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"You do it, Conn. None of us would be here except for you."
"Thank you, General."
He pressed the b.u.t.ton. They all stood silently watching the output slot.
Even a positronic computer does not work instantaneously. Nothing does. Conn took his eyes from the slot from which the tape would come, and watched the second-hand of the clock above it. The wait didn't seem like hours to him; it only seemed like seventy-five seconds, that way. Then the bell rang, and the tape began coming out.
It took another hour and a half of b.u.t.ton-punching; the Braille-like symbols on the tape had to be retranslated, and even Merlin couldn't do that for itself. Merlin didn't think in human terms.
It was the same as before. In ignorance, the peoples of the Federation worlds would go on, striving to keep things running until they wore out, and then sinking into apathetic acceptance. Deprived of hope, they would turn to frantic violence and smash everything they most wanted to preserve. Conn pushed another b.u.t.ton.
The second information-request went in: _What is the best course to be followed under these conditions by the people of Poictesme?_ It had taken some time to phrase that in symbols a computer would find comprehensible; the answer, at great length, emerged in two minutes eight seconds. Retranslating it took five hours.
In the beginning and for the first ten years, it was, almost item for item, the Maxwell Plan. Export trade, specialized in luxury goods.
Brandies and wines, tobacco; a long list of other exportable commodities, and optimum markets. Reopening of industrial plants; establishment of new industries. Attainment of economic self-sufficiency. Cultural self-sufficiency; establishment of universities, inst.i.tutes of technology, research laboratories. Then the Maxwell Plan became the Merlin Plan; the breakup of the Federation was a fact that entered into the computation. Build-up of military strength to resist aggression by other planetary governments. Defense of the Gartner Trisystem. Lists of possible aggressor planets. Revival of interstellar communications and trade; expeditions, conquest and re-education of natives....
"We can't begin to handle this without Merlin," Conn said. "If that means blowing up the Federation, let it blow. We'll start a new one here."
"No; if there's a general, violent collapse of the Federation, it'll spread to Poictesme," Shanlee told him. "Let's ask Merlin the big question."
Merlin took a good five minutes to work that one out. The question had to include a full description of Merlin, and a statement of the information which must be kept secret. The answer was even more lengthy, but it was summed up in the first word: _Falsification_.
"So Merlin's got to be a liar, too, along with the rest of us!" Sylvie cried. "Conn, you've corrupted his morals!"
The rest of it was false data which must be taped in, and lists of corrections which must be made in evaluating any computation into which such data might enter. There was also a statement that, after fifty years, suppression of the truth and circulation of falsely optimistic statements about the Federation would no longer have any importance.
"Well, that's it," Conn said. "Merlin thought himself out of a death sentence."
They crowded into the lift and went down to the office below.
Everybody who knew what had been going on upstairs was there. Most of them were nursing drinks; almost everybody was smoking. All of them were silent, until Judge Ledue took his cigar from his mouth.
"Has the jury reached a verdict?" he asked, clinging with courtroom formality to his self-control.
"Yes, your Honor. We find the defendant, Merlin, not guilty as charged."
In the uproar his words released, Rodney Maxwell got to his feet and came quickly to Conn.
"Flora called just a while ago. Your mother is conscious; she's asking for us. Flora says she seems perfectly normal."
"We'll go right away; take a recon-car. General, will you explain things till I get back? Sylvie, do you want to come with us?"
It was autumn again, the second autumn since he had landed from the _City of Asgard_ at Storisende and taken the _Countess Dorothy_ home to Litchfield. Again the fields were bare and brown; all up and down the Gordon Valley the melons were harvested, and the wine-pressing was ready to start.
The house was crowded today. All top-level Litchfield seemed to have turned out, and there were guests from Storisende, and even a few who had made the trip from Koshchei to be there, Simon Macquarte, the president of Koshchei Tech; Conn would always remember him in the screen threatening a whole planet with devastation. Luther Chen-Wong, the chief executive of Koshchei Colony. Clyde Nichols, the president of Koshchei Airlines.
He almost b.u.mped into Yves Jacquemont, coming in from the hall.
Jacquemont's beard had been trimmed down to a small imperial, and he was wearing the uniform of Trisystem & Interstellar s.p.a.celines, nothing at all like a Federation s.p.a.ce Navy uniform. He was laughing about something; he threw an arm over Conn's shoulder, and they went into the front parlor together.
"Oh, Gehenna of a big crop!" he heard Klem Zareff's voice, chuckling happily, above the babble in the room. "You wouldn't believe it. Why, we had to build six new vats...."
The thin-faced, white-haired man in the chair beside him said something. Mike Shanlee and Klem Zareff, old enemies, were now fast friends. Shanlee had come in from Force Command with Conn that morning. He had stayed on Poictesme as nominal head of Project Merlin, and intended to remain there for the rest of his life.
"Oh, there aren't any more farm-tramps," Zareff replied. "Everybody's getting factory jobs off-planet. I have an awful time getting help, and what I can get won't work for less than ten sols a day. Why, they're even organizing a union...."
There were feminine shrieks from across the room, and a stampede. The housecleaning-robot had come in, running its vacuum-cleaning hose around and brandishing its mops. He saw his mother break away from a group of older ladies and shout:
The robot stopped dead. "Yash'm?" a voice came out of it, Sheshan-accented.
"Go out!" his mother commanded. "Go to kitchen. Stay there."
"Yash'm." The robot floated out the door to the hall.
His mother rejoined her friends. Probably telling them, for the thousandth time, that her boy Conn fixed up the sound receptors and voice for Oscar. Or harping on how Conn had been telling everybody the truth, all along, and people wouldn't believe him.
Sylvie came up to him and caught his arm. "Come on, Conn; they're going to start the rehearsal," she said.
"They've been going to start it for an hour," her father told her.
"Well, they're really going to start it now."
"All right. You two run along," Yves Jacquemont said. "And you'd better start rehearsing for your own wedding before long. The _Genji_ will be ready to hyper out in another month, and I don't want to be at s.p.a.ce when my only daughter gets married."
They pushed through the crowd, dragging Conn's mother with them toward the big living room beyond. On the way, Mrs. Maxwell stopped to try to drag Judge Ledue out of a chair.
"Judge, the rehearsal is starting; they can't do it without you."
Ledue clung to his chair. "They daren't do it with me, Mrs. Maxwell.
If I get into it, it won't be a rehearsal; they'll be really married, and then there won't be any point in having a wedding tomorrow."
"Oh, Morgan!" Conn called across the room to Gatworth. "You've just been appointed temporary judge for the wedding rehearsal!"
There was a big crowd around Wade Lucas, in the next room; he was telling them about the voyage to Baldur, from which he had returned, and the one to Irminsul, with a cargo of arms, machine tools and contragravity vehicles, on which he and his bride would go for their honeymoon. There was another crowd around Flora; she was telling them about the new fashions on Baldur, which had been brought back on the _Ouroboros II_.
"Where's your father?" his mother was asking him. "He has to rehea.r.s.e giving the bride away."
"Probably in his office. I'll go get him."
"You'll get into an argument with somebody and forget to come back,"
his mother said. "Sylvie, you go with him, and bring both of them back."