Inferno (Isaac Asimov's Caliban #2)

Chapter 13

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"OTTLEY BISSAL," Donald said. A grainy blowup of a still image from the integrator sequence appeared on the left side of the main display screen. A sharp, clear 3-D mug shot image popped into being on the right side. There was no doubt it was the same man. " As Dr. Leving predicted, Bissal did indeed leave a calling card behind, so to speak. "

Donald was standing by the screen at one end of a conference table, addressing Fredda, Sheriff Kresh, and Commander Devray. About fourteen hours had passed since Kresh had discovered the body, and about three since Fredda had found the destroyed SPR robot in the lowerlevel storage room.

Fredda felt utterly exhausted, and knew that no one else was doing much better. Kresh had caught a quick nap, and Devray probably had too. But no one was going to be doing much sleeping for a while. Donald was the only one of them at his best-

"The Crime Scene robots recovered multiple fingerprints," Donald went on, "along with hairs and flecks of skin, from the interior of one of the storage closets in the room where the security robots were held. It is clear that Bissal secreted himself in that closet for some time-long enough that he shed several hairs and several flecks of dandruff and other dead skin. From these we recovered DNA samples that provided a definitive match with Bissal's employment file. The fingerprint evidence from the door frame of the closet door provided independent corroboration of this identification."

"All right," said Justen Devray. "The guy in the closet was Ottley Bissal. So who the hell is Ottley Bissal?"

"That," said Donald, "is the question we have been working to answer since the forensic identity team gave us a name, about half an hour ago. We have made very rapid progress-mainly because every law enforcement service on the planet seems to have had an extensive file on Bissal."

"Wonderful," Kresh said. "That means everyone is going to wonder why we didn't do anything about him before he killed the Governor. Go on, Donald. What was in the files?"

"Ottley Bissal," Donald said, reading off the file. "Single, never married, age twenty-seven standard years. Born and raised in a lower-class area of the city of Hades. Limited education. Low general aptitude shown on a number of evaluative tests taken at school. Notations from various schoolteachers and counselors to the effect that he was a disruptive child and a low achiever. Once out of school, he worked various odd jobs with long stretches of nonemployment or nonregistered employment in between. Few known associates or friends. "

"The classic loser-loner, it sounds like," said Devray.

"I take it there were a few brushes with the law?" Kresh asked.

"Yes, sir. Many arrests, some indictments, but only a few convictions. There seem to be two major categories of offense to which he was prone: street brawling and petty theft. He was granted a suspended sentence for his first assault conviction six years ago. Four years ago, he served three months time in the Hades City Jail for theft.

"As a second-time offender, he was required to obtain employment upon release and hold a job for no less than an accumulated total of five years. With discharges for cause from various jobs, and bouts of unemployment, he has only accumulated three years of employment thus far. His parole officer rates his progress as 'unsatisfactory. '"

"I'm not real clear on the business about a job," Fredda said. "How does holding a job make sense as part of punishment for assault?"

"Well, if you were in law enforcement, it would make a great deal of sense, " Kresh said. "The average formal unemployment rate on Inferno is ninety percent. Only ten percent of the population have a full-time occupation for which they receive significant compensation. No one needs to work in order to live, not with robots taking care of us. But there are people-like those of us around this table-who need to work for other, psychological, reasons. Work is what gives people like us satisfaction, or maybe a big part of our reason for being.

"A fair number of the other ninety percent-say half of them-stay just as busy as we workers do, but are busy with things that might not be considered 'jobs. ' Art, or music, or gardening, or sex. Most-nearly all-of the rest of the unemployed don't really do much of anything but let the robots take care of them. Harmless drones. Maybe they amuse themselves by sleeping a lot, or by shopping, or by watching entertainments or playing games. Maybe they are vaguely discontented. Maybe they're bored and depressed. Maybe they love each and every day of life. No one really knows. I wouldn't want to be one of them, and I don't think much of them-but at least they don't do any harm.

"But that leaves us with the leftovers. The ones who have no work they love, no consuming interest, and no capacity for accepting passive inactivity. Troublemakers. Mostly male, mostly uneducated, mostly young and restless. Bissal fits the profile of the people who commit-what is it, Donald-ninety-five percent?"

"That is approximately correct," Donald said.

"Close enough. People like Bissal commit ninety-five percent of the violent crime on Inferno. Compared to Settlers, we have very short jail sentences here, for all but the most serious offenses-and leaving a bored troublemaker to rot in jail for years didn't seem to make much sense anyway. So the powers that be remembered a very old saying about idle hands and the devil's playthings, and passed a law. "

"The idea is," Devray said, "if you're forced to have a job, then there is at least a hope that you will become interested enough in the work, or at least be kept busy and made tired enough by it, so you won't be bored and energetic enough to commit fresh crimes. And it works fairly well. People find out that doing something is more satisfying and interesting than being bored and angry. " Devray nodded toward the report Donald was reading. "It doesn't sound like it's worked on Bissal, though."

"Well, yes and no, unfortunately," Donald said.

"What do you mean?" Kresh asked. "What sort of work did he do when he did work?"

"At first he held a number of jobs wherein he seems to have done very little work at all-not exactly the intent of the Criminal Employment Act. Most of his jobs seem to have consisted of little more than watching robots do the actual labor. He seems to have been discharged from a number of these positions for absenteeism. Then, for a time, he did jobs that entailed unskilled work unsuitable for a robot."

"What the hell sort of work is beneath a robot but suited to a human?" Fredda asked. "No offense, Donald, but it seems to me Infernals stick robots with all sorts of silly, useless demeaning tasks. I can't imagine anything they wouldn't make a robot do-especially anything that a human would agree to do."

"Your point is well taken. However, there are a number of unskilled or semi-skilled tasks that are unsuited to robotic labor, mainly because of the First Law. Certain forms of security work, for example. A guard must be able to shoot his gun if need be, and a guard that a thief would have no compunction against shooting would be of limited use.

"Other jobs would require robots to be so highly specialized in order to meet a job situation that comes up so rarely that it is not worth designing and manufacturing specialized robots for the task. Certain seafaring jobs, such as deep-sea fishing, for example, entail a small risk of falling overboard. Robots sink. It is certainly possible to build robots that float and yet are robust enough to survive salt air and the other hazards of a maritime environment, but it is far easier and cheaper to hire a human and give him or her a life preserver. There are other jobs that would be dangerous to a robot but entail little or no risk for a human."

"Thank you, Donald, we get the point," Kresh said. "So what line of work did Bissal finally settle into?"

"Mobile security work," Donald said, the note of distaste in his mouth unmistakable. " Armed protection of valuable shipments."

"Oh, hell," Kresh said. "That's perfect. Absolutely perfect. The one sort of job we don't like crooks taking on."

"Wait a second," Fredda protested. "You've lost me again. What's so bad about that?"

Kresh held up his right hand, his thumb about a centimeter from his index finger. "It's about that far from smuggling and contraband running," he said. "Grieg's appropriation of robots gave us a labor shortage and an illicit labor source and a need to find a way to pay for the illicit labor, all rolled into one. Smuggling and contraband are a big part of the means of payment."

Devray turned to Donald. "This mobile security work Bissal was doing. I realize we're still working with very preliminary information, but is there any likelihood he got mixed up in rustbacking?"

"There is every likelihood," Donald said. "Indeed, it seems he has only worked for firms on our rustbacking watchlist. "

"One more time," Fredda said. "Sorry, but I just don't know what you're talking about. What's rustbacking got to do with anything?"

"You weren't around," Devray said. "One of my Rangers picked up a 'backer on the east coast of the Great Bay. The rustbacker named a Ranger involved in the rustback trade. Huthwitz. The Ranger that got killed."

"So what?"

"So rustbacking keeps showing up in this case," Kresh said. " And remember Grieg was considering the idea of get ting rid of the New Law robots. That would have put the rustbackers out of business. Someone in the business would have a terrific motive for killing Grieg before he cut into profits."

"But wait a second," Fredda said. "I think we have to assume that whoever killed Grieg also killed Huthwitz. Unless we had two killers wandering the Residence that night. "

"Pardon, madame," Donald said. "One slight correction. I think we have to assume the two murders are linked, whether or not the same individual carried them both out. It may be that another member of the same team killed Huthwitz. There is a great deal of evidence of a conspiracy as it is. "

"Even so," Fredda said. "You're talking about the rustbackers plotting to kill Grieg before he could be bad for business. But if Huthwitz was on the take from the 'backers, why kill him?"

"Space only knows," Kresh said. "Maybe he was about to talk. Maybe he was demanding too much pay for his silence, and they thought of a way to save some money. Maybe killing Huthwitz wasn't part of the plan, and Bissal was taking care of some of his own personal business on company time. If you think one smuggler wouldn't kill another just because they worked together, forget it. But just in terms of parsimony, I think that we can at least start with the working theory of only one killer. And it seems pretty clear that killer was Bissal."

"There is something further in Bissal's criminal record that does point to him," Donald said. "I was about to come to it. His most recent arrest. Just about nine months ago, he was picked up on the shore just south of Hades and charged with the illegal transport of New Law robots and tampering with robot restriction devices. He could not make bail and thus served a full month in jail before his lawyers managed to get the charges withdrawn-according to the court record 'for lack of evidence. ' However, the arrest report indicates a strong case against Bissal."

Kresh grunted. "So either his lawyers were better than what a low-class hood should have had, or else someone paid someone off. Or both. Except they didn't want him on the loose so they didn't pay his bail. It suggests someone was taking care of him-but not out of the goodness of their hearts."

"Yes, sir. But there is one other interesting point. The arresting officer on the case was one Ranger Emoch Huthwitz."

"Huthwitz!" Justen said. "So there's your motive. "

"Motive?" Fredda said. "Wait a second. You lost me. Motive for what?"

"For killing Huthwitz," Justen said. "It's obvious. Huthwitz must have been bribed to turn a blind eye to the rustbacking delivery, but either he couldn't prevent someone else spotting it, or else he double-crossed Bissal. And Bissal knew who to blame for his rotting in jail for a month."

"Which reminds me, sir," Donald said. "You have not given any orders regarding the arrest of Bissal."

Devray looked startled. "You mean we've been sitting here all this time and there's been no one out looking for him?"

"No, there hasn't," Kresh said. "My standing orders to Donald are not to issue manhunt orders without my specific instruction. Cases vary too much to set standard orders. "

"Well, what about it?" Devray asked. "Isn't it about time to pick Bissal up?"

"Maybe, maybe not," Kresh said. "Bissal is either on or off the island. If he is on the island, he's not getting off it. He is either in hiding or else he's slipped back to his regular daily routine, trying to pretend nothing happened, hoping we're not on to him. He's not going anywhere. We have time-a little time-to do things right rather than in a panic. "

"But suppose he got off Purgatory?"

"If the coroner robot's reports are right about the time of death, we shut down all departures from the island and recalled all outgoing craft within two hours of Grieg's death. Island traffic control says everything-everything-in the air or on the water was turned back. And before you ask, we were lucky on spacecraft. There have been no launches since an hour before Grieg was killed, and we have the spaceport shut down. We only have to worry about sea and air."

"But you said he was probably working for rustbackers," Fredda said. "Everyone knows their boats get through without getting caught. "

"Smugglers need legitimate shipping and air travel to hide behind," Kresh said. "With the seas and skies empty, we'd be able to spot anyone trying to get away. The only way Bissal could have managed to escape is if he left the island's airspace long enough before the turn-back order, and flying fast enough, so he would be completely out of view of the island's air traffic control when the turn-back order came. If he managed that, he's in such a damned fast aircar he could be anywhere on the planet by now. And traffic control didn't spot any high-speed craft departing the island during the time interval in question."

"So you think he's still on the island," Devray said.

"Most likely," Kresh said. "And I think it might be useful to proceed with more care than speed in picking him up. It might be that we can spot him and trail him for a while first. Maybe he'll lead us to some of the others in the plot."

"Hmmmph," Devray grunted. "It's a possibility. "

"The other problem," Kresh said, "is that if we go with a massive, all-out manhunt to chase him down, it will be all but impossible to keep the SSS from joining in. I don't want the SSS in on this yet. Cinta seemed to be playing it straight when I talked to her, but I can't count on that. My gut reaction as of right now is that the SSS wasn't involved in the assassination, but we can't run this investigation on hunches."

"What do you do if you play it carefully, and then the SSS just happens to find Bissal before you do?" Devray asked.

"And he gets listed as 'killed trying to escape. " Kresh nodded and rubbed his eyes. "I know, I know. And there is the minor detail that most of the island is under SSS jurisdiction and neither your people nor mine have legal arrest powers here. There's no way to do this right-just ways that are more and less wrong."

"Then let's pick a wrong way and get on with it," Devray said. He thought for a moment. "How about this-we send pairs of discreet, plainclothes officers out to start the search. One Ranger and one deputy in each team. That way we share the blame, share the credit, and our people can watch each other, even if they don't quite trust each other yet. I can see your arguments for moving quietly, but I say we have to move quickly."

The room was silent for a moment as Kresh thought it over. He got up from his chair, leaned forward on the table, and then nodded to himself. "Very well," he said at last. "Donald, issue quiet orders for a search as per Commander Devray's suggestion. Picked teams of plainclothes Rangers and deputies, working in tandem."

"Yes, sir. If you'll excuse me for a moment, I will have to concentrate on my hyperwave links in order to make the arrangements. " Fredda watched as Donald's eyes dimmed slightly. Suddenly Donald was standing perfectly still, all motion stopped, an active robot turned utterly inert. Donald had in effect turned off his body for a time while concentrating on other things. It was rather disconcerting, even to Fredda, and she had designed Donald. We forget how unlike us they are, Fredda thought. Robots are shaped like us, walk like us, talk like us. But they aren't the least bit like us. Not really.

After perhaps half a minute, Donald's eyes brightened again and he came back to himself. "The initial orders have been relayed, sir, and I would urge both you and the Commander to review the final arrangements and brief the search personnel. It will take a little while to assemble the search teams, however, and your attention will not be required until then. "

"Very good, Donald," Kresh said. "Which reminds me-what the hell are we going to say when we brief them? It might be a good moment to review our current theory of the case."

"Not much theory left to a lot of it," Devray said. "We've got a pretty good idea of who did it and how. We just don't know why he did it-or who he was working for, which might well come to being the same thing."

"Okay then, you tell me," Kresh said as he sat back down. "I'm so punchy right now I don't know any more."

"Well, where do we start? Let's see. " Devray thought for a moment. " All right, last night what was clearly an elaborate conspiracy to kill the Governor went into action. We do not as yet know who set it in motion, or what their reasons for wanting to kill the Governor were. However, whoever the plotters were, they were highly organized and had significant resources at their disposal.

"Long before the reception took place, they were able to gain access to the security robots and doctor them. The robots were rigged with modified range restrictors. Ah, Dr. Leving, perhaps you can speak to that point better than I can. "

"All of the SPR robots were indeed rigged with restrictors," Fredda said. "That is, all but one of the robots was. I've just finished examining what's left of that fiftieth robot-the one found in the lower-level storage room. Strictly speaking, it wasn't a robot at all-call it an automaton. It didn't even have a positronic brain. It was a machine with limited motor coordination, programmed to follow the next robot in line when they were marched down into the basement. That's all it could do on its own."

"Then what good was it?" Kresh asked.

"Have you ever heard the tale of the Trojan Horse?" Fredda asked. "It's an ancient legend about a statue delivered to the enemy as a supposed gift, but filled with assassins who came out after dark and killed the defenders. That's sort of what the automaton was, except it wasn't filled with assassins-just assassination equipment, packed into its head and torso. The device for activating the range restrictors to shut down all the other robots, the blaster used to kill Grieg and wreck the SPR robots, and the device for simulating Grieg alive on the comm link-all of them were hidden inside the body of the Trojan robot."

"Hiding the murder weapon inside the security robot. Someone has a nasty sense of humor," Kresh said. "All right, then, the robots were all rigged. We've got to get started tracking those robots, and who had access to them. But don't count on it telling us much soon. Rustbackers are good at covering their tracks. But we'll get a team on it right away. Go on."

Devray took up the narrative. "It would seem to me that the conspirators must have prepared the robots some time ago, setting them up either for this specific visit to the Residence or having them in readiness for whatever opportunity presented itself. My suspicion is that they were preparing for this specific visit. It has been publicized for some time, and they would have had the time to set it all up."

"That brings up an important question that's been bothering me," Fredda said. "Why did they set up such an elaborate method of assassination? Surely there were easier ways to kill the Governor."

"I'm not so sure of that," Kresh said. "We keep-kept-very heavy security around him in Hades. There are far many more Three-Law robots around him there. Besides, I'm not sure that killing him was the entire point. "

"Then what was the point?" Fredda asked.

"Killing him here. On Purgatory, where it would cause the most mess and controversy. At the Residence, when he was here to demonstrate his own authority. I think they wanted to do more than kill him. I think they wanted to damage his work, weaken him, discredit him, create an uproar. And using range restrictors out of New Law robots won't make people feel happy or comfortable, either. It gives them something else to blame on New Law robots."

"Ah, I think you're wrong there," Fredda said. "They failed in the attempt, but they went to a lot of effort to hide the use of the restrictors. That's why the SPRs were shot in the chest."

"But why didn't he shoot all the SPRs?" Devray asked.

"I think I know why," Fredda said, "but let's come to that. " She turned to Devray.

"All right, then, they set it up well in advance. During the party, Blare and Deam-the two supposed Ironheads who had orders to start a fight-came in, and the supposedly bogus SSS agents who had orders to extract them arrived as well. How, we don't know."

"Supposedly bogus?" Kresh asked.

"If you were sure they weren't real SSS, wouldn't Melloy be here?" Devray asked.

"Point taken. Go on. "

"Before I do, just note that at least six conspirators got into the building. Blare, Deam, the three real or false SSS, and Ottley Bissal. The SSS was in charge of watching the door, but they let at least six people in they should not have-along with fifty doctored robots and Space knows what else. Either the conspirators managed to get false names onto the guest list, or the SSS were lax as hell-or the SSS was in on it. Also, don't forget some SSS units supposedly had orders to do a handoff to the Rangers once the guests had arrived, but that was a false order to get those units out of the way. My Rangers never knew about the handoff, and no one seems to know who gave the order to the SSS."

"Bissal just walked right in," Fredda said. "The SSS agents on the door were already gone by then, ordered to stand down."

"Burning hells," Kresh said. "You're right, it all looks like it points to SSS involvement-but damn it, Devray, you know as well as I do it doesn't take a conspiracy for things to go wrong when you have this many services jostling each other. Your people, mine, the SSS, the Governor's staff, the local powers-that-be, hell, the caterers, and the media people. It was chaos around here. Sheer incompetence and missed communications and distrust between Spacer and Settler are all it would take. All the plotters would have to do was wait for their chances to slip through the cracks. Or maybe just spread a little financial lubricant around. Maybe tell a few SSS agents that your uncle really wants to sneak in just long enough to see the Governor. Or maybe it is a top-to-bottom conspiracy in the SSS with Cinta Melloy pulling all the strings."

"With what motive?" Fredda asked.

"I don't know. Ask Justen. Maybe they're homesick and figure if they raise enough hell, the Settlers will have to pack up and go home."

Justen Devray shook his head. "They might even be right. "

"They can't be right," Kresh said, all the tiredness suddenly gone from his voice, his words hard as iron. "We can't let it be right. We need the Settlers," he said. "Don't ever forget that. You should know that better than anyone. Our planet is dying, and we no longer know how to save it by ourselves. Only the Settlers can save it for us. If we drive them away, this planet is doomed. Let's keep that in mind, shall we?"

"What are you saying?"

"I mean we not only have to solve this case-we have to solve it without starting interstellar incidents. If we determine that, for example, the SSS killed Grieg, that is going to require very careful handling."

"Meaning we let them get away with it?"

"I don't know. You tell me. If it's a choice between making an arrest and keeping the planet alive, what should we do?"

The room was silent for a moment. Fredda spoke up, trying to break the tension. "Look," she said, "let's not borrow trouble. Maybe it won't come tp that. Let's just take it one step at a time, all right? Now, Justen, where were we?"

"The alleged SSS agents, Blare, and Deam all got in during a ten-minute period when the logging system went out. About two hours into the party, Blare and Deam staged their scuffle with Tonya Welton. Which means we have to consider her too. She was part of the diversionary plan. Whether or not she was a willing participant is another question. Suppose she was running the assassination?"

"What would her motive be?" Fredda asked.

"Maybe she wanted to get Shelabas Quellam into office," Kresh said. "Maybe she got tired of dealing with an overbearing Governor like Grieg. Quellam has as much backbone as a bucketful of water. With him as Governor, she could more or less run the planet herself."

"But Quellam would only succeed if Grieg was impeached and convicted," Fredda said. "As it is, Grieg's Designate becomes Governor. "

"The story is that Quellam is the Designate, " Kresh pointed out.

"But is the story true?" Fredda asked. "Suppose that's not true, and Tonya Welton's intelligence is good enough to tell her that? Maybe she figured Grieg was going to be thrown out of office, and didn't want Quellam in there. Or maybe her intelligence people managed to find out who the Designate is, and she decided she liked that person so much she wanted her or him to be Governor right now. Or maybe she found out Grieg was about to choose a Designate she didn't like as much as the present name, and took steps to put her choice in office. Or maybe she wanted to precipitate such a shambles that she would have a viable pretext for pulling her people out of this forsaken vermin hole. If she wanted to abandon the planet and let everyone and everything on it die, what difference if the Governor dies a little before everyone else?"

"Do you really think she was behind it?" Devray asked. "You both know her. You make her sound like she's capable of practically anything. I can believe she's no shrinking violet, but is she really that ruthless?"

"I think Tonya Welton is capable of doing whatever she believes to be necessary," Kresh said. "Anything. But no, I don't think she did it. She's had lots of chances to walk away from Inferno, and she hasn't. And if she wanted to take over the planet, she wouldn't bother with this sort of hole-and-corner stuff. She'd just bring in a fleet with all guns blazing. On the other hand, that fleet could still show up anytime and there wouldn't be a lot we could do about it."

"You've got a real positive attitude about all this, don't you?" Fredda asked. "All right, so there's the diversionary fight. Meanwhile Bissal is waiting to get in-"

"Excuse me, Dr. Leving, but I must interject," Donald said. " There were another set of participants in the staged altercation. Aside from Tierlaw Verick, they are, in fact, the only suspects we currently have in custody. "

"In custody?" Kresh said. "We have suspects in custody?"

"Yes, sir. Caliban and Prospero. They surrendered to me personally about one hour ago. I had only just returned from taking them into custody as I arrived here for the briefing. A condition of their surrender was that I was forced to agree that I would not reveal it to you until such time as I could do so in front of Commander Devray and one other witness, though I do not know the reason for that condition. "

"Caliban and Prospero?" Fredda asked. "Why didn't you say something at the start of the briefing session?"

"Sheriff Kresh ordered me to report on Ottley Bissal," Donald said.

But that weak excuse didn't fool Fredda. A robot as sophisticated as Donald did not have to be that literal-minded in interpreting such an order. Donald had a flair for the dramatic. Not surprising, considering that his job was the solving of mysteries. Judging-quite rightly-that it would do no harm to discuss other issues first, he had waited until the proper dramatic moment to unleash his bombshell.

Or, to give a less anthropomorphic explanation, Donald understood human psychology and knew that humans would give greater attention-and greater credence-to his suspicions regarding the two robots if he waited until the proper moment.

Fredda herself wasn't sure which explanation was right. Maybe Donald himself didn't know. Humans didn't always know why they did things. Why should robots? "Where are Caliban and Prospero?" Fredda asked.

"Under heavy guard in a storeroom similar to the one Bissal used as a hiding place," Donald replied. "But with your permission, I would like to point out several facts that strengthen the case against them."

"Very well," Kresh said.

"First, they were involved in the staged fight. If that in and of itself is enough to cast suspicion on Tonya Welton, then it is enough to cast suspicion on Caliban and Prospero."

"He's got a point," Kresh said. "No one seemed to think anything of their actions at the time, but why were they obeying the Three Laws? Maybe just to look good. Maybe not."

"You anticipate my next point, sir. The ambiguities of the New Laws might well permit Prospero to be a willing participant in a murder."

"Donald!" Fredda said.

He turned and looked at her with a steady gaze. "I regret saying so, Dr. Leving, particularly to you, the author of those Laws, but it is nonetheless true. The New First Law says a robot must not harm a human-but says nothing about preventing harm. A robot with foreknowledge of a murder is under no compulsion to give anyone warning. A robot who witnesses a murder is not compelled to prevent it.

"The New Second Law says a robot must 'cooperate' with humans, not obey them. Which humans? Suppose there are two groups of humans, one intent on evil, the other on good? How does a New Law robot choose?

"The New Third Law is the same as the old third-but relative to the weakened First and Second Laws, it is proportionately stronger. A so-called New Law robot will all but inevitably value its own existence far more than any true robot-to the detriment of the humans around it, who should be under its protection.

"As for the New Fourth Law, which says a robot 'may' do whatever it likes, the level of contradiction inherent in that statement is remarkable. What does it mean? I grant that the verbal expression of robotic laws is far less exact than the underlying forms of them as structured in a robot's brain, but even the mathematical coding of the Fourth Law is uncertain. "

"I meant it to be vague," Fredda said. "That is, I mean there to be a high level of uncertainty. I grant there is a basic contradiction in a compulsory instruction to act with free will, but I was forced to deal within the framework of the compulsory, hierarchical nature of the first three of the New Laws."

"But even so," Donald said. "The Fourth New Law sets up something utterly new in robotics-an intralaw conflict. The original Three Laws often conflict with each other, but that is one of their strengths. Robots are forced to balance the conflicting demands; for example, a human gives an order for some vitally important task that involves a very slight risk of minor harm to the human. A robot that is forced to deal with such conflicts and then resolve them will act in a more balanced and controlled fashion. More importantly, perhaps, it can be immobilized by the conflict, thus preventing it from acting in situations where any action at all would be dangerous.

"But the Fourth New Law conflicts with itself; and I can see no possible benefit in that. It gives semi-compulsory permission for a robot to follow its own desires-although a robot has no desires. We robots have no appetites, no ambitions, no sexual urges. We have virtually no emotion, other than a passion for protecting and obeying humans. We have no meaning in our lives, other than to serve and protect humans-nor do we need more meaning than that.

"The Fourth Law in effect orders the robot to create desires, though a robot has none of the underlying urges from which desires spring. The Fourth Law then encourages-but does not require-the robot to fulfill these synthetic desires. In effect, by not compelling a New Law robot to fulfill its needs at all times, the Fourth Law tells a robot to fulfill its spurious needs part of the time-and thus, it will not fulfill them at other times. It is compelled, programmed, to frustrate itself from time to time.

"A true robot, a Three-Law robot, left to its own devices, without orders or work or a human to serve, will do nothing, nothing at all-and be not at all disturbed by its lack of activity. It will simply wait for orders, and be alert for danger to humans. A New Law robot without orders will be a mass of conflicted desires, compelled to want things it does not need, compelled to seek satisfaction only part of the time."

"Very eloquent, Donald," Kresh said. "I don't like New Law robots any better than you do-but what does it have to do with the case?"

"A great deal, sir. New Law robots want to stay alive-and they know that it is not by any means certain they will do so. Prospero in particular knew that Grieg was considering extermination as a possibility. They might well have decided to act in a misguided form of self-defense. The New Laws would permit them to cooperate with humans and assist in a murder, so long as they did not actually do the killing themselves. Caliban, of course, has no Laws whatsoever. There are no limits to what he might do. There is nothing in robotics to prevent him actually pulling the trigger."

"A rather extreme view, Donald," Fredda said, quite surprised by the vehemence of Donald's arguments.

"It is a rather extreme situation, Dr. Leving. "

"Do you have any evidence for all of this, aside from elaborate theory-spinning? Do you have any concrete reason for accusing Prospero and Caliban?"

"I have their confession," Donald said.

"Their what?" Fredda almost shouted.

Donald held up a cautionary hand. "They confessed to blackmail, not murder. However, it is a frequent tactic of criminals to confess to a lesser charger in order to avoid a graver one."

"Blackmail?" Kresh asked. "What the devil were they going to blackmail Grieg with?"

"Everything," Donald said. "It has been an open secret for some time that Prospero has been in league with the rustbackers, seeking to get as many New Law robots as possible off Purgatory. In that capacity, he has accumulated a great deal of information on all the people-some of them quite well known-involved in the rustbacking business, and has made it his business to collect confidential information-preferably negative information-about virtually every public figure on this planet. Prospero told me that he had threatened Grieg with the release of all of it if the New Law robots were exterminated. The ensuing scandals would paralyze society, at the very least. He was, in effect, blackmailing the office, not the man. Do what I say or I ruin your society. It is a tribute to the Governor's integrity that Prospero was forced to such a tactic. "

"In what way?" Kresh asked.

"Clearly, Prospero would not have needed to offer the threat he did if he had been able to learn a few unpleasant details about Governor Grieg himself. Since he could not locate any such information, he was forced into the far more difficult task of accumulating enough scurrilous information on everyone else that Grieg would not dare have it all get out."

"So Prospero was willing to blackmail Grieg. What about Caliban?"

"My interrogation of the two of them was necessarily rather brief, but it was my impression that it was Prospero making the threats, perhaps without Caliban's foreknowledge. Caliban, I must confess, seemed most unhappy to be involved in the whole affair."

"But you think the whole blackmail story is a hoax," Fredda said, "a cover story that will divert us from thinking they were there to murder the Governor, or at least assist in the Governor's murder. "

"I think we must consider the possibility," Donald said" And, one last point I must make. Both Caliban and Prospero are capable of lying. Three-Law robots, of course, cannot lie. Caliban and Prospero may be hoping that we associate them with the robotic reputation for honesty-which would be quite undeserved. "

"But wait a second," Devray protested. "What could Caliban and Prospero do that wasn't being done already? We've got Bissal in the basement with the rigged SPRs. He's the triggerman. Why do we need blackmailing robots wandering around?"

"I admit that there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that Bissal pulled the trigger," Donald said. "Why else would he have been in the storeroom? But we have no concrete evidence. All we know for certain is that he was hiding in a storeroom closet during the party. "

"Donald, you're on a fishing expedition, looking for things to blame on Caliban and Prospero," Fredda said. "Do you think Bissal went down there and hid because he was shy? If Caliban and Prospero did it, what did they need Bissal for? You don't make the sort of effort the plotters made to get Bissal in position if you already have someone else ready to do the killing."

"Nonetheless, Fredda, Donald has a point," Kresh said. "The two robots did have motives, means, and opportunity-and they have confessed to a lesser crime. There's certainly enough there to justify further investigation. But let's move on. Devray?"

"In any event," Devray went on, "the plotters staged a fight. It seems to me there's no need to assume Welton and the robots were part of the plot because they were there, but in any event, the fight served its purpose by allowing Bissal to get into the storeroom unobserved. Soon thereafter-also as a result of the fight-the robots were deployed. No one wanted robots around during the party, remember. Bad publicity. The plan was that the SPRs only be brought out if needed.

"I think it is at least possible that making sure the SPRs were brought out was part of the plan. They were really only there as a reserve security force. If there hadn't been an apparent threat during the evening, they would have been left in the storeroom and Grieg might well have used his own reserve SPRs for overnight security. Since there were already fifty security robots on duty, nobody bothered to power up the Governor's half-dozen reserve SPRs sitting in the aircar.

"Except those reserve SPRs came with Grieg from Hades, and they weren't tampered with," Fredda said. "They're still where they were the whole time, powered down in the cargo aircar that brought them, sitting outside. Without the staged altercation, Grieg might well have deployed those robots rather than the rigged SPRs. And, of course, if Bissal had been up against fully functional SPRs, he never would have gotten anywhere near the Governor. "

"I just had a thought," Kresh said. "If the purpose of the staged fight was to draw out the rigged SPRs, that would explain why it was all so elaborate. It was intended to make us paranoid, so we would deploy the closest, largest force of robots on hand. "

"Makes sense to me," Devray said. "I've been wondering about that. If all they had wanted was a simple diversion, there wasn't any need to go to the lengths they did."

"That's a good explanation," Fredda said, "but I think you've got to think about the psychology of the whole plan too. There's something theatrical about it all. It's complicated, it's full of grand gestures."

"Whoever set this up," Kresh said. "The ringleader. That's the person we should be thinking about, not a cipher like Ottley Bissal. He's no one at all. It's who he might lead us to that I'm interested in. So far, about the one thing we can say for sure about the ringleader is that it wasn't Bissal."

"That theatrical angle, " Devray said. " A person like that wouldn't want to miss the show."

"What do you mean?" Fredda asked.

"I mean if the ringleader is the sort of person with a flair for the dramatic you're talking about, and if he or she has an ego big enough to think about killing the Governor-then that person would be there. " Devray thought for a moment, and nodded to himself. "Our ringleader would want to be there, watching the show he or she had set up, gloating over it. There would be no real danger in watching it unfold. He or she would have so many cutouts and layers of security that the team's own operatives wouldn't know who the boss was. But the boss would be there, watching it happen. An audience of one. "

"Point taken," Kresh said. "It would be an insane risk for the leader of the plot to be within a hundred kilometers of the place-but people who kill planetary leaders aren't altogether sane. All right, there we are at the staged fight. "

"The fight draws the attention of the party-goers," Devray went on, "and distracts enough of the Ranger security guards inside the house so Bissal can get to the storage room with the robots. Alternately, the fight provides the excuse for the guards being drawn off, as they were already suborned in the first place. They are my people, but they are also human. It is possible that Huthwitz was not the only dirty Ranger in all this. But I will say in defense of the Rangers that they are not used to serving as sentries. They don't get much training in it. Robots do that sort of thing. It was only because robots were not supposed to be in evidence last night for political reasons that Grieg asked for human guards."

"And if he had stuck with robot guards, he'd be alive this morning," Kresh said. "That's another reason the plotters must have chosen last night-at a regular Spacer party, there would have been throngs of robots around, serving the food, offering drinks and so on, and they would have stayed on after the party, remained in the house. There would have been a dozen different types of robots, from a dozen different sources. There would be no way to deactivate them all at one go before the event. The reception last night was all human service, Rangers serving as bartenders and waiters, and they went home when they were done. Cinta Melloy thought it was strange that Grieg was alone in the house, but that wasn't the strange part. The strange part was that he had none of his own household robots along."

"In any event, Bissal uses the diversion of the fight to get to the storeroom and wait. You, Sheriff Kresh, investigate the staged fight, and while you are otherwise involved, the three supposed SSS agents come in and take Blare and Deam away, never to be seen again. The party goes on, with no apparent further incident, but everyone more than a little paranoid. Shortly thereafter, the Rangers on duty are sent down to activate the SPRs and deploy them. I questioned the Rangers who did the job, and they said all fifty robots were standing there, powered down, their chest access panels open. All the Rangers had to do was push the power buttons and close the access doors. One of the Sappers failed to activate, but the Rangers did not fuss with it very much, figuring forty-nine security robots were enough. They were also a bit anxious to get back to their own duty posts-understandable, with all the commotion that had already taken place. "

"Unless they were the Rangers who were suborned," Kresh said. "That seems farfetched, but there was a conspiracy. Sooner or later, someone or other will suspect every single person at the reception of being in on the plot. And that goes for all of us around this table. We have to be ready for that. "

"I'm already checking the two Rangers who powered up the Sappers," Devray said. "In any event, the plotters now had a houseful of rigged security robots, and Bissal was in the basement with Fredda's Trojan robot. He might have come out and starting unpacking his gear then, but if he had any sense at all, he stayed in that closet, out of sight, waiting. Not the most relaxing way to spend the evening. His nerves may have gotten a bit jangled by waiting so long in the dark, which might explain some of the mistakes he made. Judging by the integrator images, he was already a little jumpy when he arrived.

"The party ends. The guests leave. The Ranger waiters are eager to get the place cleaned up and get out of there. They don't like being servants. It's humiliating to be doing a robot's job, and it's not why they joined the force. Maybe they are a little hurried, a little sloppy. Meantime, upstairs, Grieg is having his usual series of end-of-the-evening meetings. The next to last of these is with Tierlaw Verick-and I think we need to take another crack at Verick. I don't think we got everything out of him. And he's got to be a prime suspect in all this. Donald can say what he wants about Caliban and Prospero, but if I were an assassin, I'd want a human confederate in the house, not a pair of robots."

"We're still holding him," Kresh said. "He's mad enough to bite the head off a Sapper, but he's not going anywhere."

"Good," Devray said. " Anyway, according to Verick's statement, he said good night to the Governor at the door. He encountered two robots matching Caliban's and Prospero's descriptions coming in as he went out, and then went to bed. He claims to have slept through the ruckus, and he seems to have been overlooked in the initial room-to-room search."

"My people getting sloppy, " Kresh said. " And more damn suspects for the conspiracy mill. Though what purpose pretending to overlook Verick might have, I can't imagine."

"Caliban and Prospero meet with the Governor," Devray continued. " According to Donald, they say they threatened the Governor with blackmail. They may have participated in some way in the murder. Perhaps they removed the modified range restrictors from the ground-floor robots. Maybe Bissal was doing that while they shot the Governor. But let's leave them out of it for now. We don't really need them to explain the sequence of events. We can add them later if we have to. Donald, what did they say happened after they talked to Grieg?"

"They say they left the Residence without noticing anything untoward and walked back to Limbo. "

"In the driving rain?" Kresh asked.

"Neither of them had access to an aircar," Donald said. "I would expect the going would be a bit treacherous, and visibility poor, but both of them are of water-resistant design. It would be no great hardship for either of them to walk back to town."

"What about the SPRs?" Fredda asked. "Were they functional when Caliban and Prospero left?"

"I elected not to ask that question, for fear of supplying them with information they did not have. If I asked if the SPRs were working when they left, they might well have realized we had not established the timing of events, allowing them to fashion their stories more effectively. However, neither of them volunteered any information regarding the SPRs. If they are telling the truth, that suggests nothing was amiss when they left. If they are lying, they may be trying to make it appear nothing was amiss at that time, thus muddying the waters. "

"The last thing these waters need is muddying, " Kresh said. "All right, according to the robots, everything was fine when they left the building."

"At some point in the night," Devray said, "Bissal came out of his closet and started taking the gear out of this Trojan robot of yours, Dr. Leving. Can you give us some more details on that?"

"Well, the Trojan was badly damaged, and I haven't had much time for an examination, but I can tell you the basics," Fredda said. "The robot's torso was actually a series of storage compartments. When I examined it, there was one empty compartment the right size and shape to hold the image box, the communications simulator that was programmed to put Grieg's face and voice on the comm lines. There was what appeared to be a transmitter of some sort, though it looked half-melted. I would assume it was the activator for the range restrictors on the other robots. There were a few other things that were more or less intact-a handlight, a pair of gloves, that sort of thing. Then there was the remains of the blaster in what looked to be a shielded compartment, but it was so melted I could barely recognize it."

"So that's where the gun got to," Kresh said.

"After he had unpacked his equipment," Devray went on, "Bissal sent the signal activating the range restrictors. All the SPR robots immediately shut down. Bissal came upstairs and went straight to Grieg's bedroom. The door was unlocked-the door doesn't have a lock. No need with robot sentries on either side of the door."

"But Grieg's office has a lock," Fredda protested.

"Not for security reasons," Kresh said. "For privacy. It's a one-way door setup to keep one set of visitors from running into another."

"In any event, Grieg was sitting up in bed, reading," Devray went on. "He probably didn't notice the SPRs in his room had shut down-even while they had been on, the three of them would have been doing nothing more than standing, motionless, in their niches. Bissal came in, got as close as the end of the bed, and fired, once. Grieg's body shows no sign that he tried to escape. Maybe he was actually asleep, having dozed off over his book, and came awake with a start just as Bissal fired. Maybe he decided not to make any sudden moves, or any moves at all, for fear of spooking the intruder. Maybe he just froze, held his position exactly, as he tried to reason with Bissal. Or maybe-maybe he was set up. Maybe he didn't react, or try to flee, because he knew Bissal, and was expecting Bissal."

"What?" Kresh half shouted.

"I agree it sounds ridiculous. But can we afford to discount the possibility?"

"Why the devil would he be expecting Bissal?"

"I don't know. Maybe Bissal was supposed to have a message for him. Maybe Grieg's personal tastes were not what we assumed. Maybe a lot of things. I don't think any such thing happened, but we're trying to examine all the possibilities."

"All right, point taken. In any event, Bissal shoots Grieg. "

"Unless Verick or the robots did," Fredda said, "but then why was Bissal here? Or do you have an answer for that, as well, Donald?"

"I grant that Bissal's presence is the largest weakness in my theory," Donald said. "I assure you that I will continue to search for an explanation. "

"I'll lay odds that you don't find it," Fredda said. "In any event, we are now up to the murder itself-possibly the simplest part of the whole affair. Bissal-a loser, a nobody from nowhere, raises his weapon and blasts a hole in the planetary leader."

"There's something almost anticlimactic about it," Devray said. " After all the complications and scheming and plotting, that one shot was all there was to it. "

Fredda nodded. "Commander Devray, maybe I should do the narrative for the period after the murder. I think I've come up with a few things I haven't had a chance to report."

Devray nodded. "By all means. "

"Thank you," Fredda said. "It's virtually certain that Bissal shot the three SPRs immediately after killing Grieg. You can get a pretty clear sequence of shots by charting the blast intensity, with each shot a bit weaker than the one before. That much we knew. But what I've established is that Bissal wasted his blaster charge. He had enough power in that thing to kill Grieg and knock out a hundred SPRs. But a blaster keeps shooting as long as you hold down the trigger-and Bissal held that trigger down too long.

"All he had to do to the SPRs is burn them deep enough to vaporize the range restrictors and eliminate the evidence that rustbackers were behind the plot, but about half the SPRs that did get shot have holes burned clear through their chests-and so does Grieg, for that matter. If Bissal had given each robot, say, a quarter-second blaster shot instead of a full second, the robots would be just as dead, the restrictors would be thoroughly destroyed, and he would have had the blaster power left over to knock out all the SPRs he missed. Also, the Trojan robot in the basement was only partially destroyed. One of the Crime Scene robots said it looked like a deliberate overload meltdown from a blaster with a depleted power pack.

"I think Bissal was supposed to shoot all the SPRs, and then put his blaster back in the Trojan, set it for an overload, and run. If he had been careful with his blaster charge, he would have had enough power left to shoot all the robots twice, and still melt the Trojan robot down to a puddle on the floor, destroy it so completely we'd never know it was a Trojan."

"It seems like a lot of trouble to hide the fact that they were using range restrictors," Devray said, "especially when you consider that we were going to find a bunch of robots all shot in the chest. Seems to me we would have thought about range restrictors pretty quick anyway."

"Maybe," Fredda conceded. "It would have been a little harder to realize the importance of chest shots if Bissal had done more shots to the head and the lower torso, or shot a few of them through the back instead of the front. But even so, think about it. If he had shot them all, the way he was supposed to, there would have been forty-nine SPRs shot dead, one SPR melted down to slag, and Grieg dead. Maybe we'd all be wondering what sort of super killer could get past that much security. We wouldn't know for sure they had used restrictors-or known what sort, or how they had done it. Besides, covering their tracks wasn't much of a priority with this crowd."

"In fact, much the opposite," Kresh said. "Think about all the things in this case that seem to have been done for the purpose of unnerving us-or the public. Just think how they'll react to it all. The dead Ranger that the assassin killed by sneaking up from inside the perimeter. The false SSS agents. Blare and Deam posing as Ironheads, and Simcor Beddle denying they were any such thing. Was he lying, or not? Suppose we had found all the security robots wrecked by blaster shots and could not explain why or how it had happened? That would have thrown people to a pretty understandable panic. Even with the plan slightly botched, they're going to find it unnerving. "

"Psychological warfare?" Devray asked.

Kresh shrugged. "Maybe they just want to get the public so rattled that the commotion interferes with the investigation."

"Bear in mind that we don't have and won't get any audio or video record from the destroyed robots. Maybe the plotters just wanted to cover their tracks. Whatever the reason, I think that we were supposed to find fifty dead robots. "

"There's something else that went wrong," Kresh said. "Me finding Grieg so soon after he was killed. In the normal course of events, it might have been eight or ten hours before anyone discovered the body, as opposed to ninety minutes."

"And your discovery came as a direct result of Huthwitz being killed," Devray said. "If he had not died, you would not have been out here, or gotten suspicious, or called the Governor twice to make sure he was all right. "

"All true," Kresh said. "And more reason to think Bissal is a bit of a loose cannon. All he had to do was not kill Huthwitz-if he was the one who killed Huthwitz. Maybe the two deaths aren't related at all-though I don't believe that. I think killing Huthwitz was not part of the plan, but that Bissal did it anyway, for whatever reason. You'd think that people who have set up this elaborate a plan could have come up with a more reliable person to carry it out."

"I think I know why they got someone like Bissal," Devray said. "But-"

Suddenly Donald stood bolt upright. "Excuse me, sir, but I am receiving a priority communication from one Olver Telmhock."

"Who?" Kresh asked. "Olver Telmhock. I have no further information, and the hyperwave signal carries a Crash Priority rating. The coding prefix indicates his message must be related in person for security reasons. His aircar is arriving at the Residence now. You are urged to hear him immediately."

Kresh sighed. " Another one crawls out of the woodwork. All right, if I have to go, I have to go."

Fredda watched as Kresh stood up to go. "You don't seem too excited by a Crash Priority. "

"I've gotten about a half dozen of them so far today over hyperwave. The most useful one was the mayor of Dustbowl City extending his condolences, and the next best was a deputy back in Hades reporting that Grieg has been sighted alive walking down the street, dressed in women's clothing. "

Fredda smiled wanly. "If only they were right. Wouldn't you love to wake up and find out this was a bad dream? That our biggest problem was a Governor with odd tastes in clothes?"

Kresh nodded. "That would be nice," he said. "I'm tired of nightmares that come while I'm awake. Come on, Donald. Let's get the latest fashion report. "

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