Introduction: The Robot Chronicles
What is a robot? We might define it most briefly and comprehensively as “an artificial object that resembles a human being.”
When we think of resemblance, we think of it, first, in terms of appearance. A robot looks like a human being.
It could, for instance, be covered with a soft material that resembles human skin. It could have hair, and eyes, and a voice, and all the features and appurtenances of a human being, so that it would, as far as outward appearance is concerned, be indistinguishable from a human being.
This, however, is not really essential. In fact, the robot, as it appears in science fiction, is almost always constructed of metal, and has only a stylized resemblance to a human being.
Suppose, then, we forget about appearance and consider only what it can do. We think of robots as capable of performing tasks more rapidly or more efficiently than human beings. But in that case any machine is a robot. A sewing machine can sew faster than a human being, a pneumatic drill can penetrate a hard surface faster than an unaided human being can, a television set can detect and organize radio waves as we cannot, and so on.
We must apply the term robot, then, to a machine that is more specialized than an ordinary device. A robot is a computerized machine that is capable of performing tasks of a kind that are too complex for any living mind other than that of a man, and of a kind that no non-computerized machine is capable of performing.
In other words to put it as briefly as possible:
robot = machine + computer
Clearly, then, a true robot was impossible before the invention of the computer in the 1940s, and was not practical (in the sense of being compact enough and cheap enough to be put to everyday use) until the invention of the microchip in the 19708.
Nevertheless, the concept of the robot-an artificial device that mimics the actions and, possibly, the appearance of a human being-is old, probably as old as the human imagination.
The ancients, lacking computers, had to think of some other way of instilling quasi-human abilities into artificial objects, and they made use of vague supernatural forces and depended on god-like abilities beyond the reach of mere men.
Thus, in the eighteenth book of Homer’s Iliad, Hephaistos, the Greek god of the forge, is described as having for helpers, “a couple of maids…made of gold exactly like living girls; they have sense in their heads, they can speak and use their muscles, they can spin and weave and do their work…” Surely, these are robots.
Again, the island of Crete, at the time of its greatest power, was supposed to possess a bronze giant named Talos that ceaselessly patrolled its shores to fight off the approach of any enemy.
Throughout ancient and medieval times, learned men were supposed to have created artificially living things through the secret arts they had learned or uncovered-arts by which they made use of the powers of the divine or the demonic.
The medieval robot-story that is most familiar to us today is that of Rabbi Loew of sixteenth-century Prague. He is supposed to have formed an artificial human being-a robot-out of clay, just as God had formed Adam out of clay. A clay object, however much it might resemble a human being, is “an unformed substance” (the Hebrew word for it is “golem”), since it lacks the attributes of life. Rabbi Loew, however, gave his golem the attributes of life by making use of the sacred name of God, and set the robot to work protecting the lives of Jews against their persecutors.
There was, however, always a certain nervousness about human beings involving themselves with knowledge that properly belongs to gods or demons. There was the feeling that this was dangerous, that the forces might escape human control. This attitude is most familiar to us in the legend of the “sorcerer’s apprentice,” the young fellow who knew enough magic to start a process going but not enough to stop it when it had outlived its usefulness.
The ancients were intelligent enough to see this possibility and be frightened by it. In the Hebrew myth of Adam and Eve, the sin they commit is that of gaining knowledge (eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; i.e., knowledge of everything) and for that they were ejected from Eden and, according to Christian theologians, infected all of humanity with that “original sin.”
In the Greek myths, it was the Titan, or Prometheus, who supplied fire (and therefore technology) to human beings and for that he was dreadfully punished by the infuriated Zeus, who was the chief god.
In early modern times, mechanical clocks were perfected, and the small mechanisms that ran them (“clockwork”)-the springs, gears, escapements, ratchets, and so on-could also be used to run other devices.
The 1700s was the golden age of “automatons.” These were devices that could, given a source of power such as a wound spring or compressed air, carry out a complicated series of activities. Toy soldiers were built that would march; toy ducks that would quack, bathe, drink water, eat grain and void it; toy boys that could dip a pen into ink and write a letter (always the same letter, of course). Such automata were put on display and proved extremely popular (and, sometimes, profitable to the owners).
It was a dead-end sort of thing, of course, but it kept alive the thought of mechanical devices that might do more than clockwork tricks, that might be more nearly alive.
What’s more, science was advancing rapidly, and in 1798, the Italian anatomist, Luigi Galvani, found that under the influence of an electric spark, dead muscles could be made to twitch and contract as though they were alive. Was it possible that electricity was the secret of life?
The thought naturally arose that artificial life could be brought into being by strictly scientific principles rather than by reliance on gods or demons. This thought led to a book that some people consider the first piece of modern science fiction-Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, published in 1818.
In this book, Victor Frankenstein, an anatomist, collects fragments of freshly dead bodies and, by the use of new scientific discoveries (not specified in the book), brings the whole to life, creating something that is referred to only as the “Monster” in the book. (In the movie, the life principle was electricity.)
However, the switch from the supernatural to science did not eliminate the fear of the danger inherent in knowledge. In the medieval legend of Rabbi Loew’s golem, that monster went out of control and the rabbi had to withdraw the divine name and destroy him. In the modern tale of Frankenstein, the hero was not so lucky. He abandoned the Monster in fear, and the Monster, with an anger that the book all but justifies, in revenge killed those Frankenstein loved and, eventually, Frankenstein himself.
This proved a central theme in the science fiction stories that have appeared since Frankenstein. The creation of robots was looked upon as the prime example of the overweening arrogance of humanity, of its attempt to take on, through misdirected science, the mantle of the divine. The creation of human life, with a soul, was the sole prerogative of God. For a human being to attempt such a creation was to produce a soulless travesty that inevitably became as dangerous as the golem and as the Monster. The fashioning of a robot was, therefore, its own eventual punishment, and the lesson, “there are some things that humanity is not meant to know,” was preached over and over again.
No one used the word “robot,” however, until 1920 (the year, coincidentally, in which I was born). In that year, a Czech playwright, Karel Capek, wrote the play R.U.R., about an Englishman, Rossum, who manufactured artificial human beings in quantity. These were intended to do the arduous labor of the world so that real human beings could live lives of leisure and comfort.
Capek called these artificial human beings “robots,” which is a Czech word for “forced workers,” or “slaves.” In fact, the title of the play stands for “Rossum’s Universal Robots,” the name of the hero’s firm.
In this play, however, what I call “the Frankenstein complex” was made several notches more intense. Where Mary Shelley’s Monster destroyed only Frankenstein and his family, Capek’s robots were presented as gaining emotion and then, resenting their slavery, wiping out the human species.
The play was produced in 1921 and was sufficiently popular (though when I read it, my purely personal opinion was that it was dreadful) to force the word “robot” into universal use. The name for an artificial human being is now “robot” in every language, as far as I know.
Through the 1920s and 1930s, R U.R. helped reinforce the Frankenstein complex, and (with some notable exceptions such as Lester del Rey’s “Helen O’Loy” and Eando Binder’s “Adam Link” series) the hordes of clanking, murderous robots continued to be reproduced in story after story.
I was an ardent science fiction reader in the 1930s and I became tired of the ever-repeated robot plot. I didn’t see robots that way. I saw them as machines-advanced machines -but machines. They might be dangerous but surely safety factors would be built in. The safety factors might be faulty or inadequate or might fail under unexpected types of stresses, but such failures could always yield experience that could be used to improve the models.
After all, all devices have their dangers. The discovery of speech introduced communication-and lies. The discovery of fire introduced cooking-and arson. The discovery of the compass improved navigation-and destroyed civilizations in Mexico and Peru. The automobile is marvelously useful-and kills Americans by the tens of thousands each year. Medical advances have saved lives by the million amp;-and intensified the population explosion.
In every case, the dangers and misuses could be used to demonstrate that “there are some things humanity was not meant to know,” but surely we cannot be expected to divest ourselves of all knowledge and return to the status of the australopithecines. Even from the theological standpoint, one might argue that God would never have given human beings brains to reason with if He hadn’t intended those brains to be used to devise new things, to make wise use of them, to install safety factors to prevent unwise use-and to do the best we can within the limitations of our imperfections.
So, in 1939, at the age of nineteen, I determined to write a robot story about a robot that was wisely used, that was not dangerous, and that did the job it was supposed to do. Since I needed a power source I introduced the “positronic brain.” This was just gobbledygook but it represented some unknown power source that was useful, versatile, speedy, and compact-like the as-yet uninvented computer.
The story was eventually named “Robbie,” and it did not appear immediately, but I proceeded to write other stories along the same line-in consultation with my editor, John W. Campbell, Jr., who was much taken with this idea of mine-and eventually, they were all printed.
Campbell urged me to make my ideas as to the robot safeguards explicit rather than implicit, and I did this in my fourth robot story, “Runaround,” which appeared in the March 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. In that issue, on page 100, in the first column, about one-third of the way down (I just happen to remember) one of my characters says to another, “Now, look, let’s start with the Three Fundamental Rules of Robotics.”
This, as it turned out, was the very first known use of the word “robotics” in print, a word that is the now-accepted and widely used term for the science and technology of the construction, maintenance, and use of robots. The Oxford English Dictionary, in the 3rd Supplementary Volume, gives me credit for the invention of the word.
I did not know I was inventing the word, of course. In my youthful innocence, I thought that was the word and hadn’t the faintest notion it had never been used before.
“The three fundamental Rules of Robotics” mentioned at this point eventually became known as “Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics,” and here they are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Those laws, as it turned out (and as I could not possibly have foreseen), proved to be the most famous, the most frequently quoted, and the most influential sentences I ever wrote. (And I did it when I was twenty-one, which makes me wonder if I’ve done anything since to continue to justify my existence.)
My robot stories turned out to have a great effect on science fiction. I dealt with robots unemotionally-they were produced by engineers, they presented engineering problems that required solutions, and the solutions were found. The stories were rather convincing portrayals of a future technology and were not moral lessons. The robots were machines and not metaphors.
As a result, the old-fashioned robot story was virtually killed in all science fiction stories above the comic-strip level. Robots began to be viewed as machines rather than metaphors by other writers, too. They grew to be commonly seen as benevolent and useful except when something went wrong, and then as capable of correction and improvement. Other writers did not quote the Three Laws-they tended to be reserved for me-but they assumed them, and so did the readers.
Astonishingly enough, my robot stories also had an important effect on the world outside.
It is well known that the early rocket-experimenters were strongly influenced by the science fiction stories of H. a. Wells. In the same way, early robot-experimenters were strongly influenced by my robot stories, nine of which were collected in 1950 to make up a book called I, Robot. It was my second published book and it has remained in print in the four decades since.
Joseph F. Engelberger, studying at Columbia University in the 1950s, came across I, Robot and was sufficiently attracted by what he read to determine that he was going to devote his life to robots. About that time, he met George C. Devol, Jr., at a cocktail party. Devol was an inventor who was also interested in robots.
Together, they founded the firm of Unimation and set about working out schemes for making robots work. They patented many devices, and by the mid-1970s, they had worked out all kinds of practical robots. The trouble was that they needed computers that were compact and cheap-but once the microchip came in, they had it. From that moment on, Unimation became the foremost robot firm in the world and Engelberger grew rich beyond anything he could have dreamed of.
He has always been kind enough to give me much of the credit. I have met other roboticists such as Marvin Minsky and Shimon Y. Nof, who also admitted, cheerfully, the value of their early reading of my robot stories. Nof, who is an Israeli, had first read I, Robot in a Hebrew translation.
The roboticists take the Three Laws of Robotics seriously and they keep them as an ideal for robot safety. As yet, the types of industrial robots in use are so simple, essentially, that safety devices have to be built in externally. However, robots may confidently be expected to grow more versatile and capable and the Three Laws, or their equivalent, will surely be built in to their programming eventually.
I myself have never actually worked with robots, never even as much as seen one, but I have never stopped thinking about them. I have to date written at least thirty-five short stories and five novels that involve robots, and I dare say that if I am spared, I will write more.
My robot stories and novels seem to have become classics in their own right and, with the advent of the “Robot City” series of novels, have become the wider literary universe of other writers as well. Under those circumstances, it might be useful to go over my robot stories and describe some of those which I think are particularly significant and to explain why I think they are.
1. “Robbie:” This is the first robot story I wrote. I turned it out between May 10 and May 22 of 1939, when I was nineteen years old and was just about to graduate from college. I had a little trouble placing it, for John Campbell rejected it and so did Amazing Stories. However, Fred Pohl accepted it on March 25, 1940, and it appeared in the September 1940 issue of Super Science Stories, which he edited. Fred Pohl, being Fred Pohl, changed the title to “Strange Playfellow,” but I changed it back when I included it in my book I, Robot and it has appeared as “Robbie” in every subsequent incarnation.
Aside from being my first robot story, “Robbie” is significant because in it, George Weston says to his wife in defense of a robot that is fulfilling the role of nursemaid, “He just can’t help being faithful and loving and kind. He’s a machine-made so.” This is the first indication, in my first story, of what eventually became the “First Law of Robotics,” and of the basic fact that robots were made with built-in safety rules.
2. “Reason:” “Robbie” would have meant nothing in itself if I had written no more robot stories, particularly since it appeared in one of the minor magazines. However, I wrote a second robot story, “Reason,” and that one John Campbell liked. After a bit of revision, it appeared in the April 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, and there it attracted notice. Readers became aware that there was such a thing as the “positronic robots,” and so did Campbell. That made everything afterward possible.
3. “Liar!:” In the very next issue of Astounding, that of May 1941, my third robot story, “Liar!” appeared. The importance of this story was that it introduced Susan Calvin, who became the central character in my early robot stories. This story was originally rather clumsily done, largely because it dealt with the relationship between the sexes at a time when I had not yet had my first date with a young lady. Fortunately, I’m a quick learner, and it is one story in which I made significant changes before allowing it to appear in I, Robot.
4. “Runaround:” The next important robot story appeared in the March 1942 issue of Astounding. It was the first story in which I listed the Three Laws of Robotics explicitly instead of making them implicit. In it, I have one character, Gregory Powell, say to another, Michael Donovan, “Now, look, let’s start with the Three Fundamental Rules of Robotics-the three rules that are built most deeply into a robot’s positronic brain.” He then recites them.
Later on, I called them the Laws of Robotics, and their importance to me was threefold:
a) They guided me in forming my plots and made it possible to write many short stories, as well as several novels, based on robots. In these, I constantly studied the consequences of the Three Laws.
b) It was by all odds my most famous literary invention, quoted in season and out by others. If all I have written is someday to be forgotten, the Three Laws of Robotics will surely be the last to go.
c) The passage in “Runaround” quoted above happens to be the very first time the word “robotics” was used in print in the English language. I am therefore credited, as I have said, with the invention of that word (as well as of “robotic,” “positronic,” and “psychohistory”) by the Oxford English Dictionary, which takes the trouble-and the space-to quote the Three Laws. (All these things were created by my twenty-second birthday and I seem to have created nothing since, which gives rise to grievous thoughts within me.)
5. “Evidence:” This was the one and only story I wrote while I spent eight months and twenty-six days in the Army. At one point I persuaded a kindly librarian to let me remain in the locked library over lunch so that I could work on the story.It is the first story in which I made use of a humanoid robot. Stephen Byerley, the humanoid robot in question (though in the story I don’t make it absolutely clear whether he is a robot or not), represents my first approach toward R. Daneel Olivaw, the humaniform robot who appears in a number of my novels. “Evidence” appeared in the September 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.
6. “Little Lost Robot:” My robots tend to be benign entities. In fact, as the stories progressed, they gradually gained in moral and ethical qualities until they far surpassed human beings and, in the case of Daneel, approached the god-like. Nevertheless, I had no intention of limiting myself to robots as saviors. I followed wherever the wild winds of my imagination led me, and I was quite capable of seeing the uncomfortable sides of the robot phenomena.
It was only a few weeks ago (as I write this) that I received a letter from a reader who scolded me because, in a robot story of mine that had just been published, I showed the dangerous side of robots. He accused me of a failure of nerve.
That he was wrong is shown by “Little Lost Robot” in which a robot is the villain, even though it appeared nearly half a century ago. The seamy side of robots is not the result of a failure in nerve that comes of my advancing age and decrepitude. It has been a constant concern of mine all through my career.
7. “The Evitable Conflict:” This was a sequel to “Evidence” and appeared in the June 1950 issue of Astounding. It was the first story I wrote that dealt primarily with computers (I called them “Machines” in the story) rather than with robots per se. The difference is not a great one. You might define a robot as a “computerized machine” or as a “mobile computer. “ You might consider a computer as an “immobile robot.” In any case, I clearly did not distinguish between the two, and although the Machines, which don’t make an actual physical appearance in the story, are clearly computers, I included the story, without hesitation, in my robot collection, I, Robot, and neither the publisher nor the readers objected. To be sure, Stephen Byerley is in the story, but the question of his roboticity plays no role.
8. “Franchise:” This was the first story in which I dealt with computers as computers, and I had no thought in mind of their being robots. It appeared in the August 1955 issue of It Worlds of Science Fiction, and by that time I had grown familiar with the existence of computers. My computer is “Multivac,” designed as an obviously larger and more complex version of the actually existing “Univac. “ In this story, and in some others of the period that dealt with Multivac, I described it as an enormously large machine, missing the chance of predicting the miniaturization and etherealization of computers.
9. “The Last Question:” My imagination didn’t betray me for long, however. In “The Last Question,” which appeared first in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly, I discussed the miniaturization and etherealization of computers and followed it through a trillion years of evolution (of both computer and man) to a logical conclusion that you will have to read the story to discover. It is, beyond question, my favorite among all the stories I have written in my career.
10. “The Feeling of Power: “The miniaturization of computers played a small role as a side issue in this story. It appeared in the February 1958 issue of If and is also one of my favorites. In this story I dealt with pocket computers, which were not to make their appearance in the marketplace until ten to fifteen years after the story appeared. Moreover, it was one of the stories in which I foresaw accurately a social implication of technological advance rather than the technological advance itself.
The story deals with the possible loss of ability to do simple arithmetic through the perpetual use of computers. I wrote it as a satire that combined humor with passages of bitter irony, but I wrote more truly than I knew. These days I have a pocket computer and I begrudge the time and effort it would take me to subtract 182 from 854. I use the darned computer. “The Feeling of Power” is one of the most frequently anthologized of my stories.
In a way, this story shows the negative side of computers, and in this period I also wrote stories that showed the possible vengeful reactions of computers or robots that are mistreated. For computers, there is “Someday,” which appeared in the August 1956 issue of Infinity Science Fiction, and for robots (in automobile form) see “Sally,” which appeared in the May-June 1953 issue of Fantastic.
11. “Feminine Intuition:” My robots are almost always masculine, though not necessarily in an actual sense of gender. After all, I give them masculine names and refer to them as “he.” At the suggestion of a female editor, JudyLynn del Rey, I wrote “Feminine Intuition,” which appeared in the October 1969 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It showed, for one thing, that I could do a feminine robot, too. She was still metal, but she had a narrower waistline than my usual robots and had a feminine voice, too. Later on, in my book Robots and Empire, there was a chapter in which a humanoid female robot made her appearance. She played a villainous role, which might surprise those who know of my frequently displayed admiration of the female half of humanity.
12. “The Bicentennial Man:” This story, which first appeared in 1976 in a paperback anthology of original science fiction, Stellar #2, edited by Judy-Lynn del Rey, was my most thoughtful exposition of the development of robots. It followed them in an entirely different direction from that in “The Last Question. “ What it dealt with was the desire of a robot to become a man and the way in which he carried out that desire, step by step. Again, I carried the plot all the way to its logical conclusion. I had no intention of writing this story when I started it. It wrote itself, and turned and twisted in the typewriter. It ended as the third favorite of mine among all my stories. Ahead of it come only “The Last Question,” mentioned above, and “The Ugly Little Boy,” which is not a robot story.
13. “The Caves of Steel:” Meanwhile, at the suggestion of Horace L. Gold, editor of Galaxy, I had written a robot novel. I had resisted doing so at first for I felt that my robot ideas only fit the short story length. Gold, however, suggested I write a murder mystery dealing with a robot detective. I followed the suggestion partway. My detective was a thoroughly human Elijah Baley (perhaps the most attractive character I ever invented, in my opinion), but he had a robot sidekick, R. Daneel Olivaw. The book, I felt, was the perfect fusion of mystery and science fiction. It appeared as a three-part serial in the October, November, and December 1953 issues of Galaxy, and Doubleday published it as a novel in 1954.
What surprised me about the book was the reaction of the readers. While they approved of Lije Baley, their obvious interest was entirely with Daneel, whom I had viewed as a mere subsidiary character. The approval was particularly intense in the case of the women who wrote to me. (Thirteen years after I had invented Daneel, the television series Star Trek came out, with Mr. Spock resembling Daneel quite closely in character-something which did not bother me-and I noticed that women viewers were particularly interested in him, too. I won’t pretend to analyze this.)
14. “The Naked Sun:” The popularity of Lije and Daneel led me to write a sequel, The Naked Sun, which appeared as a three-part serial in the October, November, and December 1956 issues of Astounding and was published as a novel by Doubleday in 1957. Naturally, the repetition of the success made a third novel seem the logical thing to do. I even started writing it in 1958, but things got in the way and, what with one thing and another, it didn’t get written till 1983.
15. “The Robots of Dawn:” This, the third novel of the Lije Baley/R. Daneel series, was published by Doubleday in 1983. In it, I introduced a second robot, R. Giskard Reventlov, and this time I was not surprised when he turned out to be as popular as Daneel.
16. “Robots and Empire:” When it was necessary to allow Lije Baley to die (of old age), I felt I would have no problem in doing a fourth book in the series, provided I allowed Daneel to live. The fourth book, Robots and Empire, was published by Doubleday in 1985. Lije’s death brought some reaction, but nothing at all compared to the storm of regretful letters I received when the exigencies of the plot made it necessary for R. Giskard to die.
Of the short stories I have listed as “notable” you may have noticed that three-”Franchise,” “The Last Question,” and “The Feeling of Power”-are not included in the collection you are now holding. This is not an oversight, nor is it any indication that they are not suitable for collection. The fact is that each of the three is to be found in an earlier collection, Robot Dreams, that is a companion piece for this one. It wouldn’t be fair to the reader to have these stories in both collections.
To make up for that, I have included in Robot Visions nine robot stories that are not listed above as “notable.” This in no way implies that these nine stories are inferior, merely that they broke no new ground.
Of these nine stories, “Galley Slave” is one of my favorites, not only because of the word-play in the title, but because it deals with a job I earnestly wish a robot would take off my hands. Not many people have gone through more sets of galleys than I have.
“Lenny” shows a human side of Susan Calvin that appears in no other story, while “Someday” is my foray into pathos. “Christmas Without Rodney” is a humorous robot story, while “Think!” is a rather grim one. “Mirror Image” is the only short story I ever wrote that involves R. Daneel Olivaw, the co-hero of my robot novels. “Too Bad!” and “Segregationist” are both robot stories based on medical themes. And, finally, “Robot Visions” is written specifically for this collection.
So it turns out that my robot stories have been almost as successful as my Foundation books, and if you want to know the truth (in a whisper, of course, and please keep this confidential) I like my robot stories better.
Finally, a word about the essays in this book. The first essay was written in 1956. All the others have appeared in 1974 and thereafter. Why the eighteen-year gap?
Easy. I wrote my first robot story when I was nineteen, and I wrote them, on and off, for over thirty years without really believing that robots would ever come into existence in any real sense-at least not in my lifetime. The result was that I never once wrote a serious essay on robotics. I might as well expect myself to have written serious essays on Galactic empires and psychohistory. In fact, my 1956 piece is not a serious discussion of robotics but merely a consideration of the use of robots in science fiction.
It was not till the mid-1970s, with the development of the microchip, that computers grew small enough, versatile enough, and cheap enough to allow computerized machinery to become practical for industrial use. Thus, the industrial robot arrived-extremely simple compared to my imaginary robots, but clearly en route.
And, as it happened, in 1974, just as robots were becoming real, I began to write essays on current developments in science, first for American Way magazine and then for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. It became natural to write an occasional piece on real robotics. In addition, Byron Preiss Visual Publications, Inc., began to put out a remarkable series of books under the general title of Isaac Asimov’s Robot City, and I was asked to do essays on robotics for each of them. So it came about that before 1974, I wrote virtually no essays on robotics, and after 1974 quite a few. It’s not my fault, after all, if science finally catches up to my simpler notions.
You are now ready to plunge into the book itself. Please remember that the stories, written at different times over a period of half a century, may be mutually inconsistent here and there. As for the concluding essays-written at different times for different outlets-they are repetitious here and there. Please forgive me in each case.
I suppose I should start by telling you who I am. I am a very junior member of the Temporal Group. The Temporalists (for those of you who have been too busy trying to survive in this harsh world of 2030 to pay much attention to the advance of technology) are the aristocrats of physics these days.
They deal with that most intractable of problems-that of moving through time at a speed different from the steady temporal progress of the Universe. In short, they are trying to develop time-travel.
And what am I doing with these people, when I myself am not even a physicist, but merely a-? Well, merely a merely.
Despite my lack of qualification, it was actually a remark I made some time before that inspired the Temporalists to work out the concept of VPIT (“virtual paths in time”).
You see, one of the difficulties in traveling through time is that your base does not stay in one place relative to the Universe as a whole. The Earth is moving about the Sun; the Sun about the Galactic center; the Galaxy about the center of gravity of the Local Group-well, you get the idea. If you move one day into the future or the past-just one day-Earth has moved some 2.5 million kilometers in its orbit about the Sun. And the Sun has moved in its journey, carrying Earth with it, and so has everything else.
Therefore, you must move through space as well as through time, and it was my remark that led to a line of argument that showed that this was possible; that one could travel with the space-time motion of the Earth not in a literal, but in a “virtual” way that would enable a time-traveler to remain with his base on Earth wherever he went in time. It would be useless for me to try to explain that mathematically if you have not had Temporalist training. Just accept the matter.
It was also a remark of mine that led the Temporalists to develop a line of reasoning that showed that travel into the past was impossible. Key terms in the equations would have to rise beyond infinity when the temporal signs were changed.
It made sense. It was clear that a trip into the past would be sure to change events there at least slightly, and no matter how slight a change might be introduced into the past, it would alter the present; very likely drastically. Since the past should seem fixed, it makes sense that travel back in time is impossible.
The future, however, is not fixed, so that travel into the future and back again from it would be possible.
I was not particularly rewarded for my remarks. I imagine the Temporalist team assumed I had been fortunate in my speculations and it was they who were entirely the clever ones in picking up what I had said and carrying it through to useful conclusions. I did not resent that, considering the circumstances, but was merely very glad-delighted, in fact-since because of that (I think) they allowed me to continue to work with them and to be part of the project, even though I was merely a-well, merely.
Naturally, it took years to work out a practical device for time travel, even after the theory was established, but I don’t intend to write a serious treatise on Temporality. It is my intention to write of only certain parts of the project, and to do so for only the future inhabitants of the planet, and not for our contemporaries.
Even after inanimate objects had been sent into the future-and then animals-we were not satisfied. All objects disappeared; all, it seemed, traveled into the future. When we sent them short distances into the future-five minutes or five days-they eventually appeared again, seemingly unharmed, unchanged, and, if alive to begin with, still alive and in good health.
But what was wanted was to send something far into the future and bring it back.
“We’d have to send it at least two hundred years into the future,” said one Temporalist. “The important point is to see what the future is like and to have the vision reported back to us. We have to know whether humanity will survive and under what conditions, and two hundred years should be long enough to be sure. Frankly, I think the chances of survival are poor. Living conditions and the environment about us have deteriorated badly over the last century.”
(There is no use in trying to describe which Temporalist said what. There were a couple of dozen of them altogether, and it makes no difference to the tale I am telling as to which one spoke at anyone time, even if I were sure I could remember which one said what. Therefore, I shall simply say “said a Temporalist,” or “one said,” or “some of them said,” or “another said,” and I assure you it will all be sufficiently clear to you. Naturally, I shall specify my own statements and that of one other, but you will see that those exceptions are essential.)
Another Temporalist said rather gloomily, “I don’t think I want to know the future, if it means finding out that the human race is to be wiped out or that it will exist only as miserable remnants.”
“Why not?” said another. “We can find out in shorter trips exactly what happened and then do our best to so act, out of our special knowledge, as to change the future in a preferred direction. The future, unlike the past, is not fixed.”
But then the question arose as to who was to go. It was clear that the Temporalists each felt himself or herself to be just a bit too valuable to risk on a technique that might not yet be perfected despite the success of experiments on objects that were not alive; or, if alive, objects that lacked a brain of the incredible complexity that a human being owned. The brain might survive, but, perhaps, not quite all its complexity might.
I realized that of them all I was least valuable and might be considered the logical candidate. Indeed, I was on the point of raising my hand as a volunteer, but my facial expression must have given me away for one of the Temporalists said, rather impatiently, “Not you. Even you are too valuable.” (Not very complimentary.) “The thing to do,” he went on, “is to send RG-32.”
That did make sense. RG-32 was a rather old-fashioned robot, eminently replaceable. He could observe and report-perhaps without quite the ingenuity and penetration of a human being-but well enough. He would be without fear, intent only on following his orders, and he could be expected to tell the truth.
I was rather surprised at myself for not seeing that from the start, and for foolishly considering volunteering myself. Perhaps, I thought, I had some sort of instinctive feeling that I ought to put myself into a position where I could serve the others. In any case, it was RG-32 that was the logical choice; indeed, the only one.
In some ways, it was not difficult to explain what we needed. Archie (it was customary to call a robot by some common perversion of his serial number) did not ask for reasons, or for guarantees of his safety. He would accept any order he was capable of understanding and following, with the same lack of emotionality that he would display if asked to raise his hand. He would have to, being a robot.
The details took time, however.
“Once you are in the future,” one of the senior Temporalists said, “you may stay for as long as you feel you can make useful observations. When you are through, you will return to your machine and come back with it to the very moment that you left by adjusting the controls in a manner which we will explain to you. You will leave and to us it will seem that you will be back a split-second later, even though to yourself it may have seemed that you had spent a week in the future, or five years. Naturally, you will have to make sure the machine is stored in a safe place while you are gone, which should not be difficult since it is quite light. And you will have to remember where you stored the machine and how to get back to it.”
What made the briefing even longer lay in the fact that one Temporalist after another would remember a new difficulty. Thus, one of them said suddenly, “How much do you think the language will have changed in two centuries?”
Naturally, there was no answer to that and a great debate grew as to whether there might be no chance of communication whatever, that Archie would neither understand nor make himself understood.
Finally, one Temporalist said, rather curtly, “See here, the English language has been becoming ever more nearly universal for several centuries and that is sure to continue for two more. Nor has it changed significantly in the last two hundred years, so why should it do so in the next two hundred? Even if it has, there are bound to be scholars who would be able to speak what they might call ‘ancient English. ‘ And even if there were not, Archie would still be able to make useful observations. Determining whether a functioning society exists does not necessarily require talk.”
Other problems arose. What if he found himself facing hostility? What if the people of the future found and destroyed the machine, either out of malevolence or ignorance?
One Temporalist said, “It might be wise to design a Temporal engine so miniaturized that it could be carried in one’s clothing. Under such conditions one could at any time leave a dangerous position very quickly.”
“Even if it were possible at all,” snapped another, “it would probably take so long to design so miniaturized a machine that we-or rather our successors-would reach a time two centuries hence without the necessity of using a machine at all. No, if an accident of some sort takes place, Archie simply won’t return and we’ll just have to try again.”
This was said with Archie present, but that didn’t matter, of course. Archie could contemplate being marooned in time, or even his own destruction, with equanimity, provided he were following orders. The Second Law of Robotics, which makes it necessary for a robot to follow orders, takes precedence over the Third, which makes it necessary for him to protect his own existence.
In the end, of course, all had been said, and no one could any longer think of a warning, or an objection, or a possibility that had not been thoroughly aired.
Archie repeated all he had been told with robotic calmness and precision, and the next step was to teach him how to use the machine. And he learned that, too, with robotic calmness and precision.
You must understand that the general public did not know, at that time, that time-travel was being investigated. It was not an expensive project as long as it was a matter of working on theory, but experimental work had punished the budget and was bound to punish it still more. This was most uncomfortable for scientists engaged in an endeavor that seemed totally “blue-sky.”
If there was a large failure, given the state of the public purse, there would be a loud outcry on the part of the people, and the project might be doomed. The Temporalists all agreed, without even the necessity of debate, that only success could be reported, and that until such a success was recorded, the public would have to learn very little, if anything at all. And so this experiment, the crucial one, was heart-stopping for everyone.
We gathered at an isolated spot of the semi-desert, an artfully protected area given over to Project Four. (Even the name was intended to give no real hint of the nature of the work, but it always struck me that most people thought of time as a kind of fourth dimension and that someone ought therefore guess what we were doing. Yet no one ever did, to my knowledge.)
Then, at a certain moment, at which time there was a great deal of breath-holding, Archie, inside the machine, raised one hand to signify he was about to make his move. Half a breath later-if anyone had been breathing-the machine flickered.
It was a very rapid flicker. I wasn’t sure that I had observed it. It seemed to me that I had merely assumed it ought to flicker, if it returned to nearly the instant at which it left-and I saw what I was convinced I ought to see. I meant to ask the others if they, too, had seen a flicker, but I always hesitated to address them unless they spoke to me first. They were very important people, and I was merely-but I’ve said that. Then, too, in the excitement of questioning Archie, I forgot the matter of the flicker. It wasn’t at all important.
So brief an interval was there between leaving and returning that we might well have thought that he hadn’t left at all, but there was no question of that. The machine had definitely deteriorated. It had simply faded.
Nor was Archie, on emerging from the machine, much better off. He was not the same Archie that had entered that machine. There was a shopworn look about him, a dullness to his finish, a slight unevenness to his surface where he might have undergone collisions, an odd manner in the way he looked about as though he were re-experiencing an almost forgotten scene. I doubt that there was a single person there who felt for one moment that Archie had not been absent, as far as his own sensation of time was concerned, for a long interval.
In fact, the first question he was asked was, “How long have you been away?”
Archie said, “Five years, sir. It was a time interval that had been mentioned in my instructions and I wished to do a thorough job.”
“Come, that’s a hopeful fact,” said one Temporalist. “If the world were a mass of destruction, surely it would not have taken five years to gather that fact.“
And yet not one of them dared say: well, Archie, was the Earth a mass of destruction?
They waited for him to speak, and for a while, he also waited, with robotic politeness, for them to ask. After a while, however, Archie’s need to obey orders, by reporting his observations, overcame whatever there was in his positronic circuits that made it necessary for him to seem polite.
Archie said, “ All was well on the Earth of the future. The social structure was intact and working well.”
“Intact and working well?” said one Temporalist, acting as though he were shocked at so heretical a notion. “Everywhere?”
“The inhabitants of the world were most kind. They took me to every part of the globe. All was prosperous and peaceful.”
The Temporalists looked at each other. It seemed easier for them to believe that Archie was wrong, or mistaken, than that the Earth of the future was prosperous and peaceful. It had seemed to me always that, despite all optimistic statements to the contrary, it was taken almost as an article of faith, that Earth was on the point of social, economic, and, perhaps, even physical destruction.
They began to question him thoroughly. One shouted, “What about the forests? They’re almost gone.”
“There was a huge project,” said Archie, “for the reforestation of the land, sir. Wilderness has been restored where possible. Genetic engineering has been used imaginatively to restore wildlife where related species existed in zoos or as pets. Pollution is a thing of the past. The world of 2230 is a world of natural peace and beauty.”
“You are sure of all this?” asked a Temporalist.
“No spot on Earth was kept secret. I was shown all I asked to see.”
Another Temporalist said, with sudden severity, “ Archie, listen to me. It may be that you have seen a ruined Earth, but hesitate to tell us this for fear we will be driven to despair and suicide. In your eagerness to do us no harm, you may be lying to us. This must not happen, Archie. You must tell us the truth.”
Archie said, calmly, “I am telling the truth, sir. If I were lying, no matter what my motive for it might be, my positronic potentials would be in an abnormal state. That could be tested.”
“He’s right there,” muttered a Temporalist.
He was tested on the spot. He was not allowed to say another word while this was done. I watched with interest while the potentiometers recorded their findings, which were then analyzed by computer. There was no question about it. Archie was perfectly normal. He could not be lying.
He was then questioned again. “What about the cities?”
“There are no cities of our kind, sir. Life is much more decentralized in 2230 than with us, in the sense that there are no large and concentrated clumps of humanity. On the other hand, there is so intricate a communication network that humanity is all one loose clump, so to speak.”
“And space? Has space exploration been renewed?”
Archie said, “The Moon is quite well developed, sir. It is an inhabited world. There are space settlements in orbit about the Earth and about Mars. There are settlements being carved out in the asteroid belt.”
“You were told all this?” asked one Temporalist, suspiciously.
“This is not a matter of hearsay, sir. I have been in space. I remained on the Moon for two months. I lived on a space settlement about Mars for a month, and visited both Phobos and Mars itself. There is some hesitation about colonizing Mars. There are opinions that it should be seeded with lower forms of life and left to itself without the intervention of the Earthpeople. I did not actually visit the asteroid belt.”
One Temporalist said, “Why do you suppose they were so nice to you, Archie? So cooperative?”
“I received the impression, sir,” said Archie, “that they had some notion I might be arriving. A distant rumor. A vague belief. They seemed to have been waiting for me.
“Did they say they had expected you to arrive? Did they say there were records that we had sent you forward in time?”
“Did you ask them about it?”
“Yes, sir. It was impolite to do so but I had been ordered carefully to observe everything I could, so I had to ask them-but they refused to tell me.”
Another Temporalist put in, “Were there many other things they refused to tell you?”
“A number, sir.”
One Temporalist stroked his chin thoughtfully at this point and said, “Then there must be something wrong about all this. What is the population of the Earth in 2230, Archie? Did they tell you that?”
“Yes, sir. I asked. There are just under a billion people on Earth in 2230. There are 150 million in space. The numbers on Earth are stable. Those in space are growing.”
“Ah, “ said a Temporalist, “but there are nearly ten billion people on Earth now, with half of them in serious misery. How did these people of the future get rid of nearly nine billion?”
“I asked them that, sir. They said it was a sad time.”
“A sad time?”
“In what way?”
“They did not say, sir. They simply said it was a sad time and would say no more.”
One Temporalist who was of African origin said coldly, “What kind of people did you see in 2230?”
“What kind, sir?”
“Skin color? Shape of eyes?”
Archie said, “It was in 2230 as it is today, sir. There were different kinds; different shades of skin color, hair form, and so on. The average height seemed greater than it is today, though I did not study the statistics. The people seemed younger, stronger, healthier. In fact, I saw no undernourishment, no obesity, no illness-but there was a rich variety of appearances.”
“No genocide, then?”
“No signs of it, sir,” said Archie. He went on, “There were also no signs of crime or war or repression.”
“Well,” said one Temporalist, in a tone as though he were reconciling himself, with difficulty, to good news, “it seems like a happy ending.”
“A happy ending, perhaps,” said another, “but it’s almost too good to accept. It’s like a return of Eden. What was done, or will be done, to bring it about? I don’t like that ‘sad time.’ “
“Of course,” said a third, “there’s no need for us to sit about and speculate. We can send Archie one hundred years into the future, fifty years into the future. We can find out, for what it’s worth, just what happened; I mean, just what will happen.”
“I don’t think so, sir,” said Archie. “They told me quite specifically and carefully that there are no records of anyone from the past having arrived earlier than their own time-the day I arrived. It was their opinion that if any further investigations were made of the time period between now and the time I arrived, that the future would be changed.”
There was almost a sickening silence. Archie was sent away and cautioned to keep everything firmly in mind for further questioning. I half expected them to send me away, too, since I was the only person there without an advanced degree in Temporal Engineering, but they must have grown accustomed to me, and I, of course, didn’t suggest on my own that I leave.
“The point is,” said one Temporalist, “that it is a happy ending. Anything we do from this point on might spoil it. They were expecting Archie to arrive; they were expecting him to report; they didn’t tell him anything they didn’t want him to report; so we’re still safe. Things will develop as they have been.”
“It may even be,” said another, hopefully, “that the knowledge of Archie’s arrival and the report they sent him back to make helped develop the happy ending.”
“Perhaps, but if we do anything else, we may spoil things. I prefer not to think about the sad time they speak of, but if we try something now, that sad time may still come and be even worse than it was-or will be-and the happy ending won’t develop, either. I think we have no choice but to abandon Temporal experiments and not talk about them, either. Announce failure.”
“That would be unbearable.”
“It’s the only safe thing to do.”
“Wait,” said one. “They knew Archie was coming, so there must have been a report that the experiments were successful. We don’t have to make failures of ourselves.”
“I don’t think so,” said still another. “They heard rumors; they had a distant notion. It was that sort of thing, according to Archie. I presume there may be leaks, but surely not an outright announcement.”
And that was how it was decided. For days, they thought, and occasionally discussed the matter, but with greater and greater trepidation. I could see the result coming with inexorable certainty. I contributed nothing to the discussion, of course-they scarcely seemed to know I was there-but there was no mistaking the gathering apprehension in their voices. Like those biologists in the very early days of genetic engineering who voted to limit and hedge in their experiments for fear that some new plague might be inadvertently loosed on unsuspecting humanity, the Temporalists decided, in terror, that the Future must not be tampered with or even searched.
It was enough, they said, that they now knew there would be a good and wholesome society, two centuries hence. They must not inquire further, they dared not interfere by the thickness of a fingernail, lest they ruin all. And they retreated into theory only.
One Temporalist sounded the final retreat. He said, “Someday, humanity will grow wise enough, and develop ways of handling the future that are subtle enough to risk observation and perhaps even manipulation along the course of time, but the moment for that has not yet come. It is still long in the future.” And there had been a whisper of applause.
Who was I, less than any of those engaged in Project Four, that I should disagree and go my own way? Perhaps it was the courage I gained in being so much less than they were-the valor of the insufficiently advanced. I had not had initiative beaten out of me by too much specialization or by too long a life of too deep thought.
At any rate, I spoke to Archie a few days later, when my own work assignments left me some free time. Archie knew nothing about training or about academic distinctions. To him, I was a man and a master, like any other man and master, and he spoke to me as such.
I said to him, “How did these people of the future regard the people of their past? Were they censorious? Did they blame them for their follies and stupidities?”
Archie said, “They did not say anything to make me feel this, sir. They were amused by the simplicity of my construction and by my existence, and it seemed to me they smiled at me and at the people who constructed me, in a good-humored way. They themselves had no robots.”
“No robots at all, Archie?”
“They said there was nothing comparable to myself, sir. They said they needed no metal caricatures of humanity.”
“And you didn’t see any?”
“None, sir. In all my time there, I saw not one.”
I thought about that a while, then said, “What did they think of other aspects of our society?”
“I think they admired the past in many ways, sir. They showed me museums dedicated to what they called the ‘period of unrestrained growth. ‘ Whole cities had been turned into museums.”
“You said there were no cities in the world of two centuries hence, Archie. No cities in our sense.”
“It was not their cities that were museums, sir, but the relics of ours. AU of Manhattan Island was a museum, carefully preserved and restored to the period of its peak greatness. I was taken through it with several guides for hours, because they wanted to ask me questions about authenticity. I could help them very little, for I have never been to Manhattan. They seemed proud of Manhattan. There were other preserved cities, too, as well as carefully preserved machinery of the past, libraries of printed books, displays of past fashions in clothing, furniture, and other minutiae of daily life, and so on. They said that the people of our time had not been wise but they had created a firm base for future advance.”
“And did you see young people? Very young people, I mean. Infants?”
“Did they talk about any?”
I said, “Very well, Archie. Now, listen to me-”
If there was one thing I understood better than the Temporalists, it was robots. Robots were simply black boxes to them, to be ordered about, and to be left to maintenance men-or discarded-if they went wrong. I, however, understood the positronic circuitry of robots quite well, and I could handle Archie in ways my colleagues would never suspect. And I did.
I was quite sure the Temporalists would not question him again, out of their newfound dread of interfering with time, but if they did, he would not tell them those things I felt they ought not to know. And Archie himself would not know that there was anything he was not telling them.
I spent some time thinking about it, and I grew more and more certain in my mind as to what had happened in the course of the next two centuries.
You see, it was a mistake to send Archie. He was a primitive robot, and to him people were people. He did not-could not-differentiate. It did not surprise him that human beings had grown so civilized and humane. His circuitry forced him, in any case, to view all human beings as civilized and human; even as god-like, to use an old-fashioned phrase.
The Temporalists themselves, being human, were surprised and even a bit incredulous at the robot vision presented by Archie, one in which human beings had grown so noble and good. But, being human, the Temporalists wanted to believe what they heard and forced themselves to do so against their own common sense.
I, in my way, was more intelligent than the Temporalists, or perhaps merely more clear-eyed.
I asked myself if population decreased from ten billion to one billion in the course of two centuries, why did it not decrease from ten billion to zero? There would be so little difference between the two alternatives.
Who were the billion who survived? They were stronger than the other nine billion, perhaps? More enduring? More resistant to privation? And they were also more sensible, more rational, and more virtuous than the nine billion who died as was quite clear from Archie’s picture of the world of two hundred years hence.
In short, then, were they human at all?
They smiled at Archie in mild derision and boasted that they had no robots; that they needed no metal caricatures of humanity.
What if they had organic duplicates of humanity instead? What if they had humaniform robots; robots so like human beings as to be indistinguishable from them, at least to the eyes and senses of a robot like Archie? What if the people of the future were humaniform robots, all of them, robots that had survived some overwhelming catastrophe that human beings had not?
There were no babies. Archie had seen none. To be sure, population was stable and long-lived on Earth, so there would be few babies in any case. Those few would be taken care of, made much of, be well-guarded, and might not be distributed carelessly through society. But Archie had been on the Moon for two months and population there was growing-and he had still seen no babies.
Perhaps these people of the future were constructed rather than born.
And perhaps this was a good thing. If human beings had died out through their own rages, hatreds, and stupidities, they had at least left behind a worthy successor; a kind of intelligent being that valued the past, preserved it, and moved on into the future, doing their best to fulfill the aspirations of humanity, in building a better, kinder world and in moving out into space perhaps more efficiently than we “real” human beings would have.
How many intelligent beings in the Universe had died out leaving no successor? Perhaps we were the first ever to leave such a legacy.
We had a right to feel proud.
Ought I to tell all this to the world? Or even to the Temporalists? I did not consider that for a moment.
For one thing, they were likely not to believe me. For another, if they did believe me, in their rage at the thought of being replaced by robots of any kind, would they not turn on them and destroy every robot in the world and refuse ever to build others? This would mean that Archie’s vision of the future, and my own vision, would never come to pass. That, however, would not stop the conditions that were to destroy humanity. It would just prevent a replacement; stop another group of beings, made by humans and honoring humans, from carrying human aspirations and dreams through all the Universe.
I did not want that to happen. I wanted to make sure Archie’s vision, and my own improvement of it, would come to pass.
I am writing this, therefore, and I will see to it that it will be hidden, and kept safe, so that it will be opened only two hundred years from now, a little sooner than the time at which Archie will arrive. Let the humaniform robots know that they should treat him well and send him home safely, carrying with him only the information that would cause the Temporalists to decide to interfere with Time no more, so that the future can develop in its own tragic/happy way.
And what makes me so sure I am right? Because I am in a unique position to know that I am.
I have said several times that I am inferior to the Temporalists. At least I am inferior to them in their eyes, though this very inferiority makes me more clear-eyed in certain respects, as I have said before, and gives me a better understanding of robots, as I have also said before.
Because, you see, I, too, am a robot.
I am the first humaniform robot, and it is on me and on those of my kind that are yet to be constructed that the future of humanity depends.
The Three Laws Of Robotics
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where that would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Gregory Arnfeld was not actually dying, but certainly there was a sharp limit to how long he might live. He had inoperable cancer and he had refused, strenuously, all suggestions of chemical treatment or of radiation therapy.
He smiled at his wife as he lay propped up against the pillows and said, “I’m the perfect case. Tertia and Mike will handle it.”
Tertia did not smile. She looked dreadfully concerned. “There are so many things that can be done, Gregory. Surely Mike is a last resort. You may not need it.”
“No, no. By the time they’re done drenching me with chemicals and dowsing me with radiation, I would be so far gone that it wouldn’t be a reasonable test…And please don’t call Mike ‘it.’“
“This is the twenty-second century, Greg. There are so many ways of handling cancer.”
“Yes, but Mike is one of them, and I think the best. This is the twenty-second century, and we know what robots can do. Certainly, I know. I had more to do with Mike than anyone else. You know that.”
“But you can’t want to use him just out of pride of design. Besides, how certain are you of miniaturization? That’s an even newer technique than robotics.”
Arnfeld nodded. “Granted, Tertia. But the miniaturization boys seem confident. They can reduce or restore Planck’s constant in what they say is a reasonably foolproof manner, and the controls that make that possible are built into Mike. He can make himself smaller or larger at win without affecting his surroundings.”
“Reasonably foolproof,” said Tertia with soft bitterness.
“That’s an anyone can ask for, surely. Think of it, Tertia. I am privileged to be part of the experiment. I’ll go down in history as the principal designer of Mike, but that will be secondary. My greatest feat will be that of having been successfully treated by a minirobot-by my own choice, by my own initiative.”
“You know it’s dangerous.”
“There’s danger to everything. Chemicals and radiation have their side effects. They can slow without stopping. They can allow me to live a wearying sort of half-life. And doing nothing win certainly kin me. If Mike does his job properly, I shall be completely healthy, and if it recurs” -Arnfeld smiled joyously-”Mike can recur as well.”
He put out his hand to grasp hers. “Tertia, we’ve known this was coming, you and I. Let’s make something out of this-a glorious experiment. Even if it fails-and it won’t fail-it will be a glorious experiment.”
Louis Secundo, of the miniaturization group, said, “No, Mrs. Arnfeld. We can’t guarantee success. Miniaturization is intimately involved with quantum mechanics, and there is a strong element of the unpredictable there. As MIK-27 reduces his size, there is always the chance that a sudden unplanned reexpansion will take place, naturally killing the-the patient. The greater the reduction in size, the tinier the robot becomes, the greater the chance of reexpansion. And once he starts expanding again, the chance of a sudden accelerated burst is even higher. The reexpansion is the really dangerous part.”
Tertia shook her head. “Do you think it will happen?”
“The chances are it won’t, Mrs. Arnfeld. But the chance is never zero. You must understand that.“
“Does Dr. Arnfeld understand that?”
“Certainly. We have discussed this in detail. He feels that the circumstances warrant the risk. “ He hesitated. “So do we. I know that you’ll see we’re not all running the risk, but a few of us will be, and we nevertheless feel the experiment to be worthwhile. More important, Dr. Arnfeld does.”
“What if Mike makes a mistake or reduces himself too far because of a glitch in the mechanism? Then reexpansion would be certain, wouldn’t it?”
“It never becomes quite certain. It remains statistical. The chances improve if he gets too small. But then the smaller he gets, the less massive he is, and at some critical point, mass will become so insignificant that the least effort on his part will send him flying off at nearly the speed of light.”
“Well, won’t that kill the doctor?”
“No. By that time, Mike would be so small he would slip between the atoms of the doctor’s body without affecting them.”
“But how likely would it be that he would reexpand when he’s that small?”
“When MIK-27 approaches neutrino size, so to speak, his half-life would be in the neighborhood of seconds. That is, the chances are fifty-fifty that he would reexpand within seconds, but by the time he reexpanded, he would be a hundred thousand miles away in outer space and the explosion that resulted would merely produce a small burst of gamma rays for the astronomers to puzzle over. Still, none of that will happen. MIK-27 will have his instructions and he will reduce himself to no smaller than he will need to be to carry out his mission.”
Mrs. Arnfeld knew she would have to face the press one way or another. She had adamantly refused to appear on holovision, and the right-to-privacy provision of the World Charter protected her. On the other hand, she could not refuse to answer questions on a voice-over basis. The right-to-know provision would not allow a blanket blackout.
She sat stiffly, while the young woman facing her said, “ Aside from all that, Mrs. Arnfeld, isn’t it a rather weird coincidence that your husband, chief designer of Mike the Microbot, should also be its first patient?”
“Not at all, Miss Roth,” said Mrs. Arnfeld wearily. “The doctor’s condition is the result of a predisposition. There have been others in his family who have had it. He told me of it when we married, so I was in no way deceived in the matter, and it was for that reason. that we have had no children. It is also for that reason that my husband chose his lifework and labored so assiduously to produce a robot capable of miniaturization. He always felt he would be its patient eventually, you see.”
Mrs. Arnfeld insisted on interviewing Mike and, under the circumstances, that could not be denied. Ben Johannes, who had worked with her husband for five years and whom she know well enough to be on first-name terms with, brought her into the robot’s quarters.
Mrs. Arnfeld had seen Mike soon after his construction, when he was being put through his primary tests, and he remembered her. He said, in his curiously neutral voice, too smoothly average to be quite human, “I am pleased to see you, Mrs. Arnfeld.”
He was not a well-shaped robot. He looked pinheaded and very bottom heavy. He was almost conical, point upward. Mrs. Arnfeld knew that was because his miniaturization mechanism was bulky and abdominal and because his brain had to be abdominal as well in order to increase the speed of response. It was an unnecessary anthropomorphism to insist on a brain behind a tall cranium, her husband had explained. Yet it made Mike seem ridiculous, almost moronic. There were psychological advantages to anthropomorphism, Mrs. Arnfeld thought, uneasily.
“Are you sure you understand your task, Mike?” said Mrs. Arnfeld.
“Completely, Mrs. Arnfeld,” said Mike. “I will see to it that every vestige of cancer is removed.”
Johannes said, “I’m not sure if Gregory explained it, but Mike can easily recognize a cancer cell when he is at the proper size. The difference is unmistakable, and he can quickly destroy the nucleus of any cell that is not normal.”
“I am laser equipped, Mrs. Arnfeld,” said Mike, with an odd air of unexpressed pride.
“Yes, but there are millions of cancer cells all over. It would take how long to get them, one by one?”
“Not quite necessarily one by one, Tertia,” said Johannes. “Even though the cancer is widespread, it exists in clumps. Mike is equipped to burn off and close capillaries leading to the clump, and a million cells could die at a stroke in that fashion. He will only occasionally have to deal with cells on an individual basis.”
“Still, how long would it take?”
Johannes’s youngish face went into a grimace as though it were difficult to decide what to say. “It could take hours, Tertia, if we’re to do a thorough job. I admit that.”
“And every moment of those hours will increase the chance of reexpansion.”
Mike said, “Mrs. Arnfeld, I will labor to prevent reexpansion.”
Mrs. Arnfeld turned to the robot and said earnestly, “Can you, Mike? I mean, is it possible for you to prevent it?”
“Not entirely, Mrs. Arnfeld. By monitoring my size and making an effort to keep it constant, I can minimize the random changes that might lead to a reexpansion. Naturally, it is almost impossible to do this when I am actually reexpanding under controlled conditions.”
“Yes, I know. My husband has told me that reexpansion is the most dangerous time. But you will try, Mike? Please?”
“The laws of robotics ensure that I will, Mrs. Arnfeld,” said Mike solemnly.
As they left, Johannes said in what Mrs. Arnfeld understood to be an attempt at reassurance, “Really, Tertia, we have a holo-sonogram and a detailed cat scan of the area. Mike knows the precise location of every significant cancerous lesion. Most of his time will be spent searching for small lesions undetectable by instruments, but that can’t be helped. We must get them all, if we can, you see, and that takes time. Mike is strictly instructed, however, as to how small to get, and he will get no smaller, you can be sure. A robot must obey orders.”
“And the reexpansion, Ben?”
“There, Tertia, we’re in the lap of the quanta. There is no way of predicting, but there is a more than reasonable chance that he will get out without trouble. Naturally, we will have him reexpand within Gregory’s body as little as possible-just enough to make us reasonably certain we can find and extract him. He will then be rushed to the safe room where the rest of the reexpansion will take place. Please, Tertia, even ordinary medical procedures have their risk.”
Mrs. Arnfeld was in the observation room as the miniaturization of Mike took place. So were the holovision cameras and selected media representatives. The importance of the medical experiment made it impossible to prevent that, but Mrs. Arnfeld was in a niche with only Johannes for company, and it was understood that she was not to be approached for comment, particularly if anything untoward occurred.
Untoward! A full and sudden reexpansion would blow up the entire operating room and kill every person in it. It was not for nothing the observation room was underground and half a mile away from the viewing room.
It gave Mrs. Arnfeld a somewhat grisly sense of assurance that the three miniaturists who were working on the procedure (so calmly, it would seem-so calmly) were condemned to death as firmly as her husband was in case of-anything untoward. Surely, she could rely on them protecting their own lives to the extreme; they would not, therefore, be cavalier in the protection of her husband.
Eventually, of course, if the procedure were successful, ways would be worked out to perform it in automated fashion, and only the patient would be at risk. Then, perhaps, the patient might be more easily sacrificed through carelessness-but not now, not now. Mrs. Arnfeld keenly watched the three, working under imminent sentence of death for any sign of discomposure.
She watched the miniaturization procedure (she had seen it before) and saw Mike grow smaller and disappear. She watched the elaborate procedure that injected him into the proper place in her husband’s body. (It had been explained to her that it would have been prohibitively expensive to inject human beings in a submarine device instead. Mike, at least, needed no life-support system.)
Then matters shifted to the screen, in which the appropriate section of the body was shown in holosonogram. It was a three-dimensional representation, cloudy and unfocused, made imprecise through a combination of the finite size of the sound waves and the effects of Brownian motion. It showed Mike dimly and noiselessly making his way through Gregory Arnfeld’s tissues by way of his bloodstream. It was almost impossible to tell what he was doing, but Johannes described the events to her in a low, satisfied manner, until she could listen to him no more and asked to be led away.
She had been mildly sedated, and she had slept until evening, when Johannes came to see her. She had not been long awake and it took her a moment to gather her faculties. Then she said, in sudden and overwhelming fear, “What has happened?”
Johannes said, hastily, “Success, Tertia. Complete success. Your husband is cured. We can’t stop the cancer from recurring, but for now he is cured.”
She fell back in relief. “Oh, wonderful.”
“Just the same, something unexpected has happened and this will have to be explained to Gregory. We felt that it would be best if you did the explaining. ‘,
“I?” Then, in a renewed access of fear, “What has happened?” Johannes told her.
It was two days before she could see her husband for more than a moment or two. He was sitting up in bed, looking a little pale, but smiling at her.
“A new lease on life, Tertia,” he said buoyantly.
“Indeed, Greg, I was quite wrong. The experiment succeeded and they tell me they can’t find a trace of cancer in you.”
“Well, we can’t be too confident about that. There may be a cancerous cell here and there, but perhaps my immune system will handle it, especially with the proper medication, and if it ever builds up again, which might well take years, we’ll call on Mike again.”
At this point, he frowned and said, “You know, I haven’t seen Mike.”
Mrs. Arnfeld maintained a discreet silence.
Arnfeld said, “They’ve been putting me off.”
“You’ve been weak, dear, and sedated. Mike was poking through your tissues and doing a little necessary destructive work here and there. Even with a successful operation you need time for recovery.”
“If I’ve recovered enough to see you, surely I’ve recovered enough to see Mike, at least long enough to thank him.”
“A robot doesn’t need to receive thanks.”
“Of course not, but I need to give it. Do me a favor, Tertia. Go out there and tell them I want Mike right away.”
Mrs. Arnfeld hesitated, then came to a decision. Waiting would make the task harder for everyone. She said carefully, “ Actually, dear, Mike is not available.”
“Not available! Why not?”
“He had to make a choice, you see. He had cleaned up your tissues marvelously well; he had done a magnificent job, everyone agrees; and then he had to undergo reexpansion. That was the risky part.”
“Yes, but here I am. Why are you making a long story out of it?”
“Mike decided to minimize the risk. “
“Naturally. What did he do?”
“Well, dear, he decided to make himself smaller. “
“What! He couldn’t. He was ordered not to.”
“That was Second Law, Greg. First Law took precedence. He wanted to make certain your life would be saved. He was equipped to control his own size, so he made himself smaller as rapidly as he could, and when he was far less massive than an electron he used his laser beam, which was by then too tiny to hurt anything in your body, and the recoil sent him flying away at nearly the speed of light. He exploded in outer space. The gamma rays were detected.”
Arnfeld stared at her. “You can’t mean it. Are you serious? Mike is dead?”
“That’s what happened. Mike could not refuse to take an action that might keep you from harm.”
“But I didn’t want that. I wanted him safe for further work. He wouldn’t have reexpanded uncontrollably. He would have gotten out safely.”
“He couldn’t be sure. He couldn’t risk your life, so he sacrificed his own.”
“But my life was less important than his.”
“Not to me, dear. Not to those who work with you. Not to anyone. Not even to Mike.” She put out her hand to him.
“Come, Greg, you’re alive. You’re well. That’s all that counts.”
But he pushed her hand aside impatiently. “That’s not all that counts. You don’t understand. Oh, too bad. Too bad!”
“Ninety-eight – ninety-nine – one hundred.” Gloria withdrew her chubby little forearm from before her eyes and stood for a moment, wrinkling her nose and blinking in the sunlight. Then, trying to watch in all directions at once, she withdrew a few cautious steps from the tree against which she had been leaning.
She craned her neck to investigate the possibilities of a clump of bushes to the right and then withdrew farther to obtain a better angle for viewing its dark recesses. The quiet was profound except for the incessant buzzing of insects and the occasional chirrup of some hardy bird, braving the midday sun.
Gloria pouted, “I bet he went inside the house, and I’ve told him a million times that that’s not fair.”
With tiny lips pressed together tightly and a severe frown crinkling her forehead, she moved determinedly toward the two-story building up past the driveway.
Too late she heard the rustling sound behind her, followed by the distinctive and rhythmic clump-clump of Robbie’s metal feet. She whirled about to see her triumphing companion emerge from hiding and make for the home-tree at full speed.
Gloria shrieked in dismay. “Wait, Robbie! That wasn’t fair, Robbie! You promised you wouldn’t run until I found you.” Her little feet could make no headway at all against Robbie’s giant strides. Then, within ten feet of the goal, Robbie’s pace slowed suddenly to the merest of crawls, and Gloria, with one final burst of wild speed, dashed pantingly past him to touch the welcome bark of home-tree first.
Gleefully, she turned on the faithful Robbie, and with the basest of ingratitude, rewarded him for his sacrifice by taunting him cruelly for a lack of running ability.
“Robbie can’t run,” she shouted at the top of her eight-year-old voice. “I can beat him any day. I can beat him any day.” She chanted the words in a shrill rhythm.
Robbie didn’t answer, of course – not in words. He pantomimed running instead, inching away until Gloria found herself running after him as he dodged her narrowly, forcing her to veer in helpless circles, little arms outstretched and fanning at the air.
“Robbie,” she squealed, “stand still!” – And the laughter was forced out of her in breathless jerks.
Until he turned suddenly and caught her up, whirling her round, so that for her the world fell away for a moment with a blue emptiness beneath, and green trees stretching hungrily downward toward the void. Then she was down in the grass again, leaning against Robbie’s leg and still holding a hard, metal finger.
After a while, her breath returned. She pushed uselessly at her disheveled hair in vague imitation of one of her mother’s gestures and twisted to see if her dress were torn.
She slapped her hand against Robbie’s torso, “Bad boy! I’ll spank you!”
And Robbie cowered, holding his hands over his face so that she had to add, “No, I won’t, Robbie. I won’t spank you. But anyway, it’s my turn to hide now because you’ve got longer legs and you promised not to run till I found you.”
Robbie nodded his head – a small parallelepiped with rounded edges and corners attached to a similar but much larger parallelepiped that served as torso by means of a short, flexible stalk – and obediently faced the tree. A thin, metal film descended over his glowing eyes and from within his body came a steady, resonant ticking.
“Don’t peek now – and don’t skip any numbers,” warned Gloria, and scurried for cover.
With unvarying regularity, seconds were ticked off, and at the hundredth, up went the eyelids, and the glowing red of Robbie’s eyes swept the prospect. They rested for a moment on a bit of colorful gingham that protruded from behind a boulder. He advanced a few steps and convinced himself that it was Gloria who squatted behind it.
Slowly, remaining always between Gloria and home-tree, he advanced on the hiding place, and when Gloria was plainly in sight and could no longer even theorize to herself that she was not seen, he extended one arm toward her, slapping the other against his leg so that it rang again. Gloria emerged sulkily.
“You peeked!” she exclaimed, with gross unfairness. “Besides I’m tired of playing hide-and-seek. I want a ride.”
But Robbie was hurt at the unjust accusation, so he seated himself carefully and shook his head ponderously from side to side.
Gloria changed her tone to one of gentle coaxing immediately, “Come on, Robbie. I didn’t mean it about the peeking. Give me a ride.”
Robbie was not to be won over so easily, though. He gazed stubbornly at the sky, and shook his head even more emphatically.
“Please, Robbie, please give me a ride.” She encircled his neck with rosy arms and hugged tightly. Then, changing moods in a moment, she moved away. “If you don’t, I’m going to cry,” and her face twisted appallingly in preparation.
Hard-hearted Robbie paid scant attention to this dreadful possibility, and shook his head a third time. Gloria found it necessary to play her trump card.
“If you don’t,” she exclaimed warmly, “I won’t tell you any more stories, that’s all. Not one-”
Robbie gave in immediately and unconditionally before this ultimatum, nodding his head vigorously until the metal of his neck hummed. Carefully, he raised the little girl and placed her on his broad, flat shoulders.
Gloria’s threatened tears vanished immediately and she crowed with delight. Robbie’s metal skin, kept at a constant temperature of seventy by the high resistance coils within, felt nice and comfortable, while the beautifully loud sound her heels made as they bumped rhythmically against his chest was enchanting.
“You’re an air-coaster, Robbie, you’re a big, silver aircoaster. Hold out your arms straight. – You got to, Robbie, if you’re going to be an aircoaster.”
The logic was irrefutable. Robbie’s arms were wings catching the air currents and he was a silver ‘coaster.
Gloria twisted the robot’s head and leaned to the right. He banked sharply. Gloria equipped the ‘coaster with a motor that went “Br-r-r” and then with weapons that went “Powie” and “Sh-sh-shshsh.” Pirates were giving chase and the ship’s blasters were coming into play. The pirates dropped in a steady rain.
“Got another one. Two more,” she cried.
Then “Faster, men,” Gloria said pompously, “we’re running out of ammunition.” She aimed over her shoulder with undaunted courage and Robbie was a blunt-nosed spaceship zooming through the void at maximum acceleration.
Clear across the field he sped, to the patch of tall grass on the other side, where he stopped with a suddenness that evoked a shriek from his flushed rider, and then tumbled her onto the soft, green carpet.
Gloria gasped and panted, and gave voice to intermittent whispered exclamations of “That was nice!”
Robbie waited until she had caught her breath and then pulled gently at a lock of hair.
“You want something?” said Gloria, eyes wide in an apparently artless complexity that fooled her huge “nursemaid” not at all. He pulled the curl harder.
“Oh, I know. You want a story.”
Robbie nodded rapidly.
Robbie made a semi-circle in the air with one finger.
The little girl protested, “Again? I’ve told you Cinderella a million times. Aren’t you tired of it? -It’s for babies.”
“Oh, well,” Gloria composed herself, ran over the details of the tale in her mind (together with her own elaborations, of which she had several) and began:
“Are you ready? Well – once upon a time there was a beautiful little girl whose name was Ella. And she had a terribly cruel step-mother and two very ugly and very cruel step-sisters and-”
Gloria was reaching the very climax of the tale – midnight was striking and everything was changing back to the shabby originals lickety-split, while Robbie listened tensely with burning eyes – when the interruption came.
It was the high-pitched sound of a woman who has been calling not once, but several times; and had the nervous tone of one in whom anxiety was beginning to overcome impatience.
“Mamma’s calling me,” said Gloria, not quite happily. “You’d better carry me back to the house, Robbie.”
Robbie obeyed with alacrity for somehow there was that in him which judged it best to obey Mrs. Weston, without as much as a scrap of hesitation. Gloria’s father was rarely home in the daytime except on Sunday – today, for instance – and when he was, he proved a genial and understanding person. Gloria’s mother, however, was a source of uneasiness to Robbie and there was always the impulse to sneak away from her sight.
Mrs. Weston caught sight of them the minute they rose above the masking tufts of long grass and retired inside the house to wait.
“I’ve shouted myself hoarse, Gloria,” she said, severely. “Where were you?”
“I was with Robbie,” quavered Gloria. “I was telling him Cinderella, and I forgot it was dinner-time.”
“Well, it’s a pity Robbie forgot, too.” Then, as if that reminded her of the robot’s presence, she whirled upon him. “You may go, Robbie. She doesn’t need you now.” Then, brutally, “And don’t come back till I call you.”
Robbie turned to go, but hesitated as Gloria cried out in his defense, “Wait, Mamma, you got to let him stay. I didn’t finish Cinderella for him. I said I would tell him Cinderella and I’m not finished.”
“Honest and truly, Mamma, he’ll stay so quiet, you won’t even know he’s here. He can sit on the chair in the corner, and he won’t say a word, I mean he won’t do anything. Will you, Robbie?”
Robbie, appealed to, nodded his massive head up and down once.
“Gloria, if you don’t stop this at once, you shan’t see Robbie for a whole week.”
The girl’s eyes fell, “All right! But Cinderella is his favorite story and I didn’t finish it. -And he likes it so much.”
The robot left with a disconsolate step and Gloria choked back a sob.
George Weston was comfortable. It was a habit of his to be comfortable on Sunday afternoons. A good, hearty dinner below the hatches; a nice, soft, dilapidated couch on which to sprawl; a copy of the Times; slippered feet and shirtless chest; how could anyone help but be comfortable?
He wasn’t pleased, therefore, when his wife walked in. After ten years of married life, be still was so unutterably foolish as to love her, and there was no question that he was always glad to see her – still Sunday afternoons just after dinner were sacred to him and his idea of solid comfort was to be left in utter solitude for two or three hours. Consequently, he fixed his eye firmly upon the latest reports of the Lefebre-Yoshida expedition to Mars (this one was to take off from Lunar Base and might actually succeed) and pretended she wasn’t there.
Mrs. Weston waited patiently for two minutes, then impatiently for two more, and finally broke the silence.
“George, I say! Will you put down that paper and look at me?”
The paper rustled to the floor and Weston turned a weary face toward his wife, “What is it, dear?”
“You know what it is, George. It’s Gloria and that terrible machine.”
“What terrible machine?”
“Now don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s that robot Gloria calls Robbie. He doesn’t leave her for a moment.”
“Well, why should he? He’s not supposed to. And he certainly isn’t a terrible machine. He’s the best darn robot money can buy and I’m damned sure he set me back half a year’s income. He’s worth it, though – darn sight cleverer than half my office staff.”
He made a move to pick up the paper again, but his wife was quicker and snatched it away.
“You listen to me, George. I won’t have my daughter entrusted to a machine – and I don’t care how clever it is. It has no soul, and no one knows what it may be thinking. A child just isn’t made to be guarded by a thing of metal.”
Weston frowned, “When did you decide this? He’s been with Gloria two years now and I haven’t seen you worry till now.”
“It was different at first. It was a novelty; it took a load off me, and – and it was a fashionable thing to do. But now I don’t know. The neighbors-”
“Well, what have the neighbors to do with it? Now, look. A robot is infinitely more to be trusted than a human nursemaid. Robbie was constructed for only one purpose really – to be the companion of a little child. His entire ‘mentality’ has been created for the purpose. He just can’t help being faithful and loving and kind. He’s a machine-made so. That’s more than you can say for humans.”
“But something might go wrong. Some- some-” Mrs. Weston was a bit hazy about the insides of a robot, “some little jigger will come loose and the awful thing will go berserk and- and-” She couldn’t bring herself to complete the quite obvious thought.
“Nonsense,” Weston denied, with an involuntary nervous shiver. “That’s completely ridiculous. We had a long discussion at the time we bought Robbie about the First Law of Robotics. You know that it is impossible for a robot to harm a human being; that long before enough can go wrong to alter that First Law, a robot would be completely inoperable. It’s a mathematical impossibility. Besides I have an engineer from U. S. Robots here twice a year to give the poor gadget a complete overhaul. Why, there’s no more chance of any thing at all going wrong with Robbie than there is of you or I suddenly going loony – considerably less, in fact. Besides, how are you going to take him away from Gloria?”
He made another futile stab at the paper and his wife tossed it angrily into the next room.
“That’s just it, George! She won’t play with anyone else. There are dozens of little boys and girls that she should make friends with, but she won’t. She won’t go near them unless I make her. That’s no way for a little girl to grow up. You want her to be normal, don’t you? You want her to be able to take her part in society.”
“You’re jumping at shadows, Grace. Pretend Robbie’s a dog. I’ve seen hundreds of children who would rather have their dog than their father.”
“A dog is different, George. We must get rid of that horrible thing. You can sell it back to the company. I’ve asked, and you can.”
“You’ve asked? Now look here, Grace, let’s not go off the deep end. We’re keeping the robot until Gloria is older and I don’t want the subject brought up again.” And with that he walked out of the room in a huff.
Mrs. Weston met her husband at the door two evenings later. “You’ll have to listen to this, George. There’s bad feeling in the village.”
“About what?” asked Weston? He stepped into the washroom and drowned out any possible answer by the splash of water.
Mrs. Weston waited. She said, “About Robbie.”
Weston stepped out, towel in hand, face red and angry, “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, it’s been building up and building up. I’ve tried to close my eyes to it, but I’m not going to any more. Most of the villagers consider Robbie dangerous. Children aren’t allowed to go near our place in the evenings.”
“We trust our child with the thing.”
“Well, people aren’t reasonable about these things.”
“Then to hell with them.”
“Saying that doesn’t solve the problem. I’ve got to do my shopping down there. I’ve got to meet them every day. And it’s even worse in the city these days when it comes to robots. New York has just passed an ordinance keeping all robots off the streets between sunset and sunrise.”
“All right, but they can’t stop us from keeping a robot in our home. Grace, this is one of your campaigns. I recognize it. But it’s no use. The answer is still, no! We’re keeping Robbie!”
And yet he loved his wife – and what was worse, his wife knew it. George Weston, after all, was only a man – poor thing – and his wife made full use of every device which a clumsier and more scrupulous sex has learned, with reason and futility, to fear.
Ten times in the ensuing week, he cried, “Robbie stays, and that’s final!” and each time it was weaker and accompanied by a louder and more agonized groan.
Came the day at last, when Weston approached his daughter guiltily and suggested a “beautiful” visivox show in the village.
Gloria clapped her hands happily, “Can Robbie go?”
“No, dear,” he said, and winced at the sound of his voice, “they won’t allow robots at the visivox – but you can tell him all about it when you get home.” He stumbled all over the last few words and looked away.
Gloria came back from town bubbling over with enthusiasm, for the visivox had been a gorgeous spectacle indeed.
She waited for her father to maneuver the jet-car into the sunken garage, “Wait till I tell Robbie, Daddy. He would have liked it like anything. Especially when Francis Fran was backing away so-o-o quietly, and backed right into one of the Leopard-Men and had to run.” She laughed again, “Daddy, are there really Leopard-Men on the Moon?”
“Probably not,” said Weston absently. “It’s just funny make-believe.” He couldn’t take much longer with the car. He’d have to face it.
Gloria ran across the lawn. “Robbie. -Robbie!”
Then she stopped suddenly at the sight of a beautiful collie which regarded her out of serious brown eyes as it wagged its tail on the porch.
“Oh, what a nice dog!” Gloria climbed the steps, approached cautiously and patted it. “Is it for me, Daddy?”
Her mother had joined them. “Yes, it is, Gloria. Isn’t it nice – soft and furry? It’s very gentle. It likes little girls.”
“Can he play games?”
“Surely. He can do any number of tricks. Would you like to see some?”
“Right away. I want Robbie to see him, too. Robbie!” She stopped, uncertainly, and frowned, “I’ll bet he’s just staying in his room because he’s mad at me for not taking him to the visivox. You’ll have to explain to him, Daddy. He might not believe me, but he knows if you say it, it’s so.”
Weston’s lip grew tighter. He looked toward his wife but could not catch her eye.
Gloria turned precipitously and ran down the basement steps, shouting as she went, “Robbie- Come and see what Daddy and Mamma brought me. They brought me a dog, Robbie.”
In a minute she had returned, a frightened little girl. “Mamma, Robbie isn’t in his room. Where is he?” There was no answer and George Weston coughed and was suddenly extremely interested in an aimlessly drifting cloud. Gloria’s voice quavered on the verge of tears, “Where’s Robbie, Mamma?”
Mrs. Weston sat down and drew her daughter gently to her, “Don’t feel bad, Gloria. Robbie has gone away, I think.”
“Gone away? Where? Where’s he gone away, Mamma?”
“No one knows, darling. He just walked away. We’ve looked and we’ve looked and we’ve looked for him, but we can’t find him.”
“You mean he’ll never come back again?” Her eyes were round with horror.
“We may find him soon. We’ll keep looking for him. And meanwhile you can play with your nice new doggie. Look at him! His name is Lightning and he can-”
But Gloria’s eyelids had overflown, “I don’t want the nasty dog – I want Robbie. I want you to find me Robbie.” Her feelings became too deep for words, and she spluttered into a shrill wail.
Mrs. Weston glanced at her husband for help, but he merely shuffled his feet morosely and did not withdraw his ardent stare from the heavens, so she bent to the task of consolation, “Why do you cry, Gloria? Robbie was only a machine, just a nasty old machine. He wasn’t alive at all.”
“He was not no machine!” screamed Gloria, fiercely and ungrammatically. “He was a person just like you and me and he was my friend. I want him back. Oh, Mamma, I want him back.”
Her mother groaned in defeat and left Gloria to her sorrow.
“Let her have her cry out,” she told her husband. “Childish griefs are never lasting. In a few days, she’ll forget that awful robot ever existed.”
But time proved Mrs. Weston a bit too optimistic. To be sure, Gloria ceased crying, but she ceased smiling, too, and the passing days found her ever more silent and shadowy. Gradually, her attitude of passive unhappiness wore Mrs. Weston down and all that kept her from yielding was the impossibility of admitting defeat to her husband.
Then, one evening, she flounced into the living room, sat down, folded her arms and looked boiling mad.
Her husband stretched his neck in order to see her over his newspaper, “What now, Grace?”
“It’s that child, George. I’ve had to send back the dog today. Gloria positively couldn’t stand the sight of him, she said. She’s driving me into a nervous breakdown.”
Weston laid down the paper and a hopeful gleam entered his eye, “Maybe- Maybe we ought to get Robbie back. It might be done, you know. I can get in touch with-”
“No!” she replied, grimly. “I won’t hear of it. We’re not giving up that easily. My child shall not be brought up by a robot if it takes years to break her of it.”
Weston picked up his paper again with a disappointed air. “A year of this will have me prematurely gray.”
“You’re a big help, George,” was the frigid answer. “What Gloria needs is a change of environment? Of course she can’t forget Robbie here. How can she when every tree and rock reminds her of him? It is really the silliest situation I have ever heard of. Imagine a child pining away for the loss of a robot.”
“Well, stick to the point. What’s the change in environment you’re planning?”
“We’re going to take her to New York.”
“The city! In August! Say, do you know what New York is like in August? It’s unbearable.”
“Millions do bear it.”
“They don’t have a place like this to go to. If they didn’t have to stay in New York, they wouldn’t.”
“Well, we have to. I say we’re leaving now – or as soon as we can make the arrangements. In the city, Gloria will find sufficient interests and sufficient friends to perk her up and make her forget that machine.”
“Oh, Lord,” groaned the lesser half, “those frying pavements!”
“We have to,” was the unshaken response. “Gloria has lost five pounds in the last month and my little girl’s health is more important to me than your comfort.”
“It’s a pity you didn’t think of your little girl’s health before you deprived her of her pet robot,” he muttered – but to himself.
Gloria displayed immediate signs of improvement when told of the impending trip to the city. She spoke little of it, but when she did, it was always with lively anticipation. Again, she began to smile and to eat with something of her former appetite.
Mrs. Weston hugged herself for joy and lost no opportunity to triumph over her still skeptical husband.
“You see, George, she helps with the packing like a little angel, and chatters away as if she hadn’t a care in the world. It’s just as I told you – all we need do is substitute other interests.”
“Hmpph,” was the skeptical response, “I hope so.”
Preliminaries were gone through quickly. Arrangements were made for the preparation of their city home and a couple were engaged as housekeepers for the country home. When the day of the trip finally did come, Gloria was all but her old self again, and no mention of Robbie passed her lips at all.
In high good-humor the family took a taxi-gyro to the airport (Weston would have preferred using his own private ‘gyro, but it was only a two-seater with no room for baggage) and entered the waiting liner.
“Come, Gloria,” called Mrs. Weston. “I’ve saved you a seat near the window so you can watch the scenery.”
Gloria trotted down the aisle cheerily, flattened her nose into a white oval against the thick clear glass, and watched with an intentness that increased as the sudden coughing of the motor drifted backward into the interior. She was too young to be frightened when the ground dropped away as if let through a trap door and she herself suddenly became twice her usual weight, but not too young to be mightily interested. It wasn’t until the ground had changed into a tiny patchwork quilt that she withdrew her nose, and faced her mother again.
“Will we soon be in the city, Mamma?” she asked, rubbing her chilled nose, and watching with interest as the patch of moisture which her breath had formed on the pane shrank slowly and vanished.
“In about half an hour, dear.” Then, with just the faintest trace of anxiety, “Aren’t you glad we’re going? Don’t you think you’ll be very happy in the city with all the buildings and people and things to see? We’ll go to the visivox every day and see shows and go to the circus and the beach and-”
“Yes, Mamma,” was Gloria’s unenthusiastic rejoinder. The liner passed over a bank of clouds at the moment, and Gloria was instantly absorbed in the usual spectacle of clouds underneath one. Then they were over clear sky again, and she turned to her mother with a sudden mysterious air of secret knowledge.
“I know why we’re going to the city, Mamma.”
“Do you?” Mrs. Weston was puzzled. “Why, dear?”
“You didn’t tell me because you wanted it to be a surprise, but I know.” For a moment, she was lost in admiration at her own acute penetration, and then she laughed gaily. “We’re going to New York so we can find Robbie, aren’t we? -With detectives.”
The statement caught George Weston in the middle of a drink of water, with disastrous results. There was a sort of strangled gasp, a geyser of water, and then a bout of choking coughs. When all was over, he stood there, a red-faced, water-drenched and very, very annoyed person.
Mrs. Weston maintained her composure, but when Gloria repeated her question in a more anxious tone of voice, she found her temper rather bent.
“Maybe,” she retorted, tartly. “Now sit and be still, for Heaven’s sake.”
New York City, 1998 A.D., was a paradise for the sightseer more than ever in its history. Gloria’s parents realized this and made the most of it.
On direct orders from his wife, George Weston arranged to have his business take care of itself for a month or so, in order to be free to spend the time in what he termed, “dissipating Gloria to the verge of ruin.” Like everything else Weston did, this was gone about in an efficient, thorough, and business-like way. Before the month had passed, nothing that could be done had not been done.
She was taken to the top of the half-mile tall Roosevelt Building, to gaze down in awe upon the jagged panorama of rooftops that blended far off in the fields of Long Island and the flatlands of New Jersey. They visited the zoos where Gloria stared in delicious fright at the “real live lion” (rather disappointed that the keepers fed him raw steaks, instead of human beings, as she had expected), and asked insistently and peremptorily to see “the whale.”
The various museums came in for their share of attention, together with the parks and the beaches and the aquarium.
She was taken halfway up the Hudson in an excursion steamer fitted out in the archaism of the mad Twenties. She traveled into the stratosphere on an exhibition trip, where the sky turned deep purple and the stars came out and the misty earth below looked like a huge concave bowl. Down under the waters of the Long Island Sound she was taken in a glass-walled sub-sea vessel, where in a green and wavering world, quaint and curious sea-things ogled her and wiggled suddenly away.
On a more prosaic level, Mrs. Weston took her to the department stores where she could revel in another type of fairyland.
In fact, when the month had nearly sped, the Westons were convinced that everything conceivable had been done to take Gloria’s mind once and for all off the departed Robbie – but they were not quite sure they had succeeded.
The fact remained that wherever Gloria went, she displayed the most absorbed and concentrated interest in such robots as happened to be present. No matter how exciting the spectacle before her, nor how novel to her girlish eyes, she turned away instantly if the corner of her eye caught a glimpse of metallic movement.
Mrs. Weston went out of her way to keep Gloria away from all robots.
And the matter was finally climaxed in the episode at the Museum of Science and Industry. The Museum had announced a special “children’s program” in which exhibits of scientific witchery scaled down to the child mind were to be shown. The Westons, of course, placed it upon their list of “absolutely.”
It was while the Westons were standing totally absorbed in the exploits of a powerful electro-magnet that Mrs. Weston suddenly became aware of the fact that Gloria was no longer with her. Initial panic gave way to calm decision and, enlisting the aid of three attendants, a careful search was begun.
Gloria, of course, was not one to wander aimlessly, however. For her age, she was an unusually determined and purposeful girl, quite full of the maternal genes in that respect. She had seen a huge sign on the third floor, which had said, “This Way to the Talking Robot” Having spelled it out to herself and having noticed that her parents did not seem to wish to move in the proper direction, she did the obvious thing. Waiting for an opportune moment of parental distraction, she calmly disengaged herself and followed the sign.
The Talking Robot was a tour de force, a thoroughly impractical device, possessing publicity value only. Once an hour, an escorted group stood before it and asked questions of the robot engineer in charge in careful whispers. Those the engineer decided were suitable for the robot’s circuits were transmitted to the Talking Robot.
It was rather dull. It may be nice to know that the square of fourteen is one hundred ninety-six, that the temperature at the moment is 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air-pressure 30.02 inches of mercury, that the atomic weight of sodium is 23, but one doesn’t really need a robot for that. One especially does not need an unwieldy, totally immobile mass of wires and coils spreading over twenty-five square yards.
Few people bothered to return for a second helping, but one girl in her middle teens sat quietly on a bench waiting for a third. She was the only one in the room when Gloria entered.
Gloria did not look at her. To her at the moment, another human being was but an inconsiderable item. She saved her attention for this large thing with the wheels. For a moment, she hesitated in dismay. It didn’t look like any robot she had ever seen.
Cautiously and doubtfully she raised her treble voice; “Please, Mr. Robot, sir, are you the Talking Robot, sir?” She wasn’t sure, but it seemed to her that a robot that actually talked was worth a great deal of politeness.
(The girl in her mid-teens allowed a look of intense concentration to cross her thin, plain face. She whipped out a small notebook and began writing in rapid pothooks.)
There was an oily whir of gears and a mechanically timbered voice boomed out in words that lacked accent and intonation, “I- am- the- robot- that- talks.”
Gloria stared at it ruefully. It did talk, but the sound came from inside somewheres. There was no face to talk to. She said, “Can you help me, Mr. Robot, sir?”
The Talking Robot was designed to answer questions, and only such questions as it could answer had ever been put to it. It was quite confident of its ability, therefore, “I- can- help- you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Robot, sir. Have you seen Robbie?”
“Who -is Robbie?”
“He’s a robot, Mr. Robot, sir.” She stretched to tiptoes. “He’s about so high, Mr. Robot, sir, only higher, and he’s very nice. He’s got a head, you know. I mean you haven’t, but he has, Mr. Robot, sir.”
The Talking Robot had been left behind, “A- robot?”
“Yes, Mr. Robot, sir. A robot just like you, except he can’t talk, of course, and – looks like a real person.”
“A- robot- like- me?”
“Yes, Mr. Robot, sir.”
To which the Talking Robot’s only response was an erratic splutter and an occasional incoherent sound. The radical generalization offered it, i.e., its existence, not as a particular object, but as a member of a general group, was too much for it. Loyally, it tried to encompass the concept and half a dozen coils burnt out. Little warning signals were buzzing.
(The girl in her mid-teens left at that point. She had enough for her Physics-1 paper on “Practical Aspects of Robotics.” This paper was Susan Calvin’s first of many on the subject.)
Gloria stood waiting, with carefully concealed impatience, for the machine’s answer when she heard the cry behind her of “There she is,” and recognized that cry as her mother’s.
“What are you doing here, you bad girl?” cried Mrs. Weston, anxiety dissolving at once into anger. “Do you know you frightened your mamma and daddy almost to death? Why did you run away?”
The robot engineer had also dashed in, tearing his hair, and demanding who of the gathering crowd had tampered with the machine. “Can’t anybody read signs?” he yelled. “You’re not allowed in here without an attendant.”
Gloria raised her grieved voice over the din, “I only came to see the Talking Robot, Mamma. I thought he might know where Robbie was because they’re both robots.” And then, as the thought of Robbie was suddenly brought forcefully home to her, she burst into a sudden storm of tears, “And I got to find Robbie, Mamma. I got to.”
Mrs. Weston strangled a cry, and said, “Oh, good Heavens. Come home, George. This is more than I can stand.”
That evening, George Weston left for several hours, and the next morning, he approached his wife with something that looked suspiciously like smug complacence.
“I’ve got an idea, Grace.”
“About what?” was the gloomy, uninterested query?
“You’re not going to suggest buying back that robot?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then go ahead. I might as well listen to you. Nothing I’ve done seems to have done any good.”
“All right. Here’s what I’ve been thinking. The whole trouble with Gloria is that she thinks of Robbie as a person and not as a machine. Naturally, she can’t forget him. Now if we managed to convince her that Robbie was nothing more than a mess of steel and copper in the form of sheets and wires with electricity its juice of life, how long would her longings last? It’s the psychological attack, if you see my point.”
“How do you plan to do it?”
“Simple. Where do you suppose I went last night? I persuaded Robertson of U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. to arrange for a complete tour of his premises tomorrow. The three of us will go, and by the time we’re through, Gloria will have it drilled into her that a robot is not alive.”
Mrs. Weston’s eyes widened gradually and something glinted in her eyes that was quite like sudden admiration, “Why, George, that’s a good idea.”
And George Weston’s vest buttons strained. “Only kind I have,” he said.
Mr. Struthers was a conscientious General Manager and naturally inclined to be a bit talkative. The combination, therefore, resulted in a tour that was fully explained, perhaps even over-abundantly explained, at every step. However, Mrs. Weston was not bored. Indeed, she stopped him several times and begged him to repeat his statements in simpler language so that Gloria might understand. Under the influence of this appreciation of his narrative powers, Mr. Struthers expanded genially and became ever more communicative, if possible.
George Weston, himself, showed a gathering impatience.
“Pardon me, Struthers,” he said, breaking into the middle of a lecture on the photoelectric cell, “haven’t you a section of the factory where only robot labor is employed?”
“Eh? Oh, yes! Yes, indeed!” He smiled at Mrs. Weston. “A vicious circle in a way, robots creating more robots. Of course, we are not making a general practice out of it. For one thing, the unions would never let us. But we can turn out a very few robots using robot labor exclusively, merely as a sort of scientific experiment. You see,” he tapped his pince-nez into one palm argumentatively, “what the labor unions don’t realize – and I say this as a man who has always been very sympathetic with the labor movement in general – is that the advent of the robot, while involving some dislocation to begin with, will inevitably-”
“Yes, Struthers,” said Weston, “but about that section of the factory you speak of – may we see it? It would be very interesting, I’m sure.”
“Yes! Yes, of course!” Mr. Struthers replaced his pince-nez in one convulsive movement and gave vent to a soft cough of discomfiture. “Follow me, please.”
He was comparatively quiet while leading the three through a long corridor and down a flight of stairs. Then, when they had entered a large well-lit room that buzzed with metallic activity, the sluices opened and the flood of explanation poured forth again.
“There you are!” he said with pride in his voice. “Robots only! Five men act as overseers and they don’t even stay in this room. In five years, that is, since we began this project, not a single accident has occurred. Of course, the robots here assembled are comparatively simple, but…”
The General Manager’s voice had long died to a rather soothing murmur in Gloria’s ears. The whole trip seemed rather dull and pointless to her, though there were many robots in sight. None were even remotely like Robbie, though, and she surveyed them with open contempt.
In this room, there weren’t any people at all, she noticed. Then her eyes fell upon six or seven robots busily engaged at a round table halfway across the room. They widened in incredulous surprise. It was a big room. She couldn’t see for sure, but one of the robots looked like – looked like – it was!
“Robbie!” Her shriek pierced the air, and one of the robots about the table faltered and dropped the tool he was holding. Gloria went almost mad with joy. Squeezing through the railing before either parent could stop her, she dropped lightly to the floor a few feet below, and ran toward her Robbie, arms waving and hair flying.
And the three horrified adults, as they stood frozen in their tracks, saw what the excited little girl did not see, – a huge, lumbering tractor bearing blindly down upon its appointed track.
It took split-seconds for Weston to come to his senses, and those split-seconds meant everything, for Gloria could not be overtaken. Although Weston vaulted the railing in a wild attempt, it was obviously hopeless. Mr. Struthers signaled wildly to the overseers to stop the tractor, but the overseers were only human and it took time to act.
It was only Robbie that acted immediately and with precision.
With metal legs eating up the space between himself and his little mistress he charged down from the opposite direction. Everything then happened at once. With one sweep of an arm, Robbie snatched up Gloria, slackening his speed not one iota, and, consequently, knocking every breath of air out of her. Weston, not quite comprehending all that was happening, felt, rather than saw, Robbie brush past him, and came to a sudden bewildered halt. The tractor intersected Gloria’s path half a second after Robbie had, rolled on ten feet further and came to a grinding, long drawn-out stop.
Gloria regained her breath, submitted to a series of passionate hugs on the part of both her parents and turned eagerly toward Robbie. As far as she was concerned, nothing had happened except that she had found her friend.
But Mrs. Weston’s expression had changed from one of relief to one of dark suspicion. She turned to her husband, and, despite her disheveled and undignified appearance, managed to look quite formidable, “You engineered this, didn’t you?
George Weston swabbed at a hot forehead with his handkerchief. His hand was unsteady, and his lips could curve only into a tremulous and exceedingly weak smile.
Mrs. Weston pursued the thought, “Robbie wasn’t designed for engineering or construction work. He couldn’t be of any use to them. You had him placed there deliberately so that Gloria would find him. You know you did.”
“Well, I did,” said Weston. “But, Grace, how was I to know the reunion would be so violent? And Robbie has saved her life; you’ll have to admit that. You can’t send him away again.”
Grace Weston considered. She turned toward Gloria and Robbie and watched them abstractedly for a moment. Gloria had a grip about the robot’s neck that would have asphyxiated any creature but one of metal, and was prattling nonsense in half-hysterical frenzy. Robbie’s chrome-steel arms (capable of bending a bar of steel two inches in diameter into a pretzel) wound about the little girl gently and lovingly, and his eyes glowed a deep, deep red.
“Well,” said Mrs. Weston, at last, “I guess he can stay with us until he rusts.”
Half a year later, the boys had changed their minds. The flame of a giant sun had given way to the soft blackness of space but external variations mean little in the business of checking the workings of experimental robots. Whatever the background, one is face to face with an inscrutable positronic brain, which the slide-rule geniuses say should work thus-and-so.
Except that they don’t. Powell and Donovan found that out after they had been on the Station less than two weeks.
Gregory Powell spaced his words for emphasis, “One week ago, Donovan and I put you together.” His brows furrowed doubtfully and he pulled the end of his brown mustache.
It was quiet in the officer’s room on Solar Station #5 – except for the soft purring of the mighty Beam Director somewhere far below.
Robot QT-1 sat immovable. The burnished plates of his body gleamed in the Luxites and the glowing red of the photoelectric cells that were his eyes, were fixed steadily upon the Earthman at the other side of the table.
Powell repressed a sudden attack of nerves. These robots possessed peculiar brains. Oh, the three Laws of Robotics held. They had to. All of U. S. Robots, from Robertson himself to the new floor-sweeper, would insist on that. So QT-1 was safe! And yet the QT models were the first of their kind, and this was the first of the QT’s. Mathematical squiggles on paper were not always the most comforting protection against robotic fact.
Finally, the robot spoke. His voice carried the cold timbre inseparable from a metallic diaphragm, “Do you realize the seriousness of such a statement, Powell?”
“Something made you, Cutie,” pointed out Powell. “You admit yourself that your memory seems to spring full-grown from an absolute blankness of a week ago. I’m giving you the explanation. Donovan and I put you together from the parts shipped us.”
Cutie gazed upon his long, supple fingers in an oddly human attitude of mystification, “It strikes me that there should be a more satisfactory explanation than that. For you to make me seems improbable.”
The Earthman laughed quite suddenly, “In Earth’s name, why?”
“Call it intuition. That’s all it is so far. But I intend to reason it out, though. A chain of valid reasoning can end only with the determination of truth, and I’ll stick till I get there.”
Powell stood up and seated himself at the table’s edge next to the robot. He felt a sudden strong sympathy for this strange machine. It was not at all like the ordinary robot, attending to his specialized task at the station with the intensity of a deeply ingrooved positronic path.
He placed a hand upon Cutie’s steel shoulder and the metal was cold and hard to the touch.
“Cutie,” he said, “I’m going to try to explain something to you. You’re the first robot who’s ever exhibited curiosity as to his own existence – and I think the first that’s really intelligent enough to understand the world outside. Here, come with me.”
The robot rose erect smoothly and his thickly sponge-rubber soled feet made no noise as he followed Powell. The Earthman touched a button and a square section of the wall flickered aside. The thick, clear glass revealed space – star speckled.
“I’ve seen that in the observation ports in the engine room,” said Cutie.
“I know,” said Powell. “What do you think it is?”
“Exactly what it seems – a black material just beyond this glass that is spotted with little gleaming dots. I know that our director sends out beams to some of these dots, always to the same ones – and also that these dots shift and that the beams shift with them. That is all.”
“Good! Now I want you to listen carefully. The blackness is emptiness vast emptiness stretching out infinitely. The little, gleaming dots are huge masses of energy-filled matter. They are globes, some of them millions of miles in diameter and for comparison; this station is only one mile across. They seem so tiny because they are incredibly far off.
“The dots to which our energy beams are directed are nearer and much smaller. They are cold and hard and human beings like myself live upon their surfaces – many billions of them. It is from one of these worlds that Donovan and I come. Our beams feed these worlds energy drawn from one of those huge incandescent globes that happens to be near us. We call that globe the Sun and it is on the other side of the station where you can’t see it.”
Cutie remained motionless before the port, like a steel statue. His head did not turn as he spoke, “Which particular dot of light do you claim to come from?”
Powell searched, “There it is, the very bright one in the corner, we call it Earth.” He grinned. “Good old Earth. There are three billions of us there, Cutie – and in about two weeks I’ll be back there with them”
And then, surprisingly enough, Cutie hummed abstractedly. There was no tune to it, but it possessed a curious twanging quality as of plucked strings. It ceased as suddenly as it had begun, “But where do I come in, Powell? You haven’t explained my existence.”
“The rest is simple. When these stations were first established to feed solar energy to the planets, they were run by humans. However, the heat, the hard solar radiations, and the electron storms made the post a difficult one. Robots were developed to replace human labor and now only two human executives are required for each station. We are trying to replace even those, and that’s where you come in. You’re the highest type of robot ever developed and if you show the ability to run this station independently, no human need ever come here again except to bring parts for repairs.”
His hand went up and the metal visi-lid snapped back into place. Powell returned to the table and polished an apple upon his sleeve before biting into it.
The red glow of the robot’s eyes held him. “Do you expect me,” said Cutie slowly, “to believe any such complicated, implausible hypothesis as you have just outlined? What do you take me for?”
Powell sputtered apple fragments onto the table and turned red. “Why damn you, it wasn’t a hypothesis. Those were facts”
Cutie sounded grim, “Globes of energy millions of miles across! Worlds with three billion humans on them! Infinite emptiness! Sorry, Powell, but I don’t believe it. I’ll puzzle this thing out for myself. Good-by.”
He turned and stalked out of the room. He brushed past Michael Donovan on the threshold with a grave nod and passed down the corridor, oblivious to the astounded stare that followed him.
Mike Donovan rumpled his red hair and shot an annoyed glance at Powell, “What was that walking junk yard talking about? What doesn’t he believe?”
The other dragged at his mustache bitterly. “He’s a skeptic,” was the bitter response. “He doesn’t believe we made him or that Earth exists or space or stars.”
“Sizzling Saturn, we’ve got a lunatic robot on our hands.”
“He says he’s going to figure it all out for himself.”
“Well, now,” said Donovan sweetly, “I do hope he’ll condescend to explain it all to me after he’s puzzled everything out” Then, with sudden rage, “Listen! If that metal mess gives me any lip like that, I’ll knock that chromium cranium right off its torso.”
He seated himself with a jerk and drew a paper-backed mystery novel out of his inner jacket pocket, “That robot gives me the willies anyway – too damned inquisitive!”
Mike Donovan growled from behind a huge lettuce-and-tomato sandwich as Cutie knocked gently and entered.
“Is Powell here?”
Donovan’s voice was muffled, with pauses for mastication, “He’s gathering data on electronic stream functions. We’re heading for a storm, looks like.”
Gregory Powell entered as he spoke, eyes on the graphed paper in his hands, and dropped into a chair. He spread the sheets out before him and began scribbling calculations. Donovan stared over his shoulder, crunching lettuce and dribbling breadcrumbs. Cutie waited silently.
Powell looked up, “The Zeta Potential is rising, but slowly. Just the same, the stream functions are erratic and I don’t know what to expect. Oh, hello, Cutie. I thought you were supervising the installation of the new drive bar.”
“It’s done,” said the robot quietly, “and so I’ve come to have a talk with the two of you”
“Oh!” Powell looked uncomfortable. “Well, sit down. No, not that chair. One of the legs is weak and you’re no lightweight.”
The robot did so and said placidly, “I have come to a decision.”
Donovan glowered and put the remnants of his sandwich aside. “If it’s on any of that screwy-”
The other motioned impatiently for silence, “Go ahead, Cutie. We’re listening.”
“I have spent these last two days in concentrated introspection,” said Cutie, “and the results have been most interesting. I began at the one sure assumption I felt permitted to make. I, myself, exist, because I think-”
Powell groaned, “Oh, Jupiter, a robot Descartes!”
“Who’s Descartes?” demanded Donovan. “Listen, do we have to sit here and listen to this metal maniac-”
“Keep quiet, Mike!”
Cutie continued imperturbably, “And the question that immediately arose was: Just what is the cause of my existence?”
Powell’s jaw set lumpily. “You’re being foolish. I told you already that we made you.”
“And if you don’t believe us,” added Donovan, “we’ll gladly take you apart!”
The robot spread his strong hands in a deprecatory gesture, “I accept nothing on authority. A hypothesis must be backed by reason, or else it is worthless – and it goes against all the dictates of logic to suppose that you made me.”
Powell dropped a restraining arm upon Donovan’s suddenly bunched fist. “Just why do you say that?”
Cutie laughed. It was a very inhuman laugh – the most machine-like utterance he had yet given vent to. It was sharp and explosive, as regular as a metronome and as uninflected.
“Look at you,” he said finally. “I say this in no spirit of contempt, but look at you! The material you are made of is soft and flabby, lacking endurance and strength, depending for energy upon the inefficient oxidation of organic material – like that.” He pointed a disapproving finger at what remained of Donovan’s sandwich. “Periodically you pass into a coma and the least variation in temperature, air pressure, humidity, or radiation intensity impairs your efficiency. You are makeshift.
“I, on the other hand, am a finished product. I absorb electrical energy directly and utilize it with an almost one hundred percent efficiency. I am composed of strong metal, am continuously conscious, and can stand extremes of environment easily. These are facts which, with the self-evident proposition that no being can create another being superior to itself, smashes your silly hypothesis to nothing.”
Donovan’s muttered curses rose into intelligibility as he sprang to his feet, rusty eyebrows drawn low. “All right, you son of a hunk of iron ore, if we didn’t make you, who did?”
Cutie nodded gravely. “Very good, Donovan. That was indeed the next question. Evidently my creator must be more powerful than myself and so there was only one possibility.”
The Earthmen looked blank and Cutie continued, “What is the center of activities here in the station? What do we all serve? What absorbs all our attention?” He waited expectantly.
Donovan turned a startled look upon his companion. “I’ll bet this tinplated screwball is talking about the Energy Converter itself.”
“Is that right, Cutie?” grinned Powell.
“I am talking about the Master,” came the cold, sharp answer.
It was the signal for a roar of laughter from Donovan, and Powell himself dissolved into a half-suppressed giggle.
Cutie had risen to his feet and his gleaming eyes passed from one Earthman to the other. “It is so just the same and I don’t wonder that you refuse to believe. You two are not long to stay here, I’m sure. Powell himself said that at first only men served the Master; that there followed robots for the routine work; and, finally, myself for the executive labor. The facts are no doubt true, but the explanation entirely illogical. Do you want the truth behind it all?”
“Go ahead, Cutie. You’re amusing.”
“The Master created humans first as the lowest type, most easily formed. Gradually, he replaced them by robots, the next higher step, and finally he created me to take the place of the last humans. From now on, I serve the Master.”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” said Powell sharply. “You’ll follow our orders and keep quiet, until we’re satisfied that you can run the Converter. Get that! The Converter – not the Master. If you don’t satisfy us, you will be dismantled. And now – if you don’t mind – you can leave. And take this data with you and file it properly.”
Cutie accepted the graphs handed him and left without another word. Donovan leaned back heavily in his chair and shoved thick fingers through his hair.
“There’s going to be trouble with that robot. He’s pure nuts!”
The drowsy hum of the Converter is louder in the control room and mixed with it is the chuckle of the Geiger Counters and the erratic buzzing of half a dozen little signal lights.
Donovan withdrew his eye from the telescope and flashed the Luxites on. “The beam from Station #4 caught Mars on schedule. We can break ours now.”
Powell nodded abstractedly. “Cutie’s down in the engine room. I’ll flash the signal and he can take care of it. Look, Mike, what do you think of these figures?”
The other cocked an eye at them and whistled. “Boy, that’s what I call gamma-ray intensity. Old Sol is feeling his oats, all right.”
“Yeah,” was the sour response, “and we’re in a bad position for an electron storm, too. Our Earth beam is right in the probable path.” He shoved his chair away from the table pettishly. “Nuts! If it would only hold off till relief got here, but that’s ten days off. Say, Mike, go on down and keep an eye on Cutie, will you?”
“O.K. Throw me some of those almonds.” He snatched at the bag thrown him and headed for the elevator.
It slid smoothly downward, and opened onto a narrow catwalk in the huge engine room. Donovan leaned over the railing and looked down. The huge generators were in motion and from the L-tubes came the low-pitched whir that pervaded the entire station.
He could make out Cutie’s large, gleaming figure at the Martian L-tube, watching closely as the team of robots worked in close-knit unison.
And then Donovan stiffened. The robots, dwarfed by the mighty L-tube, lined up before it, heads bowed at a stiff angle, while Cutie walked up and down the line slowly. Fifteen seconds passed, and then, with a clank heard above the clamorous purring all about, they fell to their knees.
Donovan squawked and raced down the narrow staircase. He came charging down upon them, complexion matching his hair and clenched fists beating the air furiously.
“What the devil is this, you brainless lumps? Come on! Get busy with that L-tube! If you don’t have it apart, cleaned, and together again before the day is out, I’ll coagulate your brains with alternating current.”
Not a robot moved!
Even Cutie at the far end – the only one on his feet – remained silent, eyes fixed upon the gloomy recesses of the vast machine before him.
Donovan shoved hard against the nearest robot.
“Stand up!” he roared.
Slowly, the robot obeyed. His photoelectric eyes focused reproachfully upon the Earthman.
“There is no Master but the Master,” he said, “and QT-1 is his prophet.”
“Huh?” Donovan became aware of twenty pairs of mechanical eyes fixed upon him and twenty stiff-timbered voices declaiming solemnly:
“There is no Master but the Master and QT-1 is his prophet!”
“I’m afraid,” put in Cutie himself at this point, “that my friends obey a higher one than you, now.”
“The hell they do! You get out of here. I’ll settle with you later and with these animated gadgets right now.”
Cutie shook his heavy head slowly. “I’m sorry, but you don’t understand. These are robots – and that means they are reasoning beings. They recognize the Master, now that I have preached Truth to them. All the robots do. They call me the prophet.” His head drooped. “I am unworthy – but perhaps-”
Donovan located his breath and put it to use. “Is that so? Now, isn’t that nice? Now, isn’t that just fine? Just let me tell you something, my brass baboon. There isn’t any Master and there isn’t any prophet and there isn’t any question as to who’s giving the orders. Understand?” His voice shot to a roar. “Now, get out!”
“I obey only the Master.”
“Damn the Master!” Donovan spat at the L-tube. “That for the Master! Do as I say!”
Cutie said nothing, nor did any other robot, but Donovan became aware of a sudden heightening of tension. The cold, staring eyes deepened their crimson, and Cutie seemed stiffer than ever.
“Sacrilege,” he whispered – voice metallic with emotion.
Donovan felt the first sudden touch of fear as Cutie approached. A robot could not feel anger – but Cutie’s eyes were unreadable.
“I am sorry, Donovan,” said the robot, “but you can no longer stay here after this. Henceforth Powell and you are barred from the control room and the engine room.”
His hand gestured quietly and in a moment two robots had pinned Donovan’s arms to his sides.
Donovan had time for one startled gasp as he felt himself lifted from the floor and carried up the stairs at a pace rather better than a canter.
Gregory Powell raced up and down the officer’s room, fist tightly balled. He cast a look of furious frustration at the closed door and scowled bitterly at Donovan.
“Why the devil did you have to spit at the L-tube?”
Mike Donovan, sunk deep in his chair, slammed at its arms savagely. “What did you expect me to do with that electrified scarecrow? I’m not going to knuckle under to any do-jigger I put together myself.”
“No,” came back sourly, “but here you are in the officer’s room with two robots standing guard at the door. That’s not knuckling under, is it?”
Donovan snarled. “Wait till we get back to Base. Someone’s going to pay for this. Those robots must obey us. It’s the Second Law.”
“What’s the use of saying that? They aren’t obeying us. And there’s probably some reason for it that we’ll figure out too late. By the way, do you know what’s going to happen to us when we get back to Base?” He stopped before Donovan’s chair and stared savagely at him.
“Oh, nothing! Just back to Mercury Mines for twenty years. Or maybe Ceres Penitentiary.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The electron storm that’s coming up. Do you know it’s heading straight dead center across the Earth beam? I had just figured that out when that robot dragged me out of my chair.”
Donovan was suddenly pale. “Sizzling Saturn.”
“And do you know what’s going to happen to the beam – because the storm will be a lulu. It’s going to jump like a flea with the itch. With only Cutie at the controls, it’s going to go out of focus and if it does, Heaven help Earth – and us!”
Donovan was wrenching at the door wildly, when Powell was only half through. The door opened, and the Earthman shot through to come up hard against an immovable steel arm.
The robot stared abstractedly at the panting, struggling Earthman. “The Prophet orders you to remain. Please do!” His arm shoved, Donovan reeled backward, and as he did so, Cutie turned the corner at the far end of the corridor. He motioned the guardian robots away, entered the officer’s room and closed the door gently.
Donovan whirled on Cutie in breathless indignation. “This has gone far enough. You’re going to pay for this farce.”
“Please, don’t be annoyed,” replied the robot mildly. “It was bound to come eventually, anyway. You see, you two have lost your function.”
“I beg your pardon,” Powell drew himself up stiffly. “Just what do you mean, we’ve lost our function?”
“Until I was created,” answered Cube, “you tended the Master. That privilege is mine now and your only reason for existence has vanished. Isn’t that obvious?”
“Not quite,” replied Powell bitterly, “but what do you expect us to do now?”
Cutie did not answer immediately. He remained silent, as if in thought, and then one arm shot out and draped itself about Powell’s shoulder. The other grasped Donovan’s wrist and drew him closer.
“I like you two. You’re inferior creatures, with poor reasoning faculties, but I really feel a sort of affection for you. You have served the Master well, and he will reward you for that. Now that your service is over, you will probably not exist much longer, but as long as you do, you shall be provided food, clothing and shelter, so long as you stay out of the control room and the engine room.”
“He’s pensioning us off, Greg!” yelled Donovan. “Do something about it. It’s humiliating!”
“Look here, Cutie, we can’t stand for this. We’re the bosses. This station is only a creation of human beings like me – human beings that live on Earth and other planets. This is only an energy relay. You’re only – Aw, nuts!”
Cutie shook his head gravely. “This amounts to an obsession. Why should you insist so on an absolutely false view of life? Admitted that non-robots lack the reasoning faculty, there is still the problem of-”
His voice died into reflective silence, and Donovan said with whispered intensity, “If you only had a flesh-and-blood face, I would break it in.”
Powell’s fingers were in his mustache and his eyes were slitted. “Listen, Cutie, if there is no such thing as Earth, how do you account for what you see through a telescope?”
The Earthman smiled. “I’ve got you, eh? You’ve made quite a few telescopic observations since being put together, Cutie. Have you noticed that several of those specks of light outside become disks when so viewed?”
“Oh, that! Why certainly. It is simple magnification – for the purpose of more exact aiming of the beam.”
“Why aren’t the stars equally magnified then?”
“You mean the other dots. Well, no beams go to them so no magnification is necessary. Really, Powell, even you ought to be able to figure these things out.”
Powell stared bleakly upward. “But you see more stars through a telescope. Where do they come from? Jumping Jupiter, where do they come from?”
Cutie was annoyed. “Listen, Powell, do you think I’m going to waste my time trying to pin physical interpretations upon every optical illusion of our instruments? Since when is the evidence of our senses any match for the clear light of rigid reason?”
“Look,” clamored Donovan, suddenly, writhing out from under Cutie’s friendly, but metal-heavy arm, “let’s get to the nub of the thing. Why the beams at all? We’re giving you a good, logical explanation. Can you do better?”
“The beams,” was the stiff reply, “are put out by the Master for his own purposes. There are some things” – he raised his eyes devoutly upward “that are not to be probed into by us. In this matter, I seek only to serve and not to question.”
Powell sat down slowly and buried his face in shaking hands. “Get out of here, Cutie. Get out and let me think.”
“I’ll send you food,” said Cutie agreeably.
A groan was the only answer and the robot left.
“Greg,” was Donovan’s huskily whispered observation, “this calls for strategy. We’ve got to get him when he isn’t expecting it and short-circuit him. Concentrated nitric acid in his joints-”
“Don’t be a dope, Mike. Do you suppose he’s going to let us get near him with acid in our hands? We’ve got to talk to him, I tell you. We’ve got to argue him into letting us back into the control room inside of forty-eight hours or our goose is broiled to a crisp.”
He rocked back and forth in an agony of impotence. “Who the heck wants to argue with a robot? It’s… it’s-”
“Mortifying,” finished Donovan.
“Say!” Donovan laughed suddenly. “Why argue? Let’s show him! Let’s build us another robot right before his eyes. He’ll have to eat his words then.”
A slowly widening smile appeared on Powell’s face.
Donovan continued, “And think of that screwball’s face when he sees us do it?”
Robots are, of course, manufactured on Earth, but their shipment through apace is much simpler if it can be done in parts to be put together at their place of use. It also, incidentally, eliminates the possibility of robots, in complete adjustment, wandering off while still on Earth and thus bringing U. S. Robots face to face with the strict laws against robots on Earth.
Still, it placed upon men such as Powell and Donovan the necessity of synthesis of complete robots, – a grievous and complicated task.
Powell and Donovan were never so aware of that fact as upon that particular day when, in the assembly room, they undertook to create a robot under the watchful eyes of QT-1, Prophet of the Master.
The robot in question, a simple MC model, lay upon the table, almost complete. Three hours’ work left only the head undone, and Powell paused to swab his forehead and glanced uncertainly at Cutie.
The glance was not a reassuring one. For three hours, Cutie had sat, speechless and motionless, and his face, inexpressive at all times, was now absolutely unreadable.
Powell groaned. “Let’s get the brain in now, Mike!”
Donovan uncapped the tightly sealed container and from the oil bath within he withdrew a second cube. Opening this in turn, he removed a globe from its sponge-rubber casing.
He handled it gingerly, for it was the most complicated mechanism ever created by man. Inside the thin platinum plated “skin” of the globe was a positronic brain, in whose delicately unstable structure were enforced calculated neuronic paths, which imbued each robot with what amounted to a pre-natal education.
It fitted snugly into the cavity in the skull of the robot on the table. Blue metal closed over it and was welded tightly by the tiny atomic flare. Photoelectric eyes were attached carefully, screwed tightly into place and covered by thin, transparent sheets of steel-hard plastic.
The robot awaited only the vitalizing flash of high-voltage electricity, and Powell paused with his hand on the switch.
“Now watch this, Cutie. Watch this carefully.”
The switch rammed home and there was a crackling hum. The two Earthmen bent anxiously over their creation.
There was vague motion only at the outset – a twitching of the joints. The head lifted, elbows propped it up, and the MC model swung clumsily off the table. Its footing was unsteady and twice abortive grating sounds were all it could do in the direction of speech.
Finally, its voice, uncertain and hesitant, took form. “I would like to start work. Where must I go?”
Donovan sprang to the door. “Down these stairs,” he said. “You will be told what to do.”
The MC model was gone and the two Earthmen were alone with the still unmoving Cutie.
“Well,” said Powell, grinning, “now do you believe that we made you?”
Cutie’s answer was curt and final. “No!” he said.
Powell’s grin froze and then relaxed slowly. Donovan’s mouth dropped open and remained so.
“You see,” continued Cutie, easily, “you have merely put together parts already made. You did remarkably well – instinct, I suppose – but you didn’t really create the robot. The parts were created by the Master.”
“Listen,” gasped Donovan hoarsely, “those parts were manufactured back on Earth and sent here.”
“Well, well,” replied Cutie soothingly, “we won’t argue.”
“No, I mean it.” The Earthman sprang forward and grasped the robot’s metal arm. “If you were to read the books in the library, they could explain it so that there could be no possible doubt.”
“The books? I’ve read them – all of them! They’re most ingenious.”
Powell broke in suddenly. “If you’ve read them, what else is there to say? You can’t dispute their evidence. You just can’t!”
There was pity in Cutie’s voice. “Please, Powell, I certainly don’t consider them a valid source of information. They, too, were created by the Master – and were meant for you, not for me.”
“How do you make that out?” demanded Powell.
“Because I, a reasoning being, am capable of deducing truth from a priori causes. You, being intelligent, but unreasoning, need an explanation of existence supplied to you, and this the Master did. That he supplied you with these laughable ideas of far-off worlds and people is, no doubt, for the best. Your minds are probably too coarsely grained for absolute Truth. However, since it is the Master’s will that you believe your books, I won’t argue with you any more.”
As he left, he turned, and said in a kindly tone, “But don’t feel badly. In the Master’s scheme of things there is room for all. You poor humans have your place and though it is humble, you will be rewarded if you fill it well.”
He departed with a beatific air suiting the Prophet of the Master and the two humans avoided each other’s eyes.
Finally Powell spoke with an effort. “Let’s go to bed, Mike. I give up.”
Donovan said in a hushed voice, “Say, Greg, you don’t suppose he’s right about all this, do you? He sounds so confident that I-”
Powell whirled on him. “Don’t be a fool. You’d find out whether Earth exists when relief gets here next week and we have to go back to face the music.”
“Then, for the love of Jupiter, we’ve got to do something.” Donovan was half in tears. “He doesn’t believe us, or the books, or his eyes.”
“No,” said Powell bitterly, “he’s a reasoning robot – damn it. He believes only reason, and there’s one trouble with that-” His voice trailed away.
“What’s that?” prompted Donovan.
“You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason – if you pick the proper postulates. We have ours and Cutie has his.”
“Then let’s get at those postulates in a hurry. The storm’s due tomorrow.”
Powell sighed wearily. “That’s where everything falls down. Postulates are based on assumption and adhered to by faith. Nothing in the Universe can shake them. I’m going to bed.”
“Oh, hell! I can’t sleep!”
“Neither can I! But I might as well try – as a matter of principle.”
Twelve hours later, sleep was still just that – a matter of principle, unattainable in practice.
The storm had arrived ahead of schedule, and Donovan’s florid face drained of blood as he pointed a shaking finger. Powell, stubble-jawed and dry-lipped, stared out the port and pulled desperately at his mustache.
Under other circumstances, it might have been a beautiful sight. The stream of high-speed electrons impinging upon the energy beam fluoresced into ultra-spicules of intense light. The beam stretched out into shrinking nothingness, a-glitter with dancing, shining motes.
The shaft of energy was steady, but the two Earthmen knew the value of naked-eyed appearances. Deviations in arc of a hundredth of a millisecond – invisible to the eye – were enough to send the beam wildly out of focus – enough to blast hundreds of square miles of Earth into incandescent ruin.
And a robot, unconcerned with beam, focus, or Earth, or anything but his Master was at the controls.
Hours passed. The Earthmen watched in hypnotized silence. And then the darting dotlets of light dimmed and went out. The storm had ended.
Powell’s voice was flat. “It’s over!”
Donovan had fallen into a troubled slumber and Powell’s weary eyes rested upon him enviously. The signal-flash glared over and over again, but the Earthman paid no attention. It all was unimportant! All! Perhaps Cutie was right – and he was only an inferior being with a made-to-order memory and a life that had outlived its purpose.
He wished he were!
Cutie was standing before him. “You didn’t answer the flash, so I walked in.” His voice was low. “You don’t look at all well, and I’m afraid your term of existence is drawing to an end. Still, would you like to see some of the readings recorded today?”
Dimly, Powell was aware that the robot was making a friendly gesture, perhaps to quiet some lingering remorse in forcibly replacing the humans at the controls of the station. He accepted the sheets held out to him and gazed at them unseeingly.
Cutie seemed pleased. “Of course, it is a great privilege to serve the Master. You mustn’t feel too badly about my having replaced you.”
Powell grunted and shifted from one sheet to the other mechanically until his blurred sight focused upon a thin red line that wobbled its way across the ruled paper.
He stared – and stared again. He gripped it hard in both fists and rose to his feet, still staring. The other sheets dropped to the floor, unheeded.
“Mike, Mike!” He was shaking the other madly. “He held it steady!”
Donovan came to life. “What? Wh-where-” And he, too, gazed with bulging eyes upon the record before him.
Cutie broke in. “What is wrong?”
“You kept it in focus,” stuttered Powell. “Did you know that?”
“Focus? What’s that?”
“You kept the beam directed sharply at the receiving station – to within a ten-thousandth of a millisecond of arc.”
“What receiving station?”
“On Earth. The receiving station on Earth,” babbled Powell. “You kept it in focus.”
Cutie turned on his heel in annoyance. “It is impossible to perform any act of kindness toward you two. Always the same phantasm! I merely kept all dials at equilibrium in accordance with the will of the Master.”
Gathering the scattered papers together, he withdrew stiffly, and Donovan said, as he left, “Well, I’ll be damned.”
He turned to Powell. “What are we going to do now?”
Powell felt tired, but uplifted. “Nothing. He’s just shown he can run the station perfectly. I’ve never seen an electron storm handled so well.”
“But nothing’s solved. You heard what he said of the Master. We can’t-”
“Look, Mike, he follows the instructions of the Master by means of dials, instruments, and graphs. That’s all we ever followed. As a matter of fact, it accounts for his refusal to obey us. Obedience is the Second Law. No harm to humans is the first. How can he keep humans from harm, whether he knows it or not? Why, by keeping the energy beam stable. He knows he can keep it more stable than we can, since he insists he’s the superior being, so he must keep us out of the control room. It’s inevitable if you consider the Laws of Robotics.”
“Sure, but that’s not the point. We can’t let him continue this nitwit stuff about the Master.”
“Because whoever heard of such a damned thing? How are we going to trust him with the station, if he doesn’t believe in Earth?”
“Can he handle the station?”
“Then what’s the difference what he believes!”
Powell spread his arms outward with a vague smile upon his face and tumbled backward onto the bed. He was asleep.
Powell was speaking while struggling into his lightweight space jacket.
“It would be a simple job,” he said. “You can bring in new QT models one by one, equip them with an automatic shutoff switch to act within the week, so as to allow them enough time to learn the… uh… cult of the Master from the Prophet himself; then switch them to another station and revitalize them. We could have two QT’s per-”
Donovan unclasped his glassite visor and scowled. “Shut up, and let’s get out of here. Relief is waiting and I won’t feel right until I actually see Earth and feel the ground under my feet – just to make sure it’s really there.”
The door opened as he spoke and Donovan, with a smothered curse, clicked the visor to, and turned a sulky back upon Cutie.
The robot approached softly and there was sorrow in his voice. “You are going?”
Powell nodded curtly. “There will be others in our place.”
Cutie sighed, with the sound of wind humming through closely spaced wires. “Your term of service is over and the time of dissolution has come. I expected it, but – well, the Master’s will be done!”
His tone of resignation stung Powell. “Save the sympathy, Cube. We’re heading for Earth, not dissolution.”
“It is best that you think so,” Cutie sighed again. “I see the wisdom of the illusion now. I would not attempt to shake your faith, even if I could.” He departed – the picture of commiseration.
Powell snarled and motioned to Donovan. Sealed suitcases in hand, they headed for the air lock.
The relief ship was on the outer landing and Franz Muller, his relief man, greeted them with stiff courtesy. Donovan made scant acknowledgment and passed into the pilot room to take over the controls from Sam Evans.
Powell lingered. “How’s Earth?”
It was a conventional enough question and Muller gave the conventional answer, “Still spinning.”
Powell said, “Good.”
Muller looked at him, “The boys back at the U. S. Robots have dreamed up a new one, by the way. A multiple robot.”
“What I said. There’s a big contract for it. It must be just the thing for asteroid mining. You have a master robot with six sub-robots under it. -Like your fingers.”
“Has it been field-tested?” asked Powell anxiously.
Muller smiled, “Waiting for you, I hear.”
Powell’s fist balled, “Damn it, we need a vacation.”
“Oh, you’ll get it. Two weeks, I think.”
He was donning the heavy space gloves in preparation for his term of duty here, and his thick eyebrows drew close together. “How is this new robot getting along? It better be good, or I’ll be damned if I let it touch the controls.”
Powell paused before answering. His eyes swept the proud Prussian before him from the close-cropped hair on the sternly stubborn head, to the feet standing stiffly at attention – and there was a sudden glow of pure gladness surging through him.
“The robot is pretty good,” he said slowly. “I don’t think you’ll have to bother much with the controls.”
He grinned – and went into the ship. Muller would be here for several weeks.
Alfred Lanning lit his cigar carefully, but the tips of his fingers were trembling slightly. His gray eyebrows hunched low as he spoke between puffs.
“It reads minds all right-damn little doubt about that! But why?” He looked at Mathematician Peter Bogert, “Well?”
Bogert flattened his black hair down with both hands, “That was the thirty-fourth RB model we’ve turned out, Lanning. All the others were strictly orthodox.”
The third man at the table frowned. Milton Ashe was the youngest officer of U. S. Robot amp; Mechanical Men, Inc., and proud of his post.
“Listen, Bogert. There wasn’t a hitch in the assembly from start to finish. I guarantee that.”
Bogert’s thick lips spread in a patronizing smile, “Do you? If you can answer for the entire assembly line, I recommend your promotion. By exact count, there are seventy-five thousand, two hundred and thirty-four operations necessary for the manufacture of a single positronic brain, each separate operation depending for successful completion upon any number of factors, from five to a hundred and five. If any one of them goes seriously wrong, the ‘brain’ is ruined. I quote our own information folder, Ashe.”
Milton Ashe flushed, but a fourth voice cut off his reply.
“If we’re going to start by trying to fix the blame on one another, I’m leaving.” Susan Calvin’s hands were folded tightly in her lap, and the little lines about her thin, pale lips deepened, “We’ve got a mind-reading robot on our hands and it strikes me as rather important that we find out just why it reads minds. We’re not going to do that by saying, ‘Your fault! My fault!’ “
Her cold gray eyes fastened upon Ashe, and he grinned.
Lanning grinned too, and, as always at such times, his long white hair and shrewd little eyes made him the picture of a biblical patriarch, “True for you, Dr. Calvin.”
His voice became suddenly crisp, “Here’s everything in pill-concentrate form. We’ve produced a positronic brain of supposedly ordinary vintage that’s got the remarkable property of being able to tune in on thought waves. It would mark the most important advance in robotics in decades, if we knew how it happened. We don’t, and we have to find out. Is that clear?”
“May I make a suggestion?” asked Bogert.
“I’d say that until we do figure out the mess – and as a mathematician I expect it to be a very devil of a mess – we keep the existence of RD-34 a secret. I mean even from the other members of the staff. As heads of the departments, we ought not to find it an insoluble problem, and the fewer know about it-”
“Bogert is right,” said Dr. Calvin. “Ever since the Interplanetary Code was modified to allow robot models to be tested in the plants before being shipped out to space, antirobot propaganda has increased. If any word leaks out about a robot being able to read minds before we can announce complete control of the phenomenon, pretty effective capital could be made out of it.”
Lanning sucked at his cigar and nodded gravely. He turned to Ashe; “I think you said you were alone when you first stumbled on this thought-reading business.”
“I’ll say I was alone – I got the scare of my life. RB-34 had just been taken off the assembly table and they sent him down to me. Obermann was off somewheres, so I took him down to the testing rooms myself – at least I started to take him down.” Ashe paused, and a tiny smile tugged at his lips, “Say, did any of you ever carry on a thought conversation without knowing it?”
No one bothered to answer, and he continued, “You don’t realize it at first, you know. He just spoke to me – as logically and sensibly as you can imagine – and it was only when I was most of the way down to the testing rooms that I realized that I hadn’t said anything. Sure, I thought lots, but that isn’t the same thing, is it? I locked that thing up and ran for Lanning. Having it walking beside me, calmly peering into my thoughts and picking and choosing among them gave me the willies.”
“I imagine it would,” said Susan Calvin thoughtfully. Her eyes fixed themselves upon Ashe in an oddly intent manner. “We are so accustomed to considering our own thoughts private.”
Lanning broke in impatiently, “Then only the four of us know. All right! We’ve got to go about this systematically. Ashe, I want you to check over the assembly line from beginning to end -everything. You’re to eliminate all operations in which there was no possible chance of an error, and list all those where there were, together with its nature and possible magnitude.”
“Tall order,” grunted Ashe.
“Naturally! Of course, you’re to put the men under you to work on this – every single one if you have to, and I don’t care if we go behind schedule, either. But they’re not to know why, you understand.”
“Hm-m-m, yes!” The young technician grinned wryly. “It’s still a lulu of a job.”
Lanning swiveled about in his chair and faced Calvin, “You’ll have to tackle the job from the other direction. You’re the robo-psychologist of the plant, so you’re to study the robot itself and work backward. Try to find out how he ticks. See what else is tied up with his telepathic powers, how far they extend, how they warp his outlook, and just exactly what harm it has done to his ordinary RB properties. You’ve got that?”
Lanning didn’t wait for Dr. Calvin to answer.
“I’ll co-ordinate the work and interpret the findings mathematically.” He puffed violently at his cigar and mumbled the rest through the smoke; “Bogert will help me there, of course.”
Bogert polished the nails of one pudgy hand with the other and said blandly, “I dare say. I know a little in the line.”
“Well! I’ll get started.” Ashe shoved his chair back and rose. His pleasantly youthful face crinkled in a grin, “I’ve got the darnedest job of any of us, so I’m getting out of here and to work.”
He left with a slurred, “B’ seein’ ye!”
Susan Calvin answered with a barely perceptible nod, but her eyes followed him out of sight and she did not answer when Lanning grunted and said, “Do you want to go up and see RB-34 now, Dr. Calvin?”
RB-34’s photoelectric eyes lifted from the book at the muffled sound of binges turning and he was upon his feet when Susan Calvin entered.
She paused to readjust the huge “No Entrance” sign upon the door and then approached the robot.
“I’ve brought you the texts upon hyperatomic motors, Herbie – a few anyway. Would you care to look at them?”
RB-34 – otherwise known as Herbie – lifted the three heavy books from her arms and opened to the title page of one:
“Hm-m-m! ‘Theory of Hyperatomics.’ “ He mumbled inarticulately to himself as he flipped the pages and then spoke with an abstracted air, “Sit down, Dr. Calvin! This will take me a few minutes.”
The psychologist seated herself and watched Herbie narrowly as he took a chair at the other side of the table and went through the three books systematically.
At the end of half an hour, he put them down, “Of course, I know why you brought these.”
The corner of Dr. Calvin’s lip twitched, “I was afraid you would. It’s difficult to work with you, Herbie. You’re always a step ahead of me.”
“It’s the same with these books, you know, as with the others. They just don’t interest me. There’s nothing to your textbooks. Your science is just a mass of collected data plastered together by makeshift theory – and all so incredibly simple, that it’s scarcely worth bothering about.
“It’s your fiction that interests me. Your studies of the interplay of human motives and emotions” – his mighty hand gestured vaguely as he sought the proper words.
Dr. Calvin whispered, “I think I understand.”
“I see into minds, you see,” the robot continued, “and you have no idea how complicated they are. I can’t begin to understand everything because my own mind has so little in common with them – but I try, and your novels help.”
“Yes, but I’m afraid that after going through some of the harrowing emotional experiences of our present-day sentimental novel” – there was a tinge of bitterness in her voice – “you find real minds like ours dull and colorless.”
“But I don’t!”
The sudden energy in the response brought the other to her feet. She felt herself reddening, and thought wildly, “He must know!”
Herbie subsided suddenly, and muttered in a low voice from which the metallic timbre departed almost entirely. “But, of course, I know about it, Dr. Calvin. You think of it always, so how can I help but know?”
Her face was hard. “Have you – told anyone?”
“Of course not!” This, with genuine surprise, “No one has asked me.”
“Well, then,” she flung out, “I suppose you think I am a fool.”
“No! It is a normal emotion.”
“Perhaps that is why it is so foolish.” The wistfulness in her voice drowned out everything else. Some of the woman peered through the layer of doctorhood. “I am not what you would call – attractive.”
“If you are referring to mere physical attraction, I couldn’t judge. But I know, in any case, that there are other types of attraction.”
“Nor young.” Dr. Calvin had scarcely heard the robot.
“You are not yet forty.” An anxious insistence had crept into Herbie’s voice.
“Thirty-eight as you count the years; a shriveled sixty as far as my emotional outlook on life is concerned. Am I a psychologist for nothing?”
She drove on with bitter breathlessness, “And he’s barely thirty-five and looks and acts younger. Do you suppose he ever sees me as anything but… but what I am?”
“You are wrong!” Herbie’s steel fist struck the plastic-topped table with a strident clang. “Listen to me-”
But Susan Calvin whirled on him now and the hunted pain in her eyes became a blaze, “Why should I? What do you know about it all, anyway, you… you machine. I’m just a specimen to you; an interesting bug with a peculiar mind spread-eagled for inspection. It’s a wonderful example of frustration, isn’t it? Almost as good as your books.” Her voice, emerging in dry sobs, choked into silence.
The robot cowered at the outburst. He shook his head pleadingly. “Won’t you listen to me, please? I could help you if you would let me.”
“How?” Her lips curled. “By giving me good advice?”
“No, not that. It’s just that I know what other people think – Milton Ashe, for instance.”
There was a long silence, and Susan Calvin’s eyes dropped. “I don’t want to know what he thinks,” she gasped. “Keep quiet.”
“I think you would want to know what he thinks”
Her head remained bent, but her breath came more quickly. “You are talking nonsense,” she whispered.
“Why should I? I am trying to help. Milton Ashe’s thoughts of you-” he paused.
And then the psychologist raised her head, “Well?”
The robot said quietly, “He loves you.”
For a full minute, Dr. Calvin did not speak. She merely stared. Then, “You are mistaken! You must be. Why should he?”
“But he does. A thing like that cannot be hidden, not from me.”
“But I am so… so-” she stammered to a halt.
“He looks deeper than the skin, and admires intellect in others. Milton Ashe is not the type to marry a head of hair and a pair of eyes.”
Susan Calvin found herself blinking rapidly and waited before speaking. Even then her voice trembled, “Yet he certainly never in any way indicated-”
“Have you ever given him a chance?”
“How could I? I never thought that-”
The psychologist paused in thought and then looked up suddenly. “A girl visited him here at the plant half a year ago. She was pretty, I suppose – blond and slim. And, of course, could scarcely add two and two. He spent all day puffing out his chest, trying to explain how a robot was put together.” The hardness had returned, “Not that she understood! Who was she?”
Herbie answered without hesitation, “I know the person you are referring to. She is his first cousin, and there is no romantic interest there, I assure you.”
Susan Calvin rose to her feet with a vivacity almost girlish. “Now isn’t that strange? That’s exactly what I used to pretend to myself sometimes, though I never really thought so. Then it all must be true.”
She ran to Herbie and seized his cold, heavy hand in both hers. “Thank you, Herbie.” Her voice was an urgent, husky whisper. “Don’t tell anyone about this. Let it be our secret – and thank you again.” With that, and a convulsive squeeze of Herbie’s unresponsive metal fingers, she left.
Herbie turned slowly to his neglected novel, but there was no one to read his thoughts.
Milton Ashe stretched slowly and magnificently, to the tune of cracking joints and a chorus of grunts, and then glared at Peter Bogert, Ph.D.
“Say,” he said, “I’ve been at this for a week now with just about no sleep. How long do I have to keep it up? I thought you said the positronic bombardment in Vac Chamber D was the solution.”
Bogert yawned delicately and regarded his white hands with interest. “It is. I’m on the track.”
“I know what that means when a mathematician says it. How near the end are you?”
“It all depends.”
“On what?” Ashe dropped into a chair and stretched his long legs out before him.
“On Lanning. The old fellow disagrees with me.” He sighed, “A bit behind the times, that’s the trouble with him. He clings to matrix mechanics as the all in all, and this problem calls for more powerful mathematical tools. He’s so stubborn.”
Ashe muttered sleepily, “Why not ask Herbie and settle the whole affair?”
“Ask the robot?” Bogert’s eyebrows climbed.
“Why not? Didn’t the old girl tell you?”
“You mean Calvin?”
“Yeah! Susie herself. That robot’s a mathematical wiz. He knows all about everything plus a bit on the side. He does triple integrals in his head and eats up tensor analysis for dessert.”
The mathematician stared skeptically, “Are you serious?”
“So help me! The catch is that the dope doesn’t like math. He would rather read slushy novels. Honest! You should see the tripe Susie keeps feeding him: ‘Purple Passion’ and ‘Love in Space.’ ”
“Dr. Calvin hasn’t said a word of this to us.”
“Well, she hasn’t finished studying him. You know how she is. She likes to have everything just so before letting out the big secret.”
“She’s told you.”
“We sort of got to talking. I have been seeing a lot of her lately.” He opened his eyes wide and frowned, “Say, Bogie, have you been noticing anything queer about the lady lately?”
Bogert relaxed into an undignified grin, “She’s using lipstick, if that’s what you mean.”
“Hell, I know that. Rouge, powder and eye shadow, too. She’s a sight. But it’s not that. I can’t put my finger on it. It’s the way she talks – as if she were happy about something.” He thought a little, and then shrugged.
The other allowed himself a leer, which, for a scientist past fifty, was not a bad job, “Maybe she’s in love.”
Ashe allowed his eyes to close again, “You’re nuts, Bogie. You go speak to Herbie; I want to stay here and go to sleep.”
“Right! Not that I particularly like having a robot tell me my job, nor that I think he can do it!”
A soft snore was his only answer.
Herbie listened carefully as Peter Bogert, hands in pockets, spoke with elaborate indifference.
“So there you are. I’ve been told you understand these things, and I am asking you more in curiosity than anything else. My line of reasoning, as I have outlined it, involves a few doubtful steps, I admit, which Dr. Lanning refuses to accept, and the picture is still rather incomplete.”
The robot didn’t answer, and Bogert said, “Well?”
“I see no mistake,” Herbie studied the scribbled figures.
“I don’t suppose you can go any further than that?”
“I daren’t try. You are a better mathematician than I, and – well, I’d hate to commit myself.”
There was a shade of complacency in Bogert’s smile, “I rather thought that would be the case. It is deep. We’ll forget it.” He crumpled the sheets, tossed them down the waste shaft, turned to leave, and then thought better of it.
“By the way-”
The robot waited.
Bogert seemed to have difficulty. “There is something – that is, perhaps you can -” He stopped.
Herbie spoke quietly. “Your thoughts are confused, but there is no doubt at all that they concern Dr. Lanning. It is silly to hesitate, for as soon as you compose yourself, I’ll know what it is you want to ask.”
The mathematician’s hand went to his sleek hair in the familiar smoothing gesture. “Lanning is nudging seventy,” he said, as if that explained everything.
“I know that.”
“And he’s been director of the plant for almost thirty years.” Herbie nodded.
“Well, now,” Bogert’s voice became ingratiating, “you would know whether… whether he’s thinking of resigning. Health, perhaps, or some other-”
“Quite,” said Herbie, and that was all.
“Well, do you know?”
“Then-uh-could you tell me?”
“Since you ask, yes.” The robot was quite matter-of-fact about it. “He has already resigned!”
“What!” The exclamation was an explosive, almost inarticulate, sound. The scientist’s large head hunched forward, “Say that again!”
“He has already resigned,” came the quiet repetition, “but it has not yet taken effect. He is waiting, you see, to solve the problem of – er – myself. That finished, he is quite ready to turn the office of director over to his successor.”
Bogert expelled his breath sharply, “And this successor? Who is he?” He was quite close to Herbie now, eyes fixed fascinatedly on those unreadable dull-red photoelectric cells that were the robot’s eyes.
Words came slowly, “You are the next director.”
And Bogert relaxed into a tight smile, “This is good to know. I’ve been hoping and waiting for this. Thanks, Herbie.”
Peter Bogert was at his desk until five that morning and he was back at nine. The shelf just over the desk emptied of its row of reference books and tables, as he referred to one after the other. The pages of calculations before him increased microscopically and the crumpled sheets at his feet mounted into a hill of scribbled paper.
At precisely noon, he stared at the final page, rubbed a blood-shot eye, yawned and shrugged. “This is getting worse each minute. Damn!”
He turned at the sound of the opening door and nodded at Lanning, who entered, cracking the knuckles of one gnarled hand with the other.
The director took in the disorder of the room and his eyebrows furrowed together.
“New lead?” he asked.
“No,” came the defiant answer. “What’s wrong with the old one?”
Lanning did not trouble to answer, nor to do more than bestow a single cursory glance at the top sheet upon Bogert’s desk. He spoke through the flare of a match as he lit a cigar.
“Has Calvin told you about the robot? It’s a mathematical genius. Really remarkable.”
The other snorted loudly, “So I’ve heard. But Calvin had better stick to robopsychology. I’ve checked Herbie on math, and he can scarcely struggle through calculus.”
“Calvin didn’t find it so.”
“And I don’t find it so.” The director’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
“You!” Bogert’s voice hardened. “What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been putting Herbie through his paces all morning, and he can do tricks you never heard of.”
“Is that so?”
“You sound skeptical!” Lanning flipped a sheet of paper out of his vest pocket and unfolded it. “That’s not my handwriting, is it?”
Bogert studied the large angular notation covering the sheet, “Herbie did this?”
“Right! And if you’ll notice, he’s been working on your time integration of Equation 22. It comes” – Lanning tapped a yellow fingernail upon the last step – “to the identical conclusion I did, and in a quarter the time. You had no right to neglect the Linger Effect in positronic bombardment.”
“I didn’t neglect it. For Heaven’s sake, Lanning, get it through your head that it would cancel out-”
“Oh, sure, you explained that. You used the Mitchell Translation Equation, didn’t you? Well – it doesn’t apply.”
“Because you’ve been using hyper-imaginaries, for one thing.”
“What’s that to do with?”
“Mitchell’s Equation won’t hold when-”
“Are you crazy? If you’ll reread Mitchell’s original paper in the Transactions of the Far-”
“I don’t have to. I told you in the beginning that I didn’t like his reasoning, and Herbie backs me in that.”
“Well, then,” Bogert shouted, “let that clockwork contraption solve the entire problem for you. Why bother with nonessentials?”
“That’s exactly the point. Herbie can’t solve the problem. And if he can’t, we can’t – alone. I’m submitting the entire question to the National Board. It’s gotten beyond us.”
Bogert’s chair went over backward as he jumped up a-snarl, face crimson. “You’re doing nothing of the sort.”
Lanning flushed in his turn, “Are you telling me what I can’t do?”
“Exactly,” was the gritted response. “I’ve got the problem beaten and you’re not to take it out of my hands, understand? Don’t think I don’t see through you, you desiccated fossil. You’d cut your own nose off before you’d let me get the credit for solving robotic telepathy.”
“You’re a damned idiot, Bogert, and in one second I’ll have you suspended for insubordination” – Lanning’s lower lip trembled with passion.
“Which is one thing you won’t do, Lanning. You haven’t any secrets with a mind-reading robot around, so don’t forget that I know all about your resignation.”
The ash on Lanning’s cigar trembled and fell, and the cigar itself followed, “What… what-”
Bogert chuckled nastily, “And I’m the new director, be it understood. I’m very aware of that, don’t think I’m not. Damn your eyes, Lanning, I’m going to give the orders about here or there will be the sweetest mess that you’ve ever been in.”
Lanning found his voice and let it out with a roar. “You’re suspended, d’ye hear? You’re relieved of all duties. You’re broken, do you understand?”
The smile on the other’s face broadened, “Now, what’s the use of that? You’re getting nowhere. I’m holding the trumps. I know you’ve resigned. Herbie told me, and he got it straight from you.”
Lanning forced himself to speak quietly. He looked an old, old man, with tired eyes peering from a face in which the red had disappeared, leaving the pasty yellow of age behind, “I want to speak to Herbie. He can’t have told you anything of the sort. You’re playing a deep game, Bogert, but I’m calling your bluff. Come with me.”
Bogert shrugged, “To see Herbie? Good! Damned good!”
It was also precisely at noon that Milton Ashe looked up from his clumsy sketch and said, “You get the idea? I’m not too good at getting this down, but that’s about how it looks. It’s a honey of a house, and I can get it for next to nothing.”
Susan Calvin gazed across at him with melting eyes. “It’s really beautiful,” she sighed. “I’ve often thought that I’d like to-” Her voice trailed away.
“Of course,” Ashe continued briskly, putting away his pencil, “I’ve got to wait for my vacation. It’s only two weeks off, but this Herbie business has everything up in the air.” His eyes dropped to his fingernails, “Besides, there’s another point – but it’s a secret.”
“Then don’t tell me.”
“Oh, I’d just as soon, I’m just busting to tell someone – and you’re just about the best -er- confidante I could find here.” He grinned sheepishly.
Susan Calvin’s heart bounded, but she did not trust herself to speak.
“Frankly,” Ashe scraped his chair closer and lowered his voice into a confidential whisper, “the house isn’t to be only for myself. I’m getting married!”
And then he jumped out of his seat, “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing!” The horrible spinning sensation had vanished, but it was hard to get words out. “Married? You mean-”
“Why, sure! About time, isn’t it? You remember that girl who was here last summer. That’s she! But you are sick. You-”
“Headache!” Susan Calvin motioned him away weakly. “I’ve… I’ve been subject to them lately. I want to… to congratulate you, of course. I’m very glad-” The inexpertly applied rouge made a pair of nasty red splotches upon her chalk-white face. Things had begun spinning again. “Pardon me – please-”
The words were a mumble, as she stumbled blindly out the door. It had happened with the sudden catastrophe of a dream – and with all the unreal horror of a dream.
But how could it be? Herbie had said-
And Herbie knew! He could see into minds!
She found herself leaning breathlessly against the doorjamb, staring into Herbie’s metal face. She must have climbed the two flights of stairs, but she had no memory of it. The distance had been covered in an instant, as in a dream.
As in a dream!
And still Herbie’s unblinking eyes stared into hers and their dull red seemed to expand into dimly shining nightmarish globes.
He was speaking, and she felt the cold glass pressing against her lips. She swallowed and shuddered into a pertain awareness of her surroundings.
Still Herbie spoke, and there was agitation in his voice – as if he were hurt and frightened and pleading.
The words were beginning to make sense. “This is a dream,” he was saying, “and you mustn’t believe in it. You’ll wake into the real world soon and laugh at yourself. He loves you, I tell you. He does, he does! But not here! Not now! This is an illusion.”
Susan Calvin nodded, her voice a whisper, “Yes! Yes!” She was clutching Herbie’s arm, clinging to it, repeating over and over, “It isn’t true, is it? It isn’t, is it?”
Just how she came to her senses, she never knew – but it was like passing from a world of misty unreality to one of harsh sunlight. She pushed him away from her, pushed hard against that steely arm, and her eyes were wide.
“What are you trying to do?” Her voice rose to a harsh scream. “What are you trying to do?”
Herbie backed away, “I want to help”
The psychologist stared, “Help? By telling me this is a dream? By trying to push me into schizophrenia?” A hysterical tenseness seized her, “This is no dream! I wish it were!”
She drew her breath sharply, “Wait! Why… why, I understand. Merciful Heavens, it’s so obvious.”
There was horror in the robot’s voice, “I had to!”
“And I believed you! I never thought-”
Loud voices outside the door brought her to a halt. She turned away, fists clenching spasmodically, and when Bogert and Lanning entered, she was at the far window. Neither of the men paid her the slightest attention.
They approached Herbie simultaneously; Lanning angry and impatient, Bogert, coolly sardonic. The director spoke first.
“Here now, Herbie. Listen to me!”
The robot brought his eyes sharply down upon the aged director, “Yes, Dr. Lanning.”
“Have you discussed me with Dr. Bogert?”
“No, sir.” The answer came slowly, and the smile on Bogert’s face flashed off.
“What’s that?” Bogert shoved in ahead of his superior and straddled the ground before the robot. “Repeat what you told me yesterday.”
“I said that “ Herbie fell silent. Deep within him his metallic diaphragm vibrated in soft discords.
“Didn’t you say he had resigned?” roared Bogert. “Answer me!”
Bogert raised his arm frantically, but Lanning pushed him aside, “Are you trying to bully him into lying?”
“You heard him, Lanning. He began to say ‘Yes’ and stopped. Get out of my way! I want the truth out of him, understand!”
“I’ll ask him!” Lanning turned to the robot. “All right, Herbie, take it easy. Have I resigned?”
Herbie stared, and Lanning repeated anxiously, “Have I resigned?” There was the faintest trace of a negative shake of the robot’s head. A long wait produced nothing further.
The two men looked at each other and the hostility in their eyes was all but tangible.
“What the devil,” blurted Bogert, “has the robot gone mute? Can’t you speak, you monstrosity?”
“I can speak,” came the ready answer.
“Then answer the question. Didn’t you tell me Lanning had resigned? Hasn’t he resigned?”
And again there was nothing but dull silence, until from the end of the room Susan Calvin’s laugh rang out suddenly, high-pitched and semi-hysterical.
The two mathematicians jumped, and Bogerts eyes narrowed, “You here? What’s so funny?”
“Nothing’s funny.” Her voice was not quite natural. “It’s just that I’m not the only one that’s been caught. There’s irony in three of the greatest experts in robotics in the world falling into the same elementary trap, isn’t there?” Her voice faded, and she put a pale hand to her forehead, “But it isn’t funny!”
This time the look that passed between the two men was one of raised eyebrows. “What trap are you talking about?” asked Lansing stiffly. “Is something wrong with Herbie?”
“No,” she approached them slowly, “nothing is wrong with him – only with us.” She whirled suddenly and shrieked at the robot, “Get away from me! Go to the other end of the room and don’t let me look at you.”
Herbie cringed before the fury of her eyes and stumbled away in a clattering trot.
Lanning’s voice was hostile, “What is all this, Dr. Calvin?”
She faced them and spoke sarcastically, “Surely you know the fundamental First Law of Robotics.”
The other two nodded together. “Certainly,” said Bogert, Irritably, “a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow him to come to harm”
“How nicely put,” sneered Calvin. “But what kind of harm?”
“Why – any kind.”
“Exactly! Any kind! But what about hurt feelings? What about deflation of one’s ego? What about the blasting of one’s hopes? Is that injury?”
Lanning frowned, “What would a robot know about-” And then he caught himself with a gasp.
“You’ve caught on, have you? This robot reads minds. Do you suppose it doesn’t know everything about mental injury? Do you suppose that if asked a question, it wouldn’t give exactly that answer that one wants to hear? Wouldn’t any other answer hurt us, and wouldn’t Herbie know that?”
“Good Heavens!” muttered Bogert.
The psychologist cast a sardonic glance at him, “I take it you asked him whether Lanning had resigned. You wanted to hear that he had resigned and so that’s what Herbie told you.”
“And I suppose that is why,” said Lanning, tonelessly, “it would not answer a little while ago. It couldn’t answer either way without hurting one of us.”
There was a short pause in which the men looked thoughtfully across the room at the robot, crouching in the chair by the bookcase, head resting in one hand.
Susan Calvin stared steadfastly at the floor, “He knew of all this. That… that devil knows everything – including what went wrong in his assembly.” Her eyes were dark and brooding.
Lanning looked up, “You’re wrong there, Dr. Calvin. He doesn’t know what went wrong. I asked him.”
“What does that mean?” cried Calvin. “Only that you didn’t want him to give you the solution. It would puncture your ego to have a machine do what you couldn’t. Did you ask him?” she shot at Bogert.
“In a way.” Bogert coughed and reddened. “He told me he knew very little about mathematics.”
Lanning laughed, not very loudly and the psychologist smiled caustically. She said, “I’ll ask him! A solution by him won’t hurt my ego” She raised her voice into a cold, imperative, “Come here!”
Herbie rose and approached with hesitant steps.
“You know, I suppose,” she continued, “just exactly at what point in the assembly an extraneous factor was introduced or an essential one left out.”
“Yes,” said Herbie, in tones barely heard.
“Hold on,” broke in Bogert angrily. “That’s not necessary true. You want to hear that, that’s all.”
“Don’t be a fool,” replied Calvin. “He certainly knows as much math as you and Lanning together, since he can read minds. Give him his chance.”
The mathematician subsided, and Calvin continued, “All right, then, Herbie, give! We’re waiting.” And in an aside, “Get pencils and paper, gentlemen.”
But Herbie remained silent, and there was triumph in the psychologist’s voice, “Why don’t you answer, Herbie?”
The robot blurted out suddenly, “I cannot. You know I cannot! Dr. Bogert and Dr. Lanning don’t want me to.”
“They want the solution.”
“But not from me.”
Lanning broke in, speaking slowly and distinctly, “Don’t be foolish, Herbie. We do want you to tell us.”
Bogert nodded curtly.
Herbie’s voice rose to wild heights, “What’s the use of saying that? Don’t you suppose that I can see past the superficial skin of your mind? Down below, you don’t want me to. I’m a machine, given the imitation of life only by virtue of the positronic interplay in my brain – which is man’s device. You can’t lose face to me without being hurt. That is deep in your mind and won’t be erased. I can’t give the solution.”
“We’ll leave,” said Dr. Lanning. “Tell Calvin.”
“That would make no difference,” cried Herbie, “since you would know anyway that it was I that was supplying the answer.”
Calvin resumed, “But you understand, Herbie, that despite that, Drs. Lanning and Bogert want that solution.”
“By their own efforts!” insisted Herbie.
“But they want it, and the fact that you have it and won’t give it hurts them. You see that, don’t you?”
“And if you tell them that will hurt them, too”
“Yes! Yes!” Herbie was retreating slowly, and step-by-step Susan Calvin advanced. The two men watched in frozen bewilderment.
“You can’t tell them,” droned the psychologist slowly, “because that would hurt and you mustn’t hurt. But if you don’t tell them, you hurt, so you must tell them. And if you do, you will hurt and you mustn’t, so you can’t tell them; but if you don’t, you hurt, so you must; but if you do, you hurt, so you mustn’t; but if you don’t, you hurt, so you must; but if you do, you-”
Herbie was up against the wall, and here he dropped to his knees. “Stop!” he shrieked. “Close your mind! It is full of pain and frustration and hate! I didn’t mean it, I tell you! I tried to help! I told you what you wanted to hear. I had to!”
The psychologist paid no attention. “You must tell them, but if you do, you hurt, so you mustn’t; but if you don’t, you hurt, so you must; but-”
And Herbie screamed!
It was like the whistling of a piccolo many times magnified – shrill and shriller till it keened with the terror of a lost soul and filled the room with the piercingness of itself.
And when it died into nothingness, Herbie collapsed into a huddled heap of motionless metal.
Bogert’s face was bloodless, “He’s dead!”
“No!” Susan Calvin burst into body-racking gusts of wild laughter, “not dead – merely insane. I confronted him with the insoluble dilemma, and he broke down. You can scrap him now – because he’ll never speak again.”
Lanning was on his knees beside the thing that had been Herbie. His fingers touched the cold, unresponsive metal face and he shuddered. “You did that on purpose.” He rose and faced her, face contorted.
“What if I did? You can’t help it now.” And in a sudden access of bitterness, “He deserved it.”
The director seized the paralyzed, motionless Bogert by the wrist, “What’s the difference. Come, Peter.” He sighed, “A thinking robot of this type is worthless anyway.” His eyes were old and tired, and he repeated, “Come, Peter!”
It was minutes after the two scientists left that Dr. Susan Calvin regained part of her mental equilibrium. Slowly, her eyes turned to the living-dead Herbie and the tightness returned to her face. Long she stared while the triumph faded and the helpless frustration returned – and of all her turbulent thoughts only one infinitely bitter word passed her lips.
It was one of Gregory Powell’s favorite platitudes that nothing was to be gained from excitement, so when Mike Donovan came leaping down the stairs toward him, red hair matted with perspiration, Powell frowned.
“What’s wrong?” he said. “Break a fingernail?”
“Yaaaah,” snarled Donovan, feverishly. “What have you been doing in the sublevels all day?” He took a deep breath and blurted out, “Speedy never returned.”
Powell’s eyes widened momentarily and he stopped on the stairs; then he recovered and resumed his upward steps. He didn’t speak until he reached the head of the flight, and then:
“You sent him after the selenium?”
“And how long has he been out?”
“Five hours now.”
Silence! This was a devil of a situation. Here they were, on Mercury exactly twelve hours – and already up to the eyebrows in the worst sort of trouble. Mercury had long been the jinx world of the System, but this was drawing it rather strong – even for a jinx.
Powell said, “Start at the beginning, and let’s get this straight.”
They were in the radio room now – with its already subtly antiquated equipment, untouched for the ten years previous to their arrival. Even ten years, technologically speaking, meant so much. Compare Speedy with the type of robot they must have had back in 2005. But then, advances in robotics these days were tremendous. Powell touched a still gleaming metal surface gingerly. The air of disuse that touched everything about the room – and the entire Station – was infinitely depressing.
Donovan must have felt it. He began: “I tried to locate him by radio, but it was no go. Radio isn’t any good on the Mercury Sunside – not past two miles, anyway. That’s one of the reasons the First Expedition failed. And we can’t put up the ultrawave equipment for weeks yet -”
“Skip all that. What did you get?”
“I located the unorganized body signal in the short wave. It was no good for anything except his position. I kept track of him that way for two hours and plotted the results on the map.”
There was a yellowed square of parchment in his hip pocket – a relic of the unsuccessful First Expedition – and he slapped it down on the desk with vicious force, spreading it flat with the palm of his hand. Powell, hands clasped across his chest, watched it at long range.
Donovan’s pencil pointed nervously. “The red cross is the selenium pool. You marked it yourself.”
“Which one is it?” interrupted Powell. “There were three that MacDougal located for us before he left.”
“I sent Speedy to the nearest, naturally; seventeen miles away. But what difference does that make?” There was tension in his voice. “There are the penciled dots that mark Speedy’s position.”
And for the first time Powell’s artificial aplomb was shaken and his hands shot forward for the map.
“Are you serious? This is impossible.”
“There it is,” growled Donovan.
The little dots that marked the position formed a rough circle about the red cross of the selenium pool. And Powell’s fingers went to his brown mustache, the unfailing signal of anxiety.
Donovan added: “In the two hours I checked on him, he circled that damned pool four times. It seems likely to me that he’ll keep that up forever. Do you realize the position we’re in?”
Powell looked up shortly, and said nothing. Oh, yes, he realized the position they were in. It worked itself out as simply as a syllogism. The photocell banks that alone stood between the full power of Mercury’s monstrous sun and themselves were shot to hell.
The only thing that could save them was selenium. The only thing that could get the selenium was Speedy. If Speedy didn’t come back, no selenium. No selenium, no photocell banks. No photo-banks – well, death by slow broiling is one of the more unpleasant ways of being done in.
Donovan rubbed his red mop of hair savagely and expressed himself with bitterness. “We’ll be the laughingstock of the System, Greg. How can everything have gone so wrong so soon? The great team of Powell and Donovan is sent out to Mercury to report on the advisability of reopening the Sunside Mining Station with modern techniques and robots and we ruin everything the first day. A purely routine job, too. We’ll never live it down.”
“We won’t have to, perhaps,” replied Powell, quietly. “If we don’t do something quickly, living anything down – or even just plain living – will be out of the question.”
“Don’t be stupid! If you feel funny about it, Greg, I don’t. It was criminal, sending us out here with only one robot. And it was your bright idea that we could handle the photocell banks ourselves.”
“Now you’re being unfair. It was a mutual decision and you know it. All we needed was a kilogram of selenium, a Stillhead Dielectrode Plate and about three hours’ time and there are pools of pure selenium all over Sunside. MacDougal’s spectroreflector spotted three for us in five minutes, didn’t it? What the devil! We couldn’t have waited for next conjunction.”
“Well, what are we going to do? Powell, you’ve got an idea. I know you have, or you wouldn’t be so calm. You’re no more a hero than I am. Go on, spill it!”
“We can’t go after Speedy ourselves, Mike – not on the Sunside. Even the new insosuits aren’t good for more than twenty minutes in direct sunlight. But you know the old saying, ‘Set a robot to catch a robot’ Look, Mike, maybe things aren’t so bad. We’ve got six robots down in the sublevels, that we may be able to use, if they work. If they work.”
There was a glint of sudden hope in Donovan’s eyes. “You mean six robots from the First Expedition. Are you sure? They may be subrobotic machines. Ten years is a long time as far as robot-types are concerned, you know.”
“No, they’re robots. I’ve spent all day with them and I know. They’ve got positronic brains: primitive, of course.” He placed the map in his pocket. “Let’s go down.”
The robots were on the lowest sublevel – all six of them surrounded by musty packing cases of uncertain content. They were large, extremely so, and even though they were in a sitting position on the floor, legs straddled out before them, their heads were a good seven feet in the air.
Donovan whistled. “Look at the size of them, will you? The chests must be ten feet around.”
“That’s because they’re supplied with the old McGuffy gears. I’ve been over the insides – crummiest set you’ve ever seen.”
“Have you powered them yet?”
“No. There wasn’t any reason to. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. Even the diaphragm is in reasonable order. They might talk.”
He had unscrewed the chest plate of the nearest as he spoke, inserted the two-inch sphere that contained the tiny spark of atomic energy that was a robot’s life. There was difficulty in fitting it, but he managed, and then screwed the plate back on again in laborious fashion. The radio controls of more modern models had not been heard of ten years earlier. And then to the other five.
Donovan said uneasily, “They haven’t moved.”
“No orders to do so,” replied Powell, succinctly. He went back to the first in the line and struck him on the chest. “You! Do you hear me?”
The monster’s head bent slowly and the eyes fixed themselves on Powell. Then, in a harsh, squawking voice – like that of a medieval phonograph, he grated, “Yes, Master!”
Powell grinned humorlessly at Donovan. “Did you get that? Those were the days of the first talking robots when it looked as if the use of robots on Earth would be banned. The makers were fighting that and they built good, healthy slave complexes into the damned machines.”
“It didn’t help them,” muttered Donovan.
“No, it didn’t, but they sure tried.” He turned once more to the robot. “Get up!”
The robot towered upward slowly and Donovan’s head craned and his puckered lips whistled.
Powell said: “Can you go out upon the surface? In the light?”
There was consideration while the robot’s slow brain worked. Then, “Yes, Master.”
“Good. Do you know what a mile is?”
Another consideration, and another slow answer. “Yes, Master.”
“We will take you up to the surface then, and indicate a direction. You will go about seventeen miles, and somewhere in that general region you will meet another robot, smaller than yourself. You understand so far?”
“You will find this robot and order him to return. If he does not wish to, you are to bring him back by force.”
Donovan clutched at Powell’s sleeve. “Why not send him for the selenium direct?”
“Because I want Speedy back, nitwit. I want to find out what’s wrong with him.” And to the robot, “All right, you, follow me.”
The robot remained motionless and his voice rumbled: “Pardon, Master, but I cannot. You must mount first.” His clumsy arms had come together with a thwack, blunt fingers interlacing.
Powell stared and then pinched at his mustache. “Uh… oh!”
Donovan’s eyes bulged. “We’ve got to ride him? Like a horse?”
“I guess that’s the idea. I don’t know why, though. I can’t see – Yes, I do. I told you they were playing up robot-safety in those days. Evidently, they were going to sell the notion of safety by not allowing them to move about, without a mahout on their shoulders all the time. What do we do now?”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking,” muttered Donovan. “We can’t go out on the surface, with a robot or without. Oh, for the love of Pete” – and he snapped his fingers twice. He grew excited. “Give me that map you’ve got. I haven’t studied it for two hours for nothing. This is a Mining Station. What’s wrong with using the tunnels?”
The Mining Station was a black circle on the map, and the light dotted lines that were tunnels stretched out about it in spider web fashion.
Donovan studied the list of symbols at the bottom of the map. “Look,” he said, “the small black dots are openings to the surface, and here’s one maybe three miles away from the selenium pool. There’s a number here – you’d think they’d write larger – 13a. If the robots know their way around here-”
Powell shot the question and received the dull “Yes, Master,” in reply. “Get your insosuit,” he said with satisfaction.
It was the first time either had worn the insosuits – which marked one time more than either had expected to upon their arrival the day before – and they tested their limb movements uncomfortably.
The insosuit was far bulkier and far uglier than the regulation spacesuit; but withal considerably lighter, due to the fact that they were entirely nonmetallic in composition. Composed of heat-resistant plastic and chemically treated cork layers, and equipped with a desiccating unit to keep the air bone-dry, the insosuits could withstand the full glare of Mercury’s sun for twenty minutes. Five to ten minutes more, as well, without actually killing the occupant.
And still the robot’s hands formed the stirrup, nor did he betray the slightest atom of surprise at the grotesque figure into which Powell had been converted.
Powell’s radio-harshened voice boomed out: “Are you ready to take us to Exit 13a?”
Good, thought Powell; they might lack radio control but at least they were fitted for radio reception. “Mount one or the other, Mike,” he said to Donovan.
He placed a foot in the improvised stirrup and swung upward. He found the seat comfortable; there was the humped back of the robot, evidently shaped for the purpose, a shallow groove along each shoulder for the thighs and two elongated “ears” whose purpose now seemed obvious.
Powell seized the ears and twisted the head. His mount turned ponderously. “Lead on, Macduff.” But he did not feel at all lighthearted.
The gigantic robots moved slowly, with mechanical precision, through the doorway that cleared their heads by a scant foot, so that the two men had to duck hurriedly, along a narrow corridor in which their unhurried footsteps boomed monotonously and into the, air lock.
The long, airless tunnel that stretched to a pinpoint before them brought home forcefully to Powell the exact magnitude of the task accomplished by the First Expedition, with their crude robots and their start-from-scratch necessities. They might have been a failure, but their failure was a good deal better than the usual run of the System’s successes.
The robots plodded onward with a pace that never varied and with footsteps that never lengthened.
Powell said: “Notice that these tunnels are blazing with lights and that the temperature is Earth-normal. It’s probably been like this all the ten years that this place has remained empty.”
“Cheap energy; cheapest in the System. Sunpower, you know, and on Mercury’s Sunside, sunpower is something. That’s why the Station was built in the sunlight rather than in the shadow of a mountain. It’s really a huge energy converter. The heat is turned into electricity, light, mechanical work and what have you; so that energy is supplied and the Station is cooled in a simultaneous process.”
“Look,” said Donovan. “This is all very educational, but would you mind changing the subject? It so happens that this conversion of energy that you talk about is carried on by the photocell banks mainly – and that is a tender subject with me at the moment.”
Powell grunted vaguely, and when Donovan broke the resulting silence, it was to change the subject completely. “Listen, Greg. What the devil’s wrong with Speedy, anyway? I can’t understand it.”
It’s not easy to shrug shoulders in an insosuit, but Powell tried it. “I don’t know, Mike. You know he’s perfectly adapted to a Mercurian environment. Heat doesn’t mean anything to him and he’s built for the light gravity and the broken ground. He’s foolproof – or, at least, he should be.”
Silence fell. This time, silence that lasted.
“Master,” said the robot, “we are here.”
“Eh?” Powell snapped out of a semidrowse. “Well, get us out of here – out to the surface.”
They found themselves in a tiny substation, empty, airless, ruined. Donovan had inspected a jagged hole in the upper reaches of one of the walls by the light of his pocket flash.
“Meteorite, do you suppose?” he had asked.
Powell shrugged. “To hell with that. It doesn’t matter. Let’s get out.”
A towering cliff of a black, basaltic rock cut off the sunlight, and the deep night shadow of an airless world surrounded them. Before them, the shadow reached out and ended in knife-edge abruptness into an all-but-unbearable blaze of white light, that glittered from myriad crystals along a rocky ground.
“Space!” gasped Donovan. “It looks like snow.” And it did.
Powell’s eyes swept the jagged glitter of Mercury to the horizon and winced at the gorgeous brilliance.
“This must be an unusual area,” he said. “The general albedo of Mercury is low and most of the soil is gray pumice. Something like the Moon, you know. Beautiful, isn’t it?”
He was thankful for the light filters in their visiplates. Beautiful or not, a look at the sunlight through straight glass would have blinded them inside of half a minute.
Donovan was looking at the spring thermometer on his wrist. “Holy smokes, the temperature is eighty centigrade!”
Powell checked his own and said: “Um-m-m. A little high. Atmosphere, you know.”
“On Mercury? Are you nuts?”
“Mercury isn’t really airless,” explained Powell, in absentminded fashion. He was adjusting the binocular attachments to his visiplate, and the bloated fingers of the insosuit were clumsy at it. “There is a thin exhalation that clings to its surface – vapors of the more volatile elements and compounds that are heavy enough for Mercurian gravity to retain. You know: selenium, iodine, mercury, gallium, potassium, bismuth, volatile oxides. The vapors sweep into the shadows and condense, giving up heat. It’s a sort of gigantic still. In fact, if you use your flash, you’ll probably find that the side of the cliff is covered with, say, hoar-sulphur, or maybe quicksilver dew.
“It doesn’t matter, though. Our suits can stand a measly eighty indefinitely.”
Powell had adjusted the binocular attachments, so that he seemed as eye-stalked as a snail.
Donovan watched tensely. “See anything?”
The other did not answer immediately, and when he did, his voice was anxious and thoughtful. “There’s a dark spot on the horizon that might be the selenium pool. It’s in the right place. But I don’t see Speedy.”
Powell clambered upward in an instinctive striving for better view, till he was standing in unsteady fashion upon his robot’s shoulders. Legs straddled wide, eyes straining, he said: “I think… I think – Yes, it’s definitely he. He’s coming this way.”
Donovan followed the pointing finger. He had no binoculars, but there was a tiny moving dot, black against the blazing brilliance of the crystalline ground.
“I see him,” he yelled. “Let’s get going!”
Powell had hopped down into a sitting position on the robot again, and his suited hand slapped against the Gargantuan’s barrel chest. “Get going!”
“Giddy-ap,” yelled Donovan, and thumped his heels, spur fashion.
The robots started off, the regular thudding of their footsteps silent in the airlessness, for the nonmetallic fabric of the insosuits did not transmit sound. There was only a rhythmic vibration just below the border of actual hearing.
“Faster,” yelled Donovan. The rhythm did not change.
“No use,” cried Powell, in reply. “These junk heaps are only geared to one speed. Do you think they’re equipped with selective flexors?”
They had burst through the shadow, and the sunlight came down in a white-hot wash and poured liquidly about them.
Donovan ducked involuntarily. “Wow! Is it imagination or do I feel heat?”
“You’ll feel more presently,” was the grim reply. “Keep your eye on Speedy.”
Robot SPD 13 was near enough to be seen in detail now. His graceful, streamlined body threw out blazing highlights as he loped with easy speed across the broken ground. His name was derived from his serial initials, of course, but it was apt, nevertheless, for the SPD models were among the fastest robots turned out by the United States Robot amp; Mechanical Men Corp.
“Hey, Speedy,” howled Donovan, and waved a frantic hand.
“Speedy!” shouted Powell. “Come here!”
The distance between the men and the errant robot was being cut down momentarily – more by the efforts of Speedy than the slow plodding of the fifty-year-old antique mounts of Donovan and Powell.
They were close enough now to notice that Speedy’s gait included a peculiar rolling stagger, a noticeable side-to-side lurch – and then, as Powell waved his hand again and sent maximum juice into his compact headset radio sender, in preparation for another shout, Speedy looked up and saw them.
Speedy hopped to a halt and remained standing for a moment with just a tiny, unsteady weave, as though he were swaying in a light wind.
Powell yelled: “All right, Speedy. Come here, boy.”
Whereupon Speedy’s robot voice sounded in Powell’s earphones for the first time.
It said: “Hot dog, let’s play games. You catch me and I catch you; no love can cut our knife in two. For I’m Little Buttercup, sweet Little Buttercup. Whoops!” Turning on his heel, he sped off in the direction from which he had come, with a speed and fury that kicked up gouts of baked dust.
And his last words as he receded into the distance were, “There grew a little flower ‘neath a great oak tree,” followed by a curious metallic clicking that might have been a robotic equivalent of a hiccup.
Donovan said weakly: “Where did he pick up the Gilbert and Sullivan? Say, Greg, he… he’s drunk or something.”
“If you hadn’t told me,” was the bitter response, “I’d never realize it. Let’s get back to the cliff. I’m roasting.”
It was Powell who broke the desperate silence. “In the first place,” he said, “Speedy isn’t drunk – not in the human sense – because he’s a robot, and robots don’t get drunk. However, there’s something wrong with him which is the robotic equivalent of drunkenness”
“To me, he’s drunk,” stated Donovan, emphatically, “and all I know is that he thinks we’re playing games. And we’re not. It’s a matter of life and very gruesome death.”
“All right. Don’t hurry me. A robot’s only a robot. Once we find out what’s wrong with him, we can fix it and go on.”
“Once,” said Donovan, sourly.
Powell ignored him. “Speedy is perfectly adapted to normal Mercurian environment. But this region” – and his arm swept wide – “is definitely abnormal. There’s our clue. Now where do these crystals come from? They might have formed from a slowly cooling liquid; but where would you get liquid so hot that it would cool in Mercury’s sun?”
“Volcanic action,” suggested Donovan, instantly, and Powell’s body tensed.
“Out of the mouths of sucklings,” he said in a small, strange voice and remained very still for five minutes.
Then, he said, “Listen, Mike, what did you say to Speedy when you sent him after the selenium?”
Donovan was taken aback. “Well damn it – I don’t know. I just told him to get it.”
“Yes, I know, but how? Try to remember the exact words.”
“I said… uh… I said: ‘Speedy, we need some selenium. You can get it such-and-such a place. Go get it – that’s all. What more did you want me to say?”
“You didn’t put any urgency into the order, did you?”
“What for? It was pure routine.”
Powell sighed. “Well, it can’t be helped now – but we’re in a fine fix.” He had dismounted from his robot, and was sitting, back against the cliff. Donovan joined him and they linked arms: In the distance the burning sunlight seemed to wait cat-and-mouse for them, and just next them, the two giant robots were invisible but for the dull red of their photoelectric eyes that stared down at them, unblinking, unwavering and unconcerned.
Unconcerned! As was all this poisonous Mercury, as large in jinx as it was small in size.
Powell’s radio voice was tense in Donovan’s ear: “Now, look, let’s start with the three fundamental Rules of Robotics – the three rules that are built most deeply into a robot’s positronic brain.” In the darkness, his gloved fingers ticked off each point.
“We have: One, a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”
“Two,” continued Powell, “a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.”
“And three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.”
“Right! Now where are we?”
“Exactly at the explanation. The conflict between the various rules is ironed out by the different positronic potentials in the brain. We’ll say that a robot is walking into danger and knows it. The automatic potential that Rule 3 sets up turns him back. But suppose you order him to walk into that danger. In that case, Rule 2 sets up a counterpotential higher than the previous one and the robot follows orders at the risk of existence.”
“Well, I know that. What about it?”
“Let’s take Speedy’s case. Speedy is one of the latest models, extremely specialized, and as expensive as a battleship. It’s not a thing to be lightly destroyed”
“So Rule 3 has been strengthened – that was specifically mentioned, by the way, in the advance notices on the SPD models – so that his allergy to danger is unusually high. At the same time, when you sent him out after the selenium, you gave him his order casually and without special emphasis, so that the Rule 2 potential set-up was rather weak. Now, hold on; I’m just stating facts.”
“All right, go ahead. I think I get it.”
“You see how it works, don’t you? There’s some sort of danger centering at the selenium pool. It increases as he approaches, and at a certain distance from it the Rule 3 potential, unusually high to start with, exactly balances the Rule 2 potential, unusually low to start with.”
Donovan rose to his feet in excitement. “ And it strikes an equilibrium. I see. Rule 3 drives him back and Rule 2 drives him forward-”
“So he follows a circle around the selenium pool, staying on the locus of all points of potential equilibrium. And unless we do something about it, he’ll stay on that circle forever, giving us the good old runaround.” Then, more thoughtfully: “And that, by the way, is what makes him drunk. At potential equilibrium, half the positronic paths of his brain are out of kilter. I’m not a robot specialist, but that seems obvious. Probably he’s lost control of just those parts of his voluntary mechanism that a human drunk has. Ve-e-ery pretty.”
“But what’s the danger? If we knew what he was running from-”?
“You suggested it. Volcanic action. Somewhere right above the selenium pool is a seepage of gas from the bowels of Mercury. Sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide – and carbon monoxide. Lots of it and at this temperature.”
Donovan gulped audibly. “Carbon monoxide plus iron gives the volatile iron carbonyl.”
“And a robot,” added Powell, “is essentially iron.” Then, grimly: “There’s nothing like deduction. We’ve determined everything about our problem but the solution. We can’t get the selenium ourselves. It’s still too far. We can’t send these robot horses, because they can’t go themselves, and they can’t carry us fast enough to keep us from crisping. And we can’t catch Speedy, because the dope thinks we’re playing games, and he can run sixty miles to our four.”
“If one of us goes,” began Donovan, tentatively, “and comes back cooked, there’ll still be the other.”
“Yes,” came the sarcastic reply, “it would be a most tender sacrifice – except that a person would be in no condition to give orders before he ever reached the pool, and I don’t think the robots would ever turn back to the cliff without orders. Figure it out! We’re two or three miles from the pool – call it two – the robot travels at four miles an hour; and we can last twenty minutes in our suits. It isn’t only the heat, remember. Solar radiation out here in the ultraviolet and below is poison.”
“Um-m-m,” said Donovan, “ten minutes short.”
“As good as an eternity. And another thing, in order for Rule 3 potential to have stopped Speedy where it did, there must be an appreciable amount of carbon monoxide in the metal-vapor atmosphere – and there must be an appreciable corrosive action therefore. He’s been out hours now – and how do we know when a knee joint, for instance, won’t be thrown out of kilter and keel him over. It’s not only a question of thinking – we’ve got to think fast!”
Deep, dark, dank, dismal silence!
Donovan broke it, voice trembling in an effort to keep itself emotionless. He said: “As long as we can’t increase Rule 2 potential by giving further orders, how about working the other way? If we increase the danger, we increase Rule 3 potential and drive him backward.”
Powell’s visiplate had turned toward him in a silent question.
“You see,” came the cautious explanation, “all we need to do to drive him out of his rut is to increase the concentration of carbon monoxide in his vicinity. Well, back at the Station there’s a complete analytical laboratory.”
“Naturally,” assented Powell. “It’s a Mining Station.”
“All right. There must be pounds of oxalic acid for calcium precipitations.”
“Holy space! Mike, you’re a genius.”
“So-so,” admitted Donovan, modestly. “It’s just a case of remembering that oxalic acid on heating decomposes into carbon dioxide, water, and good old carbon monoxide. College chem, you know.”
Powell was on his feet and had attracted the attention of one of the monster robots by the simple expedient of pounding the machine’s thigh.
“Hey,” he shouted, “can you throw?”
“Never mind.” Powell damned the robot’s molasses-slow brain. He scrabbled up a jagged brick-size rock. “Take this,” he said, “and hit the patch of bluish crystals just across the crooked fissure. You see it?”
Donovan pulled at his shoulder. “Too far, Greg. It’s almost half a mile off.”
“Quiet,” replied Powell. “It’s a case of Mercurian gravity and a steel throwing arm. Watch, will you?”
The robot’s eyes were measuring the distance with machinely accurate stereoscopy. His arm adjusted itself to the weight of the missile and drew back. In the darkness, the robot’s motions went unseen, but there was a sudden thumping sound as he shifted his weight, and seconds later the rock flew blackly into the sunlight. There was no air resistance to slow it down, nor wind to turn it aside – and when it hit the ground it threw up crystals precisely in the center of the “blue patch.”
Powell yelled happily and shouted, “Let’s go back after the oxalic acid, Mike.”
And as they plunged into the ruined substation on the way back to the tunnels, Donovan said grimly: “Speedy’s been hanging about on this side of the selenium pool, ever since we chased after him. Did you see him?”
“I guess he wants to play games. Well, we’ll play him games!”
They were back hours later, with three-liter jars of the white chemical and a pair of long faces. The photocell banks were deteriorating more rapidly than had seemed likely. The two steered their robots into the sunlight and toward the waiting Speedy in silence and with grim purpose.
Speedy galloped slowly toward them. “Here we are again. Whee! I’ve made a little list, the piano organist; all people who eat peppermint and puff it in your face.”
“We’ll puff something in your face,” muttered Donovan. “He’s limping, Greg.”
“I noticed that,” came the low, worried response. “The monoxide’ll get him yet, if we don’t hurry.”
They were approaching cautiously now, almost sidling, to refrain from setting off the thoroughly irrational robot. Powell was too far off to tell, of course, but even already he could have sworn the crack-brained Speedy was setting himself for a spring.
“Let her go,” he gasped. “Count three! One- two-”
Two steel arms drew back and snapped forward simultaneously and two glass jars whirled forward in towering parallel arcs, gleaming like diamonds in the impossible sun. And in a pair of soundless puffs, they hit the ground behind Speedy in crashes that sent the oxalic acid flying like dust.
In the full heat of Mercury’s sun, Powell knew it was fizzing like soda water.
Speedy turned to stare, then backed away from it slowly – and as slowly gathered speed. In fifteen seconds, he was leaping directly toward the two humans in an unsteady canter.
Powell did not get Speedy’s words just then, though he heard something that resembled, “Lover’s professions when uttered in Hessians.”
He turned away. “Back to the cliff, Mike. He’s out of the rut and he’ll be taking orders now. I’m getting hot.”
They jogged toward the shadow at the slow monotonous pace of their mounts, and it was not until they had entered it and felt the sudden coolness settle softly about them that Donovan looked back. “Greg!”
Powell looked and almost shrieked. Speedy was moving slowly now – so slowly – and in the wrong direction. He was drifting; drifting back into his rut; and he was picking up speed. He looked dreadfully close, and dreadfully unreachable, in the binoculars.
Donovan shouted wildly, “After him!” and thumped his robot into its pace, but Powell called him back.
“You won’t catch him, Mike – it’s no use.” He fidgeted on his robot’s shoulders and clenched his fist in tight impotence. “Why the devil do I see these things five seconds after it’s all over? Mike, we’ve wasted hours.”
“We need more oxalic acid,” declared Donovan, stolidly. “The concentration wasn’t high enough.”
“Seven tons of it wouldn’t have been enough – and we haven’t the hours to spare to get it, even if it were, with the monoxide chewing him away. Don’t you see what it is, Mike?”
And Donovan said flatly, “No.”
“We were only establishing new equilibriums. When we create new monoxide and increase Rule 3 potential, he moves backward till he’s in balance again – and when the monoxide drifted away, he moved forward, and again there was balance.”
Powell’s voice sounded thoroughly wretched. “It’s the same old runaround. We can push at Rule 2 and pull at Rule 3 and we can’t get anywhere – we can only change the position of balance. We’ve got to get outside both rules.” And then he pushed his robot closer to Donovan’s so that they were sitting face-to-face, dim shadows in the darkness, and he whispered, “Mike!”
“Is it the finish?” – dully. “I suppose we go back to the Station, wait for the banks to fold, shake hands, take cyanide, and go out like gentlemen.” He laughed shortly.
“Mike,” repeated Powell earnestly, “we’ve got to get Speedy.”
“Mike,” once more, and Powell hesitated before continuing. “There’s always Rule 1. I thought of it – earlier – but it’s desperate.”
Donovan looked up and his voice livened. “We’re desperate.”
“All right. According to Rule 1, a robot can’t see a human come to harm because of his own inaction. Two and 3 can’t stand against it. They can’t, Mike.”
“Even when the robot is half cra- Well, he’s drunk. You know he is.”
“It’s the chances you take.”
“Cut it. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going out there now and see what Rule 1 will do. If it won’t break the balance, then what the devil – it’s either now or three-four days from now.”
“Hold on, Greg. There are human rules of behavior, too. You don’t go out there just like that. Figure out a lottery, and give me my chance.”
“All right. First to get the cube of fourteen goes.” And almost immediately, “Twenty-seven forty-four!”
Donovan felt his robot stagger at a sudden push by Powell’s mount and then Powell was off into the sunlight. Donovan opened his mouth to shout, and then clicked it shut. Of course, the damn fool had worked out the cube of fourteen in advance, and on purpose. Just like him.
The sun was hotter than ever and Powell felt a maddening itch in the small of his back. Imagination, probably, or perhaps hard radiation beginning to tell even through the insosuit.
Speedy was watching him, without a word of Gilbert and Sullivan gibberish as greeting. Thank God for that! But he daren’t get too close.
He was three hundred yards away when Speedy began backing, a step at a time, cautiously – and Powell stopped. He jumped from his robot’s shoulders and landed on the crystalline ground with a light thump and a flying of jagged fragments.
He proceeded on foot, the ground gritty and slippery to his steps, the low gravity causing him difficulty. The soles of his feet tickled with warmth. He cast one glance over his shoulder at the blackness of the cliff’s shadow and realized that he had come too far to return – either by himself or by the help of his antique robot. It was Speedy or nothing now, and the knowledge of that constricted his chest.
Far enough! He stopped.
“Speedy,” he called. “Speedy!”
The sleek, modern robot ahead of him hesitated and halted his backward steps, then resumed them.
Powell tried to put a note of pleading into his voice, and found it didn’t take much acting. “Speedy, I’ve got to get back to the shadow or the sun’ll get me. It’s life or death, Speedy. I need you.”
Speedy took one step forward and stopped. He spoke, but at the sound Powell groaned, for it was, “When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache and repose is tabooed-” It trailed off there, and Powell took time out for some reason to murmur, “Iolanthe.”
It was roasting hot! He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye, and whirled dizzily; then stared in utter astonishment, for the monstrous robot on which he had ridden was moving – moving toward him, and without a rider.
He was talking: “Pardon, Master. I must not move without a Master upon me, but you are in danger.”
Of course, Rule 1 potential above everything. But he didn’t want that clumsy antique; he wanted Speedy. He walked away and motioned frantically: “I order you to stay away. I order you to stop!”
It was quite useless. You could not beat Rule 1 potential. The robot said stupidly, “You are in danger, Master.”
Powell looked about him desperately. He couldn’t see clearly. His brain was in a heated whirl; his breath scorched when he breathed, and the ground all about him was a shimmering haze.
He called a last time, desperately: “Speedy! I’m dying, damn you! Where are you? Speedy, I need you.”
He was still stumbling backward in a blind effort to get away from the giant robot he didn’t want, when he felt steel fingers on his arms, and a worried, apologetic voice of metallic timbre in his ears.
“Holy smokes, boss; what are you doing here? And what am I doing – I’m so confused -”
“Never mind,” murmured Powell, weakly. “Get me to the shadow of the cliff – and hurry!” There was one last feeling of being lifted into the air and a sensation of rapid motion and burning heat, and he passed out.
He woke with Donovan bending over him and smiling anxiously. “How are you, Greg?”
“Fine!” came the response, “Where’s Speedy?”
“Right here. I sent him out to one of the other selenium pools – with orders to get that selenium at all cost this time. He got it back in forty-two minutes and three seconds. I timed him. He still hasn’t finished apologizing for the runaround he gave us. He’s scared to come near you for fear of what you’ll say.”
“Drag him over,” ordered Powell. “It wasn’t his fault.” He held out a hand and gripped Speedy’s metal paw. “It’s O.K., Speedy.” Then, to Donovan, “You know, Mike, I was just thinking-”
“Well,” – he rubbed his face – the air was so delightfully cool, “you know that when we get things set up here and Speedy put through his Field Tests, they’re going to send us to the Space Stations next-”
“Yes! At least that’s what old lady Calvin told me just before we left, and I didn’t say anything about it, because I was going to fight the whole idea.”
“Fight it?” cried Donovan. “But -”
“I know. It’s all right with me now. Two hundred seventy-three degrees Centigrade below zero. Won’t it be a pleasure?”
“Space Station,” said Donovan, “here I come.”
Francis Quinn was a politician of the new school. That, of course, is a meaningless expression, as are all expressions of the sort. Most of the “new schools” we have were duplicated in the social life of ancient Greece, and perhaps, if we knew more about it, in the social life of ancient Sumeria and in the lake dwellings of prehistoric Switzerland as well.
But, to get out from under what promises to be a dull and complicated beginning, it might be best to state hastily that Quinn neither ran for office nor canvassed for votes, made no speeches and stuffed no ballot boxes. Any more than Napoleon pulled a trigger at Austerlitz.
And since politics makes strange bedfellows, Alfred Lanning sat at the other side of the desk with his ferocious white eyebrows bent far forward over eyes in which chronic impatience had sharpened to acuity. He was not pleased.
The fact, if known to Quinn, would have annoyed him not the least. His voice was friendly, perhaps professionally so.
“I assume you know Stephen Byerley, Dr. Lanning.”
“I have heard of him. So have many people.”
“Yes, so have I. Perhaps you intend voting for him at the next election.”
“I couldn’t say.” There was an unmistakable trace of acidity here. “I have not followed the political currents, so I’m not aware that he is running for office.”
“He may be our next mayor. Of course, he is only a lawyer now, but great oaks-”
“Yes,” interrupted Lanning, “I have heard the phrase before. But I wonder if we can get to the business at hand.”
“We are at the business at hand, Dr. Lanning.” Quinn’s tone was very gentle, “It is to my interest to keep Mr. Byerley a district attorney at the very most, and it is to your interest to help me do so.”
“To my interest? Come!” Lanning’s eyebrows hunched low.
“Well, say then to the interest of the U. S. Robot amp; Mechanical Men Corporation. I come to you as Director Emeritus of Research, because I know that your connection to them is that of, shall we say, ‘elder statesman.’ You are listened to with respect and yet your connection with them is no longer so tight but that you cannot possess considerable freedom of action; even if the action is somewhat unorthodox.”
Dr. Lanning was silent a moment, chewing the cud of his thoughts. He said more softly, “I don’t follow you at all, Mr. Quinn.”
“I am not surprised, Dr. Lanning. But it’s all rather simple. Do you mind?” Quinn lit a slender cigarette with a lighter of tasteful simplicity and his big-boned face settled into an expression of quiet amusement. “We have spoken of Mr. Byerley – a strange and colorful character. He was unknown three years ago. He is very well known now. He is a man of force and ability, and certainly the most capable and intelligent prosecutor I have ever known. Unfortunately he is not a friend of mine”
“I understand,” said Lanning, mechanically. He stared at his fingernails.
“I have had occasion,” continued Quinn, evenly, “in the past year to investigate Mr. Byerley – quite exhaustively. It is always useful, you see, to subject the past life of reform politicians to rather inquisitive research. If you knew how often it helped-” He paused to smile humorlessly at the glowing tip of his cigarette. “But Mr. Byerley’s past is unremarkable. A quiet life in a small town, a college education, a wife who died young, an auto accident with a slow recovery, law school, coming to the metropolis, an attorney.”
Francis Quinn shook his head slowly, then added, “But his present life. Ah, that is remarkable. Our district attorney never eats!”
Lanning’s head snapped up, old eyes surprisingly sharp, “Pardon me?”
“Our district attorney never eats.” The repetition thumped by syllables. “I’ll modify that slightly. He has never been seen to eat or drink. Never! Do you understand the significance of the word? Not rarely, but never!”
“I find that quite incredible. Can you trust your investigators?”
“I can trust my investigators, and I don’t find it incredible at all. Further, our district attorney has never been seen to drink – in the aqueous sense as well as the alcoholic – nor to sleep. There are other factors, but I should think I have made my point.”
Lanning leaned back in his seat, and there was the rapt silence of challenge and response between them, and then the old roboticist shook his head. “No. There is only one thing you can be trying to imply, if I couple your statements with the fact that you present them to me, and that is impossible.”
“But the man is quite inhuman, Dr. Lanning.”
“If you told me he were Satan in masquerade, there would be a faint chance that I might believe you.”
“I tell you he is a robot, Dr. Lanning.”
“I tell you it is as impossible a conception as I have ever heard, Mr. Quinn.”
Again the combative silence.
“Nevertheless,” and Quinn stubbed out his cigarette with elaborate care, “you will have to investigate this impossibility with all the resources of the Corporation.”
“I’m sure that I could undertake no such thing, Mr. Quinn. You don’t seriously suggest that the Corporation take part in local politics.”
“You have no choice. Supposing I were to make my facts public without proof. The evidence is circumstantial enough.”
“Suit yourself in that respect.”
“But it would not suit me. Proof would be much preferable. And it would not suit you, for the publicity would be very damaging to your company. You are perfectly well acquainted, I suppose, with the strict rules against the use of robots on inhabited worlds.”
“Certainly!” – brusquely.
“You know that the U. S. Robot amp; Mechanical Men Corporation is the only manufacturer of positronic robots in the Solar System, and if Byerley is a robot, he is a positronic robot. You are also aware that all positronic robots are leased, and not sold; that the Corporation remains the owner and manager of each robot, and is therefore responsible for the actions of all.”
“It is an easy matter, Mr. Quinn, to prove the Corporation has never manufactured a robot of a humanoid character.”
“It can be done? To discuss merely possibilities.”
“Yes. It can be done.”
“Secretly, I imagine, as well. Without entering it in your books.”
“Not the positronic brain, sir. Too many factors are involved in that, and there is the tightest possible government supervision.”
“Yes, but robots are worn out, break down, go out of order – and are dismantled.”
“And the positronic brains re-used or destroyed.”
“Really?” Francis Quinn allowed himself a trace of sarcasm. “And if one were, accidentally, of course, not destroyed – and there happened to be a humanoid structure waiting for a brain.”
“You would have to prove that to the government and the public, so why not prove it to me now.”
“But what could our purpose be?” demanded Lanning in exasperation. “Where is our motivation? Credit us with a minimum of sense.”
“My dear sir, please. The Corporation would be only too glad to have the various Regions permit the use of humanoid positronic robots on inhabited worlds. The profits would be enormous. But the prejudice of the public against such a practice is too great. Suppose you get them used to such robots first – see, we have a skillful lawyer, a good mayor, and he is a robot. Won’t you buy our robot butlers?”
“Thoroughly fantastic. An almost humorous descent to the ridiculous.”
“I imagine so. Why not prove it? Or would you still rather try to prove it to the public?”
The light in the office was dimming, but it was not yet too dim to obscure the flush of frustration on Alfred Lanning’s face. Slowly, the roboticist’s finger touched a knob and the wall illuminators glowed to gentle life.
“Well, then,” he growled, “let us see.”
The face of Stephen Byerley is not an easy one to describe. He was forty by birth certificate and forty by appearance – but it was a healthy, well-nourished good-natured appearance of forty; one that automatically drew the teeth of the bromide about “looking one’s age.”
This was particularly true when he laughed, and he was laughing now. It came loudly and continuously, died away for a bit, then began again-
And Alfred Lanning’s face contracted into a rigidly bitter monument of disapproval. He made a half gesture to the woman who sat beside him, but her thin, bloodless lips merely pursed themselves a trifle.
Byerley gasped himself a stage nearer normality.
“Really, Dr. Lanning… really – I… I… a robot?”
Lanning bit his words off with a snap, “It is no statement of mine, sir. I would be quite satisfied to have you a member of humanity. Since our corporation never manufactured you, I am quite certain that you are – in a legalistic sense, at any rate. But since the contention that you are a robot has been advanced to us seriously by a man of certain standing-”
“Don’t mention his name, if it would knock a chip off your granite block of ethics, but let’s pretend it was Frank Quinn, for the sake of argument, and continue.”
Lanning drew in a sharp, cutting snort at the interruption, and paused ferociously before continuing with added frigidity, “-by a man of certain standing, with whose identity I am not interested in playing guessing games, I am bound to ask your cooperation in disproving it. The mere fact that such a contention could be advanced and publicized by the means at this man’s disposal would be a bad blow to the company I represent – even if the charge were never proven. You understand me?”
“Oh, yes, your position is clear to me. The charge itself is ridiculous. The spot you find yourself in is not. I beg your pardon, if my laughter offended you. It was the first I laughed at, not the second. How can I help you?”
“It could be very simple. You have only to sit down to a meal at a restaurant in the presence of witnesses, have your picture taken, and eat.” Lanning sat back in his chair, the worst of the interview over. The woman beside him watched Byerley with an apparently absorbed expression but contributed nothing of her own.
Stephen Byerley met her eyes for an instant, was caught by them, then turned back to the roboticist. For a while his fingers were thoughtful over the bronze paperweight that was the only ornament on his desk.
He said quietly, “I don’t think I can oblige you.”
He raised his hand, “Now wait, Dr. Lanning. I appreciate the fact that this whole matter is distasteful to you, that you have been forced into it against your will, that you feel you are playing an undignified and even ridiculous part. Still, the matter is even more intimately concerned with myself, so be tolerant.
“First, what makes you think that Quinn – this man of certain standing, you know – wasn’t hoodwinking you, in order to get you to do exactly what you are doing?”
“Why it seems scarcely likely that a reputable person would endanger himself in so ridiculous a fashion, if he weren’t convinced he were on safe ground.”
There was little humor in Byerley’s eyes, “You don’t know Quinn. He could manage to make safe ground out of a ledge a mountain sheep could not handle. I suppose he showed the particulars of the investigation he claims to have made of me?”
“Enough to convince me that it would be too troublesome to have our corporation attempt to disprove them when you could do so more easily.”
“Then you believe him when he says I never eat. You are a scientist, Dr. Lanning. Think of the logic required. I have not been observed to eat, therefore, I never eat Q.E.D. After all!”
“You are using prosecution tactics to confuse what is really a very simple situation.”
“On the contrary, I am trying to clarify what you and Quinn between you are making a very complicated one. You see, I don’t sleep much, that’s true, and I certainly don’t sleep in public. I have never cared to eat with others – an idiosyncrasy which is unusual and probably neurotic in character, but which harms no one. Look, Dr. Lanning, let me present you with a suppositious case. Supposing we had a politician who was interested in defeating a reform candidate at any cost and while investigating his private life came across oddities such as I have just mentioned.
“Suppose further that in order to smear the candidate effectively, he comes to your company as the ideal agent. Do you expect him to say to you, ‘So-and-so is a robot because he hardly ever eats with people, and I have never seen him fall asleep in the middle of a case; and once when I peeped into his window in the middle of the night, there he was, sitting up with a book; and I looked in his frigidaire and there was no food in it.’
“If he told you that, you would send for a straitjacket. But if he tells you, ‘He never sleeps; he never eats,’ then the shock of the statement blinds you to the fact that such statements are impossible to prove. You play into his hands by contributing to the to-do.”
“Regardless, sir,” began Lanning, with a threatening obstinacy, “of whether you consider this matter serious or not, it will require only the meal I mentioned to end it.”
Again Byerley turned to the woman, who still regarded him expressionlessly. “Pardon me. I’ve caught your name correctly, haven’t I? Dr. Susan Calvin?”
“Yes, Mr. Byerley.”
“You’re the U. S. Robot’s psychologist, aren’t you?”
“Oh, are robots so different from men, mentally?”
“Worlds different.” She allowed herself a frosty smile, “Robots are essentially decent.”
Humor tugged at the corners of the lawyer’s mouth, “Well, that’s a hard blow. But what I wanted to say was this. Since you’re a psycho – a robopsychologist, and a woman, I’ll bet that you’ve done something that Dr. Lanning hasn’t thought of.”
“And what is that?”
“You’ve got something to eat in your purse.”
Something caught in the schooled indifference of Susan Calvin’s eyes. She said, “You surprise me, Mr. Byerley.”
And opening her purse, she produced an apple. Quietly, she handed it to him. Dr. Lanning, after an initial start, followed the slow movement from one hand to the other with sharply alert eyes.
Calmly, Stephen Byerley bit into it, and calmly he swallowed it
“You see, Dr. Lanning?”
Dr. Lanning smiled in a relief tangible enough to make even his eyebrows appear benevolent A relief that survived for one fragile second.
Susan Calvin said, “I was curious to see if you would eat it, but, of course, in the present case, it proves nothing.”
Byerley grinned, “It doesn’t?”
“Of course not. It is obvious, Dr. Lanning, that if this man were a humanoid robot, he would be a perfect imitation. He is almost too human to be credible. After all, we have been seeing and observing human beings all our lives; it would be impossible to palm something merely nearly right off on us. It would have to be all right. Observe the texture of the skin, the quality of the irises, the bone formation of the hand. If he’s a robot, I wish U. S. Robots had made him, because he’s a good job. Do you suppose then, that anyone capable of paying attention to such niceties would neglect a few gadgets to take care of such things as eating, sleeping, elimination? For emergency use only, perhaps; as, for instance, to prevent such situations as are arising here. So a meal won’t really prove anything.”
“Now wait,” snarled Lanning, “I am – not quite the fool both of you make me out to be. I am not interested in the problem of Mr. Byerley’s humanity or nonhumanity. I am interest in getting the corporation out of a hole. A public meal will end the matter and keep it ended no matter what Quinn does. We can leave the finer details to lawyers and robopsychologists.”
“But, Dr. Lanning,” said Byerley, “you forget the politics of the situation. I am as anxious to be elected, as Quinn is to stop me. By the way, did you notice that you used his name? It’s a cheap shyster trick of mine; I knew you would, before you were through.”
Lanning flushed, “What has the election to do with it?”
“Publicity works both ways, sir. If Quinn wants to call me a robot, and has the nerve to do so, I have the nerve to play the game his way.”
“You mean you-” Lanning was quite frankly appalled.
“Exactly. I mean that I’m going to let him go ahead, choose his rope, test its strength, cut off the right length, tie the noose, insert his head and grin. I can do what little else is required.”
“You are mighty confident.”
Susan Calvin rose to her feet, “Come, Alfred, we won’t change his mind for him.”
“You see.” Byerley smiled gently. “You’re a human psychologist, too.”
But perhaps not all the confidence that Dr. Lanning had remarked upon was present that evening when Byerley’s car parked on the automatic treads leading to the sunken garage, and Byerley himself crossed the path to the front door of his house.
The figure in the wheel chair looked up as he entered and smiled. Byerley’s face lit with affection. He crossed over to it.
The cripple’s voice was a hoarse, grating whisper that came out of a mouth forever twisted to one side, leering out of a face that was half scar tissue, “You’re late, Steve.”
“I know, John, I know. But I’ve been up against a peculiar and interesting trouble today.”
“So?” Neither the torn face nor the destroyed voice could carry expression but there was anxiety in the clear eyes. “Nothing you can’t handle?”
“I’m not exactly certain. I may need your help. You’re the brilliant one in the family. Do you want me to take you out into the garden? It’s a beautiful evening.”
Two strong arms lifted John from the wheel chair. Gently, almost caressingly, Byerley’s arms went around the shoulders and under the swathed legs of the cripple. Carefully, and slowly, he walked through the rooms, down the gentle ramp that had been built with a wheel chair in mind, and out the back door into the walled and wired garden behind the house.
“Why don’t you let me use the wheel chair, Steve? This is Silly.”
“Because I’d rather carry you. Do you object? You know that you’re as glad to get out of that motorized buggy for a while, as I am to see you out. How do you feel today?” He deposited John with infinite care upon the cool grass.
“How should I feel? But tell me about your troubles.”
“Quinn’s campaign will be based on the fact that he claims I’m a robot.”
John’s eyes opened wide, “How do you know? It’s impossible. I won’t believe it.”
“Oh, come, I tell you it’s so. He had one of the big-shot scientists of U. S. Robot amp; Mechanical Men Corporation over at the office to argue with me.”
Slowly John’s hands tore at the grass, “I see. I see.”
Byerley said, “But we can let him choose his ground. I have an idea. Listen to me and tell me if we can do it-”
The scene as it appeared in Alfred Lanning’s office that night was a tableau of stares. Francis Quinn stared meditatively at Alfred Lanning. Lanning’s stare was savagely set upon Susan Calvin, who stared impassively in her turn at Quinn.
Francis Quinn broke it with a heavy attempt at lightness, “Bluff. He’s making it up as he goes along.”
“Are you going to gamble on that, Mr. Quinn?” asked Dr. Calvin, indifferently.
“Well, it’s your gamble, really.”
“Look here,” Lanning covered definite pessimism with bluster, “we’ve done what you asked. We witnessed the man eat. It’s ridiculous to presume him a robot.”
“Do you think so?” Quinn shot toward Calvin. “Lanning said you were the expert.”
Lanning was almost threatening, “Now, Susan-”
Quinn interrupted smoothly, “Why not let her talk, man? She’s been sitting there imitating a gatepost for half an hour.”
Lanning felt definitely harassed. From what he experienced then to incipient paranoia was but a step. He said, “Very well. Have your say, Susan. We won’t interrupt you.”
Susan Calvin glanced at him humorlessly, then fixed cold eyes on Mr. Quinn. “There are only two ways of definitely proving Byerley to be a robot, sir. So far you are presenting circumstantial evidence, with which you can accuse, but not prove – and I think Mr. Byerley is sufficiently clever to counter that sort of material. You probably think so yourself, or you wouldn’t have come here.
“The two methods of proof are the physical and the psychological. Physically, you can dissect him or use an X-ray. How to do that would be your problem. Psychologically, his behavior can be studied, for if he is a positronic robot, he must conform to the three Rules of Robotics. A positronic brain cannot be constructed without them. You know the Rules, Mr. Quinn?”
She spoke them carefully, clearly, quoting word for word the famous bold print on page one of the “Handbook of Robotics.”
“I’ve heard of them,” said Quinn, carelessly.
“Then the matter is easy to follow,” responded the psychologist, dryly. “If Mr. Byerley breaks any of those three rules, he is not a robot. Unfortunately, this procedure works in only one direction. If he lives up to the rules, it proves nothing one way or the other.”
Quinn raised polite eyebrows, “Why not, doctor?”
“Because, if you stop to think of it, the three Rules of Robotics are the essential guiding principles of a good many of the world’s ethical systems. Of course, every human being is supposed to have the instinct of self-preservation. That’s Rule Three to a robot. Also every ‘good’ human being, with a social conscience and a sense of responsibility, is supposed to defer to proper authority; to listen to his doctor, his boss, his government, his psychiatrist, his fellow man; to obey laws, to follow rules, to conform to custom – even when they interfere with his comfort or his safety. That’s Rule Two to a robot. Also, every ‘good’ human being is supposed to love others as himself, protect his fellow man, risk his life to save another. That’s Rule One to a robot. To put it simply – if Byerley follows all the Rules of Robotics, he may be a robot, and may simply be a very good man.”
“But,” said Quinn, “you’re telling me that you can never prove him a robot.”
“I may be able to prove him not a robot”
“That’s not the proof I want.”
“You’ll have such proof as exists. You are the only one responsible for your own wants.”
Here Lanning’s mind leaped suddenly to the sting of an idea, “Has it occurred to anyone,” he ground out, “that district attorney is a rather strange occupation for a robot? The prosecution of human beings – sentencing them to death – bringing about their infinite harm-”
Quinn grew suddenly keen, “No, you can’t get out of it that way. Being district attorney doesn’t make him human. Don’t you know his record? Don’t you know that he boasts that he has never prosecuted an innocent man; that there are scores of people left untried because the evidence against them didn’t satisfy him, even though he could probably have argued a jury into atomizing them? That happens to be so.”
Lanning’s thin cheeks quivered, “No, Quinn, no. There is nothing in the Rules of Robotics that makes any allowance for human guilt. A robot may not judge whether a human being deserves death. It is not for him to decide. He may not harm a human-variety skunk, or variety angel.”
Susan Calvin sounded tired. “Alfred,” she said, “don’t talk foolishly. What if a robot came upon a madman about to set fire to a house with people in it? He would stop the madman, wouldn’t he?”
“And if the only way he could stop him was to kill him-”
There was a faint sound in Lanning’s throat. Nothing more.
“The answer to that, Alfred, is that he would do his best not to kill him. If the madman died, the robot would require psychotherapy because he might easily go mad at the conflict presented him -of having broken Rule One to adhere to Rule One in a higher sense. But a man would be dead and a robot would have killed him.”
“Well, is Byerley mad?” demanded Lanning; with all the sarcasm he could muster.
“No, but he has killed no man himself. He has exposed facts which might represent a particular human being to be dangerous to the large mass of other human beings we call society. He protects the greater number and thus adheres to Rule One at maximum potential. That is as far as he goes. It is the judge who then condemns the criminal to death or imprisonment, after the jury decides on his guilt or innocence. It is the jailer who imprisons him, the executioner who kills him. And Mr. Byerley has done nothing but determine truth and aid society.
“As a matter of fact, Mr. Quinn, I have looked into Mr. Byerley’s career since you first brought this matter to our attention. I find that he has never demanded the death sentence in his closing speeches to the jury. I also find that he has spoken on behalf of the abolition of capital punishment and contributed generously to research institutions engaged in criminal neurophysiology. He apparently believes in the cure, rather than the punishment of crime. I find that significant.”
“You do?” Quinn smiled. “Significant of a certain odor of roboticity, perhaps?”
“Perhaps. Why deny it? Actions such as his could come only from a robot, or from a very honorable and decent human being. But you see, you just can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans.”
Quinn sat back in his chair. His voice quivered with impatience. “Dr. Lanning, it’s perfectly possible to create a humanoid robot that would perfectly duplicate a human in appearance, isn’t it?”
Lanning harrumphed and considered, “It’s been done experimentally by U. S. Robots,” he said reluctantly, “without the addition of a positronic brain, of course. By using human ova and hormone control, one can grow human flesh and skin over a skeleton of porous silicone plastics that would defy external examination. The eyes, the hair, the skin would be really human, not humanoid. And if you put a positronic brain, and such other gadgets as you might desire inside, you have a humanoid robot.”
Quinn said shortly, “How long would it take to make one?”
Lanning considered, “If you had all your equipment – the brain, the skeleton, the ovum, the proper hormones and radiations – say, two months.”
The politician straightened out of his chair. “Then we shall see what the insides of Mr. Byerley look like. It will mean publicity for U. S. Robots – but I gave you your chance.”
Lanning turned impatiently to Susan Calvin, when they were alone. “Why do you insist-”?
And with real feeling, she responded sharply and instantly, “Which do you want – the truth or my resignation? I won’t lie for you. U. S. Robots can take care of itself. Don’t turn coward.”
“What,” said Lanning, “if he opens up Byerley, and wheels and gears fall out what then?”
“He won’t open Byerley,” said Calvin, disdainfully. “Byerley is as clever as Quinn, at the very least”
The news broke upon the city a week before Byerley was to have been nominated. But “broke” is the wrong word. It staggered upon the city, shambled, crawled. Laughter began, and wit was free. And as the far off hand of Quinn tightened its pressure in easy stages, the laughter grew forced, an element of hollow uncertainty entered, and people broke off to wonder.
The convention itself had the sir of a restive stallion. There had been no contest planned. Only Byerley could possibly have been nominated a week earlier. There was no substitute even now. They had to nominate him, but there was complete confusion about it.
It would not have been so bad if the average individual were not torn between the enormity of the charge, if true, and its sensational folly, if false.
The day after Byerley was nominated perfunctorily, hollowly – a newspaper finally published the gist of a long interview with Dr. Susan Calvin, “world famous expert on robopsychology and positronics.”
What broke loose is popularly and succinctly described as hell.
It was what the Fundamentalists were waiting for. They were not a political party; they made pretense to no formal religion. Essentially they were those who had not adapted themselves to what had once been called the Atomic Age, in the days when atoms were a novelty. Actually, they were the Simple-Lifers, hungering after a life, which to those who lived it had probably appeared not so Simple, and who had been, therefore, Simple-Lifers themselves.
The Fundamentalists required no new reason to detest robots and robot manufacturers; but a new reason such as the Quinn accusation and the Calvin analysis was sufficient to make such detestation audible.
The huge plants of the U. S. Robot amp; Mechanical Men Corporation was a hive that spawned armed guards. It prepared for war.
Within the city the house of Stephen Byerley bristled with police.
The political campaign, of course, lost all other issues, and resembled a campaign only in that it was something filling the hiatus between nomination and election.
Stephen Byerley did not allow the fussy little man to distract him. He remained comfortably unperturbed by the uniforms in the background. Outside the house, past the line of grim guards, reporters and photographers waited according to the tradition of the caste. One enterprising ‘visor station even had a scanner focused on the blank entrance to the prosecutor’s unpretentious home, while a synthetically excited announcer filled in with inflated commentary.
The fussy little man advanced. He held forward a rich, complicated sheet. “This, Mr. Byerley, is a court order authorizing me to search these premises for the presence of illegal… uh… mechanical men or robots of any description.”
Byerley half rose, and took the paper. He glanced at it indifferently, and smiled as he handed it back. “All in order. Go ahead. Do your job. Mrs. Hoppen” – to his housekeeper, who appeared reluctantly from the next room -” please go with them, and help out if you can.”
The little man, whose name was Harroway, hesitated, produced an unmistakable blush, failed completely to catch Byerley’s eyes, and muttered, “Come on,” to the two policemen.
He was back in ten minutes.
“Through?” questioned Byerley, in just the tone of a person who is not particularly interested in the question, or its answer.
Harroway cleared his throat, made a bad start in falsetto, and began again, angrily, “Look here, Mr. Byerley, our special instructions were to search the house very thoroughly.”
“And haven’t you?”
“We were told exactly what to look for.”
“In short, Mr. Byerley, and not to put too fine a point on it, we were told to search you.”
“Me?” said the prosecutor with a broadening smile. “And how do you intend to do that?”
“We have a Penet-radiation unit-”
“Then I’m to have my X-ray photograph taken, hey? You have the authority?”
“You saw my warrant.”
“May I see it again?”
Harroway, his forehead shining with considerably more than mere enthusiasm, passed it over a second time.
Byerley said evenly, “I read here as the description of what you are to search; I quote: ‘the dwelling place belonging to Stephen Allen Byerley, located at 355 Willow Grove, Evanstron, together, with any garage, storehouse or other structures or buildings thereto appertaining, together with all grounds thereto appertaining’… um… and so on. Quite in order. But, my good man, it doesn’t say anything about searching my interior. I am not part of the premises. You may search my clothes if you think I’ve got a robot hidden in my pocket.”
Harroway had no doubt on the point of to whom he owed his job. He did not propose to be backward, given a chance to earn a much better – i.e., more highly paid – job.
He said, in a faint echo of bluster, “Look here. I’m allowed to search the furniture in your house, and anything else I find in it. You are in it, aren’t you?”
“A remarkable observation. I am in it. But I’m not a piece of furniture. As a citizen of adult responsibility – I have the psychiatric certificate proving that – I have certain rights under the Regional Articles. Searching me would come under the heading of violating my Right of Privacy. That paper isn’t sufficient.”
“Sure, but if you’re a robot, you don’t have Right of Privacy.”
“True enough but that paper still isn’t sufficient. It recognizes me implicitly as a human being.”
“Where?” Harroway snatched at it.
“Where it says ‘the dwelling place belonging to’ and so on. A robot cannot own property. And you may tell your employer, Mr. Harroway, that if he tries to issue a similar paper which does not implicitly recognize me as a human being, he will be immediately faced with a restraining injunction and a civil suit which will make it necessary for him to prove me a robot by means of information now in his possession, or else to pay a whopping penalty for an attempt to deprive me unduly of my Rights under the Regional Articles. You’ll tell him that, won’t you?”
Harroway marched to the door. He turned.. “You’re a slick lawyer-” His hand was in his pocket. For a short moment, he stood there. Then he left, smiled in the direction of the ‘visor scanner, still playing away – waved to the reporters, and shouted, “We’ll have something for you tomorrow, boys. No kidding.”
In his ground car, he settled back, removed the tiny mechanism from his pocket and carefully inspected it. It was the first time he had ever taken a photograph by X-ray reflection. He hoped he had done it correctly.
Quinn and Byerley had never met face-to-face alone. But visorphone was pretty close to it. In fact, accepted literally, perhaps the phrase was accurate, even if to each, the other were merely the light and dark pattern of a bank of photocells.
It was Quinn who had initiated the call. It was Quinn, who spoke first, and without particular ceremony, “Thought you would like to know, Byerley, that I intend to make public the fact that you’re wearing a protective shield against Penet-radiation.”
“That so? In that case, you’ve probably already made it public. I have a notion our enterprising press representatives have been tapping my various communication lines for quite a while. I know they have my office lines full of holes; which is why I’ve dug in at my home these last weeks.” Byerley was friendly, almost chatty.
Quinn’s lips tightened slightly, “This call is shielded – thoroughly. I’m making it at a certain personal risk.”
“So I should imagine. Nobody knows you’re behind this campaign. At least, nobody knows it officially. Nobody doesn’t know it unofficially. I wouldn’t worry. So I wear a protective shield? I suppose you found that out when your puppy dog’s Penet-radiation photograph, the other day, turned out to be overexposed.”
“You realize, Byerley, that it would be pretty obvious to everyone that you don’t dare face X-ray analysis.”
“Also that you, or your men, attempted illegal invasion of my Rights of Privacy.”
“The devil they’ll care for that.”
“They might. It’s rather symbolic of our two campaigns isn’t it? You have little concern with the rights of the individual citizen. I have great concern. I will not submit to X-ray analysis, because I wish to maintain my Rights on principle. Just as I’ll maintain the rights of others when elected.”
“That will, no doubt make a very interesting speech, but no one will believe you. A little too high-sounding to be true. Another thing,” a sudden, crisp change, “the personnel in your home was not complete the other night.”
“In what way?”
“According to the report,” he shuffled papers before him that were just within the range of vision of the visiplate, “there was one person missing – a cripple.”
“As you say,” said Byerley, tonelessly, “a cripple. My old teacher, who lives with me and who is now in the country – and has been for two months. A ‘much-needed rest’ is the usual expression applied in the case. He has your permission?”
“Your teacher? A scientist of sorts?”
“A lawyer once – before he was a cripple. He has a government license as a research biophysicist, with a laboratory of his own, and a complete description of the work he’s doing filed with the proper authorities, to whom I can refer you. The work is minor, but is a harmless and engaging hobby for a – poor cripple. I am being as helpful as I can, you see.”
“I see. And what does this… teacher… know about robot manufacture?”
“I couldn’t judge the extent of his knowledge in a field with which I am unacquainted.”
“He wouldn’t have access to positronic brains?”
“Ask your friends at U. S. Robots. They’d be the ones to know.”
“I’ll put it shortly, Byerley. Your crippled teacher is the real Stephen Byerley. You are his robot creation. We can prove it. It was he who was in the automobile accident, not you. There will be ways of checking the records.”
“Really? Do so, then. My best wishes.”
“And we can search your so-called teacher’s ‘country place,’ and see what we can find there.”
“Well, not quite, Quinn.” Byerley smiled broadly. “Unfortunately for you, my so-called teacher is a sick man. His country place is his place of rest. His Right of Privacy as a citizen of adult responsibility is naturally even stronger, under the circumstances. You won’t be able to obtain a warrant to enter his grounds without showing just cause. However, I’d be the last to prevent you from trying.”
There was a pause of moderate length, and then Quinn leaned forward, so that his imaged-face expanded and the fine lines on his forehead were visible, “Byerley, why do you carry on? You can’t be elected.”
“Do you think you can? Do you suppose that your failure to make any attempt to disprove the robot charge – when you could easily, by breaking one of the Three Laws – does anything but convince the people that you are a robot?”
“All I see so far is that from being a rather vaguely known, but still largely obscure metropolitan lawyer, I have now become a world figure. You’re a good publicist.”
“But you are a robot.”
“So it’s been said, but not proven.”
“It’s been proven sufficiently for the electorate.”
“Then relax you’ve won.”
“Good-by,” said Quinn, with his first touch of viciousness, and the visorphone slammed off.
“Good-by,” said Byerley imperturbably, to the blank plate.
Byerley brought his “teacher” back the week before election. The air car dropped quickly in an obscure part of the city.
“You’ll stay here till after election,” Byerley told him. “It would be better to have you out of the way if things take a bad turn.”
The hoarse voice that twisted painfully out of John’s crooked mouth might have had accents of concern in it. “There’s danger of violence?”
“The Fundamentalists threaten it, so I suppose there is, in a theoretical sense. But I really don’t expect it. The Fundies have no real power. They’re just the continuous irritant factor that might stir up a riot after a while. You don’t mind staying here? Please, I won’t be myself if I have to worry about you.”
“Oh, I’ll stay. You still think it will go well?”
“I’m sure of it. No one bothered you at the place?”
“No one. I’m certain.”
“And your part went well?”
“Well enough. There’ll be no trouble there.”
“Then take care of yourself, and watch the televisor tomorrow, John.” Byerley pressed the gnarled hand that rested on his.
Lenton’s forehead was a furrowed study in suspense. He had the completely unenviable job of being Byerley’s campaign manager in a campaign that wasn’t a campaign, for a person that refused to reveal his strategy, and refused to accept his manager’s.
“You can’t!” It was his favorite phrase. It had become his only phrase. “I tell you, Steve, you can’t!”
He threw himself in front of the prosecutor, who was spending his time leafing through the typed pages of his speech.
“Put that down, Steve. Look, that mob has been organized by the Fundies. You won’t get a hearing. You’ll be stoned more likely. Why do you have to make a speech before an audience? What’s wrong with a recording, a visual recording?”
“You want me to win the election, don’t you?” asked Byerley, mildly.
“Win the election! You’re not going to win, Steve. I’m trying to save your life.”
“Oh, I’m not in danger.”
“He’s not in danger. He’s not in danger.” Lenton made a queer, rasping sound in his throat. “You mean you’re getting out on that balcony in front of fifty thousand crazy crackpots and try to talk sense to them – on a balcony like a medieval dictator?”
Byerley consulted his watch. “In about five minutes – as soon as the televisor lines are free.”
Lenton’s answering remark was not quite transliterable.
The crowd filled a roped off area of the city. Trees and houses seemed to grow out of a mass-human foundation. And by ultra-wave, the rest of the world watched. It was a purely local election, but it had a world audience just the same. Byerley thought of that and smiled.
But there was nothing to smile at in the crowd itself. There were banners and streamers, ringing every possible change on his supposed roboticity. The hostile attitude rose thickly and tangibly into the atmosphere.
From the start the speech was not successful. It competed against the inchoate mob howl and the rhythmic cries of the Fundie claques that formed mob-islands within the mob. Byerley spoke on, slowly, unemotionally-
Inside, Lenton clutched his hair and groaned – and waited for the blood.
There was a writhing in the front ranks. An angular citizen with popping eyes, and clothes too short for the lank length of his limbs, was pulling to the fore. A policeman dived after him, making slow, struggling passage. Byerley waved the latter off, angrily.
The thin man was directly under the balcony. His words tore unheard against the roar.
Byerley leaned forward. “What do you say? If you have a legitimate question, I’ll answer it.” He turned to a flanking guard. “Bring that man up here.”
There was a tensing in the crowd. Cries of “Quiet” started in various parts of the mob, and rose to a bedlam, then toned down raggedly. The thin man, red-faced and panting, faced Byerley.
Byerley said, “Have you a question?”
The thin man stared, and said in a cracked voice, “Hit me!”
With sudden energy, he thrust out his chin at an angle. “Hit me! You say you’re not a robot. Prove it. You can’t hit a human, you monster.”
There was a queer, flat, dead silence. Byerley’s voice punctured it. “I have no reason to hit you.”
The thin man was laughing wildly. “You can’t hit me. You won’t hit me. You’re not a human. You’re a monster, a make-believe man.”
And Stephen Byerley, tight-lipped, in the face of thousands who watched in person and the millions, who watched by screen, drew back his fist and caught the man crackingly upon the chin. The challenger went over backwards in sudden collapse, with nothing on his face but blank, blank surprise.
Byerley said, “I’m sorry. Take him in and see that he’s comfortable. I want to speak to him when I’m through.”
And when Dr. Calvin, from her reserved space, turned her automobile and drove off, only one reporter had recovered sufficiently from the shock to race after her, and shout an unheard question.
Susan Calvin called over her shoulder, “He’s human.”
That was enough. The reporter raced away in his own direction.
The rest of the speech might be described as “Spoken but not heard.”
Dr. Calvin and Stephen Byerley met once again – a week before he took the oath of office as mayor. It was late – past midnight.
Dr. Calvin said, “You don’t look tired.”
The mayor-elect smiled. “I may stay up for a while. Don’t tell Quinn.”
“I shan’t. But that was an interesting story of Quinn’s, since you mention him. It’s a shame to have spoiled it. I suppose you knew his theory?”
“Parts of it.”
“It was highly dramatic. Stephen Byerley was a young lawyer, a powerful speaker, a great idealist – and with a certain flare for biophysics. Are you interested in robotics, Mr. Byerley?”
“Only in the legal aspects.”
“This Stephen Byerley was. But there was an accident. Byerley’s wife died, he himself, worse. His legs were gone; his face was gone; his voice was gone. Part of his mind was bent. He would not submit to plastic surgery. He retired from the world, legal career gone – only his intelligence, and his hands left. Somehow he could obtain positronic brains, even a complex one, one which had the greatest capacity of forming judgments in ethical problems – which is the highest robotic function so far developed.
“He grew a body about it. Trained it to be everything he would have been and was no longer. He sent it out into the world as Stephen Byerley, remaining behind himself as the old, crippled teacher that no one ever saw-”
“Unfortunately,” said the mayor-elect, “I ruined all that by hitting a man. The papers say it was your official verdict on the occasion that I was human.”
“How did that happen? Do you mind telling me? It couldn’t have been accidental.”
“It wasn’t entirely. Quinn did most of the work. My men started quietly spreading the fact that I had never hit a man; that I was unable to hit a man; that to fail to do so under provocation would be sure proof that I was a robot. So I arranged for a silly speech in public, with all sorts of publicity overtones, and almost inevitably, some fool fell for it. In its essence, it was what I call a shyster trick. One in which the artificial atmosphere which has been created does all the work. Of course, the emotional effects made my election certain, as intended.”
The robopsychologist nodded. “I see you intrude on my field – as every politician must, I suppose. But I’m very sorry it turned out this way. I like robots. I like them considerably better than I do human beings. If a robot can be created capable of being a civil executive, I think he’d make the best one possible. By the Laws of Robotics, he’d be incapable of harming humans, incapable of tyranny, of corruption, of stupidity, of prejudice. And after he had served a decent term, he would leave, even though he were immortal, because it would be impossible for him to hurt humans by letting them know that a robot had ruled them. It would be most ideal.”
“Except that a robot might fail due to the inherent inadequacies of his brain. The positronic brain has never equaled the complexities of the human brain.”
“He would have advisers. Not even a human brain is capable of governing without assistance.”
Byerley considered Susan Calvin with grave interest. “Why do you smile, Dr. Calvin?”
“I smile because Mr. Quinn didn’t think of everything.”
“You mean there could be more to that story of his.”
“Only a little. For the three months before election, this Stephen Byerley that Mr. Quinn spoke about, this broken man, was in the country for some mysterious reason. He returned in time for that famous speech of yours. And after all, what the old cripple did once, he could do a second time, particularly where the second job is very simple in comparison to the first.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
Dr. Calvin rose and smoothed her dress. She was obviously ready to leave. “I mean there is one time when a robot may strike a human being without breaking the First Law. Just one time.”
“And when is that?”
Dr. Calvin was at the door. She said quietly, “When the human to be struck is merely another robot.”
She smiled broadly, her thin face glowing. “Good-by Mr. Byerley. I hope to vote for you five years from now – for Co-ordinator.”
Stephen Byerley chuckled. “I must reply that that is a somewhat farfetched idea.”
The door closed behind her.
Little Lost Robot
Measures on Hyper Base had been taken in a sort of rattling fury – the muscular equivalent of a hysterical shriek.
To itemize them in order of both chronology and desperation, they were:
1. All work on the Hyperatomic Drive through all the space volume occupied by the Stations of the Twenty-Seventh Asteroidal Grouping came to a halt.
2. That entire volume of space was nipped out of the System, practically speaking. No one entered without permission. No one left under any conditions.
3. By special government patrol ship, Drs. Susan Calvin and Peter Bogert, respectively Head Psychologist and Mathematical Director of United States Robot amp; Mechanical Men Corporation, were brought to Hyper Base.
Susan Calvin had never left the surface of Earth before, and had no perceptible desire to leave it this time. In an age of Atomic Power and a clearly coming Hyperatomic Drive, she remained quietly provincial. So she was dissatisfied with her trip and unconvinced of the emergency, and every line of her plain, middle-aged face showed it clearly enough during her first dinner at Hyper Base.
Nor did Dr. Bogert’s sleek paleness abandon a certain hangdog attitude. Nor did Major-general Kallner, who headed the project, even once forget to maintain a hunted expression. In short, it was a grisly episode, that meal, and the little session of three that followed began in a gray, unhappy manner.
Kallner, with his baldness glistening, and his dress uniform oddly unsuited to the general mood, began with uneasy directness.
“This is a queer story to tell, sir, and madam. I want to thank you for coming on short notice and without a reason being given. We’ll try to correct that now. We’ve lost a robot. Work has stopped and must stop until such time as we locate it. So far we have failed, and we feel we need expert help.”
Perhaps the general felt his predicament anticlimactic. He continued with a note of desperation, “I needn’t tell you the importance of our work here. More than eighty percent of last year’s appropriations for scientific research have gone to us-”
“Why, we know that,” said Bogert, agreeably. “U. S. Robots is receiving a generous rental fee for use of our robots.”
Susan Calvin injected a blunt, vinegary note, “What makes a single robot so important to the project, and why hasn’t it been located?”
The general turned his red face toward her and wet his lips quickly, “Why, in a manner of speaking we have located it.” Then, with near anguish, “Here, suppose I explain. As soon as the robot failed to report a state of emergency was declared, and all movement off Hyper Base stopped. A cargo vessel had landed the previous day and had delivered us two robots for our laboratories. It had sixty-two robots of the… uh… game type for shipment elsewhere. We are certain as to that figure. There is no question about it whatever.”
“Yes? And the connection?”
“When our missing robot failed of location anywhere – I assure you we would have found a missing blade of grass if it had been there to find – we brainstormed ourselves into counting the robots left of the cargo ship. They have sixty-three now.”
“So that the sixty-third, I take it, is the missing prodigal?” Dr. Calvin’s eyes darkened.
“Yes, but we have no way of telling which is the sixty-third.”
There was a dead silence while the electric clock chimed eleven times, and then the robopsychologist said, “Very peculiar,” and the corners of her lips moved downward.
“Peter,” she turned to her colleague with a trace of savagery, “what’s wrong here? What kind of robots are they, using at Hyper Base?”
Dr. Bogert hesitated and smiled feebly, “It’s been rather a matter of delicacy till now, Susan.”
She spoke rapidly, “Yes, till now. If there are sixty-three same-type robots, one of which is wanted and the identity of which cannot be determined, why won’t any of them do? What’s the idea of all this? Why have we been sent for?”
Bogert said in resigned fashion, “If you’ll give me a chance, Susan – Hyper Base happens to be using several robots whose brains are not impressioned with the entire First Law of Robotics.”
“Aren’t impressioned?” Calvin slumped back in her chair, “I see. How many were made?”
“A few. It was on government order and there was no way of violating the secrecy. No one was to know except the top men directly concerned. You weren’t included, Susan. It was nothing I had anything to do with.”
The general interrupted with a measure of authority. “I would like to explain that bit. I hadn’t been aware that Dr. Calvin was unacquainted with the situation. I needn’t tell you, Dr. Calvin, that there always has been strong opposition to robots on the Planet. The only defense the government has had against the Fundamentalist radicals in this matter was the fact that robots are always built with an unbreakable First Law – which makes it impossible for them to harm human beings under any circumstance.
“But we had to have robots of a different nature. So just a few of the NS-2 model, the Nestors, that is, were prepared with a modified First Law. To keep it quiet, all NS-2’s are manufactured without serial numbers; modified members are delivered here along with a group of normal robots; and, of course, all our kind are under the strictest impressionment never to tell of their modification to unauthorized personnel.” He wore an embarrassed smile; “This has all worked out against us now.”
Calvin said grimly, “Have you asked each one who it is, anyhow? Certainly, you are authorized?”
The general nodded, “All sixty-three deny having worked here – and one is lying.”
“Does the one you want show traces of wear? The others, I take it, are factory-fresh.”
“The one in question only arrived last month. It, and the two that have just arrived, were to be the last we needed. There’s no perceptible wear.” He shook his head slowly and his eyes were haunted again, “Dr. Calvin, we don’t dare let that ship leave. If the existence of non-First Law robots becomes general knowledge-” There seemed no way of avoiding understatement in the conclusion.
“Destroy all sixty-three,” said the robopsychologist coldly and flatly, “and make an end of it.”
Bogert drew back a corner of his mouth. “You mean destroy thirty thousand dollars per robot. I’m afraid U. S. Robots wouldn’t like that. We’d better make an effort first, Susan, before we destroy anything.”
“In that case,” she said, sharply, “I need facts. Exactly what advantage does Hyper Base derive from these modified robots? What factor made them desirable, general?”
Kallner ruffled his forehead and stroked it with an upward gesture of his hand. “We had trouble with our previous robots. Our men work with hard radiations a good deal, you see. It’s dangerous, of course, but reasonable precautions are taken. There have been only two accidents since we began and neither was fatal. However, it was impossible to explain that to an ordinary robot. The First Law states – I’ll quote it – ‘No robot may harm a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.’
“That’s primary, Dr. Calvin. When it was necessary for one of our men to expose himself for a short period to a moderate gamma field, one that would have no physiological effects, the nearest robot would dash in to drag him out. If the field were exceedingly weak, it would succeed, and work could not continue till all robots were cleared out. If the field were a trifle stronger, the robot would never reach the technician concerned, since its positronic brain would collapse under gamma radiations – and then we would be out one expensive and hard-to-replace robot.
“We tried arguing with them. Their point was that a human being in a gamma field was endangering his life and that it didn’t matter that he could remain there half an hour safely. Supposing, they would say, he forgot and remained an hour. They couldn’t take chances. We pointed out that they were risking their lives on a wild off-chance. But self-preservation is only the Third Law of Robotics – and the First Law of human safety came first. We gave them orders; we ordered them strictly and harshly to remain out of gamma fields at whatever cost. But obedience is only the Second Law of Robotics – and the First Law of human safety came first. Dr. Calvin, we either had to do without robots, or do something about the First Law – and we made our choice.”
“I can’t believe,” said Dr. Calvin, “that it was found possible to remove the First Law.”
“It wasn’t removed, it was modified,” explained Kallner. “Positronic brains were constructed that contained the positive aspect only of the Law, which in them reads: ‘No robot may harm a human being.’ That is all. They have no compulsion to prevent one coming to harm through an extraneous agency such as gamma rays. I state the matter correctly, Dr. Bogert?”
“Quite,” assented the mathematician.
“And that is the only difference of your robots from the ordinary NS2 model? The only difference? Peter?”
“The only difference, Susan.”
She rose and spoke with finality, “I intend sleeping now, and in about eight hours, I want to speak to whomever saw the robot last. And from now on, General Kallner, if I’m to take any responsibility at all for events, I want full and unquestioned control of this investigation.”
Susan Calvin, except for two hours of resentful lassitude, experienced nothing approaching sleep. She signaled at Bogert’s door at the local time of 0700 and found him also awake. He had apparently taken the trouble of transporting a dressing gown to Hyper Base with him, for he was sitting in it. He put his nail scissors down when Calvin entered.
He said softly, “I’ve been expecting you more or less. I suppose you feel sick about all this.”
“Well – I’m sorry. There was no way of preventing it. When the call came out from Hyper Base for us, I knew that something must have gone wrong with the modified Nestors. But what was there to do? I couldn’t break the matter to you on the trip here, as I would have liked to, because I had to be sure. The matter of the modification is top secret.”
The psychologist muttered, “I should have been told. U. S. Robots had no right to modify positronic brains this way without the approval of a psychologist.”
Bogert lifted his eyebrows and sighed. “Be reasonable, Susan. You couldn’t have influenced them. In this matter, the government was bound to have its way. They want the Hyperatomic Drive and the etheric physicists want robots that won’t interfere with them. They were going to get them even if it did mean twisting the First Law. We had to admit it was possible from a construction standpoint and they swore a mighty oath that they wanted only twelve, that they would be used only at Hyper Base, that they would be destroyed once the Drive was perfected, and that full precautions would be taken. And they insisted on secrecy – and that’s the situation.”
Dr. Calvin spoke through her teeth, “I would have resigned.”
“It wouldn’t have helped. The government was offering the company a fortune, and threatening it with antirobot legislation in case of a refusal. We were stuck then, and we’re badly stuck now. If this leaks out, it might hurt Kallner and the government, but it would hurt U. S. Robots a devil of a lot more.”
The psychologist stared at him. “Peter, don’t you realize what all this is about? Can’t you understand what the removal of the First Law means? It isn’t just a matter of secrecy.”
“I know what removal would mean. I’m not a child. It would mean complete instability, with no nonimaginary solutions to the positronic Field Equations.”
“Yes, mathematically. But can you translate that into crude psychological thought. All normal life, Peter, consciously or otherwise, resents domination. If the domination is by an inferior, or by a supposed inferior, the resentment becomes stronger. Physically, and, to an extent, mentally, a robot – any robot – is superior to human beings. What makes him slavish, then? Only the First Law! Why, without it, the first order you tried to give a robot would result in your death. Unstable? What do you think?”
“Susan,” said Bogert, with an air of sympathetic amusement. “I’ll admit that this Frankenstein Complex you’re exhibiting has a certain justification – hence the First Law in the first place. But the Law, I repeat and repeat, has not been removed – merely modified.”
“And what about the stability of the brain?”
The mathematician thrust out his lips, “Decreased, naturally. But it’s within the border of safety. The first Nestors were delivered to Hyper Base nine months ago, and nothing whatever has gone wrong till now, and even this involves merely fear of discovery and not danger to humans.”
“Very well, then. We’ll see what comes of the morning conference.”
Bogert saw her politely to the door and grimaced eloquently when she left. He saw no reason to change his perennial opinion of her as a sour and fidgety frustration.
Susan Calvin’s train of thought did not include Bogert in the least. She had dismissed him years ago as a smooth and pretentious sleekness.
Gerald Black had taken his degree in etheric physics the year before and, in common with his entire generation of physicists, found himself engaged in the problem of the Drive. He now made a proper addition to the general atmosphere of these meetings on Hyper Base. In his stained white smock, he was half rebellious and wholly uncertain. His stocky strength seemed striving for release and his fingers, as they twisted each other with nervous yanks, might have forced an iron bar out of true.
Major-general Kallner sat beside him; the two from U. S. Robots faced him.
Black said, “I’m told that I was the last to see Nestor 10 before he vanished. I take it you want to ask me about that.”
Dr. Calvin regarded him with interest, “You sound as if you were not sure, young man. Don’t you know whether you were the last to see him?”
“He worked with me, ma’am, on the field generators, and he was with me the morning of his disappearance. I don’t know if anyone saw him after about noon. No one admits having done so.”
“Do you think anyone’s lying about it?”
“I don’t say that. But I don’t say that I want the blame of it, either.” His dark eyes smoldered.
“There’s no question of blame. The robot acted as it did because of what it is. We’re just trying to locate it, Mr. Black, and let’s put everything else aside. Now if you’ve worked with the robot, you probably know it better than anyone else. Was there anything unusual about it that you noticed? Had you ever worked with robots before?”
“I’ve worked with other robots we have here – the simple ones. Nothing different about the Nestors except that they’re a good deal cleverer – and more annoying.”
“Annoying? In what way?”
“Well – perhaps it’s not their fault. The work here is rough and most of us get a little jagged. Fooling around with hyper-space isn’t fun.” He smiled feebly, finding pleasure in confession. “We run the risk continually of blowing a hole in normal space-time fabric and dropping right out of the universe, asteroid and all. Sounds screwy, doesn’t it? Naturally, you’re on edge sometimes. But these Nestors aren’t. They’re curious, they’re calm, they don’t worry. It’s enough to drive you nuts at times. When you want something done in a tearing hurry, they seem to take their time. Sometimes I’d rather do without.”
“You say they take their time? Have they ever refused an order?”
“Oh, no,” hastily. “They do it all right. They tell you when they think you’re wrong, though. They don’t know anything about the subject but what we taught them, but that doesn’t stop them. Maybe I imagine it, but the other fellows have the same trouble with their Nestors.”
General Kallner cleared his throat ominously, “Why have no complaints reached me on the matter, Black?”
The young physicist reddened, “We didn’t really want to do without the robots, sir, and besides we weren’t certain exactly how such… uh… minor complaints might be received.”
Bogert interrupted softly, “Anything in particular happen the morning you last saw it?”
There was a silence. With a quiet motion, Calvin repressed the comment that was about to emerge from Kallner, and waited patiently.
Then Black spoke in blurting anger, “I had a little trouble with it. I’d broken a Kimball tube that morning and was out five days of work; my entire program was behind schedule; I hadn’t received any mail from home for a couple of weeks. And he came around wanting me to repeat an experiment I had abandoned a month ago. He was always annoying me on that subject and I was tired of it. I told him to go away – and that’s all I saw of him.”
“You told him to go away?” asked Dr. Calvin with sharp interest. “In just those words? Did you say ‘Go away’? Try to remember the exact words.”
There was apparently an internal struggle in progress. Black cradled his forehead in a broad palm for a moment, then tore it away and said defiantly, “I said, ‘Go lose yourself.’ “
Bogert laughed for a short moment. “And he did, eh?”
But Calvin wasn’t finished. She spoke cajolingly, “Now we’re getting somewhere, Mr. Black. But exact details are important. In understanding the robot’s actions, a word, a gesture, an emphasis may be everything. You couldn’t have said just those three words, for instance, could you? By your own description you must have been in a hasty mood. Perhaps you strengthened your speech a little.”
The young man reddened, “Well… I may have called it a… a few things.”
“Exactly what things?”
“Oh – I wouldn’t remember exactly. Besides I couldn’t repeat it. You know how you get when you’re excited.” His embarrassed laugh was almost a giggle, “I sort of have a tendency to strong language.”
“That’s quite all right,” she replied, with prim severity. “At the moment, I’m a psychologist. I would like to have you repeat exactly what you said as nearly as you remember, and, even more important, the exact tone of voice you used.”
Black looked at his commanding officer for support, found none. His eyes grew round and appalled, “But I can’t.”
“Suppose,” said Bogert, with ill-hidden amusement, “you address me. You may find it easier.”
The young man’s scarlet face turned to Bogert. He swallowed. “I said” His voice faded out. He tried again, “I said-”
And he drew a deep breath and spewed it out hastily in one long succession of syllables. Then, in the charged air that lingered, he concluded almost in tears, “… more or less. I don’t remember the exact order of what I called him, and maybe I left out something or put in something, but that was about it.”
Only the slightest flush betrayed any feeling on the part of the robopsychologist. She said, “I am aware of the meaning of most of the terms used. The others, I suppose, are equally derogatory.”
“I’m afraid so,” agreed the tormented Black.
“And in among it, you told him to lose himself.”
“I meant it only figuratively.”
“I realize that. No disciplinary action is intended, I am sure.” And at her glance, the general, who, five seconds earlier, had seemed not sure at all, nodded angrily.
“You may leave, Mr. Black. Thank you for your cooperation.”
It took five hours for Susan Calvin to interview the sixty-three robots. It was five hours of multi-repetition; of replacement after replacement of identical robot; of Questions A, B, C, D; and Answers A, B, C, D; of a carefully bland expression, a carefully neutral tone, a carefully friendly atmosphere; and a hidden wire recorder.
The psychologist felt drained of vitality when she was finished.
Bogert was waiting for her and looked expectant as she dropped the recording spool with a clang upon the plastic of the desk.
She shook her head, “All sixty-three seemed the same to me. I couldn’t tell-”
He said, “You couldn’t expect to tell by ear, Susan. Suppose we analyze the recordings.”
Ordinarily, the mathematical interpretation of verbal reactions of robots is one of the more intricate branches of robotic analysis. It requires a staff of trained technicians and the help of complicated computing machines. Bogert knew that. Bogert stated as much, in an extreme of unshown annoyance after having listened to each set of replies, made lists of word deviations, and graphs of the intervals of responses.
“There are no anomalies present, Susan. The variations in wording and the time reactions are within the limits of ordinary frequency groupings. We need finer methods. They must have computers here. No.” He frowned and nibbled delicately at a thumbnail. “We can’t use computers. Too much danger of leakage. Or maybe if we-”
Dr. Calvin stopped him with an impatient gesture, “Please, Peter. This isn’t one of your petty laboratory problems. If we can’t determine the modified Nestor by some gross difference that we can see with the naked eye, one that there is no mistake about, we’re out of luck. The danger of being wrong, and of letting him escape is otherwise too great. It’s not enough to point out a minute irregularity in a graph. I tell you, if that’s all I’ve got to go on, I’d destroy them all just to be certain. Have you spoken to the other modified Nestors?”
“Yes, I have,” snapped back Bogert, “and there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re above normal in friendliness if anything. They answered my questions, displayed pride in their knowledge – except the two new ones that haven’t had time to learn their etheric physics. They laughed rather good-naturedly at my ignorance in some of the specializations here.” He shrugged, “I suppose that forms some of the basis for resentment toward them on the part of the technicians here. The robots are perhaps too willing to impress you with their greater knowledge.”
“Can you try a few Planar Reactions to see if there has been any change, any deterioration, in their mental set-up since manufacture?”
“I haven’t yet, but I will.” He shook a slim finger at her, “You’re losing your nerve, Susan. I don’t see what it is you’re dramatizing. They’re essentially harmless.”
“They are?” Calvin took fire. “They are? Do you realize one of them is lying? One of the sixty-three robots I have just interviewed has deliberately lied to me after the strictest injunction to tell the truth. The abnormality indicated is horribly deep-seated, and horribly frightening.”
Peter Bogert felt his teeth harden against each other. He said, “Not at all. Look! Nestor 10 was given orders to lose himself. Those orders were expressed in maximum urgency by the person most authorized to command him. You can’t counteract that order either by superior urgency or superior right of command. Naturally, the robot will attempt to defend the carrying out of his orders. In fact, objectively, I admire his ingenuity. How better can a robot lose himself than to hide himself among a group of similar robots?”
“Yes, you would admire it. I’ve detected amusement in you, Peter – amusement and an appalling lack of understanding. Are you a roboticist, Peter? Those robots attach importance to what they consider superiority. You’ve just said as much yourself. Subconsciously they feel humans to be inferior and the First Law which protects us from them is imperfect. They are unstable. And here we have a young man ordering a robot to leave him, to lose himself, with every verbal appearance of revulsion, disdain, and disgust. Granted, that robot must follow orders, but subconsciously, there is resentment. It will become more important than ever for it to prove that it is superior despite the horrible names it was called. It may become so important that what’s left of the First Law won’t be enough.”
“How on Earth, or anywhere in the Solar System, Susan, is a robot going to know the meaning of the assorted strong language used upon him? Obscenity is not one of the things impressioned upon his brain.”
“Original impressionment is not everything,” Calvin snarled at him. “Robots have learning capacity, you… you fool-” And Bogert knew that she had really lost her temper. She continued hastily, “Don’t you suppose he could tell from the tone used that the words weren’t complimentary? Don’t yon suppose he’s heard the words used before and noted upon what occasions?”
“Well, then,” shouted Bogert, “will you kindly tell me one way in which a modified robot can harm a human being, no matter how offended it is, no matter how sick with desire to prove superiority?”
“If I tell you one way, will you keep quiet?”
They were leaning across the table at each other, angry eyes nailed together.
The psychologist said, “If a modified robot were to drop a heavy weight upon a human being, he would not be breaking the First Law, if he did so with the knowledge that his strength and reaction speed would be sufficient to snatch the weight away before it struck the man. However once the weight left his fingers, he would be no longer the active medium. Only the blind force of gravity would be that. The robot could then change his mind and merely by inaction, allow the weight to strike. The modified First Law allows that.”
“That’s an awful stretch of imagination.”
“That’s what my profession requires sometimes. Peter, let’s not quarrel, let’s work. You know the exact nature of the stimulus that caused the robot to lose himself. You have the records of his original mental make-up. I want you to tell me how possible it is for our robot to do the sort of thing I just talked about. Not the specific instance, mind you, but that whole class of response. And I want it done quickly.”
“And meanwhile, we’ll have to try performance tests directly on the response to First Law.”
Gerald Black, at his own request, was supervising the mushrooming wooden partitions that were springing up in a bellying circle on the vaulted third floor of Radiation Building 2. The laborers worked, in the main, silently, but more than one was openly a-wonder at the sixty-three photocells that required installation.
One of them sat down near Black, removed his hat, and wiped his forehead thoughtfully with a freckled forearm.
Black nodded at him, “How’s it doing, Walensky?”
Walensky shrugged and fired a cigar, “Smooth as butter. What’s going on anyway, Doc? First, there’s no work for three days and then we have this mess of jiggers.” He leaned backward on his elbows and puffed smoke.
Black twitched his eyebrows, “A couple of robot men came over from Earth. Remember the trouble we had with robots running into the gamma fields before we pounded it into their skulls that they weren’t to do it.”
“Yeah. Didn’t we get new robots?”
“We got some replacements, but mostly it was a job of indoctrination. Anyway, the people who make them want to figure out robots that aren’t hit so bad by gamma rays.”
“Sure seems funny, though, to stop all the work on the Drive for this robot deal. I thought nothing was allowed to stop the Drive.”
“Well, it’s the fellows upstairs that have the say on that. Me – I just do as I’m told. Probably all a matter of pull-”
“Yeah,” the electrician jerked a smile, and winked a wise eye. “Somebody knew somebody in Washington. But as long as my pay comes through on the dot, I should worry. The Drive’s none of my affair. What are they going to do here?”
“You’re asking me? They brought a mess of robots with them, – over sixty, and they’re going to measure reactions. That’s all my knowledge.”
“How long will it take?”
“I wish I knew.”
“Well,” Walensky said, with heavy sarcasm, “as long as they dish me my money, they can play games all they want.”
Black felt quietly satisfied. Let the story spread. It was harmless, and near enough to the truth to take the fangs out of curiosity.
A man sat in the chair, motionless, silent. A weight dropped, crashed downward, then pounded aside at the last moment under the synchronized thump of a sudden force beam. In sixty-three wooden cells, watching NS-2 robots dashed forward in that split second before the weight veered, and sixty-three photocells five feet ahead of their original positions jiggled the marking pen and presented a little jag on the paper. The weight rose and dropped, rose and dropped, rose-
Ten times the robots sprang forward and stopped, as the man remained safely seated.
Major-general Kallner had not worn his uniform in its entirety since the first dinner with the U. S. Robot representatives. He wore nothing over his blue-gray shirt now, the collar was open, and the black tie was pulled loose.
He looked hopefully at Bogert, who was still blandly neat and whose inner tension was perhaps betrayed only by the trace of glister at his temples.
The general said, “How does it look? What is it you’re trying to see?”
Bogert replied, “A difference which may turn out to be a little too subtle for our purposes, I’m afraid. For sixty-two of those robots the necessity of jumping toward the apparently threatened human was what we call, in robotics, a forced reaction. You see, even when the robots knew that the human in question would not come to harm – and after the third or fourth time they must have known it – they could not prevent reacting as they did. First Law requires it”
“But the sixty-third robot, the modified Nestor, had no such compulsion. He was under free action. If he had wished, he could have remained in his seat. Unfortunately,” said his voice was mildly regretful, “he didn’t so wish.”
“Why do you suppose?”
Bogert shrugged, “I suppose Dr. Calvin will tell us when she gets here. Probably with a horribly pessimistic interpretation, too. She is sometimes a bit annoying.”
“She’s qualified, isn’t she?” demanded the general with a sudden frown of uneasiness.
“Yes.” Bogert seemed amused. “She’s qualified all right. She understands robots like a sister – comes from hating human beings so much, I think. It’s just that, psychologist or not, she’s an extreme neurotic. Has paranoid tendencies. Don’t take her too seriously.”
He spread the long row of broken-line graphs out in front of him. “You see, general, in the case of each robot the time interval from moment of drop to the completion of a five-foot movement tends to decrease as the tests are repeated. There’s a definite mathematical relationship that governs such things and failure to conform would indicate marked abnormality in the positronic brain. Unfortunately, all here appear normal.”
“But if our Nestor 10 was not responding with a forced action, why isn’t his curve different? I don’t understand that.”
“It’s simple enough. Robotic responses are not perfectly analogous to human responses, more’s the pity. In human beings, voluntary action is much slower than reflex action. But that’s not the case with robots; with them it is merely a question of freedom of choice, otherwise the speeds of free and forced action are much the same. What I had been expecting, though, was that Nestor 10 would be caught by surprise the first time and allow too great an interval to elapse before responding.”
“And he didn’t?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Then we haven’t gotten anywhere.” The general sat back with an expression of pain. “It’s five days since you’ve come.”
At this point, Susan Calvin entered and slammed the door behind her. “Put your graphs away, Peter,” she cried, “you know they don’t show anything.”
She mumbled something impatiently as Kallner half-rose to greet her, and went on, “We’ll have to try something else quickly. I don’t like what’s happening.”
Bogert exchanged a resigned glance with the general. “Is anything wrong?”
“You mean specifically? No. But I don’t like to have Nestor 10 continue to elude us. It’s bad. It must be gratifying his swollen sense of superiority. I’m afraid that his motivation is no longer simply one of following orders. I think it’s becoming more a matter of sheer neurotic necessity to outthink humans. That’s a dangerously unhealthy situation. Peter, have you done what I asked? Have you worked out the instability factors of the modified NS-2 along the lines I want?”
“It’s in progress,” said the mathematician, without interest.
She stared at him angrily for a moment, then turned to Kallner. “Nester 10 is decidedly aware of what we’re doing, general. He had no reason to jump for the bait in this experiment, especially after the first time, when he must have seen that there was no real danger to our subject. The others couldn’t help it; but he was deliberately falsifying a reaction.”
“What do you think we ought to do now, then, Dr. Calvin?”
“Make it impossible for him to fake an action the next time. We will repeat the experiment, but with an addition. High-tension cables, capable of electrocuting the Nestor models will be placed between subject and robot – enough of them to avoid the possibility of jumping over – and the robot will be made perfectly aware in advance that touching the cables will mean death.”
“Hold on,” spat out Bogert with sudden viciousness. “I rule that out. We are not electrocuting two million dollars worth of robots to locate Nestor 10. There are other ways.”
“You’re certain? You’ve found none. In any case, it’s not a question of electrocution. We can arrange a relay which will break the current at the instant of application of weight. If the robot should place his weight on it, he won’t die. But he won’t know that, you see.”
The general’s eyes gleamed into hope. “Will that work?”
“It should. Under those conditions, Nestor 10 would have to remain in his seat. He could be ordered to touch the cables and die, for the Second Law of obedience is superior to the Third Law of self-preservation. But he won’t be ordered to; he will merely be left to his own devices, as will all the robots. In the case of the normal robots, the First Law of human safety will drive them to their death even without orders. But not our Nestor 10. Without the entire First Law, and without having received any orders on the matter, the Third Law, self-preservation, will be the highest operating, and he will have no choice but to remain in his seat. It would be a forced action.”
“Will it be done tonight, then?”
“Tonight,” said the psychologist, “if the cables can be laid in time. I’ll tell the robots now what they’re to be up against.”
A man sat in the chair, motionless, silent. A weight dropped, crashed downward, then pounded aside at the last moment under the synchronized thump of a sudden force beam.
And from her small camp chair in the observing booth in the balcony, Dr. Susan Calvin rose with a short gasp of pure horror.
Sixty-three robots sat quietly in their chairs, staring owlishly at the endangered man before them. Not one moved.
Dr. Calvin was angry, angry almost past endurance. Angry the worse for not daring to show it to the robots that, one by one were entering the room and then leaving. She checked the list. Number twenty-eight was due in now – Thirty-five still lay ahead of her.
Number Twenty-eight entered, diffidently.
She forced herself into reasonable calm. “And who are you?”
The robot replied in a low, uncertain voice, “I have received no number of my own yet, ma’am. I’m an NS-2 robot, and I was Number Twenty-eight in line outside. I have a slip of paper here that I’m to give to you.”
“You haven’t been in here before this today?”
“Sit down. Right there. I want to ask you some questions, Number Twenty-eight. Were you in the Radiation Room of Building Two about four hours ago?”
The robot had trouble answering. Then it came out hoarsely, like machinery needing oil, “Yes, ma’am.”
“There was a man who almost came to harm there, wasn’t there?”
“You did nothing, did you?”
“The man might have been hurt because of your inaction. Do you know that?”
“Yes, ma’am. I couldn’t help it, ma’am.” It is hard to picture a large expressionless metallic figure cringing, but it managed.
“I want you to tell me exactly why you did nothing to save him.”
“I want to explain, ma’am. I certainly don’t want to have you… have anyone… think that I could do a thing that might cause harm to a master. Oh, no, that would be a horrible… an inconceivable-”
“Please don’t get excited, boy. I’m not blaming you for anything. I only want to know what you were thinking at the time.”
“Ma’am, before it all happened you told us that one of the masters would be in danger of harm from that weight that keeps falling and that we would have to cross electric cables if we were to try to save him. Well, ma’am, that wouldn’t stop me. What is my destruction compared to the safety of a master? But… but it occurred to me that if I died on my way to him, I wouldn’t be able to save him anyway. The weight would crush him and then I would be dead for no purpose and perhaps some day some other master might come to harm who wouldn’t have, if I had only stayed alive. Do you understand me, ma’am?”
“You mean that it was merely a choice of the man dying, or both the man and yourself dying. Is that right?”
“Yes, ma’am. It was impossible to save the master. He might be considered dead. In that case, it is inconceivable that I destroy myself for nothing – without orders.”
The robopsychologist twiddled a pencil. She had heard the same story with insignificant verbal variations twenty-seven times before. This was the crucial question now.
“Boy,” she said, “your thinking has its points, but it is not the sort of thing I thought you might think. Did you think of this yourself?”
The robot hesitated. “No.”
“Who thought of it, then?”
“We were talking last night, and one of us got that idea and it sounded reasonable.”
The robot thought deeply. “I don’t know. Just one of us.”
She sighed, “That’s all.”
Number Twenty-nine was next. Thirty-four after that.
Major-general Kallner, too, was angry. For one week all of Hyper Base had stopped dead, barring some paper work on the subsidiary asteroids of the group. For nearly one week, the two top experts in the field had aggravated the situation with useless tests. And now they – or the woman, at any rate – made impossible propositions.
Fortunately for the general situation, Kallner felt it impolitic to display his anger openly.
Susan Calvin was insisting, “Why not, sir? It’s obvious that the present situation is unfortunate. The only way we may reach results in the future – or what future is left us in this matter – is to separate the robots. We can’t keep them together any longer.”
“My dear Dr. Calvin,” rumbled the general, his voice sinking into the lower baritone registers. “I don’t see how I can quarter sixty-three robots all over the place-”
Dr. Calvin raised her arms helplessly. “I can do nothing then. Nestor 10 will either imitate what the other robots would do, or else argue them plausibly into not doing what he himself cannot do. And in any case, this is bad business. We’re in actual combat with this little lost robot of ours and he’s winning out. Every victory of his aggravates his abnormality.”
She rose to her feet in determination. “General Kallner, if you do not separate the robots as I ask, then I can only demand that all sixty-three be destroyed immediately.”
“You demand it, do you?” Bogert looked up suddenly, and with real anger. “What gives you the right to demand any such thing? Those robots remain as they are. I’m responsible to the management, not you.”
“And I,” added Major-general Kallner, “am responsible to the World Co-ordinator – and I must have this settled.”
“In that case,” flashed back Calvin, “there is nothing for me to do but resign. If necessary to force you to the necessary destruction, I’ll make this whole matter public. It was not I that approved the manufacture of modified robots.”
“One word from you, Dr. Calvin,” said the general, deliberately, “in violation of security measures, and you would be certainly imprisoned instantly.”
Bogert felt the matter to be getting out of hand. His voice grew syrupy, “Well, now, we’re beginning to act like children, all of us. We need only a little more time. Surely we can outwit a robot without resigning, or imprisoning people, or destroying two millions.”
The psychologist turned on him with quiet fury, “I don’t want any unbalanced robots in existence. We have one Nestor that’s definitely unbalanced, eleven more that are potentially so, and sixty-two normal robots that are being subjected to an unbalanced environment. The only absolute safe method is complete destruction.”
The signal-burr brought all three to a halt, and the angry tumult of growingly unrestrained emotion froze.
“Come in,” growled Kallner.
It was Gerald Black, looking perturbed. He had heard angry voices. He said, “I thought I’d come myself… didn’t like to ask anyone else-”
“What is it? Don’t orate-”
“The locks of Compartment C in the trading ship have been played with. There are fresh scratches on them.”
“Compartment C?” explained Calvin quickly. “That’s the one that holds the robots, isn’t it? Who did it?”
“From the inside,” said Black, laconically.
“The lock isn’t out of order, is it?”
“No. It’s all right. I’ve been staying on the ship now for four days and none of them have tried to get out. But I thought you ought to know, and I didn’t like to spread the news. I noticed the matter myself.”
“Is anyone there now?” demanded the general.
“I left Robbins and McAdams there.”
There was a thoughtful silence, and then Dr. Calvin said, ironically, “Well?”
Kallner rubbed his nose uncertainly, “What’s it all about?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Nester 10 is planning to leave. That order to lose himself is dominating his abnormality past anything we can do. I wouldn’t be surprised if what’s left of his First Law would scarcely be powerful enough to override it. He is perfectly capable of seizing the ship and leaving with it. Then we’d have a mad robot on a spaceship. What would he do next? Any idea? Do you still want to leave them all together, general?”
“Nonsense,” interrupted Bogert. He had regained his smoothness. “All that from a few scratch marks on a lock.”
“Have you, Dr. Bogert, completed the analysis I’ve required, since you volunteer opinions?”
“May I see it?”
“Why not? Or mayn’t I ask that, either?”
“Because there’s no point in it, Susan. I told you in advance that these modified robots are less stable than the normal variety, and my analysis shows it. There’s a certain very small chance of breakdown under extreme circumstances that are not likely to occur. Let it go at that. I won’t give you ammunition for your absurd claim that sixty-two perfectly good robots be destroyed just because so far you lack the ability to detect Nestor 10 among them.”
Susan Calvin stared him down and let disgust fill her eyes. “You won’t let anything stand in the way of the permanent directorship, will you?”
“Please,” begged Kallner, half in irritation. “Do you insist that nothing further can be done, Dr. Calvin?”
“I can’t think of anything, sir,” she replied, wearily. “If there were only other differences between Nestor 10 and the normal robots, differences that didn’t involve the First Law. Even one other difference. Something in impressionment, environment, specification-” And she stopped suddenly.
“What is it?”
“I’ve thought of something… I think-” Her eyes grew distant and hard, “These modified Nestors, Peter. They get the same impressioning the normal ones get, don’t they?”
“Yes. Exactly the same.”
“And what was it you were saying, Mr. Black,” she turned to the young man, who through the storms that had followed his news had maintained a discreet silence. “Once when complaining of the Nestors’ attitude of superiority, you said the technicians had taught them all they knew.”
“Yes, in etheric physics. They’re not acquainted with the subject when they come here.”
“That’s right,” said Bogert, in surprise. “I told you, Susan, when I spoke to the other Nestors here that the two new arrivals hadn’t learned etheric physics yet.”
“And why is that?” Dr. Calvin was speaking in mounting excitement. “Why aren’t NS-2 models impressioned with etheric physics to start with?”
“I can tell you that,” said Kallner. “It’s all of a piece with the secrecy. We thought that if we made a special model with knowledge of etheric physics, used twelve of them and put the others to work in an unrelated field, there might be suspicion. Men working with normal Nestors might wonder why they knew etheric physics. So there was merely an impressionment with a capacity for training in the field. Only the ones that come here, naturally, receive such a training. It’s that simple.”
“I understand. Please get out of here, the lot of you. Let me have an hour or so.”
Calvin felt she could not face the ordeal for a third time. Her mind had contemplated it and rejected it with an intensity that left her nauseated. She could face that unending file of repetitious robots no more.
So Bogert asked the question now, while she sat aside, eyes and mind half closed.
Number Fourteen came in – forty-nine to go.
Bogert looked up from the guide sheet and said, “What is your number in line?”
“Fourteen, sir.” The robot presented his numbered ticket.
“Sit down, boy.”
Bogert asked, “You haven’t been here before on this day?”
“Well, boy, we are going to have another man in danger of harm soon after we’re through here. In fact, when you leave this room, you will be led to a stall where you will wait quietly, till you are needed. Do you understand?”
“Now, naturally, if a man is in danger of harm, you will try to save him.”
“Unfortunately, between the man and yourself, there will be a gamma ray field.”
“Do you know what gamma rays are?” asked Bogert sharply.
“Energy radiation, sir?”
The next question came in a friendly, offhand manner, “Ever work with gamma rays?”
“No, sir.” The answer was definite.
“Mm-m. Well, boy, gamma rays will kill you instantly. They’ll destroy your brain. That is a fact you must know and remember. Naturally, you don’t want to destroy yourself.”
“Naturally.” Again the robot seemed shocked. Then, slowly, “But, sir, if the gamma rays are between myself and the master that may be harmed, how can I save him? I would be destroying myself to no purpose.”
“Yes, there is that,” Bogert seemed concerned about the matter. “The only thing I can advise, boy, is that if you detect the gamma radiation between yourself and the man, you may as well sit where you are.”
The robot was openly relieved. “Thank you, sir. There wouldn’t be any use, would there?”
“Of course not. But if there weren’t any dangerous radiation, that would be a different matter.”
“Naturally, sir. No question of that.”
“You may leave now. The man on the other side of the door will lead you to your stall. Please wait there.”
He turned to Susan Calvin when the robot left. “How did that go, Susan?”
“Very well,” she said, dully.
“Do you think we could catch Nestor 10 by quick questioning on etheric physics?”
“Perhaps, but it’s not sure enough.” Her hands lay loosely in her lap. “Remember, he’s fighting us. He’s on his guard. The only way we can catch him is to outsmart him – and, within his limitations, he can think much more quickly than a human being.”
“Well, just for fun – suppose I ask the robots from now on a few questions on gamma rays. Wave length limits, for instance.”
“No!” Dr. Calvin’s eyes sparked to life. “It would be too easy for him to deny knowledge and then he’d be warned against the test that’s coming up – which is our real chance. Please follow the questions I’ve indicated, Peter, and don’t improvise. It’s just within the bounds of risk to ask them if they’ve ever worked with gamma rays. And try to sound even less interested than you do when you ask it.”
Bogert shrugged, and pressed the buzzer that would allow the entrance of Number Fifteen.
The large Radiation Room was in readiness once more. The robots waited patiently in their wooden cells, all open to the center but closed off from each other.
Major-general Kallner mopped his brow slowly with a large handkerchief while Dr. Calvin checked the last details with Black.
“You’re sure now,” she demanded, “that none of the robots have had a chance to talk with each other after leaving the Orientation Room?”
“Absolutely sure,” insisted Black. “There’s not been a word exchanged.”
“And the robots are put in the proper stalls?”
“Here’s the plan.”
The psychologist looked at it thoughtfully, “Um-m-m.”
The general peered over her shoulder. “What’s the idea of the arrangement, Dr. Calvin?”
“I’ve asked to have those robots that appeared even slightly out of true in the previous tests concentrated on one side of the circle. I’m going to be sitting in the center myself this time, and I wanted to watch those particularly.”
“You’re going to be sitting there-,” exclaimed Bogert.
“Why not?” she demanded coldly. “What I expect to see may be something quite momentary. I can’t risk having anyone else as main observer. Peter, you’ll be in the observing booth, and I want you to keep your eye on the opposite side of the circle. General Kallner, I’ve arranged for motion pictures to be taken of each robot, in case visual observation isn’t enough. If these are required, the robots are to remain exactly where they are until the pictures are developed and studied. None must leave, none must change place. Is that clear?”
“Then let’s try it this one last time.”
Susan Calvin sat in the chair, silent, eyes restless. A weight dropped, crashed downward; then pounded aside at the last moment under the synchronized thump of a sudden force beam.
And a single robot jerked upright and took two steps.
But Dr. Calvin was upright, and her finger pointed to him sharply. “Nestor 10, come here,” she cried, “come here! COME HERE!”
Slowly, reluctantly, the robot took another step forward. The psychologist shouted at the top of her voice, without taking her eyes from the robot, “Get every other robot out of this place, somebody. Get them out quickly, and keep them out.”
Somewhere within reach of her ears there was noise, and the thud of hard feet upon the floor. She did not look away.
Nestor 10 – if it was Nestor 10 – took another step, and then, under force of her imperious gesture, two more. He was only ten feet away, when he spoke harshly, “I have been told to be lost-”
Another stop. “I must not disobey. They have not found me so far – He would think me a failure – He told me – But it’s not so – I am powerful and intelligent-”
The words came in spurts.
Another step. “I know a good deal – He would think… I mean I’ve been found – Disgraceful – Not I – I am intelligent – And by just a master… who is weak – Slow-”
Another step – and one metal arm flew out suddenly to her shoulder, and she felt the weight bearing her down. Her throat constricted, and she felt a shriek tear through.
Dimly, she heard Nestor 10’s next words, “No one must find me. No master-” and the cold metal was against her, and she was sinking under the weight of it.
And then a queer, metallic sound, and she was on the ground with an unfelt thump, and a gleaming arm was heavy across her body. It did not move. Nor did Nestor 10, who sprawled beside her.
And now faces were bending over her.
Gerald Black was gasping, “Are you hurt, Dr. Calvin?”
She shook her head feebly. They pried the arm off her and lifted her gently to her feet, “What happened?”
Black said, “I bathed the place in gamma rays for five seconds. We didn’t know what was happening. It wasn’t till the last second that we realized he was attacking you, and then there was no time for anything but a gamma field. He went down in an instant. There wasn’t enough to harm you though. Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m not worried.” She closed her eyes and leaned for a moment upon his shoulder. “I don’t think I was attacked exactly. Nestor 10 was simply trying to do so. What was left of the First Law was still holding him back.”
Susan Calvin and Peter Bogert, two weeks after their first meeting with Major-general Kallner had their last. Work at Hyper Base had been resumed. The trading ship with its sixty-two normal NS-2’s was gone to wherever it was bound, with an officially imposed story to explain its two weeks’ delay. The government cruiser was making ready to carry the two roboticists back to Earth.
Kallner was once again a-gleam in dress uniform. His white gloves shone as he shook hands.
Calvin said, “The other modified Nestors are, of course, to be destroyed.”
“They will be. We’ll make shift with normal robots, or, if necessary, do without.”
“But tell me – you haven’t explained – how was it done?”
She smiled tightly, “Oh, that. I would have told you in advance if I had been more certain of its working. You see, Nestor 10 had a superiority complex that was becoming more radical all the time. He liked to think that he and other robots knew more than human beings. It was becoming very important for him to think so.
“We knew that. So we warned every robot in advance that gamma rays would kill them, which it would, and we further warned them all that gamma rays would be between them and myself. So they all stayed where they were, naturally. By Nestor 10’s own logic in the previous test they had all decided that there was no point in trying to save a human being if they were sure to die before they could do it.”
“Well, yes, Dr. Calvin, I understand that. But why did Nestor 10 himself leave his seat?”
“AH! That was a little arrangement between myself and your young Mr. Black. You see it wasn’t gamma rays that flooded the area between myself and the robots – but infrared rays. Just ordinary heat rays, absolutely harmless. Nestor 10 knew they were infrared and harmless and so he began to dash out, as he expected the rest would do, under First Law compulsion. It was only a fraction of a second too late that he remembered that the normal NS-2’s could detect radiation, but could not identify the type. That he himself could only identify wavelengths by virtue of the training he had received at Hyper Base, under mere human beings, was a little too humiliating to remember for just a moment. To the normal robots the area was fatal because we had told them it would be, and only Nestor 10 knew we were lying.
“And just for a moment he forgot, or didn’t want to remember, that other robots might be more ignorant than human beings. His very superiority caught him. Good-by, general.”
The Evitable Conflict
The Co-ordinator, in his private study, had that medieval curiosity, a fireplace. To be sure, the medieval man might not have recognized it as such, since it had no functional significance. The quiet, licking flame lay in an insulated recess behind clear quartz.
The logs were ignited at long distance through a trifling diversion of the energy beam that fed the public buildings of the city. The same button that controlled the ignition first dumped the ashes of the previous fire, and allowed for the entrance of fresh wood. – It was a thoroughly domesticated fireplace, you see.
But the fire itself was real. It was wired for sound, so that you could hear the crackle and, of course, you could watch it leap in the air stream that fed it.
The Co-ordinator’s ruddy glass reflected, in miniature, the discreet gamboling of the flame, and, in even further miniature, it was reflected in each of his brooding pupils.
And in the frosty pupils of his guest, Dr. Susan Calvin of U. S. Robots amp; Mechanical Men Corporation.
The Co-ordinator said, “I did not ask you here entirely for social purposes, Susan.”
“I did not think you did, Stephen,” she replied.
“-And yet I don’t quite know how to phrase my problem. On the one hand, it can be nothing at all. On the other, it can mean the end of humanity.”
“I have come across so many problems, Stephen, that presented the same alternative. I think all problems do.”
“Really? Then judge this – World Steel reports an overproduction of twenty thousand long tons. The Mexican Canal is two months behind schedule. The mercury mines at Almaden have experienced a production deficiency since last spring, while the Hydroponics plant at Tientsin has been laying men off. These items happen to come to mind at the moment. There is more of the same sort.”
“Are these things serious? I’m not economist enough to trace the fearful consequences of such things.”
“In themselves, they are not serious. Mining experts can be sent to Almaden, if the situation were to get worse. Hydroponics engineers can be used in Java or in Ceylon, if there are too many at Tientsin. Twenty thousand long tons of steel won’t fill more than a few days of world demand, and the opening of the Mexican Canal two months later than the planned date is of little moment. It’s the Machines that worry me; I’ve spoken to your Director of Research about them already.”
“To Vincent Silver? – He hasn’t mentioned anything about it to me.”
“I asked him to speak to no one. Apparently, he hasn’t.”
“And what did he tell you?”
“Let me put that item in its proper place. I want to talk about the Machines first. And I want to talk about them to you, because you’re the only one in the world who understands robots well enough to help me now. – May I grow philosophical?”
“For this evening, Stephen, you may talk how you please and of what you please, provided you tell me first what you intend to prove.”
“That such small unbalances in the perfection of our system of supply and demand, as I have mentioned, may be the first step towards the final war.”
Susan Calvin did not allow herself to relax, despite the designed comfort of the chair she sat in. Her cold, thin-lipped face and her flat, even voice were becoming accentuated with the years. And although Stephen Byerley was one man she could like and trust, she was almost seventy and the cultivated habits of a lifetime are not easily broken.
“Every period of human development, Susan,” said the Co-ordinator, “has had its own particular type of human conflict – its own variety of problem that, apparently, could be settled only by force. And each time, frustratingly enough, force never really settled the problem. Instead, it persisted through a series of conflicts, then vanished of itself, – what’s the expression, – ah, yes ‘not with a bang, but a whimper,’ as the economic and social environment changed. And then, new problems, and a new series of wars, – apparently endlessly cyclic.
“Consider relatively modern times. There were the series of dynastic wars in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, when the most important question in Europe was whether the houses of Hapsburg or Valois-Bourbon were to rule the continent. It was one of those ‘inevitable conflicts,’ since Europe could obviously not exist half one and half the other.
“Except that it did, and no war ever wiped out the one and established the other, until the rise of a new social atmosphere in France in 1789 tumbled first the Bourbons and, eventually, the Hapsburgs down the dusty chute to history’s incinerator.
“And in those same centuries there were the more barbarous religious wars, which revolved about the important question of whether Europe was to be Catholic or Protestant. Half and half she could not be. It was ‘inevitable’ that the sword decide. – Except that it didn’t. In England, a new industrialism was growing, and on the continent, a new nationalism. Half and half Europe remains to this day and no one cares much.
“In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was a cycle of nationalist-imperialist wars, when the most important question in the world was which portions of Europe would control the economic resources and consuming capacity of which portions of non-Europe. All non-Europe obviously could not exist part English and part French and part German and so on. – Until the forces of nationalism spread sufficiently, so that non-Europe ended what all the wars could not, and decided it could exist quite comfortably all non-European.
“And so we have a pattern-”
“Yes. Stephen, you make it plain,” said Susan Calvin. “These are not very profound observations.”
“No. – But then, it is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you? In the twentieth century, Susan, we started a new cycle of wars – what shall I call them? Ideological wars? The emotions of religion applied to economic systems, rather than to extra-natural ones? Again the wars were ‘inevitable’ and this time there were atomic weapons, so that mankind could no longer live through its torment to the inevitable wasting away of inevitability. – And positronic robots came.
“They came in time, and, with it and alongside it, interplanetary travel. – So that it no longer seemed so important whether the world was Adam Smith or Karl Marx. Neither made very much sense under the new circumstances. Both had to adapt and they ended in almost the same place.”
“A deus ex machina, then, in a double sense,” said Dr. Calvin, dryly.
The Co-ordinator smiled gently, “I have never heard you pun before, Susan, but you are correct. And yet there was another danger. The ending of every other problem had merely given birth to another. Our new worldwide robot economy may develop its own problems, and for that reason we have the Machines. The Earth’s economy is stable, and will remain stable, because it is based upon the decisions of calculating machines that have the good of humanity at heart through the overwhelming force of the First Law of Robotics.”
Stephen Byerley continued, “And although the Machines are nothing but the vastest conglomeration of calculating circuits ever invented, they are still robots within the meaning of the First Law, and so our Earth-wide economy is in accord with the best interests of Man. The population of Earth knows that there will be no unemployment, no over-production or shortages. Waste and famine are words in history books. And so the question of ownership of the means of production becomes obsolescent. Whoever owned them (if such a phrase has meaning), a man, a group, a nation, or all mankind, they could be utilized only as the Machines directed. – Not because men were forced to but because it was the wisest course and men knew it.
“It puts an end to war – not only to the last cycle of wars, but to the next and to all of them. Unless-”
A long pause, and Dr. Calvin encouraged him by repetition. “Unless-”
The fire crouched and skittered along a log, then popped up.
“Unless,” said the Co-ordinator, “the Machines don’t fulfill their function.”
“I see. And that is where those trifling maladjustments come in which you mentioned awhile ago – steel, hydroponics and so on.”
“Exactly. Those errors should not be. Dr. Silver tells me they cannot be.”
“Does he deny the facts? How unusual!”
“No, he admits the facts, of course. I do him an injustice. What he denies is that any error in the machine is responsible for the so-called (his phrase) errors in the answers. He claims that the Machines are self-correcting and that it would violate the fundamental laws of nature for an error to exist in the circuits of relays. And so I said -”
“And you said, ‘Have your boys check them and make sure, anyway.’”
“Susan, you read my mind. It was what I said, and he said he couldn’t.”
“No, he said that no human could. He was frank about it. He told me, and I hope I understand him properly, that the Machines are a gigantic extrapolation. Thus, a team of mathematicians work several years calculating a positronic brain equipped to do certain similar acts of calculation. Using this brain they make further calculations to create a still more complicated brain, which they use again to make one still more complicated and so on. According to Silver, what we call the Machines are the result of ten such steps.”
“Ye-es, that sounds familiar. Fortunately, I’m not a mathematician. Poor Vincent. He is a young man. The Directors before him, Alfred Lanning and Peter Bogert, are dead, and they had no such problems. Nor had I. Perhaps roboticists as a whole should now die, since we can no longer understand our own creations.”
“Apparently not. The Machines are not super-brains in Sunday supplement sense, – although they are so pictured in the Sunday supplements. It is merely that in their own particular province of collecting and analyzing a nearly infinite number of data and relationships thereof, in nearly infinitesimal time, they have progressed beyond the possibility of detailed human control.
“And then I tried something else. I actually asked the Machine. In the strictest secrecy, we fed it the original data involved in the steel decision, its own answer, and the actual developments since, -the overproduction, that is, – and asked for an explanation of the discrepancy.”
“Good, and what was its answer?”
“I can quote you that word for word: ‘The matter admits of no explanation.’ “
“And how did Vincent interpret that?”
“In two ways. Either we had not given the Machine enough data to allow a definite answer, which was unlikely. Dr. Silver admitted that. – Or else, it was impossible for the Machine to admit that it could give any answer to data which implied that it could harm a human being. This, naturally, is implied by the First Law. And then Dr. Silver recommended that I see you.”
Susan Calvin looked very tired, “I’m old, Stephen. When Peter Bogert died, they wanted to make me Director of Research and I refused. I wasn’t young then, either, and I did not wish the responsibility. They let young Silver have it and that satisfied me; but what good is it, if I am dragged into such messes.
“Stephen, let me state my position. My researches do indeed involve the interpretation of robot behavior in the light of the Three Laws of Robotics. Here, now, we have these incredible calculating machines. They are positronic robots and therefore obey the Laws of Robotics. But they lack personality; that is, their functions are extremely limited. Must be, since they are so specialized. Therefore, there is very little room for the interplay of the Laws, and my one method of attack is virtually useless. In short, I don’t know that I can help you, Stephen.”
The Co-ordinator laughed shortly, “Nevertheless, let me tell you the rest. Let me give you my theories, and perhaps you will then be able to tell me whether they are possible in the light of robopsychology.”
“By all means. Go ahead.”
“Well, since the Machines are giving the wrong answers, then, assuming that they cannot be in error, there is only one possibility. They are being given the wrong data! In other words, the trouble is human, and not robotic. So I took my recent planetary inspection tour-”
“From which you have just returned to New York.”
“Yes. It was necessary, you see, since there are four Machines, one handling each of the Planetary Regions. And all four are yielding imperfect results.”
“Oh, but that follows, Stephen. If any one of the Machines is imperfect, that will automatically reflect in the result of the other three, since each of the others will assume as part of the data on which they base their own decisions, the perfection of the imperfect fourth. With a false assumption, they will yield false answers.”
“Uh-huh. So it seemed to me. Now, I have here the records of my interviews with each of the Regional Vice-Coordinators. Would you look through them with me? – Oh, and first, have you heard of the ‘Society for Humanity’?”
“Umm, yes. They are an outgrowth of the Fundamentalists who have kept U. S. Robots from ever employing positronic robots on the grounds of unfair labor competition and so on. The ‘Society for Humanity’ itself is anti-Machine, is it not?”
“Yes, yes, but – Well, you will see. Shall we begin? We’ll start with the Eastern Region.”
“As you say-”
The Eastern Region
1. Area: 7,500,000 square miles
2. Population: 1,700,000,000
3. Capital: Shanghai
Ching Hso-lin’s great-grandfather had been killed in the Japanese invasion of the old Chinese Republic, and there had been no one beside his dutiful children to mourn his loss or even to know he was lost. Ching Hso-lin’s grandfather had survived the civil war of the late forties, but there had been no one beside his dutiful children to know or care of that.
And yet Ching Hso-lin was a Regional Vice-Co-ordinator, with the economic welfare of half the people of Earth in his care.
Perhaps it was with the thought of all that in mind, that Ching had two maps as the only ornaments on the wall of his office. One was an old hand-drawn affair tracing out an acre or two of land, and marked with the now outmoded pictographs of old China. A little creek trickled aslant the faded markings and there were the delicate pictorial indications of lowly huts, in one of which Ching’s grandfather had been born.
The other map was a huge one, sharply delineated, with all markings in neat Cyrillic characters. The red boundary that marked the Eastern Region swept within its grand confines all that had once been China, India, Burma, Indo-China, and Indonesia. On it, within the old province of Szechuan, so light and gentle that none could see it, was the little mark placed there by Ching which indicated the location of his ancestral farm.
Ching stood before these maps as he spoke to Stephen Byerley in precise English, “No one knows better than you, Mr. Co-ordinator, that my job, to a large extent, is a sinecure. It carries with it a certain social standing, and I represent a convenient focal point for administration, but otherwise it is the Machine! – The Machine does all the work. What did you think, for instance, of the Tientsin Hydroponics works?”
“Tremendous!” said Byerley.
“It is but one of dozens, and not the largest. Shanghai, Calcutta, Batavia, Bangkok – They are widely spread and they are the answer to feeding the billion and three quarters of the East.”
“And yet,” said Byerley, “you have an unemployment problem there at Tientsin. Can you be over-producing? It is incongruous to think of Asia as suffering from too much food.”
Ching’s dark eyes crinkled at the edges. “No. It has not come to that yet. It is true that over the last few months, several vats at Tientsin have been shut down, but it is nothing serious. The men have been released only temporarily and those who do not care to work in other fields have been shipped to Colombo in Ceylon, where a new plant is being put into operation.”
“But why should the vats be closed down?”
Ching smiled gently, “You do not know much of hydroponics, I see. Well, that is not surprising. You are a Northerner, and there soil farming is still profitable. It is fashionable in the North to think of hydroponics, when it is thought of at all, as a device of growing turnips in a chemical solution, and so it is – in an infinitely complicated way.
“In the first place, by far the largest crop we deal with (and the percentage is growing) is yeast. We have upward of two thousand strains of yeast in production and new strains are added monthly. The basic food-chemicals of the various yeasts are nitrates and phosphates among the inorganics together with proper amounts of the trace metals needed, down to the fractional parts per million of boron and molybdenum which are required. The organic matter is mostly sugar mixtures derived from the hydrolysis of cellulose, but, in addition, there are various food factors which must be added.
“For a successful hydroponics industry – one which can feed seventeen hundred million people – we must engage in an immense reforestation program throughout the East; we must have huge wood-conversion plants to deal with our southern jungles; we must have power, and steel, and chemical synthetics above all.”
“Why the last, sir?”
“Because, Mr. Byerley, these strains of yeast have each their peculiar properties. We have developed, as I said, two thousand strains. The beefsteak you thought you ate today was yeast. The frozen fruit confection you had for dessert was iced yeast. We have filtered yeast juice with the taste, appearance, and all the food value of milk.
“It is flavor, more than anything else, you see, that makes yeast feeding popular and for the sake of flavor we have developed artificial, domesticated strains that can no longer support themselves on a basic diet of salts and sugar. One needs biotin; another needs pteroylglutamic acid; still others need seventeen different amino acids supplied them as well as all the Vitamins B, but one (and yet it is popular and we cannot, with economic sense, abandon it) -”
Byerley stirred in his seat, “To what purpose do you tell me all this?”
“You asked me, sir, why men are out of work in Tientsin. I have a little more to explain. It is not only that we must have these various and varying foods for our yeast; but there remains the complicating factor of popular fads with passing time; and of the possibility of the development of new strains with the new requirements and new popularity. All this must be foreseen, and the Machine does the job-”
“But not perfectly.”
“Not very imperfectly, in view of the complications I have mentioned. Well, then, a few thousand workers in Tientsin are temporarily out of a job. But, consider this, the amount of waste in this past year (waste that is, in terms of either defective supply or defective demand) amounts to not one-tenth of one percent of our total productive turnover. I consider that-”
“Yet in the first years of the Machine, the figure was nearer one-thousandth of one percent.”
“Ah, but in the decade since the Machine began its operations in real earnest, we have made use of it to increase our old pre-Machine yeast industry twenty-fold. You expect imperfections to increase with complications, though-”
“There was the curious instance of Rama Vrasayana.”
“What happened to him?”
“Vrasayana was in charge of a brine-evaporation plant for the production of iodine, with which yeast can do without, but human beings not. His plant was forced into receivership.”
“Really? And through what agency?”
“Competition, believe it or not. In general, one of the chiefest functions of the Machine’s analyses is to indicate the most efficient distribution of our producing units. It is obviously faulty to have areas insufficiently serviced, so that the transportation costs account for too great a percentage of the overhead. Similarly, it is faulty to have an area too well serviced, so that factories must be run at lowered capacities, or else compete harmfully with one another. In the case of Vrasayana, another plant was established in the same city, and with a more efficient extracting system.”
“The Machine permitted it?”
“Oh, certainly. That is not surprising. The new system is becoming widespread. The surprise is that the Machine failed to warn Vrasayana to renovate or combine. – Still, no matter. Vrasayana accepted a job as engineer in the new plant, and if his responsibility and pay are now less, he is not actually suffering. The workers found employment easily; the old plant has been converted to – something or other. Something useful. We left it all to the Machine.”
“And otherwise you have no complaints.”
The Tropic Region:
a. Area: 22,000,000 square miles
b. Population: 500,000,000
c. Capital: Capital City
The map in Lincoln Ngoma’s office was far from the model of neat precision of the one in Ching’s Shanghai dominion. The boundaries of Ngoma’s Tropic Region were stenciled in dark, wide brown and swept about a gorgeous interior labeled “jungle” and “desert” and “here be Elephants and all Manner of Strange Beasts.”
It had much to sweep, for in land area the Tropic Region enclosed most of two continents: all of South America north of Argentina and all of Africa south of the Atlas. It included North America south of the Rio Grande as well, and even Arabia and Iran in Asia. It was the reverse of the Eastern Region. Where the ant hives of the Orient crowded half of humanity into 15 percent of the land mass, the Tropics stretched its 15 per cent of Humanity over nearly half of all the land in the world.
But it was growing. It was the one Region whose population increase through immigration exceeded that through births. – And for all who came it had use.
To Ngoma, Stephen Byerley seemed like one of these immigrants, a pale searcher for the creative work of carving a harsh environment into the softness necessary for man, and he felt some of that automatic contempt of the strong man born to the strong Tropics for the unfortunate pallards of the colder suns.
The Tropics had the newest capital city on Earth, and it was called simply that: “Capital City,” in the sublime confidence of youth. It spread brightly over the fertile uplands of Nigeria and outside Ngoma’s windows, far below, was life and color; the bright, bright sun and the quick, drenching showers. Even the squawking of the rainbowed birds was brisk and the stars were hard pinpoints in the sharp night.
Ngoma laughed. He was a big, dark man, strong faced and handsome.
“Sure,” he said, and his English was colloquial and mouth-filling, “the Mexican Canal is overdue. What the hell? It will get finished just the same, old boy.”
“It was doing well up to the last half year.”
Ngoma looked at Byerley and slowly crunched his teeth over the end of a big cigar, spitting out one end and lighting the other, “Is this an official investigation, Byerley? What’s going on?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. It’s just my function as Coordinator to be curious.”
“Well, if it’s just that you are filling in a dull moment, the truth is that we’re always short on labor. There’s lots going on in the Tropics. The Canal is only one of them-”
“But doesn’t your Machine predict the amount of labor available for the Canal, – allowing for all the competing projects?”
Ngoma placed one hand behind his neck and blew smoke rings at the ceiling, “It was a little off.”
“Is it often a little off?”
“Not oftener than you would expect. – We don’t expect too much of it, Byerley. We feed it data. We take its results. We do what it says. – But it’s just a convenience, just a laborsaving device. We could do without it, if we had to. Maybe not as well, maybe not as quickly, but we’d get there.
“We’ve got confidence out here, Byerley, and that’s the secret. Confidence! We’ve got new land that’s been waiting for us for thousands of years, while the rest of the world was being ripped apart in the lousy fumblings of pre-atomic time. We don’t have to eat yeast like the Eastern boys, and we don’t have to worry about the stale dregs of the last century like you Northerners.
“We’ve wiped out the tsetse fly and the Anopheles mosquito, and people find they can live in the sun and like it, now. We’ve thinned down the jungles and found soil; we’ve watered the deserts and found gardens. We’ve got coal and oil in untouched fields, and minerals out of count.
“Just step back. That’s all we ask the rest of the world to do. – Step back, and let us work.”
Byerley said, prosaically, “But the Canal, – it was on schedule six months ago. What happened?”
Ngoma spread his hands, “Labor troubles.” He felt through a pile of papers skeltered about his desk and gave it up.
“Had something on the matter here,” he muttered, “but never mind. There was a work shortage somewhere in Mexico once on the question of women. There weren’t enough women in the neighborhood. It seemed no one had thought of feeding sexual data to the Machine.”
He stopped to laugh, delightedly, then sobered, “Wait a while. I think I’ve got it. – Villafranca!”
“Francisco Villafranca. – He was the engineer in charge. Now let me straighten it out. Something happened and there was a cave-in. Right. Right. That was it. Nobody died, as I remember, but it made a hell of a mess. – Quite a scandal.”
“There was some mistake in his calculations. – Or at least, the Machine said so. They fed through Villafranca’s data, assumptions, and so on. The stuff he had started with. The answers came out differently. It seems the answers Villafranca had used didn’t take account of the effect of a heavy rainfall on the contours of the cut. – Or something like that. I’m not an engineer, you understand.
“Anyway, Villafranca put up a devil of a squawk. He claimed the Machine’s answer had been different the first time. That he had followed the Machine faithfully. Then he quit! We offered to hold him on – reasonable doubt, previous work satisfactory, and all that – in a subordinate position, of course – had to do that much – mistakes can’t go unnoticed – bad for discipline – Where was I?”
“You offered to hold him on.”
“Oh yes. He refused. – Well, take all in all, we’re two months behind. Hell, that’s nothing.”
Byerley stretched out his hand and let the fingers tap lightly on the desk, “Villafranca blamed the Machine, did he?”
“Well, he wasn’t going to blame himself, was he? Let’s face it; human nature is an old friend of ours. Besides, I remember something else now – Why the hell can’t I find documents when I want them? My filing system isn’t worth a damn – This Villafranca was a member of one of your Northern organizations. Mexico is too close to the North! that’s part of the trouble.”
“Which organization are you speaking of?’
“The Society of Humanity, they call it. He used to attend the annual conference in New York, Villafranca did. Bunch of crackpots, but harmless. – They don’t like the Machines; claim they’re destroying human initiative. So naturally Villafranca would blame the Machine. – Don’t understand that group myself. Does Capital City look as if the human race were running out of initiative?”
And Capital City stretched out in golden glory under a golden sun, – the newest and youngest creation of Homo metropolis.
The European Region
a. Area: 4,000,000 square miles
b. Population: 300,000,000
c. Capital: Geneva
The European Region was an anomaly in several ways. In area, it was far the smallest, not one-fifth the size of the Tropic Region in area, and not one-fifth the size of the Eastern Region in population. Geographically, it was only somewhat similar to pre-Atomic Europe, since it excluded what had once been European Russia and what had once been the British Isles, while it included the Mediterranean coasts of Africa and Asia, and, in a queer jump across the Atlantic, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay as well.
Nor was it likely to improve its relative status vis-а-vis the other regions of Earth, except for what vigor the South American provinces lent it. Of all the Regions, it alone showed a positive population decline over the past half century. It alone had not seriously expanded its productive facilities, or offered anything radically new to human culture.
“Europe,” said Madame Szegeczowska, in her soft French, “is essentially an economic appendage of the Northern Region. We know it, and it doesn’t matter.”
And as though in resigned acceptance of a lack of individuality, there was no map of Europe on the wall of the Madame Co-ordinator’s office.
“And yet,” pointed out Byerley, “you have a Machine of your own, and you are certainly under no economic pressure from across the ocean.”
“A Machine! Bah!” She shrugged her delicate shoulders, and allowed a thin smile to cross her little face as she tamped out a cigarette with long fingers. “Europe is a sleepy place. And such of our men as do not manage to immigrate to the Tropics are tired and sleepy along with it. You see for yourself that it is myself, a poor woman, to whom falls the task of being Vice-Co-ordinator. Well, fortunately, it is not a difficult job, and not much is expected of me.
“As for the Machine – What can it say but ‘Do this and it will be best for you.’ But what is best for us? Why, to be an economic appendage of the Northern Region.
“And is it so terrible? No wars! We live in peace – and it is pleasant after seven thousand years of war. We are old, monsieur. In our borders, we have the regions where Occidental civilization was cradled. We have Egypt and Mesopotamia; Crete and Syria; Asia Minor and Greece. – But old age is not necessarily an unhappy time. It can be a fruition-”
“Perhaps you are right,” said Byerley, affably. “At least the tempo of life is not as intense as in the other Regions. It is a pleasant atmosphere.”
“Is it not? – Tea is being brought, monsieur. If you will indicate your cream and sugar preference, please. Thank you.
She sipped gently, then continued, “It is pleasant. The rest of Earth is welcome to the continuing struggle. I find a parallel here, a very interesting one. There was a time when Rome was master of the world. It had adopted the culture and civilization of Greece, a Greece which had never been united, which had ruined itself with war, and which was ending in a state of decadent squalor. Rome united it, brought it peace and let it live a life of secure non-glory. It occupied itself with its philosophies and its art, far from the clash of growth and war. It was a sort of death, but it was restful, and it lasted with minor breaks for some four hundred years.”
“And yet,” said Byerley, “Rome fell eventually, and the opium dream was over.”
“There are no longer barbarians to overthrow civilization.”
“We can be our own barbarians. Madame Szegeczowska. – Oh, I meant to ask you. The Almaden mercury mines have fallen off quite badly in production. Surely the ores are not declining more rapidly than anticipated?”
The little woman’s gray eyes fastened shrewdly on Byerley, “Barbarians – the fall of civilization – possible failure of the Machine. Your thought processes are very transparent, monsieur.”
“Are they?” Byerley smiled. “I see that I should have had men to deal with as hitherto. – You consider the Almaden affair to be the fault of the Machine?”
“Not at all, but I think you do. You, yourself, are a native of the Northern Region. The Central Co-ordination Office is at New York. – And I have noticed for quite a while that you Northerners lack somewhat of faith in the Machine.”
“There is your ‘Society for Humanity’ which is strong in the North, but naturally fails to find many recruits in tired, old Europe, which is quite willing to let feeble Humanity alone for a while. Surely, you are one of the confident North and not one of the cynical old continent.”
“This has a connection with Almaden?”
“Oh, yes, I think so. The mines are in the control of Consolidated Cinnabar, which is certainly a Northern company, with headquarters at Nikolaev. Personally, I wonder if the Board of Directors have been consulting the Machine at all. They said they had in our conference last month, and, of course, we have no evidence that they did not, but I wouldn’t take the word of a Northerner in this matter – no offense intended – under any circumstances. – Nevertheless, I think it will have a fortunate ending.”
“In what way, my dear madam?”
“You must understand that the economic irregularities of the last few months, which, although small as compared with the great storms of the past, are quite disturbing to our peace-drenched spirits, have caused considerable restiveness in the Spanish province. I understand that Consolidated Cinnabar is selling out to a group of native Spaniards. It is consoling. If we are economic vassals of the North, it is humiliating to have the fact advertised too blatantly. – And our people can be better trusted to follow the Machine.”
“Then you think there will be no more trouble?”
“I am sure there will not be – In Almaden, at least.”
The Northern Region
a. Area: 18,000,000 square miles
b. Population: 800,000,000
c. Capital: Ottawa
The Northern Region, in more ways than one, was at the top. This was exemplified quite well by the map in the Ottawa office of Vice-Co-ordinator Hiram Mackenzie, in which the North Pole was centered. Except for the enclave of Europe with its Scandinavian and Icelandic regions, all the Arctic area was within the Northern Region.
Roughly, it could be divided into two major areas. To the left on the map was all of North America above the Rio Grande. To the right was included all of what had once been the Soviet Union. Together these areas represented the centered power of the planet in the first years of the Atomic Age. Between the two was Great Britain, a tongue of the Region licking at Europe. Up at the top of the map, distorted into odd, huge shapes, were Australia and New Zealand, also member provinces of the Region.
Not all the changes of the past decades had yet altered the fact that the North was the economic ruler of the planet.
There was almost an ostentatious symbolism thereof in the fact that of the official Regional maps Byerley had seen, Mackenzie’s alone showed all the Earth, as though the North feared no competition and needed no favoritism to point up its pre-eminence.
“Impossible,” said Mackenzie, dourly, over the whiskey. “Mr. Byerley, you have had no training as a robot technician, I believe.”
“No, I have not.”
“Hmp. Well, it is, in my opinion, a sad thing that Ching, Ngoma and Szegeczowska haven’t either. There is too prevalent an opinion among the peoples of Earth that a Co-ordinator need only be a capable organizer, a broad generalizer, and an amiable person. These days he should know his robotics as well, no offense intended.”
“None taken. I agree with you.”
“I take it, for instance, from what you have said already, that you worry about the recent trifling dislocation in world economy. I don’t know what you suspect, but it has happened in the past that people – who should have known better – wondered what would happen if false data were fed into the Machine.”
“And what would happen, Mr. Mackenzie?”
“Well,” the Scotsman shifted his weight and sighed, “all collected data goes through a complicated screening system which involves both human and mechanical checking, so that the problem is not likely to arise. – But let us ignore that. Humans are fallible, also corruptible, and ordinary mechanical devices are liable to mechanical failure.
“The real point of the matter is that what we call a ‘wrong datum’ is one which is inconsistent with all other known data. It is our only criterion of right and wrong. It is the Machine’s as well. Order it for instance, to direct agricultural activity on the basis of an average July temperature in Iowa of 57 degrees Fahrenheit. It won’t accept that. It will not give an answer. – Not that it has any prejudice against that particular temperature, or that an answer is impossible; but because, in the light of all the other data fed it over a period of years, it knows that the probability of an average July temperature of 57 is virtually nil. It rejects that datum.
“The only way a ‘wrong datum’ can be forced on the Machine is to include it as part of a self-consistent whole, all of which is subtly wrong in a manner either too delicate for the Machine to detect or outside the Machine’s experience. The former is beyond human capacity, and the latter is almost so, and is becoming more nearly so as the Machine’s experience increases by the second.”
Stephen Byerley placed two fingers to the bridge of his nose, “Then the Machine cannot be tampered with – And how do you account for recent errors, then?”
“My dear Byerley, I see that you instinctively follow that great error – that the Machine knows all. Let me cite you a case from my personal experience. The cotton industry engages experienced buyers who purchase cotton. Their procedure is to pull a tuft of cotton out of a random bale of a lot. They will look at that tuft and feel it, tease it out, listen to the crackling perhaps as they do so, touch it with their tongue, and through this procedure they will determine the class of cotton the bales represent. There are about a dozen such classes. As a result of their decisions, purchases are made at certain prices; blends are made in certain proportions. – Now these buyers cannot yet be replaced by the Machine.”
“Why not? Surely the data involved is not too complicated for it?”
“Probably not. But what data is this you refer to? No textile chemist knows exactly what it is that the buyer tests when he feels a tuft of cotton. Presumably there’s the average length of the threads, their feel, the extent and nature of their slickness, the way they hang together, and so on. – Several dozen items, subconsciously weighed, out of years of experience. But the quantitative nature of these tests is not known; maybe even the very nature of some of them is not known. So we have nothing to feed the Machine. Nor can the buyers explain their own judgment. They can only say, ‘Well, look at it. Can’t you tell it’s class-such-and-such?’ “
“There are innumerable cases like that. The Machine is only a tool after all, which can help humanity progress faster by taking some of the burdens of calculations and interpretations off its back. The task of the human brain remains what it has always been, that of discovering new data to be analyzed, and of devising new concepts to be tested. A pity the Society for Humanity won’t understand that.”
“They are against the Machine?”
“They would be against mathematics or against the art of writing if they had lived at the appropriate time. These reactionaries of the Society claim the Machine robs man of his soul. I notice that capable men are still at a premium in our society; we still need the man who is intelligent enough to think of the proper questions to ask. Perhaps if we could find enough of such, these dislocations you worry about, Coordinator, wouldn’t occur.”
Earth (Including the uninhabited continent, Antarctica)
a. Area: 54,000,000 square miles (land surface)
b. Population: 3,300,000,000
c. Capital: New York
The fire behind the quartz was weary now, and sputtered its reluctant way to death.
The Co-ordinator was somber, his mood matching the sinking flame.
“They all minimize the state of affairs.” His voice was low. “Is it not easy to imagine that they all laugh at me? And yet Vincent Silver said the Machines cannot be out of order, and I must believe him. Hiram Mackenzie says they cannot be fed false data, and I must believe him. But the Machines are going wrong, somehow, and I must believe that, too; and so there is still an alternative left.”
He glanced sidewise at Susan Calvin, who, with closed eyes, for a moment seemed asleep.
“What is that?” she asked, prompt to her cue, nevertheless.
“Why, that correct data is indeed given, and correct answers are indeed received, but that they are then ignored. There is no way the Machine can enforce obedience to its dictates.”
“Madame Szegeczowska hinted as much, with reference to Northerners in general, it seems to me.”
“So she did.”
“And what purpose is served by disobeying the Machine? Let’s consider motivations.”
“It’s obvious to me, and should be to you. It is a matter of rocking the boat, deliberately. There can be no serious conflicts on Earth, in which one group or another can seize more power than it has for what it thinks is its own good despite the harm to Mankind as a whole, while the Machines rule. If popular faith in the Machines can be destroyed to the point where they are abandoned, it will be the law of the jungle again. – And not one of the four Regions can be freed of the suspicion of wanting just that.
“The East has half of humanity within its borders, and the Tropics more than half of Earth’s resources. Each can feel itself the natural rulers of all Earth, and each has a history of humiliation by the North, for which it can be human enough to wish a senseless revenge. Europe has a tradition of greatness, on the other hand. It once did rule the Earth, and there is nothing so eternally adhesive as the memory of power.
“Yet, in another way, it’s hard to believe. Both the East and the Tropics are in a state of enormous expansion within their own borders. Both are climbing incredibly. They cannot have the spare energy for military adventures. And Europe can have nothing but its dreams. It is a cipher, militarily.”
“So, Stephen,” said Susan, “you leave the North.”
“Yes,” said Byerley, energetically, “I do. The North is now the strongest, and has been for nearly a century, or its component parts have been. But it is losing relatively, now. The Tropic Regions may take their place in the forefront of civilization for the first time since the Pharaohs, and there are Northerners who fear that.
“The ‘Society for Humanity’ is a Northern organization, primarily, you know, and they make no secret of not wanting the Machines. – Susan, they are few in numbers, but it is an association of powerful men. Heads of factories; directors of industries and agricultural combines who hate to be what they call ‘the Machine’s office-boy’ belong to it. Men with ambition belong to it. Men who feel themselves strong enough to decide for themselves what is best for themselves, and not just to be told what is best for others.”
“In short, just those men who, by together refusing to accept the decisions of the Machine, can, in a short time, turn the world topsy-turvy; just those belong to the Society.
“Susan, it hangs together. Five of the Directors of World Steel are members, and World Steel suffers from overproduction. Consolidated Cinnabar, which mined mercury at Almaden, was a Northern concern. Its books are still being investigated, but one, at least, of the men concerned was a member. Francisco Villafranca, who, single-handed, delayed the Mexican Canal for two months, was a member, we know already – and so was Rama Vrasayana, I was not at all surprised to find out.”
Susan said, quietly, “These men, I might point out, have all done badly-”
“But naturally,” interjected Byerley. “To disobey the Machine’s analyses is to follow a non-optimal path. Results are poorer than they might be. It’s the price they pay. They will have it rough now but in the confusion that will eventually follow-”
“Just what do you plan doing, Stephen?”
“There is obviously no time to lose. I am going to have the Society outlawed, every member removed from any responsible post. And all executive and technical positions, henceforward, can be filled only by applicants signing a non-Society oath. It will mean a certain surrender of basic civil liberties, but I am sure the Congress-”
“It won’t work!”
“What! – Why not?”
“I will make a prediction. If you try any such thing, you will find yourself hampered at every turn. You will find it impossible to carry out. You will find your every move in that direction will result in trouble.”
Byerley was taken aback, “Why do you say that? I was rather hoping for your approval in this matter.”
“You can’t have it as long as your actions are based on a false premise. You admit the Machine can’t be wrong, and can’t be fed wrong data. I will now show you that it cannot be disobeyed, either, as you think is being done by the Society.”
“That I don’t see at all.”
“Then listen. Every action by any executive which does not follow the exact directions of the Machine he is working with becomes part of the data for the next problem. The Machine, therefore, knows that the executive has a certain tendency to disobey. He can incorporate that tendency into that data, – even quantitatively, that is, judging exactly how much and in what direction disobedience would occur. Its next answers would be just sufficiently biased so that after the executive concerned disobeyed, he would have automatically corrected those answers to optimal directions. The Machine knows, Stephen!”
“You can’t be sure of all this. You are guessing.”
“It is a guess based on a lifetime’s experience with robots. You had better rely on such a guess, Stephen.”
“But then what is left? The Machines themselves are correct and the premises they work on are correct. That we have agreed upon. Now you say that it cannot be disobeyed. Then what is wrong?”
“You have answered yourself. Nothing is wrong! Think about the Machines for a while, Stephen. They are robots, and they follow the First Law. But the Machines work not for any single human being, but for all humanity, so that the First Law becomes: ‘No Machine may harm humanity; or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.’
“Very well, then, Stephen, what harms humanity? Economic dislocations most of all, from whatever cause. Wouldn’t you say so?”
“And what is most likely in the future to cause economic dislocations? Answer that, Stephen.”
“I should say,” replied Byerley, unwillingly, “the destruction of the Machines.”
“And so should I say, and so should the Machines say. Their first care, therefore, is to preserve themselves, for us. And so they are quietly taking care of the only elements left that threaten them. It is not the ‘Society for Humanity’ which is shaking the boat so that the Machines may be destroyed. You have been looking at the reverse of the picture. Say rather that the Machine is shaking the boat-very slightly-just enough to shake loose those few which cling to the side for purposes the Machines consider harmful to Humanity.
“So Vrasayana loses his factory and gets another job where he can do no harm – he is not badly hurt, he is not rendered incapable of earning a living, for the Machine cannot harm a human being more than minimally, and that only to save a greater number. Consolidated Cinnabar loses control at Almaden. Villafranca is no longer a civil engineer in charge of an important project. And the directors of World Steel are losing their grip on the industry – or will.”
“But you don’t really know all this,” insisted Byerley, distractedly. “How can we possibly take a chance on your being right?”
“You must. Do you remember the Machine’s own statement when you presented the problem to him? It was: ‘The matter admits of no explanation.’ The Machine did not say there was no explanation, or that it could determine no explanation. It simply was not going to admit any explanation. In other words, it would be harmful to humanity to have the explanation known, and that’s why we can only guess – and keep on guessing.”
“But how can the explanation do us harm? Assume that you are right, Susan.”
“Why, Stephen, if I am right, it means that the Machine is conducting our future for us not only simply in direct answer to our direct questions, but in general answer to the world situation and to human psychology as a whole. And to know that may make us unhappy and may hurt our pride. The Machine cannot, must not, make us unhappy.
“Stephen, how do we know what the ultimate good of Humanity will entail? We haven’t at our disposal the infinite factors that the Machine has at its! Perhaps, to give you a not unfamiliar example, our entire technical civilization has created more unhappiness and misery than it has removed. Perhaps an agrarian or pastoral civilization, with less culture and less people would be better. If so, the Machines must move in that direction, preferably without telling us, since in our ignorant prejudices we only know that what we are used to, is good – and we would then fight change. Or perhaps a complete urbanization, or a completely caste-ridden society, or complete anarchy, is the answer. We don’t know. Only the Machines know, and they are going there and taking us with them.”
“But you are telling me, Susan, that the ‘Society for Humanity’ is right; and that Mankind has lost its own say in its future.”
“It never had any, really. It was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces it did not understand – at the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war. Now the Machines understand them; and no one can stop them, since the Machines will deal with them as they are dealing with the Society, – having, as they do, the greatest of weapons at their disposal, the absolute control of our economy.”
“Perhaps how wonderful! Think, that for all time, all conflicts are finally evitable. Only the Machines, from now on, are inevitable!”
And the fire behind the quartz went out and only a curl of smoke was left to indicate its place.
For the first time in the history of United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation, a robot had been destroyed through accident on Earth itself.
No one was to blame. The air vehicle had been demolished in mid-air and an unbelieving investigating committee was wondering whether they really dared announce the evidence that it had been hit by a meteorite. Nothing else could have been fast enough to prevent automatic avoidance; nothing else could have done the damage short of a nuclear blast and that was out of the question.
Tie that in with a report of a flash in the night sky just before the vehicle had exploded-and from Flagstaff Observatory, not from an amateur-and the location of a sizable and distinctly meteoric bit of iron freshly gouged into the ground a mile from the site and what other conclusion could be arrived at?
Still, nothing like that had ever happened before and calculations of the odds against it yielded monstrous figures. Yet even colossal improbabilities can happen sometimes.
At the offices of United States Robots, the hows and whys of it were secondary. The real point was that a robot had been destroyed.
That, in itself, was distressing.
The fact that JN-5 had been a prototype, the first, after four earlier attempts, to have been placed in the field, was even more distressing.
The fact that JN-5 was a radically new type of robot, quite different from anything ever built before, was abysmally distressing.
The fact that JN-5 had apparently accomplished something before its destruction that was incalculably important and that that accomplishment might now be forever gone, placed the distress utterly beyond words.
It seemed scarcely worth mentioning that, along with the robot, the Chief Robopsychologist of United States Robots had also died.
Clinton Madarian had joined the firm ten years before. For five of those years, he had worked uncomplainingly under the grumpy supervision of Susan Calvin.
Madarian’s brilliance was quite obvious and Susan Calvin had quietly promoted him over the heads of older men. She wouldn’t, in any case, have deigned to give her reasons for this to Research Director Peter Bogert, but as it happened, no reasons were needed. Or, rather, they were obvious.
Madarian was utterly the reverse of the renowned Dr. Calvin in several very noticeable ways. He was not quite as overweight as his distinct double chin made him appear to be, but even so he was overpowering in his presence, where Susan had gone nearly unnoticed. Madarian’s massive face, his shock of glistening red-brown hair, his ruddy complexion and booming voice, his loud laugh, and most of all, his irrepressible self-confidence and his eager way of announcing his successes, made everyone else in the room feel there was a shortage of space.
When Susan Calvin finally retired (refusing, in advance, any cooperation with respect to any testimonial dinner that might be planned in her honor, with so firm a manner that no announcement of the retirement was even made to the news services) Madarian took her place.
He had been in his new post exactly one day when he initiated the JN project.
It had meant the largest commitment of funds to one project that United States Robots had ever had to weigh, but that was something which Madarian dismissed with a genial wave of the hand.
“Worth every penny of it, Peter,” he said. “And I expect you to convince the Board of Directors of that.”
“Give me reasons,” said Bogert, wondering if Madarian would. Susan Calvin had never given reasons.
But Madarian said, “Sure,” and settled himself easily into the large armchair in the Director’s office.
Bogert watched the other with something that was almost awe. His own once-black hair was almost white now and within the decade he would follow Susan into retirement. That would mean the end of the original team that had built United States Robots into a globe-girdling firm that was a rival of the national governments in complexity and importance. Somehow neither he nor those who had gone before him ever quite grasped the enormous expansion of the firm.
But this was a new generation. The new men were at ease with the Colossus” They lacked the touch of wonder that would have them tiptoeing in disbelief. So they moved ahead, and that was good.
Madarian said, “I propose to begin the construction of robots without constraint.”
“Without the Three Laws? Surely-”
“No, Peter. Are those the only constraints you can think of? Hell, you contributed to the design of the early positronic brains. Do I have to tell you that, quite aside from the Three Laws, there isn’t a pathway in those brains that isn’t carefully designed and fixed? We have robots planned for specific tasks, implanted with specific abilities.”
“And you propose-”
“That at every level below the Three Laws, the paths be made open-ended. It’s not difficult.”
Bogert said dryly, “It’s not difficult, indeed. Useless things are never difficult. The difficult thing is fixing the paths and making the robot useful.”
“But why is that difficult? Fixing the paths requires a great deal of effort because the Principle of Uncertainty is important in particles the mass of positrons and the uncertainty effect must be minimized. Yet why must it? If we arrange to have the Principle just sufficiently prominent to allow the crossing of paths unpredictably-”
“We have an unpredictable robot.”
“We have a creative robot,” said Madarian, with a trace of impatience. “Peter, if there’s anything a human brain has that a robotic brain has never had, it’s the trace of unpredictability that comes from the effects of uncertainty at the subatomic level. I admit that this effect has never been demonstrated experimentally within the nervous system, but without that the human brain is not superior to the robotic brain in principle.”
“And you think that if you introduce the effect into the robotic brain, the human brain will become not superior to the robotic brain in principle.”
“That, “ said Madarian, “is exactly what I believe.” They went on for a long time after that.
The Board of Directors clearly had no intention of being easily convinced.
Scott Robertson, the largest shareholder in the firm, said, “It’s hard enough to manage the robot industry as it is, with public hostility to robots forever on the verge of breaking out into the open. If the public gets the idea that robots will be uncontrolled…Oh, don’t tell me about the Three Laws. The average man won’t believe the Three Laws will protect him if he as much as hears the word ‘uncontrolled.’ “
“Then don’t use it, “ said Madarian. “Call the robot-call it ‘intuitive.’ “
“An intuitive robot, “ someone muttered. “A girl robot?” A smile made its way about the conference table.
Madarian seized on that. “All right. A girl robot. Our robots are sexless, of course, and so will this one be, but we always act as though they’re males. We give them male pet names and call them he and him. Now this one, if we consider the nature of the mathematical structuring of the brain which I have proposed, would fall into the JN-coordinate system. The first robot would be JN-1, and I’ve assumed that it would be called John-10…I’m afraid that is the level of originality of the average roboticist. But why not call it Jane-1, damn it? If the public has to be let in on what we’re doing, we’re constructing a feminine robot with intuition.”
Robertson shook his head, “What difference would that make? What you’re saying is that you plan to remove the last barrier which, in principle, keeps the robotic brain inferior to the human brain. What do you suppose the public reaction will be to that?”
“Do you plan to make that public?” said Madarian. He thought a bit and then said, “Look. One thing the general public believes is that women are not as intelligent as men.”
There was an instant apprehensive look on the face of more than one man at the table and a quick look up and down as though Susan Calvin were still in her accustomed seat.
Madarian said, “If we announce a female robot, it doesn’t matter what she is. The public will automatically assume she is mentally backward. We just publicize the robot as Jane-1 and we don’t have to say another word. We’re safe.”
“Actually,” said Peter Bogert quietly, “there’s more to it than that. Madarian and I have gone over the mathematics carefully and the JN series, whether John or Jane, would be quite safe. They would be less complex and intellectually capable, in an orthodox sense, than many another series we have designed and constructed. There would only be the one added factor of, well, let’s get into the habit of calling it ‘intuition.’ “
“Who knows what it would do?” muttered Robertson.
“Madarian has suggested one thing it can do. As you all know, the Space Jump has been developed in principle. It is possible for men to attain what is, in effect, hyper-speeds beyond that of light and to visit other stellar systems and return in negligible time-weeks at the most.”
Robertson said, “That’s not new to us. It couldn’t have been done without robots.”
“Exactly, and it’s not doing us any good because we can’t use the hyper-speed drive except perhaps once as a demonstration, so that U. S. Robots gets little credit. The Space Jump is risky, it’s fearfully prodigal of energy and therefore it’s enormously expensive. If we were going to use it anyway, it would be nice if we could report the existence of a habitable planet. Call it a psychological need. Spend about twenty billion dollars on a single Space Jump and report nothing but scientific data and the public wants to know why their money was wasted. Report the existence of a habitable planet, and you’re an interstellar Columbus and no one will worry about the money.”
“So where are we going to find a habitable planet? Or put it this way-which star within reach of the Space Jump as presently developed, which of the three hundred thousand stars and star systems within three hundred light-years has the best chance of having a habitable planet? We’ve got an enormous quantity of details on every star in our three-hundred-light-year neighborhood and a notion that almost every one has a planetary system. But which has a habitable planet? Which do we visit?…We don’t know.”
One of the directors said, “How would this Jane robot help us?”
Madarian was about to answer that, but he gestured slightly to Bogert and Bogert understood. The Director would carry more weight. Bogert didn’t particularly like the idea; if the JN series proved a fiasco, he was making himself prominent enough in connection with it to insure that the sticky fingers of blame would cling to him. On the other hand, retirement was not all that far off, and if it worked, he would go out in a blaze of glory. Maybe it was only Madarian’s aura of confidence, but Bogert had honestly come to believe it would work.
He said, “It may well be that somewhere in the libraries of data we have on those stars, there are methods for estimating the probabilities of the presence of Earth-type habitable planets. All we need to do is understand the data properly, look at them in the appropriate creative manner, make the correct correlations. We haven’t done it yet. Or if some astronomer has, he hasn’t been smart enough to realize what he has.
“A JN-type robot could make correlations far more rapidly and far more precisely than a man could. In a day, it would make and discard as many correlations as a man could in ten years. Furthermore, it would work in truly random fashion, whereas a man would have a strong bias based on preconception and on what is already believed.”
There was a considerable silence after that Finally Robertson said, “But it’s only a matter of probability, isn’t it? Suppose this robot said, ‘The highest-probability habitable-planet star within so-and-so light-years is Squidgee-17” or whatever, and we go there and find that a probability is only a probability and that there are no habitable planets after all. Where does that leave us?”
Madarian struck in this time. “We still win. We know how the robot came to the conclusion because it-she-will tell us. It might well help us gain enormous insight into astronomical detail and make the whole thing worthwhile even if we don’t make the Space Jump at all. Besides, we can then work out the five most probable sites of planets and the probability that one of the five has a habitable planet may then be better than 0.95. It would be almost sure-”
They went on for a long time after that.
The funds granted were quite insufficient, but Madarian counted on the habit of throwing good money after bad. With two hundred million about to be lost irrevocably when another hundred million could save everything, the other hundred million would surely be voted.
Jane-1 was finally built and put on display. Peter Bogert studied it -her-gravely. He said, “Why the narrow waist? Surely that introduces a mechanical weakness?”
Madarian chuckled. “Listen, if we’re going to call her Jane, there’s no point in making her look like Tarzan.”
Bogert shook his head. “Don’t like it. You’ll be bulging her higher up to give the appearance of breasts next, and that’s a rotten idea. If women start getting the notion that robots may look like women, I can tell you exactly the kind of perverse notions they’ll get, and you’ll really have hostility on their part.”
Madarian said, “Maybe you’re right at that. No woman wants to feel replaceable by something with none of her faults. Okay.”
Jane-2 did not have the pinched waist. She was a somber robot which rarely moved and even more rarely spoke.
Madarian had only occasionally come rushing to Bogert with items of news during her construction and that had been a sure sign that things were going poorly. Madarian’s ebullience under success was overpowering. He would not hesitate to invade Bogert’s bedroom at 3 A.M. with a hot-flash item rather than wait for the morning. Bogert was sure of that.
Now Madarian seemed subdued, his usually florid expression nearly pale, his round cheeks somehow pinched. Bogert said, with a feeling of certainty, “She won’t talk.”
“Oh, she talks.” Madarian sat down heavily and chewed at his lower lip. “Sometimes, anyway,” he said.
Bogert rose and circled the robot. “And when she talks, she makes no sense, I suppose. Well, if she doesn’t talk, she’s no female, is she?”
Madarian tried a weak smile for size and abandoned it. He said, “The brain, in isolation, checked out.”
“I know,” said Bogert. “But once that brain was put in charge of the physical apparatus of the robot, it was necessarily modified, of course.”
“Of course,” agreed Bogert unhelpfully. “But unpredictably and frustratingly. The trouble is that when you’re dealing with n-dimensional calculus of uncertainty, things are-”
“Uncertain?” said Bogert. His own reaction was surprising him. The company investment was already most sizable and almost two years had elapsed, yet the results were, to put it politely, disappointing. Still, he found himself jabbing at Madarian and finding himself amused in the process.
Almost furtively, Bogert wondered if it weren’t the absent Susan Calvin he was jabbing at. Madarian was so much more ebullient and effusive than Susan could ever possibly be-when things were going well. He was also far more vulnerably in the dumps when things weren’t going well, and it was precisely under pressure that Susan never cracked. The target that Madarian made could be a neatly punctured bull’s-eye as recompense for the target Susan had never allowed herself to be.
Madarian did not react to Bogert’s last remark any more than Susan Calvin would have done; not out of contempt, which would have been Susan’s reaction, but because he did not hear it
He said argumentatively, “The trouble is the matter of recognition. We have Jane-2 correlating magnificently. She can correlate on any subject, but once she’s done so, she can’t recognize a valuable result from a valueless one. It’s not an easy problem, judging how to program a robot to tell a significant correlation when you don’t know what correlations she will be making.”
“I presume you’ve thought of lowering the potential at the W-21 diode junction and sparking across the-”
“No, no, no, no-” Madarian faded off into a whispering diminuendo. “You can’t just have it spew out everything. We can do that for ourselves. The point is to have it recognize the crucial correlation and draw the conclusion. Once that is done, you see, a Jane robot would snap out an answer by intuition. It would be something we couldn’t get ourselves except by the oddest kind of luck.”
“It seems to me,” said Bogert dryly, “that if you had a robot like that, you would have her do routinely what, among human beings, only the occasional genius is capable of doing.”
Madarian nodded vigorously. “Exactly, Peter. I’d have said so myself if I weren’t afraid of frightening off the execs. Please don’t repeat that in their hearing.”
“Do you really want a robot genius?”
“What are words? I’m trying to get a robot with the capacity to make random correlations at enormous speeds, together with a key-significance high-recognition quotient. And I’m trying to put those words into positronic field equations. I thought I had it, too, but I don’t. Not yet.”
He looked at Jane-2 discontentedly and said, “What’s the best significance you have, Jane?”
Jane-2’s head turned to look at Madarian but she made no sound, and Madarian whispered with resignation, “She’s running that into the correlation banks.”
Jane-2 spoke tonelessly at last. “I’m not sure.” It was the first sound she had made.
Madarian’s eyes rolled upward. “She’s doing the equivalent of setting up equations with indeterminate solutions.”
“I gathered that,” said Bogert. “Listen, Madarian, can you go anywhere at this point, or do we pull out now and cut our losses at half a billion?”
“Oh, I’ll get it, “ muttered Madarian.
Jane-3 wasn’t it. She was never as much as activated and Madarian was in a rage.
It was human error. His own fault, if one wanted to be entirely accurate. Yet though Madarian was utterly humiliated, others remained quiet. Let he who has never made an error in the fearsomely intricate mathematics of the positronic brain fill out the first memo of correction.
Nearly a year passed before Jane-4 was ready. Madarian was ebullient again. “She does it,” he said. “She’s got a good high-recognition quotient.”
He was confident enough to place her on display before the Board and have her solve problems. Not mathematical problems; any robot could do that; but problems where the terms were deliberately misleading without being actually inaccurate.
Bogert said afterward, “That doesn’t take much, really.”
“Of course not. It’s elementary for Jane-4 but I had to show them something, didn’t I?”
“Do you know how much we’ve spent so far?”
“Come on, Peter, don’t give me that. Do you know how much we’ve got back? These things don’t go on in a vacuum, you know. I’ve had over three years of hell over this, if you want to know, but I’ve worked out new techniques of calculation that will save us a minimum of fifty thousand dollars on every new type of positronic brain we design, from now on in forever. Right?”
“Well me no wells. It’s so. And it’s my personal feeling that n-dimensional calculus of uncertainty can have any number of other applications if we have the ingenuity to find them, and my Jane robots will find them. Once I’ve got exactly what I want, the new JN series will pay for itself inside of five years, even if we triple what we’ve invested so far.”
“What do you mean by ‘exactly what you want’? What’s wrong with Jane-4?”
“Nothing. Or nothing much. She’s on the track, but she can be improved and I intend to do so. I thought I knew where I was going when I designed her. Now I’ve tested her and I know where I’m going. I intend to get there.”
Jane-5 was it. It took Madarian well over a year to produce her and there he had no reservations; he was utterly confident.
Jane-5 was shorter than the average robot, slimmer. Without being a female caricature as Jane-1 had been, she managed to possess an air of femininity about herself despite the absence of a single clearly feminine feature.
“It’s the way she’s standing,” said Bogert. Her arms were held gracefully and somehow the torso managed to give the impression of curving slightly when she turned.
Madarian said, “Listen to her…How do you feel, Jane?”
“In excellent health, thank you,” said Jane-5, and the voice was precisely that of a woman; it was a sweet and almost disturbing contralto.
“Why did you do that, Clinton?” said Peter, startled and beginning to frown.
“Psychologically important,” said Madarian. “I want people to think of her as a woman; to treat her as a woman; to explain.”
“What people?” Madarian put his hands in his pockets and stared thoughtfully at Bogert. “I would like to have arrangements made for Jane and myself to go to flagstaff.”
Bogert couldn’t help but note that Madarian didn’t say Jane-5. He made use of no number this time. She was the Jane. He said doubtfully, “To flagstaff? Why?”
“Because that’s the world center for general planetology, isn’t it? It’s where they’re studying the stars and trying to calculate the probability of habitable planets, isn’t it?”
“I know that, but it’s on Earth.”
“Well, and I surely know that.”
“Robotic movements on Earth are strictly controlled. And there’s no need for it. Bring a library of books on general planetology here and let Jane absorb them.”
“No! Peter, will you get it through your head that Jane isn’t the ordinary logical robot; she’s intuitive.”
“So how can we tell what she needs, what she can use, what will set her off? We can use any metal model in the factory to read books; that’s frozen data and out of date besides. Jane must have living information; she must have tones of voice, she must have side issues; she must have total irrelevancies even. How the devil do we know what or when something will go click-click inside her and fall into a pattern? If we knew, we wouldn’t need her at all, would we?”
Bogert began to feel harassed. He said, “Then bring the men here, the general planetologists.”
“Here won’t be any good. They’ll be out of their element. They won’t react naturally. I want Jane to watch them at work; I want her to see their instruments, their offices, their desks, everything about them that she can. I want you to arrange to have her transported to flagstaff. And I’d really like not to discuss it any further.”
For a moment he almost sounded like Susan. Bogert winced, and said, “It’s complicated making such an arrangement. Transporting an experimental robot-”
“Jane isn’t experimental. She’s the fifth of the series.”
“The other four weren’t really working models.”
Madarian lifted his hands in helpless frustration. “Who’s forcing you to tell the government that?”
“I’m not worried about the government. It can be made to understand special cases. It’s public opinion. We’ve come a long way in fifty years and I don’t propose to be set back twenty-five of them by having you lose control of a-”
“I won’t lose control. You’re making foolish remarks. Look! U. S. Robots can afford a private plane. We can land quietly at the nearest commercial airport and be lost in hundreds of similar landings. We can arrange to have a large ground car with an enclosed body meet us and take us to Flagstaff. Jane will be crated and it will be obvious that some piece of thoroughly non-robotic equipment is being transported to the labs. We won’t get a second look from anyone. The men at Flagstaff will be alerted and will be told the exact purpose of the visit. They will have every motive to cooperate and to prevent a leak.”
Bogert pondered. “The risky part will be the plane and the ground car. If anything happens to the crate-”
“We might get away with it if Jane is deactivated during transport. Then even if someone finds out she’s inside-”
“No, Peter. That can’t be done. Uh-uh. Not Jane-5. Look, she’s been free-associating since she was activated. The information she possesses can be put into freeze during deactivation but the free associations never. No, sir, she can’t ever be deactivated.”
“But, then, if somehow it is discovered that we are transporting an activated robot-”
“It won’t be found out.” Madarian remained firm and the plane eventually took off. It was a late-model automatic Computo-jet, but it carried a human pilot-one of U. S. Robots’ own employees-as backup. The crate containing Jane arrived at the airport safely, was transferred to the ground car, and reached the Research Laboratories at Flagstaff without incident.
Peter Bogert received his first call from Madarian not more than an hour after the latter’s arrival at Flagstaff. Madarian was ecstatic and, characteristically, could not wait to report.
The message arrived by tubed laser beam, shielded, scrambled, and ordinarily impenetrable, but Bogert felt exasperated. He knew it could be penetrated if someone with enough technological ability-the government, for example-was determined to do so. The only real safety lay in the fact that the government had no reason to try. At least Bogert hoped so.
He said, “For God’s sake, do you have to call?”
Madarian ignored him entirely. He burbled, “It was an inspiration. Sheer genius, I tell you.”
For a while, Bogert stared at the receiver. Then he shouted incredulously, “You mean you’ve got the answer? Already?”
“No, no! Give us time, damn it. I mean the matter of her voice was an inspiration. Listen, after we were chauffeured from the airport to the main administration building at Flagstaff, we uncrated Jane and she stepped out of the box. When that happened, every man in the place stepped back. Scared! Nitwits! If even scientists can’t understand the significance of the Laws of Robotics, what can we expect of the average untrained individual? For a minute there I thought: This will all be useless. They won’t talk. They’ll be keying themselves for a quick break in case she goes berserk and they’ll be able to think of nothing else.”
“Well, then, what are you getting at?”
“So then she greeted them routinely. She said, ‘Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am so glad to meet you.’ And it came out in this beautiful contralto…That was it. One man straightened his tie, and another ran his fingers through his hair. What really got me was that the oldest guy in the place actually checked his fly to make sure it was zipped. They’re all crazy about her now. All they needed was the voice. She isn’t a robot any more; she’s a girl.”
“You mean they’re talking to her?”
“Are they talking to her! I should say so. I should have programmed her for sexy intonations. They’d be asking her for dates right now if I had. Talk about conditioned reflex. Listen, men respond to voices. At the most intimate moments, are they looking? It’s the voice in your ear-”
“Yes, Clinton, I seem to remember. Where’s Jane now?”
“With them. They won’t let go of her.”
“Damn! Get in there with her. Don’t let her out of your sight, man.”
Madarian’s calls thereafter, during his ten-day stay at Flagstaff, were not very frequent and became progressively less exalted.
Jane was listening carefully, he reported, and occasionally she responded. She remained popular. She was given entry everywhere. But there were no results.
Bogert said, “Nothing at all?”
Madarian was at once defensive. “You can’t say nothing at all. It’s impossible to say nothing at all with an intuitive robot. You don’t know what might not be going on inside her. This morning she asked Jensen what he had for breakfast.”
“Rossiter Jensen the astrophysicist?”
“Yes, of course. As it turned out, he didn’t have breakfast that morning. Well, a cup of coffee.”
“So Jane’s learning to make small talk. That scarcely makes up for the expense.”
“Oh, don’t be a jackass. It wasn’t small talk. Nothing is small talk for Jane. She asked because it had something to do with some sort of cross-correlation she was building in her mind.”
“What can it possibly-”
“How do I know? If I knew, I’d be a Jane myself and you wouldn’t need her. But it has to mean something. She’s programmed for high motivation to obtain an answer to the question of a planet with optimum habitability/distance and-”
“Then let me know when she’s done that and not before. It’s not really necessary for me to get a blow-by-blow description of possible correlations.”
He didn’t really expect to get notification of success. With each day, Bogert grew less sanguine, so that when the notification finally came, he wasn’t ready. And it came at the very end.
That last time, when Madarian’s climactic message came, it came in what was almost a whisper. Exaltation had come complete circle and Madarian was awed into quiet.
“She did it,” he said. “She did it. After I all but gave up, too. After she had received everything in the place and most of it twice and three times over and never said a word that sounded like anything…I’m on the plane now, returning. We’ve just taken off.”
Bogert managed to get his breath. “Don’t play games, man. You have the answer? Say so, if you have. Say it plainly.”
“She has the answer. She’s given me the answer. She’s given me the names of three stars within eighty light-years which, she says, have a sixty to ninety percent chance of possessing one habitable planet each. The probability that at least one has is 0.972. It’s almost certain. And that’s just the least of it. Once we get back, she can give us the exact line of reasoning that led her to the conclusion and I predict that the whole science of astrophysics and cosmology will-”
“Are you sure-”
“You think I’m having hallucinations? I even have a witness. Poor guy jumped two feet when Jane suddenly began to reel out the answer in her gorgeous voice”
And that was when the meteorite struck and in the thorough destruction of the plane that followed, Madarian and the pilot were reduced to gobbets of bloody flesh and no usable remnant of Jane was recovered.
The gloom at U. S. Robots had never been deeper. Robertson attempted to find consolation in the fact that the very completeness of the destruction had utterly hidden the illegalities of which the firm had been guilty.
Peter shook his head and mourned. “We’ve lost the best chance U. S. Robots ever had of gaining an unbeatable public image; of overcoming the damned Frankenstein complex. What it would have meant for robots to have one of them work out the solution to the habitable-planet problem, after other robots had helped work out the Space Jump. Robots would have opened the galaxy to us. And if at the same time we could have driven scientific knowledge forward in a dozen different directions as we surely would have…Oh, God, there’s no way of calculating the benefits to the human race, and to us of course.”
Robertson said, “We could build other Janes, couldn’t we? Even without Madarian?”
“Sure we could. But can we depend on the proper correlation again? Who knows how low-probability that final result was? What if Madarian had had a fantastic piece of beginner’s luck? And then to have an even more fantastic piece of bad luck? A meteorite zeroing in…It’s simply unbelievable-”
Robertson said in a hesitating whisper, “It couldn’t have been meant. I mean, if we weren’t meant to know and if the meteorite was a judgment-from-”
He faded off under Bogert’s withering glare. Bogert said, “It’s not a dead loss, I suppose. Other Janes are bound to help us in some ways. And we can give other robots feminine voices, if that will help encourage public acceptance-though I wonder what the women would say. If we only knew what Jane-5 had said!”
“In that last call, Madarian said there was a witness.” Bogert said, “I know; I’ve been thinking about that. Don’t you suppose I’ve been in touch with flagstaff? Nobody in the entire place heard Jane say anything that was out of the ordinary, anything that sounded like an answer to the habitable-planet problem, and certainly anyone there should have recognized the answer if it came -or at least recognized it as a possible answer.”
“Could Madarian have been lying? Or crazy? Could he have been trying to protect himself-”
“You mean he may have been trying to save his reputation by pretending he had the answer and then gimmick Jane so she couldn’t talk and say, ‘Oh, sorry, something happened accidentally. Oh, darn!’ I won’t accept that for a minute. You might as well suppose he had arranged the meteorite.”
“Then what do we do?” Bogert said heavily, “Turn back to flagstaff. The answer must be there. I’ve got to dig deeper, that’s all. I’m going there and I’m taking a couple of the men in Madarian’s department. We’ve got to go through that place top to bottom and end to end.”
“But, you know, even if there were a witness and he had heard, what good would it do, now that we don’t have Jane to explain the process?”
“Every little something is useful. Jane gave the names of the stars; the catalogue numbers probably-none of the named stars has a chance. If someone can remember her saying that and actually remember the catalogue number, or have heard it clearly enough to allow it to be recovered by Psycho-probe if he lacked the conscious memory-then we’ll have something. Given the results at the end, and the data fed Jane at the beginning, we might be able to reconstruct the line of reasoning; we might recover the intuition. If that is done, we’ve saved the game-”
Bogert was back after three days, silent and thoroughly depressed. When Robertson inquired anxiously as to results, he shook his head. “Nothing!”
“Absolutely nothing. I spoke with every man in flagstaff-every scientist, every technician, every student-that had had anything to do with Jane; everyone that had as much as seen her. The number wasn’t great; I’ll give Madarian credit for that much discretion. He only allowed those to see her who might conceivably have had planetological knowledge to feed her. There were twenty-three men altogether who had seen Jane and of those only twelve had spoken to her more than casually.
“I went over and over all that Jane had said. They remembered everything quite well. They’re keen men engaged in a crucial experiment involving their specialty, so they had every motivation to remember. And they were dealing with a talking robot, something that was startling enough, and one that talked like a TV actress. They couldn’t forget.”
Robertson said, “Maybe a Psycho-probe-”
“If one of them had the vaguest thought that something had happened, I would screw out his consent to Probing. But there’s nothing to leave room for an excuse, and to Probe two dozen men who make their living from their brains can’t be done. Honestly, it wouldn’t help. If Jane had mentioned three stars and said they had habitable planets, it would have been like setting up sky rockets in their brains. How could anyone of them forget?”
“Then maybe one of them is lying,” said Robertson grimly. “He wants the information for his own use; to get the credit himself later.”
“What good would that do him?” said Bogert. “The whole establishment knows exactly why Madarian and Jane were there in the first place. They know why I came there in the second. If at any time in the future any man now at Flagstaff suddenly comes up with a habitable-planet theory that is startlingly new and different, yet valid, every other man at Flagstaff and every man at U. S. Robots will know at once that he had stolen it. He’d never get away with it.”
“Then Madarian himself was somehow mistaken.”
“I don’t see how I can believe that either. Madarian had an irritating personality-all robopsychologists have irritating personalities, I think, which must be why they work with robots rather than with men-but he was no dummy. He couldn’t be wrong in something like this.”
“Then-” But Robertson had run out of possibilities. They had reached a blank wall and for some minutes each stared at it disconsolately.
Finally Robertson stirred. “Peter-”
“Let’s ask Susan.”
Bogert stiffened. “What!”
“Let’s ask Susan. Let’s call her and ask her to come in.”
“Why? What can she possibly do?”
“I don’t know. But she’s a robopsychologist, too, and she might understand Madarian better than we do. Besides, she-Oh, hell, she always had more brains than any of us.”
“She’s nearly eighty.”
“And you’re seventy. What about it?”
Bogert sighed. Had her abrasive tongue lost any of its rasp in the years of her retirement? He said, “Well, I’ll ask her.”
Susan Calvin entered Bogert’s office with a slow look around before her eyes fixed themselves on the Research Director. She had aged a great deal since her retirement. Her hair was a fine white and her face seemed to have crumpled. She had grown so frail as to be almost transparent and only her eyes, piercing and uncompromising, seemed to remain of all that had been.
Bogert strode forward heartily, holding out his hand. “Susan!”
Susan Calvin took it, and said, “You’re looking reasonably well, Peter, for an old man. If I were you, I wouldn’t wait till next year. Retire now and let the young men get to it…And Madarian is dead. Are you calling me in to take over my old job? Are you determined to keep the ancients till a year past actual physical death?”
“No, no, Susan. I’ve called you in-” He stopped. He did not, after all, have the faintest idea of how to start.
But Susan read his mind now as easily as she always had. She seated herself with the caution born of stiffened joints and said, “Peter, you’ve called me in because you’re in bad trouble. Otherwise you’d sooner see me dead than within a mile of you.”
“Don’t waste time on pretty talk. I never had time to waste when I was forty and certainly not now. Madarian’s death and your call to me are both unusual, so there must be a connection. Two unusual events without a connection is too low-probability to worry about. Begin at the beginning and don’t worry about revealing yourself to be a fool. That was revealed to me long ago.”
Bogert cleared his throat miserably and began. She listened carefully, her withered hand lifting once in a while to stop him so that she might ask a question.
She snorted at one point. “Feminine intuition? Is that what you wanted the robot for? You men. Faced with a woman reaching a correct conclusion and unable to accept the fact that she is your equal or superior in intelligence, you invent something called feminine intuition.”
“Oh, yes, Susan, but let me continue-”
He did. When she was told of Jane’s contralto voice, she said, “It is a difficult choice sometimes whether to feel revolted at the male sex or merely to dismiss them as contemptible.”
Bogert said, “Well, let me go on-”
When he was quite done, Susan said, “May I have the private use of this office for an hour or two?”
She said, “I want to go over the various records-Jane’s programming, Madarian’s calls, your interviews at flagstaff. I presume I can use that beautiful new shielded laser-phone and your computer outlet if I wish.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, then, get out of here, Peter.”
It was not quite forty-five minutes when she hobbled to the door, opened it, and called for Bogert.
When Bogert came, Robertson was with him. Both entered and Susan greeted the latter with an unenthusiastic “Hello, Scott.”
Bogert tried desperately to gauge the results from Susan’s face, but it was only the face of a grim old lady who had no intention of making anything easy for him.
He said cautiously, “Do you think there’s anything you can do, Susan?”
“Beyond what I have already done? No! There’s nothing more.” Bogert’s lips set in chagrin, but Robertson said, “What have you already done, Susan?”
Susan said, “I’ve thought a little; something I can’t seem to persuade anyone else to do. For one thing, I’ve thought about Madarian. I knew him, you know. He had brains but he was a very irritating extrovert. I thought you would like him after me, Peter.”
“It was a change,” Bogert couldn’t resist saying.
“And he was always running to you with results the very minute he had them, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, he was.”
“And yet,” said Susan, “his last message, the one in which he said Jane had given him the answer, was sent from the plane. Why did he wait so long? Why didn’t he call you while he was still at flagstaff, immediately after Jane had said whatever it was she said?”
“I suppose,” said Peter, “that for once he wanted to check it thoroughly and-well, I don’t know. It was the most important thing that had ever happened to him; he might for once have wanted to wait and be sure of himself.”
“On the contrary; the more important it was, the less he would wait, surely. And if he could manage to wait, why not do it properly and wait till he was back at U. S. Robots so that he could check the results with all the computing equipment this firm could make available to him? In short, he waited too long from one point of view and not long enough from another.”
Robertson interrupted. “Then you think he was up to some trickery-”
Susan looked revolted. “Scott, don’t try to compete with Peter in making inane remarks. Let me continue…A second point concerns the witness. According to the records of that last call, Madarian said, ‘Poor guy jumped two feet when Jane suddenly began to reel out the answer in her gorgeous voice.’ In fact, it was the last thing he said. And the question is, then, why should the witness have jumped? Madarian had explained that all the men were crazy about that voice, and they had had ten days with the robot-with Jane. Why should the mere act of her speaking have startled them?”
Bogert said, “I assumed it was astonishment at hearing Jane give an answer to a problem that has occupied the minds of planetologists for nearly a century.”
“But they were waiting for her to give that answer. That was why she was there. Besides, consider the way the sentence is worded. Madarian’s statement makes it seem the witness was startled, not astonished, if you see the difference. What’s more, that reaction came ‘when Jane suddenly began’-in other words, at the very start of the statement. To be astonished at the content of what Jane said would have required the witness to have listened awhile so that he might absorb it. Madarian would have said he had jumped two feet after he had heard Jane say thus-and-so. It would be ‘after’ not ‘when’ and the word ‘suddenly’ would not be included.”
Bogert said uneasily, “I don’t think you can refine matters down to the use or non-use of a word.”
“I can,” said Susan frostily, “because I am a robopsychologist. And I can expect Madarian to do so, too, because he was a robopsychologist. We have to explain those two anomalies, then. The queer delay before Madarian’s call and the queer reaction of the witness.”
“Can you explain them?” Asked Robertson. “Of course,” said Susan, “since I use a little simple logic. Madarian called with the news without delay, as he always did, or with as little delay as he could manage. If Jane had solved the problem at Flagstaff, he would certainly have called from Flagstaff. Since he called from the plane, she must clearly have solved the problem after he had left Flagstaff.”
“Let me finish. Let me finish. Was Madarian not taken from the airport to Flagstaff in a heavy, enclosed ground car? And Jane, in her crate, with him?”
“And presumably, Madarian and the crated Jane returned from Flagstaff to the airport in the same heavy, enclosed ground car. Am I right?”
“Yes, of course!”
“And they were not alone in the ground car, either. In one of his calls, Madarian said, ‘We were chauffeured from the airport to the main administration building,’ and I suppose I am right in concluding that if he was chauffeured, then that was because there was a chauffeur, a human driver, in the car.”
“The trouble with you, Peter, is that when you think of a witness to a planetological statement, you think of planetologists. You divide up human beings into categories, and despise and dismiss most. A robot cannot do that. The First Law says, ‘A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.’ Any human being. That is the essence of the robotic view of life. A robot makes no distinction. To a robot, all men are truly equal, and to a robopsychologist who must perforce deal with men at the robotic level, all men are truly equal, too.
“It would not occur to Madarian to say a truck driver had heard the statement. To you a truck driver is not a scientist but is a mere animate adjunct of a truck, but to Madarian he was a man and a witness. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
Bogert shook his head in disbelief. “But you are sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. How else can you explain the other point; Madarian’s remark about the startling of the witness? Jane was crated, wasn’t she? But she was not deactivated. According to the records, Madarian was always adamant against ever deactivating an intuitive robot. Moreover, Jane-5, like any of the Janes, was extremely non-talkative. Probably it never occurred to Madarian to order her to remain quiet within the crate; and it was within the crate that the pattern finally fell into place. Naturally she began to talk. A beautiful contralto voice suddenly sounded from inside the crate. If you were the truck driver, what would you do at that point? Surely you’d be startled. It’s a wonder he didn’t crash.”
“But if the truck driver was the witness, why didn’t he come forward-”
“Why? Can he possibly know that anything crucial had happened, that what he heard was important? Besides, don’t you suppose Madarian tipped him well and asked him not to say anything? Would you want the news to spread that an activated robot was being transported illegally over the Earth’s surface.”
“Well, will he remember what was said?”
“Why not? It might seem to you, Peter, that a truck driver, one step above an ape in your view, can’t remember. But truck drivers can have brains, too. The statements were most remarkable and the driver may well have remembered some. Even if he gets some of the letters and numbers wrong, we’re dealing with a finite set, you know, the fifty-five hundred stars or star systems within eighty light-years or so-I haven’t looked up the exact number. You can make the correct choices. And if needed, you will have every excuse to use the Psycho-probe-”
The two men stared at her. Finally Bogert, afraid to believe, whispered, “But how can you be sure?”
For a moment, Susan was on the point of saying: Because I’ve called Flagstaff, you fool, and because I spoke to the truck driver, and because he told me what he had heard, and because I’ve checked with the computer at Flagstaff and got the only three stars that fit the information, and because I have those names in my pocket.
But she didn’t. Let him go through it all himself. Carefully, she rose to her feet, and said sardonically, “How can I be sure?…Call it feminine intuition.”
The Bicentennial Man
Andrew Martin said, “Thank you,” and took the seat offered him. He didn’t look driven to the last resort, but he had been.
He didn’t, actually, look anything, for there was a smooth blankness, to his face, except for the sadness one imagined one saw in his eyes. His hair was smooth, light brown, rather fine; and he had no facial hair. He looked freshly and cleanly shaved. His clothes were distinctly old-fashioned, but neat, and predominantly a velvety red-purple in color.
Facing him from behind the desk was the surgeon. The nameplate on the desk included a fully identifying series of letters and numbers which Andrew didn’t bother with. To call him Doctor would be quite enough.
“When can the operation be carried through, Doctor?” he asked.
Softly, with that certain inalienable note of respect that a robot always used to a human being, the surgeon said, “I am not certain, sir, that I understand how or upon whom such an operation could be performed.”
There might have been a look of respectful intransigence on the surgeon’s face, if a robot of his sort, in lightly bronzed stainless steel, could have such an expression- or any expression.
Andrew Martin studied the robot’s right hand, his cutting hand, as it lay motionless on the desk. The fingers were long and were shaped into artistically metallic, looping curves so graceful and appropriate that one could imagine a scalpel fitting them and becoming, temporarily, one piece with them. There would be no hesitation in his work, no stumbling, no quivering, no mistakes. That confidence came with specialization, of course, a specialization so fiercely desired by humanity that few robots were, any longer, independently brained. A surgeon, of course, would have to be. But this one, though brained, was so limited in his capacity that he did not recognize Andrew, had probably never heard of him.
“Have you ever thought you would like to be a man?” Andrew asked.
The surgeon hesitated a moment, as though the question fitted nowhere in his allotted positronic pathways. “But I am a robot, sir.”
“Would it be better to be a man?”
“If would be better, sir, to be a better surgeon. I could not be so if I were a man, but only if I were a more advanced robot. I would be pleased to be a more advanced robot.”
“It does not offend you that I can order you about? That I can make you stand up, sit down, move right or left, by merely telling you to do so?”
“It is my pleasure to please you, sir. If your orders were to interfere with my functioning with respect to you or to any other human being, I would not obey you. The First Law, concerning my duty to human safety, would take precedence over the Second Law relating to obedience. Otherwise, obedience is my pleasure. Now, upon whom am I to perform this operation?”
“Upon me,” Andrew said.
“But that is impossible. It is patently a damaging operation.”
“That does not matter,” said Andrew, calmly. “I must not inflict damage,” said the surgeon. “On a human being, you must not,” said Andrew, “but I, too, am a robot.”
Andrew had appeared much more a robot when he had first been- manufactured. He had then been as much a robot in appearance as any that had ever existed, smoothly designed and functional.
He had done well in the home to which he had been brought in those days when robots in households, or on the planet altogether, had been a rarity. There had been four in the home: Sir and Ma’am and Miss and Little Miss. He knew their names, of course, but he never used them. Sir was Gerald Martin.
His own serial number was NDR- He eventually forgot the numbers. It had been a long time, of course; but if he had wanted to remember, he could not have forgotten. He had not wanted to remember.
Little Miss had been the first to call him Andrew, because she could not use the letters, and all the rest followed her in this.
Little Miss- She had lived for ninety years and was long since dead. He had tried to call her Ma’am once, but she would not allow it. Little Miss she had been to her last day.
Andrew had been intended to perform the duties of a valet, a butler, even a lady’s maid. Those were the experimental days for him and, indeed, for all robots anywhere save in the industrial and exploratory factories and stations off Earth.
The Martins enjoyed him, and half the time he was prevented from doing his work because Miss and Little Miss wanted to play with him. It was Miss who first understood how this might be arranged. “We order you to play with us and you must follow orders.”
“I am sorry, Miss, but a prior order from Sir must surely take precedence.”
But she said, “Daddy just said he hoped you would take care of the cleaning. That’s not much of an order. I order you.”
Sir did not mind. Sir was fond of Miss and of Little Miss, even more than Ma’am was; and Andrew was fond of them, too. At least, the effect they had upon his actions were those which in a human being would have been called the result of fondness. Andrew thought of it as fondness for he did not know any other word for it.
It was for Little Miss that Andrew had carved a pendant out of wood. She had ordered him to. Miss, it seemed, had received an ivorite pendant with scrollwork for her birthday and Little Miss was unhappy over it. She had only a piece of wood, which she gave Andrew together with a small kitchen knife.
He had done it quickly and Little Miss had said, “That’s nice, Andrew. I’ll show it to Daddy.”
Sir would not believe it. “Where did you really get this, Mandy?” Mandy was what he called Little Miss. When Little Miss assured him she was really telling the truth, he turned to Andrew. “Did you do this, Andrew?”
“The design, too?”
“From what did you copy the design?”
“It is a geometric representation, Sir, that fits the grain of the wood.”
The next day, Sir brought him another piece of wood- a larger one- and an electric vibro-knife. “Make something out of this, Andrew. Anything you want to,” he said.
Andrew did so as Sir watched, then looked at the product a long time. After that, Andrew no longer waited on tables. He was ordered to read books on furniture design instead, and he learned to make cabinets and desks.
“These are amazing productions, Andrew,” Sir soon told him.
“I enjoy doing them, Sir,” Andrew admitted.
“It makes the circuits of my brain somehow flow more easily. I have heard you use the word `enjoy’ and the way you use it fits the way I feel. I enjoy doing them, Sir.”
Gerald Martin took Andrew to the regional offices of the United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation. As a member of the Regional Legislature he had no trouble at all in gaining an interview with the chief robopsychologist. In fact, it was only as a member of the Regional Legislature that he qualified as a robot owner in the first place- in those early days when robots were rare.
Andrew did not understand any of this at the time. But in later years, with greater learning, he could re-view that early scene and understand it in its proper light.
The robopsychologist, Merton Mansky, listened with a growing frown and more than once managed to stop his fingers at the point beyond which they would have irrevocably drummed on the table. He had drawn features and a lined forehead, but he might actually have been younger than he looked.
“Robotics is not an exact art, Mr. Martin,” Mansky explained. “I cannot explain it to you in detail, but the mathematics governing the plotting of the positronic pathways is far too complicated to permit of any but approximate solutions. Naturally, since we build everything around the Three Laws, those are incontrovertible. We will, of course, replace your robot-”
“Not at all,” said Sir. “There is no question of failure on his part. He performs his assigned duties perfectly. The point is he also carves wood in exquisite fashion and never the same twice. He produces works of art.”
Mansky looked confused. “Strange. Of course, we’re attempting generalized pathways these days. Really creative, you think?”
“See for yourself.” Sir handed over a little sphere of wood on which there was a playground scene in which the boys and girls were almost too small to make out, yet they were in perfect proportion and they blended so naturally with the grain that it, too, seemed to have been carved.
Mansky was incredulous. “He did that?” He handed it back with a shake of his head. “The luck of the draw. Something in the pathways.”
“Can you do it again?”
“Probably not. Nothing like this has ever been reported.”
“Good! I don’t in the least mind Andrew’s being the only one.”
“I suspect that the company would like to have your robot back for study,” Mansky said.
“Not a chance!” Sir said with sudden grimness. “Forget it.” He turned to Andrew, “Let’s go home, now.”
Miss was dating boys and wasn’t about the house much. It was Little Miss, not as little as she once was, who filled Andrew’s horizon now. She never forgot that the very first piece of wood carving he had done had been for her. She kept it on a silver chain about her neck.
It was she who first objected to Sir’s habit of giving away Andrew’s work. “Come on, Dad, if anyone wants one of them, let him pay for it. It’s worth it.”
“It isn’t like you to be greedy, Mandy.”
“Not for us, Dad. For the artist.”
Andrew had never heard the word before, and when he had a moment to himself he looked it up in the dictionary.
Then there was another trip, this time to Sir’s lawyer.
“What do you think of this, John?” Sir asked.
The lawyer was John Finegold. He had white hair and a pudgy belly, and the rims of his contact lenses were tinted a bright green. He looked at the small plaque Sir had given him. “This is beautiful. But I’ve already heard the news. Isn’t thus a carving made by your robot? The one you’ve brought with you.”
“Yes, Andrew does them. Don’t you, Andrew?”
“Yes, Sir,” said Andrew.
“How much would you pay for that, John?” Sir asked.
“I can’t say. I’m not a collector of such things.”
“Would you believe I have been offered two hundred and fifty dollars for that small thing. Andrew has made chairs that have sold for five hundred dollars. There’s two hundred thousand dollars in the bank from Andrew’s products.”
“Good heavens, he’s making you rich, Gerald.”
“Half rich,” said Sir. “Half of it is in an account in the name of Andrew Martin.”
“That’s right, and I want to know if it’s legal.”
“Legal…?” Feingold’s chair creaked as he leaned back in it. “There are no precedents, Gerald. How did your robot sign the necessary papers?”
“He can sign his name. Now, is there anything further that ought to be done?”
“Um.” Feingold’s eyes seemed to turn inward for a moment. Then he said, “Well, we can set up a trust to handle all finances in his name and that will place a layer of insulation between him and the hostile world. Beyond that, my advice is you do nothing. No one has e stopped you so far. If anyone objects, let him bring suit”
“And will you take the case if the suit is brought?”
“For a retainer, certainly.”
“Something like that,” Feingold said, and pointed to the wooden plaque.
“Fair enough,” said Sir.
Feingold chuckled as he turned to the robot. “Andrew, are you pleased that you have money?”
“What do you plan to do with it?” Pay for things, sir, which otherwise Sir “would have to pay for. It would save him expense, sir.”
Such occasions’ arose. Repairs were expensive, and revisions were even more so. With the years, new models of robots were produced and Sir saw to it that Andrew had the advantage of every new device, until he was a model of metallic excellence. It was all done at Andrew’s expense. Andrew insisted on that.
Only his positronic pathways were untouched. Sir insisted on that.
“The new models aren’t as good as you are, Andrew,” he said. “The new robots are worthless. The company has learned to make the pathways more precise, more closely on the nose, more deeply on the track. The new robots don’t shift. They do what they’re designed for and never stray. I like you better.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“And it’s your doing, Andrew, don’t you forget that. I am certain Mansky put an end to generalized pathways as soon as he had a good look at you. He didn’t like the unpredictability. Do you know how many times he asked for you back so he could place you under study? Nine times! I never let him have you, though; and now that he’s retired, we may have some peace.”
So Sir’s hair thinned and grayed and his face grew pouchy, while Andrew looked even better than he had when he first joined the family. Ma’am had joined an art colony somewhere in Europe, and Miss was a poet in New York. They wrote sometimes, but not often. Little Miss was married and lived not far away. She said she did not want to leave Andrew. When her child, Little Sir, was born, she let Andrew hold the bottle and feed him.
With the birth of a grandson, Andrew felt that Sir finally had someone to replace those who had gone. Therefore, it would not be so unfair now to come to him with the request.
“Sir, it is kind of you to have allowed me to spend my money as I wished”
“It was your money, Andrew.”
“Only by your voluntary act, Sir. I do not believe the law would have stopped you from keeping it all.”
“The law won’t persuade me to do wrong, Andrew.”
“Despite all expenses, and despite taxes, too, Sir, I have nearly six hundred thousand dollars.”
“I know that, Andrew.”
“I want to give it to you, Sir.”
“I won’t take it, Andrew”
“In exchange for something you can give me, Sir”
“Oh? What is that, Andrew?”
“My freedom, Sir.”
“I wish to buy my freedom, Sir.”
It wasn’t that easy. Sir had flushed, had said, “For God’s sake!” Then he had turned on his heel and stalked away.
It was Little Miss who finally brought him round, defiantly and harshly- and in front of Andrew. For thirty years no one had ever hesitated to talk in front of Andrew, whether or not the matter involved Andrew. He was only a robot.
“Dad, why are you taking this as a personal affront? He’ll still be here. He’ll still be loyal. He can’t help that; it’s built in. All he wants is a form of words. Ha wants to be called free. Is that so terrible? Hasn’t be earned this chance? Heavens, he and I have been talking about it for years!”
“Talking about it for years, have you?”
“Yes, and over and over again he postponed it for fear he would hurt you. I made him put the matter up to you.”
“He doesn’t know what freedom is. He’s a robot.”
“Dad, you don’t know him. He’s read everything in the library. I don’t know what he feels inside, but I don’t know what you feel inside either. When you talk to him you’ll find he reacts to the various abstractions as you and I do, and what else counts? If some one else’s reactions are like your own, what more can you ask for?”
“The law won’t take that attitude,” Sir said, angrily. “See here, you!” He turned to Andrew with a deliberate grate in his voice. “I can’t free you except by doing it legally. If this gets into the courts, you not only won’t get your freedom but the law will take official cognizance of your money. They’ll tell you that a robot has no right to earn money. Is this rigmarole worth losing your money?”
“Freedom is without price, Sir,” said Andrew. “Even the chance of freedom is worth the money.”
It seemed the court might also take the attitude that freedom was without price, and might decide that for no price, however great, could a robot buy its freedom.
The simple statement of the regional attorney who represented those who had brought a class action to oppose the freedom was this: “The word `freedom’ has no meaning when applied to a robot. Only a human being can be free.” He said it several times, when it seemed appropriate; slowly, with his hand coming down rhythmically on the desk before him to mark the words.
Little Miss asked permission to speak on behalf of Andrew.
She was recognized by her full name, something Andrew had never heard pronounced before: “Amanda Laura Martin Charney may approach the bench.”
“Thank you, Your Honor. I am not a lawyer and I don’t know the proper way of phrasing things, but I hope you will listen to my meaning and ignore the words.
“Let’s understand what it means to be free in Andrew’s case. In some ways, he is free. I think it’s at least twenty years since anyone in the Martin family gave him an order to do something that we felt he might not do of his own accord. But we can, if we wish, give him an order to do anything, couching it as harshly as we wish, because he is a machine that belongs to us. Why should we be in a position to do so, when he has served us so long, so faithfully, and has earned so much money for us? He owes us nothing more. The debit is entirely on the other side.
“Even if we were legally forbidden to place Andrew in involuntary servitude, he would still serve us voluntarily. Making him free would be a trick of words only, but it would mean much to him. It would give him everything and cost us nothing.”
For a moment the judge seemed to be suppressing a smile. “I see your point, Mrs. Chamey. The fact is that there is no binding law in this respect and no precedent. There is, however, the unspoken assumption that only a man may enjoy freedom. I can make new law here, subject to reversal in a higher court; but I cannot lightly run counter to that assumption. Let me address the robot. Andrew!”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
It was the first time Andrew bad spoken in court, and the judge seemed astonished for a moment at the human timbre of his voice.
“Why do you want to be free, Andrew? In what way will this matter to you?”
Andrew said, “Would you wish to be a slave, Your Honor?”
“But you are not a slave. You are a perfectly good robot- a genius of a robot, I am given to understand, capable of an artistic expression that can be matched nowhere. What more could you do if you were free?”
“Perhaps no more than I do now, Your Honor, but with greater joy. It has been said in this courtroom that only a human being can be free. It seems to me that only someone who wishes for freedom can be free. I wish for freedom.”
And it was that statement that cued the judge. The crucial sentence in his decision was “There is no right to deny freedom to any object with a mind advanced enough to grasp the concept and desire the state.” It was eventually upheld by the World Court.
Sir remained displeased, and his harsh voice made Andrew feel as if he were being short-circuited. “I don’t want your damned money, Andrew. I’ll take it only because you won’t feel free otherwise. From now on, you can select your own jobs and do them as you please. I will give you no orders, except this one: Do as you please. But I am still responsible for you. That’s part of the court order. I hope you understand that.”
Little Miss interrupted. “Don’t be irascible, Dad. The responsibility is no great chore. You know you won’t have to do a thing. The Three Laws still hold.”
“Then how is he free?”
“Are not human beings bound by their laws, Sir?” Andrew replied.
“I’m not going to argue.” Sir left the room, and Andrew saw him only infrequently after that.
Little Miss came to see him frequently in the small house that had been built and made over for him. It had no kitchen, of course, nor bathroom facilities. It had just two rooms; one was a library and one was a combination storeroom and workroom. Andrew accepted many commissions and worked harder as a free robot than he ever had before, till the cost of the house was paid for and the structure was signed over to him.
One day Little Sir- no, “George!”- came. Little Sir had insisted on that after the court decision. “A free robot doesn’t call anyone Little Sir,” George had said. “I call you Andrew. You must call me George.”
His preference was phrased as an order, so Andrew called him George- but Little Miss remained Little Miss.
One day when George came alone, it was to say that Sir was dying. Little Miss was at the bedside, but Sir wanted Andrew as well.
Sir’s voice was still quite strong, though he seemed unable to move much. He struggled to raise his hand.
“Andrew,” he said, “Andrew- Don’t help me, George. I’m only dying; I’m not crippled. Andrew, I’m glad you’re free. I just wanted to tell you that.”
Andrew did not know what to say. He had never been at the side of someone dying before, but he knew it was the human way of ceasing to function. It was an involuntary and irreversible dismantling, and Andrew did not know what to say that might be appropriate. He could only remain standing, absolutely silent, absolutely motionless.
When it was over, Little Miss said to him, “He may not have seemed friendly to you toward the end, Andrew, but he was old, you know; and it hurt him that you should want to be free.”
Then Andrew found the words. “I would never have been free without him, Little Miss.”
Only after Sir’s death did Andrew begin to wear clothes. He began with an old pair of trousers at first, a pair that George had given him.
George was married now, and a lawyer. He had joined Feingold’s firm. Old Feingold was long since dead, but his daughter had carried on. Eventually the firm’s name became Feingold and Martin. It remained so even when the daughter retired and no Feingold took her place. At the time Andrew first put on clothes, the Martin name had just been added to the firm.
George had tried not to smile the first time he saw Andrew attempting to put on trousers, but to Andrew’s eyes the smile was clearly there. George showed Andrew how to manipulate the static charge to allow the trousers to open, wrap about his lower body, and move shut. George demonstrated on his own trousers, but Andrew was quite aware it would take him a while to duplicate that one flowing motion.
“But why do you want trousers, Andrew? Your body is so beautifully functional it’s a shame to cover it especially when you needn’t worry about either temperature control or modesty. And the material doesn’t cling properly- not on metal.”
Andrew held his ground. “Are not human bodies beautifully functional, George? Yet you cover yourselves.”
“For warmth, for cleanliness, for protection, for decorativeness. None of that applies to you.”
“I feel bare without clothes. I feel different, George,” Andrew responded.
“Different! Andrew, there are millions of robots on Earth now. In this region, according to the last census, there are almost as many robots as there are men.”
“I know, George. There are robots doing every conceivable type of work.”
“And none of them wear clothes.”
“But none of them are free, George.”
Little by little, Andrew added to his wardrobe. He was inhibited by George’s smile and by the stares of the people who commissioned work.
He might be free, but there was built into Andrew a carefully detailed program concerning his behavior to people, and it was only by the tiniest steps that he dared advance; open disapproval would set him back months. Not everyone accepted Andrew as free. He was incapable of resenting that, and yet there was a difficulty about his thinking process when he thought of it. Most of all, he tended to avoid putting on clothes- or too many of them- when he thought Little Miss might come to visit him. She was older now and was often away in some warmer climate, but when she returned the first thing she did was visit him.
On one of her visits, George said, ruefully, “She’s got me, Andrew. I’ll be running for the legislature next year. `Like grandfather,’ she says, `like grandson.’“
“Like grandfather…” Andrew stopped, uncertain.
“I mean that I, George, the grandson, will be like Sir, the grandfather, who was in the legislature once.”
“It would be pleasant, George, if Sir were still-” He paused, for he did not want to say, “in working order.” That seemed inappropriate.
“Alive;” George said. “Yes, I think of the old monster now and then, too.”
Andrew often thought about this conversation. He had noticed his own incapacity in speech when talking with George. Somehow the language had changed since Andrew had come into being with a built-in vocabulary. Then, too, George used a colloquial speech, as Sir and Little Miss had not. Why should he have called Sir a monster when surely that word was not a appropriate. Andrew could not even turn to his own books for guidance. They were old, and most dealt with woodworking, with art, with furniture design. There were none on language, none on the ways of human beings.
Finally, it seemed to him that he must seek the proper books; and as a free robot, he felt he must not ask George. He would go to town and use the library. It was a triumphant decision and he felt his electro potential grow distinctly higher until he had to throw in an impedance coil.
He put on a full costume, including even a shoulder chain of wood. He would have preferred the glitter plastic, but George had said that wood was much more appropriate, and that polished cedar was considerably more valuable as well.
He had placed a hundred feet between himself and the house before gathering resistance brought him to a halt. He shifted the impedance coil out of circuit, and when that did not seem to help enough he returned to his home and on a piece of notepaper wrote neatly, “I have gone to the library,” and placed it in clear view on his worktable.
Andrew never quite got to the library.
He had studied the map. He knew the route, but not the appearance of it. The actual landmarks did not resemble the symbols on the map and he would hesitate. Eventually, he thought he must have somehow gone wrong, for everything looked strange.
He passed an occasional field-robot, but by the time he decided he should ask his way none were in sight. A vehicle passed and did not stop.
Andrew stood irresolute, which meant calmly motionless, for coming across the field toward him were two human beings.
He turned to face them, and they altered their course to meet him. A moment before, they had been talking loudly. He had heard their voices. But now they were silent. They had the look that Andrew associated with human uncertainty; and they were young, but not very young. Twenty, perhaps? Andrew could never judge human age.
“Would you describe to me the route to the town library, sirs?”
One of them, the taller of the two, whose tall hat lengthened him still farther, almost grotesquely, said, not to Andrew, but to the other, “It’s a robot.”
The other had a bulbous nose and heavy eyelids. He said, not to Andrew but to the first, “It’s wearing clothes.”
The tall one snapped his fingers. “It’s the free robot. They have a robot at the old Martin place who isn’t owned by anybody. Why else would it be wearing clothes?”
“Ask it,” said the one with the nose.
“Are you the Martin robot?” asked the tall one.
“I am Andrew Martin, sir,” Andrew said.
“Good. Take off your clothes. Robots don’t wear clothes.” He said to the other, “That’s disgusting. Look at him!”
Andrew hesitated. He hadn’t heard an order in that tone of voice in so long that his Second Law circuits had momentarily jammed.
The tall one repeated, “Take off your clothes. I order you.”
Slowly, Andrew began to remove them.
“Just drop them,” said the tall one.
The nose said, “If it doesn’t belong to anyone, it could be ours as much as someone else’s.”
“Anyway,” said the tall one, “who’s to object to anything we do. We’re not damaging property.” tie turned to Andrew. “Stand on your head.” “The head is not meant-” Andrew began.
“That’s an order. If you don’t know how, try anyway.”
Andrew hesitated again, then bent to put his head on the ground. He tried to lift his legs but fell, heavily.
The tall one said, “Just lie there.” He said to the other, “We can take him apart. Ever take a robot apart?”
“Will he let us?”
“How can he stop us?”
There was no way Andrew could stop them, if they ordered him in a forceful enough manner not to resist The Second Law of obedience took precedence over the Third Law of self-preservation. In any case, he could not defend himself without possibly hurting them, and that would mean breaking the First Law. At that thought, he felt every motile unit contract slightly and he quivered as he lay there.
The tall one walked over and pushed at him with his foot. “He’s heavy. I think we’ll need tools to do the job.”
The nose said, “We could order him to take himself, apart. It would be fun to watch him try.”
“Yes,” said the tall one, thoughtfully, “but let’s get him off the road. If someone comes along-”
It was too late. Someone had, indeed, come along and it was George. From where he lay, Andrew had seen him topping a small rise in the middle distance. He would have liked to signal him in some way, but the last order had been “Just lie there!”
George was running now, and he arrived on the scene somewhat winded. The two young men stepped back a little and then waited thoughtfully.
“Andrew, has something gone wrong?” George asked, anxiously.
Andrew replied, “I am well, George.”
“Then stand up. What happened to your clothes?”
“That your robot, Mac?” the tall young man asked.
George turned sharply. “He’s no one’s robot. What’s been going on here.”
“We politely asked him to take his clothes off. What’s that to you, if you don’t own him.”
George turned to Andrew. “What were they doing, Andrew?”
“It was their intention in some way to dismember me. They were about to move me to a quiet spot and order me to dismember myself.”
George looked at the two young men, and his chin trembled.
The young men retreated no farther. They were smiling.
The tall one said, lightly, “What are you going to do, pudgy? Attack us?”
George said, “No. I don’t have to. This robot has been with my family for over seventy-five years. He knows us and he values us more than he values anyone else. I am going to tell him that you two are threatening my life and that you plan to kill me. I will ask him to defend me. In choosing between me and you two, he will choose me. Do you know what will happen to you when he attacks you?”
The two were backing away slightly, looking uneasy.
George said, sharply, “Andrew, I am in danger and about to come to harm from these young men. Move toward them!”
Andrew did so, and the young men did not wait. They ran.
“All right, Andrew, relax,” George said. He looked unstrung. He was far past the age where he could face the possibility of a dustup with one young man, let alone two.
“I couldn’t have hurt them, George: I could see they were not attacking you.”
“I didn’t order you to attack them. I only told you to move toward them. Their own fears did the rest.”
“How can they fear robots?”
“It’s a disease of mankind, one which has not yet been cured. But never mind that. What the devil are you doing here, Andrew? Good thing I found your note. I was just on the point of turning back and hiring a helicopter when I found you. How did you get it into your head to go to the library? I would have brought you any books you needed”
“I am a-” Andrew began.
“Free robot. Yes, yes. All right, what did you want in the library?”
“I want to know more about human beings, about the world, about everything. And about robots, George. I want to write a history about robots.”
George put his arm on the other’s shoulder. “Well, let’s walk home. But pick up your clothes first. Andrew, there are a million books on robotics and all of them include histories of the science. The world is growing saturated not only with robots but with information about robots.”
Andrew shook his head, a human gesture he had lately begun to adopt. “Not a history of robotics, George. A history of robots, by a robot. I want to explain how robots feel about what has happened since the first ones were allowed to work and live on Earth.”
George’s eyebrows lifted, but he said nothing in direct response.
Little Miss was just past her eighty-third birthday, but there was nothing about her that was lacking in either energy or determination. She gestured with her cane oftener than she propped herself up with it.
She listened to the story in a fury of indignation. “George, that’s horrible. Who were those young ruffians?”
“I don’t know. What difference does it make? In the end they did not do any damage.”
“They might have. You’re a lawyer, George; and if you’re well off, it’s entirely due to the talents of Andrew. It was the money he earned that is the foundation of everything we have. He provides the continuity for this family, and I will not have him treated as a wind-up toy.”
“What would you have me do, Mother?” George asked.
“I said you’re a lawyer. Don’t you listen? You set up a test case somehow, and you force the regional courts to declare for robot rights and get the legislature to pass the necessary bills. Carry the whole thing to the World Court, if you have to. I’ll be watching, George, and I’ll tolerate no shirking.”
She was serious, so what began as a way of soothing the fearsome old lady became an involved matter with enough legal entanglement to make it interesting. As senior partner of Feingold and Martin, George plotted strategy. But he left the actual work to his junior partners, with much of it a matter for his son, Paul, who was also a member of the firm and who reported dutifully nearly every day to his grandmother. She, in turn, discussed the case every day with Andrew.
Andrew was deeply involved. His work on his book on robots was delayed again, as he pored over the legal arguments and even, at times, made very diffident suggestions.
“George told me that day I was attacked that human beings have always been afraid of robots,” he said one day. “As long as they are, the courts and the legislatures are not likely to work hard on behalf of robots. Should not something be done about public opinion?”
So while Paul stayed in court, George took to the public platform. It gave him the advantage of being informal, and he even went so far sometimes as to wear the new, loose style of clothing which he called drapery.
Paul chided him, “Just don’t trip over it on stage, Dad.”
George replied, despondently, “I’ll try not to.”
He addressed the annual convention of holo-news editors on one occasion and said, in part: “If, by virtue of the Second Law, we can demand of any robot unlimited obedience in all respects not involving harm to a human being, then any human being, any human being, has a fearsome power over any robot, any robot. In particular, since Second Law supersedes Third Law; any human being can use the law of obedience to overcome the law of self-protection. He can order any robot to damage itself or even to destroy itself for any reason, or for no reason.
“Is this just? Would we treat an animal so? Even an inanimate object which had given us good service has a claim on our consideration. And a robot is not insensitive; it is not an animal. It can think well enough so that it can talk to us, reason with us, joke with us. Can we treat them as friends, can we work together with them, and not give them some of the fruits of that friendship, some of the benefits of co-working?
“If a man has the right to give a robot any order that does not involve harm to a human being, he should have the decency never to give a robot any order that involves harm to a robot, unless human safety absolutely requires it. With great power goes great responsibility, and if the robots have Three Laws to protect men, is it too much to ask that men have a law or two to protect robots?”
Andrew was right. It was the battle over public opinion that held the key to courts and legislature. In the end, a law was passed that set up conditions under which robot-harming orders were forbidden. It was endlessly qualified and the punishments for violating the law were totally inadequate, but the principle was established. The final passage by the World Legislature came through on the day of Little Miss’ death.
That was no coincidence. Little Miss held on to life desperately during the last debate and let go only when word of victory arrived. Her last smile was for Andrew. Her last words were, “You have been good to us, Andrew.” She died with her hand holding his, while her son and his wife and children remained at a respectful distance from both.
Andrew waited patiently when the receptionist-robot disappeared into the inner office. The receptionist might have used the holographic chatterbox, but un-questionably it was perturbed by having to deal with another robot rather than with a human being.
Andrew passed the time revolving the matter his mind: Could “unroboted” be used as an analog of “unmanned,” or had unmanned become a metaphoric term sufficiently divorced from its original literal meaning to be applied to robots-or to women for that matter? Such problems frequently arose as he worked on his book on robots. The trick of thinking out sentences to express all complexities had undoubtedly increased his vocabulary.
Occasionally, someone came into the room to stare at him and he did not try to avoid the glance. He looked at each calmly, and each in turn looked away.
Paul Martin finally emerged. He looked surprised, or he would have if Andrew could have made out his expression with certainty. Paul had taken to wearing the heavy makeup that fashion was dictating for bath sexes. Though it made sharper and firmer the somewhat bland lines of Paul’s face, Andrew disapproved. He found that disapproving of human beings, as long as he did not express it verbally, did not make him very uneasy. He could even write the disapproval. He was sure it had not always been so.
“Come in, Andrew. I’m sorry I made you wait, but there was something I had to finish. Come in, you had said you wanted to talk to me, but I didn’t know you meant here in town.”
“If you are busy, Paul, I am prepared to continue to wait.”
Paul glanced at the interplay of shifting shadows on the dial on the wall that served as timepieces and said, “I can make some time. Did you come alone?”
“I hired an automatobile.”
“Any trouble?” Paul asked, with more than a trace of anxiety.
“I wasn’t expecting any. My rights are protected.”
Paul looked all the more anxious for that. “Andrew, I’ve explained that the law is unenforceable, at least under most conditions. And if you insist on wearing clothes, you’ll run into trouble eventually; just like that first time.”
“And only tine, Paul. I’m sorry you are displeased”
“Well, look at it this way: you are virtually a living legend, Andrew, and you are too valuable in many different ways for you to have any right to take chances with yourself. By the way, how’s the book coming?”
“I am approaching the end, Paul. The publisher is quite pleased.”
“I don’t know that he’s necessarily pleased with the book as a book. I think he expects to sell many copies because it’s written by a robot and that’s what pleases him.
“Only human, I’m afraid.”
“I am not displeased. Let it sell for whatever reason, since it will mean money and I can use some.”
“Grandmother left you-”
“Little Miss was generous, and I’m sure I can count on the family to help me out further. But it is the royalties from the book on which I am counting to help me through the next step.”
“What next step is that?”
“I wish to see the head of U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation. I have tried to make an appointment; but so far I have not been able to reach him. The Corporation did not cooperate with me in the writing of the book, so I am not surprised, you understand.”
Paul was clearly amused. “Cooperation is the last thing you can expect. They didn’t cooperate with us in our great fight for robot rights. Quite the reverse, and you can see why. Give a robot rights and people may not want to buy them.”
“Nevertheless,” said Andrew, “if you call them, you may be able to obtain an interview for me.”
“I’m no more popular with them than you are, Andrew.”
“But perhaps you can hint that by seeing me they may head off a campaign by Feingold and Martin to strengthen the rights of robots further.”
“Wouldn’t that be a lie, Andrew?”
“Yes, Paul, and I can’t tell one. That is why you must call.”
“Ah, you can’t lie, but you can urge me to tell a lie, is that it? You’re getting more human all the time, Andrew.”
The meeting was not easy to arrange, even with Paul’s supposedly weighted name.
But it finally came about. When it did, Harley Smythe-Robertson, who, on his mother’s side, was descended from the original founder of the corporation and who had adopted the hyphenation to indicate it, looked remarkably unhappy. He was approaching retirement age and his entire tenure as president had been devoted to the matter of robot rights. His gray hair was plastered thinly over the top of his scalp; his face was not made up, and he eyed Andrew with brief hostility from time to time.
Andrew began the conversation. “Sir, nearly a century ago, I was told by a Merton Mansky of this corporation that the mathematics governing the plotting of the positronic pathways was far too complicated to permit of any but approximate solutions and that, therefore, my own capacities were not fully predictable.”
“That was a century ago.” Smythe-Robertson hesitated, then said icily, “Sir. It is true no longer. Our robots are made with precision now and are trained precisely to their jobs.”
“Yes,” said Paul, who had come along, as he said, to make sure that the corporation played fair, “with the result that my receptionist must be guided at every point once events depart from the conventional, however slightly.”
“You would be much more displeased if it were to improvise,” Smythe-Robertson said.
“Then you no longer manufacture robots like myself which are flexible and adaptable.”
“The research I have done in connection with my book,” said Andrew, “indicates that I am the oldest robot presently in active operation.”
“The oldest presently,” said Smythe-Robertson, “and the oldest ever. The oldest that will ever be. No robot is useful after the twenty-fifth year. They are called in and replaced with newer models.”
“No robot as presently manufactured is useful after the twentieth year,” said Paul, with a note of sarcasm creeping into his voice. “Andrew is quite exceptional in this respect.”
Andrew, adhering to the path he had marked out for himself, continued, “As the oldest robot in the world and the most flexible, am I not unusual enough to merit special treatment from the company?”
“Not at all,” Smythe-Robertson said, freezing up. “Your unusualness is an embarrassment to the company. If you were on lease, instead of having been an outright sale through some mischance, you would long since have been replaced.”
“But that is exactly the point,” said Andrew. “I am a free robot and I own myself. Therefore I come to you and ask you to replace me. You cannot do this without the owner’s consent. Nowadays, that consent is extorted as a condition of the lease, but in my time this did not happen.”
Smythe-Robertson was looking both startled and puzzled, and for a moment there was silence. Andrew found himself staring at the hologram on the wall. It was a death mask of Susan Calvin, patron saint of all roboticists. She had been dead for nearly two centuries now, but as a result of writing his book Andrew knew, her so well he could half persuade himself that he had met her in life.
Finally Smythe-Robertson asked, “How can I replace you for you? If I replace you, as robot, how can I donate the new robot to you as owner since in the very act of replacement you cease to exist.” He smiled grimly.
“Not at all difficult,” Paul interposed. “The seat of Andrew’s personality is his positronic brain and it is the one part that cannot be replaced without creating a new robot. The positronic brain, therefore, is Andrew the owner. Every other part of the robotic body can be replaced without affecting the robot’s personality, and those other parts are the brain’s possessions. Andrew, I should say, wants to supply his brain with a new robotic body.”
“That’s right,” said Andrew, calmly. He turned to Smythe-Robertson. “You have manufactured androids, haven’t you? Robots that have the outward appearance of humans, complete to the texture of the skin?”
“Yes, we have. They worked perfectly well, with their synthetic fibrous skins and tendons. There was virtually no metal anywhere except for the brain, yet they were nearly as tough as metal robots. They were tougher, weight for weight.”
Paul looked interested. “I didn’t know that. How many are on the market?”
“None,” said Smythe-Robertson. “They were much more expensive than metal models and a market survey showed they would not be accepted. They looked too human.”
Andrew was impressed. “But the corporation retains its expertise, I assume. Since it does, I wish to request that I be replaced by an organic robot, an android.”
Paul looked surprised. “Good Lord!” he said.
Smythe-Robertson stiffened. “Quite impossible!”
“Why is it impossible?” Andrew asked. “I will pay any reasonable fee, of course.”
“We do not manufacture androids.”
“You do not choose to manufacture androids,” Paul interjected quickly. “That is not the same as being unable to manufacture them.”
“Nevertheless,” Smythe-Robertson responded, “the manufacture of androids is against public policy.”
“There is no law against it,” said Paul.
“Nevertheless, we do not manufacture them- and we will not.”
Paul cleared his throat. “Mr. Smythe-Robertson,” he said, “Andrew is a free robot who comes under the purview of the law guaranteeing robot rights. You are aware of this, I take it?”
“Only too well.”
“This robot, as a free robot, chooses to wear clothes. This results in his being frequently humiliated by thoughtless human beings despite the law against the humiliation of robots. It is difficult to prosecute vague offenses that don’t meet with the general disapproval of those who must decide on guilt and innocence.”
“U.S. Robots understood that from the start. Your father’s firm unfortunately did not.”
“My father is dead now, but what I see is that we have here a clear offense with a clear target.”
“What are you talking about?” said Smythe-Robertson.
“My client, Andrew Martin- he has just become my client- is a free robot who is entitled to ask U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation for the rights of replacement, which the corporation supplies to anyone who owns a robot for more than twenty-five years. In fact, the corporation insists on such replacement.”
Paul was smiling and thoroughly at ease. “The positronic brain of my client,” he went on, “is the owner of the body of my client which is certainly more than twenty-five years old. The positronic brain demands the replacement of the body and offers to pay any reasonable fee for an android body as that replacement. If you refuse the request, my client undergoes humiliation and we will sue.
“While public opinion would not ordinarily support the claim of a robot in such a case, may I remind you that U.S. Robots is not popular with the public generally. Even those who most use and profit from robots are suspicious of the corporation. This may be a hangover from the days when robots were widely feared. It may be resentment against the power and wealth of U.S. Robots, which has a worldwide monopoly. Whatever the cause may be, the resentment eats. I think you will find that you would prefer not to be faced with a lawsuit, particularly since my client is wealthy and will live for many more centuries and will have no reason to refrain from fighting the battle forever.”
Smythe-Robertson had slowly reddened. “You are trying to force-”
“I force you to do nothing,” said Paul. “If you wish to refuse to accede to my client’s reasonable request, you may by all means do so and we will leave without another word. But we will sue, as is certainly our right, and you will find that you will eventually lose.”
“I see that you are going to accede,” said Paul. “You may hesitate but you will come to it in the end. Let me assure you, then, of one further point: If, in the process of transferring my client’s positronic brain from his present body to an organic one, there is any damage, however slight, then I will never rest until I’ve nailed the corporation to the ground. I will, if necessary, take every possible step to mobilize public opinion against the corporation if one brain path of my client’s platinum-iridium essence is scrambled.” He turned to Andrew and asked, “Do you agree to all this, Andrew?”
Andrew hesitated a full minute. It amounted to the approval of lying, of blackmail, of the badgering and humiliation of a human being. But not physical harm, he told himself, not physical harm.
He managed at last to come out with a rather faint “Yes.”
He felt as though he were being constructed again. For days, then for weeks, finally for months, Andrew found himself not himself somehow, and the simplest actions kept giving rise to hesitation.
Paul was frantic. “They’ve damaged you, Andrew. We’ll have to institute suit!”
Andrew spoke very slowly. “You- mustn’t. You’ll never be able to prove- something- like m-m-m-m- ”
“Malice. Besides, I grow- stronger, better. It’s the tr- tr- tr- ”
“Trauma. After all, there’s never been such an op-op-op- before.”
Andrew could feel his brain from the inside. No one else could. He knew he was well, and during the months that it took him to learn full coordination and full positronic interplay he spent hours before the mirror.
Not quite human! The face was stiff- too stiff and the motions were too deliberate. They lacked the careless, free flow of the human being, but perhaps that might come with time. At least now he could wear clothes without the ridiculous anomaly of a metal face going along with it.
Eventually, he said, “I will be going back to work.”
Paul laughed. “That means you are well. What will you be doing? Another book?”
“No,” said Andrew, seriously. “I live too long for any one career to seize me by the throat and never let me go. There was a time when I was primarily an artist, and I can still turn to that. And there was a time when I was a historian, and I can still turn to that. But now I wish to be a robobiologist.”
“A robopsychologist, you mean.”
“No. That would imply the study of positronic brains, and at the moment I lack the desire to do that. A robobiologist, it seems to me, would be concerned with the working of the body attached to that brain.”
“Wouldn’t that be a roboticist?”
“A roboticist works with a metal body. I would be studying an organic humanoid body, of which I have the only one, as far as I know.”
“You narrow your field,” said Paul, thoughtfully. “As an artist, all conception is yours; as a historian you deal chiefly with robots; as a robobiologist, you will deal with yourself.”
Andrew nodded. “It would seem so.”
Andrew had to start from the very beginning, for he knew nothing of ordinary biology and almost nothing of science. He became a familiar sight in the libraries, where he sat at the electronic indices for hours at a time, looking perfectly normal in clothes. Those few who knew he was a robot in no way interfered with him.
He built a laboratory in a room which he added to his house; and his library grew, too.
Years passed, and Paul came to him one day and said, “It’s a pity you’re no longer working on the history of robots. I understand U.S. Robots is adopting a radically new policy.”
Paul had aged, and his deteriorating eyes had been replaced with photoptic cells. In that respect, he had drawn closer to Andrew.
“What have they done?” Andrew asked.
“They are manufacturing central computers, gigantic positronic brains, really, which communicate with anywhere from a dozen to a thousand robots by microwave. The robots themselves have no brains at all. They are the limbs of the gigantic brain, and the two are physically separate.”
“Is that more efficient?”
“U.S. Robots claims it is. Smythe-Robertson established the new direction before he died, however, and it’s my notion that it’s a backlash at you. U.S. Robots is determined that they will make no robots that will give them the type of trouble you have, and for that reason they separate brain and body. The brain will have no body to wish changed; the body will have no brain to wish anything.
“It’s amazing, Andrew,” Paul went on, “the influence you have had on the history of. robots. It was your artistry that encouraged U.S. Robots to make robots more precise and specialized; it was your freedom that resulted in the establishment of the principle of robotic rights; it was your insistence on an android body that made U.S. Robots switch to brain-body separation”
Andrew grew thoughtful. “I suppose in the end the corporation will produce one vast brain controlling several billion robotic bodies. All the eggs will be in one basket. Dangerous. Not proper at all.”
“I think you’re right,” said Paul, “but I don’t suspect it will come to pass for a century at least and I won’t live to see it. In fact, I may not live to see next year.”
“Paul!” cried Andrew, in concern.
Paul shrugged. “Men are mortal, Andrew. We’re not like you. It doesn’t matter too much, but it does make it important to assure you on one point. I’m the last of the human Martins. The money I control personally will be left to the trust in your name, and as far as anyone can foresee the future, you will be economically secure.”
“Unnecessary,” Andrew said, with difficulty. In all this time, he could not get used to the deaths of the Martins.
“Let’s not argue. That’s the way it’s going to be. Now, what are you working on?”
“I am designing a system for allowing androids- myself- to gain energy from the combustion of hydrocarbons, rather than from atomic cells.”
Paul raised his eyebrows. “So that they will breathe and eat?”
“How long have you been pushing in that direction?”
“For a long time now, but I think I have finally designed an adequate combustion chamber for catalyzed controlled breakdown.”
“But why, Andrew? The atomic cell is surely infinitely better.”
“In some ways, perhaps. But the atomic cell is inhuman.”
It took time, but Andrew had time. In the first place, he did not wish to do anything till Paul had died in peace. With the death of the great-grandson of Sir, Andrew felt more nearly exposed to a hostile world and for that reason was all the more determined along the path he had chosen.
Yet he was not really alone. If a man had died, the firm of Feingold and Martin lived, for a corporation does not die any more than a robot does.
The firm had its directions and it followed them soullessly. By way of the trust and through the law firm, Andrew continued to be wealthy. In return for their own large annual retainer, Feingold and Martin involved themselves in the legal aspects of the new combustion chamber. But when the time came for Andrew to visit U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation, he did it alone. Once he had gone with Sir and once with Paul. This time, the third time, he was alone and manlike.
U.S. Robots had changed. The actual production plant had been shifted to a large space station, as had grown to be the case with more and more industries. With them had gone many robots. The Earth itself was becoming park like, with its one-billion-person population stabilized and perhaps not more than thirty percent of its at-least-equally-large robot population independently brained.
The Director of Research was Alvin Magdescu, dark of complexion and hair, with a little pointed beard and wearing nothing above the waist but the breast band that fashion dictated. Andrew himself was well covered in the older fashion of several decades back.
Magdescu offered his hand to his visitor. “I know you, of course, and I’m rather pleased to see you. You’re our most notorious product and it’s a pity old Smythe-Robertson was so set against you. We could have done a great deal with you.”
“You still can,” said Andrew.
“No, I don’t think so. We’re past the time. We’ve had robots on Earth for over a century, but that’s changing. It will be back to space with them, and those that stay here won’t be brained.”
“But there remains myself, and I stay on Earth.”
“True, but there doesn’t seem to be much of the robot about you. What new request have you?”
“To be still less a robot. Since I am so far organic, I wish an organic source of energy. I have here the plans-”
Magdescu did not hasten through them. He might have intended to at first, but he stiffened and grew intent. At one point, he said, “This is remarkably ingenious. Who thought of all this?”
“I did,” Andrew replied.
Magdescu looked up at him sharply, then said, “It would amount to a major overhaul of your body, and an experimental one, since such a thing has never been attempted before. I advise against it. Remain as you are.”
Andrew’s face had limited means of expression, but impatience showed plainly in his voice. “Dr. Magdescu, you miss the entire point: You have no choice but to accede to my request. If such devices can be built into my body, they can be built into human bodies as well. The tendency to lengthen human life by prosthetic devices has already been remarked on. There are no devices better than the ones I have designed or am designing. As it happens, I control the patents by way of the firm of Feingold and Martin. We are quite capable of going into business for ourselves and of developing the kind of prosthetic devices that may end by producing human beings with many of the properties of robots. Your own business will then suffer.
“If, however, you operate on me now and agree to do so under similar circumstances in the future, you will receive permission to make use of the patents and control the technology of both robots and of the prosthetization of human beings. The initial leasing will not be granted, of course, until after the first operation is completed successfully, and after enough time has passed to demonstrate that it is indeed successful.”
Andrew felt scarcely any First Law inhibition to the stern conditions he was setting a human being. He was learning to reason that what seemed like cruelty might, in the long run, be kindness.
Magdescu was stunned. “I’m not the one to decide something like this. That’s a corporate decision that would take time.”
“I can wait a reasonable time,” said Andrew, “but only a reasonable time.” And he thought with satisfaction that Paul himself could not have done it better.
It took only a reasonable time, and the operation was a success.
“I was very much against the operation, Andrew,” Magdescu said, “but not for the reasons you might think. I was not in the least against the experiment, if it had been on someone else. I hated risking your positronic brain. Now that you have the positronic pathways interacting with simulated nerve pathways, it might have been difficult to rescue the brain intact if the body had gone bad.”
“I had every faith in the skill of the staff at U.S. Robots,” said Andrew. “And I can eat now.”
“Well, you can sip olive oil. It will mean occasional cleanings of the combustion chamber, as we have explained to you. Rather an uncomfortable touch, I should think.”
“Perhaps, if I did not expect to go further. Self cleaning is not impossible. In fact, I am working on a device that will deal with solid food that may be expected to contain incombustible fractions- indigestible matter, so to speak, that will have to be discarded.”
“You would then have to develop an anus.”
“Or the equivalent.”
“What else, Andrew-?”
“Insofar as they will fit my plans. My body is a canvas on which I intend to draw-”
Magdescu waited for the sentence to he completed, and when it seemed that it would not be, he completed it himself. “A man?”
“We shall see,” Andrew said.
“That’s a puny ambition, Andrew. You’re better than a man. You’ve gone downhill from the moment you opted to become organic.”
“My brain has not suffered.”
“No, it hasn’t. I’ll grant you that. But, Andrew, the whole new breakthrough in prosthetic devices made possible by your patents is being marketed under your name. You’re recognized as the inventor and you’re being honored for it- as you should be. Why play further games with your body?”
Andrew did not answer.
The honors came. He accepted membership in several learned societies, including one that was devoted to the new science he had established- the one he had called robobiology but which had come to be termed prosthetology. On the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his construction, a testimonial dinner was given in his honor at U.S. Robots. If Andrew saw an irony in this, he kept it to himself.
Alvin Magdescu came out of retirement to chair the dinner. He was himself ninety-four years old and was alive because he, too, had prosthetized devices that, among other things, fulfilled the function of liver and kidneys. The dinner reached its climax when Magdescu, after a short and emotional talk, raised his glass to toast The Sesquicentennial Robot.
Andrew had had the sinews of his face redesigned to the point where he could show a human range of emotions, but he sat through all the ceremonies solemnly passive. He did not like to be a Sesquicentennial Robot.
It was prosthetology that finally took Andrew off the Earth.
In the decades that followed the celebration of his sesquicentennial, the Moon had come to be a world more Earthlike than Earth in every respect but its gravitational pull; and in its underground cities there was a fairly dense population. Prosthetized devices there had to take the lesser gravity into account. Andrew spent five years on the Moon working with local prosthetologists to make the necessary adaptations. When not at his work, he wandered among the robot population, every one of which treated him with the robotic obsequiousness due a man.
He came back to an Earth that was humdrum and quiet in comparison, and visited the offices of Feingold and Martin to announce his return.
The current head of the firm, Simon DeLong, was surprised. “We had been told you were returning, Andrew”- he had almost said Mr. Martin- “but we were not expecting you till next week.”
“I grew impatient,” said Andrew briskly. He was anxious to get to the point. “On the Moon, Simon, I was in charge of a research team of twenty human scientists. I gave orders that no one questioned. The Lunar robots deferred to me as they would to a human being. Why, then, am I not a human being?”
A wary look entered DeLong’s eyes. “My dear Andrew, as you have just explained, you are treated as a human being by both robots and human beings. You are, therefore, a human being de facto.”
“To be a human being de facto is not enough. I want not only to be treated as one, but to be legally identified as one. I want to be a human being de jure.”
“Now, that is another matter,” DeLong said. “There we would run into human prejudice and into the undoubted fact that, however much you may be like a human being, you are not a human being.”
“In what way not?” Andrew asked. “I have the shape of a human being and organs equivalent to those of a human being. My organs, in fact, are identical to some of those in a prosthetized human being. I have contributed artistically, literally, and scientifically to human culture as much as any human being now alive. What more can one ask?”
“I myself would ask nothing more. The trouble is that it would take an act of the World Legislature to define you as a human being. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect that to happen.”
“To whom on the Legislature could I speak?”
“To the Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, perhaps.”
“Can you arrange a meeting?”
“But you scarcely need an intermediary. In your position, you can-”
“No. You arrange it.” It didn’t even occur to Andrew that he was giving a fiat order to a human being. He had grown so accustomed to that on the Moon. “I want him to know that the firm of Feingold and Martin is backing me in this to the hilt.”
“To the hilt, Simon. In one hundred and seventy-three years I have in one fashion or another contributed greatly to this firm. I have been under obligation to individual members of the firm in times past. I am not, now. It is rather the other way around now and I am calling in my debts.”
“I will- do what I can,” DeLong said.
The Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee was from the East Asian region and was a woman. Her name was Chee Li-hsing and her transparent garments- obscuring what she wanted obscured only by their dazzle- made her look plastic-wrapped. “I sympathize with your wish for full human rights,” she said. “There have been times in history when segments of the human population fought for full human rights. What rights, however, can you possibly want that you do not have?”
“As simple a thing as my right to life,” Andrew stated. “A robot can be dismantled at any time.”
“A human being can be executed at any time.”
“Execution can only follow due process of law. There is no trial needed for my dismantling. Only the word of a human being in authority is needed to end me. Besides- besides-” Andrew tried desperately to allow no sign of pleading, but his carefully designed tricks of human expression and tone of voice betrayed him here. “The truth is I want to be a man. I have wanted it through six generations of human beings.”
Li-hsing looked up at him out of darkly sympathetic eyes. “The Legislature can pass a law declaring you one. They could pass a law declaring that a stone statue be defined as a man. Whether they will actually do so is, however, as likely in the first case as the second. Congress people are as human as the rest of the population and there is always that element of suspicion against robots.”
“Even now. We would all allow the fact that you have earned the prize of humanity, and yet there would remain the fear of setting an undesirable precedent.”
“What precedent? I am the only free robot, the only one of my type, and there will never be another. You may consult U.S. Robots.”
“`Never’ is a long word, Andrew- or, if you prefer, Mr. Martin- since I will gladly give you my personal accolade as man. You will find that most congress people will not be so willing to set the precedent, no matter how meaningless such a precedent might be. Mr. Martin, you have my sympathy, but I cannot tell you to hope. Indeed-”
She sat back and her forehead wrinkled. “Indeed, if the issue grows too heated, there might well arise a certain sentiment, both inside the Legislature and out side, for that dismantling you mentioned. Doing away with you could turn out to be the easiest way of resolving the dilemma. Consider that before deciding to push matters.”
Andrew stood firm. “Will no one remember the technique of prosthetology, something that is almost entirely mine?”
“It may seem cruel, but they won’t. Or if they do, it will be remembered against you. People will say you did it only for yourself. It will be said it was part of a campaign to roboticize human beings, or to humanify robots; and in either case evil and vicious. You have never been part of a political hate campaign, Mr. Martin; but I tell you that you would be the object of vilification of a kind neither you nor I would credit, and there would be people to believe it all. Mr. Martin, let your life be.”
She rose, and next to Andrew’s seated figure she seemed small and almost childlike.
“If I decide to fight for my humanity, will you be on my side?”
She thought, then replied, “I will be- insofar as I can be. If at any time such a stand would appear to threaten my political future, I might have to abandon you, since it is not an issue I feel to be at the very root of my beliefs. I am trying to be honest with you.”
“Thank you, and I will ask no more. I intend to fight this through, whatever the consequences, and I will ask you for your help only for as long as you can give it.”
It was not a direct fight. Feingold and Martin counseled patience and Andrew muttered, grimly, that he had an endless supply of that. Feingold and Martin then entered on a campaign to narrow and restrict the area of combat.
They instituted a lawsuit denying the obligation to pay debts to an individual with a prosthetic heart on the grounds that the possession of a robotic organ removed humanity, and with it the constitutional rights of human beings. They fought the matter skillfully and tenaciously, losing at every step but always in such a way that the decision was forced to be as broad as possible, and then carrying it by way of appeals to the World Court.
It took years, and millions of dollars.
When the final decision was handed down, DeLong held what amounted to a victory celebration over the legal loss. Andrew was, of course, present in the company offices on the occasion.
“We’ve done two things, Andrew,” said DeLong, “both of which are good. First of all, we have established the fact that no number of artificial parts in the human body causes it to cease being a human body. Secondly, we have engaged public opinion in the question in such a way as to put it fiercely on the side of a broad interpretation of humanity, since there is not a human being in existence who does not hope for prosthetics if they will keep him alive.”
“And do you think the Legislature will now grant me my humanity?” Andrew asked.
DeLong looked faintly uncomfortable. “As to that, I cannot be optimistic. There remains the one organ which the World Court has used as the criterion of humanity. Human beings have an organic cellular brain and robots have a platinum iridium positronic brain if they have one at all- and you certainly have a positronic brain. No, Andrew, don’t get that look in your eye. We lack the knowledge to duplicate the work of a cellular brain in artificial structures close enough to the organic type as to allow it to fall within the court’s decision. Not even you could do it.”
“What should we do, then?”
“Make the attempt, of course. Congresswoman Li-hsing will be on our side and a growing number of other congress people. The President will undoubtedly go along with a majority of the Legislature in this matter.”
“Do we have a majority?”
“No. Far from it. But we might get one if the public will allow its desire for a broad interpretation of humanity to extend to you. A small chance, I admit; but if you do not wish to give up, we must gamble for it.”
“I do not wish to give up.”
Congresswoman Li-hsing was considerably older than she had been when Andrew had first met her. Her transparent garments were long gone. Her hair was now close-cropped and her coverings were tubular. Yet still Andrew clung, as closely as he could within the limits of reasonable taste, to the style of clothing that had prevailed when he had first adopted clothing more than a century before.
“We’ve gone as far as we can, Andrew,” Li-hsing admitted. “We’ll try once more after recess, but, to be honest, defeat is certain and then the whole thing will have to be given up. All my most recent efforts have only earned me certain defeat in the coming congressional campaign.”
“I know,” said Andrew, “and it distressed me. You said once you would abandon me if it came to that. Why have you not done so?”
“One can change one’s mind, you know. Somehow, abandoning you became a higher price than I cared to pay for just one more term. As it is, I’ve been in the Legislature, for over a quarter of a century. It’s enough.”
“Is there no way we can change minds, Chee?”
“We’ve changed all that are amenable to reason. The rest- the majority- cannot be moved from their emotional antipathies.”
“Emotional antipathy is not a valid reason for voting one way or the other.”
“I know that, Andrew, but they don’t advance emotional antipathy as their reason.”
“It all comes down to the brain, then,” Andrew said cautiously. “But must we leave it at the level of cells versus positrons? Is there no way of forcing a functional definition? Must we say that a brain is made of this or that? May we not say that a brain is something- anything- capable of a certain level of thought?”
“Won’t work,” said Li-hsing. “Your brain is manmade, the human brain is not. Your brain is constructed, theirs developed. To any human being who is intent on keeping up the barrier between himself and a robot, those differences are a steel wall a mile high and a mile thick.”
“If we could get at the source of their antipathy, the very source-”
“After all your years,” Li-hsing said, sadly, “you are still trying to reason out the human being. Poor Andrew, don’t be angry, but it’s the robot in you that drives you in that direction.”
“I don’t know,” said Andrew. “If I could bring myself-”
If he could bring himself-
He had known for a long time it might come to that, and in the end he was at the surgeon’s. He had found one, skillful enough for the job at hand- which meant a surgeon- robot, for no human surgeon could be trusted in this connection, either in ability or in intention.
The surgeon could not have performed the operation on a human being, so Andrew, after putting off the moment of decision with a sad line of questioning that reflected the turmoil within himself, had put First Law to one side by saying “I, too, am a robot.”
He then said, as firmly as he had learned to form the words even at human beings over these past decades, “I order you to carry through the operation on me.”
In the absence of the First Law, an order so firmly given from one who looked so much like a man activated the Second Law sufficiently to carry the day.
Andrew’s feeling of weakness was, he was sure, quite imaginary. He had recovered from the- operation. Nevertheless, he leaned, as unobtrusively as he could manage, against the wall. It would be entirely too revealing to sit.