By Alfred Coppel
Illustrated by Philip Parsons
The man is rare who will give his life for what is merely the lesser of two evils. Merrick's decision was even tougher: to save human beings at the expense of humanity, or vice versa?
This, then, was the Creche, Anno Domini 2500. A great, mile-square blind cube topping a ragged mountain; bare escarpments falling away to a turbulent sea. For five centuries the Creche had stood so, and the Androids had come forth in an unending stream to labor for Man, the Master....
—Quintus Bland, The Romance of Genus Homo.
irector Han Merrick paced the floor nervously. His thin, almost ascetic face was pale and drawn.
"We can't allow it, Virginia," he said, "Prying of this sort can only precipitate a pogrom or worse. Erikson is a bigot of the worst kind. The danger—" He broke off helplessly.
His wife shook her head slowly. "It cannot be prevented, Han. Someone was bound to start asking questions sooner or later. History should have taught us that. And five hundred years of secrecy was more than anyone had a right to expect. Nothing lasts forever."
The trouble is, Merrick told himself, simply that I am the wrong man for this job. I should never have taken it. There's a wrongness in what we are doing here that colors my every reaction and makes me incapable of acting on my own. Always the doubts and secret questioning. If the social structure of our world weren't moribund, I wouldn't be here at all....
"History, Virginia," he said, "can't explain what there is no precedent for. The Creche is unique in human experience."
"The Creche may be, Han, but Sweyn Erikson is not. Consider his background and tell me if there hasn't been an Erikson in every era of recorded history. He is merely another obstacle in the path of progress that must be overcome. The job is yours, Han."
"A pleasant prospect," Merrick replied bleakly. "I am an organizer, not a psychotechnician. How am I supposed to protect the Creche from the likes of Erikson? What insanity bore this fruit, Virginia? The Prophet, the number one Fanatic, coming here as an investigator in the name of the Council of Ten! I realize the Council turns pale at the thought of the vote the Fanatics control, but surely something could have been done! Have those idiots forgotten what we do here? Is that possible?"
Virginia Merrick shook her head. "The stone got too hot for them to handle, so they've thrown it to you."
"But Erikson, himself! The very man who organized the Human Supremacy Party and the Antirobot League! If he sets foot within the Creche it will mean an end to everything!"
The woman lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. "We can't keep him out and you know it. There's an army of Fanatics gathering out there in the hills this very minute. Armed with cortical-stimulant projectors, Han. That isn't a pleasant way to die—"
Merrick studied his wife carefully. There was fear under her iron control. She was thinking of the shattering pain of death under the projectors. Nothing else, really. The Creche didn't matter to her. The Creche didn't really matter to any of the staff. Three hundred years ago it would have been different. The custodians of the Creche would have gladly died to preserve their trust in those times....
What irony, Merrick thought, that it should come like this. He knew what the projectors did to men. He also knew what they did to robots.
"If they dare to use their weapons on us it will wipe out every vestige of control work done here since the beginning," he said softly.
"They have no way of knowing that."