"Exactly. Naturally St. Cyr doesn't want us to talk to Watt privately. We might make him see reason. But this time, Nick, we've simply got to manage it somehow. One of us is going to talk to Watt while the other keeps St. Cyr at bay. Which do you choose?"
"Neither," Martin said promptly.
"Oh, Nick! I can't do the whole thing alone. Anybody'd think you were afraid of St. Cyr."
"I am afraid of St. Cyr," Martin said.
"Nonsense. What could he actually do to you?"
"He could terrorize me. He does it all the time. Erika, he says I'm indoctrinating beautifully. Doesn't it make your blood run cold? Look at all the other writers he's indoctrinated."
"I know. I saw one of them on Main Street last week, delving into garbage cans. Do you want to end up that way? Then stand up for your rights!"
"Ah," said the robot wisely, nodding. "Just as I thought. A crisis-point."
"Shut up," Martin said. "No, not you, Erika. I'm sorry."
"So am I," Erika said tartly. "For a moment I thought you'd acquired a backbone."
"If I were somebody like Hemingway--" Martin began in a miserable voice.
"Did you say Hemingway?" the robot inquired. "Is this the Kinsey-Hemingway era? Then I must be right. You're Nicholas Martin, the next subject. Martin, Martin? Let me see--oh yes, the Disraeli type, that's it." He rubbed his forehead with a grating sound. "Oh, my poor neuron thresholds! Now I remember."
"Nick, can you hear me?" Erika's voice inquired. "I'm coming over there right away. Brace yourself. We're going to beard St. Cyr in his den and convince Watt you'll never make a good screen-writer. Now--"
"But St. Cyr won't ever admit that," Martin cried. "He doesn't know the meaning of the word failure. He says so. He's going to make me into a screen-writer or kill me."
"Remember what happened to Ed Cassidy?" Erika reminded him grimly. "St. Cyr didn't make him into a screen-writer."
"True. Poor old Ed," Martin said, with a shiver.
"All right, then. I'm on my way. Anything else?"
"Yes!" Martin cried, drawing a deep breath. "Yes, there is! I love you madly!"
But the words never got past his glottis. Opening and closing his mouth noiselessly, the cowardly playwright finally clenched his teeth and tried again. A faint, hopeless squeak vibrated the telephone's disk. Martin let his shoulders slump hopelessly. It was clear he could never propose to anybody, not even a harmless telephone.
"Did you say something?" Erika asked. "Well, good-bye then."
"Wait a minute," Martin said, his eyes suddenly falling once more upon the robot. Speechless on one subject only, he went on rapidly, "I forgot to tell you. Watt and the nest-fouling St. Cyr have just hired a mock-up phony robot to play in Angelina Noel!"
But the line was dead.
"I'm not a phony," the robot said, hurt.
Martin fell back in his chair and stared at his guest with dull, hopeless eyes. "Neither was King Kong," he remarked. "Don't start feeding me some line St. Cyr's told you to pull. I know he's trying to break my nerve. He'll probably do it, too. Look what he's done to my play already. Why Fred Waring? I don't mind Fred Waring in his proper place. There he's fine. But not in Angelina Noel. Not as the Portuguese captain of a fishing boat manned by his entire band, accompanied by Dan Dailey singing Napoli to DeeDee Fleming in a mermaid's tail--"
Self-stunned by this recapitulation, Martin put his arms on the desk, his head in his hands, and to his horror found himself giggling. The telephone rang. Martin groped for the instrument without rising from his semi-recumbent position.
"Who?" he asked shakily. "Who? St. Cyr--"
A hoarse bellow came over the wire. Martin sat bolt upright, seizing the phone desperately with both hands.
"Listen!" he cried. "Will you let me finish what I'm going to say, just for once? Putting a robot in Angelina Noel is simply--"
"I do not hear what you say," roared a heavy voice. "Your idea stinks. Whatever it is. Be at Theater One for yesterday's rushes! At once!"
St. Cyr belched and hung up. Martin's strangling hands tightened briefly on the telephone. But it was no use. The real strangle-hold was the one St. Cyr had around Martin's throat, and it had been tightening now for nearly thirteen weeks. Or had it been thirteen years? Looking backward, Martin could scarcely believe that only a short time ago he had been a free man, a successful Broadway playwright, the author of the hit play Angelina Noel. Then had come St. Cyr....
A snob at heart, the director loved getting his clutches on hit plays and name writers. Summit Studios, he had roared at Martin, would follow the original play exactly and would give Martin the final okay on the script, provided he signed a thirteen-week contract to help write the screen treatment. This had seemed too good to be true--and was.
Martin's downfall lay partly in the fine print and partly in the fact that Erika Ashby had been in the hospital with a bad attack of influenza at the time. Buried in legal verbiage was a clause that bound Martin to five years of servitude with Summit should they pick up his option. Next week they would certainly do just that, unless justice prevailed.
"I think I need a drink," Martin said unsteadily. "Or several." He glanced toward the robot. "I wonder if you'd mind getting me that bottle of Scotch from the bar over there."
"But I am here to conduct an experiment in optimum ecology," said the robot.
Martin closed his eyes. "Pour me a drink," he pleaded. "Please. Then put the glass in my hand, will you? It's not much to ask. After all, we're both human beings, aren't we?"
"Well, no," the robot said, placing a brimming glass in Martin's groping fingers. Martin drank. Then he opened his eyes and blinked at the tall highball glass in his hand. The robot had filled it to the brim with Scotch. Martin turned a wondering gaze on his metallic companion.
"You must do a lot of drinking yourself," he said thoughtfully. "I suppose tolerance can be built up. Go ahead. Help yourself. Take the rest of the bottle."
The robot placed the tip of a finger above each eye and slid the fingers upward, as though raising his eyebrows inquiringly.
"Go on, have a jolt," Martin urged. "Or don't you want to break bread with me, under the circumstances?"
"How can I?" the robot asked. "I'm a robot." His voice sounded somewhat wistful. "What happens?" he inquired. "Is it a lubricatory or a fueling mechanism?"
Martin glanced at his brimming glass.
"Fueling," he said tersely. "High octane. You really believe in staying in character, don't you? Why not--"
"Oh, the principle of irritation," the robot interrupted. "I see. Just like fermented mammoth's milk."
Martin choked. "Have you ever drunk fermented mammoth's milk?" he inquired.
"How could I?" the robot asked. "But I've seen it done." He drew a straight line vertically upward between his invisible eyebrows, managing to look wistful. "Of course my world is perfectly functional and functionally perfect, but I can't help finding temporalizing a fascina--" He broke off. "I'm wasting space-time. Ah. Now. Mr. Martin, would you be willing to--"
"Oh, have a drink," Martin said. "I feel hospitable. Go ahead, indulge me, will you? My pleasures are few. And I've got to go and be terrorized in a minute, anyhow. If you can't get that mask off I'll send for a straw. You can step out of character long enough for one jolt, can't you?"
"I'd like to try it," the robot said pensively. "Ever since I noticed the effect fermented mammoth's milk had on the boys, it's been on my mind, rather. Quite easy for a human, of course. Technically it's simple enough, I see now. The irritation just increases the frequency of the brain's kappa waves, as with boosted voltage, but since electrical voltage never existed in pre-robot times--"
"It did," Martin said, taking another drink. "I mean, it does. What do you call that, a mammoth?" He indicated the desk lamp.
The robot's jaw dropped.
"That?" he asked in blank amazement. "Why--why then all those telephone poles and dynamos and lighting-equipment I noticed in this era are powered by electricity!"
"What did you think they were powered by?" Martin asked coldly.
"Slaves," the robot said, examining the lamp. He switched it on, blinked, and then unscrewed the bulb. "Voltage, you say?"
"Don't be a fool," Martin said. "You're overplaying your part. I've got to get going in a minute. Do you want a jolt or don't you?"
"Well," the robot said, "I don't want to seem unsociable. This ought to work." So saying, he stuck his finger in the lamp-socket. There was a brief, crackling flash. The robot withdrew his finger.
"F(t)--" he said, and swayed slightly. Then his fingers came up and sketched a smile that seemed, somehow, to express delighted surprise.
"Fff(t)!" he said, and went on rather thickly, "F(t) integral between plus and minus infinity ... a-sub-n to e...."
Martin's eyes opened wide with shocked horror. Whether a doctor or a psychiatrist should be called in was debatable, but it was perfectly evident that this was a case for the medical profession, and the sooner the better. Perhaps the police, too. The bit-player in the robot suit was clearly as mad as a hatter. Martin poised indecisively, waiting for his lunatic guest either to drop dead or spring at his throat.
The robot appeared to be smacking his lips, with faint clicking sounds.
"Why, that's wonderful," he said. "AC, too."
"Y-you're not dead?" Martin inquired shakily.
"I'm not even alive," the robot murmured. "The way you'd understand it, that is. Ah--thanks for the jolt."
Martin stared at the robot with the wildest dawning of surmise.
"Why--" he gasped. "Why--you're a robot!"
"Certainly I'm a robot," his guest said. "What slow minds you pre-robots had. Mine's working like lightning now." He stole a drunkard's glance at the desk-lamp. "F(t)--I mean, if you counted the kappa waves of my radio-atomic brain now, you'd be amazed how the frequency's increased." He paused thoughtfully. "F(t)," he added.
Moving quite slowly, like a man under water, Martin lifted his glass and drank whiskey. Then, cautiously, he looked up at the robot again.
"F(t)--" he said, paused, shuddered, and drank again. That did it. "I'm drunk," he said with an air of shaken relief. "That must be it. I was almost beginning to believe--"
"Oh, nobody believes I'm a robot at first," the robot said. "You'll notice I showed up in a movie lot, where I wouldn't arouse suspicion. I'll appear to Ivan Vasilovich in an alchemist's lab, and he'll jump to the conclusive I'm an automaton. Which, of course, I am. Then there's a Uighur on my list--I'll appear to him in a shaman's hut and he'll assume I'm a devil. A matter of ecologicologic."
"Then you're a devil?" Martin inquired, seizing on the only plausible solution.
"No, no, no. I'm a robot. Don't you understand anything?"
"I don't even know who I am, now," Martin said. "For all I know, I'm a faun and you're a human child. I don't think this Scotch is doing me as much good as I'd--"
"Your name is Nicholas Martin," the robot said patiently. "And mine is ENIAC."
"ENIAC," the robot corrected, capitalizing. "ENIAC Gamma the Ninety-Third."
So saying, he unslung a sack from his metallic shoulder and began to rummage out length upon length of what looked like red silk ribbon with a curious metallic lustre. After approximately a quarter-mile of it had appeared, a crystal football helmet emerged attached to its end. A gleaming red-green stone was set on each side of the helmet.
"Just over the temporal lobes, you see," the robot explained, indicating the jewels. "Now you just set it on your head, like this--"
"Oh no I don't," Martin said, withdrawing his head with the utmost rapidity. "Neither do you, my friend. What's the idea? I don't like the looks of that gimmick. I particularly don't like those two red garnets on the sides. They look like eyes."
"Those are artificial eclogite," the robot assured him. "They simply have a high dielectric constant. It's merely a matter of altering the normal thresholds of the neuron memory-circuits. All thinking is based on memory, you know. The strength of your associations--the emotional indices of your memories--channel your actions and decisions, and the ecologizer simply changes the voltage of your brain so the thresholds are altered."
"Is that all it does?" Martin asked suspiciously.
"Well, now," the robot said with a slight air of evasion. "I didn't intend to mention it, but since you ask--it also imposes the master-matrix of your character type. But since that's the prototype of your character in the first place, it will simply enable you to make the most of your potential ability, hereditary and acquired. It will make you react to your environment in the way that best assures your survival."
"Not me, it won't," Martin said firmly. "Because you aren't going to put that thing on my head."
The robot sketched a puzzled frown. "Oh," he said after a pause. "I haven't explained yet, have I? It's very simple. Would you be willing to take part in a valuable socio-cultural experiment for the benefit of all mankind?"
"No," Martin said.
"But you don't know what it is yet," the robot said plaintively. "You'll be the only one to refuse, after I've explained everything thoroughly. By the way, can you understand me all right?"
Martin laughed hollowly. "Natch," he said.
"Good," the robot said, relieved. "That may be one trouble with my memory. I had to record so many languages before I could temporalize. Sanskrit's very simple, but medieval Russian's confusing, and as for Uighur--however! The purpose of this experiment is to promote the most successful pro-survival relationship between man and his environment. Instant adaptation is what we're aiming at, and we hope to get it by minimizing the differential between individual and environment. In other words, the right reaction at the right time. Understand?"
"Of course not," Martin said. "What nonsense you talk."
"There are," the robot said rather wearily, "only a limited number of character matrices possible, depending first on the arrangement of the genes within the chromosomes, and later upon environmental additions. Since environments tend to repeat--like societies, you know--an organizational pattern isn't hard to lay out, along the Kaldekooz time-scale. You follow me so far?"
"By the Kaldekooz time-scale, yes," Martin said.
"I was always lucid," the robot remarked a little vainly, nourishing a swirl of red ribbon.
"Keep that thing away from me," Martin complained. "Drunk I may be, but I have no intention of sticking my neck out that far."
"Of course you'll do it," the robot said firmly. "Nobody's ever refused yet. And don't bicker with me or you'll get me confused and I'll have to take another jolt of voltage. Then there's no telling how confused I'll be. My memory gives me enough trouble when I temporalize. Time-travel always raises the synaptic delay threshold, but the trouble is it's so variable. That's why I got you mixed up with Ivan at first. But I don't visit him till after I've seen you--I'm running the test chronologically, and nineteen-fifty-two comes before fifteen-seventy, of course."
"It doesn't," Martin said, tilting the glass to his lips. "Not even in Hollywood does nineteen-fifty-two come before fifteen-seventy."
"I'm using the Kaldekooz time-scale," the robot explained. "But really only for convenience. Now do you want the ideal ecological differential or don't you? Because--" Here he flourished the red ribbon again, peered into the helmet, looked narrowly at Martin, and shook his head.
"I'm sorry," the robot said. "I'm afraid this won't work. Your head's too small. Not enough brain-room, I suppose. This helmet's for an eight and a half head, and yours is much too--"
"My head is eight and a half," Martin protested with dignity.
"Can't be," the robot said cunningly. "If it were, the helmet would fit, and it doesn't. Too big."