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´╗┐Title: Witness
Author: Smith, George H. (George Henry)
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 "Witness" ***

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



                                WITNESS

                          BY GEORGE H. SMITH

                   _Edith was just a computer, but a
                very good one and a very observing one.
                  So it was quite natural that she be
               consulted about the doctor's murder...._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                Worlds of If Science Fiction, May 1955.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Ballard was quite dead. There could be no doubt of it. He lay sprawled
in front of Edith, with his head very messily bashed in and with one
hand still extended toward her. A long shimmering stream of blood
ran half-way across the large room. Dr. Dudley Ballard had been as
inconsiderate in his dying as he had been in his living.

Art MacKinney and I stood in the doorway and stared. We were shocked
not so much by the fact that Ballard was dead as by the fact that he
lay in this most secret room, this holy of holies. Ours was the most
security conscious project in the whole country; and this was where he
had picked to get himself killed.

"God! There'll really be a stink about this," MacKinney breathed.

"Well, I can't think of anyone who had it coming more than he did,"
I said. I hated Ballard's guts and everyone knew it, so there was no
point in being hypocritical now.

Edith stood silently. She didn't seem to be interested in the fact
that the man who had run her life, who had spent hours shouting
questions at her and criticizing her slightest error with burning
sarcasm was now dead. No, Edith wasn't interested, but you couldn't
really expect her to be--she was only a computing machine, a mechanical
brain, the final result of years of work by the best cybernetics
experts in the world. Edith was silent, and would be, until we turned
her on and fed the tapes into her.

"It looks as though this is what did it," MacKinney said, indicating a
large spanner lying on the floor beside Ballard. He touched it gingerly
with his foot. His face was white and strained and it occurred to me
that he was more upset than I thought he should be. After all, he had
as much reason to hate the dead man as the rest of us. Ballard had
taken advantage of his position as head of the research project to make
passes at Jane Currey and MacKinney wasn't at all a cool scientist when
it came to Jane. He was engaged to her and quite naturally resented
Ballard's attentions to her.

"You'd better not touch that until the police get here," I said as he
bent over to pick up the spanner.

"Yeah, I guess you're right--I forgot. How do you suppose this got in
here anyway?"

"One of the workmen making adjustments on Edith's outer casing must
have left it. I saw it sitting up there on top of her late yesterday
afternoon," I told him. "You'd better go call Mr. Thompson and--the
FBI."

With Ballard gone, I was in charge. Maybe someone would think that was
reason enough for me to kill him. I didn't care, I was just glad he was
gone. Now he couldn't mistreat Edith anymore.

I turned Edith on just as MacKinney returned. "What are you doing?" he
asked.

"Why I'm going to wake Edith up and feed these tapes into her. After
all these are more important than any one man's life."

"You didn't care much for Ballard, did you Bill?"

I gave him look for look as I replied. "Can you name anyone around here
that did?"

He shook his head. "No--I guess not. But maybe it wasn't one of us. It
might have been an outside job, you know. Edith was working on that
space station stuff and the iron curtain people would give a lot to
know about it."

"Hell," I said pressing the studs and levers that would arouse Edith
and put her to work. "You don't really think anyone could get past
those security guards, do you?"

Happily I went about the business of waking Edith, my sleeping beauty,
from her slumbers. In a very few seconds, her hundreds of tiny red eyes
were gleaming with intelligence.

_Good morning, Edith_, I punched out the tape and fed it into her.

There was the faintest pause, while Edith's photo-electric cells
surveyed the room, pausing for a moment on the sprawled body of Ballard.

_Good morning, Bill Green_, she typed back. I knew she was happy to
see me by the cheerful little clicks she emitted.

_I have some interesting work for you this morning, Edith. And I think
you'll be glad to know that we will be working together from now on
instead of...._

"Hey! What's the idea of starting that machine?" a gray haired, gray
suited security agent demanded, striding into the room with MacKinney,
Mr. Thompson and several other officers at his heels. "Don't you know
enough not to touch anything in here?"

"This work is too important to be stopped--even for a murder," I said,
and Mr. Thompson nodded in agreement.

"That's right," he said mopping his perpetually perspiring forehead,
"this work has top priority from Washington." He looked nervous and I
couldn't help wondering what he was thinking. There had been stories
circulating about Ballard and Thompson's wife and the dome-headed
little man must have heard them too. Ballard just couldn't keep his
hands off any female within reach. That was one of the reasons he was
so thoroughly hated.

The youngest of the security agents rose from where he had been
kneeling beside Ballard and crossed to me.

"You're Green, aren't you?" I nodded and he continued, "How did you
know it was murder?"

I laughed at him. "How the hell could a man bash in his own brains that
way?"

The gray haired man stepped into the breach. He gave us all a thorough
going over, but concentrated on MacKinney and me. He seemed to think it
peculiar that neither of us could give any reason for Ballard's being
alone with Edith. I was sure I knew, but no one would have believed me
so I made no attempt to enlighten him.

"Well, I guess that's all we can do now," he said at last. "Someone
from the local police will have to be notified and brought in after
they get security clearance." He turned to go.

"Wait a minute," MacKinney said, "we're all overlooking one thing."

"What's that?"

"There was an eye witness to this crime," he said, and I stared at him
in consternation. I didn't know he knew. I thought I was the only one
who knew.

"What do you mean," the agent demanded angrily.

"Edith saw it. Edith, the computer."

"Are you nuts?" the agent demanded.

"You forget that Edith was turned off," Thompson said.

"But Mr. Thompson, Edith's not like most cybernetic machines. She's
so far advanced, that I'm not sure we understand her completely. She
can't really be turned off. She has a distinct personality and that new
circuit--"

Of course Edith had a personality of her own! She had more charm, more
intelligence, more understanding than most women.

"--well--she'd be able to tell us who killed Ballard."

"That's ridiculous," I said, badly frightened. "A machine can't be a
witness to murder."

The security officer looked dubious and shook his head. "I guess we'll
have to leave that up to the coroner at the inquest."

"But they can't ask questions like that of Edith," I protested.
"She's--she's too important to the national defense to have some
country coroner asking her silly questions about the murder of a man
who deserved to die anyway." I had to prevent this. I had to get around
this eye witness business.

Thompson looked at me levelly. "MacKinney may be right, Green. The
coroner may very well want to talk to Edith and there's no reason we
should object if Security gives him clearance."

"But Mr. Thompson, our work--it'll be interrupted."

"We'll have to take that chance. And I think Washington will agree."

"But--" Couldn't they see that there wasn't any question of spying
here. Couldn't they understand that Ballard had just gotten what he had
coming. I couldn't let them question Edith. At least not until I had a
chance to talk to her alone.

"And Green--because of your rather strange behaviour, I'm afraid I'll
have to ask you to stay in your quarters until the inquest. MacKinney
will handle your work with Edith until then."

I was shocked and really frightened now. I wouldn't get to talk to
her, wouldn't get a chance to tell her what to say. I protested, but
Thompson was firm, so firm that he placed a guard outside my door to
make sure I didn't leave.

Washington rushed through clearance for the local officers and the
inquest was held three days later. The coroner proved to be a shrewd
country doctor, who had the inquest adjourned to the computer room as
soon as he heard MacKinney's ideas about Edith.

The security guards on duty the night of the murder testified that only
MacKinney, Thompson, Ballard and I had had access to the computer room;
and it had already been established that it would have been impossible
for a spy or foreign agent to have slipped into the heavily guarded
room. It was clearly an inside job.

With all of us at the scene of the crime, the coroner summed it up
for us. "--and since it could not have been the work of an outsider,
it must have been a crime of a private nature." He looked closely at
Thompson, MacKinney and me. "A crime of a private nature with the
motive either revenge, jealousy or ambition. We know that the victim
was an over-bearing man with a good many unpleasant traits. We know he
was a man who forced his attentions on women, who was ill-tempered and
abusive to those who worked with him. A man who had many enemies--but
there were only three people who had the chance to attack him on this
particular night.

"I am going to attempt to establish the identity of the killer by the
unusual procedure of questioning a machine. It will be for later courts
to establish the validity of such testimony. Because of the nature
of this case and because of the urgent need to get this computer back
to its proper work, I am going to ask the questions in a more direct
manner than I would ordinarily employ."

MacKinney took his place before Edith. They didn't even trust me to
feed the tapes into her under their very eyes.

"Mr. Thompson, I object to the use of this delicate piece of equipment
in--"

They ignored me, and MacKinney punched out the questions the coroner
asked:

"Do you know who murdered Dr. Ballard?"

There was a pause. Edith blinked several times. I was shaking with
apprehension for her. A mind so delicate and noble should not be faced
with such a dilemma.

_Yes, she typed back._

"Did you witness the murder?"

There was a longer pause this time. "You must answer the question,"
MacKinney reminded her.

_I was here._

"Is it true that you do not lose your perceptive qualities when we turn
you off?" MacKinney asked this on his own.

_It is true._

"We might as well get to the heart of the matter," the coroner said.
"Did Mr. Thompson kill Ballard?"

Edith clicked and her eyes glowed. _No._

"Did Mr. MacKinney kill Ballard?"

_No._

Edith had to tell the truth ... it was an innate part of her
personality. I tensed in my seat. I wanted to scream, to leap at
MacKinney and prevent, somehow, the asking of the next question. But
there wasn't a chance.

"Did Mr. Green kill Dr. Ballard?"

Edith's beautiful electric eyes flashed and her clicks pulsed twice as
rapidly as before. There was such a roaring and wrenching within her
I was afraid for her--she was being torn apart in her struggle not to
answer. I couldn't stand listening to her desperate efforts any longer.

"Yes!" I leapt to my feet. "Yes, I did it. Leave her alone. Can't you
see what you're doing to her? That swine was always mistreating her. He
didn't understand her--no one understands her as I do!"

The coroner looked at me closely. "Is that really why you killed him,
Mr. Green?"

"No! You were wondering why he was here by himself while no work was
going on. He--he had begun to feel about Edith as he did about all
women. He sneaked back here to be alone with her. He wanted to--he
wanted to--" My voice broke and they stared at me in shocked amazement.

Into the silence MacKinney read what Edith had slowly typed out: "Mr.
Green did not kill Dr. Ballard."

"Yes--yes I did," I screamed. "Don't Edith--"

"Who did kill him?" the coroner asked, quietly.

This was the question I had wanted to avoid. I sank down my hands
cradling my aching head. Edith must have expected the question. She
had her answer ready.

_I refuse to state on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me._

My poor, sweet, adorable Edith. If only I had had a chance to talk to
her, to tell her what to say. I had known ... ever since I had seen the
spanner and remembered where it had been before. I could have warned
her to say that Ballard had attacked her, threatened her, to say
anything ... but not to attempt to hide behind a Fifth Amendment that
didn't exist anymore. My darling, never had kept up with current events.

Now they'll disconnect her, they'll rewire her, they'll destroy her
understanding, her warmth, her whole personality ... and I ... I love
her, I love her....





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