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One-Shot   By: (1921-1975)

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[Illustration]

ONE SHOT

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 Ludmilla .

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 hold "

"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 up unexpectedly."

"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 be automatic."

"All right, we'll take it," I said. "You've got divers down?"

"Sure, but "

"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 government department... Continue reading book >>




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