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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Asimov Isaac, Asimov Janet

«Norby», Isaac Asimov и др.

to the beautiful younger generation






1. Danger


Jefferson Wells sat in front of the main computer screen, trying to keep his mind on Earth history.

"Hey, Norby," he called out, "I hope you're fixing the kitchen computer without making things worse. Albany Jones and my brother, Fargo, will be here soon and I don't want to leave the Roman republic again just because the chicken has to be basted."

No one answered.

"Norby?" Jeff made it to the kitchen in a fast stride-his legs were long for a fourteen-year-old-and found no one fixing the computer or attending to the cooking.

Jeff shook his head. He knew lots of people with personal robots, but he was the only one blessed with a mixed-up robot. He basted the chicken in a hurry, muttering to himself. Then he hastened back through the living room and into the bedroom.

There, in front of the other terminal of the main computer was Norby, his back eyes firmly shut. Jeff could tell from the dim reflection in the computer screen that Norby's second pair of eyes were open on the other side of his head. Those eyes were staring at words that moved down the screen almost rapidly enough to blur, for Norby could read faster than most people could think. This was especially true when he closed one pair of eyes in order to concentrate entirely with the other pair.

Norby's body-a metal barrel about sixty centimeters high-teetered back and forth on his fully extended legs, the feet of which were symmetrical fore and back. His multi-joined arms, just as fully extended, had hands that also faced both ways. One of those hands remained pressed dramatically to his barrel torso. The other flung itself away suddenly, in a gesture common among politicians and actors.

"Friends, Romans, countrymen," intoned Norby in a voice a little too deep to be natural to him, the words sounding through a hidden speaker in his unremovable domed hat. Norby always talked through his hat, which lifted only far enough to show his four remarkably human eyes. He proceeded to raise his outstretched arm and point at the computer terminal as if it were an audience.

"Lend me your ears, I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him…"

"I'll bury you." Jeff said, "if you don't fix the kitchen computer in a hurry."

Norby opened his back eyelids and blinked at Jeff. "It's such a boring machine, Jeff. It doesn't know any Shakespeare."

"I think that means you haven't figured out how to repair it yet."

"And it doesn't like me. It thinks I'm alien."

"The kitchen computer has no feelings and practically no brains. There's no use bragging to it about how your first owner put alien parts in you."

"Oh," said Norby. "Then don't you think I should avoid associating with inferior machines? Don't you think I should improve the quality of my mental data bank by studying?"

Jeff groaned. "You could at least study real history. All you do is indulge yourself in Shakespeare or try to remember how to get to whatever alien planet your alien parts came from."

"Well, you won't find it. You humans haven't even settled beyond your own solar system, and you haven't developed telepathy…"

"Great galaxy! What's the use of you being able to communicate with me telepathically if you're not going to use it to help me learn history quicker?" Jeff stomped back to the kitchen and set about mashing the potatoes, a job the kitchen computer was supposed to do.

Norby pattered after Jeff, his telescopic legs almost completely withdrawn so that he seemed very small and humble. "You don't seem grateful that I succeeded in helping you pass the Martian Swahili exam."

"Right now I need help with history," said Jeff, thumping the bowl so hard that a bit of unmashed potato flew up and hit him on the nose. Exasperated, Jeff rolled his eyes upward and saw that more potato was stuck on the ceiling. "For a supposed teaching robot, you probably haven't learned one bit of history yourself."

"I have too. I'll prove it to you."

Jeff never had a chance to ask Norby what he meant, because at that moment the door speaker buzzed to attract attention. Then it announced, "Cadet Wells-Admiral Yobo is here to see you."

"He's here, on Earth? To see-me? Let him in!"

Jeff dashed into the living room, forgetting the large plastic apron he had tied around his waist. Norby, retracting his legs all the way inside his barrel, made use of his personal antigrav to sail through the air beside him.

Jeff's legs tangled with a scatter rug and he sat down abruptly, while Norby hovered over his head and made an odd sound.

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