"Please!" begged Swanson incoherently, prostrate before the steel robot. "He would have shot you--please don't hurt me! Let me work for you, like that girl. I'll do anything, anything you tell me--"
The robot voice said. "We don't need your help." It took two precise steps and stood over the gun--and spurned it, left it lying on the floor.
The wrecked blonde robot said, without emotion, "I doubt that I can hold out much longer, Mr. Dorchin."
"Disconnect if you have to," replied the steel robot.
Burckhardt blinked. "But you're not Dorchin!"
The steel robot turned deep eyes on him. "I am," it said. "Not in the flesh--but this is the body I am using at the moment. I doubt that you can damage this one with the gun. The other robot body was more vulnerable. Now will you stop this nonsense? I don't want to have to damage you; you're too expensive for that. Will you just sit down and let the maintenance crews adjust you?"
Swanson groveled. "You--you won't punish us?"
The steel robot had no expression, but its voice was almost surprised. "Punish you?" it repeated on a rising note. "How?"
Swanson quivered as though the word had been a whip; but Burckhardt flared: "Adjust him, if he'll let you--but not me! You're going to have to do me a lot of damage, Dorchin. I don't care what I cost or how much trouble it's going to be to put me back together again. But I'm going out of that door! If you want to stop me, you'll have to kill me. You won't stop me any other way!"
The steel robot took a half-step toward him, and Burckhardt involuntarily checked his stride. He stood poised and shaking, ready for death, ready for attack, ready for anything that might happen.
Ready for anything except what did happen. For Dorchin's steel body merely stepped aside, between Burckhardt and the gun, but leaving the door free.
"Go ahead," invited the steel robot. "Nobody's stopping you."
Outside the door, Burckhardt brought up sharp. It was insane of Dorchin to let him go! Robot or flesh, victim or beneficiary, there was nothing to stop him from going to the FBI or whatever law he could find away from Dorchin's synthetic empire, and telling his story. Surely the corporations who paid Dorchin for test results had no notion of the ghoul's technique he used; Dorchin would have to keep it from them, for the breath of publicity would put a stop to it. Walking out meant death, perhaps--but at that moment in his pseudo-life, death was no terror for Burckhardt.
There was no one in the corridor. He found a window and stared out of it. There was Tylerton--an ersatz city, but looking so real and familiar that Burckhardt almost imagined the whole episode a dream. It was no dream, though. He was certain of that in his heart and equally certain that nothing in Tylerton could help him now.
It had to be the other direction.
It took him a quarter of an hour to find a way, but he found it--skulking through the corridors, dodging the suspicion of footsteps, knowing for certain that his hiding was in vain, for Dorchin was undoubtedly aware of every move he made. But no one stopped him, and he found another door.
It was a simple enough door from the inside. But when he opened it and stepped out, it was like nothing he had ever seen.
First there was light--brilliant, incredible, blinding light. Burckhardt blinked upward, unbelieving and afraid.
He was standing on a ledge of smooth, finished metal. Not a dozen yards from his feet, the ledge dropped sharply away; he hardly dared approach the brink, but even from where he stood he could see no bottom to the chasm before him. And the gulf extended out of sight into the glare on either side of him.
No wonder Dorchin could so easily give him his freedom! From the factory, there was nowhere to go--but how incredible this fantastic gulf, how impossible the hundred white and blinding suns that hung above!
A voice by his side said inquiringly, "Burckhardt?" And thunder rolled the name, mutteringly soft, back and forth in the abyss before him.
Burckhardt wet his lips. "Y-yes?" he croaked.
"This is Dorchin. Not a robot this time, but Dorchin in the flesh, talking to you on a hand mike. Now you have seen, Burckhardt. Now will you be reasonable and let the maintenance crews take over?"
Burckhardt stood paralyzed. One of the moving mountains in the blinding glare came toward him.
It towered hundreds of feet over his head; he stared up at its top, squinting helplessly into the light.
It looked like-- Impossible!
The voice in the loudspeaker at the door said, "Burckhardt?" But he was unable to answer.
A heavy rumbling sigh. "I see," said the voice. "You finally understand. There's no place to go. You know it now. I could have told you, but you might not have believed me, so it was better for you to see it yourself. And after all, Burckhardt, why would I reconstruct a city just the way it was before? I'm a businessman; I count costs. If a thing has to be full-scale, I build it that way. But there wasn't any need to in this case."
From the mountain before him, Burckhardt helplessly saw a lesser cliff descend carefully toward him. It was long and dark, and at the end of it was whiteness, five-fingered whiteness....
"Poor little Burckhardt," crooned the loudspeaker, while the echoes rumbled through the enormous chasm that was only a workshop. "It must have been quite a shock for you to find out you were living in a town built on a table top."
It was the morning of June 15th, and Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of a dream.
It had been a monstrous and incomprehensible dream, of explosions and shadowy figures that were not men and terror beyond words.
He shuddered and opened his eyes.
Outside his bedroom window, a hugely amplified voice was howling.
Burckhardt stumbled over to the window and stared outside. There was an out-of-season chill to the air, more like October than June; but the scent was normal enough--except for the sound-truck that squatted at curbside halfway down the block. Its speaker horns blared: "Are you a coward? Are you a fool? Are you going to let crooked politicians steal the country from you? NO! Are you going to put up with four more years of graft and crime? NO! Are you going to vote straight Federal Party all up and down the ballot? YES! You just bet you are!"
Sometimes he screams, sometimes he wheedles, threatens, begs, cajoles ... but his voice goes on and on through one June 15th after another.
By Mack Reynolds
Almost anything, if it goes on long enough, can be reduced to, first a Routine, and then, to a Tradition. And at the point it is, obviously, Necessary.
Two king-sized bands blared martial music, the "Internationale" and the "Star-Spangled Banner," each seemingly trying to drown the other in a Gotterdammerung of acoustics.
Two lines of troops, surfacely differing in uniforms and in weapons, but basically so very the same, so evenly matched, came to attention. A thousand hands slapped a thousand submachine gun stocks.
Marshal Vladimir Ignatov strode stiff-kneed down the long march, the stride of a man for years used to cavalry boots. He was flanked by frozen visaged subordinates, but none so cold of face as he himself.
At the entrance to the conference hall he stopped, turned and waited.
At the end of the corridor of troops a car stopped and several figures emerged, most of them in civilian dress, several bearing brief cases. They in their turn ran the gantlet.
At their fore walked James Warren Donlevy, spritely, his eyes darting here, there, politician-like. A half smile on his face, as though afraid he might forget to greet a voter he knew, or was supposed to know.
His hand was out before that of Vladimir Ignatov's.
"Your Excellency," he said.
Ignatov shook hands stiffly. Dropped that of the other's as soon as protocol would permit.
The field marshal indicated the door of the conference hall. "There is little reason to waste time, Mr. President."
"Exactly," Donlevy snapped.
The door closed behind them and the two men, one uniformed and bemedaled, the other nattily attired in his business suit, turned to each other.
"Nice to see you again, Vovo. How're Olga and the baby?"
The soldier grinned back in response. "Two babies now--you don't keep up on the real news, Jim. How's Martha?" They shook hands.
"Not so good," Jim said, scowling. "I'm worried. It's that new cancer. As soon as we conquer one type two more rear up. How are you people doing on cancer research?"
Vovo was stripping off his tunic. He hung it over the back of one of the chairs, began to unbutton his high, tight military collar. "I'm not really up on it, Jim, but I think that's one field where you can trust anything we know to be in the regular scientific journals our people exchange with yours. I'll make some inquiries when I get back home, though. You never know, this new strain--I guess you'd call it--might be one that we're up on and you aren't."
"Yeah," Jim said. "Thanks a lot." He crossed to the small portable bar. "How about a drink? Whisky, vodka, rum--there's ice."
Vovo slumped into one of the heavy chairs that were arranged around the table. He grimaced, "No vodka, I don't feel patriotic today. How about one of those long cold drinks, with the cola stuff?"
"Cuba libra," Jim said. "Coming up. Look, would you rather speak Russian?"
"No," Vovo said, "my English is getting rusty. I need the practice."
Jim brought the glasses over and put them on the table. He began stripping off his own coat, loosening his tie. "God, I'm tired," he said. "This sort of thing wears me down."
Vovo sipped his drink. "Now there's as good a thing to discuss as any, in the way of killing time. The truth now, Jim, do you really believe in a God? After all that's happened to this human race of ours, do you really believe in divine guidance?" He twisted his mouth sarcastically.
The other relaxed. "I don't know," he said. "I suppose so. I was raised in a family that believed in God. Just as, I suppose, you were raised in one that didn't." He lifted his shoulders slightly in a shrug. "Neither of us seems to be particularly brilliant in establishing a position of our own."
Vovo snorted. "Never thought of it that way," he admitted. "We're usually contemptuous of anyone still holding to the old beliefs. There aren't many left."
"More than you people admit, I understand."
Vovo shook his heavy head. "No, not really. Mostly crackpots. Have you ever noticed how it is that the nonconformists in any society are usually crackpots? The people on your side that admit belonging to our organizations, are usually on the wild eyed and uncombed hair side--I admit it. On the other hand, the people in our citizenry who subscribe to your system, your religion, that sort of thing, are crackpots, too. Applies to religion as well as politics. An atheist in your country is a nonconformist--in mine, a Christian is. Both crackpots."
Jim laughed and took a sip of his drink.
Vovo yawned and said, "How long are we going to be in here?"
"I don't know. Up to us, I suppose."
"Yes. How about another drink? I'll make it. How much of that cola stuff do you put in?"
Jim told him, and while the other was on his feet mixing the drinks, said, "You figure on sticking to the same line this year?"
"Have to," Vovo said over his shoulder. "What's the alternative?"
"I don't know. We're building up to a whale of a depression as it is, even with half the economy running full blast producing defense materials."
Vovo chuckled, "Defense materials. I wonder if ever in the history of the human race anyone ever admitted to producing offense materials."
"Well, you call it the same thing. All your military equipment is for defense. And, of course, according to your press, all ours is for offense."
"Of course," Vovo said.
He brought the glasses back and handed one to the other. He slumped back into his chair again, loosened two buttons of his trousers.
"Jim," Vovo said, "why don't you divert more of your economy to public works, better roads, reforestation, dams--that sort of thing."
Jim said wearily, "You're a better economist than that. Didn't your boy Marx, or was it Engels, write a small book on the subject? We're already overproducing--turning out more products than we can sell."
"I wasn't talking about your government building new steel mills. But dams, roads, that sort of thing. You could plow billions into such items and get some real use out of them. We both know that our weapons will never be used--they can't be."
Jim ticked them off on his fingers. "We already are producing more farm products than we know what to do with; if we build more dams it'll open up new farm lands and increase the glut. If we build more and better roads, it will improve transportation, which will mean fewer men will be able to move greater tonnage--and throw transportation employees into the unemployed. If we go all out for reforestation, it will eventually bring down the price of lumber and the lumber people are howling already. No," he shook his head, "there's just one really foolproof way of disposing of surpluses and using up labor power and that's war--hot or cold."
Vovo shrugged, "I suppose so."
"It amounts to building pyramids, of course." Jim twisted his mouth sourly. "And since we're asking questions about each other's way of life, when is your State going to begin to wither away?"
"How was that?" Vovo asked.
"According to your sainted founder, once you people came to power the State was going to wither away, class rule would be over, and Utopia be on hand. That was a long time ago, and your State is stronger than ours."
Vovo snorted. "How can we wither away the State as long as we are threatened by capitalist aggression?"
Jim said, "Ha!"
Vovo went on. "You know better than that, Jim. The only way my organization can keep in power is by continually beating the drums, keeping our people stirred up to greater and greater sacrifices by using you as a threat. Didn't the old Romans have some sort of maxim to the effect that when you're threatened with unease at home stir up trouble abroad?"
"You're being even more frank than usual," Jim said. "But that's one of the pleasures of these get-togethers, neither of us resorts to hypocrisy. But you can't keep up these tensions forever."
"You mean we can't keep up these tensions forever, Jim. And when they end? Well, personally I can't see my organization going out without a blood bath." He grimaced sourly, "And since I'd probably be one of the first to be bathed, I'd like to postpone the time. It's like having a tiger by the tail, Jim. We can't let go."