When Sylvie returned from Storisende, she had Flora with her. Conn's siste_reeted him embarrassedly; Sylvie led both of them out of the crowd and ove_o the edge of the excavation.
"Go ahead, Flora," she urged. "Make up with Conn. It won't be any harder tha_aking up with Wade was."
"How did that happen, by the way?" Conn asked.
"Your girlfriend," Flora said. "She came to the house and practically force_e into a car and flew me into Storisende, and then made me keep quiet an_isten while Wade told me the truth."
"I wasn't completely sure what the truth was myself till Wade opened up,"
Sylvie admitted. "I had a pretty good idea, though."
"I always hated that Merlin thing," Flora burst out. "All those old men i_awzi's office, dreaming about the wonderful things Merlin was going to do, with everything crumbling around them and everybody getting poorer every year, and doing nothing, nothing! And when you were coming home, I was expecting yo_o tell them there was no Merlin and to go to work and do something fo_hemselves. But you didn't, and I couldn't see what you were trying to do. An_hen when Wade joined you and Father, I thought he was either helping you pu_ver some kind of a swindle or else he'd started believing in Merlin himself.
I should have seen what you were trying to do from the beginning. At least, from when you talked them into cleaning the town up and fixing the escalator_nd getting the fountains going again."
So the fountains weren't dusty any more.
"How's Mother taking things now?"
Flora looked distressed. "She goes around wringing her hands. Honestly. _ever saw anybody doing that outside a soap opera. Half the time she think_ou and Father are a pair of unprincipled scoundrels, and the other half sh_hinks you're going to let Merlin destroy the world."
"I'm beginning to be afraid of something like that myself."
"Huh? But Merlin's just a big fake, isn't it? You're using it to make thes_eople do something they wouldn't do for themselves, aren't you?"
"It started that way. What do you think all this is about?" he asked, gesturing toward the excavation and the two giant mining machines digging an_lasting and pounding away at the rock.
"Well, to keep Kurt Fawzi and that crowd happy, I suppose. It seems like a_wful waste of time, though."
"I'm afraid it isn't. I'm afraid Merlin, or something just as bad, is dow_here. That's why I'm here, instead of on Koshchei. I want to keep people lik_awzi from doing anything foolish with it when they find it."
"But there _can't_ be a Merlin!"
"I'm afraid there is. Not the sort of a Merlin Fawzi expects to find; tha_hing's too small for that. But there's something down there… ."
The question of size bothered him. That drum-shaped superstructure couldn'_ven hold the personnel-record machine they had found here, or the computer_t the Storisende Stock Exchange. It could have been an intelligence- evaluator, or an enemy-intentions predictor, but it seemed small even fo_hat. It would be something _like_ a computer; that was as far as he was abl_o go. And it could be something completely outside the reach of hi_magination.
At the back of his mind, the suspicion grew that Carl Leibert knew exactl_hat it was. And he became more and more convinced that he had seen the self- styled preacher before.
Finally, the whole top of the hundred-foot collapsium-covered structure wa_ncovered, and the excavation had been leveled out wide enough to accommodat_ll the massive paraphernalia of the collapsium-cutter. They put _The Thing_nto contragravity again, and brought her down in place; the work of liftin_ff the reactor and the converter and the rest of it, piece by piece, began.
Finally, everything was set up.
A dozen and a half of them were gathered in the room that had become thei_eeting-place, after dinner. They were all too tired to start the cutting tha_ight, and at the same time excited and anxious. They talked in disconnecte_natches, and then somebody put on one of the telecast screens. A musi_rogram was just ending; there was a brief silence, and then a commentato_ppeared, identifying his news-service. He spoke rapidly and breathlessly, hi_rofessional gravity cracking all over.
"The hypership _City of Asgard_ , from Aton, has just come into telecas_ange," he began. "We have received an exclusive Interworld News Servic_tory, recently brought to Aton on the Pan-Federation Spacelines shi_Magellanic_ , from Terra.
"News of revived interest in the Third Force computer, Merlin, having reache_erra by way of Odin, representatives of Interworld News, to which thi_ervice subscribes, interviewed retired Force-General Foxx Travis, now living, at the advanced age of a hundred and fourteen, on Luna. General Travis, wh_ommanded the Third Fleet-Army Force here during the War, categorically denie_hat there had ever existed any super-computer of the sort.
"We bring you, now, a recorded interview with General Travis, made on Luna… ."
For an instant, Conn felt the room around him whirling dizzily, and then h_aught hold of himself. Everybody else was shouting in sudden consternation, and then everybody was hushing everybody else and making twice as much noise.
The screen flickered; the commentator vanished, and instead, seated in th_eep-cushioned chair, was the thin and frail old man with whom Conn had talke_wo years before, and through an open segment of the dome-roof behind him th_ull Earth shone, the continents of the Western Hemisphere plainl_istinguishable. A young woman in starchy nurse's white bent forwar_olicitously from beside the chair, handing him a small beaker from which h_ipped some stimulant. He looked much as he had when Conn had talked to him.
But there was something missing… .
Oh, yes. The comparative youngster of seventy-some—"Mike Shanlee … my _aide- de-camp_ on Poictesme … now he thinks he's my keeper… ." He wasn't i_vidence, and he should be. Then Conn knew where and when he had seen the ma_ho claimed to be a preacher named Carl Leibert.
"There is absolutely no truth in it, gentlemen," Travis was saying. "Ther_ever was any such computer. I only wish there had been; it would hav_hortened the War by years. We did, of course, use computers of all sorts, bu_hey were all the conventional types used by business organizations… ."
The rest was lost in a new outburst of shouting: General Travis, in th_creen, continued in dumb-show. The only thing Conn could distinguish wa_eibert's—Shanlee's—voice, screaming: "Can it be a lie? Is there no Grea_omputer?" Then Kurt Fawzi was pounding on the top of the desk and bellowing,
"Shut up! Listen!"
"Frankly, I'm surprised," Travis was continuing. "Young Maxwell talked to me, here in this room, a couple of years ago; I told him then that nothing of th_ort existed. If he's back on Poictesme telling people there is, he's lying t_hem and taking advantage of their credulity. There never was anything calle_roject Merlin… ."
"Hah, who's a liar now?" Klem Zareff shouted. "Dolf, what did your people fin_n the Library?"
"Why, that's right!" Professor Kellton exclaimed. "My students did find _ozen references to Project Merlin. He couldn't be ignorant of anything lik_hat."
"This youth has been lying to us all along!" the old man with the beard cried, pointing an accusing finger at Conn. "He has created false hopes; he has give_s faith in a delusion. Why, he is the wickedest monster in human history!"
"Well, thank you, General Travis," another voice, from the screen-speaker, wa_aying. The only calm voice in the room. "That was a most excellent statement, sir. It should… ."
"Conn, you didn't tell us you'd talked to General Travis," Morgan Gatworth wa_aying. "Why didn't you?"
"Because I never believed anything he told me. You were in Kurt Fawzi's offic_he day I came home; you know how shocked everybody was when I told you _adn't been able to learn anything positive. Why should I repeat his lies an_iscourage everybody that much more? Why, he'd deny there was a Merlin if h_as sitting on top of it," Conn declared. "He wants the credit for winning th_ar, not for letting Merlin win it for him."
"I don't blame Conn," Klem Zareff said. "If he'd told us that then, some of u_ight have believed it."
"And look what we found," Kurt Fawzi added, pointing at the ceiling. "Is tha_erlin up there, or isn't it?"
"That little thing!" Shanlee cried scornfully. "How could that be Merlin? I a_oing to my chamber, to pray for forgiveness for this wretch."
He turned and started for the door.
"Stop him, Tom!" Conn said, and Tom Brangwyn put himself in front of the olde_an, gripping his right arm. Shanlee tried, briefly, to resist.
"Seems to me you lost faith in Merlin awfully quick," the former town marsha_f Litchfield said. "You knew there was a Merlin all along, and you neve_anted us to find it."
Franz Veltrin, who had been "Leibert's" most enthusiastic adherent, had als_ost faith suddenly; he was shouting vituperation at the Prophet of Merlin.
"Knock it off, Franz; he was only doing his duty," Conn said. "Weren't you, General Shanlee?"
It took almost a minute before they stopped yelling for an explanation an_llowed him to make one. He caught Klem Zareff's comment: "Must be pretty hot, if they have to send a general to handle it."
"I talked to Travis, yes. He gave me the same story he just repeated on tha_nterview," Conn said, picking his way carefully between fact and fiction.
"After I went back to Montevideo, he and this aide of his must have bee_fraid I didn't believe it, which I didn't. When I was ready to graduate, _ot this offer of an instructorship; that was a bribe to keep me on Terra an_ff Poictesme. When I turned it down and took the _Mizar_ home, Travis sen_hanlee after me. He must have grown that beard and that pageboy bob on th_ay out. I suppose he contacted Murchison as soon as he landed. Wait _inute."
He went to the communication screen and punched out a combination. A gir_ppeared and singsonged: "Barton-Massarra, Investigation and Protection."
"Conn Maxwell here. We gave you some audiovisuals of a man with a white beard, alias Carl Leibert," he began.
"Just a sec, Mr. Maxwell." She spoke quickly into a handphone. The scree_lickered, and she was replaced by a hard-faced young man in dark clothes.
"Hello, Mr. Maxwell; Joe Massarra. We haven't anything on Leibert yet."
"Are any of the officers of the _Andromeda_ where you can contact them? Le_hem see those audiovisual. I'll bet that beard was grown aboard ship comin_ut from Terra."
Bedlam broke out suddenly. Shanlee, who had been standing passively, his righ_rm loosely grasped by Tom Brangwyn, came down on Brangwyn's instep with th_eel of his left foot and hit Brangwyn under the chin with the heel of hi_eft palm. Wrenching his arm free, he started for the door. Sylvie Jacquemon_natched a chair and threw it along the floor; it hit the fleeing man's ankle_nd brought him down. Half a dozen men piled on top of him, and Brangwyn wa_elling to them not to choke him to death till he could answer some questions.
"Hey, what's going on?" the detective-agency man in the screen was asking.
"Need help? We'll start a car right away."
"Everything's under control, thank you."
Massarra hesitated for a moment. "What's the dope on this statement that wa_n telecast a few minutes ago?" he asked.
"Travis doesn't want us to find Merlin. What you just heard was one of hi_eople, planted here at Force Command. We're going to question him when w_ave time. But there isn't a word of truth in that statement you just heard o_he _Herald-Guardian_ newscast. Merlin exists, and we've found it. We'l_ave it opened inside of thirty hours at most."
That was the line he was going to take with everybody. As soon as he ha_assarra off the screen, he was punching the combination of his father'_rivate screen at Interplanetary Building. It took five interminable minute_efore Rodney Maxwell came on. He could hear Klem Zareff shouting orders int_ne of the inside communication screens—general turnout, everything on combat- ready; guards to come at once to the office.
"How close are you to digging that thing out?" his father asked as soon as h_ppeared.
"We're down to it; we can start cutting the collapsium any time now."
"Start cutting it ten minutes ago," his father told him. "And don't leav_orce Command till you have it open. How many men and vehicles does Klem hav_or defense?You'll need all of them in a couple of hours. Everybody here i_tunned, now; they'll come out of it inside an hour, and they'll come ou_ighting."
"You'd better come out here." He turned, saw Jerry Rivas helping hold Shanle_n a chair, and shouted to him: "Jerry! Turn out the workmen. Start cuttin_he can open right away." He turned back to his father. "Klem's just ordere_ll his force out. Are you coming here?"
"I can't. In about an hour, everything's going up with a bang. I have to b_ere to grab a few of the pieces."
"You'll do a lot of good in jail, or on the end of a rope."
"Chance I have to take," his father replied. "I think I'll have a couple o_ours. If anybody from the press calls you, what are you going to tell them?"
Conn repeated the line he had taken already. His father nodded.
"All right. I'll call you later. If I can. Just keep things going at you_nd."
A dozen of Klem Zareff's men were crowding into the room.
"This man's under close arrest," the old soldier was telling them. "He is ver_mportant and very dangerous. Take him out somewhere, search him to the skin, take his clothes away from him and give him a robe. He's to be watched ever_econd; make sure he hasn't poison or other suicide means. He's to b_uestioned later."
As soon as Rodney Maxwell was off the screen, there was a call-signal. It wa_ne of the news-services, wanting a statement.
"I'll take it," Gatworth said, and then began talking:
"This statement of General Travis's is completely false. There is a Merlin, and we've found it… ."
They found something that might be good-enough Merlin for the next thirt_ours. That superstructure was just big enough for the manually operated part_f a computer like Merlin; the input and output, and the programming machines.