"Me!" Arnold stiffened, pulled his fingers away hastily.
"That surprises you? Don't worry, you're not one of the Primes; probably be rejected on the first run. It's just that you once knew Carmack rather well. Cal Tech, wasn't it, when Carmack was doing his special work on magnetronics? Naturally you've had contact since, due to the nature of your job."
Arnold nodded, frowning. "That's right. It just hadn't occurred to me that--"
Beardsley realized that he wasn't lying. It was not the thought of his own tape that bothered Arnold.
"Oh, we're thorough over at 'Coordinates Division!'" Beardsley laughed, making a minor joke of it. "Now here," he touched a spool labelled in red, "is your Basic Invariant. Carmack--Amos T. Murdered man. Found bludgeoned in library of his home, night of April 4. Age 56, held all outstanding patents on ECAIAC, worth millions, and"--he looked up, beaming--"leaves beautiful wife."
He paused for the merest moment. Save for a soft drumming of fingers on the desk, Arnold was silent.
"And here's a sub-Basic: Mrs. Carmack will be a rich woman now. She was considerably younger than Carmack--and she's been having an affair with another man." Beardsley smiled at Jeff Arnold. "That's a sociological note beyond our sphere, but we managed to get the data. I'll bet the department was appalled that such a gorgeous woman could be resolved into neo-Euclidian equations!"
"Why?" Arnold was suddenly irritable. "It's been done a thousand times before!"
"Of course," shrugged Beardsley. "And it's really up to ECAIAC, isn't it? A Prime can be negated, while on the other hand a variant can shift from possible to Logical to Prime. Or am I wrong? I've never been up on the mechanics."
Arnold grunted. "There's bound to be some correlatory shift! The Primes--how many did you say?"
"Three as of now."
Arnold rose abruptly, then strode to the alco-mech and dialled himself another drink. He took an uncommonly long time about it. "Look," he said, "we both know about these things! In a case like this there are bound to be political repercussions--" He hit Beardsley with a gauging glance. "Well," he blurted, "I have to admit I'm damn curious! Mind telling me who are the three Primes? Ah--strictly off the record, you understand."
Beardsley had expected something like this, and he was quite ready to answer; but he carefully removed his glasses, massaged the bridge of his nose and frowned. "Well, now...."
"Come on, give! I know it's against protocol and all that ... but hell! We'll have the answer anyway in a matter of hours."
Beardsley nodded with a show of thoughtfulness. "Yes, that's true, isn't it? Very well. But strictly off the record! I warn you--not only will the first Prime startle you, but the information could be dangerous!"
He waited a moment, then he leaned forward and whispered: "Mandleco!"
For a moment Arnold didn't move. His face was ludicrous. Then Beardsley saw his hands clench.
"Mandleco!" the word jolted from his lips. "George Mandleco, Minister of Justice? I don't believe you!"
"It's a fact," Beardsley told him. "Right now he equates into an uncertain Prime."
"Yes, yes ... but Mandleco! Good Lord...."
"I said uncertain Prime. As you mentioned yourself, there is sure to be a shift of variants. Surely you have faith in ECAIAC?"
"Of course! But Mandleco, why Mandleco?"
"Why not? He was a friend of Carmack's--or a business associate shall we say? He worked with Carmack on the ECAIAC lobby, was largely responsible for pushing it through."
"Yes, I--say, that's right! It would be in C-F...."
"There are things," murmured Beardsley, "in Central File that would astound you."
Arnold was staring at the coded tapes. "Mandleco," he breathed. "And with elections coming up!" He shook himself out of the daze. "The--the other two Primes?"
"Next is not so startling. A really strong Recessive Factor there ... Professor Karl Losch."
Arnold jerked erect suddenly. "Losch? Say, I remember him! Now there's a man pursued by bad luck. He was working along similar lines to Carmack--in fact, wasn't he in Carmack's employ for a while?--but Carmack was first with the patents. You don't suppose that Losch--"
"I'm not supposed to suppose," Beardsley said softly. "But clinically, it is interesting to note that motive factor alone equates Losch from Logical into Prime. Plus a high neuro-thalamic imbalance--132 over 80 on the last Index, with pronounced efforts at suppression."
He watched Arnold absorb that, and went on: "Now for the third Prime. I think it'll interest you...."
He waited deliberately. He looked at Jeff Arnold for a long moment and saw that the man was calm. Too calm. So absolutely motionless that it wasn't real.
"Third Prime. A strong one, believe me. In a way most interesting of all." He pressed the words out slowly and flatly. "The third Prime," said Beardsley, "is ... Pederson."
He watched Arnold relax ever so slowly, leaning back, the tension going away as he uncoiled in the chair; but the young man's face wasn't so much relieved as it was puzzled.
"Pederson. Pederson? I don't seem to--You can't mean Brook Pederson, the one-time tele-columnist?"
"None other. I don't suppose you remember, but back in '60 he opposed the ECAIAC lobby. I mean opposed it, fought it! Predicted that Government installation of such a machine would not inspire confidence, that the nation's crime rate would rise ... he saw nothing but chaos. For a while there he was quite a man. Got himself a following. Had ambitions."
"But I do remember it!" Arnold thumped the desk. "Of course! Pederson headed a bloc against 'Carmack's Folly,' but he backed the wrong horse, and when the bubble burst he was out in the cold. Became a laughing stock." Arnold paused, and his glance held something of shrewdness and a livening challenge. "Actually, Pederson couldn't have been more wrong. In those first two years ECAIAC reduced the crime-rate by some forty percent."
"So it's claimed!" This was a sore point and Beardsley rose to the bait. "It couldn't be that crime was on the down-grade already? I could show you plenty of statistics that--why, I could show you methods--"
"I'll just bet you could." Arnold gave a thin tolerant smile. "I refuse to enter that argument again, not with you, Beardsley. I for one trust in machines not in evolution. I've told you before...."
And Beardsley found himself sitting there with a flush of heat at his hair-roots, half-angry and half foolish as he realized how he had been baited.
Jeff Arnold was abruptly all business. He plunged his finger at a button, spoke into the intercom. "Joe! How's that test-run coming?"
"All-X so far! Give us ten minutes for clearance."
"Take twenty, but make sure it's clearance. Checked Quantitative, have you? How about feed-backs? ... yes ... what's that? Semantic circuits! Hell yes, check all synaptics for clearance! I want no excess data fouling up this run!"
He clicked off and sat there moodily, and Beardsley watched him, noting the quick nervous rhythm of Arnold's fingers. Arnold noticed it, too, and desisted.
"Look," he said. "Mandleco, Losch, Pederson. Those three Primes just don't make sense to me!"
"They don't?" Beardsley allowed just the proper note of resentment. "Surely you are not questioning Coordinates...."
"You know I'm not! But--"
Beardsley waited, knowing it was coming now. The thing Arnold had been aching to voice for the past five minutes.
"But--well, damn it, there is Mrs. Carmack, for example. As you pointed out yourself, she'll be a rich woman now! It would seem to me--"
"That she'd be a Prime? I'm surprised at you, Jeff; that's ancient thinking." If there was a trace of sarcasm, it was lost on Arnold. "Oh, I grant you it used to hold true--principle beneficiary was always prime suspect. Fiction especially was full of it. Queen, Dickson Carr, Boucher you--know the ilk. But with ECAIAC we've gotten away from all that, haven't we?"
Arnold stared at him suspiciously, hesitated, then brought it out with an effort. "Well--how did she equate?"
"Who? Oh yes, the beautiful widow. She only made Logical, and even that is borderline."
"I see." Arnold rose, dialled himself another drink, then changed his mind and put it down untouched. He turned to gather up the tapes, and his voice was apologetic.
"It's not that I'd ever questioned Coordinates Division! We're too closely aligned for that, Raoul...." (First time he's ever used my first name, thought Beardsley.) "You have a splendid record to uphold, as we do here at Mechanical. That's why ... well, I want to get this off as smoothly as possible!"
Something indefinable, a queasy feeling, took Beardsley about the middle. He said sharply: "Any reason why not?"
"No, not really. But in recent weeks--I tell you this in strictest confidence, understand!--in recent weeks it's been a rather ticklish thing to get total synaptic clearance."
Synaptics? Beardsley began thinking back to the Crime-Central "Required Annual Basic." The Mechanical had never been his strong point. He said uncertainly, "But--that's serious!"
"It's just that we've found ECAIAC holding back excess data from previous runs. Fouls up the relays, takes hours to iron out the clearance." Arnold gave him a keen look. "More of a nuisance really, but the weirdest thing. Stubborn!"
Stubborn. Beardsley could have thought of a better word. Through the panelled glass he glimpsed the black metal sheathe of the monster out there, the shapeless crouching and malevolent winking lights, and he felt himself going to pieces inside with a sudden shaking crumble; he hated himself for it but he couldn't stop it; his hands clenched until the knuckles showed white.
"... matter of time until we find the cause," Arnold was saying, "but I guarantee total clearance today. Shall we get on with it?" Hands loaded with tapes, he moved for the door.
"No!" Beardsley cried. "Arnold, if you don't mind, I--"
"Oh, for God's sake, not again! Raoul, I swear I'm going to do something about this phobia of yours; it's getting to be not so funny any more." With a show of exasperation, Arnold propelled him through the door. "I give you my absolute word our pet won't snap at you. Not today. It's going to be far too busy for the likes of you!"
And Jeff Arnold was right, Beardsley discovered. Those baleful overtones were gone, replaced by a sustained soft whisper along the ninety-foot hull--a rather impatient whisper but not at all unpleasant. Beardsley relaxed by slow degrees, but kept a cautious distance, while Arnold pointed out every light along the length flashing green for Total Clearance.
"She's rarin' to go," said Arnold with a display of good humor, "but we'll let her wait a while, eh?" He clapped a friendly arm across Beardsley's shoulder. "You just come along now and watch; I think your trouble is, you've never been properly introduced! We'll have no more of this feudin' and fussin' between you and ECAIAC."
So Beardsley, showing more courage than he felt, trailed the cyberneticist through every unit of final check-up. Much of it he knew already from the "Required Annual Basic" ... or thought he knew. For this was so different from the Manuals! He felt at once ashamed and awed as he viewed at first hand the unfolding schematic structure. He was thrilled at sight of the selectors and analyzers of processed beryllium, the logic-and-semantic circuits in complex little bundles, the sensitized variant-tapes waiting for transferral impress, all revealed by a flick of Arnold's fingers that threw open entire sheathed sections to bare the inner secrets. The thousands of tiny transistors amazed Beardsley. The endless array of electric eyes startled him. And the spongy centers of synaptic cell-clusters horrified him, recalling too vividly to mind what he knew of the physical human brain.
Along the monstrous length he trailed Jeff Arnold; he trailed and he watched and he listened, not interfering once by word or gesture. And before it was over his heart was surging with a great revelatory beat because suddenly he knew ... he knew....
Arnold seemed in high good humor as they paced back. "So," he nudged Beardsley in the ribs, "we'll have no more of this nonsense between you and ECAIAC. Eh? You're just bound to be good friends now."
Beardsley didn't answer. The revelation was still too much with him. He watched as Arnold conferred with a group of his techs about a micro-chron, and the time was carefully noted for Central Record.
Then the first of the tapes went in. The Basic Invariant--Amos Carmack.
It reached synapse and a tiny blip registered on cue.
The rest of the tapes fed in, razoring through the rollers, past the selenic-sensitized tips of the relays. There was no progressive order. After the Basic Invariant progression didn't matter. Possible or Logical or Prime, all factors would correlate or cancel; any divergent status-shift would be duly handled by transferral impress.
Beardsley counted the tapes. Twenty ... twenty-one ... twenty-two.
The techs dispersed, taking up their various posts where special eject-tapes clicked out a second-by-second record of the progression.
Nothing much happened. The sound of ECAIAC became a steady inundant drone; or did Beardsley just imagine that he detected something of the gleeful in it? With an effort he put the thought from him, and keeping a cautious distance he took a turn around the monster, up one side and down the other.
He stopped by Jeff Arnold, who was jotting down figures from the chrono. That seemed silly, as nothing had happened yet.
Arnold glanced up and grinned at him, as if totally unconcerned that this was the most repercussive case in the entire history of Crime-Central! A little disconcerted, Beardsley said, "What happens first?"
"Oh, plenty is happening. But the first you'll notice will be a total reject. Watch when that happens. Complete silence, every light red for exactly two and a half seconds--the reject, and then everything continues."
"How about Transferral Impress? You know--possible to Logical, or Logical to Prime?"
Arnold paused over his notes for the merest instant. "Why--it's progressive, of course. That you won't notice!"
Beardsley stared at him curiously, started to speak and then changed his mind. He wandered again, watching the techs but not interfering. And suddenly he was aware that the first total reject had come. It happened with smooth and sudden silence just as Arnold had described, ECAIAC breaking pace for mere seconds ... then all was clear again, and one of the techs hurried down the aisle with the tape, which he handed to Arnold.
Beardsley was aware of a wild pounding of pulse as he stared at the anonymous tape. One of the fifteen "possibles"? It might even be a rejected Logical. Mrs. Carmack? She was borderline. Or a Prime! It could be Mandleco himself--or Losch or Pederson. No ... it was unlikely any Primes would fall this early....
But maybe they were no longer Primes! Maybe right now Transferral Impress was at work, maybe one or more of them was being relegated to lower coordinate-status somewhere there in the entrails....
He felt a bounding excitement. And, as if reading his thoughts, Jeff Arnold gave him an amused look.
"Don't let it get to you, Raoul. I used to find it the same; we all do. But then you get to thinking, hell, why try to guess? Identities don't matter now!" He indicated the coded tape. "A total reject--anonymous. ECAIAC's way of telling us that person could not possibly be the murderer."
"But--you're not even curious?"
"At rejects? Why?" Arnold seemed perplexed. "Oh, you mean because I'm among the 'possibles.' Frankly it doesn't bother me. I know I'm not the murderer, and I have faith in ECAIAC. If this isn't my tape, the next will be--or the eighth, or the fifteenth."
Beardsley nodded slowly. With ECAIAC it was only the final equate that mattered, the total result of Cumulative. He saw the truth in that, and the perfection. Or--his eyes beneath the glasses came to a quick bright focus--was it quite perfection? He watched in silence as Arnold consulted the micro-chron and jotted more notes. Rej. Q-9 (code): (.008 synap. circ.): 11:23 A.M.
Beardsley wandered again, watching the techs. A sudden shivering seized him. How could they remain so calm? Were they so close to the forest they couldn't notice? Something was about to happen ... to him it was unmistakable, in the very atmosphere, sharpened and heightened by the four walls--a pervading sense of wrongness and a pyramiding tension.
Even Arnold wasn't aware; audibly nothing had changed, as ECAIAC continued its soft-clicking whisper and the techs methodically checked the progress tapes. Beardsley stood numbly for a moment, struggling against a welter of panic. Palms sweating, he moved a safe distance away and waited.
Eight minutes later came another reject. Six minutes later, the third. ECAIAC continued its blithe, soft-throated rhythm--but Beardsley was not fooled.
Someone sent out for coffee. It arrived in steaming thermo-containers. Beardsley was on his first cup of coffee when rejects 4, 5 and 6 came through.
He was on his second cup when number 7 ejected, and he had just taken a last swallow when all hell broke loose.
It wasn't much different from the other rejects. Total silence, every light in every section red ... trouble was, they couldn't seem to get together again. Some went back to green, others blinked with ominous uncertainty, still others said "to hell with it" and exploded in vicious shards of glass that sprayed across the room. That was only the beginning. Twenty feet from Beardsley came a louder explosion, a sort of muffled hissing. He ducked, as a complete bank of transistors zoomed past his head. From a dozen places along the ninety-foot length angry trails of smoke poured out. A tech yelled "Damn!" as he pulled back a burned hand. Sheathes crashed open. Long strands of vari-colored wire burst out and began a crazy aimless writhing, accompanied by an ominous buzzing sound as if a swarm of angry metallic bees had escaped. Someone was yelling, "Master-switch! The master-switch!"