The Ego Machine

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About Kuttner: Henry Kuttner (April 7, 1915–February 4, 1958) was a science fiction author born in Los Angeles, California. As a young man he worked for a literary agency before selling his first story, "The Graveyard Rats", to Weird Tales in 1936. Kuttner was known for his literary prose and worked in close collaboration with his wife, C. L. Moore. They met through their association with the "Lovecraft Circle", a group of writers and fans who corresponded with H. P. Lovecraft. Their work together spanned the 1940s and 1950s and most of the work was credited to pseudonyms, mainly Lewis...

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written or said that she wrote three stories which were published under Nicholas Martin looked up at the robot across the desk. "I'm not going to ask what you want," he said, in a low, restrained Just go away and tell St. Cyr I approve. "It was not," Martin said. Martin took his feet off the desk and sat up slowly. "It's quite all right," the robot said hastily. "Shut up," Martin said. St. Cyr has gone too far." He began to shake slightly all over, with some "I'm so sorry," the robot said apologetically. Martin breathed hard, which seemed to confirm the robot's "Exactly," it said. Good-bye," he added hastily as Martin raised an angry glare. "No, don't go away," Martin said. "Naturally I'm sure," Martin snapped. "Not yet or ever," Martin replied succinctly. "Hello, Nick," said Erika Ashby's calm voice. Instantly the fires of rage went out of Martin's eyes, to be replaced by a Martin did not; he put it in no terms at all, "Yes," Martin said, drawing a long breath. "Can St. Cyr make me "Nominally you're still entitled to life, liberty, et cetera," Erika said. "Of course not," Martin said, angrily. that all my incoming calls have to be cleared by St. Cyr. "Oh, this is outrageous," Erika said. "Some day St. Cyr's going to go too "Not while he's got DeeDee behind him," Martin said gloomily. owned Summit lock, stock and barrel, spent wakeful nights because St. Cyr refused to let the lovely DeeDee sign a long-term contract. "Nevertheless, Watt's no fool," Erika said. Martin moaned. "Then I'm doomed," he said. "I'm going to," Erika said. Ah," she added suddenly, "now I understand why St. Cyr stopped my "Not if St. Cyr can help it," Nick reminded her. Naturally St. Cyr doesn't want us to talk to Watt privately. But this time, Nick, we've simply got to "Neither," Martin said promptly. afraid of St. Cyr." "I am afraid of St. Cyr," Martin said. Erika, he says I'm in- "Ah," said the robot wisely, nodding. "Shut up," Martin said. "So am I," Erika said tartly. "If I were somebody like Hemingway—" Martin began in a miserable You're Nicholas Martin, the next Martin, Martin? We're going to beard St. Cyr in his den and convince Watt you'll never make a good screen-writer. "But St. Cyr won't ever admit that," Martin cried. "St. Cyr didn't make him into a screen-writer." Poor old Ed," Martin said, with a shiver. "Yes!" Martin cried, drawing a deep breath. Martin let his shoulders slump hopelessly. "Wait a minute," Martin said, his eyes suddenly falling once more Watt and the nest-fouling St. Cyr have just hired a "I'm not a phony," the robot said, hurt. Martin fell back in his chair and stared at his guest with dull, hopeless some line St. Cyr's told you to pull. Self-stunned by this recapitulation, Martin put his arms on the desk, Martin groped for the instrument without rising from his Martin sat bolt upright, seizing Martin's strangling hands tightened the one St. Cyr had around Martin's throat, and it had been tightening backward, Martin could scarcely believe that only a short time ago he Summit Studios, he had roared at Martin, would follow the original play exactly and would give Martin the final okay on the Martin's downfall lay partly in the fine print and partly in the fact that "I think I need a drink," Martin said unsteadily. "But I am here to conduct an experiment in optimum ecology," said the Martin closed his eyes. "Well, no," the robot said, placing a brimming glass in Martin's grop- Martin drank. Martin turned a wondering gaze on his metallic companion. "You must do a lot of drinking yourself," he said thoughtfully. "Go on, have a jolt," Martin urged. "I'm a robot." His voice sounded some- Martin glanced at his brimming glass. Martin choked. Mr. Martin, would you "Oh, have a drink," Martin said. "I'd like to try it," the robot said pensively. "It did," Martin said, taking another drink. "What did you think they were powered by?" Martin asked coldly. "Slaves," the robot said, examining the lamp. "Don't be a fool," Martin said. "Well," the robot said, "I don't want to seem unsociable. Martin's eyes opened wide with shocked horror. Martin poised indecisively, waiting for his lunatic "Why, that's wonderful," he said. "Y-you're not dead?" Martin inquired shakily. Martin stared at the robot with the wildest dawning of surmise. "Certainly I'm a robot," his guest said. Moving quite slowly, like a man under water, Martin lifted his glass "Oh, nobody believes I'm a robot at first," the robot said. "Then you're a devil?" Martin inquired, seizing on the only plausible I'm a robot. "I don't even know who I am, now," Martin said. "Your name is Nicholas Martin," the robot said patiently. "Oh no I don't," Martin said, withdrawing his head with the utmost "Is that all it does?" Martin asked suspiciously. "Well, now," the robot said with a slight air of evasion. "Not me, it won't," Martin said firmly. "Oh," he said after a pause. "No," Martin said. "But you don't know what it is yet," the robot said plaintively. Martin laughed hollowly. "Natch," he said. "Good," the robot said, relieved. "Of course not," Martin said. "There are," the robot said rather wearily, "only a limited number of "By the Kaldekooz time-scale, yes," Martin said. "Keep that thing away from me," Martin complained. "Of course you'll do it," the robot said firmly. "It doesn't," Martin said, tilting the glass to his lips. "I'm using the Kaldekooz time-scale," the robot explained. into the helmet, looked narrowly at Martin, and shook his head. "I'm sorry," the robot said. "My head is eight and a half," Martin protested with dignity. "Can't be," the robot said cunningly. "It does fit," Martin said. "That's the trouble with arguing with pre-robot species," ENIAC said, "Blast it!" cried the infuriated Martin, caution quite lost between Scotch Martin, suddenly conscious of his rashness, jerked the helmet from his Martin watched, baffled, until ENIAC had finished, gathered together "Good-bye," the robot said. "For what?" Martin demanded. "For your cooperation," the robot said. "I won't cooperate," Martin told him flatly. Martin made a faint squealing sound, like a stuck but gagged pig. Nicholas Martin felt like a man suddenly thrust under an ice-cold Martin met his own eyes in the mirror. Martin's head swung toward the closed office door. Automatically Martin raised his hand, as though to adjust an invisible Martin glanced at it. He said nothing. You, Martin!" Martin said absolutely nothing at all. "Me, St. Cyr! The rushes are … Martin, do you hear me?" Martin gently laid down the receiver on the desk. "Very good," Martin murmured, turning away. "'And woman—a toy,'" Martin amplified, as he turned toward Theater When Martin entered, it was instantly evident that ecology took a sud- olas Martin had come into it, the theater, which had breathed an expens- Martin groped in the gloom for a chair. he no longer felt in the least like Nicholas Martin. Martin had merely been given the optimum reactive pattern of his suc- The name for Martin's prototype was, of course, Disraeli, Earl of Martin had a vivid recollection of George Arliss playing "No, no, no!" DeeDee said with a sort of calm impatience. "T-t-t-t-t," said Raoul St. Cyr, protruding his thick lips and snapping "Behind me, Martin. Raoul St. Cyr had done very well for himself in Hollywood. St. Cyr merely bellowed. With this whip-hand over the beautiful and brainless DeeDee, St. Cyr Whenever anyone disagreed with St. Cyr, he knuckled under when St. Cyr voiced the threat of removing DeeDee. "Sit down, Martin," Tolliver Watt said. "Highball, please," he said. It was at this point that Martin felt the last stiles re- "Here," Martin said, replacing the glass. "Scotch and soda for Mr. Martin," Watt said calmly. "So, so, so, now we begin," St. Cyr cried impatiently. Martin, it is necessary to view a St. Cyr production. It seemed to Martin was conscious that St. Cyr and Watt were stealing rather mystified "This," Martin said urbanely, "is the most noisome movie ever put on In the sudden, deathly quiet which followed, Martin flicked ashes el- Watt said quietly, "We're quite competent to make a film out of Angelina Noel, Martin." "It is artistic!" St. Cyr shouted. "Bah, money!" Martin said cunningly. Watt leaned forward to peer searchingly at Martin in the dimness. "Raoul," he said, glancing at St. Cyr, "I understood you were getting Martin, you feel well? Martin laughed with quiet confidence. "Never fear," he said. "What confidential talks?" bellowed St. Cyr thickly, growing red. "We need keep nothing from Watt, need we?" Martin went on imper- I'll make the name of St. Cyr glorious for you. Deftly Martin reached out and twitched it from his grasp. "Turn the lights on," Martin ordered the unseen presence beyond the upon the visages of Watt and St. Cyr he saw a mutual dawning uneasi- St. Cyr's was fairly obvious. The Mixo-Lydian licked his lips—no mean task—and studied Martin Clearly Martin had acquired confid- Martin studied the proud face But Martin could do it. "Shut up!" St. Cyr shouted violently. "But it must, you know," Martin went on. "Raoul," Watt said suddenly, "what's this man trying to do?" "He is trying to break his contract, of course," St. Cyr said, turning "To me this is now a personal matter," St. Cyr said, glaring at Martin. "Are you?" Watt asked Martin coldly. "Not now," Martin said. I begin to see possibilities, even in the tripe St. Cyr has been A vast, heaving stretch of Raoul St. Cyr rose from his chair and ad- vanced upon Martin. I, Raoul St. Cyr, command it. Martin spoke quickly. "You see, Watt?" he said clearly, meeting Watt's rather startled gaze. Goaded, St. Cyr rolled forward in a ponderous lunge, but Watt inter- Martin was too "All right, Raoul," he said decisively. I said relax! "Watch out for him, Tolliver!" St. Cyr cried warningly. Martin raised the microphone with a lordly gesture. "Hello," Erika Ashby's voice said from the door. Martin's spine. and cast at Martin a look of resigned patience. "I'm on business here," she told St. Cyr coldly. "Ah, my pretty creature, sit down," Martin said in a loud, clear voice, you," she said. "And no shilly-shallying," Martin said blandly into the mike. "—and six jiggers of honey," Martin went on placidly. "Miss Ashby, we are very busy," St. Cyr broke in importantly, making "—better add six more jiggers of honey," Martin was heard to add con- "I've just come from talking to Gloria Eden," she said, "and she's will- okay it unless you release Nick Martin from his contract, and that's flat." "Well, we might get together on that," he said instantly, for he was a "Nonsense!" St. Cyr shouted. "Be quiet, St. Cyr! Martin hurried to open it and as St. Cyr's booming shouts from behind him drowned out whatever re- mark the waiter may have made as he received a bill from Martin and "No, no, no, no," St. Cyr was roaring. St. Cyr could keep it up indefinitely, as was well known in all, over St. Cyr's capacious front. St. Cyr's bellow broke the microphone. Martin had composed his invention carefully. "I suggest we adjourn to the commissary," Martin said fastidiously. "In Mixo-Lydia," St. Cyr gasped, sloshing in his shoes as he turned to- ward Martin, "in Mixo-Lydia we throw to the dogs—we boil in "And next time," Martin said, "please don't joggle my elbow when I'm St. Cyr at the moment looked like a Keystone Kop after the chase Even if he killed Martin now, the element of clas- Martin plunged moistly out of the theater. "And now," said Martin, turning with quiet authority to Watt, who "I can't discuss your contract till Raoul gets back," Watt said quickly. "Nonsense," Martin said in a firm voice. "Why should St. Cyr dictate "St. Cyr pictures "That's why I see the true situation so clearly," Martin said. "Sorry," Watt said, but not, bruskly. "Your genius has gone long enough unrecognized," Martin said hast- "You assume that St. Cyr Why?" Cunningly gauging his listener, Martin here "Sit down," Martin urged. St. Cyr's pictures make For Martin had the ity, Watt had realized that while St. Cyr might be an artistic genius, he the right path with perfect clarity," Martin said glibly. "What?" said Watt, in a swimming, glorious daze. broke," Martin pointed out. cess, a Martin for an Eden." "Hm-m," Watt said. "There you put your finger on the heart of the matter," Martin ap- If you left the transaction to somebody like St. Cyr, say, it would be botched. "But—" Watt said. my place tonight, Martin. Martin laid a hand on Erika's arm as she followed him. "Wait a second," he said. St. Cyr can still out-shout me any time. "Nick," Erika said, looking searchingly into his face. "Tell you tonight," Martin said hastily, hearing a distant bellow that might be the voice of St. Cyr approaching. Martin thought there was a certain element of pleasure in the "Where is Tolliver?" The loud, annoyed roar of St. Cyr made Martin "Louder, please," Martin said insolently. "DeeDee," St. Cyr shouted, whirling toward the lovely star, who hadn't Martin started. "Shut up," St. Cyr snapped. went home to meet Nick Martin, didn't he?" "See?" Martin interrupted, relieved. "But Martin is here!" St. Cyr shouted. "A contract release?" St. Cyr roared. "He went somewhere with that agent," DeeDee said. "No!" shouted St. Cyr. "He said he was going to Atlantis. Nick Martin at his house tonight and give him his contract release." "When?" St. Cyr demanded furiously. "DeeDee," Martin said, stepping forward with suave confidence, "you "Out of my way, you writer!" roared St. Cyr, advancing upon Martin. You do not waste St. Cyr's time and get Martin drew himself up and froze St. Cyr with an insolent smile. There only remained to hypnotize St. Cyr as he Martin a clout on the jaw. When the robot walked into Martin's office that evening, he, or it, went Martin rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Badly," he said. "I have no idea," said the robot. Martin said shortly. Martin nodded. "So is this movie studio," the robot said. "But I can't go somewhere else," Martin complained. I was supposed to pick it up tonight, but St. Cyr found St. Cyr's already there—" "Spare me the trivia," the robot said, raising his hand. "As for this St. Cyr, if he's a medieval character-type, obviously he'll knuckle under only "How would Disraeli have handled this?" Martin demanded. the robot said unhelpfully. "Would you mind clarifying that?" Martin asked thoughtfully. "Certainly," the robot said with great rapidity. "Oh," Martin said. Martin seemed pensive. "You mentioned Russia in Ivan's time," he said. "That was Ivan the Terrible, wasn't it?" Martin interrupted. "That wouldn't help you a bit," the robot said. Disraeli can't cope with a medievalist like St. Cyr on his Even though St. Cyr's bigger "Very well, then," Martin said triumphantly. the character-matrix, of Ivan the Terrible on my mind, and then I'm go- ing to put the bite on St. Cyr, the way Ivan would have done it. But St. Cyr's never been up against a really uncivil- hands." Martin nodded briskly. "St. Cyr will back down—I've found that the robot said. "I," said ENIAC, "am a robot, semantically adjusted. Perhaps not, Martin reflected, but Disraeli—hm-m. "Let's talk this over—" Martin began, absently pushing the desk-lamp "You're not going to like this," the robot said dazedly, sometime later. "Ivan won't do at … oh, you've got me all confused. "To tie up my bonny grey brain," Martin said, drunk with his own fix St. Cyr's Mixo-Lydian wagon." bot muttered, clapping the helmet on Martin's head. "But nothing's happening," Martin said. "Wait," Martin said uneasily. Martin shook his head tentatively from side to Something began to happen in Martin's brain… . Martin heard himself gasp with pure terror. "Yes, Mr. Martin," said Tolliver Watt's butler to the telephone. "The broom-closet on the second floor of the Writers' Building," Martin said in a quavering voice. "Are you sure you're Tolliver Watt's butler?" Martin demanded "Quite sure, Mr.—eh—Mr. Martin." "I am Mr. Martin," cried Martin with terrified defiance. of God and man, Mr. Martin I am and Mr. Martin I will remain, in spite Panic-stricken, Martin emerged from the closet, took a long breath, The robot had said that Martin wasn't going to like being Ivan the Ter- But was Martin wearing Ivan's character-mat- Martin flipped the rustling pages nervously. "Just like me," Martin murmured. "Differential," the robot had said, "depends on environment as much Martin sucked in his breath sharply. Martin turned green. Could he get Erika to keep St. Cyr busy, Martin swallowed. "Nonsense," Martin told himself with shivering firmness. Martin shook violently. "But they were just coming back from dinner," Erika said. "I kept telling myself that," Martin said dully, "but I was out of my "Nick," she said, "How much have you had to drink? Martin shut his eyes and lay back against the cushions. "Of course," Martin said with feeble bravery. ward Martin. "I said I'd like to see you try," she repeated. "Oh, you would, would you?" Martin said with hollow valor. Martin "I can't imagine," Martin said. "Yes," Erika said, and there was a pause. Martin moistened his lips, "Ah—" said Martin. "I'm damned if I'm going to be proposed to and not kissed," Erika said "But I might give you bubonic plague," Martin said nervously. "Ah," Martin said, after a long silence. "Don't talk to me, you miserable man," Erika said. "I can't help it," Martin cried wildly. Erika said nothing. Martin instantly plunged into his long and improb- "I don't believe a word of it," Erika said, when he had finished. If St. Cyr tries to But you've got to be there with me, or St. Cyr "Now I'm under stress again," Martin said wildly. "Lady," said the cab-driver, looking back, "if I was you, I'd sure as hell "Heads will roll for this," Martin said ominously. "By mutual consent, agree to terminate … yes," Watt said, affixing his But where in the world is that fellow Martin? Martin had managed to vanish so miraculously from her side. "Wait," St. Cyr said, his lower lip jutting. us an option on Martin's next play?" "It's going to have an all-male cast," Erika said hastily. Within a fortnight Martin would have been a St. Cyr writer. "I'm afraid not, Raoul," Watt said resignedly. have hit Martin at the studio today." "Why, hello, Nick," DeeDee said, with a bright smile. the white, terrified face of Nicholas Martin flip out of sight like a scared Erika, her heart dropping, said hastily, "Oh, that isn't Nick. "Certainly," Erika said, reaching for the contract release in Watt's hand. "Stop!" cried St. Cyr in a bull's bellow. "Ha!" the director said in a sinister voice. "Martin." "It's a lie," Martin said feebly, making a desperate attempt to conceal St. Cyr, who had stepped back a pace, was studying Martin carefully. He shook a finger under Martin's quivering nostrils. "You!" he said. "Nonsense," Martin said, rallying his courage by a glance at Erika. "I wasn't behind the curtain," Martin said, with great bravado. light flashed into Martin's eyes. "We've got to be going," Erika said desperately. Martin. "Of course he will give us an option!" St. Cyr said, studying Martin's In fact, you do not even want a release from your contract, Martin. I will turn you into a St. Cyr writer, and all will be well. did the unhappy Erika, torn between her responsibility as Martin's agent battle was obviously between Martin and Raoul St. Cyr. Martin drew himself up desperately. Martin stared down the Mixo-Lydian. "I'll do as I please," Martin told him. "I don't know, Raoul," Watt said. Cyr cried, turning toward Watt. "Assassin!" cried Martin, misinterpreting the gesture. "Now we have him, Tolliver," he said, with heavy triumph, and these ominous words added the final stress to Martin's overwhelming burden. With a mad cry he rushed past St. Cyr, wrenched open a door, and fled. Watt, and I warn you, St. Cyr, if you—" But by then Martin was five rooms away, and the voice faded. "Ah, there you are," the robot said. With a frightened glance behind him, Martin rose to his feet. "Oh, I'm through with you," the robot said callously. Martin shrank away. "I will if you'll change me back to myself," Martin haggled. "No," Martin said with feeble firmness. "Yes, you will," the robot said finally, "or I'll go boo at you." Martin paled slightly, but he shook his head in desperate "No," he said doggedly. Erika will never marry me and I'll never get my contract release from "Certainly, of a robot," ENIAC said stiffly. Martin rushed behind the couch and hid. And at that moment, pushed to the last ditch, Martin suddenly "Wait," he said. "—of the rod-and-cone pattern of the retina," the robot said. "My fingers have reflexes too," Martin argued, moving toward a side- "Very easily," the robot said. Martin hastily reached for a bottle on the sideboard, and a glass. Martin fizzled the glass full of soda and took a long drink. "I won't be long getting drunk," he said, his voice thickening. Martin, about to take another drink, suddenly paused, staring at "It's whiskey," Martin told the inexperienced automaton, "but now I "Cog Almighty," the robot said, rising. "I won't," Martin said, with a coward's stubbornness, fighting back the "Then prove it!" Martin said cunningly. "All right, hand me the glass," he said. "Aha!" Martin said. "Of course it would," the robot said hastily. "Well," Martin began uncertainly, but the unscrupulous robot un- robot said. "You're not swallowing it," Martin said suspiciously. "Well, all right, perhaps," Martin said, in a doubtful fashion. "Of course it does," the robot said quickly. His gaze watchfully on the robot, Martin lifted his glass of club soda. "Best fermented mammoth's milk I ever tasted," Martin agreed, lifting Martin drew a long breath. "The year of the great Hairy One, of course," Martin said briskly. "That's it!" Martin cried. Martin looked impatient. "You said you were going to impose the You said thatwould But you're not Mammoth-Slayer," ENIAC said confusedly. "The Great Hairy One," Martin replied, at which the robot grated its "Have one more jolt," Martin suggested. Martin adjusted the crystal helmet on his skull. "Well—all right," ENIAC said dizzily. "There," the robot said. But Martin had already departed. mur said, "F(t)." in time to see a horrifying change take place in Martin's shape. Nicholas Martin had at last achieved a personality whose ecological norm would put him on a level with Raoul St. Cyr. Then, slowly, a perfectly shocking grin broadened Mr. Martin's mouth. "Erika," he said throatily. what are you doing?" She snatched at Martin's departing form, but too St. Cyr So!" He picked up Martin and threw St. Cyr, no gentleman, turned her around, pin- "Martin! Martin had hit the floor, rolled over and over like a ball, knocked down a "You take my mate?" the pithecanthropic Mr. Martin inquired throat- "I," said Martin, "kill." This seemed to be what Martin hole in St. Cyr. Martin's arm shot out. Martin looked pensively at the pieces, tentatively began to bite one, changed his mind, and looked at St. Cyr instead. huge fist at Martin. Martin lifted his own fists toward his face. ger in his tiny little eyes, he lifted his gaze to St. Cyr's throat. Martin sprang. era, and as a man recoils from a small but murderous wildcat, so St. Cyr Martin was taken by surprise. emy, the enemy leaped at him too, and so Martin's head slammed "Ugh?" Martin said thickly, shaking his head. Martin glanced aside to see Tolliver With a violent effort Martin straightened up. Besides, with St. Cyr gone, stresses were slowly subsiding, so Martin tested his tongue cautiously, relieved to find he was still cap- "Uh," he said. "Urgh … Ur—release," Martin said, with a violent effort. "Raoul told me to quit if he quit," DeeDee said stubbornly. "You don't have to do what St. Cyr tells you," Erika said, hanging onto "DeeDee," Watt said frantically, "I'll give you the finest contract on "Oh, yes," DeeDee said. "Martin!" Watt told the playwright frantically, "Get St. Cyr back. Martin was observed to slump slightly—perhaps with hopelessness. "I'm sorry," DeeDee said. Martin had slumped further down, till his knuckles quite brushed the "You bet I am," Erika said, "but that works both ways. "Well," Erika said tartly, "make up your mind." "No!" Erika said. lovely creature hung from Martin's arm and gazed up at her captor with "Oh, you hussy," Erika said. "What about St. Cyr?" "Him," DeeDee said scornfully. never look at him again." She turned her adoring gaze back to Martin. Both Watt and DeeDee remained motionless, staring at Martin. "You," he said, thrusting a finger at DeeDee. Nod. Martin looked significantly into Watt's eyes. But Martin was already shambling toward the window. "No act," Martin growled. "I'll bail you out tomorrow," Erika told Mammoth-Slayer, struggling "Two in one night," said a bored voice, moving away outside. son of the Great Hairy One, turned slowly to face Raoul St. Cyr.