he might even set up the pattern operating, and join it in some way with so-called normal science.
Commander Dunnam came to attention, a twinkle in his eyes.
"At your command, sir," he said, saluting.
"Not that," Ren objected. "Let me just play the part of a scientist under your command, whose part it is to advise only."
"No," Hugh Dunnam said. "Until we leave this part of space you're in sole command. Call it what you want--a hunch maybe; but I feel that there is a purpose in things, and it wasn't chance that gave you the type of mind you have and threw you under my command on this trip."
"Very well, sir," Ren said, returning the salute. He smiled. Behind his smile his analytical mind was working rapidly.
"The commander's reactions are not normal," his thoughts said. "They could not be dictated by anything in his past. Therefore they are dictated by something outside him--something on that planet below!"
It was a wild conjecture. The more he thought of it the more certain Ren became that there was some intelligence down there that had already made contact with the minds in the ship.
Strangely, this didn't alarm him. He felt that "it" was friendly. He felt that "it" had plumbed the minds of all on board and chosen him to take over and lead the others.
Eagerly he "listened," but no faintest whisper or flavor of thought came to support his feeling of an alien contact. In spite of this he went ahead with his study of things with a confidence that "something" was watching and would see them through all right.
His eyes turned again to the image of the cold planet below. That image returned his stare blankly, its inscrutable surface devoid of any hint of mystery.
"I'd suggest we keep circling the planet until I have a chance to form a few definite conclusions," Ren said. "If that can't be done I'd suggest we retreat far enough so we can."
"Yes sir," Commander Dunnam said quietly. He repeated the suggestion in the form of an order to the first mate.
Ren studied the image of the planet. He left the pilot room and wandered over the ship aimlessly. He talked to the members of the crew he ran into.
He slept at his usual time. He ate his meals as usual. He stopped talking to the crew and just wandered about, occasionally going to the pilot room and studying the strange sphere of matter.
After three days he ordered the ship dropped to an orbit about five thousand miles from the surface. Almost as soon as the ship reached its new orbit changes began to be noticed.
Ren had the commander issue an order that every crew member was to report all unusual happenings within the ship. Twenty-four hours later he issued an order that each crew member was to write out a brief report of his movements during the past twenty-four hours as he remembered them.
Ren studied these reports. And gradually he was building up a picture that was wilder than the wildest of fantastic imaginative creation.
He and Commander Dunnam had grown very close to each other. Finally Ren broke his long silence and talked to him about what he was discovering. They were in the dining room. Crew members were eating their "evening" meal. They listened as Ren tried to explain.
"I think I've formed a few permanent conclusions about things here," Ren began. "They aren't an EXPLANATION of things, but just a description of the way things are behaving. I'll try to make it clear as I go along."
He chewed his food slowly while trying to think of a good way to begin.
"Take any number, for example," he said. "Take the number five. Back on Earth you can count five apples and say there are five apples. You can count out five eggs and place them in a box, and say there are the same number of eggs as there are apples. There are five of each. Actually that isn't true. There aren't five of either. There is no such thing as the number five. The number is a mental thing, a concept. The apples have a basic property which would more accurately be called a 'fiveness'. The eggs also have a basic property called a 'fiveness', and the fiveness of the eggs and the fiveness of the apples are NOT the same. They are peculiar to each group. The human race invented a concept called the number five, and formulated a theory that all fivenesses belong to a class, called the number five. In nature this theory acted as though it were true. If you have five apples and five eggs you have ten objects. A fiveness placed with another fiveness makes a tenness. So arithmetic merely describes the behavior of a basic property of reality in a consistent manner. Arithmetic is NOT a basic law. It's merely a DESCRIPTION of a basic law.
"That basic doesn't seem to hold where we are now. But there are other basic things that seem to be violated here, too, and will probably be violated even more when and if we land on this planet.
"I've pretty well concluded that number doesn't exist here in the same way it does ordinarily. Take the strength of gravity, for example. Instead of being a single value it is equally a broad range of values, and is all of them at the same time. How that can be I don't know.
"It's the same way with the number of objects. Instead of having five fingers I have three, four, five, six and so on, fingers all at the same time. But my mind can't see that. It can only grasp a single number. My eyes look at my fingers and see the many simultaneous numbers of fingers, but my mind can't grasp that, so it conjures up a single number at random. It RATIONALIZES what it gets, and so we have a real problem--the devising of some method of helping the mind deal with what it can't grasp because it hasn't the equipment to grasp it as it really is.
"There are sixty of us on board--or rather, there WERE sixty. Now there are three, four, and so on, to some number above sixty. The last report handed in by the crew shows eighty-three men on board! I can't prove it, because if I handed you the report sheets you would count more or less than that number.
"So what we must realize is that now there isn't any NUMBER of crew members, but a 'something else' that is different than a number, corresponding to an INTERVAL of numbers. It is real. It's a metaphysical basic for this part of space around this planet.
"It's subtle, too. For example, right now there may be more than one me on this ship, depending on whether there are more than sixty people on board or not. I don't quite understand about that yet. There are a lot of things I don't understand about it. If there is more than one of any person on board, is it a reality, or is it a trick of rationalization of the mind to fit something utterly incomprehensible into at least a semblance of something comprehensible? If it is the latter, then why do the two who are supposedly the same person hand in DIFFERENT reports on what the supposedly one person did, and why do the reports check with other reports?
"I have a theory which might account for part of all this. Our ship and all in it belongs to the universe of the metaphysics we know of and use as the thought process. It is hovering on the borders of a region containing this planet we are to land on--a region operating on other basics. In some way both sets of basics operate in either conflict or compromise. Besides mental confusion there is actual physical confusion.
"But maybe it's better that way. If we make the transition in steps the actual noumenal confusion may guide our minds correctly into a correct understanding of the new basics of this system by the time we land."
Ford Gratrick had come into the dining room unnoticed at the beginning of this. He spoke now.
"Then you claim that the laws of nature are different here than we are accustomed to, and that our minds are not equipped to deal with them?" he asked.
Ren frowned. Not at the words but at something he had not mentioned, about people and identities.
"They are different, yes," Ren returned. "But as to our minds dealing with them--human minds have dealt with things without truly comprehending them since the dawn of time."
"Things that were sane," Ford said.
"These are sane, too," Ren said, studying Ford keenly from hidden eyes. "They're just sane in a different way."
"So is a crazy man," Ford almost sneered openly. "I think we've seen enough to make it obvious we should get away from here while we can."
There was a murmur among the men at the tables that agreed with what Ford had said.
"We may do that," Ren said, ignoring the signs of almost open defiance patent in Ford's tone and manner, and in the men's muttered approval of what he had said. "But we won't until we're sure it's suicide to go down there and land. Don't you realize that we have something here which may be unique in the universe? This space wanderer won't be close enough to the solar system for exploration more than two or three years. Then it will be gone. There may never be another opportunity to study something like it."
"Which is a good thing," Ford snorted. "If you decide to drop the ship any closer to this mad planet you're going to have trouble with the men."
"Meaning you've been talking to them?" Commander Hugh Dunnam asked softly.
"Talking WITH them," Ford Gratrick said, matching Hugh's softness. "Don't try to put me in the position of being a leader of any rebellion that might develop. I'll confess quite frankly, though, that I want no part of landing on this God-forsaken hunk of matter, and a good many of the crew agree on that. It's suicidal. Frankly, sir, I think you must be under some kind of spell to turn your command over to a spaceman second class as you did."
Ren's scalp crawled. This had been exactly what he himself had felt! So others besides him had "felt" that alien contact from below! On impulse he made up his mind.
"Before anyone says something they might regret later," he cut in, "let me say that I've made up my mind that it's too dangerous to land. The effects we experience up here would probably be increased beyond conception down there. Our thought processes are being affected in ways we can't understand. It's possible that if we landed the ship would behave so differently that it would be impossible to get away. So, give me another two days of study in this orbit and then we'll go back to the solar system."
While Ren was talking he had a curious feeling, far back in the depths of his mind. It was as though a section of the bank of a stream had broken off and dropped into the stream.
Irrational. There had been so many such feelings that crept to the borders of consciousness and faded away without meaning anything.
Time! Ren felt that time was all he needed to get to the bottom of it. He compared himself to a newborn babe coming into the world. For the first few months things come and go in meaningless fashion. Slowly the mind makes order out of them. The oft-repeated patterns become clear first, then more obscure ones. Finally the baby is able to understand the apparently senseless sequence of events.
Ren felt that the results would be the same here if he were given half a chance ... but Ford Gratrick was right, too. It concerned more than the mind. It struck at the roots of reality that had been used in the principle of the ship's operation--and there was no way of knowing the ship would operate once it landed.
Ren Gravenard flicked the ashes from the end of his cigarette off the edge of the table onto the floor. Martha's eyes took this in and slowly lost their faraway look.
"I'm trying to make clear, Martha," Ren said gravely, "the emergence into consciousness of the things going on around us. There was no way yet for us to suspect their full activity--their inroads. Things were going on that we simply could not see or sense in any way because we didn't yet have the faculty of grasping them. They made their impression and were lost in a hodge-podge of neural channels already deeply grooved in the normal way, so that when they got close enough to the conscious mind to be sensed, they were distorted beyond any semblance of the true reality."
"I can see that," Martha said, her eyes brooding. "But DID you find a living, intelligent creature or race on Metapor?"
Ren nodded. "I'm coming to that later," he said. "Be patient and let me take things in order. That's the only way you can understand when I tell you about--her."
His eyes studied the glowing coal at the end of the cigarette. He lifted the white cylinder to his lips and sucked in. Dropping the cigarette on the floor and stepping on it, he let the grey smoke seep from his mouth and nostrils.
Traffic sounds came through the window. A murmur of voices drifted over the two as they sat there, quietly.
"I've tried to bring you up to the point where I began to suspect," Ren continued. "I described the feeling I had that was something like watching a large chunk of the bank of a stream break away, starting first as a jagged crack in the turf, with it widening slowly at first, then faster, until the broken chunk becomes a separate THING, dissociated from the bank. It breaks away, drops into the stream--and vanishes; while the bank itself remains, enclosing and containing the rushing stream.
"I didn't realize then what that feeling meant. I had felt it in varied shades before. It rose almost into consciousness, then, like the broken section of the bank itself, it would drop away and dissolve in the swirling stream of mind.
"Sitting there at the table in the ship's dining room, suddenly I suspected what that feeling really sprung from. I got my first inkling of what intervalness instead of numberness really meant.
"For an insane period I was two people, both the same person and yet not a person--and even not two, or even one, but a 'something' that contained in the logical sense all of those, as a class contains the members of the class.
"Remember that I said I was making a little speech, sitting there, that assured Ford Gratrick and the members of the crew present in the room that we weren't going to risk landing, but get away in a couple of days.
"At the same time, while I was talking, I was experiencing this strange feeling. It was quite clear, for a few seconds. I was two Ren Gravenards, saying two different things. The two of me were very close. But while I talked they separated distinctly as the bank of the stream and the chunk are suddenly not one, but two.
"It was not me alone. Every man in that room was doing the same. The ship itself was doing it--and suddenly ..."
"Before anyone says something they might regret," Hugh Dunnam, the commander, said in a quiet warning voice, "get this straight, all of you. This is a government ship. I'm an officer of the Earth Space Fleet and my command is law. I have a right temporarily to promote any member of my crew to complete command of the ship with power equal to mine or even greater than mine. If Ren Gravenard says we go down, we go down even if it seems certain we'll all be killed. You have a choice of certain but honorable death, and equally certain but dishonorable death. Or you have a choice between an uncertain but honorable death if death it is, and certain but dishonorable death as a coward and a traitor. Let's not have any more thoughts of insubordination. You, Ford Gratrick, under a stricter commander, would already be on the way to the brig."