"That was Ivan the Terrible, wasn't it?" Martin interrupted. "Look here, could you impress the character-matrix of Ivan the Terrible on my brain?"
"That wouldn't help you a bit," the robot said. "Besides, it's not the purpose of the experiment. Now--"
"One moment. Disraeli can't cope with a medievalist like St. Cyr on his own level, but if I had Ivan the Terrible's reactive thresholds, I'll bet I could throw a bluff that might do the trick. Even though St. Cyr's bigger than I am, he's got a veneer of civilization ... now wait. He trades on that. He's always dealt with people who are too civilized to use his own methods. The trick would be to call his bluff. And Ivan's the man who could do it."
"But you don't understand."
"Didn't everybody in Russia tremble with fear at Ivan's name?"
"Very well, then," Martin said triumphantly. "You're going to impress the character-matrix, of Ivan the Terrible on my mind, and then I'm going to put the bite on St. Cyr, the way Ivan would have done it. Disraeli's simply too civilized. Size is a factor, but character's more important. I don't look like Disraeli, but people have been reacting to me as though I were George Arliss down to the spit-curl. A good big man can always lick a good little man. But St. Cyr's never been up against a really uncivilized little man--one who'd gladly rip out an enemy's heart with his bare hands." Martin nodded briskly. "St. Cyr will back down--I've found that out. But it would take somebody like Ivan to make him stay all the way down."
"If you think I'm going to impress Ivan's matrix on you, you're wrong," the robot said.
"You couldn't be talked into it?"
"I," said ENIAC, "am a robot, semantically adjusted. Of course you couldn't talk me into it."
Perhaps not, Martin reflected, but Disraeli--hm-m. "Man is a machine." Why, Disraeli was the one person in the world ideally fitted for robot-coercion. To him, men were machines--and what was ENIAC?
"Let's talk this over--" Martin began, absently pushing the desk-lamp toward the robot. And then the golden tongue that had swayed empires was loosed....
"You're not going to like this," the robot said dazedly, sometime later. "Ivan won't do at ... oh, you've got me all confused. You'll have to eyeprint a--" He began to pull out of his sack the helmet and the quarter-mile of red ribbon.
"To tie up my bonny grey brain," Martin said, drunk with his own rhetoric. "Put it on my head. That's right. Ivan the Terrible, remember. I'll fix St. Cyr's Mixo-Lydian wagon."
"Differential depends on environment as much as on heredity," the robot muttered, clapping the helmet on Martin's head. "Though naturally Ivan wouldn't have had the Tsardom environment without his particular heredity, involving Helena Glinska--there!" He removed the helmet.
"But nothing's happening," Martin said. "I don't feel any different."
"It'll take a few moments. This isn't your basic character-pattern, remember, as Disraeli's was. Enjoy yourself while you can. You'll get the Ivan-effect soon enough." He shouldered the sack and headed uncertainly for the door.
"Wait," Martin said uneasily. "Are you sure--"
"Be quiet. I forgot something--some formality--now I'm all confused. Well, I'll think of it later, or earlier, as the case may be. I'll see you in twelve hours--I hope."
The robot departed. Martin shook his head tentatively from side to side. Then he got up and followed ENIAC to the door. But there was no sign of the robot, except for a diminishing whirlwind of dust in the middle of the corridor.
Something began to happen in Martin's brain....
Behind him, the telephone rang.
Martin heard himself gasp with pure terror. With a sudden, impossible, terrifying, absolute certainty he knew who was telephoning.
"Yes, Mr. Martin," said Tolliver Watt's butler to the telephone. "Miss Ashby is here. She is with Mr. Watt and Mr. St. Cyr at the moment, but I will give her your message. You are detained. And she is to call for you--where?"
"The broom-closet on the second floor of the Writers' Building," Martin said in a quavering voice. "It's the only one near a telephone with a long enough cord so I could take the phone in here with me. But I'm not at all certain that I'm safe. I don't like the looks of that broom on my left."
"Are you sure you're Tolliver Watt's butler?" Martin demanded nervously.
"Quite sure, Mr.--eh--Mr. Martin."
"I am Mr. Martin," cried Martin with terrified defiance. "By all the laws of God and man, Mr. Martin I am and Mr. Martin I will remain, in spite of all attempts by rebellious dogs to depose me from my rightful place."
"Yes, sir. The broom-closet, you say, sir?"
"The broom-closet. Immediately. But swear not to tell another soul, no matter how much you're threatened. I'll protect you."
"Very well, sir. Is that all?"
"Yes. Tell Miss Ashby to hurry. Hang up now. The line may be tapped. I have enemies."
There was a click. Martin replaced his own receiver and furtively surveyed the broom-closet. He told himself that this was ridiculous. There was nothing to be afraid of, was there? True, the broom-closet's narrow walls were closing in upon him alarmingly, while the ceiling descended....
Panic-stricken, Martin emerged from the closet, took a long breath, and threw back his shoulders. "N-not a thing to be afraid of," he said. "Who's afraid?" Whistling, he began to stroll down the hall toward the staircase, but midway agoraphobia overcame him, and his nerve broke.
He ducked into his own office and sweated quietly in the dark until he had mustered up enough courage to turn on a lamp.
The Encyclopedia Britannica, in its glass-fronted cabinet, caught his eye. With noiseless haste, Martin secured ITALY to LORD and opened the volume at his desk. Something, obviously, was very, very wrong. The robot had said that Martin wasn't going to like being Ivan the Terrible, come to think of it. But was Martin wearing Ivan's character-matrix? Perhaps he'd got somebody else's matrix by mistake--that of some arrant coward. Or maybe the Mad Tsar of Russia had really been called Ivan the Terrified. Martin flipped the rustling pages nervously. Ivan, Ivan--here it was.
Son of Helena Glinska ... married Anastasia Zakharina-Koshkina ... private life unspeakably abominable ... memory astonishing, energy indefatigable, ungovernable fury--great natural ability, political foresight, anticipated the ideals of Peter the Great--Martin shook his head.
Then he caught his breath at the next line.
Ivan had lived in an atmosphere of apprehension, imagining that every man's hand was against him.
"Just like me," Martin murmured. "But--but there was more to Ivan than just cowardice. I don't understand."
"Differential," the robot had said, "depends on environment as much as on heredity. Though naturally Ivan wouldn't have had the Tsardom environment without his particular heredity."
Martin sucked in his breath sharply. Environment does make a difference. No doubt Ivan IV had been a fearful coward, but heredity plus environment had given Ivan the one great weapon that had enabled him to keep his cowardice a recessive trait.
Ivan the Terrible had been Tsar of all the Russias.
Give a coward a gun, and, while he doesn't stop being a coward, it won't show in the same way. He may act like a violent, aggressive tyrant instead. That, of course, was why Ivan had been ecologically successful--in his specialized environment. He'd never run up against many stresses that brought his dominant trait to the fore. Like Disraeli, he had been able to control his environment so that such stresses were practically eliminated.
Martin turned green.
Then he remembered Erika. Could he get Erika to keep St. Cyr busy, somehow, while he got his contract release from Watt? As long as he could avoid crises, he could keep his nerve from crumbling, but--there were assassins everywhere!
Erika was on her way to the lot by now. Martin swallowed.
He would meet her outside the studio. The broom-closet wasn't safe. He could be trapped there like a rat-- "Nonsense," Martin told himself with shivering firmness. "This isn't me. All I have to do is get a g-grip on m-myself. Come, now. Buck up. Toujours l'audace!"
But he went out of his office and downstairs very softly and cautiously. After all, one never knew. And when every man's hand was against one....
Quaking, the character-matrix of Ivan the Terrible stole toward a studio gate.
The taxi drove rapidly toward Bel-Air.
"But what were you doing up that tree?" Erika demanded.
Martin shook violently.
"A werewolf," he chattered. "And a vampire and a ghoul and--I saw them, I tell you. There I was at the studio gate, and they all came at me in a mob."
"But they were just coming back from dinner," Erika said. "You know Summit's doing night shooting on Abbott and Costello Meet Everybody. Karloff wouldn't hurt a fly."
"I kept telling myself that," Martin said dully, "but I was out of my mind with guilt and fear. You see, I'm an abominable monster. But it's not my fault. It's environmental. I grew up in brutal and degrading conditions--oh, look!" He pointed toward a traffic cop ahead. "The police! Traitors even in the palace guards!"
"Lady, is that guy nuts?" the cabbie demanded.
"Mad or sane, I am Nicholas Martin," Martin announced, with an abrupt volte face. He tried to stand up commandingly, bumped his head, screamed "Assassins!" and burrowed into a corner of the seat, panting horribly.
Erika gave him a thoughtful, worried look.
"Nick," she said, "How much have you had to drink? What's wrong?"
Martin shut his eyes and lay back against the cushions.
"Let me have a few minutes, Erika," he pleaded. "I'll be all right as soon as I recover from stress. It's only when I'm under stress that Ivan--"
"You can accept your contract release from Watt, can't you? Surely you'll be able to manage that."
"Of course," Martin said with feeble bravery. He thought it over and reconsidered. "If I can hold your hand," he suggested, taking no chances.
This disgusted Erika so much that for two miles there was no more conversation within the cab.
Erika had been thinking her own thoughts.
"You've certainly changed since this morning," she observed. "Threatening to make love to me, of all things. As if I'd stand for it. I'd like to see you try." There was a pause. Erika slid her eyes sidewise toward Martin. "I said I'd like to see you try," she repeated.
"Oh, you would, would you?" Martin said with hollow valor. He paused. Oddly enough his tongue, hitherto frozen stiff on one particular subject in Erika's presence, was now thoroughly loosened. Martin wasted no time on theory. Seizing his chance before a new stress might unexpectedly arise, he instantly poured out his heart to Erika, who visibly softened.
"But why didn't you ever say so before?" she asked.
"I can't imagine," Martin said. "Then you'll marry me?"
"But why were you acting so--"
"Will you marry me?"
"Yes," Erika said, and there was a pause. Martin moistened his lips, discovering that somehow he and Erika had moved close together. He was about to seal the bargain in the customary manner when a sudden thought struck him and made him draw back with a little start.
Erika opened her eyes.
"Ah--" said Martin. "Um. I just happened to remember. There's a bad flu epidemic in Chicago. Epidemics spread like wildfire, you know. Why, it could be in Hollywood by now--especially with the prevailing westerly winds."
"I'm damned if I'm going to be proposed to and not kissed," Erika said in a somewhat irritated tone. "You kiss me!"
"But I might give you bubonic plague," Martin said nervously. "Kissing spreads germs. It's a well-known fact."
"Well--I don't know--when did you last have a cold?"
Erika pulled away from him and went to sit in the other corner.
"Ah," Martin said, after a long silence. "Erika?"
"Don't talk to me, you miserable man," Erika said. "You monster, you."
"I can't help it," Martin cried wildly. "I'll be a coward for twelve hours. It's not my fault. After eight tomorrow morning I'll--I'll walk into a lion-cage if you want, but tonight I'm as yellow as Ivan the Terrible! At least let me tell you what's been happening."
Erika said nothing. Martin instantly plunged into his long and improbable tale.
"I don't believe a word of it," Erika said, when he had finished. She shook her head sharply. "Just the same, I'm still your agent, and your career's still my responsibility. The first and only thing we have to do is get your contract release from Tolliver Watt. And that's all we're going to consider right now, do you hear?"
"But St. Cyr--"
"I'll do all the talking. You won't have to say a word. If St. Cyr tries to bully you, I'll handle him. But you've got to be there with me, or St. Cyr will make that an excuse to postpone things again. I know him."
"Now I'm under stress again," Martin said wildly. "I can't stand it. I'm not the Tsar of Russia."
"Lady," said the cab-driver, looking back, "if I was you, I'd sure as hell break off that engagement."
"Heads will roll for this," Martin said ominously.
"By mutual consent, agree to terminate ... yes," Watt said, affixing his name to the legal paper that lay before him on the desk. "That does it. But where in the world is that fellow Martin? He came in with you, I'm certain."
"Did he?" Erika asked, rather wildly. She too, was wondering how Martin had managed to vanish so miraculously from her side. Perhaps he had crept with lightning rapidity under the carpet. She forced her mind from the thought and reached for the contract release Watt was folding.
"Wait," St. Cyr said, his lower lip jutting. "What about a clause giving us an option on Martin's next play?"
Watt paused, and the director instantly struck home.
"Whatever it may be, I can turn it into a vehicle for DeeDee, eh, DeeDee?" He lifted a sausage finger at the lovely star, who nodded obediently.