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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Sheffield Charles
 

«Divergence», Charles Sheffield

CHAPTER 1

“Blink your left eye. Very good. Now close your right eye, hold it closed until I say ‘Ready,’ and then open it and smile at the same time.”

“May I speak?”

“In a moment. Ready.”

The bright blue eye opened. Thin lips drew back to reveal even white teeth. Sue Ando studied the grinning face for a few seconds, then turned to her assistant. “Now that needs attention. It’s enough to scare a Cecropian. We need an upward curve on it, make it look more friendly.”

“I’ll take care of it.” The other woman made a note on her computer scratchpad.

“May I speak?”

Ando nodded to the naked male figure standing in front of her. “Go ahead. We want to test your speech patterns anyway. And stop smiling like that — you give me the shivers.”

“I am sorry. But why are you going through all this again? It is quite unnecessary. I was thoroughly checked before I left the Persephone facility, and I was found to be physically perfect.”

“I should hope so. We don’t take rejects. But that was a month ago, and I’m checking for changes. There’s always a settling-in period for an embodied form. And you’ll be going a long way, to a place where they’ve probably never even seen an embodiment. If you run into stability problems you won’t be able to drop in to a shop for an adjustment the way you can around Sol. All right. One more test, then we have to get you to the briefing center. Look at me and lift one foot off the floor.”

As the bare foot was raised, Sue Ando stabbed with her fist at the unprotected jaw. One hand began to move up in self-defense, but it was too slow. Ando’s knuckles came into hard contact with the chin.

“Damnation!” She put her fist to her mouth and sucked at the bruised joints. “That hurt. Did you feel it?”

“Of course. I have excellent sensory equipment.”

“Not to mention tough skin. But now do you see what I mean about settling in to that body? I should never have got within a hand’s length of you. A month ago I wouldn’t have. Your reflexes need to be turned up a notch. We’ll take care of it later today, after your briefing. It will mean popping your brain out for a few minutes.”

“If you insist. However, I should mention that my embodied design is intended for continuous sensory input.”

“We can arrange that, too. I’ll run a neural bundle from your brain to your spine, so you’ll receive your sensory feeds for all but the few seconds it takes to plug in the bundle at both ends.”

“That will be appreciated. May I speak again?”

“I’m not sure we can stop you. Go ahead, talk as much as you like. Talk is going to be your main mode of communication.”

“That is exactly the point I wish to make. I do not understand why I am to be provided with information in such an inefficient manner. I am wholly plug-compatible. With the use of a neural bundle, I can in one second send and receive many millions of data items. Humans are painfully slow. It is truly ridiculous to dole information to me via such a medium, or force me to provide it to another entity at a similar meager rate.”

Sue Ando smiled at her assistant’s expression. “I know, Lee. You think I ought to tone down his asperity level. But you’re wrong. Where he’s going annoyance at inefficiency will be a survival trait.” She turned to the expressionless male figure. “Sure, you can send and receive faster than we can — to another computer. But you’re going to the Dobelle system. It’s poor and it’s primitive, and I doubt if anyone there has ever seen an embodied computer. They certainly can’t afford the facilities for direct data dumps with you. Your sources of information are going to be humans, and maybe other Organics. We may be slow and stupid, but you’re stuck with us. Get used to that as soon as you can.”

She turned back to Lee Boro. “Anything else we need before the briefing?”

Lee consulted her checklist. “Body temperature is a couple of degrees below human normal, but we’ll fix that. Ion balances are fine. A name. We ought to settle one before we go any further.”

“May I speak?”

Sue Ando sighed. “If you must. We’re running out of time.”

“I will be brief. Another name is unnecessary. I already have a complete identification. I am Embodied Computer 194, Crimson Series Five, Tally Line, Limbic-Enhanced Design.”

“We know that. And I have a complete identification, too. I’m Sue Xantippe Harbeson Ando, human female, Europa homeworld, Fourth Alliance Group, Earth clade. But I wouldn’t dream of using that as my name, it’s three times too long to be useful. Your name is going to be—” She paused. “Something nice and simple. Embodied Computer Tally. E.C. Tally. How’s that sound, Lee? E. Crimson Tally, if he wants to get formal.”

Lee checked her computer. “It’s not taken. I’ll make an isomorphism between E. Crimson Tally and the full identification.” She entered the note. “E. C. Tally for short. And we’ll call you just Tally. All right?”

“May I speak?”

Sue Ando sighed. “Not again. They’re waiting for you at the briefing station. All right. What’s your problem now? Don’t you like that name?”

“The identification that you propose is quite satisfactory. However, I am puzzled by two other things. First, I perceive that I am without clothing, while both of you wear your bodies covered.”

“My Lord. Are you telling us you feel embarrassed?”


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