The Complete Stories (Page 51)
Whistler shrugged. He wore his white lab coat with his fists pressing down within its pockets and creasing it into tense vertical lines. "I knocked. You didn’t answer. The operations signal wasn’t on."
Meyerhof grunted. It wasn’t at that. He’d been thinking about this new project too intensively and he was forgetting little details.
And yet he could scarcely blame himself for that. This thing was important.
He didn’t know why it was, of course. Grand Masters rarely did. That’s what made them Grand Masters; the fact that they were beyond reason. How else could the human mind keep up with that ten-mile-long lump of solidified reason that men called Multivac, the most complex computer ever built?
Meyerhof said, "I am working. Is there something important on your mind?"
"Nothing that can’t be postponed. There are a few holes in the answer on the hyperspatial-" Whistler did a double take and his face took on a rueful look of uncertainty. "Working?"
"Yes. What about it?"
"But-" He looked about, staring into the crannies of the shallow room that faced the banks upon banks of relays that formed a small portion of Multivac. "There isn’t anyone here at that."
"Who said there was, or should be?"
"You were telling one of your jokes, weren’t you?"
Whistler forced a smile. "Don’t tell me you were telling a joke to Multivac?"
Meyerhof stiffened. "Why not?"
Meyerhof stared the other down. "I don’t have to account to you. Or to anyone."
"Good Lord, of course not. I was curious, that’s all. … But then, if you’re working, I’ll leave." He looked about once more, frowning.
"Do so," said Meyerhof. His eyes followed the other out and then he activated the operations signal with a savage punch of his finger.
He strode the length of the room and back, getting himself in hand. Damn Whistler! Damn them all! Because he didn’t bother to hold those technicians, analysts and mechanics at the proper social distance, because he treated them as though they, too, were creative artists, they took these liberties.
He thought grimly: They can’t even tell jokes decently.
And instantly that brought him back to the task in hand. He sat down again. Devil take them all.
He threw the proper Multivac circuit back into operation and said, "The ship’s steward stopped at the rail of the ship during a particularly rough ocean crossing and gazed compassionately at the man whose slumped position over the rail and whose intensity of gaze toward the depths betokened all too well the ravages of seasickness.
"Gentry, the steward patted the man’s shoulder. ‘Cheer up, sir,’ he murmured. ‘I know it seems bad, but really, you know, nobody ever dies of seasickness.’
"The afflicted gentleman lifted his greenish, tortured face to his comforter and gasped in hoarse accents, ‘Don’t say that, man. For Heaven’s sake, don’t say that. It’s only the hope of dying that’s keeping me alive.’ "
Timothy Whistler, a bit preoccupied, nevertheless smiled and nodded as he passed the secretary’s desk. She smiled back at him.
Here, he thought, was an archaic item in this computer-ridden world of the twenty-first century, a human secretary. But then perhaps it was natural that such an institution should survive here in the very citadel of computerdom; in the gigantic world corporation that handled Multivac. With Multivac filling the horizons, lesser computers for trivial tasks would have been in poor taste.
Whistler stepped into Abram Trask’s office. That government official paused in his careful task of lighting a pipe; his dark eyes flicked in Whistler’s direction and his beaked nose stood out sharply and prominently against the rectangle of window behind him.
"Ah, there, Whistler. Sit down. Sit down."
Whistler did so. "I think we’ve got a problem, Trask."
Trask half-smiled. "Not a technical one, I hope. I’m just an innocent politician." (It was one of his favorite phrases.)
"It involves Meyerhof."
Trask sat down instantly and looked acutely miserable. "Are you sure?" t "Reasonably sure."
Whistler understood the other’s sudden unhappiness well. Trask was the government official in charge of the Division of Computers and Automation of the Department of the Interior. He was expected to deal with matters of policy involving the human satellites of Multivac, just as those technically trained satellites were expected to deal with Multivac itself.
But a Grand Master was more than just a satellite. More, even, than just a human.
Early in the history of Multivac, it had become apparent that the bottleneck was the questioning procedure. Multivac could answer the problem of humanity, all the problems, if-if it were asked meaningful questions. But as knowledge accumulated at an ever-faster rate, it became ever more difficult to locate those meaningful questions.
Reason alone wouldn’t do. What was needed was a rare type of intuition; the same faculty of mind (only much more intensified) that made a grand master at chess. A mind was needed of the sort that could see through the quadrillions of chess patterns to find the one best move, and do it in a matter of minutes.
Trask moved restlessly. "What’s Meyerhof been doing?"
"He’s introduced a line of questioning that I find disturbing."
"Oh, come on, Whistler. Is that all? You can’t stop a Grand Master from going through any line of questioning he chooses. Neither you nor I are equipped to judge the worth of his questions. You know that. I know you know that."
"I do. Of course. But I also know Meyerhof. Have you ever met him socially?"