home   |   А-Я   |   A-Z   |   меню


CHAPTER EIGHT

I don't know how long the interrogation sessions went on. I tried to keep count of them, but there wasn't much point to that. The number didn't tell me much, because I had no good measure of how many hours each lasted, or how long I was allowed to sleep when I did. I didn't know, either, whether it really mattered for me to keep on sounding the walls, trying to peer past the doors when they were opened, even, once, deliberately falling against one of the Christmas trees to see how they felt. (They didn't feel like anything I had expected. No needle stabs, no feeling of chill glass spikes against my skin; the thing caught me and cradled me as though in an instantly created form-fitting basket of its twigs and set me back on my feet, and I had learned nothing at all.)

I wished for Dopey's presence so I could ask him more questions. That didn't happen often. We seemed to be on different schedules; once when Green-glass woke me up I caught a glimpse of him, sound asleep. But when I was allowed back in the biological-needs room he was gone.

And the questions didn't stop. Sports: how were players selected for football teams, and why would any sentient being risk life and limb in so violent an activity? Currency: What determined how many Japanese yen were given for one American dollar? What caused "inflation"? Why did humans play board games? How was "ownership" of land areas determined? What was the role of the stock market?

And I was reaching the ragged edge of fatigue.

I wasn't getting very far with trying to slip questions in, either. I was pretty sure that the robots were very familiar with that little stratagem, and I thought I knew why: they had dealt with Dan Dannermans before, and they knew our tricks.

Then I thought I saw an opening.

The questioning turned to religion. What was the nature of the religious experience? What evidence did the priests and preachers have for the existence of a "God" or a "Heaven"? Or, for that matter, of a "Hell," or some other form of postlife reward or punishment for transgressions?

And all of a sudden, I saw what I had been waiting for. I had something to tell them that I was pretty sure would dislodge some data for me. "Excuse me," I wheedled, the very model of a prisoner beaten down past the point of resistance, trying to curry favor with his captors, "but if you permit, I can tell you a story from my personal experience that might illuminate some of these questions for you."

Green-glass paused, its needles stirring in silence, apparently thinking that over. Then it spoke.

"Do so," it said.


What I wanted to tell the machine about was a memory of my grandmother, from when I was six or seven years old. That was when my parents began to make me spend a few weeks each summer at Uncle Cubby's place on the Jersey shore.

Uncle Chubby was J. Cuthbert Dannerman, the one with the money. I didn't specially want to be spending summers in his house. Uncle Cubby wanted it, because he liked having kids around now and then, possessing none of his own. And my father, who hadn't done nearly as well with his career as his older brother, wanted me to be there, too, because he was well aware that when Uncle Chubby died there would be a considerable estate for someone to inherit.

Well, that part didn't work out for me, for one reason or another, but those summers in New Jersey turned out not to be so bad. After I had cried myself to sleep for a week or so I began to enjoy myself. My cousin Pat came along most summers, for the same reasons. Unfortunately she was a girl, but at least she was someone to play with, and after a while her gender turned out to be an asset. That was when we discovered some interesting new games, like I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours.

The bad part of the summers was that Grandmother Dannerman was there, too.

Grandmother Dannerman was a dying old woman, but she was taking her time about it. She was bedridden, feeble and incontinent. There was always a faint smell of old-lady pee in her bedroom, although the big windows that looked down to the river were generally open wide. After her fifth or sixth major operation she had got religion, and she wanted me and Pat to have it, too. She explained that when she died she was going to go to Heaven, because she had been a good Christian woman. She fully intended to see us there with her, so once a day, after our naps and before we were allowed to go swim in the river, she taught us Bible stories in her tiny, wheezy voice.

That was a drag. It did make playing Doctor under the boat deck half an hour later a little more exciting, but it never had the effect on us that Grandmother Dannerman intended. She didn't make us want to go to Heaven. She told us there was no sin there, and what was the fun of someplace where you weren't allowed to sin a little?

That was then. This was now, and I thought I had finally found a good use for Grandmother Dannerman's sermons. I told them to the green-glass Christmas tree and, obedient to my training, I did my best to put a little spin on them. The angels in the old lady's Heaven: Were they sort of like the way the Horch would be at the Eschaton? Did the bright, angelic swords of fire correspond to the weapons of the Horch? When we all got there, would we spend our time singing and playing music and never, ever doing anything the Horch might consider a sin?

That's what I tried.

It didn't work very well. Green-glass didn't want questions from me. Green-glass wanted only facts. The first couple of times I tried throwing in a question it simply ignored what I asked. Then it instructed me to stop doing that. And then it got worse.

See, I couldn't stop. I was convinced that I had no other way of gaining information, and I kept on doing it, and so the Christmas tree took its inevitable next step.


That was the second time I got the helmet. It was just as agonizing as before; but it had a surprising result.

I expect I screamed a lot. When Green-glass at last took the helmet off my head and I lay there, shaken and miserable, I saw that something had changed. One of the room's doors had opened. Something I had never seen before was looking in at us.

It was a pretty hideous specimen.

What it looked like, more than anything else, was a scaled-down model of one of the dinosaurs I'd seen in the museums when I was a kid-an apatosaurus, they called that kind-only this one was standing on its hind legs and wearing a kind of lavishly embroidered jogging suit. Its arms weren't like a dinosaur's, though. They were lightly furred and as sinuous as an elephant's trunk, and so was its long, long neck, with a little snaky head at the end of it that darted around inquisitively. It had a round little belly that was covered by a circular patch of embroidered gold-it almost looked like a particularly fancy maternity dress-and I recognized it at once from the pictures Dopey had shown us when we were his captives.

It was the Enemy. I guess my screaming had attracted it, and so I was in the presence of a living, breathing Horch.


When the Horch entered the room the Christmas trees stopped what they were doing, their twiglets turning deferentially toward it. It did not speak to them. It came toward me, arms and neck swaying, and it darted its little head at my face, sniffing and staring into my eyes. Then the long neck whipped the head away and the creature turned toward the door to the biological-needs room. The door opened at once and the Horch passed through, followed by the rosy-pink robot.

What they were doing there, I could not see, though I could hear sounds from inside the room. The Horch and the Christmas tree were twittering to each other, though I couldn't make out the words. There was something else going on, too: squeaking, gasping noises I couldn't identify. Then the Horch came back into the interrogation room, didn't speak, simply left it again through one of the other doors, with that long neck curved back and the snaky little eyes peering at me.

Rosy-pink buzzed back on its little roller-skate wheels to where I lay. It didn't comment on the visit from the living Horch. It didn't resume the questioning, either. "Attend now to your biological needs," it said, and that was the end of that session.


The mystery sounds had come from Dopey. He wasn't alone, either. A bronze-colored Christmas tree was holding him down while a pale yellow one was doing some obviously painful things to him.

It looked like a torture session to me, and that was both surprising and wrong. I mean sinfully wrong, a violation of order and propriety. Interrogations didn't take place in the biological-needs room! No prisoner likes to see changes in the rules, because changes are almost always bad, so I squawked a feeble sort of protest. It didn't go any further than that. The pale yellow one extended a clutch of branches menacingly in my direction, and I took the hint. I shut up. I couldn't help watching, though. Every time the machine touched Dopey he twitched and squeaked in pain, though they weren't asking him any questions. Then, abruptly, they released him and rolled out of the room.

As soon as they were gone I knelt beside Dopey. He was breathing hoarsely, obviously hurting. "Are you all right?" I asked.

He turned the kitten eyes on me. "No, Agent Dannerman, I am not all right," he gasped. "Leave me alone."

I couldn't do that. "Did you see that thing? It was a living Horch, wasn't it?"

Dopey gave me a look of disdain. "Of course," he said, pulling himself together. He stood up uncertainly, then limped toward the water jug.

I followed. "You weren't surprised to see him?"

He took his time about answering, drinking from his little cupped hands. It seemed to revive him. "The Horch rule here," he said, licking his lips. "What is surprising if one looks in on our interrogation? Did you expect it to be kinder than its machines?"

As a matter of fact, I had, sort of. "He looked like he was inspecting the way we were treated," I said, unwilling to give up what little hope I could find. "I thought he might do something to help us, maybe."

He gave me a look of contempt and said his favorite thing: "You are a fool, Agent Dannerman. Kindness from a Horch!"

"Not kindness," I said stubbornly. "Common sense. If we get sick, we won't be any good to them."

"In which case," he said, "they will simply scrap us and make new copies. Now I wish to sleep."

He looked as though he needed it. "All right," I said reluctantly. "I forgot they'd been torturing you."

He gazed at me with an expression of blended contempt and woe. "Torturing me? No, Agent Dannerman, they were not torturing me. They were doing worse. They were giving me medical treatment to keep me alive. Now let me sleep!"


CHAPTER SEVEN | The Far Shore of Time | CHAPTER NINE



Loading...