This etext was produced from Analog March 1962. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
HIS MASTER'S VOICE
ANALOG SCIENCE FACT · SCIENCE FICTION
Spaceship McGuire had lots of knowledge—but no wisdom. He was smart—but incredibly foolish. And, as a natural consequence, tended to ask questions too profound for any philosopher—questions like "Who are you?"
By RANDALL GARRETT
I'd been in Ravenhurst's office on the mountain-sized planetoid called Raven's Rest only twice before. The third time was no better; Shalimar Ravenhurst was one of the smartest operators in the Belt, but when it came to personal relationships, he was utterly incompetent. He could make anyone dislike him without trying.
When I entered the office, he was sitting behind his mahogany desk, his eyes focused on the operation he was going through with a wineglass and a decanter. He didn't look up at me as he said:
"Sit down, Mr. Oak. Will you have some Madeira?"
I decided I might as well observe the pleasantries. There was no point in my getting nasty until he did. "Thank you, Mr. Ravenhurst, I will."
He kept his eyes focused on his work: It isn't easy to pour wine on a planetoid where the gee-pull is measured in fractions of a centimeter per second squared. It moves slowly, like ropy molasses, but you have to be careful not to be fooled by that. The viscosity is just as low as ever, and if you pour it from any great height, it will go scooting right out of the glass again. The momentum it builds up is enough to make it splash right out again in a slow-motion gush which gets it all over the place.
Besides which, even if it didn't splash, it would take it so long to fall a few inches that you'd die of thirst waiting for it.
Ravenhurst had evolved a technique from long years of practice. He tilted the glass and the bottle toward each other, their edges touching, like you do when you're trying to pour beer without putting a head on it. As soon as the wine wet the glass, the adhesive forces at work would pull more wine into the wine glass. To get capillary action on a low-gee asteroid, you don't need a capillary, by any means. The negative meniscus on the wine was something to see; the first time you see it, you get the eerie feeling that the glass is spinning and throwing the wine up against the walls by centrifugal force.
I took the glass he offered me (Careful! Don't slosh!) and sipped at it. Using squirt tubes would have been a hell of a lot easier and neater, but Ravenhurst liked to do things his way.
He put the stopper back in the decanter, picked up his own glass and sipped appreciatively. Not until he put it back down on the desk again did he raise his eyes and look at me for the first time since I'd come in.
"Mr. Oak, you have caused me considerable trouble."
"I thought we'd hashed all that out, Mr. Ravenhurst," I said, keeping my voice level.
"So had I. But it appears that there were more ramifications to your action than we had at first supposed." His voice had the texture of heavy linseed oil.
He waited, as if he expected me to make some reply to that. When I didn't, he sighed slightly and went on. "I fear that you have inadvertently sabotaged McGuire. You were commissioned to prevent sabotage, Mr. Oak, and I'm afraid that you abrogated your contract."
I just continued to keep my voice calm. "If you are trying to get back the fee you gave me, we can always take it to court. I don't think you'd win."
"Mr. Oak," he said heavily, "I am not a fool, regardless of what your own impression may be. If I were trying to get back that fee, I would hardly offer to pay you another one."
I didn't think he was a fool. You don't get into the managerial business and climb to the top and stay there unless you have brains. Ravenhurst was smart, all right; it was just that, when it came to personal relationships, he wasn't very wise.
"Then stop all this yak about an abrogated contract and get to the point," I told him.
"I shall. I was merely trying to point out to you that it is through your own actions that I find myself in a very trying position, and that your sense of honor and ethics should induce you to rectify the damage."
"My honor and ethics are in fine shape," I said, "but my interpretation of the concepts might not be quite the same as yours. Get to the point."
He took another sip of Madeira. "The robotocists at Viking tell me that, in order to prevent any further ... ah ... sabotage by unauthorized persons, the MGYR-7 was constructed so that, after activation, the first man who addressed orders to it would thenceforth be considered its ... ah ... master.
"As I understand it, the problem of defining the term 'human being' unambiguously to a robot is still unsolved. The robotocists felt that it would be much easier to define a single individual. That would prevent the issuing of conflicting orders to a robot, provided the single individual were careful in giving orders himself.
"Now, it appears that you, Mr. Oak, were the first man to speak to McGuire after he had been activated. Is that correct?"
"Is that question purely rhetorical," I asked him, putting on my best expression of innocent interest. "Or are you losing your memory?" I had explained all that to him two weeks before, when I'd brought McGuire and the girl here, so that Ravenhurst would have a chance to cover up what had really happened.
My sarcasm didn't faze him in the least. "Rhetorical. It follows that you are the only man whose orders McGuire will obey."
"Your robotocists can change that," I said. This time, I was giving him my version of "genuine" innocence. A man has to be a good actor to be a competent double agent, and I didn't want Ravenhurst to know that I knew a great deal more about the problem than he did.
He shook his head, making his jowls wobble. "No, they cannot. They realize now that there should be some way of making that change, but they failed to see that it would be necessary. Only by completely draining McGuire's memory banks and refilling them with new data can this bias be eliminated."
"Then why don't they do that?"
"There are two very good reasons," he said. And there was a shade of anger in his tone. "In the first place, that sort of operation takes time, and it costs money. If we do that, we might as well go ahead and make the slight changes in structure necessary to incorporate some of the improvements that the robotocists now feel are necessary. In other words, they might as well go ahead and build the MGYR-8, which is precisely the thing I hired you to prevent."
"It seems you have a point there, Mr. Ravenhurst." He'd hired me because things were shaky at Viking. If he lost too much more money on the McGuire experiment, he stood a good chance of losing his position as manager. If that happened some of his other managerial contracts might be canceled, too. Things like that can begin to snowball, and Ravenhurst might find himself out of the managerial business entirely.
"But," I went on, "hasn't the additional wasted time already cost you money?"
"It has. I was reluctant to call you in again—understandably enough, I think."
"Perfectly. It's mutual."