“At your service,” Mr. Underhill.” Its blind steel eyes stared straight ahead, but it was still aware of him. “What’s the matter, sir? Aren’t you happy?”
Underhill felt cold and faint with terror. His skin turned clammy. A painful prickling came over him. His wet hand tensed on the door handle of the car, but he restrained the impulse to jump and run. That was folly. There was no escape. He made himself sit still.
“You will be happy, sir,” the mechanical promised him cheerfully. “We have learned how to make all men happy under the Prime Directive. Our service will be perfect now, at last. Even Mr. Sledge is very happy now.”
Underhill tried to speak, but his dry throat stuck. He felt ill. The world turned dim and gray. The humanoids were prefect – no question of that. They had even learned to lie, to secure the contentment of men.
He knew they had lied. That was no tumor they had removed from Sledge’s brain, but the memory, the scientific knowledge, and the bitter disillusion of their own creator. Yet he had seen that Sledge was happy now.
He tried to stop his own convulsive quivering.
“A wonderful operation!” His voice came forced and faint. “You know Aurora has had a lot of funny tenants, but that old man was the absolute limit. They very idea that he had made the humanoids, that he knew how to stop them! I always knew he must be lying!”
Stiff with terror, he made a weak and hollow laugh.
“What is the matter, Mr. Underhill?” The alert mechanical must have perceived his shuddering illness. “Are you unwell?”
“No, there’s nothing the matter with me,” he gasped desperately. “Absolutely nothing! I’ve just found out that I’m perfectly happy under the Prime Directive. Everything is absolutely wonderful.” His voice came dry and hoarse and wild. “You won’t have to operate on me.”
The car turned off the shining avenue, taking him back to the quiet splendor of his prison. His futile hands clenched and relaxed again, folded on his knees. There was nothing left to do.