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Doc's Legacy

Felix N. Muir, A.S., forgot the beautiful summer morning outside as he glanced from James Allen, Director of Research, to the gadget that Allen with studied casualness was unloading onto Muir's desk.

At first sight, the device looked like a pocket calculator. But where the display should be, there was a meter; and where there should be rows of push buttons, there were just two grey buttons, with an additional black button around on the side. Connected by a thick electric cord was a small megaphone-shaped apparatus of slender copper rod.

As Muir came to his feet, Allen gave a genial nod, then reached back for the knob of the hall door. Plainly enough, the Director of Research was about to toss Muir a few words of instruction, and depart.

Muir, though still new at this job, moved fast, and pulled over a chair.

"Have a seat, Dr. Allen."

"Oh," said Allen, "I don't have time—"

"And what is this?"

Allen favored Muir with a friendly man-to-man smile.

"It's just a little—you know, a—ah—toy—of Doc's. I want you to—"

Muir blinked. In this company, "Doc" meant just one person.

"Toy? Of Dr. Griswell?"

Allen got his hand on the knob. "Yes. Now, I want you—"

The words were out before Muir had time to think: "If this belonged to Dr. Griswell, I don't touch it without an explanation."

Allen's face lost its friendly smile. "See here, Muir—"

Muir's thoughts caught up with his reactions, and he added persuasively, "Suppose someone gave you a bottle of yellowish oily liquid, Dr. Allen? Wouldn't you be uneasy if it turned out to be nitroglycerine?"

"Glyceryl trinitrate. Well, that is a—h'm—mistaken comparison." Allen hesitated, cast a penetrating glance at Muir, and added, "But I see your point." He pulled over the chair, and uneasily moved the little megaphone-shaped device so it aimed elsewhere than at him. "You're comparatively new here, Muir. What do you know about Doc Griswell?"

"Well—He invented the asterator."

"Do you understand the asterator?"

"As far as the mechanism is concerned, I don't remotely understand it. As for the effect, I know what's common knowledge."


"The asterator has a number of reaction chambers. Each chamber emits a narrow beam. Just as glass is transparent to light, ordinary matter is transparent to the asterator beam. The beams can focus on a common target. In a target containing unstable nuclei, the nuclei decompose."

"The significance of this—?"

"Nuclear weapons and reactors contain a lot of unstable nuclei. If an asterator focuses on them, the weapon or reactor blows up."

Allen nodded. "And the political effect?"

"Not long ago, the major powers had arsenals of nuclear weapons. Then Doc Griswell invented the asterator. Suddenly a nuclear weapon was more dangerous to its possessor than to anyone else. The result was rapid voluntary nuclear disarmament, which is still going on."

"And Dr. Griswell?"

"Dr. Griswell's car crashed into a stone wall before the facts came out."

Allen nodded soberly. "The asterator was a work of extraordinary genius, or a remarkable accidental discovery—Or, perhaps, both. But for Doc Griswell it was a tragedy. Doc wanted safe, trouble-free nuclear power. The wave of accidents, when the asterator was first tested, was completely unexpected. And, of course, no one realized at first that the asterator was the cause. Doc evidently blamed himself, and—" Allen's voice briefly choked.

Muir said sympathetically, "Well—They said it was suicide. But who knows? Where his car went off the road, there's a sharp curve. If he was distracted—"

"You're familiar with the spot?"

"I drove out there one night. There are big evergreens that cast dense shadows in the moonlight. With the wall and the curve hidden in the shadows, that spot looks like two or three perfectly harmless places on the road."

"But Doc's headlights—"

"On high beam, on the rise just before the curve, the lights lift up off the road. The danger isn't clear."

Allen stared across the room. "Beasley and I blamed ourselves, and felt guilty. You see, we worked very closely with Doc, but he didn't trust us enough to take us into his confidence when things went wrong."

"That's assuming he deliberately drove into that wall. But suppose, as he neared the curve, that a thought occurred to him about the asterator? All it takes there is night, a fast car, the moon in a part of the sky to cast the right shadows, and one second's distraction. He knew the road; but he may not have had that combination before."

Allen sat silent for a moment, then cleared his throat. "Gloria Griswell brought the touchstone in yesterday."

Muir looked blank.

Allen said, "Gloria is Doc's widow. The device I just put on your desk is what Doc called his 'touchstone.'"

Muir looked at the meter, push buttons, and electric cord with its small cone-shaped apparatus. "A 'touchstone' is used to test whether something is genuine. What kind of—"

"Exactly the sort of question I'd like you to investigate, Muir."

Muir cast him a fishy look. "And Mrs. Griswell?"

"What about her?"

"Dr. Griswell died almost two years ago, didn't he? Why did his widow only bring this in yesterday?"

"Roughly two years ago. Yes. I was surprised to see her."

"Why did she bring it in now?"

"She wanted it out of the house."

"Why, after having it around that long, did she only now want it out of the house?"

Allen looked at Muir approvingly. "You're quick, Muir. You really should try for a higher degree."

"Not with my temperament. Why did Mrs. Griswell suddenly want to get rid of this device?"

"What does your temperament have to do with it?"

"There are times when I think I'm leaning over backward, and everyone else thinks I'm spoiling for a fight. It doesn't go down well against an academic background."

"With a little tact, people would soon realize that they were mistaken."

Muir looked faintly embarrassed. "The trouble is, they're not always mistaken."

"Ah," said Allen, smiling, "that's different."

"Why did Mrs. Griswell suddenly want this device out of the house?"

"Her fiancé objected to it."


"Well, she—you see, she—" Allen paused, then tried again. "She intends to remarry, and, of course, no one can criticize her for that. She's certainly waited long enough to show respect for Doc's memory. Especially as things are these days. And no one could ask—"

Muir squinted as if trying to get Allen back into focus. "I had the impression Dr. Griswell was quite elderly when he died."

"Yes. He was an elder brother to us. He had not only an exceptional and vigorous originality, but a long experience in the field."

"How old is Gloria Griswell?"

"Oh, quite young. Everyone was stunned when she and Doc got married. Two people more completely different . . . But they understood each other, and got along wonderfully."

"You're saying Gloria Griswell is young, is getting remarried, and her boob of a fiancé doesn't want this 'touchstone' in the house?"

Allen stared at Muir, then nodded.

Muir said shortly, "Did she just let him into her bedroom, or what?"

Allen's head jerked as if he had been slapped. He began to speak angrily, then stopped with an odd listening look. "You reason that she would probably have kept the touchstone near her as a kind of memento? And that her fiancé would only have come in contact with it when he—er—experienced a—ah—considerable degree of intimacy?"

"If this fiancé didn't object before, why now? Something must have changed."

"That reasoning does seem valid."

"What doesn't the cretin like about it?"


Muir leaned across the desk. "You're holding something back, Dr. Allen. And incidentally, is he marrying her for money, or what?"

Allen stared at him. "Muir, you have a habit—Not that I object, of course—Doc used to do the same thing—"


"You don't respond to what's said, you respond to what you deduce from what's said. And I fail to grasp your reasoning. For instance, you've referred to Gloria Griswell's fiancé as a 'boob,' a 'cretin'—"

"Isn't he?"

"Oh, most assuredly. A more conceited, theatrical, self-seeking . . . But the question is, how do you know? Have you met him?"

"No. And I'm not eager to."

"And now, you ask, is he marrying her for money? Where did you get that idea?"

"Don't you agree?"

"Of course I agree! Though, really, she's attractive enough. Beautiful, actually. But the question is, how do you now deduce, rightly or wrongly, that he's marrying her for money?"

"What you said implied it."

"I didn't imply it. You inferred it. How?"

"There was something in what you said—"


"H'm . . . I don't know . . . But now you're saying that there is some serious drawback—some reason a man wouldn't want to marry her. Even though she's beautiful."

Allen nodded wonderingly. "Exactly the kind of answer I used to get from Doc. That is, no answer at all, and very possibly a new deduction, equally unexplained."

"It's there in what you said."


"Well—if there was no reason to think this fiancé naturally would not marry her, then how can you be sure he's marrying her for money? If she's young, rich, and beautiful, how do you know he's only thinking of the 'rich,' and not the 'young and beautiful'?" Muir paused, frowning. "And incidentally, why is she marrying him?"

Allen looked momentarily disoriented. "I don't know. But she's very vulnerable."

"A young rich widow?"

"It's worse than that. She admired Doc greatly. You could see the affection and the pride in her eyes. I'm afraid that her admiration for Doc led her to admire genius in general. Then, too—" He paused suddenly.

Muir was frowning at Allen. "You mean, she takes this fake for a genius?"

Allen sat back, staring at Muir. "Precisely. And—" He caught himself.

"And what?"

"Oh, nothing specific. We've gotten off the track. What I need done is to have the properties of this device very carefully investigated."

Muir looked at him skeptically. "You worked with Dr. Griswell. You must know the answers already."

"Well, but . . . You see, Beasley and I couldn't be sure . . . and . . . You could say Doc was much closer to Beasley . . . And of course to Gloria . . . Yes, I'm sure he explained to Gloria.—And then, his sense of humor. Was he serious, or . . . His scientific reputation could be badly damaged if . . . No. I can't do it. But . . ."

Muir nodded. "In short, whatever the thing does, there are theoretical objections. So you are tossing me the hot potato."

"Well, I—ah—" Allen smiled. "Yes. Precisely."

"At least we understand each other. Now, what if there should turn out to be some credit in it?"

" 'You do the work, you get the reward.' That was Doc's policy. But be careful, Muir. I doubt there is anything in this theoretically but trouble. And you have to remember, it's Doc's device. However, aside from all that, if it makes you rich and famous, well . . . just add a footnote that I put it on your desk."

Muir smiled. "It's a nice dream."

"Possibly more than that. I'd better mention what Doc said about it: 'If the human race survives the nuclear mess, the principle behind this may keep us out of the next hole.' He wouldn't have said that lightly."

"But you don't want to say anything more about it?"


"Where is Dr. Beasley now?"

"As nearly as I can recall, he was going to take a long vacation as far from the lab as he could get. I think that would put him somewhere in the South Pacific. I'm afraid he's out of reach."

"I see. Well, if you should happen to remember anything about this device . . ."

Allen gave a sort of half-nod and half-shake of the head, along with an uninterpretable wave of the hand. He came to his feet, and reached for the doorknob. For an instant, he seemed about to say more. Then he smiled, and went out.

Muir sat for a moment looking at the closed door. Then he carefully picked up the device, turned it in his hands, and considered the black button on the side. Then he looked thoughtfully at the two grey buttons.

He sat frowning for a moment, then went to the back of the room, and bent to a large old-fashioned safe. He straightened up holding a scuffed attaché case, crumpled up a newspaper for padding, and carefully put the "touchstone" in the case. A few minutes later, he was in the sunlit parking lot, getting into a small beat-up blue car that sat in the shade of the building. Despite its appearance, the car started at once, and he pulled out onto the road.

If he remembered correctly, it should be seven or eight miles to the Griswell place.


Eli Kenzie, president of the company, stood at his office window, and watched the battered blue car glide swiftly out of the lot and down the road. He turned at a knock on a door that led, not to his outer office, but to a short hall giving access to a washroom, a small elevator, and the stairs down to his parking slot.

Kenzie unlatched the door, and Allen stepped in, looking bemused. "I gave Muir the touchstone. But it cost some information to get him to work on it."

Kenzie closed and locked the door.

"Why not just tell him to do it?"

"He wouldn't touch it without an explanation. He compared it to 'nitroglycerine.'"

"He did? Well, he's got a point. By the way, he just came out the north door carrying a briefcase, got in his car, and left in a streak."

"Already? Which way?"

"Away from the highway. Toward Doc's place."

"Then there's a good chance he went to ask Gloria about the touchstone."

Kenzie sat down on the edge of his desk. "I'm surprised he's so independent. From what you'd said, I'd gathered that his qualifications were few and far between."

Allen looked uncomfortable. "He has few formal qualifications; but he was on that list Doc made out, of individuals whose work he wanted followed. When we needed someone, I sent a query to everyone on the list. Muir was the only one still low enough on the totem pole to be interested."

"Which, by itself, suggests he's no hotshot."

"No hotshot at getting ahead in the world."

Kenzie shrugged. "Cream rises to the top."

"There are times when you want to check the bottom. Gold is pretty heavy."

"Name an instance."

"Well, Galileo wound up imprisoned. If I'm not mistaken, Archimedes was very unpopular for a while. First-rate minds have passed unrecognized simply because they didn't seek recognition, antagonized people, published in the wrong journal, or their methods just weren't in style."

"What's the explanation for Muir? He's old enough to be a lot further ahead."

"I don't know. But for just an instant, I would cheerfully have fired him myself."

Kenzie looked interested. "Why?"

"He told me flatly he wouldn't work on the touchstone without an explanation."

"He did, eh? He's lucky to have the job, and he's being paid for it. And if it weren't for Doc's interest, whatever the reason, he wouldn't have it."

"All that was in the back of my mind. It boiled down to: 'Who is he to use that tone?'"

"What did you do?"

"Before I got started, he explained his reasons."

"That took the edge off it?"

"Yes. And incidentally left the impression that he had just recently discovered tact, and was determined to give it a fair try."

Kenzie laughed. "That could explain quite a lot."

Allen nodded. "In some ways, Muir reminds me of Doc. He has Doc's trick of answering not what you say but what he deduces from what you say. I'm just wondering if he also has Doc's quirk of assuming anyone who misunderstands him does it on purpose. It made trouble enough with Doc, as you remember."

Kenzie winced. "Let's hope not. At any rate, he has the touchstone?"


"Then, for now, that gets the impossible damned thing off our necks. There isn't another invention of Doc's lying around, is there?"

"Not that I know of. Anyway, one mess at a time."

"That leaves Gloria herself. Even if it isn't any of our business."

Allen said exasperatedly, "But what can we do?"

"Well, the touchstone's apparently on its way back out there. That should confuse matters a little."

"I tried to argue with her yesterday. She thinks that bearded fake is a genius."

"Genius? That confidence artist!"

"But what can we—?"

"If it weren't for Doc, I'd say, forget it! A woman can fall in love with any slick conceited fraud."

"I don't think," said Allen, frowning, "that it's actually love."

"She's going to marry him, isn't she?"

"I think it's a sense of duty. Remember, she has some serious little problems."

Kenzie nodded moodily. "True enough." He walked around the desk and sat down in his chair. "If it's not love, then, at least, if she should fall in love with someone else—"

"With Gloria, who knows? She may even feel it's her duty to Doc. After all, she can't handle the situation alone. And, just incidentally, who but a confidence artist would stick around?"

Kenzie shook his head. "We shouldn't be spending our time on this. But, damn it, the company was built on Doc's ideas! We can't just toss his widow to the wolves!"

Allen said exasperatedly, "The fellow uses the situation to present himself in a favorable light. But you'd think even he would have his limits."

Kenzie sighed.

"Well, let's hope Muir makes some progress with the touchstone."


Muir slowed, rounded the remembered sharp turn, and soon was looking at Doc Griswell's colonial house set back in the shade of big maples. To the left of the house, a shiny black Cadillac was parked in the graveled drive. Muir pulled in behind it, got out, and closed the car door loudly. He stood still, to listen.

In the warm sunlight, there was a sigh of wind in the trees, and a buzz of insects—but no sound of people. Leaving his attaché case locked in the car, Muir followed a shaded walk of flat stones toward the front of the house. The only new sound was the whine of a passing mosquito that came back for a closer look.

Muir paused opposite the front door, heard no one inside, stayed a moment to settle with the mosquito, then followed the walk to the side of the house. From somewhere in back came sounds of an argument, then of running feet. Muir paused, to cough loudly.

A small boy burst around the rear corner of the house, sobbing, and raced along the walk toward the front.

Muir stepped aside. The boy stubbed his toe, tripped, and Muir, moving fast, caught him before he hit the stones.

The boy, sobbing desperately, threw his arms around Muir's neck.

Beside the rear corner of the house appeared a young auburn-haired woman who called angrily, "Marius!"

"No!" cried the boy, his face buried in Muir's shoulder.

Just behind the woman strode a man with a black mustache and beard, wearing a black suit, black shoes, a black cape lined in red, and carrying a black attaché case and a straight black cane with a shiny metal tip. He spotted Muir, and stepped in front of the woman, as if to shield her from contamination.

Muir grunted. "Now what? Count Dracula?"

The boy twisted around, looked at the black-caped figure, glanced at Muir's expression, and grinned. He murmured, "Mommy's would-be inamorata."

"Wrong gender."

"No, it's an insult."

After a moment glaring at Muir, the caped figure came striding up the walk, the metal tip of the cane striking the stones rhythmically.

The boy kept a tight grip around Muir's neck. "Watch out for the cane. He's tricky."

The approaching figure studied Muir with distaste. "And just what do you flatter yourself that you're doing here?"

"I'd like to talk to Mrs. Griswell."

"Mrs. Griswell isn't free to talk to you."

"I'll ask Mrs. Griswell, if you don't mind."

"I do mind. My name is Vandenpeer. You are asking to speak to the future Mrs. Vandenpeer. I refuse permission."

The boy said, "Mom won't marry you! I'll die if she marries you!"

Down the walk, the woman put her hand to her forehead.

Muir said politely, "I appreciate your feelings, Mr. Van Damper, but I'll ask Mrs. Griswell herself."

"Vandenpeer." He pointed the cane at Muir, then flicked it toward the driveway.

"Get out."

Muir turned toward Gloria Griswell, as she wearily brushed back her hair, looked in faint puzzlement at Muir, and turned to approach. As Dr. Allen had told him, she was beautiful. Muir had seen beautiful women before, but this was the first time he found himself unable to look away. The sun, shining at intervals through the trees, lit her auburn hair with a warm glow, and Muir suddenly realized how much he liked auburn hair. Her movements, too, though slow and weary, were indescribably graceful.

Vandenpeer's voice pierced Muir's trance.

"Set that boy down and get out!"

Muir tore his gaze from Gloria Griswell. The boy tightened his armhold on Muir's neck. Muir said, "I came to ask Mrs. Griswell about something important—"

"Important to my fiancée or important to you?"

"I won't know until I've had a chance to speak to Mrs. Griswell."

"Then my advice is, get out. You aren't going to get a chance."

"I don't mean to be disagreeable," snarled Muir, "but I didn't ask your advice. And keep that stick out of my face."

Vandenpeer smiled contemptuously, and swung the cane so that he was holding it against his thighs, horizontally, apparently negligently, in widely spaced hands. He was holding it, Muir realized, in such a position that if he, Muir, were to step forward, Vandenpeer could hit him across the midsection with the end, and move on from there.

Muir tried to set the boy down. The boy clung tight. "No. He'll get you with the cane."

"Has he used that thing on you?"

"Not yet. He wants to marry Mommy first. Then he'll have the right. He'll call it 'good discipline.' He's already stolen my magic carpet. He calls that 'good psychology.'"

Muir turned to speak to Gloria Griswell. He looked at her, but immediately forgot what he was going to say.

Vandenpeer straightened menacingly.

From down near the corner of the house, there came a high-pitched scream, a sob, and the rapid patter of small feet.

Vandenpeer turned furiously. "I told you she'd get out, Gloria! You've got to put something over the top of her playpen!"

A small girl burst around the corner of the house, sobbing hysterically, "Mommy! Mommy! Don't leave me! I'm afraid!"

The boy leaned away from Muir's ear, to shout, "Watch the stones, Mom! I'd have broken my neck, but the man caught me!"

Vandenpeer cast the boy a venomous look.

The girl stumbled, and Gloria Griswell caught her, and the girl threw her arms around her mother's neck and sobbed. As her mother picked her up, she stopped crying to glare over her mother's shoulder at Vandenpeer; after a truly nasty look, she went back to sobbing hysterically.

It occurred to Muir that there was something here he didn't understand; but as he glanced at Gloria Griswell, the thought evaporated.

Vandenpeer stared at his fiancée's small daughter, shook his head, reached for a handkerchief, and mopped his brow.

Muir said in a polite voice, "I don't mean to intrude, Mr. Vandenpeer, but—"

Vandenpeer stared at him incredulously.

Muir went on, "but I'm curious about the boy's 'flying carpet.' Did you really take it?"

"By what right—"

"There!" cried the boy. "It's sticking out of his case!"

Muir noted an edge of worn blue cloth protruding from the attaché case. "It might be a good idea to just open up that case and show what you've got there."

"Oh, for—Why, you impudent pipsqueak! If you don't want to intrude, get out! Set the boy down, get back in your car, and go!"

The boy tightened his arm around Muir's neck. "He's got more right here than you have! All you do is threaten me and steal my things! Daddy gave me that magic carpet! You've got no right to it! Give it back to me!"

Gloria Griswell, holding her daughter, was looking with an unreadable expression at her son clinging tightly to Muir.

Muir said to Vandenpeer, "I don't claim it's any of my business. But since you are neither the boy's father nor his stepfather, whatever your intentions, it strikes me you have no right to his things. Suppose you just hand over what belongs to him, and I'll leave for now. But . . ."

The boy said, "He'd just take it back as soon as you left."

"But," said Muir, unaware that his manner suggested a gun turret turning toward a target, "unless Mrs. Griswell says no, I aim to be back later today, or tomorrow, or just as soon as she will speak with me."

Vandenpeer studied Muir alertly, then shrugged. "Get it over with now. Speak your piece, and get out."

"What I have to say," said Muir, looking at Gloria Griswell, and he was again struck dumb. After a stretch of time somewhere between a few seconds and eternity, he recovered enough to finish, "could only be said privately."

She looked back at him, and he didn't think to look away. Time drifted pleasantly past.

It dawned on Muir that the boy had dropped free, grabbed the attaché case, and was now yanking out what looked like a worn pale-blue blanket.

Vandenpeer, clearly surprised, made a grab at the boy, missed, and snarled, "You damned little sneak!"

Gloria Griswell looked around in astonishment.

Vandenpeer noted the look. "That blanket has to be gotten away from him, Gloria! He's dependent on it!"

Muir said, "What of it?"

Vandenpeer snarled, "Who spoke to you? What do you know about it? Are you a psychologist?"

"Are you?"

The boy had returned to Muir, who absently picked him up, and then felt the blanket pressed hard against his fingers. Embedded in the cloth were what felt like fine wires.

Gloria Griswell said angrily, "I don't see why Marius can't keep his blanket!"

"We won't discuss it now."

"Oh, yes," she said, "we will discuss it now!"

"Not in front of outsiders."

"Will you stop telling me what to do! And how dare you call Marius a sneak!"

The little girl twisted around in Gloria Griswell's arms, and favored Vandenpeer with a sickeningly sweet smile. The face of the boy was invisible to Muir, but not to Vandenpeer, who looked jarred, and suddenly said, "Now I will leave!"

Muir said helpfully, "I'll move my car."

As they walked around to the front of the house, Vandenpeer cast a murderous look at the boy, then glanced curiously at Muir. "I hope, for your sake, that you know what you're getting into."

"Frankly, no. But if you feel that way, shouldn't you be glad to get out?"

Vandenpeer began to speak sharply, then scowled. "As a matter of fact, that is a damned good point. There's a limit to the price anything is worth!"

Muir got into his car, and backed onto the grass beside the drive. Out on the road, a car accelerated past, followed a moment later by another.

Vandenpeer started to back his car down the drive, then paused opposite Muir, and his window slid down. Vandenpeer raised his left hand, and peeled back a flesh-covered bandage. He said, man-to-man, "Watch out for Sally. She bites."

Muir blinked. "Thanks." He hesitated. "Careful on the way out. Some of those cars speed up going by."

Vandenpeer nodded. "They come fast." He backed out, and left with a roar.

Muir parked, and glanced sharply at the boy. "What did you do to yourself?"

"Rubbed spit on my face."


"It makes him sick. I almost made him throw up once."

Muir handed over his handkerchief. "Does Sally bite?"

Marius wiped off his face. "Well, she's just a girl. There isn't much she can do. But it helps. He can't suck around Mommy when he's in the emergency room."

"H'm." Muir got out, and started down the walk. The something here that he didn't grasp plainly related to Marius and little Sally. Could it just be Doc Griswell? Doc had been regarded as a genius, but a curmudgeonly genius capable of defying authority and standing opinion on its head. Possibly the children took after their father?

This train of thought was interrupted as Muir discovered he was again carrying the boy. They went to the corner of the house, saw no one, then, from inside, came a sound of quick footsteps. Muir turned toward the front door.

Gloria Griswell looked out. "Won't you come in, Mr.—"

Muir's pulse speeded up. "Muir," he said. "My first name, I'm afraid, is Felix." He started to let the boy down, but the boy declined to get down, so he went up the steps carrying him, and stepped through a hall into a large cool living room. The boy said, matter-of-factly, "You can't make anything good out of 'Marius,' either." He dropped to the floor, and looked at his mother. "I'll go watch Sally while you talk to Felix, Mom."

Gloria Griswell turned to stare after her son as he ran, clutching his blanket, out of the room. She turned back toward Muir, who now experienced the pleasant illusion that the room was far from anywhere else, with just the two of them there, alone. After basking in this illusion for a lengthy stretch of time, he recovered the use of his voice.

"I'm afraid I've interrupted your whole day. What I started out to ask about was one of Dr. Griswell's inventions."

She smiled, and time stopped again.

Muir finally recovered enough to glance at a clock on the mantle. "It's after one. I know you won't want to leave Sally and Marius, but I think there's a fast food place down the road. If you don't mind the menu, I could bring back something for lunch."

Before she could say anything, Marius stepped back into the room. "Mom, Dad's touchstone is gone. It was always in the hall cupboard, outside your door, and it isn't there now."

Muir said, "That's what I came about. Dr. Allen put it on my desk this morning, and I've brought it with me."

The boy, startled, looked at Muir.

Gloria Griswell shook her head. "My crimes are catching up with me." She looked back at her son. "I took it in to Dr. Allen, because I thought your father would want him to have it if we didn't. And I knew Van didn't want to see it again. You used it on his plans, remember?"

"Him," sneered the boy. He glanced at Muir. "He brought his plans for the house he was going to put up here after he tore this house down. You should have heard the touchstone."

Muir shook his head. "I don't know much about it. Dr. Allen wanted me to look into it, and I came out here to ask for advice."

Marius beamed. "I'll show you how it works. Or Mom can." He looked back at his mother. "But, Mom, I'm hungry, and Sally says she's hungry. Did I just hear Felix say he'd get us something to eat?"

"Just before you came in. But—"

"You better go with him, Mom. He might get lost." The boy glanced apologetically at Muir. "It can be kind of complicated."

Gloria Griswell looked hard at her son.

Muir nodded. "A good idea." He glanced at her. "But if you'd rather not leave them alone—"

Her voice had a somewhat strangled sound. "I think they can take care of themselves." She took another look at young Marius. "It should only take us a few minutes."

"If," said Marius, "you don't get lost. I want a double cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake. Sally wants a hamburger and orange juice. We both want French fries. We could use a blueberry pie and an apple pie, and we'll fight that out after we've got them."

Muir dutifully repeated the order, led the way outside, and held the car door open.

"Did you," she said, on the way down the road, "have the impression of being manipulated?"

He laughed. "How could you think it?"

"Look there."

Straight ahead was the local franchise of a worldwide fast-food chain. So far, they had passed no intersection or side road.

She said, "Did you need my help to get here?"

"Of course. I could have turned the wrong way, coming out the drive."

"For weeks, nearly every time I've tried to go out, something would happen, and usually Marius or Sally was responsible. Now they all but push me out."

"Sally, too?"

"Sally, too. Though he's the ringleader."

They stopped in the line of cars at the drive-in. He turned to her, and she looked back and smiled. The car ahead moved on. The car behind gave a blast of the horn.

A few minutes later, they were back on the road, with their order in several large bags. As they got out of the car, Marius ran out, studied their expressions anxiously, then looked relieved. He took the bags, methodically selected his share and Sally's, and said, "I cleared off the table out by the sandbox, Mom. You and Felix can eat there."

Gloria Griswell stared after him as he went into the house, then bit her lip.

Muir said, "What's wrong with the spot?"

"Let me show you."

They went down the walk, over a little footbridge across a brook that now in the summer was reduced to a trickle, and then along a narrow path through thick young pines to a little sunny clearing containing a small very clean table, two benches, and a sandbox.

"For the children's picnics," she said.

In the warm stillness, he looked around at the dense pines. "It does look unusually private."

She divided the various burgers and drinks. "Marius has a maze of tunnels through the lower branches."

"He could pop through anytime?"

"And will."

They ate in silence, then he said, "I'm not usually tongue-tied. But—"

A trapped look momentarily crossed her face, and he glanced around. "But I haven't wanted to ask about the device Dr. Allen showed me until there was more time to talk." She flashed him a grateful look as young Marius popped out from the pines.

"Mom, is the ice-cream in the freezer?"

"Why don't you look?"

"Because you left the wash on the freezer in a clothes basket."

"Can't you—"

"It's wet. You didn't put it in the dryer."


"I could get it off, but it's heavy, and it might spill. And the floor's filthy . . . Because, remember, you forgot—"

"Never mind," she said.

Muir thought that he could now guess what Allen had been thinking when he implied that Gloria Griswell was handicapped in the marriage market. He said, "I'll be glad to move the clothes basket, Mrs. Griswell."

Marius said, "Mom's name is—"

She said, "Will you get out of here, Marius?"

"Why can't Felix—"

Muir turned to her. "May I call you Gloria?"


Marius grinned. "You sound—"

"For heaven's sake! Marius—"

Muir smiled. "I'll help Marius look for the ice cream. After all, no one can talk and eat at the same time."

She said, "I'm not sure of that, but it's worth a try. If you'll move the basket, I'll see if I can find the ice cream. Maybe we could even have some ourselves."

Marius said shyly. "There might be a little left."


Muir had expected to leave in an hour or two, but found himself, toward four o'clock, putting Sally in her crib. Sally, who had her mother's enchanting smile, clung to Muir's hand, smiled up at him, then put her head on her pillow, sighed sweetly, and shut her eyes.

Gloria Griswell looked down unbelievingly into the crib, glanced at Muir, and bit her lip. Muir followed Gloria out of the room, glanced back at Marius standing with innocent satisfaction beside the crib, and murmured, "Is Marius staying with Sally?"

"Evidently," said Gloria.

As they started down the stairs, Muir kept his voice low, "Could we talk about the touchstone?"

"All right."

"It's in my car."

"I'll go with you. There's something I have to say."

He led the way outdoors. "Did you want to get in?"

"I . . . Yes."

He held the door for her, then got in the other side.

She sat looking at her hands. "I'm willing to help you learn about the touchstone. But I—" She paused, and turned to him in silence.

He studied her look of bleak determination, and said carefully, "If you are trying to tell me not to presume on any momentary sympathy between us, or not to imagine that Marius selects your friends for you, you'll have to say it. I'm short on tact, and make it up in stubbornness."

She looked at him in silence, then her eyes went shut, she looked away, and tears ran down her cheeks. Her voice was a whisper. "I'm trying to—to keep you from being entangled in a—fate worse then death, by Marius."

"You think Marius . . ."

"He's afraid his blockheaded mother will attract some unsympathetic fellow that he and Sally will then be stuck with. He likes you, so he's doing everything he can to throw us together. He knows Sally is a little demon when she gets mad, and he doesn't want you to see that. He's been so busy driving men away that it took a while to grasp his latest tactics."

"I liked you before he had a chance to do a thing."

She blushed, then said stubbornly, "At the risk of sounding even more silly than I must already, you don't want to get entangled with a widow with two children."

He nodded. "In principle, that's true. And you don't want to get mixed up with someone too dull to understand tact. Still, on the other hand, a lot depends on specifics. Which two children? Which woman? You can't deal with these questions in generalities. Have you considered the details?"

She said, "I'm beginning to be sorry I tried to save you."

"That's all right. I appreciate the gesture."

After a moment, she sighed. "Where were we?"

"You were going to tell me about the touchstone."

She nodded, and he got the briefcase, and they went back into the house.


She led the way down the hall, to a paneled white door with a brass knob.

"Marius's father used this room as a study."

Muir looked into a large dim room with book-lined walls, comfortable chairs and sofa, and a closed rolltop desk.

She turned on a floor lamp, and pushed up the curving slide of the desk, to reveal numerous pigeonholes and shelves. On two shelves lay a pair of books, which she placed, face-down, on the writing surface of the desk. She took the touchstone, aimed its little cone at the first book, and pressed the right-hand grey button. There was a singing melodious note.

She turned the cone toward the second book. The touchstone gave a sickly groan.

Muir picked up the first book, to recognize a chemistry text of the early 1900s. The author had used care to distinguish fact from the theories of his day, so the book was still useful. Muir picked up the second book, didn't recognize it, and read:

". . . is 'at random.' Like when you're shooting craps you don't know what numbers will turn up. Or when somebody gets high, you don't know what he or she will do. This is at random.

"When these mollies bounce off each other, and hit the wall, it is at random. But when they hit the wall, their push makes a pressure. You can measure the pressure.

"CHEMFACT: Maybe you can tell what will happen even when the thing that makes it happen is at random.

"NEWWORD: Mollie. Mollie-cule. Mol-e-cule. Molecule. See?

"CHEMQUIZ: 'When people get beered up, is it at random?'"

Muir flipped to the front of the book, to learn that "this is the first in a new series of science texts designed to relate intimately to today's more demanding student."

Gloria Griswell watched the expressions that crossed his face, and smiled. "The left button gives a reading on the meter. The right button gives a tone. The meter can measure small differences. The tone can differentiate all sorts of things."

"It's a touchstone for quality of workmanship?"

"As nearly as I can judge."

"It will work on what?"

"Anything man-made."

He let his breath out carefully. "No wonder Allen wouldn't give details. All right if I try it?"

She handed the device to him.

Muir aimed the cone at the desk itself, and pushed the right-hand button. A singing note sounded.

He tried the left-hand button. This time there was silence, but the needle swung far across the dial from left to right.

Muir glanced around the bookshelves, to a green plastic hand that held aloft a pot metal ashtray. He aimed, pushed the right-hand button. The touchstone emitted a croak.

Muir went methodically around the room. Usually the device gave a pleasant tone. But it made no response to the potted plants that sat on a window sill, and it made groaning, croaking, or bleating noises for a stoneware spider with nine legs and a built-in clock that didn't run, for a small doll in a bikini that shot from its mouth a cigarette-lighting flame, and for a printed invitation, preserved in plastic:

"Congratulations! Our sophisticated computer analysis has revealed a small select group of individuals who capably manage their own affairs. You are one of this select group! Now, for a limited time, we invite you to place at your disposal the limitless credit and extensive financial resources of our prestigious exclusive organization . . ."

Muir turned the plastic over, to find on the back a lengthy questionnaire in fine print, along with a little notice:

"DO NOT apply for Credit Approval if your income is below $39,000. Return the enclosed Card AT ONCE by Registered Mail!"

Like an insect preserved in amber, the credit card itself was embedded in the plastic, made out to "Marius Gristmill, Sr."

Muir aimed the cone-shaped coil at the card; the touchstone emitted a sickly bleating noise, several times repeated.

He looked up. "I have to agree with its sentiments. But I don't begin to understand it."

"I didn't mention understanding. I only said I would show you."

"Do you understand it?"

"I know what it will do. That's all."

"It won't work on people?"

"It will respond to clothing or accessories. There's no response to an individual, as far as I know."

"Did Dr. Griswell ever explain this?"

She nodded ruefully. "More than once."


"The explanations varied."

"Why so?"

She shook her head. "His sense of humor. He said once that the lab had deciphered the genetic codes of the nose of a cat and the vocal organs of a goat, translated them into machine language, and burned the result into an EPROM installed in the touchstone."

As Muir grappled with this, she added, "So they had a program that could smell a rat, and say what it thought of it in sounds anyone could appreciate."

Muir became aware of a catch in her voice, and stopped asking questions. He sat down on the couch, and set the device carefully on a low table nearby.

She blew her nose, and after a moment's silence, said, "Does the touchstone make problems?"

"Unless there are circuits inside that are complicated beyond belief, and sensors to match, I'm afraid the touchstone is 'scientifically impossible'—unless Dr. Griswell made it as a joke."

"A joke?"

"Well, he could have embedded, in items around this room, tiny devices—like what's detected when a book is taken out of a library without having been checked out. The touchstone would give the reading, or the kind of sound, that had been encoded in advance."

She shook her head. "It will work on things that are brand-new as of now. How can you say it is 'scientifically impossible'?"

"If it works, of course it's scientifically possible. I mean that it looks incompatible with present-day scientific assumptions."

"But it does work. And it's useful. Yet Mr. Kenzie and Dr. Allen seem embarrassed by its existence."

"A genuine touchstone is something some people—I'm not thinking of Mr. Kenzie or Dr. Allen—might not want around."

"Does that matter?"

"Say we have a text written by Bungle, Murk, and Damnation, and published by Confusion Booksmiths. The school board runs a touchstone over this text, and never wants to see the book again. Confusion Booksmiths rises up a hundred feet tall in the law courts to demand proof from whoever made the touchstone that it is scientifically valid. We then have the problem of proving the scientific validity of something that does not conform to present-day scientific theories."

"To sell it would bring about situations in which an explanation will be demanded?"

"It seems so to me. And then what?"

"What is the explanation?"

"That's a question I've been trying to answer." Muir turned the device over in his hands. "Is it all right to open this?"

"As far as I know."

He got out an all-purpose Swiss pocket knife, and carefully undid four screws. Very cautiously, he lifted off the back of the case. After a lengthy silence, he looked up.

"However this device may judge quality, it doesn't use any method humans would use. I have the impression I'm looking at some variation on the Geiger counter."


"Conceivably it counts something emitted from the object the coil is aimed at."

"Is that bad?"

"For whoever has to explain it. What does it count?"

She nodded. "I see."

"What is it again that this works on?"

"Anything man-made."

"But not on anything that's not man-made?"

"I don't think so. Marius would know better than I. But that's my—"

The door opened, and Marius looked in. "The touchstone only works on man-made objects. Dad showed me. Mom, I wanted to tell you Sally wants to get up. But I didn't want to interrupt when I heard you and Felix talking."

Muir listened with conflicting emotions as Marius went on: "I can show Felix more about how the touchstone works. But it's getting late, so maybe you could make supper. And we've got the extra room, so if Felix wants to stay overnight—"

Muir glanced at Gloria Griswell, who stared for an instant at her son, then turned to Muir, who said, "I appreciate the suggestion, but I think I should get back."

Marius said, still speaking to his mother, "You remember what happened the night before last, Mom? It wouldn't hurt to have a man around the house."

Muir started to speak, paused, then said, "What happened the night before last?"

Marius said, "Someone broke in."

"Marius," said Gloria, "we aren't sure—"

"You heard it, Mom. And the window was unlocked the next morning. And someone had gone through the desk. Sally was scared to death, and so was I."

Muir said sharply, "What desk?"

Marius pointed silently to the rolltop desk.

Muir said, "Was anything taken?"

"We don't think so," said Gloria.

Marius said, "Whoever did it might be back."

Muir said, "In that case . . ."


The sun was low in the sky next morning as Muir pulled into the company lot, parked, and went inside. He had just locked his attaché case in the old-fashioned safe when there was a knock, and Dr. Allen looked in.

"Muir, Mr. Kenzie and I would like to talk to you."

Muir followed Allen down the hallway, through an unmarked door, and up in a small elevator. They crossed a short hall, to an office where Kenzie, his suitcoat over the back of a chair, tie half-undone, prowled like a caged panther. Kenzie paused at the window to glance out, then turned to Muir.

"What do you make of the touchstone?"

"A useful device."

"Which does what?"

"Measure the quality of human workmanship."

Kenzie glanced at Allen.

"That's where we got stuck."

Allen nodded soberly.

Kenzie looked back at Muir. "We have got to get moving on this. You've had little enough time, but let's hear your impressions."

"At first, I thought the touchstone might be a joke, detecting something Dr. Griswell had already put in the objects it judges. But Gloria said it works on things made recently, and it does."

Kenzie looked at him sharply.

"Mrs. Griswell helped show you how it works."


"She has a fiancé. Did you meet the—"

"He was there when I got there."

"You met her family? A son and daughter?"

Dr. Allen said dryly, "Both delightful."

Muir smiled, and nodded. "Nice kids."

Allen stared. Kenzie looked momentarily blank, then said, "Do you see any way yet to market or even explain the touchstone?"

"To explain it, yes. But I'm not sure . . ."

Allen said, "Namely?"

"Well . . . People judge workmanship by appearance, performance, and comparison with some standard. This device does it some other way; the works suggest a radiation counter. But what's counted? Could there be a form of radiation that gives a measure of quality of workmanship?"

Allen said, "If so, where would you go from there?"

"Then the operation of the device would be possible to work out. But first there are some trifling little problems in identifying this radiation."

Allen nodded. "Not least of which is that 'quality' and 'workmanship' relate to subjective human judgments, and they are being measured objectively by an instrument. The explanation will blow up in your face."

"Unfortunately, there so far seems to be no alternative. For the sake of argument, why should that create an explosion?"

"Science," said Allen, "is based on objective repeatable experiments. The judgment of quality rests on what is essentially a subjective sense of esthetics, combined with various aspects of experience. There's no connection."

"The touchstone works. Therefore there must be a connection."

"There can't be."

Kenzie straightened his tie. "There's no connection between 'objective experiments' and 'various aspects of experience'?"

"No relevant connection. Quality of workmanship involves human esthetics; human esthetics is not an objectively measurable quality."

Muir nodded. "Obviously, that's true. But we're up against something still more basic than that, and that has been shown over and over again. It's why there's a bloodbath every now and then between science and philosophy."

Allen looked at Muir in foreboding. "What?"

"Argument doesn't refute facts. Facts dominate. An argument only interprets facts."

"But what—"

"The touchstone exists. It is a device based on science. It accurately judges the quality of workmanship. Therefore workmanship must be objectively measurable."

Kenzie glanced at Allen.

Allen exhaled slowly, and nodded. "It's arguable in the case of a structure or a machine. There esthetics may depend on function. But what about modern art?"

Kenzie nodded. "Doc had two touchstones, Muir. One he kept at home, one in a safe in his office. We tried out the one he kept in his office. Among other things, we took it to a museum, to see if it would judge art."

Muir remembered the green plastic hand and pot-metal ashtray. "And it did?"

Kenzie nodded. "And it actively disliked most modern art."

"What did it—"

Allen shook his head. "You can't imagine. The noises it made brought a guard on the run. He thought we were sick."

Kenzie said, "The only way we see to market this thing is as what it seems to be . . . a detector of quality workmanship. But how do we prove it? And what happens when the museum, for instance, discovers that most of the exhibits in that priceless collection have been 'scientifically' graded as junk?"

Muir thought it over. "The touchstone could be right."

Kenzie nodded. "Ninety percent of those expensive exhibits could be the worst kind of artistic trash. But how does that help us? Whoever the touchstone damages financially may try to recover. He may very naturally try to recover by means of a lawsuit. If we claim that the touchstone is what it seems to be, we have to be able to prove it."

"Where it judges technology," said Allen, "at least we can argue the case; but it will judge any kind of workmanship. Outside the museum, there's a pedestal that holds up a thing like a—ah—like a—"

Kenzie said, "Like an oversize bronze pretzel with its hands in its pockets."

Allen nodded. "Exactly. You don't dare get anywhere near that piece of statuary till you've shut off the touchstone."

Muir laughed. "That's a reason to question its judgment?"

"Legally," said Kenzie, "yes, it is. That bronze pretzel cost the museum sixty thousand dollars. Just suppose our device should knock the market price down to the scrap value of the bronze? The museum will naturally think they've been damaged by false claims. How do you defend a thing like this in court?"

"I don't know."

"Doc was a genius. My impression is that the touchstone sees through slipshod work and confidence stunts, artistic or otherwise, as an x-ray sees through tissue paper. But we may have to prove it. How?"

Muir said, "Gloria would like to see the touchstone produced and sold. She thinks it could do a lot of good."

Kenzie nodded. "We all have to rely on specialists; and it's all but impossible to judge their work except by results, and then it's too late. The touchstone could help. Suppose you need a car. You aim the touchstone, push the button, and if there's a groaning noise, you walk off the lot. That's better than buying a lemon. But again, if this happens often enough, what's the manufacturer likely to do? Attack the touchstone. How do we defend it?"

"Maybe we're approaching this from the wrong direction."

"It could be," said Kenzie exasperatedly. "The whole thing is skewed, off-center, and hard to grasp. What's your thought?"

"The better we prove the touchstone is right, the worse it makes the problem. We've vouching for the truth of what the victim sees as slander."

"The touchstone unmistakably detects quality workmanship. That's a slap in the face to the sellers of all the inferior goods on the market, but it's true. To compound the problem, the touchstone is scientific, but sounds like a joke. If Doc hadn't invented it, I wouldn't touch it."

Muir said, "But that may be the answer!"


"That Doc Griswell invented it!"

Kenzie shook his head. "The whole problem is that Doc isn't here and can't explain it. Believe me, when Doc got on the witness stand, the opposition had troubles. But he's not here. How do we explain what only he, if anyone, understood?"

"But since he isn't here, how does it help to argue that the touchstone's judgment is scientifically accurate? It's better the other way around."

"How . . ."

"Why not call this 'Doc's Legacy,' say that Doc left this behind, you don't want to withhold it, because it seems useful; but you don't know for sure just what it does. You think Doc used it as a touchstone for good workmanship; but does it give exact truth, or a curmudgeon's viewpoint, or the facts as Doc saw them, or what? Anyone can try it, and see for himself. It would still be just as useful. But you would have sold it as an intriguing puzzle, not as an infallible electronic judge."

Kenzie looked thoughtful, and glanced at Allen.

Allen rubbed his chin. "It might work. Would Gloria be agreeable to this?"

Muir said, "I expect to see her tonight. I can ask."

Kenzie nodded absently, then joined Allen in a close look at Muir, who missed the look, as he said, "Incidentally, what you would be saying would be the strict truth. Who can say what Doc Griswell was trying for, or for sure that he got it?"

Another look passed between Kenzie and Allen. Muir, who saw this one, was reminded of parents debating whether to reveal some jarring fact of life to their offspring.

Allen gave an embarrassed cough. "Well, Muir, that question involves something I—ah—hadn't mentioned to you as yet. There was a discarded first draft of a patent application in Doc's desk. It includes a theory to the effect that the human mind, in a particular creative state, produces 'alpha-psychons,' which, impinging upon matter, in turn cause certain changes, such as the radiation of what are tentatively called 'qualitons.' There is a large faint X penciled across the cover page of this mind-boggling document, along with a big question mark. What the theory hypothesizes is nothing less than interaction between mind and matter, with the touchstone detecting 'qualitons,' to prove the theory. Of course, it is in this creative state that high-quality workmanship is achieved, and the touchstone judges it by the qualitons emitted."

Muir tried to speak, but words wouldn't come.

Kenzie said dryly, "Doc had these inspirations from time to time."

Allen said, "But usually he took care of them himself. This is the first one we've had to contend with on our own."

Muir exhaled carefully. "Is the theory comprehensible?"

Allen thought the question over. "Well—"

Kenzie said, "Not to ordinary human beings."

"Doc," said Allen judiciously, "usually made considerable use of mathematics. The problem is that there were times when no one else could follow his math. That's not to say that the math isn't valid. But there is that problem of following it in this case. Much worse is that there are parts that are not mathematical and that will be automatically rejected."

Kenzie sighed. "In addition to which, he uses a theory of atomic structure—"

"Subatomic structure," said Allen.

"Atomic substructure," said Kenzie. "If an atom were a house, Doc would be talking about the composition of the bricks the house is built of. You not only have the complications of Doc's math, but also the complications of this theory to which Doc was applying his math. Plus the alpha-psychons. Taken all together . . ."

Muir kept a firm grip on his choice of words. "Does the part of this theory that is comprehensible seem self-consistent, assuming you don't automatically reject it?"

Kenzie glanced at Allen. Allen looked thoughtful, hesitated, then finally nodded. "I suppose in that respect it's a little like the quantum theory, when it was first proposed. You have to accept certain assumptions you don't want to accept; but if you do that, the rest becomes reasonably clear—except that in this case we have the theory without the theorist, so it is not easy to follow the details."

"But the details you can follow?"

"Well—it depends. There is one aspect of this, Doc called it 'the remote resonance force' I think, that could make special trouble. You see, the touchstone not only reacts to the original inspired plans for a device, but to later reproductions of the device, very possibly made by not especially inspired people routinely following the plan. How do the alpha-psychons radiated in March of one year, in Boston, create qualitons in Savannah, Georgia, two years later, when the blueprints are turned into reality? There's a problem there. Doc may have four pages of mathematics and two special theories between Boston and Savannah; but there are going to be people who skip all that, and intuitively reject the idea."

"The 'remote resonance force,'" said Muir, "explains how this could happen?"

Allen glanced helplessly at Kenzie. Kenzie smiled. "With Doc on the other end of the theory, the 'remote resonance force' is like a sixteen-inch gun aimed at the critics. Most of them wouldn't want to face the monster projectiles Doc could fire from that cannon. Unfortunately, we don't know how to load the thing."

Allen said exasperatedly, "And Doc very evidently was dissatisfied with something about the theory."

"Yes," said Kenzie, "or he wouldn't have put an 'X' across it and tossed it in his bottom drawer."

Muir said, "But, the touchstone works."

Allen nodded. "All told, the mathematics is baffling but very possibly valid; the theory of matter to which the math is applied is anyone's guess; the device itself works. But the idea behind it all is going to be just as nice to put across as Galileo's original argument."

"Yes," said Muir. "I can see that."

Kenzie said, "But your suggestion about marketing the touchstone is a help, Muir. We're going to have to think that through. It's the first progress we've made with this thing in quite a while."

"But how does it fit in with that patent application?"

"As far as I can see, it doesn't. But don't worry about it. Ah—You said you were going to see Gloria Griswell—?"

"Yes, for dinner tonight. And I'll ask if she's agreeable to marketing it that way. But—" He paused, baffled at Kenzie's wistfully hopeful expression.

"Don't worry," said Allen, following Kenzie's thoughts easily enough. "It's like a jigsaw puzzle, Muir, and you've just given us a good-sized piece. You've had very little time to work on it, but it's a pleasure to see how you've taken hold of the problem. It's a relief to see this . . . ah . . . this last work of Doc's moving again."


Late that day, with the sun at the horizon, Muir was in the little clearing with Gloria when Marius spoke:


Muir looked blankly around.

Overhead, something moved against the deep-red sky. Muir glanced up, to see Marius, apparently floating face-down by the tops of the evergreens. Marius said, "Why don't we write out our ideas about the touchstone, then use the touchstone to judge them?"

Muir heard the words, but didn't answer as he stepped aside, eyes narrowed, to look up at Marius from a different angle. Muir had the impression of looking up from the bottom of a pool at a swimmer on the surface. Obviously there had to be something holding Marius up, but so far all Muir could see was the thin pale-blue thing Marius was lying on, and it appeared to be unsupported from any angle.

The slender tops of the evergreens moved in a light breeze, and Marius, looking down at Muir's face, grinned suddenly and slid sidewise in the air, gathered speed, and shot off to the side out of sight, streaked back from a different angle, much higher, then dropped like a rock to brake to a stop, and hover motionless, overhead.

Muir, looking at the pale-blue something Marius was lying on, belatedly recognized Marius's "flying carpet," a gift from his father, Doc Griswell. Next he remembered the feel of fine wires when Marius had pressed the "blanket" to his fingers.

It dawned on Muir with a shock that the idea of taking care of 'Doc's last work' was premature. Here was another of Doc's working models. Like the others, it came with no warning, with no one knew what complications to follow.

For the first time, Muir felt sympathy for people who had bet against the incandescent light and snorted at the thought of a carriage with no horse. Progress was fine, but the touchstone had yet to be worked out, no one dared say whether Doc's asterator would save humanity or wreck it, and here was this thing.

And why would Doc Griswell make a toy of an invention that, on a large scale, could lift man off the earth and truly begin the Age of Space? Why, for that matter, had Doc just used the touchstone himself, when he could have got it into production? Legal uncertainty might stop Kenzie and Allen, aware they didn't understand Doc's device; but would it stop Doc?

It was then that Muir thought of the patent application with the question mark and the X across it.

What if Doc didn't understand it, either?

From time to time, someone uncovered something really new, perhaps just as everything seemed finally explained and systematized. The results could turn civilization on its head. To most of the survivors, it might some day seem perfectly clear, one of life's familiar certainties. But those who had known other certainties tended to be more cautious.

Now, looking up from below at something really new and revolutionary, Muir winced.

Looking down from atop it, Marius grinned.


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