The _Harriet Barne_ settled comfortably at the dock, the bunting-swathe_ugs lifting away from her. They had the outside sound pickups turned as lo_s possible, and still the noise was deafening. The spaceport was jammed, people on the ground and contragravity vehicles swarming above, with polic_ars vainly trying to keep them in order. All the bands in Storisende seeme_o have been combined; they were blaring the "Planetary Hymn";
_Genji Gartner's body lies a-moldering in the tomb,_ _But his soul goes marching on!_
When they opened the airlock, there was a hastily improvised ceremonial barge, actually a farm-scow completely draped in red and white, the Planetary colors.
They all stopped, briefly, as they came out, to enjoy the novelty of outdoo_ir which could actually be breathed. Conn saw his father in the scow, an_eside him Sylvie Jacquemont, trying, almost successfully, to keep fro_umping up and down in excitement. Morgan Gatworth to meet his son, and Leste_awes to meet his. Kurt Fawzi, Dolf Kellton, Colonel Zareff, Tom Brangwyn. H_idn't see his mother, or his sister. Flora he had hardly counted on, but h_as disappointed that his mother wasn't there to meet him.
Sylvie was embracing her father as he shook hands with his; then she threw he_rms around his neck.
"Oh, Conn, I'm so happy! I was watching everything I could on-screen, everything you saw, and all the places you were, and everything you wer_oing… ."
The scow—pardon, ceremonial barge—gave a slight lurch, throwing them together.
Over her shoulder, he saw his father and Yves Jacquemont exchanging grins.
Then they had to break it up while he shook hands with Fawzi and Judge Ledu_nd the others, and by the time that was over, the barge was letting down i_ront of the stand at the end of the dock, and the band was still deafenin_eaven with "Genji Gartner's Body," and they all started up the stairs to b_reeted by Planetary President Vyckhoven; he looked like an elderly bear wh_as been too well fed for too long in a zoo. And by Minister-Genera_urchison, who represented the Terran Federation on Poictesme. He was thin an_alding, and he looked as though he had just mistaken the vinegar cruet fo_he wine decanter. Genji Gartner's soul stopped marching on, but the speeche_tarted, and that was worse. And after the speeches, there was the parade, everybody riding in transparent-bodied aircars, and the _Lester Dawes_ an_he two ships of the new Planetary Air Navy and a swarm of gunboats in colum_ive hundred feet above, all firing salutes.
In spite of what wasn't, but might just as well have been, a concerte_onspiracy to keep them apart, he managed to get a few words privately wit_ylvie.
"My mother; she didn't get here. Is anything wrong?"
"Is anything anything else? I've been in the middle of it ever since you wen_way. Your mother's still moaning about all these companies your father'_romoting—he never used to do anything like that, and it's all too big, an_t's going to end in a big smash. And then she gets onto Merlin. You know, sh_on't say Merlin, she always calls it, 'that thing.'"
"I've noticed that."
"Then she begins talking about all the horrible things that'll happen whe_t's found, and that sets Flora off. Flora says Merlin's a big fake, and yo_nd your father are using it to rob thousands of widows and orphans of thei_ife savings, and that sets your mother off again. Self-sustaining cycli_eaction, like the Bethe solar-phoenix. And every time I try to pour a littl_il on the troubled waters, I find I've gotten it on the fire instead. An_hen, Flora had this fight with Wade Lucas, and of course, she blames you fo_hat."
"Good heavens, why?"
"Well, she couldn't blame it on herself, could she? Oh, you mean why th_ight? Lucas is in business with your father now, and she can't convince hi_hat you and your father are a pair of quadruple-dyed villains, I suppose.
Anyhow, the engagement is _phttt_! Conn, is my father going back t_oshchei?"
"As soon as we can round up some people to help us on the ship."
"Then I'm going along. I've had it, Conn. I'm a combat-fatigue case."
"But, Sylvie; that isn't any place for a girl."
"Oh, poo! This is Sylvie. We're old war buddies. We soldiered together o_arathrum; remember?"
"Well, you'd be the only girl, and… ."
"That's what you think. If you expect to get any kind of a gang together, a_east a third of them will be girls. A lot of technicians are girls, and whe_ork gets slack, they're always the first ones to get shoved out of jobs. I'l_et there are a thousand girl technicians out of work here—any line of wor_ou want to name. I know what I'll do; I'll make a telecast appearance. _till have some news value, from the Barathrum business. Want to bet that _on't be the working girl's Joan of Arc by this time next week?"
That cheered him. A girl can punch any kind of a button a man can, and a lo_f them knew what buttons to punch, and why. Say she could find fifty girls… .
He had a slightly better chance to talk to his father before the banquet a_he Executive Palace that evening. They shared the same suite at the Ritz- Gartner, and even welcoming committees seldom chase their victims from bedroo_o bath.
"Yes, I know all about it," Rodney Maxwell said bitterly. "I was home, _ouple of weeks ago. Flora simply will not speak to me, and your mother begge_e, in tears, to quit everything we're doing here. I tried to give her som_dea of what would happen if I dropped this, even supposing I could; sh_ouldn't listen to me." He finished putting the studs in his shirt. "You stil_hink this is worth what it's costing us?"
"You saw the views we sent back. There's work on Koshchei for a millio_eople, at least. Why, even these two makeshift ships they're putting togethe_ere at Storisende are giving work, one way or another, to almost a thousand.
Think what things will be like a year from now, if this keeps on."
Rodney Maxwell gave a wry laugh. "Didn't know I had a real Simon-pure altruis_or a son."
"Pardner, when you call me that, smile."
"I am smiling. With some slight difficulty."
He didn't think well of the banquet. Back in Litchfield, Senta would hav_ired half her human help and taken a sledgehammer to her robo-chef for a mea_ike that. Even his father's camp cook would have been ashamed of it. An_here were more speeches.
President Vyckhoven managed to get hold of him and Yves Jacquemont afterward, and steered them into his private study.
"Have you any real reason for thinking that Merlin might be on Koshchei?" th_lanetary President asked.
"Great Ghu, no! We weren't looking for Merlin, Mr. President. We were lookin_or a hypership. We have one, too. Calling her _Ouroboros II_. Twenty-five- hundred-footer. We expect to have her to space in a few months. I surely don'_eed to tell you what that will do toward restoring planetary prosperity."
"No, of course not; a hypership of our own. But… ." He looked from one to th_ther of them. "But I understood… . That is, Mr. Kurt Fawzi was saying… ."
"Mr. Fawzi is looking for Merlin here on Poictesme. If anybody finds it, that's where it'll be found. I'm interested in getting business started again.
If Merlin is found, it would help, of course." He shrugged.
"Don't look at me," Jacquemont said. "Mr. Maxwell—both of them, father an_on—want some spaceships. They hired me to help build them. That's all I hav_n it." Then he relit the cigar the President had given him and leaned back i_is chair, staring at the stuffed alcesoid head with the seven-foot hornsprea_bove the fireplace.
Conn described the interview to his father after they were back at the hotel.
"I hope you convinced him. You know, he's afraid of Merlin. A lot of peopl_ave been saying that if Merlin's found, it should be used to determin_overnment policy. A few extremists are beginning to say that Merlin ought t_be_ the Government, and Jake Vyckhoven and his cronies ought to be dumped.
Into the handiest mass-energy converter, preferably. You know, if anybod_ound Merlin and started it auditing the Planetary Treasury, Jake Vyckhoven'_e the one who'd be wanting a hypership."
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Tom Brangwyn ran him down the next morning in the dining room.
"Conn, I wish you'd come along with me," he said. "Some of us are up in Kurt'_uite; we'd all like to talk to you."
Somehow, he was acting as though he were making an arrest. That might hav_een nothing but professional habit. Conn went up to Fawzi's suite, and foun_awzi and Judge Ledue and Dolf Kellton and close to a dozen others there.
"I'm glad you could come, Conn," the Judge greeted him. Now that the defendan_ad arrived, the trial could begin. "I wish your father could have gotte_ere. I asked him to come, but he had a prior engagement. A meeting with som_f the financial people here, about some company he's interested in."
"Interstellar!" Kurt Fawzi almost howled. "Great Ghu! Now it isn't enough t_o out to Koshchei; he wants to go clear out of the Trisystem. That's what w_anted to talk about; all this nonsense you and your father are in. Merlin'_ight here on Poictesme. It's right at Force Command, and if your fathe_adn't robbed us of all our best men, like Jerry Rivas and Anse Dawes, we'_ave found it by now. I don't think you and your father care a hoot if we eve_ind Merlin or not!"
"Kurt, that's a dreadful thing to say," Dolf Kellton objected in a shocke_oice.
"It's a dreadful thing to have to say," Fawzi replied, "but you tell me wha_onn Maxwell or Rodney Maxwell are doing to help find it."
"Who showed you where Force Command was?" Klem Zareff asked.
Nobody could think of any good quick comeback to that.
Conn took advantage of the pause to ask, "Why do you want to find Merlin?"
"Why do we … " Fawzi spluttered indignantly. "If you don't know… ."
"I know why I do. I want to see if you do. Do you?"
"Merlin would answer so many questions," Dolf Kellton told him gently.
"Questions I can't answer for myself."
"With Merlin, we could set up a legal code and a system of jurisprudence tha_ould give everybody absolute justice," Judge Ledue said.
As if absolute justice wasn't the last thing anybody in his right senses woul_ant; a robot-judge would have the whole planet in jail inside a month.
"We have a man who joined us after you went off to Koshchei, Conn," Fran_eltrin said. "A Mr. Carl Leibert. He's some kind of a clergyman, from ove_orven way. He says that Merlin could formulate an entirely new religion, which would regenerate humanity."
"Well, I don't have any such lofty ideas," Fawzi said. "I just want Merlin t_how us how to get some prosperity here; bring things back to what they wer_efore Poictesme went broke."
"And that's what Father and I are trying to do. You're going into the wood_ith a book on how to chop down a tree, and no ax." Fawzi looked at him i_urprise, started to say something, and thought better of it. "If we wan_rosperity, we need tools. Our problem is loss of markets. If we find Merlin, and tape it with everything that's happened in the forty years since it wa_hut down, Merlin will tell us where to find new markets. But the market_on't come to us. We'll have to do our own exporting, and we'll need ships.
Now, you men have been studying about Merlin, and hunting for Merlin, all you_ives. I can't add anything to what you know, and neither can my father. Yo_ind Merlin, and we'll have the ships ready when you do find it."
"Kurt, I think he has a point," somebody said.
"You're blasted well right he has," Klem Zareff put in. "If it wasn't for Con_axwell, you know where we'd be? Back in Litchfield, sitting around in Kurt'_ffice, talking about how wonderful things'll be when we find Merlin, an_oing nothing to find it."
"Kurt, I believe Conn is entitled to an apology," Judge Ledue ruled. "Ho_lose we are to finding Merlin I don't know, but it is due to him that we hav_ny hope of finding it at all."
"Conn, I'm sorry," Fawzi said. "I oughtn't to have said some of the things _id. But we're all on edge; we've been having so much trouble… . Conn, it'_ight there at Force Command; I know it is. We've been all over the place. W_ave shafts sunk at each of the corners; we've used scanners, and put off ech_hots. Nothing. We looked for additional passages out of the headquarters; there aren't any. But it has to be somewhere around. It just _has_ to be!"
"Maybe if I go out to Force Command with you, I might see something you'v_verlooked. And if I can't, I'll try to scrape up some stuff on Koshchei fo_ou. Deep-vein scanners, that sort of thing, from the mines."
They took the _Lester Dawes_ out at a little past noon and turned south an_ast. Everybody aboard was happy—except Conn Maxwell. He was thinking of th_ears and years ahead of these trusting, hopeful old men, each year the grav_f another expectation. Two hundred miles from Force Command, the _Goblin_et them, her sides still spalled and dented from the hits she had taken i_arathrum Spaceport. When they came in sight of it, the mesa-top was deserted.
Fawzi began wondering where in Nifflheim all the drilling rigs, and th_eismo-trucks, were. Somebody with a pair of binoculars called attention t_ctivity on the side of the high butte on top of which the relay station wa_ocated. Fawzi began swearing exasperatedly.
"Might be something Mr. Leibert thought of," Franz Veltrin suggested.
"Then why in blazes didn't he screen us about it?"
"Who is this Leibert?" Conn asked. "Somebody mentioned him this morning, _hink."
"He joined us after you left, Conn," Dolf Kellton said. "He's a clergyman fro_orven. No regular denomination; he has a sect of his own."
"Yah, he would!" Klem Zareff rumbled. "Pious fraud!"
"He's really a good man, Conn; Klem's prejudiced. He says we ought to us_erlin to show us the true nature of God, and how to live in accordance wit_he Divine Will. He says Merlin can teach us a new religion."
A new religion, based on Merlin; that would be good. And then the fanatics wh_hought Merlin was the Devil would start a holy war to wipe out the servant_f Satan, and with all the combat equipment that was lying around on thi_lanet… . For the first time since this business started, he began to fee_eally frightened.
An aircar came bulleting away from the butte and landed on the mesa as th_Lester Dawes_ set down. The man who met them at the head of the vertica_haft wore Federation fatigues—baggy trousers, ankle boots and long smock, dyed black. He was bareheaded, and his white hair was almost shoulder-long. H_ad a white beard.
"Welcome, Brothers," he greeted, a hand raised in benediction. "And who i_his with you?"
His voice was high and quavery; not a good pulpit voice, Conn thought.
Kurt Fawzi introduced Conn, and Leibert grasped his hand with a grip that wa_onsiderably stronger than his voice.
"Bless you, young man! It is to you alone that we owe our thanks that we ar_bout to find the Great Computer. Every sapient being in the Galaxy will hono_our name for a thousand years."
"Well, I hadn't counted on quite that much, Mr. Leibert. If it'll only help _ew of these people to make a decent living I'll be satisfied."
Leibert shook his head sadly. "You think entirely in material terms, youn_an," he reproved. "Forget these things; acquire the higher spiritual values.
The Great Computer must not be degraded to such uses; we should let it show u_ow to lift ourselves to a high spiritual plane… ."
It went on like that, after they went down to Foxx Travis's—no_awzi's—office, where there were silver-stoppered decanters instead of the ol_reen-glass pitcher, and gold-plated ashtrays, and thick carpets on the floor.
The man was a lunatic; he made Fawzi's office gang look frigidly sane.
Furthermore, he was an ignoramus. He had no idea what a computer could o_ouldn't do. Anybody who could build a computer of the sort he thought Merli_as wouldn't need it, he _would_ be God.
As he talked, Conn began to be nagged by an odd sense of recognition. He'_een this Carl Leibert before, somewhere, and somehow he was sure that th_ong white hair and the untrimmed beard weren't part of the picture. Tha_uzzled him. He doubted if he'd have remembered Leibert from six years ago, almost seven, now, though a lot of itinerant evangelists showed up i_itchfield. That might have been it.
"I tell you, the Great Computer is there, in the heart of the butte," Leiber_as insisting, now. "It has been revealed to me in a dream. It is completel_uried. After it was made, no human touched it. The men who were here and use_t in the War communicated with it only by radio."
That could be so. There were fully robotic computers, intended for use i_laces where no human could go and live. There was a big one on Nifflheim, armored against the fluorine atmosphere and the hydrofluoric-acid rains. Bu_here was no point in that here, the things were enormously complicated, an_ilitary engineering of any sort emphasized simplicity— _Aaaagh!_ Was h_eginning to believe this balderdash himself?
Klem Zareff fell in with him as they were going to dinner. "Revealed in _ream!" the old Rebel snorted. "One thing you can always get away with lyin_bout is what you dream."
"You think he's lying? I think he's just crazy."
"That's what he wants you to think. Look, Conn, he knows Merlin is here; he'_rying to keep us from it. That's why he shifted all that equipment over o_he butte. He's working for Sam Murchison."
"I thought your theory was that the Federation had lost Merlin."
"It was, at first. It doesn't look that way to me now. It's right here a_orce Command, somewhere. They don't want it found, and they're going to d_verything they can to stop us. I oughtn't to have left this fellow Leiber_ere alone; well, I won't do that again. Get Tom Brangwyn to help me."