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4. SOMETHING IN THE CELLAR
Life, according to Jean Paul Sartre, lies like beauty in the eye of the beholder. The life-force in a computer may seem a long way from the bio-chemical pulsing of protoplasm, but its influences can still exist for those disposed to recognise it. Physicist Dr. Monty Lafcado, in his obsessive desire to make a translating machine, becomes thus disposed. Though in Lafcado's case, possessed by be an more appropriate term.
With the financial patronage of I.B.C., he and his assistant Fred have for years been adding circuit upon circuit to the complex transformers, memory-shunts and tape-banks in the cellar of his rambling family home. They have produced a monster that can ingest German, French or Hebrew and regurgitate it as English - of a sort. It can also, they discover, assimilate the odd remark passed in its presence - often to disconcerting effect.
One thing it cannot do, however, is keep house. So that the appearance of an amiable woman, Bettina, is welcome indeed to Lafcado. And in no time at all her status as cook and cleaner is raised to that of wife. But it doesn't work. Lafcado starts showing symptoms of nervous strain. They are symptoms which, were his mother still alive, might be described as oedipal. But she isn't alive. There is only the chatty old thing in the cellar. A machine. Inanimate. Or so it seems - until the day Lafcado is taken off to a clinic. And then, with swift and vicious cunning, it strikes Bettina dead. The effect of Lafcado is shocking. Bewildered, he puts up a last pathetic show of defiance at the thing he has created. But its life-force is too strong - irresistible for a man whose overwhelming need is for a mother in whose soothing womb to forget his troubles ........
Written by Donald Bull