All nineteen clamored to be heard, for Hall to relay their voices to Earth, but he held them off and first he told his story.
The Casseiopeian delegate to the Galactic Senate was at the moment finishing his breakfast. He was small and furry, not unlike a very large squirrel, and he sat perched on a high chair eating salted roast almonds of which he was very fond.
Suddenly a voice started talking inside of his head, just as it did at that very second inside the heads of thirteen billion other inhabitants of the northwest corner of Earth. The Casseiopeian delegate was so startled that he dropped the dish of almonds, his mouth popping open, his tiny red tongue inside flickering nervously. He listened spellbound.
The voice told him of the war on Grismet and of the permallium constructed robots, and of the cement blocks. This, however, he already knew, because he had been one of the delegates to the Peace Conference who had decided to dispose of the robots. The voice, however, also told him things he did not know, such as the inability of the robots to commit any crime that any other sane human being would not commit, of their very simple desire to be allowed to live in peace, and most of all of their utter horror for the fate a civilized galaxy had decreed for them.
When the voice stopped, the Casseiopeian delegate was a greatly shaken little being.
Back on the ship, Hall opened the circuit to the nineteen, and they spoke in words, in memory pictures and in sensations.
A copter cab driver was hurrying with his fare from Manhattan to Oyster Bay. Suddenly, in his mind, he became a permallium robot. He was bound with cables of the heavy metal, and was suspended upside down in a huge cement block. The stone pressed firmly on his eyes, his ears, and his chest. He was completely immobile, and worst of all, he knew that above his head for six miles lay the great Grismet Ocean, with the blue mud slowly settling down encasing the cement in a stony stratum that would last till the planet broke apart.
The cab driver gasped: "What the hell." His throat was so dry he could scarcely talk. He turned around to his fare, and the passenger, a young man, was pale and trembling.
"You seeing things, too?" the driver asked.
"I sure am," the fare said unsteadily. "What a thing to do."
For fifteen minutes, over the northwest quadrant of Earth, the words and the pictures went out, and thirteen billion people knew suddenly what lay in the hearts and minds of nineteen robots.
A housewife in San Rafael was at the moment in a butcher shop buying meat for her family. As the thoughts and images started pouring into her mind, she remained stock-still, her package of meat forgotten on the counter. The butcher, wiping his bloodied hands on his apron froze in that position, an expression of horror and incredulity on his face.
When the thoughts stopped coming in, the butcher was the first to come out of the trancelike state.
"Boy," he said, "that's sure some way of sending messages. Sure beats the teledepths."
The housewife snatched her meat off the counter. "Is that all you think of," she demanded angrily.
"That's a terrible thing that those barbarians on Grismet are doing to those ... those people. Why didn't they tell us that they were human." She stalked out of the shop, not certain what she would do, but determined to do something.
In the ship Hall reluctantly broke off the connection and replaced the trap door. Then he went back to his cell and locked himself in. He had accomplished his mission; its results now lay in the opinions of men.
Jordan left the ship immediately on landing, and took a copter over to the agency building. His conversation with his superior was something he wanted to get over with as soon as possible.
The young woman at the secretary's desk looked at him coldly and led him directly into the inner office. The chief was standing up in front of the map of the galaxy, his hands in his pockets, his eyes an icy blue.
"I've been hearing about you," he said without a greeting.
Jordan sat down. He was tense and jumpy but tried not to show it. "I suppose you have," he said, adding, after a moment, "Sir."
"How did that robot manage to break out of his cell and get to the power source on the ship in the first place?"
"He didn't break out," Jordan said slowly. "I let him out."
"I see," the chief said, nodding. "You let him out. I see. No doubt you had your reasons."
"Yes, I did. Look--" Jordan wanted to explain, but he could not find the words. It would have been different if the robots' messages had reached Grismet; he would not have had to justify himself then. But they had not, and he could not find a way to tell this cold old man of what he had learned about the robots and their unity with men. "I did it because it was the only decent thing to do."
"I see," the chief said. "You did it because you have a heart." He leaned suddenly forward, both hands on his desk. "It's good for a man to have a heart and be compassionate. He's not worth anything if he isn't. But"--and he shook his finger at Jordan as he spoke--"that man is going to be compassionate at his own expense, not at the expense of the agency. Do you understand that?"
"I certainly do," Jordan answered, "but you have me wrong if you think I'm here to make excuses or to apologize. Now, if you will get on with my firing, sir, I'll go home and have my supper."
The chief looked at him for a long minute. "Don't you care about your position in the agency?" he asked quietly.
"Sure I do," Jordan said almost roughly. "It's the work I wanted to do all my life. But, as you said, what I did, I did at my own expense. Look, sir, I don't like this any better than you do. Why don't you fire me and let me go home? Your prisoner's safely locked up in the ship."
For answer the chief tossed him a stellogram. Jordan glanced at the first few words and saw that it was from Galactic Headquarters on Earth. He put it back on the desk without reading it through.
"I know that I must have kicked up a fuss. You don't have to spell it out for me."
"Read it," the chief said impatiently.
Jordan took back the stellogram and examined it. It read.
To: Captain Lawrence Macrae Detection Agency, Grismet.
From: Prantal Aminopterin Delegate from Casseiopeia Chairman, Grismet Peace Committee of the Galactic Senate.
Message: You are hereby notified that the committee by a vote of 17-0 has decided to rescind its order of January 18, 2214, directing the disposal of the permallium robots of Grismet. Instead, the committee directs that you remove from their confinement all the robots and put them in some safe place where they will be afforded reasonable and humane treatment.
The committee will arrive in Grismet some time during the next month to decide on permanent disposition.
Jordan's heart swelled as he read the gram. "It worked," he said. "They have changed their minds. It won't be so bad being discharged now." He put the paper back on the desk and arose to go.
The chief smiled and it was like sunlight suddenly flooding over an arctic glacier. "Discharged? Now who's discharging you? I'd sooner do without my right arm."
He reached in a desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of old Earth bourbon and two glasses. He carefully poured out a shot into each glass, and handed one to Jordan.
"I like a man with a heart, and if you get away with it, why then you get away with it. And that's just what you've done."
He sat down and started sipping his whisky. Jordan stood uncertainly above him, his glass in his hand.
"Sit down, son," the old man said. "Sit down and tell me about your adventures on Earth."
Jordan sat down, put his feet on the desk and took a sizable swallow of his whisky.
"Well, Larry," he started, "I got into Earth atmosphere about 2:40 o'clock--"
GENERAL MAX SHORTER.
By KRIS NEVILLE
To spread Mankind to the stars carries a high cost in lives--and not all of them are human!
Miracastle: The initial landing had been made on a flat plateau among steep, foreboding mountains which seemed to float through briefly cleared air. In the distance a sharp rock formation stood revealed like an etching: a castle of iron-gray stone whose form had been carved by alien winds and eroded by acid tears from acid clouds.
Far above was a halo where the sun should be. The sun was an orange star only slightly larger than Sol and as near to Miracastle as Sol to Earth. The orange rays splintered against the fog and gloom was perpetually upon the dark face of existence.
This was the first two-stage planet man had ever attempted to colonize. Miracastle was so far from Earth that the long ships were destroyed twice to reach it.
The technicians came, commanded by General Max Shorter, sixty-three years old. Men wearing the circle whose diameter was etched in ruby steel enclosing a background of gleaming ebon--the emblem was a silver D over a sunburst of hammered gold.
The surface of Miracastle roiled with unfamiliar storms and tornados and hurricanes. Before these, the films of lichen evaporated into dust, and the sparse and stunted vegetation with ochre foliage turned sear and was powdered by the fury in the air.
Earth equipment, alien to the orange sun, hammered into the heart of Miracastle. Night and day it converted the pulverized substance of the planet in the white-hot core of its atomic furnaces.
Acid rivers snapped at the wind and changed to salt deposits and super-heated steam. In the gaseous atmosphere, neutral crystals formed and fell like powdered rain. Miracastle heated and cooled and shivered with the virus of man-made chemical reactions, and the storms screamed and tore at the age-old mountains.
Inside the eternal, self-renewing Richardson domes, the technicians worked and waited and superintended the computers which controlled the processes raging beyond them.
The long ship lifted steadily and majestically through the battering storm and the driving rain of dust and crystals. Out beyond the dense space that surrounds all stars, the long ship probed the ever-shifting currents in the four-dimensional universe. The long ship found a low-density flaw, where space could hardly be said to exist at all. The long ship, described mathematically, was half as long as the continuum--the length being inversely proportional and related only to mass. Time was but a moth's wing between twin cliffs of eternity.
Inside Miracastle's orange sun, at its very core, an atom of hydrogen was destroyed completely; and in the inconceivable distance, an atom of hydrogen appeared. The pulsing, steady-state equation of the universe maintained its knife-edge and inevitable thermo-dynamic balance.
Inside the long ship, a pilot-machine ordered the destruction of a vastly greater collection of matter. The atoms of the ship and the sailors--fixed in relationship, each to each--imploded into nothingness.
And the long ship and the men aboard it were born again at a low-density area a million light years away--halfway to Earth. Born and were destroyed again, in the blink of an eye.
Beyond the ship now lay Sol, pulsing in its own warmth and warming its children embedded in the cold and distant texture of the universe. The sailors were ghosts come home.
Miracastle was alone with her conquerors.
General Max Shorter, a few weeks later, began writing a diary.
"I have been Destroyed thirty-seven times during forty years' service with the long ships," he wrote. He wrote with a pen, using a metal straight edge as a line rule.
"I have served faithfully and I believe as well as any man the Corps, the planet and mankind. It is perhaps appropriate at this time, as I approach the end of my long service, to record a few observations which have occurred to me during the course of it as well as to record the day-to-day details of my present command."
The general wrote: "A man is given a job to do. And when all is said and done, that is the most important thing in his life: to do his job."
It took perhaps ten seconds for the soft knock to penetrate his concentration. He adjusted himself to the moment and closed the diary softly. He deposited it in the upper right-hand drawer of the writing desk and locked the drawer.
The knock came again.
He arranged his tie.
"Come in," General Shorter said.
The agitation of the man in the doorway was announced by the paleness of his face.
"Come in, David," General Shorter said, rising politely from the writing desk. "Be seated, please."
"General, we've had a ... a very unfortunate thing happen on the shift."
The general sank back into his chair. Light from the desk lamp framed his expressionless and immobile face, half in light, half in shadow. He fingered the straight-edge on the desk top.
"Sit down, David, and then tell me about it."
Shift-Captain Arnold moved uncertainly.
"Sit down, sit down," General Shorter repeated impatiently.
Captain Arnold seated himself on the edge of the chair.
"One of the men," he said, "just committed suicide. He was in charge of the air changing monitor this shift. He went outside without a suit."
The general blinked as though to remove an irritation from his eye. His hand lay still and hard upon the straight-edge. "What was his name?" he asked in a voice that was vaguely puzzled.
"Schuster. Sergeant Schuster, sir."
"Yes, I remember him," the general said. "He came to us about a week before the lift. I think he was from Colorado. He had very broad shoulders. Short and broad. Neat appearing. Uniform always in good order."
General Shorter ran his thumb and forefinger up the bridge of his nose and then, with a very small sigh, placed his palm over his eyes.
"Draw up the report," he said. "Was there a final message?" The question was uttered without hesitation and was followed by a moment of silence.