Isaac Asimov – The Last Question: Part III
VJ-23X of Lameth stared into the black depths of the three-dimensional, small-scale map of the Galaxy and said, "Are we ridiculous, I wonder in being so concerned about the matter?"
MQ-17J of Nicron shook his head. "I think not. You know the Galaxy will be filled in five years at the present rate of expansion."
Both seemed in their early twenties, both were tall and perfectly formed.
"Still," said VJ-23X, "I hesitate to submit a pessimistic report to the Galactic Council."
"I wouldn't consider any other kind of report. Stir them up a bit. We've got to stir them up."
VJ-23X sighed. "Space is infinite. A hundred billion Galaxies are there for the taking. More."
"A hundred billion is not infinite and it's getting less infinite all the time. Consider! Twenty thousand years ago, mankind first solved the problem of utilizing stellar energy, and a few centuries later, interstellar travel became possible. It took mankind a million years to fill one small world and then only fifteen thousand years to fill the rest of the Galaxy. Now the population doubles every ten years --
VJ-23X interrupted. "We can thank immortality for that."
"Very well. Immortality exists and we have to take it into account. I admit it has its seamy side, this immortality. The Galactic AC has solved many problems for us, but in solving the problem of preventing old age and death, it has undone all its other solutions."
"Yet you wouldn't want to abandon life, I suppose."
"Not at all," snapped MQ-17J, softening it at once to, "Not yet. I'm by no means old enough. How old are you?"
"Two hundred twenty-three. And you?"
"I'm still under two hundred. --But to get back to my point. Population doubles every ten years. Once this GaIaxy is filled, we'll have filled another in ten years. Another ten years and we'll have filled two more. Another decade, four more. In a hundred years, we'll have filled a thousand Galaxies. In a thousand years, a million Galaxies. In ten thousand years, the entire known universe. Then what?"
VJ-23X said, "As a side issue, there's a problem of transportation. I wonder how many sunpower units it will take to move Galaxies of individuals from one Galaxy to the next."
"A very good point. Already, mankind consumes two sunpower units per year."
"Most of it's wasted. After all, our own Galaxy alone pours out a thousand sunpower units a year and we only use two of those."
"Granted, but even with a hundred per cent efficiency, we only stave off the end. Our energy requirements are going up in a geometric progression even faster than our population. We'll run out of energy even sooner than we run out of Galaxies. A good point. A very good point."
"We'll just have to build new stars out of interstellar gas."
"Or out of dissipated heat?" asked MQ-17J, sarcastically.
"There may be some way to reverse entropy. We ought to ask the Galactic AC."
VJ-23X was not really serious, but MQ-17J pulled out his AC-contact from his pocket and placed it on the table before him.
"I've half a mind to," he said. "It's something the human race will have to face someday."
He stared somberly at his small AC-contact. It was only two inches cubed and nothing in itself, but it was connected through hyperspace with the great Galactic AC that served all mankind. Hyperspace considered, it was an integral part of the Galactic AC.
MQ-17J paused to wonder if someday in his immortal life he would get to see the Galactic AC. It was on a little world of its own, a spider webbing of force-beams holding the matter within which surges of submesons took the place of the old clumsy molecular valves. Yet despite its sub-etheric workings, the Galactic AC was known to be a full thousand feet across.
MQ-17J asked suddenly of his AC-contact, "Can entropy ever be reversed?"
VJ-23X looked startled and said at once, "Oh, say, I didn't really mean to have you ask that."
"We both know entropy can't be reversed. You can't turn smoke and ash back into a tree."
"Do you have trees on your world?" asked MQ-17J.
The sound of the Galactic AC startled them into silence. Its voice came thin and beautiful out of the small AC-contact on the desk. It said: THERE IS INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.
VJ-23X said, "See!"
The two men thereupon returned to the question of the report they were to make to the Galactic Council.
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