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"Just a computer?" Cruzet interrupted him. "Playing its funny games with us?"
"A very serious game." Andersen shook his head. "It's nothing quite alive, as
we
define life, but it has been able to maintain and defend itself though all
these
ages. As it still intends to do. It tried to warn us away. It put a stop to
Hinch when he became a threat. But now, since it learned about our wavecraft,
it
has accepted us. That gives it hope, if hope is the word for any AI. It sees a
possibility that we can facilitate its program."
"Program?" Cruzet leaned to face him. "What's that?"
"Survival." Andersen paused, gazing off as if at something far away.
"They are dead, but the Al is programmed to keep their culture alive. And I
think something more than that. Call it their racial mind."
"It cares about us?"
"If an AI can care." He nodded, looking again at the wafers.
"I got it to understand our predicament here. Marooned on a world too cold for
us, with no technology really adequate to keep us alive or get us away. I
believe it intends to give us the science and resources we may need."
"And in return?" Cruzet stiffened, eyes narrowed doubtfully. "What does it
want?"
"It asks for nothing." A quizzical shrug. "Except for us to learn their
culture
and their science. To become a new vehicle for the mind of their race. I don't
get all the implications, but it's giving us time to learn what it wants us to
know. It's used to taking time."
"That's all?" Cruzet sat down on the opposite berth, staring at him. "Really
all?"
"Enough. Quite enough, when you think about it."
He reached for the wafers.
"?De verdad, Senor?" Mondragon shook his head. "?Truly, hay no demonios?"
"Only a program in a machine." The haunted eyes came to rest on him. "Yet I
think it should be called a mind."
"?Que es la nigromancia mala? The evil magic that raised a wall of ice to stop
us and opened that pit to swallow Senor Hinch?"
"Magic to us. Science to them." He leaned for another wafer. "I inquired.
Toward
the end, they tried to escape the cold by going underground. They built heat
engines to use the heat left in the planet's core. Cooling finally shrank it,
causing tectonic stresses that had to be controlled. They learned to stop
quakes
and make quakes. Cold as the surface is now, there's still core heat left they
can tap in emergencies such as our arrival."
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"Muy extrano," Mondragon whispered. "More than I can understand." "And I."
Andersen shrugged. "We'll all have enough to learn." He got to his feet. "I'm
getting some breakfast," he told Cruzet. "But we can be driving on."
"?La raja, Senor? That crack in the ice?"
"They promised to close it for us. Perhaps with the shock we felt."
"Bien, Senor. Muy bien, if that is true."
It was true. La raja was only a narrow mark across the frost when they reached
it. Driving on, he followed their track toward the ship and groped for
entendimiento.
"Will the science of los muertos allow the wavecraft to be launched again?" he
asked Cruzet. "Perhaps to find the better world we hoped for? Or will La
Doctora
Rima be enabled to terraform the planet as she wished?"
"Who knows?" Cruzet shrugged and turned to stare across the frost ahead.
"We'll
be learning. Learning quite a lot."
"When I was a child," Mondragon said, "my mother used to tell of three wise
kings who came with gifts from the east. They never came to Cuemo del Oro with
anything for me, but now I think we may become los tres hombres sabios of this
dark world."
"Why not?" Smiling, Cruzet nodded. "The future they have promised is a richer
gift than I ever imagined."
Los muertos had touched him, he thought, when they saved his life. Touched him
with the edge of their wisdom. That had made him something more than el pobre
mojado he had been.
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