Turning to face the new voice, James said calmly, "You mean 'may not' which implies that I have asked your permission. Your statement is incorrect as phrased and erroneous when corrected."
He turned the knob and entered. Judge Carter sat at his desk with two men; their discussion ceased with the sound of the doorknob. The judge looked up in annoyance. "Hello, James. You shouldn't have come in here. We're busy. I'll let you know when I'm free."
"You'd better make time for me right now," said James angrily. "I'd like to know what's going on here."
"This much I'll tell you quickly. We're planning a political campaign. Now, please--"
"I know you're planning a political campaign," replied James. "But if you're proposing to campaign on the platform of a reform in education, I suggest that you educate your henchmen in the rudimentary elements of polite speech and gentle behavior. I dislike being ordered out of my room by usurpers who have the temerity to address me as 'hey kid'."
"Relax, James. I'll send them out later."
"I'd suggest that you tell them off," snapped James. He turned on his heel and left, heading for the cellar. In the workshop he found Professor White and Jack Cowling presiding over the machine. In the chair with the headset on sat the crowning insult of all: Paul Brennan leafing through a heavy sheaf of papers, reading and intoning the words of political oratory.
Unable to lick them, Brennan had joined them--or, wondered young Holden, was Judge Norman L. Carter paying for Brennan's silence with some plum of political patronage?
As he stood there, the years of persecution rose strong in the mind of James Holden. Brennan, the man who'd got away with murder and would continue to get away with it because there was no shred of evidence, no witness, nothing but James Holden's knowledge of Brennan's actions when he'd thought himself unseen in his calloused treatment of James Holden's dying mother; Brennan's critical inspection of the smashed body of his father, coldly checking the dead flesh to be sure beyond doubt; the cruel search about the scene of the 'accident' for James himself--interrupted only by the arrival of a Samaritan, whose name was never known to James Holden. In James rose the violent resentment of the years, the certain knowledge that any act of revenge upon Paul Brennan would be viewed as cold-blooded premeditated murder without cause or motive.
And then came the angry knowledge that simple slaughter was too good for Paul Brennan. He was not a dog to be quickly released from misery by a merciful death. Paul Brennan should suffer until he cried for death as a blessed release from daily living.
James Holden, angry, silently, unseen by the preoccupied workers, stole across the room to the main switch-panel, flipped up a small half-concealed cover, and flipped a small button.
There came a sharp Crack! that shattered the silence and re-echoed again and again through the room. The panel that held the repeater-circuit of the Holden Educator bulged outward; jets of smoke lanced out of broken metal, bulged corners, holes and skirled into little clouds that drifted upward--trailing a flowing billow of thick, black, pungent smoke that reached the low ceiling and spread outward, fanwise, obscuring the ceiling like a low-lying nimbus.
At the sound of the report, the man in the chair jumped as if he'd been stabbed where he sat.
"Ouyeowwww!" yowled Brennan in a pitiful ululation. He fell forward from the chair, asprawl on wobbly hands and knees, on elbows and knees as he tried to press away the torrent of agony that hammered back and forth from temple to temple. James watched Brennan with cold detachment, Professor White and Jack Cowling looked on in paralyzed horror. Slowly, oh, so slowly, Paul Brennan managed to squirm around until he was sitting on the floor still cradling his head between his hands.
James said, "I'm afraid that you're going to have a rough time whenever you hear the word 'entrenched'." And then, as Brennan made no response, James Holden went on, "Or were you by chance reading the word 'pedagogue'?"
At the word, Brennan howled again; the pain was too much for him and he toppled sidewise to writhe in kicking agony.
James smiled coldly, "I'm sorry that you weren't reading the word 'the'. The English language uses more of them than the word 'pedagogue'."
With remarkable effort, Brennan struggled to his feet; he lurched toward James. "I'll teach you, you little--"
"Pedagogue?" asked James.
The shock rocked Brennan right to the floor again.
"Better sit there and think," said James coldly. "You come within a dozen yards of me and I'll say--"
"No! Don't!" screamed Paul Brennan. "Not again!"
"Now," asked James, "what's going on here?"
"He was memorizing a political speech," said Jack Cowling. "What did you do?"
"I merely fixed my machine so that it will not be used again."
"But you shouldn't have done that!"
"You shouldn't have been using it for this purpose," replied James. "It wasn't intended to further political ambitions."
"But Judge Carter--"
"Judge Carter doesn't own it," said James. "I do."
"I'm sure that Judge Carter can explain everything."
"Tell him so. Then add that if he'd bothered to give me the time of day, I'd be less angry. He's not to be interrupted, is he? I'm ordered out of my room, am I? Well, go tell the judge that his political campaign has been stopped by a fourteen-year-old boy who knows which button to push! I'll wait here."
Professor White took off; Jack Cowling smiled crookedly and shook his head at James. "You're a rash young man," he said. "What did you do to Brennan, here?"
James pointed at the smoke curling up out of the panel. "I put in a destructive charge to addle the circuit as a preventive measure against capture or use by unauthorized persons," he replied. "So I pushed the button just as Brennan was trying to memorize the word--"
"Don't!" cried Brennan in a pleading scream.
"You mean he's going to throw a fit every time he hears the word--"
"No! No! Can't anybody talk without saying--Ouwwouooo!"
"Interesting," commented James. "It seems to start as soon as the fore-reading part of his mind predicts that the word may be next, or when he thinks about it."
"Do you mean that Brennan is going to be like the guy who could win the world if he sat on the top of a hill for one hour and did not think of the word 'Swordfish'? Except that he'll be out of pain so long as he doesn't think of the word--"
"Thing I'm interested in is that maybe our orator here doesn't know the definition thoroughly. Tell me, dear 'Uncle' Paul, does the word 'teacher' give--Sorry. I was just experimenting. Wasn't as bad as--"
Gritting his teeth and wincing with pain, Brennan said, "Stop it! Even the word 'sch-(wince)-ool' hurts like--" He thought for a moment and then went on with his voice rising to a pitiful howl of agony at the end: "Even the name 'Miss Adams' gives me a fleeting headache all over my body, and Miss Adams was on--ly--my--third--growww--school--Owuuuuoooo--teach--earrrrrrr--Owwww!"
Brennan collapsed in his chair just as Judge Carter came in with his white mane flying and hot fire in his attitude. "What goes on here?" he stormed at James.
"I stopped your campaign."
"Now see here, you young--"
Judge Carter stopped abruptly, took a deep breath and calmed himself with a visible effort to control his rage. "James," he said in a quieter voice, "Can you repair the damage quickly?"
"Yes--but I won't."
"And why not?"
"Because one of the things my father taught me was the danger of allowing this machine to fall into the hands of ruthless men with political ambition."
"And I am a ruthless man with political ambition?"
James nodded. "Under the guise of studying me and my machine," he said, "you've been using it to train speakers, and to educate ward-heelers. You've been building a political machine by buying delegates. Not with money, of course, because that is illegal. With knowledge, and because knowledge, education, and information are intangibles and no legality has been established, and this is all very legal."
Judge Carter smiled distantly. "It is bad to elevate the mind of the average ward-heeler? To provide the smalltime politician with a fine grasp of the National Problem and how his little local problems fit into the big picture? Is this making a better world, or isn't it?"
"It's making a political machine that can't be defeated."
"Think not? What makes you think it can't?"
"Pedagogue!" said James.
The judge whirled to look at Brennan. "What was--that?" asked the judge.
James explained what had happened, then: "I've mentioned hazards. This is what would happen if a fuse blew in the middle of a course. Maybe he can be trained out of it, and maybe not. You'll have to try, of course. But think of what would happen if you and your political machine put these things into schools and fixed them to make a voltage twitch or something while the student was reading the word 'republican'. You'd end up with a single-party system."
"And get myself assassinated by a group of righteously irate citizens," said Judge Carter. "Which I would very warmly deserve. On the other hand, suppose we 'treated' people to feel anguish at thoughts of murder or killing, theft, treason, and other forms of human deviltry?"
"Now that might be a fine idea."
"It would not," said Judge Carter flatly. James Holden's eyes widened, and he started to say something but the judge held up his hand, fingers outspread, and began to tick off his points finger by finger as he went on: "Where would we be in the case of enemy attack? Could our policemen aim their guns at a vicious criminal if they were conditioned against killing? Could our butchers operate; must our housewives live among a horde of flies? Theft? Well, it's harder to justify, James, but it would change the game of baseball as in 'stealing a base' or it would ruin the game of love as in 'stealing a kiss'. It would ruin the mystery-story field for millions of people who really haven't any inclination to go out and rob, steal, or kill. Treason? Our very revered Declaration of Independence is an article of Treason in the eyes of King George Third; it wouldn't be very hard to draw a charge of treason against a man who complained about the way the Government is being run. Now, one more angle, James. The threat or fear of punishment hasn't deterred any potential felon so far as anybody knows. And I hold the odd belief that if we removed the quart of mixed felony, chicanery, falsehood, and underhandedness from the human makeup, on that day the human race could step down to take its place alongside of the cow, just one step ahead of the worm.
"Now you accuse me of holding political ambition. I plead guilty of the charge and demand to be shown by my accuser just what is undesirable about ambition, be it political or otherwise. Have you no ambition? Of course you have. Ambition drove your folks to create this machine and ambition drove you to the fight for your freedom. Ambition is the catalyst that lifts a man above his fellows and then lifts them also. There is a sort of tradition in this country that a man must not openly seek the office of the Presidency. I consider this downright silly. I have announced my candidacy, and I intend to campaign for it as hard as I can. I propose to make the problem of education the most important argument that has ever come up in a presidential campaign. I believe that I shall win because I shall promise to provide this accelerated education for everybody who wants it."
"And to do this you've used my machine," objected James.
"Did you intend to keep it for yourself?" snapped Judge Carter.
"And when did you intend to release it?"
"As soon as I could handle it myself."
"Oh, fine!" jeered the judge sourly. "Now, let me orate on that subject for a moment and then we'll get to the real meat of this argument. James, there is no way of delivering this machine to the public without delivering it to them through the hands of a capable Government agency. If you try to release it as an individual you'll be swamped with cries of anger and pleas for special consideration. The reactionaries will shout that we're moving too fast and the progressives will complain that we aren't moving fast enough. Teachers' organizations will say that we're throwing teachers out of jobs, and little petty politicians will try to slip their political plug into the daily course in Civics. Start your company and within a week some Madison Avenue advertising agency will be offering you several million dollars to let them convince people that Hickory-Chickory Coffee is the only stuff they can pour down their gullet without causing stomach pains, acid system, jittery nerves, sleepless nights, flat feet, upset glands, and so on and on and on. Announce it; the next day you'll have so many foreign spies in your bailiwick that you'll have to hire a stadium to hold them. You'll be ducking intercontinental ballistic missiles because there are people who would kill the dog in order to get rid of the fleas. You'll start the biggest war this planet has ever seen and it will go on long after you are killed and your father's secret is lost--and after the fallout has died off, we'll have another scientific race to recreate it. And don't think that it can't be rediscovered by determined scientists who know that such a thing as the Holden Electromechanical Educator is a reality."
"And how do you propose to prevent this war?"
"By broadcasting the secret as soon as we can; let the British and the French and the Russians and the Germans and all the rest build it and use it as wisely as they can program it. Which, by the way, James, brings us right back to James Quincy Holden, Martha Bagley, and the immediate future."
"Yes. James, tell me after deliberation, at what point in your life did you first believe that you had the competence to enter the adult world in freedom to do as you believed right?"
"Um, about five or six, as I recall."
"What do you think now about those days?"
James shrugged. "I got along."
"Wasn't very well, was it?"
"No, but I was under a handicap, you know. I had to hide out."
"Well, if I had legal ruling, I wouldn't have to hide."
"Think you know everything you need to know to enter this adult world?"
"No man stops learning," parried James. "I think I know enough to start."
"James, no matter what you say, there is a very important but intangible thing called 'judgment'. You have part of it, but not by far enough. You've been studying the laws about ages and rights, James, but you've missed a couple of them because you've been looking for evidence favorable to your own argument. First, to become a duly elected member of the House of Representatives, a man must be at least twenty-five years of age. To be a Senator, he must be at least thirty. To be President, one must be at least thirty-five. Have you any idea why the framers of the Constitution of the United States placed such restrictions?"
"Well, I suppose it had to do with judgment?" replied James reluctantly.
"That--and experience. Experience in knowing people, in understanding that there might be another side to any question, in realizing that you must not approach every problem from your own purely personal point of view nor expect it to be solved to your own private satisfaction or to your benefit. Now, let's step off a distance and take a good look at James Quincy Holden and see where he lacks the necessary ingredients."
"Yes, tell me," said James, sourly.
"Oh, I intend to. Let's take the statistics first. You're four-feet eleven-inches tall, you weigh one-hundred and three pounds, and you're a few weeks over fourteen. I suppose you know that you've still got one more spurt of growth, sometimes known as the post-puberty-growth. You'll probably put on another foot in the next couple of years, spread out a bit across the shoulders, and that fuzz on your face will become a collection of bristles. I suppose you think that any man in this room can handle you simply because we're all larger than you are? Possibly true, and one of the reasons why we can't give you a ticket and let you proclaim yourself an adult. You can't carry the weight. But this isn't all. Your muscles and your bones aren't yet in equilibrium. I could find a man of age thirty who weighed one-oh-three and stood four-eleven. He could pick you up and spin you like a top on his forefinger just because his bones match his muscles nicely, and his nervous system and brain have had experience in driving the body he's living in."
"Could be, but what has all this to do with me? It does not affect the fact that I've been getting along in life."
"You get along. It isn't enough to 'get along.' You've got to have judgment. You claim judgment, but still you realize that you can't handle your own machine. You can't even come to an equitable choice in selecting some agency to handle your machine. You can't decide upon a good outlet. You believe that proclaiming your legal competence will provide you with some mysterious protection against the wolves and thieves and ruthless men with political ambition--that this ruling will permit you to keep it to yourself until you decide that it is time to release it. You still want to hide. You want to use it until you are so far above and beyond the rest of the world that they can't catch up, once you give it to everybody. You now object to my plans and programs, still not knowing whether I intend to use it for good or for evil--and juvenile that you are, it must be good or evil and cannot be an in-between shade of gray. Men are heroes or villains to you; but I must say with some reluctance that the biggest crooks that ever held public office still passed laws that were beneficial to their people. There is the area in which you lack judgment, James. There and in your blindness."
"Blindness," repeated Judge Carter. "As Mark Twain once said, 'When I was seventeen, I was ashamed at the ignorance of my father, but by the time I was twenty-one I was amazed to discover how much the old man had learned in four short years!' Confound it, James, you don't yet realize that there are a lot of things in life that you can't even know about until you've lived through them. You're blind here, even though your life has been a solid case of encounter with unexpected experiences, one after the other as you grew. Oh, you're smart enough to know that you've got to top the next hill as soon as you've climbed this one, but you're not smart enough to realize that the next hill merely hides the one beyond, and that there are still higher hills beyond that stretching to the end of the road for you--and that when you've finally reached the end of your own road there will be more distant hills to climb for the folks that follow you.
"You've a fine education, and it's helped you tremendously. But you've loused up your own life and the life of Martha Bagley. You two are a pair of outcasts, and you'll be outcasts until about ten years from now when your body will have caught up with your mind so that you can join your contemporaries without being regarded as a pair of intellectual freaks."
"And what should I have done?" demanded James Holden angrily.
"That's just it, again. You do not now realize that there isn't anything you could have done, nor is there anything you can do now. That's why I'm taking over and I'm going to do it for you."
"Yes!" snapped Judge Carter. "We'll let them have their courses in baton twirling and social grace and civic improvement and etiquette--and at the same time we'll give them history and mathematics and spelling and graduate them from 'high' school at the age of twelve or fourteen, introduce an intermediary school for languages and customs of other countries and in universal law and international affairs and economics, where our bookkeepers will learn science and scientists will understand commercial law; our lawyers will know business and our businessmen will be taught politics. After that we'll start them in college and run them as high as they can go, and our doctors will no longer go sour from the moment they leave school at thirty-five to hang out their shingle.
"As for you, James Holden, you and Martha Bagley will attend this preparatory school as soon as we can set it up. There will be no more of this argument about being as competent as an adult, because we oldsters will still be the chiefs and you kids will be the Indians. Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes sir. But how about Brennan?"
Judge Carter looked at the unhappy man. "You still want revenge? Won't he be punished enough just hearing the word 'pedagogue'?"
"For the love of--"
"Don't blaspheme," snapped the judge. "You'd hang if James could bring a shred of evidence, and I'd help him if I could." He turned to James Holden. "Now," he asked, "will you repair your machine?"
"And if I say No?"