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When Essie Broadhead said, "I wish the Albert Einstein program," she set a large number of events in motion. Very few of these events were visible to the unaided senses. They did not take place in the macroscopic physical world, but in a universe composed largely of charges and pathways operating on the scale of the electron. The individual units were tiny. The total was not, being made up of some sixty billion gigabits of information.
At Akademogorsk, young S. Ya. 's professors had schooled her in the then current computer logics of ion optics and magnetic bubbles. She had learned to trick her computers into doing many marvelous things. They could find million-digit prime numbers or calculate the tides on a mud-flat for a thousand years. They could take a child's scribble of "House" and "Daddy" and refine it into an engineer's rendering of an architectural plan, and a tailor's dummy of a man. They could rotate the house, add a sunporch, sheath it in stucco or cover it with ivy. They could shave off a beard, add a wig, costume the man for yachting or golfing, for boardroom or bar. These were marvelous programs for nineteen-year-old Semya. She found them thrilling. But she had grown since then. By comparison with the programs she was now writing, for her secretary, for "Albert Einstein" and for her many clients, those early ones were slow and stumbling caricatures. They did not have the advantage of circuits borrowed from Heechee technology, or of a circulating memory store of 6 X b'9 bits.
Of course, even Albert did not use all sixty billion gigabits all the time. For one thing, they were not all shared. Even the shared stores were occupied by tens of thousands of programs as subtle and complicated as Albert, and by tens of millions of duller ones. The program called "Albert Einstein" slipped through and among the thousands and the millions without interference. Traffic signals warned him away from occupied circuits. Guideposts led him to subroutines and libraries needed to fulfill his functions. His path was never a straight line. It was a tree of branching decision points, a lightning-stroke of zigzag turns and reverses. It was not truly a "path", either; Albert never moved. He was never in a specific place to move from. It is at least arguable whether Albert "was" anything at all. He had no continuous existence. When Robin Broadhead was through with him and turned him off he ceased to be, and his subroutines picked up other tasks. When he was turned on again he recreated himself from whatever circuits were idle, according to the program S. Ya. had written. He was no more real than an equation, and no less so than God.
"I wish..." S. Ya. Lavorovna-Broadhead had said.
Before her voice was halfway through the first vowel the sound-activated gate in the monitor's receiver summoned up her secretarial program. The secretary did not appear. She read the first trace of the name that followed... "-the Albert Einstein..."
-matched it against her command store, made a probabilistic assessment of the rest and issued an instruction. That was not all the secretary did. Before that she had recognized the voice of S. Ya. and confirmed that it was that of an authorized person-the person who had written her, in fact. She checked her store for undelivered messages, found several, and weighed their urgency. She made a quick sweep of Essie's telemetry readings to estimate her physical condition, retrieved the memory of her proximate surgery, balanced them against the messages and the present instruction, and decided the messages need not be delivered, and in fact could be handled by Essie's surrogate. All that took very little time and involved only a minor fraction of the secretary's full program. She did not need to remember, for instance, what she was supposed to look like or how her voice was supposed to sound. So she did not bother.
The secretary's instruction woke "Albert Einstein".
He did not at first know that he was Albert Einstein. As he read his program he discovered several things about himself. First, that he was an interactive information-retrieval program, whereupon he searched for and found addresses for the principal categories of information he was supposed to supply. Second, that he was heuristic and normative, which obliged him to look for the rules, in the form of go and no-go gates, that determined his decision-making. Third, that he was the property of Robin a. k. a. Robinette, Rob, Robby, Bob or Bobby-Stetley Broadhead and would be required to interact with him on a basis of "knowing" him. This impelled the Albert program to access the Robin Broadhead files, and rehearse their contents-by far the most time-consuming part of his task so far. When all this was done he discovered his name and the details of his appearance. He made a series of arbitrary choices of costume-pullover sweater, or stained gray sweatshirt; slippers or frayed tennis shoes with a toe poking out; socks or none-and appeared in the tank of the monitor in the guise of the real Albert Einstein, pipe in hand, mild eyes humorously inquiring, before the last echo of the command had died.
He had had plenty of time. It had taken Essie nearly four-tenths of a second to speak his name.
As she had spoken in English, he greeted her in the same language. "Good..." quick check of local time, "morning," fast assessment of Essie's mood and condition, "Mrs. Broadhead." If she had been dressed for the office he would have called her "Lavorovna."
Essie studied him appraisingly for several seconds, an infinity of time for Albert. He did not waste it. He was a shared-time program, and the parts of his capacity that were not in active use at any particular pico-second busied themselves at other tasks.
Whatever task was going. While he waited, parts of him were excused to help other programs make a weather forecast for a sport-fishing vessel leaving Long Island Sound, teach the conjugation of French verbs to a little girl, animate a sexual doll for a wealthy, and quirky, old recluse, and tally gold prices received from the Peking exchange. There were almost always other tasks on line. When there were not, there were the waiting batch-process files of less urgent problems-nuclear particle path analysis, the refinement of asteroid orbits, the balancing of a million checkbooks-that any of the sixty billion gigabits might turn a hand to in an idle moment.
Albert was not the same as Robin's other programs-the lawyer, the doctor, the secretary, the psychoanalyst, or any of the surrogates who functioned for Robin Broadhead when Robin was busy or disinclined. Albert shared many memories with them. They freely accessed each other's files. Each had a specific universe of action, tasked for specific needs; but they could not carry out their tasks without awareness of each other.
Apart from that, they were each the personal property of Robin Broadhead, slaved to his will. So sophisticated was Albert that he could read contextual clues and deduce imperatives. He was not limited in his responses by what Robin said to him. He was able to read deeper questions from the totality of everything Robin had ever said, to any of his programs. Albert could not betray a confidence of Robin's, or fail to recognize what was confidential. Generally.
There were exceptions. The person who had written Albert's program in the first place could easily write an overriding command, and had.

"Robin instructed you to prepare summaries for me," Essie told her creation. "Give them to me now." She watched critically and also admiringly as the program she bad written nodded, scratched its ear with its pipestem and began to speak. Albert was quite a good program, she thought with pride. For a collection of electronic impulses living in rag stores-weakly crystalline dichalcogenides with the structure of a wet dishrag-Albert was a rather attractive person.
She adjusted her tubes and piping and leaned back against pillows to listen to what Albert had to say. It was all most exceedingly interesting. Even to her, even at this time when in-what was it? in less than one hour ten minutes she would be sponged and stripped and shaved and basted for further invasions of her inner person. As all she demanded of the Albert program at this time was edited memories of conversations that had already occurred, she knew that he had dismissed large parts of himself to other work. But what was left, she observed critically, was quite solid. The transition from the interactive Albert waiting for her question to the remembered Albert talking to her husband was done smoothly and without jumps-if one did not look for such minor imperfections as that the pipe was suddenly alight, and the socks abruptly pulled up over the ankles. Satisfied, Essie paid attention to the content of what was going on. It was not just one conversation, she perceived. There were at least three. Robin must have been spending a lot of time talking to his science program in Brasilia, and while one part of her mind was listening to the exciting news from Heechee Heaven another part was smiling at herself. How amusing that she should be pleased at this evidence that he had not used his hotel suite for other purposes! (Or at least not exclusively, she amended.) He could not have been blamed if he had chosen a living companion instead. Even a female one. Under the circumstances, with a main lover in no condition to be very responsive, she would certainly have felt free to do the same. (Well, not certainly. There was enough early Soviet prudishness left in Essie for at least a doubt.) But she admitted to herself that she was pleased, and then made herself attend to the truly fascinating things that were being said. So much happening! So much to absorb!
First, the Heechee. The Heechee in Heechee Heaven were not Heechee! Or at least those Old Ones were not. It was proved by the bio-assay of the DNA, Albert was earnestly assuring her husband, punctuating his arguments with pipe thrusts. The bioassay had produced not an answer but a puzzle, a basic chemistry that was neither human, nor yet inhuman enough to come from creatures evolved around some other star. "Also," said Albert, puffing, "there is the question of the Heechee seat. It does not fit a human being. But neither does it fit the Old Ones. So for whom was it designed? Alas, Robin. We do not know."
A quick flicker, the socks now gone, the pipe out and being filled, and Albert was talking about prayer fans. He had not, Albert apologized, unriddled the fans. The literature was vast but he had searched it all. There was no imaginable application of energy and no instrumentation that had not been applied to them. Yet they had stayed mute. "One can speculate," Albert said, striking a match to his pipe, "that all of the fans left for us by the Heechee are garbled, perhaps to tantalize us. I do not believe this. Rafliniert 1st der Herr Hietschie, aber Boshaft 1st er nicht," In spite of everything, Essie laughed out loud. Der Herr Hietschie indeed! Had she written this sense of comedy into her program? She thought of interrupting him to command that he display this section of his instructions, but already that replay had ended and a slightly less rumpled Albert was talking about astrophysics. Here Essie almost closed her ears, for she quickly had enough of curious cosmologies. Was the universe open-ended or closed? She did not strongly care. Was some large quantity of mass "missing", in the sense that not enough could be observed to account for known gravitational effects? Very well, then let it stay missing. Essie felt no need to go looking for it. Someone's fantasy of storms of indetectible pious, and someone else-someone named Kiube's-notion that mass might be created from nothing, interested her very little. But when the conversation switched to black holes, she paid close attention. She was not really concerned with the subject. She was concerned with Robin's concern for it.
And that, she told herself justly as Albert rambled on, was petty of her. Robin had kept no mean secrets. He had told her at once of the love of his life, the woman named Gelle-Klara Moynlin whom he had abandoned in a black hole-had told her, actually, far more than she wanted to know.
She said, "Stop."
Instantly the three-dimensional figure in the tank abandoned the word it had been speaking in midsyllable. It gazed politely at her, awaiting orders.
"Albert," she said carefully, "why did you tell me Robin was studying question of black holes?"
The figure coughed. "Why, Mrs. Broadhead," Albert said, "I have been playing a recording prepared especially for you."
"Not this time. Why did you volunteer this information other time?"
Albert's expression cleared and he said humbly, "That directive did not come from my program, gospozha."
"I thought not! You have been interacting with the psychoanalytic program!"
"Yes, gospozha, as you programmed me to do."
"And what was the purpose of this intervention from the Sigfrid von Shrink program?"
"I cannot say for sure-but," he added hastily, "perhaps I can offer a guess. Perhaps it is that the Sigfrid estimates your husband should be more open with you."
"That program is not charged with care of my mental health!"
"No, gospozha, not with yours, but with your husband's. Gospozha, if you wish more information, let me suggest that you consult that program, not me."
"I can do more than that!" she blazed. And so she could. She could speak three words-Daite gorod Polymat-and Albert, Harriet, Sigfrid von Shrink, every one of Robin's programs would be subsumed into the powerful program of her own, Polymath, the one she had used to write them in the first place, the overriding program that contained every instruction they owned. And then let them try cunning evasions on her! Then let them see if they could maintain the confidentiality of their memories! Then "God," Essie said aloud, "am actually planning to teach lesson to my own programs!"
She caught her breath. It was almost a laugh, nearly a sob. "No," she said, "cancel above. I find no fault with your programming, Albert, nor with shrink's. If shrink program judges Robin should release internal tensions, I cannot overrule and will not pry. Further," she corrected herself fairly.
The curious thing about Essie Lavorovna-Broadhead was that "fairness" meant something to her, even in dealing with her constructs. A program like Albert Einstein was large, complex, subtle, and powerful. Not even S. Ya. Lavorovna could write such a program alone; for that she needed Polymath. A program like Albert Einstein learned, and grew, and redefined its tasks as it went along. Not even its author could say why it gave one bit of information and not another. One could only observe that it was working, and judge it by how it carried out its orders. It was unfair to the program to "blame" it, and Essie could not be so unfair.
But, as she moved restlessly among her pillows (twenty-two minutes left!) it came to her that the world was not entirely fair to her. Not fair at all! It was not fair that all these fairytale wonders should be pouring in upon the world-not now. It was not fair that these perils and perplexities should manifest themselves, not now, not while she might not live to see how they came out. Could Peter Herter be dealt with? Would the others of his party be saved? Could the lessons of the prayer fans and the explorers make it possible to do all the things Robin promised, feed the world, make all men well and happy, allow the human race to explore the universe? All these questions, and before this day's sun had set she might be dead and never to know the answers! It was not fair, any of it. And least fair was that if she died of this operation she would never know, truly, which way Robin would have chosen, if somehow his lost love could be found again.
She became aware that time was passing. Albert sat patiently in the tank, moving only occasionally to suck his pipe or scratch under the hem of his floppy sweater-to remind her, that is, that he was still in standby mode.
Essie's thrifty cybernetician's soul was indignantly ordering her to use the program or turn it off-what a shocking waste of machine time! But she hesitated. There were questions still to ask.
At the door the nurse was looking in. "Good morning, Mrs. Broadhead," she said when she saw that Essie was wide awake.
"Is it time?" Essie asked, her voice suddenly unsteady.
"Oh, not for a few minutes yet. You can go on with your machine if you want to."
Essie shook her head. "Is no point," she said and dismissed the program. It was a decision lightly taken. It did not occur to her that some of the unasked questions might be consequential.
And when Albert Einstein was dismissed he did not allow himself to disintegrate at once.
"The whole of anything is never told," said Henry James. Albert knew "Henry James" only as an address, the information behind which he had never had occasion to seek. But he understood the meaning of that law. He could never tell the whole of anything even to his master. He would fail in his programming if he tried.
But what parts of the whole to select?
At its lowest structural level, Albert's program was gated to pass items of a certain measured "importance" and reject others. Simple enough. But the program was redundant. Some items came to it through several gates, sometimes as many as hundreds of gates; and when some of the gates said "go" and others said "no go," what was a program to do? There were algorithms to test importance, but at some levels of complexity the algorithms taxed even the resources of sixty billion gigabits-or of a universe full of bits; Meyer and Stockmeyer had proved, long ago, that, regardless of computer power, problems existed which could not be solved in the life of the universe. Albert's problems were not quite that immense. But he could not find an algorithm to decide for him, for instance, whether he should bring up the puzzling implications of Mach's Principle as applied to Heechee history. Worse. He was a proprietary program. It would have been interesting to pass on his conjectures on the subject to a pure science research program. But that his basic programming did not permit.
So Albert held himself together for nearly a millisecond, reconsidering his options. Should he, next time Robin summoned him, volunteer his misgivings about the potentially terrifying truth that lay behind Heechee Heaven?
He reached no conclusion in all that long one thousandth of a second, and his parts were needed elsewhere.
So Albert allowed himself to come apart.
This part he poured into slow memory, that part into ongoing problems as needed, until all of Albert Einstein had soaked into the 6 x 10 bits, like water into sand, until not even a stain was left. Some of his routines joined with others in a simulated war game, in which Key West was invaded from Grand Cayman. Some turned up to assist the traffic-controller program at Dallas-Fort Worth, as Robin Broadhead's plane entered its landing pattern. Much, much later, some of him helped to monitor Essie's vital functions as Dr. Wilma Liederman began to cut. One little bit, hours after, helped to solve the mystery of the prayer fans. And the simplest, crudest, tiniest part of all stayed on to supervise the program that prepared Cajun coffee and beignets for Robin when he arrived, and to see that the house was clean for him. Sixty billion gigabits can do much. They even do windows.

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