(Petrowich, Russia : 1920 –
New-York, April 1992)
– Part 5 –
entered another elevator,
had scarcely bothered to notice, and they were now on another level. He looked
about him and recognized characteristics that seemed to transcend national differences.
– Are we in a
medical wing – he asked.
– A hospital –
said Boranova –. The Grotto is a self-contained scientific
– And why are
we here? Am I ... –. He stopped suddenly, as the horror of the
thought smote him. Was he to be drugged or, by some other medical means, made
walked on for a moment, then stopped, looked back, and came towards him, saying
– Now what is
ashamed. Were his facial expressions that transparent? :
– Nothing is
frightening me – he grumbled –. I am simply tired of walking aimlessly.
– What makes
you think we are walking aimlessly? I said we were going to see Pyotr Shapirov... We are walking
towards him now –. Come, we have only a few steps left.
They turned a
corner and Boranova beckoned him to a window.
He stepped to
her side and looked in. It was a room and there were a number of people
present. There were four beds, but only one was occupied and it was surrounded
by equipment that he did not recognize. There were tubes and glassware
extending towards the bed, and Morrison counted a dozen functionaries, who
might be doctors, nurses, or medical technicians.
– There is
– Which one –
said Morrison –? His eyes travelling
from one of the figures to the other and finding no one who seemed similar in
appearance to the scientist he recalled having met once.
– In the bed.
– In the bed?
He’s ill, then?
– Worse than
ill. He is in a coma. He has been in a coma for over a month and I strongly
suspect it is an irreversible state.
– I’m terribly
sorry to hear that. I presume that is why you referred to him in the past tense
– Yes, the Shapirow we know is in the past tense, unless
– Unless he
recovers? But you just said the coma is probably irreversible.
– That’s true.
But neither is he brain-dead. The brain is damaged certainly, or he wouldn’t be
in a coma, but it is not dead, and Konev, who has
followed your work closely, thinks that some of his thinking network is still
– Ah – said
Morrison, the light breaking –, I began to understand. Why didn’t you explain
this to begin with? If you had wanted to consult me on such a matter, and had
explained, I might have been willing to come here with you, voluntarily. Yet,
on the other hand, if I were to study his cerebral functioning and tell you : “ Yes, Yuri Konev is right ”, then what good will that do you?
– That will do
us no good at all. You don’t yet begin to understand, you see, and I can’t
explain exactly what it is I want until you understand the problem. Do you
quite realize what is buried there in the still-living portions of Shapirov’s brain?
– His thoughts,
his thoughts of the interconnection of Planck’s constant and the speed of
light. His thoughts of a method for making miniaturization
and deminiaturization rapid, low-energy and practical. With those
thoughts, we give humanity a technique that will revolutionize science and
technology – and society – more than anything since the invention of the
transistor. Perhaps more than anything since the discovery of
fire. Who can tell?
– Are you sure
you’re not being overdramatic?
– No, Albert.
Does it occur to you that if miniaturization can be tied in with a vast
acceleration of the speed of light, a spaceship, if sufficiently miniaturized,
can be sent to anywhere in the Universe at many times the speed of light. We
won’t need faster-than-light travel. Light will travel fast enough for us. And
we won’t need anti-gravity for a miniaturized ship will have close-to-zero
– I can’t
believe all that.
– You couldn’t
– I don’t mean
I can’t believe the results of miniaturization. I mean I can’t believe that the
solution of the problem is permanently locked in the brain of one man. Others
will eventually think of it. If not now, then next year, or
– It’s easy to
wait when you are not concerned, Albert. The trouble is we’re not going to have
a next decade, or even a next year. This Grotto which you see all about you has
cost the Soviet Union as much as a minor war.
Each time we miniaturize anything – even if just Katinka
– we consume enough energy to last a sizeable town for a whole day. Already,
our government leaders look askance at this expense and many scientists, who do not understand the importance of miniaturization or who are simply selfish, complain that all
of Soviet science is being starved for the sake of the Grotto. If we do not
come up with a device to save on energy – extreme saving ,
too – this place will be shut down.
Natalya, if you publish what is now known of
miniaturization, and make it available to the Global
Association for the Advancement of Science, then innumerable scientists will
put their minds to it and quickly enough someone will devise a method for
coupling Planck’s constant and the speed of light.
– Yes – said Boranova –, and perhaps the scientist who will obtain the
key to low-energy miniaturization will be an American or a Frenchman or a
Nigerian or a Uruguayan. It is a Soviet scientist who has it now and we don’t
want to lose the credit.
– You forget
the global fellowship of science. Don’t cut it up into segments.
– You would
speak differently, if it were an American who was on the edge of the discovery
and you were asked to do something that might possibly give the credit to one
of us. Do you remember the history of the American reaction when the Soviet Union was the first to put an artificial satellite
– Surely we
have advanced since then.
– Yes, we have
advanced a kilometre, but we have not advanced ten kilometres. The world is not
yet entirely global in its thinking. There remains national pride to a
– So much the
worse for the world. Still, if we are not global, and if national pride is
something we are expected to retain, then I should have mine. As an American,
why should I be disturbed over a Soviet scientist losing credit for the
– I ask you
only to understand the importance of this to us. I ask you to put yourself in
our place for a moment and see if you can grasp our desperation to do what we
can to find out what it is that Shapirov knows.
– All right, Natalya. I understand. I don’t approve, but I understand.
Now – listen carefully please – now that I understand, what is it you want of
– We want you –
said Boranova, intensely –, to help us find out what Shapirov’s thoughts, his still living and existing
– How? There’s
nothing in my theory that makes that possible.
Even granting that thinking networks do exist, and that brain-waves can
be minutely analysed, and even granting that I occasionally get a mental image,
possibly imaginary, possibly an artifact; there remains no way in which the
waves can be studied to the extent of interpreting them in terms of actual
– Not even if
you could analyse, in detail, the brain-waves of a single nerve cell that was
part of a thinking network?
– I couldn’t
deal with a single nerve cell in anything approaching the necessary kind of
– You forget.
You can be miniaturized and be inside that single nerve cell.
stared at her in sick horror. She had mentioned something like this at their
first meeting , but he had put it aside as nonsense ;
horrifying , but nonsense, since miniaturization, he was certain, was
But miniaturization was not
impossible and now the horror was undiluted and paralysing.
To be followed
Asimov at home