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The girl had always been called Taya. She propped her elbows on the sill below the window and rested her chin in her hands while she stared out at the stars. Her eyes, wide with a nine-year-old's wonder, mirrored a million jewels spilling endlessly across carpets of glowing nebulas painted over black infinity by brushes softer than the yellow hair framing her face.
It was a pretty face, with clear skin and an upturned nose, and a mouth that could push itself out into a pout when she frowned, or pull itself back into dimples when she smiled. She was wearing just a simple dress of pale blue, which tightened as she leaned forward across the sill, outlining the curves just beginning to form on her body. And as she gazed out at the stars, she wriggled her toes in the soft pile covering the floor, and she wondered ...
She wondered why everything she could see beyond the window that looked out of Merkon was so different from the things inside. That was one of the things she often wondered about. She liked wondering things ... such as why the stars never changed, as they should have if Merkon was really moving the way Kort said it was. Kort said it was moving toward a particular star that he called Vaxis. He had pointed it out to her in the sky, and shown it to her on the star pictures that they could make on the screens-as if there were something special about it. But it always looked the same as all the other stars to her.
Kort said that Merkon had always been moving toward Vaxis. But if that was true, why didn't Vaxis ever get any bigger? Outside the rooms in which Taya lived was a long corridor that led to the place where capsules left for other parts of Merkon. When Taya walked along the corridor, the far end of it would at first be smaller than her thumb; but as she carried on walking it would grow, until by the time she got there it was bigger even than Kort. Kort said that Vaxis didn't seem to get any bigger because it was much farther away than the end of the corridor. But he also said that Merkon had been moving for years and years-longer than she could remember-and that it was moving even faster than the capsules did through the tubes. How could anything be so far away that it never got any bigger?
Kort didn't know why Merkon was moving toward Vaxis, which was strange because Kort knew everything. He just said that was the way things had always been, just as there had always been stars outside. When she asked him why there were stars outside, he always talked about gas clouds, gravitation, temperatures, densities, and other "machine things" that had nothing to do with what she meant. She didn't want to know how the stars came to be out there, but why anything should be out there at all-or for that matter, why there should be an "out there" in the first place for anything to be in. He just didn't seem to share her kind of curiosity about things.
"We know what we mean, don't we, Rassie," Taya said aloud, turning her head toward the doll sitting on the sill, staring outward to share her contemplation of the universe. "Kort knows so many things.... But there are some things you just can't make him understand."
Rassie was a miniature version of herself, with long golden hair, light green eyes, and soft arms and legs that were the same color as hers. Rassie, too, wore a pale blue dress-Taya always dressed Rassie in the same things as she herself felt like wearing on any particular day. She didn't know why; it was just something she had always done.
Kort had made Rassie for her-he often made things that he said it wasn't worth setting up the machines to make. He had made Rassie a long time ago now, when Taya was much smaller. He had been teaching her how to draw shapes and colors on one of the screens, and soon she had learned to make pictures of the things in the rooms where she lived, and pictures of Kort. Her favorite pictures had been ones of herself, whom she could see reflected in the window when the lights inside were turned up high. That was when Kort had made her a mirror. But the mirror had made her sad because she could never pick up the little girl that she saw in it, or touch her the way she could all her other things. So Kort had gone away, and later he'd come back with Rassie.
At one time, before she'd learned that Rassie wasn't really the same as her, she had taken Rassie everywhere and talked to her all the time. She didn't talk to her so much now ... but when Kort was away, there was nobody else to talk to. "Kort said he couldn't think of a reason why anyone would ask questions like that. How can anyone be as clever as Kort, yet never think of asking a question like that?" Taya studied the doll's immobile features for a while, then sighed. "You can't tell me, can you? You can only tell me the things I pretend you say, and this time I don't know what to pretend." She moved the doll to stare in a different direction. "There. You stay here and watch Vaxis. Tell me if it starts to get any bigger."
Taya straightened up from the sill and walked into the room behind the window room. This was where, when she was smaller, she had spent most of her time playing with the things that Kort made for her. These days she didn't play with things so much-she preferred making things instead. Making things was easy for Kort because he could do anything, but it had taken her a long time to learn-and she still wasn't very good at some of the things he had shown her. She liked forming shapes from the colored plastic that set hard and shiny like glass. Often, she made things she could use, such as vases to put things in, or plates to eat from, but at other times she enjoyed making shapes that just looked nice. Kort couldn't understand what it meant for something to "just look nice" ... but that was because he only thought "machine things."
Then there were pictures that she drew-not on the screens, but with her hands, using the colored pens that Kort had made for her when she'd explained what she wanted. He had never understood why she thought the pictures that she drew were anything like the things she said they were like. He had told her that the machines could make much better pictures in an instant. But Kort hadn't been able to see that her pictures were supposed to look the way they did. They were supposed to look like what she felt about things-not like the things really were, exactly. Kort had tried drawing with pens, too. He could draw much faster than she could, and his pictures always looked exactly like the things they were supposed to be ... but she still didn't like them as much as her pictures. They were always "machine pictures."
And she made clothes. Kort had made her clothes for her when she was smaller, but later, when he found that she liked to think up her own, he had made her some needles and other tools and shown her how to use them. She liked her clothes better than the ones that Kort made, which were never pretty, but just hung like the covers on some of the machines in other parts of Merkon. Once-not very long ago, because she could still remember it-she had tried not wearing any clothes at all; but she'd found that she got dusty and itchy and kept touching cold things, and sometimes she scratched herself. Kort had told her that was why he'd started making clothes for her in the first place, when she was very small, and she had soon started using them again.
There were lots of half-finished things lying around the workroom, but she didn't feel like doing anything with them. She toyed for a while with one of the glass mosaics that she sometimes made to hang on the walls, but grew restless and went on through to the screen room and sat down at the console with its rows of buttons. But she didn't feel like playing any games, or learning about anything, or asking any questions, or practicing words and math, or any of the other things that the machines could let her do. She had to practice things like words and math, because if she didn't she forgot how to do them. Kort never forgot anything and never had to practice. He could multiply the biggest numbers she could think of before she could even begin, and he had never gotten a single one wrong ... but he couldn't tell a pretty dress from one that wasn't, or a nice shape from one that was just silly. Taya giggled to herself as she thought of the funny shapes that Kort had made sometimes when he'd tried to find out what a "nice" one was, and how she had laughed at them. Then, when he discovered that she enjoyed laughing, he had started doing silly things just to make her laugh.
She decided that she wanted to talk to Kort, and touched the buttons to spell out the sign that would connect a speaking channel to him. His voice answered immediately from a grille above the blank screen. "Hello, little gazer-at-stars."
"How did you know I'd been looking at the stars?"
"I know everything."
Kort's voice was much deeper than hers. Sometimes she tried to speak the way he did, but she had to make the sounds way down at the back of her throat, and it always made her cough. "Where are you?" she asked.
"I went to fix something in one of the machinery compartments while you were asleep."
"Will you be long?" "I'm almost finished. Why?"
"I just wanted to talk to you."
"We can still talk."
"It's not the same as talking to you when you're here."
"Why don't you talk to Rassie?"
"Oh, that's an old game now. I don't really think Rassie listens-not any more."
"You change faster every day," Kort's voice said. "We'll have to find more interesting things for you to do."
"What kind of things?"
"I'll have to think about it."
"Do you think I could learn to do the things you do?" Taya asked.
"Maybe. We'll have to wait and see what happens as you grow bigger."
"How big will I get?"
"I don't know."
"Oh, Kort, you know everything. Will I grow as big as you?"
A few seconds of silence followed while Taya thought to herself. "What are you doing now?" she asked at last.
"There's a fault in the optical circuits of one of the machines. The service machines could fix it, but they'd need to have new parts made by other machines in another place. I can fix it more quickly, so I've told them not to bother. I'm almost done now."
"Can I see?" Taya asked.
The screen above the buttons came to life to show what Kort could see through his eyes. He was looking at a dense pattern of lines and shapes on a metal-framed plate of crystal that he had removed from a slot in one of many tiers of such plates. It could have been the inside of any machine. They all looked the much the same to Taya, and not especially interesting. The ones she liked best were the maintenance machines that fixed other machines, because they at least moved around and did something.
She had never seen how anyone could really understand how the machines worked. Kort had told her about electrons and currents and fields, and shown her how to find out more for herself from the screens ... but she had never quite followed what all that had to do with building new parts of Merkon, changing old parts, finding out what the stars were made of, or all the other things that the machines did. Every time she learned something, she discovered two more things she didn't know, which she hadn't thought of before. Learning things was like trying to count the stars: there were always two more for every one she counted.
Then Kort's hands moved into the view on the screen. They were huge, silver-gray hands with fingers almost as thick as Taya's wrists, and joints that flexed by sliding metal surfaces over each other-not like her little "bendy" hands at all. One of the hands was holding a piece of machine while the other hand tightened a fastening, using one of the tools that Kort took with him when he went away to fix something. Taya watched, fascinated, as the hands restored other, larger connections, and then replaced a metal cover over the top. Then the view moved away and showed Kort's hands collecting other tools from a ledge and putting them into the box that he used to carry them.
"Do you think I'd ever be able to do things like that?" Taya asked in an awed voice.
"Well, there isn't any air here where I am, and the temperature would be too low for your jelly body," Kort told her. "But apart from that, yes, maybe you could ... in time."
"But how do you know what to do?"
"By learning things."
"But I'm not sure I could ever learn those things. I'm just not very good at learning 'machine things.'"
"Perhaps it's only because I've been learning things longer than you have," Kort suggested. "You have to learn easy things before you can expect to understand harder things, and that takes time." On the screen, a doorway enlarged as Kort moved toward it. Beyond it was a larger space, crammed with machines, cabinets, cables, and ducting. It could have been anywhere in Merkon. Only the machines could live in most parts of it. Just the part that Taya lived in was different from the rest.
"But I've already been learning things for years and years," she protested. "And I still don't really know how pressing buttons makes shapes appear on the screens, or how I can still talk to you when you're not here. Have you been learning things for longer than years and years?"
"Much longer," Kort replied. "And besides that, I talk to the machines faster."
The mass of machinery moving by on the screen gave way to a dark tunnel, lined with banks of pipes and cables. The colors changed as Kort entered, which meant he had switched his vision to its infra-red range. Taya knew that Kort could see things by their heat. She had tried practicing it herself in the dark, but she'd never been able to make it work.
"How fast can you talk to the machines, Kort?" Taya asked.
"Very fast. Much faster than you can."
"What, even if I take a big breath and talk as fast as this?"
Kort laughed-that was something he had learned from Taya. "Much faster, little asker-of-endless-questions. I'll show you. Tell me, what is the three hundred twenty-fifth word in the dictionary that starts with a B?"
"Is this a game?"
"If you like."
Taya frowned and thought about the question. "I don't know," she said finally.
"Then you'll have to find out." Kort emerged from the tunnel and crossed a dark space between rows of machines that were moving round and round and up and down.
Taya pressed some buttons to activate a second screen, and then entered a command to access the dictionary of the language that she and Kort had been inventing for as long as she could remember.
Excerpted from Minds, Machines, and Evolution by James P. Hogan Copyright © 1988 by James P. Hogan . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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|Silver Shoes for a Princess||1|
|Getting Here From There||55|
|Minds, Machines and Evolution||91|
|Till Death us do Part||109|
|More on Replication||149|
|Code of the Lifemaker: Prologue||151|
|The Revealed Word of God||169|
|How Long Should A Piece of String Be?||191|
|All in a Name||265|
|Down to Earth||267|
|Knowledge Is a Mind-Altering Drug||277|
|Earth Models--on a Plate||281|
|Rules Within Rules||313|
|The Absolutely Foolproof Alibi||321|
Posted April 18, 2010
No text was provided for this review.