Аннотация: World of Ptavvsis a science fiction novel by Larry Niven, first published in 1966 and set in his Known Space universe. It was Niven's first published novel and is based on a 1965 short story of the same name.
There was a moment so short that it had never been successfully measured, yet always far too long. For that moment it seemed that every mind in the universe, every mind that had ever been or that would ever be, was screaming its deepest emotions at him.
Then it was over. The stars had changed again.
Even for Kzanol, who was a good astrogator, there was no point in trying to guess where the ship was now. At.93 lights, the speed at which the average mass of the universe becomes great enough to permit entry into hyperspace, the stars become unrecognizable. Ahead they flared painful blue-white. Behind they were dull red, like a scattered coal fire. To the sides they were compressed and flattened into tiny lenses. So Kzanol sucked a gnal until the ship's brain board made a thudding sound, then went to look.
The brain screen said, "Reestimate of trip time to Thrintun: 1.72 days."
Not good, he decided. He should have come out much closer to Thrintun. But luck, more than skill, decided when a hyperspace ship would make port. The Principle of Uncertainty is the law of hyperspace. There was no need to be impatient. It would be several hours before the fusor recharged the battery.
Kzanol swung his chair around so he could see the star map on the rear wall. The sapphire pin seemed to twinkle and gleam across the length of the cabin. For a moment he basked in its radiance, the radiance of unlimited wealth. Then he jumped up and began typing on the brain board.
Sure there was reason to be impatient! Even now somebody with a map just like his, and a pin where Kzanol had inserted his sapphire marker, might be racing to put in a claim. The control of an entire slave world, for all of Kzanol's lifetime, was his rightful property; but only if he reached Thrintun first.
He typed: "How long to recharge the battery?"
The brain board thudded almost at once. But Kzanol was never to know the answer.
Suddenly a blinding light shone through the back window. Kzanol's chair flattened into a couch, a loud musical note rang, and there was pressure. Terrible pressure. The ship wasn't ever supposed to use that high an acceleration. It lasted for about five seconds. Then-
There was a sound like two lead doors being slapped together, with the ship between them. The pressure eased. Kzanol got to his feet and peered out the rear window at the incandescent cloud that had been his fusor. A machine has no mind to read; you never know when it's going to betray you-
The brain board thudded.
He read, "Time to recharge battery: " followed by the spiral hieroglyph, the sign of infinity.
With his face pressed against the molded diamond pane, Kzanol watched the burning power plant fade among the stars. The brain must have dropped it the moment it became dangerous. That was why it had been trailed half a mile behind the ship: because fusors sometimes exploded. Just before he lost sight of it altogether, the light flared again into something brighter than a sun.
Thud, said the brain. Kzanol read, "Reestimate of trip time to Thrintun: " followed by a spiral.
The shock wave from the far explosion reached the ship. It sounded like a distant door slamming.
There was no hurry now. For a long time Kzanol stood before his wall map, gazing at the sapphire pin.
The tiny star in the tiny jewel winked back at him, speaking of two billion slaves and a fully industrialized world waiting to serve him; speaking of more wealth and power than even his grandfather, the great Racarliw, had known; speaking of hundreds of mates and tens of thousands of personal retainers to serve his every whim during his long, lazy life. He was chain-sucking, and the eating tendrils at the corners of his mouth writhed without his knowledge, like embattled earthworms. Useless regrets filled his mind.
His grandfather should have sold the plantation when Plorn's tnuctip slaves produced antigravity. Plorn could and should have been assassinated in time. Kzanol should have stayed on Thrintun, even if he had to slave it for a living. He should have bought a spare fusor instead of that extra suit and the deluxe crash couch and the scent score on the air plant and, with his last commercial, the sapphire pin.
There had been a day when he'd sat clutching a blue-green plastic cord which would make him a spacecraft owner or a jobless pauper. Bowed white skeletal shapes had raced round and round him: mutated racing viprin, the fastest animal anywhere in the galaxy. But, by the Power! Kzanol's was faster than all the rest. If only he'd thrown away that thread…
For a time he relived his life on the vast stage tree plantation where he had become an adult. Kzathit Stage Logs, with its virtual monopoly on solid fuel takeoff logs, now gone forever. If only he were there now…
But Kzathit Stage Logs had been a spaceport landing field for almost ten years.
He went to the locker and put on his suit. There were two suits there, including the spare he'd bought in case one ceased to function. Stupid. If the suit failed he'd be dead anyway.
He ran a massive, stubby finger around the panic button on his chest. He'd have to use it soon; but not yet. There were things to do first. He wanted the best possible chance of survival.
At the brain board he typed: "Compute a course for any civilized planet, minimum trip time. Give trip time."
The brain purred happily to itself. Sometimes Kzanol thought it was happy only when it was working hard. He often tried to guess at the emotionless thoughts of the machine. It bothered him that he couldn't read its mind. Sometimes he even worried about his inability to give it orders except through the brain board. Perhaps it was too alien, he thought; Thrintun had never made contact with other than protoplasmic life. While he waited for his answer he experimentally tried to reach the rescue switch on his back.
He hadn't a chance; but that was the least of his worries. When he pushed the panic button the suit stasis field would go on, and time would cease to flow inside his suit. Only the rescue switch would protrude from the field. It had been placed so that Kzanol's rescuer, not Kzanol, could reach it.
Thud! The screen said, "No solution.