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Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain fv-2

Isaac Asimov

  Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain

  ( Fantastic Voyage - 2 )

  Isaac Asimov

  Isaac Asimov

  Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain

  Chapter 1. Needed

  He who is needed must learn to endure flattery.

  — Dezhnev Senior


  "Pardon me. Do you speak Russian?" said the low voice, definitely contralto, in his ear.

  Albert Jonas Morrison stiffened in his seat. The room was darkened and the computer screen on the platform was displaying its graphics with an insistence that had been lost on him.

  He must have been more than half-asleep. There had definitely been a man on his right when he sat down. When had that man changed into a woman? Or risen and been replaced?

  Morrison cleared his throat and said, "Did you say something, ma'am?" He couldn't make her out clearly in the dim room and the flashing light from the computer screen obscured rather than revealed. He made out dark hair, straight, hugging the skull, covering the ears - no artifice.

  She said, "I asked if you spoke Russian."

  "Yes, I do. Why do you want to know?"

  "Because that would make it easier. My English sometimes fails me. Are you Dr. Morrison? A. J. Morrison? I'm not certain in this darkness. Forgive me if I have made a mistake."

  "I am A. J. Morrison. Do I know you?"

  "No, but I know you." Her hand reached out, touching the sleeve of his jacket lightly. "I need you badly. Are you listening to this talk? You did not seem to be."

  They were both whispering, of course.

  Morrison looked about involuntarily. The room was sparsely filled and no one was sitting very close. His whisper grew lower just the same. "And if I'm not? What then?" (He was curious - if only out of boredom. The talk had put him to sleep.)

  She said, "Will you come with me now? I am Natalya Boranova."

  "Come with you where, Ms. Boranova?"

  "To the coffee shop - so that we may talk. It is terribly important."

  That was the way it began. It didn't matter, Morrison decided afterward, that he had been in that particular room - that he had not been alert - that he had been intrigued enough, flattered enough to be willing to go with a woman who said she needed him.

  She would, after all, have found him wherever he had been and would have seized upon him and would have made him listen. It might not have been quite so easy under other circumstances, but it would all have gone as it did. He was certain.

  There would have been no escape.


  He was looking at her in normal light now, and she was less young than he had thought. Thirty-six? Forty, perhaps?

  Dark hair. No gray. Pronounced features. Heavy eyebrows. Strong jaws. Pleasant nose. Sturdy body, but not fat. Almost as tall as he was, even though she was wearing flat heels. On the whole, a woman who was attractive without being beautiful. The kind of woman, he decided, one could get used to.

  He sighed, for he was facing the mirror and he saw himself there. Sandy hair, thinning. Blue eyes, faded. Thin face, thin body, stringy. Beaky nose, nice smile. He hoped it was a nice smile. But no, not a face you would want to get used to. Brenda had gotten entirely unused to it in a little over ten years, and his fortieth birthday would be five days past the fifth anniversary of the day his divorce had been made final and official.

  The waitress brought the coffee. They had been sitting there, not talking but appraising each other. Morrison finally felt he had to say something.

  "No vodka?" he said in an attempt at lightness.

  She smiled and looked somehow even more Russian when she did so. "No Coca-Cola?"

  "If that's an American habit, Coca-Cola is at least cheaper."

  "For good reason."

  Morrison laughed. "Are you this quick in Russian?"

  "Let us see if I am. Let's talk Russian."

  "We'll sound like a couple of spies."

  Her last sentence had been in Russian. So had Morrison's reply. The change of language made no difference to him. He could speak and understand it as easily as English. That had to be so. If an American wished to be a scientist and keep up with the literature, he had to be able to handle Russian, almost as much as a Russian scientist had to be able to handle English.

  This woman, Natalya Boranova, for instance, despite her pretence that she was not at home in English, spoke it readily and with only a faint accent, Morrison noticed.

  She said, "Why will we sound like spies? There are hundreds of thousands of Americans speaking English in the Soviet Union and hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens speaking Russian in the United States. These are not the bad old days."

  "That's true. I was joking. But in that case, why do you want to speak Russian?"

  "This is your country and that gives you a psychological advantage, does it not, Dr. Morrison? If we speak my language, it will balance the scales a bit."

  Morrison sipped at his coffee. "As you wish."

  "Tell me, Dr. Morrison. Do you know me?"

  "No. I have never met you before."

  "And my name? Natalya Boranova? Have you heard of me?"

  "Forgive me. If you were in my field, I would have heard of you. Since I have not, I assume you are not in my field. Should I know you?"

  "It might have helped, but we'll let it go. I know you, however. In fact, I know a great deal about you. When and where you were born. Your schooling. The fact that you are divorced and that you have two daughters that live with your ex-wife. I know about your university position and the research you do."

  Morrison shrugged. "None of that would be hard to find out in our computer-ridden society. Should I be flattered or annoyed?"

  "Why either?"

  "It depends on whether you tell me that I am famous in the Soviet Union, which would be flattering, or that I have been the target of an investigation, which might be annoying."

  "I have no intention of being anything but honest with you. I have investigated you - for reasons that are important to me."

  Morrison said coldly, "What reasons?"

  "To begin with, you are a neurophysicist."

  Morrison had finished his coffee and had absently signaled for a refill. Boranova's cup was half-empty, but she had apparently lost interest in it.

  "There are other neurophysicists," Morrison said.

  "None like you."

  "Clearly you are trying to flatter me. That can only be because you don't know anything about me after all. Not the crucial things."

  "That you are not successful? That your methods of brain wave analysis are not generally accepted in the field?"

  "But if you know that, then why are you after me?"

  "Because we have a neurophysicist in our country who knows your work, and he thinks it is brilliant. You have rather jumped into the unknown, he says, and you may be wrong - but if you are, you are brilliantly wrong."

  "Brilliantly wrong? How is that different from wrong?"

  "It is his view that it is impossible to be brilliantly wrong without being not altogether wrong. Even if you are in some ways wrong, much of what you maintain will prove useful - and you may be entirely right."

  "What is the name of this paragon who has this view of me? I'll mention him with favor in my next paper."

  "He is Pyotor Leonovich Shapirov. Do you know him?"

  Morrison sat back in his chair. He had not expected this. "Know him?" he said. "I've met him. Pete Shapiro I called him. Our people here in the United States think he's as crazy as I am. If it turns out that he's backing me, that's just one more nail in my coffin. - Listen, tell Pete I appreciate his faith in me, but if h
e really wants to help me, please ask him not to tell anyone he's on my side."

  Boranova looked at him disapprovingly. "You are not a very serious man. Is everything a joke to you?"

  "No. Just me. I'm the joke. I've got something really great and I can't convince anyone of it. Except Pete - I've now found out - and he doesn't count. I can't even get my papers published these days."

  "Then come to the Soviet Union. We can use you - and your ideas."

  "No no. I'm not emigrating."

  "Who said emigrate? If you wish to be an American, be an American. But you have visited the Soviet Union in the past and you can visit it once again and stay a while. Then return to your own country."


  "You have crazy ideas and we have crazy ideas. Perhaps yours can help ours."

  "What crazy ideas? I mean, yours. I know what mine are."

  "It's not something to discuss until I know if you are perhaps willing to help us."

  Morrison, still sitting back in his chair, was vaguely aware of the buzz about him, of people drinking, eating, talking - most of them from the conference, he was sure. He stared at this intense Russian woman who admitted to crazy ideas and wondered what kind of-

  He stiffened and cried out, "Boranova! I have heard of you. Of course. Pete Shapiro mentioned you. You're -"

  In his excitement he was speaking English and her hand came down on his, her nails pressing hard against his skin.

  He choked it off and she removed her hand, saying, "Sorry. I did not mean to hurt you."

  He stared at the marks on his hand, one of which, he decided, was going to be slightly bruised. He said quietly in Russian, "You're the Miniaturizer."


  Boranova looked at him with an easy calm. "Perhaps a little walk and a bench by the river. The weather is beautiful."

  Morrison held his lightly damaged hand in the other. There had been a few, he thought, who had looked in his direction when he had cried out in English, but none seemed to show any interest now. He shook his head. "I think not. I should be attending the conference."

  Boranova smiled as though he had agreed that the weather was beautiful. "I don't think so. I think you'll find a seat by the river more interesting."

  For one flashing moment, Morrison thought her smile might be intended to be seductive. Surely she wasn't implying -

  He abandoned the thought almost before he had put it clearly to himself. That sort of thing was pass‚ even on holovision: "Beautiful Russian Spy Uses Sinuous Body to Dazzle Naive American."

  To begin with, she wasn't beautiful and her body wasn't sinuous. Nor did she look as though anything of that nature could possibly be on her mind and he himself, after all, wasn't that naive - or even interested.

  Yet he found himself accompanying her across the campus and toward the river.

  They walked slowly - sauntered - and she talked cheerfully about her husband Nikolai and her son Aleksandr, who was going to school and was, for some strange reason, interested in biology, even though his mother was a thermodynamicist. What's more, Aleksandr was a dreadful chess player, much to his father's disappointment, but he showed signs of promise on the violin.

  Morrison did not listen. He occupied himself, instead, in trying to recall what he had heard about the Soviet interest in miniaturization and what possible connection there might be between that and his own work.

  She pointed to a bench. "This one looks reasonably clean."

  They sat down. Morrison stared over the river, watching, with eyes that did not really absorb it, the line of cars filing along the highway on their side and the parallel line on the highway on the other side - while sculls, looking like centipedes, plied the river itself.

  He remained silent and Boranova, staring at him thoughtfully, finally said, "You do not find this interesting?"

  "Find what interesting?"

  "My suggestion that you come to the Soviet Union."

  "No!" He said it curtly.

  "But why not? Since your American colleagues do not accept your ideas, and since you are depressed over this and are seeking a way out of the dead end at which you have arrived, why not come to us?"

  "Given your investigations into my life, I am sure you know that my ideas are not accepted, but how can you possibly be sure that I am all that depressed over it?"

  "Any sane man would be depressed. And one has only to talk to you to be certain."

  "Do you accept my ideas?"

  "I? I am not in your field. I know nothing - or very little - about the nervous system."

  "I suppose you simply accept Shapirov's estimate of my ideas."

  "Yes. And even if I did not - desperate problems may require desperate remedies. What harm, then, if we try your ideas as a remedy? It will certainly leave us no worse off."

  "So you have my ideas. They have been published."

  She gazed at him steadily. "Somehow we don't think all your ideas have been published. That is why we want you."

  Morrison laughed without humor. "What good can I possibly do you in connection with miniaturization? I know less about miniaturization than you do about the brain. Far less."

  "Do you know anything at all about miniaturization?"

  "Only two things. That the Soviets are known to be investigating it - and that it is impossible."

  Boranova stared thoughtfully at the river. "Impossible? What if I told you we had accomplished the task?"

  "I would as soon believe you if you told me polar bears fly."

  "Why should I lie to you?"

  "I point out the fact. I'm not concerned about the motivation."

  "Why are you so certain miniaturization is impossible?"

  "If you reduce a man to the dimensions of a fly, then all the mass of a man would be crowded into the volume of a fly. You'd end up with a density of something like -" he paused to think - "a hundred and fifty thousand times that of platinum."

  "But what if the mass were reduced in proportion?"

  "Then you end up with one atom in the miniaturized man for every three million in the original. The miniaturized man would not only have the size of a fly but the brainpower of a fly as well."

  "And if the atoms are reduced, too?"

  "If it is miniaturized atoms you are speaking of, then Planck's constant, which is an absolutely fundamental quantity in our Universe, forbids it. Miniaturized atoms would be too small to fit into the graininess of the Universe."

  "And if I told you that Planck's constant was reduced as well, so that a miniaturized man would be encased in a field in which the graininess of the Universe was incredibly finer than it is under normal conditions?"

  "Then I wouldn't believe you."

  "Without examining the matter? You would refuse to believe it as a result of preconceived convictions, as your colleagues refuse to believe you?"

  And at this, Morrison was, for a moment, silent.

  "Not the same," he mumbled at last.

  "Not the same?" Again she stared thoughtfully out over the river. "In what way not the same?"

  "My colleagues think I'm wrong. My ideas are not theoretically impossible in their opinion - only wrong."

  "While miniaturization is impossible?"


  "Then come and see. If it turns out that miniaturization is impossible, just as you say, then you'll at least have a month in the Soviet Union as a guest of the Soviet Government. All expenses will be paid. If there's a friend you would like to bring with you, bring her, too. Or him."

  Morrison shook his head. "No thanks. I'd rather not. Even if miniaturization were possible, it is not my field. It would not help me or be of interest to me."

  "How do you know? What if miniaturization gave you the opportunity to study neurophysics as you have never studied it before - as no one has ever studied it before? And what if, in doing so, you might be able to help us? That would be our stake in it."

  "How can you offer me a new way of studying neurophysics?"

  "But, Dr. M
orrison, I thought that was what we were talking about. You cannot really prove your theories because you cannot study single nerve cells in sufficient detail without damaging them. But what if we make a neuron as large as the Kremlin for you - or even larger - so that you can study it a molecule at a time?"

  "You mean you can reverse miniaturization and make a neuron as large as you wish."

  "No, we can't do that, as yet, but we can make you as small as we wish and that would amount to the same thing, wouldn't it?"

  Morrison rose, staring at her.

  "No," he said in half a whisper. "Are you insane? Do you think I am insane? Good-bye! Good-bye!"

  He turned and strode away rapidly.

  She called after him. "Dr. Morrison. Listen to me."

  He made a sweeping gesture of rejection with his right arm and broke into a run across the drive, narrowly dodging the cars.

  Then he was back into the hotel, puffing, almost dancing with impatience as he waited for the elevator.

  Madwoman! he thought. She wanted to miniaturize him, attempt this impossibility on him. - Or attempt the possibility of it on him, which would be infinitely worse.


  Morrison was still shaking when he stood at the door of his hotel room, holding the plastic rectangle of his key, breathing hard, and wondering if she knew his room number. She could find out, of course, if she were sufficiently determined. He looked down the length of the corridor each way, half-afraid he might see her running toward him, face contorted, hair flying, hands outstretched.

  He shook his head. This was madness. What could she do to him? She could not carry him off bodily. She could not force him to do anything he didn't want to do. What childish terror was overcoming him?

  Morrison took a deep breath and thrust his key into the door slit. He felt the small click as the key seated itself, then he withdrew it and the door swung open.

  The man sitting in the wicker armchair at the window smiled at him and said, "Come in."

  Morrison stared at him in astonishment, then twisted his head to look at the room number.