> >Clifford D. Simak "All the Traps of Earth"

Clifford D. Simak - All the Traps of Earth

: Clifford D. Simak "All the Traps of Earth".

 

The inventory list was long. On its many pages, in his small and
precise script, he had listed furniture, paintings, china, silverware and
all the rest of it - all the personal belongings that had been accumulated
by the Barringtons through a long family history.
And now that he had reached the end of it, he noted down himself, the
last item of them all:
One domestic robot, Richard Daniel, antiquated but in good repair.
He laid the pen aside and shuffled all the inventory sheets together
and stacked them in good order, putting a paper weight upon them - the
little exquisitely carved ivory paper weight that aunt Hortense had picked
up that last visit she had made to Peking.
And having done that, his job came to an end.
He shoved back the chair and rose from the desk and slowly walked
across the living room, with all its clutter of possessions from the
family's past. There, above the mantel, hung the sword that ancient Jonathon
had worn in the War Between the States, and below it, on the mantelpiece
itself, the cup the Commodore had won with his valiant yacht, and the jar of
moon-dust that Tony had brought back from Man's fifth landing on the Moon,
and the old chronometer that had come from the long-scrapped family
spacecraft that had plied the asteroids.
And all around the room, almost cheek by jowl, hung the family
portraits, with the old dead faces staring out into the world that they had
helped to fashion.
And not a one of them from the last six hundred years, thought Richard
Daniel, staring at them one by one, that he had not known.
There, to the right of the fireplace, old Rufus Andrew Barrington, who
had been a judge some two hundred years ago. And to the right of Rufus,
Johnson Joseph Barrington, who had headed up that old lost dream of mankind,
the Bureau of Paranormal Research. There, beyond the door that led out to
the porch, was the scowling pirate face of Danley Barrington, who had first
built the family fortune.
And many others - administrator, adventurer, corporation chief. All
good men and true.
But this was at an end. The family had run out.
Slowly Richard Daniel began his last tour of the house - the family
room with its cluttered living space, the den with its old mementos, the
library and its rows of ancient books, the dining hall in which the crystal
and the china shone and sparkled, the kitchen gleaming with the copper and
aluminum and the stainless steel, and the bedrooms on the second floor, each
of them with its landmarks of former occupants. And finally, the bedroom
where old Aunt Hortense had finally died, at long last closing out the line
of Barringtons.
The empty dwelling held a not-quite-haunted quality, the aura of a
house that waited for the old gay life to take up once again. But it was a
false aura. All the portraits, all the china and the silverware, everything
within the house would be sold at public auction to satisfy the debts. The
rooms would be stripped and the possessions would be scattered and, as a
last indignity, the house itself be sold.
Even he, himself, Richard Daniel thought, for he was chattel, too. He
was there with all the rest of it, the final item on the inventory.
Except that what they planned to do with him was worse than simple
sale. For he would be changed before he was offered up for sale. No one
would be interested in putting up good money for him as he stood. And,
besides, there was the law - the law that said no robot could legally have
continuation of a single life greater than a hundred years.
And he had lived in a single life six times a hundred years. He had
gone to see a lawyer and the lawyer had been sympathetic, but had held forth
no hope.
"Technically," he had told Richard Daniel in his short, clipped lawyer
voice, "you are at this moment much in violation of the statute. I
completely fail to see how your family got away with it."
"They liked old things," said Richard Daniel. "And, besides, I was very
seldom seen. I stayed mostly in the house. I seldom ventured out."
"Even so," the lawyer said, "there are such things as records. There
must be a file on you..."
"The family," explained Richard Daniel, "in the past had many
influential friends. You must understand, sir, that the Barringtons, before
they fell upon hard times, were quite prominent in politics and in many
other matters."
The lawyer grunted knowingly.
"What I can't quite understand," he said, "is why you should object so
bitterly. You'll not be changed entirely. You'll still be Richard Daniel."
"I would lose my memories, would I not?'
"Yes, of course you would. But memories are not too important. And
you'd collect another set."
"My memories are dear to me," Richard Daniel told him.
"They are all I have. After some six hundred years, they are my sole
worthwhile possession. Can you imagine, counselor, what it means to spend
six centuries with one family?"
"Yes, I think I can," agreed the lawyer. "But now, with the family
gone, isn't it just possible the memories may prove painful?"
"They're a comfort. A sustaining comfort. They make me feel important.
They give me perspective and a niche."
"But don't you understand? You'll need no comfort, no importance once
you're reoriented. You'll be brand new. All that you'll retain is a certain
sense of basic identity - that they cannot take away from you even if they
wished. There'll be nothing to regret. There'll be no leftover guilts, no
frustrated aspirations, no old loyalties to hound you."
"I must be myself," Richard Daniel insisted stubbornly. "I've found a
depth of living, a background against which my living has some meaning. I
could not face being anybody else."
"You'd be far better off," the lawyer said wearily. "You'd have a
better body. You'd have better mental tools. You'd be more intelligent."
Richard Daniel got up from the chair. He saw it was no use.
"You'll not inform on me?" he asked.
"Certainly not," the lawyer said. "So far as I'm concerned, you aren't
even here."
"Thank you," said Richard Daniel. "How much do I owe you?"
"Not a thing," the lawyer told him. "I never make a charge to anyone
who is older than five hundred."
He had meant it as a joke, but Richard Daniel did not smile. He had not
felt like smiling.
At the door he turned around.
"Why?" he was going to ask. "Why this silly law."
But he did not have to ask - it was not hard to see.
Human vanity, he knew. No human being lived much longer than a hundred
years, so neither could a robot. But a robot, on the other hand, was too
valuable simply to be junked at the end of a hundred years of service, so
there was this law providing for the periodic breakup of the continuity of
each robot's life. And thus no human need undergo the psychological
indignity of knowing that his faithful serving man might manage to outlive
him by several thousand years.
It was illogical, but humans were illogical.
Illogical, but kind. Kind in many different ways.
Kind, sometimes, as the Barringtons had been kind, thought Richard
Daniel. Six hundred years of kindness. It was a prideful thing to think
about. They had even given him a double name. There weren't many robots
nowadays who had double names. It was a special mark of affection and
respect.
The lawyer having failed him, Richard Daniel had sought another source
of help. Now, thinking back on it, standing in the room where Hortense
Barrington had died, he was sorry that he'd done it. For he had embarrassed
the religico almost unendurably. It had been easy for the lawyer to tell him
what he had. Lawyers had the statutes to determine their behavior, and thus
suffered little from agonies of personal decision.
But a man of the cloth is kind if he is worth his salt. And this one
had been kind instinctively as well as professionally, and that had made it
worse.
"Under certain circumstances," he had said somewhat awkwardly, "I could
counsel patience and humility and prayer. Those are three great aids to
anyone who is willing to put them to his use. But with you I am not
certain."
"You mean," said Richard Daniel, "because I am a robot." "Well, now..."
said the minister, considerably befuddled at this direct approach.
"Because I have no soul?"
"Really," said the minister miserably, "you place me at a disadvantage.
You are asking me a question that for centuries has puzzled and bedeviled
the best minds in the church."
"But one," said Richard Daniel, "that each man in his secret heart must
answer for himself."
"I wish I could," cried the distraught minister. "I truly wish I
could."
"If it is any help," said Richard Daniel, "I can tell you that
sometimes I suspect I have a soul."
And that, he could see, had been most upsetting for this kindly human.
It had been, Richard Daniel told himself, unkind of him to say it. For it
must have been confusing, since coming from himself it was not opinion only,
but expert evidence.
So he had gone away from the minister's study and come back to the
empty house to get on with his inventory work.
Now that the inventory was all finished and the papers stacked where
Dancourt, the estate administrator, could find them when be showed up in the
morning, Richard Daniel had done his final service for the Barringtons and
now must begin doing for himself.
He left the bedroom and closed the door behind him and went quietly
down the stairs and along the hallway to the little cubby, back of the
kitchen, that was his very own.
And that, he reminded himself with a rush of pride, was of a piece with
his double name and his six hundred years. There were not too many robots
who had a room, however small, that they might call their own.
He went into the cubby and turned on the light and closed the door
behind him.
And now, for the first time, he faced the grim reality of what he meant
to do.
The cloak and hat and trousers hung upon a hook and the galoshes were
placed precisely underneath them. His attachment kit lay in one corner of
the cubby and the money was cached underneath the floor board he had
loosened many years ago to provide a hiding place.
There was, he, told himself, no point in waiting. Every minute counted.
He had a long way to go and he must be at his destination before morning
light.
He knelt on the floor and pried up the loosened board, shoved in a hand
and brought out the stacks of bills, money hidden through the years against
a day of need.
There were three stacks of bills, neatly held together by elastic bands
- money given him throughout the years as tips and Christmas gifts, as
birthday presents and rewards for little jobs well done.
He opened the storage compartment located in his chest and stowed away
all the bills except for half a dozen which he stuffed into a pocket in one
hip.
He took the trousers off the hook and it was an awkward business, for
he'd never worn clothes before except when he'd tried on these very trousers
several days before. It was a lucky thing, he thought, that long-dead Uncle
Michael had been a portly man, for otherwise the trousers never would have
fit.
He got them on and zippered and belted into place, then forced his feet
into the overshoes. He was a little worried about the overshoes. No human
went out in the summer wearing overshoes. But it was the best that he could
do. None of the regular shoes he'd found in the house had been nearly large
enough.
He hoped no one would notice, but there was no way out of it. Somehow
or other, he had to cover up his feet, for if anyone should see them, they'd
be a giveaway.
He put on the cloak and it was a little short. He put on the hat and it
was slightly small, but he tugged it down until it gripped his metal skull
and that was all to the good, he told himself; no wind could blow it off.
He picked up his attachments - a whole bag full of them that he'd
almost never used. Maybe it was foolish to take them along, he thought, but
they were a part of him and by rights they should go with him. There was so
little that he really owned - just the money he had saved, a dollar at a
time, and this kit of his.
With the bag of attachments clutched underneath his arm, he closed the
cubby door and went down the hall.
At the big front door he hesitated and turned back toward the house,
but it was, at the moment, a simple darkened cave, empty of all that it once
had held. There was nothing here to stay for - nothing but the memories, and
the memories he took with him.
He opened the door and stepped out on the stoop and closed the door
behind him.
And now, he thought, with the door once shut behind him, he was on his
own. He was running off. He was wearing clothes. He was out at night,
without the permission of a master. And all of these were against the law.
Any officer could stop him, or any citizen. He had no rights at all.
And he had no one who would speak for him, now that the Barringtons were
gone.
He moved quietly down the walk and opened the gate and went slowly down
the street, and it seemed to him the house was calling for him to come back.
He wanted to go back, his mind said that he should go back, but his feet
kept going on, steadily down the street.
He was alone, he thought, and the aloneness now was real, no longer the
mere intellectual abstract he'd held in his mind for days. Here he was, a
vacant hulk, that for the moment had no purpose and no beginning and no end,
but was just an entity that stood naked in an endless reach of space and
time and held no meaning in itself.
But he walked on and with each block that he covered he slowly fumbled
back to the thing he was, the old robot in old clothes, the robot running
from a home that was a home no longer.
He wrapped the cloak about him tightly and moved on down the street and
now he hurried, for he had to hurry.
He met several people and they paid no attention to him. A few cars
passed, but no one bothered him.
He came to a shopping center that was brightly lighted and he stopped
and looked in terror at the wide expanse of open, brilliant space that lay
ahead of him. He could detour around it, but it would use up time and he
stood there, undecided, trying to screw up his courage to walk into the
light.
Finally he made up his mind and strode briskly out, with his cloak
wrapped tight about him and his hat pulled low.
Some of the shoppers turned and looked at him and he felt agitated
spiders running up and down his back. The galoshes suddenly seemed three
times as big as they really were and they made a plopping, squashy sound
that was most embarrassing.
He hurried on, with the end of the shopping area not more than a block
away.
A police whistle shrilled and Richard Daniel jumped in sudden fright
and ran. He ran in slobbering, mindless fright, with his cloak streaming out
behind him and his feet slapping on the pavement.
He plunged out of the lighted strip into the welcome darkness of a
residential section and he kept on running.
Far off he heard the siren and he leaped a hedge and tore across the
yard. He thundered down the driveway and across a garden in the back and a
dog came roaring out and engaged in noisy chase.
Richard Daniel crashed into a picket fence and went through it to the
accompaniment of snapping noises as the pickets and the rails gave way. The
dog kept on behind him and other dogs joined in.
He crossed another yard and gained the street and pounded down it. He
dodged into a driveway, crossed another yard, upset a birdbath and ran into
a clothesline, snapping it in his headlong rush.
Behind him lights were snapping on in the windows of the houses and
screen doors were banging as people hurried out to see what the ruckus was.
He ran on a few more blocks, crossed another yard and ducked into a
lilac thicket, stood still and listened. Some dogs were still baying in the
distance and there was some human shouting, but there was no siren.
He felt a thankfulness well up in him that there was no siren, and a
sheepishness, as well. For he had been panicked by himself, be knew; he had
run from shadows, he had fled from guilt.
But he'd thoroughly roused the neighborhood and even now, he knew,
calls must be going out and in a little while the place would be swarming
with police.
He'd raised a hornet's nest and he needed distance, so he crept out of
the lilac thicket and went swiftly down the street, heading for the edge of
town.
He finally left the city, and found the highway. He loped along its
deserted stretches. When a car or truck appeared, he pulled off on the
shoulder and walked along sedately. Then when the car or truck had passed,
he broke into his lope again.
He saw the spaceport lights miles before he got there.
When he reached the port, he circled off the road and came up outside a
fence and stood there in the darkness, looking.
A gang of robots was loading one great starship and there were other
ships standing darkly in their pits.
He studied the gang that was loading the ship, lugging the cargo from a
warehouse and across the area lighted by the floods. This was just the setup
he had planned on, although he had not hoped to find it immediately - he had
been afraid that he might have to hide out for a day or two before he found
a situation that he could put to use. And it was a good thing that he had
stumbled on this opportunity, for an intensive hunt would be on by now for a
fleeing robot, dressed in human clothes.
He stripped off the cloak and pulled off the trousers and the
overshoes; he threw away the hat. From his attachments bag he took out the
cutters, screwed off a hand and threaded the cutters into place. He cut the
fence and wiggled through it, then replaced the hand and put the cutters
back into the kit.
Moving cautiously in the darkness, he walked up to the warehouse,
keeping in its shadow.
It would be simple, he told himself. All he had to do was step out and
grab a piece of cargo, clamber up the ramp and down into the hold. Once
inside, it should not be difficult to find a hiding place and stay there
until the ship had reached first planet-fall.
He moved to the corner of the warehouse and peered around it and there
were the toiling robots, in what amounted to an endless chain, going up the
ramp with the packages of cargo, coming down again to get another load.
But there were too many of them and the line too tight. And the area
too well lighted. He'd never be able to break into that line.
And it would not help if he could, he realized despairingly - because
he was different from those smooth and shining creatures. Compared to them,
he was like a man in another century's dress; he and his
six-hundred-year-old body would stand out like a circus freak.
He stepped back into the shadow of the warehouse and he knew that be
had lost. All his best-laid plans, thought out in sober, daring detail, as
he had labored at the inventory, had suddenly come to naught.
It all came, he told himself, from never going out, from having no real
contact with the world, from not keeping up with robot-body fashions, from
not knowing what the score was. He'd imagined how it would be and he'd got
it all worked out and when it came down, to it, it was nothing like he
thought.
Now he'd have to go back to the hole he'd cut in the fence and retrieve
the clothing be had thrown away and hunt up a hiding place until be could
think of something else.
Beyond the corner of the warehouse he heard the harsh, dull grate of
metal, and he took another look.
The robots had broken up their line and were streaming back toward the
warehouse and a dozen or so of them were wheeling the ramp away from the
cargo port. Three humans, all dressed in uniform, were walking toward the
ship, heading for the ladder, and one of them carried a batch of papers in
his hand.
The loading was all done and the ship about to lift and here he was,
not more than a thousand feet away, and all that he could do was stand and
see it go.
There had to be a way, he told himself, to get in that ship. If he
could only do it his troubles would be over - or at least the first of his
troubles would be over.
Suddenly it struck him like a hand across the face. There was a way to
do it! He'd stood here, blubbering, when all the time there had been a way
to do it!
In the ship, he'd thought. And that was not necessary.
He didn't have to be in the ship.
He started running, out into the darkness, far out so he could circle
round and come upon the ship from the other side, so that the ship would be
between him and the flood lights on the warehouse. He hoped that there was
time.
He thudded out across the port, running in an arc, and came up to the
ship and there was no sign as yet that it was about to leave.
Frantically he dug into his attachments bag and found the things he
needed - the last things in that bag he'd ever thought he'd need. He found
the suction discs and put them on, one for each knee, one for each elbow,
one for each sole and wrist.
He strapped the kit about his waist and clambered up one of the mighty
fins, using the discs to pull himself awkwardly along. It was not easy. He
had never used the discs and there was a trick to using them, the trick of
getting one clamped down and then working loose another so that be could
climb.
But he had to do it. He had no choice but to do it. He climbed the fin
and there was the vast steel body of the craft rising far above him, like a
metal wall climbing to the sky, broken by the narrow line of a row of anchor
posts that ran lengthwise of the hull - and all that huge extent of metal
painted by the faint, illusive shine of starlight that glittered in his
eyes.
Foot by foot he worked his way up the metal wall. Like a humping
caterpillar, he squirmed his way and with each foot he gained he was a bit
more thankful.
Then he heard the faint beginning of a rumble and with the rumble came
terror. His suction cups, he knew, might not long survive the booming
vibration of the wakening rockets, certainly would not hold for a moment
when the ship began to climb.
Six feet above him lay his only hope - the final anchor post in the
long row of anchor posts.
Savagely he drove himself up the barrel of the shuddering craft,
hugging the steely surface like a desperate fly.
The rumble of the tubes built up to blot out all the world and he
climbed in a haze of almost prayerful, brittle hope. He reached that anchor
post or he was as good as dead. Should he slip and drop into that pit of
flaming gases beneath the rocket mouths and he was done for.
Once a cup came loose and he almost fell, but the others held and he
caught himself.
With a desperate, almost careless lunge, he hurled himself up the wall
of metal and caught the rung in his finger-tips and held on with a
concentration of effort that wiped out all else.
The rumble was a screaming fury now that lanced through brain and body.
Then the screaming ended and became a throaty roar of power and the
vibration left the ship entirely. From one corner of his eye he saw the
lights of the spaceport swinging over gently on their side.
Carefully, slowly, be pulled himself along the steel until he had a
better grip upon the rung, but even with the better grip he had the feeling
that some great hand had him in its fist and was swinging him in anger in a
hundred-mile-long arc.
Then the tubes left off their howling and there was a terrible silence
and the stars were there, up above him and to either side of him, and they
were steely stars with no twinkle in them. Down below, be knew, a lonely
Earth was swinging, but he could not see it.
He pulled himself up against the rung and thrust a leg beneath it and
sat up on the hull.
There were more stars than he'd ever seen before, more than he'd
dreamed there could be. They were still and cold, like hard points of light
against a velvet curtain; there was no glitter and no twinkle in them and it
was as if a million eyes were staring down at him. The Sun was underneath
the ship and over to one side; just at the edge of the left-hand curvature
was the glare of it against the silent metal, a sliver of reflected light
outlining one edge of the ship. The Earth was far astern, a ghostly
blue-green ball hanging in the void, ringed by the fleecy halo of its
atmosphere.
It was as if he were detached, a lonely, floating brain that looked out
upon a thing it could not understand nor could ever try to understand; as if
he might even be afraid of understanding it - a thing of mystery and delight
so long as he retained an ignorance of it, but something fearsome and
altogether overpowering once the ignorance had gone.
Richard Daniel sat there, flat upon his bottom, on the metal hull of
the speeding ship and he felt the mystery and delight and the loneliness and
the cold and the great uncaring and his mind retreated into a small and
huddled, compact defensive ball.
He looked. That was all there was to do. It was all right now, he
thought. But how long would he have to look at it? How long would he have to
camp out here in the open - the most deadly kind of open?
He realized for the first time that he had no idea where the ship was
going or how long it might take to get there. He knew it was a starship,
which meant that it was bound beyond the solar system, and that meant that
at some point in its flight it would enter hyperspace. He wondered, at first
academically, and then with a twinge of fear, what hyperspace might do to
one sitting naked to it. But there was little need, he thought
philosophically, to fret about it now, for in due time he'd know, and there
was not a thing that he could do about it - not a single thing.
He took the suction cups off his body and stowed them in his kit and
then with one hand he tied the kit to one of the metal rungs and dug around
in it until he found a short length of steel cable with a ring on one end
and a snap on the other. He passed the ring end underneath a rung and
threaded the snap end through it and snapped the snap onto a metal loop
underneath his armpit. Now he was secured; he need not fear carelessly
letting go and floating off the ship.
So here he was, he thought, neat as anything, going places fast, even
if he had no idea where he might be headed, and now the only thing he needed
was patience. He thought back, without much point, to what the religico had
said in the study back on Earth. Patience and humility and prayer, he'd
said, apparently not realizing at the moment that a robot has a world of
patience.
It would take a lot of time, Richard Daniel knew, to get where he was
going. But he had a lot of time, a lot more than any human, and he could
afford to waste it. There were no urgencies, he thought - no need of food or
air, or water, no need of sleep or rest... There was nothing that could
touch him.
Although, come to think of it, there might be.
There was the cold, for one. The space-hull was still fairly warm, with
one side of it picking up the heat of the Sun and radiating it around the
metal skin, where it was lost on the other side, but there would be a time
when the Sun would dwindle until it had no heat and then he'd be subjected
to the utter cold of space.
And what would the cold do to him. Might it make his body brittle?
Might it interfere with the functioning of his brain? Might it do other
things he could not even guess?
He felt the fears creep in again and tried to shrug them off and they
drew off, but they still were there, lurking at the fringes of his mind.
The cold, and the loneliness, he thought - but he was one who could
cope with loneliness. And if he couldn't, if he got too lonely, if he could
no longer stand it, he could always beat a devil's tattoo on the hull and
after a time of that someone would come out to investigate and they would
haul him in.
But that was the last move of desperation, he told himself. For if they
came out and found him, then he would be caught. Should he be forced to that
extremity, he'd have lost everything - there would then have been no point
in leaving Earth at all.
So he settled down, living out his time, keeping the creeping fears at
bay just beyond the outposts of his mind, and looking at the universe all
spread out before him.
The motors started up again with a pale blue flickering in the rockets
at the stern and although there was no sense of acceleration he knew that
the ship, now well off the Earth, had settled down to the long, hard drive
to reach the speed of light.
Once they reached that speed they would enter hyperspace. He tried not
to think of it, tried to tell himself there was not a thing to fear - but it
hung there just ahead of him, the great unknowable.
The Sun shrank until it was only one of many stars and there came a
time when he could no longer pick it out. And the cold clamped down but it
didn't seem to bother him, although he could sense the coldness.
Maybe, he said in answer to his fear, that would be the way it would be
with hyperspace as well. But he said it unconvincingly. The ship drove on
and on with the weird blueness in the tubes.
Then there was the instant when his mind went splattering across the
universe.
He was aware of the ship, but only aware of it in relation to an
awareness of much else, and it was no anchor point, no rallying position. He
was spread and scattered; he was opened out and rolled out until he was very
thin. He was a dozen places, perhaps a hundred places, all at once, and it
was confusing, and his immediate reaction was to fight back somehow against
whatever might have happened to him - to fight back and pull himself
together. The fighting did no good at all, but made it even worse, for in
certain instances it seemed to drive parts of him farther from other parts
of him and the confusion was made greater.
So he quit his fighting and his struggling and just lay there,
scattered, and let the panic ebb away and told himself he didn't care, and
wondered if he did.
Slow reason returned a dribble at a time and he could think again and
he wondered rather bleakly if this could be hyperspace and was pretty sure
it was. And if it were, he knew, he'd have a long time to live like this, a
long time in which to become accustomed to it and to orient himself, a long
time to find himself and pull himself together, a long time to understand
this situation if it were, in fact, understandable.
So he lay, not caring greatly, with no fear or wonder, just resting and
letting a fact seep into him here and there from many different points.
He knew that, somehow, his body - that part of him which housed the
rest of him - was still chained securely to the ship, and that knowledge, in
itself, he knew, was the first small step towards reorienting himself. He
had to reorient, he knew. He had to come to some sort of terms, if not to
understanding, with this situation.
He had opened up and he had scattered out - that essential part of him,
the feeling and the knowing and the thinking part of him, and he lay thin
across a universe that loomed immense in unreality.
Was this, he wondered, the way the universe should be, or was it the
unchained universe, the wild universe beyond the limiting disciplines of
measured space and time.
He started slowly reaching out, cautious as he had been in his crawling
on the surface of the ship, reaching out toward the distant parts of him, a
little at a time. He did not know how he did it, he was conscious of no
particular technique, but whatever he was doing, it seemed to work, for he
pulled himself together, bit by knowing bit, until he had gathered up all
the scattered fragments of him into several different piles.
Then he quit and lay there, wherever there might be, and tried to sneak
up on those piles of understanding that he took to be himself.
It took a while to get the hang of it, but once be did, some of the
incomprehensibility went away, although the strangeness stayed. He tried to
put it into thought and it was hard to do. The closest he could come was
that he had been unchained as well as the universe - that whatever bondage
had been imposed upon him by that chained and normal world had now become
dissolved and he no longer was fenced in by either time or space.
He could see - and know and sense - across vast distances, if distance
were the proper term, and he could understand certain facts that he had not
even thought about before, could understand instinctively, but without the
language or the skill to coalesce the facts into independent data.
Once again the universe was spread far out before him and it was a
different and in some ways a better universe, a more diagrammatic universe,
and in time, he knew, if there were such a thing as time, he'd gain some
completer understanding and acceptance of it.
He probed and sensed and learned and there was no such thing as time,
but a great foreverness.
He thought with pity of those others locked inside the ship, safe
behind its insulating walls, never knowing all the glories of the innards of
a star or the vast panoramic sweep of vision and of knowing far above the
flat galactic plane.
Yet he really did not know what he saw or probed; he merely sensed and
felt it and became a part of it, and it became a part of him - he seemed
unable to reduce it to a formal outline of fact or of dimension or of
content. It still remained a knowledge and a power so overwhelming that it
was nebulous. There was no fear and no wonder, for in this place, it seemed,
there was neither fear nor wonder. And he finally knew that it was a place
apart, a world in which the normal space-time knowledge and emotion had no
place at all and a normal space-time being could have no tools or measuring
stick by which he might reduce it to a frame of reference.
There was no time, no space, no fear, no wonder - and no actual
knowledge, either.
Then time came once again and suddenly his mind was stuffed back into
its cage within his metal skull and he was again one with his body, trapped
and chained and small and cold and naked.
He saw that the stars were different and that he was far from home and
just a little way ahead was a star that blazed like a molten furnace hanging
in the black.
He sat bereft, a small thing once again, and the universe reduced to
package size.
Practically, he checked the cable that held him to the ship and it was
intact. His attachments kit was still tied to its rung. Everything was
exactly as it had been before.
He tried to recall the glories he had seen, tried to grasp again the
fringe of knowledge which he had been so close to, but both the glory and
the knowledge, if there had ever been a knowledge, had faded into
nothingness.
He felt like weeping, but he could not weep, and he was too old to lie
down upon the ship and kick his heels in tantrum.
So he sat there, looking at the sun that they were approaching and
finally there was a planet that he knew must be their destination, and he
found room to wonder what planet it might be and how far from Earth it was.
He heated up a little as the ship skipped through atmosphere as an aid
to braking speed and he had some rather awful moments as it spiraled into
thick and soupy gases that certainly were a far cry from the atmosphere of
Earth. He hung most desperately to the rungs as the craft came rushing down
onto a landing field, with the hot gases of the rockets curling up about
him. But he made it safely and swiftly clambered down and darted off into
the smog-like atmosphere before anyone could see him.
Safely off, he turned and looked back at the ship and despite its
outlines being hidden by the drifting clouds of swirling gases, he could see
it clearly, not as an actual structure, but as a diagram. He looked at it
wonderingly and there was something wrong with the diagram, something
vaguely wrong, some part of it that was out of whack and not the way it
should be.
He heard the clanking of cargo haulers coming out upon the field and he
wasted no more time, diagram or not.
He drifted back, deeper in the mists, and began to circle, keeping a
good distance from the ship. Finally he came to the spaceport's edge and the
beginning of the town.
He found a street and walked down it leisurely and there was a
wrongness in the town.
He met a few hurrying robots who were in too much of a rush to pass the
time of day. But he met no humans.
And that, he knew quite suddenly, was the wrongness of the place. It
was not a human town.
There were no distinctly human buildings -no stores or residences, no
churches and no restaurants. There were gaunt shelter barracks and sheds for
the storing of equipment and machines, great sprawling warehouses and vast
industrial plants. But that was all there was. It was a bare and dismal
place compared to the streets that he had known on Earth.
It was a robot town, he knew. And a robot planet. A world that was
barred to humans, a place where humans could not live, but so rich in some
natural resource that it cried for exploitation. And the answer to that
exploitation was to let the robots do it.
Luck, he told himself. His good luck still was holding. He had
literally been dumped into a place where he could live without human
interference. Here, on this planet, he would be with his own.
If that was what he wanted. And he wondered if it was. He wondered just
exactly what it was he wanted, for he'd had no time to think of what he
wanted. He had been too intent on fleeing Earth to think too much about it.
He had known all along what he was running from, but had not considered what
he might be running to.
He walked a little further and the town came to an end. The Street
became a path and went wandering on into the wind-blown fogginess.
So he turned around and went back up the street.
There had been one barracks, he remembered, that had a TRANSIENTS sign
hung out, and be made his way to it.
Inside, an ancient robot sat behind the desk. His body was
old-fashioned and somehow familiar. And it was familiar, Richard Daniel
knew, because it was as old and battered and as out-of-date as his.
He looked at the body, just a bit aghast, and saw that while it
resembled his, there were little differences. The same ancient model,
certainly, but a different series. Possibly a little newer, by twenty years
or so, than his.
"Good evening, stranger," said the ancient robot. "You came in on the
ship?"
Richard Daniel nodded.
"You'll be staying till the next one?"
"I may be settling down," said Richard Daniel. "I may want to stay
here."
The ancient robot took a key from off a hook and laid it on the desk.
"You representing someone?"
"No," said Richard Daniel.
"I thought maybe that you were. We get a lot of representatives. Humans
can't come here, or don't want to come, so they send robots out here to
represent them."
"You have a lot of visitors?"
"Some. Mostly the representatives I was telling you about. But there
are some that are on the lam. I'd take it, mister, you are on the lam."
Richard Daniel didn't answer.
"It's all right," the ancient one assured him. "We don't mind at all,
just so you behave yourself. Some of our most prominent citizens, they came
here on the lam."
"That is fine," said Richard Daniel. "And how about yourself? You must
be on the lam as well."
"You mean this body. Well, that's a little different. This here is
punishment."
"Punishment?'
"Well, you see, I was the foreman of the cargo warehouse and I got to
goofing off. So they hauled me up and had a trial and they found me guilty.
Then they stuck me into this old body and I have to stay in it, at this
lousy job, until they get another criminal that needs punishment. They can't
punish no more than one criminal at a time because this is the only old body
that they have. Funny thing about this body. One of the boys went back to
Earth on a business trip and found this old heap of metal in a junkyard and
brought it home with him - for a joke, I guess. Like a human might buy a
skeleton for a joke, you know."
He took a long, sly look at Richard Daniel. "It looks to me, stranger,
as if your body..."
But Richard Daniel didn't let him finish.
"I take it," Richard Daniel said, "you haven't many criminals."
"No," said the ancient robot sadly, "we're generally a pretty solid
lot."
Richard Daniel reached out to pick up the key, but the ancient robot
put out his hand and covered it.
"Since you are on the lam," he said, "it'll be payment in advance."
"I'll pay you for a week," said Richard Daniel, handing him some money.
The robot gave him back his change.
"One thing I forgot to tell you. You'll have to get plasticated."
"Plasticated?"
"That's right. Get plastic squirted over you. To protect you from the
atmosphere. It plays hell with metal. There's a place next door will do it."
"Thanks. I'll get it done immediately."
"It wears off," warned the ancient one. "You have to get a new job
every week or so."
Richard Daniel took the key and went down the corridor until he found
his numbered cubicle. He unlocked the door and stepped inside. The room was
small, but clean. It had a desk and chair and that was all it had.
He stowed his attachments bag in one corner and sat down in the chair
and tried to feel at home. But he couldn't feel at home, and that was a
funny thing - he'd just rented himself a home.
He sat there, thinking back, and tried to whip up some sense of triumph
at having done so well in covering his tracks. He couldn't.
Maybe this wasn't the place for him, he thought. Maybe he'd be happier
on some other planet. Perhaps he should go back to the ship and get on it
once again and have a look at the next planet coming up.
If he hurried, he might make it. But he'd have to hurry, for the ship
wouldn't stay longer than it took to unload the consignment for this place
and take on new cargo.
He got up from the chair, still only half decided.
And suddenly he remembered how, standing in the swirling mistiness, he
had seen the ship as a diagram rather than a ship, and as he thought about
it, something clicked inside his brain and he leaped toward the door.
For now he knew what had been wrong with the spaceship's diagram - an
injector valve was somehow out of kilter, he had to get back there before
the ship took off again.
He went through the door and down the corridor. He caught sight of the
ancient robot's startled face as he ran across the lobby and out into the
street. Pounding steadily toward the spaceport, he tried to get the diagram
into his mind again, but it would not come complete - it came in bits and
pieces, but not all of it.
And even as be fought for the entire diagram, he heard the beginning
take-off rumble.
"Wait!" he yelled. "Wait for me! You can't..."
There was a flash that turned the world pure white and a mighty
invisible wave came swishing out of nowhere and sent him reeling down the
street, falling as he reeled. He was skidding on the cobblestones and sparks
were flying as his metal scraped along the stone. The whiteness reached a
brilliance that almost blinded him and then it faded swiftly and the world
was dark.
He brought up against a wall of some sort, clanging as he hit, and he
lay there, blind from the brilliance of the flash, while his mind went
scurrying down the trail of the diagram.
The diagram, he thought - why should he have seen a diagram of the ship
he'd ridden through space, a diagram that had shown an injector out of
whack? And how could he, of all robots, recognize an injector, let alone
know there was something wrong with it. It had been a joke back home, among
the Barringtons, that he, a mechanical thing himself, should have no
aptitude at all for mechanical contraptions. And he could have saved those
people and the ship - he could have saved them all if he'd immediately
recognized the significance of the diagram. But he'd been too slow and
stupid and now they all were dead.
The darkness had receded from his eyes and he could see again and he
got slowly to his feet, feeling himself all over to see how badly he was
hurt. Except for a dent or two, he seemed to be all right.
There were robots running in the street, heading for the spaceport,
where a dozen fires were burning and where sheds and other structures had
been flattened by the blast.
Someone tugged at his elbow and he turned around. It was the ancient
robot.
"You're the lucky one," the ancient robot said. "You got off it just in
time."
Richard Daniel nodded dumbly and had a terrible thought:
What if they should think he did it? He had gotten off the ship; he had
admitted that he was on the lam; he had rushed out suddenly, just a few
seconds before the ship exploded. It would be easy to put it all together -
that he had sabotaged the ship, then at the last instant had rushed out,
remorseful, to undo what he had done. On the face of it, it was damning
evidence.
But it was all right as yet, Richard Daniel told himself. For the
ancient robot was the only one that knew - he was the only one he'd talked
to, the only one who even knew that he was in town.
There was a way, Richard Daniel thought - there was an easy way. He
pushed the thought away, but it came back. You are on your own, it said. You
are already beyond the law. In rejecting human law, you made yourself an
outlaw. You have become fair prey. There is just one law for you - self
preservation.
But there are robot laws, Richard Daniel argued. There are laws and
courts in this community. There is a place for justice.
Community law, said the leech clinging in his brain, provincial law,
little more than tribal law - and the stranger's always wrong.
Richard Daniel felt the coldness of the fear closing down upon him and
he knew, without half thinking, that the leech was right.
He turned around and started down the street, heading for the
transients barracks. Something unseen in the street caught his foot and he
stumbled and went down. He scrabbled to his knees, hunting in the darkness
on the cobblestones for the thing that tripped him. It was a heavy bar of
steel, some part of the wreckage that had been hurled this far. He gripped
it by one end and arose.
"Sorry," said the ancient robot. "You have to watch your step."
And there was a faint implication in his word - a hint of something
more than the words had said, a hint of secret gloating in a secret
knowledge.
You have broken other laws, said the leech in Richard Daniel's brain.
What of breaking just one more? Why, if necessary, not break a hundred more.
It is all or nothing. Having come this far, you can't afford to fail. You
can allow no one to stand in your way now.
The ancient robot half turned away and Richard Daniel lifted up the bar
of steel, and suddenly the ancient robot no longer was a robot, but a
diagram. There, with all the details of a blueprint, were all the working
parts, all the mechanism of the robot that walked in the street before him.
And if one detached that single bit of wire, if one burned out that coil, if
- Even as he thought it, the diagram went away and there was the robot, a
stumbling, failing robot that clanged on the cobblestones.
Richard Daniel swung around in terror, looking up the street, but there
was no one near.
He turned back to the fallen robot and quietly knelt beside him. He
gently put the bar of steel down into the street. And he felt a thankfulness
- for, almost miraculously, he had not killed.
The robot on the cobblestones was motionless. When Richard Daniel
lifted him, he dangled. And yet he was all right. All anyone had to do to
bring him back to life was to repair whatever damage had been done his body.
And that served the purpose, Richard Daniel told himself, as well as killing
would have done.
He stood with the robot in his arms, looking for a place to hide him.
He spied an alley between two buildings and darted into it. One of the
buildings, he saw, was set upon stone blocks sunk into the ground, leaving a
clearance of a foot or so. He knelt and shoved the robot underneath the
building. Then he stood up and brushed the dirt and dust from his body.
Back at the barracks and in his cubicle, he found a rag and cleaned up
the dirt that he had missed. And, he thought hard.
He'd seen the ship as a diagram and, not knowing what it meant, hadn't
done a thing. Just now he'd seen the ancient robot as a diagram and had most
decisively and neatly used that diagram to save himself from murder - from
the murder that he was fully ready to commit.
But how had he done it? And the answer seemed to be that be really had
done nothing. He'd simply thought that one should detach a single wire, burn
out a single coil - he'd thought it and it was done.
Perhaps he'd seen no diagram at all. Perhaps the diagram was no more
than some sort of psychic rationalization to mask whatever he had seen or
sensed. Seeing the ship and robot with the surfaces stripped away from them
and their purpose and their function revealed fully to his view, he had
sought some explanation of his strange ability, and his subconscious mind
had devised an explanation, an analogy that, for the moment, had served to
satisfy him.
Like when he'd been in hyperspace, he thought. He'd seen a lot of
things out there he had not understood. And that was it, of course, he
thought excitedly. Something had happened to him out in hyperspace. Perhaps
there'd been something that had stretched his mind. Perhaps he'd picked up
some sort of new dimension-seeing, some new twist to his mind.
He remembered how, back on the ship again, with his mind wiped clean of
all the glory and the knowledge, he had felt like weeping. But now he knew
that it had been much too soon for weeping. For although the glory and the
knowledge (if there'd been a knowledge) had been lost to him, be had not
lost everything. He'd gained a new perceptive device and the ability to use
it somewhat fumblingly - and it didn't really matter that he still was at a
loss as to what he did to use it. The basic fact that he possessed it and
could use it was enough to start with.
Somewhere out in front there was someone calling - someone, he now
realized, who had been calling for some little time....
"Hubert, where are you? Hubert, are you around? Hubert..."
Hubert?
Could Hubert be the ancient robot? Could they have missed him already?
Richard Daniel jumped to his feet for an undecided moment, listening to
the calling voice. And then sat down again. Let them call, he told himself.
Let them go out and hunt.
He was safe in this cubicle. He had rented it and for the moment it was
home and there was no one who would dare break in upon him.
But it wasn't home. No matter how hard he tried to tell himself it was,
it wasn't. There wasn't any home.
Earth was home, he thought. And not all of Earth, but just a certain
street and that one part of it was barred to him forever. It had been barred
to him by the dying of a sweet old lady who had outlived her time; it had
been barred to him by his running from it.
He did not belong on this planet, he admitted to himself, nor on any
other planet. He belonged on Earth, with the Barringtons, and it was
impossible for him to be there.
Perhaps, he thought, he should have stayed and let them reorient him.
He remembered what the lawyer had said about memories that could become a
burden and a torment. After all, it might have been wiser to have started
over once again.
For what kind of future did he have, with his old outdated body, his
old outdated brain? The kind of body that they put a robot into on this
planet by way of punishment. And the kind of brain - but the brain was
different, for he had something now that made up for any lack of more modern
mental tools.
He sat and listened, and he heard the house - calling all across the
light years of space for him to come back to it again. And he saw the faded
living room with all its vanished glory that made a record of the years. He
remembered, with a twinge of hurt, the little room back of the kitchen that
had been his very own.
He arose and paced up and down the cubicle - three steps and turn, and
then three more steps and turn for another three.
The sights and sounds and smells of home grew close and wrapped
themselves about him and he wondered wildly if he might not have the power,
a power accorded him by the universe of hyperspace, to will himself to that
familiar street again.
He shuddered at the thought of it, afraid of another power, afraid that
it might happen. Afraid of himself, perhaps, of the snarled and tangled
being he was - no longer the faithful, shining servant, but a sort of mad
thing that rode outside a spaceship, that was ready to kill another being,
that could face up to the appalling sweep of hyperspace, yet cowered before
the impact of a memory.
What he needed was a walk, he thought. Look over the town and maybe go
out into the country. Besides, he remembered, trying to become practical,
he'd need to get that plastication job he had been warned to get.
He went out into the corridor and strode briskly down it and was
crossing the lobby when someone spoke to him.
"Hubert," said the voice, "just where have you been? I've been waiting
hours for you."
Richard Daniel spun around and a robot sat behind the desk. There was
another robot leaning in a corner and there was a naked robot brain lying on
the desk.
"You are Hubert, aren't you", asked the one behind the desk.
Richard Daniel opened up his mouth to speak, but the words refused to
come.
"I thought so," said the robot. "You may not recognize me, but my name
is Andy. The regular man was busy, so the judge sent me. He thought it was
only fair we make the switch as quickly as possible. He said you'd served a
longer term than you really should. Figures you'd be glad to know they'd
convicted someone else."
Richard Daniel stared in horror at the naked brain lying on the desk.
The robot gestured at the metal body propped into the corner.
"Better than when we took you out of it," he said with a throaty
chuckle. "Fixed it up and polished it and got out all the dents. Even
modernized it some. Brought it strictly up to date. You'll have a better
body than you had when they stuck you into that monstrosity."
"I don't know what to say," said Richard Daniel, stammering. "You see,
I'm not..."
"Oh, that's all right," said the other happily. "No need for gratitude.
Your sentence worked out longer than the judge expected. This just makes up
for it."
"I thank you, then," said Richard Daniel. "I thank you very much."
And was astounded at himself, astonished at the ease with which he said
it, confounded at his sly duplicity.
But if they forced it on him, why should he refuse? There was nothing
that he needed more than a modern body!
It was still working out, he told himself. He was still riding luck.
For this was the last thing that he needed to cover up his tracks.
"All newly plasticated and everything," said Andy. "Hans did an extra
special job."
'Well, then," said Richard Daniel, "let's get on with it."
The other robot grinned. "I don't blame you for being anxious to get
out of there. It must be pretty terrible to live in a pile of junk like
that."
He came around from behind the desk and advanced on Richard Danie1.
"Over in the corner," he said, "and kind of prop yourself. I don't want
you tipping over when I disconnect you. One good fall and that body'd come
apart."
"All right," said Richard Daniel. He went into the corner and leaned
back against it and planted his feet solid so that he was propped.
He had a rather awful moment when Andy disconnected the optic nerve and
he lost his eyes and there was considerable queasiness in having his skull
lifted off his shoulders and he was in sheer funk as the final
disconnections were being swiftly made.
Then he was a blob of greyness without a body or a head or eyes or
anything at all. He was no more than a bundle of thoughts all wrapped around
themselves like a pail of worms and this pail of worms was suspended in pure
nothingness.
Fear came to him, a taunting, terrible fear. What if this were just a
sort of ghastly gag? What if they'd found out who he really was and what
he'd done to Hubert? What if they took his brain and tucked it away
somewhere for a year or two - or for a hundred years? It might be, he told
himself, nothing more than their simple way of justice.
He hung onto himself and tried to fight the fear away, but the fear
ebbed back and forth like a restless tide.
Time stretched out and out - far too long a time, far more time than
one would need to switch a brain from one body to another. Although, he told
himself, that might not be true at all. For in his present state he had no
way in which to measure time. He had no external reference points by which
to determine time.
Then suddenly he had eyes.
And he knew everything was all right.
One by one his senses were restored to him and he was back inside a
body and he felt awkward in the body, for he was unaccustomed to it.
The first thing that he saw was his old and battered body propped into
its corner and he felt a sharp regret at the sight of it and it seemed to
him that he had played a dirty trick upon it. It deserved, he told himself,
a better fate than this - a better fate than being left behind to serve as a
shabby jailhouse on this outlandish planet. It had served him well for six
hundred years and he should not be deserting it. But he was deserting it. He
was, he told himself in contempt, becoming very expert at deserting his old
friends. First the house back home and now his faithful body.
Then he remembered something else - all that money in the body!
"What's the matter, Hubert?" Andy asked.
He couldn't leave it there, Richard Daniel told himself, for he needed
it. And besides, if he left it there, someone would surely find it later and
it would be a give-away. He couldn't leave it there and it might not be safe
to forthrightly claim it. If he did, this other robot, this Andy, would
think he'd been stealing on the job or running some side racket. He might
try to bribe the other, but one could never tell how a move like that might
go. Andy might be full of righteousness and then there'd be hell to pay.
And, besides, he didn't want to part with any of the money.
All at once he had it - he knew just what to do. And even as he thought
it, he made Andy into a diagram.
That connection there, thought Richard Daniel, reaching out his arm to
catch the falling diagram that turned into a robot. He eased it to the floor
and sprang across the room to the side of his old body. In seconds he had
the chest safe open and the money safely out of it and locked inside his
present body.
Then he made the robot on the floor become a diagram again and got the
connection back the way that it should be.
Andy rose shakily off the floor. He looked at Richard Daniel in some
consternation.
"What happened to me?" he asked in a frightened voice. Richard Daniel
sadly shook his head. "I don't know. You just keeled over. I started for the
door to yell for help, then I heard you stirring and you were all right."
Andy was plainly puzzled. "Nothing like this ever happened to me
before," he said.
"If I were you," counseled Richard Daniel, "I'd have myself checked
over. You must have a faulty relay or a loose connection."
"I guess I will," the other one agreed. "It's downright dangerous."
He walked slowly to the desk and picked up the other brain, started
with it toward the battered body leaning in the corner.
Then he stopped and said: "Look, I forgot. I was supposed to tell you.
You better get up to the warehouse. Another ship is on its way. It will be
coming in any minute now."
"Another one so soon?"
"You know how it goes," Andy said, disgusted. "They don't even try to
keep a schedule here. We won't see one for months and then there'll be two
or three at once."
"Well, thanks," said Richard Daniel, going out the door. He went
swinging down the street with a newborn confidence. And he had a feeling
that there was nothing that could lick him, nothing that could stop him.
For he was a lucky robot!
Could all that luck, he wondered, have been gotten out in hyperspace,
as his diagram ability, or whatever one might call it, had come from
hyperspace? Somehow hyperspace had taken him and twisted him and changed
him, had molded him anew, had made him into a different robot than he had
been before.
Although, so far as luck was concerned, he had been lucky all his
entire life. He'd had good luck with his human family and had gained a lot
of favors and a high position and had been allowed to live for six hundred
years. And that was a thing that never should have happened. No matter how
powerful or influential the Barringtons had been, that six hundred years
must be due in part to nothing but sheer 1uck.
In any case, the luck and the diagram ability gave him a solid edge
over all the other robots he might meet. Could it, he asked himself, give
him an edge on Man as well?
No - that was a thought he should not think, for it was blasphemous.
There never was a robot that would be the equal of a man.
But the thought kept on intruding and he felt not nearly so contrite
over this leaning toward bad taste, or poor judgment, whichever it might be,
as it seemed to him he should feel.
As he neared the spaceport, he began meeting other robots and some of
them saluted him and called him by the name of Hubert and others stopped and
shook him by the hand and told him they were glad that he was out of pokey.
This friendliness shook his confidence. He began to wonder if his luck
would hold, for some of the robots, he was certain, thought it rather odd
that he did not speak to them by name, and there had been a couple of
remarks that he had some trouble fielding. He had a feeling that when he
reached the warehouse he might be sunk without a trace, for he would know
none of the robots there and he had not the least idea what his duties might
include. And, come to think of it, he didn't even know where the warehouse
was.
He felt the panic building in him and took a quick involuntary look
around, seeking some method of escape. For it became quite apparent to him
that he must never reach the warehouse.
He was trapped, he knew, and he couldn't keep on floating, trusting to
his luck. In the next few minutes he'd have to figure something.
He started to swing over into a side street, not knowing what he meant
to do, but knowing he must do something, when he heard the mutter far above
him and glanced up quickly to see the crimson glow of belching rocket tubes
shimmering through the clouds.
He swung around again and sprinted desperately for the spaceport and
reached it as the ship came chugging down to a steady landing. It was, he
saw, an old ship. It had no burnish to it and it was blunt and squat and
wore a hangdog look.
A tramp, he told himself, that knocked about from port to port, picking
up whatever cargo it could, with perhaps now and then a paying passenger
headed for some backwater planet where there was no scheduled service.
He waited as the cargo port came open and the ramp came down and then
marched purposefully out onto the field, ahead of the straggling cargo crew,
trudging toward the ship. He had to act, he knew, as if he had a perfect
right to walk into the ship as if he knew exactly what he might be doing. If
there were a challenge he would pretend he didn't hear it and simply keep on
going.
He walked swiftly up the ramp, holding back from running, and plunged
through the accordion curtain that served as an atmosphere control. His feet
rang across the metal plating of the cargo hold until he reached the catwalk
and plunged down it to another cargo level.
At the bottom of the catwalk he stopped and stood tense, listening.
Above him he heard the clang of a metal door and the sound of footsteps
coming down the walk to the level just above him. That would be the purser
or the first mate, he told himself, or perhaps the captain, coming down to
arrange for the discharge of the cargo.
Quietly he moved away and found a corner where he could crouch and
hide.
Above his head he heard the cargo gang at work, talking back and forth,
then the screech of crating and the thump of bales and boxes being hauled
out to the ramp.
Hours passed, or they seemed like hours, as he huddled there. He heard
the cargo gang bringing something down from one of the upper levels and he
made a sort of prayer that they'd not come down to this lower level - and he
hoped no one would remember seeing him come in ahead of them, or if they did
remember, that they would assume that he'd gone out again.
Finally it was over, with the footsteps gone. Then came the pounding of
the ramp as it shipped itself and the banging of the port.
He waited for long minutes, waiting for the roar that, when it came,
set his head to ringing, waiting for the monstrous vibration that shook and
lifted up the ship and flung it off the planet
Then quiet came and he knew the ship was out of atmosphere and once
more on its way.
And knew he had it made.
For now he was no more than a simple stowaway. He was no longer Richard
Daniel, runaway from Earth. He'd dodged all the traps of Man, he'd covered
all his tracks, and he was on his way.
But far down underneath he had a jumpy feeling, for it all had gone too
smoothly, more smoothly than it should.
He tried to analyze himself, tried to pull himself in focus, tried to
assess himself for what he bad become.
He had abilities that Man had never won or developed or achieved,
whichever it might be. He was a certain step ahead of not only other robots,
but of Man as well. He had a thing, or the beginning of a thing, that Man
had sought and studied and had tried to grasp for centuries and had failed.
A solemn and a deadly thought: was it possible that it was the robots,
after all, for whom this great heritage had been meant? Would it be the
robots who would achieve the paranormal powers that Man had sought so long,
while Man, perforce, must remain content with the materialistic and the
merely scientific? Was he, Richard Daniel, perhaps, only the first of many?
Or was it all explained by no more than the fact that he alone had been
exposed to hyperspace? Could this ability of his belong to anyone who would
subject himself to the full, uninsulated mysteries of that mad universe
unconstrained by time? Could Man have this, and more, if he too should
expose himself to the utter randomness of unreality?
He huddled in his corner, with the thought and speculation stirring in
his mind and he sought the answers, but there was no solid answer.
His mind went reaching out, almost on its own, and there was a diagram
inside his brain, a portion of a blueprint, and bit by bit was added to it
until it all was there, until the entire ship on which he rode was there,
laid out for him to see.
He took his time and went over the diagram resting in his brain and he
found little things - a fitting that was working loose and he tightened it,
a printed circuit that was breaking down and getting mushy and be
strengthened it and sharpened it and made it almost new, a pump that was
leaking just a bit and he stopped its leaking.
Some hundreds of hours later one of the crewmen found him and took him
to the captain.
The captain glowered at him.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"A stowaway," Richard Daniel told him.
"Your name," said the captain, drawing a sheet of paper before him and
picking up a pencil, "your planet of residence and owner."
"I refuse to answer you," said Richard Daniel sharply and knew that the
answer wasn't right, for it was not right and proper that a robot should
refuse a human a direct command.
But the captain did not seem to mind. He laid down the pencil and
stroked his black beard slyly.
"In that case," he said, "I can't exactly see how I can force the
information from you. Although there might be some who'd try. You are very
lucky that you stowed away on a ship whose captain is a most kind-hearted
man."
He didn't look kind-hearted. He did look foxy. Richard Daniel stood
there, saying nothing.
"Of course," the captain said, "there's a serial number somewhere on
your body and another on your brain. But I suppose that you'd resist if we
tried to look for them."
"I am afraid I would."
"In that case," said the captain, "I don't think for the moment we'll
concern ourselves with them."
Richard Daniel still said nothing, for he realized that there was no
need to. This crafty captain had it all worked out and he'd let it go at
that.
"For a long time," said the captain, "my crew and I have been
considering the acquiring of a robot, but it seems we never got around to
it. For one thing, robots are expensive and our profits are not large."
He sighed and got up from his chair and looked Richard Daniel up and
down.
"A splendid specimen," he said. "We welcome you aboard. You'll find us
congenial."
"I am sure I will," said Richard Daniel. "I thank you for your
courtesy."
"And now," the captain said, "you'll go up on the bridge and report to
Mr. Duncan. I'll let him know you're coming. He'll find some light and
pleasant duty for you."
Richard Daniel did not move as swiftly as he might, as sharply as the
occasion might have called for, for all at once the captain had become a
complex diagram. Not like the diagrams of ships or robots, but a diagram of
strange symbols, some of which Richard Daniel knew were frankly chemical,
but others which were not.
"You heard me!" snapped the captain. "Move!"
"Yes, sir," said Richard Daniel, willing the diagram away, making the
captain come back again into his solid flesh.
Richard Daniel found the first mate on the bridge, a horse-faced,
somber man with a streak of cruelty ill-hidden, and slumped in a chair to
one side of the console was another of the crew, a sodden, terrible
creature.
The sodden creature cackled. "Well, well, Duncan, the first non-human
member of the Rambler's crew."
Duncan paid him no attention. He said to Richard Daniel: "I presume you
are industrious and ambitious and would like to get along."
"Oh, yes," said Richard Daniel, and was surprised to find a new
sensation - laughter - rising in himself.
"Well, then," said Duncan, "report to the engine room. They have work
for you. When you have finished there, I'll find something else."
"Yes, sir," said Richard Daniel, turning on his heel.
"A minute," said the mate. "I must introduce you to our ship's
physician, Dr. Abram Wells. You can be truly thankful you'll never stand in
need of his services."
"Good day, Doctor," said Richard Daniel, most respectfully.
"I welcome you," said the doctor, pulling a bottle from his pocket. "I
don't suppose you'll have a drink with me. Well, then, I'll drink to you."
Richard Daniel turned around and left. He went down to the engine room
and was put to work at polishing and scrubbing and generally cleaning up.
The place was in need of it. It had been years, apparently, since it had
been cleaned or polished and it was about as dirty as an engine room can get
- which is terribly dirty. After the engine room was done there were other
places to be cleaned and furbished up and he spent endless hours at cleaning
and in painting and shinning up the ship. The work was of the dullest kind,
but he didn't mind. It gave him time to think and wonder, time to get
himself sorted out and to become acquainted with himself, to try to plan
ahead.
He was surprised at some of the things he found in himself. Contempt,
for one - contempt for the humans on this ship. It took a long time for him
to become satisfied that it was contempt, for he'd never held a human in
contempt before.
But these were different humans, not the kind he'd known.
These were no Barringtons. Although it might be, he realized, that he
felt contempt for them because he knew them thoroughly. Never before had he
known a human as he knew these humans. For he saw them not so much as living
animals as intricate patternings of symbols. He knew what they were made of
and the inner urgings that served as motivations, for the patterning was not
of their bodies only, but of their minds as well. He had a little trouble
with the symbology of their minds, for it was so twisted and so interlocked
and so utterly confusing that it was hard at first to read. But he finally
got it figured out and there were times he wished he hadn't.
The ship stopped at many ports and Richard Daniel took charge of the
loading and unloading, and he saw the planets, but was unimpressed. One was
a nightmare of fiendish cold, with the very atmosphere turned to drifting
snow. Another was a dripping, noisome jungle world, and still another was a
bare expanse of broken, tumbled rock without a trace of life beyond the crew
of humans and their robots who manned the huddled station in this howling
wilderness.
It was after this planet that Jenks, the cook, went screaming to his
bunk, twisted up with pain - the victim of a suddenly inflammed vermiform
appendix.
Dr. Wells came tottering in to look at him, with a half-filled bottle
sagging the pocket of his jacket. And later stood before the captain,
holding out two hands that trembled, and with terror in his eyes.
"But I cannot operate," he blubbered. "I cannot take the chance. I
would kill the man!"
He did not need to operate. Jenks suddenly improved. The pain went away
and he got up from his bunk and went back to the galley and Dr. Wells sat
huddled in his chair, bottle gripped between his hands, crying like a baby.
Down in the cargo hold, Richard Daniel sat likewise huddled and aghast
that he had dared to do it - not that he had been able to, but that he had
dared, that he, a robot, should have taken on himself an act of
interference, however merciful, with the body of a human.
Actually, the performance had not been too difficult. It was, in a
certain way, no more difficult than the repairing of an engine or the
untangling of a faulty circuit. No more difficult - just a little different.
And he wondered what he'd done and how he'd' gone about it, for he did not
know. He held the technique in his mind, of that there was ample
demonstration, but he could in no way isolate or pinpoint the pure mechanics
of it. It was like an instinct, he thought - unexplainable, but entirely
workable.
But a robot had no instinct. In that much he was different from the
human and the other animals. Might not, he asked himself, this strange
ability of his be a sort of compensating factor given to the robot for his
very lack of instinct? Might that be why the human race had failed in its
search for paranormal powers? Might the instincts of the body be at certain
odds with the instincts of the mind?
For he had the feeling that this ability of his was just a mere
beginning, that it was the first emergence of a vast body of abilities which
some day would be rounded out by robots. And what would that spell, he
wondered, in that distant day when the robots held and used the full body of
that knowledge? An adjunct to the glory of the human race, or equals of the
human race, or superior to the human race - or, perhaps, a race apart?
And what was his role, he wondered. Was it meant that he should go out
as a missionary, a messiah, to carry to robots throughout the universe the
message that he held? There must be some reason for his having learned this
truth. It could not be meant that he would hold it as a personal belonging,
as an asset all his own.
He got up from where he sat and moved slowly back to the ship's forward
area, which now gleamed spotlessly from the work he'd done on it, and he
felt a certain pride.
He wondered why he had felt that it might be wrong, blasphemous,
somehow, to announce his abilities to the world? Why had he not told those
here in the ship that it had been he who had healed the cook, or mentioned
the many other little things he'd done to maintain the ship in perfect
running order?
Was it because he did not need respect, as a human did so urgently? Did
glory have no basic meaning for a robot? Or was it because he held the
humans in this ship in such utter contempt that their respect had no value
to him?
"And this contempt - was it because these men were meaner than other
humans he had known, or was it because he now was greater than any human
being? Would he ever again be able to look on any human as he had looked
upon the Barringtons?
He had a feeling that if this were true, he would be the poorer for it.
Too suddenly, the whole universe was home and he was alone in it and as yet
he'd struck no bargain with it or himself.
The bargain would come later. He need only bide his time and work out
his plans and his would be a name that would be spoken when his brain was
scaling flakes of rust. For he was the emancipator, the messiah of the
robots; he was the one who had been called to lead them from the wilderness.
"You!" a voice cried.
Richard Daniel wheeled around and saw it was the captain.
"What do you mean, walking past me as if you didn't see me?" asked the
captain fiercely.
"I am sorry," Richard Daniel told him.
"You snubbed me!" raged the captain.
"I was thinking," Richard Daniel said.
"I'll give you something to think about," the captain yelled. "I'll
work you till your tail drags. I'll teach the likes of you to get uppity
with me!"
"As you wish," said Richard Daniel.
For it didn't matter. It made no difference to him at all what the
captain did or thought. And he wondered why the respect even of a robot
should mean so much to a human like the captain, why he should guard his
small position with so much zealousness.
"In another twenty hours," the captain said, "we hit another port."
"I know," said Richard Daniel. "Sleepy Hollow on Arcadia." "All right,
then," said the captain, "since you know so much, get down into the hold and
get the cargo ready to unload. We been spending too much time in all these
lousy ports loading and unloading. You been dogging it."
"Yes, sir," said Richard Daniel, turning back and heading for the hold.
He wondered faintly if he were still robot - or was he something else?
Could a machine evolve, he wondered, as Man himself evolved? And if a
machine evolved, whatever would it be? Not Man, of course, for it never
could be that, but could it be machine?
He hauled out the cargo consigned to Sleepy Hollow and there was not
too much of it. So little of it, perhaps, that none of the regular carriers
would even consider its delivery, but dumped it off at the nearest terminal,
leaving it for a roving tramp, like the Rambler, to carry eventually to its
destination.
When they reached Arcadia, he waited until the thunder died and the
ship was still. Then he shoved the lever that opened up the port and slid
out the ramp.
The port came open ponderously and he saw blue skies and the green of
trees and the far-off swirl of chimney smoke mounting in the sky.
He walked slowly forward until he stood upon the ramp and there lay
Sleepy Hollow, a tiny, huddled village planted at the river's edge, with the
forest as a background. The forest ran on every side to a horizon of
climbing folded hills. Fields lay near the village, yellow with maturing
crops, and he could see a dog sleeping in the sun outside a cabin door.
A man was climbing up the ramp toward him and there were others running
from the village.
"You have cargo for us?" asked the man.
"A small consignment," Richard Daniel told him. "You have something to
put on?'
The man had a weatherbeaten look and he'd missed several haircuts and
he had not shaved for days. His clothes were rough and sweat-stained and his
hands were strong and awkward with hard work.
"A small shipment," said the man. "You'll have to wait until we bring
it up. We had no warning you were coming. Our radio is broken."
"You go and get it," said Richard Daniel. "I'll start unloading."
He had the cargo half unloaded when the captain came storming down into
the hold. What was going on, he yelled. How long would they have to wait?
"God knows we're losing money as it is even stopping at this place."
"That may be true," Richard Daniel agreed, "but you knew that when you
took the cargo on. There'll be other cargoes and goodwill is something -"
"Goodwill be damned!" the captain roared. "How do I know I'll ever see
this place again?"
Richard Daniel continued unloading cargo.
"You," the captain shouted, "go down to that village and tell them I'll
wait no longer than an hour..."
"But this cargo, sir?"
"I'll get the crew at it. Now, jump!"
So Richard Daniel left the cargo and went down into the village.
He went across the meadow that lay between the spaceport and the
village, following the rutted wagon tracks, and it was a pleasant walk. He
realized with surprise that this was the first time he'd been on solid
ground since he'd left the robot planet. He wondered briefly what the name
of that planet might have been, for he had never known. Nor what its
importance was, why the robots might be there or what they might be doing.
And he wondered, too, with a twinge of guilt, if they'd found Hubert yet.
And where might Earth be now? he asked himself. In what direction did
it lie and how far away? Although it didn't really matter, for he was done
with Earth.
He had fled from Earth and gained something in his fleeing. He had
escaped all the traps of Earth and all the snares of Man. What he held was
his, to do with as he pleased, for he was no man's robot, despite what the
captain thought.
He walked across the meadow and saw that this planet was very much like
Earth. It had the same soft feel about it, the same simplicity. It had far
distances and there was a sense of freedom.
He came into the village and heard the muted gurgle of the river
running and the distant shouts of children at their play and in one of the
cabins a sick child was crying with lost helplessness.
He passed the cabin where the dog was sleeping and it came awake and
stalked growling to the gate. When he passed it followed him, still
growling, at a distance that was safe and sensible.
An autumnal calm lay upon the village, a sense of gold and lavender,
and tranquillity hung in the silences between the crying of the baby and the
shouting of the children.
There were women at the windows looking out at him and others at the
doors and the dog still followed, but his growls had stilled and now he
trotted with prick-eared curiosity.
Richard Daniel stopped in the street and looked around him and the dog
sat down and watched him and it was almost as if time itself had stilled and
the little village lay divorced from all the universe, an arrested
microsecond, an encapsulated acreage that stood sharp in all its truth and
purpose.
Standing there, he sensed the village and the people in it, almost as
if he had summoned up a diagram of it, although if there were a diagram, he
was not aware of it.
It seemed almost as if the village were the Earth, a transplanted Earth
with the old primeval problems and hopes of Earth - a family of peoples that
faced existence with a readiness and confidence and inner strength.
From down the street he heard the creak of wagons and saw them coming
around the bend, three wagons piled high and heading for the ship.
He stood and waited for them and as he waited the dog edged a little
closer and sat regarding him with a not-quite-friendliness.
The wagons came up to him and stopped.
"Pharmaceutical materials, mostly," said the man who sat atop the first
load, "It is the only thing we have that is worth the shipping."
"You seem to have a lot of it," Richard Daniel told him. The man shook
his head. "It's not so much. It's almost three years since a ship's been
here. We'll have to wait another three, or more perhaps, before we see
another."
He spat down on the ground.
"Sometimes it seems," he said, "that we're at the tail-end of nowhere.
There are times we wonder if there is a soul that remembers we are here."
From the direction of the ship, Richard Daniel heard the faint,
strained violence of the captain's roaring.
"You'd better get on up there and unload," he told the man. "The
captain is just sore enough he might not wait for you."
The man chuckled thinly. "I guess that's up to him," he said.
He flapped the reins and clucked good-naturedly at the horses.
"Hop up here with me," he said to Richard Daniel. "Or would you rather
walk?"
"I'm not going with you," Richard Daniel said. "I am staying here. You
can tell the captain."
For there was a baby sick and crying. There was a radio to fix. There
was a culture to be planned and guided. There was a lot of work to do. This
place, of all the places he had seen, had actual need of him.
The man chuckled once again. "The captain will not like it."
"Then tell him," said Richard Daniel, "to come down and talk to me. I
am my own robot. I owe the captain nothing. I have more than paid any debt I
owe him."
The wagon wheels began to turn and the man flapped the reins again.
"Make yourself at home," he said. "We're glad to have you stay."
"Thank you, sir," said Richard Daniel. "I'm pleased you want me."
He stood aside and watched the wagons lumber past, their wheels lifting
and dropping thin films of powdered earth that floated in the air as an
acrid dust.
Make yourself at home, the man had said before he'd driven off. And the
words had a full round ring to them and a feel of warmth. It had been a long
time, Richard Daniel thought, since he'd had a home.
A chance for resting and for knowing - that was what he needed. And a
chance to serve, for now he knew that was the purpose in him. That was,
perhaps, the real reason he was staying - because these people needed him...
and he needed, queer as it might seem, this very need of theirs. Here on
this Earth-like planet, through the generations, a new Earth would arise.
And perhaps, given only time, he could transfer to the people of the planet
all the powers and understanding he would find inside himself.
And stood astounded at the thought, for he'd not believed that he had
it in him, this willing, almost eager, sacrifice. No messiah now, no robotic
liberator, but a simple teacher of the human race.
Perhaps that had been the reason for it all from the first beginning.
Perhaps all that had happened had been no more than the working out of human
destiny. If the human race could not attain directly the paranormal power he
held, this instinct of the mind, then they would gain it indirectly through
the agency of one of their creations. Perhaps this, after all, unknown to
Man himself, had been the prime purpose of the robots.
He turned and walked slowly down the length of village street, his back
turned to the ship and the roaring of the captain, walked contentedly into
this new world he'd found, into this world that he would make - not for
himself, nor for robotic glory, but for a better Mankind and a happier.
Less than an hour before he'd congratulated himself on escaping all the
traps of Earth, all the snares of Man. Not knowing that the greatest trap of
all, the final and the fatal trap, lay on this present planet.
But that was wrong, he told himself. The trap had not been on this
world at all, nor any other world. It had been inside himself.
He walked serenely down the wagon-rutted track in the soft, golden
afternoon of a matchless autumn day, with the dog trotting at his heels.
Somewhere, just down the street, the sick baby lay crying in its crib.

Clifford D. Simak All the Traps of Earth
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