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11 S. YA. LAVOROVNA




At precisely five-fifteen AM a gentle green glow appeared in the bedside monitor of 5. Ya. Lavorosrna-Broadhead. It was not bright enough to disturb deep slumber, but she had been less than half asleep. "Very well," she called, "I am already awake, you do not have to continue this program. But give me a moment."
"Da, gospozha," her secretary acknowledged, but the green glow remained. If S. Ya. did not show further signs of alertness the secretary would buzz gently in another minute, regardless of what she told it to do; that was what she had told it to do when she wrote the program.
In this case there was no need. Essie woke up quite clear in her mind. There was surgery again this morning, and Robin would not be here. Because old Peter Herter had given warning before he invaded the world's minds, there had been time to prepare. There had been almost no damage. Not real damage; but what made that possible was a frantic flurry of postponing and rearranging, and in the course of it Robin's flights had been inextricably confused.
Pity. Worse than that, even fear. But it was not as though he had not tried. Essie accepted that consolation from herself. It was good to know that he had tried.
"Am I allowed to eat?" she called.
"No, gospozha Broadhead. Nothing at all, not even a drink of water," her secretary responded at once. "Do you wish your messages?"
"Perhaps. What messages?" If they were of interest at all she would take them, she decided; anything to keep her mind off the surgery, and the indignities of catheters and tubes that bound her to this bed.
"There is a voice-only from your husband, gospozha, but if you wish I believe I can reach him direct. I have a location, if he is still there."
"Do so." Experimentally, Essie rose to sit on the edge of the bed while she was waiting for the connection to be completed, or, more likely, for her husband to be found in some transit lounge and called to the comm. She carefully kept the dozen tubes unkinked as she rose to her feet. Apart from feeling weak, she did not feel bad. Fearful. Thirsty. Even shaky. But there was no pain. Perhaps it would all have seemed more serious if it had hurt more, and perhaps that would have been good. These months of demeaning annoyance were only an irritation; there was enough of Anna Karenina in Essie to long to suffer. How trivializing the world had come to be! Her life was on the line, and all she felt was discomfort in her private parts.
"Gospozha Broadhead?"
"Yes?"
The visual program appeared, looking apologetic. "Your husband cannot be reached at present. He is en route from Mexico City to Dallas and has just taken off; all the aircraft's communications are at present required for navigation."
"Mexico City? Dallas?" The poor man! He would be circumnavigating the Earth to get to her! "Then at least give me the recorded message," she ordered.
"Da, gospozha." Face and greenish glow shrank away, and out of the sound-circuits her husband's voice addressed her:
"Honey, I'm having a little trouble making connections. I got a charter to Merida, supposed to make connections to Miami, but I missed the flight. Now I'm hoping to make a connection to Dallas and-Anyway, I'm on my way." Pause. He sounded fretful, which was no surprise, and Essie could almost see him casting around for something cheerful to say. But it was all rambling. Something about the great news about prayer fans. Something about the Heechee who weren't Heechee, and-and just a babble. Poor creature! He was trying to be bright for her. She listened to the sound of his heart, rather than to his words, until he paused again, and then said, "Oh, hell, Essie. I wish I were there. I will be. Fast as I can. In the meantime. Take care of yourself. If you've got any spare time before you, uh, before Wilma gets going, I've told Albert to tape all the essential stuff for you. He's a good old program...." Long pause. "I love you," he said, and was gone.

S. Ya. lay back on her gently humming bed, wondering what to do with the next (and perhaps last?) hour of her life. She missed her husband quite a lot, especially in view of the fact that in some ways she considered him quite a silly man. "Good old program"! How foolish of him to anthropomorphize computer programs! His Albert Einstein program was, she had no other word for it, cute. And it had been his idea to make the bio-assay unit look like a pet. And give it a name! "Squiffy." It was like giving a name to a cleaning machine or a shotgun. Foolish. Unless it were done by someone one cared for... in which case it was instead endearing.
But machines were machines. At the graduate institute at Akademogorsk young S. Ya. Lavorovna had learned very completely that machine intelligence was not "personal". You built them up, from adding machines to number-crunchers. You packed them full of data. You constructed for them a store of appropriate responses to stimuli and provided them with a hierarchical scale of appropriateness; and that was all there was to it. Now and then, to be sure, you were surprised by what came out of a program you had written. Of course you were; that was the nature of the exercise. None of that implied the existence of free will on the part of the machine, or of personal identity.
All the same, it was rather touching to watch him crack jokes with his programs. He was a touching man. He touched her in places where she was most open and vulnerable, because in some ways he was very like that only other man in her life who had ever really mattered to her, her father.
When Semya Yagrodna was a small girl her father had been the central person in the world-tall, skinny old man who played the ukulele and the mandolin and taught biology at the gymnasium. He was delighted to have a bright and inquiring child. It might have pleased him even more if her talents had seemed to go toward the life sciences rather than to physics and engineering, but he cherished her as she was. He taught her about the world when he could no longer teach her mathematics, because she had surpassed him. "You must be aware of what you will have to deal with," he explained to her. "Even here. Even now. Even when I was a young boy in Stalin's time, and the women's movements were promoting girls to lead machine-gun squads and run tractors. This is always the same, Semya. It is a fact of history that mathematics is for the young, and that girls excel equally with boys until the age of fifteen, perhaps, or at most twenty. And then, just when the boys are turning into Lobachewskis and Fermats, the girls stop. Why? For childbearing. For marriage. For heaven knows what. We will not let it happen to you, small dove. Study! Read! Learn! Comprehend! Every day, for as many hours as you must! And I will assist you in all the ways I can." And he did; and from the ages of eight to eighteen young Semya Yagrodna Lavorovna came home from school every day, deposited one book bag in their apartment and picked up another, and trotted away to the old yellow building off the Nevsky Prospekt where her tutor lived. She had never dropped out of mathematics, and for this she had her father to thank. She had never learned to dance, either-or to try a thousand sorts of scent and makeup, or to date-not until she was away at Akademogorsk, and for that also she had her father to thank. Where the world tried to force her into a female role he defended her like a tiger. But at home, to be sure, there was a need to cook and sew, and to polish the rosewood chairs; and none of those things were done by him. Her father in physical appearance had not looked in the least like Robin Broadhead... but in other ways, so like!
Robin had asked her to marry him when they had known each other less than a year. It had taken her a full year beyond that to decide to say yes. She talked to everyone she knew about it. Her roommate. The dean of her department. Her former love; who had married the girl next door. Stay away from this one, S. Ya., they all advised her. On the face of it the advice was sound, for who was he? A feckless millionaire, still mourning a woman he had loved and shatteringly lost, guilt-ridden, just out of years of intensive psychoanalysis-what a perfect description of the completely hopeless marriage risk! But... On the other hand... Nevertheless... Nevertheless he touched her. They had gone to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in stinging cold weather, sitting most of the days inside the Cafe du Monde, never even seeing the parade. The rest of the time they stayed in their hotel, out of the sleet and the crowds, and made love, emerging only for fried sweet dough with clouds of powdered sugar, and sweet, milky, chicory-laced coffee in the mornings. Robin bestirred himself to be gallant. "Shall we go for a cruise on the river today? Visit an art gallery? Dance at a night club?" But she could see that he did not want to do any of these things, this man twice her age who wanted to marry he; sitting with his hands cupped around his coffee as though merely getting warm were formidable enough a task to contemplate for one day. And she made her decision.
She said, "I think instead we might get married, after all."
And so they had. Not that day, but as soon as they could. S. Ya. never regretted it; it was not a thing to regret. After the first few weeks she had not even worried about how it would turn out. He was not a jealous man or a mean one. If he was often absorbed in his work, well, so was she.
There was only this question of the woman, Gelle-Kiara Moyrilin, the lost love.
She might well be dead. Was as good as dead, in any case, because she was hopelessly out of human reach forever. It was well known that this was so, from the fundamental laws of physics... but there were times, Essie was sure, when her husband did not believe it to be so.
And then she wondered: If there was any possibility of a choice between them, how would Robin choose?
And what if the laws of physics, after all, turned out to permit an exception now and then?
There was the matter of the Heechee ships, and how could one apply known physical law to them? As with every other thinking person in the world, the questions raised by the Heechee had intrigued S. Ya. for a long time. The Gateway asteroid had been discovered while she was still a schoolgirl. The headlines announcing new findings had come every few weeks, all through her college years. Some of her classmates had taken the plunge and specialized in the theory of Heechee control systems. Two were on Gateway now. At least three had shipped out and never returned.
The Heechee ships were not uncontrollable. They could in fact be controlled precisely. The superficial mechanics of the process were known. Each ship possessed five main-drive verfliers, and five auxiliaries. They located coordinates in space (how?), and, once set, the ship went there. Again, how? It then returned unerringly to its place of origin, or usually did, if it did not run out of fuel or encounter a mischance-a triumph of cybernetics that S. Ya. knew no human agency could reproduce. The difficulty was that until this very second no human being knew quite how to read the controls.
But what about the next second, or the one after that? With information pouring in, from the Food Factory and Heechee Heaven; with Dead Men talking; with at least one semicompetent human pilot, the boy, Wan-with all this, and especially with the flood of new knowledge that might be unlocked from the prayer fans...
How long before some of the mysteries were solved? Perhaps not very long at all.
S. Ya. wished she could be a part of it all, as her classmates had become. As her husband had become. She wished even more that she did not suspect what part he most wanted to play. But the suspicion remained. If Robin could make a Heechee ship fly him to any destination he chose in all the universe, she thought she knew what that destination would be.

Semya Yagrodna Lavorovna-Broadhead called to her secretary, "How much time do I have?"
The program appeared and said, "It is now five twenty-two. Dr. Liederman is expected at six forty-five. You will then be prepared for the procedure, which will occur at eight o'clock. You have a little more than an hour and a quarter. Perhaps you would like to rest?"
S. Ya. chuckled. It always amused her when her own programs offered her advice. She did not, however, feel any need to respond to it. "Have menus been prepared for today and tomorrow?" she asked.
"Nyet, gospozha."
That was both a relief and a disappointment. At least Robin had not prescribed more fattening foods for today-or perhaps his prescription had been overruled, because of the operation? "Select something," she ordered. The program was quite capable of preparing menus. It was only because of Robin himself that either of them ever gave a thought to such routine chores. But Robin was Robin, and there were times when cooking was a hobby for him, cutting onions paper-thin for a salad and standing to stir a stew for hours. Sometimes what he produced was awful, sometimes not; Essie was not critical, because she was not very interested in what she ate. And also because she was grateful that she felt no need to concern herself with such matters; in this respect, at least, Robin surpassed her father. "No, wait," she added, struck with a thought. "When Robin comes home he will be hungry. Serve him a snack-those crullers, and the New Orleans coffee. As at the Cafe du Monde."
"Da, gospozha." How devious you are, thought Essie, smiling to herself. One hour and twelve minutes left.
It would do no harm to rest.
On the other hand, she was not sleepy.
She could, she thought, interrogate her medical program again. But she had no real wish to hear about the procedures she faced an additional time. Such large pieces to take from someone else's body for the sake of her own! The kidney, yes. One might well sell that and still have something left. As a student, Essie had known comrades who had done that, might even have done it herself if she had been just a shade poorer than she actually was. But, although she knew very little more of anatomy than her father had taught her at his knee, she knew enough to be sure that the person, or persons, who had given her all those other tissues would not have enough left to go on living with. It was a queasy feeling.
Almost as queasy as that other feeling that came with knowing that, even with Full Medical, from this particular invasion of her person by Wilma Liederman's knives she might not return.
Still an hour and eleven minutes.
Essie sat up once more. Whether she was to live or not, she was as dutiful a wife as she had been a daughter, and if Robin wished her to concern herself with prayer fans and Heechee she would. She addressed the computer terminal. "I wish the Albert Einstein program."


далее: 12 SIXTY BILLION GIGABITS >>
назад: 10 THE OLDEST ONE <<

Фредерик Пол. За синим горизонтом событий (ENGL)
   1 WAN
   2 ON THE WAY TO THE OORT CLOUD
   3 WAN IN LOVE
   4 ROBIN BROADHEAD, INC.
   5 JANINE
   6 AFTER THE FEVER
   7 HEECHEE HEAVEN
   8 SCHWARZE PETER
   9 BRASILIA
   10 THE OLDEST ONE
   11 S. YA. LAVOROVNA
   12 SIXTY BILLION GIGABITS
   13 AT THE HALFWAY POINT
   14 THE LONG NIGHT OF THE DREAMS
   15 OLDER THAN THE OLDEST ONE
   16 THE RICHEST PERSON THERE IS
   17 THE PLACE WHERE THE HEECHEE WENT


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