"But you said it was telekinesis!"
"Sure. I just moved the molecules of pigment in the printing ink and reassembled them in the opposite cards. You didn't expect to feel molecular movement, did you?"
"No. Then it really happened?" I nodded. "What an incredible power!" she said. A glow of satisfaction spread over me. "Can you really test this molecular hypothesis?" she asked.
I told her of the hours of demonstrations I had made during the night. "The perception on scanning part of it goes on at some subconscious level, Shari," I said. "But we had evidence that it can be made completely conscious."
She shuddered and hugged her arms to herself. "I hate to say this to you," she said. "But you're a freak."
I took a deep breath and smiled. "Unique is the way the Grand Master puts it," I said, pleased with myself. "He says it has terrific possibilities." And then it hit me, that delicious thought that I was among the elect, that I always had been.
"What possibilities?" Shari demanded, recoiling from me. "Doing card tricks?"
"To name a few," I said. "They feel sure I can operate directly on the molecular chain in genes. This means we can alter heredity to suit ourselves. Next, why not rearrange the DNA molecule in a cancer? If you can change the genes in one cell, you can change them in another. Knock out the ability of cancerous cells to reproduce their own kind and the cancer disappears. A silly one: Maragon says I can be a one-man catalytic cracking station. Pipe a liquid through a tube within my TK range and I can make an equilibrium reaction run uphill as the stuff flows past me. How about a one-step operation to produce those rare drugs that now take forty-nine separate reactions?"
"This does have a significance for science," she admitted. "The genetic part is right down your alley. And it's not PC, is it?"
"Strictly TK," I told her. "You're the only PC in the family."
"Family?" She turned pink as I went around the desk after her. "I told you the answer was 'no.'"
"I have inside information," I said, pulling her to me. "One of the PC's up at the chapter house said this was what would happen."
She didn't fight my kiss more than a couple seconds. Then it was a pure case of self-preservation for me. This girl was a tiger. Looks can be awfully deceiving. But she broke away from me.
"Tex!" she gasped. "Stop, honey! Suppose somebody walks in."
"A PC like you never gets that kind of surprise," I lied valiantly.
"Am I?" she whispered. "Am I really a PC?"
"That's why you locked the door," I said. "Remember?"
DAMNED IF YOU DON'T.
By Randall Garrett
You can and you can't; You will and you won't. You'll be damn'd if you do; You'll be damn'd if you don't.
--LORENZO DOW; "Definition of Calvinism"
We've all heard of the wonderful invention that the Big Corporation or the Utilities suppressed...? Usually, that Wonderful Invention won't work, actually. But there's another possibility, too....
The workshop-laboratory was a mess.
Sam Bending looked it over silently; his jaw muscles were hard and tense, and his eyes were the same.
To repeat what Sam Bending thought when he saw the junk that had been made of thousands of dollars worth of equipment would not be inadmissible in a family magazine, because Bending was not particularly addicted to four-letter vulgarities. But he was a religious man--in a lax sort of way--so repeating what ran through his mind that gray Monday in February of 1981 would be unfair to the memory of Samson Francis Bending.
Sam Bending folded his hands over his chest. It was not an attitude of prayer; it was an attempt to keep those big, gorillalike hands from smashing something. The fingers intertwined, and the hands tried to crush each other, which was a good way to keep them from actually crushing anything else.
He stood there at the door for a full minute--just looking.
The lab--as has been said--was a mess. It would have looked better if someone had simply tossed a grenade in it and had done with it. At least the results would have been random and more evenly dispersed.
But whoever had gone about the wrecking of the lab had gone about it in a workmanlike way. Whoever had done the job was no amateur. The vandal had known his way about in a laboratory, that was obvious. Leads had been cut carefully; equipment had been shoved aside without care as to what happened to it, but with great care that the shover should not be damaged by the shoving; the invader had known exactly what he was after, and exactly how to get to it.
And he--whoever he was--had gotten his hands on what he wanted.
The Converter was gone.
Sam Bending took his time in regaining his temper. He had to. A man who stands six feet three, weighs three hundred pounds, and wears a forty-eight size jacket can't afford to lose his temper very often or he'll end up on the wrong end of a homicide charge. That three hundred pounds was composed of too much muscle and too little fat for Sam Bending to allow it to run amok.
At last, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let his tense nerves, muscles, and tendons sag--he pretended someone had struck him with a dose of curare. He let his breath out slowly and opened his eyes again.
The lab still looked the same, but it no longer irritated him. It was something to be accepted as done. It was something to investigate, and--if possible--avenge. But it was no longer something to worry about or lose his temper over.
I should have expected it, he thought wryly. They'd have to do something about it, wouldn't they?
But the funny thing was that he hadn't expected it--not in modern, law-abiding America.
He reached over to the wall switch to turn on the lights, but before his hand touched it, he stopped the motion and grinned to himself. No point in turning on the switch when he knew perfectly well that there was no power behind it. Still-- His fingers touched the switch anyway. And nothing happened.
He shrugged and went over to the phone.
He let his eyes wander over the wreckage as his right index finger spun the dial. Actually, the room wasn't as much of a shambles as it had looked on first sight. The--burglar?--hadn't tried to get at anything but the Converter. He hadn't known exactly where it was, but he'd been able to follow the leads to its hiding place. That meant that he knew his beans about power lines, anyway.
It also meant that he hadn't been an ordinary burglar. There were plenty of other things around for a burglar to make money out of. Unless he knew what it was, he wouldn't have gone to the trouble of stealing the Converter.
On the other hand, if he had-- "Police Department," said a laconic voice from the speaker. At the same time, the blue-clad image of a police officer appeared on the screen. He looked polite, but he also looked as though he expected nothing more than a routine call.
Bending gave the cop's sleeve a quick glance and said: "Sergeant, my name is Samson Bending. Bending Consultants, 3991 Marden--you'll find it in the phone book. Someone broke into my place over the weekend, and I'd appreciate it if you'd send someone around."
The sergeant's face showed that he still thought it was routine. "Anything missing, sir?"
"I'm not sure," said Bending carefully. "I'll have to make a check. I haven't touched anything. I thought I'd leave that for the detectives. But you can see for yourself what's happened."
He stepped back from the screen and the Leinster cameras automatically adjusted for the greater distance to the background.
"Looks like you had a visitor, all right," said the police officer. "What is that? A lab of some kind you've got there?"
"That's right," Bending said. "You can check it with the Register."
"Will do, Mr. Bending," agreed the sergeant. "We'll send the Technical Squad around in any case." He paused, and Sam could see that he'd pressed an alarm button. There was more interest in his manner, too. "Any signs that it might be kids?" he asked.
Sam shrugged. "Hard to tell. Might be. Might not." He knew good and well that it wasn't a JD gang that had invaded his lab. He grinned ingratiatingly. "I figure you guys can tell me more about that than I could tell you."
The sergeant nodded. "Sure. O.K., Mr. Bending; you just hold on. Don't touch anything; we'll have a copter out there as soon as we can. O.K.?"
"O.K.," Sam agreed. He cut off as the cop's image began to collapse.
Sam Bending didn't obey the cop's order to touch nothing. He couldn't afford to--not at this stage of the game. He looked over everything--the smashed oscilloscopes, the overturned computer, the ripped-out meters--everything. He lifted a couple of instruments that had been toppled to the floor, raising them carefully with a big screwdriver, used as a lever. When he was through, he was convinced that he knew exactly who the culprit was.
Oh, he didn't know the name of the man, or men, who had actually committed the crime. Those things were, for the moment, relatively unimportant. The police might find them, but that could wait. The thing that was important was that Bending was certain within his own mind who had paid to have the lab robbed.
Not that he could make any accusations to the police, of course. That wouldn't do at all. But he knew. He was quite certain.
He left the lab itself and went into the outer rooms, the three rooms that constituted the clients' waiting room, his own office, and the smaller office of Nita Walder, the girl who took care of his files and correspondence.
A quick look told him that nothing in the offices had been disturbed. He shrugged his huge shoulders and sat down on the long couch in the waiting room.
Much good it may do them, he thought pleasantly. The Converter won't be worth the stuff it's made of if they try to open it.
He looked at the clock on the wall and frowned. It was off by five hours. Then he grinned and looked at his wrist watch. Of course the wall clock was Off. It had stopped when the power had been cut off. When the burglars had cut the leads to the Converter, everything in the lab had stopped.
It was eight seventeen. Sam Bending lit a cigarette and leaned back to wait for the cops. United States Power Utilities, Monopolated, had overstepped themselves this time.
Bending Consultants, as a title for a business, was a little misleading because of the plural ending of the last word. There was only one consultant, and that was Samson Francis Bending. His speciality was the engineering design of atomic power plants--both the old fashioned heavy-metal kind and the newer, more elegant, stellarators, which produced power by hydrogen-to-helium conversion.
Bending made good money at it. He wasn't a millionaire by any means, but he had enough money to live comfortably on and enough extra to experiment around on his own. And, primarily, it had always been the experimentation that had been the purpose of Bending Consultants; the consulting end of the business had always been a monetary prop for the lab itself. His employees--mostly junior engineers and engineering draftsmen--worked in the two-story building next door to the lab. Their job was to make money for the company under Bending's direction while Bending himself spent as much time as he could fussing around with things that interested him.
The word "genius" has several connotations, depending on how one defines a genius. Leaving aside the Greek, Roman and Arabic definitions, a careful observer will find that there are two general classes of genius: the "partial" genius, and the "general" genius. Actually, such a narrow definition doesn't do either kind justice, but defining a human being is an almost impossible job, anyway, so we'll have to do the best we can with the tools we have to work with.
The "partial" genius follows the classic definition. "A genius is a man with a one-track mind; an idiot has one track less." He's a real wowser at one class of knowledge, and doesn't know spit about the others.
The "general" genius doesn't specialize. He's capable of original thought in any field he works in.
The trouble is that, because of the greater concentration involved, the partial genius usually gets more recognition than the general--that is, if he gets any recognition at all. Thus, the mathematical and optical work of Sir Isaac Newton show true genius; his theological and political ideas weren't worth the paper he wrote them on. Similar accusations might be leveled against Albert Einstein--and many others.
The general genius isn't so well known because he spreads his abilities over a broad area. Some--like Leonardo da Vinci--have made a name for themselves, but, in general, they have remained in the background.
Someone once defined a specialist as "a man who learns more and more about less and less until he finally knows everything about nothing." And there is the converse, the general practitioner, who knows "less and less about more and more until he finally knows nothing about everything."
Both types can produce geniuses, and there is, of course, a broad spectrum in between. Da Vinci, for instance, became famous for his paintings; he concentrated on that field because he knew perfectly well that his designs for such things as airplanes were impracticable at the time, whereas the Church would pay for art.
Samson Bending was a genius, granted; but he was more toward the "special" than the "general" side of the spectrum. His grasp of nuclear physics was far and away beyond that of any other scientist of his day; his ability to handle political and economic relationships was rather feeble.
As he sat in his waiting room on that chill day of February, 1981, his mind was centered on nuclear physics, not general economics. Not that Bending was oblivious to the power of the Great God Ammon; Bending was very fond of money and appreciated the things it could achieve. He simply didn't appreciate the over-all power of Ammon. At the moment, he was brooding darkly over the very fact of existence of Power Utilities, and trying to figure out a suitable rejoinder to their coup de demon.
And then he heard the whir of helicopter blades over the building. The police had come.
He opened the door of the lab building as they came up the steps. There were two plainclothes men--the Technical Squad, Bending knew--and four uniformed officers.
The plainclothesman in the lead, a tall, rather thin man, with dark straight hair and a small mustache, said: "Mr. Bending? I'm Sergeant Ketzel. Mind if the boys take a look at the scene? And I'd like to ask a few questions?"
"Fine," said Sam Bending. "Come on in."
He showed the officers to the lab, and telling them nothing, left them to their work. Then he went into his office, followed by Sergeant Ketzel. The detective took down all the pertinent data that Bending chose to give him, and then asked Bending to go with him to the lab.
The other plainclothesman came up to Sergeant Ketzel and Bending as they entered. "Pretty easy to see what happened," he said. "Come on over and take a look." He led them over to the wall where the Converter had been hidden.
"See," he said, "here's your main power line coming in here. It's been burned off. They shut off the power to cut off the burglar alarm to that safe over there."
Ketzel shook his head slowly, but said nothing for the moment. He looked at Bending. "Has the safe been robbed?"
"I don't know," Bending admitted. "I didn't touch it after I saw all this wreckage."
Ketzel told a couple of the uniformed men to go over the safe for evidence. While they waited, Bending looked again at the hole in the wall where the Converter had been. And it suddenly struck him that, even if he had reported the loss of the Converter to the police, it would be hard to prove. The thief had taken care to burn off the ends of the old leads that had originally come into the building. Bending himself had cut them a week before to install the Converter. Had they been left as they were, Bending could have proved by the oxidation of the surface that they had been cut a long time before the leads on this side of the Converter. But both had been carefully fused by a torch.
"Nothing on the safe," said one of the officers. "No prints, at any rate. Micros might show glove or cloth traces, but--" He shrugged.
"Would you mind opening the safe, Mr. Bending?" Sergeant Ketzel asked.
"Certainly," Bending said. He wondered if the safe had been robbed. In the certainty that it was only the Converter that the burglars had been after, he hadn't even thought about the safe.
Bending touched the handle, turned it a trifle, and the door swung open easily in his hand. "It wasn't even locked," Bending said, almost to himself.
He looked inside. The safe had been thoroughly gone through, but as far as Bending could see, there were no papers missing.
"Don't touch anything in there, Mr. Bending," said Ketzel, "Just tell us as much as you can by looking at it."
"The papers have been disturbed," Bending said carefully, "but I don't think anything is missing, except the petty cash box."