Ramsey caught the third-person reference to self; he tensed.
"Who's to deny me the right to be whatever I have to be down here?" asked Sparrow. He rubbed the side of his jaw with his long-fingered hand. "I had to know what it was I was doing. So I studied me. I analyzed me. I computed me against every background I could think of. I was completely ruthless with me." He fell silent.
Cautiously, Ramsey said, "And?"
"I'm nuts," said Sparrow. "But I'm nuts in a way which fits me perfectly to my world. That makes my world nuts and me normal. Not sane. Normal. Adapted."
"You're saying the world's schizoid, fragmented."
"Hasn't it always been?" asked Sparrow. "Where are there completely unbroken lines of communication? Show me complete social integration." He shook his long head from side to side in a slow negation. "It's the pressure, Johnny."
Ramsey made a minute adjustment on the flow meter controlling the exchange of blood in Garcia's body.
He looked down at the drugged engineering officer. Face relaxed, peaceful. Pressures gone for the moment.
"We look to a Utopian existence as sanity," said Sparrow. "No pressures against survival. That's why we get a dreamy nostalgia about us when we think of the old South Seas. Minimum threat to survival." Again he shook his head. "Whatever the pressure and whatever the adaptation, that adaptation is definable by your science as non-sane. I sometimes think that's the proper interpretation of the Biblical
phrase: 'A child shall lead them.' Children generally don't have survival pressures. Ergo: They're more sane than adults."
"They have their pressures," said Ramsey.
"Of a different character," said Sparrow. He bent, felt Garcia's pulse. "How many changes left?"
"What's the radiation reading?"
Ramsey's head jerked as he turned to stare fully at the dial. "Fifty-fifty."
"He'll live," said Sparrow. His voice carried a tone of absolute decision, an irrevocable judgment.
Ramsey fought down an unaccountable irritation. "How can you be so damned sure?"
"You were startled when you focused on the meter," said Sparrow.
"It's a miracle he's come this far." In spite of himself, Ramsey's voice betrayed his irritation.
"That's right, a miracle," said Sparrow. "Listen to me, Johnny. In spite of all your science and your medicine, there's something you people often refuse to admit."
"Which is?" Now his voice was openly hostile.
"There's such a thing as being on God's side. Being right with the world. That's really the thing behind
miracles. It's quite simple. You get in . . . well, phase. That's the mechanical way of saying it. You ride the wave instead of bucking it." Sparrow's voice carried a tone of calm detachment.
Ramsey pressed his lips together to keep from speaking his thoughts. And over it all, his own psychological training was feeding data to a train of thought: Religious fanaticism. Fragmentation. Impenetrable belief in own righteousness. The evidence for a diagnosis of paranoiac type is very strong.
"Your particular adaptation is dictation by your psychological training," said Sparrow. "You have a function: to keep operating. Call it normal. You have to believe I'm insane and that your diagnosis of insanity type is accurate. That way, you're on top; you're in control. It's your way to survival. You can guide me and direct me like the proper animal that I am, and I'll take you back where the pressures are reduced."
"This is nonsense," barked Ramsey. "Psychological nonsense! You don't know what you're talking about!"
"If your diagnosis is correct, what's the probable course of my life?" asked Sparrow.
Before he could stop himself, Ramsey said, "You'll go completely psychotic! Completely --" He broke off.
Sparrow laughed. He shook his head. "No, Johnny. I'll go back where the pressures are less. And I'll take a deep breath. And I'll play a little poker at Garden Glen. And I'll get drunk a time or two because it's expected of me. I'll have another honeymoon with my wife. She'll be very nice to me. Very contrite because of all the times she's cuckolded me while I've been away. That's her adaptation. It doesn't really hurt me. Why should it?"
Ramsey stared at him.
"And, of course, I'll do some more wondering: What's this all about? What are we human animals? What's the meaning behind all this? If there is a meaning. But my roots are solid, Johnny. I've seen miracles." He nodded toward Garcia. "I've known the outcome of events before even the events. That gives me a --"
The warning buzzer sounded on the blood-exchange unit. Ramsey slapped the transfer switch. Sparrow moved around the cot, disengaged the artery and vein taps.
"Sixty-forty," said Ramsey.
"We'll be at Charleston in twenty-two hours," said Sparrow. He looked at Ramsey. "What do you intend to tell Admiral Belland's boys about Joe?"
"I don't remember anything about Joe worth telling Belland," said Ramsey.
A slow smile formed on Sparrow's lips. "That's normal," he said. "Not sane, but normal."
Ramsey sniffed. Why am I irritated? he asked himself. And his psychological training gave him the unavoidable answer: Because I'm not facing something about myself. There's something I don't want to see.
"Let's talk about Heppner," said Sparrow.
Ramsey suppressed an urge to shout: For Christ's sake! What for?
"He got to wondering about sanity," continued Sparrow. "And one day the truth dawned on him that I'm not particularly sane. Then he got to wondering: What is sanity? He talked about some of his thoughts. And he found he couldn't define sanity. Not for sure. Which meant to him that he himself was off balance." Sparrow closed his eyes.
"So?" whispered Ramsey.
"So he applied for a transfer out of the subtugs. He gave me the application to submit when we landed. That last trip."
Ramsey said, "He cast himself adrift."
Sparrow nodded. "And he'd already admitted to himself that he had no anchor, no point of reference from which to navigate."
Ramsey felt a curious internal stimulation, as though he were on the brink of a great revelation.
"And that," said Sparrow, "is why I have to train another new electronics officer. You have to go back to BuPsych where you have your roots. That's an ocean in which you can navigate."
Ramsey could contain the question no longer. "What's your definition of sanity, Skipper?"
"The ability to swim," said Sparrow.
Ramsey felt a cold shock, as though he had been immersed suddenly in freezing water. He had to force himself to continue breathing normally. As though from a great distance, he heard Sparrow's voice:
"That means the sane person has to understand currents, has to know what's required in different waters."
Ramsey heard a heavy thundering, counterpoint to Sparrow's matter-of-fact tones.
"Insanity is something like drowning," said Sparrow. "You go under; you flounder without direction; you --Johnny! What's wrong?"
He heard the words, but they lacked meaning. The room was a spinning centrifuge with himself at the rim . . . faster . . . faster . . . faster . . . He caught at the blood-exchange unit, missed, crashed to the floor. A detached part of him sensed hands on his face, a finger lifting an eyelid.
Sparrow's voice squeaked insanely down an inverted funnel: "Shock!"
Thud! Thud! Thud! Thud!
slamming of cabinet door
clinking of glass
He floated in a gelatin hammock, bound in upon himself. A miniature stage opened before his eyes. Sparrow, Garcia, and Bonnett stood arm in arm, doll figures staring across Lilliputian footlights.
In a dull monotone, the miniature Sparrow said, "I am a Commander, Submarine, Portable, Mark I."
The miniature Garcia said, "I am an Engineering Officer, Submarine, Portable, Mark I."
The miniature Bonnett said, "I am a First Officer, Submarine, Portable, Mark I."
Ramsey tried to speak, but his lips would not respond.
On the doll stage, Sparrow said, "I am not sane; he is not sane; you are not sane; we are not sane; they are not sane."
Garcia said, "I regret to report the failure of a component: myself." He dissolved, leaving Sparrow and Bonnett separated by a space.
Bonnett said, "That Ramsey is a catalyst."
Sparrow said, "I cannot help you; he cannot help you; we cannot help you; they cannot help you; you cannot help yourself."
Garcia's voice came from the empty space, "I regret that I cannot thank you in person."
Bonnett said, "My generation doesn't believe in vampires."
Again Ramsey tried to speak, but no sound came.