Yes, I thought, changed forever. The fusion of science and religion in a partnership at first joyous, then the inevitable disenchantment, the scientist realising, and the priest with him that, with eternity assured, the human being on earth is more easily expendable. Dispatch the maimed, the old, the weak, destroy the very world itself, for what is the point of life if the promise of fulfilment lies elsewhere?
'Mac,' I said, 'you heard what the child said. The words were, "Let them go".'
The telephone rang again. This time it was not Robbie but Janus, from our own extension in the hall. He apologised for disturbing us, but two gentlemen had arrived from the Ministry. He had told them we were in conference, but they said the business was urgent. They had asked to see Mr MacLean at once.
I went into the bar, and the official I had seen in London was standing there with a companion. This first chap expressed apologies, and said the fact was that my predecessor at Saxmere had been to see them, and admitted that his reason for leaving was because he was doubtful of the work MacLean had in progress. There was some experiment going on of which he did not think the Ministry was aware. They wished to speak to MacLean at once.
'He will be with you shortly,' I said. 'In the meantime, if there is anything you want to know, I can brief you.'
They exchanged glances, and then the second chap spoke. 'You're working on vibrations, aren't you,' he asked, 'and their relation to blast? That was what you said in London.'
'We are,' I replied, 'and we have had some success. But, as I warned you, there is still a lot to do.'
'We're here,' he said, 'to be shown what you've achieved.'
'I'm sorry,' I answered, 'the work has been held up since I returned. We've suffered an unfortunate loss on the staff. Nothing to do with the experiment, or the research connected with it. Young Ken Ryan died yesterday from leukaemia.'
Once again there was the swift exchange of glances.
'We heard he was not well,' said the first man. 'Your predecessor told us. In fact, we were given to understand that the experiment in progress was, without the Ministry being informed, connected with this boy's illness.'
'You've been misinformed,' I said. 'His illness had nothing to do with the experiment. The doctor will be back shortly; he can give you the medical details.'
'We should like to see MacLean.' persisted the second chap, 'and we should like to see the electronics department.'
I went back to the control room. I knew that nothing I had said would prevent them from having their way. We were for it.
MacLean was standing by Charon 2 doing something to the controls. I looked quickly from him to Charon 3 alongside. The screen was still glowing, but the signal had vanished. I did not say anything, I just stared at him.
'Yes,' he said, 'it's dismantled. I've disconnected everything. The force is lost.'
My instantaneous feeling of relief turned to compassion, compassion for the man whose work for months, for years, had gone within five minutes. Destroyed by his own act.
'It isn't finished,' he said, meeting my eyes. 'It's only begun. Oh, one part of it is over. Charon 3 is useless now, and what happened will only be known to the three of us-for Robbie must share our knowledge. We were on the verge of a discovery that no one living would believe. But only on the verge. It could well be that both of us were wrong, that what the child told us last night, and again this morning, was simply some distortion of her unconscious mind-I don't know. I just don't know… But, because of what she said, I've released the energy. The child is free. Ken is free. He's gone. Where, to what ultimate destination, we shall probably never know. But and this includes you, Steve, and Robbie, if he will join us-I am prepared to work to the end of my days to find out.'
Then I told him what the officials from the Ministry had said. He shrugged his shoulders.
'I'll tell them all our experiments have failed,' he said, 'that I want to pack in the job. Henceforth, Steve, we'll be on our own. It's strange-somehow I feel nearer to Ken now than I ever did before. Not only Ken, but everyone who has gone before.' He paused, and turned away. 'The child will be all right,' he said. 'Go to her, will you, and send Robbie to me? I'll deal with those sleuths from the Ministry.'
I slipped out of the door at the back and started walking across the marsh towards the coastguard cottages. Cerberus came with me. He was no longer panting, restless, as he had been the night before, but bounded ahead in tearing spirits, returning now and again to make sure that I was following him.
It seemed to me that I had no feeling left, either for what had happened or for what was yet to come. Mac had destroyed, with his own hands, the single thread of evidence that had brought us, through the whole of yesterday, to this morning's dawn. The ultimate dream of every scientist, to give the first answer to the meaning of death, had belonged to us for a brief few hours. We had captured the energy, the energy had ignited the spark, and from that point on there had appeared to loom world after world of discovery.
Now… now, my faith was waning. Perhaps we had been wrong, tricked by our own emotions and the suffering of a frightened, backward child. The ultimate questions would never receive their answer, either from us or from anyone.
The marsh fell back on either side of me, and I climbed the scrubby hill to the coastguard cottages. The dog ran on ahead, barking. Away to the right, outlined on the cliff edge, the damned U.S. cadets were blowing their bugles once again. The raucous, discordant screeches tore the air. They were trying, of all things, to sound the Reveille.
I saw Robbie come out of the Januses' cottage, and the child was with him. She seemed all right. She ran forward to greet the dog. Then she heard the sound of the Reveille, and lifted her arms. As the tempo increased she swayed to the rhythm, and ran out towards the cliffs with her arms above her head, laughing, dancing, the dog barking at her feet. The cadets looked back, laughing with her; and then there was nothing else but the dog barking, the child dancing, and the sound of those thin, high bugles in the air.