What Have I Done – a short story by Mark Clifton
Mark Clifton was an American science fiction writer. About half of his work falls into two series. The “Bossy” series, about a computer with artificial intelligence, was written either alone or in collaboration with Alex Apostolides or Frank Riley. The “Ralph Kennedy” series, which more comical, and written mostly solo, including the novel When They Come From Space, although there one collaboration with Apostolides. Clifton gained his greatest success with his novel They’d Rather Be Right, co-written with Riley. This novel was serialized in Astounding during 1954, and which awarded the Hugo Award. Clifton began publishing during May 1952 with the widely anthologized story “What Have I Done?”
It had to be I. It would be stupid to say that the burden should have fallen to a great statesman, a world leader, a renowned scientist. With all modesty, I think I am one of the few who could have caught the problem early enough to avert disaster. I have a peculiar skill. The whole thing hinged on that. I have learned to know human beings.
The first tithe I saw the fellow, I was at the drug-store counter buying cigarettes. He was standing at the magazine rack. One might have thought from the expression on his face that he had never seen magazines before. Still, quite a number of people get that rapt and vacant look when they can’t make up their minds to a choice.
The thing which bothered me in that casual glance was that I couldn’t recognize him.