Catch That Rabbit
THE VACATION WAS LONGER THAN TWO WEEKS. That, Mike Donovan had to admit. It had been six months, with pay. He admitted that, too. But that, as he explained furiously, was fortuitous. U. S. Robots had to get the bugs out of the multiple robots, and there were plenty of bugs, and there are always at least half a dozen bugs left for the fieldtesting. So they waited and relaxed until the drawing-board men and the slide-rule boys had said "OK!"
And now he and Powell were out on the asteroid and it was not OK. He repeated that a dozen times, with a face that had gone beety, "For the love of Pete, Greg, get realistic. What's the use of adhering to the letter of the specifications and watching the test go to pot? It's about time you got the red tape out of your pants and went to work."
"I'm only saying," said Gregory Powell, patiently, as one explaining electronics to an idiot child, "that according to spec, those robots are equipped for asteroid mining without supervision. We're not supposed to watch them."
"All right. Look - logic!" He lifted his hairy fingers and pointed. "One: That new robot passed every test in the home laboratories. Two: United States Robots guaranteed their passing the test of actual performance on an asteroid. Three: The robots are not passing said tests. Four: If they don't pass, United States Robots loses ten million credits in cash and about one hundred million in reputation. Five: If they don't pass and we can't explain why they don't pass, it is just possible two good jobs may have to be bidden a fond farewell."
Powell groaned heavy behind a noticeably insincere smile. The unwritten motto of United States Robot and Mechanical Men Corp. was well-known: "No employee makes the same mistake twice. He is fired the first time."
Aloud he said, "You're as lucid as Euclid with everything except the facts. You’ve watched that robot group for three shifts, you redhead, and they did their work perfectly. You said so yourself. What else can we do?"
"Find out what's wrong, that's what we can do. So they did work perfectly when I watched them. But on three different occasions when I didn't watch them, they didn't bring in any ore. They didn't even come back on schedule. I had to go after them."
"And was anything wrong?"
"Not a thing. Not a thing. Everything was perfect. Smooth and perfect as the luminiferous ether. Only one little insignificant detail disturbed me - there was no ore."
Powell scowled at the ceiling and pulled at his brown mustache. "I'll tell you what, Mike. We've been stuck with pretty lousy jobs in our time, but this takes the iridium asteroid. The whole business is complicated past endurance. Look, that robot, DV-5, has six robots under it. And not just under it - they're part of it."
"I know that-"
"Shut up!" said Powell, savagely, "I know you know it, but I'm just describing the hell of it. Those six subsidiaries are part of DV-5 like your fingers are part of you and it gives them their orders neither by voice nor radio, but directly through positronic fields. Now - there isn't a roboticist back at United States Robots that knows what a positronic field is or how it works. And neither do I. Neither do you."
"The last," agreed Donovan, philosophically, "I know."
"Then look at our position. If everything works - fine! If anything goes wrong - we're out of our depth and there probably isn't a thing we can do, or anybody else. But the job belongs to us and not to anyone else so we're on the spot, Mike." He blazed away for a moment in silence. Then, "All right, have you got him outside?"
"Is everything normal now?"
"Well he hasn't got religious mania, and he isn't running around in a circle spouting Gilbert and Sullivan, so I suppose he's normal."
Donovan passed out the door, shaking his head viciously.
Powell reached for the "Handbook of Robotics" that weighed down one side of his desk to a near-founder and opened it reverently. He had once jumped out of the window of a burning house dressed only in shorts and the "Handbook."
In a pinch, he would have skipped the shorts.
The "Handbook" was propped up before him, when Robot DV-5 entered, with Donovan kicking the door shut behind him.
Powell said somberly, "Hi, Dave. How do you feel?"
"Fine," said the robot. "Mind if I sit down?" He dragged up the specially reinforced chair that was his, and folded gently into it.
Powell regarded Dave - laymen might think of robots by their serial numbers; roboticists never - with approval. It was not over-massive by any means, in spite of its construction as thinking-unit of an integrated seven-unit robot team. It was seven feet tall, and a half-ton of metal and electricity. A lot? Not when that half-ton has to be a mass of condensers, circuits, relays, and vacuum cells that can handle practically any psychological reaction known to humans. And a positronic brain, which with ten pounds of matter and a few quintillions of positrons runs the whole show.
Powell groped in his shirt pocket for a loose cigarette. "Dave," he said, "you're a good fellow. There's nothing flighty or prima donnish about you. You're a stable, rock bottom mining robot, except that you're equipped to handle six subsidiaries in direct coordination. As far as I know, that has not introduced any unstable paths in your brain-path map."
The robot nodded, "That makes me feel swell, but what are you getting at, boss?" He was equipped with an excellent diaphragm, and the presence of overtones in the sound unit robbed him of much of that metallic flatness that marks the usual robot voice.
"I'm going to tell you. With all that in your favor, what's going wrong with your job? For instance, today's B-shift?"
Dave hesitated, "As far as I know, nothing."
"You didn't produce any ore."
Dave was having trouble, "I can't explain that, boss. It's been giving me a case of nerves, or it would if I let it - my subsidiaries worked smoothly. I know I did."
He considered, his photoelectric eyes glowing intensely. Then, "I don't remember. The day ended and there was Mike and there were the ore cars, mostly empty."
Donovan broke in, "You didn't report at shift-end those days, Dave. You know that?"
"I know. But as to why-" He shook his head slowly and ponderously.
Powell had the queasy feeling that if the robot's face were capable of expression, it would be one of pain and mortification. A robot, by its very nature, cannot bear to fail its function.
Donovan dragged his chair up to Powell's desk and leaned over, "Amnesia,
do you think?"
"Can't say. But there's no use in trying to pin disease names on this. Human disorders apply to robots only as romantic analogies. They're no help to robotic engineering." He scratched his neck, "I hate to put him through the elementary brain-reaction tests. It won't help his self-respect any."
He looked at Dave thoughtfully and then at the Field-Test outline given in the "Handbook." He said, "See here, Dave, what about sitting through a test? It would be the wise thing to do."
The robot rose, "If you say so, boss." There was pain in his voice.
It started simply enough. Robot DV-5 multiplied five-place figures to the heartless ticking of a stop watch. He recited the prime numbers between a thousand and ten thousand. He extracted cube roots and integrated functions of varying complexity. He went through mechanical reactions in order of increasing difficulty. And, finally, worked his precise mechanical mind over the highest function of the robot world - the solutions of problems in judgment and ethics.
At the end of two hours, Powell was copiously being sweated. Donovan had enjoyed a none-too-nutritious diet of fingernail and the robot said, "How does it look, boss?"
Powell said, "I've got to think it over, Dave. Snap judgments won't help much. Suppose you go back to the C-shift. Take it easy. Don't press too hard for quota just for a while - and we'll fix things up."
The robot left. Donovan looked at Powell. "Well-"
Powell seemed determined to push up his mustache by the roots. He said, "There is nothing wrong with the currents of his positronic brain."
"I'd hate to be that certain."
"Oh, Jupiter, Mike! The brain is the surest part of a robot. It's quintuple-checked back on Earth. If they pass the field test perfectly, the way Dave did, there just isn't a chance of brain malfunctions. That test covered every key path in the brain."
"So where are we?"
"Don't rush me. Let me work this out. There's still the possibility of a mechanical breakdown in the body. That leaves about fifteen hundred condensers, twenty thousand individual electric circuits, five hundred vacuum cells, a thousand relays, and upty-ump thousand other individual pieces of complexity that can be wrong. And these mysterious positron is fields no one knows anything about."
"Listen, Greg," Donovan grew desperately urgent. "I've got an idea. That robot may be lying. He never-"
"Robots can't knowingly lie, you fool. Now if we had the McCormack-Wesley tester, we could check each individual item in his body within twenty-four to forty-eight hours, but the only two M.-W. Testers existing are on Earth, and they weigh ten tons, are on concrete foundations and can't be moved. Isn't that peachy?"
Donovan pounded the desk, "But, Greg, he only goes wrong when we're not around. There's something -sinister -about - that." He punctuated the sentence with slams of fist against desk.
"You," said Powell, slowly, "make me sick. You've been reading adventure novels."
"What I want to know," shouted Donovan, "is what we're going to do about it."
"I'll tell you. I'm going to install a visiplate right over my desk. Right on the wall over there, see!" He jabbed a vicious finger at the spot. "Then I'm going to focus it at whatever part of the mine is being worked, and I'm going to watch. That's all."
"That's all? Greg-"
Powell rose from his chair and leaned his balled fists on the desk, "Mike, I'm having a hard time." His voice was weary. "For a week, you've been plaguing me about Dave. You say he's gone wrong. Do you know how he's gone wrong? Not. Do you know what shape this wrongness takes? No! Do you know what brings it on? No! Do you know what snaps him out? Not. Do you know anything about it? No! Do I know anything about it? No! So what do you want me to do?"
Donovan's arm swept outward in a vague, grandiose gesture, "You got me!"
"So I tell you again. Before we do anything toward a cure, we've got to find out what the disease is in the first place. The first step in cooking rabbit stew is catching the rabbit. Well, we've got to catch that rabbit! Now get out of here."
Donovan stared at the preliminary outline of his field report with weary eyes. For one thing, he was tired and for another, what was there to report while things were unsettled? He felt resentful.
He said, "Greg, we're almost a thousand tons behind schedule."
"You," replied Powell, never looking up, "are telling me something I don't know."
"What I want to know," said Donovan, in sudden savagery, "is why we're always tangled up with new-type robots. I've finally decided that the robots that were good enough for my great-uncle on my mother's side are good enough for me. I'm for what's tried and true. The test of time is what counts - good, solid, old-fashioned robots that never go wrong."
Powell threw a book with perfect aim, and Donovan went tumbling off his seat.
"Your job," said Powell, evenly, "for the last five years has been to test new robots under actual working conditions for United States Robots. Because you and I have been so injudicious as to display proficiency at the task, we've been rewarded with the dirtiest jobs. That," he jabbed holes in the air with his finger in Donovan's direction, "is your work. You've been griping about it, from personal memory, since about five minutes after United States Robots signed you up. Why don't you resign?"
"Well, I'll tell you." Donovan rolled onto his stomach, and took a firm grip on his wild, red hair to hold his head up. "There's a certain principle involved. After all, as a trouble shooter, I've played a part in the development of new robots. There's the principle of aiding scientific advance. But don't get me wrong. It's not the principle that keeps me going; it's the money they pay us. Greg! "
Powell jumped at Donovan's wild shout, and his eyes followed the redhead's to the visiplate, when they goggled in fixed horror. He whispered, "Holy- howling- Jupiter!"
Donovan scrambled breathlessly to his feet, "Look at them, Greg. They've gone nuts."
Powell said, "Get a pair of suits. We're going out there."
He watched the posturing of the robots on the visiplate. They were bronzy gleams of smooth motion against the shadowy crags of the airless asteroid. There was a marching formation now, and in their own dim body light, the roughhewn walls of the mine tunnel swam past noiselessly, checkered with misty erratic blobs of shadow. They marched in unison, seven of them, with Dave at the head. They wheeled and turned in macabre simultaneity; and melted through changes of formation with the weird ease of chorus dancers in Lunar Bowl.
Donovan was back with the suits, "They've gone jingo on us, Greg. That's a military march."
"For all you know," was the cold response, "it may be a series of calisthenic exercises. Or Dave may be under the hallucination of being a dancing master. Just you think first, and don't bother to speak afterward, either."
Donovan scowled and slipped a detonator into the empty side holster with an ostentatious shove. He said, "Anyway, there you are. So we work with new-model robots. It's our job, granted. But answer me one question. Why... why does something invariably go wrong with them?"
"Because," said Powell, somberly, "we are accursed. Let's go! "
Far ahead through the thick velvety blackness of the corridors that reached past the illuminated circles of their flashlights, robot light twinkled.
"There they are," breathed Donovan.
Powell whispered tensely, "I've been trying to get him by radio but he doesn't answer. The radio circuit is probably out."
"Then I'm glad the designers haven't worked out robots who can work in total darkness yet. I'd hate to have to find seven mad robots in a black pit without radio communication, if they weren't lit up like blasted radioactive Christmas trees."
"Crawl up on the ledge above, Mike. They're coming this way, and I want to watch them at close range. Can you make it?"
Donovan made the jump with a grunt. Gravity was considerably below Earth-normal, but with a heavy suit, the advantage was not too great, and the ledge meant a near ten-foot jump. Powell followed.
The column of robots was trailing Dave single-file. In mechanical rhythm, they converted to double and returned to single in different order. It was repeated over and over again and Dave never turned his head. Dave was within twenty feet when the play-acting ceased. The subsidiary robots broke formation, waited a moment, then clattered off into the distance - very rapidly. Dave looked after them, then slowly sat down. He rested his head in one hand in a very human gesture.
His voice sounded in Powell's earphones, "Are you here, boss?"
Powell beckoned to Donovan and hopped off the ledge. "O. K., Dave, what's been going on?"
The robot shook his head, "I don't know. One moment I was handling a tough outcropping in Tunnel 17, and the next I was aware of humans close by, and I found myself half a mile down main-stem."
"Where are the subsidiaries now?" asked Donovan.
"Back at work, of course. How much time has been lost?"
"Not much. Forget it." Then to Donovan, Powell added, "Stay with him the rest of the shift. Then, come back. I've got a couple of ideas. "
It was three hours before Donovan returned. He looked tired. Powell said,
"How did it go?"
Donovan shrugged wearily, "Nothing ever goes wrong when you watch them. Throw me a butt, will you?"
The redhead lit it with exaggerated care and blew a careful smoke ring. He said, "I've been working it out, Greg. You know, Dave has a queer background for a robot. There are six others under him in an extreme regimentation. He's got life and death power over those subsidiary robots and it must react on his mentality. Suppose he finds it necessary to emphasize this power as a concession to his ego."
"Get to the point."
"It's right here. Suppose we have militarism. Suppose he's fashioning himself an army. Suppose- he's training them in military maneuvers. Suppose-"
"Suppose you go soak your head. Your nightmares must be in Technicolor. You're postulating a major aberration of the positronic brain. If your analysis were correct, Dave would have to break down the First Law of Robotics: that a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to be injured. The type of militaristic attitude and domineering ego you propose must have as the end-point of its logical implications, domination of humans."
"All right. How do you know that isn't the fact of the matter?"
"Because any robot with a brain like that would, one, never have left the factory, and two, be spotted immediately if it ever was. I tested Dave, you know."
Powell shoved his chair back and put his feet on the desk. "No. We're still in the position where we can't make our stew because we haven't the slightest notion as to what's wrong. For instance, if we could find out what that dance macabre we witnessed was all about, we would be on the way out."
He paused, "Now listen, Mike, how does this sound to you? Dave goes wrong only when neither of us is present. And when he is wrong, the arrival of either of us snaps him out of it."
"I once told you that was sinister."
"Don't interrupt. How is a robot different when humans are not present? The answer is obvious. There is a larger requirement of personal initiative. In that case, look for the body parts that are affected by the new requirements."
"Golly." Donovan sat up straight, and then subsided. "No, no. Not enough. It's too broad. It doesn't cut tie possibilities much."
"Can't help that. In any case, there's no danger of not making quota. We'll take shifts watching those robots through the visor. Any time anything goes wrong, we get to the scene of action immediately. That will put them right."
"But the robots will fail spec anyway, Greg. United States Robots can't market DV models with a report like that."
"Obviously. We've got to locate the error in make-up and correct it -and we've got ten days to do it in." Powell scratched his head. "The trouble is... well, you had better look at the blueprints yourself."
The blueprints covered the floor like a carpet and Donovan crawled over the face of them following Powell's erratic pencil.
Powell said, "Here's where you come in, Mike. You're the body specialist, and I want you to check me. I've been trying to cut out all circuits not involved in the personal initiative hookup. Right here, for instance, is the trunk artery involving mechanical operations. I cut out all routine side routes as emergency divisions-" He looked up, "What do you think?"
Donovan had a very bad taste in his mouth, "The job's not that simple, Greg. Personal initiative isn't an electric circuit you can separate from the rest and study. When a robot is on his own, the intensity of the body activity increases immediately on almost all fronts. There isn't a circuit entirely unafected. What must be done is to locate the particular condition - a very specific condition - that throws him off, and then start eliminating circuits."
Powell got up and dusted himself, "Humph. All right. Take away the blueprints and burn them."
Donovan said, "You see when activity intensifies, anything can happen, given one single faulty part. Insulation breaks down, a condenser spills over, a connection sparks, a coil overheats. And if you work blind, with the whole robot to choose from, you'll never find the bad spot. If you take Dave apart and test every point of his body mechanism one by one, putting him together each time, and trying him out"
"All right. All right. I can see through a porthole, too."
They faced each other hopelessly, and then Powell said cautiously, "Suppose we interview one of the subsidiaries."
Neither Powell nor Donovan had ever had previous occasion to talk to a "finger." It could talk; it wasn't quite the perfect analogy to a human finger. In fact, it had a fairly developed brain, but that brain was tuned primarily to the reception of orders via positronic field, and its reaction to independent stimuli was rather fumbling. Nor was Powell certain as to its name. Its serial number was DV-5-2, but that was not very useful.
He compromised. "Look, pal," he said, "I'm going to ask you to do some hard thinking and then you can go back to your boss."
The "finger" nodded its head stiffly, but did not exert its limited brainpower on speech.
"Now on four occasions recently," Powell said, "your boss deviated from brain-scheme. Do you remember those occasions?"
Donovan growled angrily, "He remembers. I tell you there is something very sinister-"
"Oh, go bash your skull. Of course, the 'finger' remembers. There is nothing wrong with him." Powell turned back to the robot, "What were you doing each time... I mean the whole group"
The "finger" had a curious air of reciting by rote, as if he answered questions by the mechanical pressure of his brainpan, but without any enthusiasm whatever.
He said, "The first time we were at work on a difficult outcropping in Tunnel 17, Level B. The second time we were buttressing the roof against a possible cave-in. The third time we were preparing accurate blasts in order to tunnel farther without breaking into a subterranean fissure. The fourth time was just after a minor cave-in"
"What happened at these times?"
"It is difficult to describe. An order would be issued, but before we could receive and interpret it, a new order came to march in queer formation."
Powell snapped out, "Why?"
"I don't know."
Donovan broke in tensely, "What was the first order... the one that was superseded by the marching directions?"
"I don't know. I sensed that an order was sent, but there was never time to receive it."
"Could you tell us anything about it? Was it the same order each time?"
The "finger" shook his head unhappily, "I don't know."
Powell leaned back, "All right, get back to your boss."
The "finger" left, with visible relief.
Donovan said, "Well, we accomplished a lot that time. That was real sharp dialogue all the way through. Listen, Dave and that imbecile 'finger' are both holding out on us. There is too much they don't know and don't remember. We've got to stop trusting them, Greg."
Powell brushed his mustache the wrong way, "So help me, Mike, another fool remark out of you, and I'll take away your rattle and teething ring."
"All right. You're the genius of the team. I'm just a poor sucker. Where do we stand?"
"Right behind the eight ball. I tried to work it backward through the 'finger,' and couldn't. So we've got to work it forward."
"A great man," marveled Donovan. "How simple that makes it. Now translate that into English, Master."
"Translating it into baby talk would suit you better. I mean that we've got to find out what order it is that Dave gives just before everything goes black. It would be the key to the business."
"And how do you expect to do that? We can't get close to him because nothing will go wrong as long as we are there. We can't catch the orders by radio because they are transmitted via this positronic field. That eliminates the close range and the long-range method, leaving us a neat, cozy zero."
"By direct observation, yes. There's still deduction."
"We're going on shifts, Mike." Powell smiled grimly. "And we are not taking our eyes off the visiplate. We're going to watch every action of those steel headaches. When they go off into their act, we're going to see what happened immediately before and we're going to deduce the order."
Donovan opened his mouth and left it that way for a full minute. Then he said in strangled tones, "I resign. I quit."
"You have ten days to think up something better," said Powell wearily. Which, for eight days, Donovan tried mightily to do. For eight days, on alternate four-hour shifts, he watched with aching and bleary eyes those glinty metallic forms move against the vague background. And for eight days in the four-hour in-betweens, he cursed United States Robots, the DV models, and the day he was born. And then on the eighth day, when Powell entered with an aching head and sleepy eyes for his shift, Donovan stood up and with very careful and deliberate aim launched a heavy book end for the exact center of the visiplate. There was a very appropriate splintering noise.
Powell gasped, "What did you do that for?"
"Because," said Donovan, almost calmly, "I'm not watching it any more. We've got two days left and we haven't found out a thing. DV-5 is a lousy loss. He's stopped five times since I've been watching and three times on your shift, and I can't make out what orders he gave, and you couldn't make it out. And I don't believe you could ever make it out because I know I couldn't ever."
"Jumping Space, how can you watch six robots at the same time? One makes with the hands, and one with the feet and one like a windmill and another is jumping up and down like a maniac. And the other two... devil knows what they are doing. And then they all stop. So! So!"
"Greg, we're not doing it right. We got to get up close. We've got to watch what they're doing from where we can see the details."
Powell broke a bitter silence. "Yeah, and wait for something to go wrong with only two days to go."
"Is it any better watching from here?"
"It's more comfortable."
"Ah- But there's something you can do there that you can't do here."
"You can make them stop - at whatever time you choose and while you're prepared and watching to see what goes wrong."
Powell startled into alertness, "Howzzat?"
"Well, figure it out, yourself. You're the brains you say. Ask yourself some questions. When does DV-5 go out of whack? When did that 'finger' say he did? When a cave-in threatened, or actually occurred, when delicately measured explosives were being laid down, when a difficult seam was hit."
"In other words, during emergencies," Powell was excited.
"Right! When did you expect it to happen! It's the personal initiative factor that's giving us the trouble. And it's just during emergencies in the absence of a human being that personal initiative is most strained. Now what is the logical deduction? How can we create our own stoppage when and where we want it?" He paused triumphantly - he was beginning to enjoy his role - and answered his own question to forestall the obvious answer on Powell's tongue. "By creating our own emergency."
Powell said, "Mike- you're right."
"Thanks pal. I knew I'd do it some day."
"All right, and skip the sarcasm. We'll save it for Earth, and preserve it in jars for future long, cold winters. Meanwhile, what emergency can we create?"
"We could flood the mines, if this weren't an airless asteroid."
"A witticism, no doubt," said Powell. "Really, Mike, you'll incapacitate me with laughter. What about a mild cave-in?"
Donovan pursed his lips and said, "O. K. by me."
"Good. Let's get started."
Powell felt uncommonly like a conspirator as he wound his way over the craggy landscape. His sub-gravity walk teetered across the broken ground, kicking rocks to right and left under his weight in noiseless puffs of gray dust. Mentally, though, it was the cautious crawl of the plotter.
He said, "Do you know where they are?"
"I think so, Greg."
"All right," Powell said gloomily, "but if any 'finger' gets within twenty feet of us, we'll be sensed whether we are in the line of sight or not. I hope you know that."
"When I need an elementary course in robotics, I'll file an application with you formally, and in triplicate. Down through here."
They were in the tunnels now; even the starlight was gone. The two hugged the walls, flashes flickering out the way in intermittent bursts.
Powell felt for the security of his detonator. "Do you know this tunnel, Mike?"
"Not so good. It's a new one. I think I can make it out from what I saw in the visiplate, though-"
Interminable minutes passed, and then Mike said, "Feel that!"
There was a slight vibration thrumming the wall against the fingers of Powell's metal-incased hand. There was no sound, naturally.
"Blasting! We're pretty close."
"Keep your eyes open," said Powell.
Donovan nodded impatiently.
It was upon them and gone before they could seize themselves - just a bronze glint across the field of vision. They clung together in silence.
Powell whispered, "Think it sensed us?"
"Hope not. But we'd better flank them. Take the first side tunnel to the right."
"Suppose we miss them altogether?"
"Well what do you want to do? Go back?" Donovan grunted fiercely. "They're within a quarter of a mile. I was watching them through the visiplate, wasn't I? And we've got two days-"
"Oh, shut up. You're wasting your oxygen. Is this a side passage here?" The flash flicked. "It is. Let's go."
The vibration was considerably more marked and the ground below shuddered uneasily.
"This is good," said Donovan, "if it doesn't give out on us, though." He flung his light ahead anxiously.
They could touch the roof of the tunnel with a halfupstretched hand, and the bracings had been newly placed.
Donovan hesitated, "Dead end, let's go back."
"No. Hold on." Powell squeezed clumsily past. "Is that light ahead?"
"Light? I don't see any. Where would there be light down here?"
"Robot light." He was scrambling up a gentle incline on hands and knees. His voice was hoarse and anxious in Donovan's ears. "Hey, Mike, come up here."
There was light. Donovan crawled up and over Powell's outstretched legs. "An opening?"
"Yes. They must be working into this tunnel from the other side now I think."
Donovan felt the ragged edges of the opening that looked out into what the cautious flashlight showed to be a larger and obviously main stem tunnel. The hole was too small for a man to go through, almost too small for two men to look through simultaneously.
There's nothing there," said Donovan.
"Well, not now. But there must have been a second ago or we wouldn't have seen light. Watch out!"
The walls rolled about them and they felt the impact. A fine dust showered down. Powell lifted a cautious head and looked again. "All right, Mike. They're there."
The glittering robots clustered fifty feet down the main stem. Metal arms labored mightily at the rubbish heap brought down by the last blast.
Donovan urged eagerly, "Don't waste time. It won't be long before they get through, and the next blast may get us."
"For Pete's sake, don't rush me." Powell unlimbered the detonator, and his eyes searched anxiously across the dusky background where the only light was robot light and it was impossible to tell a projecting boulder from a shadow.
"There's a spot in the roof, see it, almost over them. The last blast didn't quite get it. If you can get it at the base, half the roof will cave in."
Powell followed the dim finger, "Check! Now fasten your eye on the robots and pray they don't move too far from that part of the tunnel. They're my light sources. Are all seven there?"
Donovan counted, "All seven."
"Well, then, watch them. Watch every motion!"
His detonator was lifted and remained poised while Donovan watched and cursed and blinked the sweat out of his eye.
There was a jar, a series of hard vibrations, and then a jarring thump that threw Powell heavily against Donovan.
Donovan yowled, "Greg, you threw me off. I didn't see a thing."
Powell stared about wildly, "Where are they?"
Donovan fell into a stupid silence. There was no sign of the robots.
It was dark as the depths of the River Styx.
"Think we buried them?" quavered Donovan.
"Let's get down there. Don't ask me what I think." Powell crawled backward at tumbling speed.
Donovan paused in the act of following. "What's wrong now?"
"Hold on!" Powell's breathing was rough and irregular in Donovan's ears. "Mike! Do you hear me, Mike?"
"I'm right here. What is it?"
"We're blocked in. It wasn't the ceiling coming down fifty feet away that knocked us over. It was our own ceiling. The shock's tumbled it!"
"What!" Donovan scrambled up against a hard barrier. "Turn on the flash."
Powell did so. At no point was there room for a rabbit to squeeze through.
Donovan said softly, "Well, what do you know?"
They wasted a few moments and some muscular power in an effort to move the blocking barrier. Powell varied this by wrenching at the edges of the original hole. For a moment, Powell lifted his blaster. But in those close quarters, a flash would be suicide and he knew it.
He sat down. "You know, Mike," he said, "we've really messed this up. We are no nearer finding out what's wrong with Dave. It was a good idea but it blew up in our face."
Donovan's glance was bitter with an intensity totally wasted on the darkness, "I hate to disturb you, old man, but quite apart from what we know or don't know of Dave, we're slightly trapped. If we don't get loose, fella, we're going to die. D-I-E, die. How much oxygen have we anyway? Not more than six hours."
"I've thought of that." Powell's fingers went up to his long-suffering mustache and clanged uselessly against the transparent visor. "Of course, we could get Dave to dig us out easily in that time, except that our precious emergency must have thrown him off, and his radio circuit is out."
"And isn't that nice?"
Donovan edged up to the opening and managed to get his metal incased head out. It was an extremely tight fit.
"Suppose we get Dave within twenty feet. He'll snap to normal. That will save us."
"Sure, but where is he?"
"Down the corridor - way down. For Pete's sake, stop pulling before you drag my head out of its socket. I'll give you your chance to look."
Powell maneuvered his head outside, "We did it all right. Look at those saps. That must be a ballet they're doing."
"Never mind the side remarks. Are they getting any closer?"
"Can't tell yet. They're too far away. Give me a chance. Pass me my flash, will you? I'll try to attract their attention that way."
He gave up after two minutes, "Not a chance! They must be blind. Uhoh, they're starting toward us. What do you know?"
Donovan said, "Hey, let me see!"
There was a silent scuffle. Powell said, "All right!" and Donovan got his head out.
They were approaching. Dave was high-stepping the way in front and the six "fingers" were a weaving chorus line behind him.
Donovan marveled, "What are they doing? That's what I want to know. It looks like the Virginia reel - and Dave's a major-domo, or I never saw one."
"Oh, leave me alone with your descriptions," grumbled Powell. "How near are they?"
"Within fifty feet and coming this way. We'll be out in fifteen min Uh-huh-HUH-HEY-Y!"
"What's going on?" It took Powell several seconds to recover from his stunned astonishment at Donovan's vocal gyrations. "Come on; give me a chance at that hole. Don't be a hog about it."
He fought his way upward, but Donovan kicked wildly, "They did an about-face, Greg. They're leaving. Davel Hey, Da-a ave!"
Powell shrieked, "What's the use of that, you fool? Sound won't carry."
"Well, then," panted Donovan, "kick the walls, slam them, get some vibration started. We've got to attract their attention somehow, Greg, or we're through. He pounded like a madman.
Powell shook him, "Wait, Mike, wait. Listen, I've got an idea. Jumping Jupiter, this is a fine time to get around to the simple solutions. Mike!"
"What do you want?" Donovan pulled his head in.
"Let me in there fast before they get out of range."
"Out of range! What are you going to do? Hey, what are you going to do with that detonator?" He grabbed Powell's arm.
Powell shook off the grip violently. "I'm going to do a little shooting."
"That's for later. Let's see if it works first. If it doesn't, then-Get out of the way and let me shoot!"
The robots were flickers, small and getting smaller, in the distance. Powell lined up the sights tensely, and pulled the trigger three times. He lowered the guns and peered anxiously. One of the subsidiaries was down! There were only six gleaming figures now.
Powell called into his transmitter uncertainly. "Dave!"
A pause, then the answer sounded to both men, "Boss? Where are you?
My third subsidiary has had his chest blown in. He's out of commission."
"Never mind your subsidiary," said Powell. "We're trapped in a cave-in where you were blasting. Can you see our flashlight?"
"Sure. We'll be right there."
Powell sat back and relaxed, "That, my fran', is that"
Donovan said very softly with tears in his voice, "All right, Greg. You win. I beat my forehead against the ground before your feet. Now don't feed me any bull. Just tell me quietly what it's all about."
"Easy. It's just that all through we missed the obvious - as usual. We knew it was the personal initiative circuit, and that it always happened during emergencies, but we kept looking for a specific order as the cause. Why should it be an order?"
"Well, look. Why not a type of order. What type of order requires the most initiative? What type of order would occur almost always only in an emergency?"
"Don't ask me, dreg. Tell me!"
"I'm doing it! It's the six-way order. Under all ordinary conditions, one or more of the `fingers' would be doing routine tasks requiring no close supervision - in the sort of offhand way our bodies handle the routine walking motions. But in an emergency, all six subsidiaries must be mobilized immediately and simultaneously. Dave must handle six robots at a time and something gives. The rest was easy. Any decrease in initiative required, such as the arrival of humans, snaps him back. So I destroyed one of the robots. When I did, he was transmitting only five-way orders. Initiative decreases - he's normal"
"How did you get all that?" demanded Donovan."
"Just logical guessing. I tried it and it worked."
The robot's voice was in their ears again, "Here I am. Can you hold out half an hour?"
"Easy!" said Powell. Then, to Donovan, he continued, "And now the job should be simple. We'll go through the circuits, and check off each part that gets an extra workout in a six-way order as against a five-way. How big a field does that leave us?"
Donovan considered, "Not much, I think. If Dave is like the preliminary model we saw back at the factory, there's a special coordinating circuit that would be the only section involved." He cheered up suddenly and amazingly, "Say, that wouldn't be bad at all. There's nothing to that."
"All right. You think it over and we'll check the blueprints when we get back. And now, till Daves reaches us, I'm relaxing."
"Hey, wait! Just tell me one thing. What were those queer shifting marches, those funny dance steps, that the robots went through every time they went screwy?"
"That? I don't know. But I've got a notion. Remember, those subsidiaries were Dave's 'fingers.' We were always saying that, you know. Well, it's my idea that in all these interludes, whenever Dave became a psychiatric case, he went off into a moronic maze, spending his time _twiddling his fingers_."
Susan Calvin talked about Powell and Donovan with unsmiling amusement, but warmth came into her voice when she mentioned robots. It didn't take her long to go through the Speedies, the Cuties and the Daves, and I stopped her. Otherwise, she would have dredged up half a dozen more.
I said, "Doesn't anything ever happen on Earth?"
She looked at me with a little frown, "No, we don't have much to do with robots in action here on Earth."
"Oh, well that's too bad. I mean, your field-engineers are swell, but can't we get you into this? Didn't you ever have a robot go wrong on you? It's your anniversary, you know."
And so help me she blushed. She said, "Robots have gone wrong on me. Heavens, how long it's been since I thought of it. Why, it was almost forty years ago. Certainly 2021! And I was only thirty-eight. Oh, my- I'd rather not talk about it."
I waited, and sure enough she changed her mind. "Why not?" she said.
"It cannot harm me now. Even the memory can't. I was foolish once, young man. Would you believe that?"
"No," I said.
"I was. But Herbie was a mind-reading robot."
"Only one of its kind, before or since. A mistake, -, somewhere-"