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"But there are many other such writers. You can't control-"

"We control ninety percent of the output. We have concentrated on the field and all of the science-fiction agencies are in our hands. This control was imperative."

"I see." The Coroner spoke in the gentle tones one uses with the insane. "Any writing dangerous to your cause is deleted or changed by the agents."

"Not exactly. The agent usually persuades the writer to make any such changes, as the agent is considered an authority on what will or will not sell."

"The writers always agree?"

"Not always. If stubbornness is encountered, the agent merely shelves the manuscript and tells the writer it has been repeatedly rejected."

The Coroner glanced at the two policemen. Both were obviously puzzled. They returned the Coroner's look, apparently ready to move on his order.

The thin, mirthless smile was still on Cole's lips. Maniacal violence could lie just behind it. Possibly Cole was armed. Better to play for time-try to quiet the madness within. The Coroner continued speaking. "You Martians have infiltrated other fields also?"

"Oh, yes. We are in government, industry, education. We are everywhere. We have, of course, concentrated mainly upon the ranks of labor and in the masses of ordinary, everyday people. It is from these sources that we will draw our shock troops when the time comes."

"That time will be-?"

"Soon, very soon."

The Coroner could not forebear a smile. "You find the science-fiction writers more dangerous than the true scientists?"

"Oh, yes. The scientific mind tends to reject anything science disproves." There was now a mocking edge to Cole's voice. "Science can easily prove we do not exist."

"But the science-fiction writer?"

"The danger from the imaginative mind cannot be overestimated."

The Coroner knew he must soon order the officers to lay hands upon this madman. He regretted his own lack of experience with such situations. He tried to put a soothing, confidential note into his voice. "You said a moment ago that if you'd had the right kind of weapon to use on Smith-"

Cole reached into his pocket and brought out what appeared to be a fountain pen. "This. It kills instantly and leaves no mark whatever. Heart failure is invariably stated as the cause of death."

The Coroner felt better. Obviously, Cole was not armed. As the Coroner raised a hand to signal the officers, Cole said, "You understand, of course, that I can't let you live."

"Take this man into custody."

The police officers did not move. The Coroner turned on them sharply. They were smiling. Cole pointed the fountain pen. The Coroner felt a sharp chill on his flesh. He looked at the jury, at the newspaperman, the spectators. They were all smiling cold, thin, terrible smiles....

A short time later, the newspaperman phoned in his story. The afternoon editions carried it: CORONER BELL DIES OF HEART ATTACK.

Shortly after this morning's inquest, which resulted in a jury verdict of suicide in the case of Sanford Smith, Coroner James Bell dropped dead of heart failure in the hearing room of the County building. Mr. Bell leaves a wife and- THE END.


By David C. Knight

Minor Planets was the one solid account they had. At first they naturally wanted to hold on to it.

I didn't worry much about the robot's leg at the time. In those days I didn't worry much about anything except the receipts of the spotel Min and I were operating out in the spacelanes.

Actually, the spotel business isn't much different from running a plain, ordinary motel back on Highway 101 in California. Competition gets stiffer every year and you got to make your improvements. Take the Io for instance, that's our place. We can handle any type rocket up to and including the new Marvin 990s. Every cabin in the wheel's got TV and hot-and-cold running water plus guaranteed Terran g. One look at our refuel prices would give even a Martian a sense of humor. And meals? Listen, when a man's been spacing it for a few days on those synthetic foods he really laces into Min's Earth cooking.

Min and I were just getting settled in the spotel game when the leg turned up. That was back in the days when the Orbit Commission would hand out a license to anybody crazy enough to sink his savings into construction and pay the tows and assembly fees out into space.

A good orbit can make you or break you in the spotel business. That's where we were lucky. The one we applied for was a nice low-eccentric ellipse with the perihelion and aphelion figured just right to intersect the Mars-Venus-Earth spacelanes, most of the holiday traffic to the Jovian Moons, and once in a while we'd get some of the Saturnian trade.

But I was telling you about the leg.

It was during the non-tourist season and Min--that's the little woman--was doing the spring cleaning. When she found the leg she brought it right to me in the Renting Office. Naturally I thought it belonged to one of the servos.

"Look at that leg, Bill," she said. "It was in one of those lockers in 22A."

That was the cabin our robot guests used. The majority of them were servo-pilots working for the Minor Planets Co.

"Honey," I said, hardly looking at the leg, "you know how mechs are. Blow their whole paychecks on parts sometimes. They figure the more spares they have the longer they'll stay activated."

"Maybe so," said Min. "But since when does a male robot buy himself a female leg?"

I looked again. The leg was long and graceful and it had an ankle as good as Miss Universe's. Not only that, the white Mylar plasti-skin was a lot smoother than the servos' heavy neoprene.

"Beats me," I said. "Maybe they're building practical-joke circuits into robots these days. Let's give 22A a good going-over, Min. If those robes are up to something I want to know about it."

We did--and found the rest of the girl mech. All of her, that is, except the head. The working parts were lightly oiled and wrapped in cotton waste while the other members and sections of the trunk were neatly packed in cardboard boxes with labels like Solenoids FB978 or Transistors Lot X45--the kind of boxes robots bought their parts in. We even found a blue dress in one of them.

"Check her class and series numbers," Min suggested.

I could have saved myself the trouble. They'd been filed off.

"Something's funny here," I said. "We'd better keep an eye on every servo guest until we find out what's going on. If one of them is bringing this stuff out here he's sure to show up with the head next."

"You know how strict Minor Planets is with its robot personnel," Min reminded me. "We can't risk losing that stopover contract on account of some mech joke."

Minor Planets was the one solid account we had and naturally we wanted to hold on to it. The company was a blue-chip mining operation working the beryllium-rich asteroid belt out of San Francisco. It was one of the first outfits to use servo-pilots on its freight runs and we'd been awarded the refuel rights for two years because of our orbital position. The servos themselves were beautiful pieces of machinery and just about as close as science had come so far to producing the pure android. Every one of them was plastic hand-molded and of course they were equipped with rationaloid circuits. They had to be to ferry those big cargoes back and forth from the rock belt to Frisco. As rationaloids, Minor Planets had to pay them wages under California law, but I'll bet it wasn't half what the company would have to pay human pilots for doing the same thing.

In a couple of weeks' time maybe five servos made stopovers. We kept a close watch on them from the minute they signed the register to the time they took off again, but they all behaved themselves. Operating on a round-robot basis the way they did, it would take us a while to check all of them because Minor Planets employed about forty all told.

Well, about a month before the Jovian Moons rush started we got some action. I'd slipped into a spacesuit and was doing some work on the CO{2} pipes outside the Io when I spotted a ship reversing rockets against the sun. I could tell it was a Minor Planets job by the stubby fins.

She jockeyed up to the boom, secured, and then her hatch opened and a husky servo hopped out into the gangplank tube. I caught the gleam of his Minor Planets shoulder patch as he reached back into the ship for something. When he headed for the airlock I spotted the square package clamped tight under his plastic arm.

"Did you see that?" I asked Min when I got back to the Renting Office. "I'll bet it's the girl mech's head. How'd he sign the register?"

"Calls himself Frank Nineteen," said Min, pointing to the smooth Palmer Method signature. "He looks like a fairly late model but he was complaining about a bad power build-up coming through the ionosphere. He's repairing himself right now in 22A."

"I'll bet," I snorted. "Let's have a look."

Like all spotel operators, we get a lot of No Privacy complaints from guests about the SHA return-air vents. Spatial Housing Authority requires them every 12 feet but sometimes they come in handy, especially with certain guests. They're about waist-high and we had to kneel down to see what the mech was up to inside 22A.

The big servo was too intent on what he was doing for us to register on his photons. He wasn't repairing himself, either. He was bending over the parts of the girl mech and working fast, like he was pressed for time. The set of tools were kept handy for the servos to adjust themselves during stopovers was spread all over the floor along with lots of colored wire, cams, pawls, relays and all the other paraphernalia robots have inside them. We watched him work hard for another fifteen minutes, tapping and splicing wire connections and tightening screws. Then he opened the square box. Sure enough, it was a female mech's head and it had a big mop of blonde hair on top. The servo attached it carefully to the neck, made a few quick connections and then said a few words in his flat vibrahum voice: "It won't take much longer, darling. You wouldn't like it if I didn't dress you first." He fished into one of the boxes, pulled out the blue dress and zipped the girl mech into it. Then he leaned over her gently and touched something at the back of her neck.

She began to move, slowly at first like a human who's been asleep a long time. After a minute or two she sat up straight, stretched, fluttered her Mylar eyelids and then her small photons began to glow like weak flashlights.

She stared at Frank Nineteen and the big servo stared at her and we heard a kind of trembling whirr from both of them.

"Frank! Frank, darling! Is it really you?"

"Yes, Elizabeth! Are you all right, darling? Did I forget anything? I had to work quickly, we have so little time."

"I'm fine, darling. My DX voltage is lovely--except--oh, Frank--my memory tape--the last it records is--"

"Deactivation. Yes, Elizabeth. You've been deactivated nearly a year. I had to bring you out here piece by piece, don't you remember? They'll never think to look for you in space, we can be together every trip while the ship refuels. Just think, darling, no prying human eyes, no commands, no rules--only us for an hour or two. I know it isn't very long--" He stared at the floor a minute. "There's only one trouble. Elizabeth, you'll have to stay dismantled when I'm not here, it'll mean weeks of deactivation--"

The girl mech put a small plastic hand on the servo's shoulder.

"I won't mind, darling, really. I'll be the lucky one. I'd only worry about you having a power failure or something. This way I'd never know. Oh, Frank, if we can't be together I'd--I'd prefer the junk pile."

"Elizabeth! Don't say that, it's horrible."

"But I would. Oh, Frank, why can't Congress pass Robot Civil Rights? It's so unfair of human beings. Every year they manufacture us more like themselves and yet we're treated like slaves. Don't they realize we rationaloids have emotions? Why, I've even known sub-robots who've fallen in love like us."

"I know, darling, we'll just have to be patient until RCR goes through. Try to remember how difficult it is for the human mind to comprehend our love, even with the aid of mathematics. As rationaloids we fully understand the basic attraction which they call magnetic theory. All humans know is that if the robot sexes are mixed a loss of efficiency results. It's only normal--and temporary like human love--but how can we explain it to them? Robots are expected to be efficient at all times. That's the reason for robot non-fraternization, no mailing privileges and all those other laws."

"I know, darling, I try to be patient. Oh, Frank, the main thing is we're together again!"

The big servo checked the chronometer that was sunk into his left wrist and a couple of wrinkles creased across his neoprene forehead.

"Elizabeth," he said, "I'm due on Hidalgo in 36 hours. If I'm late the mining engineer might suspect. In twenty minutes I'll have to start dis--"

"Don't say it, darling. We'll have a beautiful twenty minutes."

After a while the girl mech turned away for a second and Frank Nineteen reached over softly and cut her power. While he was dismantling her, Min and I tiptoed back to the Renting Office. Half an hour later the big servo came in, picked up his refuel receipt, said good-bye politely and left through the inner airlock.

"Now I've seen everything," I said to Min as we watched the Minor Planets rocket cut loose. "A couple of plastic lovebirds."

But the little woman was looking at it strictly from the business angle.

"Bill," she said, with that look on her face, "we're running a respectable place out here in space. You know the rules. Spatial Housing could revoke our orbit license for something like this."

"But, Min," I said, "they're only a couple of robots."

"I don't care. The rules still say that only married guests can occupy the same cabin and 'guests' can be human or otherwise, can't they? Think of our reputation! And don't forget that non-fraternization law we heard them talking about."

I was beginning to get the point.

"Couldn't we just toss the girl's parts into space?"

"We could," Min admitted. "But if this Frank Nineteen finds out and tells some human we'd be guilty under the Ramm Act--robotslaughter."

Two days later we still couldn't decide what to do. When I said why didn't we just report the incident to Minor Planets, Min was afraid they might cancel the stopover agreement for not keeping better watch over their servos. And when Min suggested we turn the girl over to the Missing Robots Bureau, I reminded her the mech's identification had been filed off and it might take years to trace her.

"Maybe we could put her together," I said, "and make her tell us where she belongs."

"Bill, you know they don't build compulsory truth monitors into robots any more, and besides we don't know a thing about atomic electronics."

I guess neither of us wanted to admit it but we felt mean about turning the mechs in. Back on Earth you never give robots a second thought but it's different living out in space. You get a kind of perspective I think they call it.

"I've got the answer, Min," I announced one day. We were in the Renting Office watching TV on the Martian Colonial channel. I reached over and turned it off. "When this Frank Nineteen gets back from the rock belt, we'll tell him we know all about the girl mech. We'll tell him we won't say a thing if he takes the girl's parts back to Earth where he got them. That way we don't have to report anything to anybody."

Min agreed it was probably the best idea.

"We don't have to be nasty about it," she said. "We'll just tell him this is a respectable spotel and it can't go on any longer."

When Frank checked in at the Io with his cargo I don't think I ever saw a happier mech. His relay banks were beating a tattoo like someone had installed an accordion in his chest. Before either of us could break the bad news to him he was hotfooting it around the wheel toward 22A.

"Maybe it's better this way," I whispered to Min. "We'll put it square up to both of them."

We gave Frank half an hour to get the girl assembled before we followed him. He must have done a fast job because we heard the girl mech's vibrahum unit as soon as we got to 22A: "Darling, have you really been away? I don't remember saying good-bye. It's as if you'd been here the whole time."

"I hoped it would be that way, Elizabeth," we heard the big servo say. "It's only that your memory tape hasn't recorded anything in the three weeks I've been in the asteroids. To me it's been like three years."

"Oh, Frank, darling, let me look at you. Is your DX potential up where it should be? How long since you've had a thorough overhauling? Do they make you work in the mines with those poor non-rationaloids out there?"

"I'm fine, Elizabeth, really. When I'm not flying they give me clerical work to do. It's not a bad life for a mech--if only it weren't for these silly regulations that keep us apart."

"It won't always be like that, darling. I know it won't."

"Elizabeth," Frank said, reaching under his uniform, "I brought you something from Hidalgo. I hope you like it. I kept it in my spare parts slot so it wouldn't get crushed."

The female mech didn't say a word. She just kept looking at the queer flower Frank gave her like it was the last one in the universe.

"They're very rare," said the servo-pilot. "I heard the mining engineer say they're like Terran edelweiss. I found this one growing near the mine. Elizabeth, I wish you could see these tiny worlds. They have thin atmospheres and strange things grow there and the radio activity does wonders for a mech's pile. Why, on some of them I've been to we could walk around the equator in ten hours."

The girl still didn't answer. Her head was bent low over the flower like she was crying, only there weren't any tears.

Well, that was enough for me. I guess it was for Min, too, because we couldn't do it. Maybe we were thinking about our own courting days. Like I say, out here you get a kind of perspective.

Anyway, Frank left for Earth, the girl got dismantled as usual and we were right back where we started from.

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