Хичи - - 2. За синим горизонтом событий (engl)Фантастика >> Зарубежная фантастика >> Пол, Фредерик >> Хичи
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Frederik Pohl. Beyond the blue event horizon
© Frederik Pohl. Beyond the blue event horizon (1980). GateWay #2.
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It was not easy to live, being young, being so completely alone. "Go to
the gold, Wan, steal what you want, learn. Don't be afraid," the Dead Men
told him. But how could he not be afraid? The silly but worrisome Old Ones
used the gold passages. They might be found anywhere in them, most likely
at the ends of them, where the gold skeins of symbols ran endlessly into
the center of things. That is, exactly where the Dead Men kept coaxing him
to go. Perhaps he had to go there, but he could not help being afraid.
Wan did not know what would happen if the Old Ones ever caught him. The
Dead Men probably knew, but he could not make any sense out of their
ramblings on the subject. Once long ago, when Wan was tiny-when his
parents were still alive, it was that long ago-his father had been caught.
He had been gone for a long time and then had come back to their green-lit
home. He was shaking, and two-year-old Wan had seen that his father was
afraid and had screamed and roared because that was so frightening to him.
Nevertheless he had to go to the gold, whether the grave old frog-jawed
ones were there or not, because that was where the books were. The Dead
Men were well enough. But they were tedious, and touchy, and often
obsessed. The best sources of knowledge were books, and to get them Wan
had to go where they were.
The books were in the passages that gleamed gold. There were other
passages, green and red and blue, but there were no books there. Wan
disliked the blue corridors, because they were cold and dead, but that was
where the Dead Men were. The green was used up. He spent most of his time
where the winking red cobwebs of light were spread against the walls and
the hoppers still held food; he was sure to be untroubled there, but he
was also alone. The gold was still in use, and therefore rewarding, and
therefore also perilous. And now he was there, cursing fretfully to
himself-but under his breath-because he was stuck. Bloody damn Dead Men!
Why did he listen to their blathering?
He huddled, trembling, in the insufficient shelter of a berry bush,
while two of the foolish Old Ones stood thoughtfully plucking berries from
its opposite side and placing them precisely into their froggy mouths. It
was unusual, really, that they should be so idle. Among the reasons Wan
despised the Old Ones was that they were always busy, always fixing and
carrying and chattering, as though driven. Yet here these two were, idle
as Wan himself.
Both of them had scraggly beards, but one also had breasts. Wan
recognized her as a female he had seen a dozen times before; she was the
one who was most diligent in pasting colored bits of something-paper?
plastic?-onto her sari, or sometimes onto her sallow, mottled skin. He did
not think they would see him, but he was greatly relieved when, after a
time, they turned together and moved away. They did not speak. Wan had
almost never heard any of the grave old frog-jaws speak. He did not
understand them when they did. Wan spoke six languages well-his father's
Spanish, mother's English, the German, the Russian, the Cantonese and the
Finnish of one or another of the Dead Men. But what the frog-jaws spoke he
did not comprehend at all.
As soon as they had retreated down the golden corridor-quick, run,
grab! Wan had three books and was gone, safely back in a red corridor. It
might be that the Old Ones had seen him, or perhaps not. They did not
react quickly. That was why he had been able to avoid them so long. A few
days in the passages, and then he was gone. By the time they had become
aware he was around, he wasn't; he was back in the ship, away.
He carried the books back to the ship on top of a pannier of food
packets. The drive accumulators were nearly recharged. He could leave
whenever he liked, but it was better to charge them all the way and he did
not think there was any need to hurry. He spent most of an hour filling
plastic bags with water for the tedious journey. What a pity there were no
readers in the ship to make it less tedious! And then, wearying of the
labor, he decided to say good-bye to the Dead Men. They might, or might
not, respond, or even care. But he had no one else to talk to.
Wan was fifteen years old, tall, stringy, very dark by nature and
darker still from the lights in the ship, where he spent so much of his
time. He was strong and self-reliant. He had to be. There was always food
in the hoppers, and other goods for the taking, when he dared. Once or
twice a year, when they remembered, the Dead Men would catch him with
their little mobile machine and take him to a cubicle in the blue passages
for a boring day during which he was given a rather complete physical
examination. Sometimes he had a tooth filled, usually he received some
long-acting vitamin and mineral shots, and once they had fitted him with
glasses. But he refused to wear them. They also reminded him, when he
neglected it too long, to study and learn, both from them and from the
storehouses of books. He did not need much reminding. He enjoyed learning.
Apart from that, he was wholly on his own. If he wanted clothes, he went
into the gold and stole them from the Old Ones. If he was bored, he
invented something to do. A few days in the passages, a few weeks on the
ship, a few more days in the other place, then back to repeat the process.
Time passed. He had no one for company, had not had since he was four and
his parents disappeared, and had almost forgotten what it was like to have
a friend. He did not mind. His life seemed complete enough to him, since
he had no other life to compare it with.
Sometimes he thought it would be nice to settle in one place or
another, but this was only dreaming. It never reached the stage of
intention. For more than eleven years he had been shuttling back and forth
like this. The other place had things that civilization did not. It had
the dreaming room, where he could lie fiat and close his eyes and seem not
to feel alone. But he could not live there, in spite of plenty of food and
no dangers, because the single water accumulator produced only a trickle.
Civilization had much that the outpost did not have: the Dead Men and the
books, scary exploring and daring raids for clothes or trinkets, something
happening. But he could not live there either, because the frog-jaws would
surely catch him sooner or later. So he commuted.
The main lobby door to the place of the Dead Men did not open when Wan
stepped on the treadle. He almost bumped his nose. Surprised, he stopped
and then gingerly pushed against the door, then harder. It took all his
strength to force it open. Wan had never had to open it by hand before,
though now and then it had hesitated and made disturbing noises. That was
an annoyance. Wan had experienced machines that broke down before; it was
why the green corridors were no longer very useful. But that was only food
and warmth, and there was plenty of that in the red, or even the gold. It
was worrisome that anything should go wrong around the Dead Men, because
if they broke down he had no others.
Still, all looked normal; the room with the consoles was brightly
fluoresced, the temperature was comfortable and he could hear the faint
drone and rare click of the Dead Men behind their panels as they thought
their lonely, demented thoughts and did whatever they did when he was not
speaking to them. He sat in his chair, shifting his rump as always to
accommodate to the ill-designed seat, and pulled the headset down over his
"I am going to the outpost now," he said.
There was no answer. He repeated it in all of his languages, but no one
seemed to want to talk. That was a disappointment. Sometimes two or three
of them would be eager for company, maybe even more. Then they could all
have a nice, long chat, and it would be as though he were not really alone
at all. Almost as though he were part of a "family", a word he knew from
the books and from what the Dead Men told him, but hardly remembered as a
reality. That was good. Almost as good as when he was in the dreaming
place, where for a while he could have the illusion of being part of a
hundred families, a million families. Hosts of people! But that was more
than he could handle for very long. And so, when he had to leave the
outpost to return for water, and for the more tangible company of the Dead
Men, he was never sorry. But he always wanted to come back to the cramped
couch and the velvety metal blanket that covered him in it, and to the
It was waiting for him; but he decided to give the Dead Men another
chance. Even when they were not eager for talk, sometimes they were
interestable if addressed directly. He thought for a moment, and then
dialed number fifty-seven.
A sad, distant voice in his ear was mumbling to itself: "...tried to
tell him about the missing mass. Mass! The only mass on his mind was
twenty kilos of boobs and ass! That floozy, Doris. One look at her and,
oh, boy, forget about the mission, forget about me...
Frowning, Wan poised his finger to cancel. Fifty-seven was such a
nuisance! He liked to listen to her when she made sense, because she
sounded a little like the way he remembered his mother. But she always
seemed to go from astrophysics and space travel and other interesting
subjects directly to her own troubles. He spat at the point in the panels
behind which he had elected to believe fifty-seven lived-a trick he had
learned from the Old Ones-hoping she would say something interesting.
But she didn't seem to intend to. Number fifty-seven-when she was
coherent she liked to be called Henrietta-was babbling on about high
redshifts and Arnold's infidelities with Doris. Whoever they were. "We
could have been heroes," she sobbed, "and a ten-million-dollar grant,
maybe more, who knows what they'd pay for the drive? But they kept on
sneaking off in the lander, and "Who are you?"
"I'm Wan," the boy said, smiling encouragingly even though he did not
think she could see him. She seemed to be coming into one of her lucid
times. Usually she didn't know he was speaking to her. "Please keep on
There was a long silence, and then, "NGC 1199," she said. "Sagittarius
Wan waited politely. Another long pause, and then she said, "He didn't
care about proper motions. He made all his moves with Doris. Half his age!
And the brain of a turnip. She should never have been on the mission in
the first place..."
Wan wobbled his head like a frog-jawed Old One. "You are very boring,"
he said severely, and switched her off. He hesitated, then dialed the
professor, number fourteen: although Eliot was still a Harvard
undergraduate, his imagery was that of a fully mature man. And a genius at
that. 'I should have been a pair of ragged claws.' The self-deprecation of
mass man carried to its symbolic limit. How does he see himself? Not
merely as a crustacean. Not even as a crustacean, only the very
abstraction of a crustacean: claws. And ragged, at that. In the next line
Wan spat again at the panel as he disconnected; the whole face of the
wall was stained with the marks of his displeasure. He liked when Doc
recited poetry, not so much when he talked about it. With the craziest of
the Dead Men, like fourteen and fifty-seven, you didn't have any choice
about what happened. They rarely responded, and almost never in a way that
seemed relevant, and you either listened to what they happened to be
saying or you turned them off.
It was almost time for him to go, but he tried one more time: the only
one with a three-digit number, his special friend, Tiny Jim. "Hello, Wan."
The voice was sad and sweet. It tingled in his mind, like the sudden
frisson of fear that he felt near the Old Ones. "It is you, Wan, isn't
"That is a foolish question. Who else would it be?"
"One keeps on hoping, Wan." There was a pause, then Tiny Jim suddenly
cackled, "Have I told you the one about the priest, the rabbi and the
dervish who ran out of food on the planet made of pork?"
"I think you have, Tiny Jim, and anyway I don't want to hear any jokes
The invisible loudspeaker clicked and buzzed for a moment, and then the
Dead Man said, "Same old thing, Wan? You want to talk about sex again?"
The boy kept his countenance impassive, but that familiar tingle inside
his lower abdomen responded. "We might as well, Tiny Jim."
"You're a raunchy stud for your age, Wan," the Dead Man offered; and
then, "Tell you about the time I almost got busted for a sex offense? It
was hot as hell. I was going home on the late train to Roselle Park, and
this girl came in, sat across the aisle from me, put her feet up, and
began to fan herself with her skirt.
Well, what would you do? I looked, you know. And she kept on doing it,
and I kept looking, and finally around Highlands she complained to the
conductor and he threw me off the train. Do you know what the funny thing
Wan was rapt. "No, Tiny Jim," he breathed.
"The funny thing was I'd missed my regular train. I had time to kill in
the city, so I went to a porn flick. Two hours of, my God, every
combination you could think of. The only way I could've seen more was with
a proctoscope, so why was I slouching out over the aisle to peek at her
little white panties? But you know what was funnier than that?"
"No, Tiny Jim."
"She was right! I was staring, all right. I'd just been watching acres
of crotches and boobs, but I couldn't take my eyes off hers! That wasn't
the funniest thing, though. Do you want me to tell you the funniest thing
"Yes, please, Tiny Jim. I do."
"Why, she got off the train with me! And took me to her home, boy, and
we just made out over and over, all night long. Never did catch her name.
What do you say to that, Wan?"
"I say, is that true, Tiny Jim?"
Pause. "Aw. No. You take all the fun out of things."
Wan said severely, "I don't want a made-up story, Tiny Jim. I want to
learn facts." Wan was angry, and thought of turning the Dead Man off to
punish him, but was not sure whom he would be punishing. "I wish you would
be nice, Tiny Jim," he coaxed.
"Well..." The bodiless mind clicked and whispered to itself for a
moment, sorting through its conversational gambits. Then it said, "Do you
want to know why mallard drakes rape their mates?"
"I think you really do, though, Wan. It's interesting. You can't
understand primate behavior unless you comprehend the whole spectrum of
reproductive strategies. Even strange ones. Even the Acanthocephalan
worms. They practice rape, too, and do you know what Moniliformis dubius
does? They not only rape their females, they even rape competing males.
With like plaster of Paris! So the poor Other Worm can't get it up!"
"I don't want to hear all this, Tiny Jim."
"But it's funny, Wan! That must be why they call him 'dubius'!" The
Dead Man was chuckling mechanically, a-heh! A-heh!
"Stop it, Tiny Jim!" But Wan was not just angry any more. He was
hooked. It was his favorite subject, as Tiny Jim's willingness to talk
about it, at length and in variety, was what made him Wan's favorite among
the Dead Men. Wan unwrapped a food packet and, munching, said, "What I
really want to hear is how to make out, Tiny Jim, please?"
If the Dead Man had had a face it would have shown the strain of trying
to keep from laughing, but he said kindly, "'Kay, sonny. I know you keep
hoping. Let's see, did I tell you to watch their eyes?"
"Yes, Tiny Jim. You said if their pupils dilate it means they are
"Right. And I mentioned the existence of the sexually dimorphic
structures in the brain?"
"I don't think I know what that means, exactly."
"Well, I don't, either, but it's anatomically so. They're different,
Wan, inside and out."
"Please, Tiny Jim, keep telling me about the differences!" The Dead Man
did, and Wan listened absorbedly. There was always time to go to the ship,
and Tiny Jim was unusually coherent. All of the Dead Men had their own
special subjects that they zeroed in to talk about, as though each had
been frozen with one big thought in his mind. But even on the favored
topics you could not always expect them to make sense. Wan pushed the
mobile unit that they used to catch him-when it was working-out of the way
and sprawled on the floor, chin in hands, while the Dead Man chattered and
reminisced and explained courtship, and gifting, and making your move.
It was fascinating, even though he had heard it before. He listened
until the Dead Man slowed down, hesitated, and stopped. Then the boy said,
to confirm a theory:
"Teach me, Tiny Jim. I read a book in which a male and a female
copulated. He hit her on the head and copulated her while she was
unconscious. That appears to me an efficient way to 'love', Tiny Jim, but
in other stories it takes much longer. Why is this?"
"That was not love, sonny. That was what I was telling you about. Rape.
Rape is a bad idea for people, even if it works for mallard ducks."
Wan nodded and urged him on: "Why, Tiny Jim?"
Pause. "I will demonstrate it for you mathematically, Wan," the Dead
Man said at last. "Attractive sex objects may be defined as female, no
more than five years younger than you are, no more than fifteen years
older. These figures are normalized to your present age, and are also only
approximate. Attractive sex objects may further be characterized by
visual, olfactory, tactile, and aural qualities stimulating to you, in
descending weighted order of significance plotted against probability of
access. Do you understand me so far?"
Pause. "Well, that's all right for now. Now pay attention. On the basis
of those four preliminary traits, some females will attract you. Up to the
point of contact you will not know about other traits which may repel,
harm or detumesce you. 5/28 of subjects will be menstruating. 3/87 will
have gonorrhea, 2/95 syphilis. 1/17 will have excessive bodily hair, skin
blemishes or other physical deformities concealed by clothing. Finally,
2/71 will conduct themselves offensively during intercourse, i/i6 will
emit an unpleasant odor, 3/7 will resist rape so extensively as to
diminish your enjoyment; these are subjective values quantified to match
your known psychological profile. Cumulating these fractions, the odds are
better than six to one that you will not receive maximum pleasure from
"Then I must not copulate a woman without wooing?"
"That's right, boy. Not counting it's against the law."
Wan was thoughtfully silent for a moment, then remembered to ask, "Is
all this true, Tiny Jim?"
Cackle of glee. "Got you that time, kid! Every word."
Wan pouted like a frog-jaw. "That was not very exciting, Tiny Jim. In
fact, you have detumesced me."
"What do you expect, kid?" Tiny Jim said sullenly. "You told me not to
make up any stories. Why are you being so unpleasant?"
"I am getting ready to leave. I do not have much time."
"You don't have anything else!" cackled Tiny Jim.
"And you have nothing to say that I want to hear," said Wan cruelly. He
disconnected them all, and angrily he went to the ship and squeezed the
launch control. It did not occur to him that he was being rude to the only
friends he had in the universe. It had never occurred to him that their
2 On the Way to the Oort Cloud
On the twelve hundred and eighty-second day of our all-expense-paid
joyride on the way to the Oort Cloud, the big excitement was the mail.
Vera tinkled joyously and we all came to collect it. There were six
letters for my horny little half-sister-inlaw from famous movie
stars-well, they're not all movie stars. They're just famous and
good-looking jocks that she writes to, because she's only fourteen years
old and needs some kind of male to dream about, and that write back to
her, I think, because their press agents tell them it's going to be good
publicity. A letter from the old country for Payter, my father-in-law. A
long one, in German. They want him to come back to Dortmund and run for
mayor or Blirgermeister or something. Assuming, of course, that he is
still alive when he gets back, which is only an assumption for any of the
four of us. But they don't give up. Two private letters to my wife, Lurvy,
I assume from ex-boyfriends. And a letter to all of us from poor Trish
Bover's widower, or maybe husband, depending on whether you considered
Trish alive or dead:
Have you seen any trace of Trish's ship?
Short and sweet, because that's all he could afford, I guess. I told
Vera to send him the same reply as always-"Sorry, no." I had plenty of
time to take care of that correspondence, because there was nothing for
Paul C. Hall, who is me.
There is usually not much for me, which is one of the reasons I play
chess a lot. Payter tells me I'm lucky to be on the mission at all, and I
suppose I wouldn't be if he hadn't put his own money into it, financing
his whole family. Also his skills, but we've all done that. Payter is a
food chemist. I'm a structural engineer. My wife, Dorema-it's better not
to call her that, and we mostly call her "Lurvy"-is a pilot. Damn good
one, too. Lurvy is younger than I am, but she was on Gateway for six
years. Never scored, came back next to broke, but she learned a lot. Not
just about piloting. Sometimes I look at Lurvy's arms with the five Out
bangles, one for each of her Gateway missions; and her hands, hard and
sure on the ship controls, warm and warming when we touch... I don't know
much about what happened to her on Gateway. Perhaps I shouldn't.
And the other one is her little jailbait half-sister, Janine. Ak,
Janine! Sometimes she was fourteen years old, and sometimes forty. When
she was fourteen she wrote her gushy letters to her movie stars and played
with her toys-a ragged, stuffed armadillo, a Heechee prayer fan (real) and
a fire-pearl (fake) which her father had bought her to tempt her onto the
trip. When she was forty what she mostly wanted to play with was me. And
there we are. In each other's pockets for three and a half years. Trying
not to need to commit murder.
We were not the only ones in space. Once in a great while we would get
a message from our nearest neighbors, the Triton base or the exploring
ship that had got itself lost. But Triton, with Neptune, was well ahead of
us in its orbit-round-trip message time, three weeks. And the explorer had
no power to waste on us, though they were now only fifty light-hours away.
It was not like a friendly natter over the garden hedge.
So what I did, I played a lot of chess with our shipboard computer.
There's not an awful lot to do on the way to the Oort except play
games, and besides it was a good way to stay noncombatant in The War
Between Two Women that continually raged in our little ship. I can stand
my father-in-law, if I have to. Mostly he keeps to himself, as much as he
can in four hundred cubic meters. I can't always stand his two crazy
daughters, even though I love them both.
All this would have been easier to take if we had had more room-I told
myself that-but there is no way to go for a cooling-down walk around the
block when you are in a spaceship. Once In a while a quick EVA to check
the side-cargos, yes, and then I could look around-the sun still the
brightest star in its constellation, but only just; Sirius ahead of us was
brighter, and so was Alpha Centauri, off below the ecliptic and to the
side. But that was only an hour at a time, and then back inside the ship.
Not a luxury ship. A human-made antique of a spaceship that was never
planned for more than a six-month mission and that we had to stay cooped
up in for three and a half years. My God! We must have been crazy to sign
up. What good is a couple million dollars when getting it drives you out
of your head?
Our shipboard brain was a lot easier to get along with. When I played
chess with her, hunched over the console with the big headset over my
ears, I could shut out Lurvy and Janine. The brain's name was Vera, which
was just my own conceit and had nothing to do with her, I mean its,
gender. Or with her truthfulness, either, because I had instructed her she
could joke with me sometimes. When Vera was downlinked with the big
computers that were in orbit or back on Earth, she was very, very smart.
But she couldn't carry on a conversation that way, because of the 25-day
round-trip communications time, and so when she wasn't in link she was
very, very dumb-"Pawn to king's rook four, Vera."
"Thank you..." Long pause, while she checked my parameters to make sure
who she was talking to and what she was supposed to be doing. "Paul.
Bishop takes knight."
I could beat the ass off Vera when we played chess, unless she cheated.
How did she cheat? Well, after I had won maybe two hundred games from her
she won one. And then I won about fifty, and then she won one, and
another, and for the next twenty games we were about even and then she
began to clobber me every time. Until I figured out what she was doing.
She was transmitting position and plans to the big computers on Earth and
then, when we recessed games, as we sometimes did, because Payter or one
of the women would drag me away from the set, she would have time to get
Downlink-Vera's criticism of her plans and suggestions to amend her
strategies. The big machines would tell Vera what they thought my
strategies might be, and how to counteract them; and when Downlink-Vera
guessed right, Shipboard-Vera had me. I never bothered to make her stop. I
just didn't recess games any more, and then after a while we were so far
away that there just wasn't time for her to get help and I went back to
beating her every game.
And the chess games were about the only games I won, those three and a
half years. There was no way for me to win anything in the big one that
kept going on between my wife, Lurvy, and her horny fourteen-year-old
half-sister, Janine. Old Payter was a long time between begats, and Lurvy
tried to be a mother to Janine, who tried to be an enemy to Lurvy. And
succeeded. It wasn't all Janine's fault. Lurvy would take a few
drinks-that was her way of relieving the boredom-and then she would
discover that Janine had used her toothbrush, or that Janine had
unwillingly done as she had been told and cleaned up the food-preparation
area before it began to stink, but hadn't put the organics in the
digester. Then they were off. From time to time they would go through
ritualized performances of woman talk, punctuated by explosions-"I really
love those blue pants on you, Janine. Do you want me to tack that seam?"
"All right, so I'm getting fat, is that what you're saying? Well, it's
better than drinking myself stupid all the time!"-and then back to
blow-drying each other's hair. And I would go back to playing chess with
Vera. It was the only safe thing to do. Every time I tried to intervene I
achieved instant success by uniting them against me: "Fucking male
chauvinist pig, why don't you scrub the kitchen floor?"
The funny thing was, I did love them both. In different ways, of
course, though I had trouble getting that across to Janine.
We were told what we were getting into when we signed up for the
mission. Besides the regular long-voyage psychiatric briefing, all four of
us went through a dozen session hours on the problem during the preflight,
and what the shrink said boiled down to "do the best you can." It appeared
that during the refamilying process I would have to learn to parent.
Payter was too old, even if he was the biological father. Lurvy was
undomestic, as you would expect from a former Gateway pilot. It was up to
me; the shrink was very clear about that. It just didn't say how.
So there I was at forty-one, umpty zillion kilometers from Earth, way
past the orbit of Pluto, about fifteen degrees out of the plane of the
ecliptic, trying not to make love to my halfsister-in-law, trying to make
peace with my wife, trying to maintain the truce with my father-in-law.
Those were the big things that I woke up with (every time I was allowed to
go to sleep), just staying alive for another day. To get my mind off them,
I would try to think about the two million dollars apiece we would get for
completing the mission. When even that failed I would try to think about
the long-range importance of our mission, not just to us, but to every
human being alive. That was real enough. If it all worked out, we would be
keeping most of the human race from dying of starvation.
... ... ...
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