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A man's dream of communicating with a signal from the stars has unexpected consequences.
Look, Simeon Krug wanted to say, a billion years ago there wasn't even any man, there was only a fish. A slippery thing with gills and scales and little round eyes. He lived in the ocean, and the ocean was like a jail, and the air was like a roof on top of the jail. Nobody could go through the roof. You'll die if you go through, everybody said, and there was this fish, he went through, and he died. And there was this other fish, and he went through, and he died. But there was another fish, and he went through, and it was like his brain was on fire, and his gills were blazing, and the air was drowning him, and the sun was a torch in his eyes, and he was lying there in the mud, waiting to die, and he didn't die. He crawled back down the beach and went into the water and said, Look, there's a whole other world up there. And he went up there again, and stayed for maybe two days, and then he died. And other fishes wondered about that world. And crawled up onto the muddy shore. And stayed. And taught themselves how to breathe the air. And taught themselves how to stand up, how to walk around, how to live with the sunlight in their eyes. And they turned into lizards, dinosaurs, whatever they became, and they walked around for millions of years, and they started to get up on their hind legs, and they used their hands to grab things, and they turned into apes, and the apes got smarter and became men. And all the time some of them, a few, anyway, kept looking for new worlds. You say to them, Let's go back into the ocean, let's be fishes again, it's easier that way. And maybe half of them are ready to do it, more than half, maybe, but there are always some who say, Don't be crazy. We can't be fishes any more. We're men. And so they don't go back. They keep climbing up.CHAPTER 2
September 20, 2218.
Simeon Krug's tower now rises 100 meters above the gray-brown tundra of the Canadian Arctic, west of Hudson Bay. At present the tower is merely a glassy stump, hollow, open-topped, sealed from the elements only by a repellor field hovering shieldlike just a few meters above the current work level. Around the unfinished structure cluster the android work crews, thousands of synthetic humans, crimson-skinned, who toil to affix glass blocks to scooprods and send the rods climbing to the summit, where other androids put the blocks in place. Krug has his androids working three shifts round the clock; when it gets dark, the construction site is lit by millions of reflector plates strung across the sky at a height of one kilometer and powered by the little million-kilowatt fusion generator at the north end of the site.
From the tower's huge octagonal base radiate wide silvery strips of refrigeration tape, embedded fifty centimeters deep in the frozen carpet of soil, roots, moss, and lichens that is the tundra. The tapes stretch several kilometers in each direction. Their helium-II diffusion cells soak up the heat generated by the androids and vehicles used in building the tower. If the tapes were not there, the tundra would soon be transformed by the energy-output of construction into a lake of mud; the colossal tower's foundation-caissons would lose their grip, and the great building would tilt and tumble like a felled titan. The tapes keep the tundra icy, firm, capable of bearing the immense burden that Simeon Krug is now imposing on it.
Around the tower, subsidiary buildings are centered on a thousand-meter radius. To the west of the site is the master control center. To the east is the laboratory where the tachyon-beam ultrawave communications equipment is being fabricated: a small pink dome which usually contains ten or a dozen technicians patiently assembling the devices with which Krug hopes to send messages to the stars. North of the site is a clutter of miscellaneous service buildings. On the south side is the bank of transmat cubicles that link this remote region to the civilized world. People and androids flow constantly in and out of the transmats, arriving from New York or Nairobi or Novosibirsk, departing for Sydney or San Francisco or Shanghai.
Krug himself invariably' visits the site at least once a day—alone, or with his son Manuel, or with one of his women, or with some fellow industrialist. Customarily he confers with Thor Watchman, his android foreman; he rides a scooprod to the top of the tower and peers into it; he checks the progress in the tachyon-beam lab; he talks to a few of the workmen, by way of inspiring loftier effort. Generally Krug spends no more than fifteen minutes at the tower. Then he steps back into the transmat, and instantaneously is hurled to the business that awaits him elsewhere.
Today he has brought a fairly large party to celebrate the attainment of the 100-meter level. Krug stands near what will be the tower's western entrance. He is a stocky man of sixty, deeply tanned, heavy-chested and short-legged, with narrow-set, glossy eyes and a seamed nose. There is a peasant strength about him. His contempt for all cosmetic editing of the body is shown by his coarse features, his shaggy brows, his thinning hair: he is practically bald, and will do nothing about it. Freckles show through the black strands that cross his scalp. He is worth several billion dollars fissionable, though he dresses plainly and wears no jewelry; only the infinite authority of his stance and expression indicates the extent of his wealth.
Nearby is his son and heir, Manuel, his only child, tall, slender, almost foppishly handsome, elegantly dressed in a loose green robe, high buskins, an auburn sash. He affects earlobe plugs and a mirror-plate in his forehead. He will shortly be thirty. His movements are graceful, but he seems fidgety when in repose.
The android Thor Watchman stands between father and son. He is as tall as Manuel, as powerfully built as the elder Krug. His face is that of a standard alpha-class android, with a lean caucasoid nose, thin lips, strong chin, sharp cheekbones: an idealized face, a plastic face. Yet he has impressed a surprising individuality on that face from within. No one who sees Thor Watchman will mistake him the next time for some other android. A certain gathering of the brows, a certain tension of the lips, a certain hunching of the shoulders, mark him as an android of strength and purpose. He wears an openwork lace doublet; he is indifferent to the biting cold at the site, and his skin, the deep red, faintly waxy skin of an android, is visible in many places.
There are seven others in the group that has emerged from the transmat. They are:
Clissa, the wife of Manuel Krug.
Quenelle, a woman younger than Manuel, who is his father's current companion.
Leon Spaulding, King's private secretary, an ectogene.
Niccolò Vargas, at whose observatory in Antarctica the first faint signals from an extrasolar civilization were detected.
Justin Maledetto, the architect of King's tower.
Senator Henry Fearon of Wyoming, a leading Witherer.
Thomas Buckleman of the Chase/Krug banking group.
"Into the scooprods, everybody!" Krug bellows. "Here— here—you—you—up to the top!"
"How high will it be when it's finished?" Quenelle asks.
"1500 meters," Krug replies. "A tremendous tower of glass full of machinery that nobody can understand. And then we'll turn it on. And then we'll talk to the stars."CHAPTER 3
In the beginning there was Krug, and He said, Let there be Vats, and there were Vats.
And Krug looked upon the Vats and found them good.
And Krug said, Let there be high-energy nucleotides in the Vats. And the nucleotides were poured, and Krug mixed them until they were bonded one to another.
And the nucleotides formed the great molecules, and Krug said, Let there be the father and the mother both in the Vats, and let the cells divide, and let there be life brought forth within the Vats.
And there was life, for there was Replication.
And Krug presided over the Replication, and touched the fluids with His own hands, and gave them shape and essence.
Let men come forth from the Vats, said Krug, and let women come forth, and let them live and go among us and be sturdy and useful, and we shall call them Androids.
And it came to pass.
And there were Androids, for Krug had created them in His own image, and they walked upon the face of the Earth and did service for mankind.
And for these things, praise be to Krug.CHAPTER 4
Watchman had wakened that morning in Stockholm. Groggy: four hours of sleep. Much too much. Two hours would suffice. He cleared his mind with a quick neural ritual and got under the shower for a skin-sluicing. Better, now. The android stretched, wriggled muscles, studied his smooth rosy hairless body in the bathroom mirror. A moment for religion, next. Krug deliver us from servitude. Krug deliver us from servitude. Krug deliver us from servitude. Praise be to Krug!
Watchman popped his breakfast down and dressed. The pale light of late afternoon touched his window. Soon it would be evening here, but no matter. The clock in his mind was set to Canadian time, tower time. He could sleep whenever he wished, so long as he took at least one hour out of twelve. Even an android body needed some rest, but not in the rigidly programmed way of humans.
Off to the construction site, now, to greet the day's visitors.
The android began setting up the transmat coordinates. He hated these daily tour sessions. The tours slowed the work, since extraordinary precautions had to be observed while important human beings were on the site; they introduced special and unnecessary tensions; and they carried the hidden implication that his work was not really trustworthy, that he had to be checked every day. Of course, Watchman was aware that Krug's faith in him was limitless. The android's faith in that faith had sustained him superbly through the task of erecting the tower thus far. He knew that it was not suspicion but the natural human emotion of pride that brought Krug to the site so often.
Krug preserve me, Watchman thought, and stepped through the transmat.
He stepped out into the shadow of the tower. His aides greeted him. Someone handed him a list of the day's visitors. "Is Krug here yet?" Watchman asked.
"Five minutes," he was told, and in five minutes Krug came through the transmat, accompanied by his guests. Watchman was not cheered to see Krug's secretary, Spaulding, in the group. They were natural enemies; they felt toward one another the instant antipathy of the vat-born and the bottle-born, the android and the ectogene. Aside from that they were rivals for eminence among Krug's associates. To the android, Spaulding was a spreader of suspicions, a potential underminer of his status, a fount of poisons. Watchman greeted him coolly, distantly, yet properly. One did not snub humans, no matter how important an android one might be, and at least by technical definition Spaulding had to be considered human.
Krug was hustling everybody into scooprods. Watchman went up with Manuel and Clissa Krug. As the rods rode toward the truncated summit of the tower, Watchman glanced across at Spaulding in the rod to his left—at the ectogene, the prenatal orphan, the man of cramped soul and baleful spirit in whom Krug perversely placed so much trust. May Arctic winds sweep you to destruction, bottle-born. May I see you float sweetly toward the frozen ground and break beyond repair.
Clissa Krug said, "Thor, why do you suddenly look so fierce?"
"I see angry clouds crossing your face."
Watchman shrugged. "I'm doing my emotion drills, Mrs. Krug. Ten minutes of love, ten minutes of hate, ten minutes of shyness, ten minutes of selfishness, ten minutes of awe, ten minutes of arrogance. An hour a day makes androids more like people."
"Don't tease me," Clissa said. She was very young, slim, dark-eyed, gentle, and, Watchman supposed, beautiful. "Are you telling me the truth?"
"I am. Really. I was practicing a little hatred when you caught me."
"What's the drill like? I mean, do you just stand there thinking, Hatehatehatehatehate, or what?"
He smiled at the girl's question. Looking over her shoulder, he saw Manuel wink at him. "Another time," Watchman said. "We're at the top."
The three scooprods clung to the highest course of the tower. Just above Watchman's head hung the gray haze of the repellor field. The sky too was gray. The short northern day was nearly half over. A snowstorm was heading southward toward them along the shore of the bay. Krug, in the next scooprod, was leaning far into the tower, pointing out something to Buckleman and Vargas; in the other rod, Spaulding, Senator Fearon, and Maledetto were closely examining the satiny texture of the great glass bricks that made up the tower's outer skin.
"When will it all be finished?" Clissa asked.
"Less than a year," the android told her. "We're moving nicely along. The big technical problem was keeping the permafrost under the building from thawing. But now that that's behind us, we ought to be rising several hundred meters a month."
"Why build here in the first place," she wanted to know, "if the ground wasn't stable?"
"Isolation. When the ultrawave is turned on, it'll scramble all communications lines, transmats, and power generators for thousands of square kilometers. Krug was pretty well limited to putting the tower in the Sahara, the Gobi, the Australian desert, or the tundra. For technical reasons having to do with transmission, the tundra seemed most desirable—provided the thawing problem could be beaten. Krug told us to build here. So we found a way to beat the thawing problem."
Manuel asked, "What's the status of the transmission equipment?"
"We begin installing it when the tower's at the 500-meter level. Say, the middle of November."
Krug's voice boomed across to them. "We've already got the five satellite amplifying stations up. A ring of power sources surrounding the tower—enough boost to kick our signal clear to Andromeda between Tuesday and Friday."
"A wonderful project," said Senator Fearon. He was a dapper, showy-looking man with startling green eyes and a mane of red hair. "Another mighty step toward the maturity of mankind!" With a courtly nod toward Watchman, the Senator added, "Of course, we must recognize our immense debt to the skilled androids who are bringing this miraculous project to fruition. Without the aid of you and your people, Alpha Watchman, it would not have been possible to—"
Watchman listened blankly, remembering to smile. Compliments of this sort meant little to him. The World Congress and its Senators meant even less. Was there an android in the Congress? Would it make any difference if there were? Someday, no doubt, the Android Equality Party would get a few of its people into the Congress; three or four alphas would sit in that august body, and nevertheless androids would continue to be property, not people. The political process did not inspire optimism in Thor Watchman.
His own politics, such that they were, were definitely Witherer: in a transmat society, where national boundaries are obsolete, why have a formal government at all? Let the legislators abolish themselves; let natural law prevail. But he knew that the withering-away of the state that the Witherers preached would never come to pass. The proof of it was Senator Henry Fearon. The ultimate paradox: a member of the antigovernment party serving in the government himself, and fighting to hold his seat at every election. What price Withering, Senator?
Fearon praised android industriousness at length. Watchman fretted. No work was getting done while they were up here; he didn't dare let blocks be hoisted with visitors in the construction zone. And he had schedules to keep. To his relief, Krug soon signaled for a descent; the rising wind, it seemed, was bothering Quenelle. When they came down, Watchman led the way over to the master control center, inviting them to watch him take command of operations. He slipped into the linkup seat. As he pushed the computer's snub-tipped terminal node into the input jack on his left forearm, the android saw Leon Spaulding's lips tighten in a scowl of—what? Contempt, envy, patronizing scorn? For all his skill with humans Watchman could not read such dark looks with true precision. But then, at the click of contact, the computer impulses came flooding across the interface into his brain and he forgot about Spaulding.
Excerpted from Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg. Copyright © 1970 Robert Silverberg. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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