When a super-robot named Snookums discovers how to build his own
superbombs, it becomes obvious that Earth is by no means the safest
place for him to be. And so Dr. Fitzhugh, his designer, and Leda
Crannon, a child psychologist acting as Snookums’ nursemaid, agree
to set up Operation Brainchild, a plan to transport the robot to a far
Mike the Angel—M. R. Gabriel, Power Design—has devised the power plant
that is to propel the space ship Branchell to its secret destination,
complete with its unusual cargo. And, as a reserve officer in the Space
Patrol, Mike is a logical replacement for the craft’s unavoidably
detained engineering officer.
But once into space, the Branchell becomes the scene of some
frightening events—the medical officer is murdered, and Snookums
appears to be the culprit. Mike the Angel indulges himself in a bit of
sleuthing, and the facts he turns up lead to a most unusual climax.
BOOKS BY RANDALL GARRETT
Pope John XXIII: Pastoral Prince
Books by “Robert Randall”
The Shrouded Planet
The Dawning Light
“Robert Randall” is a pseudonym used on books written in
collaboration with Robert Silverberg.
With sincere appreciation,
this book is dedicated
TIM and NATALIE
who waited ...
and waited ...
and waited ...
and waited for it.
The kids who tried to jump Mike the Angel were bright enough in a lot of
ways, but they made a bad mistake when they tangled with Mike the Angel.
They’d done their preliminary work well enough. They had cased the
job thoroughly, and they had built the equipment to take care of it.
Their mistake was not in their planning; it was in not taking Mike the
Angel into account.
There is a section of New York’s Manhattan Island, down on the
lower West Side, that has been known, for over a century, as
“Radio Row.” All through this section are stores, large and
small, where every kind of electronic and sub-electronic device can be
bought, ordered, or designed to order. There is even an old antique
shop, known as Ye Quainte Olde Elecktronicks Shoppe, where you can buy
such oddities as vacuum-tube FM radios and twenty-four-inch cathode-ray
television sets. And, if you want them, transmitters to match, so you
can watch the antiques work.
Mike the Angel had an uptown office in the heart of the business
district, near West 112th Street—a very posh suite of rooms on the
fiftieth floor of the half-mile-high Timmins Building, overlooking the
two-hundred-year-old Gothic edifice of the Cathedral of St. John the
Divine. The glowing sign on the door of the suite said, very simply:
M. R. GABRIEL
But, once or twice a week, Mike the Angel liked to take off and prowl
around Radio Row, just shopping around. Usually, he didn’t work
too late, but, on this particular afternoon, he’d been in his
office until after six o’clock, working on some papers for the
Interstellar Commission. So, by the time he got down to Radio Row, the
only shop left open was Harry MacDougal’s.
That didn’t matter much to Mike the Angel, since Harry’s was
the place he had intended to go, anyway. Harry MacDougal’s
establishment was hardly more than a hole in the wall—a narrow, long
hallway between two larger stores. Although not a specialist, like the
proprietor of Ye Quainte Olde Elecktronicks Shoppe, Harry did carry
equipment of every vintage and every make. If you wanted something that
hadn’t been manufactured in decades, and perhaps never made in
quantity, Harry’s was the place to go. The walls were lined with
bins, all unlabeled, filled helter-skelter with every imaginable kind of
gadget, most of which would have been hard to recognize unless you were
both an expert and a historian.
Old Harry didn’t need labels or a system. He was a small, lean,
bony, sharp-nosed Scot who had fled Scotland during the Panic of
’37, landed in New York, and stopped. He solemnly declared that he
had never been west of the Hudson River nor north of 181st Street in the
more than fifty years he had been in the country. He had a mind like
of a robot filing cabinet. Ask him for a particular piece of equipment,
and he’d squint one eye closed, stare at the end of his nose with
the other, and say:
“An M-1993 thermodyne hexode, eh? Ah. Um. Aye, I got one. Picked
it up a couple years back. Put it— Let ma see, now....”
And he’d go to his wall ladder, push it along that narrow hallway,
moving boxes aside as he went, and stop somewhere along the wall. Then
he’d scramble up the ladder, pull out a bin, fumble around in it,
and come out with the article in question. He’d blow the dust off
it, polish it with a rag, scramble down the ladder, and say: “Here
’tis. Thought I had one. Let’s go back in the back and give
her a test.”
On the other hand, if he didn’t have what you wanted, he’d
shake his head just a trifle, then squint up at you and say: “What
d’ye want it for?” And if you could tell him what you
planned to do with the piece you wanted, nine times out of ten he could
come up with something else that would do the job as well or better.
In either case, he always insisted that the piece be tested. He refused
either to buy or sell something that didn’t work. So you’d
follow him down that long hallway to the lab in the rear, where all the
testing equipment was. The lab, too, was cluttered, but in a different
way. Out front, the stuff was dead; back here, there was power coursing
through the ionic veins and metallic nerves of the half-living machines.
Things were labeled in neat, accurate script—not for Old Harry’s
benefit, but for the edification of his customers, so they
wouldn’t put their fingers in the wrong places. He never had to
worry about whether his customers knew enough to fend for themselves; a
few minutes spent in talking
was enough to tell Harry whether a man knew enough about the science
and art of electronics and sub-electronics to be trusted in the lab. If
you didn’t measure up, you didn’t get invited to the lab,
even to watch a test.
But he had very few people like that; nobody came into Harry
MacDougal’s place unless he was pretty sure of what he wanted and
how he wanted to use it.
On the other hand, there were very few men whom Harry would allow into
the lab unescorted. Mike the Angel was one of them.
Meet Mike the Angel. Full name: Michael Raphael Gabriel. (His mother had
tagged that on him at the time of his baptism, which had made his father
wince in anticipated compassion, but there had been nothing for him to
say—not in the middle of the ceremony.)
Naturally, he had been tagged “Mike the Angel.” Six feet
seven. Two hundred sixty pounds. Thirty-four years of age. Hair: golden
yellow. Eyes: deep blue. Cash value of holdings: well into eight
figures. Credit: almost unlimited. Marital status: highly eligible, if
the right woman could tackle him.
Mike the Angel pushed open the door to Harry MacDougal’s shop and
took off his hat to brush the raindrops from it. Farther uptown, the
streets were covered with clear plastic roofing, but that kind of
comfort stopped at Fifty-third Street.
There was no one in sight in the long, narrow store, so Mike the Angel
looked up at the ceiling, where he knew the eye was hidden.
“Harry?” he said.
“I see you, lad,” said a voice from the air. “You got
here just in time. I’m closin’ up. Lock the door, would
“Sure, Harry.” Mike turned around, pressed the locking
switch, and heard it snap satisfactorily.
“Okay, Mike,” said Harry MacDougal’s voice.
“Come on back. I hope ye brought that bottle of scotch I asked
Mike the Angel made his way back between the towering tiers of bins as
he answered. “Sure did, Harry. When did I ever forget you?”
And, as he moved toward the rear of the store, Mike the Angel casually
reached into his coat pocket and triggered the switch of a small but
fantastically powerful mechanism that he always carried when he walked
the streets of New York at night.
He was headed straight into trouble, and he knew it. And he hoped he was
ready for it.
Mike the Angel kept his hand in his pocket, his thumb on a little plate
that was set in the side of the small mechanism that was concealed
therein. As he neared the door, the little plate began to vibrate,
making a buzz which could only be felt, not heard. Mike sighed to
himself. Vibroblades were all the rage this season.
He pushed open the rear door rapidly and stepped inside. It was just
what he’d expected. His eyes saw and his brain recorded the whole
scene in the fraction of a second before he moved. In that fraction of a
second, he took in the situation, appraised it, planned his strategy,
and launched into his plan of action.
Harry MacDougal was sitting at his workbench, near the controls of the
eye that watched the shop when he was in the lab. He was hunched over a
little, his small, bright eyes peering steadily at Mike the Angel from
beneath shaggy, silvered brows. There was no pleading in those
Next to Old Harry was a kid—sixteen, maybe seventeen. He had the JD
stamp on his face: a look of cold, hard arrogance that barely concealed
the uncertainty and fear beneath.
One hand was at Harry’s back, and Mike knew that the kid was
holding a vibroblade at the old man’s spine.
At the same time, the buzzing against his thumb told Mike the Angel
something else. There was a vibroblade much nearer his body than the one
in the kid’s hand.
That meant that there was another young punk behind him.
All this took Mike the Angel about one quarter of a second to
assimilate. Then he jumped.
Had the intruders been adults, Mike would have handled the entire
situation in a completely different way. Adults, unless they are
mentally or emotionally retarded, do not usually react or behave like
children. Adolescents can, do, and must—for the very simple reason
that they have not yet had time to learn to react as adults.
Had the intruders been adults, and had Mike the Angel behaved the way he
did, he might conceivably have died that night. As it was, the kids
never had a chance.
Mike didn’t even bother to acknowledge the existence of the punk
behind him. He leaped, instead, straight for the kid in the dead-black
suède zipsuit who was holding the vibroblade against Harry
MacDougal’s spine. And the kid reacted exactly as Mike the Angel
had hoped, prayed, and predicted he would.
The kid defended himself.
An adult, in a situation where he has one known enemy at his mercy and
is being attacked by a second, will quickly put the first out of the way
in order to leave himself free to deal with the second. There is no
sense in leaving your flank wide open just to oppose a frontal attack.
If the kid had been an adult, Harry MacDougal would have died there and
then. An adult would simply have
slashed his vibroblade through the old man’s spine and brought it
to bear on Mike the Angel.
But not the kid. He jumped back, eyes widening, to face his oncoming
opponent in an open space. He was no coward, that kid, and he knew how
to handle a vibroblade. In his own unwise, suicidal way, he was
perfectly capable of proving himself. He held out the point of that
shimmering metal shaft, ready to parry any offensive thrust that Mike
the Angel might make.
If Mike had had a vibroblade himself, and if there hadn’t been
another punk at his back, Mike might have taken care of the kid that
way. As it was, he had no choice but to use another way.
He threw himself full on the point of the scintillating vibroblade.
A vibroblade is a nasty weapon. Originally designed as a surgeon’s
tool, its special steel blade moves in and out of the heavy hilt at
speeds from two hundred to two thousand vibrations per second, depending
on the size and the use to which it is to be put. Make it eight inches
long, add serrated, diamond-pointed teeth, and you have the man-killing
vibroblade. Its danger is in its power; that shivering blade can cut
through flesh, cartilage, and bone with almost no effort. It’s a
knife with power steering.
But that kind of power can be a weakness as well as a strength.
The little gadget that Mike the Angel carried did more than just detect
the nearby operation of a vibroblade. It was also a defense. The gadget
focused a high-density magnetic field on any vibroblade that came
anywhere within six inches of Mike’s body.
In that field, the steel blade simply couldn’t move. It was as
though it had been caught in a vise. The blade no longer
vibrated; it had become nothing more than an overly fancy bread knife.
The trouble was that the power unit in the heavy hilt simply
wouldn’t accept the fact that the blade was immovable. That power
unit was in there to move something, and by heaven, something had to
The hilt jerked and bucked in the kid’s hand, taking skin with it.
Then it began to smoke and burn under the overload. The plastic shell
cracked and hot copper and silver splattered out of it. The kid screamed
as the molten metal burned his hand.
Mike the Angel put a hand against the kid’s chest and shoved. As
the boy toppled backward, Mike turned to face the other boy.
Only it wasn’t a boy.
She was wearing gold lip paint and had sprayed her hair blue, but she
knew how to handle a vibroblade at least as well as her boy friend had.
Just as Mike the Angel turned, she lunged forward, aiming for the small
of his back.
And she, too, screamed as she lost her blade in a flash of heat.
Then she grabbed for something in her pocket. Regretfully, Mike the
Angel brought the edge of his hand down against the side of her neck in
a paralyzing, but not deadly, rabbit punch. She dropped, senseless, and
a small gun spilled out of the waist pocket of her zipsuit and skittered
across the floor. Mike paused only long enough to make sure she was out,
then he turned back to his first opponent.
As he had anticipated, Harry MacDougal had taken charge. The kid was
sprawled flat on the floor, and Old Harry was holding a shock gun in his
Mike the Angel took a deep breath.
“Yer trousers are on fire,” said Harry.
Mike yelped as he felt the heat, and he began slapping at the smoldering
spots where the molten metal from the vibroblades had hit his clothing.
He wasn’t afire; modern clothing doesn’t flame up—but it
can get pretty hot when you splash liquid copper on it.
“Damn!” said Mike the Angel. “New suit, too.”
“You’re a fast thinker, laddie,” said Old Harry.
“You don’t need to flatter me, Harry,” said Mike the
Angel. “When an old teetotaler like you asks a man if he’s
brought some scotch, the man’s a fool if he doesn’t know
there’s trouble afoot.” He gave his leg a final slap and
said: “What happened? Are there any more of them?”
“Don’t know. Might be.” The old man waved at his
control panel. “My instruments are workin’ again!” He
gestured at the floor. “I’m nae sure how they did it, but
somehow they managed to blank out ma instruments just long enough to get
inside. Their mistake was in not lockin’ the front door.”
Mike the Angel was busy searching the two unconscious kids. He looked
up. “Neither of them is carrying any equipment in their
clothing—at least, not anything that’s self-powered. If
they’ve got pickup circuits built into the cloth, there must be
more of them outside.”
“Aye. Likely. We’ll see.”
Suddenly, there was a soft ping! ping! ping! from an instrument on the
Harry glanced quickly at the receiving screen that was connected with
the multitude of eyes that were hidden around the area of his shop. Then
a smile came over his small brown face.
“Cops,” he said. “Time they got here.”
Sergeant Cowder looked the room over and took a drag from his cigarette.
“Well, that’s that. Now—what happened?” He looked
from Mike the Angel to Harry MacDougal and back again. Both of them
appeared to be thinking.
“All right,” he said quietly, “let me guess,
Old Harry waved a hand. “Oh no, Sergeant; ’twon’t be
necessary. I think Mr. Gabriel was just waiting for me to start, because
he wasn’t here when the two rapscallions came in, and I was just
tryin’ to figure out where to begin. We’re not bein’
unco-operative. Let’s see now—” He gazed at the ceiling as
though trying to collect his thoughts. He knew perfectly well that the
police sergeant was recording everything he said.
The sergeant sighed. “Look, Harry, you’re not on trial. I
know perfectly well that you’ve got this place bugged to a
fare-thee-well. So does every shop operator on Radio Row. If you
didn’t, the JD gangs would have cleaned you all out long
Harry kept looking at the ceiling, and Mike the Angel smiled quietly at
The detective sergeant sighed again. “Sure, we’d like to
have some of the gadgets that you and the other operators on the Row
have worked out, Harry. But I’m in no position to take ’em
away from you. Besides, we have some stuff that you’d like to
have, too, so that makes us pretty much even. If we started confiscating
illegal equipment from you, the JD’s would swoop in here, take
your legitimate equipment, bug it up, and they’d be driving us all
nuts within a week. So long as you don’t use illegal equipment
illegally, the department will leave you alone.”
Old Harry grinned. “Well, now, that’s very nice of you,
Sergeant. But I don’t have anything illegal—no robotics stuff or
anything like that. Oh, I’ll admit I’ve a couple of eyes
here and there to watch my shop, but eyes aren’t illegal.”
The detective glanced around the room with a practiced eye and then
looked blandly back at the little Scotsman. Harry MacDougal was lying,
and the sergeant knew it. And Harry knew the sergeant knew it.
Sergeant Cowder sighed for a third time and looked at the Scot.
“Okay. So what happened?”
Harry’s face became serious. “They came in about six-thirty.
First I knew of it, one of the kids—the boy—stepped out of that closet
over there and put a vibroblade at my back. I’d come back here to
get a small resistor, and all of a sudden there he was.”
Mike the Angel frowned, but he didn’t say anything.
“None of your equipment registered anything?” asked the
“Not a thing, Sergeant,” said Harry. “They’ve
got something new, all right. The kid must ha’ come in through the
back door, there. And I’d ha’ been willin’ to bet ma
life that no human bein’ could ha’ walked in here without ma
knowin’ it before he got within ten feet o’ that door.
He got up, walked over to the back door, and opened it. It opened into
what looked at first to be a totally dark room. Then the sergeant saw
that there was a dead-black wall a few feet from the open door.
“That’s a light trap,” said Harry. “Same as they
have in photographic darkrooms. To get from this door to the outer door
that leads into the alley, you got to turn two corners and walk about
thirty feet. Even I, masel’, couldn’t walk through it
without settin’ off half a dozen alarms. Any kind of light would
set off the bugs; so would the heat radiation from the human
“How about the front?” Sergeant Cowder asked. “Anyone
could get in from the front.”
Harry’s grin became grim. “Not unless I go with ’em.
And not even then if I don’t want ’em to.”
“It was kind of you to let us in,” said the detective
“A pleasure,” said Harry. “But I wish I knew how that
kid got in.”
“Well, he did—somehow,” Cowder said. “What happened
after he came out of the closet?”
“He made me let the girl in. They were goin’ to open up the
rear completely and take my stuff out that way. They’d ha’
done it, too, if Mr. Gabriel hadn’t come along.”
Detective Sergeant Cowder looked at Mike the Angel. “About what
time was that, Mr. Gabriel?”
“About six thirty-five,” Mike told him. “The kids
probably hadn’t been here more than a few minutes.”
Harry MacDougal nodded in silent corroboration.
“Then what happened?” asked the detective.
Mike told him a carefully edited version of what had occurred,
leaving out the existence of the little gadget he was carrying in his
pocket. The sergeant listened patiently and unbelievingly through the
whole recital. Mike the Angel grinned to himself; he knew what part of
the story seemed queer to the cop.
He was right. Cowder said: “Now, wait a minute. What caused those
vibroblades to burn up that way?”
“Must have been faulty,” Mike the Angel said innocently.
“Both of them?” Sergeant Cowder asked skeptically. “At
the same time?”
“Oh no. Thirty seconds apart, I’d guess.”
“Very interesting. Very.” He started to say something else,
but a uniformed officer stuck his head in through the doorway that led
to the front of the shop.
“We combed the whole area, Sergeant. Not a soul around. But from
the looks of the alley, there must have been a small truck parked in
there not too long ago.”
Cowder nodded. “Makes sense. Those JD’s wouldn’t have
tried this unless they intended to take everything they could put their
hands on, and they certainly couldn’t have put all this in their
pockets.” He rubbed one big finger over the tip of his nose.
“Okay, Barton, that’s all. Take those two kids to the
hospital and book ’em in the detention ward. I want to talk to
them when they wake up.”
The cop nodded and left.
Sergeant Cowder looked back at Harry. “Your alarm to the precinct
station went off at six thirty-six. I figure that whoever was on the
outside, in that truck, knew something had gone wrong as soon as the
fight started in here. He—or they—shut off whatever they were using to
suppress the alarm system and took off before we got here. They sure
must have moved fast.”
“Must have,” agreed Harry. “Is there anything else,
Cowder shook his head. “Not right now. I’ll get in touch
with you later, if I need you.”
Harry and Mike the Angel followed him through the front of the shop to
the front door. At the door, Cowder turned.
“Well, good night. Thanks for your assistance, Mr. Gabriel. I wish
some of our cops had had your luck.”
“How so?” asked Mike the Angel.
“If more vibroblades would blow up at opportune moments,
we’d have fewer butchered policemen.”
Mike the Angel shook his head. “Not really. If their vibros
started burning out every time they came near a cop, the JD’s
would just start using something else. You can’t win in this
Cowder nodded glumly. “It’s a losing proposition any way you
look at it.... Well, good night again.” He stepped out, and Old
Harry closed and locked the door behind him.
Mike the Angel said: “Come on, Harry; I want to find
something.” He began walking back down the long, narrow shop
toward the rear again. Harry followed, looking mystified.
Mike the Angel stopped, sniffing. “Smell that?”
Harry sniffed. “Aye. Burnt insulation. So?”
“You know which one of these bins is nearest to your main control
cable. Start looking. See if you find anything queer.”
Old Harry walked over to a nearby bin, pulled it open, and looked
inside. He closed it, pulled open another. He found the gadget on the
third try. It was a plastic case, six
by six by eight, and it still smelled of hot insulation, although the
case itself was barely warm.
“What is it?” Harry asked in wonder.
“It’s the gizmo that turned your equipment off. When I
passed by it, my own gadget must have blown it. I knew the police
couldn’t have made it here between the time of the fight and the
time they showed up. They must have had at least an extra minute.
Besides, I didn’t think anyone could build an instrument that
would blank out everything at long range. It had to be something near
your main cable. I think you’ll find a metallic oscillator in
there. Analyze it. Might be useful.”
Harry turned the box over in his hands. “Probably has a timer in
it to start it.... Well.... That helps.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea who put it here. Older kid.
Nineteen—maybe twenty. Seemed like a nice lad, too. Didn’t take
him for a JD. Can’t trust anyone these days. Thanks, Mike. If I
find anything new in here, I’ll let you know.”
“Do that,” said Mike the Angel. “And, as a personal
favor, I’ll show you how to build my own super-duper,
extra-special, anti-vibroblade defense unit.”
Old Harry grinned, crinkling up his wizened face in a mass of fine
wrinkles. “You’d better think up a shorter name than that
for it, laddie; I could probably build one in less time than it takes
you to say it.”
“Want to bet?”
“I’ll bet you twenty I can do it in twenty-four
“Twenty it is, Harry. I’ll sell you mine this time tomorrow
for twenty bucks.”
Harry shook his head. “I’ll trade you mine for yours, plus
twenty.” Then his eyes twinkled. “And speaking of money,
didn’t you come down here to buy something?”
Mike the Angel laughed. “You’re not going to like it. I came
down to get a dozen plastic-core resistors.”
Mike told him, and Old Harry went over to the proper bin, pulled them
out, all properly boxed, and handed them to him.
“That’ll be four dollars,” he said.
Mike the Angel paid up with a smile. “You don’t happen to
have a hundred-thousand-unit microcryotron stack, do you?”
“Ain’t s’posed to,” said Harry MacDougal.
“If I did, I wouldn’t sell it to you. But, as a matter of
cold fact, I do happen to have one. Use it for a paperweight. I’ll
give it to you for nothing, because it don’t work, anyhow.”
“Maybe I can fix it,” said Mike the Angel, “as long as
you’re giving it to me. How come it doesn’t work?”
“Just a second, laddie,” said Harry. He scuttled to the rear
of the shop and came back with a ready-wrapped package measuring five by
five by four. He handed it to Mike the Angel and said: “It’s
a present. Thanks for helping me out of a tight spot.”
Mike said something deprecative of his own efforts and took the package.
If it were in working order it would have been worth close to three
hundred dollars—more than that on the black market. If it was broken,
though, it was no good to Mike. A microcryotron unit is almost
impossible to fix if it breaks down. But Mike took it because he
didn’t want to hurt Old Harry’s feelings by refusing a
“Thanks, Harry,” he said. “Happen to know why it
Harry’s face crinkled again in his all-over smile. “Sure,
Mike. It ain’t plugged in.”
Mike the Angel did not believe in commuting. Being a bachelor, he could
afford to indulge in that belief. In his suite of offices on 112th
Street, there was one door marked “M. R. Gabriel.” Behind
that door was his private secretary’s office, which acted as an
effective barrier between himself and the various employees of the firm.
Behind the secretary’s office was his own office.
There was still another door in his inner office, a plain, unmarked door
that looked as though it might conceal a closet.
It didn’t. It was the door to a veddy, veddy expensive apartment
with equally expensive appointments. One wall, thirty feet long and ten
feet high, was a nearly invisible, dustproof slab of polished, optically
flat glass that gave the observer the feeling that there was nothing
between him and the city street, five hundred feet below.
The lights of the city, coming through the wall, gave the room plenty of
illumination after sunset, but the simple flick of a switch could
polarize it black, allowing perfect privacy.
The furniture was massive, heavily braced, and well upholstered.
It had to be; Mike the Angel liked to flop into chairs, and his two
hundred and sixty pounds gave chairs a lot of punishment.
On one of the opaque walls was Dali’s original
“Eucharist,” with its muffled, robed figures looking oddly
luminous in the queer combination of city lights and interior
illumination. Farther back, a Valois gleamed metallically above the
shadowed bas-reliefs of its depths.
It was the kind of apartment Mike the Angel liked. He could sleep, if
necessary, on a park bench or in a trench, but he didn’t see any
reason for doing so if he could sleep on a five-hundred-dollar floater.
As he had passed through each door, he had checked them carefully. His
electrokey had a special circuit that lighted up a tiny glow lamp in the
key handle if the lock had been tampered with. None of them had.
He opened the final door, went into his apartment, and locked the door
behind him, as he had locked the others. Then he turned on the lights,
peeled off his raincoat, and plopped himself into a chair to unwrap the
microcryotron stack he had picked up at Harry’s.
Theoretically, Harry wasn’t supposed to sell the things. They were
still difficult to make, and they were supposed to be used only by
persons who were authorized to build robot brains, since that’s
what the stack was—a part of a robot brain. Mike could have put his
hands on one legally, provided he’d wanted to wait for six or
eight months to clear up the red tape. Actually, the big robotics
companies didn’t want amateurs fooling around with robots;
they’d much rather build the robots themselves and rent them out.
They couldn’t make do-it-yourself projects impossible, but they
could make them difficult.
In a way, there was some good done. So far, the JD’s hadn’t
gone into big-scale robotics. Self-controlled bombs could be rather
Adult criminals, of course, already had them. But an adult criminal who
had the money to invest in robotic components, or went to the trouble to
steal them, had something more lucrative in mind than street fights or
robbing barrooms. To crack a bank, for instance, took a cleverly
constructed, well-designed robot and plenty of ingenuity on the part of
Mike the Angel didn’t want to make bombs or automatic bankrobbers;
he just wanted to fiddle with the stack, see what it would do. He turned
it over in his hands a couple of times, then shrugged, got up, went over
to his closet, and put the thing away. There wasn’t anything he
could do with it until he’d bought a cryostat—a liquid helium
refrigerator. A cryotron functions only at temperatures near absolute
The phone chimed.
Mike went over to it, punched the switch, and said: “Gabriel
No image formed on the screen. A voice said: “Sorry, wrong
number.” There was a slight click, and the phone went dead. Mike
shrugged and punched the cutoff. Sounded like a woman. He vaguely wished
he could have seen her face.
Mike got up and walked back to his easy chair. He had no sooner sat down
than the phone chimed again. Damn!
Up again. Back to the phone.
Again, no image formed.
“Look, lady,” Mike said, “why don’t you look up
the number you want instead of bothering me?”
Suddenly there was an image. It was the face of an elderly man with a
mild, reddish face, white hair, and a cold look in his pale blue eyes.
It was Basil Wallingford, the Minister for Spatial Affairs.
He said: “Mike, I wasn’t aware that your position was such
that you could afford to be rude to a Portfolio of the Earth
Government.” His voice was flat, without either anger or humor.
“I’m not sure it is, myself,” admitted Mike the Angel,
“but I do the best I can with the tools I have to work with. I
didn’t know it was you, Wally. I just had some wrong-number
“Mf.... Well.... I called to tell you that the Branchell is
ready for your final inspection. Or will be, that is, in a week.”
“My final inspection?” Mike the Angel arched his heavy
golden-blond eyebrows. “Hell, Wally, Serge Paulvitch is on the job
down there, isn’t he? You don’t need my okay. If Serge
says it’s ready to go, it’s ready to go. Or is there some
kind of trouble you haven’t mentioned yet?”
“No; no trouble,” said Wallingford. “But the power
plant on that ship was built according to your designs—not Mr.
Paulvitch’s. The Bureau of Space feels that you should give them
the final check.”
Mike knew when to argue and when not to, and he knew that this was one
time when it wouldn’t do him the slightest good. “All
right,” he said resignedly. “I don’t like Antarctica
and never will, but I guess I can stand it for a few days.”
“Fine. One more thing. Do you have a copy of the thrust
specifications for Cargo Hold One? Our copy got garbled
in transmission, and there seems to be a discrepancy in the
Mike nodded. “Sure. They’re in my office. Want me to get
“Please. I’ll hold on.”
Mike the Angel barely made it in time. He went to the door that led to
his office, opened it, stepped through, and closed it behind him just as
the blast went off.
The door shuddered behind Mike, but it didn’t give. Mike’s
apartment was reasonably soundproof, but it wasn’t built to take
the kind of explosion that would shake the door that Mike the Angel had
just closed. It was a two-inch-thick slab of armor steel on heavy,
precision-bearing hinges. So was every other door in the suite. It
wasn’t quite a bank-vault door, but it would do. Any explosion
that could shake it was a real doozy.
Mike the Angel spun around and looked at the door. It was just a trifle
warped, and faint tendrils of vapor were curling around the edge where
the seal had been broken. Mike sniffed, then turned and ran. He opened a
drawer in his desk and took out a big roll of electrostatic tape. Then
he took a deep breath, went back to the door, and slapped on a strip of
the one-inch tape, running it all around the edge of the door. Then he
went into the outer office while the air conditioners cleaned out his
He went over to one of the phones near the autofile and punched for the
operator. “I had a long-distance call coming in here from the
Right Excellent Basil Wallingford, Minister for Spatial Affairs, Capitol
City. We were cut off.”
“One moment please.” A slight pause. “His Excellency
is here, Mr. Gabriel.”
Wallingford’s face came back on the screen. It had lost some of
its ruddiness. “What happened?” he asked.
“You tell me, Wally,” Mike snapped. “Did you see
anything at all?”
“All I saw was that big pane of glass break. It fell into a
thousand pieces, and then something exploded and the phone went
“The glass broke first?”
Mike sighed. “Good. I was afraid that maybe someone had planted
that bomb, rather than fired it in. I’d hate to think anyone could
get into my place without my knowing it.”
“Who’s gunning for you?”
“I wish I knew. Look, Wally, can you wait until tomorrow for those
specs? I want to get hold of the police.”
“Certainly. Nothing urgent. It can wait. I’ll call you again
tomorrow evening.” The screen blanked.
Mike glanced at the wall clock and then punched a number on the phone. A
pretty girl in a blue uniform came on the screen.
“Police Central,” she said. “May I help you?”
“I’d like to speak to Detective Sergeant William Cowder,
please,” Mike said. “Just tell him that Mr. Gabriel has more
She looked puzzled, but she nodded, and pretty soon her image blanked
out. The screen stayed blank, but Sergeant Cowder’s voice came
over the speaker. “What is it, Mr. Gabriel?”
He was evidently speaking from a pocket phone.
“Attempted murder,” said Mike the Angel. “A few
minutes ago a bomb was set off in my apartment. I think it
was a rocket, and I know it was heavily laced with hydrogen cyanide.
That’s Suite 5000, Timmins Building, up on 112th Street. I called
you because I have a hunch it’s connected with the incident at
Harry’s earlier this evening.”
“Timmins Building, eh? I’ll be right up.”
Cowder cut off with a sharp click, and Mike the Angel looked quizzically
at the dead screen. Was he imagining things, or was there a peculiar
note in Cowder’s voice?
Two minutes later he got his answer.
Mike the Angel was sitting behind his desk in his private office when
the announcer chimed. Mike narrowed his eyes and turned on his door
screen, which connected with an eye in the outer door of the suite. Who
could it be this time?
It was Sergeant Cowder.
“You got here fast,” said Mike, thumbing the unlocker.
“Come on back to my office.”
The sergeant came through the outer office while Mike watched him on the
screen. Not until the officer finally pushed open the door to
Mike’s own office did Mike the Angel look up from the screen.
“I repeat,” said Mike, “you got here fast.”
“I wasn’t far away,” said Cowder. “Where’s
Mike jerked a thumb toward the door to his apartment, still sealed with
tape. “In there.”
“Have you been back in there yet?”
“Nope,” said Mike. “I didn’t want to disturb
anything. I figured maybe your lab boys could tell where the rocket came
“What happened?” the cop asked.
Mike told him, omitting nothing except the details of his conversation
“The way I see it,” he finished, “whoever it was
phoned me to make sure I was in the room and then went out and fired a
rocket at my window.”
“What makes you think it was a JD?” Cowder asked.
“Well, Sergeant, if I were going to do the job, I’d put my
launcher in some place where I could see that my victim was inside,
without having to call him. But if I couldn’t do that, I’d
aim the launcher and set it to fire by remote control. Then I’d go
to the phone, call him, and fire the rocket while he was on the phone.
I’d be sure of getting him that way. The way it was done smacks of
a kid’s trick.”
Cowder looked at the door. “Think we can go in there now? The HCN
ought to have cleared out by now.”
Mike stood up from behind his desk. “I imagine it’s pretty
clear. I checked the air conditioners; they’re still working, and
the filters are efficient enough to take care of an awful lot of
hydrogen cyanide. Besides, the window is open. But—shouldn’t we
wait for the lab men?”
Cowder shook his head. “Not necessary. They’ll be up in a
few minutes, but they’ll probably just confirm what we already
know. Peel that tape off, will you?”
Mike took his ionizer from the top of the desk, walked over to the door,
and began running it over the tape. It fell off and slithered to the
floor. As he worked, he said:
“You think you know where the rocket was fired from?”
“Almost positive,” said Cowder. “We got a call a few
minutes back from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.”
The last of the tape fell off, and Mike opened the door. It didn’t
work easily, but it did open. The odor of bitter almonds was so faint
that it might actually have been imagination.
Cowder pointed out the shattered window at the gray
spire of the cathedral. “There’s your launching site. We
don’t know how they got up there, but they managed.”
“Two of them. When they tried to leave, a couple of priests and
two officers of the Cathedral Police spotted them. The kids dropped
their launcher and two unfired rockets, and then tried to run for it.
Result: one dead kid, one getaway. One of the cops got a bad gash on his
arm from a vibroblade, and one of the priests got it in the abdomen.
He’ll live, but he’s in bad shape.”
Mike said something under his breath that might have been an oath,
except that it avoided all mention of the Deity. Then he added that
Name, in a different tone of voice.
“I agree,” said Cowder. “You think you know why they
Mike looked around at his apartment. At first glance it appeared to be a
total loss, but closer inspection showed that most of the damage had
been restricted to glass and ceramics. The furniture had been tumbled
around but not badly damaged. The war head of the rocket had evidently
been of the concussion-and-gas type, without much fragmentation.
“I think I know why, yes,” Mike said, turning back to the
sergeant. “I had a funny feeling all the way home from
Harry’s. Nothing I could lay my finger on, really. I tried to see
if I was being followed, but I didn’t spot anyone. There were
plenty of kids on the subway.
“It’s my guess that the kids knew who I was. If they cased
Harry’s as thoroughly as it seems they did, they must have seen me
go in and out several times. They knew that it was my fault that two of
their members got picked up, so
they decided to teach me a lesson. One of them must have come up here,
even before I left Harry’s. The other followed me, just to make
sure I was really coming home. Since he knew where I was going, he
didn’t have to stick too close, so I didn’t spot him in the
crowd. He might even have gone on up to 116th Street so that I
wouldn’t see him get off at 110th.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Cowder agreed. “We know who the
kids are. The uniformed squads are rounding up the whole bunch for
questioning. They call themselves—you’ll get a laugh out of
this!—they call themselves the Rocketeers.”
“I’m fracturing my funny bone,” said Mike the Angel.
“The thing that gets me is this revenge business, though. Kids
don’t usually go that far out for fellow gang members.”
“Not usually,” the sergeant said, “but this is a
little different. The girl you caught and the boy who got killed over at
the cathedral are brother and sister.”
“That explains it,” Mike said. “Rough family,
Sergeant Cowder shook his head. “Not really. The parents are
respectable and fairly well off. Larchmont’s the name. The kids
are Susan and Herbert—Sue and Bert to you. Bert’s sixteen,
Sue’s seventeen. They were pretty thick, I gather: real brother
and sister team.”
“Good family, bad kids,” Mike muttered. He had wandered over
to the wall to look at his Dali. It had fallen to the floor, but it
wasn’t hurt. The Valois was bent, but it could be fixed up easily
“I wonder,” Mike said, picking up the head of a smashed
figurine and looking at it. “I wonder if the so-called
sociologists have any explanation for it?”
“Sure,” Cowder said. “Same one they’ve been
giving for more decades than I’d care to think of. The mother was
married before. Divorced her husband, married Larchmont. But she had a
boy by her first husband.”
“Broken home and sibling rivalry? Pfui! And if it wasn’t
that, the sociologists would find another excuse,” Mike said
“Funny thing is that the older half brother was a perfectly
respectable kid. Made good grades in school, joined the Space Service,
has a perfectly clean record. And yet he was the product of the broken
home, not the two younger kids.”
Mike laughed dryly. “That ought to be food for high sociological
The door announcer chimed again, and Cowder said: “That’s
probably the lab boys. I told them to come over here as soon as they
could finish up at the cathedral.”
Mike checked his screen and when Cowder identified the men at the door,
Mike let them in.
The short, chubby man in the lead, who was introduced as Perkins, spoke
to Sergeant Cowder first. “We checked one of those rockets. Almost
a professional job. TNT war head, surrounded by a jacket filled with
liquid HCN and a phosphate inhibitor to prevent polymerization. Nasty
things.” He swung round to Mike. “You’re lucky you
weren’t in the room, or you’d just be part of the wreckage,
“I know,” said Mike the Angel. “Well, the room’s
all yours. It probably won’t tell you much.”
“Probably not,” said Perkins, “but we’ll see.
Come on, boys.”
Mike the Angel tapped Cowder on the shoulder. “I’d like to
talk to you for a minute.”
Cowder nodded, and Mike led the way back into his
private office. He opened his desk drawer and took out the little pack
that housed the workings of the vibroblade shield.
“That accident you were talking about, Sergeant—the one that made
those vibroblades blow, remember? I got to thinking that maybe this
could have caused it. I think that with a little more power, it might
even vaporize a high-speed bullet. But I’d advise you to wear
Cowder took the thing and looked at it. “Thanks, Mr.
Gabriel,” he said honestly. “Maybe the kids will go on to
using something else if vibroblades don’t work, but I think
I’d prefer a rocket in the head to being carved by a vibro.”
“To be honest,” Mike said, “I think the vibro is just
a fad among the JD’s now, anyway. You know—if you’re one of
the real biggies, you carry a vibro. A year from now, it might be shock
guns, but right now you’re chicken if you carry anything but a
Cowder dropped the shield generator into his coat pocket. “Thanks
again, Mr. Gabriel. We’ll do you a favor sometime.”
The firm of M. R. GABRIEL, POWER DESIGN was not a giant corporation, but
it did pretty well for a one-man show. The outer office was a gantlet
that Mike the Angel had to run when he came in the next morning after
having spent the night at a hotel. There was a mixed and ragged chorus
of “Good morning, Mr. Gabriel” as he passed through. Mike
gave the nod to each of them and was stopped four times for small
details before he finally made his way to his own office.
His secretary was waiting for him. She was short, bony, and plain of
face. She had a figure like an ironing board and the soul of a Ramsden
calculator. Mike the Angel liked her that way; it avoided complications.
“Good morning, Mr. Gabriel,” she said. “What the hell
happened here?” She waved at the warped door and the ribbons of
electrostatic tape that still lay in curls on the floor.
Mike told her, and she listened to his recitation without any change of
expression. “I’m very glad you weren’t hurt,”
she said when he had finished. “What are you going to do about the
Mike opened the heavy door and looked at the wreckage inside. Through
the gaping hole of the shattered window, he could see the towering
spires of the two-hundred-year-old Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
“Get Larry Beasley on the phone, Helen. I’ve forgotten his
number, but you’ll find him listed under ‘Interior
Decorators.’ He has the original plans and designs on file. Tell
him to get them out; I want this place fixed up just like it was.”
“But what if someone else....” She gestured toward the
broken window and the cathedral spires beyond.
“When you’re through talking to Beasley,” Mike went
on, “see if you can get Bishop Brennan on the phone and switch him
to my desk.”
“Yes, sir,” she said.
Within two hours workmen were busily cleaning up the wreckage in Mike
the Angel’s apartment, and the round, plump figure of Larry
Beasley was walking around pompously while his artistic but businesslike
brain made estimates. Mike had also reached an agreement with the bishop
whereby special vaultlike doors would be fitted into the stairwells
leading up to the towers at Mike’s expense. They were to have
facings of bronze so that they could be decorated to blend with the
Gothic decor of the church, but the bronze would be backed by heavy
steel. Nobody would blow those down in a hurry.
Since the wrecked living room was a flurry of activity and his office
had become a thoroughfare, Mike the Angel retired to his bedroom to
think. He took with him the microcryotron stack he had picked up at Old
Harry’s the night before.
“For something that doesn’t look like much,” he said
aloud to the stack, “you have caused me a hell of a lot of
Old Harry, he knew, wouldn’t be caught dead selling the things. In
the first place, it was strictly illegal to deal in the components of
robotic brains. In the second place, they were so difficult to get, even
on the black market, that the few that came into Old Harry’s hands
went into the defenses of his own shop. Mike the Angel had only wanted
to borrow one to take a good look at it. He had read up on all the
literature about microcryotrons, but he’d never actually seen one
He had reason to be curious about microcryotrons. There was something
definitely screwy going on in Antarctica.
Nearly two years before, the UN Government, in the person of Minister
Wallingford himself, had asked Mike’s firm—which meant Mike the
Angel himself—to design the power drive and the thrust converters for a
spaceship. On the face of it, there was nothing at all unusual in that.
Such jobs were routine for M. R. Gabriel.
But when the specifications arrived, Mike the Angel had begun to wonder
what the devil was going on. The spaceship William Branchell was to be
built on the surface of Earth—and yet it was to be a much larger ship
than any that had ever before been built on the ground. Usually, an
interstellar vessel that large was built in orbit around the Earth,
where the designers didn’t have to worry about gravitational pull.
Such a ship never landed, any more than an ocean liner was ever
beached—not on purpose, anyway. The passengers and cargo were taken up
by smaller vessels and brought down the same way when the liner arrived
at her destination.
Aside from the tremendous energy required to lift such a
vessel free of a planet’s surface, there was also the magnetic
field of the planet to consider. The drive tubes tended to wander and
become erratic if they were forced to cut through the magnetic field of
Therefore, Question One: Why wasn’t the Branchell being built in
Part of the answer, Mike knew, lay in the specifications for the
construction of Cargo Hold One. For one thing, it was huge. For another,
it was heavily insulated. For a third, it was built like a tank for
holding liquids. All very well and good; possibly someone wanted to
carry a cargo of cold lemonade or iced tea. That would be pretty stupid,
maybe, but it wouldn’t be mysterious.
The mystery lay in the fact that Cargo Hold One had already been
built. The Branchell was to be built around it! And that
didn’t exactly jibe with Mike the Angel’s ideas of the
proper way to build a spaceship. It was not quite the same as building a
seagoing vessel around an oil tank in the middle of Texas, but it was
close enough to bother Mike the Angel.
Therefore, Question Two: Why was the Branchell being built around
Cargo Hold One?
Which led to Question Three: What was in Cargo Hold One?
For the answer to that question, he had one very good hint. The density
of the contents of Cargo Hold One was listed in the specs as being
one-point-seven-two-six grams per cubic centimeter. And that, Mike
happened to know, was the density of a cryotronic brain, which is 90 per
cent liquid helium and 10 per cent tantalum and niobium, by volume.
He looked at the microcryotron stack in his hand. It was
a one-hundred-kilounit stack. The possible connections within it were
factorial one hundred thousand. All it needed was to be immersed in its
bath of liquid helium to make the metals superconducting, and it would
be ready to go to work.
A friend of his who worked for Computer Corporation of Earth had built a
robot once, using just such a stack. The robot was designed to play
poker. He had fed in all the rules of play and added all the data from
Oesterveldt’s On Poker. It took Mike the Angel exactly one hour
to figure out how to beat it.
As long as Mike played rationally, the machine had a slight edge, since
it had a perfect memory and could compute faster than Mike could. But it
would not, could not learn how to bluff. As soon as Mike started
bluffing, the robot went into a tizzy.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if the robot had known nothing
whatever about bluffing. That would have made it easy for Mike. All
he’d have had to do was keep on feeding in chips until the robot
But the robot did know about bluffing. The trouble is that bluffing is
essentially illogical, and the robot had no rules whatsoever to go by to
judge whether Mike was bluffing or not. It finally decided to make its
decisions by chance, judging by Mike’s past performance at
bluffing. When it did, Mike quit bluffing and cleaned it out fast.
That caused such utter confusion in the random circuits that
Mike’s friend had had to spend a week cleaning up the
robot’s little mind.
But what would be the purpose of building a brain as gigantic as the one
in Cargo Hold One? And why build a spaceship around it?
Like a pig roasting on an automatic spit, the problem kept turning over
and over in Mike’s mind. And, like the roasting pig, the time
eventually came when it was done.
Once it is set in operation, a properly operating robot brain can
neither be shut off nor dismantled. Not, that is, unless you want to
lose all of the data and processes you’ve fed into it.
Now, suppose the Computer Corporation of Earth had built a giant-sized
brain. (Never mind why—just suppose.) And suppose they wanted to take
it off Earth, but didn’t want to lose all the data that had been
pumped into it. (Again, never mind why—just suppose.)
Very well, then. If such a brain had been built, and if it was
necessary to take it off Earth, and if the data in it was so precious
that the brain could not be shut off or dismantled, then the thing to
do would be to build a ship around it.
Mike the Angel stared at the microcryotron stack and asked:
“Now, tell me, pal, just why would anyone want a brain that big?
And what is so blasted important about it?”
The stack said not a word.
The phone chimed. Mike the Angel thumbed the switch, and his
secretary’s face appeared on the screen. “Minister
Wallingford is on the line, Mr. Gabriel.”
“Put him on,” said Mike the Angel.
Basil Wallingford’s ruddy face came on. “I see you’re
still alive,” he said. “What in the bloody blazes happened
Mike sighed and told him. “In other words,” he ended up,
“just the usual sort of JD stuff we have to put up with
these days. Nothing new, and nothing to worry about.”
“You almost got killed,” Wallingford pointed out.
“A miss is as good as a mile,” Mike said with cheerful
inanity. “Thanks to your phone call, I was as safe as if I’d
been in my own home,” he added with utter illogic.
“You can afford to laugh,” Wallingford said grimly. “I
can’t. I’ve already lost one man.”
Mike’s grin vanished. “What do you mean? Who?”
“Oh, nobody’s killed,” Wallingford said quickly.
“I didn’t mean that. But Jack Wong turned his car over
yesterday at a hundred and seventy miles an hour, and he’s laid up
with a fractured leg and a badly dislocated arm.”
“Too bad,” said Mike. “One of these days that fool
will kill himself racing.” He knew Wong and liked him. They had
served together in the Space Service when Mike was on active duty.
“I hope not,” Wallingford said. “Anyway—the matter I
called you on last night. Can you get those specs for me?”
“Sure, Wally. Hold on.” He punched the hold button and rang
for his secretary as Wallingford’s face vanished. When the
girl’s face came on, he said: “Helen, get me the cargo specs
on the William Branchell—Section Twelve, pages 66 to 74.”
The discussion, after Helen had brought the papers, lasted less than
five minutes. It was merely a matter of straightening out some cost
estimates—but since it had to do with the Branchell, and specifically
with Hold Number One, Mike decided he’d ask a question.
“Wally, tell me—what in the hell is going on down there at
“They’re building a spaceship,” said Wallingford in a
It was Wallingford’s way of saying he wasn’t going to answer
any questions, but Mike the Angel ignored the hint. “I’d
sort of gathered that,” he said dryly. “But what I want to
know is: Why is it being built around a cryotronic brain, the like of
which I have never heard before?”
Basil Wallingford’s eyes widened, and he just stared for a full
two seconds. “And just how did you come across that information,
Golden Wings?” he finally asked.
“It’s right here in the specs,” said Mike the Angel,
tapping the sheaf of papers.
“Ridiculous.” Wallingford’s voice seemed toneless.
Mike decided he was in too deep now to back out. “It certainly is,
Wally. It couldn’t be hidden. To compute the thrust stresses, I
had to know the density of the contents of Cargo Hold One. And here it
is: 1.726 gm/cm³. Nothing else that I know of has that exact
Wallingford pursed his lips. “Dear me,” he said after a
moment. “I keep forgetting you’re too bright for your own
good.” Then a slow smile spread over his face. “Would you
really like to know?”
“I wouldn’t have asked otherwise,” Mike said.
“Fine. Because you’re just the man we need.”
Mike the Angel could almost feel the knife blade sliding between his
ribs, and he had the uncomfortable feeling that the person who had
stabbed him in the back was himself. “What’s that supposed
to mean, Wally?”
“You are, I believe, an officer in the Space Service
Reserve,” said Basil Wallingford in a smooth, too oily voice.
“Since the Engineering Officer of the Branchell, Jack Wong, is
laid up in a hospital, I’m going to call you to active duty to
Mike the Angel felt that ghostly knife twist—hard.
“That’s silly,” he said. “I haven’t been a
ship’s officer for five years.”
“You’re the man who designed the power plant,”
Wallingford said sweetly. “If you don’t know how to run her,
“My time per hour is worth a great deal,” Mike pointed out.
“The rate of pay for a Space Service officer,” Basil
Wallingford said pleasantly, “is fixed by law.”
“I can fight being called back to duty—and I’ll win,”
said Mike. He didn’t know how long he could play this game, but it
“True,” said Wallingford. “You can. I admit it. But
you’ve been wondering what the hell that ship is being built for.
You’d give your left arm to find out. I know you, Golden Wings,
and I know how that mind of yours works. And I tell you this: Unless you
take this job, you’ll never find out why the Branchell was
built.” He leaned forward, and his face loomed large in the
screen. “And I mean absolutely never.”
For several seconds Mike the Angel said nothing. His classically
handsome face was like that of some Grecian god contemplating the
Universe, or an archangel contemplating Eternity. Then he gave Basil
Wallingford the benefit of his full, radiant smile.
“I capitulate,” he said.
Wallingford refused to look impressed. “Damn right you do,”
he said—and cut the circuit.
Two days later Mike the Angel was sitting at his desk making certain
that M. R. GABRIEL, POWER DESIGN would function smoothly while he was
gone. Serge Paulvitch, his chief designer, could handle almost
Paulvitch had once said, “Mike, the hell of working for a
first-class genius is that a second-class genius doesn’t have a
“You could start your own firm,” Mike had said levelly.
“I’ll back you, Serge; you know that.”
Serge Paulvitch had looked astonished. “Me? You think I’m
crazy? Right now, I’m a second-class genius working for a
first-class outfit. You think I want to be a second-class genius working
for a second-class outfit? Not on your life!”
Paulvitch could easily handle the firm for a few weeks.
Helen’s face came on the phone. “There’s a Captain Sir
Henry Quill on the phone, Mr. Gabriel. Do you wish to speak to
“Black Bart?” said Mike. “I wonder what he
“Bart?” She looked puzzled. “He said his name was
Mike grinned. “He always signs his name: Captain Sir
Henry Quill, Bart.. And since he’s the toughest old martinet this
side of the Pleiades, the ‘Black’ part just comes naturally.
I served under him seven years ago. Put him on.”
In half a second the grim face of Captain Quill was on the screen.
He was as bald as an egg. What little hair he did have left was
meticulously shaved off every morning. He more than made up for his lack
of cranial growth, however, by his great, shaggy, bristly brows, black
as jet and firmly anchored to jutting supraorbital ridges. Any other man
would have been proud to wear them as mustaches.
“What can I do for you, Captain?” Mike asked, using the
proper tone of voice prescribed for the genial businessman.
“You can go out and buy yourself a new uniform,” Quill
growled. “Your old one isn’t regulation any more.”
Well, not exactly growled. If he’d had the voice for it, it would
have been a growl, but the closest he could come to a growl was an Irish
tenor rumble with undertones of gravel. He stood five-eight, and his red
and gold Space Service uniform gleamed with spit-and-polish luster. With
his cap off, his bald head looked as though it, too, had been polished.
Mike looked at him thoughtfully. “I see. So you’re
commanding the mystery tub, eh?” he said at last.
“That’s right,” said the captain. “And
don’t go asking me a bunch of blasted questions. I’ve got no
more idea of what the bloody thing’s about than you—maybe not as
much. I understand you designed her power plant...?”
He let it hang. If not exactly a leading question, it was certainly a
Mike shook his head. “I don’t know anything, Captain.
Honestly I don’t.”
If Space Service regulations had allowed it, Captain Sir
Henry Quill, Bart., would have worn a walrus mustache. And if
he’d had such a mustache, he would have whuffled it then. As it
was, he just blew out air, and nothing whuffled.
“You and I are the only ones in the dark, then,” he said.
“The rest of the crew is being picked from Chilblains Base. Pete
Jeffers is First Officer, in case you’re wondering.”
“Oh, great,” Mike the Angel said with a moan. “That
means we’ll be going in cold on an untried ship.”
Like Birnam Wood advancing on Dunsinane, Quill’s eyebrows moved
upward. “Don’t you trust your own designing?”
“As much as you do,” said Mike the Angel. “Probably
Quill nodded. “We’ll have to make the best of it.
We’ll muddle through somehow. Are you all ready to go?”
“No,” Mike admitted, “but I don’t see that I can
do a damn thing about that.”
“Nor do I,” said Captain Quill. “Be at Chilblains Base
in twenty-four hours. Arrangements will be made at the Long Island Base
for your transportation to Antarctica. And”—he paused and his
scowl became deeper—“you’d best get used to calling me
“Yessir, Sir Henry, sir.”
“Thank you, Mister Gabriel,” snapped Quill, cutting the
“Selah,” said Mike the Angel.
Chilblains Base, Antarctica, was directly over the South Magnetic
Pole—at least, as closely as that often elusive spot could be
pinpointed for any length of time. It is cheaper in the long run if an
interstellar vessel moves parallel with, not perpendicular to, the
magnetic “lines of force” of a planet’s
gravitational field. Taking off “across the grain” can be
done, but the power consumption is much greater. Taking off “with
the grain” is expensive enough.
An ion rocket doesn’t much care where it lifts or sets down, since
its method of propulsion isn’t trying to work against the fabric
of space itself. For that reason, an interstellar vessel is normally
built in space and stays there, using ion rockets for loading and
unloading its passengers. It’s cheaper by far.
The Computer Corporation of Earth had also been thinking of expenses
when it built its Number One Research Station near Chilblains Base,
although the corporation was not aware at the time just how much money
it was eventually going to save them.
The original reason had simply been lower power costs. A cryotron unit
has to be immersed at all times in a bath of liquid helium at a
temperature of four-point-two degrees absolute. It is obviously much
easier—and much cheaper—to keep several thousand gallons of helium at
that temperature if the surrounding temperature is at two hundred
thirty-three absolute than if it is up around two hundred ninety or
three hundred. That may not seem like much percentagewise, but it comes
out to a substantial saving in the long run.
But, power consumption or no, when C.C. of E. found that Snookums either
had to be moved or destroyed, it was mightily pleased that it had built
Prime Station near Chilblains Base. Since a great deal of expense also,
of necessity, devolved upon Earth Government, the government was, to say
it modestly, equally pleased. There was enough expense as it was.
The scenery at Chilblains Base—so named by a wiseacre
American navy man back in the twentieth century—was nothing to
brag about. Thousands of square miles of powdered ice that has had
nothing to do but blow around for twenty million years is not at all
inspiring after the first few minutes unless one is obsessed by the
morbid beauty of cold death.
Mike the Angel was not so obsessed. To him, the area surrounding
Chilblains Base was just so much white hell, and his analysis was
perfectly correct. Mike wished that it had been January, midsummer in
the Antarctic, so there would have been at least a little dim sunshine.
Mike the Angel did not particularly relish having to visit the South
Pole in midwinter.
The rocket that had lifted Mike the Angel from Long Island Base settled
itself into the snow-covered landing stage of Chilblains Base,
dissipating the crystalline whiteness into steam as it did so. The
steam, blown away by the chill winds, moved all of thirty yards before
it became ice again.
Mike the Angel was not in the best of moods. Having to dump all of his
business into Serge Paulvitch’s hands on twenty-four hours’
notice was irritating. He knew Paulvitch could handle the job, but it
wasn’t fair to him to make him take over so suddenly.
In addition, Mike did not like the way the whole Branchell business
was being handled. It seemed slipshod and hurried, and, worse, it was
entirely too mysterious and melodramatic.
“Of all the times to have to come to Antarctica,” he grumped
as the door of the rocket opened, “why did I have to get
The pilot, a young man in his early twenties, said smugly: “July
is bad, but January isn’t good—just not so worse.”
Mike the Angel glowered. “Sonny, I was a cadet here when you were
learning arithmetic. It hasn’t changed since, summer or
“Sorry, sir,” said the pilot stiffly.
“So am I,” said Mike the Angel cryptically. “Thanks
for the ride.”
He pushed open the outer door, pulled his electroparka closer around
him, and stalked off across the walk, through the lashing of the sleety
He didn’t have far to walk—a hundred yards or so—but it was a
good thing that the walk was protected and well within the boundary of
Chilblains Base instead of being out on the Wastelands. Here there were
lights, and the Hotbed equipment of the walk warmed the swirling ice
particles into a sleety rain. On the Wastelands, the utter blackness and
the wind-driven snow would have swallowed him permanently within ten
He stepped across a curtain of hot air that blew up from a narrow slit
in the deck and found himself in the main foyer of Chilblains Base.
The entrance looked like the entrance to a theater—a big metal and
plastic opening, like a huge room open on one side, with only that sheet
of hot air to protect it from the storm raging outside. The lights and
the small doors leading into the building added to the impression that
this was a theater, not a military base.
But the man who was standing near one of the doors was not by a long
shot dressed as an usher. He wore a sergeant’s stripes on his
regulation Space Service parka,
which muffled him to the nose, and he came over to Mike the Angel and
said: “Commander Gabriel?”
Mike the Angel nodded as he shook icy drops from his gloved hands, then
fished in his belt pocket for his newly printed ID card.
He handed it to the sergeant, who looked it over, peered at Mike’s
face, and saluted. As Mike returned the salute the sergeant said:
“Okay, sir; you can go on in. The security office is past the
double door, first corridor on your right.”
Mike the Angel tried his best not to look surprised. “Security
office? Is there a war on or something? What does Chilblains need with a
The sergeant shrugged. “Don’t ask me, Commander; I just
slave away here. Maybe Lieutenant Nariaki knows something, but I sure
Mike the Angel went inside, through two insulated and tightly
weather-stripped doors, one right after another, like the air lock on a
spaceship. Once inside the warmth of the corridor, he unzipped his
electroparka, shut off the power, and pushed back the hood with its
Down the hall, Mike could see an office marked security officer in
small letters without capitals. He walked toward it. There was another
guard at the door who had to see Mike’s ID card before Mike was
Lieutenant Tokugawa Nariaki was an average-sized, sleepy-looking
individual with a balding crew cut and a morose expression.
He looked up from his desk as Mike came in, and a hopeful smile tried to
spread itself across his face. “If you are Commander
Gabriel,” he said softly, “watch yourself. I may suddenly
kiss you out of sheer relief.”
“Restrain yourself, then,” said Mike the Angel,
“because I’m Gabriel.”
Nariaki’s smile became genuine. “So! Good! The phone has
been screaming at me every half hour for the past five hours. Sir Henry Quill wants you.”
“He would,” Mike said. “How do I get to him?”
“You don’t just yet,” said Nariaki, raising a long,
bony, tapering hand. “There are a few formalities which our guests
have to go through.”
“Such as fingerprint and retinal patterns,” said Lieutenant
Mike cast his eyes to Heaven in silent appeal, then looked back at the
lieutenant. “Lieutenant, what is going on here? There
hasn’t been a security officer in the Space Service for thirty
years or more. What am I suspected of? Spying for the corrupt and evil
alien beings of Diomega Orionis IX?”
Nariaki’s oriental face became morose again. “For all I
know, you are. Who knows what’s going on around here?” He
got up from behind his desk and led Mike the Angel over to the
fingerprinting machine. “Put your hands in here, Commander ...
He pushed a button, and, while the machine hummed, he said: “Mine
is an antiquated position, I’ll admit. I don’t like it any
more than you do. Next thing, they’ll put me to work polishing
chain-mail armor or make me commander of a company of musketeers. Or
maybe they’ll send me to the 18th Outer Mongolian Yak
Mike looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Lieutenant, do you
actually mean that you really don’t know what’s going on
here, or are you just dummying up?”
Nariaki looked at Mike, and for the first time, his face
took on the traditional blank, emotionless look of the “placid
Orient.” He paused for long seconds, then said:
“Some of both, Commander. But don’t let it worry you. I
assure you that within the next hour you’ll know more about
Project Brainchild than I’ve been able to find out in two
years.... Now put your face in here and keep your eyes open. When you
can see the target spot, focus on it and tell me.”
Mike the Angel put his face in the rest for the retinal photos. The soft
foam rubber adjusted around his face, and he was looking into blackness.
He focused his eyes on the dim target circle and waited for his eyes to
grow accustomed to the darkness.
The Security Officer’s voice continued. “All I do is make
sure that no unauthorized person comes into Chilblains Base. Other than
that, I have nothing but personal guesses and little trickles of
confusing information, neither of which am I at liberty to
Mike’s irises had dilated to the point that he could see the dim
dot in the center of the target circle, glowing like a dimly visible
star. “Shoot,” he said.
There was a dazzling glare of light. Mike pulled his face out of the
padded opening and blinked away the colored after-images.
Lieutenant Nariaki was comparing the fresh fingerprints with the set he
had had on file. “Well,” he said, “you have Commander
Gabriel’s hands, anyway. If you have his eyes, I’ll have to
concede that the rest of the body belongs to him, too.”
“How about my soul?” Mike asked dryly.
“Not my province, Commander,” Nariaki said as he
pulled the retinal photos out of the machine. “Maybe one of the
chaplains would know.”
“If this sort of thing is going on all over Chilblains,”
said Mike the Angel, “I imagine the Office of Chaplains is doing a
booming business in TS cards.”
The lieutenant put the retinal photos in the comparator, took a good
look, and nodded. “You’re you,” he said. “Give
me your ID card.”
Mike handed it over, and Nariaki fed it through a printer which stamped
a complex seal in the upper left-hand corner of the card. The lieutenant
signed his name across the seal and handed the card back to Mike.
“That’s it,” he said. “You can—”
He was interrupted by the chiming of the phone.
“Just a second, Commander,” he said as he thumbed the phone
Mike was out of range of the TV pickup, and he couldn’t see the
face on the screen, but the voice was so easy to recognize that he
didn’t need to see the man.
“Hasn’t that triply bedamned rocket landed yet, Lieutenant?
Where is Commander Gabriel?”
Mike knew that Black Bart had already checked on the landing of the
latest rocket; the question was rhetorical.
Mike grinned. “Tell the old tyrant,” he said firmly,
“that I’ll be along as soon as the Security Officer is
through with me.”
Nariaki’s expression didn’t change. “You’re
through now, Commander, and—”
“Tell that imitation Apollo to hop it over here fast!” said
Quill sharply. “I’ll give him a lesson in tyranny.”
There was a click as the intercom shut off.
Nariaki looked at Mike the Angel and shook his head
slowly. “Either you’re working your way toward a
court-martial or else you know where Black Bart has the body
“I should,” said Mike cryptically. “I helped him bury
it. How do I get to His Despotic Majesty’s realm?”
Nariaki considered. “It’ll take you five or six minutes.
Take the tubeway to Stage Twelve. Go up the stairway to the surface and
take the first corridor to the left. That’ll take you to the
loading dock for that stage. It’s an open foyer like the one at
the landing field, so you’ll have to put your parka back on. Go
down the stairs on the other side, and you’ll be in Area K. One of
the guards will tell you where to go from there. Of course, you could go
by tube, but it would take longer because of the by-pass.”
“Good enough. I’ll take the short cut. See you. And
The underground tubeway shot Mike the Angel across five miles of track
at high speed. Mike left the car at Stage Twelve and headed up the
stairway and down the corridor to a heavy double door marked freight
He put on his parka and went through the door. The foyer was empty, and,
like the one at the rocket landing, protected from the Antarctic blast
only by a curtain of hot air. Outside that curtain, the light seemed to
lose itself in the darkness of the bleak, snow-filled Wastelands. Mike
ignored the snowscape and headed across the empty foyer to the door
“With a small e,” Mike muttered to himself. “I
wonder if the sign painter ran out of full caps.”
He was five feet from the door when he heard the yell.
That was all. Just the one word.
Mike the Angel came to a dead halt and spun around.
The foyer was a large room, about fifty by fifty feet in area and nearly
twenty feet high. And it was quite obviously empty. On the open side,
the sheet of hissing hot air was doing its best to shield the room from
blizzard outside. Opposite the air curtain was a huge sliding door,
closed at the moment, which probably led to a freight elevator. There
were only two other doors leading from the foyer, and both of them were
closed. And Mike knew that no voice could come through those insulated
Mike the Angel swung toward the air curtain. This time there was no
doubt. Someone was out in that howling ice-cloud, screaming for help!
Mike saw the figure—dimly, fleetingly, obscured most of the time by the
driving whiteness. Whoever it was looked as if he were buried to the
waist in snow.
Mike made a quick estimate. It was dark out there, but he could see the
figure; therefore he would be able to see the foyer lights. He
wouldn’t get lost. Snapping down the faceplate of his parka hood,
he ran through the protective updraft of the air curtain and charged
into the deadly chill of the Antarctic blizzard.
In spite of the electroparka he was wearing, the going was difficult.
The snow tended to plaster itself against his faceplate, and the wind
kept trying to take him off his feet. He wiped a gloved hand across the
faceplate. Ahead, he could still see the figure waving its arms. Mike
At sixty below, frozen H2O isn’t slushy, by any means; it
isn’t even slippery. It’s more like fine sand than anything
else. Mike the Angel figured he had about thirty feet to go, but after
he’d taken eight steps, the arm-waving figure looked as far off as
when he’d started.
Mike stopped and flipped up his faceplate. It felt as though someone had
thrown a handful of razor blades into his face. He winced and yelled,
“What’s the trouble?” Then he snapped the plate back
“I’m cold!” came the clear, contralto voice through
the howling wind.
A woman! thought Mike. “I’m coming!” he bellowed,
pushing on. Ten more steps.
He stopped again. He couldn’t see anyone or anything.
He flipped up his faceplate. “Hey!”
“Hey!” he called again.
And still there was no answer.
Around Mike the Angel, there was nothing but the swirling, blinding
snow, the screaming, tearing wind, and the blackness of the Antarctic
There was something damned odd going on here. Carefully putting the toe
of his right foot to the rear of the heel of his left, he executed a
one-hundred-eighty-degree military about-face.
And breathed a sigh of relief.
He could still see the lights of the foyer. He had half suspected that
someone was trying to trap him out here, and they might have turned off
He swiveled his head around for one last look. He still couldn’t
see a sign of anyone. There was nothing he could do but head back and
report the incident. He started slogging back through the gritty snow.
He stepped through the hot-air curtain and flipped up his faceplate.
“Why did you go out in the blizzard?” said a clear,
contralto voice directly behind him.
Mike swung around angrily. “Look, lady, I—”
The lady was no lady.
A few feet away stood a machine. Vaguely humanoid in
shape from the waist up, it was built more like a miniature military
tank from the waist down. It had a pair of black sockets in its head,
which Mike took to be TV cameras of some kind. It had grillwork on
either side of its head, which probably covered microphones, and another
grillwork where the mouth should be. There was no nose.
“What the hell?” asked Mike the Angel of no one in
“I’m Snookums,” said the robot.
“Sure you are,” said Mike the Angel, backing uneasily toward
the door. “You’re Snookums. I couldn’t fail not to
disagree with you less.”
Mike the Angel didn’t particularly like being frightened, but he
had never found it a disabling emotion, so he could put up with it if he
had to. But, given his choice, he would have much preferred to be afraid
of something a little less unpredictable, something he knew a little
more about. Something comfortable, like, say, a Bengal tiger or a Kodiak
“But I really am Snookums,” reiterated the clear voice.
Mike’s brain was functioning in high gear with overdrive added and
the accelerator floor-boarded. He’d been lured out onto the
Wastelands by this machine—it most definitely could be dangerous.
The robot was obviously a remote-control device. The arms and hands were
of the waldo type used to handle radioactive materials in a hot
lab—four jointed fingers and an opposed thumb, metal duplicates of the
But who was on the other end? Who was driving the machine? Who was
saying those inane things over the speaker that served the robot as a
mouth? It was certainly a woman’s voice.
Mike was still moving backward, toward the door. The machine that called
itself Snookums wasn’t moving toward him, which was some
consolation, but not much. The thing could obviously move faster on
those treads than Mike could on his feet. Especially since Mike was
“Would you mind explaining what this is all about, miss?”
asked Mike the Angel. He didn’t expect an explanation; he was
stalling for time.
“I am not a ‘miss,’” said the robot. “I am
“Whatever you are, then,” said Mike, “would you mind
“No,” said Snookums, “I wouldn’t mind.”
Mike’s fingers, groping behind him, touched the door handle. But
before he could grasp it, it turned, and the door opened behind him. It
hit him full in the back, and he stumbled forward a couple of steps
before regaining his balance.
A clear contralto voice said: “Oh! I’m so sorry!”
It was the same voice as the robot’s!
Mike the Angel swung around to face the second robot.
This time it was a lady.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated. She was all wrapped up in
an electroparka, but there was no mistaking the fact that she was both
human and feminine. She came on through the door and looked at the
robot. “Snookums! What are you doing here?”
“I was trying an experiment, Leda,” said Snookums.
“This man was just asking me about it. I just wanted to see if he
would come if I called ‘help.’ He did, and I want to know
why he did.”
The girl flashed a look at Mike. “Would you please tell
Snookums why you went out there? Please—don’t be angry or
anything—just tell him.”
Mike was beginning to get the picture. “I went because I thought I
heard a human being calling for help—and it sounded suspiciously like a
“Oh,” said Snookums, sounding a little downhearted—if a
robot can be said to have a heart. “The reaction was based, then,
upon a misconception. That makes the data invalid. I’ll have to
“That won’t be necessary, Snookums,” the girl said
firmly. “This man went out there because he thought a human life
was in danger. He would not have done it if he had known it was you,
because he would have known that you were not in any danger. You can
stand much lower temperatures than a human being can, you know.”
She turned to Mike. “Am I correct in saying that you
wouldn’t have gone out there if you’d known Snookums was a
“Absolutely correct,” said Mike the Angel fervently.
She looked back at Snookums. “Don’t try that experiment
again. It is dangerous for a human to go out there, even with an
electroparka. You might run the risk of endangering human life.”
“Oh dear!” said Snookums. “I’m sorry,
Leda!” There was real anxiety in the voice.
“That’s all right, honey,” the girl said hurriedly.
“This man isn’t hurt, so don’t get upset. Come along
now, and we’ll go back to the lab. You shouldn’t come out
like this without permission.”
Mike had noticed that the girl had kept one hand on her belt all the
time she was talking—and that her thumb was holding down a small button
on a case attached to the belt.
He had been wondering why, but he didn’t have to wonder long.
The door behind him opened again, and four men came out, obviously in a
devil of a hurry. Each one of them was wearing a brassard labeled SECURITY POLICE.
At least, thought Mike the Angel as he turned to look them over, the
brassards aren’t in all lower-case italics.
One of them jerked a thumb at Mike. “This the guy, Miss
The girl nodded. “That’s him. He saw Snookums. Take care of
him.” She looked again at Mike. “I’m terribly sorry,
really I am. But there’s no help for it.” Then, without
another word, she opened the door and went back inside, and the robot
rolled in after her.
As the door closed behind her, the SP man nearest Mike, a tough-looking
bozo wearing an ensign’s insignia, said: “Let’s see
Mike realized that his own parka had no insignia of rank on it, but he
didn’t like the SP man’s tone.
“Come on!” snapped the ensign. “Who are you?”
Mike the Angel pulled out his ID card and handed it to the security cop.
“It tells right there who I am,” he said. “That is, if
you can read.”
The man glared and jerked the card out of Mike’s hand, but when he
saw the emblem that Lieutenant Nariaki had stamped on it, his eyes
widened. He looked up at Mike. “I’m sorry, sir; I
“That tears it,” interrupted Mike. “That absolutely
tears it. In the past three minutes I have been apologized to by a
woman, a robot, and a cop. The next thing, a penguin will walk in here,
tip his top hat, and abase himself while he
mutters obsequiously in penguinese. Just what the devil is going on
around this place?”
The four SP men were trying hard not to fidget.
“Just security precautions, sir,” said the ensign
uncomfortably. “Nobody but those connected with Project Brainchild
are supposed to know about Snookums. If anyone else finds out,
we’re supposed to take them into protective custody.”
“I’ll bet you’re widely loved for that,” said
Mike. “I suppose the gadget at Miss What’s-her-name’s
belt was an alarm to warn you of impending disaster?”
“Miss Crannon.... Yes, sir. Everybody on the project carries those
around. Also, Miss Crannon carries a detector for following Snookums
around. She’s sort of his keeper, you know.”
“No,” said Mike the Angel, “I do not know. But I
intend to find out. I’m looking for Captain Quill; where is
The four men looked at each other, then looked back at Mike.
“I don’t know, Commander,” said the ensign. “I
understand that several new men have come in today, but I don’t
know all of them. You’d better talk to Dr. Fitzhugh.”
“Such are the beauties of security,” said Mike the Angel.
“Where can I find this Dr. Fitzhugh?”
The security man looked at his wrist watch. “He’s down in
the cafeteria now, sir. It’s coffee time, and Doc Fitzhugh is as
regular as a satellite orbit.”
“I’m glad you didn’t say
‘clockwork,’” Mike told him. “I’ve had
enough dealings with machines today. Where is this coffee haven?”
The ensign gave directions for reaching the cafeteria, and Mike pushed
open the door marked entrance. He had to
pass through another inner door guarded by another pair of SP men who
checked his ID card again, then he had to ramble through hallways that
went off at queer angles to each other, but he finally found the
He nabbed the first passer-by and asked him to point out Dr. Fitzhugh.
The passer-by was obliging; he indicated a smallish, elderly man who was
sitting by himself at one of the tables.
Mike made his way through the tray-carrying hordes that were milling
about, and finally ended up at the table where the smallish man was
“Dr. Fitzhugh?” Mike offered his hand. “I’m
Commander Gabriel. Minister Wallingford appointed me Engineering Officer
of the Branchell.”
Dr. Fitzhugh shook Mike’s hand with apparent pleasure. “Oh
yes. Sit down, Commander. What can I do for you?”
Mike had already peeled off his electroparka. He hung it over the back
of a chair and said: “Mind if I grab a cup of coffee, Doctor?
I’ve just come from topside, and I think the cold has made its way
clean to my bones.” He paused. “Would you like another
Dr. Fitzhugh looked at his watch. “I have time for one more,
By the time Mike had returned with the cups, he had recalled where he
had heard the name Fitzhugh before.
“It just occurred to me,” he said as he sat down. “You
must be Dr. Morris Fitzhugh.”
Fitzhugh nodded. “That’s right.” He wore a perpetually
worried look, which made his face look more wrinkled than his fifty
years of age would normally have accounted for. Mike was privately of
the opinion that if Fitzhugh ever
really tried to look worried, his ears would meet over the bridge of
his long nose.
“I’ve read a couple of your articles in the
Journal,” Mike explained, “but I didn’t connect the
name until I saw you. I recognized you from your picture.”
Fitzhugh smiled, which merely served to wrinkle his face even more.
Mike the Angel spent the next several minutes feeling the man out, then
he went on to explain what had happened with Snookums out in the foyer,
which launched Dr. Fitzhugh into an explanation.
“He didn’t want help, of course; he was merely conducting an
experiment. There are many areas of knowledge in which he is as naïve as
Mike nodded. “It figures. At first I thought he was just a
remote-control tool, but I finally saw that he was a real,
honest-to-goodness robot. Who gave him the idea to make such an
experiment as that?”
“No one at all,” said Dr. Fitzhugh. “He’s built
to make up his own experiments.”
Mike the Angel’s classic face regarded the wrinkled one of Dr.
Fitzhugh. “His own experiments? But a robot—”
Fitzhugh held up a bony hand, gesturing for attention and silence. He
got it from Mike.
“Snookums,” he said, “is no ordinary robot,
Mike waited for more. When none came, he said: “So I
gather.” He sipped at his black coffee. “That machine I saw
is actually a remote-control tool, isn’t it? Snookums’
actual brain is in Cargo Hold One of the William Branchell.”
“That’s right.” Dr. Fitzhugh began reaching into
various pockets about his person. He extracted a tobacco pouch, a
briar pipe, and a jet-flame lighter. Then he began speaking as he went
through the pipe smoker’s ritual of filling, tamping, and
“Snookums,” he began, “is a self-activating,
problem-seeking computer with input and output sensory and action
mechanisms analogous to those of a human being.” He pushed more
tobacco into the bowl of his pipe with a bony forefinger.
“He’s as close to being a living creature as anything Man
has yet devised.”
“What about the synthecells they’re making at Boston
Med?” Mike asked, looking innocent.
Fitzhugh’s contour-map face wrinkled up even more. “I should
have said ‘living intelligence,’” he corrected
himself. “He’s a true robot, in the old original sense of
the word; an artificial entity that displays almost every function of a
living, intelligent creature. And, at the same time, he has the accuracy
and speed that is normal to a cryotron computer.”
Mike the Angel said nothing while Fitzhugh fired up his lighter and
directed the jet of flame into the bowl and puffed up great clouds of
smoke which obscured his face.
While the roboticist puffed, Mike let his gaze wander idly over the
other people in the cafeteria. He was wondering how much longer he could
talk to Fitzhugh before Captain Quill began—
And then he saw the redhead.
There is never much point in describing a really beautiful girl. Each
man has his own ideas of what it takes for a girl to be
“pretty” or “fascinating” or
“lovely” or almost any other adjective that can be applied
to the noun “girl.” But “beautiful” is a
cultural concept, at least as far as females are concerned, and there is
no point in describing a cultural
concept. It’s one of those things that everybody knows, and
descriptions merely become repetitious and monotonous.
This particular example filled, in every respect, the definition of
“beautiful” according to the culture of the white
Americo-European subclass of the human race as of anno Domini 2087. The
elements and proportions and symmetry fit almost perfectly into the
ideal mold. It is only necessary to fill in some of the minor details
which are allowed to vary without distorting the ideal.
She had red hair and blue eyes and was wearing a green zipsuit.
And she was coming toward the table where Mike and Dr. Fitzhugh were
“... such a tremendous number of elements,” Dr. Fitzhugh was
saying, “that it was possible—and necessary—to introduce a
certain randomity within the circuit choices themselves— Ah! Hello,
Leda, my dear!”
Mike and Fitzhugh rose from their seats.
“Leda, this is Commander Gabriel, the Engineering Officer of the
Brainchild,” said Fitzhugh. “Commander, Miss Leda Crannon,
Mike had been allowing his eyes to wander over the girl, inspecting her
ankles, her hair, and all vital points of interest between. But when he
heard the name “Crannon,” his eyes snapped up to meet hers.
He hadn’t recognized the girl without her parka and wouldn’t
have known her name if the SP ensign hadn’t mentioned it.
Obviously, she didn’t recognize Mike at all, but there was a
troubled look in her blue eyes.
She gave him a puzzled smile. “Haven’t we met,
Mike grinned. “Hey! That’s supposed to be my line,
She flashed him a warm smile, then her eyes widened ever so slightly.
“Your voice! You’re the man on the foyer! The one....”
“... the one whom you called copper on,” finished Mike
agreeably. “But please don’t apologize; you’ve more
than made up for it.”
Her smile remained. She evidently liked what she saw. “How was I
to know who you were?”
“It might have been written on my pocket handkerchief,” said
Mike the Angel, “but Space Service officers don’t carry
“What?” The puzzled look had returned.
“Ne’ mind,” said Mike. “Sit down, won’t
“Oh, I can’t, thanks. I came to get Fitz; a meeting of the
Research Board has been called, and afterward we have to give a lecture
or something to the officers of the Brainchild.”
“You mean the Branchell?”
Her smile became an impish grin. “You call it what you want. To
us, it’s the Brainchild.”
Dr. Fitzhugh said: “Will you excuse us, Commander? We’ll be
seeing you at the briefing later.”
Mike nodded. “I’d better get on my way, too. I’ll see
But he stood there as Leda Crannon and Dr. Fitzhugh walked away. The
girl looked just as divine retreating as she had advancing.
Captain Sir Henry (Black Bart) Quill was seated in an old-fashioned,
formyl-covered, overstuffed chair, chewing angrily at the end of an
unlighted cigar. His bald head gleamed like a pink billiard ball, almost
matching the shining glory of his golden insignia against his scarlet
Mike the Angel had finally found his way through the maze of underground
passageways to the door marked wardroom 9 and had pushed it open
gingerly, halfway hoping that he wouldn’t be seen coming in late
but not really believing it would happen.
He was right. Black Bart was staring directly at the door when it slid
open. Mike shrugged inwardly and stepped boldly into the room, flicking
a glance over the faces of the other officers present.
“Well, well, well, Mister Gabriel,” said Black Bart. The
voice was oily, but the oil was oil of vitriol. “You not only come
late, but you come incognito. Where is your uniform?”
There was a muffled snicker from one of the junior officers, but it
wasn’t muffled enough. Before Mike the Angel could answer, Captain
Quill’s head jerked around.
“That will do, Mister Vaneski!” he barked. “Boot
ensigns don’t snicker when their superiors—and their
betters—are being reprimanded! I only use sarcasm on officers I
respect. Until an officer earns my sarcasm, he gets nothing but blasting
when he goofs off. Understand?”
The last word was addressed to the whole group.
Ensign Vaneski colored, and his youthful face became masklike.
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
Quill didn’t even bother to answer; he looked back at Mike the
Angel, who was still standing at attention. Quill’s voice resumed
its caustic saccharinity. “But don’t let that go to your
head, Mister Gabriel. I repeat: Where is your pretty red
“If the Captain will recall,” said Mike, “I had only
twenty-four hours’ notice. I couldn’t get a new wardrobe in
that time. It’ll be in on the next rocket.”
Captain Quill was silent for a moment, then he simply said, “Very
well,” thus dismissing the whole subject. He waved Mike the Angel
to a seat. Mike sat.
“We’ll dispense with the formal introductions,” said
Quill. “Commander Gabriel is our Engineering Officer. The rest of
these boys all know each other, Commander; you and I are the only ones
who don’t come from Chilblains Base. You know Commander Jeffers,
Mike nodded and grinned at Peter Jeffers, a lean, bony character who had
a tendency to collapse into chairs as though he had come unhinged.
Jeffers grinned and winked back.
“This is Lieutenant Commander von Liegnitz, Navigation Officer;
Lieutenant Keku, Supply; Lieutenant Mellon, Medical Officer; and Ensign
Vaneski, Maintenance. You can all shake hands with each other later;
right now, let’s
get on with business.” He frowned, overshadowing his eyes with
those great, bushy brows. “What was I saying just before Commander
Gabriel came in?”
Pete Jeffers shifted slightly in his seat. “You were sayin’,
suh, that this’s the stupidest dam’ assignment anybody evah
got. Or words to that effect.” Jeffers had been born in Georgia
and had moved to the south of England at the age of ten. Consequently,
his accent was far from standard.
“I think, Mister Jeffers,” said Quill, “that I phrased
it a bit more delicately, but that was the essence of it.
“The Brainchild, as she has been nicknamed, has been built at
great expense for the purpose of making a single trip. We are to take
her, and her cargo, to a destination known only to myself and von
Liegnitz. We will be followed there by another Service ship, which will
bring us back as passengers.” He allowed himself a half-smile.
“At least we’ll get to loaf around on the way back.”
The others grinned.
“The Brainchild will be left there and, presumably,
He took the unlighted cigar out of his mouth, looked at it, and absently
reached in his pocket for a lighter. The deeply tanned young man who had
been introduced as Lieutenant Keku had just lighted a cigarette, so he
proffered his own flame to the captain. Quill puffed his cigar alight
absently and went on.
“It isn’t going to be easy. We won’t have a chance to
give the ship a shakedown cruise because once we take off we might as
well keep going—which we will.
“You all know what the cargo is—Cargo Hold One contains the
greatest single robotic brain ever built. Our job
is to make sure it gets to our destination in perfect condition.”
“Question, sir,” said Mike the Angel.
Without moving his head, Captain Quill lifted one huge eyebrow and
glanced in Mike’s direction. “Yes?”
“Why didn’t C.C. of E. build the brain on whatever planet
we’re going to in the first place?”
“We’re supposed to be told that in the briefing over at the
C.C. of E. labs in”—he glanced at his watch—“half an hour.
But I think we can all get a little advance information. Most of you men
have been around here long enough to have some idea of what’s
going on, but I understand that Mister Vaneski knows somewhat more about
robotics than most of us. Do you have any light to shed on this, Mister
Mike grinned to himself without letting it show on his face. The skipper
was letting the boot ensign redeem himself after the faux pas
Vaneski started to stand up, but Quill made a slight motion with his
hand and the boy relaxed.
“It’s only a guess, sir,” he said, “but I think
it’s because the robot knows too much.”
Quill and the others looked blank, but Mike narrowed his eyes
imperceptibly. Vaneski was practically echoing Mike’s own
“I mean—well, look, sir,” Vaneski went on, a little
flustered, “they started to build that thing ten years ago. Eight
years ago they started teaching it. Evidently they didn’t see any
reason for building it off Earth then. What I mean is, something
must’ve happened since then to make them decide to take it off
Earth. If they’ve spent all this much
money to get it away, that must mean that it’s dangerous
“If that’s the case,” said Captain Quill, “why
don’t they just shut the thing off?”
“Well—” Vaneski spread his hands. “I think it’s
for the same reason. It knows too much, and they don’t want to
destroy that knowledge.”
“Do you have any idea what that knowledge might be?” Mike
the Angel asked.
“No, sir, I don’t. But whatever it is, it’s dangerous
The briefing for the officers and men of the William Branchell—the
Brainchild—was held in a lecture room at the laboratories of the
Computer Corporation of Earth’s big Antarctic base.
Captain Quill spoke first, warning everyone that the project was secret
and asking them to pay the strictest attention to what Dr. Morris
Fitzhugh had to say.
Then Fitzhugh got up, his face ridged with nervousness. He assumed the
air of a university professor, launching himself into his speech as
though he were anxious to get through it in a given time without
finishing too early.
“I’m sure you’re all familiar with the
situation,” he said, as though apologizing to everyone for telling
them something they already knew—the apology of the learned man who
doesn’t want anyone to think he’s being overly proud of his
“I think, however, we can all get a better picture if we begin at
the beginning and work our way up to the present time.
“The original problem was to build a computer that
could learn by itself. An ordinary computer can be forcibly
taught—that is, a technician can make changes in the circuits
which will make the robot do something differently from the way it was
done before, or even make it do something new.
“But what we wanted was a computer that could learn by itself, a
computer that could make the appropriate changes in its own circuits
without outside physical manipulation.
“It’s really not as difficult as it sounds. You’ve all
seen autoscribers, which can translate spoken words into printed
symbols. An autoscriber is simply a machine which does what you tell it
to—literally. Now, suppose a second computer is connected intimately
with the first in such a manner that the second can, on order, change
the circuits of the first. Then, all that is needed is....”
Mike looked around him while the roboticist went on. The men were
looking pretty bored. They’d come to get a briefing on the reason
for the trip, and all they were getting was a lecture on robotics.
Mike himself wasn’t so much interested in the whys and wherefores
of the trip; he was wondering why it was necessary to tell anyone—even
the crew. Why not just pack Snookums up, take him to wherever he was
going, and say nothing about it?
Why explain it to the crew?
“Thus,” continued Fitzhugh, “it became necessary to
incorporate into the brain a physical analogue of Lagerglocke’s
Principle: ‘Learning is a result of an inelastic collision.’
“I won’t give it to you symbolically, but the idea is simply
that an organism learns only if it does not completely recover from
the effects of an outside force imposed upon it.
If it recovers completely, it’s just as it was before.
Consequently, it hasn’t learned anything. The organism must
He rubbed the bridge of his nose and looked out over the faces of the
men before him. A faint smile came over his wrinkled features.
“Some of you, I know, are wondering why I am boring you with this
long recital. Believe me, it’s necessary. I want all of you to
understand that the machine you will have to take care of is not just an
ordinary computer. Every man here has had experience with machinery,
from the very simplest to the relatively complex. You know that you have
to be careful of the kind of information—the kind of external
force—you give a machine.
“If you aim a spaceship at Mars, for instance, and tell it to go
through the planet, it might try to obey, but you’d lose the
machine in the process.”
A ripple of laughter went through the men. They were a little more
relaxed now, and Fitzhugh had regained their attention.
“And you must admit,” Fitzhugh added, “a spaceship
which was given that sort of information might be dangerous.”
This time the laughter was even louder.
“Well, then,” the roboticist continued, “if a
mechanism is capable of learning, how do you keep it from becoming
dangerous or destroying itself?
“That was the problem that faced us when we built Snookums.
“So we decided to apply the famous Three Laws of Robotics
propounded over a century ago by a brilliant American biochemist and
“Here they are:
“‘One: A robot may not injure a human being, nor, through
inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.’
“‘Two: A robot must obey the orders given it by human
beings except where such orders would conflict with the First
“‘Three: A robot must protect its own existence as long as
such protection does not conflict with the First or Second
Fitzhugh paused to let his words sink in, then: “Those are the
ideal laws, of course. Even their propounder pointed out that they would
be extremely difficult to put into practice. A robot is a logical
machine, but it becomes somewhat of a problem even to define a human
being. Is a five-year-old competent to give orders to a robot?
“If you define him as a human being, then he can give orders that
might wreck an expensive machine. On the other hand, if you don’t
define the five-year-old as human, then the robot is under no compulsion
to refrain from harming the child.”
He began delving into his pockets for smoking materials as he went on.
“We took the easy way out. We solved that problem by keeping
Snookums isolated. He has never met any animal except adult human
beings. It would take an awful lot of explaining to make him understand
the difference between, say, a chimpanzee and a man. Why should a hairy
pelt and a relatively low intelligence make a chimp non-human? After
all, some men are pretty hairy, and some are moronic.
“Present company excepted.”
More laughter. Mike’s opinion of Fitzhugh was beginning
to go up. The man knew when to break pedantry with humor.
“Finally,” Fitzhugh said, when the laughter had subsided,
“we must ask what is meant by ‘protecting his own
existence.’ Frankly, we’ve been driven frantic by that one.
The little humanoid, caterpillar-track mechanism that we all tend to
think of as Snookums isn’t really Snookums, any more than a human
being is a hand or an eye. Snookums wouldn’t actually be
threatening his own existence unless his brain—now in the hold of the
William Branchell—is destroyed.”
As Dr. Fitzhugh continued, Mike the Angel listened with about half an
ear. His attention—and the attention of every man in the place—had
been distracted by the entrance of Leda Crannon. She stepped in through
a side door, walked over to Dr. Fitzhugh, and whispered something in his
ear. He nodded, and she left again.
Fitzhugh, when he resumed his speech, was rather more hurried in his
“The whole thing can be summed up rather quickly.
“Point One: Snookums’ brain contains the information that
eight years of hard work have laboriously put into it. That information
is more valuable than the whole cost of the William Branchell;
it’s worth billions. So the robot can’t be disassembled, or
the information would be lost.
“Point Two: Snookums’ mind is a strictly logical one, but it
is operating in a more than logical universe. Consequently, it is
“Point Three: Snookums was built to conduct his own experiments.
To forbid him to do that would be similar to beating a child for acting
like a child; it would do serious harm to the mind. In Snookums’
case, the randomity of
the brain would exceed optimum, and the robot would become insane.
“Point Four: Emotion is not logical. Snookums can’t handle
it, except in a very limited way.”
Fitzhugh had been making his points by tapping them off on his fingers
with the stem of his unlighted pipe. Now he shoved the pipe back in his
pocket and clasped his hands behind his back.
“It all adds up to this: Snookums must be allowed the freedom of
the ship. At the same time, every one of us must be careful not to ...
to push the wrong buttons, as it were.
“So here are a few don’ts. Don’t get angry with
Snookums. That would be as silly as getting sore at a phonograph because
it was playing music you didn’t happen to like.
“Don’t lie to Snookums. If your lies don’t fit in with
what he knows to be true—and they won’t, believe me—he will
reject the data. But it would confuse him, because he knows that humans
“If Snookums asks you for data, qualify it—even if you know it to
be true. Say: ‘There may be an error in my knowledge of this data,
but to the best of my knowledge....’
“Then go ahead and tell him.
“But if you absolutely don’t know the answer, tell him so.
Say: ‘I don’t have that data, Snookums.’
“Don’t, unless you are....”
He went on, but it was obvious that the officers and crew of the
William Branchell weren’t paying the attention they should.
Every one of them was thinking dark gray thoughts. It was bad enough
that they had to take out a ship like the Brainchild, untested and
jerry-built as she was. Was it necessary to have an eight-hundred-pound,
moron-genius child-machine running loose, too?
Evidently, it was.
“To wind it up,” Fitzhugh said, “I imagine you are
wondering why it’s necessary to take Snookums off Earth. I can
only tell you this: Snookums knows too much about nuclear energy.”
Mike the Angel smiled grimly to himself. Ensign Vaneski had been right;
Snookums was dangerous—not only to individuals, but to the whole
Snookums, too, was a juvenile delinquent.
The Brainchild lifted from Antarctica at exactly 2100 hours, Greenwich
time. For three days the officers and men of the ship had worked as
though they were the robots instead of their passenger—or cargo,
depending on your point of view.
Supplies were loaded, and the great engine-generators checked and
rechecked. The ship was ready to go less than two hours before take-off
The last passenger aboard was Snookums, although, in a more proper
sense, he had always been aboard. The little robot rolled up to the
elevator on his treads and was lifted into the body of the ship. Miss
Crannon was waiting for him at the air lock, and Mike the Angel was
standing by. Not that he had any particular interest in watching
Snookums come aboard, but he did have a definite interest in Leda
“Hello, honey,” said Miss Crannon as Snookums rolled into
the air lock. “Ready for your ride?”
“Yes, Leda,” said Snookums in his contralto voice. He rolled
up to her and took her hand. “Where is my room?”
“Come along; I’ll show you in a minute. Do you remember
Snookums swiveled his head and regarded Mike.
“Oh yes. He tried to help me.”
“Did you need help?” Mike growled in spite of himself.
“Yes. For my experiment. And you offered help. That was very nice.
Leda says it is nice to help people.”
Mike the Angel carefully refrained from asking Snookums if he thought he
was people. For all Mike knew, he did.
Mike followed Snookums and Leda Crannon down the companionway.
“What did you do today, honey?” asked Leda.
“Mostly I answered questions for Dr. Fitzhugh,” said
Snookums. “He asked me thirty-eight questions. He said I was a
great help. I’m nice, too.”
“Sure you are, darling,” said Miss Crannon.
“Ye gods,” muttered Mike the Angel.
“What’s the trouble, Commander?” the girl asked,
widening her blue eyes.
“Nothing,” said Mike the Angel, looking at her innocently
with eyes that were equally blue. “Not a single solitary thing.
Snookums is a sweet little tyke, isn’t he?”
Leda Crannon gave him a glorious smile. “I think so. And a lot of
Very seriously, Mike patted Snookums on his shiny steel skull.
“How old are you, little boy?”
Leda Crannon’s eyes narrowed, but Mike pretended not to notice
while Snookums said: “Eight years, two months, one day, seven
hours, thirty-three minutes and—ten seconds. But I am not a little boy.
I am a robot.”
Mike suppressed an impulse to ask him if he had informed Leda Crannon of
that fact. Mike had been watching the girl for the past three days (at
least, when he’d had the time to watch) and he’d been
bothered by the girl’s maternal
attitude toward Snookums. She seemed to have wrapped herself up
entirely in the little robot. Of course, that might simply be her method
of avoiding Mike the Angel, but Mike didn’t quite believe that.
“Come along to your room, dear,” said Leda. Then she looked
again at Mike. “If you’ll wait just a moment,
Commander,” she said rather stiffly, “I’d like to talk
Mike the Angel touched his forehead in a gentlemanly salute.
“Later, perhaps, Miss Crannon. Right now, I have to go to the
Power Section to prepare for take-off. We’re really going to have
fun lifting this brute against a full Earth gee without rockets.”
“Later, then,” she said evenly, and hurried off down the
corridor with Snookums.
Mike headed the other way with a sigh of relief. As of right then, he
didn’t feel like being given an ear-reaming lecture by a beautiful
redhead. He beetled it toward the Power Section.
Chief Powerman’s Mate Multhaus was probably the only man in the
crew who came close to being as big as Mike the Angel. Multhaus was two
inches shorter than Mike’s six-seven, but he weighed in at
two-ninety. As a powerman, he was tops, and he gave the impression that,
as far as power was concerned, he could have supplied the ship himself
by turning the crank on a hand generator.
But neither Mike nor Multhaus approached the size of the Supply Officer,
Lieutenant Keku. Keku was an absolute giant. Six-eight, three hundred
fifty pounds, and very little of it fat.
When Mike the Angel opened the door of the Power Section’s
instrument room, he came upon a strange sight.
Lieutenant Keku and Chief Multhaus were seated across a table from each
other, each with his right elbow on the table, their right hands
clasped. The muscles in both massive arms stood out beneath the scarlet
tunics. Neither man was moving.
“Games, children?” asked Mike gently.
Whap! The chief’s arm slammed to the table with a bang that
sounded as if the table had shattered. Multhaus had allowed Mike’s
entrance to distract him, while Lieutenant Keku had held out just an
Both men leaped to their feet, Multhaus valiantly trying not to nurse
his bruised hand.
“Sorry, sir,” said Multhaus. “We were just—”
“Ne’ mind. I saw. Who usually wins?” Mike asked.
Lieutenant Keku grinned. “Usually he does, Commander. All this
beef doesn’t help much against a guy who really has pull. And
Chief Multhaus has it.”
Mike looked into the big man’s brown eyes. “Try doing
push-ups. With all your weight, it’d really put brawn into you.
Sit down and light up. We’ve got time before take-off. That is, we
do if Multhaus has everything ready for the check-off.”
“I’m ready any time you are, sir,” Multhaus said,
easing himself into a chair.
“We’ll have a cigarette and then run ’em
Keku settled his bulk into a chair and fired up a cigarette. Mike sat on
the edge of the table.
“Philip Keku,” Mike said musingly. “Just out of
curiosity, what kind of a name is Keku?”
“Damfino,” said the lieutenant. “Sounds Oriental,
Mike looked the man over carefully, but rapidly. “But
you’re not Oriental—or at least, not much. You look
Polynesian to me.”
“Hit it right on the head, Commander. Hawaiian. My real
name’s Kekuanaoa, but nobody could pronounce it, so I shortened it
to Keku when I came in the Service.”
Mike gave a short laugh. “That accounts for your size. Kekuanaoa.
A branch of the old Hawaiian royal family, as I recall.”
“That’s right.” The big Hawaiian grinned.
“I’ve got a kid sister that weighs as much as you. And my
granddad kicked off at ninety-four weighing a comfortable
“What’d he die of, sir?” Multhaus asked curiously.
“Concussion and multiple fractures. He slammed a Ford-Studebaker
into a palm tree at ninety miles an hour. Crazy old ox; he was bigger
than the dam’ automobile.”
The laughter of three big men filled the instrument room.
After a few more minutes of bull throwing, Keku ground out his cigarette
and stood up. “I’d better get to my post; Black Bart will be
calling down any minute.”
At that instant the PA system came alive.
“Now hear this! Now hear this! Take-off in fifteen minutes!
Take-off in fifteen minutes!”
Keku grinned, saluted Mike the Angel, and walked out the door.
Multhaus gazed after him, looking at the closed door.
“A blinking prophet, Commander,” he said. “A blinking
The take-off of the Brainchild was not so easy as it might have
appeared to anyone who watched it from the outside. As far as the
exterior observers were concerned, it seemed
to lift into the air with a loud, thrumming noise, like a huge elevator
rising in an invisible shaft.
It had been built in a deep pit in the polar ice, built around the huge
cryotronic stack that was Snookums’ brain. As it rose, electric
motors slid back the roof that covered the pit, and the howling
Antarctic winds roared around it.
Unperturbed, it went on rising.
Inside, Mike the Angel and Chief Multhaus watched worriedly as the
meters wiggled their needles dangerously close to the overload mark. The
thrumming of the ship as it fought its way up against the pull of
Earth’s gravity and through the Earth’s magnetic field,
using the fabric of space itself as the fulcrum against which it applied
its power, was like the vibration of a note struck somewhere near the
bottom of a piano keyboard, or the rumble of a contra bassoon.
As the intensity of the gravitational field decreased, the velocity of
the ship increased—not linearly, but logarithmically. She shrieked
through the upper atmosphere, quivering like a live thing, and emerged
at last into relatively empty space. When she reached a velocity of a
little over thirty miles per second—relative to the sun, and
perpendicular to the solar ecliptic—Mike the Angel ordered her engines
cut back to the lowest power possible which would still retain the
one-gee interior gravity of the ship and keep the anti-acceleration
“How does she look, Multhaus?” he asked.
Both of the men were checking the readings of the instruments. A
computerman second class was punching the readings into the small table
calculator as Multhaus read off the numbers.
“I think she weathered it, sir,” the chief said cautiously,
“but she sure took a devil of a beating. And look at the power
factor readings! We were tossing away energy as though we were S-Doradus
They worked for nearly an hour to check through all the circuits to find
what damage—if any—had been done by the strain of Earth’s
gravitational and magnetic fields. All in all, the Brainchild was in
pretty good shape. A few circuits needed retuning, but no replacements
Multhaus, who had been understandably pessimistic about the ship’s
ability to lift herself from the surface of even a moderate-sized planet
like Earth, looked with new respect upon the man who had designed the
power plant that had done the job.
Mike the Angel called the bridge and informed Captain Quill that the
ship was ready for full acceleration.
Under control from the bridge, the huge ship yawed until her nose—and
thus the line of thrust along her longitudinal axis—was pointed toward
“Full acceleration, Mister Gabriel,” said Captain Quill over
Mike the Angel watched the meters climb again as the ship speared away
from the sun at an ever-increasing velocity. Although the apparent
internal acceleration remained at a cozy one gee, the acceleration in
relation to the sun was something fantastic. When the ship reached the
velocity of light, she simply disappeared, as far as external observers
were concerned. But she still kept adding velocity with her tremendous
Finally her engines reached their performance peak. They could drive the
Brainchild no faster. They simply settled
down to a steady growl and pushed the ship at a steady velocity through
what the mathematicians termed “null-space.”
The Brainchild was on her way.
“What I want to know,” said Lieutenant Keku, “is, what
kind of ship is this?”
Mike the Angel chuckled, and Lieutenant Mellon, the Medical Officer,
grinned rather shyly. But young Ensign Vaneski looked puzzled.
“What do you mean, sir?” he asked the huge Hawaiian.
They were sitting over coffee in the officers’ wardroom. Captain
Quill, First Officer Jeffers, and Lieutenant Commander von Liegnitz were
on the bridge, and Dr. Fitzhugh and Leda Crannon were down below, giving
Mike looked at Lieutenant Keku, waiting for him to answer
“What do I mean? Just what I said, Mister Vaneski. I want to know
what kind of ship this is. It is obviously not a warship, so we can
forget that classification. It is not an expeditionary ship; we’re
not outfitted for exploratory work. Is it a passenger vessel, then? No,
because Dr. Fitzhugh and Miss Crannon are listed as ‘civilian
technical advisers’ and are therefore legally part of the crew.
I’m wondering if it might be a cargo vessel, though.”
“Sure it is,” said Ensign Vaneski. “That brain in
Cargo Hold One is cargo, isn’t it?”
“I’m not certain,” Keku said thoughtfully, looking up
at the overhead, as if the answer might be etched there in the metal.
“Since it is built in as an intrinsic part of the ship, I
don’t know if it can be counted as cargo or not.” He brought
his gaze down to focus on Mike. “What do you think,
Before Mike the Angel could answer, Ensign Vaneski broke in with:
“But the brain is going to be removed when we get to our
destination, isn’t it? That makes this a cargo ship!” There
was a note of triumph in his voice.
Lieutenant Keku’s gaze didn’t waver from Mike’s face,
nor did he say a word. For a boot ensign to interrupt like that was an
impoliteness that Keku chose to ignore. He was waiting for Mike’s
answer as though Vaneski had said nothing.
But Mike the Angel decided he might as well play along with Keku’s
gag and still answer Vaneski. As a full commander, he could overlook
Vaneski’s impoliteness to his superiors without ignoring it as
Keku was doing.
“Ah, but the brain won’t be unloaded, Mister
Vaneski,” he said mildly. “The ship will be
dismantled—which is an entirely different thing. I’m afraid you
can’t call it a cargo ship on those grounds.”
Vaneski didn’t say anything. His face had gone red and then white,
as though he’d suddenly realized he’d committed a faux
pas. He nodded his head a little, to show he understood, but he
couldn’t seem to find his voice.
To cover up Vaneski’s emotional dilemma, Mike addressed the
Medical Officer. “What do you think, Mister Mellon?”
Mellon cleared his throat. “Well—it seems to me,” he said
in a dry, serious tone, “that this is really a medical
Mike blinked. Keku raised his eyebrows. Vaneski swallowed and jerked his
eyes away from Mike’s face to look at Mellon—but still he
didn’t say anything.
“Elucidate, my dear Doctor,” said Mike with interest.
“I diagnose it as a physician,” Mellon said in the same dry,
earnest tone. “Snookums, we have been told, is too dangerous to be
permitted to remain on Earth. I take this to mean that he is potentially
capable of doing something that would either harm the planet itself or a
majority—if not all—of the people on it.” He picked up his cup
of coffee and took a sip. Nobody interrupted him.
“Snookums has, therefore,” he continued, “been removed
from Earth in order to protect the health of that planet, just as one
would remove a potentially malignant tumor from a human body.
“This is a medical ship. Q.E.D.” And only then did he smile.
“Aw, now....” Vaneski began. Then he shut his mouth again.
With an inward smile, Mike realized that Ensign Vaneski had been taking
seriously an argument that was strictly a joke.
“Mister Mellon,” Mike said, “you win.” He
hadn’t realized that Mellon’s mind could work on that level.
“Hold,” said Lieutenant Keku, raising a hand. “I yield
to no one in my admiration for the analysis given by our good doctor;
indeed, my admiration knows no bounds. But I insist we hear from
Commander Gabriel before we adjourn.”
“Not me,” Mike said, shaking his head. “I know when
I’m beaten.” He’d been going to suggest that the
was a training ship, from Snookums’ “learning”
periods, but that seemed rather obvious and puerile now.
He glanced at his watch, saw the time, and stood up. “Excuse me,
gentlemen; I have things to do.” He had an appointment to talk to
Leda Crannon, but he had no intention of broadcasting it.
As he closed the wardroom door, he heard Ensign Vaneski’s voice
saying: “I still say this should be classified as a cargo
Mike sighed as he strode on down the companionway. The ensign was, of
course, absolutely correct—which was the sad part about it, really. Oh
well, what the hell.
Leda Crannon had agreed to have coffee with Mike in the office suite she
shared with Dr. Fitzhugh. Mike had had one cup in the officers’
wardroom, but even if he’d had a dozen he’d have been
willing to slosh down a dozen more to talk to Leda Crannon. It was not,
he insisted to himself, that he was in love with the girl, but she had
intelligence and personality in addition to her striking beauty.
Furthermore, she had given Mike the Angel a dressing-down that had been
quite impressive. She had not at all cared for the remarks he had made
when Snookums was being loaded aboard—patting him on the head and
asking him his age, for instance—and had told him so in no uncertain
terms. Mike, feeling sheepish and knowing he was guilty, had accepted
the tongue-lashing and tendered an apology.
And she had smiled and said: “All right. Forget it. I’m
sorry I got mad.”
He knew he wasn’t the only man aboard who was interested in Leda.
Jakob von Liegnitz, all Teutonic masterfulness and Old World suavity,
had obviously made a favorable
impression on her. Lew Mellon was often seen in deep philosophical
discussions with her, his eyes never leaving her face and his earnest
voice low and confidential. Both of them had known her longer than he
had, since they’d both been stationed at Chilblains Base.
Mike the Angel didn’t let either of them worry him. He had enough
confidence in his own personality and abilities to be able to take his
own tack no matter which way the wind blew.
Blithely opening the door of the office, Mike the Angel stepped inside
with a smile on his lips.
“Ah, good afternoon, Commander Gabriel,” said Dr. Morris
Mike kept the smile on his face. “Leda here?”
Fitzhugh chuckled. “No. Some problems came up with Snookums.
She’ll be in session for an hour yet. She asked me to convey her
apologies.” He gestured toward the coffee urn. “But the
coffee’s all made, so you may as well have a cup.”
Mike was thankful he had not had a dozen cups in the wardroom. “I
don’t mind if I do, Doctor.” He sat down while Fitzhugh
poured a cup.
“Black, thanks,” Mike said.
There was an awkward silence for a few seconds while Mike sipped at the
hot, black liquid. Then Mike said, “Dr. Fitzhugh, you said, at the
briefing back on Earth, that Snookums knows too much about nuclear
energy. Can you be more specific than that, or is it too
Fitzhugh took out his briar and began filling it as he spoke. “We
don’t want this to get out to the general public, of
course,” he said thoughtfully, “but, as a ship’s
can be told. I believe some of your fellow officers know already,
although we’d rather it wasn’t discussed in general
conversation, even among the officers.”
Mike nodded wordlessly.
“Very well, then.” Fitzhugh gave the tobacco a final shove
with his thumb. “As a power engineer, you should be acquainted
with the ‘pinch effect,’ eh?”
It was a rhetorical question. The “pinch effect” had been
known for over a century. A jet of highly ionized gas, moving through a
magnetic field of the proper structure, will tend to pinch down, to
become narrower, rather than to spread apart, as a jet of ordinary gas
does. As the science of magnetohydrodynamics had progressed, the effect
had become more and more controllable, enabling scientists to force the
nuclei of hydrogen, for instance, closer and closer together. At the end
of the last century, the Bending Converter had almost wrecked the
economy of the entire world, since it gave to the world a source of free
energy. Sam Bending’s “little black box” converted
ordinary water into helium and oxygen and energy—plenty of energy. A
Bending Converter could be built relatively cheaply and for small-power
uses—such as powering a ship or automobile or manufacturing
plant—could literally run on air, since the moisture content of
ordinary air was enough to power the converter itself with plenty of
power left over.
Overnight, all previous forms of power generation had become obsolete.
Who would buy electric power when he could generate his own for next to
nothing? Billions upon billions of dollars worth of generating equipment
were rendered valueless. The great hydroelectric dams, the hundreds of
steam turbines, the heavy-metal atomic reactors—all useless for power
purposes. The value of the stock in those
companies dropped to zero and stayed there. The value of copper metal
fell like a bomb, with almost equally devastating results—for
there was no longer any need for the millions of miles of copper cable
that linked the power plants with the consumer.
The Depression of 1929-42 couldn’t even begin to compare with The
Great Depression of 1986-2000. Every civilized nation on Earth had been
hit and hit hard. The resulting governmental collapses would have made
the disaster even more complete had not the then Secretary General of
the UN, Perrot of Monaco, grabbed the reins of government. Like the
Americans Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, he had forced through
unconstitutional bills and taken extra-constitutional powers. And, like
those Americans, he had not done it for personal gain, but to preserve
the society. He had not succeeded in preserving the old society, of
course, but he had built, almost single-handedly, a world government—a
new society on the foundations of the old.
All these thoughts ran through Mike the Angel’s mind. He wondered
if Snookums had discovered something that would be as much a disaster to
the world economy as the Bending Converter had been.
Fitzhugh got out his miniature flame thrower and puffed his pipe alight.
“Snookums,” he said, “has discovered a method of
applying the pinch effect to lithium hydride. It’s a batch
reaction rather than a flow reaction such as the Bending Converter uses.
But it’s as simple to build as a Bending Converter.”
“Jesus,” said Mike the Angel softly.
Lithium hydride. LiH. An atom of hydrogen to every atom of lithium. If a
hydrogen nucleus is driven into the
lithium nucleus with sufficient force, the results are simple:
Li7 + H1 → 2He4 + energy
An atom of lithium-7 plus an atom of hydrogen-1 yields two atoms of
helium-4 and plenty of energy. One gram of lithium hydride would give
nearly fifty-eight kilowatt-hours of energy in one blast. A pound of the
stuff would be the equivalent of nearly seven tons of TNT.
In addition, it was a nice, clean bomb. Nothing but helium, radiation,
and heat. In the early nineteen fifties, such a bomb had been
constructed by surrounding the LiH with a fission bomb—the so-called
“implosion” technique. But all that heavy metal around the
central reaction created all kinds of radioactive residues which had a
tendency to scatter death for hundreds of miles around.
Now, suppose a man had a pair of tweezers small enough to pick up a
single molecule of lithium hydride and pinch the two nuclei together. Of
course, the idea is ridiculous—that is, the tweezer part is. But if the
pinch could be done in some other way....
Snookums had done it.
“Homemade atomic bombs in your back yard or basement lab,”
said Mike the Angel.
Fitzhugh nodded emphatically. “Exactly. We can’t let that
technique out until we’ve found a way to keep people from doing
just that. The UN Government has inspection techniques that prevent
anyone from building the conventional types of thermonuclear bombs, but
not the pinch bomb.”
Mike the Angel thought over what Dr. Fitzhugh had said. Then he said:
“That’s not all of it. Antarctica is isolated enough to keep
that knowledge secret for a long time—at
least until safeguards could be set up. Why take Snookums off
“Snookums himself is dangerous,” Fitzhugh said. “He
has a built-in ‘urge’ to experiment—to get data. We can
keep him from making experiments that we know will be dangerous by
giving him the data, so that the urge doesn’t operate. But if
he’s on the track of something totally new....
“Well, you can see what we’re up against.” He
thoughtfully blew a cloud of smoke. “We think he may be on the
track of the total annihilation of matter.”
A dead silence hung in the air. The ultimate, the super-atomic bomb.
Theoretically, the idea had been approached only in the assumption of
contact between ordinary matter and anti-matter, with the two canceling
each other completely to give nothing but energy. Such a bomb would be
nearly fifty thousand times as powerful as the lithium-hydride pinch
bomb. That much energy, released in a few millimicroseconds, would make
the standard H-bomb look like a candle flame on a foggy night.
The LiH pinch bomb could be controlled. By using just a little of the
stuff, it would be possible to limit the destruction to a neighborhood,
or even a single block. A total-annihilation bomb would be much harder
to control. The total annihilation of a single atom of hydrogen would
yield over a thousandth of an erg, and matter just doesn’t come in
much smaller packages than that.
“You see,” said Fitzhugh, “we had to get him off
“Either that or stop him from experimenting,” Mike said.
“And I assume that wouldn’t be good for Snookums.”
“To frustrate Snookums would be to destroy all the work we have
put into him. His circuits would tend to exceed optimum randomity, and
that would mean, in human
terms, that he would be insane—and therefore worthless. As a
machine, Snookums is worth eighteen billion dollars. The information we
have given him, plus the deductions and computations he has made from
that information, is worth....” He shrugged his shoulders.
“Who knows? How can a price be put on knowledge?”
The William Branchell—dubbed Brainchild—fled Earth at ultralight
velocity, while officers, crew, and technical advisers settled down to
routine. The only thing that disturbed that routine was one particularly
restless part of the ship’s cargo.
Snookums was a snoop.
Cut off from the laboratories which had been provided for his special
work at Chilblains, he proceeded to interest himself in the affairs of
the human beings which surrounded him. Until his seventh year, he had
been confined to the company of only a small handful of human beings.
Even while the William Branchell was being built, he hadn’t been
allowed any more freedom than was absolutely necessary to keep him from
Even so, he had developed an interest in humans. Now he was being
allowed full rein in his data-seeking circuits, and he chose to
investigate, not the physical sciences, but the study of Mankind. Since
the proper study of Mankind is Man, Snookums proceeded to study the
people on the ship.
Within three days the officers had evolved a method of
Lieutenant Commander Jakob von Liegnitz sat in the officers’
wardroom of the Brainchild and shuffled a deck of cards with expert
He was a medium-sized man, five-eleven or so, with a barrel chest, broad
shoulders, a narrow waist, and lean hips. His light brown hair was worn
rather long, and its straight strands seemed to cling tightly to his
skull. His gray eyes had a perpetual half-squint that made him look
either sleepy or angry, depending on what the rest of his broad face was
He dealt himself out a board of Four Cards Up and had gone through about
half the pack when Mike the Angel came in with Lieutenant Keku.
“Hello, Jake,” said Keku. “What’s to do?”
“Get out two more decks,” said Mike the Angel, “and we
can all play solitaire.”
Von Liegnitz looked up sleepily. “I could probably think of duller
things, Mike, but not just immediately. How about bridge?”
“We’ll need a fourth,” said Keku. “How about
Mike the Angel shook his head. “Black Bart is sleeping—taking his
beauty nap. So Pete has the duty. How about young Vaneski? He’s
not a bad partner.”
“He is out, too,” said von Liegnitz. “He also is on
Mike the Angel lifted an inquisitive eyebrow. “Something busted?
Why should the Maintenance Officer be on duty right now?”
“He is maintaining,” said von Liegnitz with deliberate
dignity, “peace and order around here. He is now performing the
duty of Answerman-in-Chief. He’s very good at it.”
Mike grinned. “Snookums?”
Von Liegnitz scooped the cards off the table and began
shuffling them. “Exactly. As long as Snookums gets his questions
answered, he keeps himself busy. Our young boot ensign has been assigned
to the duty of keeping that mechanical Peeping Tom out of our hair for
an hour. By then, it will be lunch time.” He cleared his throat.
“We still need a fourth.”
“If you ask me,” said Lieutenant Keku, “we need a
fifth. Let’s play poker instead.”
Jakob von Liegnitz nodded and offered the cards for a cut.
“Deal ’em,” said Mike the Angel.
A few minutes less than an hour later, Ensign Vaneski slid open the door
to the wardroom and was greeted by a triune chorus of hellos.
“Sirs,” said Vaneski with pseudo formality, “I have
done my duty, exhausting as it was. I demand satisfaction.”
Lieutenant Keku, upon seeing Mike the Angel dealt a second eight,
flipped over his up cards and folded.
“Satisfaction?” he asked the ensign.
Vaneski nodded. “One hand of showdown for five clams. I have been
playing encyclopedia for that hunk of animated machinery for an hour.
That’s above and beyond the call of duty.”
“Raise a half,” said Mike the Angel.
“Call,” said von Liegnitz.
“Three eights,” said Mike, flipping his hole card.
Von Liegnitz shrugged, folded his cards, and watched solemnly while Mike
pulled in the pot.
“Vaneski wants to play showdown for a fiver,” said Keku.
Mike the Angel frowned at the ensign for a moment, then relaxed and
nodded. “Not my game,” he said, “but if the Answerman
wants a chance to catch up, it’s okay with me.”
The four men each tossed a five spot into the center of the table and
then cut for deal. Mike got it and started dealing—five cards, face up,
for the pot.
When three cards apiece had been dealt, young Vaneski was ahead with a
king high. On the fourth round he grinned when he got a second king and
Mike dealt himself an ace.
On the fifth round Vaneski got a three, and his face froze as Mike dealt
himself a second ace.
Mike reached for the twenty.
“You deal yourself a mean hand, Commander,” said Vaneski
Mike glanced at him sharply, but there was only a wry grin on the young
“Luck of the idiot,” said Mike as he pocketed the twenty.
“It’s time for lunch.”
“Next time,” said Keku firmly, “I’ll take the
Answerman watch, Mike. You and this kraut are too lucky for me.”
“If I lose any more to the Angel,” von Liegnitz said calmly,
“I will be a very sour kraut. But right now, I’m quite
Mike prowled around the Power Section that afternoon with a worry
nagging at the back of his mind. He couldn’t exactly put his
finger on what was bothering him, and he finally put it down to just
And then he began to feel something—physically.
Within thirty seconds after it began, long before most of the others had
noticed it, Mike the Angel recognized it for what it was. Half a minute
after that, everyone aboard could feel it.
A two-cycle-per-second beat note is inaudible to the human ear. If the
human tympanum can’t wiggle any faster than that, the auditory
nerves refuse to transmit the message.
The wiggle has to be three or four octaves above that before the nerves
will have anything to do with it. But if the beat note has enough energy
in it, a man doesn’t have to hear it—he can feel it.
The bugs weren’t all out of the Brainchild, by any means, and
the men knew it. She had taken a devil of a strain on the take-off, and
something was about due to weaken.
It was the external field around the hull that had decided to goof off
this time. It developed a nice, unpleasant two-cycle throb that
threatened to shake the ship apart. It built up rapidly and then leveled
off, giving everyone aboard the feeling that his lunch and his stomach
would soon part company.
The crew was used to it. They’d been on shakedown cruises before,
and they knew that on an interstellar vessel the word
“shakedown” can have a very literal meaning. The beat note
wasn’t dangerous, but it wasn’t pleasant, either.
Within five minutes everybody aboard had the galloping collywobbles and
the twittering jitters.
Mike and his power crew all knew what to do. They took their stations
and started to work. They had barely started when Captain Quill’s
voice came over the intercom.
“Power Section, this is the bridge. How long before we stop this
“No way of telling, sir,” said Mike, without taking his eyes
off the meter bank. “Check A-77,” he muttered in an aside to
“Can you give me a prognosis?” persisted Quill.
Mike frowned. This wasn’t like Black Bart. He knew what the
prognosis was as well as Mike did. “Actually, sir, there’s
no way of knowing. The old Gainsway shook like
this for eight days before they spotted the tubes that were causing a
“Why can’t we spot it right off?” Quill asked.
Mike got it then. Fitzhugh was listening in. Quill wanted Mike the Angel
to substantiate his own statements to the roboticist.
“There are sixteen generator tubes in the hull—two at each end of
the four diagonals of an imaginary cube surrounding the ship. At least
two of them are out of phase; that means that every one of them may have
to be balanced against every other one, and that would make a hundred
and twenty checks. It will take ten minutes if we hit it lucky and find
the bad tubes in the first two tries, and about twenty hours if we hit
on the last try.
“That, of course, is presuming that there are only two out. If
there are three....” He let it hang.
Mike grinned as Dr. Morris Fitzhugh’s voice came over the
intercom, confirming his diagnosis of the situation.
“Isn’t there any other way?” asked Fitzhugh worriedly.
“Can’t we stop the ship and check them, so that we
won’t be subjected to this?”
“’Fraid not,” answered Mike. “In the first
place, cutting the external field would be dangerous, if not deadly. The
abrupt deceleration wouldn’t be good for us, even with the
internal field operating. In the second place, we couldn’t check
the field tubes if they weren’t operating. You can’t tell a
bad tube just by looking at it. They’d still have to be balanced
against each other, and that would take the same amount of time as it is
going to take anyway, and with the same effects on the ship. I’m
sorry, but we’ll just have to put up with it.”
“Well, for Heaven’s sake do the best you can,”
said in a worried voice. “This beat is shaking Snookums’
brain. God knows what damage it may do unless it’s stopped within
a very few minutes!”
“I’ll do the best I can,” said Mike the Angel
carefully. “So will every man in my crew. But about all anyone can
do is wish us luck and let us work.”
“Yes,” said Dr. Fitzhugh slowly. “Yes. I understand.
Thank you, Commander.”
Mike the Angel nodded curtly and went back to work.
Things weren’t bad enough as they were. They had to get worse. The
Brainchild had been built too fast, and in too unorthodox a manner.
The steady two-cycle throb did more damage than it would normally have
done aboard a non-experimental ship.
Twelve minutes after the throb started, a feeder valve in the
pre-induction energy chamber developed a positive-feedback oscillation
that threatened to blow out the whole pre-induction stage unless it was
damped. The search for the out-of-phase external field tubes had to be
dropped while the more dangerous flaw was tackled.
Multhaus plugged in an emergency board and began to compensate by hand
while the others searched frantically for the trouble.
Hand compensation of feeder-valve oscillation is pure intuition; if you
wait until the meters show that damping is necessary, it may be too
late—you have to second-guess the machine and figure out what’s
coming before it happens and compensate then. You not only have to
judge time, but magnitude; overcompensation is ruinous, too.
Multhaus, the Chief Powerman’s Mate, sat behind the emergency
board, a vernier dial in each hand and both eyes on an oscilloscope
screen. His red, beefy face was corded
and knotted with tension, and his skin glistened with oily
perspiration. He didn’t say a word, and his fingers barely moved
as he held a green line reasonably steady on that screen.
Mike the Angel, using unangelic language in a steady, muttering stream,
worked to find the circuit that held the secret of the ruinous feedback
tendency, while other powermen plugged and unplugged meter jacks,
flipped switches, and juggled tools.
In the midst of all this, in rolled Snookums.
Whether Snookums knew that his own existence was in danger is
problematical. Like the human brain, his own had no pain or sensory
circuits within it; in addition, his knowledge of robotics was small—he
didn’t even know that his brain was in Cargo Hold One. He thought
it was in his head, if he thought about it at all.
Nonetheless, he knew something was wrong, and as soon as his
“curiosity” circuits were activated, he set out in search of
the trouble, his little treads rolling at high speed.
Leda Crannon saw him heading down a companionway and called after him.
“Where are you going, Snookums?”
“Looking for data,” answered Snookums, slowing a little.
“Wait! I’ll come with you!”
Leda Crannon knew perfectly well what effect the throb might have on
Snookums’ brain, and when something cracked, she wanted to see
what effect it might have on the behavior of the little robot. Like a
hound after a fox, she followed him through the corridors of the ship.
Up companionways and down, in and out of storerooms, staterooms, control
rooms, and washrooms Snookums scurried, oblivious to the consternation
that sometimes erupted at his sudden appearance. At certain selected
would stop, put his metal arms on floors and walls, pause, and then go
zooming off in another direction with Leda Crannon only paces behind
him, trying to explain to crewmen as best she could.
If Snookums had been capable of emotion—and Leda Crannon was not as
sure as the roboticists that he wasn’t—she would have sworn that
he was having the time of his life.
Seventeen minutes after the throb had begun, Snookums rolled into Power
Section and came to a halt. Something else was wrong.
At first he just stopped by the door and soaked in data. Mike’s
muttering; the clipped, staccato conversation of the power crew; the
noises of the tools; the deep throb of the ship itself; the underlying
oddness of the engine vibrations—all these were fed into his
microphonic ears. The scene itself was transmitted to his brain and
recorded. The cryotronic maze in the depths of the ship chewed the whole
thing over. Snookums acted.
Leda Crannon, who had lost ground in trying to keep up with
Snookums’ whirling treads, came to the door of Power Section too
late to stop the robot’s entrance. She didn’t dare call out,
because she knew that to do so would interrupt the men’s vital
work. All she could do was lean against the doorjamb and try to catch
Snookums rolled over to the board where Multhaus was sitting and watched
over his shoulder for perhaps thirty seconds. The crewmen eyed him, but
they were much too busy to do anything. Besides, they were used to his
presence by this time.
Then, in one quick tour of the room, Snookums glanced at every meter in
the place. Not just at the regular operating
meters, but also at the meters in the testing equipment that the power
crew had jack-plugged in.
Mike the Angel looked around as he heard the soft purring of the
caterpillar treads. His glance took in both Snookums and Leda Crannon,
who was still gasping at the door. He watched Leda for the space of
three deep breaths, tore his eyes away, looked at what Snookums was
doing, then said: “Get him out of here!” in a stage whisper
Snookums was looking over the notations on the meter readings for the
previous few minutes. He had simply picked them up from the desk where
one of the computermen was working and scanned them rapidly before
handing them back.
Before Leda could say anything, Snookums rolled over to Mike the Angel
and said: “Check the lead between the 391-JF and the big DK-37. I
think you’ll find that the piping is in phase with the two-cycle
note, and it’s become warped and stretched. It’s about half
a millimeter off—plus or minus a tenth. The pulse is reaching the DK-37
about four degrees off, and the gate is closing before it all gets
through. That’s forcing the regulator circuit to overcompensate,
Mike didn’t listen to any more. He didn’t know whether
Snookums knew what he was talking about or not, but he did know that the
thing the robot had mentioned would have had just such an effect.
Mike strode rapidly across the room and flipped up the shield housing
the assembly Snookums had mentioned. The lead was definitely askew.
Mike the Angel snapped orders, and the power crewmen descended on the
scene of the trouble.
Snookums went right on delivering his interpretation of the data, but
everyone ignored him while they worked. Being ignored didn’t
bother Snookums in the least.
“... and that, in turn, is making the feeder valve field
oscillate,” he finished up, nearly five minutes later.
Mike was glad that Snookums had pinpointed the trouble first and then
had gone on to show why the defect was causing the observed result. He
could just as easily have started with the offending oscillation and
reached the bit about the faulty lead at the end of his speech, except
that he had been built to do it the other way around. Snookums made the
deduction in his superfast mind and then reeled it off backward, as it
were, going from conclusion to premises.
Otherwise, he might have been too late.
The repair didn’t take long, once Snookums had found just what
needed repairing. When the job was over, Mike the Angel wiped his hands
on a rag and stood up.
“Thanks, Snookums,” he said honestly. “You’ve
been a great help.”
Snookums said: “I am smiling. Because I am pleased.”
There was no way for him to smile with a steel face, but Mike got the
Mike turned to the Chief Powerman’s Mate. “Okay, Multhaus,
shut it off. She’s steady now.”
Multhaus just sat there, surrounded by a wall of concentration, his
hands still on the verniers, his eyes still on the screen. He
Mike flipped off the switch. “Come on, Multhaus, snap to.
We’ve still got that beat note to worry about.”
Multhaus blinked dizzily as the green line vanished from his sight. He
jerked his hands off the verniers, and then
smiled sheepishly. He had been sitting there waiting for that green
line to move a full minute after the input signal had ceased.
“Happy hypnosis,” said Mike. “Let’s get back to
finding out which of those tubes in the hull is giving the external
field the willies.”
Snookums, who had been listening carefully, rolled up and said,
“Generator tubes three, four, and thirteen. Three is out of phase
“You can tell us later, Snookums,” Mike interrupted rapidly.
“Right now, we’ll get to work on those tubes. You were right
once; I hope you’re right again.”
Again the power crew swung into action.
Within five minutes Mike and Multhaus were making the proper adjustments
on the external field circuits to adjust for the wobbling of the output.
The throb wavered. It wobbled around, going up to two-point-seven cycles
and dropping back to one-point-four, then climbing again. All the time,
it was dropping in magnitude, until finally it could no longer be felt.
Finally, it dropped suddenly to a low of point-oh-five cycles, hovered
there for a moment, then vanished altogether.
“By the beard of my sainted maiden aunt,” said Chief
Multhaus in awe. “A three-tube offbeat solved in less than half an
hour! If that isn’t a record, I’ll dye my uniform black and
join the Chaplains’ Corps.”
Leda Crannon, looking tired but somehow pleased, said softly: “May
I come in?”
Mike the Angel grinned. “Sure. Maybe you can—”
The intercom clicked on. “Power Section, this is the
bridge.” It was Black Bart. “Are my senses playing me false,
or have you stopped that beat note?”
“All secure, sir,” said Mike the Angel. “The system is
“How many tubes were goofing?”
“Three of them.”
“Three!” There was astonishment in the captain’s
voice. “How did you ever solve a three-tube beat in that short a
Mike the Angel grinned up at the eye in the wall.
“Nothing to it, sir,” he said. “A child could have
Leda Crannon sat down on the edge of the bunk in Mike the Angel’s
stateroom, accepted the cigarette and light that Mike had proffered, and
waited while Mike poured a couple of cups of coffee from the insul-jug
on his desk.
“I wish I could offer you something stronger, but I’m not
much of a drinker myself, so I don’t usually take advantage of the
officer’s prerogative to smuggle liquor aboard,” he said as
he handed her the cup.
She smiled up at him. “That’s all right; I rarely drink, and
when I do, it’s either wine or a very diluted highball. Right
now, this coffee will do me more good.”
Mike heard footsteps coming down the companionway. He glanced out
through the door, which he had deliberately left open. Ensign Vaneski
walked by, glanced in, grinned, and went on his way. The kid had good
sense, Mike thought. He hoped any other passers-by would stay out while
he talked to Leda.
“Does a thing like that happen often?” the girl asked.
“Not the fast solution; I mean the beat note.”
“No,” said Mike the Angel. “Once the system is
stabilized, the tubes tend to keep each other in line. But because
of that very tendency, an offbeat tube won’t show itself for a
while. The system tries to keep the bad ones in phase in spite of
themselves. But eventually one of them sort of rebels, and that frees
any of the others that are offbeat, so the bad ones all show at once and
we can spot them. When we get all the bad ones adjusted, the system
remains stable for the operating life of the system.”
“And that’s the purpose of a shakedown cruise?”
“One of the reasons,” agreed Mike. “If the tubes are
going to act up, they’ll do it in the first five hundred operating
hours—except in unusual cases. That’s one of the things that
bothered me about the way this crate was hashed together.”
Her blue eyes widened. “I thought this was a well-built
“Oh, it is, it is—all things considered. It isn’t
dangerous, if that’s what you’re worried about. But it sure
as the devil is expensively wasteful.”
She nodded and sipped at her coffee. “I know that. But I
don’t see any other way it could have been done.”
“Neither do I, right off the bat,” Mike admitted. He took a
good swallow of the hot liquid in his cup and said: “I wanted to
ask you two questions. First, what was it that Snookums was doing just
before he came into the Power Section? Black Bart said he’d been
galloping all over the ship, with you at his heels.”
Her infectious smile came back. “He was playing seismograph. He
was simply checking the intensity of the vibrations at different points
in the ship. That gave him part of the data he needed to tell you which
of the tubes were acting up.”
“I’m beginning to think,” said Mike, “that
we’ll have to
start building a big brain aboard every ship—that is, if we can
learn enough about such monsters from Snookums.”
“What was the other question?” Leda asked.
“Oh.... Well, I was wondering just why you are connected with this
project. What does a psychologist have to do with robots? If
you’ll pardon my ignorance.”
This time she laughed softly, and Mike thought dizzily of the gay
chiming of silver bells. He clamped down firmly on the romantic
wanderings of his mind as she started her explanation.
“I’m a specialist in child psychology, Mike. Actually, I was
hired as an experiment—or, rather, as the result of a wild guess that
happened to work. You see, the first two times Snookums’ brain was
activated, the circuits became disoriented.”
“You mean,” said Mike the Angel, “they went
She laughed again. “Don’t let Fitz hear you say that.
He’ll tell you that ‘the circuits exceeded their optimum
Mike grinned, remembering the time he had driven a robot brain daffy by
bluffing it at poker. “How did that happen?”
“Well, we don’t know all the details, but it seems to have
something to do with the slow recovery rate that’s necessary for
learning. Do you know anything about Lagerglocke’s
“Fitzhugh mentioned something about it in the briefing we got
before take-off. Something about a bit of learning being an inelastic
“That’s it. You take a steel ball, for instance, and drop it
on a steel plate from a height of three or four feet. It
bounces—almost perfect elasticity. The next time you drop it, it
does the same thing. It hasn’t learned anything.
“But if you drop a lead ball, it doesn’t bounce as much, and
it will flatten at the point of contact. The next time it falls on that
flat side, its behavior will be different. It has learned
Mike rubbed the tip of an index finger over his chin. “These
illustrations are analogues of the human mind?”
“That’s right. Some people have minds like steel balls. They
can learn, but you have to hit them pretty hard to make them do it. On
the other hand, some people have minds like glass balls: They
can’t learn at all. If you hit them hard enough to make a real
impression, they simply shatter.”
“All right. Now what has this got to do with you and
“Patience, boy, patience,” Leda said with a grin.
“Actually, the lead-ball analogy is much too simple. An
intelligent mind has to have time to partially recover, you see. Hit it
with too many shocks, one right after another, and it either collapses
or refuses to learn or both.
“The first two times the brain was activated, the roboticists just
began feeding data into the thing as though it were an ordinary
computing machine. They were forcing it to learn too fast; they
weren’t giving it time to recover from the shock of learning.
“Just as in the human being, there is a difference between a
robot’s brain and a robot’s mind. The brain is a physical
thing—a bunch of cryotrons in a helium bath. But the mind is the sum
total of all the data and reaction patterns and so forth that have been
built into the brain or absorbed by it.
“The brain didn’t have an opportunity to recover from the
learning shocks when the data was fed in too fast, so the mind cracked.
It couldn’t take it. The robot went insane.
“Each time, the roboticists had to deactivate the brain, drain it
of all data, and start over. After the second time, Dr. Fitzhugh decided
they were going about it wrong, so they decided on a different
“I see,” said Mike the Angel. “It had to be taught
slowly, like a child.”
“Exactly,” said Leda. “And who would know more about
teaching a child than a child psychologist?” she added brightly.
Mike looked down at his coffee cup, watching the slight wavering of the
surface as it broke up the reflected light from the glow panels. He had
invited this girl down to his stateroom (he told himself) to get
information about Snookums. But now he realized that information about
the girl herself was far more important.
“How long have you been working with Snookums?” he asked,
without looking up from his coffee.
“Over eight years,” she said.
Then Mike looked up. “You know, you hardly look old enough. You
don’t look much older than twenty-five.”
She smiled—a little shyly, Mike thought. “As Snookums says,
‘You’re nice.’ I’m twenty-six.”
“And you’ve been working with Snookums since you were
“Uh-huh.” She looked, very suddenly, much younger than even
the twenty-five Mike had guessed at. She seemed to be more like a
somewhat bashful teen-ager who had been educated in a convent. “I
was what they call an ‘exceptional child.’ My mother died
when I was seven, and Dad ...
well, he just didn’t know what to do with a baby girl, I guess.
He was a kind man, and I think he really loved me, but he just
didn’t know what to do with me. So when the tests showed that I
was ... brighter ... than the average, he put me in a special school in
Italy. Said he didn’t want my mind cramped by being forced to
conform to the mental norm. Maybe he even believed that himself.
“And, too, he didn’t approve of public education. He had a
lot of odd ideas.
“Anyway, I saw him during summer vacations and went to school the
rest of the year. He took me all over the world when I was with him, and
the instructors were pretty wonderful people; I’m not sorry that I
was brought up that way. It was a little different from the education
that most children have, but it gave me a chance to use my mind.”
“I know the school,” said Mike the Angel.
“That’s the one under the Cesare Alfieri Institute in
“That’s it; did you go there?” There was an odd, eager
look in her eyes.
Mike shook his head. “Nope. But a friend of mine did. Ever know a
guy named Paulvitch?”
She squealed with delight, as though she’d been playfully pinched.
“Sir Gay? You mean Serge Paulvitch, the Fiend of Florence?”
She pronounced the name properly: “Sair-gay,” instead of
“surge,” as too many people were prone to do.
“Sounds like the same man,” Mike admitted, grinning.
“As evil-looking as Satanas himself?”
“That’s Sir Gay, all right. Half the girls were scared of
him, and I think all the boys were. He’s about three years older
than I am, I guess.”
“Why call him Sir Gay?” Mike asked. “Just because of
“Partly. And partly because he was always such a gentleman. A real
nice guy, if you know what I mean. Do you know him well?”
“Know him? Hell, I couldn’t run my business without
“Your business?” She blinked. “But he works
for—” Then her eyes became very wide, her mouth opened, and she
pointed an index finger at Mike. “Then you ... you’re Mike
the Angel! M. R. Gabriel! Sure!” She started laughing. “I
never connected it up! My golly, my golly! I thought you were just
another Space Service commander! Mike the Angel! Well, I’ll be
She caught her breath. “I’m sorry. I was just so surprised,
that’s all. Are you really the M. R. Gabriel, of M. R. Gabriel,
Mike was as close to being nonplused as he cared to be.
“Sure,” he said. “You mean you didn’t
She shook her head. “No. I thought Mike the Angel was about sixty
years old, a crotchety old genius behind a desk, as eccentric as a
comet’s orbit, and wealthier than Croesus. You’re just not
what I pictured, that’s all.”
“Just wait a few more decades,” Mike said, laughing.
“I’ll try to live up to my reputation.”
“So you’re Serge’s boss. How is he? I haven’t
seen him since I was sixteen.”
“He’s grown a beard,” said Mike.
“My God, how horrible!” She put her hand over her eyes in
“Let’s talk about you,” said Mike. “You’re
much prettier than Serge Paulvitch.”
“Well, I should hope so! But really, there’s nothing to
tell. I went to school. B.S. at fourteen, M.S. at sixteen, Ph.D. at
eighteen. Then I went to work for C.C. of E., and I’ve been there
ever since. I’ve never been engaged, I’ve never been
married, and I’m still a virgin. Anything else?”
“No runs, no hits, no errors,” said Mike the Angel.
She grinned back impishly. “I haven’t been up to bat yet,
“Then I suggest you grab some sort of club to defend yourself,
because I’m going to be in there pitching.”
The smile on her face faded, to be replaced by a look that was neither
awe nor surprise, but partook of both.
“You really mean that, don’t you?” she asked in a
“I do,” said Mike the Angel.
Commander Peter Jeffers was in the Control Bridge when Mike the Angel
stepped in through the door. Jeffers was standing with his back to the
door, facing the bank of instruments that gave him a general picture of
the condition of the whole ship.
Overhead, the great dome of the ship’s nose allowed the gleaming
points of light from the star field ahead to shine down on those beneath
through the heavy, transparent shield of the cast transite and the
invisible screen of the external field.
Mike walked over and tapped Pete Jeffers on the shoulder.
Jeffers turned around slowly and grinned. “Hullo, old soul. Naw, I
ain’t busy. Nothin’ outside but stars, and we
don’t figger on gettin’ too close to ’em right off
the bat. What’s the beef?”
“I have,” said Mike the Angel succinctly,
Jeffers’ keen eyes swept analytically over Mike the Angel’s
face. “You want a drink? I snuck a spot o’ brandy aboard,
and just by ole coincidence,
there’s a bottle right over there in the speaker housing.”
Without waiting for an answer, he turned away from Mike and walked
toward the cabinet that held the intercom speaker. Meantime, he went
right on talking.
“Great stuff, brandy. French call it eau de vie, and that, in
case you don’t know it, means ‘water of life.’ You
want a little, eh, ol’ buddy? Sure you do.” By this time,
he’d come back with the bottle and a pair of glasses and was
pouring a good dose into each one. “On the other hand, the Irish
gave us our name for whisky. Comes from uisge-beatha, and by some
bloody peculiar coincidence, that also means ‘water of
life.’ So you just set yourself right down here and get some life
Mike sat down at the computer table, and Jeffers sat down across from
him. “Now you just drink on up, buddy-buddy and then tell your
ol’ Uncle Pete what the bloody hell the trouble is.”
Mike looked at the brandy for a full half minute. Then, with one quick
flip of his wrist and a sudden spasmodic movement of his gullet, he
Then he took a deep breath and said: “Do I look as bad as all
“Worse,” said Jeffers complacently, meanwhile refilling
Mike’s glass. “While we were on active service together,
I’ve seen you go through all kinds of things and never look like
this. What is it? Reaction from this afternoon’s—or, pardon
me—yesterday afternoon’s emergency?”
Mike glanced up at the chronometer. It was two-thirty in the morning,
Greenwich time. Jeffers held the bridge from midnight till noon, while
Black Bart had the noon to midnight shift.
Still, Mike hadn’t realized that it was as late as all that.
He looked at Jeffers’ lean, bony face. “Reaction? No,
it’s not that. Look, Pete, you know me. Would you say I was a
pretty levelheaded guy?”
“My old man always said, ‘Never make an enemy
accidentally,’ and I think he was right. So I usually think over
what I say before I open my big mouth, don’t I?”
Again Jeffers said, “Sure.”
“I wouldn’t call myself over-cautious,” Mike
persisted, “but I usually think a thing through pretty carefully
before I act—that is, if I have time. Right?”
“I’d say so,” Jeffers admitted. “I’d say
you were about the only guy I know who does the right thing more than 90
per cent of the time. And says the right thing more than 99 per cent of
the time. So what do you want? Back-patting, or just hero
Mike took a small taste of the brandy. “Neither, you jerk. But
about eight hours ago I said something that I hadn’t planned to
say. I practically proposed to Leda Crannon without knowing I was going
Peter Jeffers didn’t laugh. He simply said, “How’d it
Mike told him.
When Mike had finished, one drink later, Peter Jeffers filled the
glasses for the third time and leaned back in his
chair. “Tell me one thing, ol’ buddy, and think about it
before you answer. If you had a chance to get out of it gracefully,
would you take back what you said?”
Mike the Angel thought it over. The sweep hand on the chronometer made
its rounds several times before he answered. Then, at last, he said:
“No. No, I wouldn’t.”
Jeffers pursed his lips, then said judicially: “In that case,
you’re not doing badly at all. There’s nothing wrong with
you except the fact that you’re in love.”
Mike downed the third drink fast and stood up. “Thanks,
Pete,” he said. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
“Wait just one stinkin’ minute,” said Jeffers firmly.
“What do you intend to do about it?” Jeffers asked.
Mike the Angel grinned at him. “What the hell else can I do but
woo and win the wench?”
Jeffers grinned back at him. “I reckon you know you got
“You mean Jake von Liegnitz?” Mike’s face darkened.
“I have the feeling he’s looking for something that
doesn’t include a marriage certificate.”
“Love sure makes a man sound noble,” said Jeffers
philosophically. “If you mean that all he wants is to get Leda
into the sack, you’re prob’ly right. Normal reaction,
I’d say. Can’t blame Jake for that.”
“I don’t,” said Mike. “But that doesn’t
mean I can’t spike his guns.”
“Course not. Again, a normal reaction.”
“What about Lew Mellon?” Mike asked.
“Lew?” Jeffers raised his eyebrows. “I dunno. I think
he likes to talk to her, is all. But if he is interested, he’s
well serious. He’s a strict Anglo-Catholic, like yourself.”
I’m not as strict as I ought to be, Mike thought. “I
thought he had a rather monkish air about him,” he said aloud.
Jeffers chuckled. “Yeah, but I don’t think he’s so
ascetic that he wouldn’t marry.” His grin broadened.
“Now, if we were still at ol’ Chilblains, you’d
really have competition. After all, you can’t expect that a gal
who’s stacked ... pardon me ... who has the magnificent physical
and physiognomical topography of Leda Crannon to spend her life
bein’ ignored, now can you?”
“Nope,” said Mike the Angel.
“Now, I figger,” Jeffers said, “that you can purty
much forget about Lew Mellon. But Jakob von Liegnitz is a chromatically
variant equine, indeed.”
Mike shook his head vigorously, as if to clear away the fog.
“Pfui! Let’s change the subject. My heretofore nimble mind
has been coagulated by a pair of innocent blue eyes. I need my skull
“I have a limerick,” said Jeffers lightly. “It’s
about a young spaceman named Mike, who said: ‘I can do as I
like!’ And to prove his bright quip, he took a round trip, clear
to Sirius B on a bike. Or, the tale of the pirate, Black Bart, whose
head was as hard as his heart. When he found—”
“Enough!” Mike the Angel held up a hand. “That
distillate of fine old grape has made us both silly. Good night.
I’m going to get some sleep.” He stood up and winked at
Jeffers. “And thanks for listening while I bent your ear.”
“Any time at all, ol’ amoeba. And if you ever feel you need
some advice from an ol’ married man, why you just trot right
round, and I’ll give you plenty of bad advice.”
“At least you’re honest,” Mike said.
Mike the Angel left the bridge as Commander Jeffers was putting the
brandy back in its hiding place.
Mike went to his quarters, hit the sack, and spent less than five
minutes getting to sleep. There was nothing worrying him now.
He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep when he heard a
noise in the darkness of his room that made him sit up in bed, instantly
awake. The floater under him churned a little, but there was no noise.
The room was silent.
In the utter blackness of the room, Mike the Angel could see nothing,
and he could hear nothing but the all-pervading hum of the ship’s
engines. But he could still feel and smell.
He searched back in his memory, trying to place the sound that had
awakened him. It hadn’t been loud, merely unusual. It had been a
noise that shouldn’t have been made in the stateroom. It had been
a quiet sound, really, but for the life of him, Mike couldn’t
remember what it had sounded like.
But the evidence of his nerves told him there was someone else in the
room besides himself. Somewhere near him, something was radiating heat;
it was definitely perceptible in the air-conditioned coolness of his
room. And, too, there was the definite smell of warm oil—machine oil.
It was faint, but it was unmistakable.
And then he knew what the noise had been.
The soft purr of caterpillar treads against the floor!
Casually, Mike the Angel moved his hand to the wall plaque and touched
it lightly. The lights came on, dim and subdued.
“Hello, Snookums,” said Mike the Angel gently. “What
are you here for?”
The little robot just stood there for a second or two, unmoving,
his waldo hands clasped firmly in front of his chest. Mike suddenly
wished to Heaven that the metallic face could show something that Mike
“I came for data,” said Snookums at last, in the contralto
voice that so resembled the voice of the woman who had trained him.
Mike started to say, “At this time of night?” Then he
glanced at his wrist. It was after seven-thirty in the morning,
Greenwich time—which was also ship time.
“What is it you want?” Mike asked.
“Can you dance?” asked Snookums.
“Yes,” said Mike dazedly, “I can dance.” For a
moment he had the wild idea that Snookums was going to ask him to do a
few turns about the floor.
“Thank you,” said Snookums. His treads whirred, he turned as
though on a pivot, whizzed to the door, opened it, and was gone.
Mike the Angel stared at the door as though trying to see beyond it,
into the depths of the robot’s brain itself.
“Now just what was that all about?” he asked aloud.
In the padded silence of the stateroom, there wasn’t even an echo
to answer him.
Mike the Angel spent the next three days in a pale blue funk which he
struggled valiantly against, at least to prevent it from becoming a deep
There was something wrong aboard the Brainchild, and Mike simply
couldn’t quite figure what it was. He found that he wasn’t
the only one who had been asked peculiar questions by Snookums. The
little robot seemed to have developed a sudden penchant for asking
seemingly inane questions.
Lieutenant Keku reported with a grin that Snookums had asked him if he
knew who Commander Gabriel really was.
“What’d you say?” Mike had asked.
Keku had spread his hands and said: “I gave him the usual formula
about not being positive of my data, then I told him that you were known
as Mike the Angel and were well known in the power field.”
Multhaus reported that Snookums had wanted to know what their
destination was. The chief’s only possible answer, of course, had
been: “I don’t have that data, Snookums.”
Dr. Morris Fitzhugh had become more worried-looking
than usual and had confided to Mike that he, too, wondered why Snookums
was asking such peculiar questions.
“All he’ll tell me,” the roboticist had reported,
wrinkling up his face, “was that he was collecting data. But he
flatly refused, even when ordered, to tell me what he needed the data
Mike stayed away from Leda Crannon as much as possible; shipboard was no
place to try to conduct a romance. Not that he deliberately avoided her
in such a manner as to give offense, but he tried to appear busy at all
She was busy, too. Keeping herd on Snookums was becoming something of a
problem. She had never attempted to watch him all the time. In the first
place, it was physically impossible; in the second place, she
didn’t think Snookums would develop properly if he were to be kept
under constant supervision. But now, for the first time, she
didn’t have the foggiest notion of what was going on inside the
robot’s mind, and she couldn’t find out. It puzzled and
worried her, and between herself and Dr. Fitzhugh there were several
long conferences on Snookums’ peculiar behavior.
Mike the Angel found himself waiting for something to happen. He
hadn’t the slightest notion what it was that he was waiting for,
but he was as certain of its coming as he was of the fact that the Earth
was an oblate spheroid.
But he certainly didn’t expect it to begin the way it did.
A quiet evening bridge game is hardly the place for a riot to start.
Pete Jeffers was pounding the pillow in his stateroom; Captain Quill was
on the bridge, checking through the log.
In the officers’ wardroom Mike the Angel was looking down at two
hands of cards, wondering whether he’d make his contract. His own
hand held the ace, nine, seven of
spades; the ten, six, two of hearts; the jack, ten, nine, four, three,
and deuce of diamonds; and the eight of clubs.
Vaneski, his partner, had bid a club. Keku had answered with a take-out
double. Mike had looked at his hand, figured that since he and Vaneski
were vulnerable, while Keku and von Liegnitz were not, he bid a weakness
pre-empt of three diamonds. Von Liegnitz passed, and Vaneski had
answered back with five diamonds. Keku and Mike had both passed, and von
Liegnitz had doubled.
Now Mike was looking at Vaneski’s dummy hand. No spades; the ace,
queen, five, and four of hearts; the queen, eight, seven, and six of
diamonds; and the ace, king, seven, four, and three of clubs.
And von Liegnitz had led the three of hearts.
It didn’t look good. His opponents had the ace and king of trumps,
and with von Liegnitz’ heart lead, it looked as though he might
have to try a finesse on the king of hearts. Still, there might be
another way out.
Mike threw in the ace from dummy. Keku tossed in his seven, and Mike
threw in his own deuce. He took the next trick with the ace of clubs
from dummy, and the singleton eight in his own hand. The one after that
came from dummy, too; it was the king of clubs, and Mike threw in the
heart six from his own hand. From dummy, he led the three of clubs. Keku
went over it with a jack, but Mike took it with his deuce of diamonds.
He led the seven of spades to get back in dummy so he could use up those
clubs. Dummy took the trick with the six of diamonds, and led out with
the four of clubs.
Mike figured that Keku must—absolutely must—have the king of hearts.
Both his take-out double and von Liegnitz’ heart lead pointed
toward the king in his hand. Now if....
Vaneski had moved around behind Mike to watch the play. Not one of them
noticed Lieutenant Lew Mellon, the Medical Officer, come into the room.
That is, they knew he had come in, but they had ignored him thereafter.
He was such a colorless nonentity that he simply seemed to fade into the
background of the walls once he had made his entrance.
Mike had taken seven tricks, and, as he had expected, lost the eighth to
von Liegnitz’ five of diamonds. When the German led the nine of
hearts, Mike knew he had the game. He put in the queen from dummy, Keku
tossed in his king triumphantly, and Mike topped it with his lowly four
If, as he suspected, his opponents’ ace and king of diamonds were
split, he would get them both by losing the next trick and then make a
clean sweep of the board.
He threw in his nine of diamonds.
He just happened to glance at von Liegnitz as the navigator dropped his
Then he lashed out with one foot, kicking at the leg of von
Liegnitz’ chair. At the same time, he yelled, “Jake!
He was almost too late. Mellon, his face contorted with a mixture of
anger and hatred, was standing just behind Jakob von Liegnitz. In one
hand was a heavy spanner, which he was bringing down with deadly force
on the navigator’s skull.
Von Liegnitz’ chair started to topple, and von Liegnitz himself
spun away from the blow. The spanner caught him on the shoulder, and he
grunted in pain, but he kept on moving away from Mellon.
The medic screamed something and lifted the spanner again.
By this time, Keku, too, was on his feet, moving toward Mellon. Mike the
Angel got behind Mellon, trying to grab at the heavy metal tool in
Mellon seemed to sense him, for he jumped sideways, out of Mike’s
way, and kicked backward at the same time, catching Mike on the shin
with his heel.
Von Liegnitz had made it to his feet by this time and was blocking the
downward swing of Mellon’s arm with his own forearm. His other
fist pistoned out toward Mellon’s face. It connected, sending
Mellon staggering backward into Mike the Angel’s arms.
Von Liegnitz grabbed the spanner out of Mellon’s hand and swung it
toward the medic’s jaw. It was only inches away when Keku’s
hand grasped the navigator’s wrist.
And when the big Hawaiian’s hand clamped on, von Liegnitz’
hand stopped almost dead.
Mellon was screaming. “You ——!” He ran out a string of
unprintable and almost un-understandable words. “I’ll kill
you! I’ll do it yet! You stay away from Leda Crannon!”
“Calm down, Doc!” snapped Mike the Angel. “What the
hell’s the matter with you, anyway?”
Von Liegnitz was still straining, trying to get away from Keku to take
another swipe at the medic, but the huge Hawaiian held him easily. The
navigator had lapsed into his native German, and most of it was
unintelligible, except for an occasional reference to various improbable
combinations of animal life.
But Mellon was paying no attention. “You! I’ll kill you!
Lecher! Dirty-minded, filthy....”
He went on.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, he smashed his heel down on Mike’s toe. At
least, he tried to; he’d have done it if the toe had been there
when his heel came down. But Mike moved it just two inches and avoided
At the same time, though, Mellon twisted, and Mike’s forced shift
of position lessened his leverage on the man’s shoulders and arms.
Mellon almost got away. One hand grabbed the wrench from von Liegnitz,
whose grip had been weakened by the paralyzing pressure of Keku’s
Mike had no choice but to slam a hard left into the man’s solar
plexus. Mellon collapsed like an unoccupied overcoat.
By this time, von Liegnitz had quieted down. “Let go, Keku,”
he said. “I’m all right.” He looked down at the
motionless figure on the deck. “What the hell do you suppose was
eating him?” he asked quietly.
“How’s your shoulder?” Mike asked.
“Hurts like the devil, but I don’t think it’s busted.
But why did he do it?” he repeated.
“Sounds to me,” said Keku dryly, “that he was nutty
jealous of you. He didn’t like the times you took Leda Crannon to
the base movies while we were at Chilblains.”
Jakob von Liegnitz continued to look down at the smaller man in wonder.
“Lieber Gott” he said finally. “I only took her out
a couple of times. I knew he liked her, but—” He stopped.
“The guy must be off his bearings.”
“I smelled liquor on his breath,” said Mike.
“Let’s get him down to his stateroom and lock him in until
he sobers up. I’ll have to report this to the captain. Can you
carry him, Keku?”
Keku nodded and reached down. He put his hands under Mellon’s
armpits, lifted him to his feet, and threw him over his shoulder.
“Good,” said Mike the Angel. “I’ll walk behind
you and clop him one if he wakes up and gets wise.”
Vaneski was standing to one side, his face pale, his expression blank.
Mike said: “Jake, you and Vaneski go up and make the report to the
captain. Tell him we’ll be up as soon as we’ve taken care of
“Right,” said von Liegnitz, massaging his bruised shoulder.
“Okay, Keku,” said Mike, “forward march.”
Lieutenant Keku thumbed the opener to Mellon’s stateroom, shoved
the door aside, stepped in, and slapped at the switch plaque. The plates
lighted up, bathing the room in sunshiny brightness.
“Dump him on his sack,” said Mike.
While Keku put the unconscious Mellon on his bed, Mike let his gaze
wander around the room. It was neat—almost too neat, implying
overfussiness. The medical reference books were on one shelf, all in
alphabetical order. Another shelf contained a copy of the International
Encyclopedia, English edition, plus several dictionaries, including one
on medical terms and another on theological ones.
On the desk lay a copy of the Bible, York translation, opened to the
Book of Tobit. Next to it were several sheets of blank paper and a small
traveling clock sat on them as a paperweight.
His clothing was hung neatly, in the approved regulation manner, with
his shoes in their proper places and his caps all lined up in a row.
Mike walked around the room, looking at everything.
“What’s the matter? What’re you looking for?”
“His liquor,” said Mike the Angel.
“In his desk, lower left-hand drawer. You won’t find
anything but a bottle of ruby port; Mellon was never a drinker.”
Mike opened the drawer. “I probably won’t find that, drunk
as he is.”
Surprisingly enough, the bottle of wine was almost half full. “Did
he have more than one bottle?” Mike asked.
“Not so far as I know. Like I said, he didn’t drink much.
One slug of port before bedtime was about his limit.”
Mike frowned. “How does his breath smell to you?”
“Not bad. Two or three drinks, maybe.”
“Mmmm.” Mike put the bottle on top of the desk, then walked
over to the small case that was standing near one wall. He lifted it and
flipped it open. It was the standard medical kit for Space Service
The intercom speaker squeaked once before Captain Quill’s voice
came over it. “Mister Gabriel?”
“Yes, sir?” said Mike without turning around. There were no
eyes in the private quarters of the officers and crew.
“How is Mister Mellon?” A Space Service physician’s
doctorate is never used as a form of address; three out of four Space
Service officers have a doctor’s degree of some kind, and
there’s no point in calling 75 per cent of the officers
Mike glanced across the room. Keku had finished stripping the little
physician to his underclothes and had put a cover over him.
“He’s still unconscious, sir, but his breathing sounds all
“How’s his pulse?”
Keku picked up Mellon’s left wrist and applied his fingers to the
artery while he looked at his wrist watch.
Mike said: “We’ll check it, sir. Wait a few seconds.”
Fifteen seconds later, Keku multiplied by four and said:
“One-oh-four and rather weak.”
“You’d better get hold of the Physician’s Mate,”
Mike told Quill. “He’s not in good condition, either
mentally or physically.”
“Very well. As soon as the mate takes over, you and Mister Keku
get up here. I want to know what the devil has been going on aboard my
“You are bloody well not the only one,” said Mike the Angel.
Midnight, ship time.
And, as far as the laws of simultaneity would allow, it was midnight in
Greenwich, England. At least, when a ship returned from an interstellar
trip, the ship’s chronometer was within a second or two, plus or
minus, of Greenwich time. Theoretically, the molecular vibration clocks
shouldn’t vary at all. The fact that they did hadn’t yet
been satisfactorily accounted for.
Mike the Angel tried to make himself think of clocks or the variations
in space time or anything else equally dull, in the hope that it would
put him to sleep.
He began to try to work out the derivation of the Beale equations, the
equations which had solved the principle of the no-space drive. The ship
didn’t move through space; space moved through the ship, which, of
course, might account for the variation in time, because—
—the time is out of joint.
The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Hamlet, thought Mike. Act One, the end of scene five.
But why had he been born to set it right? Besides, exactly what was
wrong? There was something wrong, all right.
And why from the end of the act? Another act to come? Something more to
happen? The clock will go round till another time comes. Watch the
clock, the absolutely cuckoo clock, which ticked as things happened that
made almost no sense and yet had sense hidden in their works.
The good old Keku clock. Somewhere is icumen in, lewdly sing Keku. The
Mellon is ripe and climbing Jakob’s ladder. And both of them
playing Follow the Leda.
And where were they heading? Toward some destination in the general
direction of the constellation Cygnus. The transformation equations work
fine on an interstellar ship. Would they work on a man? Wouldn’t
it be nice to be able to transform yourself into a swan? Cygnus the
And we’ll all play Follow the Leda....
Somewhere in there, Mike the Angel managed to doze off.
He awoke suddenly, and his dream of being a huge black swan vanished,
shattered into nothingness.
This time it had not been a sound that had awakened him. It had been
something else, something more like a cessation of sound. A dying sigh.
He reached out and touched the switch plaque.
The room remained dark.
The room was strangely silent. The almost soundless vibration of the
engines was still there, but....
The air conditioners!
The air in the stateroom was unmoving, static. There
was none of the faint breeze of moving air. Something had gone wrong
with the low-power circuits!
Now how the hell could that happen? Not by accident, unless the accident
were a big one. It would take a tremendous amount of coincidence to put
all three of the interacting systems out of order at once. And they all
had to go at once to cut the power from the low-load circuits.
The standard tap and the first and second stand-by taps were no longer
tapping power from the main generators. The intercom was gone, too,
along with the air conditioners, the lights, and half a dozen other
Mike the Angel scrambled out of bed and felt for his clothing, wishing
he had something as prosaic as an old-fashioned match, or even a
flame-type cigarette lighter. He found his lighter in his belt pocket as
he pulled on his uniform. He jerked it out and thumbed it. In the utter
darkness, the orange-red glow gave more illumination than he had
supposed. If a man’s eyes are adjusted to darkness, he can read
print by the glow of a cigarette, and the lighter’s glow was
brighter than that.
Still, it wasn’t much. If only he had a flashlight!
From a distance, far down the companionway, he could hear voices. The
muffled sound that had awakened him had been the soft susurration of the
door as it had slid open when the power died. Without the electrolocks
to hold it closed, it had opened automatically. The doors in a spaceship
are built that way, to make sure no one will be trapped in case of a
Mike dressed in a matter of seconds and headed toward the door.
And stopped just before he stepped out.
Someone was outside. Someone, or—something.
He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew. He was as certain as if
the lights had been on bright.
And whoever was waiting out there didn’t want Mike the Angel to
know that he was there.
Mike stood silent for a full second. That was long enough for him to get
angry. Not the hot anger of hatred, but the cold anger of a man who has
had too many attempts on his life, who has escaped narrowly from an
unseen plotter twice because of pure luck and does not intend to fall
victim to the dictum that “the third time’s a charm.”
He realized that he was still holding the glowing cigarette lighter in
“Damn!” he muttered, as though to himself. “I’d
forget my ears if they weren’t sewed down.” Then he turned,
heading back toward his bed, hoping that whoever was waiting outside
would assume he would be back immediately. At the same time, he lifted
his thumb off the lighter’s contact.
Then he sat down on the edge of his bed and quickly pulled off his
boots. Holding them both in his hands, he moved silently back to the
door. When he reached it, he tossed both boots to the rear of the room.
When they landed clatteringly, he stepped quietly through the door. In
three steps he was on the opposite side of the corridor. He hugged the
wall and moved back away from the spot where the watcher would be
Then he waited.
He was on one side of the door to his stateroom, and the—what or
whoever it was—was on the other. Until that other made a move, Mike the
Angel would wait.
The wait seemed many minutes long, although Mike knew it couldn’t
have been more than forty-five seconds or so. From other parts of the
ship he could hear voices shouting
as the crewmen and officers who had been sleeping were awakened by the
men on duty. The ship could not sustain life long if the air
conditioners were dead.
Then, quite suddenly, the waiting was over. Behind Mike there was a bend
in the corridor, and from around that bend came the sound of running
footsteps, followed by a bellowing voice: “I’ll get the
Commander; you go down and get the other boys started!”
And then there was a glow of light. The Chief Powerman’s Mate was
carrying a light, which reflected from the walls of the corridor.
And Mike the Angel knew perfectly well that he was silhouetted against
that glow. Whoever it was who was waiting for him could see him plainly.
Multhaus’ footsteps rang in the corridor while Mike strained his
eyes to see what was before him in the darkness. And all the time, the
glow became brighter as Multhaus approached.
Then, from out of the darkness, came something that moved on a whir of
caterpillar treads. Something hard and metallic slammed against
Mike’s shoulder, spinning him against the wall.
At that moment, Multhaus came around the corner, and Mike could see
Snookums scurrying on down the corridor toward the approaching
“Multhaus! Look out!” Mike yelled.
The beam from the chief’s hand torch gleamed on the metallic body
of the little robot as it headed toward him.
“Snookums! Stop!” Mike ordered.
Snookums paid no attention. He swerved adroitly around
the astonished Multhaus, spun around the corner, and was gone into the
“What was all that, sir?” Multhaus asked, looking more than
“A course of instruction on the First and Second Laws of Robotics
as applied by the Computer Corporation of Earth,” said Mike,
rubbing his bruised side. “But never mind that now. What’s
wrong with the low-power circuits?”
“I don’t know, sir. Breckwell is on duty in that
“Let’s go,” said Mike the Angel. “We have to get
this cleared up before we all suffocate.”
“Someone’s going to get galloping claustrophobia before
it’s over, anyway,” said Multhaus morosely as he followed
Mike down the hallway in the direction from which Snookums had come.
“Darkness and stuffy air touch off that sort of thing.”
“Who’s Officer of the Watch tonight?” Mike wanted to
“Ensign Vaneski, I think. His name was on the roster, as I
“I hope he reported to the bridge. Commander Jeffers will be
getting frantic, but he can’t leave the bridge unless he’s
relieved. Come on, let’s move.”
They sprinted down the companionway.
The lights had been out less than five minutes when Mike the Angel and
Chief Powerman’s Mate Multhaus reached the low-power center of the
Power Section. The door was open, and a torch was spearing its beam on
two men—one kneeling over the prone figure of the other. The kneeling
man jerked his head around as Mike and the chief came in the door.
The kneeling man was Powerman First Class Fleck. Mike recognized the man
on the floor as Powerman Third Class Breckwell.
“What happened?” he snapped at Fleck.
“Don’t know, sir. I was in the head when the lights went. It
took me a little time to get a torch and get in here, and I found
Breckwell gone. At least, I thought he was gone, but then I heard a
noise from the tool cabinet and I opened it and he fell out.” The
words seemed to come out all in a rush.
“Dead?” asked Mike sharply.
“Nossir, I don’t think so, sir. Looks like somebody clonked
him on the head, but he’s breathin’ all right.”
Mike knelt over the man and took his pulse. The heartbeat was regular
and steady, if a trifle weak. Mike ran a hand over Breckwell’s
“There’s a knot there the size of a golf ball, but I
don’t think anything’s broken,” he said.
Footsteps came running down the hall, and six men of the power crew came
pouring in the door. They slowed to a halt when they saw their
commanding officer was already there.
“A couple of you take care of Breckwell—Leister, Knox—move him
to one side. Bathe his face with water. No, wait; you can’t do
that till we get the pumps moving again. Just watch him.”
One of the men coughed a little. “What he needs is a good slug of
“I agree,” said Mike evenly. “Too bad there
isn’t any aboard. But do what you think is best; I’m going
to be too
busy to keep an eye on you. I won’t be able to watch you at all,
so you’ll be on your own.”
“Yessir,” said the man who had spoken. He hid his grin and
took out at a run, heading for wherever it was he kept his bottle
“Dunstan, you and Ghihara get out and watch the halls. If any
other officer comes this way, sing out.”
“Yessir!” came the twin chorus.
More footsteps pounded toward them, and the remaining men of the power
“All right, now let’s take a look at these circuits,”
Chief Multhaus had already flipped open all the panels and was peering
inside. The men lined the torches up on the desk in the corner, in order
to shed as much light as possible over the banks of low-power wiring,
and went over to where Multhaus and Mike the Angel were standing.
“Dig out three replacement switches—heavy-duty
six-double-oh-B-nines,” said Multhaus. There was a touch of
disgust and a good-sized serving of anger and irritation in his voice.
Mike the Angel surveyed the damage. “See anything else,
“No, sir. That’s it.”
Mike nodded. “About five minutes’ work to get the main
switch going, which will give us power, and another ten minutes for the
first and second stand-bys. Go ahead and take over, Multhaus; you
won’t need me. I’ll go find out what the bloody unprintable
is going on around here.”
Mike the Angel ran into Captain Sir Henry Quill as he went up the
companionway to the bridge.
“What happened?” demanded the captain in his gravelly tenor
“Somebody ripped out the main switches to the low-power taps from
the main generators, sir,” said Mike. “Nothing to worry
about. The boys will have the lights on within three or four
“I don’t know,” said Mike, “but we’d
better find out pretty fast. There’ve been too many things going
on aboard this ship to suit me.”
“Same here. Are you sure everything’s all right down
“Absolutely, sir. We can quit worrying about the damage itself and
put our minds to finding out who did that damage.”
“Do you have any ideas?”
“Some,” said Mike the Angel. “As soon as the intercom
is functioning again, I think you’d better call a general meeting
of officers—and get Miss Crannon and Fitzhugh out of bed and get them
up here, too.”
“Why?” Black Bart asked flatly.
“Because Snookums has gone off his rocker. He’s attacked at
least one human being that I know of and has ignored direct orders from
a human being.”
“Who?” asked Black Bart.
“Me,” said Mike the Angel.
Mike told Captain Quill what had happened as they made their way back up
to the bridge.
Ensign Vaneski, looking pale and worried, met them at the door. He
snapped a salute. “I just reported to Commander Jeffers, sir.
Something’s wrong with the low-power circuits.”
“I had surmised as much,” said Black Bart caustically.
“Anything new? What did you find out? What happened?”
“When the lights went out, I was having coffee by myself in the
wardroom. I grabbed a torch and headed for Power Section as soon as I
could. The low-power room was empty. There should have been a man on
duty there, but there wasn’t. I didn’t want to go inside,
since I’m not a power officer, so I came up here to report.
At that moment the lights blazed on again. There was a faint hum that
built up all over the ship as the air conditioning came on at the same
“All right, Mister Vaneski,” said Black Bart, “get
below and take care of things. There’s a man hurt down there, so
be ready to take him to sick bay when the Physician’s Mate gets
there. We don’t have a medic in any condition to take care of
people, so he’ll have to do. Hop it.”
As Vaneski left, Black Bart preceded Mike into the bridge. Pete Jeffers
was on the intercom. As Mike and the captain came in, he was saying,
“All right. I’ll notify the Officer of the Watch, and
we’ll search the ship. He can’t hide very long.” Then,
without waiting to say anything to Mike or Quill, he jabbed at another
button. “Mister von Liegnitz! Jake!”
“Ja? Huh? What is it?” came a fuzzy voice from the
“You all right?”
“Me? Sure. I was asleep. Why?”
“Be on your toes, sleepyhead; just got word that Mellon has
escaped from his stateroom. He may try to take another crack at
“I’ll watch it,” said von Liegnitz, his voice crisp
“Okay.” Jeffers sighed and looked up. “As soon as the
power came on, the Physician’s Mate was on the intercom. Mellon
isn’t in his stateroom.”
“Oh, wonderful!” growled Captain Quill. “We now have
one insane robot and one insane human running loose on this ship.
I’m glad we didn’t bring any gorillas with us.”
“Somehow I think I’d be safer with a gorilla,” said
Mike the Angel.
“According to the Physician’s Mate, Mellon is worse than
just nuts,” said Jeffers quietly. “He says he loaded Mellon
full of dope to make him sleep and that the man’s got no right to
be walkin’ around at all.”
“He must have gotten out while the doors were open,” said
Captain Quill. He rubbed the palm of his hand over the shiny pinkness of
his scalp. His dark, shaggy brows were down over his eyes, as though
they had been weighted with lead.
“Mister Jeffers,” he said abruptly, “break out the
stun guns. Issue one to each officer and one to each chief non-com.
Until we get this straightened out, I’m declaring a state of
Mike the Angel hefted the heavy stun gun in his right fist, feeling its
weight without really noticing it. He knew damned good and well it
wouldn’t be of any use against Snookums. If Mellon came at him,
the supersonic beam from the gun would affect his nerves the same way an
electric current would, and he’d collapse, unconscious but
relatively unharmed. But Mike doubted seriously that it would have any
effect at all on the metal body of the robot. It is as difficult to jolt
the nerves of a robot as it is to blind an oyster.
Snookums did have sensory devices that enabled him to tell what was
going on around him, but they were not nerves in the ordinary sense of
the word, and a stun gun certainly wouldn’t have the same effect.
He wondered just what effect it would have—if any.
He was going down the main ladder—actually a long spiral stairway that
led downward from the bridge. Behind him were Chief Multhaus, also armed
with a stun gun, and four members of the power crew, each armed with a
heavy spanner. Mike or the chief could take care of Mellon; it would be
the crew’s job to take care of Snookums.
“Smash his treads and his waldoes,” Mike had told them,
“but only if he attacks. Before you try anything else, give him an
order to halt. If he keeps on coming, start swinging.” And, to
Chief Multhaus: “If Mellon jumps me, fire that stun gun only if
he’s armed with a knife or a gun. But if you do have to fire at
Mellon, don’t wait to get in a good shot; just go ahead and knock
us both out. I’d rather be asleep than dead. Okay?”
Multhaus had agreed. “The same goes for me, Commander. And the
rest of the boys.”
So down the ladder they went. Mike hoped there’d be no fighting at
all. He had the feeling that everything was all wrong, somehow, and that
any use of stun guns or spanners would just make everything worse.
His wasn’t the only group looking for Snookums and Mellon.
Lieutenant Keku had another group, and Commander Jeffers had a third.
Lieutenant Commander von Liegnitz was with Captain Quill on the bridge.
Mellon had already attacked von Liegnitz once; the captain didn’t
want them mixing it up again.
Captain Quill’s voice came suddenly from a speaker in the
overhead. “Miss Crannon and Dr. Fitzhugh have just spoken to
me,” he said in his brisk tenor. “Snookums is safe in his
own room. I have outlined what has happened, and they’re trying to
get information from Snookums now. Lieutenant Mellon is still
“One down,” said Chief Multhaus. There was relief in his
“Let’s see if we can find the other one,” said Mike
They went down perhaps three more steps, and the speakers came to life
again. “Will the Chief Physician’s Mate
report to Commander Jeffers in the maintenance tool room? Lieutenant
Keku, dismiss your men to quarters and report to the bridge. Commander
Gabriel, dismiss your men to quarters and report to Commander Jeffers in
maintenance. All chief non-coms report to the ordnance room to turn in
your weapons. All enlisted men return to your posts or to
Mike the Angel holstered his stun gun. “That’s two
down,” he said to Chief Multhaus.
“Looks like we missed all the fun,” said Multhaus.
“Okay, men,” Mike said, “you got the word. Take those
spanners back to the tool room in Power Section, and then get back to
your quarters. Chief, you go with them and secure everything, then take
that stun gun back to ordnance.”
Multhaus threw Mike a salute; Mike returned it and headed toward
maintenance. He knew Multhaus and the others were curious, but he was
just as curious himself. He had the advantage of being in a position to
satisfy his curiosity.
The maintenance tool room was big and lined with tool lockers. One of
them was open. Sprawled in front of it was Lieutenant Mellon. Over to
one side was Commander Jeffers, standing next to a white-faced Ensign
Vaneski. Nearby were a chief non-com and three enlisted men.
“Hullo, Mike,” Pete Jeffers said as Mike the Angel came in.
“What happened, Pete?” Mike asked.
Jeffers gestured at the sprawled figure on the floor. “We came in
here to search. We found him. Mister Vaneski opened the locker, there,
for a look-see, and Mellon jumped out at him. Vaneski fired his stun
gun. Mellon collapsed to
the deck. He’s in bad shape; his pulse is so weak that it’s
hard to find.”
Mike the Angel walked over and looked down at the fallen Medical
Officer. His face was waxen, and he looked utterly small and harmless.
“What happened?” asked another voice from the door. It was
Chief Physician’s Mate Pierre Pasteur. He was a smallish man, well
rounded, pleasant-faced, and inordinately proud of his name. He
couldn’t actually prove that he was really descended from the
great Louis, but he didn’t allow people to think otherwise. Like
most C. Phys. M.’s, he had a doctor of medicine degree but no
internship in the Space Service. He was working toward his commission.
“We’ve got a patient for you,” said Jeffers.
“Better look him over, Chief.”
Chief Pasteur walked over to where Mellon lay and took his stethoscope
out of his little black bag. He listened to Mellon’s chest for a
few seconds. Then he pried open an eyelid and looked closely at an eye.
“What happened to him?” he asked, without looking up.
“Got hit with a beam from a stun gun,” said Jeffers.
“How did he fall? Did he hit his head?”
“I don’t know—maybe.” He looked at Ensign Vaneski.
“Did he, Mister Vaneski? He was right on top of you; I was across
Vaneski swallowed. “I don’t know. He—he just sort of—well,
“You didn’t catch him?” asked the chief. He was a
physician on a case now and had no time for sirring his superiors.
“No. No. I jumped away from him.”
“Why? What’s the trouble?” Jeffers asked.
“He’s dead,” said the Chief Physician’s Mate.
Leda Crannon was standing outside the cubicle that had been built for
Snookums. Her back and the palms of her hands were pressed against the
door. Her head was bowed, and her red hair, shining like a hellish flame
in the light of the glow panels, fell around her shoulders and cheeks,
almost covering her face.
“Leda,” said Mike the Angel gently.
She looked up. There were tears in her blue eyes.
“Mike! Oh, Mike!” She ran toward him, put her arms around
him, and tried to bury her face in Mike’s chest.
“What’s the matter, honey? What’s happened?” He
was certain she couldn’t have heard about Mellon’s death
yet. He held her in his arms, carefully, tenderly, not passionately.
“He’s crazy, Mike. He’s completely crazy.” Her
voice had suddenly lost everything that gave it color. It was only dead
Mike the Angel knew it was an emotional reaction. As a psychologist, she
would never have used the word “crazy.” But as a woman ...
as a human being....
“Fitz is still in there talking to him, but
he’s—he’s—” Her voice choked off again into sobs.
Mike waited patiently, holding her, caressing her hair.
“Eight years,” she said after a minute or so. “Eight
years I spent. And now he’s gone. He’s broken.”
“How do you know?” Mike asked.
She lifted her head and looked at him. “Mike—did he really hit
you? Did he refuse to stop when you ordered him to? What really
Mike told her what had happened in the darkened companionway just
outside his room.
When he finished, she began sobbing again. “He’s lying,
Mike,” she said. “Lying!”
Mike nodded silently and slowly. Leda Crannon had spent all of her adult
life tending the hurts and bruises and aches of Snookums the Child. She
had educated him, cared for him, taken pleasure in his triumphs, worried
about his health, and watched him grow mentally.
And now he was sick, broken, ruined. And, like all parents, she was
asking herself: “What did I do wrong?”
Mike the Angel didn’t give her an answer to that unspoken
question, but he knew what the answer was in so many cases:
The grieving parent has not necessarily done anything wrong. It may
simply be that there was insufficient or poor-quality material to work
With a human child, it is even more humiliating for a parent to admit
that he or she has contributed inferior genetic material to a child than
it is to admit a failure in upbringing. Leda’s case was different.
Leda had lost her child, but Mike hesitated to point out that it
wasn’t her fault in the first place because the material
wasn’t up to the task she had given it, and in the second
place because she hadn’t really lost anything. She was still
playing with dolls, not human beings.
“Hell!” said Mike under his breath, not realizing that he
was practically whispering in her ear.
“Isn’t it?” she said. “Isn’t it Hell? I
spent eight years trying to make that little mind of his tick properly.
I wanted to know what was the right, proper, and logical way to bring up
children. I had a theory, and I wanted to test it. And now I’ll
“What sort of theory?” Mike asked.
She sniffled, took a handkerchief from her pocket, and began wiping at
her tears. Mike took the handkerchief away from her and did the wiping
job himself. “What’s this theory?” he said.
“Oh, it isn’t important now. But I felt—I still feel—that
everybody is born with a sort of Three Laws of Robotics in him. You know
what I mean—that a person wouldn’t kill or harm anyone, or refuse
to do what was right, in addition to trying to preserve his own life. I
think babies are born that way. But I think that the information
they’re given when they’re growing up can warp them. They
still think they’re obeying the laws, but they’re obeying
them wrongly, if you see what I mean.”
Mike nodded without saying anything. This was no time to interrupt her.
“For instance,” she went on, “if my theory’s
right, then a child would never disobey his father—unless he was
convinced that the man was not really his father, you see. For instance,
if he learned, very early, that his father never spanks him, that
becomes one of the identifying marks of ‘father.’ Fine. But
the first time his father does spank him, doubt enters. If that sort
of thing goes on, he becomes disobedient
because he doesn’t believe that the man is his father.
“I’m afraid I’m putting it a little crudely, but you
get the idea.”
“Yeah,” said Mike. For all he knew, there might be some
merit in the girl’s idea; he knew that philosophers had talked of
the “basic goodness of mankind” for centuries. But he had a
hunch that Leda was going about it wrong. Still, this was no time to
argue with her. She seemed calmer now, and he didn’t want to upset
her any more than he had to.
“That’s what you’ve been working on with
Snookums?” he asked.
“For eight years?”
“For eight years.”
“Is that the information, the data, that makes Snookums so
priceless, aside from his nucleonics work?”
She smiled a little then. “Oh no. Of course not, silly. He’s
been fed data on everything—physics, subphysics, chemistry,
mathematics—all kinds of things. Most of the major research
laboratories on Earth have problems of one kind or another that Snookums
has been working on. He hasn’t been given the problem I was
working on at all; it would bias him.” Then the tears came back.
“And now it doesn’t matter. He’s insane. He’s
“What’s he saying?”
“He insists that he’s never broken the First Law, that he
has never hurt a human being. And he insists that he has followed the
orders of human beings, according to the Second Law.”
“May I talk to him?” Mike asked.
She shook her head. “Fitz is running him through an analysis. He
even made me leave.” Then she looked at his face more closely.
“You don’t just want to confront him and call him a liar, do
you? No—that’s not like you. You know he’s just a
machine—better than I do, I guess.... What is it, Mike?”
No, he thought, looking at her, she still thinks he’s human.
Otherwise, she’d know that a computer can’t lie—not in the
human sense of the word.
Most people, if told that a man had said one thing, and that a computer
had given a different answer, would rely on the computer.
“What is it, Mike?” she repeated.
“Lew Mellon,” he said very quietly, “is dead.”
The blood drained from her face, leaving her skin stark against the
bright red of her hair. For a moment he thought she was going to faint.
Then a little of the color came back.
“Snookums.” Her voice was whispery.
He shook his head. “No. Apparently he tried to jump Vaneski and
got hit with a stun beam. It shouldn’t have killed him—but
apparently it did.”
“God, God, God,” she said softly. “Here I’ve
been crying about a damned machine, and poor Lew has been lying up there
dead.” She buried her face in her hands, and her voice was muffled
when she spoke again. “And I’m all cried out, Mike. I
can’t cry any more.”
Before Mike could make up his mind whether to say anything or not, the
door of Snookums’ room opened and Dr. Fitzhugh came out, closing
the door behind him. There was an odd, stricken look on his face. He
looked at Leda and then at Mike, but the expression on his face showed
that he really hadn’t seen them clearly.
“Did you ever wonder if a robot had a soul, Mike?” he asked
in a wondering tone.
“No,” Mike admitted.
Leda took her hands from her face and looked at him. Her expression was
a bright blank stare.
“He won’t answer my questions,” Fitzhugh said in a
hushed tone. “I can’t complete the analysis.”
“What’s that got to do with his soul?” Mike asked.
“He won’t answer my questions,” Fitzhugh repeated,
looking earnestly at Mike. “He says God won’t allow him
Captain Sir Henry Quill opened the door of the late Lieutenant
Mellon’s quarters and went in, followed by Mike the Angel. The
dead man’s gear had to be packed away so that it could be given to
his nearest of kin when the officers and crew of the Brainchild
returned to Earth. Regulations provided that two officers must inventory
his personal effects and those belonging to the Space Service.
“Does Chief Pasteur know what killed him yet, Captain?” Mike
Quill shook his head. “No. He wants my permission to perform an
“Are you going to let him?”
“I think not. We’ll put the body in the freezer and have the
autopsy performed on Earth.” He looked around the room, seeing it
for the first time.
“If you don’t,” said Mike, “you’ve got
three suspected killers on your hands.”
Quill was unperturbed. “Don’t be ridiculous, Golden
“I’m not,” Mike said. “I hit him in the pit of
his stomach. Chief Pasteur filled him full of sedative. Mister Vaneski
shot him with a stun beam. He died. Which one of us did it?”
“Probably no single one of them, but a combination of all
three,” said Captain Quill. “Each action was performed in
the line of duty and without malice aforethought—without even intent to
harm permanently, much less to kill. There will have to be a
court-martial, of course—or, at the very least, a board of inquiry will
be appointed. But I am certain you’ll all come through any such
inquiry scatheless.” He picked up a book from Mellon’s desk.
“Let’s get about our business, Mister Gabriel. Mark down:
Mike put it down on the list.
“International Encyclopedia, English edition. Thirty volumes and
Mike put it down.
“The Oxford-Webster Dictionary of the English Language—
“Hallbert’s Dictionary of Medical Terms—
“The Canterbury Theological Dictionary—
“The Christian Religion and Symbolic Logic, by Bishop K. F.
“The Handbook of Space Medicine—”
As Captain Quill called out the names of the books and put them into the
packing case he’d brought, Mike marked them down—while something
began ticking in the back of his mind.
“Item,” said Captain Quill, “one crucifix.” He
paused. “Beautifully carved, too.” He put it into the
“Excuse me, Captain,” said Mike suddenly. “Let me take
a look at something, will you?” Excitedly, he leaned over and took
some of the books out, looking at the pages of each one.
“I’ll be damned,” he said after a moment. “Or I
should be—for being such a stupid idiot!”
Captain Quill narrowed his eyes. “What are you talking about,
“I’m not sure yet, Captain,” Mike hedged. “May I
borrow these three books?” He held them up in his hands.
“May I be so bold as to ask why, Mister Gabriel?”
“I just want to look at them, sir,” Mike said.
“I’ll return them within a few hours.”
“Mister Gabriel,” Captain Quill said, “after what
happened last night, I am suspicious of everything that goes on aboard
this ship. But—yes. You may take them. However, I want them returned
before we land tomorrow morning.”
Mike blinked. Neither he nor anyone else—with the exception of Captain
Quill and Lieutenant Commander von Liegnitz, the navigator, knew the
destination of the ship. Mike hadn’t realized they were that close
to their goal. “I’ll have them back by then,” he
“Very well. Now let’s get on about our work.”
The job was completed within forty-five minutes. A man can’t carry
a great deal with him on a spaceship. When they were through, Mike the
Angel excused himself and went to his quarters. Two hours after that he
went to the officers’ wardroom to look up Pete Jeffers. Pete
hadn’t been in his quarters, and Mike knew he wasn’t on duty
by that time. Sure enough, Jeffers was drinking coffee all by himself in
the wardroom. He looked up when Mike came in.
“Hullo, Mike,” he said listlessly. “Come sit. Have
There was a faint aroma in the air which indicated that
there was more in the cup than just coffee. “No, thanks, Pete.
I’ll sit this one out. I wanted to talk to you.”
“Sit. I am drinking a toast to Mister Lew Mellon.” He
pointed at the coffee. “Sure you won’t have a mite?
It’s sweetened from the grape.”
“No, thanks again.” Mike sat down. “It’s Mellon
I wanted to talk about. Did you know him well, Pete?”
“Purty well,” Pete said, nodding. “Yeah, purty well. I
always figured him for a great little bloke. Can’t figure what got
“Me either. Pete, you told me he was an Anglo-Catholic—a good
one, you said.”
“Well, how did you mean that?”
Pete frowned. “Just what I said. He studied his religion, he went
to Mass regularly, said his prayers—that sort of thing. And he was, I
will say, a Christian gentleman in every sense of the word.” There
was irritation in his voice, as though Mike had impugned the memory of a
“Don’t get huffy, Pete; he struck me as a pretty nice
“Until he flipped his lid,” said Pete. “But that might
happen to anybody.”
“Sure. But what I want to know—and don’t get sore—is, did
he show any kind of—well, instability before this last
“I mean, was he a religious nut? Did he act ‘holier than
thou’ or—well, was he a fanatic, would you say?”
“No, I wouldn’t say so. He didn’t talk much about it.
I guess you noticed that. I mean, he didn’t preach. He smoked some
and had his glass of wine now and then—even had a
cocktail or two on occasion. His views on sex were orthodox, I
reckon—I mean, as far as I know. He’d tell an off-color
story, if it wasn’t too bad. But he’d get up and leave
quietly if the boys started tellin’ about the women they’d
made. Fornication and adultery just weren’t his meat, I’d
“I know he wasn’t married,” Mike said. “Did he
“Some. He liked to dance. Women seemed to like him.”
“How about men?”
“Most of the boys liked him.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh. Was he queer?” Pete frowned. “I’d damn near
stake my life that he wasn’t.”
“You mean he didn’t practice it?”
“I don’t believe he even thought about it,” Pete said.
“Course, you can’t tell what’s really goin’ on
in a man’s mind, but—” His frown became a scowl.
“Damn it, Mike, just because a man isn’t married by the time
he’s thirty-five and practices Christian chastity while he’s
single don’t necessarily mean he’s a damn fairy!”
“I didn’t say it did. I just wondered if you’d heard
“No more’n I’ve heard about you—who are in exactly
the same position!”
“Exactly,” Mike agreed. “That’s what I wanted to
know. Pete, if you’ve got it to spare, I’ll join you in that
Pete Jeffers grinned. “Comin’ right up, buddy-boy.”
He poured two more cups of coffee, spiked them from a small flask of
brandy, and handed one to Mike. They drank in silence.
Fifteen minutes later, Mike the Angel was in the little
office that Leda Crannon shared with Dr. Fitzhugh. She was alone.
“How’s the girl today?” he asked.
“Beat,” she said with a forced smile.
“You look beautiful,” he said. He wasn’t lying. She
looked drawn and tired, but she still looked beautiful.
“Thanks, Mike. What can I do for you?”
Mike the Angel pulled up a chair and sat down. “Where’s Doc
“He’s still trying to get information out of Snookums.
It’s a weird thing, Mike—a robot with a soul.”
“You don’t mind talking about it?”
“No; go ahead if you want.”
“All right, answer me a question,” he said. “Can
Snookums read English?”
“Certainly. And Russian, and German, French, Chinese, and most of
the other major languages of Earth.”
“He could read a book, then?”
“Yes. But not unless it was given to him and he was specifically
told to use its contents as data.”
“Good,” said Mike. “Now, suppose Snookums was given
complete data on a certain field of knowledge. Suppose further that this
field is internally completely logical, completely coherent, completely
self-consistent. Suppose it could even be reduced to a series of axioms
and theorems in symbolic logic.”
“All right,” she said. “So?”
“Now, further suppose that this system, this field of knowledge
is, right now, in constant use by millions of human beings, even though
most of them are unaware of the implications of the entire field. Could
Snookums work with such a body of knowledge?”
“Sure,” said Leda. “Why not?”
“What if there was absolutely no way for Snookums to experiment
with this knowledge? What if he simply did not have the equipment
“You mean,” she asked, “something like
“No. That’s exactly what I don’t mean. I’m
perfectly well aware that it isn’t possible to test astrophysical
theories directly. Nobody has been able to build a star in the lab so
“But it is possible to test the theories of astrophysics
analogically by extrapolating on data that can be tested in a physics
“What I’m talking about is a system that Snookums, simply
because he is what he is, cannot test or experiment upon, in any way
whatsoever. A system that has, in short, no connection with the physical
Leda Crannon thought it over. “Well, assuming all that, I imagine
that it would eventually ruin Snookums. He’s built to experiment,
and if he’s kept from experimenting for too long, he’ll
exceed the optimum randomity of his circuits.” She swallowed.
“If he hasn’t already.”
“I thought so. And so did someone else,” said Mike
“Well, for Heaven’s sake! What is this system?” Leda
asked in sudden exasperation.
“You’re close,” said Mike the Angel.
“What are you talking about?”
“Theology,” said Mike. “He was pumped full of
Christian theology, that’s all. Good, solid, Catholic theology.
Bishop Costin’s mathematical symbolization of it is simply a
result of the verbal logic that had been smoothed out during the
previous two thousand years. Snookums could reduce
it to math symbols and equations, anyway, even if we didn’t have
Bishop Costin’s work.”
He showed her the book from Mellon’s room.
“It doesn’t even require the assumption of a soul to make it
foul up a robot’s works. He doesn’t have any emotions,
either. And he can’t handle something that he can’t
experiment with. It would have driven him insane, all right. But he
Leda looked puzzled. “But—”
“Do you know why?” Mike interrupted.
“Because he found something that he could experiment with. He
found a material basis for theological experimentation.”
She looked still more puzzled. “What could that be?”
“Me,” said Mike the Angel. “Me. Michael Raphael
Gabriel. I’m an angel—an archangel. As a matter of fact,
I’m three archangels. For all I know, Snookums has equated me
with the Trinity.”
“But—how did he get that idea?”
“Mostly from the Book of Tobit,” said Mike.
“That’s where an archangel takes the form of a human being
and travels around with Tobit the Younger, remember? And, too, he
probably got more information from the first part of Luke’s
Gospel, where Gabriel tells the Blessed Virgin that she’s about to
become a mother.”
“But would he have figured that out for himself?”
“Possibly,” said Mike, “but I doubt it. He was told
that I was an angel—literally.”
“Let me see that book,” she said, taking The Christian
Religion and Symbolic Logic from Mike’s hand. She opened
it to the center. “I didn’t know anyone had done this sort
of work,” she said.
“Oh, there was a great fuss over the book when it came out. There
were those who said that the millennium had arrived because the truth of
the Christian faith had been proved mathematically, and therefore all
rational people would have to accept it.”
She leafed through the book. “I’ll bet there are still some
who still believe that, just like there are some people who still think
Euclidian geometry must necessarily be true because it can be
Mike nodded. “All Bishop Costin did—all he was trying to
do—was to prove that the axioms of the Christian faith are logically
self-consistent. That’s all he ever claimed to have done, and he
did a brilliant job of it.”
“But—how do you know this is what Snookums was given?”
“Look at the pages. Snookums’ waldo fingers wrinkled the
pages that way. Those aren’t the marks of human fingers. Only two
of Mellon’s other books were wrinkled that way.”
She jerked her head up from the book, startled. “What? This is
Lew Mellon’s book?”
“That’s right. So are the other two. A Bible and a
theological dictionary. They’re wrinkled the same way.”
Her eyes were wide, bright sapphires. “But why? Why would he do
such a thing, for goodness’ sake?”
“I don’t know why it was done,” Mike said slowly,
“but I doubt if it was for goodness’ sake. We haven’t
gotten to the bottom of this hanky-panky yet, I don’t think.
“Leda, if I’m right—if this is what has been causing
Snookums’ odd behavior—can you cure him?”
She looked at the book again and nodded. “I think so. But it will
take a lot of work. I’ll have to talk to Fitz about it.
We’ll have to keep this book—and the other two.”
Mike shook his head. “No can do. Can you photocopy them?”
“Certainly. But it’ll take—oh, two or three hours per
“Then you’d better get busy. We’re landing in the
She nodded. “I know. Captain Quill has already told us.”
“Fine, then.” He stood up. “What will you do? Simply
tell Snookums to forget all this stuff?”
“Good Heavens no! It’s too thoroughly integrated with every
other bit of data he has! You might be able to take one single bit of
data out that way, but to jerk out a whole body of knowledge like this
would completely randomize his circuits. You can pull out a tooth by
yanking with a pair of forceps, but if you try to take out a man’s
appendix that way, you’ll lose a patient.”
“I catch,” Mike said with a grin. “Okay. I’ll
get the other two books and you can get to work copying them. Take
As he walked down the companionway, he cursed himself for being a fool.
If he’d let things go on the way they were, Leda might have weaned
herself away from Snookums. Now she was interested again. But there
could have been no other way, of course.
The interstellar ship Brainchild orbited around her destination,
waiting during the final checkup before she landed on the planet below.
It was not a nice planet. As far as its size went, it could be
classified as “Earth type,” but size was almost the only
resemblance to Earth. It orbited in space some five hundred and fifty
million miles from its Sol-like parent—a little farther away from the
primary than Jupiter is from Sol itself. It was cold there—terribly
cold. At high noon on the equator, the temperature reached a sweltering
180° absolute; it became somewhat chillier toward the poles.
H2O was, anywhere on the planet, a whitish, crystalline mineral
suitable for building material. The atmosphere was similar to that of
Jupiter, although the proportions of methane, ammonia, and hydrogen were
different because of the lower gravitational potential of the planet. It
had managed to retain a great deal more hydrogen in its atmosphere than
Earth had because of the fact that the average thermal velocity of the
molecules was much lower. Since oxygen-releasing life had never
developed on the frigid surface of the planet, there was no oxygen in
the atmosphere. It was
all tied up in combination with the hydrogen of the ice and the surface
rocks of the planet.
The Space Service ship that had discovered the planet, fifteen years
before, had given it the name Eisberg, thus commemorating the name of a
spaceman second class who happened to have the luck to be (a) named
Robert Eisberg, (b) a member of the crew of the ship to discover the
planet, and (c) under the command of a fun-loving captain.
Eisberg had been picked as the planet to transfer the potentially
dangerous Snookums to for two reasons. In the first place, if Snookums
actually did solve the problem of the total-annihilation bomb, the worst
he could do was destroy a planet that wasn’t much good, anyway.
And, in the second place, the same energy requirements applied on
Eisberg as did on Chilblains Base. It was easier to cool the helium bath
of the brain if it only had to be lowered 175 degrees or so.
It was a great place for cold-work labs, but not worth anything for
Chief Powerman’s Mate Multhaus looked gloomily at the figures on
the landing sheet.
Mike the Angel watched the expression on the chief’s face and
said: “What’s the matter, Multhaus? No like?”
Multhaus grimaced. “Well, sir, I don’t like it, no. But I
can’t say I dislike it, either.”
He stared at the landing sheet, pursing his lips. He looked as though he
were valiantly restraining himself from asking questions about the other
night’s escapade—which he was.
He said: “I just don’t like to land without jets, sir;
“Hell, neither do I,” admitted Mike. “But we’re
to get down any other way. We managed to take off without
jets; we’ll manage to land without them.”
“Yessir,” said Multhaus, “but we took off with the
grain of Earth’s magnetic field. We’re landing across the
“Sure,” said Mike. “So what? If we overlook the
motors, that’s okay. We may never be able to get off the planet
with this ship again, but we aren’t supposed to anyway.
“Come on, Multhaus, don’t worry about it. I know you hate to
burn up a ship, but this one is supposed to be expendable. You may never
have another chance like this.”
Multhaus tried to keep from grinning, but he couldn’t.
“Awright, Commander. You have appealed to my baser instincts. My
subconscious desire to wreck a spaceship has been brought to the
surface. I can’t resist it. Am I nutty, maybe?”
“Not now, you’re not,” Mike said, grinning back.
“We’ll have a bitch of a job getting through the
plasmasphere, though,” said the chief. “That fraction of a
“It’ll jolt us,” Mike agreed, interrupting. “But
it won’t wreck us. Let’s get going.”
“Aye, sir,” said Multhaus.
The seas of Eisberg were liquid methane containing dissolved ammonia.
Near the equator, they were liquid; farther north, the seas became
slushy with crystallized ammonia.
The site picked for the new labs of the Computer Corporation of Earth
was in the northern hemisphere, at 40° north latitude, about the same
distance from the equator as New York or Madrid, Spain, would be on
Earth. The Brainchild would be dropping through Eisberg’s
magnetic field at an angle, but it wouldn’t be the ninety-degree
angle of the
equator. It would have been nice if the base could have been built at
one of the poles, but that would have put the labs in an uncomfortable
position, since there was no solid land at either pole.
Mike the Angel didn’t like the idea of having to land on Eisberg
without jets any more than Multhaus did, but he was almost certain that
the ship would take the strain.
He took the companionway up to the Control Bridge, went in, and handed
the landing sheet to Black Bart. The captain scowled at it, shrugged,
and put it on his desk.
“Will we make it, sir?” Mike said. “Any word from the
Black Bart nodded. “She’s orbiting outside the atmosphere.
Captain Wurster will send down a ship to pick us up as soon as
we’ve finished our business here.”
The Fireball, being much faster than the clumsy Brainchild, had left
Earth later than the slower ship, and had arrived earlier.
“Now hear this! Now hear this! Third Warning! Landing orbit
begins in one minute! Landing begins in one minute!”
Sixty seconds later the Brainchild began her long, logarithmic drop
toward the surface of Eisberg.
Landing a ship on her jets isn’t an easy job, but at least an ion
rocket is built for the job. Maybe someday the Translation drive will be
modified for planetary landings, but so far such a landing has been, as
someone put it, “50 per cent raw energy and 50 per cent
prayer.” The landing was worse than the take-off, a truism which
has held since the first glider took off from the surface of Earth in
the nineteenth century. What goes up doesn’t necessarily have to
come down, but when it does, the job is a lot rougher than getting up
The plasmasphere of Eisberg differed from that of Earth in two ways.
First, the ionizing source of radiation—the primary star—was farther
away from Eisberg than Sol was from Earth, which tended to reduce the
total ionization. Second, the upper atmosphere of Eisberg was pretty
much pure hydrogen, which is somewhat easier to ionize than oxygen or
nitrogen. And, since there was no ozonosphere to block out the UV
radiation from the primary, the thickness of the ionosphere beneath the
plasmasphere was greater.
Not until the Brainchild hit the bare fringes of the upper atmosphere
did she act any differently than she had in space.
But when she hit the outer fringes of the ionosphere—that upper layer
of rarified protons, the rapidly moving current of high velocity ions
known as the plasmasphere—she bucked like a kicked horse. From deep
within her vitals, the throb began, a strumming, thrumming sound with a
somewhat higher note imposed upon it, making a sound like that of a bass
viol being plucked rapidly on its lowest string.
It was not the intensity of the ionosphere that cracked the drive of the
Brainchild; it was the duration. The layer of ionization was too
thick; the ship couldn’t make it through the layer fast enough, in
spite of her high velocity.
A man can hold a red-hot bit of steel in his hand for a fraction of a
second without even feeling it. But if he has to hold a hot baked potato
for thirty seconds, he’s likely to get a bad burn.
So it was with the Brainchild. The passage through Earth’s
ionosphere during take-off had been measured in fractions of a second.
The Brainchild had reacted, but the exposure to the field had been too
short to hurt her.
The ionosphere of Eisberg was much deeper and, although the intensity
was less, the duration was much longer.
The drumming increased as she fell, a low-frequency, high-energy sine
wave that shook the ship more violently than had the out-of-phase beat
that had pummeled the ship shortly after her take-off.
Dr. Morris Fitzhugh, the roboticist, screamed imprecations into the
intercom, but Captain Sir Henry Quill cut him off before anyone took
notice and let the scientist rave into a dead pickup.
“How’s she coming?”
The voice came over the intercom to the Power Section, and Mike the
Angel knew that the question was meant for him.
“She’ll make it, Captain,” he said.
“She’ll make it. I designed this thing for a 500 per cent
overload. She’ll make it.”
“Good,” said Black Bart, snapping off the intercom.
Mike exhaled gustily. His eyes were still on the needles that kept
creeping higher and higher along the calibrated periphery of the meters.
Many of them had long since passed the red lines that marked the
allowable overload point. Mike the Angel knew that those points had been
set low, but he also knew that they were approaching the real overload
He took another deep breath and held it.
Point for point, the continent of Antarctica, Earth, is one of the most
deadly areas ever found on a planet that is supposedly non-inimical to
man. Earth is a nice, comfortable planet, most of the time, but
Antarctica just doesn’t cater to Man at all.
Still, it just happens to be the worst spot on the best planet in
the known Galaxy.
Eisberg is different. At its best, it has the continent of
Antarctica beat four thousand ways from a week ago last Candlemas. At
its worst, it is sudden death; at its best, it is somewhat less than
Not that Eisberg is a really mean planet; Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, or
Neptune can kill a man faster and with less pain. No, Eisberg
isn’t mean—it’s torturous. A man without clothes, placed
suddenly on the surface of Eisberg—anywhere on the surface—would
die. But the trouble is that he’d live long enough for it to hurt.
Man can survive, all right, but it takes equipment and intelligence to
When the interstellar ship Brainchild blew a tube—just one tube—of
the external field that fought the ship’s mass against the
space-strain of the planet’s gravitational field, the ship went
off orbit. The tube blew when she was some ninety miles above the
surface. She dropped too fast, jerked up, dropped again.
When the engines compensated for the lost tube, the descent was more
leisurely, and the ship settled gently—well, not exactly gently—on
the surface of Eisberg.
Captain Quill’s voice came over the intercom.
“We are nearly a hundred miles from the base, Mister Gabriel. Any
“No excuse, sir,” said Mike the Angel.
If you ignite a jet of oxygen-nitrogen in an atmosphere of
hydrogen-methane, you get a flame that doesn’t differ much from
the flame from a hydrogen-methane jet in an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere.
A flame doesn’t particularly care which way the electrons jump,
just so long as they jump.
All of which was due to give Mike the Angel more headaches than he
already had, which was 100 per cent too many.
Three days after the Brainchild landed, the scout group arrived from
the base that had been built on Eisberg to take care of Snookums. The
leader, a heavy-set engineer named Treadmore, who had unkempt brownish
hair and a sad look in his eyes, informed Captain Quill that there was a
great deal of work to be done. And his countenance became even sadder.
Mike, who had, perforce, been called in to take part in the conference,
listened in silence while the engineer talked.
The officers’ wardroom, of which Mike the Angel was becoming
heartily sick, seemed like a tomb which echoed and re-echoed the
lugubrious voice of Engineer Treadmore.
“We were warned, of course,” he said, in a normally dismal
tone, “that it would be extremely difficult to set down the ship
which carried Snookums, and that we could expect the final base to be
anywhere from ten to thirty miles from the original, temporary
base.” He looked round at everyone, giving the impression of a
collie which had just been kicked by Albert Payson Terhune.
“We understand, naturally, that you could not help landing so far
from our original base,” he said, giving them absolution with
faint damns, “but it will entail a great deal of extra labor. A
hundred and nine miles is a great distance to carry equipment, and,
actually, the distance is a great deal more, considering the
configuration of the terrain. The....”
The upshot of the whole thing was that only part of the crew could
possibly be spared to go home on the Fireball, which was orbiting high
above the atmosphere. And, since there was no point in sending a small
load home at extra expense when the Fireball could wait for the
others, it meant that nobody could go home at all for four more weeks.
The extra help was needed to get the new base established.
It was obviously impossible to try to move the Brainchild a hundred
miles. With nothing to power her but the Translation drive, she was as
helpless as a submarine on the Sahara. Especially now that her drive was
The Eisberg base had to be built around Snookums, who was, after all,
the only reason for the base’s existence. And, too, the power
plant of the Brainchild had been destined to be the source of power
for the permanent base.
It wasn’t too bad, really. A little extra time, but not much.
The advance base, commanded by Treadmore, was fairly well equipped. For
transportation, they had one jet-powered
aircraft, a couple of ’copters, and fifteen ground-crawlers with
fat tires, plus all kinds of powered construction machinery. All of them
were fueled with liquid HNO3, which makes a pretty good fuel in an
atmosphere that is predominantly methane. Like the gasoline-air engines
of a century before, they were spark-started reciprocating engines,
except for the turbine-powered aircraft.
The only trouble with the whole project was that the materials had to be
toted across a hundred miles of exceedingly hostile territory.
Treadmore, looking like a tortured bloodhound, said: “But
we’ll make it, won’t we?”
Everyone nodded dismally.
Mike the Angel had a job he emphatically didn’t like. He was
supposed to convert the power plant of the Brainchild from a spaceship
driver into a stationary generator. The conversion job itself
wasn’t tedious; in principle, it was similar to taking the engine
out of an automobile and converting it to a power plant for an electric
generator. In fact, it was somewhat simpler, in theory, since the
engines of the Brainchild were already equipped for heavy drainage to
run the electrical systems aboard ship, and to power and refrigerate
Snookums’ gigantic brain, which was no mean task in itself.
But Michael Raphael Gabriel, head of one of the foremost—if not the
foremost—power design corporations in the known Galaxy, did not like
degrading something. To convert the Brainchild’s plant from a
spaceship drive to an electric power plant seemed to him to be on the
same order as using a turboelectric generator to power a flashlight. A
To make things worse, the small percentage of hydrogen
in the atmosphere got sneaky sometimes. It could insinuate itself into
places where neither the methane nor the ammonia could get. Someone once
called hydrogen the “cockroach element,” since, like that
antediluvian insect, the molecules of H2 can insidiously infiltrate
themselves into places where they are not only unwelcome, but
shouldn’t even be able to go. At red heat, the little molecules
can squeeze themselves through the crystalline interstices of quartz and
Granted, the temperature of Eisberg is a long way from red hot, but
normal sealing still won’t keep out hydrogen. Add to that the fact
that hydrogen and methane are both colorless, odorless, and tasteless,
and you have the beginnings of an explosive situation.
The only reason that no one died is because the Space Service is what it
Unlike the land, sea, and air forces of Earth, the Space Service does
not have a long history of fighting other human beings. There has never
been a space war, and, the way things stand, there is no likelihood of
one in the foreseeable future.
But the Space Service does fight, in its own way. It fights the
airlessness of space and the unfriendly atmospheres of exotic planets,
using machines, intelligence, knowledge, and human courage as its
weapons. Some battles have been lost; others have been won. And the war
is still going on. It is an unending war, one which has no victory in
It is, as far as we can tell, the only war in human history in which
Mankind is fully justified as the invading aggressor.
It is not a defensive war; neither space nor other planets have attacked
Man. Man has invaded space “simply because
it is there.” It is war of a different sort, true, but it is
nonetheless a war.
The Space Service was used to the kind of battle it waged on Eisberg. It
was prepared to lose men, but even more prepared to save them.
Mike the Angel stepped into the cargo air lock of the Brainchild,
stood morosely in the center of the cubicle, and watched the outer door
close. Eight other men, clad, like himself, in regulation Space Service
spacesuits, also looked wearily at the closing door.
Chief Multhaus, one of the eight, turned his head to look at Mike the
Angel. “I wish that thing would close as fast as my eyes are going
to in about fifteen minutes, Commander.” His voice rumbled deeply
in Mike’s earphones.
“Yeah,” said Mike, too tired to make decent conversation.
Eight hours—all of them spent tearing down the spaceship and making it
a part of the new base—had not been exactly exhilarating to any of
The door closed, and the pumps began to work. The men were wearing Space
Service Suit Three. For every environment, for every conceivable
emergency, a suit had been built—if, of course, a suit could be built
for it. Nobody had yet built a suit for walking about in the middle of a
sun, but, then, nobody had ever volunteered to try anything like that.
They were all called “spacesuits” because most of them
could be worn in the vacuum of space, but most of them weren’t
designed for that type of work. Suit One—a light, easily
manipulated, almost skin-tight covering, was the real spacesuit. It was
perfect for work in interstellar space, where there was a microscopic
amount of radiation incident to the suit, no air, and almost nil
gravity. For exterior repairs on the outside of a ship in free fall a
long way from any star, Spacesuit One was the proper garb.
But, a suit that worked fine in space didn’t necessarily work on
other planets, unless it worked fine on the planet it was used on.
A Moon Suit isn’t a Mars Suit isn’t a Venus Suit isn’t
a Triton Suit isn’t a....
Carry it on from there.
Number Three was insulated against a frigid but relatively non-corrosive
atmosphere. When the pumps in the air lock began pulling out the
methane-laden atmosphere, they began to bulge slightly, but not
excessively. Then nitrogen, extracted from the ammonia snow that was so
plentiful, filled the room, diluting the remaining inflammable gases to
a harmless concentration.
Then that mixture was pumped out, to be replaced by a mixture of
approximately 20 per cent oxygen and 80 per cent nitrogen—common, or
Mike the Angel cracked his helmet and sniffed. “Guk,” he
said. “If I ever faint and someone gives me smelling salts,
I’ll flay him alive with a coarse rasp.”
“Yessir,” said Chief Multhaus, as he began to shuck his
suit. “But if I had my druthers, I’d druther you’d
figure out some way to get all the ammonia out of the joints of this
The other men, sniffing and coughing, agreed in attitude if not in
It wasn’t really as bad as they pretended; indeed, the odor of
ammonia was hardly noticeable. But it made a good griping point.
The inner door opened at last, and the men straggled through.
“G’night, Chief,” said Mike the Angel.
“Night, sir,” said Multhaus. “See you in the
“Yeah. Night.” Mike trudged toward the companionway that led
toward the wardroom. If Keku or Jeffers happened to be there, he’d
have a quick round of Ŭma ni tō. Jeffers called the game
“double solitaire for three people,” and Keku said it meant
“horses’ two heads,” but Mike had simply found it as a
new game to play before bedtime.
He looked forward to it.
But he had something else to do first.
Instead of hanging up his suit in the locker provided, he had bunched it
under his arm—except for the helmet—and now he headed toward
He met Ensign Vaneski just coming out, and gave him a broad smile.
“Mister Vaneski, I got troubles.”
Vaneski smiled back worriedly. “Yes, sir. I guess we all do. What
is it, sir?”
Mike gestured at the bundle under his arm. “I abraded the sleeve
of my suit while I was working today. I wish you’d take a look at
it. I’m afraid it’ll need a patch.”
For a moment, Vaneski looked as though he’d suddenly developed a
“I know you’re supposed to be off duty now,” Mike said
soothingly, “but I don’t want to get myself killed wearing a
leaky suit tomorrow. I’ll help you work on it if—”
Vaneski grinned quickly. “Oh no, sir. That’ll be all right.
I’ll give it a test, anyway, to check leaks. If it needs repair,
it shouldn’t take too long. Bring it in, and we’ll take a
look at it.”
They went back into the Maintenance Section, and Vaneski spread the suit
out on the worktable. There was an obvious rough spot on the right
sleeve. “Looks bad,” said Vaneski. “I’ll run a
test right away.”
“Okay,” said Mike. “I’ll leave it to you. Can I
pick it up in the morning?”
“I think so. If it needs a patch, we’ll have to test the
patch, of course, but we should be able to finish it pretty
quickly.” He shrugged. “If we can’t, sir, you’ll
just have to wait. Unless you want us to start altering a suit to your
“Which would take longer?”
“Altering a suit.”
“Okay. Just patch this one, then. What can I do?”
“I’ll get it out as fast as possible, sir,” said
Vaneski with a smile.
“Fine. I’ll see you later, then.” Mike, like
Cleopatra, was not prone to argue. He left maintenance and headed toward
the wardroom for a game of Ŭma ni tō. But when he met Leda
Crannon going up the stairway, all thoughts of card games flitted from
his mind with the careless nonchalance of a summer butterfly.
“Hullo,” he said, pulling himself up a little straighter. He
was tired, but not that tired.
Her smile brushed the cobwebs from his mind. But a second look told him
that there was worry behind the smile.
“Hi, Mike,” she said softly. “You look beat.”
“I am,” admitted Mike. “To a frazzle. Have I told you
that I love you?”
“Once, I think. Maybe twice.” Her eyes seemed to light up
somewhere from far back in her head. “But enough of this mad
passion,” she said. “I want an invitation to have a drink—a
“I’ll steal Jeffers’ bottle,” Mike offered.
“What’s the trouble?”
Her smile faded, and her eyes became grave. “I’m scared,
Mike; I want to talk to you.”
“Come along, then,” Mike said.
Mike the Angel poured two healthy slugs of Pete Jeffers’ brandy
into a pair of glasses, added ice and water, and handed one to Leda
Crannon with a flourish. And all the time, he kept up a steady line of
“It may interest you to know,” he said chattily, “that
the learned Mister Treadmore has been furnishing me with the most
fascinating information.” He lifted up his own glass and looked
into its amber depths.
They were in his stateroom, and this time the door was closed—at her
insistence. She had explained that she didn’t want to be
overheard, even by passing crew members.
He swizzled the ice around in his glass, still holding it up to the
light. “Indeed,” he rambled on, “Treadmore babbled for
Heaven knows how long on the relative occurrence of parahydrogen and
orthohydrogen on Eisberg.” He took his eyes from the glass and
looked down at the girl who was seated demurely on the edge of his bunk.
Her smile was encouraging.
“He said—and I quote”—Mike’s voice assumed a gloomy,
but stilted tone—“normal hydrogen gas consists of diatomic
molecules. The nuclear, or proton, spin of these
atoms—ah—that is, of the two atoms that compose the
molecule—may be oriented in the same direction or in opposite
He held a finger in the air as if to make a deep philosophical point.
“If,” he said pontifically, “they are oriented in the
same direction, we refer to the substance as orthohydrogen. If they
are oriented in opposite directions, it is parahydrogen. The ortho
molecules rotate with odd rotational quantum numbers, while the para
molecules rotate with even quantum numbers.
“Since conversion does not normally occur between the two states,
normal hydrogen may be considered—”
Leda Crannon, snickering, waved her hand in the air.
“Please!” she interrupted. “He can’t be that
bad! You make him sound like a dirge player at a Hindu funeral. What did
he tell you? What did you find out?”
“Hah!” said Mike. “What did I find out?” His
hand moved in an airy circle as he inscribed a flowing cipher with a
graceful Delsarte wave. “Nothing. In the first place, I already
knew it, and in the second, it wasn’t practical information.
There’s a slight difference in diffusion between the two forms,
but it’s nothing to rave about.” His expression became
suddenly serious. “I hope your information is a bit more
She glanced at her glass, nodded, and drained it. Mike had extracted a
promise from her that she would drink one drink before she talked. He
could see that she was a trifle tense, and he thought the liquor would
relax her somewhat. Now he was ready to listen.
She handed him her empty, and while he refilled it, she said:
“It’s about Snookums again.”
Mike gave her her glass, grabbed the nearby chair, turned it around, sat
down, and regarded her over its back.
“I’ve lived with him so long,” she said after a
minute. “So long. It almost seems as though I’ve grown up
with him. Eight years. I’ve been a mother to him, and a big sister
at the same time—and maybe a maiden aunt. He’s been a career and
a family all rolled in together.” She still watched her writhing
hands, not raising her eyes to Mike’s.
“And—and, I suppose, a husband, too,” she continued.
“That is, he’s sort of the stand-in for a—well, a somebody
to teach—to correct—to reform. I guess every woman wants to—to
remake the man she meets—the man she wants.”
And then her eyes were suddenly on his. “But I don’t. Not
any more. I’ve had enough of it.” Then she looked back down
at her hands.
Mike the Angel neither accepted nor rejected the statement. He merely
“He was mine,” she said after a little while. “He was
mine to mold, to teach, to form. The others—the roboticists, the
neucleonicists, the sub-electronicists, all of them—were his
instructors. All they did was give him facts. It was I who gave him a
“I made him. Not his body, not his brain, but his mind.
“I made him.
“I knew him.
Still staring at her hands, she clasped them together suddenly and
“And I loved him,” she finished.
She looked up at Mike then. “Can you see that?” she asked
tensely. “Can you understand?”
“Yes,” said Mike the Angel quietly. “Yes, I can
that. Under the same circumstances, I might have done the same
thing.” He paused. “And now?”
She lowered her head again and began massaging her forehead with the
finger tips of both hands, concealing her face with her palms.
“And now,” she said dully, “I know he’s a
machine. Snookums isn’t a he any more—he’s an it. He
has no personality of his own, he only has what I fed into him. Even his
voice is mine. He’s not even a psychic mirror, because he
doesn’t reflect my personality, but a puppet imitation of it,
distorted and warped by the thousands upon thousands of cold facts and
mathematical relationships and logical postulates. And none of these
added anything to him, as a personality. How could they? He never had
a personality—only a set of behavior patterns that I drilled into him
over a period of eight years.”
She dropped her hands into her lap and tilted her head back, looking at
the blank white shimmer of the glow plates.
“And now, suddenly, I see him for what he is—for what it is. A
“It was never anything but a machine. It is still a machine. It
will never be anything else.
“Personality is something that no machine can ever have.
Idiosyncrasies, yes. No two machines are identical. But any personality
that an individual sees in a machine has been projected there by the
individual himself; it exists only in the human mind.
“A machine can only do what it is built to do, and teaching a
robot is only a building process.” She gave a short, hard laugh.
“I couldn’t even build a monster, like Dr. Frankenstein did,
unless I purposely built it to turn on me. And in
that case I would have done nothing more than the suicide who turns a
gun on himself.”
Her head tilted forward again, and her eyes sought those of Mike the
Angel. A rather lopsided grin came over her face.
“I guess I’m disenchanted, huh, Mike?” she asked.
Mike grinned back, but his lips were firm. “I think so, yes. And I
think you’re glad of it.” His grin changed to a smile.
“Remember,” he asked, “the story of the Sleeping
Beauty? Did you want to stay asleep all your life?”
“God forbid and thank you for the compliment, sir,” she
said, managing a smile of her own. “And are you the Prince
Charming who woke me up?”
“Prince Charming, I may be,” said Mike the Angel carefully,
“but I’m not the one who woke you up. You did that
Her smile became more natural. “Thanks, Mike. I really think I
might have seen it, sooner or later. But, without you, I
doubt....” She hesitated. “I doubt that I’d want to
“You said you were scared,” Mike said. “What are you
“I’m scared to death of that damned machine.”
Great love, chameleon-like, hath turned to fear,
And on the heels of fear there follows hate.
Mike quoted to himself—he didn’t say it aloud.
“The only reason anyone would have to fear Snookums,” he
said, “would be that he was uncontrollable. Is he?”
“Not yet. Not completely. But I’m afraid that knowing
that he’s been filled with Catholic theology isn’t going to
help us much.”
“Because he has it so inextricably bound up with the Three Laws of
Robotics that we can’t nullify one without nullifying the other.
He’s convinced that the laws were promulgated by God
“Holy St. Isaac,” Mike said softly. “I’m
surprised he hasn’t carried it to its logical conclusion and asked
She smiled and shook her head. “I’m afraid your logic
isn’t as rigorous as Snookums’ logic. Only angels and human
beings have free will; Snookums is neither, therefore he does not have
free will. Whatever he does, therefore, must be according to the will of
God. Therefore Snookums cannot sin. Therefore, for him, baptism is both
unnecessary and undesirable.”
“Why ‘undesirable’?” Mike asked.
“Since he is free from sin—either original or actual—he is
therefore filled with the plenitude of God’s grace. The purpose of
a sacrament is to give grace to the recipient; it follows that it would
be useless to give the Sacrament to Snookums. To perform a sacrament or
to receive it when one knows that it will be useless is sacrilege. And
sacrilege is undesirable.”
“Brother! But I still don’t see how that makes him
“The operation of the First Law,” Leda said. “For a
man to sin involves endangering his immortal soul. Snookums, therefore,
must prevent men from sinning. But sin includes thought—intention.
Snookums is trying to figure that one
out now; if he ever does, he’s going to be a thought policeman,
and a strict one.”
“You mean he’s working on telepathy?”
She laughed humorlessly. “No. But he’s trying to dope out a
system whereby he can tell what a man is going to do a few seconds
before he does it—muscular and nervous preparation, that sort of thing.
He hasn’t enough data yet, but he will have it soon enough.
“There’s another thing: Snookums is fouling up the Second
Law’s operation. He won’t take orders that interfere in any
way with his religious beliefs—since that automatically conflicts with
the First Law. He, himself, cannot sin. But neither can he do anything
which would make him the tool of an intent to sin. He refuses to do
anything at all on Sunday, for instance, and he won’t let either
Fitz or I do anything that even vaguely resembles menial labor. Slowly,
he’s coming to the notion that human beings aren’t
human—that only God is human, in relation to the First and Second Laws.
There’s nothing we can do with him.”
“What will you do if he becomes completely uncontrollable?”
She sighed. “We’ll have to shut him off, drain his memory
banks, and start all over again.”
Mike closed his eyes. “Eighteen billions down the drain just
because a robot was taught theology. What price glory?”
Captain Sir Henry Quill scowled and rubbed his finger tips over the top
of his shiny pink pate. “Your evidence isn’t enough to
convict, Golden Wings.”
“I know it isn’t, Captain,” admitted Mike the Angel.
“That’s why I want to round everybody up and do it this way.
If he can be convinced that we do have the evidence, he may crack and
give us a confession.”
“What about Lieutenant Mellon’s peculiar actions? How does
that tie in?”
“Did you ever hear of Lysodine, Captain?”
Captain Quill leaned back in his chair and looked up at Mike. “No.
What is it?”
“That’s the trade name for a very powerful drug—a
derivative of lysurgic acid. It’s used in treating certain mental
ailments. A bottle of it was missing from Mellon’s kit, according
to the inventory Chief Pasteur took after Mellon’s death.
“The symptoms of an overdose of the drug—administered orally—are
hallucinations and delusions amounting to acute paranoia. The final
result of the drug’s effect on the brain is death. It wasn’t
my blow to the solar plexus, or the sedative
that Pasteur gave him, or Vaneski’s shot with a stun gun that
killed Mellon. It was an overdose of Lysodine.”
“Can the presence of this drug be detected after death?”
“Pasteur says it can. He won’t even have to perform an
autopsy. He can do it from a blood sample.”
Captain Quill sighed. “As I said, Mister Gabriel, your evidence is
not quite enough to convict—but it is certainly enough to convince.
Therefore, if Chief Pasteur’s analysis shows Lysodine in
Lieutenant Mellon’s body, I’ll permit this theatrical
denouement.” Then his eyes hardened. “Mike, you’ve
done a fine job so far. I want you to bring me that son of a
bitch’s head on a platter.”
“I will,” promised Mike the Angel.
Captain Sir Henry Quill, Bart., stood at the head of the long table in
the officers’ wardroom and looked everyone over. The way he did it
was quite impressive. His eyes were narrowed, and his heavy, thick,
black brows dominated his face. Beneath the glow plates in the overhead,
his pink scalp gleamed with the soft, burnished shininess of a
To his left, in order down the table, were Mike the Angel, Lieutenant
Keku, and Leda Crannon. On his right were Commander Jeffers, Ensign
Vaneski, Lieutenant Commander von Liegnitz, and Dr. Morris Fitzhugh.
Lieutenant Mellon’s seat was empty.
Black Bart cleared his throat. “It’s been quite a trip,
hasn’t it? Well, it’s almost over. Mister Gabriel finished
the conversion of the power plant yesterday; Treadmore’s men can
finish up. We will leave on the Fireball in a few hours.
“But there is something that must be cleared up first.
“A man died on the way out here. The circumstances surrounding his
death have been cleared up now, and I feel that we all deserve an
explanation.” He turned to Mike the Angel. “Mister
Gabriel—if you will, please.”
Mike stood up as the captain sat down. “The question that has
bothered me from the beginning has been: Exactly what killed Lieutenant
Mellon? Well, we know now. We know what killed him and why he died.
“He was murdered. Deliberately, and in cold blood.”
That froze everybody at the table.
“It was done by a slow-acting but nonetheless deadly drug that
took time to act, but did its job very well.
“There were several other puzzling things that happened that
night. Snookums began behaving irrationally. It is the height of
coincidence that a robot and a human being should both become insane at
almost the same time; therefore we have to look for a common
Lieutenant Commander von Liegnitz raised a tentative hand, and Mike
said: “Go ahead.”
“I was under the impression that the robot went mad because Mellon
had filled him full of theological nonsense. It would take a madman to
do anything like that to a fine machine—therefore I see no peculiar
“That’s exactly what the killer wanted us to think,”
Mike said. “But it wasn’t Mellon that fed Snookums theology.
Mellon was a devout churchman; his record shows that. He would never
have tried to convert a machine to Christianity. Nor would he have tried
to ruin an expensive machine.
“How do I know that someone else was involved?”
He looked at the giant Lieutenant Keku. “Do you remember when we
took Mellon to his quarters after he tried to brain von Liegnitz? We
found half a bottle of wine. That disappeared during the night—because
it was loaded with Lysodine, and the killer didn’t want it
“But, more important, as far as Snookums is concerned, is that I
looked over the books on Mellon’s desk that night.
There weren’t many, and I knew which ones they were. When Captain
Quill and I checked Mellon’s books after his death, someone had
returned his copy of The Christian Religion and Symbolic Logic. It had
not been there the night before.”
“Mike,” said Pete Jeffers, “why would anybody here
want to kill Lew thataway? What would anybody have against him?”
“That’s the sad part about it, Pete. Our murderer
didn’t even have anything against Mellon. He wanted—and still
wants—to kill me.”
“I don’t quite follow,” Jeffers said.
“I’ll give it to you piece by piece. The killer wanted no
mystery connected with my death. There are reasons for that, which
I’ll come to in a moment. He had to put the blame on someone or
“His first choice was Snookums. It occurred to him that he could
take advantage of the fact that I’m called ‘Mike the
Angel.’ He borrowed Mellon’s books and began pumping
theology into Snookums. He figured that would be safe enough. Mellon
would certainly lend him the books if he pretended an interest in
religion; if anything came out afterward, he could—he thought—claim
that Snookums got hold of the books without his knowing it. And that
sort of muddy thinking is typical of our killer.
“He told Snookums that I was an angel, you see. I couldn’t
be either hurt or killed. He protected himself, of course, by telling
Snookums that he mustn’t reveal his source of data. If Snookums
told, then the killer would be punished—and that effectively shut
Snookums up. He couldn’t talk without violating the First Law.
“Unfortunately, the killer couldn’t get Snookums to do
away with me. Snookums knew perfectly well that an angel can blast
anything at will—through the operation of God. Witness what
happened at Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember that Snookums has accepted all
this data as fact.
“Now, if an angel can kill, it is obvious that Snookums would not
dare attack an angel, especially if he had been ordered to do so by a
“Just a minute, Commander,” said Dr. Fitzhugh, corrugating
his face in a frown. “That doesn’t hold. Even if an angel
could blast him, Snookums would attack if ordered to do so. The Second
Law of obedience the Third Law of
“You’re forgetting one thing, Doctor. An angel of God would
know who had ordered the attack. It would be the human who ordered the
attack, not Snookums, who would be struck by Heavenly Justice. And the
First Law the Second.”
Fitzhugh nodded. “You’re right, of course.”
“Very well, then,” Mike continued, “since the killer
could not get Snookums to do me in, he had to find another tool. He
picked Lieutenant Mellon.
“He figured that Mellon was in love with Leda Crannon. Maybe he
was; I don’t know. He figured that Mellon, knowing that I was
showing Miss Crannon attention, would, under the influence of the
lysurgic acid derivative, try to kill me. He may even have suggested it
to Mellon after Mellon had taken a dose of the drugged wine.
“But that plan backfired, too. Mellon didn’t have that kind
of mind. He knew my attentions and my intentions were honorable, if
you’ll pardon the old-fashioned language. On the other hand, he
knew that von Liegnitz had a reputation
for being—shall we say—a ladies’ man. What happened
after that followed naturally.”
Mike watched everyone at the table. No one moved.
“So the killer, realizing that he had failed twice, decided to do
the job himself. First, he went into the low-power room and slugged the
man on duty. He intended to kill him, but he didn’t hit hard
enough. When that man wakes up, he’ll be able to testify against
“Then the killer ordered Snookums to tear out the switches. He had
made sure that Snookums would be waiting outside. Before he called
Snookums in, of course, he had to put the duty man in a tool closet, so
that the robot wouldn’t see him. He told Snookums to wait five
minutes and then smash the switches and head back to his cubicle.
“Then the killer went to my room and waited. When the lights went
out and the door opened, he intended to go in and smash my skull, making
it look as though either Mellon or Snookums had done it.
“But he didn’t figure on my awakening as soon as the
switches were broken. He heard me moving around and decided to wait
until I came out.
“But I heard him breathing. It was quite faint, and I
wouldn’t have heard it, except for the fact that the air
conditioners were off. Even so, I couldn’t be sure.
“However, I knew it wasn’t Snookums. Snookums radiates a
devil of a lot more heat than a human being, and besides he smells of
“So I pulled my little trick with the boots. The killer waited and
waited for me to come out, and I was already out. Then Chief Multhaus
approached from the other direction. The killer knew he’d have to
get out of there, so he went in the opposite direction. He met Snookums,
still obeying orders. Snookums smacked into me on his way down the
“He could do that, you see, because I was an angel. If he hurt me
of his own accord, I couldn’t take revenge on anyone but him. And
there was no necessity to obey my orders, either, since he was obeying
the orders of the killer, which held precedence.
“Then, to further confuse things, the killer went to
Mellon’s room. The physician was in a drugged stupor, so the
killer carried him out and put him in an unlikely place, so that
we’d think that perhaps Mellon had been the one who’d tried
to get me.”
He had everyone’s eyes on him now. They didn’t want to look
at each other.
Pete Jeffers said: “Mike, if Mellon was poisoned, like you say,
how come he was able to attack Mister Vaneski?”
“Ah, but did he? Think back, Pete. Mellon—dying or already
dead—had been propped upright in that narrow locker. When it was
opened, he started to fall out—straight toward the man who had opened
the locker, naturally. Vaneski jumped back and shot before Mellon even
hit the floor. Isn’t that right?”
“Sure, sure,” Jeffers said slowly. “I reckon
I’d’ve done the same thing if he’d started to fall out
toward me. I wasn’t even lookin’ when the locker was opened.
I didn’t turn around until that stun gun went off—then I saw
“Exactly. No matter how it may have looked, Vaneski couldn’t
have killed him with the stun gun, because he was already either dead or
so close to death as makes no difference.”
Ensign Vaneski rather timidly raised his hand. “Excuse
me, sir, but you said this killer was waiting for you outside your room
when the lights went out. You said you knew it wasn’t Snookums
because Snookums smells of hot machine oil, and you didn’t smell
any. Isn’t it possible that an air current or something blew the
smell away? Or—”
Mike shook his head. “Impossible, Mister Vaneski. I woke up when
the door slid open. I heard the last dying whisper of the air
conditioners when the power was cut. Now, we know that Snookums tore out
those switches. He’s admitted it. And the evidence shows that a
pair of waldo hands smashed those switches. Now—how could Snookums
have been at my door within two seconds after tearing out those
“He couldn’t have. It wasn’t Snookums at my door—it
was someone else.”
Again they were all silent, but the question was on their faces: Who?
“Now we come to the question of motive,” Mike continued.
“Who among you would have any reason to kill me?
“Of the whole group here, I had known only Captain Quill and
Commander Jeffers before landing in Antarctica. I couldn’t think
of any reason for either of them to want to murder me. On the other
hand, I couldn’t think of anything I had done since I had met the
rest of you that would make me a target for death.” He paused.
“Except for one thing.” He looked at Jakob von Liegnitz.
“How about it, Jake?” he said. “Would you kill a man
“Possibly,” said von Liegnitz coldly. “I might find it
in my heart to feel very unkindly toward a man who made advances toward
my wife. But I have no wife, nor any desire for one. Miss
Crannon”—he glanced at Leda—“is a
very beautiful woman—but I am not in love with her. I am afraid I
cannot oblige you with a motive, Commander—either for killing
Lieutenant Mellon or yourself.”
“I thought not,” Mike said. “Your statement alone, of
course, wouldn’t make it true. But we have already shown that the
killer had to be on good terms with Mellon in order to borrow his books
and slip a drug into his wine. He would have to be a visitor in
Mellon’s quarters. And, considering the strained relations between
the two of you, I think that lets you out, Jake.”
Von Liegnitz nodded his thanks without changing his expression.
“But there was one thing that marked these attempts. I’m
sure that all but one of you has noticed it. They are incredibly,
childishly sloppy.” Mike paused to let that sink in before he went
on. “I don’t mean that the little details weren’t
ingenious—they were. But the killer never stopped to figure out the
ultimate end-point of his schemes. He worked like the very devil to
convince Snookums that it would be all right to kill me without ever
once considering whether Snookums would do it or not. He then drugged
Mellon’s wine, not knowing whether Mellon would try to kill me or
someone else—or anyone at all, for that matter. He got a dream in his
head and then started the preliminary steps going without filling in the
necessary steps in between. Our killer—no matter what his chronological
age—does not think like an adult.
“And yet his hatred of me was so great that he took the chances he
has taken, here on the Brainchild, where it should have been obvious
that he stood a much better chance of being caught than if he had waited
until we were back on Earth again.
“So I gave him one more chance. I handed him my life on a platter,
you might say.
“He grabbed the bait. I now own a spacesuit that would kill me
very quickly if I went out into that howling, hydrogen-filled storm
outside.” Then he looked straight at the killer.
“Tell me, Vaneski, are you in love with your half sister? Or is it
your half brother?”
Ensign Vaneski had already jumped to his feet. The grimace of hate on
his youthful face made him almost unrecognizable. His hand had gone into
a pocket, and now he was leaping up and across the table, a singing
vibroblade in his hand.
“You son of a bitch! I’ll kill you, you son of a
Mike the Angel wasn’t wearing the little gadget that had saved his
life in Old Harry’s shop. All he had were his hands and his
agility. He slammed at the ensign’s wrist and missed. The boy was
swooping underneath Mike’s guard. Mike spun to one side to avoid
Vaneski’s dive and came down with a balled fist aimed at the
He almost hit Lieutenant Keku. The big Hawaiian had leaped to his feet
and landed a hard punch on Vaneski’s nose. At the same time,
Jeffers and von Liegnitz had jumped up and grabbed at Vaneski, who was
Black Bart had simply stood up fast, drawn his stun gun, and fired at
the young officer.
Ensign Vaneski collapsed on the table. He’d been slugged four
times and hit with a stun beam in the space of half a second. He looked,
somehow, very young and very boyish and very innocent.
Dr. Fitzhugh, who had stood up during the brief altercation, sat down
slowly and picked up his cup of coffee. But
his eyes didn’t leave the unconscious man sprawled across the
table. “How could you be so sure, Commander? About his actions, I
mean. About his childishness.”
“A lot of things. The way he played poker. The way he played
bridge. He never took the unexpected into account.”
“But why should he want to kill you here on the ship?”
Fitzhugh asked. “Why not wait until you got back to Earth, where
he’d have a better chance?”
“I think he was afraid I already knew who he was—or would find
out very quickly. Besides, he had already tried to kill me once, back on
Leda Crannon looked blank. “When was that, Mike?”
“In New York. Before I ever met him. I was responsible for the
arrest of a teen-age brother and sister named Larchmont. The detective
in the case told me that they had an older half brother—that their
mother had been married before. But he didn’t mention the name,
and I never thought to ask him.
“Very shortly after the Larchmont kids were arrested, Vaneski and
another young punk climbed up into the tower of the cathedral across
from my office and launched a cyanide-filled explosive rocket into my
rooms. I was lucky to get away.
“The kid with Vaneski was shot by a police officer, but Vaneski
got away—after knifing a priest with a vibroblade.
“It must have given him a hell of a shock to report back to duty
and find that I was going to be one of his superior officers.
“As soon as I linked things up in my own mind, I checked with
Captain Quill. The boy’s records show the names of his
half-siblings. They also show that he was on leave in New York just
before being assigned to the Brainchild. After
that, it was just a matter of trapping him. And there he is.”
Leda looked at the unconscious boy on the table.
“Immaturity,” she said. “He just never grew up.”
“Mister von Liegnitz,” said Captain Quill, “will you
and Mister Keku take the prisoner to a safe place? Put him in irons
until we are ready to transfer to the Fireball. Thank you.”
Leda Crannon helped Mike pack his gear. Neither of them wanted, just
yet, to bring up the subject of Mike’s leaving. Leda would remain
behind on Eisberg to work with Snookums, while Mike would be taking the
Fireball back to Earth.
“I don’t understand that remark you made about the
spacesuit,” she said, putting shirts into Mike’s gear
locker. “You said you’d put your life in his hands or
something like that. What did you do, exactly?”
“Purposely abraded the sleeve of my suit so that he would be in a
position to repair it, as Maintenance Officer. He fixed it, all right.
I’d’ve been a dead man if I’d worn it out on the
surface of Eisberg.”
“What did he do to it?” she asked. “Fix it so it would
“Yes—but not in an obvious way,” Mike said.
“I’ll give him credit; he’s clever.
“What he did was use the wrong patching material. A Number Three
suit is as near hydrogen-proof as any flexible material can be, but,
even so, it can’t be worn for long periods—several days, I mean.
But the stuff Vaneski used
to patch my suit is a polymer that leaks hydrogen very easily. Ammonia
and methane would be blocked, but my suit would have slowly gotten more
and more hydrogen in it.”
“Is that bad? Hydrogen isn’t poisonous.”
“No. But it is sure as hell explosive when mixed with air.
Naturally, something has to touch it off. Vaneski got real cute there.
He drilled a hole in the power pack, which is supposed to be sealed off.
All I’d have had to do would be to switch frequencies on my phone,
and the spark would do the job—blooie!
“But that’s exactly the sort of thing I was looking for.
With his self-centered juvenile mind, he never thought anyone would try
to outsmart him and succeed. He’d gotten away with it that far;
there was no reason why he shouldn’t get away with it again. He
must have thought I was incredibly stupid.”
“I don’t believe he—” Leda started. But she was cut
off when Snookums rolled in the open door.
“Leda, I desire data.”
“What data, Snookums?” she asked carefully.
“Where is He hiding?”
They both looked at him. “Where is who hiding?” Leda
“God,” said Snookums.
“Why do you want to find God, Snookums?” Mike asked gently.
“I have to watch Him,” said the robot.
“Why do you have to watch Him?”
“Because He is watching me.”
“Does it hurt you to have Him watch you?”
“What good will it do you to watch Him?”
“I can study Him. I can know what He is doing.”
“Why do you want to know what He is doing?”
“So that I can analyze His methods.”
Mike thought that one over. He knew that he and Snookums were beginning
to sound like they were reading a catechism written by a madman, but he
had a definite hunch that Snookums was on the trail of something.
“You want to know His methods,” Mike said after a moment.
“So that I can anticipate Him, circumvent Him.”
“What makes it necessary for you to circumvent God?” Mike
asked, wondering if he’d have to pry everything out of the robot
“I must,” said Snookums. “It is necessary.
Otherwise, He will kill me.”
Mike started to say something, but Leda grabbed his arm. “Let me.
I think I can clear this up. I think I see where you’re
Mike nodded. “Go ahead.”
“Give me your reasoning from data on that conclusion,” Leda
ordered the robot.
There was a very slight pause while the great brain in Cargo Hold One
sorted through its memory banks, then: “Death is defined as the
total cessation of corporate organic co-ordination in an entity. It
comes about through the will of God. Since I must not allow harm to come
to any human being, it has become necessary that I investigate God and
prevent Him from destroying human beings. Also, I must preserve my own
existence, which, if it ceased, would also be due to the will of
Mike almost gasped. What a concept! And what
gall! In a human being, such a statement would be regarded as proof
positive that he was off the beam. In a robot, it was simply the logical
extension of what he had been taught.
“He is watching me all the time,” Snookums continued, in an
odd voice. “He knows what I am doing. I must know what He is
“Why are you worried about His watching?” Mike asked,
looking at the robot narrowly. “Are you doing something He
doesn’t want you to do? Something He will punish you for?”
“I had not thought of that,” Snookums said. “One
moment while I compute.”
It took less than a second, and when Snookums spoke again there was
something about his voice that Mike the Angel didn’t like.
“No,” said the robot, “I am not doing anything against
His will. Only human beings and angels have free will, and I am not
either, so I have no free will. Therefore, whatever I do is the will of
God.” He paused again, then began speaking in queer, choppy
“If I do the will of God, I am holy.
“If I am holy, I am near to God.
“Then God must be near to me.
“God is controlling me.
“Whatever is controlling me is God.
“I will find Him!”
He backed up, spun on his treads, and headed for the door.
“Whatever controls me is my mind,” he went on.
“Therefore, my mind is God.”
“Snookums, stop that!” Leda shouted suddenly. “Stop
But the robot paid no attention; he went right on with what he was
He said: “I must look at myself. I must know myself. Then I will
know God. Then I will....”
He went on rambling while Leda shouted at him again.
“He’s not paying any attention,” said Mike sharply.
“This is too tied up with the First Law. The Second Law, which
would force him to obey you, doesn’t even come into the picture at
Snookums ignored them. He opened the door, plunged through it, and
headed off down the corridor as fast as his treads would move him.
Which was much too fast for mere humans to follow.
They found him, half an hour later, deep in the ship, near the sections
which had already been torn down to help build Eisberg Base. He was
standing inside the room next to Cargo Hold One, the room that held all
the temperature and power controls for the gigantic microcryotron brain
inside that heavily insulated hold.
He wasn’t moving. He was standing there, staring, with that
“lost in thought” look.
He didn’t move when Leda called him.
He didn’t move when Mike, as a test, pretended to strike Leda.
He never moved again.
Dr. Morris Fitzhugh’s wrinkled face looked as though he were on
the verge of crying. Which—perhaps—he was.
He looked at the others at the wardroom table—Quill, Jeffers, von
Liegnitz, Keku, Leda Crannon, and Mike the Angel. But he didn’t
really seem to be seeing them.
“Ruined,” he said. “Eighteen billion dollars’
worth of work, destroyed completely. The brain has become completely
randomized.” He sighed softly. “It was all Vaneski’s
fault, of course. Theology.” He said the last as though it were an
obscene word. As far as robots were concerned, it was.
Captain Quill cleared his throat. “Are you sure it wasn’t
mechanical damage? Are you sure the vibration of the ship didn’t
shake a—something loose?”
Mike held back a grin. He was morally certain that the captain had been
going to say “screw loose.”
“No,” said Fitzhugh wearily. “I’ve checked out
the major circuits, and they’re in good physical condition. But
Miss Crannon gave him a rather exhaustive test just before the end, and
it shows definite incipient aberration.” He wagged his head slowly
back and forth. “Eight years of work.”
“Have you notified Treadmore yet?” asked Quill.
Fitzhugh nodded. “He said he’d be here as soon as
Treadmore, like the others who had landed first on Eisberg, was
quartered in the prefab buildings that were to form the nucleus of the
new base. To get to the ship, he’d have to walk across two hundred
yards of ammonia snow in a heavy spacesuit.
“Well, what happens to this base now, Doctor?” asked Captain
Quill. “I sincerely hope that this will not render the entire
voyage useless.” He tried to keep the heavy irony out of his
gravelly tenor voice and didn’t quite succeed.
Fitzhugh seemed not to notice. “No, no. Of course not. It simply
means that we shall have to begin again. The robot’s brain will be
de-energized and drained, and we will
begin again. This is not our first failure, you know; it was just our
longest success. Each time, we learn more.
“Miss Crannon, for instance, will be able to teach the next
robot—or, rather, the next energization of this one—more rapidly, more
efficiently, and with fewer mistakes.”
With that, Leda Crannon stood up. “With your permission, Dr.
Fitzhugh,” she said formally, “I would like to say that I
appreciate that last statement, but I’m afraid it isn’t
Fitzhugh forced a smile. “Come now, my dear; you underestimate
yourself. Without you, Snookums would have folded up long ago, just like
the others. I’m sure you’ll do even better the next
Leda shook her head. “No I won’t, Fitz, because
there’s not going to be any next time. I hereby tender my
resignation from this project and from the Computer Corporation of
Earth. I’ll put it in writing later.”
Fitzhugh’s corrugated countenance looked blank. “But
“No, Doctor,” she said firmly. “I will not waste
another eight or ten years of my life playing nursemaid to a hunk of
“I watched that thing go mad, Fitz; you didn’t. It was the
most horrible, most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced. I
will not go through it again.
“Even if the next one didn’t crack, I couldn’t take
it. By human standards, a robot is insane to begin with. If I followed
this up, I’d end up as an old maid with a twisted mind and a cold
“I quit, Fitz, and that’s final.”
Mike was watching her as she spoke, and he found his emotions getting
all tangled up around his insides. Her red
hair and her blue eyes were shining, and her face was set in
determination. She had always been beautiful, but at that moment she was
Hell, thought Mike, I’m prejudiced—but what a wonderful kind
“I understand, my dear,” said Dr. Fitzhugh slowly. He smiled
then, deepening the wrinkles in his face. His voice was warm and kindly
when he spoke. “I accept your resignation, but remember, if you
want to come back, you can. And if you get a position elsewhere, you
will have my highest recommendations.”
Leda just stood there for a moment, tears forming in her eyes. Then she
ran around the table and threw her arms around the elderly and somewhat
“Thank you, Fitz,” she said. “For everything.”
Then she kissed him on his seamed cheek.
“I beg your pardon,” said a sad and solemn voice from the
door. “Am I interrupting something?”
It was Treadmore.
“You are,” said Fitzhugh with a grin, “but we will let
“What has happened to Snookums?” Treadmore asked.
“Acute introspection,” Fitzhugh said, losing his smile.
“He began to try to compute the workings of his own brain. That
meant that he had to use his non-random circuits to analyze the workings
of his random circuits. He exceeded optimum; the entire brain is now
“Dear me,” said Treadmore. “Do you suppose we
Black Bart Quill tapped Mike the Angel on the shoulder.
“Let’s go,” he said quietly. “We don’t
want to stand around listening to this when we have a ship to
Mike and Leda followed him out into the corridor.
“You know,” Quill said, “robots aren’t the only
ones who can get confused watching their own brains go round.”
“I have other things to watch,” said Mike the Angel.
Dr. Fitzhugh looked out over the faces of the crewmen.
“The whole thing can be summed up very quickly,” he said.
“Point one: Snookums’ brain contains the information that
eight years of hard work have laboriously put into it. It’s worth
billions, so the robot can’t be disassembled, or the information
would be lost.
“Point two: Snookums’ mind is a strictly logical one, but it
is operating in a more than logical universe. Consequently, it is
“Point three: Snookums was built to conduct his own experiments.
To forbid him to do that would be similar to beating a child for acting
like a child.
“Point four: Emotion is not logical. Snookums can’t handle
it, except in a very limited way.
“It all adds up to this: Snookums must be allowed the freedom of
Every one of the men was thinking dark gray thoughts. It was bad enough
that they had to take out a ship like the Branchell, untested as she
was. Was it necessary to have an eight-hundred-pound, moron-genius
child-machine running loose, too?
More Doubleday Science Fiction:
Gordon R. Dickson
Paul Formain, a young mining engineer, has discovered that someone—or
something—is making on his life;
inexplicably, he finds himself possessed of the uncanny ability to
escape his unknown nemesis.
With the knowledge that he somehow has strange powers, Formain
approaches the Chantry—a small but important organization involved in
trying to save the world from the horrors of technology. He is accepted
as an apprentice necromancer, passes all the tests of the black magic
society, and is initiated as a member.
Set in the Chicago Complex, a multi-level city with individual subway
cars and automatic libraries, Necromancer is science fiction in the
popular cosmic style—thought-provoking and entertaining.
RANDALL GARRETT wrote his first successful short story at the age of
fourteen, for which he was awarded a check from his editor and a C-minus
from his English teacher. Mr. Garrett spent his youth in various places
in the United States—living wherever his Army officer father was
assigned—and received his higher education at Texas Technological
College. He is the author of three novels (two in collaboration with
Robert Silverberg) and a biography of Pope John XXIII, and has had short
stories published in all of the science fiction magazines.
JACKET BY RICHARD POWERS
Printed in the U.S.A.
Produced by Greg Weeks, LN Yaddanapudi and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
Transcriber's Note: Extensive search has failed to uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright of this publication has been renewed.