After a while, I don’t know how long, I raise my head and say, “Sorry, Sigfrid.”
“For what, Rob?”
“For crying like this.” I am physically exhausted. It is as if I had run ten miles through a gauntlet of mad Choctaws pounding me with clubs.
“Are you feeling better now, Rob?”
“Better?” I puzzle over that stupid question for a moment, and then I take inventory, and, curiously enough, I am. “Why, yeah. I guess so. Not what you’d call good. But better.”
“Take it easy for a minute, Rob.”
That strikes me as a dumb remark, and I tell him so. I have about the energy level of a small, arthritic jellyfish that’s been dead for a week. I have no choice but to take it easy.
But I do feel better. “I feel,” I say, “as if I let myself feel my guilt at last.”
“And you survived it.”
I think that over. “I guess I did,” I say.
“Let’s explore that question of guilt, Rob. Guilt why?”
“Because I jettisoned nine people to save myself, asshole!”
NOTICE OF CREDIT
To ROBINETTE BROADHEAD:
1. Acknowledgment is made that your course setting for Gateway II permits round-trip flights with a travel-time saving of approximately 100 days over the previous standard course for this object.
2. By decision of the Board, you are granted a discovery royalty of 1 percent on all earnings on future flights using said course setting, and an advance of $10,000 against said royalty.
3. By decision of the Board, you are assessed one-half of said royalty and advance as a penalty for damage to the vessel employed. Your account is therefore CREDITED with the following amount:
Royalty advance (Board Order A-135-7), less deduction (Board Order A-135-8): $5,000
Your present BALANCE is: $6,192
“Has anyone ever accused you of that? Anyone but yourself, I mean?”
“Accused?” I blow my nose again, thinking. “Well, no. Why should they? When I got back I was kind of a hero.” I think about Shicky, so kind, so mothering; and Francy Hereira holding me in his arms, letting me bawl, even though I’d killed his cousin. “But they weren’t there. They didn’t see me blow the tanks to get free.”
“Did you blow the tanks?”
“Oh, hell, Sigfrid,” I say, “I don’t know. I was going to. I was reaching for the button.”
“Does it make sense that the button in the ship you were planning to abandon would actually fire the combined tanks in the landers?”
“Why not? I don’t know. Anyway,” I say, “you can’t give me any alibis I haven’t already thought of for myself. I know maybe Danny or Klara pushed the button before I did. But I was reaching for mine!”
“And which ship did you think would go free?”
“Theirs! Mine,” I correct myself. “No, I don’t know.”
Sigfrid says gravely, “Actually, that was a very resourceful thing you did. You knew you couldn’t all have survived. There wasn’t time. The only choice was whether some of you would die, or all of you would. You elected to see that somebody lived.”
“Crap! I’m a murderer!”
Pause, while Sigfrid’s circuits think that over. “Rob,” he says carefully, “I think you’re contradicting yourself. Didn’t you say she’s still alive in that discontinuity?”
“They all are! Time has stopped for them!”
“Then how could you have murdered anybody?”
He says again, “How could you have murdered anybody?”
“… I don’t know,” I say, “but, honestly, Sigfrid, I really don’t want to think about it anymore today.”
“There’s no reason you should, Rob. I wonder if you have any idea how much you’ve accomplished in the past two and a half hours. I’m proud of you!”
And queerly, incongruously, I believe he is, chips, Heechee circuits, holograms and all, and it makes me feel good to believe it.
“You can go any time you want to,” he says, getting up and going back to his easy chair in the most lifelike way possible, even grinning at me! “But I think I would like to show you something first.” My defenses are eroded down to nothing. I only say, “What’s that, Sigfrid?”
“That other capability of ours that I mentioned, Rob,” he “the one that we’ve never used. I would like to display another patient, from some time back.”
He says gently, “Look over in the corner, Rob.”
—and there she is.
“Klara!” And as soon as I see her I know where Sigfrid gets her from — the machine Klara was consulting back on Gateway. She is hanging there, one arm across a file rack, her feet lazily floating in the air, talking earnestly; her broad black eyebrows frown and sigh and her face grins, and grimaces, and then looks sweetly, invitingly relaxed.
“You can hear what she’s saying if you want to, Rob.”
“Do I want to?”
“Not necessarily. But there’s nothing in it to be afraid of. She loved you, Rob, the best way she knew how. The same as you loved her.”
I look for a long time, and then I say, “Turn her off, Sigfrid. Please.”
In the recovery room I almost fall asleep for a moment. I have never been so relaxed.
I wash my face, and smoke another cigarette, and then I go out into the bright diffuse daylight under the Bubble, and it all is so good and so friendly. I think of Klara with love and tenderness and in my heart I say good-bye to her. And then I think of S. Ya. with whom I have a date for that evening — if I’m not already late for it! But she’ll wait; she’s a good scout, almost as good as Klara.
I stop in the middle of the mall, and people bump up against me. A little old lady in short-shorts toddles over to me and asks, “Is something wrong?”
I stare at her, and don’t answer; and then I turn around and head back for Sigfrid’s office.
There is no one there, not even a hologram. I yell, “Sigfrid! Where the hell are you?”
NOTICE OF CREDIT
To ROBINETTE BROADHEAD:
Your account is CREDITED with the following amounts:
Guaranteed bonus for Mission 88-90A and 88-90B (survivorship total): $10,000,000
Science bonus awarded by Board: $8,500,000
Your present BALANCE is: $18,506,036
No one. No answer. This is the first time I’ve ever been in this room when it wasn’t set up. I can see what is real and what hologram now; and not much of it is real. Powder-metal studs for projectors. The mat (real); the cabinet with the light (real); a few other pieces of furniture that I might want to see or use. But no Sigirid. Not even the chair he usually sits in. “Sigfrid!”
I keep on yelling, with my heart bubbling up in my throat, my brain spinning. “Sigfrid!” I scream, and at last there is a of a haze and a flash and there he is in his Sigmund Freud guise looking at me politely.
“Sigfrid, I did murder her! She’s gone!”
“I see that you’re upset, Rob,” he says. “Can you tell me what it is that’s bothering you?”
“Upset! I’m worse than upset, Sigfrid, I’m a person who killed nine other people to save his life! Maybe not ’really’! Maybe not ’on purpose’! But in their eyes I killed them, as much as in mine.”
“But Rob,” he says reasonably, “we’ve been all over this. They’re still alive; they all are. Time has stopped for them—”
“I know,” I howl. “Don’t you understand, Sigfrid? That’s the point. I not only killed her, I’m still killing her!”
Patiently: “Do you think what you just said is true, Rob?”
“She thinks it is! Now, and forever, as long as I live. It’s not years ago that it happened for her. It’s only a few minutes, and it goes on for all of my life. I’m down here, getting older, trying to forget, and there’s Klara up there in Sagittarius YY, floating around like a fly in amber!”
I drop to the bare plastic mat, sobbing. Little by little, Sigfrid has been restoring the whole office, patching in this decoration and that. There are pinatas hanging over my head, and a holopic Lake Garda at Sirmione on the wall, hoverfloats, sailboats, bathers having fun.
“Let the pain out, Rob,” Sigfrid says gently. “Let it all out.’
“What do you think I’m doing?” I roll over on the foam staring at the ceiling. “I could get over the pain and the guilt, Sigfrid, if she could. But for her it isn’t over. She’s out there, stuck in time.”
“Go ahead, Rob,” he encourages.
“I am going ahead. Every second is still the newest second in her mind — the second when I threw her life away to save my own. I’ll live and get old and die before she lives past that second, Sigfrid.”
“Keep going, Rob. Say it all.”
“She’s thinking I betrayed her, and she’s thinking it now! I can’t live with that.”
There is a very, very long silence, and at last Sigfrid says:
“You are, you know.”
“What?” My mind has gone a thousand light-years away.
“You are living with it, Rob.”
“Do you call this living?” I sneer, sitting up and wiping my nose with another of his million tissues.
“You respond very quickly to anything I say, Rob,” says Sigfrid, “and therefore sometimes I think your response is a counterpunch. You parry what I say with words. Let me strike home for once, Rob. Let this sink in: you are living.”
Well, I suppose I am.” It is true enough; it is just not very rewarding.
Another long pause, and then Sigfrid says:
“Rob. You know that I am a machine. You also know that my function is to deal with human feelings. I cannot feel feelings. But I can represent them with models, I can analyze them, I can evaluate them. I can do this for you. I can even do it for myself. I can construct a paradigm within which I can assess the value of emotions. Guilt? It is a painful thing; but because it is painful it is a behavior modifier. It can influence you to avoid guilt-inducing actions, and this is a valuable thing for you and for society. But you cannot use it if you do not feel it.”
“I do feel it! Jesus Christ, Sigfrid, you know I’m feeling it!”
“I know,” he says, “that now you are letting yourself feel it. It is out in the open, where you can let it work for you, not buried where it can only harm you. That is what I am for, Rob. To bring your feelings out where you can use them.”
“Even the bad feelings? Guilt, fear, pain, envy?”
“Guilt. Fear. Pain. Envy. The motivators. The modifiers. The qualities that I, Rob, do not have, except in a hypothetical sense, when I make a paradigm and assign them to myself for study.”
There is another pause. I have a funny feeling about it. Sigfrid’s pauses are usually either to give me time to let something sink in, or to permit him to compute some complex chain of argument about me. This time I think it is me but not about me. And at last he says, “You asked me, Rob.”
“Asked you? What was that?”
“You asked me, ’Do you call this living?’ And I answer: Yes. It is exactly what I call living. And in my best hypothetical sense, I envy it very much.”