Galactic Fleet Admiral (site admin)
Joined: 14 Dec 2013
Location: North Carolina
|Posted: Mon Jan 19, 2015 7:46 pm Post subject: The Wishbone Express - Chapter 11
Moving at more than ninety percent the speed of light and glowing white-hot, the Wishbone climbed up out of Donwaxihel’s chromosphere and left the star behind as it headed for Philcani-tu, located 182,120,000 kilometers away. The temperature inside the Wishbone rose to one hundred and four degrees Fahrenheit. At the Wishbone’s current velocity, it would reach Philcani-tu in ten minutes — and sail right past. If Bill and Randy had any hope of stopping when they reached the planet, the Wishbone would have to go into maximum deceleration immediately. Fortunately for them, that also happened to be their best defensive move. The unmanned ship was ahead of them, already applying maximum deceleration in an effort to let its target catch up.
So, the Wishbone flipped over and ran its sublight engines up to full thrust, pushing hard at its own sizable velocity, racing ass-first toward Philcani-tu.
And the unmanned ship was doing exactly the same thing, six thousand kilometers ahead. With their velocities steadily declining, the two ships would reach Philcani-tu in a little less than four hours. But the unmanned ship had damaged the Wishbone’s hyperdrive, and now that the hyperdrive engine was no longer able to work its magic on the effects of relativity, subjective time for the Wishbone’s occupants was being greatly distorted. For them the trip would seem to take roughly seventy minutes. The time dilation would decrease when their speed diminished as they neared Philcani-tu.
The air circulator was roaring like a man-made hurricane as it tried to bring the interior temperature down. Randy and Bill had peeled their shirts off, but their chests were gleaming wet with sweat.
“How bad is it?” said Bill.
“Pretty bad.” Randy was studying the display. The computer was listing the damages, complete with graphic illustrations that were making him sick to his stomach. “The hull is intact in all the life support sections, and the sublight engines are still functioning, but the hyperdrive engine is pure scrap. We can’t escape from this star system or run from an explosion if we blow that ship up. It could nail us easy just by going into hyperdrive and swinging around the system until it lines up on us again from behind.”
“Actually . . . no, it can’t,” Bill said firmly.
“Really? Why not?”
“Because, fortunately for us, we hit its hyperdrive engines, too.” Bill flicked a drop of sweat out of his eye while he studied the replay of the videos from Wishbone’s exterior cameras showing the other ship’s fly-by. The Wishbone’s guns had nailed the enemy ship’s hyperdrive with a flawless accuracy equal to its opponent’s. But it had not disabled the ship’s weapons because it didn’t know precisely where they were located.
“Stalemate,” said Randy. “Round two, coming up. What about the other two ships?”
Bill consulted the jinn wave scope and the ship’s telescope scans. “They don’t show. If they’re in this system, they must be too far away to be seen.”
“They’re on the other side of Donwaxihel.”
“How do you know?”
Randy shrugged. “Most logical place. If they followed us into the system, they’ll probably follow us around the star.”
“Yeah, I guess so. But what if they just circle around in hyperdrive and come back into the system from another angle?”
“Which way would be quicker?”
“I’ll figure it.” Bill posed the question to the computer, which then ran simulations both ways. “Aha. Look at this. Using hyperdrive would be quicker if those ships knew exactly where to go sublight again. But they can’t pin-point us on the jinn wave scope while they’re coming around.”
“Yes, they can. I mean, they can’t see us with a jinn wave scope, but there is another way they can do it.”
“What do you mean?”
“They can use the telemetry from the unmanned ship.”
“Oh . . . right. Crap. And they can direct its actions, too,” said Bill. “Dance it around like a puppet — ”
“Naw, I don’t think they’d do that.”
“Why not?” said Bill, wondering if this was good news or bad news.
“They’d be running the risk that we might tap into the ship’s communications systems and start giving it orders ourselves.”
This was a whole new idea, but Bill picked up on it quickly. “Hey, why don’t we try to do that right now?”
“Couldn’t hurt,” said Randy. He instructed the computer to monitor all communications frequencies and determine if the unmanned ship was exchanging data with anybody. After a few seconds, the computer announced that the answer was yes-and-no, because the unmanned ship was-and-it-wasn’t. The unmanned ship was transmitting on a scrambled channel that was interwoven with the jamming coming from the other two ships — but the unmanned ship was not receiving anything.
“Ah well, so much for that idea,” said Bill.
“Yeah. I guess. But then again . . . hmmm.” Randy started scratching his head and looking puzzled. “Hey, didn’t we ask the computer a question about something else? Oh, yeah! The other two ships. Since they’re getting our position from the unmanned ship, exactly how much quicker could they reach us if they used hyperdrive?”
Bill checked the screen. “Not much, really. Couple of minutes. Why?”
“Maybe they won’t bother. After all, they’re still hoping the unmanned ship will do the job. And they can close the gap between us quickly enough as we slow down, because they don’t have to decelerate. They can blast us about the time we all reach Philcani-tu, and then they can keep right on going.” Randy sounded very matter-of-fact about his prediction of doom. The interior temperature was down to ninety-five degrees, and he mopped his sweaty face with his shirt. “Hot in here, ain’t it?”
“It’s not the heat, it’s the humiliation,” Bill said sourly. “So, what do we do now?”
“Beats me, partner. There’s no point in shooting at that ship while it’s out in front of us. It’s going so fast our plasma bolts wouldn’t hit it hard enough to punch through its shields.”
“Right,” said Bill. “Unfortunately, we’re sitting ducks for — ”
The Wishbonewas suddenly shaken by the impact of a plasma bolt barrage. The men studied the displays on the control panel for half a minute, then Bill said, “Looks like the shields are holding. I think we might have damaged some of the weaponry on that ship after all.”
“The shields will hold at this distance — but look here.” He indicated one of the displays. “Because that ship’s engines have been jury rigged to boost it’s thrust, it has an advantage on us. We’re slowly catching up with it.”
Since the enemy ship was perfectly willing to let the Wishbone run it down, the bad news was that there was no way to evade it. The chase had been neatly reversed. The two men were hunched over the telescopic view, studying it silently like two chess players. Here was a pretty problem indeed: how to avoid ramming a ship that wanted to be rammed, a ship that would put itself in their path no matter which way they turned.
After two full minutes of silence, Randy said, “Okay, how ‘bout this. We dive straight at Philcani-tu. If that ship stays in front of us, it’ll crash. And if it turns aside — ”
“Which it will,” Bill said resolutely.
“Just because it’s a machine, doesn’t mean it’s stupid.”
“Okay, granted — but if it turns aside, we just turn in the opposite direction.”
“Hmmm. Sounds good. Let’s ask the computer if it would work.”
They did. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t. When they reached Philcani-tu, the Wishbone’s velocity would still be fairly high. The Wishbone would have to divert to one side or the other of Philcani-tu while it was still a sizable distance from the planet. The gap between the two ships would be much less by that time. Because of the unmanned ship’s thrust advantage, it would be capable of waiting until the Wishbone committed itself to a specific flight path before choosing its own.
“Well, poop on my blue suede shoes,” Randy swore bitterly. “It sounded good, didn’t it?”
Bill didn’t answer. He was typing at the keyboard, trying variations on the maneuver — spirals, switchbacks, fake-outs. Nothing seemed to work.
“What are we gonna do, Bill?”
Bill still didn’t answer for a moment, his eyes on the screen, his hands busy on the keyboard. Then he finally voiced his opinion.
“Honestly? Okay . . . uh . . . I think we’re gonna die.” He was watching thin red lines dive endlessly at a graphic of Philcani-tu. Each diving line was a variation on the maneuver. “We’ve only got about sixty minutes to come up with something.”
The Wishbone was rocked by another salvo from the ship ahead, but nobody bothered firing back because they knew it was useless at that range with the plasma bolts going “uphill,” so to speak. The unmanned ship was traveling almost as fast as the Wishbone’s plasma bolts — and they would both be traveling in the same direction. The plasma bolts would barely be able to catch up to the other ship, much less pack any punch when they got there.
Fortunately, a starship’s shields are designed to deflect incoming radiation, dust, and meteoroids at fifty thousand times the speed of light, so the Wishbonewas in no current danger from the unmanned ship’s weapons while all five shields protected her.
Randy leaned back in his seat, a sour and sullen expression on his face. For several minutes Bill continued to experiment with various kamikaze maneuvers, looking for a way to prevent the Wishbonefrom ramming the unmanned ship. Randy knew he ought to be helping, but he couldn’t shake himself out of the apathetic mood which had suddenly come over him, a depression caused by the fact that he had spent the last two days thinking of desperate ways to avert his own death. He was weary of having to stay one jump ahead of the grim reaper. And besides, it was hot as hell in the cockpit.
Bill turned from the display and studied his silent friend for a moment.
“What’s wrong with you? Giving up?”
“No. I’m just tired.”
“Tired?” Bill’s eyebrows shot up. “Tired? Well, bless his widdle heart. Poor baby.”
“Don’t start in on me, man.” Randy’s jaw undulated from the clenching muscles.
“All tuckered out, are you?” Bill’s tone became increasingly angry.
“Shut up, Bill, I’m in no mood for this!”
Bill reached out and pinched Randy’s sweaty cheek the way well-meaning grandmas torture their favorite grandchild, but the expression on his face was anything by playful. Randy forcefully slapped Bill’s hand away. With his jaw clamped tight, Randy rose quickly and left the cockpit. Bill spoke angrily to Randy’s retreating form.
“Don’t come back until you’re ready to help, dammit!”
Seething with anger, Randy entered the lounge and headed for the galley booth. The interior temperature was down to about ninety degrees, but it would probably stay that way for an hour while the hull cooled down.
Clawron was sitting at the table. In the sweltering heat, she had stripped down to thin panties and a bra, her lean and tanned body glistening with sweat. But without the plumpness she’d possessed several hours ago — which was now gone — she was like a starved Parisian fashion model in lingerie that had nothing to hide.
The forward wall screen had been activated, and it was filled with a duplicate of the graphic Bill was studying in the cockpit. Randy didn’t bother to speak as he headed for the galley.
“I gotta hand it to you guys. You pulled it off,” said Clawron, looking at the data in an inserted square on the screen. “The hull temperature is down to about two thousand degrees. It’s probably glowing a nice reddish-orange by now.”
Randy ignored her as he yanked a glass out of the cupboard and filled it with cool water. The back of his throat was so dry he felt the urge to gag.
“About that ship in front of us,” said Clawron. “I assume you’re going to pull basically the same stunt as before when we get to Philcani-tu?”
Randy had emptied half the glass as quickly as he could, and he was lowering it to the counter, panting audibly. He turned and gave Clawron a puzzled look.
“What are you talking about?”
“Duck around the planet. Use the gravity to help us turn inside the maximum turning radius of that other ship.” Clawron stopped and stared at Randy’s amazed look. “You guys did think of that, right?”
Randy was motionless, his eyebrows trying to get away from his eyes by climbing up his sweaty forehead, his now-forgotten drink resting on the counter.
“It’s obvious,” said Clawron. “Let the Wishbone drag through the upper atmosphere to slow us down and . . . hell, it’s the same thing you just did with the star! That ship might try to parallel us, but it’ll be out to the side, in a higher orbit — not smack in front of us. We can’t ram it.”
She paused to wait for Randy to say something or nod his head or give some indication that his brain was working. Finally she said angrily, “So what were] you going to do?”
Randy didn’t bother to answer. He raised the glass and empty it in three quick gulps, then he turned to the autochef keyboard and punched in an order for two fruit punches, heavy on the ice. He snatched them out of the dispenser and hurried toward the cockpit. As he headed up the stairs, he spoke over his shoulder. “Thanks, sweetheart.”
Bill was still looming over the display, still making little red lines dive at Philcani-tu. Randy came up behind him and spoke in a quiet voice.
“I come bearing gifts.”
“I’d rather you come bearing ideas,” Bill said without turning around.
“Got one of those, too.” Randy dropped onto the right-hand seat and handed Bill one of the drinks.
“What’s in it?” Bill said suspiciously. Randy had set his drink down and started typing at the keyboard while he spoke casually.
“I don’t know. Something Clawron made for you.”
“What?” shouted Bill, holding the drink away from his mouth. “Okay, just in case you’re not kidding, take a sip of this so I can see if it kills you.”
Without looking up, Randy said, “Just kidding. Fruit juice only. I made it myself.” He kept typing for a moment, then he leaned back and watched what happened on the display screen.
“What’s this?” said Bill, leaning forward to look at the screen.
“The real gift from Clawron. Observe.”
The red line was preceded by a green dot representing the unmanned ship. The Wishbone’s red line made a decision about which side of the planet to angle toward. The unmanned ship’s green dot mimicked the maneuver and headed in the same direction. Both ships dove toward the edge of the planet and began to graze its atmosphere.
At the point where the Wishbone was exactly even with Philcani-tu, it curved downward into the upper atmosphere, dragging itself and its shields through the thin air. The resulting drag slowed the Wishbone down, allowing it to push itself deeper and deeper into the atmosphere, slowing it down more and more. The unmanned ship attempted to copy the maneuver, paralleling the Wishbone’s close orbit of the planet.
The important difference was that the unmanned ship was already beyond its own “closest approach” to Philcani-tu when it start imitating the Wishbone. The planet was, in effect, already dropping away from the unmanned ship, which made it impossible for it to push itself down into the upper atmosphere to the same degree the Wishbone had. The unmanned ship was forced to surge ahead.
“Aerodynamics will do the rest,” Randy said triumphantly. “The Wishbone is much smaller than that big hulk, and much more streamlined. Once we’re inside the atmosphere and far enough behind it, we just cancel our shields, turn left or right, and leave that cow in the dust.”
“Hmmm,” said Bill. “Yeah, I guess that would work.” His approval was a bit restrained.
“You guess it would work?” said Randy, annoyed by Bill’s reaction. “Man, its perfect! Of course, it’ll work — ”
“It is not perfect,” Bill said patiently. “For one thing, we can’t cancel our shields if that slug you mentioned is still firing at us. But the main reason it bothers me is that we’ll be leading that ship down into the atmosphere of Philcani-tu.”
Randy didn’t get it. “So what?”
“So, the reactor on that ship is unstable, remember? A high-magnitude nuclear explosion or a full meltdown of that ship’s reactor would leave one helluva lot of radioactivity floating around.”
Randy sat back and glared at the display, disgusted with it and the graphic on it and the maneuver the graphic depicted and the poisonous bitch who had conceived it.
Then he thought of something which brought him upright in his chair.
“Hey, how ‘bout this? We dive into the atmosphere just long enough to slow us down some, then we head back up above the atmosphere. We don’t drop the shields at any time. If that ship tries to match the maneuver, it’ll be well behind us by the time it climbs back into space. Most likely it’ll stay above the atmosphere and try to use its thrust advantage to make up the loss.”
Bill was nodding, and Randy felt like he’d finally done something right. “Better. It’s morally right, even if it’s strategically risky.”
“One thing still bothers me,” said Randy.
“Oh, good lord! What now?”
“Those other two ships. I wonder what they’re doing?”
What the other two ships were doing was dying. Or at least one of them.
As the two ships dove into the hot chromosphere of the star, they aligned themselves in single file, so close together they were sharing their shields. To reduce friction, they both cancelled their outer three shields and reinforced shields one and two. The smaller sphere of their number two shields caused less resistance against the star’s chromosphere. The two ships were attempting a closer, faster fly-by of the star than the Wishbone. This allowed them to take greater advantage of the star’s gravity to bend their flight path and retain more of their velocity after the pass.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go well. The large, bulky ships took on too much radiated heat from the star. Both ships were glowing white-hot when they arced away from Donwaxihel, and the heat was too much for the leading ship. The insulation material that separated the crystalsteel hull from the interior walls began to char and fuse, and the heat quickly passed through to the ship’s interior. Within seconds the interior was an inferno, and the occupants were consumed by the searing heat. When the occupants of the other ship realized what had happened to their companions, they thrusted laterally to get clear of the dead ship in case it exploded.
The explosion never occurred. Minute fissures opened up in the ship’s hull, allowing the super-heated air inside to escape. By the time the dead ship’s reactor melted down and added its nuclear heat to the lifeless, white-hot husk, the other ship was over 3,000 kilometers away.
The remaining ship turned back on course for Philcani-tu. These survivors of the long battle with the Wishbone were now more determined than ever. Whatever it took, whatever the cost, the Wishbone must not be permitted to land on Philcani-tu.
In the cockpit of the Wishbone, Randy Henson was watching the displays, reading data out loud. It was a useless gesture, something he always seemed to feel compelled to do in tense situations. Bill always wondered why Randy bothered, especially when the autopilot was doing the flying.
“Velocity: 40,233 km an hour. Distance between us and the unmanned ship: 925 kilometers,” intoned Randy. The unmanned ship was still closing, but not quite as rapidly. Either its deteriorating reactor was beginning to fail, or the ship was maneuvering for some unknown strategy. “Still no sign of the other two ships.” Randy paused as his brow furrowed. “Wait a second, what’s this?”
On the screen displaying the view from the telescopic cameras, the computer had superimposed a circle around a distant object, and there was a blurb of data next to it.
“A point source of high radiation and heat,” Randy said, scanning the data. “Surface temperature well over twelve thousand degrees. Hmmm. It’s the approximate size and mass of the ships that are chasing us.”
“The size of one of them. Where’s the other?”
“Good question. Could be between us and the star. Be tough to see it that way.”
“We’d see it if it were doing this,” said Bill, tapping the circle on the screen that marked the radioactive remnant of the enemy ship. “And that means it’s between us and the sun, still intact and still on our tail.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Hey, wait a second! I know how we can find out if it’s still there.”
“The jamming. If it’s gone — ”
“Right. Good idea.” Bill asked the computer if the jinn wave bands were still being jammed. They were, and worse — now the simple radio bands were being jammed too.
“So, the other ship is doing the jamming. Damn. If we just had a com laser we could send a message to Philcani-tu . . . if the sun weren’t behind us,” Randy said forlornly.
Bill gave Randy the look moms give kids when they ask stupid questions like, “Are we there yet?” His answer was the classic response. “Of course. And if we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs — if we had some eggs.”
“The in-system police must be screaming at us by this time. When we go sailing around the planet without identifying ourselves, they’ll probably blast us out of the sky for snarling up their close-orbit traffic lanes and jeopardizing their communications satellites.”
“Which we’ll probably wipe out several dozen of.” Bill visualized a few billion credits worth of satellites bouncing off the Wishbone’s shields when the ship looped around the planet. “Damn, Randy! We’re gonna lose everything we own on this job!”
“Maybe Clawron will be so grateful for getting her to Philcani-tu alive she’ll pay all our fines.” Randy turned to Bill and gave him a broad wink and an insufferable grin. “You can talk her into it. She’s sweet on you.”
Bill’s eyes got so narrow they made him look remarkably like the lady in question. The rest of his face was no picnic either. Randy’s smile made a strategic retreat, and he felt a sudden urge to go check the engines or something. Instead, he stared down at the control panel and started calling out data.
“So, uh . . . velocity: 38,098 kilometers per hour. Distance to the unmanned ship: 750 kilometers. The velocity of the unmanned ship is still less than ours now, but its thrust is declining rapidly. Seems to be losing its ability to decelerate. That reactor must be in bad shape.”
“Yeah . . . probably,” Bill said quietly, studying the display. He didn’t look angry anymore, but he did seem to have something on his mind. “Maybe it’s cutting back its thrust deliberately.”
“Cutting back? Why would it do that?”
“Hmmm. I don’t exactly — ”
“So, gentlemen, how’s business?”
Clawron entered the cockpit and leaned down between the two seated men. She draped her sweat-glistening arms over their shoulders while she peered at the displays for a moment. She was still dressed in the thin lingerie, which would have made a more well-proportioned woman look like the adolescent fantasy of a sixteen-year-old boy. With typical unconcern, she said, “When are we going to ram that ship?”
“We aren’t going to ram it,” said Randy. “We’re going to do what you suggested.”
Clawron gave the two men a look of vast surprise. “Hey, now. Great idea. No word on the other two ships? I hope they didn’t get lost.”
With a look of obvious annoyance, Bill reached up and lifted Clawron’s hand from his shoulder, grasping her wrist gingerly between thumb and forefinger like it was a dead bullfrog. She removed her arm without appearing to take offense, still studying the various displays.
“We spotted one of them right after it apparently came around Donwaxihel. It must have cut the pass too close because now it’s just a blob of radioactive slag, falling out of the system at 0.94 of light speed.”
“How nice,” Clawron said. “I knew you guys were the lucky types the first time I saw you.”
“Right,” Randy said. “We’re gonna make a fortune on this trip.”
“I’m glad you mentioned that,” Clawron said, sounding so cheerful and pleasant that Randy and Bill wondered if it was the voice of another woman standing behind her. “You guys deserve a bonus. Really, I mean it. I’ll arrange it as soon as we land.” Then she turned to Bill and spoke in a quiet voice. “And listen, sweetheart — I’m really sorry about what I did. Things haven’t been going too well for me lately, and I guess my judgment’s been sort of rocky.”
Bill didn’t look very impressed with all this humble repenting. He turned and met Clawron’s apologetic gaze with a blank, emotionless expression, and his answer was a barely audible, “Right. Thanks.”
“Okay,” Her expression hadn’t changed. “Well, it’ll all be over soon, and then we can part friends.” She clapped them both on the sweat-gleaming shoulders, smiled in an uncharacteristic fashion, and said,, “Mr. Aganto is in his cabin watching some old movie and having a nervous breakdown. I think I’ll join him — for the movie, at least. Wake me when we touch down.”
She didn’t wait around for anybody to say good-bye. After she was gone, Randy said, “What do you make of that?”
“I don’t know. If our fee hadn’t already been deposited in advance, I’d say she was planning to leave us at the spaceport without paying her bill.”
“You confirmed the transfer of funds with our bank, right?”
“Right. Aganto arranged it after we left the Cloud Nine Lounge. I remember what you said to me. ‘Bill, get the loot while I preflight the ship.’ And I said, ‘Okay, and be sure to air it out some, because those crates of synthetic seafood stank up the cargo area — ’”
“Knock it off,” said Randy. “I was there, remember? Dammit, Bill, I ask a simple question and I get Macbeth.”
Randy turned back to the telescopic view on the display, which he studied intently. Something caught his eye, and he mumbled, “Uh-oh. Look at this.” Bill took a long look and cocked his head to one side by small degrees, little jerky movements with a pause between each one.
On the display, the unmanned ship was at the point of its closest approach to Philcani-tu. But it was dropping out of line with the Wishbone’s flight path, thrusting laterally, heading down toward the planet’s atmosphere.
“What’s that fool thing doing, Randy?”
“Hmmm . . . Maybe the reactor is . . . failing,” Randy said slowly, but he didn’t sound very sure. Both men watched as the ship dropped lower into the planet’s atmosphere, its shields dragging at the thin air. And suddenly Randy figured it out.
“Ah, hell!” he exclaimed. “We reached the point where we had to decide which direction to turn, and the nav computer decided for us! It must have happened while Clawron was in here.”
“So what?” said Bill. “It shouldn’t matter. We told the nav computer to head — ”
“Right, I know! But that dammed machine must have guessed what we’re planning! It’s diving into the atmosphere to kill its velocity, just like we figured to do. It’ll cut us off on the turn, or it’ll swing in behind us if we go straight.”
Bill lunged forward and slapped the switch that disengaged the autopilot and shut down the engines. Then he took hold of the control yoke and used the maneuvering thrusters to flip the ship over. When he had it aligned properly, he ran the engines back up to full thrust. The Wishbone was going to make a run for it.
A few seconds later, the unmanned ship shut down its engines and flipped itself over, too. It was rapidly falling into Philcani-tu’s atmosphere, but after completing its rollover, the engines returned to full thrust, and the ship started pushing itself toward space.
“Are we gonna slip past him?” said Randy.
“Maybe. But it’ll be close,” said Bill, peering at the displays. “You know, it seems a little funny that it would risk losing us when all it had to do was match our maneuver when we veered into the forced orbit.”
“But that way takes more time,” said Randy. “Maybe it knows it doesn’t have more time. Maybe this is a last-ditch effort to get inside our shields before it blows up.”
Bill gave Randy a quick look of admiration. “Yeah, maybe. But it’s not going to work.” Bill resolutely leaned on the throttle control.
With the Wishbone velocity accelerating, the gap between the two ships closed rapidly. But the unmanned ship had to climb back up through the atmosphere, and since it dared not drop its shields while the Wishbone could fire on it, the unmanned ship was battling against tremendous wind resistance. Even so, it pushed steadily upward, angling itself toward a point somewhere ahead of the Wishbone where it sought to collide with its target or blow it out of the sky.
All the Wishbone had to do was get there first and there would be four for dinner on Philcani-tu.
Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?