The next few days, Gibson was busy with his affairs and did not take part in the not-rich events of Ares’s public life.
His conscience seized him, as always, when he had rested for more than a week, and now he worked hard.
He pulled out a typewriter, and she took pride of place in his cabin. Sheets were scattered everywhere — Gibson was not neat — and had to be fastened with straps. Especially a lot of fuss was with a carbon paper - it was pulled into the fan. But Gibson had already settled down in the cabin and famously coped with all the little things. He himself was amazed at how quickly weightlessness becomes life.
It turned out that it is very difficult to convey on paper impressions of space. You can’t write “the cosmos is very large” and calm down on this.
He did not lie in the literal sense of the word; however, those who read his amazing description of the Earth, rolling into the abyss behind the rocket, did not notice that the writer at that time was in a blissful non-existence, which was replaced by no means a blissful being.
He wrote two or three articles that could at least temporarily console his literary agent (she sent radiograms to one another more strictly), and went north to the radio room. Bradley accepted the pages without enthusiasm.
- Will you wear every day? He asked grimly.
- I hope so. But I'm afraid not. Depends on inspiration.
“Here, at the top of page two, there are many participles.”
- Perfectly. I love them very much.
- On the third page you wrote “centrifugal” instead of “centripetal”.
“They pay me for the word, so it's very noble of me to use such long ones, huh?”
- On the fourth page, two phrases in a row begin with "but."
“Will you pass it on or will I try it myself?”
- I would like to see! But seriously - I advise you to use a black tape. Blue is not contrast. So far, the transmitter will cope with this, but when we move on, the letters will be fuzzy.
While they were bickering, Bradley tucked page by page through the transmitter window. Gibson watched in fascination as they disappeared into the womb of the apparatus and after five seconds fell into the basket. It was not easy to imagine that your words were racing in space, every three seconds, moving away for a million kilometers.
He was still picking up his leaves when on the remotes, in the thick of the dials and toggle switches that covered the entire wall of the wheelhouse, the buzzer was buzzing. Bradley rushed to one of his receivers and quickly began to do something incomprehensible. A furious screech erupted from the loudspeaker.
“The courier caught up with us,” Bradley said. - Only he is far. By sight, it will be a hundred thousand kilometers.
- What can be done?
- Very few. I turned on the lighthouse. If the courier catches our signals, he will automatically catch up with us.
- And if you don’t catch?
“Then he will leave the solar system.” He has enough speed to slip away from the sun. We too.
- I am glad. And how much time do we need for this?
- For what?
- To leave the system.
- Two years, probably. Ask Mackay. I can not answer all the questions. I am not a character from your book.
“It's not too late,” Gibson said grimly and swam out of the wheelhouse.
The approach of the courier introduced the necessary variety into the life of Ares. The cheerful carelessness of the first days passed, and the journey was already becoming extremely monotonous. Dr. Scott offered to bet on the courier, but Captain Norden kept the bank. According to Mackay’s calculations, the rocket was supposed to fly about a hundred and twenty-five thousand kilometers with a possible error of plus or minus thirty thousand. Most called close figures, but some pessimists, not trusting Mackay, reached a quarter of a million. They didn’t bet on money, but on more useful things: on cigarettes, sweets and other luxury. They were allowed to take a little flight, and all this was valued much more than pieces of paper with signs. Mackay even brought a bottle of Scotch whiskey to the bank. He said that he didn’t drink, but a fellow countryman who could not fly to Scotland, was taking her to Mars. Nobody believed him - and in vain: something like that it was.
* * *
- Yes captain!
- Did you check the oxygen indicators?
“That's right, captain!” Everything is good.
- And how is the storage device that scientists slipped to us?
- Hums, sir. As before.
- Okay. Did you tidy up the kitchen? Hilton's milk escaped.
“Took it, sir.”
“So he did everything?”
“That seems to be all, but I wanted to—”
- Perfectly. I have an interesting business for you. Mr. Gibson wants to recall astronautics. Of course, each of us could tell him everything. But ... uh ... you finished later than the rest and have not forgotten yet, which is difficult for a beginner, and we take too much for granted. I'm sure you can do it.
Jimmy swam darkly out of the wheelhouse.
* * *
“Come in,” Gibson said, not taking his eyes off the typewriter.
The door opened and Jimmy Spencer swam into the room.
- Here, Mr. Gibson. I think in this book you will find everything. This is Richardson's Introduction to Astronautics. - He put a volume in front of Gibson.
He with interest began to leaf through thin pages; but interest immediately evaporated: the number of words per page quickly decreased. He set aside the book, reaching the page where it was written only: “Substitute the distance from equation 15.3 and p
“We had one passenger an hour ago,” said Dr. Scott, carrying a long metal box in his arms like a child, “and now several billion.”
“Do you think the trip didn't hurt them?” Gibson asked.
“It seems the thermostats worked well, everything should be in order.” I have already prepared the culture, now I will transplant them, let them rest until Mars.
Gibson went to the nearest observation post. The courier’s long body hung near the air chamber, and soft cables diverged from it, like the tentacles of a deep-sea monster. When the radio beam pulled the rocket a few kilometers, Hilton and Bradley took the cable, climbed out and lassoed it. Then the winches pulled the rocket close.
“What will happen to her now?” Gibson asked the captain.
- We will take out the devices, and leave the frame in space. Do not waste fuel to drag it to Mars. So we will have a small moon - until we start to disperse.
“Like a dog from Jules Verne.”
- Where is it? "From the gun to the moon"? Do not read. I tried, though I couldn’t. What could be more tedious than yesterday's science fiction? And Jules Verne - the day before yesterday.
Gibson found it necessary to stand up for his profession.
- Do you think science fiction has no literary value?
- That's it! Sometimes, at first, it benefits. But for the next generation, it will certainly become old-fashioned. Remember what happened to the space flight novels.
- Speak, speak, do not be afraid to offend me. If you were afraid, of course.
Norden spoke expertly, and this did not surprise Gibson. If any of his companions turned out to be a specialist in afforestation, Sanskrit or bimetallism, he would not be surprised either. And besides, he knew before that science fiction is very popular, albeit somewhat ironic, among professional astronauts.
“So,” said Norden, “let’s see how it was before.” Until the sixtieth, and maybe even until the seventieth year, they still wrote about the first flight to the moon. This cannot be read now. When they flew to the Moon, for several years one could still write about Mars and Venus. Now it’s impossible to read, except for laughter. Probably, distant planets will still feed on a generation or two, but the novels about interplanetary travels that our grandfathers read out ended at the end of the seventies.
“But books about space flights are still popular now?”
“Yes, but not fiction.” Pure facts are now valued - like the ones you are sending to Earth now, or pure fiction. These stories from the life of distant galaxies are almost the same as fairy tales.
Norden spoke very seriously, only his eyes gleamed artfully.
“I disagree with you,” Gibson said. - Firstly, the mass of people still reads Wells, although he is 100 years old. And secondly, let's move from the great to the funny - they read my first books too. For example, Martian Dust.
“Wells books are literature, not fiction.” By the way, which of his novels are read the most? The simplest ones, like Kips or Mr. Polly. A fantastic read is not at all because of the prophecies. They are read, despite hopelessly outdated prophecies. Except "Time Machine", of course. She is about such a distant future that she cannot go out of fashion ...
Yes, and it’s written best.
He was silent. Gibson waited for him to move on to the second point. Finally Norden asked:
“When did you write Martian Dust?”
Gibson quickly counted in his mind.
“In the seventy-third or seventy-fourth.”
- I did not know that so early. Here is the explanation. Space flights were about to begin, everyone knew that. You already had a name, and "Martian dust" fell into the vein.
“You explained why you read it then, but I'm not talking about that.” She is still being read. As far as I know, the Martian colony ordered many copies, although it describes Mars, which existed only in my imagination.
“Well, then you have a clever publisher.” In addition, you managed to stay in sight so far. And finally, it is really cool written, best of all with you. You see, as Mac would say, you managed to capture the spirit of the time, the spirit of the seventies.
Gibson grunted, paused, then laughed.
“May I laugh too?” Asked Norden. - What's the matter?
“I wonder what Wells would have thought if he had heard his books being discussed halfway from Earth to Mars.”
“Don't exaggerate,” said Norden. - We flew only a third.
* * *
Far after midnight, Gibson woke up suddenly. Something woke him - some kind of sound, like a distant explosion, far in the bowels of the ship. He raised himself in the darkness, pulled on elastic straps that fastened him to the bunk. Gleams of starlight came from the porthole - his cabin was on the night side of the spaceship. He listened with bated breath, trying to hear the quietest sound.
There were a lot of sounds at Ares at night, and Gibson knew all of them.
The ship lived, and silence would mean death. The snuffing of oxygen pumps controlling the artificial wind of a tiny planet was endlessly encouraging; and on this weak, but continuous background, hidden engines rumbled, doing some secret work
For Martin Gibson, the journey was pleasant and fairly calm.
As always, he managed to get comfortable (not only among things, but also among people). He wrote a lot, sometimes - very well, always - decently; but he knew that he could not work at full strength until he arrived on Mars.
The last weeks of the flight began, and the tension decreased. Everyone knew that nothing would happen until it entered orbit. The last major event for Gibson was the extinction of the Earth. Day by day, she came closer to the wide pearly crown of the Sun. One evening, Gibson looked at her through a telescope and thought that he would see her in the morning, but overnight the crown threw a prominence a million kilometers away, and the Earth disappeared. She could have appeared no earlier than a week later; and this week the world for Gibson has changed as much as he could not think ...
* * *
If someone asked Jimmy Spencer what he thinks of Gibson, he would respond differently at different times on the flight. At first he was afraid of his famous student, but it quickly passed. To Gibson’s honor, he couldn’t be called a snob, and he never once took advantage of his privileged position on Ares. Jimmy felt even simpler with him than with the rest - they were still, to one degree or another, his superiors.
What Gibson thinks of him, Jimmy could not understand. Sometimes he had an unpleasant feeling that he was just material for the writer and would sooner or later lose his value. Almost all of Gibson's acquaintances felt this, and almost all of them were right. In addition, Jimmy was puzzled by Gibson's technical knowledge. At first, it seemed to Jimmy that one thing was important to Gibson: no matter how he made mistakes in his transmissions to the Earth, he did not care about astronautics as such. But it soon became clear that this was not entirely true. Gibson was touchingly interested in the most abstract problems and demanded mathematical proofs that Jimmy could not always give him. Apparently, Gibson once received a good technical education and has not yet forgotten everything; but he did not explain where he studied and why he was so persistently trying to master scientific problems too complex for him. In addition, he was so clearly upset because of his failures that Jimmy felt very sorry for him - except in those cases, of course, when the student lost his temper and attacked the teacher. Then Jimmy took the books, and classes did not resume until Gibson apologized.
Sometimes, on the contrary, Gibson accepted failures with cheerful humility and changed the subject. He talked about the strange literary jungle in which he lived, about the world of unknown, and often predatory, animals. He spoke well and cleverly overthrew the authorities. He seemed to be doing this without malicious intent; however, his tales of modern celebrities unpleasantly hit quiet Jimmy. The hardest thing to understand was that the people Gibson so gutlessly gutted were often his closest friends.
And in one of these peaceful conversations, Gibson closed his book with a sigh and said:
“You never talked about yourself, Jimmy.” Where are you from?
- From Cambridge. That is, I was born there.
“I knew Cambridge well twenty years ago.” Why did you get into space?
“Well, I always loved science, and now everyone is fond of space.” If I were born fifty years earlier, I probably would have become a pilot.
“So you are only interested in the technical side of the matter, and not the upheaval in human thought, the discovery of new planets, and the like?”
- Of course, this is all interesting, but I really only love technology. If there was nothing on the planets, I would still want to get there.
“Well, you will become one of those who know all about a little.” Another man is lost.
“I'm glad you think it's a loss,” Jimmy said. “Why are you so interested in science?”
Gibson laughed, but answered a little annoyed:
- For me, science is a means, not an end.
Jimmy was not entirely sure of this, but something kept him from answering, and Gibson began to question again, so good-naturedly and with such interest, that Jimmy was flattered and spoke freely. He suddenly did not care that Gibson, apparently, was studying him indifferently, like a biologist watching an experimental animal.
Jimmy talked about childhood and adolescence, and Gibson understood why this cheerful guy sometimes thinks and is sad. The story was ordinary, as old as the world. Jimmy's mother died when he was very young, and his father gave it to his married sister. Aunt was kind, but Jimmy never lived at home, he remained a stranger to his cousins. There was no good from his father, he almost never visited England and died when Jimmy turned ten. Oddly enough, Jimmy remembered his mother much better, although she died much earlier.
“I don't think my parents loved each other very much,” said Jimmy. - Aunt Ellen said there was another guy, but everything burst.
Mom gripped her father with grief. I understand that it’s not good to say that, but it’s a long-standing affair.
“I see,” Gibson said quietly; it seems he really understood. - Tell me more about your mother.
“Her dad — my grandfather — was a professor there.”