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Shock Absorber   By:

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Illustrated by van Dongen

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction June 1955. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

A man acts on what he believes the facts are, not on the facts. He lives or dies by what the facts are. Now sometimes you don't have time to correct a man's beliefs, yet he must act correctly....

The aging little psychologist looked down at the captain's insignia on his sleeve and scowled.

"I know it's a lousy, fouled up situation, commander," he said with evident irony. "You speak of discipline. Well, it's bad enough here on Mars, where a junior officer like you feels free to argue with a full captain like me, but out there with the fleet, discipline is now virtually nonexistent."

He looked up again and quickly added, "Oh, of course there is a discipline of a sort, and in its own way it is quite effective. Strict, too, as you will find. But it has few of the marks of the military academy, of which the regular officers were so fond. Perhaps that was the reason why they let the situation get away from them, and why we are in charge of it now."

"I still think " the commander started, but he was interrupted again.

"I know what you think, commander. You can forget it. It's wishful thinking and we cannot permit such daydreaming in our precarious condition. Face the facts as they exist in the present. After we kick the aliens out of our solar system, maybe we can go back to the old ideas again. Maybe. I'm not even very sure of that. But as for now, the characteristic of despair is the lowest common denominator among the combat patrols, and we therefore have mutinies, disobedience of orders, defections of every variety. That is a real situation, and it will persist until we can induce the men to accept tactical leadership that can cope with the enemy.

"Actually, it is not very remarkable that this situation developed. Strategy is still a rational computable quantity, but the actual tactics of fighting is something else entirely. The aliens have an intellectual response that is in full truth alien to us. It simply cannot be comprehended rationally by a human being, although they manage to guess pretty well the responses of our own fighters. Naturally, the result has been that in the past our losses were almost ninety per cent whenever a patrol actually engaged in a firefight with the enemy.

"Fortunately, the aliens are much too far from their home to possess anything like the number of personnel and other resources that we have. Otherwise, they would have beaten us long ago. Completely wiped us out. And all because an ordinary, intelligent human being cannot learn any patterns by which the aliens operate, and by which he can fight them successfully."

"I know that," the commander muttered. "I spent plenty of time out there before I got tapped for this new branch of service." He rubbed the moist palms of his hands together nervously.

"Certainly you did," the captain acknowledged absently. Then he continued his explanation. "Fortunately, there was a small body of information on extra rational mental faculties that had been developed over the past century, and as soon as we expanded it sufficiently, we were able to form this new branch of service you now belong to. But unfortunately, some idiot in the Information Service released a popularization of the data on the new branch. That was ill advised. The veterans who had survived so far had their own way of accounting for their survival, and that did not include what that silly description alluded to as 'blind guessing' by commanders of 'exceptional psychic gifts.'

"Like most popularizations, the description was grossly inaccurate, and was promptly withdrawn; but the damage had already been done... Continue reading book >>

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