NEW PROGRAM READS AS
Then there was nothing. No further letters appeared on the screen. Anders said, "What does it mean?"
"I don't know," Gerhard said. "Maybe another time-sharing terminal is overriding us, but that shouldn't be possible. We locked in priority for our terminal for the last twelve hours. Ours should be the only terminal that can initiate program changes."
The console flashed up new letters.
NEW PROGRAM READS AS MACHINE MALFUNCTION ALL PROGRAMMING TERMINATED TERMINATED TERMINATED TERMINATED TERMINATED TERMINATED TERMINATED TERMINATED TERMINATED
"What?" Gerhard said. He started to punch buttons on the console, then quit. "It isn't accepting any new instructions."
"Something must be wrong with the main computer in the basement."
Ross looked at Anders. "You better show me that computer," he said.
Then, as they watched, one of the consoles went completely dead. All its lights blinked off; the TV screen shrank to a single fading white dot. A second console went off, then a third. The teleprinter stopped printing.
"The computer has shut itself down," Gerhard said.
"It probably had help," Anders said.
He went with Ross to the elevators.
It was a damp evening, and cold as they hurried across the parking lot toward the main building. Anders was checking his gun, turning it sideways to catch the light from the parking-lot lamps.
"I think you should know one thing," she said. "It's no good threatening him with that. He won't respond rationally to it."
Anders smiled. "Because he's a machine?"
"He just won't respond. If he has a seizure, he won't see it, won't recognize it, won't react appropriately to it."
They entered the hospital through the brightly lit main entrance, and walked back to the central elevator banks. Anders said, "Where's the atomic pack located?"
"Beneath the skin of his right shoulder."
"Here," she said, pointing to her own shoulder, tracing a rectangle.
"Yes. About the size of a pack of cigarettes."
"Okay," Anders said.
They took the elevator to the basement. There were two cops in the elevator car, and they were both tense, fidgety, hands touching their guns.
As they rode down, Anders nodded to his own gun. "You ever fire one of these?"
"Never at all?"
He didn't say anything after that. The elevator doors opened. They felt the coolness of the basement air and looked down the corridor ahead - bare concrete walls, unpainted; overhead pipes running along the ceiling, harsh electric lighting. They stepped out. The doors closed behind them.
They stood for a moment, listening. They heard nothing except the distant hum of power equipment. Anders whispered,
"Anybody usually in the basement at night?"
She nodded. "Maintenance people. Pathologists, if they're still going."
"The pathology labs are down here?"
"Where's the computer?"
She led him down the corridor. Straight ahead was the laundry room. It was locked for the night, but huge carts with bundles of laundry were outside in the corridor. Anders eyed the bundles cautiously before they moved on to the central kitchens.
The kitchens were shut down, too, but the lights were on, burning in a vast expanse of white-tiled rooms, with stainless-steel steam tables in long rows. "This is a short cut," she said as they went through the kitchen. Their footsteps echoed on the tiles. Anders walked loosely, holding his gun slightly ahead, barrel pointed out to the side.
They passed through the kitchen and back into another hallway. It was almost identical to the one they had left. Anders glanced at her questioningly. She knew he was lost; she remembered the months it had taken her to learn her way through the basement. "Turn right," she said.
They passed a sign on the wall: EMPLOYEES REPORT ALL ACCIDENTS TO YOUR SUPERVISOR. It showed a man with a small cut on his finger. Further down was another sign: NEED A LOAN? SEE YOUR CREDIT UNION.
They turned right down another corridor, and approached a small section containing vending machines - hot coffee, doughnuts, sandwiches, candy bars. She remembered all the late nights when she had been a resident in the hospital and had come down to the vending machines for a snack. The old days, when being a doctor seemed like a good and hopeful thing to be. Great advances would be made during her lifetime; it would be exciting; she would be a part of it.
Anders peered into the vending area, then paused. He whispered: "Have a look at this."
She looked, astonished. Every machine had been smashed. There were candy bars and sandwiches wrapped in plastic strewn across the floor. Coffee was pouring in short, arterial spurts from the coffee vender onto the floor.
Anders stepped around the puddles of coffee and soda and touched the dents and tears in the metal of the machines.
"Looks like an axe," he said. "Where would he get an axe?"
"Fire-extinguisher stations have them."
"I don't see the axe here," he said, looking around the room. Then he glanced at her.
She didn't reply. They left the vending area and continued down the corridor. They came to a turn in the tunnels.
"Which way now?"
"Left," she said. And she added: "We're very close."
Ahead of them, the hall took another turn. Ross knew that hospital records was around the turn, and just beyond that, the computer. The planners had located the computer near the records room because they eventually hoped to computerize all the hospital records.
Suddenly Anders froze. She stopped and listened with him. They heard footsteps, and humming - somebody humming a tune.
Anders put his finger to his lips, and gestured to Ross to stay where she was. He moved forward, toward the turn in the corridor. The humming was louder. He paused at the turn and looked cautiously around the corner. Ross held her breath.
"Hey!" a male voice shouted, and suddenly Anders's arm flicked around the corner like a snake, and a man sprawled across the floor, skidding down the hall toward Ross. "Hey!" A bucket of water sloshed across the floor. Ross saw that it was an elderly maintenance man. She went over to him.
"What the- "
"Sh-h-h," she said, a finger to her lips. She helped the man back to his feet.
Anders came back. "Don't leave the basement," he said to the man. "Go to the kitchen and wait. Don't try to leave." His voice was an angry hiss.
Ross knew what he was saying. Anyone who tried to leave the basement now was likely to be shot by the waiting cops.
The man was nodding, frightened and confused.
"It's all right," Ross said to him.
"I didn't do nothin'."
"There's a man down here we have to find," Ross said.
"Just wait until it's over."
"Stay in the kitchen," Anders said.
The man nodded, brushed himself off, and walked away. He looked back once, shaking his head. She and Anders continued along the corridor, turned a corner, and came to the records section. A large sign sticking out from the wall said: PATIENT RECORDS.
Anders looked at her questioningly. She nodded. They went inside.
Records was a giant space, filled with floor-toceiling shelves of patient records. It was like an enormous library. Anders paused in surprise.
"Lot of bookkeeping," she said.
"Is this every patient the hospital ever had?"
"No," she said. "Every patient seen in the last five years. The others are stored in a warehouse."
They moved down the parallel stacks of shelves quietly, Anders leading with his gun. Occasionally he would pause to look through a gap in the shelves to another corridor. They saw no one at all.
"Anybody on duty here?"
She scanned the rows of charts. The record room always impressed her. As a practicing doctor she had an image of medical practice that involved large numbers of patients. She had treated hundreds, seen thousands for a single hour or a few weeks. Yet the hospital records ran into the millions - and that was just one hospital, in one city, in one country. Millions and millions of patients.
"We have a thing like this, too," Anders said. "You lose records often?"
"All the time."
He sighed. "So do we."
At that moment, a young girl no more than fifteen or sixteen came around the corner. She carried a stack of records in her arms. Anders had his gun up in an instant. The girl looked, dropped the records, and started to scream.
"Quiet," Anders hissed.
The scream was cut off abruptly, to a kind of gurgle. The girl's eyes were wide.
"I'm a policeman," Anders said. He flicked out his shoulder wallet to show the badge. "Have you seen anyone here?"
"This man."' He showed her the picture.
She looked at it, and shook her head.
"Yes… I mean, no… I mean…"
Ross said, "I think we should go on to the computer." In some way, she was embarrassed at frightening the girl. The hospital hired high school and college students part-time to do the clerical work in records; they weren't paid much.
Ross herself remembered when she had been frightened at about the same age. She had been walking in the woods with a boy. They had seen a snake. The boy told her it was a rattlesnake, and she was terrified. Much later she learned he had been teasing her. The snake was harmless. She had resented-
"All right," Anders said. "The computer. Which way?"
Ross led the way out. Anders turned back once to the girl, who was picking up the charts she had dropped. "Listen," he said. "If you do see this man, don't talk to him. Don't do anything except shout your bloody head off. You understand?"
And then Ross realized that the rattlesnake was real, this time. It was all real.
They came out into the corridor again, and continued down it toward the computer section. The computer section was the only refinished part of the basement. The bare concrete floor changed abruptly to blue carpeting; one corridor wall had been knocked out to install large glass windows that looked in, from the corridor, to the room that housed the main banks of the computer. Ross remembered when the computer was being installed; it seemed to her that the windows were an unnecessary expense, and she had mentioned it to McPherson.
"Better let the people see what's coming," McPherson had replied.
"What does that mean?"
"It means that the computer is just a machine. Bigger and more expensive than most, but still just a machine. We want people to get used to it. We don't want them to fear or worship it. We want them to see it as part of the environment."
Yet every time she passed the computer section, she had the opposite feelings: the special treatment, the hallway carpeting, and the expensive surroundings served to make the computer special, unusual, unique. She thought it significant that the only other place in the hospital where the floor was carpeted was outside the small nondenominational chapel on the first floor. She had the same sense here: a shrine to the computer.
Did the computer care if there were carpets on the floor?
In any case, the employees of the hospital had provided their own reaction to the spectacle inside the glass windows. A handwritten sign had been taped to the glass: DO NOT FEED OR MOLEST THE COMPUTER.
She and Anders crouched down below the level of the window. Anders peered over cautiously.
"What do you see?" she said.
"I think I see him."
She looked, too. She was aware that her heart was suddenly pounding; her body was tense and expectant.
Inside the room there were six magnetic tape units, a broad L-shaped console for the central processor, a printer, a card-punch reader, and two disc drive units. The equipment was shiny, sharp-edged, gleaming. It sat quiet under even, fluorescent lighting. She saw no one - just the equipment, isolated, alone. It reminded her of Stonehenge, the vertical stone columns.
Then she saw him: a man moving between two tape units. White orderly's coat, black hair.
"It's him," she said.
"Where's the door?" Anders asked. For no good reason, he was checking his gun again. He snapped the revolver chamber closed with a loud click.
"Down there." She pointed down the corridor to the door, perhaps ten feet away.
"Any other entrances or exits?"
Her heart was still pounding. She looked from Anders to the gun and back to Anders.
"Okay. You stay down." Anders pressed her down to the floor as he spoke. Then he crawled forward to the door. He paused, got to his knees, and looked back at her once. She was surprised to see that he was frightened. His face was taut, his body hunched tensely. He held the gun stiffly forward by his straight arm.
We're all afraid, she thought.
Then, with a loud slam, Anders knocked the door open and flung himself on his belly into the room. She heard him shout, "Benson!" And then almost immediately there was a gunshot. This was followed by a second shot, and a third. She could not tell who was firing. She saw Anders's feet sticking out of the door as he lay on the carpeting. Gray smoke billowed out through the open door and rose lazily in the corridor.
There were two more shots and a loud scream of pain. She closed her eyes and pressed her cheek to the carpet. Anders shouted: "Benson! Give it up, Benson!"
It won't do any good, she thought. Didn't Anders understand?
Still more shots, in rapid succession. Suddenly, the glass window above her shattered, and large slabs of glass fell over her shoulders, onto her hair. She shook it off. And then to her astonishment Benson landed on the corridor floor beside her. He had thrown himself through the glass window and landed quite close to her. His body was just a few feet from her. She saw that one leg was bloody, red seeping onto the white trouser leg.
Her voice cracked strangely. She was terrified. She knew she should not be afraid of this man - that was a disservice to him, a betrayal of her profession, and a loss of some important trust - but she was afraid nonetheless.
Benson looked at her, eyes blank and unseeing. He ran off down the basement corridor.
"Harry, wait- "
"Never mind," Anders said, coming out of the computer room, sprinting after Benson, holding his gun stiffly in his hand. The policeman's posture was absurd; she wanted to laugh. She heard Benson's running footsteps echoing faintly down the tunnel. Then Anders turned a corner, continuing after him. The footsteps blended in staccato echoes.
And then she was alone. She got to her feet, dazed, feeling sick. She knew what was going to happen now, Benson, like a trapped animal, would head for one of the emergency exits. As soon as he appeared outside - where it was safe to shoot - the waiting policemen would gun him down. All the exits were covered. There was no possible escape. She didn't want to be there to see it.
Instead, she went into the computer room and looked around. The main computer was demolished. Two magnetic tape banks were knocked over; the main control panel was riddled with fine round punctures, and sparks sputtered and dripped from the panel toward the floor. She ought to control that, she thought. It might start a fire. She looked around for a fire extinguisher and saw Benson's axe lying on the carpet in a corner. And then she saw the gun.
Curious, she picked it up. It was surprisingly heavy, much heavier than she expected. It felt big and greasy and cold in her hand. She knew Anders had his gun; therefore this must be Benson's. Benson's gun. She stared at it oddly, as if it might tell her something about him.
From somewhere in the basement, there were four gunshots in rapid succession. They echoed through the labyrinthine hospital tunnels. She walked to the broken windows and looked out at the tunnels. She saw nothing, heard nothing.
It must be finished, she thought. The sputtering, hissing sound of sparks behind her made her turn. There was also a slapping sound, repetitive and monotonous. She saw that one of the magnetic tape reels had spun out, and the edge of the tape was slapping against the hardware spindle.
She went back to the reel and turned it off. She glanced up at one of the display consoles, which was now printing
"ERMINA" over and over. "ERMINA, ERMINA." Then there were two more gunshots, not so distant as the others, and she realized that somehow Benson was still alive, still going. She stood in a corner of the demolished computer room and waited.
Another gunshot, very close now.
She ducked down behind one of the magnetic tape banks as she heard approaching footsteps. She was aware of the irony: Benson had been hiding behind the computers, and now she was hiding, cowering behind the metal columns, as if they could protect her in some way.
She heard someone gasping for breath; the footsteps paused; the door to the computer room opened, then closed with a slam. She was still hidden behind the tape bank, and could not see what was happening.
A second set of running feet went past the computer room and continued down the corridor, fading into echoes. Everything was quiet. Then she heard heavy breathing and a cough.
Harry Benson, in his torn white orderly's clothes, his left leg very red, was sprawled on the carpet, his body half-propped up against the wall. He was sweating; his breath came in ragged gasps; he stared straight ahead, unaware of anyone else in the room.
She still held the gun in her hand, and she felt a moment of elation. Somehow it was all going to work out. She was going to get him back alive. The police hadn't killed him, and by the most unbelievable stroke of luck she had him alone, to herself. It made her wonderfully happy.
He looked over slowly and blinked. He did not seem to recognize her for a moment, and then he smiled. "Hello, Dr. Ross."
It was a nice smile. She had the brief image of McPherson, with his white hair, bending over to congratulate her on saving the project and getting Benson back alive. And then she remembered, quite incongruously, how her own father had gotten sick and had suddenly had to leave her medical-school graduation ceremonies. Why did she think of that now?
"Everything is going to be all right, Harry," she said. Her voice was full of confidence; it pleased her.
She wanted to reassure him, so she did not move, did not approach him. She stayed across the room, behind the computer data bank.
He continued to breathe heavily, and said nothing for a moment. He looked around the room at the demolished computer equipment. "I really did it," he said. "Didn't I?"
"You're going to be fine, Harry," she said. She was drawing up a schedule in her mind. He could undergo emergency surgery on his leg that night, and in the morning they could disconnect his computer, reprogram the electrodes, and everything would be corrected. A disaster would be salvaged. It was the most incredible piece of luck. Ellis would keep his house. McPherson would continue to expand the NPS into new areas. They would be grateful. They would recognize her achievement and appreciate what she-
"Dr. Ross…" He started to get up, wincing in pain.
"Don't try to move. Stay where you are, Harry."
"I have to."
"Stay where you are, Harry."
Benson's eyes flashed briefly, and the smile was gone.
"Don't call me Harry. My name is Mr. Benson. Call me Mr. Benson."
There was no mistaking the anger in his voice. It surprised her and upset her. She was trying to help him.
Didn't he know that she was the only one who still wanted to help him? The others would be just as happy if he died.
He continued to struggle to his feet.
"Don't move, Harry." She showed him the gun then. It was an angry, hostile move. He had angered her. She knew she shouldn't get angry at him, but she had.
He grinned in childish recognition. "That's my gun."
"I have it now," she said.
He still grinned, a fixed expression, partly from pain. He got to his feet and leaned heavily against the wall. There was a dark red stain on the carpet where his leg had rested. He looked down and saw it.
"I'm hurt," he said.
"Don't move. You'll be all right."
"He shot me in the leg…" He looked from the blood up to her. His smile remained. "You wouldn't use that, would you?"
"Yes," she said, "if I had to."
"You're my doctor."
"Stay where you are, Harry."
"I don't think you would use it," Benson said. He took a step toward her.
"Don't come closer, Harry."
He smiled. He took another step, unsteady, but he maintained his balance. "I don't think you would."
His words frightened her. She was afraid that she would shoot him, and afraid that she would not. It was the strangest set of circumstances, alone with this man, surrounded by the wreckage of a computer.
"Anders!" she shouted. "Anders!" Her voice echoed through the basement.
Benson took another step. His eyes never left her face. He started to fall, and leaned heavily on one of the disc drive consoles. It tore his white jacket at the armpit. He looked at the tear numbly. "It tore…"
"Stay there, Harry. Stay there." It's like talking to an animal, she thought. Do not feed or molest the animals. She felt like a lion tamer in the circus.
He hung there a moment, supporting himself on the drive console, breathing heavily. "I want the gun," he said. "I need it. Give it to me."
With a grunt, he pushed away from the console and continued moving toward her.
"It's no good," Benson said. "There's no time left, Dr. Ross." His eyes were on her. She saw the pupils expand briefly as he received a stimulation. "That's beautiful," he said, and smiled.
The stimulation seemed to halt him for a time. He was turned inward, enjoying the sensation. When he spoke again, his voice was calm and distant. "You see," he said, "they are after me. They have turned their little computers against me. The program is hunt. Hunt and kill. The original human program. Hunt and kill. Do you understand?"
He was only a few steps away. She held the gun in her hand stiffly, as she had seen Anders hold it. But her hand was shaking badly. "Please don't come closer, Harry," she said.
He took another step.
She didn't really know what she was going to do until she found herself squeezing the trigger, and the gun discharged. The noise was painfully loud, and the gun snapped in her hand, flinging her arm up, almost knocking her off her feet. She was thrown back against the far wall of the computer room.
Benson stood blinking in the smoke. Then he smiled again.
"It's not as easy as it looks."
She gripped the gun in her hand. It felt warm now. She raised it, but it was shaking worse than before. She steadied it with the other hand.
"No closer, Harry. I mean it."
A flood of images overcame her. She saw Benson as she had first met him, a meek man with a terrifying problem. She saw him in a montage of all the hour-long interviews, all the tests, all the drug trials. He was a good person, an honest and frightened person. Nothing that had happened was his fault. It was her fault, and Ellis's fault, and McPherson's fault, and Morris's fault.
Then she thought of Morris, the face mashed into a red pulp, deformed into butcher meat.
"Dr. Ross," Benson said. "You're my doctor. You wouldn't do anything to hurt me."
He was very close now. His hands reached out for the gun. Her whole body was shaking as she watched the hands move closer, within inches of the barrel, reaching for it, reaching for it…
She fired at point-blank range.
With remarkable agility, Benson jumped and spun in the air, dodging the bullet. She was pleased. She had managed to drive him back without hurting him. Anders would arrive any minute to help subdue him before they took him to surgery.
Benson's body slammed hard into the printing unit, knocking it over. It began to clatter in a monotonous, mechanical way as the keys printed out some message. Benson rolled onto his back. Blood spurted in heavy thick gushes from his chest. His white uniform became darkly red.
"Harry?" she said.
He did not move.
She didn't remember clearly what happened after that.
Anders returned and took the gun from her hand. He moved her to the side of the room as three men in gray suits arrived, carrying a long plastic capsule on a stretcher. They opened the capsule up; the inside was lined in a strange, yellow honeycomb insulation. They lifted Benson's body - she noticed they were careful, trying to keep the blood off their special suits - and placed him inside the capsule. They closed it and locked it with special locks. Two of the men carried it away. A third went around the room with a Geiger counter, which chattered loudly. Somehow the sound reminded her of an angry monkey. The man went over to Ross. She couldn't see his face behind the gray helmet he wore; the glass was fogged.
"You better leave this area," the man said.
Anders put his arm around her shoulders. She began to cry.