20. Last Defense
Apparently he thought I might object—not that that would have made any difference—for the next thing I knew the quicksilver eyes were growing larger and the next instant they had changed and refocused so that I saw them, as it were, behind my own eyes. I could see the motionless body of Belem standing before me but his face was blanker than ever.
Within my head, he spoke to me. “Remember. It’s all there, in your memory. The right associations will recall it. The unconscious never forgets anything. Robinson. The University of—”
“California,” I thought and something clicked and swung open and I saw a page open before me—a page I had first read thousands of years ago—and the fine print swam into remembered visibility.
“Professor Raphael M. Robinson of the University of California now shows that it is possible to divide a solid sphere into a minimum of five pieces and reassemble them to form two spheres of the same size and the original one. Two of the pieces are used to form one of the new spheres and three to form the other.
“Some of the pieces must necessarily be of such complicated structure that it is impossible to assign volume to them. Otherwise the sum of the volumes of the five pieces would have to be equal both to the volume of the original sphere and to the sum of the volumes of the two new spheres, which is twice as great.”
That was all. It wasn’t as much as Belem would have liked—I could feel his impatience and the way he seemed to be shaking my mind over for more details but I couldn’t give him what I didn’t have. After awhile the metallic mind unlinked from mine and in a moment the motionless figure before me stirred, turned without a word and began making tentative drawings on the corner of a chart convenient upon the wall.
When I asked him questions he told me remotely to go away.
That was how it started. There’s no use in my trying to tell you how it ended. I didn’t understand. It would be ridiculous for me even to pretend I know how it was done in concrete fact before my eyes. But it was done.
Not easily. Not quickly. In fact it came dangerously close to not being done at all, simply because it took so long.
I was able to watch the first stages of Belem’s experiments. He knocked down the problem of lenses and lights upon which he’d spent so much time and began setting up theoretical paradoxes in three dimensions, following the Banach-Tarski geometric plan. I watched him playing with ghostly spheres and angles of light until my head began to ache from following the changing shapes. What he was attempting was clearly impossible. I wandered away after awhile and watched the play of lights outside. The display had recently become a lot more spectacular and more interesting to watch but that was not good. Even I could see that, though nobody would answer my questions. The methodical machine-men were not panicky but you could see they had accelerated their pace. They were recognizing the need for hurry.
The second-stage Mechandroid on its table had changed, too. The brilliant neural webbing above it had simplified. Light ran now only in the main channels, letting the finer nerve-wires run very pale, but the synapse-points glowed like stars along the major lines.
And there was a pale glow hanging like a cocoon of radiance low over the motionless figure.
I watched little groups of workers cluster around it, bending their heads together over the table, and I had the impression that they were communicating with their new-born super-kinsman. I even got the idea that he was advising them, for those who left the group went directly to work with a fresh impetus.
It was a little like what must go on in a hive as the workers cluster around the queen-mother.
They were very definitely working against time now—perhaps against hours, even minutes.
It was when the black lightning opened a second rift in the wall of shielding light that the last galvanic spasm of activity before the end stirred the workers to their final tasks.
Another red cloud puffed through the wall where the lightning had ripped it but this time the breach did not close. Instead, a horizontal pillar of red light lengthened through the smoke, unfolding straight toward the laboratory walls.
It was then that a bell rang behind me.
The effect was electrifying upon every Mechandroid in the building. Like everyone else I turned to stare. Belem was standing back from his work-table, a look of smugness upon his otherwise expressionless face.
“This is it,” he said.
Even the crowd around the neural-web table thinned as the workers in the laboratory flocked around him to watch.
He had a sphere about the size of a grapefruit, floating in mid-air above his table. He did things to it with quick flashes of light that acted exactly like knives, in that it fell apart wherever the lights touched, but I got the impression that those divisions were much less simple than knife-cuts would be. The light shivered as it slashed and the cuts must have been very complex, dividing molecules with a selective precision beyond my powers of comprehension.
The sphere floated apart. It changed shape under the lights. I am pretty sure it changed shape in four dimensions, because after a while I literally could not watch any more. The shape did agonizing things to my eyes when I tried to focus on it.
When I heard a long sigh go up simultaneously from the watchers I risked a look again.
There were two spheres floating where one had floated before.
“Amoebas can do it,” I said. “What’s so wonderful about reproduction by fission?”
“Don’t bother me,” Belem said. “But get ready to leave when I give the word. There isn’t much time left.” He cast a worried glance at the window.
All over the enormous room an orderly withdrawal was in progress. They had taken down the neural webbing over the big table and were setting up a lower webbing on the table itself, just within the radiation of that cocoon of light. I could see now that the table was no longer supported on legs but floated free of the floor. They were ready to move it, obviously, which must mean that matter-transmission was about to resume operation.
“Take this tube,” Belem said, “and go over to the transmitter. Careful, hold it with the blue side up. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
“Even if you can do it again with the silver marble,” I remarked, taking the tube, “can you be sure you’ll be any better? Nothing much happened when these two spheres shaped up.”
“The marble, as you call it,” Belem said, busily unhooking a glass spiral from its base, “is in effect an electron now, a negatively charged unit. Have you any idea how many tons of repulsion exist between cathode-ray particles, for instance, no matter how far apart they may be?
“You’re about to see a demonstration. The degree of repulsion is practically infinite for our purposes. When you get over there, open the transmitter door—and hurry, will you?”
The silver marble lay there on the floor of the transmitter, dully gleaming in the red light from the laboratory. The light was red because that cylinder of crimson had breached the protective radiations outside and was reaching inward, quivering back under the assaults of defense-lights, but stubbornly gaining yard by yard toward the laboratory wall.
Belem worked methodically, setting up his tubes and prisms. The table cocooned with bright webbing floated now just beside the door, ready to go out first when transmission functioned again. I could see dimly the face of the sleeper inside. The serenity of that face was impressive in a way I can’t describe.
The second-stage Mechandroid slept, yes, but he wasn’t wholly asleep now. The mind of the machine was awakening. It was time for it to wake. I could feel something in the very air that told me what was happening behind those impassive, emotionless features.
The shape of the features disturbed me, too. There was that haunting familiarity which I had no time now to track down. But I knew I had seen it before.
There wasn’t much time for speculation. I think the laboratory defenses collapsed all at once. I heard no warning but overloaded screens suddenly went down with blinding soundless lashes between us and the attacking forces. I think Belem must have been drawing heavily on the power-reserves in order to finish his experiment in geometric paradox.
He didn’t seem surprised, nor did the others, when there was a dazzle of red and green brilliance in conflict, streaming like colored lightnings through the vast room, making the twisted girders stand out in black silhouette. One of the Mechandroids at Belem’s elbow said something in one of the languages of this age which meant nothing to me.
Belem asked him a question. I caught the name of Paynter in the answer.
Belem moved a prism. His voice was quick but very calm. And this time as he spoke I caught an overtone in the air which the others perhaps, had been realizing for some minutes. I can’t say what it was. A pressure, a deep, serene wave, a quality of newness and difference too intangible to name.
But it was there. After a moment or two I knew what it was.
The sleeper was awake. Not physically yet. His body remained helpless in the cocoon of light. But the mind was speaking to the minds of his creators, a smooth strong mind functioning like perfect, machinery with a deep hum of power.
Belem laid down his tools and turned to me, gripped my arm, urged me away toward a sloping catwalk that spanned the great room.
“What’s the matter?” I asked in bewilderment, following him willy-nilly, because I could feel the metal of his machine-ancestry in that tight grip. “Something wrong? Won’t the gadget work?”
“It will work. You and I are needed elsewhere now. The others can handle the escape.”
“But I wanted to watch—”
“There is no time. You won’t see the demonstration, after all.”
I looked at him dubiously. There seemed to be no threat in his tone, but then there never was.
“A platoon of men is attacking under Paynter. We must hold them back until the matter-transmitter is reactivated. I’m acting under orders. The second-stage Mechandroid is conscious enough to take charge. He told me what to do—look!”