Yudovich, however, was a proud old man, and he never once acknowledged to himself or to anyone else that his work was useless. He guarded and checked the plant as though it were the storehouse of the Terrestrial Treasury. Every hour punctually, he made his rounds through the building.
At approximately seven thirty he was making his usual circuit when he came to the second level. What he discovered justified all the years of punctilious discharge of his duties. He was startled to see a man kneeling on the floor, just above where the main power lines ran. He had torn a hole in the composition floor, and as Yudovich watched, he reached in and pulled out the great cable. Immediately the intruder glowed in the semidarkness with an unearthly blue shine and sparkles crackled off of his face, hands and feet.
Yudovich stood rooted to the floor. He knew very well that no man could touch that cable and live. But as he watched, the intruder handled it with impunity, pulling a length of wire out of his pocket and making some sort of a connection.
It was too much for the old man. Electricity was obviously being stolen. He roared out at the top of his voice, and stumped over to the wall where he threw the alarm switch. Immediately, a hundred arc lights flashed on, lighting the level brighter than the noon sun, and a tremendously loud siren started wailing its warning to the whole countryside.
The intruder jumped up as though he had been stabbed. He dropped the wires, and after a wild look around him, he ran at full speed toward the far exit.
"Hold on there," Yudovich shouted and tried to give chase, but his swollen, crooked knees almost collapsed with the effort.
His eyes fell on a large wrench lying on a worktable, and he snatched it up and threw it with all his strength. In his youth he had been a ball player with some local fame as a pitcher, and in his later life, he was addicted to playing horseshoes. His aim was, therefore, good, and the wrench sailed through the air striking the runner on the back of the head. Sparks flew and there was a loud metallic clang, the wrench rebounding high in the air. The man who was struck did not even turn his head, but continued his panicky flight and was gone in a second.
When he realized there was no hope of effecting a capture, Yudovich stumped over to see the amount of the damage. A hole had been torn in the floor, but the cable itself was intact.
Something strange caught his attention. Wherever the intruder had put his foot down, there were many radiating cracks in the composition floor, just as though someone had struck a sheet of ice with a sledge hammer.
"I'll be danged," he said to himself. "I'll be danged and double danged."
He turned off the alarm and then went downstairs to the teledepth screen to notify the sheriff's office.
A few hundred yards from the powerhouse, Jon Hall stood in the darkness, listening to the voices of his fellows. There were eighteen of them, not seventeen, for a short while before the one in the ice cave had been captured, and they railed at him with a bitter hopeless anger.
He looked toward the bright lights of the powerhouse, considering whether he should return. "It's too late," said one of them. "The alarm is already out." "Go into the town and mix with the people," another suggested. "If you stay within a half mile of the hafnium pile, the detection man will not be able to pick up your radiation and maybe you will have a second chance."
They all assented in that, and Hall, weary of making his own decisions turned toward the town. He walked through a tree-lined residential street, the houses with neatly trimmed lawns, and each with a copter parked on the roof. In almost every house the teledepths were turned on and he caught snatches of bulletins about himself: "... Is known to be in the Mojave area." "... About six feet in height and very similar to a human being. When last seen, he was dressed in--" "Governor Leibowitz has promised speedy action and attorney general Markle has stated--"
The main street of Ballarat was brilliantly lighted. Many of the residents, aroused by the alarm from the powerhouse, were out, standing in small groups in front of the stores and talking excitedly to one another.
He hesitated, unwilling to walk through the bright street, but uncertain where to turn. Two men talking loudly came around the corner suddenly and he stepped back into a store entrance to avoid them. They stopped directly in front of him. One of them, an overalled farm hand from his looks, said, "He killed a kid just a little while ago. My brother-in-law heard it."
"Murderer," the other said viciously.
The farmer turned his head and his glance fell on Hall. "Well, a new face in town," he said after a moment's inspection. "Say I bet you're a reporter from one of the papers, aren't you?"
Hall came out of the entrance and tried to walk around the two men, but the farmer caught him by the sleeve.
"A reporter, huh? Well, I got some news for you. That thing from Grismet just killed a kid."
Hall could restrain himself no longer.
"That's a lie," he said coldly.
The farmer looked him up and down.
"What do you know about it," he demanded. "My brother-in-law got it from somebody in the state guard."
"It's still a lie."
"Just because it's not on the teledepth, you say it's a lie," the farmer said belligerently. "Not everything is told on the teledepth, Mr. Wiseheimer. They're keeping it a secret. They don't want to scare the people."
Hall started to walk away, but the farmer blocked his path.
"Who are you anyway? Where do you live? I never saw you before," he said suspiciously.
"Aw, Randy," his companion said, "don't go suspecting everybody."
"I don't like anyone to call me a liar."
Hall stepped around the man in his path, and turned down the street. He was boiling inside with an almost uncontrollable fury.
A few feet away, catastrophe suddenly broke loose. A faulty section of the sidewalk split without warning under his feet and he went pitching forward into the street. He clutched desperately at the trunk of a tall palm tree, but with a loud snap, it broke, throwing him head on into a parked road car. The entire front end of the car collapsed like an egg shell under his weight.
For a long moment, the entire street was dead quiet. With difficulty, Hall pulled himself to his feet. Pale, astonished faces were staring at him from all sides.
Suddenly the farmer started screaming. "That's him. I knew it. That's him." He was jumping up and down with excitement.
Hall turned his back and walked in the other direction. The people in front of him faded away, leaving a clear path.
He had gone a dozen steps when a man with a huge double-barreled shotgun popped out from a store front just ahead. He aimed for the middle of Hall's chest and fired both barrels.
The blast and the shot struck Hall squarely, burning a large hole in his shirt front. He did not change his pace, but continued step by step.
The man with the gun snatched two shells out of his pocket and frantically tried to reload. Hall reached out and closed his hand over the barrel of the gun and the blue steel crumpled like wet paper.
From across the street, someone was shooting at him with a rifle. Several times a bullet smacked warmly against his head or his back.
He continued walking slowly up the street. At its far end several men appeared dragging a small howitzer--probably the only piece in the local armory. They scurried around it, trying to get it aimed and loaded.
"Fools. Stupid fools," Hall shouted at them.
The men could not seem to get the muzzle of the gun down, and when he was a dozen paces from it they took to their heels. He tore the heavy cannon off of its carriage and with one blow of his fist caved it in. He left it lying in the street broken and useless.
Almost as suddenly as it came, his anger left him. He stopped and looked back at the people cringing in the doorways.
"You poor, cruel fools," Hall said again.
He sat down in the middle of the street on the twisted howitzer barrel and buried his head in his hands. There was nothing else for him to do. He knew that in just a matter of seconds, the ships with their permallium nets and snares would be on him.
Since Jordan's ship was not large enough to transport Jon Hall's great weight back to Grismet, the terrestrial government put at the agent's disposal a much heavier vessel, one room of which had been hastily lined with permallium and outfitted as a prison cell. A pilot by the name of Wilkins went with the ship. He was a battered old veteran, given to cigar smoking, clandestine drinking and card playing.
The vessel took off, rose straight through the atmosphere for about forty miles, and then hung, idly circling Earth, awaiting clearance before launching into the pulse drive. A full course between Earth and Grismet had to be plotted and cleared by the technicians at the dispatch center because the mass of the vessel increased so greatly with its pulsating speed that if any two ships passed within a hundred thousand miles of each other, they would at least be torn from their course, and might even be totally destroyed.
Wilkins had proposed a pinochle game, and he and Jordan sat playing in the control room.
The pilot had been winning and he was elated. "Seventy-six dollars so far," he announced after some arithmetic. "The easiest day's pay I made this month."
Jordan shuffled the cards and dealt them out, three at a time. He was troubled by his own thoughts, and so preoccupied that he scarcely followed the game.
"Spades, again," the pilot commented gleefully. "Well, ain't that too bad for you." He gave his cigar a few chomps and played a card.
Jordan had been looking out of the window. The ship had tilted and he could see without rising the rim of Earth forming a beautiful geometric arc, hazy and blue in its shimmering atmosphere.
"Come on, play," the pilot said, impatiently. "I just led an ace."
Jordan put down his cards. "I guess I better quit," he said.
"What the devil!" the pilot said angrily. "You can't quit like that in the middle of a deal. I got a flush and aces."
"I'm sorry," Jordan said, "but I'm going to lie down in my cabin until we are given clearance."
He opened the door of the little room and went into the hall. He walked down past his own cabin and stopped in front of another door, a new one that was sheathed in permallium. He hesitated a few moments; then he snapped open the outside latch and walked in, letting the door swing closed behind him.
Hall lay unmoving in the middle of the floor, his legs and arms fastened in greaves of permallium.
Jordan was embarrassed. He did not look directly at the robot.
"I don't know whether you want to talk to me or not," he started. "If you don't want to, that's all right. But, I've followed you since you landed on Earth, and I don't understand why you did what you did. You don't have to tell me, but I wish you would. It would make me feel better."
The robot shrugged--a very human gesture, Jordan noted.
"G-go ahead and ask me," he said. "It d-doesn't make any difference now."
Jordan sat down on the floor. "The boy was the one who gave you away. If not for him, no one would have ever known what planet you were on. Why did you let the kid get away?"
The robot looked straight at the agent. "Would you kill a child?" he asked.
"No, of course not," Jordan said a little bit annoyed, "but I'm not a robot either." He waited for a further explanation, but when he saw none was coming, he said: "I don't know what you were trying to do in that powerhouse at Ballarat, but, whatever it was, that old man couldn't have stopped you. What happened?"
"I l-lost my head," the robot said quietly. "The alarm and the lights rattled me, and I got into a p-panic."
"I see," said Jordan, frustrated, not really seeing at all. He sat back and thought for a moment. "Let me put it this way. Why do you stutter?"
Hall smiled a wry smile. "Th-that used to be a m-military secret," he said. "It's our one weakness--the one Achilles heel in a m-machine that was meant to be invulnerable."
He struggled to a sitting position. "You see, we were m-made as s-soldiers and had to have a certain loyalty to the country that m-made us. Only living things are loyal--machines are not. We had to think like human beings."
Jordan's brows contracted as he tried to understand the robot.
"You mean you have a transplanted human brain?" he asked incredulously.
"In a way," Hall said. "Our b-brains are permallium strips on which the mind of some human donor was m-magnetically imprinted. My mind was copied f-from a man who stuttered and who got panicky when the going got rough, and who couldn't kill a child no matter what was at s-stake."
Jordan felt physically ill. Hall was human and he was immortal. And according to galactic decree, he, like his fellows, was to be manacled in permallium and fixed in a great block of cement, and that block was to be dropped into the deep silent depths of the Grismet ocean, to be slowly covered by the blue sediment that gradually filters down through the miles of ocean water to stay immobile and blind for countless millions of years.
Jordan arose to his feet. He could think of nothing further to say.
He stopped, however, with the door half open, and asked: "One more question--what did you want with the electrical generator plants on Earth?"
Slowly and without emotion Hall told him, and when he understood, he became even sicker.
He went across to his cabin and stood for a while looking out the window. Then he lit a cigarette and lay down on his bunk thinking. After a time, he put out the cigarette and walked into the hall where he paced up and down.
As he passed the cell door for about the tenth time, he suddenly swung around and lifted the latch and entered. He went over to the robot, and with a key that he took from his pocket, he unlocked the greaves and chains.
"There's no point in keeping you bound up like this," he said. "I don't think you're very dangerous." He put the key back in his pocket.
"I suppose you know that this ship runs on an atomic pile," he said in a conversational tone of voice. "The cables are just under the floor in the control room and they can be reached through a little trap door."
Jordan looked directly into Hall's face. The robot was listening with great intentness.
"Well," the agent said, "we'll probably be leaving Earth's atmosphere in about fifteen minutes. I think I'll go play pinochle with the pilot."
He carefully left the door of the cell unlatched as he left. He walked to the control room and found Wilkins, a dry cigar butt clenched between his teeth, absorbed in a magazine.
"Let's have another game," Jordan said. "I want some of that seventy-six dollars back."
Wilkins shook his head. "I'm in the middle of a good story here. Real sexy. I'll play you after we take off."
"Nothing doing," Jordan said sharply. "Let's play right now."
Wilkins kept reading. "We got an eighteen-hour flight in front of us. You have lots of time."
The agent snatched the magazine out of his hands. "We're going to play right now in my cabin," he said.
"You quit when I have aces and a flush, and now you come back and want to play again. That's not sportsmanlike," Wilkins complained, but he allowed himself to be led back to Jordan's cabin. "I never saw anybody so upset about losing a miserable seventy-six bucks," was his final comment.
The robot lay perfectly still until he heard the door to Jordan's cabin slam shut, and then he arose as quietly as he could and stole out into the hall. The steel of the hall floor groaned, but bore his weight, and carefully, trembling with excitement inside of his ponderous metallic body, he made his way to the control room. He knelt and lifted the little trap door and found the naked power cable, pulsating with electrical current.
In a locker under the panel board he found a length of copper wire. It was all he needed for the necessary connection.
Since his capture, his fellows on Grismet had been silent with despair, but as he knelt to close the circuit, their minds flooded in on him and he realized with a tremendous horror that there were now nineteen, that all except he had been bound and fixed in their eternal cement prisons.
"We are going to have our chance," he told them. "We won't have much time, but we will have our chance."
He closed the circuit and a tremendous tide of electric power flowed into his head. Inside that two-inch shell of permallium was a small strip of metal tape on whose electrons and atoms were written the borrowed mind of a man. Connected to the tape was a minute instrument for receiving and sending electromagnetic impulses--the chain by which the mind of one robot was tied to that of another.
The current surged in and the tiny impulses swelled in strength and poured out through the hull of the ship in a great cone that penetrated Earth's atmosphere in a quadrant that extended from Baffin land to Omaha, and from Hawaii to Labrador. The waves swept through skin and bone and entered the sluggish gelatinous brain of sentient beings, setting up in those organs the same thoughts and pictures that played among the electrons of the permallium strip that constituted Jon Hall's mind.