With the help of the Chief of Police, Barrent put a message aboard the next ship to leave for Omega. The message told about conditions on Earth and urged immediate action. When that was finished, Barrent was ready for his final job — to find the judge who had sentenced him for a crime he hadn't committed, and the lying informer who had turned him in to the judge. When he found those two, Barrent knew he would regain the missing portions of his memory.
He took the night expressway to Youngerstun. His suspicions, sharply keyed from life on Omega, would not let him rest. There had to be a catch to all this splendid simplicity. Perhaps he would find it in Youngerstun.
By early morning he was there. Superficially, the neat rows of houses looked the same as in any other town. But for Barrent they were different, and achingly familiar. He remembered this town, and the monotonous houses had individuality and meaning for him. He had been born and raised in this town.
There was Grothmeir's store, and across the street was the home of Havening, the local interior decorating champion. Here was Billy Havelock's house. Billy had been his best friend. They had planned on being starmen together, and had remained good friends after school — until Barrent had been sentenced to Omega.
Here was Andrew Therkaler's house. And down the block was the school he had attended. He could remember the classes. He could remember how, every day, they had gone through the door that led to the closed class. But he still could not remember what he had learned there.
Right here, near two huge elms, the murder had taken place. Barrent walked to the spot and remembered how it had happened. He had been on his way home. From somewhere down the street he had heard a scream. He had turned, and a man — Illiardi — had run down the street and thrown something at him. Barrent had caught it instinctively and found himself holding an illegal handgun. A few steps further, he had looked into the twisted dead face of Andrew Therkaler.
And what had happened next? Confusion. Panic. A sensation of someone watching as he stood, weapon in hand, over the corpse. There, at the end of the street, was the refuge to which he had gone.
He walked up to it, and recognized it as a robot-confessional booth.
Barrent entered the booth. It was small, and there was a faint odor of incense in the air. The room contained a single chair. Facing it was a complex, brilliantly lighted panel.
"Good morning, Will," the panel said to him.
Barrent had a sudden sense of helplessness when he heard that soft mechanical voice. He remembered it now. The passionless voice knew all, understood all, and forgave nothing. That artfully manufactured voice had spoken to him, had listened, and then had judged. In his dream, he had personified the robot-confessor into the figure of a human judge.
"You remember me?" Barrent asked.
"Of course," said the robot-confessor. "You were one of my parishioners before you went to Omega."
"You sent me there."
"For the crime of murder."
"But I didn't commit the crime!" Barrent said. "I didn't do it, and you must have known it!"
"Of course I knew it," the robot-confessor said. "But my powers and duties are strictly defined. I sentence according to evidence, not intuition. By law, the robot-confessors must weigh only the concrete evidence which is put before them. They must, when in doubt, sentence. In fact, the mere presence of a man before me charged with murder must be taken as a strong presumption of his guilt."
"Was there evidence against me?"
"Who gave it?"
"I cannot reveal his name."
"You must!" Barrent said. "Times are changing on Earth. The prisoners are coming back. Did you know that?"
"I expected it," the robot-confessor said.
"I must have the informer's name," Barrent said. He took the needlebeam out of his pocket and advanced toward the panel.
"A machine cannot be coerced," the robot-confessor told him.
"Give me the name!" Barrent shouted.
"I should not, for your own good. The danger would be too great. Believe me, Will…."
"Very well. You will find the informer at Thirty-five Maple Street. But I earnestly advise you not to go there. You will be killed. You simply do not know —"
Barrent pressed the trigger, and the narrow beam scythed through the panel. Lights flashed and faded as he cut through the intricate wiring. At last all the lights were dead, and a faint gray smoke came from the panel.
Barrent left the booth. He put the needlebeam back in his pocket and walked to Maple Street.
He had been here before. He knew this street, set upon a hill, rising steeply between oak and maple trees. Those lampposts were old friends, that crack in the pavement was an ancient landmark. Here were the houses, heavy with familiarity. They seemed to lean expectantly toward him, like spectators waiting for the final act of an almost forgotten drama.
He stood in front of 35 Maple Street. The silence which surrounded that plain white-shuttered house struck him as ominous. He took the needlebeam out of his pocket, looking for a reassurance he knew he could not find. Then he walked up the neat flagstones and tried the front door. It opened. He stepped inside.
He made out the dim shades of lamps and furniture, the dull gleam of a painting on the wall, a piece of statuary on an ebony pedestal. Needlebeam in hand, he stepped into the next room.
And came face to face with the informer.
Staring at the informer's face, Barrent remembered. In an overpowering flood of memory he saw himself, a little boy, entering the closed classroom. He heard again the soothing hum of machinery, watched the pretty lights blink and flash, heard the insinuating machine voice whisper in his ear. At first, the voice filled him with horror; what it suggested was unthinkable. Then, slowly, he became accustomed to it, and accustomed to all the strange things that happened in the closed classroom.
He learned. The machines taught on deep, unconscious levels. The machines intertwined their lessons with the basic drives, weaving a pattern of learned behavior with the life instinct. They taught, then blocked off conscious knowledge of the lessons, sealed it — and fused it.
What had he been taught? For the social good, you must be your own policeman and witness. You must assume responsibility for any crime which might conceivably be yours.
The face of the informer stared impassively at him. It was Barrent's own face, reflected back from a mirror on the wall.
He had informed on himself. Standing with the gun in his hand that day, looking down at the murdered man, learned unconscious processes had taken over. The presumption of guilt had been too great for him to resist, the similarity to guilt had turned into guilt itself. He had walked to the robot-confessor's booth, and there he had given complete and damning evidence against himself, had indicted himself on the basis of probability.
The robot-confessor had passed the obligatory sentence and Barrent had left the booth. Well-trained in the lessons of the classroom, he had taken himself into custody, had gone to the nearest thought-control center in Trenton. Already a partial amnesia had taken place, keyed to and triggered by the lessons of the closed classroom.
The skilled android technicians in the thought-control center had labored hard to complete this amnesia, to obliterate any remnants of memory. As a standard safeguard against any possible recovering of his memory, they had implanted a logical construct of his crime beneath the conscious level. As the regulations required, this construct contained an implication of the far-reaching power of Earth.
When the job was completed, an automatized Barrent had marched out of the center, taken a special expressway to the prison ship depot, boarded the prison ship, entered his cell, and closed the door and left Earth behind him. Then he had slept until the checkpoint had been passed, after which the newly arrived guards awakened the prisoners for disembarkation on Omega….
Now, staring at his own face in the mirror, the last of the conscious lessons of the classroom became conscious:
The lessons of the closed classroom must never be consciously known by the individual. If they become conscious the human organism must perform an immediate act of self-destruction.
Now he saw why his conquest of Earth had been so easy; it was because he had conquered nothing. Earth needed no security forces, for the policeman and the executioner were implanted in every man's mind. Beneath the surface of Earth's mild and pleasant culture was a self-perpetuating robot civilization. An awareness of that civilization was punishable by death.
And here, at this moment, the real struggle for Earth began.
Learned behavior patterns intertwined with basic life drives forced Barrent to raise the needlebeam, to point it toward his head. This was what the robot-confessor had tried to warn him about, and what the mutant girl had skrenned. The younger Barrent, conditioned to absolute and mindless conformity, had to kill himself.
The older Barrent who had spent time on Omega fought that blind urge. A schizophrenic Barrent fought himself. The two parts of him battled for possession of the weapon, for control of the body, for ownership of the mind.
The needlebeam's movement stopped inches from his head. The muzzle wavered. Then slowly, the new Omegan Barrent, Barrent2, forced the weapon away.
His victory was short-lived. For now the lessons of the closed classroom took over, forcing Barrent2 into a contrasurvival struggle with the implacable and death-desiring Barrent1.