Hey, I was And now, without further adieu:.
Bertram turned away from the motley assemblage of bag-ladies and housewives, of long-haired boys in blue jeans and old blind men restlessly tapping their canes to scan the street beyond through the dust-caked window. The bus rounded a corner, and he spotted a street sign; the letters danced and flowed in his vision, refusing to form into intelligible words. Pay attention, you fool! Bertram spun away from the window. He scanned its gleaming cover, but, again, the letters of its title flowed like mercury off the page. He tried to set the book onto the empty seat beside him, but it refused to leave his hand.
He folded his arms across his chest, pushing the book deep under his jacket and out of sight. Again the sourceless voice: He straightened in the seat, cleared his throat. An argument broke out at the front of the bus. A heated male voice, speaking in English, broke through the buzzing wall of conversation, washing gradually over it, consuming it.
The babble subsided until only the one voice remained:.
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The voice dropped to a reptilian stage-whisper:. While you study the false world, the real world lies dying at your fingertips. You know many great words, but you are a fool! I am, am I…? He tried to stand, to seek out the source of this new rude voice, but he could only turn his head; his body refused to budge.
Not yet , came the feminine voice beside him. It seemed closer now. The words seemed to rise up from his own chest. The passengers in the seats ahead of him vanished and Bertram suddenly had a clear view ahead:. In the first aisle seat on the right sat an enormous man dressed entirely in black.
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A European lord, a dandy, forced by circumstances to mingle with the ordinary. He even appeared to hover a little over the seat, as if afraid of contamination. Across from the shadowy man sat a small, equally-dark woman. Bertram could make out nothing of her beyond her darkness. He looked first to her, but she refused to meet his gaze. He turned to her assailant. From a distance, the man had appeared large; up close, he was a giant. He tried to turn away, to slink unnoticed back to his seat, but his legs would not move. He felt his jaw dropping, listened with dread fascination as strange words began to tumble in a frantic stream from his own mouth:.
The words made no sense. The burning intensity behind them even less. What am I saying? What does this mean? As if in reply, he heard his own voice continue:. It can be saved! He felt his hand reaching into his jacket, raising the nameless book over his head.
Very Finnish Problems Episode 6: When your children need to wee after getting dressed for winter
He hung over the dark giant like a fiery cloud, the book raised high, challenging the massive stranger to respond. The man continued to gaze past Bertram, staring through him at the woman. He answered the intrusion with studied, silent indifference. The stranger shook his head. He crossed his tree trunk legs femininely, at the knee, and answered without looking up. His lips twisted into a thin smile. He looked to the bus driver for help, but the man stared impassively ahead, seemingly unaware of the violent scene taking place behind him. The man had no eyes.
Pools of blackness swirled like oil in empty sockets. Bertram choked as his breath stopped altogether. The swirling pools engulfed him, filled him with the same penetrating blackness…. Are you prepared to cross? The bus, with all its passengers, faded around him. They were now on the street.
He surrendered and the street, too, vanished. He was surrounded by darkness; he had become darkness…. A great golden fish hung suspended in the void. It glowed with a throbbing, self-contained Light that did not penetrate the surrounding Darkness. It stood alone, the only object in view, distinct from the vast, endlessly uniform ocean surrounding it.
Bertram was now a part of that ocean, existing without form. As he watched the Fish spinning in the Darkness, his heart pounded with longing:. Bertram longed to Be. The Light that had been contained now burst over the void. Bertram felt his own dark nothingness penetrated and set ablaze by the luminous onslaught as shockwaves rolled further and further out from the center of the explosion.
Nor was it simply a mixture of the two. The new substance was solid; it pulsated no longer with Light, but with Life…. And suddenly he, too, was shaped roughly like a fish. He had acquired form, individuality, freedom…. All around him in the sea of Darkness, an infinite number of softly glowing fish like himself danced, jumped and played.
Their motion was a song of joy, a hymn of gratitude for this gift of shared Self…. At long last, the Light had come upon the Darkness, and the Darkness had found it good. The voice of the stranger boomed through the teeming ocean of Life, filling it, echoing through and beyond the newborn Bertram:.
Then Bertram heard his own tiny voice singing in reply, but who is the Fish? His song rippled out through the ocean of Life, but returned to him unanswered. Bertram bolted upright in the bed, suddenly wide awake. He reached for the screaming alarm clock, but pulled back as cool morning air hit the sweat that soaked his too-thin body. He shivered and pulled the blankets up to his neck. He let the clock scream. Who is the Fish? The words echoed in his mind. He closed his eyes and tried to memorize the details of the dream before they faded away; a chill snaked up his spine, a mild current like slow lightning… It reached his head and seemed to push him gently forward.
He was about to remember something important, something vast…. He sat, huddled forward, eyes tight, waiting for the lightning to strike. But after a moment, the feeling passed. Whatever it was, he had lost it. He wiped the page with his sleeve. He stood at a podium before a blurred sea of faces, accepting, according to the caption, a Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Science Fiction Convention of It had been his last public appearance before his death.
Bertram stared into the picture, his jaw slack.
He felt the strange pressure in his head, pushing him forward. He struggled to remember. Kurtz the stranger in his dream? A dead science fiction writer? His eyes appeared empty, hollow, swirling pools of darkness…. Bertram flipped quickly to the book review section, leaving a finger to mark the obituary. He turned back to the obituary and, for a long moment, studied the shadowy picture. Then he closed the magazine, folded it, and dropped it into the open briefcase on the floor beside him. The cornflakes had turned to mush; he pushed them away.
Mounds of dirty snow still bordered the New Frontiers, Ltd. But the cleared blacktop sparkled in the morning sunlight. The wind in his face as he traced the cobblestone path toward the big glass door was warm. The strange dream, the grainy photograph, their disturbing connection danced instead in his mind, pulled his attention away from the creaking prose of yet another housewife author with too much time on her hands, a head full of New Age platitudes, and the mistaken belief that anyone with half a mind to write a book should….
He kept expecting something to happen, either in the novel or in the room around him. By page five of the manuscript, it was clear that nothing was going to happen in either place. He dropped the pages back into their box, signed a generic New Frontiers one-liner, Your manuscript has been read… , then considered feigning illness and going home. Bertram dropped the magazine into his lap, and looked up. As a perfect excuse. He broke into a wide grin. The girl dropped her purse wearily onto the desk.
Bertram glanced at his watch. Bertram clapped his hands, circled around the desk, and pulled the girl to him. He kissed her then whispered into her ear. Christy smiled and nodded. After Bertram had retrieved his briefcase and the fallen magazine, she allowed him to lead her down the narrow hallway. They stopped before an open door and Bertram peeked tentatively inside. He stowed a pencil behind his ear, folded his hands across his chest.
Sid smiled knowingly, then reached again for the pencil. Go save your cat. Then he showed her the Lit-World article, the dark photograph. The picture, again, drew him gently forward… He looked away. The sugar hovered a moment on the floating ice, then dropped in one lump to the bottom of the glass. The sugar spread through the dark liquid in slow, swirling waves. Not all coincidences are meaningful, you know.
Bertram watched the sugar swirl up, dissolve, the sugar and tea combined, both changed in the process…. He clicked his teeth together loudly. Christy frowned, released the spoon, and signaled for the waitress. Christy was probably right. The woman at his side, the woman now lowering herself into the passenger seat of his car, was not Christy.
A small, dark woman with short, jet-black hair now sat in his car, watching him, a welcoming smile on her strangely familiar lips. He felt himself being pulled gently forward. He closed his eyes, took a breath. Bertram refused to open his eyes. He leaned against the car door, shaking, unable to breath.
Bertram rubbed his eyes, then stared down at the restored Christy. He managed a weak smile. The alarm clock screamed and Bertram woke with a start. He slapped wearily at the nightstand and managed to silence the little box by knocking it to the floor. Bertram stopped writing and closed the notebook. He dropped it back into the drawer, yawned, rubbed his tired eyes again, then stood and shuffled off to the kitchenette in search of strong, black coffee. He poured his traditional cornflakes, added milk, then moved to the counter to challenge the little Braun with ten scoops of Old Judge.
He leaned back and listened as it hissed and moaned, the warm scent of brewing coffee holding him there, still half asleep, half dreaming. And you almost got to keep it, Mr. Then Christy had flashed him a sweet, unexpected smile. The little Braun coughed loudly and died. Dirty mug in one hand, steaming carafe in the other, Bertram moved back to the table. The cornflakes had turned to mush, and he pushed them away. He set the book aside, went back to the counter, dug through the drawer until he found pen and paper, then returned to the table. In block letters, at the top of the page, he wrote:.
Then he began a careful list of details from the book that might, if written out, come together to help make sense of the last twenty-four hours:. Which of these outcomes would occur was never made clear. The two met on a city bus shortly after the initial dream. Which of these was the case was never made clear.
The protagonist steals a spaceship and jets off to where the Icthus claims to be hiding. But the vast majority of those contacted, being sane individuals, wrote their dreams off easily as meaningless and went on with their lives. Only the protagonist and, as it turns out, Kurtz, responded. Bertram scribbled a crude Icthus in the margin of the page, added around it a dozen tiny fish swimming and jumping in a dozen directions, then jotted a final note:.
Kurtz meets him at the spaceport and conks him on the head with a wrench. Then Kurtz boards the stolen spaceship and disappears. Dreams… Bertram refilled his mug, then rocked the chair back on two legs. He frowned, and looked again at the page before him: The Fish, Kurtz, Dreams. Nothing; it added up to nothing. One dream plus one crazy novel equals… What? He crumpled the page of notes and hurled it out of sight, toward the living room.
The feather-light wad had toppled a decanter on the low coffee table. Wine pulsed in rapid, red gurgles onto his magazines, newspapers, a book…. Bertram darted across the room and snatched the book from the growing puddle. He frantically wiped it dry on the sleeve of his robe. Voice of the Beloved. The cover, soaked through with wine, tore away; Bertram felt himself pulled gently forward…. Bertram crossed slowly back to the kitchen, the coverless, wine-stained book in his hands. He started another pot of coffee, called in sick, then unplugged the telephone from the wall. For what seemed the first time ever, Bertram slept a full, dreamless night.
He woke up before the alarm sounded. For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn't have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any story to any writer. Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers. Frequently someone writes to ask me if I can give them the name of a story, which they think I may have written, and tell them where to find it.
They don't remember the title but when they describe the story it is invariably 'The Last Question'. This has reached the point where I recently received a long-distance phone call from a desperate man who began, "Dr. Asimov, there's a story I think you wrote, whose title I can't remember—" at which point I interrupted to tell him it was 'The Last Question' and when I described the plot it proved to be indeed the story he was after.
I left him convinced I could read minds at a distance of a thousand miles. The story deals with the development of a series of computers called Multivac and their relationships with humanity through the courses of seven historic settings, beginning in In each of the first six scenes a different character presents the computer with the same question; namely, how the threat to human existence posed by the heat death of the universe can be averted.
The story jumps forward in time into later eras of human and scientific development. In each of these eras someone decides to ask the ultimate "last question" regarding the reversal and decrease of entropy.
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Each time, in each new era, Multivac's descendant is asked this question, and finds itself unable to solve the problem. Each time all it can answer is an increasingly sophisticated, linguistically: In the last scene, the god-like descendant of humanity the unified mental process of over a trillion, trillion, trillion humans that have spread throughout the universe watches the stars flicker out, one by one, as matter and energy ends, and with it, space and time.
Humanity asks AC, Multivac's ultimate descendant, which exists in hyperspace beyond the bounds of gravity or time, the entropy question one last time, before the last of humanity merges with AC and disappears. AC is still unable to answer, but continues to ponder the question even after space and time cease to exist.
AC ultimately realizes that it has not yet combined all of its available data in every possible combination, and thus begins the arduous process of rearranging and combining every last bit of information it has gained throughout the eons and through its fusion with humanity. Eventually AC discovers the answer, but has nobody to report it to; the universe is already dead.
It therefore decides to answer by demonstration, since that will also create someone to give the answer to. The story ends with AC's pronouncement,. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.