Dmitriy Bilenkin

Nothing but ice

---- From the translator I'll be brief and will not delay you for long. A very nice story, written by Dmitriy, is one of my favorite stories. And it was a great pleasure to translate this text. The richness of the author's text makes it extremely beautiful. I tried to save the author's style and I hope that I preserved it unchanged. As I know, nobody made this translation before, that's why I initiated this work. Now, I wish you an interesting reading. Yours, Yuriy Lapitskiy, Tomilino, Russia, 2004, 2005 ---- Our mission was to blow up the star. Romantics and adventurers should stop the further reading. Our destiny is not from a kind of those, which could inflame the imagination. Here it is. A journey there and back again lasts for a fourty years. Plus another year or two we needed to complete the Project. Hybernation allowed us to sleep all nine of ten parts of the journey, so that we will return to Earth rather young. Just one thing bothered us - science, culture and even the life should be so far beyond, that we ought to be out of the new events and deeds. What's about it? Nothing. We have no choice but to live the rest of our days quietly and peacefully beneath our own glory. A very long days… How do you think why Amundsen in his old ages blindly rushed to rescue Nobile, to whom he didn't feel any likings? Because he was a very active man with a life full of victories and risks, after all that, he couldn't bear such long and honourable but colorless old age. Then maybe we could show ourselves in an exciting events, unusual studies or thrilling adventures that were waiting us in the deep space? By no means. We obliged to be technicians, not heroes. To be very careful and executive adjusters without any permission for risk or self-dependency. Without this it would be impossible to complete the Project. I hope you understand why I write this word with capital letter. It may sound a bit silly but it's true that the starships don't fit for interstellar flights. With small velocity about 200 thousand kilometeres per second flight sprawls into decennaries even to nearest stars. Velocity close to light speed allows you to reach although the other edge of the Galaxy. But then Einstein's paradox takes effect: one year of ship's time becomes equal terrestrial centuries. So this frustrates a perfect plan into nonsense. In any of those two cases people turn out to be doomed on their miserable trampling near Sun, while myriads of tempting, but, alas, unattainable worlds were shining so attractive from everywhere. The realization of the Project gives us a key to our galaxy and probably to all the Universe. The calculations of the new theory demonstrates that an immediate extraction of commensurable to stellar quantities of energy forms a spatio-temporal tunnel where a spaceship can flit away. Without any harm for the crew and without those negative paradoxical consequences. However, all this theories needed checking. Not on the Earth, of course, and not near the Solar System, because it could fall into the Tartarus after such an expirement. The other way of taking the annihilators with us to the safe distance was inaccessible for us because of the technical problems. The last chance still remains: to blow up the star by the lasers and then study the results. Not every star matched our conditions. More of that, there was just one star matched all those conditions and was accessible within our limits. That's the star we were flying to. I believe that the fantastic descriptions of the interstellar flights in the last century books compels not only the boy's hearts to beat astir. So, I really don't want my words to be interpreted as fully dethronement of romance, but the truth is that it's hard to think up something more dully, than an interstellar flight. Look here. If you are attentive, you should notice that any sliding in the accustomed grooves merge the days from dots into the grey dash. After all, the best things to remember are those, that stands out against the background, and it's absolutely unimportant were they happen - at home or in a starship. Except that the work in a starship is too too monotonous, because of the lack of unexpected sights beyond the illuminators and the absence of the new faces or accidental meetings. That's why months outside the anabiosis were extremely tedious. Surely, there were a lot of interesting stuff for the literary man or psychologist. For example, general enthusiasm for games involved even the Timerin, who was the creator of the Project theory, whereas on the Earth this ascetic man of science have none. Almost everyone showed up their own, however, harmless eccentricities. To my great surprise I became keen on numismatics and found out that even the mental collecting of the ancient rounds of cuprum, argentum and aurum reveals itself an inexplicable fascination. And do you know what I have to do because of an absence of books on numismatics? You probably wouldn't believe me, 'cause I can hardly believe myself, but I was fishing every allusion about money out of the novels and encyclopedias - their features, size, heads and tails images! I've never thought that the words "quadruple drachma with Athens Owl" or "Tsar Constantin's ruble" can be read as such a music… Aside from stated above, it's time to expound our only adventure, which haven't got any formal resemblance with other common adventures, no usual attributes of them, but one - it's unexpectedness. The star we were flying to was absolutely unimportant until now, therefore it was registered just under it's ID number in the Star Catalogue (SC 13612-132-540 Postfix 340532-27-760-98). Before our departure somebody suggested to give a name to it, but his idea was rejected, nobody knows why. I suspect that it's a response to the ancient superstitions. There's no sense to give that star a neutral name, but giving it a promising name (like "Hope") could make the things much worse, you know... No, it's better to leave it as it is. However, all is advancing using common laws, and star naturally acquired a name "Nameless" (or "Anonymous" as somebody prefer), because none of the sane man will repeat incomprehensible set of digits for ten times a day In that Star System we have to do a huge volume of work. We need to move the laser generators to a starcentric orbit; to stabilize and tune up the measuring equipment; to collect a vast amount of preliminary data; and finally - at the last moment, I mean - to send a probe into the spatio-temporal tunnel. In brief that is correct, but a hundreds of minor works were ahead. Among them, there was an investigation of the planets of Nameless. There were four. Two planets were the gas giants of Jupiter type and gave no emotions to us, because them were unsuitable for landing. Small and void planet, nearest to the star, pleased us no more than a heap of slag. The last was even worse - just an iceberg of gases, freezed together - useless and sticked to the edge of the star system piece of ice. Nevertheless, that promises some sort of variety in our boring environment of unwinking stars and ship's quarters, that we know as our own palm. All craved to take part in that secondary task of observating planets, doomed to be destroyed. The lot comes to me - luckily, I found myself in an explorers group list. We parted, landed and... we stand like after a hit of thunder! It was an austere-styled world in white and blue colors around us. The rocks with mirrored, silver-matte and crystal-clear towers, ledges, portals, ogives, tracery rotundas, galleries and columns piled up everywhere. There was gothic and rococo, Tadj-Mahal and Kiji, all what a genius of architecture already created and all what he have to create. Forms of ice are very expressive without anything - just by themselves, but a low gravity and various mixture of materials strengthens the sights. It seems, that archs were flying - one can't imagine them still, because even a moment of rest will bring all down. Some Cyclopean arch was sustained by a blade columns of glass, and in the shadow of overhanging cornices a Notre Dam can be situated. The cornices most of all looks like wings of a butterflies that are ready to fly away - their frosty pattern doubling in a misty superfine plate of translucent ice. That doesn't force landscape to be exclusive, though. The sky above the planet remains hazy. But sometimes it became clear and the star disk was strangely distorted in the air, nobody still knows about the reason of that. It's light began to splinter as the spurt pressed to the finger. Light beams fell to the planet, carving crumbles of the raibows. There were sparkles flying from cracks, verges and chips - the centuple refracted reflections fills air with flit shine. Our eyes accustomed to dull colours hardly bears this! Ice became fluctuating and luminiferous. There were a chains of astonishing edifices in it, they formed and changed. Spectral cities shines and grows, they arises monuments, fades, alters and revives again - just everywhere and with a rainbows illumination! That was an art of something like a fourth, fifth, magical and wild dimension! All the hours we were there we couldn't make any metering or recording, we just were unable to do them! We were possessed by a sense more thin and deep than delight or joy. Crew left on the ship saw all, of course, but even they didn't reminded us about our primary objective - I think that this happen for the first time in the star exploration history. Then we returned. And everything flows into normal way as nothing happened. As nothing was! Sometimes I envy those who lived earlier, - they can behave themselves with such a spontaneity! "The blood rushed to his head and he drew the sword..." Surely, the things weren't too easy even in that time, but, nevertheless, the decisions usually concerns a slice of bread, satisfaction of passions or defending of your own prosperity, and there was a perfect set of man's reactions to one or another life's condition, transmitted across the generations. That could be possible because of a still way of life, a small number of changes. Then the life became more complicated and it caused the reactions to be more complicated. Man find oneself forced to suppress spontaneous impulses, because in the new mazy environment they just could made things worse. On the planet we all got a shock we've never felt. We faced a very crucial and tragical choice. What could it give us, the sudden and stormy splash of emotions? Most likely it'd cause a conflict, which is more dangerous then a fire, especially on a starship. We ought to think things over - calmly, coolly, alone, taking all consequences into consideration, with no matter of time, because we've got plenty of it. In that way we were instructed, and only in that way you can survive in the star expeditions, when the group depended on each man's behaviour. In a certain way we represented a solid thinking brain. That's why I'll not describe a personal feelings of the expedition members - how somebody kept silent, was gloomy or tried to smile. All this was secondary in the face of unpleasant alternative we had. Blasting the star will destroy the planet. We have to ruin a unique masterpiece of Nature by our own hands. This is just the same as to rob oneself of the colours of evening-glow. We have to rob the mankind and the mankind didn't even suspect what it's going to lose. Does the Project really cost that price? That's what everyone of us thought, battling and disputing on its own. Our mind was nearly exhausted by this self-duel. Project gives us a key to the Universe. Destroying one beautiful planet we got millions of new. Get rid of the doubts! That's it, but the Nature is unique - we will never find such beauty that we spoiled. On the other side, what is in this planet? It's beautiful to see – better to say - it's a lucky chance to see it. But it is just an ice, nothing but ice, while the profit of the Project is real and tangible. And let your feelings mutiny! However, neither if we'll have a key to the Galaxy nor if we'll haven't, our material interests will not a bit suffer. So the Project is to satisfy our passion of cognition? Just that and no more? And we have to forgo one need because of another? Only because one is more valuable then another? But how valuable! If the near space wasn't opened up before the XXI century then the industry should be still stamping on Earth. And this could cause the overheating of the Earth (and with a worse global warming trend). Nobody thought about such a perspective in the years of the first starts, but now that doesn't matter - the quest for the open space was a question of vital importance. And now we are driven by such a necessity, though we can't realize it. A good logic... But if we'd have a choice to lose Lunar Base Stations or moonlit nights then what we'll be more preferable? Thus, I sat sleepless and full of thoughts all night long. But, frankly, who needs magical and beautiful, as the frustrative dream, planet, within a lifetime distance to reach it? This decisive argument I found was like a fresh wind in my cabin. Decisive? Why, with the completion of the Project such a distance would be mere trifle. And then, yes, then the other thing will be essential: what price had we paid to reach the new worlds? It's easy to see what people will think of us... Why I, Timerin, all the others hadn't returned and reported about the new circumstances? Returned with a hope to find a new way to complete the Project, realizing that an escape to the Galaxy could only be found for a hundred years after. But it could be found! And not with such a price. "Why they decided all that by themselves?" "Because..." This thought was the most terrible and I banished it from my mind. Certainly, it came back. Who was the most interested in completion of the Project? We was! Because we sacrificed our lives to it. Wasn't that the cause that outweighed other considerations? They will not say it, but think it. And not without reasons. But let's face it without bias. Well, the world beauty is invaluable and, theoretically, it can't be sacrificed. Practically, the mankind did that quite often through the centuries. And then came the revenge. Revenge for the poisoned rivers, devastated forests, disfigured landscapes. Nature teached us a rigorous lesson and we sweared: "Never and nevermore, in any circumstances!" "Never and nevermore?" Running into an extreme is always an error. Galaxy with it's billions of stars and planets is a Galaxy. It's a way to splash out the mankind energy, a redemption from stagnation, an unrestrained evolution. Somewhere in the vast expanse of the Galaxy that we may open we could find such things that we never dreamt of. Strange worlds, unimaginable forms of life, wisdom of the other civilizations. Do you really want to turn around and fly away, in order to fulfil all this a century later? Ha, just a century... Exactly! If somebody delayed the creation of the steam-engine for a century, then what could we be now? There wasn't a solution suitable for everyone. We understanded each other so deeply that without any questions we realised in one and the same moment that all was already rethinked and nobody knows the way out. And that we have to make a decision or we'll overstrain ourselves. In the "good old days" people usually had a saving loophole: the leader said "Yes" or "No" and the other joined him, assuring themselves that the leader is always right. But we couldn't put responsibility on somebody else, because that was the standards of the present time. The psychologist began the conversation. Suddenly, he suggested to view the stereo recordings we seen on the planet once more. No one objected and many of the crew members acquired a faint hope. Perhaps, psychologist suggested this review not without purpose. Maybe he found a way out of this vicious circle at last? During the breakfast, we don’t want to give a slight touch to the dishes. There were illusive cities arising and fading on the screen, a wonder of colours works - infinite, fabulous, heart-breaking grief of rapture and joyful amazement. Recording couldn't transmit everything, but anyway... but anyway... Somebody clinked a spoon, it's strike was unbearable for the nerves. Last frame faded and for a minute or two we couldn't understand what is more real - this room, this table and this food or that great magic show we just saw. The voice of psychologist took us out from the estrangement state. – I want to disappoint you. My suggestion, of course, is not a final option, but... One gently touch of a button - and there will be no recordings, which cause such memories, as if they never were real. With the same clearance I take over the erasing of the memories about this planet. And where there are no memories, there are no torments, ain't they? We'll finish the project, and people will never knew, what a loss they have got. And no one will blame himself! Do you want me to wipe it out? Silence. And then… – Don't do that! We all will remember this!! Don't even try!!! For the first time in my life I saw such a wry faces of my friends. Indeed, while I'm here talking about emotions, the nature is showing up. But when the shouts quieten down, the embarrassed psychologist made a typical gesture in the air, and then we became ourselves again... Then, in coldly and calmly atmosphere, we made a decision. You know, what it was. ---- You can find original russian version of this text named Nichego, krome l'da at All questions about it send to the author. Original Author Dmitriy Bilenkin This text (translation into english) named Nothing but ice (or Nothing except ice): Copyright © Yuriy Lapitskiy, 2004, 2005 You can find some information about the translator at All questions about this translation send to or via ICQ (UIN 254-88-98-99). Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided strict copyright notice above is preserved and with the prior permission of the author and/or the translator. Dmitriy Bilenkin. Nothing but ice.
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