There was a smile on Devoure's puffed and bruised face. It must have hurt him, for one lip was split and he dabbed absently at it with his handkerchief, but his eyes were fixed on the robot moving toward Bigman and he seemed aware of nothing else.
The small Martian had only another six feet in which to retreat, and Devoure made no effort to hasten the approaching robot or to move up those in the rear.
Yonge said, "Devoure, for Sinus's sake, man, there is no need of this."
"No comments, Yonge," said Devoure tensely. "That humanoid has destroyed a robot and probably damaged others. We'll need checkups on every robot who has been affected by the sight of his use of violence. He deserves death."
Zayon put out a restraining hand toward Yonge, but the latter slapped it impatiently away. Yonge said, "Death? All right. Then ship him back to Sirius and have him tried and executed according to the processes of law. Or set up a trial here at the base and have him decently blasted. But this is no execution. Simply because he beat… "
Devoure cried in sudden fury, "That's enough! You have interfered once too often. You're under arrest. Zayon, take his blaster and toss it over to me."
He turned briefly, loath to take his eyes off Bigman for even a moment. "Do it, Zayon, or by all the devils of space I'll break you too."
With a bitter, wordless frown Zayon held out his hand to Yonge. Yonge hesitated, and his fingers curled about the butt of bis blaster, half drawing it in anger.
Zayon whispered urgently, "No, Yonge. Don't give him the excuse. He'll lift arrest when his madness is over. He'll have to."
Devoure called out, "I want that blaster."
Yonge ripped it out of its holster with a hand that trembled and thrust it butt-first at Zayon. The latter tossed it at Devoure's feet and Devoure picked it up.
Bigman, who had been maintaining an agonized silence as he watched futilely for a chance to dodge, to break away, now cried out, "Don't touch me, I'm a master," as the robot's monstrous hand closed over bis wrist.
For a moment the robot hesitated, and then his grip tightened. The other hand reached for Bigman's elbow. Devoure laughed, a high-pitched titter.
Yonge turned on his heel and said in a suffocated tone, "At least I don't have to watch this cowardly crime." And as a result he did not observe what happened next
With an effort Lucky remained calm when the three Sirians left. From a purely physical standpoint, he could not possibly beat down the robot with his bare hands. Somewhere in the building there might conceivably be a weapon he could use to destroy the robot; he could then get out and might even shoot down the three Sirians.
But he would not be able to leave Titan, nor win out against the entire base.
Worse still, if he were killed-and in the end he would be-his deeper purposes would be lost, and he could not risk those.
He said to the robot, "What happened to the master Bigman? State the essentials quickly."
The robot did, and Lucky listened with a tense and painful attention. He heard the robot's occasional slurring and lisping of words, the thickening of speech as it described Bigman's doubled forcing of the robots by pretending or threatening harm to a human.
Lucky groaned within. A robot dead. The force of Sirian law would be extended to the full against Bigman. Lucky knew enough about the Sirians' culture and their regard for their robots to know that there could be no extenuating circumstances against robot-icide.
How to save the impulsive Bigman now?
Lucky remembered his own halfhearted attempt to keep Bigman on Mimas. He had not foreseen this exactly, but he had feared Bigman's temper in the delicate circumstances now surrounding them. He should have insisted on Bigman's staying behind, but what was the use? Even as he thought this, he realized that he needed Bigman's company.
But then he had to save him. Somehow he had to save him.
He walked rapidly toward the opening of the building, and the robot stepped stolidly into his path. "Accor'ing to my instructions, the master's not to leave building under any thircumstances."
"I am not leaving the building," said Lucky sharply. "I am merely going to the door. You have no instructions to prevent that."
For a moment the robot was silent, then it said, "Ac-cor'ing to my instructions, the master's not to leave building under any circumthantheth."
Desperately Lucky tried to push it aside, was seized, held motionless, then pushed back.
Lucky bit his lip impatiently. A whole robot, he thought, would have interpreted its instructions broadly. This robot, however, had been damaged. It was reduced to the bare essence of robotic understanding.
But he had to see Bigman. He whirled toward the conference table. In its center there had been a trimen-sional image reproducer. Devoure had used it when the two Servicemen had called him.
"You. Robot!" called Lucky.
The robot lumbered to the table.
Lucky said, "How does the image reproducer work?"
The robot was slow. Its speech was continuing to thicken. It said, "The controlth are'n thith retheth."
The robot showed him, moving a panel aside clumsily.
"All right," said Lucky. "Can I focus on the area, just outside this building? Show me. Do it."
He stepped aside. The robot worked, fumbling at the knobs. "It ith done, mathter."
"Let me see, then." The area outside was in small image above the table, the figures of men smaller still. The robot had moved away and stared dully elsewhere.
Lucky did not call him back. There was no sound, but as he groped for what must be the sound control, his attention was caught by the fight that was going on. Devoure was fighting Bigman. Fighting Bigman!
How had the small imp managed to persuade the two Servicemen to stand to one side and allow this to happen? For of course Bigman was cutting his opponent to ribbons. Lucky could extract no joy from it.
This could end only in Bigman's death, and Lucky knew that Bigman realized that and didn't care. The Martian would court sure death, take any chance, to avenge an insult… Ah, one of the Servicemen was stopping it now.
With that, Lucky found the sound control. Words shot out of the image reproducer: Devoure's frenzied call for robots and his shouted order that they break Bigman.
For a split second Lucky was not sure he had heard correctly, and then he beat both fists desperately against the table and whirled about in near despair.
He had to get out, but how?
There he was, alone with a robot containing only one instruction buzzing in what was left of its posi-tronic brain paths: to keep Lucky immobilized at all costs.
Great Galaxy, was there nothing that would take precedence over that order? He lacked even a weapon with which to threaten suicide or kill the robot.
His eyes fell on the wall phone. He had last seen Zayon at it, something about emergency when the news about Bigman broke.
Lucky said, "Robot. Quickly. What has been done here?"
The robot approached, looked at the glowing combination of knobs in faint red, and said with tantalizing slowness, "A mathter hath indicated all robotth to prepare battle thathionth."
"How would I indicate that all robots are actually to proceed to battle stations at once? Superseding all current orders?"
The robot stared at him, and Lucky, in almost a frenzy, seized the robot's hand and pumped it. "Tell me. Tell me."
Could the thing understand him? Or did its ruined brain paths still have impressed upon them some remnant of instructions that prevented it from giving this information?"
"Tell me! Or do it, do it."
The robot, not speaking, reached a finger toward the apparatus in an uneven movement and slowly depressed two buttons. Then its finger lifted an inch and stopped.
"Is that all? Are you done?" demanded Lucky desperately.
But the robot merely turned and with an uneven tread (one foot dragging perceptibly) walked to the door and marched out.
In space-devouring strides Lucky dashed after him, out of the building and across the hundred yards separating him from Bigman and the three Sirians.
Yonge, having turned in horror from what he expected would be the bloodcurdling destruction of a human being, did not hear the scream of agony he expected. Instead there was a startled grunt from Zayon and a wild cry from Devoure.
He turned back. The robot that had been holding Bigman was holding him no more. He was moving away ini a heavy run. All the robots in sight were hastening away.
And the Earthman, Lucky Starr, was now at Big-man's side, somehow.
Lucky was bending over Bigman, and the small Martian, rubbing his left arm vigorously, was shaking his head. Yonge heard him say, "One minute later, Lucky; just one minute later and… "
Devoufe was shouting hoarsely and uselessly at the robots, and then a loud-speaker arrangement suddenly filled the air with clamor:
COMMANDER DEVOURE, INSTRUCTIONS PLEASE. OUR INSTRUMENTS INDICATE NO SIGN OF ENEMY. EXPLAIN BATTLE STATIONS ORDER. COMMANDER DEVOURE…
" Battle stations," muttered Devoure, stunned. "No
wonder the robots… " His eyes fell on Lucky. "You
Lucky nodded. "Yes, sir."
Devoure's puffy lips set and he said hoarsely, "The clever, resourceful Councilman! You've saved your monkey for the moment." His blaster pointed firmly at Lucky's midriff. "Get into my offices. Every one of you. You too, Zayon. All of you."
The image receiver on his desk was buzzing madly. Obviously it was the failure to get Devoure at his office that had forced his distracted underlings to the loud-speakers.
Devoure flipped on the sound but left the image blind. He barked, "Cancel battle stations order. It was an error."
The man at the other end spluttered something, and Devoure said sharply, "There's nothing wrong with the image. Get on the ball. Everyone back on routine." But almost against his will his hand hovered between his face and the place where the image ought to be, as though he feared that somehow the other might penetrate to vision anyhow and see to what his face had been reduced- and wonder about it.
Yonge's nostrils flared as he watched, and he slowly rubbed his scarred forearm.
Devoure sat down. "The rest of you stand," he said, and stared sullenly from face to face. "This Martian will die, maybe not by robot or in a stripped space ship. I'll think of something; and if you think you saved him, Earthman, be sure I'll think of something more amusing still. I have an excellent imagination."
Lucky said, "I demand that he be treated as a prisoner of war."
Devoure said, "There is no war. He is a spy. He deserves death. He is a roboticide. He deserves death twice." His voice trembled suddenly. "He lifted his hands against me. He deserves death a dozen times."
"I'll buy my friend," said Lucky in a whisper. "He is not for sale:"
"I can pay a high price."
"How?" Devoure grinned ferociously. "By bearing witness at the conference as you have been requested? It is too late for that. It is not enough."
"I couldn't do that in any case," said Lucky. "I will not lie against Earth, but there is a truth I can tell; a truth you do not know."
Bigman said sharply, "Don't bargain with him, Lucky."
"The monkey is right," Devoure said. "Don't bargain. Nothing you can tell me will buy him. I wouldn't sell him for all Earth in my hand."
Yonge interrupted sharply, "I would for much less. Listen to the Councilman. Their lives may be worth the information they have."
Devoure said, "Don't provoke me. You are under arrest."
But Yonge lifted a chair and let it drop with a crash. "I defy you to arrest me. I'm a Serviceman. You can't execute me out of hand. You dare not, no matter how I provoke you. You must reserve me for trial. And at any trial I have things to say."
"Such as?" demanded Devoure with contempt
All the dislike of the aging Serviceman for the young aristocrat was suddenly out in the open. "Such as what happened today: how a five-foot Terrestrial tore you apart until you howled and Zayon had to step in to save your life. Zayon will bear witness. Every man jack at the base will remember that you dared not show your face for days after this date-or will you have the nerve to show that torn face before it heals?"
"I can be quiet. I need say nothing-if you will stop subordinating the good of Sinus to your private hatreds. Listen to what the Councilman has to say." He turned to Lucky. "I guarantee you a fair deal."
Bigman piped up, "What fair deal? You and Zayon will wake up one morning and find yourselves dead by accident and Devoure will be so sorry and send you lots of flowers, only after that there'll be no one to say how he needs robots to hide behind when a Martian is after his filthy skin. Then we'll go any way he likes. So why bargain?"
"There'll be nothing like that," said Yonge stiffly, "because I will give the complete story to one of the robots within an hour of my leaving here. He won't know which one, and he won't find out. If either Zayon or myself dies of anything but natural causes, the story will be relayed to the public sub-etherics in full; otherwise, not. I rather think Devoure will be anxious to see that nothing happens to Zayon or myself."
Zayon shook his head. "I don't like this, Yonge."
"You've got to like it, Zayon. You witnessed his beating. Do you think he wouldn't do his worst for you if you didn't take precautions? Come, I'm weary of sacrificing the honor of the Service to the nephew of the director."
Zayon said unhappily, "Well, what is your information, Councilman Starr?"
Lucky said in a low voice, "It's more than information. It's surrender. There is another Councilman on what you call Sirian territory. Agree to treat my friend as a prisoner of war and safeguard his life by forgetting the roboticide incident and I'll take you to this other Councilman."