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Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net







Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Amazing Science Fiction Stories April 1960.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright
on this publication was renewed.



_The little man stood in front of the
monstrous machine as the synaptic
drone heightened to a scream. No ...
no, he whispered. Don't you
understand...._



WE'RE FRIENDS, NOW


By HENRY HASSE



ILLUSTRATED by VARGA

* * * * *




Today more than other days Raoul Beardsley felt the burden, the dragging
sense of inevitability. He frowned; he glanced at his watch; he leaned
forward to speak to the copter pilot and then changed his mind. He
settled back, and from idle habit adjusted his chair-scope to the
familiar broad-spoked area of Washington just below.

"I'll _not_ have it happening again today!" he told himself grimly ...
and at once his thoughts quavered off into many tangles of
self-reproach. "Blasted nonsense the way I've been acting. A _machine_,
a damned gutless machine like that! Why do I persist in letting it get
to me?"

He pondered that and found no solace. "Delusion," he snorted. "Hyper
synapse-disorder ... that's how Jeff Arnold would explain _me_. I wish
he'd confine his diagnostics to the Mechanical Division where it
belongs! He's amused, they're all amused at me - but damn it they just
don't know!"

Beardsley's rotund body sagged at the thought. Adjusting the
chair-scope, he fixed his gaze on the broad facade of Crime-Central
Building far across the city; again he felt the burgeoning embarrassment
and foreboding, but he put it down with an effort before it reached the
edge of fear. _Not today_, he thought fiercely. _No, by God, I just
won't permit it to happen._

There. So! He felt much better already. And he had really made good time
this morning. Today of _all_ days he mustn't keep ECAIAC waiting.

[Illustration: Beardsley was the only one _not_ to panic when the
infallible machine broke down.]

Mustn't.... Something triggered in Beardsley, and he was assailed with a
perverse rebellion at the thought.

* * * * *

Must not? But why not? Why shouldn't he just _once_ keep ECAIAC and Jeff
Arnold and his clique stewing in their own tangle of tubes and
electronic juice? And wouldn't _this_, he gloated, be the perfect day
for it! Arnold especially - just once to shatter that young man's
complacent routine....

No. Beardsley savored the thought tastily, and let it trickle away, and
the look of glee on his cherubic face was gone. For too many years his
job as serological "coördinator" (Crime-Central) had kept him pinned to
the concomitant routine. Pinned or crucified, it was all the same; in
crime analysis as in everything these days, personal sense of
achievement had been too unsubtly annihilated. Recalling his just
completed task - the Citizen Files and _persona-tapes_ and the endless
annotating - Beardsley felt himself sinking still further into that mire
of futility that encompassed neither excitement nor particular pride.

He brought himself back with a grimace, aware that he was clutching the
briefcase of tapes possessively from long habit. The pilot had touched
the news-stat, and abruptly one of the new "commerciappeals" grated on
Beardsley's senses:

"... we repeat, yes, PROT-O-SUDS is now available in _flake_ or _cake_ or
the new attachable _luxury-spray_. Remember, PROT-O-SUDS has _never_ been
laboratory-tested, it contains _no_ miracle ingredients, _no_ improved
scientific formula, and NO LANOLIN. Then what is the new PROT-O-SUDS? I
tell you frankly, friends, it is nothing but a lot of pure soft soap!
Remember ... we make no fabulous claims for PROT-O-SUDS ... we assume that
you are reasonably clean to start with! And now for your late breakfast
news, PROT-O-SUDS takes you direct to the Central News Bureau for a final
survey on the Carmack murder case...."

Beardsley groaned. New voice in the background, while the screen presented
a slow montage. Cine-runs of the great Carmack himself, including those at
the International Cybernetics Congress a year ago ... survey of the murder
scene, the Carmack mansion ... close-up of ECAIAC ... diagrammatic detail
of ECAIAC ... then dramatically, the grim and imposing figure of George
Mandleco, Minister of Justice.

And then the news-caster's voice: "... certain that final processing
will go forward today. It would be a gross understatement to say that
the Carmack Case has captured the attention of the nation, both
officialdom and public alike! _Never_ in the history of Crime-Central
has there been such an undercurrent of speculation and excitement...."

"Excitement?" murmured Beardsley.

"And now it is heightened, by no less an authority than the Minister of
Justice himself, who brought both plaudits and censure upon himself
today with the outright statement that _deep-rooted political issues_
may well be involved. As you must know by now, it was the murdered man
himself - Amos Carmack - who some years ago carried on the incessant
lobbying that resulted in ECAIAC being accepted _pro bono publico_ by
Crime-Central. What devastating irony! For now it is ECAIAC itself that
must weigh each detail, correlate all factors, probe every motive and
machination leading to the _murder of its creator_...."

"That's not entirely true, you know," muttered Beardsley.

Quick flicker, again a close-up of ECAIAC, and the drama-laden voice:
"ECAIAC! Electronic Analysis Integrator and Computor. And now - an
exclusive! From a very reliable source this reporter has learned that
_three Primes_ are involved...."

"Ha!" grated Beardsley.

"... and they will be broken down in quotient. Two must ultimately be
eliminated - barring, of course, the possible emergence of any minor
factor to status of Prime, which at this stage seems unlikely. It is
estimated that by today or tomorrow at the latest Carmack's murderer
will be brought to justice...."

Beardsley had taken as much as he could of this pseudo-factual mush. He
jerked forward violently, rapped the pilot on the shoulder. "DAMN IT!
WILL YOU SHUT THE DAMN THING OFF!"

* * * * *

He was immediately appalled at his outburst, and by the pilot's startled
glance, but the stat went off immediately.

Beardsley leaned back muttering to himself. Carmack, Carmack! For seven
weeks now he had lived with it intricately and intimately, as the case
shoved everything else right off the news-stat. People took the latest
echoes to bed with them, commuters gobbled it with their breakfast
cereal. Thank God today would see the end, and they could once more have
the hot South Polar crisis with their cereal.

* * * * *

Seven weeks! He clutched the bulging briefcase with a wearisome horror.
Twenty-two persona-tapes from Central File, all neatly processed and
ready for ECAIAC. End result of the endless chart sifts, emphasis (as
always!) on parietosomatic recession, the slow emergence of minor
constants, the inexorable trend toward Price Factor and then
_verification_, _verification_, to each his own, with all the subtle and
shaded values of the Augment Index brought finally to focus on the
relevance-graph _Carmack_.

Sure, thought Beardsley. A thing of augment-indexing and psych-tapes,
quite without possibility of error. Now in the _old_ days of crime
detection - it might have taken them seven months instead of weeks, not
to mention frustration and leg-work and false-leads and sweat, but -

His mouth pulled down bitterly. _Serological Coördinator. Glorified
file-clerk is more like it. High-salaried errand-boy._

"Here we are, sir!" The pilot's voice jarred him to reality as the
copter berthed.

Beardsley hurried toward the roof entrance. His faded blue suit, a size
too large, flapped about him, and the outmoded felt hat seemed to sink
to the level of his thick-lensed glasses. The guard greeted him, but
suppressed a smile as the cherubic little man flashed his official pass.

For there was something about Raoul Beardsley that eternally evoked
amusement - an air of vacuous innocence and a remote forlornness. He gave
the appearance of a person who sold shoes during the day, washed his
wife's dishes at night and then solved two or three galacti-gram puzzles
before turning off the light precisely at ten. Few, if any, remembered
that this nervous little man had once been top Inspector of New York
City's Homicide Bureau ... but that was a dozen long years ago. Since
then he had seen the antiquated detective methods of 1960 disappear, and
he had died a little, too, seeing his Homicide Bureau relegated to a
mere subsidiary with the growth of the Coördinate and Mechanical
Divisions. His appointment to Chief of Co-ördinants, Federal, was
automatic and unquestioned; and Beardsley would have been the last to
know, or to care, that he had correlated some eight million miles of
serological data for the entrains of ECAIAC, a perfect record of not a
single unsolved case.

And the penalty was in his eyes, if one cared to look beyond the
thick-lensed glasses. No one ever did. They were remote eyes, a little
bewildered, a little hurt ... a mirror gone dull from times remembered
but irretrievably lost.

* * * * *

Beardsley stepped onto the corridor slidewalk, coasted to the escalator
and rode it down. Still immersed in his thoughts, he pushed into
ECAIAC's room ... _and again it happened_.

So shockingly sudden, there was not even time for remonstrance at
himself. The feeling hit him as always before, straight and unerring, a
surging impact that smashed forward and stopped him in his tracks,
literally paralyzed.

He caught his breath convulsively. How often had he come here? And how
often had this happened, even when he'd sworn he wouldn't let it? There
was something about the sight and sound and feel of ECAIAC that got to
him, that seeped beneath flesh and bone and into his brain and sent his
senses singing. Beardsley managed to gulp, as he observed the shiny
black colossus that filled the entire length of the ninety-foot room; a
dozen techs scurried around it, taking notes, attentive to the flashing
lights in red-and-green and the faint clicking of thousands of relays
that rose in susurration.

But more than that arose. It was something that pervaded the room, not a
pulsing but a _presence_, a sort of snapping intangible intelligence
that reached beyond the audible and sheared at Beardsley's nerve-ends.

And it hadn't been there a moment before. That was the shocking thing.
Beardsley knew that it _knew_! It was sentient, it was alive and aware
and waiting, and it was listening.

As always, it knew that _he_ had entered.

Beardsley gulped again, stood frozen for half a minute. None of the
techs seemed to notice; they had often chided him about it, but he was
used to that now. At last he broke the spell and made his legs move,
feeling cold sweat as he hurried along the length of ECAIAC toward
Arnold's office.

There ... just about there ... by the rheostats, where the four red
lights and the two green made a baleful pattern against the black metal
skin. He felt it stronger than ever this time, something reaching and
sinister aimed solely at him. He skirted the place with a quick goosey
hop, stumbled a little and felt panic, but made it all right to the
office.

Beardsley hated these moments. He was still trembling as he made a
hurried entrance. Sure enough, as if on cue Jeff Arnold glanced up from
his charts and grinned.

"Ah, good morning, Beardsley! Now don't tell me our pet goo - uh - snapped
at you again?"

It was the routine remark, but today Arnold was immediately contrite for
a change. "Sorry," he said, and a certain weariness replaced the grin.
He gestured to the alco-mech. "Can I dial you a drink? Feel in need of
one myself!"

"Eleven-C," said Beardsley, and slumped into the pneumo-chair. Arnold
rose and dialled 11-C, handed him the drink and dialled 9-R for himself.
Sipping it, he moved around the desk.

There was something very strange and preoccupied in his movements,
Beardsley thought, more than a mere tiredness. He had never seen Arnold
this way.

"Yes sir, this is the day!" A muscle twitched in his corded neck; Arnold
eased his long frame into a chair, rubbed thumb and forefinger at his
eyes. "Been up half the night running off clearance tests. Can't afford
to foul up on this one!"

Beardsley tossed off his drink and blinked at the fiery strength of it.
Now why should Arnold say that? When had ECAIAC ever fouled up? He
watched the man across the desk. Jeff Arnold was a vigorous, striking
specimen, handsome in an athletic way, with long stubborn jaw and
unhappy gray eyes beneath his unruly hair; the sort of face that
intrigues women, Beardsley catalogued from past experience. And, he
added, altogether too young a man to be operating a monster like ECAIAC.

* * * * *

Arnold indicated the empty glass. "Another?"

"No, I think not," Beardsley replied carefully.

Arnold hesitated, eyeing the briefcase in Beardsley's clutch. "It's been
rough on you, too, I imagine. Hope there aren't more than thirty
variants! We're set up for more, of course, but it'll necessitate - "

"Twenty-two," Beardsley assured him. Carefully, he spread the coded and
sealed _persona-tapes_ across the desk. "Fresh from Citizen-File
Augment, everything annotated and cross-checked. Blood-count, emotional
stasis, plethora, psycho-geneological index, neuro-thalamic
imbalance - every type factor is here. We really went to the Files on
this case."

"Looks as if you did! How does it narrow down?"

"Fifteen possibles, four Logicals and three Primes - " Beardsley stopped
abruptly. (That news-caster: how had he known there were three Primes?
This stuff was not supposed to leak!) "Twenty-two who _knew_ Carmack,"
he went on. "That includes associational as well as motive-opportunity
factors, with a probability sphere of .004...."

Arnold nodded thoughtfully; his fingers moved unconscious and caressing
across the edge of the desk. "Yes, I see. That's close! Good job," he
said uncertainly.

"Should be! Seven weeks for annotation and code." Beardsley was watching
Arnold's fingers; there was something aimless and fretful as they pushed
among the code-sealed tapes. Beardsley made his voice casual. "If it
interests you," he said, "yes - you are there."

* * * * *

He wanted a reaction and he got it.

"Me!" Arnold stiffened, pulled his fingers away hastily.

"That surprises you? Don't worry, you're not one of the Primes; probably
be rejected on the first run. It's just that you once knew Carmack
rather well. Cal Tech, wasn't it, when Carmack was doing his special
work on magnetronics? Naturally you've had contact since, due to the
nature of your job."

Arnold nodded, frowning. "That's right. It just hadn't occurred to me
that - "

Beardsley realized that he wasn't lying. _It was not the thought of his
own tape that bothered Arnold._

"Oh, we're thorough over at 'Coördinates Division!'" Beardsley laughed,
making a minor joke of it. "Now here," he touched a spool labelled in
red, "is your Basic Invariant. Carmack - Amos T. Murdered man. Found
bludgeoned in library of his home, night of April 4. Age 56, held all
outstanding patents on ECAIAC, worth millions, and" - he looked up,
beaming - "leaves beautiful wife."

He paused for the merest moment. Save for a soft drumming of fingers on
the desk, Arnold was silent.

"And here's a sub-Basic: Mrs. Carmack will be a rich woman now. She was
considerably younger than Carmack - and she's been having an affair with
another man." Beardsley smiled at Jeff Arnold. "That's a sociological
note beyond our sphere, but we managed to get the data. I'll bet the
department was appalled that such a gorgeous woman could be resolved
into neo-Euclidian equations!"

"Why?" Arnold was suddenly irritable. "It's been done a thousand times
before!"

"Of course," shrugged Beardsley. "And it's really up to ECAIAC, isn't
it? A Prime can be negated, while on the other hand a variant can shift
from possible to Logical to Prime. Or am I wrong? I've never been up on
the mechanics."

Arnold grunted. "There's bound to be some correlatory shift! The
Primes - how many did you say?"

"Three as of now."

Arnold rose abruptly, then strode to the alco-mech and dialled himself
another drink. He took an uncommonly long time about it. "Look," he
said, "we both know about these things! In a case like this there are
bound to be political repercussions - " He hit Beardsley with a gauging
glance. "Well," he blurted, "I have to admit I'm damn curious! Mind
telling me who are the three Primes? Ah - strictly off the record, you
understand."

Beardsley had expected something like this, and he was quite ready to
answer; but he carefully removed his glasses, massaged the bridge of his
nose and frowned. "Well, now...."

"Come on, give! I know it's against protocol and all that ... but hell!
We'll have the answer anyway in a matter of hours."

Beardsley nodded with a show of thoughtfulness. "Yes, that's true, isn't
it? Very well. But strictly off the record! I warn you - not only will
the first Prime startle you, but the information could be dangerous!"

He waited a moment, then he leaned forward and whispered: "Mandleco!"

* * * * *

For a moment Arnold didn't move. His face was ludicrous. Then Beardsley
saw his hands clench.

"Mandleco!" the word jolted from his lips. "George Mandleco, Minister of
Justice? I don't believe you!"

"It's a fact," Beardsley told him. "Right now he equates into an
uncertain Prime."

"Yes, yes ... but Mandleco! Good Lord...."

"I said _uncertain_ Prime. As you mentioned yourself, there is sure to
be a shift of variants. Surely you have faith in ECAIAC?"

"Of course! But Mandleco, why Mandleco?"

"Why not? He was a friend of Carmack's - or a business associate shall we
say? He worked with Carmack on the ECAIAC lobby, was largely responsible
for pushing it through."

"Yes, I - say, that's right! It would be in C-F...."

"There are things," murmured Beardsley, "in Central File that would
astound you."

Arnold was staring at the coded tapes. "Mandleco," he breathed. "And
with elections coming up!" He shook himself out of the daze. "The - the
other two Primes?"

"Next is not so startling. A really strong Recessive Factor there ...
Professor Karl Losch."

Arnold jerked erect suddenly. "Losch? Say, I remember him! Now _there's_
a man pursued by bad luck. He was working along similar lines to
Carmack - in fact, wasn't he in Carmack's employ for a while? - but
Carmack was first with the patents. You don't suppose that Losch - "

"I'm not supposed to suppose," Beardsley said softly. "But clinically,
it is interesting to note that motive factor alone equates Losch from
Logical into Prime. _Plus_ a high neuro-thalamic imbalance - 132 over 80
on the last Index, with pronounced efforts at suppression."

He watched Arnold absorb that, and went on: "Now for the third Prime. I
think it'll interest you...."

* * * * *

He waited deliberately. He looked at Jeff Arnold for a long moment and
saw that the man was calm. Too calm. So absolutely motionless that it
wasn't real.

"Third Prime. A strong one, believe me. In a way most interesting of
all." He pressed the words out slowly and flatly. "The third Prime,"
said Beardsley, "is ... Pederson."

He watched Arnold relax ever so slowly, leaning back, the tension going
away as he uncoiled in the chair; but the young man's face wasn't so
much relieved as it was puzzled.

"Pederson. Pederson? I don't seem to - You can't mean _Brook_ Pederson,
the one-time tele-columnist?"

"None other. I don't suppose you remember, but back in '60 he opposed
the ECAIAC lobby. I mean _opposed_ it, _fought_ it! Predicted that
Government installation of such a machine would not inspire confidence,
that the nation's crime rate would rise ... he saw nothing but chaos.
For a while there he was quite a man. Got himself a following. Had
ambitions."

"But I do remember it!" Arnold thumped the desk. "Of course! Pederson
headed a bloc against 'Carmack's Folly,' but he backed the wrong horse,
and when the bubble burst he was out in the cold. Became a laughing
stock." Arnold paused, and his glance held something of shrewdness and a
livening challenge. "Actually, Pederson couldn't have been more wrong.
In those first two years ECAIAC reduced the crime-rate by some forty
percent."

"So it's claimed!" This was a sore point and Beardsley rose to the bait.
"It couldn't be that crime was on the down-grade already? I could show
you plenty of statistics that - why, I could show you methods - "

"I'll just bet you could." Arnold gave a thin tolerant smile. "I refuse
to enter _that argument_ again, not with you, Beardsley. I for one trust
in machines not in evolution. I've told you before...."

* * * * *

And Beardsley found himself sitting there with a flush of heat at his
hair-roots, half-angry and half foolish as he realized how he had been
baited.

Jeff Arnold was abruptly all business. He plunged his finger at a
button, spoke into the intercom. "Joe! How's that test-run coming?"

"All-X so far! Give us ten minutes for clearance."

"Take twenty, but make sure it's _clearance_. Checked Quantitative, have
you? How about feed-backs? ... yes ... what's that? Semantic circuits!
Hell yes, check _all_ synaptics for clearance! I want no excess data
fouling up this run!"

He clicked off and sat there moodily, and Beardsley watched him, noting
the quick nervous rhythm of Arnold's fingers. Arnold noticed it, too,
and desisted.

"Look," he said. "Mandleco, Losch, Pederson. Those three Primes just
don't make sense to me!"

"They don't?" Beardsley allowed just the proper note of resentment.
"Surely you are not questioning Coördinates...."

"You know I'm not! But - "

Beardsley waited, knowing it was coming now. The thing Arnold had been
aching to voice for the past five minutes.

"But - well, damn it, there is _Mrs._ Carmack, for example. As you
pointed out yourself, she'll be a rich woman now! It would seem to me - "

"That she'd be a Prime? I'm surprised at you, Jeff; that's ancient
thinking." If there was a trace of sarcasm, it was lost on Arnold. "Oh,
I grant you it used to hold true - principle beneficiary was always prime
suspect. Fiction especially was full of it. Queen, Dickson Carr, Boucher
you - know the ilk. But with ECAIAC we've gotten away from all that,
haven't we?"

Arnold stared at him suspiciously, hesitated, then brought it out with
an effort. "Well - how _did_ she equate?"

"Who? Oh yes, the beautiful widow. She only made Logical, and even that
is borderline."

"I see." Arnold rose, dialled himself another drink, then changed his
mind and put it down untouched. He turned to gather up the tapes, and
his voice was apologetic.

"It's not that I'd ever questioned Coördinates Division! We're too
closely aligned for that, Raoul...." (_First time he's ever used my
first name_, thought Beardsley.) "You have a splendid record to uphold,
as we do here at Mechanical. That's why ... well, I want to get this off
as smoothly as possible!"

Something indefinable, a queasy feeling, took Beardsley about the
middle. He said sharply: "Any reason why not?"

"No, not really. But in recent weeks - I tell you this in strictest
confidence, understand! - in recent weeks it's been a rather ticklish
thing to get total synaptic clearance."

* * * * *

Synaptics? Beardsley began thinking back to the Crime-Central "Required
Annual Basic." The Mechanical had never been his strong point. He said
uncertainly, "But - that's serious!"

"It's just that we've found ECAIAC holding back excess data from
previous runs. Fouls up the relays, takes hours to iron out the
clearance." Arnold gave him a keen look. "More of a nuisance really,
but the weirdest thing. Stubborn!"

_Stubborn._ Beardsley could have thought of a better word. Through the
panelled glass he glimpsed the black metal sheathe of the monster out


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