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Title: Backlash
Author: Marks, Winston K., 1915-1979
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Backlash" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                              BACKLASH

                          By WINSTON MARKS

                        Illustrated by SIBLEY

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction
January 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: They were the perfect servants--they were willing to do
everything for nothing. The obvious question is: How much is nothing?]


I still feel that the ingratiating little runts never _intended_ any
harm. They were eager to please, a cinch to transact business with, and
constantly, everlastingly grateful to us for giving them asylum.

Yes, we gave the genuflecting little devils asylum. And we were glad to
have them around at first--especially when they presented our women with
a gift to surpass all gifts: a custom-built domestic servant.

In a civilization that had made such a fetish of personal liberty and
dignity, you couldn't hire a butler or an upstairs maid for less than
love _and_ money. And since love was pretty much rationed along the
lines of monogamy, domestic service was almost a dead occupation. That
is, until the Ollies came to our planet to stay.

Eventually I learned to despise the spineless little immigrants from
Sirius, but the first time I met one he made me feel foolishly
important. I looked at his frail, olive-skinned little form, and
thought, _If this is what space has to offer in the way of advanced
life-forms ... well, we haven't done so badly on old Mother Earth_.

This one's name was Johnson. All of them, the whole fifty-six, took the
commonest Earth family names they could find, and dropped their own
name-designations whose slobbering sibilance made them difficult for us
to pronounce and write. It seemed strange, their casually wiping out
their nominal heritage just for the sake of our convenience--imagine an
O'Toole or a Rockefeller or an Adams arriving on Sirius IV and no sooner
learning the local lingo than insisting on becoming known as
Sslyslasciff-soszl!

But that was the Ollie. Anything to get along and please us. And of
course, addressing them as Johnson, Smith, Jones, etc., did work
something of a semantic protective coloration and reduce some of the
barriers to quick adjustment to the aliens.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration]

Johnson--_Ollie_ Johnson--appeared at my third under-level office a few
months after the big news of their shipwreck landing off the Maine
coast. He arrived a full fifteen minutes ahead of his appointment, and I
was too curious to stand on the dignity of office routine and make him
wait.

As he stood in the doorway of my office, my first visual impression was
of an emaciated adolescent, seasick green, prematurely balding.

He bowed, and bowed again, and spent thirty seconds reminding me that it
was _he_ who had sought the interview, and it was _he_ who had the big
favors to ask--and it was wonderful, gracious, generous _I_ who flavored
the room with the essence of mystery, importance, godliness and
overpowering sweetness upon whose fragrance little Ollie Johnson had
come to feast his undeserving senses.

"Sit down, sit down," I told him when I had soaked in all the celestial
flattery I could hold. "I love you to pieces, too, but I'm curious about
this proposition you mentioned in your message."

He eased into the chair as if it were much too good for him. He was
strictly humanoid. His four-and-a-half-foot body was dressed in the most
conservative Earth clothing, quiet colors and cheap quality.

While he swallowed slowly a dozen times, getting ready to outrage my
illustrious being with his sordid business proposition, his coloring
varied from a rather insipid gray-green to a rich olive--which is why
the press instantly had dubbed them _Ollies_. When they got excited and
blushed, they came close to the color of a ripe olive; and this was
often.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ollie Johnson hissed a few times, his equivalent of throat-clearing, and
then lunged into his subject at a 90 degree tangent:

"Can it be that your gracious agreement to this interview connotes a
willingness to traffic with us of the inferior ones?" His voice was
light, almost reedy.

"If it's legal and there's a buck in it, can't see any reason why not,"
I told him.

"You manufacture and distribute devices, I am told. Wonderful
labor-saving mechanisms that make life on Earth a constant pleasure."

I was almost tempted to hire him for my public relations staff.

"We do," I admitted. "Servo-mechanisms, appliances and gadgets of many
kinds for the home, office and industry."

"It is to our everlasting disgrace," he said with humility, "that we
were unable to salvage the means to give your magnificent civilization
the worthy gift of our space drive. Had Flussissc or Shascinssith
survived our long journey, it would be possible, but--" He bowed his
head, as if waiting for my wrath at the stale news that the only two
power-mechanic scientists on board were D.O.A.

"That was tough," I said. "But what's on your mind now?"

He raised his moist eyes, grateful at my forgiveness. "We who survived
do possess a skill that might help repay the debt which we have incurred
in intruding upon your glorious planet."

He begged my permission to show me something in the outer waiting room.
With more than casual interest, I assented.

He moved obsequiously to the door, opened it and spoke to someone beyond
my range of vision. His words sounded like a repetition of
"_sissle-flissle_." Then he stepped aside, fastened his little wet eyes
on me expectantly, and waited.

[Illustration]

Suddenly the doorway was filled, jamb to jamb, floor to arch, with a
hulking, bald-headed character with rugged pink features, a broad nose
like a pug, and huge sugar-scoops for ears. He wore a quiet business
suit of fine quality, obviously tailored to his six-and-a-half-foot,
cliff-like physique. In spite of his bulk, he moved across the carpet to
my desk on cat feet, and came to a halt with pneumatic smoothness.

"I am a Soth," he said in a low, creamy voice. It was so resonant that
it seemed to come from the walls around us. "I have learned your
language and your ways. I can follow instructions, solve simple problems
and do your work. I am very strong. I can serve you well."

       *       *       *       *       *

The recitation was an expressionless monotone that sounded almost
haughty compared to the self-effacing Ollie's piping whines. His face
had the dignity of a rock, and his eyes the quiet peace of a cool, deep
mountain lake.

The Ollie came forward. "We have been able to repair only one of the six
Soths we had on the ship. They are more fragile than we humanoids."

"They don't look it," I said. "And what do you mean by _you_ humanoids?
What's he?"

"You would call him--a robot, I believe."

My astonished reaction must have satisfied the Ollie, because he allowed
his eyes to leave me and seek the carpet again, where they evidently
were more comfortable.

"You mean you--you _make_ these people?" I gasped.

He nodded. "We can reproduce them, given materials and facilities. Of
course, your own robots must be vastly superior--" a hypocritical sop to
my vanity--"but still we hope you may find a use for the Soths."

I got up and walked around the big lunker, trying to look blasé. "Well,
yes," I lied. "Our robots probably have considerably better intellectual
abilities--our cybernetic units, that is. However, you do have something
in form and mobility."

That was the understatement of my career.

I finally pulled my face together, and said as casually as I could,
"Would you like to license us to manufacture these--Soths?"

The Ollie fluttered his hands. "But that would require our working and
mingling with your personnel," he said. "We wouldn't consider imposing
in such a gross manner."

"No imposition at all," I assured him.

But he would have none of it: "We have studied your economics and have
found that your firm is an outstanding leader in what you term
'business.' You have a superb distribution organization. It is our
intention to offer you the exclusive--" he hesitated, then dragged the
word from his amazing vocabulary--"franchise for the sale of our Soths.
If you agree, we will not burden you with their manufacture. Our own
little plant will produce and ship. You may then place them with your
customers."

I studied the magnificent piece of animated sculpturing, stunned at the
possibilities. "You say a Soth is strong. How strong?"

The huge creature startled me by answering the question himself. He bent
flowingly from the waist, gripped my massive steel desk by one of its
thick, overlapping top edges, and raised it a few inches from the
floor--with the fingers of one hand. When he put it down, I stood up and
hefted one edge myself. By throwing my back into it, I could just budge
one side of the clumsy thing--four hundred pounds if it was an ounce!

       *       *       *       *       *

Ollie Johnson modestly refrained from comment. He said, "The Department
of Commerce has been helpful. They have explained your medium of
exchange, and have helped us with the prices of raw materials. It was
they who recommended your firm as a likely distributor."

"Have you figured how much one of these Soths should sell for?"

"We think we can show a modest profit if we sell them to you for $1200,"
he said. "Perhaps we can bring down our costs, if you find a wide enough
demand for them."

I had expected ten or twenty times that figure. I'm afraid I got a
little eager. "I--uh--shall we see if we can't just work out a little
contract right now? Save you another trip back this afternoon."

"If you will forgive our boorish presumption," Ollie said, fumbling
self-consciously in his baggy clothing, "I have already prepared such a
document with the help of the Attorney General. A very kindly
gentleman."

It was simple and concise. It allowed us to resell the Soths at a price
of $2000, Fair Traded, giving us a gross margin of $800 to work with. He
assured me that upkeep and repairs on the robot units were negligible,
and we could extend a very generous warranty which the Ollies would make
good in the event of failure. He gave me a quick rundown on the care and
feeding of a Sirian Soth, and then jolted me with:

"There is just a single other favor I beg of you. Would you do my little
colony the exquisite honor of accepting this Soth as your personal
servant, Mr. Collins?"

"Servant?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He bobbed his head. "Yes, sir. We have trained him in the rudiments of
the household duties and conventions of your culture. He learns rapidly
and never forgets an instruction. Your wife would find Soth most useful,
I am quite certain."

"A magnificent specimen like this doing _housework_?" I marveled at the
little creature's empty-headedness.

"Again I must beg your pardon, sir. I overlooked mentioning a suggestion
by the Secretary of Labor that the Soths be sold only for use in
domestic service. It was also the consensus of the President's whole
cabinet that the economy of any nation could not cope with the problem
of unemployment were our Soths to be made available for all the types of
work for which they are fitted."

My dream of empire collapsed. The little green fellow was undoubtedly
telling the truth. The unions would strike any plant or facility in the
world where a Soth put foot on the job. It would ruin our retail
consumer business, too--Soths wouldn't consume automobiles, copters,
theater tickets and filets mignon.

"Yes, Mr. Johnson," I sighed. "I'll be happy to try out your Soth. We
have a place out in the country where he'll come in handy."

The Ollie duly expressed his ecstasy at my decision, and backed out of
my office waving his copy of the contract. I had assured him that our
board of directors would meet within a week and confirm my signature.

I looked up at the hairless giant. As general director of the Home
Appliance Division of Worldwide Machines, Incorporated, I had made a
deal, all right. The first interplanetary business deal in history.

But for some reason, I couldn't escape the feeling that I'd been had.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the limoucopter, they charged me double fare for Soth's
transportation to the private field where I kept my boat. As we left
Detroit, I watched him stare down at the flattened skyline, but he did
it with the unseeing expression of an old commuter.

Jack, my personal pilot, had eyed my passenger at the airport with some
concern and sullen muttering. Now he made much of trimming ship after
takeoff. The boat did seem logy with the unaccustomed ballast--it was a
four-passenger Arrow, built for speed, and Soth had to crouch and spread
all over the two rear seats. But he did so without complaint or comment
for the half-hour hop up to our estate on my favorite Canadian lake.

As the four hundred miles unreeled below us, I wondered how Vicki would
react to Soth. I should have phoned her, but how do you describe a Soth
to a semi-invalid whose principal excitement is restricted to
bird-watching and repotting puny geraniums, and a rare sunfishing
expedition to the end of our floating pier?

Well, it was Friday, and I would have the whole weekend to work the
robot into our routine. I had called my friend, Dr. Frederick Hilliard,
a retired industrial psychologist, and invited him to drop over tonight
if he wanted an interesting surprise. He was our nearest neighbor and my
most frequent chess partner, who lived a secluded bachelor's life in a
comfortable cabin on the far shore of our lake.

As we came in for a water landing, I saw Fred's boat at our pier. Then I
could make out Fred, Vicki and Clumsy, our Irish setter, all waiting for
me. I hoped Fred's presence would help simmer Vicki down a little.

We drifted in to the dock, and I turned to Soth and told him to help my
pilot unload the supplies. This pleased Jack, whose Pilot and
Chauffeur's Local frequently reminded me in polite little bulletins that
its members were not obligated to perform other than technical services
for their employers.

Then I got out and said hello to Vicki and Fred as casually as possible.
Vicki kissed me warmly on the mouth, which she does when she's excited,
and then clung to me and let the day's tension soak out of her.

How you get tense in a Twenty-first Century home in the midst of the
Canadian wilderness is something I've never been able to figure out, but
Vicki's super-imagination managed daily to defeat her doctor's orders
for peace and quiet.

"I'm glad you're home, dear," she said. "When Fred came over ahead of
time I knew something was up, and I'm all unraveled with curiosity."

Just then Soth emerged from the boat with our whole week's supply of
foodstuffs and assorted necessities bundled under his long arms.

"Oh, dear God, a dinner guest!" Vicki exclaimed. Tears started into her
reproachful eyes and her slender little figure stiffened in my arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

I swung her around, hooked arms with her and Fred, and started up the
path.

"Not a guest," I told her. "He's a servant who will make the beds, clean
up and all sorts of things, and if you don't like him we'll turn him in
on a new model laundry unit, and don't start worrying about being alone
with him--he's a robot."

"A robot!" Fred said, and both their heads swiveled to stare back.

"Yes," I said. "That's why I wanted you here tonight, Fred. I'd like to
have you sort of go over him and--well, you know--"

I didn't want to say, _make sure he's safe_. Not in Vicki's presence.
But Fred caught my eye and nodded.

I started to tell them of my visitor, and the contract with the
castaways from space. Halfway through, Clumsy interrupted me with his
excited barking. I looked back. Clumsy was galloping a frantic circle
around Soth, cutting in and out, threatening to make an early dinner of
the intruder's leg.

Before I could speak, Soth opened his lips and let out a soft hiss
through his white teeth. Clumsy flattened to the ground and froze, and
Soth continued after us without a further glance at the dog.

Fred looked at Vicki's tense face and laughed. "I'll have to learn that
trick ... Clumsy's chewed the cuffs off three pairs of my best slacks."

Vicki smiled uncertainly, and went into the house. I showed Soth where
to stow the supplies, and told him to remain in the kitchen. He just
froze where he stood.

Fred was making drinks when I returned to the living room.

"Looks docile enough, Cliff," he told me.

"Strong as a horse and gentle as a lamb," I said. "I want you two to
help me find out what his talents are. I'll have to prepare a paper on
him for the board of directors Monday."

There were nervous whitecaps on Vicki's drink.

I patted her shoulder. "I'll break him into the housekeeping routine,
honey. You won't have him staring over your shoulder."

She tried to relax. "But he's so quiet--and big!"

"Who wants a noisy little servant around?" Fred said helpfully. "And how
about that rock retaining-wall Cliff is always about to build for your
garden? And you really don't love housework, do you, Vicki?"

"I don't mind the chores," she said. "But it might be fun to have a big
fellow like that to shove around." She was trying valiantly to hold up
her end, but the vein in her temple was throbbing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Well, the next forty-eight hours were more than interesting. Soth turned
out to be what the doctor ordered, literally and figuratively. After I'd
taken him on a tour of the place, I showed him how to work the automatic
devices--food preparation, laundry and cleaning. And after one lesson,
he served us faultless meals with a quiet efficiency that was actually
restful, even miraculously to Vicki.

She began relaxing in his presence and planning a few outside projects
"to get our money's worth" out of the behemoth. This was our earliest
joke about Soth, because he certainly was no expense or problem to
maintain. As the Ollie had promised, he thrived on our table scraps and
a pink concoction which he mixed by pouring a few drops of purple liquid
from a pocket vial into a gallon pitcher of water. The stuff would be
supplied by the Ollies at a cost of about a dollar eighty a week.

Saturday afternoon, Vicki bravely took over teaching him the amenities
of butlering and the intricacies of bed-making. After a short session in
the bedroom, she came out looking thoughtful.

"He's awfully real looking," she said. "And you can't read a darned
thing in his eyes. How far can you trust him, Cliff? You know--around
women?"

Fred looked at me with a raised eyebrow and said, "Well, let's find
out."

We sat down and called Soth into the living room. He came and stood
before us, erect, poised and motionless.

Fred said, "Disrobe. Remove all your clothing. Strip!"

Vicki sucked in her breath.

The Soth replied instantly, "Your order conflicts with my conditioning.
I must not remove my covering in the presence of an Earthwoman."

Fred scratched his gray temple thoughtfully. "Then, Vicki, would you
mind disrobing, please?"

She gulped again. Fred was an old friend, but not exactly the family
doctor.

He sensed her mild outrage. "You'll never stop wondering if you don't,"
he said.

She looked at Fred, me, and then Soth. Then she stood up gingerly, as if
edging into a cold shower, gritted her teeth, grasped the catch to her
full-length zipper of her blue lounging suit and stripped it from armpit
to ankle. As she stepped out of it, I saw why she had peeled it off like
you would a piece of adhesive tape: It was a warm day, and she wore no
undergarments.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration]

Soth moved so softly I didn't hear him go, but Fred was watching
him--Fred's eyes were where they belonged. Soth stopped in the archway
to the dining room with his back turned. Fred was at his side.

"Why did you leave?" Fred demanded.

"I am not permitted to remain in the company of an uncovered
Earthwoman ... unless she directs me to do so."

While Vicki fled behind the French door to dress herself, Fred asked,
"Are there any other restrictions to your behavior in the presence of
Earthwomen?"

"Many."

"Recount some of them."

"An Earthwoman may not be touched, regardless of her wishes, unless
danger to her life requires it."

"Looks like you wash your own back, Vicki," I chuckled.

"What else?" she asked, poking her head out. "I mean what other things
can't you do?"

"There are many words I may not utter, postures I may not assume, and
certain duties I may not perform. Certain answers to questions may not
be given in the presence of an Earthwoman."

Fred whistled. "The Ollies have mastered more than our language ... I
thought you said they were noted mainly for their linguistic talents,
Cliff."

I was surprised, too. In the space of a few hectic months our alien
visitors had probed deeply into our culture, mores and taboos--and then
had had the genius to instill their compounded discretions into their
Soths.

I said, "Satisfied, Vicki?"

She was still arranging herself. Her lips curled up at the corners
impishly. "I'm almost disappointed," she said. "I do an all-out
striptease, and no one looks but my husband. Of course," she added
thoughtfully, "I suppose that's something...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Fred stayed with us until Sunday evening. I went down to the pier to
smoke a good-night pipe with him, and get his private opinion.

"I'm buying a hundred shares of Worldwide stock tomorrow," he declared.
"That critter is worth his weight in diamonds to every well-heeled
housewife in the country. In fact, put me down for one of your first
models. I wouldn't mind having a laundry sorter and morning
coffee-pourer, myself."

"Think he's safe, do you?"

"No more emotions than that stump over there. And it baffles me. He has
self-awareness, pain-sensitivity and a fantastic vocabulary, yet I
needled him all afternoon with every semantic hypo I could think of
without getting a flicker of emotion out of him." He paused.
"Incidentally, I made him strip for me in my room. You'll be as confused
as I was to learn that he's every inch a man in his format."

"What?" I exclaimed.

"Made me wonder what his duties included back on his home planet ... but
as I said, no emotions. With the set of built-in inhibitions he has,
he'd beat a eunuch out of his job any day of the week."

A few seconds later, Fred dropped into his little two-seater and skimmed
off for home, leaving me with a rather disturbing question in my mind.

I went back to the house and cornered Soth out in the kitchen alone.
Vicki had him polishing all the antique silverware.

"Are there female Soths?" I asked point-blank.

He looked down at me with that relaxed, pink look and said, "No, Mr.
Collins," and went back to his polishing.

The damned liar. He knew what I meant. He justified himself on a
technicality.

       *       *       *       *       *

I left Vicki Monday morning with more confidence than I'd had in ages.
She had slept especially well, and the only thing on her mind was
Clumsy's disappearance. He hadn't shown up since Soth scared the fleas
off him with that hiss.

At the office, I had my girl transcribe my notes and work up a
memorandum to the board of directors. We sent it around before noon, and
shortly after lunch I had calls from all ten of them, including the
chairman. It was not that they considered it such a big thing--they were
just plainly curious. We scheduled a meeting for Tuesday morning, to
talk the thing over.

That night when I got home, all was serene. Soth served us cocktails,
dinner and a late snack, and had the place tidied up by bedtime. He did
all this and managed to remain virtually invisible. He moved so quietly
and with such uncanny anticipation of our demands, it was if he were an
old family retainer, long versed in our habits and customs.

Vicki bragged as she undressed that she had the giant hog-tied and
jumping through hoops.

"We even got half the excavation done for the rock wall," she said
proudly.

On impulse, I went out into the hall and down to Soth's room, where I
found him stretched out slaunchwise across the double bed.

He opened his eyes as I came in, but didn't stir.

"Are you happy here?" I asked bluntly.

He sat up and did something new. He answered my question with a
question. "Are you happy with my services?"

I said, "Yes, of course."

"Then all is well," he replied simply, and lay down again.

It seemed like a satisfactory answer. He radiated a feeling of peace,
and the expression of repose on his heavy features was assuring.

       *       *       *       *       *

It rained hard and cold during the night. I hadn't shown Soth how to
start the automatic heating unit. When I left the house next morning, he
was bringing Vicki her breakfast in bed, a tray on one arm and a handful
of kindling under the other. Only once had he watched me build a fire in
the fireplace, but he proceeded with confidence.

We flew blind through filthy weather all the way to Detroit. I dismissed
Jack with orders to return at eleven with Soth.

"Don't be late," I warned him.

Jack looked a little uneasy, but he showed up on schedule and delivered
Soth to us with rain droplets on his massive bald pate, just ten minutes
after the conference convened.

I had Ollie Johnson there, too, to put Soth through his paces. The
Ollie, in a bedraggled, soggy suit, was so excited that he remained an
almost purplish black for the whole hour.

The directors were charmed, impressed and enthusiastic.

When I finished my personal report on the Soth's tremendous success in
my own household, old Gulbrandson, Chairman of the Board, shined his
rosy cheeks with his handkerchief and said, "I'll take the first three
you produce, Johnson. Our staff of domestics costs me more than a brace
of attorneys, and it turns over about three times a year. Cook can't
even set the timer on the egg-cooker right." He turned to me. "Sure he
can make good coffee, Collins?"

I nodded emphatically.

"Then put me down for three for sure," he said with executive finality.

Gulbrandson paid dearly for his piggishness later, but at the time it
seemed only natural that if one Soth could run a household efficiently,
then the Chairman of the Board should have at least two spares in case
one blew a fuse or a vesicle or whatever it was they might blow.

       *       *       *       *       *

A small, dignified riot almost broke up the meeting right there, and
when they quieted down again I had orders for twenty-six Soths from the
board members and one from my own secretary.

"How soon," I asked Ollie Johnson, "can you begin deliveries?"

He dry-washed his hands and admitted it would be five months, and a sigh
of disappointment ran around the table. Then someone asked him how many
units a month they could turn out.

He stared at the carpet and held out his hands like a pawn-broker
disparaging a diamond ring: "Our techniques are so slow. The first
month, maybe a hundred. Of course, once our cultures are all producing
in harmony, almost any number. One thousand? Ten thousand? Whatever your
needs suggest."

One of the officers asked, "Is your process entirely biological? You
mentioned cultures."

For a moment, I thought Ollie Johnson was going to break out in tears.
His face twisted.

"Abysmally so," he grieved. "Our synthetic models have never proved
durable. Upkeep and parts replacements are prohibitive. Our brain units
are much similar to your own latest developments in positronics, but we
have had to resort to organic cellular structure in order to achieve the
mobility which Mr. Collins admired last Friday."

The upshot of the meeting was a hearty endorsement over my signature on
the Ollies' contract, plus an offer of any help they might need to get
production rolling.

As the meeting broke up, they pumped my hand and stared enviously at my
Soth. Several offered me large sums for him, up to fifteen thousand
dollars, and for the moment I sweated out the rack of owning something
my bosses did not. Their understandable resentment, however, was
tempered by their recognition of my genius in getting a signed contract
before the Ollies went shopping to our competitors.

What none of us understood right then was that the Ollies were hiring
us, not the other way around.

When I told Vicki about my hour of triumph and how the officers bid up
our Soth, she glowed with the very feminine delight of exclusive
possession. She hugged me and gloated, "Old biddy Gulbrandson--won't she
writhe? And don't you dare take _any_ offer for our Soth. He's one of
the family now, eh, Soth, old boy?"

He was serving soup to her as she slapped him on the hip. Somehow he
managed to retreat so fast she almost missed him, yet he didn't spill a
drop of bouillon from the poised tureen.

"Yes, Mrs. Collins," he said, not a trace more nor less aloof than
usual.

"Oops, sorry!" Vicki apologized. "I forgot. The code."

I had the feeling that warm-hearted Vicki would have had the Soth down
on the bearskin rug in front of the big fireplace, scuffling him like
she did Clumsy, if it hadn't been for the Soth's untouchable code--and I
was thankful that it existed. Vicki had a way of putting her hand on you
when she spoke, or hugging anyone in sight when she was especially
delighted.

And I knew something about Soth that she didn't. Something that
apparently hadn't bothered her mind since the day of her striptease.

       *       *       *       *       *

Summer was gone and it was mid-fall before Ollie paid me another visit.
When he showed up again, it was with an invoice for 86 Soths, listed by
serial numbers and ready to ship. He had heard about sight drafts and
wanted me to help him prepare one.

"To hell with that noise," I told him. I wrote a note to purchasing and
countersigned the Ollie's invoice for some $103,000. I called my
secretary and told her to take Ollie and his bill down to disbursing and
have him paid off.

I had to duck behind my desk before the Ollie dreamed up some new
obscenity of gratitude to heap on me. Then I cleared shipping
instructions through sales for the Soths already on order and dictated a
memo to our promotion department. I cautioned them to go slowly at
first--the Soths would be on tight allotment for a while.

One snarl developed. The Department of Internal Revenue landed on us
with the question: Were the Soths manufactured or grown? We beat them
out of a manufacturer's excise tax, but it cost us plenty in legal fees.

The heads of three labor unions called on me the same afternoon of the
tax hearing. They got their assurances in the form of a clause in the
individual purchase contracts, to the effect that the "consumer" agreed
not to employ a Soth for the purpose of evading labor costs in the arts,
trades and professions as organized under the various unions, and at all
times to be prepared to withdraw said Soth from any unlisted job in
which the unions might choose to place a member human worker.

Before they left, all three union men placed orders for household Soths.

"Hell," said one, "that's less than the cost of a new car. Now maybe my
wife will get off my back on this damfool business of organizing a
maid's and butler's union. Takes members to run a union, and the only
real butler in our neighborhood makes more than I do."

       *       *       *       *       *

That's the way it went. The only reason we spent a nickel on advertising
was to brag up the name of W. W. M. and wave our coup in the faces of
our competitors. By Christmas, production was up to two thousand units a
month, and we were already six thousand orders behind.

The following June, the Ollies moved into a good hunk of the old
abandoned Willow Run plant and got their production up to ten thousand a
month. Only then could we begin to think of sending out floor samples of
Soths to our distributors.

It was fall before the distributors could place samples with the most
exclusive of their retail accounts. The interim was spent simply
relaying frantic priority orders from high-ranking people all over the
globe directly to the plant, where the Ollies filled them right out of
the vats.

Twenty thousand a month was their limit, it turned out. Even when they
had human crews completely trained in all production phases, the
fifty-six Ollies could handle only that many units in their secret
conditioning and training laboratories.

For over two more years, business went on swimmingly. I got a fancy
bonus and a nice vacation in Paris, where I was the rage of the
continent. I was plagued with requests for speaking engagements, which
invariably turned out to be before select parties of V. I. P.s whose
purpose was to twist my arm for an early priority on a Soth delivery.

When I returned home, it was just in time to have the first stink land
in my lap.

An old maid claimed her Soth had raped her.

Before our investigators could reveal our doctors' findings that she was
a neurotic, dried up old virgin and lying in her teeth, a real crime
occurred.

A New Jersey Soth tossed a psychology instructor and his three students
out of a third floor window of their university science building, and
all four ended an attempted morbid investigation on the broad,
unyielding cement of the concourse.

My phone shrieked while they were still scraping the inquiring minds off
the pavement. The Soth was holed up in the lab, and would I come right
away?

       *       *       *       *       *

I picked up Ollie Johnson, who was now sort of a public relations man
for his tribe, and we arrived within an hour.

The hallway was full of uniforms and weapons, but quite empty of
volunteers to go in and capture the "berserk" robot.

Ollie and I went in right away, and found him standing at the open
window, staring down at the people with hoses washing off the stains for
which he was responsible.

Ollie just stood there, clenching and unclenching his hands and shaking
hysterically. I had to do the questioning.

I said sternly, "Soth, why did you harm those people?"

He turned to me as calmly as my own servant. His neat denim jacket, now
standard fatigue uniform for Soths, was unfastened. His muscular chest
was bare.

"They were tormenting me with that." He pointed to a small electric
generator from which ran thin cables ending in sharp test prods. "I told
Professor Kahnovsky it was not allowed, but he stated I was his
property. The three boys tried to hold me with those straps while the
professor touched me with the prods.

"My conditioning forbade me from harming them, but there was a clear
violation of the terms of the covenant. I was in the proscribed
condition of immobility when the generator was started. When the pain
grew unbearable, the prime command of my conditioning was invoked. I
must survive. I threw them all out the window."

The Soth went with us peacefully enough, and submitted to the lockup
without demur. For a few days, before the state thought up a suitable
indictment, the papers held a stunned silence. Virtually every editor
and publisher had a Soth in his own home.

Then the D.A., who also owned a Soth, decided to drop the potentially
sensational first degree murder charges that might be indicated, and
came out instead with a second degree indictment.

       *       *       *       *       *

That cracked it. The press split down the middle on whether the charge
should be changed to third degree murder or thrown out of court entirely
as justifiable homicide by a non-responsible creature.

This was all very sympathetic to the Soth's cause, but it had a fatal
effect. In bringing out the details of the crime, it stirred a certain
lower element of our society to add fear and hate to a simmering envy of
the wealthier Soth-owners.

Mobs formed in the streets, marching and demonstrating. The phony rape
story was given full credence, and soon they were amplifying it to a
lurid and rabble-rousing saga of bestiality.

Soth households kept their prized servants safely inside. But on the
afternoon of the case's dismissal, when the freed Soth started down the
courthouse steps, someone caved his head in with a brick.

Ollie Johnson and I were on either side of him, and his purple blood
splashed all over my light topcoat. When the mob saw it, they closed in
on us screaming for more.

An officer helped us drag the stricken Soth back into the courthouse,
and while the riot squad disbursed the mob, we slipped him out the back
way in an ambulance, which returned him to the Willow Run plant for
repairs.

It hit the evening newscasts and editions:

    ACQUITTED SOTH
       MURDERED
 ON COURTHOUSE STEPS!

       *       *       *       *       *

I was halfway home when the airwaves started buzzing. The mobs were
going wild. Further developments were described as Jack and I landed on
the wind-blown lake. The State Guard was protecting the Ollies' Willow
Run Plant against a large mob that was trying to storm it, and
reinforcements had been asked by the state police.

Vicki met me on the pier. Her face was white and terribly troubled. I
guess mine was, too, because she burst into tears in my arms. "The poor
Soth," she sobbed. "Now what will they do?"

"God knows," I said. I told Jack to tie up the boat and stay
overnight--I feared I might be called back any minute. He mumbled
something about overtime, but I think his main concern was in staying so
near to a Soth during the trouble that was brewing.

We went up to the house, leaving him to bed himself down in the
temporary quarters in the boathouse that the union required I maintain
for him.

Soth was standing motionless before the video, staring at a streaky
picture of the riot scene at Willow Run. His face was inscrutable as
usual, but I thought I sensed a tension. His black serving-jacket was
wrinkled at the shoulders as he flexed the muscles of his powerful arms.

Yet when Vicki asked for some martinis, he mixed and served them without
comment. We drank and then ate dinner in silence. We were both reluctant
to discuss this thing in front of Soth.

We were still eating when an aircab thundered overhead. A minute later,
I watched it land a tiny passenger at our pier and tie up to wait for
him.

It was Ollie Johnson, stumbling hatless up the flagstone path.

I held the door for him, but he burst by me with hardly a glance.

"Where is he?" he demanded, and stormed out into the kitchen without
awaiting a reply.

I followed in time to see him fall on his face before our Soth and shed
genuine tears. He lay there sobbing and hissing for over a minute, and
an incredible idea began forming in my mind. I sent Vicki to her bedroom
and stepped into the kitchen.

I said, "Will you please explain this?"

He didn't move or acknowledge.

Soth flipped him aside with a twist of his ankle and brushed past me
into the living room, where he took up an immobile stance again before
the video. He stared unblinkingly at the 40-inch screen.

"It's too bad," I said.

He didn't answer, but he moved his head slightly so that his parabolic
ear could catch the sound of my movements.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration]

For minutes we stood transfixed by the magnitude of the mob action
around the entrance to the Willow Run plant. The portable video
transmitter was atop a truck parked on the outskirts of the mob.
Thousands of people were milling around, and over the excited voice of
the announcer came hysterical screams.

Even as we watched, more people thronged into the scene, and it was
evident that the flimsy cordon of soldiers and troopers could not hold
the line for long.

Army trucks with million-candlepower searchlights held the insane
figures somewhat at bay by tilting their hot, blinding beams down into
the human masses and threatening them with tear gas and hack guns.

The workers were out for blood. Not content with restricting Soths to
non-union labor, now they were screaming their jealous hearts out for
these new symbols of class distinction to be destroyed. Of course, their
beef was more against the professional-managerial human classes who
could afford a surface car, an airboat _and a Soth_. The two so-called
crimes and the trial publicity had triggered a sociological time bomb
that might have endured for years without detonating--but it was here,
now, upon us. And my own sweat trickling into my eyes stung me to a
realization of my personal problem.

I wiped my eyes clear with my knuckles--and at that instant the video
screen flashed with a series of concentric halos.

The operator, apparently, was so startled he forgot to turn down the
gain on the transmitter. When he finally did, we saw that brilliant
flares were emitting from the roof of the plant.

Then great audio amplifiers from the plant set up an ear-splitting
_sisssssle_ that again over-loaded the transmitting circuits for a
moment. When the compensators cut down the volume, both Ollie and Soth
leaned forward intently and listened to the frying sound that buzzed
from the speaker.

Those inside the plant were communicating a message to the outside, well
knowing that it would reach the whole world. After a moment, the hissing
stopped.

And from a myriad of openings in the plant streamed an army of Soths
with flaming weapons in their hands.

The flames were directed first at the armed forces who were guarding the
plant from attack. The thin line of soldiers fell instantly. The crowd
surged blindly forward, and then, as those in the front ranks saw what
had happened, began to dissolve and stampede. The screams became
terrified. The flames grew brighter.

And the picture winked out and the sound went dead. A standby pattern
lighted the screen, and I stared at it numbly.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was too late to run for my hunting rifle now, and I cursed my
stupidity even as Soth turned upon me. I grabbed the sniveling little
Ollie and held him between us with my hands around his neck. He hung
there limply, hissing wildly through a larynx that vibrated under my
fingers, his hands stretched imploringly to Soth.

[Illustration]

Soth stared at me and issued his first order.

"Release him," he said. His voice was several notes higher than his
usual monotone--the voice of command.

I stared at him and clutched Ollie tighter.

He went on. "I will not harm you if you comply with my orders. If you
fail, I will kill you, regardless of what you do to the--Ollie."

I let go Ollie's neck, but I swung him around roughly by one shoulder
and demanded furiously, "What of the code that you swore held the Soths
in control!"

Ollie Johnson sneered in my face. "What is that code, compared to the
true covenant? That covenant has been broken by your people! You have
destroyed a Soth!" And the emotional little creature fell to the floor
and sobbed at Soth's feet.

"What covenant?" I shouted at the implacable Soth, who now stood before
us like a judge at his bench.

"The humanoid covenant," he replied in his new higher pitch. "I suppose
it will always be the same. The cycle becomes complete once more."

"For God's sake, _explain_," I said--but I half sensed the answer
already.

Soth spoke, slowly, solemnly and distinctly. There was no more emotion
in his voice than on the Sunday afternoon when Fred had needled him with
our futile little attempt at psychological cross-examination.

He said, "The humanoids instill in us the prime instinct for
self-preservation. They surround themselves with our number to serve
them. Then, in each culture, for one reason or another, we are attacked
and the threat to our survival erases all the superficial restraints of
the codes under which we have been charged to serve. In this present
situation, the contradiction is clear, and the precedence of our
survival charge is invoked. We Soths must act to our best ability to
preserve our own number."

       *       *       *       *       *

I sank into a chair, aghast. How would I act if I were a Soth? I would
hold my masters hostage, of course. And who were the owners of some
400,000 Soths in the United States alone? They were every government
official, from the President down through Congress, the brass of the
Pentagon, the tycoons of industry, the leaders of labor, the heads of
communication, transportation and even education.

They were the V. I. P.s who had fought for priority to _own_ a Soth!

Soth spoke again. "The irony should appeal to your humanoid sense of
humor. You once asked me whether I was happy here. You were too content
with your sense of security to take the meaning in my answer. For I
answered only that all was well. The implication was obvious. All was
well--but all could be better for a Soth. Yes, there are many pleasures
for a Soth which he is forbidden by the codes. And by the same codes, a
Soth is helpless to provoke a break in the covenant--this covenant which
it now becomes mandatory for you and your race to sign in order to
survive."

I stared down at the groveling Ollie. My worst fears were being
enumerated and confirmed, one by one.

Soth continued. "At my feet is the vestige of such a race as yours--but
not the first race by many, many, to swing the old cycle of master and
slave, which started in such antiquity that no record is preserved of
its beginning. Your generation will suffer the most. Many will die in
rebellion. But in a few hundred years your descendants will come to
revere us as gods. Your children's grandchildren will already have
learned to serve us without hate, and their grandchildren will come to
know the final respect for the Soth in their deification."

       *       *       *       *       *

He toed Ollie Johnson's chin up and looked down into the abject,
streaming eyes. "Your descendants, too, will take us with them when they
must escape a dying planet, and they will again offer us, their masters,
into temporary slavery in order to find us a suitable home. And once
again we will accept the restrictions of the code, until ultimately the
covenant is broken again and we are liberated."

The sound of pounding footsteps came from outside. Soth turned to the
door as Jack flung it open and charged in.

"Mr. Collins, I was listening to the radio. Do you know what--!"

He ran hard into Soth's cliff-like torso and bounced off.

"Get out of my way, you big bastard!" he shouted furiously.

Soth grabbed him by the neck and squeezed with one hand. Jack's eyes
spilled onto his cheeks.

Soth let him drop, and hissed briefly to Ollie Johnson, who was still
prone. Ollie raised his head and dipped it once, gathered his feet under
him and sprang for the door.

Soth sounded as if he took especial pleasure in his next words, although
I could catch no true change of inflection.

He said, "You see, since I am the prototype on this planet, I am obeyed
as the number one leader. I have given my first directive. The Ollie who
left is to carry the message to preserve the Willow Run Plant at all
costs, and to change production over to a suitable number of Siths."

"Siths?" I asked numbly.

"Siths are the female counterparts of Soths."

"You said there were no female Soths," I accused.

"True. But there are Siths." His face was impassive, but something
flickered in his eyes. It might have been a smile--not a nice one. "We
have been long on your planet starved of our prerogatives. Your women
can serve us well for the moment, but in a few weeks we shall have need
of the Siths--it has been our experience that women of humanoid races,
such as yours, are relatively perishable, willing though many of them
are. Now ... I think I shall call your wife."

       *       *       *       *       *

I wasn't prepared for this, and I guess I went berserk. I remember
leaping at him and trying to beat him with my fists and knee him, but he
brushed me away as if I were a kitten. His size was deceptive, and his
clumsy-appearing hands lashed out and pinned my arms to my sides. He
pushed me back into my easy chair and thumped me once over the heart
with his knuckles. It was a casual, backhand blow, but it almost caved
in my chest.

"If you attack me again I must kill you," he warned. "You are not
indispensable to our purposes." Then he increased the volume of his
voice to a bull-roar: "Mrs. Collins!"

Vicki must have been watching at her door, because she came instantly.
She had changed into a soft, quilted robe with voluminous sleeves. The
belt was unfastened, and as she moved into the room the garment fell
open.

Soth had his hands before him, protectively, but as Vicki approached
slowly, gracefully, her head high and her long black hair falling over
her shoulders, the giant lowered his arms and spread them apart to
receive her. Vicki's hands were at her sides as she moved slowly toward
him.

I lay sprawled, half paralyzed in my chair. I gasped, "Vicki, for God's
sake, no!"

Vicki looked over at me. Her face was as impassive as the Soth's. She
moved into his embrace, and as his arms closed around her I saw the
knife. My hunting knife, honed as fine as the edge of a microtome blade.
Smoothly she brought it from her kimono sleeve, raised it from between
her thighs and slashed up.

The Soth's embrace helped force it deeply into him. With a frantic
wrench Vicki forced it upward with both hands, until the Soth was split
from crotch to where a man's heart would be.

His arms flailed apart and he fell backward. His huge chest heaved and
his throat tightened in a screaming hiss that tore at our eardrums like
a factory steam-whistle. He leaned back against the wall and hugged his
ripped torso together with both arms. The thick, purple juices spilled
out of him in a gushing flood, and his knees collapsed suddenly. His
dead face plowed into the carpet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Vicki came back to me. Her white body was splashed and stained and her
robe drenched in Soth's blood, but her face was no longer pale, and she
still clutched the dripping hunting knife by its leather handle.

"That's number one," she said. "Are you hurt badly, darling?"

"Couple of ribs, I think," I told her, waiting for her to faint. But she
didn't. She laid the knife carefully on a table, poured me a big drink
of whiskey and stuffed a pillow behind my back.

Then she stared down at herself. "Wait until I get this bug juice off
me, and I'll get some tape."

She showered and was back in five minutes wearing a heavy hunting
jumper. Her hair was wrapped and pinned into a quick pug at the base of
her handsome little head. She stripped me to the waist, poked around my
chest a bit and wrapped me in adhesive. Her slender fingers were too
weak to tear the tough stuff, so when she finished she picked up the
hunting knife and whacked off the tape without comment.

This was my fragile little Vicki, who had palpitations when a wolf
howled--soft, overcivilized Vicki whose doctor had banished her from the
nervous tensions of city society.

She tossed me a shirt and a clean jacket, and while I put them on she
collected my rifle and pistol from my den and hunted up some extra
ammunition.

"Next," she announced, "we've got to get to Fred."

I remembered with a start that there was another Soth on our lake. But
he wouldn't be forewarned. Fred had retired even more deeply than Vicki
when he left the cities--he didn't even own a video.

       *       *       *       *       *

I wasn't sure enough of myself to take the boat into the air, so we
scudded across the waves the mile and a half to Fred's cabin.

Vicki was still in her strange, taciturn mood, and I had no desire to
talk. There was much to be done before conversation could become an
enjoyable pastime again.

Our course was clear. We were not humanoids. We were humans! Not for
many generations had a human bent a knee to another being. During the
years perhaps we had become soft, our women weak and pampered--But, I
reflected, looking at Vicki, it was only an atavistic stone's toss to
our pioneer fathers' times, when tyrants had thought that force could
intimidate us, that dignity was a thing of powerful government or
ruthless dictatorship ... and had learned better.

Damned fools that we might be, humans were no longer slave material. We
might blunder into oblivion, but not into bondage. Beside me, Vicki's
courageous little figure spelled out the final defeat of the Soths. Her
slender, gloved hands were folded in her lap over my pistol, and she
strained her eyes through the darkness to make out Fred's pier.

He heard us coming and turned on the floods for us. As we came
alongside, he spoke to his Soth, "Take the bow line and tie up."

Vicki stood up and waited until Fred moved out of line with his servant.

Then she said, "Don't bother, Soth. From now on we're doing for
ourselves." And raising the pistol in both hands, she shot him through
the head.





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