An excerpt from The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester

(chosen by Hugh McGuire)
  His senses uncrossed in the ivory-and-gold star chamber of Castle Presteign. Sight became sight and he saw the high mirrors and stained glass windows, the gold tooled library with android librarian on library ladder. Sound became sound and he heard the android secretary tapping the manual bead-recorder at the Louis Quinze desk. Taste became taste as he sipped the cognac that the robot bartender handed him.
  He knew he was at bay, faced with the decision of his life. He ignored his enemies and examined the perpetual beam carved in the robot face of the bartender, the classic Irish grin.
  "Thank you," Foyle said.
  "My pleasure, sir," the robot replied and awaited its next cue.
  "Nice day," Foyle remarked.
  "Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot beamed.
  "Awful day," Foyle said.
  "Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot responded.
  "Day," Foyle said.
  "Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot said.
  Foyle turned to the others. "That's me," he said, motioning to the robot. "That's all of us. We prattle about free will, but we're nothing but response ... mechanical reaction in prescribed grooves. So ... here I am, here I am, waiting to respond. Press the buttons and I'll jump. He aped the canned voice of the robot. "My pleasure to serve, sir." Suddenly his tone lashed them. "What do you want?"
  He listened to the outcries and watched the confusion for a moment, bitter and constrained.
  "Life is so simple," he said. "This decision is so simple, isn't it? Am I to respect Presteign's property rights? The welfare of the planets? Jisbella's ideals? Dagenham's realism? Robin's conscience? Press the button and watch the robot jump. But I'm not a robot. I'm a freak of the universe ... a thinking animal ... and I'm trying to see my way clear through this morass. Am I to turn PyrE over to the world and let it destroy itself? Am I to teach the world how to space-jaunte and let us spread our freak show from galaxy to galaxy through all the universe? What's the answer?"
  The bartender robot hurled its mixing glass across the room with a resounding crash. In the amazed silence that followed, Dagenham grunted: "Damn! My radiation's disrupted your dolls again, Presteign."
  "The answer is yes," the robot said, quite distinctly.
  "What?" Foyle asked, taken aback.
  "The answer to your question is yes."
  "Thank you," Foyle said.
  "My pleasure, sir," the robot responded. "A man is a member of society first, and an individual second. You must go along with society, whether it chooses destruction or not."
  "Completely haywire," Dagenham said impatiently. "Switch it off, Presteign."
  "Wait," Foyle commanded. He looked at the beaming grin engraved in the steel robot face. "But society can be so stupid. So confused. You've witnessed this conference."
  "Yes sir, but you must teach, not dictate. You must teach society."
  "To space-jaunte? Why? Why reach out to the stars and galaxies? What for?"
  "Because you're alive, sir. You might as well ask: Why is life? Don't ask about it. Live it."
  "Quite mad," Dagenham muttered.
  "But fascinating," Y'ang-Yeovil murmured.
  "There's got to be more to life than just living," Foyle said to the robot.
  "Then find it for yourself, sir. Don't ask the world to stop moving because you have doubts."
  "Why can't we all move forward together?"
  "Because you're all different. You're not lemmings. Some must lead, and hope that the rest will follow."
  "Who leads?"
  "The men who must ... driven men, compelled men."
  "Freak men."
  "You're all freaks, sir. But you always have been freaks. Life is a freak. That's its hope and glory."
  "Thank you very much."
  "My pleasure, sir."
  "You've saved the day."
  "Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot beamed. Then it fizzed, jangled, and collapsed.
    : The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester.

(This page was last updated 1998:September:19.)