Жанры: Научная Фантастика
Авторы: Robert Sawyer
Canadian author Robert Sawyer once again presents likable characters facing big ethical dilemmas in this smoothly readable near-future SF novel. Astronomer Sarah Halifax, who translated the first message from aliens and helped prepare humanity’s response, is 87 when the second, encrypted message arrives 38 years later. To aid the decoding, a tycoon buys rejuvenation treatment for Sarah and Don, her husband of 60 years; however, only Don becomes young again. While coping with the physical indignities of old age, Sarah tries to figure out the puzzle of the second message. The bond between Don and Sarah continues, even while Don is joyfully and guiltily discovering the pleasures of living in a young body again. They want to do what’s right for each other and the rest of humanity — for the aliens, too — if they can figure out what “right” could be. By its nature, a story about moral choices tends to get talky, but the talk is intelligent and performed by sympathetic and believable people.
No wise man ever wished to be younger.
How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?
It had been a good life.
Donald Halifax looked around the living room of the modest house that he and his wife Sarah had shared for sixty years now, and that thought kept coming back to him. Oh, there had been ups and downs, and the downs had seemed excursions into the flames of hell at the time — the lingering death of his mother, Sarah’s battle with breast cancer, the rough periods their marriage had gone through — but, on balance, when all was said and done, it had been a good life.
When all was said and done.
Don shook his head, but it wasn’t in sadness. He’d always been a realist, a pragmatist, and he knew there was nothing left now but summing up and looking back. At the age of eighty-seven, that’s all anyone had.
The living room was narrow. A fireplace was built into the middle of one of the long walls, flanked by autopolarizing windows, but he couldn’t remember the last time they’d actually had a fire. It was too much work getting one going and then cleaning up afterward.
The mantel held framed photos, including one of Sarah and Don on their wedding day, back in 1988. She was wearing white, and he was in a tuxedo that had been black in reality but looked gray here, having faded, along with the rest of the photograph. Other photos showed their son Carl as a toddler and again graduating with his M.B.A. from McGill, and there were two pictures of their daughter Emily, one when she was in her twenties, and another, holographic one, from her early forties. And there were several holos of their two grandchildren.
There were also a few trophies: a pair of small ones that Don had won in Scrabble tournaments, and the big one Sarah had been given by the International Astronomical Union. He couldn’t remember the wording on that one, so he walked over, taking small steps, and had a look:
He nodded, remembering how proud he’d been that day, even if her fame had briefly turned their lives upside down.
A magphotic flatscreen was mounted above the mantel, and when they weren’t watching anything it displayed the time in boxy red numerals a foot high, big enough that Sarah could see them from across the room; as she’d often quipped, it was a good thing that she hadn’t been an optical astronomer. It was now 3:17 in the afternoon. As Don watched, the remaining segments in the rightmost digit lit up; 3:18. The party was supposed to have begun at 3:00, but no one was here yet, and Sarah was still upstairs getting ready.
Don made a mental vow to try to not be short with the grand-children. He never meant to snap at them, but somehow, he always did; there was a constant background level of pain at his age, and it frayed his temper.
He heard the front door opening. The house knew the kids’ biometrics, and they always let themselves in without ringing the bell. The living room had a short staircase at one end that led down to the entry way and a taller one at the other going up to the bedrooms. Don walked over to the base of the one going up. "Sarah!" he called. "They’re here!"
He then made his way to the other end of the room, each foot-fall punctuated by a tiny jab of pain. No one had come up yet — this was Toronto in February, and, global warming be damned, there were still boots and jackets to be removed. Before he reached the top of the stairs, he’d sorted out the melee of voices; it was Carl’s crew.
He looked at them from his elevated vantage point and felt himself smiling. His son, his daughter-in-law, his grandson, and his granddaughter — part of his immortality.
Carl was bent over in a way Don would have found excruciating, pulling off one of his boots. From this angle, Don could clearly see his son’s considerable bald spot — trivial to correct, had Carl been vain, but neither Don nor his son, who was now fifty-four, could ever be accused of that.
Angela, Carl’s blond wife, was ten years younger than her husband. She was working to get the boots off little Cassie, who was seated on the one chair in the entryway. Cassie, who took no active role in this, looked up and saw Don, and a huge grin spread across her little round face. "Grampa!"
He waved at her. Once all the outerwear was removed, everyone came upstairs.
Angela kissed him on the cheek as she passed, carrying a rectangular cake box. She went into the kitchen. Twelve-year-old Percy was up next, then came Cassie, pulling on the banister, which she could barely reach, to help her get up the six steps.
Don bent low, feeling twinges in his back as he did so. He wanted to lift Cassie up, but that was impossible. He settled for letting her get her little arms around his neck and giving him a squeeze. Cassie was oblivious to the fact that she was hurting him, and he endured it until she let go. She then scampered through the living room and followed her mother to the kitchen. He turned to watch her and saw Sarah coming down from upstairs, one painful step at a time, gripping the banister with both hands as she did so.
By the time she reached the bottom step, Don heard the front door opening again, and his daughter Emily — divorced, no kids — coming in. Soon enough, everyone was crowded into the living room. With his cochlear implants, Don’s hearing wasn’t bad under normal circumstances, but he couldn’t really pick out any one thread of conversation from the hubbub that now filled the air. Still, it was his family, all together. He was happy about that, but—
But it might be the last time. They’d gathered just six weeks ago for Christmas at Carl’s place, in Ajax. His children and grandchildren wouldn’t normally all get together again until next Christmas, but—
But he couldn’t count on there being a next Christmas; not at his age…
No; that wasn’t what he should be dwelling on. Today was a party, a celebration. He should enjoy it, and—
And suddenly there was a champagne flute in his hand. Emily was circling the room, handing them out to the adults, while Carl presented plastic tumblers of juice to the children.
"Dad, go stand by Mom," Carl said. And he did so, making his way across the room to where she was — not standing; she couldn’t stand for long. Rather, she was seated in the old La-Z-Boy. Neither of them ever reclined it anymore, although the grandkids loved to operate the mechanism. He stood next to Sarah, looking down on her thinning snow-white hair. She craned her neck as much as she could to look up at him, and a smile crossed her face, one more line in a landscape of creases and folds.
"Everybody, everybody!" shouted Carl. He was the elder of Don and Sarah’s kids and always took charge. "Your attention, please!" The conversation and laughter died down quickly, and Don watched as Carl raised his own champagne flute. "I’d like to propose a toast. To Mom and Dad, on their sixtieth wedding anniversary!"
The adults all raised their glasses, and, after a moment, the kids imitated them with their tumblers. "To Don and Sarah!" said Emily, and, "To Grandma and Grandpa," declared Percy.
Don took a sip of the champagne, the first alcohol he’d had since New Year’s Eve.
He noted his hand was shaking even more than it normally did, not from age but with emotion.
"So, Dad, what do you say?" asked Carl. He was grinning from ear to ear. Emily, for her part, was recording everything with her datacom. "Would you do it all over again?"