- Author: Mark Clifton
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By MARK CLIFTON
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction July 1952.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
There is no past or future, the children said;
it all just is! They had every reason to know!
At three years of age, a little girl shouldn't have enough functioning intelligence to cut out and paste together a Moebius Strip.
Or, if she did it by accident, she surely shouldn't have enough reasoning ability to pick up one of her crayons and carefully trace the continuous line to prove it has only one surface.
And if by some strange coincidence she did, and it was still just an accident, how can I account for this generally active daughter of mine—and I do mean active—sitting for a solid half hour with her chin cupped in her hand, staring off into space, thinking with such concentration that it was almost painful to watch?
I was in my reading chair, going over some work. Star was sitting on the floor, in the circle of my light, with her blunt-nosed scissors and her scraps of paper.
Her long silence made me glance down at her as she was taping the two ends of the paper together. At that point I thought it was an accident that she had given a half twist to the paper strip before joining the circle. I smiled to myself as she picked it up in her chubby fingers.
"A little child forms the enigma of the ages," I mused.
But instead of throwing the strip aside, or tearing it apart as any other child would do, she carefully turned it over and around—studying it from all sides.
Then she picked up one of her crayons and began tracing the line. She did it as though she were substantiating a conclusion already reached!
It was a bitter confirmation for me. I had been refusing to face it for a long time, but I could ignore it no longer.
Star was a High I.Q.
For half an hour I watched her while she sat on the floor, one knee bent under her, her chin in her hand, unmoving. Her eyes were wide with wonderment, looking into the potentialities of the phenomenon she had found.
It has been a tough struggle, taking care of her since my wife's death. Now this added problem. If only she could have been normally dull, like other children!
I made up my mind while I watched her. If a child is afflicted, then let's face it, she's afflicted. A parent must teach her to compensate. At least she could be prepared for the bitterness I'd known. She could learn early to take it in stride.
I could use the measurements available, get the degree of intelligence, and in that way grasp the extent of my problem. A twenty point jump in I.Q. creates an entirely different set of problems. The 140 child lives in a world nothing at all like that of the 100 child, and a world which the 120 child can but vaguely sense. The problems which vex and challenge the 160 pass over the 140 as a bird flies over a field mouse. I must not make the mistake of posing the problems of one if she is the other. I must know. In the meantime, I must treat it casually.
"That's called the Moebius Strip, Star," I interrupted her thoughts.
She came out of her reverie with a start. I didn't like the quick way her eyes sought mine—almost furtively, as though she had been caught doing something bad.
"Somebody already make it?" she disappointedly asked.
She knew what she had discovered! Something inside me spilled over with grief, and something else caught at me with dread.
I kept my voice casual. "A man by the name of Moebius. A long time ago. I'll tell you about him sometime when you're older."
"Now. While I'm little," she commanded with a frown. "And don't tell. Read me."
What did she mean by that? Oh, she must be simply paraphrasing me at those times in the past when I've wanted the facts and not garbled generalizations. It could only be that!
"Okay, young lady." I lifted an eyebrow and glared at her in mock ferociousness, which usually sent her into gales of laughter. "I'll slow you down!"
She remained completely sober.
I turned to the subject in a physics book. It's not in simple language, by any means, and I read it as rapidly as I could speak. My thought was to make her admit she didn't understand it, so I could translate it into basic language.
"You read too slow. Daddy," she complained. She was childishly irritable about it. "You say a word. Then I think a long time. Then you say another word."
I knew what she meant. I remember, when I was a child, my thoughts used to dart in and out among the slowly droning words of any adult. Whole patterns of universes would appear and disappear in those brief moments.
"So?" I asked.
"So," she mocked me impishly. "You teach me to read. Then I can think quick as I want."
"Quickly," I corrected in a weak voice. "The word is 'quickly,' an adverb."
She looked at me impatiently, as if she saw through this allegedly adult device to show up a younger's ignorance. I felt like the dope!
A great deal has happened the past few months. I have tried, a number of times to bring the conversation around to discuss Star's affliction with her. But she is amazingly adroit at heading me off, as though she already knows what I am trying to say and isn't concerned. Perhaps, in spite of her brilliance, she's too young to realize the hostility of the world toward intelligence.
Some of the visiting neighbors have been amused to see her sit on the floor with an encyclopedia as big as she is, rapidly turning the pages. Only Star and I know she is reading the pages as rapidly as she can turn them. I've brushed away the neighbors' comments with: "She likes to look at the pictures."
They talk to her in baby talk—and she answers in baby talk! How does she know enough to do that?
I have spent the months making an exhaustive record of her I.Q. measurements, aptitude speeds, reaction, tables, all the recommended paraphernalia for measuring something we know nothing about.
The tables are screwy, or Star is beyond all measurement.
All right, Pete Holmes, how are you going to pose those problems and combat them for her, when you have no conception of what they might be? But I must have a conception. I've got to be able to comprehend at least a little of what she may face. I simply couldn't stand by and do nothing.
Easy, though. Nobody knows better than you the futility of trying to compete out of your class. How many students, workers and employers have tried to compete with you? You've watched them and pitied them, comparing them to a donkey trying to run the Kentucky Derby.
How does it feel to be in the place of the donkey, for a change? You've always blamed them for not realizing they shouldn't try to compete.
But this is my own daughter! I must understand.
Star is now four years old, and according to State Law her mind has now developed enough so that she may attend nursery school. Again I tried to prepare her for what she might face. She listened through about two sentences and changed the subject. I can't tell about Star. Does she already know the answers? Or does she not even realize there is a problem?
I was in a sweat of worry when I took her to her first day at school yesterday morning. Last night I was sitting in my chair, reading. After she had put her dolls away, she went to the bookshelves and brought down a book of fairy tales.
That is another peculiarity of hers. She has an unmeasurably quick perception, yet she has all the normal reactions of a little girl. She likes her dolls, fairy stories, playing grown up. No, she's not a monster.
She brought the book of fairy tales over to me.
"Daddy, read me a story," she asked quite seriously.
I looked at her in amazement. "Since when? Go read your own story."
She lifted an eyebrow in imitation of my own characteristic gesture.
"Children of my age do not read," she instructed pedantically. "I can't learn to read until I am in the first grade. It is very hard to do and I am much too little."
She had found the answer to her affliction—conformity! She had already learned to conceal her intelligence. So many of us break our hearts before we learn that.
But you don't have to conceal it from me, Star! Not from me!
Oh, well, I could go along with the gag, if that was what she wanted.
"Did you like nursery school?" I asked the standard question.
"Oh, yes," she exclaimed enthusiastically. "It was fun."
"And what did you learn today, little girl?"
She played it straight back to me. "Not much. I tried to cut out paper dolls, but the scissors kept slipping." Was there an elfin deviltry back of her sober expression?
"Now, look," I cautioned, "don't overdo it. That's as bad as being too quick. The idea is that everybody has to be just about standard average. That's the only thing we will tolerate. It is expected that a little girl of four should know how to cut out paper dolls properly."
"Oh?" she questioned, and looked thoughtful. "I guess that's the hard part, isn't it, Daddy—to know how much you ought to know?"
"Yes, that's the hard part," I agreed fervently.
"But it's all right," she reassured me. "One of the Stupids showed me how to cut them out, so now that little girl likes me. She just took charge of me then and told the other kids they should like me, too. So of course they did because she's leader. I think I did right, after all."
"Oh, no!" I breathed to myself. She knew how to manipulate other people already. Then my thought whirled around another concept. It was the first time she had verbally classified normal people as "Stupids," but it had slipped out so easily that I knew she'd been thinking to herself for a long time. Then my whirling thoughts hit a third implication.
"Yes, maybe it was the right thing," I conceded. "Where the little girl was concerned, that is. But don't forget you were being observed by a grownup teacher in the room. And she's smarter."
"You mean she's older, Daddy," Star corrected me.
"Smarter, too, maybe. You can't tell."
"I can," she sighed. "She's just older."
I think it was growing fear which made me defensive.
"That's good," I said emphatically. "That's very good. You can learn a lot from her then. It takes an awful lot of study to learn how to be stupid."
My own troublesome business life came to mind and I thought to myself, "I sometimes think I'll never learn it."
I swear I didn't say it aloud. But Star patted me consolingly and answered as though I'd spoken.
"That's because you're only fairly bright, Daddy. You're a Tween, and that's harder than being really bright."
"A Tween? What's a Tween?" I was bumbling to hide my confusion.
"That's what I mean, Daddy," she answered in exasperation. "You don't grasp quickly. An In Between, of course. The other people are Stupids, I'm a Bright, and you're a Tween. I made those names up when I was little."
Good God! Besides being unmeasurably bright, she's a telepath!
All right, Pete, there you are. On reasoning processes you might stand a chance—but not telepathy!
"Star," I said on impulse, "can you read people's minds?"
"Of course, Daddy," she answered, as if I'd asked a foolishly obvious question.
"Can you teach me?"
She looked at me impishly. "You're already learning it a little. But you're so slow! You see, you didn't even know you were learning."
Her voice took on a wistful note, a tone of loneliness.
"I wish—" she said, and paused.
"What do you wish?"
"You see what I mean, Daddy? You try, but you're so slow."
All the same, I knew. I knew she was already longing for a companion whose mind could match her own.
A father is prepared to lose his daughter eventually, Star, but not so soon.
Not so soon....
Some new people have moved in next door. Star says their name is Howell. Bill and Ruth