Inferno (Isaac Asimov's Caliban #2)

Chapter 18

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"AND THAT IS THAT," Kresh said, after Melloy and Welton were gone and Devray and his Rangers took a sobbing, hysterical Tierlaw Verick away. "You two are free to go," he said to Beddle and Phrost.

"But what about the charges against us?" Beddle asked.

"What charges?" Kresh asked. "No one has filed any that I'm aware of. I don't intend to. "

"That's very generous of you, Governor," said Sero Phrost.

"The hell it is," Kresh said. "I think I can do more damage to the two of you by letting you stay in the public eye. After all, everything that was said in this room today is bound to reach the public, somehow. Someone is bound to leak something-wouldn't you agree, Prospero? Stories-at the very least rumors-about smuggling and bribery and money laundering are bound to float to the surface. I have a feeling that Tonya Welton is going to be able to explain away a lot of things you two can't. Oh, and Beddle, I'm looking forward to your announcement for Governor. It should be an exciting campaign."

"But I-I-"

"Quiet, Simcor," Phrost said. "Don't give him any more ammunition. Let's get out of here. " The two men got up and left, and Kresh was glad to push the door button and get them out of his sight.

"They're down now, but they won't stay down," said Fredda Leving. "You know that, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, of course," Kresh said. "Phrost still has a lot of friends, and a lot of money, and there are plenty of true believers in the Ironheads who'll forgive Beddle anything. But this way, they're damaged goods. If I brought charges against them, they could accuse me of politicizing the courts, or something. Better to let the rumors leak out and do their damage."

Kresh stood up and stretched and looked thoughtful for a moment. " You know, I've just had an odd thought, " he said. "Of all the cases I've ever dealt with that concerned robots, I think this is the first one I've ever had where the Three Laws weren't involved somewhere in the solution."

"But they were, Governor Kresh," said Caliban. "They were involved most intimately."

"In what way?"

" 'A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm,' " Caliban said, repeating the First Law. "Verick relied most heavily upon Spacer faith in that statement. In a sense, he set fifty robots with an incomplete First Law loose in the Governor's Residence. They were shut down, turned off-inactive. Through inaction, they allowed a human being to come to harm. "

"It is an interesting feature of the First Law," Donald said. "I myself experienced a most unpleasant reaction when I realized that I could have saved Grieg if I had been with him-even though it would have been impossible for me to be with him while I was performing my normal duties. No doubt there are many human beings in the universe who are being injured at this very moment. Though logically I realize there is nothing I can do about it, I must admit I find it a most disturbing notion. And it is part and parcel of the First Law. The Law is couched in such strong and solid absolutes that it cannot possibly match up with the greys and uncertainties and limitations of everyday life."

"Donald," Fredda said. "That almost sounds like a criticism of the absolute nature of the Three Laws."

"By no means, Dr. Leving. It is a criticism of the disorderly nature of everyday life."

Fredda laughed and turned to Caliban. " And what about you, Caliban? What about the Laws and you? Have you learned more on that score?"

"A year ago, my accidental escape from the lab, and the subsequent pursuit caused me to integrate my own internal Law-to protect myself. But if I pursued self-preservation at all cost, Prospero and I would have fled Purgatory. I have no doubt that the ensuing search for us would have cost many New Law robots their lives. I believe that I have integrated a new internal Law set-Cooperate for the greater good. Protect myself only when it does not endanger vitally important cooperation."

Donald turned toward Caliban. "No doubt you are aware a symbolic notational representation of that statement would be remarkably similar to the Second and Third Laws."

"Similar," Caliban agreed. "But not identical. My version acknowledges the disorderliness of the everyday world-and, I believe, allows me to deal with it more successfully than a Three Law or New Law robot."

"Enough!" Kresh said. "Grieg complained about the Three Laws ruling his life, and I'm beginning to see what he meant. Can't we talk about something else?"

"All right, let's talk about the Control Center, " Fredda said. "I don't see how you can choose either the Spacer or Settler design now. Both bids are too badly tainted."

"I know," Kresh said. "Grieg chose the Spacer design, but I'm not so sure he was right to do so. From what I've been able to see, they're both first-rate designs. The people on both sides were corrupt, but their machinery was fine. I'm going to have to think mighty hard about it, but my gut reaction is to build both systems, if we can afford it. I don't quite like the idea of the whole planet's weather being controlled by a robot-or by whoever happens to be pushing the buttons that day on the human-controlled system. If we had both, there would be a system of checks and balances that neither would have on its own. Grieg was a great one for finding a third way. Maybe I can do the same."

"But what about Grieg's other decision, concerning the New Law robots?" Prospero asked. "Will you reverse that decision as well? What's going to happen to us? Will you leave things as they are, or send us to Valhalla-or will it be kingdom come after all?"

Donald spoke before Kresh could reply. "Sir, I must urge you to consider the danger and chaos the New Law robots have produced. You cannot let it continue. You cannot let them survive."

Kresh gave Caliban and Prospero a long look, and then let out a long sigh. "Oh, it's tempting," he said. "Very tempting indeed to be rid of you once and for all. But I can't get up and announce to the world that I'm scrapping one of Chanto Grieg's most daring experiments. Not when the man isn't cold in his grave yet. I have to let you live, out of respect for his memory. " Kresh was silent for a moment. " And yet Donald is right, too. We can't afford any more of the headaches you New Law types cause. So, damn it all, I suppose it has to be Valhalla," he said.

Prospero bowed slightly and looked Kresh straight in the eye. "Thank you, Governor. You have let my people go."

The next morning Governor Alvar Kresh and Fredda Leving went out for a stroll in the sunlit grounds of the Winter Residence. The rains were over, a gentle breeze was blowing and there was a fresh-scrubbed feel to the world-a far cry from the dust-choked deserts that surrounded Hades. Nature felt alive and vigorous. The morning, the whole world, seemed full of possibilities.

This was how Inferno was supposed to be, Kresh thought. A living world. This is how it's going to be, if I have anything to do with it. Suddenly he felt a sense of purpose stronger than any he had ever felt before. I'll take care of you, he thought, and it was a promise he made to the world of Inferno itself. I will heal you, and make you well.

"So now it's over," Fredda said. "Or is it?"

"What. The case? There's some tidying up to do, but yes, it's over."

"There are an awful lot of loose ends to clear up, " Fredda pointed out. "We don't know a lot of things about the conspiracy, how exactly it was put together, or how Bissal was recruited, or how and when the SPRs were tampered with."

"True," Kresh said. "There's a lot of detail work to do, the sort of thing Donald is very good at. Probably I'll put him in charge of it. But in a sense, at least, it is only a question of detail. Tierlaw bought the services of a rustbacking mob, which one, we don't know, but it was almost certainly the one that was paying off Huthwitz. Cinta Melloy almost had them, and she lost them when they got spooked by Grieg's murder. But you found the killer, and I found the mastermind. Working from both ends toward the middle, and with Cinta's leads, we'll roll them up fast enough. Besides, if I pack off the New Laws to Valhalla, there won't be any rustbacking. Once the business collapses and there's no money, there'll be a lot of people ready to talk. We'll get them."

"You're right, I suppose," Fredda said. "So it is over."

"And it's just begun," Kresh said, looking her in the eye. He did not dare say anything more. He was not even sure he knew exactly what he meant-but the way she smiled back at him told him she had understood him precisely. The two of them walked in silence for a time, enjoying the moment, considering the possibilities.

"It's a beautiful morning," Fredda said at last. "I never expected to see such lovely weather on Purgatory."

"Nor did I," Kresh said. "But wouldn't this be a fine world if we could expect it?" He stood there for a moment, drinking it all in. But then he turned back, toward the Residence, toward his new duties. "Come on, Fredda," he said, as he reached out and took her by the hand. "There's a lot of work for us to do."

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