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Title: Perfect Companion
Author: John McGreevey
Release Date: April 30, 2021 [eBook #65200]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at

If the devil had been searching for a playmate,
this thing Craig had created would have been the


By John McGreevey

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
June 1951
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

The thing was not large. About the size of a large dog. It lay on its metallic side on the operating table, and it was alive. In its own way, it lived ... because Craig Stevens had given it life.

Now, Craig stroked that metallic surface and smiled. "Very well, Sheila," he said pleasantly. "Get out. Get out and never come back. I'm not keeping you."

The woman who stood across the table from him uttered a choked, strangled noise that could have been anger or sorrow. "I hate you. I never thought that I could hate anyone, but you've taught me in these last three years, Craig. You've taught me."

The other nodded and picked up a small battery from the table. "I'm glad that our three years together haven't been a total loss, my dear."

Sheila dabbed at her eyes. "You don't even give me the satisfaction of seeing you lose your temper. I wanted you to be uncomfortable and embarrassed. I wanted to see you suffer as you've made me suffer."

"And so you tell me you're leaving me. Hardly the proper stimulus to cause me to suffer, Sheila. A celebration would be more in order." His grey eyes regarded her with the cold objectivity of a lab technician observing the death agonies of a new species of insect.

Impulsively, she moved around the table to him. "Craig," she began, and there was a note of entreaty in her voice, "what's happened to us?"

"Mental cruelty is the complaint you lodged, I believe." He didn't look at her now, but focused his attention instead upon the mechanism on the table. "Ridiculous phrase. The only real cruelty is mental of course. Physical suffering soon passes, but suffering in the mind, that endures."

She stared with loathing down at the thing on the table. "And now this ... this monster that you've made ... I suppose you mean for it to replace me in your life?"

Craig Stevens chuckled, "Nothing could take your place, Sheila. I shall always remember you as a most individual subject."

Suddenly, she threw her arms around his neck and pulled herself to him. "Listen to me, Craig," she begged. "You've got to listen. I can't leave you like this. I need you. You need me. Let's try again. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you haven't meant to hurt me."

Carefully, he disentangled himself and pushed her gently away. "Your luggage is packed, Sheila. You've made up your mind, and this is one time you're not going to be allowed to change it. I don't need you. I don't need anyone."

Her body shook with sobbing. "You loved me once."

He laughed, and the sound echoed from the cold stone walls of the laboratory. "Love!" The laughter mounted. "What a foolish notion, Sheila. You interested me once. You had spirit, and I was impelled to discover how much it would take to break that spirit."

The sobs stopped. She paused, then looked up at him. He was smiling, his thin lips twisted, the grey eyes glistening. She stared at him for a long moment.

"You're wishing you could hurt me, aren't you, Sheila? You're wishing you could strike out at me ... hear me cry in pain. That's why you bore me. You're so transparent. I can read your every thought ... anticipate your every emotion and they're all dull." He touched the thing on the table again. "That's why I've perfected Ohm here. He'll be the perfect companion."

Sheila looked at the contraption he touched, and a shudder of revulsion shook her. Once it had been only a few scraps of steel, a photo-electric eye, a couple of batteries, some condensers and relays. Now it was "alive" and Craig had given it a name: Ohm.

She looked from the created to the creator. "I should have known this was the way it would end, and I can believe you when you say you've never loved me. You can't love anyone. You're incapable of love, Craig. Other men work for the happiness of those near to them, but you are only intrigued by pain and suffering. If it's any satisfaction to you, your experiment with me has been very successful."

Craig bowed slightly.

She moved toward the laboratory door. "It always works out for you, doesn't it, Craig? You always get bored first. You're always the one who smiles and tells someone else to get out." She stopped in the doorway. "Some day, perhaps you'll be the one to go; you'll be the one who has become transparent and uninteresting."

He shrugged his shoulders. "I can only hope that when that day arrives I'll be able to resign myself as graciously as you have."

For a second, she hesitated and then very quietly she said: "I loved you once, Craig. When we were married, I loved you very much. I could still love you, if ... if you could find it in your heart to be human. But until you can, I guess Ohm is the companion you should have. Goodbye."

"A very eloquent speech, my dear. Goodbye and good luck."

With a final quick glance at the thing on the table, Sheila stepped through the laboratory door and out of Craig Stevens' life.

He sighed as he heard the outside door slam behind her. She had been a fascinating experiment. Little by little, he had tested her, discovered those irritants which were best calculated to make her react. Broken dinner engagements, forgotten birthdays, public insults, lies, deceptions, intrigues—each had played its part in her final nervous disintegration. But toward the end, the game had proved boring.

So, he had devised Ohm, and now he was left in solitude to explore the infinite possibilities represented by his electric pet.

Light was Ohm's food. He craved it as humans crave food, drink, companionship. Craig had built a special home for his creature—a brilliantly lighted hutch where it could creep to recharge the batteries which gave it movement and power.

Looking down at his pet, Craig felt a sudden, overwhelming sense of possession. Ohm was perfect. His shiny steel shell glistened in the bright laboratory light. Under that shell were three wheels and two battery-powered motors—one for creeping and one for steering. A delicate brain and nervous system fashioned of condensers and relays would motivate Ohm.

Craig was surprised to note that his hands were trembling slightly as he made the final connections. The scene with Sheila had perhaps made more of an impression than he had thought; and then, too, this was his big moment ... the moment toward which he had worked for months.

Connections completed, he struggled to lift Ohm to the floor. Though Ohm was relatively small—he stood just hip-high and was perhaps three-and-a-half feet long—he was surprisingly heavy.

Craig Stevens stepped back and waited. If his calculations were correct, Ohm would now begin his search for light. He would move about the lab ... guided by his photo-electric eye ... seeking the gratification which only strong light could give.

Absolute silence held the laboratory. Had he been wrong? Had he miscalculated? He stared at the unmoving creature. He willed it to move. He would not be defied by this mass of steel and wire. Move, he commanded it. Move!

Slowly, with a slight jerking motion, Ohm began to move forward. Like an animal that has been sleeping and is still groggy with dreams, it moved—hesitated—then moved again.

Craig Stevens sighed with satisfaction. His calculations had been correct. Ohm lived. The creature was moving more rapidly now across the room. As it gained momentum, it was confronted suddenly with a lab table. With a painful little thump, it collided with the table leg. Then, there was a faintly ominous growling noise, and Ohm backed away and set out in another direction.

Fascinated, Craig followed the creature from room to room. When Ohm discovered a patch of bright light, he would pause and bask momentarily in its brilliance. His contentment and deep satisfaction were apparent.

At last, by a process of trial and error, Ohm came to the hutch that Craig had built. Eagerly, he pushed his way to the door and quickly glided in. After satisfying himself that Ohm was comfortably installed, Craig dropped the wire grating over the hutch. His new pet was at home.

The next few weeks were busy ones for Craig and Ohm. Countless experiments were tried, and in every case, the robot was a model subject. His potentials seemed unlimited.

Craig was asked to give a special lecture and demonstration at the University, and his audience of scholars and research experts were delighted with Ohm.

"The perfect companion," Craig laughingly called him. "So understanding. If any of you gentlemen are tiring of your wives and their demands, I'll be very pleased to duplicate Ohm for you."

Ohm wandered about Craig's apartment at will. Occasional guests who dropped in to visit soon accustomed themselves to the sight of the metal creature lumbering through the room, bumping into chairs and tables, growling faintly and changing its course.

Some weeks after Ohm was first animated, Craig conceived the idea of giving him a more definite personality. After a few hours spent in sketching, and some hurried consultations with a metalsmith, Ohm was equipped with a head.

Now his presence was even more disturbing than before. Craig had placed the photo-electric eye directly in the middle of the high steel forehead. A nose was simulated, and, last of all, a hinged jaw, with twin rows of razor sharp fangs.

"Good Lord!" exclaimed Professor Harvey Beale, Craig's oldest associate, "why did you have to turn Ohm into such a grinning monster? I think I preferred him as a blank nonentity."

Craig laughed. "He is ferocious looking, isn't he? I devised that head to scare away peddlers and tramps. Now, when the doorbell rings and I don't want to be disturbed, I just let Ohm face them down!"

Professor Beale joined in Craig's laughter, but there was a note of constraint in his voice. "You feel that you have perfect control over Ohm?"

"Complete." Craig looked across the room where the robot basked in a puddle of yellow lamplight. "It's a wonderful feeling, Beale ... a feeling that you can never experience with a human being ... or even a cat or a dog."

With a little grunt, Ohm began moving toward the chair in which Craig sat. The single eye glistened in the leering face and the small wheels made a singing noise as he spun across the carpet.

Professor Beale followed the movement with some little apprehension. "What's such a wonderful feeling?"

Craig gestured to Ohm. "This sense of possession ... of control. It's a thing we all want ... every human being ... from the time we're old enough to clutch our first pet until we drop into our graves. We seek it in marriage ... in our children ... but we're always cheated, Beale. Always cheated because there's an unpredictable element. But with Ohm," he dropped his hand over the side of his easy chair and patted the metal head, "with Ohm, there's no doubt. No question. He's mine ... and no matter how sorely I try him, I can always predict his reactions."

Professor Beale nodded slowly. "I suppose. How ... how sorely have you tried him, Craig?"

"I haven't really put him to the test as yet. But now that the preliminaries are out of the way, I mean to begin. I'm going to thwart him, Beale. I'm going to frustrate him in every way. I'm going to deprive him of the thing he desires most ... light ... and observe his reactions."

A flicker of apprehension touched Beale's long, friendly face. "These experiments ... you'll do them at the school lab?"

Craig Stevens stood up. "No. Here. Ohm is adjusted to this atmosphere. He knows these rooms. His reactions will be truer if I don't move him."

"And just what do you hope to prove?"

Stevens stared down at the thing he had created. The photo-electric eye seemed to wink up at him. "The human brain has something like ten billion nerve cells, Beale. Ohm has the equivalent of only two, and yet, you'll admit, he gives a lifelike performance. By studying Ohm's frustrations and reactions, we'll be able to draw some very valuable conclusions regarding human nervous disorders and breakdowns."

The other man nodded absently. "I wish," he said finally, "that you'd transfer your experiments to the school lab, Craig. I think it would be safer."

"Safer!" Craig laughed a little too loudly. "No, Beale. I started this in my own way, and that's how I mean to finish it. I'm perfectly safe here. Ohm won't let anything harm me. Will you, Ohm?"

It was coincidence, of course, but at that moment, Ohm turned and scuttled over to Craig's side.

He began the breaking-down process slowly. When Ohm settled himself in a particularly warm puddle of light, Craig would snap it off. Patiently, the robot would begin its search for another pool.

Then Craig moved the hutch, and watched with academic amusement the creature's wild and frantic efforts to locate its home—the source of its life-giving food. Ohm groped in the corner where the hutch had always stood, and pathetic little whirring and buzzing noises came from his open jaws. Again and again he returned to the corner, painstakingly exploring every inch of it, his movements more and more jerky and disconnected.

At last, when it seemed that the creature might destroy itself in its frustration, Craig restored the hutch to its accustomed place. Ohm scuttled in and huddled in a far corner. For a great many hours, the robot refused to venture again from its shelter.

Next, Craig tried an even more agonizing experiment. He left the hutch in its usual spot, but he dropped over its entrance a mesh of fine wire, which permitted the light to filter through but prevented Ohm's entry.

He released Ohm in the room and settled himself to watch the results. After a number of exploratory trips, the robot seemed to feel the need of refreshment, and accordingly began its slow, bumping progress toward the hutch. Excited by the bright light which filtered through the mesh, Ohm accelerated his pace as he approached the haven, and crashed with painful violence against the barrier. The recoil sent him spinning several yards away.

The quiet room was filled with the sound of Craig Stevens' delighted laughter and the faint little grunting sounds of the robot. Again, Ohm tried an entry, and again, he failed. The next approach was more cautious, but the results were the same. He seemed maddened by the presence of the bright light which he so deeply craved and which had become suddenly inaccessible to him.

Again and again he flung his steel body against the wire mesh in a mounting frenzy of desire.

Never had Craig Stevens witnessed a spectacle so excruciatingly amusing and revealing. It was as pathetic and priceless as Sheila's foredoomed desire to beget a child.

Finally, as the battery which powered him was depleted, Ohm subsided, his steel muzzle touching the mesh which separated him from the life-giving light he had sought.

Remembering the robot's bewildered struggles as he recorded them in his notes, Craig was shaken from a fresh paroxysm of laughter. He wished now that films had been taken of the experiment, for certainly it had proved most revealing. Of course, it would be repeated. There would be other opportunities.

And there were, for Craig tried that particular experiment many times. Not that he needed additional data for his report. He added scarcely one new observation after that first trial. It was more that the robot's agony of frustration seemed to satisfy some deep craving ... a desire as insatiable as Ohm's for the light. Craig could not explain this fascination, in fact, he did not attempt to explain it. Such an explanation might have proved doubly disturbing.

Craig seldom went out. More and more, he gave himself over to the delights of mistreating Ohm. He found that he no longer felt any need for human associations. He and the robot were a complete little world in themselves. The creator and the created. The torturer and the tortured.

One evening, Professor Beale did drop in, and before he could stop himself, commented on Craig's appearance: "You're not well, Craig," he said. "You've lost weight. Are you sure you're not carrying a fever now?"

Craig fought down the unreasoning resentment he felt for Beale. He had planned a new variant to test Ohm that night, and now Beale's visit had cheated him. "Never been better," he countered. "I've been working hard."

"With the robot?" Beale's eyes roamed the room, seeking for the steel-encased body, the glistening cyclops-eye.

"Naturally. And believe me, Beale, my report is going to create a sensation. Every neurologist and physiologist in the world will be taking lessons from me." His voice had gotten progressively shriller, and he paced nervously up and down as he spoke.

Beale shifted uncomfortably. "You're working too hard, Craig. Take some time off. Forget Ohm for a while. Enjoy yourself."

Craig spun on him: "Enjoy myself! Do you think there's any other place in the world where I could find the excitement that I know right here? Forget Ohm! I can't forget him. He's wonderful, Beale! Sensational!"

"Of course, of course." Beale was feeling more and more alarmed by Stevens' manner. "I saw Sheila the other day," he ventured, seeking for something to take the conversation away from Ohm. "She asked about you."

Craig's laugh was choked and half-hysterical. "Sheila! I'd completely forgotten her. Has she found herself a nice dull nobody?"

"I think she's still in love with you, Craig."

Craig's giggle climbed the scale. "In love! You talk like a fool, Beale. Love! What childishness, when there are other emotions so much more real and gratifying."

Harvey Beale stared at the man across the room. Was this the same Craig Stevens with whom he had worked so many hours in the laboratory? Was this semi-hysterical man, the great scientist who had served so brilliantly in the last war? What had happened? What was happening?

A sudden groaning noise at his side turned him abruptly. It was Ohm. And there was a subtle change there, too. The movement was no longer clean and mechanical. It had developed an individuality. When the robot moved, it reminded Beale of a whipped yellow cur which cringes at the sound of a human voice. Both Stevens and his companion were changed.

"Let's get away for a week," Beale said, and rose ... stepping quickly away from Ohm. "You'll come back to all this with a new perspective."

Craig shook his head. "Couldn't leave now. Couldn't leave Ohm. Later, maybe."

Why doesn't the fool leave, he thought. Can't he see I've work to do? Can't he sense that I'm anxious to get on with the experiments?

Reluctantly, Beale moved toward the door. "I wish you'd give yourself some rest," he said. "You're pushing yourself too hard."

"I'll be finished soon," Craig said. "Then I can rest. Then I can rest for a long time."

Beale paused in the doorway and looked back. The robot crouched in a corner of the room, its photo-electric eye twitching nervously. That room was full of anticipation. They were waiting for Beale to go—the two of them. Abruptly, he turned and fled.

"Now," said Craig, as Beale's footfalls died away, "now, Ohm, we can get on with our work."

Days passed and the fascination increased. It absorbed and obsessed Craig. His every waking hour was filled with new plans, new variants. At night, when he sank at last into an exhausted sleep, he dreamed of Ohm and the blind frenzies of frustration to which he was yet to be driven.

Craig saw no one. Ohm was his entire life. A little child who came to his door looking for a lost kitten, fled sobbing, when in a fit of irritation, he threatened her with the robot.

Nothing else mattered; nothing but Ohm. He made little changes in the robot's construction. Supplied him with springs that permitted a graceful, bounding movement; increased the flexibility of the jaws and the razor sharp metal teeth. He was puzzled by a peculiar stain that seemed to have discolored Ohm's teeth. Since no food passed the robot's lips, Craig could not account for the presence of the stains.

On that night, the torment had been prolonged, and once, during it, Ohm seemed to sense Craig's presence and moved toward him with a peculiar half-pleading, half-threatening motion. Excitedly, Craig recorded the deviation. It seemed to mark some sort of turning point in Ohm's development.

When the robot succumbed at last to exhaustion, Craig permitted him to enter the hutch, and leaving him there, proceeded to prepare himself for bed. The sessions with Ohm were leaving him more and more worn out and frazzled. Perhaps Beale had been right. A few days' rest would restore his perspective. Of course he would miss Ohm. Never had he experienced so gratifying a relationship. It was much more complete than his domination of his mother had been or his subjection of Sheila. It left him feeling at once weak and god-like.

His toilet completed, he went back to Ohm's hutch to put down the wire mesh for the night. Once or twice, he had forgotten it, and the robot's collisions had awakened him early in the morning. As tired as he was, he wanted now to forestall any such disturbance.

Ohm was not in his hutch. That was an unlooked-for development. Usually after the experiments, he was so depleted he did not stir from the hutch for hours. And yet now he was gone.

Half-heartedly, Craig looked for him, but he was overcome suddenly with a terrible drowsiness. After all, did it matter whether Ohm spent the night in the hutch? He'd huddle in some corner of the apartment till morning.

Wearily, Craig snapped off all the lights and stumbled into his bedroom. The bedlamp burned brightly in the darkness. He sank down onto the bed. He couldn't remember ever having been so tired. He closed his eyes. Bright red circles spun and whirled. Sleep. He must have sleep.

He was dreaming. The little girl, whose kitten had disappeared was pointing an accusing finger at him. He was trying to explain that he hadn't taken her kitten. And then, Sheila was there, and she had a great urgency in her manner. She was warning him. Stains. The stains that he had noticed. Didn't he see?

No. He didn't see. His mind spun and whirled. Sounds were a tortured mixture of Sheila's voice, the little girl's sobs, and the faint mechanical grunts which Ohm made.

And then, the laboratory collapsed. The walls caved in to the center and the roof dropped down on top of him. It was a terrible pressure on his chest—crushing it. He had to remove that pressure—had to push that crushing weight away—had to get free.

But he was awake. And it wasn't the roof on his chest. It was Ohm ... Ohm crouched on top of him ... the beady photo-electric eye focused on the lamp which burned like a beacon in the otherwise total dark. And then Craig remembered. He hadn't caged Ohm in for the night. He had been loose in the apartment. Naturally, he had come to the only light, and now, he crouched on Craig's chest.

He tried to move, but the robot only flattened itself more—a dead weight. The heavy steel jaws poised over Craig's throat, the steel teeth glittering in the light.

"Ohm!" That single word was a prayer, a plea, a sob.

The stains on the teeth ... the missing kitten ... those razor sharp teeth. A strange purring noise filled the room ... caused the bed to vibrate under him. The steel jaws clicked open.

"I didn't mean it. You don't understand!"

The photo-electric eye blazed wildly as the razor sharp fangs touched his throat....

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