Lindsay went through it, as nearly word for word as he could, then did it again when no answer was quickly forthcoming. Nina listened, her perfect forehead marred by a frown. Finally she said, "Let's take a dip. It's almost dawn."
She removed what clothing she wore and Lindsay did likewise. They felt the refreshing caress of the cool Gulf water on their skins--but that was all the caressing there was. Nina, unlike Maria, was all business despite the near-blatant perfection of her charms. Back in the bathroom she said, "The only thing I can think of is that stigmata business. Why should you imagine a mark on your mother's forehead?"
"Because she had one," he told her bluntly. "It was not unattractive--my father used to call it her beauty mark."
Nina ran long slim fingers through her water-dark hair and said incredulously, "You mean blemishes are not removed automatically at birth on Mars?"
"Why, no," said Lindsay, surprised. "It's entirely up to the individual--or the parents."
"And Doc Craven asked no questions that would lead to the truth?" the girl asked, blinking. When Lindsay shook his head she suddenly grabbed him and kissed him and did a little dance of sheer joy. "It's simply too good to be true! Two computers fouled in one day through missing information!"
"You're right, of course," he admitted. "But I'm damned if I see how it does us any good."
"You idiot!" she shook him. "It clears the whole situation. It means that the computers cannot give accurate answers according to the symbolic logic tables unless they get full information. And you have proved two breakdowns in the inescapable human element--the information feeding--just like that!" She snapped her fingers. "It means we've got the whole computer-cult on the hip. I could kiss you again, you big goon." She did so.
"Cut it out," he said. "I'm not made of brass."
She said, "Night soil," amiably. What he might have done he was never to know, for a buzzer sounded and Nina moved quickly to a wall-talkie. She said, "All right, Bob, you say he's clean?" Then, a moment later, "Better let him in and say his piece." And, to Lindsay, "We've got company. Dmitri Alenkov--met him?"
Lindsay frowned. "You mean the Soviet charge d'affaires? I met him at the reception last week. Dreadful little lizard."
"Dmitri might surprise you," she said enigmatically.
Lindsay almost said night soil himself in exasperation. Instead and peevishly he asked, "Is there anybody you don't know--intimately?"
She laughed. "Of course," she said, "I don't know many women."
The Soviet diplomat entered the bathroom. He was a languid mincing creature whose decadence glowed around him like phosphorescence around a piece of rotted swampwood. He said, "I hope I am not intruding."
"That depends," Nina told him. "I'd like to know how you traced us here so quickly."
"My sweet," said the Russian in intensely Oxford Esperanto, "you and your friend's"--with another bow toward Lindsay--"little affair at the Pelican was witnessed this evening. When the two of you departed together, heading eastward, and Ambassador Lindsay could not be reached in his apartment...." He paused delicately.
So this, thought Lindsay, was a descendant of one of the Red Commissars whose fanatic and chill austerity had terrorized the free world of a century ago. Lindsay knew something of modern Soviet history, of course. There had been no real counter-revolution. Instead the gradual emergence of the scientists over their Marxist political rulers had been a slow process of erosion.
Once computer rule was inaugurated in the North American Republic and swept the Western World, the scientists had simply taken over real power. The once-powerful Politburo and its sub-committees became obsolete.
Alenkov was stressing this very point. He said, "So you see, we, the best blood of Russia, are forced by these machines to live the lives of outcast children. Naturally we resent it. And when, after so many long years of waiting, we learn that one man has succeeded in foiling the computers where no man has succeeded before, we want to know his secret. We must have it."
Nina spoke first. She said, "Dmitri, the secret, as you call it, has been right there all along for any of us to see. It just happens that Ambassador Lindsay fell into it head first."
"Thanks for the 'Ambassador' anyway," Lindsay said drily.
Nina quelled him with a frown. "The computer weakness," she said, "lies in the human element. Now figure that out for yourself."
Alenkov's brows all but met in the middle of his forehead and his mouth became a little round O under the twin commas of his mustache. He said, "I see."
He left shortly afterward on a note of sadness, rousing himself only to say to Lindsay, "Ambassador, you are a very lucky man." His eyes caressed Nina's near-nude figure.
"That," Lindsay told him, "is what you think."
When he had departed Lindsay suddenly realized he was exhausted. He sank back in a contour chair and let fatigue sweep over him. But Nina paced the bathroom floor like a caged cat. Finally she went to the wall-talkie, gave a number in a low voice.
She pushed some sort of signal button several times, then swore and said, "Better not sleep now, boss. We're cut off."
It brought him to with a start. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"Somebody or something is jamming our communicator."
She opened a concealed cabinet, apparently part of the bathroom wall, drew from it a couple of light but deadly looking blasters, and tossed one onto the contour chair in front of him. "You know how to work one of these things?" she asked.
"Better drop the weapons," a quiet voice said from the doorway behind them. "You haven't got a chance."
The speaker wore the light blue tunicall that was the summer uniform of the Army of the Republic of North America. His cap and shoulder-boards were bright with silver lace and he held a singularly ugly little automatic weapon cradled across one forearm.
Nina and Lindsay dropped their weapons. But the girl's back was up. Her slanting eyes crackled green fire as she said, "What right have you bastards got to come busting in here without a warrant?"
"Sorry," said the officer with chilling courtesy. "As it happens we do have a warrant. Remember, Miss Beckwith, this cottage is not United World's soil." He tossed an official looking document which Nina caught, motioned a couple of his men to pick up her weapons.
"All right," she said after scanning the warrant. "What do you want?"
"Ambassador Lindsay," was the reply. "We have been ordered to ensure that no harm comes to him while he is on American soil."
"I can read!" snapped the girl. "There's going to be hell to pay over this." Then, to Lindsay, "We can't stop them now but they can't hold you. I can see to that. Just try to keep your big dumb blundering self out of any extra trouble till we can take steps--will you promise me that, boss?"
"I'll try," said Lindsay.
They took him to Washington--or rather to Sherwood Forest, in Annapolis, where the summer White House sprawled over and beneath its landscaped acres. To a man from Mars it was very green, very lush, very beautiful.
Lindsay's first impression of famed President Giovannini was that the famous elected leader of the North American Republic was composed mostly of secretaries. But at last one of them--the seventh or eighth--said gravely, "If you'll just step this way, please," to Lindsay and motioned for the Army officer to remain where he was. He was admitted to the bathroom of the man who had sent for him so summarily.
The president proved to be unexpectedly like some of the governors of Lindsay's home planet--incisive, unaffected, easily articulate. Physically he was stocky, of middle height, with a round, firmly fleshed sensitive face. He wore huaraches and bright blue shorts, no glasses or distortion harness.
He waved Lindsay to a contour chair beside his own, said, "Sorry I had to have you hauled here this way. I was afraid you'd get killed if I didn't. Do you have any idea of the uproar you've caused in the past two days, young man?"
Lindsay, somewhat taken aback by the president's abruptness, said, "Well, I knew some small groups were upset but...."
"Take a look," the president told him, waving toward a quartet of vidar screens on the wall. Over one of them was the legend, New Orleans, over another, New York, over a third, Los Angeles, over the fourth, Chicago. "Those are live shots," Giovannini added.
Lindsay was appalled. Each of them showed rioting crowds and defensive police action; the commentaries cried their confusion. However, the Martian got the drift quickly enough. Apparently his recent activities had driven the neurotic Earthlings to violence.
There appeared to be two chief factions. One of them, smashing and swarming and screaming its outrage, was demanding the abolishment of computer government. The other, equally violent and even more numerous, was after a villain named Zalen Lindsay.
Seeing that Lindsay was beginning to understand what was happening, the president pressed a button that turned off all the vidar screens and voices. He said, "I could switch to any of our other cities--to cities in South America, India, Western Europe, England. They're especially bitter toward you in England."
"I'm beginning to accept the fact--if not to understand," said Lindsay.
The president said, "Lindsay, from the point of view of your planet you have done nothing improper. But from the point of view of this planet...." He let silence and a shrug of thick shoulders finish the sentence.
"I had no idea," Lindsay began, "that conditions on Earth...." He let his own voice trail off.
Giovannini finished it for him. "You had no idea people on Earth were so damned neurotic," he said, and sighed. Then, "Lindsay--call me Johnny, will you? All my friends do--Lindsay, for generations now people by and large have been forfeiting confidence in themselves to confidence in computers.
"They have had good reason. Computer judgment has been responsible for the first true age of world peace in history. It may not be healthy but it's a damn sight healthier than war. And it has transformed this republic from an unwieldy group of states into a controlled anarchy that can be run by pushbuttons under ordinary conditions."
He paused while the Martian lit a cigarette, then went on with, "Thanks first to Sylac, then to Elsac, we learned that Vermont was happiest under its Town Meeting method, North Carolina needed its oligarchy, while my native state, California, is much better off divided in two. Texas became happy with its triple legislature--they never are happy unless they have a little more of everything down there. It was the same in other countries--Canada, South America, Spain...."
"And England?" Lindsay said softly.
The president sighed again. "England," he admitted, "is a bit of a problem--out of all proportion to its size and current importance. But the British are stubborn about their institutions. They've hung onto a Royal Family a hundred years longer than anyone else. We can hardly expect them to give up their beloved socialism so soon."
"Just as long as Mars is not expected to pay for this indulgence, it's quite all right with my people," Lindsay told him.
"What's your first name--Zalen?" the president asked. "Well, Zalen, I know it's a problem but we all have to give a little or crowd somebody out. Zalen, people are getting killed on account of you right now."
"I've nearly been killed a couple of times myself."
"I know. Regrettable," said Giovannini. "The UW crowd never has understood security. That's why I had to kidnap you, Zalen. Couldn't have you killed, you know. Not now anyway."
"Glad you feel that way, Johnny." Lindsay told him drily. "But hasn't it occurred to you that if people here are so easily set off it might be a good idea to knock out this computer business once and for all?"
The president puffed on his cigarette. Then he said, "Zale, twenty years ago, maybe even ten, it could have been done. Now it's too late. Which is why the ninety-billion-dollar investment in Giac. We've got to give them an absolute computer, one that will remove forever the basic distrust of computer judgment that underlies the neuroses you just mentioned."
"Quite possibly," said Lindsay. "But I haven't actually done a damned thing myself to undermine computer judgment. The mistakes have been made by the so-called experts who have fed their machines inadequate information. Those mistakes were infantile. They suggest some sort of neurosis on the part of the feeders. They could be mistake-prone, you know."
President Giovannini chuckled again. "Of course they're mistake-prone, Zalen," he said. "Some of them, anyway. And it's getting worse. That's the real reason for Giac. Wait'll you see it!"
"You think I'm going to be around that long, Johnny?" Lindsay asked. "I understand I'm to be sent back to Mars--if I live that long."
"No, Lindsay, we need you--I'll explain in a moment. And we aren't going to let you die and become a martyr for generations of anti-computerites. We can't have that now, can we?"
"I'll go along with you on it," said Lindsay, wondering what the president was leading up to.
"Good!" The president beamed at him. "Zalen--I want you to be the first person to put Giac through a public test. That's how much I trust that machine. I want you, the man who has fouled up two computers, including Elsac, to try her out."
And Lindsay could only nod. The governors of Mars might not approve but after the uproar he had caused on this mission they could hardly object. President Giovannini's scheme was fully up to that renowned statesman's reputation for political astuteness. The more Lindsay thought it over the more beautiful was its simplicity.
Mere word that he was to conduct the first public test would quell the rioting. And unless Lindsay could show this mightiest of all symbolic logic computers to be fallible, computer rule would be entrenched on Earth as never before.
But what if, in some way, he succeeded in confounding the computer? Lindsay shuddered as he thought of the rioting he had so recently witnessed on the vidar-screens.
His face must have revealed his distress for the president said, "You're worn out, Zalen. Can't have that, you know. Not with the big test coming tomorrow."
Lindsay barely remembered leaving the president and being led to a sleeping chamber somewhere in the vast mansion. When he woke up it was dark and Nina was perched on the edge of his contour couch, looking unexpectedly demure in a grey bolo with white collar and cuffs.
He said, as articulate as usual when she surprised him, "Hi."
"About time you woke up," she said. "Do you know you snore?"
"I can't help it," he told her. Then, coming fully awake, "How the devil did you get here?"
"I walked," she informed him succinctly. She stood up, her magnificent figure silhouetted against the light. "Better get dressed--your duds are over there." She nodded toward a walldrobe. "I'll wait in the bathroom." She breezed out.
When he looked at the clothing he was to wear he sensed that Nina had selected it for him. It was a little brighter in color, a little more daring in cut, than what he would have picked for himself.
Nina was placing jewels carefully in her hair, which she had released to form a sleek halo around her magnificent head, when he entered the bathroom. A small palisade of glittering jeweled hairpins protruded from her mouth. She had shed her demure bolo and stood revealed in glittering black bodice-bra and evening skirt-clout.
After placing the last jewel in her hair she swung about and said, "There--how do I look?"
"Gorgeous," he told her.
"You look a bit dull," she said. She dug a box out of a travel-bag placed in a corner of the room. "Here," she said. "Put this on--left side."
"This" proved to be a magnificent sunburst decoration, a glittering diamond-encrusted star. He said, "What is it?"
"Grand Order of the United Worlds--a fine diplomat you are! I picked it up for you this afternoon before flying here. Just stick it on...." She came over, took it from him, pressed it firmly against his bolo till the suction grips caught hold.
He put his arms around her. She let him hold her a moment, then pushed clear in the immemorial gesture of women dressed for a party who do not want to have their grooming mussed. "Not now," she said. "We'll have plenty of time."
"Not for what's worrying me," he said. "Nina, I've got to put Giac through its paces in front of the whole world tomorrow. And I don't know what to ask it. I've got a blind spot where symbolic logic is concerned."
"Don't fret yourself," said the girl calmly. "I'm not worried about you. Not after what you've managed to do to all the other computers you've faced. Come on--we're having dinner with the president."
"Who the hell are you anyway?" he asked her bluntly. "You don't even look the same."
She laughed. "I should hope not," she told him. "After all, I could hardly grace the president's table as a mere UW secretary--or as a New Orleans top model. Come on!"
He went--and got his second shock when President Giovannini greeted Nina with a manner as close to obsequiousness as that professionally free-and-easy politician could muster. He said, "My dear Miss Norstadt-Ramirez. I do hope you'll forgive me for ordering such summary action this morning. If I'd had the slightest idea...."
"I was boiling," Nina told him. "I was just about ready to order Aetnapolitan to pull the props out from under you when the riots started. Then I blessed your shiny little head and came up here."
"I am honored," said the president.
Lindsay, walking through the proceedings in a fog, was even more laconic than a clipped British envoy who, along with a recovered Senator Anderson, was a member of the party.
"Don't take it so hard," Anderson whispered. "Nina is just about the best-kept secret in this hemisphere. If I weren't one of the few who's been in on it all along...." He shrugged eloquently.
Lindsay said nothing. He couldn't. So Nina--his fresh slatternly secretary, the courtesan of the world capital--was also Coranina Norstadt-Ramirez, the heiress who owned almost half of Earth!
He felt like a quadruply-plated idiot. He knew about Norstadt-Ramirez--who didn't, whether on Earth or Mars or the space-stations circling Venus while that planet's atmosphere was being artificially altered to make it fit for human habitation?