The cold equations

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The doctor was waiting for him to speak. 

What thoughts lay behind those staring eyes as the doctor waited? Was the doctor aware of how swiftly death was approaching? But of course—the doctor had changed the words on the communications panel in front of the empty pilot's chair. They now read: OBSERVER HAS A LIFE EXPECTANCY OF ONE HUNDRED HOURS AT PRESENT ACCELERATION. DEATH FOR OBSERVER WILL RESULT UNLESS ACCELERATION IS REDUCED WITHIN THAT PERIOD.

The doctor would watch over him during the next one hundred hours, waiting for a pilot he knew did not exist to reduce the acceleration. For one hundred hours the doctor would wait, knowing as fully as he that no spectral finger would reach out from the empty chair and press the deceleration button. 

The doctor could reduce the acceleration. The doctor knew he wanted it done but the doctor was waiting to be ordered to do so. He had only to speak two words: "Reduce acceleration." The doctor would obey at once—the doctor was patiently waiting for him to speak the words. 

But the doctor knew he couldn't speak! 

* * *

There was a soft thump outside the door of his cottage and Knight left his after-breakfast coffee to pick up the morning paper. His cottage sat on the slope above Computer Center with the near-by Miles cottage his only close neighbor, and the Center laid out below in neat squares. The gray concrete hemisphere that housed the Master Computer was at the southern edge of the city with the four laboratory buildings grouped beyond it. Beyond them the landing field reached out into the desert and the desert stretched on to the harsh, bold mountains to the east.

Center hadn't looked like that, at first. In the seven years he had been there it had grown from a random scattering of army barracks into a city of four thousand with all the bustle and ambition of a city that intended to grow still larger. Even then it would not be a large city as cities go but it would, in its way, be the most important city in the world. One of its achievements alone, the synthesis of food starch, would soon gain it that distinction.

He carried the paper inside and spread it out on the breakfast table, to read with certain skepticism:

* * *


* * *

Nicolai Chuikov has been appointed the new ambassador to the United States. Demoted in the first post-war years from a position of power in Dovorski's cabinet to a minor clerical job in an obscure province for his expression of the desirability of trade and friendly relations with the West, Chuikov has been reinstated with honors. This is in line with a softening of the anti-American attitude that first became evident two years ago and an increasing emphasis on the need for East and West to observe the nonaggression agreements of the peace terms.

An item near the bottom of the page was more interesting:

* * *


* * *

The ambitious American traitor, William Peter Cullin, was promoted to Commanding Supervisor of the State Police today. He was lauded by the official press for his "patriotic and tireless zeal in strengthening the efficiency of the police and enabling them to guard Russo-Asia from traitors against the people."

Cullin, once head of Russo-Asia's spy network in this country, has acquired the dubious honor of being the first American to ever rise to a position of considerable power in an enemy country. He renounced his American citizenship two years ago, after having served eighteen months as a behind-the-scenes co-planner of State Police operations. His "efficiency" in ridding Russo-Asia of "traitors" has been remarkable for its machinelike precision and thoroughness—

* * *

There was a sudden racket outside, a sputtering and rattling, and he looked up from the paper in time to see an ancient and rusty coupé approaching his driveway. It was June Martin and he sighed instinctively, then flinched as the coupé, without reduction of speed, whipped into his driveway, spraying red petals from the rambler rose at the driveway's entrance. It slid to a brake-squealing, shivering halt and the driver climbed out with a swirl of blue skirt and a flash of bare legs. She observed the furrows her wheels had plowed in the gravel with evident satisfaction, then shook her head sadly at the sight of the rambler rose trailing from the battered rear fender.

Knight opened the door and she came up the walk with an apologetic smile. "Sorry about your rose, Blacky. I had my car's brakes fixed yesterday and I wanted to try them out." She looked back at the disreputable coupé and the furrows it had plowed in the gravel of the driveway. "Not bad, eh?"

"A matter of opinion," he growled. "Come on in and have a seat, then tell me where your brain, such as it is, was when you were approaching the driveway. Why didn't you slow down then?"

"Oh, I suppose I should have," she admitted, entering the cottage. "I told you I was sorry." She picked up the percolator on the table. "Any coffee left over?" she asked, pouring herself a cup.

"What brings you here so early on the day I'm supposed to go fishing and forget my job and haywire assistant?"

"Haywire assistant, you say?" she asked, setting down the cup and smiling with anticipation. "And you were going fishing, you say?"

"All right—get on with it. I see the delight in your sadistic little soul. What's come up?"

"I'm the special messenger of Dr. Clarke this morning. You will go to Lab Four at once, to meet some high brass who wants to see how we're getting along on our spaceship. And then, my friend, you will spend the rest of the day checking the SD-FA blueprints."

"I will?" He stared gloomily at her from her dark, curly hair to the small foot that swung back and forth from her crossed leg. "That sounds like a lot of fun. If you hadn't been such an eager-beaver in your role as messenger, I would have been gone from here in another ten minutes; on my way to the Colorado River and a pleasant day of catfishing. I've been looking forward to this day all week, and now you have to throw a monkey wrench in the works."

"Glad to do it," she answered him. "You needn't feel so humbly grateful about it. Besides, the day won't be wasted for the catfish—I'll be glad to take your new streamlined coupé and go fishing in your place."

"You'll go with me to Lab Four."

"I? Your haywire assistant? Why should I?"

"Because I said so. Checking those blueprints is going to be a long job and I can't imagine myself doing it alone while you loaf all day and happily reflect upon all the grief you managed to cause me."

"I can," she said, smiling, "and it makes pleasant imagining."

"Well, it never will be any more concrete than it is right now. You're going with me and you're lucky I don't wipe that smile off your face by giving way to the impulse to lay you across my knee. In fact, one of these days I will."

"Oh?" Her brows arched, mockingly. "Why don't you try it? I'll bet you'd forget you were mad before you ever . . . don't you dare!" She dodged behind the table as he started toward her. "I take it back—I take it—" He reached over the table and seized her by the upper arms, to bring her kicking and struggling across it. "Blacky! If you spank me, I'll . . . I'll—"

The musical jangling of the doorbell sounded and he released her. She straightened her clothes and smiled triumphantly. "Saved by the bell!" she jeered.

"A stay of execution," he promised, then called: "Come in!"

* * *

The door opened and Connie Miles stepped through, swinging a straw hat in one hand. "Hi," she greeted. "Look—no cane this morning." She walked the few feet to them with steps that were almost normal. "How was that?" she asked, the gray eyes in her young face alight with pride.

"That was wonderful!" June hugged her sister with affectionate delight, then dragged over a chair for her. "You're getting better every day. I told you that you would walk as good as ever, some day. I told you that a year ago when you were in a wheelchair, remember? And now you're doing it!"

"Not yet," Connie said, taking the chair, "but I intend to in the end. The doctor said to take exercise every day and that's what I'm doing." She looked at them questioningly. "You two are going somewhere for the day, I suppose?"

"Ha!" June laughed. "We're going somewhere—back to work. He was very much upset by the news. In fact, only your timely arrival prevented the big ox from laying a hamlike hand where it would hurt the most."

"Oh?" Connie smiled at her younger sister. "Maybe he was just taking up where I left off on the job of trying to spank some sense into you."

"My brain isn't there," June objected. "Besides, it's George's fault, not mine, that we have to work today. I don't suppose we ever will be able to teach him to act like a human being."

"Then he did something to cause Tim to have to stay overtime?" Connie asked. "Tim phoned that he had to stay for a while, but he didn't say why."

"Probably too mad to want to rehearse the details," Knight said. "As the ship's pilot-to-be, Tim likes everything to progress smoothly in its construction and George sometimes introduces an unexpected ripple."

"George was supposed to check those blueprints," June said. "He didn't—I wonder why?"

"We'll find out when we get there," Knight answered, then spoke to Connie. "Do you want to go along? I can get you a pass."

"No, thanks." Connie stood up and rested her hand on the back of the chair. "I wouldn't want to try that much standing on hard concrete, right now. I'm going to take a walk down Saguaro Street this morning—if Tim gets home before I do, he'll know where I am."

"Look—don't overdo that walking," June said, concern for her sister in her voice. "I know it's doctor's orders, but don't try to walk too much in one day."

"Oh, I won't try to make a marathon of it, honey. I take my time and every day I seem to be a little stronger and more certain in the way I can walk. If this keeps on, I'll be able to go back to my old job in another year or two. And now, you two be on your way to your mechanical marvels—I'm going down to that little park by Saguaro and Third where there's a chipmunk who loves peanuts."

She left the house, walking with the slow, careful steps of one who has not walked unaided for a long time; a slight little thing with gray eyes too large for her face and too wise and understanding for her age, going with one pocket of her white sweater bulging with peanuts to feed a saucy and impudent chipmunk.

* * *

June watched Connie's progress through the window. "Do you think she ever will be completely well again?" she asked. "She's getting a little better all the time—she'll be completely well one of these days, won't she?"

There was unconscious pleading for assurance in June's voice and he made his own casual and confident. "Of course. There isn't any doubt about it."

"She wants to go back to her job. It takes all kinds of people to make the world, and Connie is the kind to restore your faith in all of them. All she asks is to be able to walk again so she can go back to the hospital and take up her job as nurse—go back to caring for the sick and the hurt."

"She will in another year or two. That last operation on her back really was the last operation—she won't need any more."

"Mama died when I was six and Daddy had to be away all day, working," June mused, still watching Connie through the window. "Connie was only ten. It was a good thing she was so wise and so sensible for her age, or they would have taken us away from Daddy. Connie showed them—she kept the house clean and my dirty face washed and my clothes clean. She was the one I went to when I got skinned up, or I got my feelings hurt. Part of the time she was my sister to play with but most of the time she was my mother."

June turned away from the window and looked up at him. "Why did it have to be Connie who got hurt in that wreck? Why couldn't it have been someone the world wouldn't miss—like me?"

"Connie will get well—you just give her time and you'll see. Now cheer up, little worry-wart, and let's be on our way."

"In my car?" she asked, the devilment back in her eyes.

"No, not in your car. We'll take mine—I want to get there in able-bodied condition."

"We'll take mine," she corrected. "You can't get yours out of the driveway until I let you."

"Get your junkpile off to one side and I can."

"Oh, come on—don't be a coward!" she begged. "Let me drive you down."

He sighed with resignation. "All right, then—let's go."

June drove the eight blocks to the Computer area gate with an excess of reckless abandon and a roaring of the mufflerless engine that made conversation impossible.

"One of these days," Knight said as the coupé bucked and shivered to a stop before the gate, "you're going to go hell-for-leather around a corner like that and take the front end off a patrol car. And then what are you going to say to them? Tell me that—what can you say?"

"The wrench is on the floor."


"I said, 'The wrench is on the floor!' If you want to get out, you have to open the door. The door handle is broken off so you have to turn that little stem with that wrench."

He sighed again and felt for the wrench. "Nature blundered hideously with you; you should have been born a boy."

* * *

Another car stopped at the gate as Knight, with the aid of the wrench, opened the door. It was an Air Corps car, with four stars on the license plate. Dr. Clarke climbed out, to be followed by a tall man with neat gray mustache and four smaller duplicates of the license plate stars on each shoulder. Knight walked to meet them, June beside him.

They were greeted by Dr. Clarke, a small, gray man with quick, nervous movements. "Glad Miss Martin was able to reach you before you left for the day, and I'm sorry this had to come up." He made quick introductions. "General Gordon, this is Mr. Knight and this is Miss Martin, his assistant."

The general acknowledged the introductions with a brief handshake with Knight and a slight bow to June. "Very interesting, the work you're doing here," he remarked politely. "I was here once before—saw the Master Computer that's making such a big change in the lives of all of us. I would like to see the progress you're making with the ship this time. I can't stay long, as much as I would like to take a look at some of the marvelous things the papers say the 'Big Brain' has thought up for us."

Knight gave Clarke an amused side glance. The general caught it but said nothing until they were through the guarded gate and in one of the sedans used for personnel transportation with the Computer and laboratory area. The general and Clarke got into the back seat and June slid under the wheel without invitation. Knight seated himself beside her, gave her a warning and significant look which she returned with one of bland innocence, and she set the sedan into motion.

General Gordon spoke then. "My remark seemed to amuse you, Mr. Knight. Would you tell me why?"

"Of course." Knight turned in the seat to face the general. "The newspapers have a habit of dramatizing anything new or unusual. They credit the Master Computer with a great deal of intelligence, which it has, and a great deal of originality, which it does not have. Actually, it couldn't 'think up' a mouse trap—or it wouldn't, rather."

"I find that hard to believe," the general answered. "It's thought up several very important things—a spaceship drive, the synthesis of starch, the anticancer serum, the atomic motor—a great many things. Wasn't the Computer responsible for all those?"

"Partly," Knight replied. "It really should be called a 'Data Correlator.' It only knows what we tell it; it has no curiosity and therefore no incentive to acquire new knowledge.

"For illustration: Suppose we want it to devise a better mouse trap for us. Should we simply say: 'Invent a better mouse trap,' it would do no more than to reply, 'Insufficient data.' It's up to us to supply the data; it has no volition to look for its own unless instructed to do so. So we would gather all the data pertaining to mice and traps that exists. We would give that to it as proven data. We would also give it theoretical data containing all the as-yet-unproven theories of mice and traps and we would label it as such. Of the proven data we would say, 'This is valid and proven data; use it as it is.' Of the theories we would say, 'This is theoretical data; ascertain its validity before using.' Then we say, 'Build us a better mouse trap'—and it does."

"I see." The general nodded. "The papers have been stealing your thunder then, and giving it to the Computer?"

"Not only our thunder but the thunder of Newton, Roentgen, Richards, Faraday, Einstein—the thunder of all men who ever contributed to human knowledge, clear back to the first slant-browed citizen who came up with the bright idea that a round wheel ought to roll."

"The Master Computer gets the credit," Clarke commented, "but we don't mind here at Center. The data that we, personally, have originated for it is but a small part of the mass of data that is its knowledge. As Knight said, the credit goes to all men who ever thought of something new or observed a new fact, on back to the inventor of the wheel."

"I would say this co-operation between Man and Machine has worked out very satisfactorily," General Gordon said. "The results are proof of that."

"Very satisfactorily," Clarke agreed, "so long as we keep a few fundamental facts in mind. By the way"—he motioned toward the building they were approaching—"that's Lab Three, where we condition the robotic brains—mainly the D Twenty-three model, such as your own Air Corps ordered. Would you like to see the conditioning process?"

"I would like to, but I'm afraid I haven't the time."

June, who had slowed the car, resumed speed and they drove on to the high, square bulk of Lab 4.

"Lab Three isn't much to see, important though it is," Clarke said as they climbed out of the car and walked toward the Lab 4 entrance. "The D Twenty-three brains in their final stage of assembly look like nothing in the world but foot-square tin boxes—or stainless steel boxes, rather. Each brain is inspected and tested for flaws after final assembly, then taken to the conditioning chamber where it's given its knowledge. This is a process roughly equivalent to teaching a young child but with the advantage that the brain has the learning capacity of an exceptionally intelligent adult plus a perfectly retentive memory and a perception so fast that all visual and audial material, such as sound films, can be given to it at several times normal speed. Although, even at that speed, the period of learning amounts to almost two thousand hours."

"Remarkably fast learning, I would say," the general commented. "Once you produce enough of such mechanical brains, the human brain will become almost a superfluous and unnecessary organ so far as being needed to contribute to our new technical type of culture is concerned."

"Have you forgotten the hypothetical mouse trap, general?" Knight asked.

"No, but the brains lack only self-volition," the general replied with crisp decision. "Once you create that in them, they will be our mental equals—if not superiors."

"Yes, once we do that," Clarke agreed dryly.

* * *

The guards at the entrance inspected their identification, then passed them on. Knight opened the door and they stepped into Lab 4.

The ship stood in the center of the room, dominating everything else. It was forty feet from the floor to the end of its blunt, round nose and the four tail fins it rested on had a radius of fifteen feet. It did not have the slender, cigarlike form that artists had anticipated spaceships would have; there would be no air in space to hinder its progress and it would need no streamlining. It was shaped more like a great, round-nosed bullet, forty feet in length and twenty feet in diameter. Its outer skin was a hard, bright chromium alloy, and it reflected the walls of the room in insane distortions as they walked toward it.

The ship's entrance was near the bottom and Miles was waiting for them by its ramp; a rangy, homely man who usually had a smile for everyone but who now wore a harried expression. Vickson appeared from around the ship; a slightly stooped man with mild blue eyes behind his rimless spectacles.

Clarke again made introductions. "General Gordon, Mr. Miles and Mr. Vickson. They'll be the pilot and observer."

The general acknowledged the introduction and asked: "How about the others? I understand the ship will take a full crew on its first flight."

"Once it's made a successful test flight—which Miles and Vickson will make with it—it will have a full crew for interplanetary explorations," Clarke said. "We're selecting and training the other members of the crew now."

The general took a backward step and ran his eye up the length of the hull. "Progress seems to have exceeded the estimates you made a year ago. How about the drive—is it installed yet?"

"It would have been if George hadn't taken things too literally again," Miles spoke up.

"George?" The general raised his eyebrows inquiringly and Clarke spoke to June. "The general has never seen George. Go get him, will you?"

June walked across the room to the door marked ASSEMBLY 1 and Clarke said to Miles, "Go ahead, Tim—tell General Gordon what happened."

"It wasn't Vickson's fault," Miles began. "A man gets so accustomed to George being so intelligent and capable that he sometimes forgets and isn't specific enough—or in this case, Vickson was too specific. A human would have known what he wanted, but George—"

The door of ASSEMBLY 1 opened and Miles stopped talking as the general stared at the robot that was approaching them. It was a manlike monster of steel, seven feet tall and walked as silently as a cat on its rubber-soled feet. June walked beside it, a ridiculously tiny thing beside its own ponderous bulk.

"So that's George?" The general shook his head in amazement. "This is your new type robot, then? You've not only given it a manlike body, you've even given it almost-human features. In an alien sort of a way the thing is handsome."

"The almost-human face was purely by coincidence," Clarke explained. "It's D-Twenty-three brain is in its chest, of course, and it so happened that installing the eyes, ears and mouth gave it a head of normal size—that is, a head of a size normal for the size of its body."

The robot stopped a few feet in front of them and inclined its head downward so that its eyes were on theirs; eyes that were large and dark, giving it an appearance of thoughtful, patient waiting.

"Two eyes were necessary for it to properly estimate distances," Clarke explained. "The rather humanlike ears are acoustically efficient and their location, together with locating the speaker grill at its mouth, was to enable it to do such things as use a phone."

"It phones?"

"Oh, yes. George can do anything. He checks data with the Master Computer at times—there's a line for that purpose—checks blueprints and installed circuits, assembles parts. He is very useful and, since he never gets tired or needs sleep, he works twenty-four hours a day."

"Hm-m-m." General Gordon studied the robot thoughtfully. "Apparently we'll have no trouble training the D-Twenty-three's for duty in the Air Corps."

"Well, they will have to be trained, and under the supervision of Center technicians. Mr. Miles' account of what happened last night will show you why."

"Oh, yes—the trouble with the robot. Please go on, Mr. Miles, and tell us what happened."

June looked inquiringly at Clarke. He nodded and she said to the robot, "They're through with you, George—get on back to work." It turned without a word and walked across the room and through the door of ASSEMBLY 1.

* * *

"It started just as Vickson here went off-shift," Miles began. "Vickson was working on the final assembly of the drive and came to the K-Seven reflector at the end of his shift. It's a very essential little item, though its installation is simple. But it had to be coated with the Reuther Alloy, first. This reflector is a circular plate of platinum, eight inches in diameter, and we were to do the alloy plating here—they sent us a special machine for that, yesterday. The alloy has to be of a certain thickness—sixty-five one-thousandths of an inch. So, as Vickson went off-shift, he gave George the plate and told him to metal-spray it to a thickness of sixty-five one-thousandths of an inch.

"This alloy is so hard to produce and so expensive that we had orders to waste none of it, if possible. Vickson ordered George to use the only method possible whereby the proper thickness would be put on the plate in one operation, with no guesswork and no surplus to machine off; he told George to determine the surface area of the plate then weigh out the proper amount of alloy to coat it the required thickness. This should have been a simple job, quickly done, and George was to then install the plate—a job even simpler. The entire thing shouldn't have taken George over twenty minutes.

"When I came to work an hour later I took it for granted everything had been done. I had the workmen put in the drive shields and I went ahead with circuits in the control panel. I was a fool not to check with George, first, but it's like I said; George is so intelligent and competent that you sometimes forget he isn't human. It was six hours later that I went into the assembly room, over there, to see why he hadn't brought out the parts he was supposed to be assembling."

Miles breathed deeply, and sighed. "He wasn't at his workbench. He was at the blueprint table, figuring. He had a pile of papers beside him ten inches high, all covered with figures. The K-Seven reflector plate was over by the sprayer, not even touched—"

Clarke interrupted him. "For General Gordon to understand the peculiarities to be expected from D-Twenty-three's, we had better let Vickson tell us his exact words to George."

"It was stupid of me," Vickson said, almost apologetically. "I made the mistake of giving him a specific order and expecting him to follow it as a human would have—to a certain degree of precision and no farther. My words were: 'Take a pencil and paper and determine the exact surface area of this plate, then weigh out the proper amount of alloy to coat it sixty-five one-thousandths of an inch.'

"A human would have determined the area by the formula: Point seven eight five four times the squared diameter. Although not exact, it's close enough. But I had told George to determine the exact area of the plate and that's what he was trying to do, using the other formula: pi times the squared diameter, divided by four. He would still be at it if Miles hadn't stopped him."

"Why?" the general asked. "The formulas are the same."

"No—" Vickson shook his head. "In the first one, a human has already decided how far the decimal of pi should be carried. This, though close enough, is not exact. I had told George to determine the exact area of the plate, and to do so he had to use the second formula which contains pi as an endless term."

"But that's absurd!" the general objected. "You claim a robot is intelligent—didn't it know it could never find the last decimal place of pi?"

"George knew, but he was simply following orders," Clarke said. "The duty of a machine is to obey orders, not place special interpretations on them."

* * *

"And you had to have the drive shields taken off again?" Knight asked Miles. "Is the plate sprayed, now?"

"It took George no more than five minutes after I told him to use the point seven eight five four formula," Miles replied, "but we lost the entire shift on that part of the ship, due to his cussed attention to detail."

The general frowned thoughtfully. "Why not teach it to understand the purpose of this ship as a whole, as well as the purpose of the ship's component parts?" he asked. "The entire thing is very simple: We want a spaceship. We want it equipped with an efficient drive plus disintegrator rays for protection against meteors. We want all this accomplished as soon as possible. Surely, as intelligent as it is, it can comprehend the purpose of the work—the ultimate goal—and learn better than to repeat any such off-on-a-tangent idiocy as this pi business."

"How do we explain 'purpose' to it?" Clarke asked. "A machine understands only 'Is' and 'Is not'—it can't understand human desires and purposes since they are based on 'I want it to be' and not on 'Is' and 'Is not.' "

"Well—you should know if it's impossible," the general said, but he did not sound entirely convinced.

"We have a slogan—a philosophy, you might say. Mr. Knight suggested it several years ago and we have it plastered on the Master Computer, itself, to keep us reminded of the gulf that will always separate Man from Machine. You saw it, general—a simple little five-word sentence."

"I remember it. It seems to me you're exaggerating the importance of it, but I'm a military man and certainly in no position to argue the characteristics of robots with the men who created them." He looked up at the ship again and changed the subject. "Are the disintegrator ray projectors installed?"

"Not yet," Clarke answered. "We've given the Computer the job of devising a safety gadget that will prevent the operation of the ray projectors whenever the ship is within an atmosphere dense enough to produce a feedback of the rays."

"Although the situation is looking less and less like war, you can never tell," the general said. "The disintegrators would serve as a terrible threat of retaliation. However, rather than having the rays as a strictly offensive weapon used from a spaceship, it would be more desirable to have ray projectors mounted along the borders of this country. They would make the perfect defense weapon—no force by air, land or water could get past them."

"Except for the feedback," Clarke said.

"Except for the feedback—and I know without asking that you haven't been able to do anything about it."

"This chain-reaction feedback is a tough problem. We haven't solved it yet. The projector actually projects two rays, which you might call A and B. They merge at a point about twenty feet in front of the projector and disassociate the atomic structure of any material in their path from there on. The maximum range is controllable, however. In empty space, A and B are harmless—until they unite. But there's the chain-reaction feedback within an atmosphere and the disassociating effects of combined A and B follows the ununited A and B rays to their source—the ray generator. The result is that the ship, and any material within a radius of one hundred feet, is transformed suddenly into a cloud of disassociated atoms. It was designed for protection against meteors in space, where there would be no feedback."

"I hope we never have to use it against anything but meteors," the general said. "I'm a military man and the competent military leader wants a permanent victory. Should war ever come, we must avert defeat at all costs but a victory won with the disintegrator rays, projected from a ship in space, would only sow the hatred for another war."

"Why do you say that?" Knight asked.

"It's a human characteristic to say of defeat at the hands of an enemy no better armed than you—and with greatly varying degrees of philosophical acceptance—'The fortunes of war.' But Russo-Asia's defeat by a disintegrator ray, projected from an invulnerable ship in space, would arouse the reaction: 'It wasn't a fair fight—we never had a chance.' Victory would be ours, but victory by such a means would create a resentment and hatred that would be long in dying."

"I can see your point, general," Knight said. "But you do intend to use the disintegrator if necessary, don't you?"

"We don't want to have to use it, but we certainly shall if we're forced to," the general answered. He smiled faintly and added: "There's an old saying, and a true one: 'The very worst peace is better than the very best war.' To that should be added an equally true fact: 'The very worst victory is better than the very best defeat.' "

He looked at his watch, then at Clarke. "I'm afraid my time is running short, and I'd like to look through the ship before I go."

"Of course," Clarke said. He turned to Knight. "I'm sorry this came up to spoil your day, but we have to make up for the time George lost us. If you'll make the check of the SD-FA blueprints, with Miss Martin's assistance, we'll have the lost time made up by night. By the way"—he looked toward the ASSEMBLY 1 door—"where did Miss Martin go?"

"She's in with George, I think," Knight said.

"Probably already checking her share of the work," Clarke said with an approving nod. "You have a superb assistant in Miss Martin."

* * *

The four of them went into the ship and Knight walked across the concrete floor to the door of the assembly room, smiling at Clarke's statement. June was a superb assistant, despite her youth, but she was hardly the type to exercise her abilities when less important and more interesting things could be found to do.

He opened the door to find her, as he had expected, busily pestering the stoic George. "Don't you understand that one, either?" she was asking. "Tell me what the point is."

George answered her without pausing in his deft assembly of the work on the bench before him. "I understand it. It can be interpreted in either of two ways; as an expression of a feeling of pleasure or as a factual statement of the loss of the ability to phosphoresce."

"What goes on?" Knight asked.

"I've been trying to develop a sense of humor in George," she said, making a face at the unmoved robot. "I told him jokes and explained the points, but it's a waste of time. He just can't see the funny side of anything."

"You ought to know better than to even try. What kind of jokes did you tell him, anyway? What was this one about not being able to phosphoresce?"

"What the firefly said when he got his tail cut off—'I'm delighted!' "

"Oh." Knight pulled his mouth down and shuddered. "No wonder George refused to laugh at that. Not even the most genial human-being could see anything funny about such a stup—"

"Never mind!" she interrupted him. "I think it's funny." She looked toward the doorway. "Where did the brass go?"

"Up into the ship. You and I are to check these blueprints. You can check the electronic circuits of the initial and restraining stages and I'll take the rest."

"Well—" she sighed philosophically, "at least I know what I'll be doing the rest of the day—and it's all the fault of that humorless pile of tin."

"Speaking of jokes"—Knight spilled the blueprints out of the brown envelope and spread them on the table—"did I ever tell you about the traveling salesman who asked the farmer's daughter if—"

"Never mind that, either!" she interrupted him firmly. "Do you want to shock George?"


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