XLVII

“Have you noticed, sir,” said Herkimer, “how the little things, the inconsequential, trivial factors, come to play so big a part in any happening?”

He touched the huddled body with his foot.

“Perfect,” he said. “Absolutely perfect. Except that before reporting to us he should have smeared some lacquer over his identification mark. Many androids do it, in an attempt to hide the mark, but it’s seldom much of a success. After only a short time the mark shows through.”

“But, lacquer?” asked Sutton.

“A little code we have,” said Herkimer. “A very simple thing. It’s the recognition sign for an agent reporting. A password, as it were. It takes a moment only. Some lacquer on your finger and a smear across your forehead.”

“So simple a thing,” said Eva, “that no one, absolutely no one, would ever notice it.”

Sutton nodded. “One of Trevor’s men,” he said.

Herkimer nodded. “Impersonating one of our men. Sent to smoke us out. Sent to start us running, pell-mell, to save the Cradle.”

“This Cradle…”

“But it means,” said Eva, “that Trevor knows about it. He doesn’t know where it is, but he knows about it. And he’ll hunt until he finds it and then…”

Herkimer’s gesture stopped her.

“What is wrong?” asked Sutton.

For there was something wrong, something that was terribly wrong. The whole atmosphere of the place was wrong. The friendliness was gone…the trust and friendliness and the oneness of their purpose. Shattered by an android who had run across the patio and talked about a thing that he called a Cradle and died, seconds later, with a knife blade through his throat.

Instinctively Sutton’s mind reached out for Herkimer and then he drew it back. It was not an ability, he told himself, that one used upon a friend. It was an ability that one must keep in trust, not to be used curiously or idly, but only where the end result would justify its use.

“What’s gone sour?” he asked. “What is the matter with…”

“Sir,” said Herkimer, “you are a human being and this is an android matter.”

For a moment Sutton stood stiff and straight, his mind absorbing the shock of the words that Herkimer had spoken, the black fury boiling ice-cold inside his body.

Then, deliberately, as if he had planned to do it, as if it were an action he had decided upon after long consideration, he balled his fist and swung his arm.

It was a vicious blow, with all his weight and all his strength and anger back of it, and Herkimer went down like an ox beneath a hammer.

“Ash!” cried Eva. “Ash!”

She clutched at his arm, but he shook her off.

Herkimer was sitting up, his hands covering his face, blood dripping down between his fingers.

Sutton spoke to him. “I have not sold destiny. Nor do I intend to sell it. Although God knows, if I did, it would be no more than the lot of you deserve.”

“Ash,” said Eva softly. “Ash, we must be sure.”

“How can I make you sure?” he asked. “I can only tell you.”

“They are your people, Ash,” she said. “Your race. Their greatness is your greatness, too. You can’t blame Herkimer for thinking…”

“They’re your people, too,” said Sutton. “The taint that applies to me applies to you as well.”

She shook her head.

“I’m a special case,” she said. “I was orphaned when I was only a few weeks old. The family androids took me over. They raised me. Herkimer was one of them. I’m much more an android, Ash, than I am a human being.”

Herkimer was still sitting on the grass, beside the sprawled, dead body of Trevor’s agent. He did not take his hands from his face. He made no sign that he was going to. The blood still dripped down between his fingers and trickled down his arms.

Sutton said to Eva, “It was very nice to see you again. And thank you for the breakfast.”

He turned on his heel and walked away, across the patio and over the low wall and out into the path that led down to the road.

He heard Eva cry out for him to stop, but he pretended not to hear her.

“I was raised by androids,” she had said. And he had been raised by Buster. By Buster, who had taught him how to fight when the kid down the road had given him a licking. Buster, who had whaled him good and proper for the eating of green apples. By Buster, who had gone out, five hundred years before, to homestead a planet.

He walked with the icy fury still running in his blood. They didn’t trust me, he said. They thought I might sell out. After all the years of waiting, after all the years of planning and of thinking.

“What is it, Ash?”

“What’s going on, Johnny? What about this?”

“You’re a stinker, Ash.”

“To hell with you,” said Sutton. “You and all the rest of them.”

Trevor’s men, he knew, must be around the house, watching and waiting. He expected to be stopped. But he wasn’t stopped. He didn’t see a soul.

Contents