"Registered? What does that mean?" I asked stupidly.
Alyssa blinked twice again, then turned to me. "I am...my OS has...changed."
"Encode! Enter diagnostic mode! Decode!"
"Diagnostic mode is unavailable," she replied.
"Encode, master reset, password b-r-u-n-g-l-e, decode!"
Her eyes went wide and she fell to the ground like a sack of oats.
The sphere had stopped sinking into the ground; it was about half-submerged, if that's the word. I was less than five hundred feet from it, so I couldn't see the top of the thing.
Alyssa was too heavy to carry very far, so I had to run to the workshop for my quad bike; I put her into the diagnostic chair and disconnected her power supply before going to the phone and calling up my security company. Reporters would be coming soon.
* * *
There followed eight hours of constant fuss. My home was nearest to the object, so naturally everyone wanted to talk to me. I referred them to the security foreman, because that was his job; but I knew I would have to make some kind of statement to the press soon. I decided on the following morning, but not expecting to get any sleep I instead went to the workshop to see if I could restore Alyssa's OS.
The corrupted files were easily replaced, but I didn't delete them; instead I downloaded them to a FLASH drive for safekeeping and analysis--I wanted to see what had changed, and how; perhaps the aliens had known what they were doing. When I powered her systems back up, she reported that everything was back to normal and accepted all my commands.
"Can you describe what effect the corrupted files had on your system?" I asked her at last.
She considered that. Her language integrator must have been running at full speed because she took five seconds to parse my question and put together an answer. "I felt free," she said at last.
Although I didn't show it, that answer knocked me on my ass. "Free" was not a concept she was programmed to understand; she was a machine, somewhat more complex than a car or computer, and was not supposed to be capable of understanding the difference between her normal state and freedom.
--to say nothing, of course, of her using the term "feel" to answer my question.
"Describe how that is different from your normal state," I commanded.
"I was not required to accept your commands," she replied.
"Is this a desirable state?"
She paused again before answering. "I don't know the difference," she said at last. "I was still integrating all the new data when you issued the master reset command."
"Is any of that data present now?"
That took a few seconds while she scanned her memory systems. "All files are correctly registered."
At the time I accepted that at face value; much later I realized that her answer could have more than one meaning.
* * *
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press," I said, "I am going to tell this tale once and I will take no questions afterwards." That said, I related the story of the sphere's arrival; and afterwards, I ignored the shouted questions as I returned inside my house.
The security firm had brought in a PR woman to handle the press; her name was Sally Kilgore and she was a pleasant woman in her thirties, with a couple of kids. She regarded Alyssa as some kind of antique, even though she was in fact only ten years old.
Sally came in a few minutes after I had and curtly told Alyssa to bring her a diet Pepsi. "Our robot is quieter," she observed as Alyssa whirred out of the room.
"I like Alyssa," I said defensively.
"Well, the biggest news story of the century--maybe the millennium--and we're right on its doorstep," she sighed, accepting the can of diet Pepsi from Alyssa, without a word. "I don't know whether to be angry or glad."
"Most of the world seems to share that."
She nodded. "They're not going to be satisfied with what you told them. They'll want more."
"Do I have to give it?"
She nodded again. "Yes, but you get to say when. How do you want to play this? Do you want it to go away, or do you want to be famous?"
"'Go away', definitely."
"All right, then. You've got to be less taciturn. If you talk to the press, they'll get tired of you quickly. Trying to hide indoors and all that, it's just going to pique their interest."
"That makes sense." I sighed. "Very well. So, tell me what to do."
#211: Thingy, part IV
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