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Weak on Square Roots   By:

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Does your wife call you Pumpkinhead? Well, maybe it's not an insult; it might be a pet name. Ah but whose pet name?


By Russell Burton

Illustrated by TOM BEECHAM

As his coach sped through dusk darkened Jersey meadows, Ronald Lovegear, fourteen years with Allied Electronix, embraced his burden with both arms, silently cursing the engineer who was deliberately rocking the train. In his thin chest he nursed the conviction that someday there would be an intelligent robot at the throttle of the 5:10 to Philadelphia.

He carefully moved one hand and took a notebook from his pocket. That would be a good thing to mention at the office next Monday.

Again he congratulated himself for having induced his superiors to let him take home the company's most highly developed mechanism to date. He had already forgiven himself for the little white lie that morning.

"Pascal," he had told them, "is a little weak on square roots." That had done it!

Old Hardwick would never permit an Allied computer to hit the market that was not the absolute master of square roots. If Lovegear wanted to work on Pascal on his own time it was fine with the boss.

Ronald Lovegear consulted his watch. He wondered if his wife would be on time. He had told Corinne twice over the phone to bring the station wagon to meet him. But she had been so forgetful lately. It was probably the new house; six rooms to keep up without a maid was quite a chore. His pale eyes blinked. He had a few ideas along that line too. He smiled and gave the crate a gentle pat.

Corinne was at the station, and she had brought the station wagon. Lovegear managed to get the crate to the stairs of the coach where he consented to the assistance of a porter.


"It's not really heavy," he told Corinne as he and the porter waddled through the crowd. "Actually only 57 pounds, four ounces. Aluminum casing, you know ..."

"No, I didn't ..." began Corinne.

"But it's delicate," he continued. "If I should drop this ..." He shuddered.

After the crate had been placed lengthwise in the rear of the station wagon, Corinne watched Ronald tuck a blanket around it.

"It's not very cold, Ronald."

"I don't want it to get bounced around," he said. "Now, please, Corinne, do drive carefully." Not until she had driven half a block did he kiss her on the cheek. Then he glanced anxiously over his shoulder at the rear seat. Once he thought Corinne hit a rut that could have been avoided.

Long after Corinne had retired that night she heard Ronald pounding with a brass hammer down in his den. At first she had insisted he take the crate out to his workshop. He looked at her with scientific aloofness and asked if she had the slightest conception of what "this is worth?" She hadn't, and she went to bed. It was only another one of his gestures which was responsible for these weird dreams. That night she dreamed Ronald brought home a giant octopus which insisted on doing the dishes for her. In the morning she woke up feeling unwanted.

Downstairs Ronald had already put on the coffee. He was wearing his robe and the pinched greyness of his face told Corinne he had been up half the night. He poured coffee for her, smiling wanly. "If I have any commitments today, Corinne, will you please see that they are taken care of?"

"But you were supposed to get the wallpaper for the guest room...."

"I know, I know, dear. But time is so short. They might want Pascal back any day. For the next week or two I shall want to devote most of my time ..."

" Pascal? "

"Yes. The machine the computer." He smiled at her ignorance. "We usually name the expensive jobs. You see, a computer of this nature is really the heart and soul of the mechanical man we will construct."

Corinne didn't see, but in a few minutes she strolled toward the den, balancing her coffee in both hands... Continue reading book >>

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