Lindsay looked after his visitor with amazement. Then it occurred to him that computers were substituting not only for human judgment but for human conscience as well. And this, he felt certain, was important.
Turning in on his contour couch, Lindsay recalled that he had given whiskey to the allergic athlete. He decided then and there that he would be in attendance at the match in the Colosseum that evening.
He got to his office about eleven o'clock. His desk was stacked high with messages, written and taped, and all sorts of folk wished to talk with him on the vidarphone. Nina, looking more slovenly than ever, had arranged them neatly, according to their nature and importance in separate little piles.
"Next time you tear up the pea-patch," she informed him resentfully, "I'm going to get in some help." She eyed him with somber speculation, added, "I hear the Sec-Gen turned in early last night."
"You've got big ears," said Lindsay.
"I get around," she said. "I'm supposed to keep tabs on you, boss."
"Then you must know someone tried to kill me early this morning when I came back from Natchez."
Nina's eyes narrowed alarmingly under the glasses that covered them. She said, "Why didn't you report it?" She sounded like a commander-in-chief questioning a junior aide for faulty judgment.
"I won," Lindsay said simply. "There was no danger."
"Who was it?" she asked. And, when he hesitated, "I'm not going to shout it from the housetops, boss."
"It was Pat O'Ryan."
"You handled Pat?" she asked, apparently astonished. Something in her tone told him Nina knew his would-be assassin.
"Why not?" he countered. "It wasn't much of a brawl."
"But Pat...." she began, and hesitated. Then, all business again, "We'd better get at some of this. You have a date to be psyched by Dr. Craven at two o'clock."
"What for?" he asked, startled.
"Routine," she told him. "Everyone connected with UW has to go through it. But cheer up, boss, it doesn't hurt--much."
"Okay," he said resignedly. "Let's get to work."
While he dictated Lindsay found himself wondering just who was paying Nina's real salary. If she were a spy for the same group that had sent O'Ryan to kill him, his position was delicate, to put it mildly. But for some reason he doubted it. There were too many groups working at once to make any such simple solution probable.
When she departed briefly to superintend a minor matter out of the office, he found himself staring at the wastebasket by his tilt-chair. A heart-shaped jewel-box of transparent crystoplastic lay within it. Curious, Lindsay plucked it out. It had evidently held some sort of necklace and bore the mark of Zoffany's, the Capital's costliest jeweler. Within it was a note that read: For Nina, who lost last night--as ever.... The signature was an indecipherable scrawl.
Lindsay stuck the card in his wallet, returned the box to the wastebasket. Who in hell, he wondered, would be sending this sort of gift to his slatternly thick-bodied secretary. The answer seemed obvious. The sender was her real boss, paying her off in a personal way that would obviate suspicion. Lindsay wondered exactly what Nina had lost.
He was not surprised when she said she would come along to the psychiatrist's with him after an office lunch of veal pralines, soya buns and coffee. He suggested she might be tired, might want the day off.
She said, "Night soil, boss! Between the Sec-Gen's daughter and things like Pat O'Ryan I'm going to keep an eye on you."
As if on signal the vidar-screen lit up and Maria's face appeared on it. She had not donned harmopan or glasses and looked quite as lovely as she had the night before. She said, "Zalen, I've got to see you tonight. Something has come up."
Lindsay nodded. He figured out his schedule, suggested, "I'm going to the match in the Colosseum. Why not take it in with me?"
She shook her head, told him, "I'm tangled up at a banquet for the Egypto-Ethiopian delegation. I can meet you afterward though. How about the Pelican?"
"That's not very private," he protested.
"All the more reason," she announced. "This is important!"
"And seeing me in private isn't?" Despite himself a trace of wounded male entered his tone.
Maria laughed softly, her dark eyes dancing. "Perhaps later," she said softly. "You'll understand when I talk to you." She clicked off and the screen was empty.
"Damned cat!" said Nina through a haze of cigarette-smoke. "Watch out for her, boss--she's a cannibal."
"And I'm a bit tough and stringy," he told her.
Nina said, "Night soil!" again under her breath and led the way out of the office. Lindsay wondered if she were jealous.
Dr. Craven received them in a comfortable chamber, the north wall of which was all glass brick, the south wall a solid bank of screens and dials. He was a soft-faced man who wore lozenge-shaped light blue spectacles and seemed afflicted with a slight chin rash. He caught Lindsay's regard, rubbed his chin in mild embarrassment, said, "I've a mild allergy to paranoids."
Lindsay looked at Nina distrustfully but she nodded and said, "Go ahead--he won't break your arm. I'll wait outside."
The psychiatrist closed his office door. After settling him in a comfortable contour couch, Dr. Craven opened up with, "I don't want you to have any worries about this test, Ambassador. If anybody's crazy here it's me. According to very sound current theory all psychiatrists are insane. If we weren't we wouldn't be so concerned with sanity in others."
Lindsay asked, "Why in hell am I being tested anyway?"
Craven replied, "President Giovannini himself came in for a voluntary checkup just last week." As if that were an answer.
Lindsay suppressed a desire to ask if the North American president had all his marbles. He had an idea any levity he displayed would register against him. Dr. Craven asked him a number of apparently routine questions which Lindsay answered via a recorder. How old he was, whether he liked flowers, how often he had fought with his schoolmates as a boy, what sort of food he preferred.
"Good," the doctor said, pushing aside the microphone on his desk and motioning Lindsay to do likewise. He rose, wheeled a device like an old-fashioned beautician's hair-drier close to the couch, adjusted the helmet to Lindsay's head. "Now," he added, "I want you to think as clearly as you can of your mother. Keep your eyes on the screen and give me as clear a picture as you can."
He pressed a button and the whir of a camera, also focussed on the screen, sounded from the wall behind Lindsay. When Dr. Craven nodded, he concentrated and, to his amazement, watched a fuzzy likeness of his maternal parent take form on the screen.
This was something new, he decided, and said so. Dr. Craven replied, "Yes--the psychopic is brand new. But concentrate on the picture, please. You're losing it."
It had faded to almost nothing. Lindsay concentrated again, this time brought his maternal parent into clear focus. He felt a little like a man who has never wielded a brush in his life and has suddenly discovered he could paint a perfect portrait.
Dr. Craven said nothing for a moment. Then, "Will you try to visualize your mother without the blemish at her temple?"
Lindsay tried, and all but lost the picture entirely. He brought it back again, blemish and all, felt a sudden tug of nostalgia for the firm kindly features of the woman who had brought him into the world. A minute or so later Dr. Craven pressed another button and the screen went blank. "That will do very nicely," he said. "You may wait for the psycho-computer verdict outside if you wish."
He found Nina sprawled in an anteroom chair with her long legs stuck out before her, contemplating a flashing diamond-and-emerald necklace. He said, before she looked up and saw him, "Business good, Miss Beckwith?"
To his amazement Nina began to snivel. And when he asked her what he had done to cause it she snapped angrily, "You big pig, you haven't the sensitivity to understand. Don't ever speak of it as business again. Now I'll have to bathe my eyes when I get home or they will be all swollen and horrible."
She removed her glasses and they were swollen. Lindsay had seen too much of allergic reactions since reaching Earth not to know he was looking at another. He was relieved when she put her glasses back on.
"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to disturb you."
"I know it," she replied, "but you did."
"Perhaps, if you told me--" he began. Dr. Craven chose that moment to emerge from his office.
"If you'll come back inside," he said. "There are just a few more questions I'd like to ask, Ambassador."
"Ask them here," said Lindsay. He had no desire to go back under the drier.
Dr. Craven hesitated and rubbed his chin, which was bright red again. He said finally, "Mr. Lindsay, you didn't kill your mother before you were seventeen, did you?"
"My mother died last year," said Lindsay, unbelieving.
"Incredible!" muttered the psychiatrist, shaking his head. "According to the computer you must have...." He paused again, then said, "I hope this won't embarrass you but you evidently are a man who prefers men to women. The stigmata is definite and shows--"
"Night soil!" Nina exploded her favorite expression before Lindsay could collect his wits for an answer. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, Dr. Craven, but this man's a veritable satyr. I caught him looking at my legs yesterday. Ask Maria Bergozza if you want any further proof."
"But this is impossible!" the psychiatrist exploded. "According to the computer--"
"Your computer's out of whack," Nina said calmly, and led a stunned Lindsay out of the place. She added, "You didn't deserve that, boss. Not after puffing my eyes up."
"Why not just keep your glasses on then?" he countered. They returned to their office in unfriendly silence. Lindsay sent Nina home early and took a copter across the Lake to his own place, there to nap until time for the match at the Colosseum.
He felt more at home in the UW box at the vast arena than at any time since reaching Earth. Since it was a sporting event, the eye-glasses were serried, at least in the lower, higher-priced tiers, by good looking faces, male and female, unadorned.
Someone slid into the comfortable contour chair beside him and said, "Evening, Zalen. Enjoying yourself?"
Lindsay looked into Senator Fernando Anderson's diamond-shaped raspberry glasses. He said, "So far--how about you?"
Anderson made a face. "I had a date with a gorgeous item but she put me off until later. So I thought I'd look in. Maria arranged a seat in the UW box. Otherwise I'd be watching it on vidar."
Lindsay looked up and around and discovered that the vast stadium was packed to the rafters, judging by the glowing cigarette tips that resembled an uncountable horde of frozen fireflies.
The court itself was pitch-dark, save for the lines and the net. He had trouble recognizing O'Ryan as his would-be assassin and opponent walked out. Neither player was clearly visible of feature, though shoes, shorts and racquets were luminous, as were the balls they began to hit back and forth across the net.
The only other luminous objects, save for the dim exit lights, were the betting boards. Lindsay, who had never seen one save on a vidar-screen before, asked Anderson how they worked. The senator from New Mexico was glad to explain.
"Naturally," he said, "since the results of all athletic contests are predicted on the computers, there is no betting on who will win."
"No upsets?" Lindsay asked.
Anderson laughed, said, "The last time there was an upset--in the British Australian test cricket matches three years ago--a computer investigation proved bribery and there was a hell of a stink."
"Then how do you manage to bet?" Lindsay asked.
"Simple," said the Senator. "Naturally, in case of accidental injury, all bets are void. But otherwise the betting is on the percentage of variation between the computer prediction and the actual play of the contest. There--you can see the computer line on the big board over there. The line of actual play will be red when it comes on. That way there is plenty of chance for betting on points, games, sets or match."
The man from Mars studied the predictor line for the match. It revealed that Pat O'Ryan, after a fast start, was due to slump in the second set, recover in the third and polish off his opponent, Yamato-Rau from Indonesia, in the fourth set with the loss of but one game.
"Looks like a shoo-in for O'Ryan," he said. "Right?"
"It ought to be," the Senator replied. "He's taken Yamato-Rau in six of their seven previous matches. The second time they played he had a sprained wrist that affected his volleying."
"Care to make a bet?" Lindsay asked his companion.
"Sure--why not?" Anderson countered. "Percentage of variation for game, set or match?"
"I'd like to bet on the Indonesian to win," said Lindsay quietly.
Senator Anderson looked at Lindsay sharply. He said, "You know something."
"Against the computer-prophecy?" Lindsay countered.
Anderson backed down and gave him a hundred to one on a fifty-credit bet. "You can't win, of course," he murmured, "but if you do it will be worth it."
The match began and the hum of the great crowd's conversation slowly quieted. At first it went according to the computer prophecy. Serving brilliantly, hitting crisply from either hand and smashing and volleying with deadly accuracy from all parts of the court, Pat O'Ryan held complete command of the match.
There was something hypnotic about the play--the clean ping of racquet strings on luminous ball, the swift flight of the ball, a streak of light in the darkness, the flash of another racquet, the long and intricate tactics of each exchange, broken only occasionally by the flash of a light that betokened an error or an ace and the resulting alteration of the scoreboard.
The red line crept in zigzag fashion along the computer board as the match progressed, veering above or below the white line of the prophecy but always returning to cross or even to cover it briefly. Big O'Ryan took the first set six games to three on a single service break against the Indonesian champion.
"Money in the bank," said Anderson in Lindsay's ear as the players changed courts following the first game of the second set, which Yamato-Rau had taken at fifteen. "Candy from a baby."
"It's barely begun," said Lindsay with a confidence he was far from feeling. He glanced at the clock above the scoreboard, saw that it was scarcely ten o'clock. Sickly he recalled that O'Ryan had told him it took twenty-four hours for his grain allergy to take effect. Lindsay had given him the drink barely seventeen hours before. He began to wish he had not bet so thoughtlessly.
The second set went to deuce twice before Yamato-Rau broke O'Ryan's service to run it out at eight-six. This was two games more than the computer had calculated and caused considerable uproar in the crowd.
"I hear you had some trouble last night," Anderson told him.
"Nothing serious," said Lindsay, wondering how much the senator knew. Dammit, he thought, he wished he didn't like the power-hungry politician.
He wondered if Anderson were behind the attempt of the morning--and if he were behind it, why? There could, he decided, be all sorts of Machiavellian motives hidden beneath that smiling face. Then the match got under way once more, and Lindsay concentrated on the play.
Once again O'Ryan seemed to be in command--just as the computer had foretold. Games went to five-two in his favor. Then, as the players changed courts once more, the tall Irishman paused to towel off--and paid special attention to rubbing his eyes.
At that his string ran out. Four straight times his swiftest drives hit the top of the net and bounced back into his own court. He blew his service thanks to a pair of double-faults and three minutes later Yamato-Rau had taken the set while the crowd sat in stunned silence.
The fourth set was pitiful. O'Ryan played like a blind man and the Indonesian ran it out with the loss of exactly one point per game. The red line on the computer-board yawed wildly toward the bottom instead of following the white line as it should have.
"Keep your credits," Lindsay told Senator Anderson. "You were right. As it turned out I did know something after all."
"It's impossible!" cried the senator. "But it's cheap at the price--here!" He withdrew his wallet and began pulling out crisp hundred-credit notes.
"Look out!" cried Lindsay. Around them the stands had erupted into violence. While the players were shaking hands at the net, angry--and, Lindsay suspected, frightened--bettors and spectators leaped the low barriers and swarmed out onto the dark court. They hemmed the players in, driving them toward the wall directly under the UW box in which Lindsay and Anderson were sitting.
Someone threw something and Yamato-Rau stumbled and fell to his hands and knees. Swinging his racquet like one of his ancestors' shillalehs, O'Ryan charged to his rescue, pulled him to his feet, covered his retreat to the wall. There Lindsay was able to pull first the Indonesian, then the Irishman, up into the box.