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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



COMPULSIONS

by Peter Stom

The computer showed that it was impossible for
this mental patient to escape from the sanitarium.
Fine—only the patient had already escaped!

ESCAPE impossible!

Psycho-Inspector Bruce Gorgas sighed and switched off the machine, resisting the impulse to force the issue further. It was compulsory to follow the recommended procedure to the letter. and the question had been very carefully prepared—by experts—to prevent any fouled circuitry in SSA's main computer. Given such and such a set of conditions, would it be possible or impossible for the patient to escape? The tape had given the only logical answer.

Unfortunately the patient was gone!

Somehow the data was either wrong or incomplete, and called for the personal attention—almost unheard-of these days—of an human investigator from the Social Stabilization Agency. It had been inevitable that Gorgas would get the job. He was the only man left in the organization whose experience stretched back to the time when it had been known as the Police Department.

He looked wistfully at the memory banks of the computer and sighed again. In cases such as these, it was mandatory to make a completely independent investigation, thus avoiding the false data that had misled the machines.

Leaning back in the control chair, he prodded his memory for some of the old-time techniques. Proper handling of the problem could result in one more promotion before his retirement in the coming month. Outwardly, he must present a picture of perfect bureaucratic efficiency; but first, he needed a check valve against the inadequacies the system might show in an emergency like this. A few moments later, a broad smile spread over his face; he got to his feet and walked jauntily out of the computer room.

WHEN HE arrived back in his office, Gorgas rang for his assistant, Psycho-Sergeant Mead. His smile faded a bit around the edges at the sight of his seedy-looking underling. He make a mental note to check a few of the books he had collected forty some years ago at the start of his public service career. It might be necessary to have several of the ancient techniques at his disposal.

"We're going to make a personal investigation," he said abruptly.

"No!" Mead's eyebrows danced. "What's the matter with the machines?"

"They give the wrong answer about Alexander Kroll's disappearance from the Euthanasium last night."

"Impossible!" The eyebrows convulsed spasmodically this time.

"You're quoting the main computer," Gorgas replied evenly. "Nevertheless the man is gone; and our main problem is to find out exactly how he did it. Kroll himself is no longer dangerous."

"Why not?"

"Because he's a very sick man. Like all the rest of those who have been assigned to euthanasia in the past twenty years, he volunteered as an experimental subject for our esteemed colleagues from the Abnormal Psychology Division. They didn't quite kill him, but they sure tried hard."

"Well!" Mead gasped, obviously relieved. "What do we do now?"

"We copy an antique art of our ancestors called 'Cherchez la femme.' In other words we visit hip wife. Get out your recorder and make a note of the equipment we'll need."

"WHO IS IT?" The voice was low and tremulous.

"Inspector Gorgas of the SSA." He got a definite pleasure out of omitting the customary medical preface to his rank. After all, this was a special investigation where personal authority must be exercised.

"Oh! Just a moment, please!"

There was a click as the maximum security lock responded to whatever intimate characteristic the apartment's occupant had—after proper approval, of course—chosen as an "open sesame," and the door swung back. He blinked involuntarily, trying to reconcile the disheveled figure with the usual cosmeticized appearance of modern women.

"Mrs. Kroll?"

"Yes."

"I'm here in regard to your husband's disappearance from the Euthanasium. I suppose you've heard about it?"

"It's been on Tri-D all day," she whimpered; "I'm scared to death."

"Why?" The Inspector's voice vibrated with surprise.

"I'm the one who turned him in. Not that I'm sorry! My social conscience just couldn't stand his unconventional attitudes. But he promised to come back if he were ever released. He might even strike me!"

"Oh," Gorgas said with satisfaction, "then you won't mind hypno-analaysis ...

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