Actions

Work Header

Perigee

Work Text:

"It's not fair," explained Gregory Powell, patiently, "to play trivia with a robot. Jules is only programmed with the knowledge he needs to do his job—unlike you, he's not a repository for totally useless information."

Michael Donovan steadfastly opened up the board and set the cards on the table. "Well, it's not fair to me if we keep playing chess. It's my turn to pick and I say we're playing trivia. Besides, Greg, don't you want to have a chance to win for once?"

Robot JLS-1 (but if you had asked Powell or Donovan for the robot's serial number, it would have taken them a moment to remember it) turned the pages of the instruction booklet Donovan had handed him. "I believe I understand the rules of this game," he said. "It is Donovan's turn to pick, and I am prepared to go along with his choice."

"You heard him, Greg! Roll, would you?"

The fall of the dice dictated that Jules went first. "The category," said Donovan happily, "is potpourri. 'What compound, popular at nineteenth-century parties, was first used medicinally in 1847 by James Young Simpson?'"

Powell sighed. "He's not going to—"

"Chloroform," Jules said.

Donovan checked the back of the card, and his jaw dropped. "You're—you're cheating!"

Jules betrayed no indignation at the accusation. "I am incapable of cheating."

"Then you've been reading Greg's science books, or—"

"Jules," said Powell languidly, "how did you know that?"

"Actually, boss, it was in one of Donovan's adventure novels."

Powell burst into laughter. "He's legit! Give him his piece, Mike!"

An hour later, the two men had once again been defeated at their own game by a robot. The worst of it was that Powell was right: Jules hadn't answered a single question based on the information programmed into his positronic brain from activation. All the tidbits of knowledge he produced, his super-observant memory had picked up from five days of movies, daytime TV, and adventure novels. And that was about all Jules—and Powell, and Donovan—had done for five days.

U.S. Robots' top field testers had been specially selected as representatives of US Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation at the quadrennial World Robotics Convention, held this year at the luxury Selene Hotel in Lunar Base. It was an honor, really, and the prospect of a paid trip to Roboticon was no discouragement either. But there was a catch to the assignment; there always was. In addition to attending the convention, Powell and Donovan had been given responsibility for US Robots' new-type exploring robot, JLS-1. Because JLS-1 was a new-type robot, he had to be supervised to make sure nothing went wrong—babysitting, Donovan had called it. And because JLS-1 was to be the climax of U.S. Robots' presentation on the last day of the conference, the business people didn't want anybody getting a peek at him before showtime. Which left the three of them holed up in a room in the nicest hotel in the Solar System, surrounded by the world's best roboticists, and unable to experience any of it.

 

It was early the next morning that things got a lot more interesting. Powell woke to Donovan shaking him roughly by the shoulders. "Greg! Hey, Greg!"

Powell opened his eyes and looked at his watch. Three o'clock in the morning. They'd been sleeping in two six-hour shifts, taking turns guarding Jules, and Powell's watch had ended three hours ago. "Sorry, Mike. I must have fallen asleep. Jules wanted to watch an old two-dee movie, and..."

"Where's Jules?" Donovan demanded.

"What?" Powell sat bolt upright. The TV was still on, softly extolling the virtues of a popular brand of laser shavers. The room was small enough that it was easy to see by looking around that there was no robot in it. Nonetheless, Powell and Donovan spent a frantic few minutes searching the bathroom and the closet, probing under the beds, checking the corner behind the armchair and the crevice behind the TV.

"He's gone AWOL," Powell concluded at last.

"Informative as always, Greg," Donovan said. "The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

Powell thought for a moment. "Haven't we got a radio we could reach him on? Let's order him to come back."

"Even if there was a radio in here," said Donovan grimly, "it wouldn't help much. Remember how quick the tech boys worked to get Jules ready for this thing?"

"Sure. I hear it's the same every time—US Robots wants to show off its very newest, top of the line models, and forgets to give itself time to actually build them. What's your point?"

"Well, Jules was the same way. He's not really a fully functional JLS-series robot—sure, his positronic brain is perfect, and his body works fine, but they wanted to shave off some expenses since he's really just a glorified display model. And one of those little things they left out..."

Powell's fingers were in his mustache. "Oh, no."

"Well," said Donovan, bitterly, "it wasn't deemed necessary to build radio into a robot that was supposed to be supervised constantly."

"All right, Mike, I goofed. What's left?"

Donovan pushed his fingers through his hair. "Go look for him, I guess."

"Sounds good." Powell opened the door. "Let's hope we find Jules before Doc Bogert finds out we lost him."

 

"So which way did he go?" asked Donovan. After five days it was strange to remember that there was a hallway outside their room—a hallway that stretched out in both directions and gave no hint of where a rogue robot might choose to go.

"I don't know, Mike. Who am I, Sherlock Holmes?" Powell thought about that for a moment, then shrugged and crouched down to examine the thick carpet. "It's no good," he said. "Even if I was Sherlock Holmes, too many people have been by here. I can't make out Jules's tracks."

Donovan was putting more tracks in the carpet, alternately darting in both directions and trying to peer down the hallway for any indications of Jules. "Quit playing detective, Greg. We need real answers, and quick."

The monotony of the hallway was broken by a maid coming out of a room several doors down from them.

"Hey! Wait!" called Donovan, running up and stopping the maid with a hand on her hover-cart. "Have you seen a robot?"

The maid was wearing a pink cloth apron: a ridiculous affectation, since her chrome surface was antibacterially treated and would repel dirt and grime. But when robots worked in close contact with humans, as they did here on the Moon, corporate engineers would use any touch to make them seem more approachable. She looked at Donovan with blankness in her violet photocell banks. "I have seen many robots, sir," she replied haltingly.

"For Pete's sake, Mike, it's a maid. It's not exactly programmed with the Gricean maxims. Be specific." Powell walked up and addressed the maid himself. "Annie," he read from her nametag, while mentally noting that she was not, in fact, a member of the AN-series, "we're looking for a robot. He would have come by here between about six last night and three this morning. He's about two feet shorter than Mike here, he's got six legs and two arms..."

"Robot JLS-1?" asked the maid.

"That's him!" cried Powell and Donovan together.

"When did you see him? Which way did he go?" asked Donovan.

"He spoke to me at six fifty-three last evening," said the maid. He'd left almost as soon as Powell had fallen asleep, then. "He then went down this corridor towards Conference Room J." She pointed.

"He spoke to you?" asked Powell. "What did he say?"

"He introduced himself and said hello. He asked to read the labels on all of my cleaning supplies. I allowed this. He asked me questions about my work. I answered them. And he also said something very strange."

"Also?" Donovan whispered to Powell.

Powell motioned him to be quiet. "What did he say that was strange, Annie?"

"He said, 'Did you know that life insurance is the only kind of insurance not written by Lloyd's association?' I did not know that, sirs, but I do not understand it. Who is Lloyd?"

"Forget it, it's not important. Thanks for your help, Annie. You can get back to work now."

As Powell and Donovan set off at a brisk pace for Conference Room J, Donovan said, "That was one of my questions from yesterday. I got it right."

"I remember," said Powell. "So help me, Mike, if your precious trivia game threw Jules off..."

"Let's find him first," said Donovan pragmatically, "and assign blame later."

 

The conference room held no sign of Jules either, but Powell and Donovan were momentarily distracted by something more interesting.

Powell grabbed Donovan's wrist. "Mike, it's him!"

Donovan had simultaneously nudged Powell with his elbow. "I see him!"

That which had so captured their attention was an unassuming Japanese man seated across the room at one of the many tables where representatives from the major robotics companies spoke to attendees and handed out flyers. His hair was long, like a musician's, and he wore his shirt collar open with no tie, but appearances were deceiving, for Shin'ichiro Maruyama was the god and all his apostles of positronic engineering.

"I wish we had time to talk to him," said Powell wistfully.

"We've got to talk to somebody, right?" said Donovan, and strode over to Maruyama's table.

Maruyama greeted them with dual handshakes. "Hello," he said. "My name is Shin'ichiro Maruyama, and you are...?"

"Mike Donovan."

"Greg Powell. We're, um—"

"—your biggest fans," Donovan put in.

"Yeah," said Powell, "but right now we're busy looking for someone. A robot, actually. His serial number is JLS-1, he's about yea high..."

"Oh, Jules!" said Maruyama. "Yes, he was here. Very charming robot. He wanted to know all about my work. Of course I could only explain a little, but he seemed interested. And I learned something from him, too. Did you know that the clothes washers here use sodium hydroxide, which in higher concentrations can be used to unclog drains?"

Powell and Donovan shook their heads. "Do you know where he went after he talked to you?" Powell asked.

"Yes," said Maruyama. "He said he was heading downstairs to the lobby next."

"Thank you!"

"Thanks, sir."

Powell and Donovan turned to go, but Powell doubled back. When they did head down the elevator, they were in possession of a flyer for Osaka Robots' new miniature calculating machines, which read, on the back, Greg and Mike. Good luck finding Jules! Shin'ichiro Maruyama. He'd signed his name in English and kanji, and added five katakana letters that Powell recognized as Japanese for "do your best".

Powell hoped they would.

 

The lobby was a-bustle with convention attendees—with no twenty-four-hour day-night cycle on the Moon, and too many new developments in the field of robotics to fit into seven days, Roboticon never slept. The talk in the main concert hall had just let out, and people were flowing out of the doors like water from a cracked bucket. But these were all transients, only here a few minutes and already on their way to the next event.

"Let's ask the concierge," said Powell. "She looks like she's been here all night."

But Donovan had grabbed his arm and was pulling him towards the potted palm trees in the corner. "Hide, Greg!" he hissed.

"What—" But it was too late. Before he could join Donovan behind the plants, Powell made eye contact with a prim, gray-haired woman coming out of the concert hall. She whispered something to the tall, black-haired man who was her companion, and then the two of them made a beeline for Powell.

Dr. Peter Bogert, Senior Mathematician and acting Director of US Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation, looked angry. "Powell!" Then he caught sight of Donovan, red hair conspicuous among the greenery. "Both of you? You left JLS-1 unattended?"

"Well—not exactly, sir," said Powell.

"Not exactly! Where is he, then?"

Powell and Donovan looked at one another, wondering if they could come up with an adequate lie. But at last Donovan blurted, "He's missing."

"Missing!" Bogert almost shouted.

The woman at his side, Chief Robopsychologist Susan Calvin, said quietly, "Not here, Peter."

Bogert nodded. "Come with us, you two."

Donovan extricated himself from the plants, and he and Powell followed Calvin and Bogert like men being led to execution.

 

Ten minutes later the quartet stood in Susan Calvin's room, where Powell and Donovan had related the whole short story of Jules's disappearance and their search for him.

Bogert frowned. "This sounds like an act of sabotage," he said. "Consolidated—"

"I don't think so, sir," said Donovan. "Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't put it past them. But Greg and I were in the room the whole time—I don't think we'd have slept through a kidnapping. The fool robot's wandered off, plain and simple! And it's not the first time—"

Donovan's speech was beginning to be heated, and Powell checked him with a hand on his arm. "Mike's right," he said. "But it doesn't make any sense. Even if I wasn't watching him, Jules had orders to stay in the room with us. Why would he disobey orders, unless—"

"Space!" All eyes turned to Donovan. His blue eyes were wide, and his ears had gone bright pink, which clashed horribly with his hair.

"What is it?" asked Powell.

"Do you have some idea of what may have happened, young man?" asked Susan Calvin.

"Um—" Donovan avoided Susan Calvin's steely gaze and addressed himself to Powell. "Listen, Greg, do you remember yesterday evening, when I was—uh"—he glanced at Calvin and Bogert—"talking about this job?"

"Whining, you mean? Sure. How is that different from on any other job?"

"Well, you remember what I said? The exact words I used?"

"You said..." Powell emitted a low whistle. "Jupiter, Mike, you've really done it this time."

"Do you two want to let us in on the joke?" said Bogert impatiently.

Powell looked at Donovan. "Go ahead, Mike, tell 'em."

"I said..." Donovan visibly steeled himself, and then quoted in a quick monotone: "'For the love of Jupiter, if I have to spend one more day cooped up in here with nothing to do but watch TV and play board games, I swear I'm gonna go nuts.'"

"Ah." Susan Calvin nodded. "And I suppose this remark was made in the hearing of Robot JLS-1?"

Powell said, "With respect, ma'am, you only gave us one room. Everything we say is in Jules's hearing—or was, anyway."

"How was I supposed to know the hunk of metal would take it literally?" Donovan protested.

"Do you mean to tell me..." said Bogert, and Calvin rounded on him.

"Yes, Peter! Isn't it obvious? The First Law of Robotics states that 'A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.' Robot JLS-1 interpreted Donovan's careless remark as a threat that a human being would come to harm, and so he acted."

"And now we're out a million credits if we don't find him," said Bogert, with a glare that Donovan cringed under.

"Say, maybe it's not as bad as all that," Powell said. "Jules wanted to give Mike a little distraction, right? O.K., he's done it—but good! Wouldn't he just come right back?"

Bogert looked hopeful at that, but Calvin shook her head. "I'm afraid it's not that simple. JLS-1 had orders to remain in the room, but once those orders were invalidated by First Law potential, he had no reason to return to the room. In fact, I very much doubt he would. JLS-1 was specifically designed for the exploration of unknown planets, and for the past week he has been prevented from doing anything approaching this. It is crucial to a robot's psyche that it perform its function, and I expect that now JLS-1 has escaped his sequestration, this is what he will attempt to do."

"You mean," said Donovan, "Jules was going stir-crazy too?"

Both Powell and Bogert opened their mouths to object to the naive analogy, but Susan Calvin said, "Yes, I suppose you could put it that way."

"Great," said Bogert. "And how are we supposed to find a stir-crazy robot?"

"The old-fashioned way," said Susan Calvin simply. She turned her eyes on Powell and Donovan. "Well, what are you boys waiting for? JLS-1 gets further ahead of you every minute."

Comprehension dawned on Powell and Donovan's faces at the same moment; three seconds later, the door had slammed shut behind them.

"It's Hyper Base all over again," Bogert grumbled.

"You're wrong, Peter. Despite any potential financial ramifications" (this dismissively), "there is nothing dangerous about Robot JLS-1 being allowed to roam freely. You know that if it had been up to me I never would have had him sequestered in the first place. I think it will be interesting to find out where he has decided to go."

"Interesting!" Bogert echoed. "You're as bad as the robot."

 

"Wait, wait, wait," said Powell, slowing to a walk. "Where are we going in such a hurry?"

"The concierge," said Donovan. "Maybe we can still catch her."

Powell shook his head. "That won't work. We need to approach this logically and with strategy. We've been following two steps behind Jules—we've got to head him off at the pass. He's programmed to look for interesting things, right? Well, what's the most interesting room in this hotel?"

"Right now? The bar."

"Be serious, Mike. Oh, forget it. Socratic method doesn't work on you anyway. I'm talking about the library!"

Donovan brightened. "Say, that's not bad! Let's head there now!"

But the library, impressively stocked and plush-carpeted as it was, held no sign of Jules either. Powell and Donovan wasted a few more minutes checking behind each shelf and under the sofas. What else was there to do now that they'd lost the trail?

"Look at that," said Donovan dully, running a finger over the books. "They've got the first edition of A Princess of Mars."

Powell looked up from the shelf on which he'd been eyeing the complete set of Dickens. "We don't have time for this," he said. "We need to find Jules."

"If you've got any more brilliant ideas," said Donovan, "I'm all ears."

Powell was defeated. "I thought for sure he'd be here. Maybe if we check behind the biographies again..."

"Damn it, Greg, he's a three-and-a-half-foot-tall, six-legged, chrome-plated robot! He's not exactly easy to miss—except that we manage to miss him every time."

"Your friend's been and gone," said an old man in an armchair, looking up from his book.

Powell and Donovan started. The old man had been so quiet that although they must have noticed him, they had forgotten he was there.

"What do you mean?" asked Powell cautiously.

The old man marked his place with a finger and closed the book on his lap. "Your friend," he said. "The six-legged robot? J-something, he said his name was. He was here a couple hours ago."

"Where did he go?" asked Donovan.

"I'm sure I don't know that," said the old man.

"That's fine, that's fine!" The prospect of a clue, any clue, had brought back Powell's investigative energy. "What was he doing here in the first place? Did he say anything?"

"He was downright chatty! I came in here to read in peace without my wife bothering me, and here comes this robot that just wants to talk! He must have scanned just about every book in the place, and the whole time it was did you know this, did you know that. I was happy when he left!" The old man opened his book again. "But it's too bad that you've lost him," he added as an afterthought.

"Thanks," said Donovan with equal sincerity.

They left the library as dejected as they had been hopeful upon entering. "Now what, Greg?" Donovan asked.

"I don't know." Powell pulled at his mustache in thought. "Maybe he's covered the whole hotel. We need to get out into Lunar Base proper—with all those scientists at work, there must be something to capture Jules's attention."

Then the public address system came to life with the familiar icy tones of Susan Calvin. "Gregory Powell. Michael Donovan," it said, and the named men already knew no good would follow. "Report to Airlock B of Lunar Base."

Donovan grimaced. "Sounds like he's found something more interesting than scientists."

 

"I've decided I hate the Moon," declared Donovan, as he hurried the open moon-car on after the clear six-legged tracks that proceeded away from the Base in the Lunar dust, undisturbed by atmosphere. "I've barely even had a chance to see it, and I hate it."

Powell did not argue.

"Why'd they have to send us out here, anyway?" Donovan went on. "We didn't even bring our suits—they had to outfit us with these old ones. Are they from the first landing, or what? Why not just send a robot to do it?"

"Because," said Powell wearily, "we have no idea where Jules is. Even these tracks are no guarantee if he ventures into a cave, or heads back for the Base or something. Robots' brains aren't creative enough to look for something if they don't know to the last detail what they're looking for—that's why Jules was invented, by the way. We could have sent Jules to do it, if he weren't what we were looking for in the first place."

"I wish we were looking for a lot of stupid boring rocks," said Donovan. "Because we've found them ten times over. Greg, I hate the Moon."

"So you said."

"You know, when I was a kid I read about how people used to think the Moon was made of green cheese. And I thought—"

"People never really thought that," said Powell.

"—an' I thought, that's stupid, it's not even green. But then I thought, how do we know it's not cheese? Really know? Scientific method, you know. Anybody ever actually taste the Moon? Then I saw on TV about Lunar Base, and my dad took me to see a Moon rock in a museum. They wouldn't lemme taste it, though. My point is—"

"Pipe down, would you? You're making even less sense than usual." Then Powell became abruptly serious. "Mike."

"What? You wan' me to pipe down, I'll pipe down, I—"

"Shut up. Stop the car." By the time Donovan obeyed, Powell was leaning in close to look at him through the twin visors of the suits. Sure enough, the redhead's usually florid face was flushed scarlet, and his eyes were unfocused and bloodshot. "Mike. Mike, you're oxy-drunk."

"Shizzling Shaturn," Donovan slurred. He reached for his suit's oxygen controls with fingers made doubly clumsy by gloves and intoxication.

"Let me do it." Powell shoved Donovan's hand aside and looked at the controls. "Space, Mike, this thing's jammed wide open! What happened to the safety?" He pushed at the stuck valve, and it snapped shut. Donovan's gasp sounded in his ears and he turned up the oxygen slowly until it was within normal limits. "There. How are you feeling now?"

"Feel like I'm going to be sick." But already his tongue could shape the words more clearly.

"Not out here, you don't," said Powell sharply. "Sit still and breathe. Let me know when you get that nausea under control, and then I'll drive us back to Lunar Base."

Donovan had to take several slow breaths before he spoke again, but Powell was impressed with the amount of heat he managed to put into it. "Back to Lunar Base! Are you crazy? We haven't found Jules yet—we can't go back empty-handed!"

"You're still drunk, or you're stupider than I thought. Besides the fact that you, my friend, are currently a lovely shade of green, there's the little matter of your oxygen. How much did you use up while that valve was open?"

Donovan looked at his meter and spurred his fogged brain to calculation. "I've got two hours left," he said. "Three if I keep it turned low."

"Two hours," said Powell. "It's already going to take us an hour to get back to the Base. And it isn't safe to stay out here with that sticky valve."

"Greg, if we don't get Jules back, our jobs are as good as—"

"Our jobs," said Powell, "are no good to us if you die."

Donovan looked at him curiously, and then looked away. Then he pointed at a spot about fifty feet away on the Lunar surface. "Hey, Greg, check it out. Looks like he went in there."

Powell followed the outstretched finger to where the robot's tracks ended at a hole in the ground about five feet around. He hopped out of the car and reached the hole in a few short bounds.

Powell shone the flash into the hole. It reached a smooth rocky floor several yards below. By angling the light and moving around the edge of the hole, he could make out curved walls on either side and an undeterminable amount of space in the other direction. "Lava tube," he said. "Probably part of the same network the Base is built under."

Donovan took the rope ladder from the car and bounded to Powell's side. "Look, under other circumstances I'd be all for giving up and going home. But I was the one who lost Jules in the first place. I don't want to be the reason we don't find him. Let's keep looking for another half-hour."

Powell looked at the cave entrance, and then took the ladder. "Fifteen minutes. And keep an eye on that valve."

"I've got it," said Donovan, carefully adjusting the levels.

 

The lava tube was a bust. Jules's tracks didn't show on the rocky floor, so that they didn't even know which way he had gone. They split up, Powell going up the slight grade and Donovan down, and stayed in contact by radio, but neither came across anything remotely out of the ordinary. Perhaps if they had had more time to explore—but even though they gave themselves ten minutes rather than the promised seven and a half, it ended far too soon and it was time to head back.

Powell arrived back at their starting point first and waited under the entrance for Donovan, who was just approaching from downhill. When he was within five yards of Powell, Donovan paused in his stride, and made a movement with one arm as though to recover his balance.

"What's the matter now?"

Donovan sounded embarrassed. "Dizzy. Headache. Turned down my oxygen to buy time."

"Well, turn it up again! You're going to need it to climb out of here." Powell tugged experimentally at the dangling end of the rope ladder—and the whole thing came free of the surface in a puff of Lunar dust. He hadn't secured the force stakes deep enough, or the dust was thicker here than it should be—the reason didn't really matter, because what it amounted to was that they had just lost their route back to the surface. The ladder's fall was slow in the Lunar gravity, but none the less irreversible for that.

"On second thought, Mike, belay that. We might need some extra time."

 

"It's not going to work, Greg," said Donovan. "There's nothing for it to catch on."

He was right, but Powell tossed the end of the rope ladder up to the cave entrance one more time anyway. The throw was easy to make in the low gravity, but once again the ladder simply slid off the edge of the hole and fell. Powell had been trying this for some minutes. Climbing up the circular walls of the lava tube was hopeless, not that Powell hadn't tried that too. And nobody had answered their messages to the Base, no matter how much they had cursed into their radios—apparently, being underground made these puny first-landing radios almost worthless. Donovan had eventually sat down, whether to conserve his remaining oxygen or just to combat his existing hypoxic headache.

"Never thought it would end like this," Donovan remarked, when the ladder had hit the ground once more.

"You didn't?" Powell asked, surprised. "I did. All the time. You and me out in space, chasing after some harebrained robot... I'm not surprised in the least." He gave the entrance another futile glance and then, giving up, went and sat down back-to-back with Donovan. He couldn't see the other's face, or even feel his presence through the thick suits; but the radio-outfitted helmets added a certain degree of intimacy, for Powell could hear Donovan gulping back tears before he answered:

"Don't be stupid, Greg. Of course I knew that part. It's always you and me. It was always going to be you and me." His breath caught alarmingly, but it was emotion rather than declining oxygen levels.

"Yeah." Powell reached back and took Donovan's hand, awkwardly interlaced their gloved fingers.

Donovan had to look to comprehend the gesture, and when he did he giggled. "Too bad about the helmets," he said. "Otherwise you could kiss me." The jocular mood faded as suddenly as it had appeared. He squeezed Powell's hand. "I dunno what I'm saying. It's just—Space, Greg, we were the first men to leave the Solar System, and now we're gonna die a measly two hundred fifty thousand miles from home?"

"Two hundred twenty-five, more like," said Powell idly. "We're about at perigee now."

"Perigee," Donovan echoed bitterly. "Of course. You just have to know everything, don't you, Greg..." He trailed off, and then suddenly yelled: "Greg!"

"Save your breath, Mike. I mean that literally."

"Greg, we don't have to find Jules."

"Congratulations. You're talking sense at last."

"No, I mean—we don't have to find Jules, because I already know where he is."

Powell forgot his warning and raised his own voice. "What?"

"That's right. I figured it out just now." Powell could practically hear Donovan's grin.

"Well, where is he? Don't keep me in suspense."

Donovan explained his reasoning.

"By Jupiter, I think you're right," said Powell when he had finished.

"I was bound to be, someday," said Donovan. "Too bad we won't be around for the triumphant finish, eh?"

 

When Donovan's oxygen ran out, Powell hooked him up to the emergency tube on his own suit. After that the two men rejoined their hands and sat like that, leaning on each other, waiting. Powell could still hear Donovan's breathing in his ears, but the conversation had ceased. Perhaps he was asleep. It was unsafe to fall asleep in a spacesuit, but what did it matter at this point? Probably better to sleep; better to sink gently into death than to endure the final, horrible struggle against asphyxiation.

Powell was just debating dropping off himself when he heard a voice. Not Donovan's. "Sirs?"

Powell grabbed the flash and looked up and down the tunnel and at both walls. Then he looked up. Within the circle of sky that was the cave entrance, the flash illuminated a pair of violet photocell banks and a pink cloth apron.

Powell let go of Donovan's hand. "Annie?"

"Wait a moment, sirs," said the robot maid. "I will let down a rope and pull you out."

"Hurry up," said Powell. "We haven't a lot of oxygen left." He turned and shook Donovan by the shoulder. "Mike! Mike, we're saved!"

Donovan blinked his way into alertness. "We're not dead," he said wonderingly.

"Not yet, old man!" Powell was practically giddy. He stood up and pulled Donovan to his feet. "Come on, let's get over to the entrance. Annie's going to throw us a rope."

"Who?" Donovan asked.

The end of a rope plummeted gracefully to ground in front of them. Powell gripped it firmly with one hand and wrapped the other arm around Donovan's waist. He spoke to Annie again.

"We're sharing oxygen. You'll have to pull us both out at once—can you do that?"

"Yes, sir," said Annie, and did.

As soon as they stood again upon the surface of the Moon, Powell joyfully clapped the maid about both shoulders. "Annie—how?"

"I noticed that you gentlemen had not returned, and I thought you might require assistance. I followed the radio signal from your moon-car. All the robots working at the Selene Hotel are equipped for Lunar rescue missions," Annie explained. "Tourists often become lost on the surface."

Donovan mumbled, "Did she just call us tourists, Greg?"

"She can call us backwoods bumpkins for all I care. Annie, can you drive one of these things?" Powell indicated the moon-car.

"Yes, sir."

"Great!" He and Donovan collapsed into the back seat. "Take us back to the Base, pronto!"

The last of the oxygen just got them back to Airlock B. Annie, upon request, showed them a back way up to their room by which they could duck Calvin and Bogert, and they fell into their beds.

 

But they were up early the next morning; they had to be, to make it to the US Robots presentation. Donovan was resplendent in his only formal suit, a bottle-green wool monstrosity that was probably older than he was. For the occasion, he had even gone to the trouble of slicking his hair back with pomade, although this was a largely futile endeavor. Powell made a more conservative figure in gray flannel, but Peter Bogert's glare was equally distributed between the pair of them when they quietly took their seats beside him and Susan Calvin on the main stage.

"What are you two doing—" he began, and then the house lights went down. He stopped talking, listened politely to the emcee's introduction, and then walked up to the podium without a second glance at the field testers.

Powell met Donovan's eyes with a smile. Their timing had been perfect. The gamble had paid off—Bogert would rather let them stay than cause a scene in front of the press.

Bogert smiled in his oily, charming way at the audience and began the presentation. He spoke of new technologies and theories developed by US Robots engineers in the past four years. He spoke of the new robots that had been released by the company, and then he called some of them to the stage to show them off. Powell and Donovan had met half of these robots, been friendly with some of them, but they didn't have it in them now to be pleased at the old connection—they were simply waiting for their moment. At last Bogert finished his presentation. It had been average—not a complete disappointment, but not up to US Robots' usual flashy standards. The audience seemed surprised that it was over already, but they politely applauded as Bogert left the podium and the emcee reapproached it.

And then Donovan stood up. "Wait!" he said. The emcee looked confused, but stepped back, and Donovan walked up to the podium himself.

Peter Bogert's face contorted gruesomely, and Susan Calvin touched his arm. "Let's see what happens," she whispered.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Donovan into the microphone. He had never been much for public speaking, and he was concentrating all his energy into keeping his voice steady. From across the stage, Powell tried to look encouraging through his own jangling nerves. "Ladies and gentlemen," Donovan repeated. "US Robots has one more treat for you today. Our very newest model, a robot that can explore and seek out new data. He's very smart, and I think you folks are going to like him. But you don't want to hear it from me, so, without further ado, let me introduce the robot himself." Donovan gripped the podium to stop his hands shaking. Oh, the logic was sound, all right. But sound logic doesn't always lead to results in practice—and if anybody knew that, it was he and Powell. "Ladies and gentlemen, JLS-1!"

Nothing!

The audience shifted in their seats. Susan Calvin frowned. Peter Bogert glowered. And it was just as Powell was wondering if Donovan knew how to hot-wire a spaceship, and Donovan was wondering if Powell knew how to procure the kind of false papers that could get them jobs on one of the outer-system mining colonies, that Jules appeared.

He emerged tentatively from the curtain leading to backstage and approached the podium. "Hello, Donovan," he said in an undertone. "I hope I am not too late to make my speech."

Donovan pulled out the stepstool from under the podium and adjusted the microphone down to where Jules could reach it. "Jules, everybody," he said breathlessly, and retreated to his seat.

Powell lightly punched his arm in a silent gesture of congratulations. They caught each other's eyes and suddenly broke into a pair of broad, relieved grins.

"Good morning, human beings of the robotics industry and the press," Jules was saying. "At least, good morning to those of you who are keeping New York time. Here at Lunar Base it will be midday for approximately the next four Earth days." The audience chuckled; scientists loved time zone humor. "It is an honor to have the opportunity to speak in front of you this morning. I would like to thank the organizers of this convention, the attendees, and most of all the staff of US Robots. I have had a very interesting time these past two days. Lunar Base is a very interesting place to stay. Did you know that this convention has swelled the population of Lunar Base by seventy-three percent? In order to prepare for the influx of human life, an entirely new greenhouse was installed, boosting the power of the most sophisticated air filtration system in the Solar System by..."

And Jules was off, summarizing for the audience everything he had learned about Lunar Base and its environs in the past thirty-six hours. Some of it was stuff you could have gotten out of a tourist brochure, but some of it was information that had never been printed anywhere—and some, like his observations about the local lava cave networks, had been previously unknown to selenology.

"Thank you for allowing me to speak to you this morning," said Jules at last. "Have a good day."

The audience began to applaud, but Susan Calvin was on her feet waving them into silence. She stepped up beside Jules and bent to speak into the microphone.

"That was very good, Jules," she said. "Just one question. Everything you just told us—all that information about Lunar Base—were you programmed with that knowledge?"

"No, ma'am."

"Did anyone from US Robots tell it to you?"

"No, ma'am."

"Did you read it in a book?"

"Some of it, sure."

"What about the rest? How did you find out about, for instance, the maximum capacity of the air filters? Or the layout of the lava caves?"

"Well, ma'am," said Jules modestly, "I am an exploring robot. I simply went out and observed it for myself."

The audience was on their feet, applauding thunderously.

 

Jules was in Conference Room A, taking questions and signing autographs. He'd been ordered to go there, stay there—and to return there if he did happen to leave. Susan Calvin and Peter Bogert would join him shortly, but first they had cornered Powell and Donovan backstage.

"All right, boys," said Bogert sternly. "How did you do it?"

Donovan hesitated, and then admitted, "Well, we didn't really do anything. Jules came back on his own—I realized he would, so all I had to do was ask him to come out on stage."

"I suppose it was a First Rule situation. JLS-1 came back at the last second to save your skins."

"Not quite, sir," said Powell. "Jules knew about the presentation, of course, but we never really impressed on him how important it was to us that it go well. This was more a question of—well, you tell it, Mike, you figured it out this time."

"This was more a question," said Donovan, enjoying the role of detective, "of something fundamental to Jules's personality. Think of it this way—the other day, I wanted to play a game of trivia. Now, why did I pick trivia?"

"Because you're no good at chess?" Bogert hazarded, and Powell dissolved into a snicker in spite of himself.

"Besides that! I picked trivia because I happen to know a lot of things, and it's fun to—"

"To show off what you know," said Susan Calvin.

"Yes!" said Donovan. "That's it exactly. Don't you see? Jules was programmed to be an exploring robot. Well, what do explorers do? Go out and learn new things—and then bring that information back to where they started. Jules was always sharing fun facts with everybody he met—he couldn't resist that opportunity to bring back the results of his explorations and share them with hundreds of people. Knowing a lot is great, but it's no fun if you can't tell some of it to somebody."

"I see," said Calvin. "A clever bit of psychology, young man. Of course, it was your fault that we almost lost JLS-1 in the first place."

Donovan glanced at his shoes.

"But," she went on, "the presentation certainly turned out to be a lot more interesting than it would have otherwise. No harm has been done. By the way, I understand from one of our EM-models that you two had a bit of a difficult time on the Lunar surface yesterday. I think we can consider that enough punishment for their carelessness, don't you, Peter?"

Bogert frowned, but did not contradict her.

Powell and Donovan gaped.

"That's all," said Susan Calvin. "You are free to go. Oh, I almost forgot. You'll need these." And from her purse she produced two copies of the convention schedule.

"Greg," said Donovan, flipping through his, "there's a talk on Beene-Williams joints in fifteen minutes. Let's go!"

"What, and miss out on 'Epistemological Implications of First Law Ethics'? Not a chance! Catch you later, Mike!"

And the two were gone.

"You were too easy on them, Susan," said Bogert as they headed for the conference room. "You're getting soft."

"Oh, let them have their fun, Peter. They've tripled the sales of the JLS-series and you know it."

 

"There you are, Greg," said Donovan, who had just stepped out of the shower and into a pair of jeans. "How was the philosophy?"

"Fine!" Powell replied, looking up from his book. "How was mechanics?"

"Not bad! You know," Donovan mused, running a hand through his newly wet and de-pomaded hair in lieu of combing it, "I'm almost going to miss this little room?"

"I know what you mean. Amazing how much bigger it seems now that old lady Calvin is letting Jules run free."

"I'll say!"

"And you know something else, Mike?" said Powell casually.

"What?"

"We're not wearing space helmets anymore."

Donovan blushed to his eyes. "Sizzling Saturn, Greg, I was half-dead when I said that. It's not fair to kid me about it."

Powell stood up from the desk and took three steps closer to Donovan. "Who said anything about kidding?"

"Come on, Greg, this isn't funny—" And then Powell kissed him.

Donovan gasped, and then his lips answered Powell's, roughly, desperately, as if he'd been waiting for this a long time. What the devil, maybe he had. Powell had.

They pulled back and looked at each other. "Why, Mr. Powell," said Donovan, the tremulousness in his voice belying the sarcasm. "I didn't know you cared."

Powell flushed slightly. "Damn you, Mike, of course I do. Don't you?"

Donovan burst out, "Greg, I—" before settling on, "Yeah." And he kissed Powell.

When, many seconds later, their mouths were unoccupied long enough to speak again, Donovan changed the subject entirely. "I just remembered, tonight's the last night of the convention. They're having that party."

"You want to go?"

"No!" said Donovan. "No, it's just that, well—Jules has never seen a party before. And with all those interesting people there, I bet he'll be out all night..."

"Mike," said Powell, "you are full of good ideas."