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Title: The Ambassador
Author: Merwin, Sam, 1910-1996
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 "The Ambassador" ***

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

                           THE AMBASSADOR

                         By Sam Merwin, Jr.

                     Illustrated by Kelly Freas

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

[Sidenote: _All Earth needed was a good stiff dose of common sense, but
its rulers preferred to depend on the highly fallible computers instead.
As a consequence, interplanetary diplomatic relations were somewhat
strained--until a nimble-witted young man from Mars came up with the
answer to the "sixty-four dollar" question._]

Zalen Lindsay stood on the rostrum in the huge new United Worlds
auditorium on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain and looked out at an ocean
of eye-glasses. Individually they ranged in hue from the rose-tinted
spectacles of the Americans to the dark brown of the Soviet bloc. Their
shapes and adornments were legion: round, harlequin, diamond, rhomboid,
octagonal, square, oval; rimless, gem-studded, horn-rimmed,
floral-rimmed, rimmed in the cases of some of the lady representatives
with immense artificial eyelashes.

The total effect, to Lindsay, was of looking at an immense page of
printed matter composed entirely of punctuation marks. Unspectacled, he
felt like a man from Mars. He _was_ a man from Mars--first Martian
Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the Second United Worlds Congress.

He wished he could see some of the eyes behind the protective goggles,
for he knew he was making them blink.

He glanced down at the teleprompter in front of him--purely to add
effect to a pause, for he had memorized his speech and was delivering it
without notes. On it was printed: HEY, BOSS--DON'T FORGET YOU GOT A


Lindsay suppressed a smile and said, "In conclusion, I am qualified by
the governors of Mars to promise that if we receive another shipment of
British hunting boots we shall destroy them immediately upon
unloading--and refuse categorically to ship further beryllium to Earth.

"On Mars we raise animals for food, not for sport--we consider human
beings as the only fit athletic competition for other humans--and we see
small purpose in expending our resources mining beryllium or other
metals for payment that is worse than worthless. In short, we will not
be a dumping ground for Earth's surplus goods. I thank you."

The faint echo of his words came back to him as he stepped down from the
rostrum and walked slowly to his solitary seat in the otherwise empty
section allotted to representatives of alien planets. Otherwise there
was no sound in the huge assemblage.

He felt a tremendous lift of tension, the joyousness of a man who has
satisfied a lifelong yearning to toss a brick through a plate-glass
window and knows he will be arrested for it and doesn't care.

There was going to be hell to pay--and Lindsay was honestly looking
forward to it. While Secretary General Carlo Bergozza, his dark-green
spectacles resembling parenthesis marks on either side of his thin eagle
beak, went through the motions of adjourning the Congress for
forty-eight hours, Lindsay considered his mission and its purpose.

Earth--a planet whose age-old feuds had been largely vitiated by the
increasing rule of computer-judgment--and Mars, the one settled alien
planet on which no computer had ever been built, were drifting
dangerously apart.

It was, Lindsay thought with a trace of grimness, the same ancient story
of the mother country and her overseas colonies, the same basic and
seemingly inevitable trend, social and economic, that had led to the
revolt of North America against England, three hundred years earlier.

On a far vaster and costlier scale, of course.

Lindsay had been sent to Earth, as his planet's first representative at
the new United Worlds Congress, to see that this trend was halted before
it led to irrevocable division. And not by allowing Mars to become a
mere feeder and dumping ground for the parent planet.

Well, he had tossed a monkey wrench into the machinery of interplanetary
sweetness and light, he thought. Making his way slowly out with the rest
of the Congress, he felt like the proverbial bull in the china shop. The
others, eyeing him inscrutably through their eye-glasses and over their
harness humps, drew aside to let him walk through.

But all around him, in countless national tongues, he heard the
whispers, the mutterings--"sending a gladiator" ... "looks like a vidar
star" ... "too young for such grave responsibility" ... "no
understanding of the basic sensitivities"....

Obviously, he had _not_ won a crushing vote of confidence.

       *       *       *       *       *

To hell with them, all of them, he thought as someone tapped him on a
shoulder. He turned to find du Fresne, the North American Minister of
Computation, peering up at him through spectacles that resembled twin
scoops of strawberry ice-cream mounted in heavy white-metal rims.

"I'd like a word with you," he said, speaking English rather than
Esperanto. Lindsay nodded politely, thinking that du Fresne looked
rather like a Daumier judge with his fashionable humped back and long
official robe of office.

Over a table in the twilight bar du Fresne leaned toward him, nearly
upsetting his colafizz with a sleeve of his robe.

"M-mind you," he said, "this is strictly unofficial, Lindsay, but I have
your interests at heart. You're following trend X."

"Got me all nicely plotted out on your machine?" said Lindsay.

Du Fresne's sallow face went white at this pleasantry. As Minister of
Computation his entire being was wrapped up in the immensely intricate
calculators that forecast all decisions for the huge North American
republic. Obviously battling anger, he said, "Don't laugh at Elsac,
Lindsay. It has never been wrong--it can't be wrong."

"I'm not laughing," said Lindsay quietly. "But no one has ever fed me to
a computer. So how can you know...?"

"We have fed it every possible combination of circumstances based upon
all the facts of Terro-Martian interhistory," the Minister of
Computation stated firmly. His nose wrinkled and seemed to turn visibly
pink at the nostril-edges. He said, "Damn! I'm allergic to
computer-ridicule." He reached for an evapochief, blew his nose.

"Sorry," said Lindsay, feeling the mild amazement that seemed to
accompany all his dealings with Earthfolk. "I wasn't--"

"I doe you weren'd," du Fresne said thickly. "Bud de vurry zuggedgeshun
of ridicule dudz id." He removed his strawberry spectacles, produced an
eye-cup, removed and dried the contact lenses beneath. After he had
replaced them his condition seemed improved.

Lindsay offered him a cigarette, which was refused, and selected one for
himself. He said, "What happens if I pursue trend X?"

"You'll be assassinated," du Fresne told him nervously. "And the results
of such assassination will be disastrous for both planets. Earth will
have to go to war."

"Then why not ship us goods we can use?" Lindsay asked quietly.

Du Fresne looked at him as despairingly as his glasses would permit. He
said, "You just don't understand. Why didn't your people send someone
better attuned to our problems?"

"Perhaps because they felt Mars would be better represented by someone
attuned to its own problems," Lindsay told him. "Don't tell me your
precious computers recommend murder and war."

"They don't recommend anything," said du Fresne. "They merely advise
what will happen under given sets of conditions."

"Perhaps if you used sensible judgment instead of machines to make your
decisions you could prevent my assassination," said Lindsay, finishing
his scotch on the rocks. "Who knows?" he added. "You might even be able
to prevent an interplanetary war!"

When he left, du Fresne's nose was again growing red and the Minister of
Computation was fumbling for another evapochief.

       *       *       *       *       *

Riding the escaramp to his office on the one-twentieth floor of the UW
building, Lindsay pondered the strange people of the mother planet among
whom his assignment was causing him to live. One inch over six feet, he
was not outstandingly tall--but he felt tall among them, with their
slump harnesses and disfiguring spectacles and the women so hidden
beneath their shapeless coveralls and harmopan makeup.

He was not unprepared for the appearance of Earthfolk, of course, but he
had not yet adjusted to seeing them constantly around him in such large
numbers. To him their deliberate distortion was as shocking as, he
supposed wryly, his own unaltered naturalness was to them.

There was still something illogical about the cult of everyday ugliness
that had overtaken the mother planet in the last two generations, under
the guise of social harmony. It dated back, of course, to the great Dr.
Ludmilla Hartwig, psychiatric synthesizer of the final decades of the
twentieth century.

It was she who had correctly interpreted the growing distrust of the
handsome and the beautiful among the great bulk of the less favored, the
intense feelings of inferiority such comely persons aroused. It was from
her computer-psychiatry that the answer employed had come: since
everyone cannot be beautiful, let all be ugly.

This slogan had sparked the mass use of unneeded spectacles, the
distortion harnesses, the harmopan makeup. Now, outside of emergencies,
it was as socially unacceptable for a man or woman to reveal a face
uncovered in public as it had been, centuries earlier, for a Moslem
odalisque to appear unveiled in the bazaar.

There were exceptions, of course--aside from those who were naturally
ugly to begin with. Vidar-screen actors and actresses were permitted to
reveal beauty when their parts demanded it--which was usually only in
villains' roles. And among men, professional athletes were expected to
show their faces and bodies _au naturel_ as a mark of their profession.
Among women the professional courtesans--the "models", not the
two-credit whores--displayed their charms on all occasions. Beauty was
bad business for lower-caste prostitutes--it made such clients they
could promote feel too inferior.

These specialists, the models and gladiators, were something of a race
apart, computer-picked in infancy and raised for their professions like
Japanese _sumo_ wrestlers. They were scarcely expected to enter the more
sensitive realms of the arts, business affairs or government.

It was, Lindsay decided, a hell of a state of affairs.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nina Beckwith, Lindsay's Earth-assigned personal secretary, was leaning
far back in her tilt-chair with her feet on the desk. Her eyes were
squinted behind chartreuse-tinted flat-oval lenses to avoid fumes from a
cigarette stuck in a corner of her wide mouth. She had shut off the
air-conditioner, opened the picture window and pulled the pants of her
coverall far up above her knees to let the warm New Orleans September
air wash over her skin.

Lindsay looked at her legs with surprise--it had not occurred to him
that Nina owned such a long and shapely pair. He whistled softly through
his teeth.

Nina removed her smoke, sighed and made a move to stand up and let her
coverall fall back over the exposed limbs. Lindsay said, "Not on my
account--_please_! Those are the first good looking legs I've seen since
leaving Mars."

"Watch yourself, boss," said Nina and indulged in a slow half-smile.
Then, putting her feet back on the floor, "You certainly lost a lot of
friends and disinfluenced a lot of people down there today. If you'd
prepared your speech on the machine I'd have fixed it up for you."

"Which is exactly why I prepared it in my hot little head," Lindsay told
her. "I wanted to knock some sense into them."

Nina got out of her chair and snuffed out her cigarette in the disposal
tray, then sat on the edge of the desk and poked at the untidy
dark-blonde hair she wore in a knot on top of her head. She said, "Night
soil! You'll never knock any sense into that mob."

Lindsay, who had been thinking wistfully that if Nina would only do
something about that hair, the thickness of her middle, and her bilious
complexion, she might be fairly good looking, blinked. He said, "Why in
hell do you work for them then?"

She shrugged disinterested shoulders, told him, "It's a job." She
yawned, unabashed, added irrelevantly, "You know, boss, the trouble with
you is you look like a gladiator. They won't take you seriously unless
you wear specs and a harness."

"Over my dead body," he told her. "What's wrong with athletes anyway? I
play damned good tennis when I get time to practice."

"Athletes are lousy lovers," she said. "Your correspondence is on your
desk." She nodded toward it. "Get it signed, will you? I've got a dinner

Lindsay restrained an impulse to ask her with what and signed the
letters dutifully.

Nina was a spy, of course, or she wouldn't have the job. In view of his
own assignment and the delicacy of Terro-Martian relations at the
moment, she must be a good one.

He handed her the letters, noted the slight sway of her thick body as
she walked toward the dispatch-chute. A pity, he thought, that the rest
of her failed to match the long perfect legs she had so unexpectedly put
on display.

"Oh, Miss Beckwith'" he called after her. "You don't have to list my
appointments on the teleprompter when I'm making a speech after this."

She stopped, cast him an oblique glance over one shoulder and said
without much interest, "I didn't know whether you'd get back here or
not--and it wouldn't do to forget the Secretary General."

"All right," he said in resignation. When she had gone he wondered if he
should have told her what du Fresne had said about his possible
assassination, decided it was just as well he had kept mum. He went up
on the roof for a copter.

       *       *       *       *       *

The dinner was informal. Lindsay and Fernando Anderson, the flamboyant
junior senator from New Mexico, were the only guests. They were four
at the charming _ante bellum_ mahogany table of the Secretary
General's Natchez mansion. Carlo Bergozza, the Secretary General
himself--courteous, with natural as well as harness-stooped shoulders, a
trifle vague--and his daughter and official hostess, Maria--vividly
brunette and dynamic despite the twist given her body by her harness and
the mask of huge triangular spectacles--made up the rest of the party.

The meal was simple, automatically served, well prepared. It consisted
of plankton soup with chives in chilled bowls, noisettes of lamb with
yeast-truffles and bamboo-grass and, in deference to Lindsay, a dessert
of Martian lichenberries. Conversation consisted of routine gambits and
responses until the dessert.

Then Senator Anderson removed his diamond-shaped raspberry glasses and
said, "You'll pardon me, but I want to see what our distinguished
visitor really looks like. After all, he can see us as we are."

Secretary General Bergozza looked briefly shocked. Then his overpowering
courtesy came to his rescue and he laid aside his own dark green
spectacles. He said, "You know, Lindsay, you remind me a little of an
American ambassador to the Court of Saint James a hundred and fifty
years ago--I believe his name was Harvey. He refused to wear
knee-britches to his own reception. Other times, other customs."

"I'm sorry if my appearance is bothering people," said Lindsay, noting
that Maria, without her glasses, came close to being a truly pretty
young woman. "I'm not trying to disturb them--I merely want them to see
me as a true representative of my own world."

Maria said impulsively, "It isn't that you bother us--not really. It's
just that you're a little too good looking. Almost like a gladiator.
People aren't used to it in a statesman."

"Too good looking--with this busted beak of mine?" Lindsay pressed a
finger against his nose, which had been broken in youth by a wild pitch.

Senator Anderson said, "The slight irregularity of your nose is just
enough to keep you from being too pretty, Lindsay." He smiled and added,
"You certainly stirred up a cyclotron with your speech this afternoon.
The British are planning a white paper."

"I merely stated facts as I know them," said Lindsay.

"They aren't used to facts--not unless they have been
computer-processed," said the senator. He seemed pleased for some
reason, added, "You may have broken some real ice, Lindsay. I've been
trying for years to work out a way to tell people computers are robbing
them of all powers of decision."

"All they have to do is confine them to mathematical problems and let
people decide human ones," said Lindsay.

The Secretary General cleared his throat. He said, "Without the
computers there would be no United Worlds. There would be no world at
all, probably."

It was a rebuke. Carlo Bergozza redonned his spectacles and rose from
the table. He said, "If you'll excuse me I have some business to attend
to. I'm sure my daughter will see that you are properly entertained." He
left the room with slow, old-man steps.

Maria said fondly, "Poor darling, he gets so upset. He'll take a pill
and go to sleep. Let's go to the bathroom, shall we?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Though outwardly the Secretary General's mansion was hyper-gingerbread
steamboat Gothic, inwardly it was entirely modern in plan. There was a
living room, of course, for formal receptions, but as in all normal
Earth-dwellings of the period the bathroom was the lived-in chamber.

There and there only did people of the 2070's permit themselves to
relax. This was a logical development of latter-day plumbing and air
conditioning and the crowding of apartment and small-house life. Actual
lavatory plumbing was concealed, in this instance, by an etched glass
screen. Otherwise the room featured comfortable plastic lounge chairs
and sofas around a fifteen-foot sunken tub and a small semicircular bar,
fully equipped.

On entering Maria unfastened her harness and coverall and stood before
them, a sweet-bodied dark-eyed girl in her early twenties, clad in
shorts and halter. "Lord!" she exclaimed, pushing dark hair back from
her broad low forehead, "It feels good to relax. Zalen, I want to talk
to you."

"Delighted," said Lindsay, mildly surprised at the use of his Martian
first name.

"I've got something to tell him first," said Anderson, unhitching his
own harness and emerging as a lean medium-sized man in good condition
for his forty years. "I got word just before I flew up here tonight that
your life may be in danger, Zalen."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lindsay accepted the arrack-fizz Maria handed him, said "That makes
warning number two, Senator. Du Fresne talked to me about it this

Maria paled visibly. She said, "It sounds impossible!"

"It backs up the judgment of my own group," said Senator Anderson. "Du
Fresne is just about the smartest computerman we have." He eyed Lindsay
speculatively, added, "You don't seem much impressed by your danger,

"How can I be?" Lindsay countered. "After all, Earth is supposed to be
much further advanced than Mars in civilization. And we have had no
political murder on Mars in more than fifty years."

Maria made a despairing gesture. "Oh, dear!" she exclaimed. "You _don't_
understand, Zalen. On Mars you have both room and time to settle your
political conflicts. And you don't have computers."

"We have some pretty sharp rows," Lindsay told her. "But we don't have
anyone assassinated." He paused, looked at them both, added, "Do you
have many of them here?"

"Not many," said Anderson. "But there is a growing tendency to go along
with computer verdicts, no matter how extreme."

"And you believe the British computers are giving accurate answers when
they recommend the dumping of millions of pairs of utterly useless
hunting boots on Mars? Or those rubber shower curtains they unloaded on
us two years ago?"

The Senator said, "There is, unfortunately, no question as to the
accuracy of computer answers. The trouble seems to lie in some special
condition, local to Britain, that effects computers."

"But if the British computers are wrong, why doesn't somebody do
something about it?" Lindsay asked.

Anderson said, "If it were that simple, Zalen...." His smile was rueful.
"Unfortunately our English friends--or their rulers at any rate--are
determined that socialism is the only government suitable to their
country. Actually it is nothing of the sort--they can thrive only with a
mercantile capitalism under a nominal constitutional monarchy."

"In that case I still don't see--" Lindsay began.

"Contrary to what you're thinking, their leaders are not villains,"
Anderson told him. "They are men and women obsessed with an ideal that
has hampered them for almost two centuries. And they are incapable of
accepting any conclusion counter to their ideals."

"Even to impoverishing an entire planet?" Lindsay asked.

Anderson shrugged. "A penalty of their insularity," he replied. "The
reason for this little meeting, Zalen, is to explain that not all of us
are in favor of supporting Britain and its absurd production bungling at
the expense of Mars. A few of us are becoming singularly fed up with the
computer neurosis that seems to have this planet in its grip."

Maria leaned forward, her dark eyes brilliant in their intensity. She
said, "Can't you see, Zalen, _that_ is why we are so concerned with your
possible assassination? We fear the whole of Earth is on the lip of a
nervous breakdown. Unless the grip of the computers is broken anything
might happen. And we're counting on you, with your fresh viewpoint and
prestige, to help us."

"I was hoping you might be concerned about _me_," said Lindsay softly.
"After all, I'm the one who is supposed to be killed." He watched a
sudden flush of embarrassment add charming brilliance to the vividness
of the Secretary General's daughter.

"Of course we're concerned," she said defensively. "We're not really
monsters, Zalen."

"What Maria means," said Anderson swiftly, "is that if the worst
_should_ happen it will go a long way toward making Earth entirely
computer-dependent, if du Fresne's prophecy is fulfilled a lot of people
who might go on fighting will simply give up."

"Just what is your stake in this, Senator?" Lindsay asked.

       *       *       *       *       *

Anderson said, "I could give you a score of 'good' reasons, Zalen. But
my real reason is this--I'm damned if I want to see professional
politicians become rubber-stamps to a computer. When Sylac was first
used officially three decades ago, it looked as if it might be a help.
All we had to do was palm off all unpopular decisions on the machine.

"Elsac, however, has proved to be something else," he went on. "It is
making too damned many of our decisions for us--and thanks to our having
set Sylac up as a master-brain god we can't controvert its judgment.
When President Giovannini gets his new Giac computer working we might as
well shut up shop. And the announcement that Giac is in operation may
come at any time now."

Lindsay studied him, then said, "Your real complaint then, Fernando, is
that the computers deprive you of patronage and power."

"That's about it," said the senator from New Mexico. "We'll be reduced
to the level of the political commissars of the Soviet nations. The
scientists and symbolic logicians who feed and tend the computers will
actually be running the country. _And_ the world."

"And just where do I come into this?" Lindsay asked.

"You, Zalen, are the last representative of the last sizeable and
important human organism that is not dependent upon computer judgment,"
said Anderson. "That's our side of it. From your own side--if you
already distrust computer decisions, as in the case of the British
hunting boots--you surely don't want to see them in full control."

"Hardly," said Lindsay. "But at the same time I have no desire to be
assassinated or to be the cause of an Earth-Mars war."

"Think it over, Zalen," said Anderson. "I need hardly tell you that I am
not speaking for myself alone." He got up, put down his glass, bade
Maria farewell and left the Martian alone with her.

When he had gone Lindsay looked at the girl, who returned his gaze quite
openly for a long moment before her eyes fell away. He said, "Somehow
the senator and you seem an odd combination."

She made no pretense of misunderstanding but said candidly, "Perhaps I
am neurotic in my distrust of computers but I cannot help that. Those of
us who have any true sensitivity unblunted by the psycho-mechanistics of
the era all share this distrust. It is natural, since we are few and
weak, that we should seek what allies we can find among the strong."

"I've always heard that politics makes strange bedfellows," said Lindsay

It was obvious that he had committed a _faux pas_. Maria's blush
returned and her expression froze. Lindsay cursed himself for a fool.
With the development of all sorts of pneumatic resting devices the word
_bed_ had become not only obsolete but definitely distasteful in
well-bred Tellurian circles. Its use was as decried as was that of the
word _bloody_ in Victorian England.

She said angrily, "I assure you, Mr. Lindsay, that Senator Anderson and
I have never...." Voice and anger faded alike as she apparently realized
that Lindsay had not intended insult.

He let her mix a second drink for both of them. Then, standing close to
her and noting the smooth perfection of her creamy white skin, "I wonder
if your father knows that he is nourishing a subversive in his family."

She said with a trace of impatience, "Oh, poor papa never sees the trees
for the forest."

"You're a damned unhappy girl, aren't you?" he asked her. He didn't need
an answer, but realized she wanted to talk about it.

She said, her eyes shining suspiciously, "You're right, of course, I'm
very unhappy--constricted in behavior by my father's position, unable to
say aloud what I really think, how I really feel. Sometimes I think I
must be living in some Gothic poet's dream of loneliness."

"Contrary to the beliefs of most psychiatrists," said Lindsay,
half-touched, half-appalled by Maria's intensity, "we are all of us

"Somehow I _knew_ you'd understand!" she exclaimed, without taking her
dark eyes from his. "I'm not allowed to date gladiators, of course.
You're the only man I've ever been with who was not afraid to look as he

"You'd better come to Mars," he suggested, shying away a little from the
high voltage the Secretary General's daughter seemed to be generating.
"I can assure you you'd have a chance to reveal the charms nature gave
you without shame."

She laughed with a sudden change of spirits. "It's at least a half hour
since dinner. Let's take a dip." She tossed back her lustrous dark hair
with a shake of her head and her hands went to the clasp of her halter,
a moment later to that of her shorts. "Come on," she called, extending
her arms to expose her exciting young body before him. "The water will
cool us off."

It didn't work out that way, of course. Lindsay was barely in the
tub-pool before Maria's arms were about his neck, her body close against
his, her lips thrusting upward toward his own. For a moment he felt
panic, said, "Hey! What if somebody comes? Your father--"

"Silly! Nobody will," she replied, laughing softly.

His last rational thought for quite awhile was, _Oh well--I'm hardly in
a position to get the Secretary General's daughter angry._

       *       *       *       *       *

False dawn was spreading its dim fanlight over the eastern horizon as he
coptered back to his official quarters in the city. Trying to restore
some order to thoughts and emotions thoroughly disrupted by the
unexpected events of the evening, he wondered a little just what he had
got himself into.

Mars, of course, was scarcely a Puritan planet, populated as it was by
the hardiest and most adventurous members of the human race, of all
races. But there had been something almost psychopathic about Maria's
passion. It had been far too intense to have been generated solely
through regard for him.

The girl had made love to him simply to relieve her own inner tensions,
he thought wryly. Lacking a man she could love, walled in by the high
officialdom of her father's lofty position, she had turned to him in the
same way she turned to the anti-computer movement--as a way of feeling
less lonely for a while. Still, it had been sweet--if a little
frightening in retrospect.

And it had been a little decadent too.

With the copter on autopilot he lit a cigarette and forced his thoughts
away from the girl. He wondered if the Governors of Mars were
sufficiently in key with the current feelings of Earthfolk to understand
fully how deep the repercussions from his speech might go. He wondered
if they had considered fully the possibility of interplanetary war.

True, Mars was undoubtedly better equipped to defend itself against such
attack than was Earth. Like the mother planet it had its share of robot
rockets capable of launching a counterattack. And thanks to the
comparative sparseness and decentralization of its population it was far
less vulnerable to attack.

But war between the planets would be destructive of far more than cities
and the people that lived in them. It would mean inevitably a breakdown
of the entire fabric of civilized humanity--a tenuous fabric, true, but
all that existed to maintain man.

And an isolated Mars, even if self-sufficient, would be a sorry
substitute for a red planet that was part of the United Worlds. It would
mean a setback of generations, perhaps centuries.

He began to feel a new understanding of the importance of his mission.
With understanding came something akin to fear lest he should not be
able to accomplish it without disaster. It was going to be his job to
inaugurate some sort of therapy for Earth's illness. It was, in effect,
one man against a planet.

Considering the men and women with whom he had talked that day he was
unable to take the assassination threat too seriously. Somehow these
neurotics and warped zealots, with their allergies and distortion kits,
seemed unlikely to undertake or carry through any such drastic action.
Their very inhibitions would forbid it.

Not that Maria had been exactly inhibited. Damn! The girl refused to
stay out of his thoughts. He recalled what she had told him of her
conspiracy against the computers, of its aims and methods. And again he
smiled wryly to himself.

They were like spoiled children, he thought. A little group of
over-intense young men and women, neurotic, excitable, unstable, meeting
in one another's houses or in expensive cafes, plotting little coups
that never quite came off.

From certain unguarded phrases Maria had dropped during the less
frenetic periods of their evening together, he gathered that their
current aim was actual physical sabotage of Giac, the mightiest of all
computers about to be unveiled, before it went into work.

They didn't even realize, he thought, that sabotage would avail them
nothing in the long run--or the short either. Destruction of the
computers would not cure Earth. It might easily increase the reliance of
Earthfolk upon their cybernetic monsters. What was needed to effect a
cure was destruction of human confidence in and reliance upon these

And how in hell, he wondered, was he going to manage that?

       *       *       *       *       *

To a man from level, water-starved Mars the sight of New Orleans still
ablaze with lights at five o'clock in the morning was something of a
miracle. Mars had its share of atomic power-plants, of course, but such
sources had proved almost prohibitively costly as providers of cheap

That was true on Earth too, of course, but Earth had its rivers, its
waterfalls, its ocean tides to help out. More important, it averaged
some fifty million miles closer to the Sun, thus giving it immense
storage supplies of solar heat for power. Without these resources the
thousand-square-mile expanse of intricately criss-crossed artificial
lighting that was the United Worlds capital would have been impossible.

Lindsay wondered how any people possessed of a planet so rich could be
afflicted with such poverty of soul. Or was this very opulence the
cause? His own planet was comparatively poor--yet nervous breakdowns
were few and far between. There the ugly strove for beauty, instead of
the reverse.

He parked the copter on the garage-plat, pressed the button, and watched
it sink slowly out of sight to its concealed hangar. Like all Martian
natives to leave for Earth, he had been warned about the intense heat
and humidity that assailed most of the mother planet, especially in the
UW capital. Yet the night breeze felt pleasantly cool against his face
and its thickness was like the brush of invisible velvet against his
skin. Perhaps, he thought, he was more of an Earthling than three
generations of Martian heredity made likely.

He did miss the incredible brilliance of the Martian night skies. Here
on Earth the stars shone as puny things through the heavy atmosphere.

But, he thought guiltily, he did not have as severe a pang of
homesickness as he ought.

In a state of self-bemusement he rode the elevator down to his suite on
the ninety-first story. And was utterly unprepared for the assault which
all but bore him to the floor as he stepped out into his own foyer.

Since the attack came from behind and his assailant's first move was to
toss a bag over his head, Lindsay had no idea of what the would-be
assassin looked like. For a moment he could only struggle blindly to
retain his balance, expecting every instant to feel the quick searing
heat of a blaster burn through his back.

But no heat came, nor did the chill of a dagger. Instead he felt his
attacker's strong hands encircle his neck in a _judo_ grip.

This was something Lindsay understood. He thrust both his own hands up
and backward, getting inside the assassin's grip and breaking it. His
thumbnails dug into nerve centers and he bent an arm sharply. There was
a gasp of agony and he felt a large body crumple under the pressure.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lindsay's first impulse was to summon the constabulary. His second,
after examining the face of his would-be slayer, was to drag the man
into the shelter of his apartment, revive him and seek to learn what he
could about the attempt.

To his astonishment he discovered that he knew the man. His assigned
murderer was long, red-headed Pat O'Ryan rated as a top gladiator, a
tennis and squash champion whose reputation was almost as widespread
among sporting fans on Mars as on Earth. Lindsay had remodeled his own
backhand, just the year before, upon that of the man sent to kill him.

He got some whiskey from the serving bar beside the vidar screen, poured
a little of it between the unconscious killer's lips. O'Ryan sputtered
and sat up slowly, blinking. He said, "Get me some gin, will you?"

Lindsay returned the whiskey to its place, got the requested liquor,
offered some neat to the tennis player in a glass. O'Ryan downed it,
shuddered, looked at Lindsay curiously. He said, "What went wrong?
You're supposed to be dead."

Lindsay shrugged and said, "I know some _judo_ too. You weren't quite
fast enough, Pat."

O'Ryan moaned again, reached for the bottle. Then he said, "I remember
now. Thank God you got my right arm--I'm left-handed."

"I know," Lindsay told him laconically.

The would-be assassin looked frightened. He said, "How do you know?"

"I play a little tennis myself," Lindsay told him. "How come they sent a
man like you on such a mission?"

"Top gladiator--top assignment," said the athlete. "We're supposed to do
something besides play games for our keep."

"That's a wrinkle in the social setup I didn't know about," said
Lindsay. "Mind telling me who sent you?"

"Not at all. It was my sponsors, the New Hibernian A.C." He frowned.
"According to the computers I was in. There's going to be hell to pay
over my muffing it."

"How do you feel about that?" the Martian asked him.

O'Ryan shrugged. "It's okay by me," he said. "They can hardly degrade me
for fouling up this kind of a job. I'll simply tell them their
information was incomplete. No one knew you knew _judo_." He eyed the
gin, added, "A good thing you didn't feed me whiskey. I'm allergic to
all grain products--even in alcohol. Comes from being fed too much
McCann's Irish oatmeal when I was a kid."

"Interesting," said Lindsay, wondering how the conversation had taken
this turn. "What does whiskey do to you?"

The gladiator shuddered. "It usually hits me about twenty-four hours
afterward. Makes my eyes water so I can't see much. I've got a match at
the Colosseum tomorrow night. I hope you'll be there."

"So do I," said Lindsay dryly. "You wouldn't know _who_ gave you this
little chore on me, would you?"

"Not likely," said the gladiator. "When we report at the club every
evening we find our assignments stuck in our boxes. Usually we get
orders to meet a dame. This was something different."

"I see what you mean," Lindsay told him.

O'Ryan got up, said, "Well, I might as well be running along. I'll give
them hell for fouling up the computer-prophecy. Look me up after the
match tomorrow. And thanks for not having me pinched. I might have had
to spend the night in a cell. That's bad for conditioning."

"You're quite welcome," said Lindsay, feeling like a character in a
semi-nightmare. "Will I be seeing you again--this way?"

"Unlikely," the gladiator told him. "They'll have to run a lot of checks
on you after this before they try again. See you tomorrow."

Lindsay looked after his visitor with amazement. Then it occurred to him
that computers were substituting not only for human judgment but for
human conscience as well. And this, he felt certain, was important.

Turning in on his contour couch, Lindsay recalled that he had given
whiskey to the allergic athlete. He decided then and there that he would
be in attendance at the match in the Colosseum that evening.

       *       *       *       *       *

He got to his office about eleven o'clock. His desk was stacked high
with messages, written and taped, and all sorts of folk wished to talk
with him on the vidarphone. Nina, looking more slovenly than ever, had
arranged them neatly, according to their nature and importance in
separate little piles.

"Next time you tear up the pea-patch," she informed him resentfully,
"I'm going to get in some help." She eyed him with somber speculation,
added, "I hear the Sec-Gen turned in early last night."

"You've got big ears," said Lindsay.

"I get around," she said. "I'm supposed to keep tabs on you, boss."

"Then you must know someone tried to kill me early this morning when I
came back from Natchez."

Nina's eyes narrowed alarmingly under the glasses that covered them. She
said, "Why didn't you report it?" She sounded like a commander-in-chief
questioning a junior aide for faulty judgment.

"I won," Lindsay said simply. "There was no danger."

"Who was it?" she asked. And, when he hesitated, "I'm not going to shout
it from the housetops, boss."

"It was Pat O'Ryan."

"_You_ handled _Pat_?" she asked, apparently astonished. Something in
her tone told him Nina knew his would-be assassin.

"Why not?" he countered. "It wasn't much of a brawl."

"But Pat...." she began, and hesitated. Then, all business again, "We'd
better get at some of this. You have a date to be psyched by Dr. Craven
at two o'clock."

"What for?" he asked, startled.

"Routine," she told him. "Everyone connected with UW has to go through
it. But cheer up, boss, it doesn't hurt--much."

"Okay," he said resignedly. "Let's get to work."

While he dictated Lindsay found himself wondering just who was paying
Nina's real salary. If she were a spy for the same group that had sent
O'Ryan to kill him, his position was delicate, to put it mildly. But for
some reason he doubted it. There were too many groups working at once to
make any such simple solution probable.

When she departed briefly to superintend a minor matter out of the
office, he found himself staring at the wastebasket by his tilt-chair. A
heart-shaped jewel-box of transparent crystoplastic lay within it.
Curious, Lindsay plucked it out. It had evidently held some sort of
necklace and bore the mark of Zoffany's, the Capital's costliest
jeweler. Within it was a note that read: _For Nina, who lost last
night--as ever...._ The signature was an indecipherable scrawl.

Lindsay stuck the card in his wallet, returned the box to the
wastebasket. Who in hell, he wondered, would be sending this sort of
gift to his slatternly thick-bodied secretary. The answer seemed
obvious. The sender was her real boss, paying her off in a personal way
that would obviate suspicion. Lindsay wondered exactly what Nina had

He was not surprised when she said she would come along to the
psychiatrist's with him after an office lunch of veal pralines, soya
buns and coffee. He suggested she might be tired, might want the day

She said, "Night soil, boss! Between the Sec-Gen's daughter and things
like Pat O'Ryan I'm going to keep an eye on you."

As if on signal the vidar-screen lit up and Maria's face appeared on it.
She had not donned harmopan or glasses and looked quite as lovely as she
had the night before. She said, "Zalen, I've got to see you tonight.
Something has come up."

Lindsay nodded. He figured out his schedule, suggested, "I'm going to
the match in the Colosseum. Why not take it in with me?"

She shook her head, told him, "I'm tangled up at a banquet for the
Egypto-Ethiopian delegation. I can meet you afterward though. How about
the Pelican?"

"That's not very private," he protested.

"All the more reason," she announced. "This is _important_!"

"And seeing me in private isn't?" Despite himself a trace of wounded
male entered his tone.

Maria laughed softly, her dark eyes dancing. "Perhaps later," she said
softly. "You'll understand when I talk to you." She clicked off and the
screen was empty.

"Damned cat!" said Nina through a haze of cigarette-smoke. "Watch out
for her, boss--she's a cannibal."

"And I'm a bit tough and stringy," he told her.

Nina said, "Night soil!" again under her breath and led the way out of
the office. Lindsay wondered if she were jealous.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Craven received them in a comfortable chamber, the north wall of
which was all glass brick, the south wall a solid bank of screens and
dials. He was a soft-faced man who wore lozenge-shaped light blue
spectacles and seemed afflicted with a slight chin rash. He caught
Lindsay's regard, rubbed his chin in mild embarrassment, said, "I've a
mild allergy to paranoids."

Lindsay looked at Nina distrustfully but she nodded and said, "Go
ahead--he won't break your arm. I'll wait outside."

The psychiatrist closed his office door. After settling him in a
comfortable contour couch, Dr. Craven opened up with, "I don't want you
to have any worries about this test, Ambassador. If anybody's crazy here
it's me. According to very sound current theory all psychiatrists are
insane. If we weren't we wouldn't be so concerned with sanity in

Lindsay asked, "Why in hell am I being tested anyway?"

Craven replied, "President Giovannini himself came in for a voluntary
checkup just last week." As if that were an answer.

Lindsay suppressed a desire to ask if the North American president had
all his marbles. He had an idea any levity he displayed would register
against him. Dr. Craven asked him a number of apparently routine
questions which Lindsay answered via a recorder. How old he was, whether
he liked flowers, how often he had fought with his schoolmates as a boy,
what sort of food he preferred.

"Good," the doctor said, pushing aside the microphone on his desk and
motioning Lindsay to do likewise. He rose, wheeled a device like an
old-fashioned beautician's hair-drier close to the couch, adjusted the
helmet to Lindsay's head. "Now," he added, "I want you to think as
clearly as you can of your mother. Keep your eyes on the screen and give
me as clear a picture as you can."

He pressed a button and the whir of a camera, also focussed on the
screen, sounded from the wall behind Lindsay. When Dr. Craven nodded, he
concentrated and, to his amazement, watched a fuzzy likeness of his
maternal parent take form on the screen.

This was something new, he decided, and said so. Dr. Craven replied,
"Yes--the psychopic is brand new. But concentrate on the picture,
please. You're losing it."

It had faded to almost nothing. Lindsay concentrated again, this time
brought his maternal parent into clear focus. He felt a little like a
man who has never wielded a brush in his life and has suddenly
discovered he could paint a perfect portrait.

Dr. Craven said nothing for a moment. Then, "Will you try to visualize
your mother without the blemish at her temple?"

Lindsay tried, and all but lost the picture entirely. He brought it back
again, blemish and all, felt a sudden tug of nostalgia for the firm
kindly features of the woman who had brought him into the world. A
minute or so later Dr. Craven pressed another button and the screen went
blank. "That will do very nicely," he said. "You may wait for the
psycho-computer verdict outside if you wish."

He found Nina sprawled in an anteroom chair with her long legs stuck out
before her, contemplating a flashing diamond-and-emerald necklace. He
said, before she looked up and saw him, "Business good, Miss Beckwith?"

To his amazement Nina began to snivel. And when he asked her what he had
done to cause it she snapped angrily, "You big pig, you haven't the
sensitivity to understand. Don't ever speak of it as business again. Now
I'll have to bathe my eyes when I get home or they will be all swollen
and horrible."

She removed her glasses and they _were_ swollen. Lindsay had seen too
much of allergic reactions since reaching Earth not to know he was
looking at another. He was relieved when she put her glasses back on.

"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to disturb you."

"I know it," she replied, "but you did."

"Perhaps, if you told me--" he began. Dr. Craven chose that moment to
emerge from his office.

"If you'll come back inside," he said. "There are just a few more
questions I'd like to ask, Ambassador."

"Ask them here," said Lindsay. He had no desire to go back under the

Dr. Craven hesitated and rubbed his chin, which was bright red again. He
said finally, "Mr. Lindsay, you didn't kill your mother before you were
seventeen, did you?"

"My mother died last year," said Lindsay, unbelieving.

"Incredible!" muttered the psychiatrist, shaking his head. "According to
the computer you must have...." He paused again, then said, "I hope this
won't embarrass you but you evidently are a man who prefers men to
women. The stigmata is definite and shows--"

"Night soil!" Nina exploded her favorite expression before Lindsay could
collect his wits for an answer. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, Dr.
Craven, but this man's a veritable satyr. I caught him looking at my
legs yesterday. Ask Maria Bergozza if you want any further proof."

"But this is impossible!" the psychiatrist exploded. "According to the

"Your computer's out of whack," Nina said calmly, and led a stunned
Lindsay out of the place. She added, "You didn't deserve that, boss. Not
after puffing my eyes up."

"Why not just keep your glasses on then?" he countered. They returned to
their office in unfriendly silence. Lindsay sent Nina home early and
took a copter across the Lake to his own place, there to nap until time
for the match at the Colosseum.

       *       *       *       *       *

He felt more at home in the UW box at the vast arena than at any time
since reaching Earth. Since it was a sporting event, the eye-glasses
were serried, at least in the lower, higher-priced tiers, by good
looking faces, male and female, unadorned.

Someone slid into the comfortable contour chair beside him and said,
"Evening, Zalen. Enjoying yourself?"

Lindsay looked into Senator Fernando Anderson's diamond-shaped raspberry
glasses. He said, "So far--how about you?"

Anderson made a face. "I had a date with a gorgeous item but she put me
off until later. So I thought I'd look in. Maria arranged a seat in the
UW box. Otherwise I'd be watching it on vidar."

Lindsay looked up and around and discovered that the vast stadium was
packed to the rafters, judging by the glowing cigarette tips that
resembled an uncountable horde of frozen fireflies.

The court itself was pitch-dark, save for the lines and the net. He had
trouble recognizing O'Ryan as his would-be assassin and opponent walked
out. Neither player was clearly visible of feature, though shoes, shorts
and racquets were luminous, as were the balls they began to hit back and
forth across the net.

The only other luminous objects, save for the dim exit lights, were the
betting boards. Lindsay, who had never seen one save on a vidar-screen
before, asked Anderson how they worked. The senator from New Mexico was
glad to explain.

"Naturally," he said, "since the results of all athletic contests are
predicted on the computers, there is no betting on who will win."

"No upsets?" Lindsay asked.

Anderson laughed, said, "The last time there was an upset--in the
British Australian test cricket matches three years ago--a computer
investigation proved bribery and there was a hell of a stink."

"Then how do you manage to bet?" Lindsay asked.

"Simple," said the Senator. "Naturally, in case of accidental injury,
all bets are void. But otherwise the betting is on the percentage of
variation between the computer prediction and the actual play of the
contest. There--you can see the computer line on the big board over
there. The line of actual play will be red when it comes on. That way
there is plenty of chance for betting on points, games, sets or match."

The man from Mars studied the predictor line for the match. It revealed
that Pat O'Ryan, after a fast start, was due to slump in the second set,
recover in the third and polish off his opponent, Yamato-Rau from
Indonesia, in the fourth set with the loss of but one game.

"Looks like a shoo-in for O'Ryan," he said. "Right?"

"It ought to be," the Senator replied. "He's taken Yamato-Rau in six of
their seven previous matches. The second time they played he had a
sprained wrist that affected his volleying."

"Care to make a bet?" Lindsay asked his companion.

"Sure--why not?" Anderson countered. "Percentage of variation for game,
set or match?"

"I'd like to bet on the Indonesian to win," said Lindsay quietly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Senator Anderson looked at Lindsay sharply. He said, "You know

"Against the computer-prophecy?" Lindsay countered.

Anderson backed down and gave him a hundred to one on a fifty-credit
bet. "You can't win, of course," he murmured, "but if you do it will be
worth it."

The match began and the hum of the great crowd's conversation slowly
quieted. At first it went according to the computer prophecy. Serving
brilliantly, hitting crisply from either hand and smashing and volleying
with deadly accuracy from all parts of the court, Pat O'Ryan held
complete command of the match.

There was something hypnotic about the play--the clean _ping_ of racquet
strings on luminous ball, the swift flight of the ball, a streak of
light in the darkness, the flash of another racquet, the long and
intricate tactics of each exchange, broken only occasionally by the
flash of a light that betokened an error or an ace and the resulting
alteration of the scoreboard.

The red line crept in zigzag fashion along the computer board as the
match progressed, veering above or below the white line of the prophecy
but always returning to cross or even to cover it briefly. Big O'Ryan
took the first set six games to three on a single service break against
the Indonesian champion.

"Money in the bank," said Anderson in Lindsay's ear as the players
changed courts following the first game of the second set, which
Yamato-Rau had taken at fifteen. "Candy from a baby."

"It's barely begun," said Lindsay with a confidence he was far from
feeling. He glanced at the clock above the scoreboard, saw that it was
scarcely ten o'clock. Sickly he recalled that O'Ryan had told him it
took twenty-four hours for his grain allergy to take effect. Lindsay had
given him the drink barely seventeen hours before. He began to wish he
had not bet so thoughtlessly.

The second set went to deuce twice before Yamato-Rau broke O'Ryan's
service to run it out at eight-six. This was two games more than the
computer had calculated and caused considerable uproar in the crowd.

"I hear you had some trouble last night," Anderson told him.

"Nothing serious," said Lindsay, wondering how much the senator knew.
Dammit, he thought, he wished he didn't like the power-hungry

He wondered if Anderson were behind the attempt of the morning--and if
he were behind it, why? There could, he decided, be all sorts of
Machiavellian motives hidden beneath that smiling face. Then the match
got under way once more, and Lindsay concentrated on the play.

Once again O'Ryan seemed to be in command--just as the computer had
foretold. Games went to five-two in his favor. Then, as the players
changed courts once more, the tall Irishman paused to towel off--and
paid special attention to rubbing his eyes.

At that his string ran out. Four straight times his swiftest drives hit
the top of the net and bounced back into his own court. He blew his
service thanks to a pair of double-faults and three minutes later
Yamato-Rau had taken the set while the crowd sat in stunned silence.

The fourth set was pitiful. O'Ryan played like a blind man and the
Indonesian ran it out with the loss of exactly one point per game. The
red line on the computer-board yawed wildly toward the bottom instead of
following the white line as it should have.

"Keep your credits," Lindsay told Senator Anderson. "You were right. As
it turned out I did know something after all."

"It's impossible!" cried the senator. "But it's cheap at the
price--here!" He withdrew his wallet and began pulling out crisp
hundred-credit notes.

"Look out!" cried Lindsay. Around them the stands had erupted into
violence. While the players were shaking hands at the net, angry--and,
Lindsay suspected, frightened--bettors and spectators leaped the low
barriers and swarmed out onto the dark court. They hemmed the players
in, driving them toward the wall directly under the UW box in which
Lindsay and Anderson were sitting.

Someone threw something and Yamato-Rau stumbled and fell to his hands
and knees. Swinging his racquet like one of his ancestors' shillalehs,
O'Ryan charged to his rescue, pulled him to his feet, covered his
retreat to the wall. There Lindsay was able to pull first the
Indonesian, then the Irishman, up into the box.

"Damned fool!" said Anderson. "Getting us into a riot." But a moment
later Lindsay saw the senator swinging hard at an angry customer with a
fist in which his wallet was still clenched. The man made a grab for it
as someone else hit Anderson over the head with a plastic bottle. He
dropped across a contour-chair, letting his wallet fall from unconscious

UW police formed a protective wall around them and Pat O'Ryan,
recognizing Lindsay, said, "Thanks, Ambassador. I guess I owe you a
couple. If my eyes hadn't gone bad on me...."

Lindsay was tempted to admit his guilt in that matter but decided
against it. He had no desire to be caught in another riot. He picked up
Anderson's wallet, put it back in the still unconscious senator's breast
pocket. A white-clad interne was brought through the police cordon,
knelt beside Anderson and began to make repairs.

"You'd better leave now, Ambassador," said one of the boss policeman
respectfully to Lindsay when the senator had been carted away on a
stretcher. Lindsay nodded. Then he noticed a slip of paper lying beneath
the chair across which Anderson had fallen. It read: _rec. 10,000 cdt. 1
em. & di. neck_. It was from Zoffany, the jeweler.

"What the hell!" Lindsay discovered he was speaking aloud. He stuffed
the paper in his pocket and followed the officer through a maze of
underground passages out of the Colosseum. He still thought, _What the
hell!_ What could Nina have reported about him that was worth that sort
of money to the senator?

       *       *       *       *       *

Spy, slattern or not, Nina was efficient, as he realised when a bowing
motley-clad waiter captain smilingly ushered him to a secluded table for
two in a banquet niche of the Pelican. It was Lindsay's first visit to
an Earthly after-dark cafe and he instinctively compared it with certain
of its imitations in the comparatively small cities of his native

It was sleeker, better run, far more beautiful. Its general color scheme
was darkly opalescent, subtly glowing, flattering to its clients. And,
of course, most of them needed flattering, at least to Lindsay's alien
eyes. He noted here a pair of scimitar-shaped spectacles whose
turquoise-studded rims caught the light like a pair of small lemon pies,
there a harmopan-covered female face that glowed pale green in the

But even more numerous and decorative than at the stadium, the
gladiators and courtesans were present, reinforced by a larding of vidar
stars visiting or entertaining in the capital. And these, Lindsay
admitted to himself with awed reluctance, outshone in sheer beauty and
handsomeness any group of Martian humans.

They ought to, he thought. Direct descendants, figuratively if not
actually, of the advertising-Hollywood beauty fetish of the previous
century, they were selected almost from birth for their callings and
trained rigorously from childhood on, the males to become athletes or
actors, the females courtesans or actresses.

There was no race among them, for their only standards were beauty and
physical fitness, no creed but achievement in their lines of individual
entertainment. He caught sight of a lissome Euro-African, the classic
exoticism of her flower-petal face illumined by joyous laughter beneath
a glossy neo-Watusi hairdo, as she glided gracefully over the
dance-floor in the arms of a hunch-harnessed and bespectacled partner.

The gladiators and courtesans alone seemed to find joy in living.
Lindsay, who had seldom been unhappy in his active existence, felt his
sympathies and heart go out to them. He followed the progress of a tiny
Oriental model whose face was alive with good-humor as she swept past
his table, her exquisite figure stressed by a glittering jeweled

"You really should wear glasses--or else learn not to stare," said
Maria, appearing from nowhere and sitting down at the table. She made
amends by extending a warm soft hand to grip one of his. Though she wore
her glasses and her hair was severely pulled back, he had no difficulty
in recalling the fact that, unclothed, she was lovely.

"Why don't you get in on the act?" he suggested, nodding toward a pair
of models emerging from the harmopan room. "All you'd have to do would
be to remove your specs and harness and let your hair down."

"You're sweet, Zale," she said, pleased. Then, with a sigh, "But there's
a lot more to it than that."

"You do all right that way too," he told her boldly.

She slapped the back of his hand and then, growing quickly serious,
said, "Zale, I didn't ask you to meet me for that. I've got so much to
ask you--so much to tell. Did you really find an assassin waiting for
you when you got home last night? And did you kill him?"

"Yes and no," said Lindsay. "I did find one and I didn't kill him. In
fact we parted good friends."

"You Martians...." She sighed, then said, "And I understand you have
already broken two computers--this afternoon at the psychiatrist's and
this evening at the Colosseum. It's the most marvelous news, darling.
I've got to know how you did it."

"I'm damned if I know how I fouled up Dr. Craven's computer," he told
her, "I'm still trying to figure it out."

Her face fell. She said, "I was hoping you had something.... But never
mind." Then, brightening, "But you're driving them crazy. They ran Dr.
Craven's results through Elsac late this afternoon and got the same
answer. The records checked that you didn't kill your mother and _I_
know you're not an invert." She laughed softly.

Spurred by the erotic atmosphere, plus the dizzying speed of recent
events and Maria's nearness, he said, "Let's get out of here and go to
my place."

Her hand covered his again atop the table. "I wish we could," she said
wistfully. "I like you _very_ much, Zale darling. But this is too
important. We haven't time. But what about the tennis tonight? There's
going to be an investigation, of course. Won't you tell me how you did

"Not until I've figured out both," he said. "I may be on the track of
something or it may be sheer chance. Until I understand what happened at
Dr. Craven's I'm simply not sure of my facts."

"But there simply isn't time, darling," Maria told him. "This is really
what I must talk to you about. We got word today that President
Giovannini is going to unveil Giac any day now."

"Decided against your sabotage plan?" he asked her.

She wrinkled her pert little nose. "What's the use? They'd simply repair
it. Besides, it's much too well guarded. Zale, you're our only hope

He said "If I'm right, and I'm beginning to hope I am, it won't matter
whether Giac is unveiled or not. In fact, it might be more effective if
it were."

Maria drummed on the table with nervous knuckles. "But you _don't_
understand, Zale. You don't think for a minute that the Ministry of
Computation is taking this lying down. I got word less than half an hour
ago that they are preparing to force your recall as an unsuitable

"They can try." Lindsay spoke grimly. This was a move he had failed to
foresee, though he supposed he should have. Inadvertently he was
becoming a major threat to the crockery in the china shop that was


"They can do it," Maria said simply. "Zale, these people have become
absolutely dependent upon their computers. They aren't going to let
their entire creed be wrecked by one Martian."

"What do you want me to do?" he asked simply.

"Come with me--now," she said, once more gripping his hand. "A group of
us want to talk to you, to find out _how_ you have done it."

He looked at her, found her adorable in her earnestness. He said, "And
if I play guinea pig with your friends, then you and I...?"

"Of course--as soon as there's time," she told him.

"You _are_ a little bundle of fanaticism, as well as of sex," he told
her. "I should think at least, since you seem to have such an inside
track, you could manage to get my recall deferred."

"That's just _it_!" she exclaimed bitterly. "I see everything, I hear
everything--yet I can _do_ nothing. Papa thinks I'm merely a foolish
female creature and his attitude blocks me at every turn." Lindsay
realized again how fundamentally frustrated she was, wondered if she
would ever find a completely satisfactory release.

Lindsay decided to play along. "All right," he said. "Shall we go?"

"Thanks, darling," she promised. "We'd better go separately. There will
be a blue copter-cab waiting outside when you leave." She leaned across
the table to brush his lips briefly with hers, squeezed his hand and
glided off.

       *       *       *       *       *

He wondered, while he waited for the check, just how foolhardly he was
being, allowing himself to be summoned to a meeting of palace
conspirators. It could very easily be a trap, whether Maria knew it or
not. It could be a ruse to add fuel to the fire being lit under him for
his recall as a _legate persona non grata_ on Earth.

"You _haven't_ forgotten our date, have you darling?" The voice was
throatily reproachful above him and he looked up in surprise at a
glittering female figure, who seemed to be clad entirely in blazing

She was tall and blonde, her hair an ocean helmet of gold, sprinkled
with gems. Her face was beautifully boned, with broad cheeks and
forehead pierced by a decided widow's peak. Light green eyes slanted
upward beneath brows like the wings of some tiny graceful bird. Nose,
lips and chin gained fascination from the perfection they skirted but
just escaped. Face, arms, upper bosom and shoulders wore the even tawny
golden tan that only some blondes can achieve.

Her figure, ashimmer with gems, was lithe of waist, firmly full of
breast and pelvis, moved with the enticing grace of an Indonesian temple
dancer as she slipped into the seat Maria had so recently vacated.

"Sorry, your highness," he said with a look of honest admiration. "I
didn't know we _had_ a date."

"We have now," she stated. She laid a handbag solidly encrusted with
diamonds, emeralds and rubies on the table, said to the dwarf waiter,
"Bring me the usual, Joe--and give Ambassador Lindsay another of
whatever he's drinking."

_At any other time_, Lindsay thought. He said, "I regret this more than
you'll ever know, my dear, but I've got a copter-cab waiting for me

"It will keep." The girl pouted prettily, then leaned toward him and
said huskily, "We'll have just one here. Then we can go to my place.
It's just outside of Biloxi, almost on the Gulf. We can watch the dawn
come up over the water. We can--"

"Stop twisting my arm," said Lindsay, trying to keep his thoughts in
focus. Who had sent _this_ girl and why? And what, he wondered, awaited
him in Biloxi.

He got up, tossed a twenty-credit note on the table. "This will pay the
check," he informed her.

"Not so fast," said the houri, rising with him. Trying to ignore her, he
headed toward the door as fast as he could.

She kept after him and his ears burned as he plunged out into the night,
saw the blue copter-cab waiting with its door open at the curb. But when
he tried to plunge toward it he was halted by an arm whose sharp-faceted
jeweled adornments cut his adam's apple. He gasped but the girl got in
front of him, waving her bag.

There was a faint popping noise as the door closed and the copter-cab
swiftly and silently darted away. Stunned by the swiftness of events,
Lindsay was utterly incapable of resistance when his decorative
tormentor thrust him into another vehicle. As they took off he said, "I
suppose this is the prelude to another assassination try."

"Night soil!" said a familiar voice. "What the hell do you think I just
saved you from, boss?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Lindsay uttered one word--a word which, he thought later, was singularly
revealing as to his native flair for diplomacy. He said, briefly and
succinctly, "_Huh?_"

"Listen, my fine unfeathered Martian friend." She sounded like a primary
school teacher addressing an overgrown and somewhat backward pupil.
"Somebody fired a glass bullet at you from that cab."

"How do you...?" he began helplessly.

For answer she turned on the copter-cab light, revealing the back of a
uniformed chauffeur, and showed him her handbag. There was a slight tear
in one side of its begemmed surface and, when she shook it, bits of
glass fell to the floor. "Careful," she warned when he reached for the
bag. "It was probably packed with poison." Then, "Can you think of a
better shield than diamonds?"

He said, "_Ulp!_" Unquestionably, now that she had revealed herself,
this glittering creature was his slovenly office Nina. Seeking
desperately to recover what had at best been a shaky boss-secretary
relationship, he said, "Where are you taking me?"

"Out of the city, boss," she informed him. "We really are going to my
place in Biloxi. You're much too hot a property to be allowed to wander
around loose. Two tries in less than twenty-four hours."

"Then Maria..." he said, wonderingly.

Nina picked his thought up crisply. "We don't know whether your little
playmate put the finger on you consciously or not. But she did it. Some
of that sweet little crew she pals around with are desperate. They don't
believe they can lick the computers and their only hope is to foment
incidents that will lead to an interplanetary war. Nice kids!"

"But why pick on me?" he asked. "From what Maria said tonight I'm their
one hope of beating the machines."

Nina shook her head at him sadly. "And you're the best brain our Martian
cousins could send us. Here it is in words of one syllable. Maria's mob
wants war. They believe they can light the powder train by arranging the
assassination of a Martian Plenipotentiary.

"Meanwhile your speech yesterday and your fouling up Doc Craven's
computer this afternoon, and whatever you did at the tennis tonight,
have the Computer crowd screaming for your recall before you upset their
little red wagon." She paused, added, "Naturally Maria's crowd wants to
have you killed before you become a mere private citizen of Mars. Once
you're removed from office you aren't important enough to cause a war."

"Good God!" said Lindsay as the double pattern became apparent. Then,
curiously, "And just whom do you represent, Nina?"

She eyed him steadily, mockingly for a moment. Then she said, "Let's
just say for now that I represent the Model's Union. We don't want any
wartime austerity wrecking our pitch. Will that do?"

"I guess it will have to," he said. Then, plucking a diamond-and-emerald
necklace from among the half-dozen about her throat, "You certainly
didn't give poor Anderson much for his money."

"Stop it!" she snapped. "Do you want my eyes to swell up again? In a way
what happened tonight was all your fault. Fernando and I were going to
keep close tabs on you but you fouled me up with your beastly remark
about my business at Doc Craven's and then put poor Fernando out of
commission by getting mixed up in that riot at the Colosseum. I barely
made the Pelican in time."

He thought of giving Nina the receipt from Zoffany's in his pocket,
decided not to take the chance. So he said, "Is Fernando working for the
Model's Union too?"

"Stop trying to be funny," she told him. "Night soil! You make me so
damned mad. Letting that little tramp Maria nail you."

"At the time there wasn't much alternative," he said. Then, eyeing her
closely, "How come you're mixed up in UW politics? I thought models were
strictly for fun and games."

Nina said matter-of-factly, "I won top model rating when I was
seventeen. I still hold it and I'm twenty-six now. A girl can get tired
of being and doing the same thing--even in my profession. Besides, I've
got brains. So I try to use them."

"How come you decided to be my secretary?"

"We drew lots and I lost," she informed him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The copter dropped by searchlight to a flagged terrace in front of a
dark cottage just off the beach. "Thanks, Bob," said Nina. "Tell the
boys to stand by with their guard beams up." Then, to Lindsay, "Come on,
boss, let's get out of this heap."

She walked swiftly toward the cottage, pressed something. Soft lights
came on, revealing a charming simulated wood dwelling in the fine
antique Frank Lloyd Wright tradition. She ushered him into a
delightfully gay bathroom looking out on the water, said, "Wait here
while I get this armor off."

Lindsay felt a slight qualm as he considered what being a top model at
seventeen must mean. And then he thought, Why not? Certainly he had no
claim on Nina's morals. He doubted if anyone had a claim of any kind on

She emerged, looking unexpectedly like a young girl in simple clout and
cup-bra, which exposed most of her gorgeously tanned body. Her hair,
innocent of jewels like the rest of her, was clubbed back simply with
some sort of clip. She lit a cigarette and said, "Now--how the hell are
you fouling up the computers?"

"I'm not," he told her promptly. "At least not in the case of the tennis
match. I just happened to know something about Pat O'Ryan the people who
fed facts to the computer didn't."

"That goon Pat!" she said. "He's so damned dumb."

"You know him well?" he asked with a trace of jealousy.

"I know him." She dismissed it with a flick of her cigarette. "It's a
good thing you knew _judo_ too, boss. But what did you do to him that
fouled up the match?"

"While he was out cold I gave him a shot of whiskey to bring him
'round," Lindsay told her. "He didn't know about it and I didn't tell
him when he informed me about his grain-alcohol allergy. So for once the
computer didn't get full facts. And I had them."

For the first time Lindsay basked in a smile of approval from Nina. She
said, "And then you had to mess me up at Doc Craven's so I couldn't sit
in on the match."

"I'm sorry about that," he said sincerely. "You might brief me so I
don't do it again."

"Well...." She hesitated. "I don't want to set myself off. It's not
uncommon among us--models. You see, we're proud of our careers, not like
the two-credit whores who wear glasses and harnesses. And it hurts us
when someone refers to our work as business. You see, there's nothing
really commercial about it. So when you--"

"But how the devil was I to know you were a model?" he asked her.

"I know," she said illogically. "But it still made me mad." Then,
frowning, "But if the computer was wrong because of incomplete knowledge
at the Colosseum, what was wrong at Doc Craven's?"

Lindsay said, "I'm damned if I know."

"We've _got_ to know, with the president ready to put Giac to work."

"I meant to tell you about that," said Lindsay.

"Don't worry," Nina informed him. "Your table at the Pelican was wired."

"Why are you against computers?" Lindsay asked her.

She dropped her smoke in a disposal-tray, said, "Never mind why--let's
just accept the fact that I am. And not for Fernando Anderson's reason
either. He just wants power."

"And what do you want?"

"Me?" Her eyebrows rose in surprise. "Why, I just want to have _fun_!"
She extended her arms and flapped her hands like birds. Then, again
reverting to seriousness, "I wish you'd tell me everything that went on
at Doc Craven's yesterday. Dammit, _his_ office wasn't wired."

Lindsay went through it, as nearly word for word as he could, then did
it again when no answer was quickly forthcoming. Nina listened, her
perfect forehead marred by a frown. Finally she said, "Let's take a
dip. It's almost dawn."

She removed what clothing she wore and Lindsay did likewise. They felt
the refreshing caress of the cool Gulf water on their skins--but that
was all the caressing there was. Nina, unlike Maria, was all business
despite the near-blatant perfection of her charms. Back in the bathroom
she said, "The only thing I can think of is that stigmata business. Why
should you imagine a mark on your mother's forehead?"

"Because she had one," he told her bluntly. "It was not unattractive--my
father used to call it her beauty mark."

Nina ran long slim fingers through her water-dark hair and said
incredulously, "You mean blemishes are not removed automatically at
birth on Mars?"

"Why, no," said Lindsay, surprised. "It's entirely up to the
individual--or the parents."

"And Doc Craven asked no questions that would lead to the truth?" the
girl asked, blinking. When Lindsay shook his head she suddenly grabbed
him and kissed him and did a little dance of sheer joy. "It's simply too
good to be true! Two computers fouled in one day through missing

"You're right, of course," he admitted. "But I'm damned if I see how it
does us any good."

"You idiot!" she shook him. "It clears the whole situation. It means
that the computers cannot give accurate answers according to the
symbolic logic tables unless they get full information. And you have
proved two breakdowns in the inescapable human element--the information
feeding--just like _that_!" She snapped her fingers. "It means we've got
the whole computer-cult on the hip. I could kiss you again, you big
goon." She did so.

"Cut it out," he said. "I'm not made of brass."

She said, "Night soil," amiably. What he might have done he was never to
know, for a buzzer sounded and Nina moved quickly to a wall-talkie. She
said, "All right, Bob, you say he's clean?" Then, a moment later,
"Better let him in and say his piece." And, to Lindsay, "We've got
company. Dmitri Alenkov--met him?"

Lindsay frowned. "You mean the Soviet _chargé d'affaires_? I met him at
the reception last week. Dreadful little lizard."

"Dmitri might surprise you," she said enigmatically.

Lindsay almost said _night soil_ himself in exasperation. Instead and
peevishly he asked, "Is there anybody you don't know--intimately?"

She laughed. "Of course," she said, "I don't know many women."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Soviet diplomat entered the bathroom. He was a languid mincing
creature whose decadence glowed around him like phosphorescence around a
piece of rotted swampwood. He said, "I hope I am not intruding."

"That depends," Nina told him. "_I'd_ like to know how you traced us
here so quickly."

"My sweet," said the Russian in intensely Oxford Esperanto, "you and
your friend's"--with another bow toward Lindsay--"little affair at the
Pelican was witnessed this evening. When the two of you departed
together, heading eastward, and Ambassador Lindsay could not be reached
in his apartment...." He paused delicately.

So this, thought Lindsay, was a descendant of one of the Red Commissars
whose fanatic and chill austerity had terrorized the free world of a
century ago. Lindsay knew something of modern Soviet history, of course.
There had been no real counter-revolution. Instead the gradual emergence
of the scientists over their Marxist political rulers had been a slow
process of erosion.

Once computer rule was inaugurated in the North American Republic and
swept the Western World, the scientists had simply taken over real
power. The once-powerful Politburo and its sub-committees became

Alenkov was stressing this very point. He said, "So you see, we, the
best blood of Russia, are forced by these machines to live the lives of
outcast children. Naturally we resent it. And when, after so many long
years of waiting, we learn that one man has succeeded in foiling the
computers where no man has succeeded before, we want to know his secret.
We must have it."

Nina spoke first. She said, "Dmitri, the secret, as you call it, has
been right there all along for any of us to see. It just happens that
Ambassador Lindsay fell into it head first."

"Thanks for the 'Ambassador' anyway," Lindsay said drily.

Nina quelled him with a frown. "The computer weakness," she said, "lies
in the human element. Now figure that out for yourself."

Alenkov's brows all but met in the middle of his forehead and his mouth
became a little round O under the twin commas of his mustache. He said,
"I see."

He left shortly afterward on a note of sadness, rousing himself only to
say to Lindsay, "Ambassador, you are a very lucky man." His eyes
caressed Nina's near-nude figure.

"That," Lindsay told him, "is what you think."

When he had departed Lindsay suddenly realized he was exhausted. He sank
back in a contour chair and let fatigue sweep over him. But Nina paced
the bathroom floor like a caged cat. Finally she went to the
wall-talkie, gave a number in a low voice.

She pushed some sort of signal button several times, then swore and
said, "Better not sleep now, boss. We're cut off."

It brought him to with a start. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"Somebody or something is jamming our communicator."

She opened a concealed cabinet, apparently part of the bathroom wall,
drew from it a couple of light but deadly looking blasters, and tossed
one onto the contour chair in front of him. "You know how to work one of
these things?" she asked.

"Better drop the weapons," a quiet voice said from the doorway behind
them. "You haven't got a chance."

The speaker wore the light blue tunicall that was the summer uniform of
the Army of the Republic of North America. His cap and shoulder-boards
were bright with silver lace and he held a singularly ugly little
automatic weapon cradled across one forearm.

Nina and Lindsay dropped their weapons. But the girl's back was up. Her
slanting eyes crackled green fire as she said, "What right have you
bastards got to come busting in here without a warrant?"

"Sorry," said the officer with chilling courtesy. "As it happens we do
have a warrant. Remember, Miss Beckwith, this cottage is not United
World's soil." He tossed an official looking document which Nina caught,
motioned a couple of his men to pick up her weapons.

"All right," she said after scanning the warrant. "What do you want?"

"Ambassador Lindsay," was the reply. "We have been ordered to ensure
that no harm comes to him while he is on American soil."

"I can read!" snapped the girl. "There's going to be hell to pay over
this." Then, to Lindsay, "We can't stop them now but they can't hold
you. _I_ can see to that. Just try to keep your big dumb blundering self
out of any extra trouble till we can take steps--will you promise me
that, boss?"

"I'll try," said Lindsay.

       *       *       *       *       *

They took him to Washington--or rather to Sherwood Forest, in Annapolis,
where the summer White House sprawled over and beneath its landscaped
acres. To a man from Mars it was very green, very lush, very beautiful.

Lindsay's first impression of famed President Giovannini was that the
famous elected leader of the North American Republic was composed mostly
of secretaries. But at last one of them--the seventh or eighth--said
gravely, "If you'll just step this way, please," to Lindsay and motioned
for the Army officer to remain where he was. He was admitted to the
bathroom of the man who had sent for him so summarily.

The president proved to be unexpectedly like some of the governors of
Lindsay's home planet--incisive, unaffected, easily articulate.
Physically he was stocky, of middle height, with a round, firmly fleshed
sensitive face. He wore huaraches and bright blue shorts, no glasses or
distortion harness.

He waved Lindsay to a contour chair beside his own, said, "Sorry I had
to have you hauled here this way. I was afraid you'd get killed if I
didn't. Do you have any idea of the uproar you've caused in the past two
days, young man?"

Lindsay, somewhat taken aback by the president's abruptness, said,
"Well, I knew some small groups were upset but...."

"Take a look," the president told him, waving toward a quartet of vidar
screens on the wall. Over one of them was the legend, New Orleans, over
another, New York, over a third, Los Angeles, over the fourth, Chicago.
"Those are live shots," Giovannini added.

Lindsay was appalled. Each of them showed rioting crowds and defensive
police action; the commentaries cried their confusion. However, the
Martian got the drift quickly enough. Apparently his recent activities
had driven the neurotic Earthlings to violence.

There appeared to be two chief factions. One of them, smashing and
swarming and screaming its outrage, was demanding the abolishment of
computer government. The other, equally violent and even more numerous,
was after a villain named Zalen Lindsay.

Seeing that Lindsay was beginning to understand what was happening, the
president pressed a button that turned off all the vidar screens and
voices. He said, "I could switch to any of our other cities--to cities
in South America, India, Western Europe, England. They're especially
bitter toward you in England."

"I'm beginning to accept the fact--if not to understand," said Lindsay.

The president said, "Lindsay, from the point of view of your planet you
have done nothing improper. But from the point of view of this
planet...." He let silence and a shrug of thick shoulders finish the

"I had no idea," Lindsay began, "that conditions on Earth...." He let
his own voice trail off.

Giovannini finished it for him. "You had no idea people on Earth were so
damned neurotic," he said, and sighed. Then, "Lindsay--call me Johnny,
will you? All my friends do--Lindsay, for generations now people by and
large have been forfeiting confidence in themselves to confidence in

"They have had good reason. Computer judgment has been responsible for
the first true age of world peace in history. It may not be healthy but
it's a damn sight healthier than war. And it has transformed this
republic from an unwieldy group of states into a controlled anarchy that
can be run by pushbuttons under ordinary conditions."

He paused while the Martian lit a cigarette, then went on with, "Thanks
first to Sylac, then to Elsac, we learned that Vermont was happiest
under its Town Meeting method, North Carolina needed its oligarchy,
while my native state, California, is much better off divided in two.
Texas became happy with its triple legislature--they never are happy
unless they have a little more of everything down there. It was the same
in other countries--Canada, South America, Spain...."

"And England?" Lindsay said softly.

The president sighed again. "England," he admitted, "is a bit of a
problem--out of all proportion to its size and current importance. But
the British are stubborn about their institutions. They've hung onto a
Royal Family a hundred years longer than anyone else. We can hardly
expect them to give up their beloved socialism so soon."

"Just as long as Mars is not expected to pay for this indulgence, it's
quite all right with my people," Lindsay told him.

"What's _your_ first name--Zalen?" the president asked. "Well, Zalen, I
know it's a problem but we all have to give a little or crowd somebody
out. Zalen, people are getting killed on account of you right now."

"I've nearly been killed a couple of times myself."

"I know. Regrettable," said Giovannini. "The UW crowd never has
understood security. That's why I had to kidnap you, Zalen. Couldn't
have you killed, you know. Not now anyway."

"Glad you feel that way, Johnny." Lindsay told him drily. "But hasn't it
occurred to you that if people here are so easily set off it might be a
good idea to knock out this computer business once and for all?"

The president puffed on his cigarette. Then he said, "Zale, twenty years
ago, maybe even ten, it could have been done. Now it's too late. Which
is why the ninety-billion-dollar investment in Giac. We've got to give
them an absolute computer, one that will remove forever the basic
distrust of computer judgment that underlies the neuroses you just

"Quite possibly," said Lindsay. "But I haven't actually done a damned
thing myself to undermine computer judgment. The mistakes have been made
by the so-called experts who have fed their machines inadequate
information. Those mistakes were infantile. They suggest some sort of
neurosis on the part of the feeders. They could be mistake-prone, you

President Giovannini chuckled again. "Of course they're mistake-prone,
Zalen," he said. "Some of them, anyway. And it's getting worse. That's
the real reason for Giac. Wait'll you see it!"

"You think I'm going to be around that long, Johnny?" Lindsay asked. "I
understand I'm to be sent back to Mars--if I live that long."

"No, Lindsay, we need you--I'll explain in a moment. And we aren't going
to let you die and become a martyr for generations of anti-computerites.
We can't have that now, can we?"

"I'll go along with you on it," said Lindsay, wondering what the
president was leading up to.

"Good!" The president beamed at him. "Zalen--I want _you_ to be the
first person to put Giac through a public test. That's how much I trust
that machine. I want you, the man who has fouled up two computers,
including Elsac, to try her out."

       *       *       *       *       *

And Lindsay could only nod. The governors of Mars might not approve but
after the uproar he had caused on this mission they could hardly object.
President Giovannini's scheme was fully up to that renowned statesman's
reputation for political astuteness. The more Lindsay thought it over
the more beautiful was its simplicity.

Mere word that he was to conduct the first public test would quell the
rioting. And unless Lindsay could show this mightiest of all symbolic
logic computers to be fallible, computer rule would be entrenched on
Earth as never before.

But what if, in some way, he succeeded in confounding the computer?
Lindsay shuddered as he thought of the rioting he had so recently
witnessed on the vidar-screens.

His face must have revealed his distress for the president said, "You're
worn out, Zalen. Can't have that, you know. Not with the big test coming

Lindsay barely remembered leaving the president and being led to a
sleeping chamber somewhere in the vast mansion. When he woke up it was
dark and Nina was perched on the edge of his contour couch, looking
unexpectedly demure in a grey bolo with white collar and cuffs.

He said, as articulate as usual when she surprised him, "Hi."

"About time you woke up," she said. "Do you know you snore?"

"I can't help it," he told her. Then, coming fully awake, "How the devil
did you get _here_?"

"I walked," she informed him succinctly. She stood up, her magnificent
figure silhouetted against the light. "Better get dressed--your duds are
over there." She nodded toward a walldrobe. "I'll wait in the bathroom."
She breezed out.

When he looked at the clothing he was to wear he sensed that Nina had
selected it for him. It was a little brighter in color, a little more
daring in cut, than what he would have picked for himself.

Nina was placing jewels carefully in her hair, which she had released to
form a sleek halo around her magnificent head, when he entered the
bathroom. A small palisade of glittering jeweled hairpins protruded from
her mouth. She had shed her demure bolo and stood revealed in glittering
black bodice-bra and evening skirt-clout.

After placing the last jewel in her hair she swung about and said,
"There--how do I look?"

"Gorgeous," he told her.

"You look a bit dull," she said. She dug a box out of a travel-bag
placed in a corner of the room. "Here," she said. "Put this on--left

"This" proved to be a magnificent sunburst decoration, a glittering
diamond-encrusted star. He said, "What is it?"

"Grand Order of the United Worlds--a fine diplomat you are! I picked it
up for you this afternoon before flying here. Just stick it on...." She
came over, took it from him, pressed it firmly against his bolo till the
suction grips caught hold.

He put his arms around her. She let him hold her a moment, then pushed
clear in the immemorial gesture of women dressed for a party who do not
want to have their grooming mussed. "Not now," she said. "We'll have
plenty of time."

"Not for what's worrying _me_," he said. "Nina, I've got to put Giac
through its paces in front of the whole world tomorrow. And I don't know
what to ask it. I've got a blind spot where symbolic logic is

"Don't fret yourself," said the girl calmly. "I'm not worried about
_you_. Not after what you've managed to do to all the other computers
you've faced. Come on--we're having dinner with the president."

"Who the hell _are_ you anyway?" he asked her bluntly. "You don't even
look the same."

She laughed. "I should _hope_ not," she told him. "After all, I could
hardly grace the president's table as a mere UW secretary--_or_ as a New
Orleans top model. Come on!"

He went--and got his second shock when President Giovannini greeted Nina
with a manner as close to obsequiousness as that professionally
free-and-easy politician could muster. He said, "My dear Miss
Norstadt-Ramirez. I do hope you'll forgive me for ordering such summary
action this morning. If I'd had the slightest idea...."

"I was boiling," Nina told him. "I was just about ready to order
Aetnapolitan to pull the props out from under you when the riots
started. Then I blessed your shiny little head and came up here."

"I am honored," said the president.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lindsay, walking through the proceedings in a fog, was even more laconic
than a clipped British envoy who, along with a recovered Senator
Anderson, was a member of the party.

"Don't take it so hard," Anderson whispered. "Nina is just about the
best-kept secret in this hemisphere. If I weren't one of the few who's
been in on it all along...." He shrugged eloquently.

Lindsay said nothing. He couldn't. So Nina--his fresh slatternly
secretary, the courtesan of the world capital--was also Coranina
Norstadt-Ramirez, the heiress who owned almost half of Earth!

He felt like a quadruply-plated idiot. He knew about
Norstadt-Ramirez--who didn't, whether on Earth or Mars or the
space-stations circling Venus while that planet's atmosphere was being
artificially altered to make it fit for human habitation?

She was a fantastic glamorous lady of mystery, the ultimate heiress, the
young woman to whom inexorably, thanks to North America's matriarchal
era during the twentieth century, the control of most of its mightiest
corporations and trust funds had descended.

And she was Lindsay's secretary. No wonder, he thought miserably, she
had never sounded quite sincere about calling him boss. Why, she
virtually owned his home planet as well. He watched her covertly across
the table, poised, amused, alert, occasionally witty--and so damnably
attractive. He wished he were dead.

She caught his regard, scowled and stuck her tongue out at him. He
thought. _Why, you little...!_

Somehow she got them out of the chatter after dinner, got him back to
his suite. There, regarding him sternly, she said, "Zale, you aren't
going to be stuffy about this, are you?"

"I can't help it," he replied. "If you'd only told me...."

He read sympathy in her green eyes. But she merely shrugged and said,
"Result of a lifetime of keeping myself under wraps." She sat on a
contour chair, patted a place for him alongside.

She said, "I'm the richest single person there has ever been--you know
that. It isn't my fault. It just happened. I didn't deserve or want or
need it. But it is a hell of a responsibility. Since I'm responsible for
so much it seemed important to me to know how people felt. After all we
act because we feel. And thanks to a few good friends like Fernando
Anderson I've been able to get away with it."

"Why me?" he asked her. "Why pick on me?"

Her expression softened. One of her hands crept into his. "One of the
nicest things about you, Zale, is the fact that you don't realise just
how special you are."

"I'm not so special on Mars," he told her.

"No?" Her eyebrows rose delightfully. "A quarter of a billion Martians
select you as their first Plenipotentiary to the UW and you're not
special? Zale, you're an absolute woolly lamb.

"There's more to it than that. I've never been to Mars. I should have,
but I simply haven't had the time. So I decided the best way to find out
about Mars at second hand was to work with you in some capacity that
would let you be yourself."

"A filthy, underhanded, thoroughly feminine trick," he said gently and
kissed her. Then, frowning into her green eyes, "But why are you so dead
set against computer judgment?"

"Isn't it obvious?" she asked. "I've got a tremendous stake in this
world. Kicking around it as I have I've been able to see what is
happening. I'm damned if I'm going to have my property managed and run
by a bunch of people who make mistakes because they're too neurotic to
make decisions. Look at them!" Her voice became edged with disgust.

Lindsay said, "I see. Listen, honey, I'd like to sleep with you

She looked surprised but not displeased by his bluntness. "Of course,
darling," she told him.

"How much will it cost me?" he asked her.

She froze--then her eyes began to fill and she sniffled. He said, "You
know I didn't mean that. Dammit, I just wanted to show you you're a
neurotic yourself."

She slapped him hard enough to tilt him off the contour chair. She rose
haughtily, still sniffing. Lindsay stretched out a hand and caught one
of her ankles and tripped her up. She tottered, gave vent to a startled,
"_Awk!_", fell backward into the pool-tub.

He dived in after her, caught her when she came up, spluttering, gripped
her shoulders hard. Her eyes blazed green fire at him. She said, "How
_dare_ you do that to me, you moron!"

He said, "If I hadn't I'd probably never have seen you again."

She collapsed into his arms.

Later--much later--as Nina was about to leave him for her own suite, he
asked, "Honeycomb, what did you lose that caused Fernando to give you
that necklace?"

"I nearly lost you," she replied from the doorway. "I bet him Maria
wouldn't get you that night. And lost. So Fernando sent the necklace as

"Quite a large compensation," said Lindsay drily.

Nina shrugged. "Not for Fernando," she told him. "After all, I pay him
enough. He's my number one political boy. 'Night, darling."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lindsay was on the verge of a breakdown himself by noon the next day,
after Computation Minister du Fresne, looking uglier than ever, had
finished conducting President Giovannini's official party through the
rooms and passages of Giac. If Nina hadn't been by his side during and
after the swift rocket trip to Death Valley, he might have collapsed.

It was she who had removed the glittering star from his breast before
breakfast in the Sherwood Forest mansion that morning. "You needed
something to wear for show last night," she had told him.

"Then it's not mine?" he had countered absently.

"Of course it is," she had assured him. "But Secretary General Bergozza
is going to make the official investiture after the test."

Lindsay had meekly surrendered the bauble, barely noticing. His brain
was straining to recall what he could of symbolic logic--a subject that
had never particularly interested him. For some reason it kept working
back to Lewis Carroll, who, under his real name of Charles Lutwidge
Dodgson, had been the founder of symbolic logic back in the nineteenth
century, along with the renowned Dr. Poole.

About all he could remember was the following problem:

(1) Every one who is sane can do Logic;

(2) No lunatics are fit to serve on a jury;

(3) None of _your_ sons can do Logic.

The Universal was "persons". The symbols were: a--able to do Logic;
b--fit to serve on a jury; c--sane; d--your sons.

And the answer, of course, was: None of _your_ sons is fit to serve on a

For some reason this, in turn, made him think of the ancient conundrum
that employed confusion to trip its victims: What's the difference
between an iron dog in the side yard of a man who wants to give his
little daughter music lessons but is afraid he can't afford them next
year, and a man who has a whale in a tank and wants to send him for a
wedding present and is trying to pin a tag on him, saying how long he
is, how much he weighs and where he comes from, but can't because the
whale keeps sloshing around in the tank and knocking the tag off?

This time, the answer was: One can't wag his tail, the other can't tag
his whale.

"None of _your_ sons is fit to tag a whale--or wag a tail," he said

"What was that?" Nina asked.

"Nothing, nothing at all," he replied. "Merely a man going out of his

"It will never miss you," she replied brightly. But her brightness
became a bit strained as the day wore on. The trip, for Lindsay, was
sheer nightmare. _No sane man can wag his tail_, he kept thinking.

Even such fugitive grasping at Logical straws vanished when he saw the
immense squat mass of Giac, rising like a steel-and-concrete toad from
the wastes of the California desert. It seemed absurd even to think that
such an imposing and complex structure should have been reared on the
mathematics of the immortal author of _Alice in Wonderland_, _Through
the Looking Glass_ and _The Hunting of the Snark_.

For Giac _was_ imposing, even to a man biased against computers from
birth. Nor did du Fresne's smugness help Lindsay's assurance a bit. He
explained how each of the block-large preliminary feeders worked--one
for mathematical symbols, one for oral recording, a third for written
exposition. Each worked simultaneously and in three different ways--via
drum-memory banks, via punched tapes, via the new "ear-tubes" that
responded to sound.

Then there were the preliminary synthesizers, each of which unified in
vapor-plutonium tubes the findings of its three separate feeders. Next,
a towering black-metal giant filling three walls of a cubical room
twenty metres in each dimension, came the final synthesizer, which
coordinated the findings of the preliminary synthesizers and fed them
into Giac itself.

The master machine was the least imposing of all. It stood like an
alabaster stele in the center of an immense chamber arranged like a
theater-in-the-round. But du Fresne, peering through his strawberry
spectacles, said gloatingly, "Don't be deceived by the size, ladies and
gentlemen. All but what you see of Giac is underground. It is contained
in an all-metal cell one million cubic metres in volume. And it is

Fortunately Lindsay was given a half hour of final preparation in one of
the small offices with which the above-ground building was honeycombed.
Nina came with him--by request.

"I can't do it," he told her abruptly.

"Don't worry, darling, you'll think of something," she said. She tried
to embrace him but he was too worried to respond. After awhile she said,
"Why not put a direct question. Ask it if it's infallible."

"It could hardly tell a lie on itself," he replied.

"What if such a question involved destruction of part of itself in the
answer?" she asked.

"It might--though I presume du Fresne and his boys have prepared it for
such jokers. And anyway, what sort of question would do that? Got any

"That's your department," she said helpfully. "You're the computer
smasher of this team."

"But that was pure luck," he said half-angrily. "One can't wag his
tail.... The other can't serve on a jury."

She looked alarmed. "Darling," she said, "you aren't--"

"Not yet, Honeycomb," he said, "but give me time.

"It's got to be something about this Mars-Earth problem," he went on
after a long silence. "Listen: how can Mars develop if it's in the spot
of the Red Queen--has to run like hell just to stay where it is thanks
to Earth's dumping policies?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The door opened and closed and Maria Bergozza was with them. She said,
"Apparently this is necessary." She was holding a glass-pellet gun in
her hand, pointing it at Lindsay.

He said, "Why, you--!" and moved toward her. Promptly the Secretary
General's daughter pointed the gun at Nina's tanned midriff. He stopped.

Maria said evenly, "It's _you_ that have done this to me, Nina. You've
had all the fun while I've had to pour tea for papa at his damned
functions. You've fouled up our plans with your meddling down in New
Orleans. And now you've taken Zale, as you take everything else you take
a fancy to."

"But you tried to kill him," said Nina. "Why should you care?"

"He would have been a martyr--and _you_ wouldn't have had him," said
Maria, her gun hand steady. "I know it's going to ruin me to kill
you--but my whole life is ruined anyway. And this way at least I can
sacrifice it for the cause."

"The cause of interplanetary war?" said Lindsay, in his turn
incredulous. Hot rage rose within him, "You third-rate tramp!" He
stepped squarely into the line of fire, thrust his left breast in front
of the muzzle of her gun. Behind him Nina screamed.

But Maria didn't fire. Instead she sneezed--sneezed and sneezed again.
Her gun hand gyrated wildly as she doubled in a paroxysm and Nina moved
past Lindsay to pluck the weapon from her.

"Don't call me--krrrra_shew_!--third-rate," she managed to gasp before
the blonde sent her sprawling with a very efficient right cross to the

Nina turned on Lindsay angrily. "You damned fool!" she almost shouted.
"You might have been killed."

He looked down, felt his knees turn to water. He said, "Omigod--I
thought I was still wearing the star. I remembered how you saved my life
in New Orleans with your diamond evening bag!"

He sat down--hard. From the floor Maria whimpered, "What are you going
to do to me?"

Nina said, "I ought to kill you, you know, but it would cause too much
of a stink. So beat it and let us think. You'll be hearing from me
later. What you hear will depend on how you handle yourself from now on.

When she had slunk out Lindsay said, "What broke her up?"

Nina dropped the gun into her bag casually, said, "Now I know you're
lucky, you thin slob. You happened to stumble right onto her allergy.
She can't stand being thought of as a third-rate lover. That's why she's
always been jealous of me--because I have top-model rating and she could
never make it. She's too damned concerned with pleasing herself to
please anyone else. She flunked out at fourteen."

"Then why didn't _you_ pull it?" Lindsay asked her, astonished.

"Because," Nina said thoughtfully, "I'm not conditioned to think that
way. It's horribly rude here on Earth to stir up other people's
allergies. As you reminded me last night, you rat, we're all people in
glass houses."

"But I didn't even know...." muttered Lindsay.

"You hit it though," she reminded him. "And you're going to hit it again
out there in exactly five minutes."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lindsay was extremely conscious of the eyes of the vidar cameras upon
him as President Giovannini, having finished his introductory speech,
led him to the alabaster stele in the center of Giac's great central
chamber and turned him over to du Fresne, whose official robe hung
unevenly from the hump of his harness.

Lindsay handed the Minister of Computation the question he had prepared
on paper, was brusquely told, "Read it please, Ambassador."

He cleared his throat and began.

"I am asking a question highly pertinent to the welfare and future amity
of the United Worlds," he said slowly. "More specifically to the future
amity of Earth and Mars. It is a simple question without involved
mathematical qualifications--but one that no computer and no man has
thus far been able to answer correctly.

"It is this continued failure of computers to come up with a logical
answer in the full frame of interplanetary conditions that has done much
to make the people of my planet feel that no computer is trustworthy to
make decisions involving human beings."

He paused, looked covertly at du Fresne, repressed a smile. The Minister
of Computation was already showing signs of distress. He was shaking his
head, making little pawing motions toward his glasses.

"Here it is," Lindsay said quickly. "Should the governors of Mars, whose
responsibilities lie at least as much in the economic improvement of
their own world as in inter-world harmony, permit their planet to
receive goods which retard that economic development so that it becomes
a race to maintain current unsatisfactory standards, merely because
certain computers on Earth are fed false facts to permit continuation of
some illogical form of government or social system--or should the
governors of Mars permit their planet to suffer because of computer
illogic in the name of a highly doubtful status quo on the parent

He walked slowly back to his place and sat down, almost feeling the
silence around him. Nina whispered, "What in hell does it mean?"

Lindsay whispered back, "It's a bit of the iron dog and the whale, a bit
of the Red Queen, a bit of the suicide idea--and something else. Let's
see if it works."

Lindsay watched du Fresne, whose moment of triumph was marred by his
obvious discomfort. The twisted little man was very busy running the
question into its various forms for submission to the feeder units,
whose mouths gaped like hungry nestlings along part of one side wall.

If du Fresne failed him....

It was a long nervous wait. Lights flickered in meaningless succession
on subsidiary instrument boards and du Fresne darted about like a
bespectacled buzzard, studying first this set of symbols, then that one.

Lindsay glanced at Maria, who sat huddled beside her father beyond the
president. To break the suspense he whispered to Nina, "What about

Nina whispered back, "I've got it taped. I'm going to give her a nice
empty job on the moon--one with a big title attached. It will get her
out of the way--she can't do any harm there--and make her feel she's
_doing_ something. Besides"--a faint malicious pause--"there are still
four men to every woman on Luna. And they aren't choosy."

"You're a witch," said Lindsay. He snickered and someone shushed him.
Looking up he saw that things were happening.

"In exactly"--du Fresne glanced up at a wall chronometer--"six seconds
Giac will give its answer."

They seemed more like six years to Lindsay. Then the alabaster stele in
the center of the floor came abruptly to life. A slow spiral of red,
composed of a seemingly endless stream of high mathematical symbols,
started up from its base, worked rapidly around and around it like an
old-fashioned barber-pole's markings, moving ever upward toward its top.

"Effective--very effective," murmured President Giovannini.

Suddenly a voice sounded, a pleasant voice specially geared to resemble
the voice of the greatest of twentieth-century troubadors, Bing Crosby.
It said, "Interplanetary unity depends upon computer illogic."

There was a gasp--a gasp that seemed to emerge not only from the company
present but, in reverse, through the vidarcasters from the entire
listening world. President Giovannini, suddenly white, said inelegantly,
"Son of a bitch!"

Nina laughed out loud and gripped Lindsay's arm tightly. "You've done
it, darling--you've _done_ it!" she cried.

"On the contrary," he said quietly, "_I_ haven't done it; du Fresne did
it." And as he looked toward the Minister of Computation that little man

       *       *       *       *       *

But Giac kept right on. It blanked out briefly, then once more the
spiral of red figures began to work its way around and up the stele. And
once again the pleasant voice announced, "Interplanetary unity depends
upon computer illogic."

It blanked out, began again. And this time, from somewhere in the
building, came the thud of a muffled explosion. A spiral of green
symbols began to circle the stele, then a spiral of yellow. The red
reached the top first and the Bing Crosby voice began again,
"Interplanetary unity de--"

The green and yellow spirals reached the top. A few seconds of sheer
Jabberwocky emerged from the loudspeaker, ending in a chorus of,
"Illogic, illogic, illogic...." with the words overlapping.

Panic began to show itself. The president gasped and Maria suddenly
shrieked. Frightened onlookers crowded toward the door. The president
looked from the machine to Lindsay, bewildered.

Lindsay got up and strode toward the microphone by the stele. He shouted
into it, "Turn off the computer--turn it _off_."

And, moments later, while the angry hot glow of the stele faded slowly,
he said, "People of Earth, this is Lindsay of Mars. Please be calm while
I explain. There is nothing wrong with Giac or any of your computers."
He paused, added ruefully, "At least nothing that cannot be repaired in
short order where Giac is concerned.

"I am going to ask to look once more at the question I submitted to this
machine--_and_ to the language tape fed into it by the Honorable Mr. du
Fresne." He waited while they were brought to him, scanned them, smiled,
said, "No the fault was not with Giac. Nor was it consciously with Mr.
du Fresne. The question was loaded.

"You see, I happen to know that your Minister's belief in computers is
such that he suffers an involuntary reaction when he hears them defamed.
I defamed computers both in my preliminary address and in my question.
And when he had to transfer to tape the phrase '--or, should the
Governors of Mars permit their planet to suffer because of computer
illogic in the name of a highly doubtful status quo on the parent
planet?'--when he transferred that sentence to tape he was physically
unable to write the phrase 'computer illogic'.

"Involuntarily he changed it to 'computer logic' with the result that
the question was utterly meaningless and caused Giac's tubes to short
circuit. None of the recent computer failures was the fault of the
machines--it was the fault of the men who fed them material to digest.

"So I believe it is safe to say that you may rely upon your
computers--as long as they do not deal with problems affecting
yourselves and ourselves. For those you need human speculation, human
debate, above all human judgment!"

President Giovannini, able politician that he was, had joined Lindsay at
the microphone, put an arm across his shoulders, said, "I feel
humble--yes, humble--in the great lesson this great envoy from our
sister planet had taught us. What they can do on Mars we can do on

When at last they were clear of the vidar cameras Lindsay grinned and
said, "Nice going, Johnny--you'll have more voters than ever come next

Giovannini simply stared at him. His eyes began to water, his nose to
run and he turned away, groping for an evapochief.

Lindsay looked after him and shook his head. He said to Nina, who had
rejoined him, "How about that? Johnny's in tears."

"Of course he is," snapped Nina. "He's allergic to the word 'voters'.
Night soil, but you're simple!"

Lindsay felt his own eyes water. He sneezed, violently, for the first
time since coming to Earth. Concerned, Nina said, "What's wrong,
darling? Have I done something?"

"If you ever say 'night soil' again..." he began. Then,
"Krra_chooooo_!" He felt as if the top of his head were missing.

Nina hugged him, grinning like a gamine. "I'll save it for _very_
special occasions," she promised.

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