Most useful high explosives, like ammonium nitrate, are enormously violent ... once they're triggered. But they will remain seemingly inert when beaten, burned, variously punished—until the particular shock required comes along....
any years had passed since the original country rock had been broken, cut and set, to form solid pavement for the courtyard at Opertal Prison. And over those years the stones had suffered change as countless feet, scuffing and pressing against once rough edges, had smoothed the bits of rock, burnishing their surfaces until the light of the setting sun now reflected from them as from polished mosaic.
As Stan Graham crossed the wide expanse from library to cell block, his shoe soles added their small bit to the perfection of the age-old polish.
He looked up at the building ahead of him, noting the coarse, weathered stone of the walls. The severe, vertical lines of the mass reminded him of Kendall Hall, back at the Stellar Guard Academy. He smiled wryly.
There were, he told himself, differences. People rarely left this place against their wishes. None had wanted to come here. Few had any desire to stay. Whereas at the Academy—
How, he wondered, had those other guys they'd booted out really felt? None had complained—or even said much. They'd just packed their gear and picked up their tickets. There had been no expression of frustrated rage to approach his. Maybe there was something wrong with him—some unknown fault that put him out of phase with all others.
He hadn't liked it at all.
His memory went back to his last conversation with Major Michaels. The officer had listened, then shaken his head decisively.
"Look, Graham, a re-examination wouldn't help. We just can't retain you."
"But I'm sure—"
"No, it won't work. Your academic record isn't outstanding in any area and Gravitics is one of the most important courses we've got."
"But I don't see how I could have bugged it, sir. I got a good grade on the final examination."
"True, but there were several before that. And there were your daily grades." Michaels glanced at the papers on his desk.
"I can't say what went wrong, but I think you missed something, way back at the beginning. After that, things got worse and you ran out of time. This is a pretty competitive place, you know, and we probably drop some pretty capable men, but that's the way it is."
"Sir, I'm certain I know—"
"It isn't enough to know. You've got to know better than a lot of other people."
Michaels got to his feet and came around the desk.
"Look, there's no disgrace in getting an academic tossout from here. You had to be way above average to get here. And very few people can make it for one year, let alone three or four."
He raised a hand as Stan started to speak.
"I know. You think it looks as though you'd broken down somehow. You didn't. From the day you came here, everyone looked for weaknesses. If there'd been a flaw, they'd have found it—and they'd have been on you till you came apart—or the flaw disappeared. We lose people that way." He shrugged.
"You didn't fall apart. They just got to you with some pretty rough theory. You don't have to bow your head to anybody about that."
Stan looked at the heavily barred door before him....