"Ouch!" I yelped, rubbing the spot. "What are you doing?"
"You humans are a proud race," Brknk explained. "I'll give you reason to be prouder than the rest. We'll change your metabolism, your endocrine balance, toughen your muscle fibers a thousandfold. We'll make you the strongest man on Earth!"
"Look," I said, "I don't want to be the strongest man on Earth."
"Well, how about the world's champion boxer? We can speed up your reflexes at least ten times."
I shook my head. "I don't want that, either. Sounds too much like work. Besides, I never liked getting into fights."
Brknk scowled, called a huddle. They buzzed at each other, their tails vibrating like mad. One of them finally yipped and everybody spun around.
Brknk beamed. "We've got it!"
"What is it?"
A little Sybillian I hadn't noticed jabbed something in my arm. I winced and he nearly fell off. He retreated with injured pride.
"Come along, Trlk," Brknk said.
"What's supposed to happen?" I asked.
"It will be a glorious surprise," Brknk assured me. "You'll never regret it. The only thing I ask is that you never tell anyone about us."
Trlk looked up at me. I noticed the beginning of tears in his eyes. I reached down and patted him gently on the head.
"So long, little fellow," I said. "It's been fun."
"Good-by," he said sorrowfully.
Nothing happened for several days, so I bought a copy of Editor and Publisher and was writing for my first job when I felt a tender spot on my tail bone. When I examined it, I saw a protuberance there.
There was no denying it. The Sybillians had given me what they treasured most.
I was growing a tail--a long, hairy tail.
As I say, I have come to like circus life.
At first I tried to get doctors to cut it off, but they were too curious for that. Then I thought of jumping in the river or putting a bullet through my head.
But after I saw what the scientists were making of it, when I viewed my picture in all the papers, and when I saw the awe with which I was regarded by everyone, I changed my mind.
Now I make a cool twenty-five thousand a year without lifting a finger.
Just my tail.
I've become rather fond of it. I've even learned how to vibrate it.
But I've never told anyone about the Sybillians. They wouldn't believe it.
Not old Phipps, anyway.
Some day I'll go and vibrate my tail right in his face. I'd never amount to anything, eh? Let's see him grow a tail!
B-12's MOON GLOW By Charles A. Stearns
Among the metal-persons of Phobos, robot B-12 held a special niche. He might not have been stronger, larger, faster than some ... but he could be devious ... and more important, he was that junkyard planetoid's only moonshiner.
I am B-12, a metal person. If you read Day and the other progressive journals you will know that in some quarters of the galaxy there is considerable prejudice directed against us. It is ever so with minority races, and I do not complain. I merely make this statement so that you will understand about the alarm clock.
An alarm clock is a simple mechanism used by the Builders to shock themselves into consciousness after the periodic comas to which they are subject. It is obsolescent, but still used in such out of the way places as Phobos.
My own contact with one of these devices came about in the following manner: I had come into Argon City under cover of darkness, which is the only sensible thing to do, in my profession, and I was stealing through the back alleyways as silently as my rusty joints would allow.
I was less than three blocks from Benny's Place, and still undetected, when I passed the window. It was a large, cheerful oblong of light, so quite naturally I stopped to investigate, being slightly phototropic, by virtue of the selenium grids in my rectifier cells. I went over and looked in, unobtrusively resting my grapples on the outer ledge.
There was a Builder inside such as I had not seen since I came to Phobos half a century ago, and yet I recognized the subspecies at once, for they are common on Earth. It was a she.
It was in the process of removing certain outer sheaths, and I noted that, while quite symmetrical, bilaterally, it was otherwise oddly formed, being disproportionately large and lumpy in the anterior ventral region.
I had watched for some two or three minutes, entirely forgetting my own safety, when then she saw me. Its eyes widened and it snatched up the alarm clock which was, as I have hinted, near at hand.
"Get out of here, you nosey old tin can!" it screamed, and threw the clock, which caromed off my headpiece, damaging one earphone. I ran.
If you still do not see what I mean about racial prejudice, you will, when you hear what happened later.
I continued on until I came to Benny's Place, entering through the back door. Benny met me there, and quickly shushed me into a side room. His fluorescent eyes were glowing with excitement.
Benny's real name is BNE-96, and when on Earth he had been only a Servitor, not a General Purpose like myself.
But perhaps I should explain.
We metal people are the children of the Builders of Earth, and later of Mars and Venus. We were not born of two parents, as they are. That is a function far too complex to explain here; in fact I do not even understand it myself. No, we were born of the hands and intellects of the greatest of their scientists, and for this reason it might be natural to suppose that we, and not they, would be considered a superior race. It is not so.
Many of us were fashioned in those days, a metal person for every kind of task that they could devise, and some, like myself, who could do almost anything. We were contented enough, for the greater part, but the scientists kept creating, always striving to better their former efforts.
And one day the situation which the Builders had always regarded as inevitable, but we, somehow, had supposed would never come, was upon us. The first generation of the metal people--more than fifty thousand of us--were obsolete. The things that we had been designed to do, the new ones, with their crystalline brains, fresh, untarnished, accomplished better.
We were banished to Phobos, dreary, lifeless moon of Mars. It had long been a sort of interplanetary junkyard; now it became a graveyard.
Upon the barren face of this little world there was no life except for the handful of hardy Martian and Terran prospectors who searched for minerals. Later on, a few rude mining communities sprang up under plastic airdromes, but never came to much. Argon City was such a place.
I wonder if you can comprehend the loneliness, the hollow futility of our plight. Fifty thousand skilled workmen with nothing to do. Some of the less adaptable gave up, prostrating themselves upon the bare rocks until their joints froze from lack of use, and their works corroded. Others served the miners and prospectors, but their needs were all too few.
The overwhelming majority of us were still idle, and somehow we learned the secret of racial existence at last. We learned to serve each other.
This was not an easy lesson to learn. In the first place there must be motivation involved in racial preservation. Yet we derived no pleasure out of the things that make the Builders wish to continue to live. We did not sleep; we did not eat, and we were not able to reproduce ourselves. (And, besides, this latter, as I have indicated, would have been pointless with us.) There was, however, one other pleasure of the Builders that intrigued us. It can best be described as a stimulation produced by drenching their insides with alcoholic compounds, and is a universal pastime among the males and many of the shes.
One of us--R-47, I think it was (rest him)--tried it one day. He pried open the top of his helmet and pouted an entire bottle of the fluid down his mechanism.
Poor R-47. He caught fire and blazed up in a glorious blue flame that we could not extinguish in time. He was beyond repair, and we were forced to scrap him.
But his was not a sacrifice in vain. He had established an idea in our ennui-bursting minds. An idea which led to the discovery of Moon Glow. My discovery, I should say, for I was the first.
Naturally, I cannot divulge my secret formula for Moon Glow. There are many kinds of Moon Glow these days, but there is still only one B-12 Moon Glow.
Suffice it to say that it is a high octane preparation, only a drop of which--but you know the effects of Moon Glow, of course.
How the merest thimbleful, when judiciously poured into one's power pack, gives new life and the most deliriously happy freedom of movement imaginable. One possesses soaring spirits and super-strength.
Old, rusted joints move freely once more, one's transistors glow brightly, and the currents of the body race about with the minutest resistance. Moon Glow is like being born again.
The sale of it has been illegal for several years, for no reason that I can think of except that the Builders, who make the laws, can not bear to see metal people have fun.
Of course, a part of the blame rests on such individuals as X-101, who, when lubricated with Moon Glow, insists upon dancing around on large, cast-iron feet to the hazard of all toes in his vicinity. He is thin and long jointed, and he goes "creak, creak," in a weird, sing-song fashion as he dances. It is a shameful, ludicrous sight.
Then there was DC-5, who tore down the 300 feet long equipment hangar of the Builders one night. He had over-indulged.
I do not feel responsible for these things. If I had not sold them the Moon Glow, someone else would have done so. Besides, I am only a wholesaler. Benny buys everything that I am able to produce in my little laboratory hidden out in the Dumps.
Just now, by Benny's attitude, I knew that something was very wrong. "What is the matter?" I said. "Is it the revenue agents?"
"I do not know," said BNE-96 in that curious, flat voice of his that is incapable of inflection. "I do not know, but there are visitors of importance from Earth. It could mean anything, but I have a premonition of disaster. Jon tipped me off."
He meant Jon Rogeson, of course, who was the peace officer here in Argon City, and the only one of the Builders I had ever met who did not look down upon a metal person. When sober he was a clever person who always looked out for our interests here.
"What are they like?" I asked in some fear, for I had six vials of Moon Glow with me at the moment.
"I have not seen them, but there is one who is high in the government, and his wife. There are half a dozen others of the Builder race, and one of the new type metal persons."
I had met the she who must have been the wife. "They hate us," I said. "We can expect only evil from these persons."
"You may be right. If you have any merchandise with you, I will take it, but do not risk bringing more here until they have gone."
I produced the vials of Moon Glow, and he paid me in Phobos credits, which are good for a specified number of refuelings at the Central fueling station.
Benny put the vials away and he went into the bar. There was the usual jostling crowd of hard-bitten Earth miners, and of the metal people who come to lose their loneliness. I recognized many, though I spend very little time in these places, preferring solitary pursuits, such as the distillation of Moon Glow, and improving my mind by study and contemplation out in the barrens.
Jon Rogeson and I saw each other at the same time, and I did not like the expression in his eye as he crooked a finger at me. I went over to his table. He was pleasant looking, as Builders go, with blue eyes less dull than most, and a brown, unruly topknot of hair such as is universally affected by them.
"Sit down," he invited, revealing his white incisors in greeting.
I never sit, but this time I did so, to be polite. I was wary; ready for anything. I knew that there was something unpleasant in the air. I wondered if he had seen me passing the Moon Glow to Benny somehow. Perhaps he had barrier-penetrating vision, like the Z group of metal people ... but I had never heard of a Builder like that. I knew that he had long suspected that I made Moon Glow.
"What do you want?" I asked cautiously.
"Come on now," he said, "loosen up! Limber those stainless steel hinges of yours and be friendly."
That made me feel good. Actually, I am somewhat pitted with rust, but he never seems to notice, for he is like that. I felt young, as if I had partaken of my own product.
"The fact is, B-12," he said, "I want you to do me a favor, old pal."
"And what is that?"
"Perhaps you have heard that there is some big brass from Earth visiting Phobos this week."
"I have heard nothing," I said. It is often helpful to appear ignorant when questioned by the Builders, for they believe us to be incapable of misrepresenting the truth. The fact is, though it is an acquired trait, and not built into us, we General Purposes can lie as well as anyone.
"Well, there is. A Federation Senator, no less. Simon F. Langley. It's my job to keep them entertained; that's where you come in."
I was mystified. I had never heard of this Langley, but I know what entertainment is. I had a mental image of myself singing or dancing before the Senator's party. But I can not sing very well, for three of my voice reeds are broken and have never been replaced, and lateral motion, for me, is almost impossible these days. "I do not know what you mean," I said. "There is J-66. He was once an Entertainment--"
"No, no!" he interrupted, "you don't get it. What the Senator wants is a guide. They're making a survey of the Dumps, though I'll be damned if I can find out why. And you know the Dumps better than any metal person--or human--on Phobos."
So that was it. I felt a vague dread, a premonition of disaster. I had such feelings before, and usually with reason. This too, was an acquired sensibility, I am sure. For many years I have studied the Builders, and there is much to be learned of their mobile faces and their eyes. In Jon's eyes, however, I read no trickery--nothing.
Yet, I say, I had the sensation of evil. It was just for a moment; no longer.
I said I would think it over.
Senator Langley was distinguished. Jon said so. And yet he was cumbersomely round, and he rattled incessantly of things into which I could interpret no meaning. The she who was his wife was much younger, and sullen, and unpleasantly I sensed great rapport between her and Jon Rogeson from the very first.
There were several other humans in the group--I will not call them Builders, for I did not hold them to be, in any way, superior to my own people. They all wore spectacles, and they gravitated about the round body of the Senator like minor moons, and I could tell that they were some kind of servitors.
I will not describe them further.
MS-33 I will describe. I felt an unconscionable hatred for him at once. I can not say why, except that he hung about his master obsequiously, power pack smoothly purring, and he was slim limbed, nickel-plated, and wore, I thought, a smug expression on his viziplate. He represented the new order; the ones who had displaced us on Earth. He knew too much, and showed it at every opportunity.
We did not go far that first morning. The half-track was driven to the edge of the Dumps. Within the Dumps one walks--or does not go. Phobos is an airless world, and yet so small that rockets are impractical. The terrain is broken and littered with the refuse of half a dozen worlds, but the Dumps themselves--that is different.