The Complete Stories (Page 52)
"Good Lord, no. Does anyone meet any Grand Master socially?"
"Don’t take that attitude, Trask. They’re human and they’re to be pitied. Have you ever thought what it must be like to be a Grand Master; to know there are only some twelve like you in the world; to know that only one or two come up per generation; that the world depends on you; that a thousand mathematicians, logicians, psychologists and physical scientists wait on you?"
Trask shrugged and muttered, "Good Lord, I’d feel king of the world."
"I don’t think you would," said the senior analyst impatiently. "They feel kings of nothing. They have no equal to talk to, no sensation of belonging. Listen, Meyerhof never misses a chance to get together with the boys. He isn’t married, naturally; he doesn’t drink; he has no natural social touch-yet he forces himself into company because he must. And do you know what he does when he gets together with us, and that’s at least once a week?"
"I haven’t the least idea," said the government man. "This is all new to me."
"He’s a jokester."
"He tells jokes. Good ones. He’s terrific. He can take any story, however old and dull, and make it sound good. It’s the way he tells it. He has a flair."
"I see. Well, good."
"Or bad. These jokes are important to him." Whistler put both elbows on Trask’s desk, bit at a thumbnail and stared into the air. "He’s different, he knows he’s different and these jokes are the one way he feels he can get the rest of us ordinary schmoes to accept him. We laugh, we howl, we clap him on the back and even forget he’s a Grand Master. It’s the only hold he has on the rest of us."
"This is all interesting. I didn’t know you were such a psychologist. Still, where does this lead?"
"Just this. What do you suppose happens if Meyerhof runs out of jokes?"
"What?" The government man stared blankly.
"If he starts repeating himself? If his audience starts laughing less heartily, or stops laughing altogether? It’s his only hold on our approval. Without it, he’ll be alone and then what would happen to him? After all, Trask, he’s one of the dozen men mankind can’t do without. We can’t let anything happen to him. I don’t mean just physical things. We can’t even let him get too unhappy. Who knows how that might affect his intuition?"
"Well, has he started repeating himself?"
"Not as far as I know, but I think he thinks he has."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I’ve heard him telling jokes to Multivac."
"Accidentally! I walked in on him and he threw me out. He was savage. He’s usually good-natured enough, and I consider it a bad sign that he was so upset at the intrusion. But the fact remains that he was telling a joke to Multivac, and I’m convinced it was one of a series."
Whistler shrugged and rubbed a hand fiercely across his chin. "I have a thought about that. I think he’s trying to build up a store of jokes in Mul-tivac’s memory banks in order to get back new variations. You see what I mean? He’s planning a mechanical jokester, so that he can have an infinite number of jokes at hand and never fear running out."
"Objectively, there may be nothing wrong with that, but I consider it a bad sign when a Grand Master starts using Multivac for his personal problems. Any Grand Master has a certain inherent mental instability and he should be watched. Meyerhof may be approaching a borderline beyond which we lose a Grand Master."
Trask said blankly, "What are you suggesting I do?"
"You can check me. I’m too close to him to judge well, maybe, and judging humans isn’t my particular talent, anyway. You’re a politician; it’s more your talent."
"Judging humans, perhaps, not Grand Masters."
"They’re human, too. Besides, who else is to do it?"
The fingers of Trask’s hand struck his desk in rapid succession over and over like a slow and muted roll of drums.
"I suppose I’ll have to," he said.
Meyerhof said to Multivac, "The ardent swain, picking a bouquet of wildflowers for his loved one, was disconcerted to find himself, suddenly, in the same field with a large bull of unfriendly appearance which, gazing at him steadily, pawed the ground in a threatening manner. The young man, spying a farmer on the other side of a fairly distant fence, shouted, ‘Hey, mister, is that bull safe?’ The farmer surveyed the situation with critical eye, spat to one side and called back, ‘He’s safe as anything.’ He spat again, and added, ‘Can’t say the same about you, though." "
Meyerhof was about to pass on to the next when the summons came.
It wasn’t really a summons. No one could summon a Grand Master. It was only a message that Division Head Trask would like very much to see Grand Master Meyerhof if Grand Master Meyerhof could spare him the time.
Meyerhof might, with impunity, have tossed the message to one side and continued with whatever he was doing. He was not subject to discipline.
On the other hand, were he to do that, they would continue to bother him-oh, very respectfully, but they would continue to bother him.
So he neutralized the pertinent circuits of Multivac and locked them into place. He put the freeze signal on his office so that no one would dare enter in his absence and left for Trask’s office.
Trask coughed and felt a bit intimidated by the sullen fierceness of the other’s look. He said, "We have not had occasion to know one another, Grand Master, to my great regret."
"I have reported to you," said Meyerhof stiffly.
Trask wondered what lay behind those keen, wild eyes. It was difficult for him to imagine Meyerhof with his thin face, his dark, straight hair, his intense air, even unbending long enough to tell funny stories.