The pictures seemed to have little in common. One was a store, where a girl dressed like April Horn was demonstrating home freezers. One was a series of shots of kitchens. Burckhardt caught a glimpse of what looked like the cigar stand in his office building.
It was baffling and Burckhardt would have loved to stand there and puzzle it out, but it was too busy a place. There was the chance that someone would look their way or walk out and find them.
They found another room. This one was empty. It was an office, large and sumptuous. It had a desk, littered with papers. Burckhardt stared at them, briefly at first--then, as the words on one of them caught his attention, with incredulous fascination.
He snatched up the topmost sheet, scanned it, and another, while Swanson was frenziedly searching through the drawers.
Burckhardt swore unbelievingly and dropped the papers to the desk.
Swanson, hardly noticing, yelped with delight: "Look!" He dragged a gun from the desk. "And it's loaded, too!"
Burckhardt stared at him blankly, trying to assimilate what he had read. Then, as he realized what Swanson had said, Burckhardt's eyes sparked. "Good man!" he cried. "We'll take it. We're getting out of here with that gun, Swanson. And we're going to the police! Not the cops in Tylerton, but the F.B.I., maybe. Take a look at this!"
The sheaf he handed Swanson was headed: "Test Area Progress Report. Subject: Marlin Cigarettes Campaign." It was mostly tabulated figures that made little sense to Burckhardt and Swanson, but at the end was a summary that said: Although Test 47-K3 pulled nearly double the number of new users of any of the other tests conducted, it probably cannot be used in the field because of local sound-truck control ordinances.
The tests in the 47-K12 group were second best and our recommendation is that retests be conducted in this appeal, testing each of the three best campaigns with and without the addition of sampling techniques.
An alternative suggestion might be to proceed directly with the top appeal in the K12 series, if the client is unwilling to go to the expense of additional tests.
All of these forecast expectations have an 80% probability of being within one-half of one per cent of results forecast, and more than 99% probability of coming within 5%.
Swanson looked up from the paper into Burckhardt's eyes. "I don't get it," he complained.
Burckhardt said, "I don't blame you. It's crazy, but it fits the facts, Swanson, it fits the facts. They aren't Russians and they aren't Martians. These people are advertising men! Somehow--heaven knows how they did it--they've taken Tylerton over. They've got us, all of us, you and me and twenty or thirty thousand other people, right under their thumbs.
"Maybe they hypnotize us and maybe it's something else; but however they do it, what happens is that they let us live a day at a time. They pour advertising into us the whole damned day long. And at the end of the day, they see what happened--and then they wash the day out of our minds and start again the next day with different advertising."
Swanson's jaw was hanging. He managed to close it and swallow. "Nuts!" he said flatly.
Burckhardt shook his head. "Sure, it sounds crazy--but this whole thing is crazy. How else would you explain it? You can't deny that most of Tylerton lives the same day over and over again. You've seen it! And that's the crazy part and we have to admit that that's true--unless we are the crazy ones. And once you admit that somebody, somehow, knows how to accomplish that, the rest of it makes all kinds of sense.
"Think of it, Swanson! They test every last detail before they spend a nickel on advertising! Do you have any idea what that means? Lord knows how much money is involved, but I know for a fact that some companies spend twenty or thirty million dollars a year on advertising. Multiply it, say, by a hundred companies. Say that every one of them learns how to cut its advertising cost by only ten per cent. And that's peanuts, believe me!
"If they know in advance what's going to work, they can cut their costs in half--maybe to less than half, I don't know. But that's saving two or three hundred million dollars a year--and if they pay only ten or twenty per cent of that for the use of Tylerton, it's still dirt cheap for them and a fortune for whoever took over Tylerton."
Swanson licked his lips. "You mean," he offered hesitantly, "that we're a--well, a kind of captive audience?"
Burckhardt frowned. "Not exactly." He thought for a minute. "You know how a doctor tests something like penicillin? He sets up a series of little colonies of germs on gelatine disks and he tries the stuff on one after another, changing it a little each time. Well, that's us--we're the germs, Swanson. Only it's even more efficient than that. They don't have to test more than one colony, because they can use it over and over again."
It was too hard for Swanson to take in. He only said: "What do we do about it?"
"We go to the police. They can't use human beings for guinea pigs!"
"How do we get to the police?"
Burckhardt hesitated. "I think--" he began slowly. "Sure. This place is the office of somebody important. We've got a gun. We'll stay right here until he comes along. And he'll get us out of here."
Simple and direct. Swanson subsided and found a place to sit, against the wall, out of sight of the door. Burckhardt took up a position behind the door itself-- And waited.
The wait was not as long as it might have been. Half an hour, perhaps. Then Burckhardt heard approaching voices and had time for a swift whisper to Swanson before he flattened himself against the wall.
It was a man's voice, and a girl's. The man was saying, "--reason why you couldn't report on the phone? You're ruining your whole day's test! What the devil's the matter with you, Janet?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Dorchin," she said in a sweet, clear tone. "I thought it was important."
The man grumbled, "Important! One lousy unit out of twenty-one thousand."
"But it's the Burckhardt one, Mr. Dorchin. Again. And the way he got out of sight, he must have had some help."
"All right, all right. It doesn't matter, Janet; the Choco-Bite program is ahead of schedule anyhow. As long as you're this far, come on in the office and make out your worksheet. And don't worry about the Burckhardt business. He's probably just wandering around. We'll pick him up tonight and--"
They were inside the door. Burckhardt kicked it shut and pointed the gun.
"That's what you think," he said triumphantly.
It was worth the terrified hours, the bewildered sense of insanity, the confusion and fear. It was the most satisfying sensation Burckhardt had ever had in his life. The expression on the man's face was one he had read about but never actually seen: Dorchin's mouth fell open and his eyes went wide, and though he managed to make a sound that might have been a question, it was not in words.
The girl was almost as surprised. And Burckhardt, looking at her, knew why her voice had been so familiar. The girl was the one who had introduced herself to him as April Horn.
Dorchin recovered himself quickly. "Is this the one?" he asked sharply.
The girl said, "Yes."
Dorchin nodded. "I take it back. You were right. Uh, you--Burckhardt. What do you want?"
Swanson piped up, "Watch him! He might have another gun."
"Search him then," Burckhardt said. "I'll tell you what we want, Dorchin. We want you to come along with us to the FBI and explain to them how you can get away with kidnapping twenty thousand people."
"Kidnapping?" Dorchin snorted. "That's ridiculous, man! Put that gun away--you can't get away with this!"
Burckhardt hefted the gun grimly. "I think I can."
Dorchin looked furious and sick--but, oddly, not afraid. "Damn it--" he started to bellow, then closed his mouth and swallowed. "Listen," he said persuasively, "you're making a big mistake. I haven't kidnapped anybody, believe me!"
"I don't believe you," said Burckhardt bluntly. "Why should I?"
"But it's true! Take my word for it!"
Burckhardt shook his head. "The FBI can take your word if they like. We'll find out. Now how do we get out of here?"
Dorchin opened his mouth to argue.
Burckhardt blazed: "Don't get in my way! I'm willing to kill you if I have to. Don't you understand that? I've gone through two days of hell and every second of it I blame on you. Kill you? It would be a pleasure and I don't have a thing in the world to lose! Get us out of here!"
Dorchin's face went suddenly opaque. He seemed about to move; but the blonde girl he had called Janet slipped between him and the gun.
"Please!" she begged Burckhardt. "You don't understand. You mustn't shoot!"
"Get out of my way!"
"But, Mr. Burckhardt--"
She never finished. Dorchin, his face unreadable, headed for the door. Burckhardt had been pushed one degree too far. He swung the gun, bellowing. The girl called out sharply. He pulled the trigger. Closing on him with pity and pleading in her eyes, she came again between the gun and the man.
Burckhardt aimed low instinctively, to cripple, not to kill. But his aim was not good.
The pistol bullet caught her in the pit of the stomach.
Dorchin was out and away, the door slamming behind him, his footsteps racing into the distance.
Burckhardt hurled the gun across the room and jumped to the girl.
Swanson was moaning. "That finishes us, Burckhardt. Oh, why did you do it? We could have got away. We could have gone to the police. We were practically out of here! We--"
Burckhardt wasn't listening. He was kneeling beside the girl. She lay flat on her back, arms helter-skelter. There was no blood, hardly any sign of the wound; but the position in which she lay was one that no living human being could have held.
Yet she wasn't dead.
She wasn't dead--and Burckhardt, frozen beside her, thought: She isn't alive, either.
There was no pulse, but there was a rhythmic ticking of the outstretched fingers of one hand.
There was no sound of breathing, but there was a hissing, sizzling noise.
The eyes were open and they were looking at Burckhardt. There was neither fear nor pain in them, only a pity deeper than the Pit.
She said, through lips that writhed erratically, "Don't--worry, Mr. Burckhardt. I'm--all right."
Burckhardt rocked back on his haunches, staring. Where there should have been blood, there was a clean break of a substance that was not flesh; and a curl of thin golden-copper wire.
Burckhardt moistened his lips.
"You're a robot," he said.
The girl tried to nod. The twitching lips said, "I am. And so are you."
Swanson, after a single inarticulate sound, walked over to the desk and sat staring at the wall. Burckhardt rocked back and forth beside the shattered puppet on the floor. He had no words.
The girl managed to say, "I'm--sorry all this happened." The lovely lips twisted into a rictus sneer, frightening on that smooth young face, until she got them under control. "Sorry," she said again. "The--nerve center was right about where the bullet hit. Makes it difficult to--control this body."
Burckhardt nodded automatically, accepting the apology. Robots. It was obvious, now that he knew it. In hindsight, it was inevitable. He thought of his mystic notions of hypnosis or Martians or something stranger still--idiotic, for the simple fact of created robots fitted the facts better and more economically.
All the evidence had been before him. The automatized factory, with its transplanted minds--why not transplant a mind into a humanoid robot, give it its original owner's features and form?
Could it know that it was a robot?
"All of us," Burckhardt said, hardly aware that he spoke out loud. "My wife and my secretary and you and the neighbors. All of us the same."
"No." The voice was stronger. "Not exactly the same, all of us. I chose it, you see. I--" this time the convulsed lips were not a random contortion of the nerves--"I was an ugly woman, Mr. Burckhardt, and nearly sixty years old. Life had passed me. And when Mr. Dorchin offered me the chance to live again as a beautiful girl, I jumped at the opportunity. Believe me, I jumped, in spite of its disadvantages. My flesh body is still alive--it is sleeping, while I am here. I could go back to it. But I never do."
"And the rest of us?"
"Different, Mr. Burckhardt. I work here. I'm carrying out Mr. Dorchin's orders, mapping the results of the advertising tests, watching you and the others live as he makes you live. I do it by choice, but you have no choice. Because, you see, you are dead."
"Dead?" cried Burckhardt; it was almost a scream.
The blue eyes looked at him unwinkingly and he knew that it was no lie. He swallowed, marveling at the intricate mechanisms that let him swallow, and sweat, and eat.
He said: "Oh. The explosion in my dream."
"It was no dream. You are right--the explosion. That was real and this plant was the cause of it. The storage tanks let go and what the blast didn't get, the fumes killed a little later. But almost everyone died in the blast, twenty-one thousand persons. You died with them and that was Dorchin's chance."
"The damned ghoul!" said Burckhardt.
The twisted shoulders shrugged with an odd grace. "Why? You were gone. And you and all the others were what Dorchin wanted--a whole town, a perfect slice of America. It's as easy to transfer a pattern from a dead brain as a living one. Easier--the dead can't say no. Oh, it took work and money--the town was a wreck--but it was possible to rebuild it entirely, especially because it wasn't necessary to have all the details exact.
"There were the homes where even the brains had been utterly destroyed, and those are empty inside, and the cellars that needn't be too perfect, and the streets that hardly matter. And anyway, it only has to last for one day. The same day--June 15th--over and over again; and if someone finds something a little wrong, somehow, the discovery won't have time to snowball, wreck the validity of the tests, because all errors are canceled out at midnight."
The face tried to smile. "That's the dream, Mr. Burckhardt, that day of June 15th, because you never really lived it. It's a present from Mr. Dorchin, a dream that he gives you and then takes back at the end of the day, when he has all his figures on how many of you responded to what variation of which appeal, and the maintenance crews go down the tunnel to go through the whole city, washing out the new dream with their little electronic drains, and then the dream starts all over again. On June 15th.
"Always June 15th, because June 14th is the last day any of you can remember alive. Sometimes the crews miss someone--as they missed you, because you were under your boat. But it doesn't matter. The ones who are missed give themselves away if they show it--and if they don't, it doesn't affect the test. But they don't drain us, the ones of us who work for Dorchin. We sleep when the power is turned off, just as you do. When we wake up, though, we remember." The face contorted wildly. "If I could only forget!"
Burckhardt said unbelievingly, "All this to sell merchandise! It must have cost millions!"
The robot called April Horn said, "It did. But it has made millions for Dorchin, too. And that's not the end of it. Once he finds the master words that make people act, do you suppose he will stop with that? Do you suppose--"
The door opened, interrupting her. Burckhardt whirled. Belatedly remembering Dorchin's flight, he raised the gun.
"Don't shoot," ordered the voice calmly. It was not Dorchin; it was another robot, this one not disguised with the clever plastics and cosmetics, but shining plain. It said metallically: "Forget it, Burckhardt. You're not accomplishing anything. Give me that gun before you do any more damage. Give it to me now."
Burckhardt bellowed angrily. The gleam on this robot torso was steel; Burckhardt was not at all sure that his bullets would pierce it, or do much harm if they did. He would have put it to the test-- But from behind him came a whimpering, scurrying whirlwind; its name was Swanson, hysterical with fear. He catapulted into Burckhardt and sent him sprawling, the gun flying free.