She was a fantastic glamorous lady of mystery, the ultimate heiress, the young woman to whom inexorably, thanks to North America's matriarchal era during the twentieth century, the control of most of its mightiest corporations and trust funds had descended.
And she was Lindsay's secretary. No wonder, he thought miserably, she had never sounded quite sincere about calling him boss. Why, she virtually owned his home planet as well. He watched her covertly across the table, poised, amused, alert, occasionally witty--and so damnably attractive. He wished he were dead.
She caught his regard, scowled and stuck her tongue out at him. He thought. Why, you little...!
Somehow she got them out of the chatter after dinner, got him back to his suite. There, regarding him sternly, she said, "Zale, you aren't going to be stuffy about this, are you?"
"I can't help it," he replied. "If you'd only told me...."
He read sympathy in her green eyes. But she merely shrugged and said, "Result of a lifetime of keeping myself under wraps." She sat on a contour chair, patted a place for him alongside.
She said, "I'm the richest single person there has ever been--you know that. It isn't my fault. It just happened. I didn't deserve or want or need it. But it is a hell of a responsibility. Since I'm responsible for so much it seemed important to me to know how people felt. After all we act because we feel. And thanks to a few good friends like Fernando Anderson I've been able to get away with it."
"Why me?" he asked her. "Why pick on me?"
Her expression softened. One of her hands crept into his. "One of the nicest things about you, Zale, is the fact that you don't realise just how special you are."
"I'm not so special on Mars," he told her.
"No?" Her eyebrows rose delightfully. "A quarter of a billion Martians select you as their first Plenipotentiary to the UW and you're not special? Zale, you're an absolute woolly lamb.
"There's more to it than that. I've never been to Mars. I should have, but I simply haven't had the time. So I decided the best way to find out about Mars at second hand was to work with you in some capacity that would let you be yourself."
"A filthy, underhanded, thoroughly feminine trick," he said gently and kissed her. Then, frowning into her green eyes, "But why are you so dead set against computer judgment?"
"Isn't it obvious?" she asked. "I've got a tremendous stake in this world. Kicking around it as I have I've been able to see what is happening. I'm damned if I'm going to have my property managed and run by a bunch of people who make mistakes because they're too neurotic to make decisions. Look at them!" Her voice became edged with disgust.
Lindsay said, "I see. Listen, honey, I'd like to sleep with you tonight."
She looked surprised but not displeased by his bluntness. "Of course, darling," she told him.
"How much will it cost me?" he asked her.
She froze--then her eyes began to fill and she sniffled. He said, "You know I didn't mean that. Dammit, I just wanted to show you you're a neurotic yourself."
She slapped him hard enough to tilt him off the contour chair. She rose haughtily, still sniffing. Lindsay stretched out a hand and caught one of her ankles and tripped her up. She tottered, gave vent to a startled, "Awk!", fell backward into the pool-tub.
He dived in after her, caught her when she came up, spluttering, gripped her shoulders hard. Her eyes blazed green fire at him. She said, "How dare you do that to me, you moron!"
He said, "If I hadn't I'd probably never have seen you again."
She collapsed into his arms.
Later--much later--as Nina was about to leave him for her own suite, he asked, "Honeycomb, what did you lose that caused Fernando to give you that necklace?"
"I nearly lost you," she replied from the doorway. "I bet him Maria wouldn't get you that night. And lost. So Fernando sent the necklace as compensation."
"Quite a large compensation," said Lindsay drily.
Nina shrugged. "Not for Fernando," she told him. "After all, I pay him enough. He's my number one political boy. 'Night, darling."
Lindsay was on the verge of a breakdown himself by noon the next day, after Computation Minister du Fresne, looking uglier than ever, had finished conducting President Giovannini's official party through the rooms and passages of Giac. If Nina hadn't been by his side during and after the swift rocket trip to Death Valley, he might have collapsed.
It was she who had removed the glittering star from his breast before breakfast in the Sherwood Forest mansion that morning. "You needed something to wear for show last night," she had told him.
"Then it's not mine?" he had countered absently.
"Of course it is," she had assured him. "But Secretary General Bergozza is going to make the official investiture after the test."
Lindsay had meekly surrendered the bauble, barely noticing. His brain was straining to recall what he could of symbolic logic--a subject that had never particularly interested him. For some reason it kept working back to Lewis Carroll, who, under his real name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, had been the founder of symbolic logic back in the nineteenth century, along with the renowned Dr. Poole.
About all he could remember was the following problem: (1) Every one who is sane can do Logic; (2) No lunatics are fit to serve on a jury; (3) None of your sons can do Logic.
The Universal was "persons". The symbols were: a--able to do Logic; b--fit to serve on a jury; c--sane; d--your sons.
And the answer, of course, was: None of your sons is fit to serve on a jury.
For some reason this, in turn, made him think of the ancient conundrum that employed confusion to trip its victims: What's the difference between an iron dog in the side yard of a man who wants to give his little daughter music lessons but is afraid he can't afford them next year, and a man who has a whale in a tank and wants to send him for a wedding present and is trying to pin a tag on him, saying how long he is, how much he weighs and where he comes from, but can't because the whale keeps sloshing around in the tank and knocking the tag off?
This time, the answer was: One can't wag his tail, the other can't tag his whale.
"None of your sons is fit to tag a whale--or wag a tail," he said absently.
"What was that?" Nina asked.
"Nothing, nothing at all," he replied. "Merely a man going out of his mind."
"It will never miss you," she replied brightly. But her brightness became a bit strained as the day wore on. The trip, for Lindsay, was sheer nightmare. No sane man can wag his tail, he kept thinking.
Even such fugitive grasping at Logical straws vanished when he saw the immense squat mass of Giac, rising like a steel-and-concrete toad from the wastes of the California desert. It seemed absurd even to think that such an imposing and complex structure should have been reared on the mathematics of the immortal author of Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass and The Hunting of the Snark.
For Giac was imposing, even to a man biased against computers from birth. Nor did du Fresne's smugness help Lindsay's assurance a bit. He explained how each of the block-large preliminary feeders worked--one for mathematical symbols, one for oral recording, a third for written exposition. Each worked simultaneously and in three different ways--via drum-memory banks, via punched tapes, via the new "ear-tubes" that responded to sound.
Then there were the preliminary synthesizers, each of which unified in vapor-plutonium tubes the findings of its three separate feeders. Next, a towering black-metal giant filling three walls of a cubical room twenty metres in each dimension, came the final synthesizer, which coordinated the findings of the preliminary synthesizers and fed them into Giac itself.
The master machine was the least imposing of all. It stood like an alabaster stele in the center of an immense chamber arranged like a theater-in-the-round. But du Fresne, peering through his strawberry spectacles, said gloatingly, "Don't be deceived by the size, ladies and gentlemen. All but what you see of Giac is underground. It is contained in an all-metal cell one million cubic metres in volume. And it is infallible."
Fortunately Lindsay was given a half hour of final preparation in one of the small offices with which the above-ground building was honeycombed. Nina came with him--by request.
"I can't do it," he told her abruptly.
"Don't worry, darling, you'll think of something," she said. She tried to embrace him but he was too worried to respond. After awhile she said, "Why not put a direct question. Ask it if it's infallible."
"It could hardly tell a lie on itself," he replied.
"What if such a question involved destruction of part of itself in the answer?" she asked.
"It might--though I presume du Fresne and his boys have prepared it for such jokers. And anyway, what sort of question would do that? Got any ideas?"
"That's your department," she said helpfully. "You're the computer smasher of this team."
"But that was pure luck," he said half-angrily. "One can't wag his tail.... The other can't serve on a jury."
She looked alarmed. "Darling," she said, "you aren't--"
"Not yet, Honeycomb," he said, "but give me time.
"It's got to be something about this Mars-Earth problem," he went on after a long silence. "Listen: how can Mars develop if it's in the spot of the Red Queen--has to run like hell just to stay where it is thanks to Earth's dumping policies?"
The door opened and closed and Maria Bergozza was with them. She said, "Apparently this is necessary." She was holding a glass-pellet gun in her hand, pointing it at Lindsay.
He said, "Why, you--!" and moved toward her. Promptly the Secretary General's daughter pointed the gun at Nina's tanned midriff. He stopped.
Maria said evenly, "It's you that have done this to me, Nina. You've had all the fun while I've had to pour tea for papa at his damned functions. You've fouled up our plans with your meddling down in New Orleans. And now you've taken Zale, as you take everything else you take a fancy to."
"But you tried to kill him," said Nina. "Why should you care?"
"He would have been a martyr--and you wouldn't have had him," said Maria, her gun hand steady. "I know it's going to ruin me to kill you--but my whole life is ruined anyway. And this way at least I can sacrifice it for the cause."
"The cause of interplanetary war?" said Lindsay, in his turn incredulous. Hot rage rose within him, "You third-rate tramp!" He stepped squarely into the line of fire, thrust his left breast in front of the muzzle of her gun. Behind him Nina screamed.
But Maria didn't fire. Instead she sneezed--sneezed and sneezed again. Her gun hand gyrated wildly as she doubled in a paroxysm and Nina moved past Lindsay to pluck the weapon from her.
"Don't call me--krrrrashew!--third-rate," she managed to gasp before the blonde sent her sprawling with a very efficient right cross to the chin.
Nina turned on Lindsay angrily. "You damned fool!" she almost shouted. "You might have been killed."
He looked down, felt his knees turn to water. He said, "Omigod--I thought I was still wearing the star. I remembered how you saved my life in New Orleans with your diamond evening bag!"
He sat down--hard. From the floor Maria whimpered, "What are you going to do to me?"
Nina said, "I ought to kill you, you know, but it would cause too much of a stink. So beat it and let us think. You'll be hearing from me later. What you hear will depend on how you handle yourself from now on. Understand?"
When she had slunk out Lindsay said, "What broke her up?"
Nina dropped the gun into her bag casually, said, "Now I know you're lucky, you thin slob. You happened to stumble right onto her allergy. She can't stand being thought of as a third-rate lover. That's why she's always been jealous of me--because I have top-model rating and she could never make it. She's too damned concerned with pleasing herself to please anyone else. She flunked out at fourteen."
"Then why didn't you pull it?" Lindsay asked her, astonished.
"Because," Nina said thoughtfully, "I'm not conditioned to think that way. It's horribly rude here on Earth to stir up other people's allergies. As you reminded me last night, you rat, we're all people in glass houses."
"But I didn't even know...." muttered Lindsay.
"You hit it though," she reminded him. "And you're going to hit it again out there in exactly five minutes."
Lindsay was extremely conscious of the eyes of the vidar cameras upon him as President Giovannini, having finished his introductory speech, led him to the alabaster stele in the center of Giac's great central chamber and turned him over to du Fresne, whose official robe hung unevenly from the hump of his harness.
Lindsay handed the Minister of Computation the question he had prepared on paper, was brusquely told, "Read it please, Ambassador."
He cleared his throat and began.
"I am asking a question highly pertinent to the welfare and future amity of the United Worlds," he said slowly. "More specifically to the future amity of Earth and Mars. It is a simple question without involved mathematical qualifications--but one that no computer and no man has thus far been able to answer correctly.
"It is this continued failure of computers to come up with a logical answer in the full frame of interplanetary conditions that has done much to make the people of my planet feel that no computer is trustworthy to make decisions involving human beings."
He paused, looked covertly at du Fresne, repressed a smile. The Minister of Computation was already showing signs of distress. He was shaking his head, making little pawing motions toward his glasses.
"Here it is," Lindsay said quickly. "Should the governors of Mars, whose responsibilities lie at least as much in the economic improvement of their own world as in inter-world harmony, permit their planet to receive goods which retard that economic development so that it becomes a race to maintain current unsatisfactory standards, merely because certain computers on Earth are fed false facts to permit continuation of some illogical form of government or social system--or should the governors of Mars permit their planet to suffer because of computer illogic in the name of a highly doubtful status quo on the parent planet?"
He walked slowly back to his place and sat down, almost feeling the silence around him. Nina whispered, "What in hell does it mean?"
Lindsay whispered back, "It's a bit of the iron dog and the whale, a bit of the Red Queen, a bit of the suicide idea--and something else. Let's see if it works."
Lindsay watched du Fresne, whose moment of triumph was marred by his obvious discomfort. The twisted little man was very busy running the question into its various forms for submission to the feeder units, whose mouths gaped like hungry nestlings along part of one side wall.
If du Fresne failed him....
It was a long nervous wait. Lights flickered in meaningless succession on subsidiary instrument boards and du Fresne darted about like a bespectacled buzzard, studying first this set of symbols, then that one.
Lindsay glanced at Maria, who sat huddled beside her father beyond the president. To break the suspense he whispered to Nina, "What about her?"
Nina whispered back, "I've got it taped. I'm going to give her a nice empty job on the moon--one with a big title attached. It will get her out of the way--she can't do any harm there--and make her feel she's doing something. Besides"--a faint malicious pause--"there are still four men to every woman on Luna. And they aren't choosy."
"You're a witch," said Lindsay. He snickered and someone shushed him. Looking up he saw that things were happening.
"In exactly"--du Fresne glanced up at a wall chronometer--"six seconds Giac will give its answer."
They seemed more like six years to Lindsay. Then the alabaster stele in the center of the floor came abruptly to life. A slow spiral of red, composed of a seemingly endless stream of high mathematical symbols, started up from its base, worked rapidly around and around it like an old-fashioned barber-pole's markings, moving ever upward toward its top.
"Effective--very effective," murmured President Giovannini.
Suddenly a voice sounded, a pleasant voice specially geared to resemble the voice of the greatest of twentieth-century troubadors, Bing Crosby. It said, "Interplanetary unity depends upon computer illogic."
There was a gasp--a gasp that seemed to emerge not only from the company present but, in reverse, through the vidarcasters from the entire listening world. President Giovannini, suddenly white, said inelegantly, "Son of a bitch!"
Nina laughed out loud and gripped Lindsay's arm tightly. "You've done it, darling--you've done it!" she cried.
"On the contrary," he said quietly, "I haven't done it; du Fresne did it." And as he looked toward the Minister of Computation that little man fainted.
But Giac kept right on. It blanked out briefly, then once more the spiral of red figures began to work its way around and up the stele. And once again the pleasant voice announced, "Interplanetary unity depends upon computer illogic."