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´╗┐Title: Miracle by Price
Author: Cox, Irving E.
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 "Miracle by Price" ***

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                           MIRACLE BY PRICE

                         BY IRVING E. COX, JR.

             _They said old Doctor Price was an inventive
            genius but no miracle worker. Yet--if he didn't
               work miracles in behalf of an over-worked
              little guy named Cupid, what was he doing?_

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Worlds of If Science Fiction, October 1954.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


MEMO TO: Clayton, Croyden and Hammerstead, Attorneys

ATTENTION: William Clayton

FROM: Walter Gordon

Dear Bill:

Enclosed is the itemized inventory of the furnishings of the late Dr.
Edward Price's estate. As you requested, I personally examined the
laboratory. Candidly, Bill, you needed a psychiatrist for the job, not
a graduate physicist. Dr. Price was undoubtedly an inventive genius a
decade ago when he was still active in General Electronics, but his lab
was an embarrassing example of senile clutter.

You had an idea, Bill, that before he died Price might have been
playing around with a new invention which the estate could develop and
patent. I found a score of gadgets in the lab, none of them finished
and none of them built for any functional purpose that I could discover.

Only two seemed to be completed. One resembled a small, portable radio.
It was a plastic case with two knobs and a two-inch speaker grid. There
was no cord outlet. The machine may have been powered by batteries, for
I heard a faint humming when I turned the knobs. Nothing else. Dr.
Price had left a handwritten card on the box. He intended to call it
a Semantic-Translator, but he had noted that the word combination was
awkward for commercial exploitation, and I suppose he held up a patent
application until he could think of a catchier name. One sentence on
that card would have amused you, Bill. Price wrote, "Should wholesale
for about three-fifty per unit." Even in his dotage, he had an eye for
profit.

The Semantic-Translator--whatever that may mean--might have had
possibilities. I fully intended to take it back with me to General
Electronics and examine it thoroughly.

The second device, which Price had labeled a Transpositor, was large
and rather fragile. It was a hollow cylinder of very small wires,
perhaps a foot in diameter, fastened to an open-faced console crowded
with a weird conglomeration of vacuum tubes, telescopic lenses and
mirrors. The cylinder of wires was so delicate that the motion of my
body in the laboratory caused it to quiver. Standing in front of the
wire coil were two brass rods. A kind of shovel-like chute was fixed to
one rod (Price called it the shipping board). Attached to the second
rod was a long-handled pair of tongs which he called the grapple.

The Transpositor was, I think, an outgrowth of Price's investigation
of the relationship between light and matter. You may recall, Bill,
the brilliant technical papers he wrote on that subject when he was
still working in the laboratories of General Electronics. At the time
Price was considered something of a pioneer. He believed that light and
matter were different forms of the same basic element; he said that
eventually science would learn how to change one into the other.

I seriously believe that the Transpositor was meant to do precisely
that. In other words, Price had expected to transpose the atomic
structure of solid matter into light, and later to reconstruct the
original matter again. Now don't assume, Bill, that Price was wandering
around in a senile delusion of fourth dimensional nonsense. The theory
may be sound. Our present knowledge of the physical world makes the
basic structure of matter more of a mystery than it has ever been.

Not that I think Price achieved the miracle. Even in his most
brilliant and productive period he could not have done it. As yet
our accumulation of data is too incomplete for such an experiment. I
believe that Price created no more than a very realistic illusion with
his arrangement of lenses and mirrors.

I saw the illusion, too; I used the machine.

There were two dials on the front of the console. One was lettered
"time", and the other "distance". The "time" dial could be set for
eons, centuries or hours, depending upon the position of a three-way
switch beneath it; the "distance" dial could be adjusted to light
years, thousand-mile units, or kilometers by a similar device. Since
there was no indication which position would produce what results,
I left the dials untouched. I plugged the machine into an electric
outlet and pushed the starter button. The coil of wire blazed with
light and the chute slid rapidly in and out of the cylinder.

That was all, at first. The starter button was labeled "the shipper",
and I gathered that Price had visualized the practical application of
the Transpositor as a device for transporting goods from one point to
another.

I looked around the lab for something I could put into the chute.
There was a card, written in red, warning me not to load beyond
the dimensional limits of the chute. The only thing I saw that was
small enough was the little radio-like gadget Price had called a
Semantic-Translator. Loaded horizontally, it just barely fit the chute.

I pushed the shipper button a second time. Again there was a blaze
of light, brighter than before, which temporarily blinded me. For a
moment I saw the Semantic-Translator in the heart of the fragile, wire
cylinder. It had the glow of molten steel, pouring from a blast furnace.

Then it was gone. The chute shot back to the front of the machine. The
tray was empty.

Was it an illusion? I believe that, Bill, because later on, when I
thought of using the grapple....

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Bertha Kent walked back the gravel trail from the dressing room.
The early morning sun was bright and warm, but she held her woolen
robe tight across her throat. She tried to avoid looking at the other
camps--at the sleepy-eyed women coming out of tents, and the men
starting morning fires in the stone rings.

Bitterness was etched in acid in her soul. She made herself believe
it was because she hated Yosemite. The vacation had been such a
disappointment. She had expected so much and--as usual--it had all gone
wrong.

Her hope had been so high when school closed; this year was going to be
different!

"Are you going anywhere this summer?" Miss Emmy asked after the last
faculty meeting in June.

"To Yosemite for a couple of weeks, I think."

"The Park's always crowded. You ought to meet a nice man up there,
Bertha."

"I'm not interested in men," Miss Kent had replied frostily. "I'm a
botany teacher and it helps me professionally if I spend part of the
summer observing the phenomenon of nature."

"Don't kid me, Bertha. You can drop the fancy lingo, too; school's out.
You want a man as much as I do."

That was true, Miss Kent admitted--in the quiet of her own mind.
Never aloud; never to anyone else. Six years ago, when Bertha Kent
had first started to teach, she had been optimistic about it. She
wanted to marry; she wanted a family of her own--instead of wasting
her lifetime in a high school classroom playing baby sitter for other
people's kids. She had saved her money for all sorts of exotic summer
vacations--tours, cruises, luxury hotels--but somehow something always
went wrong.

To be sure, she had met men. She was pretty; she danced well; she was
never prudish; she liked the out-of-doors. All positive qualities: she
knew that. The fault lay always with the men. When she first met a
stranger, everything was fine. Then, slowly, Miss Kent began to see his
faults. Men were simply adult versions of the muscle-bound knot-heads
the administration loaded into her botany classes.

Bertha Kent wanted something better, an ideal she had held in her mind
since her childhood. The dream-man was real, too. She had met him
once and actually talked to him when she was a child. She couldn't
remember where; she couldn't recall his face. But the qualities of his
personality she knew as she did her own heart. If they had existed once
in one man, she would find them again, somewhere. That was the miracle
she prayed for every summer.

She thought the miracle had happened again when she first came to
Yosemite.

She found an open campsite by the river. While she was putting up
her tent, the man from the camp beside hers came to help. At first
he seemed the prototype of everything she hated--a good-looking,
beautifully co-ordinated physical specimen, as sharp-witted as a
jellyfish. The front of his woolen shirt hung carelessly unbuttoned.
She saw the mat of dark hair on his chest, the sculpted curves of
sun-tanned muscle. No doubt he considered himself quite attractive.

Then, that evening after the fire-fall, the young man asked her to
go with him to the ranger's lecture at Camp Curry. Bertha discovered
that he was a graduate physicist, employed by a large, commercial
laboratory. They had at least the specialized area of science in
common. By the time they returned from the lecture, they were calling
each other by first names. The next day Walt asked her to hike up the
mist trail with him to Nevada Falls.

The familiar miracle began to take shape. She lay awake a long time
that night, looking at the dancing pattern of stars visible through the
open flap of her tent. This was it; Walt was the reality of her dream.
She made herself forget that every summer for six years the same thing
had happened. She always believed she had found her miracle; and always
something happened to destroy it.

For two days the idyll lasted. The inevitable awakening began the
afternoon they drove along the Wawona highway to see the Mariposa Grove
of giant sequoias. They left their car in the parking area and walked
through the magnificent stand of cathedral trees. The trail was steep
and sometimes treacherous. Twice Walt took her arm to help her. For
some reason that annoyed her; finally she told him,

"I'm quite able to look after myself, Walt."

"So you've told me before."

"After all, I've been hiking most of my life. I know exactly what to
do--"

"There isn't much you can't take care of for yourself, is there,
Bertha?" His voice was suddenly very cold.

"I'm not one of these rattle-brained clinging vines, if that's what you
mean. I detest a woman who is always yelping to a man for help."

"Independence is one thing, Bertha; I like that in a woman. But somehow
you make a man feel totally inadequate. You set yourself up as his
superior in everything."

"That's nonsense, Walt. I'm quite ready to grant that you know a good
deal more about physics than I do."

"Say it right, Bertha. You respect the fact that I hold a PhD." He
smiled. "That isn't the same thing as respecting me for a person. I
knew you didn't need my help on the trail, but it was a normal courtesy
to offer it. It seems to me it would be just as normal for you to
accept it. Little things like that are important in relations between
people."

"Forget it, Walt." She slipped her hand through his. "There, see? I'll
do it just the way you want."

She was determined not to quarrel over anything so trivial, though what
he said seemed childish and it tarnished the dream a little. But the
rest was still good; the miracle could still happen.

Yet, in spite of all her effort, they disagreed twice more before they
left the Mariposa Grove. Bertha began to see Walt as he was: brilliant,
no doubt, in the single area of physical science, but basically no
different from any other man. She desperately wished that she could
love him; she earnestly wished that the ideal, fixed so long in her
mind, might be destroyed.

But slowly she saw the miracle slip away from her. That night, after
the fire-fall, Walt did not ask her to go with him to the lecture.
Miserable and angry, Bertha Kent went into her tent, but not to sleep.

She lay staring at the night sky, and thinking how ugly the pin-point
lights of distant suns were on the velvet void. As the hours passed,
she heard the clatter of pans and voices as people at the other
campsites retired. She heard Walt when he returned, whistling
tunelessly. He banged around for nearly an hour in the camp next to
hers. He dropped a stack of pans; he overturned a box of food; he
tripped over a tent line. She wondered if he were drunk. Had their
quarreling driven him to that? Walt must have loved her, then.

After a time all the Coleman lanterns in the camp were out. Still
Bertha Kent did not sleep. The acid grief and bitterness tormented
her with the ghost of another failure, another shattered dream. She
listened to the soft music of the flowing stream, the gentle whisper of
summer wind in the pines, but it gave her no peace.

Suddenly she heard quiet footsteps and the crackling of twigs behind
her tent. She was terrified. It must be Walt. If he had come home
drunk, he could have planned almost any kind of violence by way of
revenge.

The footsteps moved closer. Bertha shook off the paralysis of fear
and reached for her electric lantern. She flashed the beam into the
darkness. She saw the black bulk of a bear who was pawing through her
food box.

She was so relieved she forgot that a bear might also be a legitimate
cause of fear. She ran from the tent, swinging the light and shooing
the animal away as she would have chased a puppy. The bear swung
toward her, roaring and clawing at the air. She backed away. The bear
swung its paws again, and her food box shattered on the ground, in a
crescendo of sound.

Bertha heard rapid footsteps under the pines. In the pale moonlight she
saw Walt. He was wearing only a pair of red-striped boxer shorts. He
was swinging his arms and shouting, but the noise of the falling box
had already frightened the bear away.

Walt stood in the moonlight, smiling foolishly.

"I guess I came too late," he said.

"I'm quite sure the bear would have left of its own accord, Walt.
They're always quite tame in the national parks, you know." As soon
as she said it, she knew it was a mistake. Even though he had done
nothing, it would have cost her little to thank him. The words had come
instinctively; she hadn't thought how her answer would affect him. Walt
turned on his heel stiffly and walked back to his tent.

With a little forethought--a little kindness--Bertha might even then
have rescued her miracle. She knew that. She knew she had lost him now,
for good. For the first time in her life she saw the dream as a barrier
to her happiness, not an ideal. It held her imprisoned; it gave her
nothing in exchange.

She slept fitfully for the rest of the night. As soon as the sun was
up, she pulled on her woolen robe and went to the dressing room to
wash. She walked back along the gravel path, averting her eyes from
the other camps and the men hunched over the smoking breakfast fires.
She hated Yosemite. She hated all the people crowded around her. She
had made up her mind to pack her tent and head for home. This was just
another vacation lost, another year wasted.

She went into her tent and put on slacks and a bright, cotton blouse.
Then she sat disconsolate at her camp table surveying the mess the bear
had made of her food box. There was nothing that she could rescue. She
could drive to the village for breakfast, but the shops wouldn't open
for another hour.

Behind her she heard Walt starting his Coleman stove. Yesterday he
would have offered her breakfast; now he'd ignored her. All along the
stream camp fires were blazing in the stone rings. Bertha wondered if
she could ask the couple on the other side of her campsite for help.
They had attempted to be friendly once before, and Bertha hadn't
responded with a great deal of cordiality. They weren't the type she
liked--a frizzy-headed, coarse-voiced blonde, and a paunchy old man who
hadn't enough sense to know what a fool he looked parading around camp
in the faded bathing trunks he wore all day.

Suddenly a light flashed in Bertha's face. A metal shovel slid out of
nothingness and deposited a tiny, rectangular box on the table. For a
long minute she stared at the box stupidly, vaguely afraid. Her mind
must be playing her tricks. Such things didn't happen.

She reached out timidly and touched the box. It seemed real enough. A
miniature radio of some sort, with a two-inch speaker. She turned the
dials. She heard a faint humming.

The coarse-voiced blonde came toward the table.

"We just heard what happened last night, Miss Kent," she said. "Me and
George. About the bear, I mean."

Bertha forced a smile. "It made rather a shambles, didn't it?"

"Gee, you can't make breakfast out of a mess like this. Why don't you
come and eat with us?"

The blonde went on talking, apologizing for what she was serving and
at the same time listing it with a certain pride. Strangely, Miss Kent
heard not one voice, but two. The second came tinnily from the little
box on the table,

"You poor, dried-up old maid. That guy who's been hanging around would
have been over long before this, if you knew the first thing about
being nice to a man."

Bertha gasped. "Really, if that's the way you feel--"

"Why, honey, I just asked you over for breakfast," the blonde answered;
at the same time the voice from the machine said,

"I suppose George and me ain't good enough for you. O.K. by me, sister.
I didn't really want you to come anyway."

Trembling, Miss Kent stood up. "I've never been so insulted!"

"What's eating you, Miss Kent?" The blonde seemed genuinely puzzled,
but again the voice came from the plastic box,

"The old maid's off her rocker. You'd think she was reading my mind."

Switching her trim little hips, the blonde walked back to her own camp.
Bertha Kent dropped numbly on the bench, staring at the ugly box.
"Reading my mind," the woman had said. Somehow the machine had done
precisely that, translating the blonde's spoken words into the real,
emotional meaning behind them. It was a terrifying gadget. Bertha was
hypnotized by its potential horror--like the brutal, devastating truth
spoken by a child.

A camper walked past on the road, waving at Miss Kent and calling out
a cheerful good morning. But again the machine read the real meaning
behind the pleasant words.

"So you've finally lost your man, Miss Kent. The way you dished out the
orders, it's a wonder he stayed around as long as he did. And a pity:
you're an attractive woman. You should make some man a good wife."

They all thought that. The whole camp had been watching her, laughing
at her. Bertha felt helpless and alone. She needed--wanted--someone
else; it surprised her when she faced that fact.

Then it dawned on her: the camper was right; the blonde was right. She
had lost Walt through her own ridiculous bull-headedness. In order to
assert herself. To be an individualist, she had always thought. And
what did that matter, if it imposed this crushing loneliness?

For a moment a kind of madness seized her. It was the diabolical
machine that was tormenting her, not the truth it told. She snatched a
piece of her broken food box and struck at the plastic case blindly.
There was a splash of fire; the gadget broke.

She saw Walt look up from his stove. She saw him move toward her. But
she stood paralyzed by a shattering trauma of pain. The voice still
came from the speaker, and this time it was her own. Her mind was
stripped naked; she saw herself whole, unsheltered by the protective
veneer of rationalization.

And she knew the pattern of the dream-man she had loved since her
childhood; she knew why the dream had been self-defeating.

For the idealization was her own father. That impossible paragon
created by the worship of a child.

The shock was its own cure. She was too well-balanced to accept the
tempting escape of total disorientation. Grimly she fought back the
tide of madness, and in that moment she found maturity. She ran toward
Walt, tears of gratitude in her eyes. She felt his arms around her, and
she clung to him desperately.

"I was terrified; I needed you, Walt; I never want to be alone again."

"Needed me?" he repeated doubtfully.

"I love you." After a split-second's hesitation, she felt his lips warm
on hers.

From the corner of her eye she saw a chute dart out of nowhere and
scoop up the broken plastic box from the camp table. They both vanished
again. That was a miracle, too, she supposed; but not nearly as
important as hers.

Then the reason of a logical mind asserted its own form of realism:
of course, none of it had happened. The mind-reading gadget had been
a device created in her own subconscious, a psychological trick to
by-pass the dream that had held her imprisoned. She knew enough
psychology to understand that.

She ran her fingers through Walt's dark hair and repeated softly,

"I love you, Walt Gordon."

       *       *       *       *       *

Was it an illusion? I believe that, Bill, because later on, when I
thought of using the grapple, I brought the Semantic-Translator back
from nowhere. Apparently the smaller gadget had been in the console or
behind it. I hadn't seen it when I searched, because my eyes had been
hurt by the glare of light.

In the process the Translator somehow got twisted around, for the chute
dragged it back vertically through the coil of wire. It touched the
wall of the cylinder, and the whole machine exploded.

It was impossible to save anything from the wreckage. But as a
physicist I assure you, Bill, the transposition of matter into light
is, in terms of our present science, a physical impossibility. It is
certainly not the sort of invention that could have been produced by a
senile old man, pottering around in a home laboratory. The only thing I
regret is that I had no opportunity to examine the Semantic-Translator,
but I'm sure it would have proved just as much nonsense.

I'm going up to Yosemite tomorrow for a couple of weeks. If you want
any further details on the Price inventory, look me up at the office
when I come home.

Yours,

Walt Gordon





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