He ignored me. "I even considered going through with the rebuilding work, now that we have traced down the source of failure of the first six models. Unfortunately, that isn't feasible, either." He scowled at me.
"It seems," he went on, "that McGuire refuses to allow his brain to be tampered with. The self-preservation 'instinct' has come to the fore. He has refused to let the technicians and robotocists enter his hull, and he has threatened to take off and leave Ceres if any further attempts are made to ... ah ... disrupt his thinking processes."
"I can't say that I blame him," I said. "What do you want me to do? Go to Ceres and tell him to submit like a good boy?"
"It is too late for that, Mr. Oak. Viking cannot stand any more of that kind of drain on its financial resources. I have been banking on the McGuire-type ships to put Viking Spacecraft ahead of every other spacecraft company in the System." He looked suddenly very grim and very determined. "Mr. Oak, I am certain that the robot ship is the answer to the transportation problems in the Solar System. For the sake of every human being in the Solar System, we must get the bugs out of McGuire!"
What's good for General Bull-moose is good for everybody, I quoted to myself. I'd have said it out loud, but I was fairly certain that Shalimar Ravenhurst was not a student of the classics.
"Mr. Oak, I would like you to go to Ceres and co-operate with the robotocists at Viking. When the MGYR-8 is finally built, I want it to be the prototype for a fast, safe, functional robot spaceship that can be turned out commercially. You can be of great service, Mr. Oak."
"In other words, I've got you over a barrel."
"I don't deny it."
"You know what my fees are, Mr. Ravenhurst. That's what you'll be charged. I'll expect to be paid weekly; if Viking goes broke, I don't want to lose more than a week's pay. On the other hand, if the MGYR-8 is successful, I will expect a substantial bonus."
"Exactly half of the cost of rebuilding. Half what it would take to build a Model 8 right now, and taking a chance on there being no bugs in it."
He considered that, looking grimmer than ever. Then he said: "I will do it on the condition that the bonus be paid off in installments, one each six months for three years after the first successful commercial ship is built by Viking."
"My lawyer will nail you down on that wording," I said, "but it's a deal. Is there anything else?"
"Then I think I'll leave for Ceres before you break a blood vessel."
"You continue to amaze me, Mr. Oak," he said. And the soft oiliness of his voice was the oil of vitriol. "Your compassion for your fellowman is a facet of your personality that I had not seen before. I shall welcome the opportunity to relax and allow my blood pressure to subside."
I could almost see Shalimar Ravenhurst suddenly exploding and adding his own touch of color to the room.
And, on that gladsome thought, I left. I let him have his small verbal triumph; if he'd known that I'd have taken on the job for almost nothing, he'd really have blown up.
Ten minutes later, I was in my vacuum suit, walking across the glaring, rough-polished rectangle of metal that was the landing field of Raven's Rest. The sun was near the zenith in the black, diamond-dusted sky, and the shadow of my flitterboat stood out like an inkblot on a bridal gown. I climbed in, started the engine, and released the magnetic anchor that held the little boat to the surface of the nickel-iron planetoid. I lifted her gently, worked her around until I was stationary in relation to the spinning planetoid, oriented myself against the stellar background, and headed toward the first blinker beacon on my way to Ceres.
For obvious economical reasons, it it impracticable to use full-sized spaceships in the Belt. A flitterboat, with a single gravitoinertial engine and the few necessities of life—air, some water, and a very little food—still costs more than a Rolls-Royce automobile does on Earth, but there has to be some sort of individual transportation in the Belt.
They can't be used for any great distances because a man can't stay in a vac suit very long without getting uncomfortable. You have to hop from beacon to beacon, which means that your average velocity doesn't amount to much, since you spend too much time accelerating and decelerating. But a flitterboat is enough to get around the neighborhood in, and that's all that's needed.
I got the GM-187 blinker in my sights, eased the acceleration up to one gee, relaxed to watch the radar screen while I thought over my coming ordeal with McGuire.
Testing spaceships, robotic or any other kind, is strictly not my business. The sign on the door of my office in New York says: DANIEL OAK, Confidential Expediter; I'm hired to help other people Get Things Done. Usually, if someone came to me with the problem of getting a spaceship test-piloted, I'd simply dig up the best test pilot in the business, hire him for my client, and forget about everything but collecting my fee. But I couldn't have refused this case if I'd wanted to. I'd already been assigned to it by someone a lot more important than Shalimar Ravenhurst.
Every schoolchild who has taken a course in Government Organization and Function can tell you that the Political Survey Division is a branch of the System Census Bureau of the UN Government, and that its job is to evaluate the political activities of various sub-governments all over the System.
And every one of those poor tykes would be dead wrong.
The Political Survey Division does evaluate political activity, all right, but it is the Secret Service of the UN Government. The vast majority of the System's citizens don't even know the Government has a Secret Service. I happen to know only because I'm an agent of the Political Survey Division.
The PSD was vitally interested in the whole McGuire project. Robots of McGuire's complexity had been built before; the robot that runs the traffic patterns of the American Eastern Seaboard is just as capable as McGuire when it comes to handling a tremendous number of variables and making decisions on them. But that robot didn't have to be given orders except in extreme emergencies. Keeping a few million cars moving and safe at the same time is actually pretty routine stuff for a robot. And a traffic robot isn't given orders verbally; it is given any orders that may be necessary via teletype by a trained programming technician. Those orders are usually in reference to a change of routing due to repair work on the highways or the like. The robot itself can take care of such emergencies as bad weather or even an accident caused by the malfunctioning of an individual automobile.
McGuire was different. In the first place, he was mobile. He was in command of a spacecraft. In a sense, he was the spacecraft, since it served him in a way that was analogous to the way a human body serves the human mind. And he wasn't in charge of millions of objects with a top velocity of a hundred and fifty miles an hour; he was in charge of a single object that moved at velocities of thousands of miles per second. Nor did he have a set, unmoving highway as his path; his paths were variable and led through the emptiness of space.
Unforeseen emergencies can happen at any time in space, most of them having to do with the lives of passengers. A cargo ship would be somewhat less susceptible to