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I, Robot, Page 7

Isaac Asimov

Little Lost Robot

  WHEN I DID SEE SUSAN CALVIN AGAIN, IT WAS AT the door of her office. Files were being moved out.

  She said, "How are your articles coming along, young man?"

  "Fine," I said. I had put them into shape according to my own lights, dramatized the bare bones of her recital, added the conversation and little touches, "Would you look over them and see if I haven't been libellous or too unreasonably inaccurate anywhere?"

  "I suppose so. Shall we retire to the Executives' Lounge? We can have coffee. "

  She seemed in good humor, so I chanced it as we walked down the corridor, "I was wondering, Dr. Calvin-"


  "If you would tell me more concerning the history of robotics. "

  "Surely you have what you want, young man. "

  "In a way. But these incidents I have written up don't apply much to the modern world. I mean, there was only one mind-reading robot ever developed, and Space-Stations are already outmoded and in disuse, and robot mining is taken for granted. What about interstellar travel? It's only been about twenty years since the hyperatomic motor was invented and it's well known that it was a robotic invention. What is the truth about it?"

  "Interstellar travel?" She was thoughtful. We were in the lounge, and I ordered a full dinner. She just had coffee.

  "It wasn't a simple robotic invention, you know; not just like that. But, of course, until we developed the Brain, we didn't get very far. But we tried; we really tried. My first connection (directly, that is) with interstellar research was in 2029, when a robot was lost-"

  Measures on Hyper Base had been taken in a sort of rattling fury - the muscular equivalent of an hysterical shriek.

  To itemize them in order of both chronology and desperation, they were:

  1. All work on the Hyperatomic Drive through all the space volume occupied by the Stations of the Twenty-Seventh Asteroidal Grouping came to a halt.

  2. That entire volume of space was nipped out of the System, practically speaking. No one entered without permission. No one left under any conditions.

  3. By special government patrol ship, Drs. Susan Calvin and Peter Bogert, respectively Head Psychologist and Mathematical Director of United States Robot amp; Mechanical Men Corporation, were brought to Hyper Base.

  Susan Calvin had never left the surface of Earth before, and had no perceptible desire to leave it this time. In an age of Atomic Power and a clearly coming Hyperatomic Drive, she remained quietly provincial. So she was dissatisfied with her trip and unconvinced of the emergency, and every line of her plain, middle-aged face showed it clearly enough during her first dinner at Hyper Base.

  Nor did Dr. Bogert's sleek paleness abandon a certain hangdog attitude. Nor did Major-general Kallner, who headed the project, even once forget to maintain a hunted expression. In short, it was a grisly episode, that meal, and the little session of three that followed began in a gray, unhappy manner.

  Kallner, with his baldness glistening, and his dress uniform oddly unsuited to the general mood, began with uneasy directness.

  "This is a queer story to tell, sir, and madam. I want to thank you for coming on short notice and without a reason being given. We'll try to correct that now. We've lost a robot. Work has stopped and must stop until such time as we locate it. So far we have failed, and we feel we need expert help. "

  Perhaps the general felt his predicament anticlimactic. He continued with a note of desperation, "I needn't tell you the importance of our work here. More than eighty percent of last year's appropriations for scientific research have gone to us-"

  "Why, we know that," said Bogert, agreeably. "U. S. Robots is receiving a generous rental fee for use of our robots. "

  Susan Calvin injected a blunt, vinegary note, "What makes a single robot so important to the project, and why hasn't it been located?"

  The general turned his red face toward her and wet his lips quickly, "Why, in a manner of speaking we have located it. " Then, with near anguish, "Here, suppose I explain. As soon as the robot failed to report a state of emergency was declared, and all movement off Hyper Base stopped. A cargo vessel had landed the previous day and had delivered us two robots for our laboratories. It had sixty-two robots of the. . . uh. . . game type for shipment elsewhere. We are certain as to that figure. There is no question about it whatever. "

  "Yes? And the connection?"

  "When our missing robot failed of location anywhere - I assure you we would have found a missing blade of grass if it had been there to find - we brainstormed ourselves into counting the robots left of the cargo ship. They have sixty-three now. "

  "So that the sixty-third, I take it, is the missing prodigal?" Dr. Calvin's eyes darkened.

  "Yes, but we have no way of telling which is the sixty-third. "

  There was a dead silence while the electric clock chimed eleven times, and then the robopsychologist said, "Very peculiar," and the corners of her lips moved downward.

  "Peter," she turned to her colleague with a trace of savagery, "what's wrong here? What kind of robots are they, using at Hyper Base?"

  Dr. Bogert hesitated and smiled feebly, "It's been rather a matter of delicacy till now, Susan. "

  She spoke rapidly, "Yes, till now. If there are sixty-three same-type robots, one of which is wanted and the identity of which cannot be determined, why won't any of them do? What's the idea of all this? Why have we been sent for?"

  Bogert said in resigned fashion, "If you'll give me a chance, Susan - Hyper Base happens to be using several robots whose brains are not impressioned with the entire First Law of Robotics. "

  "Aren't impressioned?" Calvin slumped back in her chair, "I see. How many were made?"

  "A few. It was on government order and there was no way of violating the secrecy. No one was to know except the top men directly concerned. You weren't included, Susan. It was nothing I had anything to do with. "

  The general interrupted with a measure of authority. "I would like to explain that bit. I hadn't been aware that Dr. Calvin was unacquainted with the situation. I needn't tell you, Dr. Calvin, that there always has been strong opposition to robots on the Planet. The only defense the government has had against the Fundamentalist radicals in this matter was the fact that robots are always built with an unbreakable First Law - which makes it impossible for them to harm human beings under any circumstance.

  "But we had to have robots of a different nature. So just a few of the NS-2 model, the Nestors, that is, were prepared with a modified First Law. To keep it quiet, all NS-2's are manufactured without serial numbers; modified members are delivered here along with a group of normal robots; and, of course, all our kind are under the strictest impressionment never to tell of their modification to unauthorized personnel. " He wore an embarrassed smile, "This has all worked out against us now. "

  Calvin said grimly, "Have you asked each one who it is, anyhow? Certainly, you are authorized?"

  The general nodded, "All sixty-three deny having worked here - and one is lying. "

  "Does the one you want show traces of wear? The others, I take it, are factory-fresh. "

  "The one in question only arrived last month. It, and the two that have just arrived, were to be the last we needed. There's no perceptible wear. " He shook his head slowly and his eyes were haunted again, "Dr. Calvin, we don't dare let that ship leave. If the existence of non-First Law robots becomes general knowledge-" There seemed no way of avoiding understatement in the conclusion.

  "Destroy all sixty-three," said the robopsychologist coldly and flatly, "and make an end of it. "

  Bogert drew back a corner of his mouth. "You mean destroy thirty thousand dollars per robot. I'm afraid U. S. Robots wouldn't like that. We'd better make an effort first, Susan, before we destroy anything. "

  "In that case," she said, sharply, "I need facts. Exactly what advantage does Hyper Base derive from these modified robots? What factor made them desirable, general?"r />
  Kallner ruffled his forehead and stroked it with an upward gesture of his hand. "We had trouble with our previous robots. Our men work with hard radiations a good deal, you see. It's dangerous, of course, but reasonable precautions are taken. There have been only two accidents since we began and neither was fatal. However, it was impossible to explain that to an ordinary robot. The First Law states -I'll quote it- 'No robot may harm a human being, or through inactiotn, allow a human being to come to harm. '

  "That's primary, Dr. Calvin. When it was necessary for one of our men to expose himself for a short period to a moderate gamma field, one that would have no physiological effects, the nearest robot would dash in to drag him out. If the field were exceedingly weak, it would succeed, and work could not continue till all robots were cleared out. If the field were a trifle stronger, the robot would never reach the technician concerned, since its positronic brain would collapse under gamma radiations - and then we would be out one expensive and hard-to-replace robot.

  "We tried arguing with them. Their point was that a human being in a gamma field was endangering his life and that it didn't matter that he could remain there half an hour safely. Supposing, they would say, he forgot and remained an hour. They couldn't take chances. We pointed out that they were risking their lives on a wild off-chance. But selfpreservation is only the Third Law of Robotics - and the First Law of human safety came first. We gave them orders; we ordered them strictly and harshly to remain out of gamma fields at whatever cost. But obedience is only the Second Law of Robotics - and the First Law of human safety came first. Dr. Calvin, we either had to do without robots, or do something about the First Law - and we made our choice. "

  "I can't believe," said Dr. Calvin, "that it was found possible to remove the First Law. "

  "It wasn't removed, it was modified," explained Kallner. "Positronic brains were constructed that contained the positive aspect only of the Law, which in them reads: `No robot may harm a human being. ' That is all. They have no compulsion to prevent one coming to harm through an extraneous agency such as gamma rays. I state the matter correctly, Dr. Bogert?"

  "Quite," assented the mathematician.

  "And that is the only difference of your robots from the ordinary NS2 model? The only difference? Peter?"

  "The only difference, Susan. "

  She rose and spoke with finality, "I intend sleeping now, and in about eight hours, I want to speak to whomever saw the robot last. And from now on, General Kallner, if I'm to take any responsibility at all for events, I want full and unquestioned control of this investigation. "

  Susan Calvin, except for two hours of resentful lassitude, experienced nothing approaching sleep. She signaled at Bogert's door at the local time of 0700 and found him also awake. He had apparently taken the trouble of transporting a dressing gown to Hyper Base with him, for he was sitting in it. He put his nail scissors down when Calvin entered.

  He said softly, "I've been expecting you more or less. I suppose you feel sick about all this. "

  "I do. "

  "Well- I'm sorry. There was no way of preventing it. When the call came out from Hyper Base for us, I knew that something must have gone wrong with the modified Nestors. But what was there to do? I couldn't break the matter to you on the trip here as I would have liked to, because I had to be sure. The matter of the modification is top secret. "

  The psychologist muttered, "I should have been told. U. S. Robots had no right to modify positronic brains this way without the approval of a psychologist. "

  Bogert lifted his eyebrows and sighed. "Be reasonable, Susan. You couldn't have influenced them. In this matter, the government was bound to have its way. They want the Hyperatomic Drive and the etheric physicists want robots that won't interfere with them. They were going to get them even if it did mean twisting the First Law. We had to admit it was possible from a construction standpoint and they swore a mighty oath that they wanted only twelve, that they would be used only at Hyper Base, that they would be destroyed once the Drive was perfected, and that full precautions would be taken. And they insisted on secrecy - and that's the situation. "

  Dr. Calvin spoke through her teeth, "I would have resigned. "

  "It wouldn't have helped. The government was offering the company a fortune, and threatening it with antirobot legislation in case of a refusal. We were stuck then, and we're badly stuck now. If this leaks out, it might hurt Kallner and the government, but it would hurt U. S. Robots a devil of a lot more. "

  The psychologist stared at him. "Peter, don't you realize what all this is about? Can't you understand what the removal of the First Law means? It isn't just a matter of secrecy. "

  "I know what removal would mean. I'm not a child. It would mean complete instability, with no nonimaginary solutions to the positronic Field Equations. "

  "Yes, mathematically. But can you translate that into crude psychological thought. All normal life, Peter, consciously or otherwise, resents domination. If the domination is by an inferior, or by a supposed inferior, the resentment becomes stronger. Physically, and, to an extent, mentally, a robot -any robot- is superior to human beings. What makes him slavish, then? Only the First Lawl Why, without it, the first order you tried to give a robot would result in your death. Unstable? What do you think?"

  "Susan," said Bogert, with an air of sympathetic amusement. "I'll admit that this Frankenstein Complex you're exhibiting has a certain justification -hence the First Law in the first, place. But the Law, I repeat and repeat, has not been removed - merely modified. "

  "And what about the stability of the brain?"

  The mathematician thrust out his lips, "Decreased, naturally. But it's within the border of safety. The first Nestors were delivered to Hyper Base nine months ago, and nothing whatever has gone wrong till now, and even this involves merely fear of discovery and not danger to humans. "

  "Very well, then. We'll see what comes of the morning conference. "

  Bogert saw her politely to the door and grimaced eloquently when she left. He saw no reason to change his perennial opinion of her as a sour and fidgety frustration.

  Susan Calvin's train of thought did not include Bogert in the least. She had dismissed him years ago as a smooth and pretentious sleekness.

  Gerald Black had taken his degree in etheric physics the year before and, in common with his entire generation of physicists, found himself engaged in the problem of the Drive. He now made a proper addition to the general atmosphere of these meetings on Hyper Base. In his stained white smock, he was half rebellious and wholly uncertain. His stocky strength seemed striving for release and his fingers, as they twisted each other with nervous yanks, might have forced an iron bar out of true.

  Major-general Kallner sat beside him, the two from U. S. Robots faced him.

  Black said, "I'm told that I was the last to see Nestor 10 before he vanished. I take it you want to ask me about that. "

  Dr. Calvin regarded him with interest, "You sound as if you were not sure, young man. Don't you know whether you were the last to see him?"

  "He worked with me, ma'am, on the field generators, and he was with me the morning of his disappearance. I don't know if anyone saw him after about noon. No one admits having done so. "

  "Do you think anyone's lying about it?"

  "I don't say that. But I don't say that I want the blame of it, either. " His dark eyes smoldered.

  "There's no question of blame. The robot acted as it did because of what it is. We're just trying to locate it, Mr. Black, and let's put everything else aside. Now if you've worked with the robot, you probably know it better than anyone else. Was there anything unusual about it that you noticed? Had you ever worked with robots before?"

  "I've worked with other robots we have here - the simple ones. Nothing different about the Nestors except that they're a good deal cleverer - and more annoying. "

  "Annoying? In what way?"

  "Well- perhaps it's not
their fault. The work here is rough and most of us get a little jagged. Fooling around with hyper-space isn't fun. " He smiled feebly, finding pleasure in confession. "We run the risk continually of blowing a hole in normal space-time fabric and dropping right out of the universe, asteroid and all. Sounds screwy, doesn't it? Naturally, you're on edge sometimes. But these Nestors aren't. They're curious, they're calm, they don't worry. It's enough to drive you nuts at times. When you want something done in a tearing hurry, they seem to take their time. Sometimes I'd rather do without. "

  "You say they take their time? Have they ever refused an order?"

  "Oh, no," hastily. "They do it all right. They tell you when they think you're wrong, though. They don't know anything about the subject but what we taught them, but that doesn't stop them. Maybe I imagine it, but the other fellows have the same trouble with their Nestors. "

  General Kallner cleared his throat ominously, "Why have no complaints reached me on the matter, Black?"

  The young physicist reddened, "We didn't really want to do without the robots, sir, and besides we weren't certain exactly how such. . . uh. . . minor complaints might be received. "

  Bogert interrupted softly, "Anything in particular happen the morning you last saw it?"

  There was a silence. With a quiet motion, Calvin repressed the comment that was about to emerge from Kallner, and waited patiently.

  Then Black spoke in blurting anger, "I had a little trouble with it. I'd broken a Kimball tube that morning and was out five days of work; my entire program was behind schedule; I hadn't received any mail from home for a couple of weeks. And he came around wanting me to repeat an experiment I had abandoned a month ago. He was always annoying me on that subject and I was tired of it. I told him to go away - and that's all I saw of him. "

  "You told him to go away?" asked Dr. Calvin with sharp interest. "In just those words? Did you say `Go away'? Try to remember the exact words. "

  There was apparently an internal struggle in progress. Black cradled his forehead in a broad palm for a moment, then tore it away and said defiantly, "I said, 'Go lose yourself. ' "

  Bogert laughed for a short moment. "And he did, eh?"

  But Calvin wasn't finished. She spoke cajolingly, "Now we're getting somewhere, Mr. Black. But exact details are important. In understanding the robot's actions, a word, a gesture, an emphasis may be everything. You couldn't have said just those three words, for instance, could you? By your own description you must have been in a hasty mood. Perhaps you strengthened your speech a little. "

  The young man reddened, "Well. . . I may have called it a. . . a few things. "

  "Exactly what things?"

  "Oh - I wouldn't remember exactly. Besides I couldn't repeat it. You know how you get when you're excited. " His embarrassed laugh was almost a giggle, "I sort of have a tendency to strong language. "

  "That's quite all right," she replied, with prim severity. "At the moment, I'm a psychologist. I would like to have you repeat exactly what you said as nearly as you remember, and, even more important, the exact tone of voice you used. "

  Black looked at his commanding officer for support, found none. His eyes grew round and appalled, "But I can't. "

  "You must. "

  "Suppose," said Bogert, with ill-hidden amusement, "you address me. You may find it easier. "

  The young man's scarlet face turned to Bogert. He swallowed. "I said" His voice faded out. He tried again, "I said-"

  And he drew a deep breath and spewed it out hastily in one long succession of syllables. Then, in the charged air that lingered, he concluded almost in tears, ". . . more or less. I don't remember the exact order of what I called him, and maybe I left out something or put in something, but that was about it. "

  Only the slightest flush betrayed any feeling on the part of the robopsychologist. She said, "I am aware of the meaning of most of the terms used. The others, I suppose, are equally derogatory. "

  "I'm afraid so," agreed the tormented Black.

  "And in among it, you told him to lose himself. "

  "I meant it only figuratively. "

  "I realize that. No disciplinary action is intended, I am sure. " And at her glance, the general, who, five seconds earlier, had seemed not sure at all, nodded angrily.

  "You may leave, Mr. Black. Thank you for your cooperation. "

  It took five hours for Susan Calvin to interview the sixty-three robots. It was five hours of multi-repetition; of replacement after replacement of identical robot; of Questions A, B, C, D; and Answers A, B, C, D; of a carefully bland expression, a carefully neutral tone, a carefully friendly atmosphere; and a hidden wire recorder.

  The psychologist felt drained of vitality when she was finished.

  Bogert was waiting for her and looked expectant as she dropped the recording spool with a clang upon the plastic of the desk.

  She shook her head, "All sixty-three seemed the same to me. I couldn't tell-"

  He said, "You couldn't expect to tell by ear, Susan. Suppose we analyze the recordings. "

  Ordinarily, the mathematical interpretation of verbal reactions of robots is one of the more intricate branches of robotic analysis. It requires a staff of trained technicians and the help of complicated computing machines. Bogert knew that. Bogert stated as much, in an extreme of unshown annoyance after having listened to each set of replies, made lists of word deviations, and graphs of the intervals of responses.

  "There are no anomalies present, Susan. The variations in wording and the time reactions are within the limits of ordinary frequency groupings. We need finer methods. They must have computers here. No. " He frowned and nibbled delicately at a thumbnail. "We can't use computers. Too much danger of leakage. Or maybe if we-"

  Dr. Calvin stopped him with an impatient gesture, "Please, Peter. This isn't one of your petty laboratory problems. If we can't determine the modified Nestor by some gross difference that we can see with the naked eye, one that there is no mistake about, we're out of luck. The danger of being wrong, and of letting him escape is otherwise too great. It's not enough to point out a minute irregularity in a graph. I tell you, if that's all I've got to go on, I'd destroy them all just to be certain. Have you spoken to the other modified Nestors?"

  "Yes, I have," snapped back Bogert, "and there's nothing wrong with them. They're above normal in friendliness if anything. They answered my questions, displayed pride in their knowledge - except the two new ones that haven't had time to learn their etheric physics. They laughed rather good-naturedly at my ignorance in some of the specializations here. " He shrugged, "I suppose that forms some of the basis for resentment toward them on the part of the technicians here. The robots are perhaps too willing to impress you with their greater knowledge. "

  "Can you try a few Planar Reactions to see if there has been any change, any deterioration, in their mental set-up since manufacture?"

  "I haven't yet, but I will. " He shook a slim finger at her, "You're losing your nerve, Susan. I don't see what it is you're dramatizing. They're essentially harmless. "

  "They are?" Calvin took fire. "They are? Do you realize one of them is lying? One of the sixty-three robots I have just interviewed has deliberately lied to me after the strictest injunction to tell the truth. The abnormality indicated is horribly deep-seated, and horribly frightening. "

  Peter Bogert felt his teeth harden against each other. He said, "Not at all. Look! Nestor 10 was given orders to lose himself. Those orders were expressed in maximum urgency by the person most authorized to command him. You can't counteract that order either by superior urgency or superior right of command. Naturally, the robot will attempt to defend the carrying out of his orders. In fact, objectively, I admire his ingenuity. How better can a robot lose himself than to hide himself among a group of similar robots?"

  "Yes, you would admire it. I've detected amusement in you, Peter - amusement and an appalling lack of understanding. Are you a roboticis
t, Peter? Those robots attach importance to what they consider superiority. You've just said as much yourself. Subconsciously they feel humans to be inferior and the First Law which protects us from them is imperfect. They are unstable. And here we have a young man ordering a robot to leave him, to lose himself, with every verbal appearance of revulsion, disdain, and disgust. Granted, that robot must follow orders, but subconsciously, there is resentment. It will become more important than ever for it to prove that it is superior despite the horrible names it was called. It may become so important that what's left of the First Law won't be enough. "

  "How on Earth, or anywhere in the Solar System, Susan, is a robot going to know the meaning of the assorted strong language used upon him? Obscenity is not one of the things impressioned upon his brain. "

  "Original impressionment is not everything," Calvin snarled at him. "Robots have learning capacity, you. . . you fool-" And Bogert knew that she had really lost her temper. She continued hastily, "Don't you suppose he could tell from the tone used that the words weren't complimentary? Don't yon suppose he's heard the words used before and noted upon what occasions?"

  "Well, then," shouted Bogert, "will you kindly tell me one way in which a modified robot can harm a human being, no matter how offended it is, no matter how sick with desire to prove superiority?"

  "If I tell you one way, will you keep quiet?"

  "Yes. "

  They were leaning across the table at each other, angry eyes nailed together.

  The psychologist said, "If a modified robot were to drop a heavy weight upon a human being, he would not be breaking the First Law, if he did so with the knowledge that his strength and reaction speed would be sufficient to snatch the weight away before it struck the man. However once the weight left his fingers, he would be no longer the active medium. Only the blind force of gravity would be that. The robot could then change his mind and merely by inaction, allow the weight to strike. The modified First Law allows that. "

  "That's an awful stretch of imagination. "

  "That's what my profession requires sometimes. Peter, let's not quarrel. Let's work. You know the exact nature of the stimulus that caused the robot to lose himself. You have the records of his original mental make-up. I want you to tell me how possible it is for our robot to do the sort of thing I just talked about. Not the specific instance, mind you, but that whole class of response. And I want it done quickly. "

  "And meanwhile-"

  "And meanwhile, we'll have to try performance tests directly on the response to First Law. "

  Gerald Black, at his own request, was supervising the mushrooming wooden partitions that were springing up in a bellying circle on the vaulted third floor of Radiation Building 2. The laborers worked, in the main, silently, but more than one was openly a-wonder at the sixty-three photocells that required installation.

  One of them sat down near Black, removed his hat, and wiped his forehead thoughtfully with a freckled forearm.

  Black nodded at him, "How's it doing, Walensky?"

  Walensky shrugged and fired a cigar, "Smooth as butter. What's going on anyway, Doc? First, there's no work for three days and then we have this mess of jiggers. " He leaned backward on his elbows and puffed smoke.

  Black twitched his eyebrows, "A couple of robot men came over from Earth. Remember the trouble we had with robots running into the gamma fields. before we pounded it into their skulls that they weren't to do it. "

  "Yeah. Didn't we get new robots?"

  "We got some replacements, but mostly it was a job of indoctrination. Anyway, the people who make them want to figure out robots that aren't hit so bad by gamma rays. "

  "Sure seems funny, though, to stop all the work on the Drive for this robot deal. I thought nothing was allowed to stop the Drive. "

  "Well, it's the fellows upstairs that have the say on that. Me- I just do as I'm told. Probably all a matter of pull-"

  "Yeah," the electrician jerked a smile, and winked a wise eye. "Somebody knew somebody in Washington. But as long as my pay comes through on the dot, I should worry. The Drive's none of my affair. What are they going to do here?"

  "You're asking me? They brought a mess of robots with them, -over sixty, and they're going to measure reactions. That's all my knowledge. "

  "How long will it take?"

  "I wish I knew. "

  "Well," Walensky said, with heavy sarcasm, "as long as they dish me my money, they can play games all they want. "

  Black felt quietly satisfied. Let the story spread. It was harmless, and near enough to the truth to take the fangs out of curiosity.

  A man sat in the chair, motionless, silent. A weight dropped, crashed downward, then pounded aside at the last moment under the synchronized thump of a sudden force beam. In sixty-three wooden cells, watching NS-2 robots dashed forward in that split second before the weight veered, and sixty-three photocells five feet ahead of their original positions jiggled the marking pen and presented a little jag on the paper. The weight rose and dropped, rose and dropped, rose-

  Ten times!

  Ten times the robots sprang forward and stopped, as the man remained safely seated.

  Major-general Kallner had not worn his uniform in its entirety since the first dinner with the U. S. Robot representatives. He wore nothing over his blue-gray shirt now, the collar was open, and the black tie was pulled loose.

  He looked hopefully at Bogert, who was still blandly neat and whose inner tension was perhaps betrayed only by the trace of glister at his temples.

  The general said, "How does it look? What is it you're trying to see?"

  Bogert replied, "A difference which may turn out to be a little too subtle for our purposes, I'm afraid. For sixty-two of those robots the necessity of jumping toward the apparently threatened human was what we call, in robotics, a forced reaction. You see, even when the robots knew that the human in question would not come to harm - and after the third or fourth time they must have known it - they could not prevent reacting as they did. First Law requires it"


  "But the sixty-third robot, the modified Nestor, had no such complusion. He was under free action. If he had wished, he could have remained in his seat. Unfortunately," said his voice was mildly regretful, "he didn't so wish. "

  "Why do you suppose?"

  Bogert shrugged, "I suppose Dr. Calvin will tell us when she gets here. Probably with a horribly pessimistic interpretation, too. She is sometimes a bit annoying. "

  "She's qualified, isn't she?" demanded the general with a sudden frown of uneasiness.

  "Yes. " Bogert seemed amused. "She's qualified all right. She understands robots like a sister - comes from hating human beings so much, I think. It's just that, psychologist or not, she's an extreme neurotic. Has paranoid tendencies. Don't take her too seriously. "

  He spread the long row of broken-line graphs out in front of him. "You see, general, in the case of each robot the time interval from moment of drop to the completion of a five-foot movement tends to decrease as the tests are repeated. There's a definite mathematical relationship that governs such things and failure to conform would indicate marked abnormality in the positronic brain. Unfortunately, all here appear normal. "

  "But if our Nestor 10 was not responding with a forced action, why isn't his curve different? I don't understand that. "

  "It's simple enough. Robotic responses are not perfectly analogous to human responses, more's the pity. In human beings, voluntary action is much slower than reflex action. But that's not the case with robots; with them it is merely a question of freedom of choice, otherwise the speeds of free and forced action are much the same. What I had been expecting, though, was that Nestor 10 would be caught by surprise the first time and allow too great an interval to elapse before responding. "

  "And he didn't?"

  "I'm afraid not. "

  "Then we haven't gotten anywhere. " The general sat back with an expr
ession of pain. "It's five days since you've come. "

  At this point, Susan Calvin entered and slammed the door behind her. "Put your graphs away, Peter," she cried, "you know they don't show anything. "

  She mumbled something impatiently as Kallner half-rose to greet her, and went on, "We'll have to try something else quickly. I don't like what's happening. "

  Bogert exchanged a resigned glance with the general. "Is anything wrong?"

  "You mean specifically? No. But I don't like to have Nestor 10 continue to elude us. It's bad. It must be gratifying his swollen sense of superiority. I'm afraid that his motivation is no longer simply one of following orders. I think it's becoming more a matter of sheer neurotic necessity to outthink humans. That's a dangerously unhealthy situation. Peter, have you done what I asked? Have you worked out the instability factors of the modified NS-2 along the lines I want?"

  "It's in progress," said the mathematician, without interest.

  She stared at him angrily for a moment, then turned to Kallner. "Nester 10 is decidedly aware of what we're doing, general. He had no reason to jump for the bait in this experiment, especially after the first time, when he must have seen that there was no real danger to our subject. The others couldn't help it; but he was deliberately falsifying a reaction. "

  "What do you think we ought to do now, then, Dr. Calvin?"

  "Make it impossible for him to fake an action the next time. We will repeat the experiment, but with an addition. High-tension cables, capable of electrocuting the Nestor models will be placed between subject and robot - enough of them to avoid the possibility of jumping over - and the robot will be made perfectly aware in advance that touching the cables will mean death. "

  "Hold on," spat out Bogert with sudden viciousness. "I rule that out. We are not electrocuting two million dollars worth of robots to locate Nestor 10. There are other ways. "

  "You're certain? You've found none. In any case, it's not a question of electrocution. We can arrange a relay which will break the current at the instant of application of weight. If the robot should place his weight on it, he won't die. But he won't know that, you see. "

  The general's eyes gleamed into hope. "Will that work?"

  "It should. Under those conditions, Nestor 10 would have to remain in his seat. He could be ordered to touch the cables and die, for the Second Law of obedience is superior to the Third Law of self-preservation. But he won't be ordered to; he will merely be left to his own devices, as will all the robots. In the case of the normal robots, the First Law of human safety will drive them to their death even without orders. But not our Nestor 10. Without the entire First Law, and without having received any orders on the matter, the Third Law, self-preservation, will be the highest operating, and he will have no choice but to remain in his seat. It would be a forced action. "

  "Will it be done tonight, then?"

  "Tonight," said the psychologist, "if the cables can be laid In time. I'll tell the robots now what they're to be up against. . .

  A man sat in the chair, motionless, silent. A weight dropped, crashed downward, then pounded aside at the last moment under the synchronized thump of a sudden force beam.

  Only once-

  And from her small camp chair in the observing booth in the balcony, Dr. Susan Calvin rose with a short gasp of pure horror.

  Sixty-three robots sat quietly in their chairs, staring owlishly at the endangered man before them. Not one moved.

  Dr. Calvin was angry, angry almost past endurance. Angry the worse for not daring to show it to the robots that, one by one, were entering the room and then leaving. She checked the list. Number twenty-eight was due in now - Thirty-five still lay ahead of her.

  Number Twenty-eight entered, diffidently.

  She forced herself into reasonable calm. "And who are You?"

  The robot replied in a low, uncertain voice, "I have received no number of my own yet, ma'am. I'm an NS-2 robot, and I was Number Twenty-eight in line outside. I have a slip of paper here that I'm to give to you. "

  "You haven't been in here before this today?"

  "No, ma'am. "

  "Sit down. Right there. I want to ask you some questions, Number Twenty-eight. Were you in the Radiation Room of Building Two about four hours ago?"

  The robot had trouble answering. Then it came out hoarsely, like machinery needing oil, "Yes, ma'am. "

  "There was a man who almost came to harm there, wasn't there?"

  "Yes, ma'am. "

  "You did nothing, did you?"

  "No, ma'am. "

  "The man might have been hurt because of your inaction. Do you know that?"

  "Yes, ma'am. I couldn't help it, ma'am. " It is hard to picture a large expressionless metallic figure cringing, but it managed.

  "I want you to tell me exactly why you did nothing to save him. "

  "I want to explain, ma'am. I certainly don't want to have you. . . have anyone. . . think that I could do a thing that might cause harm to a master. Oh, no, that would be a horrible. . . an inconceivable-"

  "Please don't get excited, boy. I'm not blaming you for anything. I only want to know what you were thinking at the time. "

  "Ma'am, before it all happened you told us that one of the masters would be in danger of harm from that weight that keeps falling and that we would have to cross electric cables if we were to try to save him. Well, ma'am, that wouldn't stop me. What is my destruction compared to the safety of a master? But. . . but it occurred to me that if I died on my way to him, I wouldn't be able to save him anyway. The weight would crush him and then I would be dead for no purpose and perhaps some day some other master might come to harm who wouldn't have, if I had only stayed alive. Do you understand me, ma'am?"

  "You mean that it was merely a choice of the man dying, or both the man and yourself dying. Is that right?"

  "Yes, ma'am. It was impossible to save the master. He might be considered dead. In that case, it is inconceivable that I destroy myself for nothing - without orders. "

  The robopsychologist twiddled a pencil. She had heard the same story with insignificant verbal variations twenty-seven times before. This was the crucial question now.

  "Boy," she said, "your thinking has its points, but it is not the sort of thing I thought you might think. Did you think of this yourself?"

  The robot hesitated. "No. "

  "Who thought of it, then?"

  "We were talking last night, and one of us got that idea and it sounded reasonable. "

  "Which one?"

  The robot thought deeply. "I don't know. Just one of us. "

  She sighed, "That's all. "

  Number Twenty-nine was next. Thirty-four after that.

  Major-general Kallner, too, was angry. For one week all of Hyper Base had stopped dead, barring some paper work on the subsidiary asteroids of the group. For nearly one week, the two top experts in the field had aggravated the situation with useless tests. And now they- or the woman, at any rate- made impossible propositions.

  Fortunately for the general situation, Kallner felt it impolitic to display his anger openly.

  Susan Calvin was insisting, "Why not, sir? It's obvious that the present situation is unfortunate. The only way we may reach results in the future - or what future is left us in this matter - is to separate the robots. We can't keep them together any longer. "

  "My dear Dr. Calvin," rumbled the general, his voice sinking into the lower baritone registers. "I don't see how I can quarter sixty-three robots all over the place-"

  Dr. Calvin raised her arms helplessly. "I can do nothing then. Nestor 10 will either imitate what the other robots would do, or else argue them plausibly into not doing what he himself cannot do. And in any case, this is bad business. We're in actual combat with this little lost robot of ours and he's winning out. Every victory of his aggravates his abnormality. "

  She rose to her feet in determination. "General Kallner, if you do not sep
arate the robots as I ask, then I can only demand that all sixty-three be destroyed immediately. "

  "You demand it, do you?" Bogert looked up suddenly, and with real anger. "What gives you the right to demand any such thing. Those robots remain as they are. I'm responsible to the management, not you. "

  "And I," added Major-general Kallner, "am responsible to the World Co-ordinator - and I must have this settled. "

  "In that case," flashed back Calvin, "there is nothing for me to do but resign. If necessary to force you to the necessary destruction, I'll make this whole matter public. It was not I that approved the manufacture of modified robots. "

  "One word from you, Dr. Calvin," said the general, deliberately, "in violation of security measures, and you would be certainly imprisoned instantly. "

  Bogert felt the matter to be getting out of hand. His voice grew syrupy, "Well, now, we're beginning to act like children, all of us. We need only a little more time. Surely we can outwit a robot without resigning, or imprisoning people, or destroying two millions. "

  The psychologist turned on him with quiet fury, "I don't want any unbalanced robots in existence. We have one Nestor that's definitely unbalanced, eleven more that are potentially so, and sixty-two normal robots that are being subjected to an unbalanced environment. The only absolute safe method is complete destruction. "

  The signal-burr brought all three to a halt, and the angry tumult of growingly unrestrained emotion froze.

  "Come in," growled Kallner.

  It was Gerald Black, looking perturbed. He had heard angry voices. He said, "I thought I'd come myself. . . didn't like to ask anyone else-"

  "What is it? Don't orate-"

  "The locks of Compartment C in the trading ship have been played with. There are fresh scratches on them. "

  "Compartment C?" explained Calvin quickly. "That's the one that holds the robots, isn't it? Who did it?"

  "From the inside," said Black, laconically.

  "The lock isn't out of order, is it?"

  "No. It's all right. I've been staying on the ship now for four days and none of them have tried to get out. But I thought you ought to know, and I didn't like to spread the news. I noticed the matter myself. "

  "Is anyone there now?" demanded the general.

  "I left Robbins and McAdams there. "

  There was a thoughtful silence, and then Dr. Calvin said, ironically, "Well?"

  Kallner rubbed his nose uncertainly, "What's it all about?"

  "Isn't it obvious? Nester 10 is planning to leave. That order to lose himself is dominating his abnormality past anything we can do. I wouldn't be surprised if what's left of his First Law would scarcely be powerful enough to override it. He is perfectly capable of seizing the ship and leaving with it. Then we'd have a mad robot on a spaceship. What would he do next? Any idea? Do you still want to leave them all together, general?"

  "Nonsense," interrupted Bogert. He had regained his smoothness. "All that from a few scratch marks on a lock. "

  "Have you, Dr. Bogert, completed the analysis I've required, since you volunteer opinions?"

  "Yes. "

  "May I see it?"

  "No. "

  "Why not? Or mayn't I ask that, either?"

  "Because there's no point in it, Susan. I told you in advance that these modified robots are less stable than the normal variety, and my analysis shows it. There's a certain very small chance of breakdown under extreme circumstances that are not likely to occur. Let it go at that. I won't give you ammunition for your absurd claim that sixty-two perfectly good robots be destroyed just because so far you lack the ability to detect Nestor 10 among them. "

  Susan Calvin stared him down and let disgust fill her eyes. "You won't let anything stand in the way of the permanent directorship, will you?"

  "Please," begged Kallner, half in irritation. "Do you insist that nothing further can be done, Dr. Calvin?"

  "I can't think of anything, sir," she replied, wearily. "If there were only other differences between Nestor 10 and the normal robots, differences that didn't involve the First Law. Even one other difference. Something in impressionment, environment, specification-" And she stopped suddenly.

  "What is it?"

  "I've thought of something. . . I think-" Her eyes grew distant and hard, "These modified Nestors, Peter. They get the same impressioning the normal ones get, don't they?"

  "Yes. Exactly the same. "

  "And what was it you were saying, Mr. Black," she turned to the young man, who through the storms that had followed his news had maintained a discreet silence. "Once when complaining of the Nestors' attitude of superiority, you said the technicians had taught them all they knew. "

  "Yes, in etheric physics. They're not acquainted with the subject when they come here. "

  "That's right," said Bogert, in surprise. "I told you, Susan, when I spoke to the other Nestors here that the two new arrivals hadn't learned etheric physics yet. "

  "And why is that?" Dr. Calvin was speaking in mounting excitement. "Why aren't NS-2 models impressioned with etheric physics to start with?"

  "I can tell you that," said Kallner. "It's all of a piece with the secrecy. We thought that if we made a special model with knowledge of etheric physics, used twelve of them and put the others to work in an unrelated field, there might be suspicion. Men working with normal Nestors might wonder why they knew etheric physics. So there was merely an impressionment with a capacity for training in the field. Only the ones that come here, naturally, receive such a training. It's that simple. "

  "I understand. Please get out of here, the lot of you. Let me have an hour or so. "

  Calvin felt she could not face the ordeal for a third time. Her mind had contemplated it and rejected it with an intensity that left her nauseated. She could face that unending file of repetitious robots no more.

  So Bogert asked the question now, while she sat aside, eyes and mind half closed.

  Number Fourteen came in - forty-nine to go.

  Bogert looked up from the guide sheet and said, "What is your number in line?"

  "Fourteen, sir. " The robot presented his numbered ticket.

  "Sit down, boy. "

  Bogert asked, "You haven't been here before on this day?"

  "No, sir. "

  "Well, boy, we are going to have another man in danger of harm soon after we're through here. In fact, when you leave this room, you will be led to a stall where you will wait quietly, till you are needed. Do you understand?"

  "Yes, sir. "

  "Now, naturally, if a man is in danger of harm, you will try to save him. "

  "Naturally, sir. "

  "Unfortunately, between the man and yourself, there will be a gamma ray field. "


  "Do you know what gamma rays are?" asked Bogert sharply.

  "Energy radiation, sir?"

  The next question came in a friendly, offhand manner, "Ever work with gamma rays?"

  "No, sir. " The answer was definite.

  "Mm-m. Well, boy, gamma rays will kill you instantly. They'll destroy your brain. That is a fact you must know and remember. Naturally, you don't want to destroy yourself. "

  "Naturally. " Again the robot seemed shocked. Then, slowly, "But, sir, if the gamma rays are between myself and the master that may be harmed, how can I save him? I would be destroying myself to no purpose. "

  "Yes, there is that," Bogert seemed concerned about the matter. "The only thing I can advise, boy, is that if you detect the gamma radiation between yourself and the man, you may as well sit where you are. "

  The robot, was openly relieved. "Thank you, sir. There wouldn't be any use, would there?"

  "Of course not. But if there weren't any dangerous radiation, that would be a different matter. "

  "Naturally, sir. No question of that. "

  "You may leave now. The man on the other side of the door will lead you to your stall. Pleas
e wait there. "

  He turned to Susan Calvin when the robot left. "How did that go, Susan?"

  "Very well," she said, dully.

  "Do you think we could catch Nestor 10 by quick questioning on etheric physics?"

  "Perhaps, but it's not sure enough. " Her hands lay loosely in her lap. "Remember, he's fighting us. He's on his guard. The only way we can catch him is to outsmart him - and, within his limitations, he can think much more quickly than a human being. "

  "Well, just for fun- suppose I ask the robots from now on a few questions on gamma rays. Wave length limits, for instance. "

  "No!" Dr. Calvin's eyes sparked to life. "It would be too easy for him to deny knowledge and then he'd be warned against the test that's coming up - which is our real chance. Please follow the questions I've indicated, Peter, and don't improvise. It's just within the bounds of risk to ask them if they've ever worked with gamma rays. And try to sound even less interested than you do when you ask it. "

  Bogert shrugged, and pressed the buzzer that would allow the entrance of Number Fifteen.

  The large Radiation Room was in readiness once more. The robots waited patiently in their wooden cells, all open to the center but closed off from each other.

  Major-general Kallner mopped his brow slowly with a large handkerchief while Dr. Calvin checked the last details with Black.

  "You're sure now," she demanded, "that none of the robots have had a chance to talk with each other after leaving the Orientation Room?"

  "Absolutely sure," insisted Black. "There's not been a word exchanged. "

  "And the robots are put in the proper stalls?"

  "Here's the plan. "

  The psychologist looked at it thoughtfully, "Um-m-m. "

  The general peered over her shoulder. "What's the idea of the arrangement, Dr. Calvin?"

  "I've asked to have those robots that appeared even slightly out of true in the previous tests concentrated on one side of the circle. I'm going to be sitting in the center myself this time, and I wanted to watch those particularly. "

  "You're going to be sitting there-" exclaimed Bogert.

  "Why not?" she demanded coldly. "What I expect to see may be something quite momentary. I can't risk having anyone else as main observer. Peter, you'll be in the observing booth, and I want you to keep your eye on the opposite side of the circle. General Kallner, I've arranged for motion pictures to be taken of each robot, in case visual observation isn't enough. If these are required, the robots are to remain exactly where they are until the pictures are developed and studied. None must leave, none must change place. Is that clear?"

  "Perfectly. "

  "Then let's try it this one last time. "

  Susan Calvin sat in the chair, silent, eyes restless. A weight dropped, crashed downward; then pounded aside at the last moment under the synchronized thump of a sudden force beam.

  And a single robot jerked upright and took two steps.

  And stopped.

  But Dr. Calvin was upright, and her finger pointed to him sharply. "Nestor 10, come here," she cried, "come here! COME HERE!"

  Slowly, reluctantly, the robot took another step forward. The psychologist shouted at the top of her voice, without taking her eyes from the robot, "Get every other robot out of this place, somebody. Get them out quickly, and keep them out. "

  Somewhere within reach of her ears there was noise, and the thud of hard feet upon the floor. She did not look away.

  Nestor 10 -if it was Nestor 10- took another step, and then, under force of her imperious gesture, two more. He was only ten feet away, when he spoke harshly, "I have been told to be lost-"

  Another stop. "I must not disobey. They have not found me so far- He would think me a failure- He told me- But it's not so- I am powerful and intelligent-"

  The words came in spurts.

  Another step. "I know a good deal- He would think. . . I mean I've been found- Disgraceful- Not I- I am intelligent- And by just a master. . . who is weak- Slow-"

  Another step - and one metal arm flew out suddenly to her shoulder, and she felt the weight bearing her down. Her throat constricted, and she felt a shriek tear through.

  Dimly, she heard Nestor 10's next words, "No one must find me. No master-" and the cold metal was against her, and she was sinking under the weight of it.

  And then a queer, metallic sound, and she was on the ground with an unfelt thump, and a gleaming arm was heavy across her body. It did not move. Nor did Nestor 10, who sprawled beside her.

  And now faces were bending over her.

  Gerald Black was gasping, "Are you hurt, Dr. Calvin?"

  She shook her head feebly. They pried the arm off her and lifted her gently to her feet, "What happened?"

  Black said, "I bathed the place in gamma rays for five seconds. We didn't know what was happening. It wasn't till the last second that we realized he was attacking you, and then there was no time for anything but a gamma field. He went down in an instant. There wasn't enough to harm you though. Don't worry about it. "

  "I'm not worried. " She closed her eyes and leaned for a moment upon his shoulder. "I don't think I was attacked exactly. Nestor 10 was simply trying to do so. What was left of the First Law was still holding him back. "

  Susan Calvin and Peter Bogert, two weeks after their first meeting with Major-general Kallner had their last. Work at Hyper Base had been resumed. The trading ship with its sixty-two normal NS-2's was gone to wherever it was bound, with an officially imposed story to explain its two weeks' delay. The government cruiser was making ready to carry the two roboticists back to Earth.

  Kallner was once again a-gleam in dress uniform. His white gloves shone as he shook hands.

  Calvin said, "The other modified Nestors are, of course, to be destroyed. "

  "They will be. We'll make shift with normal robots, or, if necessary, do without. "

  "Good. "

  "But tell me- You haven't explained- How was it done?"

  She smiled tightly, "Oh, that. I would have told you in advance if I had been more certain of its working. You see, Nestor 10 had a superiority complex that was becoming more radical all the time. He liked to think that he and other robots knew more than human beings. It was becoming very important for him to think so.

  "We knew that. So we warned every robot in advance that gamma rays would kill them, which it would, and we further warned them all that gamma rays would be between them and myself. So they all stayed where they were, naturally. By Nestor 10's own logic in the previous test they had all decided that there was no point in trying to save a human being if they were sure to die before they could do it. "

  "Well, yes, Dr. Calvin, I understand that. But why did Nestor 10 himself leave his seat?"

  "AH! That was a little arrangement between myself and your young Mr. Black. You see it wasn't gamma rays that flooded the area between myself and the robots - but infrared rays. Just ordinary heat rays, absolutely harmless. Nestor 10 knew they were infrared and harmless and so he began to dash out, as he expected the rest would do, under First Law compulsion. It was only a fraction of a second too late that he remembered that the normal NS-2's could detect radiation, but could not identify the type. That he himself could only identify wave lengths by virtue of the training he had received at Hyper Base, under mere human beings, was a little too humiliating to remember for just a moment. To the normal robots the area was fatal because we had told them it would be, and only Nestor 10 knew we were lying.

  "And just for a moment he forgot, or didn't want to remember, that other robots might be more ignorant than human beings. His very superiority caught him. Good-by, general. "