You can do a great deal if
you have enough data, and
enough time to compute on it,
by logical methods. But given
the situation that neither data
nor time is adequate, and an
answer must be produced ...
what do you do?
BY JAMES BLISH
Illustrated by van Dongen
On the day that the Polish freighter
Ludmilla laid an egg in New
York harbor, Abner Longmans
("One-Shot") Braun was in the city
going about his normal business,
which was making another million
dollars. As we found out later, almost
nothing else was normal about
that particular week end for Braun.
For one thing, he had brought his
family with him—a complete departure
from routine—reflecting the unprecedentedly
legitimate nature of
the deals he was trying to make.
From every point of view it was a
bad week end for the CIA to mix
into his affairs, but nobody had explained
that to the master of the
I had better add here that we
knew nothing about this until afterward;
from the point of view of the
storyteller, an organization like Civilian
Intelligence Associates gets to
all its facts backwards, entering the
tale at the pay-off, working back to
the hook, and winding up with a
sheaf of background facts to feed
into the computer for Next Time. It's
rough on the various people who've
tried to fictionalize what we do—particularly
for the lazy examples of
the breed, who come to us expecting
that their plotting has already been
done for them—but it's inherent in
the way we operate, and there it is.
Certainly nobody at CIA so much
as thought of Braun when the news
first came through. Harry Anderton,
the Harbor Defense chief, called us
at 0830 Friday to take on the job of
identifying the egg; this was when
our records show us officially entering
the affair, but, of course, Anderton
had been keeping the wires to
Washington steaming for an hour before
that, getting authorization to
spend some of his money on us (our
clearance status was then and is now
C&R—clean and routine).
I was in the central office when
the call came through, and had some
difficulty in making out precisely
what Anderton wanted of us. "Slow
down, Colonel Anderton, please," I
begged him. "Two or three seconds
won't make that much difference.
How did you find out about this egg
in the first place?"
"The automatic compartment bulkheads
on the Ludmilla were defective,"
he said. "It seems that this
egg was buried among a lot of other
crates in the dump-cell of the
"What's a dump cell?"
"It's a sea lock for getting rid of
dangerous cargo. The bottom of it
opens right to Davy Jones. Standard
fitting for ships carrying explosives,
radioactives, anything that might act
"All right," I said. "Go ahead."
"Well, there was a timer on the
dump-cell floor, set to drop the egg
when the ship came up the river.
That worked fine, but the automatic
bulkheads that are supposed to keep
the rest of the ship from being flooded
while the cell's open, didn't. At
least they didn't do a thorough job.
The Ludmilla began to list and the
captain yelled for help. When the
Harbor Patrol found the dump-cell
open, they called us in."
"I see." I thought about it a moment.
"In other words, you don't
know whether the Ludmilla really
laid an egg or not."
"That's what I keep trying to explain
to you, Dr. Harris. We don't
know what she dropped and we
haven't any way of finding out. It
could be a bomb—it could be anything.
We're sweating everybody on
board the ship now, but it's my guess
that none of them know anything;
the whole procedure was designed to
"All right, we'll take it," I said.
"You've got divers down?"
"We'll worry about the buts from
here on. Get us a direct line from
your barge to the big board here so
we can direct the work. Better get
on over here yourself."
"Right." He sounded relieved.
Official people have a lot of confidence
in CIA; too much, in my estimation.
Some day the job will come
along that we can't handle, and then
Washington will be kicking itself—or,
more likely, some scapegoat—for
having failed to develop a comparable
Not that there was much prospect
of Washington's doing that. Official
thinking had been running in the
other direction for years. The precedent
was the Associated Universities
organization which ran Brookhaven;
CIA had been started the same way,
by a loose corporation of universities
and industries all of which had
wanted to own an ULTIMAC and
no one of which had had the money
to buy one for itself. The Eisenhower
administration, with its emphasis
on private enterprise and concomitant
reluctance to sink federal
funds into projects of such size, had
turned the two examples into a nice
fat trend, which ULTIMAC herself
said wasn't going to be reversed
within the practicable lifetime of
I buzzed for two staffers, and in
five minutes got Clark Cheyney and
Joan Hadamard, CIA's business manager
and social science division chief
respectively. The titles were almost
solely for the benefit of the T/O—that
is, Clark and Joan do serve in
those capacities, but said service takes
about two per cent of their capacities
and their time. I shot them a couple
of sentences of explanation, trusting
them to pick up whatever else they
needed from the tape, and checked
the line to the divers' barge.
It was already open; Anderton had
gone to work quickly and with decision
once he was sure we were taking
on the major question. The television
screen lit, but nothing showed
on it but murky light, striped with
streamers of darkness slowly rising
and falling. The audio went cloonck
... oing, oing ... bonk ... oing
... Underwater noises, shapeless
"Hello, out there in the harbor.
This is CIA, Harris calling. Come in,
"Monig here," the audio said.
Boink ... oing, oing ...
"Got anything yet?"
"Not a thing, Dr. Harris," Monig
said. "You can't see three inches in
front of your face down here—it's
too silty. We've bumped into a couple
of crates, but so far, no egg."
Cheyney, looking even more like
a bulldog than usual, was setting his
stopwatch by one of the eight clocks
on ULTIMAC's face. "Want me to
take the divers?" he said.
"No, Clark, not yet. I'd rather
have Joan do it for the moment." I
passed the mike to her. "You'd better
run a probability series first."
"Check." He began feeding tape
into the integrator's mouth. "What's
your angle, Peter?"
"The ship. I want to see how heavily
shielded that dump-cell is."
"It isn't shielded at all," Anderton's
voice said behind me. I hadn't
heard him come in. "But that doesn't
prove anything. The egg might have
carried sufficient shielding in itself.
Or maybe the Commies didn't care
whether the crew was exposed or not.
Or maybe there isn't any egg."
"All that's possible," I admitted.
"But I want to see it, anyhow."
"Have you taken blood tests?"
Joan asked Anderton.
"Get the reports through to me,
then. I want white-cell counts, differentials,
platelet counts, hematocrit
and sed rates on every man."
Anderton picked up the phone and
I took a firm hold on the doorknob.
"Hey," Anderton said, putting the
phone down again. "Are you going
to duck out just like that? Remember,
Dr. Harris, we've got to evacuate the
city first of all! No matter whether
it's a real egg or not—we can't take
the chance on it's not being an egg!"
"Don't move a man until you get
a go-ahead from CIA," I said. "For
all we know now, evacuating the city
may be just what the enemy wants us
to do—so they can grab it unharmed.
Or they may want to start a panic
for some other reason, any one of
fifty possible reasons."
"You can't take such a gamble,"
he said grimly. "There are eight and
a half million lives riding on it. I
can't let you do it."
"You passed your authority to us
when you hired us," I pointed out.
"If you want to evacuate without our
O.K., you'll have to fire us first. It'll
take another hour to get that cleared
from Washington—so you might as
well give us the hour."
He stared at me for a moment, his
lips thinned. Then he picked up the
phone again to order Joan's blood
count, and I got out the door, fast.
A reasonable man would have said
that I found nothing useful on the
Ludmilla, except negative information.
But the fact is that anything I
found would have been a surprise to
me; I went down looking for surprises.
I found nothing but a faint
trail to Abner Longmans Braun, most
of which was fifteen years cold.
There'd been a time when I'd
known Braun, briefly and to no
profit to either of us. As an undergraduate
majoring in social sciences,
I'd taken on a term paper on the old
International Longshoreman's Association,
a racket-ridden union now
formally extinct—although anyone
who knew the signs could still pick
up some traces on the docks. In those
days, Braun had been the business
manager of an insurance firm, the
sole visible function of which had
been to write policies for the ILA
and its individual dock-wallopers.
For some reason, he had been amused
by the brash youngster who'd barged
in on him and demanded the lowdown,
and had shown me considerable
lengths of ropes not normally
in view of the public—nothing incriminating,
but enough to give me
a better insight into how the union
operated than I had had any right to
expect—or even suspect.
Hence I was surprised to hear
somebody on the docks remark that
Braun was in the city over the week
end. It would never have occurred
to me that he still interested himself
in the waterfront, for he'd gone respectable
with a vengeance. He was
still a professional gambler, and according
to what he had told the
Congressional Investigating Committee
last year, took in thirty to fifty
thousand dollars a year at it, but his
gambles were no longer concentrated
on horses, the numbers, or shady insurance
deals. Nowadays what he did
was called investment—mostly in real
estate; realtors knew him well as the
man who had almost bought the Empire
State Building. (The almost in
the equation stands for the moment
when the shoestring broke.)
Joan had been following his career,
too, not because she had ever met
him, but because for her he was a
type study in the evolution of what
she called "the extra-legal ego."
"With personalities like that, respectability
is a disease," she told me.
"There's always an almost-open conflict
between the desire to be powerful
and the desire to be accepted;
your ordinary criminal is a moral imbecile,
but people like Braun are
damned with a conscience, and sooner
or later they crack trying to appease
"I'd sooner try to crack a Timkin
bearing," I said. "Braun's ten-point
steel all the way through."
"Don't you believe it. The symptoms
are showing all over him. Now
he's backing Broadway plays, sponsoring
beginning actresses, joining
playwrights' groups—he's the only
member of Buskin and Brush who's
never written a play, acted in one, or
so much as pulled the rope to raise
"That's investment," I said.
"That's his business."
"Peter, you're only looking at the
surface. His real investments almost
never fail. But the plays he backs
always do. They have to; he's sinking
money in them to appease his conscience,
and if they were to succeed it
would double his guilt instead of
salving it. It's the same way with the
young actresses. He's not sexually
interested in them—his type never is,
because living a rigidly orthodox
family life is part of the effort towards
respectability. He's backing
them to 'pay his debt to society'—in
other words, they're talismans to
keep him out of jail."
"It doesn't seem like a very satisfactory
"Of course it isn't," Joan had said.
"The next thing he'll do is go in for
direct public service—giving money
to hospitals or something like that.
She had been right; within the
year, Braun had announced the
founding of an association for clearing
the Detroit slum area where he
had been born—the plainest kind of
symbolic suicide: Let's not have any
more Abner Longmans Brauns born
down here. It depressed me to see it
happen, for next on Joan's agenda
for Braun was an entry into politics
as a fighting liberal—a New Dealer
twenty years too late. Since I'm mildly
liberal myself when I'm off duty,
I hated to think what Braun's career
might tell me about my own motives,
if I'd let it.
All of which had nothing to do
with why I was prowling around the
Ludmilla—or did it? I kept remembering
Anderton's challenge: "You
can't take such a gamble. There are
eight and a half million lives riding
on it—" That put it up into Braun's
normal operating area, all right. The
connection was still hazy, but on the
grounds that any link might be useful,
I phoned him.
He remembered me instantly; like
most uneducated, power-driven men,
he had a memory as good as any machine's.
"You never did send me that paper
you was going to write," he said. His
voice seemed absolutely unchanged,
although he was in his seventies now.
"You promised you would."
"Kids don't keep their promises
as well as they should," I said. "But
I've still got copies and I'll see to it
that you get one, this time. Right
now I need another favor—something
right up your alley."
"Yes. I didn't know you knew I
was with CIA."
Braun chuckled. "I still know a
thing or two," he said. "What's the
"That I can't tell you over the
phone. But it's the biggest gamble
there ever was, and I think we need
an expert. Can you come down to
CIA's central headquarters right
"Yeah, if it's that big. If it ain't,
I got lots of business here, Andy.
And I ain't going to be in town long.
You're sure it's top stuff?"
"My word on it."
He was silent a moment. Then he
said, "Andy, send me your paper."
"The paper? Sure, but—" Then I
got it. I'd given him my word.
"You'll get it," I said. "Thanks, Mr.
I called headquarters and sent a
messenger to my apartment to look
for one of those long-dusty blue folders
with the legal-length sheets inside
them, with orders to scorch it over
to Braun without stopping to breathe
more than once. Then I went back
The atmosphere had changed. Anderton
was sitting by the big desk,
clenching his fists and sweating; his
whole posture telegraphed his controlled
helplessness. Cheyney was
bent over a seismograph, echo-sounding
for the egg through the river
bottom. If that even had a prayer of
working, I knew, he'd have had the
trains of the Hudson & Manhattan
stopped; their rumbling course
through their tubes would have
blanked out any possible echo-pip
from the egg.
"Wild goose chase?" Joan said,
scanning my face.
"Not quite. I've got something, if
I can just figure out what it is. Remember
"Yes. What's he got to do with
"Nothing," I said. "But I want
to bring him in. I don't think we'll
lick this project before deadline without
"What good is a professional
gambler on a job like this? He'll just
get in the way."
I looked toward the television
screen, which now showed an
amorphous black mass, jutting up
from a foundation of even deeper
black. "Is that operation getting you
"Nothing's gotten us anywhere,"
Anderton interjected harshly. "We
don't even know if that's the egg—the
whole area is littered with crates.
Harris, you've got to let me get that
"Clark, how's the time going?"
Cheyney consulted the stopwatch.
"Deadline in twenty-nine minutes,"
"All right, let's use those minutes.
I'm beginning to see this thing
a little clearer. Joan, what we've got
here is a one-shot gamble; right?"
"In effect," she said cautiously.
"And it's my guess that we're
never going to get the answer by
diving for it—not in time, anyhow.
Remember when the Navy lost a
barge-load of shells in the harbor,
back in '52? They scrabbled for them
for a year and never pulled up a one;
they finally had to warn the public
that if it found anything funny-looking
along the shore it shouldn't bang
said object, or shake it either. We're
better equipped than the Navy was
then—but we're working against a
"If you'd admitted that earlier,"
Anderton said hoarsely, "we'd have
half a million people out of the city
by now. Maybe even a million."
"We haven't given up yet, colonel.
The point is this, Joan: what
we need is an inspired guess. Get
anything from the prob series, Clark?
I thought not. On a one-shot gamble
of this kind, the 'laws' of chance are
no good at all. For that matter, the
so-called ESP experiments showed us
long ago that even the way we construct
random tables is full of holes—and
that a man with a feeling for
the essence of a gamble can make a
monkey out of chance almost at will.
"And if there ever was such a
man, Braun is it. That's why I asked
him to come down here. I want him
to look at that lump on the screen
and—play a hunch."
"You're out of your mind," Anderton
A decorous knock spared me the
trouble of having to deny, affirm or
ignore the judgment. It was Braun;
the messenger had been fast, and
the gambler hadn't bothered to read
what a college student had thought
of him fifteen years ago. He came
forward and held out his hand, while
the others looked him over frankly.
He was impressive, all right. It
would have been hard for a stranger
to believe that he was aiming at respectability;
to the eye, he was already
there. He was tall and spare,
and walked perfectly erect, not without
spring despite his age. His clothing
was as far from that of a
gambler as you could have taken it
by design: a black double-breasted
suit with a thin vertical stripe, a gray
silk tie with a pearl stickpin just
barely large enough to be visible at
all, a black Homburg; all perfectly
fitted, all worn with proper casualness—one
might almost say a formal
casualness. It was only when he
opened his mouth that One-Shot
Braun was in the suit with him.
"I come over as soon as your runner
got to me," he said. "What's the
"Mr. Braun, this is Joan Hadamard,
Clark Cheyney, Colonel Anderton.
I'll be quick because we need
speed now. A Polish ship has dropped
something out in the harbor.
We don't know what it is. It may be
a hell-bomb, or it may be just somebody's
old laundry. Obviously we've
got to find out which—and we want
you to tell us."
Braun's aristocratic eyebrows went
up. "Me? Hell, Andy, I don't know
nothing about things like that. I'm
surprised with you. I thought CIA
had all the brains it needed—ain't
you got machines to tell you answers
I pointed silently to Joan, who had
gone back to work the moment the
introductions were over. She was still
on the mike to the divers. She was
saying: "What does it look like?"
"It's just a lump of something,
Dr. Hadamard. Can't even tell its
shape—it's buried too deeply in the
mud." Cloonk ... Oing, oing ...
"Try the Geiger."
"We did. Nothing but background."
"Nothing, Dr. Hadamard. Could
be it's shielded."
"Let us do the guessing, Monig.
All right, maybe it's got a clockwork
fuse that didn't break with the impact.
Or a gyroscopic fuse. Stick a
stethoscope on it and see if you pick
up a ticking or anything that sounds
like a motor running."
There was a lag and I turned back
to Braun. "As you can see, we're
stymied. This is a long shot, Mr.
Braun. One throw of the dice—one
show-down hand. We've got to have
an expert call it for us—somebody
with a record of hits on long shots.
That's why I called you."
"It's no good," he said. He took
off the Homburg, took his handkerchief
from his breast pocket, and
wiped the hatband. "I can't do it."
"It ain't my kind of thing," he
said. "Look, I never in my life run
odds on anything that made any difference.
But this makes a difference.
If I guess wrong—"
"Then we're all dead ducks. But
why should you guess wrong? Your
hunches have been working for sixty
Braun wiped his face. "No. You
don't get it. I wish you'd listen to
me. Look, my wife and my kids are
in the city. It ain't only my life, it's
theirs, too. That's what I care about.
That's why it's no good. On things
that matter to me, my hunches don't
I was stunned, and so, I could see,
were Joan and Cheyney. I suppose I
should have guessed it, but it had
never occurred to me.
"Ten minutes," Cheyney said.
I looked up at Braun. He was
frightened, and again I was surprised
without having any right to
be. I tried to keep at least my voice
"Please try it anyhow, Mr. Braun—as
a favor. It's already too late to
do it any other way. And if you guess
wrong, the outcome won't be any
worse than if you don't try at all."
"My kids," he whispered. I don't
think he knew that he was speaking
aloud. I waited.
Then his eyes seemed to come back
to the present. "All right," he said.
"I told you the truth, Andy. Remember
that. So—is it a bomb or ain't it?
That's what's up for grabs, right?"
I nodded. He closed his eyes. An
unexpected stab of pure fright went
down my back. Without the eyes,
Braun's face was a death mask.
The water sounds and the irregular
ticking of a Geiger counter
seemed to spring out from the audio
speaker, four times as loud as before.
I could even hear the pen of
the seismograph scribbling away, until
I looked at the instrument and
saw that Clark had stopped it, probably
Droplets of sweat began to form
along Braun's forehead and his upper
lip. The handkerchief remained
crushed in his hand.
Anderton said, "Of all the fool—"
"Hush!" Joan said quietly.
Slowly, Braun opened his eyes.
"All right," he said. "You guys
wanted it this way. I say it's a bomb."
He stared at us for a moment more—and
then, all at once, the Timkin
bearing burst. Words poured out of
it. "Now you guys do something, do
your job like I did mine—get my
wife and kids out of there—empty
the city—do something, do something!"
Anderton was already grabbing
for the phone. "You're right, Mr.
Braun. If it isn't already too late—"
Cheyney shot out a hand and
caught Anderton's telephone arm by
the wrist. "Wait a minute," he said.
"What d'you mean, 'wait a minute'?
Haven't you already shot
Cheyney did not let go; instead,
he looked inquiringly at Joan and
said, "One minute, Joan. You might
as well go ahead."
She nodded and spoke into the
mike. "Monig, unscrew the cap."
"Unscrew the cap?" the audio
squawked. "But Dr. Hadamard, if
that sets it off—"
"It won't go off. That's the one
thing you can be sure it won't do."
"What is this?" Anderton demanded.
"And what's this deadline
"The cap's off," Monig reported.
"We're getting plenty of radiation
now. Just a minute— Yeah. Dr.
Hadamard, it's a bomb, all right.
But it hasn't got a fuse. Now how
could they have made a fool mistake
"In other words, it's a dud," Joan
"That's right, a dud."
Now, at last, Braun wiped his face,
which was quite gray. "I told you
the truth," he said grimly. "My
hunches don't work on stuff like
"But they do," I said. "I'm sorry
we put you through the wringer—and
you too, colonel—but we couldn't
let an opportunity like this slip.
It was too good a chance for us to
test how our facilities would stand
up in a real bomb-drop."
"A real drop?" Anderton said.
"Are you trying to say that CIA
staged this? You ought to be shot,
the whole pack of you!"
"No, not exactly," I said. "The
enemy's responsible for the drop, all
right. We got word last month from
our man in Gdynia that they were
going to do it, and that the bomb
would be on board the Ludmilla. As
I say, it was too good an opportunity
to miss. We wanted to find out just
how long it would take us to figure
out the nature of the bomb—which
we didn't know in detail—after it
was dropped here. So we had our
people in Gdynia defuse the thing
after it was put on board the ship,
but otherwise leave it entirely alone.
"Actually, you see, your hunch was
right on the button as far as it went.
We didn't ask you whether or not
that object was a live bomb. We
asked whether it was a bomb or not.
You said it was, and you were right."
The expression on Braun's face
was exactly like the one he had worn
while he had been searching for his
decision—except that, since his eyes
were open, I could see that it was
directed at me. "If this was the old
days," he said in an ice-cold voice,
"I might of made the colonel's idea
come true. I don't go for tricks like
"It was more than a trick," Clark
put in. "You'll remember we had
a deadline on the test, Mr. Braun.
Obviously, in a real drop we wouldn't
have all the time in the world
to figure out what kind of a thing
had been dropped. If we had still
failed to establish that when the
deadline ran out, we would have
had to allow evacuation of the city,
with all the attendant risk that that
was exactly what the enemy wanted
us to do."
"So we failed the test," I said. "At
one minute short of the deadline,
Joan had the divers unscrew the cap.
In a real drop that would have resulted
in a detonation, if the bomb
was real; we'd never risk it. That
we did do it in the test was a concession
of failure—an admission that
our usual methods didn't come
through for us in time.
"And that means that you were
the only person who did come
through, Mr. Braun. If a real bomb-drop
ever comes, we're going to have
to have you here, as an active part of
our investigation. Your intuition for
the one-shot gamble was the one
thing that bailed us out this time.
Next time it may save eight million
There was quite a long silence. All
of us, Anderton included, watched
Braun intently, but his impassive
face failed to show any trace of how
his thoughts were running.
When he did speak at last, what
he said must have seemed insanely
irrelevant to Anderton, and maybe
to Cheyney too. And perhaps it
meant nothing more to Joan than
the final clinical note in a case history.
"It's funny," he said, "I was
thinking of running for Congress
next year from my district. But maybe
this is more important."
It was, I believe, the sigh of a man
at peace with himself.
This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction August 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.