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Uncalculated Risk

Lieutenant General Lyell Berenger held to the opinion that life would have been much simpler if the human race had never invented Science. General Berenger occasionally tried, as he was trying tonight, to prove this proposition to a friend or acquaintance. Berenger was vaguely aware, as he talked, of the high-pitched laughter in the room, the occasional clink of glasses, and the surflike murmuring of voices around him. In his hand he absently held a glass, two-thirds of the contents of which he had tossed into the fireplace at the first opportunity, and which he had now forgotten. His attention was concentrated on his friend, Senator Vail, who was trying inconspicuously to unload his own glass into a pot holding a kind of lacy fernlike plant.

"In the old days," Berenger said, noting with suspicion the tolerant smile on the senator's face, "back, say, in the time of the early Romans, a soldier's job was difficult and demanding. The army had to be well-equipped, strong, and well-trained. The general commanding needed to be alert, and to know his job thoroughly. The same holds true today. The difference is this: In those days, virtue was rewarded. If a soldier did what he was supposed to, the odds were very great that he would win. In modern times, it's all a hodge-podge. The cause, as the cause of a lot of our troubles, is this pet of yours, Science."

Vail smiled. "Come on, now, Lyell, don't tell me you aren't happy whenever one of our technical teams beats the Russians to the punch."

Berenger nodded. "Yes, and I'm grateful that we were the first to get nuclear fission. But think back a while. How did it seem when the Germans came out with rocket-planes, flying bombs, and V-2s? The trouble is that you can't predict who is going to get what, or when. Military calculations can be completely unhinged by some mild individual who hardly knows one end of a gun from the other, and cares less."

"True," said Vail, who had now succeeded in transferring half his drink to the hapless plant, "but what is going on is doing more than merely upset your plans. Each scientific advance increases the power and well-being of the race as a whole."

"I don't object to Science, within bounds," said Berenger. "But I have reservations as to its violent, uncontrolled, headlong nature. Look, Vail, you speak of 'beating the Russians to the punch.' Doubtless they think of it the same way. It's a race. But where to?"

"To greater power and well-being. Obviously, the greater our capabilities, the more we can do. If we race someone, that means we both get there faster. You want to work it all out before we take a step. At that rate, we'd still be figuring out the implications of gunpowder, and wild-eyed theorists would be making radical predictions to the effect that some day in the next two thousand years steam engines would begin to replace the horse—in certain applications."

Berenger nodded. "It would probably be just that bad. But now consider one aspect of this 'race' you like so much. It is uncontrollable. Because it is a competition, neither side can stop. The side that stops, loses. Therefore each side must go on. Isn't that so?"

"Right. And a good thing."

"O.K. But when you speak of winning an ordinary race, you have in mind a definite physical goal. Suppose, instead, you took a group of men out into the wilderness and told them simply to run, and if any one got ten yards ahead of his nearest opponent, that one would instantly win, and could impose his will, if he so desired, on the other runners. That is more what this race is like, isn't it?"

Vail scowled. "Yes. Go on."

"Ten yards," said Berenger, "is no great distance. In the race we're in, a small definite lead can be conclusive. Now, if either side takes the lead, the other must run faster. Running faster, it is likely to cut down the lead the other side has, which will in turn force the other side to run faster. So it goes."

Vail nodded. "There's something to what you say. It could, in theory, get out of control. But actually, of course, both sides are pretty hard-headed, and this, combined with the natural inertia of human beings, keeps the process from running out of control."

Berenger said, "It may be that the process isn't running out of control. But in any race where you are not running on a beaten track, there is the possibility of a sharp surprise to the individual runners. The runners may go very fast, but they take as their standard of performance their position relative to the other runners. None of the runners knows the territory ahead. Now, what happens if, during some desperate spurt, the leader suddenly arrives at the edge of a ravine? Then what?"

"A purely rhetorical question," said Vail, smiling. "The scientists are often afraid the military men will do something irresponsible, so I shouldn't be surprised to find a military man afraid the scientists will do something irresponsible. Meanwhile, both sides think politicians are irresponsible. Nobody thinks the other man knows his business. But he does."

"You've missed the point," said Berenger. "It isn't irresponsible for a scientist to make discoveries. That's his business. But making discoveries is like running through unknown territory. Do it too fast and sooner or later, you're likely to get a severe fall."

Vail nodded, grinning. "We politicians learn to use words, but to look to reality. The situation you describe sounds convincing, but it doesn't fit in with reality. Tell you what. If you're free next weekend, why don't you come on out to Iowa with me and see a scientist in action on a real project. It's part of the race between us and the Soviets. Nothing spectacular, but pretty effective, all the same. It'll get your head down out of the clouds and onto solid ground. What do you say?"

Berenger smiled. "I don't think I want my head 'on solid ground,' Vail, but yes, I can get away next weekend. I'll take you up on that."


That was how, the next weekend, Lyell Berenger came to find himself on the edge of a flat windy field with Senator Vail and a short broad man who'd been introduced as Dr. Franklin Green. The college tower was visible in the distance, but Dr. Green had eyes only for the field, where a tractor was churning methodically back and forth.

"Soil texture," said Dr. Green, stopping to pick up a handful of the rich-looking soil and crumbling it in his fingers, "soil texture is an important matter to the farmer. If the texture is right, rainfall is absorbed, the working of the soil is easy, and plant development takes place naturally. With the wrong texture, everything goes wrong. Now, you've seen this. Let me show you the control plot."

They plodded across the yielding, somewhat spongy soil to a strip of arid ground with a surface like cracked cement. Dr. Green looked at them significantly. "This plot wasn't treated. The one you've just seen was. Suppose you gentlemen were farmers. Which plot would you rather farm?"

Berenger glanced from the soft, yielding, even-textured plot to the hard-surfaced plot. Something began vaguely to disturb him. He heard Vail say, "Well, I have no doubt which I would rather work, Doctor. Is your texturing agent so effective on all soils?"

"Not entirely, I'm sorry to say. But we are working at it steadily. We expect to have it ready for commercial use by early next year. First we have to make tests on a variety of soil types."

Vail said, "What do you expect will be the effect on farming in general?"

Dr. Green said, with a hard effort at modesty, "It should increase the yield, in some cases very considerably."

Berenger and Vail were on the plane the next day before Vail got around to saying triumphantly, "What did you think of that?"

Berenger said, "I thought we already had surpluses."

"Yes," said Vail, "and there you hit the sore point on the head." He lowered his voice, "But, you see, some of our allies and a considerable number of the neutrals don't share that problem. They desperately need food. It takes a long time to increase yield by conventional methods. You have irrigation projects, huge quantities of farm machinery to ship overseas, and all kinds of technical training programs to carry out. It's a slow process, it may go head-on against local prejudices, and while you're carrying it out, people are starving. But this new process holds out the possibility of increasing yields by, say fifteen percent the first year. It will fit right in with local customs, since nearly everyone is used to adding manure to soil. It isn't expensive, it won't use much shipping space, and it is immediate. Now what do you have to say?"

Berenger was silent for a while. Finally he said. "I'll be frank with you. There's something about it I don't like."

"Too big an advance?" Vail looked at him curiously.

Berenger shook his head. "I don't know what it is. I just have an uneasy feeling about it."

Vail smiled, and settled back on his seat. "Not I," he said. "It makes me very happy."

Berenger was back at work the next day, and the incident soon slipped into the back of his mind. As the months rolled by, with shifts and changes in foreign affairs, new surprises in technology, and the continuing need to fit these variables into the overall picture, he in time forgot the incident entirely. He was reminded of it by a newspaper article, which first discussed the development in general, then went on:

" . . . Thus Dr. Green's development of the Catalytic Texturing Agent will largely do away with problems caused by too-heavy soils. Best of all, from the point of expense, the effect is permanent. The texturing agent, operating on an entirely new principle of ionic interchange, actually generates more of itself over the course of time from the chemicals of the surrounding soil. The proper 'dosage' is scientifically determined by soil analysis, to assure that regeneration of the catalyst proceeds at a rate just sufficient to restore that used up in the course of the soil-conditioning operation. In explaining this, Dr. Green, winner of the McGinnis Medal for Agricultural Chemistry, remarked . . ."

Berenger read back carefully over the article, then, frowning, read on: "Winner of the McGinnis Medal for Agricultural Chemistry, remarked, 'Any catalyst is theoretically capable of handling an unlimited quantity of material. But in practice, the catalyst usually becomes "poisoned" and ceases to operate. In this instance, the poisoning is offset by the generation of new catalyst. This effect must not, of course, be allowed to proceed too rapidly, or it could have most disagreeable consequences. That is easily avoided by the use of proper initial testing procedures, as had been demonstrated repeatedly in field tests, in all types of soil . . .'"

Berenger looked up from the paper, sat back, and thought it over. Scowling, he glanced at his watch, picked up a phone, and tried to call Vail. Vail, it developed, was away on a trip, but would be back by early next week. Berenger put the phone down again, thought some more, then picked the phone up and called long distance for Dr. Franklin Green. In due time, Green came on the line. Berenger first reminded Green of his previous visit, then said guardedly. "I don't ask you to reveal anything that might be classified, Doctor. You understand that?"

"Of course," came Green's voice. "There isn't much that is classified about this project, General. It's all perfectly straight agricultural chemistry. We've evolved a new twist that should be useful, that's all."

"Yes," said Berenger, "but I notice that you say the generation of new catalyst mustn't be allowed to proceed too rapidly. Can you tell me, without revealing classified information, what happens when catalytic regeneration does proceed too rapidly?"

Green was silent a moment, then said, "Well, you understand, that is amply guarded against by proper preliminary tests."

"Yes," said Berenger, and waited.

Green said, "There's really no need of any such eventuality ever arising in practice."

"I see."

"Newspaper reports tend to be somewhat sensational. Actually, we've never had that happen in the field."

"I see," said Berenger. "But—if this information isn't classified—what takes place when it does happen?"

There was a considerable silence. Berenger could hear faint voices in the background. Then Green said, "General, I wonder if you could come down here for a few hours this weekend?"

Berenger was silent a moment.

Green said, "I can show you, much better than I can tell you. If this seems important to you, I hope you can come down here."

"Yes," said Berenger. "Thank you for the invitation, Doctor. I'll be there."


The college looked about the same as when Berenger had been there last, but Dr. Green seemed preoccupied. He opened the door to the darkened laboratory, snapped on the lights, stood aside for Berenger, then locked the door behind them. He led Berenger the length of the room, and up several steps to a small laboratory. Inside, on a soapstone-topped bench, sat a very large brown-enameled earthenware crock. Green locked the door behind them, and lifted the lid of the crock. "Here it is. See for yourself."

Berenger glanced in at a gray-brown glop that looked about the thickness of molasses.

"This is what happens if you add too much of the catalyst?"

"A great deal too much," said Green. "That was made by adding, originally, one liter of conditioner to one liter of untreated soil."

Berenger glanced into the mammoth crock again. Green, he noticed, seemed willing to give him information on request, but he certainly wasn't volunteering it. "So," said Berenger, "You had two liters to start with?"

"That's right."

"You've got a lot more than two liters here now. What did you do then?"

"We were disturbed at the results of the experiment. Naturally, we had to allow for a possible malfunction of the equipment used to spread the texturing agent. We also had to consider the possibility that a quantity of the agent might be spilled accidentally. If this caused a breakdown of the soil at the spot where the accident happened, it could result in a . . . a mudhole. We wanted to avoid that."

"Yes," said Berenger patiently, "but where did the rest of this stuff come from? You say you started out with a liter of dirt and a liter of catalytic agent. A liter is roughly a quart. This is a lot more than two quarts."

Green nodded sourly. "We added a large quantity of untreated soil."

"And the soil did what?"

"There you see it."

Berenger looked in at the glop. "You mean the original muck transformed the untreated soil into more of itself?"

"As far as we can tell, something like that happened."

"What would happen if we added some more dirt to this?"

"I'd have to try it to know."

"Does this look any different from the stuff you had when you added one liter of texturing agent to one liter of soil?"

"There's more of it, that's all."

Berenger thought this over, and fought off the urge to profanity. Carefully, he said, "Let's say, as a hypothetical case, that a farmer had a container of this texturing agent and dropped it. Would he get a mudhole?"


"Then what would he do?"

"He would have a serious problem."

"Could he collect the muck in . . . say . . . an empty drum, and then put it in his spreader and spread it over the same number of acres he'd originally planned to treat?"

"No," said Dr. Green uncomfortably, "I'm afraid that wouldn't be the thing to do."

"Why not?"

Green hesitated, then said, "The reaction is so complex that, frankly, I don't know how to explain what happens. Normally, the agent is vastly diluted by the soil. When it is used in so large a concentration, the agent itself seems to undergo a change. The result is this—substance. If this were spread over a field, I hate to think what it might produce."

"Suppose it were worked into the soil finely?"

"If the ionic complex itself were broken up, that of course would stop it. If not, each small particle would still be of the same substance. Not the texturing agent, but the substance the concentrated texturing agent and the soil had reacted to form. As far as I can see, the process would not be stopped. It would be accelerated."

"There would be more of this stuff, then? A whole field of it?"

Green hesitated. "I'm afraid so."

"And this would then spread to adjacent fields?"

Green shrugged helplessly. "All I can say is, we added the dirt, and there you see the result. We didn't mix it. We just added it."

"How long did it take?"

"About forty minutes before the reaction was complete."

"So it would spread?"


"Where would it stop?"

"I don't know."

Berenger drew a deep breath, and let it out slowly. In the back of his mind was the awareness that the texturing agent was even now being manufactured. No doubt, it was being loaded onto trucks, transported, unloaded, transferred to ships tied up at docks, perhaps even already being unloaded at foreign ports. His natural instinct was to do something fast. Get on the telephone, bulldoze his way to the highest available authority. Every second might count.

With an effort, he pulled out a laboratory stool, and sat down. He glanced at Green, who now looked very pale. Berenger said, "What have you done about it?"

Green shook his head. "The possibility of something like this never occurred to me. It was one of my graduate students who thought of this experiment. It seems an obvious thing to try, now, but to begin with we had only small amounts of the texturing agent to work with. Later, I supposed as you did, that if the agent were mixed with too little soil, it would merely be a diluting of the agent. I was very angry when I learned of this crude experiment, which was only carried out after the agent was in commercial production. Before, it was too expensive. When I finally did realize what this might mean, I tried to explain the situation to the president."

"The President?"

Green shook his head. "The president of the college. He decided I was suffering from overstrain, and refused to take the matter seriously. I wrote a letter to the head of the corporation producing the agent, and got a letter back assuring me that they were using proper safeguards in shipping the agent, and congratulating me again on its discovery. Several days later, I received a whole drum of the texturing agent, compliments of the company. Gradually I began to think perhaps I was suffering from overstrain. I locked up the laboratory here, and tried not to think of it."

Berenger noted that his own hammering pulse was beginning to quiet down again. He could now see clearly what he had only sensed before: Any effort on his part to get this picture across would have to be done carefully, or he, Berenger, would also get sent off for a rest cure.

But to do it carefully would take time. While he was doing it carefully, trucks, trains, and ships would be in motion, increasing the likelihood of spillage.

Green said shakily, "It looks bad to you, too, doesn't it?"

Berenger said, "Suppose spillage makes just one mudhole? Small animals will track it around locally. Bits of muck stuck to men's shoes can easily end up forty miles away in an hour. And you said it only took forty minutes for a batch of fresh dirt to get converted to muck?"

Green nodded.

"How long would it take you to carry out complete laboratory tests, check your results, find out how this stuff reacts when finely divided in a comparatively large quantity of earth, how it reacts when treated with various chemicals, what effect heat and cold have on it, and anything else that seems useful?"

Green shook his head, "General, it would take several years to do a thorough job. But I can get my best graduate students and have a rough idea in the next eight or ten hours."

Berenger got up. "Good. I'll get to work right away and see what I can find out."

The next eight hours Berenger spent in long-distance phone calls, and some nerve-wracking calculations. He discovered that the soil texturing agent was already well-dispersed in stores and warehouses across the United States. Eight ships carrying sizable quantities of the agent in drums were at sea, destined for ports in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. The first of these cargo ships was due to dock in London in twelve hours, and others now in American ports were regularly taking on the texturing agent as part of their regular cargoes. There seemed to be no existing legal machinery that Berenger could put in motion to stop the shipment or sale of the substance.

Senator Vail, Berenger discovered, was on a hunting trip in the Canadian woods, and to get in touch with him would be no easy matter.

The president of the chemicals corporation manufacturing the agent was on a cabin cruiser fishing in Long Island Sound, no one knew exactly where, and the cabin cruiser was not equipped with a ship-to-shore radio.

Berenger paused to think things over. He was accumulating information rapidly, but he had yet to discover any way he could do anything about it. Fortunately, since it was the weekend, it was unlikely that any of the texturing agent would be sold. But for the same reason, it was hard to get hold of anyone who might know what to do about the situation.

Berenger paused to think what he could do himself. No doubt, he had enough rank so that he could create a stir in the effort to stop the shipments. He could probably even stop, or delay, some of the shipments. But, he thought, if a pile of dynamite has twenty lighted fuses eating their way toward it, it isn't enough to put out even nineteen of the twenty fuses. They all have to be put out, or the end result will be just the same as if none at all had been put out. And he did not by any means have the authority to stop all the shipments.

Next, Berenger tried to consider who he might reach who would have the authority to stop the shipments.

To begin with, many of the consignments of texturing agent must by now have changed ownership, so that the actual owners would be citizens of various foreign nations. These nations would have different regulations, and to stop all the shipments by any legal procedure would almost certainly be too complicated. After thinking this over it was clear to Berenger that there was probably no individual on the face of the earth with the legal authority to stop all the shipments.

Berenger then tried to think who might have the practical physical power to stop the shipments. This quickly narrowed down to one person. The eight ships at sea could almost certainly be stopped, and most of the sales in the United States in some way blocked, by only one man: the President. But he would never do it without being convinced.

Berenger thought the thing over and could see that it would take more than the assurances of Dr. Franklin Green to convince the President that drastic action was needed. Berenger's own word would mean nothing. A colleague need only say, "I didn't realize you were a soil chemist, Lyell."

Berenger looked at it objectively and saw how it would work out. He could hear a voice saying to the President, "There's a general out here, sir, who claims that the world's about to be eaten up by some kind of fertilizer. Shall I . . . ah . . . get the M.P.s, sir?"

If it turned out that Green was mistaken, Berenger would never live this down if he lived to be two hundred years old.

Frowning, Berenger sat back to consider Green. Maybe Green was in need of a rest cure.

At that thought, Berenger felt both a sense of exasperation over wasted effort, and sudden relief from tension that he hadn't realized was growing unbearably tight.

And the more he thought of it, the more likely it seemed that Green was unbalanced.

And in that case, there was no need to do anything.

Just then, the phone rang.

Berenger warily lifted the phone from its cradle. "Hello?"

"General Berenger?"

"Right here."

"This is Franklin Green. I think you ought to come down to the lab right away."

Berenger frowned. "I'll be right there." He hung up, thinking that now at least he should find out definitely whether the man was right or wrong.

Green met Berenger at the door to the laboratory, drew him inside, and locked the door. Inside, three pale young men in lab coats stood at one of the long benches. They looked up nervously as Berenger came in, and Green made hurried introductions.

Berenger interrupted to say sharply, "What did you find out?"

Green said, "Let me show you." He pointed to several bucketfuls of dirt at the far end of the bench. "We put samples of that in these glass dishes, and added small quantities of the transformed texturing agent to each dish. Some we put in in lumps, others we worked carefully into the soil. There you see the result."

Each of a line of the glass dishes contained the same kind of brown-gray glop that Berenger had seen earlier.

"Worse yet," said Green, "we put a little of this transformed agent into a flask, poured in ordinary tap water, decanted the water over the soil, and look here. The soil is changed just as in the other cases. It was a little slower, that's all."

Berenger felt as if an iron band were tightening around his chest. "What about the effects of chemicals?"

Green shrugged. He removed the top of a bottle of sulfuric acid, and carefully poured it over one of the dishes of glop. The substance swelled up, and gave a faint hissing sound as the acid poured into it. Next, he poured a sodium hydroxide solution over one of the dishes. The gray-brown glop shrank slightly, and cracked, leaving the solution in a pool on top of it.

"Now," said Green, "we have found one hopeful thing. We tried ordinary tap water, as I mentioned. We also tried to obtain a solution, or dispersion, in a saline solution." Green pointed to a dish of damp, but unchanged dirt. "Nothing happened." He glanced around. "Jerry. Show the general what you discovered."

One of the graduate students took a paper heaped with tiny white crystals, shook it over a dish of gray glop, and stirred methodically. The grayish color vanished, the texture changed, and then Berenger was looking at ordinary dirt.

"So," said Green. "The process can be reversed. But you have then sowed the soil with salt."

Berenger shook his head. "Can you show me the actual change, from dirt to glop."

Green glanced at one of his graduate students. "Arthur."

The student spoken to put some dirt from a bucket into a clean dish, took a small lump of glop from one of the other dishes, and began working it carefully and methodically into the dirt.

Berenger watched tensely. After a considerable time had passed, his attention began to waver. With an effort, he held his gaze on the dish, and shifted it from one part to another to try to avoid the hypnotic affect of Arthur's ceaselessly-working hand.

Just when it began to happen, Berenger could not say, but suddenly the dirt was no long dirt, but the gray-brown stuff that looked and acted like a kind of thick muck.

Berenger drew a deep breath, and straightened up. "Did you duplicate the experiment that started all this?"

Green nodded. "The same result."

"Did you use a different batch of the texturing agent?"

"Yes, we used some from the complimentary drum the manufacturer sent us. So it isn't just a freak side-effect from one batch of the agent."

Berenger said, "What about heat and cold? What effect do they have?"

"Cold seems to have no effect whatever, except that the substance becomes somewhat more stiff. Intense heat, however, reverses the reaction."

Berenger said tensely, "You're sure of that? Heat reverses it?"

In answer, Green lit a burner, and held it so that the flame played on the surface of one of the samples. Where the flame heated it, the gray color was gradually replaced by the look of ordinary dirt. Green took the burner away. The gray coloration gradually returned.

"The heat," said Green, "only penetrated a thin layer. But we heated one sample in an oven. That sample didn't change back, though it became extremely crumbly."

"Did you try adding water?"

"Yes. The soil absorbed it quite well. But it didn't change . . . or hasn't yet, at least."

Berenger looked around at all the samples. The graduate students were standing around looking at the floor, as if they thought they had committed some criminal act.

Green said tensely, "You've got to stop the shipments."

Berenger shook his head, "I don't have the authority."

"Take it to someone who has the authority. Why don't you take it right to the President?"

"For the same reason that you can't simply walk over there and convince the president of your own college. To function at all, the head of an organization has to recognize and weed out crackpots and alarmists. Anyone who walks in and tries to get action on this will get automatically hustled right out again. To convince the President, I'd have to build up a case first."

"Can you do that?"

"It would take too long." Berenger glanced at his watch.

"Four hours from now, the first cargo ship will reach Britain. While I'm building my case, shipments will be moving over the Canadian and Mexican borders. Stores will be selling the stuff, and farmers using it. Ships will dock in Africa and South America. While I convince the men who will have to convince the President, this stuff will spread out over the globe. By the time they have him convinced, it will be too late for him to do anything."

Green said, "But there's got to be something we can do."

"How is this stuff manufactured? Under a patent?"

"No. The company decided the process was sufficiently unusual to justify trying to keep it a trade secret."

"Did you publish any account of the process?"

"No, I wanted to be sure what I had first. Then I was persuaded not to publish." Green's voice climbed. "But the important thing is, how can we stop the shipments?"

Berenger said, "Let me take another look at that stuff that formed first."

"But what does that—" Green saw Berenger's expression, hesitated, then led him down to the little laboratory. He locked the door behind them. "This was just so we could talk alone, wasn't it? What are you thinking?"

"What will happen if we take that stuff out onto the campus and plant it?"

Green swallowed. "It will start the reaction. In time, the whole campus will be affected."

"How fast will it happen?"

"It will depend on how finely we divide it. But what good will that do?"

"Can we make a horrible example? Can we have the grounds one sea of spreading muck?"

"Yes," said Green. "But, General, we can't do that."

"All right," said Berenger. He sat on the edge of a stool and glanced at his watch. "The first ship docks in London in about three hours and fifty-four minutes. We can go at the problem in slow stages and gamble the whole world. Or we can run the risk here that we will have to run anyway as soon as the stores open on Monday."

Green looked down. In a low voice, he said, "How will we stop it?"

Berenger said grimly, "If heat will stop it, we can stop it all right."

Green nodded slowly. "Yes, I see." He hesitated, then said, "All right."

It was about 4:00 in the morning when Berenger sent for the paratroops. At 5:00 he got through to the Army Chief of Staff, who listened, and then exploded, then listened again.

By 5:30, the college buildings were evacuated, and the headlights of cars competed with the gray light of dawn as excited reporters were held back by police from the expanding edge of the slop. By 6:30 the paratroops had blocked the roads, and the sound of crashing bricks told of buildings toppling as the soil at their foundations softened. By 7:00 the word had gotten to the President, who rejected the whole idea angrily, and sent singed aides scurrying to unload their own wrath at the "hoax." By this time, the Pentagon was receiving direct reports from the paratroops.

At 8:00, a new set of envoys reached the President, bringing photographs, statements of witnesses, and a statement by Dr. Green. The paratroops reported that the perimeter now appeared to be moving out at the steady rate of about one-and-one-half feet per hour. A penciled notation added the calculation that this would amount to an increase in the diameter of the affected area of seventy-two feet every twenty-four hours, with no end in sight. A brief analysis of the situation by Lieutenant General Lyell Berenger, fortunately on the scene, pointed out the impossibility of transport through such muck as this, the danger of it being seeded in new localities, the dangers of hysteria as the muck spread, the political effects of shipments of similar materials being sent overseas, and the desirability from every viewpoint, of immediate drastic action to end the trouble before it had time to gather any more momentum.

The President looked over the photographs and the reports, glanced at an appended list of ship sailings, read Berenger's recommendations through again, and looked at the Army Chief of Staff.

"Is Berenger reliable?"

"He always has been, sir."

"I want to talk to some of these people on the scene. And I want to be very sure they are the people they represent themselves to be."

"Yes, sir."

At 8:35, the urgent message went out to the British Prime Minister.

At 8:55, British troops were racing the police for the docks.

By 9:00 all the ships still at sea were notified, and the United States Navy was in hot pursuit of one that refused to change its course.

By 9:25, the FBI was at work tracing down all the smaller shipments of the texturing agent.

By 9:40, there was a panic in Chicago, as an excited newscaster announced that a "wall of annihilation is approaching at supersonic speed from the state of Iowa."

By 9:55, the college and its surroundings had been forcibly evacuated by troops and police. By this time, also, the warning message had been received in the capitals of the NATO nations, the Soviet Union and Japan.

By 10:00, the President was speaking to the nation, and as he spoke the first jet bomber was already on its way. At the conclusion of his speech, he was handed a slip of paper, and announced that a hydrogen explosion had destroyed the college and surroundings, and was believed to have burned out, by its intense heat, the action of the catalyst.

By 10:55, the Premier of the Soviet Union was receiving Intelligence reports on the situation, and looking it over from a variety of unpleasant angles.

By 11:00, the Pentagon was beginning to subside toward normal, and the Army Chief of Staff was pouring questions at Berenger, at the end of which he gazed off into the distance and remarked, "So, now if we want to we could drop one drop of this stuff anywhere we want to, and eight hours later have a pool of glop twenty-four feet across. It would be tough on people who depend on stretched out rail and road communications, wouldn't it?"

"Yes, sir," said Berenger. "But I'd hate to start it. They could do it back."

"Oh, but I was just looking at it from their point of view, to see how it strikes them. Besides, they don't yet know they could do it back."

And several weeks later, Berenger was talking to his friend, Senator Vail.

"You know, Lyell," said Senator Vail, "that experience kind of knocks the spots off your argument. There's been no activity from the Crater, and the whole business seems to have faded away to nothing. We're still competing with the Russians, and I believe we are all running just as fast as ever. I thought that fall was supposed to finish us."

Berenger smiled and shook his head. "I don't expect to convince you that Science is, inherently, unavoidably, and of its own nature, deadly dangerous. But there's one thing you ought to recognize."

"What's that?"

"When you think it's necessary, you run a risk. But you have to use the right names when you label things."

"What of it?"

"You haven't used the right name for that experience."

Vail frowned. "What do you mean?"

"That wasn't a fall," said Berenger. "Far from it."

He thought a moment, then added, "That was only a stumble."


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