1/19 Kiss me too!
They were alone, in a small room with a window that covered almost the entire northern wall.
“Please take a seat, Senator.”
“Thank you. Do you suspect, General, why I wanted to talk to you in pri
“Do you want to know, where, how and when do we spend the citizens’ mon
“Well! I will be frank. I know the subject of the latest very, very interesting
research from the XY Laboratory. I want to understand, as Senator and scientist, how was it possible to infect a person, despite all the precautions.”
The General, completely surprised, remained still. The Senator waited patiently, knowing that the man in front of him had only one chance: to tell the truth, only the truth, and nothing else but the truth.
“Congratulations, Senator, you are well informed, although I do not under
“Nobody told me anything, if that’s what you want to ask. You know that I
was one of the people who approved the nice sums needed for the construction and operation of the laboratory. Then, as a hobby, I periodically supervised the small expenses that followed. You didn’t hide them, because it would have been suspicious to keep them secret. I paid attention when the Center sent… I don’t know where… a lady, with a certain qualification, who used some vehicles … She came back after a short while, then did a certain analysis…”
After a second he continued, almost smiling.
“I know the lady is adventurous. She spends her holidays alone in the polar
regions, in the jungle, in the desert…! Once she went on the moon, for about three days. Where did you find her this time?”
“Now she was visiting an underwater cave!”
“Ha! You probably didn’t find it easy to interrupt her vacation. Well, I just
put things together, and I found out it’s an emergency. What happens? I know where, how and when you spend the money. I want to know why. I think a serious problem has arisen.”
The soldier remained thinking for a while.
“As you said, Senator, you know the specifics of the XY Laboratory. When
you work with molecules that can multiply, you don’t play. The metal pretzel is buried about twenty meters into the ground, in a deserted, lifeless area. As far as the eye can see, only rocks heated by the sun during the day and frozen by night. Everything that comes out – solid, liquid, gas – after being sterilized, ends up in an artificial underground river.”
“How are the microbes destroyed?”
“Now it wasn’t about microbes. Everything passes through a stream of ultravi
olet rays. In addition, the exhaust pipes are heated, close to the exit, to about two hundred and fifty degrees.”
“What about people?”
“No people enter there. Everything is remote controlled. People are hundreds
of miles away. They sit on electronic chairs and direct all the processes in front of the screens.”
The Senator felt compelled to remark:
“If something comes out of there, something must come in…”
“It’s true. The supply is made with drones, but the independent energy source
is never refueled.”
“However, Mrs.… entered. Why, General?”
The man cleared his throat and continued.
“The big problem with this type of installation is troubleshooting. Although
each piece works in triplicate, from time to time, ever so rarely, problems occur. And repairs cannot be done remotely or be performed by robots. People have to be sent there.”
“Aha! And what happened? Did all three copies of a piece fail?!”
“A metal arm with a microsyringe went bonkers. The operator would com
mand “left”, the arm would move upwards, he would command “rotation”, nothing would happen, he would command “stop”, the syringe would move aimlessly for another three or four seconds… After a few hours of confusion, the experts decided that it was not a problem of computer programming. Everything was stopped until Mrs. Zarkanian was found and sent there. Alone! She is our best repair expert.”
“I won’t ask you how she got in there and how she got out. I think not
through a pipe heated up to hundreds of degrees! Didn’t she work there under protection?”
“She went in and out through the lock. She was dressed in a special suit, with
an autonomous system of energy, breathing and communication. Almost like an astronaut.”
“Hm! I’m sure this ‘almost’ explains a lot…”
“Indeed, the hands, from the wrist to the fingertips, were not protected! You
just can’t do repairs there, sometimes microscopic ones, while wearing gloves. That’s it! Troubleshooters of this kind assume a very high calculated risk!”
“And what happened?”
“This is exactly what is confusing. Nothing happened! She worked there for
about ten minutes. She identified the defect, then replaced a piece as big as a nail… and went out immediately.”
“Yeah. And what would be the answer to my question, General?”
“The lady could not have been contaminated unless she somehow touched a microscopic drop on the device or in the air… But her skin was, for sure, intact, it was not scratched, it had no wounds.”
“Did she follow procedure upon the exit?”
“Of course. The special suit was destroyed. The shoes and clothings he came
with were destroyed. She took a disinfectant shower. And yet… the analysis made upon return…”
After a short pause, the General continues, with a strange mixture of wonder
“We thought we were working with a new type of virus, but viruses don’t get
through the skin of our fingers. It looks like something else! Under the microscope it looks splendid…”
The Senator interrupted the General’s unexpected restrained moment of en
“This lady, who was infected, I forgot her name…”
“I know that she’s married and has children.”
“Yes, she has two older children, they are in high school.”
“I wonder what the family’s reaction will be when they find out in two or
three months that their beloved wife and mother has become much, much more… Does anyone else know?”
“Only her, the man who did the analysis, and the two of us. The consequenc
es are difficult to predict… You will have to notify the President, Senator.”
“Of course. Did the two not communicate anything to their superior?”
“I’m their boss.”
The Senator hesitated and said in a deliberately neutral voice:
“In other words, couldn’t you, General….hm… hm…. infect me?”
The general did not smile at all.
“It wouldn’t be a problem, Senator, but luck should be on your side…”
“Is there a danger? What do you mean?”
“You see, computer simulations suggest that over ninety-eight percent of the
world’s population will be immune to this new virus. Moreover, Mrs. Z. should kiss at least a hundred people on the mouth over the next three months! Only in this way could the Intelligence Epidemic be triggered! Besides, the lady is not the kind of woman who kisses the family puppy or kitten on the nose …”
In the back, the bushes and trees of the jungle. In front, very close, beyond
the meadow covered with low growing plants, a slow, green – brown stream.
“Stand still, said the guide, raising his arm.”
The five tourists stopped, their boots tucked into the grass mixed with mud.
The leader’s tone forced them not to speak.
On the shore, a little to the right, a meter outside of the murky water, an ana
conda was warming itself in the morning sun.
“Follow slowly after me. Let’s get a few meters closer.”
“Isn’t it dangerous?” someone asked in a low voice.
“It is, but we move much faster than he does. You can film.”
After a few moments he adds:
“No need to whisper. Sucuriju is basically deaf. He’s huge, I think he’s about
six meters long.”
“It’s submerged in water, how do you know?”
“By diameter, miss.”
“I think you’re right, said a blond man with a mustache. I’m an expert in
snakes and I came here hoping to see something like that! She’s a female green anaconda.”
The group moved slowly. Ten meters from the reptile, the guide raised his
“Something is wrong. Stay here.”
He approaches the anaconda with confident steps. A meter away he leaned
over the snake.
“What is it doing?” the blond asked. “Does she want to take it in his arms?”
The guide got up, turned to them, and shouted.
“It’s dead! Come here!”
They approached quite fearfully and stopped a few steps away.
“How did you find out?”
“Snakes – the man explains – always stick their tongues out of their mouths to
taste the air. It doesn’t, and at this hour it’s unlikely it’s sleeping.”
“Why did he die? asked the youngest, looking like a teenager.
“Well I do not know! I’ve never seen a dead sucuriju! In fact, I’ve only seen
four in my life, up close.”
He adds very seriously:
“Maybe Mr. snakes expert can tells us! Old age? Illness? It’s clear he died re
cently. In this heat and with the animals here, within two days, at most, only the skeleton would have remained!”
The mustachioed man was taking pictures and approved thoughtfully.
“It’s only been dead for a few hours! Look, it doesn’t have a bite on its body.
And yet, strange, very strange, here, near the head, around the body, do you see?”
They approached. No one noticed anything special, but the guide said:
“True! There are some very small bites though, sir, but they look like some…
“Maybe a prey that defended itself. But which?!”
“A caiman or a jaguar is aggressive and has strong fangs, but would still pre
fer to run. Not to mention deer and tapirs. And sucuriju – adds the guide – mostly hunts birds or carpincho, because it’s much easier.”
“What is carpincho?”
“He’s the biggest rodent in the world. A kind of semi-aquatic and herbivorous
rat. Peaceful, shy and a bit stupid, it lives in big families, with very cute babies. Some call it capybara.”
“No – observes the snake expert – no large animal bites as if it were stinging!
And then, how could it bite, all around a cylinder twenty centimeters in diameter? You should have a weird, big mouth! They look more like wounds made with small sharp objects!”
“Small, small, but they killed the snake!”
“People?” asked a man who until then didn’t say anything.
“Hard to believe. People have not had any reason to live here for over a centu
ry! There are some weirdos who test, for a month or two, the wild way of life, from centuries ago, but to kill a stunning anaconda?!”
“That is – the expert thought aloud – no people, because it doesn’t make sense,
natural enemies not, because it doesn’t have… really I don’t understand… Someone here kills huge snakes to have fun?”
The teenager and the young lady looked at each other, and he asked:
“Wouldn’t it be prudent to go back to the carrier? It’s pretty close.”
But the others protested.
“It’s too early. We still have a lot to see.”
The guide warned:
“Here we are not walimg through a park in Manaus. I’m responsible for you.
We follow some rules, we have a schedule. No one goes away from the group.”
Capy and Chiupy had been engaged for more than ten days. That was enough! Even though the parents thought they were in a hurry with the ceremony, the two were determined.
To Capy, Chiupy was beautiful and smart. She had a shiny, spotless fur and adorable paws. She was the first to find the best sweet grass hidden among the trees, far from the shore. It was a delight to hear her squeak and whisper as she sang for him!
For Chiupy, Capy was smart, experienced and brave. Didn’t he have two more wives and seven children? Hadn’t he, together with his three sons, killed the big green snake in the morning? He had received the small stone needles from a grandfather, but the long ones, made of shells, he had made them himself!
They approached, from two opposite sides, the group of huts and burrows that was the village at the end of the glade. The sound of drums and strings could already be heard. Capy’s parents stopped the group for a moment. They were supposed to arrive at the same time as Chiupy’s family, not a moment earlier.
They stopped at the edge of the meadow. In the middle, the First Head sat between Capy and Chiupy. At his age, it was a bit difficult to stay upright on the hind legs for a long time. He leaned from time to time, with his front paws on the back of the two of them.
At his mustache signal, the two small groups of relatives approached and stopped, full of respect mixed with joy.
The sound of the drums grew louder, and the strings gave way to rhythmically struck stones. Parents and siblings were chanting traditional wishes.
“Wish you health!”
“Love each other!”
“Have many and smart capybara kids!”
The guests were offering gifts and were discreetly commenting on the gifts
“Sweet-salty grass from across the hill!”
“A shed water snake skin!”
“A basket of red fruits from the Garden of the Two-Legged Giants!”
“Uuuuu! They had some courage! A fruit is something, but a whole bas
“Two Capybara-Stupid-Wild slaves!”
“Ooooo! They probably trapped them, I don’t think they dared to go beyond
the Giants’ thorny fence!”
Rumors has it that Two-Legged Giants would hunt or grow Capybara-Stupid-Wild in pens as food!
At a sign of the First Head herbs were brought for all tastes and large pots of nuts, with fermented juice of sweet grass.
Capy and Chiupy hurried to finish the ritual before the guests began to drunk giggle. They stood on their hind legs and looked at each other.
“Kiss me too, Capy!”
“Kiss me too, Chiupy!”
They kissed briefly, three times. The First Head sat down on the soft grass
and spun twice around his tail.
When they were alone, Chiupy gently pushed her beloved husband with her
“I want us to be the smartest in the tribe! I hope you only use these kisses for
our family! Do you promise?”
3/19 The Life at the Farm
It wasn’t very hot. A light breeze moved the palm-tall plants – a green carpet,
slightly uneven, with an irregular edge, close to the horizon.
“Where are you? Where have you gone? Where did you hide?”
Nothing, from any direction!
Irene went downstairs to the swork room. She had left the detector on and
was now staring at the screen in bewilderment.
“Danny, please come here. I don’t understand anything!”
He was in no hurry. What could be so urgent?
“What happened, darling? It’s raining with frogs again?”
“Cut the jokes! Look. Where’s the robot? It disappeared!”
“What kind of robot?”
“I sent one to dig a well. Where is it? A little purple dot had to be shining
‘A small dot’. Danny wondered what a ‘big dot’ would look like on the
“What are these green dots that flash from now and then?”
“There are pumps running, which draw water from the other wells.”
Danny kept thinking for a moment and thought he had found an explanation.
“Maybe it doesn’t transmit anymore, who knows why. Did you go up to the
terrace to look for it with binoculars?”
“Yes. Nothing within a radius of ten kilometers! If I saw it, I wouldn’t call
Danny looked attentively, slowly reaching for the green – yellowish cloud at
the end of the glass surface and said:
“Mmmm, here’s the robot! Did you want a well of water in the birch field?!”
“I scheduled it for the edge of the plot thirty-four! What would the machine
do among the trees?! Wait, actually, how do you know it’s there?”
“Well, logically, it’s the only place where you can hide a box of two by three
by five meters, with wheels as tall as me and with a satellite dish on it from a man with binoculars! But I don’t understand why it’s standing still and silent! Contact the service.”
When he returned to the room, with the German omelette sprinkled with
some pickles, Irene was still talking to the mustache man on the screen. Few moments after, she turned to Danny.
“They said it was probably not our automatic machine the one which was the
problem. A solar storm disrupted the orientation satellite for our area and some vehicles went crazy. However, they will come here by tomorrow to do I don’t know what tests. That’s all we needed! Last Wednesday the dead calf, now a machine that went bonkers…”
Danny looked at her in surprise and pushed the plate.
“What a dead calf, my dear?! Sit next to me. Why didn’t you tell me? Don’t I
still live on this farm?”
“I didn’t wish to upset you. You were also very busy with the lessons… Dis
tance learning with students is harder than programming a machine that feeds cows. I guess!”
Danny wasn’t so sure.
“Tell me, what happened?”
“Well, two weeks ago a cow gave birth to a calf, and three days later, the lit
tle one was dead! We never lost… The others are healthy. The people from Geugeny – I announced them immediately – asked me to send all kinds of samples by drone, from all the animals.”
“Three bulls and ninety-eight cows! exclaimed Danny. You had some work
“Well, in short, a bull and ten cows have Waikato disease!”
“What’s that? Is it serious?”
“It’s a very rare disease. The animals do not have and will not have any symp
toms. The disease is not dangerous for them or for the people who eat their meat or milk, but…”
Irene paused and continued.
“… But if that bull has babies with those cows… one of their ten calves will
die quickly, because of the unfortunate combination of genes. I told them to find a good lawyer, because I bought cloned cows from them. Good thing they didn’t all come from the same clone…”
“How did they react?”
“They said they were not to blame, because they did not provide the bull as
well, and the analysis for this disease is not provided by law! They will, however, pay us damages for the calf.”
“Okay, okay, but there’s nothing they can do? It’s one bull out of three and
ten cows out of ninety-eight though…”
“They can do a lot, essentially manipulating sexual cells before or after fertili
zation. If I understood correctly, the cow’s cell is essential. I analyzed their offers, because I know how! All quite expensive. I don’t know who would agree to apply their methods, because there is a much simpler solution that costs nothing!”
“I simply electronically marked ‘bull’ and ‘cow’, the sick animals circuits,
you know, those yellow chips stuck to the left ear. If the distance is too short, an electrical impulse will quickly teach the sick bull that ten of the cows are very grumpy and will avoid… kissing them! It’s the cheapest solution.”
“Realistically, our damage is and will be small. Did you hear what happened
to Mr. Tang last fall?”
“Oh yes! He lost about a fifth of the corn. I don’t know what bug attacked the
root of the plant, six weeks before harvest. He had to buy forage. He vowed never to use natural, non-genetically modified seeds again! Weren’t we smarter?”
She raised her left hand and brought her thumb closer to her forefinger. Then
she looked at Danny, the way only she knew, and said softly:
“My dear, tell me you started to enjoy life on the farm a little!”
His face said it all, though he had never eaten sour natural grapes.
“Irene, you know very well why I live on the farm…”
“Yes, Danny, stay here for me…”
“That’s right, Irene, for you and because I can work from here.”
“That’show things are! You can work from anywhere, but I… Should I re
heat your omelette?”
Irene knew that Danny shouldn’t be bothered when he was eating very slow
ly, giving the impression that he was even grinding soup with his teeth. He is thinking of something important! How will the discussion end?
Danny said in a neutral tone:
“Irene, at some point we need to talk about the future again. More detailed
than last time.”
The woman was very sober and said calmly:
“I’m ready. On the terrace, I didn’t just look through the binoculars to see the
field, looking for the robot. I tried to see our future through the lenses.”
Danny, for a moment in astonishment, commented, smiling broadly:
“Look, that’s why I like you. Tall, slender, blonde as natural honey, with
glasses and the smartest farmer in the world!”
In a much more serious tone, he continues:
“My life, Irene, is, thanks to you, more beautiful and easier. I want to stay to
gether, but… cellular farming…”
“I know what you’re thinking. Just hear that! ‘Cellular agriculture’, as if the
cheese, meat and eggs produced by cell multiplication were agricultural products!”
“You’re right, all of this should be called ‘cellular food’.”
Irene, just as serious, spoke softly, without pause and without raising her
voice. She seemed at peace with a not-so-cheerful outlook.
“I’ve been a farmer for ten generations, Danny. It’s over. The damn genetical
ly modified cellular food is the beginning of the end for all farmers in the world, I’m aware of that. After ten thousand years of agriculture and zootechnics, I don’t know if, twenty years from now, someone will grow plants and animals for food, alas! Where are the good times when a hamburger or schnitzel with french fries, grown in their enzyme jars, costed as much as your three-month salary?”
“Even now they are not as cheap as turkey jelly, peppers or endives…”
“When gasoline cars appeared, horses for transport, teamsters and coachmen
disappeared. That’s how we, the farmers, will disappear.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, darling, the teamsters and coachmen have not
disappeared, they have become truck and taxi drivers…”
“Not them, Danny, but their children and grandchildren. What should I do?
To retrain myself for… I don’t even know what it’s called… Only the idea of producing the food that led to our extinction makes me sick! And if I had to eat something like that…”
“The tanks of progress have made many collateral victims wherever they
have passed by, it’s true. The bottom line is that environmentalists welcome this change. They believe that the huge areas used today for agriculture and zootechnics will once again become wild and destined for tourism. According to environmentalists, cellular food is preparing to return to nature!”
“They are not serious! What could be further from nature than to produce
food in this way! If they want to live naturally and defend nature, why don’t they give up using fire or why don’t they just eat raw meat?”
“Or why don’t they live exclusively in warm areas and don’t give up, natural
ly, to clothes, right?”
“Funny”, Irene said frowning.
“I was thinking – Danny continues – of something simpler, but also more com
plicated at the same time. Let’s move to a big city and raise some kids!”
Irene smiled, got up from her chair, took two steps, hugged him without say
ing anything, and sat down again.
“Does that mean, Irene, that you agree?”
“With the second part! In a city, big or small, it would be very difficult for
me, I know what bread, kefir or ham are like in the stores. But we can stay on the farm if we don’t sell anything either! Should we produce here only for our own food? Learn to milk cows and grow cucumbers, tomatoes and beans?! Should we eat chicken only once a week?! Nonsense! How will you be able to remain a teacher on a farm without robots and drones, without cloned animals or artificial plants?”
“Yeah. The city is not a good idea, neither the farm. Why don’t we move to
the Island? There are still free areas.”
“Mmm, what would be the advantage?”
“Those there still eat a lot of natural food, that you like. About half of them,
as far as I know. It imports from the continents that the Island passes by, they harvest algae and go fish a lot. Would you like to be a fisherman, that is, learn to drive a small submarine?”
“I find the idea as interesting as it is strange. Right now, I swear I don’t know
what we should do. One thing I am sure of, Danny: our children and grandchildren will live in another world, very different from ours…”
Irene and Danny stopped slightly confused at the crossroads of the
“We must follow the bright arrows numbering one hundred and seven
“The blue arrows numbered one hundred and seventeen. I also saw yel
low arrows with this number. I hope we don’t walk these endless corridors much longer.”
They arrived at the door numbered one hundred and seventeen. Blue.
“Now what do we do?”
The door had no button, knobs or handles.
“What time is it?”
“It’s exactly the time we were supposed to be here. Should we knock on
Unexpectedly, the door opened smoothly, silently. The room was al
most empty. Quite unpleasant, the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the table, the chairs, the computer, everything had shades of blue. Everything but the figure of the man in the blue robe.
“Please take a seat. Congratulations on your punctuality. I’m Dr. Pres
lett. I know who you are, I know why you came. I received all the data through the clinic’s internal network.”
The doctor waited for the two to sit on the chairs that seemed too small, looked at them one by one and asked, without addressing anyone in particular:
“Have you done any such analysis before marriage?”
Danny and Irene denied at the same time, and Irene added:
“We had no reason.”
“The authorities – Danny continues – you know very well, they impose prelim
inary analyzes only for a few infectious diseases. If we had relatives with I don’t know what genetic diseases, the situation would have been different.”
“But now? Did you have any reasons?”
“Now we wanted to know what are the chances of having problems in the fu
ture… We decided that it is safer because we want to have children…”
Irene could not hold back her tears.
“Healthy children, Doctor.”
Danny took his wife’s hand in his hands.
“Let’s be optimistic, my dear. We are no longer in the twentieth century.
There must be a solution.”
Looking at the doctor, he asked:
“What can be done, sir, in our situation?”
Preslett inadvertently adopts an official tone.
“Mrs. and Mr. Drinkwater, the presence of the yq54 gene on the chromosome
number 15 will never affect your health. Never! The problem is that you both have this very rare genetic trait. Only one man in thirteen million, regardless of gender, is like that. I don’t think there is another couple in the world where both partners…”
The doctor stopped, touched a few keys, looked at the computer monitor, and continued.
“There is no point in giving you scientific and technical details about the bio
chemical environment in which genes are expressed in the early stages of cell division. As you were briefly told when you did the analysis, there is a ninety percent chance that your child will have… great difficulties. After only eight months of life, serious problems will appear in the functioning of his heart and kidneys. But…”
“But?” Irene and Danny asked at the same time.
“Listen to me carefully! You are not the only pair with such problems.There
are thousands of genetic errors and there are some technical or other possibilities to solve them.”
Danny and Irene watched him in silence.
“A first solution, the simplest, would be to adopt one or more children.”
Danny nodded sadly and said:
“We haven’t talked about it much, but, you know, we’d like to have our ba
“It is the natural and most common desire of any parent. It could be fulfilled
if you, Danny, had a child with another woman or you, Irene, had a child with another man. Statistics show that the second solution is much more common, because women are much more difficult to separate from their genetic children than men… The child would have been raised and educated by you and would be your child.”
Dr. Preslett paused and added:
“The law is very clear: if the two spouses agree, the legitimate father is the
husband of the natural mother or the legitimate mother is the wife of the natural father …”
“Yes, Irene said dejectedly, we’ve thought about that, too, but… we’re not
ready for that. At least not yet. What else can you tell us?”
“There is also a solution that is not possible in your case, but…”
“However, for our general culture, we would also like to hear the impossible
“Good. With great technical and financial effort, we can grow various organs
rapidly, using cells taken from the parents. In fact any group of cells! At even greater cost, the cell mass is preserved for as long as needed and then the child will benefit from a transplant. In your case, however, the necessary organ would be genetically affected and the method is inapplicable. I was thinking of something else.”
“Yeah. We are listening to you.”
“As you have learned, ninety percent of the lady’s fertilized eggs will have se
rious genetic defects. However, this also means that ten percent will be perfectly normal, and the analysis will be able to identify them. On average, every 280 days, your body, madam, will produce a correct cell, which will become… with the contribution of the husband… the first cell of the body of a healthy child. If the cell taken turns out to be defective, it will be destroyed, if it is healthy, it will be put back in its place and you will have a boy or a girl…”
“I feel like a farm animal! Terrible!” Irene almost shouted.
Surprised for a second, the doctor commented, quite surprised:
“I don’t quite understand you, madam. It’s not about genetic engineering. It is
a fairly frequently applied eugenic method, which offers a wonderful possibility to…”
“My wife’s reaction is our problem, Mr. Preslett.”
“Obviously, obviously. Excuse me.”
They were all silent for a few moments. The two got up, almost at the same
“We’ll think about everything you told us, Doctor, Irene said, much calmer.
We will contact you in a few days.”
‘It means the lady has already decided’, Preslett thought, and said aloud.
“Take your time. It is an important decision. It’s about your destiny and the
“Dad, said Mika, taking him by the arm, I thought about it a lot. I want to
stay with mom! She’ll need me.”
Ana was hugging Irene by the waist looking up to her.
“Mom, I want to stay with Daddy! I love Daddy.”
19/19 The Silence
The wind had stopped completely. The waves were now so small that the ocean’s mirror seemed to be an endless beach, uniform and unusually colorful. Lorena knew that somewhere, hundreds of kilosteps away, far beyond the horizon, one of the enormous islands of the Maritime Coalition moved slowly. They didn’t wish to arrive there, it was nice here, near the thick, soft greenish-blue carpet of moss on the shore.
Stimal increased the speed of the yacht a little. The light breeze ruffled his tail feathers; it was wonderful.
She heard his friend and colleague Lorena calling him.
“Stimal, set it on auto and come down. Work first, have fun later.”
The ship moved slowly now, in very wide circles. Stimal went down into the large room. The walls’ pale colors were a good fit for the murmur of waves.
“Lorena, have you analyzed the boss’s Report?”
“Of course. We should discuss it in more detail and record some of the ideas suggested yesterday. What do you say? I’ll send them to Birunixi today.”
“What will he do with them?”
“I don’t know, but I think he ought to receive them, he’ll probably add them to the Report. Recording started.”
“Lorena, I agree with the Report’s conclusions. It’s interesting, however, and somewhat strange, that Birunixi’s dialogue with the President and the Representatives didn’t end with an attempt to imagine the future.”
“Interesting and sad, but explainable. Actually, they imagined no future…”
“Lorena, how do you see the future?”
“I agree with Birunixi. At first, our civilization will cease to exist, then, in an unknown future, Birds will vanish…”
Stimal was surprised by the calm with which Lorena spoke, but chose not to comment on it, and to ask a question instead.
“Yes, but after that?”
“What do you mean, ‘after that?’ What can come next after Birds go extinct?”
“It’s very simple. I don’t know if you’ve thought about it, but now it seems fairly clear that the BiMam civilization vanished for the same reason, it reached the Limit of Knowledge. The great enigma – the reason BiMams disappeared – seems to be a Solved Problem.”
“Stimal, do you mean to say that…” Lorena said hesitatingly.
“And that’s not all! After BiMams ceased to exist, there was clearly an ‘after that’ because, after nearly a hundred million years, we appeared.”
“Stimal, do you mean to say that…” Lorena repeated, just as hesitatingly as before.
“What I mean to say is that Unay will remain inhabitable for another four hundred million years, maybe even twice or thrice as long. There will be an ‘after that’ beyond Birds, too. It’s hard to believe that in another hundred million years, right where we stand, there won’t be others! It’s possible, or even probable.”
Lorena looked at her admiringly and said without a trace of irony:
“How clever! Do you think that the President and the others didn’t consider that?”
“I think not. Actually, they didn’t even try to discuss the topic. Just as you’ve said, they didn’t imagine any possible future…”
Lorena was silent for a long time. He poured a bit of stanko juice in two glasses and said, almost dreamily:
“As for… those who come after us on Unay, we can do nothing but speculate…”
“A hundred… or two hundred… million years is a long time, very long, enormous. Much can happen.”
“Anything can happen. Almost anything. They will, of course, be tool-producing beings.”
Stimal made a sudden observation:
“Social animals, of course, not sea creatures.”
“Why are you so certain?”
“I don’t think beings who meet only once a year to produce chicks can start a civilization. On the other hand, in the ocean it’s harder to discover… fire!”
Lorena was staring at the ceiling. He turned towards Stimal and said, sounding almost surprised:
“On the Pink and Green planets, the same thing must have happened. It’s obvious! They’re inhabitable, they have oxygen and they’re much, much older than Unay, older by billions of years! Six or seven, do you realize? Dozens of civilizations have been there and will be there again, not two!”
“Dozens?! If I think about it… it makes sense… it’s as reasonable as it is unbelievable.”
After a while, Lorena poured a bit more stanko and said:
“Besides, that could explain the silence!”
“One of the Unsolvable Problems is the silence of the BiMam, Pink and Green civilizations. Technically, they could have built Time Spheres or Eternal Transmitters, which could broadcast, in time and space, even a hundred thousand light-years away, for billions of years, in the entire Galaxy and forever, and they’d say everything!”
“Everything, meaning technology, art, recipes, fashion, mentalities, philosophy, medical data, dreams, feelings, all, everything! BiMams, however, left nothing, neither on Unay, nor close to it, no Time Sphere, and Pink and Green are silent. For billions of years, silent!”
“What’s your explanation, Lorena?”
“Think of what would have happened if we, Birds, would have received that pile of information.”
“First of all, we would have been able to compare ourselves with them. Then, we would have developed useful technologies sooner, found out more and quicker, would have learned in a century or two how to live better and more beautifully, we would have solved various difficult problems sooner…”
Stimal stopped, then went on in an intentionally neutral tone:
“I understand, we would have reached the Absolute Limit of Knowledge sooner and vanished earlier. Instead of disappearing after six thousand three hundred years of civilization, we would have ceased to exist after six thousand…”
“BiMams, Pinks and Greens understood and chose the silence..”
“We, Birds, will also understand and choose the silence.”
For some time, Stimal said nothing.
“Lorena, I think you can stop the recording now.”
For a moment, Lorena was just as silent.
“Now we can say, dear, that our job is done! Do you feel like having some fun?”
“No… not really… and yet… maybe… a little… more stanko, please…”
“Do you want to stay here, or should we head to the beach?”
“Here. Stop the propeller.”
“Promise you won’t chirp very loudly?”
Perplexed, Stimal said:
“Nobody can hear us here, Lorena!”
“Then, promise you’ll chirp very loudly?”