Cyrano de Cybernet


A fantasy romance that caricatures the foibles of two modern-day hypocrites

Cyrano de Cybernet

Will Strickland flipped switches, turned dials, and moved levers on the lighted control panel: the metal robot sitting at the far end of the living room stood up and walked ponderously toward him. Will’s fingers moved rapidly among the controls as he piloted the robot in a slow circle about the room.

At last!

He finally had the robot perfected to the point where it could walk more than six steps without falling on its chrome steel skull.

He spoke into the microphone, and his voice echoed back to him from the small speaker inside the robot’s mouth. “Testing—testing—I’m a jolly good fellow today; I’ve decided to be a good robot and cooperate with the poor mortal who worked so hard to put me together.”

He switched the control panel off and walked over to the robot, pushing gently against it to test its balance in a standing position. Pretty solid. it was exactly his own height, five feet ten, but it outweighed him by six pounds; it had a little more metal in its system than he had.

He left the robot standing there and turned to the cubical metal frame that towered nearly to the ceiling, dominating the small living room. A steel skeleton, the same height as both Will and the robot but weighing only 127 pounds, hung suspended from the top of the frame by vertical bars that socketed into its shoulders, leaving its feet dangling six inches above the floor.

The “skeleton” was actually a new control unit he had designed to replace the conventional control panel. Even though the control panel worked, it was so complicated that the operator needed the skill and coordination of a jet pilot to evoke the most elementary motions in the robot. A small child could walk or pick up something in his hand without having to understand how his muscles worked in opposition to one another to provide balance and control. With the control skeleton, a man could operate a robot as easily as he could operate his own body, simply by strapping himself to the skeleton and doing whatever he wanted the robot to do; the robot would copy his motions, “reading” them electronically through the motions of the skeleton.

Since the only way he could make the robot walk was to walk himself, and since it would be next to useless to have a robot if he had to follow along behind it wherever it went, he had suspended the skeleton in the air so its feet wouldn’t touch the floor. This way the man and the skeleton would do their walking in the air, and leave the traveling to the robot. The robot could walk all over town while the man and the skeleton remained in this room, suspended from the overhead frame.

He had visions of a future filled with robots working on the surface of the moon, other planets, and interplanetary space, doing dangerous work that needed to be done, while the operators of the robots remained in safer areas.

But before all this could happen, he had to make the first one work.

He stepped inside the frame and pushed the button that lowered the skeleton until its feet touched the floor. Then he backed up to the skeleton and stepped on top of its flat feet, strapping them to his own as though he were putting on a pair of roller skates. He worked his way up his ankles, calves, and upper legs, fastening the straps; the right leg of the skeleton fit snugly against the right side of his own right leg, and the left leg fit similarly on the other side of his body. The shoulders of the skeleton rested on top of his own, and its arms came down just to the outside of his own. He slipped his hands into the metallic gauntlets at the ends of the arms and finished strapping in.

He pressed the suspension button and the vertical bars lifted him until his feet cleared the floor by six inches; then he switched on the power to the skeleton control unit and raised his right arm to shoulder height. The robot raised its right arm halfway to shoulder height and stopped.

He made a careful walking motion; the robot lurched forward and fell with a shattering crash.

“Blast!” Will growled.

“Blast!” the robot agreed.

He listened for a moment but heard no footsteps pounding up the stairwelt; that was one thing he could be thankful for. The tenants in the apartment just below his used to come scrambling up the stairs every time the robot fell.

They had not been very understanding about the cause of science; they were devout proponents of peace and quiet. They’d told him so several times, at the tops of their lungs.

Then one day he’d had the robot answer the door.

They hadn’t been back since.

He switched off the power, lowered his feet to the floor, and unstrapped from the skeleton. This was enough for one day’s work; the robot had walked consistently well under the control of the panel, and this was the most success he’d tasted since he’d begun this project. Now he knew that the remaining trouble had to be somewhere in the motion-translation unit of the control skeleton.

But that could wait till tomorrow. Friday night was no time to be working on a robot, especially when he had a date with Carol.

He picked up the phone and dialed.

“Hello.” It was Carol’s voice.

“Hi, Carol; this is Will. What time shall I come by tonight?”

“Oh, it’s you. … Sorry, but I won’t be able to make it to the dance tonight. Something came up.”

He hesitated. “But Carol—we’ve had this date for three weeks.”

“Well, I just can’t go.”

“Why? What happened?”

“Something just came up.”

He swallowed, and his throat hurt. “As I recall, something came up last time, too.”

She laughed. “Did it? Shame on me. Well, I don’t really have time to talk to you now, Will; I have things to do. See you around campus sometime.”

The phone clicked in his ear.

He slammed it into the cradle.

This was the fifth time she’d done this to him!

“And by George, it’s the last!” He stalked into the bedroom and whipped his shirt off, ripping off the bottom button, which he had neglected to unbutton.

“I’m going to that dance stag! And as for Carol,” he slung his pants at the bed and missed, “She’s seen the last of me!”

He jerked on a clean pair of pants and a new shirt; he cinched his necktie ferociously, strangling himself, and coughed a couple of times before he could loosen it.

As he wrenched open the door of his apartment, he cast one last glance back at the robot, which was now sitting quietly in its usual chair, then he slammed the door splinteringly shut behind him.

There were several nice girls at the dance, but most of them had dates. He danced a few dances but didn’t meet any staglet girls who particularly impressed him.

In spite of every gram of will power he could muster, he always caught himself comparing them to Carol.

Then he saw a girl at the far end of the dance floor who, at first glance, compared favorably with Carol. He looked more closely.

Great Scott! It was Carol!

She was dancing with a tall, handsome fellow who looked sophisticated but stupid.

And she was enjoying herself.

When the music stopped, he strolled over to them, controlling himself every second. “May I have the next one?” he asked politely.

Carol turned a little pink.

The tall fellow stiffened. “Why don’t you get with it and go hustle your own date?”

Will stepped forward dangerously. “I thought I had one,” he explained, “until about an hour ago.” He glanced at Carol. “But something came up.”

“You’ll have to excuse us now, Will,” Carol said smoothly, “they’re starting to dance again. And you really shouldn’t be in the middle of the dance floor if you’re not going to dance.”

She danced away with her tall, dark hero.

Will stormed off the floor. “I’ll get even with you, baby, if it takes twenty years!”

He bolted out the exit and headed for home.

He thundered into his apartment and punched the door shut with a frustrated fist. He began to pace to and fro in front of the quietly seated robot.

Carol would break a date with him whenever, wherever, and however she felt like it. And that was usually whenever some good-looking goon came along and gave her the eye. If he were a handsome animal, it seemed to make no difference to Carol if he didn’t have the wits to tie his shoes.

Carol didn’t care. To her an empty head was as good as a full one, as long as it had a flashy covering. She was the flightiest girl he’d ever known.

Also the most beautiful. And certainly the most intelligent, except for her little mental problem concerning men.

In the beginning she’d given him the rush and totally overwhelmed him. Six weeks later she was finished with him and on to the next conquest, wastebasketting him like a used kleenex.

He discovered later, by personal observation, that three weeks was her usual toleration limit for any one fellow. Unfortunately, she was nice-looking enough that she never had any difficulty at all in snagging replacements for her rejects. Whenever she had a new one in the net, she just started breaking dates with her latest victim until he got the message and gave up.

But Will wouldn’t give up. He didn’t have much trouble getting the message, but giving up was not a part of his psychology, at least not after having come to know the real Carol. He was in love with that girl.

“I hate her!” he growled.

The robot sat silently in front of him, like a metal Mona Lisa. Uncontrollably he began to try to explain Carol to his mute companion.

“Inside I know she’s a wonderful, sensitive person. She’s just afraid of commitment. And she’s brilliant,” he added in ultimate defense. He’d discovered that almost by accident when he’d seen the grade point average on her semester report one day before she had hastily stuffed it into her purse. She seemed to consider her intelligence a deficit. And it was with most of the guys she dated.

Suddenly he stared at the robot as if he really saw him for the first time. He approached the uncooperative control unit with the pure light of fanaticism shining in his eyes.

“Now, sister, we’re going to see who’s boss! Now I’m really motivated!”

He worked all night. At six-thirty Saturday morning he strapped himself to the control skeleton for the fourth time and raised his right arm to shoulder height.

The robot’s right arm lifted to shoulder height!

He took one careful step forward. The robot did likewise!

He threw his fists to the heavens and shouted jubilantly!

The robot raised steel fists to the skies and cheered earnestly.

He walked the robot cautiously about the room, making sure of its balance with each stride. What a strange sensation, hanging from the frame and making walking motions but going nowhere, while a robot on the other side of the room did his walking for him.

Physically, he felt as though he were actually walking. The skeleton transmitted the force of his muscles to the robot, and the robot transmitted the forces acting on it back to the skeleton.

He sat the robot down on the davenport. His own legs actually moved upward, so that he appeared to be sitting on air, but he was really sitting supported by the legs of the control skeleton, which, in turn, were held up by the forces transmitted to them by the legs of the seated robot.

The skeleton had a system of wire muscles that duplicated the functions of the muscles in the human body, and these muscles were actually applying the forces necessary to hold up his legs. But they received their instructions electronically from the legs of the robot.

As long as no one shut off his electricity, he could sit there in the air until he starved to death. Which reminded him, he’d better not forget to pay his light bill before Tuesday.

He made the robot lie down on the davenport. His body stretched out horizontally in the air, lifted by the wire muscles of the vertical bars like a giant forearm being lifted by a flexing bicep.

When he closed his eyes, his body told him he was lying securely on the davenport—all of his body, all that is except his stomach, which remained stoutly unconvinced.

He brought himself and the robot to a standing position again, lowered the skeleton’s feet to the floor, and turned off the power.

“Whew!” He unstrapped. “Your body tells you one thing, and your eyes accuse your body of perjury. That’s what you’d call cognitive dissonance.”

It was now time to install the robot’s eyes and ears so he could pilot it at a distance. He hadn’t installed them before because he hadn’t wanted to take needless chances of smashing them in one of the robot’s crash landings.

By a quarter to eleven he had the miniaturized TV cameras placed inside the eye sockets and the little radio transmitters inside the ears. He strapped himself to the control skeleton and pulled the audio-visual helmet down over his head. The transistorized TVs in the inside of the helmet, one in front of each eye, gave him not only clear vision, but also three-dimensional depth of field. The twin radio receivers next to his ears gave him a normal sense of hearing from the robot.

When he turned on the power, the first thing he saw was Will Strickland dangling from the great frame like a living puppet. With the steel skeleton strapped to his body and the audio-visual helmet over his head, he looked like nothing the planet Earth could possibly have produced.

He laughed. “Will Strickland, Puppet-Man from Planet X.”

He walked around the frame, fascinated by seeing himself as he really was, from all angles. “O wad some pow’r the giftie gie us, to see oursil’s as ithers see us.”

He walked over to the bookshelf and pulled out a volume of Thoreau. He opened it and, with some persistence, succeeded in turning the pages one at a time. He had the sensation of wearing thick gloves.

He put the book back on the shelf. Now that he was confident in his ability to control the robot in every way, he had only one need left to fulfill.

Sleep.

He parked the robot in its chair, switched off the power, and lowered himself to the floor. He unstrapped, walked wearily into the bedroom, and flopped onto the bed without undressing.

The next thing he knew, it was a little past four o’clock and he was hungry. He crawled out of bed, cooked and ate two hamburgers, and drank half a quart of milk.

Then he went to the supply closet and pulled out a box containing fleshy plastic. He began to form a face for the robot, a very handsome face, one that would catch Carol in mid-flight and cause her to abandon this week’s infatuation and teach her a lesson she’d never forget.

At a quarter after three Thursday afternoon he finished his work on the robot’s face. He was no sculptor, but he was a good design engineer, and he made the plastic face by taking careful measurements of faces in photographs and reproducing a nose from one, a mouth from another, and so on. The finished product was diabolically handsome.

Then he adjusted the voice box in the robot’s throat so that its voice was altered significantly from his own. If Carol recognized his voice, the game would be over fast.

He dressed the robot in his newest suit and tie, and inspected him for human credibility. He looked a great deal more human than some of the guys he’d seen hanging around on campus.

Twenty minutes later he piloted his cybernetic Cyrano through the door of the library. He noticed, with a mixture of pride and disgust, that the girls were paying much more attention to him than usual.

He was sure that Carol would be in the library, but he couldn’t see her anywhere. She usually sat at the table nearest the door, where she could keep her speculative eyes on all the males entering and where no male could possibly avoid being exposed to a full-length view of Carol Carter.

Carol believed in prime viewing areas.

Sometimes he wondered how he’d ever gotten mixed up with such a girl in the first place. And whenever he did, it never took him long to remember. She’d swooped down on him like a Golden Eagle, capturing him in something under four minutes.

He’d never had a chance. Somewhere in the third week of their whirlwind romance she had allowed him to catch a glimpse of her deeper thoughts, though most of the time she kept herself camouflaged behind the irrationality inherent to being a beautiful woman. But why he still loved her after all—

Splat!

Out of the stacks a blur of femininity had flashed, impacting solidly against his chest.

The robot toppled backwards!

He fought wildly for balance; a fall might knock out the audiovisual, maybe even the control unit—

He grasped desperately with both hands. His right hand caught the edge of the stacks and held; his left arm girdled the girl’s waist, bearing her several inches into the air.

She squeeled shrilly, breathlessly, in his left ear.

It was Carol!

It would be Carol. This was just another of her clever little tricks to meet a man. Hiding in the stacks and springing out on him like a leopard when he passed by.

The little ambusher …

He set her down gently.

“Ohhhh!” she gasped. “Excuse me.” She was still a little breathless, whether by nature or by design he couldn’t tell, and she stood very close to him, shining her sapphire eyes up into his.

That one never failed her; even as a robot he felt limp all over. He knew that if he had built an olfactory sense into the robot, he would now be mesmerized by her perfume, as well as all the rest.

And Carol didn’t need perfume, as long as she had all the rest.

She looked at him in rapt admiration. “My, but you’re strong.” She felt the arm that had so lately been locked about her waist. “Why, your arm is just like steel! Unbelievable!”

“I—uhhhh—lift weights.”

“You must!” She paused. “My name’s Carol. Carol Carter. What’s yours?”

“Cy,” he said, searching frantically for a last name. “Cy Burnett.”

“Cy Burnett,” she repeated. “How masculine. It fits you.” She appraised him for a few more seconds. Subconsciously she thought, Cybernet? How interesting. “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

“Yes, fairly new.”

“I didn’t think I’d ever seen you before. If I had, I surely would have remembered.” She flashed her eyes up into his and smiled. “Say, have you ever been to the sundial?”

“No.” Not as Cy, he hadn’t. As Will, he’d been there several times with Carol; it was her favorite setting for romance, and she always lured her prey there as soon as it was at all feasible. But her speed today, as far as he knew, broke all her previous records.

“Come on, then,” she urged. “It’s time you had the experience. It’s beautiful there in the late afternoon.”

“Do you go there often?”

She looked at him as though she weren’t sure whether to be embarrassed or not. She decided not to be. “Yes, it’s lovely there. Come on and I’ll show you.”

He followed her from the library.

Will was dismayed at his failure as a man and his success as a robot. There was one consolation; Carol Carter was going to be the one who got hurt this time.

The sundial was surrounded by flowers, trees, and bushes, with a little pond nearby. Carol sat down in the grass and motioned him down beside her.

It was a relief to sit down and rest; he’d been walking his robot now for forty-five minutes, nonstop.

“Mmmmmm,” breathed Carol. “Smell those flowers.”

He sniffed, smelled nothing, and remembered the robot wasn’t equipped to smell. “Yes,” he agreed. “Very nice.”

She chatted on and on for nearly an hour. Will wasn’t used to such long discussion periods with her; of late, they had been very brief and very no-nonsense. Remembering that he abruptly stood up. “Sorry to end this, but I’ve got to get some studying done.”

“That’s too bad,” she said in surprise, “just when we were getting so well acquainted.”

She lowered her lashes at him in a way that stopped his heart, lungs, and brain from their normal duties. “There’s a darling movie playing on campus” she purred. “Why don’t we go to it together Friday night, and we can continue getting better acquainted?”

First his pulse came back, then his breath, and finally about half the reasoning power of his brain. “That sounds interesting,” he said and glanced at his watch. “Ten till five. I’d really better get back to the library.” He was being an emotional man of iron.

She sighed. “I suppose so.”

“So long,” he tossed back over his shoulder. “See you around.”

“See you Friday night,” she reminded him. “Do you still have my phone number and address?” she called after him more urgently. “I put it in your left shirt pocket; it’s a little pink slip of paper.”

“It’s still there,” he assured her, patting his chrome steel chest, “right next to my heart.”

They had to walk to the movie Friday night. He didn’t trust Cy with the car yet. Besides, he couldn’t have Cy Burnett show up for a date driving Will Strickland’s car. He told Carol he couldn’t use the car because of technical problems.

She didn’t mind walking; she said the fresh air and exercise would be good for her. And before the evening was over, they had a date for the ballet on Saturday night.

They had a great Saturday night. When he took her home, she kissed him and made sure he remembered that they had a definite date for the following Friday night. He didn’t actually remember making the date with her, but he certainly remembered some broad hints she’d been throwing him throughout the evening.

He was gratified to see just how thoroughly infatuated she had become with Cy Burnett.

This meant that the time was now ripe for Phase Two.

The following Friday evening, Will had his speech well-rehearsed. At twenty minutes till seven, which was the time he was supposed to be at Carol’s house, he activated the robot’s speaker control and called her.

She picked up the phone in four seconds flat; he was timing her. “Hello.” Her voice was especially musical tonight; he almost relented in his plan.

Almost, but not quite. He’d made a definite commitment to himself.

“Hi, Carol; this is Cy.”

“I know,” she purred, “I’m ready now, so any time you come will be fine with me.”

He hated himself. “Sorry about this, Carol, but I won’t be able to make it tonight.”

“Ohhhh.” The disappointment in her voice gave him a sadistic thrill. “What happened, Cy?”

“Something came up.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “Something just—came up? But—we had a date, Cy.” Her voice was shaky, as though she were about to cry.

He didn’t feel heroic.

But he forced himself to remember all the times she’d done this to him. “Well, something just came up.” This was an exact quotation from the last time she’d jilted him. He wondered if it would strike a familiar chord in her conscience.

He hoped so.

There was another long interval. “All right, Cy,” she said meekly. “Cy? There’s a wonderful play tomorrow night, Picnic in the Park. I’ve wanted to see it for ever so long. Would you like to … well, what I mean is, if you can’t make it tonight, and since we did have a date …”

Her voice trailed off pathetically.

“Sounds okay.” He was glad of a chance to relent a little without breaking his solemn vow. “See you tomorrow night, then.”

“Wonderful. Good night, Cy.”

“Good night, Carol.”

He spent the rest of the evening alone in his apartment, wishing he were with her.

All day Saturday he felt like a brute. A triumphant male brute, to be sure, but still a brute. His feelings alternated between righteous satisfaction and guilty anguish.

Well, she’d done it to him often enough; now they were even.

No, not exactly even.

He’d have to jilt her five or six more times to come anywhere close to being even. But once was enough to prove the point.

Or was it?

As the time drew near for their date that evening, he began to have second thoughts. Maybe two vigorous drops, back to back, would drive the point home a little deeper.

No, she’d suffered enough. She’d sounded almost ready to cry last night and had probably spent a pretty miserable night of it.

It reminded him of the night he’d gone through the time she’d stood him up on a theater date to go bowling with someone she’d met only that afternoon. He’d wandered through the darkest streets he could find, just walking and brooding until four in the morning, thinking thoughts of despair and hopelessness.

The hopelessness …

He stalked across the room to the phone. He owed her one more time.

He activated the robot’s speaker and dialed the phone.

“Hello? Cy?” She sounded several degrees less sure of herself tonight.

“Hi, Carol. Cy again. Look, I’m going to have to cancel out again tonight. I can’t go with you.”

“But, Cy!” Her voice was close to a wail. “We had a date! What’s the matter, Cy? Why do you keep breaking our dates like this?”

“Things just keep coming up.” His voice was cold and flat. “Well, I don’t have time to talk now; I have things to do. See you on campus sometime.”

She was crying when he hung up on her.

He deactivated the robotic voice, stood up, and threw the theater tickets into the wastebasket. “Now, Carol Carter, how funny do you think a broken date is when you’re the one left holding the broken pieces?”

He left the apartment and wandered aimlessly around the block a few times. He stopped on the corner to pet a big brown dog that came up to him, seeming to sense his forlornness. As he rubbed the dog gently behind the ears, he said, “I wonder why so many people have to be hurt themselves before they have any idea what it’s like?”

He wearily climbed the steps to his apartment and went inside.

What now?

The robot was a success, the control unit was a success, and his plan to hurt Carol was a success. But he didn’t feel like a success.

He just didn’t enjoy hurting people.

Sunday afternoon he made his decision. He would go to see Carol, apologize, and then drop out of her life for good. It was pointless to continue a useless charade.

He activated the robot’s voice and dialed her number.

“Hello …” Her voice was soft and subdued.

“Hello, Carol.”

“Cy!”

“I just wanted to apologize; is it all right if I come over for a little while? What I have to say won’t take long.”

“Sure, come on over, Cy.”

He was confident enough now in his handling of the robot that he didn’t hesitate to drive his car over to Carol’s. He parked two blocks away from her house, around the corner; he still couldn’t let her see Cy Burnett driving Will Strickland’s car.

Carol was sitting on the porch swing, waiting for him. She was wearing her summery blue blouse that matched her eyes and her feminine pink skirt that matched her lips.

It was going to be hard to forget her.

“Would you like to go for a walk, Cy? Or would you rather stay here.”

“This is fine.”

She took his hand. “Let’s go out in the back and see the flowers.” She led him around the corner of the house, and they sat in the grass under a big tree. There were flowers growing under all the trees, and a little green birdhouse hung from a limb overhead.

She leaned against him, and he put his arm around her.

“Cy … I really like you …”

Even after I stood you up two nights in a row? I wonder what you really like about me, besides my handsome steel-and-plastic face?

“What do you like about me?” he asked.

She looked shocked. “Why, I just like you. I don’t know why. Why do I like steak and hate lamb chops? It’s just the way I am.”

A good answer. Probably an honest one. And it’s my luck that Cy Burnett looks like steak to you, and Will Strickland looks like lamb chops.

“I really wish I knew what to do about you, Carol.”

She smiled, snuggling a little closer. “It shouldn’t be that hard to solve, Cy. Am I so much of a problem to you?”

If you only knew.

He held her hand gently, careful that his plastic-coated steel fingers caressed without crushing.

At ten-thirty in the evening Will walked home in a daze. Rather, Cy walked home, with Will piloting in a daze. At this point he hardly knew who he was.

He preferred being Cy.

It wasn’t until he was more than halfway home that he remembered he had driven his car to Carol’s place. He didn’t go back for it. He was in no condition to drive, either as a man or as a robot.

He tripped over a hump and nearly fell.

He wasn’t even in condition to walk.

He thoughtfully climbed the steps to his apartment, entered, and paced the floor for half an hour. Finally he went to bed without taking his clothes off.

At three in the morning he woke up and went to the bathroom to get a drink. He lifted the glass to his lips and poured the water into his mouth, but it didn’t go down; it was like drinking in a dream and still being thirsty. He looked into the mirror.

Great Scott! Cy!

“I’m still a robot!

He went into the living room and found his mortal self still suspended from the great frame, dutifully operating the control skeleton. This meant that he’d sent the robot to bed and left himself hanging prone in that harness half the night.

Such was Carol Carter’s power over men and robots.

It was an exciting week. He spent his mornings and early afternoons as Will, and his late afternoons as Cy; he met Carol every afternoon at the sundial.

He couldn’t stop himself from making dates with her when he was with her; he couldn’t bring himself to break the dates once they were made; and he certainly couldn’t force himself to forget her, though he spent hours in the attempt.

He enjoyed their sundial dates as much as their evening dates; there was really more of an opportunity to talk to one another at the sundial than at a movie or play.

He enjoyed knowing Carol, and he knew her now better than he ever had before. And, almost unwillingly at first, he began confiding more and more of his own feelings to her. Somehow, in the guise of the robot, he wasn’t so afraid of being criticized. After all, Carol would never know when this was over that he, Will, had confided in her, so she couldn’t hurt him.

But after the week was over, in the stark light of a Monday morning, the world looked a little tarnished. Monday morning was a time for analysis.

Carol was extremely sweet to Cy. At present anyway. But what about next week, or the week after that; what would happen the first time another man came along?

The most logical solution was to send in the robot with a new face to take her away from Cy before someone else beat him to it. It was inevitable that she should scrap Cy in a week or two, and this way he would still have the pleasure of her companionship, even if under another identity.

If you can’t beat them, create them!

Wednesday afternoon he piloted his robot onto campus wearing a new face. He went straight to the library. He walked past her customary table near the door, but there was no sign of her.

He forged deeper into the library. Beyond the furthest reaches of the stacks he came upon her, sitting at a little table piled with books.

She was reading Thoreau.

He adjusted his tie and sat down beside her. She glanced up at him quickly, then went back to Thoreau.

He couldn’t believe it! This new face was even handsomer than Cy’s; at least he had thought so. He’d expected her to go out of her mind when she saw it. Maybe she hadn’t gotten a good look at it yet.

“Excuse me,” he said. “What’s that you’re reading?”

She looked up, taking a longer look this time. “Thoreau.” She went back to reading.

Amazing!

She sat reading studiously until nearly four o’clock, and then sprang up and headed for the door, carrying her books with her. He knew where she was going; she had a date with Cy at the sundial at a quarter after four.

He gave her half a minute’s head start and then followed her.

She was sitting in the grass by the sundial when he approached; she was still reading Thoreau. She looked up when he came near, probably expecting Cy, and when she saw he wasn’t, went back to her book.

“May I sit down?” he asked politely.

She looked up again, startled. “Well … I really don’t know what to say. To tell you the truth, I’m expecting a date in just a few minutes.”

“Oh. At the sundial? Unusual. Is this really a definite date, or just a tentative one? If it’s just tentative, maybe you’d like to join me at the cafeteria for a malt and hamburger.”

“Thank you for the offer. But this date is definite.”

His pulse did strange things. “He’s a lucky guy.”

She laughed. “Cy’s not lucky. He’s wonderful.”

He studied her face. “If he has a girl like you, maybe he is, at that. Tell me, are you going steady, or is there a chance of someone else getting a date in with you now and then?”

She looked more serious now. “You look like a very nice person, and I’ll tell you the truth. I’m in love with him. I can’t go out with someone else while I’m in love with him.”

“I see.” He stood up. “I appreciate your honesty. If all girls were as truthful as you’ve just been, there’d be fewer miserable men in this world.”

Before their next date, he painted his car, changing the color from white to blue, and put on new seat covers. He needn’t have worried. When Friday night came, he found that Carol paid a great deal more attention to Cy than to the car he was driving.

The weeks went by. Every week he put a new face on the robot and sent it out to take Carol away from Cy. And every week the new face failed.

Carol refused to move one degree from her chosen course. She was in love with Cy.

Together they created an enchanted courtship. They read Thoreau and Emerson together; they saw plays, musicals, and ballets together; they went to dances and good movies together. They spent hours studying together, either in the library, by the sundial, or at her house. They even climbed mountains together, a feat of real coordination for a cybernetic man-robot team like Will and Cy.

They did all the things together that Will had always dreamed of doing with Carol but had never succeeded in doing.

And now a robot was doing them with her.

The day before graduation Cy climbed the hill to the sundial to keep his last rendezvous with Carol. Tomorrow she graduated, and she wasn’t coming back next year; her parents would be coming in the morning to see her graduate and take her home with them for the summer.

And he was stuck here one more year for his master’s.

He could think of three possible ways the romance could end. If he revealed himself as Will, she’d have to accept him or reject him. If he didn’t, only the third alternative was left. He’d have to let her go without ever giving her a chance to make her choice.

If he could have believed that he had even the smallest chance with her, he’d have risked everything for it. But he just didn’t.

She had proven that to him too many times, in too many ways, for there to be any hope left now.

So he would just let her go quietly, remembering him only as Cy. He wanted to at least leave her that much; it was the only good she had ever accepted from him.

He reached the top of the hill and saw her waiting for him, sitting in the grass by the sundial. She waved and smiled when she saw him coming. “You’re early today.”

He smiled back. “You’re even earlier.”

“I didn’t have anything else to do. At least,” she added, “nothing I wanted to do as much.”

He sat down beside her. “Me too.” He put his arm around her and she leaned against him; they were content to be quiet together.

“Carol,” he said finally, “what do you really think of me?”

She looked up at him and stroked his hand. “What a question. I love you, Cy.”

He squeezed her shoulder gently. “I love you too, Carol.”

She looked at him earnestly. “Don’t you know this is my last day here, Cy? Don’t you know my parents are going to take me back with them tomorrow? Unless you want to give me a reason not to go …”

He looked deeply into her eyes. Is there any chance at all for me as Will? I’d give everything I have for just one chance, if it were really a chance at all.

But there’s nothing. Not a single ray of light.

Nevertheless …

He smashed his fist into the ground.

I love her.

He stood up. I didn’t design this robot to fail! And I wasn’t designed to fail either! Not even if she rejects me. Being rejected by another person isn’t failure; failure is not giving another person the chance to reject you—or accept you …

It’s her future too. I owe her this decision a lot more than I owe her a set of dead memories about a man she loved who didn’t love her enough to marry her. Rejecting Will won’t be as hard on her as thinking for the rest of her life that Cy rejected her. At least she’ll know she was the one who had the power to make the final choice.

And she’ll know who it really was who loved her.

He lifted her to her feet. “Come home with me, Carol. There’s something I have to show you.”

He opened the door of his apartment and let her in. The huge control frame was hidden in the bedroom now; he had dismantled it months ago and reassembled it in there in preparation for a visit from Carol, but this was the first time she had ever come.

They sat down on the davenport in the living room. She looked around at the electronics equipment on the shelves and tables. “Why, this is a regular little laboratory, Cy. What all do you do in here?”

“Electronics experiments mainly.”

“Really? I used to be interested in things like that when I was in high school. Show me one of your experiments, Cy.”

“That’s why I brought you here. To show you one of them.”

He paused. Then he put his arms around her and kissed her tenderly, as though it were their last.

She sensed it. “What’s wrong, Cy? You don’t have to leave me because of whatever it is that’s bothering you.”

“I won’t,” he promised. “I’ll marry you tomorrow if you still want me after tonight.” He sat quietly for a moment, gathering courage. How do you tell a girl she’s in love with a man who never was?

He couldn’t. All he could do was show her. He unbuttoned his shirt and exposed his chest. He tore away a broad strip of plastic flesh, revealing the steel underneath.

“What are you doing?” she cried.

He opened the plate in his chest and displayed the electronic circuitry inside.

She gasped. “Cy!” Her body trembled, and her eyes brimmed with tears. “You’re a robot?

He nodded, unable to speak.

The tears streamed down her cheeks. “But you have a soul, Cy. You could never be what you’ve been to me if you didn’t have a soul.” She sobbed once, and caught her breath, hard. “Your mind … is it … electronic?”

He shook his head. “I have a human mind.”

“And all the rest is mechanical? Electrical?”

“Yes.”

She looked up at him for a moment, her eyes glittering with tears. “Cy, Do you really love me? Or was that just another part of the experiment? To see if you could make a girl fall in love with a robot?”

He laid his hand over hers. “I love you, Carol. Very much.”

She closed the plate in his chest and leaned her cheek against the cold steel. “I love you too, Cy. And I’m going to marry you.”

His mind staggered in disbelief! “You’d marry a robot? A chunk of steel and plastic?”

She locked her arms around his chest. “You’re the best man I’ve ever known. I want to marry you, Cy. Whatever you are. I’m in love with you, Cy.”

He was silent for a time. “Would you still love me if my mind were in another body? A human body?”

She kissed him. “I love you, Cy. Whether you’re a mind, a man, or a robot. I want to marry you.”

“Carol … Whatever happens in the next few minutes … always remember that I’ll go on loving you no matter what you may do or what your final choice may be. Because what happens now is up to you.”

He stood up and walked to the bedroom door. “My mind is in there.”

She caught her breath. “Is it … disembodied?”

“Would it make a difference?”

She was shaken but didn’t hesitate. “No.”

“It isn’t. I’m a man, Carol. And human enough to fall in love with you.”

“Who are you?” she gasped.

He looked at her keenly. “Does that make a difference?”

“No.” She came off the davenport. “But I have to know. Now!” She raced past him and flung open the bedroom door.

She started in amazement when she saw the gigantic control frame and the occupant suspended from it. But the audio-visual helmet hid the face.

She strode boldly forward and lifted the helmet.

The world jerked from here to there for Will. One instant he was seeing and hearing from Cy’s point of view; the next he was Will again, hanging in his harness. He turned off the control unit and lowered himself to the floor. Released from his control, the robot thundered to the floor.

“Will!”

She stood stunned, speechless.

She faltered backward a step, screaming hysterically. “Will Strickland! You phony! I never want to see you again!”

She stormed from the room, crying bitterly.

Will ripped himself loose from his bindings and plunged after her. “Carol! Wait!”

When he reached the door, he saw Carol kneeling beside Cy’s lifeless form, sobbing uncontrollably and stroking his metal fingers.

Will stood over her. “But Carol, I am Cy.”

She glared up at him. “No, you’re not! You’re nothing like him! Cy was kind and good and honest. He had the greatest soul I’ve ever known. And he was the only man I’ve ever loved. You were always so quiet, so hard to communicate with. Everything I said you seemed to be analyzing and criticizing. How could you be Cy?”

“I’m his soul, Carol. Everything he ever did or said—I was the soul of him.”

She raised a tearful face to him. “But you were just playing a role! You were only pretending to be someone you could never really be.”

He knelt beside her. “The name, the face, and the robot were deceptions. Everything else was real. I’m the same person as Will that I was as Cy. You just never bothered to know me as Will, and I never dared let you know me. That’s all. Everything Cy said to you was what I wanted to say to you. Everything Cy did with you was what I wanted to do with you—but you never gave me the chance.”

She looked at him for a long moment, her eyes brimming with tears. “Will, oh, Will, I was the deceiver. You wore a different face, but you were the same person inside. I wore the same face, but I was a different person to you than I was to Cy.”

Her voice broke. “I’m not worthy of you, Will. Now that I know enough about you to love you, I can see that I’m just not worthy of you.”

He took her by the shoulders. “Did you say you love me?”

She nodded tearfully. “Of course I love you, Will. Is it too late now to tell you that I love you?”

He hugged her to his chest, rocking her gently to and fro. “It’s never too late to tell someone you love him. Not when I’m the one you’re telling.”

She kissed him then, for the first time, still kneeling there beside the fallen Cyrano de Cybernet.

[illustrations] Illustrated by William Whitaker