The doctor did a very strange
thing; he pulled out a gun and
shot himself through the head.
By ROG PHILLIPS
If Nature suddenly began to behave
differently, what we consider obvious and
elementary today might become—unthinkable.
In the story THE DESPOILERS in the October
1947 Amazing Stories I raised the question,
"Is there anything absolutely beyond human comprehension?"
In that story I gave humanity a
thousand years to give birth to one man who
could comprehend the incomprehensible.
The incomprehensible is harder to portray in a
story than is merely the unknown. If we denote
anything incomprehensible by the symbol X, we
can describe what X is to a certain extent by
knowing what it is not. We can, gradually, gain
a certain insight into what it is by comparing it
to what IS comprehensible.
In the last analysis the universe of normalcy
is incomprehensible. We have made progress in
comprehending it because we have isolated it into
small bundles of events that can be dealt with by
the human intellect.
We have arrived at certain basic pictures of
the behavior of the incomprehensible. We have
found a certain stability existing in the picture
we have built up. We have searched the heavens
and found that stars are made up of the same
elements as the Earth—with a few exceptions.
And with those exceptions we have brought them
into the framework of our picture of the Universe
by postulating "dense matter."
We have, slowly, come to the belief that the
same laws operate throughout the entire Universe,
just as they do here on the Earth. This is the
In that story THE DESPOILERS the Uniformity
Postulate was not denied. The incomprehensible
in that story was the mind of a Despoiler.
It, to the human mind, was incomprehensible;
and to the Despoiler, the human mind was incomprehensible.
Each viewed the Universe differently due to a
difference in whatever lies at the foundations of
the thinking processes. In other words, uniformity
of the principle of thought was denied there.
Both the Despoilers and Man had mechanical
civilization and science, but due to their different
minds neither could comprehend completely the
viewpoint of the other ON THE SAME THING.
Each had applied his REASON to the disorder
of nature and constructed what to him was a
The type of mentality I attributed to the Despoiler
may be impossible. It may be that if the
human race eventually reaches out and encounters
other intelligent races it will find that the
basic principles which result in thought as we
know it are the ONLY basic principles that can
give rise to thinking intelligence, so that wherever
we find civilization we will find creatures that
think the same as we do, and have seen the same
pattern in nature that we have.
There is another possibility besides the encountering
of incomprehensible minds. That is the
possibility of encountering incomprehensible "islands"
One thing we have discovered about nature that
makes such "islands" possible—or that makes it
possible WE are living in such an "island"—is
that matter has a habit of "reacting" to some
types of energy patterns, and "totally ignoring"
Perhaps you can better understand what I mean
by the following analogous position: Kah is an
intelligent entity fixed at a certain point. He can
only derive a picture of reality from what he sees.
He can only see a foot in front of him. In all
his existence he has seen only one type of thing—rocks
about an inch in diameter. He therefore
concludes that all reality is rocks an inch in diameter.
He is unable ever to learn that he is situated
at a place where the one-inch rocks leave a screen
with seven-eighths-inch holes that let every smaller
pebble and all the sand through, and that seven-eighths-inch
screen is the catch-all for a higher
screen with one-inch holes that kept everything
larger from coming through.
His Universe is brought to him by selective
screening. He rationalizes what his Universe presents
him, and postulates that ALL reality is identical
to what he can experience. He can NOT
conceive of what is utterly beyond his range of
experience and imagination—which is merely the
re-arrangement of reality or of thoughts derived
We are perhaps in much that same position.
To be sure, our telescopes bring us data from
stars that are so far away the human race will
never reach them—but is not our telescope a
"screen" that brings us only the one-inch rocks?
There may be and probably is a vast realm of
reality co-existent with the reality we know, right
around us; but it is "screened" from us. It may
be possible that we know less than ten percent
of actual reality around us due to the screening
of our senses and our instruments that blocks
completely, or permits to pass completely, every
energy pattern that can't pass through the "holes"
of our "screen."
Going back to Kah, the one-inch-rock-universe
observer, suppose that in one batch of dirt dumped
at the head of the screening system there happened
to be no one-inch rocks at all? Or, more
closely to the story you are about to read, suppose,
with his mind deeply grooved with the tracks
of the one-inch rocks, he were to move to a vantage
point where there were no one-inch rocks,
but larger or smaller ones?
He would immediately find nature behaving
according to an utterly strange pattern, BUT he
could only sort the incoming sensations according
to the neural grooves already built up in his mind!
In his mind he could only see one-inch rocks or
nothing, and since what he would see would obviously
be something, it would either seem nothing
to him, or one-inch rocks behaving strangely.
His instruments and his mind would interpret
by the old gradations and scales and concepts.
His Universe would still be made of nothing but
one-inch rocks, to him, but its behavior would
Perhaps slowly, like a newborn child making
sense out of its surroundings, or a foreigner slowly
making sense out of our language, he would penetrate
to the new reality with his mind. Perhaps
in the very process his being would change its
In the end he would be in a unique position.
He would have the memories of one Reality, and
the experiences of a new one. He would have the
language of the old with which to describe the
new to his old companions. Could he do it so
they would comprehend it?
It would do him no good simply to invent new
words to describe something beyond the experience
of his old companions. He would have to
describe something beyond their experience with
words and sentences they had created to describe
only what they had gained from their own experience!
How could he hope to make them gain
a true understanding of it?
He might tell them simply and truthfully everything
he experienced—and it might come out utter
nonsense! It probably would. Unless he could
bring back some of the evidence, either intentionally
At first that evidence might present a pattern
of utter nonsense and contradiction with known
thought patterns and concepts. It might present
seemingly normal events in nonsense sequences.
It might present impossible events in seemingly
normal sequences. It might even present disjointed
events in sequence.
What it would present would be only what the
screen of the senses and the screen of the mind
could accept. Underneath would be a perfectly
orderly pattern of events of some sort, behaving
according to different natural laws in conflict with
those we have existed under. Slowly we might
penetrate to an understanding of them, but not
at first, because at first they would be completely
In this story, UNTHINKABLE, an attempt
has been made to depict such a conflict of nature
and human mentality. It is not the ordinary science
fiction attempt. It is not new laws working
in harmony with old, or new discoveries that fit
into the old pattern. It is, if you please, an utterly
alien bit of reality in conflict with the old.
The story cannot but be inadequate. It is the
froth and foam of the struggle. It is the parts
that fit into the words and phrases and sentences.
You won't like it at all—unless you have the type
of mind that can reach a little way beyond experience.
And though what you may "see" may
have no counterpart in all reality, if this story
serves to expand your mental horizons, it has at
least found an excuse for being written.
Dr. Nale Hargrave tossed
his spotless grey hat expertly
across the six feet of space between
him and the coat tree, humming
the while a currently popular tune
whose only words he could remember
were "Feemo fimo fujo, the flumy fwam
His eyes rested self-congratulatingly
on the hat after it came to a safe stop,
then turned to beam an instant at his
receptionist before he continued on to
She smiled after him with an affectionate,
indulgent look, gave him as
long as it took her to powder her nose
and tuck a few stray hairs into place,
then pressed the buzzer that signaled to
quarantine that the doctor was ready to
screen the crew of the U triple S
The Endore had arrived during the
night. Usually crews that had to wait
hours before passing through psych
raised a big fuss. Quarantine wasn't
exactly designed for comfort. A man
couldn't be expected to enjoy sitting on
a bench and reading a worn-out magazine
after looking forward to visiting
his old haunts on Earth after months
or years in space. His only thought
was to get through the red tape and step
through the door on the other side of
which lay freedom of expression and
freedom from space discipline—and
That was the usual result of forced
delay in quarantine. The crew of the
Endore hadn't let a peep out of them.
Martha Ryan, the receptionist,
glanced knowingly at the closed door.
She knew that Nale was sitting at his
desk, his legs crossed carelessly, his
long fingers holding the report on the
Endore and the report of the psych observer.
He was probably frowning
slightly over the unusual behavior of
She had her own list of names of the
crew on the desk before her. Heading
the list was the name, Comdr. Hugh
Dunnam. Dr. Nale would ordinarily
call him first. Next would come any of
the crew that the commander reported
unbalanced, followed by the rest of the
Sometimes when the psych observer's
report was unfavorable to the whole
crew he called some crew member at
random before calling the top name.
It didn't surprise her, therefore,
when the intercom came to life and Dr.
Nale's voice pleasantly asked for a
name two-thirds of the way down on
the list of forty names—Ren Gravenard,
Martha's pencil followed the list
down, making a light check after the
name while she dialed quarantine to
send in the man.
In her mind's eye she could visualize
the lifted eyebrows of the day shift
guards as they glanced over the huddled
crew. She could see their suddenly
changed attitude toward the crew, their
new caution as they opened the heavy
wire door and led the man out. She
could see, too, the worried frown of
Comdr. Dunnam, whoever he was, as
he realized what that meant—to have a
crew member precede him.
She could see, too, Dunnam's probable
warning look to spaceman Gravenard
to keep mum and play his cards
That was the trouble with crews of
ships when they thought they might be
held up by psych over something. They
invariably overplayed their innocence
right from the start.
The side door from quarantine
opened. Two guards entered, preceding
and following the first victim warily.
Martha sized Ren Gravenard up
closely while her face assumed the careful,
welcoming smile that often brought
attempts at dating.
Ren Gravenard was no different in
appearance than a million like him. He
was average in everything including
his type of character.
"You are Ren Gravenard?" she
He nodded without speaking.
Martha pressed the button that told
Doctor Nale the first one had arrived,
got his O.K. signal, and motioned
Gravenard and the guards toward the
inner door with a sweep of long yellow
pencil in perfectly manicured fingers.
As the three passed into the private
office she made a slow dash after the
spaceman's name preparatory to writing
his destination when he came out.
It would be "obs" or "O.K."
Then she glanced at her wrist watch.
Its hands pointed to six after nine. Two
hours and fifty-four minutes later Ren
Gravenard had still not come out. And
in her two years as receptionist for Dr.
Nale Hargrave, Martha Ryan had
never known him to spend more than
twenty minutes with any subject....
Her manicured nail pressed the
buzzer three times to signal she was
going to lunch. Giving Dr. Nale a full
minute to make any request, without
receiving any, she opened the door to
the corridor and left.
When she returned an hour later
she was surprised to see the door
to Dr. Hargrave's inner office open and
Dr. John Bemis, the chief of the psych
staff, at the desk.
"Come in, Miss Ryan," Dr. Bemis
said, accenting his invitation with a
wave of his hand.
He waited until she had come in and
closed the door behind her before continuing.
"There's something's happened," he
said gravely. "I don't know just what,
and maybe I don't exactly WANT to
Dr. Bemis spread his hands in an
all inclusive gesture.
"The universe is a big place," he
said. "I suppose we should have expected
that sooner or later we'd run
into something a little outside normal
He shook his head slowly, looking up
at the ceiling as though trying to pierce
it and see beyond. When he continued,
his voice was sharp and businesslike.
"Tell me exactly what you saw,
thought, and felt this morning. Every
detail, however unimportant you might
"There's really very little to tell,"
Martha said, surprised and alarmed.
"There was this crew of the Endore in
quarantine when I came to work this
morning. They were unusual in that
they didn't complain about having to
wait, indicating a guilt feeling in the
crew. Dr. Hargrave asked to see a
common spaceman first. That proved he
recognized this. The name of the spaceman
he saw is Ren Gravenard, who was
brought in at a little after nine and
was still in there when I left at twelve."
She looked keenly at Dr. Bemis.
Something was so radically wrong somewhere
that she didn't have the courage
to even ask him. She just waited.
"Dr. Hargrave has been taken to
observation," he said without warning.
"So has the crew of the Endore. I—ah—believe
you may take an indefinite
leave from the office until further notice.
With full pay, of course."
"Dr. Hargrave?" Martha asked, not
hearing the last.
"Yes!" Dr. Bemis's voice changed
from harsh tenseness to contriteness.
"I'm sorry, Miss Ryan, but I feel it inadvisable
to discuss it just now. All
I can say is that full quarantine measures
are now in force as of fifteen minutes
ago. There will be no landing or
taking off from Earth until it is lifted;
and within this area the same quarantine
Martha Ryan hesitated, then turned
and left. Dr. Bemis watched her go.
After the door closed behind her he did
a very peculiar thing. He took a gun
out of his coat pocket and shot himself
through the head. After that he went
to a mirror on the wall, dressed the
wounds carefully, wincing at the bite of
the alcohol in the raw flesh, and, after
drinking several glasses of water, returned
to Dr. Hargrave's desk.
He sat there, drumming his fingers
on the walnut surface, his eyes
closed as if he were listening to something
very far away. A buzzer under
his desk gave three short buzzes. He
reached over and deflected the toggle
on the intercom.
"Back already, Martha?" he said
cheerily. "Any more left on your list
for the Endore?"
Martha checked her list. There had
been two left when she went to lunch.
They had been checked off, too, while
she was gone.
"That's all, Dr. Nale," she said.
"Good," came his voice through the
intercom. "Think I'll go out and have
something to eat myself."
The click of the intercom was followed
at once by the opening of the
inner office door. Martha's eyes watched
Dr. Nale Hargrave as he walked
through the office and out into the
Her eyes remained on the exit after
he had gone, a faint frown creasing the
smooth skin above her eyes. She had
an IRRATIONAL impression that she
had seen Dr. Bemis, the super, instead
of Dr. Nale, and with his head bandaged
She dismissed this with a pout and
took a book out of a drawer to do her
The buzzer on her desk buzzed a
warning. She laid the book flat as the
inner office door opened and Dr. Nale
escorted Ren Gravenard out into the
Martha glanced at her watch. It was
ten after nine. Four minutes! She expected
the nod from Dr. Nale. Her
pencil wrote an O.K. after the dash she
had drawn four minutes ago.
"Thank you doctor," Ren Gravenard
was saying heartily. The two guards
left by the side door back to quarantine.
Dr. Nale went over and bent close
to Martha's ear.
"As your psychiatrist," he said
pseudo-seriously, "I can advise you
that unless you kiss me I am going to
feel quite frustrated."
"Oh, that would never do!" Martha
laughed, and kissed him.
She jerked back, startled. There was
the sound of a shot from the inner office.
The door was still open. Martha and
Dr. Nale looked through the door, horrified.
Ren Gravenard was standing in the
middle of the inner office dropping a
flat automatic into his side pocket.
There was an ugly wound on either side
of his head from a bullet that had
passed directly through his brain.
He smiled at them disarmingly, "It's
quite all right. You see, it couldn't
possibly do me any harm because I'm
waiting for the elevator."
"Oh," they said, relieved. They bent
and kissed each other again while Ren
Gravenard went over to the mirror on
the wall and dressed the wounds, wincing
from the raw touch of the alcohol
on wounded bone and flesh.
The outer door opened and two men
came in with a wicker basket.
Dr. Nale pointed over in the corner
where one of the guards lay dead.
"What happened to him, Doc?" one
of the men asked.
"He got shot through the head," Dr.
Hargrave explained. "One of the men
off the Endore did it. They're all being
taken over to observation. I think I'll
have to go over with them. I'm beginning
to get an inkling of what's going
on, and I'm very much afraid of what
I think it is."
The two men set the basket down and
lifted the wicker lid. Dr. Bemis came
out of the inner office and laid down
in the corner. The two men waited until
he had settled himself, then lifted him
into the basket.
Dr. Hargrave held open the outer
door for them. He returned to the desk
beside Martha and took a gun out of
his coat pocket. He pointed it at her,
frowned in indecision, then slowly, with
perspiration standing out on his forehead,
pulled out the clip and emptied
the barrel of the gun.
"Good for you," Martha said. She
picked up her book and started reading.
Dr. Hargrave put the gun back
in his pocket and went to the door.
"Take a few days off starting tomorrow,"
he said before going out. "I'm
going to be slowly going crazy trying to
figure this mess out. That's why I insisted
to Dr. Bemis that I be confined
with the crew of the Endore—just in
His heels made loud noises on the
marble floor of the corridor. He pushed
through the revolving doors to the sidewalk.
There was an argument going on between
a small newsboy and an elderly
gentlemen type of man.
"I tell you there's only two pennies,"
the boy insisted.
"There's four," the man insisted just
as strongly. "See?"
He pried open the boy's fingers and
"Sorry," he said. "You're right."
His hand went into his pocket to make
up the deficit.
"Hey! Wait a minute," the boy said.
"I was wrong. You gave me two pennies
A small pudgy finger took two of the
pennies. The boy glanced at the others
to make sure the right number were
Nale was close enough to see what
happened. He saw the pennies taken
from what seemed to be seven or eight
in the boy's palm. When the two were
taken away there seemed to be a slight
blur—and there was only a solitary
He didn't wait. The paper boy and
the customer were still patiently arguing
as he climbed into his car and drove
away. He drove slowly with his foot
close to the brakes.
Although his eyes were warily watching
each car on the street, his mind
was busy. He was trying to figure out
who had been shot.
"It might even have been me!" he
thought. And there was no way of
He drove the car another block.
There was doubt growing in his mind.
On a sudden impulse he pulled the car
over to the curb and stopped the motor.
Getting out, he started walking rapidly.
There would be three miles of walking
before he reached observation, but it
would be safer to walk.
A block further he stopped abruptly
in surprise. The spaceport observation
hospital was just in front of him.
"I should have guessed," he muttered
as he pushed through the heavy doors.
"The speedometer, of course. Naturally
it would go first."
Martha Ryan saw the door close
on Dr. Hargrave, then started
reading again. She finished the page
and turned it over. The first few words
of the opposite side of the sheet showed
the continuity to be difficult.
Thinking she might have turned two
sheets by mistake, she turned back one.
It was still wrong. She sighed exasperatedly.
She distinctly remembered that
she had been on page twenty-five, so
the next page should be twenty-six.
Since it hadn't been, she would have to
look for twenty-six.
She looked through the book, page
by page, and it wasn't there. Getting
over her exasperation she made a game
of it. Finally she developed to the
stage where she would open the book
at random, note the number of the
page, close the book, and then try to
find that page she had just seen.
It was a very peculiar book. She
found that, (a) she could find any page
number she wasn't looking for, and (b)
any page number she looked for was not
in the book, even though it had been a
Resting thoughtfully for several minutes
on this achievement of deduction
she decided to try another experiment.
She counted the number of sheets of
paper in the book and wrote the number
down. It was one hundred twenty-four.
Then she counted them again. There
were one hundred eighty-six. She
counted them five more times, making
seven times she had counted them. She
got nine different numbers of sheets in
the book. She decided she couldn't
get nine different numbers after counting
only seven times, and counted the
numbers. There were five. She closed
her eyes and counted to ten rapidly,
then counted them again. There were
She held out her hands. She had
seven fingers on her right hand and
three on her left. She chuckled dryly
and thought, "Well, anyway there are
ten altogether." She counted them to
be sure, and there were thirteen.
Pursing her lips stubbornly she held
up two fingers and counted them. There
were two. She held them rigid and
closed her eyes, counting rapidly to
ten. Opening her eyes she looked cautiously
at the upraised fingers. There
She raised a third finger to join the
other two, and there were five upraised
fingers. Not only that, there were seven
of them clenched. She closed her eyes
and counted to ten quickly, then opened
them. There were three upraised fingers.
She counted the clenched ones
and there were two. Relieved, she
checked on the upraised fingers again—and
there were seven.
She gave up in disgust. Deciding
she ought to go home she stood up and
started to cross to the coat tree.
The door to the corridor opened and
Ren Gravenard stepped in.
"Hello!" Martha said in surprise.
"I thought you were sent to observation."
"I was," Ren said. "That's where I
am now, but when there are forty of
you, you can sort of get lost in the
group and wind up anywhere you want
"Well, I'm glad you're here," Martha
said dryly. "Maybe you can explain a
Ren grinned crookedly.
"Suppose I do the explaining over
something to eat," he said. "I almost
stopped and had something on the way
over here, but I wanted to wait and
eat with you. Do you mind?"
"Of course not," Martha frowned.
She was taking a closer look at this
spaceman second class. He had a nice
way of smiling at her. His eyes had
depths she hadn't noticed before.
The illogical thought came to her
that maybe now that things didn't
behave the way they should, maybe he
and his fellow spacemen were the only
ones that knew what it was all about.
"All this," Martha waved her hand
vaguely. "It must have been caused
by something about the Endore, mustn't
Ren nodded, holding the door open
for her. They walked along the corridor
to the revolving doors, his hand
tucked protectively under her arm.
"Is it mental?" Martha asked when
they were on the sidewalk.
"No," Ren answered. "But let's wait
until we eat. I'm starved to death. If
you run into any trouble I'll help you
out. You see, I know how to work
"Like finding page twenty-six in the
book I'm reading?" Martha asked.
"That's simple," Ren said. "All you
have to do is look for page twenty-nine
and you'll run across page twenty-six
right away. Things like that are mental,
partly. I mean, you have to have
the right attitude to get results you
"I don't understand," Martha said.
"Well, it's like this," Ren explained.
"If you're looking for page twenty-six
it won't be one of the first two pages
you look at, regardless of where you
open the book. But after you've looked
at three of them you've passed the page
you want unless you're not looking for
it. If you're not looking for it you
REACH the right page."
"But why page twenty-nine to find
twenty-six?" Martha persisted.
"It has to do with the new arithmetic,"
"Oh," Martha said dully. "So that's
the whole trouble with everything."
"No, that's only part of it," Ren
said. "But here's a good place to eat."
He guided her through the door.
An hour later Ren lit a cigarette and
took a long drag on it, his eyes looking
longingly into Martha's. He exhaled
the smoke in a long white plume. Then
he began talking.
"I don't know whether you read it
on the report sheet or not, but the trip
of the Endore began from this same
spaceport two years ago. The observatory
on Pluto had reported a free planet
passing within two hundred quadrillion
miles of the solar system. The Endore
was assigned the task of landing on it,
"I had been a member of the crew for
only four months when the Endore
turned outward from its position just
the other side of Mars' orbit."
Ren smiled apologetically.
"I hadn't exactly planned on being a
spaceman, second class. I don't know
whether you know the system, but
whether you do or not, it should suffice
to say that I had studied for five years
to become a research scientist, and
failed. I decided to take out my disappointment
by joining up for two
years. I planned on making another
try at research when I got out.
"Everything went along fine on the
trip out. We were a very congenial
crew with a fine, human commander.
He made it a point to get personally
acquainted with every member of the
crew eventually. He seemed to take a
particular liking to me for some reason.
By the time we were half-way out to
Metapor, as we found out it was called
later, I was an unofficial first mate or
something with free run of the pilot
room and the instruments.
"I had guessed by now that when I
enlisted they looked up my record and
passed the word along to Commander
Dunnam to sell me on the idea of a
career as a spaceman.
"At any rate, I was in an ideal position
to see all that went on first hand.
We were within three hundred thousand
miles of Metapor when we got the
first indication of the change in metaphysics.
I discovered it myself. I was
helping the astrogator get the constants
for the planet ..."
"Take a look at the gravy board,
Ren," Ford Gratrick, the astrogator
said. "What's she say?"
Ren looked at the fine black pointer
on the gravity potentiometer. It pointed
to a spot just two marks above the
number ten on the dial.
"Ten and two tenths," Ren read.
"That can't be right," Ford frowned.
"At this distance that would make this
baby a super."
He came over and looked himself.
While he was looking the pointer moved
up to twenty and then down to six
"Must be out of order," Ford muttered.
"Well, this'll give you experience
with emergency equipment. Break out
the manual gravy dish, Ren."
It was a fine coil spring in a glass
tube. Other glass tubes fastened on,
to make the length almost ten feet. At
one g the spring with its weight would
stretch out to the bottom. From there
to a ten thousandth of a g the spring
rose up to a point half-way.
Ren put it together speedily, placing
it in the wall clamps designed to hold
it. The glass itself was graduated with
the scale of gravity strength. The cylindrical
weight at the free end of the
spring had a line on it that would coincide
with the proper reading.
In practice it vibrated up and down
so that it had to be read by estimation
of the half-way point of the up and
Ren and Ford watched the red weight
with its black line. It moved slowly
and uniformly from the bottom to the
top of the scale, from a full g to ten
thousandth of a g, and back down again.
Meanwhile the gravity potentiometer
(gravy board) was changing its reading
constantly and erratically.
Ford licked his lips nervously and
said, "Don't know what the old man'll
say about this, but it looks like all we
can say is that the thing has gravity."
"Why not call him and let him see
for himself?" Ren asked.
Ford looked out the viewport at the
round object in the distance and shook
"I've got a hunch he knows it already,"
he said slowly. "The ship is
probably on a nonsense track and the
automatic tracker is either trying to
find out what the law of gravity is, or
is exploring for clues to light aberration.
One gets you ten he'll give me a buzz
in another minute."
He was right. The phone rang almost
at once. It was Hugh Dunnam himself,
asking for the gravy reading.
"You'll have to see it to believe it,"
Ford Gratrick said over the phone.
"The manual swing is uniform over the
whole range. The gravy board can't
make up its mind where to settle at. It
tries this and that reading."
He listened briefly. "Yes, sir," he
said, and hung up. "He wants you in
the pilot room, Ren," he added.
Ren started out of the central instrument
room through the axis tube.
"Better be careful," Ford shouted
after him. "No telling how this gravitation
will behave. Don't let it slam you
Ren heard his words. He had a sudden,
crazy thought that it was his own
voice, and that he, as he sped along
through the ship, was in reality Ford
Gratrick. The thought startled him.
He promptly forgot it.
There was a frown of concentration
on his face. He was trying to visualize
a gravity pull whose intensity was not
a single-valued pressure but a uniform
continuum of pressure values from a
minimum to a maximum.
It was like—well, like having an air
pressure in a car tire that wasn't thirty
pounds or thirty-two pounds, but every
value from zero to thirty-five pounds.
It was like transforming the points
and intervals on a line to a domain
where there had previously been only
Hugh Dunnam was waiting for
him when he arrived in the pilot
room. His iron grey hair was mussed
from exasperated hair-pulling. He
jabbed a finger in the direction of the
automatic pilot without speaking.
Ren saw that it had been cut out.
The first mate was controlling the ship
manually. The robot mechanism was
still turning out its data sheets, however.
In five minutes Ren saw that the
only consistent detail was the distance
of the ship from the planet.
Commander Dunnam watched him
silently for several minutes. Finally
Ren laid down the data sheets and
looked at him with a slow smile.
"Well?" Dunnam asked.
"It reminds me of a kid I knew quite
well when I was in grade school," Ren
said. "He was an incurable liar, so you
could never take anything he said, but
always had to figure out the truth yourself
and act on it regardless of what he
might claim to be the truth."
"You mean the instruments have all
become liars?" Hugh Dunnam asked,
amazed at the idea.
"No," Ren replied. "I don't think
that. I think nature is the liar, in a
way. I mean she is according to our
standards. We'll have to outguess her,
"Now you're cooking," Hugh exclaimed.
"What would you suggest?"
"We know this planet has gravity,"
Ren replied. "There's no way of knowing
how much or how little. Suppose
we kill our tangential speed and just
fall in? The gravity will take care of
that, regardless of its value or set of
"But we'll crash!" Hugh objected.
Ren took one of the report sheets
and figured rapidly on its back.
"Unless I'm radically wrong," he
said, "our speed of impact will be every
speed from zero to a thousand miles a
minute. Not only that, no matter how
we try to land that will be the set of
values for our speed. Naturally the
thousand miles a minute will smash
us flat, but the zero speed will let us
"And so?" Hugh asked suspiciously.
"No matter how we go in," Ren
smiled, "we'll smash the ship and kill
everybody—and we'll land safely."
"Are you crazy?" Hugh snorted.
"I—I'm not quite sure," Ren said
seriously. "I think that we've run across
a bit of matter that works from different
basics than what we are used to. You
might call it a different metaphysics.
That's what it really amounts to."
A pain of remembrance appeared on
"That's why I didn't get my degree,"
he said softly. "I insisted that it might
be possible there were no absolute rules
underlying all reality, but only relative
rules that might be changeable. In other
words, I questioned the validity of asserting
that natural law was universal.
They flunked me in stability."
"Yes, I know," Commander Dunnam
said sympathetically. "One of the
most unjust rules of modern education
in the opinion of many, but no way of
changing it unless the educators themselves
did it. Since they all passed O.K.
in stability, they think everyone else
should. Maybe they're afraid they
would be considered unstable if they
wanted to make such a major change."
Ren glanced toward the screen that
showed the magnified image of the
interstellar wanderer, and back again
to the commander.
"Of course," he said, "I'm trying to
use ordinary basics transposed onto the
basics of this system, which is wrong.
Or it may be right. It might be better
if we just turned around and went back.
There's no way of knowing ahead of
time whether we'd be killed on landing
"Look, Ren," the commander said
seriously. "I like you. You—you're
just about like my son would have been
today if he had lived. I'm just a spaceman.
I depend on instruments. They
don't work here. All of us are just as
helpless as if we didn't know the first
thing about our trade. We can't go
back without landing on this stray
planet. If we tried to tell them the reasons,
I'd be retired and the whole crew
would be stuck on various routine tub
runs. Suppose you unofficially take
charge. If we get killed—we all expect
to end that way in our trade. If
we don't, we'll be able to take back
something with us to prove what we've
run into. Maybe it will vindicate you
and make you a reputation. You'll get
all the credit I can turn your way."
"Thank you, sir," Ren said, his voice
choked with gratitude. In his heart he
knew that he would have sold his soul
to the devil for this coming experience
that had been given him without his
He had spent years preparing for
this—years that his teachers had felt
were wasted. He had explored all the
crazy systems of logic abandoned in the
march of progress. He had even devised
systems of his own, synthesized from
undefined symbols according to strange
patterns outside the field of logic.
Yes. He felt that even if the basics
of natural law in operation here were
purely nonsense laws, he would be able
to penetrate to a rational manipulation
and control of things. Perhaps he might
even set up the pattern operating, and
join it in some way with so-called normal
Commander Dunnam came to attention,
a twinkle in his eyes.
"At your command, sir," he said, saluting.
"Not that," Ren objected. "Let me
just play the part of a scientist under
your command, whose part it is to advise
"No," Hugh Dunnam said. "Until
we leave this part of space you're in
sole command. Call it what you want—a
hunch maybe; but I feel that there
is a purpose in things, and it wasn't
chance that gave you the type of mind
you have and threw you under my command
on this trip."
"Very well, sir," Ren said, returning
the salute. He smiled. Behind his smile
his analytical mind was working rapidly.
"The commander's reactions are not
normal," his thoughts said. "They
could not be dictated by anything in
his past. Therefore they are dictated
by something outside him—something
on that planet below!"
It was a wild conjecture. The more
he thought of it the more certain Ren
became that there was some intelligence
down there that had already made contact
with the minds in the ship.
Strangely, this didn't alarm him. He
felt that "it" was friendly. He felt that
"it" had plumbed the minds of all on
board and chosen him to take over and
lead the others.
Eagerly he "listened," but no faintest
whisper or flavor of thought came to
support his feeling of an alien contact.
In spite of this he went ahead with his
study of things with a confidence that
"something" was watching and would
see them through all right.
His eyes turned again to the image
of the cold planet below. That
image returned his stare blankly, its
inscrutable surface devoid of any hint
"I'd suggest we keep circling the
planet until I have a chance to form a
few definite conclusions," Ren said. "If
that can't be done I'd suggest we retreat
far enough so we can."
"Yes sir," Commander Dunnam said
quietly. He repeated the suggestion in
the form of an order to the first mate.
Ren studied the image of the planet.
He left the pilot room and wandered
over the ship aimlessly. He talked to
the members of the crew he ran into.
He slept at his usual time. He ate
his meals as usual. He stopped talking
to the crew and just wandered about,
occasionally going to the pilot room and
studying the strange sphere of matter.
After three days he ordered the ship
dropped to an orbit about five thousand
miles from the surface. Almost as soon
as the ship reached its new orbit changes
began to be noticed.
Ren had the commander issue an order
that every crew member was to report
all unusual happenings within the
ship. Twenty-four hours later he issued
an order that each crew member
was to write out a brief report of his
movements during the past twenty-four
hours as he remembered them.
Ren studied these reports. And gradually
he was building up a picture that
was wilder than the wildest of fantastic
He and Commander Dunnam had
grown very close to each other. Finally
Ren broke his long silence and talked
to him about what he was discovering.
They were in the dining room. Crew
members were eating their "evening"
meal. They listened as Ren tried to
"I think I've formed a few permanent
conclusions about things here,"
Ren began. "They aren't an EXPLANATION
of things, but just a description
of the way things are behaving.
I'll try to make it clear as I go along."
He chewed his food slowly while trying
to think of a good way to begin.
"Take any number, for example," he
said. "Take the number five. Back on
Earth you can count five apples and
say there are five apples. You can count
out five eggs and place them in a box,
and say there are the same number of
eggs as there are apples. There are five
of each. Actually that isn't true. There
aren't five of either. There is no such
thing as the number five. The number
is a mental thing, a concept. The apples
have a basic property which would more
accurately be called a 'fiveness'. The
eggs also have a basic property called
a 'fiveness', and the fiveness of the eggs
and the fiveness of the apples are NOT
the same. They are peculiar to each
group. The human race invented a concept
called the number five, and formulated
a theory that all fivenesses belong
to a class, called the number five. In
nature this theory acted as though it
were true. If you have five apples and
five eggs you have ten objects. A fiveness
placed with another fiveness makes
a tenness. So arithmetic merely describes
the behavior of a basic property
of reality in a consistent manner. Arithmetic
is NOT a basic law. It's merely
a DESCRIPTION of a basic law.
"That basic doesn't seem to hold
where we are now. But there are other
basic things that seem to be violated
here, too, and will probably be violated
even more when and if we land on this
"I've pretty well concluded that number
doesn't exist here in the same way
it does ordinarily. Take the strength
of gravity, for example. Instead of being
a single value it is equally a broad
range of values, and is all of them at
the same time. How that can be I don't
"It's the same way with the number
of objects. Instead of having five
fingers I have three, four, five, six and
so on, fingers all at the same time. But
my mind can't see that. It can only
grasp a single number. My eyes look
at my fingers and see the many simultaneous
numbers of fingers, but my
mind can't grasp that, so it conjures up
a single number at random. It RATIONALIZES
what it gets, and so we
have a real problem—the devising of
some method of helping the mind deal
with what it can't grasp because it
hasn't the equipment to grasp it as it
"There are sixty of us on board—or
rather, there WERE sixty. Now
there are three, four, and so on, to some
number above sixty. The last report
handed in by the crew shows eighty-three
men on board! I can't prove it,
because if I handed you the report
sheets you would count more or less
than that number.
"So what we must realize is that now
there isn't any NUMBER of crew members,
but a 'something else' that is different
than a number, corresponding
to an INTERVAL of numbers. It is
real. It's a metaphysical basic for this
part of space around this planet.
"It's subtle, too. For example, right
now there may be more than one me
on this ship, depending on whether
there are more than sixty people on
board or not. I don't quite understand
about that yet. There are a lot of things
I don't understand about it. If there
is more than one of any person on
board, is it a reality, or is it a trick of
rationalization of the mind to fit something
utterly incomprehensible into at
least a semblance of something comprehensible?
If it is the latter, then why
do the two who are supposedly the same
person hand in DIFFERENT reports
on what the supposedly one person did,
and why do the reports check with other
"I have a theory which might account
for part of all this. Our ship and all in
it belongs to the universe of the metaphysics
we know of and use as the
thought process. It is hovering on the
borders of a region containing this planet
we are to land on—a region operating
on other basics. In some way both
sets of basics operate in either conflict
or compromise. Besides mental confusion
there is actual physical confusion.
"But maybe it's better that way. If
we make the transition in steps the
actual noumenal confusion may guide
our minds correctly into a correct understanding
of the new basics of this
system by the time we land."
Ford Gratrick had come into the dining
room unnoticed at the beginning of
this. He spoke now.
"Then you claim that the laws of
nature are different here than we are
accustomed to, and that our minds are
not equipped to deal with them?" he
Ren frowned. Not at the words but
at something he had not mentioned,
about people and identities.
"They are different, yes," Ren returned.
"But as to our minds dealing
with them—human minds have dealt
with things without truly comprehending
them since the dawn of time."
"Things that were sane," Ford said.
"These are sane, too," Ren said,
studying Ford keenly from hidden eyes.
"They're just sane in a different way."
"So is a crazy man," Ford almost
sneered openly. "I think we've seen
enough to make it obvious we should
get away from here while we can."
There was a murmur among the men
at the tables that agreed with what
Ford had said.
"We may do that," Ren said, ignoring
the signs of almost open defiance
patent in Ford's tone and manner, and
in the men's muttered approval of what
he had said. "But we won't until we're
sure it's suicide to go down there and
land. Don't you realize that we have
something here which may be unique
in the universe? This space wanderer
won't be close enough to the solar system
for exploration more than two or
three years. Then it will be gone. There
may never be another opportunity to
study something like it."
"Which is a good thing," Ford
snorted. "If you decide to drop the
ship any closer to this mad planet you're
going to have trouble with the men."
"Meaning you've been talking to
them?" Commander Hugh Dunnam
"Talking WITH them," Ford Gratrick
said, matching Hugh's softness.
"Don't try to put me in the position of
being a leader of any rebellion that
might develop. I'll confess quite frankly,
though, that I want no part of landing
on this God-forsaken hunk of matter,
and a good many of the crew agree
on that. It's suicidal. Frankly, sir, I
think you must be under some kind of
spell to turn your command over to a
spaceman second class as you did."
Ren's scalp crawled. This had been
exactly what he himself had felt!
So others besides him had "felt" that
alien contact from below! On impulse
he made up his mind.
"Before anyone says something they
might regret later," he cut in, "let me
say that I've made up my mind that
it's too dangerous to land. The effects
we experience up here would probably
be increased beyond conception down
there. Our thought processes are being
affected in ways we can't understand.
It's possible that if we landed the ship
would behave so differently that it
would be impossible to get away. So,
give me another two days of study in
this orbit and then we'll go back to the
While Ren was talking he had a curious
feeling, far back in the depths of
his mind. It was as though a section of
the bank of a stream had broken off
and dropped into the stream.
Irrational. There had been so many
such feelings that crept to the borders
of consciousness and faded away without
Time! Ren felt that time was all he
needed to get to the bottom of it. He
compared himself to a newborn babe
coming into the world. For the first
few months things come and go in
meaningless fashion. Slowly the mind
makes order out of them. The oft-repeated
patterns become clear first,
then more obscure ones. Finally the
baby is able to understand the apparently
senseless sequence of events.
Ren felt that the results would be the
same here if he were given half a chance
... but Ford Gratrick was right, too.
It concerned more than the mind. It
struck at the roots of reality that had
been used in the principle of the ship's
operation—and there was no way of
knowing the ship would operate once
Ren Gravenard flicked the
ashes from the end of his cigarette
off the edge of the table onto the floor.
Martha's eyes took this in and slowly
lost their faraway look.
"I'm trying to make clear, Martha,"
Ren said gravely, "the emergence into
consciousness of the things going on
around us. There was no way yet for
us to suspect their full activity—their
inroads. Things were going on that we
simply could not see or sense in any
way because we didn't yet have the
faculty of grasping them. They made
their impression and were lost in a
hodge-podge of neural channels already
deeply grooved in the normal way, so
that when they got close enough to the
conscious mind to be sensed, they were
distorted beyond any semblance of the
"I can see that," Martha said, her
eyes brooding. "But DID you find a
living, intelligent creature or race on
Ren nodded. "I'm coming to that
later," he said. "Be patient and let me
take things in order. That's the only
way you can understand when I tell
His eyes studied the glowing coal at
the end of the cigarette. He lifted the
white cylinder to his lips and sucked
in. Dropping the cigarette on the floor
and stepping on it, he let the grey
smoke seep from his mouth and nostrils.
Traffic sounds came through the window.
A murmur of voices drifted over
the two as they sat there, quietly.
"I've tried to bring you up to the
point where I began to suspect," Ren
continued. "I described the feeling I
had that was something like watching
a large chunk of the bank of a stream
break away, starting first as a jagged
crack in the turf, with it widening slowly
at first, then faster, until the broken
chunk becomes a separate THING, dissociated
from the bank. It breaks away,
drops into the stream—and vanishes;
while the bank itself remains, enclosing
and containing the rushing stream.
"I didn't realize then what that feeling
meant. I had felt it in varied shades
before. It rose almost into consciousness,
then, like the broken section of
the bank itself, it would drop away and
dissolve in the swirling stream of mind.
"Sitting there at the table in the
ship's dining room, suddenly I suspected
what that feeling really sprung
from. I got my first inkling of what
intervalness instead of numberness
"For an insane period I was two
people, both the same person and yet
not a person—and even not two, or even
one, but a 'something' that contained
in the logical sense all of those, as a
class contains the members of the class.
"Remember that I said I was making
a little speech, sitting there, that assured
Ford Gratrick and the members
of the crew present in the room that
we weren't going to risk landing, but
get away in a couple of days.
"At the same time, while I was talking,
I was experiencing this strange
feeling. It was quite clear, for a few
seconds. I was two Ren Gravenards,
saying two different things. The two of
me were very close. But while I talked
they separated distinctly as the bank
of the stream and the chunk are suddenly
not one, but two.
"It was not me alone. Every man
in that room was doing the same. The
ship itself was doing it—and suddenly ..."
"Before anyone says something
they might regret," Hugh Dunnam,
the commander, said in a quiet
warning voice, "get this straight, all
of you. This is a government ship. I'm
an officer of the Earth Space Fleet and
my command is law. I have a right
temporarily to promote any member of
my crew to complete command of the
ship with power equal to mine or even
greater than mine. If Ren Gravenard
says we go down, we go down even if
it seems certain we'll all be killed. You
have a choice of certain but honorable
death, and equally certain but dishonorable
death. Or you have a choice between
an uncertain but honorable death
if death it is, and certain but dishonorable
death as a coward and a traitor.
Let's not have any more thoughts of
insubordination. You, Ford Gratrick,
under a stricter commander, would already
be on the way to the brig."
Ford looked at Hugh Dunnam
through slitted eyes, his face expressionless.
Suddenly he smiled.
"You forget, sir," he said smoothly.
"Under a less human commander I
would have kept my thoughts to myself."
"I was sitting there, Martha," Ren
said. "Trying to grab hold of the
strange 'split' in things. It's even more
mixed up than I pictured it. I had a
feeling of BEING both Hugh Dunnam
and myself, and also of being myself
on a 'something' drifting apart from
all I could see. At the same time there
was a feeling of two separate things now
existing on the ship. Those two things
might be called a composite of each of
the two forces that began their existence
at that moment—the forces obedient
to the commander, and me; and
the forces that were to side in with Ford
"In a way numberness in any group
depends on the independent unity of
each member of the group. Put a thousand
drops of water in a glass and you
don't have a thousand drops of water
but a teaspoon or so of water. It would
be impossible to take a drop of water
out and definitely say that it was one
of the drops you had put in. And if
you changed all the water back into
drops you might have more or less than
the thousand you put in.
"But water is a fluid. A human being
is not. In some inexplicable way, however,
I was becoming more and more
like the drop of water after it is
dropped into a large volume of water.
I was 'spreading', while all the time
seeming to be just my normal self.
"I think I was beginning dimly to
see the new metaphysical basics that
were to make the whole thing sensible
and manipulable. At least, I had already
realized that it was different than
would be, for example, the difference
in operational principle of a gas engine
and an electric transformer.
"If you've ever studied any abstract
mathematical system you'll be able to
understand how the changing of one
basic axiom can alter the whole structure
almost beyond recognition. Suppose
that change in a basic axiom were
not a clean change, but that for a time
both the axiom and its alternative were
to be used interchangeably and unpredictably.
You would have results that
were double-valued. You would have
contradictory results following from
whatever you began with until the old
axiom got weeded out entirely.
"Perhaps you can see that well
enough to understand everything. I
hope so, Martha. If you can I can skip
the landing. We DID land. We crashed,
and we landed safely. We also did
something else. I think that when they
check the records they'll find that the
Endore also came back to Earth and
reported that it hadn't actually landed
on Metapor. It did all those things—returned
over a year ago, landed safely,
and was crushed in landing. If you
could see HOW it could do all those
things—it's like the page in a book;
you pass it if you look for it, and find
it if you don't look for it.
"It's happening here on Earth right
now and will keep on happening until
the old basics that contradict the new
ones are no longer operating. You see,
Martha, we knew that would happen.
That's why we came back. The new
system is so much more perfect than
the old. SHE taught it to us when we
landed. Ford Gratrick and his fellow
objectors were killed in the ship that
crashed. They also were on the ship
that came back to Earth. They're alive
and they're dead."
Martha's face was a mask of confusion.
She was trying to understand
and not knowing how. Ren saw this
and tried again.
"Suppose we try from this angle,"
he said patiently. "If a car is going
ten miles an hour it will be ten miles
farther on at the end of an hour. If it
goes twenty miles an hour it will be
twenty miles farther on. But suppose
it goes both ten miles an hour and
twenty miles an hour. At the end of an
hour it will be ten miles and twenty
miles along, and according to what the
Earth is used to it would have to become
two cars to do that.
"If it went every speed from zero
to twenty miles an hour it would have
to become an infinite number of cars,
and occupy every position from the
starting point to a twenty-mile distance
at the end of an hour. That would
be the conventional conclusion to the
abstract problems. With the new basics
it does just that—except that it is still
just one car, and yet never was just
one car and never will be. It CAN'T
be, because there is no such thing, in
the new system, as a one thing.
"I myself am not Ren Gravenard,
only Ren Gravenard, or anything else
that your old ideas can conceive of.
You'll see, Martha. The whole world
will see soon, just as I did after we
had been on Metapor a short while and
had gotten the contradictions out of
my mind and my structure."
"Then what are you?" Martha asked
"I'm the crew of the Endore," Ren
said softly. "I'm Ren Gravenard here
and now because that is the only thing
you can accept at present. I'm—Her,
A question rose in Martha's mind.
She drew back from the question as
from the brink of the Abyss, yet felt
drawn magnetically toward it. Ren
watched and knew what that question
would be. She opened her lips.
"Who—am I?" she asked.
"Look at your hands," Ren said.
Martha looked down at her hands
resting on the edge of the table. They
were large, gnarled, strong—the hands
of a man. She flexed them. They were
smooth and skillful.
Wonderingly she raised her eyes to
look at her companion across the table.
Her companion was—herself and she
was Ren Gravenard. Anything else
would have been—unthinkable.
Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
This etext was produced from Amazing Stories April 1949.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.
Variant spellings have been retained.