The Senator looked blank for a second, then recognition came into his face. "Wendell, eh? After all this time. Poor chap; he'd have been better off if he'd died twenty years ago." Then he paused and looked up. "But just who are you, Mr. Camberton? And what makes you think I would be particularly interested in Paul Wendell?"
"Mr. Wendell wants to tell you that he is very grateful to you for having saved his life, Senator. If it hadn't been for your orders, he would have been left to die."
The Senator felt strangely calm, although he knew he should feel shock. "That's ridiculous, sir! Mr. Wendell's brain was hopelessly damaged; he never recovered his sanity or control of his body. I know; I used to drop over to see him occasionally, until I finally realized that I was only making myself feel worse and doing him no good."
"Yes, sir. And Mr. Wendell wants you to know how much he appreciated those visits."
The Senator grew red. "What the devil are you talking about? I just said that Wendell couldn't talk. How could he have said anything to you? What do you know about this?"
"I never said he spoke to me, Senator; he didn't. And as to what I know of this affair, evidently you don't remember my name. James Camberton."
The Senator frowned. "The name is familiar, but--" Then his eyes went wide. "Camberton! You were one of the eight men who--Why, you're the man who shot Wendell!"
Camberton pulled up an empty lawnchair and sat down. "That's right, Senator; but there's nothing to be afraid of. Would you like to hear about it?"
"I suppose I must." The old man's voice was so low that it was scarcely audible. "Tell me--were the other seven released, too? Have--have you all regained your sanity? Do you remember--" He stopped.
"Do we remember the extra-sensory perception formula? Yes, we do; all eight of us remember it well. It was based on faulty premises, and incomplete, of course; but in its own way it was workable enough. We have something much better now."
The old man shook his head slowly. "I failed, then. Such an idea is as fatal to society as we know it as a virus plague. I tried to keep you men quarantined, but I failed. After all those years of insanity, now the chess game begins; the poker game is over."
"It's worse than that," Camberton said, chuckling softly. "Or, actually, it's much better."
"I don't understand; explain it to me. I'm an old man, and I may not live to see my world collapse. I hope I don't."
Camberton said: "I'll try to explain in words, Senator. They're inadequate, but a fuller explanation will come later."
And he launched into the story of the two-decade search of Paul Wendell.
"Telepathy? Time travel?" After three hours of listening, the ex-President was still not sure he understood.
"Think of it this way," Camberton said. "Think of the mind at any given instant as being surrounded by a shield--a shield of privacy--a shield which you, yourself have erected, though unconsciously. It's a perfect insulator against telepathic prying by others. You feel you have to have it in order to retain your privacy--your sense of identity, even. But here's the kicker: even though no one else can get in, you can't get out!
"You can call this shield 'self-consciousness'--perhaps shame is a better word. Everyone has it, to some degree; no telepathic thought can break through it. Occasionally, some people will relax it for a fraction of a second, but the instant they receive something, the barrier goes up again."
"Then how is telepathy possible? How can you go through it?" The Senator looked puzzled as he thoughtfully tamped tobacco into his briar.
"You don't go through it; you go around it."
"Now wait a minute; that sounds like some of those fourth dimension stories I've read. I recall that when I was younger, I read a murder mystery--something about a morgue, I think. At any rate, the murder was committed inside a locked room; no one could possibly have gotten in or out. One of the characters suggested that the murderer traveled through the fourth dimension in order to get at the victim. He didn't go through the walls; he went around them." The Senator puffed a match flame into the bowl of his pipe, his eyes on the younger man. "Is that what you're driving at?"
"Exactly," agreed Camberton. "The fourth dimension. Time. You must go back in time to an instant when that wall did not exist. An infant has no shame, no modesty, no shield against the world. You must travel back down your own four-dimensional tube of memory in order to get outside it, and to do that, you have to know your own mind completely, and you must be sure you know it.
"For only if you know your own mind can you communicate with another mind. Because, at the 'instant' of contact, you become that person; you must enter his own memory at the beginning and go up the hyper-tube. You will have all his memories, his hopes, his fears, his sense of identity. Unless you know--beyond any trace of doubt--who you are, the result is insanity."
The Senator puffed his pipe for a moment, then shook his head. "It sounds like Oriental mysticism to me. If you can travel in time, you'd be able to change the past."
"Not at all," Camberton said; "that's like saying that if you read a book, the author's words will change.
"Time isn't like that. Look, suppose you had a long trough filled with supercooled water. At one end, you drop in a piece of ice. Immediately the water begins to freeze; the crystallization front moves toward the other end of the trough. Behind that front, there is ice--frozen, immovable, unchangeable. Ahead of it there is water--fluid, mobile, changeable.
"The instant we call 'the present' is like that crystallization front. The past is unchangeable; the future is flexible. But they both exist."
"I see--at least, I think I do. And you can do all this?"
"Not yet," said Camberton; "not completely. My mind isn't as strong as Wendell's, nor as capable. I'm not the--shall we say--the superman he is; perhaps I never will be. But I'm learning--I'm learning. After all, it took Paul twenty years to do the trick under the most favorable circumstances imaginable."
"I see." The Senator smoked his pipe in silence for a long time. Camberton lit a cigaret and said nothing. After a time, the Senator took the briar from his mouth and began to tap the bowl gently on the heel of his palm. "Mr. Camberton, why do you tell me all this? I still have influence with the Senate; the present President is a protege of mine. It wouldn't be too difficult to get you men--ah--put away again. I have no desire to see our society ruined, our world destroyed. Why do you tell me?"
Camberton smiled apologetically. "I'm afraid you might find it a little difficult to put us away again, sir; but that's not the point. You see, we need you. We have no desire to destroy our present culture until we have designed a better one to replace it.
"You are one of the greatest living statesmen, Senator; you have a wealth of knowledge and ability that can never be replaced; knowledge and ability that will help us to design a culture and a civilization that will be as far above this one as this one is above the wolf pack. We want you to come in with us, help us; we want you to be one of us."
"I? I'm an old man, Mr. Camberton. I will be dead before this civilization falls; how can I help build a new one? And how could I, at my age, be expected to learn this technique?"
"Paul Wendell says you can. He says you have one of the strongest minds now existing."
The Senator put his pipe in his jacket pocket. "You know, Camberton, you keep referring to Wendell in the present tense. I thought you said he was dead."
Again Camberton gave him the odd smile. "I didn't say that, Senator; I said they buried his body. That's quite a different thing. You see, before the poor, useless hulk that held his blasted brain died, Paul gave the eight of us his memories; he gave us himself. The mind is not the brain, Senator; we don't know what it is yet, but we do know what it isn't. Paul's poor, damaged brain is dead, but his memories, his thought processes, the very essence of all that was Paul Wendell is still very much with us.
"Do you begin to see now why we want you to come in with us? There are nine of us now, but we need the tenth--you. Will you come?"
"I--I'll have to think it over," the old statesman said in a voice that had a faint quaver. "I'll have to think it over."
But they both knew what his answer would be.
THE MEASURE OF A MAN.
By Randall Garrett
What is desirable is not always necessary, while that which is necessary may be most undesirable. Perhaps the measure of a man is the ability to tell one from the other ... and act on it.
Alfred Pendray pushed himself along the corridor of the battleship Shane, holding the flashlight in one hand and using the other hand and his good leg to guide and propel himself by. The beam of the torch reflected queerly from the pastel green walls of the corridor, giving him the uneasy sensation that he was swimming underwater instead of moving through the blasted hulk of a battleship, a thousand light-years from home.
He came to the turn in the corridor, and tried to move to the right, but his momentum was greater than he had thought, and he had to grab the corner of the wall to keep from going on by. That swung him around, and his sprained ankle slammed agonizingly against the other side of the passageway.
Pendray clenched his teeth and kept going. But as he moved down the side passage, he went more slowly, so that the friction of his palm against the wall could be used as a brake.
He wasn't used to maneuvering without gravity; he'd been taught it in Cadets, of course, but that was years ago and parsecs away. When the pseudograv generators had gone out, he'd retched all over the place, but now his stomach was empty, and the nausea had gone.
He had automatically oriented himself in the corridors so that the doors of the various compartments were to his left and right, with the ceiling "above" and the deck "below." Otherwise, he might have lost his sense of direction completely in the complex maze of the interstellar battleship.
Or, he corrected himself, what's left of a battleship.
And what was left? Just Al Pendray and less than half of the once-mighty Shane.
The door to the lifeboat hold loomed ahead in the beam of the flashlight, and Pendray braked himself to a stop. He just looked at the dogged port for a few seconds.
Let there be a boat in there, he thought. Just a boat, that's all I ask. And air, he added as an afterthought. Then his hand went out to the dog handle and turned.
The door cracked easily. There was air on the other side. Pendray breathed a sigh of relief, braced his good foot against the wall, and pulled the door open.
The little lifeboat was there, nestled tightly in her cradle. For the first time since the Shane had been hit, Pendray's face broke into a broad smile. The fear that had been within him faded a little, and the darkness of the crippled ship seemed to be lessened.
Then the beam of his torch caught the little red tag on the air lock of the lifeboat. Repair Work Under Way--Do Not Remove This Tag Without Proper Authority.
That explained why the lifeboat hadn't been used by the other crewmen.
Pendray's mind was numb as he opened the air lock of the small craft. He didn't even attempt to think. All he wanted was to see exactly how the vessel had been disabled by the repair crew. He went inside.
The lights were working in the lifeboat. That showed that its power was still functioning. He glanced over the instrument-and-control panels. No red tags on them, at least. Just to make sure, he opened them up, one by one, and looked inside. Nothing wrong, apparently.
Maybe it had just been some minor repair--a broken lighting switch or something. But he didn't dare hope yet.
He went through the door in the tiny cabin that led to the engine compartment, and he saw what the trouble was.
The shielding had been removed from the atomic motors.
He just hung there in the air, not moving. His lean, dark face remained expressionless, but tears welled up in his eyes and spilled over, spreading their dampness over his lids.
The motors would run, all right. The ship could take him to Earth. But the radiation leakage from those motors would kill him long before he made it home. It would take ten days to make it back to base, and twenty-four hours of exposure to the deadly radiation from those engines would be enough to insure his death from radiation sickness.
His eyes were blurring from the film of tears that covered them; without gravity to move the liquid, it just pooled there, distorting his vision. He blinked the tears away, then wiped his face with his free hand.
He was the only man left alive on the Shane, and none of the lifeboats had escaped. The Rat cruisers had seen to that.
They weren't really rats, those people. Not literally. They looked humanoid enough to enable plastic surgeons to disguise a human being as one of them, although it meant sacrificing the little fingers and little toes to imitate the four-digited Rats. The Rats were at a disadvantage there; they couldn't add any fingers. But the Rats had other advantages--they bred and fought like, well, like rats.
Not that human beings couldn't equal them or even surpass them in ferocity, if necessary. But the Rats had nearly a thousand years of progress over Earth. Their Industrial Revolution had occurred while the Angles and the Saxons and the Jutes were pushing the Britons into Wales. They had put their first artificial satellites into orbit while King Alfred the Great was fighting off the Danes.
They hadn't developed as rapidly as Man had. It took them roughly twice as long to go from one step to the next, so that their actual superiority was only a matter of five hundred years, and Man was catching up rapidly. Unfortunately, Man hadn't caught up yet.
The first meeting of the two races had taken place in interstellar space, and had seemed friendly enough. Two ships had come within detector distance of each other, and had circled warily. It was almost a perfect example of the Leinster Hypothesis; neither knew where the other's home world was located, and neither could go back home for fear that the other would be able to follow. But the Leinster Hypothesis couldn't be followed to the end. Leinster's solution had been to have the parties trade ships and go home, but that only works when the two civilizations are fairly close in technological development. The Rats certainly weren't going to trade their ship for the inferior craft of the Earthmen.
The Rats, conscious of their superiority, had a simpler solution. They were certain, after a while, that Earth posed no threat to them, so they invited the Earth ship to follow them home.
The Earthmen had been taken on a carefully conducted tour of the Rats' home planet, and the captain of the Earth ship--who had gone down in history as "Sucker" Johnston--was convinced that the Rats meant no harm, and agreed to lead a Rat ship back to Earth. If the Rats had struck then, there would never have been a Rat-Human War. It would have been over before it started.
But the Rats were too proud of their superiority. Earth was too far away to bother them for the moment; it wasn't in their line of conquest just yet. In another fifty years, the planet would be ready for picking off.
Earth had no idea that the Rats were so widespread. They had taken and colonized over thirty planets, completely destroying the indigenous intelligent races that had existed on five of them.
It wasn't just pride that had made the Rats decide to wait before hitting Earth; there was a certain amount of prudence, too. None of the other races they had met had developed space travel; the Earthmen might be a little tougher to beat. Not that there was any doubt of the outcome, as far as they were concerned--but why take chances?
But, while the Rats had fooled "Sucker" Johnston and some of his officers, the majority of the crew knew better. Rat crewmen were little short of slaves, and the Rats made the mistake of assuming that the Earth crewmen were the same. They hadn't tried to impress the crewmen as they had the officers. When the interrogation officers on Earth questioned the crew of the Earth ship, they, too, became suspicious. Johnston's optimistic attitude just didn't jibe with the facts.
So, while the Rat officers were having the red carpet rolled out for them, Earth Intelligence went to work. Several presumably awe-stricken men were allowed to take a conducted tour of the Rat ship. After all, why not? The Twentieth Century Russians probably wouldn't have minded showing their rocket plants to an American of Captain John Smith's time, either.
But there's a difference. Earth's government knew Earth was being threatened, and they knew they had to get as many facts as they could. They were also aware of the fact that if you know a thing can be done, then you will eventually find a way to do it.
During the next fifty years, Earth learned more than it had during the previous hundred. The race expanded, secretly, moving out to other planets in that sector of the galaxy. And they worked to catch up with the Rats.
They didn't make it, of course. When, after fifty years of presumably peaceful--but highly limited--contact, the Rats hit Earth, they found out one thing. That the mass and energy of a planet armed with the proper weapons can not be out-classed by any conceivable concentration of spaceships.
Throwing rocks at an army armed with machine guns may seem futile, but if you hit them with an avalanche, they'll go under. The Rats lost three-quarters of their fleet to planet-based guns and had to go home to bandage their wounds.
The only trouble was that Earth couldn't counterattack. Their ships were still out-classed by those of the Rats. And the Rats, their racial pride badly stung, were determined to wipe out Man, to erase the stain on their honor wherever Man could be found. Somehow, some way, they must destroy Earth.
And now, Al Pendray thought bitterly, they would do it.
The Shane had sneaked in past Rat patrols to pick up a spy on one of the outlying Rat planets, a man who'd spent five years playing the part of a Rat slave, trying to get information on their activities there. And he had had one vital bit of knowledge. He'd found it and held on to it for over three years, until the time came for the rendezvous.
The rendezvous had almost come too late. The Rats had developed a device that could make a star temporarily unstable, and they were ready to use it on Sol.
The Shane had managed to get off-planet with the spy, but they'd been spotted in spite of the detector nullifiers that Earth had developed. They'd been jumped by Rat cruisers and blasted by the superior Rat weapons. The lifeboats had been picked out of space, one by one, as the crew tried to get away.
In a way, Alfred Pendray was lucky. He'd been in the sick bay with a sprained ankle when the Rats hit, sitting in the X-ray room. The shot that had knocked out the port engine had knocked him unconscious, but the shielded walls of the X-ray room had saved him from the blast of radiation that had cut down the crew in the rear of the ship. He'd come to in time to see the Rat cruisers cut up the lifeboats before they could get well away from the ship. They'd taken a couple of parting shots at the dead hulk, and then left it to drift in space--and leaving one man alive.
In the small section near the rear of the ship, there were still compartments that were airtight. At least, Pendray decided, there was enough air to keep him alive for a while. If only he could get a little power into the ship, he could get the rear air purifiers to working.