The Project Gutenberg eBook of Robinc

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Title: Robinc

Author: Anthony Boucher

Illustrator: Frank Kramer

Release date: March 1, 2020 [eBook #61540]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at



by H. H. Holmes

Politics and robots are, alike, very curious
things. But they're alike in another way—if
you look at things straight, and don't throw
out answers even if they do seem more than
a little screwy, you can use them effectively—

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Astounding Science-Fiction September 1943.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

You'd think maybe it meant clear sailing after we'd got the Council's O.K. You'd maybe suppose that'd mean the end of our troubles and the end of android robots for the world.

That's what Dugg Quinby thought, anyway. But Quinby may have had a miraculous gift of looking straight at problems and at things and at robots and getting the right answer; but he was always too hopeful about looking straight at people. Because, like I kept saying to him, people aren't straight, not even to themselves. And our future prospects weren't anywhere near as good as he thought.

That's what the Head of the Council was stressing when we saw him that morning just after the Council had passed the bill. His black face was sober—no trace of that flashing white grin that was so familiar on telecasts. "I've put your bill through, boys," he was saying. "God knows I'm grateful—the whole Empire should be grateful to you for helping me put over the renewal of those Martian mining concessions, and the usuform barkeep you made me is my greatest treasure; but I can't help you any more. You're on your own now."

That didn't bother Quinby. He said, "The rest ought to be easy. Once people understand what usuform robots can do for them—"

"I'm afraid, Mr. Quinby, it's you who don't quite understand. Your friend here doubtless does; he has a more realistic slant on things. But you—I wouldn't say you idealize people, but you flatter them. You expect them to see things as clearly as you do. I'm afraid they usually don't."

"But surely when you explained to the Council the advantages of usuforms—"

"Do you think the Council passed the bill only because they saw those advantages? They passed it because I backed it, and because the renewal of the Martian concessions have for the moment put me in a powerful position. Oh, I know, we're supposed to have advanced immeasurably beyond the political corruption of the earlier states; but let progress be what it may, from the cave man on up to the illimitable future, there are three things that people always have made and always will make: love, and music, and politics. And if there's any difference between me and an old-time political leader, it's simply that I'm trying to put my political skill at the service of mankind."

I wasn't listening too carefully to all this. The service of mankind wasn't exactly a hobby of mine. Quinby and the Head were all out for usuforms because they were a service to man and the Empire of Earth; I was in it because it looked like a good thing. Of course you can't be around such a mixture of a saint, a genius, and a moron as Quinby without catching a little of it; but I tried to keep my mind fixed clear on what was in it for me.

And that was plenty. For the last couple of centuries our civilization had been based on robots—android robots. Quinby's usuform robots—Q.U.R.—robots shaped not as mechanical men, but as independently thinking machines formed directly from their intended function—threatened the whole robot set-up. They were the biggest thing since Zwergenhaus invented the mechanical brain, and I was in on the ground floor.

With the basement shaking under me.

It was an android guard that interrupted the conference here. We hadn't really got started on usuform manufacture yet, and anyway, Quinby was inclined to think that androids might be retained in some places for guards and personal attendants. He said, "Mr. Grew says that you will see him."

The Head frowned. "Robinc has always thought it owned the Empire. Now Mr. Grew thinks he owns me. Well, show him in." As the guard left, he added to us, "This Grew-Quinby meeting has to take place some time. I'd rather like to see it."

The president-owner of Robinc—Robots Incorporated, but nobody ever said it in full—was a quiet old man with silvery hair and a gentle sad smile. It seemed even sadder than usual today. He greeted the Head and then spoke my name with a sort of tender reproach that near hurt me.

"You," he said. "The best trouble-shooter that Robinc ever had, and now I find you in the enemy's camp."

But I knew his technique, and I was armed against being touched by it. "In the enemy's camp?" I said. "I am the enemy. And it's because I was your best trouble-shooter that I learned the real trouble with Robinc's androids: They don't work, and the only solution is to supersede them."

"Supersede is a kind word," he said wistfully. "But the unkind act is destruction. Murder. Murder of Robinc itself, draining the lifeblood of our Empire."

The Head intervened. "Not draining, Mr. Grew, but transfusing. The blood stream, to carry on your own metaphor, is tainted; we want fresh blood, and Mr. Quinby provides it."

"I am not helpless, you know," the old man murmured gently.

"I'm afraid possibly you are, sir, and for the first time in your life. But you know the situation: in the past few months there has been an epidemic of robot breakdowns. Parts unnecessary and unused, but installed because of our absurd insistance on an android shape, have atrophied. Sometimes even the brain has been affected; my own confidential cryptanalyst went totally mad. Quinby's usuforms forestall any such problem."

"The people will not accept them. They are conditioned to androids."

"They must accept them. You know, better than most, the problems of supply that the Empire faces. The conservation of mineral resources is one of our essential aims. And usuforms will need variously from seventy to only thirty percent of the metal that goes into your androids. This is no mere matter of business rivalry; it is conflict between the old that depletes the Empire and the new that strengthens it."

"And the old must be cast aside and rejected?"

"You," I began, "have, of course, always shown such tender mercy to your business compet—" but Quinby broke in on me.

"I realize, Mr. Grew, that this isn't fair to you. But there are much more important matters than you involved."

"Thank you." The gentle old voice was frigid.

"But I wouldn't feel right if you were simply, as you put it, cast aside and rejected. If you'll come to see us and talk things over, I'm pretty sure we can—"

"Sir!" Sanford Grew rose to his full short height. "I do not ask favors from puppies. I have only one request." He turned to the Head. "The repeal of this ridiculous bill depriving Robinc of its agelong monopoly which has ensured the safety of the Empire."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Grew. That is impossible."

The hair was still silvery and the smile was still sad and gentle. But the words he addressed to us were, "Then you understand that this is war?"

Then he left. I didn't feel too comfortable. Saving the Empire is all very well. Being a big shot in a great new enterprise is swell. But a war with something the size of Robinc is not what the doctor usually orders.

"The poor man," said Quinby.

The Head flashed an echo of the famous grin. "No wonder he's upset. It's not only the threatened loss of power, I heard that yesterday his android cook broke down completely. And you know how devoted he is to unconcentrated food."

Quinby brightened. "Then perhaps we—"

The Head laughed. "Your only hope is that a return to a concentrated diet will poison him. You've no chance of winning over Sanford Grew alive."

We went from there to the Sunspot. "It's funny," Quinby used to say. "I don't much like to drink, but a bar's always good for heavy thinking." And who was I to argue?

Guzub, that greatest of bartenders, spotted us as we came in and had one milk and one straight whiskey poured by the time we reached our usual back table. He served them to us himself, with a happy flourish of his tentacles.

"What are you so beamish about?" I asked gruffly.

Guzub shut his middle eye in the Martian expression of happiness. "Begauze you boys are going to 'ave a gread zugzezz with your uxuvorm robods and you invended them righd 'ere in the Zunzbod." He produced another tentacle holding a slug of straight vuzd and downed it. "Good lugg!"

I glowered after him. "We need luck. With Grew as our sworn enemy, we're on the—"

Quinby had paper spread out before him. He looked up now, took a sip of milk, and said, "Do you cook?"

"Not much. Concentrates do me most of the time."

"I can sympathize with Grew. I like old-fashioned food myself and I'm fairly good at cooking it. I just thought you might have some ideas."

"For what?"

"Why, a usuform cook, of course. Grew's android cook broke down. We'll present him with a usuform, and that will convert him, too—"

"Convert hell!" I snorted. "Nothing can convert that sweetly smiling old—But maybe you have got something there; get at a man through his hobby—Could work."

"Now usually," Quinby went on, "androids break down because they don't use all their man-shaped body. But an android cook would go nuts because man's body isn't enough. I've cooked; I know. So we'll give the usuform more. For instance, give him Martoid tentacles instead of arms. Maybe instead of legs give him an automatic sliding height adjustment to avoid all the bending and stooping, with a roller base for quick movement. And make the tentacles functionally specialized."

I didn't quite get that last, and I said so.

"Half your time in cooking is wasted reaching around for what you need next. We can build in a lot of that stuff. For instance, one tentacle can be a registering thermometer. Tapering to a fine point—stick it in a roast and—One can end in a broad spoon for stirring—heat-resistant, of course. One might terminate in a sort of hand, of which each of the digits was a different-sized measuring spoon. And best of all—why the nuisance of bringing food to the mouth to taste? Install taste-buds in the end of one tentacle."

I nodded. Quinby's pencil was covering the paper with tentative hookups. Suddenly he paused. "I'll bet I know why android cooks were never too successful. Nobody ever included the Verhaeren factor in their brains."

The Verhaeren factor, if you've studied this stuff at all, is what makes robots capable of independent creative action. For instance it's used in the robots that turn out popular fiction—in very small proportion, of course.

"Yes, that's the trouble. They never realized that a cook is an artist as well as a servant. Well, we'll give him in his brain what he needs for creation, and in his body the tools he needs to carry it out. And when Mr. Grew has had his first meal from a usuform cook—"

It was an idea. I admitted, that might have worked on anybody but Sanford Grew—get at a man and convert him through what's dearest to his heart. But I'd worked for Grew. I knew him. And I knew that no hobby, not even his passion for unconcentrated food, could be stronger than his pride in his power as president of Robinc.

So while Quinby worked on his usuform cook and our foreman Mike Warren got our dowser ready for the first big demonstration, I went ahead with the anti-Robinc campaign.

"We've got four striking points," I explained to Quinby. "Android robots atrophy or go nuts; usuforms are safe. Android robots are almost as limited as man in what they can do without tools and accessories; usuforms can be constructed to do anything. Android robots are expensive because you've got to buy an all-purpose one that can do more than you need; usuforms save money because they're specialized. Android robots use up mineral resources; usuforms save them."

"The last reason is the important one." Quinby said.

I smiled to myself. Sure it was, but can you sell the people on anything as abstract as conservation? Hell no. Tell 'em they'll save credits, tell 'em they'll get better service, and you've got 'em signed up already. But tell 'em they're saving their grandchildren from a serious shortage and they'll laugh in your face.

So as usual, I left Quinby to ideas and followed my own judgment on people, and by the time he'd sent the cook to Grew I had all lined up the campaign that could blast Grew and Robinc out of the Empire. The three biggest telecommentators were all sold on usuforms. A major solly producer was set to do a documentary on them. Orders were piling up about twice as fast as Mike Warren could see his way clear to turning them out.

So then came the day of the big test.

We'd wanted to start out with something big and new that no android could possibly compete with, and we'd had the luck to run onto Mike's brother-in-law, who'd induced in robot brains the perception of that nth sense that used to enable dowsers to find water. Our usuform dowser was God's gift to explorers and fresh exciting copy. So the Head had arranged a big demonstration on a specially prepared field, with grandstands and fireworks and two bands—one human, one android—and all the trimmings.

We sat in our box, Mike and Quinby and I. Mike had a shakerful of Three Planet cocktails mixed by our usuform barkeep; they aren't so good when they stand, but they were still powerful enough to keep him going. I was trying to get along on sheer will power, but little streams of sweat were running down my back and my nails were carving designs in my palms.

Quinby didn't seem bothered. He kept watching the android band and making notes. "You see," he explained, "it's idiotic waste to train a robot to play an instrument, when you could make an instrument that was a robot. Your real robot band would be usuforms, and wouldn't be anything but a flock of instruments that could play themselves. You could even work out new instruments, with range and versatility and flexibility beyond the capacity of human or android fingers and lungs. You could—"

"Oh, oh," I said. There was Sanford Grew entering our box.

The smile was still gentle and sad, but it had a kind of warmth about it that puzzled me. I'd never seen that on Grew's face before. He advanced to Quinby and held out his hand. "Sir," he said, "I have just dined."

Quinby rose eagerly, his blond head towering above the little old executive. "You mean my usuform—"

"Your usuform, sir, is indubitably the greatest cook since the Golden Age before the devilish introduction of concentrates. Do you mind if I share your box for this great exhibition?"

Quinby beamed and introduced him to Mike. Grew shook hands warmly with our foreman, then turned to me and spoke even my name with friendly pleasure. Before anybody could say any more, before I could even wipe the numb dazzle off my face, the Head's voice began to come over the speaker.

His words were few—just a succinct promise of the wonders of usuforms and their importance to our civilization—and by the time he'd finished the dowser was in place on the field.

To everybody watching but us, there was never anything that looked less like a robot. There wasn't a trace of an android trait to it. It looked like nothing but a heavy duralite box mounted on caterpillar treads.

But it was a robot by legal definition. It had a Zwergenhaus brain and was capable of independent action under human commands or direction. That box housed the brain, with its nth-sensory perception, and eyes and ears, and the spike-laying apparatus. For when the dowser's perception of water reached a certain level of intensity, it layed a metal spike into the ground. An exploring party could send it out on its own to survey the territory, then follow its tracks at leisure and dig where the spikes were.

After the Head's speech there was silence. Then Quinby leaned over to the mike in our box and said "Go find water."

The dowser began to move over the field. Only the Head himself knew where water had been cached at various levels and in various quantities. The dowser raced along for a bit, apparently finding nothing. Then it began to hesitate and veer. Once it paused for noticeable seconds. Even Quinby looked tense. I heard sharp breaths from Sanford Grew, and Mike almost drained his shaker.

Then the dowser moved on. There was water, but not enough to bother drilling for. It zoomed about a little more, then stopped suddenly and definitely. It had found a real treasure trove.

I knew its mechanism. In my mind I could see the Zwergenhaus brain registering and communicating its needs to the metal muscles of the sphincter mechanism that would lay the spike. The dowser sat there apparently motionless, but when you knew it you had the impression of a hen straining to lay.

Then came the explosion. When my eyes could see again through the settling fragments, there was nothing in the field but a huge crater.

It was Quinby, of course, who saw right off what had happened. "Somebody," my numb ears barely heard him say, "substituted for the spike an explosive shell with a contact-fuse tip."

Sanford Grew nodded. "Plausible, young man. Plausible. But I rather think that the general impression will be simply that usuforms don't work." He withdrew, smiling gently.

I held Mike back by pouring the rest of the shaker down his throat. Mayhem wouldn't help us any.

"So you converted him?" I said harshly to Quinby. "Brother, the next thing you'd better construct is a good guaranteed working usuform converter."

The next week was the low point in the history of Q.U.R. I know now, when Quinby's usuforms are what makes the world tick, it's hard to imagine Q.U.R. ever hitting a low point. But one reason I'm telling this is to make you realize that no big thing is easy, and that a lot of big things depend for their success on some very little thing, like that chance remark of mine I just quoted.

Not that any of us guessed then how important that remark was. We had other things to worry about. The fiasco of that demonstration had just about cooked our goose. Sure, we explained it must've been sabotage, and the Head backed us up; but the wiseacres shook their heads and muttered "Not bad for an alibi, but—"

Two of three telecommentators who had been backing us switched over to Grew. The solly producer abandoned his plans for a documentary. I don't know if this was honest conviction or the power of Robinc; it hit us the same either way. People were scared of usuforms now; they might go boom! And the biggest and smartest publicity and advertising campaign of the past century was fizzling out ffft before our helpless eyes.

It was the invaluable Guzub who gave us our first upward push. We were drinking at the Sunspot when he said, "Ah, boys—Zo things are going wrong with you, bud you zdill gome 'ere. No madder wad abbens, beoble zdill wand three things: eading and dringing and—"

Quinby looked up with the sharp pleasure of a new idea. "There's nothing we can do with the third," he said. "But eating and drinking—Guzub, you want to see usuforms go over, don't you?"

"And remember," I added practically, "you've got a royalty interest in our robot barkeep."

Guzub rolled all his eyes up once and down once—the Martian trick of nodding assent.

"All right," said Quinby. "Practically all bartenders are Martians, the tentacles are so useful professionally. Lots of them must be good friends of yours?"

"Lodz," Guzub agreed.

"Then listen—"

That was how we launched the really appealing campaign. Words? Sure, people have read and heard millions upon billions of words, and one set of them is a lot like another. But when you get down to Guzub's three essentials—

Within a fortnight there was one of our usuform barkeeps in one bar out of five in the influential metropolitan districts. Guzub's friends took orders for drinks, gave them to the usuforms, served the drinks, and then explained to the satisfied customers how they'd been made—pointing out besides that there had not been an explosion. The customers would get curious. They'd order more to watch the usuform work. (It had Martoid tentacles and its own body was its shaker.) The set-up was wonderful for business—and for us.

That got at the men. Meanwhile we had usuform cooks touring the residential districts and offering to prepare old-fashioned meals free. There wasn't a housewife whose husband didn't say regularly once a week, "Why can't we have more old-fashioned food instead of all these concentrates? Why, my mother used to—"

Few of the women knew the art. Those of them who could afford android cooks hadn't found them too satisfactory. And husbands kept muttering about mother. The chance of a happy home was worth the risk of these dreadful dangerous new things. So our usuform cooks did their stuff and husbands were rapturously pleased and everything began to look swell. (We remembered to check up on a few statistics three quarters of an hour later—it seemed we had in a way included Guzub's third appeal after all.)

So things were coming on sweetly until one day at the Sunspot I looked up to see we had a visitor. "I heard that I might find you here," Sanford Grew smiled. He beckoned to Guzub and said "Your oldest brandy."

Guzub knew him by sight. I saw one tentacle flicker hesitantly toward a bottle of mikiphin, that humorously named but none the less effective knockout liquor. I shook my head, and Guzub shrugged resignedly.

"Well?" Quinby asked directly.

"Gentlemen," said Sanford Grew, "I have come here to make a last appeal to you."

"You can take your appeal," I said, "and—"

Quinby shushed me. "Yes, sir?"

"This is not a business appeal, young men. This is an appeal to your consciences, to your duty as citizens of the Empire of Earth."

I saw Quinby looking a little bothered. The smiling old boy was shrewd; he knew that the conscience was where to aim a blow at Quinby. "Our consciences are clear—I think and trust."

"Are they? This law that you finagled through the Council, that destroyed what you call my monopoly—it did more than that. That 'monopoly' rested on our control of the factors which make robots safe and prevent them from ever harming living beings. You have removed that control."

Quinby laughed with relief. "Is that all? I knew you'd been using that line in publicity but I didn't think you expected us to believe it. There are other safety factors beside yours. We're using them, and the law still insists on the use of some, though not necessarily Robinc's. I'm afraid my conscience is untouched."

"I do not know," said Sanford Grew, "whether I am flattering or insulting you when I say I know that it is no use trying to buy you out at any price. You are immune to reason—"

"Because it's on our side," said Quinby quietly.

"I am left with only one recourse." He rose and smiled a gentle farewell. "Good day, gentlemen."

He'd left the brandy untouched. I finished it, and was glad I'd vetoed Guzub's miki.

"One recourse—" Quinby mused. "That must mean—"

I nodded.

But it started quicker than we'd expected. It started, in fact, as soon as we left the Sunspot. Duralite arms went around my body and a duralite knee dug into the small of my back.

The first time I ever met Dugg Quinby was in a truly major and wondrous street brawl, where the boy was a whirlwind. Quinby was mostly the quiet kind, but when something touched him off—and injustice was the spark that usually did it—he could fight like fourteen Martian mountaineers defending their idols.

But who can fight duralite? Me, I have some sense; I didn't even try. Quinby's temper blinded his clear vision for a moment. The only result was a broken knuckle and some loss of blood and skin.

The next thing was duralite fingers probing for the proper spots at the back of my head. Then a sudden deft pressure, and blackness.

We were in a workshop of some sort. My first guess was one of the secret workshops that honeycomb the Robinc plant, where nobody but Grew's most handpicked man ever penetrate. We were cuffed to the wall. They'd left only one of the androids to guard us.

It was Quinby who spoke to him, and straight to the point. "What happens to us?"

"When I get my next orders," the android said in his completely emotionless voice, "I kill you."

I tried to hold up my morale by looking as indifferent as he did. I didn't make it.

"The last recourse—" Quinby said.

I nodded. Then, "But look!" I burst out, "This can't be what it looks like. He can't be a Robinc android because he's going," I gulped a fractional gulp, "to kill us. Robinc's products have the safety factor that prevents them from harming a living being, even on another being's orders."

"No," said Quinby slowly. "Remember that Robinc manufactures androids for the Empire's army? Obviously those can't have the safety factor. And Mr. Grew has apparently held out a few for his own bootleg banditti."

I groaned. "Trust you," I said. "We're chained up with a murderous android, and trust you to stand there calmly and look at things straight. Well, are you going to see straight enough to get us out of this?"

"Of course," he said simply. "We can't let Grew destroy the future of usuforms."

There was at least one other future that worried me more, but I knew there was no use bringing up anything so personal. I just stood there and watched Quinby thinking—what time I wasn't watching the android's hand hovering around his holster and wondering when he'd get his next orders.

And while I was waiting and watching, half scared sweatless, half trusting blindly in Quinby, half wondering impersonally what death was like—yes, I know that makes three halves of me, but I was in no state for accurate counting—while I waited, I began to realize something very odd.

It wasn't me I was most worried about. It was Dugg Quinby. Me going all unselfish on me! Ever since Quinby had first seen the nonsense in androids—no, back of that, ever since that first magnifiscrumptious street brawl, I'd begun to love that boy like a son—which'd have made me pretty precocious.

There was something about him—that damned mixture of almost stupid innocence, combined with the ability to solve any problem by his—not ingenuity, precisely, just his inborn capacity for looking at things straight.

Here I was feeling selfless. And here he was coming forth with the first at all tricky or indirect thing I'd ever known him to pull. Maybe it was like marriage—the way two people sort of grow together and average up.

Anyway, he said to the android now, "I bet you military robots are pretty good marksmen, aren't you?"

"I'm the best Robinc ever turned out," the android said.

I worked for Robinc; I knew that each of them was conditioned with the belief that he was the unique best. It gave them confidence.

Quinby reached out his unfettered hand and picked a plastic disk off the worktable. "While you're waiting for orders, why don't you show us some marksmanship? It'll pass the time."

The robot nodded, and Quinby tossed the disk in the air. The android grabbed at its holster. And the gun stuck.

The metal of the holster had got dented in the struggle of kidnaping us. Quinby must have noticed that; his whole plan developed from that little point.

The robot made comments on the holster; military androids had a soldier's vocabulary built in, so we'll skip that.

Quinby said, "That's too bad. My friend here's a Robinc repair man, or used to be. If you let him loose, he could fix that."

The robot frowned. He wanted the repair, but he was no dope. Finally he settled on chaining my foot before releasing my hand, and keeping his own digits constantly on my wrist so he could clamp down if I got any funny notions about snatching the gun and using it. I began to think Quinby's plan was fizzling, but I went ahead and had the holster repaired in no time with the tools on the worktable.

"Does that happen often?" Quinby asked.

"A little too often." There was a roughness to the android's tones. I recognized what I'd run onto so often in trouble-shooting; an android's resentment of the fact that he didn't work perfectly.

"I see," Quinby went on, as casually as though we were here on social terms. "Of course the trouble is that you have to use a gun."

"I'm a soldier. Of course I have to use one."

"You don't understand. I mean the trouble is that you have to use one. Now, if you could be a gun—"

It took some explaining. But when the android understood what it could mean to be a usuform, to have an arm that didn't need to snatch at a holster because it was itself a firing weapon, his eye cells began to take on a new bright glow.

"You could do that to me?" he demanded of me.

"Sure," I said. "You give me your gun and I'll—"

He drew back mistrustfully. Then he looked around the room, found another gun, unloaded it, and handed it to me. "Go ahead," he said.

It was a lousy job. I was in a state and in a hurry and the sweat running down my forehead and dripping off my eyebrows didn't help any. The workshop wasn't too well equipped, either, and I hate working from my head. I like a nice diagram to look at.

But I made it somehow, very crudely, replacing one hand by the chamber and barrel and attaching the trigger so that it would be worked by the same nerve currents as actuated the finger movements to fire a separate gun.

The android loaded himself awkwardly. I stood aside, and Quinby tossed up the disk. You never saw a prettier piece of instantaneous trap-shooting. The android stretched his face into that very rare thing, a robot grin, and expressed himself in pungently jubilant military language.

"You like it?" Quinby asked.

All that I can quote of the robot's reply is "Yes," but he made it plenty emphatic.


But I stepped in. "Just a minute. I've got an idea to improve it." Quinby was probably trusting to our guard's gratitude; I wanted a surer hold on him. "Let me take this off just a second—" I removed the chamber and barrel; I still had his hand. "Now," I said, "we want out."

He brought up the gun in his other hand, but I said, "Ah, ah! Naughty! You aren't supposed to kill us till you get orders, and if you do they'll find you here with one hand. Fine state for a soldier. You can't repair yourself; you need two hands for it. But if we get out, you can come with us and be made over as much as you want into the first and finest efficient happy usuform soldier."

It took a little argument, but with the memory of that one perfect shot in his mind it didn't take much. As Quinby said afterward, "Robinc built pride into its robots to give them self-confidence. But that pride also gave them vanity and dissatisfaction with anything less than perfection. That's what we could use. It was all perfectly simple—"

"—when you looked at it straight," I chorused with him.

"And besides," he said, "now we know how to lick Robinc forever."

That was some comfort. I suppose, though he wouldn't say another word to explain it. And I needed comfort, because just then things took a nasty turn again. We stuck close to our factory and didn't dare go out. We were taking no chances on more kidnapings before Quinby finished his new inspiration.

Quinby worked on that alone, secret even from us. I figured out some extra touches of perfection on the usuform soldier, who was now our bodyguard—Grew would never dare complain of the theft because he'd had no legal right to possess such an android, anyway. Mike and his assistants, both living and usuform, turned out barkeeps and dowsers and cooks—our three most successful usuform designs so far.

We didn't go out, but we heard enough. It was the newest and nastiest step in Grew's campaign. He had men following up our cooks and bartenders and managing to slip concentrated doses of ptomaine alkaloids into their products. No serious poisoning, you understand; just an abnormally high proportion of people taken sick after taking usuform-prepared food or drink. And a rumor going around that the usuforms secreted a poisonous fluid, which was objective nonsense, but enough to scare a lot of people.

"It's no use." Mike said to me one day. "We're licked. Two new orders in a week. We're done for. No use keeping up production."

"The hell we're licked," I said.

"If you want to encourage me, you'd ought to sound like you believed it yourself. No, we're sunk. While he sits in there and—I'm going down to the Sunspot and drink Three Planets till this one spins. And if Grew wants to kidnap me, he's welcome to me."

It was just then the message came from the Head. I read it, and knew how the camel feels about that last straw. It said:

I can't resist popular pressure forever. I know and you know what Grew is up to; but the public is demanding re-enactment of the law giving Robinc exclusive rights. Unless Quinby can see straight through the hat to the rabbit, that re-enactment is going to pass.

"We'll see what he has to say to this," I said to Mike. I started for the door, and even as I did so Quinby came out.

"I've got it!" he said. "It's done." He read the Head's message with one glance, and it didn't bother him. He grabbed me by the shoulders and beamed. I've never heard my name spoken so warmly. "Mike, too. Come on in and see the greatest usuform we've hit on yet. Our troubles are over."

We went in. We looked. And we gawked. For Quinby's greatest usuform, so far as our eyes could tell, was just another android robot.

Mike went resolutely off to the Sunspot to carry out his threat of making this planet spin. I began to think myself that the tension had affected Quinby's clear-seeing mind. I didn't listen especially when he told me I'd given him the idea myself. I watched the usuform-android go off on his mysterious mission and I even let him take my soldier along. And I didn't care. We were done for now, if even Dugg Quinby was slipping.

But I didn't have time to do much worrying that morning. I was kept too busy with androids that came in wanting repairs. Very thoroughgoing repairs, too, that turned them, like my soldier, practically into usuforms. We always had a few such requests—I think I mentioned how they all want to be perfect—but this began to develop into a cloudburst. I stopped the factory lines and put every man and robot on repair.

Along about mid-afternoon I began to feel puzzled. It took me a little while to get it, and then it hit me. The last three that I'd repaired had been brand-new. Fresh from the Robinc factory, and rushing over here to be remade into ... into usuforms!

As soon as I finished adjusting drill arms on the robot miner, I hurried over to where Quinby was installing an infrared color sense on a soldier intended for camouflage-spotting. He looked up and smiled when he saw me. "You get it now?"

"I get what's happening. But how ... who—"

"I just followed your advice. Didn't you say what we needed was a guaranteed working usuform converter?"

"I don't need to explain, do I? It's simple enough once you look at it straight."

We were sitting in the Sunspot. Guzub was very happy; it was the first time the Head had ever honored his establishment.

"You'd better," I said, "remember I'm a crooked-viewing dope."

"But it's all from things you've said. You're always saying I'm good at things and robots, but lousy at people because people don't see or act straight. Well, we were stymied with people. They couldn't see the real importance of usuforms through all the smoke screens that Grew threw up. But you admit yourself that robots see straight, so I went direct to them. And you said we needed a usuform converter, so I made one."

The Head smiled. "And what is the utile form of a converter?"

"He had to look like an android, because otherwise they wouldn't accept him. But he was the sturdiest, strongest android ever made, with several ingenious, new muscles. If it came to fighting, he was sure to make converts that way. And besides, he had something that's never been put in a robot brain before—the ability to argue and convince. With that, he had the usuform soldier as a combination bodyguard and example. So he went out among the androids, even to the guards at Robinc and from then on inside; and since he was a usuform converter, well—he converted."

The Head let the famous grin play across his black face. "Fine work, Quinby. And if Grew hadn't had the sense to see at last that he was licked, you could have gone on with your usuform converters until there wasn't an android left on Earth. Robinc would have toppled like a wooden building with termites."

"And Grew?" I asked. "What's become of him?"

"I think, in a way, he's resigned to his loss. He told me that since his greatest passion was gone, he was going to make the most of his second greatest. He's gone off to his place in the mountains with that usuform cook you gave him, and he swears he's going to eat himself to death."

"Me," said Mike, with appropriate business, "I'd like a damper death."

"And from now on, my statisticians assure me, we're in no danger of ever using up our metal stockpile. The savings on usuforms will save us. Do you realize, Quinby, that you're just about the most important man in the Empire today?"

That was when I first heard the band approaching. It got louder while Quinby got red and gulped. It was going good when he finally said, "You know, if I'd ever thought of that, I ... I don't think I could have done it."

He meant it, too. You've never seen an unhappier face than his when the crowd burst into the Sunspot yelling "Quinby!" and "Q.U.R.!"

But you've never seen a prouder face than mine as I saw it then in the bar mirror. Proud of myself, sure, but only because it was me that discovered Dugg Quinby.