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´╗┐Title: With No Strings Attached
Author: Garrett, Randall, 1927-1987
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "With No Strings Attached" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

  [Transcriber's Note:
  This story was published in _Analog_, February 1963. Extensive
  research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright
  on this publication was renewed.]

With No Strings Attached

  A man will always be willing to buy something he wants,
  and believes in, even if it is impossible,
  rather than something he believes is impossible. So ...
  sell him what he thinks he wants!

David Gordon

Illustrated by Schelling


The United States Submarine _Ambitious Brill_ slid smoothly into her
berth in the Brooklyn Navy Yard after far too many weeks at sea, as
far as her crew were concerned. After all the necessary preliminaries
had been waded through, the majority of that happy crew went ashore to
enjoy a well-earned and long-anticipated leave in the depths of the
brick-and-glass canyons of Gomorrah-on-the-Hudson.

The trip had been uneventful, in so far as nothing really dangerous
or exciting had happened. Nothing, indeed, that could even be called
out-of-the-way--except that there was more brass aboard than usual,
and that the entire trip had been made underwater with the exception
of one surfacing for a careful position check, in order to make sure
that the ship's instruments gave the same position as the stars gave.
They had. All was well.

That is not to say that the crew of the _Ambitious Brill_ were
entirely satisfied in their own minds about certain questions that had
been puzzling them. They weren't. But they knew better than to ask
questions, even among themselves. And they said nothing whatever when
they got ashore. But even the novices among submarine crews know that
while the nuclear-powered subs like _George Washington_, _Patrick
Henry_, or _Benjamin Franklin_ are perfectly capable of
circumnavigating the globe without coming up for air, such
performances are decidedly rare in a presumably Diesel-electric vessel
such as the U.S.S. _Ambitious Brill_. And those few members of the
crew who had seen what went on in the battery room were the most
secretive and the most puzzled of all. They, and they alone, knew that
some of the cells of the big battery that drove the ship's electric
motors had been removed to make room for a big, steel-clad box hardly
bigger than a foot locker, and that the rest of the battery hadn't
been used at all.

With no one aboard but the duty watch, and no one in the battery room
at all, Captain Dean Lacey felt no compunction whatever in saying, as
he gazed at the steel-clad, sealed box: "What a battery!"

The vessel's captain, Lieutenant Commander Newton Wayne, looked up
from the box into the Pentagon representative's face. "Yes, sir, it
is." His voice sounded as though his brain were trying to catch up
with it and hadn't quite succeeded. "This certainly puts us well ahead
of the Russians."

Captain Lacey returned the look. "How right you are, commander. This
means we can convert every ship in the Navy in a tenth the time we had

Then they both looked at the third man, a civilian.

He nodded complacently. "And at a tenth the cost, gentlemen," he said
mildly. "North American Carbide & Metals can produce these units
cheaply, and at a rate that will enable us to convert every ship in
the Navy within the year."

Captain Lacey shot a glance at Lieutenant Commander Wayne. "All this
is strictly Top Secret you understand."

"Yes, sir; I understand," said Wayne.

"Very well." He looked back at the civilian. "Are we ready,
Mr. Thorn?"

"Anytime you are, captain," the civilian said.

"Fine. You have your instructions, commander. Carry on."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Lieutenant Commander Wayne.

       *       *       *       *       *
   *       *       *       *       *

A little less than an hour later, Captain Lacey and Mr. Thorn were in
the dining room of one of the most exclusive clubs in New York. Most
clubs in New York are labeled as "exclusive" because they exclude
certain people who do not measure up to their standards of wealth.
A man who makes less than, say, one hundred thousand dollars a year
would not even qualify for scrutiny by the Executive Committee. There
is one club in Manhattan which reaches what is probably close to the
limit on that kind of exclusiveness: Members must be white,
Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Americans who can trace their ancestry as
white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Americans back at least as far as the
American Revolution _without exception_, and who are worth at least
ten millions, and who can show that the fortune came into the family
at least four generations back. No others need apply. It is said that
this club is not a very congenial one because the two members hate
each other.

The club in which Lacey and Thorn ate their dinner is not of that
sort. It is composed of military and naval officers and certain
civilian career men in the United States Government. These men are
professionals. Not one of them would ever resign from government
service. They are dedicated, heart, body, and soul to the United
States of America. The life, public and private, of every man Jack of
them is an open book to every other member. Of the three living men
who have held--and the one who at present holds--the title of
President of the United States, only one was a member of the club
before he held that high office.

As an exclusive club, they rank well above England's House of Peers
and just a shade below the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic

Captain Lacey was a member. Mr. Richard Thorn was not, but he was
among those few who qualify to be invited as guests. The carefully
guarded precincts of the club were among the very few in which these
two men could talk openly and at ease.

After the duck came the brandy, both men having declined dessert. And
over the brandy--that ultra-rare Five Star Hennessy which is
procurable only by certain people and is believed by many not to exist
at all--Captain Lacey finally asked the question that had been
bothering him for so long.

"Thorn," he said, "three months ago that battery didn't exist. I know
it and you know it. Who was the genius who invented it?"

Thorn smiled, and there was a subtle wryness in the smile. "Genius is
the word, I suppose. Now that the contracts with the Navy have been
signed, I can give you the straight story. But you're wrong in saying
that the thing didn't exist three months ago. It did. We just didn't
know about it, that's all."

Lacey raised his bushy, iron-gray eyebrows. "Oh? And how did it come
to the attention of North American Carbide & Metals?"

Thorn puffed out his cheeks and blew out his breath softly before he
began talking, as though he were composing his beginning sentences in
his mind. Then he said: "The first I heard about it was four months
ago. Considering what's happened since then, it seems a lot longer."
He inhaled deeply from his brandy snifter before continuing. "As head
of the development labs for NAC&M, I was asked to take part as a
witness to a demonstration that had been arranged through some of the
other officers of the company. It was to take place out on Salt Lake
Flats, where--"

       *       *       *       *       *
   *       *       *       *       *

It was to take place out on Salt Lake Flats, where there was no chance
of hanky-panky. Richard Thorn--who held a Ph.D. from one of the finest
technological colleges in the East, but who preferred to be addressed
as "Mister"--was in a bad mood. He had flown all the way out to Salt
Lake City after being given only a few hours notice, and then had been
bundled into a jeep furnished by the local sales office of NAC&M and
scooted off to the blinding gray-white glare of the Salt Flats. It was
hot and it was much too sunshiny for Thorn. But he had made the
arrangements for the test himself, so he couldn't argue or complain
too loudly. He could only complain mildly to himself that the business
office of the company, which had made the final arrangements, had, in
his opinion, been a little too much in a hurry to get the thing over
with. Thorn himself felt that the test could have at least waited
until the weather cooled off. The only consolation he had was that,
out here, the humidity was so low that he could stay fairly
comfortable in spite of the heat as long as there was plenty of
drinking water. He had made sure to bring plenty.

The cavalcade of vehicles arrived at the appointed spot--umpteen miles
from nowhere--and pulled up in a circle.

Thorn climbed out wearily and saw the man who called himself Sorensen
climb out of the second jeep.

From the first time he had seen him, Thorn had tagged Sorensen as an
Angry Old Man. Not that he was really getting old; he was still
somewhere on the brisk side of fifty. But he wore a perpetual scowl on
his face that looked as though it had been etched there by too many
years of frustration, and his voice always seemed to have an acid edge
to it, like that of an old man who has decided, after decades of
observation, that all men are fools. And yet Thorn thought he
occasionally caught a glimpse of mocking humor in the pale blue eyes.
He was lean and rather tall, with white hair that still showed traces
of blond, and he looked as Scandinavian as his name sounded. His
accent was pure Minnesota American.

As he climbed out of the jeep, Sorensen brought with him the Black

Ever since he had first seen it, Thorn had thought of it as "the Black
Suitcase," and after he had seen some of the preliminary tests, he had
subconsciously put capitals to the words. But Richard Thorn was no
fool. Too many men had been suckered before, and he, Richard Thorn,
did not intend to be another sucker, no matter how impressed he might
be by the performance of an invention.

If this was a con game, it was going to have to be a good one to get
by Richard Thorn, Ph.D.

He walked across the few feet of hard, salt-white ground that
separated him from Sorensen standing beside the second jeep with the
Black Suitcase in his hand. It was obvious to anyone who watched the
way Sorensen handled the thing that it was heavy--seventy-five pounds
or better.

"Need any help?" Thorn asked, knowing what the answer would be.

"Nope," Sorensen said. "I can handle it."

The suitcase wasn't really black. It was a dark cordovan brown, made
even darker by long usage, which had added oily stains to the
well-used leather. But Thorn thought of it as the Black Suitcase
simply because it was the perfect example of the proverbial Little
Black Box--the box that Did Things. As a test question in an
examination, the Little Black Box performs a useful function. The
examiner draws a symbolic electronic circuit. Somewhere in the
circuit, instead of drawing the component that is supposed to be
there, he draws a Little Black Box. Then he defines the wave-form,
voltage, and amperage entering the circuit and defines whatever is
coming out. Question: What is in the Little Black Box?

Except in the simplest of cases, there is never an absolute answer.
The question is counted as correct if the student puts into the Little
Black Box a component or subcircuit which will produce the effect
desired. The value of the answer depends on the simplicity and
relative controllability of the component drawn in the place of the
Little Black Box.

Sorensen's Black Suitcase was still a problem to Thorn. He couldn't
quite figure out what was in it.

"Hotter'n Billy Blue Blazes!" Sorensen said as he put the Black
Suitcase down on the gleaming white ground. He grinned a little, which
dispelled for a moment his Angry Old Man expression, and said: "You
ready to go, Mr. Thorn?"

"I'm ready any time you are," Thorn said grumpily.

Sorensen looked at the NAC&M scientist sideways. "You don't sound any
happier'n I am, Mr. Thorn."

Thorn looked at him and thought he could see that flash of odd humor
in his light blue eyes. Thorn exhaled a heavy breath. "I'm no happier
than you are to be out in this heat. Let's get on with it."

Sorensen's chuckle sounded so out of place that Thorn was almost
startled. "You know the difference between you and me, Mr. Thorn?"
Sorensen asked. He didn't wait for an answer. "You think this test is
probably a waste of time. Me, on the other hand, I _know_ it is."

"Let's get on with it," Thorn repeated.

       *       *       *       *       *

It took two hours to set up the equipment, in spite of the fact that a
lot of the circuits had been prefabricated before the caravan had come
out from Salt Lake City. But Richard Thorn wanted to make certain that
all his data was both correct and recorded. Sorensen had nothing to do
but watch. He had no hand in setting up the equipment. He had brought
the Black Suitcase, and that was all he was going to be allowed to do.

From the top of the Black Suitcase projected two one-inch copper
electrodes, fourteen inches apart. The North American Carbide & Metals
technicians set up the circuits that were connected to the electrodes
without any help from Sorensen.

But just before they started to work, Sorensen said: "There's just one
thing I think you ought to warn those men about, Mr. Thorn."

"What's that?" Thorn asked.

"If any of 'em tries to open that suitcase, they're likely to get
blown sky high. And I don't want 'em getting funny with me, either."

He had his hand in his trouser pocket, and Thorn was suddenly quite
certain that the man was holding a revolver. He could see the outlines
against the cloth.

Thorn sighed. "Don't worry, Mr. Sorensen. We don't have any ulterior
designs on your invention." He did not add that the investigators of
NAC&M had already assumed that anyone who was asking one million
dollars for an invention which was, in effect, a pig in a poke, would
be expected to take drastic methods to protect his gadget. But there
would be no point in telling Sorensen that his protective efforts had
already been anticipated and that the technicians had already been
warned against touching the Black Suitcase any more than necessary to
connect the leads. Giving Sorensen that information might make him
even more touchy.

Thorn only hoped that the bomb, or whatever it was that Sorensen had
put in the suitcase, was well built, properly fused, and provided with
adequate safeties.

When everything was set up, Sorensen walked over to his device and
turned it on by shoving the blade of a heavy-duty switch into place.
"O.K.," he said.

One of the technicians began flipping other switches, and a bank of
ordinary incandescent light bulbs came on, four at a time. Finally
there were one hundred of them burning, each one a hundred-watt bulb
that glowed brightly but did not appear to be contributing much to the
general brightness of the Utah sun. The technicians checked their
recording voltmeters and ammeters and reported that, sure enough, some
ten kilowatts of power at a little less than one hundred fifteen volts
D.C. was coming from the Black Suitcase.

Sorensen and Thorn sat in the tent which had been erected to ward off
the sun's rays. They watched the lights shine.

       *       *       *       *       *
   *       *       *       *       *

One of the technicians came in, wiping his forehead with a big blue
bandana. "Well, there she goes. Mr. Sorensen, if that thing is
dangerous, hadn't we better back off a little way from it?"

"It isn't dangerous," Sorensen said. "Nothing's going to happen."

The technician looked unhappy. "Then I don't see why we couldn't've
tested the thing back in the shop. Would've been a lot easier there.
To say nothing of more comfortable."

Thorn lit a cigarette in silence.

Sorensen nodded and said, "Yes, Mr. Siegel, it would've been."

Siegel sat down on one of the camp stools and lit a cigarette.
"Mr. Sorensen," he asked in all innocence, "have you got a patent on
that battery?"

The humorous glint returned to Sorensen's eyes as he said, "Nope.
I didn't patent the battery in that suitcase. That's why I don't want
anybody fooling around with it."

"How come you don't patent it?" Siegel asked. "Nobody could steal it
if you patented it."

"Couldn't they?" Sorensen asked with a touch of acid in his voice. "Do
you know anything about batteries, Mr. Siegel?"

"A little. I'm not an expert on 'em, or anything like that. I'm an
electrician. But I know a little bit about 'em."

Sorensen nodded. "Then you should know, Mr. Siegel, that
battery-making is an art, not a science. You don't just stick a couple
of electrodes into a solution of electrolyte and consider that your
work is done. With the same two metals and the same electrolyte, you
could make batteries that would run the gamut from terrible to
excellent. Some of 'em, maybe, wouldn't hold a charge more than an
hour, while others would have a shelf-life, fully charged, of as much
as a year. Batteries don't work according to theory. If they did,
potassium chlorate would be a better depolarizer than manganese
dioxide, instead of the other way around. What you get out of a
voltaic cell depends on the composition and strength of the
electrolyte, the kind of depolarizer used, the shape of the
electrodes, the kind of surface they have, their arrangement and
spacing, and a hundred other little things."

"I've heard that," Siegel said.

       *       *       *       *       *
   *       *       *       *       *


Thorn smoked in silence. He had heard Sorensen's arguments before.
Sorensen didn't mind discussing his battery in the abstract, but he
was awfully close-mouthed when it came to talking about it in concrete
terms. He would talk about batteries-in-general, but not about

Not that Thorn blamed him in the least. Sorensen was absolutely
correct in his statements about the state of the art of making voltaic
cells. If Sorensen had something new--and Thorn was almost totally
convinced that he did--then he was playing it smart by not trying to
patent it.

"Now then," Sorensen went on, "let's suppose that my battery is made
up of lead and lead dioxide plates in a sulfuric acid solution, except
that I've added a couple of trifling things and made a few small
changes in the physical structure of the plates. I'm not saying that's
what the battery is, mind you; I'm saying 'suppose'."

"O.K., suppose," said Siegel. "Couldn't you patent it?"

"What's to patent? The Pb-PbO_2-H_2SO_4 cell is about half as old as
the United States Patent Office itself. Can't patent that. Copper
oxide, maybe, as a depolarizer? Old hat; can't patent that. Laminated
plates, maybe? Nope. Can't patent that, either."

Siegel looked out at the hundred glowing light bulbs. "You mean you
can't patent it, even if it works a hundred times better than an
ordinary battery?"

"Hell, man," Sorensen said, "you can't patent performance! You've got
to patent something solid and concrete! Oh, I'll grant that a
top-notch patent attorney might be able to get me some kind of patent
on it, but I wouldn't trust its standing up in court if I had to try
to quash an infringement.

"Besides, even if I had an iron-bound patent, what good would it do
me? Ever hear of a patent pool?"

"No," said Siegel. "What's a patent pool?"

"I'll give you an example. If all the manufacturers of a single
product get together and agree to form a patent pool, it means that if
one company buys a patent, all of them can use it. Say the automobile
companies have one. That means that if you invent a radical new design
for an engine--one, maybe that would save them millions of
dollars--you'll be offered a few measly thousand for it. Why should
they offer more? _Where else are you going to sell it?_ If one company
gets it, they all get it. There's no competition, and if you refuse to
sell it at all, they just wait a few years until the patent runs out
and use it for free. That may take a little time, but a big industry
has plenty of time. They have a longer life span than human beings."

"North American Carbide & Metals," said Thorn quietly, "is not a
member of any patent pool, Mr. Sorensen."

"I know," Sorensen said agreeably. "Battery patents are trickier than
automotive machinery patents. That's why I'm doing this my way. I'm
not selling the gadget as such. I'm selling results. For one million
dollars, tax paid, I will agree to show your company how to build a
device that will turn out electric power at such-and-such a rate and
that will have so-and-so characteristics, just like it says in the
contract you read. I guarantee that it can be made at the price I
quote. That's all."

He looked back out at the bank of light bulbs. They were still
burning. They kept burning--

"... They kept burning for ten solid hours," said Thorn. "Then he went
out and shut off his battery."

Captain Lacey was scowling. "That's damned funny," he muttered.

"What is?" asked Thorn, wondering why the naval officer had
interrupted his story.

"What you've been telling me," Lacey said. "I'll swear I've heard--"
He stopped and snapped his fingers suddenly. "Sure! By golly!" He
stood up from the table. "Would you excuse me for a minute? I want to
see if a friend of mine is here. If he is, he has a story you ought to
hear. Damned funny coincidence." And he was off in a hurry, leaving
Thorn staring somewhat blankly after him.

Three minutes later, while Thorn was busily pouring himself a second
helping of Five-Star Hennessy, Captain Lacey returned to the table
with an army officer wearing the insignia of a bird colonel.

"Colonel Dower," the captain said, "I'd like you to meet a friend of
mine--Mr. Richard Thorn, the top research man with North American
Carbide & Metals. Mr. Thorn, this is Colonel Edward Dower." The men
shook hands. A third brandy snifter was brought and a gentleman's
potation was poured for the colonel.

"Ed," said Captain Lacey as soon as his fellow officer had inhaled a
goodly lungful of the heady fumes, "do you remember you were telling
me a couple of years ago about some test you were in on out in the
Mojave Desert?"

Colonel Dower frowned. "Test? Something to do with cars?"

"No, not that one. Something to do with a power supply."

"Power supply. Oh!" His frown faded and became a smile. "You mean the
crackpot with his little suitcase."

Thorn looked startled, and Captain Lacey said: "That's the one."

"Sure I remember," said the colonel. "What about it?"

"Oh, nothing," Lacey said with elaborate unconcern, "I just thought
Mr. Thorn, here, might like to hear the story--that is, if it isn't

Colonel Dower chuckled. "Nothing classified about it. Just another
crackpot inventor. Had a little suitcase that he claimed was a
marvelous new power source. Wanted a million dollars cash for it, tax
free, no strings attached, but he wouldn't show us what was in it. Not
really very interesting."

"Go ahead, colonel," said Thorn. "I'm interested. Really I am."

"Well, as I said, there's nothing much to it," the colonel said. "He
showed us a lot of impressive-looking stuff in his laboratory, but it
didn't mean a thing. He had this suitcase, as I told you. There were a
couple of thick copper electrodes coming out of the side of it, and he
claimed that they could be tapped for tremendous amounts of power.
Well, we listened, and we watched his demonstrations in the lab. He
ran some heavy-duty motors off it and a few other things like that.
I don't remember what all."

"And he wanted to sell it to you sight-unseen?" Thorn asked.

"That's right," said the colonel. "Well, actually, he wasn't trying to
sell it to the Army. As you know, we don't buy ideas; all we buy is
hardware, the equipment itself, or the components. But the company he
was trying to sell his gadget to wanted me to take a look at it as an
observer. I've had experience with that sort of thing, and they wanted
my opinion."

"I see," Thorn said. "What happened?"

"Well," said the colonel, "we wanted him to give us a demonstration
out in the Mojave Desert--"

       *       *       *       *       *

"... Out in the Mojave Desert?" the inventor asked. "Whatever for,
Colonel Dower?"

"We just want to make sure you haven't got any hidden power sources
hooked up to that suitcase of yours. We know a place out in the Mojave
where there aren't any power lines for miles. We'll pick the place."

The inventor frowned at him out of pale blue eyes. "Look." He gestured
at the suitcase sitting on the laboratory table. "You can see there's
nothing faked about that."

Colonel Dower shook his head. "You won't tell us what's in that
suitcase. All we know is that it's supposed to produce power. From
what? How? You won't tell us. Did you ever hear of the Keely Motor?"

"No. What was the Keely Motor?"

"Something along the lines of what you have here," the colonel said
dryly, "except that Keely at least had an explanation for where he was
getting his power. Back around 1874, a man named John Keely claimed he
had invented a wonderful new power source. He called it a breakthrough
in the field of perpetual motion. An undiscovered source of power, he
said, controlled by harmony. He had a machine in his lab which would
begin to turn a flywheel when he blew a chord on a harmonica. He could
stop it by blowing a sour note. He claimed that this power was all
around, but that it was easiest to get it out of water. He claimed
that a pint of his charged water would run a train from Philadelphia
to New York and back and only cost a tenth as much as coal."

The inventor folded his arms across his chest and looked grimly at
Colonel Dower. "I see. Go on."

"Well, he got some wealthy men interested. A lot of them invested
money--big money--in the Keely Motor Company. Every so often, he'd
bring them down to his lab and show them what progress he was making
and then tell them how much more money he needed. He always got them
to shell out, and he was living pretty high on the hog. He kept at it
for years. Finally, in the late nineties, _The Scientific American_
exposed the whole hoax. Keely died, and his lab was given a thorough
going over. It turned out that all his marvelous machines were run by
compressed air cleverly channeled through the floor and the legs of

"I see," repeated the inventor, narrowing his eyes. "And I suppose my
invention is run by compressed air?"

"I didn't say your invention was a phony," Colonel Dower said
placatingly. "I merely mentioned the Keely Motor to show you why we
want to test it out somewhere away from your laboratory. Are you
willing to go?"

"Any time you are, colonel."

A week or so later, they went out into the Mojave and set up the test.
The suitcase--

       *       *       *       *       *

"... The suitcase," said the colonel, "was connected up to a hundred
hundred-watt light bulbs. He let the thing run for ten hours before he
shut it off." He chuckled. "He never would let us look into that
suitcase. Naturally, we wouldn't buy a pig in a poke, as the saying
goes. We told him that any time we could be allowed to look at his
invention, we'd be glad to see him again. He left in a huff, and that
was the last we saw of him."

"How do you explain," Thorn said carefully, "the fact that his
suitcase _did_ run all those lights?"

The colonel chuckled again. "Hell, we had that figured out. He just
had a battery of some kind in the suitcase. No fancy gimmick for
deriving power from perpetual motion or anything like that. Nope. Just
a battery, that's all."

Captain Dean Lacey was grinning hugely.

Thorn said: "Tell me, colonel--what was this fellow's name?"

"Oh, I don't recall. Big, blond chap. Had a Swedish name--or maybe
Norwegian. Sanderson? No. Something like that, though."

"Sorensen?" Thorn asked.

"That's it! Sorensen! Do you know him?"

"We've done business with him," said Thorn dryly.

"He didn't palm his phony machine off on you, did he?" the colonel
asked with a light laugh.

"No, no," Thorn said. "Nobody sold us a battery disguised as a
perpetual motion device. Our relations with him have been quite
profitable, thank you."

"I'd say you still ought to watch him," said Colonel Dower. "Once a
con man, always a con man, is my belief."

Captain Lacey rubbed his hands together. "Ed, tell me something.
Didn't it ever occur to you that a battery which would do all that--a
battery which would hold a hundred kilowatt-hours of energy in a
suitcase would be worth the million he was asking for it?"

Colonel Dower looked startled. "Why ... why, no. The man was obviously
a phony. He wouldn't tell us what the power source was. He--" Colonel
Dower stopped. Then he set his jaw and went on. "Besides, if it were a
battery, why didn't he say so? A phony like that shouldn't be--" He
stopped again, looking at the naval officer.

Lacey was still grinning. "We have discovered, Ed," he said in an
almost sweet voice, "that Sorensen's battery will run a submarine."

"With all due respect to your rank and ability, captain," Thorn said,
"I have a feeling that you'd have been skeptical about any such story,

"Oh, I'll admit that," Lacey said. "But I still would have been
impressed by the performance." Then he looked thoughtful. "But I must
admit that it lowers my opinion of your inventor to hear that he tells
all these cock-and-bull stories. Why not just come out with the

"Evidently he'd learned something," Thorn said. "Let me tell you what
happened after the contracts had been signed--"

       *       *       *       *       *

... The contracts had been signed after a week of negotiation. Thorn
was, he admitted to himself, a little nervous. As soon as he had seen
the test out on Salt Flats, he had realized that Sorensen had
developed a battery that was worth every cent he had asked for it.
Thorn himself had pushed for the negotiations to get them through
without too much friction. A million bucks was a lot of loot, but
there was no chance of losing it, really. As Sorensen said, the
contract did not call for the delivery of a specific device, it called
for a device that would produce specific results. If Sorensen's device
didn't produce those results, or if they couldn't be duplicated by
Thorn after having had the device explained to him, then the contract
wasn't fulfilled, and the ambitious Mr. Sorensen wouldn't get any
million dollars.

Now the time had come to see what was inside that mysterious Little
Black Suitcase. Sorensen had obligingly brought the suitcase to the
main testing and development laboratory of North American Carbide &

Sorensen put it on the lab table, but he didn't open it right away.
"Now I want you to understand, Mr. Thorn," he began, "that I, myself,
don't exactly know how this thing works. That is, I don't completely
understand what's going on inside there. I've built several of them,
and I can show you how to build them, but that doesn't mean I
understand them completely."

"That's not unusual in battery work," Thorn said. "We don't completely
understand what's going on in a lot of cells. As long as the thing
works according to the specifications in the contract, we'll be

"All right. Fine. But you're going to be surprised when you see what's
in here."

"I probably will. I've been expecting a surprise," Thorn said.

What he got was a _real_ surprise.

There was a small pressure tank of hydrogen inside--one of the little
ones that are sometimes used to fill toy balloons. There was a small
batch of electronic circuitry that looked as though it might be the
insides of an FM-AM radio.

All of the rest of the space was taken up by batteries.

And every single one of the cells was a familiar little cannister.
They were small, rechargeable nickel-cadmium cells, and every one bore
the trademark of North American Carbide & Metals!

One of the other men in the lab said: "What kind of a joke is this?"

"Do you mean, Mr. Sorensen," Thorn asked with controlled precision,
"that your million-dollar process is merely some kind of gimmickry
with our own batteries?"

"No," said Sorensen. "It's--"

"Wait a minute," said one of the others, "is it some kind of hydrogen
fuel cell?"

"In a way," Sorensen said. "Yes, in a way. It isn't as efficient as
I'd like, but it gets its power by converting hydrogen to helium.
I need those batteries to start the thing. After it gets going, these
leads here from the reactor cell keep the batteries charged. The--"

He was interrupted by five different voices all trying to speak at
once. He could hardly--

       *       *       *       *       *

"... He could hardly get a word in edgewise at first," said Thorn. He
was enjoying the look of shocked amazement on Colonel Dower's face.
"When Sorensen finally did get it explained, we still didn't know
much. But we built another one, and it worked as well as the one he
had. And the contract didn't specifically call for a battery. He had
us good, he did."

"Now wait--" Colonel Dower said. "You mean to say it wasn't a battery
after all?"

"Of course not."

"Then why all the folderol?"

"Colonel," Thorn said, "Sorensen patented that device nine years ago.
It only has eight years to run. But he couldn't get anyone at all to
believe that it would do what he said it would do. After years of
beating his head against a stone wall, years of trying to convince
people who wouldn't even look twice at his gadget, he decided to get

"He began to realize that 'everybody knew' that hydrogen fusion wasn't
that simple. It was his _theory_ that no one would listen to. As soon
as he told anyone that he had a hydrogen fusion device that could be
started with a handful of batteries and could be packed into a
suitcase, he was instantly dismissed as a nut.

"I did a little investigating after he gave us the full information on
what he had done. (Incidentally, he signed over the patent to us,
which was more than the contract called for, in return for a job with
our outfit, so that he could help develop the fusion device.)

"As I said, he finally got smart. If the theory was what was making
people give him the cold shoulder, he'd tell them nothing.

"You know the results of that, Colonel Dower. At least he got somebody
to test the machine. He managed to get somebody to look at what it
would do.

"But that wasn't enough. He didn't have, apparently, any legitimate
excuse for keeping it under wraps that way, so everyone was

"But why tell _you_ it was a battery?" asked Captain Lacey.

"That was probably suggested by Colonel Dower's reaction to the tests
he saw," Thorn said. "Somebody--I think it was George Gamow, but I'm
not certain--once said that just having a theory isn't enough; the
theory has to make sense.

"Well, Sorensen's theory of hydrogen fusion producing electric current
didn't make sense. It was _true_, but it didn't make sense.

"So he came up with a theory that _did_ make sense. If everyone wanted
to think it was 'nothing but a battery', then, by Heaven, he'd sell it
as a battery. And _that_, gentlemen, was a theory we were perfectly
willing to believe. It wasn't true, but it did make sense.

"As far as I was concerned, it was perfectly natural for a man who had
invented a new type of battery to keep it under wraps that way.

"Naturally, after we had invested a million dollars in the thing, we
_had_ to investigate it. It worked, and we had to find out why and

"Naturally," said Colonel Dower, looking somewhat uncomfortable. "I
presume this is all under wraps, eh? What about the Russians? Couldn't
they get hold of the patent papers?"

"They could have," Thorn admitted, "but they didn't. They dismissed
him as a crackpot, too, if they heard about him at all. Certainly they
never requested a copy of his patent. The patent number is now top
secret, of course, and if anyone does write in for a copy, the Patent
Office will reply that there are temporarily no copies available. And
the FBI will find out who is making the request."

"Well," said Colonel Dower, "at least I'm glad to hear that I was not
the only one who didn't believe him."

Captain Lacey chuckled. "And Mr. Thorn here believed a lie."

"Only because it made more sense than the truth," Thorn said. "And,"
he added, "you shouldn't laugh, captain. Remember, we suckered the
Navy in almost the same way."

       *       *       *       *       *
   *       *       *       *       *
       *       *       *       *       *


could talk openly and at ease.  [final . missing]
Question: What is in the Little Black Box?  [: missing]

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