The Vaticinator

9 Aug

From the beginning, Station Director Matriz was opposed to the idea of posting a sensitive telepathic forecaster at his plate location. He had argued against any use of vaticination to his superiors in Crustal City, but had been overruled. Now he would have to suffer the presence of an individual with warning skills, real or assumed, within his tiny dominion dedicated to monitoring the underground epeirogenetics of the hazard zone on planet Gondwana.

Matriz rose early the morning that the gifted stranger was to arrive. An egg-blue mist covered the chalky desert in all directions as the solar orb dawned. The train of supply camions that visited the station every week appeared on the eastern horizon. The vatic sensor was reputed to be aboard.

Dressed in his best magenta suit, the director headed for the vehicle station to meet and greet the new arrival, named Ekel. An emotion close to dread filled Matriz, body and mind.

It was evident at first glance that the vaticinator was not a native Gondwanan. His short height and lack of torso weight signified an off-planet origin. As the director shook hands with Ekel, he gazed with surprise at the man’s light citrine complexion and whitish eyes.

“Welcome to our station,” smiled Matriz. “Why don’t we begin with a tour of the monitoring facilities?”

The pair entered the seismographic chamber, where the director identified the various sensor devices: diastrophic scales, plate monitors, lithospheric and astherospheric meters, etc. Matriz explained the purpose and function of each apparatus as they circled about. This was nearly completed when, all of a sudden, the lighting in the room began to flash on-and-off. At the same time, a loud ringing noise sounded, deafening in intensity.

The two men looked at each other. Ekel gaped in astonishment until the other explained what was happening.

“That is the alarm system,” he carefully declared. “It signifies that there is a noticeable amount of moho discontinuous pressure down at the moho boundary. Do you know what that is and what it may mean?”

All at once, the bell fell silent and the blinking of the ceiling light ended.

“I have studied many technical tapes about the tectonics on Gondwana,” slowly explained the vaticinator. “My aim was to become as acquainted as possible with what goes on at your station. Yes, I know what the moho line is. It is the discontinuity between the outer crust and the molten mantle of the planet. What happens at that depth is a major factor causing plate displacement. Depressions and upliftings can be traced to there.”

Matriz made an enigmatic grimace impossible to interpret.

“It is to the good that you have as much knowledge of the uniqueness of our geology and epeirogenics as possible, my friend,” he gently muttered.

At that moment, the door to the instrument chamber opened and a thick, massive man entered. The director at once began to make introductions.

“This is Mr. Ekel, the vatic who just arrived. And this is Dr. Geant, our station tectonist. He is the primary interpreter of what all these devices are telling us.”

Ekel stepped forward and offered his right hand, taking in the large head with bushy hair of straw and cerulean eyes. The vaticinator felt the crunch of the scientist’s gigantic hand as they shook.

“He has just experienced his first seismic alarm,” laughed Matriz. “I shall now leave him to you, Geant. I realize how much the two of you have ahead to discuss.”

With that, the director made a quick exit.

“Come to my office,” said the giant with a sneer. “We can talk comfortably there.”

Geant poured the new man a piping cup of zafran tea, then sat down facing him across the pandanus desk where he worked.

“You come from another world, then?” began the epeirogenetic.

“Yes. My home planet is Mente, known everywhere for its primacy in telepathy. My education and experience has been entirely in the area of transmental reception.”

“And you believe that such skill can be applied to tectonic alarm here on Gondwana?” asked Geant.

“That is why I made my application to the central board in charge of the planetary stations. They had enough trust in my idea to dispatch me to assist here as much as I can.”

Geant suddenly grew red in the face.

“Is there any evidence whatever that focused thought waves can pick up any plate disturbance? Diastrophic movements and displacements can occur almost instantly. They are quite distant from the planet’s surface. The crust can suffer sudden collapses. On the average, we experience at least three major temblors annually in this region of the planet. You have been shown our seismic apparati and monitors. What can you possibly add to them?”

He glared with unconcealed ire at the unwelcome rival to himself.

Ekel looked down, his pale white eyes seemingly looking for an answer.

“How can anyone ever tell unless someone like me attempts it?” he said in a quiet whisper. “How can my claim be proven false unless it is tried out?”

“You may begin with metapsychic scanning of the crust and mantle tomorrow, Mr. Ekel. All of us at the station will be interested in learning if you can sense anything underground.”

An uncanny, unforeseen dream came that night to the newly arrived man from Mente. He woke up, breaking off its finish, in a thick sweat.

All that Ekel was able to recall was the image of a naked brain that was alive, a gray cerebrum that appeared to be throbbing in and out. It was a brain that breathed and moved. What could it be? Did this vision symbolize something new and unseen?

The dreamer sat up in the bed of the room assigned him. He felt gelid shivers racing over him. Never before had his dreams taken such a strange shape or direction.

In a flash, the solution to the enigma entered into his consciousness.

The exposed cerebrum was planet Gondwana. The pulsation was the seismic trembling beneath the surface, down where the crusted plates met and collided. Folding and faulting resulted from the colossal pressures of these subductions and up-thrusts.

Did this imbalanced celestial body have a mind of its own?

Would he be able to foretell its eruptions of emotion?

Ekel looked forward to what the days ahead might reveal to his psychic mind.

The telepathist concealed his dream when he shared a breakfast of fried ovula with the director in the latter’s cottage. The two concentrated on the work ahead for the newcomer from off-planet.

“I want you to begin monitoring at once,” announced Matriz. “The station carpenter is busy setting up a comfortable sofa bed for your use in a small cubicle adjacent to the instrument chamber you went through yesterday. Everything possible shall be done to provide a quiet, peaceful environment in which your mental powers may be concentrated upon one single task.”

“Then, my listening can be started at once,” concluded Ekel. “That is good. Thank you for your co-operation, sir.”

“I will take you to the reception location as soon as we finish here. Dr. Geant is already busy facilitating the communication connections to the room set aside for your psychic endeavor.”

When the pair reached that place, they found the epeirogeneticist inside, fiddling around with transmitters available for summoning attention or assistance from elsewhere if and when needed.

“I have made it as easy as possible for you to signal whoever is present in the monitoring chamber at the moment that anything of interest occurs,” sneered Geant, speaking directly to Ekel. “Let me show you how the system in here operates.”

Matriz excused himself and made an exit while the other two continued talking. It took only a short time for Geant to demonstrate what he had assembled for the telepathist to use when needed. After he finished in a curt manner, Ekel decided to reply with blunt candor.

“You do not agree with what I am attempting, do you?” he asked with a subtle smile.

The other did not appear surprised or phased by this, but went on with an indirect kind of response.

“What I think or do not think does not matter and has no immediate significance. I have been ordered to help you in any way that I can. That is the reason for what I do and what I say. My thoughts and feelings are subordinate to specific professional duties and responsibilities of mine. I hope that you understand that fundamental fact.”

Ekel stared at the unfriendly, hostile tectonist, sensing his barely restrained emotions. All at once, he realized that this person boiled with a distorted envy of the psychic newcomer called to the station.

“My hope remains that we can work together in a harmonious fashion, Dr. Geant,” soothingly said the younger man. “That is what primarily matters, I believe.”

“I have never had the means to pursue wild whims or fancies,” continued the seismic scientist. “The path to my present position was long and difficult. No special provisions were ever made for me by the authorities in Crustal City.”

With that off his chest, the Gondwanan stalked out of the small room with the sofa bed. The scene just made had not been planned or intended, concluded Ekel.

Giving a sigh, the latter lay down and took the remote signaler in his hand. Slowly, his body relaxed and his mind began to clear.

As day followed day, Ekel found himself in a prone position for ten to twelve hours at least. A feeling of monotony was kept away through memory exercises that seemed to be of practical value. He reviewed his knowledge of the planet’s physiography and internal morphology. Mountain orogeny, ocean trenching, island arcs, and continental plates came to mind for him. Leading and trailing edges, divergent and convergent zones, faults and ridges of importance: these passed in review for him. He imagined how pressure stresses and strains resulted in sudden uplift or subsidence. Possible volcanic eruptions and macroseisms complicated the general picture. The flow of ejecta and tephra lava from out of the deep mantle presented peril to towns, cities, farms, and pasture lands of the planet.

So much to remember and consider!

The flow of time grew imperceptible. He was engrossed in his private thoughts. The moment of explosion occurred unannounced, by total surprise.

A jolting bolt of force struck him both physically and mentally, with no warning whatsoever.

The stunned telepath felt a flood of energy coursing back and forth through his mind and body.

It took a moment for Ekel to realize that this was what he should have been able to predict ahead of time. Here was the inevitable catastrophe coming out of the planetary core. There is a movement of enormous proportions down among the epeirogenetic plates. Nothing else but that could cause such psychic tremblings in his mind, he said to himself. But he had not had any advance feeling or sense of it, none at all.

Straightening and lifting himself up, Ekel swiftly pressed the alarm. Others had to be told. The danger was colossal, though it had not been foreseen coming.

Seismographs on all continents would be vibrating and jumping now.

The door opened and several assistants rushed in along with the director.

Matriz stopped and leaned over the sofa bed. “It was the biggest one ever experienced. It was cataclysmic.”

At that moment, Dr. Geant entered. All eyes turned to his mountainous form. As he moved to the bed, a glass tube that he held became visible. It was a large syringe.

“The underplanet is in movement,” said Matriz to the tectonist. “No one knows the extent of what may come next. It is now too late for us to issue any warning. It was completely missed.”

“Let me give Mr. Ekel a chemico-sedative,” said Geant. “He needs a rest after failing to detect and warn us of the disturbance below.”

No one saying anything contrary, the telepath was at once put to sleep.

Only when he woke up in eight hours, was the warner informed by Matriz of what transpired in the interim. Losses, damage, and casualties were colossal everywhere. The director sat down beside the sofa bed and gave a long, deep sigh.

“We have an unsolved mystery, my son,” said Matriz. No warning alarm was sent to the eight continents when it should have been. We failed to tell the population to evacuate the cities and seek refuge in the countryside. The deaths and injuries are incalculable because of the failure of our science. There was nothing, nothing at all, issued from here.”

“What are you telling me, sir?” desperately inquired Ekel, beginning to perspire.

“An investigative team is traveling to this station to uncover what went wrong. That is ominous. There are questions from all directions. They will naturally hunt for a scapegoat here among us.”

That will have to be me, the telepath instantly understood.

“Shall I return to work, sir?” he asked the director.

“All is up in the air for now. We will see what happens.”

The probe lasted only an hour.

A short interrogation by government inspectors was all that Ekel had to undergo. The truth became clear immediately to the entire investigating commission. A young telepath had failed to sense the approach of the catastrophe or give any warning. There had been a serious error on his part.

Matriz was commanded to get rid of the alarmer at once. The troublemaker was exiled to his native planet of Mente.

It became necessary for Ekel to leave the station for the capital, Crustal City. His dismissal was final and irrevocable.

How had this disaster come about? the psychic asked himself. Why had his ability failed him?

Ekel took his travel bags to the depot and waited for the next camion train. The director did not appear to see him off. His failure had been an embarrassment to everyone connected with it.

As he boarded the passenger section of the long vehicle, Ekel caught sight of someone walking toward him. He stopped once he recognized the sardonic face of Dr. Geant. The man seemed to be leering mockingly at him.

In a flash, he realized who was responsible for his telepathic failure.

“Geant stopped in front of him and provided a cold, brief explanation of how it happened.

“You must wonder what I did to block your inner sensing powers,” whispered the tectonist. ” I have never exercised any mental abilities of that sort. I possess no telepathic talent at all. But through pressure and concentration, I achieved a breakthrough that momentarily destroyed your capacities. It happened at the precise time of the seismic eruption of the mantle below us. It was an occasional feat that happens once in a lifetime. I am the kind of person who can be termed an occasional psychic. My achievement was the cause of your defeat.

“I thought I should tell you the reason that you failed to detect the catastrophe.”

The warning whistle of the camion train sounded. Geant turned and fled without another word.

My mind had been sealed off by an ungifted amateur! the vaticinator was to repeat to himself innumerable times in the days that followed.

But at least he now knew what had gone wrong for him.

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