Book: Self-discovery

Vladimir Savchenko


Translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis

Introduction by Theodore Sturgeon



Translation of Otkrytie sebia.



PART ONE: Footsteps from Behind

PART TWO: Self - Discovery

PART THREE: Awakening Introduction


Robert Anton Wilson, in his Cosmic Trigger, describes his reactions to various events as those of The Author, The Skeptic, The Sage, The Neurologician, The Shaman, and other personae — all Wilson himself, of course, and by no means the “multiple personality” image first made popular by Dr. Morton Prince in the early years of this century; facets, rather, of any whole human being, and not a host of separate entities.

Who, inside yourself, calmly watches you flying into a rage or drifting in ecstasy or capturing an audience? Do you, as so many do, refer to “a little person who watches” or “the part of myself that always observes, never participates”?

(And why do so many of us describe the watcher as a little person? Sometimes I suspect that mine is big — maybe bigger than I.)

These are the questions — the kinds of questions, of provocations — evoked by Vladimir Savchenko and his astonishing novel, for at the heart of his story is the problem of self and personal identity. Krivoshein, the brilliant young experimenter in cybernetics who is the hero of the novel, discovers a way to duplicate human beings and, working secretly, brings into the world many versions of himself.

So you will encounter many Krivosheins here; but in no way are they identical. This is not cloning, nor is it the kind of duplication described by Eric Temple Bell in The Four — sided Triangle, nor the rather unbelievable one I used in When You Care, When You Love. This is something quite different and, as far as I know, unique. It's a computer — controlled biological matrix, an intelligent fluid, if you like, capable of organizing, balancing, integrating organic substances. Add such new concepts as a holographic model as applied to brain function — wherein each cell of a section seems to contain all functions of that section, just as each segment of a holograph contains all parts of its picture — and you come close to an understanding of Krivoshein's scientific accomplishment. Fascinating, and described with such realism that one is tempted to apply for a grant, build it, check it out.

Apply for a grant. Savchenko has woven into his narrative a devastating and delicious analysis of the internal politics of a great research center doing erudite science which politicians cannot hope to comprehend, but to whom the scientific community must turn for funding. Then follows the same dreadful situation so brilliantly described — decried? — by Leo Szilard, which takes the best scientists out of the laboratory and puts them in administration, where they must work shoulder to shoulder with administrators who would be hopeless in a lab. Millions of words have been written about the differences in customs, cultures, political systems, philosophies; how amazing it is to see how very similar are the symptoms of this plague wherever it strikes! Ignorance is ignorance, pomposity is pomposity, and self — aggrandizement is the same in any language, common as frustration. Whoever reads this and does not recognize the administrator Harry Hilobok, for example, or the outwardly grumpy, inwardly sensitive Androsiashvili, has never been exposed to the internal workings of large research centers anywhere.

It has been observed that a writer says, basically, one thing, and says it over and over, no matter how wide his spectrum or in how many different ways he may say it. I am, regretfully, unfamiliar with Savchenko's other works, but his thrust is clear here. Let me give you some of it by quoting:

“Man is the most complex and most highly organized system known. I want to figure it out completely — how things are constructed in the human organism, what influences it….

“You see… it wasn't always like this. Once man was up against heat and frost; exertion from a hunt or from running away from danger; hunger, or rough, unsanitary food like raw meat; heavy mechanical overloads in work; fights which tested the durability of the skull with an oak staff — in a word, once upon a time the physical environment made the same demands on man that — well, that today's military customers make on rockets…. That environment over the millennia formed homo sapiens — the reasoning vertebrate mammal. But in the last two hundred years, if you start from the invention of the steam engine, everything changed. We created an artificial environment out of electric motors, explosives, pharmaceuticals, conveyors, communal service systems, computers, immunization, transport, increased radiation in the atmosphere, paved roads, carbon monoxide, narrow specialization in work — you know: contemporary life. As an engineer, I with others am furthering this artificial environment that determines ninety percent of the life of homo sapiens and soon will determine it one hundred percent. Nature will exist only for Sunday outings. But as a human being, I am somewhat uneasy….

“This artificial environment frees man of many of the qualities and functions he developed in ancient evolution. Strength, agility, and endurance are now cultivated only in sports, while logical thought, the pride of the Greeks, has been taken over by machines. But man is not developing any new qualities — the environment is changing too fast and biological organisms can't keep up. Technological progress is accompanied by soothing, but poorly substantiated babble that man will always be on top. Nevertheless — if you talk not about man, but about people, the many and the varied — then that is not true even now, and it will only get worse. Many, many do not have the inherent capabilities to be masters of contemporary life: to know a lot, know how to do a lot, learn new things quickly, to work creatively, and structure one's behavior optimally….

“I would like to study the question of the untapped resources of man's organism. For example, the obsolescent functions, like our common ancestor's ability to leap from tree to tree or to sleep in the branches. Now that is no longer necessary, but the cells are still there. Or take the “goosebump” phenomenon — it happens on skin that has almost no hair now. It is created by a vast nervous network. Perhaps these old reflexes can be restructured, re — programmed to meet new needs?”

What an astonishing, what an exciting concept! The pursuit of the “optimum man” is certainly not original with Savchenko; it has thrived for years in science fiction as well in what is termed the mainstream, and it powers the current flurry of self — realization, self — actualization movements; it exists in Shakespeare and Steinbeck, whether by exemplifications of nobility or by stark representations of flawed and faulted people. What is arresting in Savchenko is his idea of retrieving and reprogramming that in mankind which is present but truly obsolete, rather than that which could be functional but is merely inactive.

And he resists the reductio ad absurdum; witness this whimsical interchange:

“So! You dream of modernizing and rationalizing man? Instead of homo sapiens we'll have homo modernus rationalis, hm? Don't you think, my dear systemology technologist, that a rational path might lead to a man who is no more than a suitcase with a single appendage to push buttons? You could probably manage without that appended arm, if you use brain waves.”

“If you want to be truly rational, you can manage without the suitcase,” Krivoshein noted.

Krivoshein — and Savchenko — are far too enamored of humanity to go for that.

Science fiction has been termed a medicine for future shock. Future shock is that sense of disorientation brought about by the rush of invention, the impact of technical events evolving infinitely faster than the bodies and minds of the common man. One wonders if Savchenko has read Alvin Toffler (who invented the term) while realizing that he need not have; the phenomenon and its effects are quite evident to anyone who cares to look. Science fiction writers and their proliferating and increasingly addicted readers are, and have been all along, the people who care to look. They look with practiced eyes, not only at what is and what will be, but at that entrancing infinity of what might be: alternate worlds, alternate cultures and mores, extrapolations of the known, be it space flight, organ transplants, social security, ecological awareness, or any other current, idea, or force in a perpetually moving universe: if this goes on, where will it go? For stasis, and stasis alone, is unnatural and unachievable and has failed every time mankind has been tempted to try it. The very nature of science fiction is to be aware of this and to recognize that the only security lies in dynamic equilibrium, like that of the gull in flight, the planet in orbit, the balanced churning of the galaxies themselves… and of course, the demonstrable fact that the cells of your body and the molecules which compose them are not at all what they were when you picked up this book. The future can shock only those who are wedded to stasis.

(Parenthetically, science fiction writers are not immune to future shock, though it may take the form of an overpowering urge to kick themselves. Example: up until very recently there was — as far as I know — not one single science fiction story which included a device like the wristwatch my wife wears, which delivers the time, day, date, adjusts itself for months of varying lengths, is a stopwatch and elapsed — time recorder, and has a solar panel which gulps down any available light and recharges its battery. The development of these microelectronic devices, now quite common and inexpensive, was simply unthought of by science fiction professionals, and is by no means the only example of technological quantum leaps which season our arrogance. It is beneficial to all concerned when our dignitaries are observed, from time to time, to slip and sit down in mud puddles.)

Mud puddles, or their narrative equivalent, are far from absent in this book, for Savchenko has a delicious sense of humor and a lovely appreciation of the outrageous. Let us posit, for example, that you are a brilliant but not particularly attractive man with little concern for the more gracious amenities, who happens to be loved by a beautiful and forgiving lady. In the course of your work you produce a living, breathing version of yourself who is a physical Adonis and who, further, has a clear recollection of every word, every intimacy, that has ever passed between you and the woman.

And they meet, and she likes him.

How do you feel?


And then there's Onisimov — poor, devoted, duty — bound Onisimov — a detective in whose veins runs the essence of the Keystone Kop, up against a case with a perfectly rational solution which he is utterly unequipped to solve — not at all because he is unable to understand it, but because he simply cannot believe it.

Then there's the offensive Hilobok, unfortunately (as mentioned above) not quite a parody, but the object of not a few instances of Krivoshein/Savchenko's irrepressible puckishness, and a gatekeeper who is certainly Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern rolled into one, and a fine sprinkling of smiles amid the cascades of heavy ideation.

Over and above everything else, however — the mind — bending ideation, the unexpected narrative turns, the wide spectrum of characterization, the humor, the suspense — shines the author's love for and faith in the species. As he says through his protagonist, he talks not about man, but about people. And at the end, the very last words of the novel bespeak this faith and this optimism.

There's no point in looking at those last words now, by the way. They will carry no freight until you put it there by reading the novel.


Los Angeles.



Chapter 1

“When checking the wiring, disconnect power".

A poster on industrial safety

The brief short circuit in the line that fed the New Systems Laboratory occurred at three A.M. The circuit breaker at the substation of the Dneprovsk Institute of Systemology did what all automatic safety devices do in these cases: it disconnected the line from the transformer, lit up a blinking red light on the board in the office, and turned on the alarm.

Zhora Prakhov, the electrician on duty, turned off the alarm signal immediately so as not to be distracted from his study of The Beginning Motorcyclist (Zhora was about to take the driver's test) and he glanced at the blinking light with hostility and expectancy. Usually localized short circuits in the lab were taken care of at the site.

Realizing after an hour that there was no getting around it, the electrician shut his book, picked up his instrument case and his gloves, set the pointer on the door at “New Syst. Lab.” and left the office. The dark trees of the institute grounds were waist — deep in fog. The transformers of the substation stood with their oil — cooling pipes akimbo, looking like shapeless old women. The old institute building hovered in the distance like a washed — out snowbank against the graying sky. It had heavy balconies and ornate towers. To the left, the parallelepiped of the new research department tried vainly to block out the early June dawn.

Zhora glanced at his watch (it was 4:10), lit a cigarette, and scattering the fog with his bag, headed right, into the far corner of the park where the New Systems Lab was located, housed in a small lodge. At 4:30, in answer to electrician Prakhov's call, two cars appeared on the scene: an ambulance and a squad car of the Dneprovsk City Police.

The tall, thin man in the light suit strode through the park, disregarding the paved paths. His shoes left dark prints on the dew — gray grass. A light breeze ruffled his thinning gray hair. A blindingly pink and yellow sunrise filled the space between the old and new buildings; birds chattered in the trees. But Arkady Arkadievich Azarov had no time for all that.

“Something happened in the New Systems Lab, comrade director,” a dry voice had informed him over the phone a few minutes earlier. “There were victims. Please come.”

Being wakened too early gave Azarov neurasthenia; his body seemed stuffed with cotton, his head empty, and life terrible. “Something happened in the lab…. Please come…. It must have been a cop.” This ran through his mind instead of thoughts.” 'There were victims…. What a ridiculous word! Who were the victims? And of what? Killed, wounded, trousers burned? What? Looks serious. Again! There was that student who got under the gamma rays to speed up the experiment, and then there was… the second incident in six months. But Krivoshein is not a student; he's experienced. What could have happened? They were working at night, and got tired, and… I'll have to put a stop to night work! Absolutely!”

When he had accepted the offer to direct the Dneprovsk Systemology Institute, Academician Azarov hoped to create a scientific system that would be a continuation of his own brain. In his dreams, he saw the structure of the institute developing along the vertical branching principle: he would give general ideas for research and system construction to the section and laboratory directors, who would work out the details and plan specific projects for the workers, who would try to…. Then he would draw conclusions from the data obtained and produce new fundamental ideas and principles. But reality intruded harshly on his dreams. A lot of it was due to acts of God: the slow — wittedness of some scientists and excessive independence of others; the changes in the construction plans, which was why the storerooms and storage yards of the institute were piled high with unopened crates of equipment; the backbiting among purchasing sections; the arguments that erupted from time to time among the institute's members; and the accidents and incidents…. Arkady Arkadievich thought bitterly that he was no closer now to realizing his dream than he had been five years ago.

The one — story lodge with the tile roof shone white in its idyllic setting among the flowering lindens, whose delicate scent filled the air. There were two cars bruising the lawn by the concrete porch: a white ambulance and a blue Volga with a red stripe. As soon as Arkady Arkadievich was in sight of the lab, he slowed down and started thinking. In eighteen months of its existence he had been in the lab only once, in the very beginning, and only briefly for a general tour, and he really couldn't picture what there was behind the door.

The New Systems Lab. actually, there was no reason yet for Azarov to take it seriously, particularly since it had come about not as one of his pet projects, but as the result of an unhappy series of coincidences: eighty thousand in the budget was “burning” to be used. There was only a month and a half until the end of the year, and it was impossible to spend the money according to the letter of the law (Introducing New Laboratories). The builders, who had originally promised the new building by May 1, then the October holidays, and then Constitution Day, were now talking about May 1 of the following year. The crates and boxes of equipment were crowding the parking grounds. Besides, unused monies were always dangerous because they could lead the planning organizations to cut the budget the next year. And so, Arkady Arkadievich announced a “contest” at the institute seminar: who could come up with the best plan for using the eighty thousand before the year was out? Krivoshein suggested a “Lab of Random Research.” Since there were no other suggestions, he had to agree to this one.

Arkady Arkadievich did so against his better judgment and even changed the name to the more proper “Lab for New Systems.” Labs were created to suit people, and for now, Krivoshein was a loner — a fair schematic engineering technician but nothing more. Let him get his fill of independence and overextend himself, and when it came down to research, he'd beg for a director himself. Then they could look for a good candidate of sciences, or better yet, a Ph.D., and create the lab's profile to suit him.

Of course, Arkady Arkadievich did not discount the possibility of Krivoshein's shaping up. The idea he had proposed at the senior council last summer on… on what had it been? Oh, yes, the self — organization of electronic systems through the introduction of arbitrary information… this idea could be the basis for a master's thesis or a doctoral dissertation. But with his penchant for disagreeing with people and his hot temper, Azarov doubted it. Back at that council meeting, he shouldn't have dealt with Professor Voltampernov's remarks that way; poor Ippolit Illarionovich had to take pills after the meeting. No, no, Krivoshein's insubordination was completely inexcusable! There was still no data to show that he had proved his ideas; of course, a year wasn't a very long time, but an engineer was no Ph.D. who could get away with getting involved in research that takes decades.

And that latest scandal — Arkady Arkadievich winced — it was so fresh and unpleasant. Krivoshein had argued against the institute's scientific secretary's defense of his dissertation at the nearby construction design bureau six weeks ago. Without telling anyone ahead of time, he had gone to an outside organization and shown up one of his own colleagues! That was a slur on the institute, on Academician Azarov himself…. Of course, he himself shouldn't have been so easy on the dissertation in the first place and shouldn't have reacted so positively to it; but he rationalized it by saying that it would have been nice to have a homegrown institute Ph.D., and that dissertations worse than this one had been passed. But Krivoshein! Arkady Arkadievich let him know in spades that he was not inclined to keep him in the institute. But now was hardly the time to be bringing all this up.

There was a lot of activity in the lodge. The thought of going in there now to look at it, deal with it, and explain things gave Arkady Arkadievich a sensation not unlike a toothache. “Krivoshein again!” he thought fiercely. “If he's at fault in this incident as well…!” Arkady Arkadievich went up the steps, quickly walked down the narrow corridor crammed with crates and apparatus, entered the room, and looked around.

The large room with six windows only remotely resembled a laboratory for electronic and mathematical research. The parallelepiped generators made of metal and plastic and the oscilloscopes with ventilation slots in their sides stood on the floor, tables, and shelves, mingling with flasks, jars, test tubes, and bowls. There were dozens of test tubes huddled on the shelves and cluttering up the boxes of selenium rectifiers. The middle of the room was taken up by a shapeless apparatus overgrown with wiring, tubing, and extension cords; a control panel was barely visible through the spaghetti. What was that octopus?

“I can feel his pulse,” a woman said to the left of the academician.

Arkady Arkadievich turned. The space between the door and the wall, free of flasks and equipment, was in semidarkness. Two orderlies were carefully transferring a man wearing a gray lab coat from the floor to a stretcher; his head was tilted back and strands of his hair were damp from the puddle of some oily liquid on the floor. A petite doctor bustled near the man.

“He's in shock,” she pronounced. “Give him an adrenalin injection and pump him.”

The academician took a step closer. It was a young man, handsome, very pale, with chestnut hair. “No, that's not Krivoshein, but who is it? I've seen him somewhere….” An orderly got the shot ready. Azarov took a deep breath and almost choked. The room was filled with the acrid odors of acid solutions, burned insulation, and some other sharp smell — the vague, heavy smells of disasters. The floor was covered with a thick liquid through which the doctor and orderlies kept walking.

A thin man in a blue suit entered the room in an official manner. Everything about him but his suit was bland and inexpressive: gray hair with a side part, small gray eyes unexpectedly close together on a bony face with high cheekbones, and taut, poorly shaved cheeks. He nodded drily to Azarov, who returned an equally formal bow. There was no need for introductions, since it had been Investigator Onisimov who had handled the case of lab assistant Gorshkov's radiation death last February.

“Let's begin by identifying the body,” the detective said, and Arkady Arkadievich's heart skipped a beat. “Would you please come here.”

Azarov followed him to the corner by the door to something covered with a gray oilcloth. It was full of angular bumps, and yellow, bony toes stuck out from the ends.

“The work ID found in the clothing we saw in the laboratory gives the name of Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein,” the detective said in an official voice, bending back the oilcloth. “Do you corroborate the identification?”

Life had not often placed Arkady Arkadievich face to face with death. He felt faint and unbuttoned his collar. The raised oilcloth revealed sticky, short hair, bulging eyes, sunken cheeks, a mouth drooping at the corners, then a prominent Adam's apple on a sinewy neck, thin collarbones…. “He's lost so much weight!” he thought. “Yes.”

“Thank you,” the detective said and lowered the cloth. So, it was Krivoshein. They had seen each other the day before yesterday near the old building, walked past each other, and bowed formally as usual. Then, he had been a heavyset, living man, albeit an unpleasant one. And now… it was as though life had sucked out all his vital juices, dried out his flesh, leaving only the bones covered with gray skin. “Probably Krivoshein understood what his role was to be in establishing this lab,” Azarov suddenly thought for no reason. The detective left.

“Oh, dear. Tsk, tsk, tsk….” Arkady Arkadievich heard. He turned. The scientific secretary Harry Haritonovich Hilobok was in the doorway. His sleek face was still puffy from sleep. Harry Haritonovich was considered attractive: a good physique in a light suit, a well — shaped head, intriguing gray at the temples, dark eyes, and a good straight nose, set off by a dark mustache. His appearance was somewhat marred by the harsh lines at the corners of his mouth, the kind caused by constant forced smiling, and a weakish chin. The assistant professor's dark eyes shone with timid curiosity.

“Good morning, Arkady Arkadievich! What's happened here at Krivoshein's now? I was just walking by and wondered why these vehicles were outside the lab? So I came in. By the way, have you noticed that his digital printing machines are just lounging in the halls here, Arkady Arkadievich? In the middle of all sorts of garbage. And Valentin Vasilyevich worked so hard at getting them, writing endless streams of memos. I mean, he could give them to somebody else if he has no use for them himself.” Harry Haritonovich sighed deeply and looked over to the right. “Must be another student! Tsk, tsk, dear, dear! Another student, there's a plague on them here….” He noticed that the detective had returned. “Oh, good day, Apollon Matveevich! Seeing us once more, eh?”

“Matvei Apollonovich,” Onisimov corrected.

He opened a yellow box marked “Material Evidence” with a black stencil, took out a test tube, and crouched over the puddle.

“I mean Matvei Apollonovich — please forgive me. I do remember you very well from last time. I just scrambled name and patronymic a little. Matvei Apollonovich, of course. How could I? We talked about you for a long time after, how organized and efficient you were, and everything….” Hilobok went on and on.

“Comrade Director, what was the nature of the work done in this laboratory?” the detective interrupted, catching some liquid in the test tube.

“Research on self — organizing electronic systems with an integral input of information,” the academician replied. “Anyway, that was how Valentin Vasilyevich had formulated his thesis at the beginning of the year.”

“I see.” Onisimov got up, sniffed the liquid, wiped the tube clean with a piece of cotton, and put it away. “Was the use of poisonous chemicals ruled out?”

“I don't know. I would think that nothing was forbidden. Research is done by the researcher as he best sees fit.”

“So what went so wrong here in Krivoshein's lab that even you, Arkady Arkadievich, were disturbed so early in the morning?” Hilobok asked, lowering his voice. “Precisely — what?” Onisimov was directing his questions to the academician. “The short circuit had nothing to do with it. It was merely an accident, and not the cause. We've determined that much. There is no sign of electrocution, no traumas on the body… and the man is gone. And what is this contraption? What's it for?”

He picked up an object from the floor that looked like an ancient warrior's helmet; but this helmet was chrome — plated and covered with buttons and bundles of thin multicolored wires. The wires extended beyond the tubes and flasks of the clumsy apparatus into the far corner of the room, to a computer.

“This?” The academician shrugged. “Hmm.”

“Monomakh's Crown, I mean, that's what we call them around here,” Hilobok offered. “More precisely, it's an SEP — 1 — System of Electronic Pickups for Computing the Biopotentials of the Human Brain. The reason I know, Arkady Arkadievich, is that Krivoshein kept bugging me to make him one like it.”

“All right, I understand. With your permission, I'll take it for a while, since it was found on the victim.”

Onisimov, winding the wires, disappeared into the far reaches of the room.

“Who was the victim, Arkady Arkadievich?” Hilobok whispered.


“Oh, dear, how can that be? His eccentricities finally led to this… and more troubles for you, Arkady Arkadievich.”

The detective was back. He wrapped the “crown” in paper and put it into his box. The only sound in the quiet lab was the panting of the orderlies, who were working on the unconscious assistant.

“And why was Krivoshein naked?” Onisimov suddenly asked.

“He was naked?” The academician was stunned. “You mean it wasn't the doctors who undressed him? I don't know! I can't even imagine.”

“Hm… I see. And what do you think they used this tank for? Perhaps for bathing?”

The detective pointed to the rectangular plastic tank that lay on its side on top of the shards of the flasks its fall had crushed; drips and icicles of yellow gray stuff hung from its transparent sides. Pieces of a large mirror lay next to the tub.

“For bathing?” The academician was getting tired of these questions. “I'm afraid that you have a peculiar idea of what a scientific laboratory is used for, comrade… eh, investigator!”

“And there was a mirror right next to it. A good one, full — length/ Onisimov droned on. “What use could it have served?”

“I don't know! I can't delve into every technical detail of all hundred sixty projects that are under way in my institute!”

“You see, Apollon Marve… I mean, Matvei Apollonovich — forgive me,” Hilobok interrupted, “Arkady Arkadievich is in charge of the entire institute, is a member of five interdisciplinary commissions, edits a scholarly journal, and of course, cannot deal with every detail of every project specifically. That's what the project directors are for. And besides, the late — oh dear, what a pity — the late Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein was a man of too much independence. He did not like to confer with anyone, to share his thoughts or results. And he often ignored, it must be said, many of the basic safety rules. Of course, I know that you should not speak ill of the dead — de mortius bene aut nihil, as they say — but what was, was. Remember, Arkady Arkadievich, how a year ago January — no, maybe it was February — no, I think it was January, or it could even have been back in December — anyway, remember, how he flooded the first floor, causing great damage and stopping work on many projects, when he was working with Ivanov?”

“You are a viper, Hilobok!” A voice came from the stretcher. The student lab assistant, clutching the edges, was trying to get up. “Oh, you… too bad we didn't take care of you then!”

Everyone turned to him. A chill went through Azarov: the student's voice, the hoarseness, the slurred endings, were absolutely identical with Krivoshein's. The assistant fell back weakly, his head touching the floor. The orderlies wiped their brows in satisfaction: he was alive! The doctor gave an order and they picked up the stretcher and took him out. The academician took a close look at the fellow. And his heart skipped a beat again. The lab assistant resembled Krivoshein — he didn't know exactly how — and not even the live Krivoshein, but the one down there under the oilcloth.

“See, he's even managed to set the lab assistant against me,”

Hilobok nodded in his direction with unbelievable meekness.

“Why was he so angry with you?” Onisimov turned to him. “Were you two in conflict?”

“Heaven forbid!” The assistant professor shrugged innocently and sincerely. “I've only talked to him once, when I interviewed him to work in Krivoshein's lab at Valentin Vasilyevich's personal request, since he — “

“Victor Vitalyevich Kravets,” Onisimov read from his notes.

“Yes… well, he's a relative of Krivoshein's. He's a student from Kharkov University, and they sent us fifteen people in the winter for a year's practical work. And Krivoshein made him an assistant in his lab through nepotism. But why should we object? We're all human — “

“Enough, Harry Haritonovich,” Azarov cut him off.

“I see,” Onisimov nodded. “Tell me, aside from Kravets, did the deceased have any relatives?”

“What can I tell you, Matvei Apollonovich?” Hilobok sighed deeply. “Officially, no, but unofficially, he was visited by a woman here. I don't know if she's his fiancee, or what. Her name is Elena Ivanovna Kolomiets, and she works in a neighboring construction design bureau, a nice woman — “

“I see. You're on top of things around here, I see.” Onisimov laughed as he headed for the door.

A minute later he was back with a camera and directed the exposure meter at the corner.

“The laboratory will have to be sealed during the investigation. The body will be sent to the coroner for an autopsy. The people in charge of the funeral will have to contact him.” The detective went to the corner and picked up the cloth that was covering Krivoshein's body. “Please move away from the window. There'll be more light. Actually, I do not need to keep you any longer, comrades, please forgive the trouble — “

He paled and pulled up the cloth in a single move. Under it lay a skeleton! A yellow puddle was spreading around it, retaining a blurred caricature of a body's outline.

“Oh!” Hilobok exclaimed and backed out onto the porch.

Arkady Arkadievich felt his knees buckle and held on to the wall. The detective was methodically folding the oilcloth and staring at the skeleton, which was smiling a mocking thirty — toothed grin. A lock of dark red hair silently fell from the skull into the puddle,

“I see,” Onisimov muttered. Then he turned to Azarov and looked disapprovingly into the wide eyes behind the rectangular lenses. “Fine goings — on here, comrade director.”

Chapter 2

“What can you say in your defense?”

“Well, you see — “

“Enough! Shoot him. Next!”

— A conversation

Actually, Investigator Onisimov didn't see anything yet; the expression was a linguistic hangover from better days. He had tried to break himself of the habit, but couldn't. Besides that, Matvei Apollonovich was preoccupied and very upset by such a turn of events. A half hour before the call from the Institute of Systemology, Zubato, the medical examiner on duty with him that night, had been called to a highway accident outside of town. Onisimov had to go to the institute alone. And he ended up with a skeleton instead of a warm corpse. Nothing like this had ever been encountered in criminology. Nobody would believe that the body turned into a skeleton on its own — he'd be a laughing stock. The ambulance had left already, and so they couldn't back him up. And he hadn't had time to photograph the body.

In a word, what had happened seemed like nothing more than a series of serious oversights in the investigation. That's why he made sure he had written statements from Prakhov, the technician, and academician Azarov before he left the institute grounds.

The electrical technician Georgii Danilovich Prakhov, twenty years old, Russian, unmarried, draftable, and not a Party member, wrote:

“When I entered the laboratory, the overhead light was on; only the power network was disrupted. The stench in the room was so bad that I almost threw up — it was like a hospital. The first thing that I noticed was a naked man lying in an overturned tank, his head and arms dangling, with a metallic contraption on his head. Something was leaking out of the tub; it looked like a thick ichor. The other one, a new student (I've seen him around), was lying nearby, face up, his arms outspread. I rushed over to the one in the tub and pulled him out. He was still warm and very slippery, so that I couldn't get a good grip on him. I tried to awaken him, but he seemed dead. I recognized him. It was Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein. I had run into him often at the institute. We always said hello. The student was breathing, but remained unconscious. Since there is no one at the institute except for the outside guards, I called an ambulance and the police on the laboratory phone.

“The temporary short circuit had occurred in the power cable that goes to the laboratory electroshield along the wall in an aluminum pipe. The tub broke a bottle that apparently contained acid which ate through in that spot and the cable shorted out like a second — class conductor.”

Zhora wisely left out the fact that he did not investigate the scene of the accident until an hour after the alarm had gone off.

Arkady Arkadievich Azarov, the director of the institute, a doctor of physics and mathematics, and an active member of the Academy of Sciences, fifty — eight, Russian, married, not subject to the draft, and a member of the CPSU, corroborated the fact that he recognized the features of the body shown to him at the scene of the accident by Investigator Onisimov, M.A., as belonging to Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein, acting director of the New Systems Laboratory, and besides that, with the scientific objectivity characteristic of an academician noted that he “had been amazed by the abnormal emaciation of the deceased, the abnormal physical state which did not correspond to his usual appearance.”

At 10:30 in the morning Onisimov returned to headquarters and his office on the first floor, where his windows, hatched with the vertical bars, opened onto Marx Prospect, which was busy at almost any hour of day or night. Matvei Apollonovich gave a brief account of the events to Major Rabinovich, sent a test tube with the liquid to the medical examiner, and called up the emergency room to find out the condition of the only eyewitness. They replied that the lab assistant felt fine and asked to be released.

“Fine, go ahead, I'll send a car for him,” Onisimov said.

No sooner had he arranged for the car than Zubato, the medical examiner, rushed into his office. He was a red — blooded, loud man with hairy arms.

“Matvei, what did you bring me?” He sank into a chair with emphatic disgust. “Some practical joke! How am I supposed to determine the cause of death on a skeleton?”

“I brought you what was left,” Onisimov explained, shrugging. “I'm glad you showed up. I want to know, off the top of your head, how does a body turn into a skeleton?”

“Off the top of my head, as a result of the deterioration of tissues, which under normal circumstances takes weeks and even months. That's all that the body can do about it.”

“All right… then how can you turn a body into a skeleton?”

“Skin the body, cut off the soft tissues, and boil it in water until the bones are completely exposed. It is recommended to change the water. Can you tell me clearly what happened?”

Onisimov told him.

“That's something! I'm really sorry I missed it!” He slapped his knee.

“What happened on the highway?”

“A drunk cyclist hit a cow. Both survived. So you say your body melted?” The expert squinted skeptically and brought his face closer to Onisimov. “Matvei, that doesn't ring true. It just doesn't happen, I can tell you for sure. A man is no icicle, even if he is dead. They didn't trick you?”


“You know, switch the body for a skeleton while you were out… and discard the evidence.”

“What are you blabbering about? You mean while an academician stood guard for them? Come on, here's his deposition.” Onisimov fretted as he looked for Azarov's statement.

“Ahh, now they'll show you! The people there….” Zubato wriggled his hairy fingers. “Remember, when that student was exposed to radiation, how the head of the lab tried to blame it all on science, how he said that it was a little — studied phenomenon, that the gamma rays destroyed the crystal cells of the dosimeter. And when we checked, it turned out the students were signed up to work on isotopes without reading about them! Nobody wants to take responsibility, even academicians, if it's a fishy situation. Try to think: did you leave them alone with the body?”

“I did,” the detective's voice fell. “Twice.”

“And that's when your body melted!” Zubato broke out in the hearty laugh of a man who knows that disaster has not struck him.

The detective thought about it and then shook his head.

“Now, you're not going to throw me off the track here. I saw for myself… but what are we going to do with this skeleton now?”

“The hell with it. Wait, here's an idea. Send it over to the city sculpture studio. Let them reconstruct the face according to Professor Gerasimov's method; they are familiar with it. If it's him, you'll have the crime sensation of the century on your hands. If not — “Zubato gave Matvei Apollonovich a sympathetic look. “I wouldn't want to be in your shoes when you talk with Aleksei Ignatievich. All right, I'll send it over there myself. So be it.” He rose. “And while I'm at it, I'll do the death certificate. I'll settle for a skeleton, if you can't come up with a body.”

Zubato left.

“What if they did trick me?” Onisimov recalled the academician's hostility, Assistant Professor Hilobok's flattery, and he shuddered. “I lost the body, the most important thing. Good show there!”

He dialed the chemistry lab.

“Viktoriya Stepanovna, this is Onisimov. Did you analyze the liquid?”

“Yes, Matvei Apollonovich. The report is being typed, but I'll read you the conclusion. “Water — 85 percent, protein — 13 percent, amino acids — 0.5 percent, fatty acids — 0.4 percent and so on. In other words, it's human blood plasma. According to the hemoglutins, it's classified as type A, with lowered water content.”

“Yes, I see. Could it be toxic?”

“I doubt it.”

“Even, if say, you bathed in it?”

“Well, you could swallow some and drown. Does that help?”

“Thank you!” Matvei Apollonovich slammed down the phone. “Wise ass! But I guess that means accidental death is ruled out. Could the assistant have drowned him in the tub? No, it doesn't look like a drowning.”

Onisimov liked the entire business less and less with every passing minute. He spread out the documents he got at the institute's personnel department and at the laboratory and lost himself in their study. He was distracted by the phone.

“Matvei, you owe me!” boomed Zubato's triumphant voice. “I've managed to establish a few things from the skeleton. There are deep vertical cracks in the middle of the sixth and seventh ribs on the right side. Such cracks are the result of a blow by a heavy blunt instrument or against a blunt object, whatever. The surface has minute cracks, fresh — “

“I see!”

“These cracks in themselves can not be the cause of death. But a violent blow could have seriously injured the internal organs, which, unfortunately, are missing. Well, that's about it. I hope it helps.”

“And how! Did you send out the skull for identification?”

“Just now. And I called ahead. They promised to do it as fast as possible.”

“So, this is no accident. Liquid and short circuits don't break a man's ribs. Oh, oh. It looks as if there were two accident victims there: an injured victim and a dead victim. And it looks as though the two had a serious fight.”

Onisimov felt better. The case was taking on familiar aspects. He began composing an urgent telegram to Kharkov.

The June day was getting hotter. The sun melted the asphalt. The heat seeped into Onisimov's office, and he turned on the fan on his desk.

The answer from the Kharkov police came at exactly 1:00 P.M. Lab assistant Kravets was brought in at 1:30. As he entered the office, he looked around, and smirked as he noticed the barred windows.

“Is that to make people confess faster?”

“No — no,” Matvei Apollonovich drawled gently. “This building used to be a wholesale warehouse and so the entire first floor has reinforced windows. We'll be removing them soon; not too many robbers try breaking into a police station, heh — heh. Sit down. Are you feeling all right now? Can you make a statement?”

“I can.”

The assistant walked across the room and sat in a chair opposite the window. The detective looked him over. He was young, maybe twenty — four, not older than that. He looked like Krivoshein, the way he might have been ten years ago. “Actually, he didn't look like that,” Matvei Apollonovich thought as he looked at the photo in Krivoshein's personnel file. “This fellow is much more handsome.” And there really was something of a model's or actor's perfection in Kravets's face. The impression of perfection was marred by the eyes — actually not the eyes themselves, which were blue and had a youthful clarity, but in the marksman's squint of the lids. “He has eyes that seem to have lived a lot,” the detective noted. “He seems to have gotten over the experience quickly enough. Let's see.”

“You know, you resemble the deceased.”

“The deceased!” The assistant clenched his jaw and shut his eyes for a second. “That means — “

“Yes, it does,” Onisimov said harshly. “He's jumpy,” he thought. “Well, let's do this in order.” He reached for a piece of paper and unscrewed his pen. “Your name, patronymic, age, place of work or study, address?”

“But you must know all that already?”

“Know or not, that's the regulation; the witness must give all that information himself.”

“So he's dead…. What should I do now? What should I say? It's a catastrophe. Damn it, I shouldn't have come to the police. I should have run off from the clinic. What will happen now?” Kravets thought.

“Please, write down the following: Viktor Vitalyevich Kravets, age twenty — four, a student in the fifth year in the physics department of Kharkov University. I reside in Kharkov, on Kholodnaya Gora. I'm here to do my practical work.”

“I see,” the detective said, and instead of writing it down, twisted his pen rapidly and aimlessly. “You were related to Krivoshein. How?” “Distantly,” the student laughed uncomfortably. “Seventh cousin twice removed, you know.”

“I see!” Onisimov put down his pen and picked up the telegraph; his voice became severe. “Look here, citizen, it doesn't check out.” “What doesn't check out?”

“Your story, that you're Kravets, that you live and study in Kharkov, and so on. There's no student by that name in Kharkov. And the person you name has never lived at 17, Kholodnaya Gora, either.” The suspect's cheeks suddenly dropped, and his face turned red. “They got me. How stupid of me! Damn it! Of course, they checked all that out immediately. Boy, lack of experience shows every time. But what can I say now?” he thought.

“Tell the truth. And in detail. Don't forget that we're dealing with a homicide here.”

Kravets thought: “The truth. Easier said than done.” “You see, the truth… how can I put it… that's too much and too complicated,” the assistant began mumbling, hating and despising himself for this lack of control. “I'd have to discuss information theory and the modeling of random processes.”

“Just don't try to cloud the issues, citizen,” Onisimov said, frowning disdainfully. “People aren't killed by theories — this was definitely practical application and fact.”

“But… you must understand, actually no one at all may have died. It can be proven… or attempted to be proven. You see, citizen investigator — (Why did I call him that? I haven't been arrested yet.) — You see, first of all, a man is not, well, not a hunk of protoplasm weighing 150 pounds. There are the fifty quarts of water, forty — four pounds of protein, fats and carbohydrates, enzymes, and so on. No, man is first and foremost information. A concentration of information. And if it has not disappeared, then the man is still alive.”

He stopped and bit his lip. “No, this is nonsense. It's hopeless,” he thought.

“Yes, I'm listening. Go on,” the detective said, laughing to himself. The assistant glanced up at him, got more comfortable in his chair, and said with a small smile:

“In short, if you don't want to hear the theories, then Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein — that's me. You can put that into the official record.”

It was so unexpected and daring that Matvei Apollonovich was stunned for a second. “Should I send him to the psychiatrist?” he thought. But the suspect's blue eyes looked at him reasonably and there was mockery in their depths. That's what brought Onisimov out of his suspended animation.

“I see!” He got up. “Do you take me for a fool? Do you think I haven't familiarized myself with his file, that I wasn't present at the scene of the accident, that I don't remember his face?” He leaned on the desk top. “ If you refuse to identify yourself, it's only worse for you. We'll find out anyway. Do you admit your papers are forged?”

“That's it. We have to stop playing,” Kravets thought, and said:

“No. You still have to prove that. You might as well consider me a forgery while you're at it!”

The assistant turned to look out the window.

“Don't clown around with me, citizen!” The detective had raised his voice. “What was your purpose in entering the lab? Answer me! What happened between you and Krivoshein? Answer!”

“I'm not answering anything!”

Matvei Apollonovich scolded himself for losing his temper. He sat down and after a pause started talking in a heartfelt manner:

“Listen, don't think that I'm trying to pin anything on you. My job is to investigate thoroughly, to fill in the missing blanks, and then the prosecutor's office evaluates it, and the court makes the decision. But you're hurting yourself. You don't understand one thing: if you confess later, under duress as they say, it won't count as much as making a clean breast of things now. It might not all be so terrible. But for now, everything points against you. Proof of an assault on the body, expert testimony, and other circumstances. And it all boils down to one thing.” He leaned across the desk and lowered his voice. “It looks as if you… alleviated the victim's suffering.”

The suspect lowered his head and rubbed his face. He was seeing the scene again. The skeleton with Krivoshein's head twitching convulsively in the tank, his own hands holding on to the tank's edge, the warm, gentle liquid touching them and then — the blow!

“I'm not sure myself, if it's me or not,” he muttered in a depressed voice. “I can't understand it.” He looked up. “Listen, I have to get back to the lab!”

Matvei Apollonovich almost jumped up: he hadn't expected such a rapid victory. “Listen, that can happen too,” he said, nodding sympathetically. “In a state of frenzy from an insult or through overzealous self — defense. Let's go down to the lab, and you can explain on the scene just what transpired there.” He picked up Monomakh's Crown from his desk and casually asked: “Was this what you hit him on the chest with? It's a heavy thing.”

“That's enough!” The suspect spoke harshly and almost haughtily. He straightened up. “I see no reason to continue this discussion. You're trying to put me into a corner. By the way, that 'heavy thing' costs over five thousand rubles. Be careful with it.”

“Does this mean that you don't want to tell me anything?” “Yes.”

“I see.” The detective pushed a button. “You'll have to be held until this is cleared up.”

A gangly policeman with a long face and droopy nose appeared at the door. In the Ukraine, people like him are described as “tall but still bends.”

“Gayevoy?” the detective looked at him uncertainly. “Aren't any of the guards around?”

'They're all out in the field, comrade captain,” he replied. “A lot of them are at the beaches, maintaining law and order.” “Do you have a car?” “A small GAZ.”

“Convey the detained suspect to the city jail. It's too bad you refuse to help yourself and us, citizen. You're just making it worse for yourself.”

The lab assistant turned in the doorway. “And it's too bad that you think Krivoshein is dead.” “One of those characters who likes to make a grand exit. Always have the last word.” Onisimov chuckled. “I've seen plenty like him. But he'll come round after a while.”

Matvei Apollonovich lit a cigarette and drummed his fingers on the desk. At first all the clues (faked papers, medical testimony, circumstances) led him to think that the assistant, if he wasn't the killer, was at least actively involved in Krivoshein's death. But this conversation had changed his mind. Not what the suspect had said, but how. He did not sense in him the forethought, the game playing, that fatal game playing that gives away the criminal long before there is any evidence.

“It is looking like an unpremeditated murder. He said himself, 1 don't know if it was me or not. But what about the skeleton? How did it happen? And did it happen? And what about the attempt to pass himself off as Krivoshein by using a theoretical explanation? Is he faking? And what if the absence of game playing is just the most subtle game of all? No, where would such a young, inexperienced fellow develop that? And then, what motives are there for a premeditated murder? What was going on between them? And what about the forged documents?”

Matvei Apollonovich's mind hit a dead end. “All right, let's look into the circumstances.” He stood up and looked out into the hall. Assistant Professor Hilobok was pacing up and down.

“Please come in! I asked you here, comrade Hilobok, to — “

“Yes, yes, I understand,” Hilobok nodded. “Others experience tragedy, and I clean up the messes. People do die of old age, and may God grant us both such ends, Matvei Apollonovich, eh? But Krivoshein never did anything the way everyone else did. No, no, I'm sorry for him. Don't think… it's always a pity when a man dies, right? But Valentin Vasilyevich had caused me so many problems in the past. And all because he was a stubborn character, with no respect for anyone, no consideration, diverging from the collective time and time again.”

“I see. But I would like to ascertain what it was Krivoshein was doing in that lab that was under his jurisdiction. Since you are the scientific secretary, I thought — “

“I just knew you'd ask!” Harry Haritonovich smiled happily. “I even brought along a copy of the thematic plans with me, naturally.” He rustled the papers in his briefcase. “Here it is, theme 152, specific goals — research on NIR, title — 'The self — organization of complex electronic systems with an integral introduction of information/ contents of the work — 'Research on the possibilities of self — organization of complex system into a more complex one with an integral (not differentiated according to signals and symbols) introduction of varying information by adding a superstructure of its output to the system/ financing — here's the budget, nature of the work — mathematical, logical, and experimental, director of the project — engineer V. V. Krivoshein, executor, the same — “ “What was the gist of his research?”

'The gist? Hmmm.” Hilobok's face grew serious. “The self — organization of systems… so that a machine could build itself, understand? They're doing intensive work on this in America. Very. In the USA — “

“And what was Krivoshein actually doing?” “Actually…. He proposed a new approach to forming these systems through… integralization. No, self — organization. It's just not clear if he managed to do anything with it or not.” Harry Haritonovich smiled broadly and winningly. “You know, Matvei Apollonovich, there are so many projects at the institute, and I have to look into all of them. I just can't keep everything straight in my mind. You would be better off reading the minutes of the academic council's meeting.” “You mean, he reported on his work to the academic council?” “Of course! All our projects are considered before they are incorporated into the plan. After all, how could we distribute funds without any factual basis?” “What was his basis?”

“What do you mean?” The scientific secretary raised his eyebrows. “His idea regarding the new approach to the problem of self — organization? You're best off reading the minutes, Matvei Apollonovich.” He sighed. “It all happened a year ago, and we have meetings and debates and commissions every week, if not more frequently. Can you imagine? And I have to be present at every one, organize the speakers, speak myself, issue invitations. For instance, right now, I have to go from here to the Society on Distribution, where there's a meeting on the question of attracting scientific personnel to lecture at collective farms during harvest. I won't even have time for lunch. I can't wait for my vacation!”

“I see. But the academic council approved his topic?”

“Of course! There were many who argued against it. Ah, you should have heard how crudely Valentin Vasilyevich answered them. It was totally unforgivable. Poor Professor Voltampernov had to be tranquilized afterward. Can you imagine? The board recommended that Krivoshein be reprimanded for his rudeness, I wrote out the decree myself. But the topic was passed, of course. A man proposes new ideas, a new approach — why shouldn't he try it? That's the way it is in science. And besides, Arkady Arkadievich himself supported him. Arkady Arkadievich is a wonderfully generous soul; in fact he set him up in his own lab because Krivoshein could never get along with anybody. Of course, the lab was a joke, unstructured with a staff of one… but the academic council had discussed the situation and voted yes. I voted for it myself.”

“What was the it you all voted for?” Onisimov wiped his brow with a handkerchief.

“What do you mean? To include it in the plan, to allot funds for it. You know, planning is the basis of our society.”

“I see. Tell me, Harry Haritonovich, what do you think happened?”

“Hmmm… I must make it clear to you, my dear Matvei Apollonovich, that I would have no way of knowing. I'm the scientific secretary; all my work is paperwork. They've been working together just the two of them since last winter. The lab assistant is the one who would know. Besides, he's an eyewitness.”

“Did you know that the assistant is not who he says he is?” Onisimov demanded. “He's not Kravets and he's not a student.”

“Really? That's why you arrested him, I see.” Hilobok's eyes grew round. “No, really, how would I know? That was an oversight in personnel. Who is he?”

“We'll find out. So you say the Americans are doing the same kind of work now?”

“Yes. So you think he's the one?”

“Why be so hasty?” Onisimov laughed. “I'm just exploring all the possibilities.” He glanced over at the paper with the questions. 'Tell me, Harry Haritonovich, did you notice psychiatric problems in Krivoshein?”

Hilobok smiled.

“You know, on my way over here, I was debating whether or not I should mention it. Maybe it's a trifle and there's no point? But since you ask… he had these lapses. I remember, last July, when I was combining my duties with heading the laboratory of experimental setups — we couldn't find the right specialist to run it — we needed a candidate of science — so I was doing it — so that we wouldn't lose the slot for the position, because, you know, they can take away the allocation, and then you can never get it back. That's the way it is. And so, just a while back, my laboratory received a request from Krivoshein to prepare a new system for encephalographic biopotential sensors, like that SEP — 1, Monomakh's Crown, that you have on your desk, but of a more complex construction, so that it would fit in with all kinds of his schemes. Why they ever accepted the order from him, instead of doing their own work, I'll never know.”

This submersion in scientific data brought on a deep drowsiness in Matvei Apollonovich. Usually he cut through any tangential deviation from the topic that interested him in an interrogation, but now — he was a man with a Russian soul — he could not overcome his innate respect for science, for learned titles, terms, and situations. He had always had this respect, and after his last case at the institute when he also learned the salaries of scientific workers his respect had doubled. And so Matvei Apollonovich did not try to stem Harry Haritonovich's free — flowing mouth; after all, he was dealing with a man whose salary was more than twice his own, as a police captain, and legal at that.

“So, you can imagine, I was sitting in the laboratory one day,” Hilobok rambled on, “and Valentin Vasilyevich came to see me — without his lab coat, I might add! That is unacceptable. There is a specific rule promulgated about this at the institute, a rule stating that all engineering and scientific workers must wear white coats and the technicians and lab assistants gray or blue ones. After all, we are often visited by foreign delegations. It can't be otherwise. But he always disregarded convention, and he asked me in a really nasty tone: 'When are you going to fill my order for the new system? Well, I tried to explain everything calmly to him. 'It's like this and that, Valentin Vasilyevich. We will when we can. It's not so easy to do everything you drew up for us. The circuitry becomes very complicated, and we have to reject too many transistors. In a word, I gave him a good explanation, so that the man would not have any misunderstandings. But he just went on harping: 'If you can't do it on schedule, you shouldn't have agreed to do it! I tried to explain about the difficulties once more, and that we had orders backed up at the lab, but Krivoshein interrupted me: 'If the order is not completed in two weeks, I will file a complaint about you and turn over the work to the science club in a grammar school! And they'll do it faster than you, and it will be a lot cheaper, too! That was a dig at me, that last part. He had always made cracks, but I was used to it. And then he slammed the door, and stalked out.”

The investigator nodded rhythmically and clenched his jaw to hide the yawns. Hilobok buzzed on:

“And five minutes later — note that no more than five minutes had passed; I hadn't even had time to talk to the workshop by phone — Valentin Vasilyevich burst in again wearing a coat this time (he had managed to dig up a gray one somewhere), and said: 'Harry Haritonovich, when will that order for the sensor system be ready? 'Please, I said, 'take pity on me, Valentin Vasilyevich. I explained it to you! And I went into my explanation again. He interrupted like last time: 'If you can't do it, don't try. and then went on about the complaint, the schoolboys, and expenses.” Hilobok brought his face closer to the investigator. “In other words, he repeated exactly what he had said five minutes ago, in the same exact wording! Can you imagine?”

“That's curious,” the investigator nodded.

“And that wasn't the only time he got confused like that. Once he forgot to turn off the water for the night, and the whole floor under the laboratory was flooded. Once — the janitor complained to me — he started a huge bonfire of perforated tape on the lawn. The professor meaningfully pursed his fat red lips, funereally outlined with a black mustache, “and so anything might have happened. And why? Because he wanted to get ahead and he was constantly overworking himself.

No matter what time you left the institute the lights in his lodge were always blazing. Many of us at the institute joked about it. Maybe Krivoshein wasn't aiming for his doctorate but for a break — through right off the bat…. He discovered enough, now go try to figure it all out.”

“I see,” the investigator said and looked down at the sheet of paper once more. “You mentioned that Krivoshein had a woman who was close to him. Do you know her?”

“Elena Ivanovna Kolomiets? Of course! There aren't many women like her in our town — very attractive, elegant, sweet, in a word, you know — “Harry Haritonovich described Elena Ivanovna's inexpressible beauty with a zigzagging motion of the hands. His brown eyes glistened. “I could never figure out, nor could others, what she saw in him. After all, Krivoshein — I know, de mortius aut bene nut nihil, but why hide it? — you saw for yourself, he was no looker. She would come to see him. Our houses are next door in Academic Town, so I saw it. And he never knew how to dress well either. But I haven't seen her around lately. I guess they broke up, like ships in the night, heh — heh! Do you think she had anything to do with this?”

“I don't think anyone has as yet, Harry Haritonovich. I'm only trying to clear things up.” Onisimov got up with relief. “Well, thank you. I hope that I don't need to warn you about gossiping, because — “

“It doesn't need to be mentioned! And don't thank me, I was only doing my duty. I'm always ready….”

After he left, Matvei Apollonovich put his head directly under the fan and sat for a few minutes without moving or thinking. Hilobok's voice rang in his head like a fly buzzing on a windowpane.

“Wait!” The detective shook his head to clear it. “We wasted a whole hour, and he didn't clear up a thing. And all the time it seemed 'as though we were on the topic, but it was all nothing. Scientific secretary, assistant professor, sciences candidate — could he have been trying to throw me off? Something's wrong here.”

The phone rang. “Onisimov here.”

There was only panting on the phone for a few seconds. It was obvious the speaker couldn't get his breath.

“Comrade.. captain.. this is Gayevoy.. reporting. The… suspect… escaped!”

“Escaped? What do you mean escaped? Give me a full report!”

“Well, we were in the GAZ. Timofeyev was driving and I was next to that….” The policeman was muttering into the phone. “That's the way we transport all detained suspects. After all, comrade captain, you hadn't warned us about strict observation, and I couldn't imagine where he could go since you have all his papers. Well, we were driving past the city park and he jumped out when we were going at full speed. Over the fence, and he was gone! Well, Timofeyev and I went after him. Boy, is he good at clambering over uneven ground! Well, I didn't want to open fire since I didn't have any instructions about it from you. So… that's it.”

“I see. Go to the department and write out a report for the captain on duty. You don't do your job very well, Gayevoy!”

“Well, is there anything you'd like me to do, comrade captain?” His voice was glum.

“We'll manage without you. Hurry back here; you'll be part of the search party. That's all.” Onisimov hung up.

“Well, well, the man's an artist, a real artist! And I had doubted him! Of course, it's him. It had to be! So. He had no identification papers. Nor any money. And almost no clothes, just the shirt and trousers he had on. He won't get far. Unless he has confederates… then it'll be harder.”

Ten minutes later Gayevoy, even more bent over by his guilt, appeared. Onisimov organized a search party, distributing photos, and a description with identifying marks. The operatives went into town.

Then Matvei Apollonovich called the fingerprint expert. He told him that some of the prints he collected in the lab matched those of the lab assistant; others belonged to another man. Neither set matched up with any known criminal.

“The other man is naturally the victim, of course…. Ho, ho, this is becoming serious business. It doesn't look anything like a regular crime. It doesn't look like anything with that damn melted skeleton! What can I do about that?”

Onisimov stared gloomily out the window. The shadows of the trees on the sidewalks were lengthening, but it hadn't gotten any cooler. Young women in print shifts and sunglasses crowded near the bus stop. “Going to the beach….”

The worst part was that Onisimov still didn't have a working version of the incident.

At the end of the day, when Matvei Apollonovich was writing out a list for the morning, the commander of the department came in to see him. “Here it comes,” Matvei Apollonovich thought.

“Sit down.” The colonel lowered himself into the chair. “You seem to be having complications in this case: no body, suspect escaped. Hm? Tell me about it.” Onisimov told him.

“Hm….” The commander's heavy eyebrows met. “Well, we'll catch that fellow; there's no question about that. Do you have the airport, railroad, and bus stations under surveillance?

“Of course, Aleksei Ignatievich, I sent out the order immediately.”

“That means he'll never get out of the city. But as for the corpse… that's really something very curious. Damn it all! Maybe they switched things on you at the scene?” He looked up at the investigator with his small, wise eyes. “Maybe… remember Gorky's story Klim Samgin where a character says, 'Maybe there was no boy? “

“But… the doctor in the ambulance certified the death, Aleksei Ignatievich.”

“Doctors can make mistakes, too. Besides, the doctor was not an expert, and she didn't list a cause of death. And there's no body. And our Zubato is having problems with the skeleton…. Of course, it's up to you. I'm not insisting, but if you can't explain how the corpse turned into a skeleton in fifteen minutes, and whose skeleton it is, and what caused the death — no jury is going to pay any attention to the evidence. Even clear — cut cases are being sent back by the courts for lack of evidence, or dismissed completely. Of course, it's good that the law is strict and careful, but…” he sighed noisily, “a… a difficult case, no? Do you have an official version yet?” “I have a draft,” Onisimov explained shyly, “but I don't know how you're going to take it, Aleksei Ignatievich. I don't think this is a criminal case. According to the institute's scientific secretary, the United States is very interested in the case that Krivoshein was studying in his lab. That's point one. Lab assistant Kravets, by his demeanor and cultural level, I guess is neither a student nor a criminal. He escaped masterfully, that's for sure. Point two: Kravets's fingerprints don't match any criminal ones on record. Three: so, perhaps — “Matvei Apollonovich stopped, and looked inquiringly at his chief.

“ — we should palm off the case on the KGB?” The colonel finished his thought with a soldier's directness and shook his head. “Don't be in a hurry! If we, the police, discover a crime with, say, a foreign accent, it will bring society and us nothing but good. But if the state security organs discover a simple civilian crime or a violation of safety procedures, then… well, you understand. And in the last six months we've hit the bottom of the local list for percentage of solved crimes.” He gave Onisimov a good — natured look of reproach. “Don't give up! You know the saying that the most complicated crimes are the easiest: theses and projects, scientific mumbo — jumbo… it boggles the mind. Don't rush with your version. Check out all the possibilities and maybe it will be like the fable: 'The box had a simple lock. Well, I wish you luck and success.” The chief rose and extended his hand. “I'm sure that you can handle this case.”

Matvei Apollonovich got up too, shook hands, and followed the commander out with clear and bright eyes. Say what you will, but when the boss has confidence in you, it makes all the difference!

Chapter 3

People who think that human life has changed only externally and not radically since ancient times compare the fire, around which Troglodites spent the evening, with television, which amuses our contemporaries. This comparison is disputable, since a fire both warms and lights, and the television only glows, and then only from one side.

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 111

The plump, blonde, middle — aged passenger in the express train between Novosibirsk and Dneprovsk was agitated by the fellow in the upper berth. He had rough — hewn but handsome features, a windblown face, dark curly hair with a lot of gray in it, strong, tanned hands with thick fingers and old calluses on the palms — and yet he had a gentle smile, charm (he had offered her the lower berth when she got on at Kharkov), and an intelligent manner of speaking. The fellow lay with his square chin on his hands, greedily looking at the trees, houses, streams, and road signs flashing by. And he smiled. “Handsome!” she thought.

“Probably familiar territory?” she asked.


“You've been away a long time?”

“A year.”

He was recognizing things: they went under the highway where he used to ride his motorcycle with Lena. There was the oak grove where the locals went picnicking. There was Staroe Ruslo, a place of secluded beaches, clean sand, and calm water. There was the Vytrebenki farm — and hey! new construction! Probably a chemical plant…. He smiled and frowned as the memories came back.

Actually, he had never ridden a motorcycle anywhere with any Lena, nor had he ever been in the grove or on those beaches — it had all been done without him. It was simply that once there had been a conversation, and to be accurate, even that took place without his active participation.

“Here's an application. (The variants of human life!) Look: 'A Vladivostok shipbuilding concern is looking for an electrical engineer to do fitting work on location. Apartment supplied. Aren't I an electrical engineer? Fitting on location — what could be better? A Pacific wave lapping up against the fittings! You pay out the cable, lick the salt from your lips — you against the elements!”

“Yes, but.”

“No, I can understand. Before it was impossible. Before! You and I are men of duty — how can you just quit a job and go off to satisfy your wanderlust? So we all stay where we are — and the longing for places we've never seen and never will stays with us too, and for people we'll never meet, and for events and occasions that we'll never participate in. We drown this longing in books, movies, and dreams — it's impossible for a man to lead several parallel lives. But now — “

“But now it's the same thing. You'll go off to Vladivostok to lick your sea spray, and I'll remain behind with my dissatisfaction.”

“But… we can trade. Once every six months. No one would notice. no, that's nonsense. We'd be distinguished by six months of practical work experience.”

“That's just it! By heading down one of life's paths, a person becomes different from the person he would have been had he taken another path.”

But he headed for Vladivostok anyway. He didn't leave to still his longings — he ran away from the horrors of memory. He would have gone even farther, but farther there was only ocean. Of course, the job opening as a fitter in the ports had been filled, but he found work excavating underwater cliffs, to clear space for ship berths — that wasn't bad work either. There was enough romance: he dove into the blue green depths with his scuba gear, saw his quivering shadow on the bottom rocks, dug out holes in the cliffs, set the dynamite, lit the fuse, and scattering the fish that would be floating belly up in a minute, swam at breakneck speeds for the power boat. And then, missing engineering work, he introduced an electrohydraulic charge, which was safer than dynamite and more effective. He left behind all memories of himself.

“Are you coming from far?” the woman insisted, interrupting his reverie.

“From the Far East.”

“Were you recruited to work there or did you just go?”

The man stared at her and laughed curtly.

“I went for a cure.”

His traveling companion nodded warily. She had lost all desire for conversation. She pulled out a book and buried herself in it.

Yes, the healing began there. The guys on the team were amazed by his fearlessness. He really had no fear: strength, agility, exact calculation — and no deep wave could touch him. He literally held his own life in his hands — what was there to be afraid of? The most terrifying times he had lived through had been here, in Dneprovsk, when Krivoshein played God with his life and death. With many deaths. You see, Krivoshein did not understand that what he was doing was much worse than torturing a helpless person.

The man's body tensed automatically. A chill of anger puckered his skin into goose bumps. The monsoons had blown a lot out of his system in a year: depression, panicky fear, even his tender feelings for Lena. But this remained.

“Maybe I shouldn't have come back? I had the ocean that made me feel small and simple, good pals, and hard and interesting work. Everyone respected me. I became myself out there. But here… who knows how things will go for him?”

But he could no more not return than forget the past. At first, it would creep up on him, after work, on days off, when the whole team took a speedboat into Vladivostok. The thought would pound through his head: “Krivoshein is working. He's alone there.” Then the idea came to him.

Once when they were clearing the bottom in a nameless cove near Khabarovsk, where there were warm mineral springs along the shore, he jumped from the boat and fell into a stream. He almost screamed from the horrible memories in his body! The water tasted just like that liquid, and the sensationless, warm gentleness seemed to conceal that ancient threat to dissolve, destroy, and extinguish consciousness. He moved ahead, and the cold ocean water sobered and calmed him. But the impression remained. By evening it had turned into a thought: “The experiment could be run in reverse.”

And, while healing from his former memories, he “caught” this one. His researcher's imagination was aflame. How enticing it would be to plan an experiment, to try to predict the enormous results that would bring great benefit! The underwater explosions seemed like a dull, gray waste. Now without fear, he played back everything that had happened to him, projected the variations of the experiment. And he could not remain there with the idea that Krivoshein had probably not thought of it yet. You couldn't come up with it by pure reason alone. You had to have lived through everything that he had.

But — the implacable logic of their work brought another idea forward in his mind: all right, so they would find a new way of processing a man with information. What would it give them? This thought was harder than the first. On the way from Vladivostok to Dneprovsk he turned to it often, and he still had not thought it all the way through.

Outside the window, the girders of a bridge reflected the clattering wheels of the train: they were crossing the Dnieper River. The man was distracted for a moment, watching a powerboat skim the water's surface down the river's current, and looking at the green slope of the right bank. The bridge ended and little houses, gardens, and hedges flashed by the window.

“It all boils down to the problem of how and with what information can man be perfected. All the other problems rest on this one. The system is a given: the human brain and the mechanisms for introducing information — the eyes, ears, nose, etc. Three streams of information feed the brain: daily life, science, and art. We must distinguish the most effective one in its action on man — and the most directed one. So that it would perfect him, ennoble him. The most effective is naturally the daily information: it is concrete and real, forming man's life experience. It's life itself; nothing else to it. I suppose that in reality it has a mutual relationship with man according to the laws of feedback: life affects man, but by his actions he affects life. But the action of daily life can be most varied: it can change man for the better or the worse. So, that can't be it.

“Let's look at scientific information. It is also real, and objective — but it's abstract. In essence, it's the universalized experience of the activity of humanity. That's why it's applicable in many life situations, and that's also why its effect on life is so great. And a reverse connection exists here with life, too, even though it is not an individual one for each and every person, but a general one: science solves life's problems, thus changing life — and a changed life sets new problems for science. But still, the action of science on life in general and on man in particular can be either positive or negative. There are many examples to support this. And there is another problem: science is hard for the average man to comprehend. Yes, it's hard. All right, if you think about the same thing all the time, sooner or later, you'll come up with the answer. The important thing is to think systematically.”

He was distracted by sobbing from below. He looked down: his companion, never taking her eyes from the book, was dabbing her wet eyes with a handkerchief. “What are you reading?”

She looked up angrily and showed him the cover: Remarque's Three Comrades.

“The hell with them,” she said and lost herself in the book again. “Hm… a tubercular girl, loving and sensitive, is dying. And my well — fed, healthy neighbor feels for her, empathizes. I guess there's no point beating around the bush. The information of art is it! Anyway, its general direction is intended for the best that is in man. Over the millennia, art has developed the highest quality information about people: thoughts, descriptions of refined spiritual actions, strong and noble feelings, colorful personalities, beautiful and wise actions…. All this has been working from the beginning of time to develop in people an understanding of each other and of life, to correct their morals, to awaken thoughts and feelings, and to eradicate the animal baseness of the spirit. And this information gets through — to be precise, it is marvelously encoded, couldn't be better, to function in the computer called Man. In this sense, neither daily information nor scientific information can come close to artistic information.”

The train, passing through Dneprovsk's suburbs, slowed down. His companion set aside her book and started pulling out her suitcases from under the seats. The man still lay on his berth, lost in thought:

“Yes, but how about effectiveness? People have been trying for millennia — of course, until the middle of the last century, art was only accessible to the few. But then technology took over: mass printing, lithography, expositions, records, movies, radio, television — art information is available to everyone. For a contemporary man the volume of information that he obtains from books, movies, radio, magazines, and TV is comparable to life information and certainly much greater than science information. And so? Hm… the effect of art is not measured technically and is not determined through experiments. All that we have to do is compare the actions, say, of science and the arts during the last fifty years. God, there can be no comparison!”

The train pulled into the station, into the crowd of waiting friends and relatives, porters and ice cream vendors. The man jumped down from the berth, pulled down his backpack, and folded his blue raincoat over his arm. His companion was still struggling with her heavy suitcases.

“My, how much luggage you have! Let me help,” he offered, picking up the largest one.

“No, thanks.” The woman quickly sat on one suitcase, flinging a plump leg over another, and clutched a third with both hands. “Oh, no, thank you! No, thanks!”

She looked up at him with a face that no longer had any pleasantness about it. Her cheeks were not plump but blowsy, and her eyes, now watery instead of blue, were hostile. There were no eyebrows, just two thin stripes of pencil marks. He could tell that one move from him and she would start screaming.

“Excuse me!” He let go and left. He was disgusted.

“There you go: an illustration of the comparative effects of daily information and art information!” he thought, angrily striding through the station square. “Lots of people could have come from distant parts: salesman, Party worker, athlete, fisherman… but no, she thought the worst, suspected me of vile intentions! It's the principle of getting by: better not trust them than be mistaken. And don't we make a much greater mistake by adhering to this principle?” In the train he had been thinking because there was nothing else to do. Now he was thinking to calm down, and still about the same thing. “Of course, if you tell about a man in a book or on screen — people will understand him, believe in him, forgive his drawbacks and love him for his good points. But it's much more complicated and prosaic in real life. Why blame the little lady — I'm just as bad myself. For a time, I didn't believe my own father. I loved him, but I didn't believe him. I didn't believe that he had fought in revolutions, in the Civil War, that he served under Chapayev, that he had met Lenin. It all began with the movie Chapayev: my father wasn't in it! There was Chapayev and all the other certified heroes — they declaimed colorful, curt slogans with powerful voices — and Dad wasn't there! And anyway, how could my Dad be a Chapayev man? He didn't get along with mother. He spoke in a wavering voice, caused by his ill — fitting dentures, which he kept in a glass overnight. He mispronounced words (not like in the movies). And he had been arrested in 1937. He used to tell the neighbor women over the back fence how during Kerensky's time he was forced, because of Bolshevik agitation, to stand two hours at attention in full battle gear on the breastwork of a trench. He said that he brought silver coins from the soldiers at the front to Lenin in the Smolny Institute for the revolution's coffers. He talked about how, condemned to death by the cossacks, he sat in a cellar… and the local women oohed and aahed, clasping their hands: 'Our Karpych is a hero — ah! ah! And I would laugh at him and not believe him. I knew exactly what heroes were like — because I watched movies and listened to the radio.”

He frowned at these memories.

“It wasn't really me. But the important point is that it was — but it looks like there is a hitch in the great method of transferring information via art. People watch a movie or a play, read a book and say: 'I like it… and go on living just as before. Some live well, some not badly, and the rest awfully. Art historians and critics often find a flaw in the consumers of the information: the public is foolish, the readers aren't ready, and so on. To accept that I would have to admit that I'm a fool and that I'm not ready either. No, I don't agree! And anyway, blaming things on the people's dullness and ignorance — that's not a constructive approach. People are capable of understanding and realization. Most of them are not dullards or ignoramuses. So it would be better to seek the flaw in the method — especially since I need that method for my experimental work.”

He saw a telephone booth and he stared at it dully: was he supposed to do something in that object? He remembered. He sighed, entered the booth, dialed the number of the New Systems Laboratory — Waiting for an answer, his heart began beating harder and his throat went dry. “I'm nervous and that's bad.” There was nothing but long ringing. Then, with second thoughts, he called the evening duty phone at the institute.

“Could you help me reach Krivoshein? Is he on vacation?” “Krivoshein? He's… no, he's not on vacation. Who's calling?” “If he should show up at the institute today, please tell him that… Adam is here.” “Adam? No last name?” “He knows. Please don't forget.” “All right. I won't.”

The man left the phone booth with a sense of relief: he had suddenly realized that he was not prepared to see him. “Well, I'm here. I might as well try. Maybe he's at home?”

He got on a bus. He was not interested in the city streets swathed in blue twilight: he had left in summer and he came back in summer. Everything was green, and it seemed that nothing had changed.

“Now, really, how can we use art information in our work? And can it be used? The whole problem is that this information doesn't become part of a man's life experience, or his exact knowledge, and it is on experience and knowledge that people base their actions. It really should go something like this: a man reads a book, begins to understand himself and his friends; a louse sees a play, becomes horrified and turns into a decent man; a coward goes down to the movies and comes out a hero. And it should last a lifetime, not just five minutes. That's probably what writers and painters hope for when they create. Why doesn't it happen? Let's think. Art information is constructed along the lines of everyday information. It is concrete, contains subtle and flexible generalizations, but it is not real. It's only realistic, probable. That must be its weakness. It cannot be applied like scientific information: a man cannot plan out his life based on it. It is not universal and objective enough for that. And you can't use it for a guideline the way daily information can be used because its concreteness never coincides with the concrete life of the given reader. “And even if it did coincide, who wants to lead a copycat life? You can copy a hairdo, that's all right, but to copy a life recommended by a large printing. Apparently, the idea of 'rearing along literary examples' springs from the idea that man comes from the apes and that imitation comes naturally to him. But man has been man for a long time, millions of years. Now he is characterized by self — determination and original behavior which he knows to be the better course.” “Academic Town!” the driver announced.

The man got off the trolley and saw immediately that his trip had been in vain. Two rows of standardized five — story houses, joining at the horizon, gazed upon one another with lighted windows. But there were no lights in the corner apartment on the fifth floor of house No. 33.

A feeling of relief that the unpleasant meeting with Krivoshein was put off, once again mingled with regret: he had no place to sleep. He took a trolley back downtown and started checking out the hotels. Naturally, they were all full.

And he started thinking again, his thoughts coloring his glum attempts to find a place for the night.

“The longer we live, the more we see that there are many life situations in which the decisions described in books or shown in movies are inapplicable. And we begin to see the information from art as a quasi — life, in which things are not really like that. It's a good place to live through a dangerous adventure (even with a fatal ending) or to test one's principles without jeopardizing one's job — in a word, to feel, if only for a brief moment, that you are someone else: smarter, handsomer, braver than you really are. It's no secret that people who live humdrum lives adore adventure and mystery novels….” He was on Marx Prospect, with its neon signs and bright lights. “And we use this marvelous information for trifles, for amusement to pass some time. Or to charm a girl with the right poem. That information does not belong to us. We didn't reach the conclusions and truths about ourselves. We can just sit back, watch or read, as an invented life goes beyond a glass screen — we are merely 'information receptors! Of course, there have been instances when the 'receptors' couldn't stand it and tried to influence it: Dad used to tell about the Red Army soldier in Samara who once shot at an actor who played Admiral Kolchak in a play for the troops, and earlier in Nizhny Novgorod, the audience beat up the actor who was portraying lago — for his good acting. The idea of breaking down the glass barrier and acting on art is a good one. There's something to it….”

A thought, still unverbalized, unclear, more a hunch, ripened in his mind. But someone tapped him on the shoulder just then. He looked around: there were three men in civilian clothes. One of them casually waved a red book under his nose.

“Show your documents, citizen.”

The man shrugged, put down his backpack, and took his passport from his pocket. The operative read the first page, looked at the photograph and his face and the photograph again, and returned the passport.

“Everything is in order. Excuse us, please.”

“Ooofff!” The man picked up his pack, and trying not to walk any faster, moved on toward the Theater Hotel. His mood was worse. “I don't think I should have come.”

The three men walked over to a tobacco kiosk. Officer Gayevoy, also dressed as a plainclothesman, was waiting for them.

“I told you,” he said triumphantly.

“Not the one….” sighed the operative. “Some guy called Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein. But if you go by the photo and the description, he's definitely Kravets.”

“Description, description… what's a description?” Gayevoy was angry. “I saw him, you know: he had no gray hair, was about ten years younger, and a lot thinner.”

“Let's go over to the railroad station, fellows,” the second operative suggested. “After all, he's no fool. He's not going to stroll down the avenue!”

Victor Kravets was at that moment making his way down a dark, deserted side street.

After he jumped out of the moving police car, he went through the park to the banks of the Dnieper and lay in the bushes, waiting for dark. He wanted to smoke and to eat. The low sun gilded the sand of Beach Island, dotted with bright mushrooms; there were still bathers there. A small tug, spreading watery whiskers from shore to shore, was hurrying upriver to the freight yards to get a new barge. Cars and buses moved noisily below the cliff.

“We finally got there. We thought everything through: the method of the experiments, the variants in using the method, even its influence on the world situation. This was the only variant we didn't foresee. What a fall from great heights face down into the mud! From researcher to criminal. My God, what kind of work is this — one failed experiment and everything flies out the window. I'm not prepared for this game with investigators and medical experts, so unprepared that I might as well go down to the library and start reading up on the criminal code and the — what else is there? — the judicial code. I don't know the rules of the game, and I might lose. I guess, I already have lost. The library… how could I have time for the library now?”

The cooling towers of the electrostation on the other side of the Dnieper exhaled fat columns of steam as though they were trying to make clouds. The low edge of the sun touched them.

“What should I do now? Go back to the police, tell them everything, make a clean breast of it' and give away (despicably) the secret we tried to keep from evil eyes? And give it away not to save the project, but to save myself? This won't save the work: in two or three days everything will start rotting in the laboratory, and I won't be able to prove a thing, and no one will believe me, and no one will know what happened there. I won't save myself that way either: Krivoshein died. The weight of his death is on me, as they say. Should I go to Azarov and explain things to him? There's no way I could explain anything to him now. I'm less than a student on probation to him — I'm a shady character with forged papers. If he's been informed of my escape, then as a loyal administrator, he must cooperate with the police. There it is, man's problem, in full view. The source of all our troubles. We simply can't solve it through the laboratory method. We! That's a laugh. We who have achieved such greatness. We in whose hands lie the unheard — of possibilities of synthesizing information. What the hell. We can't handle this problem; time to fess up. And what sense is there in the rest without it?”

The sun was setting. Kravets got up, brushed off his trousers, and went up the path, not knowing where or why. Loose change jangled in his pockets. He counted it: enough for a pack of cigarettes and a very light supper. “And then?” Two young coeds, comfortably studying for exams on a bench in the bushes, looked with interest at the handsome young man, shook their heads to dispel evil thoughts, and went back to their notes. “Mmm… I guess I won't be completely lost. Should I go see Lena? But she's probably under surveillance, and they'll catch me….”

The path led out onto a quiet, uninhabited street. Branches heavy with ripening cherries hung over the fences. At the street's end, a cloud blazed, underlit with red.

It was getting dark fast. The evening coolness was creeping up under his shirt, onto his bare chest. On the opposite side of the street, a half block away from Victor, two men in caps walked out of the shadows. “Police!” Kravets ducked into an alley. He ran a block and then stopped to calm his heart.

“To think of it! I've never run from anyone in twenty years, and now I'm like a boy chased out of somebody's yard.” His helplessness and degradation made the desire for a cigarette unbearable. “The game is lost. I just have to admit that and leave. Follow my feet. After all, everyone of us has experienced the desire to get away from some situation or other. Now it's my turn, damn it! What else can I do?”

The alley led out into the glow of blue lights. The sight brought on a wave of animal hunger: he hadn't eaten in twenty — four hours. “Hm… so there are restaurants still open. I'll go. Nobody's going to look for me on Marx Prospect.”

The concrete posts extended their snake — headed street lights over the pavement. In the store windows elegant dummies stood in casual poses; radios, televisions, and pots and pans shone brightly; bottles of Sovetskoe Champagne beckoned, and cans of fish and preserves tumbled in artful disarray. Under the blazing neon sign that read: “Here's what you can win for thirty kopeks!” glistened a Dniepr refrigerator, and Dniepr — 12 tape recorder, a Dniepr sewing machine, and a Slavutich — 409 automobile. Even the trimmed lindens along the wide sidewalks looked like industrial products.

Victor stepped out onto the most crowded area, the three — block stretch between the Dynamo Restaurant and the Dniepr movie theater. There were plenty of pedestrians. Unkempt young men, trying to pass for bohemian artists, walked stiffly down the street, their eyes glazed. Elderly couples moved at a dignified pace. Dandies, arms around their girl friends, headed for the park. Men with bangs over their shifty eyes darted in and out of the crowd — the kind who don't work anywhere but have connections. Girls carefully balanced their various hairdos, including such masterpieces of tonsorial art as “cavewoman,” “after a ladies' free — for — all,” and “let them love me for my mind.” Young singles wandered around, torn between desire and shyness.

Kravets first walked around circumspectly, but then he became angry.

“Look at all of them walking around, to show themselves off and to see others. It's as though time has stopped for them, and nothing is happening. They used to stroll down this street when it was called Gubernatorskaya, before the Revolution — wearing out the wooden sidewalks, checking out fashions and each other. And they strolled after the war — from the ruins of the Dynamo Restaurant to the ruins of the Dniepr Theater under the lights hanging by a single wire, cracking their sunflower seeds. They've paved the avenue, dressed it in high rises made of concrete, aluminum, and glass, lit it up, planted trees and flowers — and they stroll around, sucking caramels, listening to their transistors, proving the indomitability of the consumer spirit! Show themselves off, look at others, look at others, and show themselves off. Take a walk, drop in at the automat, consume a meat pie, walk around, drop in at the well — tended toilet behind the post office, take care of their needs, take a walk, have a drink, meet someone, take a walk… an insect's life!”

He circumvented the crowd that had collected on the corner of Engels Street near the lottery ticket vending machine. The machine, made to look like a cyborg, played music, hawked customers with a recorded voice, and for two five — kopek pieces, after wildly spinning a wheel made out of glass and chrome, dispensed a “lucky” ticket. Kravets gritted his teeth.

“And we, we idiots, decided to transform people with mere laboratory technology! What can we do with these consumers? What has changed for them is the fact that there are taxis instead of hackney cabs, semitransistorized tape recorders instead of accordions, telephones instead of “face — to — face” gossip, and synthetic raincoats to wear in good weather instead of new rubber galoshes? They used to sit around their samovars and now they spend evenings around the TV.”

He heard snatches of conversation from the crowd: “Just between us, I can tell you frankly: a man is a man, and a woman is a woman.” “So he says 'Valya? and I say 'No. He says 'Lusya? and I say 'No.

He says 'Sonya? and I say 'No. “Abram went oh a business trip, and his wife….” “Learn to be satisfied with the present moment, girls!” “And what will change as a result of progress in science and technology? So the store windows will overflow with polyester clothes, atomic wristwatches that never need winding, and with solid — state refrigerators and microwave ovens. Luminescent plastic moving sidewalks will transport pedestrians from the 3 — D Dniepr Theater to the fully automated Dynamo Restaurant — they won't even have to use their legs. They'll take strolls with microelectric walkie — talkies so that they won't even have to turn to their friends or risk tiring their voices to exchange such brilliant gems as:

'Just between us, I can tell you frankly: a robot is a robot, and a mezzanine is a mezzanine! 'Abram went off to an antiworld, and his wife….

Team to be satisfied with the present microsecond! “And a vending machine made to look like a space ship will sell 'Greetings from Venus! postcards: a view of the Venerian space port framed by kissing doves. And so what?”

Harry Haritonovich Hilobok paraded past Kravets. A girl weak with laughter was hanging from his arm. The assistant professor was busy amusing her and didn't notice the fugitive student duck into the shadows of the lindens. “Harry has a new one,” thought Kravets, laughing. He bought some cigarettes at a kiosk, lit one, and moved on. He was engulfed in such anger that he lost his appetite, and if he had fallen into the arms of the operatives, there would have been quite a brawl.

There was no room at the Theater Hotel either. The arrival walked along the prospect in the direction of the House of the Collective Farmer, grumpily observing the people around him.

Walk, walk, walk… every city in every country has a street where the populace walks in the evenings, back and forth, the crowd becoming a single entity. Show themselves, look at each other. Walk, walk, walk — and the planet trembles under their feet! It must be some collective instinct that lures them here, like the swallows to Capistrano. And others sit in front of the TV. How many of them are there, people who have relegated themselves to rot away? ('We know how to do something; we make good money; we have everything we need; we live no worse than others — so leave us alone!) Solitary people, afraid to be alone with themselves, confused by the complexity of life and unwilling to think about it. They remember the one rule of safety: to be happy in life you must be like everybody else. So they walk around and look to see how everybody else is. They expect a revelation.

Overshadowed by the glowing glory of the avenue, the moon wandered behind the translucent clouds. But nobody had time to look at it.

“And when they were young they dreamed about living exciting, interesting, meaningful lives, about discovering new worlds. Who didn't have that dream? And they probably still dream about it, passionately and impotently. What's wrong? They didn't have the spirit to follow their dreams? And what for? Why give free rein to your dreams and deepest feelings — who knows where it might lead! — when you can buy ready — made dreams and feelings, when you can safely party at a feast for invented heroes? And so they partied themselves sick, wasted their spiritual strength on trifles, and what they have left is enough power to muster a walk down the avenue.”

Hilobok walked past him with a young girl. “So Harry has a new one!” the arrival thought.

He watched him walk on. Should he catch up with him and inquire about Krivoshein? “Nah, in any case it's best to stay away from Hilobok.” The arrival and Kravets stepped onto the same block.

“At one time the humanoid apes diverged: some picked up rocks and sticks and began working, thinking; and others stayed to swing in the trees. And now on earth another transition is beginning, more powerful and driving than the ancient ice age: the world is about to leap into a new qualitative state. But what do they care? They are willing to stay safe in front of the TV — it's easy to satisfy their simple demands through technology!” the angry Victor Kravets muttered to himself. “What do they care about all the new vistas opened up by science, technology, industry? What's our work to them? You can increase intelligence, cleverness, and work capabilities — so what? They'll learn something not for the pleasure of mastery and satisfying intellectual curiosity, but in order to earn more, to have easy work, and to get ahead of others. They will buy and hoard so that people will notice their success, to fill their empty lives with worries about their possessions. And about a rainy day. It might never come but because of it, all their other days are cloudy. boring! I'm going to go to Vladivostok, on my own, before I'm sent there officially. The project will die off naturally. It won't help them in any way: in order to take advantage of an opportunity like that you have to have high goals, spiritual strength, and a dissatisfaction with yourself. And they are only dissatisfied with their surroundings: the situation, their friends, life, the government — you name it, as long as it's not themselves. Well, let them walk around. As they say, science is helpless here….” They were separated only by the post office building. The angry thoughts ebbed away. There was only an inexplicable uneasiness before the people who walked past Kravets.

“Someone said: no one despises the crowd more than the mediocrity who manages to climb above it. Who?” he frowned as he thought. “Wait a minute, I said that myself about someone else. Of course, about someone else, I wouldn't have said it about me….” He was disgusted. “In trampling them, I trample myself. I haven't come so far; I used to be just like them. Wait up! Does this mean that I simply want to disappear? And to keep from being terribly embarrassed and not to lose my self — respect, I'm trying to give this flight a philosophical basis? I haven't sold out anyone: everything is true; science is helpless, and that's how it should be. My God, an intellectual's mind is wondrously base and self — serving! (By the way, I've thought or said that about someone else, too; all of life's verities are nicer when applied to others.) And that intelligent one is me. All my gears are going full blast, contempt for the crowd, theoretical discursiveness…. Hmmmm!” He blushed and felt hot. “So this is where disaster can lead. Well, all right, let's see what else there is for me to do.”

Suddenly his legs were rooted to the pavement! Walking toward him with an easy stride was a young man with a backpack and a raincoat over his arm. “Adam!” Kravets felt a chill and his heart sank. It wasn't a man but a living pang of his conscience coming toward him on that street. Adam's eyes were thoughtful and angry, and the corners of his mouth drooped forbiddingly. “He's going to see me, recognize me….” Victor looked away so as not to give himself away, but curiosity won out: he stared at him. No, Adam didn't look like a “slave” now — that was a confident, strong, and decisive man. A memory floated up of a disheveled head against a background of dusky wallpaper, eyes wide with hatred, and a ten — pound iron dumbbell raised over his face.

The arrival walked on past him. “Of course, how could he recognize me?” Kravets sighed in relief. “But why is he back? What does he want?”

He watched the man disappear into the crowd. “Maybe I should catch up with him and tell him what happened? All the help that… No. Who knows why he's here.” He was overwhelmed with despair again. “This is where all outwork and experiments have led. Damn it! We're afraid of each other. Wait… that is the other variant! But will it help?” Victor bit his lip, thinking hard.

Adam had disappeared.

“Well, enough self — torture!” Kravets said, shaking his head. “This isn't my work alone. And I can't escape — the work must be saved.”

He pulled out the change from his pocket, counted it, swallowed a hungry gulp, and went into the post office.


He sent the telegram and went out on the street. He turned down a street that led to the Institute of Systemology. After a few steps he turned to see if anyone was following him. The street was empty, and the only person watching was the pretty woman with the bankbook in the brightly lit ad on the department store that said, “Save your money at the bank” in foot — high letters. Her eyes promised to love anyone who saved.

The sign over the administrator's window in the House of the Collective Farmer read:

Room for a man — 60 kopeks.

Room for a horse — 1 ruble 20 kopeks.

The man who had arrived from Vladivostok sighed and handed his passport through the window. “Give me a sixty — kopek room, please.”

Chapter 4

The impossible is impossible. For instance, it is impossible to move faster than the speed of light. But even if it were possible, would it be worth the trouble? After all, no one could see it to appreciate it.

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 17

The next morning the officer on duty in the city department handed Investigator Onisimov the report of the policeman on guard at the sealed laboratory. It stated that during the night, approximately between 1:00 and 2:00 A.M., an unknown man in a white shirt attempted to enter the lab through a window. The policeman's shout scared him off into the park.

“I see!” Matvei Apollonovich rubbed his hands in satisfaction. “Returning to the scene of the crime….”

Yesterday he had sent notice to citizen Azarov and to citizen Kolomiets. Matvei Apollonovich wasn't really counting on the academician's showing up in his office — but the stub of the notice would be handy to have around. Elena Ivanovna Kolomiets, an engineer at a construction design bureau near the Systemology Institute, showed up promptly at ten.

When she entered his office, Hilobok's wavy hand gestures came to mind; she was a beautiful woman. “Isn't she just fine?” thought Onisimov. Any single feature of Elena Ivanovna's, taken out of context, was ordinary — her dark hair was like any hair, and her nose was only a nose (perhaps even too upturned), and the oval of her face was just an oval — but together they created such a harmonious picture, a picture that needed no analysis but simply called to be enjoyed and remarked upon as an example of nature's great sense of proportion.

Matvei Apollonovich remembered what the late Krivoshein had looked like and he experienced typical male envy. “Hilobok was right; he's no match for her. What did she see in him? Was she looking for security? A husband with a good income?” Like most men whose looks and age left little hope of romantic conquest, Onisimov had a low opinion of beautiful women.

“Please be seated. You are familiar with the name Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein?”

“Yes.” She had a throaty, mellifluous voice.

“How about Victor Vitalyevich Kravets?”

“Vitya? Yes.” Elena Ivanovna smiled, showing her even teeth. “I didn't know his father's name was Vitaly, though. What's the matter?”

“What can you tell me about the relationship between Krivoshein and Kravets?”

“Well… they worked together. Victor, I think, is a distant relative of Valya… I mean, Krivoshein. I think they were good friends. What's happened?”

“Elena Ivanovna, I'll ask the questions.” Onisimov figured that she would reveal more if she were emotionally off balance, and he was in no hurry to clear up the situation. “Is it true that you and Krivoshein were close?”


“Why did you stop seeing him?”

Elena Ivanovna's eyes became cold, and a blush came and went from her cheeks.

“That has nothing to do with this!”

“And how would you know what does and what doesn't have to do with this?” Matvei Apollonovich perked up.

“Because… because this can't have anything to do with anything. We broke up and that's all.”

“I see… all right. We'll come back to that later. Tell me, where did Kravets live?”

“In a dormitory for young specialists in Academic Town, like all the probation workers.”

“Why didn't he live with Krivoshein?”

“I don't know. Apparently they both preferred it that way.”

“Despite the fact that they were friends and relatives? I see. And how did Kravets behave with you? Did he court you?” Matvei Apollonovich was milking his version for all it was worth.

“He did….” Elena Ivanovna bit her lip. But she couldn't control her tongue. “I think you'd do the same if I let you.”

“Aha, so you let him, eh? Tell me, was Krivoshein jealous of Kravets and you?”

“Perhaps, he was… but I don't understand what all this is about.” The woman looked at the investigator with great hostility. “All these innuendos! What happened, will you please tell me?”

“Calm yourself, citizen!”

Maybe I should tell her? Should I? Is she involved? She is beautiful, and a man could really fall for her, but… it's the wrong milieu for serious sexual crimes. The statistics are against it. A scientist wouldn't lose his head over a woman… but Kravets….

The telephone interrupted Onisimov's ruminations. He picked it up.

“Onisimov here.”

“We've found him, comrade captain!” the operative announced. “Do you want to participate?”

“Of course!”

“We'll wait for you at the airport, car license plate 57–28 DNA.”

“I see!” The investigator stood and looked merrily at Kolomiets. “We'll finish this little talk another time, Elena Ivanovna. Let me sign your pass. Don't be upset, and don't be mad: it's nerves — we're all like that, you and I, included….” “But what happened?”

“We're investigating. I can say no more for now. Good day!” Onisimov walked her out, then got his gun from the desk drawer, locked the room, and hurried, almost at a run, to the parking lot.

The snow white IL jet taxied up to the terminal exactly at 13:00. A light blue, elevated companion stairway pulled up at its door. A heavyset, short man in tight green pants and bright shirt was the first to run down the stairs, and, swinging his colorful traveling bag, he marched down the concrete hexagonal paving stones to the barrier. He kept looking around, seeking someone in the crowd of people greeting the arrivals, found him, and rushed toward him.

“You look great! What's all the rush, the 'fly out immediately' during vacation? Let me get a look at you! You're better looking than ever, even taller! That's what a year away does for your looks! Your face seems noble and I can even look upon your jaw without irritation.”

“And you, I see, have gotten fat off the graduate land.” The greeter looked him over with a critical eye. “Have you furnished yourself with socialist accumulations?”

“Val, it's not simple accumulation — it's an informational material reserve. I'll tell you all about it later, even give you a demonstration. It's a complete turnaround, Val… but let's talk about you first. Why did you summon me before it was time? No, wait!” The recent passenger pulled out a notebook from his pocket and withdrew several ten — ruble notes, “Here's the money I owe you.” “What money?”

“Please, spare me the act!” The passenger raised his hand to forestall further protests. “We know; we're touched: the absent — minded scientist who can't be bothered with prosaic minutiae. Drop it. I know you better than that: you remember debts of fifty kopecks. Take the money and cut the bull!”

“No,” he replied, smiling gently, “you don't owe me a thing. You see — “He stumbled under the direct piercing stare of his companion.

“Goddamn it! So you've started dyeing your hair? And the scar?

Where's the scar over the eyebrow?” His voice dropped to a whisper.

“Who are you?”

Meanwhile the crowd of arrivals and welcoming friends and relatives had thinned out. Five men who had met no one and were in no hurry discarded their cigarettes and quickly surrounded the two men.

“Keep quiet!” Onisimov hissed, squeezing in between the lab assistant and the passenger who was staring at him in disbelief; the second man had money in his fist. “We'll shoot if you resist.”

“Oh, boy!” the astonished passenger said, stepping back a pace; he was immediately grabbed by the elbows.

“Not 'oh, boy! but the police, citizen… Krivoshein, I believe?” The investigator smiled with maximum pleasantness. “We'll have to hold you for a while, too. Take them to the cars.”

Victor Kravets, seating himself in the back seat of a Volga between Onisimov and Gayevoy, had a tired and calm smile on his face.

“By the way, if I were you, I'd drop the smile,” Matvei Apollonovich noted. “You serve time for jokes like this.”

“Ah, what's time!” Kravets waved his arm. “The important thing is that I think I've made the right move.”

“I never thought that my return would begin with an episode from a detective story!” said the passenger as he entered the investigator's office. “Well, once in a lifetime this could prove to be interesting.” Without waiting for an invitation, he sat down and looked around. Onisimov sat down opposite him in silence. Two feelings were battling within him: self — congratulation (What an operation! What success!! Caught two at once — red — handed, it looks like!) and worry. Up until now the case had been built on the fact that Krivoshein died or was killed in the laboratory. But…. Matvei Apollonovich took a hard look at the man sitting before him: a slanted brow with a widow's peak, ridges over the eyebrows, a purplish scar over the right brow, a freckled face with full cheeks, a fat nose with a high bridge, and short red hair. There was no doubt about it; Krivoshein was sitting in his chair! “Boy, was I off. So who was bumped off in there? I'm getting to the bottom of this right now!”

“Is that a hint?” Krivoshein pointed at the barred windows. “To make even the innocent confess?”

“No, this used to be a wholesale warehouse,” the investigator explained, and remembering that the lab assistant had begun yesterday's interview the same way, chuckled at the coincidence. “It's a leftover… Well, how do you feel, Valentin Vasilyevich?”

“Thank you — I'm sorry, I don't know your name and patronymic — I can't complain. How about you?”

“Ditto. Though my condition has no direct bearing on the case.”

They smiled at each other broadly and tensely, like boxers before beating each other's faces in.

“And mine, it would appear, does? I just thought it was standard procedure to enquire about the health of passengers that you grab for no good reason at the airport. So what does my condition have to do with your case?”

“We don't grab, citizen Krivoshein. We detain,” Onisimov corrected him. “And your health interests me in a completely legal way, since I have a doctor's certificate and several witnesses who say that you are a corpse.”

“A corpse?” Krivoshein examined himself with exaggerated playfulness. “Well, if that's your information, you might as well haul me off to the autopsy room.” Suddenly he understood and his smile disappeared. He looked at Onisimov angrily and anxiously. “Listen, comrade investigator, if this is a joke, it's a lousy one! What corpse?”

“Please, who's joking?” Onisimov gestured broadly with his hands. “The day before yesterday your body was found in a laboratory — I saw it with my own eyes — I mean not your body, since you are in good health, but someone who looked very much like you. It was identified as being you.” “Damn it!” Krivoshein hunched over and rubbed his cheeks. “Can you let me see the body?”

“Well, you know that we can't, Valentin Vasilyevich. It turned into a skeleton, you know. This mischief isn't a very good idea. It could be misinterpreted.”

“Into a skeleton?!” Krivoshein looked up and confusion showed in his brown — flecked green eyes. “How? Where?”

“It happened there, at the scene, as if you needed any information on the matter from me,” Onisimov stressed. “Maybe you'd like to explain?”

“There was a body which became a skeleton,” Krivoshein muttered, frowning. “Then… oh, then it's not so bad. He wasn't wasting time; it looks as if something went wrong. Damn it, look at me!” He cheered up and carefully looked at the detective. “You're mixing me up, comrade, and I don't know why. Bodies just don't turn into skeletons like that. I know a little about it. And then, how can you prove that it's my… I mean, the body of a man who looks like me, if you have no body? Something's wrong here.”

“Perhaps. That's why I want you to shed light on this yourself. Since all this happened in the laboratory you run.”

“That I run? Hm….” Krivoshein laughed, and shook his head. “I'm afraid nothing will come of this light shedding. I need someone to explain it all to me.”

“And this one is going to go mum, too!” Matvei Apollonovich sighed glumly, took a sheet of paper, and unscrewed his pen.

“Let's do this in order. Your name is Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein?”


“Age thirty — five? Russian? Bachelor?”


“You live in Dneprovsk and head the New Systems Laboratory at the Systemology Institute?”

“No, that's the part that's wrong. I live in Moscow, and study in the graduate biology department at Moscow State University. Here!” Krivoshein handed him his passport and documents across the desk.

The papers had a realistically weather — beaten look. Everything in them — including the three — year residence permit for Moscow — corresponded with his story.

“I see.” Onisimov put them in his desk. “These things are done quickly in Moscow, in one day!”

“What are you trying to say?!” Krivoshein stared at him, one eyebrow arched aggressively.

“Your documents are phony, that's what. Just as phony as your confederate's, to whom you were trying to pass money at the airport. Were you trying to guarantee an alibi? You needn't have bothered. We'll check it, and then what?”

“Go ahead and check!”

“We will. Whom do you work under at MSU? Who's your advisor?”

“Professor Vano Aleksandrovich Androsiashvili, department chairman in general physiology, corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences.”

“I see.” The investigator dialed the phone. “Operator? This is Onisimov. Quickly connect me with Moscow. I want this man on the videophone as soon as possible. Write it down, Vano Aleksandrovich Androsiashvili, professor, head of the physiology department at the university. Hurry!” He stared at Krivoshein triumphantly.

“The videophone! Marvelous!” he chuckled. “I see that detective work is approaching science fiction. Will this be soon?”

“It'll happen when it happens. We have things to discuss, you and I.” Krivoshein's confidence, however, made an impression on Onisimov. He thought: “And what if this is some kind of crazy coincidence? Let me check.”

“Tell me, do you know Elena Ivanovna Kolomiets?”

Krivoshein's face lost its calm expression. He sat up and looked at Onisimov angrily and questioningly.

“Yes. So what?”

“Very well?”


“Why did you break up?”

“This, my dear investigator, if you will excuse me, is absolutely none of your business!” Krivoshein was getting very angry. “I do not permit anyone to meddle in my private life — not God, not the devil, not the police!”

“I see,” Onisimov said calmly. And the thought: “It's him! No way out of it — it's him. Why is he covering up? What could he possibly be hoping for?” He continued the questioning. “All right, here's an easier question: who's Adam?”

“Adam? The first man on earth. Why?”

“He called the institute… the first man. He wanted to know how you were, wanted to see you.”

Krivoshein shrugged.

“And who is that man who met you at the airport?”

“Whom you so cleverly branded as my confederate? That man….” Krivoshein raised and dropped his eyebrows meditatively.

“I'm afraid he's not the person I took him for.”

“I don't think he is, either. Not at all.” Onisimov perked up. “But then who is he?”

“I don't know.”

“The same nonsense all over again!” Onisimov wailed, throwing down his pen. “Enough of this baloney, citizen Krivoshein. It's unbecoming! You were giving him money, forty rubles in tens. You mean you didn't know to whom you were giving money?”

At that moment a young man in a white lab coat came in to the office, put a form on the table, and left, after giving Krivoshein a sharp, curious look. Onisimov looked at the form — it was a report on the analysis of the suspect's fingerprints. When he looked up at Krivoshein, his eyes had a sympathetically triumphant smile.

“Well, that's it. We don't have to wait for the Moscow professor to give a visual ID — and he probably wouldn't anyway. Your fingerprints, citizen Krivoshein, correspond completely to the prints that I took at the scene of the crime. Here, see for yourself!” He handed the form and a magnifying glass to Krivoshein. “So let's drop the game. And remember that your flight to Moscow and the fake papers only make things worse. The court adds three to eight years to a sentence for premeditation and the attempt to confound the police.”

Krivoshein, his lip extended, was studying the form.

“Tell me,” he said, raising his eyes to the detective, “why can't you allow for the fact that there are two men with the same fingerprints?”

“Why?! Because in a hundred years of using this method in criminology, such a thing has never happened once.”

“Lots of things have never happened before, like Sputnik, hydrogen bombs, and computers, but they exist now.”

“What do sputniks have to do with this?” Matvei Apollonovich shrugged. “Sputniks are sputniks, and fingerprints are fingerprints, incontestable evidence. So are you going to talk?”

Krivoshein gazed deeply and thoughtfully at the detective and smiled gently.

“What's your name, comrade investigator?”

“Matvei Apollonovich Onisimov, why?”

“You know what, Matvei Apollonovich? Drop this case.”

“What do you mean, drop it?”

“Just like that, the usual way, cover it up. How do you phrase it: 'for insufficient evidence' or 'lack of proof of a crime. You know, 'turned over to the archives on such and such a date…. “

Matvei Apollonovich was speechless. He had never encountered such brass in all his years on the force.

“You see, Matvei Apollonovich, you'll continue with the varied and, in usual cases, certainly useful activity of questioning, detaining, interrogating, comparing fingerprints, bothering busy people with your videophone.” Krivoshein developed his thought gesturing with his right hand. “And all the time you'll keep thinking that any second now you'll have the truth by the tail. Contradictions will smooth out into facts, the facts into evidence; good will triumph, and evil will get a sentence plus time for premeditation.” He sighed sympathetically. “The hell these contradictions will smooth out! Not in this case. And you will never hit on the truth for the simple reason that you are not ready to accept it at your level of reasoning.”

Onisimov frowned and his lips compressed into a huffy pout.

“No, no!” Krivoshein waved his hands. “Please don't think that I'm trying to put you down, that I want to demean you, or cast aspersions on your qualities as a detective. I can see that you are a tenacious and hard — working man. But — how can I explain this to you?” He squinted at the sunny yellow window. “Oh, here's a good example. About sixty years ago, as you undoubtedly know, the machinery in factories and plants was powered by steam or diesels. A transmission shaft went through the workshops with driving belts running from it to the machine pulleys. All this spun, buzzed, and hummed, its wild noise bringing joy to the director or owner. Then electricity came on the scene — and now all that has been replaced by electric motors, built into the machines.”

Once again, like last night, when he had interrogated the lab assistant, Matvei Apollonovich was seized by doubts: something was wrong here! Quite a few people had been in his office, polishing the chair with their squirming: taciturn teenagers who had gotten into trouble through stupidity; weepy speculators; overly — casual accountants caught through a routine check of the books; and repeat offenders who knew all the laws. But all of them realized sooner or later that the game was over, that the moment had come for them to confess and hope that the record reflected their clean — breasted repentance. But this one. just sat there as though nothing had happened, waving his arms and explaining at a simple level why the case should be closed. “This lack of game playing is throwing me off again! But no, I'm not going to slip twice in the same place!” he thought.

Matvei Apollonovich was an experienced investigator and knew well that doubts and impressions did not build a case — facts did. And the facts were against Krivoshein and Kravets.

“Now imagine that in some ancient factory the changeover from mechanical power to electricity took place overnight instead of taking years,” Krivoshein went on. “What would the owner of the factory think when he got there in the morning? Naturally, that someone had swiped the steam engine, the transmission shaft, the belts and pulleys. For him to understand that it was a technological revolution and not a theft he would have to know physics, electronics, and electrodynamics. And you, Matvei Apollonovich, figuratively speaking, are in the position of such an owner.”

“Physics, electronics, electrodynamics.” Onisimov repeated distractedly, looking at his watch. Where was that call to Moscow? “And information theory, and the theory of modeling random processes, too?”

“Aha!” Krivoshein leaned back in his chair and looked at the detective with undisguised pleasure. “You know about those sciences as well?”

“We know everything, Valentin Vasilyevich.”

“I see there's no tricking you.”

“And I don't suggest you try. So, are we going to count on an illegal closing of the case or are we going to tell the truth?”

“Hah.” Krivoshein wiped his forehead and cheeks with a handkerchief. “It's hot in here. All right. Let's agree on this, Matvei Apollonovich. I'll find out what's going on, and then I'll tell you.”

“No,” Onisimov shook his head. “We won't agree on that. It won't do, you know, to have the suspect conduct the investigation of the case. No crime would ever be solved that way.”

“Goddamn it!” Krivoshein began, but the door opened and a young lieutenant announced:

“Moscow, Matvei Apollonovich!”

Onisimov and Krivoshein went up to the second floor to the communications room.

Vano Aleksandrovich Androsiashvili brought his face so close to the videophone screen that it seemed he wanted to peck through the tube with his hawklike, predatory nose. Yes, he recognized his graduate student Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein. Yes, he had seen the student daily for the last few weeks, but he couldn't give them dates of their meetings further back than that by heart. Yes, student Krivoshein had left the university for five days with his personal permission. His growling Georgian r's reverberated in the phone's speaker. He was very upset that he had been dragged away from examinations to take part in this strange proceeding. If the police — here Vano Aleksandrovich fixed his hot blue black eyes on Onisimov — stop believing the very passports that they themselves hand out, then, apparently he will have to change his profession from biologist to verifier of identity for all his graduate students, undergraduates, and relatives, as well as for all the members and corresponding members of the Academy of Sciences whom he has the honor of knowing personally! But in that case, the very natural question of his identity might come up. Wouldn't it be a good idea to have the university rector, or better yet, the president of the academy, come on the videophone to identify this suspicious professor?

Having delivered this lecture in one long breath, Vano Aleksandrovich shook his head in farewell and added, “That's not good! You have to trust people!” and disappeared from the screen. The microphones carried the sound of a slamming door all the way to Dneprovsk. The screen showed a fat man with major's bars on his blue shirt; he made a face.

“What's the matter, comrades? Couldn't get to the bottom of this yourselves? The end!”

The screen went black.

“Vano Aleksandrovich is still mad at me,” thought Krivoshein as he went down the stairs behind the angrily puffing Onisimov. “It's understandable: he feels sorry for me, and I keep my back to him, hide things. If he hadn't accepted me, none of this would have happened. I barely made it in the exams, like a first — year student. I was okay in philosophy and foreign languages, but in my specialty…. But how could a quick reading of textbooks hide the absence of systematic knowledge?”

That had been a year ago. After the entrance exams in biology, Androsiashvili invited him into his office, sat him down in a leather chair, stood by the window and looked at him, his large, balding head tilted to the right. “How old are you?” “Thirty — four.”

“On the edge. Next year you'll celebrate your thirty — fifth birthday among friends and kiss full — time schooling good — bye. Of course, there's correspondence graduate school. And of course, that exists not for learning, but to have a paid vacation. We won't even talk about it. I read your thesis synopsis. It's a good one, mature, with interesting parallels between the work of the nervous centers and electronic circuits. I gave it an 'excellent. But…” the professor picked up a report and glanced at it,”… you did not pass the exams, my boy! I mean, you got a 'satisfactory' but we do not take students with a 'C in their major.”

Krivoshein's expression must have changed drastically, because Vano Aleksandrovich's voice became sympathetic:

“Listen, why do you need this? Moving into graduate study? I've familiarized myself with your background — you work in an interesting institute, with a good position. You're a cyberneticist?”

“A systemology technologist.”

“It's all the same to me. Then why?”

Krivoshein was prepared for that question.

“Precisely because I am a systemologist and a systemology technologist. Man is the most complex and most highly organized system known. I want to figure it out completely — how things are constructed in the human organism, what influences it. To understand the interrelationship of the parts, to put it roughly.”

“To use these principles to create new electronic circuits?” Androsiashvili screwed up his mouth ironically.

“Not only that… and not even so much that. You see… it wasn't always like this. Once man was up against heat and frost; exertion from a hunt or from running away from danger, hunger or rough, unsanitary food like raw meat; heavy mechanical overloads in work; fights which tested the durability of the skull with an oak staff — in a word, once upon a time the physical environment made the same demands on man that… well, that today's military customers make on rockets. (Vano Aleksandrovich harrumphed, but said nothing.) That environment over the millennia formed homo sapiens — the reasoning vertebrate mammal. But in the last two hundred years, if you start from the invention of the steam engine, everything changed. We created an artificial environment out of electric motors, explosives, pharmaceuticals, conveyors, communal service systems, computers, immunization, transport, increased radiation in the atmosphere, paved roads, carbon monoxide, narrow specialization in work — you know, contemporary life. As an engineer, I with others am furthering this artificial environment that determines ninety percent of the life of homo sapiens and soon will determine it one hundred percent. Nature will exist only for Sunday outings. But as a human being, I am somewhat uneasy.” He took a breath and continued.

“This artificial environment frees man of many of the qualities and functions he developed in ancient evolution. Strength, agility, and endurance are now cultivated only in sports, while logical thought, the pride of the Greeks, has been taken over by machines. But man is not developing any new qualities — the environment is changing too fast and biological organisms can't keep up. Technological progress is accompanied by soothing, but poorly substantiated babble that man will always be on top. Nevertheless — if you talk not about man, but about people, the many and the varied — then that is not true even now, and it will only get worse. Many, many do not have the inherent capabilities to be masters of contemporary life: to know a lot, know how to do a lot, learn new things quickly, to work creatively, and structure one's behavior optimally.”

“And how do you want to help?”

“Help — I don't know if I can, but I would like to study the question of the untapped resources of man's organism. For example, the obsolescent functions, like our common ancestor's ability to leap from tree to tree or to sleep in the branches. Now that is no longer necessary, but the cells are still there. Or take the 'goose bump' phenomenon — it happens on skin that has almost no hair now. It is created by a vast nervous network. Perhaps these old reflexes can be restructured, reprogrammed to meet new needs?”

“So! You dream of modernizing and rationalizing man?” Androsiashvili stretched out his neck. “Instead of homo sapiens we'll have homo modernus rationalis, hm? Don't you think, my dear systemology technologist, that a rational path might lead to a man who is no more than a suitcase with a single appendage to push buttons? You could probably manage without that appended arm, if you use brain waves.

“If you want to be truly rational, you can manage without the suitcase,” Krivoshein noted.

“That's true!” Vano Aleksandrovich tilted his head to the other shoulder and looked at Krivoshein curiously.

They obviously liked each other.

“Not rationalizing, but enriching — that's what I'm thinking about.”

“Finally!” The professor paced his office. “Finally that broad mass of technological workers, conquerors of inorganic matter, creators of an artificial environment are beginning to see that they too are people! Not supermen who can overcome anything with their intellect, but simply people. Just think of what we're trying to study and comprehend: elemental particles, the vacuum, cosmic rays, antiworlds, the secrets of Atlantis…. The only things we don't study and wish to comprehend are ourselves! It's, you see, too hard, uninteresting, not easy to handle. Hah, the world could perish if people only worked on things that were easy to handle.” His voice was even more guttural than usual. “Man feels a biological interest in himself only when he has to go to the hospital… and you're right, if things go on this way, we'll be able to manage without the suitcase. As the students say: 'Machines will lick us before we can say boo! “ He stopped in front of Krivoshein, bent his head, and snorted. “But you're still a dilettante, my systemology technologist. You make it sound so easy: reprogram old reflexes. If it were as easy as reprogramming a computer! Hm, but on the other hand, you are a research engineer, with ideas, with a fresh viewpoint that differs from our purely biological one. What am I saying! Why am I building up hope, as though something will come of you?” He walked over to the window. “You're not going to write and defend a dissertation, are you? You have different goals, right?”

“Right,” Krivoshein admitted.

“There you see. You'll return to your systemology and I'll hear from the rector about not training scientific personnel. Heh, I'll take you!” Androsiashvili concluded without any change in tone. He approached Krivoshein. “But you'll have to study, go through the whole course of biological studies. Otherwise you'll not find any potentials in man, understand?”

“Of course!” he nodded joyously. “That's why I'm here.”

The professor sized him up and pulled him over by the shoulder:

“I'll tell you a secret. I'm studying myself. In the evening classes of electronic technology at Moscow Engineering Institute, in my third year. I go to lectures, and do lab work, and I even have two incompletes — in industrial electronics and quantum physics. I, too, want to figure out what goes where. You can help me… only shhhhh!”

They were back in Onisimov's office. Matvei Apollonovich paced from wall to wall. Krivoshein looked at his watch: it was after five. He frowned, regretting the wasted time.

“So, Matvei Apollonovich, I have my alibi. Please return my documents, and let's say good — bye.”

“No, wait!” Onisimov paced, beside himself with anger and confusion.

Matvei Apollonovich, as has been noted, was an experienced investigator, and he clearly saw that all the facts in this damn case were neatly turned against him. Krivoshein was very obviously alive, and therefore the certified and reported death of Krivoshein was a mistake. He did not ascertain the identity of the man who died or was killed in the laboratory and he didn't even know how to begin to establish the cause of death or means of murder. He did not know the motive for the crime — his version was shot to hell — and there was no body! The facts made it appear that the investigation conducted by Onisimov was just garbage.

Matvei Apollonovich tried to collect his thoughts. “Academician Azarov identified Krivoshein's body. Professor Androsiashvili identified the live Krivoshein and confirmed his alibi. That means that either one or the other made a false statement. Which one is not clear. That means I'll have to see both of them. No… to check up on such people, to put them under suspicion, and then to find out that I'm barking up the wrong tree again! I'll be destroyed….”

In a word, Onisimov understood one thing: under no circumstances could he let Krivoshein out of his hands.

“No, wait! You won't be able to return to your dirty work, citizen Krivoshein! You think that by… putting makeup on the deceased and then destroying the body, you can get off the hook? We'll still check up on who this Androsiashvili really is and why he's covering up for you! The evidence against you is still there: fingerprints, contact with the escaped suspect, the attempt to give him money….”

Krivoshein, disguising his irritation, scratched his chin.

“I just don't understand what you're trying to incriminate me with: being killed or being a killer?”

“We'll clear it up, citizen!” Onisimov yelled, losing the last remnants of his self — control. “We'll clear it up. But one thing is sure: no way could you not be involved in this case. That's impossible!”

“Ah, impossible!?” Krivoshein came up to the detective, his face flushed. “You think that since you work for the police you know what's possible and what isn't?”

And suddenly his face changed rapidly: his nose grew longer and fatter, turning purple and drooping; his eyes grew wider and their green turned to black; his hair fell back from his forehead, creating a bald spot; a mustache sprouted on his upper lip, and his jaw grew shorter. In the space of a minute, Onisimov was facing none other than the Georgian physiognomy of Professor Androsiashvili — with bloodshot eyes, a mighty nose with flaring nostrils and blue, shadowed cheeks.

“You think, katso, that because you work for the police you know what is possible and what isn't?”

“Stop it!” Onisimov backed up to the wall.

“Impossible!” Krivoshein howled. “I'll show you impossible!”

He finished the sentence in a mellifluous, throaty woman's voice, and his face began turning into Elena Ivanovna Kolomiets's face: the cute nose turned up; the cheeks grew pink and round; the dark eyebrows arched delicately, and the eyes glowed with gray light.

“If anyone should come in now….” thought Onisimov feverishly and rushed to lock the door.

“Uh — huh, drop it!” Krivoshein, himself again, stood in the middle of the room in a boxer's stance.

“No, you misunderstood, ” muttered Matvei Apollonovich, coming back to his desk. “Why get upset?”

“Phew!. and don't even think about calling.” Krivoshein sat down, puffing, his face glistening with sweat. “Or I can turn into you. Would you like that?”

Onisimov's nerves gave out completely. He opened his drawer.

“Don't… please relax… stop… don't! Here, take your papers.”

“That's better.” Krivoshein took his papers and picked up his travel bag from the floor. “I explained to you nicely that you should drop your interest in this case — but no, you didn't believe me. I hope that I've convinced you now. Bye!”

He left. Matvei Apollonovich stood still listening to some sound reverberating in the room's stillness. A minute later he realized that it was his teeth chattering. His hands were also shaking. “What's the matter with me?” He grabbed the phone… and dropped it, sank into his chair and impotently laid his head on the cool surface of the desk. “The hell with this job.”

The door opened wide and the medical expert Zubato appeared on his doorstep with a plywood crate in his hands.

“Listen, Matvei, this really is the crime of the century. Congratulations,” he shouted. “Lookee here!” He noisily set the box on the table, opened it, and tossed out the straw packing. “I just got this from the sculpture studio. Look!”

Matvei Apollonovich looked up. He was staring at the plaster cast of Krivoshein's face — with a sloping forehead, a fat upturned nose, and wide cheeks….

Chapter 5

The best way to disguise that you limp with your left foot is 'to also limp with your right. You will then walk with a sailor's swagger.

— K. Prutkov — engineer. Hints for the Beginning Detective

“You sucker, show — off punk!” Krivoshein berated himself. “You found a wonderful application for your discovery — terrifying the police. He would have let me go anyway; there was no way out.”

His face and body muscles were exhausted. The painful ache was easing in his glands. “Three transformations in a few minutes is an overload. What a hothead. Well, nothing will happen to me. That's the beauty of it, that nothing can happen to me….”

The sky was quickly turning dark blue over the houses. The neon signs announcing the names of stores, theaters, and cafes went on with a slight hiss. The graduate student's thoughts returned to Moscow business.

“Vano Aleksandrovich passed with flying colors; he didn't even ask why I was being held. He identified me and that's all. I understand it: 'If Krivoshein is hiding his affairs from me then I don't want to know about them. The proud old man is hurt. And he's right. It was in conversation with him that I zeroed in on my goals in the experiments. Actually, it had been no conversation — it was an agreement. But it isn't everyone with whom you can argue and come out with enriched ideas.”

Vano Aleksandrovich kept circling him, watching with ironic expectation: what earth — shattering ideas will the dilettante biologist come up with? Once on a December evening, Krivoshein found him in his department office and told him everything that he felt about life in general and about man in particular. It was a good evening: they sat and smoked and talked, while a pre — New Year's storm howled and whistled outside, pounding snow against the window.

“Any machine is constructed somehow and does something,” Krivoshein was expounding. “The biological machine called Man also has these two parts to it: the basic one and the operative. The operative part — organs of sensation, the brain, motor nerves, and skeletal muscles — is for the most part subservient to man. The eyes, ears, the binding parts of the skin, the nerve endings in the nose and the tongue, and the pain and temperature receptors react to external stimulation, turn it into electrical impulses (just like the mechanism for information input in a computer), while the brain and the spinal column analyze and combine the impulses according to the 'stimulation — braking' principle (similar to the impulse cells of a machine). The synapses join and separate, sending commands to the skeletal muscles, which perform various actions — just like the executive mechanisms of a machine.

“Man controls the operative side of his organisms — he can even master reflexes, like pain, by will power. But with the basic side, which takes care of the fundamental process of life — metabolism — it isn't like that. That lungs suck in air; the heart forces blood into the dark crannies of the body; the gullet contracts and pushes pieces of food into the stomach; the pancreas secretes hormones and enzymes to reduce food to elements that the intestines can absorb; the liver excretes glucose into the blood. The thyroid and parathyroid produce wild things, thyroxin and parathyreodine, which determine whether a person will grow and mature or remain a cretinous dwarf, whether he will develop a sturdy skeletal system or whether his bones can be bent like pretzels. An inconsequential — looking growth by the base of the brain — the pituitary body — with the help of its secretions commands the entire mysterious kitchen of internal secretions as well as the functioning of the kidneys, blood pressure, and safe delivery in childbirth. And this part of the organism, which constructs man — his build, skull shape, psychology, health, and power — this part is not subject to the conscious mind!”

“Correct,” smiled Vano Aleksandrovich. “In your operative side I easily recognize the activity of the 'animal' or somatic nervous system and in the basic one, the realm of the 'vegetative' or sympathetic nervous system. These terms appeared in the eighteenth century; they used the Latin for animal and for plant. Personally, I don't think they're very apt. Perhaps your engineering terms will have greater success in the twentieth century. Well, continue, please.”

“Machines, even electronic ones, are constructed and made by man. Soon the machines will do it themselves; the principle is clear. But why can't man construct himself? Metabolism is subordinate to the central nervous system. The glands, blood vessels, and intestines are connected to the brain by the same kind of nerves as the muscles and sensory organs are. Why can't man control these processes the way he can wiggle his fingers? Why is man's conscious participation in this process limited to satisfying his appetite and thirst and several opposite needs? It's ridiculous. Homo sapiens, the king of nature, the crown of evolution, the creator of complex technology and art, is distinguished in the basic life process from cows and earthworms only in the use of knives and forks and alcohol!”

“Why is it so important to be able to bring sugar, enzymes, and hormones into the blood through will power?” Androsiashvili's bushy eyebrows arched. “Please be so kind as to tell me why, on top of all my worries in the department, I have to also think every hour about how much adrenaline and insulin I should produce in the pancreas and where I should direct it? The sympathetic system takes care of it for me, without bothering man — and that's fine!”

“Is it fine, Vano Aleksandrovich? What about disease?”

“Disease… so that's your angle: disease as an error in the workings of the basic construction system.” The professor's eyebrows turned into sinusoids. “The mistakes that we try to rectify with pills, compresses, vaccinations, and other operative interference, and usually without much success. But… disease is the result of those effects of the environment that the organism can't handle.”

“And why can't it? After all, we know in most cases what is harmful — that's the basis of disease prevention, epidemic control. We try, simply, to keep away from danger. But the environment keeps spewing out new mysteries: X — ray radiation, welding arcs, isotopes — “

“Enough!” The professor raised both hands in surrender. “I have the feeling that you have a secret answer on the tip of your tongue and you just can't wait for your interlocutor to bulge his eyes and ask with timid hope: 'But why? All right! Look: my eyes are open wide.” The whites of his eyes, shot with red, sparkled. “And I am asking the long — awaited question. Why can't people control their metabolism?”

“Because they've forgotten how it's done!” Krivoshein thundered.

“Bah!” the professor slapped his knee in glee. “They used to know and forgot? Like a phone number? Interesting!”

“Let's remember that the human brain contains a huge number of unactivated cells: ninety — nine percent, and in some, ninety — nine point something. It's unlikely that they exist just like that, for a backup reserve; nature doesn't allow excess. It's only natural to posit that those cells contained information that is now lost. Not necessarily verbal information — there is little of that in our organisms now because it's too crude and approximate — but biological information, expressed in images, feelings, sensations — “

“Stop! I know the rest!” Androsiashvili shouted exultantly. “Martians! No, better than Martians. After all, they're going to get to Mars sooner or later, and then it could be checked. Let's say inhabitants of a planet that used to exist somewhere between Mars and Jupiter that has since disintegrated into asteroids. Highly intelligent creatures lived there. They had an artificial, varied environment, and they knew how to control their organisms to adapt to the environment and also for fun. And these inhabitants, sensing that their planet was about to die, moved to Earth.”

“Perhaps it was that way,” Krivoshein agreed calmly. “In any case, we must assume that man had highly organized ancestors wherever they came from. And they went wild, finding themselves in a wild, primitive environment with harsh living conditions — in the Cenozoic Era. Heat, jungles, swamps, animals — and no conveniences. Life was reduced to the struggle for survival and all their refinements were wasted. Then over many generations it was all lost, from literacy to the ability to control metabolism. Really, Vano Aleksandrovich, put a city dweller in the jungle now, and see what happens to him!”

“Very effective!” Androsiashvili smacked his lips in pleasure. “And the excess brain cells remained in the organism along with the appendix and hairy underarms? Now I understand why my dear colleague Professor Valerno calls science fiction 'intellectual decadence. “

“Why? And what does that have to do with this?”

“Because it replaces sober discussion with effective games of the imagination.”

“Well, you know,” Krivoshein countered, getting angry, “in systemology we don't put down working hypotheses with references to the ban mots of friends. Any idea is usable if it is profitable.”

“And in biology, comrade graduate student,” Androsiashvili shouted, rolling his eyes, “we only use ideas that are based on a sober, materialistic approach! And not on the ruins of a fantasy planet! We deal with something more important than technology — we deal with life! And since you are now working in our field, I suggest you remember that! Any dilettante comes along. and, phahh!” He immediately cooled off and changed to a peaceful tone. “All right. Let's make believe that each of us has smashed a plate. Now back to the serious things: why is your hypothesis, to put it mildly, dubious? First of all, the 'unactivated' brain cell — technological terminology is not applicable to biological concepts. The cells are alive — therefore they are already activated. Secondly, why not assume that these billions of cells are there as a reserve?”

Vano Aleksandrovich got up and looked down at Krivoshein.

“My dear comrade graduate student, I do have a little knowledge of technology — after all, I am an evening student at MEI! — and I know that you, hmm, in systemology, you have the concept and problem of reliability. The reliability of electronic systems is guaranteed by a reserve of parts, cells, and even units. Then why not assume that nature has created in man the same kind of reserve for reliability in the brain? After all, nerve cells do not regenerate.”

“It's an awfully big reserve!” The graduate student shook his head. “The average man uses a million cells out of a possible billion.”

“And talented people use tens of millions! And geniuses. actually, no one's measured their cells yet — maybe they use hundreds of millions. Perhaps the brain of each of us is reserved for genius potential? I tend to feel that genius and not mediocrity is man's natural state.”

“Very effectively put, Vano Aleksandrovich.”

“I see you are a cruel man. but, think what you will, my reservations have as much value as your hypothesis about Martians gone wild. Hah, and if you take into account the fact that I am your advisor and you are my student, then they are even more valuable!” He sat down. “But let's get back to the major issue: why is present — day man incapable of controlling the autonomous nervous system and metabolism? You know why? Because it hasn't come to that yet.”

“So that's it!”

“Yes. The environment teaches man in only one way: through conditioning drills. You know that in order to form a conditioned reflex the situation and stimulus must be repeated frequently. And that's just how life experience develops. And in order to form an unconditioned reflex that is inherited the drill must be repeated for many generations for thousands of years. You were right about the biological information in the organism; it is not expressed verbally, but by the reflexes, both conditioned and unconditioned. And it is man's will that controls reflexes, of course, in a limited way. You don't think through from beginning to end which muscle must contract how much when you light a cigarette, and you don't think through the chemical reactions of the muscle contraction. The consciousness gives the order to light up and the reflexes take over. Both the specific one that you acquired from practicing that filthy habit — crumple the cigarette, inhale the smoke — as well as the general ones passed on to you from your distant ancestors: grabbing, breathing, and so on…” Vano Aleksandrovich — it wasn't clear whether it was intended to be an illustration or not — lit a cigarette and exhaled a stream of smoke toward the ceiling.

“I'm leading up to the fact that the consciousness controls when there is something to control. In the operative part of the organism, when the final action, as Sechenov noted long ago, is a muscular one… remember?” Androsiashvili sat back in his chair and quoted:” 'A child laughing at a toy, Garibaldi smiling at the accusation of excessive love for his country, a young girl trembling at the first thoughts of love, Newton creating universal laws and writing them down — the final fact in all these instances is muscular action. Ah, how brilliantly Ivan Mikhailovich wrote! So the operative part gives the mind something to control and lets it choose among its vast store of conditioned and unconditioned reflexes for each unique situation. And in the constructive part, where the body's chemistry takes place, there is nothing for the mind to do. Just think for a moment about what conditioned reflexes are involved in metabolism?”

“Drink or not, give me a little more horseradish, can't abide pork, smoking, and….” Krivoshein got confused. “And well, I guess washing, brushing your teeth….”

“There's a dozen more like that,” nodded the professor, “but they are all minor, semichemical, semimuscular, superficial reflexes. And deeper in the organism there are definite reflex processes that are connected so unilaterally that there is nothing to control: oxygen leaves the bloodstream, breathe; not enough protein for the muscles, eat; excreted water, drink; poisoned yourself with things forbidden for the organism, be sick or die. And there are no variations. You can't say that life did not teach people about metabolic reactions — it taught them cruelly. Epidemics — how nice it would be to figure out through the use of your mind and your reflexes just which bacillus was destroying you and purge it from your body like fleas! Famines — just hibernate like a bear instead of puffing up and dying! Wounds and mutilations in fighting — regenerate your torn — off limb or gouged eye! And that's not enough. It would all be done at high speed. Muscular reaction happens in tenths and hundredths of a second, and the fastest of the metabolic actions — secretion of adrenaline into the bloodstream — takes seconds. The secretion of hormones by the glands and the pituitary is discovered only after years, and maybe only once in a lifetime. Thus,” he smiled wanly, “this knowledge is not lost by the organism; it simply has not yet been acquired. It's too difficult for man to learn such a lesson.”

“And therefore mastery of metabolism could drag on for millions of years?”

“I'm afraid that it could take dozens of millions of years,” sighed Vano Aleksandrovich. “We mammals are very recent inhabitants of earth. Thirty million years — is that an age? Everything is still ahead of us.

“There will be nothing ahead of us, Vano Aleksandrovich!” exclaimed Krivoshein. “The present environment changes from year to year — what kind of million — year learning process can there be, what kind of repetition of lessons? Man has stepped off the path of natural evolution, and now he must figure things out for himself.”

“And we are.”

“What? Pills, powders, hemorrhoidal suppositories, enemas, and bed rest? Are you sure that we are improving man's breed this way? Maybe we're ruining it?”

' I'm not trying to talk you into involving yourself with pills and powders if those are the terms you choose to use for the antibiotics our department is developing,” Vano Aleksandrovich said, his face taking on a cold and haughty look. “If you want to study your idea — go ahead, dare. But explaining the unrealistic and unplanned aspects of this decision in graduate work and for a future dissertation is my right and my duty.”

He stood up and tossed the butts from the ashtray into the wastebasket.

“Forgive me, Vano Aleksandrovich. I certainly didn't want to hurt your feelings.” Krivoshein also stood, realizing that the conversation was over, and ending on an unpleasant note. “But. Vano Aleksandrovich, there are very interesting facts.”

“What facts?”

“Well… in the last century in India there was a man — god, Ramakrishna. And, if someone was being beaten nearby, he had welts on his body. Or take 'burns by suggestion': a sensitive subject is touched with a pencil and told that it was a lit cigarette. In these cases metabolism is controlled without a 'learning process, is it not?”

“Listen, you nagging student,” Androsiashvili wheeled on him, “how many window bolts can you eat in a sitting?”

“Hmmmm,” Krivoshein said in confusion. “I don't think any at all. How about you?”

“Me neither. But a patient I had in the dim past when I worked in the Pavlov Psychiatric Clinic swallowed, without any particular harm to himself, ” the professor leaned back, remembering, “five window bolts, twelve aluminum teaspoons, three tablespoons, two pairs of surgical scissors, 240 grams of broken glass, one fork, and 400 grams of various nails. Now these are not the results of an autopsy, mind you, but the history of a disease — I cut him open myself. The patient was cured of suicidal tendencies and is probably still alive today.” The professor glanced down at Krivoshein from the heights of his erudition. “So in scientific matters it is better not to orient yourself by religious fanatics or secular psychopaths. No, no!” He raised his hand to stave off the obvious look of disagreement in Krivoshein's eyes. “Enough arguing. Go ahead, I won't stop you. I'm sure that you will try to regulate metabolism with some kind of machine or electronic method.”

Vano Aleksandrovich gave the student a thoughtful and tired look and smiled.

“Catching the Firebird with your bare hands! What could be better? And you have a holy goal: man without diseases, without old age — age is a result of a breakdown in metabolism, too. Twenty years or so ago, I would have allowed myself to be fired up by this idea. But now… now I must do what can definitely be done. Even if it's only a pill.”

Krivoshein turned down a cross street toward the Institute of Systemology and almost bumped into a man in a dark blue cloak, much too warm for the season. The unexpectedness of the encounter produced further problems: Krivoshein stepped to the left to let the man past, while the man did the same to the right. Then both of them, letting the other go first, finally set off in opposite directions. The man stared at Krivoshein in amazement and stopped.

“I beg your pardon,” he muttered and went on.

The street was dark and empty. Krivoshein soon heard footsteps behind him and looked back: the man in the cloak was following at a short distance. “That Onisimov!” thought the graduate student. “He's got a detective tailing me!” He experimented by going faster and heard the man's pace increase. “Ah, the hell with him! I'm certainly not going to cover my tracks.” Krivoshein went on slowly, rambling. However, his back felt uncomfortable and his thoughts returned to reality.

“So, I guess Val tried another experiment. Maybe he wasn't alone? It failed; that corpse turning into a skeleton. But why are the police involved? And where is he? Our Val must have blown town on his bike until things calmed down. Or maybe he's in the lab?”

Krivoshein approached the monumental, cast — iron gates of the institute. The rectangular posts of the gates were so large that the left one easily contained the pass office and the right one the entrance way. He opened the door. Old man Vakhterych, the ancient guard of science, was nodding off behind the barrier.

“Good evening!” Krivoshein nodded at him.

“Good evening, Valentin Vasilyevich!” replied Vakhterych, obviously not about to ask him for his pass; they were used to visits by the head of the New Systems Lab at all hours.

Krivoshein, inside the grounds, looked back; the creep in the cloak was stuck outside. There you go, chum,” Krivoshein thought. “The pass system proves itself once again.”

The windows of the lodge were dark. A red cigarette light glowed by the door. Krivoshein crouched under the trees and made out a uniform cap on a man's head against the stars. “No, I've had it with the cops for one day. I'd better go home….” he laughed. “I mean to his house.”

He started for the gates, but remembered the fellow in the cloak and stopped. “That's against all the rules, the suspect running into the detective's arms. Let him do some work.” Krivoshein headed for the other end of the park — where the branches of the old oak hung over the iron pickets of the fence. He jumped from the branch onto the sidewalk and started for Academic Town.

“But what happened with his experiment? And who was that guy who met me at the airport? The telegram really confused me: I thought he was Val! He does look like him — very much so. Could it be? Val obviously didn't sit around all year twiddling his thumbs! Too bad we didn't write. What petty fools we are: each one wanting to prove that he could do without the other, to astound the other a year later with his results. With his own results! The highest form of possession. And so we've amazed each other. We're destroying a major project with pettiness. With pettiness, lack of forethought, and fear. We shouldn't have scattered every which way, but tried to attract people who were worthy and real, like Vano Aleksandrovich, from the very beginning. Yes, but back then I didn't know him, and it won't help to try it now, when he storms past me and gives me dirty looks.”

It had all happened in the spring, in late March when Krivoshein had only begun mastering metabolism in his own body. Busy with himself, he hadn't noticed spring until spring made him notice: a heavy icicle fell on him from the roof of a five — story building. If it had fallen a half inch to the left, it would have been the end of the experiments on metabolism as well as the end of his organism. But the icicle merely ripped his ear, broke his collar bone, and knocked him down.

“Disaster, disaster!” That's what he heard professor Androsiashvili saying as he came to. He was leaning over him, feeling his head, unbuttoning his coat. “I'll kill that janitor for not clearing the snow!” he said, angrily shaking his fist. “Can you walk?” He helped Krivoshein up. “Don't worry, your head is fairly whole. The clavicle will heal in a few weeks. It could have been worse. Hold on, I'll walk you over to the infirmary.”

“Thank you, Vano Aleksandrovich, I'll manage myself,” Krivoshein replied as heartily as he could, even squeezing out a smile. “I'll make it, it's nearby.”

And he moved on quickly, almost at a run. He stopped the bleeding from his ear immediately. But his right hand was dangling loosely.

“I'll call them to get the electric stitcher ready!” the professor called after him. “They'll be able to sew up the ear!”

Back in his room, Krivoshein taped up his ear, torn along the cartilage, in front of the mirror and wiped away the caked blood with cotton. That was easy. Ten minutes later there was only a pink scar where the tear had been, and in a half hour, that was gone too. Mending the clavicle was a lot harder; he had to lie on his bed all evening concentrating on commanding the blood vessels, the glands, and the muscles. The bones had much less chemical solution than soft tissue.

He decided to go to Androsiashvili's class in the morning. He got to the hall early to take an inconspicuous seat in the back and ran into the professor, who was instructing students about the hanging of posters. Krivoshein backed off, but it was too late.

“Why are you here? Why aren't you in the clinic?” Vano Aleksandrovich went pale, staring at the student's ear and the right hand in which he was clutching his notebook. “What is this?”

“And you said it would take dozens of millions of years, Vano Aleksandrovich.” Krivoshein couldn't resist. “You see, it can be done without 'drilling. “

“You mean… it's working? How?”

Krivoshein bit his lip.

“Mmmm, a little later, Vano Aleksandrovich,” he muttered awkwardly. “I still have to figure it all out myself.”

“Yourself?” The professor raised his eyebrows. “You don't want to tell?” His face grew cold and haughty. “All right, as you wish. Pardon me!” He went to his desk.

From that day on he nodded icily to his student when they met, and never entered into a discussion. Krivoshein, to keep his conscience from bothering him too much, lost himself in his experiments. He really did have a lot more to learn.

“Don't you understand that I wanted to demonstrate my discovery — relive my burning interest in it, your praise, fame, ” thought Krivoshein as he tried to justify himself before the invisible Androsiashvili. “After all, unlike the psychopaths I could have explained it all. Of course, this doesn't work with other people yet; they don't have the constitution for it. But the important thing is that I've proved the possibility of it, the knowledge. If only the discovery had been limited to the fact that I can heal my own wounds, breaks, and cure myself of diseases! The trouble with nature is that it never gives just exactly as much as is needed for the welfare of man — it's always either too much or too little. I got too much. I could, probably, turn myself into an animal, even into a monster. That's possible. Everything's possible. That's the scary part.” Krivoshein sighed.

The window and glass door that opened onto the balcony of the fifth floor glowed softly. It looked like the table lamp was on. “Is he home?” Krivoshein ran up the stairs, rummaged through his pockets from force of habit, remembered that he had thrown out the key a year ago, and swore at himself, for it would have been very effective to suddenly walk in: “Your documents, citizen!” There still was no doorbell, and he knocked.

He heard light, quick steps — they made his heart beat faster — and the lock clicked. Lena was opening the door.

“Oh, Val, you're alive!” She grabbed his neck with her warm hands, looked him over, smoothed his hair, hugged him, and began crying. “Val, my darling… and I thought… they've been saying such horrible things! I called your lab, and there was no answer. I called the institute, and when I asked where you were, what had happened, they hung up. I came here, and you were gone. And they told me that you were….” She sobbed angrily. “The fools!”

“All right, Lena, don't. That's enough. What's the matter?” Krivoshein wanted very much to hold her close and he barely controlled his arms.

It was as though nothing had happened: not discovery number one, not the year of mad, concentrated work in Moscow, where he cast away the past…. Krivoshein had tried more than once — for spiritual peace — to eradicate Lena's face from his memory. He knew how it was done: a rush of blood with an increased glucose level to the brain's cortex, small oxidations directed at the nucleotides of a certain area — and the information is removed from the cells forever. But he didn't want to… or couldn't. 'Wanting' and 'being able' — how do you distinguish them in yourself? And now the woman he loved was weeping on his shoulder, weeping from anxiety about him. He had to soothe her.

“Stop, Lena. Everything's all right, as you can see.”

She looked up at him. Her eyes were wet, happy, and guilty.

“Val… you're not mad at me, are you? I said all those horrible things to you then — I don't know why myself. I'm just stupid! You were hurt? I thought that it was all over, too, but when I found out that something had happened to you… I couldn't. You see, I ran here. Forget it, please? It's forgotten, all right?”

“Yes,” Krivoshein said sincerely. “Let's go inside.”

“Oh, Val, you can't imagine how terrified I was!” She was still holding onto his shoulders, afraid to let go. “And that investigator… the questions!”

“He called you in, too?”


“Aha, the old cherchez la femme!”

They went inside. It hadn't changed: a gray daybed, a cheap desk, two chairs, a bookshelf piled with magazines up to the ceiling, and a wardrobe with the usual mirrored door. In the corner by the door lay crisscrossed dumbbells.

“I cleaned up a little, waiting for you. The dust… you have to keep the balcony door shut tight, when you leave.” Lena moved close to him. “Val, what did happen?”

“If I only knew!” he thought with a sigh. “Nothing terrible… just a lot of brouhaha.”

“Why the police, then?”

“The police? They were called, and they came. If they had called the fire department, they would have come too.”

“Oh, Val….” she placed her arms around his neck and wrinkled up her nose. “Why are you like that?”

“Like what?” he asked, feeling more stupid by the second. “Well, seemingly grown — up, but irresponsible. And when I'm with you I turn into a silly schoolgirl…. Val, where's Victor. What happened to him? Listen,” she asked, her eyes growing wide, “is it true that he's a spy?”

“Victor? What Victor?”

“Are you joking? Victor Kravets, your assistant and nephew twice removed.”

“Nephew, lab assistant….” Krivoshein was momentarily confused. “So that's it!”

Lena threw up her hands.

“Val, what's the matter with you? You can tell me. What happened in the lab?”

“Forgive me, Lena, I just got confused. Of course, old Peter, I mean Victor Kravets, my trusty assistant and nephew… a very nice guy….” The woman still regarded him wide — eyed. “Don't be surprised, Lena, this is just a momentary amnesia, that always happens after… after an electric shock. It'll pass, it's not serious. So you say the rumor's begun that he's a spy? Ah, that Academy of Sciences!”

“Then it's true that there was a catastrophe in the lab? Why, why do you keep everything from me? You could have been — no! I don't want to think about it!”

“Stop, please God, stop!” Krivoshein said irritably, sitting down. “Could have, couldn't have, did, wasn't…. You see, everything is fine. (I wish it were, he thought.) I can't tell you anything until I've figured it all out myself.” He moved into an attack. “And what's your problem? So, there's one Krivoshein more or less in the world — big deal! You're young, beautiful, childless — you'll find someone else, someone better than an aging codger like me. Take Peter, I mean, Victor Kravets: he's better for you?”

“Again?” she smiled, came up behind his chair, and put his head on her bosom. “Why do you keep harping on Victor? I don't need him. I don't care how good — looking he is; he's not you, understand? That's it. And the others aren't you either. Now I know for sure.”

“Hm?” Krivoshein untangled himself.

“What, 'hm'? You're jealous, silly. I didn't sit at home every night like a nun. I went out. I was courted, even seriously by some. And still, they were all wrong!” Her voice caressed him. “They're not like you — and that's it! I came back to you anyway.”

Krivoshein felt the warmth of her body with the back of his neck, felt her soft hands on his eyes and experienced an incomparable bliss. “I could sit like this forever. I've just come back from work, and nothing has happened. and I'm tired and she's here. but something did happen! Something very serious happened, and I'm sitting here stealing her caresses!”

He got up.

“All right, Lena. You'll excuse me, but I'm not going to walk you home. I'll just sit a while or go to sleep. I don't feel very well after all that.”

“I'll stay?”

It was half question, half statement. For a second Krivoshein was overwhelmed with wild jealousy. “I'll stay?” she used to say and he would agree. Or maybe he suggested it himself: “Stay tonight, Lena.” And she stayed.

“No, Lena, you go home.” He laughed bitterly.

“That means you're still mad, right?” She looked at him and got mad. “You're a fool, Val, a real jerk! The hell with you!” And she turned for the door.

Krivoshein stood in the middle of the room, listening: the click of the lock, Lena's heels on the stairs, the downstairs door slamming, quick light steps on the pavement. He ran to the balcony to call to her — and the evening breeze sobered him up. “So, I see her, and fall back in just like that! I wonder what she said to him? All right, the hell with last year's romances!” He went back inside. “I have to find out what happened here. Wait! He must have a diary! Of course!”

Krivoshein pulled open all the drawers in the desk, tossing out magazines, folders, quickly glancing through notebooks. No, that's not it. On the bottom of the last drawer he found a cassette, a quarter filled, and for a minute he forgot about his search: he got the cassette player from the shelf, dusted it off, put in the cassette, and turned it on playback.

“With the rights of the discoverers,” a hoarse voice began, after some hissing, carelessly slurring the endings of words, “we are taking it upon ourselves to research and exploit the discovery to be called — “

“The artificial biological synthesis of information,” another voice (though remarkably like the first) added. “It's not particularly euphonious, but it's accurate.”

“Fine. The artificial biological synthesis of information. We understand that this discovery touches upon man's life like no other and is capable of becoming the greatest threat or the greatest boon for mankind. We swear to do everything in our power to use this discovery for the good of humanity.”

“We swear that until we have researched all the potentials of this discovery — “

“And until it is clear to us how to use it with absolute reliability for the good of humanity — “ “Not to turn it over into anyone else's hands — “

“And not to publish anything about it.”

Krivoshein stood with his eyes closed. He was transported to that May night when they made that vow.

“We vow not to give away our discovery for our well — being, or fame, or immortality until we are sure that it cannot be used to harm people. We will destroy our work rather than permit that.”

“We swear!” The two voices spoke in unison. The tape ended.

“We were hotheads then. So, the diary must be nearby.” Krivoshein dove into the desk once more, rummaged about, and a second later held a notebook with a yellow cardboard cover, as thick and heavy as a book. There was nothing written on the cover, but Krivoshein was certain that he had found what he was after: a year ago, when he got to Moscow, he had bought himself the exact same notebook in a yellow cover to keep his own diary.

He sat down at the desk, moved the lamp closer, lit a cigarette, and opened the notebook.



Chapter 6

The relativity of knowledge is a great thing. The statement “two plus two equals thirteen” is relatively closer to the truth than “two plus two equals forty — one.” You could even say that the move to the former from the latter represents an expression of creative maturity, scholarly courage, and unheard — of scientific progress — if you didn't know that two plus two equals four.

We know that in arithmetic, but it's too soon to rejoice. For example, in physics, two plus two equals less than four because of a defect in mass. And in such fine sciences as sociology or ethics, not even two plus two, but even one plus one can be either a future family or a conspiracy to rob a bank.

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 5

May 22. Today I saw him off at the train. In the station restaurant, the customers stared at two grown twins. I felt uncomfortable. He was happy.

“Remember, fifteen years ago, I — no, I guess it was you — left for the exams at the physics — technological institute? It was all the same: a streak of alienation, freedom, uncertainty….”

I remembered. Yes, it was the same. The same waiter with an expression of chronic dissatisfaction with life served tenth — graders who had escaped into life. Then we thought that everything was ahead of us; and so it was. And now there is quite a bit behind us: happy things, and gray things, and things that make it scary to look back, and yet it still seems that the best and most interesting is ahead.

Then we drank the cheapest port. Now the waiter brought us fine cognac. We each had a glass.

It was noisy and crowded in the restaurant. People were eating and drinking in a rush.

“Look,” my double pointed out, “a mother feeding twins. Greetings, colleagues! Look at their eyes. How do you think they'll turn out? For now their mother is taking care of them, and even so they managed to smear porridge all over their faces in the same way. But in a few years another bustling mother will take over — Life. One, say, will grab a chicken by the tail and pull out all the feathers. The first in a collection of unrepeatable impressions, since there will be no feathers left for the other to pull. But the other will get lost in a store with great weeping and wailing — another personal, unique experience. And a year later his mother will let him have it for the jam that his brother gobbled up. Again differences: one will sense injustice while the other is getting away without punishment. Oh, mama, watch it. If things go on like that, one of them will grow up to be a timid loser, and the other a sly fellow who gets away with everything. You'll cry then, mama. You and I are like those twins.”

“Well, at least an unfair spanking won't knock us off the track. We're at the wrong age.”

“I'll drink to that!”

They announced the train. We went out to the platform. He went on talking.

“You know what's interesting? What happens to that old saw about people being born with a destiny? Let's say that it was intended at your birth for you to move through space and time at a certain rate, to advance at work, etc. And suddenly — abracadabra! — there are two Krivosheins! And they lead separate lives in separate cities. Now what happens to the divine plan? Or did God write it in two variants? And what if we turn into ten? And what if we don't want to, and don't?” We both made believe that something ordinary was happening. “Friends, check to see that you haven't kept the departing passengers' tickets by mistake!” I hadn't. The train took him to Moscow.

We agreed to write to each other when necessary (I'll bet that he won't feel that necessity very soon!) and to meet next July. We'll spend this year approaching the problem from two angles; he'll take biology, and I'll take systemology. We'll see….

When the train left I realized that I would miss him. I guess because this was the first time that I had felt as comfortable with another person as I do with… with myself. There's no other way of putting it. Even between Lena and me there is always something left unsaid, misunderstood, strictly personal. But with him… but even with him, we each developed our own secrets over a month of living together. Interesting, that bustling mother life!

I was high on cognac, and coming back from the station I stared at people and at life. Women with concerned, anxious faces entering stores. Guys riding on motorcycles with girls on the back seat. Lines forming by the newspaper kiosks, waiting for the evening papers. Human faces, how different they all are, how understandable and mysterious! I can't explain how it happens, but I seem to know about a lot of them. The corners of the mouth, harsh or fine wrinkles, the bearing of the head, and the eyes — especially the eyes! — they are all signs of preverbal information. Probably from the days when we were apes.

Just recently I did not notice such things. I did not notice, for instance, that people waiting in line were ugly. The banality and meaninglessness of such an occupation, the worry that they will run out, that someone will sneak in ahead of them, leaves an ugly imprint on the face. And drunks are ugly, and brawlers are ugly.

But take a look at a young girl, laughing at a joke made by the boy she loves. Or at a mother, nursing a child. At a master craftsman doing fine work. At a good man thinking about something. They are beautiful, despite pimples, wrinkles, and lines.

I could never appreciate beauty in animals. As far as I'm concerned only man is beautiful — and then only when he is human.

A toddler stared at me as though I were a miracle, tripped and fell, insulted by earth's pull. His mother, naturally, added to his pain. The little guy suffered for nothing. What kind of marvel am I? Just a man getting fat, with a round back, and a common face.

But maybe the little fellow was right: I'm really a miracle? And every person is a miracle?

What do we know about people? What do I know about myself? In the problem called life, people are a given that does not have to be proved. And everyone who uses that given comes up with his own theory. Take my double, for instance. He left and that was both unexpected and logical.

But wait! If I'm going to get into this, I should start at the beginning.

It's funny to remember. Actually, I began with the simplest of intentions. To do my dissertation.

But creating something secondhand and compilatory (sort of like the topic recommended to me by my former chief professor Voltampernov, “Several Peculiarities in Projecting Diode Memory Systems”) was boring and repulsive. I was human after all. I wanted an unsolved problem, to get into its soul and to investigate nature with the help of reason, machines, and apparatus. And to discover something that no one had ever known. Or to invent something that no one else ever had thought of. And to be asked questions at the defense that would be fun to answer. And then to be told by friends, “Well, you really let them have it! Terrific!”

All the more because I can do that. It's not something you announce to people, but I can say it in my diary: I can. Five inventions and two completed research projects are proof of that. And this discovery… ah, no, Krivoshein, don't be in a rush to add this to your intellectual laurels. You're mixed up by this and still can't get it straightened out.

In a word, my heart's desire is what led me into the thick of that tendency of world systemology where the fundamental operative function is not the formula, or the algorithm, not even the recipe, but mere chance.

We, with our limited minds, love to make juxtapositions: lyric poets and physicists, waves and particles, plants and animals, machines and people…. But in life and in nature these things are not juxtaposed; they complement each other. Just as logic and chance complement each other in comprehension and solution finding. You can find much of the unproved, the capricious, in mathematical and logical constructions and you can find logical laws at work in random events.

For example, the ideological enemy of random retrieval, Voltampernov, doctor of technological sciences, never missed a chance to parry my suggestion (to study modeling of random processes) with the quip: “But that will be modeling with, so to speak, coffee grounds!” Isn't this the best illustration of that complementary nature?

And it was hard to argue. There was little achieved in this field, and many projects ended unsuccessfully, and ideas… ideas didn't have enough effect. In our department, like in the Wild West, they believed only in bare facts.

I was thinking of following the example of Valery Ivanov, my friend and former head of the lab, and to call it quits with the institute and move on to another city. But — and here it was, the random chance! — the builders did not complete the new building for perfectly good reasons, and the money allotted in the institute's budget was not spent for good reason, and Arkady Arkadievich announced a “contest” to find the best way to spend eighty thousand rubles. I'm sure that the most virulent defender of determinism would have to be careful not to make a mistake here.

I had formed my idea by then to research what a computer would do if it was fed not by a program that had been reduced to a binary system, but with ordinary — meaningful and random — information. Just that. Because when it is programmed it works with an amazing brilliance that stuns reporters. (“A new breakthrough in science: a machine can plan a shop's work in three minutes!” — because the programmers in their modesty usually fail to mention the number of months they prepared for that three — minute decision.)

Naturally, my idea done in an elementary way was nothing more than delirium for any intelligent systemologist: the computer would not behave in any way at all; it would simply stop! But I wasn't planning on doing it the elementary way.

To spend eighty thousand rubles to equip a lab in the five weeks left in a fiscal year, even a lab that was as flexible as one for pure research, was no snap. It's no wonder that the equipment genius of the institute, Alter Abramovich, still shakes hands respectfully whenever we meet. Actually, he didn't realize that an idea coupled with a burning desire to move into the operative expanses can work wonders.

So, this was the situation: there was money and nothing else. Five thousand to the builders for the best lodge possible. (They tried all kinds of manipulation, like “Dear man! we'll fulfill the plan and even win a prize, you'll see!”) Thirteen thousand for a TsVM — 12 computer. Another nine thousand for all kinds of sensors and receivers: piezoelectric microphones, flexible strain gauges, germanium phototransistors, gas analyzers, thermistors, an apparatus for calculating the electromagnetic biopotentials of the brain using the SES — 1 system with four thousand microelectrodes, pulsometers, semiconducting moisture analyzers, and photoelemental “reading” arrays. basically, everything that turns sounds, images, smells, small pressures, temperatures, weather changes, and even spiritual impulses into electrical impulses. With four thousand I bought various reagents, laboratory glassware, chemical equipment — in case I ever wanted to employ chemotronics, about which I had heard a little. (And if I'm going to be completely honest, because it was easy to buy this stuff by requisition. I don't have to mention the fact that I didn't use any of the eighty thousand for personal effects.)

All this was fine, but the core of the experiment was still missing. I knew what I wanted: a commutator that could switch and combine random signals from the sensors in order to send them to a “reasoning” computer — a piece of an electronic brain with a free circuit of connections of several thousand switching cells. You can't get something like that even by written order — it doesn't exist. Buy the parts that make up the usual computers (diodes, triodes, resistors, condensers, etc.) and order one? It would take too long, and was completely unrealistic. I would have to supply a detailed blueprint for something like that, but what I wanted couldn't have a blueprint. It was really a case of not knowing where I would go or what I would find. And once more my friend chance gave me my “I don't know what” and Lena…. Wait. Here I'm not willing to put it all down to chance. Meeting Lena was a gift of fate, pure and simple. But as for the crystal unit… if you think about something day and night, you'll always come up with it, find or notice it.

Here was the situation: three weeks left 'til the end of the year; fifty thousand rubles still unused; no hopes of finding the commutator; and I'm riding a bus.

“They bought fifty thousand rubles worth of solid — state circuits and then they found out they don't fit!” a woman in a brown fur coat was exclaiming in front of me to her neighbor. “That's disgusting!” “Madness,” she agreed.

“Now Pshembakov is trying to blame everything on the supply department. But he ordered them himself!” “Just think of the gall!”

The words “fifty thousand” and “solid — state circuits” had gotten my attention. “Excuse me, but what kind of circuits?”

The woman turned to me, her face so beautiful and stern that I was sorry I had interrupted.

“ 'Not — ors' and flip — flops!” she answered hotly.

“What parameters?”

“Low — voltage — excuse me, but why are you butting into our conversation?”

And that's how I met Elena Ivanovna Kolomiets, an engineer from the nearby construction design bureau. The following day, engineer Kolomiets wrote a pass for executive engineer Krivoshein to visit her department. “Savior! Benefactor!” cried the head of the department, Zhalbek Balbekovich Pshembakov, when engineer Kolomiets introduced me and explained that I could buy up the bureau's damned solid — state circuits. But I agreed to benefact and save Zhalbek Balbekovich only on the following conditions: (a) all 38,000 cells would be mounted on panels in accordance with a rough sketch I gave him; (b) the cells would be connected by feed bars; (c) each cell would be wired and; (d) all this would be done by the end of the year.

“You have great production forces here. It won't be difficult for you.”

“For the same money? But the cells themselves cost fifty thousand!”

“Yes, but they didn't fit the FTD. Keep that in mind.”

“You're a scourge, not a benefactor,” said Zhalbek Balbekovich, sadly waving his hand. “Fill out the order, Elena Ivanovna. We'll send it in from our department. And I'm putting this whole thing in your hands.”

May Allah bless your name, Zhalbek Balbekovich!

To this very day, I think that I won Lena's heart not with my great qualities, but because — when the cells had been mounted on the panels and the edges of the microelectrical cube looked like fields of colorful wires — I answered her tremulous question “And how should they be connected?” with a devil — may — care:

“However you like! Blue to red — and make sure it's aesthetically pleasing!”

Women respect the irrational.

And that's how it all happened. Chance does make itself felt. (Oh, now it's beginning to seem that during the course of my work I've developed a worshipful attitude toward chance! The fanaticism of a convert…. Before, to tell the truth, I was a real sluggard, preaching humility and resignation in the face of “unlucky” events. If you think about it, such feelings always mask our spiritual laziness and complacency. Now I was beginning to understand an important aspect of chance, whether in life or science: you won't conquer it with reason alone. Working with chance demands quick thinking, initiative, and a readiness to change your plans… but it's just as stupid to worship it as it is to deride it. Chance is neither enemy nor friend, neither God nor devil. Whether chance is mastered or lost depends on the person. And those who believe in luck and fate can go out and buy lottery rickets!)

“But the name laboratory of Random Research' is too odious,” said Arkady Arkadievich, signing the order to establish an unstructured lab, directed by engineer Krivoshein, with the concomitant material, fire safety, and other responsibilities. “You shouldn't give people straight lines. Let's call it something more restrained, like 'New Systems Laboratory. And then we'll see.”

That meant that doing my dissertation remained my major problem. Beyond that, it was “we'll see.” I have yet to solve the problem.

Chapter 7

If an identification computer, or perceptron, signals “garbage” in response to a picture of an elephant, to the depiction of a camel, and to the portrait of a major scientist, this does not necessarily mean that it is irreparable. It may just be philosophically inclined

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 30

Naturally, I had hoped, for my spirits, that the work would be livelier. How could I not dream, when the mastermind of cybernetics, Walter Ross Ashby, doctor of neurophysiology, kept coming up with ideas, each more entrancing than the next! Random processes as the source of the development and ruin of any system, strengthening the thinking capabilities of humans and machines by distinguishing the valuable thoughts from the nonsense in random expression…. and finally, noise as the raw material for extracting information — yes, yes, the “white noise,” that troublemaker on which I lost more than one year and more than one idea trying to drive it out of circuitry!

In general, if you think about it, the founder of this tendency has to be considered not Dr. Ashby, but the now — forgotten director of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, who (in order to create ominous rumblings in the crowd scenes of Boris Godunov) first ordered each extra to repeat his home address and phone number. But Ashby has posited solving the reverse problem. We take noise — the surf, the hiss of coal dust in a mike, anything — and plug it into a machine. From the noise chaos we extract the largest “splashes.” This gives us a pattern of impulses. And impulse patterns are binary numbers. And binary figures can be changed into decimal ones. And decimals are numbers: for example, the numbers assigned to words in a dictionary for machine translation. And a collection of words is a sentence. Of course, for now, the sentences are varied: false, real, abracadabra — informational raw material. But the next cascade will have two streams of information — the kind that is intelligible to people, and this raw material. Then operations of comparison, coincidence, and noncoincidence — and everything nonsensical is filtered out, as is the banal. Then original new thoughts, discoveries and inventions, the works of unborn poets and writers, philosophical thoughts from the future appear! A thinking computer!

Of course, the respected doctor did not explain how to perform this miracle. His idea is embodied only in squares connected by arrows on a piece of paper. In general, the question of how to do it is not highly esteemed in academic circles. “If you remove yourself from the difficulties of technical realization, then in principle you will be able to imagine….” But how can I remove myself from it?

Well, enough whining! That's why I'm an experimenter, in order to test ideas. That's why I have a lab. The walls give off the smell of fresh oil paint. The air conditioner hums. New instruments shine on the equipment shelves. Vessels and jars with reagents sparkle in the cupboards, and colorful piles of wires and soldering irons, their points still red and uncovered with scale, wait for me. Apparatus, neatly wrapped in plastic, sit on the counters — and their pointers aren't bent yet and their scales aren't dusty yet. Dictionaries, textbooks, reference books, and monographs are arranged on the bookshelves. And in the middle of the room, glistening in the January sun, stands the TsVM — 12, the automatic digital printer, with lacy, multicolored wires in the crystal unit. Everything is new, unsullied, unscratched, and everything exudes the wise, rational beauty developed by generations of craftsmen and engineers.

How could I not dream? And what if I succeeded? Actually, for myself, my dreams were much more modest: not of a supercomputer that would be smarter than man (in general, I'm not crazy about that idea, even though lama systems technologist), but of a computer that would understand man, the better to do its work. Then that idea seemed possible to me. Indeed, if a computer can exhibit definite behavior based on everything that I tell and show it, and so on, then the problem is solved. That means that it has begun seeing, hearing, and smelling through its sensors in the purely human sense of these words, without quotation marks or explanations. And then its behavior could be adapted for any work or problem — that's why it's a universal computer.

Yes, then in January, it all seemed possible and simple; the sea was only knee — high. Oh, the inspirational quality of new equipment! The fantastic green loops on the screen, the confident hum of the transformers, the crackling of the relays, the blinking of the lights on the panel, the precise movements of the arrows and pointers…. It feels as though you're going to measure everything, conquer it all, do it all, and even an ordinary microscope inspires the confidence that right now (with a magnification of four hundred and double polarized light) you will see something that no one else has ever seen!

Why even talk about it? What researcher hasn't dreamed at the outset of a project, didn't imagine handling the hardest tasks? What researcher hasn't experienced that overwhelming impatience when you're rushing — hurry! hurry! — to finish the boring preparatory work — hurry! hurry! — plot the course of the experiment, and get on with it?

And then. and then the everyday lab worries, the everyday mistakes, the everyday failures break your dream's spirit. And then you're ready to settle for anything, just so that the whole thing wasn't a waste.

That's what happened to me.

Writing about failure is like reliving it. So I'll be brief. The plan was like this: we would plug the 38,000 — cell crystal unit into the TsVM — 12, and everything else would go into the crystal unit's input: the mikes, the smell, moisture and temperature sensors, the tesometric feelers, the photomatrices with a focusing probe, and Monomakh's Crown, to compute the brain's biowaves. The source of external information was me, that is, something moving, noisy, changing shape and its coordinates in space, having temperature and nervous potential. You could hear me, see me, feel me, take my temperature and blood pressure, analyze my breath, even climb into my soul and thoughts — go right ahead! The signals from the sensors would have to feed the crystal unit, stimulating various cells in it; the crystal unit would form and “pack” the signals into logical combinations for the TsVM — 12; the computer would deal with them as though they were usual problems, and produce something meaningful. In order to make it easier for the computer, I programmed all the number — words from A to Z in the computer translation dictionary into its memory bank.

And. nothing. The selsyn motors, whining gently, moved the feeler and lenses when I moved around the room. The control oscilloscopes showed a daisy chain of impulses, which jumped from the crystal unit to the computer. The current flowed. The lights blinked. But during the first month the digital printer didn't stir once to make a single mark on the punched tape.

I punctured the crystal unit with all the sensors. I read poems. I sang. I gestured. I ran and I jumped in front of the lenses. I stripped and dressed. I let the feelers touch me (brr! those cold feelers!). I put on Monomakh's Crown and — O God! — tried to influence it. I was ready for any magic formula.

But the TsVM — 12 could not put out abracadabra; it wasn't made that way. If the problem has a solution, it solves it; if it doesn't, it stops. Judging by the panel lights, something was going on, but every five or six minutes the “stop” signal went on, and I had to press the reset button. And it would begin all over again.

Finally, I started thinking about it. The computer had to be performing arithmetical and logical operations with the impulses from the crystal unit. Otherwise, what else could it be doing? That meant that even after these operations the information was still so raw and contradictory that the computer could not bring the logical ends together. So it would stop! That meant that one cycle in the computer wasn't enough. That meant — and here, as usual in these cases, I was embarrassed for not having thought of it sooner — that meant that I had to arrange for feedback between the computer (from the units where the impulses still were) and the crystal unit! Then the raw material would be inputted into the clever cube, transformed there one more time, and then fed into the computer, and so on, until perfect clarity reigned.

I perked up. Now we were cooking! I can condense the story about how 150 logic cells and dozens of matrices burned out because the TsVM and crystal unit were out of sync (smoke, acrid smells, transistors flaming like bullets in an oven, and me — instead of cutting off the voltage on the panel, I ran for the fire extinguisher on the wall!), and how I got new cells, soldered the transition circuits, and coordinated the cycles of all the units — just the usual difficulties of technical realization. But the important thing was I got the project off the ground.

On February 151 finally heard the long — awaited clatter: the machine printed out a string of numbers on the punched tape. Before deciphering it, I circled the table on which the piece of tape lay, smoked and smiled vaguely. The computer had begun behaving. There it was, the computer's first sentence: “Memory 107 bits.”

It wasn't what I was expecting. That's why I didn't realize right away that the computer “wanted” (I can't write a word like that without quotes) to increase its memory bank.

Actually, it was all very logical. It was receiving complex information that had to be stored somewhere, but the banks were already filled. Increase the memory banks! A commonplace task in building computers.

If it weren't for Alter Abramovich's respect for me, the computer's request would have gone unheeded. But he gave me three cubes of magnetic memory and two of ferroelectric memory. And everything proceeded smoothly: a few days later the TsVM — 12 repeated its demand, and then again and again…. The computer developed serious demands.

What was I feeling then? Satisfaction. Finally something was happening! I tried the results out on my dissertation — to — be. I was a little put off by the fact that the computer was working only for itself.

Then the computer began building itself! Actually, that was logical too; complex information had to be processed by units more complex than the standard ones of the TsVM — 12.

My work load increased. The printer printed out codes and numbers of logic cells, and announced where and how they should be added. At first the computer was satisfied with standard cells. I mounted them on auxiliary panels.

(I'm only beginning to realize it now, but that was precisely the moment, if you look at it academically, that I made a grave methodological error in my work. I should have stopped and figured out just what circuits and logic my complex was building for itself: the sensors, crystal unit and TsVM — 12 with an increased memory. And then, only when I had it figured out, move on. And when you think about it, a computer building itself without being programmed to do so — what a terrific dissertation topic! If I had done it right, I could have gotten a doctorate right there.

But curiosity took over. The complex was obviously straining to develop. But why? To understand man? It didn't look like it. The computer seemed quite satisfied that I understood it and diligently carried out my commands. People make machines for their own aims. But what kind of aims could a machine have? Or maybe it wasn't an aim, but a kind of innate accumulation instinct, which is found in all systems of a certain complexity, be they earthworms or electrical machines? And what limits would the complex reach?

It was then that I let loose the reins — and I still don't know whether that was good or bad….)

In mid — March the computer, which had evidently learned from Monomakh's Crown about the latest developments in electronics, began asking for cryosars and cryotrons, runnel transistors, film circuits, micromatrices…. I had no time for analysis; I was rushing all over the institute and the whole city, wheeling and dealing, lying and cajoling, trying to get my hands on all this chic stuff.

And it was all for nothing. A month later the computer “got bored” with electronics and “took up” chemistry.

Actually, this shouldn't have been unexpected either: the computer had chosen the best way to build itself. After all, chemistry is nature's way. Nature had neither soldering irons nor cranes, nor welders, nor motors, not even shovels — it merely combined chemicals, heated and cooled them, lit them, boiled them… and that's how every living thing on earth came about.

That was the point, that everything the computer did was consecutive and logical! Even its desires for me to put on Monomakh's Crown — and that was the most frequent request — were transparent.

Rather than process raw information from photo, sound, smell, and other sensors, it was much easier to use information already processed by me. In science, many do that.

But, my God, what reagents the computer demanded: from distilled water to sodium trimethyldyphtorparaamintetrachlorphenylsulfate and from DNA and RNA to a specific brand of gasoline! And the convoluted technological circuits I had to get!

The lab was changing into a medieval alchemist's den before my very eyes; it was filled with bottles, two — necked flasks, autoclaves, and stills. I connected them with hoses, glass tubing, and wires. My supply of reagents and glass was depleted in a week and I had to requisition more and more.

The noble, soothing electrical smells, rosin and heated insulation, were replaced with the swampy miasmas of acids, ammonia, vinegar, and God knows what else. I wandered lost in these chemical jungles. The stills and hoses bubbled, gurgled, and sighed. The mixtures in the flasks and bottles fermented and changed color; they precipitated, dissolved, and regenerated metallic pulsating clumps and pieces of shimmering gray threads. I poured and sprinkled according to the computer's directions and understood nothing.

Then, the computer suddenly asked for four more automatic printers. I was happy: so the computer was interested in something other than chemistry! I worked at it, got the stuff, connected it… and off it went!

(Probably, this was the point at which I created Ashby's “power information retrieval” or something like it. Who knows! That was when I became hopelessly confused.)

Now the lab sounded like a typing pool. The machines were printing out numbers. Paper ribbon with columns of numbers poured out of the machines like manna from heaven. I rolled up the tapes, picked out the words separated by spaces, translated them, and made sentences.

The “true” phrases were very strange and enigmatic. For example: “…. twenty — six kopeks, like from Berdichev.” That was one of the first. Was that a fact, a thought? Or a hint? How about this: “An onion like a steel wound….” It resembles Mayakovsky's “A street like an open wound.” But what does it mean? Is it a pathetic imitation? Or maybe a poetic discovery that contemporary poets haven't reached yet?

I deciphered another tape: “The tenderness of souls, taken in Taylor's series expansion, in the limits of zero to infinity comes down to a biharmonic function.” Well put, no?

And all of it was like that: either nonsensical excerpts or something “schizophrenic.” I was going to take some of the tapes to the mathlinguists — maybe they could figure it out — but I changed my mind, fearing a scandal. Meaningful information came only from the first printer: “Add such and such reagent to flasks 1,3, and 7. Lower the voltage by five volts in electrodes 34 — 123.” And so on. The computer remembered “to feed itself,” and therefore it hadn't “gone mad.” What was going on?

The most painful part was knowing that there was nothing I could do. I had had inexplicable things happen in other experiments, but in those, at least, I could always backtrack and repeat the experiment. If the bad effect disappeared, all the better; if not, we could analyze it. But here, there was nothing that could be replayed, nothing that could be turned back. I even dreamed of wavy, snakelike tapes in scaly numeral skins, and tried to figure out what the computer was trying to say.

I didn't even know where to hide the rolls of tape. In our institute we use the tape two ways: the ones with answers to new questions are turned in to the archives, and the rest are taken home to be used as toilet paper — very practical. I had enough rolls for every bathroom in Academic Town.

And when one fine day in April (after a sleepless night in the lab fulfilling every caprice of the computer: pouring, sprinkling, regulating) printer Number 3 gave me the following sentence: “A streptocidal striptease with trembling streptoccoci….” I knew that there was no point in continuing.

I took all the rolls out onto the lawn, ruffled them up (I might have been muttering: “Streptocide, huh? Berdichev? Tenderness of the soul? Onions?… I don't remember) and set fire to them. I sat by the bonfire, keeping warm, had a cigarette and understood that the experiment was a failure. And not because nothing had happened, but because I had gotten a mess. Once for a lark Valery Ivanov and I welded from all the materials we had on hand a “metallosemiconducting potpourri” in a vacuum oven. We got a breathtakingly colored ingot; we broke it down for analysis. Each crumb of the ingot showed all the effects of solid body — from tunnel to transistor — and they were all unsteady, unstable, and unreproducible. We threw the potpourri in the garbage.

And this was the same thing. The point of scientific solutions is to find what is necessary in the mass of qualities and of effects in an element, in matter, or in a system, and to throw out the chaff. And it hadn't worked here. The computer had not learned to understand my information. I headed to the lab to turn off the current.

And in the hallway my eye fell on a tank — a beautiful vessel made of transparent teflon, 2 x 1.5 x 1.2 meters; I had acquired it back in December with the idea of using the teflon for other things, but I hadn't needed it. And the tank gave me a final and completely mad idea. I put all the printers in the hall and put the tank in their place. I brought all the wires from the computer, the ends of the piping, tubing, and hoses, poured out the remains of the reagents, covered the smelly mess with water and turned to the computer with the following speech:

“Enough numbers! You can not express the world in binary numbers, understand? And even if it were possible, what point is there to it? Try it another way: in images, in something tangible, damn you!”

I locked the lab and left with a firm determination to get some rest. I hadn't been able to sleep for the entire past week.

Those were a pleasant ten days — calm and soothing. I slept late, charged my batteries, took showers. Lena and I took the motorcycle outside town, went to the movies, took long walks, kissed. “Well, how are our solid — state circuits doing?” she would ask. “They haven't gone soft yet?” I would answer in kind and change the subject. “I have nothing to do with any circuits, or computers, or experiments!” I would remind myself. “I don't want to be hauled away from the lab one day in a very cheery mood wearing a jacket with inordinately long sleeves.”

But something was bothering me. I had run off, abandoned the project. What was going on in there? And what had happened? (I was already thinking of the experiment in the past tense.) It looked as though, through random information, I had started some kind of synthesis in the complex. But what kind of crummy synthesis was it? Synthesis of what?

Chapter 8

The waiter wrapped the bottle in a towel and opened it. The room was filled with a roar and smoke, and unshaven cheeks and a green turban rose to the ceiling.

“What's this?”

“It's a genie!”

“But 1 ordered champagne! Let me have the complaint book.”

— A contemporary fairy tale

A man was walking toward me on the paved path. I could see the green trees and white columns of the old institute building behind him. I was headed for the accounting office. Everything was normal in the grounds. The man had a slightly rolling gait, swinging his arms, and he didn't quite limp, but stepped more carefully with his right foot than with his left. I noticed that particularly. The wind made his raincoat flap and ruffled his red hair.

My first thought: “Where have I seen this guy?”

The closer we got to each other, the more I saw of him: his sloping forehead with a widow's peak and steep ridges over the eyes, flat cheeks with a reddish, week — old stubble, haughtily pursed lips, and bored, squinting eyes. No, we had definitely met before. It was impossible to forget an obnoxious face like that. And that jaw — my God! — it should be worn only in the closet.

My second thought: “Should I say hello or walk by indifferently?”

And then everything around me no longer existed. I tripped on the flat pavement and stood stock still. The person coming toward me was me.

My third thought (edited): “What the….”

The man stopped in front of me.


“H — h — hello….” A thought sprang up from the chaos that ruled in my brain. “Hey, are you from the film studio?”

“The film studio? I recognize my independence!” My double smiled. “No, Val, the studios aren't planning a movie about us yet. Though now, who knows.”

“Listen here, I'm not Val to you, but Valentin Vasilyevich Krivo — shein! Some pushy guy like you….”

The man smiled, obviously enjoying my anger. I could tell that he was much more prepared for our meeting and was relishing his upper hand.

“And… be so kind as to explain: who you are, how you come to be on institute grounds, and why you are wearing that makeup and outfit to look like me?”

“Sure,” he said. “Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein, head of the New Systems Lab. Here's my pass, if you like.” He displayed my worn, used pass. “And I came here from the lab, naturally.”

“Ah, so that's it?” It's important not to lose your sense of humor in situations like this. “Very nice to meet you. Valentin Vasilyevich, you say? From the lab? I see… uh — huh.”

And then I realized that I believed him. Not because of the pass, of course. You could fool anyone with a pass. Either it was the realization that the scar over my eyebrow and the brown birthmark on my cheek, which I always saw in the mirror on my left, actually were supposed to be on the right side of the face. Or it was something in his behavior that absolutely ruled out the possibility of a practical joke. I was scared. Had I really gone mad during the experiments and run into my split personality? “I hope no one sees us. I wonder, to anyone else, am I here alone or are there two of us?” I thought.

“So — from the lab, you say?” I tried tricking him. “Then why are you coming from the old building?”

“I was in accounting. Today's the twenty — second.” He took out a roll of five — ruble notes and counted off part of it. “Here's your cut.”

I took the money and counted it. Then:

“Why only half?

“Oh, God!” my double sighed expressively. “There are two of us now, you know.”

(That exaggerated, expressive sigh — I'll never sigh like that. I didn't know you could demean someone with a sigh. And his diction — if you can call the absolute absence of diction diction! — do I really spit out words like that?)

“I took the money from him, and that means he really exists,” I thought. “Or are my senses tricking me? Damn it, I'm a researcher, and I couldn't care less about senses until I know what's going on here!”

“So you maintain that… you've come out of a locked and sealed lab?”

“Uh — hum. Definitely from the lab. From the tank.”

“From the tank, my, oh…. What do you mean, from the tank?”

“Just that, from the tank. You could have set up some handles. I barely managed to get out.”

“Listen, drop this! You don't think you could really convince me that you were. that I was. no, that you were made by the computer?”

The double sighed once more in the most demeaning manner possible.

“I have the feeling it's going to take you a long time to get used to the idea that this has happened. I should have known. After all, you saw that there was living matter in the flasks?”

“Big deal. I've seen mold, too, growing in damp places. But that didn't mean that I was present at the conception of life. All right, let's assume that something living did arise in the flasks. I don't know. I'm no biologist. But what do you have to do with it?”

“What do you mean?” Now it was his turn to get angry. “And what did you think it would create: an earthworm? a horse? an octopus? The computer was collecting and processing information about you. It saw you. It heard, smelled, and observed you. It counted the biowaves of your brain! You were around so much you callused its eyes! There you are. If you have motorcycle parts you can only make a motorcycle, not a vacuum cleaner.”

“Hm, all right. Then where are the shoes, the suit, the pass, and the raincoat from?”

“Damn it! If it can create a person, how hard do you think it is for the computer to grow a raincoat?”

(The victorious glint in the eye, the clumsy gestures, the arrogant tone of voice. Am I really that obnoxious when I feel I'm right about something?)

“Grow?” I felt the fabric of his coat. A shudder ran through me. A raincoat wasn't like that.

Major things don't fit into the brain immediately, at least not in mine. I remember when I was in school I had to take charge of a delegate to a youth festival, a young hunter from the Siberian tundra; I showed him around Moscow. He took in the sights implacably and calmly: the bronze statues at the Economic Achievement Exhibits, the subway escalators, the heavy traffic. And when he saw the tall building of MSU, he simply said, “With poles and skin you can build a small hut — with rock, a big one.” But when we were in the lobby of the Nord Restaurant, where we had stopped off for a bite, he came face to face with a stuffed polar bear with a tray in its paws — and that amazed him! That was what happened to me. My double's raincoat resembled mine very much, down to the ink spot that I had added one day trying to get my pen to work. But the fabric was more elastic and almost greasy. The buttons were attached to flexible outgrowths, and there were no stitches in the fabric. “Listen, is it attached to you? Can you take it off?” My double was driven to a frenzy.

“That does it! It's not necessary to undress me in this cold wind to prove that I'm you! I can explain it without that. The scar over the eye — that's when you fell down when your father was teaching you to ride a horse. The torn ligament in the right knee happened during the soccer finals in high school. What else do I have to remind you of? How you used to secretly believe in God as a child? How as a freshman you used to boast that you had known many women, when actually you lost your virginity in Taganrog just before graduation?” (That son of a bitch! The examples he picked!) “Hm, all right; but you know, if you're me, I'm not so crazy about me.

“Neither am I,” he grunted. “I thought I had some smarts….” His face tensed. “Shhhh, don't turn around!” Footsteps behind me. “

“Good day, Valentin Vasilyevich,” said Harry Hilobok, assistant professor, sciences candidate, scientific secretary and institute busybody.

I didn't get a chance to open my mouth. My double grinned marvelously and nodded:

“Good day to you, Harry Haritonovich!”

A couple walked past us in the light of his smile. A plump brunette clicked her heels merrily on the pavement and Hilobok, walking in step, minced along as though he was wearing a tight skirt.

“Perhaps, I didn't quite understand you, Lyudochka,” he buzzed in his baritone, “but I, from the point of view of not understanding completely, am only expressing my opinion.”

“Harry has a new one,” my double announced. “You see, even Hilobok accepts me, and you have doubts. Let's go home!”

The only explanation I can think of for following him so quietly to Academic Town was that I was completely flabbergasted.

In the apartment, he headed straight for the bathroom. I heard the shower running, and then he stuck out his head:

“Hey, sample number one, or whatever your name is. If you want to make sure that I'm all in order, come on in. And you can soap my back while you're at it.”

So I did. It was a living person. And he had my body. By the way, I didn't expect such thick folds of fat on my stomach and sides. I have to work out with my barbells more often.

While he washed, I paced the room, smoked and tried to accustom myself to the fact that a computer had created a man. A computer had re — created me. Oh, nature, is this really possible? The ridiculous medieval ideas about a homunculus, Wiener's idea that the information in a man could be decoded into impulses, transmitted over any distance, and reordered into a man again, in the form of an image on a screen, Ashby's assertion that there was no major difference between the work of the brain and of a computer (but of course, Sechenov had maintained that earlier, too)…. all that had just been clever talk to keep the brain going. Try to do something practical with any of those ideas!

And now it looked as if it had been done? There, on the other side of the door, splashing and snorting, was no Ivanov, Petrov, or Sidorov — I would have tossed them out on their ear — but me. And those rolls with the numbers? I guess I had burned the “paper” me.

I was trying to extract short, usable truths from the combinations of numbers, but the computer went deeper than that. It stored information, combining it this way and that, compared it through feedback, picked and chose what was necessary and at some level of complexity “discovered” life!

And then the computer developed it to the level of man. But why? I wasn't trying to do that!

Now, as I think about it calmly, I can figure it out. It did exactly what I was trying to do. I wanted a machine that could understand man and that's all. “Do you understand me?” “Oh, yes!” answers the listener, and both go about their business, happy with each other. In conversation it's much easier. But in experiments with computers I shouldn't have confused understanding with agreement. That's why (better late than never) it's important to figure out what understanding is.

There is practical, or goal, understanding. You put in a program; the computer understands it and does what is expected of it. “Attack, Prince!” and Prince grabs the pants cuff of a passerby, “Gee!” and the horses turn to the right. “Haw!” and they go left. This kind of primitive understanding of the gee — haw type is accessible to many living and inanimate systems. It is controlled by achievement of the goal, and the more primitive the system, the simpler the goal must be and the more detailed the programmed task.

But there is another understanding: mutual understanding. A complete transferral of your information to another system. And for this, the system receiving the information must not be any simpler than the system giving the information. I didn't give the computer a goal. I was waiting for it to finish building itself and making itself more complex. But it never finished — and that's natural. Its goal became the complete understanding of my information, not only verbal, but all of it. (The goal of a computer — that's another loose concept that shouldn't be played with. Simply put, information systems behave according to certain laws that somewhat resemble the rudiments of thermodynamics. In my system sensors, crystal units, TsVM — 12 had to reach an informational equilibrium with the environment — just as the iron ingot in the oven must achieve temperature equilibrium with the coals. This equilibrium is mutual understanding. And it cannot be achieved on the level of circuitry nor on the level of simple organisms.)

And that's how it happened. Only man is capable of mutual understanding with man. And for good mutual understanding, a close friend. My double was the product of informational equilibrium between the computer and me. But, incidentally, the pointers on the informational scales never did match up. I wasn't in the lab then and didn't meet face to face with my newly hatched double. And later everything went differently for us anyway.

In a word, it was horrifying how poorly I had run the experiment. The only point in my favor was that I had finally thought of setting up the feedback mechanism.

An interesting thought: if I had run the experiment strictly, logically, throwing out dubious variants, would I have gotten the same results? Never in my life! I would have come up with a steady, sure — fire Ph.D. thesis, and nothing more, hi science, mostly mediocre things happen — and I was prepared for mediocrity.

So everything was all right? Why does sadness gnaw at me? Why do I keep harping on my mistakes? I succeeded. Because it didn't go by the rules? Are there any rules for discoveries? Much happens by accident that you can't put down to your scientific vision. What about Galvani's discovery, or X — rays, or radioactivity, or electronic emissions, or any discovery that is the basis of some science or other and is related to chance. I still don't understand a lot of it? That's the situation with many scientists. Nothing to be upset about. Then why this self — torture?

I guess the problem is something else: you can't work that way now. Science has become very serious now, not like in the days of Galvani and Roentgen. This is the way, without thinking, that you can come up with a force that can destroy the whole world instantly — with a brilliant experimental proof….

My double came out of the bathroom rosy pink and in my pajamas and settled in front of the mirror to comb his hair. I stood behind him. Two identical faces stared out from the mirror. Only his wet hair was darker.

He took out the electric razor from the closet and plugged it in. I watched him shave and almost felt that I was visiting him; his behavior was so casual and at — home. I couldn't resist speaking up:

“Listen, do you at least realize how unusual this situation is?” “What? Don't bother me!” He was obviously beyond being interested in the fact.

The graduate student put down the diary and shook his head: well, Valentin the Original didn't know people very well.

He had also been in shock. His sense had told him that he woke up in the tank, understanding everything: where he was and how he got there. Actually, his discovery began then. And his insolence was only a cover — up. He was searching for a mode of behavior that would keep him from being reduced to a lab guinea pig.

He picked up the diary.

“But you appeared from a machine, not from a mother's womb! From a machine, do you understand?”

“So what? Appearing from a womb is such a snap? A human's birth is much more mysterious than my appearance. Here you can trace the logical sequence, but there? Will it be a boy or a girl? Will it favor father or mother? Will it be smart or a dope? It's all in a fog! That business seems normal only because of its frequency. Here, the computer took down information and re — created it. Like a tape recorder. Of course, it would have been better if it had re — created me from Einstein… but what can you do? If you tape boogie — woogie you can't expect to hear a Tchaikovsky symphony.”

No, I wasn't a boor like him. He must have been acutely aware of the ticklishness of his situation and didn't want me to realize it. And what was there that I couldn't realize. He appeared out of flasks and bottles, like a medieval homunculus, and he was wildly angry. I've often noticed that people who have an inferiority complex are always more obnoxious than the rest.

And he was trying to behave with the spontaneity of a newborn. A baby isn't overwhelmed with the event (Man is born!), but instead immediately makes a fuss, sucking, and messing his diapers.

Graduate student Krivoshein merely sighed and turned the page.

“But do you feel all right?”

“Absolutely!” He splashed on some after — shave. “Why shouldn't I feel all right? A computer is an apparatus without fantasy. I can just picture what it might have done if it had an inkling of imagination. But I'm fine: I'm not a two — headed monster. I'm young, healthy. I'm going to have dinner and go to Lena's. I've missed her.”


He watched me with interest, sparks dancing in his eyes.

“Yes, we're rivals now! Listen, you seem to have a very primitive attitude toward all this. Jealousy is old — fashioned and in poor taste. And who are you jealous of, anyway? Think about it. If Lena's with me, it doesn't mean that she's being unfaithful to you. You can only be unfaithful with another man, someone different, more attractive, for instance. And as far as she's concerned, I'm you. Even if we have children, you can't consider yourself cuckolded. You and I are identical — all the same genes and chromosomes. Easy!”

He had to hide behind the closet door. I grabbed a dumbbell and headed for him.

“I'll kill you! Don't try logic with me. I'll give you logic, you homunculus! I gave you life and I'll kill you, understand? Don't you dare even think about her!”

My double fearlessly stepped out from the closet door. He was frowning.

“Listen, Taras Bulba, put down the dumbbell. If you're going to talk like that, we might as well agree on some terms right now. I'm leaving 'homunculus' and 'kill' aside as products of your hysteria. And as for locutions like 'I gave you life'… well, you didn't. I exist without any help from you, and you might as well forget any ideas of being my lord and master.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just that. Put down the dumbbell. I'm serious. If you want precision, I was created despite your plans simply because you didn't stop the experiment in time, and when you wanted to, it was too late. In other words,” he snorted, “it's quite analagous to the situation when you appeared in this world because of your parents' carelessness.”

(Look, he knows everything! It's true. My mother once said, after some prank of mine, to make me obey:

“I was going to have an abortion, but changed my mind. And you….”

She shouldn't have said that. I was unwanted. I might never have existed.)

“But as distinguished from your mother, you didn't bear me, didn't suffer labor pains, didn't nurse and clothe me,” he continued. “You didn't even save me from death because, after all, I existed before this experiment. I was you. I don't owe you my life, my health, my engineering degree — nothing! So let's start even.”

“And even with Lena?”

“With Lena… I don't know. But you… you….” Judging by his expression he wanted to add something, but held his tongue, exhaling sharply. “You have to respect my feelings as I do yours, understand? I love Lena too, you know. And I know that she's mine — my woman, understand? I know her body, the smell of her skin and hair, her breath… and how she says, 'Really, Val, you're just like a bear! and how she wrinkles her nose.”

He suddenly stopped. We looked at each other, overwhelmed by the same thought. “Let's get to the lab!” I ran for my coat first.

Chapter 9

If you want a cab and fate offers a bus, take the bus; at least it runs on a schedule.

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 90

We made a beeline through the park: the wind whistled in the branches and in our ears. Asphalt — colored clouds blanketed the sky.

The lab smelled like a warm swamp. The ceiling bulbs glowed like lighthouses in a fog. I stepped on a hose near my desk that had not been there before, and pulled my foot away. The hose was moving!

The flasks and bottles were covered with thick gray dust; there was no way to tell what was going on inside them. Streams of water bubbled from the distillers and the relays clicked in the thermostats. In a far corner, which could not be reached through the jumble of wires, tubes, and hoses, the lights on the TsVM — 12's control panel blinked at me.

There were many more hoses than before. We made our way through them, as if through a jungle of lianas. Some hoses were contracting, pushing lumps through themselves. The walls of the tank were covered with some kind of mold. I wiped it off with my sleeve.

In the golden, murky medium there was a silhouette of a man. “Another double? No….” I looked closely. The contours were a woman's, contours that I could never confuse with anyone else's. A hairless head fluttered in front of my face.

There was some mad logic in the fact that precisely now when the double and I were fighting over Lena, the computer was struggling with our problem. I was scared.

“But the computer doesn't know her!”

“You do. The computer is re — creating her from your memory.” We were whispering for some reason. “Look!”

A skeleton was beginning to form beyond Lena's ghostly outline. Her feet solidified into white cartilage and toes; her ankle and shin bones took shape. Her spine formed into a long white form and ribs branched off from it; her shoulder blades grew. Seams appeared on her skull, and the outline of her eye sockets formed. I can't say that it was a pleasant sight — seeing your girlfriend's skeleton — but I couldn't take my eyes off it. We were watching something that no one had ever seen — how a machine creates a person!

“With my memory, my memory…” I was thinking feverishly. “But that's not enough. Or has the computer mastered the laws of constructing a human body? From where? I certainly don't know them!” The bones in the tank were becoming sheathed with dark blue strips and coils of muscle, and they were covered by a yellowish layer of fat, like a chicken's. The circulatory system shot red throughout the body. All this fluctuated in the mixture, changing shape and form. Even Lena's face, with its closed lids, behind which we could see her watery eyes, was distorted by horrible grimaces. The computer seemed to be trying on ways to make a person.

I know too little about anatomy in general and female anatomy in particular to judge whether the computer was building Lena correctly. But soon I sensed that something was wrong. The original contours of her body were changing. The shoulders, which just a few minutes ago had been round and soft, became angular and grew in breadth. What was it?

“Her feet!” my double shouted. “Look at her feet!”

I looked at her feet that took a size thirteen shoe — and when I understood I broke out in cold sweat. The computer had run out of information on Lena and was finishing her off with my body! I turned to my double; his forehead was glistening with sweat too.

“We have to stop it!”

“How? Cut off the current?”

“We can't. That will erase the memory bank in the computer. Turn on the cooling…?”

“To slow down the process? It won't work. The computer has large heat reserves….”

The distorted body in the tank was taking on clearer features. A transparent mantle moved over it, and I recognized the style of the simple dress in which I liked Lena best. The computer with an idiot's diligence was dressing its creation in it.

I had to order the computer to stop, convince it… but how?

“Right!” My double leaped over to the glass case, took out Monomakh's Crown, pushed the “translation” button on it, and handed it to me. “Put it on and start hating Lena; think how you want to destroy her… go ahead.”

I grabbed the shiny helmet, turned it around in my hands, and gave it back.

“I can't….”

“Jerk! What else is there? That thing will be opening its eyes soon and….”

He pulled on the helmet and started screaming and waving his arms:

“Stop, computer! Stop immediately, do you hear me? You're not creating a good copy of a human! Stop, you idiot! Stop right now!”

“Stop, machine, do you hear me?” I turned to the microphones. “Stop, or we'll destroy you!”

It's disgusting to remember that scene. We, men who were used to pushing buttons to stop and direct any process, shouting and explaining… and to what? A collection of test tubes, electric circuits, and hoses. Phooey! We were panicked.

We yelled some more in disgusting voices, when the hoses near the tank began shaking with energetic convulsions, and the hybrid specimen in the tank was covered with a white mist. We shut up. Three minutes later the mist cleared. There was nothing in the gold liquid. Only ripples and color gradations spreading from the center to the edges.

“Wow…” said my double. “I somehow never appreciated the fact that man is seventy percent water. Now I've got it.”

We made our way to the window. The humid stuffiness made my body sticky. I unbuttoned my shirt, and so did my double. It was evening. The sky had cleared. The windows of the institute across the way reflected the sunset as though nothing had happened. They reflected it like that on every clear evening — yesterday, last month, last year — when this had not existed. Nature was making believe nothing had happened.

The skeleton enveloped in translucent tissue stayed in my mind.

“Those anatomical details, the grimaces… brrrr!” said the double, lowering himself into a chair. “I don't even feel like seeing Lena right now.”

I said nothing, because he had expressed my thoughts. It was over now, but then… it's one thing to know, even intimately, that your woman is a human being made of flesh, bones, and innards, and another thing to see it.

I took out the lab journal and looked at the last few notes… vague and pointless. It's when the experiment is working or when you get a good idea that you write at length; here I had:

April 8. Decoded numbers, 800 lines. Unsuccessful.

April 9. Decoded extracts from five rolls. Didn't understand a thing. Some kind of schizophrenia!

April 10. Decoded with the same results. I added to the flasks and bottles: Numbers 1, 3 and 5–2 liters of glycerine; Numbers 2 and 7 — 200 ml. of tyomochevina; and 2–3 liters of distilled water to all of them.

April 11. “Streptocidal striptease with the trembling of streptococci.” That does it….

And now I'll pick up the pen and write:

April 22. The complex has re — created me, V. V. Krivoshein, Krivoshein Number 2 is sitting next to me scratching his chin. A real joke!

And then I was engulfed with a wave of satanic pride. After all, this was some discovery! It encompassed systemology, electronics, bionics, chemistry, and biology — everything you could want and then some. And I did it all. How I did it was another question. But the important thing was me, ME! Now I could invite the State Commission and demonstrate the emergence of a new double in the tank. I could imagine the look on their faces. And my friends would have to say: “Boy he really did it! That Krivoshein is something!” And Voltampernov would run over to see…. I had an uncontrollable urge to giggle; only the presence of my double stopped me.

“Who cares about friends and Voltampernov,” I heard my voice say and I didn't realize at first that it was my double speaking. “This, Val, is a Nobel Prize!”

That's right: the Nobel Prize! My portrait in all the papers… and Lena, who treats me a little high — handedly now — and why not, she's beautiful, and I'm not — will appreciate me then. The run — of — the — mill name Krivoshein (once I tried looking in the encyclopedia for famous people with my name and didn't find any; there was a Krivoshilkov and a Krivonogov, but no Krivosheins yet) will resound. Krivoshein! The same….

I was made uneasy by these meditations. My vain thoughts disappeared. Really, what would happen? What should be done with this discovery?

I shut my journal.

“So, are we going to create in our image? A crush of Krivosheins? I guess we could make others if we recorded them into the computer. Damn it! This is… it just doesn't make sense.”

“Hm. And things were so peaceful….” My double shook his head.

Precisely. Everything had been peaceful — “Nice weather, miss. Which way are you going?” “In the opposite direction!” “Me too. What's your name?” “What's it to you?” — and so on right up to the wedding palace, the maternity ward, a licking for killing a cat with a slingshot, and burning the hated zoology textbook after graduation. The chairman of the Dneprovsk Registration Office put it so well in his article: “The family is the method of propagating the species and increasing the state's population.” And suddenly — hail science! — there is a rival method; we pour and sprinkle reagents from the local chemistry manual, pass input through sensors, and get a person. And a mature one at that, with muscles and an engineering degree, with habits and life experience.

“It looks as if we're taking aim at the most human of man's qualities: love, parenthood, childhood!” I was beginning to shudder. “And it's profitable. It's efficient and profitable, the most terrible things in our rationalistic age!”

My double looked up and there was anxiety and tension in his eyes.

“Listen, but why is that terrible? Okay, we worked — rather, you worked. So you made an experimental determination and on its basis a discovery. A method of synthesizing information into a person. The ancient dream of the alchemist…. That's very nice! Once upon a time kings financed ventures like that very generously. Of course, they chopped off the heads of researchers who had failed, but if you think about it, they were right. If you can't do it, don't take it on. But nothing will happen to us. Just the reverse. Why is it so terrible?”

“Because this isn't the Middle Ages,” I thought to myself. And not the last century. And not even the beginning of the twentieth century, when everything was still ahead of us. In those days, discoverers had the moral right to spread their arms and say: well, we had no idea things would turn out badly…. We, their lucky descendants, don't have that right. Because we know. Because it's all happened before. It had all happened before: gas attacks, according to science; Maidanek and Auschwitz, according to science; Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to science. Plans for global warfare — science with the use of mathematics. Limiting warfare — also science…. Decades had passed since the last world war. The ruins had been rebuilt. Fifty million corpses had rotted and enriched the earch. Hundreds of millions of people had been born and grown up — and the memory had not faded. It was horrible to remember and more horrible to forget. Because it had not become part of the past. The knowledge remained: people can do that.

The inventors and researchers are merely specialists in their field. To obtain new information from nature they have to expend so much energy and inventiveness that they have neither strength nor ideas left for thinking outside their fields — what will this do in real life? These people and their chosen fields — people for whom any change or discovery is just another means of achieving old aims: power, wealth, influence, and buyable pleasures. If we gave them our process, they would see only one new thing in it: it's profitable! Should they make doubles of famous singers, actors, and musicians? No, that isn't profitable. It's better to produce records and posters. But it would be profitable to mass — produce people for a special goal: voters to beat a political opponent (much easier than spending hundreds of millions on the usual election campaign), women for brothels, workers in rare fields, cannon — fodder soldiers… and even specialists with narrow vision and tame temperament who would continue inventing without getting involved in things that were none of their business. A man with a specific function — a man — thing. What could be worse? How do we deal with things and machines that have outlived their usefulness and have fulfilled their function? They're recycled, burned, compressed, discarded. And you can treat men, things, the same way.

“But that's the way it is over there….” My double waved in a vague direction. “Our society wouldn't permit it.”

“And we don't have people who are ready to use everything from the ideas of communism to false radio reports, from their work situation to quotes from the classics in order to become wealthy, and have a good position, and then to get more and more for themselves, at no matter what cost? People who see the least attempt to reduce their privileges as a phenomenal catastrophe?”

“We do,” my double agreed. “But people basically are good or else the world would have turned into a mass of bums attacking each other a long time ago, and died without thermonuclear war. But… if you don't count the minor natural disasters — floods, earthquakes, epidemics — people are at fault in all their problems, including the most horrible ones. It's their fault that they submitted to what they shouldn't have submitted to, agreed to what they should have fought, and thought that they weren't involved. At fault that they did work that paid better instead of work that was needed by everyone and themselves. If more people on earth coordinated their work and business with the interests of mankind, we would have nothing to worry about with our discovery. But that's not the way it is. And that's why, if there is at least one influential and active bastard in dangerous proximity, our discovery will turn into a hideous monstrosity.”

“Because the application of scientific discoveries is mere technology. Once upon a time, technology was invented to help man in his battle between man and man. And in that use technology didn't solve any problems; it only increased them. Think how many scientific, technological and sociological problems there are now instead of the one that was solved twenty years ago: how can you synthesize helium from hydrogen?

“If we announce our discovery, life will become even scarier. And we will have fame. Every man, woman, and child will know exactly whom to curse and why.”

“Listen, maybe you're right.?” my double asked. “We saw nothing, know nothing. People have enough terrible discoveries to deal with as it is. Let's cut off the juice and turn off the faucets. How about it?”

“And right away, the problem no longer exists. I'll write off the reagents I used up and make up some excuse about the work. And I'll start work on something simpler and more innocent….” “I'll go to Vladivostok to be a fitter in the ports.” We stopped talking. Venus blazed over the black trees outside the window. A cat cried with a child's voice. A howling note pierced the grounds' silence — they were running tests on a new jet engine in Lena's construction bureau. “Work goes on. It's right; 1941 cannot be repeated.” I was thinking about it so that I could put off my decision a little longer. “Deep underground, plutonium and hydrogen bombs are going off. Highly paid scientists and engineers are determined to master nuclear arms. And pointy — nosed rockets peer into space from their concrete silos all over the world. Each is pointed at its objective; they're wired up. Computers are constantly testing them: any problems? As soon as the predetermined time of reliability runs out on an electronic unit, technicians in uniform unplug it and quickly, quickly, replace it with another unit, as though the war they absolutely had to win was about to start any second. Work goes on.”

“Nonsense!” I said. “Humanity isn't mature enough for many things — nuclear energy and space flight — so what? The discovery is objective reality; you can't cover it up. If not us, someone else will come upon it. The basic idea of the experiment is simple enough. Are you sure that they will deal with the discovery better than we? I'm not. That's why we must think what to do to keep this discovery from becoming a threat to mankind.”

“It's complicated,” my double sighed and stood up. “I'll take a look at what's happening in the tank.” He was back in a flash. Stunned. “Val, there's… father's in there!”

Radio operators have a sure sign to go by: if a complex electronic circuit works the first time after it's put together, expect trouble. If it doesn't foul up in the trials, then it will embarrass the workers when the inspection commission is there; if it manages to pass the commission, then it will exhibit one flaw after another in mass production. The weak points always show up.

The computer was trying to achieve informational equilibrium not with me, the direct source of information, but with the entire information environment that it found out about from me, with the entire world. That's why Lena appeared and that's why my father appeared.

And that's why all the rest happened. That's why my double and I worked nonstop for a whole week. This activity of the computer's was a logical extension of its development; but from a technical point of view it was an attempt with lousy equipment. Instead of a “model of the world” the tank contained a nightmare.

I can't describe how my father made his appearance in the tank — it's too terrible. That's the way he had looked on the day he died: a flabby, heavy old man with a broad shaven face and a cloudy mane of white hair around his skull. The computer had picked the last and most depressing memory of him. He had died before I got there. He wasn't breathing, but I still tried to warm his cooling body.

Then I dreamed about him several times, and it was always the same dream: I rub my father's cold body for all I'm worth and it gets warmer and he starts breathing, with difficulty at first, a death rattle, and then normally. He opens his eyes and gets up out of bed. “I was sick a little, son,” he says in an apologetic voice. “But I'm fine now.” The dream was like death in reverse.

And now the computer was creating him so that he could die once more before our eyes. We understood rationally that this was not our father but a regular information hybrid that could not be permitted to be completed; we knew that it would be a body, or a mad creature, or something along those lines. But neither he nor I could put on Monomakh's Crown and command the computer to stop. We avoided looking at the tank and each other.

Then I walked over to the panel and pulled the switch. It was dark and quiet in the lab for a moment.

“What are you doing?” My double ran over to the panel and turned the juice back on.

The filter condensers did not discharge in that second, and the computer went on working. But everything disappeared from the tank.

Later I saw all the chaos of my memory in the tank: my fifth — grade botany teacher Elizaveta Moiseevna; Klava, my love interest in those days; some old acquaintance with a poetic profile; the Moldavian driver I glimpsed briefly at a bazaar in Kishinev…. It's a hell to list them all. It wasn't a “model of the world” either; everything was formed vaguely, in fragments, the way it's stored in human memory, which knows how to forget. For instance, only Elizaveta Moiseevna's small, stern eyes under forever frowning brows were right, and the only thing left of the Moldavian was the sheepskin hat lowered all the way to his mustache….

We took turns sleeping. One always had to keep watch at the tank to put on the crown in time and say “No!”

My double was first to think of sticking a thermometer in the tank. (It was nice to observe the pleasure he derived from his first independent creative act!) The temperature was 104°F.

“It's feverish delirium.”

“We should give it an aspirin,” I joked.

But, thinking about it, we decided to lower the computer's temperature by pouring quinine into the flasks and bottles that fed the tank. The temperature went down a few degrees, but the delirium continued. The computer was combining images the way they occur in a nightmare — the face of the institute's first department head, Johann Johannovich Kliapp, smoothly took on the features of Azarov, who then grew Hilobok's mustache….

When the temperature dropped some more, flat images, like on a screen, of political figures, movie stars, productive workers with miniature Boards of Commendation, Lomonosov, Faraday, and Maria Trapezund, a popular local singer, appeared on the surface of the liquid in the tank. These two — dimensional shadows — some in color, some in black and white — would appear for a second and then melt away. It looked as if my memory was drying out.

On the sixth or seventh day (we had lost track of time) the temperature of the golden liquid dropped to 98.6°.

“It's normal!” And I went off to get some sleep.

My double stayed on duty.

That night he shook me awake.

“Get up! The computer is making eyes.”

I sent him to hell. He poured a mug of water on my head. I had to go.

At first, I thought that there were bubbles in the liquid. But they were eyes — white spheres with pupils and colorful irises. They floated up from the bottom, bounced against the transparent sides of the tank, watched our movements and the blinking lights on the TsVM — 12's control panel. They were blue, gray, brown, green, black, huge horse's eyes with violet irises, cat's eyes, glowing and with a vertical pupil, and black bird's eyes. It was a collection of every kind of eye I had ever seen. Since they had no lids or lashes, they seemed surprised.

By morning eyes were appearing near the tank as well: muscular growths stuck out from the hoses, ending in lids and eyelashes. The lids opened. New eyes stared at us intently and expectantly. The infinite silent stares were driving us crazy.

And then. feelers and trunks grew like bamboo runners from the tank, the flasks, and hoses. There was something naive and childlike in their movements. They interwove, touched the apparatus and bottles, the room. One little feeler reached an uninsulated clamp, touched it, and jerked back, drooping.

“Hey, this is getting serious!” my double said.

It was. The computer was moving from a contemplative method of getting information to an active one, and was growing its own sensors and executive mechanisms for it. Whatever you called this development — a striving for informational equilibrium, self — construction, or a biological synthesis of information — you couldn't help being impressed by the tenacity and power of the process.

But after all we had seen, we were in no mood for awe or academic curiosity. We guessed how it might end.

“Enough!” I picked up Monomakh's Crown. “I don't know if we'll be able to make it do what we want. ”

“It would help if we knew what we wanted,” my double added.

“. but for a start we have to keep it from doing what we don't want.”

“Get rid of the eyes! Get rid of the feelers! Stop gathering information! Get rid of the eyes. Get rid of the feelers! Stop!” We repeated these thoughts through the crown, spoke them into the microphones.

But the computer went on moving its feelers and following us with its hundreds of eyes. It was beginning to look like a showdown.

“The result of our work,” my double said.

“So!” I said. “If that's the way.” I punched the tank. All the feelers quivered and stretched out for me. I moved away. “Val, turn off the water! Disconnect the feed hoses!”

“Computer, you're going to die. Computer, you'll die of hunger and thirst if you don't obey.”

Of course, that was crude and obvious, but what else could we do? My double slowly turned the handle on the water supply. The stream of water from the distillers turned into a drip. I clamped the hoses. The feelers shuddered and drooped. They started curling up and going back into the tank. The eyes dimmed, teared, and crinkled.

An hour later everything was gone. The liquid in the tank was once more golden and clear.

“That's better!” I took off the crown and rolled up the wires.

We turned the water back on, removed the clamps and stayed in the lab until late at night, smoking, talking about nothing, waiting to see what would happen. We didn't know what we were more afraid of: a new delirium from the computer or that the system, muzzled so harshly, would fall apart and cease existing. On the first day we talked about “covering up the discovery.” But now we couldn't stand the thought that it might cover itself and disappear.

My double and I took turns approaching the tank, sniffing carefully, afraid to smell decay or degeneration; not trusting the thermometer we kept touching the sides of the tank and the warm living hoses. Were they cooling off? Were they enflamed with fever again?

But the air in the room stayed warm, humid, and fresh, as if there was a large, clean animal in the room. The computer was alive. It simply wasn't undertaking anything without us. We had tamed it!

After midnight, I looked at my double, like a mirror. He was blinking with tired red eyes and smiled:

“Everything seems okay, Shall we go to bed?”

There was no artificial double for me. A comrade, a colleague, was sitting next to me, just as tired and happy as I was. And — how strange! — I had not felt joy at meeting him in the institute grounds and I hadn't been soothed by the phantasmagoric memory show in the tank… but now I was at peace and very happy.

It's really true? the most important thing for a person is to feel in control of a situation.

Chapter 10

Is not the zealous search for causal connections another expression of the property instinct in man? Even here we seek to know what belongs to what.

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 10

We went out into the institute grounds. The night was warm. Our exhaustion made us forget that we should not appear in public together, and we remembered only in the entry. Old man Vakhterych stared at us with his inebriated eyes. We froze.

“Ah. Valentin Vasilyevich!” the old man exclaimed happily. “Done for the day?”

“Yes…” we replied in unison.

“Good.” Vakhterych rose heavily and unlocked the front door. “And nothing will happen to the institute, and no one will steal it, and have a good evening, and I still have to sit here. People go off to enjoy themselves, and I have to sit here….”

We ran out into the street and hurried off.

“That's something!” I noticed that the facade of the new institute building was decorated with multicolored lights. “What's the date?”

My double counted on his fingers:

“The first… no, the second of May. Happy holiday, Val!”

“Belatedly… oh, boy!”

I remembered that I had a date with Lena for May I to go out with some of her co — workers and to go for a motorcycle excursion on the second. I had blown it. She would never forgive me.

“And Lena is out dancing right now. somewhere with somebody,” my double muttered.

“What do you care?”

We fell silent. Buses, decorated with branches, raced up and down the street. Neon rocket boosters were set up on rooftops. We could see people dancing, singing, drinking, through open windows.

I lit a cigarette and started rethinking my observations of the computer — womb (as we finally decided to call the complex). “First of all, it's not a computer — oracle or a computer — thinker, because there is no winnowing of information in it, only combinations — sometimes meaningful, sometimes not. Secondly, it can be controlled not only by energy (clamping the hoses, turning off water and power — in other words, grabbing it by the throat), but also by information. Of course, for now it responds only to the command 'No! — but it's a beginning. I think the most convenient way to command it is through Monomakh's Crown with brain waves. Third, the computer — womb, while very complex, is still only a machine, an artificial creation without a goal. The striving for stability, informational equilibrium, is not a goal but a characteristic, just like that of an analytic scale. But it is expressed in a more complex way: through synthesis in the form of living matter via external information. A goal always lies in solving a problem. There was no problem — and so it fooled around from an excess of possibilities. But…”

“… man must set its goals,” my double picked up; I was no longer amazed by his ability to think with me. “As for all other machines. Therefore, as the bureaucrats say, all responsibility lies with us.”

I didn't feel like thinking about responsibility. You work and work unstintingly — and then you get stuck with responsibility, too. And people go off to enjoy themselves. We missed the holiday. What dopes! And my whole life will go by in a smelly lab.

We turned down a chestnut — lined avenue which led to Academic Town. A couple strolled ahead of us. My double and I felt a pang — we poor, sober, hungry, and lonely men. That couple fit in so beautifully in the gaslit avenue. Tall and elegant, he held her by the waist. She bent her full mane of hair toward him. We unthinkingly sped up, in order to pass them and be spared the lyrical sight.

“We'll play some music, now, Tanechka! I have records that'll make you salivate!” Hilobok's buzzing voice reached us, and we were knocked for a loop. The charm of the lovely picture faded. “Harry has another new one,” my double announced. As we got closer we recognized the girl, too. Just recently she had come to the institute in school uniform to do her probation work; now, I think, she worked as a lab assistant in the digital computer lab. I liked her looks: full lips, a soft nose, and big brown eyes that were dreamy and trusting.

“And when Arkady Arkadievich is on vacation or on a business trip abroad, I have to make many of his decisions,” Harry said, spreading his peacock tail. “And even when he's here… what? Of course, it's interesting, why not?”

There goes little Tanechka, her head bent forward towards Hilobok's shoulder, and assistant professor Harry seems like a shining knight of Soviet science to her. Maybe he even has radiation sickness like the hero of the movie Nine Days in One Year? Or maybe his health is completely undermined by his scientific work, like the hero of the movie Everything Will Remain for the People? And so she melts, imagining herself as his heroine, the little fool…. Your scientific boyfriend is in fine shape, don't you worry, Tanechka. He hasn't worn himself out with science. And he's leading you directly to your first major disillusionment in life. He's a pro in that department….

My double slowed down and said under his breath:

“Should we beat him up? It would be very easy; you go off to visit some friends and establish an alibi, and I'll….”

He beat me to it by a split second. He spoke hurriedly in general, to prove his individuality. He understood that we thought the same way. But since he spoke up so soon, I immediately developed the second mechanism of proving my individuality: opposition to someone else's idea.

“Over the girl, you mean? The hell with her; if not her, then he'll get someone else.”

“Over her, and everything in general. For the good of my soul. Remember the stink he made over our work?” His eyes narrowed. “Remember?”

I remembered. I was working in Valery Ivanov's lab then. We were developing storage blocks for defense computers. Serious things were going on in the world, and we were working hard, not observing days off or holidays, and turned in the work six months before the government's deadline. And soon the institute well — wishers related Hilobok's pronouncement on us: “In science people who turn in research before it's due are either careerists or brown — noses, or both!” His pronouncement became popular. We have quite a few who are in no danger of being called careerists or brown — noses from working the way we did. Sensitive and hotheaded, Valery kept wanting to have a heart — to — heart with Hilobok, then had a fight with Azarov and left the institute.

My fists grew heavy with the memory. Maybe my double could provide the alibi, and I'd…? And then I pictured it: a sober intelligent man beating another intelligent man to a pulp in front of a girl. What was that! I shook my head to chase out the image.

“No, that's not it. We can't succumb to such base feelings.”

“Then what is if?”

“Then we must at least protect those dreamy eyes from Harry's sweaty embrace.” My double bit his lip thoughtfully and pushed me under a tree (taking the initiative again). “Harry Haritonovich, could I see you privately for a moment?”

Hilobok and the girl turned around.

“Ah, Valentin Vasilyevich! Of course… Tanechka, I'll catch up with you.” The assistant professor turned toward my double.

“Aha!” I got his plan and raced through the trees' shadows. Everything worked perfectly. Tanechka got as far as the fork in the road, stopped, looked around and saw the same man who had called her boyfriend away just a few minutes before.

“Tanechka,” I said. “Harry Haritonovich asked me to convey his apologies. He won't be returning. You see, his wife is back and…. Where are you going? I'll walk you!”

But Tanechka was running away, hands over her face, straight for the bus stop. I headed home.

A few minutes later my double came in.

“Wait,” I said before he could open his mouth. “You told Harry that Tanechka is the fiancee of your friend, who's a boxing champion?”

“And a judo black belt. And you told her about his wife?”

“Right. Well, at least we've found one positive application of our study.”

We got undressed, washed, and got ready for bed. I took the bed and he took the folding bed.

“By the way, speaking of Hilobok,” my double said, sitting down on his bed. “We didn't mention that our retrieval topic will be discussed at the next scientific council? If Harry hadn't reminded me so nicely, I would never have known. 'It's time, Valentin Vasilyevich. After all you've been working six months now, and it hasn't been discussed yet. Of course, random retrieval is a good thing, but you've been requisitioning equipment and materiel, and I keep getting calls from accounting, wanting to know what to call the account. And there's talk in the institute that Krivoshein can do what he wants while everyone else has to fill out forms in triplicate. I, of course, understand that you must do all this for your dissertation, but you must give your topic form and bring it into the overall plan…. The creep brought up work as soon as I told him about the boxing and judo.”

“If Hilobok is to be believed, all science is done to keep accounting happy.”

I explained the situation to my double. When the computer was spewing out those crazy numbers, I had called Azarov in total despair and asked to see him for advice. As usual, he was too busy and suggested that it would be better to have a scientific council; he would ask Hilobok to arrange it.

“And by then, the little red egg had hatched,” my double finished. “So shall we report it? With the intention of writing a master's dissertation. Even Hilobok understands that it's important.”

“And I'll bring you in as a demonstration at my defense?”

“We'll see who demonstrates whom,” he replied. “But basically… it's impossible. We can't.”

“Of course we can't,” I agreed glumly. “And we can't apply for a patent either. It looks as if I have only expenses so far on this deal, no profits.”

“I'll give you the money, you cheapskate! Listen, what do you need with the Nobel Prize?” My double narrowed his eyes. “If the computer — womb can easily make people, then money…”

“… is easier than anything! With the right paper and all the water marks… well, why not?”

“We'll each buy a three — bedroom co — op,” my double said, leaning back against the wall dreamily.

“And a Volga car…”

“And two dachas each: one in the Crimea for rest and one on the Riga seacoast for respectability.”

“And we'll make a few more of us. One will work so that public outcry will be stifled…”

“… and the others will be parasites to their heart's content…”

“… with a guaranteed alibi. Why not?”

We stopped and looked at each other in disgust.

“God, what depressing small — timers we are!” I grabbed my head. “We take a major discovery and try it on for size on stupid stuff: a dissertation, a prize, a dacha, beating people up with alibis… This is a Method of Synthesizing Man! And we're….”

“It's all right, it happens. Every person has petty thoughts once in a while. The important thing is to keep them from turning into petty acts.”

“Actually, so far I see only one positive application of the discovery: you can see your faults much better when they're in someone else.”

“Yes, but is that any reason for doubling the earth's population?”

We were sitting opposite each other in our underwear. I was reflected in him, a mirror image.

“All right, let's get serious. What do we want?”

“And what can we do?”

“And what do we understand about this business?”

“Let's begin with what's what. The ideas of Sechyonov, Pavlov, Weiner, and Ashby agreed on one point: that the brain is a machine. Petruccio's experiments on controlling the development of a human fetus is another move in this direction. The striving for greater complexity and universality in technological systems — just take the desire of microelectricians to create machines that are as complex as the human brain!”

“In other words — our discovery is no accident. The way was prepared for it by the development of ideas and technology. If not this way, then another; if not now, then in a few years or decades; if not us, then someone else would discover it. Therefore, the question comes down to…”

“. what can we and must we do in that period — maybe a year, maybe decades, no one knows, but it's better to take the shorter time — that we have as a head start on the others.” “Yes.”

“How is it usually done?” My double rested his cheek on his hand. “An engineer has the desire to create something lasting. He looks for a client. Or the client looks for him, depending on who needs whom more. The client gives him a technological problem: 'Use your ideas and your knowledge to create such and such. It must have the following parameters and withstand the following… and it should guarantee the production annually of no less than such — and — such percent. The amount is, and the time allotted is. The sanctions follow general usage…. A contract is signed and then it is done. We have an idea and we want to develop it further. But if a client comes along now and says: 'Here's the dough; go to work on your system for doubling people and it's none of your business why I want it' — we wouldn't agree, right?”

“Well, it's a little early to be worrying about that. The method hasn't been researched. What kind of production could there be? Who knows, maybe you'll disintegrate in a few months.” “I won't. Don't count on it.” “What's it to me? Live for all I care.”

“Thanks! You are such a boor! Just unbelievable! Would I like to give you a good punch!”

“All right, all right, don't get off the subject. You misunderstood me. I meant that we still don't know all the aspects and possibilities of the discovery. We're at the very beginning. If we compare it to radio, say, then we're at the level of Hertz's waves and Popov's spark transmitter. What now? We must research the possibilities.”

“Right. But that doesn't change things. Any research that is applied to man and human society must have a definite goal. And there's nobody around to give us a two — page, typewritten list setting a technological task. But we don't need it. We must determine for ourselves what goals man now faces.”

“Well… before, the goals were simple: survival and propagation of the species. In order to achieve them you had to worry about wildlife, skins for cover, and fire. beating off animals and acquaintances with a cudgel, digging in the clay to make a cave without any conveniences, and so on. But modern society has solved these problems. Get a job somewhere and you'll have the minimum you need for living. You won't perish. And you can have children; if worst comes to worst, the government will even take on the responsibility of bringing them up for you. So now, it follows that people should have new desires and needs.”

“More than you can count! Comfort, recreation, interesting and not boring work. Refined society, various symbols of vanity — titles, awards, medals. The need for excellent clothing, delicious food, embroidery, a suntan, news, books, humor, ornamentation, fads….” “But none of that is important, damn it! That can't be important. People can't, and don't want to return to their previous primitive existence; they squeeze everything from modern life that they can — it's only natural. But there has to be some goal behind their desires and needs, no? A new goal of existence.”

“In brief, what is the meaning of life? Rather a complicated problem, wouldn't you say? So, I knew we would end up here!” My double got up, moved to get the kinks out of his body, and sat down again. So — starting out with jokes and getting more and more serious — we discussed the most important aspects of our work. I've often gotten around to discussing the meaning of life — over cognac or on a coffee break — as well as social structure, and the destiny of mankind. Engineers and scientists like to gab about worlds the way housewives do about high prices and lack of morality. Housewives do it to prove their diligence and goodness, and the researchers do it to demonstrate the breadth and scope of their vision to their friends. But this conversation was much more difficult than the usual engineering bull: we overturned ideas as if they were snowdrifts. It was distinguished by responsibility: after this conversation deeds and actions would follow the words — deeds and actions that allowed no room for mistakes.

We weren't sleepy any more.

“All right. Let's assume that the meaning of life is to satisfy needs. No matter what kind. But what desires and needs of mankind can we satisfy by creating new people? The artificially created people will have their own needs and desires! It's a vicious circle.”

“No, no. The meaning of life is to live. Live a full life, freely, interestingly, creatively. Or at least to aim for that… and then?”

“Fully! Meaning of life! Aiming!” My double jumped up and started pacing the room. “Interests, desires, mammy, what abstractions! Two centuries ago these approximate concepts would have sufficed, but today…. What the hell can we do if there are no exact data on man? What vectors are used to describe striving? What units measure interests?”

(We were discouraged by that then — and we're discouraged by that now. We were used to exact, precise concepts: parameters, clearances, volume of information in bits, action in microseconds — and we came face to face with the terrifying vagueness of knowledge about man. It's good enough for a conversation. But please, do tell me how can you use them in applied research, where a simple and harsh law reigns: if you know something imprecisely, that means you don't know it.)

“Hmmmmmm… I envy the men who invented the atom bomb.” My double got up and leaned in the balcony doorway.” 'This device, gentlemen, can destroy a hundred thousand people' — and it was perfectly clear to them that Oak Ridge had to be built… And our device can create people, gentlemen!”

“Some people do research on uranium; others build factories to enrich uranium with the necessary isotopes… others construct the bombs… others in high political circles give the order… others drop the bombs on still others, the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki… and others…. Hey, wait a minute, I'm on to something!”

My double regarded me with curiosity.

“You see, we're talking very logically, and we can't find our way out of the paradoxes, the dead questions like 'What's the meaning of life? and you know why? There is no such thing in nature as Man in General. On earth there are all kinds of different people, and their desires are varied, and often contradictory. Let's say a man wants to live well and for that he needs weapons. Or take this: a young man dreams of becoming a scientist but he doesn't feel like chewing on the granite of science — he doesn't like the taste. And these different people live in different circumstances, find themselves in varying situations, dream about one thing and strive for another, and achieve yet a third… and we're trying to fit them all in one mold!”

“But if we move on to individuals and take into account all the circumstances…” my double frowned, “it'll be a mess!”

“And you want everything to be as simple as the creation of storage blocks, eh? Wrong case.”

“I know it's a different case. Our discovery is as complex as man himself… and we can't throw anything out or simplify anything to make our work easier. But what constructive ideas are flowing out of your great insight that all men are different? I mean constructive, that will help our work.”

“Our work… hm. It's tough….”

Our conversation hit another dead end. The poplars rustled downstairs by the house. Someone walked into the courtyard, whistling a tune. A cool breeze came in from the balcony.

My double was staring dully at the lamp and then shoved his finger second — knuckle deep into his nostril. His face expressed the fierce pleasure of natural exercise. Something itched in my right nostril, too, but he had beat me to it. I watched myself picking my nose and I suddenly realized why I hadn't recognized my double when we met on the institute grounds. Basically, no one knows himself. We never see ourselves — even before the mirror we unconsciously correct ourselves, trying to look better and more intelligent. We don't hear ourselves, because the vibrations of our thorax reach our eardrums through the bones and muscles of our head as well as through the air. We do not observe ourselves from the side.

My double cleaned his nose, and then his finger, and then looked up and laughed, when he understood what I was thinking.

“So, are people different or the same?”

“Both. A certain objective lesson can be drawn here — not from your lousy manners, of course. We're talking about the technical production of a new information system — Man. Technology produces other systems: machines, books, equipment…. The common factor in every produced system is similarity, standardization. Every book in a given press run is like all the others, down to the typos. And in equipment of a given series, the needles, the scales, the class of precision, and the length of the guarantee are the same. The differences are minor: in one book the text is a little clearer; in one piece of equipment there's a scratch or it has a slightly higher margin of error at high temperatures…”

“… but within the class of precision.”

“Natch. In the language of our science, we could say that the volume of individual information in each such artificial system is negligibly small in comparison with the volume of information that is common in all the systems of a given class. And for man that is not the case. People contain common information, biological knowledge of the world, but each person has an enormous amount of personal, individualized information. You can't overlook it — without it man is not man. That means that every person is not standard. That means…” “… that all attempts to find the optimum parameters for man with an allowable margin of error of no more than five percent is a waste of time. Fine! Do you feel better?” “No. But that's the harsh truth.”

'Therefore, we can't hide in our work from these terrible and mysterious concepts: man's interests, personality, desires, good and evil… and maybe even the soul? I'm going to quit.”

“You won't. By the way, are they really so mysterious, these concepts? In life people all understand what's what. You know, they judge a base act and say, 'You know, that was lousy! and everyone agrees.”

“Everyone except the louse. Which is very much to the point.” He slapped his thighs. “I don't understand you! It's not enough that you got burned on the simple word understanding? Now you want to give the computer problems with good and evil? A machine doesn't catch things between the lines, doesn't get jokes, is indifferent to good and evil… Why are you laughing?”

I really was laughing.

“I don't understand how you cannot understand me. After all you are me!”

“That's tangential. I'm a researcher first, and then I'm Krivoshein, Sidorov, or Petrov!” He was obviously all worked up. “How will we work if we don't have precise concepts of the crux of the matter?”

“Well. the way people worked at the dawn of the age of electrotechnology. In those days everyone knew what phlogiston was, but no one had any idea about tension, voltage, or induction. Ampere, Volt, Henry, and Ohm were merely last names. They tested tension with their tongues, the way kids check batteries nowadays. They discovered current by copper buildup on cathodes. But people worked. And we… what's the matter with you?”

Now my double was doubled up with laughter.

“I can just imagine it: twenty years from now there'll be a unit measuring something and they'll call it a krivoshein! Oh, I can't stand it!”

I fell down on my bed laughing, too.

“And there'll be a krivosheinmeter… like an ohmmeter.”

“And a microkrivoshein or a megakrivoshein… a megakri for short. Ho — ho!”

I like remembering how we roared. We were obviously unworthy of our discovery. We laughed. We got serious.

“Historical examples are inspirational, of course,” my double said. “But that's not it. Galvani could blather as much as he wanted over 'animal electricity, Zeebeck could stubbornly insist that thermo — stream gave rise not to thermoelectricity, but to thermomag — netism — the nature of things was not altered by that. Sooner or later they hit on the truth, because the important thing was the analysis of information. Analysis! And we're dealing with synthesis. And here nature is no guideline for man: it builds its own system; he builds his. The only truths for him in this business are possibility and goal. We have the possibility. And the goal? We can't formulate it.”

“The goal is simple: for everything to be good.”

“Again with good?” My double looked at me. “And then we have childish prattle about what is good and what is bad?”

“Skip the childish prattle! Let's operate with these arbitrary concepts however clumsy they may be: good, evil, desires, needs, health, talent, stupidity, freedom, love, longing, principle — not because we like them, but because there aren't any others. They don't exist!”

“I have nothing to counter that. There aren't any others, that's true.” My double sighed. “I can tell this is going to be a lot of work!”

“And let's talk it all out. Yes, things should be good. All the applications of the discovery that we permit to enter the world must be ones that we are sure of, that will not bring any harm to people, only good. And let's put aside our discussion of how to measure benefit. I don't know what units it takes.”

“Krivosheins, of course,” my double countered.

“Cut it out! But I know something else: the role of an intellectual monster on a world scale does not appeal to me.”

“Me neither. But just a small question: do you have a plan?”

“For what?”

“A method for using the computer — womb so that it only gives benefit to mankind. You see this would be an unprecedented method in the history of science. Nothing that has been invented and is being invented has that magical quality. You can poison yourself with medicine. You can use electricity for lighting homes or for torturing people. Or for launching a rocket with a warhead. And that holds for everything.”

“No, I don't have a concrete plan as yet. We don't know enough. Let's study the computer — womb and look for that method. It must exist. It's not important that there is no precedent for it in science — there is no precedent for our discovery either. We will be synthesizing precisely that system that does good and evil, and miracles, and nonsense — man!”

“That's all true,” my double agreed after some thought. “Whether we find that great method or not, there's no point in undertaking work like that without a goal like it. They manage to make people without us, somehow or other….”

“So, let's end the session properly, all right?” I suggested. “Let's make up a work project like in a contract: we the undersigned: humanity, called the client, and the party of the first part; and the heads of the New Systems Laboratory of the Institute of Systemology, V. V. Krivoshein and V. V. Krivoshein, called the Executors, and the party of the second part, agree to the following….”

“Why so much about a contract and a technical task — after all in this work we represent the interests of the client ourselves. Do it straight and simple!”

He got up, took down the Astra — 2 cassette recorder from the closet, put it on the table, and turned on the microphone. And we — that is, I, Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein, thirty — four years old, and my artificial double, who appeared on this earth a week ago — two unsentimental, rather ironic people — swore a vow.

I guess it might have seemed high — flown and ridiculous. There was no fanfare, no flags, no rows of students at ease. The morning sky was pale, and we stood before the mike in our underwear, and the draft from the balcony chilled our feet… but we made the vow in dead earnest.

And so it will be. No other way.

Chapter 11

If, when you come home at night, you mistakenly drink developing fluid instead of water, you might as well have some fixative, or you'll leave things half — done.

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 21

The next day we started building an information chamber in the laboratory. We marked off an area of two meters square, covered it with laminated insulation panels and dumped into it all the microphones, analyzers, feelers, and objectives — all the sensors that had been strewn colorfully all over the place by the computer — womb. This was our idea: a living object would get into the chamber, and would gambol, feed, fight with one of its own kind, or just ramble, surrounded by sensors, and the computer would receive information for synthesis.

The “living objects” are calmly chewing their cabbage to this day in their cages in the hall. My double and I were always getting into fights about who would tend them. They were rabbits. I traded the bionics lab a loop oscillograph and a GI — 250 generator lamp for them. One rabbit (Albino Vaska) had something like a bronze crown on his head made out of electrodes implanted for encephalograms.

On May 7 we had a minor but unpleasant occurrence. Usually my double and I coordinated all our work fairly well, so that we would not appear in public simultaneously or repeat ourselves. But that damned lab of experimental apparatus could drive anyone to distraction.

Back in the winter I had ordered a universal system of biosensors from the lab. I prepared the blueprints, a mounting diagram, ordered all the necessary materials and parts — they only had to put it together. And it still wasn't finished! I needed to install the system in the chamber, and I didn't have it. The trouble was that the lab was chronically changing directors. One guy turns over the work; the other accepts it — naturally there's no one to do the work. Then the new director has to acquaint himself with the situation, introduce reforms and changes (a new broom sweeps clean), and no work gets done. Meanwhile the people who have placed orders scream and fume, go to Azarov with their complaints, and a new director is put on the job. See above. I even tried influencing the workers directly, slipping them some booze, getting P657 transistors for their radios — and to no avail. Eventually the reserve of people willing to head that lab dried out, and H. H. Hilobok took over, while continuing his other duties, at half pay — Harry is like this: he'll take on any job. He'll organize anything, reorganize, so long as he is not left one on one with nature, with those horrible pieces of equipment that can't be bossed and bullied but which show things as they really are and what needs to be done.

That day I had called Gavryushenko at the lab. And I heard the same vague muttering about a lack of mounting wire. I freaked out and rushed over to have it out with Harry.

I was so mad that I didn't notice that Harry seemed a little confused, and I told him off. I promised to turn the work over to schoolchildren and shame the lab completely.

And when I got back to the lodge, I encountered my sweet double, pacing and cooling off. It seems he had just seen Hilobok five minutes earlier and had the exact same conversation with him.

Damn… at least we hadn't bumped into each other.

In our first experiments we decided to make do without the universal system. The sensors we had were enough for the rabbits. And when we moved on to homo sapiens… by then maybe the lab of experimental apparatus might even have an efficient director.

The scientific council took place on May 16. The might before, we went over what should be said and what should be omitted. We decided to introduce the original idea, that a computer with elements of random transmission might and must construct itself under the influence of random information. The work would be an experimental test of that idea. In order to determine the limits that the computer can reach in constructing itself, the following equipment, material and apparatus would be necessary — see appended list.

“To prepare their minds, just like the supply department, this will be just right,” I said. “So, that's what I'll report.”

“But, why, does it have to be you?” my double asked, militantly raising his eyebrows. “When the rabbits need cleaning it's me; when it's the scientific council, it's you, huh? What kind of discrimination against artificial people is this? I demand we do it by lot!”

And that's how I innocently earned a talking to for “tactless behavior at the scientific council of the institute and for rudeness toward Doctor of Technical Sciences Professor 1.1. Voltampernov.”

No, it really hurt. If it had been to me that the former hotshot of lamp electronics, honored worker of the republic in science and technology, doctor of technical sciences, and professor, Ippolit Illarionovich Voltampernov (oh, why wasn't I a master of ceremonies?) had let loose his: “And does engineer Krivoshein know, since he bids us to give a computer its head, so to speak, without rudder or wheel, what it will want to do in building itself, and how much thought — out, I dare add, work our qualified specialists here at the institute put into the planning and projecting of computer systems? Into the development of blocks of these systems? And the elements of these systems? Does he have any idea, this engineer who's vulgarizing principles here before us, of at least the methodology, so to speak, of the optimal projection of flip — flops on the 6N5 bulb? And doesn't it seem to engineer Krivoshein that his ideas — regarding the fact the computer, so to speak, will manage the optimal construction better than the specialists — are an insult to the majority of the workers of this institute who are fulfilling, I dare say, work that is important for our country's economy? I would ask the engineer what this would give the….” And each time the word “engineer” sounded like a cross between “student” and “son of a bitch.”

I wish I could have reminded the respected professor in my reply that apparently the same sort of insult was the motive force of his pen in the past, when he wrote the exposes about “the reactionary pseudoscience of cybernetics,” but a shift in wind made him take up the work, too. If the professor was worried about being left out after the success of the present work, he shouldn't have been: he could always return to semiscientific journalism. And in general, it's about time to learn that science functions with the use of statements on the heart of the matter and not with the aid of demagogic attacks and sputterings.

It was after these words, taken down by the stenographer, that Voltampernov began yawning convulsively and clutching his breast pocket.

But citizens, that was not me! The report was given by my artificial double, made exactly like me by the proposed method. Voltampernov was angry and embarrassed for three days after that.

I could understand him!

(But, by the way, at the moment when Azarov signed the official order for a reprimand and it reached the office, I was the one who was around. And it was at me that Aglaya Mitrofanovna Garazha, the tough woman head of the office, yelled in front of a large group:

“Comrade Krivoshein, here's a reprimand for you! Come in and sign for it!”

And like a lamb, I went in and signed. Isn't fate cruel?)

Actually, the hell with the reprimand. The important thing is that the topic was supported! By Azarov himself. “An interesting idea,” he said, “and a rather simple one; it can be checked.” “But this isn't an algorithmic problem, Arkady Arkadievich,” assistant professor Prishchepa, the most orthodox mathematician of our institute, interjected. “And if it isn't algorithmic, it shouldn't exist?” the academician parried. (Listen to the man.) “In our times the algorithm of scientific retrieval is not reduced to a collection of rules of formal logic.” Now that's talking! Azarov never liked “random retrieval,” I knew that. What was this? Could my double have conquered him with his logic? Or had our chief suddenly developed some scientific tolerance? Then we would get along fine.

In a word, the vote was eighteen yea's and one (Voltampernov) nay. The careful Prishchepa abstained. My double, who did not have a learned degree and title, did not vote. Even Hilobok voted for it, and he believes in the success of our work. We won't let you down, not to worry.

By the way, my double brought some amazing news: Hilobok was writing his dissertation.

“On what?”

“An undisclosed topic. The scientific council was hearing the agenda for the next meeting, and on point it was: “Discussion of the work on his dissertation for a learned degree as doctor of technical sciences by H. H. Hilobok. The topic is marked top secret.” See, we sit here in the lab, cut off from the mainstream of science.”

“An undisclosed topic — that's fantastic!” I even disconnected my welding iron. We were in the lab, mounting sensors in the chamber. 'Terrific. No open publication, no audience at the defense… shhh, comrades, top secret! Everyone walks around respecting it from the start.”

The news hurt me to the quick. I couldn't do my masters and here Harry was going to be a doctor. And he was. The technique involved was well known: you take a secret circuit or construction that is being developed (or even has been developed) somewhere, and add on some compilative verbiage using secret primary sources.

“Ah, he's not the first, and he's not the last!” I said, picking up my soldering iron. “Good old Harry! Of course, we could give him a bit of… but is the game worth the candle?”

We were a little uneasy about it. 1 was always angry when I had to watch a bootlicker making progress at full speed; I experience angry thoughts and begin to despise myself for the reasonable recalcitrance of my extremities. But really, the game wasn't worth the candle. We had so much serious work for just the two of us, and my position was not yet secure — I shouldn't get involved. Especially not with Harry Hilobok. Ivanov and I once tried to catch Harry in plagiarism. Valery appeared at a seminar, proved everything. But all that happened was that the scientific council recommended that Hilobok rework his article. And then he tried ruining our lives for ever after….

And these public face slappings in front of an audience — with the usual discussions afterward, when people no longer greet each other — are not my piece of cake. When they occur I experience an uncontrollable urge to beat it to my lab, turn on all the equipment, take down data in my journal, and try to do something worthwhile. Now if there were some way to fix guys like Harry with lab methods — you know, the power of engineering thought….

It was worth thinking about. The act that the Voltampernovs and Hiloboks roll out onto the broad highway of science is proof that there are not enough smart people around. And this is in science, where the intellect is the fundamental measuring stick of a man's qualities. How about in other fields? They put up want ads: “Lathe workers wanted” or “Wanted: engineers, technicians, accountants, and supply personnel.” But no one writes “Wanted: smart people. Apartment comes with job.” Are they too embarrassed? Or are there no apartments? You could start off without the apartments…. Why hide it? Smart people are wanted, and how! They're wanted for life, for the development of society.

“We must… make doubles of smart people!” I shouted. “Smart, active, decent people! Val, that's the best application!”

He looked at me with undisguised sadness.

“You beat me to it, you bum.”

“And this will be a reward for those people for living,” I went on. “Society needs you. You know how to work fruitfully, live honestly. And that means there should be more like you! Maybe even several; there'll be enough work for all. Then we'll crowd out the Hiloboks….”

This idea revived our self — respect. We felt ourselves on top of things once more and spent the day dreaming about how we would multiply talented scholars, writers, musicians, inventors, heroes…. It really wasn't a bad idea!

Chapter 12

A scientific fact: the sound “a” is pronounced without any pressure of the tongue, by exhaling; if at the same time you open and close your mouth, you get “ma… ma….” That is the origin of a child's first word.

That means that the child is taking the path of least resistance. What are the parents so happy about?

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 53

The first few weeks I was still wary of my double: what if he suddenly disintegrated or dissolved? Or went berserk? He was an artificial creation. Who knew? But no way! He fiercely put away sausage and yogurt drinks in the evening after a tough day at the lab, enjoyed his long baths, liked to have a smoke before going to sleep — in a word, just like me.

After the Hilobok incident, we carefully plotted out the day every morning: where would we be, doing what? When would we eat at the cafeteria? At what time would each of us go through the entryway, so that Vakhterych would forget in the rush that one Krivoshein had already gone through. In the evening we would tell each other whom we had seen and what we had talked about.

The only thing we didn't discuss was Lena. It was as though she did not exist. I even took her photo off my desk. And she didn't come over or call — she was mad at me. And I didn't call her. And neither did he… but she was still there.

It was May, a poetic, glorious southern May — with blue twilights, nightingales in the park, and huge stars above the trees. The chestnut blooms were falling and the acacias were flowering. The sweet, troubling scent penetrated the lab, disturbing our work. We both felt gypped. Ah, Lena, my dear, passionate Lena, reveling in love, why is there only one of you on earth?

That's the childishness the appearance of my double and “rival” bought out in me! Until then Lena and I had the usual relationship between two worldly — wise people (Lena had divorced her husband the year before; I'd had my share of broken affairs, which turned me into a confirmed bachelor) that comes not so much as the result of mutual attraction but of loneliness. In a relationship like that neither gives himself completely. We enjoyed our dates and tried to pass time in an interesting way; she would spend the night at my place or I would stay at hers; in the mornings we would both be a little uncomfortable and separate with relief. Then I would be drawn to her again and she to me… and so on. I was in love with her beauty (it was great to watch men looking at her in the street or in a restaurant), but I was often bored by her conversation. And as for her… well, who understands a woman's heart? I often had the feeling that Lena expected something more from me, but I never tried to find out what. And now, where there was danger of losing Lena, I suddenly felt that I needed her desperately, and that without her my life would be empty. And we're all like that!

But the construction of the chamber was going along swimmingly. In complex work like that it's important to understand each other — and in that sense it was an ideal arrangement: my double and I never explained anything to each other; one simply replaced the other and went on working. We never argued once about placement of sensors, or where to set up the plugs and sockets or screens.

“Listen, are you getting a little worried by our idyl?” my double asked one day, as we changed guard. “No questions, no doubts. We're going to make mistakes in complete harmony.”

“What else? You and I have four arms, four legs, two stomachs, and one head for the two of us — the same knowledge, the same life experience….”

“But we argued, contradicted each other!”

“We were simply thinking aloud together. You can argue with yourself. Man's thoughts are mere variants of actions and they are always contradictory. But we strive to act together.”

“Yes… but that's no good! We're not working now, we're plugging away. An extra pair of hands doubles the work capacity. But our main function is to think. And here… listen, original, we have to become different.”

I couldn't imagine what serious repercussions this innocent conversation would have. And, as they write in novels, the repercussions didn't make us wait.

It began with my double buying a volume of Human Physiology intended for secondary phys ed courses. I won't try to guess whether he had really planned to distinguish himself from me or whether he was simply attracted by the bright green cover and gold lettering, but as soon as he opened it, he began muttering “Aha! Now that's something….” as if he were reading a catchy mystery, and then he bombarded me with questions:

“Do you know that nerve cells can be up to a meter long?”

“Do you know what controls the sympathetic nervous system?”

“Do you know what protective inhibition is?”

Naturally, I didn't know. And he went on telling me with a neophyte's enthusiasm about the sympathetic nervous system regulating the functions of the internal organs, that protective inhibition or pessimum, occurs in nerve tissue when the strength of excitation exceeds the permissible level.

“You understand, the nerve cell can refuse to react to a powerful stimulus in order not to destroy itself! Transistors can't do that!”

After that textbook he bought up a whole batch of biology books and journals, read them cover to cover, quoting his favorite passages, and got mad when I didn't share his enthusiasm. And why should I have?

Graduate student Krivoshein set aside the diary. Yes, that's precisely how it all began. In the dry academic lines of the books and articles on biology he suddenly sensed the proximity of truth that he had earlier felt only when reading the works of great writers, when, delving into the actions and emotions of invented characters, you begin to learn something about yourself. Then he did not realize it, because the physiology facts had enthralled him, so to speak. But he was upset that original Krivoshein was left cold by it all. How could that be? They were the same; that meant that they had to react to things the same way. Did that mean that he, the artificial Krivoshein, wasn't the same? That was the first hint.

The second time he overslept — sitting up reading until dawn — I blew up:

“Why can't you get interested in mineralogy — or production economics — if you want so badly to be different! At least you'd get some sleep.”

We were talking in the lab, after my double arrived past noon, sleepy and unshaven; I had shaved in the morning. That kind of discrepancy was enough to worry our institute friends.

He gave me a haughty and surprised look.

“Tell me, what's that liquid?” and he pointed at the tank. “What is its composition?”

“Organic, of course, why?”

“It's not tricky. Why did the computer — womb use ammonia and phosphoric acid? Remember? It kept spewing out formulas and amounts and you ran around all the stores like a crazy man, trying to find it all. Why did you get it?! You don't know? I'll explain: the computer was synthesizing atpase and phosphocreatine — the sources of muscle energy. Understand?”

“I understand. But what about Galosha brand gas? And calcium rhodanate? And the methylviolet? And the other three hundred reagents?”

“I don't know yet. I have to read up on biochemistry….”

“Uh — huh… and now I'll explain to you why I got those disgusting things: I was fulfilling the logical conditions of the experiment — the rules of the game, and nothing else. I did not know about your superphosphate. And the computer probably didn't know that the formulas it was turning out in binary code had such fancy names — because nature is made up of structural elements and not names. And yet it asked for ammonia, phosphoric acid, and sugar, and not for vodka or strichnine. It figured out for istelf, and without textbooks, that vodka is a poison. And it created you without textbooks and medical encyclopedias — it modeled you from life.”

“I don't see why you're so uptight about biology. It has everything we need: knowledge about life and man. For example. ” — he was trying to convince me, it was obvious — “did you know that conditioned reflexes are created only when the conditioning stimulus precedes an unconditioned one? The cause precedes the effect, understand? The nervous system has a greater sense of causality than any philosophy book! And biology uses more precise terms than everyday life. You know, how they write in novels: 'The unconscious terror widened his pupils and made his heart beat faster. The sympathetic system went to work. There you go….” He leafed through his green bible. “ 'Under the influence of impulses passing through the sympathetic nerves, the following occurs: a) dilation of pupils through the contraction of the radial muscles of the iris; b) increase in frequency and strength of heart contractions…. That's more like it, eh?”

“It's more like it, but how much more? It doesn't occur to you that if biology had made giant strides in this business, then it would be biologists and not us who are synthesizing man?”

“But on the basis of this knowledge we'll be able to make an analysis of man.”

“An analysis!” I remembered the “streptocidal striptease with trembling….” my near breakdown, the punchtape bonfire — and I got mad. “All right, let's drop our work, memorize all the textbooks and pharmacology manuals, master a mass of terms, acquire degrees and baldspots, and thirty years or so from now let's return to our work so that we can label it all properly. This is phosphocreatine, and this is gluten… a hundred billion labels. I've already tried to analyze your appearance. I've had it. The analytic path will take us the devil knows where.”

In a word, we didn't reach an agreement. This was the first instance when each of us retained his opinion. I still don't understand why he, a systems technologist, engineer, electronics man… well, the same as I… why he turned to biology. We have an experimental setup the likes of which he'll never find in any other lab. We have to run experiments, systemize the results and observations, establish general laws — I mean general ones, informational ones! Biological laws are a step backward in comparison. That's the way it's done. And that's the only way to study the best way to control the computer — womb — after all, it's a computer first and foremost.

The arguments continued during the next few days. We got angry, attacking one another. Each one used arguments in his favor.

'Technology shouldn't be copying nature; it should be complementing it. We plan to double good people. And what if the good man is limp? Or lost an arm in the war? Or is in lousy health? After all, a man's worth is usually known when he has reached a ripe old age; and then his health isn't what it used to be, and maybe senility is creeping up… and we should re — create all that, too?”

“No. We have to find a way to iron out the wrinkles in the doubles. Let them be healthy, attractive.”

'There, you see!”

“What see?”

“In order to correct the doubles you need biological information on a good constitution and attractive looks. Biological!”

“I don't see that. If the computer, without any biological preparation, can re — create an entire person, then why does it need information when it will be creating parts of a person? Biological information won't help you construct a person or an arm. You crazy person, why can't you see that we can't delve into all the details of the human organism? We can't. We'll get bogged down. There are untold billions of them, and no two are the same. Nature didn't follow a few state plans, you know. That's why the question of correcting doubles must be reduced to tuning the computer — womb by external integral characteristics… in other words, so that we just have a few dials to spin!”

“Well, really!” He would spread his hands in shock and walk away.

This situation was getting on our nerves. We had wandered into a logistical dead end. A difference in opinion on future work is nothing so terrible; finally you can try it both ways and let the results be the judge. The unbearable part was that we did not understand each other! Us — two informationally identical people. Is there any truth in the world in that case?

I began reading his collection of biology opuses (when he was on duty at the lab). Maybe I just had an antibiology hangover from my school days and now I would read it, and be amazed, and start mumbling: “Now that's it!” I didn't. There was no question; it was an interesting science, and there were a lot of edifying details (but only details!) about the functions of the organism. It was good for one's general development, but it wasn't what we needed. It was a descriptive and approximate science, another form of geography. What did he see in it?

I'm an engineer — that says it all. After ten years of work, machines have entered my soul, and I feel confident working with them. In machines, everything is subject to reason and my hands; everything is definite. If it's yes, then it's yes; if it's no, then it's no. Not like with people: “Yes, but…” followed by a phrase that crosses out the “yes.” And yet the double was me….

We began avoiding our painful argument and worked in silence. Maybe everything would work out and we would understand each other. The information chamber was almost ready. Another day or two and we could let the rabbits in. And then what had to happen sooner or later finally happened: the phone rang in the laboratory.

It had rung before. “Valentin Vasilyevich, either produce a form requisitioning the reagents by June 1 or we'll close the supply department as far as you're concerned!” The call was from accounting. “Comrade Krivoshein, drop into department one,” said Johann Johannovich Kliapp. “Old man, can you lend me your silver — nickel battery for a week?” said good old Fenya Zagrebnyak. And so on. But this was an absolutely special call. As soon as my double had said “Krivoshein here,” he looked beatifically dumb.

“Yes, Lena,” he murmured, “yes… no, no, dearest. Don't be silly… every day and every hour!”

Pliers in hand, I froze by the chamber. My beloved was being taken away from me before my very eyes. My beloved! I knew that for sure now. I got hot. I coughed wheezily. My double looked up at me with eyes clouded with tender desire and came to. He was grim and sad.

“Just a second, Lena, ” and he handed me the phone. “It's basically for you.”

I grabbed the phone and shouted: “I'm listening, darling. Go on!”

Actually, there's no need to describe what we talked about. She, it turned out, was away on a business trip and had only returned yesterday. Of course, she was mad about the May 1 holidays. She had expected a call from me.

When I hung up, the double was gone from the lab. I didn't feel like working any more either. I locked up the lodge and headed off for home, whistling, to shave and change for that evening.

My double was packing.

“Going far?”

“To the village to visit my aunt, to the sticks, to Saratov! To Vladivostok to lick salt spray from my lips. It's none of your business.”

“No, drop the jokes. Where are you going? What's up?”

He looked up at me:

“You really don't understand? Well, that makes sense. You're not me.”

“No, why not? You are me, and I am you. That, anyway, was always our starting point.”

'That's the point — it's not so.” He lit up a cigarette and took a book from the shelf. “I'll take Introduction to Systemology. You can use the library. You are number one, and I'm the second. You were born, grew up, developed, took on a certain position in society. Every man has some place in life. Whether it's good or bad, it's his own. I have no place. It's taken! Everything's taken, from girl friend to civil position, from the bed to the apartment.”

“You can sleep on the bed, for God's sake, I don't have any objections.”

“Don't talk nonsense. The bed isn't the point.”

“Listen, if you're leaving over Lena, then. maybe we can experiment a little more, and… maybe we can try it?”

“Re — create a second Lena, an artificial one?” He laughed darkly. “So that she can hang around life like a ticketless passenger. A reward for a good life… what a stupid idea that was! The best pupils, they're a bunch of spoiled privileged people. Imagine Arkady Arkadievich's double: Academician A. A. Azarov, but without an institute to run, without a framework, without membership in the academy, without a car and apartment — without anything except his personal qualities and pleasant memories. What would his life be like?” He put a towel, toothbrush, and toothpaste into the suitcase. “In a word, I've had it. I can't lead a double entendre life any more — worrying about being seen together, looking around in the cafeteria, taking money from you. Yes, I'm taking your money from you, being jealous of you and Lena. Why should I suffer like that — for what sins? I'm a man, not an experimental subject and not somebody's double!”

“How about the work?”

“And who says I'm planning to drop the work? The chamber is almost ready, and you can run the experiments yourself. There's little for me to do here. I'll go away and study the problem of man and machine from the other end.”

He told me his plan. He was going to Moscow to enter the graduate biology department of MSU. The work was dividing up into two streams: I would study the computer — womb and determine its possibilities; he would study man and his possibilities. Then — different by then, with different experiences and ideas — we'd put the work together.

“But why biology? Why not philosophy, sociology, psychology, or life studies, or fine arts? They all deal with man and human society. Why?”

He looked at me thoughtfully.

“Do you believe in intuition?”

“Well, maybe.”

“My intuition tells me that if we overlook biological research, we will lose something very important. I don't know yet just what. I'll try to explain in a year.”

“But why doesn't my intuition say any such thing?”

“Damned if I know!” he sighed with his old expressiveness. His good mood was returning. “Maybe you're just a dumb jackass.”

“Sure, sure. And you're brilliant and sensitive — like the dog that can feel everything but can't express any of it!”

In a word, we had a talk.

Everything was clear: he had to gather individual information, to become his own person. And I accepted the fact that in order to do that he had to be away from me, somewhere on his own. To tell the truth, our “double” situation was beginning to wear on me, too. But that biology stuff — I really didn't understand that at all….

The graduate student leaned back in his chair and stretched. “And couldn't understand it.” he said aloud. In those days he didn't understand himself.

Chapter 13

In Lieu of an Epigraph

“The theme of today's lecture is: why does the student sweat at exams? Quiet, comrades! I suggest you take notes — the material is on the subject…. Thus, let us examine the physiological aspects of the situation that all of you present have had to experience. The oral exam is on. The student through various contractions of the lungs, thorax, and tongue is creating air vibrations — answering his question. His visual analyzers control the accuracy of his response by the notes in his hand and by the nods of the examiners. Let us sketch the reflex chain: the executive apparatus of the second signal system utters a phrase — the visual organs register a reinforcing stimulus, a nod — and the signal is passed to the brain and supports the stimulation of nerve cells in the proper part of the cortex. A new phrase… a nod… and so on. This is often accompanied by a secondary reflex reaction: the student gesticulates, which makes his answer all the more convincing.

Meanwhile the unconditioned reflex chains operate on their own, inexorably and unconstrainedly. The trapezoid bone and broad muscles of the back support the student's body in an upright sitting position — as natural for us as the position of walking was for our predecessors. The chest and intercostal muscles maintain rhythmic breathing. Other muscles are tensed just enough to counteract gravity. The heart beats evenly; the sympathetic nervous system has stopped the digestive process so as not to distract the student. and everything is in order.

But now the student registers a new aural stimulus through his eardrums and membranes of the ears: the examiner has asked him a question. I never tire of observing what follows — and I assure you, there is no sadism in this. It's simply pleasant to watch how quickly and clearly, taking the millions of years experience of our ancestors into account, our nervous system reacts to the slightest hint of danger! Look: new air vibrations first bring on the end of the previous activity of the unconditioned reflexes — the student stops talking, often in mid — word. Then the signals from the hearing cells reach the medulla, excite the nerve cells of the rear tubers of the lamina tecti which commands the unconditioned reflex of caution: the student turns his head in the direction of the examiner! Simultaneously the signals of the aural stimulus branch off into the diencephalon, and from there into the temporal lobes of the cortex, where a hurried meaning analysis is undertaken of the air vibrations.

I want to direct your attention to the high expediency level of the location of the analyzers of aural stimuli in the cortex — right next to theears. Evolution naturally took into account that a sound in the air moves very slowly: some 300 meters a second, almost the same as the speed of signals traveling along nerve fiber. Yet a sound could be the rustle of a lurking tiger, the hissing of a snake, or — in our times — the noise of a car careening around the corner. You can't lose even a fraction of a second to transmit the sound through the brain!

But in the present situation the student recognized not the rustle of a tiger but a question posed in a quiet, polite voice. Hah, I think some would prefer the tiger! I assume that I don't have to explain that a question asked during an oral exam is taken as a signal of danger. After all, broadly speaking, danger is an obstacle in the path toward a given goal. In ourwell — ordered times there are few dangers that threaten the basic goals of a living being which are protection of life and health, propagation of the species, and satisfaction of hunger and thirst. That's why secondary dangers — the protection of dignity, respect, scholarships, the opportunity to study and then have an interesting job and so on — take on primary prominence. Thus, the student's unconditioned reflex reaction to danger worked beautifully. Let's see how he reflects it.

In biochemistry lectures you have been familiarized with the properties of ribonucleic acid, which is found in all the brain cells. Under the action of electrical nervous signals RNA changes the continous distribution of its bases: thymine, uracil, cytosine, and guanine. These bases are the letters of our memory; we can write down any information in the cortex of the brain using combinations of them. And so, this is the picture: the question, understood in the temporal sites of the cortex leads to the excitation of nerve cells that take care of abstract knowledge in the student's brain. Weak response impulses arise in neighboring areas of the cortex: “Aha, I read something about that!” So the stimulation concentrates in the most hopeful of these areas, takes it over, and — oh horrors! — there with the help of thymine, uracil, cytosine, and guanine there is recorded God only knows what in long molecules of RNA, for instance: “Drop your studying, Alex! We need a fourth!” Quiet down, comrades, don't be distracted.

And then a quiet panic in the brain sets in — or, less colorfully speaking, a total irradiation of stimulation. The nerve impulses arouse the areas of logical analysis (maybe I'll figure something out!) and the cells of visual memory (maybe I've seen it?). Vision, hearing, and sense of smell sharpen. The student sees with amazing acuity the ink spot on the edge of the desk and a bunch of scribbles, hears the leaves rustling outside the window, someone's footsteps in the hall, and even the whisper: “Guys, Alex is in trouble!” But that's not it. And so stimulation passes to greater and newer parts of the brain — danger, danger — spilling over the motor centers in the frontal convolution, penetrating into the midbrain, the medulla, and finally, into the spinal cord. And here I want to move away from the dramatic situation to sing the praises of the soft grayish white growth about a half meter in length that penetrates our spine to the waist — the spinal cord.

The spinal cord…oh, we are greatly mistaken if we think that it is nothing more than an intermediary between the brain and the body's nerves, that it is subjugated to the brain and can only control a few simple reflexes of natural functions! It's still a moot point as to which is subordinate to which! The spinal cord is an older and more venerable process than the brain. It saved man in those days when his brain wasn't developed enough, when in fact he wasn't yet man. Our spinal cord guards memories of the Paleozoic, when our distant ancestors, the lizards, wandered, crawled, and flew among giant ferns; of the Cenozoic, the period when the first apes appeared. It has sorted and stored synapses and reflexes proven over millions of years to be effective in the struggle for survival. The spinal cord, if you will, is our inner seat of rational conservatism.

Of course nowadays, that old cord of man, which can react to the complex stimulation of contemporary reality in only two positions — saving life and propagating the species — can't help us out all the time, as it did in the Mesozoic Era. But it still has influence on many things! For example, I would posit that it is the spinal cord that often determines our literary and cinematic tastes. What? No, the spinal cord is not literate and does not contain any special reflexes for viewing film. But, tell me, why do we soften prefer detective movies and novels, no matter how poorly they are made or written? Why do so many of us like love stories — everything from jokes and gossip to the Decameron? Because it's interesting? Interesting? Why is it interesting? Because the firmly engrained instincts for survival and propagation encoded in our spinal cords force us to gather information — what can you die of? — so that we can save ourselves in that situation. How and why does happy and true love come about, the kind that results in offspring? What destroys it? — so that you don't blow it yourself. And it doesn't matter that such a dangerous situation may never come up in your safe, comfortable lives. And it doesn't matter that there is love and more descendants than you know what to do with — the spinal cord tows its line. I'm not going to call these desires in the viewer and reader base, as so many critics do. Why? These are healthy, natural desires, admirable desires. If cows in their evolution ever learn to read, then they'll also begin with mysteries and romances.

But let us return to the student whose brain failed him in responding to the examiner's question. “Ah, you greenhorn,” the spinal cord seems to say to its colleague as it receives the panic signals and goes into action. First, it sends signals to the motor nerves of the entire body; the muscles tense into a position of readiness. The primary sources of muscular energy — adenosine triphosphate and phosphocreatine — break down in tissue into adenosine diphosphate and creatine, releasing phosphoric acid and the first amounts of heat and energy. And I want to direct your attention once more to the biological expediency of raising muscle tone. After all, danger in the old days required quick energetic movement, to leap away, strike, bend, climb a tree. And since it is not yet clear which way you will have to jump or strike, all the muscles are brought into readiness.

Simultaneously, the sympathetic nervous system is also stimulated and begins to command the whole kitchen array of metabolism in the organism. Its signals reach the adrenal gland, which throws adrenaline into the blood, stimulating everything. The liver and spleen, like sponges, squeeze out several liters of extra blood into the circulatory system. Blood vessels expand in the muscles, lungs, and brain. The heart beats faster, pumping blood into all the organs, and with it, oxygen and glucose. The spinal cord and the autonomous nervous system prepare thestudent's bodyforheavy, fierce, and long fighting for life or death!

But the examiner cannot be stunned with a cudgel or even with a marble inkwell. And you can't run away from him either. The examiner won't be satisfied even if the student, overflowing with muscular energy, performs a handstand on the desk instead of answering the question. That's why the secret, stormy activity of the student's organism ends in a useless burning up of glucose in the muscles and heat generation. The thermoreceptors in different parts of the body send hysterical signals of overheating to the brain and spinal cord. And the brain responds in the only way it knows — by expanding the vessels of the skin. Blood rushes to the skin (incidentally, also causing the student to blush) and heats up the air between the body and the clothes. The sweat glands open up to help the student with evaporation of moisture. The reflex chain, stimulated by the question, is finally over.

I'm sure you will make your own conclusions about the role of knowledge in the correct regulation of the human organism in our complex environment, and about its role in the regulation of the student organism at our next session…”

From a lecture by Professor V. A. Androsiashvili in his course, Human Physiology.

Yes, he was leaving in order to become himself, and not the Krivoshein who lived and worked in Dneprovsk. He threw the apartment key which Val had tucked into his pocket out of the train window. He crossed out all the addresses and phone numbers of Moscow acquaintances from his book, including his Aunt Lapanalda. He had no friends, no relatives, no past — only the present, from the moment he entered the biology department, and the future. He knew a simple but dependable way of establishing himself in the future; the method had never let him down. It was work.

And he had more than that.

Once upon a time physicists had perfected the methods of measuring the speed of light, just so that they could achieve the greatest accuracy. They did. And they determined a scandalous fact: the speed of light did not depend on the speed of motion of the light source. “Impossible! The equipment is wrong! The results contradict classical mechanics!” They checked. They measured the speed of light another way — with the same results. And the almost completed, logically perfect universe rising in the scaffolding of right — angled coordinates, crumbled, raising an awful lot of dust. The “crisis of physics” began.

The human mind often strives for a reconciliation of all the facts in the world rather than for a deeper knowledge of those facts: the important thing is for everything to become simpler and more logical. And then some sneaky little fact floats out, irreconcilable with the neat theories, and you have to start all over again….

They had also created a simple and understandable picture in their minds of how a computer creates a man from information about man. The computer — womb was playing children's games with blocks. In a liquid medium via electrical impulse it combined molecules into molecular chains, the molecular chains into cells, and the cells into tissue — with the sole difference that there were untold billions of “informational blocks.” The fact that the result of the game was not a monster or even another person, but Krivoshein's informational double, proves that there was only one solution to the puzzle. Well, naturally, it couldn't have been any other way: blocks can only fit into a picture that exists in their surfaces. The variants (a fragmented Lena, a fragmented father, the “delirium of memory,” the eyes and feelers) were merely informational garbage that could not exist independent of the computer.

This concept was not incorrect, merely superficial. It suited them, as long as the facts supported the theory that they were the same externally and in thoughts and deeds. But when irreconcilable differences came up on the use of biology in their work, this concept turned out to be inadequate.

Yes, it was their inability to understand each other, and not the interest in biology (which might have passed in Krivoshein — 2 with no harmful effects), that became to his discovery what the constancy of the speed of light was to the theory of relativity. A man never knows what's banal about him and what's original; that only comes in comparsion with others. And unlike other people, Krivoshein — 2 could compare himself to not only his acquaintances, but to “himself” as well.

Now it became very clear to graduate student Krivoshein what the difference between them was: their ways of appearing were different. Valentin Krivoshein appeared over three decades ago the way every living thing did — from an embryo, in which a program for building a human being developed over thousands of centuries and in which generations had been encoded by a specific arrangement of protein and DNA. But the computer — womb, even though it was working from individual Krivoshein information, was still dealing with random information; it had to seek out the principles of formation and all the details of the biological information system. And the computer found a way different from nature's: a biochemical assembly instead of embryonic development.

Yes, now there was much that he understood. In a year he had passed from sensations to knowledge and from knowledge to mastery of himself. And then… then it had merely been a powerful attraction to biology and the inexpressible certainty that this was where he had to seek his answers. He couldn't even explain it well to Krivoshein. He came to Moscow with the vague feeling that something was wrong with him. He wasn't sick or imagining things, but he had to figure himself out, to make sure that his feeling was reality and not an idee fixe or a hypochondriacal hallucination.

He worked so hard that he could look back on the days at the institute in Dneprovsk as if they had been a vacation. Lectures, lab work, the anatomy theater, the library, lectures, seminars, lab work, lectures, the clinic, the library, lab work…. He never left the Lenin Hills campus during the first semester; he would walk down to the parapet before going to bed, to look down at the Moscow River, smoke, enjoy the lights glimmering and blending with the stars on the horizon.

A gray — eyed, second — year student who resembled Lena always sat next to him in Androsiashvili's class, which he attended. Once she asked: “You're so solid, so serious — were you in the Army?” “In prison,” he replied, jutting out his jaw. The girl lost interest in him. It had to be. Girls take up too much time.

And he was convinced by every experiment, every calculation. Yes, in a cross section of a nerve bundle that goes from the brain to the pituitary gland, under a microscope you can actually count approximately a hundred thousand fibers — and that means that the pituitary is closely monitored by the brain. Yes, if you add beta — active calcium to a lab monkey's diet of bananas and then use a Geiger counter on its excretions, it really is true that bone tissue renews itself approximately twice a year. Yes, if you stick electrode needles into muscle tissue and conduct sound into earphones, you can really hear a rhythmic quacking or a fragmented pulse of the nerve signals, and these sounds corresponded with what he was feeling! Yes, skin cells actually do move up toward the surface, changing structure, dying, so that they can slough off and make room for new ones.

He studied his own body. He took blood samples and lymphatic samples; he got a piece of muscle tissue from his right hip and examined it under an optical microscope and then an electronic one; he calumnied himself to get a Wassermann at the school clinic. And he determined that everything in him was normal. Even the amount and distribution of nerves in the tissue was the same as in the bodies they dissected in anatomy class. The nerves went up to the brain, but he couldn't get in there with the use of laboratory technology. He would have to implant too many electrodes into his skull and plug into too many oscilloscopes to understand the secrets of his self. And would he understand them then? Or would he come up with “streptocidal striptease” — not in binary alphabet, but in the jagged lines of an electroencephalogram?

The situation — a living person studying his own organism can't even breech the mysteries of his body with laboratory equipment — was paradoxical. After all, this wasn't a question of discovering invisible “radiostars” or synthesizing antiparticles. All the information was in man. All that remained was to translate the code of the molecules, cells, and nerve impulses into the code of the secondary signal system — words and sentences.

Words and phrases are necessary (but not always) for one man to understand another. But are they necessary to understand oneself? Krivoshein didn't know. That's why he tried everything: analysis, imagination, books, monitoring the sensations of his body, conversations with Androsiashvili and other teachers, observation of patients at the clinic, autopsies….

Everything that Vano Aleksandrovich had argued in that memorable December conversation was right, since it was defined by Androsiashvili's knowledge of the world and his faith in the indisputable expediency of everything created by nature.

But the professor did not know one thing: that he was conversing with an artificial man.

Even Vano Aleksandrovich's doubts about the success of his plan were solidly based, because Krivoshein's starting point was an engineering computer solution. That December he began planning an “electropotential inductor” — a continuation of the idea of Monomakh's Crown. A hundred thousand microscopic electrode needles, connected to the matrices of a self — learning automated machine (in the lab the bionics people modeled reflex actions on it), were supposed to supply the brain cells with auxiliary charges, bringing artificial biowaves through the skull, and thereby connecting the thinking centers of the cortex with the autonomous nervous system.

Krivoshein laughed. How silly to think that such primitive apparatus could have punched up his organism! At least he hadn't dropped his physiology studies for that project. When he performed an autopsy, he mentally revived the corpse: he imagined that he himself lay on the dissecting table, that it was his white nerve fibers running through the muscles and cartilage to the purple, yellow fat — encrusted heart, to the watery clusters of salivary glands under the chin, to the gray rags of collapsed lungs. Other fibers wove into white cords of nerves that went to the pelvis, the spinal cord and up, through the neck, under the skull. Signal commands ran along them from there: contract the muscles, speed up the heart, squeeze out saliva!

In the student cafeteria he followed the movement of every gulp of food to his stomach, trying to imagine and feel how, in the darkness, it was slowly kneaded by the smooth muscles, broken down by hydrochloric acid and enzymes, how the dull yellow mash was absorbed into the walls of the intestine. Sometimes he spent two hours sitting over a cold cutlet.

Actually, he was remembering. Nine — tenths of his discoveries were due to the fact that he remembered and understood how it had happened.

The computer — womb had no reason to begin with a fetus; it had enough material to assemble an adult. Krivoshein, the original, had made sure of that. At first the vague biological mixture in the tank contained only “wandering” currents and “floating” potentials from external circuits — these colorful terms from theoretical electronics were quite literal in this case. Then the transparent nerve fibers and cells appeared — a continuation of the electronic circuits of the computer. The search for informational equilibrium continued. The nervous system was becoming more and more voluminous and complex, and the layers of nerve cells turned into the cortex and subcortex. That's when his brain appeared, and from that moment on, he existed.

At first his brain was also a continuation of the computer's circuits. But now he received impulses of external information, sifted it and tried combinations, and looked for a way to realize the information in a biological medium. He was assembling himself! In the vat a system of nerves — for now still random — spread. Muscle tissue, vessels, bones, and inner organs began appearing around the nerves — in that practically liquid state when they could dissolve, blend, change structure under orders of the nerve impulses. No, this wasn't an intelligent assembly of a body following a blueprint, since there was no blueprint. The building block game continued, a sifting through many variants and choosing of the only one among them that reflected the information on Krivoshein. But now, like the computer which evaluated every variant of the solution with binary signals, his computer brain evaluated the synthesis of a body with a binary code of sensation: Yes meant it felt good, No, that it hurt. Unsuccessful combinations of cells, the incorrect distribution of organs were transmitted to the brain as a dull or sharp pain; the successful and correct one, as delicious satisfaction.

And the memory of the search, the memory of the sensations of the body under construction remained within him.

Life creates people who differ little in the properties of the organism, but are very different in their psychology, personality, knowledge, and spiritual refinement or crudity. The computer — womb acted in the opposite manner. The graduate student Krivoshein was identical to Krivoshein in psychology and intellect, but that was understandable. Those qualities in a person develop through the same process of random retrieval and choice. The computer merely repeated the retrieval. But biologically they differed the way a book differs from its rough draft. Not just one draft, but all the drafts and sketches that went into creating a finished and polished work. Of course, the contents were the same, but the drafts retain the path of finding and choosing the right words in their corrections, additions, and deletions.

“Actually, that comparison is imperfect, too,” the frowning student mused. “The drafts of books appear before the books, not afterwards. And if you show a scribbler all the drafts of War and Peace would that make him a genius? Well, I guess they would teach him something…. No, I guess it's better to leave comparisons out of this!” Man recalls what he knows in only two situations: when he must recall it — goal recollection — and when he encounters something that even remotely resembles the code in his brain. This is called associative recall. The biology books were the hint that stimulated his memory. But the difficulty lay in the fact that he did not remember words or even images, but only sensations. Even now he couldn't convey it all in words — and probably would never be able to.

Of course, that's not the important thing. What is important is the fact that such information exists. Because “knowledge in sensation” gave birth to a clear, thought — out idea in him to control his own metabolism.

It happened the first time on the evening of January 28 in the forms. It turned out just like Pavlov's dogs — artificial salivation. But he wasn't thinking about food (he had had a dinner of kefir and sausage), but about the nerve regulation of the salivary glands. As usual he tried to visualize the entire path of the nerve impulses from the taste receptors in the tongue through the brain to the salivary glands and suddenly felt his mouth fill up with saliva!

Still only fully aware of how it had happened, he concentrated on a frightened protest — “No!” — and his mouth went dry instantly!

That evening he repeated the mental orders “Saliva!” and “no!” until his mouth convulsed.

He spent the rest of the week in his room — luckily it was a school vacation, and he didn't have to be distracted by lectures and labs. Other organs listened to his mental orders. At first he could only command them crudely. Streams of tears poured from his eyes; sweat appeared in profusion all over his skin or immediately dried up; his heart either quieted down to a near comatose rate or else beat wildly at a hundred forty beats a minute — there was no middle ground, And when he commanded his stomach to stop excreting hydrochloric acid he had such intense diarrhea that he barely had time to get to the bathroom. But gradually he learned to control external excretions gently and locally; once he even managed to spell out “IT'S WORKING!” on his back with beads of sweat, like a tattoo.

Then he moved his experiments to the lab and first of all repeated the effect of the sugar injection made famous by Claude Bernard. But now he didn't have to open the skull and inject the midbrain. The amount of sugar in his blood increased as a result of a mental command.

But in general it was much more complex dealing with internal secretion. The results were not so apparent or so fast. He made puncture marks all over his fingers and muscles checking whether the glands were obeying his commands to secrete adrenaline, insulin, glucose, or hormones. He irritated his gullet with probes trying to determine the reaction to his commands on changing acidity. Everything was working — and everything was very difficult.

Then he caught on. He should give his organism a specific goal, to do this and that, produce certain changes. And really when he walked, he didn't command the muscles: “Right rectus — contract… biceps — now… left gastrocnemius….” He didn't have time for that. The conscious mind sets a specific goal: go faster or slower, go around the post, turn into the driveway. And the nerve centers of the brain take care of the muscles. And that's how it should be with this. It wasn't his business which glands and vessels would produce individual reactions, as long as they did what he wanted!

Words and images got in the way. He was overexplaining. He told the liver how to synthesive glycogen from amino acids and fats, break down the glycogen into glucose, and excrete it into the blood; he told the thyroid to contract and squeeze out drops of thyroxin into the blood; he told the circulatory system to expand the capillaries in the large chest muscles and to contract the other vessels — and nothing happened, his pectorals didn't grow bigger. After all, the liver didn't know it was the liver, and the thyroid didn't have the slightest idea what thyroxin was and couldn't picture a drop of it. Krivoshein cursed himself for excessive attention at his lectures and in the library. The result of all this exertion was only a headache.

The problem was that in order to control metabolism within himself, he had to avoid numbers, terms, and even images, and think only in sensations. The problem came down to changing “knowledge in sensation” into a tertiary signal system of controlling internal secretions with the aid of sensations.

The funniest part was that he didn't need lab apparatus or control circuits. All he had to do was lie in a darkened room, eyes closed and ears plugged, and listen to himself in a half — dreaming state. Strange sensations came from within: the spleen, changing the blood, itched, and intestines tickled when they contracted; the salivary glands felt cold under his chin; the adrenals reacted to nerve signals with a delicious shudder, and the part of the blood enriched with adrenalin and glucose spread warmth through the body like a sip of wine. The sick cells in the muscles made themselves known with a gentle prickling.

Using engineering terminology, he was checking out his body with nerves the way an assembler checks out a circuit with a tester.

By this time he had a clear understanding of the binary arithmetic of sensation: painful — pleasant. And it occurred to him that the simplest way of subjugating the cellular processes to his consciousness was to make them hurt. It was quite possible that the incident with the icicle prompted this discovery; the idea came to him right after it.

Of course, the cells that were deteriorating and dying from various causes let themselves be known very palpably. The organism itself, without any orders from “above” sent leucocytes, feverish tissue, enzymes, and hormones to help. All he had to do was either speed up or slow down these microscopic struggles for life.

He injected and cut muscles everywhere he could reach with a needle or a scalpel. He injected fatal doses of typhus and cholera bacteria cultures. He inhaled mercury vapor, drank mixtures of corrosive sublimate and wood alcohol. (He didn't have the nerve to try faster — acting poisons, however.) And the more he tried the better his organism handled all the dangers he was aware of.

And then he caused cancer in himself. Cause cancer! Any doctor would spit in his eye for an announcement like that. To cause cancer you have to know what causes cancer. To be perfectly honest, he wouldn't maintain that he knew the causes of cancer, but this was simply because he couldn't translate into words all the feelings that accompanied the changes in the skin on his right side. He began with questioning the patients who were undertaking gamma therapy at the lab. What did they feel? This was not kind — asking terrified, exhausted people, contorted by pain, about their experiences and not promising anything in return — but that was how he understood the image of a cancer patient.

The growth was getting bigger and harder. Smaller growths began branching off from it — strange greenish purple ones, like cauliflower. Pain chewed up his side and shoulder. At the university clinic, where he went for a diagnosis, they suggested an immediate operation, without even letting him leave the place. He got out of it by lying and saying that he wanted to undergo radiation therapy first.

Graduate student Krivoshein, crumpling a cigarette, stepped out onto the balcony. It was a warm night. A car, waving its headlights, raced down a side road. Two little lights, a red one and a green one, traveled from Cygnus to Lyra. Behind them followed the roar of a jet engine. Like a match across a cover, a meteor struck the sky.

Back in his room, standing in front of the mirror, he concentrated his will and feelings, and the growth melted away in fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes later there was nothing but a purple spot the size of a saucer. Another ten minutes later there was just his usual skin, in goose bumps — it was chilly in the room.

But he couldn't express his knowledge about stopping cancer in either prescriptions or medical advice. What he could describe in words wouldn't heal anyone, except maybe other doubles like himself. So all his knowledge applied only to them.

With time, probably, he would learn to overcome the barrier between the doubles of the computer — womb and regular people. After all, biologically they were not too different. And the knowledge was there. Even if he couldn't express it verbally, they could record the fluctuations of his biopotentials, graph his temperatures, develop numbers of analysis in computers — medicine was a precise science now. And finally they would come around to recording and transmitting precise sensations. Words were not necessary. The important thing for a sick person was to get well, and not to write a dissertation on his recovery. That wasn't the point.

The student's attention was riveted by a light exploding below. He looked closely: leaning against a lamp post, the fellow in the cape from yesterday, the detective, was lighting a cigarette. He tossed the match and walked away slowly.

“So he found me, the damn creep! He's stuck on me like a burr!” Krivoshein's mood was ruined. He went back inside and sat down to read the diary.

Chapter 14

Life is short. There is barely enough time to make an adequate

number of mistakes. Repeating them, that's an unforgivable


— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 22

Now the student was reading the notations with envious curiosity. Well, what had he achieved, when all he wanted was to twirl knobs?

June I. Phew… finished! The information chamber is ready. I begin the experiments with the rabbits tomorrow. If I follow tradition, I should begin with frogs. but I would never pick the disgusting things up! No, let my double play with toads. He's a brilliant student, quite industrious.

I wonder how he's doing.

June 2.1 equipped the rabbits with electrodes and sensors and put them all in the chamber. Let them overload it with information.

June 7. The rabbits lived in the chamber for four days. They munched carrots and cabbage leaves, wriggled their noses, fought, copulated, and napped. I did my first tests today. I put on Monomakh's Crown, mentally ordered “Proceed!” — and the computer — womb worked. Four rabbit doubles in an hour and a half.

What a relief — the machine worked.

An interesting detail: the visual appearance of the rabbits (what happens before that, I don't know) begins with the circulatory system; the blue red vessels show up in the golden fluid just as they do in the yolk of a fertilized chicken egg.

As they came to life, the rabbits floated up. I pulled them out by the ears, bathed them in a tub, all warm and trembling, and then put them in with the regular ones. The encounter between the natural and artificial doubles had an even more banal character than my meeting with my double. They stared at each other in disbelief, sniffed each other, and (since they don't have a secondary signal system, to explain) fought. Then they got tired, sniffed some more and went on with the normal rabbit routine.

The important thing is that the computer works on my command, without any additions. You put on the crown, remember (preferably with a mental image) which rabbit you want copied, give permission mentally — and in twenty — five to thirty minutes it's flopping around in the tank. The reverse operation — dissolving an appearing rabbit with the command “No!” — the computer — womb also does without reproach.

For its success and hard work I feed it salts, acids, glycerine, vitamins, and reagents. Just like giving fish to a trained seal.

June 20. When it works, it works. And when it doesn't you could just beat your head on the wall. All this time I've been trying to stop the synthesis of a rabbit at some stage. No matter what command I've tried: “Stop!” “Halt!” “Enough!” “Cut it out!” — both mentally and verbally — nothing helps. Either the synthesis goes on to the end, or there is dissolution.

It looks like the computer — womb works like a flip — flop circuit in a computer, that is, either open or closed, and has no in — between positions. But you would expect a complex machine to be more flexible than that silly circuit.

I'll keep trying….

July 6. Life cannot be stopped. That must be it. Any interruption of life is death. But death is only an instant, after which begins the process of decay or in this case, dissolution. And I'm synthesizing living systems. And the computer — womb itself is a living organism. That's why nothing can freeze in it. Too bad, it would have been very convenient…. The first offspring of an artificial male and regular female appeared today — eight white bunnies. That must be an important fact. But I have plenty of rabbits without that.

Damn it, but the machine must obey orders more complex than “You may!” and “No!” I must control the synthesis process, otherwise all my ideas fly out the window.

July 7. So that's how you work, computer — womb! And it's so simple.

Today I ordered the machine to re — create Albino Vaska one more time. When it appeared as a translucent apparition in the middle of the vat, I concentrated on its tail and imagine that it was no longer. No changes followed. That wasn't it. And I thought sadly, “That's not it.. ” — and everything began changing in the rabbit. The body's contour wavered in a slow rhythm: the body, ears, and feet and tail either grew longer and fatter or shorter and thinner; the internal organs pulsed in the same rhythm. Even the color of the blood changed color from dark cherry to light red and back again.

I jumped up from my chair. The rabbit was still being “shaken!” Its shape kept changing, being distorted and caricatured; the trembling became more frequent and wild. Finally the albino dissolved into a purplish gray cloud and dissolved.

At first I was scared: the picture reminded me of the computer's old delirium. Except for the rhythm. All the fluctuations of size and shade were amazingly coordinated.

And then I understood. I figured it out myself, I might add, damn it!

The computer's original information on the rabbit was concrete and definite. It combined all the informational details, searching for the precise variation; but search or not, you can only re — create what's recorded. You can't make a vacuum cleaner from motorcycle parts.

And then the computer receives the signal “That's not it” — neither confirming nor negating — a signal of doubt. It disrupts the informational stability of the synthesis of the rabbit; to put it bluntly, it throws the computer off the track. And it begins searching — what is “it” — through the simple method of trial and error (a little more, a little less so as not to destroy the system…. But the computer doesn't know what “it” is, and it doesn't get confirmation from me. Complete disruption of the system and dissolution follow.

And then (this is what's good about a researcher's job: if you hit the right vein you can do in a day, with the aid of one or two ideas, what would ordinarily take years and years!) I put on Monomakh's Crown and told the computer “You may!” Now I knew what I would do with the rabbit double. It appeared. I concentrated on the tail (the connection chain: the bioimpulses from my retinas with the image of the rabbit tail went into the brain, into the crown, into the computer, and there — comparison and selection of information — the computer fixed my attention) and I even frowned, to make it more expressive: “That's not it.” A powerful unbalancing impulse went into the computer. The tail got shorter. A tiny bit…. “That's not it!”

The tail quivered, and got longer…, “That's it; that's it!”

The tail froze. “That's not it!” It got even longer. “That's it!” It froze. “That's it! That's not it! It! Not it!” — and things got moving. The hardest part was to catch the fluctuation in the right direction. Later I no longer gave the computer the elemental commands “It — not it,” but simple silent approval. The tail got longer; a chain of small vertebrae grew in it, they were covered with muscle tissue, pink skin, white fur… and in ten minutes Vaska the double was whipping his sides with his tail like an irritated tiger.

And I sat in a chair wearing Monomakh's Crown, and an unbelievable swirl of “well, well, well, now we're cooking. Oh, boy! Phew!” went through my mind, the way it does when you can't express it in words yet, but you know that you've understood, and you're not going to lose it now! And my face probably reflected that extreme state of bliss that is usually seen only in drooling idiots.

That was it. No mysticism. The computer — womb was working on the same “yes — no” system that regular computers do.

“That's right,” nodded the graduate student. “But that's rather crude control. Of course, for a machine. What am I quibbling about? That's a fine job!”

Damn it, this is terrific! At my commands of “yes,” “not it,” and “no” the computer forms cells, tissue, bone. Only living organisms can do that, and much more slowly.

Well, baby, I'm going to squeeze everything I can out of you!

July 15. Now the machine and I are working well together. More accurately, it's learned to receive, decipher, and execute commands from my brain that are not broken down into “it” and “not it.” The essential feedback and content of the commands remained the same, except that it all took place very quickly. I imagine what has to be changed in the developing double and how. As if I were drawing or sculpting the rabbit.

The computer is now my electronic biochemical hand. It's marvelous and luxurious to mold different kinds of rabbit freaks with my mind. With six legs, with three tails, two heads, without ears, or with long floppy mutt ears. Dr. Moreau with his scalpel and carbolic acid was an amateur! My only tool was Monomakh's Crown. I didn't even have to twirl dials.

The most amusing part was that the monsters continue to live. They scratch with four legs and stuff carrots into two mouths…

“Easy work,” muttered the graduate student with envy. “Just like in the movies: sit back and watch. Nothing hurts, nothing to be afraid of. No violent passions — only engineering work.”

He sighed, remembering his suffering. He got used to the various autovivisections rather quickly. When you know that the pain will pass and the wound will heal, then pain becomes another irritant, like bright light or loud noise — unpleasant but not terrible. When you know…. In his planned experiments he knew it. He also began any new change on a small scale. He checked to see how the organism put up with the changes; he always had medicine on hand: ampules of neutralizers and antibiotics, and the phone to call emergency. But there had been one unplanned experiment, in which he had almost died. Actually, it wasn't even an experiment.

There was a department seminar in radiobiology. The third — year students surrounded the uranium reactor and watched the dark cellular cylinder in its depths respectfully. It gave off a green, calm light in the water, illuminating the wires, the nickel — plated bars, levers, and wheels of the control board above it.

“That beautiful light, the color of young grass, around the body of the reactor,” said Professor Valerno in his rich deep baritone, “is called the Cherenkovsky glow. It is caused by the movement of superfast electrons in the water, which are created, in turn, by the division of nuclei of uranium — 235.”

Krivoshein assisted; that is, he sat around, bored, and waited for the professor to ask him to run the demonstration. Actually, Valerno could have easily done the experiment himself, or asked a student to do it, but his scholarly rank rated a qualified assistant. “So just sit there,” Krivoshein thought gloomily. Then he got the idea that he hadn't tried out radiation sickness on himself. He sat up and started planning how to go about it. “Take a flask of water from the reactor and for starters give myself a slight radiation burn. This was serious stuff!”

“The presence of intense Cherenkovsky glow in the water is evidence of intense radiation in the body of the reactor,” Valerno droned on, “which is not surprising. It's a chain reaction. The growth in the brightness of the light is evidence of the growth of the intensity of the radiation, and a dimming — of the opposite. Here, please look.” He turned the wheel on the panel to the left and the right. The green light in the tank blinked.

“And if you turn it all the way to the right, there'll be an explosion?” a red — haired, freckled boy in glasses demanded.

“No,” replied the professor, barely suppressing a yawn (that question came up every time). “There's a governor on it. And besides, the reactor can be automatically blocked. As soon as the intensity of the chain reaction exceeds certain limits, the automatic device throws additional graphite rods into the reactor — those, see? They consume the neutrons and quench the reaction. And now let's familiarize ourselves with the action of radioactivity on a living organism. Valentin Vasilyevich, could you join us?”

Krivoshein rolled a cart with a fish tank over to the reactor; the tank contained a half — dead eel, with fins and sharp teeth.

“This is a freshwater eel, Anguilliformes,” Valerno announced, without even looking, “the most hardy of river fish. When Valentin Vasilyevich dumps it into the pool, the eel, heeding its instincts, will immediately go to the bottom… hmm… something that I wouldn't do in its place, since even the luckiest ones come floating belly up from there in two minutes. Well, see for yourselves. Mark the time, please. Valentin Vasilyevich, you're on.”

Krivoshein tipped the fish tank over the pool and started the stopwatch. The students leaned over the edge. A streak of black lightning sped to the gray — tiled bottom of the pool, made a circle, another, crossed the green light over the cylinder. Apparently blinded by that, the eel bumped into the opposite wall and reeled back.

Suddenly the light in the pool got brighter — and in the green light Krivoshein saw something that made his skin crawl: the eel got trapped in the wires that held the graphite rods, the regulators of the reactor, and was struggling among them! One rod fell out of its case and flew off like a green stick into the water. The light got even brighter.

“Everyone back!” Quickly appraising the situation, the pale Valerno barked a command. His baritone was flat. “Please leave at once!” He pulled the emergency alarm. The contacts of the automatic blocking device clicked. The light in the water blinked, as though they were doing arc welding in the pool, and got even brighter. The students, covering their faces, raced from the exits. There was a crush at the door.

“Please stay calm, comrades!” Valerno shouted in a real falsetto. “The concentration of uranium — 235 in the heat — generating elements is not enough for an atomic explosion! There will only be a heat explosion, like in a steam engine!” “Oh, God!” some exclaimed.

The doors cracked. A girl screamed. Someone cursed. The freckled four — eyes, not losing his head, grabbed a very heavy Sl — 8 synchronoscope from the table, and threw it through the window, following it rapidly…. The room was empty in a few seconds.

In the first moment of panic Krivoshein followed the rest, but stopped himself and went over to the reactor. Rapid, large bubbles rose from the cylinder and the water churned. Instead of the quiet glow there was a green bonfire in the water. The eel was quiet, but the graphite rods that it had knocked out were crisscrossed and wedged against one another.

“When the water splashes up, there'll be a cloud of radioactive steam all over,” Krivoshein thought feverishly. “That's as bad as an atomic blast. Can I do it? I'm scared. Well! What good are all my experiments, if I'm scared? And what if I end up like the eel? The hell with it!”

(Even now Krivoshein couldn't believe it. How could he have done it? Had he decided that he was invincible? Or was it the thinking of a motorcyclist who has to pass between two oncoming trucks — the important thing is don't think, just go forward! The intoxicating instant of danger, the roar of the trucks, and with a beating heart you tear out into the asphalt expanse! But this wasn't an instant — and it was quite possible he could end up along with the dead eel on the pool bottom.)

The motorcyclist's daring hit him. Tearing off his buttons, he undressed, put his leg over the edge, and — “Stop, Val! Think!” — went to the counter, and put on rubber gloves and goggles (“Wish I had an Aqua — lung!”). He filled his lungs with air and plunged into the pool.

Even at a distance from the reactor the water was warm. “A thousand one, a thousand two….” Krivoshein, instinctively turning his face away, walked across the slippery tiles to the middle of the pool. His rubber gloves were in contact with something, and he had to look: the eel, hanging in a loop between the wires, was there. “A thousand ten, a thousand eleven,” and carefully, so as not to disturb the rods, he pulled at the dead fish. “Thousand sixteen….” His hands got hot, and he instinctively wanted to pull away, but he controlled the impulse and slowly extracted the eel from the jumble. The goggles weren't so hermetic, and streams of radioactive water seeped into his eyes. He squinted. “Thousand twenty, a thousand twenty — one” — he got it out! The green glow flickered, and the rods silently slipped back into the cylinder. It got dark in the pool.

“A thousand twenty — five!” With a sharp push Krivoshein came up to the wall, jumped out of the water, grabbed the edge, and climbed over. “A thousand thirty….”

He had the presence of mind to hop around to get the excess water off his body; he even rolled around on the floor. He wiped his face and eyes dry with his pants. “Just don't let me get blind before I get there.” He dressed haphazardly and ran out of the room.

The radiation counter howled harshly as he went by. An automatic barrier blocked his path. He jumped over it and ran across the freshly dug lawn to his dorm.

“A thousand seventy; a thousand seventy — one,” his brain continued to count. It was twilight and he avoided meeting acquaintances; but someone called after him near zone B: “Hey, Val, where's the fire? He thought it was Nechinorov, a graduate student. “A thousand eighty, a thousand eighty — one….” His skin ached and itched and then it was pierced by a million needles. That was his nervous system, honed in previous experiments, telling him that the protons and gamma — quanta from the decayed nuclei were shooting the molecules of protein in the cells of the epithelium, in the nerve endings of the skin, breaking through the walls of the blood vessels, and wounding the red and white corpuscles. “A thousand hundred. thousand hundred five….” Now the prickling had moved to his muscles, stomach, and under his skull. His lungs were congested as though he had taken a deep draw on the crudest homegrown tobacco in the world. That was the blood carrying the exploded atoms and fractured proteins all over his body.

“A thousand two hundred five… two hundred eight… idiot, what have you done? Two hundred twelve….” He no longer had the idea, the impetus. There was only fear. He wanted to live. He was getting nauseating cramps in his stomach, and his mouth was filled with copper — tasting saliva. Bumping into the massive front door as he ran in, Krivoshein realized that he was dizzy. He was seeing black. “Two hundred forty — one… will I make it?” He had to get up to the fourth floor. He slapped himself as he ran, and his head got clearer.

Twilight rushed into the dark room with him. For the first few seconds Krivoshein circled the room aimlessly and weakly. The fear, that biological fear that cannot be controlled, that makes a wounded animal head for his lair, had almost killed him: he had forgotten what to do. He felt terribly sorry for himself. His body was filled with a ringing weakness and his consciousness was slipping away. “Well, so go ahead and perish, you fool,” he thought listlessly and felt a wave of extreme anger. And that's what saved him.

His clothes, spotted with green like lichen on trees, fell on the floor. The room got even lighter; his feet glowed, and his hair and vein pattern were visible on his hands. Krivoshein ran into the shower and turned it on. The cold water poured over him, sobering him up, over his head and body, forming an irridescent pool of emerald green on the floor, and refreshed him long enough to gather his thoughts and will power.

Now, like a strategist, he commanded the battle for survival that was raging in his body. Blood, blood, blood, was rushing through his entire body! The feverish pounding of his heart resounded in his temples. Myriad capillaries washed damaged molecules and particles from every cell in his muscles and glands and sucked them out from the lymph nodes. The white corpuscles surrounded them, breaking them down to elemental particles, and carried them off into the spleen, the lungs, the liver, kidneys, intestines, tossed them into the sweat glands. “Cover the bone vessels!” he instructed the nerves, remembering in time that radioactivity could settle in bone marrow, which produced blood cells.

Several minutes passed. Now he was exhaling radioactive air with faintly glowing vapors, spitting out glowing saliva that had collected the decayed radioactive cells of the brain and muscles, washing off greenish drops of sweat from his body, and urinating a beautiful emerald green stream. After an hour his excretions no longer glowed, but his body still ached.

And so he spent three hours in the shower. He swallowed water washed himself off, and threw out all the harmful radiation from his body. He came back to his room after midnight, unsteady on his feet from weakness and physical emaciation. He pushed his glowing clothes into a corner and fell onto his bed. Sleep!

The next day he was very thirsty. He dropped by the radiometrics lab, used the Geiger counter all over his body. The apparatus crackled as usual, noting random cosmic particles.

“My God, when did you lose all that weight?” Nechinorov asked as he ran into him at a lecture….

“Yes, in terms of results, that was a major experiment,” chuckled the graduate student. “I conquered a fatal dose of radiation! But in terms of performance… no, those experiments are no joke. It's better to do it his way.”

July 27. I have a great quantity of doubles and monsters. I set the normal rabbits free on the grounds, and the monsters I take out one at a time in a satchel and take them to the other side of the Dnieper.

That's it. The pleasure of the novelty has worn off. I'm disgusted by this mockery of nature: it's only a rabbit, but it is alive. The ones who squint at themselves suspiciously, two heads on the same body… ugh! But, what the hell! I've discovered a method of controlling biological synthesis. I tested it and developed it. Science in the long run creates methods, not constructions, not things, not objects, but methods — how to do it all. And no researcher would ever pass up a chance to squeeze every possibility from his method.

By the way, yesterday there was a new dish at the institute cafeteria — roast rabbit with new potatoes, forty — five kopeks. Let's just call it a coincidence. But even that's a possible application of the discovery: breeding rabbits, as well as cows, for meat, improving the breeds. With an industrial application this method would have to be better than standard methods.

Tomorrow I'm going back to experiment on the synthesis of man. The methodology is clear, there's no point in dragging it out. And the very thought of it makes me drool. To go back to the synthesis of man… it was one thing when my double appeared on his own, almost by accident, the way it happens in life; it'll be another thing to prepare a human being consciously, like a rabbit. In essence, I won't be 'going back' to this, I'll be beginning.

What kind of a creature is man, that I can't work with him as calmly as I do with a rabbit?

Let's set up some perspective here. The megagalaxy, a cloud of stars, floats in the black void. There is a lentil — shaped dust mote of stars in it — our Milky Way. At the edge of it, our Sun, and around it, the planets. On one of them — not the largest, and not the smallest — live people. Three and a half billion, that's not so many. If you line them up in formation, all of humanity can be seen from the Eiffel Tower. If you put them together, you would get a cube with each side a kilometer long, that's all. A cubic kilometer of living and thinking matter, a molecule in the universe…. And so what?

What? That I'm a human being too. One of them. Not the lowest and not the highest. Not the smartest, and not the dumbest. Not the first, and not the last. And yet I feel that I am all of that. And I feel responsible for everything.

Chapter 15

In caring about your neighbor, the important thing is not to overdo it.

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 33

July 29. I'm sitting in the information chamber, surrounded by sensors, the Monomakh's Crown on my head. I'm keeping a diary because there's absolutely nothing else to do. I'll be sleeping here this week, too, on a cot.

So I'm sitting around, thinking wise thoughts.

Thus, man. The highest form of living matter.

A carcass of hollow bones, flexible clumps of protein, which contain what scientists and engineers are trying to analyze and re — create in logical circuits and electronic models — life, a complex, constantly functioning and constantly changing system. Millions of bits of information penetrate us every second through the nerve endings of our eyes, ears, skin, nose, and tongue and are turned into electrical impulses. If they are amplified, you can hear the characteristic “Drrrr… dr…” in their dynamics. The bionics people played it for me once. The machine — gun volleys of impulses spread along the nerves, increase or engulf one another, and stick in the molecular memory cells. A huge processing unit, the brain, sorts them, compares them with the chemical recording of the internal program that contains everything — dreams and wishes, duty and goal, survival instinct and hunger, love and hate, habits and knowledge, superstition and curiosity — and makes up the commands for the executive organs. And people talk, run, kiss, write poetry and denunciations, orbit in space, scratch their heads, shoot, push buttons, bring up children, meditate….

What's the most important thing?

I'm getting a picture of method for the controlled synthesis of man. You can introduce additional information and thereby alter the form and content of man. This will come — we're moving toward it. But what information should be introduced? What alterations should be made? Take me, for instance. Let's say that a computer will be synthesizing me (especially since it already has): what would I like changed?

You can't answer that off the bat. I'm used to myself. I'm much more interested in people around me than in myself. We all know what we want from other people: that they don't interfere with our lives. But what do we want from ourselves?

Yesterday I had the following conversation:

“Tell me, Lena, what kind of a son would you like?”


“Well, I mean how would you like to see him as an adult?”

“Handsome, healthy, smart, and talented. honest and kind. About your height, say… no, maybe a little taller! He could become a violinist, and I would go to his concerts. He could look like… oh, God, why did you bring it up? Oh, I see. You've decided to propose! Right? How interesting! Do it right, according to all the traditions, and I might say yes. Well!”

“Hmmmmmm… no, I was just asking….”

“Oh, just asking! An abstract son, so to speak?”


“Then you should be discussing it with an abstract woman, not with me!”

Women take things very concretely.

However, from what she said, one quality can be singled out — to be smart. That's what I know about.

Logical thought in humans works at a much lower level than it does in electronic systems. The speed of processing information is pathetic: fifteen to twenty bits per second. That's why they always have to plug in “buffers.” Ask a person, unexpectedly, something very simple, like

“What time is it?” and you'll get an answer like “huh?” or “what?” This doesn't mean he is deaf — simply that in the time that you take to repeat the question he's thinking furiously for an answer. Sometimes that time isn't enough, and then you get “hmmm, well… let's see… the best way to put it… is… hmmmm….”

Time for a smoke break. I've been here too long. Freedom!

The morning is like a violin melody. The greenery is fresh. The sky is blue. The air is pure.

There goes Pasha Fartkin on his way to the institute garage. He's a lathe operator, a drunkard, and a sneak; he manfully bears the burden of his last name on his sloping shoulders. I'll test it out on him!

“Tell me, Pasha, what do you want from life on a morning like this?”

“Valentin Vasilyevich!” He seemed to be waiting for the question, looking at me with joy and amazement. “I'll be honest with you, like a brother: ten rubles until payday! I swear to God I'll pay you back!”

In my confusion, I take out a ten, give it to him, and only then realize that Pasha never pays his debts to anyone, it's never been recorded.

“Thanks, Valentin Vasilyevisch. I'll never forget you for this!” Fartkin put away the money quickly. His puffy face expressed sadness that he hadn't asked for more. “And what do you want from life on this beautiful morning?”

“Well… actually… you see… well… to get the money back at least.”

“Don't you worry!” Pasha said and went on.

Hmmmmmm… what happened? Does that mean that my logical thinking is weak, too? Strange. My nervous system processes a veritable Niagara Falls of information, and with its help I make complex movements impossible for any machine (writing, for instance) and yet I can't think fast enough to…. In a word I should prepare information on how to be smart and think fast for introduction into the computer — womb. If God didn't give it to me, the least I can do is make sure my double has it. Let him be smarter than me.

August 3. Yes, but in order to introduce information into the computer, you have to have it. And it doesn't exist.

I'm dividing my time now between the information chamber and the library. I've gone through a ton of books — and nothing.

I could increase the volume of the double's brain. That wouldn't be hard. I can watch the brain appear. But there is no correlation between brain weight and the mind: Anatole France's brain weighed a kilogram; Turgenev's brain, two kilos; and one cretin's brain almost made three kilos: 2 kilos 850 grams.

I could increase the surface of the cortex or the number of ridges. That's just as easy. But there is no correlation between the number of ridges and intellect: a woodpecker has many more ridges than our close relative the orangutan. So much for birdbrains!

I know what man's mind is related to: the quick action of our nerve cells. This is perfectly clear, and for electronic machines the quickness is the most important thing. If the computer doesn't solve the problem in the short time it takes for the fuel to burn in the launching rocket — the rocket, instead of going into orbit, will fall on the ground.

Most mistakes we make are analogous: we don't solve the problem in the given time; we don't have time to figure things out. The problems in life are no simpler than bringing a rocket into orbit. And time is always critical. It's terrifying to think how many mistakes are made in the world just because we can only process two dozen bits of information in a second instead of two hundred bits!

And so what? There are zillions of articles, reports, and monographs on the perfection of logic and the speeding up of work of computers (even though they can already do close to ten million operations a second) — and nothing about improving the logic and speed of human thought. The dobbler goes around without boots.

In a word, how sad that this idea will have to be left for better times….

Graduate student Krivoshein rubbed his neck thoughtfully. “Yes, he's right….” He hadn't thought about that; it never occurred to him. Maybe because on a fellowship you don't go around lending money very often. The only thing that occupied him was improving his memory, and that came about on its own. There was too much to remember at once to transform oneself. And when the experiment was over, unnecessary information cluttered up his mind and interfered with the new work. So he mastered the chemistry of directed forgetting: he erased from his cortex those little details of new knowledge that were easier to figure out again than to remember.

But that was something else. He hadn't thought about speed of the brain's logic. He felt funny. He was so engrossed in biology that he had forgotten he came there as a systems engineer to probe new possibilities in man. Did that mean that he didn't direct the work, that the work had taken him astray? He did what fell into his hands. “Humanity could perish if everyone did only what he could handle,” Androsiashvili had said. And that was no joke.

But it's easy to approach this problem. In humans, information is transported by ions, and you can't make them go any faster, the way computers can. Oh, oh, I seem to be justifying myself! Man can solve complex problems very easily: move, work, talk, but when it comes to logic he just doesn't have the biological experience. Animals in evolution didn't have to think, they had to take action — bite, howl, leap, crawl — and the faster the better. Now if animals had had to solve systems of equations, carry on diplomatic talks, do business, and make sense of the world in order to survive — then what wonderful logic they would have developed! I have to think about this, look around….

August 4. The blinking lights on the control panel of the TsVM — 12 have stopped. That means that all the information about me is recorded in the computer — womb. Where are they now, my dreams, my character flaws, the construction of my intestines, thoughts, and average looks — in the cubes of magnetic memory? In the cells of the crystal unit? Or are they dissolved in the golden liquid of the tank? I don't know, and it doesn't matter.

Tomorrow, a trial re — creation. Only a trial, and nothing more.

August 5. 2:05 P.M. “You may!” A new, spectral me began appearing in the sunny liquid of the vat. The picture is the same as a rabbit appearing, but at the same moment as the circulatory system appears so does a fuzzy gray mass at the top of the vat; that becomes the brain. The brain that I can't improve upon with new information. The eye sees but the tooth can't bite.

But by four in the afternoon the new double has reached the opaque stage; there are intimations of underwear….

If six months ago someone had told me that questions of life and death and morality and criminal law would enter my methodology, I doubt that I would have been able to appreciate the depth of the wit. And now I stood in front of the tank and thought: “He's going to come to life now, climb out of the liquid. Why? What will I do with him?”

“I existed before I appeared in the computer,” my first double said to me. “I was you.”

And he was unhappy with his situation. But we'll learn all the joys of communal living with this one: arguments over Lena, worries that we'll be caught, the problems of the bed versus the cot…. And most important: this is not what I had expected from the new experiment. The experiment is a success. The computer is re — creating me. But I have to move beyond that.

And if I dissolve him with the command “No!” — isn't that death? But, forgive me, whose death is it? Mine? No, I'm still alive. The double's in the vat? But he doesn't exist yet.

Is this all subject to the rule of law — my experiments? And on the other hand, is this abuse of my work? My double was right: there is really strange work.

And it all stems, I guess, from faintheartedness. In our modern world people in the name of ideals and political goals go forth and send others to kill and die. There are ideas and goals that justify it. And I have a great idea and a great goal: to create a method that improves man and human society. I won't spare myself, if need be. Then why am I afraid to give the command “No!” for the sake of my work? I have to be firmer, if I'm undertaking this work.

Especially since this isn't death. Death is the disappearance of information about a man, but the information is not lost in the computer — womb; it merely changes form, from electrical impulses and potentials to man. And I can always give them another double if they want….

I pondered until the hoses leaving the tank began contracting rhythmically, emptying out the excess liquid. Then I put on the Crown and gave the command.

It's not a pleasant sight: there was a man — and he dissolved. I still feel bad…. All right, pal, don't rush. I'll make you fine and dandy. Of course, I can't give you more brains than what I've got myself, but at least I'll give you looks that will make you reel. After all, you have lots of flaws, as I do: slightly bowed legs, hips too wide and fat, rounded shoulders, a stumpy torso, masses of excess hair on the legs, chest, and back. And protruding ears, and a jaw that makes me look like a complete dolt. And my forehead, and my nose. no, let's be self — critical. It just won't do!

August 6. Experiment number 2 — things get harder by the hour! Today I decided to improve on the looks of a new double and got so messed up that I don't even want to think about it.

I began knowing exactly what was “not it” in my looks. (Actually, it's all “not it,” if it can be changed.) But what was “it?” In my experiments with the rabbits the criterion for “it” was whatever I felt like. But a man is no rabbit; even though they say one head is good, and two are better, no one ever thought that in a biological sense.

After my command of “You may!” the image of the new double appeared and the semitransparent lilac muscles of the stomach had started disappearing under a layer of yellow fat, I gave the signal “That's not it!” The computer, obeying my imagination, dissolved the fat tissue where I saw it: on the stomach and near the neck, leaving it on the back and sides.

I hadn't noticed that right away, because I was working on the face. Mentally I gave the double a noble brow, but when I looked at the profile, I was aghast: the skull had been flattened! And the shape of the brow contradicted the rest of the face.

In a word, I was lost. The computer took that for a total “not it” and dissolved the double.

I was at dead — end. “It was obviously the beauty of the human body. There are classical examples of it. But… turning my double into a pleasant — looking man with classic features in the course of two hours of synthesis was something that was beyond the powers of not only me, but of the most qualified member of the Artists' Union of the USSR! My only hope was that the computer was remembering all the changes made on the double.

Then I gave the order “You may!” once more. Yes, the computer — womb remembered everything: the double retained all my clumsy changes. That was better, I could work as many sessions as was necessary.

In that session I got rid of the excess fat from the double's body. His pot belly disappeared. You could even see his waist. And his neck took on definite outline. That was enough for a start. “No!” Everything disappeared and I ran over to the city library.

I'm leafing through Professor G. Gicescusy Atlas of Plastic Anatomy (I also have four richly illustrated books on Renaissance art), learning about the proportions of the human body, picking out the double's looks like a suit off the rack. The canons of Leonardo da Vinci, of Durer, the proportions of Schmidt — Friech…. It seems that in a proportionate man the buttocks are exactly at mid — height. Who would have thought!

God, what a poor engineer had to learn!

I'm taking Hercules as my basis since he is shown from all angles.

August 74. The twelfth experiment — and it's still not right. Still lopsided and vulgar. First one leg is shorter than the other, then the arms don't match. Now I'm going to try the proportions of Durer's Adam.

August 20. The proportions are right. But the face… an eyeless, dead copy with Krivoshein's features. Large rust — colored marble curlicues instead of hair. In a word, today was the twenty — first “No!”

Someone careful and suspicious inside me keeps asking “Is this it? The method you're developing now, is this the method?”

I think so, yes. Anyway, it's a step in the right direction. For now, in order to synthesize a man, I introduce only high — quality information about his body. But in the same manner we could (and in time we'll work out how to do it) introduce any information gathered by humanity into the computer — womb on the best human qualities, and create not only externally beautiful and physically strong people, but ones who are beautiful and strong in mental and spiritual qualities as well. Usually the good is mixed with the bad in people: he's smart but weak in spirit; he's got a strong will but applies it to trifles either through stupidity or ignorance, or he's firm, and kind, and smart, but sickly. and with this method we could get rid of all the bad and synthesize only the best qualities into a person.

“A synthetic knight without fear or flaw” — that must sound terrible. But what's the difference in the end: whether they're synthetic or natural? As long as there are plenty of them. There are so few “knights” — personally I only know them from movies and books. And yet we need them so much in real life. There'll be room and work for all of them. And each will be able to influence the world to be a better place.

August 28. It's working! Pathetic daubers with their brushes who try to capture the beauty and power of living person in a dead medium. Here it is, my “brush,” an electrochemical machine, a continuation of my brain. And I'm an engineer, not an artist. Without using my hands, through the power of my mind, I am creating beauty in life with life.

The delicate and precise proportions of Durer's Adam with the rippling muscles of Hercules. And the face is handsome. Two or three more tries… and I'm done.

September 1. The first day on the calendar! I'm on my way to the lab. I have pants, shirt, and shoes for him. Into the suitcase. And don't forget the movie camera — I'm going to film the appearance of the magnificent double. I'm anticipating what an effect that home movie will have someday when I show it!

I'm going over there, put on Monomakh's Crown, and mentally I'll give the order. no, I'll say it out loud, damn it, in a strong and beautiful voice, the way the Lord had spoken in a similar situation:

“You may! Appear into this world, double Adam — Hercules — Krivoshein!”

“And the Lord saw that it was good….”

Of course, I'm not God. I spent a month creating a man, and He managed on a shortened workday, Saturday. But was that work?

Chapter 16

Man has always considered himself smart — even when he walked on all fours and curled his tail like a handle on a lea — kettle. In order to become smart, he'll have to feel that he is stupid at least once.

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 59

The next entry in the diary shocked student Krivoshein with its uneven, changed handwriting.

September 6. But I didn't want… I didn't want something like this! All I can do is shout to the sky: I didn't want it! I tried to make things come out well… without any mistakes. I didn't even sleep nights. I just lay there with my eyes shut, picturing all the details of Hercules' body, and then Adam's, noting which features should be added to my double.

I couldn't do it all in one session. No way — that's why I dissolved him. I couldn't let out a cripple with arms and legs of different length. And I couldn't possibly have known that each time I dissolved him I killed him. How could I have known?

As soon as the liquid cleared his head and shoulders, the double grabbed the edge of the tank with his powerful hands and jumped out. I was running the movie camera, capturing the historic moment of a man appearing from a machine. He fell on the linoleum before me, sobbing with a hoarse, howling cry. I ran to him:

“What's the matter?”

He was hugging my leg with his sticky hands, rubbing his head against them, kissing my hands as I tried to lift him.

“Don't kill me, don't kill me! Don't kill me any more! Why do you torture me, aaah! Don't! Twenty — five times you've killed me, twenty — five times. Aaah!”

But I hadn't known. I couldn't know that his consciousness revived with every experiment! He understood that I was reshaping his body, doing what I wanted with him, and he couldn't do a thing about it. My command “No!” first dissolved his body, and then his consciousness dimmed. Why didn't that artificial idiot tell me that the consciousness begins functioning before the body?

“Damn it!” the student muttered. “Really — the brain must be unplugged last. When was that?” He turned the pages and sighed with a certain relief. No, it wasn't his fault. In August and September he couldn't have told him, he didn't know it himself. If he were running the experiment, he would have made the same mistake.

And so I got a man with a classic physique, a pleasant look, and the broken spirit of a slave. “A knight without fear or flaw.”

Go ahead, look for a scapegoat, you louse. You didn't know; you tried! But did you!? Wasn't it conceit, self — love? Didn't you feel like God sitting up in the clouds in a labeled leather armchair? A god, on whose whims depended the appearance and disappearance of a man, whether he would be or not be. Didn't you experience an intellectual passion when you gave the computer — womb the orders over and over: “You may!” and “Not it!” and “No!”?

He tried to escape from the lab immediately. I barely talked him into washing up and dressing. He was trembling. There could be no question of his working alongside me in the lab.

He spent five days with me^ five horrible days. I kept hoping he'd relax, get better. No way! No, he was healthy in body, knew everything, remembered everything — the computer — womb recorded all my information in him, my knowledge, my memory — but the terror of his experience was overwhelming and could not be controlled by his will or thoughts. His hair turned gray the first day from the memories.

He was terrified of me. When I would come home, he would jump up and get into a position of submission: his gladiator's back would hunch and his arms, bulging with rippling muscles, would hang limp. He was trying to look smaller. And his eyes — oh, God, those eyes! They looked at me with a prayer, entreaty, with a panic — stricken readiness to do anything to mollify me. I felt terrified and guilty. I've never seen a man look that way.

And tonight, sometime after three… I don't know why I woke up. There was a dead gray light from the streetlights on the ceiling. Adam the double was standing over my bed with a raised dumbbell. I could see his muscles in his right arm tense for the blow. We stared at each other for a few seconds. Then he giggled nervously and moved away, his bare feet scuffling on the wood floor.

I sat up on the bed and turned on the overhead light. He was crouching on the floor by the closet, his head on his knees. His shoulders and the dumbbell in his hand were shaking.

“What's the matter?” I asked. “You should strike, once you've aimed. You would have felt better.”

“I can't forget,” he muttered in a hollow baritone through the sobs. “You see, I can't forget how you used to kill me… twenty — five times!”

I opened the desk, took out my passport, engineering degree, what money there was, and shook him by the shoulder. “Get up! Get dressed and go. Go off somewhere, make a life for yourself, work, live. We won't be able to do anything together. No rest for you or me. It's not my fault! Damn it, can't you understand that I didn't know? I was doing something that had never been done. Surely there were things I couldn't have known. A man can be born a monster or mentally ill, or become that way after an illness or accident, but then it's nobody's fault, nobody to bash with a dumbbell. If you had been in my place, the same thing would have happened, because you are me! Understand?”

He was backing toward the wall, shaking. That sobered me up.

“I'm sorry. Take my papers. I'll manage here somehow. Here,” I said, opening the passport, “you look more like me on the picture than I do. The photographer must have tried to perfect my features, too. Take the money, a suitcase, clothes — and go where you want. You'll live on your own, work a bit, and maybe things will be easier for you.”

Two hours later he was gone. We agreed that he would write to me from wherever he settled. He won't write….

It's a good sign that he tried to kill me. That means he's no slave. He feels hurt and insulted. Maybe things will work out for him?

And I'm sitting here without a thought in my head. I have to start over. Oh, nature, what a bitch you are! How you enjoy laughing at our ideas! You seduce us, and then….

Drop it! Stop looking for someone to blame. Nature has nothing to do with it, it is part of your work only on an elementary level. And the rest is all you. Don't try to get out of it.

The alarm went off: 7:15. Time to get up, shave, wash, and go to work. A murky sun over the buildings, the sky full of smoke, dirty, like an old curtain. The wind raised dust, whipping the trees, blowing through the balcony door. Downstairs a bus licks people off the street at the stops. They gather again, and they all have the same expression on their faces: can't be late for work!

And I have to get to work too. I'll get to the lab, jot down the results of my unsatisfactory experiment, and console myself with the bromides: “You learn from your mistakes;” “There are no beaten paths in science;” and so on. And I'll start the next experiment. And I'll make more mistakes and destroy not guinea pigs, but… people? You conceited, dreaming cretin, armed with the latest technology!

The wind whips the trees. It was all in the past: the days of research and discovery, the evenings of meditation, the nights of dreaming. And here you are, the cold, clear morn, wiser than the night. Merciless morning! It's probably in this sober time that women who had dreamed all night of having a child go for an abortion. And I had an abortion. I dreamed. I wanted to bring happiness to the world, and I've created two miserable people already. I'll never master this work. I'm weak, unneeded, and stupid. I must take up something mediocre, that I can handle — for an article, for a dissertation. And then everything will be fine.

The wind whips the trees. The wind whips the trees….

On the next balcony there's a recording of Mozart's Requiem playing. My neighbor, associate professor Prishchepa, wants to get into a mathematical mood first thing in the morning. “Requi. requiem….” The voices are bidding farewell to someone clearly and simply. This is good music to shoot oneself by. Nobody would notice the shot.

The wind whips the trees.

What have I done? And yet I had doubts, and then not doubts but knowledge. I knew that any change I made stayed with him, that the computer — womb remembered everything. I didn't pay attention. Why?

I had a thought, not expressed in words, so that I wouldn't be ashamed, or a feeling of well — being and safety, I guess: “after all, it's not me. It's not happening to me….” And also a feeling of impunity: “Whatever I want, I'll do. Nothing will happen to me….”

You won't shoot yourself, you animal! You won't do anything to yourself — you'll live to a ripe old age and even set yourself up as an example to others.

The wind whips the trees. The bus licks people off the stops.

I don't want to go to work.

September 20. Gray asphalt. Gray clouds. The motorcycle swallows up miles like noodles. A kid stops by the road, and I can tell from his position that he's decided to be a motorcyclist on a red bike when he grows up. Be a motorcyclist, kid; just don't become a researcher.

I keep accelerating. The speedometer says over ninety. The wind is lashing my face. Here comes a dump truck, hogging most of the road, of course. Those bastard truckdrivers, they don't take bikers for people. Always trying to ride us off the road. Well, I'm not yielding to this one!

No, there was no crash. I'm alive. I'm writing down how I tore around glassy — eyed today. I have to write about something. The truck veered to the right at the last second. I watched in the rear view mirror as the driver pulled over and ran into the road, waving his fists at me.

Actually, if I had crashed, what difference would it make? There's a spare Krivoshein in Moscow. I can't describe my repulsion and disgust for everything right now. Including me.

How he shook, how he hugged my feet — the strong, handsome “not me.” And I could have foreseen it and spared him. I could have! But I thought: “It'll work like this. What the hell! After all, he's not me.”

And it was so interesting, good, beautiful. We dreamed and talked, worried about the good of mankind, swore a vow. What shame! And in the work, I overlooked the fact that I was creating a man. I thought about everything — exquisite forms, intellectual content — but that it might hurt or scare him never entered my mind. I just decided that there was no informational death in the experiment — and fine. But death was a violence that I performed on him over and over.

How did it happen? How?

The white posts along the highway reflect the motor's hum: but — but — but — but how did it happen? But — but — but — but how? The speedometer reads 110, the gray stripes of earth and trees whiz by. At this speed I could escape from pursuers or save someone, getting there in time! But I have no one to run away from and no one to save. I did have someone to save, but I had to do some honest thinking there… and I didn't.

I can master heights, elements, with my brain and brawn. It's easy with the elements. They can be mastered. But how do you master yourself?

I just went over the diary — and I'm frightened by how low and self — serving my thoughts are! Here I am discussing how troubles befall people because they are unprincipled, that they think they can live off to the side, not get involved, and a few pages later I cleverly make sure I'm off to the side: don't get mixed up with Harry Hilobok, let him get his damn doctoral dissertation…. Here I'm thinking about how to derive benefit from my discovery, and here I call myself to do cruel acts with reference to wars and murders in the world. Here I (or me and the double, it doesn't matter) lower myself to the level of an ordinary engineer, who can't handle such difficult work — a moral insurance in case it doesn't work; and when it does work, I compare myself to the gods. And I wrote all this sincerely, without noticing any contradictions.

Without noticing? I didn't want to notice them! It was so pleasant and convenient that way: preen, lie to myself with an open heart, adjust ideas and facts to fit my moral comfort. So it turns out I thought more about myself than about humanity? It turns out that this work, if evaluated not from a scientific but a moral position, was nothing more than showing off? Of course, where would I find the time to worry about my guinea pigs!

What kind of a man are you, Krivoshein?

September 22. I'm not working. I can't work now. Today I rode down to Berdichev for some reason and by the way, I understood the hidden meaning of the mysterious phrase that was printed out one day. Twenty — six kopeks is what it costs to fuel up to get from Berdichev to Dneprovsk: five liters of gas, two hundred grams of oil. I've unearthed another discovery!

Where is Adam now? Where did he go?

And that creature that the machine tried to create after the first double: half — Lena, half — me. It, too, must have suffered the horrors of death when we ordered the computer to dissolve it? And my father. Oh damn! Why am I thinking about that?

My father… the last cossack in the Krivoshein line. According to family tradition, my forefathers come from the Zaporozhian cossacks. There was a brave cossack whose neck was damaged in battle — and there you get the Krivoshein line. When Empress Catherine broke them up, they moved to this side of the Volga. My grandfather Karp Vasilyevich beat up the priest and the head of the village when they decided to get rid of the village school and set up a church school. I haven't the slightest idea what the difference was between them, but my grandfather died at hard labor.

Father took part in all the revolutions, and served under Chapayev in the Civil War.

He fought in the last war as an old man, and only the first two years. They were retreating in the Ukraine and he led his battalion out from an ambush in Kharkov. Then because of wounds and age, they transferred him to the rear, as a commander on the other side of the Urals. There, in the camp, a soldier and peasant, he taught me how to ride, how to take care of a horse and saddle it, how to plow, mow, shoot from a rifle and a pistol, dig the earth, and chop brambles with a machette. He also made me kill chickens and pigs by stabbing them under the right shoulder blade with a small flat knife, so that I wouldn't fear blood. “It'll come in handy in life, sonny!”

Shortly before his death he and I went down to his homeland in Mironovka, to see his cousin Egor Stepanovich Krivoshein. While we were sitting in his cottage drinking, Egor's grandson rushed over:

“Cramps, they dug out a body from the clay in Sheep's Gully where they're digging the dam!”

“In Sheep's Gully?” my father asked. The old men exchanged a look. “Let's go see.”

The crowd of workmen and onlookers made way for the two old men. The gray, chalky bones were piled up in one spot. Father poked the skull with a stick, and it turned over, revealing a hole over the right temple.

“Mine!” father said looking at Egor Stepanovich triumphantly. “And you missed. Your hand shook, huh!”

“How do you know it's yours?” the other demanded sticking his beard into the air.

“Have you forgotten? He was coming back to the village. I was right on the side of the road, you were on the left….” and father drew a picture in the clay to prove his point.

“Whose remains are these, old men?” a young foreman in a fancy shirt demanded.

“The captain,” father explained, squinting. “In the first revolution the Ural cossacks were quartered here, and this here was their captain. Don't bother the police with it, sonny. It's been over a long time.”

How marvelous it was to lie in wait in the steppe at night with father's gun, waiting for the captain — both for the principle and the fact that the bastard ripped up men with his bayonet and raped girls! Or to fly on horseback, feeling the weight of your saber in your hand, taking measure: I'll chop that one over there, with beard, from his epaulets all the way through!

The last time I fought was eighteen years ago, and it wasn't a fight to the death, only to the school bell. I never galloped in the days of old. All my bravado comes on a bike facing down a truck.

And I'm not afraid, father, of blood or death. But your simple lessons never did come in handy. The revolution continues through different means, with discoveries and inventions — weapons more dangerous than sabers. And I'm afraid, father, of making mistakes.

Liar! Liar! You're preening again, you low — life! You have an ineradicable streak of showing off. Oh, it's so pretty: “I'm scared of making mistakes, father,” and all about the revolution. Don't you dare!

You wanted to synthesize in people (yes, people, not artificial doubles!) the nobility of spirit that you lack, the beauty that you don't have, the determination you'll never have, and the selflessness you can't even dream of.

You come from a good family. Your forefathers knew how to work and to leave good work behind them, and to beat the bastards with fist or gun. They didn't let up. And what are you? Have you fought for justice? Oh, you never had an opportunity? Maybe you've cleverly managed to avoid them? What, don't feel like remembering?

That's the problem. I'm afraid of everything: life, people. I even love Lena in a cowardly way: I'm afraid to bring her close and I'm afraid to lose her. And God forbid, no children. Children complicate things.

And the fact that I'm hiding my discovery — isn't that also a fear that I won't be able to develop it properly? And I probably won't. I'm a weakling. One of those smart weaklings who are better off not being smart. Because their brain is only given them so that they can appreciate their lowness and impotence.

Graduate student Krivoshein lit up a cigarette and paced the room nervously. It was painful reading the notes — it was about him, too. He sighed and returned to the desk.

Easy, Krivoshein, easy. You can talk yourself into something hysterical this way. You still have the responsibility for the work… and everything isn't lost yet. You're not such a son of a bitch that you should drop dead immediately.

I can even make you look good. I haven't used the discovery for personal gain, and I won't. I worked at peak capacity, and I didn't cheat. Now I'm trying to figure things out. So I'm not worse than others. I made a mistake. And who doesn't?

Yes, but in this work comparisons on a relative scale — who's better, who's worse — don't apply. Others study crystals or develop machines; they know their work, and that's enough. Their character flaws only harm them, their co — workers at the lab, and their relatives. But I'm different. In order to create Man, it's not enough to know, to have a scientific handle on the thing — you have to be a real Man yourself, not better or worse than others, but in the absolute sense a knight without fear or flaw. I wouldn't mind that at all, but I don't know how to go about it. I don't have the information.

Does that mean that I can't handle this work?

October 8. The yellow and red autumn is in the institute grounds, and I can't work. It's full of dry leaves, the lightest rain makes a lot of noise on them, and then there's a coffee aroma of rotten leaves. And I can't work….

Maybe I shouldn't, it's not needed? A good generic stock, a quality education, a hygienic life — style…. Let smart people re — create themselves, have lots of children with good stock. They'll be able to feed them, their salaries will stretch; after all, they're smart people. And they'll be able to bring them up. They're smart people. No computers will be necessary.

Harry Hilobok called today. They're organizing a permanent exhibit at the institute: “The Achievements of Soviet Systemology,” and naturally, he's the organizer.

“Won't you contribute something, Valentin Vasilyevich?”


“Why are you like that? Now Ippolit Illarionovich Voltampernov's department is giving three exhibits and other departments and labs are contributing. We should have at least one exhibit on your topic. Don't you have anything yet?”

“No. How's the biosensor system moving, Harry Haritonovich?”

“Eh, Valentin Vasilyevich, what's one system compared to all of systemology, heh — heh! We're working on it, but meanwhile you see, everyone's demanding exhibit stands, mock — ups, tableaux, signs in three languages, and our heads are spinning. The lab and the workshops are full up, but if you should have anything for the show, we'll manage. Things are going fast around here.”

I almost said that it was the system that I needed to come up with an exhibit for your stupid show but I controlled myself. (Let him make it and then we'll see.) Always being sneaky, Krivoshein!

My exhibits were all over the world. One was in Moscow struggling with biology. The others were munching grass and cabbage in gardens. And another just ran off to who knows where.

Should I exhibit the computer — womb to shock the academic world? Create two — headed and six — footed rabbits as part of the demonstration, at the rate of two an hour? That would create a stir.

No, brother. This machine makes man. And there's no way of getting around that.

Chapter 17

Every action carries obligations. Inaction doesn't oblige you to anything.

— K. Prutkov — engineer

October 11. I'm repeating the experiments in controlled synthesis of rabbits — just so that the mechanism doesn't sit around for nothing. I'm filming it all. I'll have a documentary. “Citizens, present your documentaries!”

October 13. I've invented a method of destroying biological information in the computer — womb quickly and dependably. You can call it an “electric eraser.” I use tension from the noise generator as input for the crystal unit and TsVM — 12 and 15–20 minutes later the computer forgets everything about the rabbits. If I had had this method earlier instead of the order “No!” I would have destroyed Adam each time irreversibly and fundamentally.

I just don't know if he would have liked that any better.

Time is making the leaves fall and the sky grow cold. And my work isn't moving. I can't undertake serious work now. I don't have the stomach for it. I'm lost.

Here, Krivoshein! You can now take it as conclusively demonstrated that you are neither God nor the hub of the earth. Thus, you should seek help from others. You must go to Arkady Arkadievich….

“Aha,” graduate student Krivoshein exclaimed.

I must follow procedure; he is my superior. Actually, that's not the point. He's smart, knowledgeable, influential, and a marvelous methodologist. He knows how to formulate any problem. And, “A formulated problem,” as it says in his Introduction to Systemology, “is the solution to the problem written in hidden form.” And that's just what I need. And he supported my topic at the scientific council. Of course, he's overly officious and conceited, but we'll manage. He's a smart man, after all. He'll understand that glory is not the point of this work.

Wait! Good intentions are one thing, but reasonable care can't hurt. To let Azarov in on the deep, dark secret that the computer — womb can synthesize live systems — no, that can't be allowed. I have to start with something simpler, and then we'll see, as he likes to say.

I have to synthesize electronic circuits in the computer. That was what old Voltampernov had attacked, and by the way, that's my official topic for the next year and half.

“You must, Valentin Vasilyevich, you must!”

Here's the plan. We place six wires into the liquid: two are feeders; two, the control oscillograph; and two, the impulse generator. I give the computer the parameters of the circuits and the approximate sizes through Monomakh's Crown. I definitely know what's “it” and “not it” in this — it's familiar ground.

October 15. Rounded brown squares are appearing in the tank. They look like laminated insulation. Metal lines of the circuits settle on top of the squares, then layers of insulation, condensers, strips of resistors, and diodes and transistors…. It looks a lot like film technology, which is being developed in microelectronics, but without the vacuum, electrical discharge, and other pyrotechnics.

And how pleasant it is after all the headaches and nightmares to click the switches, adjust the brightness and contrast of the beam on the oscilloscope, and count off the microsecond impulses! Everything is clear, precise, understandable. It's like coming home from distant shores. The devil lured me onto those shores, into the dark jungles called “man” without a guide or compass. But who is a guide and what's a compass?

All right. The parameters of the circuits agree, project 154 is half done. Won't Ippolit Illarionovich be glad!

I'll go to see Azarov. I'll show him the samples, explain a few things and hint at future prospects. I'll go there tomorrow and say:

“Arkady Arkadievich, I come to you as one smart man to another….”

October 16. I went… flying into open arms.

So, in the morning I thought through our conversation, took along the samples, and headed for the old building. The autumn sun shed light on the ornate walls, granite steps, and me, walking up them.

My depression began at the front door. Those governmental three — meter — wide doors made out of carved oak, with curved handles and tight pneumatic springs! They seem to be created especially for beefy young bureaucrats with hands as big as skillets for a dozen eggs. The young bucks open the doors with a light tug and go handle important papers. Once through the doors I began thinking that a conversation with Azarov should not begin with a shocking opening (“I come to you as one smart man to another….”); instead I should kowtow — he's an academician and I'm an engineer.

And as I walked up the marble staircase covered with thick carpet attached by chrome tacks, with bannisters too broad to grasp completely, my soul reached a respectful readiness to agree with anything the academician might say or recommend. In a word, if it was Krivoshein the discoverer who went up the stairs with a spring step, it was Krivoshein the supplicant who entered the director's waiting room, shuffling his feet, with a hunched back and a guilty face.

His secretary Ninochka cut me off with a fervor that Lev Yashin, the goalie, would envy.

“No, no, no, comrade Krivoshein, you can't. Arkady Arkadievich is going to a congress in New Zealand. You know how much trouble I get into if I let people in! He's not seeing anyone, see?”

There were quite a few people sitting in the waiting room. They all gave me a dirty look. I sat down to wait, without any particular hope for success, simply because the others were waiting, and I would, too. To be part of the collective. A dead — end situation.

More people arrived. They were all grim and ugly. No one spoke to anyone.

The more people there were in the waiting room, the less important my business seemed. It occurred to me that my samples were measured, not tested, and that Azarov would try to prove that technological work in electronics wasn't for us. “And why am I bothering him? I've still got over a year to finish the project. So that Hilobok can crack jokes about my work habits again?”

Speak of the devil, Hilobok appeared in the doorway with a rushed look; I took up a good position and slipped in after him.

“Arkady Arkadievich, I'd like….”

“No, no, Valentin… eh… Vasilyevich.” Azarov frowned in my direction, accepting some papers from Harry. “I can't! I simply can't. There's a holdup with my visa. I have to go over the typed lecture. Please address your questions to Ippolit Illarionovich. He'll be my replacement this month, or to Harry Haritonovich. I'm not the only person in the whole world, for pity's sake!”

So, the man is going to New Zealand. Why am I bothering him? To a congress and to familiarize himself. And why did I ever think to grab him by the coattail? It's silly. Just go on and work, until they want a report.

Some day they'll interrupt government meetings for this project. Yes, but why that does that have to be some day?

They won't interrupt meetings, don't worry. I'll be dealing with second — level clerks, who will never take it upon themselves to take any action or responsibility — weaklings, just like me.

Weakling. A weakling and nothing more! You should have talked to him, if you had decided to. You couldn't. You apologized in a repulsive voice and left his office. Getting an Azarov who is hurrying across the seas interested in your work is a lot harder than commanding the computer — womb.

But there's still something wrong.

October 25. And this is right, I think! Our fair city is being visited by a major specialist in microelectronics, a technical sciences candidate, a future doctor in the field, Valery Ivanov. He called me today. We're meeting tomorrow at eight at the Dynamo Restaurant. Dress accordingly. Ladies not excluded.

Valery Ivanov, with whom I used to cut classes so that we could play cards, my roommate, the guy I did my probation work and went to parties at the library institute with. Valery Ivanov, my former boss and co — inventor of two projects, a good arguer and a man of great ideas! Valery Ivanov, the man I worked with like this for five years. I'm happy.

“Listen, Valery,” I'll say to him, “give up your microelectronics, and come back here. I've got a great project.”

He can even head the lab, since he's got the degree. I'm willing. He knows how to work.

Well, let's see how he's changed over the last year.

October 26, night. Nothing happens in life for nothing.

From my first look at him, I knew that we wouldn't have the old rapport. And it wasn't a question of a year's separation. The old Harry — esque vileness had come between us. It's not his fault or mine, but we've ended up on opposite sides. He, who had proudly quit and slammed the door, was somehow more in the right than I, who stayed behind and didn't share his bitter lot. That's why there was a slight unpleasantness between us all evening, a bitterness that we couldn't overcome. We somehow trusted each other less now. It was good that I took Lena with me; at least she decorated our meeting.

Actually the conversation was interesting. It's worth relating.

The meeting began at 8:00 P.M. A Petersburgian sat before me. An imported suit in a discreet gray check, without lapels, a white, starched shirt, hexagonal glasses on an aquiline nose, a proper black crew cut. Even the drawn cheeks reminded me of the blockade.

Lena was no slouch, either. As we walked across the room, everyone looked at her. I was the only slob in the group: a checked shirt and not — too — rumpled gray pants. Two doubles had depleted my wardrobe severely.

Waiting for our order, we enjoyed looking at each other.

“Well,” Petersburgian Ivanov broke the silence, “Oink something, you old pig.”

“I see your mug is assymetrical.”

“Assymetry is a sign of the times. That's my teeth. I got a chill in the train,” he said touching his cheek.

“Let me give you a punch — it'll pass.”

“Thanks. I think I'll stick to cognac.”

That was our usual warm — up before a good talk.

They brought cognac and wine for the lady. We drank, satisfied our first hunger with sturgeon in aspic and then stared at each other expectantly again. There were parties going on around us. A tubby man standing at two joined tables was toasting “mother science.” (They were drinking to a completed dissertation.) A tipsy fellow all alone at a neighboring table was threatening a carafe of vodka, muttering:

“I'm quiet… I'm quiet!” He was bursting to tell some secret.

“Listen, Val!”

“Listen, Valery!”

We looked at each other.

“Well, you go first.” I nodded.

“Listen, Val,” his eyes glistening invitingly behind his glasses, “drop your systemology and come over to us. I'll arrange your transfer. We're working on such an interesting project now! A microelectric complex, a machine that makes machines. Do you get it?”

“Solid — state circuits?”

“Ah, what are solid — state circuits — obsolete now. Electronic and plasma rays plus electrophotography plus cathode spraying of film plus… in a word, here's the idea. The circuit of an electronic machine evolves in bundles of ions and electrons, like the image on a TV screen — and that's it. It's finished; it can work. A density of elements as in the human brain. See that?”

“And does that exist now?”

“Well, you see…” he raised his eyebrows. “If it did, then why would I call on you? We'll do it in the time allotted.”

(Well, of course, I had to drop systemology and follow him! Not him follow me; oh, no… of course not! That's the way it always was.)

“What about the Americans?”

“They're trying, too. The question is who'll be first. We're working at full blast. I've already made a dozen depositions. Do you get it?”

“Well, what's the goal?”

“Very simple: to make computers as easily mass produced and cheap as newspapers. Do you know the code name I gave to the project? 'Poem. And it really is a technological poem!” The booze made Valery's nose glow. He was putting in a big effort and was probably sure of success. I was always easy to talk into things. “A computer factory no bigger than a TV set, can you imagine that? A factory that's a machine! It receives a technical assignment by teletype for new computers, recalculates the assignment into circuits, encodes the result into electric impulses, which run the beams on the screen and print out the circuit. Twenty seconds — and the computer is finished. A thin plate that contains the same circuitry it now takes a whole room to house, understand? They send the thin plate in an envelope to the buyer, and he installs it in the unit. The command panel of a chemcial plant, a system for controlling traffic lights in a city, a car — wherever — everything that in the past had been done slowly, clumsily, and with mistakes by man can now be done with electronic precision by the wise microelectronic plate! So you see what I mean?”

Lena was watching Valery rapturously. Really, the picture he painted was so marvelous that I didn't realize right away that he was talking about the same film circuits that I created in the tank of the computer — womb. Of course, they were simpler ones, but in principle, more complex ones could be made, too.

“But why the vacuum and various rays? Why not chemistry? Probably, you could do it that way, too.”

“Chemistry. Personally, ever since Professor Varfolomeyev used to lecture us, I haven't been too hot on chemistry. [Lena giggled.] But if you have some ideas on chemical microelectronics — let's have them. I'm for it. You can handle that end of it. In the long run, it's not important how we do it, as long as it gets done. And then… and then we'll be able to do so much….” He leaned back dreamily. “Judge for yourself. Why should the computer — factory be assigned to create circuits? That's extra work. All it has to do is receive information on the problems. After all, we have computers working in production, in services, in transport, in defense. Why translate their impulses into human speech if they will only have to be retranslated back into impulses! Imagine: the computer — factories receive radioed information about other computers from industry, planning, production, shipping.. from everywhere, even on the weather, the crops, the needs of people. They work it out into the necessary circuits and send them out.”

“Microelectrical recommendations?”

“Directives, my good fellow! What recommendations? Mathematically based electronic circuits are the reflexes of production. You don't argue with mathematics.”

We drank.

“Valery,” I said, “if you do this, you'll be so famous that they'll even print your picture on bathroom paper!”

“Yours, too,” he added generously. “We'll be famous together.”

“But, Valery,” Lena said, “in your complex there's no room for people. How can that be?”

“Lena, you're an engineer.” Ivanov condescended. “Let's look at this subject, man I mean, from an engineering point of view. Why should there be room for him? Can a man receive radiosignals, ultra and infrared, heat, ultraviolet rays and X — rays, radiation? Can he withstand a vacuum, gas pressure at hundreds of Gs, vibrations, thermal shocks from minus 120 degrees Celsius to plus 120 with hourly frequency or the temperature of liquid helium? Can he fly with the speed of a jet, submerge to the ocean floor or plunge into molten metal? Can he figure out a problem with ten factors — only ten — in a fraction of a second? No.”

“He can with the help of machines,” Lena said, supporting humanity.

“Yes, but machines can do it without his help! So all that's left him in our harsh electronic and atomic age is to push buttons. But that's the easiest operation to automate. You know, in modern technology, man is the least dependable element. That's why there are all those breakers and buffers and other defenses against fools.”

“I'm not saying nothing,” the drunk growled.

“But man could be perfected,” I muttered.

“Perfected? Don't make me laugh! That's like perfecting steam engines — instead of replacing them with diesels or electric engines. The flaw is in the physical principles of man, the ion reactions and metabolism. Look around,” he said, waving his arm around the room.

“That damn process is draining all of man's strength.”

I looked around. At the joined tables the revelers were kissing the brand — new candidate, a bald youth, worn out by work and tension. Next to him was his wife. At a nearby table twelve tourists were feeding decorously. There were smoke and noise over every table. On the stage, a saxophonist, leaning over to the side and jutting out his belly, was wailing a solo with variations; the brass section was busy syncopating and the drummer was in a frenzy. The band was doing a rock version of an old folk song. Near the stage, without moving their feet, couples agitated all the parts of their bodies.

“I'm not saying nothing!” our neighbor announced, staring into the empty carafe.

“Actually, man's only redeeming feature is his universality,” Ivanov noted. “Even though he does it badly, he can do a lot. But universality is a product of complexity, and complexity is a quantitative factor. When we learn to make computers tens of billions of times more complex with the use of electro — ion beams, it'll be all over. Man's song will be sung.”

“What do you mean?” Lena demanded.

“Nothing terrible will happen, don't worry. Simply a situation will come about quietly, with dignity, in which machines will be able to do without man. Of course, the computers, respecting the memory of their creators, will be kind to all the rest. They'll satisfy their simple — minded needs in terms of metabolism and such. The majority of people will be very pleased with the situation. In their unflappable conceit they will even imagine that the machines are serving them. And for the computers it will be like a secondary unconditioned reflex, an inherited habit. And maybe the computers won't have habits like that. After all, the basis of a computer is rationality. What would they need habit for?”

“By the way, those rational machines are serving us now,” Lena interrupted hotly. “They satisfy our needs, no?”

I said nothing. Valery laughed.

“That depends on how you look at it, Lenochka! The computers have every reason to think that we satisfy their needs. If I were, say, a Ural — 4 I wouldn't have any grudges against people: you live in a bright air — conditioned room with a steady supply of alternating current — the equivalent of hot and cold water. A servant in a white lab coat scurries about, fulfilling your every whim, and they write about you in the papers. And the work is clean: switch those currents and transmit those impulses. What a life!”

“I'm not saying nothing!” our neighbor announced for the last time, then stood up and shouted an obscenity at the room.

The maitre d' and company ran over to him.

“So what if I'm drunk,” the man yelled, as he was assisted out of the restaurant. “I'm drinking on my own money — money I earned. Robbery is a job, too, you know.”

“There he is, the object of your concern, in all his glory!” Valery compressed his thin lips. “A worthy descendant of the parasite who shouted 'Man — that has a proud ring! Not any more. Well, how about it, Val?” he turned to me. “Come on over. Get in on the project. This way you and I will leave something for the future. Thinking computer — factories, active and omnipotent electronic brains — and in them your ideas, your work, the best of us all. What do you think? Man the creator — that still sounds good. And the best will stay on and develop even when that semiliterate broad, Nature, will finally uncrown her homo sapiens!”

“But that's terrible, what you're saying!” Lena was incensed. “You're… a robot! You just don't like people!”

Ivanov gave her a gentle, condescending look:

“We're not arguing, Lena. I'm just explaining what's what.”

That was the limit. Lena clicked off and said nothing. I didn't reply either. The silence was getting uncomfortable. I called the waiter and paid. We went out on Marx Prospect, on the “Broadway of Dneprovsk.” The pedestrians defiled it.

Suddenly Valery grabbed me by the hand.

“Val, do you hear? Do you see?”

At first I didn't know what I was supposed to see or hear.

A teenage couple walked past, both in thick sweaters and the same hairdo. The boy had a transistor radio around his neck in a yellow pearlized shell with a rocket on it. The pure sounds of the saxophone and the clear syncopations of the brass resounded on the street. I would have recognized the sound of that radio among a hundred brands like a mother recognizes the voice of her child in the din of a kindergarten. The low — noise, wide — band amplifier that was in it was one of the things Valery and I had invented.

“That means they've started production on it,” I concluded. “We can ask for our royalties. Hey, fella, how much did you pay for the radio?”

“Fifty dollars,” the punk announced proudly.

“There you see, fifty dollars, that equals forty — five Mongolian tugriks. A clear markup for quality. You should be pleased!”

“Pleased? You be pleased! You said it was terrible [actually that was Lena, not me]. Better terrible, than that!”

Once upon a time, we had delved into quantum physics, were amazed by the duality of the particle wave of the electron, studied the theory and technology of semiconductors, mastered the most refined lab equipment. Semiconducting equipment was the future of electronics in those days. Pop science writers praised them and engineers dreamed about them. There was a lot in those dreams. Some came true — the rest was discarded by technology. But we had never dreamed that transistors would figure among the accoutrements of pimply punks on the prospect.

And how Valery and I had struggled with the noise problem! The problem was that electrons distribute themselves in a semiconducting crystal like particles of color in water — the same old chaotic Brownian motion. That's why there's noise in earphones, sounding like the hiss of a phonograph needle and the distant murmur of the surf. It's an involved story. I had the first invention, and the official phraseology of the application to the Committee on Inventions of the USSR was music to my ears: “Submitting with this the above — mentioned documents, we request an inventor's certificate for the invention called….”

So, all right; someone lived through the joy of learning, ignited in creative search, experienced engineering triumphs, but what does that poor punk care? He didn't get anything from all that joy. So there it is: turn over the bloody tugriks, push the button, turn the handle… and go around like a jerk with a clean neck.

We walked Valery back to his hotel.

“So?” he asked as we shook hands.

“I have to think about it, Valery.”

“Think!” Lena gave me a hostile look. “You're going to think about it?”

She really has no self — control. She could have held her tongue.

The funny part was that Valery didn't even ask what I was doing. It was obvious to him that there could be nothing good going on at the institute and that I had to come over to work with him.

I'll think about it.

October 2 7.

Ivanov called:

“Have you thought about it?”

“Not yet.”

“Ah, those women! I understand you, of course. Decide, Val. We'll work together. I'll call you tomorrow before I leave, all right?”

If back then, in March, when my complex was only beginning to plan and build itself, I had stopped the experiment and analyzed the possible paths of development, everything would have turned to the synthesis of microelectronic units. Because that was something I understood. And now I would be way ahead of Valery. The work would have gone down different channels, and it would never have occurred to me or to anyone else that we had overlooked a method of synthesizing living organisms.

But I didn't overlook it.

How pleasant it had been using my engineering thought to create those plates with microcircuits in the tank: flip — flops, inverters, decoders! That 'Poem' of his, if you added my computer — womb to it, would be a sure thing. In fact, it would be his computer — factory. I was on top of things in that area. It's not too late to turn around….

And work like that really could lead to a world or society of machines totally independent of man — not robots, but machines that complement one another. Perhaps that is the natural evolution of things? If you look at it objectively, there's nothing so terrible about it. Well, there were protein (ion — chemical) systems on earth, and on the basis of their information electron crystal systems developed. Evolution continues.

Yes, but if you look at things objectively, nothing so horrible would happen if there was a thermonuclear catastrophe, either. Well, so something exploded, and the radioactive foundation of the atmosphere increased. But is the earth still spinning on its axis? Yes. And around the sun? Yes. That means the stability of the solar system has not been harmed, and everything is all right.

“You don't like people!” Lena had said to Ivanov. What's so is so. Hilobok's stink, quitting the institute, bumping into our invention yesterday — they were all steps on the stairway to misanthropy. And there are plenty of such steps in the life of every active person. If you compare life experience with engineering experience you could really come to the conclusion that it's easier to develop machines in which everything is rational and clear.

But, all right; but do I like people? It will all depend on that, what I continue working on.

I had never thought about it…. Well, I love me, however terrible that may be. I loved my father. I love (let's say) Lena. If I ever have children, I guess I'll love them. I don't exactly love Valery, but I respect him. But as for all the people that walk around on the street, that I run across in my work, in public places, that I read about in the newspapers and hear about — what are they to me? And who am I to them? I like good — looking women, smart, cheerful men, but I despise fools and drunks, can't stand auto inspectors, and am cool toward old people. And in the morning rush hour I sometimes get the TBB — the trolley and bus bananas — when I want to smash everyone on the head and jump out the window. In a word, I have the most varied feelings about people.

Aha, that's the point. We feel respect, love, contempt, shame, fear, pride, sympathy, and so on about people. And about machines? Well, they elicit emotions, too. It's pleasant to work with a good machine, and you feel sorry if you've ruined a machine or piece of equipment. You might curse yourself before you find the trouble.. but that's completely different. These are feelings not about the machines, but the people who made them and used them. Or could use them. Even the fear of the atom bomb is merely the reflection of our fear of the people who made it and plan to put it into use. And the plans of people who build machines that will push man into the background also elicit fear.

I love life. I love feeling everything — that's for sure. And what kind of life could there be without people? That's ridiculous. Naturally, if you juxtapose Ivanov's computer — factory to my computer — womb….

It's clear. I choose people!

And the wise and strong Valery is even weaker than I am. He doesn't pick his work; his work picks him.

(Come on, be honest — deep — down honest, Krivoshein. If you didn't have a method for creating man on your hands, wouldn't you espouse the point of view in favor of computers? Every one of us specialists is always trying to give our work an ideological base. You can't simply admit that you're doing the work only because you don't know how to do anything else! A confession like that for a creative worker is tantamount to bankruptcy.

By the way, do I know how to do what I'm planning to do?…)

Enough! Of course, all this is very intellectual and nice: putting myself down, bemoaning my imperfections, worrying about the discrepancy between my dreams and actions. But where is that knight of the spirit with a higher education and experience in the field to whom I could turn over the project with a clear conscience? Ivanov? No. Azarov? I never got a chance to find out. And the work is waiting.

So whatever I may be, my finger will rest on the button for now.

October 28, A phone call at the lab.

“Well, Val, have you decided to do it?”

“No, Valery.”

“Too bad. We would have done some fine work. But, I understand. Give her my regards. She's a nice woman; I'm happy for you.”

“Thanks. I'll tell her.”

“Well, so long. Drop in when you're in Leningrad.”

“Without fail! Have a good flight, Valery.”

You don't understand a damn thing, Valery. The hell with it. It's over! I think I've gotten my itch to work back. Thanks for that, Valery, at least for that!

Chapter 18

You never know what's good and what's bad. Stenography came about because of poor penmanship and the theory of reliability from breakdowns in machines.

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 100

November 1. And so, without wanting to, I've proven that in controlling synthesis, you can create a psychopath and a slave on the basis of information on, say, an average person. It happened because the introduction of auxiliary information was done through crude violence (oh, I just can't couch this “result” in academic phrases!). Now as a minimum goal, I must prove the opposite possibility.

The positive aspect of the experiment with Adam was that he came out physically unharmed. And he looked the way I wanted him to look. Now I have experience in transforming the form of the human body. The negative aspects? The “convenient” method of many transformations and dissolutions is ruled out categorically; everything has to be done in one session. And the “it — not it” method of correction must only be used in those situations when I know for sure what “it” is and can control the changes, simply, by changing only minor external flaws.

In a word, I have to start from scratch yet a third time.

I want to create an improved version of myself, handsomer and smarter. The only possible way is to record my wishes along with my information in the computer. It can either react to them or not. The worst that can happen is there'll be another exact copy of Krivoshein — and that's it. As long as he's not worse.

The physical part seems rather simple. I'll put on Monomakh's Crown and picture myself to the point of hallucinations in a better form — without facial defects (get rid of the freckles and the scar over my eyebrow, fix the nose, reduce the jaw, etc.) and body flaws (get rid of the fat, fix the knee). And the hair should be darker.

But as for increasing his mental capacity. How? Just wish that my new double be smarter than me? The computer — womb won't register that. It deals only with constructive information. I have to think about it.

November 2. I have an idea. It's primitive, but it's an idea. I'm not equally bright at different times of the day. You get dull after a meal — there is even a biological reason for it (the blood is drained from the brain). Therefore, I'll record information on me when I've not eaten for a while. Or smoked.

And here's one more aspect of my mental ability to take into account: the closer it is to night, the more my sober and rational thoughts are crowded out by dreams, imagination, and feelings. That can be gotten rid of, too. My dreaming has already gotten me into enough hot water. Therefore, as soon as evening comes on — out of the chamber. Let my new double be somber — minded, reasonable, and well — balanced!

November 17. It's been three weeks that I've been getting the computer — womb to perfect me. I keep wanting to say “You may!” through the crown, to see what will happen. But no, there's a man in there! Let the computer absorb my thoughts, ideas, and desires some more. Let it understand what I want.

November 25, evening. The snow is falling on the white lamp post, falling and falling, as if it's determined to overfulfill the plan. There goes that girl on crutches past our house again, coming home from school. She probably had polio and lost the use of her legs.

Everytime that I see her — with a big knapsack on her sharp shoulders, limping uncomfortably with the crutches, her body hanging loosely between them — I feel ashamed. Ashamed that I'm healthy as a horse; ashamed that I, a smart and educated man, can't help her. Ashamed by a feeling of a great impotence that exists in life.

Children should not be on crutches. What's the point of all the science and technology in the world, if children use crutches!

Could it be that I'm still doing something wrong? Not what people really need? This method of mine won't help the girl in any way.

It'll soon be a month that I've been planning what I'll think about and entering the information chamber, affixing the sensors to my body, putting on Monomakh's Crown, and thinking aloud. Sometimes I'm gripped by doubts. What if the computer — womb is doing something wrong again? There's no control, Goddamn it! And I get scared, so scared that I'm afraid it might have an effect on the personality of the future double.

The next entry was made in pencil.

December 4 Well… in principle, I should be exulting. It worked. But I don't have the strength, the energy, the thoughts, the emotions for it. I'm tired. Oh, how tired I am! I'm too tired to look for my pen.

The computer took all my desires into account in the physical aspect. I fixed a few things up in the synthesis process. As the double was appearing, I didn't have to measure or guess — my practiced eye immediately picked up on the “not its” in his construction and controlled the computer as it corrected them.

I set up a ladder in the tank and helped him get out. He stood before me, naked, well — built, muscular, handsome, dark — haired — still resembling me but not resembling me. Puddles of the liquid spread at his feet.

“Well?” I asked, my voice hoarse.

“Everything's in order,” he smiled.

And then… then my lips trembled. My face trembled. My hands shook. I couldn't even light a cigarette. He lit one for me, poured me some alcohol, muttering: “It's all right, everything's fine, don't….” He comforted me. That was funny.

I'm going to try to sleep now.

December 5. Today I tested the logical capabilities of double number 3.

First round (playing crosswits): 5–3 in his favor. Round two (playing words): in ten minutes he built eight more words than I did from “abbreviation” and twelve more than me from “retrogression.” Round three: we solved logic puzzles from the college text by Azarov, beginning with number 223. I only reached number 235 in two hours of work; he got up to 240.

I wasn't faking — I was really caught up in the contest. That means that he thinks 25–30 percent faster than I do — and that's from a simple — minded clumsy attempt at improvement. Just think what could have been done scientifically!

We'll see how he is at work.

December 7. Our work so far isn't intellectual. We're cleaning up the lab. And not only because of the intertwined wires and living hoses. We're dusting and vacuuming and removing mildew from flasks, and equipment and panels.

“Tell me, how do you feel about biology?”

“Biology?” he looked at me in surprise, then remembered. “Oh, I see where you're leading. You know, I don't understand him either. I think it was some kind of fixation coming from trying to prove himself.”

“Wow!” said student Krivoshein and even bounced on his chair. “Now that's something!”

But how… after all, double number 3 was also a continuation of the computer — womb! That meant… that meant that the computer had learned how to construct the human organism? Well, of course. He was the first. That's why all that complex searching and retrieval had been necessary. And now the computer remembered all the attempts and picked from among them those that led directly to the goal, constructing a program for synthesizing man.

That meant that his discovery of inner transformations was truly unique. It had to be saved. The best thing would be to re — record himself in the computer — womb, not with a vague memory of the search, but with precise and proven knowledge on transforming himself. But why?

“Ah, how much can you think about that!” He frowned and went back to the diary.

December 18. I don't remember. Are these frosts the ones called Epiphany frosts or the ones in January? The northeast wind had brought us a real Siberian winter and the steam heat can barely hold its own. The grounds are all white and the lab is brighter.

I don't know if all the biblical rules were followed but the new double has been christened. And the godfather was none other than Harry Hilobok.

This is how it happened. Students from Kharkov U. came for their year of probation work. The day before yesterday I dropped by the dorms for the young specialists and borrowed “for psychological experimentation” a student card and a directive to work here. The students gaped at me with awe and their eyes were aglow with a readiness to give not only their cards but their shoes for the good of science. I borrowed a passport from Pasha Fartkin.

Then we familiarized the computer — womb with the appearance and contents of the documents. We manipulated them in front of the objectives, rustled the pages…. When the passport, the student card, and the form appeared in the tank, I put on the crown and with the “it — not it” method corrected all the information.

Double number 3 is now called Victor Vitalyevich Kravets. He is twenty — three, Russian, subject to military service, a fifth — year student in the physics department at Kharkov State U, lives in Kharkov, 17 Kholodnaya Gora. Pleased to meet you.

Am I? During the operation the newly hatched Kravets and I talked in whispers and felt like counterfeiters who were about to be caught. The engrained respect for the law in intellectuals showed itself again.

We also felt strange the next day when we went to see Hilobok: Kravets, to report in, and me, to ask that he be assigned to my lab. My biggest worry was that Hilobok would assign him to another lab. But it worked out. There were more students that year than snow. When Hilobok heard that I would guarantee the material needed for student Kravets's diploma thesis, he tried to foist another two on me.

Harry, naturally, noted the resemblance between us.

“He's not a relative of yours, is he, Valentin Vasilyevich?”

“Well, sort of. A nephew three times removed.”

“Well, then it's understandable! Of course, of course…..” His face expressed understanding of my familial feelings and his tolerance of them. “And will be be living with you?”

“No, why? Let him stay in the dorms.”

“Oh, of course.” Harry's face made it clear that my relationship with Lena was no secret to him either. “I understand you, Valentin Vasileyvich. Oh, how I understand!”

God, how disgusting it is when Hilobok “oh, understands” you.

“And how are things with your doctoral dissertation, Harry Har — itonovich?” I asked, to change the subject.

“The doctoral?” He looked at me very carefully. “It's all right. Why do you ask, Valentin Vasilyevich? You're in discrete phenomena; analog electronics isn't in your field.”

“Right now I don't know what's in my field and what isn't, Harry Haritonovich,” I replied honestly.

“Ah, so? Well, that's laudable. But I won't be up for a defense for a while. My work keeps pulling me away. Current events don't give me time for creative work. You'll do your defense before I do, Valentin Vasilyevich, both your candidate and doctoral dissertations, he — he….”

We walked back to the lab in lousy humor. There was a creepy duality in our work: in the lab we were gods, but when we had to come into contact with the environment, we had to politic, sneak, wheedle. What was it — a characteristic of research? Or of reality? Or, perhaps, of our personality?

“After all, it wasn't I who invented a system of ticketing humanity: passports, passes, requisitions, reports, and so on,” I said. “Without papers you're a gnat; with papers you're a man.”

Victor Kravets said nothing.

December 20. Well, our work together is beginning!

“Don't you think that we went overboard with our vow?”


“Well, not the whole vow, but that sacred part.”

“To use the discovery for the benefit of mankind with absolute dependability?”

“Precisely. We've realized four methods: synthesis of information about man into man; synthesis of rabbits with improvements and without; synthesis of electronic circuits; and synthesis of man with improvements. Does even one of them have an absolute guarantee of benefits?”

“Hmmmm. No. But the last method at least in principle — “

“ — can create 'knights without fear or flaw, cavaliers of Saint George, and fiery warriors?”

“Let's just say good people. Any objections?”

“We're not voting yet. We're discussing. And I think that that idea is based — please forgive me — on very jejune ideas of so — called good people. There are no abstractly good and bad people. Every man is good for some and bad for others. That's why the real knights without fear and flaw had more enemies than anyone else. The only one who's good for everyone is a smart and sneaky egotist, who tries to get along with everyone in order to achieve his ends. There is, however, a quasi — objective criterion: he is good who is supported by the majority. Are you willing to use that criterion as the basis for this method?”

“Hmm… let me think.”

“What for? If I've already thought about it, after all, you'll come to the same conclusion — that the criterion is no good. The majority has supported God knows who since time immemorial. But there are two other criteria: good is what I think is good (or who I think is good) and good is what is good for me. Like all people who care professionally about the welfare of mankind, we operated on the basis of both — only in our simplicity we thought that we were only using the first one, and considered it objective at that.”

“Now you're exaggerating!”

“Not a bit! I won't remind you about poor Adam, but even when you were synthesizing me you were worried that it should be good for me (rather, what you thought was good) and that it should be good for you, too. Right? But that's a subjective criterion and other people — “

“ — with this method could do what they thought was good for them?”


“Hmmm. All right, let's say you're right. Then we have to look for another method of synthesizing and transforming information in man.”

“Like what?”

“I don't know.”

“I'll tell you what method is needed. We have to convert our computer — womb into an apparatus that continually turns out 'good' at the rate of… say, a million and a half good deeds a second. And at the same time, it should do away with bad deeds at the same rate. Actually, a million and a half — that's just a drop in the ocean. There are three and a half billion people on earth and every one of them performs several dozen acts a day that can never be construed as neutral. And we still have to figure out a method of equal distribution of this production across the surface of the earth. In a word, it had to be something like an ensilage harrow on magnetrons of unfired brick.”

“You're mocking me, right?”

“Yes. I'm trampling your dream — otherwise it will lead us into God knows where.”

“You think that I…?”

“No. I don't think that you were working wrong. It would be very strange if I thought so. But understand: subjectively you dreamed and thought, but objectively you did only what the possibilities of the discovery permitted you to do. And that's the point! You have to coordinate your plans with the possibilities of the work. And you were hoping to counterbalance a hundred billion varied acts of humanity a day with your little machine. And it's those hundred billion, plus uncounted past actions, that determine the social processes on earth, their goodness and evil. All of science is incapable of counterbalancing those mighty processes, that avalanche of acts and deeds, first of all because science makes up a small part of life on earth, and secondly because that is not its specialty. Science doesn't develop good or evil — it develops new information and gives new opportunities. And that's all. Now the application of that information and the use of the opportunities determine the above — mentioned social processes and powers. We will give people nothing more than new opportunities to produce people in their own image, and it's up to them to use these opportunities to their benefit or harm or not at all.”

“You mean we should publish the discovery and wash our hands of it? Well, I never! If we don't give a damn what happens to it, certainly no one else will!”

“Don't be angry. I don't think we should publish and wash our hands of it. We have to go on working, studying the possibilities the way everyone does. But in the research, and the ideas, even in the dreams on project 154, you must keep in mind that what happens to this project in real life depends primarily on life itself, or to put it in a more cultured way, on the socio — political situation in the world. If the situation develops in a safe, good direction, then we can publish. If not — we'll have to hold off or destroy the project, as foreseen by the vow. It's not in our power to save humanity, but it is in our power not to inflict any harm on it.”

“Hm. that's very modest. I think you're underestimating the possibilities of modern science. We now have the capability of destroying humanity by pushing a button — or several buttons. Why shouldn't there be an alternative method to save or at least protect humanity by pushing a button? And why, damn it, shouldn't that method be in our field of research?”

“It doesn't lie there. Our direction is constructive. It's much, much harder to build a bridge than to blow it up.”

“I agree. But they do build bridges.”

“But no one's built a bridge that can't be blown up.”

We found ourselves at a dead end.

But he's okay. He essentially laid out all my vague doubts in a clear — cut fashion; they had been bothering me for a long time. I don't know whether to be happy or sad.

December 28. So, it's been a year since I sat in the new lab on an unpacked impulse generator and thought about an indefinite experiment. Just a year? No, time is measured by events and not by the rotation of the earth. I think at least a decade has passed. And not only because so much was done — there was so much experienced. I've started thinking about life more, understanding myself and others better, I've even changed a little — pray God, for the better.

And still there is a dissatisfaction — too much dreaming, I suppose. Everything that I've thought of has happened, but the wrong way somehow: with difficulties, with horrible complications, with disillusionment. That's the way it is in life. Man never dreams about where he could fall flat on his face or find disillusionment; that happens on its own. I understand that perfectly well with my mind, but I still can't resign myself to it.

When I was synthesizing double number 3 (Kravets in civilian life), I hoped vaguely that something would click in the computer — womb and I would get a knight without fear or flaw! Nothing clicked. He's fine, can't argue with that, but he's no knight. He's sober — minded, reasonable, and careful. And where was the knight supposed to come from — me?

Jerk, dreamy jerk! You keep hoping that nature will find and hand you the absolutely dependable method — it never will. It doesn't have that information.

Damn, is it really impossible? Is the perfected Krivoshein — Kravets really right?

There is one method of saving the world by pushing a button; it can be used in case of thermonuclear war. You hide several computer — wombs that have been fed information on people (men and women) deep in a mine shaft with a large supply of reagents. And if there are no people left in the ashes of the earth, the computers will save and resurrect humanity. That's one way out of the situation.

But even then it won't work like that. If you give the world a method like that, it will destroy the balance that exists and push the world into nuclear war. “People will still live. Atom bombs aren't so terrible — let's set them off!” some idiot politician will think. “The problem of the Near East? There is no Near East! The Vietnam problem? What Vietnam? Buy personal bomb shelters for your soul!”

Then that's “not it” either. What is “it?” Is there an “it?”



Chapter 19

Sleep is the best weapon against sleepiness.

— K. Prutkov — engineer. A Sketch for an Encyclopedia

A quick — flowing June night: the purple sunset had gone out in the west a short time ago and now in the southeast, beyond the Dneiper, the sky was growing light again. But even a short night is a night; it has the same effect on people. The inhabitants of the shaded parts of the planet sleep. The citizens of Dneprovsk were sleeping. Many of the participants in the described events were sleeping.

Matvei Apollonovich Onisimov was sleeping fitfully. He had a lot of trouble falling asleep: he smoked, tossed and turned, and bothered his wife while he thought about what had happened. When he did fall asleep, exhausted, his overstimulated mind offered a terrible dream. It seemed three bodies killed by fire throwers were found in three city parks. Medical Examiner Zubato, too lazy to examine all three bodies, came up with the theory that all three were killed with one shot. To probe the veracity of his theory, he sat the bodies down on a marble bench in the autopsy room, arms around one another; their wounds matched up.

Matvei Apollonovich, who usually had black and murky dreams that looked as if they were an old, used film, experienced this picture in 3 — D, with color and smell; there were three Krivosheins in a row — huge, naked, pink ones smelling of meat — and they were staring at him with photogenic smiles. Onisimov woke up in protest. But (the dream had helped) he had the beginnings of a good theory when he woke up: they were boiling the murdered Krivoshein's body in that lab! After all — a body is the most important clue and it's risky to hide it or bury it; it could be found. And so they were boiling or disintegrating the body in a special liquid, and since this wasn't an easy matter, they miscalculated and the tank turned over. And that's why the body seemed warm when Prakhov the technician found it in the tank! That's why it melted so fast, soaked as it was in their chemicals, leaving only a skeleton. The lab assistant had been knocked out by the tank, and the other conspirator — the one who was pulling all those tricks in front of him yesterday — ran off. (It was clear that the mystifier or circus performer was either using masks or else was well trained in mimicry.) And then he arranged for an alibi — he could have fooled that Moscow professor with his masks and mime. And his papers were just very good fakes.

Matvei Apollonovich lit another cigarette. And still this was no simple crime. If the perpetrators were working both here and in Moscow and there was no motive of greed, personal vendetta, or sex, then. probably Krivoshein had made a serious invention or discovery. No, tomorrow he would insist to his chief that they bring in the security organs on this case! (Although Onisimov will never know what happened, we must give credit to his detective ability. Really: not knowing anything about the essence of the case and using only the external accidental facts, he managed to build a logical, consistent theory — not everyone can do that!)

Having made the decision, Matvei Apollonovich slept soundly. Now he was having pleasant dreams: he'd been promoted for solving the case. But dreams are even less subject to our control than reality, and the investigator began groaning and tossing. His awakened wife asked: “Matvei, what's the matter?” Onisimov had dreamed that there was a fire in the department and the new promotion list had been destroyed.

Arkady Arkadievich Azarov had just fallen asleep, and only with the help of two sleeping pills. (He'll wake up in the morning with neurasthenia.) He was also tormented by thoughts of the events in the New Systems Lab. He had already gotten a phone call from the Party City Committee: “Another accident, Arkady Arkadievich? With a loss of human life?” How do they find out so fast? Now it would all begin: reports, commissions, explanations…. But that's why he was a director and got a fat salary, so that he could be driven crazy! These are the things, for which he's not responsible and couldn't possibly be responsible, that cast aspersions on his honest, productive, positive work! Arkady Arkadievich felt alone and miserable.

“I should never have set up that lab of 'random retrieval. I didn't listen to myself. I mean the whole idea of random test and free — form combinations being a path that would bring truth and correct solutions to science went deep against my own grain. And it still does. The Monte Carlo Method — just look at the name! Belief in chance — what could be worse in a researcher? Instead of analyzing the problem logically and confidently and slowly reaching its solution, you try your luck, even with the aid of lab equipment and computers! Of course, you can build pseudoscientific systems and algorithms that way, but don't they resemble the 'systems' gamblers have for beating the bank and which always make them bankrupt? Big deal, so you changed the name of the lab. But the essence was the same. You let it develop, because there is this tendency in world systemology. And so let it develop in our institute, too. It's developed all right!”

Arkady Arkadievich hadn't expressed his misgivings to Krivoshein back then, because he didn't want to dampen his enthusiasm. He merely asked: “What are you planning to achieve… through random retrieval?” “First and foremost to master the methodology,” Krivoshein had answered, and that had pleased Azarov more than if he had spewed out hundreds of ideas.

“But he wasn't just mastering the methodology/'Arkady Arkadievich remembered the laboratory, the setup that looked like an octopus, the expensive collection of test tubes and flasks. “He was doing some vast experiment. Could he have really been doing what he had reported on at the scientific council? But it ended up with a corpse. A corpse that turned into a skeleton!” Azarov felt revulsion and anger. “I have to put an end to experimentation; something always goes wrong! Always! Systemology is essentially a cerebral science. The analysis and synthesis of any system must be promoted! And if you want to work with computers — please do, program your tasks and go into the computer room. And basically with all these experiments,” the academician laughed lightly, calming down, “you never know what you've got: a hugh mistake or a discovery!”

Arkady Arkadievich had a long — time score to settle with experimental science, and his opinions on it were firm and definite. Some thirty years ago the young physicist Azarov was studying the process of liquifying helium. Once he stuck two glass stirrers into his Dewar flask, and the liquid, cooled down to 2° on the absolute scale, evaporated very quickly. Two liters of then precious helium disappeared and the experiment was ruined! Arkady accused the lab's glass man of sticking him with a faulty Dewar flask. He had been penalized… and two years later a classmate of Azarov's at the university, Pyotr Kapitsa, in an analogous experiment (lowering capillary stirrers into a vessel) discovered the superfluidity of helium!

Arkady Arkadievich grew disillusioned in experimental physics and came to love the dependable and strict world of mathematics. It was math that elevated him — the mathematical approach to the solution of nonmathematical problems. In the thirties he applied his methods to the problems of the general theory of relativity, which had all science enthralled; later his research helped solve important problems in the theory of chain reactions in uranium and plutonium. Then he applied his methods to the problems of chemical catalysis of polymers; and now he was head of the discrete systems direction in systemology.

“Eh, I'm still thinking about the wrong thing!” Azarov complained. “What did happen in Krivoshein's lab? I remember last autumn he came to me, wanted to talk about something. What? Work, naturally. And I waved him off. I was too busy. Somehow you always consider things that can't be put off as the most important. I should have talked to him; I'd know now what happened. Krivoshein never approached me again. Of course, people like that are proud and shy. Wait — what kind of people? What's Krivoshein like? What do I know about him? A few lectures at seminars, an appearance at the scientific council, several exchanges with other lecturers, and a nodding acquaintance.

Can I base a judgement on that? Yes, I can. I'm not so bad at judging people. He was an active and creative person. You recognize people like that by their questions and by their answers. You can see the constant thought flow — not everyone can see it, but I'm the same way; I can recognize it. A man eats, goes to work, greets friends, goes to the movies, argues with his co — workers, lends money, tans at the beach — he does it all wholeheartedly — and yet all the time he's thinking. On one subject. The idea has no relation to his actions or daily cares, but there is nothing that will distract him from that idea. It's the most important part of him: new things are born from it. And Krivoshein was like that. And it's too bad that's in the past tense — life loses something very necessary with the death of a man like that. And you feel even more alone…. Well, enough, what am I going on about?” Arkady Arkadievich looked at the time. “I must sleep.”

Harry Haritonovich Hilobok couldn't fall asleep that night either. He kept looking at the lighted window across the way in Krivoshein's apartment and tried to guess who was that in there. Lena Kolomiets left rapidly after ten (Harry Haritonvich recognized her figure and walk, and thought: “I should get to know her better. There's a lot to her”), but the light stayed on. Hilobok turned out his lights, and seated himself at the window with a pair of binoculars, but the angle was wrong — he could only see part of the book shelf and the Olympic — ring logo on the wall. “Did she forget to put out the light? Or is there someone else in there? Should I call the police? Ah, the hell with them. Let them figure it out.” Harry Haritonovich yawned deliciously. “Maybe it's the police in there investigating….”

He went back into his room and lit the night — light, a naked woman made out of fake marble with a light bulb inside. The soft light fell on the bearskin rug on the floor, the walls covered with blue wallpaper with golden storks, the polished grain of the desk, the bookshelves, the closet, the television set, the quilted pink couch, the dark red carpet with a scene of ancient feasting — everything was meant to be conducive to sensuousness. Harry Haritonovich undressed and went to look at himself in the mirror. He liked his face: the straight large nose; the smooth, but not fat, cheeks; the dark mustache — there was something of Guy de Maupassant about him. Very recently he had been trying on his doctor — of — technical — sciences look. “Why did he have to do that, that Krivoshein?” Harry Haritonovich felt his heart beating madly. “What had I ever done to him? I even voted for his project and helped his relative get a job at the lab. He doesn't have a dissertation and he envies the rest! Or was it because I didn't fill his request for the SES — 2? Well, it doesn't matter — there is no more Krivoshein. He's gone. That's the way it is. The winner in life is gone. That's the way it is. The winner in life is the one who outlives his adversary.”

Hilobok was pleased with the humor of his thought and wanted to remember it. It should be noted that Harry Haritonovich was not as stupid as one might assume from his behavior. It's just that he based his formula for success on the following: they expect less from a fool. No one ever expected great ideas or knowledge from him; thus on those rare occasions when he would display some knowledge or the tiniest idea, it came as such a pleasant surprise that his colleagues would think: “We underestimate Harry Haritonovich,” and try to compensate for that evaluation in their disposition toward him. And that's how his articles got into the anthology Questions of Systemology — the editors, naturally expecting nothing very good, were bowled over by the few grains of reason in them. Harry Haritonovich turned in work to people who were already demoralized by his talk and behavior. But something went wrong with his dissertation… but, never mind, he would get his!

Harry Haritonovich was lulled by pleasant thoughts and rain — bowlike hopes. He was sleeping soundly and without dreams, the way they must have slept in the Stone Age.

Officer Gayevoy was sleeping and smiling, just returned from his night shift.

After a good cry about Krivoshein and herself, Lena fell asleep.

But not everyone was asleep. The police guard Golovorezov was fighting off sleepiness at his post watching the New Systems Lab; he was sitting on the steps of the lodge, smoking, and looking at the stars over the trees. Something rustled in the grass not far away. He shined his flashlight: a red — eyed albino rabbit looked at him from the bushes. The guard shooed him away. Golovorezov had no idea just what kind of a rabbit it was.

Victor Kravets tossed and turned on the hard cot under a cloth blanket that smelled of disinfectant in the solitary confinement cell of the prison. He was in that state of nervous agitation when sleep is impossible.

“What will happen now? What will happen? Did graduate student Krivoshein get out of it, or will the laboratory and the project perish? What else can I do to help? Fight back? Confess? To what? Citizen investigator, I'm guilty of good intentions — good intentions that didn't help anything. I guess that's a heavy guilt, if that's how it's worked out. We kept rushing — hurry! hurry! — to master the discovery, to reach that method 'with absolute dependability. And even though I didn't admit it to myself, I expected us to come up with it too. Evolution brought new information into man gradually, by the method of small trials and small errors, testing its benefit with innumerable experiments. And we — we tried to do it all in one experiment!

“We should have dropped the idea of possible social repercussions right off the bat and worked openly and calmly like everyone else. In the long run, people aren't children. They must understand what's what on their own. We figured out everything: that man is a super complex, protein quantal — molecular system, that he is the product of natural evolution, that he is information recorded in the liquid. The one thing we missed was that man is man. A free creature. The master of his fate and his actions. And that freedom began long before all the rebellions and revolutions, on that distant day when a humanlike ape thought: 'I can climb up the tree to get the fruit but I can also knock it down with the stick in my hand. Which is better? It wasn't just thinking, that ape — it had seen storms make branches knock down fruit. Freedom was the opportunity to choose a variant of behavior based on knowledge. From that day every discovery, every invention has given people new opportunities, made them even freer.

“Of course, there have been discoveries (not many) that told people: don't! You can't build perpetual motion machines; you can't pass the speed of light; you can't accurately measure the speed and position of an electron simultaneously. But our discovery forbids nothing and doesn't change anything. It says: go ahead!

“Freedom. It's not easy to recognize your freedom in our modern society, and pick variations of your behavior wisely and well. Millions of years of the past hang over man when biological laws determined the behavior of his ancestors and everything was simple. And now he is still trying to lay the blame for his mistakes on circumstances, on cruel fate, and to place hopes in God, on a strong personality, on luck — just so it's not him. And when the hopes shatter, man looks and finds a scapegoat: the people who had raised the hopes are free of guilt. In essence, people who take the path of least resistance do not know freedom.”

The peephole in the door opened, letting in a ray of light; it was blocked by the guard's face. They were probably checking to see if he was planning another break. Victor Kravets laughed silently: naturally the clink was the best place to meditate on freedom! He acknowledged with pleasure that despite all the recent hassles he hadn't lost his sense of humor.

Double Adam — Hercules was sitting and reminiscing on a bench at the bus stop on an empty street. Yesterday, as he was coming from the railroad station, thinking about the three currents of information (science, life, art) that affect man, he had the beginnings of a vague, but very important idea. He was interrupted by the three men with the demand to show his papers, those so and so's…. He was left with the feeling that he had been close to a valuable guess. He would have been better off without it, that feeling. Now he wouldn't get any sleep!

“Let's try it again. I was thinking about what information can be used, and how, to ennoble man? Krivoshein had the idea of synthesizing a knight 'without fear or flaw. And now I've got it and I can't reject it. I ruled out information from the environment and from science, because their influence on man can be equally good or bad. There is only the method of awakening good thoughts with a lyre — art.

True, it does awaken them, but the lyre is an imperfect instrument; while it's being plinked, man is ennobled, but when it stops, so does the effect. There is something left, of course, but not much, just a superficial memory of seeing a play or reading a book. Well, all right, what if we introduce this information into the computer — womb during the synthesis of man. What if we record the contents of many books, show several excellent movies? It would be the same thing: it would remain in the superficial memory — and that's all. After all, the book's not about him!

“Aha, that's what I was thinking about: there is a transparent wall between the source of art information and its receptor — a concrete human being. What is that wall? Damn it, will life experience always be the main factor in the formation of the personality? Do you have to suffer yourself, to understand the suffering of others? Make mistakes to learn the right way? Like a child who has to burn himself to keep from sticking his hand in the fire. But that's a hard way to learn, life experience, and not everyone can master it. Life can ennoble you but it can also make you bitter and stupid.”

He lit a cigarette and paced back and forth in front of the bench.

“Information from art is not processed thoroughly enough by man so that he can use it to solve his own problems in life. Wait! The information is not processed to the point of problem solving…. I've heard that before! When? In the beginning of the experiment: the early complex sensors — crystal unit — TsVMN — 12 did not absorb my information — Krivoshein's information — it's the same thing! And then I used feedback!”

Adam was no longer pacing; he was running on the spit — covered pavement from the wastebasket to the lamp post.

“Feedback, that's what I want! Feedback, which increases the effectiveness of information systems a thousand times. That's why there's a wall. That's why the effect of art information is so low — there is no feedback between the source and the receptor. There is some, of course: reviews, readers' conferences, critical magazines, and so on, but that's not it. There has to be direct, technical feedback, so that the information from art that is being introduced into a person can be changed to suit his individuality, character, memory, abilities, even appearance and biography. In that way his own behavior in critical situations can be played for him during synthesis (let him make his mistakes, learn from them, seek the correct solutions!); he can be displayed to himself — instead of an invented hero — with his spiritual world, abilities, qualities, and flaws. He can help him find himself.. and then that great information will become his life experience. It will take on the universal force of truth that comes from scientific information. This will be a new kind of art — not written, not acted, not musical — everything together, expressed in biopotentials and chemical reactions. The art of synthesizing man!”

Suddenly he stopped. “Yes, but how do you do that in the computer — womb? How do you create that kind of feedback? It won't be easy. Well — experiments, experiments, and more experiments — we'll do it! We managed to create feedback between the parts of the complex. The important thing is we have the idea!”

Vano Aleksandrovich Androsiashvili wasn't sleeping either, in his dacha outside Moscow. He was standing on the veranda, listening to the rustle of the rain. Today at a department meeting they discussed the work of their students. Krivoshein came out looking the worst: in a year's time he hadn't taken a single exam; lately his attendance at lectures and labs had been erratic; and he hadn't chosen a topic for his dissertation. Professor Vladimir Veniaminovich Valerno expressed the opinion that the man was taking up a place in the graduate department for nothing, getting a fellowship, and that it wouldn't be a bad idea to free that spot for someone more deserving. Vano Aleksandrovich had wanted to say nothing, but lost his temper, and said many rash and angry things to Vladimir Veniaminovich about condescension and disdain in judging the work of young researchers. Valerno was stunned, and Androsiashvili himself felt bad: Vladimir Veniaminovich didn't deserve that kind of rebuke.

Vano Aleksandrovich had spent many an evening pondering the miraculous healing of the student after he was hit by the icicle, remembering their conversation about controlling metabolism in the organism, and came to the conclusion that Krivoshein had discovered and developed the ability to regenerate tissue rapidly, an ability characteristic of the simplest coelenterates. He couldn't imagine how he had done it. He was waiting for Krivoshein to come and tell him: Vano Aleksandrovich was willing to forget his injured feelings and promise silence, if necessary. He'd do anything to find out! But Krivoshein was silent.

Now Androsiashvili was mad at himself for not finding out why the police were holding the student when he had talked to them yesterday on their videophone. “Has he done something? When did he have time? He came by the department in the morning to announce that he had to go to Dneprovsk for a few days. Krivoshein's second mystery.” The professor chuckled. But the anxiety didn't go away. All right, there might have been a mishap, but what if it was something serious? Say what you will, but Krivoshein was the discoverer and bearer of an important discovery about man. That discovery must not perish.

“I have to go to Dneprovsk,” the thought suddenly came to him. But then the proud blood of a mountain dweller and corresponding member of the Academy boiled over: he, Vano Aleksandrovich Androsiashvili, would rush to help out a graduate student who had gotten into a mess! A student that he took into the department out of pity and who had hurt him deeply with his lack of trust?

“Yes, rush off!” Vano Aleksandrovich shook his head, calming himself. “First of all, you, Vano, don't believe that Krivoshein committed any crime. He's not the type. There's some problem or misunderstanding there, that's all. You have to help him. Second, you've been dreaming of a way to gain his confidence and get closer to him. Well, here it is. Maybe he has good reason for hiding. But don't let him think that Androsiashvili is a man that can't be counted on, who withdraws from petty irritations. No! Of course, even in Dneprovsk you won't begin to question him — he'll tell you if he wants to. But that discovery must be saved. It's more important than your pride.”

Vano Aleksandrovich felt better because he had overcome himself and reached a wise decision.

Graduate student Krivoshein wasn't sleeping either. He was still reading the diary.

Chapter 20

According to the teachings of Buddha, the way to rid yourself of suffering is to rid yourself of ties. Won't someone tell which ties 1 must sever to stop my eyetooth from aching? And hurry!

— K. Prutkov — engineer, an unumbered thought

January 5. Here I am in the position of a human rough draft for a more perfect copy. And even though I'm the creator of the copy, it's still nothing to be happy about.

“You know, your nephew is very attractive,” Lena said to me after I introduced them at a New Year's party. “Simpatico.”

Back at home, I spent a whole hour staring at myself in the mirror: a depressing sight. And he was good at small talk; I was no match for him.

No, Victor Kravets was behaving himself like a gentleman with Lena. Either earlier memories are having an effect or he's just feeling out his possibilities in breaking hearts, but he appears to be uninterested in her. If he made the effort, though, I'd never see Lena again.

When he and I walk around Academic Town or along the institute grounds, girls who never nodded to me before greet me loudly and joyously: “Hello, Valentin Vasilyevich!” — with an eye on the handsome stranger next to me.

And he's so good on skis! The three of us went out of town yesterday, and he and Lena left me far behind.

And how he danced at the New Year's ball!

Even Ninochka, the secretary, who didn't know the way to the lodge before, always seems to be dropping by with a paper from the office for me.

“Hello, Valentin Vasilyevich! Hello, Vitya… oh, it's so interesting here, all these tubes!”

In a word, I now can observe myself every day the way I am and myself the way I would be if only… if only what? If only it weren't for the hunger during and after the war, the strong resemblance to my father who — alas! — was not too handsome (“Pudgy — faced, just like his father!” the relatives used to say, cooing over me), the bumps and potholes in the road of life. If only it weren't for my rather unhealthy life — style: the lab, the library, my room, conversations, thinking, the miasmas from the reagents — and no physical recreation. Really, I didn't try to become an ugly, fat, stooped egghead — it just happened.

In principle, I should be proud: I beat Mother Nature! But something gets in the way….

No, there's something damaging about this idea. Let's say we perfect the method of controlled synthesis. And we create marvelous people — strong, beautiful, talented, energetic, knowledgeable — you know, masters of life from advertising posters like “We saved at the bank and bought this refrigerator!” But what about the people that were used as a basis for them — does that mean that they were nothing more than rought drafts sketched by life? Why should they be demeaned? That's a fine reward for their lives: regret for your imperfections, the thought that you will never be perfect because you were made by a regular mama and not a marvelous contraption? It turns out that with our system people will still be pitted against people. And not only against bad ones — against everyone, since we all have some imperfections. Does that mean that good but ordinary people (not artificial) will have to be crowded out of life?

(There! That's just like you, Krivoshein — you're so thick — skinned. Until it affects you personally you don't think about it. “Whup him with a two — by — four,” as your daddy used to say. But all right, I got it now. That's the important thing.)

There's plenty to think about here. I guess all human flaws have a common nature — they're exaggerations. Take a quality that's pleasant to have in people around you: simplicity. We're inculcated with it from childhood. But if nature flubs it, or your upbringing spoils it, or if life goes the wrong way — you end up with sleepy stupidity instead of simplicity. You can also get cowardice instead of reasonable caution, false conceit instead of a necessary confidence, cynicism instead of sober daring, or sneakiness instead of brains.

We use a lot of words to hide our impotence in the face of human imperfections: jokes (“A bear stepped on his ear,” “He was dropped as a baby”), scientific terms (“anemia,” “personality breakdown/ “inferiority complex”), and homilies (“That's not for him,” or “He has a gift for that….”). We used to say “God's gift.” Now in our materialistic age we say “nature's gift,” but basically, it's the same thing: man has no control. Some have it and some don't.

And you can guess why some don't. In primitive societies and later social formations man's perfection was not compulsory. If you knew how to live, work, multiply, and be a little crafty — fine, it was enough! Only now, when we have a constructive idea of communism, and not just a Utopian one, we are developing real demands to be made on man. We are taking man's measure for this marvelous idea — and it's painful to see the things we hadn't noticed before.

January 8. I shared my thoughts with Kravets.

“You want to employ the synthesis method on ordinary people?” double number 3 quickly deduced.

“Yes. But how?” I looked at him hopefully. Maybe he knew?

He understood my look and laughed.

“Don't forget that I'm you. On the level of knowledge, anyway.”

“But maybe you have a better idea of what that liquid is?” I pointed at the tank. “You came out of it after all… like Aphrodite from the sea spray. You know, its composition and so on.”

“In two words?”

“You can use three.”

“All right. That liquid is man. Its composition is the composition of the human body. Besides that, the liquid is a quantal — molecular biochemical computer that can teach itself and has a huge memory, and each molecule of the liquid has some unique bit of information. In other words, do what you will, the liquid of the computer — womb is merely man in a liquid state. You can draw scientific, practical, and organizational conclusions based on that fact.”

I had the feeling that this new problem hadn't captured him the way it had me. I tried to stir up his imagination.

“Vitya, what if this method is really 'it? It's for ordinary people, after all, and not — “

“You go to — (tsk, tsk, and an artificial man at that!). I absolutely refuse to look at our work from the 'it — not it' point of view and in keeping with a vow I never made. Nowadays you should have a much cooler view of vows! (Well, if you call that a cooler view….) You want to use the discovery to transform people?”

“Into angels.” I threw fat on the fire.

“The hell with angels! An informational transformation of homo sapiens — and that's it! You have to look at the problem from the academic point of view!”

It was my first opportunity to see him lose control and turn into… me. No matter how you try to hide it, the Krivoshein personality surfaces. But at least he was churned up. That's the most important thing when you begin a new research project — to get churned up and hate the work.

As a result of a six — hour conversation with a dinner break we made four steps in the realization of the new problem.

Step 1: Artificial and natural people, judging by everything (well, even by the fact that ordinary food wasn't poison for the double) are biologically identical. Therefore, everything that the computer — womb does with the doubles, can in principle (if you forget about the difficulties of technical realization, as they say in articles) be extended to ordinary people.

Step 2: The computer — womb obeys commands on alternations in the tank without any mechanical apparatus or control equipment. Therefore, the liquid in the control circuit is the executive biochemical mechanism; it performs controlled metabolism, as the biologist would say, in the tank —

— “Damn it!” the student muttered and smoked nervously.

— or more accurately, transforms external information into structured encoding in matter: organic molecules, cells, corpuscles, tissue….

Step 3: In principle, how can a person be transformed in the computer — womb? An artificial double is born in it as an extension and development of the machine's circuitry. In the transparent stage he already senses and feels like a person, but cannot function actively (the experience with Adam and Kravets's confirmation). Then the double continues to the nontransparent stage, detaches himself from the liquid circuit of the computer — womb (or it from him), takes control of himself, and climbs out — no, no, this must be academic sounding — and unplugs from the computer. With an ordinary person, apparently, we would have to operate in reverse, that is, plugging the person into the machine first. Technically: immersing the man in the liquid.

Step 4: But can a person be plugged into the computer — womb? After all, what's needed here is no more and no less that — I do know something about neurophysiology; I've read Ashby — total contact of the entire nervous system with the liquid. Our conductor — nerves are isolated from the external environment by skin, tissue, and the skull. In order to get to them the liquid circuit would have to penetrate the person.

We decided that it could penetrate. After all, man is a solution. Not a water solution (otherwise people would dissolve in water); there's not that much free water in a person. It's that damn quantitative analysis that confuses everything, the hypnosis of numbers that comes when you take apart human tissue and get these figures: water 75 percent, protein 20 percent, fat 2 percent, salt 1 percent, and so on. Man is a biological solution, and all his components coexist within him in unity and interrelation. The body contains “liquid liquids”: saliva, urine, blood plasma, lymph, stomach acids — they can be poured into a test tube. Other liquids fill the cell tissues — the muscles, nerves, brain — and here each cell is a test tube itself. Biological liquids even permeate the bones, as if they were sponges. Thus, despite a lack of proper vessels, man has much more reason to consider himself a liquid than, say, does a forty — percent solution of sodium hydrate.

To be even more precise, man is information recorded in a biological solution. Beginning with the moment of conception, transformations take place in this solution; the muscles, intestines, nerves, brain, and skin all form. The same thing — but faster and in a different way — takes place in the liquid of the computer — womb. So, however you look at it, the two liquids are closely related, and their mutual penetration is quite possible.

No matter how much we wanted to check every hypothesis as soon as possible in the computer — womb, we controlled ourselves and spent the whole day on theory. We've played enough with chance. This time we'll plan everything thoroughly.

So, the first thing is to plug in.

February!. Ah, those were good theories that we were tailoring to fit what had already been done! The building block game, the mathematics of “it — not it”… it's nice to look back on how smoothly it all went. Build a theory to help you achieve new results that are much more complex.

For now the theoretical liquid (the liquid circuit) in the tank is behaving like vulgar water. Just thicker.

Do I need to write how the very next day we ran to the lab bright and' early, and in trepidation and anticipation, stuck our fingers into the tank — “plugging in.” And nothing. The liquid wasn't warm or cool. We stood around like that for an hour: no sensation, no changes.

Do I need to describe how we bathed the last two rabbits in the liquid trying to plug them into the computer? The computer — womb didn't obey the order “No!” and didn't dissolve them. It ended with the rabbits drowning, and we couldn't save them by pumping them out.

Do I need to mention that we lowered conductors into the liquid and watched the movements of floating potentials on the oscillograph? The potentials vacillated and the plotted curve looked like a jagged electroencephalogram. And so what?

That's the way it always is. If I were a novice, I'd quit.

February 6. An experiment: I lowered my finger into the liquid, Kravets put on Monomakh's Crown and began touching various objects with his finger. J could feel what surfaces he was touching! There was something warm (the radiator), something cold and wet (he stuck his finger under the tap).

That meant my finger was plugged in!? The computer was giving me information about external sensations through my finger. Yes, but they're the wrong ones. I need signals (even in sensations) of the work of the liquid circuit in the tank.

February 10. A small, innocent, trifling result. In scope it's inferior even to making the rabbits. Simply, I cut the fleshy part of my palm today and healed the cut.

“You see,” Kravets said meditatively in the morning, “for the liquid circuit to have the sensation of working, it has to work. And what is it supposed to work on, I ask you? Why should it plug into you, or me, or the rabbits? We're all complete. Everything is in informational balance.”

I don't know if I really figured it out faster than he did (I flatter myself into thinking yes) or whether he just didn't want to hurt himself. But I began the experiment: I destroyed the informational equilibrium in my organism.

The scalpel was sharp and inexperienced. I sliced through my flesh all the way to the bone. Blood drenched my hand. I put my hand in the tank and the liquid turned crimson around it. The pain didn't disappear.

“The crown — put on the crown!” Kravets shouted.

“What crown? What for?” The pain and the sight of blood kept me from thinking straight.

He pushed Monomakh's Crown on my head, clicked the dials — and the pain disappeared instantly; in a few seconds the liquid was clear of blood. My hand was enveloped in a pleasant tingle — and the miracle began: my hand became transparent before my eyes!

First the red plaits of the muscles showed. A minute later they had dissolved, and the white bones of the fingers showed through the red jelly. A violet blood vessel, thickening and thinning, pushed blood near the sinews in my wrist.

I grew scared and I pulled my hand out of the tank. Immediate pain. The hand was whole, but it shone as if it had been oiled; heavy drops dripped off from the tips of my transparent fingers. I tried wriggling my fingers but they wouldn't obey. And then I noticed that my fingers were thickening into droplet — shaped forms. That was terrifying.

“Put it back or you'll lose your hand!” Kravets shouted.

I put it back and concentrated on the cut. There was a delicious ache there. “Yes, computer… that's it. That's it,” I repeated. The tingle weakened and the wrist was losing its transparency. Sighing in relief, I took out my hand: there was no more cut, just a big reddish blue scar. A few transparent drops of ichor oozed in the crack. The scar itched and buzzed unbearably. This probably wasn't the end, then. I put my hand in the liquid again. Again — transparency, tingling. “That's it, computer. That's it.” Finally the tingling stopped and the hand was no longer transparent.

The whole experiment lasted twenty minutes. Now I couldn't show you where I cut myself with the scalpel.

I have to figure this out. The most interesting aspect of this was that I didn't have to give the computer — womb any special information on how to heal a cut — as if I could. Probably my little encouraging that's it's were superfluous. The feeling of pain had given rise to rather eloquent biowaves in my brain as it was.

It looks like the computer — womb plugs into a person with a signal of imbalance in the system. But this signal wouldn't necessarily have to be pain: it could be a willed command to change something in yourself or a dissatisfaction (“not it”). And then it could be controlled with sensation.

A minor, ineffective experiment compared with everything that came before it. After all the cut could have been doused with iodine, bandaged, and it would have healed on its own.

But it's the most important experiment we've done in a year's work! Now our discovery can be used not only to synthesize and perfect artificial doubles but to transform complex informational systems that are contained in a highly complex biological solution, which we simply call man. The transformation of any person!

February 20. Yes, the liquid circuit plugs into a human organism on a willed command, too. Today I removed the hair from my arm up to my elbow this way. I put my hand in the tank, put on the crown. “Not it,” concentrating on the hair. The prickling and itching increased. The skin became transparent. A minute later the hair had dissolved.

Kravets used the method to grow nails on his pinky and index finger that were over an inch long. He dipped both plams into the liquid and changed his usual fingerprint sworls into something resembling the tread on a winter tire. Then he tried to restore the original pattern, but he didn't remember what it looked like.

Now I see why nothing worked with the rabbits — they have no consciousness, no will, no satisfaction with self. This is a method for man. And only for man!

Graduate student Krivoshein skimmed the rest, to memorize it. He flipped through the pages of the diary, photographing them with his memory. It was clear to him: Krivoshein and Kravets had reached the same thing a different way — they could control metabolism in man. But they needed a computer.

And it was important that they needed mechanical help. Now his discovery wasn't unique, a freak, but knowledge on how to alter oneself. It wasn't enough to have a method of transformation — you had to have complete information on the human organism. They didn't have it and couldn't possibly have it. And his “knowledge in sensations” could be encoded into the computer and passed on to the world. To every human being. And every human being could have unheard — of power.

The student slitted his eyes in thought, and leaned back in the chair. The fight against disease would soon be forgotten! The elements would be subordinate to man without machines.

The blue ocean depths, where he will go without diving gear or bathyscaphe. A human dolphin will be able to grow fins and gills at will and enjoy the water environment, live in it, work in it, travel through it.

If he wants to go into the air, he can grow wings and fly, soar like an eagle on the warm air currents.

Hostile alien planets: the poisonous atmosphere of chlorous gases, heated by the sun and the uncooled magma or chilled by the cosmic cold, full of fatal bacteria. And man will be able to live there as freely as on earth, without special suits or biological shields. He will merely transform his organism to breathe chloride instead of oxygen and perhaps change the usual protein of his body to an organosilicon one.

The important thing about man is not that he breathes oxygen. Not his arms and legs. You can develop fins, gills, wings, breathe fluorine, replace protein with organosilicon, and still be man. And you can have normal extremities, white skin, a head, and papers — and not be one! “Yes, but….” Krivoshein leaned on the desk. His eyes fell on his original's notes.

Disease and freakishness will disappear. Wounds and poisons will be no threat. Everyone will be able to become strong, brave, beautiful, will be able to mobilize the resources of his organism to do work that once seemed impossible. People will be like gods! Well, what are you smiling wisely for? This is really the method for the limitless perfection of man!”

“I'm wise, so I'm smiling,” Kravets answered coldly. “You're flying off somewhere again. That's not the only possibility.”

“Oh, come on! Doesn't every person strive to become better, more perfect?”

“Strives in keeping with his concepts of good and perfection. For one thing, you might end up with “Krivoshein's cosmetic baths. “

“What baths?”

“You know… five rubles a session. A citizen shows up, undresses behind a screen, and sinks into the biological liquid. The operator — some Zhora Sherverpupa, former hairdresser — puts on Mono — makh's Crown and asks: 'What would you desire? This time I want to look like Brigitte Bardot, his client orders. 'But make sure my eyebrows are thicker and darker. My guy really likes 'em dark. Why are you frowning? She'll even give Zhora a tip. And the male clientele will be turning themselves into Alain Delon or the Nordic handsomeness of an Oleg Strizhenov. And then next season the fashion will be for Lollabrigidas and Vitaly Zubkovs, as seen in the picture….”

“But we could program a minimal retrieval of information for the computer — womb… some kind of filter for banality and stupidity. Or program it to — “

“ — simultaneously instill inner qualities in the mass consumer? What if he doesn't want any? Doesn't he have the right not to want any for his money? 'What am I, some little lady will ask, 'abnormal or something. Why do you think you should change me? You're the weirdos! You see, the reinforced concreteness of the position of the middle — class boob stems from his absolute certainty that his own behavior is the norm.”

“But we can make sure it's not the norm for the computer — womb.”

“Hmmm… I suggest a simple experiment. Please put a finger into the liquid.”

“Which one?”

“Whichever one you won't miss.”

I dipped my ring finger into the liquid. The double put on the crown and went over to the medicine chest.


“Ow, what are you doing?” I pulled out the finger. It was cut and bleeding.

Victor Kravets sucked his ring finger and then wiped the blood from the scalpel.

“Do you see now?” The computer has no norms of behavior. It doesn't give a damn about anything. Whatever you command it to do, it does.”

We healed the cuts.

Kravets brought me down from the heavens — headlong down a steep flight of stairs. We're a dreamy lot, inventors. And Bell probably thought that people would use his telephone only for pleasant or necessary news, and certainly not for gossip, or anonymous denunciations, or for sending an ambulance to perfectly healthy friends as a joke. We all dream about the good thing, and when life turns our inventions inside out, we just slap our sides, like loggers in a forest, and ask: “What are you doing, people?”

The hellish part of science is that it creates methods and nothing else. So we will have a “method for transforming information in a biological system.” You can turn a monkey into a man. But you could also turn a man into a donkey.

But I can't, I can't believe that after our discovery things would go on as they were! Not for the sake of science — for the sake of life. Our discovery was intended for life: it doesn't shoot; it doesn't kill — it creates. Maybe we're looking in the wrong place — the problem isn't in the computer but in man?

Graduate student Krivoshein finished reading the diary to the inner accompaniment of these troubling thoughts. Had they worked for nothing? Was their discovery too soon, ahead of its time, and could it harm mankind? In Moscow he hadn't given much thought to it: the discovery was only within him — it had nothing to do with anyone else — and he just explored it to his heart's content and said nothing. Of course, after his bath in the pool of the reactor he was bursting to share his knowledge and experiences with Androsiashvili and the guys in the form: radiation and radiation sickness can be overcome! But this knowledge was top secret… “because of the dregs!” Krivoshein was angry. “Because of the dregs, of whom there are maybe one in a thousand and for whom that prostitute science prepares methods of destroying cities and nations! Only methods. I guess we'll have to just wipe out those vipers. No one would catch me or shoot me… but then I'll be just like them. No, that's not it, either.

The student shut the diary and raised his eyes. The table lamp was lit without illuminating anything. It was light. Beyond the window the matching yellow faces of the buildings of Academic Town stared into the sun; it looked like the herd of houses would take off after the light any second. The clock said 7:30 in the morning.

Krivoshein lit up and went out on the balcony. People were gathering at the bus stop. A broad — shouldered man in a blue raincost paced under the trees. “Well, well!” Krivoshein was amazed by his tenacity. “All right, I have to save what can be saved.”

He went back inside, undressed, and took a cold shower. Then he opened the closet, critically eyed the meager selection of clothes. He chose a Ukrainian shirt with embroidery. He gave the worn suit a dubious stare, sighed, and put it on.

Then the student trained in front of the mirror for fifteen minutes and left the apartment.

Chapter 21

“Hey! Stop! Don't be a jackass!”

“Easier said than done….” muttered the jackass, and rambled on.

— A contemporary fable

The man in the raincoat noticed Krivoshein, turned to him, and stared.

“God, what a bumbling amateur detective!” Krivoshein thought to himself. “None of this watching my reflection in store windows or hiding behind a newspaper — he's pushing his way toward me like a preneanderthal on a county bus! Don't they train these guys? They should at least read comic books to improve their technique. A guy like this is really going to solve a crime, hah!”

He was angry. He walked right up to the man.

“Listen, don't you ever get relieved? Doesn't the seven — hour workday law apply to detectives?”

The man raised his eyebrows quizzically.

“Val….” he said in a soft baritone. “Val, don't you recognize me?”

“Hm….” Krivoshein blinked, stared, and whistled. “I see… you must be the double Adam — Hercules? So that's it! And I thought….”

“And then, you're not Krivoshein? I mean, you are Krivoshein, but the Moscow one?”

“Right. Well, hello… hello Val — Adam, you lost soul!”


They shook hands. Krivoshein examined Adam's wind — burned, tanned face: the features were coarse, but handsome. “Val did a good job, just look at him!” But the light eyes behind the bleached lashes hid a certain temerity.

“There's going to be an awful lot of Valentin Vasilyevich Krivosheins around here.”

“You can call me Adam. I think I'll adopt the name.”

“Where have you been, Adam?”

“In Vladivostok. God….”He chuckled, as though not sure whether he had the right to joke or not. “In Vladivostok and its environs.”

“Really? Teriffic!” Krivoshein looked at him enviously. “Did you work on the ships?”

“Not quite. I blew up underwater cliffs. And now I'm back to work here.”

“And you're not scared?”

Adam looked into Krivoshein's eyes.

“I'm scared, but… you see, I have an idea. Instead of synthesizing artificial people I want to try to transform regular ones in the computer — womb. Well… you know, put them in the liquid and act on them with external information. I guess that's possible, no?”

Adam was too diffident, he knew he was, and was sorry that he put the idea so clumsily.

“It's a good idea,” the student said. He looked at Adam with new interest. “I guess we're not that different,” he thought. “Or is it just the internal logic of the discovery?” He went on. “But it's been done, Val. They put various parts of their bodies into our native element. I think they've even gotten in completely.”

“Is it working?”

“It's working… only I'm not sure about the last experiment.”

“That's marvelous! You see… then… then we can introduce art information into man with retrieval on a feedback basis.” And Adam, still shy and confused, told Krivoshein his plan for ennobling man through art.

The student understood.

He quoted from Krivoshein's diary: “We have to base our work on the fact that man strives for the best, that no one, or almost no one, consciously wants to perform vile or stupid deeds, that such deeds are a result of misunderstanding. Things are complicated in life; you can't figure out right away whether you're behaving the right way or not. I know that from my own experience. And if you give a person clear information that his psychology can respond to — about what's good, what's bad, what's stupid — and a clear understanding that any of his vile or stupid acts will eventually turn against him, then you don't have to worry about him or his behavior. This information could be introduced into the computer — womb as well — “

“He's done that, too?” Adam was surprised.

“No. There was only a vague idea that it was necessary. That the rest would be meaningless without it. So your idea is right on the mark. It fills in the blank, as we say in academic circles. Listen!” Krivoshein suddenly realized. “And with an idea like that you walked around, following me like a detective instead of just hailing me or coming up to the apartment?”

“You see,” Adam tried to explain, “I thought that you… were him. You walked right past me, didn't recognize me, didn't acknowledge me. I thought you — or rather he — didn't want to see me. We parted unpleasantly….” He lowered his head.

“Yes…. Have you been to the lab?”

“The lab? But I don't have a pass. And my papers are Krivoshein's, they know them there.”

“How about over the fence?”

“Over the fence?” Adam shrugged in embarrassment. The idea hadn't occurred to him.

“The man develops the most audacious, daring ideas but in real life… my God!” Krivoshein shook his head in disapproval and tried to explain: “You have to get rid of that lousy temerity before life, before people or we'll be lost. And the work will be lost. Well, all right.” He handed him the keys. “Go make yourself at home and get some rest. You've been hanging around all night; you need it!

“Where is… he?”

“That's what I'd like to know: where he is, and what happened to him.” The student looked worried. “I'll try to clear all that up. I'll see you later. So long.” He smiled. “It's really terriffic that you came.”

“No, a person can't be thrown off the track that easily!” Krivoshein thought as he headed for the institute. “A great project, a major idea can subjugate anything, can make you forget insults and personal goals, and imperfections. Man strives for the best: he's absolutely right!”

Overcrowded morning buses rushed past him. The student noticed Lena in one of the them: she was sitting by the window and staring abstractly into space. “Ah, Lena, Lena, how could you?” Reading the diary had a tremendous effect on him: he felt that he had spent that year in Dneprovsk. Now he was simply Krivoshein and his heart contracted with the memory of the pain that that woman had caused him (yes, him!).

I know what our research is leading up to, there's no point in kidding ourselves: I have to get into the tank. Kravets and I are performing minor educational experiments with our extremities. I even used the liquid circuit to fix up my knee tendons, torn so long ago, and now I don't limp. All this represents marvels in medicine, but we're aiming for something bigger — the transformation of an entire person! We can't putter around here, or we'll spend another twenty years around the tank. And I'm the one who has to go in, an ordinary, natural person. There's nothing more for Kravets to do in the tank.

Actually, I'll be testing myself, not the computer — womb. All our knowledge and usage of the word “good” isn't worth a thing if man won't have the will power and determination to undergo informational transformation in the liquid.

Of course, I won't come out of the bath transformed. First of all, we don't have the necessary information to make substantial changes in the organism or intellect; and secondly, we don't need that for a beginning. It's enough to experience being plugged into the computer — womb, to prove that it's possible and not dangerous — and, well, to change something in me. Make that first orbit around the earth, so to speak.

Is it possible? Is it dangerous? Will I return from the orbiting capsule, from the experiments? The computer — womb is a complicated thing. We've discovered so many new things in it, and we still don't know everything about it. I'm not too comfortable with the shining prospects of our research.

This is the very time I should get married. The hell with my careful relations with Lena; I need her. I want her to be with me, take care of me, worry about me, yell at me when I come home late, but give me dinner first. And (since everything is clear with the synthesis of doubles) let future Krivosheins appear not from the computer but as a result of good, highly moral relations between parents. And let them complicate our lives — I'm for it. I'm getting married! Why didn't I think of it before?

Of course, to get married now when we're about to do this experiment… well, at least there'll be a permanent reminder of me — a son or daughter. People used to go to war, leaving wives and children behind. Why can't I behave in the same way?

This may not be on the up and up — getting married when there is a possibility of leaving a widow behind me. But let those who have done what I'm doing condemn me. I'll accept it from them.

May 12. “Marry me, Lena. Let's live together. And we'll have children as beautiful as you and as smart as me. Hummmm?”

“Do you really think you're smart?”

“Why not?”

“If you were smart you wouldn't make suggestions like that.”

“I don't understand.”

“There, you see. And you think you'll have smart children.”

“No, tell me. What's wrong? Why won't you marry me?

She stuck the last pin into her hair and turned from the mirror to me.

“I love it when you pout. Darling Val! My lovely red — haired bear. You mean you've developed some honorable intentions? You sweetie!”

“Wait! Are you agreeing to marry me?”

“No, my love.”

“Why not?”

“Because I understand a little more than you do about family life. Because I know nothing good will come of it for us. Just think back. Have we ever talked about anything serious? We just meet, spend time…. Think. Haven't there been times when I come to see you, and you're busy with your thoughts and you're not happy, even angry, that I'm there? Of course, you make believe — you try hard, but I can tell. What will happen if we're together constantly?”

“Do you mean — you don't love me?”

“No, Val,” she looked at me sadly. “And I won't fall in love with you. I don't want to. I used to… to tell the truth, I worked at this relationship. I thought a quiet and unattractive man would love me and appreciate me. You have no idea, Val, how I needed the warmth and comfort of a relationship! But I didn't get warm near you. You don't love me very much either. You don't belong to me, I can see that. You have another love, science!” She laughed angrily. “You've invented all sorts of toys for yourselves: science, technology, politics, war. And women are just something on the side. Well, I don't want to be something on the side. It's well known: women are fools. We take everything seriously. We know no bounds in love and can't do a thing with ourselves….” Her voice trembled and she turned away. “I would have said all this to you anyway. I was wrong again!”

Actually, there's no need for details. I threw her out. I'm sitting here over my diary.

So, it was all planned. Don't love a handsome man, love a crummy one. And I wanted to create a big family….

I feel cold. Oh, so cold!

Lena's not mercenary. Then what is she? Actually, she was right: I knew that myself. And how! But this light relationship suited me before. “Will it do?” — as they ask in the store, offering you margarine instead of butter.

Nothing happens in life to no purpose. I'm the one who changed, who realized things in time, and she's still the same. I fell for a storybook illusion, what a jerk. I wanted to get warm.

And that's it. There will never be anything in my life. I'll never find anyone like Lena. I'm not willing to go in for one — night stands.

Lena didn't want to become my widow.

It's cold….

We've lost spontaneity, the ability to follow our feelings, to believe on faith because we believe, to love because we're in love. It's possible that it happened because everyone got burned more than once, or because in the theater and movies we see how those feelings are manufactured, or because life is so complicated and everything must be thought out and planned — I don't know. “Tenderness, in a Taylor series expansion….” I've been expansive enough.

Now we have to understand with our reason just how important solid, strong feelings are in human life. Who knows, maybe it's good that it has to be proven. And it will be proven. Then people will develop a new naturalness of feeling, strengthened by reason, and they'll understand that without feelings there is no life.

And for now… it's cold.

Ah, Lena, Lena, my poor frightened girl! Now, I think, I really do love you.

Investigator Onisimov reached the New Systems Laboratory at 8:30 in the morning. The guard on duty, Golovorezov, was sitting in the sun on the porch, leaning against the door with his cap over his eyes. Flies were crawling around his open mouth and on his cheeks. The guard moved his facial muscles, but didn't wake up.

“You'll get a bad burn on duty, comrade guard,” Onisimov said sternly.

The guard woke immediately, fixed his cap, and stood up.

“Everything quiet here, comrade captain. There were no incidents in the night.”

'I see. So you have the keys?”

“Yes sir.” He pulled the keys from his pocket. “You gave them to me, and I have them.”

“Don't let anyone in.”

Onisimov unlocked the door and shut it behind him. He found his bearings in the dark hallway easily, maneuvering among the boxes and crates, and reached the door to the lab.

He looked around carefully in the laboratory. There were gelatinous puddles on the floor, their dried edges curling up. The hoses of the computer — womb hung limply from the bottles and flasks. The lights were out on the control panel. The switches on the electric panel were sticking out sideways. Onisimov inhaled the stale air carefully and turned his head: “Aha!” Then he took off his blue jacket, hung it neatly on a chair back, rolled up his sleeves, and got to work.

First of all he rinsed the teflon tank with water, stood it back up on the floor, and removed all the hoses and conductors from it. Then he followed the power cable and found the burnt — out part that had shorted, eaten away by acids, near the wall board. He took rubber gloves from the drawer, got the right tools from the cabinet, went back to the cable and cleaned and patched it up with insulated tape.

A few minutes later it was all done. Onisimov, taking a breather, stretched and turned on the electricity. The transformers in the TsVM — 12 began humming. The air vents rustled, and the exhaust fan whined, picking up speed. The green, red, blue, and yellow lights on the control panel blinked aimlessly.

Onisimov, biting his lower lip in anxiety, got a full flask of distilled water and added it to all the flasks; he got Krivoshein's lab journal from the desk, and deciphering the notations, started adding reagents to the bottles and flasks. When he finished all this, he stood in the middle of the room expectantly.

The trembling light flitted from one end of the control panel to the other, and up and down and down and up — tearing around like a maddened bulb on an electronic billboard. But gradually the random movement began forming a pattern of broken lines. The green vertical lines were shaded with blue and yellow lights. The red lights blinked more slowly: soon they went out completely. Onisimov kept waiting for the “Stop!” signal to go on at the top of the panel. Five minutes, ten, fifteen… the signal didn't come on.

“I think it's working.” Onisimov rubbed his face with his hand.

Now he had to wait. So as not to sit by idly, he filled a pail with water and washed the floor. Then he taped up the torn wires of Monomakh's Crown, read the notes in the journal, got together some more reagents and poured them in. There was nothing else to do.

He heard footsteps in the hall. Onisimov turned toward the door sharply. Golovorezov came in.

“Comrade captain, scientific secretary Hilobok is out there. He wants to come in. He says he has something to tell you. Should I let him in?”

“No. Let him wait. I have to talk to him, too.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, I guess I'll have to talk to Harry,” Onisimov chuckled. “The perfect time to remind him of recent events.”

May 17. But Harry Haritonovich bent the truth when he said he didn't have time to write his dissertation! He lied. Yesterday, it turns out, he had his preliminary defense of his doctoral at a closed session of our scientific council. We do what so many organizations do: before letting one of our people out into the world, we listen to him in our private circle. His official defense will take place in a few days at Lena's construction project bureau.

Oh, Harry isn't lying for nothing! There's something going on.

May 18. Today I knocked at the window next to which a local institute poet, who wished to remain anonymous, had written in pencil:

Be worthy of the first form.

The enemy does not sleep!

Major Pronin.

I was worthy. That's why Joahann Johannovich let me into the closed reading room and gave me a copy of the dissertation of technical sciences candidate H. H. Hilobok to attain the degree of doctor of technical sciences on the top of… well, I can't write about that.

Well, brother…. First of all, the topic deals totally with the development of the blocks of memory that Valery and I had done long ago, and it looks like Hilobok was at least the inventor and director of the project; it doesn't come out and say so, but you can read it between the lines. Secondly, he allowed himself free improvisation in part of the explanation and interpretation of the results, and made major mistakes. Thirdly, he has long — proven facts, determined by foreign systemologists and electronics people, introduced by “It has been determined by experiments that….” How could the scientific council let that get by? It's May, and half the people are on business trips or vacation.

No, he won't get away with this.

May 19. “Do you know math?” Kravets asked when I told him about it and my plans for it.

“Yes, why?”

“Then add it up: two days to prepare for participation in the defense, plus a day for the defense, plus a month of hassles afterward. You're not a baby. You know you won't get by with a joke like this. What's more important: you'll be squandering a month of our work, the results of which will influence the world more than all the technology extant today, or some lousy dissertation, which won't affect anything? One more or less in the world, no difference.”

“Hmm… and now I'll show you a different math. You and I are identical people with identical ability, and in some ways you've surpassed me. But if I were to go over to that Harry Hilobok and, without delving into particulars, tell him that student Kravets is stupid, hasn't the slightest understanding of computers (even is weak in math), breaks equipment, and secretly drinks alcohol, what do you think would happen to Kravets? Kicked out of the institute and out of the dorms. And he's gone. He won't be able to prove anything to anyone, because he's only a student. And that's the comparative power that Hilobok will have over us when he becomes a doctor of sciences. Have I convinced you?”

I convinced him so well that he set off immediately for the library to take notes from open sources.

I have another justification: we have to think not only about our research but also about defending the correct application of our discovery some day. And we don't yet know how to do that. We have to learn.

The hell with careful justification! I mean am I alive in this world or is it only my imagination?

May 22. It all began normally enough. A small but impressive audience gathered in the hall of the construction bureau. Harry Haritonovich put up several sheets of oaktag with graphs and charts on the board, struck a picturesque pose next to them and delivered the usual twenty — minute talk. The audience listened with the usual discomfort. Some had no idea what he was talking about; others understood some of it; and still others understood it all: just what this Hilobok was, and what his dissertation was on, and why he kept it secret. But all those present thought glumly that it was none of their business, and really, that they could not cast the first stone — the usual sleepy thoughts that permit thousands of inept and sneaky louts into science.

Harry finished. The chairman read critical response to the work. The response was good (but who would submit unfavorable ones to his dissertation defense?). The only serious unexpected thing was that Arkady Arkadievich had written a response to the work, too. Then the official opponent took the stage. Everyone knows what an official opponent does: in order to earn his name, he notes several inconsistencies, several incomplete thoughts, and “yet in sum total the work corresponds… the author is deserving of….” Well, I won't lie about this one: the opponent from Moscow was a highly qualified man and he mocked all the propositions of the dissertation and made it clear that he could expose the whole thing, but he did it so carefully and subtly that probably even Harry didn't see it. “Yet in sum total the work deserves….”

And finally: “Who would like to speak?” Usually by this time everyone is disgusted by the proceedings; no one wants anything; the candidate thanks everyone — and it's over.

Laboratory head V. Krivoshein breathed in and out deeply (by then I realized how much trouble this would cause) and raised his hand. Harry Haritonovich was unpleasantly surprised. I spoke twenty minutes, as he had, and in unfolding my point of view I handed the council members journals, magazines, monographs, brochures, and so on that contained the results Hilobok was defending without any mention of him. Then I re — created his circuit for… never mind for what, particularly since its only redeeming feature was its “originality,” and proved that the circuit would not work in the frequencies of the required range. There was a hubbub in the hall.

Then appeared candidate of sciences V. Ivanov, who had specially made the trip from Leningrad (not without a phone call from me). He clarified the borrowed data and took apart the “original” part of the dissertation; Valery's speech was full of erudition and subtle humor. The audience grew noisier — and then it began!

My old friend Zhalbek Balbekovich Pshembakov tried to find out from Harry how was it that in circuit number two… it's not worth writing about either. Hilobok didn't know how it was, but he tried to get away with some bull and babble. Then the other colleagues of the construction bureau entered the fray. The last speaker was the chief engineer, a professor and Nobel Prize winner (I won't mention his name in this context). “I had the feeling from the first that there was something wrong here,” he began.

So the first form didn't help Hilobok; they squashed his dissertation like God can squash a turtle! Harry was a pitiful sight. Everyone was going off to his office and he was taking down his magnificent displays, and the stiff oaktag rolled up and hit him in the mustache. I went over to help.

“No, thank you,” Hilobok muttered. “Are you satisfied? You don't write anything and you don't let anyone else do it, either. It's an easy life. Valentin Vasilyevich, nature has endowed you with certain gifts….”

“Sure, it's easy! My salary is half of yours, and my vacation time, too. And I'm swamped with work and responsibilities.”

“You add to your worries unnecessarily. Why did you have to get involved in this?” Harry, rolling up his displays, gave me a threatening and angry look. “You have to think about the institute, not just about yourself and me. Well, this isn't the place to talk about it.”

So that's the ticket. Well, it doesn't matter. I feel wonderful now. As though I had done something that was infinitely more valuable and meaningful than even our discovery: I squashed a viper. That means it's possible. And not as terrible as I had expected.

Now I'm not so worried about our work's future. Problems like this can be surmounted, too.

“But it did have an effect on his work,” muttered Onisimov — Krivoshein, watching the computer — womb. “Everything has an effect on the work.”

May 29. Today I was called onto Azarov's thick carpet. He has just gotten back from a trip.

“So you realize what you've done?”

“But, Arkady Arkadievich, the dissertation — “

“We're not talking about Harry Haritonovich's dissertation, but about your behavior! You've undermined the institute's prestige, and in no small way!”

“I expressed my opinion.”

“Yes, but where? How? Is it so difficult to comprehend that in another organization you are not simply an engineer trying to even a scholarly score with someone (well, Harry told his side!) but a representative of the Institute of Systemology! Why didn't you express your opinion at the preliminary defense?”

“I didn't know about it.”

“Nevertheless you could have told it to my replacement after the defense. It would have been taken into account!”

(He's talking about Voltampernov — a likely story!)

“It wouldn't have been taken into account.”

“I see we won't reach an agreement. What are your plans for the future?”

“I don't intend to resign.”

“I'm not asking you to. But it seems to me that you're not ready to head a laboratory. A scientist working in a collective must bear the good of the collective in mind and at any rate, certainly not deal it any death blows by his behavior. I imagine that you will have trouble, at the next qualifying session, passing to lab head. That's all. I won't keep you.”

So that's how it is. The whole institute is abuzz with turkey gobbles: “An engineer against a candidate! Keeping him from his doctorate!” Thanks to Harry everybody thinks that I was trying to settle a score with him. They're dragging out my old sins: the chewing out, the accident in Ivanov's lab (Matyushin, the head janitor, is planning to sue me for damages). They realized that I haven't turned in an annual report on my project, even though topic 154 isn't over until this year. They say that a commission to check on the lab's work should be set up.

My enemies shout. My friends whisper carefully, looking over their shoulders: “You really gave it to Hilobok. The jerk deserves it. Well, they'll get you now.” And they suggest where I should tranfer. “Why don't you intercede?” “Well, you see….” Even good old Fenya Zagrebnyak just spreads his hands apart. “What can I do? It's not in my field.”

A narrow specialist has a lousy life. Well — fed, secure, but lousy. All his interests are concentrated on elements of passive memory, say, and not on any old elements but only on cryotron elements, and only on film cryotrons and only on those made of lead — tin films. The worker, the farmer, the technician, the broad — based engineer, the teacher, and even the office worker can apply his knowledge and skills to many activities, enterprises, and companies, but there are only two or three institutes in the whole Soviet Union studying those damned cryotrons. What can poor Fedya do? He has to sit there and not make waves. In effect, a narrow speciality is a means of self — enslavement.

That's why it's rare among us specialists to find all for one (unless the one is Azarov). All against one is the more usual picture; that's easier. That's why passions flare up at the first sign of insubordination. “Anyone could be failed like that!” yelped Voltampernov — and it went on and on.

All right, I'll bear it. I can take it. The important thing is that it's done. I knew what I was getting into. But it's repulsive. It's unbelievably disgusting.

Onisimov put out his cigarette and stared at the computer. Something had changed slowly and imperceptibly in the distribution of the hoses. They seemed to be tensed. A shudder of contractions traveled through some of them. And — Onisimov jumped — the first drop fell loudly from the left gray hose into the tank.

Onisimov moved the stairs over to the tank and climbed up. He put his hand under the hose. In a minute it was full of the golden liquid. The lines in his skin were visible through it, as if under a magnifying glass. He concentrated, and the skin disappeared, revealing the red muscles, the white bones, the tendons…. “Ah, if they had only known how to do this,” he sighed. “The experiment wouldn't have gone like this. They didn't know. And it had an effect.”

He let the liquid splash into the tank, got back down to the floor, and washed his hand in the sink. The patter of drops from all the hoses rang merrily and springlike in the lab.

“Work! You're strong, computer,” Onisimov — Krivoshein said respectfully. “As strong as life.”

He obviously didn't want to leave the laboratory. But he glanced at his watch, put on his jacket, and hurried.

“Good morning, Matvei Apollonovich!” Hilobok greeted him rapturously. “Working already? I've been waiting for you. I wanted to report something,” he whispered, bringing his mustache close to Onisimov's ear, “Yesterday that. woman of his, Elena Ivanovna Kolomiets, came to his apartment, took something, and left. And there was someone else in there, too. The light was on all night.”

“I see. You did the right thing in telling me. As they say, jurisprudence will not forget you.”

“Oh, any time, it's my duty!”

“Duty aside,” Onisimov said in a stern voice, “aren't you motivated by other, stronger motives, comrade Hilobok?”

“What motives?”

“For instance the fact that Krivoshein ruined your doctoral dissertation defense.”

Harry Haritonovich's face sagged for a moment and then quickly took on a look of injury at the hands of humanity.

“Some people! Someone already had time to report that to you. What kind of people work here, I ask you, tsk, tsk? Don't be silly, Matvei Apollonovich. How could you doubt the sincerity of my motives! Krivoshein didn't have as tremendous an influence at the defense as you might have been told. There were more serious experts there than him, and many approved of it, but he, obviously, was jealous, and well, they suggested I make some changes, nothing terrible. I'll be up for it again soon. But, of course, if you suspect me, that's up to you. Then check things out for yourself. It was my duty to tell you, but now… good day!”

“Good day.”

Harry Haritonovich left furious: Krivoshein was getting him from the other world, too!

“You really let him have it, comrade captain!” the guard said approvingly.

Onisimov didn't hear. He was watching Hilobok leave.

It leads to one thing. But the question that comes up willy — nilly is “Is it worth it?”

Be straight, Krivoshein: you can kick the bucket in this experiment. It's that simple, based on your own statistics of success and failure in your experiments. Science and methodology aside, things never work the way they should the first time — that's the old law. And a mistake in this experiment is more than a spoiled sample.

I mean basically I'm climbing into the tank as a narrow specialist in this work. That's my speciality, like cryotron film is for Fenya Zagrebnyak. But I don't have to get in there — nobody's forcing me. Funny, I have to get into a medium that easily dissolves live organisms simply because my specialty worked out badly!

For people? The hell with them! Do I need more than the rest? I'll just live quietly for myself. And it'll be good.

And everything will be clear — with the lowest, coldest clarity of a scoundrel. And I'll have to spend my life justifying my retreat by saying that all people are like that, no better than me, and even worse, everyone lives only for himself. And I'll have to drop all my hopes and dreams of better things quickly so that they don't remind me. I sold out! I sold out and I have no right to expect anything better from anyone else.

And then it will get really cold in the world….

Golovorezov was asking him something.


“I said, will my replacement be here soon, comrade captain? I came on at twenty — two hundred.”

“Didn't you get enough sleep?” Onisimov squinted at him merrily. “You'll have to stand it another hour and a half or so. Then you'll be relieved, I promise. I'll take the keys with me. That's better. Don't let anyone in here!”

Chapter 22

Einstein had a boss, and Faraday had one, and Popov had one… but somehow no one ever remembers them. Now that's a violation of subordination!

— K. Prutkov — engineer, Thought 40

The window of Azarov's office opened on the institute grounds. He could see the crowns of the lindens and the gray — glassed parallelepiped of the new building rising above them. Arkady Arkadievich never tired of the view. In the mornings it helped him chase away his neurasthenia and gave him energy. But today, looking out the window, he merely frowned and turned away.

Yesterday's feeling to loneliness and vague guilt hadn't passed. “Eh!” Azarov tried to wave it away. “Whenever anyone dies, you always feel guilty just because you're still alive. Especially if the person was younger than you. And loneliness in science is natural and usual for anyone working in the creative end. Each one of us only knows his own field. It's hard to understand one another. That's why we often replace mutual understanding with an unspoken agreement not to pry into other people's business. But what had he known? What was he doing?”

“May I? Good morning, Arkady Arkadievich!” Hilobok moved across the carpet, exuding cologne as he walked.

Onisimov's subtle hint had worried Harry Haritonovich. It occurred to him that someone might think that he was evening the score with Krivoshein over the dissertation by poisoning him to death. “It's only natural that when someone is killed they look for a killer. And around here, they could easily….” the assistant professor thought, paranoid. He wasn't quite sure who or what he had to be afraid of, but he knew he had better be afraid, to keep them from getting a jump on him.

“So, Arkady Arkadievich, I've prepared a draft of an order regarding the incident with Krivoshein, so that everything about him… and this incident would be formulated properly. There are only two points here: in regards to a commission and in regards to the closing of the laboratory. Please read it over, Arkady Arkadievich, and if you have no objections — “

Hilobok leaned over the polished desk and placed a typewritten page in front of the academician.

“I've entered the following as members of the commission to investigate the incident: comrade Bezmerny, safety engineer — it's just up his alley, heh — heh — Ippolit Illarionovich Voltampernov, as a specialist in electronic technology; Aglaya Mitrofanovna Garazh, as a member of the local committee on labor defense; Lyudmila Ivanova from the office as the technical secretary of the commission… and well, I'll head it myself if you don't mind, Arkady Arkadievich. I'll take this burden on, too, heh — heh!” He looked up carefully.

Arkady Arkadievich was examining his faithful scientific secretary. The man, as usual, was extremely well shaven and groomed, his narrow red tie streaming down a starched shirt front like blood from a throat slit by a collar, but for some reason the sight and the sound of Harry Haritonovich's mellow voice elicited deep revulsion in the academician. “That light trembling before me. that phony subordinate dumbness. You're transparent, Harry Haritonovich, through and through! Maybe that's why I keep you around, because you are transparent? Because I can't expect anything unexpected or great from you? Because your goals are obvious? When the goals of a functioning system are understood, it's a thousand times easier to foresee its behavior than when the goals are masked — there is a law like that in systemology. Or is it just that I enjoy a daily comparison with you? Maybe that's why I feel this loneliness — because I surround myself with people who are easy to tower over?”

“And the second point is on the ending, that is, the stopping of work in the New Systems Laboratory during the work of the commission And then after the commission we'll see more clearly what to do with the lab: to disband it or turn it over to another department.”

“The work there had stopped of its own accord, Harry Haritonovich,” Azarov laughed sadly. “There's no one to work there now. And there's no one to disband.” He pictured Krivoshein's corpse again with its bulging eyes and pained grin. The academician rubbed his temples and sighed. “In principle I accept your idea for a commission, but its staff has to be changed slightly.” He pulled the sheet of paper over and took out his pen. “We can leave Ippolit Illarionovich, and the engineer on safety procedures, and we need a technical secretary, too. But not the rest. I'll head the commission myself, taking on, as you put it, this burden myself, to spare you. I want to find out what Krivoshein has been doing.”

“And. what about me?” the scientific secretary asked in a crestfallen voice.

“And you take care of your own duties, Harry Haritonovich.” Hilobok felt very ill: his fears were being justified. “He's estranging me!” He was afraid now and hating the dead Krivoshein much more than he had ever hated the live one.

“There! He's really making trouble again, isn't he?” Hilobok spoke, cocking his head to one side. “Look at all the troubles now! Ah, Arkady Arkadievich, don't you think I can see how you're taking this? Don't you think I understand? You shouldn't pull yourself away from your work and get all upset by this. The whole city will be talking, saying that Azarov had another one at the Institute… and that he's trying to cover it up — you know what people are like now. That Krivoshein, that Valentin Vasilyevich! Didn't I tell you, Arkady Arkadievich, didn't I foretell that he would be only trouble and danger! You shouldn't have supported his project, Arkady Arkadievich!”

Azarov listened, frowned, and felt his brain being overpowered by the usual hopeless numbness — like his neurasthenia coming back. This numbness always hit him after a prolonged conversation with Hilobok and forced him to agree with him. Now his head was buzzing with the thought that it probably takes more mental exertion to withstand babble like this than it does to do mathematical research.

“Why don't I fire him?” The idea popped into his mind. “Throw him out of the institute and that's that. This is humiliating. Yes, but with what cause? He manages his responsibilities. He's got eighteen works published, ten years' seniority. He passed the promotion test (of course, there was no one else taking it at the time) — there's nothing to complain about! And I gave him that favorable response on his dissertation like a fool. Should I fire him for stupidity and ineptness? Well… that would certainly be a new precedent in science.”

“He put in orders, used up materials and equipment, took up a whole building, worked for two years — and here you go, this calamity is all yours!” Hilobok was whipping himself up. “And at my defense… it wasn't just me that he shamed. I'm not that important. But he shamed you, Arkady Arkadievich, too! If I had my way, Arkady Arkadievich, I'd give that Krivoshein plenty for what he did to manage, I mean managed to did, I mean, to do, damn it!” He leaned over the desk, his brown eyes flashing with intense hatred. “It's too bad that we award only honors posthumously, write pleasant obituaries and the like. De mortis aut bene aut nihil, you know! But that Krivoshein should be reprimanded posthumously, so that others would learn a lesson! And a severe reprimand! And it should be entered — “

“ — on the tombstone. That's an idea!” a voice added behind him. “What a viper you are, Hilobok.”

Harry Haritonovich straightened up so fast it looked as though someone had given him a shot of rock salt in the rear. Azarov looked up: Krivoshein stood in the doorway.

“Hello, Arkady Arkadievich, forgive me for showing up without an appointment. May I come in?”

“H — he… hello, Valentin Vasilyevich!” Azarov stood up. His heart was pounding wildly. “Hello… oof, I see you're not… I'm happy to see you in good health! Come in, please!”

Krivoshein shook the barely proffered hand (the academician was relieved to see the hand was warm) and turned to Hilobok. Harry's mouth opened and closed noiselessly.

“Harry Haritonovich, would you please leave us alone? I would be very grateful if you did.”

“Yes, Harry Haritonovich, go,” Azarov said.

Hilobok backed to the door, bumping his head soundly on the wall, felt for the doorknob, and rushed out.

Gathering his wits about him, Arkady Arkadievich took a deep breath to calm his heart, sat behind his desk, and suddenly felt irritated. “Was I the butt of a practical joke?” he thought.

“Would you be so kind, Valentin Vasilyevich, to explain what all this means? What is this business with your, forgive me, corpse, the skeleton, and so on?”

“Nothing criminal, Arkady Arkadievich — may I?” Krivoshein sank into the leather armchair by the desk. “The self — organizing computer, about which I spoke at the scientific council last summer, actually did develop… and it developed to the point that it tried to create a person. Me. And, as they say, the first pancake is a lump.”

“Why wasn't I kept informed?” Azarov asked angrily, remembering the humiliating conversation the day before yesterday with the investigator and the other experiences of the last two days. “Why?” Krivoshein flew into a rage.

“Damn it!” He leaped forward, banging his fist on the soft arm of the chair. “Why don't you ask how we did it? How we managed to do it? Why are you more concerned with personal prestige, subordination, the relationship of others to your directorial ego?”

Krivoshein's announcement had reached Azarov in its most general form: he had gotten some result. Heads of departments and labs were always telling Azarov about their results, sitting in that very leather chair. And it was only as a delayed reaction that Arkady Arkadievich began to realize just what kind of a result it was. The world shuddered and became unreal for a moment. “Impossible! No, that's just the point, it is possible! Now everything falls into place and I see.” The academician spoke in a different tone. “Of course, this is… monumental. My congratulations, Valentin Vasilyevich. And… my apologies. I jumped the gun; it didn't come out right. A thousand pardons! This is a major. invention, even though the idea of communicating and synthesizing the information in man has been expressed by the late Norbert Weiner. [Krivoshein chuckled.] Of course this doesn't diminish… I remember your idea, and the day before yesterday I saw a few… results of your work. Since I am quite well versed in systemology myself [Krivoshein chuckled again], I, naturally, am prepared to accept what you've told me. Naturally, I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart! But you must admit, Valentin Vasilyevich, that this happy event for science could have been less worrisome and even less scandalous if you had kept me informed of your progress over the past year.”

“It's hard to get in to see you, Arkady Arkadievich.”

“You'll understand if I don't find that a substantial excuse, Valentin Vasilyevich!” Azarov frowned. “I'll admit that the procedure of getting in to see me might be offensive to you (even though all the workers at the institute have to submit to it at one time or another). But you could have telephoned me, left me a note (not necessarily a form in triplicate, either), or visited me at my apartment, you know!”

Arkady Arkadievich couldn't repress the hurt. “So… you work and work…” kept spinning through his mind. For a long time, since the days when his unsuccessful experiment with helium turned into the discovery of superfluidity in the hands of a colleague, Arkady Arkadievich had secretly hoped to see, find, and understand something new in nature and the world. He dreamed about a discovery with anticipation and trepidation, like a boy about to lose his virginity! But he had no luck. Others did, but not him! He had high — level, needed, much — valued and honored work to his credit, but no discovery — the height of comprehension.

And now in the institute that had been entrusted to him a discovery had been made without his knowledge, a discovery so huge that it dwarfed all of his work and the work of the entire institute! They managed without him. More than that! It seemed that they avoided him. “How so? Did he think I was dishonorable? What have I done to make him think that?” Academician Azarov hadn't had to experience such strong feelings in a long time.

“Hmmm. while sharing your joy for this discovery, Valentin Vasilyevich,” he went on, “I still am worried and saddened by your attitude. This may shock you, but I'm concerned not as a scientist or as your director, but as a human being: why like this? Surely you could see that my knowing about the project would do it no harm, but could only help: you would have been guaranteed direction, consultations.

If I had felt that you needed more workers or equipment, you would have had that, too. Then why, Valentin Vasilyevich? I'm not even deigning to think that you were worried about your inventor's patents….”

“But that didn't keep you from expressing the thought,” Krivoshein laughed sadly. “Well, all right. In general, I'm glad that you're distressed primarily as a human being; that gives me hope. For a while, we debated whether we should tell you about the work or not; we tried to meet with you. We couldn't make contact. And then we decided that at that stage of the project it was just as well.” He looked up at Azarov. “We didn't have much faith in you, Arkady Arkadievich. Do you know why? If for no other reason than that even now, instead of finding out more about the work, you tried to put the discovery and its credit where you thought it belonged: Weiner said…. What does Weiner's 'television' idea have to do with this? We've done it completely differently. And you know there wouldn't have been any consultations: I can't see you, an academician, displaying your ignorance in front of subordinate engineers. Another thing also: while you know very well that a researcher's value is in no way determined by his degrees or title, you nevertheless have never missed a chance to promote degreed and titled people into positions that others might have filled better. You think I didn't know from the start what my part would be in creating the new laboratory? Do you think that your warning to me after the scandal with Hilobok didn't affect my last experiment? It did. That's why I was rushing, taking risks. Do you think that my attitude toward you isn't affected by the fact that in your institute orders for exhibitions and other public relations nonsense always take precedence over things that are necessary for our work?”

“Now you're getting awfully petty, Valentin Vasilyevich!” Azarov said in irritation.

“Those were the petty things that I had to judge you by; there was nothing else. Or such a petty thing as the fact that a… a… well, that Hilobok sets the tone for the institute — whether through your disinterest or active support, I don't know. Of course, it's easy to feel intellectually superior next to Hilobok, even in a steam bath!”

Color rushed to Azarov's face: it's one thing when you realize something for yourself, and another when a subordinate tells you about it. Krivoshein realized he had gone too far and modified his tone.

“Please understand me correctly, Arkady Arkadievich. We had wanted you to participate in our work — and that's why I'm telling you this, not to insult you. There's much that we still don't understand in this discovery: man is a complicated system, and the computer that creates him is even more so. There's work here for thousands of experiments and studies. And that's our dream, to attract wise, knowledgeable, talented men to the project. But, you see, it's not enough to be a scientist for this work.”

“I hope that you will familiarize me more thoroughly with this work.” Azarov was gradually getting himself under control, and his sense of humor and superiority was returning. “Perhaps I will be of some service, as a scientist and as a human being.”

“Please God! We'll familiarize you with it… probably. I'm not alone in this, and can't make decisions on my own. But we will. We need you.”

“Valentin Vasilyevich,” the academician said, raising his shoulders, “excuse me, but are you planning to decide with your lab assistant whether or not you will allow me near your work? As far as I know, there is no one else in your lab?”

“Yes, and him too. Oh, my God!” Krivoshein sighed. “You are willing to accept the possibility that a computer can create man, but you can't accept the possibility that a lab assistant might know more about it than you! By the way, Michael Faraday was a lab assistant, too. No one remembers that any more. Arkady Arkadievich, you must prepare yourself for the fact that when you join our project — and I hope that you will! — there won't be any of that academic 'you are our fathers, we are your children' bull. We'll work, and that's it. None of us is a genius, but none of us is Hilobok, either.”

He looked at Azarov and grew pale, amazed: the academician was smiling! It wasn't one of his photogenic, only for the press, smiles and not one of the sly smiles that accompanied a witticism during a council or seminar. It was simple and broad. It wasn't very attractive because of all the wrinkles it created, but it was very nice.

“Listen,” said Azarov, “you've really shaken me up here, but… well, all right. I'm very glad that you're alive.” (The reader is reminded that this is science fiction.)

“Me, too,” was the only reply Krivoshein could muster.

“What about the police now?”

“I think that I can soothe them, even if I won't overjoy them.”

Krivoshein said good — bye and left. Arkady Arkadievich sat at his desk, drumming his fingers on it.

“Hmmmmmm,” he said.

And that was all he said.

“What else do I have to take care of?” Krivoshein thought as he stood at the bus stop. “Oh, that's what!”

May 3 0. It's interesting to think about: I was doing thirty — five, my usual town speed and that idiot in the green Moskvich was blocking the highway — his speed in relation to the highway was zero. And his speed across the road wasn't much faster, either. He drove as if he were driving a tractor. Who lets jackasses like that drive? If you're crossing the highway against all the rules, then do it fast! But he would drive a yard, then stop. By the time I realized the Moskvich was blocking my way, I didn't even have time to brake.

Victor Kravets, who went out there to pick up the remains of the motorcycle, still shakes his head over it:

“You were lucky. I can't believe it! If you had been doing forty — five, I would be making a memorial stone out of the remains and writing on the license plate, Here lies Krivoshein, engineer and motorcyclist! “

Yes, but if I had been doing forty — five, I wouldn't have crashed into him!

It's interesting what circumstances come into play in a fatal accident. If I hadn't stopped in the woods for a smoke and listened to the cuckoo (“Cuckoo, cuckoo, how many years will I live?” — it cuckooed at least fifty years), if I had taken two or three turns a little faster or slower — our paths wouldn't have crossed. But this way — on a straight flat road in excellent visibility — I plowed into the only car in my path!

The only thing I had time to think was “Cuckoo, cuckoo, how long will I live?” as I flew over the bike.

I got up myself. The Moskvich's side was bashed in. The frightened driver was wiping blood from his unshaven face. I had broken the windshield with my elbow. Served him right, the jerk! My poor bike was on the road. It was much shorter now. The headlight, front wheel, axle, and frame and tank were smashed, squashed, destroyed.

So I went from seventeen yards per second to zero in one yard. And my body experienced fifteen g's. Ouch!

The human body is an excellent machine! In less than a tenth of a second my body had time to adjust to the best position for taking the crash: elbow and shoulder first. And Valery tried to prove that man had nothing on technology! No one's proved that yet! If you translate the damage done to the motorcycle into human terms, it lost its head, broke its front extremities, chest, and spine. It was such a good bike; it loved speed.

Of course, my right shoulder and chest took more of a beating. It's hard to lift my right arm. I guess I broke some ribs.

Well, it's for the best. Now I'll have something to repair in the liquid circuit of the computer — womb. And not external, but inside my body. In that sense, the Moskvich was very handy. All for science.

Chapter 23

“Write out a pass for taking out a body.” “Where's the body?” “Coming up.” (Shoots himself.) “Fine! But who's going to carry it?”

— A legend from Singapore

Policeman Gayevoy was sitting in the duty room, suffering from love and writing a letter on a complaint form. “Hello, Valya! This is Aleksandr Gayevoy writing to you. I don't know if you remember me or not, but I can't forget how you looked at me near the dance floor with the help of your black and beautiful eyes. The moon was big and concentric. Dear Valya! Come to T. Shevchenko Park tomorrow night. I'll be on duty there until twenty — four hundred — “

Onisimov came in, his eyebrows furrowed into a strict look. Gayevoy jumped up, dropping his chair, and blushed.

“Has Kravets been taken care of?”

“Yes sir, comrade captain! He was brought in at nine — thirty in accordance with your orders. He's in a cell.”

“Take me there.”

Victor Kravets was sitting in a small, high — ceilinged room on a bench, smoking a cigarette, blowing the smoke into a sunbeam that came through the barred window. There was a three — day stubble on his cheeks. He squinted at the men as they entered, but didn't turn his head.

“You should get up, like you're supposed to,” Gayevoy said in reproach.

“I don't consider myself a convict!”

“And you aren't, comrade Victor Vitalyevich Kravets,” Onisimov said calmly. “You were detained for questioning. Now the situation is becoming clear, and I don't feel it is necessary to keep you under guard any longer. We'll call you if we need you. So, you're free.”

Kravets stood up, giving the investigator a suspicious look. Onisimov's thin lips jerked into a short smile.

“A high forehead, granite jaw, well — shaped nose. dark curls framed his handsome, round, melon — shaped head. Krivoshein the Original had very provincial ideas of male handsomeness. But, that's understandable. (Kravets's eyes bulged.) Where's the motorcycle?”

“Wh — what motorcycle?”

“License plate number 21–11 DNA. Being repaired?”

“In… in the shed.”

“All right. By the way,” Onisimov's eyes narrowed angrily, “you should have sent the telegram before the experiment. Before, not after!”

Kravets didn't know whether he was alive or not.

“All right. We will return your documents to you in a little while,” the investigator continued in an official voice. “Good day, citizen Kravets. Don't forget us. See him out, comrade Gayevoy.”

Matvei Apollonovich showed up at work with a headache after his difficult night. He was sitting at his desk, making out his plan for the day.

“1. Send the liquid for further analysis to see if there are any undissolved human tissues in it;

2. Inform the security organs (through Aleksei Ignatievich);

3. — “

“May I come in?” a voice asked softly, making Onisimov's skin crawl. “Good morning.”

Krivoshein was in his doorway.

“Did the man on duty send me to the right place? You are the investigator Onisimov, who's in charge of the incident in my lab? How do you do. May I?” He sat down, took out a handkerchief, and wiped his face. “It's only morning, but the heat is unbearable!”

The investigator sat in stunned silence.

“Well, I'm Valentin Vasilyevich Krivoshein, head of the New Systems Laboratory at the Institute of Systemology,” the visitor explained. “I only found out today, you see… that you're… that the police are interested in this sad affair, and I hurried right over. Naturally, I would have given you a thorough explanation yesterday or even the day before, but… [shrugs] it never even occurred to me that an unsuccessful experiment would lead to such a to — do, involving the police! I was resting in my apartment, rather unwell after the experiment. You see, comrade Onisimov… excuse me, what's your name and patronymic?”

“Apollon Matvei… I mean, Matvei Apollonovich,” Onisimov muttered hoarsely and coughed to clear his throat.

“You see, Matvei Apollonovich, it was like this: in the process of the experiment I had to immerse myself in the tank with the biological informational medium. Unfortunately, the tank was unsteady and turned over. I fell with it, hitting my head on the floor, and lost consciousness. I'm afraid that the tank must have hit my assistant too — I remember he tried to hold it up at the last second. I came to under an oilcloth on the floor. I heard voices in the lab….” Krivoshein gave a charming smile. “You'll admit, Matvei Apollonovich, that it would have been very embarrassing for me to stand up in my own laboratory in my birthday suit with a bashed — in head. And that liquid, it stings terribly, worse than soap suds! So I sneaked out from under the oilcloth and scurried into the shower room to wash up and change. I must admit that I don't know how long I was in the shower; my head was spinning and my mind was fuzzy. I probably didn't even know what I was doing. Anyway, when I came out there was no one in the lab. And I went home to rest up. That's it in a nutshell. If you like, I can give you a written explanation, and we can end all this —

“I see.” Onisimov was gathering his wits about him gradually. “And what experiments were you doing in the laboratory?”

“You see… I'm researching the biochemsitry of higher combinations in a systemological aspect with the addition of polymorphous anthropologism,” Krivoshein explained blandly. “Or the systemology of higher forms in a biochemical aspect with the addition of anthropological polymorphism, if you will.”

“I see. And where did the skeleton come from?” Matvei Apollonovich squinted at the box on the corner of his desk. “You just wait!” he thought.

“Skeleton? Oh, the skeleton!” Krivoshein smiled. “You see, we keep the skeleton in the lab for educational purposes. It's always in the same corner that I was put in when I was unconscious.”

“And what do you say to this?” Matvei Apollonovich removed the box that covered the sculpted head of Krivoshein. The pale — gray plastic eyes stared at the visitor who grew pale himself. “Do you recognize it?”

Graduate student Krivoshein lowered his head. Only now was he certain of what he had suspected, and what he didn't want to believe: Val had perished in the experiment.

“Your story doesn't make sense, citizen! I don't know your name or who you are.” Onisimov, controlling his feeling of triumph, leaned back in his chair. “Yesterday you managed to mystify me but you won't get away with it today. I'm going to arrange for a little meeting between you and your co — conspirator Kravets, and then what will you say?”

He reached for the phone. But Krivoshein put his hand on the receiver.

“Hey! What are you — “ Onisimov looked up angrily and saw himself… a broad face with narrow lips and a sharp chin, a thin nose, fine wrinkles around the mouth and small close — set eyes. Only now did Matvei Apollonovich notice the blue suit, just like his, and the Ukrainian shirt.

“Don't fool around, Onisimov! It won't be what you expect. You'll only succeed in making yourself look foolish. No more than twenty minutes ago investigator Onisimov released Kravets for lack of evidence.”

“So….” Onisimov stared as Krivoshein's face relaxed and took on its former features: blood drained from his cheeks. He lost his breath. Matvei Apollonovich had been in quite a few fixes in the line of duty: he had been shot at and he had done some shooting — but he had never been this scared in his life. “Then you're… you?”

“That is it: I'm me.” Krivoshein stood up and walked over to the desk. Onisimov squirmed under his angry gaze. “Listen; end this nonsense! Everyone's alive, everything is in place. What more do you want? No sculpture or skeleton is going to prove that Krivoshein died. Here he is, Krivoshein, standing before you! Nothing happened, do you understand? It's just the project.”

“But. how?” Matvei Apollonovich muttered. “Couldn't you explain?”

Krivoshein frowned sadly.

“Ah, Matvei Apollonovich, what could I explain to you? You used all of detection's technology: televideophones, Gerasimov's system of reconstructing the face… and still… you couldn't even figure out a type like Hilobok. And that's a clear — cut case with him. There was no crime, you can be sure of that.”

“But… I'll have to report. I have to tell them something. What do I do?”

“Now we're talking business.” Krivoshein sat down again. “I'll give you an explanation. Remember this part about the skeleton resembling me. It's a family heirloom. My maternal grandfather, Andrei Stepanovich Kotlyar, a famous biologist in his day, willed that he not be buried but embalmed and his skeleton left to his descendants who went into science. An old scientist's eccentricity, understand? And apparently you discovered broken right ribs in the skeleton, which naturally raised some suspicion. Well, grandfather died in a road accident. The old man loved zooming around on a motorcycle over the speed limit. Understand?” “I see.” Onisimov nodded rapidly

“That's better. I hope that this… family heirloom will be returned to its owner after the case is closed. As well as the other 'clues' taken from the laboratory. The time will come,” Krivoshein's voice resounded dreamily, “the time will come, Matvei Apollonovich, when that head will grace not your desk but a memorial. Well, I'm off. I hope I've explained everything. Please give me Kravets's papers. Thank you. Oh yes, the guard you were so kind to leave at the lab has requested relief. Please let him go. Thanks.”

Krivoshein stuffed the papers in his pocket and headed for the door. But a thought struck him on the way. “Listen, Matvei Apollonovich,” he said, coming back to the desk, “please don't be hurt by my proposal, but would you like to be a little smarter? You'll grasp things quickly. You'll think broadly and profoundly. You'll see clues and delve into the essence of things and phenomena. You'll understand the human soul! And your mind will be visited by marvelous ideas — things that will make your cheeks cold with amazement. You see, life is complicated, and it will get more so. The only way to remain at a human being's top position in it is to understand everything. There is no other way. And that's possible, Matvei Apollonovich! Would you like it? I can arrange it!”

Onisimov's face, contorted in insult and injury, filled with blood.

“You're mocking me,” he said. “It's not enough that you've.. you're mocking me too. Go on, citizen, out.”

Krivoshein shrugged and turned to the door.


“What now?”

“Just a second, citizen… Krivoshein. All right, I don't understand. Perhaps you really have the science for this. I'll accept your version of the story — I have no choice. And you can think what you want of me….” Matvei Apollonovich couldn't get over the insult. Krivoshein frowned: what is he leading up to? “But if we accept your version, a man perished. Who's guilty?”

The graduate student looked at him carefully.

“Everyone a little, Matvei Apollonovich. Himself, and me, and Azarov, and others… and even you are mixed up in it a little, even though you didn't know him, because, without really knowing, you suspected people. But according to the criminal code, no one. That happens.”

“I think that's taken care of,” the student said to himself as he got into the bus.

Tomorrow is the experiment. Actually, not even tomorrow, but tonight, in seven or eight hours. I'm never sleepy before I have an important thing to do, but I need the sleep. That's why I walked and rode around town for over four hours, to get worn out and distract myself.

I was everywhere: midtown, suburbs, by the train station. I looked at people, houses, trees, animals. I watched the parade of Life.

A desiccated old man hobbled toward me with a yellowed mustache and a red, wrinkly face. He had three Saint George crosses and a medal on a striped ribbon dangling from his gray sateen shirt. The old man stopped in the short shadows of the lindens to catch his breath.

Yes, gramps, you had your day too! You've lived through a lot and obviously you want more: you've come out to preen, you cavalier of Saint George! If we filled up your muscles with strength, cleared up your corneas, wiped the sclerosis and fog from your brain, freshened up your nerves — you'd show the young punks a thing or two!

Some boys wandering along, talking about the movies:

“And then he gives it to him — pow — pow — with an atomic gun!”

“And they go: bam — bam — bam!”

“Why an atomic one?”

“What other kind? On Venus — and with a regular gun?”

A cat looks at me with anxious eyes. Why do cats have such anxious eyes? Do they know something? They know, but they won't tell. “Shoo, you cat!” It skulked into a doorway.

A man with a low forehead and gray crewcut walked past: his pants hugged his powerful calves and thighs and his tee shirt barely covered his well — developed chest. His face made it clear that the fellow could handle any of life's problems with a quick uppercut to the jaw or by tossing you over his shoulder.

And we'll make muscles like that for everyone — everyone will know about boxing and judo — and then how will he feel about his ready answer?

In Shevchenko Park a boy and girl walked past me, noticing no one, holding hands.

You lovers don't need our discovery. You're good for each other just the way you are. But… anything can happen in life. And danger threatens your love: life, misunderstandings, good sense, relatives, boredom — lots of things! If you manage on your own, more power to you. But if not, know this: we can repair your love, fix it better than a TV set. It'll be like new — like the day when you first saw each other in the movie ticket line.

And the woman I ran into in front of the department store on the prospect! Her body was squeezed into a brocade dress, a gold brooch, fake amber necklace, with sweat spots the size of plates under her arms and on her back! The blue brocade glistened with all the colors of a stormy sea.

Fie on you, madame! How can you stuff yourself into brocade in this heat. It's not a Saint George Cross, you know! Your husband doesn't love you, does he, madame? He stares in horror at your arms, as thick as his legs, at that fatty hump on your back. You are miserable madame. I don't feel sorry for you, but I understand. Your husband doesn't love you; the children don't appreciate you; the doctors don't sympathize; and the neighbors — oof, the neighbors! All right, madame, we'll figure out something for you as well. After all, you too have the right to an additional portion of happiness in the human line. But, speaking of happiness, madame, your taste worries me. No, no, I understand: you stuffed yourself into the brocade, put on the horrible earrings and necklace that do nothing for you, and decorated your fingers with rings to prove that you are no worse than anyone else, that you have everything. But, forgive me, madame, you don't have a damn thing. And I'm afraid that we'll have to improve your taste along with your body, as well as you mind and feelings. For the same money, madame, don't worry. Otherwise it's not worth it: you'll just waste your new beauty and freshness in restaurants and parties and on lovers. In that case, why should we bother? The true beauty, madame, lies in the harmony of the body, mind, and spirit.

Two pretty girls walked past without giving me a glance. Why should they? The sky is clear. The sun is high. Exams are behind them. And this bus takes them to the beach.

A little kid, who wasn't allowed outside, pressed his nose to the windowpane. He caught my eye and made a face. I made a face at him. Then he did a whole act for me.

I love life, oh, how I love life! I don't need it to be any better. Let it stay just as it is, as long as… as long as what? What? Oh, you!

That's the whole point, it has to be better. There's too much wrong with the world.

And I'll go. I haven't sold you out, people. We'll be able to do so many things with this method: give people looks and wisdom, introduce new abilities, even new qualities in them. Let's say, we could make a man have radio feelings, so that he could see in the dark, hear ultrasounds, sense magnetic waves, count time to the fraction of a second without a chronometer, and even read people's thoughts at a distance — would you like that? Though I suppose, all this is not the important part.

The important part is that I'll go. And then someone else will, if things go wrong now. And then… that's how it will be!

“No one died, damn it!” graduate student Krivoshein muttered to himself in the bus. “No one died!..”

I'm going, Life! Thank you, fate, or whoever you are, for everything that's happened to me so far. It's scary to think that I could have stopped and ended up as a petty coupon — clipping mediocrity! Let the rest of my life be difficult, frightening, confusing, and tormenting — but don't let it be petty. Don't ever let me sink to struggling for security, success, and for worrying about my hide when things get serious!

It's almost night, but I'm not sleepy. What a waste, sleeping. We could probably do away with it, too. They say there's an eccentric in Yugoslavia who hasn't slept in thirty years — and he feels fine.

“Midnight in Madrid. Sleep soundly! Respect the king and queen! And may the devil never cross your path!” In those days they would have burned me at the stake.

Don't sleep soundly, people! Don't respect the king or the queen! And let the devil cross your path; there's nothing too terrible about that.

As a youth I dreamed (about so many things) that when the time would come to undertake something frightening and serious, I would first have a talk with my father. But I didn't have anything serious to talk about and my father couldn't wait forever. Well, I'll give it a try now.

“Well, father, tomorrow I stand on the parapet. Were you scared?”

“What can I say? It was scary, of course. It was only four hundred yards to the German trenches, and I'm highly visible. Fraternization hadn't come into full force; they were still shooting. And they shot at me a couple of times — the Germans had all kinds, too. Maybe they were only trying to scare me.”

“But why that kind of punishment — standing on the parapet?”

“The temporary government had introduced it specially for those who were agitating for an end to the imperialist war. 'Oh, so they're your brother workers and brother peasants? Let's see how they'll shoot at you! And you stood there for two hours. And some for four.”

“Clever — you can't say anything about it. (Father, did you know that… I didn't believe you?)”

“I knew, son. It's all right. It was the times. I didn't always believe myself. What are you planning to do?”

“An experiment in controlling information in my own organism. Eventually I should develop a method of analyzing and synthesizing one's own body, soul, and memory. Understand?”

“You always spoke like a book, Val. I don't know all this science stuff. Once I was able to take apart and reassemble a machine gun blindfolded. But this I don't follow… what will it give you?”

“Well, you fought for equality, right? The first stage of this idea is coming true: the inequality between the rich and the poor, between the strong and the weak, is disappearing. Society offers equal opportunity for everyone. But besides the inequality built into society, there is the inequality built into people. A stupid person is no equal to a smart one, an ugly one to a handsome one, a sick or crippled one to a healthy one. But this method will let everyone make himself just the way he wants to be: smart, handsome, young, honest — “

“Young, smart and handsome — that's for sure. Everyone will want that. But as for honest — I don't know. That's harder than anything else, being honest.”

“But if a man definitely knows that this information will make him viler and sneakier and this will make him honest and direct, he wouldn't vacillate over which to pick, would he?”

“What can I say? There are people for whom it is important to appear honest in front of others, but they would steal or do anything else as long as they're not caught. And those would pick cleverness and sneakiness.”

“I know. Don't talk about them now. The experiment is tomorrow, father.”

“And you must go? Watch out for yourself, son.”

“Who else, if not for me? Listen, you could have jumped down from the parapet into the trench?”

“There were two officers guarding me. They would have shot me.”

“Couldn't you have gotten out of it?”

“Sure! I could have told them that I wouldn't agitate any more, that I was leaving the Bolsheviks — and they would have let me go at once.”

“Why didn't you tell them that?”

“I should tell them that? I never even thought about it. I was thinking that if I was killed, it would be the end of fraternization in our unit.”

“Why were you thinking that? You loved people so much, is that it? But you had killed people before — both before and after that.”

“I killed and they tried to kill me — it was the times.”

“Then why?”

“I was proud, I guess that's why. I was very proud in those days. I thought I was fighting the whole war.”

“And father, that's how proud I am now.”

“Of course, if you go on the parapet you have to stand proud. That's true. But don't you equate your work with the parapet, son. I didn't stand the whole two hours. The soldiers' committee raised the battalion; they bumped off the officers, and that was it. Do you have anyone to raise an alarm over you?”

I had no answer for that question — and the imagined conversation ended.

Well, enough of this — bedtime! Cuckoo, cuckoo, how long will I live?

Chapter 24

“People from Earth, your excellency.”

“From Earth? Earth, Earth… hmm…”

“That's the planet where Fledermaus was composed, Excellency.”

“Ah! Tum — tiri — tiri, tum — tiri — tiri, tum — pam — pam — pam! Mar — velous piece. Well, give them a third — level reception.”

— A conversation in the Universe

Graduate student Krivoshein went up to the fifth floor and entered the apartment. Victor Kravets and Adam were smoking out on the balcony; when they saw him, they came inside. Krivoshein gave them a glum look.

“Three from one pea pod. And there used to be four….” He looked at the clock. There was still time. He sat down. “Tell me, Victor Kravets, what happened there?”

Kravets lit up another cigarette and began the story in a hollow voice.

The plan of the experiment was for Krivoshein the Original to immerse himself up to the neck in the liquid — control the sensations — put on Monomakh's Crown — control the sensations once more — give the command of dissatisfaction (“Not it!”) — come into mutual contact with the liquid circuit — reach the stage of controllable transparency — fix his broken ribs — use the “impulse of satisfaction” for the command “That's it” — return to nontransparency — break contact with the liquid circuit — and leave the tank.

They had gone over the methodology of the experiment dozens of times by immersing their extremities. The mutual permeation of the liquid and the body could be controlled and regulated easily.

“You see, friends, it turns out that inside our bodies there are always less healthy spots, tiny flaws, well, like your skin, no matter how healthy, always had a pimple or a scratch or chafing or a local irritation. I don't know what kind of inner 'scratches' there are, but after working in the liquid your arm or leg always feels better than it did before. The liquid circuit corrects these minor flaws. And you can recognize these corrections as they are going on: there is a tingling sensation that increases and then decreases. And if after the decrease you give the command 'That's it' the computer breaks contact and the arm or leg stops being transparent. I'm only telling you this to show you that we had no questions on the methodology of entering and breaking contact with the liquid circuit.”

“While you were immersing no more than ten or fifteen percent of the body,” Krivoshein added.

“Yes. We were also sure that the human body maintains muscle tone in the transparent stage in liquid. We used to 'struggle' in the liquid: his hand [transparent] and mine [not], or right against left when both were transparent. In other words, the liquid circuit fully supports the viability of the body.”

“Of parts of the body,” Krivoshein interrupted again. “Yes. Perhaps that was the whole problem,” Kravets sighed. Of course, it was frightening. It was one thing to dip your hand or foot into the liquid — you can pull it out if you sense danger. At worst, you'll lose an arm. But it's completely different to immerse yourself in the tank, giving yourself up to the whim of a complex and mysterious medium that you can't fight off or run away from.

They hid the fear from each other. Krivoshein, because he feared for himself. Kravets, because he didn't want to scare him unnecessarily.

But everything had been prepared assiduously, conscientiously. They regulated the level of liquid in the tank so that it would come up to Krivoshein's neck when he got in and stood in it. They placed a large mirror opposite the tank. (They had to shell out for it; there wasn't one at the warehouse.) Krivoshein could observe and control the changes he saw in the mirror.

In order to lessen the possibility of any fluctuations in current and electromagnetic field, they decided to run the experiment at night, after 2:00 A.M., when all the other labs were turned off and the buses and trolleys were in the depot.

Krivoshein stripped, climbed up the steps, and holding on to the edge with his left hand (his right was weak after the motorcycle accident), sank into the tank. The liquid gurgled. He stood up to his neck in it — his head looked separate from his body. Kravets was ready with Monomakh's Crown.

Krivoshein licked his lips.

“Salty.” His voice was hoarse.


“The liquid. Like sea water.”

They waited a minute.

“It seems in order. No sensations, as to be expected. Give me the crown.”

Kravets put Monomakh's Crown firmly on his head, clicked the dials, and climbed back down. Now his job was to observe Krivoshein, give advice, if needed, and help him out of the tank in case of some unexpected emergency.

Krivoshein spent another minute getting used to his new position.

“The sensations are familiar: tingling, prickling,” he said. “Nothing new. Well, that's it. Wish me luck. I'm starting to plug in.”

“Break a leg, Val.”

“The hell with it. We're off!”

They didn't talk after that.

Krivoshein's body developed in the liquid like a color negative. The white contours of the bones and tendons showed through the purple muscles with their layers of yellowish fat. His ribs rose and fell rhythmically, like a bellows. Kravets saw white swellings in two ribs on the right side. The purplish red fist of the heart contracted and relaxed, pushing along crimson streams of blood (it was no longer clear into where).

Krivoshein didn't take his eyes off his reflection. His face was pale and concentrated.

Soon the muscles turned golden yellow and you could distinguish them from the liquid only by light refraction.

“And then….” Kravets rubbed his temples with the palms of his hands, took a deep drag on his cigarette, “and then the automatic vacillations began. Like it had in the very beginning with the rabbits: everything in Val began changing size and shape synchronously. I ran up to the tank: 'Val, what are you doing? He looked at me, but said nothing in reply. 'The vacillations! Unplug! He tried to say something, opened his lips, and suddenly went under into the liquid. He began jerking, twisting, a dancing skeleton with a nickel — plated helmet!”

He took another deep drag.

“The only thing to do, to save him was to use Monomakh's Crown and the 'it — not it' commands to get into rhythm with the vacillations of his body and stop them gradually, using them to return the body to the nontransparent stage. You know, external control, the way he made you,” Kravets nodded at Adam, and me.

He stopped talking, working his jaw muscles.

“That damn Harry! We could really have used an extra SES — 2 then. But of course there was no hope of getting a second crown after his dissertation flopped! Putting him in jail wouldn't be enough.”

“He probably wouldn't even get a reprimand for not completing an order in time. It's not like insulting a professor,” Krivoshein laughed drily. “And you can't accuse him of anything more than that.”

“The only way was to remove the crown from Val's head,” Victor continued. “I jumped up on the steps, put my hands in the liquid — and I got an electric shock through both arms. Judging by the effect, I'd say four hundred or five hundred volts. There had never been potentials like that in the liquid before. Well, you know, the hands jerk away involuntarily in cases like that. I ran to the shelves, got rubber gloves, and tried again, but Val was deep inside, and the gloves weren't long enough. The shock was so strong that this time I fell to the floor. I had to turn over the tank. I couldn't let him dissolve into the liquid before my very eyes like… like you had.” Kravets looked over at Adam. “I was him, Krivoshein, when he was dissolving you. [Adam's face tensed.] And he was still alive. His face had dissolved, too. There was only the crown on his skull, but he was jumping about, so that meant his muscles were working. I grabbed the edge of the tank and started shaking it. The edges are flexible and slippery but finally I pulled it down, almost on me. I just got out in time — but the liquid splashed on my face and neck and I got a third shock from that. I don't remember the rest. I came to on the stretcher.”

He was silent. The others said nothing. Krivoshein stood up and paced the room in thought.

“There was nothing wrong with the way you set up the experiment. It was thought through. No evildoing, no fatal accident, not even a gross miscalculation… killed a man according to all the rules, as they say! If you hadn't turned over the tank he would have dissolved, since the liquid that had permeated him was no longer the organizing liquid circuit. It's too bad he kept the crown on, though. Once he was plugged into the liquid he could control it without the crown.”

“So that's how it is.” Kravets looked up.

“Yes. That stupid cap was only necessary to plug into the computer — womb — and nothing else. From there the brain commands the nerves directly, and not through wires and circuits. And when the uncontrolled autovacillations began, it was the crown that destroyed him. A foreign body in the living liquid — it's as irritating as a slingshot to a bear!”

“Yes, but why did the vacillations start?” Adam interrupted. He turned to Kravets. “Tell me, did you investigate any further the process after the rabbits and… me?”

“No. In the last experiments we didn't touch on it. All the transformations were going smoothly directed only by sensations. I told you that. I can't imagine how he lost control of himself! Did he panic? That process is sort of like confusion… but why was he confused?”

“The switch from quantity to quality,” Adam said. “As long as you were immersing only an arm or a leg into the liquid, there were only a few 'hotbeds of uncorrection' which you used to control and direct the penetration of the body with the liquid. It was like talking to one or two people at the same time. But once he put in his whole body, there were naturally many more places like that in his whole body than in just parts of it, and — “

“And instead of a decent conversation there was the incomprehensible babble of a crowd,” Krivoshein added. “And he grew confused. That's quite possible.”

“Listen, you self — taught experts!” Kravets glared at them. “There are always a lot of people ready to explain why something went wrong, to make themselves look bigger. 'I warned you. I told you so! If there's nuclear war, I'm sure there will be people who, before turning into cinders, will have time to exclaim joyously: 'I told you so! Are you so sure that the experiment failed precisely for those reasons, that you would get into the tank if the corrections were made?”

“No, Victor Kravets,” Krivoshein said, “not that sure. And not one of us will get into the tank just to prove that he's right or that someone else is wrong — that's not our work. We will have to get in, and more than once — the idea was sound. But we will do it with minimal risk and maximum benefit. And there's no point in your getting so excited. You two made the experiment. An experiment like that! And you almost ruined the lab and the whole project. You had everything — great ideas, heroics, discoveries, meditations, high — level effort — except one thing: reasonable caution! Of course, maybe it's not for me to reproach you. I did pretty much the same thing in one very serious experiment and almost killed myself. But tell me, why couldn't you have called me back from Moscow to participate in this one?”

Kravets looked at him ironically.

“How would you have helped? You were way behind in this work.”

The graduate student sighed: to hear that after all his labors!

“You're a louse, Vitya,” he said with unbelievable meekness. “It's terrible to have to say this to someone so close to you, but you are simply a son of a bitch. I'm good enough to be used as a decoy with the police while you get off scot — free from criminal culpability? But not good enough to be a researcher on this project?” He turned away from the window.

“What does culpability have to do with this?” Kravets muttered in confusion. “Someone had to save the project….”

Suddenly he jumped up in terror: Onisimov was coming toward him from the window! Adam shuddered, too, and looked around in panic.

“You wouldn't have saved anything, suspect Kravets,” Onisimov said in an unpleasant voice, “if the head of your department hadn't learned a thing or two in Moscow. You'd be in the defendant's chair right now, comrade pseudo — Kravets. I've managed to put people behind bars with less evidence than this. Do you see?”

This time Krivoshein got his own face back in ten seconds; the practice was paying off.

“You mean, that was you? You let me out? Wait… how do you do that?”

“Using biology?” Adam asked.

“Biology and systemology.” Krivoshein massaged his cheeks calmly. “You see, unlike you two, I remember what it was like being part of the computer — womb.”

“Tell us how you do it,” Kravets nagged.

“I'll tell you, don't worry, all in good time. We'll set up a seminar. Now we're going to use this knowledge in conjunction with our work on the computer — womb. But applying it to life will have to be done very carefully.” He looked at his watch and turned to Kravets and Adam. “It's time. Let's go to the lab. We'll reconstruct your experiment.”

“Hah.. those crazy scientists!” the chief of police laughed and shook his head when Matvei Apollonovich reported the final clearing up of the events at the Institute of Systemology. “You mean, while you were gathering evidence and talking to the academician, the 'corpse' crawled out from under the oilcloth and went to the shower?”

“Yes, exactly. He wasn't himself after the blow to his head, comrade colonel.”

“Naturally! It can take less than that. And the skeleton right next to him. Hah! That's what comes of not studying the scene of the incident carefully enough, comrade Onisimov,” and Aleksei Ignatyevich raised his forefinger didactically. “You didn't take the specifics of the place into account. This isn't going out to see a highway accident or a drowning — it's a scientific laboratory! They've always got a hellish amount of stuff going on. That's science. You were careless, Matvei Apollonovich!”

“Should I tell him how it really was?” Onisimov thought glumly. “No, he wouldn't believe it.”

“But how did that first — aid doctor make such a mistake, declaring a live person dead?” thought the colonel aloud. “Oh, I have a feeling their rate of success isn't very high. She looked at him, saw that the man was poorly, figured he'd die in the clinic anyway, and this way their statistics would look better if he was DO A.”

“Maybe she just made a mistake, Aleksei Ignatyevich,” Onisimov defended her generously. “He was in shock, deep faint, and wounded. And so she — “

“Perhaps. Too bad that Zubato wasn't there. He always goes on the pattern of spots and marks on the body. He's never wrong. Hm… of course, it would have been nice to have called this a solved case — the end of the quarter is coming up, and it would have looked good — but to hell with the statistics. The important thing is that everyone is alive and well. Yet,” he looked at Onisimov, “there's still the discrepancy with Kravets's papers. What about that?”

“Our expert couldn't find any evidence of tampering at all, Aleksei Ignatyevich. They're papers like any papers. Maybe the Kharkov police made a mistake.”

“Well, that's a problem for the passport people, not us. The man didn't commit any crimes — and the case is closed. But what about you, Matvei Apollonovich?” Aleksei Ignatyevich wrinkled up his face merrily and leaned back in his chair. “You wanted to turn the case over to the security organizations. We would really have looked wonderful if we had! Didn't I tell you: the most seemingly confused cases are always the simplest.”

And his small wise eyes, set under heavy brows, were surrounded with a sunburst of raylike wrinkles.

They were walking through Academic Town at midday: Adam on the right, Krivoshein in the middle, Kravets on the left. The asphalt, softened by the heat, was spongy under their feet.

“Now we'll be able to work with some knowledge,” Krivoshein was saying. “We've learned quite a bit and we'll learn a lot more. And we're getting a sense of direction, too. Victor Kravets, did Adam tell you his idea?”

“He did.”

“And why are you so indifferent to it?”

“Well, it's just one more method. So what?”

Adam glowered, but said nothing.

“Why do you say that! The computer — womb introduces information into man firmly and for a long time, for his whole life, not just for the time of the session. And art information could change the personality of a man, improve it — well, the way they improved your appearance compared to mine! Of course, this is serious business, not like going to a movie. We'll give them fair warning: after being processed by us you will permanently lose your ability to lie, be petty, bully, and fabricate. Not only will you be actively kept from doing evil, but you'll even lose the ability to hold back from doing good. We can't guarantee that you will be happy in the sense of having all your needs and wants satisfied. Life will be clearer and harder. But you will be Man!”

“A joke!” Kravets said. “A way of returning lost innocence!”

“Why do you say that?” Adam and Krivoshein exclaimed in unison.

“Because, basically you are planning to simplify and strictly program man with the help of art information. Even if it's programming for good, for honesty, for self — denial, for a beautiful soul — you won't have a man; you'll have a robot! If a man doesn't lie or bite others because he doesn't know how it's done, there's no merit in his behavior. He'll live, gather additional information and he'll learn — and he'll lie. It's not hard. But if he knows how to lie and be crafty and put the squeeze on people (and we all know how it's done; we just don't admit it) and he knows that applying these little procedures will make his life simpler, and he still doesn't behave that way — not because he's afraid of being caught but because he knows that would make life for him and others less desirable — then that's a real Man!”

“Well put,” Krivoshein said, “but complicated.”

“And people are complicated, and are becoming ever more complicated — and there's no way to simplify them. Why can't you see that? There's nothing you can do. People know that evil exists in the world and they take it into account in their thoughts, words, and deeds. No matter what noble — minded information you might introduce into them and no matter how you did it, it would only make them more complex. And that's all!”

“Wait,” Adam said angrily. “You don't have to simplify people to make them better. You're right: man is no robot, and you can't limit him with a strict program of good intentions. And it shouldn't be done. But art information could instill a clear understanding of what's good in the long run, not just profitable, and what's bad.”

“But his goals will remain the same and everything will be subordinate to them. And you can't inculcate goals in a person — even good ones — otherwise you're talking about good — natured robots.” Kravets looked at the doubles and laughed. “I'm afraid sheer technology isn't the answer. Hasn't it occurred to you that our search for an absolute method comes not from the mind but from a fierce engineering faith in the ability of science and technology to do everything? Yet they can't, you know, and this approach will get us nowhere. I see a different, clear direction. A new science will develop from our research — Experimental and Theoretical Humanology. A major and necessary science, but not only a science, it will be a whole field of knowledge. It will say: here's what you are, man. And humanotechnology will arise. It must sound horrible now — a technology of synthesis and introduction of information into man. It will include everything from medicine to mathematics and from electronics to the arts, but it will still only be technology. It will say: here's what you can do, man. This is how you can change yourself. And then let each and every person think and decide on his own: what do you want, man? what do you want from yourself?”

Victor's words had an effect. The three walked in silence for some time — thinking. Academic Town was left far behind. They could see the grounds and the buildings of the institute and beyond them the huge experimental hangar of the construction design bureau, shining glass and steel.

“Hey guys, what about Lena?” Adam asked and looked at Krivoshein. Kravets looked at him too.

“Just the way it was,” he insisted. “As far as she's concerned, nothing happened, understand?”

Adam and Kravets said nothing.

They stepped into a long, chestnut — lined alley. It was shady and cooler.

“ 'Here's what you are, man. Here's what you can do, man. What do you want from yourself, man? “ Krivoshein repeated. “Effectively put. Fantastically put! If I had a lot of money I'd put up an obelisk in every city with the sign: 'People! Beware of maxims — the bearers of half — truths! There is nothing more false and dangerous than maxims, because they are formulated to accommodate our minds, not life as it is/”

Kravets gave him a careful look.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that your flaws, Vitya, old boy, are merely an extension of your good qualities. I think that Krivoshein the Original overdid it with you. Personally I could never understand why people with a well — developed sense of logic are identified with smart people.”

“Why don't you get to the point.”

“I can get to the point, Vitya, boy. You began well: man is complicated and free, and he can't be reorganized and programmed. There will be Humanology and Humanotechnology. And you came to the conclusion that our business is to move the science and technology and drop everything else. Let people decide for themselves. A very convenient conclusion for us, absolutely marvelous. But let's apply your theory to another subject. Let's say there's a science and technology dealing with the atom. And there is you — full of the best intentions, an opponent of atomic weapons. You are given complete freedom to solve the problem: you have the keys to all the atomic arsenals, all the codes and ciphers, entrance to all atomic centers. Act!”

Adam laughed.

“How will you use this brilliant opportunity to save the world? I know how. You'll stand in the middle of an atomic arsenal and bawl with terror.”

“Why would I be bawling?”

“Because you don't know a thing about this stuff, just like other people don't know about our work. Yes, there will be a science called Humanology. And there'll be Humanotechnology. But we are the top specialists in that science and technology. And a specialist, besides his general humanitarian responsibilities, has his own as well: he's responsible for his science and its applications! Because in the final analysis he's doing it all, with his ideas, knowledge, and decisions. He and no one else! So, willy — nilly, it's up to us to determine the direction of the development of the synthesis of information in man.”

“Well, let's say that's true.” Kravets wasn't giving up. How will we direct it? There is no method to apply the discovery with absolute certainty for the benefit of mankind, as we had pledged a year ago!”

“Look, guys,” Adam said softly.

They all turned their heads to the left. A girl was sitting on a bench. A briefcase and crutches lay next to her. Her thin legs in black stockings were extended unnaturally. Spots of sunlight, breaking through the trees, played in her dark hair.

“Go ahead. I'll catch up.” Krivoshein went up to her and sat down on the edge of the bench. “Hello, little girl!”

She raised her big clear eyes, no longer a child's, at him in surprise.


“Tell me, little girl,” Krivoshein smiled in his most kindly manner so that she wouldn't take him for a drunk and get scared, “but please don't be surprised by my question: at your school, do you spit in the ear of someone who hasn't kept a promise?”

“No… no,” the girl answered cautiously.

“In my day, that's what we did. That was the barbaric custom. And you know what? I give you my word: in less than a year, you will be healthy and beautiful. You'll run and jump and ride a bike and swim in the river. It will all come true. I promise. You can spit in my ear if it doesn't.”

The girl looked at him with full attention. An uncertain smile appeared on her lips.

“But… we don't spit. It's not like that at our school.”

“I see! And you won't go to a school like that either. You'll go to a regular school. You'll see. I promise.”

He had nothing else to say. But the girl was looking at him so that he couldn't possibly leave.

“My name is Sasha. What's yours?”

“Valya… Valentin Vasilyevich.”

“I know, you live in number thirty — three. I live in thirty — nine, two houses down.”

“Well, I have to go… to work.”

“Second shift?”

“Yes, the second shift. Good — bye, Sasha.”

“Good — bye.”

He got up. He smiled and threw his head back, squinting, meaning: don't give up now; look happy! It'll be! She threw back her head in reply, squinted, and smiled: don't worry, I won't give up. And still he left with the feeling that he had abandoned someone who needed his help.

The alley led out into the street. Cars sped around beyond the last chestnut trees. All three turned around: the girl was watching them. They waved. She smiled and waved a thin arm.

“You see, Vitya, lad,” Krivoshein put his arm around Kravets's shoulder/'you see, Vitya, I still love you, you bum, even though there's no reason to. You should be whipped with a belt, like father used to have when we were little, but you're too big and serious for that.”

“Drop it!” Kravets freed himself.

“You see, Vitya, our idea of a happiness button was an engineer's dream. In general people turn to technology for relief from demands on themselves. It's funny! It's easy enough to create a happiness button for rats: you implant an electrode in the pleasure center of the cortex and let the rat push a lever to make contact. But that kind of happiness probably won't do for people although there is a method that is mathematical and not with a button. And we're reaching it empirically, slowly but surely. The fact that we're beating our brains out to make sure it benefits people, and not just ourselves, and that we won't accept any other way — that's part of the method. And the fact that Adam could overcome his fears and come back with a good idea — that comes from the method, too. Of course, if the experiment had been more thoroughly prepared he might still be alive, but none of us is perfect or guaranteed everlasting life: that's the nature of the work. And the fact that he chose to synthesize people and not microelectronic machines, which would have been simpler and more lucrative — that's part of the method, too. And the fact that we have gathered knowledge about our discovery. We're not dilettantes or amateurs any more — and neither work nor arguments can throw us off the track. We can throw whomever we want off. And in an honest argument, knowledge is the best weapon.”

“How about in a dishonest one?”

“It works there, too. Harry got squeezed — with the method. We got out of a tight fix and saved the project — also part of it. We can do a lot: work, and fight, and politic. Of course, it would be better if we got along, but we can manage even if we don't. Adam, give me a cigarette, will you? I'm all out.”

Krivoshein lit up and continued:

“And in the future we should be guided by this empirical method in our work and in life. First and foremost, we work together. The most terrible thing in our work is being alone. Look what it led to. Let's gather smart, honest, strong, and knowledgeable men around the project. To make sure that the hand of a bastard, fool, or banality never touches our discovery at any point. So that there will be someone to raise the alarm! And we'll attract Azarov, and Vano Aleksandrovich Androsiashvili — he's someone I've been thinking about. We'll even try Valery Ivanov… and if we work this way everything will be 'it' including the method for duplicating people, duplicating them with alterations, and the informational transformation of regular people.”

“But this is still not an engineering solution. There is no one hundred percent guarantee,” Kravets said stubbornly. “We can try, of course. Do you think Azarov will join us?”

“Of course, where else could he go? Yes, this isn't an engineering solution, but an organizational one. And it's not simple; it lacks the logical simplicity we all want. But we have no choice. We'll gather talented researchers, builders, doctors, artists, sculptors, psychologists, musicians, writers, and just simple people — they know about life and man too. We'll start injecting our discovery into life with small but very necessary things: curing disease and deformity, correcting physical appearance and the psychological problems. And then, you'll see, we'll gradually develop information for a universal program for the computer — womb to instill the best that mankind has collected into the mind and body of man.”

The UPPM,” Victor said. “The Universal Program for Perfecting Man. I like it! Well, well….”

“We'll try,” Adam said stubbornly. “There is no hundred — percent guarantee; it's not all in our control. Maybe it won't work. But if we don't try, nothing will happen at all. And you know, I think that there isn't that much work left. It's important to shift in one or two generations the process of man's development in the right direction, and the work will go on without computers.”

“It will all go in it.” Krivoshein remembered the last entry in the diary. “The daring of talented ideas and a child's awe before the complex magnificence of the world, the roar of a stormy sea and the wise beauty of lab equipment, the great pain of love and the esthetics of sex, the fierceness of getting ahead and the rapture of interesting work, the blue sky and the aroma of sun — baked grass, the wisdom of old age and the confidence of maturity… and even the memory of bad times and mistakes, so that they won't be repeated! It will all go in: the knowledge of the world, understanding one another, peace and stubbornness, dreaminess and healthy skepticism, great thoughts and the ability to achieve them. In general the greater part has been done for a good life — and there is less left to do!”

“Let people be whatever way they want to be. Just let them want!”

The sun was yellow and hot. Cars rustled and murmured past. Pedestrians shuffled through the heat. A policeman directed traffic in the intersection.

They walked on, leaving imprints in the asphalt. Three engineers on their way to work.

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