Chapter 1. Earth

“So the first time upstairs?” - asked the pilot, lazily leaned back in his chair and laid his hands behind his head with carelessness, which did not inspire cheerfulness to the passenger.
“Yes,” said Martin Gibson, not taking his eyes off the chronometer counting seconds.
“So I thought.” You never described it correctly. And why do people write such nonsense! It harms the cause.
“Sorry,” Gibson answered. “I think you're talking about my early stories.” There were no space flights then. I had to invent.
“Maybe, maybe,” the pilot grumbled. (He didn’t look at the instruments, and there were two minutes left before the launch.) - Probably, it’s fun to fly yourself when you wrote about this so many times?
Gibson thought it was unlikely that he himself would have chosen this word, but he understood the pilot’s point of view. Dozens of his heroes - both positive and negative - looked fascinated at the flawless second hand, waiting for the rocket to burst into infinity; and now (as always happens, if you wait long enough), reality has caught up with fiction. In just ninety seconds, it awaits him. You won’t say anything, amusing. So to speak, it is fair from the literary point of view.
The pilot looked at him, understood and smiled affably.
- Watch not be afraid of your own stories.
“I'm not afraid,” Gibson assured with excessive ardor.
“Hmmm ...” the pilot grunted and stooped to look at his watch. The second hand was supposed to make another round. - Only in your place I would not have grabbed at such a seat. You can bend.
Gibson obediently leaned back in his chair.
“Of course,” said the pilot, (he was still calm, but Gibson noticed that now he did not take his eyes off the instruments), “it would not be so nice if it lasted longer ... But the fuel went.” Do not worry, with a vertical start there are interesting things.
Let the chair wobble as he pleases. Close your eyes if you feel better. Be patient. I say: ter-pi-te.
But Martin Gibson did not heed the advice. He had already lost consciousness, although the acceleration had not yet exceeded the acceleration in the high-speed elevator.
He woke up, and he felt ashamed. The sun was beating in his face, and he realized that the protective plate on the shell slid to the side. The light was bright, but not as unbearable as he expected - only part of the rays seeped through the dark glass.
He glanced at the pilot; he leaned over the remote control and busily recorded something in the logbook. It was very quiet, only from time to time it snorted somewhere, and Gibson did not like it. He coughed politely, announcing that he had come to his senses, and asked the pilot what this meant.
“The thermal effect in the engines,” the pilot answered shortly. - The temperature there jumped five thousand degrees, and now they are quickly cooling. Do you feel better?
“I'm fine,” Gibson answered. He really thought so.
- Can I get up?
“You know better,” the pilot said incredulously. “Just be careful.”
Hold on to something solid.
Gibson really felt very good, fun. The minute had come which he had been waiting for his whole life. He is in space! Of course, it is a pity that he missed the launch, but in the articles you can keep silent about this.
For a thousand kilometers the Earth was even larger, but somehow disappointing. He soon realized why. He saw too many space photographs and films and knew what to expect. The clouds, as they were supposed to, slowly moved around the globe. In the center, land and water differed very clearly, and countless details were perfectly visible, and along the edges of the disk everything was lost in dense haze. Even directly below it, much was incomprehensible and therefore pointless. Of course, the meteorologist would be very happy to see from above, from above, a natural weather map; but almost all meteorologists were already sitting on space stations, and under them a view was no worse than that. Gibson was soon tired of looking for cities and other fruits of human activity. It was disgusting to think that for so many millennia human civilization has not been able to significantly change what he saw now.
He looked at the stars and was disappointed again. There were many, many, but all of them seemed pale, dull ghosts of that sparkling placer that he was thinking to see. He knew that dark glass was to blame - protecting from the sun, it stole the beauty of stars.
Gibson was even angry. In only one respect did his hopes come true - it was nice to know that you could soar, if you push your finger off the walls; although there was clearly not enough space for bold experiments. Now that special pills have been invented and space sickness is a thing of the past, weightlessness has become beautiful, like in a fairy tale.
He was glad about it. How his heroes suffered! He recalled Robin Blake’s first flight in the full version of Martian Dust. He wrote this book under the strong influence of Lawrence. (It would be interesting to somehow compile a list of authors under whose influence he was not.) No doubt, no one better described Lawrence's physiological processes. And Gibson quite consciously decided to fight him with his own weapon. He devoted a whole chapter of cosmic illness, described all its symptoms: at first you are nauseous, but nausea can still be

The Ares cabin was capable of holding no more than three people, but when the spaceship entered orbit and it was possible to stand on the walls and ceiling, six could fit in here. All of them, except one, were in space and knew their duties. However, the first flight of a new spaceship is always an important event. In addition, "Ares" was the world's first passenger spacecraft. It was designed for one hundred and fifty passengers and thirty crew members. Now the proportion was the opposite - a team of six was waiting for a single passenger.
“I still don’t quite understand,” said Owen Bradley, assistant captain for electronics, “what should we do with this type?”
In general, who got it into my head?
“To me,” said Captain Norden, running his hand over the place where a few days ago there were thick blond hair. (There are rarely hairdressers on spaceships, and although there are many who like to work with scissors, everyone is trying to postpone a painful minute.) “Do you all, of course, know Mr. Gibson?”
All answered in the affirmative, but not all with due respect.
“He writes nonsense,” said Dr. Scott. “Now, anyway.”
"Martian dust" was wow, but out of date, out of date.
- You say so! - the astrogator Mackay attacked him. - The latest books are the best. Serious and without horror.
No one expected such an ardor from the meek little Scots. But before anyone could argue, Captain Norden took the floor.
“That's what,” he said, “here is not a literary discussion.” Mr. Gibson is a famous writer, an honored guest, and we invited him to write about us. It's not about advertising (“How can I!” Bradley interjected mockingly), but, of course, the corporation does not want future passengers to ... er ... er ... disappointed. After all, this is a truly historic flight. He deserves a good book. So try to behave properly. Your future glory may depend on these three months.
“Looks like blackmail,” Bradley said.
“That's what you want,” Norden replied dutifully. “Of course, I will explain to Gibson that we will have full service later.” I think he will understand and will not demand breakfast in bed.
- Will he wash the dishes? - Someone asked practically.
Before Norden dealt with this ethical problem, a voice buzzed on the remote and heard:
“Space Station 1 calls Ares.” Your passenger arrives on board.
“We are ready,” Norden said, and turned to the team:
“He will see, poor thing, our shaved tops and think that he has ended up in jail.” Go meet him, Jimmy.
Martin Gibson has not yet fully recovered. In the racket that delivered him to the Ares, weightlessness did not torment him. But what he saw in the cabin of Captain Norden, he did not like. Even in zero gravity conditions it is more pleasant to pretend that somewhere is the bottom, and somewhere is the top. Unfortunately, they thought differently here - two team members hung like stalactites, and two stuck in strange air at odd angles; only the captain met Gibson's requirements. To top it off, shaved heads gave everyone an ominous look.
Silence reigned. The team examined Gibson. Everyone knew him right away - readers got used to his face over the past two decades.
Now he was in his fifth dozen. He was short, chubby, with sharp features; and when he spoke, it turned out that he had a deep, low voice.
“This,” said Captain Norden, poking at the ceiling, “is our engineer, his name is Hilton.” This is Dr. Mackay, the astrogator - no, not a doctor: a doctor of physics. And here is the real doctor, Scott. Bradley, my electronics assistant. And Jimmy Spencer, who met you, is our supernumerary. Thinking of becoming a captain when he grows up.
Not without surprise, Gibson looked around the small group. There were so few of them - five men and a young man, almost a boy. Probably, these thoughts were reflected on his face - the captain laughed:
“A little of us, huh?” Do not forget that the spaceship is almost completely automated. Anyway, nothing ever happens in space.
Gibson carefully examined those who were to become his only comrades for three months. He did not believe the first impression, but always tried to remember it; Now, when he saw them for the first time, he was surprised - there was nothing special in them, unless, of course, you pay attention to postures and a temporary lack of hair. But all of them were engaged in business, more romantic of which has not been since the last cowboys replaced horses for helicopters.
At a signal that Gibson did not understand, the team members slipped one by one with magical ease into the open door. Captain Norden sat in a chair and offered Gibson a cigarette; he did not immediately decide to take it.
- Do you allow smoking? - he asked. - But what about oxygen?
“They would have rebelled,” Norden laughed, “if I had not let them smoke for three months.” And it takes a little oxygen.
Gibson thought that Captain Norden did not fit into the usual literary framework. According to the best - at least, according to accepted - traditions, the captain of the spaceship is a stern old wolf who spent half his life in space and can lead the ship through

The same starry pattern was filled with a porthole, when the loud, bell-like radio signals awakened Gibson from a sound, dreamless dream. He dressed hastily and hurried down to the gallery - he was eager to find out where the Earth is now.
Of course, it is strange for a resident of the Earth to see two crescents in the sky. But they were here together, both in the first quarter, one twice as large as the other.
Gibson knew that he would see both the Moon and the Earth, and yet he did not immediately realize that his home planet was smaller and farther than the Moon.
Unfortunately, the "Ares" did not pass too close to the Moon, but even so it was here ten times more than ours in the earthly sky. Craters appeared clearly along the line separating day from night; the part of the disk that has not yet been lit dimly dimmed in the light reflected by the Earth; and on it - Gibson sharply leaned forward, not believing his eyes - yes, on this cold surface fireflies flickered dots that were not there before. The lights of the first lunar cities informed people that after millions of years of waiting, life had come to the moon.
A polite cough interrupted his thoughts. Then someone invisible said quite simply:
“Will Mr. Gibson go to the wardroom?” The coffee had not cooled yet, and not everyone ate the wheat flakes.
This has not happened to him. He completely forgot about breakfast.
When he entered the wardroom with a guilty look, the team heatedly argued about the comparative merits of various types of spacecraft.
Dr. Scott said (Gibson later discovered that this has always been the case) - apparently a man is excitable, easily losing his temper. His main opponent was a rather dry, skeptical Bradley, who clearly liked to tease him. Sometimes Mackay entered the battle; the little mathematician spoke quickly, clearly, a little pedantically, and Gibson thought that his real place was not here, but in the professorship.
Captain Norden supported one side or the other, preventing any of the debaters from taking advantage. Young Spencer was already working, and Hilton sat quietly and looked at the others with obvious interest. His face was obsessively familiar to Gibson. Where could he see him? Oh Lord, how he forgot! After all, this is the same Hilton! Gibson looked up from food, turned in his chair and stared at the man who brought Arcturus to Mars after the greatest feat in the history of astronautics. Only six people visited Saturn, and only three of them are alive. Hilton once stood on distant moons, whose names sound like spells: Titan, Enceladus, Tethys, Rhea, Dion; he saw the brilliance of rings too symmetrical and perfect to be natural. In the literal sense of these words, he visited the end of the world and returned to the cozy warmth of the inner planets. “Yes,” Gibson thought, “I would like to talk to him ...”
The debaters came to their posts, and Gibson mentally revolved around Saturn, when captain Norden moved closer and interrupted his dreams:
“I don't know your plans, but I think you are interested in inspecting our spaceship.” In the end, this is exactly what you start with in your books.
Gibson smiled automatically. He was afraid that they would not soon cease to remember his past.
- Yes Yes. This is the easiest way to explain the spacecraft device to the reader and convey the local flavor. Fortunately, they no longer require a description of the spacecraft. But in the sixties, when I started writing about astronautics, I had to put aside the plot for a thousand words and describe how communication was established in space, how the atomic engine works, and so on.
“So,” Norden said with a disarming smile, “I have little to explain to you.”
Gibson almost blushed.
“I will be grateful if you show me everything,” he said.
“Okay,” Norden grinned. - Let's start with the wheelhouse. Well, flew.
The next two hours they flew through the maze of corridors that, like arteries, pierced the spherical body of Ares. The spaceship was divided by latitudes, like a globe. In the north were the working rooms and cabins of the astronauts. At the equator there is a large wardroom occupying the entire diameter of the ball, and - with a belt - an observation gallery. The southern hemisphere was occupied by fuel reserves and appliances. Now, when Ares turned off the engines, the northern hemisphere was facing the Sun, and the uninhabited south remained in the shade. At the South Pole was a securely sealed door with a sign: "Open only by order of the captain." Behind the door stretched a hundred-meter pipe connecting the main ball to the second, smaller one. At first, Gibson did not understand what the door was for, if no man ever entered; but he remembered that there were robots of the Atomic Energy Commission.
Oddly enough, it was not the technical miracles that were most surprising - Gibson expected to meet them - but the empty passenger cabins, the tightly fitting cells occupying the entire temperate zone of the northern hemisphere.
He did not like them. A house where no one has yet entered is sometimes sadder than abandoned ruins, where at least once there was life. Here, in the echoing corridors, illuminated by the bluish and cold sunlight penetrating through the walls, there was a hopeless feeling of emptiness.
Gibson returned to himself completely exhausted and mentally and physically. Norden - probably not without