"Huh?" Both men gasped--and then both exploded like one twelve-inch length of primacord.
While the Omans could not understand this purely Terran reasoning, they accepted the decision without a demurring thought. "Who, then, are the two its to simulate?"
"No stipulation; roll your own," Hilton said, and glanced at Karns. "None of these Oman women are really hard on the eyes."
"Check. Anybody who wouldn't call any one of 'em a slurpy dish needs a new set of optic nerves."
"In that case," the Omans said, "no delay at all will be necessary, as we can make do with one temporarily. The Sory, no longer Sora, who has not been glad since the Tuly replaced it, is now in your kitchen. It comes."
A woman came in and stood quietly in front of the two men, the wafted air carrying from her clear, smooth skin a faint but unmistakable fragrance of Idaho mountain syringa. She was radiantly happy; her bright, deep-green eyes went from man to man.
"You wish, sirs, to give me your orders verbally. And yes, you may order fresh, whole, not-canned hens' eggs."
"I certainly will, then; I haven't had a fried egg since we left Terra. But ... Larry said ... you aren't Sory!"
"Oh, but I am, sir."
Karns had been staring her, eyes popping. "Holy Saint Patrick! Talk about simulation, Jarve! They've made her over into Lawrence's 'Innocent'--exact to twenty decimals!"
"You're so right." Hilton's eyes went, half a dozen times, from the form of flesh to the painting and back. "That must have been a terrific job."
"Oh, no. It was quite simple, really," Sory said, "since the brain was not involved. I merely reddened my hair and lengthened it, made my eyes to be green, changed my face a little, pulled myself in a little around here...." Her beautifully-manicured hands swept the full circle of her waistline, then continued to demonstrate appropriately the rest of her speech: "... and pushed me out a little up here and tapered my legs a little more--made them a little larger and rounder here at my hips and thighs and a little smaller toward and at my ankles. Oh, yes, and made my feet and hands a little smaller. That's all. I thought the Doctor Karns would like me a little better this way."
"You can broadcast that over the P-A system at high noon." Karns was still staring. "'That's all,' she says. But you didn't have time to ..."
"Oh, I did it day before yesterday. As soon as Javvy materialized the 'Innocent' and I knew it to be your favorite art."
"But damn it, we hadn't even thought of having you here then!"
"But I had, sir. I fully intended to serve, one way or another, in this your home. But of course I had no idea I would ever have such an honor as actually waiting on you at your table. Will you please give me your orders, sirs, besides the eggs? You wish the eggs fried in butter--three of them apiece--and sunny side up."
"Uh-huh, with ham," Hilton said. "I'll start with a jumbo shrimp cocktail. Horseradish and ketchup sauce; heavy on the horseradish."
"Same for me," Karns said, "but only half as much horseradish."
"And for the rest of it," Hilton went on, "hashed-brown potatoes and buttered toast--plenty of extra butter--strong coffee from first to last. Whipping cream and sugar on the side. For dessert, apple pie a la mode."
"You make me drool, chief. Play that for me, please, Innocent, all the way."
"Oh? You are--you, personally, yourself, sir?--renaming me 'Innocent'?"
"If you'll sit still for it, yes."
"That is an incredible honor, sir. Simply unbelievable. I thank you! I thank you!" Radiating happiness, she dashed away toward the kitchen.
When the two men were full of food, they strolled over to a davenport facing the fire. As they sat down, Innocent entered the room, carrying a tall, dewy mint julep on a tray. She was followed by another female figure bearing a bottle of avignognac and the appurtenances which are its due--and at the first full sight of that figure Hilton stopped breathing for fifteen seconds.
Her hair was very thick, intensely black and long, cut squarely off just below the lowest points of her shoulder blades. Heavy brows and long lashes--eyes too--were all intensely, vividly black. Her skin was tanned to a deep and glowing almost-but-not-quite-brown.
"Murchison's Dark Lady!" Hilton gasped. "Larry! You've--we've--I've got that painting here?"
"Oh, yes, sir." The newcomer spoke before Larry could. "At the other end--your part--of the room. You will look now, sir, please?" Her voice was low, rich and as smooth as cream.
Putting her tray down carefully on the end-table, she led him toward the other fireplace. Past the piano, past the tri-di pit; past a towering grillwork holding art treasures by the score. Over to the left, against the wall, there was a big, business-like desk. On the wall, over the desk, hung the painting; a copy of which had been in Hilton's room for over eight years.
He stared at it for at least a minute. He glanced around: at the other priceless duplicates so prodigally present, at his own guns arrayed above the mantel and on each side of the fireplace. Then, without a word, he started back to join Karns. She walked springily beside him.
"What's your name, Miss?" he asked, finally.
"I haven't earned any as yet, sir. My number is ..."
"Never mind that. Your name is 'Dark Lady'."
"Oh, thank you, sir; that is truly wonderful!" And Dark Lady sat cross-legged on the rug at Hilton's feet and busied herself with the esoteric rites of Old Avignon.
Hilton took a deep inhalation and a small sip, then stared at Karns. Karns, over the rim of his glass, stared back.
"I can see where this would be habit-forming," Hilton said, "and very deadly. Extremely deadly."
"Every wish granted. Surrounded by all this." Karns swept his arm through three-quarters of a circle. "Waited on hand and foot by powerful men and by the materializations of the dreams of the greatest, finest artists who ever lived. Fatal? I don't know...."
"My solid hope is that we never have to find out. And when you add in Innocent and Dark Lady.... They look to be about seventeen, but the thought that they're older than the hills of Rome and powered by everlasting atomic engines--" He broke off suddenly and blushed. "Excuse me, please, girls. I know better than to talk about people that way, right in front of them; I really do."
"Do you really think we're people?" Innocent and Dark Lady squealed, as one.
That set Hilton back onto his heels. "I don't know.... I've wondered. Are you?"
Both girls, silent, looked at Larry.
"We don't know, either," Larry said. "At first, of course, there were crude, non-thinking machines. But when the Guide attained its present status, the Masters themselves could not agree. They divided about half and half on the point. They never did settle it any closer than that."
"I certainly won't try to, then. But for my money, you are people," Hilton said, and Karns agreed.
That, of course, touched off a near-riot of joy; after which the two men made an inch-by-inch study of their tremendous living-room. Then, long after bedtime, Larry and Dark Lady escorted Hilton to his bedroom.
"Do you mind, sir, if we sleep on the floor at the sides of your bed?" Larry asked. "Or must we go out into the hall?"
"Sleep? I didn't know you could sleep."
"It is not essential. However, when round-the-clock work is not necessary, and we have opportunity to sleep near a human being, we derive a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from it. You see, sir, we also serve during sleep."
"Okay, I'll try anything once. Sleep wherever you please."
Hilton began to peel, but before he had his shirt off both Larry and Dark Lady were stretched out flat, sound asleep, one almost under each edge of his bed. He slid in between the sheets--it was the most comfortable bed he had ever slept in--and went to sleep as though sandbagged.
He had time to wonder foggily whether the Omans were in fact helping him go to sleep--and then he was asleep.
A month passed. Eight couples had married, the Navy chaplain officiating--in the Perseus, of course, since the warship was, always and everywhere, an integral part of Terra.
Sandra had dropped in one evening to see Hilton about a bit of business. She was now sitting, long dancer's legs out-stretched toward the fire, with a cigarette in her left hand and a tall, cold drink on a coaster at her right.
"This is a wonderful room, Jarvis. It'd be perfect if it weren't quite so ... so mannish."
"What do you expect of Bachelors' Hall--a boudoir? Don't tell me you're going domestic, Sandy, just because you've got a house?"
"Not just that, no. But of course it helped it along."
"Alex is a mighty good man. One of the finest I have ever known."
She eyed him for a moment in silence. "Jarvis Hilton, you are one of the keenest, most intelligent men who ever lived. And yet ..." She broke off and studied him for a good half minute. "Say, if I let my hair clear down, will you?"
"Scout's Oath. That 'and yet' requires elucidation at any cost."
"I know. But first, yes, it's Alex. I never would have believed that any man ever born could hit me so hard. Soon. I didn't want to be the first, but I won't be anywhere near the last. But tell me. You were really in love with Temple, weren't you, when I asked you?"
"Ha! You are letting your hair down! That makes me feel better."
"Huh? Why should it?"
"It elucidates the 'and yet' no end. You were insulated from all other female charms by ye brazen Bells. You see, most of us assistants made a kind of game out of seeing which of us could make you break the Executives' Code. And none of us made it. Teddy and Temple said you didn't know what was going on; Bev and I said nobody as smart as you are could possibly be that stupid."
"You aren't the type to leak or name names--oh, I see. You are merely reporting a conversation. The game had interested, but non-participating, observers. Temple and Teddy, at least."
"At least," she agreed. "But damn it, you aren't stupid. There isn't a stupid bone in your head. So it must be love. And if so, what about marriage? Why don't you and Temple make it a double with Alex and me?"
"That's the most cogent thought you ever had, but setting the date is the bride's business." He glanced at his Oman wristwatch. "It's early yet; let's skip over. I wouldn't mind seeing her a minute or two."
"Thy statement ringeth with truth, friend. Bill's there with Teddy?"
"I imagine so."
"So we'll talk to them about making it a triple. Oh, nice--let's go!"
They left the house and, her hand tucked under his elbow, walked up the street.
Next morning, on her way to the Hall of Records, Sandra stopped off as usual at the office. The Omans were all standing motionless. Hilton was leaning far back in his chair, feet on desk, hands clasped behind head, eyes closed. Knowing what that meant, she turned and started back out on tiptoe.
However, he had heard her. "Can you spare a couple of minutes to think at me, Sandy?"
"Minutes or hours, chief." Tuly placed a chair for her and she sat down, facing him across his desk.
"Thanks, gal. This time it's the Stretts. Sawtelle's been having nightmares, you know, ever since we emerged, about being attacked, and I've been pooh-poohing the idea. But now it's a statistic that the soup is getting thicker, and I can't figure out why. Why in all the hells of space should a stasis that has lasted for over a quarter of a million years be broken at this exact time? The only possible explanation is that we caused the break. And any way I look at that concept, it's plain idiocy."
Both were silent for minutes; and then it was demonstrated again that Terra's Advisory Board had done better than it knew in choosing Sandra Cummings to be Jarvis Hilton's working mate.
"We did cause it, Jarve," she said, finally. "They knew we were coming, even before we got to Fuel Bin. They knew we were human and tried to wipe out the Omans before we got there. Preventive warfare, you know."
"They couldn't have known!" he snorted. "Strett detectors are no better than Oman, and you know what Sam Bryant had to say about them."
"I know." Sandra grinned appreciatively. "It's becoming a classic. But it couldn't have been any other way. Besides, I know they did."
He stared at her helplessly, then swung on Larry. "Does that make sense to you?"
"Yes, sir. The Stretts could peyondire as well as the old Masters could, and they undoubtedly still can and do."
"Okay, it does make sense, then." He absented himself in thought, then came to life with a snap. "Okay! The next thing on the agenda is a crash-priority try at a peyondix team. Tuly, you organized a team to generate sathura. Can you do the same for peyondix?"
"If we can find the ingredients, yes, sir."
"I had a hunch. Larry, please ask Teddy Blake's Oman to bring her in here...."
"I'll be running along, then." Sandra started to get up.
"I hope to kiss a green pig you won't!" Hilton snapped. "You're one of the biggest wheels. Larry, we'll want Temple Bells and Beverly Bell--for a start."
"Chief, you positively amaze me," Sandra said then. "Every time you get one of these attacks of genius--or whatever it is--you have me gasping like a fish. Just what can you possibly want of Bev Bell?"
"Whatever it was that enabled her to hit the target against odds of almost infinity to one; not just once, but time after time. By definition, intuition. What quality did you use just now in getting me off the hook? Intuition. What makes Teddy Blake such an unerring performer? Intuition again. My hunches--they're intuition, too. Intuition, hell! Labels--based on utterly abysmal damned dumb ignorance of our own basic frames of reference. Do you think those four kinds of intuition are alike, by seven thousand rows of apple trees?"
"Of course not. I see what you're getting at.... Oh! This'll be fun!"
The others came in and, one by one, Tuly examined each of the four women and the man. Each felt the probing, questioning feelers of her thought prying into the deepest recesses of his mind.
"There is not quite enough of each of three components, all of which are usually associated with the male. You, sir, have much of each, but not enough. I know your men quite well, and I think we will need the doctors Kincaid and Karns and Poynter. But such deep probing is felt. Have I permission, sir?"
"Yes. Tell 'em I said so."
Tuly scanned. "Yes, sir, we should have all three."
"Get 'em, Larry." Then, in the pause that followed: "Sandy, remember yowling about too many sweeties on a team? What do you think of this business of all sweeties?"
"All that proves is that nobody can be wrong all the time," she replied flippantly.