"I sure fooled him!" he gasped. "Mixed up the circuits. Scar Balta sat right here while I broadcast the secret sessions, and he was watching a lot o' haywah in the control screen.
"When Wilcox got word from outside he knew he was done. He thought Scar'd double-exed him, so came here in person and gave him the needle-ray."
Despite his nausea, Wasil looked happy.
"Wilcox tried for me, but I dodged back of those frames. So he tried for me with the neuro. The mob was getting wild outside; there was--"
He could not finish. There was an explosion that shook the building to its foundations. Tolto came running in. Sira close after him: "Joro is coming. Joro has detonated the warships. The hall guards have surrendered. The council is locked up. It can't escape!"
Events were transpiring too fast for comprehension. It was several days later, on a bench in Prince Joro's palace grounds, that Sira summed it up for Sime Hemingway.
"I'm going to accept the throne!" she said. "I'm going to be a real queen. Joro has convinced me that it will be a real service to Mars. The dear old man has schemed and worked so long, so unselfishly."
"Yeh, and he wasn't afraid to fight!" Sime added admiringly. "When he came charging out of those ships with his gang of monarchists, swords flashing, it was a pretty sight to see. And when they closed in on that gang of cheap politicians! Talk about rats in a corner!"
"The prince can fight with his brains as well as with his sword." Sira submitted. "The whole thing would have been hopeless, if he hadn't invented the detonating ray that disposed of the warships. You remember those heavy explosions, shortly after we dropped in the hall, as one might say? Those were the last of them."
A silence fell between them, and Sime was now conscious of the fragile-seeming, so deceiving beauty of this Martian girl. Something had come between them, stripped away the masculine frankness that had existed during their short and dangerous time together. Perhaps it was the softly revealing drape of the thread-of-gold robe she was wearing--true queenly garb, donned by her for the first time.
"There is one requirement that Joro insists on," Sira said in a low voice.
"What's that?" asked Sime, marveling that such transparently pink fingers should handle a sword so well.
"He says that I must choose a mate, to insure the stability of the royal house."
It seemed to Sime that this announcement gave him a pang out of all proportion.
"That should be easy," he managed. "Every Martian is crazy about you."
"He may not be a Martian. He must be a man of Earth," Sira stated firmly.
"Is that so?" Sime asked, genuinely surprised. "Why does Joro insist on that?"
"It is not Joro who insists. It is myself."
Sime found himself looking into eyes filled with shy pleading. He could not, would not, for all of the solar system, have committed the unpardonable affront of rejecting the love so frankly offered. And yet he did not know how to accept this miracle. He did it clumsily, haltingly disclosing the secret recesses of his own heart and what had transpired there since the night he had taken the knife away from her and kissed her.
THE REAL HARD SELL.
By William W. Stuart
Ben Tilman sat down in the easiest of all easy chairs. He picked up a magazine, flipped pages; stood up, snapped fingers; walked to the view wall, walked back; sat down, picked up the magazine.
He was waiting, near the end of the day, after hours, in the lush, plush waiting room--"The customer's ease is the Sales Manager's please"--to see the Old Man. He was fidgety, but not about something. About nothing. He was irritated at nobody, at the world; at himself.
He was irritated at himself because there was no clear reason for him to be irritated at anything.
There he sat, Ben Tilman, normally a cheerful, pleasant young man. He was a salesman like any modern man and a far better salesman than most. He had a sweet little wife, blonde and pretty. He had a fine, husky two-year-old boy, smart, a real future National Sales Manager. He loved them both. He had every reason to be contented with his highly desirable, comfortable lot.
And yet he had been getting more sour and edgy ever since about six months after the baby came home from the Center and the novelty of responsibility for wife and child had worn off. He had now quit three jobs, good enough sales jobs where he was doing well, in a year. For no reason? For petty, pointless reasons.
With Ancestral Insurance, "Generations of Protection," he'd made the Billion Dollar Club--and immediately begun to feel dissatisfied with it--just before cute, sexy, blonde Betty had suddenly come from nowhere into his life and he had married her. That had helped, sure. But as soon after that as he had started paying serious attention to his job again, he was fed up with it. "Too much paper work. All those forms. It's work for a robot, not a man," he'd told Betty when he quit. A lie. The paper work was, as he looked back on it, not bad at all; pleasant even, in a way. It was just--nothing. Anything.
Indoor-Outdoor Climatizers--sniffles, he said, kept killing his sales presentation even though his record was good enough. Ultra-sonic toothbrushes, then, were a fine product. Only the vibration, with his gold inlay, seemed to give him headaches after every demonstration. He didn't have a gold inlay. But the headaches were real enough. So he quit.
So now he had a great new job with a great organization, Amalgamated Production for Living--ALPRODLIV. He was about to take on his first big assignment.
For that he had felt a spark of the old enthusiasm and it had carried him into working out a bright new sales approach for the deal tonight. The Old Man himself had taken a personal interest, which was a terrific break. And still Ben Tilman felt that uneasy dissatisfaction. Damn.
"Mr. Robb will see you now, Mr. Tilman," said the cool robot voice from the Elec-Sec Desk. It was after customer hours and the charming human receptionist had gone. The robot secretary, like most working robots, was functional in form--circuits and wires, mike, speaker, extension arms to type and to reach any file in the room, wheels for intra-office mobility.
"Thanks, hon," said Ben. Nevertheless, robot secretaries were all programmed and rated female--and it was wise to be polite to them. After all, they could think and had feelings. There were a lot of important things they could do for a salesman--or, sometimes, not do. This one, being helpful, stretched out a long metal arm to open the door to the inner office for Ben. He smiled his appreciation and went in.
The Old Man, Amalgamated's grand old salesman, was billiard bald, aging, a little stout and a little slower now. But he was still a fine sales manager. He sat at his huge, old fashioned oak desk as Ben walked across the office.
"Evening, sir." No response. Louder, "Good evening, Mr. Robb. Mr. Robb, it's Ben, sir. Ben Tilman. You memo'd me to come--" Still no sign. The eyes, under the great, beetling brows, seemed closed.
Ben grinned and reached out across the wide desk toward the small, plastic box hanging on the Old Man's chest. The Old Man glanced up as Ben tapped the plastic lightly with his fingernail.
"Oh, Ben. It's you." The Old Man raised his hand to adjust the ancient style hearing aid he affected as Ben sank into a chair. "Sorry Ben. I just had old Brannic Z-IX in here. A fine old robot, yes, but like most of that model, long-winded. So--" He gestured at the hearing aid.
Ben smiled. Everyone knew the Old Man used that crude old rig so he could pointedly tune out conversations he didn't care to hear. Any time you were talking to him and that distant look came into his half closed eyes, you could be sure that you were cut off.
"Sorry, Ben. Well now. I simply wanted to check with you, boy. Everything all set for tonight?"
"Well, yes, sir. Everything is set and programmed. Betty and I will play it all evening for the suspense, let them wonder, build it up--and then, instead of the big pitch they'll be looking for, we'll let it go easy."
"A new twist on the old change-up. Ben, boy, it's going to go. I feel it. It's in the air, things are just ripe for a new, super-soft-sell pitch. Selling you've got to do by feel, eh Ben? By sales genius and the old seat of the pants. Good. After tonight I'm going all out, a hemisphere-wide, thirty day campaign. I'll put the top sales artist of every regional office on it. They can train on your test pattern tapes. I believe we can turn over billions before everybody picks up the signal and it senilesces. You give an old man a new faith in sales, Ben! You're a salesman."
"Well, sir--" But the Old Man's knack with the youthful-enthusiasm approach was contagious. For the moment Ben caught it and he felt pretty good about the coming night's work. He and Betty together would put the deal over. That would be something.
Sure it would...
"How do you and your wife like the place, Ben?" It was some place, for sure, the brand new house that Amalgamated had installed Ben, Betty and Bennie in the day after he had signed up.
"It's--uh--just fine, sir. Betty likes it very much, really. We both do." He hoped his tone was right.
"Good, Ben. Well, be sure to stop by in the morning. I'll have the tapes, of course, but I'll want your analysis. Might be a little vacation bonus in it for you, too."
"Sir, I don't know how to thank you."
The Old Man waved a hand. "Nothing you won't have earned, my boy. Robots can't sell." That was the set dismissal.
"Yes, sir. Robots can't manage sales, or--" He winked. The Old Man chuckled. An old joke was never too old for the Old Man. The same old bromides every time; and the same hearty chuckle. Ben left on the end of it.
Dialing home on his new, Company-owned, convertible soar-kart, he felt not too bad. Some of the old lift in spirits came as the kart-pilot circuits digested the directions, selected a route and zipped up into a north-north-west traffic pattern. The Old Man was a wonderful sales manager and boss. The new house-warming pitch that he and Betty would try tonight was smart. He could feel he had done something.
Exercising his sales ability with fair success, he fed himself this pitch all along the two hundred mile, twenty-minute hop home from the city. The time and distance didn't bother him. "Gives me time to think," he had told Betty. Whether or not this seemed to her an advantage, she didn't say. At least she liked the place, "Amalgamated's Country Gentleman Estate--Spacious, Yet fully Automated."
"We are," the Old Man told Ben when he was given the Company-assigned quarters, "starting a new trend. With the terrific decline in birth rate during the past 90 to 100 years, you'll be astonished at how much room there is out there. No reason for everyone to live in the suburban centers any more. With millions of empty apartments in them, high time we built something else, eh? Trouble with people today, no initiative in obsolescing. But we'll move them."
Home, Ben left the kart out and conveyed up the walk. The front door opened. Betty had been watching for him. He walked to the family vueroom, as usual declining to convey in the house. The hell with the conveyor's feelings, if so simple a robot really had any. He liked to walk.
"Color pattern," Betty ordered the vuescreen as he came in, "robot audio out." With people talking in the house it was still necessary to put the machines under master automatic and manual control. Some of the less sophisticated robots might pick up some chance phrase of conversation and interpret it as an order if left on audio.
"Ben," said Betty, getting up to meet him, "you're late."
Ben was too good a salesman to argue that. Instead, he took her in his arms and kissed her. It was a very good sixty seconds later that she pushed him away with a severeness destroyed by a blush and a giggle to say, "Late but making up for lost time, huh? And sober, too. You must be feeling good for a change."
"Sure--and you feel even better, sugar." He reached for her again. She slipped away from him, laughing, but his wrist tel-timer caught on the locket she always wore, her only memento from her parents, dead in the old moon-orb crash disaster. She stood still, slightly annoyed, as he unhooked and his mood was, not broken, but set back a little. "What's got into you tonight anyway, Ben?"
"Oh, I don't know. Did I tell you, the O.M. may give us a vacation? Remember some of those nights up at that new 'Do It Yourself' Camp last summer?"
"Ben!" She blushed, smiled. "We won't get any vacation if we blow our house-warming pitch tonight, you know. And we have three couples due here in less than a half hour. Besides, I have to talk to you about Nana."
"That damned new CD-IX model. Now what?"
"She's very upset about Bennie. I'm not sure I blame her. This afternoon he simply refused his indoctrination. All the time he should have been playing store with Playmate he insisted on drawing things--himself, mind you, not Playmate. On the walls, with an old pencil of yours he found someplace in your things. Nana couldn't do a thing with him. She says you've got to give him a spanking."
"Why me? Why not you?"
"Now Ben, we've been over that and over it. Discipline is the father's job."
"Well, I won't do it. Bennie's just a baby. Let him do a few things himself. Won't hurt him."
"That Nana is an officious busybody, trying to run our lives."
"Oh, Ben! You know Nana loves little Bennie. She only wants to help him."
"But to what?"
"She'd never dream of lifting a finger against Bennie no matter what he did. And she lives in terror that he'll cut her switch in some temper tantrum."
"Hmph! Well, I'm going up right now and tell her if I hear another word from her about spanking Bennie, I'll cut her switch myself. Then she can go back to Central for reprogramming and see how she likes it."
"Ben! You wouldn't."
"Why not? Maybe she needs a new personality?"
"You won't say a thing to her. You're too soft-hearted."
"This time I won't be."
This time he wasn't. He met Nana CD-IX in the hallway outside Bennie's room. Like all nurse, teaching, and children's personal service robots, she was human in form, except for her control dial safely out of baby's reach, top, center.
The human form was reassuring to children, kept them from feeling strange with parents back. Nana was big, gray-haired, stout, buxom, motherly, to reassure parents.
"Now, Mr. Tilman," she said with weary impatience, "you are too late. Surely you don't intend to burst in and disturb your son now."
"Surely I do."
"But he is having his supper. You will upset him. Can't you understand that you should arrange to be here between 5:30 and 6 if you wish to interview the child?"
"Did he miss me? Sorry, I couldn't make it earlier. But now I am going to see him a minute."
"Nana! And what's this about your wanting Bennie spanked because he drew a few pictures?"
"Surely you realize these are the child's formative years, Mr. Tilman. He should be learning to think in terms of selling now--not doing things. That's robot work, Mr. Tilman. Robots can't sell, you know, and what will people, let alone robots think if you let your boy grow up--"
"He's growing up fine; and I am going in to see him."
"And for two credits, Nana, I'd cut your switch. You hear me?"
"Mr. Tilman--no! No, please. I'm sorry. Let the boy scrawl a bit; perhaps it won't hurt him. Go in and see him if you must, but do try not to upset him or-- All right, all right. But please Mr. Tilman, my switch--"
"Very well Nana. I'll leave it. This time."
"Thank you, Mr. Tilman."
"So we understand each other, Nana. Though, matter of fact, I'm hanged if I ever did quite see why you senior-level robots get so worked up about your identities."