Masters of Space
Copyright© 2012 by E. E. Smith (Edward Elmer) & Edward Everett Evans
Knowing that he had done everything he could to help the most important investigations get under way, Hilton turned his attention to secondary matters. He made arrangements to decondition Javo, the Number Two Oman Boss, whereupon that worthy became Javvy and promptly "bumped" the Oman who had been shadowing Karns.
Larry and Javvy, working nights, deconditioned all the other Omans having any contact with BuSci personnel; then they went on to set up a routine for deconditioning all Omans on both planets.
Assured at last that the Omans would thenceforth work with and really serve human beings instead of insisting upon doing their work for them, Hilton knew that the time had come to let all his BuSci personnel move into their homes aground. Everyone, including himself, was fed up to the gozzel with spaceship life--its jam-packed crowding; its flat, reprocessed air; its limited variety of uninteresting food. Conditions were especially irksome since everybody knew that there was available to all, whenever Hilton gave the word, a whole city full of all the room anyone could want, natural fresh air and--so the Omans had told them--an unlimited choice of everything anyone wanted to eat.
Nevertheless, the decision was not an easy one to make.
Living conditions were admittedly not good on the ship. On the other hand, with almost no chance at all of solitude--the few people who had private offices aboard were not the ones he worried about--there was no danger of sexual trouble. Strictly speaking, he was not responsible for the morals of his force. He knew that he was being terribly old-fashioned. Nevertheless, he could not argue himself out of the conviction that he was morally responsible.
Finally he took the thing up with Sandra, who merely laughed at him. "How long have you been worrying about that, Jarve?"
"Ever since I okayed moving aground the first time. That was one reason I was so glad to cancel it then."
"You were slightly unclear--a little rattled? But which factor--the fun and games, which is the moral issue, or the consequences?"
"The consequences," he admitted, with a rueful grin. "I don't give a whoop how much fun they have; but you know as well as I do just how prudish public sentiment is. And Project Theta Orionis is squarely in the middle of the public eye."
"You should have checked with me sooner and saved yourself wear and tear. There's no danger at all of consequences--except weddings. Lots of weddings, and fast."
"Weddings and babies wouldn't bother me a bit. Nor interfere with the job too much, with the Omans as nurses. But why the 'fast', if you aren't anticipating any shotgun weddings?"
"Female psychology," she replied, with a grin. "Aboard-ship here there's no home atmosphere whatever; nothing but work, work, work. Put a woman into a house, though--especially such houses as the Omans have built and with such servants as they insist on being--and she goes domestic in a really big way. Just sex isn't good enough any more. She wants the kind of love that goes with a husband and a home, and nine times out of ten she gets it. With these BuSci women it'll be ten out of ten."
"You may be right, of course, but it sounds kind of far-fetched to me."
"Wait and see, chum," Sandra said, with a laugh.
Hilton made his announcement and everyone moved aground the next day. No one, however, had elected to live alone. Almost everyone had chosen to double up; the most noteworthy exceptions being twelve laboratory girls who had decided to keep on living together. However, they now had a twenty-room house instead of a one-room dormitory to live in, and a staff of twenty Oman girls to help them do it.
Hilton had suggested that Temple and Teddy, whose house was only a hundred yards or so from the Hilton-Karns bungalow, should have supper and spend the first evening with them; but the girls had knocked that idea flat. Much better, they thought, to let things ride as nearly as possible exactly as they had been aboard the Perseus.
"A little smooching now and then, on the Q strictly T, but that's all, darling. That's positively all," Temple had said, after a highly satisfactory ten minutes alone with him in her own gloriously private room, and that was the way it had to be.
Hence it was a stag inspection that Hilton and Karns made of their new home. It was very long, very wide, and for its size very low. Four of its five rooms were merely adjuncts to its tremendous living-room. There was a huge fireplace at each end of this room, in each of which a fire of four-foot-long fir cordwood crackled and snapped. There was a great hi-fi tri-di, with over a hundred tapes, all new.
"Yes, sirs," Larry and Javvy spoke in unison. "The players and singers who entertained the Masters of old have gone back to work. They will also, of course, appear in person whenever and wherever you wish."
Both men looked around the vast room and Karns said: "All the comforts of home and a couple of bucks' worth besides. Wall-to-wall carpeting an inch and a half thick. A grand piano. Easy chairs and loafers and davenports. Very fine reproductions of our favorite paintings ... and statuary."
"You said it, brother." Hilton was bending over a group in bronze. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear this is the original deHaven 'Dance of the Nymphs'."
Karns had marched up to and was examining minutely a two-by-three-foot painting, in a heavy gold frame, of a gorgeously auburn-haired nude. "Reproduction, hell! This is a duplicate! Lawrence's 'Innocent' is worth twenty million wogs and it's sealed behind quad armor-glass in Prime Art--but I'll bet wogs to wiggles the Prime Curator himself, with all his apparatus, couldn't tell this one from his!"
"I wouldn't take even one wiggle's worth of that. And this 'Laughing Cavalier' and this 'Toledo' are twice as old and twice as fabulously valuable."
"And there are my own golf clubs..."
"Excuse us, sirs," the Omans said, "These things were simple because they could be induced in your minds. But the matter of a staff could not, nor what you would like to eat for supper, and it is growing late."
"Staff? What the hell has the staff got to do with..."
"House-staff, they mean," Karns said. "We don't need much of anybody, boys. Somebody to keep the place shipshape, is all. Or, as a de luxe touch, how about a waitress? One housekeeper and one waitress. That'll be finer."
"Very well, sirs. There is one other matter. It has troubled us that we have not been able to read in your minds the logical datum that they should in fact simulate Doctor Bells and Doctor Blake?"
"Huh?" Both men gasped--and then both exploded like one twelve-inch length of primacord.
While the Omans could not understand this purely Terran reasoning, they accepted the decision without a demurring thought. "Who, then, are the two its to simulate?"
"No stipulation; roll your own," Hilton said, and glanced at Karns. "None of these Oman women are really hard on the eyes."
"Check. Anybody who wouldn't call any one of 'em a slurpy dish needs a new set of optic nerves."
"In that case," the Omans said, "no delay at all will be necessary, as we can make do with one temporarily. The Sory, no longer Sora, who has not been glad since the Tuly replaced it, is now in your kitchen. It comes."
A woman came in and stood quietly in front of the two men, the wafted air carrying from her clear, smooth skin a faint but unmistakable fragrance of Idaho mountain syringa. She was radiantly happy; her bright, deep-green eyes went from man to man.
"You wish, sirs, to give me your orders verbally. And yes, you may order fresh, whole, not-canned hens' eggs."
"I certainly will, then; I haven't had a fried egg since we left Terra. But ... Larry said... you aren't Sory!"
"Oh, but I am, sir."
Karns had been staring her, eyes popping. "Holy Saint Patrick! Talk about simulation, Jarve! They've made her over into Lawrence's 'Innocent'--exact to twenty decimals!"
"You're so right." Hilton's eyes went, half a dozen times, from the form of flesh to the painting and back. "That must have been a terrific job."
"Oh, no. It was quite simple, really," Sory said, "since the brain was not involved. I merely reddened my hair and lengthened it, made my eyes to be green, changed my face a little, pulled myself in a little around here..." Her beautifully-manicured hands swept the full circle of her waistline, then continued to demonstrate appropriately the rest of her speech:
" ... and pushed me out a little up here and tapered my legs a little more--made them a little larger and rounder here at my hips and thighs and a little smaller toward and at my ankles. Oh, yes, and made my feet and hands a little smaller. That's all. I thought the Doctor Karns would like me a little better this way."
"You can broadcast that over the P-A system at high noon." Karns was still staring. "'That's all, ' she says. But you didn't have time to..."
"Oh, I did it day before yesterday. As soon as Javvy materialized the 'Innocent' and I knew it to be your favorite art."
"But damn it, we hadn't even thought of having you here then!"
"But I had, sir. I fully intended to serve, one way or another, in this your home. But of course I had no idea I would ever have such an honor as actually waiting on you at your table. Will you please give me your orders, sirs, besides the eggs? You wish the eggs fried in butter--three of them apiece--and sunny side up."
"Uh-huh, with ham," Hilton said. "I'll start with a jumbo shrimp cocktail. Horseradish and ketchup sauce; heavy on the horseradish."
"Same for me," Karns said, "but only half as much horseradish."
"And for the rest of it," Hilton went on, "hashed-brown potatoes and buttered toast--plenty of extra butter--strong coffee from first to last. Whipping cream and sugar on the side. For dessert, apple pie a la mode."
"You make me drool, chief. Play that for me, please, Innocent, all the way."
"Oh? You are--you, personally, yourself, sir?--renaming me 'Innocent'?"
"If you'll sit still for it, yes."
"That is an incredible honor, sir. Simply unbelievable. I thank you! I thank you!" Radiating happiness, she dashed away toward the kitchen.
When the two men were full of food, they strolled over to a davenport facing the fire. As they sat down, Innocent entered the room, carrying a tall, dewy mint julep on a tray. She was followed by another female figure bearing a bottle of avignognac and the appurtenances which are its due--and at the first full sight of that figure Hilton stopped breathing for fifteen seconds.
Her hair was very thick, intensely black and long, cut squarely off just below the lowest points of her shoulder blades. Heavy brows and long lashes--eyes too--were all intensely, vividly black. Her skin was tanned to a deep and glowing almost-but-not-quite-brown.
"Murchison's Dark Lady!" Hilton gasped. "Larry! You've--we've--I've got that painting here?"
"Oh, yes, sir." The newcomer spoke before Larry could. "At the other end--your part--of the room. You will look now, sir, please?" Her voice was low, rich and as smooth as cream.
Putting her tray down carefully on the end-table, she led him toward the other fireplace. Past the piano, past the tri-di pit; past a towering grillwork holding art treasures by the score. Over to the left, against the wall, there was a big, business-like desk. On the wall, over the desk, hung the painting; a copy of which had been in Hilton's room for over eight years.
He stared at it for at least a minute. He glanced around: at the other priceless duplicates so prodigally present, at his own guns arrayed above the mantel and on each side of the fireplace. Then, without a word, he started back to join Karns. She walked springily beside him.
"What's your name, Miss?" he asked, finally.
"I haven't earned any as yet, sir. My number is..."
"Never mind that. Your name is 'Dark Lady'."
"Oh, thank you, sir; that is truly wonderful!" And Dark Lady sat cross-legged on the rug at Hilton's feet and busied herself with the esoteric rites of Old Avignon.
Hilton took a deep inhalation and a small sip, then stared at Karns. Karns, over the rim of his glass, stared back.
"I can see where this would be habit-forming," Hilton said, "and very deadly. Extremely deadly."
"Every wish granted. Surrounded by all this." Karns swept his arm through three-quarters of a circle. "Waited on hand and foot by powerful men and by the materializations of the dreams of the greatest, finest artists who ever lived. Fatal? I don't know..."
"My solid hope is that we never have to find out. And when you add in Innocent and Dark Lady ... They look to be about seventeen, but the thought that they're older than the hills of Rome and powered by everlasting atomic engines--" He broke off suddenly and blushed. "Excuse me, please, girls. I know better than to talk about people that way, right in front of them; I really do."
"Do you really think we're people?" Innocent and Dark Lady squealed, as one.
That set Hilton back onto his heels. "I don't know ... I've wondered. Are you?"
Both girls, silent, looked at Larry.
"We don't know, either," Larry said. "At first, of course, there were crude, non-thinking machines. But when the Guide attained its present status, the Masters themselves could not agree. They divided about half and half on the point. They never did settle it any closer than that."
"I certainly won't try to, then. But for my money, you are people," Hilton said, and Karns agreed.
That, of course, touched off a near-riot of joy; after which the two men made an inch-by-inch study of their tremendous living-room. Then, long after bedtime, Larry and Dark Lady escorted Hilton to his bedroom.
"Do you mind, sir, if we sleep on the floor at the sides of your bed?" Larry asked. "Or must we go out into the hall?"
"Sleep? I didn't know you could sleep."
"It is not essential. However, when round-the-clock work is not necessary, and we have opportunity to sleep near a human being, we derive a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from it. You see, sir, we also serve during sleep."
"Okay, I'll try anything once. Sleep wherever you please."