Then she did something with the hollow, white rubber ball that made her mother's eyes pop out. Nor did they pop all the way in again when Carnadine undid it and made it as it was before.
It wasn't a clean-cut holocaust at all. It was like a clumsy, bloody, grinding job—not what you'd like.
The Transcendent Tigers
by R. A. Lafferty

This was the birthday of Carnadine Thompson. She was seven years old. Thereby she left her childhood behind her, and came into the fullness of her powers. This was her own phrase, and her own idea of the importance of the milestone.

There were others, mostly adult, who thought that she was a peculiarly backward little girl in some ways, though precocious in others.

She received for her birthday four presents: a hollow, white rubber ball, a green plastic frog, a red cap, and a little wire puzzle.

She immediately tore the plastic frog apart, considering it a child's toy. So much for that.

She put on the cap, saying that it had been sent by her Genie as a symbol of her authority. In fact none of them knew who had sent her the red cap. The cap is important. If it weren't important, it wouldn't be mentioned.

Carnadine quickly worked the wire puzzle, and then unworked it again. Then she did something with the hollow, white rubber ball that made her mother's eyes pop out. Nor did they pop all the way in again when Carnadine undid it and made it as it was before.

Geraldine Thompson had been looking pop-eyed for a long time. Her husband had commented on it, and she had been to the doctor for it. No medical reason was found, but the actual reason was some of the antics of her daughter, Carnadine.

"I wonder if you noticed the small wire puzzle that I gave to my daughter," said Tyburn Thompson to his neighbor, H. Horn.

"Only to note that it probably cost less than a quarter," said Horn, "and to marvel again at the canny way you have with coin. I wouldn't call you stingy, Tyburn. I've never believed in the virtues of understatement. You have a talent for making stingy people seem benevolent."

"I know. Many people misunderstand me. But consider that wire puzzle. It's a very simple-appearing puzzle, but it's twenty-four centuries old. It is unworkable, of course, so it should keep Carnadine occupied for some time. She has an excess of energy. This is one of the oldest of the unworkable puzzles."

"But, Tyburn, she just worked it," said his wife, Geraldine.

"It is one of the nine impossible apparatus puzzles listed by Anaximandros in the fifth century before the common era," continued Tyburn. "And do you know, in all the centuries since then, there have been only two added to the list."

"Carnadine," said her mother, "let me see you work that again."

Carnadine worked it again.

"The reason it is unworkable," said Tyburn, "though apparent to me as a design engineer, may not be so readily apparent to you. It has to do with odds and evens of lays. Many of the unworkable classic puzzles are cordage puzzles, as is this, actually. It is a wire miniature of a cordage puzzle. It is said that this is the construction of the Gordian knot. The same, however, is said of two other early cordage puzzles."

"But she just worked it, Tyburn, twice," said the wife.

"Stop chattering, Geraldine. I am explaining something to Horn. Men have spent years on the puzzle, the Engineering Mind and the recognition of patent impossibility being less prevalent in past centuries. And this, I believe, is the best of all the impossible ones. It is misleading. It looks as though there would surely be a way to do it."

"I just believe that I could do it, Tyburn," said Horn.

"No, you could not. You're a stubborn man, and it'd drive you crazy. It's quite impossible. You would have to take it into another dimension to work it, and then bring it back."

Carnadine once more did something with the hollow rubber ball.

"How did you make the rubber ball turn red and then white again, Carnadine?" her mother asked her.

"Turned it inside out. It's red on the inside."

"But how did you turn it inside out without tearing it?"

"It'd spoil it to tear it, mama."

"But it's impossible to turn it inside out without tearing it."

"Not if you have a red cap it isn't."

"Dear, how do you work the puzzle that your father says can't be worked?"

"Like this."

"Oh, yes. I mean, how does it happen that you can work it when nobody else could ever work it before?"

"There has to be a first time for everything, mama."

"Maybe, but there has to be a first-class explanation to go with that first time."

"It's on account of the red cap. With this cap I can do anything."

· · · · · 

So Carnadine Thompson in the fullness of her powers, and in her red cap, went out to find the rest of the Bengal Tigers. This was the most exclusive society in the world. It had only one full member, herself, and three contingent or defective members, her little brother Eustace, Fatty Frost, and Peewee Horn. Children all three of them, the oldest not within three months of her age.

The Bengal Tigers was not well known to the world at large, having been founded only the day before. Carnadine Thompson was made First Stripe for life. There were no other offices.

Yet, for a combination of reasons, the Bengal Tigers now became the most important society in the world. The new power was already in being. It was only a question of what form it would take, but it seemed to show a peculiar affiliation for this esoteric society.

· · · · · 

Clement Chardin, writing in Bulletin de la Société Parahistorique Française, expressed a novel idea:

It is no longer a question whether there be transcendent powers. These have now come so near to us that the aura of them ruffles our very hair. We are the objects of a visitation. The Power to Move Mountains and Worlds is at hand. The Actuality of the Visitation is proved, though the methods of the detection cannot now be revealed.

The question is only whether there is any individual or group with the assurance to grasp that Power. It will not be given lightly. It will not come to the craven or contabescent. There is the sad possibility that there may be none ready in the World to receive the Power. This may not be the first Visitation, but it may well be the last. But the Power, whatever its form and essence (it is real, its presence had been detected by fine instrumentation), the Power, the Visitation may pass us by as unworthy.

This parenthetical for those who might not have read it in the journal.

· · · · · 

That which struck just west of Kearney, Nebraska, was an elemental force. The shock of it was heard around the world, and its suction flattened farmhouses and barns for miles.

The area of the destruction was an almost perfect circle about two miles in diameter, so just over two thousand acres were destroyed. The first reports said that it was like no disaster ever known. Later reports said that it was like every disaster ever known; and it did have points of resemblance to all.

There was the great crater as though a meteorite had struck; there was the intense heat and the contamination as though it had been of fissionable origin; there was an afterflow of lava and the great ash clouds as though it were the supervolcanic explosion of another Krakatoa. There was the sudden silence of perhaps two seconds actually, and perhaps two hours as to human response. And then the noise of all sorts.

The early reports said that the hole was three miles deep. That was said simply to have a figure and to avoid panic. It was not known how deep the hole was.

But it was very much more than three miles—before the earthquake had begun to fill and mask it—before the hot magma had oozed up from its bottom to fill those first miles. It was still very much more than three miles deep after the rapid gushing had declined to a slow waxlike flowing.

Had anyone heard the preceding rush, or seen a meteor or any other flying object? No. There hadn't been a sound, but there had been something pitched a little higher than sound.

There hadn't been a meteor or a flying ball. But there had been what some called a giant shaft of light, and others a sheen of metal: a thing too big to be believed, and gone too soon to be remembered.

One farmer said that it was like the point of a giant needle quickly becoming more than a mile thick, and a hundred thousand miles long.

Did he know how to judge distances? Certainly, he said, I know how to judge distances. It is ninety yards to that tree; it is seven hundred yards to that windmill. That crow is flying at right onto eighty yards above the earth, though most would guess him higher. And that train whistle is coming from a distance of five and one-quarter miles.

But did he know how to judge great distances? Did he know how far was a hundred thousand miles? Certainly, he said, a great distance is easier to judge than a small one. And that sudden bright shaft was one hundred thousand miles long.

The farmer was the only one who offered any figures. Few had seen the thing at all. And all who had seen it maintained that it had lasted only a fraction of a second.

"There should be something to take the minds of the people from the unexplained happening near Kearney, Nebraska," said a group of advisors who had national status. "It will not be good for too much notice to be taken of this event until we have an explanation of it."

Fortunately something did take the minds of the people off the unexplained happenings near Kearney. What took their minds from the unusual happenings in Nebraska were the happenings at or near Hanksville, Utah, Crumpton, Maryland, Locust Bayou, Arkansas, and Pope City, Georgia. All of these sudden destructions were absolutely similar in type and vague in origin. National panic now went into the second stage, and it was nearly as important to halt it as to solve the disasters themselves.

And what in turn took the minds of the people off these disasters were the further disasters at Highmore, South Dakota, Lower Gilmore, New Hampshire, Cherryfork, Ohio, and Rowesville, South Carolina.

And what took the minds of the people off these later disasters were still further disasters at—but this could go on and on.

And it did.

· · · · · 

So with the cataclysmic disasters erupting over the country like a rash, there wasn't a large audience for the academic discussions about the New Potential of Mankind. There were those, concerned about the current catastrophes, who said that Mankind might not last long enough to receive the New Potential—or anything else.

But Winkers observed from the Long Viewpoint—paying no more attention to the destructions than if they had been a string of firecrackers, such not being his field:

It is paradoxical that we know so much and yet so little about the Power Immanent in the World: the Visitation, the Poyavlenie, as it is now called internationally.

It has been detected, but in ways twice removed. An earlier statement that it had been detected by instrumentation is inaccurate. It has not been detected by instrumentation, but by para-instrumentation. This is the infant science of gathering data from patterns of failure of instruments, and of making deductions from those failure patterns. What our finest instruments fail to detect is at least as important as what they do detect. In some cases it is more so. The patterns of failure when confronted with the thesis of the Visitation have been varied, but they have not been random. There appears to be a validity to the deductions from the patterns.

The characteristics of the Power, the Visitation, as projected by these methods (and always considered in the Oeg-Hornbostel framework) is that it is Aculeiform, Homodynamous, Homochiral, and (here the intelligence reels with disbelief, yet I assure the lector that I am deadly serious) Homoeoteleutic.

For there is a Verbal Element to it, incredible as it seems. This raises old ghosts. It is almost as if we hear the returning whisper of primitive magic or fetish. It is as if we were dealing with the Logos—the word that was before the world. But where are we to find the logic of the Logos?

Truly the most puzzling aspect of all is this Verbal Element detected in it, even if thus remotely. Should we believe that the Power operates homeopathically through some sort of witches' rhyming chant? That might be an extreme conclusion, since we know it only by an implication. But when we consider all the foregoing in the light of Laudermilk's Hypothesis, we are tempted to a bit of unscientific apprehension.

How powerful is the Power? We do not know. We cannot equate it in dynes. We can only compare effect with effect, and here the difference is so great that comparison fails. We can consider the effect of the Titter-Stumpf Theory, or of the Krogman-Keil Projection on Instrumentation and Para-Instrumentation. And we humbly murmur "very powerful indeed."

· · · · · 

Carnadine Thompson had begun to read the newspapers avidly. This was unexpected, since reading was her weak point. She had had so much trouble with the story of the Kitten and the Bell in the First Reader that her mother had come to believe that she had no verbal facility at all. This had been belied a moment later when Carnadine had torn the offending pages out of the Reader and told her mother and the world just what they could do with that kitten, and told it with great verbal facility. But it seemed that for reading Carnadine had no talent.

But now she read everything she could find about the new disasters that had struck the country—read it out loud in a ringing voice in which the names of the destroyed places were like clanging bells.

"How come you can read the paper so well, Carnadine?" her mother asked her. "How do you know how to say the names?"

"Oh, it's no great trick, mama. You just tie into the stuff and let go. Crumpton! Locust Bayou! Pope City! Cherryfork! Rowesville!"

"But how can you read all those hard names in the paper when you couldn't even read the story about the little kitten?"

"Mama, with things going the way they are, I think there's a pretty good chance that that damned kitten will get what's coming to her."

· · · · · 

Far out, very far out, there was a conversation.

This was on a giant world of extreme sophistication and nondependence on matter. It was such a world as those on which Laudermilk's Hypothesis was built. That such a world existed, even in a contingent sense, was a triumph for Laudermilk.

"Then you have invested one?" asked Sphaeros, an ancient rotundity of that advanced world.

"I have invested one," said Acu, the eager young sharpie, and bowed his forehead to the floor. The expression was figurative, since there was neither forehead nor floor on that world.

"And you are certain that you have invested the correct one?"

"You toy with me. Naturally I am not certain. Every investiture may not be successful, and every seed may not grow. One learns by experience, and this is my first experience on such a mission.

"I examined much of that world before I found this person. I thought first that it would be among the masters of the contrapuntal worlds—for even there they have such and masters of such. But none of these persons—called by themselves actors and impresarios and promoters and hacks—none of these qualified. None had the calm assurance that is the first requisite. What assurance they had was of another sort, and not valid. Also, their contrapuntal worlds were not true creations in our sense—not really worlds at all."

"Then where did you look?" asked Sphaeros.

"I looked to the heads of the apparatus. On retarded worlds there is often an apparatus or 'government.' On that world there were many. But the leaders of these—though most showed an avidity for power—did not show the calm assurance that should go with it. Their assurance, if it could be called such, was of an hysterical sort. Also, most of them were venal persons, so I rejected them."

"And then?"

"Then I explored remote possibilities. Those who employ in their work a certain power over another species—jockeys, swineherds, beekeepers, snake-charmers. But with them I didn't find what I looked for—the perfect assurance of the truly superior being."

"And then, Acu?"

"Then I went into instruments, not trusting my own judgment. I set the Calm Assurance Indicator on automatic and cruised about that world. And on that whole world I found only one person with perfect assurance—one impervious to doubt of any kind and totally impervious to self-doubt. On this one I made the investiture and conferred the concept of great Power and Sharpness."

"You have made a mistake. Fortunately it is not a great mistake, as it is not a great world. You were too anxious to make a good showing on your first attempt. When nothing can be found, you should leave that world alone. On very many of them nothing can be found. Assurance is not the only quality that makes up this competence; it is simply the quality for which we look first on alien spheres.

"The one on whom you made the Investiture, though full of assurance, was not full of other qualities equally important. It was in fact a pupa form, a child of the species, known locally as a kid. Well, it's done and cannot be undone. Fortunately such power conferred carries its own safety factor. The worst it can do is destroy its own world and seal it off safely from others. You made the Investiture correctly?"

"Yes. I left the Red Cap, the symbol of authority and power. There was instant acceptance and comprehension."

· · · · · 

"Now we'll do the big towns," screamed Carnadine Thompson in the clubhouse of the Bengal Tigers.

"Peas and Beans—
New Orleans!

She jabbed the needle into New Orleans on the map, and the great shaft a hundred thousand miles long came down into the middle of the Crescent City.

A needle? Not a pin? No. No. Pins won't work. They're of base metal. Needles! Needles!

"Candy store—

"Baltimore," howled Carnadine and jabbed in another needle, and the old city was destroyed. But there was never a place that screamed so loudly over its own destruction or hated so much to go.

"Fatty's full of bolonio—
San Antonio.

And Carnadine stuck it in with full assurance of her powers, red cap atilt, eyes full of green fire. There were some of us who liked that place and wished that it could have been spared.

"Eustace is a sisty—
Corpus Christi.

"I know one," said Eustace, and he clapped the red cap on his own head:

"Eggs and Batter—

He rhymed and jabbed, manfully but badly.

"That didn't rhyme very good," said Carnadine. "I bet you botched it."

He did. It wasn't a clean-cut holocaust at all. It was like a clumsy, bloody, grinding job—not what you'd like.

"Eustace, go in the house and get the big world map," ordered Carnadine, "and some more needles. We don't want to run out of things."

"Peewee is a sapolis—

"Let me do one," pleaded Peewee, and he snatched the red cap:

"Hopping Froggo—

"I do wish that you people would let me handle this," said Carnadine. "That was awful."

It was. It was horrible. That giant needle didn't go in clean at all. It buckled great chunks of land and tore a ragged gap. Nothing pretty, nothing round about it. It was plain brutal destruction.

· · · · · 

If you don't personally go for this stuff, then pick a high place near a town that nobody can find a rhyme for, and go there fast. But if you can't get out of town in the next two minutes, then forget it. It will be too late.

Carnadine plunged ahead:

"What the hecktady—

That was one of the roundest and cleanest holes of all.

"Flour and Crisco—
San Francisco.

That was a good one. It got all the people at once, and then set up tidal waves and earthquakes all over everywhere.

"Knife and fork—

The End


© 1964, 1992 by R.A. Lafferty; first published in Worlds of Tomorrow, February 1964. Reprinted by permission of the Author's Estate, and the Estate's agents, the Virginia Kidd Agency, Inc.