INCIDENT AT A SHOE COUNTER
The interior of the store was emptier than the street outside. The manager, with commendable foresight, had thrown the force door early in the game, preventing potential troublemakers from entering. It also kept the principles in the argument from leaving, but that was minor.
Baley got through the force door by using his officer’s neutralizer. Unexpectedly, he found R. Daneel still behind him. The robot was pocketing a neutralizer of his own, a slim one, smaller and neater than the standard police model.
The manager ran to them instantly, talking loudly. “Officers, my clerks have been assigned me by the City. I am perfectly within my rights.”
There were three robots standing rodlike at the rear of the department. Six humans were standing near the force door. They were all women.
“All right, now,” said Baley, crisply. “What’s going on? What’s all the fuss about?”
One of the women said, shrilly, “I came in for shoes. Why can’t I have a decent clerk? Ain’t I respectable?” Her clothing, especially her hat, were just sufficiently extreme to make it more than a rhetorical question. The angry flush that covered her face masked imperfectly her overdone makeup.
The manager said, “I’ll wait on her myself if I have to, but I can’t wait on all of them, Officer. There’s nothing wrong with my men. They’re registered clerks. I have their spec charts and guarantee slips—”
“Spec charts,” screamed the woman. She laughed shrilly, turning to the rest. “Listen to him. He calls them men! What’s the matter with you anyway? They ain’t men. They’re ro-bots!” She stretched out the syllables. “And I tell you what they do, in case you don’t know. They steal jobs from men. That’s why the government always protects them. They work for nothin’ and, on account o’ that, families gotta live out in the barracks and eat raw yeast mush. Decent hard-working families. We’d smash up all the ro-bots, if I was boss. I tell you that!”
The others talked confusedly and there was always the growing rumble from the crowd just beyond the force door.
Baley was conscious, brutally conscious, of R. Daneel Olivaw standing at his elbow. He looked at the clerks. They were Earthmade, and even on that scale, relatively inexpensive models. They were just robots made to know a few simple things. They would know all the style numbers, their prices, the sizes available in each. They could keep track of stock fluctuations, probably better than humans could, since they would have no outside interests. They could compute the proper orders for the next week. They could measure the customer’s foot.
In themselves, harmless. As a group, incredibly dangerous.
Baley could sympathize with the woman more deeply than he would have believed possible the day before. No, two hours before. He could feel R. Daneel’s nearness and he wondered if R. Daneel could not replace an ordinary plain-clothes man C-1. He could see the barracks, as he thought that. He could taste the yeast mush. He could remember his father.
His father had been a nuclear physicist, with a rating that had put him in the top percentile of the City. There had been an accident at the power plant and his father had borne the blame. He had been declassified. Baley did not know the details; it had happened when he was a year old.
But he remembered the barracks of his childhood; the grinding communal existence just this side of the edge of bearability. He remembered his mother not at all; she had not survived long. His father he recalled well, a sodden man, morose and lost, speaking sometimes of the past in hoarse, broken sentences.
His father died, still declassified, when Lije was eight. Young Baley and his two older sisters moved into the Section orphanage. Children’s Level, they called it. His mother’s brother, Uncle Boris, was himself too poor to prevent that.
So it continued hard. And it was hard going through school, with no father-derived status privileges to smooth the way.
And now he had to stand in the middle of a growing riot and beat down men and women who, after all, only feared declassification for themselves and those they loved, as he himself did.
Tonelessly, he said to the woman who had already spoken, “Let’s not have any trouble, lady. The clerks aren’t doing you any harm.”
“Sure they ain’t done me no harm,” sopranoed the woman. “They ain’t gonna, either. Think I’ll let their cold, greasy fingers touch me? I came in here expecting to get treated like a human being. I’m a citizen. I got a right to have human beings wait on me. And listen, I got two kids waiting for supper. They can’t go to the Section kitchen without me, like they was orphans. I gotta get out of here.”
“Well, now,” said Baley, feeling his temper slipping, “if you had let yourself be waited on, you’d have been out of here by now. You’re just making trouble for nothing. Come on now.”
“Well!” The woman registered shock. “Maybe you think you can talk to me like I was dirt. Maybe it’s time the guv’min’ reelized robots ain’t the only things on Earth. I’m a hard-working woman and I’ve got rights.” She went on and on and on.
Baley felt harassed and caught. The situation was out of hand. Even if the woman would consent to be waited on, the waiting crowd was ugly enough for anything.
There must be a hundred crammed outside the display window now. In the few minutes since the plain-clothes men had entered the store, the crowd had doubled.
“What is the usual procedure in such a case?” asked R. Daneel Olivaw, suddenly.
Baley nearly jumped. He said, “This is an unusual case in the first place.”
“What is the law?”
“The R’s have been duly assigned here. They’re registered clerks. There’s nothing illegal about that.”
They were speaking in whispers. Baley tried to look official and threatening. Olivaw’s expression, as always, meant nothing at all.
“In that case,” said R. Daneel, “order the woman to let herself be waited on or to leave.”
Baley lifted a corner of his lip briefly. “It’s a mob we have to deal with, not a woman. There’s nothing to do but call a riot squad.”
“It should not be necessary for citizens to require more than one officer of the law to direct what should be done,” said Daneel.
He turned his broad face to the store manager. “Open the force door, sir.”
Baley’s arm shot forward to seize R. Daneel’s shoulder, swing him about. He arrested the motion. If, at this moment, two law men quarreled openly, it would mean the end of all chance for a peaceful solution.
The manager protested, looked at Baley. Baley did not meet his eye.
R. Daneel said, unmoved, “I order you with the authority of the law.”
The manager bleated, “I’ll hold the City responsible for any damage to the goods or fixtures. I serve notice that I’m doing this under orders.”
The barrier went down; men and women crowded in. There was a happy roar from them. They sensed victory.
Baley had heard of similar riots. He had even witnessed one. He had seen robots being lifted by a dozen hands, their heavy unresisting bodies carried backward from straining arm to straining arm. Men yanked and twisted at the metal mimicry of men. They used hammers, force knives, needle guns. They finally reduced the miserable objects to shredded metal and wire. Expensive positronic brains, the most intricate creation of the human mind, were thrown from hand to hand like footballs and mashed to uselessness in a trifle of time.
Then, with the genius of destruction so merrily let loose, the mobs turned on anything else that could be taken apart.
The robot clerks could have no knowledge of any of this, but they squealed as the crowd flooded inward and lifted their arms before their faces as though in a primitive effort at hiding. The woman who had started the fuss, frightened at seeing it grow suddenly so far beyond what she had expected, gasped, “Here, now. Here, now.”
Her hat was shoved down over her face and her voice became only a meaningless shrillness.
The manager was shrieking, “Stop them, Officer. Stop them!”
R. Daneel spoke. Without apparent effort, his voice was suddenly decibels higher than a human’s voice had a right to be. Of course, thought Baley for the tenth time, he’s not—
R. Daneel said, “The next man who moves will be shot.”
Someone well in the back yelled, “Get him!”
But for a moment, no one moved.
R. Daneel stepped nimbly upon a chair and from that to the top of a Transtex display case. The colored fluorescence gleaming through the slits of polarized molecular film turned his cool, smooth face into something unearthly.
Unearthly, thought Baley.
The tableau held as R. Daneel waited, a quietly formidable person. R. Daneel said crisply, “You are saying, This man is holding a neuronic whip, or a tickler. If we all rush forward, we will bear him down and at most one or two of us will be hurt and even they will recover. Meanwhile, we will do just as we wish and to space with law and order.”
His voice was neither harsh nor angry, but it carried authority. It had the tone of confident command. He went on, “You are mistaken. What I hold is not a neuronic whip, nor is it a tickler. It is a blaster and very deadly. I will use it and I will not aim over your heads. I will kill many of you before you seize me, perhaps most of you. I am serious. I look serious, do I not?”
There was motion at the outskirts, but the crowd no longer grew. If newcomers still stopped out of curiosity, others were hurrying away. Those nearest R. Daneel were holding their breath, trying desperately not to sway forward in response to the mass pressure of the bodies behind them.
The woman with the hat broke the spell. In a sudden whirlpool of sobbing, she yelled, “He’s gonna kill us. I ain’t done nothing. Oh, lemme outta here.”
She turned, but faced an immovable wall of crammed men and women. She sank to her knees. The backward motion in the silent crowd grew more pronounced.
R. Daneel jumped down from the display counter and said, “I will now walk to the door. I will shoot the man or woman who touches me.
When I reach the door, I will shoot any man or woman who is not moving about his business. This woman here—”
“No, no,” yelled the woman with the hat, “I tell ya I didn’t do nothing. I didn’t mean no harm. I don’t want no shoes. I just wanta go home.”
“This woman here,” went on Daneel, “will remain. She will be waited on.”
He stepped forward.
The mob faced him dumbly. Baley closed his eyes. It wasn’t his fault, he thought desperately. There’ll be murder done and the worst mess in the world, but they forced a robot on me as partner. They gave him equal status.
It wouldn’t do. He didn’t believe himself. He might have stopped R. Daneel at the start. He might at any moment have put in the call for a squad car. He had let R. Daneel take responsibility, instead, and had felt a cowardly relief. When he tried to tell himself that R. Daneel’s personality simply dominated the situation, he was filled with a sudden self-loathing. A robot dominating.
There was no unusual noise, no shouting and cursing, no groans, no yells. He opened his eyes.
They were dispersing.
The manager of the store was cooling down, adjusting his twisted jacket, smoothing his hair, muttering angry threats at the vanishing crowd.
The smooth, fading whistle of a squad car came to a halt just outside. Baley thought: Sure, when it’s all over.
The manager plucked his sleeve. “Let’s have no more trouble, Officer.”
Baley said, “There won’t be any trouble.”
It was easy to get rid of the squad-car police. They had come in response to reports of a crowd in the street. They knew no details and could see for themselves that the street was clear. R. Daneel stepped aside and showed no sign of interest as Baley explained to the men in the squad car, minimizing the event and completely burying R. Daneel’s part in it.
Afterward, he pulled R. Daneel to one side, against the steel and concrete of one of the building shafts.
“Listen,” he said, “I’m not trying to steal your show, you understand.”
“Steal my show? Is it one of your Earth idioms?”
“I didn’t report your part in this.”
“I do not know all your customs. On my world, a complete report is usual, but perhaps it is not so on your world. In any case, civil rebellion was averted. That is the important thing, is it not?”
“Is it? Now you look here.” Baley tried to sound as forceful as possible under the necessity of speaking in an angry whisper. “Don’t you ever do it again.”
“Never again insist on the observance of law? If I am not to do that, what then is my purpose?”
“Don’t ever threaten a human being with a blaster again.”
“I would not have fired under any circumstances, Elijah, as you know very well. I am incapable of hurting a human. But, as you see, I did not have to fire. I did not expect to have to.”
“That was the purest luck, your not having to fire. Don’t take that kind of chance again. I could have pulled the grandstand stunt you did—”
“Grandstand stunt? What is that?”
“Never mind. Get the sense from what I’m saying. I could have pulled a blaster on the crowd myself. I had the blaster to do it with. But it isn’t the kind of gamble I am justified in taking, or you, either. It was safer to call squad cars to the scene than to try one-man heroics.”
R Daneel considered. He shook his head. “I think you are wrong, partner Elijah. My briefing on human characteristics here among the people of Earth includes the information that, unlike the men of the Outer Worlds, they are trained from birth to accept authority. Apparently this is the result of your way of living. One man, representing authority firmly enough, was quite sufficient, as I proved. Your own desire for a squad car was only an expression, really, of your almost instinctive wish for superior authority to take responsibility out of your hands. On my own world, I admit that what I did would have been most unjustified.”
Baley’s long face was red with anger. “If they had recognized you as a robot—”
“I was sure they wouldn’t.”
“In any case, remember that you are a robot. Nothing more than a robot. Just a robot. Like those clerks in the shoe store.”
“But this is obvious.”
“And you’re not human.” Baley felt himself being driven into cruelty against his will.
R. Daneel seemed to consider that. He said, “The division between human and robot is perhaps not as significant as that between intelligence and non-intelligence.”
“Maybe on your world,” said Baley, “but not on Earth.”
He looked at his watch and could scarcely make out that he was an hour and a quarter late. His throat was dry and raw with the thought that R. Daneel had won the first round, had won when he himself had stood by helpless.
He thought of the youngster, Vince Barrett, the teenager whom R. Sammy had replaced. And of himself, Elijah Baley, whom R. Daneel could replace. Jehoshaphat, at least his father had been thrown out because of an accident that had done damage, that had killed people. Maybe it was his fault; Baley didn’t know. Suppose he had been eased out to make room for a mechanical physicist. Just for that. For no other reason. Nothing he could do about it.
He said, curtly, “Let’s go now. I’ve got to get you home.”
R. Daneel said, “You see, it is not proper to make any distinction of lesser meaning than the fact of intel—”
Baley’s voice rose. “All right. The subject is closed. Jessie is waiting for us.” He walked in the direction of the nearest intrasection communo-tube. “I’d better call and tell her we’re on our way up.”
Jehoshaphat, thought Baley, I’m in a fine mood to face Jessie.