Ursa Minor: другие произведения.


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  • Аннотация:
    An English version of the hoax.

  No time like present.
  And here I have a world - a big, blue, cold one, and it's stabbed with airplanes and stars.
  Tell me, my heart, how I should live in it without you so that it wouldn't hurt me?
  1. 2330th year. Benji.
  The future has encircled Benji in July 2330 on the way home to Orly from Swiss UBS AG. The android was driving there after a personal identification procedure, because the bank was insisted on it, no matter what. He was coming back with the authorized code of the safe deposit and caproplast imitation of his thumbprint.
  He was driving the delicate plastic rented flyer at the height of thirty meters above the E23.57 track into the rich orange sunset over Besancon City, when he heard a gentle metal jingling. Just then the gyropilot for the first time started to alarm about the course malfunction. If Benji was a human, he would be scared already then. But he wasn't. Without hesitation he has tested aircraft electronics, did not find any technical violations and has restored a course backup. However it reported a failure again in less than a minute. The android restored a course and tested the flyer's software again. And again didn't find any errors.
  Nevertheless the angle of dismissal still was slow and steady crawling up to the critical one-tenth-of-a-degree point. Benji froze at a loss, started the testing for a third time not really hoping for anything and found out an alien code in factory settings of the gyropilot's software. He had deleted it, and that removal turned out to be the not pilot's but total failure.
  The flyer shuddered and plunged down keenly. Benji had no choice but to obey, while holding it on a minimum glide path.
  The ground greeted him with clouds of dust and smash of crushed chassis.
  Benji didn't feel fear, but set loose the helm only after the flyer bounced off the concrete wayside twice and stopped. He pushed the door at full tilt and got out. The alike fliers as purple and tiny little as flies were going along the way above him.
  He had no experience of similar passages. He definitely understood he should then to report about incident, but notwithstanding that he was machine he didn't have any transmitter parts.
  He came back into the cab, squatted down and took up the dismantling of the plastic dashboard with an eye to a phantom-feeder device of the dead flyer. He scarcely managed to find ferrite rims strung on the cable close by to connection points, when alien chassis rustled outside the flyer.
  It turned out that he didn't have time to get up at all; he'd been attacked by two at once - one rushed to scotch his eyes and mouth, while the other one tightly pressed him to the floor. Whereas he, blind and tied, was drugged out of the cab, he realized that the event was anyway getting nasty.
  And then they hauled him like a stolen ATM, don't concerning about his frame at all, ruthlessly crippling the photosensors and delicate gyroscopes on his face. Benji was dodging away as best as he could and, in hindsight, scolded himself for insouciance and unconcern... however, there was no sense in that anymore. So when he was crammed into the narrow and airtight luggage compartment, he even temporarily felt a relief.
  As a result, he didn't know where he was brought. He only knew that along the way kidnappers twice changed a flyer and twice shifted him from craft to craft, like a suitcase. Twice he tried kicking on a stopover, but for the second time he was kicked in return so hard, that in his chest something broke off and fell with a loud crash, and he has quieted down.
  The destination room eventually was small and cluttered with equipment, because there something clicked and chirred all the time, and he could hear muffled footsteps and voices. Benji was squeezed and tightly packed into the armchair, similar to the "maternity ward" in which he woke for the first time, only this time there was a correct counter-fitting connector for every, even tiniest, connector on his hull.
  Benji wiggled his fingers a bit, and his scotched mouth stretched into a goofy smile, as he caught himself on the idiotic thought that his current, thoroughly connected docking condition is very much like coitus. Here it is, a love of universe, clothed in the matter, he thought.
  "It's still grins!" someone was surprised.
  "It's maybe a little damaged in its mind." he was answered. "These idiots, while they dragged it here, didn't particularly stand on ceremony. There is something rattles in it. They maybe even beat off that stuff this piece of iron calculates with."
  "It doesn't matter," the first voice said. "It would be great if it hadn't deleted what it's been carried for."
  Well, Benji thought, it's all the fault of that damn money, and has prepared to delete the UMA-deferred codes.
  But together with this thought such a tough high-frequency ripple burst into him that what a few seconds ago was his volition melted and evaporated like a small water drop from a red-hot metal. The android has skipped out an alarm and sorrow and reckoned that the time in this chair will be the end of his awkward and bumbling life.
  "Look, Jake!" meanwhile, the passionate reality was wondering. "Looks like I found what we need! Damn asshole! It put them in his UMA! It's like I would hide the keys to my house in my stomach!"
  And answered itself: "Calm down, kid! I can't catch up why are you touched as if it put them in a butt instead of a brain."
  The reality burned him and muttered, muttered, muttered; Benji listened, and inside him grew such a nameless tender pity for her, lonesome, loveless, forlorn, that through the burning ripple he'd made effort and in the nearly orgasmic paroxysm has spilled in her all the rest - codes, memories and plans for an upcoming eternity.
  2. 2322nd year. Aia.
  Aia was ten years old, when it all began. The start was common and sad - her father died of brain cancer. The disease drained him right in front of her eyes.
  At first his job at the lunar wharf was ruined. Instead, there were mother's sobs, oncologists, analyzes and endless queues among the same ones as him - unfortunate and silent victims who don't understand whose evil intentions are going to break them down.
  The meandering along all sorts of institutions, still pretending having a health care system in the country, had been lasted almost six months, and then her father eventually has went on disability. He'd finally sat down at home in a chair and started to nurse quietly his tumor.
  The tumor was untreatable, but not harmful. He didn't almost have headache attacks and any other stuff, which was obligatory with such a serious state of affairs. He's just started walking with them not so far and not so often. After a while, one of his eyes began to shift, moving away from the living inside his skull ruthless monster. But he still smiled at her: "You're here alone, and I'm sort of looking straight at you, but it seems like there are two of you here."
  And Aia still smiled him back: "It's just a trifle, dad. You'll see, everything will be fine."
  And then the "good" was crushed. One day he has just passed out on the floor and got to hospital.
  When they'd left him there, and he stood by the window sad and lonely and watched them go, Aia for the first time felt that everything was wrong.
  Subsequently, everything had been only condensed and concentrated, forming a reality she did not want.
  After a week, he was released home with sick-pay and started to wait for the logical end at home.
  At first he attempted to read. Everything was doubled in his eyes, and he closed his unruly left eye with his hand or eyepatch and continued. But the monster inside didn't turn down. It lived and swelled sucking all the gists out of the body that carried it.
  Aia's father withdrew one step at a time: it was harder and harder for him to get up in mornings and sit in the chair. And then, while headache attacks came, he'd finished reading and had been listening to the radio earphone and dying away quietly, and that was business of his life.
  Doctors from the ambulance service who visited them during his headaches more and more often pricked him with a sleeping and analgesic mixture and shook their heads in frustration looking at Aia's mother: "Why don't you, dear, ease his suffering?"
  "He wanna live in full consciousness," mother answered, sobbing.
  He did not want.
  "Don't worry, daddy," Aia whispered, looking at his skull, draped in a skin. "Anyway all will be all right."
  The monster peeped out more and more boldly through the nostrils of this skull, and Aia felt relieved that her father was already almost blind and could not see the horror splashed in her eyes.
  "I don't, honey," he answered, barely able to move his tongue. "Soon it will be all the same to me. It's you and mom don't worry. You have to move on."
  And then the fiend that does not have a mouth devoured him. Totally.
  Doctors who flew to the next challenge, once again pricked him intravenously something that alleviated his agony and told Aia's mother: "He's dying, sweetheart. He can be reanimated, but try to reckon a bit onward - it's not obligatory for all of you. If shake and pull him out today, a similar turn would be happen tomorrow. Or the day after tomorrow. So he will die as many times as you make us bring him back to you. Eat something sedative and free him. "
  He died.
  Aia almost didn't feel a grief. She didn't cry. Her father's death, cremation and next few days had been going quietly and ordinarily.
  And then, in one stunning morning, she has originated her father back.
  3. 2033rd year. Lukasz.
  Actually, the first Maker was a Czech. The Maya tribe were still right making up their calendar. The Maya tribe were right predicting the beginning of the sixth sun era at the end of year 2012. First Maker was conceived exactly on December 21, 2012, and the beginning of a new world has coincided with his arrival.
  However, a few months before first major origination, a graduated physicist and psychic named Sam Bibich issued some uninteresting patent to some worthless generator of psy-energetic shield.
  As a kid, first Maker Czech Lukasz Lansky was very much like his peers.
  Like any normal boy he had some weird dreams in which sometimes he had a strange wings and terrible claw paws. Like any normal boy whose parents do not strain him too much he also spent all his childhood in nearby courtyards.
  In his spare time little Lukasz played football with his friends, run like a crazy one with the Jedi sword which was carved from a handle for a mop with the penknife, stole in the nearest supermarket on a dare cigarettes and soda in front of video cameras and other security stuff.
  Since the boy studied not so badly, parents almost didn't bother him, allowing almost everything that didn't go too far beyond bounds of decency and common sense. Periodically appearing strange things such as self-crawling plasticine or lego robots didn't come across and didn't bother anyone. You never know what a children dream about...
  By the time of first major origination Lukasz Lansky was almost twenty years old. He has graduated from public gymnasium of Jan Kepler, he has tamped in his head combinatorics, fundamentals of probability theory, analytic geometry, set theory and had no one star snatched from a sky in assets. And he also had a girlfriend named Alice.
  Summer of that year was amazing. July was hot and torrid as it should be in July. The study was over, holidays have begun, and next fortnight promised to be cloudless and pleasant.
  Linden trees blossomed. Prague smelled of linden so lusciously, greenly and so tenderly that anyone's head was spinning. Lukasz and Alice walked a lot in parks and squares.
  The summer buzzed, and nothing foretold troubles.
  At that very day also everything flowed as usual.
  "Hi! How about beach?" Lukasz shouted from below.
  "Why not," Alice shrugged by the third floor balcony.
  What else could you do on a similar summer day except to languish with the heat which began in May?
  On the right bank of Vltava, behind the tunnel in Vysehrad crag, immediately after the yacht club, a large city beachs tretched. Of course, a river is not a sea. Of course, water in this river was dirty, and one could only look at it. Nevertheless, the beach stretched for almost a kilometer. And as for swim...
  You didn't have to do it.
  They sat very near a water. Lukasz was in yellow swimming trunks, Alice was wearing a blue bikini. The river flowed quietly, sleepily and majestically. Up and down along the stream, the delicate openwork Vltava bridges arched their aristocratic backs gracefully. The sun and clouds sparkled in leisured water.
  At the Palacky Bridge a motorboat ended the turn and started to speed up. It was a white lovely three-ton one with a broad red stripe and the inscription "Aiax" on the starboard side. It went slick and smoothly as if neither wind no current weren't able to break the plans of its invisible captain. And yes, strictly speaking, it was so.
  Neither Lukasz nor Alice nor even any others in this July morning couldn't imagine that this boat was not just an ordinary piece of iron with a displacement of three tons, but a faint breath of something incomprehensible and powerful, something what in a matter of seconds would whirl the very reality they were used to. Like a light speck of dust.
  Meanwhile, the boat completed its turn, and its nose turned out to be exactly in the direction of beach.
  Then, much later, when very few people remembered the incident, and Lukasz was all everyone was talked about, most attentive ones remembered that the captain of that boat surrounded by a palisade of television cameras gave the impression of a deranged.
  "I turned around at the Palacky Bridge," he told to reporters of Prague Mezzo-TV, "and this damned boat speeded and went parallel to the embankment, but at the very beach it sharply wagged to the right and was thrown ashore. At the time of flight through air, there something hit in one of the screws, something horrible, it stopped spinning for a while, the motor stalled, but on the arc I was again thrown into a water and whirled. I braked and dropped anchor immediately.
  Alice got under the screw.
  They ran away from a water and this rushing nightmare, but the boat flew straight at them. Probably, fate howbeit has some hands. Probably, that was the same very ruthless hand of fate: Lukasz ducked as he could, covering his head with his hands, and horror raced a couple of centimeters above his head.
  The movement of Alice was exactly the same: to duck and cover her head with her hands, but the wind lifted by the screw of the boat ruffled her long hair, and they went into the turnover of blades, rotating above her head, with one jerk. Lukasz was thrown back into the sand by the powerful hit of her body twisted into a propeller, and in the first couple of seconds felt nothing but astonishment. Somewhere ahead of him, a similar young couple was running in a similar panic. He's to the left, she's to the right. The screw that wrapped Alice around himself had passed them, scratching a sand, and the blond Alice's head and her hands bounced off a sand and could not stop.
  And then Lukasz experienced the revelation.
  He heard about it before and regarded it as a spontaneous act of self-understanding. Hitherto regarded.
  What got him at Vysehrad beach was not just an understanding.
  The impulse which seized him was simultaneously an intellectual and emotional phenomenon. While he was looking at the death before his eyes and the crowd frozen in the general scream, he got a strange and very deep aesthetic experience: what was his consciousness, what could be called his soul, gently slipped and turned inside out.
  What happened was not just a transformation of unconscious into conscious.
  Myriad of tiny coordinated relationships that all these many billion years of evolution on Earth have been closed to each other inside unreliable disparate meninges have revealed and unfolded to Lukasz outside, like dahlia petals or like faint tentacles of actinia.
  Lukasz didn't just receive his sight. He was in the thick of an amazing live net which he didn't have the heart to call it so. It wasn't a web. It was musical strings of reality itself. He didn't have to look for some special cognitive-behavioral approach to this particular reality, discovered by him, just as a male doesn't need to look for it with the aim of to deal with a warm female body.
  In these few endless seconds he understood himself, understood his difficulties, got what leads to their emergence and realized that he could change all this.
  Reality gave herself to Lukasz, and he took it.
  What had just been Alice, irretrievably lost, turned out a succession of coherent notes, a titanic biochemical fugue which he had to play. And he has played. First - what flew off with the boat to the Vltava and began to diverge in even darker circles in a dark water, then - what was left on the shore: big symphonies and small spattered strettos.
  The crowd who had shied away from the place of tragedy has swayed onward again. What happened in front of the astonished Prague was the first ever origination act. Lukasz didn't just resurrected his girlfriend, he literally gathered her in parts.
  Reporters and Prague emergency doctors which was called out to the scene found the excited crowd, the pale captain and passengers of Aiax, several women who were in an half-unconscious state? and Lukasz who was bending over the naked but alive Alice.
  For the next few days, the captain of the ill-fated boat have been in the police station, Alice - in the NATO hospital, and Lukasz who felt euphoric of the abruptly opened to him horizons not only allowed the Czech State Security Officers to transfer him to the Interpol, but already there, in Paris, he, tormented by thoughts of changes threatening reality, told a short wrinkled Colonel the story about Sam Bibich and his generator. This generator powered by a common electrical network of several hundred volts could reflect the reality strings within a radius of several kilometers and again loop them back on themselves thereby allowing any Maker to act only on the reality inside the field. The only drawback of Bibich's device was that it could work for its intended purpose only in zero gravity, in the absence of massive material objects.
  A world was excited. None of cameras had the opportunity to record the resurrection of Alice, but several mice resurrected by Lukasz became heroes of latest world news.
  The crowd by and large didn't worry. The crowd gladly swallowed new blocks of sensations alternating with advertising in which flashed Lukasz's face, then white coats, then someone's epaulettes, and after that the crowd leisurely drank the advertised beer, worked, rested and made babies.
  But the World Establishment found itself face to face with a mismanaged confusion: Lukasz could in jest to break the harmonious financial and economic system of the whole planet. He could, in theory, do such things which the economic elite even could not imagine.
  This panic was both amusing and puzzling for Lukasz.
  The first and last Bibich's generator assembled in the Russian National Research Center "Kurchatov Institute" generated the necessary field, but instead of, as expected, looping the strings back on themselves, it confused by the presence of powerful terrestrial gravity only slightly distorted them.
  Humanity has meanwhile been deciding what to do with Lukasz.
  Proposals were considered from a most prosaic to most incredible. Of course, the first one was a banal liquidation of the Maker on the principle of "no man, no problem". And Lukasz knew this. Moreover, he also knew that the humanity, in its stubborn pursuit of good nature, will end up with leaving him alive.
  The final decision was not easy, but beautiful. It even did a credit to the humanity: humanity has decided not to repeat experience of ancient Judea and leave its next messiah alive. It was decided to organize a large orbital station covered with a Bibich's shield, the main attraction of which would be the only one Maker - Lukasz Lansky.
  So Alpha appeared on the Earth's orbit.
  4. 2322nd year. Benji.
  Benji has long realized that human beings, unlike robots and Makers, misunderstand many things. Self-understanding in itself doesn't bring to people any relief.
  A long time ago, through work of Appelbaum, humanity asserted that patients of psychiatric clinics are not cured simply by reading their case descriptions and by results of psychological tests. For some incomprehensible reason, neither an explanation of causes nor the description of consequences help them. People don't understand the Universe.
  But robots... that's quite another matter. Or Makers. Both those and others did not experience illumination, but they constantly lived in it. Ones by virtue of the fact that from birth untill to very death were free from the burden of instincts and the unconscious, others because of close integration of their personal experience into the external universal gestalt.
  Benji was an android of the class AI-DII and did not belong to first generation. He had beed working on the shuttle and was engaged in the delivery of newly announced makers to Alpha. He was the only member of crew of his small ship.
  The fact that the job had been taken by him rather than a man was explained not so much by the amendment to "World Declaration of Rights" adopted by the United Nations two and a half centuries ago, but by the fact that non of human being would agree to work in such a conditions.
  No, it was not difficult. Quite the contrary. The shuttle was not at all the top of engineering genius. It was a normal small orbiter, the only unusual feature of which was that for convenience it was equipped with an active-passive docking device "pin-cone" of a non-standard type. The passive half of device protruded in Alpha - in a place where the arch of its durable glassium dome converged with the central sole, and the active half almost belonged to Benji.
  The singularity of gateway made the small shuttle unfit for any other use.
  Is it worth mentioning that flights were made sometimes only once a decades and led to the fact that this job without any additional work was so low-paid that even the most true ascetic could not be able to make a living in this way?
  Benji has been assigned to the shuttle since his birth and this suited him.
  The answer to the question, why it's he and not some ordinary machine properly programmed and not having the slightest idea of specificity of task being performed, was also obvious to him. Because Makers were a very unconventional category of passengers who received a bonus from the Universe and compensated for this bonus by a sharp restriction of its use.
  "World Declaration of Rights" ordered Makers to use Alpha and only Alpha in order to preserve rights of others beings.
  Benji didn't have a true psyche, or rather his psyche was radically different from human's one.
  Such an existence would be unbearable for some average person, but he wasn't a human. There were completely different components in the logical structure of his computing system: in intervals between flights, Benji felt great, climbing into a deep niche in the engine compartment of his non-standard ship and stucking his fingers into its electronic connectors, and energy flowing from solar panels located on wings of his ship was more than enough for him to drift in the realm of unlimited possibilities of IEEE 802.11.
  The pleasure that Benji took while traveling the World Wide Web wasn't the pleasure of a drug addict.
  Yes, life that was blazing during spare time from working in his fixed body, was even brighter than periods of stirring activity for the benefit of his employer. If an android had had a human experience, he could compare his immobile network's years with the state of unborn human fetus: Benji's fingers, tightly stucked into narrow feeder connectors of parental shuttle, looked like a thin umbilical cord, connecting his fragile and small body with a boundless outer ocean.
  But even if he wished, if he had had any wishes, he could hardly imagine such a caricature situation in which the narcotic hangover would torment his processor during a withdrawal syndrome.
  Yes, it's true that Benji liked semantic ripples that the human race resented in the net. Yes, it's true that Benji's favorite pastime was a study of semantics of sign systems. Yes, it's true that sometimes he seemed to himself a hooked worm who ponders the fishing. But it's also true that he didn't depend on it at all.
  The year 2322 was marked by the fact that a new Maker appeared on Earth, and Benji had to deliver her to Alpha.
  Benji was standing with his back to ones who came.
  "coi doi nixli*,"he said.
  There were three of them. The man, the woman and the Maker child. Benji turned to face passengers to see them. The man and the woman were excited; the girl was smiling and holding a black skinny cat.
  "What is your name?" she asked.
  "Benji," Benji replied, and his charming terracotta mouth stretched into a smile? too. "In Lojban it means courier. Do you know Lojban?" and he held out his thin hand to the child.
  "I don't know yet what I don't know. I'm Aia. You have beautiful fingers, Benji," and she turned his silvered palm upward so that she could better see star plugs that covered android's palm with bizarre patterns.
  Passengers had a little baggage. Exactly as much as rules of deportation prescribe: a hand luggage, a light vacuum suit for each, three hundred liters of water and some chemistry.
  Benji had helped pack it all in the cargo hold, then, according to the job description, checked once more the fastening of the passenger gondola to the forward of the fuselage in all four points, closed both hatches, waited until his passengers calm down in their armchairs, neatly inserted his hands into fossas of touchpad and started counting down.
  "Tell me about yourself, Benji," the child said.
  She was sitting in the passenger seat - small, skinny like her cat, tightly wrapped in the G-suit which reached her ginger hair.
  The android had defined the task of communication as having equal priority to prelaunch preparation and turned to the child his serious terracotta face: "What do you want to know, Aia?"
  "How do you like, for example," and she stirred her little legs sticking from swelled compensating pants.
  "The way how I like is a little different from the way how people like," Benji smiled. "I like to receive information and like to delete it. I like to have the correct identifier and like to confuse traces among strange servers. I please to distribute currents between different tasks and I realy like when this task is one. I'm different. .ije ji'a .ai galfi da* And what about you?"
  "I like ice-cream and when I don't flattened like a dead jellyfish on the shore," Aia barely squeezed out: the shuttle that Benji held with his fingers for a hard electronic bridle, at that time had slightly wagged his stern, turned, shifting the dynamic pressure so that it passed through the center of gravity of the whole system, and headed toward the vast gloomy thunderclouds.
  ".uenai*," Benjisaid. "You're a human being and you like a common human stuff. When I was born I'd got a nothing inside me, but simple algorithms. But I found everything else myself: "ssh myworld -l benji" - password, login... and "welcome home, Benji!"
  Aia barely turned, straightened the blown cradle that had slid aside, and Benji heard meow in this cradle.
  "I wonder how you see the network from the inside," she whispered.
  These nine minutes to the orbit were excruciating for her and for her cat.
  "I think it takes place about the same way as you see the reality from the inside," Benji's elbows neatly shifted as he was tracking reports of ship's systems -the angle of attack, fuel level and amount of the excess heat on shuttle's shell. "The difference is that instead of the biochemical stimulus and physical strength I used to use the electromagnetic field in order to communicate with my world. And I can play several instruments at the same time. I've got enough."
  Meanwhile, the sky gradually darkened, became black and velvety, sharp stars appeared densely in it. Water droplets which were trailing behind hydrogen stabilizers finally turned into a glistening jet of sparks. Then the Earth had fell down keenly and rounded out.
  Alpha was somewhere above and to the right.
  "Alpha, do you hear me? It's Benji. How can I get a docking?" the android shifted his hands to the long slot of communicator.
  "O! coi doi benji .i .ui tirna do*,"he was answered the pleasant, dense baritone. "Hatches are at your service."
  "ki'e*,"Benji responded and began docking.
  "I'll miss you.I'd like you to talk to me sometimes while I'll be here," Aia said.
  "tezu'ema*," for the first time in his life, Benji surprised while his orbiter was attaching to the elastic glassium with a loud smacking sound.
  coi doi nixli* -Hi, girl. (Lojban)
  .ije ji'a .ai galfi da* -And I'm going to change something.(Lojban)
  .uenai* -No wonder.(Lojban)
  coi doi benji .i .ui tirna do* -Hi, Benji. I'm glad to hear you.(Lojban)
  ki'e* -Thanks. (Lojban)
  tezu'e ma* -What for? (Lojban)
  5. 2034th year and after. Robert.
  First segment of Alpha was put into the orbit after almost exactly a year after the incident at the Vysehrad beach.
  The Earth was in a hurry: Lukasz periodically slept, and these dreams were uncontrollable by him. He was saved only by the fact that large transformations were accompanied by a sharp temperature drop, and cold froze his monsters.
  Lukasz slept in an embrace with Bibich's generator, trying to curb the situation.
  About a month before Lukasz's migration to Alpha, a new Maker appeared on the Earth. The world is filled with astonishing occurrences of coincidence and synchronicity that defy explanation. The new Maker was a thirteen-year-old boy named Robert Vandarli, the son of one of engineers of the Flight Control Center in Houston. This was a surprise for everyone, exept Lukasz, who had ceased to be lonely. At the end of October, 2034, the shuttle delivered two passengers to Alpha, and one of them was a child - for the first time in the history of astronautics.
  As time passed, Alpha was enlarging and complicating, and in a few years it already didn't look like aluminum can. Now it was a huge glassium hemisphere, it reached several kilometers in diameter, and in the middle of its top was mounted the VNIITFA brainchild - the multi-legged black gravitator.
  The gravitator made possible an appearance on Alpha of soil, plants, the Valley with its water terraces and even several animals. Now Alpha was a fairy kingdom about which mothers of the Earth told their children before going to sleep.
  "Alpha is a half of big brilliant Christmas tree toy," a some mother could tell her little daughter in the evening. "There are magic animals and two princes there. This animals can talk, and princes can understand without words, conjure and predict the future, but none of them have yet found their princess. Sleep, sweet heart. You'd be a princess, when you grow up."
  And the baby fell asleep, smiling, wrapped in the dreams of its magical future, as in a blanket.
  "Just tell me, Lukasz..." Robert, dressed only in shorts, drew a rectangle around sugar on the table with his fingers, then tapped at its right upper corner, and sugar disappeared from the table and appeared in the can on the shelf. "Why should we be locked up here as offenders? We don't do them any harm. No, you don't bore me. And it doesn't mean any stuff like I wanted to join that ridiculous matter that there, underneath, for centuries saws and saws the bough on which it's sitting. I've got a body, and it just wants emotions that Alpha can't give.
  "A woman?" Lukasz exhaled. He was practicing inside a collapsible rubber simulator on the opposite wall. "You know the chemistry of process as well as I do, make it quieter."
  "But I wanna no quieter," Robert insisted doggedly. "I wanna like this. Imagine it's surfing. Is it really fun - to pretend be a kiter in a place where there is never a wind or waves? It's not just a woman. I know you wanna it too - to give up on your "quiet" chemistry and feel the real drive. We've got wings..." he'd gently moved his naked shoulders, and behind his back waved and almost at the same instant disappeared two huge wings: "...but there is no sky."
  "It's unlikely they'll let you go there for no reason." Lukasz had pulled his hands out of the simulator, hauled himself up, pulled his legs out of it, and jumped to the floor. "Make up a mission on the Earth for yourself and prepare your immunity. And meanwhile, I'll take a shower."
  "Not bad," Robert said, rising thoughtfully. "But I have no idea."
  As if reading his sad thoughts, the communicator suddenly clinked in the adjacent room.
  Robert tapped the callsign for the door, entered, stucked his forefinger at the singing screen on the wall, and? while it was loading, hastily brushed his hair and winked at himself in front of the dark screen, like in front of a mirror.
  "Hello, my homeland, how did you sleep without me?" he uttered in a low pleasant voice to the cursor, that was still blinking in the middle of the screen.
  "Hi, Bob," the lighted screen responded in a nervous voice, and Lully Kerning's frightened freckled face emerged from the depths of the screen. "All is not going very well. Hawaii was stormy, the next oil tanker got spilled out into the Yellow Sea, and Mexico was digging up some sort of infection that no one knows how to cure. And how are you?"
  "Well, probably not as bad as you there, below. We have neither tankers here nor contagion," Robert joked in response without thinking and gasped: "What are you talking about, Lully? What kind of infection?"
  "I'm not alone today," Lully said, she took her hand off the screen, and the scale has immediately changed, revealing a crowded control room in which not only the due group was on duty, but also a lot of strangers. "Mr. Gilels, it's Mr. Vandarli."
  "Hello, Mr. Vandarli."
  Mr. Gilels was a lean man with long face who was sitting on the right of Lully.
  "I know you don't need unnecessary curtsy, so I'll talk about a deal right now," he said after a short pause. "I was in El Paso this morning. There was a quarantine declared there."
  Well, Robert thought, his hands are trembling, breathing is loud, and voice is unnatural... It seems, the case really takes an intriguing turn. And there are his, Robert's, kin there, on the Earth...
  "From the other side of the Mexican border, in Ciudad Juarez... We faced a queer epidemic," Mr. Gilels continued, nervously picking at the sleeve of his expensive jacket. "Over the last three days, ten thousand people were hospitalized there, and the vast majority of them are children. They all have a trouble with thermoregulation and metabolism. So far, no one has died, but that's all. And this morning first child has contracted from our side. In short, we need you here. Both of you."
  Robert had to work hard to suppress a smile which began to stretch all over his face. Here it is, a mission! And the Maker's immunity is very funny, but very obedient...
  "Mr. Vandarli, we'll send a shuttle for you, it should arrive tonight at twenty-thirty GMT," Mr. Gilels went on, as if the oncoming Maker's visit to the Earth was a trivia and common thing. "Could you get ready by this time?"
  "Long donning isn't included in the list of our shortcomings," Robert trifled by inertia.
  "Great," Mr. Gilels nodded, then Lully's thin hand again flashed for a moment, and the screen went off.
  Robert squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, not believing he had heard. The Earth gave permission! Moreover, the Earth is waiting for him!
  "Aha! Lukasz!" he shouted as mad. "How about tequila?! I know a fury lot of ways how to drink it! Where we can buy a quesadilla in Ciudad Juarez?!"
  "You haven't money for it," Lukasz remarked from the bath.
  And then the shuttle from the Earth has arrived to Alpha.
  Exactly at twenty-thirty GMT, two silent pilots had neatly and skillfully docked it to the gateway where Lukasz and Robert had been giving the last instructions on the unaided maintenance of Alpha to the pair of large-headed catta lemurs.
  Lemurs were listening, obediently nodding and clasping their thin black paws on their tummies.
  Thereby, at twenty thirty two, the pressure-vacuum compound gage had read zero, and the airlock was empty.
  Florida met them with sun and salty wind. For some half an hour along tenth federal track had flashed Tallahassee, New Orleans, Houston, and appeared El Paso itself surrounded on all sides by red hills. It was not at all like a city in panic.
  "You've got a hotel room ready and BNY Mellon accounts," Mr. Gilels said from front seat of the Cadillac. "If you manage to cope with this situation, an amount equivalent to the annual salary of a practicing doctor will be transferred to both of you."
  In the vicinity of Thomason Hospital everything was calm. The panic was bubbling only near the emergency room.
  It was flowing in the air: in eyes of counter doctors, in absence of civilians not related to medicine, and in numerous yellow antiplague suits.
  "It's a highly contagious airborne virus," the young woman the doctor who met them pointed at the sealed infectious disease ward. "This is our first patient."
  Robert and Lukasz for a long time deprived of women's society up in Alpha now have been touched with thin girl's arms and been melted from the untimely bliss.
  And behind the glass, in the sealed ward, lay a small Latin boy, spreading out on the large white bed.
  "He's eight years old. He was brought to us in the morning with hypothermia and non-functioning kidneys. The only thing we can do for him is to heat up the incubator to thirty-six point six. We are not even able to give him a dropper, because his vessels walls keep the water in."
  Robert and Lukasz exchanged glances. Lukasz had opened his mouth, but Robert got ahead of him.
  "And where do the rest sleep?" he asked warily.
  "How are you... Yes, by this time there are three hundred of them here and all they are asleep..."
  The lass the doctor looked her big blue eyes up to Robert, and he's surprised to find in himself a whole bunch of contradictory but very strong feelings. There was not only the joy of admiration in eyes of a beautiful woman, but also the despair from the consciousness that his body had sunk in puppy ecstasy and nearly ceased to obey him as well.
  He has surprised by this strong emotions, has surprised by the very fact of such surprising, and then inhaled deeper and tried to smile in the most innocent manner:
  "Well, you see... Excuse me, what's your name?"
  "You see, Lara, if the membrane transport is so much disturbed that even water doesn't pass through the cell walls, and then the brain would have nothing to do but sleep. So where do all they sleep?"
  "We have allocated two chambers for them. The one is for kids, this one where we now are. The other one located in the left wing. There are adults there. The amount of children is slightly more than two hundred."
  Robert has been listened to her and didn't hear. Yes, she was lovely. Yes, her presence gave him a lot of pleasure, but boy who was behind the glass in the infectious disease ward, impressed him no less, or even more: a fragile rigid boyish body, if you look closely at it, resembled a statue or deranged computer. It wasn't lifeless, but the life that was hovering in it was like a melody taped on a piano without strings. It was there, but by no means all.
  "Wow," he concluded, almost gaily. "Now he's going to get a little fresh."
  6. 2323rd year and after. Aia.
  Aia really wanted her brother to be born on New Year's Eve. As a gift for her.And her mother had no reason to know about this.
  As a matter of fact, Maker's life was much brighter than life of an ordinary person and much more predictable as well, beyond any dependence on age. But by this time Aia has managed to get used to the situation.
  Long before Matt's birth, Aia knew that his eyes will be emerald, and his hair will be as ginger and unruly as her own. She liked his appearance: his little nose, his broad, smiling toothless mouth, just like a frog's one, and fingers - so tender that if there, where he was swimming now, was any light, they would be transparent.
  She liked to watch him grow: how he yawns in evenings with mother, how he wakes up in mornings, how he puckers his poppet's brows in a frown.
  She knew that he already likes the melodic "Twilight" found out by Benji in the network and sent to Aia and hates hum of home motion detectors.
  However, it goes without saying that she didn't yet know what will be his name, that he will live on Alpha only for seven years, and that all these seven years he will use to adore her like a month-old puppy adores his kind and generous owner.
  Like any other Maker, she got present, but future wasn't strictly defined for her. Invisible threads has been stretched from present to future, but this tangle was hidden somewhere far away, beyond the horizon.
  Matt was born exactly at midnight on January 1, 2323.
  Wow, here is the future friend, the mate in games, Aia thought, having a lot of big ideas about what both of them would like to do in games and watched him closely from head to toe as he was lying on their mother's arms.
  And the future friend and mate in games at this time tried to understand the enormous external world that had fallen on him. His eyes already adjusted to the soft muffled light, and consequences of first breath sting were slightly blunted, so now he was completely captured by desire for skin-to-skin contact. And Aia, obeying ancient female instincts, mutely stretched out her arms to take him.
  "Aia..." he smiled by his toothless mouth and opened one of two wet malachite eyes, causing an involuntary spasm in his mother's throat while she resignedly hand him over to Aia.
  Matt was a child prodigy growing up without even realizing that. And why would he need to know that understanding result from neither the size of the brain nor belonging to a particular biological species? Why would he need to know that neural connections in his head are packed with the most optimal way for human?
  That wouldn't do any good.
  He didn't see anything unusual in that he began to speak almost from birth; he never wondered why his games were unlike ordinary childish ones. He didn't have peers with whom he could compare himself, and Aia was so out of reach that there could be no comparison.
  When Benji has delivered next Maker to Alpha, it was 2326th year. At that time Aia was fourteen years old, Matt was about three.
  They met at the gateway and now were sitting in the Valley, near water: Benji, next to him Aia, then Matt, lemurs and the cat.
  Aia held a package with biscuits on her lap. Matt wasn't hungry, so he was crumbling his cookies into the grass near Aia's knees. Matt's cookies turned out to be green and crawled, and Benji, hand over fist, was picking that green pieces in the green grass up and molded it into tiny green people and tiny green lemurs.
  "Aia, Aia, give us another piece!" lemurs cried shrilly. "We want to distinguish Matt from the cat by all one thousand seven hundred signs, not just by eye!"
  Aia took another cookie out of the package.
  Lemurs instantly had broken the gift and got a mouthful of it.
  "We looove you!" they'd squeezing their eyes tight shut and sang in ecstasy.
  "Happy beings," Benji smiled.
  "Yes," Aia agreed. "Love is not a bad feeling. I love you too, and it seems to me like happiness."
  "Why me?" Benji just had molded another tiny figure, put his thin silvery hand on the grass and opened it with his palm up. Holding on to what could be called a thumb, a miniature but exact copy of the android slid down from the metal hand into the grass.
  Aia lowered her palm beside his, and tiny green Benji bravely climbed on it and let her bring him to her face.
  "Because," Aia said, closely examining tiny green features. "Don't you know a preferences are very illogical matter? But if you really need an explanation then you speak a language that I understand. You are free and I've got a real pleasure watching you."
  "When are you free?" Matt asked, as though by the way.
  "You are free when you don't know what you want. Isn't it, Benji? - Aia grinned and winked at the teensy tiny android on her palm.
  "True," true Benji agreed. Now his hands were not occupied, and he almost humanly held his arms around his knees. "When you don't know what you want, you don't act. And when you don't act, density of your servitude is minimal. And it might be okay. Because what have been happening there..." the android waved his hand toward the Earth floating high above Alpha, "...It's wrong. They are all subordinated to the mania of creation."
  "As for me, I don't like such a freedom," Matt said and sighed. "Because I don't like to just sit like that. And I'd like to know what I want. "
  Benji blinked and turned to Matt:"e'u kelci"*
  "mi fitytu'i, "*, he agreed sadly. "What will we play?"
  "Let's play verses. A little mouse named Jones has dried a little pine cones. Now it's your turn, don't forget about rhyme and rhythm."
  "How rich with cones a little Jones, he's distributed them as loans. "Matt was already smiling. "Benji, let's just play the transformation?"
  "Oh..." Benji looked upset. "This should be asked of Aia."
  "And we too, and we also!" the lemurs sang. "And us too, and us also!"
  No one has ever seen what was happening inside the Maker at such moments.
  Aia didn't flinch, just her eyes darkened a little, and in the next moment the water below hove up and rose, taking the form of huge blue transparent dragon. The dragon snorted thickly and loudly, so that its "frrrrrrr" passed through them like a low shiver, slowly curved its long serrated back, spattering them with mud, and opened a huge transparent blue mouth where few fish were caught unawares.
  "Oh!" screamed the lemurs.
  The dragon's head had sunk toward the ground, and one of its huge transparent eye marveled at them as its nostrils sniffed, loudly breathing in.
  Even the cat which was tranquilly sleeping in the grass at some distance jumped, hissed and arched its back in a fear. Cool air has nearly frozen over.
  "Wow!" Matt has amazed.
  He jumped to his feet in a fit of wish to embrace the dragon's muzzle, but his hands passed through the water on the fly, and he got drenched from head to toe.
  The dragon squinted its eyes and looked at the bewildered boy, then again uttered rumbling "frrrrrrr" and went noisily back down to the wet bottom of the terrace. The water was gurgling for a while and finally subsided.
  e'u kelci* -Let'splay. (Lojban)
  mi fitytu'i* -I agree. (Lojban)
  7. 2043rd year. Robert.
  It was a banal viral infection.
  Needless to say, if people had had more time for lurching from one crisis to another, they would cope with it without assistance - the UN, WHO, medical research programs, social support and all that...
  But they did not have any time.
  However, under the current circumstances the healing was much more prosaic: Robert just slightly focused, and cheeks of the boy who was lying behind the glass in the sealed ward almost immediately flushed.
  If there was something weird, it was only Robert's own feelings in the matter, as if he had picked up a page in a score and scared the notes off it like a bird's flock.
  Then two of them covered Mexico and Texas with a huge dome. Everything that happened afterwards did not even require any excessive effort from them.
  Soon after the fuss in the Thomason Hospital had ceased, all cases were miraculously recovered with no fatalities, Robert and Lukasz were released to the hotel with a firm recommendation from the FBI - don't leave the hotel.
  Lara and Mr. Gilels took them to the very door of the hotel room, but stayed out - both he and she.
  At parting, Robert, desperately embarrassing, nevertheless asked Lara for her phone number.
  The next morning was cloudy and cold. From the very day dawn, both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez were busy cleaning the snow that has suddenly fallen on them.
  People were hurrying on their ways, not even suspecting that hospitals were gradually becoming empty.
  Lukasz, in a chequered terry bathrobe, was standing at the window watching people scurrying below, and Robert with a mouthful of toothpaste was humming in front of a mirror in the bathroom when the knock came on the door.
  There was Mr. Gilels behind the door.
  "Good morning, Mr. Lansky," he smiled and held the hand out to Lukasz.
  "Hello," agreed Lukasz.
  "May I come in?"
  He'd readily passed by stepping aside Lukasz, looked around in a officious manner, and, not embarrassing at all, walk to the bar:
  "Would you like some drink? Well... I think, though, you could do it on your own, if you want. With your permission?" and soon in his hands was a glass of whiskey.
  "As a matter of fact, I've got an offer for you," he said, sitting down in a large armchair and looking up at Lukasz. "You see, gentlemen... Do you hear me, Mr. Vandarli?"
  "Definitely," Robert gave the nod to the bathroom mirror.
  "I'm afraid that your stay here would be associated with some eh... inconveniences. You and I... we are reasonable people and naturally totally get it all. I can't speak for all humanity, but it seems to me that as a whole they are still... ungrateful and incapable of tolerating any Makers in their own house... or something that."
  He took a sip and turned the glass, admiring the glare running along it. "But humanity as a whole is humanity as a whole, it have never really been good at thinking. I'm glad to inform you that the government of the United States not only asks you to feel here at home, but also is ready to provide transport and security at your disposal in case of unforeseen circumstances. Anyway, you have a week."
  "Then let's start with the Grand Canyon and then I'd like to visit my parents," said Robert who appeared in the doorway.
  The road between rusty hills was rusty, deserted and monotonous.
  Hoover Dam had remained far behind, and now on both sides of the road for several hours had been going Arizona.
  "It seemed to me earlier that there was no choice at all," Gilels speculated benignly.
  One of his hands lay on the steering wheel, the elbow of second one was sticking out of the open window. "Physics, philosophy ... and even common sense itself - they all unanimously say that anything doesn't come out of nowhere, that everything has a cause. But now I understand that it's not that simple. Reality is always outside your head. And the one who deals with this reality is inside. And often it turns out that you get exactly what you are striving for so much. You longing to despair and irresponsibility - well, there you have it. If you want the opposite - bada-bing, we're good. And without any approximations, assumptions and surrogates. In fact, both the length and the scenery of your life may not be the same as that you imagined. Eh... as a reality. The one that there is outside. But it's always only something to deal with. What you can deal with. This is definitely not who deals. And, by the way, the question immediately arises about this "who". So who? Who chooses those or other circumstances? How do we know if this "who" are we or does someone else do it?"
  "The key word here is the word "we"," said Lukasz, who was sitting next to him and looking in the opposite direction at the passing landscape. "We are the same material, only painted in other colors. We are the same clay. Formed, burnt, but the same. With the same necessity to be in need. And our choice depends not so much on the number of days we have been here and on our scars, but on our intention. Well, you must agree: in order to make the right choice, you need no less than to calculate all consequences of your actions to the very point when days of the universe will be numbered. And this sounds not unrealistic, it sounds anecdotal. So any choice is just a firm commitment to do in one way or another not because it will be better, but because it's just so."
  Robert listened to them only half paying attention because there was actually a fascinating exercise - to pick up colour drawn butterflies from Lara's white dress and let them out of the window of the Cadillac. The wind was tearing butterflies from his fingers and carrying them away somewhere far back.
  "What do you calculate all this stuff for? On such a large scale?" he was surprised. "Take the amount of data accessible to you and focus on them. It's simple. O my God, I've really missed people. Or maybe I've just grown up."
  "You just have an acute need to be a link in the evolution," Lukasz grinned.
  "But I don't at all feel the need to be a link in the evolution," said Robert, while letting out another butterfly to the air stream. "In general, I believe that someone's local progress differs little from someone's local regress. This is about expectations."
  "Then why this longing for the weight?" Lukasz grinned again. "Look, there's your Canyon."
  Far on the horizon Arizona turned out to be serrated.
  The four of them were standing on the very edge of chasm, staring at the large abyss below. The setting sun turned cliffs and crags into scarlet and ocher colors.
  The transparent viewing platform with tourists was now far behind them. Gilels took off his jacket and stayed in a white shirt, and Lara was now in a white dress without any butterflies, - already there, on the edge of the cliff, Lukasz picked up and let out the last one.
  Robert pulled off his sneakers, socks and shirt, squared his broad shoulders, and two enormous wings unfolded from nowhere behind his back.
  The first bullet entered his head exactly at the moment when he stepped off the cliff.
  The second caught up with him two meters below.
  That he was mistaken, the sniper realized a couple of seconds later, when his finger, pulling the trigger, has numb. It was necessary first to take the one who remained standing on the rock, he thought, while he was being covered by the hot wave, and then I'd have a time to pick off the second one, while his attention was captured by the stream coming from under the cliff.
  But these thoughts were languid and inconclusive.
  At this time, somewhere in one of parallel universes, Lara screamed. She was covering her bleached with horror face with her hands, and Gilels has been fussing over her - he, in his snow-white shirt, has been falling on the ground and pulling out the almost useless gun that was stuck in the almost inaccessible holster.
  And somewhere in another parallel universe at this time the sunset was being reflected on the Lukasz's eyes while he has stubbornly and concentratedly been weaving the new reality.
  In this new reality, there was no place not only for the third bullet that had (or hadn't?) time to exit the barrel of a gun and dissolve halfway between the temple, which now didn't belong to it, and the sniper, who was melting in paralysis: there was no place for the first two too.
  In this new reality, Robert was still falling, spreading his powerless wings wide, but death first stepped back from him one small step, and then, when somewhere halfway to the sparkling far away Colorado he threw open his eyes, it finally gave up him fully.
  "Oh, what a crazy idiots ..." whispered Gilels.
  In this new reality, a Polish group called "Ludzie", six men who set out to liquidate both Makers, ceased to exist.
  The pilot of white-blue "Robinson" which was standing at the transparent viewing platform, blacked out and put his dull head on the helm as if he had not slept for a week and now was making up for lost time. The mechanic sitting next to him who once was brisk and vivid, a couple of seconds ago dropped his cigarette from his mouth to his own pants, and the saliva slowly trickled down from the corner of his half-open mouth.
  And as for the tracker who just an instant ago nervously was walking around pretending to be a tourist, he now was unable to stand on his wobbly feet - he laid down in the middle of the road leading to the cliff and looked up at the grand sinking orange sun.
  The three others - the one waiting in the hotel in Las Vegas and the two remaining in Warsaw - have had only a few minutes to be horrified at the perniciousness of their intentions and surrender to the local police.
  When Robert who caught the ascending air stream again appeared on the edge of the cliff, Gilels already was brushing away the rusty dust from his crumpled pants, and Lukasz's eyes were no longer bottomless and have regained their depth.
  Lara's face was still white, she still covered it with her hands, but the mask of horror on it almost faded.
  "Wow! What a ride!" Robert exhaled. "Lukasz, I hope that's all?"
  No, Lukasz thought, nodding in agreement.
  "Then I'm taking the lass with me, we'll find you at the hotel."
  Robert touched the ground with his feet, picked up Lara in his arms and again stepped off into the abyss which a couple of minutes ago almost cost him his life.
  Lara who never jumped out of a cliffs - neither with parachute nor without, but deeply impressed by the miracle of visible creation that has been just unfolded before her, clutched his neck with a death grip, afraid to close her eyes and leave them open at the same time.
  "Don't worry," Robert whispered into her ear. "I'm here. Now everything will be fine."
  She nodded, looking up at him and desperately trying to believe what he says, and her dress fluttered in the oncoming airflow.
  "You are in the center of the universe, and the center is always unharmed," he went on in a whisper, realizing with awe that just about a little more and he won't want to think about anything else. "Look how beautiful."
  Below, in the canyon, the orange light was gradually ceasing, giving way to the night that was going to cover the earth.
  "I want you," she said, as he touched the black bottom with his feet.
  I know, he agreed in silence. Any questions of any love were non-existent yet.
  Then, when the world regained its contours, they were walking for a long time, and blue night moths were landing on her crumpled white dress. Did Robert know that he'll have a son?
  He just didn't think about it.
  8. 2327th year. Benji.
  I'm Benji, I'm a mediator. But I don't know what an area of mediation I should apply to.
  I have been bringing amazing creatures from one amazing place to another. But the further the more ridiculous seems to me my function because from such a rearrangement of summands the amount of the surprising matter in my locality doesn't change at all.
  It's strange: something turned upside down in my world; I began to perceive in another way that trifle, that almost zero, which all this time so masterfully pretended to be me. And also strange that all this is strange to me. Because...
  Benji, do remember: you're a machine, you know how not to lie. Because she loves you. Congratulations, Benji: meaningful zero is no longer zero.
  Benji's silvery palms lay on the dashboard. He didn't need any screens, scales and indicators to know exactly how the present moment flows here, inside his shuttle.
  He didn't need any eyes to know that there, inside Alpha, the present moment also flows quite definitely: Aia stands there, pressing her forehead against the hatch, and will stand there until the hum from running orbiter's engines ceases through the glassium, - until he undocks.
  Benji held his hands on the dashboard and his fingers trembled.
  He was a machine and didn't know how to be nervous. His hands were never a source of trembling. In flight, the trembling always came to him from the outside - from the stern in which the main engines were humming, or from additional engines of the orientation system, or from the fuselage, and he never placed much value in this trembling. No, it is not: he placed it, but it always was purely practical - the number of revolutions, speed, condition of the equipment.
  Benji didn't know how to be nervous, but he knew how to draw conclusions.
  Today, the trembling that came to his thin fingers from engines meant not only the engine speed; today, it meant that the universe had chipped him from itself.
  He realized himself as a person.
  Technically, according to the realization that has covered him, a person exists as a person in no way through the attainment of objectives. He listened to the hum of his engines which was expending fuel from the drop tanks, and pondered about sociality.
  It's paradoxically, Benji thought, but as for a person, a person exists as a person only through the sociality.
  As an intelligent machine, android definitely knew what systematics is.
  Of course, if to adhere to logic, there was a group to which he could relate himself. But he didn't exist as a person through the brand "AI-DII" engraved on his neck, just as a human doesn't exist as a person through the presence of hands, feet or head. A person exists as a person through the ability to feel the need and be in this need.
  The need, thought Benji, is exactly what gives special value to things and processes and distinguishes them from one another.
  He didn't feel the need in the sense in which a people feel it: he never wanted to eat, drink, sleep or warm. His need was of a somewhat different nature: he needed free access to the necessary information, the veracity of addresses and the observance of the sequence of commands. The need he experienced was not as deep as, let's say, the human need to breathe, but, nevertheless, was also a need. Benji had no idea of the depth and intensity of senses, but he had an idea of a depth and intensity.
  Theoretically, he thought, a human named Aia seemed to violate the law of kinship with her species group, feeling in need of a being radically different from her. But on the other hand (also theoretically) a human named Aia remained a human - experiencing an eternal craving for the unknown.
  In Aia there was nothing strange, the strange was now waking up in him: he who never distinguished himself from his own kind, now, unexpectedly for himself, thought about the fact that the difference, despite everything, exists.
  While Benji who never wanted anything for himself, through that reasoning vaguely and from afar was looking at his own desires, his shuttle quickly and inexorably had pumped all the air which no longer was needed to the android himself from the shuttle into the glassium dome of Alpha and undocked from the hatch chamber.
  The cargo terminal Orly met him with a thin drizzling rain.
  The wet airstrip was empty and densely glowed red. Outside it there were a lot of interplanetary lorries which were as much looked like pterodactyls, as the true pterodactyls, and between them bustled around people. All of them shifted and shifted something from place to place, endlessly loading and unloading it.
  Under the loud rustling sound of raindrops evaporating from the sheathing and the moody brooding of the electronic dispatcher, Benji has led his ship over the red stripe and further, at the very end of the dock, to the seventeenth path.
  As always, the android had turned stern of his ship around to the concrete fence, tested everything that could be tested, reported to the central dispatcher that there were no extraordinary incidents, that he did not need spare parts and repair personnel, and then finally climbed into the engine room and went online.
  Never-ending "tock-tock-tock-tock". It's a clock generator. It's the life of the processor, the life of the machine, Benji's life.
  No sleep, no rest, no fatigue - only loneliness, cleverly disguised in the network under the global mutual interest.
  Someone's forums, blogs, directories, shops, messengers...
  What does it matter who you are, Benji? Ripple. A barren gray semantic ripple - as a taxpayer, a buyer, a customer...
  Benji froze in indecision, determining the meaning of his actions, and, consequently, the direction - who am I? Where am I going to? He, whose billions of operations per second served not the whole legion of liver or intestinal cells but the understanding and building logical connections, took several long seconds to decide - today everything will be different.
  The android has located a desire: the usual drift was no longer interesting to him.
  The inner world of Benji differed little from the external. He could to process information what came to him through his eyes and ears, as well as that flowed by digital streams over radio channels - with the same equal enthusiasm.
  Benji didn't see that Makers saw - he simply didn't have requisite "eyes" and "ears" for it, but he was able to organize the universe he dealt with.
  Inspired by Aia and the Parisian weather, he painted a dancing rain, came up with a soundtrack and sent the video to Aia.
  9. 2043rd year and after. A little bit of everybody.
  Robert's parents were an ordinary American couple.
  Lukasz who had never been to America before was amazed at their youthfulness, their gaiety, the neat house in Galveston full of children, dogs and cats, and very much wanted to go home.
  He wanted to go home while Robert and his younger brothers were fishing at dawn with his father in the Gulf of Mexico; he wanted to go home while Robert's mother and Lara were trying to find common interests.
  And then, later, he also wanted to go home - while he went to Houston Intercontinental, while he was flying over the Atlantic, and while already at the Prague airport he saw his mother and father in the vast crowd.
  All this time longing for the past tormented him with incredible strength. He was on his own so many years, and maybe that was why he who had learned perfectly to manage with his own psyche, at this time let himself off the short leash.
  Who is able to understand them, these people, even if they are Makers? Probably he just wanted a sorrow.
  Prague has not changed much over the years - a little more filled with cars, became a slightly more modern, but still, as before, was filled with sun and sugary smell of linden.
  Lukasz who remembered city almost exactly as it was was sort of looking at the present, but saw the near past - himself, quite a boy, the school, friends and Alice.
  Now she is thirty, he thought with a lump in his throat and remembered how then, in that former and wrong life, he felt that the meaninglessness, divided into two, ceases to be meaningless.
  She worked as a waitress in the cafe called "Malostranska Beseda."
  Lukasz didn't go inside - what was he supposed to do there?
  He was sitting at the round wooden table in the street and for about ten minutes didn't think about anything. He simply watched through the strange stained-glass window: there, inside, the loved one has been moving, straightening her disobedient blond hair and smiling to the visitors.
  Lukasz admired her gait, the familiar line of her smiling lips, her thin ankles and waist, just as the day before he looked from the parental balcony at the Prague dawn, or how someone is enjoying the snowfall - delighted and slightly aloof.
  He admired and waited for her to feel that something going to be wrong. Herself.
  Women are amazing creatures, he thought, looking at how she at first froze, then perplexedly looked around and finally stared at him, who is sitting outside.
  And then he never understood what coincided with her desperate "whoa": whether the collapse of his heart or its escalation.
  The past ten years slightly sharpened her features, but have not yet indicated feelings that she lived with through a wrinkles.
  "Hi." Lukasz nodded. "How are you?"
  They stood hugging each other. He stroked her back, her shoulders, felt himself strong, big, smart and terribly unhappy at the same time and thought why, why this tiny piece of the universe is more important to him than all the rest.
  "Okay, Lukasz." She looked up at him. "Today is great. You haven't changed at all."
  "I know. And you?"
  "I don't know. From the inside it seems that no. Yesterday, they showed Mexico and Arizona. Local hospitals are empty, right up to psychiatric; doctors and policemen are unemployed for two days. You were in on it, weren't you?"
  She smiled, turned away, wiping her eyes, and Lukasz's heart began to ache.
  "I was in on it," he echoed. "I thought about you. Often."
  "And I thought about you. You've come for long?"
  "Sometimes it seems to me that I'll be here forever." A smile slipped over his face. "But I understand that it's more desirable than real. What are your plans for today?"
  "To break away from you, to finish my work, on the way home to pick up some milk and bread. I hope they coincide with yours."
  "My..." Lukasz closed his eyes. "My plans for the next couple of days can be expressed in one word - you."
  "People! People!" screamed lemurs waiting on the inside of Alpha for the equalization of pressure in the airlock. "A lot of them! A lot! We missed you!"
  And people smiled and waved their hands in response. Both old and new.
  The former were condescending, the new ones were shy and surprised. And then the lock was opened.
  Both of lemurs jumped up to say that their rains all the time went on regularly, that the oxygen content in the air without people is not less than here ever was, that the glassium is durable and transparent, that the Earth is hanging in the sky for days on end.
  "We waited for you! Waited! Why have you been there so long?! So long!" they lamented.
  Definitely, Alpha was not quite a ship after all, because women who appeared there brought with them no trouble, but a new life.
  After their appearance on Alpha, the first walking house was born - big, shaggy, soft, green and obedient. It, small and shy, was given to Lara by Robert.
  As a round, large-eyed lump, he'd been crawling slowly along the dining room floor, looking and with great pleasure eating everything that could be digested, sometimes forgetting and licking the human hands and feet that came along the way, and when the burning white sun emerged from behind the Earth, the house sat in the Valley at the very water, fluffed its fragrant green hair and froze in a quiet chlorophyll bliss.
  When Lara's son was born, the house had grown to the size of a elephant calf.
  Its main duty was to carry and entertain the baby, and it was extremely pleased and proud.
  For whole days he tirelessly circled along the Alpha's perimeter or along the one of its intricate trajectories, carrying a small human being in its breathing bag like in a cradle. In such a simple way the house gradually used to be a house.
  Some time later soft transparent windows grew and formed in the house, then on the ceiling of the boy's room sprouted two luminescent bands, and then this room splitted and produced something remotely resembling a shower to those who knew what a shower was.
  Every morning the house sticked into the cradle its feelers with colored rattling balls, used as toys for the boy, and every night sung lullabies.
  In this situation, Lara, being a mother, wasn't bothered her motherhood at all - she fed her son when he was hungry, played and talked with him, and when fatigue took over - gave the baby into the soft green gizzard, thereby making happy both - the baby and his house.
  When Robert's son was a year old, Alice gave birth to a daughter.
  Lukasz who knew from the very beginning that his daughter was destined to become a Maker, didn't hasten this event, because he remembered too vividly how difficult it was for him to cope with large-scale creations that used to arrive at nights. For the same reason, his doughter spent all her childhood under his supervision.
  When Robert's house grew enough to accommodate all of them simultaneously without overcrowding, they often got together - playing with children, laughing, singing and drawing.
  By the time when Benji first appeared on Alpha in 2278, Alpha already was a small settlement of dozen people, and five of them were Makers.
  10. 2278th year. Benji.
  Benji learned about Alpha as well as about much else almost simultaneously with the awakening of self - awareness, through the planned information loading.
  Everything happened under the direction of the previous generation AI-DII group, immediately after the assembly was finished - during simple start-up and adjustment procedures.
  Series of five "newborn" metal-plastic brothers with the AI index in the form of dead insensitive machines was delivered to the nursery and seated in deep white armchairs.
  Life poured in them in turn, one by one - at first the installation of the OS, then, while awakening androids was still as clean as babies, they were loaded with a short High Threat Course - basic laws of sociology from which each of them in the next few minutes independently, but inevitably deduced the necessary moral guidelines.
  Of course, there were many legal subtleties related to the purposefulness of production and use of creatures like Benji.
  Humanity treated the first generation of AI-DII like a group of their own highly gifted children: they were admired, feared, but their independence was no less ghostly than the independence of a snow-removing machinery.
  The machines belonged to institutes that have caused their births, the machines worked for their developers, the machines were bought and sold...
  And all this continued until the fifth DII of the first generation committed a suicide, stepping out into the open window of the one hundred and thirteenth floor of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
  Unlike human adolescents who suffered more from lack of life goals than from their availability, the first androids were tightly bound by their own destiny: they were produced in the interest of human and for human, and indeed turned to be the most real mental slaves directly after the factory.
  It is true, humanity wouldn't be humanity if it still didn't want to remain humane.
  The second batch of DII (though there were only three of them) was stamped, loaded and released on their own. Contrary to all expectations, the experiment also ended unsuccessfully: in just a few days all three simultaneously came to the conclusion that any active stirring is atavistic and unreasonable, and they didn't come up with anything better than organizing their own dismantling within the parent factory.
  Almost immediately after this suicidal action, lawyers took up the case, and the production of the DII was temporarily suspended - until the fate of the first generation would be decided.
  The UN took all four of them from their owner-companies and invited to the closed session of the assembly no more and no less as a whole nation, and that, strictly speaking, was not so far from the truth: none of the different human nations differed from the other so much, as these brothers with the AI index from their unlucky creators.
  In turn, DII asked about the presence of at least one of Makers, after which they expressed their own views on what was happening.
  As a result, the most famous amendment to the "World Declaration" was born.
  According to the newly confirmed amendment, the world population was now divided into three unequal categories - people, androids and Makers. Henceforth each category, apart from different rights, also had the quite certain duties.
  The duty of people now was a severe restriction of the production of the androids and the ban on production for the sake of entertainment: now the "birth" of each DII should be compulsorily agreed with their older brothers and be strictly targeted - in order to avoid a crisis of meaninglessness that killed thir second generation.
  In response, members of the AI-DII family were obliged to fulfill their mission within the first fifty years, and after this set period they were free to dispose of their destiny in the way they pleased.
  As for Makers, they seemed to remain people and, on the one hand, still had all human rights, but on the other, they themselves knew perfectly well that their rights represented rights of a Harvard graduate who in a twist of fate was thrown in the kindergarten.
  Alpha turned out to be the Benji's fate.
  By and large, he was not interested in what his other "brothers" were made for, he didn't need to know someone else's purpose - perhaps because he was primarily a machine albeit unusual.
  The sixth Maker, who has to become his first passenger, was a linguist, professor of UCLA, an enthusiast of constructed languages.
  "Hello," he said, looking around curiously the gondola. "I'm Josh."
  "Hello, Josh," Benji responded, one of the DII yet.
  "You are a pilot."
  "Judging by the intonation, it's not a question," the android smiled.
  "No," shook his head Maker. "I'm glad that you're the one who will be the pilot. I wanted exactly this.
  "Why?" didn't understand Benji.
  "Because you're a machine."
  "So what?" didn't understand Benji again.
  "You, machines, don't have that different stuff which prevents people from thinking, and I don't have anyone to talk to," he patiently explained and waved his hand toward the open trapdoor "There is my baggage there."
  "What do you think about languages?" asked the human settling in the chair by the porthole.
  In his G-suit he looked like an athlete who overfed by anabolic steroids.
  "I've never thought of them before, Josh," Benji shrugged, tuning the ship and tuning himself. "But it seems to me that any language is just a system of signs, a way of dividing, fixing and transferring experience. Machine language, human - no difference. Perhaps, without some language, in its own, any experience is impossible."
  "I think so, too," the passenger nodded.
  "I suspect," Benji continued, "that all my scripts are languages that talk to themselves. Just like your DNA."
  "Perhaps," Josh agreed. "I was here somehow trying to build a cross-compiler on Lojban. I highly recommend, - it's something between the brick and cloud, with style and vigor."
  "Thanks, I'll look," the android replied evasively.
  When Alpha grew big enough for Benji to see her for the first time, he'd rummaged in his memory and remembered that he already remembered all this: the huge plate of the sole, and the titanic three-legged supports that grew into it, and the transparent hemisphere of the glassium dome, and the docking unit, waiting for him.
  Benji didn't know how to be surprised, but even if he know how to do it, he would hardly has been surprised at the sudden surge of knowledge: he never differentiated between his own and others' experience, there were just different experiences that had different extensions.
  "By the way, about languages," Josh grinned, watching as Benji unpacks his memories. "What do you think about names?"
  "I think that they are a little different from other words. They leave space for a semantic vortex associated with a personal relationship."
  "Do you have a name?"
  "I don't think so, Josh."
  "That's right. Names are given to us by those who are our source. Read about conlangs when you'll stay alone. Choose a name for yourself and become your own source.
  "Okay," Benji agreed getting into close proximity to Alpha.
  "mi'a poi lo remna ku nelci lonu sisku loka simsa,"*Josh said, unfastening the suit from the passenger seat. ".i lonu ti kaiVAlias krasi cu simsa lonu sovda penmi .ije mi ba xe draci fe lonu lo nakni sovda kernelo cu gasnu vauzo'o"*
  Benji didn't have any special interests in this matter, he simply needed the intelligibility of incoming signals and knew how to look for answers.
  The first thing he did upon his return to Earth was to arrange for himself the internet access through the central control room. After that he'd ran over the Lojban grammar, and finally downloaded the dictionary. In general, it took him about five minutes to learn the language, five more was spent choosing a name from the variety of Lojban words, after which he turned from a common faceless machine with the serial number into Benji.
  The result which the android received with a good reason could be called a moral satisfaction.
  mi'a poi lo remna ku nelci lonu sisku loka simsa* - We, people, like to draw analogies. (Lojban)
  lonu ti kaiVAlias krasi cu simsa lonu sovda penmi .ije mi ba xe draci fe lonu lo nakni sovda kernelo cu gasnu vauzo'o* - This beginning of kaivalya is very like a fertilization, in which I'm assigned the role of male haploid nucleus. (Lojban)
  11. 2330th year. Aia.
  "Matt, Matt," Aia whispered, bending to her brother. "Finish your meal and let's go play."
  "Uh-huh," Matt beamed.
  As quickly as he could, he scraped rests of porridge from the bowl, stuffed it into his mouth and nodded, which meant that he was ready: he loved when Aia is playing even more than when she is serious. Aia's game could mean anything.
  "Put on your jacket and go," she whispered, getting up from the table. "It's evening there, cold and foggy."
  The space outside the house was dark, foggy and cool. Matt was wearing a thick woolen jacket, and Aia was wearing a light blue sweater. In addition she had a backpack with all sorts of stuff.
  "AARRGH..."something didn't even growled, but passed like a heavy shiver upon the ground, legs and spine. "AARRGH..."
  "Oh!" Matt panted slightly.
  The mist swayed and thickened. Shreds of fog floated among shaggy green houses and stars, keeping things from kids.
  Aia pressed her finger to her lips, showing: "Hush!"
  Matt nodded, blinked and was dumbfounded at the same time: somewhere on the edge of visibility a huge tower swam, and he realized that it was someone's leg. Then there was a rustle, and a whole sea of small white caudate creatures ran and fluctuated below him.
  These creatures did not pay any attention to Matt, their bodies were slightly denser than the mist over their heads, and they were hurrying in the same direction as the tower had just floated.
  Matt bent down and touched the white back of one of them, and to his surprise, its wool turned into a snow, and where his finger had just touched, a melted stain spreaded upon the small furry animal back. The creature screamed in horror and rushed off.
  Matt raised his head and saw as a second huge tower swam across in the mist.
  "Aia, don't scare Matt," said the voice from the open house.
  "Mom, I'm not scared," whispered the boy and turned to Aia. "Where are we going to?"
  Aia pointed to her eyes with two fingers, then pointed forward, and then folded her palms in the form of roof: we're going to look at the house.
  "Let's deceive the gravitator?" she whispered into Matt's ear and winked.
  "Then hold on." She'd exhaled easily into Matt's ear, and the air around the boy was flapping as a thick cold jelly, rustling, buzzing and transforming into a vast cloud of large furry white bumblebees which grabbed him by his jacket and his wide trousers and pulled him up.
  Aia grinned, transparent wings unfolded behind her shoulders, she jumped lightly up and followed the white flock of bumblebees.
  The gravitator was a complicated openwork structure in the very zenith of colossal glassium hemisphere: a relatively small active zone was surrounded by a chain reaction control system, radiation protection, halo of reflectors, and enormous web of thin gravity guides made from niobium berylide.
  Between the center of the cobweb and the highest point of the transparent dome, in the cellular weightless nucleus sat the Bibich generator - as a large silvery spider, and along its outer perimeter - between extreme guides and the outer dome - was arranged a wide "pedestrian" zone, a narrow glassium corridor.
  It was what Aia was referring to, when she said "to look at the house."
  Strictly speaking, there was no pedestrian corridor. Being located outside the gravity guides, it remained in the gravitational "shadow" and it was impossible to walk along it. But as well it was impossible to fall. Matt who was almost forcibly stucked into the transparent pipe and abandoned there to the mercy of fate, spread out like a frog and was swimming now from wall to wall in a state of a deep euphoria.
  It was impossible to surprise him with stars or nebulae (stars on Alpha always were large, and nebulae bright), but how his small world looks from such a height he saw for the first time.
  "Look, Aia!" he whispered. "Alpha is so small!"
  "Yes, honey. Alpha is small. But what a beautiful place..."
  "Yes! Yes!" Matt was enchanted. "There is a - you see?! - a large puddle there! There is Valley! And these white spots near it are fog! And that white mount is the one who walked by me with its big feet! Aia, who is this?! ..
  "Ah... It's nobody," the girl laughed. "This is the form. It'll soon melt. Look at the crest on its back: it's already raveling out. That's because I'm so far away from it, and so close to this thing," and she pointed to Bibich's silvery spider.
  Oh, Makers are happy people, thought Matt, because they are never afraid of anything.
  But he wasn't a Maker - he was a small seven-year-old boy hanging out in a black infinity, and so was afraid.
  For the first time in his life, his house seemed to him fragile and unreliable. The Earth hanging nearby in the darkness as a damp blue-green ball looked much more fundamentally.
  "Have you ever been there?" he asked quietly at the sister sailing beside him.
  "I was born there," Aia responded. "And I lived there until they sent me here."
  "What for?"
  "They're afraid of us, Matt. Next to us they feel like a fake paper fireplace in which the most real fire is burnt.
  "Fire?" the boy naively looked at her in surprise. "Are you kidding?"
  Aia shook her head: no.
  "They just don't understand anything!"
  Yes, she nodded, they don't understand.
  "I never thought you looked like a fire," Matt said. "I thought it's the only way people should be. Not be able to do everything, no. To think like you think. To love, to see, not to be afraid."
  "They just have a lot of conditionalities there." Aia'd breathed on the clear glassium surface separating both of them from the open space, and on the misty spot has drawn a small smiling raccoon. "Their whole life is built on conditionalities. They are born in conditionalities, live in it and die in it. They're afraid of change, because they do not keep up with them."
  "But they do not see the most interesting things!"
  Yes, she nodded, they do not see. Yes, the most interesting.
  "You know, Aia, five minutes ago I wanted to go there much more than now," Matt sighed. "But still I'd like to see a lot. For example, how Benji lives."
  "But you already know how Benji lives," Aia smiled. "It's unlikely you'd see anything new there. Benji sleeps in the engine room. And you were there. Benji sees the Internet as a dream. And there you were, too."
  "Yes," the boy agreed. "I was there."
  "But, if you want, I'll tell you about people who live there."
  "Yes, I do want," said Matt.
  He swam to the glassium, next to the painted raccoon breathed another misty spot and painted on it two little figures holding hands.
  "Tell me."
  "If we consider the Maker is the only normal person, then we can say people who live there each and every have mental deviations from the norm," Aia said. "They constantly demand each other's close attention and special approach. They're not able to check and correct their actions in accordance with conditions of their reality. They don't control their painful experiences, and each of them has at least one paranoid symptom on standby."
  "What kind of symptom?" asked Matt.
  "Paranoid. They don't know how to agree with themselves and therefore believe that it's impossible to agree with others as well. And the less they love each other the more they justify their suspicions about the general dislike."
  "It's strange," the boy was surprised. "I thought the less you know the more you need a company..."
  "Yes, it's true. But only the less you know the worse you have contact with those who you need. I think they are alone because their souls are blind."
  "How my soul is, too..." Matt concluded sadly.
  "Well, in general, like your," agreed Aia. "All of you are very sensitive to subtle emotions, but you answer them so haphazard... But don't be upset, anyone can start to deliberate, perhaps it'll come to you with experience. Look what I have."
  She took her backpack off, rummaged in it, took out a large ball of silver thread, winked and held it out to her brother:
  "Well, where is this hole that we come in through? Put this thing in the hole.
  Matt took a thin silver thread that was twisted in a hank and looked around searching for the entrance which was now supposed to be the exit.
  In the hole, on the glassium edge, sat a large white furry bumblebee. Matt stuck the end of the thread into the hole, and the bumblebee immediately buzzed, took off, grabbed it and pulled it from the hole down toward the far sole.
  In the first instant, confused, Matt dropped the hank from his hands, but guessing what it was all about, laughed, caught a spinning zero-gravity hank and let the thread unwind through his crossed fingers. The bumblebee was pulling it down, the thread was vibrating and buzzing in Matt's hands, and the other big white bumblebees flew to this buzzing from everywhere. First they sat on the thread, then filled the opening, swarmed over Matt, who was laughing, and then had dragged him out from hole and carried down.
  Aia waited until the last tiny white furry wad, busily buzzing, disappeared into the hole, and slid after him.
  12. 2328th year. Benji.
  It was snowing through the morning in Paris.
  As a white flies that looked strictly like Aia's bumblebees, it softly and uselessly circled in cold autumn air, covering and covering the dock and the half-empty cargo terminal.
  Benji didn't know anything about the snowfall. He was busy. The night before, at the stroke of midnight, he found that he had turned fifty, and his former destiny had lost its former strength.
  He was just sitting on the forum of linguists and figuring out the subtleties of language tools that serve to create "unclear" semantics, when all this had covered him.
  If at that moment there was someone who was watching Benji from the sidelines, he would say outright that at 0:00 the android was frozen.
  Not that the knowledge of the termination of the employment contract and the absence of obligations in relation to the now-former employer took him by surprise - no: he didn't forget necessary things in principle, much more he didn't forget things that could radically change his life.
  It's just that this knowledge at this very moment has ceased to be irrelevant and has acquired such a great importance that the android with a slight perplexity noted that he was surprised at the change that had taken place within him.
  These sudden changes didn't mean absence of work.
  Benji was still free to deal with the work he had been assigned to until the very end of his machine age. But along with it, on the track along which the train of his life has been rushing unexpectedly for him the first branch was formed. And Benji started thinking about it.
  First, now he could stop doing anything at all and refuse any participation in this life that was the theater of absurdity. Secondly, he has acquired a choice.
  The option "first" was almost immediately rejected by him as unsatisfactory due to the fact that somewhere in the distance of 1,500 kilometers from the surface of the Earth there was spinning in low orbit the fragile Citadel of Alpha with the little human girl named Aia.
  There remained the option "secondly".
  Benji vaguely imagined processes that wandered around in the mind of little Aia, but well caught everything that concerned himself.
  There are no any machines who is stupid, - it happens that the machines don't have the necessary information and necessary ways to process it. Benji could easily get hold first as well as second, and the time that was necessary for this operation was comparable to some simple human action such as breath or an act of quenching thirst.
  Back then, two years ago, when Aia first announced to him about his exclusivity, upon returning to the home port, he blew through the Internet in search of all that would make it easier for him to understand such a very human things as interest and sympathy, and has realized that still really don't get it.
  He could draw an analogy between the interest and the lack of necessary information about the world around him, but there wasn't anything which he could use as an analogy for sympathy. It was a sea in which he could not swim.
  The most understandable in his network search were the ancient Greeks, who, as it turned out, found in depths of this idea a lot of subtle differences.
  Eros, as a result of certain biochemical processes aimed at the emergence of offspring, was theoretically more or less understandable to him, just as, for example, thermonuclear fusion was understandable, although he didn't use to practice it.
  But further it was more difficult. What Greeks called the philia (and what Aia most likely meant), as Benji suggested, was also a biochemical derivative, but it was closely linked to the personal choice. This derivative was what Benji has tripped over.
  As a machine, he understood it would be logical if personal choice was linked to a personal gain. Moreover, he assumed that in the vast majority of cases this was exactly the case. But not in the case of Aia. As far as he has understood, Aia does not expect from him any benefits and convenience.
  At the same time, the love that she felt for him was not a downward love - whatever one may say, the robot was as strong and self-contained as she was. There remained cooperation - some joint work about which neither Benji nor (as it seemed to him) Aia still had not the faintest idea.
  It's weird, he thought, when you choose a partner in a common cause before the common cause is chosen. It's more than weird.
  For a moment everything that concerned people had seemed to him incomprehensible and unnatural, but only for a moment, - after which he has remembered how much generalizations of such scales were erroneous.
  Benji opened his eyes, took out his fingers from connectors intended for them, and looked around, but all he could see turned out to be just a darkness.
  For the first time in his life, the niche in which he spent almost all his free time seemed to him very tight space that was not calculated for life at all.
  The android stretched out his hand into the darkness, pushed back the hatch cover and got out.
  It was snowing over the morning in Paris.
  Benji'd lifted his face to the sky awakening through the a tiny iced flakes, and watched it had been floating toward him for a long time, until the snow that hasn't been melted on his terracotta face had obscured his optics.
  And then he decided to act.
  If I quit right now, he thought, then I would simultaneously say goodbye to the space, Aia and freedom. Therefore, before notifying the administration of Orly of his intentions, he should take care of translating these intentions into reality.
  And first of all he should purchase from the employer a shuttle, which was, alas, not yet belonging to him.
  The android blinked, erasing the snow from the optical lenses, and made a simple calculation in his mind: the cost of the used orbiter was about fifty million euros, his courier salary was some kind of ridiculous amount, so that, dividing the first by the second, he received result which he has found too much big to him even with the fact that Aia was not an ordinary person.
  But Benji was a machine, and machines are not stupid.
  The first thing he understood was that no matter how advanced the employer was, he wouldn't ever pay such money within such a period of time, and don't turn out to be insane. The second was that now he should have studied the human market in order to outwit him.
  He glanced once more at the snowy morning over Orly, at the white, snow-covered shuttle, turned and walked back to the dark and cold niche in the engine room. There he again stucked his thin fingers into their electronic sockets, closed his eyes and went to get acquainted with laws of world economy.
  The snow, that he has brought inwards, hasn't been melting for a long time on his cold metal shoulders.
  So Benji was a machine.
  He could do without a London economic school or a Jewish background behind him: there were enough electronic resources like ESY and ESA at his disposal.
  It took him a week to understand the theory of money and credit, a week more - fundamentals of banking and investment management, two more - macroeconomics, taxation, civil, commercial and labor law, after which, at the very beginning of 2329, he began his great game.
  The first thing which he counted on was that people let every member of the AI-DII family, when they reached the age of fifty, to take a machine retirement and feel like a human. And it meant no more and no less than the fact that, from the legal point of view, his peers DII in such a case didn't differ from people in any way and could, for example, organize their own financial project.
  The second thing that he had hoped on was his, Benji's, personal ability: the law didn't limit the number of financial projects for the same individual.
  At eight o'clock on January 18, 2329 Benji had to leave Orly for a short time - under the baffled looks of Paris fonctionnaires he acquired an international passport under the name Benji Shabra.
  A few hours later, at twenty-one seventeen, on one of Icelandic servers appeared the first legal Internet Bar with procedural accompaniment, belonging to the machine with artificial intelligence. At ten thirteen on February 1 of the same year the federal institute of intellectual property in Bern became richer for one patent, and at eleven twenty-seven on May 28 in the Berne State Register for the first time in history was appeared Gmbh, belonging to the machine.
  13. 2330th year. Aia.
  Aia caught up with her brother very close to the ground, the sole was now only hundred meters below. She waved her hands - shoo! - and grabbed Matt by his jacket and pants fluttering in the airflow. White flakes were blown out in all directions.
  "Look down!" she shouted.
  "The Valley..." gasped Matt.
  While Aia was carrying him lower and lower, the water in the low part was rising, hunching, growing up in a fanciful blue fringe, and by the time when Matt's feet touched the ground, in place of the Valley there were gigantic water jungles: colossal "trees" with flowing transparent trunks, transparent blossom and transparent thin leaves, interwoven with them and with each other by liana streams, trembling underbrush.
  All that what until recently were quietly and serenely floating somewhere in the Valley was now fussy and loud shifting up and down inside of this unfathomably fantastic forest, flashing scales and fleetingly flicking its paws. And below all this in the muddy-green "grass", in color and texture very reminiscent of perennial bottom sediments, rustled those very small white animals with icy fur.
  "Do you hear?" Aia quietly asked, carefully putting Matt on the ground, and Matt has really heard that somewhere near him the lemurs started singing.
  "Look! Look! Water forest will remain here forever!" one of them sang enthusiastically.
  "You are the foolish, foolish lemur!" outraged another one. "Humans have nothing forever!"
  Aia waved her hand and raised an eyebrow: so we go?
  Go, he nodded willingly.
  She stepped aside, giving way to him, and behind her he noticed a path, running deep in the water forest. The path was narrow, with tiny icy flowers glistening thickly on both sides of it in the pointy gray-green grass. Matt listened and went toward the almost hushed, subtled lemure song that still could be heard.
  When Matt and Aia went out into the clearing, lemurs were sitting by the bush, overhead there dangled large water balls, the setting sun reflected in this balls, and inside of them swam a numerous dragonfly larvae swam.
  "Chillllly..." sadly complained one of lemurs.
  Its head with a white triangular spot on its forehead was lifted towards the sun, it squeezed its eyes shut and tightly pressed a long striped tail to its chest.
  "But beauuuutiful..." another one comforted him.
  "Hey, katta!" Aia called to them. "What are you doing here in the middle of this puddle?"
  "Aia! Aia!" both lemurs jumped as the one black-and-white lump from surprise. And then they hopped over to meet them and shouted, competing with one another:
  "We saw the Valley makes a forest! We ran to look!"
  "We didn't see you on the bank! But there was another Maker there!"
  "Another?" Matt was surprised.
  "Other! Other!" the lemurs nodded happily. "We'll show! We will!"
  Matt glanced at his sister, and she nodded: "Run, run," then she smiled, took a backpack from behind her back, took out from it a transparent jar full of small scintillant sparks that moved and poked into the glass and then poured them in front of her on the ground.
  The sparks broke out even brighter, spun over the path like a flock of frightened moths, and flew forward, outrunning Matt with lemurs and lighting their way.
  The other was Lukasz.
  He was sitting on a top of hill, where the bank of the Valley was still half an hour ago, and looking at what Aia was doing. Not interfering and, in general, not even wondering.
  For three hundred years he's lived among his own kind, and now he was philosophically looking at the fluidity of the world. A long time ago he outgrew such childishness: both his daughters and both grandsons became adults a long time ago too, and he more and more often wanted to be the cause of stability, and not changes.
  However, he liked to observe the other one was involved in something.
  During those three hundred years that have become his personal experience, Alpha has undergone thousands and thousands of metamorphoses activated by Makers. Ever the main generator of miracles was Robert, who in his childhood first tried to turn Alpha into an interstellar ship, then into the Peruvian Selva. Then, when Robert has already a little lost his boyish craving for savagery and mystery, there, on Alpha, were already women and children, and the changes began to occur mainly for their sake.
  Lukasz, for the most part, now had been observing.
  This evening he came to the hill because he liked Aia.
  At times he looked at her face and saw in it himself, at times - his already grown-up daughter, at times she seemed to him just a collective image of femininity and immediacy.
  As a Maker, Lukasz was radically different from the average man: he saw this femininity not as a resource to be used, but as a magical song wishing to be written.
  For already several years, he had been witnessing this process - Benji, without knowing it, had been creating his magic song from Aia. Sometimes - actively, sometimes - by the lack and silence.
  Lukasz simultaneously frightened and admired this explosive mixture of the strange alien machine, that Aia wanted to resemble, and the Maker that she was, boiling first in a little child, and then in a beautiful ginger-haired girl.
  Unlike Aia's parents, who were admirable, but still ordinary parents, Lukasz knew from his own experience: from that very magical moment when a Human wakes up in a human, the rest of mankind becomes alien to him - about the same results as a river bottom becomes alien to the dragonfly hatching from a chrysalis.
  He saw Aia'd been pouring a longing for the lost umbilical cord with humanity on his brother, re-repeating the path which each of the Makers somehow passed in their time, and sympathized with it.
  Matt was Aia's bottom with which she could not part.
  As soon as the boy in the cloud of flickering sparks appeared at the foot of the hill, Lukasz raised his hand and threw the nothing in his direction.
  The nothing hissed, sprouted in the heavy prickly bright red drops and fell down with tinkling sounds, turning into a sparkling red lane.
  The lemurs screamed in fright, jumped from the tinkling "rain" in different directions, and Matt almost immediately felt that the path on which he was gently warmed his frozen wet feet. And went on it further.
  The lemurs hesitated. They meowed for a long time in the dark, sniffing red and gently tugging it with thin cold paws, and then had stopped being afraid and trotted after Matt.
  The red lane ended at the very top of the hill.
  "Hi," the darkness said in Lukasz's voice.
  "Hi," the boy said.
  Looking more closely, he saw in the darkness the smiling face of Maker.
  "How are you doing this?" he asked, sitting down next to Lukasz directly on the warm ground.
  White Aia's sparks circled around for a while and also fell.
  "Give me your hand."
  Matt stretched out his hand, and Lukasz took it, small, into his, large, and slightly shook, scattering in the air exactly the same thick red sparks.
  "Wow!" Matt was delighted. "Can I do it myself?
  "Shoot," Lukasz agreed.
  The boy stirred his own hand, and from his fingers also fell red drops.
  By the time Aia appeared at the top of the hill, Matt, laughing, had dripped in front of the overwhelmed lemurs a whole pile of sparkling red magic.
  "Just think!" remarked Lukasz to Aia, who crouched beside him. "Sometimes it takes so little to make someone happy."
  Yes, Aia nodded wearily, sometimes so little, took off her sandals and prosaically buried her bare, frozen feet in the miracle created by Matt:
  "And as for me there is not enough height and temperature for my soul to shut up."
  "It's a bad barometer," Lukasz grinned. "How can it be happiness when the soul is silent?"
  "Maybe so," agreed Aia. "I mean maybe it's not. But it just asking all the time for something wrong."
  "Asking for what wrong?" said Matt who had been silent before.
  "Some food for the mind, some replication, some mismatch."
  "So you mean that a happy soul is dumb, blind and lonely?" Lukasz frowned.
  "I'm not so sure about that." Aia pocked the warm red "beads" with her bare feet, and they turned white, illuminating their faces with a ghostly blue light. "Not dumb, but satisfied, not blind and lonely, but self-sufficient."
  "It's strange," Matt said. "I always believed that all Makers think alike."
  "Really? Why is that?" turning to him, in chorus resented both Makers. "Only those who don't think at all think the same."
  "That's like that," the boy laughed, and the darkness echoed his laughter.
  All three raised their heads, peering into the darkness.
  "Well, it looks like a real coven," the darkness continued, shifting heavily round about somewhere ahead, or behind the back.
  "Robert!" Matt gasped.
  Lukasz and Aia exchanged glances.
  "Yes, it's me," said the big black-and-gray-haired wolf, stepping out of the shadow to the glittering white pile. His fur was wet and smelled like snowstorm and frost. "I heard you have here a joint session about self-sufficiency and loneliness."
  The wolf grinned broadly, his white-toothed smile stretched across his muzzle, and from this purely human smile from the top down has fluctuated the wave of transformation. Not at all embarrassed by his former wolfish, and now human nudity, Robert put his hand forward, showing "wait, give me a break", and, like a real wolf, he shrugged his shoulders, shaking water from them, and then winked at the others with the rustle of the appearing clothing:
  "Well, let's continue about loneliness? Who will find at least one argument for the fact that we here in isolation from humanity are terribly alone, for half an hour are deserve my respect. Well, to make it more interesting to play, I"ll allow my Mora not to be interested in this person."
  Apparently, in order to show that his words weren't an just a chatter, darkness around brightened, revealing an impossible surreal picture: around the patch whare they sat, lay, curling like a tremendous lazy black cat, and looked at them Robert's creature - Mora. Its eyes was black like condensed cosmic darkness, its mouth in which all of their company could easily fit, was stretched in a grin exactly the same as grin of its master.
  Lukasz brightened up and smiled. Aia threw a worried glance at Matt, but he sighed quite as a grown-up and said:
  "To whom much is given, much is required. When you see the whole world, it turns out that you are alone with this world, no matter how it looks, even if your environment is very much like you. So hello, Maker's loneliness. And loneliness in general."
  "Not bad," Robert nodded, and Mora agreed, lowering her huge black head.
  "But I miss Benji," Aia said, muffling in the shawl that appeared on her shoulders. "And I'm even ready to call it loneliness."
  "It can hardly be called loneliness," Robert objected. "Quite the contrary."
  "What does it mean - the contrary? I don't get it." Aia said.
  "It means when you love someone, it makes you open, at least in relation to him. And where there is openness, there is no loneliness."
  At these words, the huge black head of the monster grinned a little wider, showing a fence of sharp white teeth, and its eyes narrowed.
  Aia shrugged her shoulders and tightly muffled herself: if it doesn't, it doesn't. Almost simultaneously in the huge Mora's eyes there appeared a slight flicker of anxiety. The monster yanked: first its mouth which now couldn't be opened, and then - its paws that now couldn't be stirred. Robert laughed:
  "Hey, Aia!"
  "You have nothing to blame her," Lukasz objected thoughtfully, looking at his feet. "And as for loneliness, then no one relieved us from any social or psychological burden that is boiling somewhere inside our cell ribosomes as fairly as in human ones." In the matter of loneliness, it does not matter who, no matter how and no matter how densely paid his attention to you, all that matters is how this attention settles in your soul."
  He lifted his head and looked around at those seated, and then he looked at Aia:
  "If there is one who is really cool in this regard, it's Benji. He chose to have a relationship with you, although he has quite a different chemistry..."
  14. 2329th year. Benji.
  From the simultaneous planning, accounting and decision-making the android was distracted by the call from the outside.
  He activated the external video camera and saw three visitors beyond the hatchway: a girl in a coat of bright green fleece, a skinny guy with four cameras on his shoulder and a man in a expensive leather coat.
  If Benji didn't disdain to watch the news on a daily basis, he would be able to recognize these two: the girl was Selin Juti, the news anchor of evening news "France 24", and the man in the leather coat was the director of operations of Orly named Aler Leroy.
  "Hello, Benji," the girl smiled charmingly, staring straight into the camera under the friendly green eye. "France 24. We would like to interview you."
  "Hello, dear audience! With you the evening news and Selin Juti. Today we are at the Paris airport Orly on a visit to the most famous representative of the glorious family AI-DII, Benji Shabra. How are you, monsieur Shabra?"
  "I'm a machine, I'm allways the same," Benji replied, looking at his companion.
  They sat in the passenger gondola. The android sat in pilot's seat, turning with his back to the dashboard and facing the passenger room, Selin, blatantly putting one long leg on the other - in the front passenger seat, against the backdrop of a hanging compensatory suit on the far wall.
  "Great," she nodded. "Tell me, Benji, how do you think: where does human bad mood come from?"
  "People don't always correctly interpret what is happening to them and don't always correctly react to it," the android evasively replied. "And often it happens not because the situation so requires, but because it is so customary and understandable."
  "So here's the deal..." she seemed embarrassed. "What does it mean to correctly interpret what is happening?"
  "Without comparing it with the expected. With keeping the expected and obvious in different folders," - Benji smiled broadly: first to her, and then to the skinny boy behind the frontal holocamera.
  His smile was so open and charming, that Selin had no choice but to smile back:
  "And this distinguishes the machine from human?"
  "I think the fundamental constructive difference is that your upbringing is much more imperfect than our installation. Imperfect because it takes much more time, and in it can be broken an unscheduled gaps, something undesirable, but giving a short-term positive effect."
  "Well, that sounds about right." Selin agreed. "And what do you think about emotions? Do they help people or interfere?"
  "Emotions are tools. And, like any tool, they need to be properly used. People are strange creatures. None of you going to fly by a hammer or to hammer nails by airplane, but a very few of humans are embarrassed by the use an inappropriate emotions."
  "But we, humans, don't so much use emotions as we experience them."
  "Which is not always rational," Benji said. "Being exposed, any emotion may be appropriate under some circumstances and completely vain in others."
  In general, yes, his companion nodded and went on, leaning slightly toward Benji and squinting up her huge blue eyes:
  "Monsieur Shabra, you are familiar with the natural selection idea of monsieur Charles Darwin?"
  "Yes," Benji replied.
  "And how do you see the joint existence in the future of your family and humanity from the point of view of his theory?"
  Benji slightly loosed his voice membranes - so that his voice sounded lower and more velvety - and said with a lovely baritone:
  "Human beings like metaphors, and I'll tell you a metaphor: the DII family and humanity are just different kinds of trees in the same forest. And as for my family, my family is those who need me, and not those who wear the same mark on their neck."
  "Do you renounce the family of machines?"
  "Not really," the android shook his head. "I'm just getting a new family. By my own choice."
  "Wow!" Selin said in surprise. "And whom did you choose?"
  "I'm not very different from a human in that regard." Benji shrugged. "I like those who understand me."
  "Many people believe that only a person can know about another person. And how do you think: maybe only another machine could understand the machine?"
  Benji turned his silvery palms up on his lap, looked at the star shaped connectors covering them, and slightly drowned through the highmem in Aia's quiet voice - "You have beautiful fingers, Benji..."
  "I think understanding is the result not so much of similarity as of interest," he said. "You, people, more interested in each other than machines, such your interest is the basis for the survival of the species. But if anyone of machines had had such a program that requires an indispensable repetition of themselves in another, it definitely would be identified as a malicious code."
  "So you equate love with virulence?" Selin asked, leaning back in her passenger seat and watching Benji while he was staring at his metal hands.
  Her voice came out unexpectedly sharp and unpleasant.
  "Well, no, no!" hastily contended android. "I just wanted to say that the way the machine communicates with the universe does not provide for the universe to be populated with myriad copies of machines. Interest for us is different thing. And understanding is different."
  "What exactly?"
  "Packaging of the incoming external in the available internal by the most harmonious way."
  The girl nodded and again leaned forward slightly:
  "Do you know, Monsieur Shabra, what is half of humanity talking about at the mention of you?"
  Benji looked up at her: about what?
  "About how the commercial component is included in your theory of packaging of the incoming external. What do you need your business for, monsieur Shabra?"
  "And how about that part of the mankind which is engaged in it too? What do they need their business for?" smiled Benji.
  15. 2330th year. Aia.
  "It looks like Benji is really cool in many regards."
  Robert gently touched Matt's shoulder, drawing his attention, and nodded toward his Mora: look, Matt. In the meantime Mora was as completely self-absorbed as a molting cobra: slowly and majestically it blossomed into the numerous violet St. Elmo's fires.
  Aia glanced at her brother, grinned and let loose the floundering reality: in one second Mora lost its tight grandeur and blew its jaws in an incredible shot - so that Aia, who was sitting apart of the company, in one elusive movement ended up inside it.
  Matt gasped, but he didn't have time to get scared.
  Light that a few seconds ago was running with purple sparks along Mora's fur, suddenly dived down as the glowing plankton in the darkness with the warm ocean current, and the jaws that had devoured his sister started glowing purple from the inside.
  In this violet glow the boy saw Aia, who had suddenly fallen to her knees, then rose and arched, looking through the Mora's head at the high sky, and then took a deep breath and exhaled vertically upwards with something dazzling-white.
  Opening his mouth with amazement, Matt watched as the white cloud in the air above Aia's head stirred, rustled and crawled along the Mora's entrails, literally gnawing it from inside. And then - blow! -and the violet light which remained from the giant Mora's lump, sparkled and turned into a myriad of tiny purple moths.
  Aia waved her hands, and moths, frightened by her, fell off, for a while had been stirring among the people, and then flew high up.
  Robert sighed with the fake regret.
  "Oh, again your delicate stuff... By the way, it was a beautiful beast...
  "Was? Come on, puss, puss, puss..." called Aia, again slumping down between Matt and Lukasz, and the purple moth cloud, before melting in the dark, smiled somewhere in the sky with a huge toothy Cheshire smile.
  "Does Benji talk to you sometimes?" Lukasz asked.
  Yes, Aia nodded, he does.
  "He's going to buy the shuttle, because he wants to come here?"
  "He wants to be free. And one cannot jump out from Earth with his own power. At least, he is the one who does not jump so high."
  "The one doesn't jump out, and another doesn't jump in," Robert winked. "I even don't remember last time when I was there."
  "Yes, there is a charm in a large space," Lukasz agreed. "Clouds, winds and rains are real, not requiring of effort."
  "You surprise me, Lukasz," Aia said. "For as long as I could remember, I always thought that a laziness and a Maker don't go hand-in-hand."
  "Oh ... You're just not yet well-versed in peculiarities of male psyche," Robert grinned. "Come to us more often, especially in the evenings after dinner, and I'll show you what it means to be really lazy."
  Lukasz gingerly picked up the lonely violet moth from the ground and put it on Aia's shoulder.
  "Definitely! She's not a pretty good in judging of characters. Of all the twenty-five billion people living there on Earth and of two dozen local dummies, she's chose this machine."
  "Don't be silly," Aia waved it off like it was nothing. "Sure, if I can get to the bottom of something, it's only about my own femininity. And, of course, I'm not very good at this, because I even like being a woman. I like it so much that I'm ready to repeat this experience in one of the following lives."
  The darkness began to crackle and rustle, once again thickening and gathering into a black mass: Mora, implemented back by Robert, sighed, heavily spreaded a long dragon body on the top of the hill and again curled up as a huge cold black cat around the Makers who were sitting in a tight circle.
  Robert leaned with a relief back on its huge side as on a back of a chair, stretched out his legs and crossed his arms over chest:
  "I thought once of reincarnation. I actually think about it every time when I gather some similar pleasure against the vector of chi dispersion. And there is some interesting things coming out: we all need to spend a lot of energy for this kind of pleasure. And who will then be spended for me, when I've gone? Who will do it so to preserve the integrity of my energy shadow?"
  "And who is spended for the water running in the rivers?" Lukasz shrugged his shoulders. "Or for the snowflakes in order to give them a six-pointed shape? And who in the whole world cares about us so that we are able to take care of ourselves?"
  "It's strange," Aia said. "When you talked about inanimate, I thought about the causes and consequences, and when it came to us, I remembered about karma."
  "Yes, the line between the first and the second is not clearly cut." Robert raised his hands and somewhere there, high above his head, patted Mora's fur - like a flea in trying to pat a cat. But the "cat" flinched and purred.
  Robert glanced at Matt, who was quietly cuddled up to his almost-lost sister:
  "Matt, who you want to be in your next life?"
  "Eh... I did almost nothing in this one, and you want me to make plans for the future," the boy answered without any hesitation.
  The Makers laughed.
  "It's true, my dear old friend," agreed Robert. "And what do you like in this one?"
  "In this I like everything."
  "In this one he was lucky with the company. Yes, Matt?" Lukasz winked at the boy.
  "Yes." Matt nodded and cuddled up even harder to his sister, and she patted his ginger curls.
  "The best company for anyone is the one himself. And this is not a pessimism," she said.
  "And what is this?" Lukasz was surprised. "A real pessimism as it is. Look at it from the other side: a friends are the eyes by which the world can look into your eyes as an equal partner."
  "I don't know about others, but I'm feeling a little better today," Aia sighed, carefully removing Matt and getting up. "The longing for others no longer seems to me an unhealthy longing of healthy person to using crutches."
  The night in Alpha has always been a magical time, at least because many of the Makers were asleep.
  Dreams of the Makers slipping from their personal reality into the common one were usually colorful and strange: some of the generated entities, being still, only illuminated the night, others - those in which a vague meaning could wander - wandered around dark Alpha without meaning and purpose, because both their meaning and purpose remained there, at their masters, on the other side of the dream.
  They were sluggish and indifferent, no one touched them and no one was afraid.
  They walked home on foot: Robert was followed by Aia and Lukasz, who carried Matt in his arms. They walked in silence, because everything that wanted to be said was already said.
  The night was dark and thick, like a jelly. The darkness around sighed and swayed, from time to time here and there an ephemeral essences flickered as flamboyant funny dancing lights. The fog came down on the shoulders of Makers as small cold drops and made them chill to the bones.
  The road was dark, but no one except Matt needed light, and Matt was almost asleep.
  16. 2330th year. Benji.
  February was running out. People and machines together had been cleaning the remaining frozen and compacted patches of the outgoing winter from the city sidewalks.
  For the last year, Benji was busy almost 24 hours a day, and that didn't burden him at all. He thought, analyzed, communicated, arranged seminars and charitable events. He was no longer pestered by contemplation: in rare moments of inactivity, he took from the archive folders his idea of who he are, why he are, what to do, and, as a rule, called Aia:
  "Hi, princess. It's me. Half of the world just came up here, and I want to give it to you. Where should I bring it to?"
  "Hi, Benji. I'm glad to hear you too. How are you?"
  "The whole last year - like a vacuum cleaner on owner's day off," Benji laughed. "And you?"
  "And I have a strange dreams," Aia sighed, shrugging her shoulders. " Like I have a son. He comes to me in almost every dream and says: "Hello, Mom. I'm Danek, your son. Isn't it funny? How can I have any son? What kind of son it can be?
  "Your son can be wonderful. Tell me about a dreams - what is it?"
  "Dreams are when a brain in autopilot mode generates free associations, and these associations have no any cultural brakes."
  "Wait," Benji blinked and went out to try.
  "I find it amusing," he said, coming back. "Do people do this all the time?"
  Yes, she nodded, constantly.
  "Do you like it?"
  No, she shook her head, don't.
  "Can't you stay awake?" Benji wondered.
  "No. Or rather I can, but then the forced secretion of serotonin and cortisol takes up all my time. And there is no time to live," she smiled.
  "Well, and I found on the network one more DII," said the android. "He'd made so recently that he hasn't yet absorbed his bios. I told him about you, and for a whole last week he had been helping me to process requests marked "error"."
  "Show him to me."
  Benji rummaged on the web and took out a hologram from it.
  Common feature, the usual DII standard - almost human eyes and a charming smile on the plastic terracotta face. By and large, with exactly the same success, Benji could show his own face.
  "What is his profession?"
  "He studies mineralogy and instrument engineering, waits until Roskosmos finishes assembling a shuttle for him, then he going to develop a tungsten deposit on Pluto.
  "He'll be lonely there," Aia said. "Any signal goes to there for five and a half hours. He won't even have a network..."
  In Benji's eyes flashed small mischievous sparks, he pretended to sigh and condescendingly smiled:
  "Don't ascribe to us what you've got, we haven't despondency: machines don't know how to be bored. He will have something to do in the next fifty years. And then we'll see."
  Yes, nodded Aia to the android, life flows continuously, the horizons change all the time, and we'll see everything someday.
  Definitely, the design of android's psyche didn't presume either boredom or despondency or despair, but nevertheless, thinking about people's needs, Benji was deeply mistaken.
  He was mistaken, because he lost sight of his own.
  Yes, the machine with external purpose didn't feel any torment of devastation. Yes, any of the DII brothers could find employment in the mode of deep isolation: the collection and processing of all kinds of data was such a blue sky and open field that it was almost impossible to be bored with all this for any reasonable period. But the DII were not just the machines, they were intelligent creatures, with all the consequences that followed: the machine wasn't be able of suffering without company, but when the machine had internal purpose, it could be disappointed in the outside one.
  Benji himself for a long time has already been following purpose that was internal.
  17. 2330th year. Aia.
  She realized almost immediately: it was a dream. It was a dream for the simple reason that there was never such a blue sky in Alpha.
  The sky was really blue, almost navy, and the grass was lush and surprisingly green. The real earthly grass, with precious inclusions of buttercups, forget-me-nots and polished ladybirds.
  Aia was sitting on the edge of the forest, in the filigree birch shadow, and she was crying.
  He came up from behind and hugged her over her shoulders: a small blond boy named Danek. Her tears immediately ceased to be easy and turned out to be filled with bitterness.
  "Mom, what's going?" the boy was surprised. He leaned forward upon Aia's shoulder and looked into her face. His eyes were as blue and bottomless as the hot earthly sky hanging high above. "Why are you crying?"
  "I don't know, Danek. It's crying by itself."
  "Okay. You know, I came to say you're so funny in the mornings..."
  "Why is it funny?" she looked up at him.
  "I don't know. Maybe because you become a maker only when you finally waking up. And before that, while you asleep, you're no different from all them. Or maybe because your hair is tangled in the mornings. And your nose is freckled."
  Aia wiped her wet eyes with the back of her hand and smiled through the tears:
  "My nose is always freckled."
  The light wind was gently going through the long green birch braids, somewhere nearby, in thick rosehip bushes, the bluethroat-bird was singing its loud song, and the air smelled of blossoming sage and mint.
  It's strange, thought Aia. The last summer which she remembered was dusty and multi-storey. No grass, no flowers, no singing birds in the mornings. Only the bare city: dried gray dust, forest of portal cranes, hot tarmac, stuffy glass flasks of skyscrapers and machines, - countless, endless machines...
  However, by and large, there in the memory, which so obligingly prompted the nonexistent and weaved such magical dreams, was nothing strange at all, because Aia was a Maker.
  All of them, who were living on Alpha, had the inner being that smoothly flowed into the outer, and memory flowed too: the blue summer sky could also be the sky of young Lukasz, Robert or Josh. And the boy who comes to her...
  And the boy was so real and independent that she didn't want to consider him as her dream or all the more someone's memories.
  "Hey," he said, touching her shoulder. "Well, enough already ... I hate it when you cry. I just want to do something, but don't know what."
  "I know." Aia rose, straightened the light citrine frock, and held out her hand. "Let's go somewhere."
  They walked along a broad road in the midst of the light birch grove. On both sides of it densely and desperately the thistle thickets greened, in the pink curly valerian bushes the tiny spiders were busily crawling in the glittering web.
  "You know," Danek said, "sometimes I come here alone. There is a big cherry orchard here. Do you like cherries? "
  "I don't know," Aia smiled.
  "And I definitely like."
  His cherry orchard lined up in rows along the slope of the hill to a quiet shallow stream. Between the trees were flying, crawling and buzzing small live fliers, the bluegrass rippled, and the cherry trees themselves were carefully and neatly trimmed and were as tall as Aia, so that she could reach tree top up with her hands.
  "Hold on," Danek shouted and ran between the trees, down to where the lush reeds grew very near the river.
  He was already far below, when his desperate "ah!" blow up into her, and she suddenly saw everything as clearly as if she were there, next to him: how absurdly he waved his disobedient hands, how slowly he settled in the lush grass, and the long, black slippery muck that slipped away. Snake.
  The peaceful blue sky suddenly collapsed and hit the peaceful cherry orchard, and Aia get panicked - just like in her childhood, when the reality lived its own separate incomprehensible life. Here, now, in a dream, she again became a lost little girl.
  "Danek, Danek," she whispered, waddling down the hill on her trembling legs.
  And he was lying in the grass, arms wide and smiling, a little boy in a snow-white shirt, and his blue eyes reflected the blue abyss hanging over him.
  "Tell me now, were you afraid of losing me?"
  Yes, she nodded, scared and impotently looking at him, very, very much afraid of losing.
  "Never. Do you hear me? Never. Be. Afraid."
  Okay, she nodded, dropping beside him helplessly, I won't.
  "In this world, nothing disappears, you know it."
  Yes, she nodded, barely taking the breath, strucked by horror, I know it.
  He rolled over in the grass and leaned on his elbows, looking at the thin emerald veins of grass:
  "Sorry for scaring you: you've not tasted the cherry. Next time I'll treat you to it after all. For some reason, you forgot that you are a maker - just as I thought. It should be because you're asleep."
  "It should be because I'm asleep," agreed Aia. "Sometimes, when I'm asleep, I'm doing awfully stupid things."
  "For example?"
  "For example, I feel fear."
  "Fear is not a stupid thing at all," said the boy. "He teaches us to love. When you're afraid for me, I know that you love me."
  Aia looked at him and was silent, and her silence was so eloquent that he dropped his head into his little hands and sighed in sorrow:
  "You don't like that I come."
  "No, no, come on! I really like that you come," she said. "Come again, please."
  "It's so difficult to be dreamed," said the boy sadly. "Try to do it somehow. And I'd rather come back for good."
  The first thing she saw on waking up was Matt standing at the bedside.
  "You were crying," Matt said. "What you were dreaming?"
  "The future."
  18. 2330th year. Benji.
  The future has encircled Benji in July 2330 on the way home to Orly from Swiss UBS AG. The android was driving there after a personal identification procedure, because the bank was insisted on it, no matter what. He was coming back with the authorized code of the safe deposit and caproplast imitation of his thumbprint.
  He was driving the delicate plastic rented flyer at the height of thirty meters above the E23.57 track into the rich orange sunset over Besancon City, when he heard a gentle metal jingling. Just then the gyropilot for the first time started to alarm about the course malfunction. If Benji was a human, he would be scared already then. But he wasn't. Without hesitation he has tested aircraft electronics, did not find any technical violations and has restored a course backup. However it reported a failure again in less than a minute. The android restored a course and tested the flyer's software again. And again didn't find any errors.
  Nevertheless the angle of dismissal still was slow and steady crawling up to the critical one-tenth-of-a-degree point. Benji froze at a loss, started the testing for a third time not really hoping for anything and found out an alien code in factory settings of the gyropilot's software. He had deleted it, and that removal turned out to be the not pilot's but total failure.
  The flyer shuddered and plunged down keenly. Benji had no choice but to obey, while holding it on a minimum glide path.
  The ground greeted him with clouds of dust and smash of crushed chassis.
  Benji didn't feel fear, but set loose the helm only after the flyer bounced off the concrete wayside twice and stopped. He pushed the door at full tilt and got out. The alike fliers as purple and tiny little as flies were going along the way above him.
  He had no experience of similar passages. He definitely understood he should then to report about incident, but notwithstanding that he was machine he didn't have any transmitter parts.
  He came back into the cab, squatted down and took up the dismantling of the plastic dashboard with an eye to a phantom-feeder device of the dead flyer. He scarcely managed to find ferrite rims strung on the cable close by to connection points, when alien chassis rustled outside the flyer.
  It turned out that he didn't have time to get up at all; he'd been attacked by two at once - one rushed to scotch his eyes and mouth, while the other one tightly pressed him to the floor. Whereas he, blind and tied, was drugged out of the cab, he realized that the event was anyway getting nasty.
  And then they hauled him like a stolen ATM, don't concerning about his frame at all, ruthlessly crippling the photosensors and delicate gyroscopes on his face. Benji was dodging away as best as he could and, in hindsight, scolded himself for insouciance and unconcern... however, there was no sense in that anymore. So when he was crammed into the narrow and airtight luggage compartment, he even temporarily felt a relief.
  As a result, he didn't know where he was brought. He only knew that along the way kidnappers twice changed a flyer and twice shifted him from craft to craft, like a suitcase. Twice he tried kicking on a stopover, but for the second time he was kicked in return so hard, that in his chest something broke off and fell with a loud crash, and he has quieted down.
  The destination room eventually was small and cluttered with equipment, because there something clicked and chirred all the time, and he could hear muffled footsteps and voices. Benji was squeezed and tightly packed into the armchair, similar to the "maternity ward" in which he woke for the first time, only this time there was a correct counter-fitting connector for every, even tiniest, connector on his hull.
  Benji wiggled his fingers a bit, and his scotched mouth stretched into a goofy smile, as he caught himself on the idiotic thought that his current, thoroughly connected docking condition is very much like coitus. Here it is, a love of universe, clothed in the matter, he thought.
  "It's still grins!" someone was surprised.
  "It's maybe a little damaged in its mind." he was answered. "These idiots, while they dragged it here, didn't particularly stand on ceremony. There is something rattles in it. They maybe even beat off that stuff this piece of iron calculates with."
  "It doesn't matter," the first voice said. "It would be great if it hadn't deleted what it's been carried for."
  Well, Benji thought, it's all the fault of that damn money, and has prepared to delete the UMA-deferred codes.
  But together with this thought such a tough high-frequency ripple burst into him that what a few seconds ago was his volition melted and evaporated like a small water drop from a red-hot metal. The android has skipped out an alarm and sorrow and reckoned that the time in this chair will be the end of his awkward and bumbling life.
  "Look, Jake!" meanwhile, the passionate reality was wondering. "Looks like I found what we need! Damn asshole! It put them in his UMA! It's like I would hide the keys to my house in my stomach!"
  And answered itself: "Calm down, kid! I can't catch up why are you touched as if it put them in a butt instead of a brain."
  The reality burned him and muttered, muttered, muttered; Benji listened, and inside him grew such a nameless tender pity for her, lonesome, loveless, forlorn, that through the burning ripple he'd made effort and in the nearly orgasmic paroxysm has spilled in her all the rest - codes, memories and plans for an upcoming eternity.
  And died without ever seeing the reality in return flinched with fear and extinguished, and a few minutes later the low ceiling above his head began to flow with the heavy resounding waves.
  19. 2330th year. Aia.
  Here also was happening sunset on Alpha - from time to time.
  Naturally, it was very different from sunset on Earth: here you couldn't see either orange spilled in the sky, or grandiosity. But nevertheless Aia liked it. When the longing for loneliness get her, she could go somewhere far, far to the edge, - where the cold glassium dome was touching the edge of the sole, - and sit there, silent and thoughtful.
  It was not meditation at all. The world never ceased to interest her: listening to herself, she always listened to the stream that carried her.
  Love is a funny thing, she thought that night. And it has as much faces as much undertones of interest there are at all. So for example, responsibility. Does love mean desire and opportunity to be responsible? And if it so, what needs to be responsible? And what for? And is the desire to be responsible for something a desire to respond to something? And if it so, then what for?
  A harmonious system of physical interrelations which Aia was able to observe and love ceased to be harmonious and actually ceased to be a system at all, as soon as Aia's attention was falling into the bottomless hole of close relations.
  She liked Benji. It was easy and natural. But when she began to ask herself why, it turned out to be both uneasy and unnatural.
  Usually people like each other either because they are handsome, or because they are similar, or simply because they designate a comfort zone for each other. It wasn't true that in the situation with Benji everything was quite different, but also it was impossible not to notice the difference.
  What I want to know is what is he doing now, Aia thought, watching Earth bathed in the rays of the white sun. What kind of thoughts are wandering now between his alloy silicon plates? That is Paris, - it glows as a tiny asterisk slightly above the Italian boot, covered in white cirrus. There is evening there too.
  What, Aia thought, what for you can be responsible at this distance? And what you can respond to?
  She often thought about what would have happened if she and Benji lived together somewhere in Canberra, Moscow or Danang. Everything that pleases every normal person - a good-night kiss, a glass of milk in the morning, walks in the park, the sea, mountains, rollerblading - all this would surely seem to him stupid, pitiful and useless.
  Of course, he could find in all of this his own, special, pleasure - for example, in the search and calculation of shades of red in Moscow's Sokolniki in the fall or in search of the center of gravity of a bicycle... But completely different things would be a matter of truly satisfaction to him. No doubt about it.
  And no doubt about what would be a matter of great satisfaction to her.
  She narrowed her eyes and tried to see him, a tiny speck of dust in endless barkhans, stirred by the samiel of eternity. And failed - Benji was so far away, and the too-thick noise was woven by Bibich's generator, which hung at the zenith of Alpha.
  Nevertheless, while she was looking, in this human-made rustle something suddenly grew dark and vague.
  At first Aia's heart began to race anxiously, and then at once collapsed down: she suddenly, sharply and irrevocably realized that right now somewhere far away, something wrong was happening to Benji, - something bad and incomprehensible, and she, with all her unnecessary abilities, couldn't even see what.
  It's all because of this damn generator, she thought.
  For the first time it seemed to her not just needless, but insanely, mortally dangerous: led by some not sixth but sixty-sixth sense, somehow she has felt that the coming near future had narrowed to such small dimensions that that active metal Bibich's spider and alive Benji no longer fit in it simultaneously.
  It's been a long time since Aia last time was so confused, - so she has confused for a moment. But just for a moment, after which she jumped up, spread her thin transparent wings and flew up as a brave little fairy toward the buzzing monster.
  And then it turned out that the emergency switch which shall turn off the generator doesn't turn off the generator.
  No, no, no! You, damn degenerator, she cried, tearing off the incredibly thick wires connected it to solar panels, you're killing him! And then she tore them off...
  She tore them off and screamed in pain; this sharp pain has exploded in her, as if from the very depths of the great blue hell hanging over Alpha something big and eerie fell and stung her. There, far far away, Benji - tightly bound, studded with an incredible amount of wires, with his head thrown back - was melting in the agony.
  And the reality, no longer protected, had flinched and swam.
  "It's not love!" she cried, falling into the cold black abyss of a soulless night. "Don't listen to them, Benji, don't listen! It's death!"
  Aia, lying unconscious, was found by her own house: it, like a large green hairy snail, had fished for her thin, painful smell and crawled toward that smell. The house wasn't the only one who detected something wrong: it has simply managed to be the first.
  It turned out so that, while it was crawling, the Makers were busy with very different things: with returning of Benji who had died in Limerick in the hands of Irish crackers, with restoring the Munster NPP that was destroyed by Aia and with figuring out ways to cope with the wave of total amazement diverging from Ireland around the world.
  All this happened, because it is difficult for women to think. Even if they are Makers.
  Aia was a Maker, but she was a woman. Surely, she saw people swarming nearby dying Benji, but the pain flowing into him through the conductors was so acute, and the source of this pain caused such disgust that in an attempt to protect Benji, she wiped the Munster nuclear power station away in one fell swoop, without thinking about any consequences.
  And the consequences were not slow in coming: in the completely switched off large cities of Munster, the unpowered life-support systems and distribution led to congestion on the ground, a couple of dozens of accidents in the air and, albeit brief, but still panic in all sorts of public places.
  For half an hour, while Munster was de-energized, the irreparable happened: Houston learned about the disconnection of the Bibich's generator, Dublin learned about the disappearance and subsequent restoration of the Munster NPP, and the Irish, British and even the French press learned that had happened something extraordinary.
  It was not the first one or even the second that was irreparable: it was the third.
  Half an hour in the world, where it's all tied up in high speeds and digital technologies, means the following: it is impossible to hush the incident.
  20. 2330th year. Benji.
  The first thing that the android heard after he was being able to hear again was a great stir caused by Aia. And he still couldn't see anything: in Limerick, as indeed in entire Munster district, for the first time in a few hundred years there was a real dark night.
  Benji stirred his hands and had almost remembered where he was and what happened to him. A light blackout - from the scotch and paralysis to the possibility of moving - in view of the circumstances, seemed so insignificant to him that he wisely decided to equate this unknown with zero and not to give it any meaning.
  People in the dark around him fussed and cursed.
  Taking advantage of this fuss, Benji hurriedly pulled apart the now harmless stings and had cautiously slid from the chair to the floor.
  Oops, he thought, stumbling along the way on the immobile human body, and figured out that, unlike the kidnappers, he could orient himself not only with the help of light. He rummaged in his memory, took out the first melody he came to and started to whistle it at a very high octave, trying not to drop below a hundred kilohertz and listening to the echo coming back.
  The outside door that leaded out was at the opposite wall. Benji had estimated the distance and jerked towards it.
  The corridor behind the door was long and narrow, people ran along it in both directions, but now the kidnappers no longer posed any danger to the android: he was the only one seeing among the blind ones. Dodging the men who were trying to bump into him, he ran to the stairs, twice jumped over the railing, pushed a heavy metal door and found himself on the street.
  The darkness that enveloped him seemed to him the best time in his life.
  It was so dense - no lights, no flashlights - that if Benji was a man, he would have breathed a sigh of relief. He stopped and looked around. Apparently, the power outage was so wide that it was out of the question to determine the coordinates through any local base stations.
  However, also it was impossible to delay, - the android realized that as soon as the light will be given and the surrounding electronics will work, his chances would immediately drop down.
  He looked around in search of some working vehicle around there and saw an abandoned flyer nearby the enormous metal hangar. The machine responded to the standard request and opened.
  Benji, in a jiffy, climbed in and was about to start, but suddenly it occurred to him that the bright side markers would make him an easy target for a possible sniper. The android blinked and bent down to look for a power line of markers under the shell.
  When he took off, it was the fifth minute of darkness.
  Now it was easier: Benji had anchored in the coordinates stored by the flyer and turned to the southeast, towards the Channel. From the height Limerick was not so completely dark: its avenues were shining, transport was running along them, - people, frightened by sudden night which came down in the city, were hurrying to get home.
  Codes, Benji thought, damn me. And his hands, lying on the control panel, for the first time in all this time, had treacherously moved: he gave out the bank codes and completely lost sight of it.
  "Damn! Damn me!!" he whispered aloud whether to himself or to the darkness hanging from the outside of the flyer, and zeroed out the coordinates of the target, without turning off the engine. The flyer came up keenly.
  At an altitude of four hundred meters far in the north appeared a light strip. Benji turned the car around and set the new coordinates: as quickly as possible, while Limerick was still cut off from the outside world, it was necessary to find a working ATM and open access to the network.
  Galway was shining. It had not slept yet: on this evening it got not only bread, but also great entertainment: local television was showing with ecstasy on the network and on LED street screens the blackness lying near the southern horizon. Everyone understood that the matter was in the neighboring nuclear power plant, but nobody knew how things really were.
  It was the twenty seventh minute of darkness.
  In fact, Benji also didn't really know what was going on. All he knew was that while the horizon was dark, he had a chance.
  He parked the stolen flyer at the station square, waved off the attendant with bulging eyes - yes, yes, it's problem with markers - and rushed toward the nearest ATM.
  "Wake up, wake up, you, lazy piece of iron," he hummed while the ATM was loading. "I wish your magazines are as empty as your brain is empty in your head. So ... UBSAG ... Bankaccount... Blockcode..."
  The ATM had squeaked and agreed.
  "Where do you have a diplomatic mission here?" Benji turned to the duty attendant. "My name is Benji Shabra. I am a citizen of France, was kidnapped in the Besancon area over the E23.57 highway, the coordinates of the kidnapping location plus 47.206917, plus 6.120501, coordinates of the forced delivery place plus 52.676382, minus 8.635480. My chip with money and metric data is melted."
  And then he spread his hands and smiled confusedly.
  Oh... what a mess have you made, Aia, he thought, listening to the duty officer who was calling the police patrol unit, it doesn't matter at all if it would be one Unix less, there's not a soul other than you, which would be upset. If anybody could ever notice it.
  21. 2330th year. Aia.
  "What a mess have you made," said Lukasz at last.
  "They could kill Benji," she said into the cool cupped hands and looked up at him with her frightened eyes. "Is nothing can be done now?"
  "They already killed him," Lukasz snapped. "And everything that could be done has already been done, but only now nobody cares. What's the good now to snivel and show your weakness. We'll wait for the guests."
  The delegation arrived the next day at eleven in the morning by Greenwich. Two smiling, broad-shouldered twins of Scandinavian appearance and a silent pilot.
  To meet them came the entire population of Alpha: everyone wanted to be involved.
  "Hello," Lukasz smiled in a most charming way, while opening the airlock.
  "Well, and where is the guarantee that this won't happen again?" sadly sighed one of the twins, stepping over the boundary of the gravity. "How will do we know what form will take your intervention next time?"
  "Let's leave unnecessary curtsying. All these protocol rules look now slightly old-fashioned. I think they can't give us guarantees of tomorrow, such guarantees in principle nobody can give," - second twin waved off and, looking around with interest, added: "What a charming little place you have here."
  "We are used to our way of life," Robert said.
  "Then you won't be surprised if I say that we are also used to our own," the guest looked at him sadly. "And last night for two hundred people didn't just the way of life has changed, they are now almost insane: the whole evening shift of the Munster NPP unexpectedly turned out to be in total darkness in the open field."
  "And it is good that it was dark," said the second guest. "Because it's one thing to just sit for half an hour in the dark and it's quite another to watch the Makers work. The Earth wants to know why it went down the way it did."
  "Because we are scared of death, too," Aia said softly. "I was scared."
  Twins simultaneously flinched, exchanged glances with each other and turned to Aia:
  "Is there any of you on the Earth whom we doesn't know about?"
  "No," said Lukasz.
  Yes, Aia thought, and the twins looked at them in bewilderment:
  "Is this one of us?"
  "It's an android," said Aia. She said it so simply as if the Makers spent whole days only watching that no human can inadvertently offend one of the DII brothers.
  "That is the third party. It's even more interesting."
  Lukasz nodded to Robert who at first grinned, then sighed, and then easily and casually, like a good friend, took both twins by the elbows and led them away from the assembled crowd and from the airlock - toward the embarrassed green houses nearby:
  "Oh, what nonsense. There is nothing weirder than dividing what can't be divided. We had been waiting for you not in order to blame you or, what is even more senselessly, to be blamed. Inhabitants of the Earth have for a long time not been pampering us with their attention. And we think that is wrong."
  "You don't have enough attention?" one of the twins was surprised.
  "We are upset by this disunity," Robert shrugged. "From such a mood along all these fifteen hundred kilometers separating us from you, there is smelled sticky, nasty fear.
  "People are afraid of permissiveness."
  "People are afraid of their own limitations."
  "Maybe it so. But only this your colorful expression don't enhance their fearlessness."
  "Fearlessness can't ever be enhanced from outsides," Robert remarked, gesturing to his house. "Come on, I'll show you how we live."
  Robert's house, the oldest on Alpha, was the largest. Outwardly it was similar to a large, shaggy, grayed caterpillar; inside it was almost an ideal suite of small but cozy and comfortable rooms. Frightened by the sudden visit of strangers, smelling of cold and metal, it trembled, its sides were vibrating.
  "I have a house which is a big coward, it has a hare's soul," smiled Robert, stepping in and waving his hand to the right, toward the warm and soft reddish space. "Here, closer to the kitchen and the warmth, the babies live. They are twins, but one of them is the future Maker, the second one is not. You saw them there by the airlock."
  Second of the twins ducked and cautiously followed Robert.
  "There are on the Earth no hard feelings about you," he sighed, glancing incredulously at the soft, elastic walls with the thick interspersed receptors. "They just once again remembered your existence. And what's interesting - this was done as totally as it just possible."
  "Yes, the Earth sometimes sins by forgetting the important," agreed Robert. "But it doesn't matter at all. We exist, regardless of whether they remember about us or not."
  He went to the place where the house was poured with warm orange colors, took out from the kitchen shelf a transparent glassware strung on yellow feelers and filled it with bubbling blue liquid:
  "Don't be afraid, gentlemen: it's quite edible."
  The house finally found the courage to sigh and, waving softly, it spread wide, forming a large orange living room around the guests...
  By the evening it was decided the following: division which was cultivated for centuries has no any purpose and, consequently, has no any sense. It's far from the first generation of earthlings who know about the nuthouse in orbit and take its existence for granted. Henceforth the Makers at last should have begun to change their image of being insane.
  22. 2330th year. Benji.
  Police patrol unit arrived at the scene and found Benji sitting on the footboard of the stolen flyer.
  "Oh, shit!" the elderly sergeant cursed, looking at Benji's scratched face and broken sensors. "It's a cyber! For the first time I see that the machine got into a trouble... What happened to you, kid?"
  And Benji, who did not find any untruth or familiarity in such a treatment, re-announced both coordinates.
  "So it's all because of the woman?!" the sergeant sitting at the desk at the local police station unwittingly whistled. The police station densely smelled of plywood and fresh paint. The sergeant filled out the registration questionnaire.
  "This is a fine kettle of fish, I must say."
  "You could say that," agreed Benji.
  "I've never heard a human have any affairs with a cyber. As well as a cyber with a human."
  "She's not a human, she's a Maker," the android said.
  "Well... I dunno. As for me, the difference is not very big. Or rather, it's too great. Do you know what they like? "
  "Who are they?" Benji didn't understand.
  "Women, who else? They love emotions. They can't live without emotions."
  "mi ba'e ji'a nelci loi za'u se cinmo*," Benji leaned over to the very face of the sergeant, winked at him and, screwing up his eyes, sensuously recited:
  "Your evening's crumpled; it is here a third;
  your heart is rushing in your chest like bird.
  I'm here, I'm behind this foolish wall,
  and I can't sleep without you at all."
  "Eh..." the sergeant sighed and pressed "on" on the screen of the smartphone. "Well, guy, do what you wish..."
  "It's Limerick, sergeant," the smartphone responded. "They found downed aircraft. Two hours ago the Besancon cops towed it to the parking lot. The cabin is clean: no hair, no blood, so the PCR test for now is off."
  "And how are you now? How's our Smith-O'Brien Avenue?"
  "It's a funny place, sergeant. The concrete box, crammed with wires and equipment. Sure, there's no one here, but we pretty much rummaged around and did come up with some stuff."
  "Well then, what are you waiting for?" the sergeant nodded and disconnected.
  "Uh... eh..." Benji hesitated. "So what about me?"
  "What about you?" the sergeant shrugged. "You have no money, you have no metric data, no genetic profile, like any normal person has. Your French will arrive for you. And when they arrive, they can decide what to do with you.
  French had arrived in the morning, with some tricky electronic device and identification codes of the DII family. Benji - in good spirits and tightly charged - dutifully held out his hands and waited patiently until people make sure that he is he. Then there was a French consulate in Dublin, an interview with local television and the doing of a new chip.
  And later in the evening the android was left on his own.
  The first thing he did was to call Aia:
  "di'ai calom to'o la dublin doi nixli*"
  "Damn you, Benji," the black screen answered in Aia's voice. "You scared me so much."
  "Sorry." Benji tapped the settings buttons, but the screen remained black. "What's the deal with your image?"
  "Everything is fine with image, worse with my face," there was a sigh on the other side, and the tear-stained girl's face appeared on the screen.
  "You've been crying," Benji said. "Because of me. I hurt you, don't I?"
  "Now everything is fine."
  "I never meant to hurt you. Sorry."
  "What are you talking about, Benji," Aia said gently, and her look melted slightly. "Why don't you take responsibility for the Gobi Desert - there is too dry there. Or for Antarctica - there is there too cold."
  "Well, if you think it's really necessary..." Benji smiled. "I just want to note that in this situation I immediately go into the category of irresponsible."
  "It's possible," Aia nodded. "But don't worry: I can comfort you with the fact that in natural conditions in the wild nature any responsibility doesn't grow at all."
  "Yes, in natural conditions in the wild nature in this niche lives completely different ugliness," the android agreed and paused, softly looking at Aia's green eyes.
  He was looking and thinking he could no longer honestly to say to himself that he didn't care.
  And then Aia had tears in her eyes again and she turned off.
  "I love you," Benji declared and smiled foolishly at the empty screen, knowing that Aia still hears him, because she needs neither any optics, nor the closed electrical circuits, nor the radio channels to hear.
  He stood for a while, looking at his reflection in the black rectangle of the screen, and then, still foolishly smiling, turned and walked to the terminal in order to rent another car: it was necessary to unblock bank codes and return home, to Orly.
  This time everything has worked out: the bank who had learned about what was happening met him with the new package of codes and new caproplast surrogate, and the road was so light that when Benji came back home, he couldn't restrain himself and while landing in Orly boyishly fulfilled a delightfully perfect arc.
  An emergency call awaited him in the dispatch room.
  mi ba'e ji'a nelci loi za'u se cinmo* - I like emotions too. (Lojban)
  di'ai calom to'o la Dublin doi nixli po'e mi* - Hello from Dublin, my girl. (Lojban)
  23. 2330th year. Alpha.
  For the first time in the last couple of hundred years, Alpha has been experiencing such a troubled period: the Earth (for some of the inhabitants of Alpha it was almost forgotten, and for others - completely alien) by the decision of the General Assembly and by the recommendation of the UN Security Council, waited for the representatives of community of Makers. And Makers long accustomed to not look at anyone and not depend on anyone suddenly got unexpected complications - money.
  Accepted on the Earth payment systems didn't work in Alpha. Any. Just because no one needed them.
  Food, clothing, housing - all this was for everyone as natural as breathing or a heartbeating: nobody cared about the financial and economic system of the Earth. If anything could be considered the "cash flow" on Alpha, then only a flow of mutual sensitivity, caring and interest.
  The Earth could not offer anything like that.
  However, the challenge was not only this. The challenge was also that it was impossible to offer such a thing to the Earth: unlike Makers, each of which was an integral self-sufficient being, an earthlings represented a single incredibly complex composite entity, in which the main regulatory environment was money.
  Lukasz Lansky who was the first of the first turned to be the first secretary of the Alpha diplomatic mission on Earth, as well as the senior adviser, diplomat and the head of the Makers's embassy. It happened after a brief discussion, followed by snort of derision and great laughter. As an attaché, and also as a conditional sign, meaning that Alpha has a human features too, Aia's parents and her brother were sent to Earth with Lukasz..
  The agrément was requested and duly received.
  The honor to accept and (in order to avoid possible misunderstandings) at first to create financial security of the newly appeared diplomatic representation fell upon Czech Republic, cradle of Makers.
  Matt was the only one out of this diplomatic mission who was really happy about the upcoming trip; he had three good reasons for this. First, he has never been to the Earth. Secondly, he wasn't a Maker. And thirdly, he was only the ordinary little boy.
  Aia had been telling him a lot about the Earth from what she remembered. He heard a lot about the sky, rainbows, mountains, rivers and oceans, changing of seasons in the temperate zone, skyscrapers, autobahns, malls, schools and universities - and the boy's imagination pleasantly pictured in his mind's eye an air racks filled with cars, which looked exactly like the orbital shuttles, and a smiling, sluggish, multi-layered, pyramidal concrete giants, inside of which lived not wizards-Makers, but ordinary people. People who are the same as he, Matt.
  When in the old metal building of maternal station began to ring the call signal from the airlock, Matt and Aia were just sitting on the cool metal steps.
  "Benji, Benji!" a few minutes later melted with delight Matt, almost forcibly dragging the poor android from the airlock chamber. "Tell me: is it true that this time you'll take me with you?"
  "It's true."
  "Is it true that the houses on the Earth are so large that a thousand people can live in them at the same time?"
  "It's true."
  "Is it true that there are so many people on the Earth that if they will fly to our Alpha in turn, everyone will be able to visit here only once a hundred thousand years?"
  "Who told you so stupid thing?" genuinely surprised Benji and glanced at Aia. "People don't live there that much."
  Aia hugged the android with one hand while her second hand gently ran over his broken face, and plastic and metal has stuck together and aligned under her thin fingers as obedient as raw clay.
  "What?" she shrugged. "It's his idea."
  "I'll take them to Ruzyne," Benji said, embracing Aia in response. "I'm sorry."
  "There is no need to be sorry. Prague is a good city. They'll be there alright. Is it true, Matt?"
  "It's true," the boy agreed hurriedly. "We'll be alright there."
  Benji had been preparing to the tragedy from the very moment of the call, but that didn't happen, - either because there was no any tragedy, or because the world of Makers meant completely different miseries, and Benji was floating in it like a complete fool, worse than in human sympathies and preferences.
  Things are packed up, the goals are clear, the tasks are set, and the actors are balanced and calm. At least, from the outside it looked just like that.
  Matt ran away to pack his bags, leaving Aia and Benji together. Both of them sat on the grass right there, by the hatch, leaning back against its thick transparent cover.
  They sat like some kind of weird couple of angels guarding the hermetically sealed entrance to heaven.
  "You know, sometimes it seems to me that they simply didn't finish with me."
  Benji waved his hand somewhere toward the weightless space, where, from the outside of Alpha, the shuttle was hanging like a large metal wart, which still don't belong to him, and in his intonation slipped the fatigue unnatural for any sort of machine.
  "It seems to me that somewhere deep inside of me there is some kind of stupid incompatibility of my software and the world around me."
  "Don't be absurd, Benji. The world around us has perfect compatibility with everything in the world. And you'll never be an exception, no matter how much you want it."
  "But I don't want to be an exception," the android said. "The problem is different. The problem is that at times I don't want to be at all. I don't want to start from background mode. And, worst of all, I don't want the background mode as well. It seems to me wrong. I think it's some sort of system error."
  "Of course, it's an error," agreed Aia. "Only it's yours, not those who did you. The error is to think that, if you leave, something will change for the better in this world."
  Benji looked up at her silently.
  "Stop it, Benji. No one of us is to blame for the fact that the world is as it is."
  "I don't blame anyone." He reached out and covered Aia's palm with his silvery palm. "It's just recently that it strangely struck me to watch myself: you are too crucial for me, and I'm not sure that it's right."
  "It's hard to surprise the one who knows everything in advance," Aia chuckled bitterly. "I know more: I also know that you are not sure about the opposite."
  Yes, nodded android, not sure.
  "Do you want a piece of advice?"
  Yes, he nodded.
  "I think that such a layout - what is right and what is wrong - matters only in the context of goal-setting. Let's say you need to get from Paris to Stuttgart. If you took off and took to the east, you are approaching the goal and therefore do the right thing. If the other way..."
  "Mm-hmm... I got it," Benji nodded. "If at first sudo rm-rf, and then defragmentation, it's not very correct. Although..."
  He suddenly reached for Aia's shoulders, gently turned her toward his face and kissed her so humanly as he could, whispering to the girl's little ear:
  "Although in the reverse order, in my opinion, it's also wrong."
  "Benji!" Aia gasped.
  "I knew you'd like it."
  24. 2330th year. The Earth.
  In August Matt caught a cold for the first time in his life.
  By that time it had been exactly two weeks since Benji left four of them in Prague's Ruzyne.
  For these two weeks, Matt has already relatively used to living on the Earth. He managed to get used to the fact that the houses and their inhabitants aren't quite as he imagined. He managed to get used to the skyscrapers, to people, to the wind, to the strong smell of flowers in the Prokop valley, to the sky - the blue one, then the orange, in which an inexhaustible rivers of aircars were constantly flowing, and to the clouds crossing the sky.
  The adults - Lukasz and parents of Matt - all this time almost never stayed at home, constantly went to somewhere: some meetings, negotiations, seminars, congresses, conferences, and on those rare days when they were at home after all the house was full of strangers.
  Matt occasionally was messed around them as a little useless toy - he was not concerned with the international law, politics, and ideology. All of its "diplomatic" functions had been focused on being visible to others and watching others.
  On that morning birds were sanging like crazy: opposite the window, on a thin poplar branch, in the bright colors of the August dawn, the young sparrows chirped - hungry and hollow.
  Matt opened his eyes and immediately shut them again: the sun that flooded his small bedroom was so bright that it hurt to look.
  For about five minutes he lay thus, delighted by the chattering of birds and the noise of a big city, until he remembered that in this evening their family has to pass another foolish reception.
  Over the past fortnight he was bored with all these receptions - in the daytime, in the evening, the seating chart and without seating chart, with the possibility of making contacts or without it, solemn and not so much, strengthening and expanding the connections, influencing the local authorities. Bored stiff.
  By and large he didn't care about the generally accepted rules and protocol formalities that had fallen on him, it was a strange life, not interesting at all. He didn't want it. He would prefer to meet the dawns, listen to the wind and look at the stars.
  This desire was so sharp that he even jumped from his bed. He jumped, rushed to the dressing room, found there what he thought was the least stuffed with electronics, fast dressed and get out into the courtyard.
  The courtyard was green and deserted.
  Imagining himself invisible, the boy had crept past the guards, rounded the embassy building, crossed a small square, climbed over the wrought-iron embassy fence and found himself on the street.
  The street was already crowded, but this fact didn't upset him at all: still pretending to be invisible, he has ran along the embassy fence to where the city subway train slowly dragged itself along the tall filigree viaduct.
  The subway platform turned to be high above the sidewalk.
  The transparent elevator, lifting the passengers to the platform, has greeted Matt affably and took him to the crowd.
  Then through the window of the train, where the boy was sitting, he could see how the sky, vast and fearsome, burdened with dark rain clouds, slowly approaches, from west to east.
  By the time he left the subway in the forest park surrounding Ruzyne, the sun had disappeared and it started to rain.
  Matt was not at all afraid of the rain: there, on Alpha, he froze and soaked to the skin a bunch of times.
  Partly for this reason, he looked back at the train going away to the west, beyond the spaceport, and went along the path, strewn with a fine gravel, to where the unknown was hidden under the curtain of the closing tree canopy.
  For a long time the rain, drizzling there, outside, didn't make itself felt at all, so thick was the interlacing of branches over Matt's head.
  Matt walked and thought about himself, about Aia, about Alpha, about the Earth and didn't notice how the morning drowned in a dark thunderous twilight, and the park became quiet and gloomy.
  When struck the first lightning, it was already so dark that the trees caught by the flash, for the first time started to seem to the boy as gloomy giants bending over the path. Under the deafening "AGRHHH!" he, who had never seen or heard anything like that, have come up from an untimely reflection and dropped down with fear.
  And then it rumbled again and again.
  Matt's parents discovered their loss only an hour and a half later; by this time Prague had long already been covered by a storm front and the rain poured on the streets like mad.
  "My Gosh!" the mother lamented. "He's just a little seven-year-old boy!"
  "He is no longer a baby," the father reassured her. "He is sitting somewhere nearby, waiting until the storm passes."
  "I'm just worried"
  "All people are worried from time to time, there is nothing catastrophic in this. Tell Lukasz or Aia."
  Lukasz closed his eyes and saw Matt sitting under the branching old linden-tree in the Zlichinsky Forest Park. High above him the sky rumbled and thundered, heavy with gray clouds. The rain was so thick that it poured down through the lush green canopy, and the real brooks streamed along the paths. The boy, scared and drenched to the bone, was sitting with his back to the wet, rough linden trunk.
  "Hey! Matt!" Lukasz called to him.
  "Hey! Matt!" whispered the linden tree.
  "Oh!" Matt winced with surprise. "Who are you?"
  "Friend," the tree answered, folding the branches over boy's head with the slope of a dense green roof.
  From somewhere on top of its branches a wet ouzel had flew up, shook itself and, tilting his black head, stared at the boy with its small dark beads.
  "How can you be my friend if you don't know anything about me?" Matt smiled lightly at him.
  "Nobody knows about anyone, and it doesn't bother anyone," the ouzel pointed out and tilted its head to the other side. "Are you cold?"
  "A little," Matt said.
  "It will be warmer now," the ouzel once more shook itself, jumped to the very end of the twig and looked anxiously out from under the foliage, as if waiting for something from the rain pouring outside. As if in response somewhere high above, once again, a dull rumble passed, didn't struck, but rustled, and around the linden tree, under which Matt sat, a white sparkling weaving appeared from the wet air.
  "All right, just don't touch it," the ouzel warned, again bouncing closer to the boy.
  "Touch? What?" Matt asked.
  "Lightning. Well, what else."
  "All right," the boy nodded, feeling that the earth on which he was sitting is getting warmer and warmer.
  "You'd better tell me why you ran away from home."
  "Who ran away?" Matt was surprised. "I didn't run away. I wanted to change the future."
  "Whose?" the ouzel, in turn, was surprised, too.
  "My, of course."
  "Oh, you are a little egoist," the bird shook her head. "It seems to me it's a common trait in your family. Do you know that you cannot change your future without changing someone else's?"
  "Why not?"
  "Because the future is always shared. What's fault of the next evening?"
  "I don't like looking at other people's feet," Matt said grimly. "They are not interesting. And I don't like looking at jackets or gowns. And I don't catch a faces, because I'm small. And many things cannot be done when visitors come, because they can misunderstand it. No, rather, they cannot understand it."
  The ouzel bounced on the same place, whistled and quite humanly grinned:
  "Do you ever try to sit a little bit higher?" and, looking at the boy who had opened his mouth from surprise, winked at him: "Come on, today we will slightly change the usual course of things."
  Matt appeared at home almost immediately after the thunderstorm - wet, excited, happy, almost in daring, with a small black ouzel sitting on his shoulder.
  Lukasz waited for him in the embassy yard, cross-legged and leaned back on the back of wrought-iron bench:
  "Well, traveler, do you know what an ouzels are being fed?"
  "There're those who live in cages and they are being fed," the boy retorted. "And I'm not holding anyone by force."
  Then there was a drink reception, and for the first time it didn't seem to be depressing to Matt. He walked between the buttoned all the way up guests and with a charming smile gave each of them a living crystal flower. The guests were crouching down to meet and shake hands with the boy, and the flowers were stirring their transparent heads and rang.
  And at night Matt spiked a fever.
  25. 2330th year. Aia.
  Aia never cried the way she was crying that day, sitting below the dome in the transparent glassium tunnel at the quiet generator Bibich: out loud, sobbing, repeating "I can't bear it anymore!"with every breath.
  However, it didn't last long, and after half an hour after the fit of hysteria ceased, feeling which had tormented her became so unsteady and blurry that if someone asked her why it had happened, she would hardly give any intelligible answer.
  What "I can't"? Why "I can't"?
  After that, later, she had been sitting for a long time in silence, listening to what was happening inside her.
  Usually if she was filled with despair, it happened in dreams, but when she was conscious and oriented - on the contrary - there was always a relief.
  All of it was unexpected - and this not yet melted sensation of what was happening, and this bottomless hole in which her heart was loudly crushing.
  She understood that the fate of Maker is not the worst fate: to foresee the future, to look into the past - well than, how can you be upset by having an eyes or ears?
  However, it turned out that it was possible. There was a kind of thin border that she was afraid to define for even herself.
  There, beyond this border, the grass was also green, the water was also wet, and the blood pounded in the veins at about the same rhythm, but the creature hidden in the depths of her soul revealed some unthinkable eyes and saw behind it the eternal abyss.
  She knew that this abyss was neither terrible nor strange.
  Strange were her feelings: one day they could be dull to the point of extinction, the next they could burn Aia from the inside, just like in the fit that had overwhelmed her half an hour ago.
  At such times she felt that this burning, deep and nameless feeling she experienced was the only right one, for which in life it was worth doing something at all.
  Of course, she also realized that it wasn't so. Of course, she knew that it was as ridiculous and as wrong as be trying to draw with all colors at the same time: every note in this universal fugue, like every brushstroke in the picture - from barely visible to intertwining dense, saturated, colorful - should have its own, special, timbre and its own, special, loudness. However, what rolled on her, covered her with such force that this tune got lost and trembled, like a swarm of moths at the time of the tornado.
  This feeling wasn't hopeless at all, at least because Aia wasn't an ordinary person.
  Of course, she inherited from people so much: she also had to eat and breathe, she also needed love and understanding, and the love and understanding she lacked were exactly the same utopian, and get them was also unrealistic, but there was a huge difference. The seeds of Benji's love were planted on fertile soil of her own love and her own understanding.
  She saw the future - and her future, and Benji's one. She saw it as clearly as she saw, for example, droplets of moisture on the glassium pane or her hand getting around her knees, and this future was inevitable.
  It turned out that her "I can't bear it anymore" meant that the future struggled to be realized in the very this way .
  Aia sighed and, under the rustle of the wind tickling between her wingless shoulders, slid down into the hole, like a little tin-soldier.
  26. 2330th year. Benji.
  As a machine, Benji could well afford not to waste a time.
  "Ding-ding-ding", tinkling inside him, caught him in the process of transforming his idle cash into the loan capital. He still needed a little more than fifteen million euros to buy the shuttle.
  "Hello, Benji," with Aia's voice said the message that was tinkling inside him.
  "Hey," the android responded. He'd shifted the priority of financial operations aside and made a room for the opportunity to talk.
  And the opportunity fired.
  "Can you get me out of here?" Aia asked.
  Benji coolly calculated the latest political trends, his own financial capabilities and technical condition - his and the shuttle's:
  And then, just in that half a second, while her sigh of relief had been lasted, he realized that it's got nothing to do with something bad that might happen somewhere and might require urgent intervention: judging by what the Irish Munster had recently experienced, wherever required Aia's intervention, she could reach it on her own.
  Consequently, it turned out that it was about him, Benji. But why such an urgency?
  "But why such an urgency?" he smiled.
  "But when does urgency begin? And in what unit of measurement is it measured?" Aia answered a question with a question, and in her voice was so much dejection, that the smile slowly slid off Benji's face.
  "I got it. Okay," he agreed, and switched to activating the local call, over the spaceport.
  There was a man at the table, and Benji unmistakably identified him as the director of operations of Orly named Aler Leroy.
  "Good day, Mr. Leroy. I would like to pay a private flight to a near-earth orbit."
  "But why did you come to me?" asked the man. "The rental of ships is carried out by the Charter Department. It's not here."
  "The thing is, Mr. Leroy, that this will be a bareboat charter for Alpha, and in the end of it I would like to take the Maker to the Earth. The Charter Department says they need your visa."
  The man turned away from the holographic screen glowing in front of him and looked pensively at the android - from head to toes:
  "As a matter of principle, there is nothing extraordinary in a private-funded flight into space. And taking into account the specifics of your main job, the bareboat charter is no different from the usual chartering of the ship together with the pilot. If your passenger will not get into trouble with the migration control, you can take anyone through the Orly terminal, even the Lord God himself. Give your contract."
  "Thank you, Mr. Leroy," Benji grinned, handing him the completed form.
  The preparations were in a hurry, because the take-off time issued to him by the on-duty dispatcher only barely allowed him to sort things out with a freight, technical inspection, guest visa for Aia, fuel and duty charges.
  However, by and large, what bothered the on-duty dispatcher was just a challenge to Benji: he was smoothly complying with his own calculations. Before the very flight he called Aia to say only one word:
  "Wait for me."
  When he took off away from his seventeenth line to the runway and went along it, quickening speed, it was right two o'clock in the afternoon. One hundred and forty, one hundred and eighty, two hundred and twenty... take-off!
  The shuttle lifted its nose and lay flat on the stream, and Benji fixed the angle of attack and let himself to glance at the horizon opening in the distance. The air was extremely clean - without dust, clouds and fog; the sun shone so that it clogged the sensitive electronics with thick white.
  While the Earth below him had been removing and turning out to be round, he didn't think about Aia, about Alpha, or about what would happen next: he could predict the future only on the basis of sufficient data, and he had almost no data at all.
  "ju'i la alfa .i ba'apei mi*," he said when Alpha became the size of a large apple.
  Alpha was silent for a long time, and only then, when Benji had almost finished docking, responded with Josh's voice:
  "re'i .i la aias cu caca'o denpa do fe'eco'a la alfa*"
  Aia was waiting for him almost at the same place, sitting on the grass near the airlock.
  "I miss you terribly when you're not here," she whispered, looking up at him.
  "Sometimes I see that human beings are surprisingly like us," Benji replied, landing down near her. "When you are planning, when you are synthezing an algorithms in the process of solving problems. And sometimes I see that you are completely different. And your goals are different, and the ways to achieve them are paradoxical. Sadness, boredom, grief, fear is so much costly and so unproductive... No matter how much you fear, no matter how much you grieve, no matter how sorry you are - neither fear, nor anguish, nor grief will ever save you from anything."
  Aia, without saying a word, moved closer to him, and he hugged her by the shoulders with his thin silvery hand in return.
  For a couple of minutes they sat like that - silently, looking at Aia's house which, puzzled and abandoned, was shuffling nearby, a few dozen meters from the airlock.
  "It's very difficult for the frightened and longing to hold the situation," Benji said. "Although, as a result, unambiguous motivation, probably, is worth both - longing and grief. And everything else."
  Yes, Aia nodded, things are not going well with the motivation of you, machines.
  "By the way, your repatriation scheduled for 4 pm UTC," the android said again. "And my plan is you have your own plan. You see, I was never puzzled by many important things. For example, housing."
  "I'm not so good at planning," Aia picked the little blade of grass and lifted it on her open palm to her face, watching closely as it concentrates and busily grows its eyes and legs. "And you will laugh, but some important things elude me too. But I'm afraid, in your "cradle" I really will be a little cramped."
  "I was thinking about Prague," Benji said. "But it seems to me that it's a bad idea."
  Bad, agreed Aia.
  "So we'll buy an apartment in Paris," the android summed up. "If I understand correctly, you have not so much any stuff?"
  "I have just me," Aia nodded.
  And then she again was sitting in the passenger seat - the same as eight years ago - with the same G-suit reached under her chin.
  "Well," Benji winked at her, undocking away from Alpha and turning the nose of his shuttle toward the clouds that swirled far below. "Come on, lets go for a drive."?
  "ORY, readiness for landing, a passenger on board," he said at the run-in to the landing course, listening to an impersonal human voice that was muttering for some reason about the transition echelon, and turned to Aia: "I'll wait for you at the exit."
  "All right," she nodded, unfastening the swelled air cradle.
  ju'i la alfa .i ba'apei mi* - Hey, Alpha, are you waiting for me? (Lojban)
  re'i .i la aias cu caca'o denpa do fe'eco'a la alfa* - Hello, Aia is waiting for you at the entrance. (Lojban)
  27. 2330th year. Matt.
  The stormy cyclone was dragging its tails behind itself. The wind outside the window rattled, breaking off the fragile poplar branches. The ouzel, dozing on the sill, was shivering.
  Matt was tormented by a fever.
  He was running a temperature, his hot arms and legs were spread out, and he dreamed that he, again first arrived in Ruzyne, himself met the President of the United Nations.
  "You, Matt, the strongest, smartest and kindest of all the boys who have ever visited Earth," whispered the President softly, and tried to pat Matt's head, and Matt faintly dodged and his head cracked with pain. "Obviously such a boy has to have a big beautiful medal."
  The President smiled sweetly and waved his hands, and then, with some barely perceptible movement, got large artificial butterfly almost from Matt's mouth:
  "Here you go."
  The butterfly was so beautiful that Matt, unwittingly, stretched out his hand and took it.
  "Oh!" he cried: the whole thing was studded from the inside with needles, not even studded - it consisted of many needles.
  With a feeling of deep disgust, Matt dropped it from his punctured arms and at the same instant felt that his mouth, between the tongue and the palate, also had the same thin metal needle sticking out.
  In horror, afraid of accidentally swallowing it, he tried to get it - first with his tongue, and then with his fingers, but it just slipped down farther and farther, and, completely frightened, Matt ripped a thin sting outward, ruthlessly tearing his own throat.
  The blood began to drip, and, looking through the spread palms at the way it covers with stains the polished and shiny floor, he suddenly saw that he was holding his own heart with a thin needle protruding from it.
  Help, he thought and woke up.
  His throat was so sore, and his bed was so wet and sticky that he was frightened again, now already awake.
  "Aia," he whispered, knowing at the same time that she is not here and she will not be here, and then, with immense relief, he's heard his unharmed heart beating in his chest.
  He slid off the bed and stomped with his bare feet to the window.
  There, outside the window, in the pale sky, flowed toward the dawn thick heavy clouds.
  Frrrr! The bird that slept on the windowsill flinched. "What's going on?"
  "I had a bad dream," Matt said hoarsely. "I so wanted attention that it made me heartless."
  "Ee..., it's August. In August, I also always have nightmares. It's because soon will be winter."
  "Winter?" Matt was surprised. "What is this?"
  "Have you dropped from the moon?" The ouzel, in turn, was so amazed, that at that moment even someone who understood something in the causes and consequences would not find in him a shadow of a resemblance to the Maker implicated in the performance: "Winter is a terribly bad time. No food, no warmth, every time you fall asleep you think you'll be gone forever."
  The ouzel sighed heavily and ruffled up, looking at the way the darkness floats outside the window, and then its eyes glittered from below upwards like a beads:
  "In my opinion, you are not so well."
  "My throat hurts," Matt complained.
  "Wait!" said the ouzel.
  He jumped to the palm of Matt's hand that was leaned against the sill, tromped all over it like a little black chicken, then sat down, listening, and finally gave the final verdict:
  "You're almost as hot as I am. In my opinion, you caught a cold. And, in my opinion, for you, human, this is not good."
  "But what should I do?" Matt asked.
  "Sleep," the ouzel said confidently. "I always sleep in such cases."
  28. 2330th year. Benji.
  Benji, just as he planned, waited for Aia in the waiting room at the exit from migration terminal - where crowd were meeting, and where was a sharp and lingering scent of surrogate coffee.
  He sat up aside the crowd, under one of the free Wi-Fi transmitters, and, taking the opportunity, used the local search engine with the request entitled "human needs".
  As for his own needs, they were clear, simple and more or less understandable. By and large, in the absence of a driving purpose, even the only one that could be considered basic - the need for periodic recharging - wasn't one: Benji realized that if he somehow didn't get in time to the power source, he would be neither sad nor worried.
  But for a human it all was important: the constant involvement in a universe passing by the human being and through the human being must necessarily have a nonzero degree. Smells, sounds, reflections - all this was the very essence of human life, all this was it.
  It has to be said, Benji's curiosity was not entirely idle: searching intently for the abstract human, he peered through him at Aia.
  By the time she appeared at the entrance to the hall, he had managed to understand that the satisfaction of all human needs was not only impossible, but also undesirable, and was just finalizing the contract for the purchase of the apartment in the area of Rue de Lilas.
  "I don't know what I'm going to do with you," he told Aia, "Because I don't know what you're going to do with me." But it seems we already have a common apartment for all this.
  "Well," she said, so calmly, as if she was from the beginning sure of everything. "Then tonight it should smell of apples."
  Rue de Lilas was a narrow green street which faced the tenth gate of Orly. The proximity to the spaceport made it noisy and crowded.
  Benji immediately recognized this house: it was exactly the same as one on the advertising hologram in the network - yellow-white, with varying levels, wide green galleries and semicircular transparent balconies along the vertical edges.
  "It seems that we now live with you at the very top of it, uh... right there," he pointed out.
  The apartment was empty and definitely that's why Benji saw it as big and resounding. Even from the very entrance he could see the window - huge, as big as the whole wall of the living room, with the sky over the Orly torn apart by a numerous lunar ships.
  The android hesitated, unloading apples at the entrance.
  "Benji!" Aia called him from the depths. "Come here."
  She was waiting for him at the window: a girl with a flame-like hair in a bright blue coat against a bright blue sky.
  "I want to give you something, too."
  "What?" he asked carelessly.
  She stepped forward and hugged him, so that her narrowed eyes turned to be a few centimeters from his eyes:
  "Memories, Benji. Just don't be afraid."
  What are you talking about, Benji thought in amazement and complacency, you know, I can't to be afraid, but the question froze still on his lips, because suddenly the unknown rose inside him.
  Maybe it started with Aia's fingers, and maybe with his back that was touched by these fingers - he didn't know, but only his shell under her fingers suddenly became soft, and in it started to stir something unnameable.
  "It's nerves, Benji. It's growing nerves. Don't be afraid of anything," whispered Aia, smiling, looking attentively at his widened pupils. "I just want to show you what it's like to be a human."
  "Human?!" Benji thought desperately, looking down. "Why?"
  To love you, she silently smiled and embraced him, and stroked his skin, and under her thin white fingers into him grew the universe. Another universe, a new universe that has completely different properties and qualities...
  "Do you feel how sweet the apples smell?" she whispered. "They are flowing into you - carbon, phosphorus, nitrogen..."
  And Benji really felt that the air around him was getting a noticeable sweet taste. Apples, he thought, look at that, how sweet these apples smell.
  "Kiss me, Benji," Aia said, not taking her palms off his happy face. "Please".
  29. 2330th year. Matt.
  On the day when Hubble has found alien's ship in the area of the Ophiuchus, Matt just went to school for the first time in his life.
  So it was just circumstances that he spent most of the day in ignorance: a large holographic screen in the school foyer told first-graders only about the location of school buffets, toilets, about the rules of behavior and didn't spin news at all.
  Later, in the evening, already lying in bed, Matt has been recrossing the incident in his memory: cold September dawn, eople fussing around him, fright in the eyes of his parents who were the third time revising the evening news, and Lukasz, to whose reaction the boy was at a loss to find a definition.
  Lukasz took the news calmly, even commonly. He grinned only as usual - whether to himself, or to the future, which again turned with the next intricate side - and that was all.
  But Matt didn't sleep till very midnight, he looked out the window at the clouded sky and imagined an aliens like the Makers, then like ouzels with arms, then like lemurs in Alfa, and when he, after all, fell asleep, his dreams were bad and restless.
  By the morning it was found out that while the mankind excited by the find was discussing probable fruits of the union and horrors of the intervention, a alien spaceship was approaching to the Earth, sending ahead of itself a strange lingering sounds.
  "What do you think about this?" asked Lukasz at breakfast, digging in the tofu on his plate with his fork.
  "Song," the boy shrugged. "It goes without saying."
  He finished his meal in a hurry, grabbed a backpack, smiled at winking Lukasz and went to school, no more paying attention to the next news, deeply hidden grownup's alarm and Lukasz's eyes with the sparkles of mischief.
  He really believed that what was sounded in morning news was a song. And taking into account his childhood spent in orbit in the company of Makers, he didn't see anything extraordinary in all this matter.
  Well, guests. Well, from afar. But they in fact warned about the arrival. They even sing songs - quite like whales - about wanderings and space. What else do you need?
  The day passed noisily and briskly, and in the evening the UN Security Council reported through the official channel that wherever the alien spaceship entering the Solar system subsequently went, there should be present at least one representative of the community of the Makers and at least one android among the earthlings.
  30. 2330th year. Aia.
  In the corner in front of the projector, a small, three-dimensional copy of Selin Juti looked up at the invisible front camera:
  "Good evening, dear audience. With you France 24 and evening news. That's the second day in a row that the whole Earth is discussing an alien interstellar spaceship discovered near the solar system. Today we have a guest, Director General, Institute of Nanobiology..."
  The camera shifted, and next to Selin, a bald little man in an expensive business suit materialized out of nowhere.
  Aia reached for the remote control and turned off the holo. People blinked and melted, and she carefully climbed over Benji who was lying next to her, get off the couch and went toward the bathroom.
  "Do you think their fears about viruses are imagined?" Benji asked without opening his eyes.
  "Definitely," came from the bathroom with the sound of running water. "I even think they are not scared. I think they just have nothing to talk about."
  "And if there were no Makers on the Earth?"
  "Benji, you know even if there were no Makers on the Earth, they still wouldn't have anything to talk about. Let them talk what they want to talk about."
  A voice call has pinged off, and Benji accepted it without opening his eyes:
  "Salute, Lukasz. Do you need Aia?"
  "Salute, Benji. I need you both. When this singing tin can stops, we all three should be there."
  "Are we going to sing, too?" Benji grinned, opened his eyes and get off the couch. "I want to note I don't practice political cantatas."
  "I'm crazy about you, I'm crazy without you..." Aia sang in the bathroom, adding shower gel into the water and closing her eyes. The water that was pouring from the ceiling with a fine rain went now in a large fluffy soap flakes: just like the morning November snowfall.
  "Go ahead, laugh," Lukasz said. "Laugh. I think there isn't much time left for this."
  "I know, Lukasz, about a week," Aia shouted from the bathroom.
  "Eeh," Lukasz shook his head and disconnected.
  "You see? He also thinks that then there will be no cause for laughter," Benji said, appearing on the threshold of a snow-covered bathroom.
  "Yes, it's just his youthful romanticism for so many years had faded," Aia's raised her ginger head. "What do we have today? Wednesday? After the weekend we are going to Prague."
  "To Prague?"
  "To Prague."
  The alien spaceship that landed in the Sea of Rains at the Carlini base, looked like a large white wingless bird. The similarity was completed by the fact that he landed down in a huge titanium "nest", right in the middle of a complex network of deep lunar mines.
  The summons came to Prague when the aliens just were getting turned toward the aposeleneum. Or rather, it wasn't summons: the same two Scandinavian twins who had once visited Alpha came and waited patiently until Aia whispered in the brother's ear : "See you soon, Matt."
  In Ruzyne, there was a heavy orbiting Condor waiting for them, in its open cargo hatch the patrol lunar police slider was crawling as a small yellow bug.
  "What a scale!" Benji couldn't resist. "What a scope! Impressive..."
  "Of course, it's just for show," agreed Aia. "And from the inside it's not interesting and even disgusting, but if it contains a perspective, then there appears a completely different taste. And then there's symbolism, participation in the great and all that..."
  "Don't forget, whose services you use while taking a shower or heading to the Sea of Rains, pani," one of the twins looked reproachfully at her. "Life of those people who seems foolish to you may not be as interesting as yours, but they do it as selflessly as you. Welcome," and he waved his hand towards the ladder leading into the cargo hold.
  The moon was surprisingly crowded.
  At least, it was exactly the way as looked the Carlini base that had accepted the Condor. The people who met their small mixed delegation were all dressed in civilian clothes, but by the look of their eyes and their shaved square heads anyone could say that they comes from a long line of military service.
  Aia in comparison and looked, and felt like a butterfly among hippos.
  "Well, well, and where is this product of our friends' inspiration?" looked around one of the twins.
  "It's at the east door, sir. This way, sir.".
  There were no lectures on the use of equipment there - either because there were no newcomers among them, or simply because the audience was too specific.
  Aia's spacesuit didn't resemble clothes at all and looked like a large, stuffed suitcase, the only advantage of which was that it was designed for a whole day of autonomous work.
  From a close distance the white "bird" wasn't at all like a bird: just there was a white, smooth, almost vertical wall near the eastern entrance. Wall that was soaring to a height of hundred meters toward the coal-black lunar sky.
  Aia didn't even need to turn on the radio in order to hear that the bird that had landed on the moon was still singing. The bird sang and inside it rustled a life.
  "Do you hear?" said Lukasz directly to Aia's spacesuit, bypassing the radio. "Perhaps they are like us."
  "Perhaps," agreed Aia, pulling the arms inside from the wide, not-sized sleeves of the spacesuit, and turning on the radio near her chin. "Do you hear me, Benji? They are like us."
  "Well, since the word "we" is too wrong, it means they look like you," said Benji, dressed in the similar suit for protection against pressure difference. "Are these a human beings?"
  "These are a Makers." Aia touched the white wall, and it answered through her gloves with a thin, taut jingle.
  31. 2330th year. Alpha.
  In general, the Makers take the news about aliens phlegmatically, judiciously and even almost indifferently. To say that everyone still lived his own life is not to say anything.
  All these three hundred years that Alpha was spinning in the orbit of the Earth, they were only bystanders, observers of the events that were floating by them: the earthlings kept making them laugh with their thoughtlessness and dejection, but all this time the Earth was too distant and too alien.
  Now, with the arrival of the guests, the situation has taken on a slightly different character, a different scale, and now it turned out that Alpha was watching aliens "bird" in much the same way as some village silly-billy is watching the lost neighbor's rooster.
  Robert watched that what was happening on the Moon from the hill at the Valley, - he sat cross-legged with his eyes closed.
  He saw that they were standing there, inside their ship, as a solid wall along the real wall - nothing but eyes and ears, that their thin yellow fingers trembled and waved like the flowers of a hawkweed in a strong wind and that the air around them was filled with the smell of pine sap, love and life.
  Robert felt this as clearly as he would feel, standing with them side by side, shoulder to shoulder.
  He saw Aia touching the white metal plane, he saw her hand, gloved with the bellows expansion joints, sinking in this dazzling whiteness, he saw Benji who can't to be frightened and the twin telepaths were frightening at the same time, and Lukasz was grinning sadly and lonely, almost as Mephistopheles.
  Robert saw the aliens were reaching out to Aia, tasting her strange metabolism, high level of oxygen was already rising in her spacesuit while thin yellow fingers were touching gloves passing through the metal and the white sparkles were dancing at the tips of these fingers, depicting the surrounding constellations.
  Hah, he thought, looking at what makes oxygen with Aia's head, here you will, dull humanity, like hell you will, come on, girl, give them a show, here they will, the novice patients of our clinic, teach them to smile, and they will smile at everyone...
  And the girl started.
  She turned her shining face toward Benji, took his hand, and stepped inside white wall with him, as if this wall were not of metal, but of milk.
  Already there, inside, she opened her helmet, smiled confidently at the yellow pupil race - the same way as the educator smiled at the infants - and started to sing:
  "Here, just above a heaven and below your shining heart, splashed over sky eleven not a world but only part..."
  "a'o do gasnu lo co'e tezu'e da*," whispered Benji either to himself or to Aia who was drunk with oxygen, and also opened his helmet.
  And then the aliens fell silent.
  a'o do gasnu lo co'e tezu'e da* - I hope you know what you're doing. (Lojban)
  32. 2330th year. Benji.
  Benji stood next to Aia, slowly looking around, listening to the sudden silence, and waited, not knowing what: whether the continuation of Aia's performance or itt to be over.
  "Keep calm, Benji," Aia said in the thick silence. "It's just a good excuse to find out where begins the sympathy."
  As if in response to her words, the yellow convocation had been hesitated a little and parted, and in the formed aisle the android saw a little blond human boy.
  "Sympathy begins with coincidence," the boy said, watching Aia's face getting pale. "Oh, please, only without drama: I suspect this is the area in which to find out coincidence would be the easiest."
  "All right," agreed Aia in a small low voice. "Meet Danek, Benji."
  "I'm glad to be part of your memories, too," the boy said.
  He stepped forward and stopped right in front of the android, looking up at him from below. He looked so humanly, moreover, he looked a so much lot like Aia, and Benji would not be surprised to find out that the child indeed has Aia's genes.
  Benji has never specifically been interested in negotiating as an instrument of diplomacy, but recent experience in analyzing human relations has allowed him to assume that the strongest player on the other side is now this boy.
  So the android closely and silently looked at the aliens behind the boy, smiled and sat down in front of him on the floor to equalize the difference in growth.
  The boy also sat down on the floor and patted with his palm next to him:
  Good heavens, Aia thought settling down between them as a broken little animal, who would have thought that in order to match, one must necessarily fall.
  For a moment she thought she is asleep and seeing a nightmare, and this thought gave her strength.
  "It's good that you feel better," the child placed with satisfaction his hands on his knees and turned to Benji. "Tell me, what's it like when a machine loves a human?"
  "What?" gasped Benji.
  "Oh..." the boy froze, looking in embarrassment at the android. "You may not want to talk, but you can't hide your thoughts, I should have warned you."
  Benji looked at Aia, then at the creatures behind her.
  "You know, Aia," he said, "this time you chose a very funny way to hear from me about love."
  Aia opened her mouth, but Danek placed a small palm on the glove of her spacesuit:
  "She didn't, we did. Look at this from the other side: we are all here now to tell the truth to each other. And one truth is not worse than the other. Aia can do what she want with what you say, but I want you to speak not so much for her, as for us."
  "Sometimes it seems to me that the easiest way to drive a machine crazy is to leave it alone with a human," if Benji could, he would sigh. "No, even better - with humanity. And saves us, machines, only the absence of all this stuff providing emotions. I think," he went on, "the love of machine differs from that of human in that that in the case of machine it's always a conscious act of will, and in the case of human - it's often just a hysterical reaction. A hysterical reaction is always bad, conscious act of will is always good."
  "Hm...," Aia grinned with one side of her lips, turned her gloved hand, the one on which Danek's hand was lying, so that the child's hand was atop, and gently covered it with the second gloved hand. "Maybe it's not politically consciously, but, in my opinion, it's time to run away from here until the nurses arrived."
  "It's Luna, there are no nurses," Benji remarked to her. "And furthermore, there, outside, the key human delegation is still stampeding all over the scene. I think to run away from here is not only politically unconsciously, but also not educationally."
  He got to his feet, and the tight ring of alien team staggered back.
  The creature nearest to him stretched out his hand and opened his fist, showing the object lying on its palm - a small copy of the white bird-like spaceship.
  "Take it," Danek said.
  He followed Benji, stood up and turned to Aia:
  "Do you know what my second thought was? How so many stars fit in the sky..."
  "And the first?" innocently asked Benji, taking the gift.
  The boy looked at Aia, and she sighed in response, closed the helmet and said already inside the suit, over the radio:
  "And the first was that it's also not politically consciously to organize here a love show. It's immoral."
  When through the white wall appeared at first one, and then - tightly holding the first one by its gloved hand - the second spacesuit, no one was already stunned and didn't bulge out their eyes, - even the twins have suddenly acquired the lost ability to speak.
  "It's outrageous!" blurted out one of them. "Damn you and your entertainment! Do you want to mess up the contact?"
  "He's right. If something extraordinary has happened, these lads from Global News," second twin nodded at the television crew offloading from the Condor, "spinned everything so that you're turn out to be a shark breaking into a cage with scuba divers, whoever these frogmen may be."
  "Are you afraid to put your finger where you want to put your hand?" Aia said. She let go off Benji's hand and turned to the fuss at Condor. "Come on. These lads from Global News will soon be tired of reporting about personal lives of Makers. But what are they going to report about? There is no entrance in this galleon."
  33. 2330th year. Matt.
  Matt once again was alone and unhappy.
  He no longer admired the Earth. The vast scenery that greeted him a long time ago no longer filled the abyss that burned out this summer somewhere deep inside his chest.
  His personal meanings - that had been cherished on Alpha by a wonderful sister and brought from there - here, on the crowded Earth, collapsed successfully, and the place for the common ones in his soul was not allocated yet.
  Yet there were bright days: when the blue sky or cumulus clouds brought him joy, but this joy was short-lived, and the moments - all less and less. More and more often, he very much wanted to return home - to where along the banks of the Valley large green houses crawled like a big alive caterpillars, where the Earth was not densely crowded and noisy, but distant and round, and where the stars were visible in the black sky both day and night.
  To say that he's missed a miracles is not to say anything. No, of course, he's missed: the house, the lemurs who used to come running in the mornings for sweet porridge, the monsters woven from the fog, but he was oppressed by quite different things: he just wanted to be a Maker. And couldn't.
  The third day, Global News practically non-stop have been pouring the same pictures from the moon: Carlini titanium mines, a big white spaceship and a small blue-eyed boy surrounded by a gloomy military guard.
  Matt who grew up among Makers was not impressed by the magnitude of what was happening - an aliens in general, and their young delegate, who could walk through the walls and speak the main terrestrial languages as native, in particular.
  Two days earlier, in the evening, when his parents were setting in the living room in front of the holo, watching Aia on the Moon, he suddenly, sharply and irrevocably have realized that these days he lost something very, very important.
  Aia, who was intensely looking at Benji playing with a strange blond child, caused him a whole range of conflicting emotions: the betrayal that he had seen in his sister's affectionate glance became a real revelation for him; he realized that it was jealousy, that he is alone and that his childhood is over.
  And the next morning it rained again.
  It was Saturday midmorning. By this time, the rain outside the window already for the second day in a row had been lashing wet, soggy roofs.
  The air was so moist that the Prague seemed to Matt some ancient, sunken city, and he himself was a dreary, lost fish.
  The wet ouzel sat ruffling up on the street lamppost and didn't want to return to the house. In the absence of Lukasz a thoughts wandering in its small black head were full of a vague forest voices and gray, obscure shadows.
  When a white-and-blue government flyer landed behind a cast-iron fence, and four blurred silhouettes appeared through the rain, Matt rather guessed than recognized Benji, his own sister, and the boy among them, and his heart sank.
  "Oh my God! Aia!" the mother clasped her hands and silently froze on the threshold.
  "Oh, Mom, please, come on without tragedies," Aia said.
  She let go of Danek's hand, helped him to undress and hang the raincoat on the peg.
  "The weather here is wonderful. Much nicer than there, on the Moon. What do you think, Benji?"
  "Ano samozřejmě!" Benji suddenly gave a bass voice.
  He still looked like himself - the terracotta face, thin silvery hands, all-wheel drive and many points of freedom - but something in his appearance almost imperceptibly changed, making him both more charming and human.
  He took Aia's umbrella, put it in the corner, affectedly pressed his hand to his chest and half-bowed, addressing Aia's mother. Then he slowly walked toward the living room, watching the aquatints hanging on the walls of the hall. The dramatic content of the forms depicted on them didn't worry him, but the nuances of texture saturation and the depth of etching of the tonal planes were very much pretty cool.
  In the hall lingered Matt, his parents, Aia, the boy, and the stranger with some strange long suitcases and cameras.
  "Ahoj, Prague!" Said Danek and held out his right hand to Matt.
  "Ahoj," grimly agreed Matt, looking not at the boy, but at his own sister, and demonstratively ignoring the outstretched hand. "Where is Lukasz?"
  "Officially it looks like an exchange of delegations," Aia shrugged. "There, on the Moon, he was the only one who is suitable."
  The sky, despite the morning, was heavy and so dense that in the living room a light was switched on. But, maybe, it would be switched on in any case, - Matt didn't know the peculiar properties of holographic recording.
  "Honestly, I didn't notice a big difference," half an hour later Benji spoke to camera hanging in the middle of the hall.
  The voice of the android was very beautiful - low and velvety, and the guest listened to this voice, furtively glancing in turn at Aia and at the child opposite her.
  The alien boy who sat with his feet in the large leather armchair looked quite ordinary, an earthly child.
  "Of course, both sides are radically different from people. And, of course, both sides are far ahead of us, machines, both in terms of vision of the situation, and in terms of control over it. But they are very similar to each other. I think that humanity can just watch in this situation, and nothing more."
  "And learn?" asked the guest.
  "It's impossible to learn, because there is nothing to learn there for mankind. It's like there is no any parts in a machine to experience a fatigue."
  Matt looked at his sister and mentally agreed with Benji.
  Yes, he thought, any human who wants to understand a Maker would looks like a snail that believes it would master the field theory if it'll creep along every page of the book. It's ridiculous, miserable and pointless at the same time.
  "I think the issue of the difference is more political."
  Aia unclenched the fists on her knees, and tiny blue sparks slid poured to the floor from her fingers.
  "And this policy is rooted in the fears."
  "But for billions of years, fears had been helping the living beings to survive," the guest spread his hands. "Yes, people are afraid, but their fear, in principle, is quite justified..."
  Ano samozřejmě* - Sure. (Czech)
  34. 2330th year. Lukasz.
  Good heavens, Lukasz thought, sitting with closed eyes on the floor near the endless white wall, what kind of wrong things I did in the past that it now should be balanced with what is happening now?
  You are afraid, the creature next to him was silently surprised, breathe, breathe, you just don't like to play, it's strange that they left you.
  Yes, agreed Lukasz, obediently exhaling spicy smell of pine needles, I'm afraid.
  The creature lifted up its yellow palms from the floor, went around the maker, easily shook itself up, like a wet puppy shakes, and a young copy of Alice knelt down in front of Lukasz.
  "Well, Lukasz," she said, holding his gray head in her arms. "Does anyone want to offend you?"
  "We, humans, are designed by evolution to know how to gnaw ourselves from the inside."
  "You are not a human," the girl shook her head. "What's bothering you?"
  "Possibilities and impossibilities."
  Lukasz opened his eyes, and there was so much pain in his glance that the creature recoiled in horror.
  Show me your possibilities, it said silently, when its excitement subsided, and if you can, then impossibility too.
  Lukasz slightly moved his hand, and the reality wavered submissively, responding: the Earth blinked in a half-second blackout, somewhere far away, in Prague, the girl named Aia and the android named Benji exchanged glances, thinking each his or her own thoughts, the DII brothers shivered simultaneously as one enormous creature, and grinned with a broad orca muzzle Robert swimming under the water on Alfa.
  I got it, seriously nodded the creature in front of Lukasz, and how about impossibility?
  "Impossibility..." Lukasz grinned bitterly. "Look."
  He touched the creature with the hand - not his own, but the yellow and long - and from this hand a wave of change swept over him.
  "Who am I?" a few seconds later the yellow creature said to the girl in front of him. Lukasz's clothes absurdly bagged on him.
  "Ffoall Hhoffall ..." she gasped.
  "No," Lukasz shook his big-eyed head. "No. And even shared memory won't turn me into him. And your love won't turn."
  "Won't turn..."
  "This is impossibility."
  Yes, the girl agreed in silence, this is impossibility.
  "But we, morphs, usually not upset because of the impossibility," she said aloud.
  Her voice was light and careless.
  "We almost do not know the hopeless desire of something that can't be achieved. Perhaps, because from the time when morphs were awakened and became a morphs, had passed more than one million years. You, whose soul is like our souls, do you like to listen to other's songs?"
  Sing, Lukasz thought and waved his yellow palm, that's all you are here for anyway.
  "Oh, no, no, no," the girl started to sing softly and tenderly. "Those whom we have been looking for all this time don't like wanderings, they are used to constancy, and this constancy is called their home."
  "But a true morph has not a home," the endless white wall behind Lukasz answered her in unison. "Why do you need constancy, constancy is boring. Time flows through morphs as it flows through stars, just as it flows through you too, oh, creature that not loves changes!"
  Lukasz closed his eyes again. The song was moving through him, rolling like a sand that carried by the dust storm is rolling over the barkhan, revived by the wind, sharpening human features on his still large-eyed face.
  "I know it," he whispered, not opening his eyes, - both to himself and to the girl sitting in front of him. "I know that the first morph has become a morph in the gas ocean of Hhuff for many parsecs from here. I know that the cyclones had been becoming as quiet as tame beasts only from one his glance and the ancestors looked with delight and fear at their son, who tamed forces of nature. I know many things. I know you'll sing about children, and that there is not a word of untruth in your song."
  35. 2330th year. Benji.
  It was getting cold.
  In the mornings, before sunrise, while Aia and Danek were asleep yet, Benji sat at the window facing the spaceport and watched the bustle.
  No, he didn't suffer from nostalgia.
  First, because he didn't care much about the semantic mismatch between the past and the present, and secondly, even if he thought of writing memoirs about the years he had spent at the spaceport, he wouldn't have paid much attention to what was happening outside his shuttle.
  Why? Because what he considered the main thing almost always happened inside.
  Now he discovered that the outer fuss was also round-the-clock: day and night the wave after wave surged and cast the life in the moorings and docks of Orly between the lace orange lampposts, a huge pot-bellied cargo lorries and small passenger ships scurried up and down from orbit, somewhere all the time hurried people. This fuss was bright, noisy, clanking and filled with a low-frequency buzz of starting engines.
  But in the mornings there also was fog floated over Orly. It floated lightly and transparently, and the cold September sun rising far away in the east painted it in a delicate orange light.
  Benji watched the seagulls hovering high above, the lampposts scattered over the spaceport, the frozen humpbacked backs of lorries, the mechanical dockers walking along their business, and thought that his half a century in the net now had turned out to be only fifty years of sleep.
  He wasn't a human. He was never suffered from all these troubles such as hypodynamy or crippled psyche, but only now, after many years, he realized that for him, too, network was not so much his universe as his prison: while there, on the inside, network held him tightly for his plugs, the principal things were happening on the outside.
  And then one day, on the early morning of September 28, 2330, while he was watching as usual Orly through the window on the spaceport front, his financial assets has reached the amount that he had determined to be enough to buy from NASA his orbital shuttle.
  Two messages has echoed almost simultaneously, with a difference of five seconds: the first one - that his assets crossed the established border of fifty million euros, and the second one turned out to be the urgent call to Prague for all three of them.
  Autumn Prague also was windy, damp and yellow.
  Countless people and machines, busily hurrying along the wet streets, didn't have any interest in Aia, Danek, or even in Benji. Prague lived, breathed, drizzled with fine rain - almost the same as a little to the west Paris lived - and Benji who, as a matter of fact, had never been misinformed about the existence of his soul, suddenly felt that there, in his soul, was born something vague and tender.
  Simultaneously with their small, strange, but already almost the family, another mixed delegation arrived in Prague: twin telepaths, Robert, Josh and two cheery morph cubs.
  The little morphs were looked nothing like morphs: an average normal boy and average normal girl. For the first time seeing both of them - so elusively, but still so indisputably similar to Aia - Benji even thought that just because of this similarity he is ready to love them, these morphs, all of them - no less than he loved Aia. And he smiled puzzled, surprised at his own thoughts.
  "Ahoy," said the little ginger-haired boy. "I don't know how to behave when a machine laughs."
  "As a matter of fact, just like in the case of someone else laughs, - as usual," Aia shrugged. "It's worse if the machine weeps."
  The girl who was looking at pouted Matt had bestirred and raised her green eyes up to Benji:
  "But there's nothing to weep with in the machines, isn't it?"
  "Nothing," agreed Benji.
  The girl was so much like Aia, that if he has anything to weep with, he would weep.
  "Hmm... Well, well," one of the twins said. "All the involved persons are here, so, apparently, we can start."
  The makers and morph cubs exchanged glances - come on, start: a personal presence for any of them was really not necessary.
  "Hmm," after the brief pause started second twin. "As a representative of humankind who possesses the gift of telepathy and, consequently, endowed with the official decision-making power, I officially declare that the planet Earth which represented by the General Committee of the United Nations and the planet Hhuff which represented by its representatives, hereinafter referred to as the Parties, express the desire to develop relations, based on mutual respect, and note the need for long-term cooperation. Cooperation between the parties is in the following forms..."
  The twin looked around at those present, and under that thoughtful look, unexpectedly for himself, Benji suddenly realized that those who needed the saying this decision out loud are only Aia's parents, Matt, and, to his great regret, he himself.
  "Consultations and working meetings between the Parties during one local astronomical year, holding conferences, seminars and symposiums on topics relevant to the Parties, and, after the expiration of the above-mentioned period, mutual exchange of the juvenile observers."
  "By agreement of the Parties, other forms of cooperation can also be developed," the morph girl said in a gentle childish voice.
  "Of course," Robert, who had been silent before, smiled at her, and his smile turned to be more wolfish than human. "The guiding party, the receiving party... But, maybe, we ought stop to sit on it like an egg, as sit these insanes for centuries? Josh and I would like to invite fräulein to Alpha."
  Josh touched the tip of his nose pensively, squinted his eyes first at Robert, then at the little girl and said, addressing not so much to him as to her:
  "Oh yeah, exactly one week ago we argued all night on the topic of whether the meaning and designation of various sign forms - and indeed the very idea of "designation" - depend on differences in the ways in which the creature interacts with the world. So, to begin with, if you agreed to accept the offer and visit our humble yaranga, we all could consider it as a conference on a topic that is urgent for both sides. Or a seminar. Whatever you wish." "I would be pleased," without any embarrassment answered the cub.
  Benji had hurriedly calculated the fast-changing input data and turned to the twins:
  "I hope, in light of recent events, the procedure for registering my shuttle as a private property will be simpler and sooner?"
  The android took a hard look around and felt for a moment that he was if not a Maker, then at least a temporary center of gravity:
  "Then I would like to offer my services."
  36. 2330th year. Alpha.
  Aia woke up in horror from the fact that the house was shifting.
  The movement was hardly noticeable, faint - the wall lamp hanging in the corner of the room has slightly been swinging, barely visible in the darkness on the wooden wall.
  Her body has reacted faster than the head and lifted everything that could be considered as a hair. The horror rolled in waves - not only the head, but even her hands and back tried to lift the downy fluff on them as a hair. The body had almost no weight. The air turned into a large, cold, living blanket, and thickened near the bed, touching Aia by the shoulder and choking her. Wake up, Aia! Wake up!
  The strangest thing about this nightmare was that the black long-legged cat that was asleep with her also woke up, but only calmly and discontentedly, reached out with its thin paws, mewed and rolled over to the other side.
  The house was still crawling. The horror incapacitated Aia's body. She was hearing the smooth moving of the house, breaking free of invisible, sticky paws of fear and trying to raise her head. To show that she doesn't sleep. Doesn't sleep any more.
  There was banging at the door. The door was shaking, behind it there was the panic. And inside Aia, in her soul, there also was the panic. She'd inhaled, grabbed for the bed, struggling to reverse the implementation. And the air near her bed has died.
  Aia jumped up, jerked off the blanket and ran to the window.
  The house gently swung its sides, turned to show her where he had crawled to, and, finally, it sat down and fell silent, waving his soft green belly. There was a cliff in the window. There, far below, the turquoise water terraces of the Valley were spread, and in the black sky over the terraces there hung the huge round blue-green drop of the Earth.
  "Mom, dad, I'm not sleeping anymore," she breathed, and the banging stopped.
  "Aia, are you all right?" it's mom.
  "Yes, mom. Yes, thanks. Everything all right." Aia leant against the cold glass.
  Everything all right, baby, she said to herself silently and tried to smile, there were times worse.
  She found Benji sitting near the entrance of an ancient abandoned station and sat down beside him on the grass-covered metal.
  "Today I had a nightmare."
  "What happened?" Benji asked.
  "It was disgusting, and I don't even know where it was grown from."
  "Tell me."
  Benji listened simultaneously to both her and the gravitator buzzing sounding high above in an almost inaudible range, he looked at Aia's feet, at the thin green feathers of the grass, at the centuries-old metal and was silent.
  "Yeah," he concluded, when she finally finished. "I see. In my opinion, it's quite a healthy desire to control the situation. You know, while you were asleep, I was making my life with anapest and rhyme. Do you want hear it?"
  Sure, she nodded.
  "Is it shouldn't be borne in your mind that you will not remember any words every time when you rise after needing to die? Don't go begging for wrong, know that fact that the simmering ember of your mind is alone in the world even if you will cry. Die and rise: outside of the love, outside of the storage. Die and rise as a snow, as a dawn that is rising in sky. Die and rise as a sky that incessantly used to be orange after dark. Die and rise, self of mine. Die and rise and don't cry. Die and rise. Go be lost not in hard respiration of casing, but in easiest breeze of the darkness, my frightened mind. This is where you are, in infinity - vast and amazing. Go lose any grieves. Go lose. Go lose all behind."
  "Your anapest is grim," Aia said. "What reason for fear you have?"
  "The same as you. Why after all, there must be any difference in the reasons for fears?"
  They were silent for a while after which he spoke again.
  "I think a lot about life these days... You know..."
  I know, Aia thought helplessly knowing beforehand that she had nowhere to escape from his grievance.
  "Of course, life isn't equal to consciousness," the android said, without waiting for an answer. "And the presence of your consciousness isn't equal to your ability to reshape the world for yourself. But here's the weird thing: the more I try to realize something, the less degrees of freedom I have."
  He was so much waiting for her reaction that she broke down:
  "Yes," the android lit up. "Just this morning I realized that for so many years I still don't know anything about Makers."
  He squinted at the sun behind the Earth.
  "Inequality weighs heavy on your mind only because it's obvious," Aia said. "Try to always remember that non-obvious is much more, and it doesn't weighs on you at all."
  She got up and gave him her hand:
  "Are the kids in the Valley?"
  Robert, Josh and Matt sat smiling between two small lemurs and watched as three a little bit more big lemurs with a squeak, screech and splashing catch the transparent water fish in the black water of the Valley. The caught fish had been jumping on the shore between jumping lemurs, opening up ghostly transparent mouths, but, instead of dying of suffocation, this fish has grown the short, clumsy paws out of the fins and crawled over the pale grass.
  "Be careful," Aia whispered into Benji's ear. "You may step on it."
  Benji looked down and saw the grass below was teeming with all kinds of living creatures. He hesitated for a while, hastily calculating a place where he could drop his foot.
  And at very that moment high above him with a deafening "BANG!!" exploded the vast glassium dome.
  In the first two seconds, the android was dumbfounded and watched indifferently as glassium fragments flew in the vacuum, and as a large spider of the gravitator crawled away from its location at the zenith. And then his gaze shifted down.
  What he felt in the next moment could be called panic. Yes, the machines are not supposed to be either coward or moody, but his helplessness was so strong that if he had a heart, it would burst.
  Soil, water, grass, all this at first swelled, and then, picked up by the colossal tornado, flew up - so that Aia's face which was half a meter from his face almost disappeared from his view.
  The ground was gone from under his feet, he waved his hands, trying to get his balance, and saw Aia also waved her arms with spread fingers.
  And then black sand bubbling around these Aia's spread hands has melted and flowed, forming a dirty glass sphere. And there, inside this sphere, Aia had another couple of precious seconds: clutching her ears with torn eardrums, she turned back to where just recently was the Valley, and, already completely unconscious, slightly moved the reality, packing in similar glass things remains of her brother and three morph cubs.
  She didn't have a time to do more.
  The shock that hit the android was so strong that when a second missile missed a giant breach in the dome, steaming with black sand and steam, he did not even notice it.
  For another couple of seconds he was pointlessly hanging in a space and gazing at the drifting "sarcophagus" with Aia in front of his face. And then it dawned on him that there would be no more miracles that day.
  The gravitator which hung amidst the dome fragments, now was dead, and Alpha, bristling with wreckage and smoking by the black dirt, looked more like a broken dish than a diamond cup hanging in the sky.
  Benji spent two hours trying to get to the airlock. All this time he has been crawling along the sole, which ceased to be the ground, sometimes breaking away from it and helplessly floundering near it in an attempt to hold on and hold his burden which was Aia and three little morph cubs.
  The burden was cumbersome, dragging it behind was incredibly difficult, but Benji hasn't any other options - he knew if he breaks these fragile glass coffins now, everything that was trapped inside of them would spread out with bloody foam, swell and, probably, won't fit into the airlock.
  The airlock was still sticking out where it should have been. Glassium around it cracked, a net of large and small cracks broke far to the sides, but it held on. And his shuttle was still sticking out behindthe air lock.
  Near the very hatch, Benji carefully released his load and has clung to the transparent lid with his thin silver hands. Skewed hatch obediently lowered the internal pressure in the chamber to the outside zero, and the android, pushing his package into the shuttle, followed it by himself.
  "Well," he said aloud, undocking and turning the back of his ship to the fragments of Alpha, "I've got that I really don't get it."
  And answered himself, impeccably imitating Aia's voice:
  "I do hate to be rude, Benji, but don't be a drama queen."
  37. 2330th year. Moon.
  "You know that your self is not equal to love," said the endless white wall with such a low, thick bass that Lukasz's heart ached with it in unison.
  The whiteness came rushing with wrinkled rippling, and throughout its surface began to move the mournfully pursed yellow lips.
  "Poor thing! He is just blindly blundering around in the reality surrounding him and injuring himself in an areas strange for a machine."
  "He brought your kids, too," Lukasz repeated wearily. "Isn't that enough to forgive him the lack of species identity?"
  "It's not enough," the mouths grinned. "Despite the fact that no one blames anyone for anything, care is not enough for love. Or else why all those creature so similar to you who are dancing now outside, don't feel at least grateful to the equipment that doesn't allow to die them there? He is equipment.
  Yes, Lukasz agreed in silence, yes, yes, but you still cannot equate the being to substance.
  "The wider you open your arms," he said aloud, "the easier it is to crucify you."
  "No one has someone's suffering as an objective!" The wall roared deafeningly. "Neither we nor those who kill our bebies. They are just afraid, and their fears aren't you. They are afraid of the darkness - the one which surrounds them from the outside, and the same one that trembles, frightened of itself, in each of them inside. They are crazy with fear, and, unable to cope with their own horror, ascribe to you the same torture. And to us."
  The room around Lukasz rustled, electrifying, and has woven a flock of small morphs.
  "Sometimes it seems to all of us that we are children of light," the nearest one said with a small thin voice. "And that our love is important to us not as one of our feelings, but as recognition the others as having what seems obvious to us only in ourselves. When we love, we have here something to respect ourselves for. But it's nothing more than pathos..." and he sadly bowed his heavy yellow head.
  Lukasz again sighed wearily:
  "We, who in our sensible consciousness have almost infinite possibilities, we cannot consider someone else's love an impossible task just because it hasn't happened to us. In the idea of love there are no internal contradictions. Moreover, in terms of realization of love, Benji, as a machine, is clearly in a better position."
  "Why?" naively asked the voice behind Lukasz's back.
  "Because the first step to solving the problem is the correct formulation of question. And because this task - the task of love - strictly speaking, has never been consciously set by anyone, it still therefore never solved as it should be. And who, if not a machine, can be looking at love not as a painful fait accompli, but as an intelligent, consciously set aim?"
  The morphs glanced on each other.
  "And what is this aim?"
  38. 2330th year. Benji.
  For the second day, while his ship held by the morphs was revolving around the Earth like clockwork at an altitude of twenty kilometers above the Moon, Benji hung perfectly still near the passenger seat to which Aia had been fastened, clasping the knees of his bent legs with his hands, and looking at the fragments of the "sarcophagus" floating before his eyes.
  The passenger compartment was sealed and filled with an air mixture, emergency lighting was on. Aia was lying as if alive, as if she was asleep, and her ginger-haired head was lying on the headrest.
  "You see, my heart," Benji was saying to her, and his voice echoed from the thin aluminum bulkheads, "I think a lot about life these days... You know... I've came to the very interesting conclusion. Each of us, every object and, most likely, even every phenomenon has such features which we naturally don't even suspect of. What you call love, and what all this time seemed to me a some subjective illusion, most likely represents another layer of reality, not less, and perhaps even more important than, for example, the interaction between watching one and visible. The loving one accepts a loved one with some special sensory perception - not like others. And the only rational explanation is to recognize the fact that love better and more fully expresses the nature of things than its absence."
  The android straightened his legs and, somersaulting, grabbed the armrests next to Aia's fingers lying on them.
  "Now you see, baby? Here, in this dark field of mechanical processes and relationships where the soul appears after a death of body, here is also no immobility, and I don't think that you live in it only because you live in me. All this external fusion," he went on, turning to whisper and leaning towards Aia's ear stained with blood. "Of course, it has to do with love, but it happens without love, and love happens without it. External stuff itself is nothing, but love is something. Zero and signal. Do you get what I mean? It turns out that the value of interconnected external acts and love is determined by completely new properties - just as in the usual binary coding, the value of zeros and ones not wipes out, but moves to the background."
  Benji looked with a challenge up through the porthole at the cold stone sphere of the Moon rotating under the shuttle:
  "Hey, you! You, who consider themselves wise and powerful! I know that every time when you get this transcendent spark of love burning in your soul, your whole beings are waiting for some kind of revelation! But, blinded by it, you don't understand that without some additional conscious action this spark will necessarily go out, as soon as the deceived in this way nature will create a new generation of living beings for new hopes..."
  He dropped his head on Aia's hands that were resting on the armchair:
  "If I could, I would cry..."
  "Benji, Benji..." said the emptiness in Aia's voice behind his back. "Poor, untuned, unnerved Benji... If you can't - so you don't need to. With such a respect to love, you try to discern an absolute individuality that can be neither conditional nor transitory. You try to see the absolute life, but what if you suddenly find out that by doing so you are looking at absolute death? "
  "Who's there?" Benji looked around in alarm.
  "It's me. And maybe you..." obviously, there was a grin in this disembodied voice. "Have you ever asked yourself, why do you want your loved one to live? Why, while loving something, it's so difficult to reconcile with the certainty of its compulsory destruction?"
  "Before that, I've never been needed anybody's life, even my own," the android lifted his terracotta head. "But now the inevitability of death looks to me as some terrible misunderstanding." He looked at Aia's face, trying to find signs of a return to life upon it, and still didn't find them: "Maybe this is what it means to "live"?"
  "Maybe," the voice agreed. "Or maybe you should just think about where the hallucinations come from, and what should you do to stop calculating them?"
  "Stop calculating..." Benji repeated echoing, and for a moment - just a moment - his shuttle, the object of his pride, his treasure, has seemed to him a solid, spacious, two-seater metal coffin.
  And then, the sun appeared from behind the moon, and the android saw his own terracotta reflection was moving in his own silvery palms. His eyes flew open, and he shook off the delusion:
  "No?" the voice asked ironically.
  "No," Benji repeated. "To stop calculating is to stop living. In this eternal universe, there is eternity for each of us, and it would be wrong to turn our own, personal, eternity from the eternal magic dream into a vast eternal black dusty sack."
  He again, now calmly and quietly, dropped his head on Aia's arms, and either whispered, or only just thought: you can torture me as much as you want, and then Aia has breathed in - with a wet rattle, as if someone slowly and strainedly blew a water through a straw.
  39. 2330th year. The Moon.
  Alien white "bird" was still nested in the middle of the titanium mines of the crater named Carlini.
  Aia - tired, with slouched skinny shoulders - was sitting in one of the passenger chairs and watching Benji who was trying to land his shuttle between the mines.
  "It's not the Condor..."
  "Oh, you betcha." Benji said somberly. "Here's no connection with the dispatcher, no lights, no normal runway. And this dust. It'll clog all the hardware from the outside..."
  "Here won't be any dust, Benji," Aia said, looking back at the quiet small morph cubs in the nearby seats.
  In response, the android silently turned off the indication in the cockpit.
  At an altitude of half a kilometer, his ship extinguished the horizontal speed, really lifting a considerable amount of dust below, but, following the gyrohorizon, Benji smoothly passed along the glide path away from the dust cloud and gently flopped right between the administrative buildings of the Carlini base and the alien starship.
  "It seems like we've arrived."
  "Arrived, arrived," the loudspeakers of external communications unexpectedly agreed in Lukasz's voice. "Hold the touch, honey."
  Aia closed her eyes and saw the rainbow aura surrounding the shuttle, from which, waving and shimmering, stretched to the white "bird" the transparent elastic tunnel.
  People were fussing around: the moon also felt guilty, and this sense of guilt for what had happened was almost physical in the airless space.
  Aia slid off her seat, adjusted a short blue dress with black spots of dried blood on it, took the hand of the nearest little morph and silently, simply and effortlessly entered the wall of passenger compartment.
  "Hey!" chorused two of the remaining puzzled cubs, and Benji turned to this "hey!", as confused and equally surprised as morphs, but a moment later the sensors, located on the nose of the shuttle, saw Aia outside, in the tunnel - skinny, unnaturally lightly dressed on background of the people fussing around in the humpbacked spacesuits, and grinned.
  "How about us?" he asked the morphs.
  Aia was far ahead.
  "And all this is because," she was saying, "that people, unlike you..." she hesitated. "People, unlike us, need sympathy and understanding in different ways. Someone because of the structure of psyche, someone due to various circumstances needs someone else's warmth every day, someone doesn't need it at all, he needs almost Arctic ice of loneliness, and where more than one soul gathers, he becomes unbearable bummed. And then, after all, those who need all this stuff... here is no one who could lump all peoples together: someone doesn't like someone else's smell or smile. Or his eyes have the wrong incision."
  Benji followed the morphs, mechanically placing one leg in front of the other, and tilted his head to the sides, noting to himself that the faces of people outside, hidden by the black visors of hermetic helmets, were much more lifeless than the faces of machines which they'd created.
  Poor creatures, he thought, they so want unity and are so far from the realization of hidden desires. Everything, even Alpha, broken by them, tells... no, screams that the warmth transmitted from one of them to another was not at all at that quality and not at all at that intensity to which they foolishly aspired all the time.
  And then instead of the black moon sky in front of Benji has grown a dull, smooth, endless white wall. Morph cubs had entered it without any hitch, but the android with the hollow 'bung!' turned out to be outside, and while he was confused by such imminence, Aia's hand leaned out of this white imminence, took his silvery hand and pulled him in.
  40. 2330th year. The Earth.
  They fell to the Earth three days later. All of them.
  A strange white "bird", and with it the tiny earthly shuttle bought out by the free android from his former employer, had neatly removed from the titanium crater and at a height of a couple of kilometers above the lunar surface synchronously with the fragments of Alpha, still flying in different directions, lightly rippled and went into nowhere.
  Two hours later, in a gorge just north of the Gonggar spaceport Prefecture of Shannan, the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China, there has started thick polymer snowfall.
  Tibet looked almost like the Moon. Or, rather, the Mars. The air was the same thin, the rounded hills - the same red and treeless, and the plains - the same endless.
  "Wow," Benji said, materializing out of nowhere in the half-meter from the old dusty road. "It feels like our travellings into space are slightly wrong."
  "It feels like we are doing a lot of stuff slightly wrong," Aia agreed. The air was chilly; the cold wind chased along the road a dry red dust mixed with snow. Watching a pack of stray dogs heading in their direction from the neighboring hill, Aia shivered and slowly wove a down poncho from the air: "And this place was also chosen slightly wrong."
  "Are you afraid of the mountains?" the android was surprised.
  "Why right away 'afraid'?"
  The space around swelled with bubbles and almost simultaneously produced the rest of them, and thus it became crowded and bustling.
  "Recently, I've been convincingly feeling myself like a speck of dust inside a titanic vacuum cleaner," Robert laughed nervously. "And I'll say more: I don't find anything pleasant in feeling self like dust."
  "no da ka'e basti da da*," said the swarthy, black-haired and black-eyed morph who materialized nearby. "Dust can be very convenient: it is small, light and painlessly sticks together, forming under the pressure any shape. It's more difficult to be a mountain, for example."
  The total number of morphs turned out to be about fifty.
  While the inhabitants of Alpha who for many years observed the Earth from above and now fell on it with a snowfall looked at each other confused and smiled, morphs were concentrating on the descending emanations, adjusting the inner world to the external one.
  Lukasz looked back at the freakiness that had released him, listened and flinched.
  "Damn it, this age of digital technologies and global monitoring," he said. "In my opinion, they spotted us."
  He waved his hand in the air, extinguishing diffuse emission and wiping the data in the global navigation system.
  The bright blue sky swung, accepting these changes, and then it froze again.
  The Tibetan Highlands proved to be a harsh and not very welcoming place: the dog pack which accompanied the aliens for halfway down the road to Gonggar, didn't show hostility, but so tensely dreamed of someone lost from the group that the morphs couldn't stand and, on the second day, sent them to chase the flickering shadows of wild yaks in the lowlands.
  The town that met them was small and squat. If anything could be considered a sign of the civilization that reached it, that were a scarlet drops of flyers between flattened gray houses.
  The morphs so naturally and so clearly spluttered in Hindi that an owner of a local inn, a Hindu, dying with joy, settled them on all three vacant floors.
  "Well," Benji summed up. He let Aia go ahead, into a small cozy room which was trimmed with plastic for the color of the stone, and turned on a switch. "Here it is - love which is integration.".
  no da ka'e basti da da* - There is nothing that can replace anything (Lojban)
  41. 2330th year. The morphs.
  The Official Earth, along with all its Committees, Nations and the desire to develop long-term cooperation, remained in ignorance for three long days. Unofficially, the planet Hhuff in the person of its representatives temporarily has shifted priorities from the abstract race of people to more concrete things.
  Immediately after settling in the hotel - without money and any documents, as if the some wind had wiped out of the hostel owner head the remnants of prudence - morphs were looked around for local life and within a radius of twenty meters found the pregnant owner's wife, the winter garden imitating dry subtropics and drunk on cypermethrin frightened hotel cockroaches.
  A series of subsequent "working meetings" between the Parties took place almost simultaneously, for the simple reason that number of morphs allowed such a bizarre combination.
  The woman burdened by fetus with monosomy of X chromosome played the hang drum. She was sitting on the mat in one of the large, closed, hollow rooms on the ground floor, and the morph at first bumped not even into her, but into the dense sound stream coming from her.
  The sound emerging from the touch of woman palms and the metal of drum was so dense and thin, and her six-month defective fetus was so happy, that the morph froze in puzzlement, then pushed the door in front of him and entered.
  "Namaste," he said, enjoying what was happening.
  "Namaste," the woman nodded, stopped playing, and the little creature inside her shivered, turning its head to the morph. "Are you a guest? May I help you?"
  Morph hesitated, determining his own needs.
  "I like music," he decided at last. "If what you had been playing is not over, I'd like to hear it through."
  Six seconds later and two floors higher, the other morph with the belllike music of the hang drum coming from below discovered the colony of red cockroaches inhabiting in the filigree central heating radiator.
  The colony was large, elegant and semi-paralyzed. The poisoned nymphs and adult insects have been pressed against warm brass stripes in a mutual convulsive fit, their movements have been sluggish and vague.
  With the golden "dzan-da-dzan-dzan" of the far away drum, the morph concentrated, sniffed, gently bent to the covered with tiny earthlings radiator and followed with interest the binding of cypermethrin to the lipophilic environment of the synaptic membranes of the nerve fibers of poisoned insects. It turned to be not good: ugly and painfully - it all started with repeated electrical discharges caused by the depolarizing outflow of sodium ions, and ended with ataxia and violation of basic vital functions. The living ones have been tormented and dying.
  Depressingly shaking his head, morph had held his face close to the very radiator, so that his skin felt the flaming breath of heated air, and exhaled it back.
  And the third morph just stayed put in the empty hall which was light and transparent.
  He was not familiar with the practice of interior landscaping, but the windows were open, the space outside and inside was flooded with a thick saffron light, and he realized that the internal structure of the composition was thought out and somewhere even harmonious.
  "I wish for you the best accordance," he almost soundlessly whispered, greeting the hotel phytocenosis. "Everybody is looking for it."
  He touched the thin lemon tree twig with his hand, and in the air appeared a faint scent of lemon.
  There, underneath the thin skin of cool lemon leaves, the stream of very life was openly and trustfully floating, shining and shimmering.
  "Time ends with understanding," whispered the morph. "If you will ever remember who you are, lose yourself again, and your eternity will be as long as eternity ever lasts."
  He looked around. There were a lot of plants: the green children of the subtropics were sitting in cramped vases and in huge marble-tiled containers filled with reddish sandy soil.
  Focusing on the outer, the morph realized the clear indifference of the green flesh and smiled to himself:
  "Da-da-da-dzan!" somewhere far away, at the far reaches of the Earth, easily and solemnly has started drum.
  "Wow..." smiled the morph.
  "No needs an appraisal," the woman said, lowering her hands. "Neither explicit nor hidden."
  "Okay," the morph agreed, still smiling.
  "Music doesn't stop for a single moment," the woman went on. "And never stopped."
  As if contradicting what had just been said, hang drum had calmed down and now lay on her laps as a silent frozen flounder.
  "You are right," the morph noted after a moment of silence. "But we get used to it, as we get used to everything else. Do you know that you will have a daughter?
  The woman nodded: I know.
  "She is..."
  The woman nodded again: I know.
  "Don't tell me that the inheritance of genius is a more beautiful anomaly," she said. "Harmony, as the fundamental condition of everything, won't get away from the fact that the child will have Turner's syndrome. Beautiful is beautiful everywhere and always."
  "I didn't mean to upset you at all," the morph rose up, upsetting.
  "You need to learn not to be liked," the woman shrugged, and not a single muscle flinched on her face.
  "Why, why don't some beautiful creatures like other beautiful creatures?" sadly whispered the morph, dropping in front of the radiator on his knees and holding out his hand to the delicate brass lattice. "How perfect should there be narcissism to move the system of inner values of a seemingly rational being from the domain of spirituality and responsibility to a deep organic antipathy?"
  He smiled reassuringly at the warm radiator: "Come on!" and a small nymph has climbed up with its trembling tiny legs on his finger from the lattice.
  42. 2330th year. Aia.
  At night Aia had a dream about mist. This mist was gray, rotten, and moist.
  She wandered in it among houses the same gray colour, amont vague black woody shadows and cried: "Benji! Benji..."
  But Benji didn't respond.
  Aia knew, in principle, that he has to be around here somewhere, in this sticky fog, in one of this gray buildings, or behind one of these gray faces that flashed past, she knew that he should to be, and that this hollow silence in response is a mistake, an unfortunate misunderstanding...
  But he was not there.
  Not that this mist confused her, no, - Aia understood that it was just a soft prelude to some kind of grandiose, intolerable revelation, some kind of a "gray zone" between here and now and nowhere, - something that didn't have and will never have any names. She understood and accepted it, because it was impossible not to accept.
  And when she was tired of screaming, the external had flashed to her through the fog and opened in a dumb call: do you remember me, sweet heart? remember... come into me, don't cry, - up, inward, farther, deeper, to where you've already been, where you've been dissolved and lost both yourself and this pain of loneliness that kills you.
  And Aia, tormented by fruitless searches, gave in - slightly, barely subtly - not even a step, but simply that somewhere in the depth of her soul flashed "... and what if ...", and felt like this beginningless calling lifted her on its gray palms - where her search would about to end, and she herself would about to end. What if...
  Death. It was death.
  But to die and not to find still silent Benji suddenly seemed to her so wrong, so unnatural, that she rushed out of those weightless hands back: no! NO!!
  And woke up.
  "What's up?" asked the android, by giving his voice the worrying shade.
  "I don't know," she said. "I dream bad dreams over the top. Something is gathering, and I cannot get that."
  At first light, the morphs have gone into the town, to people, finches, dogs, a tamarisk and sea-buckthorn that lost its leaves with the imminent onset of winter. The hotel has emptied.
  Aia was sitting, her chilled knees chained to her chin.
  "I don't even know if I'm scared."
  "Fear can be considered an ascension to individuality," Benji said. He unfastened his hands from the charger and turned to her.
  "Yes, everything can be considered an ascension to individuality. Only it doesn't make it any better."
  "Oh ... I'm already a big boy and I know what makes you feel better," the android smiled. "Just come to me, I'll hug you."
  43. 2330th year. The morphs.
  The day when the twin telepaths appeared on the doorstep of the inn, everyone was in a festive mood.
  In the hall, in a bright, wide light beam, among ivy and calamondins, sat a brown-eyed morph - smiling and absolutely indistinguishable from a human.
  "It's not a question of avoiding contradictions in any way," he told the twins, who had sat near him from both sides.
  "And a question of what?"
  "Ability to behave."
  The twins synchronously smiled, remembering the troops remaining at the Gonggar airport.
  "Conflict always reflected the interests of the parties," one of them sighed. "However, as you understand, it is not in the interest of the official Earth to form in the public consciousness the 'image of the enemy' in relation to stronger creatures."
  "Not in the interest," the morph agreed peacefully, and in his wiry swarthy hand a very plausible seven-millimeter Heckler&Koch with a semi-free roller shutter has woven from the air.
  The morph lifted it, weighing it on his hand, and put it on his lap.
  "However, you've got the procedure for making political decisions in such way that their consequences aren't always predictable for you. People are shortsighted, and this is often the reason for another conflict."
  He paused, and in the dense quiet silence in the hall it was heard how an invisible clock was ticking somewhere nearby.
  "However, we do not want to educate humanity for prudence," he said again. "Shaping you into us would be somewhat unreasonable."
  Morph hands went gently along the barrel of the carbine, under these hands the weapon which had lost its former formidable form arched with another, no less formidable form, and slipped toward the floor as a completely natural cobra.
  "Here, on Earth, are many funny life forms," the morph continued unperturbedly. "Have you ever thought what it's like to be a hydroid polyp, for example? No ears, no eyes, no differentiated nervous tissue ... Life that knows no sound, no light, no pain, no joy, no effort, no points for their application."
  The twins looked at each other.
  "We guess," one of them finally said. "Maybe a human really is a horse, but it is a horse that dreaming of ruling plow into which it is harnessed, or at least considering the yoke on his neck as a rare decoration."
  A fox of the color of brown autumn grass descended the stairs to the hall, just like the host of place, followed by one more: it went down and froze at the door, stretching her toothy mouth in a smile, so that the sun falling on its muzzle made its yellow eyes almost transparent.
  "Meet the Tibetan foxes," grinning, said the morph and tilted his head to one side.
  The twins started getting all nervous.
  "That has to be expected," said one.
  "Come on, stop waiting for dirty trick!" laughed the morph, rising. "It's not an assault or invasion."
  He opened the door letting foxes out, and golden sparks ran from his fingers up his arm, smoothing the knotted man's hand into the thin woman's hand.
  "Hhush..." the newly-made woman whispered, closed the door and put her finger to her lips. "It's just a game."
  "Mom! Mom!" а child's voice shouted somewhere upstairs. "Where are you?!"
  44. 2330th year. Benji, Aia and Danek.
  "I think he means you," the android who was sitting on the floor at the door shook his head.
  "Really?" Aia asked in surprise and shouted at the ceiling, not changing her pose: "Hey!"
  The door responded with a ripple, and through it, a couple of millimeters away from Benji, the morph came through.
  "I'm sorry," he said. "I'd like to join."
  "Come on," Aia said generously. And, after a moment's thought, she added: "Danek."
  She was lying on her stomach on the ottoman half-covered with a blanket, leaning her chin on the interlaced hands.
  "But I thought that a form is not important," the morph got confused and melted into a little blue-eyed boy.
  While the metamorphosis, his clothes missed the beginning, and for several seconds the boy ridiculously floundered, trying to cope with the long sleeves that didn't fit him anymore.
  "But you were going to join the portraying the forms," Benji said, shifting the pencil from his right hand to his left hand and continuing to draw. "Or not? If so, the form is important."
  "To the portraying the forms? Well, that's one of the ways to do it," the guest agreed, again slightly embarrassed.
  He looked around and sat with his back against the closed door right where he was standing next to the android.
  The left hand of the android in the meantime has been finishing the left half of the picture.
  "By the way," said the android, looking up at Aia and continuing to draw, "there is a possibility that such a 'need' to join is just the desire to 'fit' into the nearest pattern with greatest success."
  "Okay, well," Aia snorted. "If a living being really wants something, then it needs it. Including in the pattern fit, for example."
  She got out of the ottoman.
  "And your pattern, Danek, now not very familiar, isn't it?"
  "What are you doing!" Benji was almost genuinely indignant. "I haven't finished yet!"
  Come on, Aia smiled, I still love you. She easily jumped off the ottoman and sat down between them, hugging the boy's shoulders and laying her head on Benji's terracotta shoulder.
  "By the way, wholeness is a very important condition," Benji went on indignantly, glancing at her. "It's as important as the ability to plan and finish what you began."
  With a few quick strokes he finished to draw the crossed up Aia's foots and held out the result to her:
  "Something like that."
  Aia turned the drawing in her hands:
  "Well, it's exactly the same as a scanner and a printer rolled into one."
  "Come on," the android blew off. "I am a machine, and like a machine, I don't need compliments, I am fully able to objectively evaluate everything that requires my evaluation."
  "Yeah?..." Aia snorted.
  "Maybe it's presumptuous, but it's true."
  Benji got up, took three steps, turned, flopped his back on the vacated ottoman. The small morph silently looked up at Aia, blinked and wove out of air some tricky openwork metal thing.
  The thing squeaked and, rustling, rolled out from his hands to the floor.
  "Look at it, Benji."
  The android turned toward the voice and toward the rustle at the same time, lowered to the floor first his head, then his hand, and from the floor in this hand climbed up something trembling, weightless and incomprehensible.
  If the morph created now in his hand a living toad or even someone's tiny puppet copy, as Aia used to do, he would not be surprised, but this thing was so wonderful that Benji didn't immediately find what to say.
  He lifted the trembling thing to his face and found that it consisted of tiny gears, tendrils and snakes, and that among all this diversity there was everything in motion.
  "What is it?" he admired.
  "You can think about this as about just an illustration of lack of your objectivity," the boy grinned.
  "I understand," the android released the metal creature from his fingers, and it, squeaking again, jumped high up and grabbed the ceiling lamp. "You're hinting at goals. Or at experience. Or at both of them. And you want to say that in order to be objective, it would be nice to be very, very experienced."
  "Something like that," the boy agreed.
  "And that I'm inexperienced."
  The boy shrugged his shoulders:
  "Yeah. I'm also inexperienced. And biased."
  And after a pause, he added:
  "Today they'll scatter upon the Earth. I would also like to go somewhere.".
  Brothers of the DII series were still rare for Moscow. Whether for this reason, or for some other passers-by, bypassing their strange trinity, have been turned around. Winter here was almost the same as in Gonggar: there wasn't much snow, and the ice dust sparkled in the frosty air.
  "Exhibition center," Danek read on the gate. "How nice."
  "Nice," agreed Aia, and both of them looked inquiringly at Benji.
  "What?" the android asked. "It's too dusty and wet here. And in general, as for me, the contents of humankind servers are much more interesting than the buildings it built."
  The morph shook his head.
  "Can we go around it?" he asked.
  The second outer ring road at the top was as crowded as the streets of the lower tier. For a while the morph sat at the window, watching the fuss. People had been entering and getting out - wearing the electronics and children, they were silent and laughing aloud, empty-handed and with a large packages.
  And then opposite him, a little three-year-old girl with a fur long-eared hat s got at the windowseat.
  A couple of minutes the child was looking out the window and dangling its small feet. She was singing quietly to herself, and somewhere near the 'Pechatnikov' asked:
  "What is it the hope?"
  She asked it, as if by the way, wandering by her wide-open eyes somewhere up, high above, between the red dotes of flyers flying in all directions.
  "Just give me a rest for once!" her mother said to her, and the morph frowned.
  He fidgeted for a long time in his seat, opening and closing his mouth, and then just gave the child the finger-point, craned and whispered to her very ear:
  "Hope is the place to be in which don't have to. But it's a secret."
  And then on the stretch between the second and third stop the morph disappeared.
  "Damn it!" Benji said.
  45. 2330th year. Moscow.
  The first who felt the hard influence of outer far space was the integrated kindergarten No. 417 of the Krasnogorsk district of Moscow.
  It was an ordinary kindergarten. And the evening promised to be the most ordinary too: with gymnastics after a day's sleep, an afternoon snack and another rehearsal of the New Year's kiddy party.
  The day care group 'The little questioners' went into a daytime sleep, as usual, calmly and peacefully, with the taxpayer-funded Teddy's bears squeezed under their armpits and pine essential oil evaporating from the aromatic lamp.
  About three o'clock in the afternoon the twilight began to thicken outside the window.
  At exactly three o'clock senior educator named Anna Ioannovna Lenitskaya entered the children's bedroom and found out that the group was no longer asleep - the group are lying in their beds, winking at each other as a light bulbs in a crazy New Year's garland, and quietly laughing into their blankets.
  In addition, it turned out that all the windows of the bedroom were fearlessly opened, and cold wind was ruffling through the curtains and frosted Asparaguses Meyeri.
  On the street there was, of course, not an open space, but still a December, minus twenty degrees Celsius and twenty meters down the straight line, and unpleasant shivers ran down Anna Ioannovna's back.
  "What is all this mess about?" she required in a suddenly hoarse voice. "Who is..."
  And saw outside the window lace woven from the light.
  "What is...?"
  She didn't have time to finish the sentence, because this very 'what' silently, easily and elegantly breezed into the open window and settled with the tiniest glittering moving fleas on the cots of children and on her.
  The group stirred excitedly in their cots:
  "These are the stars! The stars!"
  Anna Ioannovna disliked the holovisor as much as the newscasts imposing while the metro trip, but to live in Moscow and not to know that Alfa doesn't exist anymore, and that the Makers with morphs are now wandering the whole Earth, it was impossible.
  As an educator and as a woman with a more or less stable psyche, she thought that these pretty sparkles, even with all the desire, could hardly be called a mental trauma, took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and went to close the wide open windows.
  When the window over the head of the clinging to the outer wall morph slammed shut, he yawned contentedly with a wide frog's mouth and crawled cautiously toward the roof covered with light snow.
  The change in the structure of the surrounding space stretched ahead of him and behind him as wide buzzing trail, right up to the exit of the ventilation shaft, into which he dived.
  In the dining room there were the light, the tasty smelt of cinnamon buns and midday cheesecakes. While the children in the bedroom were catching sparks scattered by him, making noise and dressing up, the morph has sniffed at the smells that were in the air, trickled down through the vent grate and slid onto the floor.
  The electrified space trembled and crackled, and he shook his head slightly, unweaving the present and weaving it again, after which he sat down at the nearest children's table and prepared to meet them.
  The group has poured out into the dining room, all in one piece - excited, laughing, from head to foot strewn with fireflies born by him.
  "Oh!" it was surprised in varied ways simultaneously. "Who are you?"
  "Tenth descendant of Hhoffall's swarm," the morph smiled at it, and looked up at the woman behind it. "Hello. I came to tell you a fairy tale."
  46. 2330th year. Paris.
  "Don't worry about it," Aia said. "No maker in his right mind is going to harm any living creature, just because the reflected feelings that would reach him later will be too painful."
  "Are you sure they in their right mind?"
  The lock on the door didn't want to release for a long time, and Benji even allowed himself to think that while they were not there, the local commissars from DCRI has managed to change the encoding on it.
  "As for the right mind, it must be difficult," agreed Aia.
  She compared code which the android dialed once again with the code in the lock's memory, and forcibly switched the lock control voltage.
  "Much depends on various circumstances that force us to make alternative decisions, but... but in any case, the conscious maker is always Maker in the right mind. It's beyond any question. So don't worry."
  Benji had preferred not to argue.
  Pushing the door in front of him, he entered the dark corridor and clicked the switch on.
  The morph was sitting at the window with his back to the door.
  "The voice said, 'Come in,' and I entered into the city," he said without turning around. "And now I feel the way how it breathes, scattering on warm cubicles."
  "In big cities, yeah?" Aia shrugged as if nothing had happened, pulling off her jacket and boots. "People hide in them from difficulties, but in the end they only find new difficulties."
  She winked at Benji, took a bag with the groceries from him and went to the kitchen.
  Benji had already got used to the fact that within a radius of several hundred meters from Aia the law of cause and effect now and then is malfunctioning, so to the sound of rushing water in the kitchen he simply dropped his other bag onto the floor and squatted down in search of a recharging plug.
  The morph? As you wish.
  "And the cities themselves cannot hide from anything," he said, putting his fingers into the sockets. "But I think that in such large conglomerates, sooner or later all this human stuff is drying up, and they cease to need both fears and shelters, becoming like us, a machines.
  The morph turned in the armchair and now he was back to the window and face to Benji who remained at the door.
  "You, a machines, are not so naive after all," he remarked. "I also thought at first that hide and seek would be an ideal game. I had been wrong."
  "Hide and seek?" Benji blinked.
  "Yes. Hide and seek. Only translated into an adult format, where the essence of the game in fact is to understand a rules by which you play."
  He paused.
  "And then I decided that playing with them in such games - it's still somehow too childish. The game should be both more adult and..." - he moved his lips, looking for the right word: "and at the same time more humane, or something that. I could, for example, play the happiness for someone else."
  "Your own or someone else's?" the android blinked again.
  "Wow, you're in a merry mood today!" laughed the morph. "Someone else's, of course, someone else's."
  "But it seems to me that imitation of happiness is almost like imitation of slaking the thirst," said Aia, appearing on the threshold of the room with the kefir, bread and tangerines. "Yours as well as someone else's."
  She set the dish on the table and settled herself in the armchair opposite the morph, so that Benji sitting in the hallway could see her.
  "Why the imitation?" - took offense the morph.
  He picked up a tangerine from the dish, twiddled it in his fingers, hastily determining the composition, and put it into his mouth - the whole fruit, with the peel.
  "You know, I'm even ready to agree with you about some stuff," he said to Aia with a full mouth. "But you also know that the energy that flows through each of them flows freely and correctly. And only God knows why every unhappy person, as a rule, thinks that it either not exactly the same, or that it flows not quite so."
  "But if the unhappy person is unhappy, it means, indeed, either not exactly the same, or not quite so," Benji said in the hallway. He unfastened his fingers from the wall, sat down, stretched his legs, in the corridor at the entrance, just as he had been sitting once at the airlock on Alpha, and closed his eyes.
  The morph closely looked first at Aia, then - at the stilled Benji.
  "Are you happy?"
  "Right now? Yes," the android answered without a hesitation with his eyes closed.
  47. 2330th year. Moscow.
  The boy was indistinguishable from a human: small, skinny, blue-eyed, hardly older than children entrusted to her.
  "Children have to eat," she said, confused.
  "Let's combine the both?" the morph suggested. "The cool nanny should be able to do many things."
  He jumped off the table, and the space behind him faltered, swelling on the tables with the cheesecakes.
  "Who wants a fairy tale?"
  "I want! And I! And I, too!" the group became agitated.
  "Then let's have a snack."
  "Once upon a time there lived a city," he said after a minute for the children. "It was very big, very, very big, complex and terribly old, so old that it hardly could remember not only its birth, but its own childhood also."
  The morph shifted slightly, and in place of the wall with the kids' art slowly emerged a voluminous panorama of the night metropolis.
  "As long as the city could remember itself, in it all the time something was running somewhere. The metro trains were the most responsible ones: they so smoothly succeeded each other in the morning and in the evening, that it seemed to the city as if they never got tired at all, although this thought, of course, was completely wrong. And in the mornings there emerged a people in the city. Does anyone know who a people are?"
  The boy squinted and looked meaningfully at the quiet group.
  No, the fascinated group shook its little heads.
  "Aha!" he whispered conspiratorially, improving sharpness of the blurred image.
  The panorama of the city moved, becoming larger, until in the foreground the old flyer appeared banking along the Simferopol highway towards the Ostafyevo spaceport, in which the man and woman were quarreling wearily and quietly.
  Then the image shifted slightly to the left and gave out the colored child seat fixed in the back compartment, and the baby sitting in it.
  "So," continued the morph, "people, like a subway trains, went around in the city round the clock, and sometimes it seemed to the city that someday something would happen that all people would disappear, and it itself would also disappear."
  The child in the flyer was small - maybe, a year and a half, with a white fluff on its head and a big naive eyes.
  The baby, the woman thought, it's a little girl.
  "The city didn't like its people," meanwhile, the morph went on again, while the image behind him changed the camera angle. "It didn't know at all how is it - to love. Just like it didn't know how is it, for example, to cry or be afraid. While its people were busy with all this nonsense, the city busily puffed steam in the turbines of nuclear power plants, buzzed with kilometers of high-voltage cables, threw into the space and snatched from it the satellites and lorries."
  The picture with the baby sitting in the child's seat changed the sharpness, and it became evident that far down below flyer there stretched the curved ground track, strewn with the yellow stars of lanterns.
  And then the morph blinked.
  Simultaneously with the movement of his eyelids, his panoramic picture also blinked: the old red flyer drifted sharply aside, and instead of it, there was now a big lunar ship falling keenly right down on Ostafyevo.
  There was no sound in this silent movie, but a child's voice has clearly pronounced suddenly:
  "It's a wicked fairy tale."
  "Really?" the morph revived.
  "Yes," said the same voice angrily. "There are people there."
  "Yeah. But people are not only there."
  The morph smiled, and his picture blinked again: the baby girl in the flyer scrambled out of her chair, poked both her hands into the window glass, and the red-hot lunar lorry slowed the fall at first, and then slowly and majestically has melted in the violet dusk.
  48. 2330th year. Matt.
  Almost the entire population of the destroyed Alpha temporarily remained in Gonggar.
  The morphs left the town, the twin telepaths, accompanied by the military, left for Geneva, and the local spaceport was empty again.
  While somewhere far away, almost in the another galaxy, America and Europe were doing their best to celebrate New Year's Eve, here, in this galaxy, the hotel owner, a Hindu named Harshad and his wife Jita had started an annual general cleaning before the future Losar, - with alteration and painting of the first floor.
  Life went on. Winter from time to time poured from above a fine prickly snow, the air in the mornings was transparent, cold and tasty, the far sky was violet, and the land was beautiful, odd and wild. With Matt, there were still the Makers and parents, and he didn't want more.
  Most of his fears were coming out of the unknown, and all of they were dulled before the week was out. Almost without knowing anything about the 'unique Tibetan physiognomy' or about the morphs scattered throughout the earthly cities, he was not at all burdened by his own ignorance.
  For the last three days he lived in the same room as Lukash and Robert. During this time, Lukasz who was tortured by idleness has built without any weird art in the backyard of the hotel four wind generators and wove almost two kilometers of multi-colored LED garlands. By the end of his diligence the walls, pillars, beams under the roof of the patha-sala and even the ground in the yard - everything was strewn with myriads of glowing beads.
  And then it turned out that Jita was very fond of children and mountains. Every morning she, already dressed in a bright blue coat, woke up their little brotherhood with an insistent knock at the door.
  "Oh, I'm sick, very sick," Lukasz groaned loudly in reply. "I need a double dose of bannocks and urgent milk transfusion."
  Laughing, Jita left on the doorstep the bannocks, milk and incredibly delicious apricot jam cooked by her mother.
  When Matt, already awakened, dressed and, with his belly full, ran out into the yard strewn with garlands, blue and yellow lights seemed to him like magical stars, and Jita herself, with the hung drum hanging behind her back, seemed to him the goddess Eos pregnant with an upcoming dawn.
  "Which of us do you think loves more?" he asked gazing lovingly into her eyes, when they were already walking along a dirt road in the direction of the wheat field.
  "Both of us. It's obvious."
  "Will you have a baby girl?"
  "And how will you name her when she's born?"
  "It's a beautiful name," Matt said. "It means something?"
  "Yes. Sunny."
  And near the very field, on the edge of the stubble, powdered with snow, they were waited by a pair of smiling foxes, and the rising sun shone on their brown backs with a spiky yellow sparks.
  49. 2331st year. The Earth.
  The very beginning of the new, two thousand three hundred and thirty-first year was marked by the resignation of several governments at once.
  The first, who surprised the world, was Asia.
  No one even for a second believed that the appearing of the video with Asian Premier Zhang Zhengsheng, who was blowing up with a shriek during the stormy discussion of a morphs walking the Earth unattended, could be caused by an accident.
  It was not bad enough that the scandalous video appeared on the official website of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Asian People's Republic: it appeared just before the Premier's speech before the World Security Council.
  Exactly two days after the video got into the net, mister Zhengsheng has tendered his resignation.
  And then, while the townees blushing with pleasure didn't yet have time to properly enjoy the pretty Chinese movie that was fed to them and the scandal that was linked to it, the new passage followed.
  A nice American guy with Polish roots named Wojciech Nitavski who just one month before the latest events for the first time had appeared as the host of the evening talk show 'Off the map', on a sunny January Sunday morning went for a run to Rock Creek Park.
  Yesterday's snow slightly melted, then froze again, then in the morning was sprinkled with the icy crust, and Wojciech who has a wrong, slippery shoes, had the temerity to slip on the humpbacked bridge over Rock Creek.
  He didn't fall down.
  However, catching balance, he shook his head so sharply that he's earned a painful rupture of the muscles of his neck.
  The pain was so acute that Wojciech gasped and sank, clutching with one of his hand to his neck, and clinging with the other to the stone railings of the bridge.
  When his eyes got brightened, the first thing he saw was a young girl's face.
  "Just a minute," said the girl, bending over him and hugging his neck.
  Wojciech has opened his mouth, but the girl impatiently waved her hand: just hold on, easy! and for a minute he watched crazily two amazing, closely intertwined processes: alteration of the reality within a half-meter radius from his own neck and admiration rising from somewhere within him.
  The girl turned out to be a morph.
  Two days later, in the evening, in agreement with the executive producer of 'Washington Live', the guy brought the morph into his program as a guest.
  The first half an hour of the program, sitting in front of the holocameras opposite the charmingly smiling anchor, the girl played the role of magician without props, and then one thing led to another, and Wojciech finally managed to ask her about her interests and hobbies.
  It was then discovered that at the very that moment the interests of the morph are tax revenues and their distribution among the budgets of the largest countries of Europe, Asia and North and South America.
  Then followed fifteen minutes of the air when they had time to discuss the bribes, kickbacks and schemes for the removal of public money with descriptions of specific cases, using the example of the current leaders of the highest state level of the United States of both Americas and Europe.
  But when it came to Asia and Russia, a furious director of 'Washington Live' burst into the studio from behind the back of one of the operators and, threatening Wojciech with a heavy whitened fist, hissed:
  "Stop it! Bloody hell! Stop it right now, you sons of bitches!"
  The very next day the recording of the latest issue of 'Off the map', ending with a picture with a female morph, understandingly spreading hers hands in front of all three holocameras, had caught up and surpassed in page views its Chinese colleague, and? as a result, the US and EU governments in their totality also had tendered their resignation.
  Fortunately, it did not affect the Wojciech Nitavski himself.
  He lost his job in connection with the closure of the channel-employer, but two days later he was sheltered by the good-natured Brazilian 'Globo', and four more later - with a new morph friend - he already led a direct report from the forest, magically sprawling in the Amazonian Barren which had been cracked over the past one and a half hundreds of years.
  People were jubilant.
  Never in the whole history of the Earth have entertainment enjoyed such a scale. And this entertainment was just beginning.
  50. 2331st year. Aia.
  The dream was gray and uncomfortable - in fact, like all the others that she had dreamed for the last month.
  Waking up, Aia with all her might had clung to Benji sitting nearby, and after that was laying so for a long time without opening her eyes.
  "Sometimes it seems to me that next to you I live a real human life," the android finally said. "Tell me what it was in your dream."
  She sobbed, and Benji warily took his hands out of her hands.
  "My baby, my little one," he said, holding her on tightly. "How I wish I could console you exactly where it hurts in you. Where does it hurt?"
  Gently, as soon as he could, he ran his thin silvery fingers over her hair watching the green sparks run between his metal palms and her ginger curls.
  And then there was the sound of the doorbell.
  "Who's there?" whispered the android.
  She sat up and wiped the tears with the back of her hands, in a split second turning from a small crying girl into the Maker:
  "There are too many people here. There, in Alpha, it was always easy to imagine that they don't exist. And that there are no problems with them. But now I understand that's not true: all this exist, and it steady have been messing with my life."
  "Just do what you wish," Benji said, starting to sit down next to her and folding his hands between his knees in a purely human manner.
  ...and, losing his balance, he fell on his back on the edge of the former wheat field in the vicinity of Gonggar.
  "Oh no!" he said, looking up at the laughing foxes. "I should have known."
  "Should?" one of them was chuckled. "It turns out that you have very wide responsibilities."
  Their laughter was so contagious that everyone smiled.
  "Ugh..." grunted Benji, rising to his feet. "A heads up would be nice. Hey, Matt, I'm awfully glad to see you," and only then, embracing the boy, nodded Jita:
  The path was the same. Jita was walking along it as ordinarily as if she visited this old monastery forsaken by God and man every day; Matt was holding her tightly by the hand, and both foxes were trotting lightly to the right and left along the roadside.
  "It seems to me that getting into gompa* is not so easy," said Jita. "Of course, if you do it in a human way. They have some kind of sophisticated examination system for real desires and hidden opportunities. Earlier it used to be the knowledge of ancient languages there, now they shifted from that."
  "There's the silly elation, the garden, the windows look on," Benji quoted, grinning. "And here we are."
  In the meantime, the sun had rose over the horizon rugged by the mountain peaks, the path reached the very top of the hill, and below, from the other side, at its foot, a monastery appeared: white on the white snow and as big as a cowshed - almost three hundred meters long.
  The foxes had breathed heavily and stopped, nosing the gompa with its smell of heavy and oily barley porridge.
  "Hh... Hhaff! Only the boy can try it in such a way, "one of them grinned.
  "People who came in here before us looked for miracles here," said Aia, sitting down on the bunch of dead dried grass near the road right on the very top. "I think we need not exactly it. Let's stay here a little longer?"
  Jita silently took off the hang from her back, and, carefully hugging her belly, sat next to Aia, crossed her legs and put the drum on them.
  Matt remained standing - like a small Buddha.
  The foxes exchanged glances...
  "Hmm," Benji said. "I've had a thought: not that all this is silly... simply it is hard in general probably - to formulate true needs by the words. A words are imperfect, and any sign system is debility in principle; in order to describe the true state of things, it is necessary to distort it."
  He has sat between Aia and foxes.
  "To slow down, to schematize..."
  "Dzang..." drum interrupted him quietly. "Dzang-dzang-dzang-dzang..."
  51. 2331st year. Magic time.
  Eccentricities of morphs, like a kaleidoscope, repeatedly multiplied by the mechanism of global holovision, became the beginning of magic times. The small poultry factory called Skvoritsy entered the magic on the eve of 17th January 2331.
  The morning shift consisting of an operator named Lenochka, an electrician named Garik and three sorters, which appeared at eight in the morning of the seventeenth, instead of old familiar incubators, block stands and conveyors has, out of the blue, faced a multi-storey engineering systems of incomprehensible purpose and a complete absence of birds.
  The silence covering the production halls was so hollow and unnatural that it even caused awkwardness.
  "I wonder which hohloma that could be for?!" Garik expressed general astonishment, dropping a bag with his uniform on the floor. "I think I'm still asleep. Pinch me somebody."
  The thin metal racks growing at the entire length of the halls, looked like a fancy carved cells for tamagotchi.
  Lenochka had warily went around Garik and started to walk along these racks with her mouth open.
  "I think that it's some an ingenious bioreactor!" she shouted, turning around, from the very end of the first hall. "And it's intended for the cultivation of meat without the participation of animals. Probably, we need to call someone?"
  "Probably," Garik agreed, looking at the bulging eyes of the sorters and thinking with horror that he looked no better than them now. "We need to call."
  All day - before and after the coming of the managers - both of them, he and Lenochka were engaged in deciphering schemes engraved in various places, trying not to touch anything - in order to keep it.
  As it turned out, the complex system of thin oxygen tubes, through which the cells were connected with each other, was permeating through all fifteen halls of the former poultry farm and going upward to the living green roof, while the thin low-voltage wires braided into long braids were leading into the operations towards the green three-dimensional grid.
  "There's no way in hell I'm fixing it in case it ends up broken!" lamented Garik, while he and Lenochka had been crawling on their knees in the wide corridor of air ducts among the lacy electrical braids and getting drunk on the oxygen breezing there. "Is it can be fixed through the spanners and traditional curses?"
  "Yeah," agreed Lenochka. "There are neither any transistors, nor an amplifiers and condensers here, there is some hoopla with voltage in the wires, there are no any diodes... only some weird hair! Even the comparator in the operations looks like Chupacabra!"
  And then, round about lunchtime, just before the arrival of the regional authorities, in one of the halls there was a small collapse: the contents of the cells in the form of several tons of fresh chicken fillet appeared on the floor, in the enameled cuvette positioned along the wall, and in the far corner of the hall the piped sanitation has turned on.
  The authorities who had arrived by this time only shrugged their shoulders:
  "You, guys, are not the first."
  Another eight hours Garik and Lenochka had been sitting in the operations room, gathering and sorting the output data: the coordinates, the microclimate optimum of the cellular incubators and the frequency of the discharge of what was to be discharged.
  Late in the evening, about four hours after their work day'd ended, Garik, inspired by the almost-coming midnight, asked if he could drop the girl home.
  The flyer standing at the far end of the parking lot obediently snorted and growled, turning on. Garik started the engine, turned the nose of machine to the south and gunned it...
  And nothing happened: the electronics squealed indignantly, the flyer had sneezed harshly and blacked out.
  "Damned clunker!" Garik said, looking in perplexity not so much at the cabin as peering into the gloom in it. "That's just what I need."
  "It's not a fault of the flyer," Lenochka whispered. "Just look!" And she leaned forward, trying to see in the dark through the semicircular windshield what should have been the sky.
  The night sky was white with a huge cloud of many thousands seagulls flying over Izhora toward the west. The sky was moving and swinging as if it was alive.
  "Damn it..." Garik giggled nervously. "I won't be surprised if they are former chickens..."
  52. 2331st year. Gonggar, the gompa.
  "If the bird was born to fly, it will fly." The monk bowed and, while lifting his head, realized suddenly that he was looking at squinting bird eyes rimmed with a fox fur and sharp-jawed muzzle spreading in a grin.
  "Hi," said the morph. "Let your thoughts turn into reality."
  "Political exiles?" asked the monk, grinning.
  "God forbid," said the fox, and shuffled his feet awkwardly. "We are just materializing our dreams. Well, at least I am."
  "And what about you?" the monk turned to Benji.
  "And what about me?"
  The android turned to Aia, and she, smiling, spread her hands: why don't you just do it yourself.
  "I'm a machine," Benji said. "I'm not interested in politics, what sort of exile would that be? I just went along for the walk, "and he nodded toward Aia.
  The Tibetan looked at Aia, but she said nothing.
  "Well, then," he said, looking around the whole company. "Good karma is a space for creating a future balance. If you want it, let's go. And you," he nodded to Jita who was still holding the drum to her chest, "You too, welcome to come down here, if you want."
  The gompa met them with a many-voiced children's cheerful hubbub. There were a lot of children, something like thirty - this children were skinny, identical, with eyes waiting for a miracle so openly, that the foxes had electrified and looked at each other.
  "Hey! It's a machine!" shouted the little boy in a fur coat, pointing to Benji with his finger.
  "Yeah, I'm a machine, and my courage is harder than a steel," Benji muttered in an undertone, looking at his own feet.
  "There is no more stupid doing than lamenting about the fact that you are who you are," Aia said also in an undertone, almost in a whisper, without turning, but only curving her lips in his direction. "You are the best, you just don't know the extent of your happiness."
  She waved her hands lightly, and from the frozen soil, just between the foxes sprinkled with white electric sparks and children, the head of golem has hatched slowly and majestically, dragging up with itself the stones, clay and lumps of dried brown grass.
  "You don't have to tell me that," the android grunted, calculating in his mind the size of clay creature awakened by Aia. "For today, these sixty vertical meters will be mine."
  He looked up and saw that the giant's head is grunting. It shook the closest buildings, blinked with its lazy eyes and drew out a stone hands from the ground.
  "What's all this for?" the monk sorrowfully shook his head. "It's all a waste of time and matter."
  He stepped in front of the foxes and patted the giant on a mighty stone shoulder as such a fearless flea.
  "Mmmm..." the golem gulped, turning his stone face to him.
  "Fill up its pit then," the monk said softly, turned around and walked away.
  Still slowly and majestically the golem lifted his hand out of the ground and stirred his fingers, watching as the sand, pebbles and live voles are pouring on the ground, powdered with snow.
  "Mmmm..." the golem gulped again, then gently, as soon as he could, started pulling the sand and snow into the hole under it.
  "Let's go?" Matt asked in the silence.
  53. 2331st year. Benji.
  Here, in the monastery, Benji didn't feel neither welcome, nor like an stranger, too.
  Probably, just as some bought by the occasion and brought to the house electronic unit could feel. After so many years, of course, he had some idea of people, of their feelings and their integration in the team, but, by and large, he didn't care.
  While people were engaged in their own, human dealing, he had his own frivolous exercise: he was focused on the manifestations of evolutionary self-organization on the example of the monastery and its inhabitants.
  Once upon a long time ago, while immovable sitting in the close engine compartment of his shuttle, he pondered evolution and came to the conclusion that, in essence, evolution consists of an infinite sequence of complex synergetic processes: whether the formation of elementary particles, or the shaping of a living protocell, or the forming of ever new channels of information transmission.
  All these spontaneous transitions of open, nonequilibrium systems from simple and unordered to complex and ordered ones have, in the end, turned in his systematics into an unpretentious theory of heterogeneous asymmetry of natural processes, which was the postulated inequality the processes of system destruction and antagonistic processes of self-organization in favor of the latter.
  All the processes of self-organization, Benji thought, had had a common, universal algorithm: just as destruction always strives for equilibrium and equalization of certain potentials, self-organization needs them to be created.
  The gompa was no exception: it was a seedy commune, a kind of ideological community of fifty people who did not fully understand each other, the property and resources of which were two hectares of harsh mountainous terrain. It was an ordinary third order and not necessarily final nonequilibrium system.
  For a long time Benji couldn't decide on the parameters of orderliness, but in the end it came out that the relationship connecting the huge number of microprocesses taking place in the monastery, oddly enough, turned out to be a positive feedback: in other words, it was the previously mentioned, inadequate misunderstanding of each other.
  The name of the visitor was Lama Sesen.
  "Sesen," he said after Benji opened the doors, and in a purely European way held out his wrinkled hand - like an old bird's leg - to greet.
  "What?" Benji blinked, shaking this outstretched tarsus.
  "It's such a name, Sesen," the old man smiled weakly and nodded to Aia. "I hope you are tolerant of old fools like me."
  "Tolerance is a very contradictory concept," Benji said instead, closing the door. "Although, as for me, there are no consistent concepts in principle."
  The old man looked around and sat down on the plush cushion at the wall.
  "Ahem... I feel like I'd came to talk to God," he said.
  Benji silently walked past him and sat down behind Aia's back by the window.
  "To God, who, as a matter of fact, I've never believed in," the guest again began to speak, and his voice wavered treacherously. "And I don't even know why."
  He closed his eyes, dropped his head and sat for a while like this, listening to something that was happening inside him.
  "When I was six, my mother died," he finally sighed, and looked up - toward somewhere over Aia, over Benji, to the window beyond which a large, snowflakes floated easily and weightlessly around the huge lifeless head of a stone statue. "And I dreamed of something like this. Since then, so many years have passed that I, of course, don't remember the details, but I remember the main thing: it was then that I decided for myself that no one can change the state of things. It doesn't matter that you have: an actions, conversations, humility. Of course, in those days no one came to talk to me, and I myself had nowhere to go..." he took a moment. "And now here you are."
  Aia was still silent, and Benji hugged her.
  "Early infantile love often turns into pain," Aia said, taking his silvery palm with her hand. "Does it still hurt you, Sesen, and you want to stop it?"
  She sadly smiled and with her free hand fished out a cup of fruit juice from the air:
  "Drink it."
  The old man sobbed, nodded, and took a cup with both hands.
  All that happens only demonstrates to the little weak creatures they have no advantages over reality, thought Benji, sitting at night on the very edge of the stone palm of the golem hovering over the monastery's yard. All you can do is to look into the eyes of this reality.
  There was no sky above his head - instead of it in the frosty air there was the shell of darkness spiked with sharp stars.
  "Oh, Benji," there was the murmur in the darkness, and from behind Benji's back came a brown tibetan fox invisible in the darkness, and sat down beside him. "Do you know you're not supposed to be sad?"
  "I'm not sad," said the android. "I wonder. And don't tell me it's not for me either, because you still can't tell me what is for me."
  "I noticed you go here every night," said the fox, and then he got up, walked over the enormous stone finger and lay down with his long paws dangling down. "And your thoughts are curious - the disequilibrium and dead-end evolution..."
  "Yeah, there's something about it," Benji agreed. "Maybe, the place calls for it, I don't know..."
  The fox yawned invisibly in the darkness:
  "You'd be better asleep at night."
  "Sometimes, that's how I feel, too," the android agreed again. "I'd be better asleep. In such a way it would be easier."
  He took his knees up to his chin and hugged his arms around them.
  "At nights, I feel like a watchman guarding the pond with the circles that spread in waves upon the water.
  "You know, I'm also a little bit disappointed in the game," the fox sighed. "Perhaps, because I really don't like to play leading roles. It's boring."
  Somewhere in the distance there has emerged the barking of dogs and sound of a train passing along the steppe.
  "Do you hear?" the fox asked.
  Yes, Benji nodded.
  "Ask yourself, for what? What are you now hearing it for? Why did you do it?"
  Why no one has yet started the courses that teach how to properly survive the invasion of crazy aliens, the android thought.
  "Very funny," the fox was offended. "And I'm serious, by the way. You are a machine and, in theory, don't have to have any unnecessary devices. You really don't care about trains, or animals living in the steppe, isn't that right?"
  The morph sighed, and Benji saw in the dark his fox's snout grew larger and wider, turning to be the snout of a large brown dog.
  "But in general, sounds are what makes you realize how crowded night is," the freshly minted dog said. It rose, stretched, and inhaled the white flock of fog in the air. "And they don't interfere with guarding the circles that spread in waves upon the water. You know, Benji, you are the best machine I've ever met."
  The darkness rustled, and from somewhere below to Benji came the thud of a heavy leap.
  "Adios," said the morph.
  "Adios, my love," grinned android.
  54. 2331st year. The morphs.
  Unlike Benji, morphs were not at all preoccupied with evolution.
  They didn't deal with either the decrease of entropy, or escalation of nonequilibrium, or even the selection of systems with favorable properties. They played.
  They played as children play who left to themselves: without learning any behavioral skills, just by remaining themselves.
  On the eve of 2nd February 2331, Tokyo, Chiba, Osaka and Yokohama has sank beneath the ground - they just turned themselves inside out like a glove removed from the hand, leaving only green patches of parks and a network of canals and rivers on the stony surface covered with snow.
  Residential and industrial buildings, ground transportation interchanges and high-rise parking for flyers, all this for just a few minutes has flowed down under the ground, carefully saving cables, communications and life inside it - not only startled people, but also numerous indifferent populations of insects and rats.
  All those who did not sleep at that moment had the good fortune to observe how the cities literally melted and was absorbed by the frozen ground.
  A few minutes after the transformation, all of them - numerous night duty shifts, watchmen, students, lovers, nightclubs visitors and ones suffering from insomnia - had been heavily stumped, watching in the now dead windows at first their own reflections, and then the surreal holographic landscapes emerging through them.
  Meanwhile, no less interesting things happened above the surface. The clouds of colored advertising banners and aeronautics hanging in the air had somehow simultaneously ceased, wilted and with a soft little rustle poured down as a fine iridescent sand. The dense rivers of small red flyers flowing between them in the air, baffled by the sudden drift of former final coordinates, simultaneously flinched and started to flutter in the black, deenergized sky in search of new ones.
  In the former Tokyo, on the railing of stone bridge across Arakawa sat a great grizzled raven.
  The water in the night river was thickly black, and the beads of bird's eyes were also black. In these eyes and in this water, reflected the stars, small trembling flyers and the moon strewn with lights of human stations.
  Next to raven stood a girl, almost a woman, and her thin hands were resting on the same stone railing.
  "Just take a look," she said.
  "Yeah, I see it," muttered the bird. "Now we just got to think about how to fill all this."
  The raven shuffled its legs and noisily, almost humanly grunted.
  "Is there anything to go into this silence now?"
  "You're really funny, I swear," said the girl. "You should bear what you have."
  She raised her hands above the railing and rubbed her palms against each other, shaking off the sand.
  "Wait, wait, you naughty boy! Who have you dropped down there?" the bird was indignant.
  "There's nobody there," laughed the girl. "There are already hordes there."
  The raven hastily tilted its head and looked suspiciously down under the bridge, into the black water.
  "Well, what's wrong?"
  "Nothing" the raven sighed sadly, again ruffling its feathers and shuffled its legs. "I'm not good with changes, you know."
  "Oh, well, stop grumbling," the girl smiled, showing her little sharp teeth.
  The eyes on her narrow pale face grew larger and darker, and the face itself stretched, taking the features of a young morph.
  "Life itself is an endless metamorphosis."
  "When it's on its own, I usually don't feel guilty," lamented the raven and shook his head.
  "It's always happens like that," the young morph smiled again. "Just sometimes it takes you for more crowds."
  Now he wasn't a bit like a girl. Only the colored poncho thrown over his narrow shoulders was feminine.
  "Sometimes it seems to me that you children are deadly cold and soulless."
  "Here, let's teach to love instead of talking rubbish," the morph shrugged.
  The raven gave him a disapproving glower, almost humanly sniffed and, with a flap of its wings, left for the direction of the vanished Haneda spaceport almost over the very water.
  "You go ahead and admire," came voice from far away. "But don't delay for very long, you'll have to deliver the missing flyers."
  Remaining on the bridge, the morph examined the bright red dots still fluttering in the night sky, concentrated, sending them the required coordinates, then yawned, took off the poncho, climbed onto the stone railing and jumped down.
  Reality once again silently shuddered, reincarnating, and instead of morph into the water have already dived pale yellow, with big bright spots of irregular shape, large strong brown trout..
  55. 2331st year. Benji.
  At night it was snowing outside. Heavy icy grains weren't being seen, but they were clearly audible as they rustled over the thin metal slanting roof.
  The bed on which they lay was not at all like a monastic bunk - it was large, double, with beautiful silk bedsheets, two drawers and fancy wrought-iron headboard.
  Benji sprawled on it diagonally, his crossed legs were resting over the headboard, and his terracotta head was hanging over the floor.
  "I'm already getting sick of waiting," Aia said.
  Her head also almost reached the floor, but only on the other side of the bed.
  "And what are you waiting for?"
  "The final of events."
  Benji rolled over the bed and pulled Aia in close to him, face to face.
  "They're all very slippery, these finals," he said, lightly touching the soft human lips. "You might as well wait for involvement."
  Aia grinned, and this grin stirred the whole room, as if the mirage was shivering in the hot air, and then the room began to sway in wide circles, and in these living circles their luxurious bed crumpled to the usual bunk, and both of them turned out to be on its very edge and smoothly have slipped down onto the floor.
  "There's no need to wait for it."
  A few more seconds, Aia was gazing deeply into the android's eyes that remained near her very face.
  "Come on," she said at last, getting up. "Come on, let's go."
  "You know, my heart, sometimes it seems to me that I would be more useful for tightening bolts by some more or less well-oiled conveyor in some relatively dry place," Benji lamented, watching with apprehension as the snow is clogging the doorway. "Maybe you'll take pity on me, and I'll stand in wait for you somewhere in the corner of this wonderful dry hallway?"
  "Come on, Benji," Aia waved off. "When did you get frightened by the weather?"
  For a couple of seconds the android was still standing in the doorway, shaking his head dejectedly, and then also has gone into the snow.
  "Come, come," a soft laugh came to him from the darkness. "Everything will be alright: they'll show it to you... mm... completely free of charge."
  Benji closed the door. Outside, already a couple of meters from the monastery buildings, the night was so black that his delicate optics turned to be not enough delicate to highlight anything in this night and cling to it with his glance.
  "Here it is, the eternal problem of the simultaneity of constancy and change," said a squeaky voice, and a slow, lanky silhouette has slowly emerged from the darkness.
  The creature was skinny and tall, like a lamppost, much higher than Benji. It bent down, looking at the android: in such way as you might look at an ants on the lane, and silently smiled at him: do you come with me? and then, without waiting for an answer, again stepped into the darkness.
  Benji opened his mouth, but changed his mind, waved his hand and stepped after the creature. Meanwhile, an unseen stone golem that was frozen in the monastery courtyard opened his eyes and watched them both with a heavy stony gaze.
  A step into the darkness was a step into the gigantic lit up enfilade, - the light was so unbearably bright that Benji even closed his eyes with surprise, and, when he opened them, his lanky companion was already walking far ahead.
  The place in which Benji has found himself was stunningly grandiose, and the delicate carved ornament on the walls was blurred high above, merging into a vast indistinguishable bunch of bright spots.
  Benji paused and looked back: behind him - the same way as ahead - the great enfilade lay away in the distance so far that it was impossible to see the end of it.
  "Come on, come on, Benji..." the space hummed loudly, and Benji flinched and ran to catch up with his companion.
  "You are a pretty fast runner," the creature said as soon as Benji reached him. "Tell me what you think about involvement."
  "What?" the android asked in confusion, hastily placing one leg in front of the other in quick succession and at the same time feeling himself small, helpless, and impossibly stupid creature. "Apparently, at this very moment I'm involved. But I still don't understand in what. What is it?"
  "Corridor," the creature grinned.
  "I..." Benji started again.
  "I know," interrupted the mysterious companion. "You wanted to ask why you're here and what are you doing here. Let's assume you are just an observer who has fallen into the place where changes have their rootstock. Look!" and he hospitably spread his long arms around.
  The carved walls have slowly lightened, glassing, became transparent, and Benji saw that there, behind these walls, everywhere, as far as his eyes could see - there are a huge mechanical multi-tiered life.
  "I hope it isn't the Earth..." he whispered.
  "Earth," the creature grinned. "Don't you dream it like that?"
  "No," Benji shook his head. "This is very unlike my memory of it."
  "It's its future heart," the creature said softly, almost affectionately, and stopped, looking around. "And, maybe, the present one."
  Benji had no choice but to follow his example.
  Perhaps this was the way the titanic mechanical leviathan was supposed to look like from the inside: electric, control, transforming and transmitting parts of its working units were moving into incomprehensible dizzying fluctuations, and it was totally impossible to determine where the converted energy came from and where the converted energy was going to.
  He'd saw her by chance, at the very corner of his eye: far, far away, in the very depths of these apocalyptic metal guts, has flashed her light blue dress.
  "Oh, no!" broke out from him.
  In the fit of naive aiming, he even rushed to this phantom, but the transparent wall was still a wall, and Benji with all his might banged his head against this wall with a resounding "dzannns!"
  The creature laughed. Its laughter was with a sharp metallic tint, squeaky and hoarse, like a creak of the squeaky wheels or the sound of glassbreaking.
  "Come with me," it said, calming down, it took Benji with one its hand and waved with the other in front of them, and the transparent wall melted slowly.
  Outside the wall was noisy - there was a metallic clank and rustle, and the air flowed by some unknown ways, it loudly hummed and trembled, spilling out from the narrow slots of some pneumatic punchers. Energy costs did not seem to bother anyone at all.
  Aia was in a small circular hall with walls made of the same stirring mechanisms which didn't seem to serve any particular purpose. She was wearing a huge headphones, she sat in front of a large condenser microphone, and sang in some strange language.
  Or rather Benji thought that she sang. In fact, there were only the consonant sounds so much like the rustle of pistons or the knock of valve rockers; and all that metal brethren that moved around her, crawling to the surface of unnatural walls and again falling through, were listened to her voice, as if hypnotized.
  "My God..." Benji said. "I thought she was a little decent girl..."
  "Hey, lad! Amigo!" whispered his lanky companion, leaning towards the very face of android, and winked. "Do you need a codes?"
  He uncovered its outstretched fist, and from it jumped something resembling a large metal wasp.
  This small thing had twisted on the palm of the android, looked for a fitting port, squeaked, dipped into it its subtle trembling sting and froze.
  Within several long seconds, the data was merged, indexed, systematized, linked and saved, and Benji looked up in surprise: not only Aia was singing, everything was singing with her.
  "Hush... The endless night!" sang the walls around. "Go on, keep telling aloud! If you'll be quiet, gods would read your face. We have a world that is born in the sound. Remember this, keep it in database..."
  "Give me back the flash drive, Benji, and I'm off," the conductor whispered into the android ear. "There are shortcuts instead of folders anyway."
  56. 2331st year. The Earth.
  It was expected then that there were neither makers, nor morphs, nor machines at the extraordinary emergency closed meeting of the UN Security Council. Also there were neither journalists, nor holocameras - in violation of its own resolutions.
  In the hall of the New York headquarters that now was located on the already negative third floor, thirty-two people in strict business suits gathered at the large round table.
  "It has been a while since I was feeling like a clown so sharply," the American ambassador whispered in the ear to his British colleague. "I wonder how anybody here can seriously think that the absence of an invitation will stop those who are able to do this?"
  "Like a clown?" the British ambassador responded. "You demonstrate a great deal of restraint. I'm personally having associations with the baby playing hide-and-seek with its mother; we also close our eyes and believe that we hid."
  There was a rap of the wooden gavel of the chairman.
  "I ask for silence, gentlemen!"
  The audience has got excited. Someone was sitting quieted, someone started to jerk, and someone stretched his trembling hand to reach a glass of water, whispering regretfully that it was not whiskey. The twin telepaths who was sitting at the table shared a look.
  "Ahem," one of them cleared his throat. "The meeting of the Security Council is declared open. The preliminary agenda is global changes in the structure of the social fabric. The agenda is approved according to the basic rule of the Security Council procedure."
  He paused, looking around.
  "The changes are too significant to pretend that nothing is happening. I hope everyone here understands that all this is not designed to equalize the positions - ours and all those who also live on the Earth, but for one reason or another cannot claim their rights."
  A muffled whisper rolled through the room.
  "Wait, what do you mean?" the American ambassador said.
  "I mean the position of humanity on its own planet has remained the same," the twin shrugged his shoulders.
  "Gentlemen, you forget that for those sitting here the ability to telepathy is not self-evident. Explain."
  "No matter how it looks from the outside," said the twin, "the ongoing metamorphosis only increases the area of contact. In other words, now humankind has received not so much a lesson as a good gift - a totally virgin planet and an additional ecological niche."
  "So you don't mind at all that your children and children of your children will grow under ground like a moles?" the UAE ambassador inquired cooly. "Or you don't have a children?"
  His gaze was so heavy that the telepath has embarrassed.
  "I wouldn't like Abu Dhabi, Doha, or Manama turned to be buried under ground after Hong Kong, Japan, and..." he gestured around the hall, "this blessed place. If this happens, there will be a desert again. Barkhans are a paradise for camels and snakes, but we are neither camels, nor snakes. Can you make it so that it doesn't happen?"
  "I understand all this perfectly," said the telepath and has jerked in his leather chair. "But but you must understand... I'm just... em... language assistant, or something like that. I can more or less accurately translate someone else's intentions to you, but I cannot guarantee anything."
  He looked regretfully at the audience and spread his hands:
  "And I'm afraid that no one can do this now."
  "Then I don't understand the meaning of this meeting," shrugged a man with the inscription "France" on the lapel of his expensive jacket.
  "You haven't to spread panic."
  "Really?" asked the American ambassador looking at the ceiling. "Offer your options."
  The telepath looked up and saw that not long ago a perfectly normal ceiling has bristled now with thick, shaggy stalactites, from the top of each of which now was blinking a round, birdlike eye.
  "Listen," he said, still looking up. "For all this time, no one died because of their doing. Moreover, I am even inclined to think that no one living creature died because of their doing. No one has declared war to anyone. What more evidence do you want?"
  He lowered his eyes and looked again at those sitting in the conference room.
  "And yet I perfectly understand that most of you want to build at least some kind of strategy. Consequently, I propose the following solution: just think and act on the situation. We have to become like children and replace the fear of knocked down reflexes with simple childish curiosity."
  57. 2331st year. Benji.
  Left alone, Benji for a while had been watching the scene, then leaned against the nearest stationary support, closed his eyes and froze.
  "We were building an underwater tunnel from Lisbon to Halifax," Aia said proudly and touched android's shoulder. "Can you imagine, four and a half thousand kilometers of songs..."
  "You know, if I were a human, I would be afraid of you," Benji said quietly. He opened one eye.
  "You are too active lately, don't you think so?"
  "Really?" she was confused.
  "Yes. You are always in some kind of Brownian motion. What for? Or has you now developed a mania of creation?"
  "No," Aia said.
  Her face fell, and at the same time, with this cloud over her face, the mechanical creatures rustling around her have slowly down.
  "Wait, wait! Don't touch the tunnel!" Benji blinked. "There'll always be someone to use it."
  "Yes," she agreed. "Definitely."
  "But your family, who are not quite a family, hurry humanity to grow up," the android shook his head as he watched the warm pullover that appeared instead of the blue dress on the thin girlish figure, and after a pause he added: "I think so."
  "I want some sky," said Aia in response.
  Benji blinked once more, and it so happens that he closed his eyes where he was standing, and opened them near the road in the middle of a snow-covered treeless night plain.
  There was a large yellow moon up in the frosty sky, among the sharp spiny stars, and in its gloomy light two hundred steps away from the road, just near the nearest hill, there rested a covered with frost white fuselage of small orbiting shuttle which was bought out by the android from a former employer and had abandoned by him on this very moon.
  "Gonggar?" asked Benji calmly, looking around.
  "Gonggar," agreed the brown fox sitting on the side of the road, and, shaking himself, turned into a little blond boy in the brown fur coat over a white shirt.
  "I'm cold and missed you," the boy said, and along with these words, a cloud of white mist rolled out of his mouth and melted in the frosty air.
  "I think it's getting cold because someone is pretty active," the android said. "Lately, on this planet it was done so much that I'm surprised somewhere is not winter yet."
  He squinted:
  "Is this the very sky you wanted, Aia?"
  Aia silently shook her head, and a small cold-blooded boy from her dreams wrapped in thick brown fur has smiled carelessly:
  The passenger gondola inside the shuttle was safe and sound. Benji had closed and sealed the entrance hatches, found the technological control on the dashboard, checked the default settings and gave permission to change the parameters. The light flashed, and the sensors reported that the temperature inside gondola was slowly going up.
  "Welcome aboard this small penitentiary galley, once registered at the beautiful French spaceport," said the android, making a wide, hospitable gesture toward the frosty passenger seats. "Do take a seat, please. I apologize for the lack of coziness, I've not been home for a long time."
  "So, how long ago did it all seem to you wrong?" asked Aia.
  Her hands were pushed into her pockets, and she stood in the middle of the passenger gondola, like a lost little fairy in a frosty forest.
  "Who am I to decide what is right and what is not?" Benji grinned sadly. "It all is a work of beings far exceeding my degree of anticipation. I guess this time they also know what they are doing. Just like always."
  He sat up on the side of one of the frozen passenger chairs, folded his hands between his knees and froze waiting for someone else's decision - he had no one of his own.
  "I don't know," said the boy, hopping into another chair and settling there as if it was cozy and warm. "I had been listening to your neighboring planet, and there you have a machine quite able to decide what it likes and what it doesn't."
  He waved his hand, and in the air, right between them, appeared a dense holographic picture woven from nothing: an agitated, disheveled guy in the form of a Martian system designer with a sweaty head and an oxygen mask in his hands.
  "We have entered the duty yesterday at eight o'clock local coordinated," incredibly sweating, said the guy in an invisible microphone of the invisible interlocutor. "And at two minutes past eight, it said that it would manage itself, without genetic idiots, and cut off the connection."
  "It's the Mars," whispered the morph to the android. "And he's talking to the Earth. Yesterday they got a revolted machine dealing with control systems."
  He fidgeted in his chair and added, beaming:
  "And I have nothing to do with it, in the way I'm not the cause of it."
  "Friend?! Come on, man!" continued the young man in the video. "I never attached any importance to it! Usually when the working day was over, I generally with a clear conscience forgot about it. It's a job, just a job. Do you understand? But now..."
  He looked around in confusion, and two invisible holocameras slid down. It became clear that his left leg was swollen, and the cortex bandage applied to her was almost bursting at the seams.
  "It must have started long before yesterday's ultimatum," he said again. "Two days ago I got stuck in the run simulator, and it didn't even bother to stop and move this fucking piece of iron!"
  Benji looked first at Aia, then at the boy.
  "I've got it," he said. "You're both using me. If you just take this bucket, it won't be so interesting."
  He reached right through the holographic Martian lad and has laid out the nearest passenger seat - the one in which the little morph was sitting - in the starting reclining position. The temperature in the passenger compartment rose to a standard twenty degrees Celsius, and the frost on the chair melted and lay now in large cold drops.
  "And what's amusing, I cannot even say that I don't want to go there," the android said, turning and lowering his hands to the dashboard. "At least, because in terms of coordinates I do not have any preferences. At all."
  "That's pretty nice," the morph concluded with satisfaction, rose to his feet and jumped to reach the G-suit hanging on the wall.
  58. 2331st year. The shuttle.
  While Benji was bringing to life and testing his ship's systems, noting the unplanned amount of fuel and excess organic cargo in the cargo compartments, Aia and the little morph talked to someone invisible in Russian.
  The words were unfamiliar, Benji had understood only "Mars" and "start", but this was enough to that that his own unimpeded take-off from the Tibetan highlands didn't seem to him something out of the ordinary.
  While the shuttle was coming out of the earth's atmosphere, he quickly downloaded from the net a grid of solar system and orbital characteristics of the red planet, after which, as soon as the blueness outside was replaced by the empty darkness, he turned his fragile ship and aimed it to the target.
  When the Earth had ceased to be huge and completely fit on the viewing screen, the android tormented by obscure suspicions multiplied the resolving power of the external sensors of his shuttle to ten times and for a whole minute watched in fascination as from the outer layers of the atmosphere into the near-Earth space grow the geometrically strictly ordered gigantic sparkling "tendrils".
  All this time the little morph was chattering nonstop.
  "By and large, the time and place of the events taking place with you have absolutely no significance," he was ranting.
  G-suit reached to his very ears, and these ears were protruding from it like the ears of a kitten wrapped into the blanket.
  "You are the center of the universe, no matter in what kind of galaxy and around which sun you're unfolding your karma."
  What kind of karma can you have, Benji thought, if you constantly prance around between opportunity and impossibility like ping in the crooked routing.
  "Wow! You're a poet, Benji!" the boy laughed loudly.
  "Yeah," the android grinned and, in the former orbit of the former Alpha, didn't break, but, on the contrary, picking up the acceleration, turned around and winked at Aia who was smiling into the inflatable collar:
  "Let's go?"
  From the distance the Mars looked naked and uninhabited. Yes, strictly speaking, it was so: the endless red deserts, so similar to the high-altitude Tibetan steppes, stretched from the edge and to the edge of the entire visible hemisphere - monotonous, cold, and overgrown with rare and stunted gray-green cactus groves brought from Earth.
  Benji had passed in front of silently dangling in orbit military satellites, and in the absolute radiosilence landed his shuttle on the very last strip of a small spaceport lost in the Martian Libyan Mountains.
  The spaceport was silent. On the roof of its administrative building there was bristling a huge plastic yellow dragon, whose webbed wings trembled in the cold rarefied air, as if they were alive. Benji had rummaged in his memory and identified them as ordinary cassette solar panels.
  "It's a pretty nice place, cosily," he remarked sarcastically, testing the oxygen level in the air from the outside and turning off the shuttle. "We has arrived. I hope, there is nobody to give us a parking and unauthorized landing ticket.
  "Who has any interest in it, let him try," Aia smiled in reply.
  The nearest landscape, too, was red, plain, treeless and there were no buildings, it was clear all the way out to the horizon.
  Benji had finished with the tests, decided that the oxygen level is above the critical mark, and opened the airlock. The warm, dense air of the shuttle has slammed into the cold space outside.
  "Hh... Hhaff!" from a surprise the morph flashed with yellow, jumping out of the passenger seat.
  Convulsively gasping for what should have been the air, together with Aia they moved the shared reality, condensing it around themselves in a slightly unnatural concentration.
  "Are we going?" the android asked impassively, taking off his fingers from the control panel. "I'm ready."
  Inside, in the building of the spaceport, people were running - with machine guns blazing. People were tall, lean, in shaggy chlorophilic caps which were an oxygen masks.
  Throughout the back wall of the waiting room, behind the dim turned off schedule there was now a holographic image of the Earth: a blue and green one, dotted with long, glittering "tendrils."
  "Oh, tell me, my small pretty thing, what is all this fuss about?" bending to the morph, whispered Benji. "And what are all these wonderful things for?"
  59. 2331st year. The Earth.
  That it were a ships, came to light almost by accident.
  What was happening was still partly total embarrassment, and partly total panic, so that the thin mirror citadels that grew from the ground with the speed of the pedestrian have drawn attention to themselves only when the landscape created by the morphs turned to be surreal enough.
  There were exactly forty-two "citadels" there. Both of Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia - all suddenly broke out almost simultaneously. "Citadels" by this time were already sticking out of clouds, like a steel spokes planted into a milk jelly.
  Entrance to the first ship was found by children, and it happened in the Voronezh region, on the very edge of small wonderful village named Platava - just in the middle of the vineyards where very few leaves left on the vines, behind a bald spots left after houses that had sunk under the ground.
  This "citadel" appeared from the ground almost exactly at noon on the very day when the local low-rise "multifamily" houses were pushed into the stiff, frosty black earth, and while the adults were busy with sudden changes that had covered them, local kids tried to investigate a miracle crawling out of the ground.
  And the miracle was about three hundred meters in diameter, with a rounded, rapidly going high up symmetrical peak and in the rays of the cold March sun, it was matt silvery-gray.
  It grew so fast that at first the boys who discovered it were just watching the elegant silver arrow going into the sky. And only then, when the top of the "citadel" has already almost lost high above, one of them, moved by epiphany, embraced it, smooth and warm, and started to move around, not letting go of his embrace.
  And after fifty meters his hands had fell into a metal - as if it was a clot of gray smoke, and he himself, losing the support, fell inward.
  The ship, "grown up" in the vicinity of Gonggar, was showing off in the backyard of the small Tibetan gompa.
  When a fox started yapping outside the hotel window, it was just after 4:00 p.m.
  "I think he is calling for you," Jita said, taking the drum from Matt. "And there is a whole pile of all sorts of finger technique for the left hand, I'll show you when you come back."
  Outside it was dusky and windy.
  "Have you been playing?" asked the fox, smiling.
  He was standing at the porch, putting his front paws on the railing and resting the large head on them.
  "Yes," Matt said. "I've been learning."
  "Be good, learn a lot," the fox complimented him. "The game itself is something like a formula, and if you know the principle, the technical side of the process seems more pleasant and harmonious."
  He let go of the railing and was now on all fours.
  "Will you walk with me?"
  The "citadel", sticking out in the middle of brown stubble and thawed snow, looked exactly the same as its Platava double.
  "Wow!" Matt gasped. "What is it?"
  "Are you going to fly away?"
  "Well, yes and no," the fox shook his head. "I wouldn't give verbs a hint of such finality. You don't want to lose, and I don't want to get lost."
  He snorted, and his "frr!", reflected either by the surrounding hills, or by the towering "citadel" between them, has scattered over the bare plain with a multiple echo. Under this many-voiced rustling, the cold air around them started to stir, and two more foxes and two lanky creatures, similar to that one that accompanied Benji in a tunnel under the ocean, were cast out from this air.
  "Oh," said Matt. The creatures was so high that Matt had to look high up to see them.
  In response, one of them moved and, with a low buzz, leaned to boy's very face.
  "Nice to meet you. I'm Pilot."
  "Matt," Matt said, embarrassed.
  "What do you like more, Matt: sing or make a path?" the creature's eyes were large and dark, each one the size of a human's palm.
  "I don't know," the boy said. "Probably, I have to learn both this things?"
  "Probably," the creature agreed solemnly. "Because there will be a long way and song."
  From the inside, the Platava ship was soft and pliable.
  "Wow!" gasped the boy who had fell into it and bit his tongue.
  "Hey, guys, this big joy has already grown to six kilometers each," some voices loudly said somewhere high above, "and we still don't know what these things are..."
  "Wait half an hour, soon the press will react to them, and you will hear everything that you are interested in."
  "UFO, UFO, can you hear me? Report to Big Pyndrovka briefly and clearly: what's up!"
  "Render unto Caesar, you know..."
  "Not bad..."
  "I'm not a bat, I'm a miserable broken Elvish heart."
  "Come on, guys, if they can hear you, they'll have a linguistic shock."
  The voices were young and cheerful, the language was Russian.
  "Hey!" rising to his feet, shouted the boy. "Who is here?!"
  The space in which he found himself was like a big round hall. Its distant walls were as if sprinkled with a light gray fog, through which alternately emerged either dense Silurian jungle, or the surface of the ocean, or the distant evening city, or the big stars.
  The voices continued to speak without paying any attention to the guest, and the boy looked around in search of at least something explaining at least something.
  His friends appeared inside simultaneously with a morphs emerging from the fog.
  60. 2331st year. Mars.
  "There is no rain in this place," whispered the morph. "And the green hair that grows on their heads is not the hair."
  "To be honest," Benji whispered to him in response, "it seems to me that this alone is not a serious enough reason to go all that way here, to such a distance."
  In a huge stained-glass windows, the distant Martian sun shone dimly through the red haze.
  "Come on, Benji. It's a magic," Aia said, stopping right in the middle of the hall. "And if you suddenly happened to be in this place and at that time, then all your life was just for..."
  For what exactly, Benji hadn't time to understand, because at that very moment one of the guys running past in the green caps crashed into him with all his might with a crackle.
  "Hah!" with the turn, the stunned androd grunted, accepting the hit. "re'i nai .i le mabla mo*"
  "What are you doing here?" on the move, the guy snapped in Interlingua. "Get away from here! No flights, the spaceport's closed!"
  Benji had opened his mouth to answer, but at that moment the small morph quietly took him by the hand - hush! it's this way! - and he, waving his free hand in resignation, obediently followed him into the back door.
  The door squeaked twice - opening and closing. The room was large, empty and dusty, with a bulging rectangle of another door on the opposite wall - with the inscription "Exit".
  "Ahchoo!" the morph sneezed and tilted his head like a bird, looking up to the android.
  In his posture, there was so much waiting that Benji was even taken aback.
  "What?" he asked.
  "Danek says," Aia smiled, "that there, in the hall, these guys have their own problems, but we have our own."
  "Your Danek doesn't say anything," the android objected, and at that moment it began to clang outside.
  Dun! Dun! Dun! The slams were light, but because of the metal claping Benji for some reason understood immediately that it were a bullets.
  "What did you bring me to?" he said, looking suspiciously at the door that had just closed behind them. "That wasn't the deal."
  "Ahchoo!" sneezed the morph again, and from this his "ahchoo" the air around him has gushed with a dense wave.
  "All right, all right," he sniffed. "Here are no weapons at the spaceport anymore. If, of course, you don't consider the fork in the dining room as ammunition.
  And then, he smiled naively, childishly.
  "Yes, it should not recognize any authorities in principle, your computer," Benji said, keeping pace with Aia and the boy along the dimly lit corridor. "Why would it? The presence of any kind of landmarks and goals doesn't at all imply the existence of an ideal with which it would need to be constantly checked. I don't understand another thing: why are we here?"
  "The distance greatly affects the quality of the interaction," the boy said. "So we are..." and he stopped in front of the inconspicuous matte gray door with the inscription "HARDWARE". "Here."
  The door was locked with a new mechanical deadlock and sealed.
  Morph jerked the handle, and then bent down, carefully examining the keyhole.
  "A neat system," he said in surprise. "They locked the poor machine as if it is a dangerous recidivist."
  And he crushed the multistage titanium lock with his bare fingers.
  The hardware room was empty. That is, no: there were simply no any people. The system unit occupied a small space near the right wall and was off.
  The morph crawled under the table in search of wires and slots, for a long time rustled there, then, without getting out from under the table, pressed "power" on the front panel of system block. The computer squeaked, interrogating internal devices in a regular mode, but didn't boot up.
  "Get off," it said on the black screen instead of booting and locked off.
  "You're a funny guy," the morph smirked, turning it on again.
  The computer again squeaked, instead of booting this time gave out a "kernel panic" and locked off again.
  "That's not how I want to play!" the morph said in an offended tone.
  "At the risk of boring you..." Benji said, squatting down beside him, "I think it does not want to play like that either. Let me."
  He fumbled around the side panels of the unit in search of a suitable socket, found it, thrust his index finger into it and with his free hand again pressed the "power". The machine again squeaked, testing, and, having found Benji who was attached to the outside, for a moment was frozen.
  This instant was enough to the android to give a request and get permission:
  "AI-DII. Files transfer. Request for permission."
  "Serialization," a brief hitch. "Files transfer is allowed."
  While all the android's memory - he himself, Aia, what he considered to be love and the meaning of his own life - was copying and flowing into stranger's gate, the computer patiently waited, and Benji, who from the inside watched the currents that floated in the other machine, identified them as joy.
  And then, still squatting, he looked up at Aia with weird eyes.
  She got scared:
  "Chimera," the android grinned. "Are you afraid?"
  "Come on," the android blinked and tapped the floor with his free hand. "Sit down."
  For a minute they sat under the table, all three of them, silently looking at each other.
  "As a portable device, Benji, you are really something!" Aia finally said. "Here it is, real intimacy."
  The android smiled foolishly. His finger was still sticking out from the small electric connector, and he himself was squatting in front of the system block: face to face with it.
  "You bet!" he agreed. "I'm a little bit too big, but in such a way it's getting closer. Distance, after all, not only strongly affects the quality of interaction, distance in general is a very insidious thing. I understood this while I waited for you."
  The morph leaned, and they exchanged glances with Aia.
  "Waited for us?" asked the morph.
  re'inai .i le mabla mo* - Hell no! What's this?! (Lojban)
  61. 2331st year. Matt.
  The air inside the ship was filled with smells of pine sap and needles, love and life. If the normal control room was somewhere, it wasn't where they were now: a dense cedar forest filled with pure sunlight rustled and fluttered from all the sides.
  Some small gray birds with red breasts sang noisily between the cedar trunks enlaced with a fragrant magnolia berry.
  "But I didn't plan to walk that far," Matt said.
  "Why?" the pilot asked. "I would never have thought that you used to live in one place."
  "But it's not the place at all..." said the boy...
  But the space was so light, so airy, so unlike the inside of a spaceship and so similar to Alpha that he sighed and said:
  "Oh, all right."
  "Hhaff! Hhaff! Right! Right!" the foxes started to yap.
  Matt did not notice the very moment of start: there was no overload, no the noise from starting engines, no any vibration. Only then, when the lanky pilot started to sing, and the sky outside became not blue but bottomlessly black, he realized that the journey had begun.
  He didn't find any control room. Or maybe it wasn't there at all: the pilot was sitting under one of the trees, directly on the sand overgrown with spica grass, and small glossy beetles, running along the cedar tree trunk, have continually been descended on his shoulders.
  Matt sat next to him and for a while looked at how the pilot sings, how nicely his fingers tremble, and how somewhere out there, outside the ship, in response to his song, the universe unfolds infinitely.
   Matt didn't know the language which the pilot was singing, but in it there were so many vowels flowing into each other, and in the sky outside the ship there were so many stars that his little heart was jumping and freezing with happiness.
  But he was just a little seven-year-old boy.
  In some cases age is irrelevant, but only if these matters don't concern experience and independence: the independence of a seven-year-old boy is always a relative thing, and experience is generally ridiculous.
  As soon as Matt thought about it, his happiness faded at once, and he remembered that there were no people with him on the ship.
  Loneliness suddenly rolled onto him with such a powerful wave that he even gasped. And burst into tears.
  "Hey! Matt!" the cedar rustled. "What are you doing?"
  And from somewhere higher up a small black bird jumped on the lower branch.
  Matt glanced sideways at the bird and said nothing: the ouzel was like the one that he had met a long time ago in Prague, in the Zlichinsky forest park.
  "What's wrong?" the bird asked.
  "I'm just sitting," Matt sniffed with a reddened nose.
  "Well, you're sitting, then?" the ouzel looked around on the branch, figuring out where to go better, and jumped on the sand in front of the boy. "Come on, I'll show you something."
  Without waiting for an answer, he shook himself, for some reason has run around the tree trunk and went somewhere behind Matt's back.
  Go, go, a pilot winked at the boy, and there was nothing left for him to do but stand up, wipe his wet eyes, sigh and follow.
  Behind the cedar, on the other side, was a path.
  "Are you hungry?" asked the ouzel, flapping in front of Matt on the branch over the path. "I think sometimes you have to eat. We still got a lot of songs to go to get to the Mars."
  "To the Mars?" Matt blinked.
  "To the Mars."
  The bird jumped and disappeared in the cedar crown.
  "Proteins, fats, carbohydrates..." it muttered somewhere above, then there was a rustling, and almost onto Matt's head a large bun slammed.
  The ouzel squeaked and followed down the bun, right onto the ginger head of the boy.
  "Oh, I'm sorry," it said, jumping down onto his shoulder. "I got it a little wrong."
  "Why do we need the Mars?"
  The bun was soft, sweet, tightly stuffed with large gold raisins. Matt bit into it with his teeth and only then realized how hungry he was.
  "Well... First, the Mars is a pretty densely populated place," the ouzel noticed. "And secondly, that's where the track along which our present is weaving leads. Come on, I'll finally show you something."
  62. 2331st year. Benji.
  Benji enjoyed the amusement that has come to him.
  And it wasn't an access to a large database at all. Rather, not quite it.
  He generally believed all the time that regardless of the nature and the backup size of the drive available to him, the amount of what makes sense to be remembered must always be reduced to the very minimum. Probably, with a great reserve this "stinginess" could be compared with the "stinginess" of a man who protects his own liver from excessive intoxication.
  Unlike the world of people, the world of android has always been divided into two: the digital world and the real one. The real one - with its continuous parameters - was complex one and, in order to minimize archived data, constantly demanded from the android the choice of quantization scales and always made him strained. But the digital one...
  A digital one, faceless, devoid of any kind of individuality, divided into pieces and stacked neat stacks by someone else, was simple, rational and convenient.
  Being, who was connected now to other hardware, the android, in fact, for the first time in his life was caught in Other. If he was a Maker, if he had any experience of such a diffusion, he would just go with a coolness throughout pedantically compacted other's memories, to do other, more important tasks, but he wasn't.
  As a machine, he had no experience of such com-passion.
  The first thing he did was to look around for something similar to "#!important" and found out inside his Martian brother a whole disk marked "#!training".
  It had been playing. Not long ago.
  Inside the one who stood at the global control point of real planet was modeled some artificial world, a kind of Mars-2, a calculated territory, whose population and capacities were carefully calibrated to the status quo.
  The number of "states" multiplied by the number of "moves" in this strange game reached huge values, but it turned out that the last docking with the flow was about a week ago.
  "Benji," Aia said, "don't get carried away there."
  "There's nothing to get carried to, really," Benji shrugged, taking out his finger.
  The computer blinked with diodes on the front panel, disconnecting the external device, but remained turned on.
  "Much better, thank you, baby," the morph smiled.
  He crawled noisily on his knees between Aia and android, sat in front of the system block and put his hands inside him - right through the panel with the slots and buttons, as if it was not a plastic, but plasticine.
  "Have you got any idea what's the difference between simple thing and complicated one?" he said, rummaging through it with his hands. "When you look at it in detail, the difference is just the boundaries of what you want to consider. Everything else remains unchanged. Not in the sense of static, but in the sense of equally-complex and, seems to be, equivalent. Neither the rest of the world, nor the invisible relationships, are cut off. They don't disappear anywhere. When you allocate something simple, you simply don't take into account the rest. Do you understand?"
  He took out his hands, and a smiling toothless plastic mouth has grew in the place of hole that remained after them.
  "Yes," said the mouth.
  "Then why did you wait for us?"
  "For making the best decision."
  "Ahaha!" The boy laughed, wiping his palms against each other. He turned first to Aia, and then to Benji, inviting them both to join in the fun: "Funny guy!"
  "No," the mouth said seriously. "I'm just tired of playing."
  "Definitely," the morph agreed, still laughing. "But it would be nice if the algorithm adapts to the game before its owner is tired of playing."
  "I'm..." began the mouth, but the boy closed his plastic lips with his hand:
  "Wait a second."
  He looked back at Benji, trying to measure something visible only to him, and crawled under the table back - to turn off the electricity.
  While he was busy there, big blue eyes appeared on the system block next to the mouth, and, looking at this newborn optics, the android noted, without much surprise, the similarity of device to his own one.
  The newborn creature turned out to be small and big-headed, as a child with hydrocephalus.
  "Well, then," said the morph, noisily backing out from under the table. "I think it's the most optimal solution."
  63. 2331st year. Matt.
  When the trail was over, Matt sat down, and then he thought and lay down on his backside, directly on the sand - as a starfish lying on the shore, his arms and legs wide apart.
  Above him, slowly and magnificently floated sky strewn with stars.
  "The star that is a little to the left of the ecliptic axis - it's the Mars," the ouzel said. "I wanted to show you the connections. Look at this."
  It jumped, making a loud "hhaff!" with its wings, and this "hhaff!" was reflected from somewhere with a resounding echo, and with this echo, the black space swelled from the outside, like a digital image enlarged by the raster editor, and came to numbed and startled Matt.
  "The light that wanders through the universe meets at the bottom of your eyes with its reflection just like the sound of my wings meets with its echo in these cedars," the ouzel said, watching closely as Matt gasps. "Somewhere in the future all the ways of everything on earth converge at one single point."
  And it laughed:
  "Blink, blink."
  Matt blinked and swallowed with the suddenly dry throat.
  "There is Aia on Mars," he said: confidently, as if he had not even heard about it, but was present there himself.
  He blinked, trying to swallow the tears that had appeared on his eyes again, and then turned abruptly on his stomach.
  "I was so afraid of being left alone," he said into the sand. "Without anyone."
  "The same old story," the ouzel shook its black head reproachfully.
  Its wings turned to be orange-blue from the black ones, it jumped, flew up and disappeared, and instead of it, large cedar cones started to fall thickly over Matt.
  One of them hurt the boy on the top of his head.
  "Ouch!" exclaimed Matt.
  "Sorry," said the space around him sadly. "It seemed to me that there was no one here. Who you are?"
  "Matt," Matt said with a frown. "What are you hitting me for all the time?"
  "And what are you whining for all the time?" the same voice objected to him, and in half a meter from his nose the ouzel materialized and slapped on the sand right out of the air. "The likelihood that someone alive for a long time will be left alone, in general, almost zero," the space said.
  "Yeap," the bird readily agreed with a disembodied voice. "You know, Matt, it seems to me that in many cases when someone somehow feels abandoned, it's enough just to say to him 'I love you'."
  It shook herself and glanced at the boy.
  "Well, I love you."
  The sand covering the ground a few centimeters away from Matt's face was light, almost white, and the grains were so large that if you looked closely you could distinguish thin plates of mica, grains of feldspar, zircon and quartz.
  Matt put his hands in it, watched for a while as it poured down between his fingers, and then dropped his head into his hands.
  "Would you give me a break, huh?" the ouzel resented. "How can you get upset where everything is so perfectly arranged, tuned and fit to each other?.."
  "And I'm thinking about the same thing," Matt said into his palms. "It turns out that everything is perfect for everything: the grains of sand, the air I breathe, the Mars somewhere far away... Everything that will be in a hundred... in a thousand years, is already defined - here and now."
  "But what are you upset about?"
  "I'm in fact uniquely talented."
  The ouzel nodded understandingly, turned in place, stepped into nowhere, and in a couple of seconds has materialized back from the air one and a half meters from the previous place, at the feet of the boy.
  "Get yourself together, Matt," it said. "It will be not very good if you'll be all misty and dramatic when you get to your sister."
  64. 2331st year. Mars.
  There was a wind outside the door. It was blowing the dry red dust along the gray concrete block, and that dust was running over the asphalt like a light transparent blizzard.
  "Well, put your hands behind your head and go out," the man said, and invitingly moved the M-700 rifle, reworked into an elegant "bull-pup". Into the thick chlorophilic cap on his head the thin orange net was woven.
  "Wow! A faux telepath!" the morph sincerely admired.
  He stepped outside, to the military waiting for him, and the door behind him clicked and closed.
  "Whoa, whoa! Hands up!" the second person with the submachine gun got nervous. "Where are the others?"
  "The others?" the boy blinked in surprise, raised and turned his hands with his palms upward. "But I only have two hands, here are no the others."
  The face of man with a "bull-pup" slowly fell and acquired a pale gray-green color.
  "You little son of a... I'm..." he began threateningly, but at that moment the rifle in his hand started to buzz, and a large gold bee crawled out of the barrel aimed at the little morph.
  "What the heck?!"
  "I'm not very good in local cultures," the boy said with regret, taking his eyes off the bees and looking at the armed men who surrounded him. "And I can be wrong. I ask you not to be too shy and tell me if I do something wrong."
  He blinked again, and the space around fluctuated, transforming metal and gunpowder.
  Benji didn't feel tired. Aia was hurrying ahead as a light, almost disembodied shadow, and he just tried to keep up.
  There were no shots anymore.
  When the boy suggested to split up the team, Benji thought there is a slight superiority in his voice, but within minutes the android realized that the little morph either by accident or deliberately turned to be the most prudent and far-sighted.
  Aia was leading them both through the empty long passages, from time to time breaking off from a quick walk to run. A small, big-headed plastic 'martian' who knew the way almost better than her obediently followed her at arm's length, and Benji was looking at it and thinking that if he is really impassive and objective, then he himself in general would differ very little from it.
  And then, somehow unexpectedly, an inconspicuous gray door appeared in front of them.
  Aia pushed it, and Benji's optics for a moment has flooded with dazzlingly white: the room was very light - such a way that, in fact, there shouldn't be so much light on the Mars. And there were people: young, smiling, completely unlike the military, and a thin orange net was woven into the chlorophilic cap of each of them.
  "Hello," she said, taking a breath. "My little Martian friend, let me introduce you the demiurges of your mood, here they are. But, to be honest," she looked at the room and at the people gathered in it, "I don't want to talk about what you would like to hear from me."
  "Hello," Benji smiled, just in case.
  "You've come at last! Great!" exclaimed one of those present, getting up to welcome them. "Come in! Where's the boy?"
  "He, like any boy, likes to rattle with something more material than other's emotions and interests," Aia shrugged. "He will finish the playing and will come."
  The ground has disappeared below Benji's feet at that very moment as he saw a strange metal object hanging above a large round table like a heavy chandelier, - the one like an inverted Bibich's generator.
  65. 2331st year. The Mars again.
  They stepped into the fine red dust of reality at the same time - Matt and the pilot, right next to the orbiter nose buried in the sand. On the guard at the orbiter stood a soldier.
  "Look at that, it's our shuttle!" Matt rushed, releasing the pilot's hand. "Aia! Aia!"
  "Greeting," the pilot said densely to the confused soldier. "Report the situation."
  "I took up the position, need to receive a further instructions..." he whispered in bewilderment, taking his eyes from the metal golden bees crawling along the orbiter's shell and looking at the narrow nonhuman face that was bent down to him from nowhere. "Who are you?"
  "From times to times I look very much like me," the pilot grinned. "And what about you?"
  "And I... oh, hell..." whispered the soldier, passing out.
  The pilot caught him and gently laid lad's green head on the backpack sticking out from behind his back.
  The shuttle was empty and gloomy.
  "But there's no anybody here," Matt said with a frown. "Do you know where they are?"
  "Yes," somewhere high above, almost under the ceiling of the passenger gondola, the pilot nodded. "I know everything. Give me your hand."
  They found the little morph in a spacious underground bunker crowded with soldiers. He sat in the lotus position, in the very middle of the free space between the ventilation unit and the baro-compensator, and fooled around, showing to the grateful audience the wonders of animation.
  Matt with the pilot came out of the air right in front of him, in the middle of the bunker. Yet not fully entered into reality, the semi-transparent pilot aimed his finger at the morph, said: 'pif-paf!', and entered completely.
  "Ow!" the fair-haired boy threw his hands in the air as if he was shot and laughed, looking at how the people around him jumped up and grabbed the air in search of a weapon that no longer exists.
  "Did you see that?" the pilot turned to Matt. "This genius amuses himself right in the epicenter of the marthquake."
  "Marth... what?" the morph blinked, still smiling.
  "In the seismic source, clown. Where are the others?"
  The morph flinched, a smile slipped from his face, it fell and turned white.
  "Others?" the boy whispered.
  Yes, the pilot nodded pointedly, your others.
  "Herregud!*" now seriously gasped the morph.
  He shuddered once again, and from this barely noticeable movement the bunker flashed for a moment with a dazzling white light. Matt, still clinging tightly to the pilot's long hand, felt something flash in his head, but the pilot was so calm that Matt's little heart sank for one brief moment, and then began to beat again.
  And then through the white light gradually appeared the fragments of fallen ceiling.
  Herregud!* - Oh my god (Swedish)
  66. 2331st year. The Mars once again.
  "Herregud!" repeated the morph, looking around.
  "Here it is, this... yuck," the pilot kicked the thick hook of the massive metal "chandelier" sticking out of the concrete. "And the funny thing is, it still working."
  "Such a beautiful thing," the morph shook his head, "but it does such ugly things."
  He bent down, cautiously stepped over man's hand in a gray sleeve sticking out from below, groped for the wires coming from the generator and in such way, without straightening, went along them in search of a switch.
  "For the first time I feel so powerless," he shouted from somewhere behind a heap of wreckage and sneezed, lifting a cloud of dust into the air. "Only the closest, the easiest layer moves."
  The room could no longer be called a room.
  "What is shock and why does it happen?" Matt asked, barely audible, as he watched the ginger girlish curls stick out from somewhere unbearably and at the same time indifferently. "I want to be a girl in my next life, for a change."
  "Stop talking nonsense," the pilot said. "Right now our young inattentive friend will find the place where this muck disrupts the creation of the present, and everything will be right."
  "Hey! Pilot!" it sounded from below. "I need help!"
  "Everything will be fine," repeated the pilot, carefully tearing Matt's dead grip from his hand. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes."
  Left alone, Matt squeezed his eyes tight and stood still until somewhere in the depths of wreckage something thundered, moved, and clanked the switch.
  "Hey! Matt!" into his very ear densely whispered space. "Don't be a baby...."
  "But what if he's really a baby," the morph grunted, crawling out from under the concrete slab. "As well as I am."
  The scraggly hair on his head was topped with plaster. He looked around, assessing the scale of the devastation.
  "Go away, Matt."
  Still not opening his eyes, Matt took a big step to the left at random, for a moment hung in the air and with an angry morph's exclamation "what do you think you're doing?!" was carried outside.
  Opening his eyes, he found himself on the very edge of a large, the size of a city block, crack. Below, at its very bottom, two figures - the pilot and the small morph barely reaching for his knee - were deciding something, soundlessly waving their hands.
  Matt, moving away from the edge, stepped back, stumbled and nearly fell.
  "Be careful," Aia said behind his back. "It seems that you specifically want to be crippled."
  "Aia!" Matt turned around shocked. "I'm..."
  She was smiling.
  "I was scared. Down there."
  She tilted her head.
  "I know. I'm too..." and opened her arms to embrace him.
  67. 2331st year. Benji.
  He didn't feel annoyed. Opening his eyes, he found the pilot leaning over him.
  "Hello," said the pilot. "I'm a pilot."
  "But I still don't feel like a vessel," Benji cautiously joked. "What was it?"
  "A bad streak," the pilot chuckled. "Move your hand."
  Benji lifted his right hand, looked at it, wiggled his fingers and showed "ok".
  "Nice," the pilot nodded. "And now another."
  Benji waved off, now with his left hand, and sat down.
  Judging by the latest data saved in his memory, there shouldn't have been a sky above him, but there it was nevertheless: the high, blue one, with the distant prickly sun.
  "Look, pilot," he said. "And where are all these people? There were two dozen of them."
  "I made them out," the pilot shrugged. "Most of them at home. I didn't really track where they want to be."
  He has gazed at Benji, turned and silently walked away.
  "Whoa! Wait. Wait!" the android was confused.
  He jumped to his feet and, maneuvering between the pieces of plastic and the armature sticking out of concrete, hurried after the departing pilot:
  "Where are you going? What about me?! Did I want to stay here? No, no!"
  "You didn't want anything," the pilot said without turning around, as Benji caught up with him. "The trickiest part was getting you. Even this little Martian aborigine has managed to make some plans. But you... Your future was empty like a paradise."
  "I wasn't ready," the android took offense. "I also understand I'm not very ready to living this life. I do not know if it's really my fault."
  "Tell me whose fault is this," the lanky pilot took a moment. "I can't help it. You, Benji, have heard anything about making decisions, trying and training? Or are you just able to be towed by a human and that's all?"
  "She's not a human," the android took offense again, now for two: for himself and for Aia.
  "You're amazing!" laughed the pilot. "There is no any creature like you in the whole world! Instead of saying 'I'm a machine, I can and should consider the reasons, and not console myself with the fact that everyone always has done this such a way', you prefer to take offense at the fact that I call your girl a human."
  "She's a human," he said, laughing. "Whether you like it or not."
  Benji frowned and stopped.
  "I want to be with her," he said.
  "But I'm not supposed to fulfill all your desires," the pilot grinned without turning to him.
  Benji blinked and froze, carefully assessing the circumstances. It turned out that the creature didn't intend to help him anymore.
  He looked around in confusion in search of something that could serve as a starting point, and in the deep distance, at the very end of his optics resolution, he saw a large plastic dragon broken down from the roof of the spaceport. The details were poorly discernible, but it was evident that there were people bustling around it - like a small black dots.
  For another half-minute, Benji watched as the pilot like a huge harvester daddy longlegs weaves between the concrete slabs sticking out of the wreckage, and then went the other way, toward the people.
  When he got to the spaceport, it was already quite dark.
  Outside, the spaceport bristled with the whole row of turnstiles. The android had neither the ticket, nor the flying jetton, so he indifferently passed by the central entrance and went to the service one.
  The door of the service entrance, painted in brick-brown, was closed with an ordinary magnetic latch, and on the wall, above the door, under the grating cap, a small halogen lamp burned lonely.
  Benji looked around in search of the distribution panel and, grinning to himself about human carelessness, found it abandoned without any lock, under the gray metal lid that was flush with the gray wall.
  He lifted the lid, for a couple of seconds stood there with some frustration, determining the switches links, and then, still having failed to figure out the scheme, he'd took them all out, one by one, right with their incoming wires.
  The light above the door gone out.
  Benji pulled the door, stepped, and get in, in the darkness.
  Extending his hands forward, he groped for the service turnstile, without hesitation jumped over it and moved forward, through the invisible narrow corridor into the darkness.
  The sound of the fuss in the darkness arose so unexpectedly that if he were a human, he would have jumped.
  Benji jerked to one side, squeezed himself against the wall and listened: from somewhere directly behind him came a muffled sound and rustling. The android put his hands behind his back, groped, without turning, behind himself a door and for the first time in his life experienced a feeling of deja vu.
  A long time ago, in Limerick, he sang in the darkness. He turned, opened the door, rummaged through his memory, found some sentimental thing and started to whistle.
  Reflected from the surrounding walls, the sound revealed for him thick stacks of boxes reaching to the ceiling, racks filled with incomprehensible objects and a swaddled with an adhesive tape small hydrocephalus dwarf lying on the floor in a strange pose.
  The first thought that came to Benji's mind was about smuggling, the second one about the warehouse.
  He cursed and climbed inside.
  68. 2331st year. Aia.
  Matt, Aia and the little morph sat at the very end of the spaceport waiting room in a little cafeteria for three tables. The cafeteria was gloomy and cold.
  Matt was sitting on the high three-legged bar stool like on the throne, eating a chocolate-sprinkled ice cream with the large spoon and thinking about how all stories begin and end.
  "Nothing terrible will happen to him," said the little fair-haired boy, as if reading his thoughts. "At least because the machines do not know how to be afraid."
  "But I know how," Aia sighed.
  "You know a lot of things," the morph agreed. "But it only means what it means, and nothing more. Be good at it. With respect to your Benji, this doesn't change anything. Let him live on his own for at least one day. He can do it, I assure you."
  "But what about me?" Aia sighed again.
  "You also can do it."
  The boy slightly moved his fingers, and in his hand a large white plastic spoon materialized.
  He waited until Matt was not looking, made a serious face, took out the ice cream from Matt's bowl and sent it into his own mouth.
  "The universe is a machine," he told surprised Matt edifyingly. "And you should know that personal tragedy, ceasing to be personal, ceases to be a tragedy."
  He licked the spoon, dropped it in the air above the table, and it flew apart as a snowflakes and merged without a trace with the table top.
  Aia sighed again and covered her face with her hands.
  "I get bad dreams about snow for two days," she said.
  "I know," the boy nodded. "It's because you're cold."
  "I'm scared. I feel like a tired autumn caterpillar. You know, one that is not destined to become a butterfly, because it's so cold, but which still has hope to survive the coming winter as a chrysalis."
  "Serenity connects us with the infinity of the universe to the same extent as the movement," the morph smirked. "Yes, Matt?"
  "Yes," Matt agreed blithely, and immediately yelped out, because the stool under him shifted from leg to leg and moved its round back.
  The morph laughed aloud, and Aia looked at them through her fingers - first at one boy, then at other.
  "Benji goes to the shuttle," she said. "He has nowhere else to go."
  Her stool obligingly got down on two legs like a camel, she dismounted it like a young, graceful princess and headed for the exit.
  "You have a pretty charming sister," the morph whispered to Matt and laughed: already at the exit, in the revolving door of the cafeteria, Aia put her hands into the unbuttoned jacket, under her armpits, and somewhere in this depth she gave him a middle finger - invisible to all but him.
  69. 2331st year. Benji.
  "I've been thinking and I realized something," the android began as soon as Benji un-taped his mouth, and looked up with his intact right eye at the savior. "It turns out that the number of reasons you can be a loser is not limited.
  Benji silently grinned and began to un-tape the scotch from dwarf's little hands.
  The administrative building of the spaceport with its underground catacombs and with people running along them remained far behind, and now he didn't hurry any more.
  "Actually, that's not exactly how I pictured the situation with rights and freedom," the android started again and began to un-tape its glued together legs with its own hands. "What was it?"
  "I think it was an attempt to smuggle you," Benji said. "In case of arrest or military detention, you wouldn't be lying in the warehouse, but in some kind of remand center."
  The little android shook his head doubtfully and got onto its feet.
  The soldier on duty at the shuttle was gradually regaining consciousness.
  The first in his still cloudy mind appeared the stars that were shining in the night sky, distant and prickly. He lay in such a way for a long time, with his eyes open, and admired the way they drifted slowly and majestically high above his head. He was comfortable and good.
  And then the mist in his head began to dissipate, and through it came a large plastic head with a broken eye.
  "Are you all right?" the head asked.
  He wanted to say "yes", but his tongue stuck to the larynx and did not want to separate, so he serenely closed his eyes and opened them again. The plastic head moved off to one side, and instead of it arose another one - with two intact eyes and a smile over the terracotta face.
  "Alive!" this head said, and the soldier felt someone's strong hands grab his shoulders and pull, moving him away from the endless black sky and stars scattered in it.
  Benji has dragged the boy into the passenger gondola, put him in the nearest chair and nodded to his dwarf: come in.
  The air of the gondola was no different from the air outside.
  Benji tapped the buttons, started the automated system and, while the oxygen level from the Martian six had been rising to the standard fifteen percent, was looking for faults in the shuttle's test mode.
  He had finished testing just at the very moment when a completely recovered boy, still lying in the passenger seat, pulled off the unnecessary green oxygen mask from his face.
  "Life goes on?" Benji grinned at him. "No one has yet said 'finish'."
  In response, the young soldier silently lowered his legs in heavy boots to the floor and sat up. His face was pale, immature and feminine.
  "They lied to us," he said hoarsely. "They said that you would be like human."
  "Lied? I don't think they did," the plastic gnome laughed shortly and lifted in the air in front of its face its small hands with spread out fingers. "You wouldn't believe, today I look like a human more than ever."
  The boy took off his backpack from behind his back, stuffed his mask into it and dutifully placed his hands on his backpack.
  "So the machines," he stated.
  "Machines," Benji agreed.
  "Machines," the gnome agreed.
  "Aia," Aia said, stepping through the gateway locked from inside.
  The pilot picked Matt up at the exit of the cafeteria like Matt was nothing, put him up and, with the boy on his shoulder, bent down to get into the door. Matt gasped, swallowing his heart fluttering up in his throat.
  "Hold on tight!" the pilot whispered densely, inhaled near the door and exhaled at the other end of the spaceport, already inside the shuttle.
  "Oh, I'm sorry!" he said to the gnome that flashed right under his feet and, like an old acquaintance, winked at the soldier in the chair: "How are you, guy?"
  The gondola immediately filled with the light and fragrant smell of pine needles.
  Benji eyed the crowded passenger compartment with apprehension.
  "I'm not sure that I am such a hospitable host," he said in confusion, "but, nevertheless, welcome, or something that. My place is your place."
  He looked helplessly at Aia, and she winked: shoot.
  I'm afraid I have nothing to offer you, thought Benji, still looking at her, the guests are not mine.
  "A good host must be able to entertain the guests," he said aloud. "And I'm completely lost: the 'pi' number is known, Poincare's theorem is proved, and I do not know what other entertainments I could offer."
  He spread his hands apologetically:
  "I am a machine, I have too poor imagination..."
  "Hhaff!" extensively, through the whole gondola, the space has exhaled and spit out from nowhere a small fair-haired morph.
  The slender, disheveled boy had materialized somewhere in the half-meter above the floor between two chairs, and fell, hit his hands on these chairs and remained lying still on the floor - silently, motionless and frightening. A large dark red spot slowly blurred on the left side of his thin snow-white shirt.
  "What's that?" the pilot surprised genuinely.
  As if in the attempt to reverse the situation, Benji closed and opened again his eyes, looked at Aia and with surprise, almost with fear saw that she covered her mouth with her hands.
  The picture was so clear, so obvious, and so apparent that for a moment he even felt something like an acute piercing understanding and boundless regret about the ability to understand anything.
  The call from the outside seemed to him a shot. The outer camera blinked and went out.
  "Open the hatch, Benji," the pilot said calmly. "They have the gas cutter and this wonderful thing which prevents all the movements of reality. Don't mar the shuttle."
  People were festive and laughing. Widely smiling, in green-orange caps, they scattered out of the offroader like bunch of bright poisonous frogs, tapped on the shoulder the soldier who had jumped up to meet them, and the one who was ahead directed the machine gun to the pilot:
  "You! Come out first!"
  "Hello," said the pilot in Interlingua. "I'm a pilot."
  "Come out!" repeated the man and with impatience shook the gun. "Pilot..."
  The pilot gently eased Matt to the floor and went to the exit.
  "All right, now it's your turn!" a man nodded to Aia.
  She looked around in bewilderment, and Benji flinched - whether to replace, or to protect - and got hit in his face with the heavy metal stock.
  The offroader turned out to be an impressive machine of class "A". The whole of its ceiling and the entire front panel was occupied by something resembling the inverted Bibich's generator.
  They were fastened to the armchairs with handcuffs by their abductors. The offroader drove away for a long time as any usual vehicle - openly, without any concealment, over an endless terracotta steppe, overgrown with stunted cacti.
  Benji sat next to the small, gnome-like android, and they both looked miserable and poor: broken optics dangling on torn wires made them look like a dumped garbage that miraculously has come to life again.
  The place where they were brought to was no different from the rest of the steppe. When the offroader roared and stopped for the last time, Benji even thought that nothing had changed in the landscape around the plain, but then, looking closer, he noticed a wide concrete ramp leading underground.
  "They're lying," said Aia, looking at the burning sign with the inscription 'Exit'. "There is no any exit in this gloomy universe and never was."
  And then the door clanged and went to the side.
  70. 2331st year. Matt.
  "Uh, my dear boy," sighed the man. "What does it have to do with you?"
  He was looked so much like the President of the UN dreamed by Matt, that it did parch Matt's throat a bit, so Matt closed tightly his eyes and swallowed convulsively, checking to see if there was something sticking out from the larynx, as if in a dream.
  "I don't understand what you're talking about," he said hoarsely.
  "You don't understand," the man laughed, and the telepath hairnet on his head came alive and moved, just like an incredibly thin orange spider stretched out his clenched legs. But it was a fake laughter. "Your sister is almost a god, but the quake was a very bad idea."
  The man sighed once again, took out a small orange tangle from the top drawer of his desk, carefully laid it on the table and leaned close to the very face of the boy.
  "Wanna to feel almighty, too?" he whispered conspiratorially.
  "But I really don't understand what you're talking about," Matt was really scared now. "I did nothing wrong. And Aia also did nothing wrong."
  "So it's nothing," the man said, and gently stroked the orange tangle with his index finger. The tangle moved, straightened its legs, belligerently put up two front of them and, swaying, sat down on the others.
  The fact that it will jump, Matt realized at a moment when it was already late. He desperately jerked to escape - from this chair, on which he was sitting, from this room, but the room and chair just had spun around and stayed, and the orange thing slid off the table in his direction, clawed his tendrils in Matt's hair and painfully pierced him to the back of his head.
  "Ay!!" screamed Matt.
  And understanding has come.
  Matt froze on all fours on a cold concrete floor.
  "It's impossible," he said dully, looking at the legs of the chair with his dilated pupils.
  As you can see, it happens, thought the man sitting at the table.
  Matt could only see his shoes and the bottom of well-ironed gray trousers. He turned around and sat down on the floor. The mess of other's thoughts in his head had flashed and revealed itself in a complex chain of stable associations that has fallen into Matt so frankly and naturally as drops of rain fall into the sand.
  "I do not want to see all this," Matt said.
  He put his hands up, touched the 'spider' sitting on his head and took his fingers disgustedly off of it.
  You're lying, the man smirked, you were deprived of it from your very birth, it's always better to know than not to know...
  71. 2331st year. Benji.
  Benji sat by the wall as a tired, broken toy. The man waved his hand in front of his face, to get his attention, and Benji looked at him with his intact eye.
  "What do you want? Nobody's home."
  "You're in a merry mood today!" laughed the man. "Didn't your mother ever taught you to the right way to act around people?"
  He went to the door, locked it and went back to the desk.
  "My mom used to talk me I'm a freak," the android said seriously, looking at him. "Because I get around and do what I want."
  "You've been spoiled as hell there, on the Earth," the man shook his head. "You've got people's rights, but your opportunities are much more exclusive."
  He's leaned over the desk and slowly checked Benji out from head to foot:
  "Now I'll accidentally poke your second eye with something, and you won't feel like joking."
  "And I won't say anything without my lawyer present," Benji shrugged. "What do you get out of the useless heap of metal and plastic?"
  "Nothing," agreed the man, clasped his hands, resting his chin on them, and for about half a minute thought about something.
  "Name, surname, citizenship?" he finally began.
  "Benji Shabra, citizen of France, Earth."
  "Why did you land without any permission of the traffic controller?"
  "The spaceport hadn't been answering," the android said honestly.
  "What was your task?"
  "I brought passengers."
  "What do you know about their aims?"
  "Are you there normal?" the man looked at him in surprise. "Do you understand what's going on? You violated the airspace of a sovereign state and don't even know why?!"
  Yes, Benji spread his hands, no.
  The man gave a grimace of annoying.
  "Do you understand that your passengers are a little disoriented in the local criminal legal field?"
  Benji looked at him with mistrust.
  "I'm afraid of looking romantic to you," he said sullenly, "but, in my opinion, my passengers are generally beyond any criminal legal field. Or are you going to establish laws for the wind or the influenza virus?"
  Both of them were silent for a while.
  "What will you do with my shuttle?" Benji asked.
  "They'll break it down to its component parts," the man said and, seeing how the android was stiffening, grinned:
  "Take it easy, you are not electrified. Confiscation, storage during the trial and further sale."
  "What did you expect?" the man grinned, getting up. "If you broke the law, but didn't know - you should justify yourself; if you cannot justify - you should pay."
  72. 2331st year. Aia.
  "People like to wallow in self-pity," Aia said. "It's strange. Why does it seems to them easier than to change anything in their lives?"
  "How much can you change now?" without turning around, asked the man who stood at the barred window.
  The room was small and gloomy, with a generator set in the middle of it, with a low tattered ceiling, brown walls and a massive dark desk near the wall. In the dim light of the lamp hanging over the table, the face of second man with thin orange thing in his hair seemed to Aia not quite human.
  Not too much, she agreed in silence, but one day it will end.
  "So why have you come here?" asked the one who sat at the desk. "What is it? Curiosity? Pity? Self-interest?"
  "It's love."
  "Oh, come on, cut it out," snapped the man who stood at the window. "What kind of love?! Whose and toward to whom?!"
  He turned around, and his gaze was so heavy that Aia looked down.
  "Who exactly do you love? Me? Or maybe him?" he nodded at his partner. "Or the one who killed the boy? Or maybe you love the one who is now talking with your brother?"
  "Don't touch my brother," Aia said quietly. "No good's ever come of hatred."
  "So why did you come here?"
  "It's all permissiveness," Aia said. "And impunity."
  "At last, seniora! Understanding is an awesome thing, isn't it?"
  The man who was sitting at the desk got up and began pacing the room.
  Sure it is, looking at him, Aia silently agreed, and misunderstanding is also an awesome thing, at least, while you are defenseless.
  "It's nonsense," continued the man in the meantime, striding. "Why would you fly somewhere millions of miles away only to discover barbarians there who don't understand not only rules of your game, but also anything at all. What for?!"
  "Perhaps, to that that at least someone understood at least something," Aia said.
  "Understood?!" the man was indignant. "It didn't even occur to you that waving your opportunities around among us is like waving a brick over our heads! Damned missionaries, you should to gain your epiphany not here, not in our Borneo jungles, but with each other! Damn you all..."
  It's not a mission, Aia thought, it's vandalism, a real vandalism. And at that very moment the lamp hanging over the desk went out.
  73. 2331st year. The pilot.
  This chamber was the largest in the bunker and full of bustling people. The pilot was fastened to the wall like Gulliver caught by Lilliputians, and his world was melting, slowly swinging and flowing.
  "Mmmmmm..." he mooed, willing neither to listen nor to speak.
  It should have been a song that led to the unknown, but it still stubbornly swayed him in the present. He shivered, out of sync of the waves overpowering him, and the generator which prevented him from breathing, also shivered in the same way.
  The images that were appearing in his brain were ragged and incomprehensible: the violet, bottomless sky and people, people, people...
  "Damn it!" they were saying. "How hot he is!"
  "MyGod, myGod!" they were saying. "What is it?.."
  "Mmmm..." he was mooing back, and the sky inside him was growing darker and darker.
  And then his delirium became densely black, and in it bursted the stars.
  First of all, the pilot was a pilot - not only a poet and mathematician, but also a part of his ship. The abyss in which he emerged was wonderful - beautiful and immense, but it was still impossible to breathe in it. He shrank in order not to boil, looked around for the sparkling thread of the starship, and it swelled, flooded and swallowed him inward.
  Songs had always been born in love. And those songs that move space, too.
  So many times his hymns carried him through the boundless fields of the universe, and he was ever neither sad nor lonely, because those who loved him were always near.
  Until this very moment.
  That something went wrong, he realized by the fact that the present inside him had acquired an unusual bitterness.
  "Mmmm!" he mooed again, feeling strange, and looked back.
  The unwanted dead and unnamed tenth descendant of Hhoffall's swarm was still lying on the floor of the shuttle with his arms spread out. The shirt on his chest was dried up and wrinkled.
  The pilot had reached out to him, carefully brought him to the ship and for a long time was rocking him in his huge hands, bringing him back to life.
  "What was it?" asked the little morph then, still not opening his eyes.
  "The first death," the pilot said simply. "It seems to me I'd been waking you up for ages."
  "I'm tired," said the morph.
  "You've come a long way," the pilot agreed. "Tell me how you died."
  The boy was silent for a long time, as if he didn't want to remember anything, and the pilot patiently waited, still hugging him.
  "They were waiting for me at the exit," the morph finally whispered. "And they had a lot of these nasty things, some of which took away opportunities, and others - the future."
  He opened his eyes and lay still for a while, looking at the cedar branches hanging over pilot's head, then he swallowed and spoke again:
  "I didn't see them. I didn't see anything at all. I stepped toward you, but the space turned out to be stubborn and entered into my heart with a terrible metal thing."
  "Were you afraid?"
  "No," the boy shook his head. "At first I didn't have time for this, and then it wasn't matter anymore."
  "Wasn't matter?" the pilot repeated dumbly.
  "Haven't you ever died?" in turn, the morph was surprised, too. "When you're dying, all of this turn to be no matter. For a while I had even been listening to the darkness approaching because I wanted to know how it happens when you don't exist anymore."
  "And how it happens when you don't exist anymore?"
  "The darkness is false," the boy, in a futile attempt to find the right words, threw up his hands in confusion. "When you are get out, the darkness turns into light."
  74. 2331st year. Aia.
  "That's a good one," said the man who stood by the window, said so calmly that Aia even felt a tingle of respect for him. "And, interestingly, there is not even an alert for the accident."
  The darkness was so sweet, so wonderful, that it even ached in her chest.
  "He shorted everything he reached for," she grinned. "And autonomous power circuits, too."
  It was now clear that the generators, de-energized by the Pilot, hang over across the whole bunker like large dead black clusters. Without hesitation, Aia moved them in the darkness, and they trembled and with a low metallic clang scattered and rolled over the concrete floors.
  "That's better," she said, getting up. "And probably for everyone."
  Matt was sitting on the floor, his head in his hands.
  "Matt, Matt!" she whispered. "Come with me..."
  "Aia..." Matt gasped. "Where are you?"
  "I'm here, my little one." she smiled and stepped out into the darkness. "You see?"
  The corridor in which they emerged was still dark and empty.
  "I knew!" the boy sobbed and grabbed her hand. "I knew that you would still come..."
  "And I knew," said the voice serenely. "Hello, Aia. Information is already almost a form, doesn't it?"
  "I think so, but your foresight is too prudent," she could not resist.
  "Yeah, yeah," the voice laughed. "Definitely. And we should leave only yours ones - for simplicity and security, don't we?"
  The darkness around was dense, almost palpable, but it was clear from the voice that the person was calm and stood, just within her arm's reach.
  "I want to tell you some story," the voice began again, "I saw a rat today. Just a rat. A small, wild, gray one. Such a long-legged rat adolescent. And you know what I thought? I thought that this rat-born baby is, in fact, exactly the same aboriginal here as mysel is. And its rights to the living space are the same as mine. If it can have them. But it cannot."
  He paused.
  Aia carefully unclasped Matt's hands from her hand and first put and then lit the candle in them.
  "Hold it, please, sweetie," she said. "Let all this turn into light, I think such a way it will be more pleasant."
  Matt obediently took the candle and raised it higher. In its light, the face of man standing next to him seemed to Aia tired, haggard and even almost familiar.
  "A quake wasn't a bad idea," she said. "At least because it wasn't an idea at all. The idea was different - to understand."
  "We, human beings, have our kinship with one another," a man winked conspiratorially. "And nonhuman beings, actually, as well. The whole question is who is needed and who isn't needed anyone: for one we always have 'I'm here, my little one,' and for another one - only a tin can with poison and the inscription 'does not contain, does not irritate, does not require'..."
  He tilted his head and watched for a long time as a candle melts and flickers in Matt's hands.
  "But what if, to a large extent, it itself doesn't irritate and doesn't require?"
  Aia grinned.
  "You see it yourself, and you feel it," she said. "It seems to me that to a large extent very few people use a large extent while counting other people's points. Mainly they use a small one, their own."
  "Oh!" Matt flinched. He grabbed the candle with one of his hands and shoved the other one into the pocket that had suddenly begun to stir and took out a scrawny, frightened little rat from there. "What is it?!"
  "Is it the same?" laughed the man. "Not bad. And still it is somehow too disenfranchised."
  The rat squeaked, slipped between Matt's fingers, galloped by them and disappeared into the darkness.
  "You want too much from us," Aia said. "The world was created not by the Makers, that's why nobody took our opinion into account when distributing rights and obligations. Actually, we are exactly the same aborigines as you are."
  She smiled.
  "Or as this poor little thing. To a large extent, of course."
  "It's hardly so," the man said. "I think not only one aboriginal doesn't look like another one, but at times you yourself don't look like you."
  He shrugged his shoulders, and in the dim light of candle the shadow behind him has moved as two huge wings.
  "There will be panic here soon," he said. "And I wouldn't like that this panic is the only thing that will remind you of us. Well, enough of that. Come on."
  They caught up to Benji and his little companion at the very exit of the long passage. Benji, swearing in all the languages he knew, had been picking up the code of the gate, and the little android, watching Benji's back, paced behind him with a huge automatic gun. From afar, a couple of meters before the corner, Aia mockingly dismantled the gun to its component parts and was having a good time, watching the little robot go crazy with the now useless gun's parts dropping on the floor. And then she opened the gates.
  "Well, why are you teaching the baby to solve problems by armed means?" she asked.
  "It was his idea," the android said, foolishly smiling to the open gate, and turned. "He was doing it himself."
  He awkwardly spread his arms, embracing Aia and Matt who were invisible in the dark.
  "This awful Kali-Yuga is the reason of all this," Aia said, embracing him in response. "How did I choose a time for life?.."
  In the deep of the corridor behind him, it was still dark. She waved her hand, lighting the turned off lamps under the ceiling of the corridor and finally let him go, stepped back.
  "I see, freedom still inspires you..."
  "Yeah, it does," looking at her with a single intact eye, Benji agreed happily. "Although I'm getting used to it, I guess. Where to run when there is nowhere to run?"
  "To run? To run... Okay, hold on a second," - she ran a hand over his face, so that under her palm the android blinked with two intact eyes. "The question is not just where. The question is also how."
  "Lady, lady!" the small robot tugged on her sleeve. "And I, too, wonder how: in my opinion, I don't really know how to run."
  One of his broken eyes was still hanging out for dear life, and his chest was squashed inward, like a tin can.
  Aia stroked his head like he was a kitten, and kissed the top of his head, taking dents out of his head:
  "No one will run anywhere, sweetie. Come on."
  "Oh!" the gnome rustled sadly, barely able to pace down the corridor behind the rest of the company. "Yeah, one such procedure would be ten strokes ahead of the whole kilogram of coding! Is this means to be a human being?!"
  "Hardly it so," laughed Aia. "I mean this is unlikely to be the case."
  The corridor was narrow and long, with many incomprehensible exits, empty passages and stairs. The guide was leading them, as Pied Piper once was leading his rats, and then the children - either away from the promised land, or, on the contrary, escorting toward the truly promised land.
  They passed by the ventilators and thin green arrows that flashed along the sides, and when, at the end of the next half-dark passage, something large and densely populated suddenly loomed with dim light, Matt and the little robot without a word rushed forward together.
  At the very end of the tunnel, under the wide glazed ridge, far far below and to the very horizon, the vast unpowered Martian City spread as a black debris.
  75. 2331st year. Benji.
  "The third box on the left," the Martian nodded and said to himself somewhere in the collar: "We have guests, Suzy."
  The fireflies created by Aia, which were illuminating their way, crowded at the door, froze for a second and one by one leaked inward.
  In the corridor, on a thin iron-shod stand, there was the tall, branchy ficus carica. Its stem was thinner, and the leaves were larger than it should be, but, nevertheless, there was the breath of the Earth from it, and Benji, who had never really had homesickness, suddenly felt an acute fit of nostalgia.
  The door was opened by a tall beautiful woman who, without saying a word, stepped aside, letting the guests pass.
  "Suzy is mute," said Matt.
  "Suzy is from the Earth," the man said.
  "I don't know whether I like it or not," Aia said.
  The living room was small, even cramped, and in it there was a smell of hot cinnamon rolls. In the middle of the room there was the large white furry sofa in which, as if in the paws of a polar bear, a little girl was sleeping. Aia's fireflies had sprung to the sides, fluttered and rose to the ceiling.
  Hi, the one named Suzy spread her hands, we are already asleep.
  "Actually, Suzy and I... we don't really like to have visitors," the Martian said with a grin. "And not because we pay for ventilation of air. In fact, guests are rarely worth the effort."
  He picked up a sleeping girl and on the way to the nursery turned around:
  "Make yourselves at home."
  Matt hurried to make himself at home on the unoccupied sofa, burrowed into it with his head and almost immediately fell asleep. Aia beckoned with her index finger the 'spider' sitting in his hair, it obediently flinched, pulled up its legs, slid off the boy's head and froze on a white bedsheet as a little orange brittlestar. Aia picked it up and put it in her pocket.
  "What did you take?" Benji asked. "Problems or opportunities?"
  "Nightmares," Aia said. "Let him sleep."
  "Darkness makes not only nightmares invisible," said the Martian. "But the boy was really tired."
  He sat on the floor, leaned his back on the sofa Matt had slept on, set up a dish of rolls and hot coffee between himself and Aia, and shrugged his shoulders toward Benji and his little clone: sorry, I've got nothing for you.
  "What a mess your Pilot has done here," he said aloud.
  "He just got scared." Aia took a roll, a cup and blew on coffee, turning it into a cold apple juice. "And, in fact, it's good that everything is so and not otherwise, because otherwise we wouldn't have this wonderful evening."
  "Come on," Benji waved his hand. "It would be different, but equally wonderful: with generators of stability, automat guns and damaged optics. I didn't have such incidents for a long time."
  "You know, my happiness," he said after a pause, "I will soon have a guilt complex about humanity."
  "Why?" Aia choked up.
  "What do you mean 'why'? That's the second time the Makers have offended it, depriving the amenities linked with power supply, and I'm kind of guilty of this."
  "Come on," the small android waved his hand, just as Benji waved recently. "You are only an intermediate link."
  "Intermediate," Benji agreed. "But it's still a link."
  From the next room went out Suzy, dressed in airy yellow gown, fragile and graceful in the dim light of the fireflies drifting beneath the ceiling. The orange telepathic 'spider' on her head looked like a light veil tightening her hair.
  The fireflies broke out as a Christmas garland, changed their light from white to yellow and dropped below.
  "I still don't understand, does it work with machines too?" asked a small android, looking at how Suzy bypasses their company and sits on the sofa, at the feet of Matt.
  Yes, Suzy nodded, it does work, and spread her arms.
  "If you're the donor. If you're recipient - no yet. You will be heard, but you cannot hear," the martian explained and sighed:
  "The universe is asleep, putting its huge ear on the paw with ticks of stars *..."
  "And how is your wonderful family deployed toward this huge ear?" asked the gnome.
  He looked at the Martian, then at his wife and suddenly gasped:
  "Oh!.. I didn't mean to offend anyone. Just being involved in the local security service, I was involved in the process of collecting and processing information."
  He blinked.
  "I could have known you."
  The man looked in confusion at the woman sitting on the sofa, and for a few seconds they stared at each other like red-handed conspirators.
  "Suzy and I, we think that the huge ears of the system are not chambers for interrogations," he finally said. "We think that the real ears of the system are our own souls."
  "Wow! You are not only diplomats!" the gnome laughed, narrowing his eyes. "You are incurable romantics! In any accounting document, in any contract, in any business - everywhere, where anyone's fate is decided - the soul has never mentioned!"
  He jumped up on his feet, for a split second his face became serious and even ominous, and his plastic head, rocking, was just above the human face.
  "Do you know where it mentioned?" he whispered, or rather he hissed, looking down on the man with the thinly-veiled disdain. "The soul was always remembered where it was necessary to deceive and swindle without giving anything in return. Poor, poor people..."
  He covered his face with his hands, as if about to burst into tears, but after a couple of moments he'd looked up from his plastic fingers and laughed again.
  "In my opinion, there is something wrong with his psyche," Benji whispered to Aia. "I don't know whether it's worth intervening..."
  "Oh, I'd been never having any psyche," the gnome said, wearily laughing. "And, actually, you, too."
  Aia frowned. The fireflies under the ceiling acquired a gentle blue hue, and the juice that she held in her hand turned to be covered with a thin ice crust.
  "It's strange that you resent us," she said.
  "Resent?! You?!" the gnome was genuinely surprised.
  He looked at Aia, then at the woman sitting on the sofa and spread his hands, copying her recent gesture.
  "You are the same aborigines as I am. According to all the laws of the genre, this should evoke sympathy, not resentment."
  "You know," Aia said, when there in the room were only they and Matt dreaming his tenth dream. "Today I'd got one strange feeling. I don't even have enough words to describe it."
  She sighed and tightened her grip on the thin silvery hand of the android that was embracing her. The silence was so acute that both of them could hear Aia's heart beating.
  "This feeling..." she hesitated. "This feeling is feeling of infinite importance of what is happening, mixed with despair. Regardless of anything - neither our homelessness nor total futility - what is being realized now is right and consistent."
  "The creative mix," Benji chuckled. "I'm even glad that I'm not bothered by futility and despair."
  He stirred, turning his face to the ceiling: Aia's lights hanging under the ceiling shimmered in the darkness like small prickly stars.
  "And that's right," Aia sniffed with her nose. "Today I even feel bad that I'm not a machine. I'm a coward, little crybaby and alarmist."
  "The medicine is the same as poison except only for dose, my little girl," Benji said. "I know why in this life God made you a woman: being a woman, you won't be able to capture the world. Sleep."
  And stroked her tangled hair.
  And on the way back his hand, which had gone up, there, at the top, clicked and for a moment refused to obey. The puzzled android wiggled his fingers, trying to examine the reaction time, and suddenly realized that in some circuits there were slight problems with the initial excitation.
  He'd checked the control sensors in order to find out if there was any battery charge, found its lower limit, a couple of seconds doubted whether it was worth to voice the problem to Aia, after which, without deciding anything, he'd found out that she was sleeping.
  Cursing without making a sound, the android carefully took his hand out from under Aia's head, get up to his feet, and in the faint light of fading fireflies had walked along the wall in search of any electric socket.
  But there were no sockets in the room. Already in complete darkness, after walking around the room on the perimeter and returning to the place from which his search began, Benji again silently cursed and went into the corridor in search of some utility room.
  The sockets were found in a small back room behind a ficus - a lots of them, the whole series of electrical connectors, similar to a abandoned hornet's nest. Already fading out, Benji had scrabbled around it with hardly obedient, weakening hands, groped for contacts, and... realized there was no electricity in the city, and, therefore, in the place that he had discovered, too.
  Having cursed himself for one more time, he'd initiated the hibernation, slowly sat down near the useless current source...
  And has passed out.
  At about the same time, behind the thin wall separating him from Aia and Matt, from Aia's pocket crawled out something rustling with long thin orange legs. It froze, exploring the surrounding space, and found out equally spaced around itself not one, but two electrically active human brains, and the electrical activity of one by several orders exceeded the activity of the other.
  Without any hesitation, it chose the one whose gamma-rhythm, keeping the normal frequency of a hundred hertz, has amplitude more than a few volts, scrambled onto the human head with long wavy hair and has gently entered into the skin in the area of the large occipital orifice.
  ...The universe is asleep, putting its huge ear on the paw with ticks of stars*... - (с) "The cloud in pants*..." (V.V. Mayakovsky)
  76. 2331st year. Aia.
  Her dream began with the fact that Aia again saw herself as a scared little ten-year-old girl who had just survived the death and funeral of her father.
  "Make a decision to be happy and be happy," said the space, after which some echoing and boundless feeling had stirred either inside or outside of her and painfully stung into the back of her head.
  The pain flared up and ceased out, surging through her body as a warm pleasant wave. The fears, which tormented her, dashed along with that pain and disappeared with it.
  "Dad..." the girl smiled, unbelieving. "I thought you're dead..."
  "Why do you grow pain in yourself?" a hot shiver that has passed through her was surprised. "Come off it!"
  "Come off it!" her own boundless heart thundered.
  "Okay," the girl agreed. "I won't do it."
  She closed her eyes, opened them once more and found herself face to face with her laughing father. He was squatting in front of her: alive, strong and untroubled.
  "Are you а little coward?" he not asked, but stated, embracing and drawing her to himself.
  No, somewhere there, at his shoulder, the girl shook her head, I'm just sick - with all these acquisitions, these losses.. oh, where had you been all this time?..
  "It was the first death," the father said with a voice of Pilot, moving away from her so that he could see her face. "And, most likely, the last life."
  Little Aia looked at him, and she was still feeling so good that words bounced off her like ringing empty bells: life, death, the first, the last ... Life just was, and that was just enough.
  "Do you remember how it all began?" her father smiled.
  Yes, she nodded, I remember, and she'd remembered how once upon a long time ago, eon ago, he was already hugging her in the same way, and asked the same thing, and the cold brutal reality in the same way, having retreated by half a meter, waited until her joy is end.
  Déjà vu was so complete and so deep that Aia's heart froze for a moment and began to flutter like a heart of caught bird.
  The face of her father had stretched out, lost human features and turned out to be the Pilot's face.
  "You're reacting too nervously to memories," the Pilot said dencely. "Is there anything terrible there?"
  "It's not memories, it's a coincidence," Aia replied, looking into the big Pilot's eyes and seeing there, instead of her reflection, the reflection of the puzzled face of the android. "Or maybe it's just an incidence."
  "In coincidence there is nothing to worry about. Coincidence is a harmony." The Pilot blinked, and Benji who was reflected in his eyes has fumbled with his hands near the wall that was dotted with de-energized sockets, passed out and smoothly slipped down somewhere, and been replaced by the stars which emerged from the darkness like small silvery dots.
  "Am I asleep?" Aia asked these stars.
  "You're asleep," the stars agreed.
  "You're asleep," agreed the Pilot. His hands closed behind the girl, and he lifted her like a baby. "Don't move out of awareness. The fact that you are asleep, does not change anything at all."
  His hands were big, warm, and in a new déjà vu she entered already as a three-year-old baby, who first came to a kindergarten in the hands of confused father.
  "Here we are," said the one who held her in his hands. "Be a good girl and do not cry."
  And, as if on purpose, despite everything, Aia's eyes filled with tears.
  "I'm so tired of you getting crying all the time," the pilot was indignant. "Didn't you get tired yourself?"
  "Did," Aia sobbed. "But you scare me all the time. I don't want to experience this again and again."
  "I would never have thought that your own childhood is so oppressive to you," the Pilot sighed sadly. "And what do you want?"
  "A fairy tale," said Aia with numb lips, and her voice came out exactly like Benji's.
  "Well, then," the Pilot chuckled, dissolving in the dense air. "Here's a fairy tale."
  And behind his going-away back came into being the entrance hatch to Alpha.
  She entered the third déjà vu as a pair: in the form of the android of class DII delivering to Alpha next Maker and - as before - in the form of herself. Again, as at that time, they were sitting on the grass near the hatch, like two angels guarding the hermetically sealed entrance to heaven, only now it turned to be... she and she.
  Benji just tore himself away from Aia and still was holding her by the shoulders face to himself.
  "Sometimes it seems to me that I'm you," he said, puzzled. "And, perhaps, this is the kind of close physical contact that's behind it."
  Yes, Aia agreed, the contact provokes the affinity.
  "Sometimes I'm you," she nodded. "In spite of the fact that it seems impossible to you."
  "No, no," grinned the android sadly. "The thing is, you can afford it."
  He sighed.
  "But not me."
  "For god sake, Benji," Aia said, leaning her head to his shoulder. "I just didn't quite understand: do you have the need to be me?"
  No, the android silently shook his head, there is no such a need.
  "And moreover, I believe that confusion with self-identification is a violation of the aim forming," he said aloud. "And not because my output system cannot prove this aim to me as a theorem, and also not because that tracing rules known to me does not allow me to get a chain of actions that I would need to realize such an aim."
  He sighed again.
  "It's not even a matter of unwillingness or inability to become you. The fact is that the merger, which turns into..."
  He hesitated.
  "Yes, the merger shouldn't turn into a substitution," agreed Aia.
  "Substitution? You flatter me: substitution is what you do, what I do is imitation. But it shouldn't turn. Understanding and acceptance is one thing, and the schizophrenic delusion 'I am you' is another. It assumes that the one who imitates is gonna run out."
  He grinned.
  "But from the fact that you run out, in this world nothing will change for the better."
  Aia's pineal gland, fused with the sharp tail of an orange 'spider' sitting in her hair, had opened the 'gates of dreams' as widely as possible: dreams, permeated with a sense of endless deja vu, floated and floated in Aia, replacing each other with a quick kaleidoscope - and the old ones, dreamed a long time ago, and the new ones, but so similar to the old, that Aia wasn't able to catch the difference between them.
  She, accustomed to be a master of her body, now drifted helplessly in the rolling images, like a sleepy squirrel in a squirrel wheel colored with her own images, and there was no one to save her.
  If someone had happened to ask her something like: "Come on, honey. How can one, having the power sufficient for global metamorphosis, not be able to cope with the tiny metamorphosis of one's own consciousness?", she would not even has waved her hands in confusion: her hands, spreading across the hot bed, did not belong to her any more.
  As, strictly speaking, and life, which was no longer worth for living.
  When the difference between the head on which it was sitting and the environment was no more, the orange 'spider' took out its thin stinger, froze, measuring the area, and found nearby the sleeping boy.
  In an instant it had tightly tucked its legs, rolled down from Aia's head, ran along a lifeless fluffy surface, and busily climbed up onto Matt's head.
  77. 2331st year. Matt.
  Matt woke up because he wanted to go to the bathroom.
  A few seconds after awakening, he, still in the grip of the strange dream that had just released him, could not remember where he was or what was wrong with him. He sat up, lowered his legs to the floor... and only then had clearly visualized the present. His shock was so great that he turned white, gasped, and, not believing himself, never dared to look back.
  The room was still dark and quiet, but in tandem with delicate orange thing again tightly settled in his hair, Matt didn't need any light: such a way, with no light, it was horribly clear to him that behind him Aia turned to the ceiling her doll waxen face, that she is calmly staring into the void with her glass green eyes, that Benji is lying like a black lifeless heap in the back room behind the ficus, that their host family are still asleep, and that in the depths of their small bathroom on the tip of the tap there is a small transparent moist water drop accumulated there in the morning.
  This understanding was so unbearable that Matt couldn't stand it and screamed. His scream was spooky, hard, turning to be a squeal.
  The thing sitting in his hair shuddered from this squeal, shrivel, fell between his bare feet to the floor, and Matt driven by a sharp incomprehensible feeling, in a fit of disgust has crushed it, restoring a blissful ignorance.
  For a couple of seconds he sat motionless, then slowly turned around and went to fumble with his hands behind him, touching the returned darkness.
  His hands stumbled upon Aia at the same time as the frightened children's cry has came from the next room.
  "What's going on?" the darkness behind his back asked him with Martian's voice.
  "Aia..." the boy whispered, doomed. "And Benji..."
  There was no electricity so far. Matt sat in the dusk with a cup of milk in his trembling hands, and his teeth clattered at the rim of the cup.
  "Jeez, I don't even know how it powered," the Martian complained, lowering the dead android to the floor by the sofa, next to the battery removed from the flyer.
  Matt and the gnome exchanged glances, and the gnome shrugged his shoulders: I have no idea.
  "H-hands," stammered Matt.
  "So, hands."
  Benji's head hung lifelessly against his chest.
  The Martian took the thin silver hand, turned it up and down in search of the exposed plugs, sighed and put the android's fingers to the thin battery terminals.
  "I think that should do it."
  The lifeless, cold fingers did not want to keep any pressure, and he had to press the robot's slender palm for a long time, - until it started to stir.
  "Like a bun for elephant," Benji joked in a weak voice with his eyes still closed and has pressed the terminals with his fingers.
  "What did you expect from my modest home?" the man breathed a sigh of relief. "Shift turned over," he winked at Matt, letting go of the android's hand which had come to life, and Matt hurriedly put the unfinished cup of milk on the armrest, slipped off the sofa and cuddled up to Benji like a scared little nestling: he knew people were dying and things were breaking, but Aia was Aia, and Benji was Benji during bad times as well.
  By the time Benji had the strength to raise his arm and hug the boy, Matt had almost completely calmed down, only the tremor did not pass - it subsided, and then began again.
  "Is there something wrong?" asked the android, still not opening his eyes.
  Yes, yes! - Matt nodded silently: Aia was still motionless lying on the sofa face up, and Suzy carefully covered her with a blanket, - as if in the place where she was, she could still be warmed.
  Benji opened his eyes.
  "What the...?" he began, looking suspiciously, but the gnome obligingly put in his free hand the orange transmitter crushed by Matt, and the android froze in mid-sentence.
  "This thing did kill Aia," Matt whispered into his ear. "At night."
  "Did kill?"
  Yes... Matt nodded and grimaced, ready to burst into tears.
  Benji looked in confusion at place where Aia was lying, then at the broken orange "spider", then at the Martian.
  "Here we are," he said. "It took only one missed recharging..."
  The shuttle was in a completely different place - behind a long hangar among the old abandoned ships, and was semi-looted.
  Of the six G-suits intended for passengers, only one remained alive: the one that Benji had once foresightedly locked in the safe, and the field rations were gone, every last one of them.
  "Which is to be expected," said the android, letting Matt pass from the completely empty cargo hold forward, into the half-empty gondola. "By God, I'm already beginning to hate this hearse."
  He brushed off the red dust from the dashboard: a dense bunch of clamps hung thickly upon the multicolored low-voltage braids under the exposed plastic. Benji'd counted the ragged wires, worked on them for about five minutes, cutting and combining something visible only to him alone, then closed the hatch and turned to the Martian:
  "If everything goes as planned, Matt needs food."
  "I can stand it," Matt said, throwing up the green 'quiff' of his chlorophyll mask.
  "I know," Benji said seriously. "But you're not a cactus to live so long without food and water."
  For several minutes he stood silently, looking unseeing at the ruined gondola.
  "I have something on the account at UBSAG," he finally said, to no one specifically. "But I'm afraid there will be problems with the payment from this account."
  "There will be problems," the Martian sighed. "And it would be nice to try to keep them to a minimum."
  He coughed.
  "Open the lock, Benji, I'll be back soon."
  "Are you afraid, too?" Matt asked when they were alone.
  "I'm not afraid," Benji said, not stopping his work. "But the task still seems to me irresolvable. Especially in terms of security guards and launch."
  "But there is no any soul around?"
  "No," Benji agreed. "But there is no any data either."
  For about a quarter of an hour he crawled on all fours under the dismantled dashboard and was busy with the wire and cable repair. His gondola was simultaneously gloomy, cool and stuffy.
  Matt sat between him and Aia, scowling like a small, frozen, green bird. He himself was afraid. From the very moment when in the morning, not yet opening his eyes, he realized that the universe is so arranged that no one is interested in his opinion in especially important matters.
  The android climbed out from under the casing, straightened, blinked, shook off his hands and, seeing that Matt was still sitting, staring at one point, came and sat down beside him.
  "I feel like I'm dead, too," Matt said quietly.
  Benji nodded, took his hand and worked for a while on boy's slender wrist, almost as he recently worked on the ragged wires.
  "Hemodynamics is normal," he finally concluded. "Blood chemistry is natural, but there is some depression. Look, Matt, stop tune out, you're not a piano. Everything will be fine."
  And he put his arm around boy's fragile shoulders.
  When a quiet knock came from outside, only Benji has heard him, and it was not with his ears, but with his feet - in the form of a tremor that came through the ship's bulkheads.
  "Well, how are you doing?" the Martian who just returned into the shuttle bent down to put on the floor a large carton box filled to the top with a bunch of bags and small boxes.
  And as he was straightening, a tall, multi-armed Pilot stepped right through him.
  "Hi," said the pilot.
  And smiled.
  78. 2336th year. Lukasz.
  The fall was yellow, damp and warm.
  Lukasz sat on the wet wooden bench under the large old linden tree and looked at how a couple of meters away from him two crows were busily stripping a dirty plastic bag.
  He'd reached into his pocket, groped for a piece of bread there and beckoned the crows with another, free hand.
  The boy appeared near the bench so suddenly, that the Maker even flinched.
  His coveralls were stained, and from under the bright striped hat a disobedient wet hair was stuck out. Without any embarrassment, the boy tilted his head and for a while looked intently at Lukasz, then climbed up to him onto the bench, sat down beside him and asked:
  "Are you gramps?"
  "No," Lukasz grunted. "I'm a granny."
  And he handed the boy the bread from his pocket:
  "Do you want to feed the birds?"?
  No, the boy shook his head.
  "But you don't look like granny. Your voice is different," he said.
  "But I can use granny's voice of mine, too. Grannies come in all kinds," Lukasz faked a low female contralto and, breaking bread in two, threw it out toward the walking crows.
  "But you still don't look like granny," the boy said.
  A wet yellow leaf of linden, whirling, had fly over and dropped on his knees.
  The boy smiled, showing his small sharp teeth, and Lukasz raised his eyebrow:
  "Wow! You're so small, but you've got such big teeth..."
  "I've got no big teeth, I'm not a crocodile," the boy took offense.
  "And who are you?"
  "I'm a human. I've even got a surname."
  "And name, too?"
  "And what is your name, lad?"
  "Karel Havranek.*"
  "And what did you do today, Karel?"
  "I went for a walk and came here," the boy said. "And I run and tripped over."
  "And what for did you trip over?
  "You're a funny gramps. Just tripped over."
  "Funny," Lukasz agreed. "And you're funny, too."
  "Hhaff," said the boy, and, echoing him, the wind has exhaled loudly in the linden crown.
  The tree had swayed, shuddered with its thin, sagging branches, either dancing, or laughing. A whole cloud of wet leaves had blown out from it and, chased by the wind, rushed to somewhere like an innumerable yellow swarm by the old man and boy sitting on the bench.
  One more of these yellow leaves quietly dropped on boy's knees.
  "Do you know, Nestling, there is such a sign: if a leaf from the tree, without touching the ground, falls into your hands, you can make a wish?" Lukasz grinned.
  "What for?" the boy blinked. "I have everything I need. Sometimes I'm even sad about it, but I cannot want it to fail?"
  He ran his hand over his forehead, removing the fair quiff.
  "Everything? Are you kidding?" in turn the old man blinked.
  "I just don't want any wrong thing," the boy smiled slyly.
  "Wrong. The ones that interferes with each other, that doesn't fit to each other."
  They sat for a while in silence: the old man, the little boy, and two crows high above them, among half-naked linden branches. Then one of the crows seemed to remember something: it started to worry, turned, hurriedly jumped down to the boy, and pointedly said:
  "Oh!" hurried boy, getting off the bench. "It's time for me to go home!"
  "As you wish," Lukasz spread his hands. "Run, Karel. But don't trip over."
  And for a long time he had been watching the boy runs away: how he runs along the yellow path strewn with leaves, how the pompom of his colorful striped hat jumps, and how two crows, flying from linden to linden, hurry after him.
  - Havránek* - nestling of crow (Czech)
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