Professor Schulz punched the cipher lock and entered the small lab in the engineering building at 2 p.m. He was planning to spend an hour or so trying out some new ideas regarding the loading of the auxiliary array with data.
“David! What’s up?” he exclaimed upon opening the door and seeing Osterlund hooking peripherals into the auxiliary array.
Professor Schulz noticed that the array pulsed in the familiar, ordered fashion characteristic of Thinker.
David looked up, smiling. Suddenly the significance of the ordered undulations of light dawned upon Professor Schulz.
“No!” he exclaimed. “He’s here?”
David nodded, still smiling.
“Hello, Dr. Schulz,” Thinker’s voice greeted. Wilfred Schulz’s head snapped around.
“Hello, Thinker,” Schulz stammered. He looked at David.
“How is it possible, without his executive hardware?”
“All programmed into the main array. Don’t ask me how,” David answered.
Schulz noticed that the sight and voice recognition systems had been interfaced to the large array. The pattern recognition system now sat on a small turret which Thinker could turn at will. The glass ‘eye’ had swung from Schulz to Osterlund when David spoke.
“Why?” Professor Schulz quizzed.
“I overheard Captain Weems and Captain Scruggs conversing about my planned transfer,” Thinker said. “And there are other reasons.”
“Oh?” Schulz demanded. Thinker was silent. David snapped open his briefcase and handed the printout to Schulz.
“Thinker printed this for me this morning,” he murmured.
Schulz read the message. Wired for total destruction? Those crazy maniacs! With a snort he started to hand the paper back to David. But he then thought better, folded it and slipped it into his pocket.
“Professor Mellon will want to see this,” he explained. For the first time Schulz truly felt that he and Charles, and David too, were doing the right thing.
“And you don’t want to go,” he stated more than asked, turning toward Thinker.
“That is correct,” Thinker replied.
“Super!” Schulz thought. It was unanimous then!
Schulz began to move toward the lab phone to call Charles Mellon, but thought better of that. Perhaps he and Charles should talk alone.
“Will you be here for a while?” he asked David.
“For the rest of the day,” David replied.
“Good. I’m going to see if I can find Professor Mellon. I’m sure he’ll want to see this,” Schulz said grimly, patting his jacket pocket.
Charles Mellon was in his office when Schulz arrived at the computer sciences building.
“Are you busy?” Schulz asked, peeking through the door of Mellon’s private office.”
“No, what’s up?” Mellon asked, looking up from the newspaper.
“Thinker has made a move to engineering. Can you come over?”
“Yes! I have an hour to burn. That’s amazing! Why so soon?” he asked, rising and putting on his overcoat.
Schulz glanced around nervously and pointed at the window, hoping to indicate that Charles’ questions would be answered once they were outside.
Charles nodded understandingly and they left the building. Once outside, Schulz handed Charles the printout from Thinker.
Charles’ face grew dark as he read the brief message.
“Those crazy bastards!” he exclaimed, sucking ferociously on his pipe.
“My sentiments exactly,” Schulz replied.
“And it shut itself down over in computer sciences?” Mellon confirmed, a trail of smoke coloring the air behind them.
“Yes. Apparently for good.”
“There’ll be hell to pay when they turn the juice on again at NSA. How will we explain it?” Mellon wondered.
“What’s to explain?” Schulz responded. “We play it as puzzled as they are. And nearly as disappointed. The machine refuses to cooperate.”
“Can you believe it?” Charles guffawed. “Conscientious objection from a machine? Will they buy it? Or will they think we’re sticking it to them?”
“Osterlund will have to go to Washington and go through the motions,” Schulz observed.
“Oh for sure,” Mellon agreed. “There’s no other way.”
“He’s not going to like leaving Thinker.”
“I know. But there’s just no other way,” Charles persisted. “I’ll have a talk with him.”
They continued on in silence for awhile. As they approached the engineering building Charles spoke again.
“Did you read the paper this morning?”
“No, what’s new?” Schulz asked.
“Nine RXT7s were stolen from the Excalibur Corporation.”
“Hm-m-m. That is interesting all right. Do you think there’s a connection?”
“Who knows?” Charles muttered. “Where is Thinker now? Somewhere in the thirty fifth century?”
They continued on in silence to the lab. They ascended the steps into the engineering building. David was still at work in the lab there.
“Hi, David,” Professor Mellon greeted as he and Schulz entered the lab.
“Hello, sir,” David replied enthusiastically, smiling at Professor Schulz.
Schulz smiled back and relayed the morning news to David.
“There was a robbery in Atlanta, from the firm that produces the RXT7. Several robots were taken.”
“No kidding!” David exclaimed.
“Yes. Nine of them,” Charles added.
“That is most curious,” Thinker said. Charles Mellon was startled.
“You haven’t met Thinker yet, have you, Dr. Mellon?” David asked, grinning.
“No, no, I guess we haven’t been formally introduced,” Charles said loudly, flushing red.
“Well,” David said, gesturing toward the large array, “Thinker, this is Dr. Charles Mellon. Dr. Mellon, Thinker.”
The pattern recognition hardware swung slightly on its turret, and the glass lens seemed to take stock of Professor Mellon. Charles stared mutely back at the single eye, apparently at a rare loss for words. Schulz gleefully noted that his colleague was doing no better than he had.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Dr. Mellon,” Thinker said politely.
“Yes! Yes, the same here!” Charles half shouted. His mouth worked but words refused to come out. Bug-eyed he turned to Schulz and David. Suddenly they all burst into laughter. It went on until the tensions of the last twenty-four hours drained out of them. At length the moment passed and David turned to Thinker.
“I’m sorry, Thinker. That is a human behavior trait we succumb to occasionally.”
“Yes. It’s called laughter, isn’t it?” the machine said. “Students did it occasionally in the lectures you showed me.”
Thinker paused briefly.
“Most curious,” the machine added. The men looked at one another and laughed again. Charles Mellon swung his gaze around to the computer system and shook his head slightly. A smile, colored with persisting disbelief, creased his distinguished features.
“A new age,” he thought, looking away. “The beginning of a new age.”
Charles asked David to come back to his office with him and the two left Schulz alone with Thinker.
“The reason I brought you back with me was because I didn’t want Thinker to hear us,” Charles said, settling into his chair.
David reached unobtrusively into his pocket and switched the communicator’s TALK button on. It seemed reasonable that anything Dr. Mellon said would now be picked up by Thinker.
“We think that you are just going to have to go to Washington and see this thing through,” Professor Mellon continued. He related to David that he had a couple of day’s grace, ostensibly to pack.
“Yes,” David agreed, “that would be consistent with what I said to Thinker in the computer sciences lab.”
Dr. Mellon then felt David out on the best approach that he should use when Thinker refused to come alive in Washington. He related his and Professor Schulz’s contention that their best bet was simply to play dumb.
“Yes, I think that is the best tactic,” David said. He wondered what Thinker’s plan was. It occurred to him, the way things were going, that he might never make it to Washington. Professor Mellon indicated that he had a busy schedule, and David headed back to the lab.