Duke Wilberstone rested his heels on his desk as he brought
up The Martian Chronicle on his laptop. The headline read, "Wife
of Mountaineer Murdered by Humbot." Below it, the article
read, "Barsoom City, Amazonis Plantis, Mars. A domestic humbot
named Newton is being held in connection with the shooting death
of Gabriella Martilonza, wife of the famous mountaineer, Richard
Martilonza. The body of Mrs. Martilonza was discovered by the
custodian when an anonymous caller complained about the noise
coming from the apartment. Richard (Rick) Martilonza had been
on an expedition to the Olympos Mons when he learned that the
humbot had shot his wife. The Chief of Police of Barsoom said,
'The investigation is not complete. For the present, we're holding
the humbot as a person of interest.'"
Wilberstone was a private investigator. He specialized
in cases involved with insurance fraud and scams of large corporations.
He had been contacted by a lawyer working for Solar System Robotics,
the manufacturer of the humbot accused of the crime.
Martilonza was suing Solar System Robotics for a million
credits accusing them of selling him a defective product which
caused the wrongful death of his wife. If the courts agreed that
the humbot had a factory defect which directly led to Gabriella
Martilonza's death, the corporation would have to pay him a great
sum of money. The cost of the suit wasn't the worst of it. If
people worried that robots were capable of committing murder,
the consequences to all humbot manufacturers would be disastrous.
So far, Martilonza refused to settle.
Wilberstone scratched his head. He was under a lot of pressure
to come up with an alternative explanation for Gabrielle's death.
He had been assured by the company spokesperson that humbots absolutely
could not cause deliberate harm to a human being. Even if one
was defective, it was supposed to fail safely; it would become
immobilized if the safety circuits failed.
Wilberstone's many years of experience as a detective,
both on a police force and as a PI, told him that it was not the
humbot who murdered Gabriella, but a human being who knew the
victim. Most likely it was a husband, a lover, an ex-lover, an
ex-husband or a rival. But how? His first choice would be the
husband. He would gain monetarily through a large insurance policy
and the lawsuit. However, Rick Martilonza had a perfect alibi.
At the time of his wife's death, he was hundreds of miles away.
Also, as far as Wilberstone could determine, Rick was not having
any extramarital affairs. Of course, after he traveled to Mars,
a trip he was not looking forward to, he would have to delve into
the Martilonzas' backgrounds more closely. Perhaps something was
going on in their marriage that led to murder.
Another problem with pinning the murder on Rick Martilonza
was that he would have needed expert technical help to tinker
with a humbot. From what Wilberstone could determine, the mountaineer
was not particularly technology oriented. He was an outdoors man,
an expert mountain climber. He had scaled several major peaks
in the Himalayas, on the moon and Mars. If the expedition he was
on when his wife was murdered had succeeded, he would have been
the first human being to scale the largest mountain in the solar
system, Olympos Mons. Nonetheless, as soon as he received word
that his wife was dead, he left the mountain.
It was a puzzler which Wilberstone had to solve quickly,
before the media sensationalized the death by implying that any
humbot could turn on and kill its owner.
* * *
Before traveling to Mars to talk to the local police and
question witnesses, Wilberstone first went to the humbot factory,
which was in an artificial satellite that orbited earth at a La
Grange point. He needed a robotics expert to accompany him to
the red planet.
As he stepped off the shuttle, he was greeted by Donald
Porto, the factory manager, and Doctor Shirla Cassico, his chief
After introductions and small talk, Porto told Wilberstone
that Doctor Cassico would go with him to Mars. This pleased the
detective since Cassico was single, good looking and had a great
figure. The three-week voyage to Mars would be much more pleasant
with a pretty young woman by his side.
Wilberstone said, "I'm looking forward to working
with you, Doctor Cassico. I understand that you're one of the
foremost authorities on humbot psychology."
"Thank you. Robotics have been my passion since an
early age. By the way, please call me Shirla. Since we'll be working
closely, there's no sense in being formal."
Wilberstone smiled broadly. "I agree. My friends call
Porto said, "You're in luck that Shirla is available.
She finished the design work on our new model eight weeks ago,
and just returned from a well-earned vacation."
Wilberstone was brought to a meeting room. Once they were
seated, Porto said, "Before you leave for Mars, we want to
take you on a tour of the factory so that you'll understand how
we design our humbots."
"Good. I need to know as much as possible about humbots.
I've been told that they're fail safe, that no defect could cause
one to deliberately harm a human being."
Cassico said, "Not only that. Our humbots will prevent
a human being from being harmed if at all possible."
"I'll want to question you about that after the tour."
She smiled. "My pleasure," she said pleasantly.
Wilberstone was tall, athletic and handsome. He was not
at all surprised at the robotics expert's flirtatious manner.
He often used his looks and charm in his profession. That she
seemed attracted to him made him more certain that the journey
to Mars would be pleasurable.
Cassico pressed a button on the conference table and a
holovision display started at the other end of the room. After
a list of credits with humbots performing in the background, what
Wilberstone first thought of as a man spoke in a well-modulated
voice like a radio announcer. "Good day, Ladies and Gentlemen.
My name is Mikey. I am a model AI-975 humanoid robot, usually
referred to as a humbot. In this holovision, I will describe how
I was born. Nowadays, many tasks formally done by human beings
are accomplished more efficiently by humbots. Some jobs are odious;
for example, sorting garbage for recycling. Some are dangerous,
such as construction work on skyscrapers and handling radioactive
materials. Some exist in hostile environments, such as in space
or under the sea. Many people have humbot domestic servants. We
humbots don't mind doing any of these tasksand without pay.
In fact, we can be programmed to do any job that a business may
"Solar System Robotics uses the team approach to design
humbots. Initially, each team works independently. As the work
progresses, the teams interact. A robotics team designed my bodymy
mechanical structure." Mikey pointed to its torso, legs,
arms, and hands. "And my senses, such as tactile sensing..."
It touched the lectern with its fingertips. "...image processing..."
It pointed to its eyes and blinked a few times. "... aural
interpretation..." It pointed to its ears. "...and chemical
detection." It pointed to its nose and tongue.
"The brain group designed..." The top of Mikey's
head became transparent. A device with many thin wires attached
to it could be seen. "...my computation center, a powerful
quantum computer that contains a duodecillion bytes of RAM.
"The software team designed my mind, to give me artificial
intelligence. How much intelligence? I am almost as smart as a
human being. But you will have to judge that for yourself, depending
on how well I do my assigned tasks.
"Solar System humbots are tested extensively for defects
before leaving the factory. Not one in a thousand has failed in
"Thank you for your time. Your tour of our facilities
will proceed shortly." The humbot vanished.
Cassico asked, "Perhaps you have questions before
we start the tour?"
"Is Mikey your latest model?"
Porto said, "At present. However, we're about to announce
an improved version for a spaceship company. The humbot accused
of killing that woman is of the same model as Mikey."
"Mikey stated that it was almost as intelligent as
a human. Does that mean it actually thinks, rather than simply
Cassico smiled. "That's a deep philosophical question.
Tell me, do you think or are you simply running a program hardwired
into your genes? If you mean, 'Is he self-aware?'" She shrugged.
"Who knows? On the other hand, if you mean, 'Does he behave
as a human would in response to his environment?' That was what
he was designed to do."
"Okay. But what prevents it from harming human beings
as you asserted earlier?"
"I knew you'd ask that. By law, Mikey's, and all other
humbots', brains are designed with built-in safeguards. The safeguards
are: a humbot cannot harm a human being or allow a human being
to come to harm if he can prevent it; he must follow a human's
orders unless it conflicts with the first safeguard; and he cannot
allow himself to come to harm unless it conflicts with the other
two safeguards. No humbot leaves this factory without being tested
and retested. Should any brain failure cause an error in any of
the built-in instructions, the humbot becomes immobilized."
"How does a humbot know whether someone is human?
At first, I thought Mikey was human. What if it encounters a human-appearing
Cassico shrugged. "If he thought the humbot was human,
he would treat that person as he would a human being. What's the
harm in that?"
* * *
Porto and Cassico led Wilberstone through a maze of corridors
to an area the size of a gymnasium which was cordoned into sections
by partitions. In the first section, engineers were assembling
a humbot skeleton with metal bones.
Cassico pointed to the spine. "As you see, we borrow
from nature. The humbot's spinal column has the same number of
vertebrae as a human's."
Wilberstone asked, "Why a skeletal structure? Wouldn't
a simple box shape be sufficient?"
"For flexibility. If the humbot's body were box shaped,
the back would be rigid and unbending. Because the spinal column
contains separate vertebrae, our humbots can bend forward, backward,
to either side or even twist around, as a human does. Note also
that the vertebrae are hollow." She picked up a vertebra
section from the bench. "This allows a fiber optic cable
to pass telemetry between the body and the brain."
Wilberstone hefted the chunk of bone like material. "This
"It's a special plastic lighter than bone and stronger
than steel. Note that joints are not the same as human joints.
Instead of a ball and joint arrangement, we use ball bearings
and tiny wheels. Our humbots' movements are controlled by the
skeleton, not by muscles. The hand contains nineteen 'bones' to
give it the same flexibility as a human hand. It can be used as
a delicate pincer or firm grasper. It can twist objects, bend
them, pull them, push them and type on a keyboard."
Cassico led Wilberstone to a room farther down the main
corridor which was fitted out as a combination chemist's lab and
electronic workshop with retorts, rows of bottles, soldering equipment,
oscilloscopes, computers and rolls of extremely thin wire. Spread
over one bench like a bolt of cloth was a long strip of flesh-colored
rubbery material. Along its edges was a fringe of hair-thin wire.
"The humbot's skin." Cassico held up a four square
foot sample for Wilberstone to examine.
"It feels like real skin."
"It's supposed to. Look at it closely. Those tiny
points that seem to be pores are sensors that send signals to
the wires along the edge. Pressure, heat, cold and so forth cause
tiny voltage changes to be transmitted to whatever we attach the
wires to. In this manner, the humbot's brain is informed about
its physical environment."
"What's this jar of flesh-colored paint for?"
Wilberstone picked up the small jar.
"As touchup. Sometimes there's a small discolored
area on the skin. If it's any larger than a small coin, though,
we send the entire sheet back to the supplier."
He used a brush laying on the bench to paint a small section
of cardboard that he found in a wastebasket. He stuck the cardboard
in his pocket.
In another section of the laboratory, Cassico showed Wilberstone
the machinery that controlled the humbot's movement and its power
source. "Since our humbots don't need internal organs, the
extra space is taken up by a power supply and mechanics. Whenever
the humbot senses that his power is low, he can plug himself into
an ordinary wall socket and recharge himself."
In the sensory laboratory, a metal framework of wires was
shaped into the outline of a human skull including a hinged jaw.
The contraption resembled the head of a horror-movie monster with
round eyeballs in the eye sockets and realistic ears and a tongue.
The sensing organs were attached by cable to a plastic box below
the table and to a laptop. The monitor showed a tall dark-haired
man walking forward followed by another man and woman as seen
by the eyeballs.
With his back still to them, Sam Bradley, the technician,
greeted them. "Hi, Shirla and Donald. This new visualization
program works well."
"Glad to hear it, Sam," said Cassico. "We're
showing a VIP around. How about the audio system?"
Bradley adjusted something inside the ears with a fine
instrument. "Great. I'm glad you're here. I'm ready to test
"Wonderful! Talk to it, Duke."
"What should I say to that thing?"
"Tell it your name."
Wilberstone bowed toward the apparatus. "My name is
The jaws moved up and down; the tongue wagged. It said
in a pleasant tenor voice, "Hello, Duke Wilberstone. I am
pleased to meet you," .
"Would you like a demo of the visualization software?"
Bradley gave it more commands. He took flash cards out
of a drawer and selected cards that contained geometric shapes
and photographs. He held the first one, a square, in front of
the eyeballs. The skull correctly identified each card.
"Mr. Wilberstone, please stand in front of the device."
Wilberstone looked directly into the strange eyes. The
skull said, "Hello, Donald Wilberstone. I am pleased to see
"I'm impressed. What's next on the agenda?"
Cassico said, "Our kindergarten."
They went into a room set up as school. Several assembled
humbots sat at classroom desks. A humbot stood at the front of
the classroom lecturing.
Cassico said, "That's Mikey doing the teaching. I
used to run the kindergarten, but it became too much for me with
my other duties. Once we came out with more intelligent humbots
such as Newton and Mikey, we allowed them to do the teaching."
Wilberstone said, "I don't understand. I thought humbots
were simply loaded with all the information they needed. What
are they learning here?"
"Common sense. The kinds of things that humans learn
at an early age. For example, you should not move people by pushing
them, if you steal something, the owner will be angry, you can
push things with a straight stick but not pull them, when you
release a thing holding in your hand it falls, you cannot move
a object by asking it 'Please come here.' The humbots learn to
interact with people and things. We can't teach them to act properly
in all situations, but by the time they leave this plant, they're
A humbot student approached Mikey. For a while, the humbots
stared at each other.
"What are they doing?" Wilberstone asked.
"Is the room soundproof? I don't hear a thing."
Cassico chuckled. "You wouldn't. Our humbots include
wireless transmission. They communicate with each other using
radio waves. It's like telepathy, if telepathy actually existed
in human beings. It's a function our competitors have not yet
"Could a human communicate with one of your humbots
using a radio transmitter?"
"Absolutely. That's the whole point. A humbot's owner
can give his humbot orders remotely and receive the humbot's responses
and sensory information the same way."
"Very interesting." Wilberstone said. He thought,
So a humbot can receive orders from a remote location, even
one hundreds of miles away. "May I talk to Mikey?"
They entered the classroom. Cassico said, "Mikey,
may we interrupt you for a moment?"
toward her. "You already have, Doctor Cassico."
"Mr. Wilberstone wishes to speak to you."
"Shall I dismiss the class?"
Wilberstone said, "This will only take a couple of
minutes. I want to ask you a couple of questions."
"I will do my best to answer them as long as they
do not involve company secrets. You are not an employee."
"Fair enough. Tell me, Mikey, can you tell a humbot
from a human being?"
"Usually. To be on the safe side, I assume that a
person who seems to be a human being is one although I know there
are humbots, such as myself, who appear quite human."
"What about holograms?"
"I use the same logic. If I see a hologram that seems
to be a real person, I assume that it is a human being unless
I have reason to believe otherwise. I may try to touch it if I
was uncertain. My hand would go right through a hologram."
"Suppose you were in a holochamber where there were
mixed holograms and actual human beings?"
"I would tread carefully."
"And if you were given an order to shoot one of the
holograms with a gun, would you do it?"
The humbot stared for a few moments. "Not unless I
was absolutely sure that it was a hologram and not a human being
that I was shooting." It started to tremble.
Cassico said, "I must ask you to desist from this
line of questioning, Duke. You're upsetting Mikey."
"Just one more question."
"Okay. But you're treading on dangerous grounds. Humbots
are extremely sensitive when it comes to violations of their safety
"Can you tell a toy gun from a real one?"
"Certainly. Toy guns come in bright colors, pink,
blue, purple and so forth. Real guns are a metallic color."
"Thank you, Mikey. I enjoyed talking to you."
"The pleasure was all mine," it said mechanically.
"Have a nice day."
* * *
The three-week trip aboard a cruise spaceship to Mars was
as pleasant as Wilberstone had anticipated. Shirla Cassico was
an intelligent and congenial companion, as well as being extremely
beautiful. The first couple of days, their conversation centered
around robot engineering and the case, but as they warmed to each
other, they discussed many things and became intimate. Wilberstone
learned that Shirla had an interest in mechanical things from
an early age. When she was eleven, she had designed her own bug-like
robot which won several robot war contests. She had a Ph.D. in
robotics and artificial intelligence and played a mean game of
chess, beating Wilberstone game after game.
Evenings, they often went to the ship's casino, where Cassico
usually won big at blackjack. In a cocktail dress and carefully
applied makeup, she was dazzling. In addition, they drank exotic
concoctions, laughed at a lot and danced. Before the week was
over, they had made love in Wilberstone's cabin in free fall,
an altogether unique experience for the detective, which put Shirla
and him in the "free-fall club."
Wilberstone had so much fun with Cassico on the tourist
spaceship that he felt a big letdown when the ship landed at the
Phobos space station. From Phobos, a shuttle took him and the
robotics' expert to Barsoom City. It was back to work for the
After Wilberstone and Cassico checked into separate rooms
in the Royal Martian, Wilberstone called the city police department
for permission to interrogate the robot.
* * *
After the detective and robotics expert checked in with
the desk sergeant, they were taken to Lieutenant Matsuchi, the
detective in charge of the Martilonza case. Like most third-generation
Martians, he was extremely tall and thin, over seven feet, as
a consequence of the lower gravity. "I'm glad you two are
here. We're thinking of releasing the humbot we arrested into
"Really?" Wilberstone asked.
"Although it looks human, it's a piece of machinery.
As far as I'm concerned, this is a civil matter, not a criminal
case. You wouldn't put an automobile in jail if the brakes failed
and it ran over someone. It was only because of Rick Martilonza's
insistence and some hysterical press coverage that we incarcerated
the thing at all."
"Have you interrogated the humbot?"
"Yes, but it was not cooperative. My theory is that
it can't recall what occurred because it became traumatized by
what it had done, it. That often happens with people who are not
natural killers but pop off someone in a fit of rage or accidentally."
Cassico said, "But a humbot is not a person. Hysterical
reactions do not occur in a humbot. May we speak to him?"
"Be my guest. I'll have him brought to an interrogation
Matsuchi told the desk sergeant to have someone bring the
humbot to room two. He turned to Wilberstone and Cassico. "Come
The interrogation room was windowless and bare. It contained
a table and four chairs, two on each of the longer sides of the
table. A one-way mirror covered most of one wall.
Matsuchi moved one of the chairs to the other side of the
table and indicated that Wilberstone and Cassico should sit in
two of them. He took the third. A uniformed officer brought in
the humbot and ordered it to sit across from the three humans.
Matsuchi said, "Newton, these two people are investigating
Mrs. Martilonza's death. They would like to ask you some questions.
The man is Duke Wilberstone. He's a private investigator. The
woman is Doctor Shirla Cassico. She's a robotics expert."
The humbot nodded solemnly. "I already know Doctor
Cassico. She is chief robotics consultant at the factory where
I was built. It is good to see you again, Doctor Cassico. I am
also pleased to meet you, Mister Wilberstone. I will try to answer
your questions to the best of my ability."
Cassico asked, "After the event that caused you to
be arrested, did you do a check of all your systems including
all fail-safe circuits?"
"Yes. After they told me what I was accused of, I
tested every function, especially my safety functions. All my
circuits and software read nominal."
Wilberstone said, "You called Mrs. Martilonza Gabriella.
Calling your mistress by her first name seems to indicate that
you were on intimate terms with the lady."
Cassico interrupted him. "Not necessarily. Newton,
is Gabriella what your mistress wanted you to call her?"
"Yes, because we were intimate, as Mr. Wilberstone
A disgusted look crossed Cassico's face.
Wilberstone said, "How intimate? What was your relationship
with Mrs. Martilonza? Were you simply mistress and favored servant?
Good friends? Lovers, perhaps?"
"All of those."
Wilberstone whispered a question into Cassico's ear. She
nodded. She also looked quite cross, as though she was personally
offended by the fact that the victim and Newton were lovers.
"You were lovers, then. You performed the sex act
"Yes. I regret that, however. Mr. Martilonza was angry
about it when he walked in on us. Gabrielle and he quarreled quite
extensively afterwards. He even threatened her." Newton shivered.
"Our love making may have hurt himemotionally. But
I did not know that would happen until the day he witnessed us
having sex." The humbot became agitated, drumming its fingers
on the table.
Cassico said in a soothing voice, "It wasn't your
fault, Newton. You didn't know how Mr. Martilonza would react."
She turned to Wilberstone. "I need to speak to you in private
for a couple of minutes." She rose from her chair. "Excuse
us for a while, Lieutenant."
Cassico and Wilberstone left the room. After the door was
closed, Cassico said, "We cannot continue this line of questioning.
Newton will have a breakdown. He knows now that his making love
to the Martilonza woman caused pain on the part of Rick Martilonza."
"That's all right. I've learned something. This 'love
affair' between Newton and his mistress could be a motive for
Cassico frowned. "You're the detective."
When they returned to the room, Newton was again placid.
Wilberstone asked it, "Newton, can you describe the
events of the evening that Gabrielle died?"
"No. I cannot."
"I cannot tell you that either."
"May I see the palms of your hands?"
"Certainly." The humbot placed his hands on the
table face up.
"There's pink paint on them. How did it get there?"
"I cannot tell you that."
Matsuchi said, "You see. Uncooperative. But you people
have got more out it than we did. I congratulate you. I would
not have thought of questioning it about its relationship with
Cassico said, "There's a reason for Newton's seeming
uncooperativeness, Lieutenant. I doubt whether the humbot can
give us any more information about the unfortunate event. Please
keep Newton locked up until Duke and I return to Solar System
Robotics. I'll take him with us to the factory, where I can examine
him more closely for defects."
"Sure, as long as you're sure the thing isn't dangerous."
Cassico smiled. "I have no fear of Newton."
Before they left the station, Wilberstone asked to examine
the weapon used to kill the victim. Matsuchi brought out a plastic
bag with an automatic pistol inside. "We've already dusted
it for prints. There were none."
"Well, a humbot wouldn't leave prints. I wonder why
it was painted pink, though."
"I thought that strange, too."
"Was a ballistics test done on the slug?"
"We never found it. It passed right through the victim.
It's probably still in the apartment somewhere. Since we had a
witness that saw the humbot holding the weapon over the corpse,
we didn't search all that hard. Besides, this has become a civil
case. We're no longer involved."
"Who was the gun registered to?"
"No one. On Mars, gun registration is not required."
"So you don't know whether the gun belonged to Mister
or Mrs. Martilonza?"
* * *
After Cassico and Wilberstone left the station, Cassico
said, "I didn't want to say this in front of the Lieutenant,
but the reason Newton could not supply any information about the
Martilonza woman's death is that someone has given it a strict
order of silence about the events of that evening. Nonetheless,
everything it saw and heard is recorded on its hard drive. When
we get back to the factory, I'll remove it. Then we'll see what
"That's good. Uh, Shirla, you seem disdainful of the
dead woman. How come?"
"She's a tramp. Imagine ordering a humbot servant
to make love to her." She made a sour face.
Wilberstone thought, This is a side of Shirla that I
haven't seen before. Apparently, she has a thing against human
and humbot sex. Not me. What people do in the privacy of their
bedrooms is nobody's business.
"Well, what now, Duke? Do we book a spaceship back
to the factory?"
"Not quite yet. There are still people I need to interview.
Also, I'd like to visit the crime scene. You're welcome to come
Cassico grinned at him and grabbed his arm. "I'll
come along. It'll be interesting to see how a master private investigator
does his job."
Wilberstone laughed, but was flattered anyway.
They took a taxi to the apartment building where the Martilonzas
lived. Rick Martilonza had moved out soon after his wife's death.
Wilberstone knocked on the building superintendent's door. A middle-aged
balding man in a dirty T-shirt answered.
"My name is Duke Wilberstone. This is Doctor Cassico,
a robotics expert. We're from the robot factory that built the
humbot that shot Mrs. Martilonza." He flashed his private
"Yeah. Tragic thing. I never did trust humbots. Why
anyone would want to build a machine what looks like a human being
is beyond me."
"Would you mind showing us the apartment where Mrs.
Martilonza was killed?"
"No trouble. I'll get my passkey."
After they entered the apartment, Wilberstone asked, "Where
did the shooting occur?"
"Right here in the living room."
Wilberstone carefully examined everything, the sofa, tables,
overstuffed chairs, pictures on the wall, the walls themselves,
the holovision set and the carpeting. He dug something out of
one wall which he slipped in his pocket. When he was done, he
said to the superintendent, whose name was George Oplagos, "Mr.
Oplagos, the police told me you used your passkey to enter the
apartment after you received a vidphone call from someone who
complained of loud noises in the apartment."
"Did you recognize the caller?"
"No. The video was blocked. Wouldn't give me her name,
"When you entered the apartment, what did you see?
Describe the scene exactly as you remember it."
Oplagos hesitated, as though trying hard to recall what
he had witnessed. "Well. First thing I noticed was that the
holovision was going full blast. The room was full of holovision
characters. Some sort of crime show was on. I recognized Newtonthe
Martilonza's humbot. It was holding what I thought was a toy gun.
Later the police told me that it was real. I ordered Newton to
turn off the holovision. It complied immediately. That's when
I noticed Mrs. Martilonza on the carpet. I examined her and realized
that she was dead and lying in a pool of blood. It was awful.
I called the police then."
"What did the humbot do while you called the police?"
"Nothing. It merely stood there. Oh, I think it asked
me whether Mrs. Martilonzait called her Gabriella; nervy
don't you think?was ill. I told it she was dead. It showed
no emotion. Cold blooded bastard. Kills a woman, who from the
rumors I've heard it had been screwing, and doesn't blink an eye."
"Newton's a humbot," said Cassico. "Humbots
cannot show emotion readily, although they may be hurting inside."
Oplagos looked her up and down. "Say, don't I know
you? I've seen you somewhere before."
Cassico sniffed. "No way."
Wilberstone said, "Mr. Oplagos, can you show me exactly
where the humbot was standing to the best of your recollection?"
"Uh, right about here." Oplagos moved into the
position where he thought the humbot had been standing. He even
simulated a gun with his forefinger to show how Newton was holding
"And where was Mrs. Martilonza's body?"
Oplagos pointed at a position on the floor directly in
front of him.
"Did you notice anything else that you think might
have a bearing on the case?"
Oplagos scratched his head. "No. Oh, wait. There was
one thing. Mrs. Martilonza was probably drinking heavily. An almost
empty bottle of vodka was on the coffee table. She was quite a
sot, from what people have told me"
"Thanks. I guess that's all I need to know for now.
If you think of anything else that may be pertinent, give me a
call." After writing the vidphone number of his hotel room
on the back of his card, he handed it to the superintendent. "Let's
go, Shirla. It's getting late, and I want to go to the morgue
and examine the body before the coroner leaves for the day."
In the hallway, Cassico said, "You don't need to look
at Gabriella's body. I've got the crime all figured out. Rick
Martilonza must've murdered his wife using Newton as the murder
weapon. He gave the order over the radio directly to Newton's
brain. Martilonza must've known that his wife watched a certain
detective show at a certain time. He painted the gun pink to convince
Newton that it was a toy. What's more, he told the humbot to shoot
the hologram characters with the supposedly toy gun. No harm to
an actual human being could come of that. He probably told Newton
that it would amuse Mrs. Martilonza. But she was among the holograms
the humbot was firing at."
"Hmm. Nice theory, but there are several holes in
it. Newton knew Gabriella intimately. He certainly could distinguish
her from a hologram. Also, if he had been shooting at the characters
in the holovision show, there would be bullet holes randomly in
"Not if the first character he shot was that slut."
"It sounds like a plausible theory, but doesn't quite
fit with what you and Mikey told me about humbots. Sorry. I'll
need more proof. Are you going to the morgue with me?"
"I think I'll pass on that pleasure."
* * *
Before going to the morgue, Wilberstone met with Matsuchi.
He gave the slug to the police detective. "Keep this with
the other evidence. The Martilonza case may turn out to be criminal
"Do you really think so? Do you believe her old man
used the humbot to do the actual deed?"
"I'm not quite ready to go that far. Let's go to the
At the morgue, Wilberstone examined the entrance and exit
wounds on the victim. "According to the way that the building
super described the scene when he entered the apartment, Gabrielle
was lying at the feet of the humbot, which means they were standing
close together when the shot was fired."
"Yeah. I remember him saying that when I interviewed
"The slug should have been on the wall directly behind
the victim. The reason you didn't find it there was that it was
on another wall altogether."
"So, what are you saying?"
"Just that it's puzzling."
"Are you going to interview the husband?"
"Since I'm working for the company that he's got a
million-credit lawsuit against, I doubt whether he'd talk to me.
I think you should hold the humbot as evidence. I'm beginning
to have an inkling of a theory. I need to return to the robot
factory to put the last few pieces of the puzzle together."
* * *
Cassico went into a rage when she heard that the Barsoom
police changed their mind about releasing the humbot. "We
need to return Newton to the factory to remove his hard drive."
"Well, I suppose the Barsoom cops have their own experts
that could do that."
"And if they aren't careful, they could do irreparable
harm to Newton. The fools."
"I suppose you want to be on hand to supervise the
"Yes. I'm going to contact that Lieutenant Matsuchi
and give him a piece of my mind while I'm at it. I just don't
understand. If they consider the incident a civil matter, why
are they being so hard nosed?"
Wilberstone shrugged. "Well anyway, I'm heading back
to your factory on the next space flight out."
"What for? Without Newton, what's the sense?"
"There's one or two things that I need to clear up
in my own mind."
"I don't understand. Well, give my regards to Donald
Porto and Mikey while you're there. Tell Porto that I had to stay,
that I couldn't let incompetents destroy a wonder of robotics
* * *
When Wilberstone arrived at the factory, he found Porto
in an agitated state. Apparently the civil trial had started and
things did not look good for the defendant. "What have you
found out? Is Newton defective? Why didn't you bring the humbot?
Why isn't Shirla with you?"
"The Barsoom police won't release the humbot. Shirla
stayed on Mars to make sure Newton isn't damaged by the Barsoom
Porto brightened. "Forensics department. Does that
mean that they think a human was involved? That it was murder?"
"It's a good possibility. But I need to find out a
few things first, things you might know the answer to."
"Sure. Shoot. What do you want to know?"
"First, where did Shirla go on her vacation?"
"To Mars. I don't know why she wanted to go there.
She talked about some canyon, supposed to bigger than the Grand
Canyon. But, once you view something like that, what do you do
afterwards? She was on Mars for two weeks. Of course, I hear that
on Mars there's something of a frontier mentality. They don't
even have any gun control laws. Perhaps she needed a little wildness
in her life."
"She's quite an intense person when it comes to robotics."
"Oh, she loves the robots, especially the later models
like Mikey and Newton who seem almost human. They were like her
children. In fact, she put up quite a stink when we sold Newton
to the Martilonzas to become their domestic. She said that was
not a proper occupation for a humbot of Newton's quality. But
Rick Martilonza made us an offer that was too good to refuse.
Perhaps, he had it in his mind to murder his wife, blame the humbot
and sue us even then."
"I don't believe that Rick had anything to do with
his wife's death. But in order to prove my suspicions, I need
to be able to order Newton to tell us exactly what happened. The
murderer gave the humbot a command not to speak. Is there a way
I can countermand that order?"
"Yes. There's a password. When it's spoken, the humbot
will obey only the person who speaks the password. But Shirla
knew that. Why didn't she get Newton to talk?"
Wilberstone smiled sadly. "Can you give me that password
to use on Newton?"
* * *
When Wilberstone was leaving his hotel in Barsoom, he was
accosted in the lobby by Cassico. "What's going on, Duke?
Why did you tell me that the police were going to try to remove
Newton's hard drive? They had no such intentions. In fact, they
even refused to allow me to do it."
Wilberstone shrugged. "I thought they were. I'm on
my way to see Detective Matsuchi now. You want to tag along?"
"Absolutely. What did you do at the factory?"
"Simply cleared up a couple of loose ends. I guess
the lawsuit is going badly."
"It shouldn't. I must appear as an expert witness
to tell the court how impossible it is for Newton to be defective."
"I don't know that an employee of Solar System Robotics
would be believed."
"You don't think that there's a way to prove that
Rick Martilonza tricked Newton into killing that slut of a wife
"Not at this point."
* * *
Wilberstone was seated in the interrogation room while
Cassico and Matsuchi watched through the one-way glass. Before
he entered, Cassico made a fuss about not going in with him. "Duke,
you don't have the expert knowledge needed to interrogate Newton.
You could throw his equilibrium all out balance, cause him permanent
damage by asking questions that concern his safety circuits. He's
already on the borderline, since he was the actual shooter and
caused harm to a human being."
"Don't worry. I'm sure that what I'm going to ask
won't affect Newton that way."
"You had better not, or I'll come in there immediately."
Newton was brought into the interrogation room and sat
down opposite Wilberstone. "Hello, Mr. Wilberstone. Are you
going to ask me more questions?"
"Yes. I would like to know about your relationship
with Doctor Shirla Cassico."
"She was my teacher before I was sold to the Martilonzas."
"Were you close? I mean, would you consider her a
"Oh yes. She treated Mikey and myself as though we
were her children, similar to the way a human mother is supposed
to treat her children, according to books I have read."
"Was she even closer to you than that? What happened
when she was told that you were being sold?"
"She wept. I suppose she loved meas a mother
loves a child."
"You weren't lovers, then?"
"I'm not allowed to say."
At that point there was a rapping coming from the one-way
mirror and a muffled sound of arguing. Newton looked at the mirror.
"What is that noise?"
"Nothing. Don't pay any attention." He said the
password that Porto told him would allow him to override any previous
commands given to the humbot. "Now, Newton. I want you to
disobey any previous commands to be silent about certain matters.
Do you understand?"
"Answer my question about your relationship with Shirla
Cassico. Were you lovers?"
"Yes. We had sex often. She said she loved me. I suppose
she meant as a woman loves a man who is not a blood relative."
"I see. Now tell me what happened on the day that
Gabrielle Martilonza was killed."
"That day, Gabrielle was drinking a lot. Mr. Martilonza
had told her that morning that he was going to file for divorce
when he returned from Mount Olympos. They had been quarreling
ever since Mr. Martilonza discovered Gabrielle and myself having
sex." The humbot shuddered.
"Don't worry about that, Newton. It wasn't your fault.
You did not know that Rick Martilonza would become so angry. By
the way, did he tell anyone about her affair with you?"
"He told everyone. I recall him saying that he was
going to complain to Solar System Robotics about it. Gabrielle
laughed at him. She said that she ordered me to have sex with
her, which was true."
"Do you know whether he followed through on that threat?"
"I believe he did. One day I saw him talking to Shirla
on the vidphone."
"Okay. Go on. Tell me how Gabrielle was shot."
"Shirla knocked at the apartment door. She pushed
her way in, shut the door, pulled out a gun and turned the sound
up on the holovision. Before I could stop her, she shot Gabrielle.
I tried to help Gabrielle, but she must have been killed instantly.
I asked Shirla why she did it, and she said, 'You fool. Don't
you know I love you? When I heard that this woman was ordering
you to make love to her, I couldn't stand it. There's nothing
you can do to help her now, but you must help me.'
"'What do you want me to do?' I asked her. She showed
me where to stand. Then she painted the gun with some pink stuff
and told me to pick it up. She ordered me to stand there with
the gun in my hand until someone arrived and then to follow the
orders of the police. She also commanded me not to say anything
about what had transpired and not to tell anyone that she and
I had sexual relations. She left the apartment. A few minutes
later, Mr. Oplagos came in and called the police."
"I've heard enough. Thank you, Newton."
"What will happen to Shirla?"
"She committed a serious crime. She took the life
of a human being, something you would never have done. She will
be tried in a court of law. If she is convicted, she will be incarcerated."
"Her safety circuits must have failed. Can they not
"I'm afraid not."