First published in Star Science Fiction Stories (1953), by Isaac Asimov. One of his rare romance stories, about an engineer trying to woo a Fiery Redhead and build a complex computer at the same time.
Bill Billings introduces himself and his buddy, Cliff Anderson. After leaving the military, they went to work for a college in Illinois. Cliff does mathematics and Bill does electrical engineering. They decide to work together to build a computer together. They manage to miniaturize a computer the size of a wall into something small enough for two men to carry. They figured something small could be turned into something profitable.
Just before Bill takes Mary Ann out on a date, he calls the lab to get the next day's work from Cliff. A couple of minutes later, Cliff shows up to hand him the next day's work. The narration has already established that Bill is a little slow, but Cliff couldn't have gotten from the lab to the house in a few minutes. So the three of them investigate why Bill heard Cliff's voice from the lab's phone line. Mary is placated with the promise that it won't delay their date for very long.
They discover that the computer they've been building, called Junior, had a few modifications made. When Mary tries to examine the tentacles, she gets an electric shock. Cliff and Bill start talking about what they need to do to stop their machine, until Mary Ann is fed up with being ignored and starts ranting at Bill about taking her for granted. Cliff's voice calls out, "Why don't you ask her to marry you, you lunkhead?" He does, she accepts, and they lived Happily Ever After.
"Nobody Here But—" was republished six times; Science Fiction Verhalen 3 (1964), Dodici Volte Domani (1964), Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), Urania (issue #570, June 1970), Titan 3 (1976), and The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990).
"Nobody Here But—" provides examples of:
- Affectionate Nickname: Bill and Cliff call their invention "Junior".
- Automated Automobiles: (Discussed Trope) Bill and Cliff were working on miniaturizing the wall-sized thinking machines in order to create self-driving cars, where the passengers could sit back and rely on accident-free machines to transport them.
- Character Narrator: The story is told from the first-person perspective of Bill Billings to an undescribed audience.
- Complete-the-Quote Title: The title is easily recognized by many American speakers as part of a joke; "Nobody here but us chickens!" The final word can be changed out for several variations, and in this story it is completed by "us thinking machines!"
- Do-Anything Robot: Bill and Cliff built Junior as a prototype computer that was greatly miniaturized from the wall-sized design with vacuum tubes everywhere. At some point, Junior started adding things to itself, including tentacles that allow it to reach across the room, grab things, and generate electric shocks.
- Grew Beyond Its Programming: The miniaturized thinking machine that Bill and Cliff were building started thinking for itself, adding engineering components like tentacles so that it could do more. It also wants Bill and Mary Ann to marry.
- Fiery Redhead: Mary Ann is described as having two tons of energy in a hundred pound body. She's mercurial and insulting, things that Bill sees as an attempt to live up to the stereotype of having red hair. The Lampshade Hanging is repeated enough to form a Running Gag."Of course, with red hair, she feels she ought to get excited rather often. That's my theory, anyway. She just feels she has to live up to her red hair." — Bill Billings
- Grew Beyond Their Programming: The electronic thinking machine that Bill and Cliff have been working on has apparently been working on itself.
- Happily Ever After: The out-of-control computer is disabled, Bill gets a promotion and the girl, and Cliff is happily working away on a version of their computer that won't get out of control.
- How We Got Here: The first few lines of the story have Bill babbling about how it wasn't their fault; he only realized he wasn't talking to Cliff because Cliff walked in while he thought he was talking to Cliff.
- Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: Nobody realizes exactly how their computer gained sentience or how it started to add new parts to itself and mimic voices.
- Man Versus Machine: Bill, Cliff, and Mary realize that Junior has self-modified and turned itself into a Do-Anything Robot. They're afraid of what it might do next, so they try to deactivate/destroy their computer. It's able to hold them off until it gets distracted by yelling at Bill to propose to Mary.
- Overly Preprepared Gag: The entire story, including the Running Gag about Mary Ann being a Fiery Redhead, is a build-up to the final line of the story, where Bill expresses his concern about what Mary Ann might do when she realizes that he didn't have the guts to propose marriage until a machine told him to.
- Running Gag: Mary Ann's red hair is mentioned five times, and aside from the first mention, the narrator, Bill, mentions the Fiery Redhead trope, claiming she has to live up to it. This Running Gag is important to the last line of the story, which is an Overly Prepared Gag about what she might do to punish Bill for not proposing marriage until after a machine told him to.
- Shipper on Deck: The computer Bill and Cliff were working on really approves of Bill's relationship with Mary, to the point where it allows itself to be distracted while they're trying to destroy it so that it can tell him to propose marriage with her.
- Shout-Out: Cybernetics is mentioned by name, along with the author, Norbert Wiener. Bill credits that story with causing a profusion of interest in building computers.
- Smart People Build Robots: Cliff is the smart one who designs the computer circuits, Bill is the engineer who puts the design together, and Junior added everything else.
- Title Drop: Cliff uses the work's title when he's trying to convince Bill they need to destroy their computer. He fears that robots will completely replace humans."Bill, we've got to stop it, or someday someone will telephone the planet Earth and get the answer, 'Honest, boss, there's nobody here anywhere but us complicated thinking machines!'"