The Complete Stories (Page 89)
"Decimal quotients? To how many places?"
Programmer Shuman tried to keep his tone casual. "Any number!"
Loesser’s lower jaw dropped. "Without a computer?"
"Set me a problem."
"Divide twenty-seven by thirteen. Take it to six places."
Five minutes later, Shuman said, "Two point oh seven six nine two three."
Loesser checked it. "Well, now, that’s amazing. Multiplication didn’t impress me too much because it involved integers after all, and I thought trick manipulation might do it. But decimals-"
"And that is not all. There is a new development that is, so far, top secret and which, strictly speaking, I ought not to mention. Still- We may have made a breakthrough on the square root front."
"It involves some tricky points and we haven’t licked the bugs yet, but Technician Aub, the man who invented the science and who has an amazing intuition in connection with it, maintains he has the problem almost solved. And he is only a Technician. A man like yourself, a trained and talented mathematician ought to have no difficulty."
"Square roots," muttered Loesser, attracted.
"Cube roots, too. Are you with us?"
Loesser’s hand thrust out suddenly, "Count me in."
General Weider stumped his way back and forth at the head of the room and addressed his listeners after the fashion of a savage teacher facing a group of recalcitrant students. It made no difference to the general that they were the civilian scientists heading Project Number. The general was the over-all head, and he so considered himself at every waking moment.
He said, "Now square roots are all fine. I can’t do them myself and I don’t understand the methods, but they’re fine. Still, the Project will not be sidetracked into what some of you call the fundamentals. You can play with graphitics any way you want to after the war is over, but right now we have specific and very practical problems to solve."
In a far corner, Technician Aub listened with painful attention. He was no longer a Technician, of course, having been relieved of his duties and assigned to the project, with a fine-sounding title and good pay. But, of course, the social distinction remained and the highly placed scientific leaders could never bring themselves to admit him to their ranks on a footing of equality. Nor, to do Aub justice, did he, himself, wish it. He was as uncomfortable with them as they with him.
The general was saying, "Our goal is a simple one, gentlemen; the replacement of the computer. A ship that can navigate space without a com I puter on board can be constructed in one fifth the time and at one tenth the expense of a computer-laden ship. We could build fleets five times, ten times, as great as Deneb could if we could but eliminate the computer.
"And I see something even beyond this. It may be fantastic now; a mere dream; but in the future I see the manned missile!" There was an instant murmur from the audience. The general drove on. "At the present time, our chief bottleneck is the fact that missiles are limited in intelligence. The computer controlling them can only be so large, and for that reason they can meet the changing nature of anti-missile defenses in an unsatisfactory way. Few missiles, if any, accomplish their goal and missile warfare is coming to a dead end; for the enemy, fortunately, as well as for ourselves.
"On the other hand, a missile with a man or two within, controlling flight by graphitics, would be lighter, more mobile, more intelligent. It would give us a lead that might well mean the margin of victory. Besides which, gentlemen, the exigencies of war compel us to remember one thing. A man is much more dispensable than a computer. Manned missiles could be launched in numbers and under circumstances that no good general would care to undertake as far as computer-directed missiles are concerned-" He said much more but Technician Aub did not wait.
Technician Aub, in the privacy of his quarters, labored long over the note he was leaving behind. It read finally as follows:
"When I began the study of what is now called graphitics, it was no more than a hobby. I saw no more in it than an interesting amusement, an exercise of mind.
"When Project Number began, I thought that others were wiser than I; that graphitics might be put to practical use as a benefit to mankind, to aid in the production of really practical mass-transference devices perhaps. But now I see it is to be used only for death and destruction.
"I cannot face the responsibility involved in having invented graphitics."
He then deliberately turned the focus of a protein-depolarizer on himself and fell instantly and painlessly dead.
They stood over the grave of the little Technician while tribute was paid to the greatness of his discovery.
Programmer Shuman bowed his head along with the rest of them, but remained unmoved. The Technician had done his share and was no longer needed, after all. He might have started graphitics, but now that it had
started, it would carry on by itself overwhelmingly, triumphantly, until manned missiles were possible with who knew what else.
Nine times seven, thought Shuman with deep satisfaction, is sixty-three, and I don’t need a computer to tell me so. The computer is in my own head.
And it was amazing the feeling of power that gave him.
The Dying Night
It was almost a class reunion, and though it was marked by joylessness, there was no reason as yet to think it would be marred by tragedy.
Edward Talliaferro, fresh from the Moon and without his gravity legs yet, met the other two in Stanley Kaunas’s room. Kaunas rose to greet him in a subdued manner. Battersley Ryger merely sat and nodded.
Talliaferro lowered his krge body carefully to the couch, very aware of its unusual weight. He grimaced a little, his plump lips twisting inside the rim of hair that surrounded his mouth on lip, chin, and cheek.