It was one hell of a place for a nightmare. But then, Saturn's seventh moon, Hyperion, would be a hell of a place for just about anything. Oh, Government had done wonders--and spent fortunes--giving tiny Hyperion a warm, breathable atmosphere and earth-norm gravity. Outside of that, the jumble of rocky crags and powdered pumice might have been the space side of Pluto. I know, because I've been there.
Now I heard the anxious stirring among the tough spacehands and miners as they waited for the first wonder of the Saturnian System--Hyperion's Dancing Girls. You couldn't blame them. Girls were girls, Andies or not, and the female of the species was about as common out here as an aardvark.
But frankly, I was more than a little sore at the over-patriotic deckhand who had reported the existence of the Dancing Girls to Tycho City on Luna. It meant I had to traipse almost a billion miles to collect the tax. If the Dancing Girls were androids; if their maker had the money; if someone didn't put an end to the whole affair by deciding that a knife in my back might be distinctly better than paying a hundred bucks per head...?
I saw those Dancing Girls. Let me tell you about them briefly. No, I won't go into detail. I remember they got my mind off all those morbid thoughts out in Hyperion City, and I don't want my mind to stray now, not while I'm trying to tell you this story.
They came out, about a dozen of them, and they danced. There wasn't a sound in the Hyperion Club. Not even music. Not even breathing. I've never seen anything like it. And it took me a while before I realized just why those tall slim girls were so graceful. Well, graceful isn't quite the word, but then, no word exists in any language I know which can describe the something-more-than-grace which those girls had. They danced. All other dancing was mere walking, stumbling, clumsy tripping.
They had long legs. Not so you'd say they were nice long-stemmed chicks, but really long. Half again as long as they should be, or maybe more. But on them it looked good.
That clinched it. They were Andies, a dozen untaxed androids. I sighed and hoped the owner had his tax money. I didn't want to impound these Andies for the government, not these dancers.
When it was over I didn't hear a sound. No clapping, no roaring, no stamping of feet. Not even shouts for an encore. Anything would have been superfluous.
I got up. I took my time walking across the now empty dance floor to a door which was marked, quite plainly, Keep Out.
I didn't. I walked right on through and a big guy with a seamy face stood in front of me, shaking his head slowly.
"Move, friend," he said; "can't you read signs?"
I told him that although I was not a college boy I could read, and would he please get out of my way because I had official business with the owner of the Hyperion Club. All he knew how to do was shake his head, but when I showed him the card in my billfold with the big letter A on it, the motion of his head changed. Now the seamy face bobbed up and down, but it looked worried. There's one thing about being in the Android Service--it sure can open doors for you.
Seamy Face ushered me through a corridor and down a flight of stairs. He only paused long enough outside a metal door to knock, and then I followed him inside.
The card on the desk said, Mr. Tuttle: Manager, and behind his thick-rimmed glasses Mr. Tuttle looked like he had insomnia. A little guy, and tired. He just wasn't cut out for the frontier. Maybe he should have had a curio shop in Marsport.
Seamy Face said, "This guy's from Android Service, Mr. T."
Tuttle looked up unhappily. He waved me over to a chair and I sat down, taking out my card again. "Carmody's the name," I said. "That's a nice act you have out there, Mr. Tuttle. Very nice. In fact, I've never seen anything like it. Androids?"
He didn't answer the question, not right away. Instead, he said in his tired voice: "A lot of people think so. Orders are beginning to pour in from all over the outworlds. There'll be thousands--"
I cleared my throat. "Andies will cost you exactly a hundred dollars a head, Mr. Tuttle. You know that, of course. What I want to know is this: why didn't you report the manufacture of your androids to the government? There's a reason for it, and for the tax, too. It isn't legal to upset the balance like this."
Tuttle sounded so tired I thought he'd fall right over into a deep sleep any moment. He said, "Who told you anything about androids? What makes you think they're androids?"
I smiled. "No stilts," I said. "Don't tell me they're wearing stilts. It's either that or androids, Mr. Tuttle."
Tuttle didn't answer that one either. Instead, he asked a question of his own. "How would you like to earn five thousand dollars, Mr. Carmody?"
I told him that was my year's salary, exactly, and I'd love it. Only I had a funny suspicion that whatever the offer was, I'd have to turn it down. Maybe we honest guys are fools; maybe ten years from now I'd still be earning exactly five thousand, but at least I'd be able to live with myself. I'm no saint, but I've got a conscience.
"All you have to do," Tuttle said, "is this. Go back where you came from and say my dancers are not androids--for five thousand dollars, utterly no strings attached."
I asked him what I thought was purely a rhetorical question. "Are they androids, Mr. Tuttle?"
He was always answering a question with one of his own. "Define your term, Mr. Carmody. What is an android?"