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´╗┐Title: A Matter of Proportion
Author: Walker, Anne
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Matter of Proportion" ***


 _In order to make a man stop, you must
 convince him that it's impossible to go on.
 Some people, though, just can't be convinced._


 Illustrated by Bernklau


In the dark, our glider chutes zeroed neatly on target--only Art
Benjamin missed the edge of the gorge. When we were sure Invader hadn't
heard the crashing of bushes, I climbed down after him. The climb, and
what I found, left me shaken. A Special Corps squad leader is not
expendable--by order. Clyde Esterbrook, my second and ICEG mate, would
have to mine the viaduct while my nerve and glycogen stabilized.

We timed the patrols. Clyde said, "Have to wait till a train's coming.
No time otherwise." Well, it was his show. When the next pair of
burly-coated men came over at a trot, he breathed, "Now!" and ghosted
out almost before they were clear.

I switched on the ICEG--inter-cortical encephalograph--planted in my
temporal bone. My own senses could hear young Ferd breathing, feel and
smell the mat of pine needles under me. Through Clyde's, I could hear
the blind whuffle of wind in the girders, feel the crude wood of ties
and the iron-cold molding of rails in the star-dark. I could feel, too,
an odd, lilting elation in his mind, as if this savage universe were a
good thing to take on--spray guns, cold, and all.

We wanted to set the mine so the wreckage would clobber a trail below,
one like they'd built in Burma and Japan, where you wouldn't think a
monkey could go; but it probably carried more supplies than the viaduct
itself. So Clyde made adjustments precisely, just as we'd figured it
with the model back at base. It was a tricky, slow job in the bitter

I began to figure: If he armed it for this train, and ran, she'd go off
while we were on location and we'd be drenched in searchlights and spray
guns. Already, through his fingers, I felt the hum in the rails that
every tank-town-reared kid knows. I turned up my ICEG. "All right,
Clyde, get back. Arm it when she's gone past, for the next one."

I felt him grin, felt his lips form words: "I'll do better than that,
Willie. Look, Daddy-o, no hands!" He slid over the edge and rested
elbows and ribs on the raw tie ends.

We're all acrobats in the Corps. But I didn't like this act one little
bit. Even if he could hang by his hands, the heavy train would jolt him
off. But I swallowed my thoughts.

He groped with his foot, contacted a sloping beam, and brought his other
foot in. I felt a dull, scraping slither under his moccasin soles.
"Frost," he thought calmly, rubbed a clear patch with the edge of his
foot, put his weight on it, and transferred his hands to the beam with a
twist we hadn't learned in Corps school. My heart did a double-take; one
slip and he'd be off into the gorge, and the frost stung, melting under
his bare fingers. He lay in the trough of the massive H-beam, slid down
about twenty feet to where it made an angle with an upright, and wedged
himself there. It took all of twenty seconds, really. But I let out a
breath as if I'd been holding it for minutes.

As he settled, searchlights began skimming the bridge. If he'd been
running, he'd have been shot to a sieve. As it was, they'd never see him
in the mingled glare and black.

His heart hadn't even speeded up beyond what was required by exertion.
The train roared around a shoulder and onto the viaduct, shaking it like
an angry hand. But as the boxcars thunder-clattered above his head, he
was peering into the gulf at a string of feeble lights threading the
bottom. "There's the flywalk, Willie. They know their stuff. But we'll
get it." Then, as the caboose careened over and the searchlights cut
off, "Well, that gives us ten minutes before the patrol comes back."

       *       *       *       *       *

He levered onto his side, a joint at a time, and began to climb the
beam. Never again for me, even by proxy! You just _couldn't_ climb that
thing nohow! The slope was too steep. The beam was too massive to
shinny, yet too narrow to lie inside and elbow up. The metal was too
smooth, and scummed with frost. His fingers were beginning to numb.
And--he _was_ climbing!

In each fin of the beam, every foot or so, was a round hole. He'd get
one finger into a hole and pull, inching his body against the beam. He
timed himself to some striding music I didn't know, not fast but no
waste motion, even the pauses rhythmic.

I tell you. I was sweating under my leathers. Maybe I should have
switched the ICEG off, for my own sake if not to avoid distracting
Clyde. But I was hypnotized, climbing.

In the old days, when you were risking your neck, you were supposed to
think great solemn thoughts. Recently, you're supposed to think about
something silly like a singing commercial. Clyde's mind was neither
posturing in front of his mental mirror nor running in some feverish
little circle. He faced terror as big as the darkness from gorge bottom
to stars, and he was just simply as big as it was--sheer life exulting
in defying the dark, the frost and wind and the zombie grip of Invader.
I envied him.

Then his rhythm checked. Five feet from the top, he reached confidently
for a finger hole ... No hole.

He had already reached as high as he could without shifting his purchase
and risking a skid--and even his wrestler's muscles wouldn't make the
climb again. My stomach quaked: Never see sunlight in the trees any
more, just cling till dawn picked you out like a crow's nest in a dead
tree; or drop ...

Not Clyde. His flame of life crouched in anger. Not only the malice of
nature and the rage of enemies, but human shiftlessness against him too?
Good! He'd take it on.

Shoulder, thigh, knee, foot scraped off frost. He jammed his jaw against
the wet iron. His right hand never let go, but it crawled up the fin of
the strut like a blind animal, while the load on his points of purchase
mounted--watchmaker co-ordination where you'd normally think in
boilermaker terms. The flame sank to a spark as he focused, but it never
blinked out. This was not the anticipated, warded danger, but the trick
punch from nowhere. This was It. A sneak squall buffeted him. I cursed
thinly. But he sensed an extra purchase from its pressure, and reached
the last four inches with a swift glide. The next hole was there.

He waited five heartbeats, and pulled. He began at the muscular
disadvantage of aligned joints. He had to make it the first time; if you
can't do it with a dollar, you won't do it with the change. But as elbow
and shoulder bent, the flame soared again: Score one more for life!

A minute later, he hooked his arm over the butt of a tie, his chin, his
other arm, and hung a moment. He didn't throw a knee up, just rolled and
lay between the rails. Even as he relaxed, he glanced at his watch:
three minutes to spare. Leisurely, he armed the mine and jogged back to
me and Ferd.

As I broke ICEG contact, his flame had sunk to an ember glow of

       *       *       *       *       *

We had almost reached the cave pricked on our map, when we heard the
slam of the mine, wee and far-off. We were lying doggo looking out at
the snow peaks incandescent in dawn when the first Invader patrols
trailed by below. Our equipment was a miracle of hot food and basic
medication. Not pastimes, though; and by the second day of hiding, I was
thinking too much. There was Clyde, an Inca chief with a thread of black
mustache and incongruous hazel eyes, my friend and ICEG mate--what made
him tick? Where did he get his delight in the bright eyes of danger? How
did he gear his daredevil valor, not to the icy iron and obligatory
killing, but to the big music and stars over the gorge? But in the
Corps, we don't ask questions and, above all, never eavesdrop on ICEG.

Young Ferd wasn't so inhibited. Benjamin's death had shaken him--losing
your ICEG mate is like losing an eye. He began fly-fishing Clyde: How
had Clyde figured that stunt, in the dark, with the few minutes he'd

"There's always a way, Ferd, if you're fighting for what you really

"Well, I want to throw out Invader, all right, but--"

"That's the start, of course, but beyond that--" He changed the subject:
perhaps only I knew of his dream about a stronghold for rebels far in
these mountains. He smiled. "I guess you get used to calculated risks.
Except for imagination, you're as safe walking a ledge twenty stories
up, as down on the sidewalk."

"Not if you trip."

"That's the calculated risk. If you climb, you get used to it."

"Well, how did you _get_ used to it? Were you a mountaineer or an

"In a way, both." Clyde smiled again, a trifle bitterly and switched the
topic. "Anyway, I've been in action for the duration except some time in

Ferd was onto that boner like an infielder. To get into SC you have to
be not only championship fit, but have no history of injury that could
crop up to haywire you in a pinch. So, "Hospital? You sure don't show it

Clyde was certainly below par. To cover his slip he backed into a
bigger, if less obvious, one. "Oh, I was in that Operation Armada at
Golden Gate. Had to be patched up."

He must have figured, Ferd had been a kid then, and I hadn't been too
old. Odds were, we'd recall the episode, and no more. Unfortunately, I'd
been a ham operator and I'd been in the corps that beamed those
fireships onto the Invader supply fleet in the dense fog. The whole
episode was burned into my brain. It had been kamikaze stuff, though
there'd been a theoretical chance of the thirty men escaping, to justify
sending them out. Actually, one escape boat did get back with three men.

I'd learned about those men, out of morbid, conscience-scalded
curiosity. Their leader was Edwin Scott, a medical student. At the very
start he'd been shot through the lower spine. So, his companions put him
in the escape boat while they clinched their prey. But as the escape
boat sheered off, the blast of enemy fire killed three and disabled two.

Scott must have been some boy. He'd already doctored himself with
hemostatics and local anaesthetics but, from the hips down, he was dead
as salt pork, and his visceral reflexes must have been reacting like a
worm cut with a hoe. Yet somehow, he doctored the two others and got
that boat home.

The other two had died, but Scott lived as sole survivor of Operation
Armada. And he hadn't been a big, bronze, Latin-Indian with incongruous
hazel eyes, but a snub-nosed redhead. And he'd been wheel-chaired for
life. They'd patched him up, decorated him, sent him to a base hospital
in Wisconsin where he could live in whatever comfort was available. So,
he dropped out of sight. And now, this!

Clyde was lying, of course. He'd picked the episode at random. Except
that so much else about him didn't square. Including his name compared
to his physique, now I thought about it.

       *       *       *       *       *

I tabled it during our odyssey home. But during post-mission leave, it
kept bothering me. I checked, and came up with what I'd already known:
Scott _had_ been sole survivor, and the others were certified dead. But
about Scott, I got a runaround. He'd apparently vanished. Oh, they'd
check for me, but that could take years. Which didn't lull my curiosity
any. Into Clyde's past I was sworn not to pry.

We were training for our next assignment, when word came through of the
surrender at Kelowna. It was a flare of sunlight through a black sky.
The end was suddenly close.

Clyde and I were in Victoria, British Columbia. Not subscribing to the
folkway that prescribes seasick intoxication as an expression of joy, we
did the town with discrimination. At midnight we found ourselves
strolling along the waterfront in that fine, Vancouver-Island mist, with
just enough drink taken to be moving through a dream. At one point, we
leaned on a rail to watch the mainland lights twinkling dimly like the
hope of a new world--blackout being lifted.

Suddenly, Clyde said, "What's fraying you recently, Will? When we were
taking our ICEG reconditioning, it came through strong as garlic, though
you wouldn't notice it normally."

Why be coy about an opening like that? "Clyde, what do you know about
Edwin Scott?" That let him spin any yarn he chose--if he chose.

He did the cigarette-lighting routine, and said quietly, "Well, I _was_
Edwin Scott, Will." Then, as I waited, "Yes, really me, the real me
talking to you. This," he held out a powerful, coppery hand, "once
belonged to a man called Marco da Sanhao ... You've heard of
transplanting limbs?"

I had. But this man was no transplant job. And if a spinal cord is cut,
transplanting legs from Ippalovsky, the primo ballerino, is worthless. I
said, "What about it?"

"I was the first--successful--brain transplant in man."

For a moment, it queered me, but only a moment. Hell, you read in fairy
tales and fantasy magazines about one man's mind in another man's body,
and it's marvelous, not horrible. But--

By curiosity, I know a bit about such things. A big surgery journal,
back in the '40s, had published a visionary article on grafting a whole
limb, with colored plates as if for a real procedure[A]. Then they'd
developed techniques for acclimating a graft to the host's serum, so it
would not react as a foreign body. First, they'd transplanted hunks of
ear and such; then, in the '60s, fingers, feet, and whole arms in fact.

But a brain is another story. A cut nerve can grow together; every fiber
has an insulating sheath which survives the cut and guides growing
stumps back to their stations. In the brain and spinal cord, no sheaths;
growing fibers have about the chance of restoring contact that you'd
have of traversing the Amazon jungle on foot without a map. I said so.

"I know," he said, "I learned all I could, and as near as I can put it,
it's like this: When you cut your finger, it can heal in two ways.
Usually it bleeds, scabs, and skin grows under the scab, taking a week
or so. But if you align the edges exactly, at once, they may join
almost immediately healing by First Intent. Likewise in the brain, if
they line up cut nerve fibers before the cut-off bit degenerates, it'll
join up with the stump. So, take a serum-conditioned brain and fit it to
the stem of another brain so that the big fiber bundles are properly
fitted together, fast enough, and you can get better than ninety per
cent recovery."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Sure," I said, parading my own knowledge, "but what about injury to the
masses of nerve cells? And you'd have to shear off the nerves growing
out of the brain."


"There's always a way, Willie. There's a place in the brain stem called
the isthmus, no cell masses, just bundles of fibers running up and down.
Almost all the nerves come off below that point; and the few that don't
can be spliced together, except the smell nerves and optic nerve. Ever
notice I can't smell, Willie? And they transplanted my eyes with the
brain--biggest trick of the whole job."

It figured. But, "I'd still hate to go through with it."

"What could I lose? Some paraplegics seem to live a fuller life than
ever. Me, I was going mad. And I'd seen the dogs this research team at
my hospital was working on--old dogs' brains in whelps' bodies, spry as

"Then came the chance. Da Sanhao was a Brazilian wrestler stranded here
by the war. Not his war, he said; but he did have the decency to
volunteer as medical orderly. But he got conscripted by a bomb that took
a corner off the hospital and one off his head. They got him into
chemical stasis quicker than it'd ever been done before, but he was dead
as a human being--no brain worth salvaging above the isthmus. So, the
big guns at the hospital saw a chance to try their game on human
material, superb body and lower nervous system in ideal condition,
waiting for a brain. Only, whose?

"Naturally, some big-shot's near the end of his rope and willing to
gamble. But _I_ decided it would be a forgotten little-shot, name of
Edwin Scott. I already knew the surgeons from being a guinea pig on
ICEG. Of course, when I sounded them out, they gave me a kindly
brush-off: The matter was out of the their hands. However, I knew whose
hands it _was_ in. And I waited for my chance--a big job that needed
somebody expendable. Then I'd make a deal, writing my own ticket because
they'd figure I'd never collect. Did you hear about Operation

That was the underground railway that ran thousands of farmers out of
occupied territory. Manpower was what finally broke Invader, improbable
as it seems. Epidemics, desertions, over-extended lines, thinned that
overwhelming combat strength; and every farmer spirited out of their
hands equalled ten casualties. I nodded.

"Well, I planned that with myself as director. And sold it to Filipson."

I contemplated him: just a big man in a trench coat and droop-brimmed
hat silhouetted against the lamp-lit mist. I said, "You directed
Seed-corn out of a wheel chair in enemy territory, and came back to get
transplanted into another body? Man, you didn't tell Ferd a word of a
lie when you said you were used to walking up to death." (But there was
more: Besides that dour Scot's fortitude, where did he come by that
high-hearted valor?)

He shrugged. "You do what you can with what you've got. _Those_ weren't
the big adventures I was thinking about when I said that. I had a team
behind me in those--"

I could only josh. "I'd sure like to hear the capperoo then."

He toed out his cigarette. "You're the only person who's equipped for
it. Maybe you'd get it, Willie."

"How do you mean?"

"I kept an ICEG record. Not that I knew it was going to happen, just
wanted proof if they gave me a deal and I pulled it off. Filipson
wouldn't renege, but generals were expendable. No one knew I had that
transmitter in my temporal bone, and I rigged it to get a tape on my
home receiver. Like to hear it?"

I said what anyone would, and steered him back to quarters before he'd
think better of it. This would be something!

       *       *       *       *       *

On the way, he filled in background. Scott had been living out of
hospital in a small apartment, enjoying as much liberty as he could
manage. He had equipment so he could stump around, and an antique car
specially equipped. He wasn't complimentary about them. Orthopedic
products had to be: unreliable, hard to service, unsightly, intricate,
and uncomfortable. If they also squeaked and cut your clothes, fine!

Having to plan every move with an eye on weather and a dozen other
factors, he developed in uncanny foresight. Yet he had to improvise at a
moment's notice. With life a continuous high-wire act, he trained every
surviving fiber to precision, dexterity, and tenacity. Finally, he
avoided help. Not pride, self-preservation; the compulsively helpful
have rarely the wit to ask before rushing in to knock you on your face,
so he learned to bide his time till the horizon was clear of beaming
simpletons. Also, he found an interest in how far he could go.

These qualities, and the time he had for thinking, begot Seed-corn. When
he had it convincing, he applied to see General Filipson, head of
Regional Intelligence, a man with both insight and authority to make the
deal--but also as tough as his post demanded. Scott got an appointment
two weeks ahead.

That put it early in April, which decreased the weather hazard--a major
consideration in even a trip to the Supermarket. What was Scott's grim
consternation, then, when he woke on D-day to find his windows plastered
with snow under a driving wind--not mentioned in last night's forecast
of course.

He could concoct a plausible excuse for postponement--which Filipson was
just the man to see through; or call help to get him to HQ--and have
Filipson bark, "Man, you can't even make it across town on your own
power because of a little snow." No, come hell or blizzard, he'd have to
go solo. Besides, when he faced the inevitable unexpected behind Invader
lines, he couldn't afford a precedent of having flinched now.

He dressed and breakfasted with all the petty foresights that can mean
the shaving of clearance in a tight squeeze, and got off with all the
margin of time he could muster. In the apartment court, he had a parking
space by the basement exit and, for a wonder, no free-wheeling
nincompoop had done him out of it last night. Even so, getting to the
car door illustrated the ordeal ahead; the snow was the damp, heavy
stuff that packs and glares. The streets were nasty, but he had the
advantage of having learned restraint and foresight.

HQ had been the post office, a ponderous red-stone building filling a
whole block. He had scouted it thoroughly in advance, outside and in,
and scheduled his route to the general's office, allowing for minor
hazards. Now, he had half an hour extra for the unscheduled major

But on arriving, he could hardly believe his luck. No car was yet parked
in front of the building, and the walk was scraped clean and salted to
kill the still falling flakes. No problems. He parked and began to
unload himself quickly, to forestall the elderly MP who hurried towards
him. But, as Scott prepared to thank him off, the man said, "Sorry, Mac,
no one can park there this morning."

Scott felt the chill of nemesis. Knowing it was useless, he protested
his identity and mission.

But, "Sorry, major. But you'll have to park around back. They're
bringing in the big computer. General himself can't park here. Them's

He could ask the sergeant to park the car. But the man couldn't leave
his post, would make a to-do calling someone--and that was Filipson's
suite overlooking the scene. No dice. Go see what might be possible.

But side and back parking were jammed with refugees from the computer,
and so was the other side. And he came around to the front again. Five
minutes wasted. He thought searchingly.

He could drive to a taxi lot, park there, and be driven back by taxi,
disembark on the clean walk, and there you were. Of course, he could
hear Filipson's "Thought you drove your own car, ha?" and his own
damaging excuses. But even Out Yonder, you'd cut corners in emergency.
It was all such a comfortable Out, he relaxed. And, relaxing, saw his

       *       *       *       *       *

He was driving around the block again, and noted the back entrance. This
was not ground level, because of the slope of ground; it faced a broad
landing, reached by a double flight of steps. These began on each side
at right-angles to the building and then turned up to the landing along
the face of the wall. Normally, they were negotiable; but now, even had
he found parking near them, he hadn't the chance of the celluloid cat in
hell of even crossing the ten feet of uncleaned sidewalk. You might as
well climb an eighty-degree, fifty-foot wall of rotten ice. But there
was always a way, and he saw it.

The unpassable walk itself was an avenue of approach. He swung his car
onto it at the corner, and drove along it to the steps to park in the
angle between steps and wall--and discovered a new shut-out. He'd
expected the steps to be a mean job in the raw wind that favored this
face of the building; but a wartime janitor had swept them sketchily
only down the middle, far from the balustrades he must use. By the
balustrades, early feet had packed a semi-ice far more treacherous than
the untouched snow; and, the two bottom steps curved out beyond the
balustrade. So ... a sufficiently reckless alpinist might assay a cliff
in a sleet storm and gale, but he couldn't even try if it began with an

Still time for the taxi. And so, again Scott saw the way that was always
there: Set the car so he could use its hood to heft up those first

Suddenly, his thinking metamorphosed: He faced, not a miserable,
unwarranted forlorn hope, but the universe as it was. Titanic pressure
suit against the hurricanes of Jupiter, and against a gutter freshet,
life was always outclassed--and always fought back. Proportions didn't
matter, only mood.

He switched on his ICEG to record what might happen. I auditioned it,
but I can't disentangle it from what he told me. For example, in his
words: Multiply distances by five, heights by ten, and slickness by
twenty. And in the playback: Thirty chin-high ledges loaded with soft
lard, and only finger holds and toe holds. And you did it on stilts that
began, not at your heels, at your hips. Add the hazard of Helpful Hosea:
"Here, lemme giveya hand, Mac!", grabbing the key arm, and crashing down
the precipice on top of you.

Switching on the ICEG took his mind back to the snug apartment where its
receiver stood, the armchair, books, desk of diverting work. It looked
awful good, but ... life fought back, and always it found a way.

       *       *       *       *       *

He shucked his windbreaker because it would be more encumbrance than
help in the showdown. He checked, shoelaces, and strapped on the cleats
he had made for what they were worth. He vetoed the bag of sand and salt
he kept for minor difficulties--far too slow. He got out of the car.

This could be the last job he'd have to do incognito--Seed-corn, he'd
get credit for. Therefore, he cherished it: triumph for its own sake.
Alternatively, he'd end at the bottom in a burlesque clutter of
chrom-alum splints and sticks, with maybe a broken bone to clinch the
decision. For some men, death is literally more tolerable than defeat in

Eighteen shallow steps to the turn, twelve to the top. Once, he'd have
cleared it in three heartbeats. Now, he had to make it to a
twenty-minute deadline, without rope or alpenstock, a Moon-man adapted
to a fraction of Earth gravity.

With the help of the car hood, the first two pitches were easy. For the
next four or five, wind had swept the top of the balustrade, providing
damp, gritty handhold. Before the going got tougher, he developed a
technic, a rhythm and system of thrusts proportioned to heights and
widths, a way of scraping holds where ice was not malignantly welded to
stone, an appreciation of snow texture and depth, an economy of effort.

He was enjoying a premature elation when, on the twelfth step, a cleat
strap gave. Luckily, he was able to take his lurch with a firm grip on
the balustrade; but he felt depth yawning behind him. Dourly, he took
thirty seconds to retrieve the cleat; stitching had been sawed through
by a metal edge--just as he'd told the cocksure workman it would be. Oh,
to have a world where imbecility wasn't entrenched! Well--he was
fighting here and now for the resources to found one. He resumed the
escalade, his rhythm knocked cockeyed.

Things even out. Years back, an Invader bomber had scored a near miss on
the building, and minor damage to stonework was unrepaired. Crevices
gave fingerhold, chipped-out hollows gave barely perceptible purchase to
the heel of his hand. Salutes to the random effects of unlikely causes!

He reached the turn, considered swiftly. His fresh strength was blunted;
his muscles, especially in his thumbs, were stiffening with chill. Now:
He could continue up the left side, by the building, which was tougher
and hazardous with frozen drippings, or by the outside, right-hand rail,
which was easier but meant crossing the open, half-swept wide step and
recrossing the landing up top. Damn! Why hadn't he foreseen that? Oh,
you can't think of everything. Get going, left side.

       *       *       *       *       *

The wall of the building was rough-hewn and ornamented with surplus
carvings. Cheers for the 1890s architect!

Qualified cheers. The first three lifts were easy, with handholds in a
frieze of lotus. For the next, he had to heft with his side-jaw against
a boss of stone. A window ledge made the next three facile. The final
five stared, an open gap without recourse. He made two by grace of the
janitor's having swabbed his broom a little closer to the wall. His
muscles began to wobble and waver: in his proportions, he'd made
two-hundred feet of almost vertical ascent.

But, climbing a real ice-fall, you'd unleash the last convulsive effort
because you had to. Here, when you came down to it, you could always sit
and bump yourself down to the car which was, in that context, a mere
safe forty feet away. So he went on because he had to.

He got the rubber tip off one stick. The bare metal tube would bore into
the snow pack. It might hold, _if_ he bore down just right, and swung
his weight just so, and got just the right sliding purchase on the wall,
and the snow didn't give underfoot or undercane. And if it didn't
work--it didn't work.

Beyond the landing, westwards, the sky had broken into April blue, far
away over Iowa and Kansas, over Operation Seed-corn, over the refuge for
rebels that lay at the end of all his roads....

He got set ... and lifted. A thousand miles nearer the refuge! Got set
... and lifted, balanced over plunging gulfs. His reach found a round
pilaster at the top, a perfect grip for a hand. He drew himself up, and
this time his cleated foot cut through snow to stone, and slipped, but
his hold was too good. And there he was.

No salutes, no cheers, only one more victory for life.

Even in victory, unlife gave you no respite. The doorstep was three feet
wide, hollowed by eighty years of traffic, and filled with frozen
drippings from its pseudo-Norman arch. He had to tilt across it and
catch the brass knob--like snatching a ring in a high dive.

No danger now, except sitting down in a growing puddle till someone came
along to hoist him under the armpits, and then arriving at the general's
late, with his seat black-wet.... You unhorse your foeman, curvet up to
the royal box to receive the victor's chaplet, swing from your saddle,
and fall flat on your face.

But, he cogitated on the bench inside, getting his other cleat off and
the tip back on his stick, things do even out. No hearty helper had
intervened, no snot-nosed, gaping child had twitched his attention,
nobody's secretary--pretty of course--had scurried to helpfully knock
him down with the door. They were all out front superintending arrival
of the computer.

       *       *       *       *       *

The general said only, if tartly, "Oh yes, major, come in. You're late,
a'n't you?"

"It's still icy," said Ed Scott. "Had to drive carefully, you know."

In fact, he _had_ lost minutes that way, enough to have saved his exact
deadline. And that excuse, being in proportion to Filipson's standard
dimension, was fair game.

       *       *       *       *       *

I wondered what dimension Clyde would go on to, now that the challenge
of war was past. To his rebels refuge at last maybe? Does it matter?
Whatever it is, life will be outclassed, and Scott-Esterbrook's brand of
life will fight back.



[A] Hall, "Whole Upper Extremity Transplant for Human Beings." Annals of
Surgery 1944, #120, p. 12.

Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Astounding Science Fiction_ August
    1959. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Matter of Proportion" ***

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