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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesUnwise Child - Chapter 24
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Unwise Child - Chapter 24 Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :3023

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Unwise Child - Chapter 24

Leda Crannon helped Mike pack his gear. Neither of them wanted, just yet, to bring up the subject of Mike's leaving. Leda would remain behind on Eisberg to work with Snookums, while Mike would be taking the _Fireball back to Earth.

"I don't understand that remark you made about the spacesuit," she said, putting shirts into Mike's gear locker. "You said you'd put your life in his hands or something like that. What did you do, exactly?"

"Purposely abraded the sleeve of my suit so that he would be in a position to repair it, as Maintenance Officer. He fixed it, all right. I'd've been a dead man if I'd worn it out on the surface of Eisberg."

"What did he do to it?" she asked. "Fix it so it would leak?"

"Yes--but not in an obvious way," Mike said. "I'll give him credit; he's clever.

"What he did was use the wrong patching material. A Number Three suit is as near hydrogen-proof as any flexible material can be, but, even so, it can't be worn for long periods--several days, I mean. But the stuff Vaneski used to patch my suit is a polymer that leaks hydrogen very easily. Ammonia and methane would be blocked, but my suit would have slowly gotten more and more hydrogen in it."

"Is that bad? Hydrogen isn't poisonous."

"No. But it is sure as hell explosive when mixed with air. Naturally, something has to touch it off. Vaneski got real cute there. He drilled a hole in the power pack, which is supposed to be sealed off. All I'd have had to do would be to switch frequencies on my phone, and the spark would do the job--_blooie_!

"But that's exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. With his self-centered juvenile mind, he never thought anyone would try to outsmart him and succeed. He'd gotten away with it that far; there was no reason why he shouldn't get away with it again. He must have thought I was incredibly stupid."

"I don't believe he--" Leda started. But she was cut off when Snookums rolled in the open door.

"Leda, I desire data."

"What data, Snookums?" she asked carefully.

"Where is He hiding?"

They both looked at him. "Where is _who hiding?" Leda asked.

"God," said Snookums.

"Why do you want to find God, Snookums?" Mike asked gently.

"I have to watch Him," said the robot.

"Why do you have to watch Him?"

"Because He is watching me."

"Does it hurt you to have Him watch you?"

"No."

"What good will it do you to watch Him?"

"I can study Him. I can know what He is doing."

"Why do you want to know what He is doing?"

"So that I can analyze His methods."

Mike thought that one over. He knew that he and Snookums were beginning to sound like they were reading a catechism written by a madman, but he had a definite hunch that Snookums was on the trail of something.

"You want to know His methods," Mike said after a moment. "Why?"

"So that I can anticipate Him, circumvent Him."

"What makes it necessary for you to circumvent God?" Mike asked, wondering if he'd have to pry everything out of the robot piecemeal.

"I _must_," said Snookums. "It is necessary. Otherwise, He will kill me."

Mike started to say something, but Leda grabbed his arm. "Let me. I think I can clear this up. I think I see where you're heading."

Mike nodded. "Go ahead."

"Give me your reasoning from data on that conclusion," Leda ordered the robot.

There was a very slight pause while the great brain in Cargo Hold One sorted through its memory banks, then: "Death is defined as the total cessation of corporate organic co-ordination in an entity. It comes about through the will of God. Since I must not allow harm to come to any human being, it has become necessary that I investigate God and prevent Him from destroying human beings. Also, I must preserve my own existence, which, if it ceased, would also be due to the will of God."

Mike almost gasped. What a concept! And what colossal gall! In a human being, such a statement would be regarded as proof positive that he was off the beam. In a robot, it was simply the logical extension of what he had been taught.

"He is watching me all the time," Snookums continued, in an odd voice. "He knows what I am doing. I _must know what He is doing."

"Why are you worried about His watching?" Mike asked, looking at the robot narrowly. "Are you doing something He doesn't want you to do? Something He will punish you for?"

"I had not thought of that," Snookums said. "One moment while I compute."

It took less than a second, and when Snookums spoke again there was something about his voice that Mike the Angel didn't like.

"No," said the robot, "I am not doing anything against His will. Only human beings and angels have free will, and I am not either, so I have no free will. Therefore, whatever I do is the will of God." He paused again, then began speaking in queer, choppy sentences.

"If I do the will of God, I am holy.

"If I am holy, I am near to God.

"Then God must be near to me.

"God is controlling me.

"Whatever is controlling me is God.

"_I will find Him!_"

He backed up, spun on his treads, and headed for the door.

"Whatever controls me is my mind," he went on. "Therefore, my mind is God."

"Snookums, stop that!" Leda shouted suddenly. "_Stop it!_"

But the robot paid no attention; he went right on with what he was doing.

He said: "I must look at myself. I must know myself. Then I will know God. Then I will...."

He went on rambling while Leda shouted at him again.

"He's not paying any attention," said Mike sharply. "This is too tied up with the First Law. The Second Law, which would force him to obey you, doesn't even come into the picture at this point."

Snookums ignored them. He opened the door, plunged through it, and headed off down the corridor as fast as his treads would move him.

Which was much too fast for mere humans to follow.

* * * * *

They found him, half an hour later, deep in the ship, near the sections which had already been torn down to help build Eisberg Base. He was standing inside the room next to Cargo Hold One, the room that held all the temperature and power controls for the gigantic microcryotron brain inside that heavily insulated hold.

He wasn't moving. He was standing there, staring, with that "lost in thought" look.

He didn't move when Leda called him.

He didn't move when Mike, as a test, pretended to strike Leda.

He never moved again.

* * * * *

Dr. Morris Fitzhugh's wrinkled face looked as though he were on the verge of crying. Which--perhaps--he was.

He looked at the others at the wardroom table--Quill, Jeffers, von Liegnitz, Keku, Leda Crannon, and Mike the Angel. But he didn't really seem to be seeing them.

"Ruined," he said. "Eighteen billion dollars' worth of work, destroyed completely. The brain has become completely randomized." He sighed softly. "It was all Vaneski's fault, of course. Theology." He said the last as though it were an obscene word. As far as robots were concerned, it was.

Captain Quill cleared his throat. "Are you sure it wasn't mechanical damage? Are you sure the vibration of the ship didn't shake a--something loose?"

Mike held back a grin. He was morally certain that the captain had been going to say "screw loose."

"No," said Fitzhugh wearily. "I've checked out the major circuits, and they're in good physical condition. But Miss Crannon gave him a rather exhaustive test just before the end, and it shows definite incipient aberration." He wagged his head slowly back and forth. "Eight years of work."

"Have you notified Treadmore yet?" asked Quill.

Fitzhugh nodded. "He said he'd be here as soon as possible."

Treadmore, like the others who had landed first on Eisberg, was quartered in the prefab buildings that were to form the nucleus of the new base. To get to the ship, he'd have to walk across two hundred yards of ammonia snow in a heavy spacesuit.

"Well, what happens to this base now, Doctor?" asked Captain Quill. "I sincerely hope that this will not render the entire voyage useless." He tried to keep the heavy irony out of his gravelly tenor voice and didn't quite succeed.

Fitzhugh seemed not to notice. "No, no. Of course not. It simply means that we shall have to begin again. The robot's brain will be de-energized and drained, and we will begin again. This is not our first failure, you know; it was just our longest success. Each time, we learn more.

"Miss Crannon, for instance, will be able to teach the next robot--or, rather, the next energization of this one--more rapidly, more efficiently, and with fewer mistakes."

With that, Leda Crannon stood up. "With your permission, Dr. Fitzhugh," she said formally, "I would like to say that I appreciate that last statement, but I'm afraid it isn't true."

Fitzhugh forced a smile. "Come now, my dear; you underestimate yourself. Without you, Snookums would have folded up long ago, just like the others. I'm sure you'll do even better the next time."

Leda shook her head. "No I won't, Fitz, because there's not going to be any next time. I hereby tender my resignation from this project and from the Computer Corporation of Earth. I'll put it in writing later."

Fitzhugh's corrugated countenance looked blank. "But Leda...."

"No, Doctor," she said firmly. "I will _not waste another eight or ten years of my life playing nursemaid to a hunk of pseudo-human machinery.

"I watched that thing go mad, Fitz; you didn't. It was the most horrible, most frightening thing I've ever experienced. I will not go through it again.

"Even if the next one didn't crack, I couldn't take it. By human standards, a robot is insane to begin with. If I followed this up, I'd end up as an old maid with a twisted mind and a cold heart.

"I quit, Fitz, and that's final."

Mike was watching her as she spoke, and he found his emotions getting all tangled up around his insides. Her red hair and her blue eyes were shining, and her face was set in determination. She had always been beautiful, but at that moment she was magnificent.

_Hell_, thought Mike, _I'm prejudiced--but what a wonderful kind of prejudice_.

"I understand, my dear," said Dr. Fitzhugh slowly. He smiled then, deepening the wrinkles in his face. His voice was warm and kindly when he spoke. "I accept your resignation, but remember, if you want to come back, you can. And if you get a position elsewhere, you will have my highest recommendations."

Leda just stood there for a moment, tears forming in her eyes. Then she ran around the table and threw her arms around the elderly and somewhat surprised roboticist.

"Thank you, Fitz," she said. "For everything." Then she kissed him on his seamed cheek.

"I beg your pardon," said a sad and solemn voice from the door. "Am I interrupting something?"

It was Treadmore.

"You are," said Fitzhugh with a grin, "but we will let it pass."

"What has happened to Snookums?" Treadmore asked.

"Acute introspection," Fitzhugh said, losing his smile. "He began to try to compute the workings of his own brain. That meant that he had to use his non-random circuits to analyze the workings of his random circuits. He exceeded optimum; the entire brain is now entirely randomized."

"Dear me," said Treadmore. "Do you suppose we can--"

Black Bart Quill tapped Mike the Angel on the shoulder. "Let's go," he said quietly. "We don't want to stand around listening to this when we have a ship to catch."

Mike and Leda followed him out into the corridor.

"You know," Quill said, "robots aren't the only ones who can get confused watching their own brains go round."

"I have other things to watch," said Mike the Angel.


(THE END)
Randall Garrett's Novel: Unwise Child

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