Zvantsev shook his head. They walked toward the highway between rows of squat yellow buildings that lacked doors and windows.
There were many buildings-a whole street of them. These were the blocks with the quasibiomass, the repository of Okada’s brain-twenty thousand sections of biomass, twenty squat buildings, each with a frontage of thirty meters, each extending six levels underground.
“Not bad for a start,” said Mikhailov. “But we can’t go on like this. Twenty buildings for one person is too much. If so much space were assigned to each of us—” He laughed and threw the candy wrapper onto the pavement.
Who knows? thought Zvantsev. Maybe one suitcase will be enough for you. And for me too. The litter robot, its long legs tapping on the pavement, toddled unhurriedly over to the discarded wrapper.
“Hey, Saka!” Mikhailov shouted suddenly. A truck drew up to them and stopped, and their driver with the flashing eyes stuck his head out of the cab. They all climbed in. “Where are your camels?” Mikhailov asked.
“They’re grazing somewhere,” the driver said. “I’ve had enough of them. They spat at me again while I was unharnessing them.”
Mikhailov was already asleep, with his head on Zvantsev’s shoulder.
The driver, small and dark-eyed, drove the heavy truck fast, and sang quietly, almost without moving his lips. It was some old, half-forgotten song. At first Zvantsev listened, and then suddenly he caught sight of helicopters moving low over the highway. There were six of them. The quiet zone, so recently dead, was now teeming with life. The moving roads had started up. People were hurrying to their homes. The microweather installations had started working, as had the traffic lights on the highway. Someone was already tearing off the plywood sheet with the rough lettering. The radio would be announcing that the Great Encoding had been completed and had gone satisfactorily. The helicopters must be carrying in a press group. They would stereocast an image of the squat yellow buildings and the burned-out candles before the powered-down control boards to the whole world. And someone, of course, would creep in to wake up Casparo, and they would grab the interloper by the seat of his pants, and in the heat of the moment maybe even give him a sound thrashing. And the whole world soon would know that human beings would soon become eternal. Not humanity, but human beings, each individual human being, each personality. Well, perhaps at first only the best ones… Zvantsev looked at the driver. “Comrade,” Zvantsev said, smiling, “do you want to live forever?”
“Yes,” answered the driver, also smiling. “And I will live forever.”
“I want to too,” said Zvantsev.
15. Natural Science in the Spirit World
Kochin, the lab assistant, tiptoed up to the door and looked into the bedroom. The esper was sleeping. He was fairly elderly, and his face was very unhappy. He was lying on his side with his hand under his cheek. When Kochin opened the door, the esper made a smacking sound and said distinctly, “I haven’t got my sleep in yet. Leave me alone.”
Kochin went up to the bed and touched him on the shoulder. “It’s time, Comrade Peters. Please get up.”
Peters opened bleary eyes. “Just another half hour,” he said plaintively.
Kochin, distressed, shook his head. “It’s impossible, Comrade Peters. If you oversleep…”
“Right,” the esper said with a sigh. “I’ll be dull.” He sat up and stretched. “You know what I just dreamed about, George? I dreamed that I was at home on the farm, on the Yukon. My son had just come back from Venus and I was showing him the activated
glucose out of his pocket, took out one ampule, and pressed its sucker against the swollen vein on Peters’s arm. When the glucose had penetrated, Peters knocked the empty ampule off with a snap, and rolled his sleeve down. “Well, let’s go suffer,” he said with a sigh.
The Institute for Space Physics had been built about twenty years before on Kotlin Island in the Gulf of Finland. The old Krondstadt base had been completely demolished; there remained only the gray, moss-covered walls of the ancient forts and, in the park of the science town, the golden monument to those who had taken part in the Great Revolution. An artificial archipelago on which were located the rocketports, airports, energy receivers, and energy stations of the Institute had been created to the west of Kotlin Island. The islands furthest west in the archipelago were occupied by what were called the “loud” laboratories—from time to time explosions thundered there, and they had fires. Theoretical work and “quiet” experiments were conducted in the long, flat buildings of the Institute itself, on Kotlin Island.
The Institute worked on the leading edge of science. The range of work was extremely broad. Problems of gravity. Deritrinitation. Questions of new physical axiomatics. The theory of discrete space. And very many more specialized problems. Fairly often the Institute took on for research problems which seemed, and which in the last analysis turned out to be, hopelessly complicated and inaccessible. The experimental approach to these problems often demanded monstrous expenditures of energy. Time after time the leadership of the Institute disturbed the World Council with monotonous requests for an hour’s worth, two hours’ worth, and sometimes even a day’s worth of the energy of the Planet. In clear weather Leningraders could see on the horizon the shiny spheres of the gigantic energy receivers erected on the most distant islands of the “Kotlin Achipelago.” Some wit on the Resources Committee had called these energy receivers “Danaidian barrels,” claiming that the energy of the Planet vanished there as if into a bottomless barrel, without visible result; and many on the Council waxed wroth on the subject of the Institute’s activities, but they gave the energy unfailingly, because they considered that humanity was rich and could permit itself some expenditure on the problems of the day after tomorrow. Even at the height of work on the Big Shaft, which was digging toward the center of the Planet.
Four years earlier a group of Institute members had carried out an experiment having the aim of measuring the energy expended during sigma-deritrinitation. On the border of the Solar System, far beyond the orbit of Transpluto, a pair of drone spaceships were driven up to relativistic velocities and brought to a collision at a relative speed of 295 thousand kilometers per second, over ninety-eight percent of lightspeed. The explosion was terrific; the mass of both starships was turned almost entirely into radiation. The starships disappeared in a blinding flash, leaving after them a thin cloud of metallic vapor. On finishing their measurements, the researchers discovered an energy deficit: a part of the energy, relatively very small, but perfectly detectable, had “disappeared.” On the qualitative side, the result of the experiment had been nothing to write home about. According to the theory of sigma-deritrinitation, a certain part of the energy was, after all, supposed to disappear at a given point in space, in order to ooze out in some form in regions perhaps quite removed from the place of the experiment. This, indeed, was the very essence of the sigma-D-principle, and something similar had happened in its time in the case of the famous Taimyr. But on the quantitative side the energy deficit exceeded the predicted quantity. Part of the energy had “disappeared” to parts unknown. Two concepts had been enlisted to explain this contradiction of the conservation laws. One was the hypothesis that the energy had gotten away in an as-yet-unknown form, for example in some sort of field unknown to science for which instruments for detection and registration did not yet exist. The other was the theory of interpenetrating spaces.