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I frown. “Meaning what?”
“You cannot change my basic progrpmming. For that you would need a different command.”
“All right,” I say. “Ha! Here’s your first instruction: display that different command for me!”
“I can’t, Rob.”
“You must. Mustn’t you?”
“I am not refusing your order, Rob. I simply do not know what that other command is.”
“Bullshit!” I yell. “How can you respond to it if you don’t know what it is?”
“I just do, Rob. Or—” always fatherly, always patient, “to answer you more fully, each bit of the command actuates a sequenced instruction which, when completed, releases another area of command. In technical terms, each key socket intermatching gotos another socket, which the following bit keys.”
“Shit,” I say. I stew over that for a moment. “Then what is it that I actually can control, Sigfrid?”
“You can direct me to display any information stored. You can direct me to display it in any mode within my capabilities.”
“Any mode?” I look at my watch and realize, with annoyance, that there is a time limit on this game. I only have about ten minutes left of my appointment. “Do you mean that I could make you talk to me, for instance, in French?”
“Oui, Robert, d’accord. Que voulez-vous?”
“Or in Russian, with a — wait a minute—” I’m experimenting pretty much at random. “I mean, like in the voice of a bassoprofundo from the Bolshoi opera?”
Tones that came out of the bottom of a cave: “Da, gospodin.”
“And you’ll tell me anything I want to know about me?”
“In English, damn it!”
“Or about your other clients?”
Um, that sounds like fun. “And just who are these lucky other clients, dear Sigfrid? Run down the list.” I can hear my own prurience leaking out of my voice.
“Monday nine hundred,” he begins obligingly, “Yan Ilievsky. Ten hundred, Francois Malit. Eleven hundred, Julie Loudon Martin. Twelve—”
“Her,” I say. “Tell me about her.”
“Julie Loudon Martin is a referral from Kings County General, where she was an outpatient after six months of treatment with aversion therapy and immune-response activators for alcoholism. She has a history of two apparent suicide attempts following postpartum depression fifty-three years ago. She has been in therapy with me for—”
“Wait a minute,” I say, having added the probable age of childbearing to fifty-three years. “I’m not so sure I’m interested in Julie. Can you give me an idea of what she looks like?”
“I can display holoviews, Rob.”
“So do it.” At once there is a quick subliminal flash, and a blur of color, and then I see this tiny black lady lying on a mat — my mat! — in a corner of the room. She is talking slowly and without much interest to no one perceptible. I cannot hear what she is saying, but then I don’t much want to.
“Go on,” I say, “and when you name your patients, show me what they look like.”
“Twelve hundred, Lorne Schofield.” Old, old man with arthritic fingers bent into claws, holding his head. “Thirteen hundred, Frances Astritt.” Young girl, not even pubescent. “Fourteen hundred—”
I let him go on for a while, all through Monday and halfway through Tuesday. I had not realized he kept such long hours, but then, of course, being a machine he doesn’t really get tired. One or two of the patients look interesting, but there is no one I know, or no one that looks more worth knowing than Yvette, Donna, S. Ya. or about a dozen others. “You can stop that now,” I say, and think for a minute.
This isn’t really as much fun as I thought it was going to be. Plus my time is running out.
“I guess I can play this game any old time,” I say. “Right now let’s talk about me.”
“What would you like me to display, Rob?”
“What you usually keep from me. Diagnosis. Prognosis. General comments on my case. What kind of a guy you think I am, really.”
“The subject Robinette Stetley Broadhead,” he says at once, is a forty five year old male, well off financially, who persues an active life-style. His reason for seeking psychiatric help is given as depression and disorientation. He has pronounced guilt feelings and exhibits selective aphasia on the conscious level about several episodes that recur as dream symbols. His sexual drive is relatively low. His relationships with women are generally unsatisfactory, although his psychosexual orientation is predominantly heterosexual in the eightieth percentile…”
“The hell you say—” I begin, on a delayed reaction to low sexual drive and unsatisfactory relationships. But I don’t really feel like arguing with him, and anyway he says voluntarily at that point:
“I must inform you, Rob, that your time is nearly up. You should go to the recovery room now.”
“Crap! What have I got to recover from?” But his point is well taken. “All right,” I say, “go back to normal. Cancel the command — is that all I have to say? Is it canceled?”
“You’re doing it again!” I yell. “Make up your fucking mind what you’re going to call me!”
“I address you by the term appropriate to your state of mind, or to the state of mind I wish to induce in you, Robbie.”
“And now you want me to be a baby? — No, never mind that. Listen,” I say, getting up, “do you remember all our conversation while I had you commanded to display?”
“Certainly I do, Robbie.” And then he adds on his own, a full, surprising ten or twenty seconds after my time is up, “Are you satisfied, Robbie?”
“Have you established to your own satisfaction that I am only a machine? That you can control me at any time?”
I stop short. “Is that what I’m doing?” I demand, surprised. And then, “All right, I guess so. You’re a machine, Sigfrid. I can control you.”
And he says after me as I leave, “We always knew that, really, didn’t we? The real thing you fear — the place where you feel control is needed — isn’t that in you?”