Beardsley blinked at him. "Sure of what, Pederson?"
"Of what you're doing! Damn it, man, don't tell me that was all waste effort in there! Look--I know what this means, and I'm with you all the way. If only you could beat ECAIAC, I'll give it all the publicity it can bear! Who knows--"
Beardsley looked at him blankly, and Pederson gave a snort and a gesture. "All right! I guess I'm wrong. For a while there I actually thought you had it." Pederson surveyed him shrewdly. "Just the same, that bit you exploded--about the person who killed Carmack didn't hate him at all--you meant that, Beardsley!"
"That's right, I meant it."
"My choice is Jeff Arnold."
"Ah? Now why do you say that?"
"The way you built up to it, that's why. And you got your result! Sheila Carmack's in love with Arnold, and she tried to cover up for him ... sure, that's it! It's obvious! She thinks he's the killer, either thinks or knows it--"
"Ah, yes. The obvious," Beardsley said with a grimace. "But you know, I learned a long time ago that the obvious can be a mighty tricky thing. A dangerous thing. The forceps of the mind are greedy, and inclined to crush a little in the seizing...."
Pederson pondered that. "And you," he said slowly, "are not seizing. I take that to mean you still have an angle!"
Beardsley didn't answer at once. He glanced over at the equate-panel, at the flux of dancing lights. Mandleco was bright-eyed and attentive, chomping on the stub of a cigar, head thrust forward as he listened to some detail of Arnold's. Sheila stood miserably near by, still in a blind shock of disbelief; it was as if she had a need to be close to Arnold, and he felt it, too, but they dared not look at each other.
"Now let's suppose," said Beardsley, "just suppose that Arnold thinks Sheila is the killer. Eh? Let us say they suspect each other. Naturally, each has disclaimed any part of the deed. But the suspicion is there, that tiny seed; and suspicion, particularly where love is involved, has a habit of taking root and giving growth. Neither can be totally sure of the other's innocence--eh?" He paused, peering up at Pederson. "And Arnold would want to protect her from any possible consequence. Now what would be his way of doing that? The only way he knew?"
He saw the idea take hold. Pederson was staring at the equate-panel with an odd look of excitement.
"Total reject," he gasped. "By God, if he should try that--to equate her from Logical into reject--" He gestured helplessly. "No, it isn't possible. Those tapes are coded! There's no way of tampering--" Pederson stopped abruptly, as a great light dawned. "Wait a minute, though. It needn't be the tapes! One thing I've always wondered--would it be possible to negate a given factor beyond all reach of empirical coordinates? You know, through operational technique or setup--"
Beardsley peered at him. "I'd say anything was possible," he urged, "given time and incentive."
Pederson bobbed his head in facile agreement. "By God, you're right! For example, I've always thought there wasn't sufficient control on Cumulative! You can bet your life Arnold would know ... results at that point could be juggled a little, say if the extrapolations were just--"
The forceps, the forceps of the mind. Already Pederson was reaching out to seize and to crush; the man was a fool after all! Beardsley felt a burgeoning disgust, but there was something more, a throbbing, chest-filling sensation that he strove to hold rigidly in leash. He said quickly: "Come to think of it, Arnold did mention that he was here most of last night, working on setup."
He watched Pederson absorb that, too; he saw the excitement grow. "Beardsley, if you are sure--if you could prove that Arnold managed a thing like that--"
They were interrupted by the sudden quiet that engulfed the room. It was so total as to be frightening. CUMULATIVE--CUMULATIVE--CUMULATIVE. For half-a-minute all operation ceased, as the words flashed bright across the panel.
But the techs had been waiting. It was a mere respite. Swiftly, they checked their respective units against Cumulative Code, and at the end of thirty seconds every light went green for total clearance as ECAIAC's deep-throated power resumed.
Beardsley had been waiting too. "Cumulative!" he breathed. He let his breath out slowly, and made a sweeping gesture that seemed to encompass all the latent delight, all the unleashed joy of his being.
He was aware of Pederson again, a voice in panic: "Beardsley! Don't you know what it means? If there's been an imbalance, it has passed through! It will reach final equate!"
"That's right, it's entirely in ECAIAC's lap. You wouldn't want to deprive her of the chance, now would you?"
"But--but what are you going to do?"
"Me? I'm going to watch. I'm going to watch one of the epic events of our time--" For a moment Beardsley was solemn, almost shocked, as a thought struck him. "In a way it will be sad. Yes, it will! ECAIAC is about to lose her first case."
Now that was strange. Why should he have said such a thing? Why ... now that the game was over which had had to be played, and he felt the bitter-sweet surge of victory that lay throbbing at his grasp! About to lose her first case....
He shrugged in remote annoyance and strode away from Pederson. It would be fast now! Already the rejects were falling, the irrelevants, as ECAIAC with blithe unconcern brought the final equate toward conclusion. He observed Jeff Arnold, standing silent and alert but so devoid of all emotion that somehow it wasn't real ... and Mandleco, half crouched, teeth gnawing away at the cigar, his heavy face rapacious and eager as he awaited the final tape; that was all that mattered now; the MATHEMATICS would register, CODE would add synaptic approval, and proof indisputable would be on that tape in clean translated print--the name of Carmack's killer.
Indisputable? Bowing his head, Beardsley smiled, and listened to the smooth rhythmic control. Nothing sinister now! No snapping malevolence! All those other times ... his unreasoning panic, the askance remarks from Arnold, the humiliation ... the very thought of it now was gibing and obscene. How could he ever have been caught up in such a thrall of terror?
It wasn't terror he felt now. Something.... His smile turned to a giggle as he felt a sudden compelling impulse to pat ECAIAC on the head!
Now how would one do THAT? Never mind. Never mind, never mind, never again are you going to snap at me, Ekky. We were introduced, remember? We're really great friends now.
For a moment Beardsley was suspended in astonishment, aware that he had almost crooned the thought. He glanced around in embarrassment-- Pederson was watching him. Pederson was at his side again, perplexed and frowning. "Beardsley--this business of Sheila and Arnold. It wouldn't happen that way, it couldn't! There's another answer, there's got to be--"
Beardsley stood unmoving, oblivious. Almost, he seemed suspended in another dimension; almost, he caught the quivering of a mind but could not separate it from the sudden tremor that rose in his own....
He couldn't avoid it. It came unbidden, it battered through his reason, it towered there and blotted out his thoughts until all that was left was a tremulous regret, an attrite compassion.
About to lose her first case ... but one loses! And one survives it, you know, one survives it! For twelve years now....
More than a tremor now. More than compassion now. A sense of betrayal almost, illogical and nameless and yet palpable as the scent of fear. There was a pulse of red darkness in Beardsley's brain as all the mental and emotional equations of his being sang a sharp alarm. For subtly, ever so subtly ECAIAC's deep-throated tone had changed ... nothing like those other times, rather it was a halting stutter of puzzlement, erratic and querulous, with overtones of immediacy as if some formless presence were on the verge of unleashing.
Beardsley looked down at his hands, and they were trembling. He could not stop the trembling. A tightness took him about the heart, and behind his eyes that pulse of red darkness presaged the beginning of a violent headache.
Even the others noticed it now, something amiss. Jeff Arnold especially. He looked up in quick alarm at the equate-panel where the mathematics seemed to have gone a little fitful, a little frantic, with stuttery lapses in progression as if ECAIAC were unable or unwilling to confront.
The flux of pattern dimmed, then hesitated; blanked out and heroically began anew.
It happened suddenly, then. It happened as the techs came crowding around. There came a quivering, a sort of shudder, and ECAIAC subsided with a final weary gasp. It was for all the world as if she were saying, "This is it, boys. I've had it!"
But it was there, it was there! All at once every symbol was constant, static and livid upon the screen, enhanced by the words EQUATE--COMPLETE--EQUATE--COMPLETE. In that moment every tech in the room must have felt a touch of pride.
A click, a whirr, and it was done. The fateful tape ejected.
Both Mandleco and Arnold leaped for it, but Arnold was there first. He ripped the tape clear and then paused, hand outflung, as if he could not resist this final bit of drama.
"Well? Well, Arnold?" Mandleco was hopping ludicrously about in an agony of impatience.
Arnold nodded. He brought the tape to his scrutiny. His mouth opened, then shut again as a shudder seized him. Once more he read it, a look of wild disbelief on his face ... he staggered, and seemed about to cry or go hysterical or both.
Mandleco gave a snort as he pounced, recovered the tape and with blunt assurance read the words aloud: "SOLUTION : UNTENABLE : SOLUTION : UNTENABLE : SUB-CIRCUIT REFERRAL : ELLERY SHERLOCK : SUB-CIRCUIT REFERRAL: ELLERY SHERLOCK--".
He sounded like a well-grooved parrot. Mandleco turned east, then south, then south-by-east, like a compass on a binge; he looked as if he wanted to roar, but his voice came out as a frantic bleat: "Why, this is crazy! Goddam it, it's crazy! Do you realize what this will--" He confronted Arnold wildly. "What the hell does it MEAN, I say! Untenable? And who the hell is Ellery Sherlock...!"
He got no response; Jeff Arnold was oblivious to the moment, a man utterly defeated, beyond solace or action or answer ... but already a few of his techs were huddled about the panel, consulting, viewing the Equate Constant and frantically taking notes. Mandleco shoved his way through them. "I demand to know the meaning of this!" he yelped.
It was Sheila Carmack who answered, her voice on the high edge of hysteria. "Meaning? I think it might mean," she said, "that ECAIAC has also had a recent indulgence for the whodunits. But with a smattering of confusion, wouldn't you say? Or would you say a distortion of the detectival? Perhaps a disenchantment," she murmured ... this was too absurd, too delicious. "Ellery Sherlock!" she choked, and the thought of it seemed to break her up.
In the general hysteria they paid no heed to Raoul Beardsley. He had regained his composure, and far down in his eyes something leaped into rapt expression; he adjusted his glasses and peered around cautiously, beaming. He beamed at them all, and had to suppress an inane glee....
Not glee as he observed Pederson, who stood there scowling into space as though at some incredible absurdity. Suddenly Pederson straightened, and there was something strangely different ... his gaze as it met Beardsley's was neither shocked nor accusing but held an expression of boundless sadness.
So Pederson knew. At last the poor fellow had found that other answer.... Beardsley had been expecting it. He could almost sense the man's thoughts going to and fro, like a shuttle, weaving all the facts into fabric....
And Pederson's voice, ineffably sad now, regretful now: "So I was right the first time. The tapes. It was the tapes. But even without that I ought to have known! The answer was there, you handed it to us, but it was like looking straight into the sun--"
He paused. Did he expect Beardsley to say something? Beardsley looked up at him and blinked.
"Motives," Pederson said accusingly. "There was your theme from the first! You were relentless, you pursued it to perfection, you laid our motives bare and you beat them raw, each and every one. Oh, I grant you it was masterful! It was the Beardsley of old! You managed to keep us off balance every moment--" He wet his lips. "What was it, Beardsley? A compulsion, some grotesque need to squeeze us all down to microscopic size first? Oh, you enjoyed doing that! I watched you. You enjoyed it in a way that--" He shook his head, glanced sorrowfully at the equate-panel. "And this ... was it all for this? An achievement--an absurdity. Ellery Sherlock!" he said with a shudder. "In Heaven's name, WHY? You didn't really expect to carry it off? No, don't answer! It's not important now--"
Beardsley shrugged in remote annoyance. Must the man use such puerile methods?
"Not important," Pederson repeated, and stood caught in a startled wonderment. "Because you see, Beardsley, I just happen to remember something from the whodunits! That surprises you? So long ago, I can't quite recall who said it; but it was a rather good exposition of logic, something to the effect that when you've exhausted the possible, all the possible--that which remains--no matter how impossible it may seem--must be the truth!"
His head lifted; his gaze bored into Beardsley's and his voice was tight with meaning. "And I'd say we have come full circle, wouldn't you? You will have to admit, you did a real good job of eliminating!"
Beardsley managed to smile, even as his mind jarred a little. Even as he met Pederson's gaze and saw the compassion there, the acceptance there, the understanding and boundless regret. For a split second something leaped unspoken between them, as if doors in both their minds had opened and closed again.
He turned away wordlessly. Close as Pederson had come, even he was an irrelevance now. But ECAIAC didn't know. Poor Ekky! Her first real failure, a fiasco--she really deserved a better fate. Beardsley's heart went out to her, as he observed Arnold in his defeat and Mandleco in his frustration and the huddle of techs in their futile efforts.
Suddenly then--"Code!" he heard one of them say, gesturing excitedly. "Post-subjective synapse!" another tech yelled, and there was a sudden scurry of activity about the screen. Without warning or appreciable reason those symbols had begun to shift ... wild and elusive, ghost patterns without semblance or sense, but so unmistakable that even Jeff Arnold was jarred alert; Arnold stared, then suddenly was white as chalk as he ploughed into the midst of his techs.
Beardsley stood frozen, a fatuous smile about his lips; there was only silence now, a silence that had a pulse in it--the beating of his heart. Seconds only ... suddenly there was another pulse, from another heart. ECAIAC wasn't quite finished! Unerring and resolute the sound came up, slowly at first and then faster, gathering strength into a steady drone as if every synapse were dredging, dredging deep into the sensitized structure ... and even before the panel attained flux again, a tech was waving his notes and yelling, "It's true! Post-subjective synapse! Unbelievable ... Jeff, we now have a Constant!"
But ECAIAC was telling them that. The sound went on, and on, wild and lone and constant, ascending to the confines of the room, transcending the confines of reason. It was crescendo incarnate; it was purpose gone rife; it was human and more than human, with all the fears and hopes and hates, as it attained a high-pitched scream with wailing overtones such as even Arnold had never heard. There was sentience in it, there was awareness in it, there was fury in it and who could say if there was grief...? There might have been.
Only Beardsley knew. He felt suddenly packed in ice, from his lips to the pit of his belly; he revolved slowly away, took a few steps and caught the edge of the panel. His whole body began to shake uncontrollably and his lips moved in a soundless whisper that seemed to say, "No, no ... don't you understand? ... we're friends now!"
But no one heard; no one would have understood. Arnold handled the tape as it came looping out. The words fell slowly at first, then faster and faster in constant repeat: CANCEL LAST EQUATE--SOLUTION TENABLE--CANCEL LAST EQUATE--SOLUTION TENABLE-- Another word came, a single word. Arnold stiffened. One of the techs was so indiscreet as to exclaim: "Murderer? Where did it pick up that word! 'Final Equate' is proper...."
A space, a whirr, and the rest of it came in a clicking rush against the high-pitched scream: MURDERER--RAOUL BEARDSLEY--MURDERER--RAOUL BEARDSLEY--MURDERER--RAOUL--MURDERER--MURDERER--incessant, untiring.
There was no trial. Trial presupposes a modicum of doubt, and Beardsley dispelled that readily enough. Once more the pathetic figure, it was as if he were impelled by a dull and pitiless logic; he waived all defense; his confession to the murder of Amos Carmack was straightforward and factual, unvarying to the point of boredom, insistent with repetition--and in the socio-legal aspect there was the rub! Whether it was true psychic shock or mere cunning, there seemed to be a blind spot in Beardsley's responses, a stumbling reticence to elaborative detail that left the Citizen's Disposition Council with a problem on its hands baffling as it was unprecedented. Judicially they were safe. There would not even be need of null-censor. But actually, the problem here was of far more vital consequence than murder and indeed more frightening; it had to do with Beardsley vs. ECAIAC, the encompassing modus operendi and all the implications of that grotesque denouement.
At whatever cost, these things had to be answered.
Oh, there was amusement, too. The fact that Minister-of-Justice Mandleco had begged off, far from gracefully, and retired to the isolation of his ten-thousand-acre Alaskan ranch (for an unspecified time) had brought snickers from those in the know.
The Chief-Counselor of Disposition looked as if he'd like to retire, too. For the third time in as many days he took his place in the Private Sessions chamber, glanced at Beardsley with shuddering disbelief and then bent his head in pontifical guise as he leafed through his notes; it wasn't as if he were unversed in the matter by now, but who was there to question if his lips moved fretfully across the words "Ellery Sherlock?" He was thinking: yesterday wasted--covert regression, myself included--no more of that! And with that bolstering thought he brought his head up sharply.
COUNSELOR: Our task for today--(voice quavering, he saved it from the upper registers). Our task for today is to get at the aggregate pattern. And I assure you, gentlemen, we are going to do that! Now. Mr. Pederson, if you please....
PEDERSON: Yes, sir?
COUNSELOR: I see that Mr. Beardsley made certain statements to you, and to you alone, immediately after the--uh--ECAIAC incident-- PEDERSON: You saw that three days ago! Must we go through it again?
COUNSELOR: We must and we shall! Due to the unnatural tenor of the case, it is the opinion of the Council that these things must be fixed and adjudged if we are to make a correct Disposition.
PEDERSON: (wearily): Yes, sir. Well, the fact is he seemed to want to confide in me. Nothing strange in that! He realized he had lost, poor guy, and he-- COUNSELOR: Mr. Pederson! No diversions, please. We'd simply like to hear from your own lips what Beardsley told you. (Glances at his notes.) Is it true that he said--his sole motive in this affair was to prove he could conduct an investigation as efficiently as ECAIAC--or any damned machine?
PEDERSON: (hesitant, with a glance at Beardsley who sat remote and vacuous): Yes. He told me that.
COUNSELOR: Even to the point of committing a murder to prove it? And his entire subsequent action was predicated upon that? We have extensive reports here--from Mrs. Carmack, from Mandleco, from Jeff Arnold and yourself. It is difficult to see how such a basically integrated and well-functioning personality as Raoul Beardsley-- PEDERSON: (angrily): No. What you fail to see is the facade! What man has stronger reason than the man who has lost his reason? It is the only outlet for aggression, a devious fulfillment, it brings psychological satisfactions which cannot be obtained in any other way--call it the self-destructive impulse if you will. I doubt if Beardsley rationalized this--but he had come to his moment, his time of assertion, his way of making fools of us all ... and my complete opinion, sir, is that his actions from beginning to end were both a triumph and an inspiration!
COUNSELOR: (smugly): Thank you, Mr. Pederson. These are the insights you had not revealed before. (Turns to member at far end of table.) Dr. Deobler. As psychologist assigned to Disposition Council, may I ask if there is an area of concurrence?
DEOBLER (bored, but deigns to lift a hand): Save for the rhetorics at the very end, you have my official concurrence; it is obvious in every aspect; this was a devious fulfillment of the self-destructive impulse.
COUNSELOR: Thank you, sir! It will be so noted. And now--(Makes a pretense of scanning his brief.) Now we come to an area of vital interest--an area demanding our most urgent attention, inasmuch as it gives indication of threatening our basic fundamental of cybernetic detection; believe me, I cannot place enough emphasis here; I refer, of course, to Mr. Beardsley's process of manipulation of ECAIAC, and this strange business of "Ellery Sherlock." (Pause.) Mr. Jeff Arnold, if you please. I believe you were to be ready with some observations today?
ARNOLD: Yes, sir. But more than observation, I am glad to report. We have solved the "Ellery Sherlock" equate.
COUNSELOR: This is wonderful! Will you proceed, sir?
ARNOLD: A strange thing ... and yet so simple! We began by resurrecting a huge number of "Summaries"; we dredged into Dead File for at least three years back, re-ran them under a synapse intensifier. It's all there, you know, every minute particle of every case that has gone through ECAIAC; almost subliminal, some of it, but-- COUNSELOR: One moment, sir. This reference to "synapse." Could you--ah--clarify?
ARNOLD: Why, a synapse is the primary adjunct to memory! The human brain has billions of them, neuronically linked--sort of pathways that get grooved deeper and deeper with constant repetition of thought, until after a while they become completely permanent, retentive and self-functioning. ECAIAC is similarly equipped--not to the degree of the human brain, as yet, but amazingly.
COUNSELOR (dazed): Ah--yes. Please continue, sir.
ARNOLD: As I said, we revived a number of the old cases. And what we discovered, was that Beardsley--for years past, mind you--had been utilizing his capacity as Chief of Coordinates to introduce extraneous material to ECAIAC via the tapes! In each and every case that came before him! Oh, you can believe me, he was clever, he went about it by slow and subtle degrees! And the substance of this material, sir--(Pauses, gulps and shakes his head, unable to go on.) COUNSELOR: Please control yourself, sir! The substance of this extraneous material?
ARNOLD (again gulps): De-detective fiction!
COUNSELOR (leans forward sharply): Do I understand you correctly, Mr. Arnold? You did say detective fiction?
ARNOLD: Of two types. Ellery Queen and Sherlock Holmes--I presume it was Beardsley's random choice. But there was nothing random about his purpose! Don't you see, don't you see, it all fits! It explains the trouble we were having in recent months in getting total synaptic clearance! (His voice borders on the frantic.) I remember, now, I even mentioned this to Beardsley--and oh, the smug way he took it. He knew, damn him, he knew! He was getting there, he was reaching the synaptic, a bit of fiction here and a bit there, ECAIAC was being conditioned, unable to distinguish the real from the unreal-- COUNSELOR: Mr. Arnold! If you please, sir! (Waits for Arnold to subside.) I can appreciate how this discovery distresses you, both--ah--personally and in your official capacity, but be assured that your findings will be of inestimable value to future security. In fact (smiles slightly) Council has not been idle in its own pursuit of Mr. Beardsley's vagaries! (Rises, removes a small screen to reveal a towering pile of tomes.) And now, Mr. Beardsley. I must really ask you to cooperate; I believe you fully capable. Are these your books?
BEARDSLEY (adjusts his glasses, smiles at his books): Yes.
COUNSELOR: And these charts, these graphs that we found plastered to every wall of your home. Obviously they are also yours.
BEARDSLEY (adjusts his glasses, smiles at his graphs): Yes.
COUNSELOR: Thank you, Mr. Beardsley. That's fine. And, Mr. Beardsley, what did you use them for? These books, these graphs?
BEARDSLEY (groping, bewildered): I--I-- COUNSELOR (sees the futility of it): Gentlemen, I believe we can proceed on the grounds of self-evidence. Let me read you a few titles from these books. "The Cybernetic Principle: Advanced Theory" ... "The Synapse in Function" ... and here we have "Synaptics: Pattern and Flux." There are more, many more in similar vein. (Turns abruptly.) Mr. Arnold. I'm sure you are familiar with most of these volumes. On the basis of the content, would you say that you could duplicate Beardsley's feat?
ARNOLD (aghast): No! I would not presume to say that, sir.