Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

19. No More Mud

“Do you mean,” I said to Dr. Breed, “that nobody in this Laboratory is ever told what to work on? Nobody even suggests what they work on?”

“People suggest things all the time, but it isn’t in the nature of a pure-research man to pay any attention to suggestions. His head is full of projects of his own, and that’s the way we want it.”

“Did anybody ever try to suggest projects to Dr. Hoenikker?”

“Certainly. Admirals and generals in particular. They looked upon him as a sort of magician who could make America invincible with a wave of his wand. They brought all kinds of crackpot schemes up here—still do. The only thing wrong with the schemes is that, given our present state of knowledge, the schemes won’t work. Scientists on the order of Dr. Hoenikker are supposed to fill the little gaps. I remember, shortly before Felix died, there was a Marine general who was hounding him to do something about mud.”


“The Marines, after almost two-hundred years of wallowing in mud, were sick of it,” said Dr. Breed. “The general, as their spokesman, felt that one of the aspects of progress should be that Marines no longer had to fight in mud.”

“What did the general have in mind?”

“The absence of mud. No more mud.”

“I suppose,” I theorized, “it might be possible with mountains of some sort of chemical, or tons of some sort of machinery . . .”

“What the general had in mind was a little pill or a little machine. Not only were the Marines sick of mud, they were sick of carrying cumbersome objects. They wanted something little to carry for a change.”

“What did Dr. Hoenikker say?”

“In his playful way, and all his ways were playful, Felix suggested that there might be a single grain of something— even a microscopic grain—that could make infinite expanses of muck, marsh, swamp, creeks, pools, quicksand, and mire as solid as this desk.”

Dr. Breed banged his speckled old fist on the desk. The desk was a kidney-shaped, sea green steel affair. “One Marine could carry more than enough of the stuff to free an armored division bogged down in the everglades. According to Felix, one Marine could carry enough of the stuff to do that under the nail of his little finger.”

“That’s impossible.”

“You would say so, I would say so—practically everybody would say so. To Felix, in his playful way, it was entirely possible. The miracle of Felix—and I sincerely hope you’ll put this in your book somewhere—was that he always approached old puzzles as though they were brand new.”

“I feel like Francine Pefko now,” I said, “and all the girls in the Girl Pool, too. Dr. Hoenikker could never have explained to me how something that could be carried under a fingernail could make a swamp as solid as your desk.”

“I told you what a good explainer Felix was . . .”

“Even so . . .”

“He was able to explain it to me,” said Dr. Breed, “and I’m sure I can explain it to you. The puzzle is how to get Marines out of the mud—right?”


“All right,” said Dr. Breed, “listen carefully. Here we go.”

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