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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK BUT, I DON'T THINK *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Bruce Albrecht, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
BUT, I DON'T THINK BY RANDALL GARRETT Illustrated by Freas

As every thinking man knows, every slave always yearns for the freedom his master denies him...

But, gentlemen," said the Physician, "I really don't think we can consider any religion which has human sacrifice as an integral part as a humane religion."

"At least," added the Painter with a chuckle, "not as far as the victim is concerned."

The Philosopher looked irritated. "Bosh! What if the victim likes it that way?"

—THE IDLE WORSHIPERS
by R. Phillip Dachboden
CONTENTS I II III IV I

The great merchantship Naipor settled her tens of thousands of tons of mass into her landing cradle on Viornis as gently as an egg being settled into an egg crate, and almost as silently. Then, as the antigravs were cut off, there was a vast, metallic sighing as the gigantic structure of the cradle itself took over the load of holding the ship in her hydraulic bath.

At that point, the ship was officially groundside, and the Naipor was in the hands of the ground officers. Space Captain Humbolt Reed sighed, leaned back in his desk chair, reached out a hand, and casually touched a trio of sensitized spots on the surface of his desk.

"Have High Lieutenant Blyke bring The Guesser to my office immediately," he said, in a voice that was obviously accustomed to giving orders that would be obeyed.

Then he took his fingers off the spots without waiting for an answer.

In another part of the ship, in his quarters near the Fire Control Section, sat the man known as The Guesser. He had a name, of course, a regular name, like everyone else; it was down on the ship's books and in the Main Registry. But he almost never used it; he hardly ever even thought of it. For twenty of his thirty-five years of life, he had been a trained Guesser, and for fifteen of them he'd been The Guesser of Naipor.

He was fairly imposing-looking for a Guesser; he had the tall, wide-shouldered build and the blocky face of an Executive, and his father had been worried that he wouldn't show the capabilities of a Guesser, while his mother had secretly hoped that he might actually become an Executive. Fortunately for The Guesser, they had both been wrong.

He was not only a Guesser, but a first-class predictor, and he showed impatience with those of his underlings who failed to use their ability in any particular. At the moment of the ship's landing, he was engaged in verbally burning the ears off Kraybo, the young man who would presumably take over The Guesser's job one day—if he ever learned how to handle it.

"You're either a liar or an idiot," said The Guesser harshly, "and I wish to eternity I knew which!"

Kraybo, standing at attention, merely swallowed and said nothing. He had felt the back of The Guesser's hand too often before to expose himself intentionally to its swing again.

The Guesser narrowed his eyes and tried to see what was going on in Kraybo's mind.

"Look here, Kraybo," he said after a moment, "that one single Misfit ship got close enough to do us some damage. It has endangered the life of the Naipor and the lives of her crewmen. You were on the board in that quadrant of the ship, and you let it get in too close. The records show that you mis-aimed one of your blasts. Now, what I want to know is this: were you really guessing or were you following the computer too closely?"

"I was following the computer," said Kraybo, in a slightly wavering voice. "I'm sorry for the error, sir; it won't happen again."

The Guesser's voice almost became a snarl. "It hadn't better! You know that a computer is only to feed you data and estimate probabilities on the courses of attacking ships; you're not supposed to think they can predict!"

"I know, sir; I just—"

"You just near came getting us all killed!" snapped The Guesser. "You claim that you actually guessed where that ship was going to be, but you followed the computer's extrapolation instead?"

"Yes, sir," said the tense-faced Kraybo. "I admit my error, and I'm willing to take my punishment."

The Guesser grinned wolfishly. "Well, isn't that big-hearted of you? I'm very glad you're willing, because I just don't know what I'd do if you refused."

Kraybo's face burned crimson, but he said nothing.

The Guesser's voice was sarcastically soft. "But I guess about the only thing I could do in that case would be to"—The Guesser's voice suddenly became a bellow—"kick your thick head in!"

Kraybo's face drained of color suddenly.

The Guesser became suddenly brusque. "Never mind. We'll let it go for now. Report to the Discipline Master in Intensity Five for ten minutes total application time. Dismissed."

Kraybo, whose face had become even whiter, paused for a moment, as though he were going to plead with The Guesser. But he saw the look in his superior's eyes and thought better of it.

"Yes, sir," he said in a weak voice. He saluted and left.

And The Guesser just sat there, waiting for what he knew would come.

It did. High Lieutenant Blyke showed up within two minutes after Kraybo had left. He stood at the door of The Guesser's cubicle, accompanied by a sergeant-at-arms.

"Master Guesser, you will come with us." His manner was bored and somewhat flat.

The Guesser bowed his head as he saluted. "As you command, great sir." And he followed the lieutenant into the corridor, the sergeant tagging along behind.

The Guesser wasn't thinking of his own forthcoming session with the captain; he was thinking of Kraybo.

Kraybo was twenty-one, and had been in training as a Guesser ever since he was old enough to speak and understand. He showed occasional flashes of tremendous ability, but most of the time he seemed—well, lazy. And then, there was always the question of his actual ability.

A battle in the weirdly distorted space of ultralight velocities requires more than machines and more than merely ordinary human abilities. No computer, however built, can possibly estimate the flight of a dodging spaceship with a canny human being at the controls. Even the superfast beams from a megadyne force gun require a finite time to reach their target, and it is necessary to fire at the place where the attacking ship will be, not at the position it is occupying at the time of firing. That was a bit of knowledge as old as human warfare: you must lead a moving target.

For a target moving at a constant velocity, or a constant acceleration, or in any other kind of orbit which is mathematically predictable, a computer was not only necessary, but sufficient. In such a case, the accuracy was perfect, the hits one hundred per cent.

But the evasive action taken by a human pilot, aided by a randomity selector, is not logical and therefore cannot be handled by a computer. Like the path of a microscopic particle in Brownian motion, its position can only be predicted statistically; estimating its probable location is the best that can be done. And, in space warfare, probability of that order is simply not good enough.

To compute such an orbit required a special type of human mind, and therefore a special type of human. It required a Guesser.

The way a Guesser's mind operated could only be explained to a Guesser by another Guesser. But, as far as anyone else was concerned, only the objective results were important. A Guesser could "guess" the route of a moving ship, and that was all anyone cared about. And a Master Guesser prided himself on his ability to guess accurately 99.999% of the time. The ancient sport of baseball was merely a test of muscular co-ordination for a Guesser; as soon as a Guesser child learned to control a bat, his batting average shot up to 1.000 and stayed there until he got too old to swing the bat. A Master Guesser could make the same score blindfolded.

Hitting a ship in space at ultralight velocities was something else again. Young Kraybo could play baseball blindfolded, but he wasn't yet capable of making the master guesses that would protect a merchantship like the Naipor.

But what was the matter with him? He had, of course, a fire-control computer to help him swing and aim his guns, but he didn't seem to be able to depend on his guesswork. He had more than once fired at a spot where the computer said the ship would be instead of firing at the spot where it actually arrived a fraction of a second later.

There were only two things that could be troubling him. Either he was doing exactly as he said—ignoring his guesses and following the computer—or else he was inherently incapable of controlling his guesswork and was hoping that the computer would do the work for him.

If the first were true, then Kraybo was a fool; if the second, then he was a liar, and was no more capable of handling the fire control of the Naipor than the captain was.

The Guesser hated to have Kraybo punished, really, but that was the only way to make a youngster keep his mind on his business.

After all, thought The Guesser, that's the way I learned; Kraybo can learn the same way. A little nerve-burning never hurt anyone.

But that last thought was more to bolster himself than it was to justify his own actions toward Kraybo. The lieutenant was at the door of the captain's office, with The Guesser right behind him.

The door dilated to receive the three—the lieutenant, The Guesser, and the sergeant-at-arms—and they marched across the room to the captain's desk.

The captain didn't even bother to look up until High Lieutenant Blyke saluted and said: "The Guesser, sir."

And the captain gave the lieutenant a quick nod and then looked coldly at The Guesser. "The ship has been badly damaged. Since there are no repair docks here on Viornis, we will have to unload our cargo and then go—empty—all the way to D'Graski's Planet for repairs. All during that time, we will be more vulnerable than ever to Misfit raids."

His ice-chill voice stopped, and he simply looked at The Guesser with glacier-blue, unblinking eyes for ten long seconds.

The Guesser said nothing. There was nothing he could say. Nothing that would do him any good.

The Guesser disliked Grand Captain Reed—and more, feared him. Reed had been captain of the Naipor for only three years, having replaced the old captain on his retirement. He was a strict disciplinarian, and had a tendency to punish heavily for very minor infractions of the rules. Not, of course, that he didn't have every right to do so; he was, after all, the captain.

But the old captain hadn't given The Guesser a nerve-burning in all the years since he had accepted The Guesser as The Guesser. And Captain Reed—

The captain's cold voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Well? What was it? If it was a mechano-electronic misfunction of the computer, say so; we'll speak to the engineer."

The Guesser knew that the captain was giving him what looked like an out—but The Guesser also knew it was a test, a trap.

The Guesser bowed his head very low and saluted. "No, great sir; the fault was mine."

Grand Captain Reed nodded his head in satisfaction. "Very well. Intensity Five, two minutes. Dismissed."

The Guesser bowed his head and saluted, then he turned and walked out the door. The sergeant-at-arms didn't need to follow him; he had been let off very lightly.

He marched off toward the Disciplinary Room with his head at the proper angle—ready to lift it if he met a lesser crewman, ready to lower it if he met an executive officer.

He could already feel the terrible pain of the nerve-burner coursing through his body—a jolt every ten seconds for two minutes, like a whip lashing all over his body at once. His only satisfaction was the knowledge that he had sentenced Kraybo to ten minutes of the same thing.

The Guesser lay on his bed, face down, his grasping fingers clutching spasmodically at the covering as his nerves twitched with remembered pain. Thirteen jolts. Thirteen searing jolts of excruciating torture. It was over now, but his synapses were still crackling with the memories of those burning lashes of energy.

He was thirty-five. He had to keep that in mind. He was thirty-five now, and his nerves should be under better control than they had been at twenty. He wondered if there

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