You can measure everything these days—
light, gravity, reflexes, force-fields, star-drives.
And now I know there even is a ...
MEASURE FOR A LONER
By JIM HARMON
SO, GENERAL, I came in to
tell you I've found the loneliest
man in the world for the
How am I supposed to rate his
loneliness for you? In Megasorrows
or Kilofears? I suspect I
know quite a library on the subject,
but you know more about
stripes and bars. Don't try to
stop me this time, General.
Now that you mention it, I'm
not drunk. I had to have something
to back me up so I stopped
off at the dispensary and stole
I want you to get off my back
with that kind of talk. I've got
enough there—it bends me over
like I had bad kidneys. It isn't
any of King Kong's little brothers.
They over rate the stuff. It
isn't the way you've been riding
me either. Never mind what I'm
carrying. Whatever it is—and
believe me, it is—I have to get
rid of it.
Let me tell it, for God's sake.
Then for Security's sake? I
thought you would let me tell it,
I've been coming in here and
giving you pieces of it for
months but now I want to let
you be drenched in the whole
thing. You're going to take it
There were the two of them,
the two lonely men, and I found
them for you.
You remember the way I
found them for you.
The intercom on my blond
desk made an electronic noise at
me and the words I had been arranging
in my mind for the
morning letters splattered into
alphabet soup like a printer
dropping a prepared slug of
I made the proper motion to
still the sound.
"Yes," I grunted.
My secretary cleared her
throat on my time.
"Dr. Thorn," she said, "there's
a Mr. Madison here to see you.
He lays claim to be from the
He could come in and file his
claim, I told the girl.
I rummaged in the wastebasket
and uncrumpled the morning's
facsimile newspaper. It
was full of material about the
We were building Man's first
A surprising number of people
considered it important. Flipping
from the rear to page one,
Wild Bill Star in the comics who
had been blasting all the way to
forty-first sub-space universe for
decades was harking back to the
good old days of Man's first star
flight (which he had made himself
through the magic of time
travel), the editor was calling
the man to make the jaunt the
Lindbergh of Space, and the
staff photographer displayed a
still of a Space Force pilot in
pressure suit up front with his
face blotted out by an air-brushed
Who was going to be the
Lindbergh of Space?
We had used up the Columbus
of Space, the Magellan of Space,
the Van Reck of Space. Now it
was time for the Lone Eagle,
one man who would wait out the
light years to Alpha Centauri.
I remembered the first Lindbergh.
I rode a bus fifty miles to see
him at an Air Force Day celebration
when I was a dewy-eared
kid. It's funny how kids still
worship heroes who did everything
before they were even born.
Uncle Max had told me about
standing outside the hospital with
a bunch of boys his own age the
evening Babe Ruth died of cancer.
Lindbergh seemed like an
old man to me when I finally saw
him, but still active. Nobody had
forgotten him. When his speech
was over I cheered him with the
rest just as if I knew what he
had been talking about.
But I probably knew more
about what he meant then as a
boy than I did feeling the reality
of the newspaper in my
hands. Grown-up, I could only
smile at myself for wanting to
go to the stars myself.
Madison rapped on my office
door and breezed in efficiently.
I've always thought Madison
was a rather irritating man.
Likable but irritating. He's too
good looking in an unassuming
masculine way to dress so neatly—it
makes him look like a mannequin.
That polite way of his
of using small words slowly and
distinctly proves that he loves
his fellow man—even if his fellow
always does have less brains
or authority than Madison himself.
That belief would be forgivable
in him if it wasn't so
Madison folded himself into
the canary yellow client's chair
at my direction, and took a
leather-bound pocket secretary
from inside his almost-too-snug
"Dr. Thorn," he said expansively,
"we need you to help us
locate an atavism."
I flicked professional smile
No. Three at him lightly.
"I'm a historical psychologist,"
I told him. "That sounds in my
line. Which of your ancestors are
you interested in having me
"I used the word 'atavism' to
mean a reversion to the primitive."
I made a pencil mark on my
desk pad. I could make notes as
well as he could read them.
"Yes, I see," I murmured.
"We don't use the term that way.
Perhaps you don't understand
my work. It's been an honest
way to make a living for a few
generations but it's so specialized
it might sound foolish to
someone outside the psychological
industry. I psychoanalyze historical
figures for history books
(of course), and scholars, interested
descendants, what all, and
that's all I do."
"All you have done," Madison
admitted, "but your government
is certain that you can do this
new work for them—in fact, that
you are one of the few men prepared
to locate this esoteric—that
is, this odd aberration
since I understand you often
have to deal with it in analyzing
the past. Doctor, we want you
to find us a lonely man."
I laid my chrome yellow pencil
down carefully beside the
"History is full of loneliness—most
of the so-called great
men were rather neurotic—but I
thought, Madison, that introspection
was pretty much of a
thing of the, well, past."
The government representative
inhaled deeply and steepled
his manicured fingers.
"Our system of childhood psycho-conditioning
burying loneliness in the subconscious
so completely that even
the records can't reveal if it was
I cleared my throat in order to
stall, to think.
"I'm not acquainted with contemporary
This comes as news to me. You
mean people aren't really well-adjusted
today, that they have
just been conditioned to act as if
He nodded. "Yes, that's it.
It's ironic. Now we need a lonely
man and we can't find him."
"To pilot the interstellar
"For the Evening Star, yes,"
I picked up my pencil and held
it between my two index fingers.
I couldn't think of a damned
thing to say.
"The whole problem," Madison
was saying, "goes back to the
early days of space travel. Men
were confined in a small area
facing infinite space for measureless
periods in freefall. Men
cracked—and ships, they cracked
up. But as space travel advanced
ships got larger, carried
more people, more ties and reminders
of human civilization.
Pilots became more normal."
I made myself look up at the
earnest young man.
"But now," I said, "now you
want me to find you an abnormal
pilot who is used to being
alone, who can stand it, maybe
even like it?"
I constructed a genuine smile
for him for the first time.
"Madison, do you really think
I can find your man when evidently
all the government agencies
The government representative
pocketed his notebook deftly
and then spread his hands
clumsily for an instant.
"At least, Doctor," he said,
"you may know it if you do find
It was a lonely job to find a
lonely man, General, and maybe
it was a crooked job to walk a
crooked mile to find a crooked
I had to do it alone. No one
else had enough experience in
primitive psychology to recognize
the phenomenon of loneliness,
even as Madison had said.
The working conditions suited
me. I had to think by myself but
I had a comfortable staff to carry
out my ideas. I liked my new office
and the executive apartment
the government supplied me. I
had authority and respect and I
had security. The government
assured me they would find further
use for my services after I
found them their man. I knew
this was to keep me from dragging
my tracks. But nevertheless
I got right down to work.
I found Gordon Meyverik exactly
five weeks from the day
Madison first visited me in my
"Of course, I planned the
whole thing, Dr. Thorn," Gordon
I knew what he meant although
I hadn't guessed it before.
He could tell it to me
himself, I decided.
"Doesn't seem much to brag
about," I said. "Anybody who
can make up a grocery list
should be able to figure out how
to isolate himself on Seal Island."
He sat forward, a lean Viking
with a hot Latin glance, very
confident of himself.
"I reckoned on you locating
me, on you hustling me back to
pilot the Evening Star. That's
why I holed in there."
"I can't accept your story," I
lied cheerfully. "Nobody is going
to maroon himself on an
island for three years because of
a wild possibility like that."
Meyverik smiled and his sureness
swelled out until it almost
jabbed me in the stomach.
"I took a broad gamble," he
said, "but it hit the wire, didn't
I didn't reply, but he had his
Instead I scanned the report
Madison had given me from Intelligence
concerning the man's
Meyverik had quit his post-graduate
studies and passed by
the secured job that had been
waiting for him eighteen months
in a genial government office to
barricade himself in an old shelter
on Seal Island. It was hard
to know what to make of it. He
had brought impressive stores of
food with him, books, sound and
vision tapes but not telephone or
television. For the next three
years he had had no contact with
humanity at all.
And he said he had planned it
"Sure," he drawled. "I knew
the government was looking for
somebody to steer the interstellar
ship that's been gossip for
decades. That job," he said distinctly,
"is one I would give a
lot to settle into."
I looked at him across my unlittered
brand new desk and
accepted his irritating blond
masculinity, disliked him, admired
him, and continued to examine
him to decide on my final
"You've given three years already,"
I said, examining the
sheets of the report with which
I was thoroughly familiar.
He twitched. He didn't like
that, not spending three years.
It was spendthrift, even if a
good buy. He was planning on
winding up somewhere important
and to do it he had to invest
his years properly.
"You are trying to make me
believe you deliberately extrapolated
the government's need for
a man who could stand being
alone for long periods, and then
tried to phoney up references for
the work by staying on that island?"
"I don't like that word
'phoney'," Meyverik growled.
"No? You name your word for
Meyverik unhinged to his full
"It was proof," he said. "A
"A man can't test himself."
"A lot you know," the big
"I know," I told him drily. "A
man who isn't a hopeless maniac
depressive can't consciously create
a test for himself that he
knows he will fail. You proved
you could stay alone on an island,
buster. You didn't prove
you could stay alone in a spaceship
out in the middle of infinity
for three years. Why didn't
you rent a conventional rocket
and try looking at some of our
local space? It all looks much the
Meyverik sat down.
"I don't know why I didn't do
that," he whispered.
Probably for the first time
since he had got clever enough
to beat up his big brother Meyverik
was doubting himself, just
a little, for just a time.
I don't know whether it was
good or bad for him—contemporary
psychology isn't in my line—but
I knew I couldn't trust a
But I had to find out if he
could still hit the target uncocked.
Stan Johnson was our second
lonely man, remember, General?
He was stubborn.
I questioned him for a half
hour the first day, two hours the
second and on the third I turned
him over to Madison.
Then as I was having my
lunch I suddenly thought of
something and made steps back
to my office.
I got there just in time to
grab Madison's bony wrist.
The thing in his fist was silver
and sharp, a hypodermic needle.
Johnson's forearm was tanned
below the torn pastel sleeve. Two
sad-faced young men were holding
him politely by the shoulders
in the canvas chair. Johnson met
my glance expressionlessly.
I tugged on Madison's arm
"What's in that damned
face was as blank as Johnson's—only
his body seemed at once
tired and taut.
"What's it for?" I rasped.
"You're the psychologist," he
I met his eyes and held on but
it was impossible to stare him
"I don't know about physical
methods, I told you. I've been
dealing with people in books,
films, tapes all my life, not living
men up till now, can't you absorb
"Apparently I've had more
experience with these things
than you then, Doctor. Shall I
"You shall not," I cried
omnisciently. "I know enough to
understand we can't get the results
the government wants by
drugs. You going to put that
Madison nodded once.
"All right," he said.
I unshackled my fingers and
he put the shiny needle away in
its case, in his suitcoat pocket.
"You understand, Thorn," he
said, "that the general won't like
I turned around and looked at
"Did he order you to drug
The government agent shook
"I didn't think so." I was beginning
to understand government
operations. "He only wanted
it done. Get out."
Madison and his assistants
marched out in orthodox Euclidian
The doors hissed shut.
"You know what?" The words
jerked out from Johnson. "I
think the bunch of you are
I decided to treat him like a
client. Maybe that was the way
contemporary psychologists handled
I sat on the edge of the desk
jauntily, confidently, and tried to
let the domino mask up a father
"You may as well get it
straight, Stan. The government
needs you and it's pointless for
you to say that need is unconstitutional
or anything. Bring it
up and it won't be long. When
survival is outside the rules, the
The eyes of Johnson were
strikingly like Meyverik's, dark
and unsettled. Only this boy,
younger, smaller than the Nordic,
had an appropriate skin
tone, stained by the tropical sun
somewhere in his ancestral past.
He dropped his gaze, expelled his
breath mightily and pounded one
angular knee with a half-closed
"I'm not complaining about
conscription without representation,
Doctor, but I can't make
any sense out of these fool questions
you keep firing at me. What
in blazes are you trying to get
at? What kind of reason are you
after for my staying by myself?
I just do it because I like it that
With a galvanic jolt, I realized
he was telling the painfully simple
truth. I groaned at the realization.
Meyverik had convinced all of
us that in our well-adjusted or
at any rate well-conditioned
world somebody had to have
some purposeful reason in loneliness,
solitude, so on that one
instance our thinking had already
been patterned, discarding
all the other evidence of generations
that the lonely man was
only a personality type, like
I felt I had achieved at least
the quantum state of a fool.
Johnson silently studied the
half-cupped hands laying in his
"The hunting lodge in the
Andes seemed as good a place as
any to live after mother and
father were killed. You might
think it was lonesome at night
in the mountains, but it isn't at
all. You aren't alone when you
can watch the burning worlds
shadow the bow of God...."
I cleared my throat. The poor
kid sounded like he would begin
spouting something akin to
"So I believe you," I told him.
"That doesn't finish it. We have
to convince them. I don't like
this, but the simplest way
would be to volunteer for their
hibitor injection. I've found out
Madison and his crowd don't believe
men awake, only assorted
Johnson deflated his area of
the room with his breath intake.
"Okay," he said at last. "I
When Johnson gave us what
we needed to clear the problem,
it didn't take me long to finish
processing the rest of the handful
of possible loners we had
located. Unlike Johnson, all the
rest had reasons for their self-imposed
loneliness. Unlike Meyverik
none of their reasons were
associated with the interstellar
flight. They instead involved literary
research, swindles, isolated
paranoid insanity and other
things in which the government
had no interest.
Suddenly I found my job was
done and that we had located
only the two of them.
Madison read my final report
braced on the edge of my desk,
his hand comradely on my shoulder.
"Good job, Doc," he vouched
replacing the papers on my blotter
with a final rustle. "Now I've
got news for you. The government
wants you to test these
boys for us now that you've
found 'em for us."
I closed my jaw. "That's completely
out of line—my line. I
know you need a contemporary
man for that job."
Madison punched me on the
bicep, fast enough to hurt.
"Doc, after this project you
know more about contemp' stuff
than any professor who got his
degree studying the textbooks
It was impossible to dislike
Madison except for practiced periods—that
was probably one
reason he had his job.
"All right," I growled. "Get
your dirty pants off my clean
desk and I'll get out the bottle.
But you know how I felt, General?
You remember how I tried
to get out of it. I felt like I had
led in the lambs and now I had
to help shear them. As a part-time
historian I can tell you
there's a word for that—Judas
goat. Give or take a word.
"It isn't the real thing, Doc,"
Madison spelled out for me,
wearing a lemon twist of smile.
I looked at the twin banks of
gauge-facings and circuit housings
in which centered TV
screens picturing either Meyverik
or Johnson. Red and sea-green
lights chased each other
around the control boards, died,
were born again. On the screens
the three color negatives mixed
to purple, shifted through a series
of wrong combinations and
settled to normal as the stereo-oscillation
echoed, convexed insanely,
and deepened to hold.
Video reception is lousy from
five hundred thousand miles out.
I was too eye-heavy to be surprised.
"Don't tell me this is The
Strange Flight of Richard Clayton
all over again?"
Madison clapped me on the
shoulder and breathed mint at
me, eyes on twittering round
"Who wrote that? Poe? No,
no mock-up to fake space conditions
for them but calculate the
cost of the real interstellar ship.
We couldn't trust either of them
with it yet. You didn't really
think we could afford two ships.
Why do you think we haven't
told one man about his opposite
in a second ship? No safety margin
allowable in our appropriation,
Doc. Or so they tell me.
There's enough fuel and food to
take Johnson and Meyverik a
long way but not the distance."
He shook his lean head almost
"Damn it, Madison, do you
mean I've been beating my lobes
out for weeks for nothing? I
tested them. I checked them out.
Either was capable of making
the flight successfully—for their
own different reasons."
Madison took his hand off my
shoulder and made a fist of it.
"I'm not questioning your decision!
Will you ram that
through your obscene skull,
"Who is?" I whispered.
"Not me. Not I, not I."
"The general," I announced.
"Just not me." Was he actually
trembling? But it wasn't
concern about what I thought of
him. Somebody closer, maybe.
Things were building up for
He jammed his nose almost up
against the glass dial surfaces,
swaying gently in his cups, staring
slightly cross-eyed at the
"You'll continue your tests
from here," Madison said. "Tell
them they are going to die."
My face was at once cool and
"That's a tough examination,"
"A lie," Madison told me.
"The boys at Psychicentre worked
out the problems."
"You told me you wanted me!"
I screamed at him furiously.
"Control your passionate,
dainty voice. You worked well
with those two. The experts
could work through you better."
"Right through me, like a
razor blade through margarine,"
I said. "It's not fair."
"No, it's science. Psychology
as a science, not an art. Don't
damn me—I'm not the inventor,"
"I'm one of them," I murmured,
"but I'd just as rather you
didn't blame me either."
Madison punched the button
for me with a palsied, manicured
"Guess what, Meyverik?" I
said viciously. "You're going to
"What the blazes are you babbling
about?" the blond doll
snapped at me from the box of
the video screen.
I scanned the typed, stiff-backed
Idiot Prompters Madison
shoved into my fist. "It's—true.
You can't get out alive."
"What's happened?" His face
"Nothing out of the ordinary,"
I said. "They have just informed
me it was planned this way. It
wasn't possible to build a round-trip
rocket yet. You need a lot
of fuel to make course adjustments
for the curvature of space,
so forth. The radio will send
back your reports on the Alpha
Centaurian planets. Undoubtedly
by all rules of probability they
won't support life without a
mass of equipment. They suckered
me too, Meyverik, I swear.
You turning back?"
"No," he said almost immediately.
"I thought you were after the
rewards, trained to get them.
You won't be able to enjoy them
The video blanked. He had
turned off his camera.
"I guess I thought so," Meyverik's
voice said. "But I kind
of like it out here—alone. I like
people but back there there's no
one to touch. They smother you
but you can't reach them. I can't
do anything better back there
than I can do here."
Madison got a bottle and he
and I got sloppily drunk, leaning
on each other, singing innocently
obscene songs of our youth. The
technicians, good government
men, were openly disgusted with
Two hours after we had contacted
Meyverik, I left Madison
snoring on the desk and lurched
to the control board, bunching
my soiled shirt at the throat
with my hand.
I called Johnson.
"Going to die, Johnson. Tricked
you. Can't get back, Johnson.
Not ever. No fuel. Ha, you can't
ever go home again, Johnson.
Like that, you damned runny-nosed
His dark face worked weakly.
Ha, he sure as thunderation
didn't like it.
He asked for the bloody details
and I fed them to him.
"Turning back, aren't you?" I
"I just wanted a place and a
time for thinking," he said
across the Solar System. "But
I'll die and I don't know if you
can dream in death."
"Just what I thought," I
"I'm not turning back," he
said slowly. "People need me.
I've got a job to do. Haven't I?
"No," I screamed at him.
"You're just using that as an
excuse to kill yourself. Don't try
to tell me you're not weak! Don't
you try to make me think you're
strong! Hear me, Johnson, hear
But he couldn't hear me.
One of the government technicians
had broken the contact before
that last spurt.
"This is good," Madison said,
pawing fuzzily at his pocket.
I studied the three or four
watchdials wobbling up and
down my elongated wrist. They
seemed to say it was almost sunrise.
I leered at Madison. "Yeah,
yeah, what is it? Huh, huh?"
He shoved a crumpled card
into my lax fingers.
"Now," he said, "now tell
"Tell them the whole thing is
My stomach retched drily,
grinding the sober pills to dust
between its ulcerating walls.
"Meyverik," I said to the
empty video tube, "they made a
mistake. They underestimated
curvature. You can't reach Alpha
Centauri. You can't correct
enough. Free space is all you'll
hit. Ever. You may as well come
The soft voice came out of nowhere,
"I don't want to come back. I
like it here. This is what I've
always been trying to get and
I never knew it."
Madison grabbed my arm with
"Shut up, Doc. That's just the
way the government wants him
"Johnson," I said to the creased
face in the screen, "they made
a mistake. They underestimated
curvature. You can't reach Alpha
Centauri. You can't correct
enough. Free space is all you'll
hit. Ever. You may as well come—back."
Johnson sighed, a whisper of
breath across the miles.
"I'll keep going. No one has
ever been so far out before. I
can report valuable things."
I stood there. The textbooks
report it takes muscular effort
to frown, more so than to smile.
But my face seemed to flow into
the lines of pain so hard it
ached without any effort of my
will. And I knew it would hurt
"They passed the final test,"
Madison said at my side. "Tell
them it was a test."
I would do it for him. I didn't
need to do it for myself.
I motioned the technician to
open both channels.
"The ship you are in," I said,
with no need to tell them of each
other, "is not the real Evening
Star. It will not take you to the
stars. This has been only a test
to credit your fitness to pilot the
real interstellar craft of the Star
Project. You must return to the
Lunar Satellite. This is a direct
The two screens remained
blank. Only the windless silence
of space echoed over Johnson's
channel, but the tapes later
proved that I actually did hear
a whispered laugh from Meyverik.
I faced Madison.
"They won't come back. They
could have passed any test except
the fact that what we put
them through was only a test.
For their own reasons, they will
keep going. As far as they can."
Madison took out his notebook
and seemed to look for vital information.
Except that he never
cracked the cover.
"Of course, we can't get them
back if they won't come," he
said. "If cybernetic remotes
functioned operationally at this
distance we wouldn't have to
send men at all."
He replaced the pocket secretary
and looked at me edgewise,
I touched his arm.
"Let's find another bottle," I
He stepped back.
"You found them. You tested
them. You killed them."
And the government man
walked away and left me standing
with a murderer.
You see it now, don't you,
What I'm carrying around on
my back is guilt. Not guilt complex,
not guilt fixation, just
plain old Abel-Cain guilt.
In this nice, well-ordered age
I'm a killer and everybody
You see our mistake, General.
We sent men with variable
amounts of loneliness. These
amounts could alter. But now
we have a golden opportunity.
The Evening Star is waiting
and I have found for you a man
with the true measure of loneliness.
It is impossible for this
man to become any more or any
less lonely. It isn't the Ultimate
Possible Loneliness, understand
It's just that by himself or
with others he is always in a
crowd of three, no more, no
The interstellar ship is waiting.
So tell me, General, have you
ever seen a lonelier man than
me, your humble servitor, Dr.
Thorn? No, I mean it. Have