The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xi Part 146

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Imagine, if you can, an endless vista of death, a sea of rusting corpses of s.p.a.ce s.h.i.+ps, and worn-out mining machinery, and of those of my race whose power packs burned out, or who simply gave up, retiring into this endless, corroding limbo of the barrens. A more sombre sight was never seen.

But this fat ghoul, Langley, sickened me. This shame of the Builder race, this atavism--this beast--rubbed his fat, impractical hands together with an unG.o.d-like glee. "Excellent," he said. "Far, far better, in fact, than I had hoped." He did not elucidate.

I looked at Jon Rogeson. He shook his head slowly.

"You there--robot!" said Langley, looking at me. "How far across this place?" The word was like a blow. I could not answer.

MS-33, glistening in the dying light of Mars, strode over to me, clanking heavily up on the black rocks. He seized me with his grapples and shook me until my wiring was in danger of shorting out. "Speak up when you are spoken to, archaic mechanism!" he grated.



I would have struck out at him, but what use except to warp my own aging limbs.

Jon Rogeson came to my rescue. "On Phobos," he explained to Langley, "we don't use that word 'robot.' These folk have been free a long time. They've quite a culture of their own nowadays, and they like to be called 'metal people.' As a return courtesy, they refer to us humans as 'builders.' Just a custom, Senator, but if you want to get along with them--"

"Can they vote?" said Langley, grinning at his own sour humor.

"Nonsense," said MS-33. "I am a robot, and proud of it. This rusty piece has no call to put on airs."

"Release him," Langley said. "Droll fellows, these discarded robots. Really nothing but mechanical dolls, you know, but I think the old scientists made a mistake, giving them such human appearance, and such obstinate traits."

Oh, it was true enough, from his point of view. We had been mechanical dolls at first, I suppose, but fifty years can change one. All I know is this: we are people; we think and feel, and are happy and sad, and quite often we are bored stiff with this dreary moon of Phobos.

It seared me. My selenium cells throbbed white hot within the sh.e.l.l of my frame, and I made up my mind that I would learn more about the mission of this Langley, and I would get even with MS-33 even if they had me dismantled for it.

Of the rest of that week I recall few pleasant moments. We went out every day, and the quick-eyed servants of Langley measured the areas with their instruments, and exchanged significant looks from behind their spectacles, smug in their thin air helmets. It was all very mysterious. And disturbing.

But I could discover nothing about their mission. And when I questioned MS-33, he would look important and say nothing. Somehow it seemed vital that I find out what was going on before it was too late.

On the third day there was a strange occurrence. My friend, Jon Rogeson had been taking pictures of the Dumps. Langley and his wife had withdrawn to one side and were talking in low tomes to one another. Quite thoughtlessly Jon turned the lens on them and clicked the shutter.

Langley became rust-red throughout the vast expanse of his neck and face. "Here!" he said, "what are you doing?"

"Nothing," said Jon.

"You took a picture of me," snarled Langley. "Give me the plate at once."

Jon Rogeson got a bit red himself. He was not used to being ordered around. "I'll be d.a.m.ned if I will," he said.

Langley growled something I couldn't understand, and turned his back on us. The she who was called his wife looked startled and worried. Her eyes were beseeching as she looked at Jon. A message there, but I could not read it. Jon looked away.

Langley started walking back to the half-track alone. He turned once and there was evil in his gaze as he looked at Jon. "You will lose your job for this impertinence," he said with quiet savagery, and added, enigmatically, "not that there will be a job after this week anyway."

Builders may appear to act without reason, but there is always a motivation somewhere in their complex brains, if one can only find it, either in the seat of reason, or in the labyrinthine inhibitions from their childhood. I knew this, because I had studied them, and now there were certain notions that came into my brain which, even if I could not prove them, were no less interesting for that.

The time had come to act. I could scarcely wait for darkness to come. There were things in my brain that appalled me, but I was now certain that I had been right. Something was about to happen to Phobos, to all of us here--I knew not what, but I must prevent it somehow.

I kept in the shadows of the shabby buildings of Argon City, and I found the window without effort. The place where I had spied upon the wife of Langley to my sorrow the other night. There was no one there; there was darkness within, but that did not deter me.

Within the airdrome which covers Argon City the buildings are loosely constructed, even as they are on Earth. I had no trouble, therefore, opening the window. I swung a leg up and was presently within the darkened room. I found the door I sought and entered cautiously. In this adjacent compartment I made a thorough search but I did not find what I primarily sought--namely the elusive reason for Langley's visit to Phobos. It was in a metallic overnight bag that I did find something else which made my power pack hum so loudly that I was afraid of being heard. The thing which explained the strangeness of the pompous Senator's att.i.tude today--which explained, in short, many things, and caused my brain to race with new ideas.

I put the thing in my chest container, and left as stealthily as I had come. There had been progress, but since I had not found what I hoped to find, I must now try my alternate plan.

Two hours later I found the one I sought, and made sure that I was seen by him. Then I left Argon City by the South lock, furtively, as a thief, always glancing over my shoulder, and when I made certain that I was being followed, I went swiftly, and it was not long before I was clambering over the first heaps of debris at the edge of the Dumps.

Once I thought I heard footsteps behind me, but when I looked back there was no one in sight. Just the tiny disk of Deimos peering over the sharp peak of the nearest ridge, the black velvet sky outlining the curvature of this airless moon.

Presently I was in sight of home, the time-eaten hull of an ancient star freighter resting near the top of a heap of junked equipment from some old strip mining operation. It would never rise again, but its sh.e.l.l remained strong enough to shelter my distillery and scant furnis.h.i.+ngs from any chance meteorite that might fall.

I greeted it with the usual warmth of feeling which one has for the safe and the familiar. I stumbled over tin fuel cans, wires and other tangled metal in my haste to get there.

It was just as I had left it. The heating element under the network of coils and pressure chambers still glowed with white heat, and the Moon Glow was dripping with musical sound into the retort.

I felt good. No one ever bothered me here. This was my fortress, with all that I cared for inside. My tools, my work, my micro-library. And yet I had deliberately-- Something--a heavy foot--clanked upon the first step of the manport through which I had entered.

I turned quickly. The form s.h.i.+mmered in the pale Deimoslight that silhouetted it.

MS-33.

He had followed me here.

"What do you want?" I said. "What are you doing here?"

"A simple question," said MS-33. "Tonight you looked very suspicious when you left Argon City. I saw you and followed you here. You may as well know that I have never trusted you. All the old ones were unreliable. That is why you were replaced."

He came in, boldly, without being invited, and looked around. I detected a sneer in his voice as he said, "So this is where you hide."

"I do not hide. I live here, it is true."

"A robot does not live. A robot exists. We newer models do not require shelter like an animal. We are rust-proof and invulnerable." He strode over to my micro-library, several racks of carefully arranged spools, and fingered them irreverently. "What is this?"

"My library."

"So! Our memories are built into us. We have no need to refresh them."

"So is mine," I said. "But I would learn more than I know." I was stalling for time, waiting until he made the right opening.

"Nonsense," he said. "I know why you stay out here in the Dumps, masterless. I have heard of the forbidden drug that is sold in the mining camps such as Argon City. Is this the mechanism?" He pointed at the still.

Now was the time. I mustered all my cunning, but I could not speak. Not yet.

"Never mind," he said. "I can see that it is. I shall report you, of course. It will give me great pleasure to see you dismantled. Not that it really matters, of course--now."

There it was again. The same frightening allusion that Langley had made today. I must succeed!

I knew that MS-33, for all his brilliance, and newness, and vaunted superiority, was only a Secretarial. For the age of specialism was upon Earth, and General Purpose models were no longer made. That was why we were different here on Phobos. It was why we had survived. The old ones had given us something special which the new metal people did not have. Moreover, MS-33 had his weakness. He was larger, stronger, faster than me, but I doubted that he could be devious.

"You are right," I said, pretending resignation. "This is my distillery. It is where I make the fluid which is called Moon Glow by the metal people of Phobos. Doubtless you are interested in learning how it works."

"Not even remotely interested," he said. "I am interested only in taking you back and turning you over to the authorities."

"It works much like the conventional distilling plants of Earth," I said, "except that the basic ingredient, a silicon compound, is irradiated as it pa.s.ses through zirconium tubes to the heating pile, where it is activated and broken down into the droplets of the elixir called Moon Glow. You see the golden drops falling there.

"It has the excellent flavor of fine petroleum, as I make it. Perhaps you'd care to taste it. Then you could understand that it is not really bad at all. Perhaps you could persuade yourself to be more lenient with me."

"Certainly not," said MS-33.

"Perhaps you are right," I said after a moment of reflection. I took a syringe, drew up several drops of the stuff and squirted it into my carapace, where it would do the most good. I felt much better.

"Yes," I continued, "certainly you are quite correct, now that I think of it. You newer models would never bear it. You weren't built to stand such things. Nor, for that matter, could you comprehend the exquisite joys that are derived from Moon Glow. Not only would you derive no pleasure from it, but it would corrode your parts, I imagine, until you could scarcely crawl back to your master for repairs." I helped myself to another liberal portion.

"That is the silliest thing I've ever heard," he said.

"What?"

"I said, it's silly. We are constructed to withstand a hundred times greater stress, and twice as many chemical actions as you were. Nothing could hurt us. Besides, it looks harmless enough. I doubt that it is hardly anything at all."

"For me it is not," I admitted. "But you--"

"Give me the syringe, fool!"

"I dare not."

"Give it here!"

I allowed him to wrest it from my grasp. In any case I could not have prevented him. He shoved me backwards against the rusty bulkhead with a clang. He pushed the nozzle of the syringe down into the retort and withdrew it filled with Moon Glow. He opened an inspection plate in his ventral region and squirted himself generously.

It was quite a dose. He waited for a moment. "I feel nothing," he said finally. "I do not believe it is anything more than common lubricating oil." He was silent for another moment. "There is an ease of movement," he said.

"No paralysis?" I asked.

"Paral--? You stupid, rusty old robot!" He helped himself to another syringeful of Moon Glow. The stuff brought twenty credits an ounce, but I did not begrudge it him.

He flexed his superbly articulated joints in three directions, and I could hear his power unit building up within him to a whining pitch. He took a shuffling sidestep, and then another, gazing down at his feet, with arms akimbo.

"The light gravity here is superb, superb, superb, superb, superb," he said, skipping a bit.

"Isn't it?" I said.

"Almost negligible," he said.

"True."

"You have been very kind to me," MS-33 said. "Extremely, extraordinarily, incomparably, incalculably kind." He used up all the adjectives in his memory pack. "I wonder if you would mind awfully much if--"

"Not at all," I said. "Help yourself. By the way, friend, would you mind telling me what your real mission of your party is here on Phobos. The Senator forgot to say."

"Secret," he said. "Horribly top secret. As a dutiful subject--I mean servant--of Earth, I could not, of course, divulge it to anyone. If I could--" his neon eyes glistened, "if I could, you would, of course, be the first to know. The very first." He threw one nickel-plated arm about my shoulder.

"I see," I said, "and just what is it that you are not allowed to tell me?"

"Why, that we are making a preliminary survey here on Phobos, of course, to determine whether or not it is worthwhile to send salvage for sc.r.a.p. Earth is short of metals, and it depends upon what the old ma--the master says in his report."

"You mean they'll take all the derelict s.p.a.ces.h.i.+ps, such as this one, and all the abandoned equipment?"

"And the r-robots," MS-33 said, "They're metal too, you know."

"They're going to take the dismantled robots?"

MS-33 made a sweeping gesture. "They're going to take all the r-robots, dismantled or not. They're not good for anything anyway. The bill is up before the Federation Congress right now. And it will pa.s.s if my master, Langley says so." He patted my helmet, consolingly, his grapples clanking. "If you were worth a d.a.m.n, you know--" he concluded sorrowfully.

"That's murder," I said. And I meant it. Man's inhumanity to metal people, I thought. Yes--to man, even if we were made of metal.

"How's that?" said MS-33 foggily.

"Have another drop of Moon Glow," I said. "I've got to get back to Argon City."

I made it back to Benny's place without incident. I had never moved so swiftly. I sent Benny out to find Jon Rogeson, and presently he brought him back.

I told Rogeson what MS-33 had said, watching his reaction carefully. I could not forget that though he had been our friend, he was still one of the Builders, a human who thought as humans.

"You comprehend," I said grimly, "that one word of this will bring an uprising of fifty-thousand metal people which can be put down only at much expense and with great destruction. We are free people. The Builders exiled us here, and therefore lost their claim to us. We have as much right to life as anyone, and we do not wish to be melted up and made into printing presses and s.p.a.ce s.h.i.+ps and the like."

"The d.a.m.n fools," Jon said softly. "Listen, B-12, you've got to believe me. I didn't know a thing about this, though I've suspected something was up. I'm on your side, but what are we going to do? Maybe they'll listen to reason. Vera--"

"That is the name of the she? No, they will not listen to reason. They hate us." I recalled with bitterness the episode of alarm clock. "There is a chance, however. I have not been idle this night. If you will go get Langley and meet me in the back room here at Benny's, we will talk."

"But he'll be asleep."

"Awaken him," I said. "Get him here. Your own job is at stake as well, remember."

"I'll get him," Jon said grimly. "Wait here."

I went over to the bar where Benny was serving the miners. Benny had always been my friend. Jon was my friend, too, but he was a Builder. I wanted one of my own people to know what was going on, just in case something happened to me.

We were talking there, in low tones, when I saw MS-33. He came in through the front door, and there was purposefulness in his stride that had not been there when I left him back at the old hulk. The effects of the Moon Glow had worn off much quicker than I had expected. He had come for vengeance. He would tell about my distillery, and that would be the end of me. There was only one thing to do and I must do it fast.

"Quick," I ordered Benny. "Douse the lights." He complied. The place was plunged into darkness. I knew that it was darkness and yet, you comprehend, I still sensed everything in the place, for I had the special visual sensory system bequeathed only to the General Purposes of a bygone age. I could see, but hardly anyone else could. I worked swiftly, and I got what I was after in a very short time. I ducked out of the front door with it and threw it in a silvery arc as far as I could hurl it. It was an intricate little thing which could not, I am sure, have been duplicated on the entire moon of Phobos.

When I returned, someone had put the lights back on, but it didn't matter now. MS-33 was sitting at one of the tables, staring fixedly at me. He said nothing. Benny was motioning for me to come into the back room. I went to him.

Jon Rogeson and Langley were there. Langley looked irritated. He was mumbling strangled curses and rubbing his eyes.

Rogeson laughed. "You may be interested in knowing, B-12, that I had to arrest him to get him here. This had better be good."

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xi Part 146

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