The Cosmic Computer (4 of 4)

Uploaded by The16thCavern on 01.09.2012

Chapter XVII
There were no bands or speeches when they came in this time. A lot of
contragravity vehicles circled widely around the spaceport, but except
for a few news-service cars, the police were keeping them back of a
two-mile radius around the landing-pits. A couple of gunboats were
making tight circles above, and on the dock were more vehicles and a
horde of police and guards.
When Rodney Maxwell came across the bridge from the dock after they
opened the airlocks, he was followed by a dozen Barton-Massarra
private police, as villainous-looking a collection of ruffians as Conn
had ever seen. He was wearing a new suit, with a waist-length jacket
instead of the long coat he usually wore, and there was a holstered
automatic on each hip. In Litchfield, he never carried more than one
pistol, and Storisende was supposed to be an orderly place where
nobody needed to go armed. More than anything else, that told Conn
approximately what had been going on while he had been on Koshchei.
"Ship-guard," his father told Yves Jacquemont. "All your crew can come
off; they'll take care of things. Get your people in that troop
carrier over there. Everybody will stay at Interplanetary Building.
None of the hotels are safe, not even the Ritz-Gartner. And be sure
everybody's well armed when they come off the ship."
Jacquemont nodded. "I know the drill; I've been in Port Oberth on
Venus and Skorvann on Loki. Any law we want, we make for ourselves."
"That's about it. I'll see you there. Conn, I wish you'd come with me.
Somebody here wants to talk to you."
He wondered if his mother, or Flora, had come to Storisende. When he
asked his father as they crossed onto the dock, there was a brief
twinge of pain in Rodney Maxwell's face.
"No, they're not having anything to do—_Duck; quick!_"
Then his father was diving under a lifter-truck that stood empty on
the dock. The private police were scattering for cover, and an
auto-cannon began pom-pomming. Conn took one quick look in the
direction in which it was firing, saw an aircar that had broken
through the police line and was rushing toward them, and dived under
the lifter after his father. As he did, he saw a missile flash out
from one of the gunboats like a thrown knife. Then he huddled beside
his father and put his arms over his head.
He felt the heat and shock of the explosion and, an instant later,
heard the roar. When nothing immediately disastrous happened after he
had counted fifteen seconds, he stuck his head out and looked up. The
gunboat was struggling to regain her equilibrium, and the aircar had
vanished in a fireball. They both emerged, straightening. His father
was brushing himself with his hands and saying something about always
having to duck under something when he had a new suit on.
"Robot control, probably; could have been launched from anywhere in
town. Why, no; your mother and Flora aren't speaking to either of us,
any more. Pity, of course, but I'm glad they're in Litchfield. It's a
little healthier there."
They walked to the slim recon-car and climbed in, pulling the door
shut after them. Wade Lucas was waiting for them at the controls.
"There, you see!" he began, as soon as he had the car lifting. "What
I've been telling you. We'll have to stop this."
"Conn, meet our new partner. I told him everything you told me, out on
the Mall, the day you came home. I had to," his father hastened to
add. "He'd figured most of it out for himself. The only thing to do
was admit him to the lodge and give him the oath."
"I didn't know about General Travis; I didn't even know he was still
alive," Lucas said. "But the rest of it was pretty obvious, once I
stopped jumping to conclusions and did a little thinking. You know,
ever since I came here I've been preaching to these people to stop
looking for Merlin and do something to help themselves. You're smarter
than I am, Conn; instead of opposing them, you're guiding them."
"Did you tell Flora?"
Lucas shook his head. "I tried to explain what you're trying to do,
but she wouldn't listen. She just told me I'd gotten to be as big a
crook as you two." He had the car up to fifty thousand; putting it
into a wide circle around the city, he locked the controls and got out
his cigarettes. "Rod, we've got to stop this. You were just lucky this
time. Some of these days your luck's going to run out."
"How can we stop?" Conn demanded. "Tell them the truth? They'd lynch
us, and then go on hunting for Merlin."
"Worse than that; it'd be a smash worse than the one when the War
ended. I was only ten then, but I can remember that very plainly. We
can't stop it, and we wouldn't dare stop it if we could."
"What's been going on here in the last month?" Conn asked. "I've been
too busy to keep in touch. I know there's been rioting, and these
crackpot sects, but...."
"I think this is personal to us. There have been some ugly things
happening. There were four attempts to burglarize our offices. I told
you about some of the other stuff, the microphones we found, and so
on. The worst thing was Lucy Nocero, my secretary. She just vanished,
a couple of weeks ago. Three days later, the police found her
wandering in a park, a complete imbecile. Somebody who either didn't
know how to use one or didn't care what happened had used a mind-probe
on her. It's twenty to one she'll never recover."
"It's this Storisende financial crowd," Wade Lucas said. "They had
things all their own way till Alpha-Interplanetary was organized. Now
they're getting shoved into the background, and they don't like it."
"They're making more money than they ever did, and they just love it,"
Rodney Maxwell said. "I'd think it was either Jake Vyckhoven or Sam
"Murchison!" Lucas hooted. "Why, he's nobody! Federation
Minister-General; all the authority of the Terran Federation, and
nothing to enforce it with. He doesn't have a position, here; he has a
disease. Sleeping sickness."
"He certainly doesn't believe there is a Merlin, does he?" Conn asked.
"I don't know what he believes, but he's getting to be Klem Zareff's
opposite number. He thinks this whole thing's a plot against the
Federation. It's a good thing Klem didn't get around to repainting his
combat vehicles black and green, the way he did the Home Guard stuff
at Litchfield."
"I'd be more likely to think it was Vyckhoven."
"Could be. Or it could be the Armageddonists, or Human Supremacy; I am
ashamed to say that this heil-Merlin Cybernarchist gang are friendly
to us. Or it could be some of the banking crowd, or some of these
rival space-companies. Barton-Massarra is trying to find out. Well, we
have some of Wade's pet suspects at Interplanetary Building now.
There's been a meeting going for the last week to partition the Alpha
Gartner System."
The Interplanetary Building had been a medium-class residence hotel at
the time of the War. Junior staff officers and civilian technicians
and their families had lived there. It had been vacant ever since the
disastrous outbreak of peace. Now it had a big new fluorolite sign,
and housed the offices of all the Maxwell companies. There was a
truculent display of anti-vehicle weapons on the top landing stage,
and more Barton-Massarra private police. They looked even more
villainous then the ones at the spaceport. Conn recalled having heard
that most of the Blackie Perales gang had been discharged for lack of
evidence; he wondered how many of them had hired with Barton-Massarra.
The meeting was in a big conference room six floors down; it had been
going on uninterrupted for days, with all the interested companies'
representatives standing watch-and-watch around the clock. Lester
Dawes and Morgan Gatworth and Lorenzo Menardes were there for L. E. &
S.; Transcontinent & Overseas was represented; there were people from
Alpha-Interplanetary, and bankers and financiers, and people from the
companies building the two ships at the spaceport. And J. Fitzwilliam
Sterber, the lawyer.
And reporters, phoning stories in and getting audiovisual interviews
of anybody who would hold still long enough. They converged in a rush
as Conn and his father and Lucas came in.
"No statement, gentlemen!" Rodney Maxwell shouted, above the babble of
their questions. "When we have anything to release, it will be
released to all of you."
Jacquemont and Nichols had already arrived; Lucas went to them and
began talking about stevedores and lifters to get off the cargoes from
the ships. Conn hastened to join them.
"The scanning and mining equipment aboard the _Helen O'Loy_," he said.
"That shouldn't be unloaded here; we'll take the ship out to Force
Command and unload it there."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw, a lurking reporter snatch the
handphone off his radio and begin talking; it would be stated
authoritatively that Merlin was at Force Command and would be
uncovered as soon as special equipment from Koshchei arrived.
Everybody at the long table was shouting at everybody else. The Jurgen
and Janicot Companies wanted to buy ships from Koshchei Exploitation &
Development. The Alpha-Interplanetary director, who was also a
vice-president of Transcontinent & Overseas, opposed that; another
director of A-I, who was also board chairman of Koshchei Exploitation
& Development, wanted to sell ships to anybody who had the price, the
Transcontinent & Overseas man was calling him a traitor to the
company, and one of the stockbrokers, who was also a vice-president of
Trisystem Investments and a director of Trisystem & Interstellar
Spacelines, was wanting to know which company. And a banker who was
stockholder in all the companies was shouting that they were all a
gang of crooks, and J. Fitzwilliam Sterber was declaring that anybody
who called him a crook could continue the discussion through seconds.
Conn suddenly realized that dueling had never been illegal on
Poictesme. He wondered how many duels this meeting was going to hatch.
The next afternoon the _Helen O'Loy_ was unloaded, all but the mining
equipment; Conn and Yves Jacquemont and Charley Gatworth and a few
others took her out to Force Command. They were met by Klem Zareff's
armed airboats two hundred and fifty miles from the mesa, and they
found the place in more of a state of siege than when the Badlands had
been full of outlaws. A lot of heavy armament seemed to have been
moved in from Barathrum Spaceport, and Zareff had more men and
firepower than he had ever commanded during the System States War. If
Minister-General Murchison was convinced that the Merlin excitement
was a cover for some seditious plot against the Federation, this ought
to give him food for thought.
There was still work, mostly boring lateral shafts for echo shots,
going on at the butte, under the relay station. That was Leibert, who
was still insisting that that was where Merlin was buried. There was
also some work on top of the mesa, by those who were convinced that
that was where Merlin was to be found. Kurt Fawzi was taking the lead
in that. Franz Veltrin and Dolf Kellton sided with Leibert, and
Fawzi's office clique had split into two factions. Judge Ledue was
maintaining strict impartiality, as befitted his judicial position.
"Why hasn't your father gotten those detectives of his to work on this
fake preacher?" Zareff wanted to know, when he and Tom Brangwyn were
able to talk to Conn alone.
"Well, they've been busy," Conn said. "Trying to keep him alive, for
one thing. You heard about the robo-bomb somebody launched at us the
day we brought the ships in, didn't you?"
"Yes, and we heard about the Nocero girl, too," Brangwyn said. "But
hasn't it ever occurred to you or your dad that this fellow that calls
himself Leibert might be mixed up with the gang that did that?"
"You suspect him, too?"
Brangwyn nodded. "I took a few audiovisuals of him, when he didn't
know it; I sent them to some different law-enforcement people over in
Morven, where he says he comes from. They never saw him before, and
couldn't find anybody who did."
"Well? He just doesn't have a police record, then."
"He says he's a preacher. Preachers don't go off in the woods by
themselves to preach; they get up in pulpits, in front of a lot of
people. Those towns over in Morven are small enough for everybody to
have known something about him. He's a fake, I tell you."
"Let me have copies of those audiovisuals, Tom. I'll see what can be
found out about him. I'm beginning to wonder about him myself. I'm
sure I've seen him, somewhere...."
When he got back to Storisende, he found that the marathon conference
on the sixth floor down at the Interplanetary Building had finally
come to an end. Everybody seemed satisfied, and apparently nobody was
going to have pistols and coffee with anybody else about it.
"We have things fixed up," his father told him. "The gang who are
building the ship out of four air-freighters are chartered as Janicot
Industries, Ltd.; they're going to specialize in chemical products.
The other company has a charter now, too. They're going to operate on
Jurgen and Horvendile. We'll sell them ships, and Alpha-Interplanetary
will put on scheduled trips to all three planets and also Koshchei.
We're getting along very nicely with them, except that everybody's
competing for technicians and skilled labor. We have two hundred more
people signed up for Koshchei. What you want to do is train as many of
them as you can for ship-operation. Alpha-Interplanetary is going to
start a training program here at Storisende; you'd better leave one of
your ships for them to work on, and send back as many ships as you can
find officers and crews for."
"We're getting things really started."
"Yes. The only trouble is...." His father frowned. "I don't understand
these people, Conn. Everybody ought to be making millions out of this
by this time next year, but all any of them, even these Storisende
bankers, can talk about is how soon we're going to find Merlin."
"I wish we could stop that, somehow. Listen; I have it. Merlin never
was on Poictesme; Merlin was a space-station a few thousand miles
off-planet; there was a crew of operators aboard, and they
communicated with Force Command by radio. When the War ended, they
took it outside the system and shot off a planetbuster inside her. No
more Merlin. How would that be?"
His father shook his head. "Wouldn't do. If anybody believed it, which
I doubt, they'd just quit. The market would collapse, everybody would
be broke, it would just be the end of the War all over again. Conn, we
can't let it stop now. We're going too fast to stop; if we tried it,
we'd smash up and break our necks."
Jerry Rivas, Mack Vibart and Luther Chen-Wong had been keeping things
running on Koshchei. Work on the interplanetary ship at Port
Carpenter had stopped when the Sickle Mountain ships had been found;
it had never been resumed. When Conn returned, he found work started
on the _Ouroboros II_. Some of the two hundred newcomers who came in
on the _Helen O'Loy_ had special skills needed on the hypership; most
of them went with Clyde Nichols and Charley Gatworth to Sickle
Mountain to train as normal-space officers and crewmen. Some of them,
it was hoped, would later qualify for hyperspace work. Sylvie, who had
been one of the star pupils in the computer class, was now helping him
with the long lists of needed materials, some of which had to be
brought from other places as much as a thousand miles away. Jerry
Rivas went back to exploring; Nichols had to drop his space-training
work temporarily to organize a fleet of air-freighters; usually, the
men best able to operate them were urgently needed on some job at the
construction dock.
Ships lifted out almost daily from Sickle Mountain. They tried to get
some kind of salable cargo for each one, without depriving themselves
of what they needed for themselves. Some of the ships came back loaded
with provisions and bringing new recruits—for instance, the teaching
of physics and mathematics almost stopped at Storisende College
because the professors had been virtually shanghaied.
Conn found himself losing touch with affairs on Poictesme. Ships had
landed on both Janicot and Horvendile and were sending back claims to
abandoned factories. By that time they had all the decks into the
_Ouroboros II_, and he was working aboard, getting the astrogational
and hyperspace instruments put in place. The hypership _Andromeda_ was
back from the Gamma System; there was close secrecy about what the
expedition had found, but the newscasts were full of conjectures about
Merlin, and the market went into another dizzy upward spiral.
Litchfield Exploration & Salvage opened a huge munitions depot, and
combat equipment, once almost unsalable, was selling as fast as it
came out. The Government was buying some, but by no means all of it.
"Conn, can you come back here to Poictesme for a while?" his father
asked. "Things have turned serious. I don't like to talk about it by
screen—too many people know our scrambler combinations. But I wish
you were here."
He started to object; there were millions, well, a couple of hundred,
things he had to attend to. The look on his father's face stopped him.
"Ship leaving Sickle Mountain tomorrow morning," he said. "I'll be
The voyage back to Poictesme was a needed rest. He felt refreshed when
he got off at Storisende Spaceport and was met by his father and Wade
Lucas in one of the slim recon-cars. They greeted him briefly and took
the car up and away from the city, where it was safe to talk.
"Conn, I'm scared," his father said. "I'm beginning to think there
really is a Merlin, after all."
"Oh, come off it! I know it's contagious, but I thought you'd been
"I'm beginning to think so, too," Lucas said. "I don't like it at
"You know what that gang who took the _Andromeda_ to Panurge found?"
"They were looking for the plant that fabricated the elements for
Merlin, weren't they?"
"Yes. They found it. My Barton-Massarra operatives got to some of the
crew. This place had been turning out material for a computer of
absolutely unconventional design; the two computermen they had with
them couldn't make head or tail of half of it. And every blueprint,
every diagram, every scrap of writing or recording, had been
destroyed. But they found one thing, a big empty fiber folder that had
fallen under something and been overlooked. It was marked: TOP
"Project Merlin could have been anything," Conn started to say. No.
Project Merlin was something they made computer parts for.
"Dolf Kellton's research crew, at the Library here, came across some
references to Project Merlin, too. For instance, there was a routine
division court-martial, a couple of second lieutenants, on a very
trivial charge. Force Command ordered the court-martial stopped, and
the two officers simply dropped out of the Third Force records, it was
stated that they were engaged in work connected with Project Merlin.
That's an example; there were half a dozen things like that."
"Tell him what Kurt Fawzi and his crew found," Wade Lucas said.
"Yes. They have a fifty-foot shaft down from the top of the mesa
almost to the top of the underground headquarters. They found
something on top of the headquarters; a disc-shaped mass, fifty feet
thick and a hundred across, armored in collapsium. It's directly over
what used to be Foxx Travis's office."
"That's not a tenth big enough for anything that could even resemble
"Well, it's something. I was out there day before yesterday. They're
down to the collapsium on top of this thing; I rode down the shaft in
a jeep and looked at it. Look, Conn, we don't know what this Project
Merlin was; all this lore about Merlin that's grown up since the War
is pure supposition."
"But Foxx Travis told me, categorically, that there was no Merlin
Project," Conn said. "The War's been over forty years; it's not a
military secret any longer. Why would he lie to me?"
"Why did you lie to Kurt Fawzi and the others and tell them there was
a Merlin? You lied because telling the truth would hurt them. Maybe
Travis had the same reason for lying to you. Maybe Merlin's too
dangerous for anybody to be allowed to find."
"Great Ghu, are you beginning to think Merlin is the Devil, or
Frankenstein's Monster?"
"It might be something just as bad. Maybe worse. I don't think a man
like Foxx Travis would lie if he didn't have some overriding moral
obligation to."
"And we know who's been making most of the trouble for us, too," Lucas
"Yes," Rodney Maxwell said, "we do. And sometime I'm going to invite
Klem Zareff to kick my pants-seat. Sam Murchison, the Terran
Federation Minister-General."
"How'd you get that?"
"Barton-Massarra got some of it; they have an operative planted in
Murchison's office. And some of our banking friends got the rest. This
Human Supremacy League is being financed by somebody. Every so often,
their treasurer makes a big deposit at one of the banks here, all
Federation currency, big denomination notes. When I asked them to,
they started keeping a record of the serial numbers and checking
withdrawals. The money was paid out, at the First Planetary Bank, to
Mr. Samuel S. Murchison, in person. The Armegeddonists are getting
money, too, but they're too foxy to put theirs through the banks. I
believe they're the ones who mind-probed Lucy Nocero. Barton-Massarra
believe, but they can't prove, that Human Supremacy launched that
robo-bomb at us, that time at the spaceport."
"Have you done anything with those audiovisuals of Leibert?"
"Gave them to Barton-Massarra. They haven't gotten anything, yet."
"So we have to admit that Klem wasn't crazy after all. What do you
want me to do?"
"Go out to Force Command and take charge. We have to assume that there
may be a Merlin, we have to assume that it may be dangerous, and we
have to assume that Kurt Fawzi and his covey of Merlinolators are just
before digging it up. Your job is to see that whatever it is doesn't
get loose."
The trouble was, if he started giving orders around Force Command he'd
stop being a brilliant young man and become a half-baked kid, and one
word from him and the older and wiser heads would do just what they
pleased. He wondered if the pro-Leibert and anti-Leibert factions were
still squabbling; maybe if he went out of his way to antagonize one
side, he'd make allies of the other. He took the precaution of
screening in, first; Kurt Fawzi, with whom he talked, was almost
incoherent with excitement. At least, he was reasonably sure that none
of Klem Zareff's trigger-happy mercenaries would shoot him down coming
The well, fifty feet in diameter, went straight down from the top of
the mesa; as the headquarters had been buried under loose rubble,
they'd had to vitrify the sides going down. He let down into the hole
in a jeep, and stood on the collapsium roof of whatever it was they
had found. It wasn't the top of the headquarters itself; the microray
scannings showed that. It was a drum-shaped superstructure, a sort of
underground penthouse. And there they were stopped. You didn't cut
collapsium with a cold chisel, or even an atomic torch. He began to
see how he was going to be able to take charge here.
"You haven't found any passage leading into it?" he asked, when they
were gathered in Fawzi's—formerly Foxx Travis's—office.
"Nifflheim, no! If we had, we'd be inside now." Tom Brangwyn swore.
"And we've been all over the ceiling in here, and we can't find
anything but vitrified rock and then the collapsium shielding."
"Sure. There are collapsium-cutters, at Port Carpenter, on Koshchei.
They do it with cosmic rays."
"But collapsium will stop cosmic rays," Zareff objected.
"Stop them from penetrating, yes. A collapsium-cutter doesn't
penetrate; it abrades. Throws out a rotary beam and works like a
grinding-wheel, or a buzz-saw."
"Well, could you get one down that hole?" Judge Ledue asked.
He laughed. "No. The thing is rather too large. In the first place,
there's a full-sized power-reactor, and a mass-energy converter. With
them, you produce negamatter—atoms with negatively charged protons
and positive electrons, positrons. Then, you have to bring them into
contact with normal positive-matte—That's done in a chamber the size
of a fifty-gallon barrel, made of collapsium and weighing about a
hundred tons. Then you have to have a pseudograv field to impart
rotary motion to your cosmic-ray beam, and the generator door that
would lift ten ships the size of the _Lester Dawes_. Then you need
another fifty to a hundred tons of collapsium to shield your
cutting-head. The cutting-head alone weighs three tons. The rotary
beam that does the cutting," he mentioned as an afterthought, "is
about the size of a silver five-centisol piece."
Nobody said anything for a few seconds. Carl Leibert stated that
Divine Power would aid them. Nobody paid much attention; Leibert's
stock seemed to have gone bearish since he had found nothing in the
butte and Fawzi had found that whatever-it-was on top of Force
"Means we're going to dig the whole blasted top off, clear down to
where that thing is," Zareff said. "That'll take a year."
"Oh, no. Maybe a couple of weeks, after we get started," Conn told
them. "It'll take longer to get the stuff loaded on a ship and hauled
here than it will to get that thing uncovered and opened."
He told them about the machines they used in the iron mines on
Koshchei, and as he talked, he stopped worrying about how he was going
to take charge here. He had just been unanimously elected
Indispensable Man.
"Bless you, young man!" Carl Leibert cried. "At last, the Great
Computer! Those who come after will reckon this the Year Zero of the
Age of Regeneration. I will go to my chamber and return thanks in
"He's been doing a lot of praying lately," Tom Brangwyn remarked,
after Leibert had gone out. "He's moved into the chaplain's quarters,
back of the pandenominational chapel on the fourth level down. Always
keeps his door locked, too."
"Well, if he wants privacy for his devotions, that's his business.
Maybe we could all do with a little prayer," Veltrin said.
"Probably praying to Sam Murchison by radio," Klem Zareff retorted.
"I'd like to see inside those rooms of his."
He called Yves Jacquemont at Port Carpenter after dinner. When he told
Jacquemont what he wanted and why, the engineer remarked that it was a
pity screens couldn't be fitted with olfactory sensors, so that he
could smell Conn's breath.
"I am not drunk. I am not crazy. And I am not exercising my sense of
humor. I don't know what Fawzi and his gang have here, but if it isn't
Merlin it's something just as hot. We want at it, soonest, and we'll
have to dig a couple of hundred feet of rock off it and open a
collapsium can."
"How are we going to get that stuff on a ship?"
"Anything been done to that normal-space job we started since I saw it
last? Can you find engines for it? And is there anything about those
mining machines or the cutter that would be damaged by space-radiation
or re-entry heat?"
Yves Jacquemont was silent for a good deal longer than the
interplanetary time-lag warranted. Finally he nodded.
"I get it, Conn. We won't put the things in a ship; we'll build a ship
around them. No; that stuff can all be hauled open to space. They use
things like that at space stations and on asteroids and all sorts of
places. We'll have to stop work on _Ouroboros_, though."
"Let _Ouroboros_ wait. We are going to dig up Merlin, and then
everybody is going to be rich and happy, and live happily forever
Jacquemont looked at him, silent again for longer than the usual five
and a half minutes.
"You almost said that with a straight face." After all, Jacquemont
hadn't been cleared yet for the Awful Truth About Merlin, but, like
his daughter, he'd been doing some guessing. "I wish I knew how much
of this Merlin stuff you believe."
"So do I, Yves. Maybe after we get this thing open, I'll know."
To give himself a margin of safety, Jacquemont had estimated the
arrival of the equipment at three weeks. A week later, he was
on-screen to report that the skeleton ship—they had christened her
_The Thing_, and when Conn saw screen views of her he understood
why—was finished and the collapsium-cutter and two big mining
machines were aboard. Evidently nobody on Koshchei had done a stroke
of work on anything else.
"Sylvie's coming along with her; so are Jerry Rivas and Anse Dawes and
Ham Matsui and Gomez and Karanja and four or five others. They'll be
ready to go to work as soon as she lands and unloads," Jacquemont
That was good; they were all his own people, unconnected with any of
the Merlin-hunting factions at Force Command. In case trouble started,
he could rely on them.
"Well, dig out some shootin'-irons for them," he advised. "They may
need them here."
Depending, of course, on what they found when they opened that
collapsium can on top of Force Command, and how the people there
reacted to it.
_The Thing_ took a hundred and seventy hours to make the trip;
conditions in the small shielded living quarters and control cabin
were apparently worse than on the _Harriet Barne_ on her second trip
to Koschchei. Everybody at Force Command was anxious and excited. Carl
Leibert kept to his quarters most of the time, as though he had to
pray the ship across space.
At the same time, reports of the near completion of _Ouroboros II_
were monopolizing the newscasts, to distract public attention from
what was happening at Force Command. Cargo was being collected for
her; instead of washing their feet in brandy, next year people would
be drinking water. Lorenzo Menardes had emptied his warehouses of
everything over a year old; so had most of the other distillers up and
down the Gordon Valley. Melon and tobacco planters were talking about
breaking new ground and increasing their cultivated acreage for the
next year. Agricultural machinery was in demand and bringing high
prices. So were stills, and tobacco-factory machinery. It began to
look as though the Maxwell Plan was really getting started.
It was decided to send the hypership to Baldur on her first voyage;
that was Wade Lucas's suggestion. He was going with her himself, to
recruit scientific and technical graduates from his alma mater, the
University of Paris-on-Baldur, and from the other schools there. Conn
was enthusiastic about that, remembering the so-called engineers on
Koshchei, running around with a monkey-wrench in one hand and a
textbook in the other, trying to find out what they were supposed to
do while they were doing it. Poictesme had been living for too long on
the leavings of wartime production; too few people had bothered
learning how to produce anything.
_The Thing_ finally settled onto the mesa-top. It looked like
something from an old picture of the construction work on one of the
Terran space-stations in the First Century. Immediately, every piece
of contragravity equipment in the place converged on her; men dangled
on safety lines hundreds of feet above the ground, cutting away beams
and braces with torches. The two giant mining machines, one after the
other, floated free on their own contragravity and settled into place.
_The Thing_ lifted, still carrying the collapsium-cutting equipment,
and came to rest on the brush-grown flat beyond, out of the way.
If Yves Jacquemont had overestimated the time required to get the
equipment loaded and lifted off from Koshchei, Conn had been
overoptimistic about the speed with which the top of the mesa could be
stripped off. Digging away the rubble with which the pit had been
filled, and even the solid rock around it, was easier than getting the
stuff out of the way. Farm-scows came in from all over, as fast as
they and pilots for them could be found; the rush to get brandy and
tobacco to Storisende had caused an acute shortage of vehicles.
One by one, the members of the old Fawzi's Office gang came drifting
in—Lorenzo Menardes, Morgan Gatworth, Lester Dawes. None of them had
any skills to contribute, but they brought plenty of enthusiasm.
Rodney Maxwell came whizzing out from Storisende now and then to watch
the progress of the work. Of all the crowd, he and Conn watched the
two steel giants strip away the tableland with apprehension instead of
hope. No, there was a third. Carl Leibert had stopped secluding
himself in his quarters; he still talked rapturously about the
miracles Merlin would work, but now and then Conn saw him when he
thought he was unobserved. His face was the face of a condemned man.
The _Ouroboros II_ was finished. The whole planet saw, by
screen, the ship lift out; watched from the ship the dwindling away
of Koshchei and saw Poictesme grow ahead of her. Twelve hours before
she landed, work at Force Command stopped. Everybody was going to
Storisende—Sylvie, whose father would command her on her voyage to
Baldur, Morgan Gatworth, whose son would be first officer and
astrogator, everybody. Except Carl Leibert.
"Then I'm not going either," Klem Zareff decided. "Somebody's got to
stay here and keep an eye on that snake."
"No, nor me," Tom Brangwyn said. "And if he starts praying again, I'm
going to go and pray along with him."
Conn stayed, too, and so did Jerry Rivas and Anse Dawes. They watched
the newscast of the lift-out, a week later. It was peaceful and
harmonious; everybody, regardless of their attitudes on Merlin, seemed
agreed that this was the beginning of a new prosperity for the planet.
There were speeches. The bands played "Genji Gartner's Body," and the
"Spaceman's Hymn."
And, at the last, when the officers and crew were going aboard, Conn
saw his sister Flora clinging to Wade Lucas's arm. She was one of the
small party who went aboard for a final farewell. When she came off,
along with Sylvie, she was wiping her eyes, and Sylvie was comforting
her. Seeing that made Conn feel better even than watching the ship
itself lift away from Storisende.
Chapter XIX
When Sylvie returned from Storisende, she had Flora with her. Conn's
sister greeted him embarrassedly; Sylvie led both of them out of the
crowd and over to the edge of the excavation.
"Go ahead, Flora," she urged. "Make up with Conn. It won't be any
harder than making up with Wade was."
"How did that happen, by the way?" Conn asked.
"Your girlfriend," Flora said. "She came to the house and practically
forced me into a car and flew me into Storisende, and then made me
keep quiet and listen while Wade told me the truth."
"I wasn't completely sure what the truth was myself till Wade opened
up," Sylvie admitted. "I had a pretty good idea, though."
"I always hated that Merlin thing," Flora burst out. "All those old
men in Fawzi's office, dreaming about the wonderful things Merlin was
going to do, with everything crumbling around them and everybody
getting poorer every year, and doing nothing, nothing! And when you
were coming home, I was expecting you to tell them there was no Merlin
and to go to work and do something for themselves. But you didn't, and
I couldn't see what you were trying to do. And then when Wade joined
you and Father, I thought he was either helping you put over some kind
of a swindle or else he'd started believing in Merlin himself. I
should have seen what you were trying to do from the beginning. At
least, from when you talked them into cleaning the town up and fixing
the escalators and getting the fountains going again."
So the fountains weren't dusty any more.
"How's Mother taking things now?"
Flora looked distressed. "She goes around wringing her hands.
Honestly. I never saw anybody doing that outside a soap opera. Half
the time she thinks you and Father are a pair of unprincipled
scoundrels, and the other half she thinks you're going to let Merlin
destroy the world."
"I'm beginning to be afraid of something like that myself."
"Huh? But Merlin's just a big fake, isn't it? You're using it to make
these people do something they wouldn't do for themselves, aren't
"It started that way. What do you think all this is about?" he asked,
gesturing toward the excavation and the two giant mining machines
digging and blasting and pounding away at the rock.
"Well, to keep Kurt Fawzi and that crowd happy, I suppose. It seems
like an awful waste of time, though."
"I'm afraid it isn't. I'm afraid Merlin, or something just as bad, is
down there. That's why I'm here, instead of on Koshchei. I want to
keep people like Fawzi from doing anything foolish with it when they
find it."
"But there _can't_ be a Merlin!"
"I'm afraid there is. Not the sort of a Merlin Fawzi expects to find;
that thing's too small for that. But there's something down there...."
The question of size bothered him. That drum-shaped superstructure
couldn't even hold the personnel-record machine they had found here,
or the computers at the Storisende Stock Exchange. It could have been
an intelligence-evaluator, or an enemy-intentions predictor, but it
seemed small even for that. It would be something _like_ a computer;
that was as far as he was able to go. And it could be something
completely outside the reach of his imagination.
At the back of his mind, the suspicion grew that Carl Leibert knew
exactly what it was. And he became more and more convinced that he had
seen the self-styled preacher before.
Finally, the whole top of the hundred-foot collapsium-covered
structure was uncovered, and the excavation had been leveled out wide
enough to accommodate all the massive paraphernalia of the
collapsium-cutter. They put _The Thing_ onto contragravity again, and
brought her down in place; the work of lifting off the reactor and the
converter and the rest of it, piece by piece, began. Finally,
everything was set up.
A dozen and a half of them were gathered in the room that had become
their meeting-place, after dinner. They were all too tired to start
the cutting that night, and at the same time excited and anxious. They
talked in disconnected snatches, and then somebody put on one of the
telecast screens. A music program was just ending; there was a brief
silence, and then a commentator appeared, identifying his
news-service. He spoke rapidly and breathlessly, his professional
gravity cracking all over.
"The hypership _City of Asgard_, from Aton, has just come into
telecast range," he began. "We have received an exclusive Interworld
News Service story, recently brought to Aton on the Pan-Federation
Spacelines ship _Magellanic_, from Terra.
"News of revived interest in the Third Force computer, Merlin, having
reached Terra by way of Odin, representatives of Interworld News, to
which this service subscribes, interviewed retired Force-General Foxx
Travis, now living, at the advanced age of a hundred and fourteen, on
Luna. General Travis, who commanded the Third Fleet-Army Force here
during the War, categorically denied that there had ever existed any
super-computer of the sort.
"We bring you, now, a recorded interview with General Travis, made on
For an instant, Conn felt the room around him whirling dizzily, and
then he caught hold of himself. Everybody else was shouting in sudden
consternation, and then everybody was hushing everybody else and
making twice as much noise. The screen flickered; the commentator
vanished, and instead, seated in the deep-cushioned chair, was the
thin and frail old man with whom Conn had talked two years before, and
through an open segment of the dome-roof behind him the full Earth
shone, the continents of the Western Hemisphere plainly
distinguishable. A young woman in starchy nurse's white bent forward
solicitously from beside the chair, handing him a small beaker from
which he sipped some stimulant. He looked much as he had when Conn had
talked to him. But there was something missing....
Oh, yes. The comparative youngster of seventy-some—"Mike Shanlee ...
my _aide-de-camp_ on Poictesme ... now he thinks he's my keeper...."
He wasn't in evidence, and he should be. Then Conn knew where and when
he had seen the man who claimed to be a preacher named Carl Leibert.
"There is absolutely no truth in it, gentlemen," Travis was saying.
"There never was any such computer. I only wish there had been; it
would have shortened the War by years. We did, of course, use
computers of all sorts, but they were all the conventional types used
by business organizations...."
The rest was lost in a new outburst of shouting: General Travis, in
the screen, continued in dumb-show. The only thing Conn could
distinguish was Leibert's—Shanlee's—voice, screaming: "Can it be a
lie? Is there no Great Computer?" Then Kurt Fawzi was pounding on the
top of the desk and bellowing, "Shut up! Listen!"
"Frankly, I'm surprised," Travis was continuing. "Young Maxwell talked
to me, here in this room, a couple of years ago; I told him then that
nothing of the sort existed. If he's back on Poictesme telling people
there is, he's lying to them and taking advantage of their credulity.
There never was anything called Project Merlin...."
"Hah, who's a liar now?" Klem Zareff shouted. "Dolf, what did your
people find in the Library?"
"Why, that's right!" Professor Kellton exclaimed. "My students did
find a dozen references to Project Merlin. He couldn't be ignorant of
anything like that."
"This youth has been lying to us all along!" the old man with the
beard cried, pointing an accusing finger at Conn. "He has created
false hopes; he has given us faith in a delusion. Why, he is the
wickedest monster in human history!"
"Well, thank you, General Travis," another voice, from the
screen-speaker, was saying. The only calm voice in the room. "That was
a most excellent statement, sir. It should...."
"Conn, you didn't tell us you'd talked to General Travis," Morgan
Gatworth was saying. "Why didn't you?"
"Because I never believed anything he told me. You were in Kurt
Fawzi's office the day I came home; you know how shocked everybody was
when I told you I hadn't been able to learn anything positive. Why
should I repeat his lies and discourage everybody that much more? Why,
he'd deny there was a Merlin if he was sitting on top of it," Conn
declared. "He wants the credit for winning the War, not for letting
Merlin win it for him."
"I don't blame Conn," Klem Zareff said. "If he'd told us that then,
some of us might have believed it."
"And look what we found," Kurt Fawzi added, pointing at the ceiling.
"Is that Merlin up there, or isn't it?"
"That little thing!" Shanlee cried scornfully. "How could that be
Merlin? I am going to my chamber, to pray for forgiveness for this
He turned and started for the door.
"Stop him, Tom!" Conn said, and Tom Brangwyn put himself in front of
the older man, gripping his right arm. Shanlee tried, briefly, to
"Seems to me you lost faith in Merlin awfully quick," the former town
marshal of Litchfield said. "You knew there was a Merlin all along,
and you never wanted us to find it."
Franz Veltrin, who had been "Leibert's" most enthusiastic adherent,
had also lost faith suddenly; he was shouting vituperation at the
Prophet of Merlin.
"Knock it off, Franz; he was only doing his duty," Conn said. "Weren't
you, General Shanlee?"
It took almost a minute before they stopped yelling for an explanation
and allowed him to make one. He caught Klem Zareff's comment: "Must be
pretty hot, if they have to send a general to handle it."
"I talked to Travis, yes. He gave me the same story he just repeated
on that interview," Conn said, picking his way carefully between fact
and fiction. "After I went back to Montevideo, he and this aide of his
must have been afraid I didn't believe it, which I didn't. When I was
ready to graduate, I got this offer of an instructorship; that was a
bribe to keep me on Terra and off Poictesme. When I turned it down and
took the _Mizar_ home, Travis sent Shanlee after me. He must have
grown that beard and that pageboy bob on the way out. I suppose he
contacted Murchison as soon as he landed. Wait a minute."
He went to the communication screen and punched out a combination. A
girl appeared and singsonged: "Barton-Massarra, Investigation and
"Conn Maxwell here. We gave you some audiovisuals of a man with a
white beard, alias Carl Leibert," he began.
"Just a sec, Mr. Maxwell." She spoke quickly into a handphone. The
screen flickered, and she was replaced by a hard-faced young man in
dark clothes.
"Hello, Mr. Maxwell; Joe Massarra. We haven't anything on Leibert
"Are any of the officers of the _Andromeda_ where you can contact
them? Let them see those audiovisual. I'll bet that beard was grown
aboard ship coming out from Terra."
Bedlam broke out suddenly. Shanlee, who had been standing passively,
his right arm loosely grasped by Tom Brangwyn, came down on Brangwyn's
instep with the heel of his left foot and hit Brangwyn under the chin
with the heel of his left palm. Wrenching his arm free, he started for
the door. Sylvie Jacquemont snatched a chair and threw it along the
floor; it hit the fleeing man's ankles and brought him down. Half a
dozen men piled on top of him, and Brangwyn was yelling to them not to
choke him to death till he could answer some questions.
"Hey, what's going on?" the detective-agency man in the screen was
asking. "Need help? We'll start a car right away."
"Everything's under control, thank you."
Massarra hesitated for a moment. "What's the dope on this statement
that was on telecast a few minutes ago?" he asked.
"Travis doesn't want us to find Merlin. What you just heard was one of
his people, planted here at Force Command. We're going to question him
when we have time. But there isn't a word of truth in that statement
you just heard on the _Herald-Guardian_ newscast. Merlin exists, and
we've found it. We'll have it opened inside of thirty hours at most."
That was the line he was going to take with everybody. As soon as he
had Massarra off the screen, he was punching the combination of his
father's private screen at Interplanetary Building. It took five
interminable minutes before Rodney Maxwell came on. He could hear Klem
Zareff shouting orders into one of the inside communication
screens—general turnout, everything on combat-ready; guards to come
at once to the office.
"How close are you to digging that thing out?" his father asked as
soon as he appeared.
"We're down to it; we can start cutting the collapsium any time now."
"Start cutting it ten minutes ago," his father told him. "And don't
leave Force Command till you have it open. How many men and vehicles
does Klem have for defense? You'll need all of them in a couple of
hours. Everybody here is stunned, now; they'll come out of it inside
an hour, and they'll come out fighting."
"You'd better come out here." He turned, saw Jerry Rivas helping hold
Shanlee in a chair, and shouted to him: "Jerry! Turn out the workmen.
Start cutting the can open right away." He turned back to his father.
"Klem's just ordered all his force out. Are you coming here?"
"I can't. In about an hour, everything's going up with a bang. I have
to be here to grab a few of the pieces."
"You'll do a lot of good in jail, or on the end of a rope."
"Chance I have to take," his father replied. "I think I'll have a
couple of hours. If anybody from the press calls you, what are you
going to tell them?"
Conn repeated the line he had taken already. His father nodded.
"All right. I'll call you later. If I can. Just keep things going at
your end."
A dozen of Klem Zareff's men were crowding into the room.
"This man's under close arrest," the old soldier was telling them. "He
is very important and very dangerous. Take him out somewhere, search
him to the skin, take his clothes away from him and give him a robe.
He's to be watched every second; make sure he hasn't poison or other
suicide means. He's to be questioned later."
As soon as Rodney Maxwell was off the screen, there was a call-signal.
It was one of the news-services, wanting a statement.
"I'll take it," Gatworth said, and then began talking:
"This statement of General Travis's is completely false. There is a
Merlin, and we've found it...."
They found something that might be good-enough Merlin for the next
thirty hours. That superstructure was just big enough for the manually
operated parts of a computer like Merlin; the input and output, and
the programming machines.
Klem Zareff's guardsmen were mercenaries. A little over a year ago
they had, at best, been homeless drifters, and not a few had been
outlaws. Now they were soldiers, well fed, clothed, quartered and
equipped, and well and regularly paid. They had a good thing; they
were willing to fight to keep it, Merlin or no Merlin. Conn left them
to their commander. He did gather the workmen for a short harangue,
but that wasn't really necessary. They had a good thing, too, and most
of them realized that they were working toward a better thing. They
could be depended upon, too.
They came crowding out and manned lifters; they got the heavy
collapsium-cutter maneuvered into place and the shielding down around
the cutting-head. After that, there were only four men who could work,
each in his own heavily shielded cabin. In spite of the shielding that
covered the actual work, there was an awesome display of multicolored
light; it was like being in the middle of an aurora borealis. What was
going on where that tiny rotating beam of cosmic rays was grinding at
the collapsium simply couldn't have been imagined.
Conn would have liked to stay outside; he could not. Too many things
were happening in too many places, and it was all coming in by screen.
Rioting had broken out in Storisende and in a dozen other places. He
saw, on a news-screen, a mob raging in front of the Executive Palace;
yellow-shirted Cybernarchists were battling with city police and
Planetary troops, Armageddonists and Human Supremacy Leaguers were
fighting both and one another. Above all the confused noise of
shouting and shooting, an amplifier was braying: "_It's a lie! It's a
lie! Merlin has been found!_" Newsmen began arriving—Zareff's men
had orders to pass them through the cordon that had been put up around
Force Command—and they took up his time. It was worth it, though.
They could tell him what was going on.
J. Fitzwilliam Sterber called. Rodney Maxwell had been arrested, on a
farrago of fraud charges—"I don't know who he's supposed to have
defrauded; the Planetary Government is the sole complainant"—and bail
was being illegally denied. Sterber's lawyerly soul was outraged, but
he was grimly elated. "You wait till things quiet down a little. We're
going to start a false-arrest suit—"
"If you're alive to." Apparently Sterber hadn't thought of that. "What
do you think's going to happen when the Stock Exchange opens?"
"It's going to be bad. But don't worry; your father must have foreseen
something like this. He gave me instructions, and instructed a few
more people." He named some of the Trisystem Investments people and
some of the bankers. "We're going to try to brace the market as long
as we can. Nobody who keeps his head is going to lose anything in the
long run."
Luther Chen-Wong called from Port Carpenter, on Koshchei. He and Clyde
Nichols and a young mathematics professor named Simon Macquarte had
been running the colony, in Conn's absence and since Yves Jacquemont
had gone to space in the _Ouroboros II_.
"Well, they caught up with you," he said. Evidently he had figured out
what the search for Merlin was all about, too. "What do we do about
"Well, we are just before finding Merlin, here. I hope we find it
before things get too bad." He told Luther the situation of the
moment. "Have you people started on another hypership yet?"
"We're getting organized to. I don't suppose it's advisable to send
any more ships in to Storisende for a while? And are you sure this
thing you've found is Merlin?"
"I don't know what it is. It's only big enough for the apparatus
they'd need to operate a thing like Merlin—Yes, Luther. I am sure we
have found Merlin."
Chen-Wong looked at him curiously. "I hope so. I can't think of
anything else that can stop this business."
Tom Brangwyn was in the room when he turned from the screen.
"We searched Leibert's—Shanlee's—rooms," he said. "We found a bomb."
"What kind of a bomb?"
"Vest-pocket thermonuclear. He seems to have gotten the fissionables
by taking apart a couple of light tactical missiles; the whole thing's
packed inside a hundred-pound power-cartridge case. It was in a
traveling-bag under his bed. And you know how it was to be fired? With
a regular 40-mm flare-pistol, welded into the end of the bomb. The
flare-powder had been taken out of the cartridge, and it had been
reloaded with a big charge of rifle-powder. I suppose it would blow
one subcritical mass into another. But the only way he could have
fired the bomb would have been by pulling the trigger."
And blowing himself up along with it. He must have wanted Merlin
destroyed pretty badly.
"Have you questioned him yet?"
"Not yet. I wanted to tell you about it first."
He looked at his watch. Only four hours had passed since the newscast;
why, that seemed like months, ago, now.
"All right, Tom; we'll go talk to him. Where's the Colonel?"
Zareff was surrounded by a dozen screens, keeping in touch with the
_Lester Dawes_ and the gunboats and combat cars, and the gun positions
with which he had ringed Force Command. It was only a little army,
maybe, but he was a busy commander-in-chief.
"You take care of it. Tell me what you get from him. I can't leave
now. There's a report of a number of aircraft approaching from the
west now...."
They found Judge Ledue, and Kurt Fawzi and Dolf Kellton, who were just
sitting around wishing there was something to do to help. They gave
Franz Veltrin and Sylvie Jacquemont the job of keeping the
representatives of the press amused. Then they went down to the room
in which General Mike Shanlee was held under guard.
Shanlee, wearing a bathrobe and nothing else, was lying on a cot,
sleeping peacefully; three of Zareff's men were sitting on chairs,
watching him narrowly.
"All right; you can go," Conn told them. "We'll take care of him."
Shanlee woke instantly; he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of
the cot.
"You have my name and rank," he said, and his voice no longer
quavered. "My serial number is—" He recited a string of figures. "And
that's all you're getting out of me."
"We'll get anything we want out of you," Conn told him. "You know what
a mind-probe is? You should; your accomplices used one on my father's
secretary. She's a hopeless imbecile now. You'll be, too, when we're
through with you. But before then, you'll have given us everything you
Kellton began to protest. "Conn, you can't do a thing like that!"
"A mind-probe is utterly illegal; why, it's a capital offense!" Ledue
exclaimed. "Conn I forbid you...."
"Judge, don't make me call those guards and have you removed," Conn
"You can stop bluffing," Shanlee told him. "Where would you get a
"Out of the Chief of Intelligence's office, here in his headquarters.
I should imagine it was to be used in interrogating Alliance
prisoners, during the War. I think Colonel Zareff would enjoy helping
to use it on you. He used to be an Alliance officer."
Shanlee was silent. Conn sat down in one of the chairs, at the small
"General Shanlee, would you describe General Foxx Travis as a man of
honor and integrity? And would you so describe yourself?" Shanlee said
nothing. "Yet both of you have lied, deliberately and repeatedly, to
conceal the existence of Merlin. And we found that bomb in your room.
You were willing to blow up this headquarters and everybody, yourself
included, in it, to keep us from getting at Merlin. Well, you know
that we can make you tell us the truth, maybe when it's too late, and
you know that we are going to get Merlin. We're cutting the collapsium
off that thing above now."
Shanlee laughed. "You're supposed to be a computerman. You think that
little thing could be Merlin?"
"The controls and programming machine for Merlin." He turned to Kurt
Fawzi. "You always claimed that Merlin was here in Force Command. You
had it backward. Force Command is inside Merlin."
"What do you mean, Conn?"
"The walls; the fifty-foot walls, shielded inside and out. Merlin—the
circuitry, the memory-bank, the relays, everything—was installed
inside them. What's up above is only what was needed to operate the
computer. Isn't that true, General?"
Shanlee had stopped his derisive laughter. He sat on the edge of the
cot, tensing as though for a leap at Conn's throat.
"That won't help, either. If you try it, we won't shoot you. We'll
just overpower you and start mind-probing right away. Now; you feel
that suppressing Merlin was worth any sacrifice. We're not
unreasonable. If you can convince us that Merlin ought not to be
brought to light.... Well, you can't do any harm by talking, and you
may do some good. You may even accomplish your mission."
"He can't talk us out of it," Kurt Fawzi seemed determined to spoil
things by saying. "Conn, I'm coming around to Klem's way of thinking.
They just don't want anybody else to have it."
"No, we don't," Shanlee said. "We don't want the whole Federation
breaking up into bloody anarchy, and that's what'll happen if you dig
that thing up and put it into operation."
Nobody said anything except Fawzi, who began an indignant
contradiction and then subsided. Tom Brangwyn lit a cigarette.
"Would you mind letting me have one of those?" Shanlee said. "I
haven't had a smoke since I came here. It wouldn't have been in
Brangwyn took one out of the pack, lit it at the tip of his own, and
gave it to Shanlee with his left hand, his right ready to strike.
Shanlee laughed in real amusement.
"Oh, Brother!" he reproved, in his former pious tones. "You distrust
your fellow man; that is a sin."
He rose slowly, the bathrobe flapping at his bare shins, and sat down
across the table from Conn.
"All right," he said. "I'll tell you about it. I'll tell you the
truth, which will be something of a novelty all around."
Shanlee puffed for a moment at the cigarette; it must really have
tasted good after his long abstinence.
"You know, we were really caught off balance when the War ended. It
even caught Merlin short; information lag, of course. The whole
Alliance caved in all at once. Well, we fed Merlin all the data
available, and analyzed the situation. Then we did something we really
weren't called upon to do, because that was policy-planning and wasn't
our province, but we were going to move an occupation army into System
States planets, and we didn't want to do anything that would embarrass
the Federation Government later. We fed Merlin every scrap of
available information on political and economic conditions everywhere
in the Federation, and set up a long-term computation of the general
effects of the War.
"The extrapolation was supposed to run five hundred years in the
future. It didn't. It stopped, at a point a trifle over two hundred
years from now, with a statement that no computation could be made
further because at that point the Terran Federation would no longer
The others, who had taken chairs facing him, looked at him blankly.
"No more Federation?" Judge Ledue asked incredulously. "Why, the
Federation, the Federation...."
The Federation would last forever. Anybody knew that. There just
couldn't be no more Federation.
"That's right," Shanlee said. "We had trouble believing it, too.
Remember, we were Federation officers. The Federation was our
religion. Just like patriotism used to be, back in the days of
nationalism. We checked for error. We made detail analyses. We ran it
all over again. It was no use.
"In two hundred years, there won't be any Terran Federation. The
Government will collapse, slowly. The Space Navy will disintegrate.
Planets and systems will lose touch with Terra and with one another.
You know what it was like here, just before the War? It will be like
that on every planet, even on Terra. Just a slow crumbling, till
everything is gone; then every planet will start sliding back, in
isolation, into barbarism."
"Merlin predicted that?" Kurt Fawzi asked, shocked.
If Merlin said so, it had to be true.
Shanlee nodded. "So we ran another computation; we added the data of
publication of this prognosis. You know, Merlin can't predict what you
or I would do under given circumstances, but Merlin can handle
large-group behavior with absolute accuracy. If we made public
Merlin's prognosis, the end would come, not in two centuries but in
less than one, and it wouldn't be a slow, peaceful decay; it would be
a bomb-type reaction. Rebellions. Overthrow of Federation authority,
and then revolt and counterrevolt against planetary authority.
Division along sectional or class lines on individual planets.
Interplanetary wars; what we fought the Alliance to prevent. Left in
ignorance of the future, people would go on trying to make do with
what they had. But if they found out that the Federation was doomed,
everybody would be trying to snatch what they could, and end by
smashing everything. Left in ignorance, there might be a planet here
and there that would keep enough of the old civilization to serve, in
five or so centuries, as a nucleus for a new one. Informed in advance
of the doom of the Federation, they would all go down together in the
same bloody shambles, and there would be a Galactic night of barbarism
for no one knows how many thousand years."
"We don't want anything like that to happen!" Tom Brangwyn said, in a
frightened voice.
"Then pull everybody out of here and blow the place up, Merlin along
with it," Shanlee said.
"No! We'll not do that!" Fawzi shouted. "I'll shoot the man dead who
tries it!"
"Why didn't you people blow Merlin up?" Conn asked.
"We'd built it; we'd worked with it. It was part of us, and we were
part of it. We couldn't. Besides, there was a chance that it might
survive the Federation; when a new civilization arose, it would be
useful. We just sealed it. There were fewer than a hundred of us who
knew about it. We all took an oath of secrecy. We spent the rest of
our lives trying to suppress any mention of Merlin or the Merlin
Project. You have no idea how shocked both General Travis and I were
when you told us that the story was still current here on Poictesme.
And when we found that you'd been getting into the records of the
Third Force, I took the next ship I could, a miserable little
freighter, and when I landed and found out what was happening, I
contacted Murchison and scared the life out of him with stories about
a secessionist conspiracy. All this Armageddonist, Human Supremacy,
Merlin-is-the-Devil, stuff that's been going on was started by
Murchison. And he succeeded in scaring Vyckhoven with the
Cybernarchists, too."
"This computation on the future of the Federation is still in the
back-work file?" Conn asked.
Shanlee nodded. "We were criminally reckless; I can see that, now. Let
me beg, again, that you destroy the whole thing."
"We'll have to talk it over among ourselves," Judge Ledue said. "The
five of us, here, cannot presume to speak for everybody. We will, of
course, have to keep you confined; I hope you will understand that we
cannot accept your parole."
"Is there anything you want in the meantime?" Conn asked.
"I would like something to smoke, and some clothes," General Shanlee
said. "And a shave and a haircut."
All through the night, a shifting blaze of many-colored light rose and
dimmed the stars above the mesa. They stared in awe, marveling at the
energy that was pouring out of the converters into a tiny spot that
inched its way around the collapsium shielding. It must have been
visible for hundreds of miles; it was, for there was a new flood of
rumors circulating in Storisende and repeated and denied by the
newscasts, now running continuously. Merlin had been found. Merlin had
been blown up by Government troops. Merlin was being transported to
Storisende to be installed as arbiter of the Government. Merlin the
Monster was destroying the planet. Merlin the Devil was unchained.
Conn and Kurt Fawzi and Dolf Kellton and Judge Ledue and Tom Brangwyn
clustered together, talking in whispers. They had told nobody, yet, of
the interview with Shanlee.
"You think it would make all that trouble?" Kellton was asking
anxiously, hoping that the others would convince him that it wouldn't.
"Maybe we had better destroy it," Judge Ledue faltered. "You see what
it's done already; the whole planet's in anarchy. If we let this go
"We can't decide anything like that, just the five of us," Brangwyn
was insisting. "We'll have to get the others together and see what
they think. We have no right to make any decision like this for them."
"They're no more able to make the decision than we are," Conn said.
"But we've got to; they have a right to know...."
"If you decide to destroy Merlin, you'll have to decide to kill me,
first," Kurt Fawzi said, his voice deadly calm. "You won't do it while
I'm alive."
"But, Kurt," Ledue expostulated. "You know why these people here at
Storisende are rioting? It's because they've lost hope, because
they're afraid and desperate. The Terran Federation is something
everybody feels they have to have, for peace and order and welfare. If
people thought it was breaking up, they'd be desperate, too. They'd do
the same insane things these people here on this planet are doing.
General Shanlee was right. Don't destroy the hope that keeps them
"We don't need to do that," Kurt Fawzi argued. "We can use Merlin to
solve our own problems; we don't need to tell the whole Federation
what's going to happen in two hundred years."
"It would get out; it couldn't help getting out," Ledue said.
"Let's not try to decide it ourselves," Conn said. "Let's get Merlin
into operation, and run a computation on it."
"You mean, ask Merlin to tell us whether it ought to be destroyed or
not?" Ledue asked incredulously. "Let Merlin put itself on trial, and
sentence itself to destruction?"
"Merlin is a computer; computers deal only in facts. Computers are
machines; they have no sense of self-preservation. If Merlin ought to
be destroyed, Merlin will tell us so."
"You willing to leave it up to Merlin, Kurt?" Tom Brangwyn asked.
Fawzi gulped. "Yes. If Merlin says we ought to, we'll have to do it."
Toward noon, a telecast went out from Koshchei, on a dozen different
wave-lengths. Conn, half asleep in a chair in the commander-in-chief's
office, saw Simon Macquarte, the young mathematics professor from
Storisende College who had become one of the leaders of the colony,
appear in the screen. The next moment, he was fully awake, shocked by
Macquarte's words:
"This is not a threat; this is a solemn, even a prayerful, warning. We
do not want to use genocidal weapons of mass destruction against the
world of our birth. But whether we do or not rests solely with you.
"We came here with a dream of a better world, a world of happiness and
plenty for all. We have been working, on Koshchei, to build such a
world on Poictesme. Now you are smashing that dream. When it is gone,
we will have nothing to live for—except revenge. And we will take
that revenge, make no mistake.
"We have the weapons with which to take it. Remember, this was a
Federation naval base and naval arsenal during the War. Here the
Federation Navy built their super-missiles, the missiles which
devastated Ashmodai, and Belphegor, and Baphomet, and hundreds of
these weapons are here. We have them, ready for launching. Once they
are launched, with the robo-pilots set for targets on Poictesme, you
will have a hundred and sixty hours, at the most, to live.
"We will launch them immediately if there is another attack made upon
Force Command Duplicate HQ, or upon Interplanetary Building in
Storisende, or if Rodney Maxwell is killed, no matter by whom or under
what circumstances.
"We beg you, earnestly and prayerfully, not to force us to do this
dreadful thing. We speak to each one of you, for each one of you holds
the fate of the planet in his own hands."
The image faded from the screen. As it did, Conn was looking from one
to another of the people in the room with him. All were dumbfounded,
most of them frightened.
"They wouldn't do it, would they?" Lorenzo Menardes was asking. "Conn,
you know those people. They wouldn't really?"
"Don't depend on it, Lorenzo," Klem Zareff said. "It's hard for a lot
of people to shoot somebody ten feet away with a pistol. But just
sending off a missile; that's nothing but setting a lot of dials and
then pushing a button."
"I'm not worrying about whether they'd do it or not," Conn said. "What
I'm worrying about is how many people will believe they will."
Apparently a good many people did. Zareff's combat vehicles began
reporting a cessation of fighting. The newscasts, repeating the
ultimatum from Koshchei, told of fewer and fewer disorders in the city
or elsewhere; by midafternoon, the rioting had stopped.
By that time, too, Rodney Maxwell was on-screen. He was, Conn noticed,
wearing his pistols again.
"What happened?" he asked. "They let you out on bail?"
Maxwell shook his head. "Charges dismissed; they didn't have anything
to charge me with in the first place. But they haven't let me out
"You're wearing your guns."
"Yes, but they still have me penned up here at the Executive Palace;
they're practically keeping me in the safe. I wish our people on
Koshchei hadn't mentioned me in their ultimatum; Jake Vyckhoven's
afraid to let me run around loose for fear some lunatic shoots me and
starts the planetbusters coming in. Jake did one good thing, though.
He ordered the Stock Exchange closed, and declared a five-day bank
holiday. By that time, you ought to have Merlin opened and working,
and then the market'll be safe."
Conn simply replied, "I hope so." There was no telling what kind of
taps there might be on the screen his father was using; he couldn't
risk telling him about Shanlee, or about the last computation which
Merlin had made. "If we send the _Lester Dawes_ in, do you think you
might talk them into letting you come out here?"
"I can try."
Flora arrived at Force Command that afternoon.
"I would have come sooner," she said, "but Mother's had a complete
collapse. It happened last evening; she's in the hospital. I was with
her until just an hour and a half ago. She's still unconscious."
"You mean she's in danger?"
"I don't know. They think she's all right, except for the shock. It
was the Travis statement that did it."
"Think I ought to go to her?"
Flora shook her head. "Just keep on with what you're doing here. There
isn't anything you can do for her now."
"The best thing you can do for her, Conn, is prove that you weren't
lying about Merlin," Sylvie told him.
The _Lester Dawes_ didn't make it from Force Command to Storisende and
back until after dark, and the green and white and red and orange
lights were rising in folds and waves. Rodney Maxwell had heard about
his wife's condition; it was the first thing he spoke of when Conn
and Flora and Sylvie met him as he got off the ship.
"There isn't anything we can do, Father," Flora said. "They'll call us
when there's any change."
He said the same thing Sylvie had said. "The only thing we can do is
get that infernal thing uncovered. Once we do this, everything'll be
all right. We'll show your mother that it isn't a fake and it isn't
anything dangerous; we'll put a stop to all these horror-stories about
mechanical devils and living machines...."
Conn drew his father off where the girls couldn't overhear.
"This is something worse," he said. "This is a bomb that could blow up
the whole Federation."
"Are you going nuts, too?" his father demanded.
Conn told him about Shanlee; he repeated, almost word for word, the
story Shanlee had told.
"Do you believe that?" his father asked.
"Don't you? You were in Storisende when the Travis statement came out;
you saw how people acted. If this story gets out, people will be
acting the same way on every planet in the Federation. Not just places
like Poictesme; planets like Terra and Baldur and Marduk and Odin and
Osiris. It would be the end of everything civilized, everywhere."
"Why didn't they use Merlin to save the Federation?"
"It's past saving. It's been past saving since before the War. The War
was what gave it the final shove. If they could have used Merlin to
reverse the process, they wouldn't have sealed it away."
"But you know, Conn, we can't destroy Merlin. If we did, the same
people who went crazy over the Travis statement would go crazy all
over again, worse than ever. We'd be destroying everything we planned
for, and we'd be destroying ourselves. That bluff young Macquarte and
Luther Chen-Wong and Bill Nichols made wouldn't work twice. And if
they weren't bluffing...."
His father shuddered.
"And if we don't, how long do you think civilization will last here,
if it blows up all over the rest of the Federation?"
The big machine cut on, a little spot of raw energy grinding away the
collapsium, inch by inch; the undulating curtains of colored light
illuminated the Badlands for miles around. Then, when the first hint
of dawn came into the east, they went out. The steady roar of the
generators that had battered every ear for over twenty-four hours
stopped. There was unbelieving silence, and then shouts.
The workmen swarmed out to man lifters. Slowly the heavy
apparatus—the reactor and the converters, the cutting machine, and
the shielding around it—was lifted away. Finally, a lone lifter came
in and men in radiation-suits went down to hook on grapples, and it
lifted away, carrying with it a ten-foot-square sheet of thin steel
that weighed almost thirty tons.
When they had battered a hole in the vitrified rock underneath, guards
brought up General Shanlee. Somebody almost up to professional
standards had given him a haircut; the beard was gone, too. A
Federation Army officer's uniform had been found reasonably close to
his size, and somebody had even provided him with the four stars of
his retirement rank. He was, again, the man Conn had seen in the
dome-house on Luna.
"Well, you got it open," he said, climbing down from the airjeep that
had brought him. "Now, what are you going to do with it?"
"We can't make up our minds," Conn said. "We're going to let the
computer tell us what to do with it."
Shanlee looked at him, startled. "You mean, you're going to have
Merlin judge itself and decide its own fate?" he asked. "You'll get
the same result we did."
They let a ladder down the hole and descended—Conn and his father,
Kurt Fawzi, Jerry Rivas, then Shanlee and his two guards, then
others—until a score of them were crowded in the room at the bottom,
their flashlights illuminating the circular chamber, revealing
ceiling-high metal cabinets, banks of button- and dial-studded control
panels, big keyboards. It was Shanlee who found the lights and put
them on.
"Powered from the central plant, down below," he said. "The main
cables are disguised as the grounding-outlet. If this thing had been
on when you put on the power, you'd have had an awful lot of power
going nowhere, apparently."
Rodney Maxwell was disappointed. "I know this stuff looks awfully
complex, but I'd have expected there to be more of it."
"Oh, I didn't get a chance to tell you about that. This is only the
operating end," Conn said, and then asked Shanlee if there were
inspection-screens. When Shanlee indicated them, he began putting them
on. "This is the real computer."
They all gave the same view, with minor differences—long corridors,
ten feet wide, between solid banks of steel cabinets on either side.
Conn explained where they were, and added:
"Kurt and the rest of them were sitting here, all this time, wondering
where Merlin was; it was all around them."
"Well, how did you get up here?" Fawzi asked. "We couldn't find
anything from below."
"No, you couldn't." Shanlee was amused. "Watch this."
It was so simple that nobody had ever guessed it. Below, back of the
Commander-in-chief's office, there was a closet, fifteen feet by
twenty. They had found it empty except for some bits of discarded
office-gear, and had used it as a catch-all for everything they wanted
out of the way. Shanlee went to where four thick steel columns rose
from floor to ceiling in a rectangle around a heavy-duty lifter,
pressing a button on a control-box on one of them. The lifter, and the
floor under it, rose, with a thick mass of vitrified rock underneath.
The closet, full of the junk that had been thrown into it, followed.
"That's it," he said. "We just tore out the controls inside that and
patched it up a little. There's a sheet of collapsium-plate under the
floor. Your scanners simply couldn't detect anything from below."
Confident that Merlin would decree its own destruction, Shanlee gave
his parole; the others accepted it. The newsmen were admitted to the
circular operating room and encouraged to send out views and
descriptions of everything. Then the lift controls were reinstalled,
the lid was put back on top, and the only access to the room was
through the office below. The entrance to this was always guarded by
Zarel's soldiers or Brangwyn's police.
There were only a score of them who could be let in on the actual
facts. For the most part, they were the same men who had been in
Fawzi's office on the afternoon of Conn's return, a year and a half
ago. A few others—Anse Dawes, Jerry Rivas, and five computermen Conn
had trained on Koshchei—had to be trusted. Conn insisted on letting
Sylvie Jacquemont in on the revised Awful Truth About Merlin. They
spent a lot of their time together, in Travis's office, for the most
part sunk in dejection.
They had finally found Merlin; now they must lose it. They were trying
to reconcile themselves and take comfort from the achievement, empty
as it was. They could see no way out. If Merlin said that Merlin had
to be destroyed, that was it. Merlin was infallible. Conn hated the
thought of destroying that machine with his whole being, not because
it was an infallible oracle, but because it was the climactic
masterpiece of the science he had spent years studying. To destroy it
was an even worse sacrilege to him than it was to the Merlinolators.
And Rodney Maxwell was thinking of the public effects. What the Travis
statement had started would be nothing by comparison.
"You know, we can keep the destruction of Merlin a secret," Conn said.
"It'll take some work down at the power plant, but we can overload all
the circuits and burn everything out at once." He turned to Shanlee.
"I don't know why you people didn't think of that."
Shanlee looked at him in surprise. "Why, now that you mention it,
neither do I," he admitted. "We just didn't."
"Then," Conn continued, "we can tinker up something in the operating
room that'll turn out what will look like computation results. As far
as anybody outside ourselves will know, Merlin will still be solving
everybody's problems. We'll do like any fortuneteller; tell the
customer what he wants to believe and keep him happy."
More lies; lies without end. And now he'd have a machine to do his
lying for him, a dummy computer that wouldn't compute anything. And
all he'd wanted, to begin with, had been a ship to haul some brandy to
where they could get a fair price for it.
Peace had returned. At first, it had been a frightened and uneasy
peace. The bluff—he hoped that was what it had been—by the Koshchei
colonists had shocked everybody into momentary inaction. In the
twenty-four hours that had followed, the forces of sanity and order
had gotten control again. Merlin existed and had been found. As for
Travis's statement, the old general had been bound by a wartime oath
of secrecy to deny Merlin's existence. The majority relaxed, ashamed
of their hysterical reaction. As for the Cybernarchists and
Armageddonists and Human Supremacy Leaguers, government and private
police, vastly augmented by volunteers, speedily rounded up the
leaders; their followers dispersed, realizing that Merlin was nothing
but a lot of dials and buttons, and interestedly watching the
broadcast views of it.
The banks were still closed, but discreet back-door withdrawals were
permitted to keep business going; so was the Stock Exchange, but word
was going around the brokerage offices that Trisystem Investments was
in the market for a long list of securities. Nobody was willing to do
anything that might upset the precarious balance; everybody was
talking about the bright future, when Merlin would guide Poictesme to
ever greater and more splendid prosperity.
Conn's father and sister flew to Litchfield; Flora stayed with her
mother, and Rodney Maxwell returned to Force Command, shaking his head
"She's still unconscious, Conn," he said. "She just lies there, barely
breathing. The doctors don't know.... I wish Wade hadn't gone on the
The price of what he had wanted to do was becoming unendurably high
for Conn.
They ran off the computations Merlin had made forty years before, and
rechecked them. There had been no error. The Terran Federation,
overextended, had been cracking for a century before the War; the
strain of that conflict had started an irreversible breakup. Two
centuries for the Federation as such; at most, another century of
irregular trade and occasional war between independent planets, Galaxy
full of human-populated planets as poor as Poictesme at its worst. Or,
aware of the future, sudden outbursts of desperate violence, then
anarchy and barbarism.
It took a long time to set up the new computation. Forty years
of history for almost five hundred planets had to be abstracted
and summarized and translated from verbal symbols to the
electro-mathematical language of computers and fed in. Conn and Sylvie
and General Shanlee and the three men and two women Conn had taught on
Koshchei worked and rested briefly and worked again. Finally, it was
"General; you're the oldest Merlin hand," Conn said, gesturing to the
red button at the main control panel, "You do it."
"You do it, Conn. None of us would be here except for you."
"Thank you, General."
He pressed the button. They all stood silently watching the output
Even a positronic computer does not work instantaneously. Nothing
does. Conn took his eyes from the slot from which the tape would come,
and watched the second-hand of the clock above it. The wait didn't
seem like hours to him; it only seemed like seventy-five seconds, that
way. Then the bell rang, and the tape began coming out.
It took another hour and a half of button-punching; the Braille-like
symbols on the tape had to be retranslated, and even Merlin couldn't
do that for itself. Merlin didn't think in human terms.
It was the same as before. In ignorance, the peoples of the Federation
worlds would go on, striving to keep things running until they wore
out, and then sinking into apathetic acceptance. Deprived of hope,
they would turn to frantic violence and smash everything they most
wanted to preserve. Conn pushed another button.
The second information-request went in: _What is the best course to be
followed under these conditions by the people of Poictesme?_ It had
taken some time to phrase that in symbols a computer would find
comprehensible; the answer, at great length, emerged in two minutes
eight seconds. Retranslating it took five hours.
In the beginning and for the first ten years, it was, almost item for
item, the Maxwell Plan. Export trade, specialized in luxury goods.
Brandies and wines, tobacco; a long list of other exportable
commodities, and optimum markets. Reopening of industrial plants;
establishment of new industries. Attainment of economic
self-sufficiency. Cultural self-sufficiency; establishment of
universities, institutes of technology, research laboratories. Then
the Maxwell Plan became the Merlin Plan; the breakup of the Federation
was a fact that entered into the computation. Build-up of military
strength to resist aggression by other planetary governments. Defense
of the Gartner Trisystem. Lists of possible aggressor planets. Revival
of interstellar communications and trade; expeditions, conquest and
re-education of natives....
"We can't begin to handle this without Merlin," Conn said. "If that
means blowing up the Federation, let it blow. We'll start a new one
"No; if there's a general, violent collapse of the Federation, it'll
spread to Poictesme," Shanlee told him. "Let's ask Merlin the big
Merlin took a good five minutes to work that one out. The question had
to include a full description of Merlin, and a statement of the
information which must be kept secret. The answer was even more
lengthy, but it was summed up in the first word: _Falsification_.
"So Merlin's got to be a liar, too, along with the rest of us!" Sylvie
cried. "Conn, you've corrupted his morals!"
The rest of it was false data which must be taped in, and lists of
corrections which must be made in evaluating any computation into
which such data might enter. There was also a statement that, after
fifty years, suppression of the truth and circulation of falsely
optimistic statements about the Federation would no longer have any
"Well, that's it," Conn said. "Merlin thought himself out of a death
They crowded into the lift and went down to the office below.
Everybody who knew what had been going on upstairs was there. Most of
them were nursing drinks; almost everybody was smoking. All of them
were silent, until Judge Ledue took his cigar from his mouth.
"Has the jury reached a verdict?" he asked, clinging with courtroom
formality to his self-control.
"Yes, your Honor. We find the defendant, Merlin, not guilty as
In the uproar his words released, Rodney Maxwell got to his feet and
came quickly to Conn.
"Flora called just a while ago. Your mother is conscious; she's asking
for us. Flora says she seems perfectly normal."
"We'll go right away; take a recon-car. General, will you explain
things till I get back? Sylvie, do you want to come with us?"
It was autumn again, the second autumn since he had landed from the
_City of Asgard_ at Storisende and taken the _Countess Dorothy_ home
to Litchfield. Again the fields were bare and brown; all up and down
the Gordon Valley the melons were harvested, and the wine-pressing was
ready to start.
The house was crowded today. All top-level Litchfield seemed to have
turned out, and there were guests from Storisende, and even a few who
had made the trip from Koshchei to be there, Simon Macquarte, the
president of Koshchei Tech; Conn would always remember him in the
screen threatening a whole planet with devastation. Luther Chen-Wong,
the chief executive of Koshchei Colony. Clyde Nichols, the president
of Koshchei Airlines.
He almost bumped into Yves Jacquemont, coming in from the hall.
Jacquemont's beard had been trimmed down to a small imperial, and he
was wearing the uniform of Trisystem & Interstellar Spacelines,
nothing at all like a Federation Space Navy uniform. He was laughing
about something; he threw an arm over Conn's shoulder, and they went
into the front parlor together.
"Oh, Gehenna of a big crop!" he heard Klem Zareff's voice, chuckling
happily, above the babble in the room. "You wouldn't believe it. Why,
we had to build six new vats...."
The thin-faced, white-haired man in the chair beside him said
something. Mike Shanlee and Klem Zareff, old enemies, were now fast
friends. Shanlee had come in from Force Command with Conn that
morning. He had stayed on Poictesme as nominal head of Project Merlin,
and intended to remain there for the rest of his life.
"Oh, there aren't any more farm-tramps," Zareff replied. "Everybody's
getting factory jobs off-planet. I have an awful time getting help,
and what I can get won't work for less than ten sols a day. Why,
they're even organizing a union...."
There were feminine shrieks from across the room, and a stampede. The
housecleaning-robot had come in, running its vacuum-cleaning hose
around and brandishing its mops. He saw his mother break away from a
group of older ladies and shout:
The robot stopped dead. "Yash'm?" a voice came out of it,
"Go out!" his mother commanded. "Go to kitchen. Stay there."
"Yash'm." The robot floated out the door to the hall.
His mother rejoined her friends. Probably telling them, for the
thousandth time, that her boy Conn fixed up the sound receptors and
voice for Oscar. Or harping on how Conn had been telling everybody the
truth, all along, and people wouldn't believe him.
Sylvie came up to him and caught his arm. "Come on, Conn; they're
going to start the rehearsal," she said.
"They've been going to start it for an hour," her father told her.
"Well, they're really going to start it now."
"All right. You two run along," Yves Jacquemont said. "And you'd
better start rehearsing for your own wedding before long. The _Genji_
will be ready to hyper out in another month, and I don't want to be at
space when my only daughter gets married."
They pushed through the crowd, dragging Conn's mother with them toward
the big living room beyond. On the way, Mrs. Maxwell stopped to try to
drag Judge Ledue out of a chair.
"Judge, the rehearsal is starting; they can't do it without you."
Ledue clung to his chair. "They daren't do it with me, Mrs. Maxwell.
If I get into it, it won't be a rehearsal; they'll be really married,
and then there won't be any point in having a wedding tomorrow."
"Oh, Morgan!" Conn called across the room to Gatworth. "You've just
been appointed temporary judge for the wedding rehearsal!"
There was a big crowd around Wade Lucas, in the next room; he was
telling them about the voyage to Baldur, from which he had returned,
and the one to Irminsul, with a cargo of arms, machine tools and
contragravity vehicles, on which he and his bride would go for their
honeymoon. There was another crowd around Flora; she was telling them
about the new fashions on Baldur, which had been brought back on the
_Ouroboros II_.
"Where's your father?" his mother was asking him. "He has to rehearse
giving the bride away."
"Probably in his office. I'll go get him."
"You'll get into an argument with somebody and forget to come back,"
his mother said. "Sylvie, you go with him, and bring both of them
"When'll we have our wedding, Sylvie?" he asked as they went off
"Well, before Dad goes to Aditya with the _Genji_. That'll have to be
in a month."
"Two weeks? That ought to be plenty of time to get ready, and let
people recover from this one."
"Everybody's here now. Let's make it a double wedding tomorrow," she
He hadn't been prepared for that. "Well, I hadn't expected.... Sure!
Good idea!" he agreed.
There was a crowd in Rodney Maxwell's little office—Fawzi and some
others, and some Storisende people. One of the latter was
"Jake Vyckhoven's no good, and he never was any good!"
"Well, you have to admit, if he hadn't ordered the banks and the Stock
Exchange closed that time, we'd have had a horrible panic—"
"Admit nothing of the kind! Jethro, you were there, you'll bear me
out. About a dozen of us were at Executive Palace for hours, bullying
him into that. Why, we almost had to twist one of his arms while he
was signing the order with the other. And now he has the gall to run
for re-election on the strength of his heroic actions at the time of
the Travis Hoax!"
"I know who we want for President!" another Storisende man exclaimed.
"He's right here in this room!"
"Yes!" Rodney Maxwell almost bellowed, before the other man could say
anything else. "Here he is!" He grabbed Kurt Fawzi by the arm and
yanked him to his feet. "Here's the man most responsible for finding
Merlin; the man who first suggested sending my son Conn to Terra to
school, the man who, more than anyone else, devoted his life to the
search for Merlin, the man whose inextinguishable faith and
indomitable courage kept that search alive through its darkest hours.
Everybody, get a drink; a toast to our next President, Kurt Fawzi!"
Conn was sure he heard his father add: "Ghu, what a narrow escape!"
Then he and Sylvie began chanting, in unison, "We want Fawzi! We want
End of The Cosmic Computer by H. Beam Piper