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The mine, generally speaking, was automatic. It consisted of some hundred and eighty million dollars' worth of equipment, spread out through three and a half cubic miles of gold-ore-bearing rockgranite and quartzall controlled by the single console where the shift engineer on duty sat.
Like some ponderous, many-purposed organism, the mine walked in the layered rock. On various levels it gnawed out the gold-bearing ore, ground it up to pebble-sized chunks, and sent it by the carload up six hundred feet or more to the open air and the equipment above. As the mine machinery moved, it created and abandoned surface shafts, elevator tubes, new exploratory levels and stopes; and extended the vast central cavern through which the heavier machinery and its controlling console slid with the work in progress, laying down rails before and taking them up behind.
The single engineer on shift at the time controlled all this. And a touch of megalomania did him no harm on the job. He was seated before the control panels of the console like the identity before the brain. His job was the job of ultimate control. Logical decision, and the facts on which to base decision were supplied by the computer element in the equipment. The logically optimum answer was available at the touch of a button. But it had been discovered that, like the process of living itself, there was more to modern mining than logic.
The best engineers had feel. It was a sensitivity born of experience, of talent, and even of something like love, with which they commanded, not only the mountains, but the machine they rode and directed.
Now this too was added to the list of man's endeavors for which some special talent was needed. Less than ten per cent of the young mining engineers graduating every year turned out to have the necessary extra ability to become one with the titan they directed. Even in the twenty-first century's overcrowded employment marts, mines were continually on the hunt for more shift engineers. Even four hours at a time, and even for the talented ten per cent, was a long time to be the faultless god in the machine. And the machinery never rested.
• • •
Six hundred feet overhead of the man at the console, Paul Formain, on his first morning at Malabar Mine, stepped from his small individual quarters of white bubble plastic, and saw the mountains.
And suddenly, there it was again, as it had been time and again since his boating accident of five years before, and had been more recently, lately.
But it was not now the open sea that he saw. Or even the dreamlike image of a strange, shadowy figure in some sort of cape and a high-peaked hat, who had seemed to bring him back to life after he had died in the boat, and returned him to the boat to be finally found and rescued by the coast guard.
This time, it was the mountains.
Suddenly, turning from the white, plastic door, he stopped and saw them. Around him was a steep slope with the other white buildings of the Malabar Mine. Above him the fragile blue of a spring sky spoke to the dark blue of the deep lake below, which filled this cleft in the mountain rock. About him in every direction were the Canadian Rockies, stretching thirty miles in one direction to the British Columbia city of Kamloops, in the other to the Coast Range and the stony beaches touching the salt Pacific Ocean surf. Unexpectedly, he felt them.
Like kings they stood up around him, the mountains. The surf sounded in his blood, and abruptly he was growing, striding to meet them. He was mountain-size with the mountains. With them, he felt the eternal movement of the earth. For a moment he was naked but unshaken to the winds of understanding. And they blew to him one word:
Do not go down into the mine.
• • •
"…You will get over this, this sort of thing," the psychiatrist in San Diego had assured him, five years before, after the accident. "Now that you've worked it out for yourself and understand it."
"Yes," said Paul.
It had made sense then, the way he had explained it to himself under the psychiatrist's guidance. He was an orphan, since the time of his parents' simultaneous deaths in a transportation accident, when he was nine. He had been assigned to good foster parents, but they were not the same. He had always been solitary.
He had lacked what the San Diego psychiatrist called "protective selfishness." He had the knack of understanding people without the usual small urge to turn this understanding to his own advantage. It had embarrassed those who might have been his friends, once they understood this capability in him. They had an instinctive urge to put a protective distance between himself and them. Underneath, they feared his knowledge and did not trust his restraint. As a boy he felt their withdrawal without understanding the reasons behind it. And this, said the psychiatrist, gave him a false picture of his own situation.
"…After all," said the psychiatrist, "this lack of a desire to take advantage of a capability, amounted to a disability. But no worse than any other disability, such as blindness or loss of a limb. There was no need to feel that you could not live with it."
But that was the way, it seemed, that unconsciously he had felt. And that feeling had culminated in an unconscious attempt at suicide.
"…There's no doubt," said the psychiatrist, "that you got the bad-weather, small-craft warning put out by the coast guard. Or that you knew you were dangerously far offshore for any weather, in such a light sailboat."
So the storm had driven him out to sea and lost him. He had been adrift, and in the still days following, death had come like some heavy gray bird to sit perched on the idle mast, waiting.
"…You were in a condition for hallucination," said the psychiatrist. "It was natural to imagine you had already died. Then, when afterward you were rescued, you automatically searched for some justification of the fact that you were still alive. Your unconscious provided this fantasy of having been brought back to life by a father-like figure, tall and mysterious, and wrapped in the garments that denote magical ability. But when you had fully recovered, your conscious mind could not help finding this story somewhat thin."
No, thought Paul, it couldn't help thinking so. He remembered, in the San Diego hospital, lying there and doubting the whole memory.
"So to bolster it, you produced these moments of extreme, almost painful sensitivity. Which filled two needs. They provided support for your delirium fantasy of having been raised from the dead, and they acted as an excuse for what had caused the death-wish in the first place. Unconsciously you were telling yourself that you were not crippled, but 'different.'"
"Yes," Paul had said at that point. "I see."
"Now that you've dug out the true situation for yourself, the need for justification should diminish. The fantasy should fade and the sensitivity moments grow less frequent, until they disappear."
"That's good to hear," said Paul.
Only, in the past five years the moments had not dwindled and disappeared. They had stayed with him, as the original dream had stuck stubbornly in the back of his mind. He thought of seeing another psychiatrist, but then the thought would come that the first had done him no good at all. So what was there to expect from a second?
Instead, in order to live with his problem, he had anchored himself to something that he had discovered in himself since the accident. Deep within him now, something invincible stood foursquare to the frequent gusts from the winds of feeling. Somehow he thought of it as being connected to, but independent of, the dream magician in the tall hat. So when, as now, the winds blew warnings, he felt them without being driven by them.
Fear: said the mountains. Do not go down into the mine.
That's foolish, said Paul's conscious mind. It reminded him that he was at last hired for the work to which all his education had pointed him. To a job that in the present overcrowded world was the dream of many and the achievement of few. He reached for that which stood unconquerable in the back of his mind.
Fear, it replied, is merely one more in the multitude of factors to be taken into account in moving from point A to point B.
• • •
Paul shook himself free from the winds of feeling, back to the ordinary existence of the world. The buildings of the Malabar Mine were all around him. A little distance down the slope from where he stood the wife of the company auditor came out on her back step and called something across a small white fence to the wife of the surface engineer in the yard adjoining. It was Paul's first day on the job and already he was close to being overdue on the job underground. He turned his gaze from the mountains and the buildings, to the near concrete walk leading to the main shaft head of the mine. And headed toward it, and the waiting skip.
Copyright ©1962, 1990 by Gordon R. Dickson