The Complete Stories (Page 221)
Cliff said, "Why not, indeed," and started working on the mathematics.
How we got where we did in two years is no matter. It’s what we got after we finished that made the trouble. It turned out that we ended with something about this high and maybe so wide and just about this deep-
No, no. I forget that you can’t see me. I’ll give you the figures. It was about three feet high, six feet long, and two feet deep. Got that? It took two men to carry it but it could be carried and that was the point. And still, mind you, it could do anything the wall-size calculators could. Not as fast, maybe, but we were still working.
We had big ideas about that thing, the very biggest. We could put it on ships or airplanes. After a while, if we could make it small enough, an automobile could carry one.
We were especially interested in the automobile angle. Suppose you had a little thinking machine on the dashboard, hooked to the engine and battery and equipped with photoelectric eyes. It could choose an ideal course, avoid cars, stop at red lights, pick the optimum speed for the terrain. Everybody could sit in the back seat and automobile accidents would vanish.
All of it was fun. There was so much excitement to it, so many thrills every time we worked out another consolidation, that I could still cry when I think of the time I picked up the telephone to call our lab and tumbled everything into the discard.
I was at Mary Ann’s house that evening- Or have I told you about Mary Ann yet? No. I guess I haven’t.
Mary Ann was the girl who would have been my fiancee but for two ifs. One, if she were willing, and two, if I had the nerve to ask her. She has red hair and crams something like two tons of energy into about 110 pounds of body which fills out very nicely from the ground to five and a half feet up. I was dying to ask her, you understand, but each time I’d see her coming into sight, setting a match to my heart with every movement, I’d just break down.
It’s not that I’m not good-looking. People tell me I’m adequate. I’ve got all my hair; I’m nearly six feet tall; I can even dance. It’s just that I’ve nothing to offer. I don’t have to tell you what college teachers make. With inflation and taxes, it amounts to just about nothing. Of course, if we got the basic patents rolled up on our little thinking machine, things would be different. But I couldn’t ask her to wait for that, either. Maybe, after it was all set-Anyway, I just stood there, wishing, that evening, as she came into the living room. My arm was groping blindly for the phone.
Mary Ann said, "I’m all ready, Bill. Let’s go."
I said, "Just a minute. I want to ring up Cliff."
She frowned a little, "Can’t it wait?"
"I was supposed to call him two hours ago," I explained.
It only took two minutes. I rang the lab. Cliff was putting in an evening of work and so he answered. I asked something, then he said something, I
asked some more and he explained. The details don’t matter, but as I said, he’s the mathematician of the combination. When I build the circuits and put things together in what look like impossible ways, he’s the guy who shuffles the symbols and tells me whether they’re really impossible. Then, just as I finished and hung up, there was a ring at the door.
For a minute, I thought Mary Ann had another caller and got sort of stiff-backed as I watched her go to the door. I was scribbling down some of what Cliff had just told me while I watched. But then she opened the door and it was only Cliff Anderson after all.
He said, "I thought I’d find you here- Hello, Mary Ann. Say, weren’t you going to ring me at six? You’re as reliable as a cardboard chair." Cliff is short and plump and always willing to start a fight, but I know him and pay no attention.
I said, "Things turned up and it slipped my mind. But I just called, so what’s the difference?"
"Called? Me? When?"
I started to point to the telephone and gagged. Right then, the bottom fell out of things. Exactly five seconds before the doorbell had sounded I had been on the phone talking to Cliff in the lab, and the lab was six miles away from Mary Ann’s house.
I said, "I-just spoke to you."
I wasn’t getting across. Cliff just said, "To me?" again.
I was pointing to the phone with both hands now, "On the phone. I called the lab. On this phone here! Mary Ann heard me. Mary Ann, wasn’t I just talking to-"
Mary Ann said, "I don’t know whom you were talking to. -Well, shall we go?" That’s Mary Ann. She’s a stickler for honesty.
I sat down. I tried to be very quiet and clear. I said, "Cliff, I dialed the lab’s phone number, you answered the phone, I asked you if you had the details worked out, you said, yes, and gave them to me. Here they are. I wrote them down. Is this correct or not?"
I handed him the paper on which I had written the equations.
Cliff looked at them. He said, "They’re correct. But where could you have gotten them? You didn’t work them out yourself, did you?"
"I just told you. You gave them to me over the phone."
Cliff shook his head, "Bill, I haven’t been in the lab since seven fifteen. There’s nobody there."
"I spoke to somebody, I tell you."
Mary Ann was fiddling with her gloves. "We’re getting late," she said.
I waved my hands at her to wait a bit, and said to Cliff, "Look, are you sure-"
"There’s nobody there, unless you want to count Junior." Junior was what we called our pint-sized mechanical brain.
We stood there, looking at one another. Mary Ann’s toe was still hittir
the floor like a time bomb waiting to explode. 1
Then Cliff laughed. He said, "I’m thinking of a cartoon I saw, somewhere. It shows a robot answering the phone and saying, ‘Honest, boss, there’s nobody here but us complicated thinking machines.’ "