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Babel II

The new Assistant Secretary of State doubtfully eased along the row of seats in the big dim room, and settled scowlingly into a chair beside the well-known Kremlinologist.

"Damn it, Bill," growled the Assistant Secretary, "if I'd known this was where you got your inside information—"

"Sh-h," said the Kremlinologist, raising a finger. "We're about to start."

At the front of the room, under a single clear light, Madame Sairo signaled to her assistants.

The room's overhead lights dimmed further. A blond boy dressed all in white rolled out on heavy casters a thing that at first glance looked like a big globe of the world set in a large holder, but on closer examination turned out to be a crystal ball about two feet thick.

Madame Sairo adjusted the big crystal, and took her seat.

The room fell silent. The Kremlinologists, the Far East experts, and the Government economists leaned forward attentively.

Madame Sairo gazed intently at the crystal, her mind focused on the question of the evening. For some time, however, she got nowhere, and when the mists finally did began to shred away, the scene that formed did not seem to be right. Frowning, she watched the unfamiliar man at the desk.


Elias Polk, trying to extract the sense of this latest report on the Esmer Drive, was stuck again on the section reading:

" . . . difficulty remains in the suffluxion of the tantron stream, and resultant violent node-regression. Yet any other approach obviously requires consideration of Hasebrouck's theory of complex particle-interaction . . ."

Polk's train of thought each time went off the track at that word "obviously." Why did any other approach obviously require consideration of Hasebrouck's theory?

Polk flipped on through the report.

There followed five pages of Hasebrouck's del, ro-del, and pi-del equations, and then it all ended up with the words:

" . . . therefore, we unequivocally recommend construction of the 175-TEV tangential accelerator."

That followed from consideration of Hasebrouck's equations, and Hasebrouck's equations came in because "any other approach obviously requires consideration of Hasebrouck's theory . . ."

Why was it obvious?

Polk looked up exasperatedly at the reversed letters on the glass of the door, from long familiarity reading them as easily as someone in the hall outside:

J. Elias Polk


Polk squinted at the report, tossed it down, picked up some papers, and thumbed through them. He settled back, scowling.

The estimated cost of that accelerator was seventy-two billion, over nine years. But with that for the original estimate, the true cost would probably run well above a hundred billion, and it would take twelve years.

Even then, no one could be sure that would give them enough information to eventually straighten out the difficulty.

Polk glanced back at the report.

" . . . obviously any other approach requires consideration of Hasebrouck's . . ."

Frowning, Polk reached for the phone.


As the scene faded, Madame Sairo sat back blankly. Just what did that have to do with anything? What her clients wanted to know—

But there, a new scene was forming. She leaned forward hopefully.


The door opened, and Marcus Flint stepped out into the hall, the sheets of calculations and charts with their pretty colored lines clutched in his hand. He strode down the hall, and threw open a second door without knocking.

"Are you out of your head, Peters? What do you think I'm running here, a market report or an obituary column?"

Peters adjusted his thick lenses and set his jaw. "Our computer analysis showed the projected OJDA taking a nose dive through the TL, with our PF matrix-model running out of steam before the year is out. We're in for a depression that could jar your teeth, MF."

"Nuts. With this big spending for space projects—"

"That spending for space projects is increasing on our Chart III, there, to the point where it overshoots the stimulus role, and turns into a drain, pure and simple. Especially when you consider that Chart IV shows external and internal unidirectional cycle flow—"

"Will you, for God's sake—" Flint caught himself. "Look, I'll grant your expertise. Spare me this jargon, will you? What is external and internal unidirectional cycle flow?"

"Value tokens in unidirection circulation, external or internal to the national economy, unaccompanied by a reverse flow of actual-value services or goods, either essential, marginal, or redundant."

"Unearned money? Giveaway programs?"

Peters blinked. "Well—Yes, I suppose you could put it that way."

"All right, what about unearned money?"

Peters started to speak, hesitated, and shook his head. "I can't use that term 'unearned money.' It has extraneous moral connotations. The moral connotations block consideration of the purely economic factors per se."

"All right," snarled Flint. "Then what about this cycle flow?"

"We have a serious maladjustment of the reverse flow of actual-value units. Deferred payment of value tokens for actual-value units is not presently serious in itself. However, this continuing increase in the flow of value tokens with neither past, present, nor future correlated return flow of actual-value units creates an imbalance in the circuit flow, and that is serious."

Flint grappled with the statement, and finally quoted, "'This grasping after unearned money will in time wreck the country.' I think Abraham Lincoln said that."

"He did?" Peters blinked, then squirmed uneasily. "But that term 'unearned money' implies a—"

"All right," snarled Flint, "'unidirectional cycle flow.' Have it your own way. The point is, this projection of yours is so drastic no one will believe it. Its value, therefore, is nil. Moreover, jargon is great for mystifying people and impressing them with your expertise. But you've already accomplished that. It's a good idea to occasionally say something someone can understand, so he'll keep listening in hopes it will happen again. You've got this special lingo—"

Peters said stiffly, "Precise terminology is necessary, in order to express the special economic forces and relationships operative in the economy."

"You're carrying it too far. Nobody can understand it but you and a few other analysts who happen to use the same approach. Translate the final results into plain English."

Peters looked horrified. "That's as absurd as a surgeon trying to explain a complicated operation to a layman, using no special terms. What could he say? 'I got a knife out and slit his stomach open. Then I clamped the skin and muscle back out of the way, and went in after his append . . . this bag of—'"

Flint nodded. "That's the idea."

"But all the fine points would be lost! The expert would have to skip every detail that the layman lacked the knowledge to understand." Peters shook his head positively. "No. The only way to get the actual facts across is for the layman to study the matter until he acquires enough facts to understand the expert's explanation."

Marcus Flint leaned forward, the knuckles of his hand resting on the desktop.

"Doesn't it dawn on you that experts are proliferating like rabbits in this country? Just exactly where is any layman going to get the time to study fifteen hundred different specialties so he can figure out what all these experts are talking about?"

Peters spread his hands. "That isn't my problem. Don't blame me. I didn't make the world."


Madame Sairo sat back blankly. As the scene faded, she found herself like a pearl diver who surfaces with a few odd-shaped pebbles and no pearls. What was wrong?

But even as she groped for the cause of the trouble, a new scene was forming.

Ah, now, this looked more hopeful.

"Yes," she said quietly, "I have it. This is a distant land, and they are building. It is a tall structure—"

The Kremlinologists and Pekingologists leaned forward intently. The government economists looked shrewd.

The new Assistant Secretary growled, "Took her long enough."

"Sh-h," said his neighbors.

" . . . Yes," Madame Sairo was saying, "this is a tower of some kind. It is a very ambitious project, but this nation is great. It is—"

Someone murmured, "China?"

Another whispered, "A new atom-test project?"

The Assistant Secretary stared around in disbelief, trying to pick out faces in the gloom so he would know in the future whose advice had come out of this crystal ball.

Madame Sairo jerked back suddenly from the globe. She gestured imperiously.

The overhead lights came on.

She looked around the tensely quiet room, her expression serious.

"Gentlemen, I am afraid I must ask you to be very patient. You wish me to examine the next great world crisis. But there seems to be some difficulty here. I have been in contact with some events that appear irrelevant, and then with what apparently was a great past world crisis. Conceivably there is interference of some kind here. Or possibly some symbolism I do not yet understand. If you will be patient, I will try again."

Her audience quietly settled back.

The room lights dimmed.

In the crystal, a new scene seemed to swim into view.

But this seemed to be just a man and a boy, glaring at each other.

Patiently, Madame Sairo leaned forward.


Sumner Maddox said exasperatedly, "You look at the lives of outstanding men who've really succeeded in a big way, and you'll find that most of them got an early start. Now, I'm not trying to force you to decide what you want to do with your life. But you've got to decide for yourself, one way or the other, and pick something."

"But I can't decide," said Roger Maddox, looking baffled. "There just doesn't seem to be anything—It's all hazy. There's just nothing I want to—"

The elder Maddox grimaced. "Listen. Without half your opportunities or advantages your great-grandfather had already learned a trade and was making a living at your age. Now, no one expects you to do the same. Your generation can go to school till they're twenty-six, and—"

Roger Maddox abruptly flared up. "I won't go to school till I'm twenty-six!"

Sumner Maddox said placatingly, "I didn't say you would. I say you could. Anyway, that's a long way off. But you still have to decide—"

There was a brief tense silence.

The younger Maddox stared at a distant corner of the room. "Wait a minute. I see what's wrong. It used to be, that when someone was growing up, day after day he saw grown people at work. In Great-Granddad's day, you could watch what different people did, see with your own eyes how they lived, and what their work was good for. Then you could decide what you wanted to do, because you knew what the choices were. It was like stopping at a crossroads to decide which of three or four different towns to go to, when you'd already seen the towns, and knew what they were like. But now—Now it's like stopping at a crossroads to decide which of a hundred and seventeen different cities to go live in, when you never really had a good first-hand look at any of them before."

The elder Maddox frowned. "Well . . . you've got a point there. That's because things are more complex now. Each special type of work is harder to understand, there are more specialties to consider, and the grown-ups work in one place while the children are in school somewhere else. It's got to be that way, but—" He paused exasperatedly. "Now, how the deuce do we get around this? Let's see—"


The scene faded out. Before there was time to even try to evaluate it, another scene formed, and there were two men in uniform, in an office with a photograph of a long gray ship on one wall, and a photograph of what was apparently some kind of submarine on another wall.

Admiral Bendix ran his gaze down the list of officers and shook his head.

"I know every one of these men, and not one of them is fitted. For captain of the Constitution, we need someone exceptional. He has to have outstanding capabilities as a leader of men, plus unusual ability in all the skills of ship-handling. On top of that we need someone with the technical know-how to comprehend the ship's drive, so that he can get the most out of it and the technicians who handle it."

Admiral Hart leaned back, his hands clasped behind his head.

"We may need three men for captain, in other words."

"It has to be one man. The knowledge has got to be in one head when the clinch comes, because every bit of it is crucial. How can you decide, when you lack the knowledge to evaluate the factors involved? The captain has to make the decisions, and while he certainly doesn't have to know everything, he has got to understand the ship, the men, and the ship's drive. Unless he has the knowledge himself, he can't make the decisions."

Hart shook his head.

"We aren't going to find one man with all those skills."

"We've got to have one man with all those skills. He has to understand the technical limitations of the ship, and he can only do that if he understands the drive."

Admiral Hart sat up and looked Admiral Bendix in the eye.

"Do you understand the drive?"

Admiral Bendix looked flatly back.

"No. Do you?"


"But we aren't going to command this ship. Whoever does—"

Admiral Hart waved his head irritatedly. "Look, to honestly understand that drive, you'd have had to start at about age twelve, and follow just the right course of study ever since. But you'd have had to follow it by luck or by predestination, because at that time, back when you'd have had to start, nobody knew this drive could be built. Did you ever look in any of those books? Did you ever try to talk to any of the people working on the project? And in about fifteen years, the thing may be obsolete." He lowered his voice. "I hear the Esmer Drive is going great guns. Who understands that?"

Admiral Bendix put the list down in disgust. "I suppose it wouldn't be too soon to start looking for one right now."

Hart nodded soberly. "But this still doesn't find us a man for the Constitution."

Exasperatedly, the two men went through the list again.


Elias Polk was staring at the man across the desk. "Damn it, can't you explain your reasoning any better than that? You want the country to put a hundred billion dollars into something you can't even explain?"

"How do I explain it to you when you don't understand the concepts involved? Once you understand those concepts, the solution is intuitive. I know the answer the same way I know where water will come out when I tip a pitcher. It's obvious."


Reginald Paxter slit the envelope, pulled out the glossy book advertisements, and glanced at the titles:

"Inverted Limits in Transient Field Problems."

"Operational Functions for Projected Relay Circuitry."

"Recent Developments in Kick-Back Ready-State Devices."

Paxter sneered. "Gibberish. Pure gibberish. Who would—" He paused. One more title caught his attention. His eyes lighted.

"Saro Integrals in Complex Space Matrices of Non-Orthogonal Form."

Eagerly he pulled over the order sheet and got out his checkbook.


"No, Mrs. Bennett," said the service manager with a hounded look, "it was the brake lining, inside the brake drum, that was bad. It was cracked, glazed—Before, all we had to do was adjust the brakes, that's why this time it cost—" The phone rang jarringly. "Excuse me just a minute. Hello?"

A familiar sarcastic male voice said, "Look, the starter you said you fixed. It doesn't work. When I tried to start the car this morning, it just groaned."

"Ah—Well, the trouble is, like I said when you were in here, your voltage regulator—"

"What's that got to do with the starter?"

"Well, you see, the generator puts electricity in the battery. The starter takes it out. The—"

"How did the generator get in this? Are you trying to tell me you've got to work on the generator now?"

"No, but the voltage regulator is—"

"A minute ago, you said the generator. Which is it?"

"The regulator decides what the generator output will be. If the regulator is bad, the generator can't put electricity in the battery. When you were in here, I was trying to tell you—"

"What's that got to do with the starter?"

"If your battery's dead, the starter can't turn the engine over."

There was a brief silence. "Well, there's something shot on this car. I had my brother push me all the way from Great Bend into town with the car in low-range, and the engine never caught once. I want that starter job done over, and this time find what's wrong."

The service manager seemed to see the bursting of innumerable bubbles before his eyes. "Look," he said, speaking carefully, "on your car, there's no rear pump in the transmission. You can't start it by pushing. You can ruin the transmission that way. You say you pushed it all the way from Great Bend to town in low?"

As the silence on the other end stretched out, he asked himself, didn't people know anything about the cars they drove?

Mrs. Bennett cleared her throat. "What did you mean when you said the brake linings were 'glazed'?"

Over the phone came a baffled voice.

"What's a 'rear pump'? Now . . . just wait a minute. What are you trying to pull, anyway? What's the transmission got to do with the starter?"


Madame Sairo sat back with a pained expression. She looked up from the globe, and glanced around the dimly-lit room.

"I am trying to learn of the next world crisis. I am concentrating on the next world crisis. I am trying to look into the future, and I am still making irrelevant contacts with past and present. Is there anyone here whose motives are not right?"

The Kremlinologists and Pekingologists squinted dubiously at each other.

The Government economists looked pious.

The Assistant Secretary sat back and sneered at the whole fraud.

Madame Sairo adjusted the globe, and without much hope.


Dr. Greenhaven peered at the knowledge-growth projection, and then at the distribution-of-intelligence curve.

"We seem to be running into some difficulty here."

"Obviously," said the Project Coordinator. "We now have teams of men attempting to do the jobs one man properly should do. This can only be carried so far. There is a delay each time knowledge must be transferred from one mind to another. If we have fifteen men, each with a different specialty, gathered around a table to help make a decision, we are in serious trouble. But we are worse off yet if we have a hundred and fifty men, each with his own specialty, gathered around that table. Knowledge is proliferating, Doctor. It is multiplying by leaps and bounds. If we aren't to have ten fragmented specialists where one stands now, what are we going to do about it?"

Dr. Greenhaven puffed out his cheeks, took another look at the charts, and said tentatively, "We must locate individuals capable of mastering this knowledge."

The Projects Coordinator looked bored.

"And," said Greenhaven, "educate them at an earlier age. If possible, we must specialize sooner, educate earlier and more intensively. If possible, we must select the most capable, rather than leaving them to blunder around on their own. We will have to separate types according to aptitude and potential skill. A deliberate fractionation of the race into useful types."

The Projects Coordinator at once looked interested. "Go on."


Madame Sairo watched the scene fade, and then hopefully looked into the crystal. Now she was seeing. But what did it mean?

There before her, as clear as if she were looking directly at it, was a tall something aimed at the sky, towering over the men in their coats of different styles and colors, working around the huge device.

Now it seemed to come closer to her, so that she was almost at the base of the device, and could see the people clearly.

Odd—They seemed to be separated almost according to physical types—or was that somehow the result of the similar clothes, similar facial expressions, and similar manner and air of those doing a particular job? Those at the—wiring?—seemed nearly all to be fairly tall and slender, with rather long faces, and penetrating blue eyes of an unusual cast, while those moving the machinery into place were mostly shorter, burlier types, and the others at the controls—

Puzzled, she leaned closer, trying to unravel the mystery, when a tall individual in a dark purple coat brushed past the—electronics men?—and then bumped a burly individual in a dark-blue jacket.

The purple-coated individual turned, holding the end of a long cable, and spoke irritatedly.

"Surry, fren?"

The blue-jacketed individual jerked his thumb back briefly at what looked like a large glistening maze of intertangled silver wires, set down into some kind of metal-lined pit, with large instrument panels nearby.

"Damn double-phased S-2 pit jerks more on hydrine than ever. Countercycles, shudders, creeps, unamit uknavit."

The blue-jacketed individual glanced around uncertainly, then his eyes widened. He seized the purple-coated individual by the arm.

"Damn doublefaced stupid jerk, eh? Moron, huh? Upurps gotcha nerv, Tagibak!"

The purple-coated individual looked at him coldly. He wrenched his arm free. "Right, Bluejack. Jerks, creeps, counter—"

"Bluejack" whipped the end of the cable around and landed a stunning blow.

The man in the purple coat staggered back, his hand to his face. Suddenly he screamed in rage.

Two tall, gray-coated individuals with a professorial air paused, frowning as if to try to get the scene into focus.

Another blue-jacketed individual, pulling a thick cable through a metal frame, whirled around as the man in the purple coat charged. Dropping the cable, the second blue-jacketed man rushed to the scene.

An otherworldly individual in orange and white looked down in pained surprise from an overhead ramp.

"Peace. Let us have peace. Brethren, what is the meaning of brotherhood if we cannot have peace? It is wicked to—"

Half-a-dozen purple-clothed individuals boiled out of the metal-lined pit and came on the run.

The two professorial individuals in gray glanced at one another in bafflement.

A short, plump man in a jacket, striped like black typewriter ribbon alternated with red tape, burst out of a little cubicle in the midst of a maze of pneumatic tubes, and still clutching a rubber stamp, a crumpled form filled out in quintuplicate, and a thick book with his finger holding the place, raced onto the scene.

"Stop! This voids the contract! Forbidden on worktime! ARBITRATOR!"

More blue-jackets were appearing from everywhere. One banged into a black-coated worker in his haste, and got rewarded by a smash over the back of the head with a socket wrench three feet long.

"There," said the blackcoat, beaming. "Stuckup bluejacket! Lectricity! Watsowunifulbout lectricty? I'll lectricity the sonsa—"

His voice choked off as a length of cable whipped around his neck from behind.

A plump individual with a pill bottle in one hand tore down the overhead ramp, his pastel pink coat flapping behind him.

"Here!" he shouted, "Let's ARBITRATE the differences! Friends, FRIENDS, let's SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE! The other side DIDN'T MEAN IT. They're reasonable!" He looked down at the boiling melee of bluejacks, purps, and blackcoats, then twisted the cap of the pill bottle, and shot three pills into his mouth. He chewed desperately, stuck the bottle in his side pocket, and waited till an air of calm assurance passed over his face like a mask. He pulled a tiny microphone on a cord from his pocket, plugged it into a socket on the rail of the ramp, and his voice seemed to come out from everywhere, calm, persuasive, assured.


A blue-jacketed figure popped out of the mob, snarled, "Shutupjerk," and held a length of dangling cable near a small metal box on a pole. There was a large jagged dancing spark, a roaring noise, and then silence from the public-address system.

The bluejacket grinned, then thrust the cable against the leg of a purple-coated individual who had another bluejacket by the throat.

On the overhead ramp, the pastel-coated arbitrator looked puzzled, but spoke on with invincible assurance as a horde of burly individuals, their coats striped vertically like zebras, intermingled with the rest of the strugglers and began laying them out in all directions indifferently, only to be set upon by others, their zebra-stripes running horizontally.

In all directions, on high and low levels, struggling sets of individuals could now be seen pushing each other over the edge, choking, kicking, biting—

On the ramp, the arbitrator looked around, and paused. Worry crossed his face. He pulled out the bottle and tossed another pill in his mouth. He glanced at his watch. Ninety seconds passed and he was still worried. He took a last look around, jammed the bottle in his pocket and yelled, "POLICE!"

Below, the mob slammed into a wheeled machine, which mounted an insulated man-carrying stand on a long jointed metal arm.

The arm swung around sidewise, striking a tall heavy wire grid holding glistening beadlike objects of varying colors, shapes, and sizes. A large section of the grid wrapped around the stand and the metal arm. There was a loud sizzle, then a sheet of flame roared up, followed by a cloud of boiling smoke.

A dazzling spark, or blazing point of light, rapidly ate its way up the shiny cable into which a number of the grid wires fed, and traveled along the cable up the side of the towering device.

The arbitrator's gaze followed the climbing spark in bafflement. How did you split the difference with a thing like that? The facts of the matter began to penetrate his pill-given assurance. He glanced around.

A little group of scowling men in checked black-and-blue jackets, followed by a host of blue-clothed men armed with gas guns and billies, advanced at a fast walk down the ramp, trying to make out what was going on, and then one of the men in a checked jacket suddenly spread both arms, stopping those behind him. He stared up at the dazzling spark, just disappearing into the towering device, and suddenly grabbed a portable loudspeaker from a man behind him.

"She's going to blow! RUN! RUN FOR IT! SHE'S GOING TO BLOW!"

From the tall device, a feather of greenish smoke spurted out.

The men looked up in horror.

The greenish feather gradually grew darker and thicker. It came out with more force and began to reach farther out.

The mob boiled away in all directions, dwindled into little groups of men jumping off low towers and climbing up out of sunken pits, to sort themselves in like groups with almost a family resemblance, and sprint away in a desperate rush.

From the tall device, a green jet now reached out, with a whitish flame that lit the totally abandoned machinery below.

The whole scene began to dwindle, to fade entirely


Madame Sairo leaned back wearily. She sat in silence for some time, then shook her head.

As the bulk of her audience waited hopefully, and the Assistant Secretary looked on cynically, Madame Sairo spoke with considerable doubt.

"I am not sure our thoughts are all in harmony. It seems to me there has been some sort of interference.

"I have seen what was apparently remote antiquity. And I have looked upon a number of seemingly unrelated more or less current scenes which, however, now do seem to have some sort of connection, after all. And finally I have seen what I cannot believe was really the next world crisis, which is what you wish to know about; but then, if you are not in harmony, as I have warned you, it may confuse the issue under certain conditions. However, if I understand this, the sooner you know of the danger, the better."

Madame Sairo signaled to her assistants.

The overhead lights came on, and the blond boy in white wheeled away the big crystal.

"Now," said Madame Sairo, "I am going to tell you some ancient history. And let me remind you, 'History repeats.'"


At that moment, Elias Polk was studying the latest report on the Esmer Drive. This report was even worse than the one before. This one seemed so devoid of any human connection that Polk's mind could get no lasting grip on it.

Exasperatedly, he shoved the dictionary aside, flattened the report on his desk, and reminded himself that a human being on the other end of a pencil had originated the first version of this thing, and yet here it was, presumably in his own tongue, and he couldn't understand it.

Polk shook his head as a related thought occurred to him.

Science and technology were repeatedly branching, so that there were more separated specialties in each individual branch all the time.

All the curves showed that progress in each individual branch of science and technology was skyrocketing.

It was natural to suppose that this meant unlimited progress.

But what about the connections between the individual scientists, technicians, and people generally?

By shoveling coal fast into the firebox of a steam engine, and plotting the resulting speed, it would be possible to make a curve that rose and rose, heading up toward infinity, until the safety valve blew, or, barring that, until the metal of the boiler lost cohesion and let go in a hundred different directions at once, and the process came to a stop.

Polk picked up the report, and took a long hard look at it.

"It would be possible," he growled, "to carry this so far that nobody understands anyone in any other line of work, and then what will we have?"

He paused, frowning. Hadn't he read, or heard, somewhere, about some such thing?

Then he shook his head sourly, and tossed the report back on the desk.

Man was headed for the stars.

But he would have to be careful he didn't wind up in the Tower of Babel instead.


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