The Complete Stories (Page 23)
Norman thought he was being deliberately chatty and found himself intrigued all the same. "I thought I’d see it. I’d like to."
"I’m sure of that. But it takes a presidential order and even then it has to
be countersigned by Security. However, we are plugged into Multivac right here by beam transmission. What Multivac says can be interpreted here and what we say is beamed directly to Multivac, so in a sense we’re in its presence."
Norman looked about. The machines within the room were all meaningless to him.
"Now let me explain, Mr. Muller," Paulson went on. "Multivac already has most of the information it needs to decide all the elections, national, state and local. It needs only to check certain imponderable attitudes of mind and it will use you for that. We can’t predict what questions it will ask, but they may not make much sense to you, or even to us. It may ask you how you feel about garbage disposal in your town; whether you favor central incinerators. It might ask you whether you have a doctor of your own or whether you make use of National Medicine, Inc. Do you understand?"
"Whatever it asks, you answer in your own words in any way you please. If you feel you must explain quite a bit, do so. Talk an hour, if necessary."
"Now, one more thing. We will have to make use of some simple devices which will automatically record your blood pressure, heartbeat, skin conductivity and brain-wave pattern while you speak. The machinery will seem formidable, but it’s all absolutely painless. You won’t even know it’s going on."
The other two technicians were already busying themselves with smooth-gleaming apparatus on oiled wheels.
Norman said, "Is that to check on whether I’m lying or not?"
"Not at all, Mr. Muller. There’s no question of lying. It’s only a matter of emotional intensity. If the machine asks you your opinion of your child’s school, you may say, ‘I think it is overcrowded.’ Those are only words. From the way your brain and heart and hormones and sweat glands work, Multivac can judge exactly how intensely you feel about the matter. It will understand your feelings better than you yourself."
"I never heard of this," said Norman.
"No, I’m sure you didn’t. Most of the details of Multivac’s workings are top secret. For instance, when you leave, you will be asked to sign a paper swearing that you will never reveal the nature of the questions you were asked, the nature of your responses, what was done, or how it was done. The less is known about the Multivac, the less chance of attempted outside pressures upon the men who service it." He smiled grimly. "Our lives are hard enough as it is."
Norman nodded. "I understand."
"And now would you like anything to eat or drink?"
"No. Nothing right now." " "Do you have any questions?"
Norman shook his head.
"Then you tell us when you’re ready."
"I’m ready right now."
Paulson nodded, and raised his hand in a gesture to the others. They advanced with their frightening equipment, and Norman Muller felt his breath come a little quicker as he watched.
The ordeal lasted nearly three hours, with one short break for coffee and an embarrassing session with a chamber pot. During all this time, Norman Muller remained encased in machinery. He was bone-weary at the close.
He thought sardonically that his promise to reveal nothing of what had passed would be an easy one to keep. Already the questions were a hazy mishmash in his mind.
Somehow he had thought Multivac would speak in a sepulchral, superhuman voice, resonant and echoing, but that, after all, was just an idea he had from seeing too many television shows, he now decided. The truth was distressingly undramatic. The questions were slips of a kind of metallic foil patterned with numerous punctures. A second machine converted the pattern into words and Paulson read the words to Norman, then gave him the question and let him read it for himself.
Norman’s answers were taken down by a recording machine, played back to Norman for confirmation, with emendations and added remarks also taken down. All that was fed into a pattern-making instrument and that, in turn, was radiated to Murtivac.
The one question Norman could remember at the moment was an incongruously gossipy: "What do you think of the price of eggs?"
Now it was over, and gently they removed the electrodes from various portions of his body, unwrapped the pulsating band from his upper arm, moved the machinery away.
He stood up, drew a deep, shuddering breath and said, "Is that all? Am I through?"
"Not quite." Paulson hurried to him, smiling in reassuring fashion. "We’ll have to ask you to stay another hour."
"Why?" asked Norman sharply.
"It will take that long for Multivac to weave its new data into the trillions of items it has. Thousands of elections are concerned, you know. It’s very complicated. And it may be that an odd contest here or there, a comptroller-ship in Phoenix, Arizona, or some council seat in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, may be in doubt. In that case, Multivac may be compelled to ask you a deciding question or two."
"No," said Norman. "I won’t go through this again."
"It probably won’t happen," Paulson said soothingly. "It rarely does. But,
just in case, you’ll have to stay." A touch of steel, just a touch, entered his voice. "You have no choice, you know. You must."
Norman sat down wearily. He shrugged.
Paulson said, "We can’t let you read a newspaper, but if you’d care for a murder mystery, or if you’d like to play chess, or if there’s anything we can do for you to help pass the time, I wish you’d mention it."