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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesUnwise Child - Chapter 21
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Unwise Child - Chapter 21 Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :3285

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Unwise Child - Chapter 21

Mike the Angel stepped into the cargo air lock of the _Brainchild_, stood morosely in the center of the cubicle, and watched the outer door close. Eight other men, clad, like himself, in regulation Space Service spacesuits, also looked wearily at the closing door.

Chief Multhaus, one of the eight, turned his head to look at Mike the Angel. "I wish that thing would close as fast as my eyes are going to in about fifteen minutes, Commander." His voice rumbled deeply in Mike's earphones.

"Yeah," said Mike, too tired to make decent conversation.

Eight hours--all of them spent tearing down the spaceship and making it a part of the new base--had not been exactly exhilarating to any of them.

The door closed, and the pumps began to work. The men were wearing Space Service Suit Three. For every environment, for every conceivable emergency, a suit had been built--if, of course, a suit _could be built for it. Nobody had yet built a suit for walking about in the middle of a sun, but, then, nobody had ever volunteered to try anything like that.

They were all called "spacesuits" because most of them could be worn in the vacuum of space, but most of them weren't designed for that type of work. Suit One--a light, easily manipulated, almost skin-tight covering, was the real spacesuit. It was perfect for work in interstellar space, where there was a microscopic amount of radiation incident to the suit, no air, and almost nil gravity. For exterior repairs on the outside of a ship in free fall a long way from any star, Spacesuit One was the proper garb.

But, a suit that worked fine in space didn't necessarily work on other planets, unless it worked fine on the planet it was used on.

A Moon Suit isn't a Mars Suit isn't a Venus Suit isn't a Triton Suit isn't a....

Carry it on from there.

Number Three was insulated against a frigid but relatively non-corrosive atmosphere. When the pumps in the air lock began pulling out the methane-laden atmosphere, they began to bulge slightly, but not excessively. Then nitrogen, extracted from the ammonia snow that was so plentiful, filled the room, diluting the remaining inflammable gases to a harmless concentration.

Then that mixture was pumped out, to be replaced by a mixture of approximately 20 per cent oxygen and 80 per cent nitrogen--common, or garden-variety, air.

Mike the Angel cracked his helmet and sniffed. "_Guk_," he said. "If I ever faint and someone gives me smelling salts, I'll flay him alive with a coarse rasp."

"Yessir," said Chief Multhaus, as he began to shuck his suit. "But if I had my druthers, I'd druther you'd figure out some way to get all the ammonia out of the joints of this suit."

The other men, sniffing and coughing, agreed in attitude if not in voice.

It wasn't really as bad as they pretended; indeed, the odor of ammonia was hardly noticeable. But it made a good griping point.

The inner door opened at last, and the men straggled through.

"G'night, Chief," said Mike the Angel.

"Night, sir," said Multhaus. "See you in the morning."

"Yeah. Night." Mike trudged toward the companionway that led toward the wardroom. If Keku or Jeffers happened to be there, he'd have a quick round of _Uma ni to_. Jeffers called the game "double solitaire for three people," and Keku said it meant "horses' two heads," but Mike had simply found it as a new game to play before bedtime.

He looked forward to it.

But he had something else to do first.

Instead of hanging up his suit in the locker provided, he had bunched it under his arm--except for the helmet--and now he headed toward maintenance.

He met Ensign Vaneski just coming out, and gave him a broad smile. "Mister Vaneski, I got troubles."

Vaneski smiled back worriedly. "Yes, sir. I guess we all do. What is it, sir?"

Mike gestured at the bundle under his arm. "I abraded the sleeve of my suit while I was working today. I wish you'd take a look at it. I'm afraid it'll need a patch."

For a moment, Vaneski looked as though he'd suddenly developed a headache.

"I know you're supposed to be off duty now," Mike said soothingly, "but I don't want to get myself killed wearing a leaky suit tomorrow. I'll help you work on it if--"

Vaneski grinned quickly. "Oh no, sir. That'll be all right. I'll give it a test, anyway, to check leaks. If it needs repair, it shouldn't take too long. Bring it in, and we'll take a look at it."

They went back into the Maintenance Section, and Vaneski spread the suit out on the worktable. There was an obvious rough spot on the right sleeve. "Looks bad," said Vaneski. "I'll run a test right away."

"Okay," said Mike. "I'll leave it to you. Can I pick it up in the morning?"

"I think so. If it needs a patch, we'll have to test the patch, of course, but we should be able to finish it pretty quickly." He shrugged. "If we can't, sir, you'll just have to wait. Unless you want us to start altering a suit to your measurements."

"Which would take longer?"

"Altering a suit."

"Okay. Just patch this one, then. What can I do?"

"I'll get it out as fast as possible, sir," said Vaneski with a smile.

"Fine. I'll see you later, then." Mike, like Cleopatra, was not prone to argue. He left maintenance and headed toward the wardroom for a game of _Uma ni to_. But when he met Leda Crannon going up the stairway, all thoughts of card games flitted from his mind with the careless nonchalance of a summer butterfly.

"Hullo," he said, pulling himself up a little straighter. He was tired, but not _that tired.

Her smile brushed the cobwebs from his mind. But a second look told him that there was worry behind the smile.

"Hi, Mike," she said softly. "You look beat."

"I am," admitted Mike. "To a frazzle. Have I told you that I love you?"

"Once, I think. Maybe twice." Her eyes seemed to light up somewhere from far back in her head. "But enough of this mad passion," she said. "I want an invitation to have a drink--a stiff one."

"I'll steal Jeffers' bottle," Mike offered. "What's the trouble?"

Her smile faded, and her eyes became grave. "I'm scared, Mike; I want to talk to you."

"Come along, then," Mike said.

* * * * *

Mike the Angel poured two healthy slugs of Pete Jeffers' brandy into a pair of glasses, added ice and water, and handed one to Leda Crannon with a flourish. And all the time, he kept up a steady line of gentle patter.

"It may interest you to know," he said chattily, "that the learned Mister Treadmore has been furnishing me with the most fascinating information." He lifted up his own glass and looked into its amber depths.

They were in his stateroom, and this time the door was closed--at her insistence. She had explained that she didn't want to be overheard, even by passing crew members.

He swizzled the ice around in his glass, still holding it up to the light. "Indeed," he rambled on, "Treadmore babbled for Heaven knows how long on the relative occurrence of parahydrogen and orthohydrogen on Eisberg." He took his eyes from the glass and looked down at the girl who was seated demurely on the edge of his bunk. Her smile was encouraging.

"He said--and I quote"--Mike's voice assumed a gloomy, but stilted tone--"normal hydrogen gas consists of diatomic molecules. The nuclear, or proton, spin of these atoms--ah--that is, of the two atoms that compose the molecule--may be oriented in the same direction or in opposite directions."

He held a finger in the air as if to make a deep philosophical point. "If," he said pontifically, "they are oriented in the same direction, we refer to the substance as _orthohydrogen_. If they are oriented in opposite directions, it is _parahydrogen_. The _ortho molecules rotate with _odd rotational quantum numbers, while the _para molecules rotate with _even quantum numbers.

"Since conversion does not normally occur between the two states, normal hydrogen may be considered--"

Leda Crannon, snickering, waved her hand in the air. "Please!" she interrupted. "He can't be that bad! You make him sound like a dirge player at a Hindu funeral. What did he tell you? What did you find out?"

"_Hah!_" said Mike. "What did I find out?" His hand moved in an airy circle as he inscribed a flowing cipher with a graceful Delsarte wave. "Nothing. In the first place, I already knew it, and in the second, it wasn't practical information. There's a slight difference in diffusion between the two forms, but it's nothing to rave about." His expression became suddenly serious. "I hope your information is a bit more revealing."

She glanced at her glass, nodded, and drained it. Mike had extracted a promise from her that she would drink one drink before she talked. He could see that she was a trifle tense, and he thought the liquor would relax her somewhat. Now he was ready to listen.

She handed him her empty, and while he refilled it, she said: "It's about Snookums again."

Mike gave her her glass, grabbed the nearby chair, turned it around, sat down, and regarded her over its back.

"I've lived with him so long," she said after a minute. "So long. It almost seems as though I've grown up with him. Eight years. I've been a mother to him, and a big sister at the same time--and maybe a maiden aunt. He's been a career and a family all rolled in together." She still watched her writhing hands, not raising her eyes to Mike's.

"And--and, I suppose, a husband, too," she continued. "That is, he's sort of the stand-in for a--well, a somebody to teach--to correct--to reform. I guess every woman wants to--to _remake the man she meets--the man she wants."

And then her eyes were suddenly on his. "But I don't. Not any more. I've had enough of it." Then she looked back down at her hands.

Mike the Angel neither accepted nor rejected the statement. He merely waited.

"He was mine," she said after a little while. "He was mine to mold, to teach, to form. The others--the roboticists, the neucleonicists, the sub-electronicists, all of them--were his instructors. All they did was give him facts. It was I who gave him a personality.

"I made him. Not his body, not his brain, but his mind.

"I made him.

"I knew him.

"And I--I--"

Still staring at her hands, she clasped them together suddenly and squeezed.

"And I loved him," she finished.

She looked up at Mike then. "Can you see that?" she asked tensely. "Can you understand?"

"Yes," said Mike the Angel quietly. "Yes, I can understand that. Under the same circumstances, I might have done the same thing." He paused. "And now?"

She lowered her head again and began massaging her forehead with the finger tips of both hands, concealing her face with her palms.

"And now," she said dully, "I know he's a machine. Snookums isn't a _he any more--he's an _it_. He has no personality of his own, he only has what I fed into him. Even his voice is mine. He's not even a psychic mirror, because he doesn't reflect _my personality, but a puppet imitation of it, distorted and warped by the thousands upon thousands of cold facts and mathematical relationships and logical postulates. And none of these _added anything to him, as a personality. How could they? He never had a _person_ality--only a set of behavior patterns that I drilled into him over a period of eight years."

She dropped her hands into her lap and tilted her head back, looking at the blank white shimmer of the glow plates.

"And now, suddenly, I see him for what he is--for what _it is. A machine.

"It was never anything _but a machine. It is still a machine. It will never be anything else.

"Personality is something that no machine can ever have. Idiosyncrasies, yes. No two machines are identical. But any personality that an individual sees in a machine has been projected there by the individual himself; it exists only in the human mind.

"A machine can only do what it is built to do, and teaching a robot is only a building process." She gave a short, hard laugh. "I couldn't even build a monster, like Dr. Frankenstein did, unless I purposely built it to turn on me. And in that case I would have done nothing more than the suicide who turns a gun on himself."

Her head tilted forward again, and her eyes sought those of Mike the Angel. A rather lopsided grin came over her face.

"I guess I'm disenchanted, huh, Mike?" she asked.

Mike grinned back, but his lips were firm. "I think so, yes. And I think you're glad of it." His grin changed to a smile.

"Remember," he asked, "the story of the Sleeping Beauty? Did you want to stay asleep all your life?"

"God forbid and thank you for the compliment, sir," she said, managing a smile of her own. "And are you the Prince Charming who woke me up?"

"Prince Charming, I may be," said Mike the Angel carefully, "but I'm not the one who woke you up. You did that yourself."

Her smile became more natural. "Thanks, Mike. I really think I might have seen it, sooner or later. But, without you, I doubt...." She hesitated. "I doubt that I'd want to wake up."

"You said you were scared," Mike said. "What are you scared of?"

"I'm scared to death of that damned machine."


Great love, chameleon-like, hath turned to fear,
And on the heels of fear there follows hate.


Mike quoted to himself--he didn't say it aloud.

"The only reason anyone would have to fear Snookums," he said, "would be that he was uncontrollable. Is he?"

"Not yet. Not completely. But I'm afraid that knowing that he's been filled with Catholic theology isn't going to help us much."

"Why not?"

"Because he has it so inextricably bound up with the Three Laws of Robotics that we can't nullify one without nullifying the other. He's convinced that the laws were promulgated by God Himself."

"Holy St. Isaac," Mike said softly. "I'm surprised he hasn't carried it to its logical conclusion and asked for baptism."

She smiled and shook her head. "I'm afraid your logic isn't as rigorous as Snookums' logic. Only angels and human beings have free will; Snookums is neither, therefore he does not have free will. Whatever he does, therefore, must be according to the will of God. Therefore Snookums cannot sin. Therefore, for him, baptism is both unnecessary and undesirable."

"Why 'undesirable'?" Mike asked.

"Since he is free from sin--either original or actual--he is therefore filled with the plenitude of God's grace. The purpose of a sacrament is to give grace to the recipient; it follows that it would be useless to give the Sacrament to Snookums. To perform a sacrament or to receive it when one knows that it will be useless is sacrilege. And sacrilege is undesirable."

"Brother! But I still don't see how that makes him dangerous."

"The operation of the First Law," Leda said. "For a man to sin involves endangering his immortal soul. Snookums, therefore, must prevent men from sinning. But sin includes thought--intention. Snookums is trying to figure that one out now; if he ever does, he's going to be a thought policeman, and a strict one."

"You mean he's working on _telepathy_?"

She laughed humorlessly. "No. But he's trying to dope out a system whereby he can tell what a man is going to do a few seconds before he does it--muscular and nervous preparation, that sort of thing. He hasn't enough data yet, but he will have it soon enough.

"There's another thing: Snookums is fouling up the Second Law's operation. He won't take orders that interfere in any way with his religious beliefs--since that automatically conflicts with the First Law. He, himself, cannot sin. But neither can he do anything which would make him the tool of an intent to sin. He refuses to do anything at all on Sunday, for instance, and he won't let either Fitz or I do anything that even vaguely resembles menial labor. Slowly, he's coming to the notion that human beings aren't human--that only God is human, in relation to the First and Second Laws. There's nothing we can do with him."

"What will you do if he becomes completely uncontrollable?"

She sighed. "We'll have to shut him off, drain his memory banks, and start all over again."

Mike closed his eyes. "Eighteen billions down the drain just because a robot was taught theology. What price glory?"

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Captain Sir Henry Quill scowled and rubbed his finger tips over the top of his shiny pink pate. "Your evidence isn't enough to convict, Golden Wings." "I know it isn't, Captain," admitted Mike the Angel. "That's why I want to round everybody up and do it this way. If he can be convinced that we _do have the evidence, he may crack and give us a confession." "What about Lieutenant Mellon's peculiar actions? How does that tie in?" "Did you ever hear of Lysodine, Captain?" Captain Quill leaned back in his chair and looked up at Mike. "No. What is it?"
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If you ignite a jet of oxygen-nitrogen in an atmosphere of hydrogen-methane, you get a flame that doesn't differ much from the flame from a hydrogen-methane jet in an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. A flame doesn't particularly care which way the electrons jump, just so long as they jump. All of which was due to give Mike the Angel more headaches than he already had, which was 100 per cent too many. Three days after the _Brainchild landed, the scout group arrived from the base that had been built on Eisberg to take care of Snookums. The leader, a heavy-set engineer named Treadmore,
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