Barker came into the laboratory the next day with his eyes red-rimmed. His hands shook as he got into his undersuits.
Hawks walked up to him. “I’m glad to see you here,” he said awkwardly.
Barker looked up and said nothing.
Hawks said, “Are you sure you’re all right? If you’re not feeling well, we can cancel until tomorrow.”
Barker said, “Just stop worrying about me.”
Hawks put his hands in his pockets. “Well. Have you been to see the navigating specialists?”
“Were you able to give them a clear account of yesterday’s results?”
“They acted happy. Why don’t you wait until they get it digested and put the reports on your desk? What does it matter to you what I find up there? Just as long as I keep making distance, and don’t crack. Isn’t that right? You don’t care what happens to me; all I’m doing is blazing a trail so your smart technicians won’t trip over anything when they go up to there to take it apart, right? So what’s it to you, unless you lose me and have to go find a new boy, right? And how would you do that? How many people do you suppose Connington has plans for in the back of his head? Not plans that lead to this place, right? So why don’t you just leave me alone?”
“Barker—” Hawks shook his head. “No, forget it. There’s no use talking.”
“I hope you can stick to that idea.”
Hawks sighed. “All right. There’s one thing; this is going to go on day after day, now, astronomical conditions permitting. It won’t stop until you’ve come out the other side of the formation. Once we start, it’ll be difficult to interrupt our momentum. But if there’s ever a time when you’d like to take a break — get some rest, work on your cars; anything — if it’s at all possible, we’ll do it. We—”
Barker’s lips curled back. “Hawks, I’m here to do something. I intend to do it. It’s all I want to do. All right?”
Hawks nodded. “All right, Barker.” He took his hands out of his pockets. “I hope it doesn’t take too long to do.”
Hawks walked down the corridor until he came to the navigating section. He knocked, and stepped in. The men of the specialist team looked up, then went back to huddling over the large-scale map of the formation which occupied the twelve-foot-square table in the center of the room. Only the Coast Guard officer in charge came over to Hawks as the others patiently made marks on the large plastic sheet with bits of red chalk on the ends of long wooden pointers. One of them was standing at a tape recorder, his head cocked as he listened to Barker’s voice.
The voice was low and strangled. “I told you!” it was saying. “There’s a sort of blue cloud… and something that seems to be moving inside it. Not like something alive.”
“Yes, we have that,” a team member’s patient voice replied. “But how far from where you were standing on the white sand hill was it? How many steps?”
“It’s hard to say. Six or seven.”
“Uh-huh. Now, you say that was directly on your right, the way you were faced? All right, now, then what did you do?”
“I walked about six feet out onto this ledge, and turned left to follow it around that red spire. Then I—”
“Did you notice where the blue cloud was, in relation to you, as you made that turn?”
“I was looking back over my right shoulder at it.”
“I see. Would you turn your head to that angle, now, so I can get a better idea? Thank you. About twelve degrees from dead right. And it was still six or seven steps away in straight-line distance?”
The team member stopped the tape, ran it back, and began playing it again. He made a note on a work sheet.
The Coast Guard officer asked Hawks, “Can I help you with anything, Doctor? We’ll have all this written up and ready for you in a few hours. As soon as it’s done, we’ll shoot it right up to your office.”
Hawks smiled. “I didn’t come here to chivvy you along or get underfoot. Don’t worry, Lieutenant. I just wanted to know how it looks in general. Is he making enough sense to be of any help to you?”
“Doing fine, sir. His descriptions of things in there don’t agree with anything the other reports gave us — but then nobody seems to see the same things. What counts is that the hazards are always located in the same relative positions. So we know there’s something there, and that’s enough.” The lieutenant, a lean, habitually gloomy man, smiled. “And this is a lot better than trying to make sense out of a few scribbles from a slate. He’s given us a tremendous amount to work with, just in this one trip.” The lieutenant rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s kind of a relief. There was a while there when we were beginning to be pretty sure we’d be eligible for retirement before that thing—” he nodded toward the map — “got itself finished.”
Hawks smiled without amusement. “Lieutenant, if I weren’t able to make the phone call to Washington that I can make, this job would have been all finished right now.”
“Oh. I guess we’d better take good care of him, then.” The lieutenant shook his head. “I hope he lasts. He’s a little on the hard-to-get-along-with side, for us. But you can’t have everything. I guess if you’ve finally got a man who works out smoothly on the science part of this, that’s the main thing, even if it’s not all peaches and cream down here on the practical end. “
“Yes,” Hawks said. The man at the tape recorder shut the machine off, walked to the map table, tightened a piece of chalk in the socket of his pointer and, reaching out, made a delicate scarlet fleck-mark on the white plastic. He looked at it critically and then nodded with satisfaction.
Hawks nodded, too. He said, “Thank you, Lieutenant,” to the officer, and went up to his office.
That day, the elapsed time Barker was able to survive within the formation was raised to four minutes, thirty-eight seconds.
On the day that the elapsed time was brought to six minutes, twelve seconds, Connington came to see Hawks in his office.
Hawks looked up curiously from behind his desk. Connington walked slowly across the office. “Wanted to talk to you,” he mumbled as he sat down. “It seemed as if I ought to.” His eyes searched restlessly back and forth.
“Why?” Hawks asked.
“Well — I don’t know, exactly. Except that it wouldn’t feel right, just sort of letting it drop. There’s — I don’t know, exactly, what you’d call it, but there’s a pattern to life… Ought to be a pattern, anyhow: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Chapters, or something. I mean, there’s got to be a pattern, or how could you control things?”
“I can see that it might be necessary to believe that,” Hawks said patiently.
“You still don’t give an inch, do you?” Connington said.
Hawks said nothing, and Connington waited a moment, then let the matter drop. “Anyhow,” he said, “I wanted you to know I was leaving.”
Hawks sat back in his chair and looked at him expressionlessly. “Where are you going?”
Connington gestured vaguely. “East. I’ll find a job there, I guess.”
“Is Claire going with you?”
Connington nodded, his eyes on the floor. “Yes, she is.” He looked up and smiled desperately. “It’s a funny way to have it end up, isn’t it?”
“Exactly the way you planned it,” Hawks pointed out. “All but the part about eventually becoming company president.”
Connington’s expression set into a defiant grin. “Oh, I didn’t really figure it was as sure a thing as that. I just wanted to see what happened when I put some salt on your tail.” He stood up quickly. “Well, I guess that’s that. I just wanted to let you know how it all came out in the end.”
“Well, no,” Hawks said. “Barker and I are still not finished.”
“I am,” Connington said defiantly. “I’ve got my part of it. Whatever happens from now on doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
“Then you’re the winner of the contest.”
“Sure,” Connington said.
“And that’s what it always is. A contest. And then a winner emerges, and that’s the end of that part of everyone’s life. All right. Goodbye, Connington.”
“Goodbye, Hawks.” He turned away, and hesitated. He looked back over his shoulder. “I guess that was all I wanted to say.”
Hawks said nothing.
“I could have done it with a note or a phone call.” At the door, he said, “I didn’t have to do it at all.” He shook his head, puzzled, and looked to Hawks as if for an answer to a question he was asking himself.
Hawks said gently, “You just wanted to make sure I knew who the winner was, Connington. That’s all.”
“I guess,” Connington said unsurely, and walked slowly out.
The next day, when the elapsed time was up to six minutes, thirty-nine seconds, Hawks came into the laboratory and said to Barker, “I understand you’re moving into the city, here.”
“Who told you?”
“Winchell.” Hawks looked carefully at Barker. “The new personnel director.”
Barker grunted. “Connington’s gone East, someplace.” He looked up with a puzzled expression on his face. “He and Claire went out to get her stuff yesterday, while I was here. They smashed all those windows looking from the living room out on the lawn. I’ll have to have them all replaced before I can put the place up for sale. I never thought he was like that.”
“I wish you’d keep the house. I envy it.”
“That’s none of your business, Hawks.”
But, nevertheless, the elapsed time had been brought up to six minutes, thirty-nine seconds.
On the day that the elapsed time was brought up to seven minutes, twelve seconds, Hawks was in his office, tracing his fingertip down the crumpled chart, when his desk telephone rang.
He glanced aside at it with a ificker of his eyes, hunched his shoulders, and continued with what he was doing. His fingertip moved along the uncertain blue line, twisting between the shaded black areas, each marked with its instruction and relative time bearing, each bordered by its drift of red X’s, as if the chart represented a diagram of a prehistoric beach, where one stumbling organism had marked its labored trail up upon the littered sand between the long rows of drying kelp and other flotsam which now lay stranded under the lowering sky. He stared down raptly at the chart, his lips moving, then closed his eyes, frowned, repeated bearings and instructions, opened his eyes and leaned forward again.
The telephone rang once more, softly but without stopping. He tightened his hand into a momentary fist, then pushed The chart aside and took the handset off its cradle. “Yes, Vivian,” he said.
He listened, and finally said, “All right. Call the gatehouse, please, and clear Dr. Latourette for a visitor’s pass. I’ll wait for him here.” He put the telephone down and looked around at the bare walls of his office.
Sam Latourette knocked softly on the door and came in, his mouth quirked into a shy half-smile, his footsteps slow and diffident as he crossed the room.
He was wearing a rumpled suit and an open-throated white shirt without a tie. There were fresh razor nicks on the underside of his jaw and on his neck, as if he had shaved only a few minutes ago. His hair was carefully combed; still damp from. the water he had used on it, it lay in thick furrows with his scalp visible between them, as though someone had found an old papier-mache bust of him and from an impulse of old fondness, had refurbished it as well as was possible under the circumstances.
“Hello, Ed,” he said gently, extending his hand as Hawks got up quickly. “It’s been a while.”
“Yes. Yes it has. Sit down, Sam — Here; here’s the chair.”
“I hoped you could spare the time to see me,” Latourette said, sinking down. He looked up apologetically. “Things must be moving along pretty fast now.”
“Yes,” Hawks said, lowering himself into his own chair. “Yes, pretty much so.”
Latourette looked down at the chart, which Hawks had folded and put down on the far end of the desk. “It looks like I was wrong about Barker.”
“I don’t know.” Hawks moved a hand toward the chart, then withdrew it and put his hands back in his lap. “He’s making progress for us. I suppose that’s what counts.” He watched Latourette uncertainly, his eyes restless.
“You know,” Latourette said with that same embarrassed twist of his features, “I didn’t want that job with Hughes Aircraft. I thought I did. You know. A man — a man wants to keep working. Anyway, that’s what he’s supposed to want.”
“But you know I don’t get drunk. I mean, I — I just don’t, Oh, at a party, maybe. I used to. But not — Well, not because I’m mad and want to break things. I was never like that.”
Latourette laughed, swallowing the sound. “I guess I was just trying to tell myself I really was mad at you. You know — trying to make myself feel like some kind of tragic figure. No — no, I didn’t want to go to work. That’s all, I guess. What I really wanted was to just go and sit in the sun. I mean, my job here was finished, anyway — and you had to start breaking Ted Gersten in. Would have had to, sooner or later, anyhow.”
Hawks put his hands on the edge of his desk. “Sam,” he said steadily, “I don’t know to this day whether I did the right thing or not.” He said, “I panicked, Sam. I got scared, because Barker had gotten to me.”
Latourette said quickly, “That doesn’t mean you were wrong. Where would any of us be if we didn’t play a sudden hunch? Now and then, you have to move fast. You look back later, and you see that if you hadn’t, everything would have gotten to be too much to handle. The backs of our minds are smarter than we are, sometimes.” He pulled a cigarette out of his shirt pocket without looking down, his fingers plucking uncertainly into his pocket while he stared fixedly into the air, as if what he were saying had been thought out ahead of time, in some rehearsal of what he and Hawks would say to each other, and as if his actual attention was on something he was not yet sure he was ready to say.
“I’ll be going into a hospital tomorrow,” he went on. “It’s pretty much time for it. I mean, I could stay out a little while longer, but this way it’s over with. And, you know, I could stand to go on morphine… or whatever it is. It’s getting pretty itchy,” he said off-handedly. “And anyhow, the government sent a man around the other day. Didn’t outright tell me to do anything, but I think they’d be happier if I was someplace where it doesn’t matter what I say in my sleep.” He made a sophisticated grin. “You know. Big Brother.”
Hawks sat watching him.
“Anyhow—” Latourette waved a hand, unconscious of the cigarette he had been holding poised halfway to his lips ever since he had finally gotten it out of his pocket. “I’ll be out of circulation.” He looked down, said, “Oh,” and put the end of the cigarette in his mouth. Rapidly taking a pack of matches from his coat pocket and striking a light, he puffed vigorously, waved the match out and leaned forward to flip it into Hawks’ wastebasket, his face turned to concentrate on his attempt to hit the target. “So I was wondering if you might not think it a good idea to run off a dupe of me from my file tape. That way you could have me — I mean, you could have the dupe — around the lab, in case some help would be handy now and then. I mean, you’re so close to the climax of things, it might be handy to have me…” His voice trailed away. He watched Hawks out of the corner of his eye, blushing.
Hawks got up quickly and began readjusting the settings on the air-conditioning unit buried in the window behind his desk. The mechanical linkages to the control knobs were stiff, and thumped into their new positions with a corresponding metallic rattle from the dampers.
“Sam, you know your latest file tape is six months old. If we made a dupe of you from it, the dupe wouldn’t even know the procedure we’re using on the Moon shots now. He’d think it was April.”
“I — I know that, Ed,” Latourette said softly. “I didn’t say you should give him my old job back. But I knew I was going to be duped from tape sometime. I mean, I — the dupe — wouldn’t be surprised at what had happened. I’d thought about what it would be like. The dupe would be a trained man, and he’d understand the situation. He’d readjust quickly.”
“Would he readjust to working under Gersten?” Hawks turned around, his back pressed against the air conditioner. “It’s not a matter of his understanding or not understanding what had happened. It’s more than that. Look at it from his point of view. As far as he’d be concerned, one minute he’d been going into the transmitter for a scan as secondin-charge of the whole shooting match, and the next moment he’d be coming out of the receiver not just with six months gone by in an instant, not just with Gersten in charge over him, but with half a dozen other men in positions more crucial than his. All right — so he’d be you, he’d realize what had happened, he’d know he was a dupe. But would he feel it? How would you have felt, in April, if you’d gone in for that scan, knowing it was just routine stuff, that all that was going to happen was that a tape would be filed away and you’d go back to the rest of the day’s work. And then, when you came out, it wasn’t that way at all — the whole world had changed, and a hundred things had been done in ways you knew nothing about, and suddenly you were just another engineer, and even your old acquaintances didn’t know how to talk to you, and Gersten was embarrassed toward you, and a total stranger named Barker seemed to have some sort of special hostility reserved for you? Think about it, Sam. Because that’s exactly how the dupe would feel. And the biggest thing he’d feel would be the unfairness of it all. Sam — what do you want to do to yourself?”
Latourette said slowly, looking down at the floor, “To say nothing of not being able to understand what’s happened to Ed Hawks — except that somehow I’d made things harder for him, instead of easier.” He looked up. “My God, Ed, what’s happened to me? What am I doing to both of us? All I ever want to do was help you, and somehow it’s come out like this. I never should have come here today, Ed. I shouldn’t have done this last thing to you.”
“Why not?” Hawks wanted to know. “Don’t you have a moral right to work on something you put so much of yourself into? Doesn’t a dying man have any rights? Even the right to live through six months of cancer all over again?” He looked at Latourette. “You’ve thought about this. You’ve spent a lot of time on it. If I could expect an answer from anyone, it would be you: why can’t you get what’s due you?”
Latourette looked at him in distress. “Ed, I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Why not? All you did was panic, Sam. You felt things closing in on you, and you had to make a move. A man has to do something — he can’t just wait to sink out of sight.”
“No, I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Why not? Why can’t a man stand up and make a protest against the things that are sweeping over him? Why should a man be at the mercy of things that pay him no attention?”
Latourette got to his feet. “I’ve made it worse,” he said desperately. “I’ve piled another thing on you. I didn’t mean to. The only thing I can do is walk out of here right now. Please, Ed — try to get this out of your mind.” He walked quickly to the door, and stared at Hawks for one moment of incomprehension. “All I wanted at first was what was best for you. And then when I came here today, I still thought I wanted what was best for you. But I wanted something for myself, besides, and that ruined it. Somehow, it’s all ruined. How do people get into these things?” he asked blindly. “Where is it arranged?”
Hawks said bitterly, “Why can’t a man get what he deserves?”
“Ed, this is the worst thing I’ve ever done to you.”
“Perhaps it’s what I deserve. Sam, I wish—”
“Goodbye, Ed,” Latourette said, terrified, and walked out. Hawks sat down, his eyes closed, his hands making aimless, quick, twitching gestures over the surface of the chart.
Hawks walked across the laboratory floor toward the transmitter. Gersten stepped up to him unexpectedly and said, “I tried to get hold of you a little while ago. Your secretary said Sam Latourette was in your office, and was it anything that couldn’t wait.”
Hawks looked at him. Gersten’s face was pale. His lips were trembling.
Hawks said uncertainly, “I’m sony about that. Sometimes Vivian forgets the relative importance of things.” He peered at Gersten. “Was she impolite to you?” he asked with a puzzled frown.
“She was perfectly proper. And it wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait, under the circumstances.” Gersten started to turn away.
“Wait,” Hawks said. “What’s wrong?”
Gersten turned back. He began to speak, then changed his mind. He waited a moment, and asked quietly, “Am I still on the job?”
Hawks said, “Why shouldn’t you be?” Then his frown disappeared. “What made you think I wanted Sam back?” he asked slowly. He searched Gersten’s face. “I’ve always thought of you as a very confident man. You do a good job for me.” He put his palm behind his neck and stood kneading the rigid muscles with his fingertips. “As a matter of fact, I’d had the feeling that giving you more responsibility was something I probably should have done earlier. I’m — I’m sorry I didn’t have time to get to know you better, sooner.” He brought his hand down awkwardly, and shrugged. “That’s bound to happen, now and again. It’s always a shame when it happens to a good man. But I don’t know what else to say to you.”
Gersten bit his lip. “Do you mean all of that? I never know what’s in your mind.”
Hawks’ eyebrows rose. His lips twitched. “That’s a strange thing for you to say to me.”
Gersten shook his head in annoyance. “I don’t know what you mean by that, either. Hawks—” He brought his glance up. “This is the best job I ever had. It’s the most important job I ever had. I’m almost five years younger than you are. Whether I know this trade as well as you do is something else again. But assuming I do, what chance do you think I have of being where you are now, five years from now?”
Hawks frowned. “Well, I don’t know,” he said thoughtfully. “That depends, of course. Five years ago, I was beginning to fumble around the edges of this thing—” He nodded toward the equipment around them. “It happened to be something with possible military applications, so it got quite a boost. If it had been something else, it might not be as far along toward practicality. But that’s no criterion. What people will buy isn’t necessarily what’s best… if anything’s best.” He shrugged. “I just don’t know, Ted. If you’ve got some basically new idea you’re working out in your spare time, the way I was when I was with RCA, you might go pretty near anywhere with it.” He shrugged again. “That would be pretty much up to you.”
Gersten frowned at him. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry if I let myself get into a swivet over nothing, just now.” He smiled a quick, uncertain apology that disappeared. “I imagine you’ve got other things to think about besides cranky engineers. But—” He seemed to gather himself up. “When I enlisted in the Army during the war,” he said bluntly, “I applied for Officer Candidate’s School. I was interviewed by a temporary lieutenant who’d been a buck sergeant since the days when they were civilizing ’em with a Krag underneath the starry flag. He interviewed me, he filled in all the proper questionnaire spaces, and then he turned the form over, licked the end of his pencil again, and wrote down, ‘This candate seems to have language difficulties. This language difficulties would probly keep him from exercising proper command of troops.’ Then he turned the form around, so I could read the confidential appraisal he’d made. And that was that.” Gersten watched Hawks’ face very carefully. “What do you think of that?”
Hawks blinked. “What did the Army do with you, after that?”
“They sent me to electronics school at Fort Monmouth.”
“So you’re not sure you’d be here today, if it wasn’t for that?”
Gersten frowned. “I suppose so,” he said finally. “It’s not the way I’ve looked at it.”
“Well, I don’t know about you, Ted, but I would have made a terrible career officer in the Navy. I don’t suppose being in the Army would have improved matters.” He grimaced suddenly. “And let me worry about Sam Latourette.” Then he looked apologetically at Gersten. “Maybe after we’ve gotten over the hump with this project, we can get to know each other better.”
Gersten said nothing. He looked at Hawks as if he could not decide what expression to put on his face. Then he half shrugged and said, “What I wanted to speak to you about, earlier, was this business with the signal amplifier array. Now, it seems to me that if we—”
They walked away together, talking shop.
The day after the elapsed time was brought up to seven minutes, forty-nine seconds, the transmitter had to be shut down because the angle of shoot would have included too much of the Earth’s ionosphere. The maintenance crews set to work on their periodic rebuilding schedule. Hawks worked with them.
On the day they were able to shoot again, Barker came into the laboratory at the proper time.
“You look thinner,” Hawks said.
“You don’t look so hot yourself.”
On the day that the elapsed time was brought to eight minutes, thirty-one seconds, Benton Cobey called Hawks into his office for a conference.
Hawks came in, wearing a clean smock, looking carefully at the men around the conference table across the room from Cobey’s desk. Cobey stood up from his chair at the head of the table.
“Dr. Hawks, you know Carl Reed, our Comptroller,” he said, indicating the reserved, balding, raw-boned man who sat beside him, his ploughman’s hands lying relaxed atop each other on the sheaf of bookkeeping work sheets he had brought with him.
“How do you do?” Hawks said.
“Well, thank you. And you?”
“And this is Commander Hodge, of course,” Cobey said shortly, nodding toward the liaison naval officer who sat on his other side, his cap off and resting on the table, reflected in the glowing wood.
“Of course,” Hawks said with a faint smile which Hedge answered in kind. He walked to the end of the table opposite Cobey and sat down. “What’s the trouble?” he asked.
Cobey glanced aside at Reed. “We might as well get right to it,” he said.
Reed nodded. He leaned slightly forward, his fingertips advancing the work sheets in Hawks’ direction.
“These are the figures, here, on your laboratory equipment requisitions,” he said.
“Both for the original installation, and replacements over the past fiscal year.”
Hawks nodded again. He looked toward Cobey, who was sitting with his hands tented, his elbows on the table and his thumbs under his chin, looking over his fingertips down at the work sheets. Hawks glanced aside at Hedge, who was running the side of his right index finger up and down one cheek, his ice-blue eyes apparently vacant, their corners crinkled into habitual crows’ feet.
“Dr. Hawks,” Reed said, “in looking over these, it first occurred to me that we ought to be looking for ways to manage this business more economically, if possible. And then it seems to me that we have done so.”
Hawks looked at Reed.
Reed said, “Now, I’ve explained my idea to Mr. Cobey, and he agrees with me that it ought to be presented to you.”
Cobey’s mouth twitched.
“And so,” Reed finished, “we checked with Commander Hedge on whether the Navy would be willing to consider a change in operating procedure, provided it didn’t interfere with efficiency in any important way.”
Hedge said, still without seeming to devote any great part of his attention, “We don’t mind saving money. Especially when we’re not free to have the appropriation itemized at congressional hearings.”
No one said anything, and then Cobey broke out, “Well, are you willing to listen, Hawks?”
Hawks said, “Of course.” He looked around. “I’m sorry — I had no idea we were all waiting for me.” He looked at Reed. “Go ahead, please.”
“Well,” Reed said, looking down at his figures, “it occurs to me that a lot of this equipment is just more of the same. I mean by that, here’s an item for one hundred voltage dividers of a single type. And here’s another one for—”
“Yes. Well, a good deal of our equipment consists of one particular component or another, linked into a series of similar components.” Hawks’ head was cocked to one side, and his eyes were watchful. “We have to handle a great many basically similar operations simultaneously. There was no time to design components with the capacity to carry out these functions. We had to use existing electronic designs and make up for their comparatively low capacity by using a great many of them.” He paused for a moment. “It takes a thousand ants to carry away a cupful of sugar,” he said at last.
“That’s very apt, Hawks,” Cobey said.
“I was trying to explain—”
“Go ahead, Reed.”
“Well—” Reed leaned forward earnestly. “I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of ogre, Dr. Hawks. But, let’s face it, there’s a lot of money tied up in that equipment, and as far as I can see, there’s no reason why, if we’ve got a duplicating machine in the first place, we can’t just—” he shrugged — “run off as many copies as we need. I can’t see why they have to be built in our manufacturing division, or purchased from outside suppliers. Now, we’ve got a situation here where I can’t even calculate a fixed operating cost. And—”
“Mr. Reed,” Hawks said.
Reed stopped. “Yes?”
Hawks rubbed his face. “I appreciate your position. And I can see that what you’ve just proposed is completely reasonable, from that point of view. However—”
“All right, Hawks,” Cobey said drily. “Get to the ‘however.’ “
“Well,” Hawks said to Reed, “do you know the principles on which the scanner works — the duplicator?”
“Pretty roughly, I’m afraid,” Reed said patiently.
“Well, pretty roughly, the duplicator takes a piece of matter and reduces it to a systematic series of electron flows. Electricity. A signal, like the signal that comes out of a radio sending set. Now, that signal is fed into these components — the same way, you might say, that it came in from the antenna of a radio receiver and was passed into the circuit inside it. When it comes out the other end of the circuit, it doesn’t go into a loudspeaker but is retransmitted to the Moon, having meanwhile been cross-checked for its accuracy. Now that’s essentially what these components do — they inspect the signal for consistency. Now, the point is that the accuracy with which the original piece of matter is reconstructed — duplicated — depends on the consistency of the electron flows which arrive at the receiver. Therefore, if we were to use duplicated components to check the consistency of the signal with which we duplicate highly complicated objects, such as a living human being, we would be introducing an additional possibility for error which, in the case of a human being, works out higher than we can safely permit. Do you follow that?”
Cobey quirked his mouth up at one corner, looking down the table at Hawks.
Hedge picked up his cap and began adjusting the wire stiffening inside its white cover.
Finally, Reed said, “Is that all, Dr. Hawks?”
Reed shrugged in embarrassment. “Well, look,” he said, “I’m afraid I still don’t see it. I can see that maybe your original equipment couldn’t be duplicated, because your scanner wouldn’t work without it, but—”
“Oh, it would work without it,” Hawks interjected. “As I said, it’s a control circuit. It’s not primary.”
Reed put his hands down sharply and looked at Cobey. He shook his head.
Cobey took a deep breath and let it out bitterly. “What do you say, Commander?”
Hedge put his cap down. “I think what Dr. Hawks means is that if you have an automatic lathe making automatic lathes, and you use these automatic lathes you’ve made to make more lathes, all it takes is for one part in any one of these lathes to slip, and pretty soon you’ve got a zillion lathes that’re just so much junk.”
“Well, God damn it, Hawks, why couldn’t you put it that way?” Cobey demanded.
The day the elapsed time reached nine minutes, thirty seconds, Hawks said to Barker, “I’m worried. If your elapsed time grows much longer, the contact between M and L will become too fragile. The navigating team tells me your reports are growing measurably less coherent.”
“Let ’em try going up there, then. See how much sense they can make out of it.” Barker licked his lips. His eyes were hollow.
“That’s not the point.”
“I know what the point is. There’s another point. You can stop worrying. I’m almost out the other side.”
“They didn’t tell me that,” Hawks said sharply.
“They don’t know. But I’ve got a feeling.”
“Doctor, all that chart shows is what I tell it after I’ve done a day’s work. It has no beginning and no end, except when I put the end to it.” He looked around the laboratory, his face bitter. “All this plumbing, Doctor, and in the end it comes down to all revolving around one man.” He looked at Hawks. “One man and what’s in his mind. Or maybe two of us. I don’t know. What’s in your mind, Hawks?”
Hawks looked at Barker. “I don’t pry into your mind, Barker. Don’t set foot in mine. I have a telephone call to make.”
He walked away across the laboratory, and dialed an outside number. He waited for the answer, and as he waited, he stared without focusing at the old, familiar blank wall. Suddenly he moved in a spasm of action and smashed the flat of his free hand violently against it. Then the buzz in the earpiece stopped with a click, and he said eagerly, “Hello? Elizabeth? This — this is Ed. Listen — Elizabeth — Oh, I’m all right. Busy. Listen — are you free tonight? It’s just that I’ve never taken you to dinner, or dancing, or anything Will you? I—” He smiled at the wall. “Thank you.” He hung up the telephone and walked away. He looked back over his shoulder, and saw that Barker had been watching him, and he started self-consciously.