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Robert A. Heinlein


  Robert A. Heinlein

  Robert A Heinlein


  The act was billed as ballet tap - which does not describe it

  His feet created an intricate tympany of crisp, clean taps. There was a breath-catching silence as he leaped high into the air, higher than a human being should - and performed, while floating there, a fantastically improbable entrechat douze

  He landed on his toes, apparently poised, yet producing a fortissimo of thunderous taps

  The spotlights cut, the stage lights came up. The audience stayed silent a long moment, then realized it was time to applaud, and gave

  He stood facing them, letting the wave of their emotion sweep through him. He felt as if he could lean against it; it warmed him through to his bones

  It was wonderful to dance, glorious to be applauded, to be liked, to be wanted

  When the curtain rang down for the last time he let his dresser lead him away. He was always a little bit drunk at the end of a performance; dancing was a joyous intoxication even in rehearsal, but to have an audience lifting him, carrying him along, applauding him - He never grew jaded to it. It was always new and heartbreakingly wonderful

  ‘This way, chief. Give us a little smile.' The flash bulb flared. ‘Thanks.

  ‘Thank'you. Have a drink.' He motioned towards one end of his dressing room. They were all such nice fellows, such grand guys - the reporters, the photographers - all of them

  ‘How about one standing up?' He started to comply, but his dresser, busy with one slipper, warned him: ‘You operate in half an hour.

  ‘Operate?' the news photographer said. ‘What's it this time?

  ‘A left cerebrectomy,' he answered. ‘Yeah? How about covering it?

  ‘Glad to have you - if the hospital doesn't mind.

  ‘We'll fix that.

  Such grand guys

  ‘-trying to get a little different angle on a feature article.

  It was a feminine voice, near his ear. He looked around hastily, slightly confused. ‘For example, what made you decide to take up dancing as a career?

  ‘I'm sorry,' he apologized. ‘I didn't hear you. I'm afraid it's pretty noisy in here.

  ‘I said, why did you decide to take up dancing?

  ‘Well, now, I don't quite know how to answer that. I'm afraid we would have to go back quite a way-

  James Stevens scowled at his assistant engineer. ‘What have you got to look happy about?' he demanded

  ‘It's just the shape of my face,' his assistant apologized. ‘Try laughing at this one: there's been another crash.

  ‘Oh, cripes! Don't tell me, let me guess. Passenger or freight?

  ‘A Climax duo-freighter on the Chicago-Salt Lake shuttle, just west of North Platte. And, chief-


  ‘The Big Boy wants to see you.

  ‘That's interesting. That's very, very interesting. Mac-

  ‘Yeah, chief.

  ‘How would you like to be Chief Traffic Engineer of North American Power-Air? I hear there's going to be a vacancy.

  Mac scratched his nose. ‘Funny that you should mention that, chief. I was just going to ask you what kind of a recom­mendation you could give me in case I went back into civil engineering. Ought to be worth something to you to get rid of me.

  ‘I'll get rid of you - right now. You bust out to Nebraska, find that heap before the souvenir hunters tear it apart, and bring back its deKalbs and its control board.

  ‘Trouble with cops, maybe?

  ‘You figure it out. Just be sure you come back.

  "With my slipstick, or on it." Stevens's office was located immediately adjacent to the zone power plant; the business offices of North American were located in a hill, a good three quarters of a mile away. There was the usual inter- connecting tunnel; Stevens entered it and deliberately chose the low-speed slide in order to have more time to think before facing the boss

  By the time he arrived he had made up his mind, but he did not like the answer

  The Big Boy, Stanley F. Gleason, Chairman of the Board greeted him quietly. ‘Come in, Jim. Sit down. Have a cigar.

  Stevens slid into a chair, declined the cigar and pulled out a cigarette, which he lit while looking around. Besides the chief and himself, there were present Harkness, head of the legal staff, Dr Rambeau, Stevens's opposite number for research, and Striebel, the chief engineer for city power. Us five and no more, he thought grimly- All the heavy- weights and none of the middleweights. Heads will roll!- Starting with mine

  ‘Well,' he said, almost belligerently, ‘we're all here. Who's got the cards? Do we cut for deal?

  Harkness looked faintly distressed by the impropriety; Rambeau seemed too sunk in some personal gloom to pay any attention to wisecracks in bad taste. Gleason ignored it. ‘We've been trying to figure a way out of our troubles, James. I left word for you on the chance that you might not have left.

  ‘I stopped by simply to see if I had any personal mail,' Stevens said bitterly. ‘Otherwise I'd be on the beach at Miami, turning sunshine into vitamin D.

  ‘I know,' said Gleason, ‘and I'm sorry. You deserve that vacation, Jimmie. But the situation has gotten worse instead of better. Any ideas?

  ‘What does Dr Rambeau say?

  Rambeau looked up momentarily. ‘The deKalb receptors can'tfail,' he stated

  ‘But they do

  '‘They can't. You've operated them improperly.' He sunk back into his personal prison

  Stevens turned back to Gleason and spread his hands. ‘So far as I know, Dr Rambeau is right, but if the fault lies in the engineering department, I haven't been able to locate it. You can have my resignation.

  ‘I don't want your resignation,' Gleason said gently. ‘What I want is results. We have a responsibility to the public.

  ‘And to the stockholders,' Harkness put in

  ‘That will take care of itself if we solve the other,' Gleason observed. ‘How about it, Jimmie? Any suggestions?

  Stevens bit his lip. ‘Just one,' he announced, ‘and one I don't like to make. Then I look for a job peddling magazine sub­scriptions.

  ‘So? Well, what is it?

  ‘We've got to consult Waldo.

  Rambeau suddenly snapped out of his apathy. ‘What! That charlatan? This is a matter of science.

  Harkness said, ‘Really, Dr Stevens-

  Gleason held up a hand. ‘Dr Stevens's suggestion is logicaL But I'm afraid it's a little late, Jimmie. I talked with him last week.

  Harkness looked surprised; Stevens looked annoyed as well. ‘Without letting me know?

  ‘Sorry, Jimmie. I was just feeling him out. But it's no good. His terms, to us, amount to confiscation.

  ‘Still sore over the Hathaway patents?

  ‘Still nursing his grudge.

  ‘You should have let me handle the matter,' Harkness put in. ‘He can't do this to us - There is public interest involved. Retain him, if need be, and let the fee be adjudicated in equity. I'll arrange the details.

  ‘I'm afraid you would,' Gleason said dryly. ‘Do you think a court order will make a hen lay an egg?

  Harkness looked indignant, but shut up

  Stevens continued, ‘I would not have suggested going to Waldo if I had not had an idea as to how to approach him. I know a friend of his-

  ‘A friend of Waldo? I didn't know he had any.

  ‘This man is sort of an uncle to him, his first physician. With his help I might get on Waldo's good side.

  Dr Rambeau stood up. ‘This is intolerable,' he announced. ‘I must ask you to excuse me.' He did not wait for an answer, but strode out, hardly giving the door time to open in front of him

  Gleason followed his departure with worried eyes. ‘Why does he take it so hard, Jimmie? You wo
uld think he hated Waldo personally.

  ‘Probably he does, in a way. But it's more than that; his whole universe is toppling. For the last twenty years, ever since Pryor's reformulation of the General Field Theory did away with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, physics has been con­sidered an exact science. The power failures and transmission failures we have been suffering are a terrific nuisance to you and to me, but to Dr Rambeau they amount to an attack on his faith. Better keep an eye on him.


  ‘Because he might come unstuck entirely. It's a pretty ser­ious matter for a man's religion to fail him.

  ‘Hm-m-m. How about yourself? Doesn't it hit you just as hard?

  ‘Not quite. I'm an engineer- From Rambeau's point of view just a high-priced tinker. Difference in orientation. Not but what I'm pretty upset.

  The audio circuit of the communicator on Gleason's desk came to life. ‘Calling Chief Engineer Stevens - calling Chief Engineer Stevens.' Gleason flipped the tab

  ‘He's here. Go ahead.

  ‘Company code, translated. Message follows: "Cracked up four miles north of Cincinnati. Shall I go on to Nebraska, or bring in the you-know-what from my own crate?" Message ends. Signed "Mac".

  ‘Tell him to walk back!' Stevens said savagely

  ‘Very well, sir.' The instrument cut off

  ‘Your assistant?' asked Gleason

  ‘Yes. That's about the last straw, chief. Shall I wait and try to analyse this failure, or shall I try to see Waldo?

  ‘Try to see Waldo.

  ‘OK. If you don't hear from me, just send my severance pay care of Palmdale Inn, Miami. I'll be the fourth beachcomber from the right.

  Gleason permitted himself an unhappy smile. ‘If you don't get results, I'll bç the fifth. Good luck.

  ‘So long.

  When Stevens had gone, Chief Stationary Engineer Striebel spoke up for the first time. ‘If the power to the cities fails,' he said softly, ‘you know where I'll be, don't you?

  ‘Where? Beachcomber number six?

  ‘Not likely. I'll be number one in my spot, first man to be lynched.

  ‘But the power to the cities can't fail. You've got too many cross- connects and safety devices.

  ‘Neither can the deKalbs fail, supposedly. Just the same, think about Sublevel 7 in Pittsburgh, with the lights out. Or, rather, don't think about it!

  Doc Grimes let himself into the aboveground access which led into his home, glanced at the announcer, and noted with mild, warm interest that someone close enough to him to pos­sess his house combination was inside. He moved ponderously downstairs, favouring his game leg, and entered the lounging room

  ‘Hi, Doc!' James Stevens got up when the door snapped open and came forward to greet him

  ‘H'lo, James. Pour yourself a drink. I see you have. Pour me one.


  While his friend complied, Grimes shucked himself out of the outlandish anachronistic greatcoat he was wearing and threw it more or less in the direction of the robing alcove. It hit the floor heavily, much more heavily than its appearance justified, despite its unwieldy bulk. It clunked

  Stooping, he peeled off thick overtrousers as massive as the coat

  He was dressed underneath in conventional business tights in blue and sable. It was not a style that suited him. To an eye unsophisticated in matters of civilized dress, let us say the mythical Man-from-Antares - he might have seemed uncouth, even unsightly. He looked a good bit like an elderly fat beetle

  James Stevens's eye made no note of the tights, but he looked with disapproval on the garments which had just been dis­carded. ‘Still wearing that fool armour,' he commented


  ‘Damn it, Doc - you'll make yourself sick, carrying that junk around. It's unhealthy.

  ‘Danged sight sicker if I don't.

  ‘Rats! 1 don't get sick, and I don't wear armour - outside the lab.

  ‘You should.' Grimes walked over to where Stevens had re­seated himself. ‘Cross your knees.' Stevens complied; Grimes struck him smartly below the kneecap with the edge of his palm. The reflex jerk was barely perceptible. ‘Lousy,' he remarked, then peeled back his friend's right eyelid

  ‘You're in poor shape,' he added after a moment. Stevens drew away impatiently. ‘i'm all right. It's you we're talking about.

  ‘What about me?

  ‘Well- Damnation, Doc, you're throwing away your repu­tation. They talk about you.

  Grimes nodded. ‘I know. "Poor old Gus Grimes - a slight touch of cerebral termites." Don't worry about my reputation; I've always been out of step. What's your fatigue index?

  ‘I don't know. It's all right.

  ‘It is, eh? I'll wrestle you, two falls out of three.' Stevens rubbed his eyes. ‘Don't needle me, Doc. I'm run­down. I know that, but it isn't anything but overwork.

  ‘Humph! James, you are a fair-to-middlin' radiation physicist - ‘Engineer.

  ‘-engineer. But you're no medical man. You can't expect to pour every sort of radiant energy through the human system year after year and not pay for it. It wasn't designed to stand it.

  ‘But I wear armour in the lab. You know that.

  ‘Surely. And how about outside the lab?

  ‘But- Look, Doc - I hate to say it, but your whole thesis is ridiculous. Sure there is radiant energy in the air these days, but nothing harmful. All the colloidal chemists agree-

  ‘Colloidal, fiddlesticks!

  ‘But you've got to admit that biological economy is a matter of colloidal chemistry.

  ‘I've got to admit nothing. I'm not contending that colloids are not the fabric of living tissue- They are. But I've main­tained for forty years that it was dangerous to expose living tissue to assorted radiation without being sure of the effect. From an evolutionary standpoint the human animal is habitu­ated to and adapted to only the natural radiation of the sun, and he can't stand that any too well, even under a thick blanket of ionization. Without that blanket- Did you ever see a solar-X type cancer?

  ‘Of course not.

  ‘No, you're too young. I have. Assisted at the autopsy of one, when I was an intern. Chap was on the Second Venus Expedition. Four hundred and thirty-eight cancers we counted in him, then gave up.

  ‘Solar-X is whipped.

  ‘Sure it is. But it ought to be a warning. You bright young squirts can cook up things in your labs that we medicos can't begin to cope with. We're behind - bound to be. We usually don't know what's happened until the damage is done. This time you've torn it.' He sat down heavily and suddenly looked as tired and whipped as did his younger friend

  Stevens felt the sort of tongue-tied embarrassment a man may feel when a dearly beloved friend falls in love with an utterly worthless person. He wondered what he could say that would not seem rude

  He changed the subject. ‘Doc, I came over because I had a couple of things on my mind-

  ‘Such as?

  ‘Well, a vacation for one. I know I'm run-down. I've been overworked, and a vacation seems in order. The other is your pal, Waldo.


  ‘Yeah. Waldo Farthingwaite-Jones, bless his stiff-necked, bad-tempered heart.

  ‘Why Waldo? You haven't suddenly acquired an interest in myasthenia gravis, have you?

  ‘Well, no. I don't care what's wrong with him physically. He can have hives, dandruff, or the galloping never-get-overs, for all I care. I hope he has. What I want is to pick his brains.


  ‘I can't do it alone. Waldo doesn't help people; he uses them. You're his only normal contact with people.

  ‘That is not entirely true-

  ‘Who else?

  ‘You misunderstand me. He has no normal contacts. I am simply the only person who dares to be rude to him.

  ‘But I thought- Never mind. D'you know, this is an incon­venient setup? Waldo is the man we've got to have. Why should it come about that a genius of his calibre should be so unapproachable, so immune to ordinary social deman
ds? Oh, I know his disease has a lot to do with it, but why should this man have this disease? It's an improbable coincidence.

  ‘It's not a matter of his infirmity,' Grimes told him. ‘Or, rather, not in the way you put it. His weakness is his genius, in a way-


  ‘Well-' Grimes turned his sight inward, let his mind roam back over his long association, lifelong, for Waldo, with this particular patient. He remembered his subliminal mis­givings when he delivered the child. The infant had been sound enough, superficially, except for a slight blueness. But then lots of babies were somewhat cyanotic in the delivery room. Nevertheless, he had felt a slight reluctance to give it the tunk on the bottom, the slap which would shock it into taking its first lungful of air

  But he had squelched his own feelings, performed the neces­sary ‘laying on of hands', and the freshly born human had de­clared its independence with a satisfactory squall. There was nothing else he could have done; he was a young GP then, who took his Hippocratic oath seriously. He still took it seri­ously, he supposed, even though he sometimes referred to it as the ‘hypocritical' oath. Still, he had been right in his feelings; there had been something rotten about that child, something that was not entirely myasthenia gravis.He had felt sorry for the child at first, as well as having an irrational feeling of responsibility for its condition. Pathologi­cal muscular weakness is an almost totally crippling condi­tion, since the patient has no unaffected limbs to retrain into substitutes. There the victim must lie, all organs, limbs, and functions present, yet so pitifully, completely weak as to be unable to perform any normal action. He must spend his life in a condition of exhausted collapse, such as you or I might reach at the finish line of a gruelling cross-country run. No help for him, and no relief

  During Waldo's childhood he had hoped constantly that the child would die, since he was so obviously destined for tragic uselessness, while simultaneously, as a physician, doing every­thing within his own skill and the skills of numberless consult­ing specialists to keep the child alive and cure it

  Naturally, Waldo could not attend school; Grimes ferreted out sympathetic tutors. He could indulge in no normal play; Grimes invented sickbed games which would not only stimu­late Waldo's imagination but encourage him to use his flabby muscles to the full, weak extent of which he was capable