There and there only did people of the 2070's permit themselves to relax. This was a logical development of latter-day plumbing and air conditioning and the crowding of apartment and small-house life. Actual lavatory plumbing was concealed, in this instance, by an etched glass screen. Otherwise the room featured comfortable plastic lounge chairs and sofas around a fifteen-foot sunken tub and a small semicircular bar, fully equipped.
On entering Maria unfastened her harness and coverall and stood before them, a sweet-bodied dark-eyed girl in her early twenties, clad in shorts and halter. "Lord!" she exclaimed, pushing dark hair back from her broad low forehead, "It feels good to relax. Zalen, I want to talk to you."
"Delighted," said Lindsay, mildly surprised at the use of his Martian first name.
"I've got something to tell him first," said Anderson, unhitching his own harness and emerging as a lean medium-sized man in good condition for his forty years. "I got word just before I flew up here tonight that your life may be in danger, Zalen."
Lindsay accepted the arrack-fizz Maria handed him, said "That makes warning number two, Senator. Du Fresne talked to me about it this afternoon."
Maria paled visibly. She said, "It sounds impossible!"
"It backs up the judgment of my own group," said Senator Anderson. "Du Fresne is just about the smartest computerman we have." He eyed Lindsay speculatively, added, "You don't seem much impressed by your danger, Zalen."
"How can I be?" Lindsay countered. "After all, Earth is supposed to be much further advanced than Mars in civilization. And we have had no political murder on Mars in more than fifty years."
Maria made a despairing gesture. "Oh, dear!" she exclaimed. "You don't understand, Zalen. On Mars you have both room and time to settle your political conflicts. And you don't have computers."
"We have some pretty sharp rows," Lindsay told her. "But we don't have anyone assassinated." He paused, looked at them both, added, "Do you have many of them here?"
"Not many," said Anderson. "But there is a growing tendency to go along with computer verdicts, no matter how extreme."
"And you believe the British computers are giving accurate answers when they recommend the dumping of millions of pairs of utterly useless hunting boots on Mars? Or those rubber shower curtains they unloaded on us two years ago?"
The Senator said, "There is, unfortunately, no question as to the accuracy of computer answers. The trouble seems to lie in some special condition, local to Britain, that effects computers."
"But if the British computers are wrong, why doesn't somebody do something about it?" Lindsay asked.
Anderson said, "If it were that simple, Zalen...." His smile was rueful. "Unfortunately our English friends--or their rulers at any rate--are determined that socialism is the only government suitable to their country. Actually it is nothing of the sort--they can thrive only with a mercantile capitalism under a nominal constitutional monarchy."
"In that case I still don't see--" Lindsay began.
"Contrary to what you're thinking, their leaders are not villains," Anderson told him. "They are men and women obsessed with an ideal that has hampered them for almost two centuries. And they are incapable of accepting any conclusion counter to their ideals."
"Even to impoverishing an entire planet?" Lindsay asked.
Anderson shrugged. "A penalty of their insularity," he replied. "The reason for this little meeting, Zalen, is to explain that not all of us are in favor of supporting Britain and its absurd production bungling at the expense of Mars. A few of us are becoming singularly fed up with the computer neurosis that seems to have this planet in its grip."
Maria leaned forward, her dark eyes brilliant in their intensity. She said, "Can't you see, Zalen, that is why we are so concerned with your possible assassination? We fear the whole of Earth is on the lip of a nervous breakdown. Unless the grip of the computers is broken anything might happen. And we're counting on you, with your fresh viewpoint and prestige, to help us."
"I was hoping you might be concerned about me," said Lindsay softly. "After all, I'm the one who is supposed to be killed." He watched a sudden flush of embarrassment add charming brilliance to the vividness of the Secretary General's daughter.
"Of course we're concerned," she said defensively. "We're not really monsters, Zalen."
"What Maria means," said Anderson swiftly, "is that if the worst should happen it will go a long way toward making Earth entirely computer-dependent, if du Fresne's prophecy is fulfilled a lot of people who might go on fighting will simply give up."
"Just what is your stake in this, Senator?" Lindsay asked.
Anderson said, "I could give you a score of 'good' reasons, Zalen. But my real reason is this--I'm damned if I want to see professional politicians become rubber-stamps to a computer. When Sylac was first used officially three decades ago, it looked as if it might be a help. All we had to do was palm off all unpopular decisions on the machine.
"Elsac, however, has proved to be something else," he went on. "It is making too damned many of our decisions for us--and thanks to our having set Sylac up as a master-brain god we can't controvert its judgment. When President Giovannini gets his new Giac computer working we might as well shut up shop. And the announcement that Giac is in operation may come at any time now."
Lindsay studied him, then said, "Your real complaint then, Fernando, is that the computers deprive you of patronage and power."
"That's about it," said the senator from New Mexico. "We'll be reduced to the level of the political commissars of the Soviet nations. The scientists and symbolic logicians who feed and tend the computers will actually be running the country. And the world."
"And just where do I come into this?" Lindsay asked.
"You, Zalen, are the last representative of the last sizeable and important human organism that is not dependent upon computer judgment," said Anderson. "That's our side of it. From your own side--if you already distrust computer decisions, as in the case of the British hunting boots--you surely don't want to see them in full control."
"Hardly," said Lindsay. "But at the same time I have no desire to be assassinated or to be the cause of an Earth-Mars war."
"Think it over, Zalen," said Anderson. "I need hardly tell you that I am not speaking for myself alone." He got up, put down his glass, bade Maria farewell and left the Martian alone with her.
When he had gone Lindsay looked at the girl, who returned his gaze quite openly for a long moment before her eyes fell away. He said, "Somehow the senator and you seem an odd combination."
She made no pretense of misunderstanding but said candidly, "Perhaps I am neurotic in my distrust of computers but I cannot help that. Those of us who have any true sensitivity unblunted by the psycho-mechanistics of the era all share this distrust. It is natural, since we are few and weak, that we should seek what allies we can find among the strong."
"I've always heard that politics makes strange bedfellows," said Lindsay casually.
It was obvious that he had committed a faux pas. Maria's blush returned and her expression froze. Lindsay cursed himself for a fool. With the development of all sorts of pneumatic resting devices the word bed had become not only obsolete but definitely distasteful in well-bred Tellurian circles. Its use was as decried as was that of the word bloody in Victorian England.
She said angrily, "I assure you, Mr. Lindsay, that Senator Anderson and I have never...." Voice and anger faded alike as she apparently realized that Lindsay had not intended insult.
He let her mix a second drink for both of them. Then, standing close to her and noting the smooth perfection of her creamy white skin, "I wonder if your father knows that he is nourishing a subversive in his family."
She said with a trace of impatience, "Oh, poor papa never sees the trees for the forest."
"You're a damned unhappy girl, aren't you?" he asked her. He didn't need an answer, but realized she wanted to talk about it.
She said, her eyes shining suspiciously, "You're right, of course, I'm very unhappy--constricted in behavior by my father's position, unable to say aloud what I really think, how I really feel. Sometimes I think I must be living in some Gothic poet's dream of loneliness."
"Contrary to the beliefs of most psychiatrists," said Lindsay, half-touched, half-appalled by Maria's intensity, "we are all of us alone."
"Somehow I knew you'd understand!" she exclaimed, without taking her dark eyes from his. "I'm not allowed to date gladiators, of course. You're the only man I've ever been with who was not afraid to look as he is."
"You'd better come to Mars," he suggested, shying away a little from the high voltage the Secretary General's daughter seemed to be generating. "I can assure you you'd have a chance to reveal the charms nature gave you without shame."
She laughed with a sudden change of spirits. "It's at least a half hour since dinner. Let's take a dip." She tossed back her lustrous dark hair with a shake of her head and her hands went to the clasp of her halter, a moment later to that of her shorts. "Come on," she called, extending her arms to expose her exciting young body before him. "The water will cool us off."
It didn't work out that way, of course. Lindsay was barely in the tub-pool before Maria's arms were about his neck, her body close against his, her lips thrusting upward toward his own. For a moment he felt panic, said, "Hey! What if somebody comes? Your father--"
"Silly! Nobody will," she replied, laughing softly.
His last rational thought for quite awhile was, Oh well--I'm hardly in a position to get the Secretary General's daughter angry.
False dawn was spreading its dim fanlight over the eastern horizon as he coptered back to his official quarters in the city. Trying to restore some order to thoughts and emotions thoroughly disrupted by the unexpected events of the evening, he wondered a little just what he had got himself into.
Mars, of course, was scarcely a Puritan planet, populated as it was by the hardiest and most adventurous members of the human race, of all races. But there had been something almost psychopathic about Maria's passion. It had been far too intense to have been generated solely through regard for him.
The girl had made love to him simply to relieve her own inner tensions, he thought wryly. Lacking a man she could love, walled in by the high officialdom of her father's lofty position, she had turned to him in the same way she turned to the anti-computer movement--as a way of feeling less lonely for a while. Still, it had been sweet--if a little frightening in retrospect.
And it had been a little decadent too.
With the copter on autopilot he lit a cigarette and forced his thoughts away from the girl. He wondered if the Governors of Mars were sufficiently in key with the current feelings of Earthfolk to understand fully how deep the repercussions from his speech might go. He wondered if they had considered fully the possibility of interplanetary war.
True, Mars was undoubtedly better equipped to defend itself against such attack than was Earth. Like the mother planet it had its share of robot rockets capable of launching a counterattack. And thanks to the comparative sparseness and decentralization of its population it was far less vulnerable to attack.
But war between the planets would be destructive of far more than cities and the people that lived in them. It would mean inevitably a breakdown of the entire fabric of civilized humanity--a tenuous fabric, true, but all that existed to maintain man.
And an isolated Mars, even if self-sufficient, would be a sorry substitute for a red planet that was part of the United Worlds. It would mean a setback of generations, perhaps centuries.
He began to feel a new understanding of the importance of his mission. With understanding came something akin to fear lest he should not be able to accomplish it without disaster. It was going to be his job to inaugurate some sort of therapy for Earth's illness. It was, in effect, one man against a planet.
Considering the men and women with whom he had talked that day he was unable to take the assassination threat too seriously. Somehow these neurotics and warped zealots, with their allergies and distortion kits, seemed unlikely to undertake or carry through any such drastic action. Their very inhibitions would forbid it.
Not that Maria had been exactly inhibited. Damn! The girl refused to stay out of his thoughts. He recalled what she had told him of her conspiracy against the computers, of its aims and methods. And again he smiled wryly to himself.
They were like spoiled children, he thought. A little group of over-intense young men and women, neurotic, excitable, unstable, meeting in one another's houses or in expensive cafes, plotting little coups that never quite came off.
From certain unguarded phrases Maria had dropped during the less frenetic periods of their evening together, he gathered that their current aim was actual physical sabotage of Giac, the mightiest of all computers about to be unveiled, before it went into work.
They didn't even realize, he thought, that sabotage would avail them nothing in the long run--or the short either. Destruction of the computers would not cure Earth. It might easily increase the reliance of Earthfolk upon their cybernetic monsters. What was needed to effect a cure was destruction of human confidence in and reliance upon these machines.
And how in hell, he wondered, was he going to manage that?
To a man from level, water-starved Mars the sight of New Orleans still ablaze with lights at five o'clock in the morning was something of a miracle. Mars had its share of atomic power-plants, of course, but such sources had proved almost prohibitively costly as providers of cheap power.
That was true on Earth too, of course, but Earth had its rivers, its waterfalls, its ocean tides to help out. More important, it averaged some fifty million miles closer to the Sun, thus giving it immense storage supplies of solar heat for power. Without these resources the thousand-square-mile expanse of intricately criss-crossed artificial lighting that was the United Worlds capital would have been impossible.
Lindsay wondered how any people possessed of a planet so rich could be afflicted with such poverty of soul. Or was this very opulence the cause? His own planet was comparatively poor--yet nervous breakdowns were few and far between. There the ugly strove for beauty, instead of the reverse.
He parked the copter on the garage-plat, pressed the button, and watched it sink slowly out of sight to its concealed hangar. Like all Martian natives to leave for Earth, he had been warned about the intense heat and humidity that assailed most of the mother planet, especially in the UW capital. Yet the night breeze felt pleasantly cool against his face and its thickness was like the brush of invisible velvet against his skin. Perhaps, he thought, he was more of an Earthling than three generations of Martian heredity made likely.
He did miss the incredible brilliance of the Martian night skies. Here on Earth the stars shone as puny things through the heavy atmosphere.
But, he thought guiltily, he did not have as severe a pang of homesickness as he ought.
In a state of self-bemusement he rode the elevator down to his suite on the ninety-first story. And was utterly unprepared for the assault which all but bore him to the floor as he stepped out into his own foyer.
Since the attack came from behind and his assailant's first move was to toss a bag over his head, Lindsay had no idea of what the would-be assassin looked like. For a moment he could only struggle blindly to retain his balance, expecting every instant to feel the quick searing heat of a blaster burn through his back.
But no heat came, nor did the chill of a dagger. Instead he felt his attacker's strong hands encircle his neck in a judo grip.
This was something Lindsay understood. He thrust both his own hands up and backward, getting inside the assassin's grip and breaking it. His thumbnails dug into nerve centers and he bent an arm sharply. There was a gasp of agony and he felt a large body crumple under the pressure.
Lindsay's first impulse was to summon the constabulary. His second, after examining the face of his would-be slayer, was to drag the man into the shelter of his apartment, revive him and seek to learn what he could about the attempt.
To his astonishment he discovered that he knew the man. His assigned murderer was long, red-headed Pat O'Ryan rated as a top gladiator, a tennis and squash champion whose reputation was almost as widespread among sporting fans on Mars as on Earth. Lindsay had remodeled his own backhand, just the year before, upon that of the man sent to kill him.
He got some whiskey from the serving bar beside the vidar screen, poured a little of it between the unconscious killer's lips. O'Ryan sputtered and sat up slowly, blinking. He said, "Get me some gin, will you?"
Lindsay returned the whiskey to its place, got the requested liquor, offered some neat to the tennis player in a glass. O'Ryan downed it, shuddered, looked at Lindsay curiously. He said, "What went wrong? You're supposed to be dead."
Lindsay shrugged and said, "I know some judo too. You weren't quite fast enough, Pat."
O'Ryan moaned again, reached for the bottle. Then he said, "I remember now. Thank God you got my right arm--I'm left-handed."
"I know," Lindsay told him laconically.
The would-be assassin looked frightened. He said, "How do you know?"
"I play a little tennis myself," Lindsay told him. "How come they sent a man like you on such a mission?"
"Top gladiator--top assignment," said the athlete. "We're supposed to do something besides play games for our keep."
"That's a wrinkle in the social setup I didn't know about," said Lindsay. "Mind telling me who sent you?"
"Not at all. It was my sponsors, the New Hibernian A.C." He frowned. "According to the computers I was in. There's going to be hell to pay over my muffing it."
"How do you feel about that?" the Martian asked him.
O'Ryan shrugged. "It's okay by me," he said. "They can hardly degrade me for fouling up this kind of a job. I'll simply tell them their information was incomplete. No one knew you knew judo." He eyed the gin, added, "A good thing you didn't feed me whiskey. I'm allergic to all grain products--even in alcohol. Comes from being fed too much McCann's Irish oatmeal when I was a kid."
"Interesting," said Lindsay, wondering how the conversation had taken this turn. "What does whiskey do to you?"
The gladiator shuddered. "It usually hits me about twenty-four hours afterward. Makes my eyes water so I can't see much. I've got a match at the Colosseum tomorrow night. I hope you'll be there."
"So do I," said Lindsay dryly. "You wouldn't know who gave you this little chore on me, would you?"
"Not likely," said the gladiator. "When we report at the club every evening we find our assignments stuck in our boxes. Usually we get orders to meet a dame. This was something different."
"I see what you mean," Lindsay told him.
O'Ryan got up, said, "Well, I might as well be running along. I'll give them hell for fouling up the computer-prophecy. Look me up after the match tomorrow. And thanks for not having me pinched. I might have had to spend the night in a cell. That's bad for conditioning."
"You're quite welcome," said Lindsay, feeling like a character in a semi-nightmare. "Will I be seeing you again--this way?"
"Unlikely," the gladiator told him. "They'll have to run a lot of checks on you after this before they try again. See you tomorrow."