Chapter 6

 Michael Crichton

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"He demanded that all the civilians be sent up topside." Good, Norman thought. He had been disappointed by what they had found so far. The prospect of spending another seventy-two hours in this humid, claustrophobic environment while they investigated an empty space vehicle did not appeal to him.
"I thought," Ted said, "we had direct authorization from the President."
"We do," Barnes said, "but there is the question of the storm."
"What storm?" Harry said.
"They're reporting fifteen-knot winds and southeast swells on the surface. It looks like a Pacific cyclone is headed our way and will reach us within twenty-four hours."
"There's going to be a storm here?" Beth said.
"Not here," Barnes said. "Down here we won't feel anything, but it'll be rough on the surface. All our surface support ships may have to pull out and steam for protected harbors in Tonga."
"So we'd be left alone down here?"
"For twenty-four to forty-eight hours, yes. That wouldn't be a problem - we're entirely self-sufficient - but Spaulding is nervous about pulling surface support when there are civilians below. I want to know your feelings. Do you want to stay down and continue exploring the ship, or leave?"
"Stay. Definitely," Ted said. Barnes said, "Beth?"
"I came here to investigate unknown life," Beth said, "but there isn't any life on that ship. It just isn't what I thought it would be - hoped it would be. I say we go."
Barnes said, "Norman?"
"Let's admit the truth," Norman said. "We're not really trained for a saturated environment and we're not really comfortable down here. At least I'm not. And we're not the best people to evaluate this spacecraft. At this point, the Navy'd be much better off with a team of NASA engineers. I say, go."
"Let's get the hell out," Harry said.
"Any particular reason?" Barnes said.
"Call it intuition."
Ted said, "I can't believe you would say that, Harry, just when we have this fabulous new idea about the ship -
"That's beside the point now," Barnes said crisply. "I'll make the arrangements with the surface to pull us out in another twelve hours."
Ted said, "God damn it!"
But Norman was looking at Barnes. Barnes wasn't upset. He wants to leave, he thought. He's looking for an excuse to leave, and we're providing his excuse.
"Meantime," Barnes said, "we can make one and perhaps even two more trips to the ship. We'll rest for the next two hours, and then go back. That's all for now."
"I have more I'd like to say - "
"That's all, Ted. The vote's been taken. Get some rest." As they headed toward their bunks, Barnes said, "Beth, I'd like a word with you, please."
"What about?"
"Beth, when we go back to the ship, I don't want you pushing every button you come across."
"All I did was turn on the lights, Hal."
"Yes, but you didn't know that when you - "
" - Sure I did. The button said 'ROOM LIGHTS.' It was pretty clear."
As they moved off, they heard Beth say, "I'm not one of your little Navy people you can order around, Hal - " and then Barnes said something else, and the voices faded.
"Damn it," Ted said. He kicked one of the iron walls; it rang hollowly. They passed into C Cylinder, on their way to the bunks. "I can't believe you people want to leave," Ted said. "This is such an exciting discovery. How can you walk away from it? Especially you, Harry. The mathematical possibilities alone! The theory of the black hole - "
" - I'll tell you why," Harry said. "I want to go because Barnes wants to go."
"Barnes doesn't want to go," Ted said. "Why, he put it to a vote - "
" - I know what he did. But Barnes doesn't want to look as if he's made the wrong decision in the eyes of his superiors, or as if he's backing down. So he let us decide. But I'm telling you, Barnes wants to go."
Norman was surprised: the cliche image of mathematicians was that they had their heads in the clouds, were absent-minded, inattentive. But Harry was astute; he didn't miss a thing.
"Why would Barnes want to go?" Ted said.
"I think it's clear," Harry said. "Because of the storm on the surface."
"The storm isn't here yet," Ted said.
"No," Harry said. "And when it comes, we don't know how long it will last."
"Barnes said twenty-four to forty-eight hours - "
"Neither Barnes nor anyone else can predict how long the storm will last," Harry said. "What if it lasts five days?"
"We can hold out that long. We have air and supplies for five days. What're you so worried about?"
"I'm not worried," Harry said. "But I think Barnes is worried."
"Nothing will go wrong, for Christ's sake," Ted said. "I think we should stay." And then there was a squishing sound. They looked down at the all-weather carpeting at their feet. The carpet was dark, soaked.
"What's that?"
"I'd say it was water," Harry said.
"Salt water?" Ted said, bending over, touching the damp spot. He licked his finger. "Doesn't taste salty."
From above them, a voice said, "That's because it's urine." Looking up, they saw Teeny Fletcher standing on a platform among a network of pipes near the curved top of the cylinder. "Everything's under control, gentlemen. Just a small leak in the liquid waste disposal pipe that goes to the H2O recycler."
"Liquid waste?" Ted was shaking his head.
"Just a small leak," Fletcher said. "No problem, sir." She sprayed one of the pipes with white foam from a spray canister. The foam sputtered and hardened on the pipe. "We just urethane the suckers when we get them. Makes a perfect seal.
"How often do you get these leaks?" Harry said.
"Liquid waste?" Ted said again.
"Hard to say, Dr. Adams. But don't worry. Really."
"I feel sick," Ted said.
Harry slapped him on the back. "Come on, it won't kill you. Let's get some sleep."
"I think I'm going to throw up."
They went into the sleeping chamber. Ted immediately ran off to the showers; they heard him coughing and gagging.
"Poor Ted," Harry said, shaking his head.
Norman said, "What's all this business about a black hole, anyway?"
"A black hole," Harry said, "is a dead, compressed star. Basically, a star is like a big beach ball inflated by the atomic explosions occurring inside it. When a star gets old, and runs out of nuclear fuel, the ball collapses to a much smaller size. If it collapses enough, it becomes so dense and it has so much gravity that it keeps on collapsing, squeezing down on itself until it is very dense and very small - only a few miles in diameter. Then it's a black hole. Nothing else in the universe is as dense as a black hole."
"So they're black because they're dead?"
"No. They're black because they trap all the light. Black holes have so much gravity, they pull everything into them, like vacuum cleaners - all the surrounding interstellar gas and dust, and even light itself. They just suck it right up."
"They suck up light?" Norman said. He found it hard to think of that.
"So what were you two so excited about, with your calculations?"
"Oh, it's a long story, and it's just speculation." Harry yawned. "It probably won't amount to anything, anyway. Talk about it later?"
"Sure," Norman said.
Harry rolled over, went to sleep. Ted was still in the showers, hacking and sputtering. Norman went back to D Cyl, to Tina's console.
"Did Harry find you all right?" he said. "I know he wanted to see you."
"Yes, sir. And I have the information he requested now. Why? Did you want to make out your will, too?"
Norman frowned.
"Dr. Adams said he didn't have a will and he wanted to make one. He seemed to feel it was quite urgent. Anyway, I checked with the surface and you can't do it. It's some legal problem about it being in your own handwriting; you can't transmit your will over electronic lines."
"I see."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Johnson. Should I tell the others as well?"
"No," Norman said. "Don't bother the others. We'll be going to the surface soon. Right after we have one last look at the ship."
This time they split up inside the spaceship. Barnes, Ted, and Edmunds continued forward in the vast cargo bays, to search the parts of the ship that were still unexplored. Norman, Beth, and Harry stayed in what they now called the flight deck, looking for the flight recorder.
Ted's parting words were "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done." Then he set off with Barnes. Edmunds left them a small video monitor so they could see the progress of the other team in the forward section of the ship. And they could hear: Ted chattered continuously to Barnes, giving his views about structural features of the ship. The design of the big cargo bays reminded Ted of the stonework of the ancient Mycenaeans in Greece, particularly the Lion Gate ramp at Mycenae. ...
"Ted has more irrelevant facts at his fingertips than any man I know," Harry said. "Can we turn the volume down?" Yawning, Norman turned the monitor down. He was tired. The bunks in DH-8 were damp, the electric blankets heavy and clinging. Sleep had been almost impossible. And then Beth had come storming in after her talk with Barnes.
She was still angry now. "God damn Barnes," she said. "Where does he get off?"
"He's doing the best he can, like everyone else," Norman said.
She spun. "You know, Norman, sometimes you're too psychological and understanding. The man is an idiot. A complete idiot."
"Let's just find the flight recorder, shall we?" Harry said. "That's the important thing now." Harry was following the umbilicus cable that ran out the back of the mannequin, into the floor. He was lifting up floor panels, tracing the wires aft.
"I'm sorry," Beth said, "but he wouldn't speak like that to a man. Certainly not to Ted. Ted's hogging the whole show, and I don't see why he should be allowed to."
"What does Ted have to do with - " Norman began.
" - The man is a parasite, that's what he is. He takes the ideas of others and promotes them as his own. Even the way he quotes famous sayings - it's outrageous."
"You feel he takes other people's ideas?" Norman said.
"Listen, back on the surface, I mentioned to Ted that we ought to have some words ready when we opened this thing. And the next thing I know, Ted's making up quotes and positioning himself in front of the camera."
"Well ..."
"Well what, Norman? Don't well me, for Christ's sake. It was my idea and he took it without so much as a thank you."
"Did you say anything to him about it?" Norman said.
"No, I did not say anything to him about it. I'm sure he wouldn't remember if I did; he'd go, 'Did you say that, Beth? I suppose you might have mentioned something like that, yes. ...' "
"I still think you should talk to him."
"Norman, you're not listening to me."
"If you talked to him, at least you wouldn't be so angry about it now."
"Shrink talk," she said, shaking her head. "Look, Ted does whatever he wants on this expedition, he makes his stupid speeches, whatever he wants. But I go through the door first and Barnes gives me hell. Why shouldn't I go first? What's wrong with a woman being the first, for once in the history of science?"
"Beth - "
" - And then I had the gall to turn on the lights. You know what Barnes said about that? He said I might have started a short-circuit and put us all in jeopardy. He said I didn't know what I was doing. He said I was impulsive. Jesus. Impulsive. Stone-age military cretin."
"Turn the volume back up," Harry said. "I'd rather hear Ted."
"Come on, guys."
"We're all under a lot of pressure, Beth," Norman said. "It's going to affect everybody in different ways."
She glared at Norman. "You're saying Barnes was right?"
"I'm saying we're all under pressure. Including him. Including you."
"Jesus, you men always stick together. You know why I'm still an assistant professor and not tenured?"
"Your pleasant, easygoing personality?" Harry said.
"I can do without this. I really can."
"Beth," Harry said, "you see the way these cables are going? They're running toward that bulkhead there. See if they go up the wall on the other side of the door."
"You trying to get rid of me?"
"If possible."
She laughed, breaking the tension. "All right, I'll look on the other side of the door."
When she was gone, Harry said, "She's pretty worked up."
Norman said, "You know the Ben Stone story?"
"Which one?"
"Beth did her graduate work in Stone's lab."
Benjamin Stone was a biochemist at BU. A colorful, engaging man, Stone had a reputation as a good researcher who used his graduate students like lab assistants, taking their results as his own. In this exploitation of others' work, Stone was not unique in the academic community, but he proceeded a little more ruthlessly than his colleagues.
"Beth was living with him as well."
"Back in the early seventies. Apparently, she did a series of important experiments on the energetics of ciliary inclusion bodies. They had a big argument, and Stone broke off his relationship with her. She left the lab, and he published five papers - all her work - without her name on them."
"Very nice," Harry said. "So now she lifts weights?"
"Well, she feels mistreated, and I can see her point."
"Yeah," Harry said. "But the thing is, lie down with dogs, get up with fleas, you know what I mean?"
"Jesus," Beth said, returning. "This is like 'The girl who's raped is always asking for it,' is that what you're saying?"
"No," Harry said, still lifting up floor panels, following the wires. "But sometimes you gotta ask what the girl is doing in a dark alley at three in the morning in a bad part of town."
"I was in love with him."
"It's still a bad part of town."
"I was twenty-two years old."
"How old do you have to be?"
"Up yours, Harry."
Harry shook his head. "You find the wires, Butch?"
"Yes, I found the wires. They go into some kind of a glass grid."
"Let's have a look," Norman said, going next door. He'd seen flight recorders before; they were long rectangular metal boxes, reminiscent of safe-deposit boxes, painted red or bright orange. If this was -
He stopped.
He was looking at a transparent glass cube one foot on each side. Inside the cube was an intricate grid arrangement of fine glowing blue lines. Between the glowing lines, blue lights flickered intermittently. There were two pressure gauges mounted on top of the cube, and three pistons; and there were a series of silver stripes and rectangles on the outer surface on the left side. It didn't look like anything he had seen before.
"Interesting." Harry peered into the cube. "Some kind of optronic memory, is my guess. We don't have anything like it." He touched the silver stripes on the outside. "Not paint, it's some plastic material. Probably machine-readable."
"By what? Certainly not us."
"No. Probably a robot recovery device of some kind."
"And the pressure gauges?"
"The cube is filled with some kind of gas, under pressure.
Maybe it contains biological components, to attain that compactness. In any case, I'll bet this large glass is a memory device."
"A flight recorder?"
"Their equivalent, yes."
"How do we access it?"
"Watch this," Beth said, going back to the flight deck. She began pushing sections of the console, activating it. "Don't tell Barnes," she said over her shoulder.
"How do you know where to press?"
"I don't think it matters," she said. "I think the console can sense where you are."
"The control panel keeps track of the pilot?"
"Something like that."
In front of them, a section of the console glowed, making a screen, yellow on black.
Then nothing.
Harry said, "Now we'll get the bad news."
"What bad news?" Norman said. And he wondered: Why had Harry stayed behind to look for the flight recorder, instead of going with Ted and Barnes to explore the rest of the ship? Why was he so interested in the past history of this vessel?
"Maybe it won't be bad," Harry said.
"Why do you think it might be?"
"Because," Harry said, "if you consider it logically, something vitally important is missing from this ship - "
At that moment, the screen filled with columns:
SHIP SYSTEMS                           PROPULSION SYSTEMS
LIFE SYSTEMS                           WASTE MANAG (V9)
DATA SYSTEMS                         STATUS OM2 (OUTER)
FLIGHT RECORDS                   STATUS OM4 (FORE)
DECK CONTROL                       STATUS V (SUMMA)
LSS TEST 1.0                                 LINE A9-11
LSS TEST 2.0                                LINE A 12-BX
LSS TEST 3.0                                STABILIX
"What's your pleasure?" Beth said, hands on the console. "Flight records," Harry said. He bit his lip.
FDS 01/01/43-12/31/45
FDS 01/01/46-12/31/48
FDS 01/01/49-12/31/51
FDS 01/01/52-12/31/53
FDS 01/01/54-12/31/54
FDS 01/01/55-06/31/55
FDS 07/01/55-12/31/55
FDS 01/01/56-01/31/56
8&6 !!OZ/010/Odd-000/XXX/X
F$S XXX/X% ^/[email protected]/X!X/X
"What do you make of that?" Norman said.
Harry was peering at the screen. "As you see, the earliest records are in three-year intervals. Then they're shorter, one year, then six months, and finally one month. Then this entry event business."
"So they were recording more and more carefully," Beth said. "As the ship approached the entry event, whatever it was."
"I have a pretty good idea what it was," Harry said. "I just can't believe that - let's start. How about entry event summary?"
Beth pushed buttons.
On the screen, a field of stars, and around the edges of the field, a lot of numbers. It was three-dimensional, giving the illusion of depth.
"Not exactly. But similar."
"Several large-magnitude stars there ..."
"Or planets."
"What planets?"
"I don't know. This is one for Ted," Harry said. "He may be able to identify the image. Let's go on."
He touched the console; the screen changed.
"More stars."
"Yeah, and more numbers."
The numbers around the edges of the screen were flickering, changing rapidly. "The stars don't seem to be moving, but the numbers are changing."
"No, look. The stars are moving, too."
They could see that all the stars were moving away from the center of the screen, which was now black and empty. "No stars in the center, and everything moving away ..." Harry said thoughtfully.
The stars on the outside were moving very quickly, streaking outward. The black center was expanding.
"Why is it empty like that in the center, Harry?" Beth said.
"I don't think it is empty."
"I can't see anything."
"No, but it's not empty. In just a minute we should see - There!"
A dense white cluster of stars suddenly appeared in the center of the screen. The cluster expanded as they watched. It was a strange effect, Norman thought. There was still a distinct black ring that expanded outward, with stars on the outside and on the inside. It felt as if they were flying through a giant black donut.
"My God," Harry said softly. "Do you know what you are looking at?"
"No," Beth said. "What's that cluster of stars in the center?"
"It's another universe."
"It's what?"
"Well, okay. It's probably another universe. Or it might be a different region of our own universe. Nobody really knows for sure."
"What's the black donut?" Norman said.
"It's not a donut. It's a black hole. What you are seeing is the recording made as this spacecraft went through a black hole and entered into another - Is someone calling?" Harry turned, cocked his head. They fell silent, but heard nothing. "What do you mean, another universe - "
" - Sssssh."
A short silence. And then a faint voice crying "Hellooo ..."
"Who's that?" Norman said, straining to listen. The voice was so soft. But it sounded human. And maybe more than one voice. It was coming from somewhere inside the spacecraft.
"Yoo-hoo! Anybody there? Hellooo."
"Oh, for God's sake," Beth said. "It's them, on the monitor."
She turned up the volume on the little monitor Edmunds had left behind. On the screen they saw Ted and Barnes, standing in a room somewhere and shouting. "Hellooo ... Hel-lo-oooo."
"Can we talk back?"
"Yes. Press that button on the side." Norman said, "We hear you."
"High damn time!" Ted.
"All right, now," Barnes said. "Listen up."
"What are you people doing back there?" Ted said.
"Listen up," Barnes said. He stepped to one side, revealing a piece of multicolored equipment. "We now know what this ship is for."
"So do we," Harry said.
"We do?" Beth and Norman said together.
But Barnes wasn't listening. "And the ship seems to have picked up something on its travels."
"Picked up something? What is it?"
"I don't know," Barnes said. "But it's something alien."
The moving walkway carried them past endless large cargo bays. They were going forward, to join Barnes and Ted and Edmunds. And to see their alien discovery.
"Why would anyone send a spaceship through a black hole?" Beth asked.
"Because of gravity," Harry said. "You see, black holes have so much gravity they distort space and time incredibly. You remember how Ted was saying that planets and stars make dents in the fabric of space-time? Well, black holes make tears in the fabric. And some people think it's possible to fly through those tears, into another universe, or another part of our universe. Or to another time."
"Another time!"
"That's the idea," Harry said.
"Are you people coming?" Barnes's tinny voice, on the monitor.
"In transit now," Beth said, glowering at the screen. "He can't see you," Norman said.
"I don't care."
They rode past more cargo areas. Harry said, "I can't wait to see Ted's face when we tell him."
Finally they reached the end of the walkway. They passed through a midsection of struts and girders, and entered a large forward room which they had previously seen on the monitor. With ceilings nearly a hundred feet high, it was enormous.
You could put a six-story building in this room, Norman thought. Looking up, he saw a hazy mist or fog.
"What's that?"
"That's a cloud," Barnes said, shaking his head. "The room is so big it apparently has its own weather. Maybe it even rains in here sometimes."
The room was filled with machinery on an immense scale. At first glance, it looked like oversized earth-moving machinery, except it was brightly painted in primary colors, glistening with oil. Then Norman began to notice individual features. There were giant claw hands, enormously powerful arms, moving gear wheels. And an array of buckets and receptacles.
He realized suddenly he was looking at something very similar to the grippers and claws mounted on the front end of the Charon V submersible he had ridden down on the day before. Was it the day before? Or was it still the same day? Which day? Was this July 4? How long had they been down here?
"If you look carefully," Barnes was saying, "you can see that some of these devices appear to be large-scale weapons. Others, like that long extensor arm, the various attachments to pick things up, in effect make this ship a gigantic robot."
"A robot ..."
"No kidding," Beth said.