Liar by Isaac Asimov

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The story is set somewhere in the distant future, when robots– walking, talking, thinking mechanical men – are not a dream but a part of everyday life. U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men is a big company which exists entirely to develop robots, more and more complex ones. Up till now, robots have always been designed to obey the three ‘Laws of Robotics’:    

  1. He may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.    

  2. He must obey the orders given to him by human beings except where such orders would be against the First Law.

  3. He must protect himself as long as such protection is not against the First or Second Law.

However, there are thousands of operations involved in robot manufacture and if just one of these goes wrong, then unexpected things can happen.

 

Isaac Asimov has doctorate in chemistry and his stories show a deep understanding of scientific thought and theory. He has written over a hundred and twenty books, on every subject from astronomy to Shakespeare. 

 

Alfred Lanning lit his cigar carefully, but the tips of his fingers were trembling slightly and he was frowning* as he spoke.

‘It reads minds– no doubt about that!’ He looked from under his thick grey eyebrows at mathematician*Peter Bogert, ‘Well?’

Bogert flattened his black hair down with both hands. ‘That was the thirty–fourth RB model we’ve turned out, Lanning. All the others were entirely normal.’

The third man at the table frowned .Milton Ashe was the youngest officer of U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, and proud of it.

‘Listen, Borget. Nothing went wrong with the manufacture. I guarantee that.’

‘Do you indeed? If you can answer for the entire process of manufacture, you are a better man than I am. There are exactly seventy–five thousand, two hundred and thirty –four operations depend upon any number of factors, from five to a hundred and five. If any one of them goes seriously wrong, the ‘’brain ‘’ is ruined…You told us that yourself, Ashe.’

Milton Ashe’s pleasant young face reddened, but a fourth voice cut off his reply

‘If we’re going to start by fixing the blame on one another, I’m leaving. ‘Susan Calvin’s hands were tightly folded and there were deep lines around her thin, pale lips. ‘We’ve got a mind –reading robot on our hands and we have to find out just why it reads minds. We’re not going to do that by saying, ‘Your fault! My fault!’

Her cold, grey eyes looked at Ashe, and he grinned.*Lanning grinned too. ‘True, Dr Calvin,’ he said. ‘Now,’ he went on, suddenly businesslike, ‘here’s the problem. We’ve produced an apparently ordinary positronic brain which can ‘receive’ thought –waves as a radio receives radio–waves. It would be the greatest advance in robotics for years if only we knew how it happened. We don’t, and we have to find out. Is that clear?’

‘May I make a suggestion?’ asked Bogert.

‘Go ahead.’

‘I say that until we do find out what happened, we keep the existence of RB34 a secret –even from the other members of staff.’

‘Bogert is right,’ said Dr. Calvin. ‘Ever since they changed the law, and allowed robots to be tested at the factory before being sent out to space, the public’s dislike of robots has increased. If anything leaks out about a mind– reading robot before we can say we have complete control of its ability, that information could be very useful to our enemies.’

Lanning sucked at his cigar and nodded .He turned to Ashe, ‘I think you said you were alone when you discovered this though –reading business.’

‘I certainly was – and I got the shock of my life. They’d just completed RB34 and sent him down to me. I took him down to the testing rooms myself– at least I started to take him down.’ As he paused, a tiny smile on his lips.’ Have any of you ever conducted a thought conversation?’

No one answered, and he continued, ‘You don’t realize it at first, you know. He just spoke to me; in such a sensible way that I was outside the testing rooms before I realized that I hadn’t said anything. Sure, I’d thought things, but that thing up and ran to get Lanning. Having it walking beside me, calmly reading my thoughts, really made me nervous.’

‘I imagine it did,’ said Susan Calvin, looking at Ashe with a strange intensity. ‘We are so accustomed to considering our own thoughts private.’

Lanning broke in, ‘Then only the four of us know. All right! We’ve got to deal with this systematically. Ashe, I want you to check the manufacturing processes from beginning to end –everything. Eliminate all operations in which there was no possibility of an error, and list all those where an error could happen.’

‘Big job,’ said Ashe.

‘Naturally! Put all your men to work on this –but they mustn’t know why.’

‘Hmmm –yes. ‘The young scientist grinned. ‘But it’s still a large job.’

Lanning turned to face Dr Calvin. ‘You’ll have to look at the job from the other direction. You are our robopsychologist, so you’ll have to study the robot itself and work backwards. Try to find out how far his mind–reading powers extend, and how they affect his general performance as a robot. You’ve got that? ‘

Lanning did not wait for an answer. ‘I’ll co–ordinate the work, ‘ he said, through the cigar smoke, ‘Bogert can help me with the mathematics, of course.’

Bogert polished the nails of one white hand with the other. ‘Perhaps,’ he said shortly. ‘I do know a little about such things.’

‘Well, I’ll get started, ‘ said Ashe, rising. Susan Calvin only nodded slightly, but her eyes followed him out of the room and she did not answer when Lanning said, ‘Do you want to go up and see RB34 now, Dr Calvin?’

 

RB34 lifted his electric eyes from the book at the sound of the door opening, and he was on his feet when Susan Calvin entered. She paused to put the huge ‘No Entrance’ sign upon the door and then approached the robot.

‘I’ve brought you the texts on hyperatomic motors, Herbie,’ she said. ‘Would you like to look at them?’

RB34–otherwise known as Herbie– lifted the three heavy books from her arms and opened one.

‘Hmmm! Theory of Hyperatomics. Sit down, Dr. Calvin! This will take me a few minutes.’

The robopsychologist sat down and watched Herbie narrowly as he took a seat at the other side of the table and went through the three books systematically.

At the end of half an hour, he put them down. ‘Of course, I know why you brought these.’

‘I was afraid you would, Herbie. It’s difficult to work with you; you’re always one step ahead of me.’

‘It’s the same with these books, you know, as with the others. They just don’t interest me. Your science is just a mass of collected data, plastered together with make–shift theory, and all so simple…It’s your fiction that interests me; the whole range of human emotions – ’

Dr. Calvin whispered, ‘I think I understand.’

‘I see into minds, you see, ‘the robot continued,’ and you have no idea how complex they are. I can’t begin to understand everything because my own mind is so different–but I try, and your novels help.’

‘Yes, but I’m afraid that after some of our present–day novels’– there was a touch of bitterness in her voice–‘you find real minds like ours very dull.’

‘But I don’t!’ The sudden energy in the response brought her to her feet. She felt her face reddening*and thought wildly, ‘He must know!’

Herbie, in a low and quite un–robot like voice said, ‘But of course, I know all about it, Dr Calvin. You think of it always, so how can I not know?’

Her face was hard. ‘Have you–told anyone?’

‘Of course not.’

‘Well, then, I suppose you think I am a fool.’

‘No! It is a normal emotion.’

‘Perhaps that is why it is so foolish.’ A sad, lonely woman peered* out through the hard, Professional layer. I am not what you would call–attractive.’

‘If you are referring to mere physical attraction, I could not judge. But I know, in any case, that there are other types of attraction.’

‘Nor young.’ Dr Calvin had scarcely heard the robot.’

‘You are not yet forty. ‘The robot sounded anxious.’

‘Thirty–eight as you count the years, a dried–up sixty as far as my emotional Outlook is concerned. I am a psychologist,* so I should know.’ She went on. ‘And he’s scarcely thirty–five and looks and acts younger. Do you suppose he ever sees me as anything…but what I am?’

‘You are wrong! Herbie’s steel hand struck the plastic table–top. ‘Listen to me–‘

But Susan Calvin turned on him, pain burning in her eyes. ‘Why should I? What do you know about it all, anyway, you…you machine. I’m just a specimen* to you, an interesting bug for you to examine. It’s a wonderful example of frustration,*isn’t it? Almost as good as your books.’ Her voice shook.

The robot shook his head, begging her to listen. ‘I could help you if you would let me,’ he said.

‘How?’ Her lips curled. ‘By giving me good advice?’

‘No, not that. It’s just that I know what other people think–Milton Ashe, for instance.’

There was a long silence, and Susan Calvin’s eyes dropped.

‘I don’t want to know what he thinks,’ she said in a hard, dry voice. ‘Keep quiet.’

‘I think you do.’

Her head remained bent, but her breath came more quickly. You are talking nonsense,’ she whispered.

Why should I? I am trying to help. Milton Ashe’s thoughts of you–’ he paused. And then the psychologist raised her head.

‘Well?’

‘He loves you,’ the robot said quietly.

For a full minute Dr Calvin did not speak. She merely stared. Then, ‘You are mistaken! You must be. Why should he?’

‘But he does. A thing like that cannot be hidden, not from me.’

‘He looks deeper than the skin, he admires intelligence in others. Milton Ashe is not a man to marry a head of head of hair and a pair of eyes.’

Susan Calvin found herself blinking* rapidly and waited before speaking. Even then her voice trembled. ‘Yet he certainly never showed it…’

‘Have you ever given him a chance?’

‘How could I? I never thought that …’

‘Exactly!’

The psychologist paused, deep in thought, and then looked up suddenly. ‘A girl visited him here six months ago. She was pretty, I suppose, and, of course, could scarcely add two and two. He spent all day with her, trying to explain how a robot was put together.’ Her voice was hard again. ‘Not that she understood! Who was she?’

Herbie answered without hesitating. ‘I know the person you are referring to. She is his first cousin, and there is no romantic*interest there at all’

Susan Calvin looked almost young as she rose to her feet. ‘Now, isn’t that strange? That’s exactly what I used to pretend to myself sometimes, though I never really thought so. Then it all must be true.’

She ran to Herbie and seized his cold, heavy hand in both hers.  ‘Don’t tell anyone about this. Let it be our secret– and thank you again.’ With that, she left.

Herbie turned slowly to his neglected novel, but there was no one to read his thoughts.

 

Milton Ashe yawned,*stretched slowly, to the tune of cracking joins, and looked angrily at Peter Bogert.

‘Say,’ he said, ‘I’ve been doing this for a week now, with scarcely any sleep. How long do I have to keep it up?’

Bogert yawned too, and looked at his smooth, white hands with interest. ‘I’m on the right track,’ he said.

‘How near the end are you?’

‘It all depends.’

‘On what?’ Ashe dropped into a chair and stretched out his long legs in front of him.

‘On Lanning. The old fellow disagrees with me.’ He signed. ‘Behind the times, that’s the trouble with him.’

‘Why not ask Herbie and settle the trouble with him.’

‘Ask the robot?’ Bogert’s eyebrows went up.

‘Why not? Didn’t the old girl tell you?’

‘You mean Calvin?’

‘Yes! Susie herself. That robot’s a mathematical genius* He knows all about everything, and more.’

The mathematician stared at him. ‘Are you serious?’

‘I certainly am! The trouble is that he doesn’t like maths. He would rather read romantic novels. Honestly! You should see the rubbish Susie gives him. No More My Love, and Love in Space.’

‘Dr Calvin hasn’t said a word of this to us.’

‘Well, she hasn’t finished studying him. You know how she is. She likes to be sure before she lets out the big secret.’

‘She’s told you.’

‘Well, I’ve been seeing a lot of her lately.’ He frowned. ‘Say, Bogie, have you noticed anything queer about the lady lately?’

Bogert grinned. ‘She’s using make–up, if that’s what you mean.’

‘Hell, I know that. She looks awful. But it’s not that. I can’t put my finger on it. It’s the way she talks–as if she’s happy about something.’ He looked puzzled.

The other grinned. ‘Maybe she’s in love.’ Ashe allowed his eyes to close again. ‘You’re crazy, Bogie. You go and speak to Herbie; I want to stay here and go to sleep.’

‘Right! But I don’t particularly like having a robot tell me my job, and I don’t think he can do it!’

But Ashe was asleep.

 

Herbie listened carefully to Peter Bogert, who was trying hard to appear indifferent.* ‘So there you are,’ he said, ‘I’ve been told you understand these things, and I am asking you more in curiosity than anything else. My line of reasoning has a few doubtful steps, which Dr Lanning refuses to accept, and the picture is still not quite complete.’

The robot did not answer.

‘Well?’ said Bogert. Herbie studied the figures. ‘I see no mistake,’ he said.

‘I don’t suppose you can go any further than that?’

‘I daren’t try. You are a better mathematician than I.’

Bogert looked pleased. ‘I rather thought that would be the case. We’ll forget it.’ He turned to leave, and then thought better of it. The robot waited.

Bogert seemed to have difficultly. ‘There is something–that is, perhaps you can–‘he stopped.

Herbie spoke quietly. ‘Your thoughts are confused, but there is no doubt at all that they concern Dr Lanning. It is foolish to hesitate, for as soon as you compose yourself, I shall know what it is you want to ask.’

The mathematician’s hand smoothed his black hair again. ‘Lanning is nearly seventy,’ he said, as if that explained everything.

‘I know that.’

‘And he’s been director here for almost thirty years.’

Herbie nodded.

‘Well now,’ Bogert’s voice became ingratiating.*‘You should know whether… whether he’s thinking of resigning. Health, perhaps, or some other…’

‘Quite,’ said Herbie, and that was all.

‘Well, do you know?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Then–uh–could you tell me?’

‘Since you ask, yes, ‘said the robot calmly. ‘He has already resigned.’

‘What!’ gasped * the scientist. ‘Say that again!’

‘He has already resigned,’ came the quite voice again, ‘but he is waiting, you see, to solve the problem of – er– myself. That finished, he is quite ready to turn the office over to his successor.’*

Bogert let out his breath sharply. ‘And his successor? Who is he?’ He was quite close to Herbie now, eyes fixed on those dull–red electric eyes.

The words came slowly. ‘You are the next director.’

Bogert smiled at last. ‘I’ve been waiting for this.’ he said, ‘Thanks, Herbie.’

 

Peter Bogert was at his desk until five the next morning and he was back at nine, checking one reference book after another, while the pile of papers in front of him increased and the heap of waste–paper at his feet grew to a mountain. At exactly noon, he started at the final page of calculations, rubbed his tired eyes, and yawned.

‘This is getting worse every minute!’

He turned at the sound of the opening door and nodded at Lanning as he entered. The director looked at the disorder of the room and frowned.

‘New idea?’ he asked.

‘No,’ came the answer, ‘What’s wrong with the old idea?’

Lanning did not trouble to answer. He lit a cigar. ‘Has Calvin told you about the robot? It’s a mathematical genius.’

‘Calvin had better stick to robopsychology,’ said Bogert. ‘I’ve checked Herbie on maths, and he can scarcely stumble* through calculus.’*

‘Calvin didn’t find it o.’

‘She’s crazy.’

‘And I don’t find it so.’ The director’s eyes were narrow and dangerous.

‘You!’ Bogert’s voice was hard. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘I’ve been testing Herbie all morning, and he can do tricks you never heard of.’

‘Is that so?’

‘You sound doubtful!’ Lannig brought a sheet of paper out of his pocket. ‘That’s not my writing, is it?’

Bogert studied the large writing that covered the sheet. ‘Herbie did this?’

‘Right! And he came to exactly the same conclusion as I did about your calculations. We both think they’re wrong.’

‘Well, then,’ Bogert shouted, ‘let that- machine solve the entire problem for you!’

‘That’s exactly the point. Herbie can’t solve the problem. And if he can’t, we can’t –alone. I’m putting the entire question to the National Board. It’s got beyond us.’

Bogert’s chair went over backwards as he jumped up snarling; face dark red.

‘You’re doing nothing of the sort.’

Lanning reddened. ‘Are you telling me what I can and can’t do?’

‘Exactly,’ said Bogert through his teeth, ‘I’ve almost solved this problem, and you’re not going to take it out of my hands, understand? Don’t think I don’t see through you, you dried-up old fossil!  You’d cut your own nose off before you’d let me get the credit for solving this problem-‘

‘You’re a fool, Bogert, and in one second I’ll have you suspended!’ Lanning’s lower lip trembled with anger.

‘Which is one thing you won’t do, Lanning. You haven’t any secrets with a mind-reading robot around, so don’t forget that I know all about your resignation.’

The ash on Lanning’s cigar trembled and fell, and the cigar itself followed. ‘What…What…’he gasped.

Bogert gave a nasty grin. ‘And I’m the new director. I’m quite aware of that, Lanning; and I’m going to give the orders around here, or there’ll be trouble,’

Lanning found his voice at last. ‘You’re relieved of all duties. You’re finished, Bogert, finished, do you understand?’

Bogert’s grin became broader. ‘Now, what’s the use of that? You’re getting nowhere. I’m holding all the winning card. I know you’ve resigned. Herbie told me, and he got it straight from you.’

Lanning forced himself to speak quietly. He looked old, on old man with tired eyes. ‘I want to speak to Herbie. Come with me.’

‘To see Herbie? Good!’

 

It was also exactly noon when Milton Ashe looked up from his sketch and said. ‘You get the idea? I’m not too good at drawing but that’s about how it looks. It’s a lovely house, and I can get it for next to nothing.’

Susan Calvin looked at him with melting eyes. ‘It’s really beautiful, ‘she sighed, ‘I’ve often thought that I’d like to-‘Her voice died away.

‘Of course, ‘Ashe continued, putting his pencil away, ‘I’ve got to wait for my vacation. It’s only two weeks off, but this Herbie business is making things difficult.’ His eyes dropped.

‘Besides, there’s another point-but it’s a secret.’
‘Then don’t tell me.’

‘Oh, I’m just bursting to tell somebody- and you’re just about the best –er-confidante I could find here.’ He gave a shy grin.

Susan Calvin’s heart bounded, but she dared not speak.

Ashe scraped his chair closer and lowered his voice to a confidential whisper. ‘The house isn’t to be only for myself. I’m getting married!’ And then he jumped out of his seat. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Nothing!’ The world was no longer spinning round and round but it was difficult to speak.

‘Married? You mean-‘

‘Why, yes! You remember that girl who was here last summer?-But you are ill. You-‘

‘Headache!’ Susan Calvin said faintly, ‘I – I’ve had them lately, I want to …. to congratulate you, of course, I’m very glad-‘ The make-up stood out, red and ugly, on her chalk-white face. Things were spinning again. ‘Pardon me- please.’ And she stumbled through the doorway* like a blind woman.

How could it be? Herbie had said –and Herbie knew! He could see into minds! She found herself leaning against the doorway, staring into Herbie’s metal face. She must have climbed the stairs, but she had no memory of it. She had covered the distance in an instant, as in a dream.

As in a dream! And still Herbie’s dull red eyes stared into hers. He was speaking. There was anxiety in his voice –as if he were hurt and frightened, begging her to believe him.

The words were beginning to make sense. ‘This is a dream, ‘he was saying, ‘and you mustn’t believe it. You’ll wake into the real world soon, and laugh at yourself. He loves you, I tell you. He does, he does!’

Susan Calvin nodded, her voice a whisper. ‘Yes! Yes!’ She was holding Herbie’s arm, repeating over and over, ‘It isn’t true, is it? It isn’t, is it?

Just how she came to her senses, she never knew, but it was like coming outside into harsh* sunlight. She pushed him away from her, and her eyes were wide.

‘What are you trying to do?’ Her voice rose to a harsh scream. ‘What are you trying to do?’

Herbie backed away. ‘I want to help.’

The psychologist stared. ‘Help? By telling me this is a dream? By trying to send me mad? This is no dream-I wish it were!’ She drew her breath sharply. ‘Wait! ‘Why … why, I understand. Merciful Heavens, it’s so obvious.’

There was horror* in the robot’s voice. ‘I had to!’

‘And I believed you! I never thought-‘She heard voices outside the door and turned angrily away.

 

 

When Bogert and Lanning entered, she was at the far window. Neither of them paid her the slightest attention. They approached Herbie together, Lanning angry, Bogert cool. The director spoke first.

‘Here now, Herbie, Listen to me!’

The robot brought his eyes sharply down upon the aged* director. ‘Yes, Dr Lanning?’

‘Have you discussed me with Dr Bogert?’

‘No, sir.’ The smile left Bogert’s face.

‘What’s that?’ he said, pushing in front of his superior. ‘Repeat what you told me yesterday.’

‘I said that-‘Herbie fell silent.

‘Didn’t you say he had resigned?’ roared Bogert.

‘Answer me!’ Lanning pushed him aside. ‘Are you trying to bully*him into lying?’

‘You heard him, Lanning . He began to say “Yes” and stopped. Get out of my way! I want the truth out of him, understand!’

‘I’ll ask him.’ Lanning turned to the robot. ‘All right, Herbie. Take it easy. Have I resigned?’ Herbie stared and Lanning repeated anxiously, ‘Have I resigned?’ There was the faintest trace of a shake of the robot’s head.

The two men looked at each other, hate in their eyes.

‘What’s that?’ shouted Bogert. ‘Has the robot gone dumb? Can’t you speak, you horror?’

‘I can speak,’ came the answer.

‘Then answer the question. Didn’t you tell me Lanning had resigned? Hasn’t he resigned?’

And again there was nothing but dull silence, until from the end of the room Susan Calvin’s laugh rang out, high and hysterical.*

The two mathematicians jumped, and Bogert’s eyes grew narrow. ‘What’s so funny?’

‘Nothing’s funny.’ Her voice was not quite natural. ‘It’s just that I’m not the only one that’s been caught. Here we are, three of the greatest robot experts in the world, all falling into the same trap.’ Her voice faded, and she put a pale hand to her forehead. ‘But it isn’t funny.’

This time the look that passed between the two men was one of surprise. ‘What trap are you talking about?’ asked Lanning stiffly. ‘Is something wrong with Herbie?’

‘No,’ she said slowly, ‘Nothing is wrong with Herbie- only with us.’ She turned suddenly and screamed at the robot, ‘Get away from me! Go to the other end of the room and don’t let me look at you!’ Herbie stumbled away in fear.

Lanning’s voice was angry. ‘What’s all this, Dr Calvin?’

‘Surely you know the fundamental* First Law of Robotics?’ The other two nodded.

‘Certainly,’ said Bogert. ‘A robot may not harm a human being, or through inaction* allow him to come to harm.’

‘Very well put,’ said Calvin, ‘but what kind of harm?’

‘Why- any kind,’

‘Exactly! Any kind! But what about hurt feelings, what about making people look small? What about betraying all their hopes?* Is that harm?’

Lanning  frowned. ‘What would a robot know about–’ And then he realized.

‘You understand now, don’t you? This robot reads minds. Do you suppose it doesn’t know everything about hurt feelings? If we asked it a question, wouldn’t it give exactly the answer that we wanted to hear? Wouldn’t any other answer hurt us, and wouldn’t it know that?’

‘Good heavens!’ gasped Bogert.

The psychologist looked at him. ‘I suppose you asked him whether Lanning had resigned. You wanted to hear that he had resigned, so that’s what Herbie told you,’

‘And I suppose,’ said Lanning in a dull voice, ‘that is why it would not answer a little while ago. It couldn’t answer either way without hurting one of us.’

The men looked across at the robot, which was crouching* in the chair, head in hands. Susan Calvin continued, staring at the floor. ‘He knew all of this. That…. that devil knows everything – including what went wrong in his manufacture,’

Lanning looked up. ‘You’re wrong there, Dr Calvin. He doesn’t know what wrong. I asked him.’

‘What does that mean?’ cried Calvin. ‘Only that you didn’t want him to give you the solution. It would make you look small if a machine could do what you couldn’t. Did you ask him?’ she asked Bogert.

‘In a way.’ Bogert coughed and reddened. ‘He told me he knew very little about mathematics.

The psychologist gave a bitter little smile. ‘I’ll ask him!’ she said. ‘A solution by him won’t hurt me.’ She raised her voice. ‘Come here.’ Herbie rose and approached, hesitating.

‘You know, I suppose,’ she continued, ‘just exactly at what point in your manufacture something went wrong.’

‘Yes,’ said Herbie, very quietly.

‘Hold on,’ broke in Bogert angrily, ‘That’s not necessarily true. You want to hear it, that’s all.’

‘Don’t be a fool,’ replied Calvin. ‘He certainly knows as much maths as you and Lanning together since he can read minds. Give him his chance.’

The mathematician was silent, and Calvin continued. ‘All right then, Herbie, tell us! We’re waiting.’ And, in an aside, ‘Get pencils and paper, gentlemen,’

But Herbie remained silent, and there was triumph* in her voice as the psychologist said, ‘Why don’t you answer, Herbie?’

‘I cannot! You know I cannot! Dr Bogert and Dr Lannnig don’t want me to!’

‘They want the solution.’

‘But not from me.’

Lanning broke in, speaking slowly and clearly. ‘Don’t be foolish. Herbie. We do want you to tell us.’ Bogert nodded.

Herbie’s voice rose, wild and hysterical. ‘What’s the use of saying that? Deep down, you don’t want me to. I’m a machine, given an imitation of life by my positronic brain, which is Man’s invention. You can’t let me show any superiority without being hurt yourself. So I can’t give you the solution.’

‘That would make no difference,’ cried Herbie, ‘since you would know anyway that I supplied the answer.’

Calvin went on, ‘But you understand, Herbie, that despite that, Dr Lanning and Dr Bogert want that solution.’

‘By their own efforts!’ cried Herbie.

‘But they want it, and the fact that you have it and won’t give it hurts them. You can see that, can’t you?’

‘Yes! Yes!’

‘And if you tell them that will hurt them too.’

‘Yes! YES!’ Herbie was advancing. The two men watched in frozen bewilderment.*

‘You can’t tell them,’ said the psychologist slowly, ‘because that would hurt them, and you mustn’t hurt them. But if you don’t tell them, you hurt them, so you must tell them. And if you do, you will hurt them, and you mustn’t, so you can’t tell them; but if you don’t, you hurt them, so you must; but if you don’t, you hurt them, so you must; but if you do, you-’

Herbie was up against the wall, and here he dropped to his knees. ‘Stop!’ he shouted. ‘Close your mind! It is full of pain and frustration and hate! I didn’t mean to, I tell you! I tried to help! I told you what you wanted to hear. I had to!’

The psychologist paid no attention. ‘You must tell them, but if you do, you hurt them, so you mustn’t; but if you don’t, you hurt them, so you must-‘

And Herbie screamed! Higher and higher, with the terror of a lost soul. And when it died away Herbie collapsed * into a heap of motionless* metal.

Bogert’s face was white. ‘He’s dead!’

‘No!’ Susan Calvin burst into wild laughter. ‘Not dead, merely mad. I faced him with an insoluble* problem and he broke down. He’ll never speak again.’

Lanning was on his knees beside the thing that had been Herbie. His fingers touched the cold, dead metal face. ‘You did that on purpose,’ he said, his face twisted with emotion.

‘What if I did? You can’t help it now…. And he deserved it.’

The director seized the motionless Bogert by the wrist. ‘What’s the difference? Come, Peter.’ He sighed. ‘A thinking robot of this type is worthless anyway.’ His eyes were old and tired. He repeated, ‘Come, Peter.’

It was minutes after the two scientists left that Dr Susan Calvin’s emotional balance returned to her. Slowly her eyes turned to the living- dead Herbie and stared while triumph faded and helpless frustration returned- but of all her angry thoughts only one world, infinitely* bitter, passed her lips.

‘LIAR!’

 

Glossary

 

You will see that this glossary consists of two separate lists:

The first contains normal English words marked*, while the second contains Asimov’s invented science fiction words, marked.

 

Page 1

Frowning: drawing the eyebrows together in thought

 

Page 2

Mathematician: person whose job is mathematics

Grinned: gave a wide smile

 

Page 4

Eliminate: cut out, remove

Co-ordinate: make sure people work together, without wasting time

 

Page 5

Make-shift: not made for the purpose; a poor second-best

Reddening: turning red

 

Page 6

Peered: looked, as if through a small opening

Psychologist: person who studies the mind

Specimen: example of something, often used for a scientific experiment

Frustration: feeling of very much wanting something that you cannot have

 

Page 7

Blinking: opening and shutting the eyes quickly

 

Page 8

Romantic: concerning love

Yawned: opened the mouth wide to take in air, especially when sleepy, or bored

 

Page 9

Genius: one who is extremely clever at something

Indifferent: not caring one way or the other

 

 

Page 10

Ingratiating: trying to influence another person to feel favourable toward you

Gasped: took in air suddenly an quickly, with a ‘hah!’ sound

 

 

 

Page 11

Successor: the one who will come next

Stumble: walk with difficulty, as if on rough ground

Calculus: a branch of mathematics

 

Page 12

Snarling: making a noise like an angry dog

Fossil: body of on animal or plant, trapped in stone for millions of years.

 

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Suspended: removed from a job while one’s case is being considered

 

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Confidante: somebody one can tell secrets to

Doorway: the framework in which a door is set

 

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Harsh: rough an unpleasant; (of sunlight) too bright, hurting the eyes

Horror; feeling of fear

Aged: very old

 

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Bully: threaten or treat roughly, as a strong person might treat a weaker one

Hysterical: without control of her feelings

 

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Fundamental: of first importance: vital

Inaction: failure to act

Betraying all their hopes: making all their hopes worthless

 

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Crouching: curling up small, like a frightened animal

Triumph: feeling of victory

 

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Bewilderment: the feeling of being puzzled, of not understanding

 

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Collapsed: fell to pieces

Motionless: without movement

Insoluble: impossible to answer

 

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Infinitely: to the highest degree

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